The NFL’s late-afternoon slate not only had far fewer games, just two, than its early schedule, but very little drama, too. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers easily handled the Green Bay Packers while the Miami Dolphins swatted aside the still-winless New York Jets.

However, the Bucs pulled a surprise in the way they mauled the favored Packers, and if the showdown there between aging quarterbacks Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers was the afternoon’s marquee matchup, the Dolphins got a glimpse of their future when they gave rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa his first NFL snaps.

Earlier, the Tennessee Titans remained unbeaten by defeating the Houston Texans, and the Denver Broncos sprung an upset on the road over Cam Newton and the New England Patriots. The Atlanta Falcons and New York Giants both got their first wins of the season, leaving the Jets alone in their futility, and the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers showed they are very much contenders in the AFC, not to mention the class of their division.

What you need to know
October 18, 2020 at 7:37 PM EDT
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No fourth-down confusion this time as Tom Brady and Bucs overwhelm Aaron Rodgers, Packers

By Mark Maske

Tom Brady didn’t need to know what down it was this time. His matchup with Aaron Rodgers didn’t come down to a fourth-down play that Brady may or may not have believed was third down.

No, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made it far easier this time. They used two first-half interceptions of Rodgers to turn the game into a runaway. Brady and the Bucs coasted in the second half to a 38-10 triumph over Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.

The Bucs improved to 4-2 and rebounded from their loss at Chicago 10 days earlier that ended with Brady’s four raised fingers and puzzled look following his fourth-down incompletion. Against the Packers, Brady threw two touchdown passes and won for the second time in three career meetings with Rodgers.

Neither all-time great quarterback finished the game as backups Tim Boyle of Green Bay and Blaine Gabbert of Tampa took over late, with the outcome well in hand. The Packers suffered their first loss after a 4-0 start. Rodgers threw his first two interceptions of the season, both in the first half. One was returned for a touchdown and the other set up a Bucs’ touchdown.

Green Bay’s dependable veteran left tackle, David Bakhtiari, left the game with a chest injury.

October 18, 2020 at 7:33 PM EDT
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Tua Tagovailoa makes first appearance as Dolphins shut out Jets

By Des Bieler

The Dolphins did all their scoring in the first three quarters while pitching a shutout against the division rival New York Jets, 24-0, but Miami’s biggest highlight arguably occurred with under three minutes left when quarterback Tua Tagovailoa took the field. The fifth overall pick in this year’s draft, whose final season with Alabama was cut short by a major hip injury, was able to take his first NFL snaps in relief of starter Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Tagovailoa even managed to complete a pair of passes, the second of which got Miami a first down and effectively ended the game. Fitzpatrick had led the cheering when his 22-year-old understudy trotted out to start the series.

Fitzpatrick completed 18 of 27 passes for 191 yards and three touchdowns, plus two interceptions, as his Dolphins took a 21-0 halftime lead and cruised the rest of the way. Miami, which improved to 3-3, also got 91 yards on 18 carries by Myles Gaskin, and its defense sacked New York’s Joe Flacco three times.

Flacco, starting for a second straight week in place of Sam Darnold, struggled to produce 186 yards on 21-of-44 passing, and he was picked off once. The Jets fell to 0-6 and are now, following wins Sunday by the Atlanta Falcons and the New York Giants, the NFL’s only winless team.

October 18, 2020 at 7:14 PM EDT
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D’Andre Swift has rare 100-yard game for RB rookie class

By Des Bieler

It wasn’t just a breakout game Sunday for D’Andre Swift, it was a relatively rare huge performance by a member of the rookie running back class. Swift, whose season high had been 60 rushing yards, rumbled for 116 and two touchdowns on just 14 carries as his Detroit Lions topped the Jacksonville Jaguars, 34-16.

The only other 100-yard rushing days accomplished by rookies thus far were one each by the Kansas City Chiefs’ Clyde Edwards-Helaire, the only back taken in the first round, and the Indianapolis Colts’ Jonathan Taylor, who was the third running back drafted after Swift went ahead of him in the second round. Edwards-Helaire had his biggest game in Week 1, and the Chiefs recently signaled a certain degree of dissatisfaction with him by signing Le’Veon Bell, while Taylor has been solid but unspectacular, despite getting a major opportunity when veteran Marlon Mack suffered a season-ending injury in Week 1.

Other backs who have emerged in fairly prominent roles for their teams include the Washington Football Team’s Antonio Gibson and the Los Angeles Chargers’ Joshua Kelley. Meanwhile, running backs taken before the later rounds who have yet to make a major mark in the league include, in the order they were drafted: Cam Akers, Los Angeles Rams (second round); J.K. Dobbins, Baltimore Ravens (second round); AJ Dillon, Green Bay Packers (second round); Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (third round); Zack Moss, Buffalo Bills (third round); Darrynton Evans, Tennessee Titans (third round); La’Mical Perine, New York Jets (fourth round); Anthony McFarland Jr., Pittsburgh Steelers (fourth round); and DeeJay Dallas, Seattle Seahawks (fourth round).

There is still plenty of time for the running back Class of 2020 to put up big numbers, of course. Swift, who was viewed by some as the most talented prospect at his position, may have signaled Sunday that he is on his way to a banner-carrying campaign.

October 18, 2020 at 6:53 PM EDT
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Jets notch a highlight with unusual interception

By Des Bieler

In 2012, the New York Jets gave us the “butt fumble.” That was a lowlight in franchise history, and while this year’s squad threatens to become the first in team annals to go 0-16, at least it has given us a highlight play: the “butt interception.”

That’s courtesy of New York safety Marcus Maye, who was able to secure an interception of Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick in, well, cheeky fashion. The ball bounced off Maye’s chest, but he was able top corral it while falling to the turf by pinning it to his rear.

The play came with the Jets down 24-0 to the Dolphins and well on the way to an 0-6 record. It remains to be seen if the Jets go winless the rest of the way, but at least they gave their fans one reason to smile.

October 18, 2020 at 6:23 PM EDT
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Aaron Rodgers throws two first-half interceptions as Packers trail Bucs and Tom Brady

By Mark Maske

It wasn’t exactly an all-time great first half for Aaron Rodgers in his all-time great quarterbacking matchup with Tom Brady in the featured NFL late-afternoon game in Tampa.

Brady was better. And he had plenty of help from his defense as he and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers lead Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, 28-10, at halftime. Rodgers threw a pair of interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown and the other of which set up a touchdown.

Rodgers hadn’t thrown an interception all season and has been widely regarded as vying with Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson as the early league MVP favorites. But the Buccaneers intercepted him twice within a span of three passes. Cornerback Jamel Dean went 32 yards for a touchdown with the first. The Bucs had to move only two yards after safety Mike Edwards got the second on a deflected pass.

Rodgers also exchanged words with Buccaneers defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh late in the half.

Brady had two touchdown passes, the second to tight end Rob Gronkowski. Brady connected on 14 of 16 first-half throws for 111 yards. But his frustration was on display early in the game while the Packers were building a 10-0 lead. Fox speculated on its broadcast that Brady might have been poked in the eye on a second-quarter play on which Packers linebacker Rashan Gary was penalized for grabbing Brady’s face mask.

October 18, 2020 at 5:50 PM EDT
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Dolphins throttle hapless Jets in first half

By Des Bieler

With victories earlier Sunday by the Atlanta Falcons and New York Giants, the New York Jets entered their road game against the Miami Dolphins as the NFL’s only winless team. Through two quarters, it sure looks like they’ll exit Sunday in the same, utterly hapless state.

New York went to halftime down 21-0 to Miami, which held a 200-93 advantage in total yards. Dolphins quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who played for the Jets in 2015 and 2016, completed 14 of 18 passes for 147 yards and three touchdowns, with his only misstep an interception with 29 seconds left and Miami deep in New York territory.

The Jets’ starting quarterback, Sam Darnold, is sitting out his second straight game with a shoulder injury, leaving fill-in Joe Flacco to complete 9 of 19 passes for just 59 yards and a pick through two quarters. With former Jets running back Le’Veon Bell released earlier in the week, rookie La’Mical Perine got a chance to play more and led his team with six carries for 26 yards.

October 18, 2020 at 5:34 PM EDT
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Titans’ Arthur Smith increases likelihood of being a head coach next season

By Des Bieler

“Arthur Smith” may not sound like the kind of name that gets folks excited, but that’s exactly what is happening in NFL circles. The 38-year-old offensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans has his attack firing on all cylinders, and in turn Smith is looking more and more like a strong candidate to be another team’s head coach next season.

In winning a back-and-forth contest with the Houston Texans on Sunday, the Titans racked up 601 yards of total offense and, perhaps more impressively, scored 42 points for the second time in six days. The Titans’ offensive stars, running back Derrick Henry and quarterback Ryan Tannehill, again had big days, but Tennessee also got a huge contribution from backup tight end Anthony Firkser (eight catches, 113 yards, one touchdown) after starter Jonnu Smith left with an injury.

It is Smith’s work with Tannehill, though, that likely has gotten the most attention from other teams. Tannehill showed glimpses of major talent with the Miami Dolphins, but he has put it all together in Tennessee and continues to play with remarkable efficiency.

Smith, whose father Fred Smith is the founder and CEO of FedEx, was a standout offensive lineman at Georgetown Prep before playing at North Carolina, beginning his NFL coaching career with Washington and eventually working his way up the ranks at Tennessee. He ascended to offensive coordinator in 2019 and, with Tannehill taking over from Marcus Mariota, helped the quarterback lead the NFL in yards per attempt (9.6) and passer rating (117.5).

October 18, 2020 at 4:37 PM EDT
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Steelers move to 5-0 for the first time since 1978 season

By Cindy Boren

The Steelers continued their dominance of the Browns, moving to 5-0 with a 38-7 victory in Pittsburgh.

For the 4-2 Browns, the loss was their 17th in a row at Heinz field and their most lopsided since a 31-0 loss in 2008. The Steelers are 5-0 for the first time since the 1978 season, when they went on to win the Super Bowl for the third time.

The Browns came into the game riding a four-game winning streak, but their league-leading rushing attack (averaging 188.4 yards) managed only 75 yards on 22 carries and was stopped three times on fourth-and-1. Quarterback Baker Mayfield was intercepted twice (with one a 33-yard pick six by Minkah Fitzpatrick). Mayfield, who was limited in practice last week with rib issues, was sacked four times and eventually was replaced by Case Keenum.

Steelers running back James Conner topped 100 yards rushing for the third game, picking up 101 on 20 carries, and Ben Roethlisberger completed 14-of-22 passes for 162 yards and a touchdown. For the second consecutive game, the Steelers scored 30 or more points.

A week after scoring four touchdowns in a breakout game against the Eagles, Steelers rookie Chase Claypool, the 11th receiver taken in the draft last spring, caught four passes for 74 yards and had two carries for seven yards and a touchdown.

October 18, 2020 at 4:31 PM EDT
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Henry, Tannehill shine as Titans outlast Texans in OT thriller

By Mark Maske

The Tennessee Titans keep finding ways to win. They beat the Houston Texans, 42-36, with an overtime touchdown by tailback Derrick Henry to end a thrilling back-and-forth game.

Henry took a direct snap and plowed into the end zone for a five-yard touchdown on third and goal.

Henry also had a 94-yard touchdown dash in the fourth quarter and finished with 212 rushing yards on 22 carries. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill had four touchdown passes for Tennessee, which improved to 5-0. The Titans had a short turnaround after beating the Buffalo Bills on Tuesday night, also in Nashville. That was the NFL’s first Tuesday game in 10 years, necessitated by the coronavirus outbreak on the Titans.

They squandered a 21-7 lead against Houston, falling behind in the fourth quarter. Henry’s long touchdown and a two-point conversion gave the Titans a 29-23 advantage. The Texans replied with a 53-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Deshaun Watson to wide receiver Will Fuller.

Houston pushed its lead to 36-29 with a touchdown in the final two minutes. Coach Romeo Crennel, ahead by seven points, went for a potentially game-clinching two-point conversion. But the Texans didn’t convert and the Titans tied the game with four seconds left in regulation on a touchdown pass from Tannehill to wideout A.J. Brown.

Brown made a superb catch along the sideline in the end zone, just managing to get both feet in bounds. The on-field call of a legal catch and touchdown was allowed to stand after an oh-so-close instant replay review.

October 18, 2020 at 4:30 PM EDT
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Philip Rivers shows he has something left in leading Colts’ comeback

By Des Bieler

It would appear that Philip Rivers is not entirely washed up. The 38-year-old Indianapolis Colts quarterback, widely derided after submitting subpar performances for much of the first five weeks of the season, caught fire and led his team to a comeback win Sunday over the Cincinnati Bengals, 31-27.

Rivers threw for 371 yards and three touchdowns, plus an interception, as the Colts stormed back at home after spotting the Bengals a 24-7 lead midway through the second quarter. By halftime, Indianapolis had trimmed its deficit to 24-21, and Rivers ended up throwing for 236 yards and two touchdowns in the second quarter alone.

With Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow, the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, throwing for 313 yards overall, the Bengals had a 27-21 lead entering the fourth quarter, but the Colts scored the final 10 points. Indianapolis tight end Jack Doyle made a fingertip grab to give his squad its first lead of the day, and then Burrow’s first and only interception of the day iced the final result with less than a minute remaining.

October 18, 2020 at 4:14 PM EDT
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Falcons win in Raheem Morris’s first game as interim coach

By Mark Maske

The Atlanta Falcons finally found a lead they couldn’t squander and got into the win column on the season.

They beat the Minnesota Vikings, 40-23, in Minneapolis. That came in Raheem Morris’s first game as the Falcons’ interim head coach after Dan Quinn was fired following a 0-5 beginning.

Quarterback Matt Ryan had four touchdown passes for the Falcons. Two of them went to wide receiver Julio Jones, who had eight catches for 137 yards. The Falcons had three interceptions of passes by Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins.

October 18, 2020 at 4:11 PM EDT
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Patriots stumble to a low they haven’t seen since 2002

By Cindy Boren

The Patriots looked very much like a team that had been limited to one full practice and a walk-through because of a number of positive coronavirus tests. And their quarterback, Cam Newton, looked like a guy who had been out since testing positive himself Oct. 4.

Although they pounced on two interceptions of Broncos quarterback Drew Lock in the fourth quarter and kept drives alive with two passing plays by Julius Edelman, they were unable to convert the opportunities into points and fell, 18-12.

The loss dropped the Patriots to 2-3, marking the first time they have had a losing record in October or later since Nov. 10, 2002. That ends their streak at an NFL-best 225 games.

The Broncos’ defense had three takeaways and four sacks as they beat Newton for the fourth time in his career. Lock became the fourth quarterback under the age of 25 to beat Bill Belichick’s team in the past seven seasons. (The others are Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson and Deshaun Watson.) Lock completed 10 of 24 passes for 189 yards.

Newton completed 17 of 25 passes for 157 yards with two interceptions and rushed for 76 yards and a touchdown (a 1-yard run in the fourth quarter) on 10 carries.

October 18, 2020 at 4:03 PM EDT
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Packers running back Jamaal Williams takes a shot at Tom Brady

By Cindy Boren

The question was a simple one, a softball coming during an interview as the Green Bay Packers’ week of preparations to play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers drew to a close. Running back Jamaal Williams was asked to pick which quarterback is better: Tom Brady or his, Aaron Rodgers.

The answer is to say something nice about Brady, add that there’s no quarterback you’d rather have than the one you have and move along. But Williams used it to take a big dig at Brady by bringing up a mental lapse in which the Bucs’ QB appeared not to know that it was fourth down late in the 20-19 loss Oct. 8 to the Chicago Bears.

“Come on, man,” Williams said on Game On Wisconsin. “I’m pretty sure my quarterback knows what fourth down is, you know what I mean? That’s what I’m saying, like, Aaron Rodgers would never do that. Never. You know what I mean?

“He is too smart for that, we would never be in that type of situation because A-Rod is always prepared, always looking at the clock. We’ve got too many people who are just too ready to go. We’ve been in those types of pressure situations before so I feel like it’s just natural for us to be on top of everything and go ball. I would never expect that from my boy, 12.”

His boy, i.e. Rodgers, might not be too happy about that, given that Brady is a Hall of Famer when it comes to filing away perceived slights and disses.

We’ll see how it plays out at 4:25 p.m.

October 18, 2020 at 3:37 PM EDT
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Aaron Rodgers says it’s ‘a very real possibility’ he won’t finish his career in Green Bay

By Cindy Boren

Aaron Rodgers’s first reaction to the news that the Green Bay Packers had drafted his heir apparent at quarterback was surprise. His second, upon hearing the news from his agent, was to pour himself “four fingers of tequila.”

Now, he sounds philosophical about the team’s decision to draft Jordan Love and what it might mean for his future with the only team he has played for.

“I understand that’s a very real possibility and I think that’s part of the growth, finding the peace about all that and not having any bitterness about the situation or the potential reality or toward the organization,” he told Fox Sports’ Erin Andrews. “Obviously it would be a sad reality just because I love this place and I’ve spent so many years here. You deal with the ups and downs and try to stay positive. The 16 years I’ve been able to play here, it’s been a dream come true. Hopefully we can play a few more years here, but I’m really content with what we’ve accomplished.”

The Packers are 4-0 and face Tom Brady’s 3-2 Tampa Bay Buccaneers later Sunday and Rodgers is having another typically outstanding season. He has completed 98 of 139 passes (70.5 percent) for 13 touchdowns, with zero interceptions and a 128.4 passer rating.