Week 10 takeaways, big questions: Blowouts for Patriots, Cowboys, Bills — but Bucs lose second straight

Week 10 of the 2021 NFL season had big blowouts, a couple of unlikely upsets and … a tie. After suffering surprising losses last weekend, the Cowboys and Bills rebounded with big offensive days. Dallas and Buffalo were joined by New England in going north of 40 points in important wins.

Tampa Bay lost its second straight, as Washington upset Tom Brady and the Bucs. It was the second big shocker of the week, after the Dolphins stopped Lamar Jackson and the Ravens on Thursday night. The Titans held on against the Saints, and the Colts survived a scare against the Jaguars. The Lions-Steelers game went to overtime, where both teams traded possessions before Pittsburgh tight end Pat Freiermuth fumbled the ball in field goal range, leading to a tie. So Detroit still hasn’t won this season, but it ensured it would not go 0-17.

Our NFL Nation reporters react with the takeaways and lingering questions from this week’s action. Plus, they each look at the bigger picture with their current team confidence rating — a 0-10 grade of how they feel about each team’s outlook coming out of the week. Let’s get to it.

Detroit 16, Pittsburgh 16

Lions

What to know: Dan Campbell has yet to celebrate a Detroit Lions victory in his first season as head coach, but he at least avoided another loss on Sunday. The NFL’s last winless team was on the verge of pulling off a major upset over the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field, but the game ultimately ended in a 16-16 tie. Detroit came close yet again, but couldn’t cash in, despite the Steelers being without Ben Roethlisberger, who landed on the COVID list. The Lions’ ground game generated 229 yards, but Jared Goff struggled through a rough passing day with 114 yards. — Eric Woodyard

Can Lions running back D’Andre Swift build off this breakout game? Yes, this performance can absolutely become a confidence booster for Swift. And it wasn’t just Swift, the Lions’ running attack looked impressive against the Steelers even without Jamaal Williams (thigh). Godwin Igwebuike (42-yard TD) and Jermar Jefferson (28-yard TD) scored from long range. However, Swift carried the load with his second 100-yard rushing game, finishing with 130 yards. Dan Campbell said he would become more involved in the offensive game planning moving forward, and this was his first opportunity coming out of the bye week. — Woodyard

Woodyard’s confidence rating (0-10): 2.5, up from 1.5. Outside of the 44-6 blowout loss to Philadelphia at home on Halloween, I haven’t questioned the heart of this team. It’s more so the lack of talent, but this was another reminder that although its record isn’t good, this team continues to play with heart and hasn’t given up on the season.

Next game: at Browns (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

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Steelers

What to know: Sunday afternoon was a comedy of errors with a very unfunny ending for the Steelers as they tied the winless Detroit Lions 16-16, recording the NFL’s first tie since Week 3 of the 2020 season. The game featurd a snap over Mason Rudolph’s head; a fumble by Diontae Johnson; multiple penalties on the defense; a missed 48-yard field goal by the Lions; a dropped pass by Pat Freiermuth and a fumble by Freiermuth. With season-dictating AFC matchups on the horizon, the Steelers couldn’t close out a must-win game in overtime as Rudolph made his 10th career start. Though starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was ruled out Saturday night because of COVID-19 protocols, the Steelers still heavily relied on the passing game with mixed results Sunday afternoon. Rudolph showed his mobility, but his throws were inconsistent, often overthrowing or missing targets. Then, in overtime, Rudolph hit Johnson on the sideline for what would’ve been a big gain, but the receiver fumbled it at midfield trying to pick up extra yards and turned it over. The Lions missed a 48-yard field goal on the ensuing drive to keep it going with 4:03 remaining. To bolster playoff hopes in a wide-open AFC North, the Steelers needed to beat both the struggling Chicago Bears and the Lions, but they accomplished only half of that with a gauntlet on the horizon. — Brooke Pryor

What happened to the Steelers run defense? The same Steelers run defense that largely held the Browns and Nick Chubb in check with just 96 rushing yards two weeks ago was nowhere to be found Sunday. The Steelers gave up a season-high 130 yards to D’Andre Swift — a mark he captured midway through the third quarter. And, Sunday marked the fourth time since Heinz Field opened in 2001, the Steelers gave up more than 200 rushing yards at home. The absence of NT Tyson Alualu and DE Stephon Tuitt coupled with the Steelers’ inability to tackle created a worst-case scenario for the home team. To open the third quarter, the Steelers gave up consecutive runs of 12, 14 and 42 yards — the final one giving the Lions a lead. The Steelers clamped down late in the third and fourth quarters, but the damage still haunted them when the game went to overtime and finished in a tie. — Pryor

Pryor’s confidence rating (0-10): 4.3, down from 5. The Steelers’ four-game win streak ended with an overtime tie against a winless Detroit Lions team, but it happened while QB Ben Roethlisberger was sidelined by COVID-19 protocols.

Next game: at Chargers (Sunday, 8:20 p.m. ET)

Buffalo 45, N.Y. Jets 17

Bills

What to know: The Bills’ offense returned to its pre-bye form and put together a dominating performance. Quarterback Josh Allen connected with his receivers downfield, especially Stefon Diggs, who had his first game of the season with 100 receiving yards (119) and a receiving TD. Gabriel Davis also went over 100 yards, giving the Bills two 100-plus receivers in the same game for the first time this season. Allen went 9-of-13 for 271 yards, two touchdowns and an interception on throws more than 10 yards downfield. He went 21-of-28 for the day, a much-improved performance from his loss against Jacksonville. The return of right tackle Spencer Brown made a significant impact on the right side of the line, and Buffalo had some success running the ball with four different players finishing with a rushing score. Running back Matt Breida had a bit of a breakout game, scoring a rushing and receiving touchdown. While it was against a struggling Jets team, the Bills’ offense looked unstoppable once again by not relying just on Allen to get the job done. That’s something this team can build upon. — Alaina Getzenberg

Is the Bills’ defense the best in the NFL? It’s making a solid case. Buffalo forced four interceptions and a fumble in its win over the Jets. Every member of the secondary got a takeaway. The Bills entered the game leading the league in turnover margin (plus-11) and only added to that total on Sunday. Without starting DT Star Lotulelei, who was placed on the COVID-19 list just prior to the game, Buffalo held the Jets to 70 rushing yards. Only two teams have rushed for 100-plus yards on the Bills’ defense (Chiefs and Titans) and they entered the day fourth in rushing yards allowed (85.6). There are improvements to make here and there, like with the pass rush, but the Bills are limiting opponents’ ability to score consistently. — Getzenberg

Getzenberg’s confidence rating (0-10): 7.8, up from 7. The Bills needed a bounce-back game and got it, dominating in all three phases, and the next test is keeping that up against tougher opponents.

Next game: vs. Colts (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

Jets

What to know: Mike White mania was fun while it lasted. The unheralded quarterback, in his third start, suffered a four-interception nightmare in the Jets’ 45-17 loss to the Bills. Facing the NFL’s top-ranked defense, White came unglued with bad throws and bad decisions. Now the QB decision is clear: Coach Robert Saleh should go back to rookie Zach Wilson, assuming Wilson’s sprained right knee is good to go. They could’ve justified another start for White if he had played well, but now it’s time for the Jets to remember the primary purpose of the season: develop Wilson into a legit NFL starter. Last week, Saleh said the quarterback situation would resolve itself “organically.” It has, albeit painfully. — Rich Cimini

Is this the worst defense in Jets history? Statistically, yes. The Jets are allowing 32.9 points and over 400 yards per game, both the worst in franchise history. Against the one-dimensional Bills, who had been sputtering, the Jets surrendered at least 30 points for the fourth game in a row — a run of badness that has happened only five times in their history. Their young cornerbacks, Brandin Echols and Javelin Guidry, were overmatched by Josh Allen & Co. The talent on defense is awful. General manager Joe Douglas, who used his first four draft picks last spring on offensive players, needs to flip the script in 2022. — Cimini

Cimini’s confidence rating (0-10): 2.5, down from 4. Somewhere on a golf course in South Florida, Adam Gase must be smiling. The Jets are one of the worst two or three teams in the league.

Next game: vs. Dolphins (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

Tennessee 23, New Orleans 21

Titans

What to know: The Titans’ pass rush is becoming a legitimate problem for opposing teams. That’s especially the case for Jeffery Simmons, who has transformed into a one-man wrecking crew as shown by his five sack over the last two games. Simmons consistently wins one-on-one matchups and on stunts/twists. The Titans defense has 27 sacks through 10 games this season after finishing with only 19 last season. — Turron Davenport

Who will be the go-to player for the Titans down the stretch? Running back Derrick Henry isn’t walking through the door this season, and wide receiver Julio Jones is out for at least the next three weeks after being placed on injured reserve. Wide receiver A.J. Brown had a hot streak entering last week’s game but finished with only one reception for 16 yards. The defense can’t be counted on to be lights out each time they take the field. Tennessee needs Brown, or someone, to become the player they can rely upon to make a play when it is needed the most. — Davenport

Davenport’s confidence rating (0-10): 9, down from 9.5. The Titans’ defense looked good against the Saints in the first half. But they struggled in the second half while the offense went three-and-out a few times. Even though the Saints’ defense is a good group, the Titans’ offense failed to put New Orleans away when it had the chance. Tennessee’s schedule down the stretch doesn’t present many challenges, but the Titans can’t expect to play this way and win in the playoffs.

Next game: vs. Texans (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

Saints

What to know: Almost an exact repeat of last week, the Saints’ offense struggled early before coming alive in the fourth quarter and falling just short. But the unfortunate trend leaves the Saints having to scratch and claw with a depleted offense where RB Alvin Kamara and LT Terron Armstead were out for Week 10 and QB Jameis Winston and WR Michael Thomas are out for the season. The Saints also couldn’t overcome things like a fumbled kickoff return, two missed extra points and brutal penalties. — Mike Triplett

Do the Saints stick with Trevor Siemian at quarterback? Once again, Siemian’s fourth-quarter performance was probably impressive enough to keep him in the role. He struggled at times, especially when he took sacks that knocked them out of field goal range before halftime. But his pass catchers also continued to let him down with drops. Still, the Saints need to consider every option they can to add juice to this offense – and Taysom Hill is an obvious solution that they have to consider. — Triplett

Triplett’s confidence rating (0-10): 6.5, down from 6.7. The Saints put up a good fight against the AFC’s top team. But their flaws remained fully on display. They need a healthy Kamara back as soon as possible.

Next game: at Eagles (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

Indianapolis 23, Jacksonville 17

Colts

What to know: The Colts were supposed to beat the Jacksonville Jaguars and the New York Jets in their past two games. That had to happen if they expected to remain in playoff contention, even if the games ended up being closer than they should have been. But now the true test is about to happened for the Colts. Their next two games are against teams that have winning records and who would be in the playoffs if the postseason started today. The Colts play at Buffalo in Week 11 and are at home against Tom Brady and the Buccaneers in Week 12. The Colts have not beaten a team with a winning record this season, and you have to wonder when it will happen, considering how the Colts had to hold on against the Jaguars after jumping out to a 17-0 lead. — Mike Wells

Will the Colts ever get the ‘killer instinct’ they constantly talk about? No. They said they needed to develop it after blowing an 19-point lead in an overtime loss to Baltimore, and they said it again after blowing a 14-point lead in their loss to Tennessee. The Colts would have already developed it if they were going to get it, considering they’re in the second half of the season. — Wells

Wells’ confidence rating (0-10): 3.9, down from 4.3. The Colts gave up nearly 500 yards to the Jets in Week 9, and they let a Jaguars team that isn’t very good hang around until late in the fourth quarter. That can’t happen against two teams in line for top-five draft picks next spring.

Next game: at Bills (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

Jaguars

What to know: This deep into the season, the Jaguars’ offense is what it is: a unit that needs everything to go perfectly for it to function. Rarely does that happen, which is why the Jaguars are averaging just 17 points per game. Sunday was typical: five drops, too many penalties (including three by TE Chris Manhertz), receivers struggling to get separation, Trevor Lawrence indecisive and off-target on some throws, and awful third-down production. There’s no help on the way, either. The Jaguars didn’t put in a waiver claim on DeSean Jackson or Odell Beckham Jr. (Jackson would have been a big help as the team’s only speed receiver). The Jaguars have to seriously upgrade their playmakers, and that can’t happen until the offseason, so expect more of the same. — Mike DiRocco

Has the Jaguars’ defense turned a corner? It certainly looks that way. The unit gave up only 16 points on Sunday (the Colts scored one TD on a blocked punt return), one week after limiting Buffalo (the highest-scoring team in the league) to just two field goals. They had trouble with Jonathan Taylor early but shut him down in the second half. The front is getting good pressure and the secondary has cut down on allowing big plays. — DiRocco

DiRocco’s confidence rating (0-10): 3, down from 4. The Jaguars struggled on offense and gave up a blocked punt for a TD but still had a chance to win a division game on the road.

Next game: vs. 49ers (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

Dallas 43, Atlanta 3

Cowboys

What to know: The Cowboys believed last week’s loss to Denver was an anomaly and desperately wanted to prove that on Sunday against Atlanta. How does a 43-3 win against the Falcons sound? The Cowboys ripped Atlanta apart with a 29-point second quarter. Ezekiel Elliott scored twice and added a 2-point conversion. Dak Prescott threw his second touchdown pass to CeeDee Lamb. And Nahshon Wright recovered a blocked punt in the end zone a week after a deflected punt bounced off his arm, allowing Denver to keep the ball. The 29 points were the most the Cowboys have scored in any quarter. A defense that had been exposed by the Broncos allowed 58 yards on the Falcons’ first drive but 19 for the rest of the half. The second half had all the relevance of a preseason game, but the Cowboys made their point: The Broncos loss was a one-off. — Todd Archer

How important are the next three games for the Cowboys? The next three games against the Kansas City Chiefs, Las Vegas Raiders and New Orleans Saints will determine how legitimate the Cowboys are as a Super Bowl contender. At 7-2, they appear like they will be right in the mix, especially with such a dominating performance against the Falcons, but if they can win all three, the Cowboys will be in the hunt for home-field advantage in December. Playing Patrick Mahomes and Derek Carr in a span of five days will be a challenge, and it’s never easy to win in New Orleans. The Cowboys close the year with five of their last eight games away from home, so grabbing at least two wins out of the next three would be a good thing. — Archer

Archer’s confidence rating (0-10): 9, up from 8.4. It dropped to 8.4 after last week’s loss to the Broncos. It goes back up to a 9 with how they dismantled the Falcons. You felt the offense would bounce back based on the personnel. The defense was iffier, but after giving up a field goal on the first drive, it shut Atlanta down.

Next game: at Chiefs (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET)

Falcons

What to know: The Falcons might be in playoff contention, but to call them contenders for anything substantial this season would be fallacy following the Falcons’ worst loss since a 56-10 drubbing by Kansas City in 2004. Atlanta faced its toughest opponent since Week 2 on Sunday in Dallas and responded with a blowout bad enough that backup quarterback Josh Rosen came in and finished the fourth quarter. It shows, in some ways, the mediocrity in the NFC beyond the top five teams. Sometimes these games are aberrations, but considering the Falcons’ lack of depth and clear defensive holes, it’s reality for them. The Falcons might be in conversation for a playoff bid, but even if that somehow happens, don’t expect much if they get there. — Michael Rothstein

What can Atlanta do at receiver? It’s likely a longer-term question at this point, but it’s clear the team’s receiver depth is lacking with Calvin Ridley on the non-football-injury list with an unknown return date. Atlanta’s receivers were particularly poor against Dallas. None had a catch until the second half. Russell Gage, the team’s top receiver in theory (although Kyle Pitts and Cordarrelle Patterson are ahead of him as a tight end and a running back), was targeted three times over the first three quarters and did not record a reception. It’s the second time in three weeks he hasn’t caught a pass in meaningful snaps for the Falcons. — Rothstein

Rothstein’s confidence rating (0-10): 4, down from 4.5. Atlanta is an average team, but it doesn’t have the players or the depth to compete against the best teams in the NFL.

Next game: vs. Patriots (Thursday, 8:20 p.m. ET)

Washington 29, Tampa Bay 19

Washington

What to know: Washington played, by far, its best game of the season. The defense was terrific, holding Tampa Bay to 273 yards. It’s also the second game the WFT defense held an opponent under 300 yards. Washington intercepted Tom Brady twice, leading to 10 points. The combination of pressure and good coverage led forced Brady to throw passes away or into danger. The defense did this despite losing end Chase Young in the first half to a knee injury and playing without fellow end Montez Sweat, out with a jaw injury. Quarterback Taylor Heinicke, who made his name in a loss to the Bucs last season in the playoffs, was very good. He threw for 256 yards and a touchdown. — John Keim

Can WFT sustain this play with all these injuries? Washington lost Young, possibly to a torn ACL, and won’t have Sweat for another three to five weeks. It is thin at tight end — though Logan Thomas might be back soon — and receiver. So it will be difficult to sustain a high level of play. At defensive end, Washington has young players James Smith-Williams and Casey Toohill who can start. But it’s a very thin group now with a lot of inexperience. However, WFT showed a lot of grit in upsetting Tampa and has played with a good demeanor of late. It did not flinch when the Bucs looked ready to take the game over. That speaks volumes and provides hope that Washington can finish as strong as it did in 2020, when it won five of its last seven games. — Keim

Keim’s confidence rating (0-10): 5, up from 3. Washington had been playing better; it just couldn’t convert scoring opportunities. It finally did so — and now playing at Carolina it’s fair to wonder if Washington can go on a winning streak to finally generate momentum.

Next game: at Panthers (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

Buccaneers

What to know: Last year, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers came out of their bye week looking like a Super Bowl contender and never lost another game en route to winning Super Bowl LV. This year, against the worst pass defense in the NFL — Washington — they came out of the bye looking like an abomination, surrendering a 19-play touchdown drive in the final 10 minutes to end all hope of a game-winning drive in a 29-19 loss that dropped them to 6-3 in a competitive NFC. To make matters worse, defensive tackle Vita Vea was carted off the field with an injury. Quarterback Tom Brady threw two interceptions in the first quarter for just the third time in his career. Heinicke had way too much time to throw, completing 81.25% of his passes, and the home team managed to score on each of its first four offensive possessions for the first time since 2016. Even when the Bucs’ defense made plays behind the line of scrimmage — and it made several, sacking Heinicke five times and making 11 tackles for loss — it was unable to get off the field on third down. — Jenna Laine

Will the Bucs ever be able to cut down on penalties? This was something they had hoped to correct the way they did after the Chicago loss in Week 5 last season. But it hasn’t happened despite being a weekly point of emphasis. They were penalized six times for 43 yards, including a key neutral zone infraction on William Gholston and a false start on offensive lineman Tristan Wirfs just before halftime. In the third quarter, a defensive pass interference call on Dee Delaney took Washington from the Tampa Bay 14 to the 1-yard line, setting up a touchdown run by Antonio Gibson. — Laine

Laine’s confidence rating (0-10): 6, down from 8. The Bucs allowed a 2-6 football team and the league’s worst secondary to completely dominate them on the road — there was little to feel good about today.

Next game: vs. Giants (Monday, Nov. 22, 8:15 p.m. ET)

New England 45, Cleveland 7

Patriots

What to know: Mac Jones looked like a seasoned veteran with his best performance of the season, sparking possibilities of a team that could make a legitimate postseason run. Most promising for the Patriots is that Jones had been grinding through a couple of so-so games the previous two weeks, sparking some questions if he had possibly hit a rookie wall. He smashed through it against the Browns (19-of-23 for 198 yards, 3 TDs), displaying the accuracy and decision-making that had shown up more consistently earlier in the season, and he was poised and on-point in third-and-long situations. The Patriots have proven they can consistently run the ball, and with Jones and the passing game finding its groove, the offense looked the best it has all season. — Mike Reiss

How deep could this team go in the playoffs? After signing a slew of big-money free agents in the offseason, and bringing Jones along masterfully, the Patriots are coming together at the right time and playing their best football of the season. This was arguably their best performance of the season, considering it came against a team with similar playoff aspirations. When they play like this — weaving together an efficient passing game, physical running game and opportunistic defense and special teams — they can beat any team in the NFL. In a league where things can change quickly, one of their next challenges is not letting their guard down after winning four consecutive games. — Reiss

Reiss’ confidence rating (0-10): 6, up from 5.3. It all looks familiar from a different era — the weather in New England gets colder and the Patriots start playing their best football in hopes of making a postseason push.

Next game: at Falcons (Thursday , 8:20 p.m. ET)

Browns

What to know: A week after looking like an AFC contender, the Browns looked like a team that deserves to be watching the playoffs from home. Cleveland’s rollercoaster of a season continued with a demoralizing defeat in New England, which exposed both the Browns defense and QB Baker Mayfield, who completed only two passes to wide receivers. Despite Sunday’s debacle, Cleveland can still rebound to make the playoffs. But the margin for error now will be minimal. — Jake Trotter

What in the world happened to the Cleveland defense? The Browns couldn’t get pressure on QB Mac Jones, couldn’t get off the field on third down and couldn’t force turnovers. They also got dominated in the trenches trying to stop the run between the tackles. Cleveland boasts the talent to field a top-tier defense, evident in last week’s dominating performance in Cincinnati. But too often this season, the Browns defense has just no-showed. And why, to this point, they’ve ultimately underachieved. — Trotter

Trotter’s confidence rating (0-10): 5.9, down from 7.8. Gone is the week-to-week consistency, reliability and resiliency that defined the Browns’ 2020 run to the playoffs.

Next game: vs. Lions (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

Miami 22, Baltimore 10

Dolphins

What to know: The Dolphins’ defense is back, folks. It’s been a slow build to this point, but Miami flashed some of last season’s defensive prowess during a loss to the Bills in Week 8 and turned it up the following week, forcing four turnovers and holding the Texans to nine points. But Thursday night’s effort against the Ravens was the team’s best performance of the season, effectively shutting down quarterback Lamar Jackson and the NFL’s second-ranked offense for four quarters. Defensive coordinator Josh Boyer blitzed his defensive backs 24 times and pressured Jackson 20 times — both career-highs for the former MVP. Miami’s defense scored on a Xavien Howard fumble recovery and held Baltimore under 100 rushing yards. This was the type of defense most people expected from the Dolphins to start the season. — Marcel Louis-Jacques

Can this team make a playoff push? You read that correctly, I’m curious if the 3-7 Dolphins can make a better-late-than-never playoff push. Over the next five weeks Miami plays on the road against the Jets, then gets three straight home games against the Panthers, Giants and Jets again after its Week 14 bye. Those teams entered Week 10 with a combined 9-17 record, and in four of those weeks, the Dolphins won’t even have to leave Miami. It’s a longshot, no doubt, but this win Thursday felt less like a fluke and more like a long time coming. If Miami can crawl back to .500 before playing the Saints in Week 16, it would make the final three weeks of the season interesting. — Louis-Jacques

Louis-Jacques’ confidence rating (0-10): 6, up from 3.7. My biggest jump in either direction this season. If Thursday night is the new normal, then I’m fully confident the Dolphins have figured out how to win the games they’re supposed to and there’s quite a few of those coming up.

Next game: at Jets (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

Ravens

What to know: The Ravens need to better protect Lamar Jackson. He was under duress a season-high 16 times against the blitz-happy Dolphins. When Jackson has been pressured 14 or more times in a game, Baltimore is 0-3. The offensive line is never going to be at full strength because Pro Bowl left tackle Ronnie Stanley (ankle) is out for the season. But the pass protection should improve when left guard Ben Cleveland and right tackle Patrick Mekari return off injured reserve. — Jamison Hensley

Is this offense in trouble? There should be some concern. The Ravens have gone from leading the NFL in scoring in Jackson’s first two full seasons as a starter (31.2 points) to getting held to 17 points or fewer in two of the past three games. Baltimore is struggling with slow starts and third-down inefficiency, which makes you wonder whether the injuries have caught up to this offense. But Jackson is one of the most dangerous playmakers in the league. If he can get hot again, the Ravens should put up points again. — Hensley

Hensley’s confidence rating (0-10): 7.5, down from 8.3. The Ravens remain at the top of the AFC North, but they lost by double digits to the Dolphins and have only two decisive victories this year.

Next game: at Bears (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

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