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What we learned from Sunday's Week 13 games

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  • By Around The NFL staff NFL.com
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Here's what we learned from Sunday's Week 13 slate of games:

Los Angeles Chargers 33, Pittsburgh Steelers 30


1. On their first prime-time stage of the season, the Chargers announced themselves to the nation with a season-defining comeback against the AFC stalwart Steelers. Los Angeles entered the second half down 16 points after it couldn't contain Antonio Brown on defense or sustain a ground game on offense in the first half. But in the second half the Chargers leaned on Keenan Allen (14 rec, 148 yards), rookie running back Justin Jackson (63 yards, TD) and clutch -- yes, clutch -- special teams play to pull even and then seal the victory. After a 13-play half-opening TD drive, Desmond King returned Pittsburgh's ensuing punt for a score, helping L.A. tie the game in the span of four minutes near the top of the fourth. The Bolts and Steelers then traded touchdowns to stay tied at 30. With just over four minutes to go, Philip Rivers led an 11-play drive with help from Jackson and Austin Ekeler to get the Chargers within field-goal range. Rookie kicker Michael Badgley, the latest in a laundry list of fated Chargers kickers, saw two attempts miss the target, but both were called back for Steelers offsides. Exorcising the ghosts of kickers past, Badgley knocked in the third despite a third offsides penalty, booting the Bolts to 9-3. L.A. remains two games ahead of the sixth seed in the wild-card race and just one game behind the Chiefs in the AFC West. Thursday night, Week 15 can't come soon enough.

2. The loss is disappointing and costly for Pittsburgh in a number of ways. Before Sunday's loss, the Steelers had not blown a 16-point lead since 1981 and had never blown a 16-point lead at home in franchise history. Even worse, they surrendered the lead to a team that had just three second-half drives. With an opportunity to keep some distance from the streaking Ravens (7-5) in the AFC North, Pittsburgh lost two in a row, fell back to the pack and is now, at 7-4-1, just one-half game ahead of Baltimore. Going forward, though, the most impactful loss could be that of James Conner. The breakout dual-threat running back exited Pittsburgh's loss late in the fourth quarter with what coach Mike Tomlin termed a lower-leg contusion. Conner was the answer at RB with Le'Veon Bell skipping this season. If the back is out for any extended period of time, rushing responsibilities fall to Jaylen Samuels, Stevan Ridley and Ryan Switzer, who is in concussion protocol. That's no way to enter January.

3. Though Brown and Allen dominated the stat sheet, this game was won and lost in the trenches. In their first game since Melvin Gordon sprained his MCL, the Chargers entered the second half with just two rushing yards; Ekeler had one on eight carries! But L.A. turned to Jackson, the rookie out of Northwestern, who seemed the more natural runner to Ekeler's pass-catcher. Jackson's eight second-half carries were pivotal touches, as he picked up four first downs on four of his five rushes and scored the Bolts' last touchdown. Pittsburgh, meanwhile, saw their second-half drives stall when they leaned on the run early in downs. On the Steelers' lone scoring drive in the second, they abandoned the run altogether. But it was too late. Pittsburgh was undone by its inability to extend their early second-half marches and halt the Chargers' when needed.

-- Jeremy Bergman

Kansas City Chiefs 40, Oakland Raiders 33


1. Chiefs looked a bit out of sync, and still put up a ton of yards and points. In their first game since Friday's release of Kareem Hunt, the Chiefs handed the ball to Spencer Ware 14 times for all of 47 yards and a touchdown, though Damien Williams gained 38 yards on just five carries. The lack of a backfield (and a return to defensive struggles that caused concern early in the season) forced the Chiefs to continue to throw the ball, which included a smattering of Patrick Mahomes missiles -- we're talking long-range ballistic missiles -- to Tyreek Hill and others. But it also included the stunning fastballs fired into seemingly impossibly tight windows. One of those, to tight end Demetrius Harris, put the Chiefs ahead by 17 at the end of the third.

It wasn't Hill's best day, as he dropped at least two passes and could've been blamed for a third. Hill was targeted six times and caught just one pass for 13 yards, which might help explain how the Raiders managed to stay competitive. Against a better opponent, this type of afternoon might burn the Chiefs. Not Sunday, though.

2. For all the criticism he's received, Derek Carr had a nice afternoon. He spent it throwing to unheralded but productive targets like Marcell Ateman and Lee Smith, as well as lightning-in-a-bottle tight end Jared Cook. All three caught touchdowns from Carr, who completed 29 of 38 passes for 285 yards and three touchdowns in what was likely his best day playing under Gruden. Carr spread the ball to eight different targets, including 10 completions to Jordy Nelson, seven to Cook (for 100 yards and the score), and three to both Seth Roberts and Jalen Richard. Speaking of Richard, he had himself a tasty little Sunday running the ball. The speedy, shifty back rushed six times for 95 yards, balancing out the attack led by Doug Martin (18 rushes, 61 yards, one touchdown) and proving he can own a role in Gruden's offense going forward.

3. We're going to spend a second point on the Raiders, because for as bad of a season as this has been, they sure did play hard Sunday. Yes, they lost by a touchdown, but when I started writing this point they were down by 17 and seemed doomed. Even then, they'd given tremendous effort on the goal line, forcing the Chiefs to go for it on fourth down and nearly stopping Ware, who just barely broke the plane of the goal line after initial contact. And Oakland spent the fourth mounting a furious comeback attempt, with Carr finding Smith and Marcell Ateman for touchdowns and waiting on the sideline for his defense to get a needed stop. That didn't end up happening, but for the first time, the Raiders have a lot to be happy about after a loss, even if it was to a bitter rival. And Oakland might have something in Ateman, who finished with two grabs for 16 yards and a touchdown but was half a foot from making a spectacular catch for another score.

-- Nick Shook

Tennessee Titans 26, New York Jets 22


1. After an embarrassing first half, Tennessee saved its season with a resurgent second, scoring 13 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to sneak by the listless Jets. The Titans were Ti-toonish for most Sunday's affair. Marcus Mariota followed up his near-perfect performance last Monday night with a scattershot showing against New York, struggling to avoid pressure and missing open receivers. But the former Heisman winner turned it on in the fourth. Mariota connected on two deep balls to speedster Taywan Taylor to set up field goals and then led a six-play two-minute drill in 70 seconds to win the game. The Titans converted their first and only third-down conversion of the day on Mariota's 11-yard game-winning TD toss to Corey Davis.

2. The Titans (6-6) are back into the wild-card race after two ugly road losses to AFC South rivals in Indy and Houston. On Sunday, they didn't play to the caliber of a playoff contender, but neither did the Ravens (7-5), Colts (6-6) and Dolphins (6-6), all of whom are still in contention for the sixth seed in the conference; Denver (6-6) is the only club in the five-some that looks ready for January. Next up for the Titans is Jacksonville, whose defense returned to form this week against the previously stampeding Colts.

3. With Sam Darnold on the sidelines, there's little to glean from the Jets' last three games as it pertains to their on-field future. That is, other than Jamal Adams' ascendance into a near All-Pro safety and that the special teams is special, which is swell. The issues that have been there under Todd Bowles are still there. The offense under Jeremy Bates is unimaginative. The defense, Bowles' specialty, is inconsistent and displays questionable effort. They can't adjust to their competition in the second half. All of this was true on Sunday afternoon, particularly the last bit. As the Jets defense surrendered 13 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, Gang Green's offense undertook five drives, punted four times, gained just 52 yards and bowed out with a game-sealing interception. In hindsight, this loss will be welcome. New York (3-9) falls into a tie for third in the draft order with the Cardinals. That's all there is to look forward to now.

-- Jeremy Bergman

New York Giants 30, Chicago Bears 27 OT


1. In a wild roller-coaster matchup, the Giants weren't too scared of who the Bears are and made sure everyone around the league held off for at least another week before crowning the team from Chicago. The Giants eventually won in overtime despite allowing the Bears to roar back down 10 points with less than two minutes remaining in regulation. New York pulled off an impressive win against a superior opponent with timely plays on offense and a swarming defense, which produced five sacks and two interceptions, both by linebacker Alec Ogletree, who returned one for a touchdown. The Giants (4-8) haven't been the model of consistency this season, and Sunday's win could have many wondering where this type of performance has been hiding.

2. Giants quarterback Eli Manning was all over the place with his throws through the first two quarters, completing 7 of 17 passes for 79 yards and a touchdown. While Manning is a shell of better years gone by, he did enough in the second half to put the Giants in position to win with a touchdown pass to Odell Beckham Jr. late in the third quarter. Manning finished the game with 170 yards passing. The Giants got another big game from rookie running back Saquon Barkley, who totaled 146 yards (125 rushing), and Beckham also threw a 49-yard touchdown pass to Russell Shepard.

3. Bears quarterback Chase Daniel put his team in the hole early with a pick-six before settling down, but running back Tarik Cohen proved the true star for the offense. Cohen caught 12 passes for 156 yards and rushed for 30 yards on eight carries. The running back also threw a 1-yard touchdown pass with no time remaining in regulation to set up overtime. Chicago (8-4) is in good position to make the postseason despite the loss, and Cohen's explosive production should send a chill down the spine of opponents. The Bears also gave opponents something else to consider after defensive tackle Aikem Hicks made an appearance at the goal line and plunged in for a 1-yard touchdown.

-- Herbie Teope

Jacksonville Jaguars 6, Indianapolis Colts 0


1. Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey tackled Eric Swoope just shy of the red zone to run out the clock and salvage the shutout, ending Jacksonville's own seven-game skid while halting the Colts' five-game winning streak. Perhaps buoyed by the change to Cody Kessler at quarterback, Doug Marrone's defense turned back the clock to 2017, shutting down Indy's ground attack and putting the clamps on Andrew Luck's receivers. Yannick Ngakoue and Calais Campbell controlled the line of scrimmage, Telvin Smith and Myles Jack patrolled the middle of the field and rookie Ronnie Harrison joined the starting lineup for a secondary that suddenly seems star-studded again. Going back to Week 10, the Jaguars have held the Colts scoreless for six consecutive quarters. Don't be surprised if the defensive improvement is here to stay, transforming Jacksonville from a cupcake to a foreboding foe the rest of the way.

2. Although they were averaging 34.6 points during their five-game winning streak, the Colts' offense was rusty for a second straight week. Frank Reich was unable to scheme open targets for Luck with a severe talent disadvantage at every skill position on the field. The matchup called to mind Dallas' upset victory over New Orleans on Thursday night, as nothing came easy for a quarterback who was pressured throughout. Reich didn't help his team's chances with his decision to bypass field-goal attempts on a pair of fourth-down plays that were thwarted by Jacksonville's swarming front seven. Having failed in those key situations, Reich was forced to gamble on another fourth-and-1 late in the fourth quarter, only to see Harrison sack Luck from behind.

3. Factoring in Houston's ninth straight victory on Sunday, Indianapolis' chances of coming from behind to make a run at the AFC South title have all but evaporated. The Chargers remain heavy frontrunners for the AFC's No. 5 seed while the streaking Ravens own a one-game lead over the Colts, Titans, Broncos and Dolphins for the final postseason berth. If Reich's squad is going to make up ground, he will have to find a fix for his ailing offense in a tough Week 14 matchup versus a Texans defense that appears to be reaching its stride in the season's final month.

-- Chris Wesseling

Arizona Cardinals 20, Green Bay Packers 17


1. Boos at Lambeau? In December? It couldn't be -- except it was. This one might be the lowest point of the Mike McCarthy era in Green Bay (at least in the last few years). Green Bay's offense was rudderless for the majority of the afternoon, led by a quarterback who carries the body language of a guy trying to have fun with his teammates and not worry about the rest of the circumstances surrounding his team. That was on display when Aaron Rodgers dropped, surveyed and pointed for an area for Davante Adams to run to in the end zone. Rodgers delivered the pass to Adams, who caught it in the air and just snuck his feet inside the boundary in the back of the end zone.

Everything else was underwhelming, if not downright atrocious. Green Bay struggled to throw the ball, and ran it just 11 times with Aaron Jones. The Packers briefly awoke when they suddenly found themselves trailing the Cardinals -- the 2-9 Cardinals -- by a touchdown in the fourth quarter, hurriedly piecing together a touchdown drive that covered 95 yards over 11 plays. But then, they reverted to old, failing to put Mason Crosby inside a 45-yard, game-tying field goal attempt.

2. The Cardinals have played well against better teams and come painfully short in recent weeks, with their loss to the Chiefs coming to mind first and foremost. This looked like it might be another almost win, but they finally held on for the victory. Credit is due to Zane Gonzalez, who lost his job after missing a pair of high-pressure kicks while with the Browns early in the season. He had a shot at another one Sunday and calmly drilled it, looking nothing like he did in September. Perhaps he really was injured while with the Browns, as he claimed.

3. Sunday was a nice little coming-out party for Cardinals rookie running back Chase Edmonds, who achieved a new career high with 53 rushing yards and two touchdowns on just five carries. Edmonds ripped off a 29-yard run and received three carries inside Green Bay's 10-yard line, scoring twice and providing a healthy, occasional change of pace to David Johnson. Edmonds' performance also punctuated a nice day for the Cardinals' front five, who opened holes for he and Johnson at a better rate than usual (but still struggled to protect Rosen, who was pressured on 32.1 percent of dropbacks, per Next Gen Stats).

EDITOR'S NOTE: The Packers fired coach Mike McCarthy and named Joe Philbin interim head coach following Sunday's loss to Cardinals.

-- Nick Shook

New England Patriots 24, Minnesota Vikings 10


1. Remember when the Patriots started off the season at 1-2, prompting some to wonder what was wrong in New England? Seems like a long time ago, as the team has gone 8-1 since and sit on a 9-3 record with four games remaining. Sunday's matchup proved impressive for the Patriots in the way they went about securing the victory. There was no finesse involved against a physical Vikings defense. Instead, the Patriots went with the trusted formula that has worked throughout the season with a balanced attack. Rookie running back Sony Michel anchored a running attack with 17 carries for 63 yards, and six other Patriots players combined with Michel to produce 160 yards on 39 carries as a team. Sure, the Patriots have quarterback Tom Brady, but this team is even tougher to beat when the ground game is firing on all cylinders to help open up the aerial attack.

2. Speaking of Brady, the future Hall of Famer added his name to the record books and it had nothing to do with his golden right arm. Brady totaled 5 yards rushing on the game to put him over 1,000 yards on the ground for his career. The 41-year-old Brady became the oldest player to reach 1,000-plus yards on his career since 1970, and he used all of his 19 seasons to get there given it took Brady 265 games to reach the milestone. For some comparisons, Carolina Panthers signal-caller Cam Newton reached 1,000-plus career yards rushing in 23 games, while Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson did it in 31 games. Brady won't ever be known as a dual-threat quarterback like Newton or Wilson, but the accomplishment is still neat to see given his decorated career.

3. With the Chicago Bears losing earlier in the afternoon, the Vikings had a chance to close the gap between the two teams with a win. Unfortunately the Vikings were their worst enemy with untimely penalties and the inability to convert on third downs. As for the latter category, the Vikings went 3 of 12 on third down for a dismal 25 percent conversion rate, leading to a failure to sustain drives. Quarterback Kirk Cousins also didn't have a good game, completing 32 of 44 passes for 201 yards with two interceptions, including a back-breaking interception in the end zone late in the fourth quarter as the Vikings attempted to get back in the game. The loss dropped the Vikings to 6-5-1 on the season.

-- Herbie Teope

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24, Carolina Panthers 17


1. The Buccaneers won a second straight game to improve to 5-7 on the year, and all the credit for Sunday's victory belongs to the defense. The Panthers amassed 444 total net yards of offense, ran more offensive plays (65-59) and totaled more first downs (27-18), but the Buccaneers made sure Carolina couldn't do much where it counted the most - the scoreboard. Tampa Bay accomplished that by totaling four sacks, nine quarterback hits and four interceptions, three recorded by safety Andrew Adams. The interceptions, in particular, were impressive when looking over the entire season. Through the first 10 games, the Buccaneers totaled just one pick, but now have six over the past two games.

2. The mistakes that plagued quarterback Jameis Winston early in the season have been absent over the Buccaneers' two-game winning streak. Winston has won with efficient football without an interception in that span, and he completed 20 of 30 passes for 249 yards and two touchdowns against the Panthers. While the Buccaneers are a longshot to make the postseason, the team can play a role as a spoiler if Winston continues his good play when considering the next three games are against the New Orleans Saints, Baltimore Ravens and Dallas Cowboys, three teams eyeing the playoffs.

3. For a team in desperate need of a win, the Panthers endured too many self-inflicted wounds on offense and defense to drop a fourth consecutive loss. With a 6-6 record and four games to go, the Panthers' hope for the postseason suffered a major blow and the team now sits a full four games behind the New Orleans Saints (10-2) in the NFC South. While the Panthers fought to keep the game close after quickly falling behind 10-0, the team simply couldn't overcome Newton's costly four interceptions, which tied a career-high performance. The once-stout Panthers defense has also disappeared during the losing streak.

-- Herbie Teope

Miami Dolphins 21, Buffalo Bills 17


1. Despite the injury-induced crater that swallowed up a big portion of his season, Ryan Tannehill continues to do just enough to keep Miami in the AFC playoff chase. Against the Bills, he leaned on DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills to help the Dolphins (6-6) find a level of consistency on offense. Parker arguably had one of his best games of the season, hauling in four catches for 43 yards and a touchdown. Stills helped out with four catches for 37 yards -- the last of which was an incredible 13-yard TD grab in double coverage that had interception written all over it until Stills sliced through a web of hands and arms to make the catch. Tannehill posted mostly pedestrian numbers, but if he can continue to find his two talented pass-catchers -- and everyone stays healthy -- maybe the Dolphins can emerge as an AFC playoff Cinderella over a final stretch of games that includes contests against the Minnesota Vikings and the New England Patriots.

2. Move over, Lamar Jackson. Big-armed Josh Allen might be the best rookie rushing quarterback in the NFL. Allen had a mixed passing performance for the Bills (4-8) while being harassed by the Dolphins' pass rush, but he torched Miami for a team-best 135 yards on the ground. Allen's draft-day selling point was his ability to fling bombs, but he's developed quite a reputation as an elusive runner. In his second game back from an elbow sprain that had him sidelined for a month, Allen looked confident flinging the ball -- even when he shouldn't have been. He threw two interceptions, but his knack for going bold paid off with some nice passes. His 25-yard laser through three defenders to Zay Jones for a touchdown in the fourth quarter was simply beautiful. However, he missed a wide open Charles Clay in the end zone on their final offensive play to seal the Bills' fate. Buffalo's 13 penalties for 120 yards certainly didn't help the cause.

3. Xavien Howard isn't just that guy who thinks DeAndre Hopkins pushes off. The third-year corner is emerging as a true pass coverage phenom capable of being the NFL's next great pick-off artist. Howard had two interceptions for the second straight game, giving him seven picks on the season -- a bright spot for a Miami defense that has struggled mightily against the pass this season. Howard's two interceptions played a key role in taming Buffalo's offensive machine, which gave the Dolphins just enough breathing room. The Dolphins' struggles on defense are real, but they have a real star in Howard.

-- Austin Knoblauch

Denver Broncos 24, Cincinnati Bengals 10


1. John Elway's deep rookie class has keyed a surprising midseason turnaround, putting Denver in prime position for a run at the AFC's No. 6 playoff seed with matchups remaining versus the 49ers, Browns, Raiders and Chargers. Super-slippery Phillip Lindsay rushed for a season-high 157 yards and a pair touchdowns, including a 65-yard scoring stroll that essentially iced the game at 21-3 in the middle of the third quarter. Lindsay is on pace for 1,249 rushing yards, which would shatter Dominic Rhodes' record (1,104) for most by an undrafted rookie since the 1970 merger. In other promising rookie news, Bradley Chubb recorded sack No. 10 and big-play wideout Courtland Sutton pitched in with a leaping 30-yard touchdown catch over Darius Phillips.

2. Jeff Driskel's starting debut wasn't exactly a fair fight, as injuries forced left guard Clint Boling to kick out to the blindside versus the league's leading sack tandem of Chubb and Von Miller. The Bengals attempted to compensate with an ultra-conservative, short-passing attack that provided little in the way of chunk plays. It didn't help matters that Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green aggravated his toe injury, falling in a heap away from the action. On a positive note, hard-charging three-down back Joe Mixon and leading receiver Tyler Boyd continue to excel each week, giving the Bengals a pair of impressive nucleus players in a lost season.

3. The victory was costly for a Denver defense that has been among the league's stingiest over the past month. Top cornerback Chris Harris went down with a fractured fibula, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported. The Broncos also lost veteran defensive end Derek Wolfe (ribs) and starting linebacker Josey Jewell (ankle) to injuries. The loss of Harris can't be overstated. He was enjoying yet another All-Pro-caliber season for a secondary that is suddenly short on experience with slot corner Tramaine Brock also sidelined by a rib injury. Third-round pick Isaac Yiadom will move into the lineup opposite Bradley Roby, giving the Broncos yet another important rookie contributor down the stretch.

--Chris Wesseling

Baltimore Ravens 26, Atlanta Falcons 16


1. Lamar Jackson runs the option as well as anyone could imagine, but his passing ability within this offense is still a work in progress. In his defense, he doesn't have a bonafide No. 1 receiver to target. Still, he's clearly figuring out how to pass effectively within the faster NFL game. In Week 13, Jackson missed a wide-open John Brown streaking across the field in the early portion of the second quarter. The same route and opportunity presented itself early in the fourth, though this time, the Falcons were there to at least provide resistance.

But what a runner he is. Jackson finished with 75 yards and a touchdown on 17 rushes. He's run at least 11 times in each of his three career starts. It's working for now, enough for the Ravens to pull out victories, but it's obviously not a good long-term strategy when worrying about keeping Jackson healthy. He had his first health scare when he was kicked in the head by his teammate during a rushing attempt. But right now, he makes the Ravens good enough to win.

2. He's not the only reason the Ravens are winning, though. While one can very easily debate Baltimore's potential with Jackson at quarterback as opposed to Flacco (they're not far off each other, though they succeed in two very different styles), the Ravens' defense seems to be getting hungrier, if not better, with each week. Had the unit not had a mini-meltdown late, gifting the Falcons a scoring drive thanks to penalties, they might have held Atlanta's offense to just three points. They're back to harassing opposing passers consistently, and they're starting to cover receivers better, though things don't look great next week when they go to Kansas City.

3. Atlanta looks like a team that is headed toward some type of coaching staff change. The Falcons need help protecting Matt Ryan, and Ryan needs more options than desperate heaves toward Julio Jones. A lot of Sunday was the latter, with Ryan targeting Jones eight times but completing just two of those passes. Austin Hooper led the team in receiving and caught its only touchdown, and the Falcons were even worse on the ground. These seem to be the final weeks of Steve Sarkisian in Atlanta, which will need to turn to a new coordinator and replacements along the offensive line in 2019.

-- Nick Shook

Los Angeles Rams 30, Detroit Lions 16


1. The Rams have won the NFC West, but give credit to an inspired Lions defense that largely kept a lid on this high-flying Los Angeles attack and coaxed Jared Goff into a rash of uncharacteristic gaffes. With the game tied 3-3, the Rams passer was picked off trying to thread the ball to a triple-covered Brandin Cooks. Quandre Diggs logged that takeaway and came back a drive later with a hard-hitting pass breakup for a Lions unit that showed similar flair to their wins over the Patriots, Packers and Panthers. Goff spent chunks of this game out of rhythm.

2. Detroit's struggling offense heard it more than once from an agitated home crowd. It was frustrating to see the Lions (4-8), down 10-3, utterly crumble in their version of a two-minute drill. That particular three-and-out featured a run, another run and a third-down pass attempt that saw Cory Littleton fly through Detroit's line to blow up Matthew Stafford, who was sacked four times and twice by Aaron Donald. This is a field goal offense -- which finished 2-of-12 on third downs -- trying to match wits with high-flying schemes league-wide. I give the Lions credit for dialing up a third-quarter onside kick and a tackle-eligible scoring grab by Taylor Decker that pulled Detroit within 16-13 of the Rams, but this offense lacks identity. LeGarrette Blount ran with fire, but it wasn't enough. When your defense plays this way against one of the game's loftiest offenses, Lions fans have a right to be furious about the lack of production.

3. The Rams (11-1) looked like a team that hadn't suited up since their November 19 showdown with the Chiefs. A little bit flat and allowing a less-than-thrilling Lions club to hang around with a third-quarter fumble by Goff that morphed into a Lions field goal drive. The veteran passer was lucky a pair of back-to-back errant lobs -- both landing in the arms of Lions defenders -- fell to the ground before Los Angeles salted the game away when a Donald strip sack set up Todd Gurley's 13-yard, game-sealing touchdown gallop.

-- Marc Sessler

Houston Texans 29, Cleveland Browns 13


1. Following last week's thumping of the Bengals, the Browns (4-7-1) came out flat and sleepy on defense, sporting a two-deep safety look that allowed Lamar Miller (115 total yards off 20 touches) and the Texans (9-3) to pound away with gashing runs and chunk gains through the air to build a 23-0 lead at the half. DeAndre Hopkins won his battles with Cleveland's secondary -- especially after Denzel Ward was lost to a concussion -- while Watson hit his first 11 passes, threw for 224 yards and used his legs to avoid a handful of would-be sacks. Houston out-gained the Browns 262 yards to 89 over the first two quarters and chewed up 21:43 off the clock. Hanging on from there wasn't too much to ask.

2. This was an acid test for the Browns, who learned they have plenty of work to do before we fancy them a playoff threat. Midway through the second frame, Cleveland was down 17-0 after rookie Baker Mayfield saw an errant pass picked off by Zach Cunningham, who went 36 yards to glory. The Offensive Rookie of the Month threw a second interception to Johnathan Joseph four snaps later. We saw Mayfield try to do too much on a deep shot into the end zone that wound up in the arms of Andre Hal for a third turnover on a play where the rookie could have scrambled for sizable yardage. It was encouraging to see Mayfield come out of the break gunning the ball downfield for 351 second-half yards, but the mistakes -- including a 76-yard catch and run by rookie Antonio Callaway, which he ultimately fumbled near Houston's goal line -- were too much to overcome.

3. Houston logged multiple takeaways for the first time since October. When the Texans dominate time of possession, trick the enemy into mistakes and run the ball with power, you see a team that could hang with anyone come January. This was another well-coached effort from Bill O'Brien, who deserves to be mentioned in the Coach of the Year derby. With the Colts (who fell to 6-6 on Sunday) up next, the Texans have a chance to all but seal up the South as one of the AFC's most balanced threats.

-- Marc Sessler

Seattle Seahawks 43, San Francisco 49ers 16


1. This one was never competitive. Seattle comfortably rolled over the rival 49ers, securing its seventh win thanks to a lopsided first half and an efficient-slash-weird game from Russell Wilson. The Seahawks quarterback attempted just six passes in the first two quarters and completed four, but three of those completions went for scores -- and that was enough. When Wilson (11 completions, 185 yards, 4 TDs) wasn't launching pretty parabolas to Jamon Brown and Doug Baldwin, Seattle's tailbacks handled their business. The Seahawks attempted 29 runs to 20 passes on Sunday with Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny each rumbling for over 65 yards. The defense played well, too, despite giving up over 400 yards to Nick Mullens. Bobby Wagner, the lone remaining Seahawks defensive starter from the Super Bowl team, led the team with 12 tackles and put a bow on the game with a 98-yard pick-six of Mullens. At 7-5, the Seahawks are now in pole position in the NFC wild-card race, ahead of Washington (6-5), Minnesota (6-5-1) and Carolina (6-6), and playing the most complete ball of the four. A can't miss clash in the Clink with the Vikings awaits.

2. How'd the Richard Sherman return to Seattle go? We were promised fireworks or at least some friendly banter. But the extent of the in-game acknowledgment of Sherman's service to the Seahawks came when, following Seattle's first TD, the wide receivers reenacted Sherman's legendary tip-pick on Michael Crabtree to seal the 2014 NFC Championship Game. It was a fine tribute and not ill-willed in the slightest. Sherman was also seen playing catch with Seahawks receiver and good friend Doug Baldwin before the game. On the stat sheet, the three-time All-Pro corner was non-existent, a phantom, despite playing all but one defensive snap. Seattle knew better than to throw to his side of the field.

3. There are few positive things to say about this beatdown Niners team, except that injuries have allowed previously unsung youngsters to get some run. On Sunday afternoon, injuries to Marquise Goodwin and Pierre Garcon opened the gates for rookie receiver and Washington alumnus Dante Pettis to break out in front of a familiar crowd. Pettis recorded a career-high 129 receiving yards and scored two touchdowns, one of which he took through Seattle's secondary for 75 yards. Pettis' fellow first-year Jeff Wilson tallied 154 yards from scrimmage in place of Matt Breida as San Francisco's lead back. As S.F. (2-10) speeds toward a top-two pick in the 2019 draft, the youth movement is fully underway.

-- Jeremy Bergman

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