SportsPulse: In a battle of the Bays it was Tampa that looked like the superior team. Mackenzie Salmon overreacts to all the biggest storylines from Week 6 in the NFL.
One undefeated NFL team (the Green Bay Packers) fell in Week 6, while two previously winless teams (the Atlanta Falcons and New York Giants) earned their first victory. The Tennessee Titans and Pittsburgh Steelers, meanwhile, maintained their unblemished records for another week.
And teams making their cases for playoff runs had another chance to shine. Perhaps no squad made a bigger statement than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who toppled Aaron Rodgers and a Packers team that was coming off a bye week. Meanwhile, Tom Brady's old team may be headed in the opposite direction.
Here are the Week 6 NFL winners and losers:
It was looking like it would be a long day for Tampa Bay after Aaron Rodgers and the Packers raced out to a 10-point lead in the first quarter. In the second, the defense took over and the Buccaneers (4-2) cruised to a 38-10 victory. And it all started with that pass rush.
The constant pressure in Rodgers' face completely threw off the timing of the Packers offense. It came from linebackers and safeties on the edges of the pocket, but the interior of the Bucs defensive line pushed linemen into Rodgers' space in the pocket. While Rodgers' two picks happened on plays in which there was little pressure, it was the persistent threat throughout the game that had Green Bay on edge. Tampa finished with five sacks, but it was 13 QB hits that destroyed Green Bay. That the Buccaneers did it to a Packers team that had allowed only three sacks in their first four games of the year just shows how dangerous this group is. Throw in the fact that the Bucs have the NFL's best rushing defense and it's not a stretch to say that the defensive front is the strength of this team.
Nothing like exploiting a matchup against a group of weaker linebackers to get back on track. That's what San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo did, and it should silence critics who were calling for him to lose his job. In the 49ers' 24-16 victory against the Los Angeles Rams, Garoppolo was ultra-efficient (23 of 33 for 268 yards with three touchdowns) and targeted his tight ends to take advantage of the favorable matchup.
The Niners capitalized on short and quick passes, many of which were down the middle of the field, that looked to get their playmakers in open space. Those quick passes did two things: take the pressure off the San Francisco offensive line and remove the sting out of the L.A. pass rush. The Rams generated just two pressures all game long. That's a recipe the 49ers can ride to return to form, even with all their injuries.
This was a game in which the Titans let their opponent back into the game. But in a 42-36 victory against the Houston Texans, Tennessee proved again that it can contend in the AFC behind a steady formula: an effective rushing offense, efficiency in the red zone and smart and measured play late in games. Thanks to a steady dose of Derrick Henry (24 touches, 264 yards, two touchdowns) and clean play from quarterback Ryan Tannehill (30 of 41 for 364 yards, four touchdowns and one interception), the Titans are now 5-0 and one of two remaining undefeated squads in the conference.
Though the Tennessee defense will have several plays it will want back, it made enough plays in key situations, like the stopped two-point conversion late in the game that held the deficit at seven points before the Titans tied the game and sent it into overtime. But most impressive about this team is how it has responded to its COVID-19 outbreak from earlier this month, winning two games in five days without much time practicing.
Nine years after he last served as a head coach in the NFL, Morris won in his first try as the Falcons' interim coach after the organization fired Dan Quinn last week. Morris did it in convincing fashion, as Atlanta beat the Minnesota Vikings 40-23 and in the process shed some of the criticisms that had plagued this team under Quinn.
The Falcons raced out to a big lead and held it. They flashed speed and aggressiveness on defense and forced turnovers. Their offense was effective on third downs (nine of 17), fourth downs (three of three) and in the red zone (two of three). As Morris tries to make his way back to head coaching full time, this was a great first step.
Quarterback Joe Flacco #5 of the New York Jets reacts during the second quarter against the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium on October 18, 2020 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo: Michael Reaves, Getty Images)
It's time to end the Gase experiment in New York. The Jets put up another embarrassing performance in a 24-0 loss to the Miami Dolphins. They're the only winless team left in the NFL, and Sunday's shutout came against a squad that hadn't blanked any team in six seasons. The Jets generated 263 yards of total offense. Titans running back Derrick Henry alone accounted for 264 yards on Sunday. New York converted just two of 17 third-down tries.
The Jets have lost their six games by an average of 18 points. According to the CBS broadcast, 31 of Gase's 40 losses as a head coach in his career have been by double digits. This is a roster that has some massive holes, to be sure, but it's undisciplined play, needless penalties and abysmal execution that are the trademarks of this team.
In their 18-12 loss to the Denver Broncos, the Patriots offense sputtered. And, for the first time since 2002, New England (2-3) is under .500 after five games in a season. The loss uncovered some significant issues that could plague the team down the stretch.
The Patriots lack star power at receiver and are getting virtually no significant production out of their tight ends. The offensive line is leaky and allows far too much pressure to break through. Simply put, beyond quarterback Cam Newton, the team just doesn't really have any other players who can take over. And, after a trying set of weeks in which a COVID-19 outbreak limited practice time, New England simply looked like a team out of sorts, and its star player looks like someone who knows he has to press to put his team in a position to win.
Cleveland's rushing defense, which came into Sunday ranked fourth in the league but was dominated by Pittsburgh's offensive line, deserves a lot of blame for the Browns' 38-7 loss to the Steelers. So does coach Kevin Stefanski's entire staff for being outcoached and failing to adjust. But Mayfield, who was banged up headed into the game and took several shots from Pittsburgh's pass rush, was pulled before the fourth quarter even started. "I didn't want to see him get hit one more time," Stefanski said after the game.
But Mayfield (10 of 18 for 119 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions) has been far too careless with the football in his career. Those turnovers not only completely slow down Cleveland's offense, they also put the defense in compromising positions. He has now committed 46 turnovers in 36 career games. Unless he cleans that up quickly, it may force the franchise to reevaluate his long-term future with the team.
It's not quite time to start talking about Zimmer — who in July signed a three-year extension as head coach of the Vikings — as a candidate for the hot seat, but it may be quickly approaching. Minnesota fell to 1-5 with a 40-23 blowout loss to a previously winless Falcons team that just fired its coach and general manager.