Each week The 33rd Team analyzes Sunday’s games by looking at more than just wins and losses. We look at specific statistics and game trends that impacted the outcomes of each game. Today, let’s look at the winners:
Indianapolis Colts 23 – Jacksonville Jaguars 17
Colts Key Stat: Blocked Punt Touchdown
It’s tough to ever say that a game came down to a single play, especially one on just the second drive of the game, but the Colts’ special teams touchdown against Jacksonville falls about as squarely into that category as possible.
The Colts gave up 179 yards on the ground (at 7.5 yards per carry) and forced only a single turnover. After the first quarter, their only points were a pair of field goals. Carson Wentz had only 5.3 yards per attempt. So how did they win?
The strength of their 17-point first quarter, highlighted by the early blocked punt touchdown, set the stage for a pound-the-rock gameplan that held Jacksonville to only 24 carries on the day. Matched with no turnovers and only a single sack, the Colts pulled it out against a Jaguars team that has lost only two games by 4+ points since September.
Washington Football Team 29 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers 19
Washington Key Stat: 39 Minutes of Possession
In another game that shows why we tune in every week, Washington became one of the few teams in Tom Brady’s career to successfully play the kind of “keep-away” that every commentator always claims is the best way to stop a high-powered passing attack. Only ten times in Brady’s New England career did a team hold him under 21 minutes of possession, where he was 3-7. Both Minnesota and New Orleans held Tampa to under 21 minutes of possession last year, but the Buccaneers still beat the Vikings by double digits (and the 35-point margin against the Saints wasn’t much impacted by the time of possession).
All this is to say that Washington’s 62% conversion rate on third and fourth down contributed to a fantastic ability to sustain drives, averaging 8 plays per. When Tampa Bay connected on a 40-yard TD to Mike Evans to pull the game within four points, it was a behemoth 19-play 80-yard drive by Washington with an astounding five conversions on third or fourth down that sealed it. It’s a lot easier to talk about keeping the opposing offense off the field, but Washington executed in this one.
Detroit Lions 16 – Pittsburgh Steelers 16
Key Stat: Detroit’s 3:0 Turnover Ratio, Pittsburgh’s 6 Forced Three-and-Outs
Can anybody claim the moral high ground after this one? Sure, the Lions went toe-to-toe with a team five wins their superior, but also one missing their starting quarterback. Only four teams have ever lost while accumulating 200+ rushing yards, three takeaways, and no giveaways, most recently the 2013 Buccaneers who were coincidentally also 0-8 yet took the 8-1 Seahawks to overtime. Those Bucs were led in that game by QB Mike Glennon, RB Mike James, and WR Tim Wright. Before that, the most recent team to accomplish this particular feat was the 2008 Rams as they fell to 2-14. History may look similar for the 2021 Lions.
Dallas Cowboys 43 – Atlanta Falcons 3
Cowboys Key Stat: 29 Second-Quarter Points
Despite the emphasis on fourth-quarter comebacks and game-winning drives, the second quarter is actually the most significant when it comes to winning games. (The career leaders for most game-winning drives per start, minimum 25 starts, are Damon Huard, Vince Young, Jake Delhomme, and Matt Moore) With this in mind, the Cowboys absolutely blew the doors off Atlanta in the second.
With the 19th-most points ever scored in a second quarter, Dallas’ 29 points effectively ended this game before halftime. Some may point to Dallas’ 9.1 yards per pass, 3 forced turnovers, or Atlanta’s 1/13 outing on third and fourth down, but those are symptoms of a game gotten out of hand, not the cause. For Dallas, this is the perfect note to hit en route to a game with an always-dangerous Kansas City squad, owners of a pair of 28-point second quarters in 2019 alone.
New England Patriots 45 – Cleveland Browns 7
Patriots Key Stat: 3/15 Allowed on Third and Fourth Down
Yes, the Patriots passers hit nearly 85% of their passes and threw for four TDs with no picks. Yes, rookie RB Rhamondre Stevenson was a menace in place of injured Damien Harris, putting up the majority of his 100 rushing yards and two TDs down the middle while Kendrick Borne, Brandon Bolden, and J.J. Taylor added a combined 86 rushing yards, mostly on jet sweeps and end arounds. Yes, Jakobi Meyers can no longer add to his record for most receptions without a career touchdown. However, this was an old-school defensive domination by the Patriots.
The Browns were thoroughly stifled and shut down by New England, with six players recording at least a half-sack and two others adding TFLs of their own. The last remaining survivor of the vaunted Cleveland rushing attack, D’Earnest Johnson, may have gotten 99 rushing yards but the team got only four first downs on the ground, not to mention a thorough beating on third down (1 for 11). Yes, the Patriots offense was extremely efficient. But they would have struggled to lose with another Belichick defensive masterclass.