NFL Week 9 takeaways – What we learned, big questions for every game and future team outlooks


Week 9 of the 2021 NFL season brought us some shocking upsets. The Cowboys’ offense couldn’t find any traction in a huge loss to the Broncos, and the Bills couldn’t score a single touchdown in a wild loss to the Jaguars. The Falcons and Giants also surprised, pulling off victories against the Saints and Raiders, respectively. The Patriots had a big defensive day against the Panthers, and the Dolphins finally got their second win by defeating the Texans.

Meanwhile, the Browns made a statement in the AFC North with a convincing win over the Bengals. Cleveland scored 41 points without Odell Beckham Jr, whom it plans to put on waivers Monday. Baltimore took Minnesota to overtime after a back-and-forth game, and the Ravens moved to 6-2 after a Justin Tucker game winner.

Our NFL Nation reporters react with the takeaways and lingering questions from this week’s action. Plus, they each look at the bigger picture with their current team confidence rating — a 0-10 grade of how they feel about the team’s outlook coming out of the week. Let’s get to it.

Jump to a matchup:
DEN-DAL | MIN-BAL | CLE-CIN
BUF-JAX | NE-CAR | ATL-NO
LV-NYG | HOU-MIA | NYJ-IND

Chiefs

What to know: Don’t assume the Chiefs haver fixed their many issues and all is good for them on defense. They did a nice job of picking on the inexperienced Jordan Love and making him uncomfortable in the pocket. But we’ll know the Chiefs have arrived defensively if they get similar results against Las Vegas’ Derek Carr and Dallas’ Dak Prescott in the next two weeks. — Adam Teicher

What are the Chiefs’ chances for making the playoffs? At 5-4, they are over .500 for the first time since winning the season opener and are just a half-game behind the Chargers and Raiders, both 5-3, in the AFC West. With five division games remaining, a sixth straight AFC West title is within their reach. Making the playoffs as a wild card might prove difficult as the tiebreakers don’t look good for the Chiefs. — Teicher

Teicher’s confidence rating (0-10): 5.5., up from 3.5. The Chiefs have back to back wins for the first time this season and finally have some momentum.

Next game: at Raiders (8:20 p.m. ET, Sunday)


Packers

What to know: The Packers better not have plans to turn things over to Jordan Love anytime soon – and anytime soon should probably include next season. Love was in danger of becoming the first quarterback to get shut out in his first start since Johnny Manziel in Week 15 of the 2014 season. But he finally put together a quick-hitting drive that ended with a 20-yard touchdown pass to Allen Lazard with 4:54 left in the game. The Packers’ defense gave Love chance after chance, even if the special teams did the opposite with two missed field goals (one was blocked) and a muffed punt that the Chiefs recovered. This game was all about Love and whether he could a) keep the Packers’ winning streak going past seven games and b) show enough to make the Packers feel good about turning things over to Love next season if this is indeed Aaron Rodgers’ last season in Green Bay. Instead, they’re left just hoping Rodgers plays next week after watching Love complete 19-of-34 passes for 190 yards with one touchdown one interception to go along with five rushes for 23 yards. — Rob Demovsky

Will this halt their momentum? Perhaps the Packers will pick up where they left off before COVID-19 forced Rodgers to miss this game. Their seventh straight win came against the NFL’s last unbeaten team, the Cardinals, prompting many to anoint them as the NFC’s Super Bowl favorite. Even if Rodgers is cleared to return for the Packers next game, Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks at Lambeau Field, he would have to play without any real practice. The earliest he could return to the team is Saturday, when the Packers have only a walk-through session. Not that Rodgers needs much, if any, practice at this point in his career, but if you believe continuity and consistency matters in sports, then this loss could be even more damaging. — Demovsky

Demovsky’s confidence rating (0-10): 7.5, down from 8. But that’s only if Rodgers stays off the COVID list for the rest of the year. The Packers had looked like a legitimate 7-1 team and showed their 38-3 loss to the New Orleans Saints in the opener was so far in the rear-view mirror that they could barely see it.

Next game: vs Seahawks (4:25 p.m. ET, Sunday)

Cardinals

What to know: The Cardinals proved they could win — and win big — without quarterback Kyler Murray, and wide receivers DeAndre Hopkins and A.J. Green. On top of all that, they lost running back Chase Edmonds on their second offensive play of the game. They dominated the Niners on both sides of the ball, but putting up 30 points for the seventh time this season wasn’t expected with so many missing pieces. Having this type of performance wasn’t just a surprise, it was a statement. — Josh Weinfuss

Is the Cardinals’ defense a championship-caliber unit? Yes, yes it is — even without J.J. Watt. The Cardinals’ defense has the pieces it needs to make plays. The pass rush had five sacks for the third time this season, the most in the NFL. The secondary was aggressive. Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph has put together a defense that can both complement a powerful offense and carry a team when needed. — Weinfuss

Weinfuss’ confidence rating (0-10): 9, up from 8.2. The Cardinals weren’t supposed to have this type of game, this type of success, with how many key pieces were out on both sides of the ball, yet they did, showing the rest of the NFL that they’re deep enough to take hits and keep on trucking.

Next game: vs. Panthers (4:05 p.m. ET, Sunday)


49ers

What to know: The 49ers had a prime opportunity to step squarely into the playoff picture against Arizona’s B team and laid their biggest egg of the season. It was the type of performance that would have Jim Mora Sr. shrieking at the mere mention of the postseason. Behind a savvy game plan from Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury, backup quarterback Colt McCoy safely and efficiently dissected the Niners’ defense even without top receivers DeAndre Hopkins and A.J. Green. San Francisco’s defense again failed to generate a turnover and whiffed on many tackles, while the offense couldn’t get out of its own way with a pair of costly first-half turnovers. At 3-5, the Niners are far from mathematically eliminated from contention for the seventh playoff spot in a messy NFC but if you get blown out by this version of Arizona, what inspires confidence that you can win enough games to stay in the postseason picture? — Nick Wagoner

Will the 49ers ever win at Levi’s Stadium again? Maybe? Sunday’s loss to the Cardinals was their eighth straight at home dating to last season and dropped them to 0-4 in 2021 in Santa Clara. That’s the second-longest home losing streak in franchise history, surpassed only by 11 consecutive defeats in 2016 and 2017. Because of the pandemic, home-field advantage wasn’t really a thing in 2020 when games were played without fans. But there’s no excuse for the continued disappointment in front of the 49ers fans this year. And with the way this season is trending, the stands could look a lot more like they did in 2020 as the year goes on: empty. — Wagoner

Wagoner’s confidence rating (0-10): 4.3, down from 5.3. Considering the context of this game and the expectations of the season, this was one of the worst and most embarrassing losses of the Kyle Shanahan era.

Next game: vs. Rams (8:15 p.m. ET, Nov. 15)

Chargers

What to know: The Los Angeles Chargers won their fifth game on a 29-yard field goal by Dustin Hopkins whom they signed during the bye week. They beat the Eagles but Hopkins nearly cost them the game by missing a PAT in the third quarter. Quarterback Justin Herbert was back to being his old self, completing 32 of 38 passes for 356 yards and two touchdowns. — Shelley Smith

What will the Chargers do about their decimated secondary? It hurt them against the Eagles to be without Asante Samuel Jr. (concussion) and Michael Davis (hamstring) and their absences were felt, as they were reduced to using practice-squad callups at corner. They have to hope more practice reps will get the backups up to speed before next week. — Smith.

Smith’s confidence rating (0-10): 6.2, up from 5. The Chargers had a placekicker make a big kick for once and Herbert was extremely sharp after struggling last week against the Patriots.

Next game: vs. Vikings (4:05 p.m. ET, Sunday)


Eagles

What to know: The Eagles are getting carved up by opposing quarterbacks at an alarming rate. Justin Herbert (32-of-38, 356 yards, 2 TD) became the fifth QB this season to complete 80-plus percent of his passes against Philadelphia (minimum 25 attempts). Between 1950-2020, there were six such instances against the Eagles combined, per ESPN Stats & Information. The defensive front generated just two pressures and no sacks, allowing the gifted Herbert to pick the back seven apart. Defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon is willing to give up passes underneath in order to take away the big play, but quarterbacks are happily taking what’s given to them and are having a field day. — Tim McManus

Can the Eagles sustain this offensive identity? Philadelphia dominated on the ground for a second straight week (39 rushes, 176 yards, 2 TDs). The formula is clear: the Eagles need to feature a run-heavy attack and build the play-action off it. But the Lions and Chargers have two of the worst run defenses in the NFL. It’s to be determined whether coach Nick Sirianni will stick to the run consistently when there’s more resistance on the other end. — McManus

McManus’ confidence rating (0-10): 3.8, up from 3.7. The Eagles hung tough with a decent opponent. With one of the easiest closing schedules in the NFL, they should remain in wild card contention for the better part of the season. A win next week at the Denver Broncos would provide much-needed confidence for the stretch run.

Next game: at Broncos (4:25 p.m. ET, Sunday)

Ravens

What to know: Lamar Jackson has become the NFL’s new comeback king. The narrative used to be that Jackson couldn’t lead a team when trailing by large deficits. He’s now doing this on a weekly basis this season. Down by 14 points early in the second half, Jackson rallied the Ravens with his arm and legs, throwing three touchdown passes and rushing for over 100 yards. Jackson is the first quarterback this season to win three games in which he trailed by double digits. Jackson had entered this season with an 0-6 record as a starter when trailing by double digits, including the playoffs. — Jamison Hensley

Why does Baltimore always start so slow? The Ravens found themselves in an all-too-familiar spot, trailing 24-10 early in the second half. In half of the Ravens’ games this season, Baltimore has fallen behind by double digits after halftime. A big reason has been the sluggish starts by Jackson and the Ravens. In the first quarter this season, Baltimore has scored a total of 24 points and has reached the end zone only once in the past six games. — Hensley

Hensley’s confidence rating (0-10): 8.3, up from 8. The Ravens showed grit to come back against the Vikings, especially after getting embarrassed by the Bengals before the bye. This isn’t the most talented team under coach John Harbaugh, but it might be the most resilient. The Ravens continue to beat the odds, overcoming injuries and second-half deficits.

Next game: at Miami (8:20 p.m. ET, Thursday)


Vikings

What to know: Mike Zimmer implored the Vikings’ offense to get the ball in the hands of its playmakers after an embarrassing loss to Dallas. That’s exactly what offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak did in the first quarter with Kirk Cousins’ 50-yard TD pass to Justin Jefferson, and 90 first-half rushing yards for Dalvin Cook. For the first time all season, Minnesota scored on its first two possessions. Then the offense predictably fell apart. Minnesota’s defense was absolutely gassed by the time overtime rolled around, having been on the field for nearly 45 minutes, and it couldn’t get a stop once the Ravens got the ball back. The same excuses the Vikings have used throughout the season to scapegoat their shortcomings are no longer valid. This is who they are. They have hit their ceiling. — Courtney Cronin

Why aren’t the Vikings playing their rookies more? The Vikings started fourth-round safety Cam Bynum in place of Harrison Smith after the five-time Pro Bowler was placed on the COVID-19/reserve list moments before inactives came out. Bynum is still learning how to play the position after four years spent at cornerback in college, but he came away with a diving interception he returned 27 yards to set up the Vikings’ offense inside Baltimore’s red zone late in the first half. Fellow fourth-rounder Kene Nwangwu ignited Minnesota’s special teams by returning the second-half kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown and picking up a first down on a fake punt. Minnesota could benefit from Nwangwu’s speed and quickness on offense and needs to prioritize getting him touches moving forward. — Cronin

Cronin’s confidence rating (0-10): 4, no change from last week. Minnesota goes from the East Coast to the West Coast this week to face the Los Angeles Chargers. It feels like the same story, with the Vikings’ offense sputtering and the defense failing to get stops at critical times, is bound to repeat itself.

Next game: at Chargers (4:05 p.m. ET, Sunday)

Dolphins

What to know: It was one of their sloppiest games of the season, but the Dolphins did enough to beat a hapless Texans team — even without starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Be proud of yourself if you made it all the way through this game, because Miami gave you every reason in the world to turn it off. Five turnovers, including three fumbles, brought half of Miami’s possessions to a sudden halt. To be frank, the Dolphins only won this game because Houston somehow was worse. In a spot start, Jacoby Brissett mostly just managed the game — in part because he didn’t have much time to allow downfield routes to develop. Miami’s running game once again struggled to get going, as it recorded fewer than 100 rushing yards for the seventh time this season. But a win is a win, right? The Dolphins’ free fall mercifully ended, and they get a much-needed victory ahead of a Thursday night game against the Ravens. — Marcel Louis-Jacques

Will Tua Tagovailoa be available against the Ravens? After being limited in practice throughout the week with a fractured finger on his throwing hand, Tagovailoa was relegated to the Dolphins’ emergency quarterback Sunday. Who knows whether he would’ve made this offense look any better, but this performance will not fly against the Ravens. He reportedly wanted to play in Week 9, so it seems likely he will be ready to go with a few extra days of rest. — Louis-Jacques

Louis-Jacques’ confidence rating (0-10): 3.7, up from 3.5. They were good enough to beat the Texans, but I’m not sure how many other teams Miami would’ve beaten today. The good news is this marks consecutive impressive performances from this defense, which forced four turnovers.

Next game: vs. Ravens (8:20 p.m. ET, Thursday)

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Mike Gesicki snares the ball with his right hand and hangs on for a pair of nice catches.


Texans

What to know: It doesn’t matter who is at quarterback — this Texans offense is not good enough. Tyrod Taylor returned after missing six games with a left hamstring injury, but he absolutely struggled against the Dolphins. Taylor completed 22 of 39 passes for 228 yards and had three interceptions for a passer rating of 41.3. Houston was 0-for-4 in the red zone and still has not scored a touchdown on the road since Week 2 in Cleveland. One of the reasons rookie quarterback Davis Mills struggled in relief during Taylor’s absence was because he had trouble protecting the football, but Taylor had the same problem Sunday. — Sarah Barshop

How long is Taylor’s grace period? Early on when Taylor was on injured reserve, coach David Culley said when Taylor was healthy, he would be Houston’s starting quarterback. Culley said he doesn’t believe in a player losing his job to injury and that Taylor gave the Texans the best chance to win. It was only one game — and Mills struggled at times in his six starts — but will Culley stick with the veteran quarterback if he no longer feels like he gives Houston the best chance to win? Taylor likely has at least a few games after the bye before Culley would put Mills back in. — Barshop

Barshop’s confidence rating (0-10): 0.5, down from 0.6. How can you feel confident about a team that lost to the Dolphins, who came into the game with one win and was without their starting quarterback?

Next game: at Titans (1 p.m. ET, Nov. 21)

Falcons

What to know: It looked like something so familiar to the Atlanta Falcons over the years: Take a big lead, have some dominance, then slowly but surely, it starts to be ripped away. And it looked like they were on the way again to blowing another three-possession lead Sunday. But Falcons head coach Arthur Smith has been trying to show this team is different. Sunday, the Falcons displayed that change clearly. Atlanta got the ball back with 1:01 left, and Matt Ryan connected with the team’s best offensive weapon, Cordarrelle Patterson, for 64 yards, and Younghoe Koo kicked the game-winning field goal, giving Atlanta a 27-25 win over New Orleans. It doesn’t look pretty all the time. It doesn’t look convincing all the time. But it is this year’s Atlanta Falcons. Don’t count them out. — Michael Rothstein

Can they sustain this type of cardiac play? Honestly, no idea. Sometimes it becomes the identity of a team, and after three games like this so far this season (three-quarters of the team’s wins this season), it just might be. And considering what the team’s past has largely been known for, perhaps that’s not a bad start for Atlanta as it tries to reconstruct the culture of the Falcons. — Rothstein

Rothstein’s confidence rating (0-10): 4.5, up from 4. Never turn a Falcons game off until the end because — good or bad — you never know what you’re going to see.

Next game: at Cowboys (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)


Saints

What to know: A crushing loss for the Saints after they rallied back from a 24-6 deficit over the final 10 minutes to take a brief lead — only to squander it in the final minute by allowing a 64-yard pass to Cordarrelle Patterson. The Saints (5-3) have shown enough resilience this season to prove they can stay in playoff contention. And new QB Trevor Siemian made some big-time plays during that rally. But the offense was way too flat for the first 50 minutes, with too many dropped passes, penalties and a sack-fumble — proving life will never be easy with both quarterback Jameis Winston and receiver Michael Thomas out for the season. And the defense gave up an uncharacteristic amount of big passing plays. — Mike Triplett

Will the Saints consider switching to Taysom Hill (or trying to sign Odell Beckham Jr.?) All options have to be on the table after the events of the past week. Siemian probably did enough in the fourth quarter to prove he’s worthy of an extended look in the role. (And his pass-catchers were the bigger problem earlier in the game.) But the Saints need to get Taysom Hill more involved in a package of plays, at the very least, after he provided a spark during a small sample in the fourth quarter. As for Beckham, the Saints will almost certainly pursue him if he becomes a free agent. But they can’t offer much in terms of money or a proven passing offense. — Triplett

Triplett’s confidence rating (0-10): 6.7, down from 7.2. This is a new low for the season. The week started with crushing injury news on Winston and Thomas. Then it ended with both the offense and defense showing some warts on the field — though they did make things awfully exciting in the end.

Next game: at Titans (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)

Browns

What to know: In their first game since Odell Beckham Jr. forced his way out, the Browns delivered their best offensive — and overall — performance of the season. Baker Mayfield looked especially freed. He still held a perfect quarterback rating of 158.3 in the third quarter as the Browns became the first team since 2012 with three touchdown plays of 60 yards or more. Minus OBJ, Cleveland finally resembled the team that made the playoffs last season. — Jake Trotter

Can the Browns rekindle their 2020 formula? This time last year in the same stadium, Cleveland turned its season around almost immediately after Beckham was lost for the year with a knee injury. Doing it again won’t be easy. The remaining schedule is tougher. And Sunday, after all, was just one game. Still, the chemistry Cleveland flashed was strikingly similar to last year, when the Browns surged into the playoffs with opportunistic defense, an overpowering running game and the best version of Mayfield. — Trotter

Trotter’s confidence rating (0-10): 7.8, up from 5.8. The drama of this week could’ve galvanized the Browns — or sent them spiraling. Sunday’s impressive performance suggests it will be the former.

Next game: at Patriots (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)

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Joe Burrow gets picked off by Denzel Ward, who sprints 99 yards to the house for a Browns score.


Bengals

What to know: The Cincinnati Bengals continued to undo seven weeks of progress that had them looking like a playoff team. The Bengals committed two first-half turnovers and the defense allowed scores on all three of the Browns’ possessions in the opening half. It continued a rough stretch that started in Week 8 against the New York Jets, when Cincinnati surrendered points on the Jets’ final five possessions. Offensive miscues combined with the poor defense means Cincinnati lost all the momentum it had following the Week 7 win at Baltimore. — Ben Baby

Can the Bengals recover and still be a playoff team? Yes. Cincinnati played too well through the first seven weeks and showed it is a playoff-caliber team. While things have looked awful lately, with Cincinnati entering the bye week, the Bengals still have eight games to figure things out. The AFC North also may be weaker than usual, which leaves the division race wide open. — Baby

Baby’s confidence rating (0-10): 5.5, down from 6.5. The mistakes the Bengals got away with early in the season are starting to flare up in the worst way.

Next game: at Raiders (4:05 p.m. ET, Nov. 21)

Jaguars

What to know: Beating the top team in the AFC despite missing left tackle Cam Robinson and running back James Robinson — especially after playing so poorly last week in Seattle — is a major step forward in the rebuild for a franchise that can’t seem to get out of its own way. The Jaguars didn’t play great football — they had four drops, including one in the end zone, and kicker Matt Wright missed three field goals (two voided by penalties) — but they made enough plays to get the upset. It should be a major confidence builder for a young franchise. — Mike DiRocco

Was this Josh Allen‘s breakout performance? Without a doubt. Allen had his best season as a rookie (10.5 sacks), but that came with Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue on the roster to absorb most of the attention. He had a sack, an interception and a fumble recovery to go along with eight tackles against the Bills and led a defense that held the NFL’s No. 1 scoring offense (31.7 points per game entering the weekend) to two field goals. — DiRocco

DiRocco’s confidence rating (0-10): 4, up from 1.9. That’s a big jump, but the Jaguars were without RB James Robinson and LT Cam Robinson, and QB Trevor Lawrence left the game for a bit with an ankle injury, yet they were able to somehow beat the best team in the AFC.

Next game: at Colts (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)


Bills

What to know: The Bills have major offensive issues that need to be fixed. The problems on display in the first half against Miami last week reappeared against a Jaguars defense that averaged 29 points allowed coming into the game. Without two starting linemen — right tackle Spencer Brown and guard Jon Feliciano — quarterback Josh Allen struggled under pressure. Going into the fourth quarter, Allen had been pressured on 14 of 38 dropbacks (37%) and went 2-of-9 passing for 9 yards, one interception, three sacks and two scrambles. Allen threw two interceptions, his first multi-interception game of the season. Scoring points was not a problem for the Bills’ offense prior to the bye, with 30-plus points in all but one game. In the past two games, however, Buffalo has averaged 16 points. The Bills’ offense is missing its magic from last season, and it needs to be corrected quickly. — Alaina Getzenberg

Can the penalty issues be fixed? The defense had a fine day overall, holding the Jaguars to nine points and allowing quarterback Trevor Lawrence to convert just 2 of 12 third downs. Jacksonville, however, was able to extend its drives thanks to the many penalties on the Bills’ defense. Buffalo finished the game with 12 penalties for 118 yards. The Jaguars had six first downs that came courtesy of penalties, more than through the air or on the ground. The Bills were called for four personal fouls in the first half alone. Overall, Buffalo has bigger issues to correct going forward, but the lack of composure from a Sean McDermott team is unusual. It shouldn’t be a long-term problem, but it cost the Bills in a major loss. — Getzenberg

Getzenberg’s confidence rating (0-10): 7, down from 7.7. The Bills lost to the 1-6 Jaguars, one of the worst teams in the league. The offense is officially an issue.

Next game: at Jets (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)

Broncos

What to know: Did the thousands of Broncos fans who invaded AT&T Stadium have a feeling? Denver showed the potential that general manager George Paton practically demanded to see when he traded linebacker Von Miller to the Los Angeles Rams on Monday. At the time Paton kept repeating the Broncos could get “into the thick of it” and that trading the franchise’s most decorated and tenured player was not a “white flag move.” And in the biggest of surprises, the Broncos actually played that way. The team that beat the Cowboys on Sunday fought off a long list of in-game injuries — including an ankle injury to guard Graham Glasgow and a knee injury to TE Albert Okwuegbunam — to play the kind of grind-it-out game they’re equipped to play, especially on offense. The bottom line is they didn’t waste an elite effort from their defense, and they still find themselves on the back end of the playoff conversation. — Jeff Legwold

With two more offensive linemen injured, can they protect quarterback Teddy Bridgewater? Glasgow suffered his injury on the last play of the first half. Medical personnel immediately put an air cast on his lower left leg, so it appears he may have a major injury. Right tackle Bobby Massie also left the game in the first half with an ankle injury. The Broncos were already struggling mightily to protect Bridgewater almost any time they opened the formation. This will only make that more difficult, especially if left tackle Garett Bolles, who missed Sunday’s game with an ankle injury, misses significant time. Plus, there’s Okwuegbunam’s injury to contend with. The Broncos will have to get the ball out of Bridgewater’s hands more quickly, more often and do their best to keep him out of harm’s way. — Legwold

Legwold’s confidence rating (0-10): 6.5, up from 5. OK, two wins in a row with this one on the road over the Dallas Cowboys shows this team has some grit. And with yet another long list of injuries as their reward, they’re going to need it.

Next game: vs. Eagles (4:25 p.m. ET, Sunday)

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Teddy Bridgewater lets it fly to Tim Patrick, who beats out the Cowboys’ defense and grabs a touchdown pass while falling into the end zone.


Cowboys

What to know: All of the good feelings the Cowboys generated in their six-game winning streak disappeared in their 30-16 loss to the Denver Broncos. The Cowboys avoided their first shutout in AT&T Stadium with a touchdown with 4:08 remaining. Quarterback Dak Prescott’s return from a three-week absence due to a calf injury could not have gone much worse. He was intercepted once but did throw two touchdown passes to Malik Turner — though the touchdowns came in the fourth quarter when the outcome had already been decided. But Prescott was as inaccurate as he has ever been after entering Sunday with the NFL’s best completion percentage (73.1%). The Cowboys had won their first four home games by an average of 17.3 points. Before their first scoring drive, they converted just once third down and failed on three fourth-down tries. This loss was as unexpected as last week’s win at Minnesota with Cooper Rush at quarterback. Is it just a blip or the start of a trend? — Todd Archer

Is there a long-term concern about the run defense? Simply, the Cowboys were schooled by the Broncos. They entered the game with the sixth-ranked run defense, allowing just 88.3 yards per game. The Broncos had more than that in the first half and finished with 192 yards, by far a season high. Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon looked like the best running back tandem in the NFL. The previous high was 120 yards against New England three weeks ago. The Cowboys have to play complementary football for the defense to succeed. When the offense struggles, they don’t have a knock-them-out defense. It is easier to play with a multiscore lead that forces opponents to throw the ball. Sunday was an example of what could go wrong did go wrong. — Archer

Archer’s confidence rating (0-10): 8.4, down from 9.6. Maybe later in the season when the Cowboys are enjoying a long playoff ride, they will look back at this game as an anomaly. They will put a brave face on and insist their confidence is not shaken by such a bad loss, but that will depend on how they play next week against the Atlanta Falcons.

Next game: vs. Falcons (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)

Giants

What to know: This was the Giants’ best win of the season and a good way to enter their bye week. Amazingly, at 3-6, they now hold their best mark through nine games since 2016. Progress, however slow it may be. The defense (16 points allowed) is playing better and scored its first touchdown of the season on the first of safety Xavier McKinney’s two interceptions. The defense has now allowed 20 points or fewer in three straight games. The running game has awoken with Devontae Booker (99 yards on 21 carries) as the feature back. And maybe most importantly for the future of the franchise, quarterback Daniel Jones is doing what is necessary under adverse conditions to win games. Maybe this team has enough in it to make some sort of run in the second half of the season. — Jordan Raanan

How healthy will the Giants be coming out of the bye week? Wide receivers Kenny Golladay (knee) and Kadarius Toney (thumb/ankle) seemed to come out of this game unscathed. There was optimism late last week that running back Saquon Barkley (ankle) and wide receiver Sterling Shepard (quad) could be back relatively soon. Prior to a false positive COVID-19 test, Barkley was believed to have a chance to return vs. the Raiders. Is it possible for them all to be healthy post-bye? It would give the Giants a much better opportunity to truly evaluate Jones, even if the offensive line has its deficiencies. — Raanan

Raanan’s confidence rating (0-10): 3.2, up from 2.8. A little optimism entering the bye week, especially with some reinforcements on the way.

Next game: at Buccaneers (8:15 p.m. ET, Nov. 22)


Raiders

What to know: Derek Carr said it was going to be hard to compartmentalize, given the week of emotions the Raiders experienced with former receiver Henry Ruggs III cut and facing felony DUI and reckless driving charges after he was involved in a car crash that killed a woman and her dog. Not to minimize anything, but Carr was right. Carr, who threw a pair of interceptions (including a pick-six) and lost a fumble at the Giants’ 20-yard line with 37 seconds to go, played as if in a fog, and the Raiders continued their post-bye blahs, losing for the 16th time in such games over the past 19 years. — Paul Gutierrez

Are the Raiders done? Recent history would seem to suggest so. In 2019, a 6-4 start ended with a 7-9 finish. Last year, Las Vegas started 6-3 and finished 8-8. After a pre-bye 5-2 start, the Raiders play host to the potentially resurgent Kansas City Chiefs in a Sunday night game in Las Vegas. This can go south in a hurry, and it will feel familiar if the Raiders let it. — Gutierrez

Gutierrez’s confidence rating (0-10): 7, down from 9. Yes, the Raiders should get a pass, perhaps, for all of the off-field issues of late. And again, not to minimize anything, but we’ve all seen this movie before, a blah post-bye game and late-season collapse.

Next game: vs. Chiefs (8:20 p.m. ET, Sunday)

Patriots

What to know: Defense leads the way. With rookie quarterback Mac Jones still growing on the job, sometimes it takes the other side of the ball to carry more of the load. The defense did that against an underwhelming Panthers offense that has to be questioning whether QB Sam Darnold is the long-term answer. Most impressive from the Patriots’ defense — which opened in a base 3-4 — was how it stopped the run and bottled up running back Christian McCaffrey in his return from injured reserve. Once the Panthers were forced to pass, Darnold looked overmatched. It’s a winning formula for the Patriots, and a timely one to highlight because another good running team, the Browns, is next on the schedule. — Mike Reiss

Does N’Keal Harry‘s knee injury lead the Patriots to pursue Odell Beckham Jr.? With No. 4 receiver N’Keal Harry inactive because of a knee injury, and the Patriots elevating Kristian Wilkerson from the practice squad, it highlights how the team has a need for more depth. Naturally, that sparks a thought on whether Odell Beckham Jr. might be a consideration. It seems unlikely the Patriots would claim Beckham on waivers due to his salary, but if Beckham clears and becomes a free agent at a lower cost, they should at least explore the possibility. The Patriots had limited production from their receivers against the Panthers, with CB Stephon Gilmore effectively limiting Jakobi Meyers. Add someone like Beckham to the mix, and the passing game becomes that much tougher to defend. — Reiss

Reiss’ confidence rating (0-10): 5.3, up from 5.2. Three consecutive wins, which has sparked rising confidence among players … and this reporter.

Next game: vs. Browns (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)

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J.C. Jackson intercepts an errant Sam Darnold pass and takes it all the way back for a Patriots touchdown.


Panthers

What to know: Sam Darnold is not the long-term — or even short-term — answer for the Panthers. Even with Christian McCaffrey back in a limited role, the quarterback continued to make the kind of poor decisions that lose games. His three interceptions in Sunday’s loss gave him 10 in the past six games. It’s time for Carolina (4-5) to admit it was a mistake making this trade with the Jets. Now they are stuck with Darnold and his fifth-year option ($18.8 million) in 2022. — David Newton

Should the Panthers turn to backup QB P.J. Walker the rest of the season? They should, but it spoke volumes about what they think of Walker by starting Darnold on Sunday after he was limited all week in practice (concussion/shoulder). Walker, in his one start last year, threw two red zone interceptions in the win. He takes too many chances to get playing time. It’s really a no-win situation for Carolina, which likely will be looking to revamp the quarterback room during the offseason. — Newton

Newton’s confidence rating (0-10): 4.4, down from 5.3. The schedule gets tougher moving forward, beginning with Arizona next week and a tough four-game finish that includes trips to Buffalo and New Orleans and two games against Tampa Bay.

Next game: at Cardinals (4:05 p.m. ET, Sunday)

Colts

What to know: Jonathan Taylor is continuing to show he’s the second-best running back in the NFL, behind Tennessee’s Derrick Henry. No matter the opponent, notching 172 rushing yards and 260 yards total is impressive. The Colts have yet to beat a team with a winning record this season. They’ll have several opportunities to do it, starting with Buffalo and Tampa, who they’ll face in two of their next three games. With the defense struggling, the Colts may have to rely even more on the running game to keep the opposing offense on the sideline. — Mike Wells

Can the defense stop anybody? The Colts gave up 30 points and 486 total yards, including 317 passing yards vs. a 35-year-old journeyman third-string quarterback. So the answer is no. That’s a major reason for concern. That’s not supposed to happen against a team like the Jets. Imagine what Josh Allen, Tom Brady, Derek Carr and Kyler Murray could do against a Colts defense that continues to rely more on forcing turnovers than getting off the field on third down. — Wells

Wells’ confidence rating (0-10): 4.3, down from 4.4. Yes, the Colts dropped down confidence wise. You can’t say the Colts are turning the corner when they couldn’t dominate the Jets from start to finish. The Colts are still looking for that “killer instinct” they talked about earlier this season.

Next game: vs. Jaguars (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)


Jets

What to know: The Jets might be the most unpredictable team in the league. From week to week, you never know what you’re going to get, which is a symptom of having such a young roster. But one trend is becoming clear: The defense, exposed in Thursday night’s 45-30 loss to the Colts, is light-years away from being a winning unit. The Jets are yielding 31.4 points and 408 yards per game, both franchise worsts. It might be time for defensive-minded coach Robert Saleh to take a bigger role on that side of the ball. — Rich Cimini

Who do the Jets start at quarterback in Week 10? Fan favorite Mike White (right forearm) and starter Zach Wilson (knee) are expected to practice, presenting coach Robert Saleh with a choice: Does he go back to Wilson, whose development is paramount for the organization, or does he ride with the hot White? He should stick with White, giving Wilson an extra week to heal before facing the Bills’ top-ranked defense. — Cimini

Cimini’s confidence rating (0-10): 4, down from 6. The offense looks good, the defense looks horrendous.

Next game: vs. Bills (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)



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