We talked a lot about culture last night on Sky Sports NFL as we were joined in our pre-game show by five-time NFL executive of the year and three-time Super Bowl-winning general manager Scott Pioli, who built the New England Patriots into a dynasty alongside the great Bill Belichick.
It was a timely conversation because the New York Jets showed, just hours later, that the culture is being changed by second-year head coach Robert Saleh. Scrap that, it's not in the process of being changed – it has definitely been changed and the Jets are reaping the rewards and are worlds away from the team we saw take the field in 2021.
Heading into Sunday's game against the AFC-leading Buffalo Bills, most of the talk was about whether the Jets could hang around and merely make it competitive against Buffalo. The prospect of winning the game was probably only being discussed inside the Jets' Florham Park headquarters in New Jersey.
New York were coming off an ugly home loss to New England in which their stout defense was let down by three careless Zach Wilson interceptions. And things didn't look too great on Sunday when the Bills took a 14-3 lead in the second quarter on the second of Josh Allen's two touchdown runs.
But belief has been pumped into the veins of these Jets and they fought back to win 20-17 on Greg Zeurlein's late field goal. It was their third win this season where they have trailed by at least 10 points in the game. They are 3-3 in such games this year. They went 3-40 in those types of games in the previous four years. That's quite the indicator.
Saleh has done a great job of getting good characters and stand-up guys in his locker room. I know this from the weekly interviews I carry out for the Jets in UK digital hub. They are really good people and they are smart and well-coached – they don't listen to the negative noises when they have a bad day at the office and they don't get too high when they have a great win like Sunday. They just keep the train rolling along the tracks.
And that train could yet take the Jets all the way to the AFC playoffs, although the race to secure one of the seven postseason berths in that conference is likely to be fierce. Three teams in the AFC East – the Bills, Jets and the Miami Dolphins – all have six wins each, while New England are no slouches with five victories.
Wilson is still a work in progress at quarterback and needs a solid ground attack to help him out. I was worried that might wane when Breece Hall was lost for the year, but New York rushed for 174 yards and one touchdown on Sunday and turned pretty much exclusively to the ground attack to set up Zeurlein's winning kick.
Saleh's defense is shaping up to be something really special. They sacked Josh Allen five times on Sunday and picked the MVP front-runner off twice. Allen came into this game leading the NFL with an average of 314 passing yards per game. He ended the contest with just 205 passing yards against the stingy Jets.
Allen's struggles were, in large part, down to the continued excellent form of rookie cornerback Sauce Gardner, who had an interception and some key pass breakups downfield, including what proved to be the game-winner on a deep ball to Gabriel Davis.
Like his Jets teammates, Sauce won't rest on his laurels. He will shut out the plaudits and positive noise and keep on trucking. That's culture.
Joe Mixon… Guess who left Joe Mixon on the bench in his Fantasy Football team this week? Cincinnati's running back came close to ruining my Sunday, but thankfully I got over it pretty quickly. Mixon had been near-invisible for much of Cincinnati's season to date, but he exploded into life during Sunday's 42-21 thrashing of the Carolina Panthers that was over by halftime (the Bengals led 35-0 at the break). Mixon tallied a career-best 211 scrimmage yards and scored a club record five touchdowns – one shy of the NFL record set by four players, most recently by Alvin Kamara on Christmas Day of 2020. Much was made of Joe Burrow and Ja'Marr Chase during Cincinnati's run to the Super Bowl, and rightly so, but Mixon was also a major player. He must be featured regularly the rest of the way.
Miami's passing attack… This is becoming a weekly segment, although there were a couple of throws at the end of Sunday's 35-32 win over the Chicago Bears that Tua Tagovailoa missed. That would have made Miami breathe a little easier at the end of that game. But, for the most part, Tua was excellent once more as he hit on 21 of 30 passes for 302 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. His decision-making is so quick and with the speed at receiver, his targets are 20 yards downfield even if he is throwing the ball after approximately 2.4 seconds. Tyreek Hill went over 1,000 yards for the season and both he and Jaylen Waddle caught scoring passes. Tua is now 6-0 in games he has started and finished. Why not throw him into the MVP conversation?
The Seattle Seahawks… Pete Carroll's team head to Germany in great form having now won five of their last six. Sunday's 31-21 win over the Arizona Cardinals saw some familiar names producing the goods once more. Geno Smith is no fluke at quarterback. He plays well each week now and threw for 275 yards and two touchdowns, connecting with reliable receivers in D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. And what about Kenneth Walker? He is a stud of a running back who headlines a great rookie class for the Seahawks. Walker rushed for 109 yards and two scores. The defense is also growing stronger by the week, recording another five sacks in Week 9.
The Green Bay Packers… Green Bay look broken and have now lost five in a row. The get-right game for their 22nd-ranked passing attack was supposed to come against the Detroit Lions. Instead, Aaron Rodgers was intercepted three times and cut an increasingly-frustrated figure throughout the contest. A hat-trick of interceptions from Rodgers is an unwanted collector's item for the Packers. He threw just four interceptions in all of the 2019 season, five in 2020 and four in 2021. Rodgers had three in 60 minutes against the worst defense in football, including a poorly-thrown and poorly-thought-out tackle eligible play near the goal line. He now has seven picks on the year and in what is shaping up to be a lost season for the Packers. It's a real struggle to see how their offensive woes get fixed, especially as receiver Romeo Doubs and running back Aaron Jones left the stadium in walking boots.
The Las Vegas Raiders… In Week 8, the Raiders were held without a single point and failed to cross midfield as they fell 24-0 to the New Orleans Saints. I'm not sure if that was worse than Sunday's showing in Jacksonville. The Silver and Black appeared to have figured things out on offense and Davante Adams was having a big day as he caught nine passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns in the first half. That effort gave the Raiders a 17-0 second quarter lead but Adams caught just one pass for zero yards after the break. The Jags stormed back to win 27-20, consigning the Raiders to a third defeat this season in a game where they led by at least 17 points. That is unforgivable from Las Vegas and surely Josh McDaniels is starting to feel some internal heat from owner Mark Davis? Not many would have pencilled this team in for a 3-6 record after nine weeks of play.
The Indianapolis Colts offense… I said in our pre-game show on Sky Sports NFL that Sam Elinger was going to be like one of those nervous seals sitting on an ice floe that we see on wildlife shows with Bill Belichick playing the role of the killer whale bobbing up out of the water to eye up its prey. It proved to be an astute prediction. Belichick feasts on young quarterbacks and Elinger was sacked nine times, served up a pick six on a plate and led Indy to just 121 total yards. It was not all on the young passer, however, as the Colts' once-vaunted offensive line got overwhelmed time and again by a New England pass rush led by Matthew Judon (three sacks to give him a league-leading 11 ½ on the year). The Colts are a hot mess right now.
The Fast Five…
Justin Fields is making the Chicago Bears fun to watch and building around him in the next couple of years is going to pay dividends for the NFC North club. Fields set a Super Bowl era record for a quarterback by rushing for 178 yards on 15 carries, breaking a mark set by the explosive Michael Vick in 2002. He is growing as a passer but still has some work to do in that area. But as of right now, coming out of Week 9, Fields is making the Bears watchable and interesting. And he has been one of the most entertaining players in the league over the last three weeks. Long may it continue.
You let Tom Brady hang around long enough and he is eventually going to find the gas pedal, even at the end of what was another challenging day at the office for the greatest of all time. The Bucs took possession of the ball at their own 40-yard line, down by four with 44 seconds remaining. You could almost have written the ending yourself after giving Brady that classic scenario, even after he struggled for much of the day. The GOAT went five of six and threw the winning touchdown pass to tight end Cade Otton with nine seconds remaining. Classic Brady!
Not for the first time this season, the Rams fell apart down the stretch. They were out-scored 10-0 in the final period in Tampa, meaning that the scoreline in that particular fourth quarter equation for the season reads… Rams 10, Opponents 71. That's obviously a problem and does not reflect well on the coaching of Sean McVay or the player leadership of the Rams. When big calls and big plays are needed from the likes of Matthew Stafford, Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey, the Rams are found wanting time and again.
Another week, another close Minnesota Vikings game, the same result and another viral video of Kirk Cousins celebrating on the plane ride home. Things were ramped up a bit this week after Sunday's 20-17 win over Washington as Cousins was shirtless, surely to maximise the impact of wearing so many chains around his neck. The Vikings are now 7-1 and they are riding a six-game winning streak in which all of those victories have come by one score. That's scary, but also impressive.
The East Divisions in each conference are beastly. I've told you how strong the AFC East is already but over in the NFC, the Philadelphia Eagles are 8-0 and showing no signs of slowing down, while the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Giants each have six wins. Playoff qualifiers who come out of those divisions will be battle tested to the max.
Fact of the Week
The trend of close games continued in Week 9 with 10 of the 12 games played so far being within one score at some point in the fourth quarter. There have now been 62 games decided by a touchdown (6 points or fewer) and 79 games decided by one score (8 points or fewer) – both are the most through Week 9 in NFL history.
Finish That Sentence
Each week in this spot I ask readers - via Twitter - to randomly send me the start of a sentence and, as we so often did on our NFL UK Live stage show tours, I will finish the sentence with the first thought that comes into my head. Here we go…
From Steve Barnes (@stevebarnes72) The first Eagles loss will come to… pass eventually, but this is still a Super Bowl contender, for sure. They look dominant, balanced and confident. But it's so hard for teams to go undefeated – that's why it's only been done once in NFL history. I think there is a tendency to take the foot off the gas once seedings are locked up. And that's why I think if they haven't lost between now and then, the Eagles will lose to the Dallas Cowboys on the road on Christmas Eve. I just think the Cowboys will need it more by that stage of the season.
From The Pza (@Pedrillo12) If the Pats offense clicks, they can… kick six Nick Folk field goals per game? They are relying a bit too much on their kicker and on Belichick scheming things up on defense. I think New England are always a tough opponent at this time of the year, but I also don't think they have enough difference makers on the field on offense. I cannot see them living with the likes of Buffalo, Kansas City and even Miami in the AFC as we move towards the playoffs. Sorry, that's probably not the answer you were looking for when you sent in that excellent question.
From Jamie (@RoyalBlueJamie) Travis Etienne is…_ becoming a weekly star in Jacksonville's backfield. He is really fun to watch, powerful between the tackles but also capable of taking any play the length of the field. The second-year rusher who missed his entire rookie campaign with a foot injury looks to be a complete back. He has now topped 100 rushing yards and scored at least one rushing touchdown in each of Jacksonville's last three games. Etienne rushed for 109 yards and two touchdowns in Sunday's win over the Raiders. The Jags have balance on offense because of this young star.
I'm off to Germany later this week to witness the NFL writing the latest chapter in its international story. The first regular season game in Germany will be played at Allianz Arena in Munich and I cannot wait. I'm keen to see the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Seattle Seahawks in action, but I'm also just as keen to see the party which will surely be thrown by the German fans. They deserve this. Some of my favourite nights covering professional football came in the NFL Europe League and they came in Germany. This is going to be special and I might, just might, get a little misty-eyed. If you're going to the game, enjoy. If you're not, myself and Jason Bell have you covered as we will be presenting all the action for you live from the stadium on Sky Sports NFL on Sunday afternoon.