Competition is ramping up, and it’s glorious
There were a lot of really tight contests around the league in NFL Week 14. With just a month left in the season, competition is ramping up, and it’s glorious.
With the playoffs a month away it’s not surprising. The pressure to come up big either creates diamonds or crushes people, and we saw some of both happen (and a fat-man touchdown) this weekend.
These were the biggest winners and losers from NFL Week 14.
Winner: Derrick Henry was The Juggernaut
Nobody could stop Henry Thursday night as the Tennessee Titans took down the Jacksonville Jaguars to improve to 7-6 on the season.
Henry ripped off an NFL record-tying 99-yard touchdown run in the middle of the second quarter. In the process, he stiff-armed A.J. Bouye into oblivion and broke multiple other tackles en route to the end zone (watch here). And that was just his starters.
All told, Henry romped for 238 yards and an astonishing four touchdowns.
Meanwhile, many fantasy football owners were in agony during the first week of the playoffs, having left the previously ineffective big back on their bench. C’est la vie.
Loser: NFL still doesn’t know what a catch is
Seriously. You’d think by now that the league would have a clue about what is and what is not a catch. The NFL even revamped its rules on the subject after controversy abounded in previous seasons over the whole “survive the ground” nonsense.
On Sunday, less than two minutes into the game between the Atlanta Falcons and Green Bay Packers, it became crystal clear that this rule is still a huge problem.
There were two separate “catches” by Julio Jones that were ruled catches on the field that interim head coach Joe Philbin challenged. The first was absolutely not a catch, and the second one was at least controversial (watch here). Both were reviewed and ruled completions, proving once and for all that this rule is still significantly flawed.
Winner: Saquon Barkley is a cheat code
Another week. Another monster game from rookie running back Saquon Barkley. The New York Giants star turned 18 touches into 197 yards during his team’s 40-16 shellacking of the divisional rival Redskins on Sunday.
In the process, Barkley ripped off a 78-yard run, marking the fifth touchdown he’s scored this year that went at least 50 yards. That ties Randy Moss for the most 50-plus-yard touchdowns by a rookie in NFL history.
This young man really is something special. If the Giants can find their quarterback of the future and the protection he’ll need to succeed, they’ll be a force to be reckoned with in the future.
Loser: Mark Sanchez is who we thought he was
Remember when the Redskins brought Mark Sanchez in to be the backup to Colt McCoy because he “knows the system?”
Yeah, about that…
Sanchez proved once and for all why he doesn’t have any business playing on Sundays, and why Colin Kaepernick has such a strong case against NFL owners for continually being spurned.
His pick-six in the first half was an offense to the football gods, and it only got worse from there, sparking a social media firestorm. In the end, he mercifully was pulled in favor of Josh Johnson in the second half.
Winner: George Kittle sparks impressive 49ers win
All his damage was done in the first half Sunday as the San Francisco 49ers hosted the Denver Broncos. But George Kittle came within four yards of an NFL record, hauling in seven passes for 210 yards.
This remarkable day — he averaged 30 yards per catch — was highlighted by an 85-yard touchdown catch (watch here) that made the 6-foot-4, 250-pound tight end look like a speed-demon receiver.
During the game, he broke the 49ers franchise record for most receiving yards in a single season by a tight end. And this young man still has three games left to play. Not bad for a second-year former fifth-round pick out of Iowa.
Loser: Eagles suffer two-game swing in brutal OT loss
The Philadelphia Eagles gave themselves a chance to claw back into the NFC Playoff hunt with a stirring win over Washington on Monday night. With a win in Dallas Sunday, they would have been in first place with a record of 7-6. Instead, they lost in overtime, and in the process are a two games behind their rival with three left to play. And really, this is a three-game lead for Dallas, which won both games against Philly this year.
There are two huge reasons why the Eagles lost, and both will haunt the Super Bowl champs. First, for reasons that escape logic, running back Josh Adams — he’s been red hot of late — got just seven carries in the game (for 36 yards), and the Eagles failed to generate any consistent rushing attack at all.
Secondly, Philadelphia’s secondary was scorched by Amari Cooper, who almost single-handedly won the game in the fourth quarter and overtime (more on that later).
Though not mathematically eliminated, we can stick a fork in this Eagles team.
Winner: Indy comes up huge
After coming up with a stinker in Week 13 against Jacksonville, Indianapolis responded with perhaps its most impressive win of the 2018 season. The Colts were in Houston Sunday for a hugely important divisional matchup against the Texans, who came into the game with nine straight wins.
As we predicted, the Colts pulled off the upset.
The defense was outstanding, especially up front. The Colts racked up five sacks on Deshaun Watson and held the red-hot Lamar Miller to just 33 yards on 14 carries. This is a recipe for success Indy can do big things with down the stretch.
Andrew Luck was razor sharp. He piled up 399 yards with two touchdowns (much of that going to T.Y Hilton) and an interception that was not his fault. He led the Colts to a 24-21 victory to improve to 7-6 on the season and stay very much alive for a Wild Card spot in the AFC.
Loser: Steelers blow golden opportunity
With their AFC North rival Baltimore Ravens having lost early in Kansas City, the Pittsburgh Steelers had a golden opportunity to really get a stranglehold on the division lead in Oakland. The Raiders had won just two games all year long, and Pittsburgh should have had no problem pulling out a win to stop the bleeding at two games lost in a row.
It didn’t work out that way. Pittsburgh’s defense was shredded by Derek Carr and Co., and Ben Roethlisberger was knocked out with a rib injury that kept him from playing most of the second half. What’s really strange is that he did come back, and it seems in hindsight he should have come back sooner given how awful Joshua Dobbs was in his stead.
Despite all that, the Steelers had a chance to tie things up as time expired, thanks to a crazy play by JuJu Smith-Schuster. Instead of taking it to overtime, however, kicker Chris Boswell (who missed a field goal earlier in the game) slipped as he approached the ball and had his attempt blocked.
It was just a brutal way to lose. The Steelers are in the middle of a three-game skid now, with Baltimore nipping at their heels and Cleveland just two games back with three to play.
Winner: The Miami Miracle
Sunday’s AFC East rivalry game between the Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots was highly entertaining throughout. Both teams made some incredible plays, and both quarterbacks played at a very high level throughout.
Tom Brady appeared to have the Pats primed for their 10th win of the season, which would have clinched the AFC East. He drove his offense on a perfectly executed four-minute drill that went 10 plays and resulted in a field goal to take a five-point lead with just 16 seconds left on the clock.
Game over, right?
Not so fast.
Following the impending kickoff return, Ryan Tannehill threw a short pass to Kenny Stills, who then lateraled to DeVante Parker, who then lateraled to Kenyan Drake. Normally, these last-gasp plays end in disaster. This one did, too. For the Patriots.
Rob Gronkowski couldn’t catch Drake near the end zone, and the running back scored the game-winner with zeroes showing on the clock (watch here). Not only did this play keep the Dolphins in the playoff hunt, it was the longest game-winning touchdown with no time remaining on the clock in modern NFL history.
Loser: Panthers drop fifth straight
It really does seem like something’s not right with Cam Newton’s throwing shoulder. He’s been missing practices all year and a recent report indicated this could be a long-term problem for the quarterback. It certainly was a short-term problem Sunday as the Panthers failed to beat the Cleveland Browns.
Newton fired 42 attempts and completed just 26 for 265 yards. He failed to throw a single touchdown, had one interception and once again his ineffectiveness as a passer negated a huge game by Christian McCaffrey.
Of course, perhaps the bigger story here is how Ron Rivera’s defense was shredded by Baker Mayfield and Co. (maybe Tony Dungy had a salient point to make, after all).
Now at 6-7 on the season with five straight losses, these Panthers are pretty much cooked.
Winner: Mahomes is considered a freak, even on his alien planet
We’re running out of ways to praise Patrick Mahomes, who once again showed off his freakish nature with an overtime win over the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday. At this point, it’s crystal clear the youngster is not of this world.
The dynamic passer dropped jaws everywhere with a ridiculous no-look pass at one point.
Then, he one-upped himself (and set Twitter ablaze) late in the fourth quarter, somehow converting a long bomb to Tyreek Hill on 4th-and-9 before tying the game a few plays later.
All told, Mahomes racked up another 377 yards and two touchdowns through the air as the Chiefs dispatched yet another top contender.
Loser: Josh Allen bad at the one thing he’s paid to be good at
The Buffalo Bills have an interesting thing going on. Their rookie quarterback, Josh Allen, is really good at running the ball. Heck, he broke an NFL record Sunday that was previously held by Michael Vick.
Unfortunately, the one thing Allen’s paid to be good at — namely, passing the ball — is something he struggles with on a regular basis. He couldn’t get the ball into the end zone passing and threw two horrible interceptions in Buffalo’s loss to New York. Both came during times when the Bills needed to respond to a Jets touchdown.
On the season, the rookie is completing just over half his passes. Even worse, he has thrown just five touchdown passes and has nine interceptions. That’s a horrible ratio.
Winner: Amari was amazing
Dak Prescott didn’t have a great game, stats aside. He turned the ball over three times and continually failed to get rookie Michael Gallup the ball when he was wide open deep. But his chemistry with in-season acquisition Amari Cooper showed up in a huge way late, and it propelled the ‘Boys to a massive win.
Cooper hauled in three touchdowns in this game. Two of them took place in back-to-back drives, the second of which was a 75-yard scorcher that had Twitter buzzing. The last one was the game-winner, and it was a crazy tip-drill touchdown that epitomizes the way the ball has bounced Dallas’ way of late.
All three of these touchdowns occurred in the second half of the fourth quarter and in overtime. Quite simply, Cooper was the difference in this game. He finished with an outstanding stat line, hauling in 10 receptions for 217 yards and the three scores.
Loser: Awful game for Jameis Winston
There were a couple of nice throws made by Jameis Winston on Sunday as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers hosted the New Orleans Saints. He threw two touchdowns to tight end Cameron Brate, and the Bucs actually took a 14-3 lead into halftime as the Saints stumbled out of the gate.
It was all bad from there. The Saints woke up eventually and routed their NFC South rival, 28-14, and Winston was awful aside from the rare moments of competence.
All told, the young quarterback (who’s really fighting for his job) completed just 18-of-28 passes for 213 yards, and his horrible second-half performance was capped off by an interception on Tampa Bay’s final possession.
Even worse, Winston got into a heated argument with his center, Ryan Jensen, during this game.
Winner: Bears defense flexes its muscles on ‘SNF’
Coming into Sunday night’s game in Chicago, the Los Angeles Rams were second in the NFL in total yards per game (440), fourth in passing offense and rushing offense, and second behind only the Kansas City Chiefs in scoring offense, averaging 35 points per game.
On a chilly night in the Windy City, none of that mattered. The Bears absolutely shut down the high-powered Rams offense. Los Angeles managed 214 total yards, converted 3-of-13 third downs, 1-of-3 fourth downs, converted 14 total first downs, scored nary a single touchdown and was completely shut out in the second half.
Todd Gurley was held to just 58 total yards on 14 touches. Jared Goff threw FOUR interceptions and was rattled throughout the contest as pressure relentlessly bore down upon him on seemingly every snap.
It was, quite simply, a dominant performance by the best defense in the NFL. Khalil Mack, Roquan Smith, Kyle Fuller, Eddie Jackson and Co. are getting stronger as the days grow shorter and playoff football draws nearer. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is a master, and he has elite players at his fingertips. Opposing offenses, you’ve been warned.