Positive and negative weirdness
There was a ton of really weird stuff going on around the league during NFL Week 15, both positive and negative, as teams battled for a playoff berth.
One of the hottest teams in the NFL was shut out in stunning style. With a convincing win over the Green Bay Packers, the Chicago Bears won the NFC North. The Cleveland Browns, of all teams, are still alive for postseason play, for crying out loud.
Heck, one player forgot which team he played for and facilitated a touchdown for the opposing team. Just a bunch of wild, craziness going down.
These are the biggest winners and losers from NFL Week 15.
Winner: Philip Rivers has ice water running through his veins
Thursday night’s game in Kansas City seemed to portend doom for Rivers and the Los Angeles Chargers. He threw an interception on his first pass attempt of the game, severely under throwing Tyrell Williams.
It didn’t take long for the Chiefs to build up a 14-0 lead. Then in the second half, they went up by two touchdowns once more midway through the fourth quarter. It appeared Patrick Mahomes and Co. were on their way to an easy win. Then, Rivers woke up.
The veteran quarterback led two consecutive touchdown-scoring drives in the final eight minutes of the game, capping it all off with a gutty two-point conversion to Mike Williams (watch here), who had a monster game while Keenan Allen watched due to an injury.
Now at 11-3, the Chargers have a chance to claim the AFC’s No. 1 seed in the final weeks.
Loser: Vance Joseph has got to go
Situational awareness is a critical element to being a good head coach in the NFL, or really any level of play. Vance Joseph does not have a healthy dose of that. He proved it once more on Saturday at home against the Cleveland Browns.
Down by four points, with just over four minutes left in the game, his offense on Cleveland’s six-yard line on a fourth-and-one, Joseph called for a field goal. He was booed heartily by the home crowd in Denver, and social media was brutal in its assessment of his awful decision.
Not surprisingly the move backfired. Cleveland won the game by one point. In a must-win situation, Joseph retreated into his shell and cost his team the victory. There’s no way John Elway can keep him now. He’s got to go.
Winner: Josh Allen came up big
The Buffalo Bills were down their two top running backs before Sunday’s game against Detroit even began. Both LeSean McCoy and Chris Ivory were ruled out, leading many to wonder just where any offense was going to come from.
Rookie quarterback Josh Allen — whose play is always an adventure — answered the call. His shockingly nifty touchdown run in the first half (watch here) put the Bills up by a point. Then, in the fourth quarter, his 42-yard laser strike to Robert Foster proved to be the game-winner.
Loser: Oakland managed to make Cincinnati look good
We’ve been harping on how bad the Oakland Raiders are all year. One lucky win against an unmotivated Pittsburgh Steelers team in Week 14 did nothing to change that, as everyone found out just one week later in Cincinnati.
The Bengals dominated Sunday’s game. Oakland’s defense had no answer for Joe Mixon, and despite a poor outing from backup Jeff Driskel the Raiders just couldn’t make key stops when they needed it.
Derek Carr had a rough outing throwing the ball, and both he and Jalen Richard lost fumbles, the second of which led to the first score of the game for Cincinnati.
The bottom line is this: When you’re making the Bengals look good, you’ve hit rock bottom.
Winner: Tremendous team effort nets Pittsburgh a huge win
From the moment Tom Brady stepped onto the field for warm-ups in Pittsburgh, he faced adversity. When the game tipped off, it was clear that the Steelers were not going to let him connect with Rob Gronkowski or Josh Gordon. They did just that, as the two top New England playmakers combined for just three catches for 40 yards.
The coup de grace for Pittsburgh’s defense came in the fourth quarter when Joe Haden made a tremendous leaping interception with two Patriots draped over him for what proved to be the win-sealing play (watch here).
Big Ben Roethlisberger had a rough night with two bad interceptions but was buoyed by the rest of his offense. Jaylen Samuels did his best Le’Veon Bell/James Conner impersonation, racking up 172 yards on 21 touches, and the Steelers walked out with a 17-10 win over the mighty Patriots to remain atop the AFC North.
Loser: Big Blue blues, a remix
The New York Giants gave their fans the faintest bit of hope this past month, winning four of five games to somehow still find themselves mathematically alive for the playoffs heading into NFL Week 15.
In the biggest game of the year, facing a must-win situation, everything fell apart.
Eli Manning was awful on a rainy day at MetLife Stadium playing without Odell Beckham Jr. for the second game in a row. Saquon Barkley was swallowed up by Tennessee’s vaunted defense, going for just 56 yards on 18 touches — a season low for the rookie.
On the other side, Big Blue’s defense couldn’t stop Derrick Henry, who rumbled for 170 yards and two touchdowns. Perhaps the one play that illustrates this game the best was Marcus Mariota’s pancake block on linebacker Alec Ogletree.
The end result was a 17-0 shutout loss that once and for all eliminated the Giants from postseason contention.
Winner: Washington is still alive!
Thanks to a total tank job by Dallas (more on that later), the Washington Redskins are still somehow alive for the NFC East crown after beating the Jaguars in Jacksonville Sunday.
They really fought against themselves at times, but in the end the Redskins rallied around fourth-string-turned-starter quarterback Josh Johnson. They won 16-13 thanks to a touchdown late in the fourth quarter, an interception on Jacksonville’s next possession thanks to a tipped pass, and then a game-winning last-second field goal.
Stunningly, this team is just a game behind Dallas with two remaining.
Winner: Chicago, NFC North champ
It’s pretty stunning to think about what the Bears have done the past two weeks. The mighty Los Angeles Rams were held to just six points. Green Bay’s offense had just one touchdown on Sunday.
Even better, Da Bears forced Aaron Rodgers into snapping a NFL-record streak of passes thrown without an interception (watch here) in NFL Week 15.
The Monsters of the Midway are back, baby.
The continued dominating play we’ve seen from Chicago’s defense has the Bears in the playoffs with a 10-4 record and the NFC North title.
Loser: Cardinals continue to stink it up
The Atlanta Falcons finally found a team they could bully, beating up on the Arizona Cardinals en route to a 40-14 blowout.
Josh Rosen had a brutal game, throwing two interceptions including a pick-six early (watch here). Some of that had to do with his offensive line giving up pressure and sacks like they were Halloween candy, of course. But it wasn’t until the fourth quarter when Mike Glennon came into replace the rookie that Arizona showed any life in the pass game at all.
And thanks to a lackluster defensive performance, the game was already over by that point. It’s a miracle the Cardinals have three wins this year. They really do stink, and one wonders if Steve Wilks will be retained after this disastrous campaign.
Winner: Lamar Jackson keeps Ravens rolling
Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh made a tough decision this week to make Joe Flacco a backup for the first time in his career. Choosing Lamar Jackson, he made it clear that the Ravens are entering a new era with the rookie as the face of the franchise.
That decision paid off, once more. Jackson had a strong day on a rain-soaked field, tallying 226 yards and a touchdown. He and fellow rookie, running back Gus Edwards, combined for 199 yards on the ground, dominating the time-of-possession battle, which is a deadly combination paired with the Ravens defense. Edwards’ late touchdown run iced the 20-12 win over Tampa Bay.
Since Jackson has taken over as the starter for Baltimore, the Ravens have lost just one game in five starts. Now they’re in the driver’s seat for a playoff berth.
Winner: Vikings get offensive (and defensive, too)
The Minnesota Vikings absolutely walloped the Miami Dolphins Sunday, winning 41-17. At least for one week it appears Mike Zimmer made the right call to fire John DeFilippo and promote Kevin Stefanski.
He fed his running backs, which is one reason Zimmer was so frustrated with DeFilippo, and it worked. Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray combined for 204 yards and three rushing scores, and the entire offense benefited.
Of course, Minnesota’s defense did pretty big things (nine sacks, huge), too. Aside from a ridiculous 75-yard touchdown run by rookie Kalen Ballage, the Dolphins were stymied. And now the Vikings are firmly in control of their playoff destiny with a half-game lead for the final Wild Card slot.
Loser: Jared Goff has gone to a dark place
Just a few short weeks ago, many were talking up Goff as a potential MVP candidate. That talk has gone the way of the dodo bird.
The former Cal Berkeley star had a brutal game at home against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday night. He threw a really bad interception in the first half, then doubled down on the nasty with perhaps one of the worst turnovers you’ll see all year long in the second half (watch here).
Sure, Goff was under pressure. But all night long he was off with his accuracy and struggled to get the ball to his playmakers in stride. In the end, Goff had no touchdowns and two interceptions.
The past three games, going back to his rough outing in Detroit, Goff has thrown just one touchdown and seven interceptions. Not coincidentally, the Rams have lost two of those three games — the lone win coming against the lowly Detroit Lions.
Winner: DeAndre Hopkins making case for being NFL’s best
As he’s done throughout his career, Hopkins has been destroying opposing cornerbacks this year. On Saturday at MetLife Stadium, he came up huge once more.
His first touchdown came in the second quarter when he burned single coverage in the middle of the field, going 45 yards to give Houston a 10-point lead.
His second score proved to be the game-winner in the fourth quarter. Already banged up, he ripped a 50-50 ball out of the air and held on as he came crashing to the turf. After making the ridiculous touchdown reception, Hopkins had to be carried off the field by his teammates (watch here).
All told, Hopkins hauled in 10 passes for 170 yards and the two scores, making a strong case that he’s the league’s best overall receiver.
Winner: 49ers snap huge losing streak to NFC West rival
On a rainy afternoon in Santa Clara, the San Francisco 49ers outlasted the Seattle Seahawks in overtime, winning 26-23.
We knew this game might turn out differently than this so-called rivalry has gone when rookie Richie James Jr. turned on the jets and romped 97 yards to the house on a kickoff return (watch here). From that point on, San Francisco more than held its own against the surging Seahawks.
Nick Mullens was outstanding leading the 49ers to victory. He passed for 275 yards and a touchdown, and his chemistry with rookie Dante Pettis is something to behold. The Seahawks did a lot of really good things on offense, but their offensive line did get dominated up front by DeForest Buckner. In the end they couldn’t quite do enough to secure a spot in the playoffs and will have to rebound.
As for the 49ers, they’ll relish this first win over Seattle since December 8, 2013.
Loser: What happened to the ‘Boys?
Dallas was on a five-game win streak heading into its NFL Week 15 battle against the Indianapolis Colts. The team that ripped off five wins in a row didn’t make the trip to Indy. Instead, an impostor was on the scene, as the ‘Boys were dismantled in embarrassing fashion, 23-0.
The only player who really stayed true to recent form was Ezekiel Elliott. He tallied 128 yards on 22 touches and was the only consistent weapon working for Dallas. Even he was frustrated when Jason Garrett called for a fourth-down run in the first quarter, rather than going for a field goal. Indy’s defense stuffed Elliott before he had any chance, and that really epitomized the entire game.
Dak Prescott was a miserable wreck. His incredible recent chemistry with Amari Cooper was nonexistent. Indianapolis’ defense swarmed the line of scrimmage and kept Prescott out of his comfort zone the entire game.
Defensively, Dallas had no answer for Marlon Mack. He ran wild and kept the Cowboys’ offense off the field late.
It was really a bad loss, especially since Dallas was looking to clinch the NFC East. Of course, on the flip side Indy came out looking like a legitimate contender.
Winner: Alshon Jeffery sparked Philly’s offense
Aside from his interception, Nick Foles did a solid job playing for the injured Carson Wentz. What he really was able to do was get Alshon Jeffery involved, which has been something Wentz struggled to do for weeks.
Heading into Sunday night’s game, Jeffery had gone over 100 yards receiving just once in 2018. Against the Rams, he was the big-play machine the Eagles needed to spark the offense.
When the final whistle blew, Jeffery had tallied eight receptions for 160 yards as Philly stunned the Rams in Los Angeles.