With the final whistle blown on the NFL season’s ninth installment of Monday Night Football, we are halfway to Week 18 and the kickoff of the postseason. While we can’t get to everything — like running back-turned-kicker Dare Ogunbowale — here are four of the top storylines to emerge from the NFL’s ninth week. (Here’s a look back at Week 8 as well as a truly excellent defensive touchdown from Kansas City’s defense in Germany.)
It’s been an amazing ride for Joshua Dobbs this season
A former Steeler and Titan, quarterback Joshua Dobbs spent less than 12 hours as the Browns’ official No. 2 quarterback for the 2023 season before he was dealt with a seventh-round pick to the Arizona Cardinals in exchange for a fifth-round pick. With normal starter Kyler Murray sidelined to start the season in the desert, Dobbs assumed the No. 1 job for the Cardinals and was the starter in Week 1.
Dobbs was not terrible but did lose seven of eight starts for an Arizona team that is in the middle of a rebuild and is probably tanking to get the No. 1 pick in April’s draft. Possibly because Dobbs was playing just a little too well for Arizona’s liking, the Cardinals traded him to the Vikings following Week 8 after Minnesota lost longtime QB Kirk Cousins for the year to an Achilles injury. Traded to the Vikings on a Tuesday, Dobbs found himself on the field for Minnesota on Sunday when rookie quarterback Jaren Hall was forced to the sidelines after suffering a concussion.
The 28-year-old, who threw for two touchdowns and ran for one during his final game as a Cardinal, passed for two touchdowns and ran for one during his first game as a Viking as Minnesota was able to knock off Atlanta on Sunday afternoon. Thanks to that surprising effort, Dobbs became the first player in NFL history to score three or more combined passing and rushing touchdowns in consecutive weeks with two different teams.
It doesn’t seem likely that Dobbs will be a long-term starter for the Vikings, and he could head to the bench as soon as Week 10 if Hall is able to return, but Week 9 of this season will always be a memorable one for the journeyman QB even though he hasn’t been in Minnesota long enough to learn the names of all of his teammates. Dobbs was able to learn the name of Minnesota coach Kevin O’Connell, even if couldn’t always understand his playcalls.
“It’s like if you were taking [Advanced Placement] Spanish all year and you showed up and someone told you Wednesday…you have an AP French exam on Sunday,” Dobbs said after the game. “And you’ve gotta go execute. Someone’s gonna talk to you in Spanish and translate it to the French. That’s kind of like what was going on out there. There was a lot of communication, but I’m able to process a lot of information and be able to react on the fly.”
Keaton Mitchell could be just what Baltimore needs
Despite being the only team in the NFL with a point differential of more than 100 at +115, the Ravens are somewhat flying under the radar this season while leading the AFC North with a record of 7-2. Baltimore got their division-leading seventh win with a 37-3 beatdown of the Seattle Seahawks that saw Keaton Mitchell, the son of former Ravens Super Bowl-winning safety Anthony Mitchell, erupt for 138 rushing yards and a touchdown on just nine carries.
Undrafted out of East Carolina and dealing with injuries early on this season, the rookie back finally broke out for Baltimore and could be the playmaker that the Ravens sorely need to provide instant offense when Lamar Jackson isn’t up to the challenge. For years, the Ravens have relied on Jackson to shoulder more than his fair share of the offensive load and that strategy has led to the 26-year-old wearing down and being injured and/or ineffective by the end of the season.
Despite his lack of size (5-foot-8, 192 pounds), Mitchell is explosive and gives the Ravens a speedy weapon who hit 20.99 miles per hour the fastest speed of any Ravens ball carrier this season, on his 40-yard touchdown run against Seattle.
Mitchell, who racked up 2,584 rushing yards and 23 rushing touchdowns in his final two seasons at East Carolina, is never going to be a workhorse back or a big threat for goal-line work, but he could be the home-run-hitter the Ravens have been lacking.
“He’s been raised the right way. He’s a football-family kid. He’s a player’s son and he has an amazing family,” said Baltimore coach John Harbaugh. “He’s humble. He works hard. He knows how hard it is. [He] doesn’t take anything for granted, and he doesn’t get too frustrated with the injuries and things like that. He just fights through it every single day, and then [to] see it pay off for him is great. He knows the next challenge. Now, they know who he is, so it’s going to be a new challenge next week. He’s looking forward to that.”
Baltimore fans should be as well.
Kenny Pickett isn’t great, but he might be a winner
Entering Thursday night’s matchup between the Steelers and the Titans, all eyes were on Tennessee rookie quarterback Will Levis, who was making his second career start after tossing a four-pack of touchdowns in a win in Week 8 during his first game as a starter. When the final seconds ticked off the clock, Levis had been held off of the scoreboard as a passer, and it was the Steelers and second-year quarterback Kenny Pickett who were the winners. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why, but that has usually been the case when Pickett starts for Pittsburgh.
Selected in the first round out of the University of Pittsburgh, Pickett did not begin his career with the Steelers as the team’s starter, but did get 12 starts in his rookie season and went 7-5 for a team that ended up finishing 9-8. Pickett, who has thrown 13 picks and 13 interceptions in 21 games, is once again two games over .500 this year for the 5-3 Steelers and is 12-8 overall as a starter in his young career.
Amazingly considering his relative lack of success as a passer, Pickett already has six fourth-quarter comeback wins in his career, the second-most in the NFL since 2022. The 25-year-old has also delivered when the lights have been the brightest as he never failed to cover in a primetime game in his career and is now 7-0 against the spread when playing on national TV.
Pickett’s numbers from Thursday’s win generally jibe with what he’s done thus far as he was fairly unspectacular but didn’t turn the ball over and also came up clutch when it mattered. The young quarterback was just 19-of-30 for 160 yards on the night, but went 3-for-4 on the game-winning drive, a 12-play, 92-yard trek that ended with Pickett tossing the go-ahead touchdown to Diontae Johnson with 4:02 remaining.
The Steelers, who have given up more points (163) than they have scored this season (133), have racked up a number of one-score wins with Pickett under center and have been unable to blow anyone out but have managed to lose six games by two or more scores since 2022. Explosive plays have been few and far between with Pickett as Pittsburgh’s starter, but the wins have been there more often than not. That may not be enough to make Pickett into the franchise quarterback the Steelers want him to be, but Pittsburgh will keep giving him chances if he keeps getting the team victories.
The Bills may have already missed their window
A playoff team in five of six of Sean McDermott’s seasons as head coach after enduring a postseason drought of more than 15 years, the Bills have been unable to break through in the AFC and have had their last three campaigns ended by either the Chiefs or the Bengals. Projected to compete with those teams once again, the Bills have largely failed to deliver this season and were dispatched 24-18 by Cincinnati in a Sunday Night Football game that never really felt all that close.
The Bills are still very much in the hunt for a postseason berth, but it’s starting to look like another playoff failure is in the cards as, aside from a big win over a Miami team that has had difficulty beating good competition, Buffalo only has victories over the Raiders, Commanders, Giants and Buccaneers. The Bills are far from the worst team in the NFL, but it also appears as if they are drifting farther away from being one of the league’s best with each passing week.
After playing a pair of interception-free games during the first four weeks of the season as Buffalo got off to a 3-1 start, Bills quarterback Josh Allen has now tossed a pick in five straight games and has nine total compared to just 18 touchdowns on the season. Plagued by the lack of a quality running game for most of his time in Buffalo, Allen, who was 26-of-38 for 258 yards against the Bengals, has become increasingly reliant on star receiver Stefon Diggs, who did have a touchdown grab against Cincy.
That dynamic may slowly be taking its toll as something has seemed off with Allen and Diggs for much of the year despite the two remaining productive on the field. Things have yet to boil over in Buffalo, but some sort of dysfunction seems to be simmering just below the surface. With the Bills now clearly behind the Chiefs, Ravens and possibly behind the Bengals and Dolphins in the AFC pecking order, there seems to be the potential for a blow-up.
Whether that happens or not, the Bills certainly appear to be in a pretty shaky place, and their opportunity to break through in the conference and make it to the organization’s first Super Bowl in three decades may have already passed.
“One thing I do know is it’s hard to win in this league, it’s hard to win consistently in this league,” Allen said in August. “But the type of men that we have in this facility, in this locker room, it’s a special group. So I don’t really hear all that outside noise. I know the type of guys that we have, the energy and the juice that we can bring and how special this team can be.”
The Bills have talent and certainly could be special, but it’s fair to wonder if they ever actually will be at this point.
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