What Have We Learned From Week 6 of the 2018 NFL Season

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Chiefs Patriots Football

New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, left, catches a pass in front of Kansas City Chiefs safety Josh Shaw (30) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Here is What Have We Learned from Week 6 of the 2018 NFL Season, thanks to the AP Pro 32 for photos & help in this article.

Ups

  • When Patriots need a big play, it’s Brady to Gronk-FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — When the going gets tough, Tom Brady goes to Rob Gronkowski.

    The Patriots tight end had only three catches against the Chiefs on Sunday night, but he had big gains on each of the team’s final two drives to help New England beat previously undefeated Kansas City 43-40.

    Gronkowski had a 42-yard catch and run to start a drive with under four minutes left that helped set up a Stephen Gostkowski field goal. Then, after Patrick Mahomes connected with Tyreek Hill on a 75-yard touchdown, Brady found the big tight end for 39 yards to the Kansas City 9.

    Gostkowski ended it with a 28-yard chip shot.

    “We kept fighting. We stayed strong,” Gronkowski said Monday. “It was a great night, a great football game.”

    A five-time Super Bowl champion and three-time NFL MVP, Brady has had no trouble finding receivers in his 18-year career. But Gronkowski is one of his favorites, including 76 TD passes from the Patriots quarterback — nearly twice as many as the next most prolific Brady target.

    “He made a big play. He’s been making a lot of those his career,” Brady said. “I’ll keep throwing to him in the biggest moments.”

    Gronkowski had one catch in the first quarter and then wasn’t targeted again until the fourth as the Chiefs double-covered him for much of the game. But on first and 10 from their own 21 with 3:50 to play, Brady hit Gronkowski for 42 yards to set up a 50-yard field goal that made it 40-33.

    After Mahomes and Hill tied it, Brady dropped back from the Chiefs 48 and saw his 6-foot-6 tight end running one-on-one with cornerback Josh Shaw. He lofted a long pass into Gronkowski’s arms; it took Shaw another 15 yards to bring him down.

    “It was a really good throw,” said Patriots receiver Chris Hogan, who had catches of 42 and 19 yards on back-to-back plays during the Patriots’ last touchdown drive. “I knew that with Rob being there, he had a really good chance at getting the ball. He ran a great route and set the offense up for a game-winning field goal.”

    With three catches for 97 yards, Gronkowski finished the game with 500 career receptions — just the NFL’s 15th tight end to reach the milestone. He did it in 108 games, the fourth-fastest in league history; he also hit the 7,500 yards receiving mark, the eighth tight end to do so.

    “They just made plays when it came down to it. The quarterback is a damn good player. The tight end is a damn good player,” Chiefs cornerback Orlando Scandrick said. “Those guys have been with each other a long time and you can see it. You can see the non-verbal communication. They just made more plays than us tonight. I tip my hat to Tom Brady. I tip my hat to Rob Gronkowski. I tip my hat to Julian Edelman, the whole Patriots football team.”

 

  • Chargers romp over Browns on first stop of London trip-CLEVELAND (AP) — The Los Angeles Chargers won’t spend their lengthy lay-over for London mulling a loss.

    Powered by a dominant running game, big plays from quarterback Philip Rivers and a rookie kicker who didn’t miss in his NFL debut, the Chargers rolled to a 38-14 win on Sunday over the Cleveland Browns and rookie QB Baker Mayfield, who got little help from his teammates.

    Nearly two years after leaving FirstEnergy Stadium in disgrace after the Browns beat them for their only win in 2016, the Chargers (4-2) won their third straight and made sure their next few days would be enjoyable.

    “Coming across the country and playing in a hostile environment, they executed well, Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said. “That’s the way it’s supposed to look.”

    Los Angeles will stay in Cleveland before flying later this week to England to face Tennessee on Sunday.

    “It was good,” said Rivers, the 36-year-old QB who continued one of the best starts of his 15-year career. “It was even better because we’re going to be here a while. You don’t let those negative thoughts creep in, but I was telling (defensive end) Melvin (Ingram) as were coming off of the bus, ‘We can’t lose this game and then stay four or five days.’ I couldn’t think of anything much worse.”

    And that’s no knock on Cleveland.

    The Chargers played their best all-around game this season against the Browns (2-3-1), who were competitive in their first five games but were overwhelmed by a Los Angeles team that might not be getting the attention it deserves.

    Melvin Gordon rushed for three touchdowns and 132 yards, Rivers connected with Tyrell Williams on two TDs and San Diego’s defense sacked Mayfield five times and twice intercepted the No. 1 overall pick .

    The Chargers rushed for 246 yards on 36 carries, eating up yardage and time while taking some pressure off Rivers. Gordon scored on runs of 4, 10 and 11 yards for his first career three-TD rushing game.

    “The guys up front were blocking,” Rivers said. “We had a heck of a plan and they executed it. It’s huge. We talk a lot about balance and I think that’s what helps some of those run actions. We haven’t had many days when we’ve ran more than we’ve thrown. From what I can remember, those are fun. I’ll take those any time we can get them.”

    For Mayfield, his third career start was a tough lesson.

    He tweaked his ankle when he slipped on the sideline in the first quarter, and Mayfield was plagued by a few costly drops, including two by rookies Antonio Callaway and Damion Ratley in the first half that could have been TDs.

    Rivers complimented Mayfield for battling through a difficult day.

    “He’s a gritty, tough and competitive guy,” Rivers said. “He has a heck of a career ahead of him. He made some really good throws today that were close. If I wasn’t pulling against him to beat him, I would’ve said ‘You should’ve caught those.’ There were a couple of them that I thought they should’ve caught, but I’m glad they didn’t.

    “He’s going to have a heck of a career. You can just tell in the way he commands. He was running no-huddles and doing all of that in his third or fourth start. He’s going to be just fine.”

    KICK START

    For once, the Chargers stayed between the uprights.

    “Well, we made all of our damn kicks,” Lynn said, opening his postgame news conference. “All the extra points, all the field goals, so that’s improvement.”

    Rookie Michael Badgley kicked a 44-yard field goal and made all five PATs in his debut. He was signed Thursday and filled in for Caleb Sturgis, who has a quad injury and accuracy issues.

    Lynn said he’s comfortable with Badgley, but left his kicking plans undecided.

 

  • Thielen it: Vikings star on record-setting receiving pace-EAGAN, Minn. (AP) — Last week during team drills with the Minnesota Vikings, Adam Thielen stretched out his body and dived to try to catch an off-target pass.

    Thielen immediately questioned aloud the wisdom of his decision to risk pain when ultimately the completion didn’t matter. Thielen, though, couldn’t resist. There’s hardly a ball in the air he doesn’t believe he can grab, and this is anything but blind faith.

    Through six games, Thielen leads the NFL with 58 receptions and 712 yards. He is on a staggering pace to reach 155 catches and 1,899 yards over a full season, which would break the record for receptions (Marvin Harrison, 143 in 2002) and fall 66 yards short of the best for yards (Calvin Johnson, 1,964 in 2012).

    “Adam has a great heart. He’s really a tough kid,” said coach Mike Zimmer, who revealed the anecdote about Thielen’s ill-advised practice dive. “He comes over to me and talks to me during the game about stuff that’s going on, and it’s always about, ‘These guys can’t guard me.'”

    That’s a brash declaration, decidedly un-Minnesotan, but this lifelong native of the state isn’t deluding himself. He’s not the biggest or the fastest of his peers around the league, the biggest reason he went undrafted as an NCAA Division II prospect at Minnesota State, but his route-running ability is just about unparalleled.

    “That dog mindset, as far as how he approaches the game and how he wants to win each and every rep, that’s something we have in common and that’s something that goes far with me especially because I know how he feels,” said fellow Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs, who is on pace for 107 catches and 1,160 yards himself. “I know if there’s anything bothering him or anything like that, he still never makes an excuse and he makes the plays. At the end of the day, we all only care about making the play.”

    Thielen has the most receptions through six games in NFL history, and he is the first player since 1961 to start a season with at least 100 receiving yards in each of the first six games. The 28-year-old is on track to set all kinds of Vikings records, no small feats with a franchise that has featured Pro Football Hall of Fame members Cris Carter and Randy Moss.

    This is not where Thielen’s motivation originates, though. He is noticeably uncomfortable when asked by reporters about such statistical accomplishments.

    “I’m just trying to help my team win games,” Thielen said. “Honestly, if you lead the league in receiving but you’re not winning games, it’s not a fun business to be in, so it doesn’t really matter what your stats are.”

    His take was no different on Sunday after he had 11 receptions for 123 yards and a touchdown that helped the Vikings beat Arizona 27-17.

    “I feel like I sound like a broken record, but it’s such a team stat,” Thielen said . “When you have great players around you, that’s the only way you can do those things. We have so many great players and great guys that are selfless.”

    There was no better example of Thielen’s impact on the success of the Vikings’ offense than early in the third quarter against the Cardinals as they clung to a 13-10 lead. Latavius Murray had just taken a 4-yard loss on a smothered toss sweep on second down, bringing up third-and-13 from the Vikings 42.

    Kirk Cousins was hit by Chandler Jones as he released the pass, one of 15 times he sent the ball Thielen’s way in a tight space in the zone coverage. With outstretched arms and dragging toes, Thielen secured the catch right in front of the first-down marker before tumbling out of bounds.

    Cardinals coach Steve Wilks challenged the call from the opposite sideline, perhaps assuming the difficulty of the task would reveal a bobble on the replay, but there was none to be seen.

    Five plays later, Thielen hauled in a 13-yard touchdown pass from Cousins for a 10-point lead.

    “It’s kind of a hidden play because it’s not the one that scored the points or the one that people will talk about,” Cousins said, “but that is a big, big play.”

Middle

  • McCarthy knows Packers have to improve for post-bye stretch-GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy heads into the bye week well aware of his team’s shortcomings.

    And he knows how crucial it is to fix them in advance of the most challenging portion of the schedule.

    “It was important to win the game on so many different fronts,” McCarthy said on Tuesday, a day after his team’s 33-30 win over San Francisco. “Let’s be honest, you have to win your home games.”

    At 3-2-1, all three of the Packers’ victories have come at home, along with a Week 2 tie with NFC North rival Minnesota. Their two losses were on the road at Washington and at Detroit.

    And they’re about to be on the road a lot in the next month, with four of their next five games away from Lambeau Field.

    With post-bye games at the Los Angeles Rams (6-0) and New England Patriots (4-2) looming — then two more road games at Seattle (3-3) and at Minnesota (3-2-1) after a Nov. 11 home game against Miami (4-2) — the Packers’ next five opponents are a combined 20-9-1.

    “Obviously, I understand what the next four games look like. But they don’t mean anything outside of the Rams because that’s the next game,” McCarthy said.

    “We get a chance to work this week, get a head start on those guys, but we’ve got a lot of work to do on ourselves — and that’s really where the energy will go.”

    McCarthy said players had a weightlifting session Tuesday morning before getting the rest of the week off. Players will travel back to Green Bay on Sunday and get back to work on Monday.

    The coaches, meanwhile, will do their traditional self-scouting, which includes what McCarthy calls “across-the-hall” evaluations, where the defensive coaches break down what they see from the Packers’ offense and vice versa.

    What they’ll find are inconsistencies on both sides of the ball.

    Green Bay’s offense is fourth in total offense (421 yards per game), but a middling 15th in scoring (24.7 points per game), 16th in third down conversion rate (40.2 percent) and 22nd in red zone offense (50 percent touchdown rate).

    The defense is seventh in total defense (328.3 yards per game), but 15th in scoring defense (24 points per game) and gave up several big plays to the 49ers on Monday night.

    Even as important as Monday night’s win was, it epitomized the Packers’ inconsistency. The defense allowed the 49ers just 3 yards on their final three possessions, with Kevin King’s interception squelching San Francisco’s final chance to win in regulation and setting up the Packers’ winning field-goal drive.

    Quarterback Aaron Rodgers led a pair of successful two-minute drives at the end of the game — the first for the game-tying touchdown and the second for kicker Mason Crosby’s 27-yard walk-off field goal — but the offense continues to struggle outside of the two-minute drill.

    “We’re going to enjoy this one for sure, but correct it at some point,” Rodgers said. “Thankfully, we’re going to get into our bye week pretty quickly, but I’m sure next Monday we’ll take a good, hard look at this and take a look at what we did well our first six weeks.

    “We’re a couple plays away from being 4-2 or 5-1, and definitely a couple plays from being the other way. So we’re thankful to be 3-2-1 right now and realize what’s in front of us, and how this type of play might not get it done against the next opponents. We’ve got to play better.”

    Rodgers, who led the Packers to a 24-23 comeback win over Chicago in the season opener despite suffering a left knee injury during the first half of that game, has attempted at least 40 passes in the past five games, and McCarthy admitted he’d like the offense to be more balanced.

    But McCarthy also feels those two fourth-quarter comebacks will benefit the team during the upcoming challenging stretch.

    “The adversity component as far as the number of times we’ve been in these situations so far this year, I’m hopeful,” McCarthy said. “And going off of past experience, I think this will pay dividends for us as a football team.”

Downs

  • Colts dropping ball as losses mount, games slip away

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Colts coach Frank Reich doesn’t need to spend much time dissecting game tapes to figure out what’s going wrong.

He sees it with his own eyes at full speed.

Dropped passes, turnovers and inexplicable penalties have fueled the Colts’ four-game losing streak, leaving them in a big midseason hole.

“It’s been an issue and it’s past the point of ‘OK, that was a fluke,'” Reich said Monday when pressed specifically on the issue of drops. “We just have to keep working, catching balls.”

Sportradar lists only six teams with drop percentages worse than Indianapolis’ 8.7, and the Colts are tied with Cleveland for most drops in the NFL with 17. Indy tight end Eric Ebron and Baltimore receiver Michael Crabtree are tied for the league lead with six drops each, according to Sportradar.

Colts backup receiver Zach Pascal is tied for 11th with three.

Because the definition of a drop varies widely, numbers and percentages can be skewed.

But former Colts offensive coordinator and interim coach Bruce Arians said during Sunday’s telecast he counted 10 drops by the Colts in a loss at New England in Week 5 and 16 over the previous two games.

The trend continued when Chester Rogers dropped Andrew Luck’s pass on the first play from scrimmage.

He was far from alone.

Rookie running back Nyheim Hines dropped a touchdown pass later in the game and second-year running back Marlon Mack joined the club when he failed to snag a screen pass on the game’s second play. Instead, Mack, who had missed three straight games and four of the first five with an injured hamstring, batted the ball up in the air and Jets cornerback Morris Claiborne returned an interception 17 yards for the game’s first score.

“It’s mental,” Mack said after the 42-34 loss. “We just have to lock in and focus. Everyone here can catch, we just have to lock in and squeeze the ball.”

Another explanation is injuries.

While Luck has played reasonably well behind an offensive line that has used five different starting lineups, he has been without Pro Bowl receiver T.Y. Hilton (hamstring) the last two games and Pro Bowl tight end Jack Doyle (hip) for four straight games. Receivers Ryan Grant and Marcus Johnson also left with injuries and couldn’t finish Sunday’s game.

Following the loss in New England, Luck said the Colts (1-5) needed to get out of their own way before they could start winning games — and he started by pointing to his own turnover woes.

Penalties have been equally problematic.

The result: In addition to sharing the league lead in drops, Indy also ranks in the top five in interceptions (eight), fumbles lost (five) and penalties (46).

Reich, who played on four Super Bowl teams in Buffalo and won a Super Bowl ring with Philadelphia, knows it’s a combination ripe for disaster though he believes the Colts can fix these problems. He has seen it before.

“I won’t go into specific names but I’ve seen players go into a little bit of a funk for a few games, I’ve definitely seen that happen and I’ve seen guys get out of the funk and go on to have great years or great careers,” he said.

They just have to start holding onto the ball.

“It’s a bit frustrating. I feel a bit like a broken record, but talking about it, that’s the easy part. It’s doing it, living it, but I’m not discouraged,” Luck said. “There are a bunch of competitive people in there, but I think we’re going in the right direction and the results will come.”

  • Ugly sight: Browns’ lopsided loss an ‘eye opener’ for team-BEREA, Ohio (AP) — The Browns have endured all types of losses over the past few seasons. They’ve been painful, lopsided, comical, heartbreaking, head-scratching and last-second.

    Jarvis Landry described Sunday’s defeat differently.

    “An eye-opener,” the receiver said.

    After being so competitive through their first five games, Cleveland was simply overmatched by the Los Angeles Chargers, who rushed for 246 yards, contained and confused rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield and wrecked a picture-perfect day near Lake Erie for Browns fans hoping to see their team win two straight home games for the first time in four years.

    Instead, they watched the Browns (2-3-1) get pounded.

    “They got after us,” said Landry, adding he left FirstEnergy Stadium without speaking to reporters following the game because he was frustrated. “Truthfully, it really wasn’t nothing to be said. I think it was evident. They came in, and they were the better team.”

    Better by far.

    The Chargers took it to the Browns, who were coming off an emotional overtime win against Baltimore, a victory that altered the national narrative about Cleveland’s season. But just when the Browns turned trendy, they got knocked back.

    “I hate to say that we needed it, but it’s something that we needed to happen to us,” said Landry, who then backtracked, saying he meant the Browns got tested and failed.

    “I didn’t really mean like we NEEDED it,” he said with emphasis. “Obviously, I want to win, that’s what I really meant.”

    What the Browns do need is help, especially to replenish a wide receivers group that has been drained by departures and injuries.

    On Sunday, veteran receiver Rod Streater suffered a neck fracture while covering a punt in the first quarter and is done for the season. Streater was set to play more while Rashard Higgins (knee) and Derrick Willies (collarbone) recover from injuries. Willies underwent surgery on Monday to fix his broken collarbone and isn’t expected back until late in the season.

    In the meantime, the Browns are severely lacking in experience with Landry playing alongside rookies Antonio Callaway and Damion Ratley, both of whom failed to make TD catches on well-thrown balls by Mayfield on Sunday.

    The Browns signed free agent Breshad Perriman, a former first-round pick with Baltimore, on Saturday and the team will try to get him up to speed in time for this week’s game at Tampa Bay.

    Coach Hue Jackson said general manager John Dorsey will continue to look outside the team for help, but that it may have to come from within.

    “We are not going to make excuses,” he said. “We have to coach well. We have to put them into the best situations.

    “We have to help everybody on this team offensively, defensively and on special teams to be as good as we can because nobody else cares about what is going on in Cleveland as far as what players are playing, our injuries or anything like that.

    “It does not matter. We will find a way.”

    One way would be to get Mayfield and Landry in sync.

    Landry, who has caught more passes in his first five seasons than any player in NFL history, had just two for 11 yards against the Chargers. Mayfield targeted Landry nine times, but the pair is still learning to play together — and the Browns don’t have the luxury of time.

    Landry admitted being frustrated by his lack of production, but said Cleveland’s receivers need to do more for Mayfield.

    “We have to do a better job of helping him out in situations and making one-on-one contested catches,” he said.

    “Or when he gets out of the pocket and he’s throwing on the run, we have to find ways to get ourselves free from DBs and the coverage to be able to make plays.”

    Cleveland’s receiving group looks different than earlier this season, weakened by Josh Gordon’s trade to New England. Landry has been double-teamed as defenses focus on stopping him.

    It’s time for the Browns’ youngsters to grow up.

    “We trust these guys,” Landry said of Callaway and Ratley, who had six catches for 82 yards. “We count on them each week to make plays for us and we give them opportunities in clutch moments, and it’s really not about young guys any more. That part is over and everybody has to play at a veteran level if we want to go to where we’re headed to.”

  • Struggling Buccaneers fire defensive coordinator Mike Smith-TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Mike Smith is out as defensive coordinator of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, replaced by linebackers coach Mark Duffner.

    Riding a three-game losing streak and not showing any signs of being able to fix a porous unit that keeps undermining the team’s chances of winning, the Bucs dismissed the former Atlanta Falcons coach Monday after yielding 92 points in the first half of consecutive losses to Pittsburgh, Chicago and Atlanta.

    Tampa Bay, which has the NFL’s second-ranked offense and No. 1 passing attack, rallied to make two of those games close, however pressure on coach Dirk Koetter to make a change had been mounting since Mitchell Trubisky threw a career-best six touchdown passes in the Bears’ 48-10 rout of the Bucs on Sept. 30.

    The day after the loss to Chicago, Koetter said he had no intentions of dismissing Smith because the defensive woes were not the fault of any one person.

    The Bucs had a bye after that game, but having an extra week to prepare for Atlanta didn’t turn out to be an advantage. The Falcons gained 219 yards and scored touchdowns on their first three possessions to open a 21-6 lead before holding on late for a 34-29 victory that apparently sealed Smith’s fate.

    “I have the utmost respect for Mike Smith as a man and as a football coach,” Koetter said. “These decisions are always difficult, but our top priority here is to ensure that we do everything possible to help this team succeed.”

    Through five games, the Bucs (2-3) are 31st in total defense at 439.8 yards per game. They’re last in pass defense (355.6), while also allowing a league-high 34.6 points per game.

    Opponents have scored 30 or more points four times, including 40-plus twice.

    “I thought it was important that both sides of the ball be able to go through the self-scouting process during the bye week to see if we could make some adjustments that would help us play better as a football team,” Koetter said, explaining the decision to keep Smith after the loss to Chicago.

    “I do think we had a good plan on defense for Atlanta. We did a lot of things we planned to do. We did some things differently. It just didn’t work out that way,” Koetter added. “This is a production business. We have to play better on defense. We have to play better as a football team.”

    Smith coached the Falcons from 2008 to 2014. He sat out a year after being fired in Atlanta, where Koetter served as his offensive coordinator, and joined the Bucs when Koetter succeeded Lovie Smith as Bucs coach after the 2015 season.

    “Mike and I worked together as coordinators in Jacksonville, and I worked for Mike in Atlanta. I didn’t ever see this day coming, but it’s here. We have to make decisions that give us the best chance moving forward. That’s all you can do,” Koetter said.

    “It’s a tough business,” linebacker Lavonte David said, adding Smith was a “standup guy” who “never threw anyone under the bus.”

    “Everybody in the locker room had a lot of respect for him,” David said. “It’s a tough situation he was in.”

    Duffner, 65, was the logical choice as a mid-season replacement for Smith, primarily because of his experience. He’s in his 22nd season as an NFL assistant, third with the Bucs.

    Duffner has also coached in Miami, Jacksonville, Green Bay and Cincinnati, where he was defensive coordinator for two years.

    “When you change five games into the season … it’s not like you’re going through a whole lot of options,” Koetter said. “Duff has been a coordinator is this league. He’s the most experienced coach on our staff, period, at any position.”

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