PITTSBURGH (AP) — Earl Thomas saw Mason Rudolph step up in the pocket and took aim at what the Baltimore Ravens safety considered Pittsburgh quarterback’s “strike zone.” One ugly and illegal collision later, Rudolph lay motionless on the Heinz Field turf and one of the NFL’s most bitter rivalries was reborn.
Thomas’ crunching hit to Rudolph’s chin left Rudolph with a concussion and Pittsburgh’s season in the hands of undrafted rookie free agent quarterback Devlin Hodges. While Hodges filled in admirably after Rudolph woozily made his way off the field and to a nearby hospital for further evaluation, the Ravens pulled out a 26-23 overtime victory that could have a significant ripple effect on both teams’ seasons.
Baltimore (3-2) snapped a two-game skid when safety Marlon Humphrey stripped Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and recovered the fumble at the Pittsburgh 34 early in the extra period. Justin Tucker slipped a 46-yard field goal through the uprights four plays later as the Ravens won at Heinz Field for a second straight season.
“(When overtime started) I was on the sideline and I was thinking, ‘Whatever happens right now, somebody’s going to make a big play and going to be remembered forever in the outcome of this game,’” Humphrey said.
Maybe, but for all the weirdness of the game — from Lamar Jackson’s three interceptions to Steelers coach Mike Tomlin’s decision to kick off in overtime instead of taking the ball to another crucial late-game fumble by Smith-Schuster — it’s the visual of Rudolph unconscious on the turf in a silent stadium that will linger.
Trailing 17-13 and facing third-and-11 at the Pittsburgh 12 midway through the third quarter, Rudolph lined up in the shotgun and dropped back to pass. The play broke down and Rudolph scrambled to his left, stepping up the field in the process. He flicked the ball to teammate James Washington just before the crown of Thomas’ helmet hit Rudolph under the chin. Rudolph limply fell to the ground and laid there with his eyes closed while medical personnel rushed to attend to him.
“I was just flying to the ball like I normally do,” said Thomas, who signed with Baltimore in the offseason after becoming a perennial Pro Bowler with Seattle. “I was asking the ref what happened and they said upstairs said that a part of my helmet kind of hit him in the chin, and that’s what caused the flag. I still believe that it wasn’t intentional on my part.”
Rudolph eventually came to as trainers cut off his face mask. He needed to be helped off the field by his teammates because the cart used to treat seriously hurt players stalled. Tomlin wasn’t sure why the cart wasn’t working.
“Ask somebody that is in charge of that,” Tomlin said. “I don’t drive carts and things of that nature.”
The scene of players on both sides going down to one knee while Rudolph was being treated was eerily similar to the on-field reaction in Cincinnati in December 2017 when Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier sustained a spinal injury. Shazier, currently on the physically unable to perform list while he continues his rehab from spinal stabilization surgery, walked over to Rudolph and briefly comforted him as Rudolph made his way to the locker room for further treatment and examination as the crowd chanted “Throw him out!” at Thomas.
“When you see somebody lying lifeless like that it kind of strikes a bell,” Pittsburgh linebacker Bud Dupree said. “Any human being that cares about somebody in that type of situation will feel a certain way. ... When something like that happens, it makes a trigger go off in your brain and you’ve got to control yourself.”
Baltimore coach John Harbaugh likened the hit to “kind of like a boxing deal,” adding he did not believe it was Thomas’ intent to hit the 6-foot-5 Rudolph so high.
“It’s fast and he’s closing and Mason is running and he’s not going down, throwing the ball,” Harbaugh said.
Pittsburgh (1-4) did not fold after being forced to go with Hodges, an undrafted rookie free agent out of Samford who was signed to be a “camp” arm before organized team activities. He trotted onto the field when Rudolph slipped out of view and hardly looked nervous. He completed 7 of 9 passes for 68 yards and also had a 21-yard sprint to set up Chris Boswell’s go-ahead field goal with 2:41 to play.
It wasn’t quite enough to put away the Ravens. Jackson — with the help of a roughing the passer call on Steelers linebacker Ola Adeniyi — moved Baltimore in range to have Tucker tie it with 14 seconds to go.
Pittsburgh won the coin toss to start overtime, but curiously opted to kick the ball rather than receive it even though an offensive touchdown would have ended the game. Tomlin pointed to his team’s ineffective kickoff return unit as one of the reasons for the decision. Tucker had consistently pinned the Steelers deep in their own territory throughout the game. It worked. Pittsburgh forced a punt and took over at its 34 before Humphrey’s expertly timed forced fumble on Smith-Schuster swung the balance to the Ravens for good.
“I put the defense on the field in an effort to fight for field position and get the onus on them to get the stop,” Tomlin said.
Ravens: Safety Tony Jefferson went down in the fourth quarter with a left knee injury.
Steelers: Washington left in the third quarter with a shoulder injury and did not return. Linebacker Mark Barron exited in the second quarter with a hamstring injury.
Ravens: Hosts AFC North rival Cincinnati next Sunday. The teams split their two meetings in 2018.
Steelers: Visit Los Angeles to face the Chargers next Sunday. Los Angeles beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh 33-30 last season.
Packers 34, Cowboys 24
ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Aaron Rodgers looked quite comfortable at the home of the Dallas Cowboys — again. Green Bay’s star quarterback kept his team moving to a big early lead with more dazzling plays at AT&T Stadium, Aaron Jones scored a career-high four touchdowns and the Packers bounced back from their first loss by hanging on.
Rodgers zipped a sidearm throw to Robert Tonyan to fix one broken play, flipped a left-hander to Tra Carson to rescue another, and helped Green Bay improve to 5-0 inside the retractable-roof stadium where the two-time MVP’s first win was the 2011 Super Bowl.
The first three Green Bay wins over the Cowboys at their 10-year-old stadium were all dramatic, highlighted by Rodgers’ improbable 35-yard completion to Jared Cook to set up a winning field goal on the final play of a 34-31 divisional-round playoff win three years ago.
Not quite the same drama this time after the Packers (4-1) built a 31-3 lead, although Dak Prescott (463 yards passing) and Amari Cooper (226 yards receiving) set career highs trying to keep things interesting in the fourth quarter.
The last hope for Dallas (3-2) ended with 1:41 left when Brett Maher missed his second field goal — a 33-yarder that would have given the Cowboys a shot at an onside kick down seven.
Broncos 20, Chargers 13
CARSON, Calif. (AP) — Phillip Lindsay ran for 114 yards and Denver’s defense forced three turnovers as the Broncos got their first win under Vic Fangio.
Joe Flacco completed 14 of 20 passes for 162 yards and a touchdown as Denver (1-4) raced to a 17-0 lead in the second quarter and held on for the 500th victory in franchise history.
Los Angeles (2-3) struggled most of the day and had two turnovers inside the Denver 5. The Chargers got within 17-10 midway through the fourth quarter, but Denver’s Brandon McManus put it out of reach with a 46-yard field goal with 1:55 remaining.
Chase McLaughlin’s 32-yard field goal brought LA back within a touchdown with 15 seconds remaining, but Denver (1-4) recovered the onside kick to put it away.
Philip Rivers was 32 of 48 for 211 yards with two interceptions. Melvin Gordon was held to 31 yards rushing in his first game back after a holdout. Fellow running back Austin Ekeler had 15 receptions for 86 yards.
Raiders 24, Bears 21
LONDON (AP) — Josh Jacobs scored his second touchdown of the game with a leap from the 2-yard line with 1:57 to play, capping a 97-yard drive that helped the Raiders rally after blowing a 17-point lead.
The touchdown was part of a roller-coaster game that delighted the sellout crowd in London. The Raiders (3-2) broke out to a 17-0 halftime lead only to fall behind the Bears (3-2) in a mistake-filled third quarter.
Then Oakland fumbled at the goal line when going in for the go-ahead score, needed a replay review to overturn a fumble on a successful fake punt on the winning drive, then intercepted Chicago backup Chase Daniel with 1:14 to go to seal the victory.
It sure didn’t come easy, but made Oakland’s weeklong stay in London a successful one, ended by a satisfying victory in the Raiders’ first game against the Bears since dealing star edge rusher Khalil Mack to Chicago before last season.
That trade has come under heavy scrutiny as Mack led the Bears to the playoffs last year while the Raiders struggled. But Oakland came out ahead this day, with Mack’s only big play coming when he recovered a botched pitch by Derek Carr that sparked Chicago’s third-quarter comeback.
The Bears turned that turnover into a 1-yard run by David Montgomery and got two TD passes from Daniel to Allen Robinson in the third quarter to take a 21-17 lead.
Saints 31, Buccaneers 24
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Teddy Bridgewater passed for 314 yards and four touchdowns to remain unbeaten in three starts for the Saints this season.
With Bridgewater getting increasingly accustomed to playing for the injured Drew Brees, he had his best game yet for New Orleans (4-1) against a Tampa Bay defense that entered the game ranked second to last in the NFL against the pass.
With inspiring chants of “Ted-dy! Ted-dy!” from the Superdome crowd, Bridgewater completed 26 of 34 passes, with his two touchdown throws to Michael Thomas and one each to Jared Cook and Ted Ginn Jr.
Tampa Bay’s secondary struggled to stay with Thomas, who finished with 11 catches for 182 yards.
Bridgewater, who began playing in Week 2 after Brees’ first-quarter thumb injury in a loss to the Rams, had not completed a pass as long as 30 yards in his first 11 quarters of play this season.
That changed in the first quarter against the Bucs (2-3) with a 34-yard completion to Thomas. Bridgewater later hit Thomas for a 42-yarder early in the second half, setting up his 33-yard scoring strike to Ginn.
Bucs QB Jameis Winston saw his production drop dramatically from his triumphant 385-yard, four-TD performance against the Rams in Week 4. He was 15 of 27 for 204 yards and two touchdowns to Chris Godwin. But Winston could not connect with receiver Mike Evans, who was Winston’s intended target just three times and did not have a catch.
Panthers 34, Jaguars 27
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Christian McCaffrey tied a career high with 237 yards from scrimmage and scored three touchdowns, Brian Burns returned a fumble 56 yards for a touchdown and had a strip-sack in the fourth quarter.
McCaffrey set a franchise record with an 84-yard TD run and scored on a 5-yard run when he somersaulted into the end zone. He also caught an 18-yard TD pass from Kyle Allen before leaving with five minutes remaining after cramping.
But McCaffrey’s seldom-used replacement Reggie Bonnafon had a 59-yard touchdown run to put Carolina (3-2) up by seven with 3:34 left.
Carolina’s defense thwarted Jacksonville’s final two scoring drives when Burns sacked rookie Gardner Minshew to force a turnover and Luke Kuechly batted down a pass on the game’s final play.
Minshew finished 26 of 45 for 374 yards with two touchdowns and one interception for the Jaguars (2-3). Leonard Fournette had 23 carries for 108 yards and a score.
Bills 14, Titans 7
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Josh Allen threw for 219 yards and two touchdowns as Buffalo won a defensive showdown for its third straight win in this series.
The Bills (4-1) now have won three consecutive games away from Buffalo for the first time since 2004, though so many Buffalo fans traveled here it felt much more like a home game. It’s also the first time they’ve started a season perfect through three road games since 1993.
This game featured two of the NFL’s stingiest defenses, with the Titans fourth giving up 15.5 points, and the Bills fifth, allowing 15.8 points a game. Jordan Phillips had a career-high three sacks — by halftime — as Buffalo sacked Marcus Mariota five times even with three-time Pro Bowl left tackle Taylor Lewan back from his four-game suspension for performance enhancers.
The Titans (2-3) sacked Allen four times only to lose their third in four games on a day replacement kicker Cairo Santos missed three field goals and had a fourth blocked.
Cardinals 26, Bengals 23
CINCINNATI (AP) — Rookie Kyler Murray ran for a touchdown and led the Cardinals on a drive to Zane Gonzalez’s 31-yard field goal on the final play as the Cardinals got their first win under coach Kliff Kingsbury.
In a matchup of winless teams, the Cardinals (1-3-1) were a little bit better, with their Heisman Trophy winner making the difference. Murray ran 6 yards for Arizona’s first touchdown and saved the Cardinals after a late defensive collapse. Andy Dalton threw a pair of touchdown passes that tied it 23-23 with 2:00 to go.
That’s when Murray took the game into his hands.
He completed a 24-yard pass to David Johnson and scrambled 24 yards to get in range for Gonzalez’s fourth field goal. Murray ran for a career-high 93 yards and completed 20 of 32 passes for 253 yards without an interception.
Bengals coach Zac Taylor will have to wait at least one more week for that first win, his Bengals at 0-5 for the first time since 2008.
Texans 53, Falcons 32
HOUSTON (AP) — Deshaun Watson threw for a career-high 426 yards and tied his personal best with five touchdown passes, including three to Will Fuller.
A week after scoring a season-low 10 points in a loss to Carolina, Watson and Houston’s offense bounced back on a day he was 28 of 33 and became the first player to top 400 yards passing against the Falcons since Week 16 of 2012.
Fuller had a career-best 217 yards receiving, Darren Fells had two touchdown grabs for the Texans (3-2) and Carlos Hyde added a rushing TD.
Houston’s beleaguered offensive line didn’t allow a sack on Sunday after giving up 18 through the first four games.
Matt Ryan had 330 yards passing with three touchdowns and one interception for the Falcons (1-4), who lost their third straight game.
It was Watson’s first meeting with the Falcons after the Georgia native worked as a ball boy for the team all four years of high school. Watson shared a moment with Falcons owner Arthur Blank on the field before the game. Blank started the program at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hall County that allowed Watson the opportunity to work for the Falcons as a teenager.
Eagles 31, Jets 6
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Nate Gerry returned an interception for a score and Orlando Scandrick took a strip-sack the distance.
The Eagles (3-2) smothered third-string quarterback Luke Falk and overwhelmed New York’s offense on a day Carson Wentz was ordinary. Wentz threw for 189 yards and one touchdown. Jordan Howard ran for 62 yards and one TD.
Sam Darnold missed his third straight game for the Jets (0-4) while he recovers from mononucleosis, so Falk made his second start after opening the season on New York’s practice squad. Falk threw two interceptions and was sacked nine times before leaving late in the game and being replaced by David Fales, who was re-signed by the Jets on Friday. Falk replaced Trevor Siemian — Darnold’s original backup — after he sustained a season-ending ankle injury in Week 2.
Gerry gave the Eagles a 14-0 lead in the first quarter when he jumped in front of Falk’s fourth-down pass and returned it 51 yards.
Scandrick, playing his first game with the Eagles, had two sacks on corner blitzes. He stole the ball from Falk on the second one and ran it back 44 yards to make it 31-6 in the fourth quarter.
Brandon Graham had a career-high three of Philadelphia’s 10 sacks after he only had four last season.
Vikings 28, Giants 10
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Kirk Cousins threw two touchdown passes to Adam Thielen, Dalvin Cook ran for 132 yards and the Vikings made life miserable for Daniel Jones.
The win came just a week after the Vikings (3-2) did little in a 16-6 loss to the Chicago Bears and Thielen insisted the team had to stop being one dimensional on offense, relying solely on the run.
And that’s exactly what Minnesota did. It hit the Giants (2-3) with a bit of everything — pass, run and the defense — in ending the two-game winning streak Jones engineered since replacing Eli Manning at quarterback. The Vikings gained 490 yards on offense.
The defense limited New York to 211 yards, sacked Jones four times and hit him countless other times. That defense also chipped in with a safety when linebacker Anthony Barr tackled Jon Hilliman in the end zone after New York recovered Cook’s fumble at the 1.
Cousins completed 22 of 27 for a season-high 306 yards and had touchdown passes of 15 and 9 yards to Thielen. The receiver, who complained after a two-catch, 6-yard game against Chicago, finished with seven catches for 130 yards.