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What We Learned From Week 9 in the N.F.L.

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It has been the operating joke all through Baker Mayfield’s four-year profession: The hip-thrusting franchise participant with an Everyman’s comedic timing performs persistently higher in TV commercials than on a soccer discipline.

Initially, solely the offended uncle in the room stated it. By Week 9, with the locker room’s tumult spilling out into public view off a depressing loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, the joke threatened to show into merciless evaluation: Mayfield, a former No. 1 total decide, may entertain for a recreation or two, however wasn’t value believing in.

The entrance workplace has not dedicated to Mayfield for the long run, as the Buffalo Bills did with Josh Allen.

His No. 1 vast receiver, Odell Beckham Jr., was launched final week in a messy cut up in which Beckham’s father posted an 11-minute YouTube video of Mayfield failing to get his son the ball.

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Adding insult to harm, Mayfield is gritting by means of a torn labrum in his left shoulder.

Yet Sunday was proof:

In a real A.F.C. prove-it recreation, the Browns bodily punished the Cincinnati Bengals, 41-16. Mayfield did the whole lot he wanted to do to win, passing for 218 yards on 14 of 21 makes an attempt with a pair of landing passes.

All the drama that was seemingly sucking the life out of this franchise evaporated. Just like that.

Cleveland is constructed to thwart 2021 N.F.L. defenses, that are universally perching two safeties deep to get rid of the huge play. Instead, the Browns function with a mentality straight out of their Nineteen Fifties glory years, mashing away with the run. Defenses haven’t any alternative however to respect operating again Nick Chubb, who’s averaging 5.8 yards per carry, and creep a security into the field.

At which level, Mayfield is greater than able to hitting anybody deep.

The embattled quarterback busted this recreation open with a 60-yard landing heave to Donovan Peoples-Jones off play-action early in the second quarter to place Cleveland up, 21-7.

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Chubb polished off this win with a 70-yard landing run at the begin of the third quarter. Pulling guard Wyatt Teller worn out one defender, and with a seal right here (from tight finish Harrison Bryant) and a seal there (from left sort out Jedrick Wills Jr.), Chubb was gone.

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Peoples-Jones, too, confirmed large potential, catching two of three targets for 86 yards. The 2020 sixth-round draft pick of Michigan is a deep menace able to making defenses pay.

On a third-and-9 from Cincinnati’s 29-yard line halfway by means of the fourth quarter, Peoples-Jones one way or the other held on to the ball after taking a vicious hit from security Jessie Bates that set the Browns up on the 3-yard line.

After an offensive holding penalty and two rushes for losses, Mayfield knifed an 18-yard landing go to tight finish David Njoku for the recreation’s ultimate rating.

The Browns have additionally developed a protection that’s defining a hard-hat mentality for the fashionable period. Denzel Ward, is quietly creating into one in every of the greatest shutdown cornerbacks in the league. With a sly tick of hesitation Sunday, Ward baited Burrow into forcing an finish zone throw to Ja’Marr Chase, leaping the route, and ran again the interception 99 yards for a landing.

Coach Kevin Stefanski’s crew can appear to resemble the Paul Brown squads of the Nineteen Fifties and Sixties typically. They are usually not going to unfold groups out and throw 40-plus instances a recreation, however these Browns will bludgeon defenses with Kareem Hunt or D’Ernest Johnson or Chubb, who says about as a lot as gamers from that period, lined up at operating again.

With their id established and Beckham gone, Mayfield doesn’t need to reply for why he tended to play higher with out his WR1. After the crew’s commerce for Beckham in March 2019 sparked hype for what may occur in the Mayfield’s second season, the Browns completed 6-10 that season.

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Beckham tore his anterior cruciate ligament seven weeks into 2020 and the Browns’ offense solely improved in his absence, ending with an 11-5 document, one or two performs away from reaching the A.F.C. championship recreation.

Beckham’s ridiculous, one-handed catch towards the Dallas Cowboys seems like a lifetime in the past, and he merely by no means match with Mayfield on the discipline. Rather than meticulously dissect the discipline to make the proper choice, Mayfield had too typically tried to placate Beckham to get him targets.

The mere presence of a star can create dangerous habits for any quarterback. Early in Brett Favre’s profession, he would chuck it to Sterling Sharpe, which was enjoyable and led to playoff thrills. But he gained self-discipline as a passer (and have become a three-time Most worthy participant) solely after Sharpe retired.

In Detroit, Matthew Stafford tended to be too reckless understanding he may throw to the Hall of Famer Calvin Johnson. And a 12 months in the past, Deshaun Watson had a profession 12 months in Houston with out DeAndre Hopkins.

Now, with Beckham gone, the Browns have a shot to unlock the better of Mayfield, who serves as a singular supply of vitality for the crew. This flag-planting, trash-talking unfastened cannon has turned down the turnovers, however has not remodeled right into a cookie-cutter quarterback who will say precisely nothing at the podium. Teammates love Mayfield’s hearth, and he and the residence crowd feed off one another.

The Browns can contend for a title with Mayfield, and now we all know his crew believes it.

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Jordan Love’s first recreation as the Green Bay Packers’ beginning quarterback was an ideal storm.

He began practically each drive backed up close to his personal finish zone. The blitzes from Kansas City’s protection in his face had been relentless. Arrowhead Stadium? Deafening.

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The consequence was a 13-7 loss that would find yourself costing the crew dearly in the race for the N.F.C.’s No. 1 seed in the playoffs. There had been moments of optimism. Love got here alive in the fourth quarter to complete 19 of 34 on his passing makes an attempt for 190 yards, however the Packers struggled to regulate to the second-year quarterback in a hostile surroundings. Green Bay regarded particularly ineffectual on third down, changing simply two of 12 possibilities towards a protection that has been horrendous this season.

Kansas City’s plan on protection was clear: Blitz the life out of Love. Steve Spagnuolo, the Kansas City defensive coordinator, dared Love to make split-second selections. Spagnuolo gained that wager much more typically than he misplaced it, with Love taking seven hits and sometimes compelled to let it fly deep up the sideline.

Still, the recreation offered the Packers’ entrance workplace with its first prolonged have a look at Love outdoors the preseason and scout crew reps.

Despite doomsday narration from shade commentator Troy Aikman, Love, a 23-year-old out of Utah State, made some big-time throws — particularly in the fourth quarter. Love drove the Packers from their 4-yard line to Kansas City’s 24, changing on fourth-and-1 alongside the means, earlier than throwing a decide on a 50-50 lob to Davante Adams.

When the Packers received the ball again, Love threw his first profession landing go.

As the pocket caved on him once more, Love hung robust to hit Allen Lazard for a 20-yard rating on fourth-and-5.

He clearly has athleticism and a powerful arm, traits that made him worthy of the twenty sixth total decide in the 2020 draft and which give him a shot at being nice.

Of course, Love began the recreation as a result of Aaron Rodgers examined constructive for coronavirus this week, setting off a media whirlwind regarding his vaccination standing. His absence, and the distraction attributable to his vaccination feedback, had been lower than superb for a crew that’s in full Super Bowl-or-Bust mode largely as a result of this might be Rodgers’s ultimate season as a Packer.

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The reigning league Most worthy participant may return to the crew as early as Saturday if he supplies two damaging exams in a 48-hour span and exhibits no signs, which might make him out there towards the Seattle Seahawks.

His return may assist the Packers (7-2) play some catch-up towards the Arizona Cardinals (8-1) and Los Angeles Rams (7-2) in the race for the high seed.

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The sight of Dallas Cowboys defensive finish Randy Gregory smashing his helmet into the AT&T Stadium turf positive dusted off 25 years of reminiscences. So did a vaunted Buffalo Bills offense producing all of two discipline objectives. And the Las Vegas Raiders getting scuttled by the Giants protection.

This week additionally served as an open-hand slap to the face of three division-leading groups.

The Cowboys had been demolished by the Denver Broncos, 30-16. And it wasn’t that shut.

The Bills misplaced to the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars, 9-6. And it was uglier than the rating implied, with Jaguars cornerback Shaquill Griffin saying afterward that it regarded like the Bills “didn’t care.”

The Raiders fell to the depleted Giants, 23-16. And a season filled with calamities could also be catching up.

All three groups are led by three quarterbacks who seemingly may do no unsuitable this season, be it Buffalo’s Josh Allen shucking off 270-pound defensive ends with ease, Dallas’s Dak Prescott main a proficient offense to 34.1 factors per recreation by means of his six begins and Las Vegas’s Derek Carr incomes M.V.P. whispers together with his fourth-quarter heroics. Yet, on Sunday, all three had been terrible.

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Allen reverted to his hero ball methods of 2018 with two expensive interceptions. Prescott by no means discovered a rhythm in his first recreation again from a calf harm.

Carr threw two interceptions to Giants security Xavier McKinney, one which was returned for a landing.

The implications are worse for the two A.F.C. upsets. The Cowboys’ offense stays able to outscoring anybody, although Denver pounding away for 190 dashing yards is a foul signal for a protection that had been taking part in so effectively. Odds are that Dallas (6-2) will probably be OK in the hapless N.F.C. East as Prescott will get more healthy.

It’s extra difficult for the Bills and the Raiders. Despite buying and selling linebacker Von Miller for draft picks final week, the Broncos (5-4) are usually not mendacity down for anybody. Teddy Bridgewater, like Mayfield, is aware of easy methods to play off a dominant run recreation and that ought to scare the remainder of the A.F.C. West, whose groups are separated by fractions in the standings.

Right when it appeared like the Bills (5-3) had a stranglehold on the A.F.C. East, their offense spontaneously combusted towards one in every of the worst groups in the league. Buffalo’s high receivers couldn’t get separation, the line was embarrassed in the trenches and Allen couldn’t placed on the Superman cape. The most troubling signal? Their nemesis, the New England Patriots (5-4), are only a half-game again in the division and peaking.

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Cardinals 31, 49ers 17: With an opportunity to salvage its season towards injury-riddled Arizona, San Francisco as an alternative go away Sunday showing to be destined for its sixth dropping season in seven years. Through final season, the 49ers are 1-11 taking part in at residence in Santa Clara, Calif. Losing to a Cardinals crew that began Colt McCoy at quarterback and Antoine Wesley at receiver makes the loss look all the worse.

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Chargers 27, Eagles 24: For most of Sunday afternoon, it appeared like the Chargers had been about to lose their third straight recreation, however Justin Herbert once more proved he’s in the upper-echelon of quarterbacks. With 6 minutes 7 seconds left, Herbert began from his personal 25-yard line and led a 15-play field-goal drive. He’s now the solely participant in N.F.L. historical past to succeed in 600 completions in his first 25 begins.

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Patriots 24, Panthers 6: Coach Bill Belichick has one more New England crew peaking at the excellent time. New England ran 39 instances, threw simply 18 instances and had Sam Darnold (three interceptions, 26.3 passer score) seeing extra ghosts than ever.

Falcons 27, Saints 25: Only time will inform if Atlanta did the proper factor by passing on a quarterback in the 2021 draft. On Sunday, the 36-year-old veteran Matt Ryan stored the Falcons related. Ryan hit Cordarrelle Patterson for a 64-yard go with a couple of minute left to arrange a game-winning discipline aim. This marked Ryan’s forty first profession game-winning drive, passing John Elway and Matthew Stafford for seventh on the career list.

Ravens 34, Vikings 31 (time beyond regulation): Lamar Jackson grew to become the first N.F.L. quarterback this season to win three video games after trailing by double-digits, digging the Ravens out of a 17-3, second-quarter gap with each his arm (266 yards, three touchdowns) and his legs (120 yards on 21 carries). The efficiency might give Jackson, the 2019 Most worthy participant, the edge as the front-runner to win this season’s award.

Dolphins 17, Texans 9: Hopefully no person wasted a superbly high-quality Sunday watching any of this recreation between two groups going nowhere.

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