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Biggest Winners, Losers from NFL Week 9

Za'Darius Smith and the Cleveland Browns defense steam rolled QB Clayton Tune and the Arizona Cardinals. Photo: Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL's quarterback ranks have thinned due to a proliferation of injuries, but there were several winning performances by signal-callers on Sunday. Here are the biggest winners and losers from Week 9 of the 2023 NFL season.

Biggest Winners, Losers of Week 9

Winner: Cleveland Browns Defense

The Cleveland Browns have one of the best defenses in the NFL. They've had a few games where they've struggled to stop opponents, but this is one of the top units in the league. In Week 9, it faced a rookie quarterback (Clayton Tune) making his first career start. For elite defenses, that is a gift from the heavens. 

At one point in the game, the Browns defense didn't allow a first down for seven straight drives. It forced two turnovers during that stretch and did not allow a gain of more than six yards. Despite Cleveland's offense struggling to get going, the defense's performance allowed the Browns to take a 20-0 lead in the third quarter and seal the game. 

Going into the fourth quarter, the Browns had allowed 43 yards on 31 plays and forced three turnovers. Cleveland allowed 17 net passing yards and gave up only seven first downs. The Arizona Cardinals finished the game with 58 total yards on 14 drives. That is the definition of a dominating performance. 

The Browns will face better quarterbacks this month, including Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens in Week 10. But Cleveland's defense is going to help it win a lot of games. Sitting at 5-3, the Browns are in a good place in the AFC to make a run if QB Deshaun Watson can stay healthy. Cleveland's defense is no joke, and you can make a case that it is the best in the NFL through the 2023 season's mid-point. 

Loser: QB Geno Smith, Seattle Seahawks

The Seattle Seahawks had a golden opportunity heading into Week 9. With the San Francisco 49ers on bye, the Seahawks had a chance to go up by a full game on their NFC West rival. However, Seattle's offense was a no-show against the Baltimore Ravens, one of the top teams in the NFL.

It's not a shame to lose to the Ravens in Baltimore. That happens. But the Seahawks' offense wasn't competitive at all. Their defense forced multiple turnovers to give them short fields, but the offense couldn't do anything with them. The biggest problem was QB Geno Smith, who looked rattled all day long. 

The Seahawks scored just three points, with Smith completing only 13 passes for 157 yards. He had two turnovers, including a bad interception right to Geno Stone on an overthrow. Seattle had just 151 yards of offense, and it was another road game where the offense failed to show up. 

The Seahawks paid Smith to be a franchise quarterback this offseason. While he has had his moments, there have been way too many games this season where he’s been off, and it has hindered Seattle. 

Winner: QB C.J. Stroud, Houston Texans 

After a brutal performance last week in Carolina, you could count on QB C.J. Stroud to have a bounce-back performance. And did he ever. Stroud had one of the best passing performances you will ever see. Without the help of a kicking game, because Ka'imi Fairbairn was injured, Stroud and the Houston Texans managed to score 39 points against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Stroud's raw numbers were fantastic. He threw for 470 yards and five touchdowns on 42 attempts. What was more impressive was all of the plays that Stroud made with the game on the line. He led the Texans on a 75-yard, six-play drive with just 46 seconds on the clock. Stroud made multiple huge throws, including a 26-yard pass to Tank Dell that put the ball on the 15-yard line with 16 seconds left. Two plays later, he found Dell in the back of the end zone for the winning touchdown. 

The Texans are 4-4 and in the AFC playoff hunt. But that is almost irrelevant. The most significant development has been the play of Stroud, who is a superstar in the making. It's only a matter of time before he is regarded as one of the top six or seven quarterbacks in the NFL. He's not far off right now. 

>>READ: Stroud Already Is One of NFL's Best

Photo: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Loser: New York Giants

Just when you think things can’t get worse, Week 9 happens. The New York Giants got a gift, playing a fourth-round rookie quarterback making his second start (Aidan O’Connell) and facing a new-look coaching staff with former Giants linebacker Antonio Pierce running the Las Vegas Raiders

Instead of taking advantage of this opportunity, the Giants folded. New York allowed eight sacks and had two turnovers against one of the worst defenses in the league. The Giants totaled 277 yards but managed to score only six points. They also allowed the Raiders' offense to score 30 points, which is significant considering that Las Vegas had not scored more than 21 points in any game this season. The Giants' offense was abysmal, but the defense didn't do much to stop a rookie quarterback, either.

But the worst news involves the Giants' starting quarterback and his long-term future. Daniel Jones injured his knee in the loss, and the expectation is that he will miss a significant amount of time due to ligament damage. The Giants sit at 2-7, so this is a lost season, and now they won't even get to watch their franchise quarterback develop. Backup Tyrod Taylor is on injured reserve and will miss at least the next three weeks, so this could be a team that doesn't win a game the rest of the way. 

Winner: QB Joshua Dobbs, Minnesota Vikings

It's not uncommon to see a player acquired in a trade midweek to play for his new team the following weekend. Christian McCaffrey did it for the 49ers last season and made a big impact right away. Montez Sweat had an excellent game with the Bears in Week 9, too. But that doesn't happen at the quarterback position. And the Minnesota Vikings weren't banking on it, either.

After starting quarterback Kirk Cousins went down with an Achilles injury in Week 8, the Vikings turned to Day 3 pick Jaren Hall to start against the Atlanta Falcons. But he went down in the first half with a concussion, forcing Joshua Dobbs into the starting lineup. All he did was impress. 

Dobbs led the Vikings to 31 points and a huge win to improve to 5-4. He completed 20 of 30 passes for 158 yards and two touchdowns, but it was his legs that helped create several big plays. Dobbs ran for 66 yards and a score as he routinely got the Vikings out of bad situations.

With WR Justin Jefferson and LT Christian Darrisaw out of the lineup, Dobbs found a way to keep the offense afloat. And with the Vikings in playoff position in the NFC, he has a chance to help the team go on a run and return to the playoffs. For a team that seemed dead in the water after the Cousins injury, they got the spark they needed with the acquisition of Dobbs. 

Marcus Mosher is an NFL writer with a decade of experience in podcasting and writing for various NFL websites, including Bleacher Report, Pro Football Focus and The Athletic. He is currently a managing editor at USA Today Sports Media Group and the host of the Locked On Cowboys Podcast. Marcus has been working full-time covering the NFL since 2015 and works as a betting expert for You can follow him at @Marcus_Mosher.