The Pittsburgh Steelers overcame the loss of kicker Chris Boswell for the whole second half as they beat the Cleveland Browns 15-10 on Sunday.

D'Ernest Johnson rushed 10 yards for the game's first touchdown in the third quarter to put Cleveland seemingly in control at FirstEnergy Stadium.

The Steelers' chances were already damaged by the loss of Boswell to a concussion following a huge hit from Browns tackle Jordan Elliot, but Najee Harris' touchdown closed the gap to a point.

Ben Roethlisberger threw two yards on fourth down for Pat Freiermuth to earn the decisive score with a little over 11 minutes on the clock.

Browns defensive end Myles Garrett came in costume as the Grim Reaper to mark October 31, his cape inscribed with the names of his sacked quarterbacks, but it was the Steelers' trick play that proved far from a treat in the first half: Boswell took a direct snap from 28 yards and, after rolling right and throwing for the end zone, he took a powerful hit from Elliot.

After rookie Harris had dragged Pittsburgh back into contention following Johnson's score, Roethlisberger, who is now 24-3-1 in career starts against the Browns, made his mark.

The 38-year-old, who finished 22 of 34 for 266 yards, almost saw his two-yard pass fumbled by Freiermuth but the tight end recovered to land both feet in the end zone.

By contrast, Jarvis Landry's handling let him down as he was stripped by Joe Schobert with a little over six minutes left.

The 4-4 Browns will hope for better next time out against the 5-3 Bengals, who were stunned by a New York Jets 34-31 comeback win in which Mike White threw for 405 yards and three touchdowns on his first NFL start.

Rams rout Texans, Lions looking toothless

The Philadelphia Eagles ran in four touchdowns as they snapped a two-game losing streak to crush the Detroit Lions.

As coach of the NFL's only winless team after eight straight defeats, Dan Campbell will head into a bye week to try to arrest a terrible run of results that culminated in Sunday's 44-6 loss, in which the Lions only got on the scoreboard in the fourth quarter.

The Houston Texans (1-7) are faring little better, their 38-22 loss to the Los Angeles Rams (7-1) looking only a little more respectable after they ran in 22 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, Davis Mills throwing for 310 yards and two touchdowns.

49ers down Bears through sensational Samuel

The San Francisco 49ers improved to 3-4 after a 33-22 defeat of the Chicago Bears in which Deebo Samuel set pulses racing with a spectacular 83-yard catch-and-run.

After being denied an apparent touchdown for being ruled out of bounds, Samuel's run still allowed Jimmy Garoppolo to score from two yards out just a handful of plays later to cut the Bears' advantage.

Not only did Samuel produce the Niners' longest play of the season, he passed Jerry Rice for the most receiving yards for the franchise across the first seven games of an NFL season.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers head into Week 8 with a 6-1 record, though their form will be tested against the New Orleans Saints.

Tom Brady threw for four touchdowns and 211 yards in the Bucs' 38-3 thrashing of the Chicago Bears last week, though Tampa Bay's recent record against the Saints is poor.

The Los Angeles Rams are also 6-1, and are looking to extend their strong start when they take on the Houston Texans, who are out to avoid a franchise first.

Joe Burrow and Ja'Marr Chase, meanwhile, have been linking up to superb effect for the Cincinnati Bengals, who are at the New York Jets on Sunday. 

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-1) @ New Orleans Saints (4-2)

Tampa Bay may have picked up from where they left off last season, but their recent run against New Orleans has not been at all profitable.

New Orleans have won five straight games against NFC South rivals Tampa Bay, which is the longest active losing streak for the Buccaneers against any single opponent.

However, the Bucs did set franchise records for points in a first quarter with 21, and points in a first half with 35, in their 38-3 win over the Bears. The 21 first-quarter and 35 first-half points are also the most scored by any NFL team this season.

Mike Evans caught three touchdowns against the Bears with all of them coming in the first half. He joined Marvin Harrison, Marvin Jones Jr, Jerry Rice, and Sterling Sharpe as the only players since the merger to have multiple games with three first-half touchdown catches.

The Saints beat the Seattle Seahawks in their last outing, and had 35 passing attempts in that win. Both teams have combined to win 76.9 per cent of their games this season, the highest combined winning percentage that the teams have ever had when facing each other.

Los Angeles Rams (6-1) @ Houston Texans (1-6)

This will be only the fifth all-time meeting between the Texans and the Rams, and just the second game since the latter moved back to Los Angeles.

The Rams have outscored the Texans by an aggregate of 71-20 over the last two meetings, and, at 6-1, Los Angeles are enjoying their equal second-best start to a season this century, behind the 7-0 run in 2018.

They are also looking to win each of their first four road games of a season for the fourth time since 2000, having also done this in 2001, 2017 and 2018.

Matthew Stafford has thrown for 2,172 yards this season, the most by any Rams player in the team's first seven games of the season since Kurt Warner threw for 2,445 yards in the first seven games of 2000.

Houston, meanwhile, have lost six straight, with each of the last two losses coming by over 25 points. The Texans have not lost three straight games by at least 25 points in franchise history – the only team to do so in a single season in the last 25 years were the Miami Dolphins in 2019.

Cincinnati Bengals (5-2) @ New York Jets (1-5)

The Bengals have won each of the last three meetings between these teams, matching their longest-ever win streak over the Jets (1973-81). Cincinnati's 23-22 win in New York in 2016 snapped a nine-game losing streak when visiting the Jets.

Cincinnati only managed four wins in 2020, but they surpassed that figure with a brilliant 41-17 victory in Baltimore last week, with quarterback Burrow and wide receiver Chase turning in stellar performances.

Burrow passed for a career-high 416 yards and tied a previous career high with three touchdown passes. It was his seventh consecutive game with multiple TD passes, tying a franchise record set twice before by Carson Palmer (2004-05 and 2010).

Chase, meanwhile, had 201 receiving yards, the most all-time by a Bengals rookie and the most by any rookie since Mike Evans had 209 in 2014. Chase's 754 receiving yards in 2021 ranks are the most by any player through seven career games in NFL history.

The Jets' 54-13 loss to the Patriots last week was their largest defeat since a 45-3 loss in Week 13 of the 2010 season, which also happened in New England. The 54 points are the fourth-most that New York have allowed in a single game and the most since 1980.

Elsewhere...

The Detroit Lions are still winless, going 0-7 so far, but could snap the losing streak against the Philadelphia Eagles. The Lions have won three straight against Philadelphia, with each of the last two games being decided by three points or fewer. 

Strugglers the Miami Dolphins travel to Buffalo. With two receiving yards on Sunday, Stefon Diggs will reach 2,000 as a Bill in just his 23rd game with the team. That would be tied for the second fewest games needed by any player with any single team in the Super Bowl era (Odell Beckham Jr. – 21 with the Giants, Vincent Jackson – 23 with Tampa Bay, Brandon Marshall – 23 with Chicago).

Fresh from their win over the Jets, the Patriots will aim to maintain the momentum against the Los Angeles Chargers, against whom they have five straight wins and are 16-3 in the last 19 meetings.

An AFC North clash sees the Browns (4-3) host the 3-3 Steelers. Pittsburgh have not won in Cleveland since 2017, as the teams tied in 2018 before the Browns won in 2019 and 2020.

Tua Tagovailoa says he is not worried about trade speculation linking the Miami Dolphins quarterback with a swap for Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson.

The 23-year-old quarterback, who is playing in his second season, has been the subject of trade speculation but said he felt reassured after conversations with Dolphins head coach Brian Flores.

The NFL's Tuesday trade deadline is approaching, although Tagovailoa said he was not thinking about it.

"I don't not feel wanted. That's what I could say," Tagovailoa told reporters.

"I really don't think about it. The only time I'm really hearing about it, like I've said before, is if [the communications staff] is kind of telling me what's going on within the rumours or if my agent calls me.

"That's really when I hear it. Other than that, I don't really hear it."

Watson requested a trade from the Texans in January and is facing 22 civil lawsuits that remain unresolved as the NFL conducts its own investigation into sexual assault and misconduct allegations against him.

Tagovailoa, who was pick five in the 2020 NFL Draft, has enjoyed the best two-game stretch of his career to date over the past fortnight, completing 75 per cent of passes for 620 yards and six touchdowns.

The Dolphins are 1-6 this season with Tagovailoa completing 82 of 118 attempts for 835 yards, with seven touchdowns, four interceptions and five sacks across his four starts, having missed time due to a rib injury.

Tagovailoa has shown improvements this season but the Dolphins have been let down in defense, giving up 207 points for the season, the second-highest total in the NFL through Week 7.

The Hawaii-born QB would not be drawn on what was discussed in his conversations with Flores but insisted it reassured him.

"Honestly, I don't base my emotions off of who says anything about me or who is saying what," he said.

"All I can do is my job and do it to the best of my capabilities. Everything else, I mean it's out of my control. But I have the utmost confidence and trust that I am the quarterback of this team, just off of conversations that I've had with Flo and whatnot.

"That obviously stays between us. I feel very confident that I'm the person."

Tagovailoa started nine games in his rookie season, winning six of them as he threw 11 touchdowns to five picks with some steady but unspectacular performances.

Tua Tagovailoa has received public backing from Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores as rumours over a trade for Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson intensify.

A report this week in the Houston Chronicle suggested the Dolphins were on the brink of completing a trade for Watson with the Texans.

Watson is rated among the elite QBs in the NFL after a fantastic 2020 season but has not been active for any games this season.

The 26-year-old requested a trade from the Texans in January and is facing 22 civil lawsuits that remain unresolved as the NFL conducts its own investigation into sexual assault and misconduct allegations against him.

Tagovailoa, meanwhile, has had a difficult second season, missing three games with fractured ribs while the Dolphins, who had playoff ambitions, collapsed to a dreadful 1-5 start.

The former Alabama standout returned to action in London last week but could not prevent the Dolphins going down to defeat against the previously winless Jacksonville Jaguars. 

Their hopes of a successful season therefore look bleak ahead of Sunday's must-win home game with the 2-3 Atlanta Falcons.

A change at the QB position has been mooted, but when he was asked about the Watson reports on Friday, Flores replied: "I don't really get into rumours - Tua is our quarterback.

"We're happy with the quarterback, our quarterback situation. I'll leave it at that, which I've said multiple times."

Tagovailoa threw for 329 yards, two touchdowns and one interception against the Jaguars after completing 33 of his 47 pass attempts.

"I thought he played very well last week," added Flores. "His preparation, the way he practices and the way he performs has been good.  

"I think his psyche is in a good place. He's a confident kid, he's a tough kid. He's played in two games this year so he should have a lot of confidence in the way he's played. 

"We have a lot of confidence in him. He's developing, I think this kid is smart, he's talented, he's accurate, I think he definitely has the opportunity to be a very good NFL player. 

"There's always bumps in the road for anyone in any career, any profession. You have to work through those and you become better for it."

Tagovailoa started nine games in his rookie season, winning six of them as he threw 11 touchdowns to five picks with some steady but unspectacular performances.

In 2020 he was battling for snaps with Ryan Fitzpatrick, but a clear path to the starting job emerged when the veteran moved on to Washington and Miami opted not to pick a QB in the draft.

Trevor Lawrence and Urban Meyer celebrated the Jacksonville Jaguars' drought-ending triumph and "software engineer" Matthew Wright, who ended the team's 20-game skid.

Wright kicked a 53-yard field goal as time expired to lift the embattled Jaguars to a dramatic 23-20 win over the Miami Dolphins at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London on Sunday.

The Jaguars had not won since their 2020 season-opening victory against the Indianapolis Colts amid the second-longest losing streak in NFL history, second only to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' run of 26 straight defeats in 1976-77.

But Wright emerged the unlikely hero in the final play of the game in the United Kingdom, where rookie Jaguars quarterback Lawrence set up the field goal after the kicker also nailed a 54-yard attempt with just under four minutes remaining.

"Obviously we've had a rough start to the year, been through a lot of adversity even in this game, just having to fight back, battle back and find a way to win," Lawrence – the number one draft pick – told reporters after completing 25 of 41 passes for 319 yards and one touchdown with no interceptions.

"It means a lot, and obviously, like I said, we've struggled a little bit, but to get this win, have this momentum going into the bye week, to do it here in London, it's all just special. I'll always remember this one."

Jaguars head coach Meyer added: "Someone asked me last week if we were desperate for a win, and we are desperate for a win, and we came close a few times.

"There were a lot of things to fix, but you saw a young quarterback make a big-time play at the biggest time of the game, and then a young kicker that we just signed a couple weeks ago pop two 50-plus yarders, so it was a great win."

According to Stats Perform, Wright became the fourth kicker in NFL history to make two 50-yard field goals in the fourth quarter, including the game winner as time expired, joining Greg Joseph (Week 5), Brandon McManus (2019) and Mason Crosby (2016).

"I think [Matthew Wright] was telling me he was like a software engineer like a month and a half ago, and now he snapped our 20-game losing streak and made the game winner from 52, 53, I don't know," Lawrence said. "But just crazy."

"It feels awesome. Just happy they both went in. Happy I could help the team come out with a win," added Wright.

Urban Meyer is increasingly encouraged by Trevor Lawrence's work in the NFL and hopes his rookie quarterback can lead the Jacksonville Jaguars to a much-needed first win of the year.

The Jaguars are 0-5 heading into Sunday's NFL London game, although opponents the Miami Dolphins have also struggled to 1-4.

This was always likely to be another tough season for the Jags, who went 1-15 last year to secure the first overall pick in the draft.

Jacksonville used that first-round selection on outstanding college QB Lawrence, a key step on their path to turning around a franchise with only one winning season since 2007.

Facing NFL opposition on a poor team has represented a steep learning curve for Lawrence, whose debut against the Houston Texans brought an entertaining, erratic three-touchdown, three-interception display.

Week 2 saw only 14 of 33 pass attempts completed for a passer rating of 37.2 – the fifth-lowest of the season through five weeks.

But there has been steady improvement across the past two games, in which Lawrence has thrown one TD pass, been picked once and rushed for two more scores.

In Weeks 1 through 3, Lawrence completed only 57.7 per cent of his passes, tossed an accurate, well-thrown ball with 71.2 per cent and offered up a pickable pass with 6.3 percent. Among QBs with 10 or more attempts, he ranked in the bottom four in all categories.

Across Weeks 4 and 5, however, with 74.1 completion percentage, 83.3 well-thrown percentage and 1.9 per cent pickable pass percentage, Lawrence has operated above the league average in each metric.

"[Quarterbacks coach] Brian Schottenheimer and [offensive coordinator] Darrell Bevell have had experience with young quarterbacks – from Andrew Luck to Russell Wilson – and they've done really a great job," Meyer said ahead of the Dolphins game.

"I love the progress, I love the chemistry between the coaches and Trevor, and you can see it on the field.

"You can see his familiarity now with the offense and the people around him. It's really exciting to watch him grow."

Coach Meyer, who is also in his first year in the NFL, is seeing "steady progress" from the entire team and said: "We have really good leadership on the team, a really good locker room on this team, and they want to win in the worst way."

Meyer needs a win as badly as Lawrence, having come in for criticism this season. He also apologised following the team's Week 4 defeat after a viral video showed him sitting on a bar stool while a woman, who was not his wife, danced close to his lap.

But Lawrence said of the Jags coach: "I think he has done a good job of handling the situation. He has had conversations with the team, one-on-one and with all of us.

"[It is] just him being the same guy and coming to work, you know, a super hard worker.

"[He] really cares about this team and no one can deny that, so we are in a good spot and we all respect him. We are just ready to go win some games."

Week 6 of the NFL season sees the first byes of the campaign, meaning fantasy managers may need to start utilising their bench.

Though the starters picked in the early rounds of the draft often lay the foundations for a championship-winning season, the players selected to fill the void when they are not available can be the difference between claiming and missing out on the title.

With that in mind, this week's edition of fantasy picks features three players who can fill the void for fantasy managers with holes in their line-up.

A second-year wide receiver primed to play an even bigger part in an underperforming offense also features in Stats Perform's look at four players and a defense worthy of fantasy selection this week. 

Quarterback: Taylor Heinicke, Washington Football Team vs. Kansas City Chiefs

If you have a quarterback on a bye, or you are unfortunate to be in a position where the injured Russell Wilson is your starter, then you may be in scramble mode at quarterback.

Heinicke presents a solution to fantasy owners in such a bind. Yes, Washington will be underdogs against Kansas City, but Heinicke has thrown for multiple passing touchdowns in three of his last four games and should have little difficulty moving the ball against a defense allowing 7.08 yards per play, the most in the NFL.

With a high-scoring affair likely on the horizon, Heinicke is a leading option for fantasy owners in need of a quarterback fill-in.

Running Back: Myles Gaskin, Miami Dolphins @ Jacksonville Jaguars

There isn't much reason to get excited about the Dolphins but fantasy owners of Gaskin should be extremely intrigued by this matchup in the second and final London game of the year.

Gaskin had only five carries for 25 yards last week in the Dolphins' 45-17 loss to the Buccaneers but found the endzone twice as a receiver as he hauled all 10 of his targets for 74 yards.

Against a Jacksonville defense that has been stout against the run but is allowing a league-worst 8.79 yards per pass play, there is scope for another big day for Gaskin as the Dolphins seek their second win of an underwhelming campaign.

Wide Receiver: Chase Claypool, Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Seattle Seahawks

Claypool has 296 receiving yards and a touchdown over his last three games playing for a Steelers offense that had struggled mightily prior to their Week 5 win over the Denver Broncos.

With Juju Smith-Schuster out for the season, Claypool should claim even more of a featured role in the offense and in Week 6 has the inviting prospect of a matchup with a Seahawks defense ranked 28th in the NFL in opposing pass yards per play (7.49). Claypool is well worthy of being in your starting lineup come Sunday.

Tight End: Mo Alie-Cox, Indianapolis Colts vs. Houston Texans

Alie-Cox was not able to find the endzone in Week 5 after catching two touchdown passes a week earlier, however, he is averaging 13.8 yards per reception, illustrating his big-play threat.

Facing a Texans defense allowing the most fantasy points per game to opposing tight ends, Alie-Cox should have an opportunity to make a significant impact in Week 6. Alie-Cox could prove an astute pickup for fantasy owners struggling for options at tight end.

Defense: Dallas Cowboys @ New England Patriots

The Cowboys' defense was not expected to be one of the top fantasy units in the league going into the season, however, through five games they have forced 12 takeaways, the second-most in the NFL.

Facing a quarterback in Mac Jones who has thrown a pickable pass on 4.89 per cent of his attempts, well above the average of 3.16, a meeting with the Patriots presents the Cowboys with the chance to add to that total and rack up fantasy points.

The Miami Dolphins could have Tua Tagovailoa back for Sunday's NFL London game against the Jacksonville Jaguars after the quarterback returned to practice on Wednesday.

Second-year QB Tagovailoa has been out since fracturing his ribs in the Week 2 shutout loss to the Buffalo Bills.

Tagovailoa had led the Dolphins to an opening win against the New England Patriots, yet the team are now a miserable 1-4.

The imminent return of the former Alabama star represents a boost, although Brian Flores may be reluctant to throw him straight back in behind an offensive line that has given up 98 pressures this season – tied for third in the NFL.

That includes 31 QB hits, one of which from the Bills' A.J. Epenesa put Tagovailoa out in the first place.

"We're excited to get him back. I know he's excited to be out there," Flores said. "We'll take it one day at a time, still.

"We're moving enough in the right direction that he'll be out there. He'll have the opportunity to practice and hopefully play in the game."

The coach added: "This is really just let's [see] how this goes in practice. Can he make the throws? Can he roll to his left, roll to his right, step up in the pocket?

"The one thing we won't know is just taking a hit. We won't know that until the game. I think we'll try to do as much as we can to get a feel for what that'll look like or what that'll feel like without having a setback obviously.

"So I'd say this: he's a tough kid."

Tagovailoa is going to have to show improvement if he is to lift spirits on his return, though.

His rookie season ended with a painful Week 17 defeat to Buffalo, in which he threw three interceptions, and his early form this year was far from convincing.

Tagovailoa has tossed a well-thrown, accurate ball on just 63.3 per cent of his attempts – the worst rate of any player with 10 or more attempts – and his pickable pass rate of 6.67 per cent betters only this underwhelming group: Davis Mills, Geno Smith, Zach Wilson and Mike Glennon.

Miami will face winless Jacksonville at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, a venue that last week hosted the Atlanta Falcons' victory over the New York Jets.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers superstar Tom Brady was non-committal on his playing status after suffering a hand injury in his five-touchdown performance against the Miami Dolphins.

Brady threw five TD passes to fuel Super Bowl champions the Buccaneers' 45-17 rout of the Dolphins in Week 5 of the NFL season on Sunday.

The 44-year-old was 30-of-41 passing for 411 yards without throwing an interception against the struggling Dolphins (1-4) in Tampa, where the Bucs improved to 4-1.

Among Brady's touchdown passes was a 62-yard TD throw to Antonio Brown – the longest pass TD he has completed with the Buccaneers, while it was the seven-time Super Bowl champion's 25th career pass TD of 60-plus yards, which is tied for ninth-most in NFL history.

But afterwards, Brady was seen with his right hand bandaged as the Bucs quarterback provided an update on his injury.

"Yeah in my younger days I probably [would have] never showed you guys that I wrapped it up, because I'd probably try to keep it a secret, but I think in my old age I don't care as much," Brady told reporters post-game, with the Bucs due to meet the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday.

"I mean it's just a kind of a football injury. So, do my best you know to get ready for this game. We'll see what happens."

In the win, Bucs wide receiver Brown became the fastest NFL player to 900 receptions in just his 143rd career game, eclipsing Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison (149 games).

Brown – a seven-time Pro Bowler and four-time first-team All-Pro – finished with two touchdowns from 124 yards on seven receptions against the Dolphins.

"I take so much inspiration from Tom. As a professional, as a leader, making sure that I'm doing my job, making sure that all the other 10 guys are doing their job," said Brown, who played alongside Ben Roethlisberger at the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"He just continues to up the standard and raise the bar."

Brown, 33, added: "I've played with some great quarterbacks. Roethlisberger. Tom Brady. It's a blessing."

Brady, who played alongside Brown briefly at the New England Patriots before reuniting in Tampa last season, said: "It's pretty amazing. Just give him a lot of credit.

"He's been through a lot and he's shown a lot of mental toughness, a lot of resilience. Everyone just wants him to succeed.

"We've got a unique group of guys. Very talented, but very selfless too. All those guys are getting opportunities to make plays, and just fun to see when everyone's involved how fun it can be."

The Green Bay Packers went 4-1 for the 2021 season after Mason Crosby's overtime field goal secured a dramatic 25-22 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.

Crosby missed two field goals in the final quarter as Cincinnati pegged back the visitors at 22-22, with the Packers #2 then squandering another chance early in overtime.

His third miss came sandwiched in between Bengals rookie Evan McPherson twice hitting the post with field goal attempts of his own.

Yet a brilliant pass from the superb Aaron Rodgers – who threw for two touchdowns to take him into outright fifth place in the all-time list for quarterbacks with 422 – to Randall Cobb teed up the game-winning moment.

Bengals QB Joe Burrow also threw for two touchdowns, having got Cincinnati started when he picked out Samaje Perine from close range in the first quarter. 

Burrow collected his second TD pass of the game in style, throwing 70 yards (the longest pass of his NFL career) for Ja'Marr Chase to cross.

Chase's score came after Rodgers had propelled the Packers ahead with passes to Davante Adams and AJ Dillon, and although Joe Mixon forced OT, Crosby held his nerve at the fourth time of asking.

Brady downs Dolphins

A week on from breaking Drew Brees' NFL passing record, Brady was at his imperious best again for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, throwing for five touchdowns and 411 yards in a 45-17 win over the Miami Dolphins.

His 72 touchdown passes against the Dolphins mean he is the joint-leader, alongside Dan Marino (72 v. the New York Jets) for TD passes against a single opponent in the Super Bowl era, while his 62-yard pass for Antonio Brown on Sunday was the longest he has thrown while at the Buccaneers. 

Pitts stars in London

The NFL returned to London on Sunday, with the Atlanta Falcons overcoming the New York Jets 27-20. Rookie receiver Kyle Pitts was the star of the show at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, taking nine catches for 119 yards and a touchdown, the first of his NFL career.

No franchise wants to rebuild. Tanking your immediate hopes of success to collect assets that can eventually propel the team back to the top can be a miserable experience. However, the Miami Dolphins attacked rebuilding with remarkable zeal and have endured relatively little pain as they have constructed their roster on a new foundation.

Brian Flores oversaw a 5-11 season not short on reasons for encouragement in 2019 even amid a fire sale that saw the likes of Laremy Tunsil and Minkah Fitzpatrick sent off to pastures new in exchange for major draft capital. Last season, the Dolphins finished 10-6 and narrowly missed the playoffs, raising hopes that their project would imminently yield dividends.

As such, this season was always likely to be seen as a measuring stick for the franchise, with Flores entering his third year as head coach and the man they picked to be the quarterback of the future faced with a make-or-break campaign, the Dolphins entered 2021 with expectations with which they are unfamiliar.

And, following a 1-3 start, with a franchise quarterback at least temporarily on the shelf and the defending champions coming to town to potentially put Miami in a deeper hole, tough questions will start to be asked about the direction of the organisation.

Few teams recover from a 1-4 start to reach the postseason. There is the unlikely possibility the Dolphins could upset the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, but the more plausible scenario is a fourth successive defeat that would beg the question: is Miami's rebuild a failure?

Defense developing, but results declining

The biggest feather in the cap of this Dolphins' regime has been the play of Miami's defense, which last season led the NFL in takeaways with 29.

Yet those turnovers masked the fact that the Dolphins' defense was one teams generally had success moving the ball against. Indeed, Miami ranked 24th in opponent yards per play allowed in 2020, giving up an average of 5.90.

The Dolphins have improved in that regard so far this season, sitting 13th with 5.51 yards per play allowed, but are 23rd in offensive points allowed despite generating six turnovers through four games.

Miami's defense is one that appears to have grown more efficient when it comes to stopping the progress of offenses on a per-play basis and still takes the ball away but is not keeping offenses from putting up points.

Why is that the case? Put simply, they are on the field too long because of the failures of an offense that is not living up to the amount the Dolphins have invested.

A lack of possession

Miami's offense ranks 30th in average time of possession, having control of the ball for just 26 minutes and eight seconds. Their defense, as a result, has been on the field for an average of 33 minutes and 52 seconds. Only the defenses of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Seattle Seahawks have had to exercise greater endurance this season.

And the offense has shown little in the way of efficiency when on the field.

The Dolphins rank last in yards per play with an average of just 4.05. The New York Jets (5) are the sole team to have scored fewer offensive touchdowns than the Dolphins' six while only 10 of Miami's 42 offensive drives have ended in points.

That level of offensive ineptitude is unacceptable for a team looking to compete, and much of the blame can be pinned on an offensive line where the Dolphins have spent a large portion of their resources.

Despite having a first-round pick and two second-rounders starting up front, the Dolphins have allowed 80 pressures through four games, the seventh-most in the NFL.

It is difficult for a quarterback to succeed when under duress that consistently but, if the Dolphins continue to struggle, an apparent misevaluation of the class of signal-callers in the 2020 draft will come under even greater scrutiny.

Tua a costly mistake?

The elephant in the room is quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, whom the Dolphins selected fifth overall in the 2020 draft despite his career with Alabama being ended by a dislocated hip.

Miami backed Tagovailoa to eventually put that injury behind him and develop into the NFL star many expected him to become. Yet he failed to prove a superior option to Ryan Fitzpatrick in his rookie year and, rather than taking season-two strides, seemed to be regressing before a rib injury suffered in the Week 2 loss to the Buffalo Bills saw him placed on injured reserve.

In the small sample size of 30 attempts this season, Tagovailoa has delivered an accurate, well-thrown ball a league-low 63.3 per cent of the time. Only two quarterbacks, rookies Zach Wilson and Davis Mills, have a worse pickable pass rate than Tagovailoa's 6.67 per cent.

Tagovailoa was long since pencilled in as the player the Dolphins' grand rebuild was going to be constructed around. Now reduced to the role of spectator for the time being and struggling to live up to his draft status, going with him over reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year Justin Herbert looks like a serious misstep.

It is not the only premium pick Miami made from that class whose selection is in question. Left tackle Austin Jackson's inability to make the leap to the highest level effectively is a key reason for the offensive line struggles — he has won under 70 per cent of his pass-blocking matchups in 2021 — and their third first-round choice from 2020, cornerback Noah Igbinoghene, has not played a single defensive snap in 2021.

Any judgement on this year's crop would be a premature one but, although there have been some encouraging signs from first-round picks Jaylen Waddle and Jaelan Phillips, the former is being limited by the struggles of the offense, recording a big play on an underwhelming 16 per cent of his targets, and pass rusher Phillips has won only 12 of his 43 rushes this season.

The mediocre starts of Waddle and Phillips are a long way down the list of concerns for the Dolphins, however, and they will not be the primary causes should Miami's poor start lead to a year of unmatched expectations.

Miami's rebuild rested on whom the Dolphins selected to be their quarterback and their fortunes in protecting him. The decisions they made in each of those areas have to this point largely backfired, leaving them with an offense that looks ill-equipped to compete this Sunday with a Buccaneers attack that could hardly be in a better position in the trenches and under center.

There is, of course, time for Miami to right the ship this year and the Dolphins — through their pre-2021 draft trade with the San Francisco 49ers — have more capital with which to improve weaknesses on their roster in the coming years.

But persistent talk of the Dolphins using those resources to strike a deal for quarterback Deshaun Watson is not a sign of a successful rebuild or faith in Tagovailoa to turn things around.

It's becoming increasingly clear the Dolphins bet on the wrong horse at quarterback last year and may have failed to properly evaluate prospects at several other positions. Opportunities for any regime to get the chance to select a second quarterback are rare but, regardless of how the Dolphins try to rescue their best-laid plans to return to prominence, the franchise's future gambles must be more astute.

Matthew Stafford won the battle of the quarterbacks and the Los Angeles Rams stayed unbeaten while ruining the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' perfect record in a 34-24 victory.

All eyes were on Rams QB Stafford and Buccaneers superstar Tom Brady as the two undefeated teams went head-to-head in Week 3 of the NFL on Sunday.

Stafford, who was 27-of-28 for 343 yards and just one sack, stole the show in Los Angeles, where the 2014 Pro Bowler threw four touchdowns to lead the Rams to a 3-0 start to the campaign.

With his haul of four TDs, Stafford improved his season tally to nine – matching Hall of Famer Kurt Warner (1999) for the most by a Rams quarterback in the first three games of a season. Warner won the NFL MVP and Super Bowl MVP that season.

Brady was coming off a five-touchdown performance, his ninth career game with five-plus passing TDs (including playoffs) – the fifth player all time to throw four or more touchdowns in each of his first two games of a season.

But the 44-year-old was limited to just one TD pass against the Rams, finishing 41 of 55 for 432 yards and three sacks though he did rush for a score as Super Bowl champions the Buccaneers fell to 2-1.

After a scoreless opening period, Stafford threw touchdown passes to Tyler Higbee and Cooper Kupp as the Rams earned a 14-7 half-time lead.

The Rams never trailed despite Brady's best efforts after the Buccaneers signal-caller rushed for a TD in between Stafford's scoring passes to DeSean Jackson and Kupp in the third period.

After Matt Gay's field goal stretched the lead to 34-17 in the fourth, Brady's first touchdown pass of the game gave the Buccaneers a glimmer of hope with just over a minute remaining but it was a mere consolation.

Carlson lifts Raiders in OT

The Las Vegas Raiders won their third straight game to open the season thanks to a thrilling 31-28 overtime victory against the Miami Dolphins.

Daniel Carlson was the hero for the high-flying Raiders in OT, his 22-yard attempt seeing off the Dolphins in Las Vegas.

Derek Carr completed 26 of his 43 attempts for 386 yards, two touchdowns and an interception with three sacks as the Raiders improved to 3-0 for the first time since 2002.

Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa will not play against the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday after suffering fractured ribs.

Tagovailoa was helped off during the first quarter of the Dolphins' 35-0 loss to the Buffalo Bills in Week 2.

Initial X-rays were negative but further tests revealed the extent of his injuries, meaning Tagovailoa will have to play the role of spectator as Jacoby Brissett leads Miami's offense in Week 3.

"He's in good spirits. He's a tough kid," head coach Brian Flores said, adding that Tagovailoa had been pushing to play this week but the Dolphins have to "save him from himself".

"He's doing everything he can ... he's getting better. He wants to be out there with his team-mates, but this is the right move for him from a health standpoint."

While the door is seemingly open for Tagovailoa to return for Week 4 against the Indianapolis Colts, the Dolphins have faith Brissett can be successful this week.

"I think guys have confidence in Jacoby and his ability to lead the offense," said Flores.

"But we have to prepare the right way and work throughout the week to put ourselves in position to execute."

Brissett finished the game against the Bills with 169 yards and an interception in relief of Tagovailoa, who has completed 54.8 per cent of his passes for 215 yards, one touchdown and an interception this season, the 2020 fifth overall pick having endured an underwhelming rookie year last term.

 

 

The Buffalo Bills got their 2021 NFL season up and running with a sixth straight win over the Miami Dolphins, who lost Tua Tagovailoa to a rib injury.

Tipped by many to make the Super Bowl this year, the Bills endured an underwhelming start in defeat to the Pittsburgh Steelers, but a 35-0 success in Miami got them back on track.

Buffalo benefited from Tagovailoa's departure early in the game, as he had to be carted back to the locker room after a hit from A.J. Epenesa when he attempted a short-range pass on fourth down.

By that point, the second-year Dolphins quarterback had been sacked twice on a three-and-out opening drive before seeing Devin Singletary run 46 yards for the Bills' first touchdown.

Josh Allen threw to Stefon Diggs for a second score, but Buffalo failed to add to their advantage in the remainder of a chaotic first half, epitomised by Levi Wallace's pick from back-up Miami QB Jacoby Brissett moments after receiving a penalty for taunting.

Allen found his range again at the start of the third quarter as Dawson Knox made a low catch in the end zone – this the QB's seventh consecutive start against the Dolphins with multiple TD passes. Only Philip Rivers (against the Houston Texans) had previously enjoyed such a run against a single team.

Miami were never in the game thereafter and Zack Moss added a pair of rushing scores with two bruising runs, the second after Allen was called just short.

Super Cooper rescues Rams

NFC West rivals the Los Angeles Rams and the San Francisco 49ers survived scares against the Indianapolis Colts and the Philadelphia Eagles respectively, each coming through to move to 2-0.

The Rams were grateful to Cooper Kupp for his nine catches for 163 yards and two TDs – following 108 yards and a score last week – after a botched snap for a punt had gifted the Colts their first lead early in the fourth quarter. Carson Wentz ended the game on the sideline.

Wilson woeful for Jets

Zach Wilson's home debut for the New York Jets was a miserable one as he threw four interceptions in a defeat to the New England Patriots.

Meanwhile, the Cincinnati Bengals paid the price for Joe Burrow's three interceptions from three consecutive passes – including a pick six – against the Chicago Bears, who were not punished for a shaky Justin Fields display after Andy Dalton's injury.

Wilson's Jets predecessor Sam Darnold threw for 305 yards, two TDs and a pick in the Carolina Panthers' win over the New Orleans Saints.

Week 1 of the 2021 NFL season threw up more questions than answers, but there remains no doubting Patrick Mahomes' outstanding talent.

In one of the highlights of the opening round of games, Mahomes threw for 337 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Kansas City Chiefs to a comeback win over the Cleveland Browns.

All eyes will be on Mahomes again in Week 2, and the Chiefs have an intriguing matchup against fellow quarterback Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens.

This battle between two of the past three MVPs has been one-sided in the past, though, as Stats Perform discovers in the most interesting facts from Sunday's biggest games.

Kansas City Chiefs @ Baltimore Ravens

The Chiefs will have few concerns about going on the road, boasting a 5-1 record against the Ravens in Baltimore all-time. They have also won each of the teams' past four meetings.

This dominance is reflected in Mahomes' record against Jackson, winning all three head-to-heads and averaging 378.7 passing yards per game to his opponent's 170.3.

Of course, Jackson is a greater threat across the ground than through the air, leading the Ravens in rushing yards against the Las Vegas Raiders last week for the 21st game of his career (including the postseason). In that time, no other QB has led his team in rushing in more than 12 games.

But even if Jackson can guide the Ravens into a lead, that brings no guarantee of victory. They gave up a 14-point lead for the first time in 99 games against the Raiders, while the Chiefs recovered from 12 points down at home to the Browns and actually have a 10-8 record after trailing by double digits since the start of 2018.

Dallas Cowboys @ Los Angeles Chargers

Another clash between two top QBs on Sunday sees Dak Prescott take the Cowboys to the Chargers having last week continued his impressive run even in defeat to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Due to injury, Prescott has only actually played six games since the start of last year, but he has passed for at least 400 yards in four of them – no other player has more than two such games in that span.

However, Dallas have lost a league-high three games while posting 450-plus total net yards since the beginning of 2020.

The Chargers have their own prolific passer, too, in Justin Herbert, who threw for 337 yards in a win against the Washington Football Team in Week 1, meaning he now has 4,673 passing yards through 16 career games – a tally only topped by Mahomes' 5,100 in his first 16 games.

Buffalo Bills @ Miami Dolphins

Josh Allen is another elite passer who would hope to be in MVP contention at the end of the year, but he was less impressive in the Bills' opening defeat to the Pittsburgh Steelers, completing only 30 of 51 passes.

While that was a career high for pass attempts, NFL teams are 4-20 when having a QB throw 50 or more since the start of last season.

Allen at least has fond memories of facing Miami. In the first of the sides' two meetings last year, he threw for career bests in yards (415) and TD passes (four), while the second clash saw the Bills score 56 points – a tally they have only ever topped once, also against the Dolphins in 1966.

Buffalo have five straight wins against Miami, although the Dolphins are in form with 10 wins in 13 games after 10 victories in their prior 33.

Elsewhere...

New Los Angeles Rams QB Matthew Stafford will fancy his chances against the Indianapolis Colts. His passer rating of 156.1 in Week 1 led the league, but Russell Wilson, against the Colts, was second with 152.3. Stafford threw three TD passes, including two of more than 50 yards – a feat only previously achieved once by a player in their first game with the team in the Super Bowl era (John Stofa for the Cincinnati Bengals in 1968).

Jameis Winston took a slightly less spectacular route to his five TD passes last time out, with 148 passing yards the fewest from a QB to throw five for five scores.

Meanwhile, first overall pick Trevor Lawrence threw for 332 yards, the most by a player on his debut since Cam Newton's 422 yards in 2011, but he also had three interceptions – something he never did in his 40 games at Clemson.

Each of the first-round rookie QBs will be aiming to build on feats of some manner, with 21-year-old Trey Lance the youngest player in the Super Bowl era to throw a touchdown on his first NFL pass.

Mac Jones, who this week faces Zach Wilson, threw for 281 yards – the most by a New England Patriots rookie on debut.

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