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Top takeaways from NFL Week 15

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Week 15 was crazy…

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Week 15 of the NFL season was about as crazy as any of the previous 14 weeks. It started with the Los Angeles Chargers’ drama-filled comeback win over the Chiefs on Thursday evening. Then on Saturday night, Baker Mayfield and the Browns remained alive in the AFC Playoff race with a win over the Broncos.

Once Sunday got going, the drama continued. The up-and-coming Chicago Bears took out Green Bay to win the NFC North. And with an opportunity to clinch the AFC East, the Patriots came up small in Pittsburgh. At about the same time, the 49ers handed Seattle a humiliating loss at Levi’s.

These are among the top takeaways from NFL Week 15.

 

Jared Goff’s struggles are real

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After putting up an MVP-caliber performance over the first 11 games of the season, Goff has hit a major wall for his Rams. He headed into Week 15 fresh off a four-interception performance against the Bears. Goff followed that up by throwing two more interceptions in a 30-23 loss to the defending champion Eagles on Sunday night.

It’s not just the interceptions (seven over the past three games). Instead, Goff continues to show himself to be inaccurate down the field. He missed multiple open receivers for would-be touchdowns Sunday evening. It resulted in back-to-back losses for the Rams. Now, heading into Week 16, Los Angeles is only one game ahead of Chicago for the No. 2 seed in the NFC Playoffs.

 

Cleveland Browns are real playoff contenders

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Heading into Denver in December is usually not a recipe for success for opposing teams. This is especially true when we look at a Browns team that’s been among the worst on the road in recent seasons. It stood to reason that rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield and Co. would struggle at Mile High.

But as has been the case for this Browns team over the past month-plus, they proved us wrong at every turn. Cleveland came out on top by the score of 17-16 after Mayfield led the team to a touchdown-scoring drive early in the fourth quarter. From there, the Browns’ defense did its thing to stop Denver’s offense. Now at 6-7-1 on the season, Cleveland has to be considered legitimate playoff contenders heading into the final two weeks of the season.

 

Patriots offensive line dooms team in latest loss

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Tom Brady and his Patriots entered Sunday’s action still alive for a first-round playoff bye. It come out of the game against Pittsburgh reeling after a second consecutive loss. Sure Brady didn’t play terribly well in the 17-10 defeat. But his offensive line was a complete disaster against a swarming Steelers defensive front.

This unit committed eight penalties, including two holding calls as New England was attempting a comeback late in the fourth quarter. Brady was also hit seven times in the loss. Simply put, New England’s offensive line is the reason this team will now likely have to play in the wildcard round. Given that all eight of the Patriots’ Super Bowl appearances during the Bill Belichick era came after the team had a first-round bye, that’s no small thing.

 

Vikings bounce back in a big way

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Defeating a pedestrian Miami Dolphins team is one thing for the struggling Vikings. Taking it to Ryan Tannehill and Co. to the tune of a 41-17 win is a completely different thing. And it has the Vikings thinking playoffs heading into Week 16 with a 7-6-1 record.

After struggling over the past several games, Kirk Cousins put up a very workmanlike performance, completing 14-of-21 passes for 215 yards with two touchdown and an interception. Dalvin Cook went for 136 yards an two scores on the ground. Minnesota’s defense got to Tannehill to the tune of nine sacks, including multiple quarterback take downs from Danielle Hunter and Anthony Barr. It was pretty much the best overall performance from Mike Zimmer’s squad this season. And it was certainly needed.

 

Bears end the Packers’ season, win NFC North

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For a while there, it looked like the Green Bay Packers were going to make a game of it at Soldier Field. After falling down 14-3 at the half, Green Bay scored 11 consecutive third quarter points to tie it up heading into the fourth quarter.

That’s when Mitch Trubisky and the Bears’ offense stepped up. He completed 3-of-3 passes for 26 yards en route to leading the Bears to a go-ahead touchdown drive in the final stanza. Once Aaron Rodgers’ consecutive pass streak without an interception ended with a pick in the end zone, the Bears were free to celebrate a 10th win on the season and the NFC North title. Meanwhile, Green Bay fell to 5-8-1 on the season and completely out of the playoff race.

 

Los Angeles Chargers make major statement at Arrowhead

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Down by 14 midway through the fourth quarter Thursday night against the AFC’s best team, Los Angeles put up a comeback for the ages. It culminated in a touchdown pass from Philip Rivers to Mike Williams before the two again connected on a game-winning two-point conversion in the final seconds to send Chiefs fans into the dark cold Missouri night.

By virtue of this titanic win, the Chargers are now 11-3 on the season and tied with Kansas City for first place in the AFC West. They have a legit opportunity to land the No. 1 overall seed an home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. That’s what happens when you engage in a franchise-altering comeback on national television against the robust division rival. Yeah, these Chargers are for real.

 

Seahawks offensive line fails Russell Wilson in brutal loss

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It was rather simple. If Seattle could head into Levi’s Stadium and defeat the last-place 49ers for an 11th consecutive time, the team would clinch a playoff spot. Almost immediately out of the gate, this game took a turn for Seattle. That included 97-yard kick return for a touchdown from 49ers rookie receiver Richie James.

From there, San Francisco played inspired football against a sloppy Seahawks squad. All said, Pete Carroll’s team committed 14 penalties for 148 yards. Half of those penalties came against the offensive line. Meanwhile, Wilson was sacked three times and under duress pretty much the entire game. It led to a 26-23 loss with Seattle now falling back to the pack in the race for a wildcard spot. In fact, the Seahawks are now just one game ahead of Washington and Philadelphia for the final spot.

 

The Colts might just be for real

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Indianapolis had the pleasure of hosting the hottest team in the NFL Sunday afternoon. In a game that seemed to be one of the best of the Week 15 slate, the Colts made a major statement against Jason Garrett and the Dallas Cowboys. It started with a blocked field goal that ultimately led to a touchdown and a 7-0 first quarter lead. From there, it was all Colts.

The Colts’ defense pitched a shutout, forcing multiple Cowboys drives inside their end of the field to result in zero points. In fact, the Cowboys put up a goose egg on six drives inside Indianapolis’ side of the field. Meanwhile, Andrew Luck played mistake-free football in another stellar all-around performance. Now at 8-6 on the season, these Colts have proven they are for real.

 

Lamar Jackson has the Ravens on the brink

Lamar Jackson during the Hall of Fame Game

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We already know that this rookie quarterback will be Baltimore’s starter for the remainder of the season and moving forward into the 2019 campaign. The icing on the cake here is that Baltimore remains very much alive in the AFC Playoff race. That was taken to a whole new level with a 20-12 win over the hapless Buccaneers on Sunday.

Jackson struggled to an extent through the air, completing 14-of-23 passes for just 131 yards. But as has been the case since he replaced Joe Flacco under center, it was all about Baltimore’s rushing attack. Jackson went for 95 yards on 18 attempts. Meanwhile, Gus Edwards gained 104 yards on 19 attempts to help Baltimore to move to 8-6 on the season. Baltimore is now averaging 230 rushing yards in Jackson’s five starts. Whew.

 

What went wrong for the Cowboys?

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Dallas headed into Week 15 with a five-game winning streak and an opportunity to claim the NFC East title. Sure it wasn’t going to be an easy game against a red-hot Colts team on the road. But no one could have expected what actually went down in Indianapolis.

The Cowboys couldn’t get out of their own way — coming up scoreless on six trips inside the Colts’ side of the field. A Dak Prescott interception and Ezekiel Elliott fumble ended two other drives. In the process, Dallas was held scoreless for the first time in 15 years in a shocking 23-0 loss to the Colts. Still in the driver’s seat in the NFC East, this game might have proven that Jason Garrett and Co. are simply pretenders.

 

A new low for Jon Gruden and the Raiders 

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Fresh off a surprising win over Pittsburgh last week, things seemed to be coming together well for the last-place Raiders. At the very least, they showed a nice amount of fight in a win against a potential playoff team. Unfortunately, the reality of a lost season by the bay smacked Oakland in the face Sunday against a bad Bengals team in Cincinnati.

Taking on a last-place team without its starting quarterback and top receiver, Oakland fell by the score of 30-16. It allowed Joe Mixon to go off for 129 yards and two touchdowns. Offensively, Raiders quarterback Derek Carr was sacked five times. It resulted in a 30-16 loss and a new low for this downtrodden organization heading into the final two weeks of the season.

 

Steelers survive Patriots as both quarterbacks struggle

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Neither Ben Roethlisberger or Tom Brady were at the top of their games in an important AFC battle at Heinz Field Sunday evening. Big Ben threw two terrible interceptions and Brady himself was picked off at the Steelers four-yard line with New England looking to take the lead.

In the end, Pittsburgh came out on top by the score of 17-10 in a classic December battle between two Super Bowl hopefuls. It enabled Mike Tomlin and Co. to snap a three-game losing streak and remain in first place in the AFC North. It might not have been pretty, but the Steelers will certainly take it.

 

Defining win for Kyle Shanahan and Co.

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The Seattle Seahawks had an opportunity to clinch a playoff spot on the road against the division rival San Francisco 49ers on Sunday. Even after defeating Denver last week, no one really gave the three-win 49ers much of an opportunity to snap a 10-game losing streak in this rivalry. But in the end, Kyle Shanahan and Co. came out on top by the score of 26-23 in overtime.

For his part, Shanahan called one heck of a game against a Seahawks defense that had dominated Kirk Cousins and the Vikings last week. Youngster Nick Mullens was under center again, and the second-year quarterback completed 20-of-29 passes for 275 yards with a touchdown and zero interceptions. Meanwhile, DeForest Buckner led a swarming defense with two sacks of Russell Wilson. At 4-10 on the season, San Francisco is playing for nothing more than pride. But it showed up big time for Shanahan at Levi’s. That’s no small thing, and it could very well have been the defining win of Shanahan’s young tenure.

 

Pass protection woes in Houston

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Deshaun Watson and Co. might have come out on top Saturday against a game New York Jets squad. It took a late-game touchdown-scoring drive for Watson to help Houston maintain its two-game lead in the AFC North heading into Week 16.

Though, not everything is fine for a team that’s now won 10 of its past 11 games. Watson himself was hit 10 times and sacked a total of six times in the 29-22 victory. Watson has now been sacked a whopping 52 times in 14 games. That’s just not going to cut it in the postseason. And in reality, we’re now more concerned about the young quarterback’s overall health.

 

Nick Foles is magic

Nick Foles catches a touchdown in Super Bowl LII on the play called Philly Special

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With news that Carson Wentz will miss the remainder of the season in Philadelphia, no one really gave the Eagles much of a chance in Los Angeles Sunday night. Sure Nick Foles earned the Super Bowl MVP last season. But his performance in that game seemed to be an exception to the rule. Foles struggled earlier this season with Wentz out. And with his Eagles heading into Week 15 at 6-7, it seemed to be a foregone conclusion that they’d lose.

Instead, Foles vastly outplayed the above-mentioned Jared Goff in pretty much every way. He completed 24-of-31 passes for 270 yards in the 30-23 win. By virtue of Dallas’ loss, Philadelphia is now just one game out in the NFC East. It’s also just a half game out in the wildcard race.

 

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