The Final Word: Philip Rivers saves his job, a Tua Tagovailoa sighting and a look at the NFC Least

There were quite a few Covid-19 scares ahead of NFL Week Six, but we got through it with all games played to schedule.

And it was a weekend in which quite a few teams laid down markers and showed they are true contenders…

Five Major Takeaways from Week Six

1) New kids on the block

Heading into the 2020 season, all of the talk in the AFC was about the race to the Super Bowl which would feature the Baltimore Ravens and the Kansas City Chiefs. We can add another couple of competitors to that sprint because the Pittsburgh Steelers and Tennessee Titans deserve a seat at the conference’s top table.

Pittsburgh physically dominated the Cleveland Browns on both sides of the ball during Sunday’s 38-7 win. Their running game was strong and the defence fearsome, knocking Baker Mayfield from the game with a series of crunching hits. And quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is working well with young receivers Chase Claypool and James Washington.

The Titans were explosive and dynamic during their 42-36 overtime win over Houston. Ryan Tannehill looks to be twice the quarterback he was when he played in Miami and, in Derrick Henry, Tennessee are powered by the best running back in the game. These two undefeated teams meet in the tastiest of Week Seven showdowns.

2) AFC playoff race will be loaded

While the Steelers and Titans grabbed my attention in Week Six, it is also clear that the aforementioned Ravens and Chiefs are not going away. Both are 5-1 on the season and capable of going all the way to the Super Bowl in Tampa.

On a rainy Monday evening in Buffalo, the Chiefs showed they can offer up much more than a bunch of Patrick Mahomes passes. In a 26-17 win, Kansas City rushed for 245 yards and dominated the line of scrimmage.

The Ravens survived a late scare to record a 30-28 win over the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday and, while it has not been perfect, Baltimore have quietly moved to 5-1. Their defence is excellent and Lamar Jackson is still making explosive plays, albeit not at the rate he did in his MVP season of 2019.

3) Rivers saves his job

I genuinely felt Philip Rivers was fighting for his job as quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts when his team took on the Cincinnati Bengals in Week Six. And I thought the veteran passer was in a world of trouble when his side trailed 21-0 early on.

Rivers, who had thrown just four touchdown passes in the Colts’ first five games, brought his team storming back to a 31-27 win as he threw for 371 yards and three scores. It was an impressive backs-to-the-wall performance that saw the Colts improve to 4-2. And it will keep Rivers in the line-up.

Rivers has never been a mobile quarterback and his physical limitations show up even more now he is 38 years of age. But he is lightning-quick in diagnosing defences and that trait will need to be evident the rest of the way in order to keep the Colts on track and his reserve, Jacoby Brissett, on the bench.

4) A Tua sighting

The Miami Dolphins were easing towards the final moments of a routine 24-0 victory over the New York Jets when head coach Brian Flores decided to send a jolt of energy rippling around the few thousand fans in attendance.

Rather than simply run out the clock, Miami gave rookie first-round quarterback Tua Tagovailoa his first taste of NFL action. And he looked good. Briefly. Tua completed his two passes for modest yardage but it was a big moment for him, 11 months after suffering a career-threatening hip injury in college.

There were two visuals that will stick with me from this game. Starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick – who is as classy as they come – was leading the cheers for Tua, as the man who will eventually replace him jogged onto the field. And long after the game ended, Tua was sat on the 15-yard line – in full uniform – soaking in the moment and talking to his parents on FaceTime.

Tua appreciates what playing in the National Football League means and he has the best possible mentor in Fitz.

5) The NFC Least

The Dallas Cowboys stayed in first place in the NFC East after Monday night’s 38-10 result against the Arizona Cardinals. Just to be clear, the Cowboys lost that one-sided contest, yet their terrible showing still has them in first place in the worst NFL division I have seen in a long time.

The Cowboys have two wins, Philadelphia has one win and one tie, while Washington and the New York Giants have just one victory apiece. One of these terrible teams will host a playoff game in January as a division champion.

That is not going to sit well with the folks who hate to see 10 or 11-win wildcard teams forced on the road to take on a lesser opponent who, in this case, may only have five or six victories to their name based on current form.

Player of the Week: Derrick Henry

The Titans running back is built like a defensive end as he proved by bulling into the endzone and carrying two defenders with him for the game-winning touchdown on Sunday. Yet, Henry can also run away from the fastest of cornerbacks, as he did on a 94-yard touchdown run. Henry rushed for 212 yards and two scores and is close to unstoppable. And the bad news is that he normally gets better in December and January. Scary!

Play of the Week

Let’s give some love to the defences of the NFL here for the first time this season. Jamel Dean’s 32-yard interception return for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was huge. It marked the first time Aaron Rodgers had been intercepted this season and it kicked off a 38-point run as the Bucs beat the Green Bay Packers 38-10. It was a great play as Dean pounced with Rodgers telegraphing his throw and it completely turned the tide in a massive NFC game.

Coach of the Week: Mike Vrabel

He may have played dumb in his Monday press conference, but Titans head coach Mike Vrabel once again used the NFL rule book to his advantage. The clock was running late in the game against Houston with the Texans driving to score. Vrabel felt the Texans were going to score – which they did – so time and preserving time outs became the priority.

Vrabel ‘accidentally’ sent a 12th defender onto the field and his team was flagged for a penalty. Vrabel then produced some sideline theatrics as he pretended to be angry, knowing in truth he had preserved about 40 seconds of game time for his offense because the penalty stopped the clock.

That was vital when you consider the fact that Tennessee’s Ryan Tannehill threw the game-tying touchdown on the very next drive… with no time outs left and just four seconds on the clock.

For Vrabel to know and remember the NFL rule book like that in the heat of the battle was massively impressive. He also did a similar thing on the timing front in last year’s playoff game against the Bill Belichick-led Patriots. We may have another coaching giant growing stronger by the year down in Nashville at this rate.

On my Radar

Cam Newton is not throwing the football very well at all and his New England Patriots are struggling at 2-3 on the season. Sunday’s 18-12 loss to the Denver Broncos was a major disappointment for Cam and his team.

The final drive of the game summed up the contest, for me. New England were chasing the win and could only move the ball downfield on two trick-play throws by wide receiver Julian Edelman. Every time Cam stepped up to throw, his receivers – who are ordinary at best and actually very poor – couldn’t get separation from defenders and Newton was inaccurate.

Belichick will scheme up wins here and there due to his coaching prowess, but I’m not sure New England can threaten the big four in the AFC on this kind of form.

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