The NFL can be unpredictable. Sometimes, the games make very little sense when expectations are turned upside down. Sunday was one of those bizarro-world experiences.
The early games gave a hint of what was to come, and as the day progressed to the late-afternoon contests, it got weirder. When the madness ended, seven underdogs came away victorious, two of them upsetting teams who were double-digit favorites and five of them doing their damage on the road. But that’s not what made Sunday so strange.
Here were the biggest oddities:
- In their first game after trading franchise defensive icon Von Miller, the Broncos put on a defensive clinic at AT&T Stadium, shutting down Dak Prescott and the top-ranked Cowboys offense in a 30-16 Denver win made closer by Dallas’ two garbage-time TDs.
- In their first game of the season playing without injured MVP candidate Kyler Murray, the Cardinals still scored their usual 30-plus points on the road behind backup QB Colt McCoy, cruising to a 31-17 win that kept Arizona atop the NFC West and left San Francisco in last place with lots of questions and an 0-3 division record.
- In their first game after losing NFL rushing king Derrick Henry to a foot injury (possibly season-ending), the Titans ran for only 69 yards, their fewest since 2012, but they still dominated the Rams at SoFi Stadium in a 28-16 victory made easier by two inexplicable interceptions by Matthew Stafford, who was acquired to prevent such head-scratching mistakes.
Sunday also featured Matt Ryan running for a first down and a touchdown as well as a fullback hurdling a defender. But nothing was as bonkers as the battle of the Josh Allens in Jacksonville.
First, the background: Josh Allen, the Bills quarterback, and Josh Allen, the Jaguars edge rusher, were drafted seventh overall in 2018 and 2019, respectively. Before Sunday, they had never faced each other, only communicating via social media.
Their encounter at TIAA Field in Jacksonville ended up becoming way more memorable than reasonably expected. The Bills, favored by 15 points, had nothing but trouble against the Jaguars. At the center of what would be Urban Meyer’s signature NFL triumph was Josh Allen the pass rusher dominating Josh Allen the Pro Bowl passer.
It began with the second-quarter sack, the first time an NFL player sacked a quarterback with the same name. Then came the third-quarter interception. But the play that really took this one-on-one matchup into “The Twilight Zone” was a fourth-quarter fumble recovery that completed a hat trick of Josh Allen-on-Josh Allen plays. In the end, the Jags’ Allen got to prove “who the real J is.”
So, yeah, it was a very bizarre Sunday that also saw the Patriots move within a half-game of Buffalo for the AFC East lead.
Let’s take a look at other performances that stood out Sunday in Week 9 of the NFL season.
Best offensive performance
James Conner, Cardinals. He’s your new NFL touchdown leader. Conner scored three TDs on runs of 13 and 1 yards and a reception of 45 yards to give him 11 for the season, one more than Rams wideout Cooper Kupp and Titans running back Derrick Henry. He had 173 total yards in Arizona's win against the 49ers, including 96 rushing yards on 21 carries.
Best defensive performance
Josh Allen, Jaguars. (See above.) Honorable mentions go to the Broncos defense, who got a breakout game from rookie linebacker Jonathon Cooper (two sacks, two tackles for losses), and to Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson, who had two interceptions (including an 88-yard pick-six) and statistically was the definition of a shutdown corner in New England’s 24-6 win over Carolina.
Best special teams performance
Kene Nwangwu, Vikings. The rookie emerged as Minnesota’s secret weapon against the Ravens, opening the second half with a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and then successfully converting a fake punt with a 9-yard run for a first down.
Buffalo’s Josh Allen gives a very honest assessment of his play in the shocking defeat to the Jaguars.
With Sunday’s victory against the Rams, the Titans have beaten four straight opponents who made the playoffs last season. Such a win streak is a very good omen for Mike Vrabel’s squad.
Denzel Ward scores on a 99-yard pick-six and breaks Joe Burrow’s ankles in the process.
Mike Gesicki casually makes the one-handed, back-shoulder grab.
Baker Mayfield throws the deep dime to Donovan Peoples-Jones for a 60-yard TD.
Rookie Camryn Bynum soars through the air to intercept a Lamar Jackson pass.
Nick Chubb hits the afterburners to reach a max speed of 21.07 mph on a 70-yard TD run.
Devin Duvernay snags this tying TD with one hand.
Austin Ekeler makes Eagles defenders grab for air on this nifty catch-and-run.