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NFL Week 7 takeaways: Big days for Baker, Rodgers — but not the Cowboys

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Week 7 in the NFL was wild. The Steelers survived a late comeback attempt from the Titans to move to 6-0 on the season. The Browns edged by the Bengals on a huge go-ahead TD with 11 seconds remaining — Baker Mayfield‘s fifth of the game. A Panthers tying field goal attempt from 65 yards came up just short, helping the Saints get a big division win. The Lions beat the Falcons with a touchdown pass on the final play of the game after an eight-play, 75-yard drive in the final 64 seconds. Washington kept the Cowboys to three points, and Green Bay dropped 35 on Houston thanks to another strong day from Aaron Rodgers.

All that and more in Week 7‘s biggest takeaways from NFL Nation.

Jump to a matchup:
PIT-TEN | CAR-NO | GB-HOU
DET-ATL | BUF-NYJ | CLE-CIN
DAL-WSH | NYG-PHI

Standout performer for PIT-TEN: Diontae Johnson, 9 catches, 80 receiving yards, 2 TDs

Thanks to a fast start and scores on their first four possessions, the Steelers outlasted a Titans fourth-quarter comeback to remain undefeated and set up a huge AFC North showdown next week in Baltimore. But even with an unblemished record, the Steelers have glaring things to fix after the late-game meltdown, beginning with limiting splash plays by the opponent. “We have goals so high for ourselves because we know what we can do when we feel like we can be a truly special defense,” linebacker T.J. Watt said. “And that’s why no one’s really satisfied after today. We need to do a lot better job, especially in the second half. But it starts with the run. And even though we did a good job in the first half, we got to continue and roll it over into the second half.” — Brooke Pryor

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

The Titans made a valiant effort in the fourth quarter to make the game close, but their inability to stop the Steelers early in the game was too much to overcome. Tennessee couldn’t force the Steelers to punt in the first half. It gave up seven first downs on all seven of Pittsburgh’s third-down opportunities in the first two quarters. Now the Titans sit at 5-1, which is still best in their division, but they need drastic improvement on third downs — starting with the Bengals next week — before they get into the tougher part of the schedule. — Turron Davenport

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


Standout performer for CAR-NO: Alvin Kamara, 83 rushing yards, 65 receiving yards

No Michael Thomas. No Emmanuel Sanders. No problem for the Saints’ offense — which had its prettiest performance of the season from start to finish. New Orleans’ defense still has major problems preventing big plays and stopping teams in the red zone, but this was an awfully nice way for the Saints (4-2) to reboot their offense after the bye, something they’ll need to carry over into an even stiffer test next week at Chicago. — Mike Triplett

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

Another amazing day from quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was spoiled by the defense’s inability to make plays on third down. The Saints started 8-of-8 on third down, and at one point, they were 11-of-12 before finishing 12-of-14 in the victory. That’s inexcusable, even with a secondary depleted by injuries. The worst was a third-and-14 pass to running back Alvin Kamara that should have been stopped for a short gain. The Panthers entered the day ranked 29th on third-down defense, and if they can’t solve this problem, there’s no way they can keep pace with New Orleans and Tampa Bay in the NFC South. — David Newton

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


Standout performer for GB-HOU: Davante Adams, 13 catches, 196 receiving yards, 2 TDs

It wasn’t the criticism the Packers faced after their blowout loss to the Buccaneers last week that drove them to their win Sunday at the Texans. “It was more so we felt like we owed it to ourselves,” said receiver Davante Adams, who had a career-high 196 yards receiving. Yes, it came against a one-win team and a bad defense that Aaron Rodgers picked apart. And next week they face another one-win team in the Vikings. But Sunday’s game got the Packers (5-1) back to doing what they did on the way to their 4-0 start and gave them confidence they can win without the likes of star running back Aaron Jones and All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari. — Rob Demovsky

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

With another loss that dropped the Texans to 1-6, the team is likely in sell-now mode headed into the bye with trade deadline on Nov. 3. While Houston’s front office is not interested in a firesale without getting the proper value in return, it is at the point where this team needs to look toward the future, even after just signing quarterback Deshaun Watson to a lengthy contract extension. — Sarah Barshop

Next game: at Jaguars (1 p.m. ET, Sunday Nov. 8)

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Aaron Rodgers throws for 283 yards and four touchdowns as the Packers defeat the Texans 35-20 to avoid a two-game losing streak.

Standout performer for DET-ATL: Matthew Stafford, 340 passing yards, 1 TD

For years, Matthew Stafford had been building the reputation as a comeback king, among the quarterbacks you wanted to face least with him holding the ball and time winding down. It had gotten away from him a bit the past two-plus seasons, with Detroit struggling to win games and too often losing leads in the fourth quarter instead of pulling off improbable comebacks. Then came Sunday, when Stafford drove Detroit 75 yards in 64 seconds, capping it with an 11-yard touchdown pass to T.J. Hockenson with no time remaining to set up the extra point that gave Detroit the win. The comeback king, picking up fourth-quarter comeback No. 30 and game-winning drive No. 36, pulled it off at a time when Detroit needed it the most, to get back to 3-3 and keep his team relevant toward midseason. — Michael Rothstein

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

Is it bad luck, poor decision-making or execution that has hurt the Falcons the most this season? Regardless, the Falcons are now the only team with three losses in a season — over the past 20 seasons — after having a win probability of at least 98%, according to ESPN Stats and Information. Atlanta could have won its second consecutive game if Todd Gurley II would have gone down before scoring an ill-fated touchdown that left the Lions enough time to come back and win the game. And Gurley realized it after running 10 yards to the end zone. “Ah f— it, I shouldn’t have scored,” Gurley said postgame. The Falcons had a 98.7% chance to win after Stafford’s incompletion with 57 seconds left, per ESPN’s win probability model, and still managed to lose. — Courtney Cronin

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


Standout performer for BUF-NYJ: Cole Beasley, 11 catches, 112 receiving yards

This may have been Buffalo’s most impressive defensive performance to date. After a shaky first half, the Bills allowed just four yards of total offense, holding the Jets scoreless while their own offense continued to score, three points at a time. Factor in five sacks and two takeaways, and for the first time this season, the Bills’ defense carried the load — a burden that had fallen on their offense through the first six games. It’s a positive sign that both sides of the ball are capable of winning games. — Marcel Louis-Jacques

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

New playcaller, same result. Coach Adam Gase handed the playcalling to offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains, but the Jets managed only 25 yards on 23 plays after taking a 10-0 lead. They made no adjustments, resulting in six total sacks. It will get worse for the Jets (0-7), who face the Super Bowl champion Chiefs on the road next week. — Rich Cimini

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


Standout performer for CLE-CIN: Baker Mayfield, 297 passing yards, 5 TDs

After throwing an interception on his first passing attempt for a second consecutive game, Baker Mayfield rebounded with one of the finest QB performances in Browns history. Mayfield broke a franchise record with 21 consecutive completions and threw three touchdowns in the fourth quarter alone, lifting Cleveland to a comeback victory. This version of Mayfield is what could elevate the Browns into more than just a fringe playoff contender. And Cleveland will need more of this from him — especially if wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s knee injury proves serious. — Jake Trotter

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

Even though the Bengals failed to pick up the victory, Sunday was another reminder that Cincinnati has its quarterback of the future. With three offensive starters sidelined with injury, Joe Burrow was still able to post a career-high 406 yards on 35-of-46 passing, three touchdowns and one interception. He also had a rushing touchdown in the Bengals’ third consecutive defeat. Entering the game, the Bengals were without injured running back Joe Mixon (foot). Throughout the day, left tackle Jonah Williams (neck), center Trey Hopkins (concussion) and right tackle Bobby Hart (undisclosed) also went down at various points of Sunday’s contest. That didn’t stop Burrow from nearly pulling off the first comeback win of his career. — Ben Baby

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

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0:30

Harrison Bryant reels in a 3-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter. Later in the third, Baker Mayfield finds Bryant again for another score.

Standout performer for DAL-WSH: Antonio Gibson, 128 rushing yards, 1 TD

Washington still has a lot of issues that won’t be resolved any time soon, but it can feel good about one thing: It’s a lot better than Dallas right now. Washington played its best all-around game. And the more running back Antonio Gibson matures, the more Washington can start to develop a consistent ground game, which it will need. But Sunday’s game also showed the kind of mindset coach Ron Rivera wanted to see. After five consecutive losses — four by 14 points or more — and a crushing one-point defeat a week ago, the team responded well. For Washington to truly generate momentum, it must come out the same way after the bye week. This was a good win, but if it’s just a one-game blip, then it won’t mean a whole lot. — John Keim

Next game: vs. Giants (1 p.m. ET, Sunday, Nov. 8)

The Cowboys are 2-5. Forget about how bad the NFC East is. Where do the Cowboys start to fix their problems? Is it on defense, which has been terrible since Week 1 and has been shredded on the ground? Or the offense, which has scored one touchdown in two games without Dak Prescott and can’t play a game without a turnover? Quarterback Andy Dalton was knocked out of the game in the third quarter because of a concussion, but he was not given much help by an offensive line that looked like a preseason group. This has turned into a nightmare scenario Mike McCarthy never envisioned when he was named coach last January. — Todd Archer

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


Standout performer for NYG-PHI: Carson Wentz, 359 passing yards, 2 TDs (and 1 rushing TD)

The Eagles aren’t a good football team, no matter their odds to win the NFC East, but the positive signs they’re getting from quarterback Carson Wentz hold significance. He has turned it on over the past three games after a sluggish start, and again showed a penchant for late-game heroics with a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown throws to save Philadelphia from an embarrassing loss to the Giants. The Eagles now have a 61% chance to win the division, per the ESPN Football Power Index. That’s nice, but what’s really important is that their franchise quarterback is once again beginning to play like one. — Tim McManus

Next game: vs. Cowboys (8:20 p.m. ET, Sunday)

The Giants still can’t beat the Eagles or Cowboys. And they still can’t compete in a division that appears destined to be historically bad. The Giants (1-6) lost their eighth straight to the Eagles and have now dropped 15 consecutive games combined to Dallas and Philadelphia. It’s hard to compete in the NFC East if you continually lose to those two teams. The Giants blew an 11-point lead in the final five minutes, committing three penalties on the game-winning drive. Had tight end Evan Engram not dropped what could’ve been the clinching pass with just more than two minutes remaining, the Giants win. But it all proves the Giants are still not good enough. — Jordan Raanan

Next game: vs. Buccaneers (8:15 p.m. ET, Monday, Nov. 2)

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Toronto FC hoping to make MLS Cup run having spent much of 2020 far from home

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On a recent Thursday in Hartford, Conn., Toronto FC goalkeeper Quentin Westberg pondered the dichotomy of wanting to reach MLS Cup on Dec. 12, but also desiring to see his family again. Meanwhile, Jim Liston, the team’s director of sports science, was planning a trip to Lowe’s to buy 15 garbage cans so players could have an ice bath after training. As for manager Greg Vanney, he was fretting about his team’s health and the lack of practice time their schedule was affording.

Such is the life of a team as it attempts to not only navigate its way through the COVID-19 pandemic, but has been forced to do it away from home.

Due to travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada, TFC — like the league’s other two Canadian teams, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps — set up a “home” base in the U.S. for the remainder of the season; Toronto were stationed in Hartford. (Vancouver Whitecaps took roost in Portland, ground-sharing with Timbers, while Montreal Impact split use of New York Red Bulls’ facilities in Harrison, N.J.) This was on top of nearly every team spending nearly a month inside a bubble back in July at the MLS is Back Tournament outside Orlando, Florida.

The Reds spent about seven weeks back in Toronto as they played a series of matches against Canadian teams. In mid-September, the remainder of the regular season — and the temporary move to Hartford — beckoned. The vagabond nature of the campaign is what led Liston to joke that he was willing to discuss “whatever five seasons” the team has been through so far. But for Vanney and the players, the campaign has required a special kind of focus.

“A lot of what we’ve done here, and what we try to preach here is just control the controllables, and don’t get too drawn into the things you can’t,” Vanney told ESPN. “Roll with it, and make the best out of whatever the situation is.”

Stream FC Daily on ESPN+
– 2020 MLS Playoffs: Who’s in, schedule and more
– MLS on ESPN+: Stream LIVE games and replays (U.S. only)

Toronto has largely succeeded in spite of its odyssey. While there was disappointment at missing out on the Supporters’ Shield to the Philadelphia Union, TFC went 7-3-2 during its Hartford sojourn and finished with the second-best record in the league. But the challenges have still been immense. Simply being out of one’s home environment is difficult enough, but the time spent away from family and loved ones weighs heavy on the psyche, even as Vanney has given players the occasional trip back to Toronto — under quarantine — to reconnect with loved ones.

“It’s just very different, very challenging and emotionally exhausting,” Westberg said of his experience while based in Hartford.

Westberg has arguably had it tougher than most. The TFC goalkeeper is married with four children, including a baby girl who was born in June. For that reason, Westberg and his wife, Ania, made the decision at the end of September that it would be better for her and their kids to head back to his native France so they could be surrounded by family. Westberg called it “the least bad decision,” but there are difficulties nonetheless.

“I’m a very even person, and this year has challenged me a lot,” he said. “I’m still pretty even, but I keep a lot to myself and for sure there’s some difficult days, seeing your family [struggle] from your absence.”

The inability to be home has affected the players and staff in other ways. In Toronto, there are ways of disengaging from the game. Being with friends, loved ones or even in familiar surroundings can be the best medicine in terms of forgetting a bad game or training session. But in Hartford, at the team’s hotel, that escape is nearly impossible even as players try to distract themselves by reading or taking online classes.

“You don’t really unplug,” Westberg said. “You FaceTime family, or this or that, but it’s too short. You’re 100 percent focused on your soccer, and your whole day basically relies on being ready for whatever soccer activity that you have next, whether it’s practice or game. It’s good for your physique, it’s optimal for the way you eat and the way you [train]. But mentally, you’re not as fresh as your body.”

That isn’t to say there are only negatives to the separation. There is also an us-against-the-world mentality that Toronto has adopted, given that their players and personnel are experiencing the season in a way that is vastly different than most other teams. The team staff has done what it can to make their surroundings a home away from home, whether it’s personalizing the locker rooms at Rentschler Field or having hotel staff brand the surroundings in TFC colors. The hotel went so far as to bring in a barista who could consistently give the players their coffee fix. Supporters groups have even sent down banners in a bid to convey the fact that the players are remembered.

The care that TFC takes for players has extended to families back home, with the club supplying meals to loved ones three times a week.

On the logistical side, Liston made sure that one of the gyms used at MLS is Back was brought to TFC’s hotel in Hartford, and he remarked that the food at the hotel is “arguably the best we’ve ever had on the road.”

There have also been efforts to create new routines. Assistant coach Jason Bent, aka DJ Soops, has been in charge of the pregame music selection for the past 18 months — no easy feat for a squad that has a considerable international presence. In Hartford, Bent has set aside Thursday nights to spin music in one area of the hotel. He’ll even go live on Instagram or Twitch for those who prefer to relax in their rooms.

“[We] opened it to players and staff and basically anyone that’s part of our bubble to come relax, listen to music and just enjoy each other’s company,” Bent said. “I enjoy making people happy so if it’s helping everyone even in the slightest, I have no problem arranging the set and spinning.”

For Vanney, the pandemic and operating outside of the team’s home market has meant any number of challenges. He said the team has used three different training facilities in Hartford, with varying field conditions. He recognizes that the trips home are vital for the mental health of his players and staff, but any breaks also mean less time spent on the practice field. The compressed schedule, which at times involved games every three or four days, has had an impact as well. Even the best-laid plans in terms of squad rotation were impacted as minor injuries began popping up.

“We end up with a lot of guys in different positions because they need special kinds of treatment or care to help them get fit and back to health,” Vanney said. “So it ends up being a lot of different things kind of going on all at once, and that’s been the challenge of it.”

Recovery from matches has been complicated by the fact that TFC doesn’t have access to the same level of facilities that it does at home — hence Liston’s emergency trip to Lowe’s to fashion impromptu ice baths for the players. Then there are the different ways the players occupy themselves on the road as compared to home, especially amid the pandemic.

“There’s really no life outside of the hotel,” Liston said. “[At home], you may go walk the dog in the afternoon or go for a walk with your wife or friend or girlfriend or family and you’re out and about. The recommendation [here] is to kind of stay put. So you’ve got a really active population and pro athletes, who we’re asking them to be sedentary the rest of the time, kind of stay in the hotel from a COVID and safety standpoint. That’s not optimal for recovery either.”

There are also the creature comforts of home that are no longer available on the road, which can impact sleep.

“Sleep is the number one tool for recovery, and that’s definitely been a challenge,” Liston said. “We do well-being questionnaires and the scores on quality of sleep, and hours of sleep, just drop.”

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Tom Barlow and Brian White seal Toronto’s fate in a 2-1 win for New York Red Bulls. Watch MLS on ESPN+.

Another change has been same-day travel, which has drawn mixed reactions from the TFC players and staff. Vanney and Westberg are generally in favor, saying it reminds them of when they each played in France. Flying back the same night also means a training day isn’t lost. Liston has a different perspective in that he prefers arriving the day before, and then leaving the same day.

“I think [same-day travel] makes for a really long day,” he said. “And there’s definitely a negative impact on performance, taking three bus rides and a plane ride before your game. You’re getting home — it can be 12:30, but it could also be 1:30 in the morning, and that’s where you know our well-being scores and sleep hours and quality just disappear. When you have so many games in succession, you can’t make up the sleep.”

With the playoffs set to begin for TFC on Nov. 24, the end is in sight, even as it makes for a complex — and even conflicting — set of emotions.

“This is the tricky part. I miss them a lot,” Westberg said of his family. “But in a way I want to see them as [late] as possible in December, because obviously, there’s this idea that we want to do well in the playoffs and we want to keep going. TFC has a history of setting high standards and high expectations. It’s a heavy load to carry but also an exciting one.”

Win or lose, it’s a season they’ll never forget.

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Bettman: NHL is mulling temporary realignment

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The NHL is considering a temporary realignment of its teams for the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, according to commissioner Gary Bettman.

Bettman said Tuesday that restrictions on travel across the Canadian border, as well as “limitations in terms of quarantining when you go from certain states to other states” within the United States, could mean the NHL creates a more regionalized alignment for its upcoming season.

“As it relates to the travel issue, which is obviously the great unknown, we may have to temporarily realign to deal with geography, because having some of our teams travel from Florida to California may not make sense. It may be that we’re better off — particularly if we’re playing a reduced schedule, which we’re contemplating — keeping it geographically centric and more divisional-based; and realigning, again on a temporary basis, to deal with the travel issues,” Bettman said during a 2020 Paley International Council Summit panel with fellow commissioners Adam Silver of the NBA and Rob Manfred of MLB.

The NHL board of governors has a meeting scheduled for Thursday which will provide a progress report and possible recommendations for a season format, based on talks between the league and the NHL Players’ Association. The target date for starting next season remains Jan. 1.

Bettman said the league is considering a few scheduling options for the 2020-21 season. Something that’s off the table: playing the entire season in the kind of bubbles the NHL had in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, to complete last season. But Bettman said teams opening in their own arenas is a possibility, along with a modified bubble.

“We are exploring the possibility of playing in our own buildings without fans [or] fans where you can, which is going to be an arena-by-arena issue. But we’re also exploring the possibility of a hub. You’ll come in. You’ll play for 10 to 12 days. You’ll play a bunch of games without traveling. You’ll go back, go home for a week, be with your family. We’ll have our testing protocols and all the other things you need,” he said.

Bettman also indicated that the NHL is exploring “a hybrid, where some teams are in a bubble, some teams play at home and you move in and out.”

The NBA’s board of governors unanimously approved a deal with the players’ union that sets the stage for a season that will open on Dec. 22 and with a reduced schedule of 72 games. Silver said that the commissioners are in communication on COVID-19-related issues, especially the NBA and the NHL, since the two leagues’ teams share arenas and, in some cases, team owners.

Silver said he senses that the NBA will have fans in many of its buildings this season.

“We’re probably going to start one way, where we’re maybe a little bit more conservative than many of the jurisdictions allow,” he said. “What we’ve said to our teams is that we’ll continue to work with public health authorities. Arena issues are different than outdoor stadium issues. There will be certain standards for air filtration and air circulation. There may be a different standard for a suite than there will be for fans spaced in seats.”

Silver said there will be standardized protocols that are consistent from arena to arena, such as proximity between players and fans: “In certain cases, for seats near the floor, we’re going to be putting in testing programs, where fans will certify that they’ve been tested — some within 48 hours, some within day of game.” While Silver supported a continued expansion of the NBA postseason through its play-in tournament, Bettman said that he’s not in favor of expanded playoffs or “playing with the fundamentals of the game.” The NHL had 24 teams in its postseason last summer.

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The Battleground States Where We’ve Seen Some Movement In The Polls

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With apologies to The Raconteurs, the presidential race continues to be “steady as she goes,” with little sign of tightening despite a plethora of new polls. FiveThirtyEight’s presidential forecast gives Joe Biden an 89 in 100 shot at winning the election, while President Trump has just an 11 in 100 chance. This makes Biden the favorite, but still leaves open a narrow path to victory for Trump, for whom a reelection win would be surprising — but not utterly shocking.

At the same time, we also have fewer polls from live-caller surveys, which have historically been more accurate and have shown slightly better numbers for Biden, than polls that use other methodologies, such as polls conducted primarily online or through automated telephone calls. Nevertheless, while the overall picture has shifted only a little in recent days, a few battleground states have seen at least some movement in their polls, which has slightly altered the odds Biden or Trump wins in each of those places.

What election stories need to get more coverage | FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast

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