The 32 things we learned from Week 10 of the 2021 NFL season:
1. What was the coolest Sunday story? How about QB Cam Newton’s return to action with the Carolina Panthers, for whom he played his first nine seasons – including an MVP campaign in 2015. Boomer Esiason was the only player who won league MVP with a team (the Cincinnati Bengals). He would return to that team later on in his career. Newton signed a second contract last week, and made an instant impact running and throwing for the touchdown in his initial two touches. Newton, who didn’t start and played sparingly, finished with 14 yards rushing and 8 passing as Carolina demolished the undermanned Arizona Cardinals, who entered the weekend with the NFL’s best record at 8-1, 34-10. The Panthers could be in the playoffs if Newton is able to quickly absorb the playbook of Joe Brady, their offensive coordinator.
OPINION:Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers are able to make things right after an unfortunate split
1a. Carolina, (5-5) finished Sunday with the third wild card spot in the NFC. It is just a half game behind New Orleans Saints (6th place)… but the Panthers still have a chance to catch up with the Atlanta Falcons or the Minnesota Vikings (both 6th).
2. The coldest Sunday story? Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers (COVID-19) and Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson (broken finger) both returned to action … and collectively looked pretty rusty in a snoozer of a game, the Pack dealing another blow to Seattle’s season with a 17-0 victory. Despite neither QB throwing a TD, the team combined for three interceptions.
2a. It snowed in Lambeau Field, at least.
3.This was Wilson’s first shutout in 166 career starts.
3a. Since 2009, the home team won 10 of the series’ last 10 matches, with the Pack finishing 6-4.
4. A setback by Arizona meant that Green Bay (8-2) took the NFC top spot.
5. Been a lot of nicknames thrown around for New York Jets backup QB Mike White – “White Mike,” “Jersey Mike,” “White Lightning” and “Magic Mike” among them. After his performance of four interceptions in a 45-17 defeat to the Buffalo Bills, let’s also add “Off White”. We can expect Jets rookie Zach Wilson to return under center shortly.
6. Despite losing RB Derrick Henry, the Tennessee Titans (8-2) have a league-best six-game winning streak and a 1½-game lead over the Bills and Baltimore Ravens for the AFC’s No. No. 1 seed in the playoffs.
7. Who had RB D’Onta Foreman out-touching all Titans players Sunday with 13? How about his size (6-1-236)? He’s only a couple of pancakes short Henry (36-3-247).
8. Both games were lost by the Saints without Jameis Winston at QB. However, Adam Trautman’s false start in Nashville when they tried to score a game-tying 2-pointer with only 76 seconds remaining proved costly for Sunday.
9. The New England Patriots have won four in a row – only the Titans are hotter – have worked their way up to sixth place in the AFC and are just a half-game behind Buffalo in the AFC East.
10. The 2021 Patriots really are starting to resemble the 2001 Patriots, a team devoid of stars and expectations and led by an inexperienced quarterback – Tom Brady in that case – but one that quietly played solidly in all phases of the game before shocking the world by winning Super Bowl 36. Mac Jones and Co. certainly aren’t a front-runner to win Super Bowl 56 – though no one is – but don’t count out this team or its rookie, who threw for three TDs in an NFL game for the first time in Sunday’s 45-7 rout of the Cleveland Browns.
11. Jones was the first New England rookie ever to have a string of TD passes, since Drew Bledsoe’s 1993. Brady, a second-year player at the time he reached prominence in 2001, was still a rookie.
12. Pats WR Jakobi Meyers finally found the end zone for the first time in his three-year career on his 135th reception. He had 134 catches that were not scored, which was the highest number of catches in a career.
13. It didn’t take long for the Los Angeles Rams’ signing of WR Odell Beckham Jr. to shift from luxury to serendipity after incumbent No. Robert Woods, 2WR tore his ACL during practice on Friday. OBJ will be making his LA debut against the San Francisco 49ers on Monday. He could play a major role due to Woods’ injury.
14.Is Dallas Cowboys really the NFL’s best team? It is hard to say, given the pace of this season. But after trouncing the Falcons 43-3 – Dallas’ largest blowout in 21 years – they have as good a case as anyone, especially when you consider Atlanta began the weekend in the NFC’s projected playoff bracket.
15.Dan Quinn, Cowboys head coach and defensive coordinator of another team was the Cowboys’ first defeat. Dallas’ defense proved to be ready for Atlanta. It held Atlanta down to 214 yards with 11 first downs as well 4 yards per game. The Cowboys also forced three turnovers.
16. Dak Prescott was more like his own Dallas quarterback. Weeks after injuring his calf, he settled in to complete 24 of 31 throws for 296 yards and a pair of TDs. Newton and Daunte Cupper were his only teammates with at least 25 touchdown passes, and more than 125 rushing touchdowns during their six-season debut.
17. The teams on bye: Chicago Bears, Cincinnati Bengals, New York Giants and Houston Texans. Were you both aware or concerned?
18. You think Beckham could have been used by the Browns on Sunday, after they went 1-for-11 in third against New England? No, not likely.
COVID-19: Rodgers was back but the pandemic hasn’t stopped. Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was positive for HIV on Saturday. This will surely impact Pittsburgh’s ability beat the Detroit Lions in such a short time. Cleveland RB Nick Chubb, Cowboys K Greg Zuerlein and Broncos OC Pat Shurmur were also among the sidelined. But the scariest story to emerge from the week involved Vikings G Dakota Dozier, who was hospitalized while struggling to breathe, according to multiple reports. Dozier has been fully vaccinated.
20. Following their 2021 bye, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers went 0-1. They were 8-0, including a wild-card win at FedExField, after the bye in 2020 on their way to winning Super Bowl 55.
21. We should’ve listened to the Bucs’ Brady, who admitted on ESPN’s Monday night Manningcast last month that, “I always considered myself a cold-weather quarterback but … I mean, screw that. He said that he would never have to go through the same thing again, referring to his time in New England. “I’m already checking the forecast in Washington in November. So it tells you how much I’ve softened up in my time here in Florida.” Brady threw a pair INTs in quarter one for the first-time since 2012. However, the 47 degree weather wasn’t bone chilling.
22. Mark Ingram II took the injured RB Alvin Kamara out of action on Sunday and surpassed Deuce McCallister as Saints’ leading rusher. Ingram has 6,124 yards on the ground in a New Orleans uniform.
23. Carlos Dunlap: How about some respect for Air Jordans?
24. The league won’t have its first 0-17 team in 2021 – though it could still feature a winless one – after the Lions (0-8-1) and Steelers stumbled their way to a 16-16 tie in what appeared like your proverbial “no one wants to win this game” contest amid 15 penalties, three Pittsburgh turnovers, 24 combined failures to convert on third down, and Detroit K Ryan Santoso missing a PAT and a 48-yard field-goal try in overtime.
25. The Steelers (5-3-1), at least, might give us an NFL team with a.500 rating in its first regular season (17 games)… however unpalatable that may be for Mike Tomlin and co.
26. Pittsburgh OLB T.J. Watt picked up his 62nd career sack in his 70th regular-season appearance, one more than brother J.J. and Hall of Famer Derrick Thomas recorded in their first 70 games. The legendary Reggie White, with 79 sacks, got off to an even faster start in 70 games.
27. With draftmate Ja’Marr Chase of the Bengals off, Eagles WR DeVonta Smith – he turned 23 Sunday – claimed a chunk of the rookie spotlight with his first two-TD game in Philadelphia’s defeat of the Denver Broncos.
28. USA TODAY Sports NFL Experts handicapped QB Lamar Jackson to be the league’s MVP in the second half. The first red zone INT in Jackson’s 55-game career was thrown by the Ravens in their loss against the Miami Dolphins.
29. Washington coach Ron Rivera was the winner of best game management. He had his team kneel out of their two-point conversion formation, after they went up 29-19 with 29 second remaining.
30. The worst game management mistake of the weekend went to Denver coach Vic Fangio. He chose to go for it on fourth down in the third quarter, rather than kick the field goal that would have cut Philadelphia’s lead by four. The Eagles CB Darius Slay, Eagles, returned Melvin Gordon’s fumble for an touchdown. This effectively ended the Broncos’ chances of winning this game.
31. RIP, Sam Huff. At 87 years old, the Hall of Famer passed away Saturday. His legacy includes a revolutionizing role for middle linebackers in the NFL. He also helped popularize the league – at a time when baseball, boxing and horse racing largely ruled the American sports landscape – while being spotlighted (and mic’d up when it wasn’t a common technique) in the “The Violent World of Sam Huff,” a documentary feature hosted by Walter Cronkite on CBS. Huff was a member of the NFL All-Decade team in 1950s. He played 13 years with the Giants and Washington and won an NFL title (1956). In the same year, the Giants lost in overtime to the Baltimore Colts. This contest is widely credited as launching the popularity of professional football.
32. Even though Veterans Day was Thursday, it’s never too late to thank the servicemembers in your life … or their families. Nice job by DE J.J. Watt, OLB Chandler Jones and the Cardinals, who never forget – especially when it comes to honoring former safety and fallen Ranger Pat Tillman.
Follow USA TODAY’s Nate Davis via Twitter @ByNateDavis.