The Buffalo Bills might not even know where the state of Minnesota is located on a map, but they sure knew how to put together a plan on Sunday to pull off the most shocking upset in the last decade or so. Buffalo, a historic 16.5-point underdog to the Vikings, completely flipped the script on an NFC contender, throttling the Vikings 27-6 in a game no one saw coming.
Buffalo's upset was the biggest single-game NFL upheaval since 1995, . It is legitimately difficult to remember a more unexpected outcome in a professional football game. Not only was Buffalo starting a rookie quarterback in Josh Allen, but the Bills were doing so without the help of their best offensive player (LeSean McCoy) behind a terrible offensive line and against a top-three defense in the NFL on the road in one of the hardest places to play.
And, yet, it wasn't close. The Bills should have skunked the Vikings, with Minnesota's lone points coming on a garbage-time touchdown with Buffalo spending most of the day up big. Did the Vikings just completely look past the Bills to Thursday's matchup against the Rams?
"I don't think we took them too lightly, I think they came out and kicked our butts," Mike Zimmer said after the game.
It's hard to completely believe that: this was the easiest win on the NFL schedule so far this year. The Bills were 16.5-point underdogs, which makes them just the 13th two-touchdown dog to win outright since 1995. The full list, courtesy of The Action Network:
So how did Buffalo pull it off? Credit an impressive performance from Sean McDermott's defense but make sure to credit Allen as well. Minnesota is a really difficult place to play and Allen made it look easy on a 75-yard touchdown drive to start the game. He was aided by a pair of bonehead penalties from Linval Joseph and Anthony Barr, but he sealed the deal with an outstanding sprint to the corner of the end zone that put the Bills on board first.
Nine plays, 75 yards and 4:59 off the game clock -- that's the sort of opening salvo you need when you walk into the lion's den and try to pull off an upset. Three plays later the defense did its part too, sacking Kirk Cousins -- who had a horrible game on Sunday -- and forcing a fumble. Minnesota would actually hold the Bills to a field goal inside the red zone, but three more plays later the Bills would cough up the ball via another sack and forced fumble, this time from Jerry Hughes.
Allen answered the bell on the next possession, finding Jason Croom for a touchdown. It's possible he is a Madden computer-created simulation player and that's why the Vikings decided to completely ignore him on the field. Good work by Allen going through his reads and then hitting the open man -- Minnesota might have been trying to jump a screen pass and Allen wasn't having it.
It was 17-0 by the end of the first quarter, a period that included Allen pulling off a Cam Newton-like leap over another huge human, hurdling Barr while running in the open field.
Credit the Bills for not slowing down the way a lot of teams might in this position. They didn't get scared, they stayed aggressive on defense and continued to force punts. They would score 10 more points in the second quarter and then hit the slow-motion button. Buffalo didn't score in the second half, but the Bills didn't need to; the defense completely shut down Cousins (40/55 for 296 yards, one pick, two fumbles and a garbage-time touchdown) and even managed to mock him on the way out.
Cousins probably does NOT like that: he's being paid $84 million guaranteed and Vikings fans don't want to see him struggling like this. Minnesota didn't have a running game to lean on either. Dalvin Cook was out with a hamstring injury (perhaps another look-ahead type of situation?) and Latavius Murray, a popular fantasy football waiver add, was completely useless, rushing twice for one yard. The Bills turned the Vikings into the exact type of team Mike Zimmer doesn't want them to be.
Buffalo also turned a whole bunch of people into losers on Sunday. At least one very bad gambler dropped $9,000 on a Vikings moneyline bet in Vegas. He just needed Minnesota to win and he would earn a cool $450. Whoops.
A bettor at the Westgate SuperBook placed a $9,000 moneyline wager on the Minnesota Vikings to beat the Buffalo Bills straight-up at -2,000 odds. Bet would net $450. Bills lead 24-0 early second quarter.— David Payne Purdum (@DavidPurdum) September 23, 2018
According to our internal data, 62 percent of remaining Survivor Pool leagues chose the Vikings -- it was a no-brainer pick if you wanted to ensure you survived. Narrator: it wasn't.
This might be the Bills' lone win of the year, and the Vikings could easily go on to win the Super Bowl. The odds don't favor either of those things happening necessarily, and thumping the Vikings goes a long way towards redeeming two ugly games to start the season for Buffalo. They certainly looked like the worst team in football through the first two weeks and quickly shed that label. They also got to drag the Vikings for. (They could have been much meaner.)
Allen's play in Minnesota makes you wonder -- in the same way Baker Mayfield lighting up the Jets did -- why the Bills ever bothered going with Nathan Peterman to begin with. Allen is going to have ups and downs. Every quarterback does. But winning big on the road like this? It's a signature victory for a young quarterback. He can't have the opportunity if he's on the bench.
Jimmy G's short season?
Things were not going well on the field for the 49ers for most of the day Sunday against the Chiefs, and then things went very bad when Jimmy Garoppolo took a major shot while trying to pick up yardage and.
When you watch the play, you can see his knee buckle right before he gets rocked.
The real stinger is that Garoppolo appeared to step out of bounds before he hurt his knee; grinding for extra yards in that spot was entirely unnecessary.
If it's confirmed to be a torn ACL, it would be crippling for the 49ers on a number of levels. It's the second major personnel loss they've taken in the last month in terms of ACLs, with Jerrick McKinnon suffering a torn ACL before the season.
More importantly, this is a massive setback for the 49ers' plan. Garoppolo was acquired last season in a trade with the Patriots and famously won the final five games of the year. He hasn't looked quite as impressive this season, but you could see things starting to click with George Kittle and Marquise Goodwin on Sunday. Now he doesn't get to spend the next six months working on timing and refining his approach to mastering Kyle Shanahan's offense, because he's going to spend the next six months physically rehabbing his knee, if the ACL tear is confirmed.
There's no need to panic, per se, because the 49ers were always a year away. But now there is no runway for the 49ers to build up for next season. And Garoppolo, unlike other young franchise quarterbacks, is 26 years old, because he was drafted by the Patriots and spent the entirety of his rookie deal in New England. He'll be back in time for the 2019 season ---- but the 49ers' long-term plan certainly suffered a major hiccup on Sunday.
Concerns with Luck
The Colts are now 1-2 and somehow exceeding expectations: they had chances to beat the Bengals in Week 1, manhandled the Redskins on the road in Week 2 and hung tight with the Eagles in Week 3. But there are some red flags relating to the quarterback.
First, there's the matter of Andrew Luck not stretching the field at all. Here's his Next Gen Stats passing map from Week 3:
Combine it with his throws in Weeks 1 and 2 and Luck now has a total of two completed passes more than 20 yards down the field this season. The Colts offense isn't asking him to stretch the field a ton -- Frank Reich's offense is clearly predicated on getting the ball out quick, and Luck should thank him for that. He only has eight attempts of more than 20 yards or more on the season.
Asked after the game if he was bothered by Brissett coming in, Luck said "no," because, via The Athletic's Stephen Holder, he thinks Brissett is stronger.
"Jacoby has a stronger arm than I do," Luck said. "It's sort of what I see in practice. And obviously coach Reich thinks that as well. I'll keep working on getting my arm to where maybe it can make an 80-yard throw from the minus-30 [yard line]. But I have no qualms with that decision."
This is a refreshing level of honesty from a quarterback in a league that does not value honesty. Luck admitted he didn't even know if he could make that throw before his surgery.
As someone who is holding a "Luck leads the league in passing yards" ticket and hoping it hits (30-1), this is very concerning. But here's a hot take: this was a smart move by Reich. Luck spent the offseason and preseason on a very strict and programmed strength plan building his arm back up. Going out and attempting an extremely low percentage throw -- that literally any strong human with a knowledge of how to hold a football could make -- does not make a ton of sense.
The Colts have someone coaching their team more concerned with keeping their quarterback healthy for the long haul than trying to steal an early season victory. That's a net win for the Colts.
Another week, another roughing controversy
Clay Matthews must feel like the victim of targeting, because the NFL is seeking him out and launching itself at him for a roughing the passer play every single week. After a boneheaded play where he shoved Mitchell Trubisky in Week 1,when he was flagged for hitting Kirk Cousins. The NFL said it would use the play in its teaching tape and, although it didn't show up in last week's officiating video, .
Here's his hit on Alex Smith from Week 3 that was flagged.
The NFL confirmed Matthews hit fell under Rule 12, Section 2, Article 9(b) because Matthews fell "with all or most of the defender's weight" on Smith. I get it -- you can make a case Matthews' hit falls under the new rule (ironically created because of Aaron Rodgers' injury last season) and you can make the case it was properly applied.
But no one knows how the rule will be applied or when the rule will be applied because it's being thrown out at completely random times. For instance, watch this play in the same game.
How on Earth does the same officiating crew make two totally different calls on those plays? This is the same game. The NFL has to fix this situation.
Bad Coaching, Part 1
Anthony Lynn did a heck of a job digging the Chargers out of a September hole last year, but he's helping to put them right back in another one in 2018. Maybe the Bolts don't beat the Rams in any scenario -- they would ultimately lose 35-23 to their Los Angeles counterpart on the "road" on Sunday -- but Lynn's bizarre decision to let Caleb Sturgis kick a field goal with 11:49 remaining in the game and his team trailing 35-20 stood out as a very questionable coaching choice on the day.
At that point, the Chargers were trailing by 15 points. For you math majors out there, that's two touchdowns with one of them featuring a two-point conversion. When Sturgis' field goal went through the uprights, that made it a 12-point game which ... isn't any better. The Chargers still needed two touchdowns, which means they also needed to stop the Rams.
One slight problem: they hadn't done that all day. Literally. Johnny Hekker hadn't punted once on Sunday afternoon at that point and the Rams had accumulated more than 450 net yards against a fairly toothless Chargers defense. Derwin James did have one nice interception in the end zone, although running the ball out to the half-yard line instead of taking a touchback might have been the impetus for a blocked punt by the Rams that expanded the lead.
Nevertheless, there was nothing in the game script and the Chargers defensive approach on Sunday that should have led Lynn to believe his team could stop Sean McVay's offense. That they DID stop it on the next drive -- a 36-yard jaunt that ate up more than four minutes of game clock -- is irrelevant. Don't judge it on the results, judge it on the process. Lynn still needed two touchdowns!
The kick, by the way, came from the Rams eight-yard line, after the Chargers spent second and third down throwing into the end zone. The smarter move there, in my opinion, is using those plays to set up a potential fourth down scoring opp. But that's micro-managing.
Because they were still trailing by two touchdowns, the Chargers needed to go for a 4th-and-7 from the Rams 19-yard line with 4:41 remaining. They didn't get it and the Rams would plow through the rest of the clock, which goes back to the whole "can't stop this offense" issue.
Chargers special teams mistakes, missed kicks and clock mismanagement are a September tradition like no other.
Bad Coaching, Part 2
Steve Wilks has looked a touch in over his head the first few weeks of the season. He stood there stoically last week as the Cardinals got smashed over and over again by the Rams, losing 34-0 and unflinchingly refusing to put Josh Rosen, his first-round rookie, in for Sam Bradford, the struggling veteran.
Then on Sunday, with two minutes left and the Cardinals trailing 16-14 after coughing up a lead to Mitchell Trubisky, Wilks randomly broke the glass and threw his youngster under center. There was an emergency, I guess, but it was a bizarre time to use Rosen.
For starters, this was literally the first professional action of Rosen's career. He played in the preseason, but the Cardinals refused to use him in the first two weeks despite managing a total of six points. So naturally, with two minutes left and his team trailing by two points, Wilks shoved Rosen in the game.
And, naturally, Rosen threw a pick.
It's fine if you want to play Rosen. He's a first-round pick who was considered by many, including yours truly, to be the most "pro ready" of all the quarterbacks in this draft. But it's coaching malpractice to throw him into the fire against Khalil Mack and this Bears defense out of nowhere late in this game, with the Cardinals desperately needing a drive.
When it happened, it felt like Wilks saw Baker Mayfield succeed for the Browns and decided to just run the exact same "toss the rookie out and see if he gets hot and saves our butts" play. It didn't work and it's confusing why he thought that was the proper scenario for baptizing -- for lack of a better word -- Rosen.