What we learned from Sunday's Week 16 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 16 slate of games:

Seattle Seahawks 38, Kansas City Chiefs 31


1. Seattle bounced back from its setback in Santa Clara with a resounding victory over the AFC leaders on Sunday night and punched its ticket back to the postseason for the sixth time in seven seasons. The Seahawks (9-6) clinched a playoff spot on the legs of Chris Carson, who ran for a near-season-high 116 yards and two scores; the arm of Russell Wilson, who launched three touchdown passes and escaped the pocket for 59 yards on the ground; and the tough hands of Doug Baldwin, who stepped up with a season-high 126 receiving yards. From the get-go, the Seahawks played keep-away from Kansas City, rushing for 211 yards on the evening, and never relinquished the lead it took into halftime. Even when Seattle took its slim lead into the fourth quarter, the Seahawks didn't shy away from attacking with a killer instinct Kansas City's depleted secondary, which was missing Kendall Fuller, Ron Parker and, at times, Eric Berry. Seattle can secure the fifth seed next week with a win over the D.O.A. Cardinals at the Clink. A matchup with the Cowboys in Arlington on Wild Card Weekend likely awaits.

2. Not to be out-adlibbed, Patrick Mahomes bolstered his MVP campaign in defeat by tossing three touchdowns of his own, including two second-half marvels. The Chiefs quarterback continues to throw passes at heretofore-unseen angles, shocking defenders and viewers alike with his casually improvisational style. Even in defeat, Mahomes performed like a quarterback primed for adverse environments (if they come) in the upcoming postseason push. With one game left in the season, Mahomes is up to 48 passing touchdowns, a feat only Tom Brady and Peyton Manning (twice) have accomplished. Eight more against the Raiders in Week 17, and the single-season record is his.

3. Following the Chargers' loss to Baltimore on Saturday night, Kansas City blew an opportunity to not only clinch the AFC West, but seize home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. Riding their first two-game losing streak of the season, the Chiefs (11-4) now enter Week 17 unsure of their status for the postseason. Though K.C. should handle Oakland easily at Arrowhead and eventually secure home-field, all is not well with the Chiefs, especially on defense. Save for Chris Jones, who extended his sack streak on Sunday to a record 11 games, and the Kansas City pass rush, the Chiefs defense was abysmal in Seattle. Kansas City allowed at least 30 first downs for the second straight game, including five via penalty. The Chiefs' sieve of a secondary has been the club's Achilles' heel all season. The last two weeks have proven, with or without Berry, there's no healing that injury.

-- Jeremy Bergman

New Orleans Saints 31, Pittsburgh Steelers 28


1. Both teams had plenty on the line entering Sunday, with the Steelers looking to secure its hold on the AFC North and the Saints seeking to clinch home-field advantage throughout the postseason. Only one team would accomplish their mission, of course, and the Saints came out victorious in a hotly-contested game between two of the NFL's best teams. NFC opponents now have the dire mission of coming through New Orleans on the road to the Super Bowl in Atlanta, and the Saints are 6-1 this season with the season finale to play against the Carolina Panthers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

The Steelers, on the other hand, have their playoff hopes on life support heading into the final week. At 8-6-1, Pittsburgh needs to beat the Bengals and have the Ravens lose to the Browns in secure a spot in the playoffs. If that doesn't happen, Big Ben and Co. will miss the playoffs for the first time since 2013.

2. The Saints offense looked better when compared to the last three games, and it certainly helped that Sunday marked the team's first home game since the Thanksgiving holiday. Drew Brees paced an efficient first half with 151 yards passing and the Saints held a 17-14 lead. The second half, however, was a different story, as the Saints struggled with consistency after going up 24-14 with two straight punts and a blocked field goal, and then had to claw back with less than two minutes in the game to come out ahead. Despite the win, it doesn't help that the offensive line required some shuffling. Left tackle Terron Armstead, who was recently named to the Pro Bowl, returned to the lineup for the first time in five games. But he briefly left the game in the first quarter, returned to finish the first half, and then sat out the fourth quarter. When the Saints have an intact offensive line, it is among the league's best and the engine that drives an elite offense. Having Armstead would help the Saints' chances in the postseason.

3. The Steelers pretty much abandoned the running game after gaining 41 yards on 12 carries in the first half, and unleashed Ben Roethlisberger on the Saints' pass defense. Roethlisberger completed 33 of 50 passes for 380 yards and three touchdowns as he found Antonio Browns and JuJu Smith-Schuster for big plays. Brown was a monster, hauling in 14 passes for 185 yards and two touchdowns, while Smith-Schuster totaled 11 catches for 115 yards. On the game, the Steelers rushed for 65 yards on 18 carries, a huge disparity in the pass-run ratio (50:18). Obviously, the Steelers would prefer a more balanced approach on offense, but the continued absence of running back James Conner likely means a pass-heavy approach when the postseason arrives.

-- Herbie Teope

Chicago Bears 14, San Francisco 49ers 9


1. It wasn't pretty, but the Chicago Bears took care of business on the road. In a scrappy, mistake-filled contest, the best defense in the NFL stood tall when it mattered. Danny Trevathan got an early Christmas present when a pass from Nick Mullens bounded off the hands of 49ers receiver Marquise Goodwin and into the linebacker's lap for an interception as San Francisco was driving for a score. On the next drive, the Bears seemed poised to close out the game. On 3rd-and-3 Allen Robinson caught a slant and gained enough ground to earn first down. Had the receiver simply slid down, Chicago could have kneeled out the game. But Robinson kept running and had the ball popped out from behind by Tarvarius Moore, giving the Niners new life. Again, the Bears D stood tall thwarting a comeback bid. On a day that Mitch Trubisky (25/29, 246 yards, 1 TD) played well, some sloppy plays by Chicago kept a feisty 49ers team in the game. A great defense, however, can mask those issues on the road.

The victory keeps the Bears (11-4) in the hunt for a possible playoff bye. Chicago will be San Francisco fans next week. Matt Nagy's team needs a victory over the Minnesota Vikings in Week 17 coupled with a Rams loss versus these 49ers to leapfrog L.A. for the No. 2 seed.

2. There is no quit in Kyle Shanahan's team. The 4-11 Niners fought tooth-and-nail with the NFC North champions despite racking up more injuries. An already decimated offense lost running back Matt Breida (ankle), receiver Dante Pettis (knee), and tight end Garrett Celek (concussion) early in the contest. Despite the injuries, San Francisco still moved the ball well versus one of the best defenses in the NFL, including converting 7 of 14 third downs. Nick Mullens continued his stellar play, throwing strikes and standing strong in the face of the Bears pressure. The signal-caller is fearless in the face of rushers. The season might be lost, but the Niners battling down the stretch should bring a modicum of optimism heading into 2019.

3. The game was marred by a late 4th quarter sideline fight that led to the ejections of 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman, and Bears receivers Anthony Miller and Josh Bellamy. The donnybrook occurred after a Trubisky scramble. The quarterback slid and took a late hit by Niners safety Marcell Harris in front of the Bears' sideline. Then the fight broke out during which Sherman looked to be taking on the entire Chicago roster. After a lengthy delay, the three players were kicked out. Fines are likely to be coming this week.

-- Kevin Patra

Philadelphia Eagles 32, Houston Texans 30


1. Nick Foles shook off a lost fumble, an ugly interception and a few errant first-half throws to dismantle a Texans secondary that lost three of its top four cornerbacks during the proceedings. On the strength of a gorgeous 83-yard bomb to Nelson Agholor, a 37-yard pass play to Darren Sproles and an uncanny connection with stud tight end Zach Ertz, Foles broke Donovan McNabb's single-game franchise passing record with 471 yards. He's also the only Eagles quarterback ever to record multiple games of at least 400 yards and four touchdowns. After Deshaun Watson overcame an undermanned offense for a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns and a momentary 30-29 lead, Foles shook off a Jadeveon Clowney blow to his sternum, orchestrating a picture-perfect two-minute drill to set up Jake Elliott for the game-winning field goal as time expired.

Houston coach Bill O'Brien opted to punt from midfield in key fourth-and-manageable situations, in stark contrast to Philadelphia's aggressive Doug Pederson. The Eagles built their lead on the fourth-and-2 scoring play by Sproles and a fourth-and-3 conversion to Dallas Goedert that led to a fourth-and-1 touchdown by Ertz. With Dallas clinching the NFC East title on Sunday, Philadelphia needs Minnesota to lose at home versus Chicago in the season finale to earn a wild-card berth.

2. Watson deserved a better fate, carrying an offense that couldn't run the ball, struggled in pass protection and lost Demaryius Thomas to an injury believed to be a torn Achilles tendon. With the game on the line, Watson escaped three different sackers to hit Jordan Akins for 22 yards on third-and-11, setting up a beautiful 35-yard rainbow to No. 5 receiver Vyncint Smith in the back of the end zone. His defense proceeded to let him down in the two-minute drill. Because the Colts and Titans each won this weekend, the Texans will have to go into Jacksonville and beat a frisky Jaguars defense to secure the AFC South title in Week 17. In the meantime, New England has leapfrogged Houston for the AFC's No. 2 seed and the postseason bye.

3. Locked in a three-man dogfight with Kansas City's Travis Kelce and San Francisco's George Kittle for the first-team All-Pro spot, Eagles tight end Zach Ertz bolstered his resume with a masterful performance. One of the league's most sure-handed possession receivers, Ertz hauled in a dozen passes for 110 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Along the way, he broke Jason Witten's single-season receptions record for tight ends, bringing his total to 113 receptions to go with 1,148 yards and eight scores with one all-important game left to play at Washington.

-- Chris Wesseling

Dallas Cowboys 27, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 20


1. The Cowboys sorely needed a strong performance to wash out the aftertaste of last week's shutout loss -- and they more or less got that against the Buccaneers despite an uneven performance. The Cowboys (9-6) clinched their third NFC East title in five years with the win, and the defense caused plenty of havoc for Jameis Winston and the Buccaneers (5-10). Offensively, Dak Prescott put in a steady if unspectacular performance that has characterized many of his post-2016 games. He completed 20 of 25 passes for 161 yards and a touchdown. Ezekiel Elliott had 85 yards rushing on 18 carries to help provide a steady drip of offense that was greatly enhanced by a pair of defensive turnovers. While it wasn't the most impressive performances considering the Cowboys' division-winning pedigree, it was a good bounce-back game for a Dallas team that could be this year's playoff underdog representative from the NFC East.

2. Two key defensive turnovers played a huge role in delivering the win for Dallas. Randy Gregory's blindsided sack on Jameis Winston to force a fumble that was promptly picked up by Jaylon Smith and returned 69 yards for a touchdown was like a slasher movie mixed with a car chase. The whole world saw Gregory bearing down on Winston, who fumbled the ball when the defensive end's 6-foot-5, 242-pound frame came crashing into him. Smith's trek down the sideline was equally exciting, and must have been a hit in the JerryWorld suite. Later on, Gregory recovered another fumble -- this time on the Buccaneers' 6-yard line -- to help the Cowboys score a touchdown two plays later. Dallas' contributions on defense have played a huge role in the team's second-half surge toward NFC relevance.

3. It's hard to believe Dirk Koetter will keep his job even if the Bucs' front office hasn't made a decision on his 2019 status yet. Koetter was hired to develop Winston into a franchise quarterback, and the No. 1 overall pick of the 2015 NFL Draft hasn't lived up to long-ago hype. Against the Cowboys, Winston tallied decent numbers, completing 34 of 48 passes for 336 yards and a touchdown while being sacked three times, but the Buccaneers once again struggled to translate yards into points as they went four for 13 on third downs. With the running game dormant and holding penalties stymying drives, the Buccaneers were doomed to their fifth 10-loss season in six years. Whether that will jump-start a bevy of offseason changes in Tampa remains to be seen.

-- Austin Knoblauch

New England Patriots 24, Buffalo Bills 12


1. Buffalo's defense did a bang-up job for two and a half quarters (relatively speaking), but the Bills' season was embodied by one play: A Julian Edelman catch and apparent tackle. Instead of the play being over, though, Edelman landed on the defender without hitting the ground, then got up and raced into the end zone for six. A Patriots offense that was struggling to take advantage of opportunities got a gift of one, and that's what ultimately sank the Bills, who couldn't cobble together many points offensively. A bright spot, though: Zay Jones caught five passes for 67 yards and found the end zone.

2. Fresh off the tough loss to Pittsburgh, the Patriots rebounded well. New England's defense caused Josh Allen all sorts of problems, resulting in two interceptions and a 52.6 passer rating. The Patriots bottled up Buffalo's rushing attack, too, limiting LeSean McCoy to nine yards on six carries. It was a weird game, though, with the teams trading turnovers early and New England again not fully separating from Buffalo until time made it a non-factor. Tom Brady threw an uncharacteristically ugly interception to Lorenzo Alexander, which followed an Allen interception on a great read made by rookie UDFA J.C. Jackson. Rex Burkhead fumbled in unusual fashion, but Stephen Hauschka doinked a field goal off the post, wasting a Bills opportunity. In the end, though, the team well-versed in success came out on top and punched its ticket to the postseason.

3. This Patriots team doesn't inspire a ton of confidence in where it's headed in the postseason, but one cannot argue with its dominance. New England clinched the AFC East for the 10th straight time, an unprecedented and previously unimaginable run of excellence. The Patriots reached double-digit wins, yet again. They soothed concerns for at least a week, and took care of business in a game that could've gone off the rails. That's enough for a happy Sunday in New England as Christmas approaches. Stop wringing your hands about football and go ice skating, folks.

-- Nick Shook

Green Bay Packers 44, New York Jets 38 OT


1. In a game that seemingly wouldn't end between teams needing merciful ends to their seasons, Aaron Rodgers looked like his old self when he slung a laser to Davante Adams for a 16-yard game-winning score in overtime for a 44-38 triumph over the Jets. Heading into Sunday, Rodgers, despite a borderline ridiculous 23:2 touchdown-interception ratio, was having one of his least productive seasons with a 97.2 quarterback rating (ninth-best in his career) and 1.6 touchdowns per game (last). Alas for the Jets (4-11) and their questionable play-calling down the stretch, Rodgers is still Rodgers late in a game -- at least on this Sunday. Down 35-20 in the fourth quarter, Rodgers orchestrated three scoring drives as the Packers (6-8-1) outscored the Jets, 18-3, in the stanza to send the game to overtime. Rodgers scored twice on one-yard runs and added a two-point conversion rush for a 38-35 lead. Then he hit Adams (who had 11 catches for 71 yards and is a reception away from tying the single-season team record) in OT. Rodgers threw for 442 yards and two touchdowns, completed 37 of 55 passes with nary an interception and ran for two scores. The Aaron Rodgers of old is still around -- at least on this Sunday.

2. In a matchup of teams far removed from the postseason race, the storyline selling point, right or wrong, was Rodgers versus Jets first-round pick Sam Darnold. Darnold was on point from the game's genesis, completing eight of 10 passes for 111 yards in the first quarter. Perhaps most impressively -- thanks in large part to a huge Andre Roberts 99-yard touchdown for the Jets along with the Packers having the ball to end the first half and open the third quarter -- Darnold came off an elongated respite and was as excellent as ever to open the second half. After the Pack cut the score to 21-20 on the first drive of the third stanza, Darnold was a perfect five for five on the ensuing drive, culminating with a 5-yard score to Chris Herndon. Another big Gang Green special teams play netted a fumble recovery on the following kickoff and Darnold completed a 20-yard touchdown to Elijah McGuire for a 35-20 lead. And then the Jets got drastically conservative with their offensive and defensive play-calling. After the Jets' fourth-quarter collapse, Darnold, who completed 24 of 35 for 341 yards and three scores with no picks, drove the Jets down for a game-tying Jason Myers field goal, as well. It was a loss for the Jets, but Darnold showed his first-round form.

3. Anything but road warriors, the Packers played pre-Lombardi ball this season. With the win at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, Green Bay avoided a winless season on the road, going 1-7 away from Lambeau Field. It would've been the Packers' first winless season on the road since 1958, which is otherwise known as the season before Vince Lombardi took over. With the victory, the Packers also have one last chance to win back-to-back games for the only time this season. Should they lose to the Lions next week, it will be the first time the franchise has failed to win back-to-back games in a campaign since 2005, which was the last season before the recently fired Mike McCarthy took over. Either way, Joe Philbin is 2-1 as interim coach, but when this Packers season concludes next week at Lambeau, there's a very good chance a new era will start for Green Bay.

-- Grant Gordon

Indianapolis Colts 28, New York Giants 27


1. The never-say-die attitude that has fueled the Colts' second-half surge was on acute display against the Giants. Indianapolis trailed for the vast majority of the game, but as grim as it looked at times, the Colts never looked to be in a dire situation. Andrew Luck spearheaded the rally, piecing together a fine, eight-play drive that included a 14-yard run by Luck and a 12-yard pass to T.Y. Hilton before culminating in a 1-yard TD pass to Chester Rogers to give the Colts (9-6) their first lead of the afternoon with 2:48 left in the game. Malik Hooker's interception off Eli Manning closed out the game, heralding a standing ovation from a Lucas Oil Stadium crowd that has seen the pesky Colts win eight of their last nine games after starting the season 1-5.

2. The eternal debate regarding Eli Manning's status as a bona fide NFL starter swung against the quarterback on Sunday. Manning showed flashes of brilliance throughout the game, but couldn't get the job done when the Giants (5-10) needed him most. Getting the ball back with 55 seconds left and down by one point with one timeout left, Manning was picked off by Hooker in the middle of the field to close out the game. Despite the Giants' post-bye week surge, Manning's struggles in crunch time continue to cast doubt over his ability to lead the Giants back to the postseason. Outside of the interception, he had a strong game, connecting on 25 of 33 passes for 309 yards and a touchdown. Still, Luck did what Manning couldn't -- lead his team to the end zone with the game on the line.

3. Although Indy's defense had some issues keeping Manning in check, they found ways to limit Saquon Barkley's effectiveness. In a matchup between the likely offensive and defensive rookies of the year, Colts linebacker Darius Leonard put on a slightly more impressive performance, tallying eight tackles for an Indy defense that certainly bent but didn't break in securing the win. Barkley was limited on the ground to 42 yards and a TD on 21 carries, but he also had five catches for 34 yards.

-- Austin Knoblauch

Cleveland Browns 26, Cincinnati Bengals 18


1. Squaring off for a second time against the exiled Hue Jackson, Cleveland's coaching staff operated aggressively, ignoring its punter on a pair of early fourth-and-short situations. The first -- from its 42 -- was blown up by a penalty, but the second -- from Cincy's 15-yard line -- saw quarterback Baker Mayfield hit Jarvis Landry for nine yards to set up a perfectly placed leaping touchdown grab by David Njoku three plays later. The game turned for good right there, with Cincy's offense drifting into a winter's nap. Landry returned on the following drive to toss an ultra-dime to Breshad Perriman for 63 yards to set up Mayfield's pretty touchdown strike to Darren Fells. That scoring lob -- his 23rd on the year -- tied Mayfield with Andrew Luck and Deshaun Watson for the second most as a rookie passer. He'd finish with 284 yards and three scores, putting him all alone in third place in that rookie race behind Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson (26). It was more of the same from first-time play-caller Freddie Kitchens, dialing up wideout option bombs, misdirection gallops, direct snaps to the more-involved Duke Johnson (62 yards off eight touches) and a flurry of on-the-money darts from Mayfield, who at one point hit 15 straight completions.

2. The Bengals offense is among the league's most banged-up and it looked it on Sunday, with backup passer Jeff Driskel opening the game with five straight punts and generating just 37 first-half yards -- with minus-15 yards passing -- while the Browns put up a whopping 493 on the day. A fourth-quarter blocked punt sparked a late-game Bengals rally, but it was too little, too late. Dangerously sloppy, flag-prone and beyond bland, can the Bengals (6-9) really afford to dial up another year of Marvin Lewis, whose worn-out defense sat on the field for 35:31 against a Browns club (7-7-1) that also dialed up three sacks and nabbed a sweep over Cincy for the first time since 2002?

3. Browns wideout Rashard Higgins (6/60/1) made a handful of juicy catches, one wildly artistic leaping scoring grab and -- IMO -- should not have been called for offensive pass interference on a 55-yard catch-and-run from Mayfield. Chubb (19/112) ran with raw power, broke the team's rookie rushing record and again looked like a star-in-the-making, while the defense was led by consistent pressure up the middle by linebacker Joe Schobert, Chris Smith, Larry Ogunjobi and Genard Avery. There's also the case of Perriman, who washed out in Baltimore, but continues to rise up as a big-play machine for the Browns. Outside of some fine runs by Joe Mixon and spice from special-teamer Clayton Fejedelem, the Bengals should toss Sunday's game tape into the yule log blaze.

-- Marc Sessler

Jacksonville Jaguars 17, Miami Dolphins 7


1. If the Miami Miracle was the Dolphins' high-water point of the season, the last two weeks have been a waterfall -- or a massive drain. Miami has fallen flat in two straight weeks, first getting blown out by the Vikings in Minneapolis, and then failing to muster anything more than seven points against a very beatable Jaguars team. How beatable are the Jags? Jacksonville found itself in the red zone on a possession Sunday and ended up punting three downs later, on fourth and 46. Those kinds of errors are excellent in their rarity, yet Miami didn't take advantage of any of them. And worst of all, when tied 7-7 midway through the fourth, the Dolphins collectively crumbled, capped by Telvin Smith's pick-six of Ryan Tannehill, which followed Jacksonville's go-ahead field goal. The Dolphins lost to a Jaguars team so befuddled offensively, it turned to Blake Bortles when it became clear a banged-up Cody Kessler couldn't lead them to a win.

2. It will be interesting to see how these last two weeks affect Adam Gase's future as head coach of the Dolphins. His tenure has been filled with tumult, but also promise. They had the look of a team that might have been capable of a playoff appearance, but fell short. On one hand, you have a coach who managed to keep his team competitive despite losing his starting quarterback and being forced to replace him with Brock Osweiler. But the other hand includes these last two games, which have been awful displays from a team in playoff contention. He and GM Mike Tannenbaum will be the focus of discussions entering January.

3. This is the Jaguars defense we expected to see for most of the season. Fresh off a 16-13 loss to a Josh Johnson-led Washington team, the Jaguars stood tall and did much of what led them to an AFC South crown last year: They pressured the quarterback (six sacks as a team), kept the opponent out of the red zone (one trip) and completed the trifecta with the ever-important defensive score. We're teetering on the Jaguars potentially blowing it up after this season, but this could be a win that prevents them from doing so, instead addressing their offense while keeping most of the defense -- which can still do its job, as evidenced Sunday (and twice against the Colts) -- intact.

-- Nick Shook

Atlanta Falcons 24, Carolina Panthers 10


1. In a game between two teams destined to watch the playoffs from their couches, the Falcons' aerial attack proved to be the difference. Matt Ryan burned the Panthers' secondary with two third-quarter bombs (a 75-yard strike to Calvin Ridley on the first play after halftime and a 44-yard toss to Mohamed Sanu) that broke open a game tied at 10 after two quarters.

Those two strikes were enough to give the Falcons (6-9) the win and eliminate the Panthers (6-9) from playoff contention. The loss is the seventh straight for Carolina this season, and while NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport expects Ron Rivera to return next season, expect plenty of changes ahead.

2. Christian McCaffrey's stellar season cemented itself in the record books after another productive Sunday. McCaffrey proved to be an effective security blanket for first-time starter Taylor Heinicke, who gamely battled through what looked like an ugly left elbow injury to finish the game. McCaffrey corralled 12 passes on the afternoon to push his season total to 106, passing Matt Forte to set the NFL season record for receptions by a running back. McCaffrey also topped Steve Smith for the team record in receptions in a season.

McCaffrey also cleared the 100-yard mark on the ground for the fourth time this season and became the first Panthers back to rush for 1,000 yards since DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart both did so in 2009. Run CMC also is the third back in NFL history to log 1,000 rushing yards and record 100-plus catches in a single season. Forte and Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson are the other two to achieve the feat .

3. Falcons punter Matt Bosher delivered one of the hits of the year during the first half. Yes you read that right. Panthers returner Kenjon Barner found a crease down the right sideline on a second-quarter kickoff and was rudely met by Bosher at the Carolina 36-yard line. Bosher picked Barner up and clotheslined him with a perfect form tackle that added insult to the Panthers' final home game of the season.

-- David Ely

Minnesota Vikings 27, Detroit Lions 9


1. A sleepy offensive start put the Vikings in an early 9-0 hole before Kirk Cousins & Co. woke up. Minnesota compiled five total yards on its first four drives and didn't earn a first down until 3:48 left in the second quarter. Credit the Vikings D for holding Detroit to three field goals to give the offense a chance to find its groove. Find it they did. Minnesota closed out the first half with back-to-back touchdowns in the final 1:32 to take control. Cousins took advantage of a blown coverage on Adam Thielen for a 40-yard gain to set up a Stefon Diggs score. Kyle Rudolph then skied for a half-ending 44-yard Hail Mary touchdown that stole any momentum Detroit might have gained early. In the second half, Dalvin Cook finally heated up, bludgeoning Detroit's D as the Vikings squeezed the life out of a cratering Lions team, scoring 27 straight points to close the game.

2. It wasn't a crisp game for the 8-6-1 Vikings, but Mike Zimmer's squad took another step toward the postseason with a road division win. Zimmer's defense held the Lions out of the end zone for the second time on the year, completely smothering Matthew Stafford in the final two quarters. Heading into Week 17, Minnesota hangs onto playoff positioning. With the Philadelphia Eagles' come-from-behind victory over Houston, however, the Vikings did not clinch a postseason berth with Sunday's win. Minnesota will host the NFC North-leading Chicago Bears in the season finale with a playoff spot on the line.

3. Matt Patricia's team wasted golden opportunities to take a big lead early. Beginning the game with great field position, the Lions offense settled for three field goals. Winning teams score touchdowns; losing squads kick field goals. The Lions are a field-goal team. The margin for error for Matthew Stafford and the Detroit offense is so small they cannot consistently beat good defenses. Stafford compiled a minuscule 116 passing yards before a mercy yanking for the final two drives. On Stafford's last five possessions, the Lions punted four times and turned it over on downs. Detroit earned 37 yards on those five drives. Thanks to a defensive collapse at the end of the first half, Detroit trailed 14-9 at the break despite owning a 19:45 to 10:15 time of possession advantage. The end-of-half meltdown destroyed any positive vibes Detroit might have generated. Patricia's team put up zero fight in the final 32 minutes of the game. The coach ends his first season at the helm traveling to Green Bay in Week 17. Detroit will end the season in the cellar of the NFC North.

-- Kevin Patra

Los Angeles 31, Arizona Cardinals 9


1. Los Angeles snapped its ugly two-game losing streak with a get-right victory over the hapless Cardinals. Without injured Todd Gurley, who was ruled out pre-game with a lingering knee injury, the Rams handed the ball and the reins to former Broncos and Panthers running back C.J. Anderson, who had the game of his life. Anderson rushed for 167 yards, one short of a career high, at a wild 8.4 yards per carry clip and scored his first touchdown of the season. Signed by the Rams this week after failed stints with Carolina and Oakland (104 rushing yards in nine games), the 27-year-old back rammed through Arizona's front seven and helped sustain L.A.'s first-half scoring drives. The consistent attack opened up L.A.'s play-action game and lessened the beating on Jared Goff, who had his most solid outing (216 yards, TD, one sack) since the Rams' bye. In addition to Anderson, Robert Woods picked up some slack with 89 yards and a score through the air and another touchdown on the ground. That being said, the offensive line is still showing signs of leakage in pass protection and could wilt against a more serious pass rush in the postseason. With New Orleans' win on Sunday, the Rams can't secure home-field advantage in the NFC. But they can ensure themselves a first-round bye if they defeat the 49ers next week in the Coliseum.

2. Aaron Donald's runaway Defensive Player of the Year campaign rolled on on Sunday afternoon as the defensive tackle tacked on three more sacks. That gives Donald 19.5 sacks heading into the final week of the season, three behind Michael Strahan's single-season record of 22.5. Donald's 19.5 QB takedowns are the most in a single season by an interior lineman in NFL history and by a Rams player in franchise history. In Donald's crosshairs next week? 49ers rookie Nick Mullens, who has taken 14 sacks in seven starts.

3. If this was Larry Fitzgerald's final home game as a Cardinal, it was a memorable one. Well, not the entire game; the future Hall of Famer put up a pedestrian six catches for 53 yards. But Fitzgerald did something in this affair that he had not done in his storied 15-year career: Throw a touchdown pass. The 35-year-old WR took a second quarter took a tos from Josh Rosen and heaved it down the sideline to a streaking David Johnson for a 32-yard score. It was Fitz's fourth pass attempt, his second completion and his first TD toss. Add to it the resume. Not that he needed it.

-- Jeremy Bergman

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