Saturday night’s games brought joy to football fans
While “Thursday Night Football” might be in the rearview mirror, Saturday night’s games brought joy to football fans as the NFL provided some compelling action to start Week 16 with plenty on the line.
All four teams competing on Saturday took the field with the playoffs at stake. The Washington Redskins and Tennessee Titans competed to keep their playoff hopes alive in a game where one team would survive and the other would see its season essentially end.
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Chargers and Baltimore Ravens battled it out for playoff seeding and offered fans a potential glimpse at a potential AFC Wild Card matchup.
A two-game slate with so much on the line didn’t fall short of expectations. Between Saturday’s two big games, several key players stepped up with outstanding performances, while a few others collapsed in the biggest moments while casting doubt on their team’s future.
Here are the studs and duds from the NFL’s Saturday action in Week 16.
Stud: Adrian Peterson, running back, Washington Redskins
It feels like this should be impossible. Running backs are supposed to decline rapidly once they pass the age-30 threshold. Yet here is Peterson pulling off another 100-yard game in a masterful performance.
The 33-year-old looked far past his prime in 2017, but he’s been remarkable this year. Peterson demolished Tennessee’s defense for 119 rushing yards on 26 carries. The vintage moves we saw from him during his heyday came back in this game as he fought and clawed his way to surpass the 1,000-yard mark this season. We don’t know where AP will play in 2019, but the market should be strong for him.
Dud: Marcus Mariota, quarterback, Tennessee Titans
The moment Mariota went down and Blaine Gabbert replaced him, doubt had to sink in for Tennessee’s fan base. While Mariota hasn’t been great this season, he has played a key role in this offense’s turnaround and brought an added dimension to the running game.
Now the Titans could potentially be without him for a potential win-and-in situation against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 17. While Gabbert played at an acceptable level on Saturday, he is far from the quarterback anyone can trust to help a team succeed in a must-win game and will put the Titans at a significant disadvantage against the Colts.
Even more concerning, Mariota just keeps getting injured, which spells bad news long term for the franchise.
Stud: Mark Andrews, tight end, Baltimore Ravens
In a game with very few big plays on offense, the one the mattered the most came from a rookie tight end. After Los Angeles punched in a go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter, Andrews broke free for a 68-yard touchdown aided by a perfect throw from Lamar Jackson (watch here).
The play couldn’t have been more crucial for the Ravens. It injected confidence into Jackson with a lead and a big play in the passing game. Meanwhile, Baltimore’s defense could attack the Chargers once again.
The chemistry between Jackson and Andrews was already there, and now the big plays are coming with it. This is a dangerous team moving forward, especially if it can cut down on the turnovers offensively.
Dud: Chargers offensive line
The night couldn’t have been much uglier for the men tasked to protect Philip Rivers and help create running lanes for Melvin Gordon. This isn’t even a bad offensive line, yet Baltimore’s front seven made it look like a high school unit on Saturday.
Beyond the four sacks and numerous hits on Rivers, penalties also doomed Los Angeles. Multiple holding penalties wiped out big plays that would have moved the chains as the offensive line provided constant setbacks for the offense and proved fatal.
Pair all of that with a running game that could never find room with penetration always making it into the backfield and it’s a miracle the Chargers stayed in this game for so long. If this issue isn’t corrected before the playoffs, a team with Super Bowl aspirations could be knocked out early.
Stud: Za’Darius Smith, outside linebacker, Baltimore Ravens
On an outstanding defense, Smith has largely flown under the radar this season as an impact defender. That should change after the 26-year-old’s sensational performance on Saturday against the Chargers.
Smith caused constant frustrations for Rivers and the offensive line. He recorded 1.5 sacks, including a clutch takedown late in the fourth quarter to force a punt. Even more importantly, Smith’s four quarterback hits made sure Rivers never grew comfortable in the pocket.
Baltimore’s brilliant season on the defensive end has been fun to watch and Smith has played a crucial part in all of it. The young linebacker’s breakout season continued in Week 16 and he should now have a shot at his first 10-sack season.
Dud: Antonio Gates, tight end, Los Angeles Chargers
There have been so many wonderful moments in the future Hall of Famer’s career. Unfortunately for Gates, Saturday night will be a game he’ll want to forget.
It all came down to one play. The Chargers were inside Ravens territory, and Rivers seemed to have finally found his rhythm. He hit Gates to move further down the field, then disaster struck as Gates had the ball punched out of his hands and Tavon Young returned it for a game-sealing touchdown (watch here).
Gates came so close to making a big play and giving this offense the momentum it needed. If he holds onto the football, it’s very possible the Chargers make a comeback in this tight game. Unfortunately, he didn’t hold onto the ball tightly enough and it sealed the devastating loss for his team.