NFL 2023 Week 9: Biggest questions, risers and takeaways

ByNFL Nation ESPN logo
Sunday, November 5, 2023

The Pittsburgh Steelers kicked off Week 9of the NFL season on Thursday night with a comeback win over the Tennessee Titans.

On Sunday morning, the Kansas City Chiefs and Miami Dolphins played the first-ever regular-season game in Frankfurt, Germany, with the Chiefs jumping out to a 21-point lead and hanging on to win by seven.

Later, quarterbackJoshua Dobbsmade his Vikings debut after rookie Jaren Hall was ruled out early, Ravens RBGus Edwards and Texans QBC.J. Stroudpowered their teams to wins and Deshaun Watson returned as the Browns' defense posted a shutout.

Our NFL Nation reporters reacted to all the action, answering lingering questions coming out of each game and picking out who -- or what -- is rising and falling for every team. Let's get to it.

Jump to a matchup:





Houston 39, Tampa Bay 37


Has the passing offense snapped out of its funk? The Texans' offense averaged 24 points (15th) and 368.5 yards per game through the first four weeks. In the past three games, the offense averaged 17.3 points and 279.7 yards. On Sunday against the Buccaneers, quarterback C.J. Stroud produced his best game as a pro. Stroud threw for 470 yards with five touchdowns for a 147 passer rating. If Stroud can continue this performance, the playoffs are possible.

Stock up after the win: Stroud. He is the sixth player in NFL history to record at least 450 passing yards, five passing touchdowns and zero interceptions in a game, and his 470 passing yards are the most for a rookie in a single game.

Stock down after the win:RBDevin Singletary. He had 13 carries for 26 yards, while the Texans as a whole finished with 53 yards, their second-lowest total of the season. -- DJ Bien-Aime

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


Is this the way the rest of the season goes? The Bucs' offense finally managed to put up 30 points for the first time this season, but the defense blew a 20-10 lead in the second half and then a late lead with 10 seconds left as Tampa Bay lost its fourth straight game. Even with Vita Vea back and the defense generating three sacks, the Bucs weren't affecting quarterback C.J. Stroud, defenders were getting beaten and there were too many missed tackles.

Stock up after the loss: TE Cade Otton. He hauled in a 14-yard grab over the middle with 49 seconds to go -- his second touchdown of the game -- as the Bucs took a 37-33 lead, although it would be short-lived.

Stock down after the loss:First-down defense. They tried something new with their third-down defense Sunday by inserting Dee Delaney for Ryan Neal, but four of Stroud's five touchdown passes (14-, 75-, 29- and the 15-yard game winner) came on first down against the Buccaneers. -- Jenna Laine

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

Minnesota 31, Atlanta 28


How were the Vikings even competitive today? By the end of the first quarter, the Vikings were down to their No. 4 quarterback in Joshua Dobbs. They were playing without two of their top three receivers, Justin Jefferson and K.J. Osborn. Running back Cam Akers left because of an ankle injury, and left tackle Christian Darrisaw was inactive because of a groin injury. To have scored 31 points and have a fourth-quarter comeback in that scenario is one of the most impressive moments in coach Kevin O'Connell's tenure. Dobbs accounted for three touchdowns and the Vikings' defense forced consecutive turnovers in the third quarter that accounted for 10 points.

Stock up after the win: QB Dobbs. He started last Sunday for the Cardinals, was traded Tuesday to the Vikings, participated in his first full practice Thursday and managed to keep the Vikings within striking distance Sunday. He is the first player in Vikings history to throw for and score a touchdown in his debut with the team. Entering the game, Dobbs was 1-9 in his career as a starter.

Stock down after the win:The running game. We've been here before, but never has the Vikings' running game been more sorely missed than Sunday. With three quarterbacks injured, Vikings running backs Alexander Mattison and Cam Akers combined for 69 yards on 23 carries. Fortunately for the Vikings, Dobbs managed 66 rushing yards on his own. -- Kevin Seifert

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


Should the Falcons stick with Taylor Heinicke next week? Heinicke, the veteran quarterback who made his first Falcons start Sunday, did enough to earn a second start next week against Arizona. He ran the offense well, although there were fits and starts, and he threw a bad interception in the third quarter. But Heinicke -- who completed 21 of 38 passes (55.3%) for 268 yards with a touchdown -- provided stability and appeared to get more comfortable as the game went along.

Stock up after the loss: TEJonnu Smith. His continued production hit another level Sunday when he took a screen pass 60 yards -- the longest play from scrimmage for Atlanta this season -- and had five catches for 100 yards, his first 100-yard day.

Stock down after the loss: CB Mike Hughes. A week ago, Hughes' decisions as a punt returner caused Atlanta massive field position issues and he lost his job. On Sunday, when forced into the game after an injury to Dee Alford, Hughes appeared to lose Brandon Powell in coverage on what ended up being Minnesota's game-winning touchdown. -- Michael Rothstein

Next game: at Cardinals (Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET)

Washington 20, New England 17


Have the Commanders really found their quarterback? Washington coach Ron Rivera said they have, and Sam Howell has provided plenty of signs lately to believe him. Howell threw for 325 yards and a touchdown one week after 397 yards and four TDs against the Eagles. He made plays with his legs, both running and throwing. Howell made a bad decision on a late first-half throw that was intercepted. But his poise and playmaking ability are why the Commanders are sold on him.

Stock up after the win:The offensive line. The group functions better with center Tyler Larsen; it handled New England's blitzes and stunts, and the running backs powered their way to a combined 97 yards rushing.

Stock down after the win:The linebackers. They allowed one touchdown pass in coverage and a botched run blitz led to a big hole and Rhamondre Stevenson's 64-yard touchdown. -- John Keim

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


What does a second straight loss with a positive turnover differential mean? With two takeaways and one giveaway, the Patriots cleaned up an area that has been giving them trouble. But their inability to drive the field on offense and score points showed up once again. Major special teams miscues in critical situations and defending against the big play were also issues Sunday. At 2-7 and with a game against the Colts in Germany next Sunday, the Patriots enter the second half of the season essentially playing for pride.

Stock up after the loss:RBRhamondre Stevenson. His 64-yard touchdown run in the second quarter was a career high and the team's longest rushing TD since Damien Harris had a 64-yarder on Dec. 6, 2021, against the Bills.

Stock down after the loss:The defensive backs. Commanders QB Sam Howell threw for 325 yards and it seemed like it could have been more. The pass rush wasn't consistent, but the Commanders receivers created separation on a regular basis -- especially on big plays down the field -- and tackling by defensive backs was shaky for extended stretches. -- Mike Reiss

Next game: vs. Colts (Sunday, 9:30 a.m. ET in Germany)

Baltimore 37, Seattle 3


Why are the Ravens the most dominant defense in the NFL? The Ravens lead the NFL in fewest points allowed (13.8 per game), Baltimore's best mark in that category in the first nine weeks of a season since its historic 2000 defense. Defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald has Baltimore attacking from all angles. Baltimore finished with more sacks (four) than points given up, and defensive tackle Justin Madubuike now has 7.5 sacks, setting a team record with at least a half-sack in six straight games. Safety Geno Stone made his NFL-leading sixth interception.

Stock up after the win: RB Gus Edwards. In scoring two touchdowns, Edwards continues to be a touchdown machine, tying a Ravens record with six touchdowns in his last three games.

Stock down after the win: LT Ronnie Stanley. Struggling against Seahawks outside linebacker Boye Mafe, Stanley missed a block on him in the second quarter, which led to a strip-sack of Lamar Jackson (his ninth fumble of the season). -- Jamison Hensley

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


What's wrong with Geno Smith? In what may have been his worst game since he became the Seattle Seahawks' starter last season, Smith completed fewer than 50% of his passes (13 of 28) and threw another interception, his sixth pick in the past four games, compared to four touchdowns in that span. He also lost a fumble, had another errant pass that was nearly picked and finished with only 157 passing yards. The Baltimore Ravens may have the best defense in the NFL, and Smith's O-line did him no favors, but his play of late has to be a concern. It isn't time to turn to Drew Lock, but Smith has to play better or that will soon become a move that Pete Carroll would have to strongly consider.

Stock up after the loss:LBBoye Mafe. Mafe's strip-sack was one of the few bright moments for a Seahawks defense that couldn't stop any facet of Baltimore's offense. He now has at least a full sack in six straight games, tying Michael Sinclair's franchise record. Mafe also recovered the fumble, but Smith and Seattle's offense couldn't do anything with it.

Stock down after the loss: The O-line. It has fared remarkably well this season under tough circumstances, with several injuries forcing different combinations of starters nearly every week. But it got manhandled by Baltimore, which sacked Smith four times -- three coming via standard four-man rushes -- and pressured him into several hurried throws. Charles Cross and Jason Peters were flagged for false starts, while Evan Brown was penalized for a hold. -- Brady Henderson

Next game: vs. Commanders (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET)

Green Bay 20, L.A. Rams 3


Did the Packers show enough on offense to turn this into a winning streak?It might be a reach, but there are a few reasons to be optimistic: They finally gotChristian Watsonthe ball on a deep route with a 37-yard catch in the fourth quarter (although he got banged up on the play) afterJordan Lovebadly underthrew him, and Love was a little better on deeper throws (6-of-8 on passes with 10-plus air yards after entering the game with a league-worst 36% rate on such throws). Then, rookie tight endLuke Musgrave, who was supposed to be a big part of this offense, caught his first NFL touchdown. Oh, they also rushed for a whopping 184 yards. It was enough to end a four-game losing streak, but let's not talk about a winning streak yet with the Steelers, Chargers, Lions and Chiefs coming in their next four games. None of them haveBrett Rypienplaying quarterback.

Stock up after the win:WRDontayvion Wicks. The Packers need more playmakers, and perhaps the rookie (four catches for 49 yards) has some potential as long as he doesn't have another fumble like he did in the third quarter, when the ball popped free while he was trying to reach out for extra yards.

Stock down after the win:G Jon Runyan. He was flagged twice for offsides on fourth-and-1 plays in the first half (although one was incorrectly called onYosh Nijman), for lining up with his head past the football on what would've been successful conversions.-- Rob Demovsky

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


Will be the Rams be competitive if quarterbackMatthew Staffordmisses more time?It has been only two games (and one start) but it hasn't been pretty for backup quarterbackBrett Rypien. In Sunday's loss to the Packers, he completed 13 of 28 passes for 130 yards and an interception. Rypien went three straight drives without a completion in the first half, and the Rams' offense was held under 100 yards in each half (91 in the first, 96 in the second). According to ESPN Stats & Information, it was the 11th and 12th times the Rams have been held under 100 yards in a half since 2022, the second most in the NFL in that span. The good news for the Rams? They have a bye in Week 10 before they host the Seahawks in Week 11, giving Stafford more time to recover from a UCL sprain in his right thumb.

Stock up after the loss:OLBByron Young. The rookie third-round pick had two sacks Sunday, the first multisack game of his young career.

Stock down after the loss:The offense. Rams coach Sean McVay has been preaching complementary football for weeks, but it wasn't executed Sunday. The Rams opened the second half with two takeaways and did not score a point off either turnover.-- Sarah Barshop

Next game:vs. Seahawks (Sunday, Nov. 19, 4:25 p.m. ET)

Cleveland 27, Arizona 0


With Deshaun Watson back, can Cleveland make a run? After essentially missing the past four games with a rotator cuff strain in his throwing shoulder, Watson finally returned. The passing game mostly sputtered, but Watson saved his best throw for the final quarter: a 49-yard strike to Amari Cooper in stride. Watson's return comes in time for a critical two-game stretch against AFC North foes Baltimore and Pittsburgh. If the Browns can somehow sweep both, they could take command of the division. Watson had plenty of rust to shake off, but he gives the Browns the upside to make such a run.

Stock up after the win: The defense. After giving up the game-winning touchdown to Seattle last week, the Browns responded with an overpowering outing, pitching their first shutout since 2007.

Stock down after the win: Offensive tackle. The Browns lost left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. to what appears to be a serious right knee injury. -- Jake Trotter

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


When is Kyler Murray coming back?The Cardinals' quarterback position is in a state of uncertainty. Rookie Clayton Tune struggled, but he isn't to blame. He made his first NFL start in Cleveland and was shut out. With Murray's window to be activated to the 53-man roster closing Wednesday, it looks like next week could be the week he's back. There's always the possibility that Murray is activated but doesn't play for another week or two, but with three straight winnable games that happen to all be indoors, the stars could be aligning.

Stock up after the loss: The defensive front seven. This unit, especially the defensive line, did everything it could to keep the Cardinals in the game, holding the Browns to 113 yards rushing, far below their 148.6-yard average coming into Week 9.

Stock down after the loss: The offensive line. It struggled to open holes for the run game, with eight of the Cardinals' ball carriers getting hit at or behind the line of scrimmage. Tune was also sacked seven times. -- Josh Weinfuss

Next game: vs. Falcons (Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET)

New Orleans 24, Chicago 17


Can the Saints' defense keep up this turnover streak? The defense has forced a turnover in every game this season, and it was especially needed against the Bears with both the run defense and offense struggling. Cornerback Paulson Adebohad two interceptions, a forced fumble and recovery, safetyMarcus Mayehad a pick and linebackerDemario Davishad a fourth-quarter sack/fumble.

Stock up after the win:CB Adebo. He was the star of the show against the Bears with first- and fourth-quarter interceptions, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. And the Saints needed every one of his impact plays.

Stock down after the win:The run defense. The Saints allowed 156 net rushing yards against the Bears (after giving up 164 to the Colts) and struggled to contain quarterback Tyson Bagent, who scrambled at will. -- Katherine Terrell

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


Can the Bears win with Tyson Bagentat QB?Starting quarterbackJustin Fieldsbegan throwing at practice 19 days after dislocating his right thumb, and the Bears say there's a possibility he can play against the Carolina Panthers for their Thursday night game in Week 10, but with the short turnaround, Bagent may start again. The rookie QB had good moments (two touchdown throws to TE Cole Kmet, along with 70 yards rushing) and some really bad ones (two of his three interceptions were the result of throwing behind his intended receivers), and he's now 1-2 as a starter.

Stock up after the loss:OC Luke Getsy. Getsy's game plan kept his rookie quarterback on schedule and looking efficient, and it gave the Bears a chance -- despite Bagent's four turnovers -- with a healthy balance of run and pass calls. The Bears' 156 rushing yards marked the second most the Saints gave up this season.

Stock down after the loss:CBTyrique Stevenson. The first nine games of the season have been boom-or-bust for the rookie, who appeared to be benched late in the third quarter. Stevenson was the nearest defender on four receptions, including a touchdown, against the Saints and entered Week 9 having allowed 42 receptions on 62 targets (69%), six touchdowns and zero interceptions.-- Courtney Cronin

Next game:vs. Panthers (Thursday, 8:15 p.m. ET)

Kansas City 21, Miami 14


What does the Chiefs' victory over the Dolphins mean in the big picture? The Chiefs are 7-2, which guarantees they will be no worse than tied at the end of the day for the best record in the AFC. They also have wins over two of the other top contenders in the Jaguars and Dolphins. Tough games remain, including matchups against the Eagles, Bills and Bengals, so they still don't have much wiggle room.

Stock up after the win: CB Trent McDuffie. His strip vs.Tyreek Hill late in the first half resulted in what was eventually the winning TD when Bryan Cook ran the fumble back for a touchdown.

Stock down after the win: DT Chris Jones. His roughing penalty after the Chiefs appeared to have stopped Miami on a key third down led to a Dolphins TD. He also didn't have a pressure, though he was double-teamed frequently. -- Adam Teicher

Next game: vs. Eagles (Monday, Nov. 20, 8:15 p.m. ET)


How much stock should go into the Dolphins' performance against teams with winning records? In their third game against a team with a winning record this season, the Dolphins suffered their third loss. Their offense looked jet-lagged (despite being in Germany since Tuesday) and took far too long to get going. It might've been Miami's best defensive performance of the season, which was critical as it attempted to mount a 21-point comeback. The end result proved the Dolphins can compete against good teams; losing to the Bills, Eagles and Chiefs is far from embarrassing. Miami still has games ahead against the Bills, Ravens and Cowboys to turn the narrative around.

Stock up after the loss: The Dolphins' front seven pressured Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes 11 times and had a strip-sack, forcing a turnover for the third straight game.

Stock down after the loss:The offensive line. This is mostly from a health standpoint; already playing without starting right guard Rob Hunt, fill-in Robert Jones went down with a knee injury late in the fourth quarter and was carted to the locker room. -- Marcel Louis-Jacques

Next game: vs. Raiders (Sunday, Nov. 19, 1 p.m. ET)


Pittsburgh 20, Tennessee 16


Is winning this way sustainable? The Steelers have gotten comfortable playing in uncomfortable moments. For the fourth time this season, the Steelers eked out a win despite trailing after three quarters, this time thanks to a game-saving interception by inside linebacker Kwon Alexander. The offense was also outgained 340-326, making them the only team in the NFL that still hasn't outgained an opponent this season. And according to the Elias Sports Bureau and ESPN Stats & Info, the Steelers are the 34th team in NFL history to be outgained in their first eight games, and they're the only one out of that group to have a winning record in that stretch. Of those 33 other teams, only one ended the season with a winning record: the 2022 Steelers. This time around, the Steelers are 5-3 and second in the AFC North with wins against the Browns and the Ravens. They're not winning pretty -- or easily -- but they are winning.

Stock up after the win: Wide receiver Diontae Johnson. After 22 regular-season games, Johnson finally found the end zone again, and he picked a great time to make his return with the fourth-quarter go-ahead touchdown. Days after several drops and slips in the Steelers' loss to Jacksonville, Johnson finished with seven catches, 90 yards and the score.

Stock down after the win: Wide receiver George Pickens. Not only did the Steelers receiver not get his second foot down on what would've been the go-ahead touchdown, but he also finished with just two catches for minus-1 yards on five targets. -- Brooke Pryor

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


How can the Titans' offensive line continue to hold up despite injuries? Center Aaron Brewer was the only Titans offensive lineman to play all 68 snaps. The lineup was shuffled due to injuries to Nicholas Petit-Frere, Daniel Brunskill, Andre Dillardand Peter Skoronski; right tackle Chris Hubbard was already out this week due to a concussion. Rookie tackle Jaelyn Duncan got his first NFL snaps and center Corey Levin had to play left guard. The extended time off after a Thursday game will be much needed.

Stock up after the loss: Defensive back Kristian Fulton. His play has quietly been solid over the past three games, with five tackles (one for a loss), one pass defended and sticky coverage throughout.

Stock down after the loss: Andre Dillard. He got a second chance to start at left tackle and allowed two sacks along with multiple quarterback hits. -- Turron Davenport

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

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