A whole heck of a lot of ugly football
A whole heck of a lot of ugly football went down during the early games on Sunday, but given the way NFL Week 13 got started we should have seen it coming.
Cam Newton and the Panthers made the Tampa Bay Buccaneers look like the ’85 Bears. Green Bay got ousted by the Arizona Cardinals…at Lambeau. The Atlanta Falcons gained a total of 131 yards at home against Baltimore.
Yeah, it was nasty. There was plenty of good stuff happening around the league, too, however.
These were the biggest winners and losers from the action.
Winner: Ravens have found a winning formula
Three Lamar Jackson starts. Three Baltimore Ravens victories.
There’s no turning back now. Jackson isn’t a prolific passer at this point. Sometimes, he’s downright atrocious in this capacity. But his running abilities have sparked the offense, which had previously stagnated with the statuesque Joe Flacco leading the charge.
What Jackson has brought to the table meshes perfectly with Baltimore’s outstanding defense. Speaking of which, it held Matt Ryan and Co. to just nine points — Atlanta’s defense came up with a touchdown in this game — and 131 total yards of offense while scoring a touchdown of its own to ice the game.
Suddenly, a team that was careening to the bottom of the AFC North just a few weeks ago is 7-5 and in fantastic shape to make the playoffs.
Loser: Packers are toast — the burnt variety
Aaron Rodgers knew the Green Bay Packers had to win out to even have a shot at the playoffs this year. Sunday’s home game against the two-win Arizona Cardinals was one fans could comfortably pencil in a “W.”
Or, at least that’s what conventional wisdom would tell us.
Instead, loyal Cheeseheads were sent home with a bitter taste in their mouth after watching their beloved team lose its third game in a row. It was also the first win for the Cardinals’ franchise at Lambeau since — wait for it — 1949.
Aaron Rodgers was absolutely disgusted with some of his teammates at times late in this game, and things have not been going great between him and Mike McCarthy.
There really just isn’t anything positive going on in Green Bay right now. The ship is sinking. And it wasn’t at all surprising that McCarthy finally got the ax after this embarrassing loss.
Winner: Texans angling for first-round bye after dominant win
The Houston Texans are on fire.
Sunday’s blowout win over the previously red-hot Cleveland Browns highlighted the two reasons why the Texans are so dangerous right now. And why they’re legitimately in play for a first-round bye.
First, Lamar Miller has become an integral player and is running perhaps better now than he has at any point in his career. He went for 103 yards on the ground Sunday, his second 100-plus-yard game in a row and the third in his last five games.
Secondly, Houston’s defense is a buzz saw. It forced four turnovers Sunday and has seven takeaways in its last three games, along with two defensive touchdowns.
The Texans are peaking. And it’s hard to know if they’re even close to hitting the high-water mark during this nine-game win streak.
Loser: Colts snap win streak in brutal fashion
One of the hottest teams in the NFL heading into Week 13, the Indianapolis Colts ran into a brick wall Sunday on the road in Jacksonville. It was one mostly of their own making, though credit is due to the Jaguars’ defense for showing up big (finally).
Andrew Luck’s incredible streak of throwing at least three touchdowns was snapped at eight games. He didn’t throw a single touchdown — heck, the Colts didn’t score a single point — and Indy turned the ball over twice.
The Colts did a great job defensively and remarkably had a shot to win with a touchdown at the end. But the game fittingly ended on a controversial play that caused the clock to run out, rather than give Luck one more shot at a touchdown.
Winner: Super Mariota leads epic comeback
The Tennessee Titans could not afford to lose Sunday, coming into Week 13 with just five wins. Early on, it looked like they were going to get boat raced by the New York Jets in their own building. They were down 19-6 early in the third quarter as both the offense and defense were getting dominated.
Then, Marcus Mariota woke up. He made some outstanding deep throws to Taywan Taylor to spark the offense, threw two second-half touchdowns and led the Titans to a rousing 26-22 win. Tennessee scored the final 13 points of the game and remained within striking distance in the AFC Playoff picture with a record of 6-6.
Loser: Cam turnovers cripple Panthers
Given what happened before the game, you just knew this would be a strange one.
Here’s a crazy stat for you to ponder as you consider just how bad Cam Newton was on Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Heading into Week 13, Tampa Bay had three interceptions as a team — for the season.
On Sunday, Newton threw four picks, and safety Andrew Adams had three of them. The Bucs made good plays to haul in the interceptions, but honestly not a single one of them was a good throw or decision by Newton. Worse still, the Bucs turned Newton’s two first-half interceptions into 10 points.
In a game that was decided by a touchdown, Newton’s poor game was the difference. Carolina, which was 6-2 just a month ago, has now lost four straight games, and the playoffs are very much in doubt.
Winner: Chargers show playoff mettle on Sunday night
If you had watched the first half of Sunday night’s game between the Los Angeles Chargers and Pittsburgh Steelers and then tuned out, you would be shocked to learn the Chargers found a way to win.
Down by the score of 23-7 after two quarters, Los Angeles didn’t do a lot right early on, and Pittsburgh’s offense was firing on all cylinders.
One huge play turned the game on its head. Rookie safety Derwin James picked off Ben Roethlisberger to put an end to what appeared to be yet another Steelers scoring drive.
From there, the Chargers got a miracle touchdown after two Pittsburgh defenders collided in the end zone on what appeared to be an interception. Then Desmond King returned a punt 73 yards for a touchdown to tie things up.
The two teams then traded touchdowns again, and the game ended with a Chargers field goal as time expired. But that only happened because the Steelers were flagged for being offsides two plays in a row.
Yes, it was messy and freaky. But in the end, Los Angeles proved it has the mettle to compete for a title this year.
Loser: Kirk Cousins goes ice cold in New England
A casual glance at the box score indicates Kirk Cousins made a couple mistakes but wasn’t otherwise awful Sunday in New England. That’s why box-score scouting is such a bad idea. Almost everything Cousins was able to do through the air was short, dink-and-dunk stuff, much of it to his running backs.
The Patriots deserve a ton of credit for defending the perimeter well. Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs were well covered all game long and combined for just 77 yards. Thielen was so frustrated he got into it with Bill Belichick on the sideline at one point.
But the bottom line is that Cousins failed to make big plays when his team needed him the most. Period. His interceptions were killers, too, and were a big reason why the Minnesota Vikings managed to score just one touchdown in the game and were blown out, 24-10.
Winner: Phillip Lindsay has Broncos surging
With four games left to play in 2018, the Denver Broncos are just a game behind the No. 6 seed in the AFC. They’ve won three games in a row, and their last loss was a narrow one against Houston. A big reason why the Broncos are in this position is that undrafted rookie Phillip Lindsay has been phenomenal.
On Sunday, he was unstoppable as the Broncos beat the Bengals in Cincinnati, 24-10. Lindsay rushed for 157 yards and two touchdowns on just 19 carries, and he was the best offensive player on the field for either team.
The past five games, Lindsay has piled up 571 yards and six touchdowns from scrimmage. If he’s able to continue carrying this type of load the rest of the way, there’s a chance Denver really could sneak into the playoffs.
Loser: Saints’ vaunted offense was annihilated
Nobody’s been able to stop the New Orleans Saints. They’ve been mowing down every team in their path. Until Thursday night, that is.
New Orleans’ defense did its part to win in Dallas. Sure, Dak Prescott was nearly flawless, but he was sacked seven times, and the Saints held Ezekiel Elliott to just 3.3 yards per carry while allowing just 13 points.
Unfortunately, Drew Brees and Co. were incapable of doing anything on offense against Dallas’ impressive defense. The Saints managed to tally just 176 yards of offense, putting 10 points on the board. It was the worst offensive showing we’ve seen from the Saints since the 2001 season.
Winner: Giants. Aren’t. Dead. Yet.
With four games left in the season, the New York Giants are three games behind the NFC East-leading Dallas Cowboys. Stunningly the G-Men are still mathematically alive to make the playoffs.
They got here by virtue of a stirring overtime win Sunday at home against the Chicago Bears.
As we’ve grown to expect, Eli Manning was maddening at times, and after the first half many Giants fans were clamoring for him to be benched. But thanks to the play of rookie running back Saquon Barkley, and yet another touchdown pass from Odell Beckham Jr. on a trick play, New York is still alive.