When the Raiders had the ball deep in Lions territory late in their eventual 31-24 victory, more than a few people were probably screaming at coach Jon Gruden for throwing incomplete on second down, preferring he keep the ball on the ground and run the clock.
Actually, it was a smart move.
1. Why did Gruden make the right choice to keep throwing on the final drive?
Really, Gruden didn’t have any other choice once Jalen Richard broke a tackle and went down at the Detroit 9 after a 23-yard gain and less than three minutes remaining.
(It would have been an entirely different chess match between Gruden and Lions coach Matt Patricia had Richard gone down outside the Detroit 10, creating the possibility of getting a first down and a second set of downs.)
The Lions still had all three of their timeouts and used one with 2:14 to play after Josh Jacobs was tackled for no gain on first down.
At this point, Gruden had two choices. He could make the Lions burn their remaining timeouts by running on second and third down. But the Raiders likely only would have gotten a field goal — Daniel Carlson had already missed from 32 yards — and the Lions would have had two minutes to get into Matt Prater’s lengthy field-goal range. That’s not a tough chore, even with no timeouts.
Or, Gruden could have stayed aggressive, gone for the touchdown and taken his chances with his shaky defense against Matthew Stafford armed with two timeouts.
Derek Carr and Hunter Renfrow made Gruden look smart with their 9-yard touchdown pass. Then Karl Joseph rewarded Gruden’s faith with his tight coverage against Lions tight end Logan Thomas in the Raiders’ end zone on fourth down with three seconds remaining.
2. Why should Bears general manager Ryan Pace be hiding from the McCaskey family?
You’d be ducking the Bears’ owners too if you passed on Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson in the 2017 draft to select Mitch Trubisky. Pace also traded up one spot from third overall — with two third-round picks and a fourth as sweeteners – to make Trubisky the first quarterback taken in that draft.
As if you need to be reminded, Patrick Mahomes was the NFL MVP last season, and Watson won again on Sunday in London 26-3 over the Jaguars to enter the MVP conversation.
Trubisky was awful again (10 for 21, 125 yards, 66.6 rating) for the Bears in their eventual 22-14 loss to the Eagles. The Bears had 164 yards of total offense Sunday, their fewest since posting 147 in a 15-14 loss to the 49ers on Dec. 3, 2017. Chicago had 9 yards of total offense in the first half — their lowest in 40 years — and that was only because the Bears gained 13 yards on their final possession of the second quarter.
Prior to that, coach Matt Nagy’s playcalling was the definition of trying to hide your quarterback. Trubisky’s first four completions were behind the line of scrimmage, and he didn’t complete a pass beyond it until there were 44 seconds left in the second quarter and Chicago trailed 12-0.
“It’s frustrating for all of us,” Nagy said. “It’s not what we wanted or where we know we should be. That’s what it’s at. But we got to do everything we can to stick together and to make sure we keep fighting.”
3. Why should the NFL be a little more wary of the Kansas City Chiefs?
Not only did they win for the second time without quarterback Patrick Mahomes — against a Vikings team that had won four straight — but they also secured the victory without left tackle Eric Fisher and starting defensive ends Frank Clark and Alex Okafor.
This was not a game the Chiefs (6-2) should have won, but they found a way, even though it took four field goals from Harrison Butker. Even better: the Chiefs’ much-maligned defense did its part and looked competent for the first time, holding the NFL’s third-ranked offense to just 308 yards of total offense and 31 percent on third downs.
4. Why did the Vikings’ offense let the team down in the loss to the Chiefs?
Minnesota was totally inept down the stretch, as it totaled minus-7 yards on its final two possessions (six plays) while holding a 23-20 lead. Those plays: a throwaway by Kirk Cousins, a 3-yard loss on a Dalvin Cook run, a 3-yard run on third and 13, a batted pass, a 7-yard loss on a tight end screen and a throw into the ground under pressure. It was not the finest moment for offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski or the Vikings offense.
“It’s certainly a great opportunity to make (the game) yours and to go do something,” said Cousins. “That was certainly one of the disappointments, to not do more on those final two drives.”
5. How did UNLV factor into the Chargers perhaps saving their season and the job of coach Anthony Lynn?
When Lynn fired veteran offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt this week, he elevated former UNLV quarterback Shane Steichen to offensive coordinator. Steichen, 34, is three years younger than quarterback Philip Rivers and left UNLV as the 12th all-time leading passer.
Steichen made Lynn look like a genius as he shook a Chargers offense out of its doldrums: Los Angeles only punted once and totaled 442 yards in their 26-11 upset of the Packers that kept them in the playoff race at 4-5. The Chargers had averaged 297.5 yards in the four previous games.
“He was outstanding,” Lynn said of Steichen. “He’s a good young coach. He’s going to be around for a long time.”