If Baker Mayfield can put together two fourth-quarter touchdown drives 48 hours after joining a wounded roster, what’s holding the rest of the league back? The only fourth-quarter lead change on Sunday involved the 1-win Texans blowing a late lead to the 17.5-point favored Cowboys.
It was one of the least dramatic days of NFL action we have seen in some time. The seven comeback opportunities (six on Sunday) are tied for the fewest in a week this season. But some of the opportunities weren’t even that good with teams like the Ravens and Panthers just running the clock down on the Steelers and Seahawks after drives earlier in the quarter failed.
Beyond that lack of fourth-quarter drama, most of the best teams won again (Eagles, Bills, Chiefs, Cowboys, Bengals, 49ers, Ravens).
A strong contender for worst week of the season so far. Hard to believe there are only four left in this regular season, and the next two weeks will split up the action with Saturday triple-headers.
This season in Stat Oddity:
Dolphins at Chargers: The Uncomfortable Justin Herbert Conversation
I was able to write the other 10 recaps during Sunday Night Football, and after taking a break to watch The White Lotus S2 finale, I’m still not sure what the hell was going on in Los Angeles tonight.
It was a game without a turnover, yet one of the pivotal plays was a fumble at midfield that just so happened to be picked up by Tyreek Hill for a 57-yard touchdown return.
Tua Tagovailoa went from being one of the most accurate quarterbacks in the league this year to staring down a start that had him 3-for-17 for 25 yards more than halfway through the third quarter. Then he found Hill down the sideline and 60 yards later it was a 17-14 game.
So, it felt like there was some Chargering in store for us, but 43 yards away from the lead in the fourth quarter, Tua threw his Tom Brady in Super Bowl XLVI pass into the dead sea way down the field with no one in sight. He was slapped with an intentional grounding penalty, which brought up third-and-19 to kill that drive.
The Chargers went on another long drive with Herbert throwing darts that ended short of the end zone, but at least this one still put a field goal on the board despite a scary fumble at the 6-yard line with just over four minutes left. The Chargers were able to recover and saved the field goal for a crucial 23-14 lead.
Miami did not have the greatest of response drives, but the Dolphins were able to convert a 55-yard field goal to keep the game alive with 1:10 left. Hope finally ran out after the onside kick failed, but not before a nice bounce that at least made it dramatic. But the Chargers recovered, and it was over at 23-17.
Herbert is now 9-0 when the Chargers allow fewer than 20 points. I think the main takeaway from that stat is that they’ve only held nine of his first 45 opponents under 20 points.
There is still enough season left for the Chargers (7-6) to be that 11-win team many of us thought they should be this year. It will take more efforts like this, though it’s not like the Chargers were on top of their game here. They gave up two big touchdowns to Hill and somehow turned 39 completions from Herbert to 23 points. Watching a quarterback throw the ball 51 times in a game where he never trailed and his team allowed 17 points is weird. That’s Brady stuff.
But they looked better than Miami, who got a 10-of-28 for 145 yards game out of Tua. Nearly half his yards came on that one pass to Hill. Is there an injury throwing Tua off his game the last two weeks? Something is off.
All I can safely conclude is that these two teams are in a tier below the Bills, Chiefs, and Bengals in the AFC.
Texans at Cowboys: Texas-Sized Upset Narrowly Avoided
Well, that was a hell of a lot closer than it should have been. The Cowboys were a 17.5-point favorite at home against a Houston team that was 1-10-1 and was alternating Davis Mills with Jeff Driskel at quarterback.
Had Dallas lost, you’d have to go back to 1977 to find a bigger upset by point spread when the Patriots lost 24-14 to Buffalo as an 18-point favorite. The last 17.5-point favorite to lose in the NFL was the 2020 Rams against the Jets. The 2019 Patriots also did it in Week 17 at home against Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Dolphins in a game that cost them a first-round bye.
This would have been more embarrassing given the record of the Texans, their quarterback situation, and just how hot the offense has been for Dallas.
But the Texans have not been allowing many offensive touchdowns in recent weeks, and that showed up again here. Tony Pollard had a couple early scores, but he finished with just 42 rushing yards. In between their second and final touchdown, the Cowboys had two field goals, two interceptions, two punts, and Ezekiel Elliott was stuffed at the 1-yard line on the team’s only full third-quarter possession.
Dak Prescott has been a little sloppy with picks this season, and it looked like he threw one with 5:37 left that was going to bury the Cowboys who were already down 23-20. The Texans returned the pick to the 4-yard line and could go up two scores. But it was a bad run by Rex Burkhead that lost 2 yards on third-and-goal at the 1 that put the Texans in trouble.
If you’re going to do this Driskel QB runs thing, why not use him on third-and-1? I agree 100% with Houston going for the fourth down even after losing two yards, but it ended up being another bad call with Driskel looking confused on the designed run. The Cowboys stuffed him, and Prescott had his shot at redemption from 98 yards away with 3:20 left.
Prescott had 15 game-winning drives in his first three seasons (2016-18), but we have seen very little of this from Dallas in the last four seasons when he has just four game-winning drives (including this one).
In fact, this game was the first time all year the Cowboys had a fourth-quarter comeback opportunity. They were down too many points in the fourth against the Buccaneers (lost 19-3) and Eagles (lost 26-17) for those games to qualify. They were technically never down in the fourth quarter or overtime when they blew a 28-14 lead in Green Bay and lost 31-28 in overtime. This was the first one all year, and Dak made sure it was a success with his arms and legs.
Michael Gallup looked like he had a 2-yard touchdown catch, but a good hit when he landed dislodged the ball and made the play incomplete. The Cowboys went to old reliable on third down in Elliott, and he was able to cash it in this time for the go-ahead touchdown with 41 seconds left. Dallas finally led 27-23.
Mills got the ball out to midfield, but his deep shot was intercepted in the end zone to end the game. Mills is a better quarterback for Houston than Kyle Allen, but it was still a surprise it was this tight.
Many of us thought the Eagles were disappointing in how they played in Houston when they won 29-17 on a Thursday night. But this? I think this game gives me the validity I need when I say the Cowboys are going to lose in Tampa on Wild Card Weekend in the 5-4 matchup in the NFC. I hope they prove me wrong, and a win is a win, but this was frighteningly too close to a loss for me.
Eagles at Giants: Philly Increases the Gap in Best Division
Welp, so much for the Giants forcing Jalen Hurts into a bad game like they did last year in a 13-7 upset at MetLife. The versatile Eagles passed for 156 yards in the first half and rushed for 192 yards in the second half in a 48-22 rout of the Giants.
The Eagles scored touchdowns on their first three drives, effectively winning the game at 21-0. The Giants took seven sacks and only managed a garbage-time touchdown in the last minute when trailing 48-14.
Not surprisingly, once the schedule changed for the Giants to where they couldn’t win close games against mostly bad teams, the wins have dried up. As for the Eagles, I’m not sure what more you can say about this team. They are more balanced between offense and defense and the run and pass as any team in the NFL right now. Their stars have mostly been healthy. They were slipping a bit against Washington and Indy, but the offense has been money the last three weeks.
I guess we’re just waiting for that Christmas Eve game in Dallas to see if this team shows any cracks. It won’t happen in Chicago next week.
Buccaneers at 49ers: 35-Oh You Don’t Deserve a Home Playoff Game
Now if only Kyle Shanahan had this kind of knockout punch for Tom Brady in Super Bowl LI with Atlanta…
The 49ers were starting rookie quarterback Brock Purdy for the first time, but he looked more than ready for the opportunity. Purdy finished 16-of-21 for 185 yards, two touchdown passes, and he ran for a short touchdown. He showed good poise and accuracy. He led the 49ers to at least 23 points for the second week in a row. Brady has led the Buccaneers to 23 points just once in 13 games this year.
It was another lousy game for the Buccaneers. It was also just the second time in Brady’s career (376 starts) where a team scored more than 31 points against him before he ever got on the board. The only game worse than the 35-0 start Sunday was that 38-0 run the 2020 Saints put on him in a prime-time game the Saints won 38-3.
This time, Tampa’s only score came on a deflected touchdown at the goal line. But there would be no collapse this time. Brady continued to throw almost each play in the fourth quarter down 35-7, and the drive stalled with another failed fourth down with 8:40 left. The teams just went through the motions after that.
The 49ers are still going to be a major threat with Purdy, especially if he can play like this with any consistency. But it was not a perfect day for the 49ers as Deebo Samuel was injured in the first half and carted off. Initial reports are optimistic that it won’t be a season-ending knee injury, but we saw how that goes with the Von Miller injury on Thanksgiving.
The 49ers are still a force with an offense led by CMC, Brandon Aiyuk, and George Kittle, but Samuel is the edge they need when they play a team like the Eagles or Cowboys in the playoffs. Hopefully his season isn’t over, but the cart is rarely good news.
But at least this game gave me some confidence that should these teams meet again in the playoffs, the 49ers should win barring a collapse from Purdy with turnovers. This Tampa team stinks, and if it wasn’t for the incompetence of the division and the way the Rams and Saints blew those late leads, this team would be 4-9 at best right now with Cincinnati up next.
In fact, this game just makes me more pissed off about what the Saints did Monday night, because this division should be a four-way tie at 5-8 right now. Tampa would probably still win it in that scenario, but it’s blasphemous that any of these teams get a home playoff game.
Chiefs at Broncos: Shaky Chiefs Win 14th Straight Against Broncos
It is a shame Russell Wilson had a concussion in the fourth quarter, because this first meeting with Patrick Mahomes’ Chiefs as a member of the Broncos was in an odd way his best game this season.
It was looking like the lowest point yet when the Chiefs took a 27-0 lead after a great defensive play on a pick-six put the Chiefs up big. But Mahomes got a little careless on a few picks up big, Jerry Jeudy went nuclear on the field and turned his anger into three touchdown catches, and the Broncos were right back in this game in a hurry after scoring a season-high 28 points.
But it was a fourth-quarter scramble where Wilson picked up 14 yards on a third-and-11 that he hurt himself. He banged his head on the ground and the bump was very visible. He also looked like he had no idea where he was on the ground. It was a scary moment, but he was able to walk off the field. Brett Rypien came in and fired the third touchdown of the day to Jeudy on a fourth down to make it 34-28 with tons of time (10:49) left.
These Chiefs rarely make it easy anymore. The teams exchanged some three-and-outs, then Mahomes threw his third interception of the game. When it looked like Rypien had his shot at the go-ahead drive, he was hit in motion and the pop-up was picked off with 4:21 left.
Mahomes had a key third-and-11 conversion to Marquez Valdes-Scantling for 20 yards, then Isiah Pacheco iced the game with an angry 10-yard run.
The Chiefs escaped Mile High with a 34-28 win, eliminating the Broncos from the playoffs and handing them a 14th straight loss in this rivalry.
Despite the highlight-worthy touchdown toss to Jerick McKinnon early in the game, Mahomes likely did himself no favors for the MVP race. But he did throw for 352 yards and three touchdowns. All three times in his career when he’s had three picks, he’s also had at least 350 yards and multiple touchdown passes. The Chiefs have also scored at least 30 points in all those games.
Jets at Bills: Defense Frustrates Allen Again, But Familiar Story on Offense
We should probably give the Jets some credit for their defense this year after holding the Bills at home to 20 points, 2-of-13 on third down, and just 232 yards of offense. The Bills already had a season-low 317 yards in the first meeting with the Jets, but this was worse in some wintry conditions with rain/snow coming down.
This game was scoreless late into the first half until the Bills got the Jets to jump offsides on a fourth-and-1. That led to an incredible 24-yard touchdown catch by Dawson Knox.
Mike White took some big hits in this game and left at one point in the third quarter. Joe Flacco came in and coughed up the ball on a strip-sack. The Bills turned that into a field goal and 17-7 lead. The next Flacco drive was a three-and-out that the Bills also turned into good field position and another field goal (20-7).
White returned, and after the punt team got a safety by blocking a Buffalo punt, it was Michael Carter’s turn to screw things up with a fumble inside the Buffalo 25 with 5:34 left. White, who has passed for over 250 yards in every start he’s finished, eventually got the Jets on the board with a field goal to make it 20-12 with 1:18 left.
The Bills went three-and-out after a brazen pass attempt on first down fell incomplete, saving the Jets a timeout. But by the time White finally got a comeback opportunity, he was down 20-12 with 46 seconds and 79 yards to go and one timeout.
He threw four straight incompletions with his fourth-down pass batted down at the line to end the game. The Bills hung on, but it was far from pretty.
Ravens at Steelers: Son of a Mitch
You just had to expect the Steelers would turn the ball over in this game. They weren’t going to be the 10th offense in the Super Bowl era to go five straight games without a giveaway. That’s some Alex Smith type stuff there (three of the nine teams had Smith at quarterback).
But who imagined Kenny Pickett would leave early after another concussion, and Mitch Trubisky would throw three awful picks, including two in scoring territory? Those plays were the game as the Ravens didn’t do a lot in the passing game with Tyler Huntley starting, getting injured, and undrafted rookie Anthony Brown having to finish the game.
But the Ravens ran 42 times for 215 yards and the Steelers could rarely stop it. After the Ravens blocked a 40-yard field goal in the fourth quarter to hold on to a 13-7 lead, they pounded ahead for their own field goal, and you know Justin Tucker was good with 3:19 left to make it 16-7. J.K. Dobbins was a factor in his return with 120 yards on 15 carries.
Trubisky was 22-of-30 for 276 yards, but those three picks were killers. While he did lead a late touchdown drive to give the team a chance at 16-14 with 2:30 left, the defense was unable to get the ball back. Gus Edwards plowed ahead on three straight runs for the game-clinching first down.
In the seven games where Huntley has at least 20 action plays, the Ravens are now 3-4, but the shocking part is the seven games have been decided by a total of 13 points. It’s always super close, which can be said for most Steelers-Ravens games too. But that’s why you can’t piss away three possessions with turnovers like Trubisky did.
Would Pickett have been better in the game? I’m not so sure he has been aggressive enough lately to hit some of the big throws Trubisky did in this game to the wide receivers. But obviously the mistakes were too much to overcome.
Vikings at Lions: The Close Game Win Streak Still Lives
As someone who does not like the NFL’s new playoff format, the 2022 Vikings may be the first team to make me glad the No. 2 seed no longer gets a first-round bye. If the Vikings even hang onto that seed, the fact is they are the first 10-3 team in NFL history to have a negative scoring differential. They are -1 now after a 34-23 loss in Detroit where the Vikings were an underdog despite having five more wins on the season than the Lions.
On the plus side, the close game winning streak is still alive at nine games. This game did not have an official 4QC opportunity. The Vikings were down 21-13 going into the fourth quarter, but the Lions had the ball and extended the lead to 28-13 with another touchdown on a day where Jared Goff (330 yards and three touchdowns) was hot.
Kirk Cousins threw for 425 yards and didn’t get any help from Dalvin Cook, who was held to 23 yards on 15 carries and had a big fumble in the red zone.
Justin Jefferson had a career-low 14 yards against the Lions earlier this season. He went almost 200 yards beyond that with a career-high 213 this time, but that slow start by the Vikings never kept them close enough to steal another win.
Even after Minnesota scored a late touchdown to cut it to 31-23 with 2:50 left, the Lions converted a third-and-7 with a neat pass to Penei Sewell, an offensive lineman. That led to another field goal and the 34-23 lead that made sure this would finish as a two-score differential and that Cousins would never have the ball down one score in the fourth quarter.
So, the Lions by 1-13 points proved to be a great pick, but we’re technically still waiting to see the Vikings lose a 4QC/GWD opportunity and/or blow a 4Q lead this year. But the Lions are playing well right now with only a close loss to Buffalo since the start of November.
Browns at Bengals: Burrow Gets His Cleveland Win as Predator Sequel Flops
Joe Burrow finally has his first win against the Cleveland Browns in his fifth try, and Kevin Stefanski has his first loss against Cincinnati in his sixth meeting with the in-state rival. We can stop talking about the Browns having any playoff hopes this year. They should have kept starting the quarterback who doesn’t need supervision when he gets a massage.
The secret sauce to Cleveland’s flawless record against Burrow was getting big plays out of the quarterbacks even when those quarterbacks were Baker Mayfield and Jacoby Brissett. In those four games, the Browns averaged 36.3 points and 10.8 yards per pass attempt.
On Sunday, the Browns scored 10 points on 11 drives. The offense only had one 25-yard play, and that was a 28-yard completion in the fourth quarter on a drive that ended with a failed fourth down.
Nick Chubb was held to 34 yards on 14 carries, the first time he was under 100 yards against Burrow’s defense.
Burrow was not at his best with 239 yards, but he only took one sack this time, and the Bengals lost Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins to injury during the game. Ja’Marr Chase was great with 119 yards and a touchdown. The Bengals also hit a 45-yard touchdown on a flea-flicker to Trenton Irwin.
The Bengals are 9-4 and keeping pace with the Ravens in the AFC North. The Browns are 5-8 and will face the Ravens on Saturday. It was a good win for the Bengals to get over this annoying Cleveland hump.
Panthers at Seahawks: Second Episode of “Let Geno Cook” Bombs
Regardless of record, some opponents are just bad matchups. I picked Carolina ATS because I knew the Seahawks were at a big disadvantage in the ground game. The Panthers like to pound it with D’Onta Foreman and Chuba Hubbard, and the Seattle run defense has been bad for most of the year. Kenneth Walker and DeeJay Dallas were out for Seattle, leaving the offense very limited at running back.
Geno Smith was going to have to carry the offense for the second week in a row, and despite finishing with 264 yards and three touchdowns, he also had some turnovers. But despite trailing 17-0 early, this was still a 20-17 game going into the fourth quarter. The Seahawks had the ball but unlike last week when Geno worked some rare (for him) late-game magic against the Rams, he was buried on a third-and-10 sack.
The Panthers kept the ball on the ground instead of going to the air with Sam Darnold like they mistakenly did on a goal-to-go sequence that failed in the third quarter. The end result was a touchdown and 27-17 lead. Another three-and-out by Seattle, another time-killing drive with the run by Carolina, and this one was all but over at 30-17 with 1:56 left. The Panthers were a bit lazy on defense with the 13-point lead, the most dangerous lead in football this month, but Geno’s 24-yard touchdown pass to Marquise Goodwin left only 24 seconds to recover an onside kick and set up a Hail Mary.
Onside kicks are now 3-for-40 this season after Carolina recovered to end the game at 30-24. The Panthers had 46 runs for 223 yards while Sam Darnold only had to throw 24 passes. That’s their formula. The Seahawks had 11 handoffs for 26 yards. They’ll be better when Walker comes back, but with the 49ers up next on a short week, the playoffs might be slipping away for Seattle.
Jaguars at Titans: Remember When the Titans Were Good?
Firing your GM on the first Tuesday in December can never be a good thing, but the Titans have lost the plot to this season with a third-straight loss. We thought the Eagles lighting them up for 35 points last week was just a result of the Eagles playing well and A.J. Brown making sure to embarrass their ass. But this was Trevor Lawrence, with almost no running game to speak of (22 carries for 53 yards), just tearing the defense apart with 368 yards and three touchdowns. You could argue he’s had his two best games in the last three weeks between this and the Baltimore comeback.
The turning point came at the two-minute warning in the first half. The Titans were up 14-13 and Derrick Henry caught a pass near the red zone. But he fumbled and the Jaguars turned that into a 78-yard touchdown drive. They took a 20-14 lead into the half and never looked back. The Jaguars were up 36-14 in the fourth quarter after Henry lost a second fumble. After one more touchdown, the best Tennessee could do was turn it over on downs while trailing 36-22.
The Titans probably are not in danger of blowing this division yet, but they are looking like an easy playoff win for a team like the Dolphins or Ravens/Bengals runner-up right now.
- All for seeing more Brock Purdy on Thursday night in Seattle. Big chance to all but put away the NFC West.
- I was hoping to catch up on some TV this Saturday, but the NFL is giving us a triple-header that is less than exciting. Dolphins-Bills at night is the highlight.
- Not looking forward to Steelers-Panthers one bit.
- You know it’s a bad Sunday slate when the Giants-Commanders rematch is probably the highlight of the day.
- Maybe Joe Burrow can definitively pull the horseshoe out of Tom Brady’s ass and assume the mantle of the LOAT for the next two decades.