Welcome to Around the NFL, where Cale Berger of Steelers Now will recap early-week action and take a look ahead at some of the most important matchups from the Pittsburgh Steelers perspective.
AROUND THE NFL THIS WEEKEND
Tennessee Titans 31, Minnesota Vikings 30
Sunday’s matchup in Minneapolis boasted a battle between two of the leagues premier running backs in Tennessee’s Derrick Henry and Minnesota’s Dalvin Cook. While both were sensational, a Herculean effort from kicker Stephen Gostkowski pushed the Titans to 3-0.
The 15-year veteran hit six field goals Sunday, including a 55-yard game winner with 1:44 remaining. Not only did Gostkowski set a career-high for field goals made in a single game, he also became the first kicker since 1970 to boot three game winning kicks in his team’s first three games of a season. Gostkowski’s record-breaking performance comes just two weeks after his challenging Titans debut, where the former Patriot went one for four and missed an extra point.
Cook rushed for 181 yards and a score on the afternoon, while Henry rushed for 119 and two touchdowns.
Henry and the Titans will host the Steelers next week, pitting the league’s leading rusher against the top run defense. Henry already has 316 yards and four total touchdowns, while the Steelers have only surrendered 162 yards over their first three games.
Cincinnati Bengals 23, Philadelphia Eagles 23 (OT)
For the third-straight year, a pair of NFL teams will have a tie on their record. While the Internet rejoices, the Eagles and Bengals are have to be far from thrilled.
The Eagles offensive woes persisted Sunday, with quarterback Carson Wentz continuing his poor play to begin the season. Wentz completed 29 of 47 passes for 225 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions. His six picks are tied for the league lead with Kirk Cousins. Wentz did demonstrate his mobility, rushing for 65 yards and a score.
While Wentz repeatedly disappoints, Bengals quarterback continues to shine. Demonstrating poise beyond his years, Burrow diced the Eagles secondary, completing over 70% of his passes for 312 yards and two touchdowns. He connected with nine different receivers, and topped the 300-yard mark for the second-straight game. His 91 completions through his first three games is the most by a rookie in NFL history.
Former Pitt standout and Pittsburgh native Tyler Boyd was Burrow’s go-to target Sunday. The former second-round pick caught 10 passes for 125 yards, one catch shy of his career high.
Former Steeler Javon Hargrave failed to record a stat for the second-straight week for the Eagles defense, which did sack Burrow eight times on the afternoon.
Seattle Seahawks 38, Dallas Cowboys 31
While he has amazingly never received an NFL MVP vote, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson looks well on his way to change that following another record-setting performance on Sunday.
The Cowboys looked helpless against Wilson, who completed 27 of 40 passes for 315 yards and five touchdowns and no interceptions. He leads the NFL with 14 touchdown passes, and is the first player in league history to throw at least four touchdown passes in his team’s first three games of a season. The nine-year veteran is also completing an astounding 76.7% of his passes.
Wide receiver Tyler Lockett was the primary beneficiary, catching nine passes for 100 yards and three of Wilson’s touchdown tosses. D.K. Metcalf also crossed the century mark with 110 yards on four catches and a touchdown. Metcalf could have a second walk-in touchdown, but he was stripped as he let up just before crossing the goal line the ball going out of the endzone for a touchback.
Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott tossed for a career-high 472 yards, but could not out out duel Wilson. Prescott threw three touchdowns and crossed the 400-yard mark for the second-consecutive week, but also threw two costly interceptions.
Seattle’s defense also stifled star running back Ezekiel Elliot, holding him to just 34 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
The Steelers may avoid the Seahawks this season, but they will visit the Cowboys in Week 9, fresh off their bye week.
Kansas City Chiefs at Baltimore Ravens, 8:15 p.m. Monday, ESPN
Monday night’s clash between the Chiefs and Ravens feels like a monumental game in what is still a very young 2020 season. Both teams will enter the game at 2-0, and are led by two of the league’s most electric, dominant young players.
The quarterback duel between the last two MVPs will garner the bulk of the attention leading up to Monday night, and deservedly so. Fresh off a Super Bowl win in February, Patrick Mahomes amazingly looks even better starting his fourth season, having thrown for 513 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions through two weeks. Last year’s phenom Lamar Jackson is off to a strong start as well, throwing for 479 yards and four scores with no turnovers.
Eye-catching as the two offenses are, Monday’s game will be decided by the defenses. Specifically, which unit is able to generate the ever-elusive takeaway off the opposing offense. The Chiefs have yet to turn the ball over, while the Ravens have just once.
Baltimore’s defense leads the league with five takeaways already this season, Kansas City has forced a passable two turnovers through two weeks.
In an explosive game that could very well be decided in the thirties, the club that steals a possession could be the one that snatches the win and the driver’s seat in the AFC.
REST OF THE SCHEDULE
Miami Dolphins 31, Jacksonville Jaguars 13
Chicago Bears 30, Atlanta Falcons 26
Buffalo Bills 35, Los Angeles Rams 32
Cleveland Browns 34, Washington 20
New England Patriots 36, Las Vegas Raiders 20
San Francisco 49ers 36, New York Giants 9
Pittsburgh Steelers 28, Houston Texans 21
Indianapolis Colts 36, New York Jets 7
Carolina Panthers 21, Los Angeles Chargers 16
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 28, Denver Broncos 10
Detroit Lions 26, Arizona Cardinals 23
Green Bay Packers 37, New Orleans Saints 30
Former Steelers WR Martavis Bryant Signs with CFL’s Toronto Argonauts
Former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Martavis Bryant is heading north for his next opportunity and signing with the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts, the team announced Monday.
While Bryant is currently suspended indefinitely from the NFL, he has nothing preventing him from continuing his career in Canada. He has not played since 2018 following multiple violations of the league’s drug policy.
Selected in the fourth round of the 2014 NFL Draft, Bryant spent the first three seasons of his career in Pittsburgh, catching 126 passes for 1,917 yards and 17 touchdowns. The Steelers traded Bryant to the Oakland Raiders prior to the 2018 season, but played in just eight games before the suspension.
Steelers Connections Abound in Chiefs-Buccaneers Super Bowl
While the Pittsburgh Steelers saw their Super Bowl LV hopes dashed two weeks ago, fans will recognize plenty of familiar faces when the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers meet on Feb. 7.
Six players with Steelers ties are expected to take the field in either red or pewter on Super Bowl Sunday, with the two most notable examples being Tampa Bay wide receiver Antonio Brown and Kansas City running back Le’Veon Bell.
Both missed their respective championship games due to injury, but could return to health in time for the Super Bowl with two weeks to recover.
In addition, the Chiefs also boast guard Stefen Wisniewski and punter Dustin Colquitt, who both spent time in Pittsburgh earlier this season.
Wisniewski is in line to make his second-straight Super Bowl start in response to injuries along the Chiefs’ offensive line suffered Sunday, while Colquitt is on Kansas City’s practice squad.
Former Steelers defensive back Ross Cockrell and nose tackle Steve McLendon will take the field for the Buccaneers defensively.
But Tampa Bay’s Pittsburgh connections do not stop on the field, as the Buccaneers will also have six coaches with Steeler ties on the sideline for the big game, including head coach Bruce Arians.
Arians, who is in his second season in Tampa, spent eight years in Pittsburgh, serving as wide receivers coach (2004-06) before being elevated to offensive coordinator (2007-11).
Bucs offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich played under Arians in Pittsburgh, and had three separate stints with the Steelers as a backup quarterback to Ben Roethlisberger.
Tampa Bay also boasts assistant head coach and run game coordinator Harold Goodwin, outside linebackers coach Larry Foote, offensive assistant Antwaan Randle El and assistant coach Tom Moore.
Even with the Steelers at home watching along with the rest of the country, Pittsburgh should have no shortage of rooting interests when the Chiefs meet the Buccaneers in Tampa in two weeks time.
Around the NFL: Championship Game Sunday Features four Star QBs
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Green Bay Packers, 3:05 p.m., WPGH-TV
It will be a Battle of the Bays in the early slot Sunday, as Tom Brady and the Buccaneers visit Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.
Tampa and their athletic defense got the better of Green Bay back in Week 6, winning handedly 38-10 and holding Rodgers to his worst performance of the season.
The Bucs’ relentless pass rush had Rodgers under constant duress, sacking to probable MVP four times and picking him off twice. Rodgers was also held without a touchdown pass for the only time in 2020.
As for Brady and the Bucs, he tossed for 166 yards and two touchdowns of his own. Tampa Bay running back Ronald Jones II had 113 yards and two scores on the ground.
Playing the best football of his career since that loss to Tampa Bay, Rodgers will assuredly be looking to avenge his poor performance back in October to reach his second Super Bowl. He carved up a stout Los Angeles Rams defense for 296 yards and three total touchdowns a week ago, and has tossed one interception over his last 210 pass attempts.
He will try to keep that unblemished streak alive against a Buccaneers defense that picked off New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees three times a week ago.
Tampa’s Tom Brady can reach his tenth Super Bowl with a win over the Packers. No stranger to performing in the elements, Brady will look to carve up the improving Green Bay defense with his patented surgical precision.
Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs, 6:40 p.m., KDKA-TV
While two legends are squaring off in the NFC, a pair of rising stars will go toe-to-toe in the AFC Championship game, as Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs welcome Josh Allen and the Bills.
Cleared from concussion protocol after leaving last week’s win over the Cleveland Browns, Mahomes is still battling a toe injury that could hamper his signature mobility. Luckily for Kansas City, Buffalo is 22nd in the league in pressure rate.
Even without his scrambling, Mahomes is still a threat from the pocket, coming off a season where he threw 38 touchdowns and just six interceptions.
The Chiefs offense will get a boost to take the heat off Mahomes on Sunday night as well, with rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire set to make his return from injury.
Turning to the Bills, they are here behind an MVP-caliber season from Allen, who has made tremendous strides in his third season. His 45 total touchdowns this year are the most ever by a Buffalo quarterback, while he improved his completion percentage by 10.4 percentage points, now at 69.2%.
Allen has protected the football well this season with just ten interceptions, but he will have to be extra cautious opposing the safety Tyrann Mathieu and the Chiefs defense. The “Honey Badger” has five interceptions in his last six games.
Kansas City is looking reach their second-straight Super Bowl, while Buffalo is pursuing their first appearance since 1993.