Week 17 is always weird, and this year’s finale was no exception
One final weekend of regular-season action. One last chance for all 32 teams to strut their stuff. Of course, it never really plays out how one might expect. NFL Week 17 is always a bit weird, and this year’s finale was no exception.
The early slate of games was pretty bland as the more meaningless contests played out. The afternoon provided much more intrigue, and of course Sunday night was a do-or-die contest between two AFC playoff hopefuls.
These were the biggest winners and losers from the final regular-season weekend of NFL action.
Winner: Pats land much-needed bye
The New England Patriots have never won a Super Bowl when they failed to secure a first-round bye. Heading into NFL Week 17, they needed to beat the New York Jets to ensure they got that break next weekend.
Tom Brady continued to struggle with what typically have been easy throws for him in the past. However, he kept plugging away and ended up with 250 yards and four touchdown passes. He also reached yet another monumental career achievement, further cementing his legacy as the GOAT.
New England’s defense showed up huge, forcing three fumbles and returning one of them for a touchdown. Now the Patriots can rest up and hopefully get healthy while they await their next opponent as the Wild Card round plays out.
Loser: Jason Garrett risks it all
Sure, the Dallas Cowboys won Sunday. They beat a hapless New York Giants team by one point in a game that meant absolutely nothing in terms of playoff seeding and very little in terms of with the team’s postseason run outside of the old momentum argument.
Unless, of course, you count the potential for injury. Jason Garrett smartly kept Ezekiel Elliott out of Sunday’s game, but he played all his other healthy starters the entire game.
At one point in the fourth quarter, star rookie linebacker Leighton Vander Esch got his legs rolled up and limped off the field. Dak Prescott was hit plenty in Sunday’s game, too, but managed to find an unlikely star receiver when he did have time.
You’d think that a coach who already watched a star defender — Tyrone Crawford — suffer a scary injury a week ago would have been more conscientious about resting starters. Fans were livid with Garrett for risking it all, and they had every right to be upset.
It’s been a miserable season for Big Blue, but the silver lining has been the weekly highlight reel that is rookie running back Saquon Barkley.
The Penn State product was back at it on Sunday against Dallas. He tallied 142 yards on 21 touches and did his best Michael Jordan impersonation on a flying-leap touchdown.
Barkley also eclipsed 2,000 yards from scrimmage as a rookie — a truly remarkable feat. On top of all that, Barkley broke the NFL record for most receptions for a rookie running back in league history.
Loser: Kirk Cousins finishes season with a whimper
The Minnesota Vikings backed up the Brinks truck to bring Kirk Cousins up north this past offseason. They handed him the first fully guaranteed contract in NFL history, thinking he was going to be that one final piece to push the franchise to the next level and truly contend for a championship.
Things didn’t play out that way. In fact, it’s hard to argue that Cousins was in any way an upgrade over Sam Bradford or Case Keenum this year.
On Sunday, at home no less, Cousins ended his 2018 season with a truly weak performance. He passed for just 132 yards, averaging four yards per attempt, and threw one touchdown in a 24-10 loss to Chicago.
Along the way, he got into a heated argument with receiver Adam Thielen while losing his 25th game in 29 tries against a team with a winning record. Yikes.
Winner: Mahomes’ historic day powers Chiefs to No. 1 seed
The Kansas City Chiefs had no trouble knocking off the Oakland Raiders Sunday, winning 35-3. With the victory, they secured the No. 1 seed in the AFC, meaning home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. That’s a huge bonus for a team that has a glaring flaw Arrowhead Stadium should help to mask.
Second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes capped off his regular season in style. He threw for 281 yards with two touchdowns. Those numbers made him just the second quarterback in NFL history to pass for at least 5,000 yards with at least 50 touchdowns — the other being Peyton Manning.
Holding true to form as the most entertaining player in the league this year, Mahomes made that history on an incredible 89-yard touchdown (watch here).
And as an added bonus for Chiefs fans, his tight end had an NFL record-setting day as well. Hopefully for Chiefs Kingdom, the offense is potent enough this postseason to counter a defense that has struggled all year long.
Loser: Bortles reminds us why he’s a goner in JAX
Blake Bortles has been benched multiple times this year and is reportedly all but gone now that the season is finally, mercifully over for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The only reason Bortles was under center Sunday as Jacksonville battled Houston is that Cody Kessler has been nauseatingly bad in his stead. Doug Marrone’s two choices were, eat a poop salad or a crap sandwich. He chose the sandwich.
Bortles capped off his 2018 season as only he knows how. He completed just 15-of-28 passes for a paltry 107 yards. Even worse, his final throw of the game was…you guessed it…an interception — an awful one at that.
Just the perfect way to end his tenure with the team that drafted him No. 3 overall but a few short years ago.
Winner: Nick Foles keeps the magic alive for Philly
For the third game in a row, Nick Foles showed himself to be more than good enough to replace Carson Wentz.
Before exiting in the fourth quarter with a chest injury (he will be okay, Philly faithful), Foles not only made big throws in big moments, he tied Philip Rivers’ NFL record by completing 25 straight passes.
All told, last year’s Super Bowl MVP threw for 221 yards with a couple of touchdowns. It was more than enough to spark a win, as Philly’s defense put the clamps down on a shorthanded Washington offense that managed just 89 yards and was shut out in this one-sided blowout.
Loser: Steelers barely win, then lose anyway
The Pittsburgh Steelers, by virtue of a late-season collapse due to multiple blunders and poor decisions, needed to win and get some help to even get into the playoffs this year.
It wasn’t pretty, but the Steelers did pull out a narrow 16-13 win over the Cincinnati Bengals at home Sunday. Unfortunately for them and their fans, they didn’t get the help they needed (more on that later).
The Steelers finished the season with just six losses. But four of them came in the final six weeks. They just got cold at the wrong time and will now watch the playoffs from home for the first time since 2013.
Winner: George Kittle pulls off remarkable feat
The San Francisco 49ers have been playing without starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo since he was injured in Week 3. Since then, they’ve rolled with C.J. Beathard and Nick Mullens.
It hasn’t mattered who is under center for the 49ers, however, as it concerns the production of tight end George Kittle. On Sunday against Los Angeles, he hauled in nine passes for 149 yards and a touchdown.
His touchdown came late in the game. He caught a quick out and turned upfield, going 43 yards while outrunning Rams defenders to the end zone (watch here). That score also put him at 1,377 yards on the season. That broke the NFL record previously broken on Sunday by Travis Kelce, who broke Rob Gronkowski’s record.
Loser: Derek Carr gave Oakland absolutely no chance
The Raiders were always going to be fighting an uphill battle in Kansas City on Sunday. Going up against the top team in the AFC, a win was probably never going to happen. However, it’s pretty stunning just how bad Derek Carr was against a defense that’s been open for business all year long.
Carr did complete a fair percentage of his passes (24 of 33) but managed to finish with just 185 yards through the air. The longest pass of the entire game was a 13-yard reception hauled in by tight end Jared Cook. That’s pathetic, especially since the Chiefs give up big passing plays like Halloween candy.
Even worse, Carr threw two interceptions, including one of the worst you’ll ever see that went the other way for six points. He gave the Raiders absolutely no shot to even compete on Sunday.
Winner: Josh Allen saved his best for last
Rookie quarterback Josh Allen had a spectacular game Sunday at home against the Miami Dolphins.
He made huge plays on the ground, going off for 95 yards and two touchdowns while setting the franchise record for most rushing yards in a single season by a quarterback.
He’s been making spectacular plays with his legs all year, but it was what he did through the air that really set Sunday’s performance apart. Completing 17-of-26 passes, he had 224 yards and three touchdowns through the air.
Despite a long, frustrating season for the Bills and their fans, this game really supplied some much-needed hope that the future will be bright. Also, it was pretty heartening to see just how much his teammates admire him when they rushed to his defense following a nasty, dirty hit by Kiko Alonso.
Loser: Teddy Bridgewater did himself no favors
The New Orleans Saints had no reason to risk injury to their starters, so while Drew Brees and Co. took the week off Teddy Bridgewater got his first start since the 2015 season.
It was a prime opportunity for the former Minnesota Vikings starter to show he’s still starting-caliber. Had he put together a big game, his stock heading into 2019 would have been high.
Unfortunately, Bridgewater had a pretty miserable game. He completed just 14-of-22 passes for 118 yards. He did throw his first touchdown since 2015, but he also had an interception and didn’t complete a pass longer than 18 yards.
This game was disastrous for the young quarterback as it pertains to his perceived value next year. At this point, perhaps his best option is to continue backing up Drew Brees while waiting for his turn in New Orleans.
Winner: Ravens power way into playoffs
The Cleveland Browns gave them a heck of a fight, and it came down to the wire. But in the end the Baltimore Ravens are headed to the playoffs as the AFC North champs.
The formula isn’t complicated. Just as we’ve seen since Lamar Jackson was inserted into the starting lineup, the Ravens are running the ball down teams’ throats and coming up with huge plays on defense.
Baltimore racked up nearly 300 yards on the ground Sunday as Gus Edwards, Jackson and Kenneth Dixon all had 76 or more yards. Jackson was spectacular in the first half and put defenders on skates on his first touchdown run (watch here).
The game was finally put away when linebacker C.J. Mosley registered the third interception of Baker Mayfield to clinch the win.
Jackson is still learning how to play quarterback at this level. But he’s 6-1 as a starter this year, and that’s no fluke. The Ravens have this formula down pat and will be extremely dangerous in the playoffs.
Loser: Packers crash-landed into offseason
Neither the Green Bay Packers nor the Detroit Lions had anything to play for Sunday other than pride. Only one of these NFC North rivals showed up. It was not the Packers.
Aaron Rodgers was knocked out early due to a concussion, which didn’t help matters. But effort was lacking on defense, and the Packers got absolutely trucked by the Lions, 31-0, in front of their loyal fans at Lambeau Field.
Just an embarrassing way to end a season, no matter how you slice it.
Winner: Andrew Luck is all the way back, with Colts in playoffs
Sunday night’s AFC South special edition of “Sunday Night Football” was a sometimes plodding affair in which both teams committed some egregious mistakes.
One of those mistakes was a ghastly pick-six by Andrew Luck, who gifted the Tennessee Titans not only points but momentum in the second quarter. Aside from that mistake, however, Luck was darn good. He passed for three touchdowns, marking the ninth game this year in which he’s thrown for at least three scores.
After the long road back following his shoulder surgery in January of 2017, Luck is really, truly, 100 percent back now that he has his Colts in the playoffs. The real kicker this time around is that he has more help than he ever had before. The Colts are running the ball at will these days, and their defense is much more formidable than it was before his injuries.
In a wide-open AFC, don’t be surprised if this team makes a deep run. Up next is a trip to Houston for a third game against the Houston Texans this year on Saturday. The two teams split the seasonal series with both games being decided by three points, so it should be a fantastic game.