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Biggest winners and losers from NFL Week 15

We’re well into the holiday spirit now that NFL Week 15 is mostly in the books, and some crazy stuff went down this weekend around the league.

Good teams received some gifts, while a few bad teams got lumps of coal. The game of the week lived up to its billing with an ending that was written for Hollywood, so naturally it wasn’t without some controversy.

We’re taking a look at 15 games, from Thursday to Sunday night. Some of them were pretty sweet, while others we’d rather forget.

These are the biggest winners and losers from the NFL action in Week 15.

Winner: Brock Osweiler’s incredible relief effort 

Denver got off to an awful start Thursday night against the Indianapolis Colts. Trevor Siemian threw a terrible interception that led to a touchdown for the Colts. Then he suffered an injury to his shoulder that turned out to be season-ending.

That’s when Brock Osweiler came into the game, and based on his work earlier this year in Denver fans didn’t have much reason to hope things would get better. But they did. Osweiler completed 12-of-17 passes for 194 yards with two touchdowns on consecutive drives in the second half and no interceptions.

After the game, ESPN Stats & Info tweeted, “Brock Osweiler’s 99.2 Total QBR tonight is the highest in the NFL for any QB in a game this season (min. 20 action plays). It’s the highest Total QBR in a game for a non-starting QB in the 12 seasons for which ESPN has Total QBR data.”

It’s just incredible. Based on his career trajectory, nobody could have seen this performance coming. Yet Osweiler was unstoppable Thursday night.

Loser: Mitch Trubisky threw a lot, and it showed

The Chicago Bears couldn’t run the ball on Saturday against the Detroit Lions. Then they fell behind, 20-3, early in the third quarter. These circumstances caused rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky to throw the ball 46 times in the game, and it didn’t work out for the young man, or his team.

Darius Slay picked off Trubisky twice in the game, moving his total up to seven on the season to lead the league. Then in the fourth quarter after Trubisky drove the Bears into the red zone, he threw an awful pick to Quandre Diggs, finishing with three on the day.

All three interceptions were ones Trubisky would like to have back. He also struggled with accuracy throughout the game, missing badly on many of his incompletions. So, while Bears fans have been begging their team to let the rookie loose, it backfired when it finally did.

Winner: Chiefs remembered how to win again

The Kansas City Chiefs put a big hurt on their AFC rival Los Angeles Chargers Saturday night, winning in blowout fashion, 30-13. It was a tremendous team effort, with stars on both sides of the ball pitching in.

Alex Smith almost couldn’t miss throwing the ball, and Tyreek Hill showed off his signature speed on a 64-yard bomb to score the first touchdown of the game (watch here). Kareem Hunt went for 206 total yards, chewing up 155 yards on the ground and scoring two touchdowns, which should have been three if not for a controversial call on a pass he definitely caught in the end zone.

Even better, the defense stepped up big time. The defensive line swarmed Philip Rivers all night, safeties got pressure and sacks on timely blitzes and Marcus Peters created three turnovers (one forced fumble and two interceptions).

In a must-win game to claim the top spot in the AFC West (8-6 record), the Chiefs have now turned a meaningful corner the past few weeks. Their four-game losing streak is suddenly well behind them and they are in great shape heading into the final two weeks of the regular season.

Loser: Bengals waive white flag

We should have seen this coming. News broke Sunday morning before the games that Marvin Lewis plans on leaving the Bengals after 15 seasons when this one is over. And the Cincinnati Bengals went AWOL on the road against the Minnesota Vikings a few hours later.

This was a truly awful effort that showed the Bengals have given up on Lewis. Andy Dalton threw two inexcusable interceptions, the first of which was thrown in the vicinity of four Vikings defenders for a pick-six. The entire offense accounted for just eight first downs and 161 yards.

Defensively, the Bengals rolled over. Case Keenum was nearly perfect, completing all but three of his 23 attempts while throwing two touchdowns and no interceptions. Running backs Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon combined for 242 total yards. Kyle Rudolph sealed the win with a score to make it 34-0 in the fourth quarter, following it up with an Ickey Shuffle as a nod to his childhood hero, Ickey Woods.

It wasn’t until the game was over, late in the fourth quarter, that Giovani Bernard finally scored for the Bengals. The 34-7 blowout loss was just embarrassing, but it’s just a continuation of what we’ve seen all year from this club.

Winner: First-year WRs spark huge win for Jags

Without Leonard Fournette in the lineup Sunday at home against the Houston Texans, Jacksonville’s offense relied on the passing game for big plays. And the Jags got more than a few from a couple of first-year receivers in Keelan Cole (rookie out of Kentucky Wesleyan) and Jaydon Mickens (a practice-squad member of the Oakland Raiders last year).

Cole was the big-yardage guy. He caught seven passes for 186 yards and a touchdown. Mickens was the guy who got all the scoring going in the eventual 45-7 blowout, catching Blake Bortles’ first two touchdowns. He finished with four catches for 61 yards after coming into the game with just one career reception for 11 yards.

It’s also worth pointing out that Mickens has, until recently, been living out of his car because he was nervous about signing a lease, given that he wasn’t sure about his future in Jacksonville. It seems safe to say that the young man can settle in, because he looks like a potential long-term fixture in Jacksonville.

It’s also worth highlighting that Jacksonville clinched a playoff berth Sunday for the first time since 2007.

Loser: Tennessee’s rushing attack dominated by Niners

Titans running back DeMarco Murray

The San Francisco 49ers haven’t exactly been stoning opposing rushing attacks this year. They entered Week 15 ranked No. 24 against the run, allowing over 121 yards per game, and had allowed 10 total rushing scores.

Faced up against a Tennessee Titans squad that excels running the ball, this looked like a matchup the Titans could exploit. Tennessee had 17 rushing scores before Sunday, second in the league. They didn’t get into the end zone once on the ground in this game, however, as the front seven of San Francisco owned Tennessee’s offensive line.

Derrick Henry and DeMarco Murray combined for just 78 yards on 25 carries, averaging just 3.12 yards per attempt. Marcus Mariota had a decent game passing the ball, but without the rushing attack the Titans were vulnerable. Not surprisingly they lost, falling to 8-6 on the season, which is good for the No. 5 seed if the playoffs started today.

Winner: Ravens D feasts on husk of Browns

It’s not really surprising that the Baltimore Ravens beat the winless Cleveland Browns this weekend. To be honest, nothing about the outcome, or how it occurred, is shocking in any way. But we still have to give credit where credit is due.

Baltimore’s defense went ham against the most turnover-prone team in the NFL. DeShone Kizer threw two interceptions and lost a fumble in the end zone, which was picked up by nose tackle Brandon Williams for a fat-man touchdown (watch here). Duke Johnson also coughed up a ball, making it four turnovers in the game for Cleveland.

Those four turnovers turned into 14 points, which was good enough to win the game. In the end, the offense pitched in a bit, too, and the Ravens cruised to 8-6 with a 27-10 victory to remain very much alive in the playoff race.

Loser: NFL catch rule is a joke

Jesse James absolutely caught the game-winning touchdown pass for the Pittsburgh Steelers, even though it was ruled incomplete.

One play after JuJu Smith-Schuster went 69 yards to put them in the red zone, Ben Roethlisberger found James in the middle of the field. James caught the ball, extended the ball past the goal line and had the ball securely in his grasp.

Unfortunately, the ball bobbled ever so slightly as he came down to the ground. Yet, replay showed James secured it before being touched by a defender. But by definition, it was ruled incomplete upon review as the NFL’s central office upheld its atrocious catch rule, which is an endless source of angst for fans and players alike.

After the play was called back, Roethlisberger threw an interception in the end zone, which ended the game.

Winner: Todd Gurley owned the Seahawks

The last time the Seattle Seahawks got owned by a running back the way Todd Gurley owned them on Sunday was way back in 2006. Larry Johnson went for 140 yards and three touchdowns in that game, a total Gurley matched before halftime.

Helping the Rams take a 34-0 lead into the half and ultimately a 40-0 lead before he was done for the day, Gurley was unstoppable. Seattle, without K.J. Wright and with Bobby Wagner hobbled, was helpless to stop him. He romped for a total of 152 yards and three touchdowns on 21 carries, adding another 28 yards and a touchdown on three catches.

Jared Goff didn’t have to do a heck of a lot in this game, thanks to Gurley’s exploits. He only passed for 120 yards and two touchdowns before being pulled in favor of Sean Mannion with the game already out of hand early in the fourth quarter. By that time, the Seahawks had already seen a large portion of their fan base leave in disgust, which must have been a sweet sight indeed for the NFC West leaders, who improved to 10-4 with the big win.

Loser: Poor, sad T.J. Yates

This was never a fair fight. The Jaguars brought the best defense in the league into Sunday’s game, and Houston brought third-string quarterback T.J. Yates. It was always going to be ugly. But my goodness, this was a veritable nightmare for Yates and the Texans.

Yates would finish the game with just 99 net yards on 12-of-31 passing. He did throw a touchdown to DeAndre Hopkins in garbage time, but he also threw an interception and was sacked four times for 29 yards and is lucky his two fumbles were recovered by the Texans.

Houston’s season has gone straight into the toilet ever since Deshaun Watson’s injury, not to mention the other major injuries suffered on the defensive side of the ball. Yet still, one has to wonder if a certain free agent quarterback might have given the Texans a better chance of winning games after Watson was hurt. But that’s none of my business.

Winner: Nick Foles keeps the Eagles soaring

Eagles quarterback Nick Foles

As we predicted, the Philadelphia Eagles weren’t as sharp as they have been most of the season in their first game without Carson Wentz.

What we didn’t see coming, however, was that it was the team’s defense that struggled, rather than the offense. Eli Manning shredded Philly’s secondary for much of the game, passing for 434 yards and three touchdowns. The Giants finished with 504 yards total and scored 29 points.

With that said, the fact that the Eagles did win, 34-29, is pretty darn impressive. And it shows they’re in capable hands with Foles under center. The veteran backup stayed calm throughout the game, completing 24-of-38 passes for 237 yards. Those numbers don’t jump out at you. But these will: Foles also threw four touchdown passes and didn’t turn the ball over.

The Eagles earned a first-round bye with the win, which most definitely was garnered because of Foles, rather than in spite of him.

Loser: Aaron Rodgers was rusty

Unlike the last time he came back from missing significant time due to injury, Rodgers did not come out red hot. In fact, he was clearly rusty. To be honest, it’s pretty remarkable that the Green Bay Packers had a shot to win Sunday on the road in Carolina, given how poorly Aaron Rodgers played.

Facing heavy pressure most of the game, Rodgers’ accuracy suffered. He completed just 26-of-45 passes for 290 yards and did throw three touchdowns, showing he is still the same A-Rod that can take games over. Unfortunately, Rodgers also threw three interceptions, which turned into seven points for the Panthers — the difference in the game.

Rodgers isn’t 100-percent healthy, so we probably shouldn’t have assumed he’d be able to play at an MVP pace in his first game back. Still, there’s no doubt his mistakes cost the Packers a chance to win their eighth game of the year. Now with two games left, they need serious help to get into the playoffs.

Winner: Jason Garrett’s gutsy call saved the ‘Boys

The Dallas Cowboys entered Week 15 with slim playoff hopes, but they are still very much alive after winning their eighth game Sunday night against the Oakland Raiders. The game itself was very frustrating, as neither team was able to get into any kind of rhythm throughout the contest. Dallas did take a 10-0 lead into halftime, but the Raiders got right back into it in the third quarter, tying it up at 10-10 to claim all the momentum.

Then, after going three-and-out, setting up for an apparent punt from deep in their own territory, the Cowboys rolled the dice.

Now, Jason Garrett is usually loathe to make these types of decisions. But he must have felt the game was getting out of hand because he called for a fake punt, which punter Chris Jones pulled off to perfection. Nine plays later, Dak Prescott ran in the go-ahead score to re-claim the momentum Dallas had in the first half.

The Raiders did go on to score a touchdown to tie the game up on their next offensive possession, proving Garrett’s gut correct. He knew his team needed to score or risk falling behind. He made the tough call, and it paid off. Ultimately, the Cowboys edged the Raiders by just three points, 20-17, when Derek Carr fumbled out of the end zone with under a minute remaining in the fourth quarter, turning it over.

Loser: Blaine Gabbert was atrocious in must-win game for Cards

The Arizona Cardinals were clinging to the slim chance they might squeeze into the playoffs heading into Week 15 with a record of 6-7. But right there at the bottom of the heap, they needed to win and get help. Well, you can scratch that first, and most important, part of the equation out.

Thanks in large part to a really bad game by Blaine Gabbert, Arizona fell in a very winnable game, 20-15. Gabbert didn’t even complete half his passes, going 16-of-41 (39 percent!!!) for just 189 yards with no touchdowns and an interception in the red zone that made us queasy. He also lost a fumble on the game’s first drive, leading to a quick touchdown for the Redskins that proved the difference in the game.

Thanks to Arizona’s defense, the Cards did have a chance to win the game, but Gabbert’s play doomed them.

Winner: Rob Gronkowski couldn’t be stopped

After missing Week 14 on a one-game suspension for an egregiously dirty hit on Tre’Davious White, Gronk was on fire Sunday in Pittsburgh.

He hauled in more than half the total yardage thrown by Tom Brady, catching nine passes for 168 yards. He also hauled in the two-point conversion that gave the Patriots the three-point lead heading into the final moments of the game and came up with clutch catch after clutch catch throughout.

Gronkowski has to live with the deed that got him suspended. But he made sure to put it behind him and clearly was on a mission to make amends to his teammates after missing last week’s loss in Miami.

Loser: Russell Wilson finally broke

Every person has a breaking point. Russell Wilson experienced his on Sunday at home against the Rams, who are coming on very strong heading into the playoffs. As we’ve seen all year, Seattle’s offensive line was a train wreck. The Seahawks couldn’t generate a running game, and Wilson was sacked seven times for 71 yards.

Wilson at one point threw a pass behind himself while getting dragged to the turf by Aaron Donald. He also lost one of two fumbles and endured a safety in the fourth quarter.

For the second week in a row, a dominant defensive front forced him into uncharacteristic mistakes. He finished with just 71 net passing yards on 14-of-30 attempts, though he did manage a garbage-time touchdown to put the Seahawks on the board in the third quarter. By that time the game was already over, however, and the Seahawks were handed their worst home loss in recent memory.

Winner: Cam Newton, Christian McCaffrey and Greg Olsen shred the Packers

We’ve been harping on how bad Green Bay’s secondary is most of the season. On Sunday in Carolina, the Packers were exposed in a big way by Cam Newton and Co.

Newton had one of the best games of his season, completing 20-of-31 passes for 242 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions. His go-to tight end, Greg Olsen, finished with nine catches for 116 yards, leading all receivers in the game. He also finally caught his first touchdown all year after missing most of the season with a foot injury. And Christian McCaffrey was unstoppable (especially early), finishing with 136 total yards and a touchdown on 18 touches.

The 31-24 win was the 10th victory of the season for the Panthers, who are all knotted up with the Saints atop the NFC South with two weeks left to play.

Loser: Bad Jay Cutler returns for the Fins

If there’s one thing we can always count on, it’s that Jay Cutler will either be disgustingly inept or downright brilliant. Apparently, Smokin’ Jay used up all his brilliance last Monday helping the Miami Dolphins shock the New England Patriots, because Bad Jay showed up Sunday in Buffalo.

There’s no way to sugarcoat how awful Cutler was. He completed just 28-of-49 passes for 274 yards, which shows he was a bit rough on the accuracy side of things. He also threw three interceptions, showing his signature lack of judgement. The final interception occurred late in the game on the first play following a successful onside kick. Cutler appeared to just heave it in the general vicinity of his receiver, and just like that the game was over, much to the chagrin of fans watching at home.

Buffalo needed the win and played like it. Cutler and the Dolphins needed the win and played like they have most of the year, meaning they were a miserable failure.

Winner: Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara are unstoppable

Just like they’ve been doing all season long, Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara dominated on Sunday. Helping the New Orleans Saints improve to 10-4 to remain ahead atop the NFC South, they both made huge contributions, both on the ground and through the air.

Ingram rushed for 74 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries, including a 50-yard romp. He also caught five passes for 77 yards, going for a total of 151 yards in the game. Kamara bounced back nicely after missing Week 14 with a concussion, rushing for 44 yards and catching five passes for 45 yards and a touchdown.

These two stars have now both gained at least 1,200 yards from scrimmage and scored 10 touchdowns this year. They’re the first duo to do this since 1988 and just the third in the history of  the NFL, per ESPN Stats & Info. That’s packing some serious clout, and they’re not done yet.

Loser: Philip Rivers picked worst possible time to tank

Heading into Saturday’s pivotal game in Kansas City, Philip Rivers had gone four games in a row without throwing an interception. Not coincidentally, the Chargers won all four games and were one of the hottest teams in the league.

Those good vibes were absolutely crushed by the Chiefs, who intercepted Rivers three times. All three of his picks were of the nauseating variety, too, and the Chargers ended up losing the turnover battle, 4-0.

The veteran finished the game with just 227 yards on 20-of-36 passing with one touchdown, the three interceptions and a pit in his stomach. Afterward, he noted the Chargers, “kind of fell apart” in this key game, which dropped them to 7-7 on the season. While that’s certainly true, nobody fell apart more than Rivers did, and now the Chargers need help to get into the playoffs this year.

Winner: Jimmy G is the real deal

The 49ers won their third straight game with Jimmy Garoppolo under center. And once again they won in large part because of his play down the stretch. Completing 31-of-43 passes for 381 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions, he was pretty much the only offense the Niners had going for them against the Titans.

As my colleague Vincent Frank noted after the game, Garoppolo has now led scoring drives 20 times in 28 tries as the team’s starter. The 49ers scored seven times in eight opportunities on Sunday, they didn’t turn the ball over once (got lucky a couple of times, sure) and racked up 23 first downs.

The 49ers better get Garoppolo locked up long term, and soon. Sure, they could sign him to a franchise tag next year, but why bother? He’s clearly the real deal. The 49ers need to secure their future, which clearly is already here.