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What we learned from Week 7 of the NFL season

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It was an exciting day of action, with several games coming down to last-minute plays. There were a few surprising upsets and even more turbulence in the NFL’s worst division.

Here’s what we learned:

Ohio suddenly has an intrastate rivalry.

Cleveland Browns' Odell Beckham Jr. (13) is examined during the first half of an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020, in Cincinnati.
Cleveland Browns' Odell Beckham Jr. (13) is examined during the first half of an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020, in Cincinnati. (Michael Conroy/AP)

A game between Cincinnati and Cleveland got off to an inauspicious start when Joe Burrow and Baker Mayfield were intercepted on their first drives. Odell Beckham Jr. of the Browns was lost to injury on that opening drive, and the Bengals were leading by 17-10 at halftime. But in the second half, the game morphed into a heavyweight bout. And Mayfield, the No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft, just barely outlasted Burrow, the No. 1 pick in 2020, by finding Donovan Peoples-Jones for a 24-yard touchdown with 11 seconds remaining that put Cleveland ahead to stay.

After starting the day with five consecutive incompletions, Mayfield went 22 of 23 the rest of the way for 297 yards passing and five touchdowns, and Cleveland scored on all four of its second-half possessions. Burrow nearly kept up, with 406 yards passing and three touchdowns, but his Hail Mary attempt as time expired fell incomplete in the end zone.

Chaos reigns in the NFC East.

Washington Football Team quarterback Kyle Allen (8) celebrates with Washington Football Team wide receiver Terry McLaurin (17) after an NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys, Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020 in Landover, Md.
Washington Football Team quarterback Kyle Allen (8) celebrates with Washington Football Team wide receiver Terry McLaurin (17) after an NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys, Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020 in Landover, Md. (Daniel Kucin Jr./AP)

With the way things are going, this division may be decided by a game of rock-paper-scissors. The Dallas Cowboys went to Washington with a chance of improving to 3-4, which would have put them ahead of 2-4-1 Philadelphia for the division lead. They were being praised for having the foresight to sign a veteran backup quarterback in the offseason, and could have been on cruise control to the playoffs by beating Washington this week, and the Eagles in Week 8.

Instead, Dallas fell behind Washington early, lost Andy Dalton to a head injury — forcing its little-known third-stringer, Ben DiNucci, to finish the game — and got blown out, 25-3. Kyle Allen (194 yards passing, two touchdowns) and Antonio Gibson (128 yards rushing, one touchdown) looked like All-Pros against the comically bad Cowboys defense, and just to emphasize how rough things have been in the NFL’s worst division, the team with the worst record in the NFC West — San Francisco — would be comfortably leading the East.

An immovable object beats an unstoppable force — barely.

Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry (22) runs with the ball as he is tackled by Pittsburgh Steelers inside linebacker Vince Williams (98) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn.
Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry (22) runs with the ball as he is tackled by Pittsburgh Steelers inside linebacker Vince Williams (98) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn. (Brett Carlsen/AP)

In a game of unbeaten teams, Pittsburgh got off to a 27-7 start — effectively knocking the Tennessee Titans' Derrick Henry out of the game — yet watched the game turn into a 27-24 nail-biter. The Titans' rebirth came courtesy of three interceptions, the last of which came with less than three minutes remaining and the Steelers clinging to a 3-point lead. But the Titans, who started the season with three consecutive games decided by the leg of Stephen Gostkowski, had that magic run out. His 45-yard attempt to tie the game with 19 seconds remaining sailed wide right, leaving Pittsburgh (6-0) as the AFC’s last unbeaten team.

It is time for the Bills to worry.

Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) in action during an NFL football game against the New York Jets, Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020, in East Rutherford, N.J.
Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) in action during an NFL football game against the New York Jets, Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020, in East Rutherford, N.J. (Adam Hunger/AP)

Sounding an alarm for a team that won on the road to improve to 5-2 doesn’t seem very friendly, but the fact that Buffalo couldn’t score a single touchdown against the New York Jets — getting all of its points on field goals in an 18-10 win — continued a downward trajectory for a once-promising offense. The Bills averaged 30.75 points a game during a 4-0 start, but have not topped 18 points since. They will need far more than that if they want to beat a team more formidable than the 0-7 Jets.

Atlanta can always find a new way to lose.

Detroit Lions linebacker Jamie Collins (58) signals "touchdown" as Atlanta Falcons running back Todd Gurley tries to stop short of the end zone to control the final minutes of the clock in the fourth quarter of an NFL football game Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020, in Atlanta.
Detroit Lions linebacker Jamie Collins (58) signals "touchdown" as Atlanta Falcons running back Todd Gurley tries to stop short of the end zone to control the final minutes of the clock in the fourth quarter of an NFL football game Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020, in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com/AP)

The Falcons were trailing Detroit by 6 in the game’s final two minutes when Atlanta’s Todd Gurley II broke free for an easy 10-yard touchdown. Aware of the amount of time remaining, Gurley tried to fall down at the 1-yard line, in hopes of giving his team a chance to run down the clock. Unfortunately, he misjudged the distance, barely breaking the plane of the end zone for a go-ahead touchdown. That mistake gave the Lions 1:04 to go 75 yards, and they did just that, with Matthew Stafford hitting tight end T.J. Hockenson for an 11-yard touchdown as time expired in Detroit’s 23-22 victory.

Every. Yard. Counts.

Carolina Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater scrambles under pressure from New Orleans Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan (94) and defensive tackle Malcom Brown (90) in the second half of an NFL football game in New Orleans, Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020.
Carolina Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater scrambles under pressure from New Orleans Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan (94) and defensive tackle Malcom Brown (90) in the second half of an NFL football game in New Orleans, Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020. (Butch Dill/AP)

In his return to New Orleans after signing with Carolina in the offseason, Teddy Bridgewater of the Panthers kept things far closer than most predicted. He threw for 254 yards and two touchdowns and got some laughs by taking a brief break on the Saints' bench, sitting down between his former teammates Drew Brees and Taysom Hill after being pushed out of bounds. But with Carolina trailing by three with just over two minutes to play, Bridgewater took an 8-yard sack, which essentially decided the game. With Carolina forced back to the Saints' 47-yard line, the team sent out Joey Slye for what would have been an NFL-record 65-yard field goal in hopes of tying the game. Slye’s kick was true, but it fell less than a yard short of the crossbar, handing New Orleans a 27-24 win.

c.2020 The New York Times Company

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