Taking or wasting opportunities in Week 16
The postseason is right around the corner, and the playoff picture got a bit clearer as teams either took advantage of, or wasted prime opportunities in NFL Week 16.
Thanks to a double-digit win over the Buffalo Bills, the New England Patriots have won the AFC East for the 10th straight season. On the other end of the spectrum, the Carolina Panthers, sans Cam Newton, lost their seventh straight game.
As these pivotal games played out, some clear winners and losers emerged. These were the biggest in both categories from NFL Week 16.
Winner: Matt Bosher made tackle of the year
In an era when bone-crunching hits have all but been outlawed, Matt Bosher broke the mold and very nearly broke Carolina Panthers return man Kenjon Barner into two pieces.
The punter threw down the biggest, most vicious tackle we’ve seen all year taking Barner down with what appeared to be a WWE-inspired hit on Sunday (watch here). It was an incredible moment in a game that otherwise had no real meaning other than draft positioning for these two teams that will be watching the playoffs from their couches.
Loser: Vontaze Burfict did it again
Vontaze Burfict is a dirty player. It’s a broken record by now. Legendary for only one thing, Burfict seems to have a need to hurt other people, or at the least try his hardest to make it happen.
On Sunday as the Bengals lost to the Cleveland Browns, Burfict went in late, helmet first, to hit Cleveland running back Nick Chubb (watch here). At the time Burfict launched into Chubb, he was already nearly on the ground being tackled by two other Cincinnati defenders.
At some point, the NFL needs to ban this guy permanently. I only hope it doesn’t take a serious injury to finally force the league’s hand.
Winner: C.J. Anderson does his best Gurley impersonation
Todd Gurley was a late scratch after his pre-game warmup had him feeling less than 100 percent. Sitting him in Sunday’s road game against Arizona was the smart move, period, and it turned out the Los Angeles Rams didn’t need him at all to begin with.
The big reason why they didn’t need Gurley is that recently signed backup C.J. Anderson had a monster game. The veteran has bounced around this year, going from Carolina to Oakland before finally landing with the Rams this past week. Before Sunday’s game, he had a grand total of 104 yards all year.
Against the Cardinals, Anderson piled up 167 yards and a touchdown. That’ll get the job done, and his efforts helped the Rams cruise to a 31-9 victory to attain win No. 12 on the season.
Winner: Saints outlast Steelers to claim No. 1 seed in NFC
The road to Super Bowl LIII goes through New Orleans in the NFC now after the Saints pulled off a thrilling, come-from-behind win over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday.
The Saints got huge contributions from all three phases. Offensively, Drew Brees and Michael Thomas were gelling while Alvin Kamara and Melvin Ingram mopped up with three rushing scores. Defensively, while the Saints did get roasted through the air they came up with a huge stop late that won the game.
The special teams was a mixed bag as Will Lutz had a kick blocked, but the punt coverage unit made up for it with a stuff on a fake punt by Pittsburgh late in the fourth quarter.
New Orleans did just enough to edge the Steelers, improving to 13-2 on the season. With the victory, the Saints locked up a first-round bye and the No. 1 seed in the NFC with a week to spare.
Loser: Nick Mullens is going to be kicking himself
The San Francisco 49ers had a legitimate shot at taking out the Chicago Bears in Santa Clara on Sunday. It was not a pretty game, but nobody expected it to be when it started.
San Francisco’s defense gave Mullens and his offense a chance to win the game late in the fourth quarter. Allen Robinson appeared to seal the win for the Bears, except he had the ball punched out by Tarvarius Moore and the 49ers recovered.
Mullens made a couple of huge throws to get the 49ers into Chicago territory before finding himself in a fourth-down situation. On that fourth-down play, with just over a minute left on the clock, Mullens rolled out to the right and had nothing but green grass in front of him. He could have easily run for the first down and gotten out of bounds to stop the clock.
He did not do that. Instead, Mullens made the unconscionable decision to heave a deep throw well out of bounds, ending the game. This incredible gaffe was one this young quarterback won’t soon forget.
Winner: Legend of Nick Foles grows
The Philadelphia Eagles are still in this thing, ladies and gentlemen. And while football is certainly a team game, the biggest reason they’re still in it is that the version of Nick Foles that earned Super Bowl MVP in February is back again.
Foles was unstoppable. Despite two huge hits from Jadeveon Clowney that threatened to take him out (including a vicious facemask that was not called), he never let his foot off the gas pedal. Foles finished the game with a franchise-record 471 passing yards and four touchdowns, including a gorgeous 83-yard strike to Nelson Agholor.
In the end, he capped it all off with a two-minute drill that started at his own 11-yard line with the Eagles down by one point that ended with a game-winning field goal that sent fans into a tizzy on social media.
Loser: Giants blow golden opportunity
Despite a brutal day on the ground by rookie sensation Saquon Barkley, the New York Giants had a chance to beat the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday.
An extended drive that ended with a field goal with just over nine minutes left in the fourth quarter gave them a six-point lead. And to that point in the game, Eli Manning had been dealing strikes without any major mistakes.
Shortly afterward, New York’s defense fell apart and allowed Andrew Luck and Co. to come charging back with a late touchdown. With the game on the line and just under one minute remaining, Manning threw the game-sealing interception to Malik Hooker. It’s just been that kind of year for Big Blue.
Winner: Kyle Rudolph fittingly had game of the year
Given his last name, it was fitting that Kyle Rudolph (not to be mistaken for the red-nosed reindeer) was the star of Sunday’s big win for the Minnesota Vikings against the Detroit Lions.
The big tight end was the best player on the field for either offense. He brought down nine receptions, accounted for nearly half of Kirk Cousins’ passing yards (122 yards) and caught two touchdowns, including an incredible Hail Mary reception right at the halftime buzzer (watch here).
Before Sunday, Rudolph had two touchdowns all year. His huge game helped the Vikings stay right in the thick of it for one of the two NFC Wild Card spots with just one game remaining.
Loser: Fins down
Talk about laying a rotten egg. The Miami Dolphins needed to win Sunday and get help to make it into the playoffs. Granted, they didn’t get the help they needed, but they also didn’t hold up their end of the bargain, either.
Miami lost to the Jacksonville Jaguars, who came into the contest with two losses in a row and nine losses in their last 10 games. A Jaguars team that saw Cody Kessler cough up the most ridiculous fumble we’ve seen all year. A Jaguars team that saw Kessler and Blake Bortles play musical chairs at the quarterback position all game.
Yeah, it was awful. Miami was missing its heartbeat with Frank Gore sidelined. The Fins managed just 183 yards, 11 first downs and turned the ball over twice. Just an ugly, lackluster performance from a team that should have been desperate.
Winner: Pats clinch AFC East once again
Sure, Tom Brady had an awful game passing the ball. He barely completed half his passes and threw two horrific interceptions. There’s some real cause for concern going forward, especially considering how bad he was last game, too, when it mattered most.
Despite his bad game, the Patriots won their 10th game of the season, marking the 16th straight season in which they’ve won double-digit games. They also clinched the AFC East, marking the 10th season in a row that the crown was theirs.
Oh, and by the way, they’re still in shape to potentially land a first-round bye due to Houston losing to Philly — a fact that was clearly not lost on them.
Not bad for a team that everyone’s been writing off since before the season even began.
Loser: Detroit was a no-show
It sure seems like the Detroit Lions have already packed their bags and are ready for the season to be over. This team has completely given up and showed no effort on Sunday — a terrible sign for rookie head coach Matt Patricia.
The offensive line was a train wreck. Matthew Stafford averaged 3.6 yards per attempt, and the offense itself managed a total of 3.2 yards per play. There was also a distinct lack of effort by the defense on Kyle Rudolph’s successful Hail Mary touchdown.
From top to bottom, the Lions tanked this game. Now at 5-10 on the season, it’s safe to wonder if the Matt Patricia era was over before it ever began.
Winner: Aaron Rodgers showing some leadership
Given the fact that Aaron Rodgers has been banged up quite a bit this year, and the fact that Green Bay came into Week 16 already eliminated from playoff contention, he could have easily shut himself down the rest of the season. Rodgers didn’t want to do that, however, telling reporters he couldn’t let his teammates fight on without him.
On Sunday, Rodgers fought hard. Despite a poor start, he fought for 60 minutes, and then he fought some more in overtime. Leading Green Bay to a come-from-behind win that saw him overcome a 15-point deficit, he capped off the 44-38 overtime win against the New York Jets with a touchdown pass to Devante Adams (watch here).
All told, Rodgers racked up 474 yards and four touchdowns in a game that “didn’t matter.”
Loser: Cards still don’t know how to use David Johnson
David Johnson is still one of the most dynamic running backs in the NFL. Based on how the Arizona Cardinals have used him this year, however, you wouldn’t know it looking at his stats.
This was once again a major storyline on Sunday as the three-win Cardinals refused to use their best offensive weapon. Johnson carried the ball just 10 times and hauled in just one pass for a grand total of 67 yards.
There are rumors swirling that rookie head coach Steve Wilks is going to be one-and-done. For the sake of Josh Rosen’s development, and for the sake of David Johnson’s usage, that’s a move we heartily endorse.
Winner: Seahawks rebound, look like legit contenders
It takes a pretty special defense to hold the Kansas City Chiefs in check. That’s what Seattle did on Sunday night at home, as Frank Clark and Co. harassed Patrick Mahomes all night long and played excellent coverage downfield.
As we’ve seen all year, Seattle’s run game was on point. We expected the Seahawks to pound the rock against a porous Kansas City defense, and they did just that to the tune of 210 yards and two touchdowns.
When Russell Wilson did throw, he was magnificent. Dropping dimes all over the field, he outplayed Mahomes on Sunday night to help the Seahawks improve to 9-6 while clinching a playoff berth. It was quite the nice rebound performance after they were shocked in Santa Clara last weekend.
Because of how the Seahawks attack on both sides of the ball, and because their special teams is so good with Michael Dickson, this team is going to be a very dangerous one in the playoffs.
Loser: Panthers go from bad to worse
Seven. Straight. Losses.
Sunday’s loss at home to the Atlanta Falcons was brutal, too. Backup quarterback Taylor Heinicke was a turnover machine with three awful interceptions. The offense wasted yet another monster game from Christian McCaffrey, who racked up 178 yards on 33 touches — he just cannot do it all on his own.
The bigger disappointment, however, was Carolina’s defense. It allowed 194 yards on the ground and fell asleep on the first play of the second half, giving up a way-too-easy 75-yard touchdown to rookie Calvin Ridley (watch here). Just a terrible effort from a team that has been falling off a cliff ever since early in November.
Winner: Browns keep trucking
Even though they were already eliminated from playoff contention due to Tennessee’s win Saturday night, the Browns came out with passion and fire Sunday at home against the Bengals. They won their third straight game and have now rattled off five wins in their last six contests.
The usual suspects were heavy contributors to the victory. Baker Mayfield looked like a savvy veteran passing for 277 yards and three touchdowns. Jarvis Landry hauled in four passes but made his biggest contribution as a passer himself, connecting with Breshad Perriman on a 63-yard pass. Nick Chubb rumbled for 112 yards on the ground and broke a franchise rookie rushing record in the process.
There is some excellent young talent on this roster, and the future looks bright. That’s something that nobody has been able to say about Cleveland in a long, long time.
Loser: Late turnovers doom the Steelers
Up by four points in the fourth quarter on Sunday in New Orleans, Pittsburgh fell apart at the seams. The Steelers’ final three drives ended with a fumble, turnover on downs, and another fumble.
Stevan Ridley coughed up the ball with just over 10 minutes remaining. Pittsburgh’s defense stepped up huge with a blocked punt on the next Saints drive. Then, Mike Tomlin made the unbelievable decision to go for a fake punt on his own 42-yard line after the offense went three-and-out.
Not only did this decision backfire, it also provided the funniest gaffe we’ve seen all year. Drew Brees capped off his next drive with a touchdown throw to Michael Thomas, giving the Saints a three-point lead with just 85 ticks left on the clock.
That’s when JuJu Smith-Schuster, who had a monster game, coughed up the second fumble of the game for Pittsburgh, sealing the loss. He was an emotional wreck after the play and broke down in tears on the sideline, knowing his turnover might have cost the Steelers a shot at the playoffs.
Now the Steelers need to win next weekend and hope the Cleveland Browns beat the Baltimore Ravens. If those two things don’t happen, Pittsburgh will be watching the postseason from home.
Winner: Lamar Jackson and the Ravens are dangerous
Baltimore had plenty of doubters heading into NFL Week 16. Folks thought there was no way the Ravens could win on the road against the red-hot Los Angeles Chargers, especially because Lamar Jackson is a running quarterback.
There’s no more room for doubt. Jackson proved he has the ability to make NFL-caliber tight-window throws (like this) while running the same keep-away offense he’s been thriving in. It’s an offense that has kept Baltimore’s defense fresh for the end of games. An offense nobody really wants to face right now.
Philip Rivers was swarmed all night long as the Ravens pinned their ears back and attacked. Every time the Ravens needed a big play, the defense came up with one.
Baltimore has a potent combination of playmakers at all three levels on defense, and this team is peaking at just the right time to make a deep run.
Winner: ‘Boys take care of business, clinch NFC East
With their 27-20 win over the hapless Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, the Dallas Cowboys improved to 9-6 on the season. They also clinched the NFC East crown, and given the way this defense can put the clamps down the ‘Boys are a dangerous playoff team.
We saw some of that in Week 16 as Jaylon Smith took a Jameis Winston fumble 69 yards to the house for the rare fumble-six. Dallas shut down the run, per usual, forcing Tampa Bay into a one-dimensional approach that’s been working very well all year.
Going forward, it’s going to likely fall on Dak Prescott’s shoulders if the Cowboys are going to make a deep run in the playoffs. He’s been hot and cold this year. On Sunday he did just enough to lead his team to a big win.