NFL Stat Oddity: Week 16

Nothing says fraudulent NFC like Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady getting bailed out on Christmas to get to 7-8 and still very much alive for the playoffs. Rodgers was playing an AFC team (Miami), but the fact that Green Bay got help from four NFC teams it needed to lose Saturday (Seahawks-Giants-Commanders-Lions) says all you need to know about this NFC race.

It should just come down to 49ers at Eagles in the NFC Championship Game, but something tells me we are in store for a rude awakening next month. These teams cannot be trusted.

The top three in the AFC (Bills, Chiefs, Bengals) didn’t exactly light it up Saturday, but at least they all won on a day where the league played more games in freezing temperatures than any day since the 1990s. There were nine comeback opportunities in total, and four teams came back from double digits to win, bringing the season total to 46 (new NFL record).

We have just 11 teams with a winning record going into Week 17. Last season, the first 17-game season, finished with 18 teams boasting a winning record, including 10 in the AFC alone.

Embrace the mediocrity?

This season in Stat Oddity:

Eagles at Cowboys: NFC Game of the Year Actually Delivers

Ever since the Eagles beat the Cowboys with Cooper Rush in Week 6 to improve to 6-0, this rematch scheduled for Christmas Eve was circled as potentially the Game of the Year in the NFC. Since last year’s best NFC teams (Rams, Packers, Buccaneers) were falling apart early, and since the 49ers do not play the Eagles in this regular season, it basically was the default choice for Game of the Year. Screw Philly beating up on the Vikings on a Monday night in Week 2. That was expected.

But this game lost so much luster with Dallas blowing big leads in Green Bay and Jacksonville. Then Jalen Hurts was injured last week and out for this game, putting backup Gardner Minshew in his place. It just didn’t have those big hooks anymore like realistically being a game for control of the division and No. 1 seed, not to mention the MVP implications for Hurts.

However, I probably didn’t give this game enough credit on Saturday even when watching most of it. This is the first NFL game since 2020 Bills vs. Seahawks where both teams scored at least 34 points and both quarterbacks passed for over 340 yards.

Minshew held his own on the road, the Eagles twice led by 10 points after Dak Prescott had another pick-six early, and we got many glimpses as to why this team has been the No. 1 seed all year.

But just like in the Washington loss, the Eagles turned the ball over four times, mostly on fixable/fluky plays, and that is what doomed them the most in this loss.

The Eagles had three turnovers while starting 8-0. They have 14 turnovers in the seven games since. Regression happens a lot to freakishly-low turnover offenses, but the Eagles are giving it up more than you’d like to see in the last two months.

In this game, Minshew shouldn’t be getting the blame despite accounting for three of the turnovers on the stat sheet. But both interceptions were the result of Quez Watkins getting outmuscled for the ball on throws that weren’t bad. Minshew also was handing off to a running back who fumbled, but that gets charged to the quarterback for being the last to possess the ball.

The turnover that really hurt the most was Miles Sanders’ late fumble on the first play of the drive after the Cowboys took a 37-34 lead with 2:19 left. That put the Eagles down 40-34, and left Minshew with 101 seconds to get a game-winning touchdown.

But before we get to that last drive, let’s back up to the moment where the Eagles really blew it on defense. After taking a 34-27 lead and sacking Prescott on consecutive plays, the Eagles just had to defend a third-and-30 to get the ball back halfway through the fourth quarter.

Prescott threw deep and T.Y. Hilton was there for a 52-yard gain. Based on the air yards, it was the longest completion of Dak’s career according to Next Gen Stats.

According to Stathead, this is only the third pass play on third-and-30 or longer since 1994 to convert a first down. It’s the only one to happen in the fourth quarter of a one-score game.

The Eagles just made so many mistakes in the fourth quarter after taking the lead for the last time. The Cowboys weren’t exactly clean either. Prescott ran out of bounds with 2:01 left on a first-down run after Minshew’s last interception, buying the Eagles a timeout. Dak also took a bad sack on the next snap.

I really wasn’t a fan of kicking the field goal to go up six with 1:41 left, but I guess you figure you can do that when Minshew is the quarterback instead of Hurts. But Minshew was already working on a 300-yard game, and those skill players are really nice for the Eagles. Tough call.

But after Minshew found DeVonta Smith on the last drive for 19 yards, I thought he should have used his last timeout immediately with about 40 seconds left. That was more than enough time at the 19 in the red zone to get the job done from there. But Minshew spiked the ball with 33 seconds left.

After a couple shot plays that did not work, it was already fourth-and-ballgame. That’s why I hate the spike because you need that extra down more than you need the time, and if you’re just going to chuck shots at the end zone for the touchdown, what value did saving that timeout do? The Eagles never ended up using their third timeout.

On fourth-and-10, the pressure got there and Minshew forced a pass into the end zone that was nowhere close to being caught. The Cowboys pulled it out 40-34.

It would be nice to see a rematch of this in the playoffs, and even nicer to see both Hurts and Dak at quarterback. They’ve only met once so far despite the chance for six such matchups already. The last three Dallas-Philly games Dak played in have been super high scoring, so we’ll have to see if that trend continues should they meet again.

But the outcome of this one really did not change my mind on either team. I still think the Eagles are the better team of the two, but it comes down to protecting the ball better. If either team can limit the turnovers, they can beat anyone this year.

Buccaneers at Cardinals: Brady’s Rope-a-Dope Strikes Again

If Eagles-Cowboys was the NFC’s Game of the Year, then Bucs-Cardinals was its Sham Game of the Holiday Season.

Only Tom Brady can play like ass for 50 minutes against the team that came into the week having allowed the most points in the NFL, with a third-string quarterback (Trace McSorley) making his first start, and still get the praise for a 19-16 overtime win.

This was the third part in a 2022 trilogy of Brady’s rope-a-dope strategy where he plays terrible football against bad teams like the Rams, Saints, and Cardinals, only to suddenly start moving the ball at the end while those teams do all they can to help aid the win.

I’d say this was the most inevitable yet, but still not the most egregious after what the Saints did. Go figure, the NFC South one was the worst one.

For 49 minutes, Brady did not have a completion longer than 12 yards. He threw two more bad picks, so the days of this offense avoiding turnovers are well over. But for as bad as it was, the Cardinals only led 16-6. This was still doable with McSorley’s inaccuracy and inexperience on the other side. Not to mention Kliff Kingsbury’s incompetency.

Sure enough, on the very first play of the comeback, Brady threw a pass Hellen Keller could have made to Leonard Fournette six yards behind the line of scrimmage, and Fournette took off for 50 YAC for a gain of 44 yards. Just instantly changed the game with one little flip to the back in the flat, and that continued to be the popular play on the drive, concluding with a touchdown to Rachaad White.

Now up 16-13, the Cardinals were doing a decent job of working clock before inexplicably calling a timeout and taking James Conner out of the game on a big third-and-1 at midfield. You just called timeout, why are you not going with your best player in the game? The Cardinals tried to pitch the ball to a rookie running back, who fumbled the handoff and the Bucs recovered at their 45 with 4:49 left. Like I said, inevitable.

Surprisingly, this was only the second time in Brady’s career where an opponent fumbled in the final 5:00 while leading by 1-to-3 points. The other time was also Arizona in 2012, but that still ended up being an Arizona win after the only loss in Brady’s career where a kicker screwed him on a clutch kick.

The defense held the Bucs to a tying field goal after getting Brady to finally throw a pass over 6 yards on the drive, but much of the damage was done. In going from 16-6 to a tied game, Brady completed 10 passes with a total of 0 air yards (relative to the line of scrimmage) and 93 YAC. Not a single throw was completed more than 6 yards past the LOS.

The teams exchanged three-and-outs after a shocking decision to run on third down by the Bucs. McSorley finished regulation with a Hail Mary interception. He also was 1-of-10 for 4 yards when targeting DeAndre Hopkins.

It wasn’t a game that deserved overtime, but we got it. McSorley got one third-and-long conversion by a matter of inches, but he of course wasn’t going to get a second. With the ball at his own 12, Brady did finally throw a trio of legit passes to his wideouts, but the Cardinals were not getting home with the pressure like they were earlier in the game. Ryan Succop eventually came on for the 40-yard field goal for the 19-16 win.

In the end, another double-digit Brady comeback without any impressive throws. Another mind-blowing turnover by the opponent helped. The annoying part is when people say, “if it was so easy to score like that, why don’t other quarterbacks do it?”

But the real question should be if it’s that easy for Brady to score like this in the hurry-up offense with the extreme dink and dunking, why doesn’t he do it all game long? Would he ever lose games if he did that?

That’s why rope-a-dope is aptly named for Brady’s strategy, because he thrives on wearing the defense out and taking advantage of their fatigue and stupidity in the fourth quarter. When you have to rush the passer 35 or 40 times in three quarters, it is easy to get worn out by the fourth quarter.

John Elway was also a master of this, and he often used the Mile High altitude to his advantage in the fourth quarter when defenses were tired. Then he would create a lot of big plays and scrambling and finding receivers behind the defensive backs.

But I at least can give Elway credit for creating some of those big plays and a great highlight reel. With Brady, you can go through many of his comebacks and not find a single completion thrown over 15 yards down the field. It’s just paper cut after paper cut, because he knows defenses lose the thread in these moments and play prevent, hoping to eliminate the big play. But he’ll take the same route five snaps in a row if you’re not going to bother covering it. Maybe that’s part of his greatness, but I just see it as taking advantage of incompetence.

It’s also not something this Tampa Bay team can really pull off against an elite team this year. They have to do it against one of the worst in the league, and ideally someone starting a third-choice quarterback. They’ll get another one of those next week with Sam Darnold and Carolina, though that team did already beat them 21-3 with P.J. Walker outplaying Brady.

But it’s just felt inevitable all year long that Brady would win the NFC South because it’s terrible, then draw a Dallas team in the wild card round that they’ll be capable of beating since Dak Prescott had his worst game of the season against them in Week 1 (19-3 loss). If this team gets past the first round, who knows what that confidence can lead to.

Of course, if you just score more than 16 points on the Buccaneers in 2022, you are 7-0 against them. More than ever, Brady is limited in the ways he can win games. But if you leave him enough rope, he’ll find a way to get you to hang yourself.

After two decades, you would think every coaching staff in the league would have a good read on what Brady’s going to do in these situations. But they’d still rather worry about him magically getting good at throwing it 20 yards downfield to Mike Evans when he knows he can get that yardage with a couple plays to the running back in the flat and the slot receivers on 5-yard arrow and out routes.

It is disheartening that highly-paid coaching staffs are still falling victim to this stuff. Make him move off the spot, make him throw the ball past the sticks, and take your chances with that. I guarantee it will work better than what the Cardinals did in the latest Brady rope-a-dope.

Packers at Dolphins: Tua Tanks

If the Dolphins (8-7) miss the playoffs after a fourth-straight loss, they are going to look back at this Christmas game against Green Bay in horror:

  • Since 1991, teams who averaged at least 7.4 yards per play and allowed a maximum of two third-down conversions were 59-0.
  • Make that 59-1 now.
  • The Dolphins lost 26-20 despite averaging 8.4 yards per play and holding Green Bay to 2-of-14 on third down.
  • Miami itself was only 2-of-7 on third down while the Packers were 3-of-5 on fourth down even if they failed on an ill-advised fake punt.

Despite hitting big plays early, the Dolphins failed to score a single point in the second half for the third time this season. It also was a historical waste of a game where Miami averaged 8.4 yards per play with Tua Tagovailoa averaging 10.9 yards per pass play.

Of the 187 teams since 1966 to average at least 8.25 yards per play in a game, the Dolphins (20) are the only team to score fewer than 21 points.

After Miami gave Raheem Mostert two carries for 31 yards to start the game, Miami inexplicably gave him six carries for 14 yards the rest of the game.

Miami led the game 20-10 in the first half, but the Packers came back to tie in the third quarter after Aaron Rodgers threw a great pass to veteran tight end Marcedes Lewis for an unexpected 31-yard gain. That set up a tying touchdown run, then the Dolphins missed a 48-yard field goal.

Rodgers threw an interception on a very hot-and-cold day for him, but the Packers immediately returned the favor on defense by intercepting Tua. The Packers ultimately moved the ball 4 yards after that, but it was in great field position for a 28-yard field goal and 23-20 lead.

Tua was intercepted again with 6:02 left despite being in field goal range. The Packers added a field goal after going with the old strategy of running the ball on third down and kicking a field goal to take a fool’s gold 6-point lead with just over 2:00 left.

In the modern NFL, you really have to consider going for the knockout punch or being content with it staying a 3-point game and relying on the conservative nature of coaches to kick a game-tying field goal and go to overtime.

But just two plays into the next drive, Tua threw his third pick of the quarter to end the game. Quarterbacks who threw for over 300 yards on no more than 25 pass attempts are now 110-7-4.

The Packers (7-8) live to fight another day after getting the road win, getting help from four wild card teams losing on Saturday, and their last two games are at home against their dome whipping boys (Vikings and Lions). The playoffs are suddenly realistic again for Green Bay, and it just took the worst quarter of Tua’s career to do it.

Giants at Vikings: Crown the Close Game Kings

If there was a team capable of beating the 2022 Vikings in a close game, it would be the Giants. They were 7-0 at upholding a one-score lead in the fourth quarter this year, and they had five game-winning drives during a 6-1 start. The Giants are also known for upsetting some historic streaks in their franchise’s history as well as spoiling some fine Minnesota seasons.

But the Giants fell victim to Minnesota’s close game magic too. Kirk Cousins ended up leading three scoring drives in the fourth quarter this week. The touchdown pass to T.J. Hockenson to start the quarter secured the team’s eighth fourth-quarter comeback win, tying the single-season record by the 2016 Lions, who did it in 13 games.

Later in the quarter, the Vikings blocked a punt by the Giants, and they turned that short field into another touchdown to Justin Jefferson. But instead of going for two to take a 25-16 lead and all but end the game at 3:00 left, the Vikings kicked the extra point to make it 24-16. I hated that call, because you keep it a one-possession game by doing that.

I’ll never understand how anyone could think the two-point conversion is a real saving grace there. If you’re going to allow a 75-yard touchdown drive with the game on the line, what makes me think you’ll stop them on the two-point conversion too? Give me the strategy that makes it more likely they’ll need an onside kick recovery, which succeed at abysmal rates.

But I guess winning 25-16 wouldn’t be dramatic enough for these Vikings. Sure enough, the Giants drove 75 yards on them with Saquon Barkley’s 27-yard touchdown run coming at 2:01. They tied the game with the two-point conversion pass at well.

It just meant more time for Cousins to find Jefferson for more yards. He came up with two big catches for 33 yards, but the Vikings were very cavalier in using clock and could only set up Greg Joseph for a 61-yard field goal.

I like to call these Vikings the worst 12-3 team ever, one of the luckiest teams ever, but there was nothing lucky about this kick. Joseph nailed it down the middle with a few yards to spare too. Great kick for a 27-24 win.

Cousins now ties 2016 Stafford for the most game-winning drives (8) in a regular season too. If you include playoffs, the only other seasons to get to eight game-winning drives are Jake Delhomme (2003 Panthers) and Eli Manning (2011 Giants). Those two were Super Bowl teams.

Time to update the stats I posted in last week’s feature about these Vikings and their comebacks:

Going back to last year’s divisional round, Kevin O’Connell as the Rams coordinator and Vikings head coach has done this:

  • 14-0 in close games
  • 11-0 at game-winning drive opportunities
  • 10 fourth-quarter comebacks (five when trailing by 10+ points)
  • First team in NFL history to win three straight playoff games by 3 points
  • The most improbable fumble return TD since Joe Pisarcik and the Miracle at the Meadowlands
  • Largest comeback in NFL history (33 points)
  • Tied records for most fourth-quarter comebacks (eight) and game-winning drives (eight) in a single season

I still have every reason to doubt this team will go all the way doing this in the postseason. But if it means we’re going to get some exciting, memorable playoff games, and we can laugh at that season where Kirk Cousins led 10 or 11 game-winning drives, then I’m all for this continuing through February in Minnesota.

Seahawks at Chiefs: Whole Lotta Nothing Going On

Sure, it was cold in Kansas City, but this was one of the least eventful games in the Patrick Mahomes era. Mahomes was flirting with his lowest passing yardage total in a game he wasn’t injured in his career (that number is 166), but two quick connections to Travis Kelce over the middle led to 72 yards, allowing Mahomes to finish with 224 yards.

He finished the drive with a third-down scramble for a 3-yard touchdown, showing good athleticism to reach for the pylon. The Chiefs led 24-3 before Seattle converted a pair of fourth downs and finally reached the end zone with 2:25 left for the 24-10 final.

Just not much going on here as the Seahawks were 2-of-14 on third down and definitely missing Tyler Lockett at wide receiver. But the Chiefs will take a low-drama win, and if the Bengals can beat the Bills next week, they have a good shot at the No. 1 seed.

Bengals at Patriots: Joe Burrow vs. Bill Belichick Is a Jedi Knight Battle

Oh, how Bill Belichick wishes he had a quarterback like Joe Burrow instead of what he’s stuck with. At halftime, Burrow was 28-of-36 for 284 yards, three touchdowns, and one ill-advised interception in the red zone in an otherwise perfect half the Bengals led 22-0.

Meanwhile, Mac Jones was 5-of-8 for 34 yards as if they were playing different sports. But that second half was a big turnaround with the Patriots scoring a touchdown on defense for the third week in a row after scoring on a Burrow pick-six. Nick Folk missed the extra point in a game with several missed extra points.

Evan McPherson also missed a 43-yard field goal in the fourth quarter with the Bengals still up 22-12, so we had a real Jedi duel going on here with Belichick trying to will his team into a comeback.

Luck still seemed to be on Belichick’s side when Jones converted a third-and-29 by throwing a Hail Mary that was tipped volleyball style at the goal line to Jakobi Meyers for a 48-yard touchdown. But another missed extra point kept it at 22-18.

Ja’Marr Chase fumbled for the Bengals on a third-down catch, and the Patriots were 43 yards way from a 22-point comeback. But after getting to a first-and-goal at the 5, the Patriots coughed up the ball on a Rhamondre Stevenson fumble with 59 seconds left. The Bengals just ran it three times to make the Patriots use their timeouts, then punted. The Patriots had to go 76 yards in 41 seconds, and that went about as poorly as you’d expect. On a positive note, no lateral fumbled for a touchdown this week.

This is the third time since 2020 that the Patriots have lost a fumble in the red zone in the final five minutes of a game they were trailing by 1-to-8 points. It never happened from 2001 to 2019 when you know who was the quarterback.

Cam Newton fumbled in the red zone against the 2020 Bills while trailing 24-21 in the final 40 seconds. Running back Damien Harris fumbled in the red zone in a 17-16 game against Miami, in what was Mac Jones’ first NFL start, with 3:35 left. Now this play by Stevenson.

What more can you say about losing the LOAT? Meanwhile, Burrow is the first quarterback in NFL history to win a game wire-to-wire in regulation while completing 40 passes. He is only the third quarterback in NFL history to complete 40 passes in a game where his opponent scored fewer than 20 points, joining Rich Gannon (30-17 vs. 2002 Steelers) and Patrick Mahomes (20-17 vs. 2022 Titans).

Commanders at 49ers: Another Purdy Good Win

Not to sound like a hater, but I am a little bored with Brock Purdy and the 49ers after three starts and three wire-to-wire wins by 8-plus points. Deebo Samuel gets hurt and they just activate George Kittle’s Beast Mode (120 yards and two touchdowns), or Ray-Ray McCloud runs for a 71-yard touchdown. The defense still hasn’t allowed a 60-yard runner this year after Brian Robinson (22 carries for 58 yards) got close.

With the Raiders and Cardinals left on the schedule, I guess clamoring to see Purdy in different situations before the playoffs just isn’t that likely with this team. We’ll have to wait for the playoffs to see what happens if he has to lead a game-winning drive against those crazy Vikings or throw it 40-plus times in a shootout with the Eagles or AFC team.

One thing I’m sure of is that Ron Rivera should not go back to Carson Wentz for these last two games after Taylor Heinicke had a couple turnovers against the top defense. Wentz came in down 16 points and made a few decent plays to get a touchdown, but he took a sack on the two-point conversion attempt.

One thing I really liked was San Francisco going for a fourth-and-3 up 30-20 instead of kicking a field goal to go up 33-20. Screw the 13-point lead. Go for 17 and the death punch, or just run out the clock with the first down. The 49ers got Christian McCaffrey a touchdown on a quiet day for him to end it at 37-20.

The 49ers continue to roll with eight straight wins.

Raiders at Steelers: This One’s for Franco

I am still in shock that Franco Harris passed away just three days before the team was retiring his number and celebrating the 50th anniversary of The Immaculate Reception. If there was a retired player from the 70s that I would say was most synonymous with the Steelers and someone you can see proudly repping the team to this day, I would pick Franco. He was just that kind of humble guy and fan at heart. He put the Steelers on the map with his big playoff moment and the city will never forget him.

So, you knew it was going to be an emotional night on Christmas Eve and one of the coldest games in decades in Pittsburgh. I thought maybe running the ball frequently with Najee Harris would be the best way to limit any mistakes from rookie Kenny Pickett, who was coming off a concussion.

But what do I know when it comes to the Pittsburgh coaching staff? They went with a 42-24 split of Pickett plays to handoffs, and Chris Boswell had his struggles on two missed field goals in a low-scoring game.

The defense was fine outside of an abysmal tackling effort on a third-and-16 that led to an opening-drive touchdown, but it would be the Raiders’ only touchdown of the game. Pickett started the second half with an interception in Vegas territory, but the defense returned the favor immediately by intercepting Carr.

It was that kind of second half. The Steelers had five drives and could only muster one field goal in a 10-6 game as the defense pitched a second-half shutout. Remember, the Raiders forget games are 60 minutes long this year.

With 2:55 left, it was now or never for Pickett from his own 24. The drive was all Harris (as a receiver) and Pat Freiermuth until Pickett converted a fourth-and-1 with a QB sneak. One play later, Pickett ripped a 14-yard throw to George Pickens for the go-ahead touchdown with 46 seconds left. Nice throw, but I’m not sure what the safety was trying to do on the play.

Carr then tossed his third pick of the half on a great diving catch by Cam Sutton. The Steelers had a player come off the bench to celebrate, leading to a 15-yard penalty that could have been costly with the Raiders having all three timeouts. You couldn’t just take three knees to end it. But I’ll give the Steelers (Matt Canada?) credit for an ingenuous call on second down to hand off to backup tight end Connor Heyward (Cam’s brother) for a 21-yard gain to ice it.

The Steelers won 13-10 on Franco’s night. The Immaculate Reception was a 13-7 Pittsburgh win. Pittsburgh (7-8) is still alive for the playoffs.

The Raiders have blown a league-high five fourth-quarter leads this season. Just win until you lose, baby.

Bills at Bears: Beating Chicago at Its Own Game

The final says 35-13 but this was a 21-13 game in the fourth quarter with Chicago having possession. But for the league-high ninth time this year, the Bears were unable to come back from a one-score deficit. They couldn’t even get a first down on their last four drives in the fourth quarter with Justin Fields at quarterback.

On a cold afternoon, the Bills beat the Bears at their own game, winning the rushing battle 254-80. It was the best job any defense did against Chicago’s rushing attack, which saw the return of Khalil Herbert, since Fields started taking off as a runner against Washington.

The Bills held Fields to 11 yards on 7 runs. They stopped him cold for 1 yard on a third-and-13 scramble on that fourth-quarter drive when it was still 21-13. From there, Buffalo’s running backs helped set up Josh Allen for a 4-yard touchdown run of his own to take a 28-13 lead with 3:45 left. The Bills later added a “F You” TD on fourth down to Dawson Knox on a fourth down with 1:02 left.

The versatility of the Bills is appreciated. James Cook was one yard shy of giving them two 100-yard runners in the game to compensate for Allen only passing for 172 yards and a few bad interceptions.

Fields passed for 119 yards (44 on one play that led to no points after coming up short on a fourth-and-3 pass). With Davis Mills leading his first comeback in Tennessee, Fields now has the worst 4QC record (1-11) and the worst 4QC/GWD record (2-11) among active quarterbacks.

Texans at Titans: The AFC South Has No Bottom

My upset pick this week was Houston over Tennessee. I just didn’t like the way the Titans have been playing, and the Ryan Tannehill injury was the last straw. You don’t just repeat the Week 8 strategy of barely throwing with rookie Malik Willis and expecting Derrick Henry to rush for over 200 yards again.

Sure, the fact that he did it four times in a row against Houston is absurd, but after an early 48-yard touchdown run, the Texans clamped down and held Henry to 126 to end the day – good given their past standards. They also forced another big Henry fumble, something he has been doing lately, to start the fourth quarter with the Titans driving into scoring territory with a 14-10 lead.

That was a big one and the Texans turned it into a field goal. They got the ball back, and Davis Mills, the quarterback who was 0-8 at 4QC opportunities, was able to put tougher a 73-yard touchdown drive to take a 19-14 lead with 2:52 left. Nice of Brandin Cooks to make his mark on the season with a 6-yard touchdown.

Missing the two-point conversion could have been bad, but the Titans are one of the worst configured offenses to drive 75 yards in under three minutes, especially without Tannehill.

Into Houston territory, Willis was intercepted. The Texans kind of botched the ensuing drive, so the Titans got it back quickly with 1:10 left and another chance. But this time it had to be a 96-yard drive. A face mask penalty at midfield gave the Titans a shot at a Hail Mary. Willis was intercepted, but what more can you do on that situation?

With the Cowboys and Jaguars left, the Titans are in serious danger of going from 7-3 to 7-10 and missing the playoffs. For now, the 1994 Eagles are the only team to start 7-3 and finish 7-9. That got head coach Rich Kotite fired after four years with the team. We could see Mike Vrabel fall on the sword next in Tennessee after it already fired GM Jon Robinson in early December.

Lions at Panthers: Running Back to Norms

Every once in a while, I put out a narrative that the football gods steal for use that weekend:

While Jared Goff only finished with one official turnover, it was Carolina’s running game that stole the show with D’Onta Foreman (165) and Chuba Hubbard (125) combining for 290 of the team’s 320 rushing yards. They had 240 rushing yards at halftime.

This was just a massacre on the ground for a team that had 21 rushing yards against the Steelers last week. Crazy league. But I just felt like the season-long trend said the Lions are a liability on defense, and we know the Panthers want to run this type of offense under Steve Wilks. They traded Christian McCaffrey and instantly became a better rushing team. Imagine that.

But the Lions were just dominated in the trenches, trailing 31-7 early in the third quarter. They couldn’t get any closer than 17 points while having the ball in the fourth quarter.

Detroit is now No. 9 in the NFC, and the playoffs are not looking optimistic anymore. The Panthers can win the NFC South by winning their last two games. That would be a crazy story, but just as I expected the other shoe to drop on a Detroit run, I think Carolina will suffer the same fate in Tampa Bay next week.

But a sweep there would be glorious.

Saints at Browns: Dome Team Beats Predator in Deep Freeze

With the gamebook showing a minus-16 wind chill, this game in Cleveland looked like the coldest of all the games this weekend. The total settling at 32 points made it the lowest betting total in an NFL game since 2009.

But these offenses were actually better in the frigid conditions than some of the slop games we have seen in recent years. While neither team hit 250 yards of offense, that had more to do with a lack of passing. It wasn’t a punt and turnover fest and each team only had 10 legit possessions. Their third-down numbers were even solid with the Saints at 7-of-15 (46.7%) and Browns at 7-of-16 (43.8%).

An interception by each quarterback setting up a short-field touchdown drive threatened to hit the over with ease. But all the scoring stopped after the Saints, who were down 10-0 as the dome team, warmed up and made it 17-10 in the third quarter.

With 5:16 left, Deshaun Watson tried to mount an 80-yard touchdown drive to tie the game. With a couple big catches by Amari Cooper, it got to the New Orleans 15. But from there, Watson’s passes were incomplete, and on fourth down, the pressure got to him for the game-ending sack.

The weather did not help in this one, but for those keeping track at home, that is now three offensive touchdown drives in four games for the Watson-led offense. Jacoby Brissett led three touchdown drives in his last start against the Buccaneers, an overtime win.

Falcons at Ravens: Tyler Huntley Is the 4th AFC Pro Bowl Alternate?

You may have missed that the Falcons and Ravens played a 17-9 snoozer. Desmond Ridder was able to throw for 218 yards in his second start, but the Falcons never found the end zone after Drake London fumbled another completion like last week, and the Falcons had some of the worst spacing you’ll ever see in short-yardage runs in the red zone.

They also were strategically inconsistent by going for a fourth-and-1 at the 1 with 6:49 left in a 17-6 game, then later settling for a field goal with 2:03 left. That second one was handled so poorly that the Falcons went from running a play with 2:58 left to giving the Ravens the ball back with 1:57 left, burning the two-minute warning stoppage on the kickoff.

But in the end, none of it mattered. Two runs and the Ravens had another first down to end the game. The Ravens (10-5) have clinched a playoff spot thanks to the Patriots losing, but they still are looking like a team who will be the No. 5 seed and have to play the AFC South winner (likely Jacksonville). Can they win that game if Lamar Jackson returns? Sure, but I just don’t see the scoring ability with this roster to keep up with the likes of the Bills, Chiefs, and Bengals in the postseason.

Broncos at Rams: Nathaniel Hackett Swansong?

After two Russell Wilson interceptions set up the Rams for two touchdown drives that covered a total of 45 yards, this one was basically over at 17-0 just over 10 minutes in.

The Rams ended up winning 51-14, which is a hilarious point total for a team that has scored 51 points in its five lowest-scoring games of the season combined. The Broncos also had one of the best defenses this season, yet they watched Baker Mayfield go 24-of-28 for 230 yards and two touchdowns. Even Cam Akers rushed for 118 yards and three touchdowns.

After such an embarrassing performance on Christmas, do the Broncos fire Nathaniel Hackett on Monday and just go with an interim coach for the last two games? If anyone has demonstrated they can’t hack it at this job after one season, it is this guy.

Next Week

  • Cowboys-Titans to mercifully close out TNF?
  • Every game leading up to MNF involves a losing team.
  • So, believe me when I say Week 17 is all about Bills-Bengals on MNF, the sequel to the AFC’s Game of the Year. It’s the first Allen-Burrow matchup in the NFL. Should be a great one.

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 15

When your weekend starts with the biggest comeback in NFL history, you know things are going to be wilder than usual. The NFL’s Week 15 can lay claim to being the wildest week of the 2022 season with a record 33-point comeback, two more 17-point comebacks, three overtime games won on touchdowns, two non-offensive game-winning touchdowns, a snowy fourth quarter classic in Buffalo, and we still have to see what Baker Mayfield can do in Green Bay on Monday night.

After a lack of drama and lead changes in Week 14, the week I called the worst of the year, every single game but one was within one score at some point in the fourth quarter. It took the greatest kicker of all time having a 50-yard field goal blocked in his face to not have it happen in 100% of the games this week.

That does not mean we had 15 games with a comeback opportunity. We had 11 for the first time since Week 5 now that the bye weeks are over. But what a week it was with plenty to recap.

This season in Stat Oddity:

Colts at Vikings: The Biggest Comeback/Collapse in NFL History

For a special recap of this historic game, check out my feature, The 2022 Vikings Are Young, Dumb, and Full of Comebacks

Giants at Commanders: Fumbles and Bad Refs

We finally had a winner in Giants-Commanders this year despite how close this was to going to overtime with the score 20-20 again. But Taylor Heinicke and Washington had a brutal night at the ends of each field. The Giants got back on track with a win thanks to the familiar formula of pressure defense and grinding out the fourth quarter.

The Commanders could have taken control early like they did two weeks ago when these teams met, but a third-down sack of Heinicke knocked them out of field goal range on the opening drive, then rookie Kayvon Thibodeaux had perhaps his play of the season with a strip-sack returned for a touchdown in the second quarter.

Washington trailed 17-9 to start the fourth quarter but struggled to hold onto the ball and put it in the end zone. Antonio Gibson narrowly avoided another lost fumble on a drive that ended with a 51-yard field goal two plays later to make it 17-12. Just like two weeks ago, the Giants couldn’t put things away on offense despite driving into Washington territory.

But after Heinicke hit a deep ball to Jahan Dotson for 61 yards, that drive would also stall after he was strip-sacked for the second time on third-and-goal with 6:06 left. The Giants added another 50-yard field goal to make it 20-12, but we were in almost the exact same situation as two weeks ago with Heinicke having the ball with a chance to tie. The clock was less favorable, and they would need a two this time, but it was very close to the same thing.

The Giants also looked like they were going to blow it again on a night that showed the Commanders have a really nice trio of wide receivers in Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel, and rookie Dotson. But do you know who apparently are not fans of this receiving trio? The refs. After a Heinicke scramble set up third-and-goal from the 1, Brian Robinson’s touchdown plunge was nullified by an illegal formation penalty on McLaurin.

This is the kind of thing you could struggle to notice at the snap, and according to former official Terry McAuley via NBC broadcast, this was a weak call that did not need to be made. McLaurin says the ref told him he was lined up fine, so make of that what you will.

But the big stink came on fourth-and-6. Heinicke threw a pass out of desperation to Samuel in the end zone, and corner Darnay Holmes was there early, interfered with Samuel, but no flag was thrown for defensive pass interference. Game over, Giants win.

Now in that video, Holmes is perfectly fine at the beginning. Samuel even uses his right hand to push Holmes away at the 7-second mark. But after that push creates some separation, you can see Holmes panic and start to ride Samuel’s back at 9-10 seconds. By 12 seconds, he decides to grab onto the receiver’s chest with both hands and leap on his back again to help knock the ball away.

What more do you need for DPI? Oh yeah, I guess it would help if Samuel was Mike Evans and Heinicke was Tom Brady, because we know that is getting flagged 100% of the time if they were involved. It would also have gone the way of Davante Adams no matter if Aaron Rodgers or Derek Carr threw him the ball, and the same is true for Mahomes and Kelce, or any other star players you want to throw into the mix.

Officials call the game differently at the very end of the game even though a foul is a foul is a foul. Call it preferential treatment or giving the benefit of the doubt, but some players tend to get calls others wouldn’t from refs too. That’s just an unfortunate part of the game.

What can be done to change that? I’m not sure. I just know it is a very bad look for the league when NBC’s rules expert (McAuley), a former official himself, can quickly look at these plays and call the illegal formation unnecessary and the missed DPI blatant.

I am not saying we need a game where every play in the final 2:00 is highly scrutinized and reviewed for every possible little penalty. But maybe some kind of “eye in the sky” in New York with all the best angles and replays can quickly be the third-party ruler in these cases and come up with the best calls for game-deciding plays like this one.

But they know we’re still going to watch the next game no matter how bad the last call (or no call) was.

Patriots at Raiders: Belichick Is Going to Bury Jakobi Meyers with Joe Pesci in the Desert

Bill Belichick is now 11-12 against his former New England assistants, including an 0-2 record against Josh McDaniels. But in none of those games did his team ever look as stupid and undisciplined as they did in Vegas.

Forget that play. We’ll get to that. Before the final minute, you had the Patriots completely botch a goal-to-go sequence, blow a coverage on a second-and-20 resulting in a Darren Waller touchdown, have a punt blocked, and Mac Jones struggled to throw for 100 yards.

But the nice thing was they were playing the 2022 Raiders. Despite leading 17-3, you know this team forgets there are two halves to each game. Once again, the Raiders blew a two-touchdown lead after some big plays by the Patriots quickly put together a go-ahead touchdown drive with 3:43 left. New England went from trailing 17-3 to leading 24-17.

Derek Carr adopted the Brady approach of “suck fast and hope for DPI” after throwing three incomplete passes, the last being a deep ball on third down that almost connected with Mack Hollins. But since the drive was so bad and only consumed 27 seconds (punt included), Carr was going to get another shot, because you knew the Patriots would be conservative with Jones and the lead.

In fact, Carr had 2:11 left to tie it. The game could have been over with a four-and-out, but the New England defense lost Hollins on the sideline for a 12-yard gain to keep the game alive. On a play that should quiet the Raiders fans who think the refs are always out to get them, the Raiders were ruled to have scored a touchdown when Keelan Cole hauled one in the back of the end zone from 30 yards out with 32 seconds left.

There was a video of what looked like his one foot may have been on the white and out of bounds. But this was one of those plays where it stood just because you had to stay with the call on the field, which was a touchdown. Had they ruled it incomplete on the field, it likely would have stayed incomplete and brought up third down.

Tough one for Patriots fans, but they have a long way to go to make up for all the crap that went their way the last two decades. The game was only tied and likely headed for overtime, except the Patriots did one of the dumbest things in NFL history:

We have seen fumbles returned for touchdowns on the final play of the game before. It happened when Washington upset the Eagles this year. It happened to the Raiders in overtime in Arizona when Hunter Renfrow coughed up the ball.

But those were different situations. You don’t see a team try to lateral in a tied game with overtime in their back pocket, because that would be stupid for the exact reason we saw. I just said the other day that Chandler Jones was having the worst season of his career, but hey, at least he has a highlight play for the rest of his life to enjoy.

I don’t actually mind the initial lateral from Rhamondre Stevenson. It was risky and it wasn’t planned that way, but he made a decent play. But if you are Meyers, who says he knew it was tied and not meant to be a lateral, then how in the world do you make that lateral that far back into the field of play because you thought Mac Jones was open?

Him?

If he can’t throw a Hail Mary from his 45, he wasn’t going to do anything here. Just an incredibly bad decision by Meyers and maybe even a worse throw as that ball was right to Chandler Jones and nowhere close to Mac Jones. If Kendrick Bourne or Nelson Agholor made the play Meyers did, they probably get cut Monday.

With games coming up against the Bengals, Dolphins, and Bills, the Patriots (7-7) are likely toast for the playoffs. When you look at the roster, it makes sense. But you never expect the Patriots to do something so incredibly stupid like they did on Sunday.

That’s what you expect the Raiders to do.

Dolphins at Bills: Buffalo Powder Is Different Than Miami Powder

Unlike Sunday night, this was just a great, dramatic game between two quality division rivals in Buffalo on Saturday night. I could watch these teams play a best-of-seven if things are going to be as good and interesting as the first two games this year.

I had been waiting since Week 3 to see this rematch, because I thought the Bills shot themselves in the foot that game and blew it way more than Miami found a way to win it. I was ultimately wrong about the Bills blowing them out here in the cold, but it was a great game with neither team able to lead by more than one possession.

The much-hyped snow did not arrive until the fourth quarter, but when it did, that made every snap an adventure down the stretch. But the game was filled with intrigue as a better version of Tua Tagovailoa showed up than the last two weeks. But the biggest surprise was Raheem Mostert (136 yards) giving the Dolphins a dominant run attack they haven’t had this year.

That’s what made the fourth quarter so questionable when the Dolphins took to the air on six of their final seven plays after the snow started. How do you not feed Mostert on a third-and-1? Instead, Tua threw a quick pass that lost 2 yards and the Dolphins settled for a 47-yard field goal.

Allen made up for his strip-sack on the previous drive with an excellent 44-yard run and a great touchdown throw to Dawson Knox for a 5-yard score. Allen dove for the end zone on the game-tying two-point conversion, and despite NFL Network cutting to a commercial break long enough for analyst Mark Sanchez to scarf down two hot dogs, the play was good and not a fumble as it appeared.

Miami’s pass-happy drive in a tied game with the snow coming down just did not make sense to me. The Bills had the ball back with 5:56 left in a 29-29 game. Allen led a drive as good as any in his career with pinpoint accuracy and sharp decision making. When any little slip or bad bounce of the ball in the increasingly slick conditions could end the game, this was impressive stuff in a very important game. I would say he’s put himself back in the MVP race if the losses to the Jets and Vikings weren’t so damaging.

Devin Singletary pulled up short of a go-ahead touchdown with 34 seconds left, which was probably the smartest thing to do in that spot. The field was cleaned off by Buffalo players well enough to give kicker Tyler Bass a very fair shot at a 25-yard field goal. He nailed it and the Bills won 32-29 and should be the AFC East champs when it’s all said and done.

I still think Miami is a playoff team this year, but with its second three-game losing streak of the year, you can see how the inexperience with success is hurting Mike McDaniel and Tua.

After zero game-winning drives in the 2021 season, the Bills are already up to four engineered by Allen this year (at Ravens, at Chiefs, at Lions, and vs. Dolphins). When you take away someone like Von Miller, on top of a loss like safety Micah Hyde, it is going to be more of a grind for this team. There is no easy path to the Super Bowl in this AFC.

More and more, the AFC is looking like a three-team race that will be a repeat of last year: two coin-flip games between the trio of Buffalo, Kansas City, and Cincinnati. Fortunately, we get to see the Bills and Bengals in prime time in Week 17, the first matchup between Allen and Joe Burrow in their NFL careers.

Eagles at Bears: Just Some Hiccups

How did Jalen Hurts fare in his first game as the odds-on MVP favorite this year? He probably played his worst game of the season with two early picks, but he still finished with 376 total yards (315 passing) and scored three rushing touchdowns in a 25-20 win.

The Bears did their usual thing: plenty of rushing yards, some good highlights from Justin Fields, but not good on third down, not enough passing, and no fourth-quarter comeback despite the Eagles letting them hang around in a 17-13 game after a doinked field goal attempt.

A.J. Brown got open for a 68-yard catch that set up Hurts’ third touchdown to basically wrap it up at 25-13 with 4:20 left. The Eagles had some blown coverage on a 35-yard touchdown to Byron Pringle with 2:42 left, but Philadelphia was able to convert one more third down to Brown to move the chains and end the game with a 25-20 win to move to 13-1.

A better team could have made the Eagles pay in that first half, but Fields had some really bad plays on third-and-1 early, and too many sacks (six for 61 yards) on the day.

The Eagles will not go into their big game with Dallas next week at their sharpest like the last three weeks, but after the way Dallas has played against Houston and Jacksonville, does it matter? Even a Dallas win is unlikely to cost the Eagles the No. 1 seed. Still, I am surprised to see the Cowboys are a 1.5-point home favorite next Saturday.

Cowboys at Jaguars: The Return of McCarthyism

If Houston was supposed to be the wake-up call for this Dallas team to get its shit together before the showdown with the Eagles, then the message was initially received. Then in the third quarter, (Mike) McCarthyism crept in and this team fell apart, blowing a 27-10 lead and losing 40-34 in overtime.

I do not know if the Jaguars are legitimately turning it around after a 2-6 start, or if they’re just the lucky beneficiaries of playing two of the worst teams ever to hold leads (Raiders and Ravens), a Tennessee team during its worst losing streak in years, and now this Dallas team that should have lost to Houston a week ago.

I do know turnovers have played a crucial part in Jacksonville’s recent wins against Baltimore, Tennessee, and now Dallas. A Dak Prescott interception late in the third quarter set the Jaguars up 39 yards away from another touchdown to quickly make this very interesting after it was 27-10 not even three minutes before that.

Like last week against Houston, Prescott would atone for his mistake with a 75-yard touchdown drive, finding Noah Brown for another 13-yard score to take a 34-31 lead. The great Dallas defense we keep hearing about? It mostly did its job the rest of the way. Trevor Lawrence put a nasty spin move on the defense, but he got a bit greedy on the play and fumbled in Dallas territory with 1:28 left.

It wasn’t a dagger with the Jaguars having all three timeouts left, but the Cowboys botched this drive. Two runs for net 0 yards by each back, then Dak tried to throw a deep one to Brown that fell incomplete. The Cowboys burned 27 seconds and even saved the Jaguars a timeout, which they desperately needed.

With CeeDee Lamb catching all seven targets on the day – he had five of the offense’s seven longest gains – I think you have to be aggressive and work an early-down pass in there, maybe off play-action. If the end result is just going to be giving them the ball back anyway with time to do something, then I am giving my best players a chance to end things on offense.

Lawrence had 1:01 to get a field goal and he needed just about every second of it. Zay Jones was the big target on the day with three touchdowns, and his 19-yard catch to the Dallas 30 was a game saver. The game is over there if the Jaguars didn’t have that last timeout. Silly Cowboys.

The Jaguars were good from 48 yards out on the field goal to send it to overtime. The Dallas defense again did a great job to force a three-and-out. But after a few Tony Pollard runs, Dak’s first dropback in overtime was a disaster with a tipped ball going to Rayshawn Jenkins for a 52-yard game-winning pick-six.

You just can’t trust these teams this year. It would be such a McCarthy thing to restore false hope and beat the Eagles next week. But guess what? The Eagles are unlikely to be caught for the No. 1 seed, let alone the division at this point.

We would really be looking at the NFC’s Game of the Year next week in Dallas if this team didn’t blow a 14-point fourth-quarter lead in Green Bay and a 17-point third-quarter lead in Jacksonville.

13-1 at 12-2 on Christmas Eve? Hell yeah, that would have been a spectacle. But if you’re talking about the NFC Game of the Year this season, the answer has never been more obvious what that should be.

It’s the 49ers at Eagles in the NFC Championship Game. It sure isn’t a game involving this Dallas team.

Bengals at Buccaneers: Joe Burrow Pulls the Remaining Horseshoe Out of Tom Brady’s Ass

If I told you a team in this game blew a 17-0 lead by doing a stupid fake punt, turning the ball over four times in a row, which set up three touchdowns inside the opponent’s 40-yard line, then wasted a huge fourth-down sack with a tacky 5-yard penalty, you’d bet everything you owned on the team who blew it being Cincinnati, right?

Well, this was some role reversal. This game went from nauseating (blame Tony Romo’s hard-on for Tom Brady) to hilarious in record time. The Bengals trailed 17-0 late in the first half and got into the locker room with 83 yards, the worst first half for any Joe Burrow start in his career. Meanwhile, the Buccaneers actually looked like a competent, balanced team like they were in 2020-21.

But before I could even start joking that Brady at age 45 plays tighter defense on Burrow’s receivers than Mahomes or Allen could ever dream of, this one took a sharp turn in the third quarter. The Buccaneers tried a fake punt from their own 26, and the direct snap to Gio Bernard seemed to catch him by surprise, and the play failed. The Bengals only got a field goal out of it, but better than nothing.

Then Brady threw a pick as he tried to make one of those very low throws to a diving receiver, but he got the defender instead. Still, his defense looked like it was going to force a four-and-out after Burrow took a 23-yard sack on fourth-and-3, or one of the worst plays you’ll ever see a quarterback make. However, he was bailed out by a defensive holding penalty on Lavonte David.

If Kevin O’Connell stole part of Brady’s lucky horseshoe back in January with the Rams, then Burrow must have snuck in there at halftime to extract the other piece lodged up Brady’s ass. This turnaround was absurd.

The Bengals turned that first turnover into a touchdown. Three plays later, Brady was strip-sacked and the Bengals were 13 yards away from the lead, which they took quickly at 20-17.

How about three in a row? Brady was just trying to hand off on a running play, and I’ve never seen the ball just pop right out of a quarterback’s hand when he was about to do so. The ball never got to the back and that goes down as another turnover for Brady.

The Bengals turned that into a touchdown too on a drive from 39 yards out with Ja’Marr Chase getting in on the action. Burrow even got away with a dropped interception or two this half. Everything was clicking for our young LOAT.

But Brady could come back, right? Cue the DPI throw to Mike Evans, and this was still a ballgame at 27-17. But nope. Under pressure, Brady’s pass fluttered from the contact and the Bengals came up with a diving interception and great defensive effort for the fourth straight turnover. That one only led to a quick three-and-out, but it changed field position, and Tampa responded with a three-and-out back. Perhaps a curious decision to punt on fourth-and-1 from your own 11 with 9:26 left after the game this team was having.

This time, Burrow put together a more legitimate drive on a longer field (62 yards) and he put away the Bucs with his fourth touchdown pass to a fourth different receiver. He even drew the Bucs offsides on a fourth down during the drive.

Brady added a 75-yard touchdown drive in garbage time to get the Bucs to 23 points for just the second time in 2022, but the Bengals recovered the onside kick to end it at 34-23.

I should be enjoying this Tampa Bay season a lot more than I am, and I know I would had the Rams and Saints not blown those two games against them. This team should be 4-10 right now, last place in the worst division. But ever since Week 1, I felt it was inevitable they were going to win the division and get rewarded with a home playoff game. Even as they continue to lose, I still think the odds of them beating Dallas in the wild card round in Tampa are incredibly high.

But this was still stunning because they went from looking the most competent they have all season to just a pure disaster all around.

Are the Bucs the first team in NFL history to give up at least a 34-0 scoring run in back-to-back weeks? They were down 35-0 to the 49ers last week. The quick answer is no. The 1961 Raiders were shut out 55-0 and 44-0 to start their season 0-2 if you can believe that. The 1978 Colts also did really bad with 38-0 and 42-0 losses to begin their season.

But for Brady, eight days ago he had only experienced a team scoring more than 31 straight points on him once (2020 Saints led 38-0 and won 38-3). Now it’s happened the last two games.

I just hope this doesn’t somehow end up as the Super Bowl matchup, because there is no way the Bengals are repeating this.

Chiefs at Texans: Just Needed the Rosencopter

The comparison of Peyton Manning to Patrick Mahomes wouldn’t be complete without a hard-fought win in Houston against the Texans when you least expect it. But the Chiefs are now 4-9-1 ATS, second-worst record in the league, after failing to cover a 14.5-point spread that was, frankly, ridiculous for a road team. Not to mention what happened with these teams a week ago.

This would have been a brutal loss for the Chiefs as they had nearly 300 more yards (502-219) than the Texans. But once again it was the turnovers that kept it close, and it was a turnover that made sure the Chiefs would still win.

This week it was not one but two obligatory fumbles by the Chiefs, including one from Isiah Pacheco and one from JuJu Smith-Schuster. JuJu’s led to the Texans taking a 21-16 lead into the fourth quarter.

But Patrick Mahomes used his legs again on a 5-yard scramble for a touchdown run. He completed the two-point conversion pass and the Chiefs led 24-21. But like I said in Week 11 after the Chargers game, we got to see what is becoming the signature Mahomes comeback. He leads them from behind with a go-ahead touchdown, the defense gives it up, then he still gets the win with a touchdown anyway.

But this one had no business going to overtime like that. After the Texans used a long drive to kick a game-tying field goal, Mahomes had the Chiefs right back in scoring range thanks to a 14-yard scramble on another third down. But instead of trying to get a little closer for a kicker who had missed another extra point, Andy Reid seemed content with staying conservative and settling for a long field goal. A designed run by Mahomes for 2 yards and a RB screen that lost a yard prove that.

Butker has been solid from long range, but from 51 yards out with 12 seconds left, he was wide right and the Chiefs were going to overtime. The Chiefs won another coin toss, but Mahomes made one of his few mistakes in the game by taking a sack on third down that knocked the offense out of field goal range.

But Davis Mills immediately returned the favor on a scramble when Frank Clark knocked the ball out and the Chiefs recovered. All that was missing was Mills spinning through the air a la the Rosencopter.

Unable to trust Butker, the Chiefs couldn’t just take a knee from the 26. With Pacheco fumbling earlier, the Chiefs turned to Jerick McKinnon, who has been money for them as of late. He immediately ripped off a 26-yard touchdown run against a run defense I crap on every single week in previews, prop picks, and recaps. That was the right call for sure, and while Mahomes gets a cheap game-winning TD drive, he should have had the game won on a field goal in regulation. Mahomes had the highest QBR (92.3) in Week 15.

Still, it turns out to be the fifth time that Mahomes has led a fourth-quarter comeback win with two go-ahead touchdown drives. That’s already more than the total Aaron Rodgers (two), Peyton Manning (one), and Tom Brady (one) have in their careers combined.

Mahomes finished 36-of-41 passing, setting an NFL record for highest completion percentage (87.8%) in a game with at least 40 pass attempts. He hit his last 20 passes, starting with a great touchdown grab by Marquez Valdes-Scantling to end the first half. He also had the two-point conversion pass in there, so it’s arguably 21 in a row.

Mahomes didn’t hit anything deep in this game as the Chiefs dinked and dunked and picked the Texans apart in the 0-15 yard range. They used short passes as an extension of the run game against the worst run defense, so it was a smart plan. Mahomes’ success rate was 30/49 (61.2%), which is very high for a game. If they can ever figure out how to hang onto the ball better, they wouldn’t need overtime and late-game heroics to beat teams like this.

Titans at Chargers: Herbert Gets Help

Justin Herbert is back to .500 (23-23) in his career after getting more help than usual in a 17-14 win over the Titans. Sure, he still had to throw for over 300 yards, including an absolute dime for 35 yards to Mike Williams on the game-winning drive, but he got some decent contributions from his running game and defense in this one.

Herbert was able to win his first game when throwing multiple interceptions. He was previously 0-6 when that happened. Hell, before Sunday, Herbert was 6-20 when throwing an interception.

The Titans had a team record four straight games without a takeaway before playing some volleyball in the end zone before halftime to end that streak with a Herbert pick. Incredible play. It was that kind of stuff that kept this a 7-7 game for so long. It didn’t help that Ryan Tannehill and Austin Ekeler were knocked out early, but both returned to finish the game. Ekeler showed his strength on a touchdown run and finished with 12 carries for 58 yards. That may not sound like much, but when you can get Herbert 22 carries for 82 yards from the running back position, that’s better than a lot of Chargers games.

After Ekeler’s touchdown gave the Chargers a 14-7 lead in the fourth quarter, both offenses struggled. Eventually, the Titans got the ball back with 2:57 left. Derrick Henry was able to get over 100 yards rushing, and the Titans needed it with Tannehill looking limited on his ankle injury. The drive was starting to flounder before back-to-back throws by Tannehill picked up 45 yards. The Chargers were wise to use timeouts after each red-zone snap, because Mike Vrabel is definitely a coach who will wind the clock down and go for two to win after the touchdown.

Tannehill snuck in the touchdown himself with 48 seconds left. The extra point was the right decision. Overtime and a possible tie would still be advantageous to the Titans in their division race with Jacksonville.

But even without a timeout and 44 seconds left at his own 23, Herbert is good enough to get the job done. He picked up 22 yards in 12 seconds with receivers getting out of bounds, hit the great throw to Williams for 35, then got the spike down. A delay of game penalty wasn’t great, but it wouldn’t be a Chargers game without some drama.

Dicker the Kicker was true from 43 yards with 4 seconds left. The Titans were stopped on the kick return to end the game at 17-4. Tennessee (7-7) has lost four in a row while the Chargers (8-6) are up to the No. 6 seed thanks to the head-to-head win over Miami last week and the losses by the Patriots and Jets.

We are getting closer to Herbert in the postseason after he’s led five game-winning drives in consecutive seasons. Herbert’s 13 game-winning drives are tied with Matt Ryan for the third most in a quarterback’s first three seasons. Only Russell Wilson (15) and Dak Prescott (15) had more.

Lions at Jets: Greg Not Enough Leg Helps Detroit Continue Playoff Push

Bit of an unexpected passing duel outdoors in December between Jared Goff (252 yards) and Zach Wilson (317 yards on 18 completions) with only one turnover in the game.

But most of the game was about defense. You figure the Lions would be at a disadvantage with the No. 31 defense in points and No. 32 in yards while the Jets have been one of the best, but it took one play to swing things. After the Jets took a 17-13 lead, the Lions faced a fourth-and-1 at midfield at the two-minute warning. The Lions rolled the dice with a pass, and backup tight end Brock Wright leaked out uncovered and caught an easy one that he was able to turn into a 51-yard touchdown. It was Detroit’s only 20-yard offensive play in the game.

Only needing a field goal, Wilson took some annoying sacks, but he also did a good job with some miraculous throws and catches by rookie Garrett Wilson. An even greater fourth-and-18 conversion went for 20 yards to Elijah Moore, and the Jets were able to use their final timeout with a second left after that play.

Overtime or a Detroit win would come down to the leg of Greg Zuerlein on a 58-yard field goal. The kick wasn’t even close, and the Lions escaped with the 20-17 win. Both teams are .500 now with 7-7 records. Huge win for Detroit with a more than doable remaining schedule of Panthers, Bears, and Packers.

Ravens at Browns: Not Baltimore’s Day

Hard to believe this was the only game in Week 15 where one team led by 10+ points for the entire 15 minutes of the fourth quarter. It was a lousy kicking day with both kickers missing twice, though Justin Tucker being one of those kickers is the shocking part. He had a 50-yard field goal blocked in the first minute of the fourth quarter to keep it a 13-3 game.

Beyond the uncharacteristic, awful kicking day, the Ravens just didn’t seem to recognize the situation. Cleveland’s offense sucks with Deshaun Watson, who has managed two touchdown drives in three games, and you were playing this game without Lamar Jackson again. Take easy points when they come, so that means not going for it on fourth-and-1 at the Cleveland 7 on your long opening drive by giving the ball to the fullback Patrick Ricard, who was stuffed.

There went three points. Tucker missed a 48-yard field goal before halftime despite making from 53 earlier, so that’s six points. To start the third quarter, Huntley forced an awful pass on third down in the red zone that would have been short of the sticks even if it was caught, and that was intercepted. There’s nine points. The Tucker blocked field goal could have been 12. DeMarcus Robinson also lost a fumble near midfield on a completion in the third quarter.

Just a poor game all around by the passing game and kicking unit. Defense and run game (nearly 200 yards again) were just fine.

It’s the first of Huntley’s eight major appearances that wasn’t decided by 1-to-3 points. The Ravens (9-5) are now in second place in the AFC North and things may very well stay that way the rest of the season.

Falcons at Saints: Bad Start to the Ridder Era

Atlanta rookie quarterback Desmond Ridder made his first start, getting a quick taste of the Saints rivalry. It did not go well. Ridder finished 13-of-26 for 97 yards, took four sacks, and ran six times for 38 yards. The Falcons gave him nearly 200 yards of rushing support to help keep the game close, but he definitely showed some inaccuracy and a lack of experience as you would expect from a third-round rookie in his first start.

Ridder joins a weird list of five other quarterbacks to throw for fewer than 100 yards on more than 25 pass attempts in their first NFL start since 1950:

  • Don Meredith (1960 Cowboys; turned out to be a good player for Dallas)
  • Will Cureton (1975 Browns; only game in his career)
  • Heath Shuler (1994 Redskins; first-round bust for Washington)
  • Jonathan Quinn (1998 Jaguars; forgettable career backup who was a third-round pick in 1998)
  • Doug Pederson (1999 Eagles; much better career as head coach)

We’ll see where Ridder ends up. Rookie wide receiver Drake London had 70 of Ridder’s 97 passing yards, but he also had the big blunder of the game that prevented Ridder from becoming a legend in his first start against the hated Saints. Down 21-18, Ridder looked to convert a fourth-and-5 to London at midfield, but he was stripped of the ball and the Saints recovered with 2:06 left.

The Saints kind of botched the clock situation from there, so Ridder got the ball back with 9 seconds left. After a short completion, he took off for an 18-yard run and dipped out of bounds even though the clock had already expired.

Take note, New England. That’s the moment where you are supposed to throw a lateral back into the field of play.

Ridder will learn. Maybe.


Steelers at Panthers: Pittsburgh Sweeps NFC South

I should have known better with that shit division. The Steelers completed their 4-0 sweep of the NFC South with a 24-16 win in Carolina that wasn’t even that close. The Steelers converted 12-of-16 third downs, used the first 11:43 of the third quarter to go on a 21-play, 91-yard touchdown drive, and completely shut down Carolina’s running game (16 carries for 21 yards).

Earlier this week, I researched what happens the next game after Mike Tomlin’s run defense gives up 180 yards like it did last week against Baltimore, and they still usually allow an average of 107 yards the next game. There’s rarely a huge improvement. But this was a complete shutdown of D’Onta Foreman and Chuba Hubbard.

The Steelers would be right in that 8-6 or 9-5 wild card mix if they played this complete of a game a few more times this year against those weaker opponents like the Jets, Patriots, Browns, and even the Dolphins.

Surprisingly, the AFC is only 34-34 vs. NFC this season. However, the NFC South is 3-15 against AFC teams. Of course.

Cardinals at Broncos: Playing Out the String

Week 15 is a little early for a game to be irrelevant, but this matchup had it in spades with the 4-9 Cardinals against the 3-10 Broncos with backup quarterbacks for both sides. Even Colt McCoy didn’t finish the game for the Cardinals due to a concussion. Backup Trace McSorley had to replace him, and McSorley was intercepted in the fourth quarter while trailing 17-9, giving safety Justin Simmons a pick off each Arizona quarterback.

That led to a 5-yard touchdown drive, which all but put the game away at 24-9 in case you were wondering how Denver managed 24 points. Keep in mind the Cardinals entered the week allowing the most points in the league this season, so giving up 24 to Brett Rypien and the Broncos is on brand.

Both teams are 4-10 now and their recaps will only get shorter from here on out. Happy holidays.

Next Week

  • Jags-Jets is the NFL’s classic “if you want to get some late Christmas shopping done Thursday night, go for it” matchup. But this year it’s better than usual with both teams in the playoff hunt and must-win mode.
  • Saturday’s early slate is a bit meh when NYG-MIN is the highlight, but we’ll see how the Vikings follow that 33-point comeback.
  • The Game of the Year in the NFC is probably going to be a 49ers-Eagles NFC Championship Game that we deserve, but I guess Eagles at Cowboys in the 4:25 slot will have to suffice for the regular season. Dallas’ loss in Jacksonville takes some more luster off this one.
  • Watching Derek Carr against the Steelers or a Christmas movie at night? Tough call.
  • Boy, the NFL got hosed on Christmas day. Hard to blame them for thinking GB-MIA, DEN-LAR, and TB-ARI would be hits, but they ended up scheduling five of the most disappointing teams in the league this year.
  • Chargers-Colts should be up for some shenanigans on Monday night.

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 5

Sunday in the NFL lasted just over 15 hours from the first snap in London to the last snap in Kansas City after a weather delay. If that wasn’t the longest day of action in NFL history, then I don’t know what else could be.

It was a day of ugly field goal kicking, yet the Vikings somehow pulled off a 54-yard game-winning kick. Of course, Detroit helped by making its incredible 10-point comeback (helped by an Alexander Mattison fumble) a 1-point lead by going for two with 37 seconds left. That was too much time with the Vikings having two timeouts. I know Kirk Cousins kind of sucks at comebacks and his kickers are not reliable, but that was a bad decision to go for two there. Play for overtime after holding down the Vikings from scoring much all day. Instead, the Vikings got a drive together because they had to and won the game on a 54-yard field goal that Greg Joseph actually made despite being an employee of the Vikings. At least it gave us this moment:

It was a day of close games as we had 10 comeback opportunities in Week 5, outdoing the previous high of any week this season (eight). Let’s quickly hit on three of them since I need to wrap this up after getting a late start.

49ers at Cardinals: Trey Lance made his starting debut, but he couldn’t keep the rocket launcher under wraps when the 49ers just needed a simple scoring drive in a 17-10 loss to the now 5-0 Cardinals, who apparently are not going to score 31-plus every week this season. Kyle Shanahan loses another close game? Jimmy Garoppolo and George Kittle out with injuries again? Who could have imagined?

Patriots at Texans: The Patriots came through with a comeback win over the Houston Texans after Davis Mills had maybe the most absurd stat line yet for a rookie against a Bill Belichick-coached defense. Mills just had an early contender for worst game of the decade against Buffalo last week, but now he has the ninth game on record where a QB lost with a passer rating of at least 140.0 (min. 25 passes). I guess the Patriots can still win games where their quarterback was not the best one on the field.

Bears at Raiders: Finally, Jon Gruden’s Raiders had their “but his emails” loss at home to the Bears. Maybe it was too much of a distraction, and maybe he just showed his true colors. All I know is once you blow some smoke up his ass, this is the kind of performance you can count on in the next game. The last two sentences are about Derek Carr, by the way.

But the only game that came close to pulling off instant classic status came in the late afternoon slate instead of the prime-time matchup between the Bills and Chiefs. Browns-Chargers was the Shawn Michaels vs. Razor Ramon Ladder Match in WrestleMania X of Week 5 in the NFL, but I have to start with the perception-changing game that played out in Kansas City.

This season in Stat Oddity:

Bills at Chiefs: About That Dynasty…

About the last thing I want to do is write an obituary for the 2021 Chiefs after Week 5 and after a ridiculously tough schedule where the Browns, Ravens, Chargers, and now Bills all gave them their best shot. But there is no denying that the Chiefs failed three of those tests from their key AFC challengers and barely escaped the Browns in Arrowhead in Week 1. The offense has too many turnovers and the defense is going for historic levels of suck. The 2021 Chiefs are the fourth team in NFL history to allow more than 28 points in each of the first five games, joining the 1954 Cardinals, 2012 Titans, and 2013 Giants. It’s like watching the 2000 Rams, the forgotten little defense-less brother to the 1999 and 2001 Super Bowl teams in St. Louis.

But through four weeks, the defense could be excused to a point as the offense was scoring a touchdown on 50% of its drives and converting on third down at a record rate. If not for a fumble in Baltimore, this team could easily be 3-1.

But that took a hit Sunday night as the Bills came in to avenge their two losses from 2020 and wiped the floor with the Chiefs, 38-20, despite a long weather delay at halftime. Getting blown out at home is just another layer of invincibility ripped away from the Chiefs in the Patrick Mahomes era. While the stakes were not as high, the 18-point loss looked worse than the team’s 31-9 loss in Super Bowl 55 to Tampa Bay. At least on that night the reshuffled offensive line was a built-in excuse for the poor pass protection. The Chiefs just couldn’t come down with any of Mahomes’ miracle passes and the defense was stumped by simple play-action throws.

This was more of a beatdown. Mahomes played the first truly awful game of his NFL career, missing often on throws regardless of pressure or an open receiver. He completed 33-of-54 passes for 272 yards and had three turnovers, including a pick-six, a red-zone pick after another tipped ball, and a fumbled snap in the rain to end things. The bounces? They’re no longer going Kansas City’s way and that was predictable.

But this was not another blown lead in the fourth quarter like Baltimore and Los Angeles. The Chiefs led 10-7 early in the second quarter and never led again. The best they could do was make it 31-20 in the fourth quarter. But after Josh Allen seemingly threw an interception from his own end zone, the Chiefs were flagged for roughing the passer. It was a weak call, but it was also in a series of calls on both teams that made me question what roughing the passer and pass interference are in this league anymore. The refs had a bad night, but they didn’t decide this game.

That roughing call stands out the most just because it killed any chance for an exciting finish. Allen was still at his own 23 after that call. The Chiefs could have stopped the Bills, but instead they watched them march 77 more yards for a game-clinching touchdown to go up 38-20.

Maybe that Buffalo defense is for real as this was not a matter of beating up on a wounded offense like in the first four weeks of the season. They smacked the Chiefs around in Arrowhead. I asked in the offseason what really changed to improve this Buffalo defense from the mediocre unit it was a year ago that had no real hope of winning a Super Bowl? Well, one name I underestimated was first-round pick Gregory Roussea. The defensive end did his best J.J. Watt impersonation and tipped a Mahomes pass at the line to himself for a big red-zone pick in the third quarter. The Bills reportedly did not even blitz Mahomes once in this game, choosing to rush four and play Cover 2 to take away the big plays.

The Chiefs had just two plays that gained more than 17 yards in the game, a shockingly low figure for this offense. One was a 23-yard scramble by Mahomes too. This was a big difference in the meetings last year when the Chiefs did what they wanted, and Allen’s offense couldn’t get anything big. On Sunday night, the Bills had seven plays of 20-plus yards, including four completions of 35-plus yards (two for touchdowns).

Allen had 315 yards on 15 completions. Other than a slow third quarter after the 70-plus minute halftime delay, the Bills were just about unstoppable on offense. Combine that with a defense capable of playing the Chiefs like this and it’s a championship combination. The Bills may only be an underdog one more time this season when they play in Tampa Bay. It seems rather likely that this team will be the favorite for the No. 1 seed in the AFC.

The Chiefs may be fortunate just to get a wild card at this point if things don’t tighten up on both sides of the ball but especially on defense.

With the Bills and Ravens stepping up this season against the Chiefs as well as the two teams I’m writing about next (Browns and Chargers), the AFC might be just fine going forward as a super competitive conference where any one of these teams can advance each year. It’s not going to be a runaway for Mahomes and the Chiefs to keep hosting AFC Championship Games and going to the Super Bowl. They had that window for three years and turned it into one championship while the rest of the teams were figuring themselves out.

If 2021 is any indication, those teams have figured out the Chiefs too.

Browns at Chargers: 47-42 Part Deux

What a whacky, fun game with huge plays, terrible tackling, six fourth down attempts (and then some negated by penalty), and 41 points in the fourth quarter alone. Of course, the Browns ended up on the wrong side of history again.

We may need to start calling Baker Mayfield the “Score 42 and Lose” QB after it happened to him for a third time. He lost his first career start, 45-42, to the Raiders in 2018. He lost 47-42 to the Ravens last year after Lamar Jackson returned from taking a shit. Now he’s lost 47-42 again to the Chargers in the second 47-42 game in NFL history. Mayfield is somehow 2-3 when he leads his team to at least 42 points while the rest of the NFL is 69-2 since 2018. The Browns (four times) have broken their tie with Washington and the Chiefs (three each) for the most losses in NFL history after scoring at least 42 points.

None of this is to say that Mayfield is the reason Cleveland loses these games. He was great on Sunday at playing through a torn labrum after some struggles in recent weeks. The offense was fantastic, but it is hard to win on the road when you allow five touchdowns on six second-half drives like the Browns did.

This thing was back and forth and not even a failed game-tying extra point by the Chargers with 3:15 left could derail it. That actually ended up helping the Chargers since the Browns did not go all out in a tied 42-42 game. Instead with a 42-41 lead, they ran on first down and on third-and-9 and let the Chargers get the ball back with plenty of time. Justin Herbert only needed one pass to get into field-goal range. After Austin Ekeler slid down at the Cleveland 3 with 1:38 left, the Browns called their final timeout. That slide tells me the Chargers were content with kicking the field goal to win 44-42 at the buzzer. A smart move even if you are shaky about it given the team’s historic struggles on special teams in crunch time.

So, why wouldn’t Herbert just take a series of knees to bleed the clock and kick the field goal? Head coach Brandon Staley is getting a ton of buzz for his embrace of analytics despite being a defensive coach, but he bungled the end of the Chiefs game by scoring a touchdown and giving Mahomes a shot to answer, and it happened again here. Ekeler got the carry and while he tried to not score, the Browns did the smart thing and pulled his ass into the end zone for the score with 91 seconds left.

Wow, just typing “91 seconds” really sells how much of a mistake this was. They gave a hot offense they couldn’t stop all day plenty of time to answer. It could have been an even more delicious addition to Chargers BINGO given the offense came up short on the two-point conversion and only led 47-42. Now the Browns could win it with a touchdown in regulation.

But it took 50 seconds for Mayfield to move the offense 11 yards as he only made short throws. That was piss-poor execution in that moment. After getting to the Cleveland 46, the Browns could not gain another yard and Mayfield’s Hail Mary fell incomplete with players bumping into each other.

Behind Staley and Herbert, the CHARGERS are leading the league with three game-winning drives. The CHARGERS are 4-1 in close games and lead the league with four defensive holds of a one-score lead.

Staley is far from perfect. His defense just gave up 42 points to a team that scored 14 last week. He’s mismanaged two of the last three finishes. He’s inherited an incredible young quarterback in Herbert who is making strides in his second season. But there is no denying that Staley is pushing this team to aggressively get leads and hold onto them once they have them. The Chargers of old would never be 4-1 right now and that is a credit to this new coach.

The Browns may still be the “good enough to get beat close” team in the AFC, which is still a huge step up from the pre-Mayfield era. But for a change, the Chargers just may have the potential to be closers and real contenders this season. That sounds like the setup for an incoming beatdown in Baltimore next Sunday, but what if this team is just finally different?

Packers at Bengals: Kicking Woes

Weird things always happen when Aaron Rodgers plays the Bengals, but this game takes the cake. If you wanted to script an overtime tie, apparently you have to get the Packers or Bengals involved. I thought for sure this one was headed there after the two kickers combined to miss five go-ahead field goals in a span of six drives.

Fortunately, we got a winner. Fortunately, it was the right winner too as Green Bay should have put this game away multiple times in the fourth quarter and again to start overtime.

Would I have been happy if Rodgers got credit for a game-winning drive after Aaron Jones ripped off a 57-yard run and he threw two incomplete passes? No, but Mason Crosby has to hit that 36-yard field goal after a streak of 27 straight makes. Would I have said Rodgers was unlucky had he lost after his kicker missed from 36 and Cincinnati kicker Evan McPherson hit from 57? Yes, absolutely. But the Bengals called a run on third-and-2 instead of letting Joe Burrow deliver a dagger throw to set up a higher-percentage kick. Shame on them.

Would I have been fine with Rodgers getting a game-winning drive after a 20-yard pass to Davante Adams, who shined with 206 yards, to set up Crosby from 51? Sure, that’s another one-minute drill for him this season. But Crosby was wide left to set up overtime.

Would I have been amused had Rodgers lost another overtime game without touching the ball? Probably. But Burrow seemed to erase any chance of that with an instant pick to start overtime.

Would I have been pissed if Rodgers got credit for a game-winning drive in overtime for losing 5 yards on two Jones runs and watching Crosby hit from 40? Damn right. But the kicker missed again. At least it spared us a crap game-winning drive.

Burrow hit a pass for 21 yards to the Green Bay 41 again, but did they learn anything from the previous mistake? No, they ran the ball three times again and settled for a 49-yard field goal by a no-name kicker. He missed wide left too.

Finally, Rodgers hit passes of 20 and 15 yards to put this one to an end after Crosby finally connected from 49 yards out with 1:55 left. I am content with that being the game-winning drive in this one.

At least it had a winner, because I can’t remember ever seeing a clutch kicking display this bad.

Broncos at Steelers: The Standard Improved?

Last week in Green Bay, the Steelers showed they can score an opening-drive touchdown, and they did it again on Sunday after a beautiful 50-yard pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Diontae Johnson again gave the Steelers the early lead. Last week, the Steelers showed some offensive line improvement and a running game that actually could get gains of 3-4 yards instead of seeing Najee Harris get hit in the backfield immediately. This continued against Denver with Harris rushing for 122 yards to finally snap the team’s 11-game streak of not rushing for 90 yards.

Dare I say, the Steelers showed offensive improvement for the second week in a row? The other problem last week was inaccuracy from Roethlisberger. He was sharp in this game, especially early and especially on third down where the Steelers finished 7/12 compared to Denver going 2/12 on third down (but ¾ on fourth down). One week after a concussion, I was not impressed with Teddy Bridgewater or this Denver offense at all until he started to mount a 24-6 comeback in the fourth quarter. The game got a bit tight at 27-19, but he eventually struggled in the red zone again and threw an interception in the final seconds to end it.

While far from dominant, this was much closer to a classic game from the Steelers where both units played well for much of the game and they were able to win at home. Can they stack another one against the Geno Smith-led Seahawks next week? We’ll see, but if this offense shows up in prime time against that Seattle defense, then it may not be such an ugly display of football from Pittsburgh like in recent times. I was not surprised by the win, but that says more about my thoughts on how legit Denver was. But I can see actual improvement from the Pittsburgh offense in the last two weeks compared to the first three.

Eagles at Panthers: Pumpkins and Pretenders

What the fvck were these teams doing?

Jalen Hurts had nine failed completions in the first half, but none in the second as the offense finally started making plays that gained more than 10 yards. He also got his legs involved as the passing in this game was just atrocious for both teams. At least the Panthers got Chuba Hubbard to rush for 101 yards in Christian McCaffrey’s absence. The Eagles once again barely handed the ball off to their backs until very late in the game.

Sam Darnold had three interceptions and may have turned back into a pumpkin just in time for Halloween. But it was a blocked punt that set the Eagles up at the Carolina 27 for their game-winning drive. Darnold then threw his third pick and the Eagles ran out the clock.

Obviously, the transitive property never has and never will mean a thing in the NFL. If you just judged Carolina and Philadelphia by how they played against the Cowboys, then you wouldn’t have expected the Panthers to blow this one. But they did after leading 15-3 early.

Is either team going anywhere this season? I doubt it, but this was some low-key horrific offensive football.

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 15

If last Sunday in the NFL was boring, then this week more than made up for it. Even though the “Game of the Year” (Chiefs-Saints) wasn’t even the best game played in the last seven days (Ravens-Browns), this was a Sunday filled with memorable action.

Favorites were 11-4 SU, but the Rams christened SoFi Stadium with one of the most embarrassing losses in NFL history.

Previous weeks in Stat Oddity:

Rams Lose, Jets Lose Out, Only Trevor Lawrence Wins

It is not hyperbole to say that the course of NFL history for the next two decades could have just been drastically altered on Sunday when the 0-13 Jets beat the Rams 23-20 for their first win of the season.

For a franchise familiar with low points, the 2020 season may have taken the Jets to a new low under head coach Adam Gase. Some people have been calling the Chiefs “inevitable” this year, but the most inevitable thing felt like the Jets cruising to 0-16. That is a horrific season, but it’s not like we haven’t seen the 2008 Lions and 2017 Browns already do this. In fact, the biggest surprise would be that the Jets weren’t already in the club (the 1996 team finished 1-15).

The reward at the end of such a terrible season was supposed to be a new coach and the No. 1 pick in the draft, undoubtedly, to be used on Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Gase will now likely go down as one of the most hated coaches in NFL history as he could not even finish 0-16 properly. The Jaguars are now in the driver’s seat for Lawrence in the draft, and if he is as generational as advertised – a mobile, long-haired Peyton Manning – then it is sure to be a move that has massive ripple effects around the league for years to come.

Why are the Jets always the ones botching history? They could have drafted generational passer Dan Marino in 1983 but chose Ken O’Brien instead. They drafted wide receiver Al Toon over all-time leading receiver Jerry Rice in 1985. They drafted running back Blair Thomas over all-time leading rusher Emmitt Smith in 1990. Maybe none of those picks lead to Super Bowls for the Jets, but they absolutely changed the course of the league at that time. Imagine the Dolphins without Marino and Don Shula. Imagine the 49ers’ dynasty without Rice. Joe Gibbs’ Washington teams may have been the dynasty of the 1980s instead. Likewise, Emmitt is probably not the all-time leading rusher if he started with the Jets instead of the dynastic Cowboys in the 90s.

Maybe Lawrence is better off if he doesn’t go to the Jets. In 1997, the Jets thought they could cash that 1-15 season in for Peyton Manning at the top of the draft, but Manning returned to Tennessee for another year and ended up going No. 1 to the rival Colts in 1998. Good move, but also a massive one for the league’s next two decades.

Oh, and never forget the Jets are more responsible for the New England dynasty than anyone after botching the hiring of head coach Bill Belichick in 2000 and injuring Drew Bledsoe in 2001, leading to the rise of Tom Brady.

Never has a win felt like such a loss for a team than this one. The fact that Frank Gore put the game away with two first downs is just the cherry on top of the shit sundae. Jacksonville fans will for sure be pushing Gore for Canton now.

And how about these Rams? So much for the new hyped “best team” in the NFC. I’m going to remember Sean McVay as the photographic memory wunderkind coach who lost a Super Bowl 13-3 and lost to the 0-13 Jets.

There has just been something about Game 14 where perfect seasons go to die. As I pointed out in my preview for this one, the 10 teams to start 0-13 are now 5-5 SU in Game 14. That means these teams went from a combined 0-130 to 5-5 in that 14th game. Interestingly enough, four of the eight 13-0 teams in NFL history also lost their first game in Game 14 (1998 Broncos, 2005 Colts, 2009 Saints, and 2011 Packers).

This is not quite the biggest upset in NFL history. You only have to go back to Week 17 last year to find a worse loss by the point spread when the 17.5-point favorite Patriots lost at home to the Dolphins to lose out on a first-round bye. However, this is only the fifth time since 1978 that a 17-point favorite lost outright.

But this is almost surely the most embarrassing loss a team has ever had to a team 0-13 or worse that notched its first win. The Rams lost this game wire-to-wire, meaning the Jets led the whole way, including a 20-3 lead. Only the 1962 Patriots can say they lost wire-to-wire to an 0-13 (or worse) team after they fell 20-0 to the Oakland Raiders to end the 1962 AFL season.

This was not some December game in trash weather at MetLife Stadium with a full, roaring crowd where Jared Goff melted down and threw a pick parade. The Rams only had one turnover (and one blocked punt) in the game, played in new SoFI Stadium. This was not a blown lead by the Rams. This was not a game where the Rams missed any field goals. The only fumble (on a Sam Darnold sack) went out of bounds.

The Rams were just outplayed by an inferior team. The Jets were able to convert 7-of-17 on third down while the Rams were only 2-of-11. Show up on a few more of those plays and this outcome is likely different, but the Jets deserved this win.

They just had no business actually pulling it off, putting the future of the franchise in doubt again.

The final magnitude of this loss for me personally remains to be seen after the Steelers play on Monday night. I was hot on my bets this weekend, but one game I needed was for the Rams to win and Cam Akers to score a touchdown. That seemed simple enough after Akers’ breakout game last week and the mismatch here, but neither part came through. I also liked Robert Woods scoring (he did), but still would have been screwed by the moneyline. I’ll scowl over this day forever that Akers’ 18-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter was called back for a holding penalty if Diontae Johnson and the Steelers come through. I stood to win more than $36,000 on a series of round robin parlays that only cost $105.

I’m sad. Rams fans are sad. Jets fans are sad. Only Trevor Lawrence and Jacksonville fans are probably happy right now. And just think, if the Jets finish on a winning streak, they just may bring Gase and Darnold back for 2021…

I Fvcking Love Patrick Mahomes Chapter 50: Week 15 at Saints

Despite holding 14-point leads early and late, the Chiefs had to grind out another close win, 32-29, in the four-minute offense to knock off the Saints in Drew Brees’ return. The big matchup had some really strange plays, Brees got off to the slowest/worst start to a game in his 300th career start, and it technically never had a game-winning drive opportunity, but it was a decent game in the end.

How did New Orleans fare with my tips for beating the Chiefs? Not good as the only achievement was #6 as the Saints racked up four sacks, getting some of the best pressure any defense ever has (without blitzing too) on Mahomes, which was to be expected with the offensive line situation there.

The 29 points were not bad, but the Saints absolutely hurt themselves before halftime by not recovering the obligatory fumble on a ridiculous punt fielded by Demarcus Robinson with only seconds left in the half. The Saints had a great chance to fall on the ball in the end zone for a touchdown, but Alex Anzalone botched that play and the Saints only got a safety out of it. Those five points were a huge miss.

You know the standard for Mahomes is getting ridiculous when people scoff at putting up 32 points and 34 first downs on what was supposed to be one of the best defenses in the league. The Saints had not allowed more than 24 points in a game since doing it four games in a row in Weeks 2-5, but the Chiefs were able to do that in this one, scoring 11 points in the fourth quarter to keep the Saints down.

Much like the 26-17 win in Buffalo, the Chiefs were able to mix the pass and run in moving the ball effectively. This team’s success on the road is historic this season even if it could be asterisk worthy given the pandemic impact with limited or no crowds.

Still, the 2020 Chiefs are the first team in NFL history to win five road games in a season against teams with a winning record. This is set in stone with the Bills (11-3), Saints (10-4), Ravens (9-5), Dolphins (9-5), and Buccaneers (9-5) all guaranteed to have a winning record this season. The only mystery is if the Chiefs will pick up a sixth win if the Raiders (7-7) finish 9-7.

The Chiefs just had the seventh game in NFL history where they put up 32 points and 34 first downs on the road in regulation. That’s impressive when you also consider that they have the sixth such game this season when they did it in Las Vegas.

Now 50 starts into his career, I am still waiting to see what a legitimately bad game from Mahomes looks like. His consistency is unmatched. The 2020 Chiefs are now the fourth team in NFL history to score at least 22 points in each of their first 14 games in a season. The other teams on that list are the 1983 Redskins, 1998 Vikings, and 2018 Chiefs, so they have already done it twice here. Only that 2019 Colts game (19-13 loss) is stopping it from being 50-for-50 for Mahomes in scoring 22+ points as a team.

Sunday is the 33rd time Mahomes has led the Chiefs to at least 30 points in one of his starts. If he does it again next week against Atlanta, then that will be 34 times over his last 50 starts. That would match the best 50-game stretch of the careers of Manning and Brady. I included a chart that shows how the count of 30-point starts over those quarterback’s last 50 starts progressed over time, as well as the same data for Dan Marino, Aaron Rodgers, and Brees.

Like Mahomes, Marino got off to that super-fast start to the point where his best 50-game stretch was the first 50 games when he led the Dolphins to 30+ points 26 times. Marino and Mahomes are the only two listed to top 20 games in their first 50 starts (this includes playoffs). Some of this is about league trends as scoring went up in the later stages of these careers (think Manning in Denver or Brees in the Michael Thomas-Alvin Kamara years), but you can see where the peaks and valleys are.

These are just team points, but Mahomes has plenty of other superlatives through 50 games that we could go on about. Sunday was his 24th game with at least three touchdown passes, the most in NFL history for a quarterback through 50 starts (including playoffs). Marino had 22 such games that early.

It can still be debated if Mahomes is the best 50-game stretch of quarterback play in NFL history, but there is no debate if this is the best 50-game start to any quarterback’s career.

Eagles at Cardinals: The Jalen Hurts Era Is for Real

Carson Wentz may understandably not like it, but the rest of us are better with the Eagles moving forward with Jalen Hurts as their starting quarterback. Hurts impressed again in a fun 33-26 shootout with Kyler Murray in Arizona. Sure, the Eagles lost after playing in their 23rd straight game that was within one score in the fourth quarter, but Hurts showed so much poise and promise for a rookie.

Hurts passed for 338 yards, three touchdowns and rushed for 63 yards and another score. That 401 yards of total offense in Hurts’ second start is more than Wentz ever had in 69 career starts. Had Dallas Goedert been able to pull in a dagger of a throw from Hurts in the end zone late to tie the game, Hurts may have finished with over 365 passing yards, which also would top Wentz’s career high.

Look, I have said these things well before Hurts was drafted. Doug Pederson’s offense works best when his quarterback is NOT Carson Wentz. With Nick Foles, the Eagles could actually win high-scoring games, beat good teams, win without much rushing support, and come through in the clutch. Hurts still has plenty of room to grow but he is only a second-round pick with three games of relevance under his belt.

The fact that this was such an exciting game between two young, mobile quarterbacks who could run and throw is a great sign for the future of the NFC. Let Wentz go do his thing in Indianapolis where he thinks Frank Reich is the answer to all his problems.

The Eagles are in a better place now, and likely would still be in position to win this terrible division had Wentz been benched sooner. You can talk about heart and leadership if you want, but there’s just something about Wentz where things don’t all click with this coach and team when he’s the quarterback.

Bucs at Falcons: The Most Predictable 17-Point Comeback in NFL History

You could say Tom Brady holds a psychological edge on the Falcons after 28-3, but it could just be as simple as the Falcons are a joke of a franchise and blowing leads is what they do best. We have already seen it this year with the losses against Dallas, Chicago, and Detroit.

In fact, I even wrote in my preview for this one that Atlanta would blow a double-digit lead to the Bucs. Not even at 24-7 in the third quarter did this feel in doubt. Sure enough, the Atlanta offense folded while Tampa Bay scored on five straight drives. Antonio Brown made by far his biggest play for the team yet with a 46-yard game-winning touchdown catch with 6:19 left. Matt Ryan is still gunning for the only season of his career without a 4QC or GWD.

Tampa Bay scored 31 points in the second half. Something like that hasn’t happened in the NFL since… well, when the Falcons allowed 30 in the second half to the Cowboys this year.

Tampa Bay is now 4-3 when falling behind double digits this season. Doing that in half your games seems like a bad formula for the playoffs where you absolutely will not see a team as dumb as Atlanta. These slow starts are a problem, but the talent on this roster is still a lot to deal with as well. Don’t rule out Tampa lucking into a No. 2 seed with the way the other NFC teams are playing down the stretch. I still ultimately think the Saints will beat Carolina in Week 17 to secure the division if it’s not done on Christmas, but there is a chance here after this comeback for Tampa Bay to move up the standings.

In a crazy year, here is something that at least feels right: Falcons and Chargers lead the NFL with four blown leads in the fourth quarter or overtime.

Browns-Giants: What a Change from 2016

Sunday Night Football may not have been the most exciting game, a 20-6 win by Cleveland over the Giants, but consider where these teams were four years ago. The 0-11 Browns lost 27-13 to the offensively challenged Giants in a game with 17 punts and four turnovers. Gross.

Four years later, the Browns actually have a fun offense and won their 10th game last night. The Giants are still offensively challenged but did better than the 20-6 score shows. They just failed on too many fourth downs.

In fact, this is one of the most offensive-driven 20-6 games you’ll ever see in the NFL. This game only had 14 total possessions with five punts, no turnovers, and three stops on fourth down. The Browns scored 20 points (another Cody Parkey missed extra point) on their first five drives before staying understandably conservative with the big lead. The “Browns only scored 20” crowd seems to have overlooked just how few drives were in this game.

In the last three games, Baker Mayfield has thrown for over 900 yards with eight touchdowns and one interception. These were marquee games for the Browns too, including two in prime time and a big matchup in Tennessee. Winning two of these three games and only losing 47-42 to the Ravens is huge progress for this franchise. I’m not going to say the Browns have what it takes to go on a Super Bowl run this year, but this team has definitely improved and so has the quarterback. I’m not sure what more he should be doing in the last month to silence the critics, but I’m coming around on him with this recent performance.

It’s weird to talk about the Browns offense being worth a damn, but it’s 2020. All bets are off. Hell, even the Chicago Bears have scored at least 25 points in four straight games for the first time since 1995. If the Bears can do that, the Bills can win the division, then why not see Cleveland win 11 games and make the playoffs?

Patriots Done (For How Long?)

New England has been eliminated from the playoffs for the first time since the 2008 season after a 22-12 loss in Miami. The Dolphins will have a winning record this year while the Bills (11-3) have already won the AFC East for the first time since 1995. The Jets were also in position to get Trevor Lawrence, but you know what happened there.

It leaves the Patriots in a tricky position with quite arguably the worst long-term quarterback situation in the division depending what the Jets do. Cam Newton is not the answer but there is also not much of a roster here.

This last-gasp effort in Miami, a familiar losing venue for New England in December, showed some signs of life early that the Patriots could pull one out and stay alive another week. They were playing a Miami team missing its top wideouts and tight end. In classic bend-but-don’t-break fashion, the Patriots turned a 95-yard, 9:11 drive by the Dolphins into an interception after making Tua throw under pressure. Then Newton got away with a would-be 86-yard fumble return because the ball just grazed a Miami defender who was out of bounds. Instead of a turnover, the Patriots scored a field goal to lead 6-0. Miami finished off the half with a missed 52-yard field goal, because again, this is what the Patriots do.

But the second half was a different story. The Dolphins continued to put together long drives and finished them off this time while Newton and the limited offense couldn’t answer. Tua was credited with his second fourth-quarter comeback of the season and the defense shut things down with a fourth-down sack of Newton with 1:08 left.

It was the first time all season the Patriots blew a fourth-quarter lead, but this team was never in much of a position to do any damage in 2020 between the loss of Brady, the COVID opt-outs, the losses on defense, Julian Edelman’s surgery, and just general roster flaws like not having a tight end.

It would actually be a lot more enjoyable to see this team struggle if only they were recognizable as the Patriots, but they never really were such a team this season. Now they’re just another team, and it’s only fitting that the Bills and Dolphins have gotten some decisive licks in on them.

Can the Jets do it too? They almost beat them last time in a 30-27 game, and this may be one where Belichick decides to just let the Jets win to make sure Trevor Lawrence doesn’t find his way to the Jets after all.

I mean, there’s always a plan with Belichick. Just not much of one this year as far as a contender goes.

Cruel Close Game Regression: Texas Edition

My goodness, I know I said Houston could be in trouble in close games this year after Deshaun Watson led five game-winning drives in both 2018 and 2019, but this is ridiculous. For the second time this season, Watson had the Texans knocking on the door of a tying or go-ahead touchdown against the Colts. Last time it was a bad snap that led to a game-ending fumble in a 26-20 loss.

This time, down 27-20, Watson converted a 4th-and-5, but Keke Coutee went from looking like he was about to score to fumbling the ball into the end zone where the Colts recovered with 19 seconds left to end the game. Watson had some huge numbers again with 373 yards, but his teammates found another way to blow a game even without Bill O’Brien involved.

Houston is now 0-5 at 4QC/GWD opportunities this season.

Meanwhile in Dallas, the Cowboys had a minor upset of the 49ers in a 41-33 final that was filled with big plays and turnovers. Nick Mullens had three turnovers himself, including an interception that set up Andy Dalton for the lamest game-winning drive of the year: three incomplete passes and a 46-yard field goal by Greg Zuerlein.

In a game that would never end, the final 43 seconds saw a field goal, an onside kick returned for a touchdown, and a meaningless Hail Mary touchdown with no time left. Well, not entirely meaningless. Someone (not me) won or lost money on that bullshit.

So we will have a new NFC champion with San Francisco eliminated after an injury-ravaged, disappointing season. The 49ers are now 1-4 at 4QC/GWD opportunities this season, which has always been a problem during the Kyle Shanahan era in San Francisco outside of some Jimmy Garoppolo starts.

But last year with a healthy Garoppolo, the 49ers were 4-2 at GWD opportunities and only blew one fourth-quarter lead in the regular season. However, we know this team was struggling late in the year with that against Atlanta (lost), New Orleans (offense had to bail them out), and the Seattle game in Week 17 came down to the final stop at the 1-yard line. Then we of course know what happened with a 20-10 lead in the fourth quarter against the Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV. Stung by the Wasp.

The 49ers started this season with blown leads to the Cardinals and Eagles before the injuries and a tough schedule just seemed to be too much for this team to overcome. Will 2019 be a one-year wonder in the NFC again? We’ll need to see next year to verify, but it’s not a bad bet to say it was.

That is why every opportunity in this league must be taken seriously. You never know if things will come together at the right time again. You know, like when you’re going to finish 0-16 and draft a generational talent quarterback, but oh fuck, that’s enough about the Jets and Rams.

On to Week 16.

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 14

Do you like dramatic endings to NFL games? You’re here, so of course you do. While there is one game (Ravens-Browns) remaining in Week 14, this was hands down the least dramatic week of NFL action in the last decade.

Since I have been documenting this stuff on a weekly basis, I have never seen a week like this before. We had four games with a game-winning drive opportunity, tying Week 9 of 2014 for the lowest total since 2011. I didn’t even say comeback opportunity because the Falcons-Chargers game, seemingly a ripe one for lead changes, technically never had a 4QC opportunity since the score only changed on the final play of the game after it was tied at 17 all quarter. That was the only game-winning drive of Week 14.

Chiefs-Dolphins was the only 10+ point comeback win this week, snapping a streak of multiple double-digit comeback wins every week this season. There were five games where the losing team failed to score more than seven points (most since Week 17 in 2018).

Some special thank you notes for this boring week of action:

Thanks for nothing, Cam Newton, with your horrible pick-six that ruined any chance of TNF being good.

Thanks for not being able to field any of your top four wideouts, Houston, so now Deshaun Watson will hold a 36-7 loss in likely his only meeting with Mitchell Trubisky as a member of the Bears.

Thanks for not finding a better backup quarterback, Cincinnati, so that the Andy Dalton Revenge Game could be such a dud. Dallas finally won a game without scoring 31 points for the first time since the 2018 playoffs. The Cowboys still scored 30 though.

Thanks to the Jaguars (31-10 vs. Titans) and Jets (40-3 at Seahawks) for being your miserable selves.

Thanks to the referees for never giving Detroit any charity calls against the Green Bay Packers, unlike the numerous charity calls of DPI that Tom Brady gets this year and twice on Sunday.

Thanks to Dan Bailey for missing three field goals and an extra point, you Minnesota Masterclass of Muck.

But I guess I deserve everything I get for betting on both New York teams, neither of which even cracked 200 yards of offense on Sunday.

While it may have been lacking in drama, Week 14 was quite impactful on the season. The No. 1 seed changed hands in both conferences with the Chiefs and Packers moving ahead of the Steelers and Saints in moves that may stick through the rest of the season.

We need Drew Brees back next week for the showdown with the Chiefs. We need some drama again. But if you love one-handed interceptions by defenders, then Week 14 was incredible for that.

Previous weeks in Stat Oddity:

Steelers Flop Again in Buffalo

For evidence of how anticlimactic this week was, the Game of the Week on Sunday Night Football was decided after the Bills ran out the final 7:11 on the clock in their 26-15 win. The only people seemingly less interested in this final drive than Mike Tirico and Cris Collinsworth were Mike Tomlin and the Steelers, as the coach did not even use all three of his timeouts to try to get the ball back.

If this was the game to determine the main challenger to the Chiefs in the AFC, then Kansas City has little to worry about. If the Chiefs play their A game, neither one of these teams is beating them, especially not the Steelers right now.

During the first half, I remarked that this felt like a game Pittsburgh, a 2-point underdog, was going to win as long as Ben Roethlisberger did not give up some turnovers. In a first half puntfest on a cold night, the Pittsburgh pass rush was rattling Josh Allen as sacks and turnovers started to pile up for Buffalo, leading to the Steelers going up 7-0 after a short field.

Then the game took a turn. Allen remembered that Stefon Diggs had a huge advantage without cornerback Joe Haden (concussion) available and started to get him the ball. Buffalo scored and then quickly scored again after Roethlisberger floated a short pass that was returned 51 yards for a touchdown. The Buffalo defense seemed to know exactly what was coming and was just waiting for the throw.

Still, with two timeouts and 52 seconds left, you’d expect the Steelers to try to answer before halftime, trailing 9-7 now. Buffalo was getting the ball to start the second half too. But Pittsburgh seemingly raised a white flag, handing the ball off before waiting to throw another short pass and letting the clock expire. That was odd.

Much like on Monday against Washington, Pittsburgh’s defense went from having a great half to not being able to stop a thing afterwards. In fact, Pittsburgh’s only defensive stop in the second half was keyed by the Bills trying an ill-fated end-around run to Diggs that brought up a 3rd-and-6. Diggs was unstoppable as a receiver with 10 catches for 130 yards and a touchdown in the third quarter.

In between Buffalo’s two third-quarter touchdowns, Roethlisberger saw his no-sack streak end as the Bills finally got to him for a three-and-out. Cue an Ebron drop on third down to end the next drive before Roethlisberger finally engineered his best drive of the night, going 81 yards for a touchdown and two-point conversion to cut the 23-7 deficit in half to 23-15 with 12:18 to play.

But instead of the defense getting the ball back in a one-possession game, the Steelers faltered again and gave up a 35-yard pass interference penalty on third down in the end zone. That fortunately only led to a field goal after the Bills botched their goal-to-go offense, but the Bills led 26-15 now. Facing a 3rd-and-4, Roethlisberger badly underthrew a deep ball to James Washington that was intercepted with 7:11 left. Again, this is a spot where something shorter would have actually made sense, but he continued his all-or-nothing approach with the bomb.

From there, the Bills picked up four first downs and never even had to give the ball back. After nine possessions in the first half, the Steelers saw the ball just four times in the second half.

Much has been made of Pittsburgh playing three games in 12 days, but does that mean all the games have to look like a team suffering from the exact same problems?

They started the game with a dropped screen pass by Diontae Johnson, who had another non-contact drop and saw the bench for a while after that. Ebron had another big drop as well. The running game saw center Maurkice Pouncey and back James Conner return, but it was still terrible with 17 carries for 47 yards (2.7 YPC). Pittsburgh couldn’t create any play longer than 20 yards and scored fewer than 20 points for the third game in a row with a season-low 15 points.

Sadly, the problems have been there since 2019 started. The season opener, a 33-3 loss in New England, was the last time the Steelers played on SNF with Roethlisberger at quarterback. On that night, the Steelers seemed to have no plan on how to run their offense without Antonio Brown. Roethlisberger was throwing a ton of short, quick passes with Donte Moncrief, a free-agent signing, dropped several big passes. Pittsburgh also finished the game with 32 rushing yards. Sound familiar? Little did we know the Patriots would have such a historic first half of the season on defense, but that game was the first sign that things may be problematic with an offensive coordinator (Randy Fichtner) unable to adjust to the changes in talent on the unit.

Now you go to this year with Roethlisberger back from elbow surgery, and the Steelers drafted a talented receiver in Chase Claypool. However, this is still a young offense and receiving corps with talent, but not much experience or proof of consistent play. Pittsburgh got to 10-0 with Roethlisberger making this short-passing game work well thanks to playing strong situational football (red zones, third downs). And yes, the schedule helped too. Beating up on the Eagles, Bengals and Jaguars is different than an improved Washington defense or a Buffalo team that is really coming around on that side of the ball again. If Baltimore exposed anything in that Wednesday afternoon game, then Washington and Buffalo have found it easy to cheat from that tape with the Steelers not changing the answers.

The colder weather can certainly be contributing to the drops too, but this offense has been trending to dangerously one-dimensional since November started. Pittsburgh has failed to rush for 50 yards in five of their last seven games, a new franchise record. We know their usage level of play-action passing is almost criminal in this era.

The last three games are proof that you cannot expect to function as an offense in this league if all you can do is get in shotgun and throw short, quick passes with no play-action, no running game to speak of, and the most drops in the league.

The other contrast in this game was the athletic ability of a 38-year-old Roethlisberger and a young Allen. Obviously, Allen has the bigger arm and is more mobile. That likely made Roethlisberger look worse than he would in a normal week, but he did not look capable of throwing downfield well in this game outside of his bullet for a 19-yard touchdown to James Washington.

So why is this offense so broken looking the last three weeks? When you mix in the cold weather with the improved defensive opponents, and consider the three games in 12 days, it may also just be the fact that it is too much on an old quarterback who is leading the league now with over 500 pass attempts.

If the Steelers look this bad again on offense in Cincinnati next Monday night, then you can count on this team to flop in the first playoff game. But even when they play the Colts in Week 16, that could be a brutal home loss if this team continues to play the way it has the last couple of games.

Again, these offensive issues, both systematic and philosophical, have existed since 2019 started. Those issues likely are not going away this year. It’s just starting to look worse because the quarterback is wearing down.

He may not be ready to hang it up, but at least twice on Sunday night, the Steelers looked content to throw in the towel on this terrible game. Meanwhile, the Bills finally have their key AFC win before the playoffs start. Pittsburgh still has a great shot at the No. 2 seed, but that no longer means what it used to without a bye.

I Fvcking Love Patrick Mahomes Chapter 49: Week 14 at Dolphins

The 49th game of Patrick Mahomes’ career – first against Miami — was certainly an adventure. The first quarter was likely the worst quarter of his NFL career. He threw an interception inside the Miami 30 on a slow-developing screen pass that was tipped. Two plays after nearly losing a fumble, Mahomes tried to outrun a defender on third down before backtracking so far, he lost 30 yards on a sack, a historic feat you don’t want to put your name in the record books for. On his third drive, Mahomes was too high on a pass that was tipped by his receiver for a second interception, only the fifth multi-interception game of his career.

However, as I tweeted during the game, I felt pretty confident he could overcome fluky plays like tipped interceptions as there were receivers very open against this highly-ranked Miami defense.

Sure enough, Mahomes rebounded in a big way despite Miami taking a 10-0 lead. Mahomes completed 24 passes for 393 yards with two touchdowns. That is 16.4 yards per completion, or higher than any game in Mahomes’ career where he completed more than 15 passes.

Rather good when you can turn a personal worst quarter into a huge game. This game is also a reminder of just how annoying and noisy interceptions can be. Mahomes threw a third pick in the fourth quarter while the Chiefs were up 30-10. Xavien Howard made an incredible one-handed interception to save a touchdown. Meanwhile, the Chiefs had a shot at an easier interception thrown by Tua on the ensuing drive, but it still came down to the receiver for a touchdown to keep the game alive for Miami.

How did Miami fare with my tips for beating the Chiefs? Only scoring 10 points through three quarters is a huge no-no, as is giving up a punt return score and a safety. However, they were able to recover the obligatory fumble (a bad one by Mecole Hardman) and get some third-down sacks. But trying to come back from 20 down in the fourth quarter is a terrible idea against anyone, and Mahomes was able to get points in the four-minute offense once again.

Since 2019, the Chiefs are an incredible 8-1 with Mahomes when they trail by 10+ points in a game, only losing to the Raiders this year. That Las Vegas loss is also the only thing preventing the Chiefs from being on a 22-game winning streak, which would be the new record.

We are witnessing one of the best title defenses in recent history, and with Pittsburgh’s loss on Sunday night, the Chiefs have a clear shot at the No. 1 seed now. However, when does being a pass-happy team that gets into so many close games catch up to the Chiefs? Mahomes just broke the record for most passing yards over a six-game stretch in NFL history (2,309).

Despite all the yards and points, the Chiefs still seem to find every game come down to a one-score margin in the final four minutes with Mahomes in possession of the ball, like he was on Sunday again. This time, the key play was a 4th-and-1 conversion to Tyreek Hill for 22 yards, but Hill got very greedy in his attempt to score when all he had to do was go down and the game was over with Miami out of timeouts. That was a horrible mistake that could have cost the Chiefs. Instead of taking three kneeldowns, three plays with zero risk, the Chiefs ended up having to kick a 46-yard field goal, kickoff, defend five plays on defense, a field goal by Miami, and then finally recover an onside kick to secure the win.

That’s the risk Hill’s selfish move brought to the team in what should have been a simple 30-24 finish instead of 33-27. Maybe next time Harrison Butker isn’t good on the field goal with 1:08 left, opening the door for the defense to lose on a last-second touchdown again.

So, with four turnovers and that clock gaffe by Hill, this was another game where the Chiefs made things a lot more interesting than they needed to be. Maybe no one is good enough to make them pay for it in the end, but we’ll see how the Chiefs fare in New Orleans as they look for their sixth road win over a team with a winning record this season. The NFL record for such wins in a season is four, so that could be another record for Mahomes and the Chiefs depending on how the Buccaneers, Ravens, Raiders, and Dolphins finish this season.

Carson Wentz: If I Could Start Again, a Million Miles Away…

Does Doug Pederson have another late-season playoff push in him with a quarterback not named Carson Wentz? Jalen Hurts made his first start and the Eagles just so happened to knock off the 10-2 Saints with a 24-21 victory.

The Eagles even would have led 20-0 at halftime if not for missing a 22-yard field goal. I’m not going to pretend Hurts was the best thing since Mahomes arrived, but I’m also pretty confident in saying this game is not a Philadelphia win if Wentz started.

Hurts took zero sacks in this game despite throwing 30 passes and rushing 18 times (includes three knees). Wentz has one game this season (Rams) where he didn’t take a sack. He took at least three sacks in every other game and often a lot more than that. The Eagles scored 24 points after not topping 17 points in any of their four games since the bye week. This was also against a New Orleans defense that had been playing great football.

Hurts rushed for 106 yards and looks like he can be very effective as a runner (design and especially scrambles) in this league. He is simply faster and more elusive than Wentz ever will be. The passing can develop of course, but it was nice to see a 15-yard touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffery.

Miles Sanders also chipped in an 82-yard run on his way to 115 yards. The Saints hadn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher in 56 games, but allowed two Eagles to do it in this game. I just do not see that happening if Wentz was still the quarterback. If Pederson wanted to see a spark by making the quarterback move, he definitely got it on Sunday with this huge win to put the Eagles back in contention for that division at 4-8-1.

As I wrote earlier this week, the Saints were 8-0 without Drew Brees thanks mostly to the defense. But there were problems with Taysom Hill and sacks that you just don’t worry about with Brees in the game. Hill took five sacks in this game, or something Brees has done once in the last five seasons. The most costly one came in the fourth quarter with the Saints down 17-14 and facing a fourth-and-2. Hill took a sack and lost a fumble. The Eagles turned that into a 53-yard touchdown drive and 24-14 lead. Hill then took two more sacks, leading to a 57-yard field goal that was missed with 1:55 left.

Hill was not overall poor in this game, but there are just some inexperience flaws in his game that cost him against a defense that is better than given credit for this season. The Saints will have to get Brees back to have any legitimate shot at knocking off the Chiefs on Sunday.

But all of a sudden, the Eagles look interesting again with games left against the Cardinals, Cowboys, and Football Team. The Eagles no longer control their own fate, but it would be nice if Week 17 against Washington was for the division title.

The Falcons Out-Falcon the Chargers

This game might have mattered if these teams weren’t exactly who we thought they are: epic chokers. Incredibly, there was only a single score in the fourth quarter as the game was tied at 17.

Sure, there were three interceptions thrown in the last four minutes alone (two by Matt Ryan), but this was surprisingly a tame ending given the standards these teams have set for how to lose games.

Rookie Justin Herbert’s interception with 47 seconds left sure seemed like it would be a dagger to his team and leave him with one of the saddest stat lines in NFL history. At this point, Herbert was 33-of-40 for 195 yards. He would have been the first QB in NFL history to finish with fewer than 200 passing yards on at least 32 completions.

Fortunately, Ryan was picked three plays later and Herbert delivered two of his longest completions of the day, including a 25-yard pass to set up a 43-yard game-winning field goal with no time left. Surprisingly, there were no surprise penalties, icings of the kicker, or anything goofy on the play. It was just a simple kick and the Chargers made it to win the game 20-17.

Herbert finally has a game-winning drive, and he finished with 243 yards on 36 completions, avoiding the Chris Weinke benchmark of 223 yards.

This game actually would have been easier to explain if he did break the Weinke record. It’s the Chargers. It’s the Falcons. This is what they do. We’ll do this again in 2024.