Extra Points: Jeff Saturday Is Undefeated, Justin Jefferson Dazzles, Tom Brady Returns To Form, and the 49ers Break Tackles

We provide an NFL Week 10 recap, which saw high highs and low lows for watchability. We talk Jeff Saturday, Justin Jefferson, and Tom Brady.

NFL Week 10 saw some of the highest highs and lowest lows when it comes to the watchability of the product. Eleven of the 13 games this week finished within one score, and there have been 115 such games in the season thus far — the most through 10 weeks in NFL history.

NFL Week 10 Recap

Along the way, we might have gained some interesting insight into some of the key players for the most interesting stories the NFL has to offer this year. Jeff Saturday’s first appearance, a win, told us a lot about the Colts — or the Raiders  — while we got to see some more discussion on who the top receiver in the NFL may be, what Tom Brady might be able to do this year, and how the 49ers have built an offense designed to maximize the short game instead of the deep bombs that most effective offenses build around.

This week, the standings have shifted. The AFC East is now controlled by the Miami Dolphins after an efficient game from Tua Tagovailoa, who distributed the ball to many more receivers than he’s used to.

MORE: NFL Playoff Picture and Standings Week 10

The NFC South is led by the Buccaneers, who could finish with a losing record and make the playoffs. The Vikings have pulled well ahead of the pack in the NFC North, but the undefeated Eagles won’t be able to do the same in their divisional Monday Night Football matchup against Washington because of how effective the Giants have been.

The AFC North remains wide open, and the AFC South remains a confusing mess. The NFC West seems to be playing out like the most normally distributed division, and they have perhaps the least normal teams in football.

Jeff Saturday Deserves Credit

It may not mean much from a long-term perspective, not that there is much of a long-term to evaluate, but we should give Saturday and the Colts plaudits for winning their first game under the new regime, a 25-20 win over the Las Vegas Raiders. That included better offensive line play than we’ve seen in some time and more interesting play-calling than we were used to seeing from the Frank Reich regime.

It’s pretty unlikely that a head coach swimming in the responsibilities of the job improved OL play overnight by himself, but it was nice to see. And Parks Frazier, the play-caller, deserves credit for his role in helping turn the offense around.

This was just one game against a struggling defense and a coach who himself is on the hot seat, but given the circumstances and extraordinary pushback that Jim Irsay received when hiring Saturday, it’s notable that they pulled out the victory.

Justin Jefferson Pushing His Way to the Front of the Line

Through 10 weeks, Justin Jefferson has the fifth-highest receiving yardage per game in NFL history, behind Charley Hennigan, Raymond Berry, Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch, and Isaac Bruce. Jefferson is ahead of Tyreek Hill this season and where Cooper Kupp was at this point last season.

Three out of the four players ahead of Jefferson are in the Hall of Fame, while Hennigan is on the American Football League’s All-Time Team and would be in the Hall of Fame had his career lasted more than seven years.

It’s elite company and well-deserved for Jefferson, who is on track for similar consideration. It’s even more impressive that Jefferson clawed his way back into the lead after his 14-yard performance against Detroit and 48-yard performance against Philadelphia.

There’s been little question that Jefferson is one of the best receivers in the NFL. But it’s worth considering whether or not he takes the top spot outright. The top yardage-getter isn’t always the top receiver. Kupp last year, in the same offense, is good evidence of a top-five receiver earning top-overall receiving yardage, but it helps to make the case.

Also helping his case were the absurd catches he made against the Bills. In one of the craziest games in recent memory — one so wild there are already top-10 lists about the wildest moments in the game — Jefferson emphatically made his case.

His game will be most remembered for the one-handed contested catch on 4th-and-18 with just 1:49 left as the Vikings were driving down four points — a statement that somehow does not capture the absurdity of the situation or the catch — but he had highlight after highlight after highlight in the game. He also, according to former offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz, had the WR block of the year as well.

Jefferson and Hill are perhaps the two most fun receivers to watch in football, and it helps that right now, they’re also the best.

Tom Brady Might Be Back?

Tom Brady had a healthy complement of all-star receivers and took full advantage of it on Sunday, distributing receptions to Mike Evans, Julio Jones, and Chris Godwin in a dominant effort against the Seattle Seahawks, who were riding a four-game winning streak entering the game.

The Brady-to-Evans connection has produced some excellent highlight moments throughout the season. But it never felt consistently productive until the Buccaneers played in Germany, with Brady throwing for 258 yards on just 29 attempts and a passer rating of 111.0, his highest since Oct. 2 when he played the Chiefs.

There’s a big difference between a three-receiver offense and a two-receiver offense, especially with a stale running game in the two-receiver system. With more receivers operating as threats at any depth of the field, the Buccaneers were able to open up both the running and passing games. That open game was better for that struggling offensive line.

Who knows if this will continue, but it’s important to remember that the Bucs will look better in the final stretch of the season, with games against the Browns, Saints, Cardinals, Panthers, and Falcons coming up. Only the 49ers and Bengals are top-10 passing defenses left on the schedule. The rest, on average, rank 22nd in the NFL in expected points allowed in the passing game per dropback.

It could simultaneously be the case that the Buccaneers’ offense genuinely improves and that Brady’s improvement will be overemphasized because of the quality of his opponents.

The 49ers All-YAC Offense Is Eye Candy

The 49ers have built quite possibly the best all-YAC team in NFL history with Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, George Kittle, Kyle Juszczyk, and now Christian McCaffrey. Two of those players are the best YAC players at their respective positions, and it might be worth throwing Juszczyk in as a third. Kittle is fantastic at it as well, and Aiyuk is an incredible YAC specialist in his own right.

It’s being enabled by a quarterback who specializes in optimizing after-catch yardage for receivers in Jimmy Garoppolo. It’s not the most efficient way to run an offense, which is why the 49ers spent so much draft capital on acquiring Trey Lance, but it’s fun to watch.

Samuel has earned comparisons to Percy Harvin, quite possibly the best YAC artist the NFL has seen, and the comparisons are well-earned.

MORE: Dallas Cowboys Revive Tradition by Squandering Lead

San Francisco still needs to find ways to dig out of holes when there’s no threat of a running game. But they’ve even improved on 3rd-and-long, with the second-highest conversion rate among all teams on third downs with between seven and 13 yards to go. The 49ers are a much different offense when playing from behind, but until that happens, they’re deadly in ways that uniquely frustrate opponents and fans.

It can be demoralizing to watch Joe Burrow sling a 50-yard catch to Ja’Marr Chase, but it’s outright draining to see McCaffrey, Samuel, and Aiyuk break 15 total tackles over three consecutive plays to get the same yardage.

The 49ers ended the week with the fifth-most YAC yardage and the second-highest percentage of their receiving yardage come after the catch out of all Week 10 teams that have played thus far.

Other Notes:

  • An all-backup QB affair between the Rams and the Cardinals was about as exciting as a “John Wolford/Colt McCoy” battle would promise to be. Both are great stories and good players to have on a team, but it makes for stultifying football to watch as receivers like DeAndre Hopkins and Kupp had to grind out productive outings. Additionally, Kupp earned an injury along the way. But the Cardinals did earn the win in the 27-17 affair, which keeps them in the hunt somehow.
  • It took a long time for Dan Campbell to earn his first road win, but it was a weirdly fun game despite the 2-6/3-6 matchup. Justin Fields looked fantastic and has continued his streak of excellent performances, but it’s even more important to Campbell and the Lions’ future that they earned the franchise’s first 14-point fourth-quarter comeback in 29 years. The 31-30 win over the Bears won’t mean much in the standings, but it could earn Campbell some more time with the team.
  • The Broncos didn’t exactly look good in their 17-10 loss to the Titans, but the offense had its moments, which is much more than they can say for the majority of games they played this season. They might have lost Jerry Jeudy along the way, though.
  • Barring a miracle, Mike Tomlin will have his first losing season as a head coach, which is a stunning stat for someone who has coached since 2007. He still pulls out some great coaching performances, just like in the 20-10 victory the Steelers had over the Saints.
  • The New York Giants’ 24-16 win over the Houston Texans won’t get much attention, and it probably shouldn’t. But the Giants are like the Jets and Vikings insofar as there’s a high degree of skepticism over their capacity to consistently win. Here, the Giants’ pass rush provided the foundation that they needed to win, allowing them to stay ahead of the score and run early and often without having to press. Saquon Barkley ended the game with 35 carries.

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