We’re now in the second half of the NFL season.

That means that teams that are in the middle of the pack of their respective conferences will need to mount a strong push in the final stretch to clinch playoff berths.

Sunday proved to be a get-right day for a few teams. The Dallas Cowboys rocked the Atlanta Falcons after a disappointing defeat against the Denver Broncos last week. The Buffalo Bills dominated the New York Jets after they lost to the Jacksonville Jaguars. And the Kansas City Chiefs look like the powerhouse offense that had made them so dangerous over the previous three seasons.

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Dak Prescott celebrates scoring a touchdown against the Falcons.

Dak Prescott celebrates scoring a touchdown against the Falcons.

Here are the Week 10 winners and losers.

WINNERS

The Chiefs get right

The defense has been steadily improving over the past several weeks, but Kansas City’s offense finally came to life in a 41-14 victory against the Raiders. And in the process, the Chiefs reversed some issues that had plagued them.

  1. They had gotten off to slow starts: The Chiefs raced out to a 17-7 lead against the Raiders.

  2. The offensive line was a problem: They did not give up a single sack and gave quarterback Patrick Mahomes plenty of time to throw; the Raiders generated only three hurries.

  3. Defenses had used two deep safeties to take away the deep ball: Mahomes didn’t try to force throws downfield and just distributed the ball to his targets in short-to-intermediate routes.

  4. They stalled in the red zone: Kansas City entered Sunday tied for 18th in red zone efficiency (57.14%), but scored touchdowns on three of four attempts and also added another touchdown from just outside of the 20 late in the fourth quarter.

And now, the Chiefs (6-4) — rather than being in last in the AFC West had they lost the game — are in sole possession of first place in the division and looking like the old version of themselves. It’s just one game, but that should have the rest of the AFC concerned.

Cowboys get (huge) help

Just one week after the Cowboys suffered an inexplicable loss against the Broncos, they thumped the Falcons, 43-3. The offense was balanced, the defense kept Atlanta to one-of-11 on third downs; that was all well and good. But Dallas is a big winner because of the help it got from the rest of the NFC’s contenders.

The Cowboys (7-2) entered Sunday No. 4 in the conference in what is shaping up to be a fierce race for playoff seeding and home-field advantage. But two of the three teams ahead of them — the Buccaneers (6-3) and Cardinals (8-2) — lost their games, both against NFC teams that — on paper — aren’t as talented. The Cowboys only moved up one spot by the time the Packers closed out the late afternoon slate with a victory. But as we explained last week, Dallas cannot afford to drop games it should win. The same goes for the rest of the top of the NFC. The Cowboys already had their bye while the Packers (8-2) and Cardinals, the two teams ahead of them, still haven’t had their weeks off. At the very least for Dallas, they have the same number of defeats as both of those teams.

SuperCam

He barely played, but this was a triumphant return for Cam Newton to the Panthers. Carolina upset the Cardinals, 34-10, thanks in part to two Newton touchdowns that came on the first two snaps he played. Overall, Newton completed three-of-four passes for eight yards with a touchdown and ran the ball three times for 14 yards and a score, Carolina’s first of the game.

Carolina is reportedly paying Newton as if it considers him a starter. And given the struggles Sam Darnold faced before her suffered an incomplete fracture on his right, throwing shoulder blade, the team will almost certainly give him a shot to do so even when Darnold is healthy. With all that said, it’s still far too early to tell whether Newton can be a viable weapon for the Panthers. He’s 32. And while he can still clearly be a threat in short-yardage possessions, his body likely cannot take the same type of punishment that it used to when he was last Carolina’s quarterback. Carolina (5-5) climbed back into the playoff picture with the upset and is in the No. 7 seed in the NFC. Now Newton needs to show he can be steady and not just a spark.

Bill Belichick, Mac Jones and the surging Patriots

Though he hasn’t gotten much mention in the coach of the year conversation, New England’s Bill Belichick deserves to be there. The Patriots (6-4) have been steadily improving and destroyed the Browns, 45-7. The team’s offensive line is becoming its strength, rookie running back Rhamondre Stevenson is slowly churning out yards and rookie quarterback Mac Jones is playing efficient, smart football.

Jones completed 19-of-23 passes for 198 yards and three touchdowns, the first three-touchdown game of his career. These Patriots may not play the sexiest football out there, but it’s complementary and solid all-around. Give credit to a defense that sacked Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield five times. Give credit to New England’s line that opened enough holes for Stevenson to gain 100 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries. Give credit to Jones for protecting the ball and taking calculated risks downfield. But, above all else, give credit to Belichick for putting this team together and being deliberate in forming its identity.

LOSERS

Tom Brady’s MVP campaign

Given how tight the NFL’s most valuable player award race is shaping up to be, players who are vying for the honors can’t really afford to have massive letdowns. In Tampa Bay’s head-scratching, 29-19 loss against the Washington Football Team, Tom Brady’s chances took a hit. By the end of the first quarter, Brady had two completions to Buccaneers players; he also had two interceptions thrown to Washington players. At halftime, his QB rating was 30. He finished the day with 220 yards with two touchdowns but two interceptions.

The good news for Brady is that Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray, one of his top contenders for the award, missed his second consecutive game. Lamar Jackson of the Ravens also sputtered in a Thursday night loss against the Dolphins. L.A. Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford plays Monday night, so it may not be that much of a setback. But Tampa has now lost two in a row and fell to 6-3. It is sliding down the NFC standings. While a defense that has shown signs of regression is also at fault, Brady has thrown four of his seven picks in the last two games.

Slumping Chargers

Losers of three of their last four after Sunday’s 27-20 defeat against the Vikings, the Chargers (5-4) had been one of the early-season surprises after racing out to a 4-1 record, but now is teetering precariously near the bottom of the AFC playoff picture.

There are a few reasons why. The first is the play of quarterback Justin Herbert. In the three most recent Chargers losses during this funk, Herbert has completed just 55.6% of his throws for 613 yards with four touchdowns and four interceptions. Against the Vikings, his targets did let him down with drops. But Herbert locked onto targets like Keenan Allen and tried to force throws in tight windows and also missed on throws he normally makes. Offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi has been maligned, and while there were execution issues, the Chargers couldn’t come up with an answer to Minnesota’s plan to hold onto the ball; the Vikings ran 17 more plays and held the ball for almost a quarter (12:30) longer than L.A. did.

Cleveland’s third downs

Until the Browns find consistency, they simply won’t be a threat in the AFC. One week after they demolished the division-rival Bengals, the Browns fell absolutely flat against the Patriots on the road in a 45-7 loss. All 45 of New England’s points were unanswered. The very first thing they need to do is figure out third downs. Let’s start on defense, where Cleveland could not get Mac Jones and the Pats off the field. New England converted six-of-seven third-down attempts in the first half and seven-of-nine in the game overall. That’s why the Patriots completed touchdown drives of 83, 99, 92 and 95 yards. The Patriots could do that because they erased Cleveland’s normally formidable pass rush.

On offense, it was even worse; the Browns converted only one of their 11 third-down attempts, and it came with 2:42 left to play in the game. Quarterback Baker Mayfield was under duress and was knocked out of the game with a knee injury. Now, after the post-Odell Beckham Jr. bump they got last week, the Browns (5-5) have serious ground to gain. Both teams came into Sunday with identical records, though the Patriots (6-4) had a tie-break advantage, meaning they were the ones in the No. 7 seed in the conference, the last wild-card slot.

Winning football in Lions-Steelers game

The football was bad (especially late) in the inglorious 16-16 tie between the Lions and the Steelers. Detroit, as it has a few times this season, appeared to have a victory in sight, but execution errors or collapses or just overall poor play sunk its chances. Against Pittsburgh, quarterback Jared Goff was woeful. Place kicker Ryan Santoso had a 48-yard attempt to win the game, but completely mishit it.

Not to be one-upped, the Steelers had the ball with 15 seconds left in the game, approaching field goal range. Backup quarterback Mason Rudolph — starter Ben Roethlisberger missed the game because he tested positive for COVID-19 — completed a pass to tight end Pat Freiermuth, who fumbled the ball away to the Lions after gaining only one yard. To be clear, even if Freiermuth hadn’t fumbled, it would’ve been a tough field goal try on a wet and windy day in Pittsburgh. And it’s not even clear if Pittsburgh would’ve been able to get another play off in time because it did not have any timeouts. The tie is effectively meaningless for the Lions (0-8-1), unless it avoids an 0-17 season. But the Steelers (5-3-1 and currently the No. 5 seed in the AFC) are fighting for a wild-card spot and failing to secure victories against teams they should beat could doom them down the road.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NFL Week 10 winners, losers: Cowboys, Chiefs, Bills each rebound

https://sports.yahoo.com/nfl-week-10-winners-losers-111108023.html?src=rss

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