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2020 NFL season, Week 17: What we learned from Sunday's games

1) Ian Eagle said it best in the final moments of Sunday's affair: "It's never easy ... if you're a Browns fan." Week 17 was, however, easy to process when it was all said and done, for the Browns (11-5) -- a once-moribund franchise known for losing in spectacularly depressing, seemingly unfathomable fashions -- finally finished the job for one regular season. The 2020 Browns are headed back to the playoffs for the first time since this writer was a glasses-wearing middle schooler. It's been that long in Cleveland, which again struggled at times while also playing with a roster depleted by a wave of COVID-19 positive tests and close contacts. Pittsburgh targeted Denzel Ward replacement Robert Jackson with significant success and nearly overcame a 15-point deficit in the fourth quarter with a furious rally, only to fall short via a failed two-point conversion. The Football Gods smiled on Cleveland for one week, ending the NFL's longest playoff drought at 17 seasons and sending the limited fans in attendance spilling into the downtown Cleveland streets screaming with joy, the sounds of nearly two decades of frustration released amid a cacophony of car horns.

2) Cleveland's offense welcomed back its receiving corps and saw the immediate benefits of it, but there are still some discouraging trends coming from the Browns. After running out to a modest 10-0 lead, Cleveland entered a lull, going scoreless on three straight possessions and holding the ball a combined 6 minutes and 25 seconds, while Pittsburgh (12-4) chipped away at the lead with three consecutive field goals. The Browns surrendered four sacks, Joel Bitonio uncharacteristically committed two false starts, Cleveland's defense allowed over six yards per play, and, well, it looked like things were about to get unpleasant for a franchise on the verge of finally getting over its first significant hump. When it came down to the ultimate winning time, the Browns again turned to their closing backfield, this time handing to Nick Chubb twice before giving Baker Mayfield a chance to gain the first on his own, which he did and celebrated accordingly. Cleveland did enough to return to the postseason, but still needs to work on a few things -- a week of practice instead of multiple facility closings would help -- if it hopes to take down Pittsburgh's full-strength roster next week.

3) Speaking of which, you know, Mason Rudolph wasn't bad Sunday. The quarterback was at his best when heaving it deep, and with a big-bodied athlete like Chase Claypool streaking down the field, such a task was much easier than the last time Rudolph found himself in such a situation last year. He hooked up with Claypool five times for 101 yards and a score, helping boost Rudolph's passing line to a nice finish (22-of-29, 315 yards, two touchdowns, one interception). Rudolph's one mistake -- an interception on a panicked throw under pressure -- cost the Steelers the most, but the mix of Rudolph and occasional Joshua Dobbs appearances was entertaining, if not encouraging for Pittsburgh's long-term planning. To be clear: We don't expect Rudolph to be the guy of the future. But the situation behind Roethlisberger could be worse, and the Steelers managed to continue building incremental offensive momentum as they have lifted themselves from the depth of their struggles in the last six quarters. That is very encouraging heading into Super Wild Card Weekend.

-- Nick Shook

1) Derrick Henry made history Sunday and nearly ran the Titans (11-5) to the AFC South title by himself. In the end, though, it was his quarterback who sprinted to a go-ahead touchdown and then threw them to an unlikely, last-second victory. Tennessee's fight cannot be argued against after Week 17's win, in which the Titans surrendered a 24-9 lead -- at which point it looked as if they'd run away with it (no pun intended) after Henry's second touchdown of the game -- then battled back to take a late lead, lose it on a 51-yard field goal, and then take it back one final time on Sam Sloman's 37-yard field goal. Sure, Sloman's kick needed geometric help, clanging off the right upright and through the goal posts for the game-winner, but it all counted the same, and wouldn't have come without the heroics of Ryan Tannehill. Tannehill's play is exactly why the Titans are again the AFC South champions, and why they're once again a threat in the postseason a year after stunning two opponents en route to an AFC title game appearance. Tannehill completed 18-of-27 passes for 216 yards and a score, but his running effort ended up serving as the difference, with the entire defense's focus on 250-yard rusher Henry giving Tannehill the space to get around the edge on a read option for the go-ahead score. That touchdown followed an incredibly untimely penalty on Marshall Newhouse for an illegal formation, which wiped out a would-be touchdown and again put some space between the Titans and their needed score. No matter for Tannehill, who did it himself, then fired a strike to A.J. Brown to put the Titans in range for Sloman to bank in the game-winning field goal. Tennessee is a team of fighters, and Sunday wasn't the first example. The Titans nearly battled their way back into a Week 13 game Cleveland led 38-7 at half, and though they fell short that day, they didn't Sunday. When it mattered most, the Titans finished, and their reward is a home playoff game next week.

2) Henry became the first rusher to break 2,000 yards in a season since Adrian Peterson did so in 2012, and the second Titan to reach the rare milestone, joining former Titans runner Chris Johnson (2009). His play punctuates Tennessee's style, which is to take the field, punch you in the mouth with Henry's runs and then barrel you over, left only to look up at Henry's cleats as he runs away toward the end zone. Sunday capped a remarkable campaign for the NFL's rushing champion, who ran away with the league lead in 2020 before capping it with his 250-yard outing Sunday. Tennessee needs to play better defensively, but if it can just get enough stops in a game, its offense is well-equipped to win the time-of-possession battle with Henry and hit you with body blows via completions to yards-after-catch monster Brown, Corey Davis and Jonnu Smith. It's a lopsided team at this point, but definitely still one that will make for a tough match-up in the postseason -- when the weather turns cold and the winners prove to be the physical ones.

3) I wrote about it this week with our top 10 MVP candidates, and I'll say it again: Deshaun Watson is an MVP-caliber player, even if he won't receive serious consideration due to Houston's performance as a team. Watson teamed up with Brandin Cooks to throw the Texans (4-12) back into this game and nearly into overtime, completing 28-of-39 passes for 365 yards and three second-half touchdowns (with just one interception). His deep passes to Cooks caught the eyes of those watching, but his go-ahead touchdown with 10:14 left in the fourth might have been his best. Watson rolled right and lofted the pass over defenders to a place where only the 6-foot-6 Pharoah Brown could haul it in, capping an incredible and furious second-half push to score an upset. Ultimately, it wasn't enough, but as has been the case for the majority of this season, Houston lost despite a fantastic effort from Watson. If the Texans can surround him with better players -- i.e., a competent running game -- Houston could end up flipping its final record of 4-12. But for 2020, Watson ends up being one of just a few bright spots on this team.

-- Nick Shook

1) Fittingly, the NFC East was won in baffling fashion. This was a game that was hard on the eyes and puzzling to the mind. And though it featured the Washington Football Team and the Eagles, it was likely the most painful result the 6-10 Giants have had to endure this season. But Washington (7-9) has won the East. It defeated the Eagles (4-11-1) despite two turnovers and 248 yards of offense, because Philly had three turnovers, Washington seemed to fortuitously fall upon multiple would-be costly fumbles and the Eagles made a host of mind-spinning decisions that will be yelled about for quite a few New York nights. With the Giants needing an Eagles win to secure the division, Philadelphia bumbled about on its way to a loss and Washington was left standing in this topsy-turvy decision, celebrating its first division title since 2015. Down 17-14 with two minutes to play in the third quarter, Doug Pederson went for it on fourth-and-4 and Jalen Hurts threw an incompletion. Thereafter, Nate Sudfeld was the quarterback for the Eagles and turned it over on each of the next two drives. In large part, therein lied the fate of the NFC East.

2) Any controversy or histrionics aside, Washington should celebrate. Amid the rubble of bad plays and bad teams and the muck of controversy in this one, there's a really great story as AP Comeback of the Year frontrunner Alex Smith and head coach Ron Rivera, having coached through cancer this season, have led this team to the playoffs. Heck yeah it was ugly. But there is something beautifully uplifting, as well. And while many are likely to prognosticate the Buccaneers will pummel the Football Team in the playoff opener, Washington has shown many times anything can happen this year -- after all, it won a title with a losing record. And Rivera has coached a sub-.500 playoff team to a first-round win before. There's also the Chase Young-led defense. For all the eye rolls about Washington's "success," the defense has been excellent and in Young we are seeing the early days of a player who seems destined to be a defensive game-changer for years to come. There was plenty of negative to tweet about on Sunday night, but Washington has reason to celebrate nonetheless.

3) For all the hubbub that has already come with Pederson's decision to replace Hurts with Sudfeld, those moves could full well impact an offseason of massive change for the Eagles. If Carson Wentz is no longer in the picture at quarterback, is Hurts the quarterback of the future? Pulling him certainly doesn't bode well for building a good standing with the rookie signal-caller. While this Sunday night finale saw Washington emerge as champion of the NFC East, it also brought about the commencement of what is most certainly going to be a franchise-chasing offseason for Philly.

-- Grant Gordon

1) The Green Bay Packers (13-3) clinched the No. 1 seed in the NFC by plowing over their division rivals. The Packers sprinted out early on the strength of Aaron Rodgers' arm and plowed over a demoralized Bears team late with two fourth-quarter scores that ended all hopes for any Bears comeback bid. The Packers scored TDs on their first three possessions of the first half. With the Bears possessing the ball forever in the second half, the game appeared close. Then, Rodgers and Co. mashed the gas pedal in the fourth quarter. The Packers secondary smothered Allen Robinson. Green Bay's offense performed admirably sans David Bakhtiari , giving up a single sack. Former Bear Adrian Amos iced the game with an interception of Mitchell Trubisky. The cherry on top was another Davante Adams TD catch, his 18th of the season. With the win, the 2020 NFC playoffs will run through Lambeau Field.

2) Rodgers' case to win a third MVP award grew stronger in Week 17. The Packers QB came out scorching, hitting some wide-open receivers in stride and dropping dimes with ease. In the first half, Rodgers went 10-of-10 for 155 yards, 3 TDs, 15.5 yards per attempt, and a perfect 158.3 passer rating. Rodgers found easy holes in the Bears defense and never looked pressured or like he even broke a sweat. He finished 19-of-24 (79.2%) for 240 yards with four touchdowns. If not for Marquez Valdes-Scantling dropping a would-be 53-yard TD early in the third quarter, Rodgers' numbers would have looked even better, and the blowout ensued earlier. Rodgers finished his season with 48 TD tosses. Rodgers (2011, 2020) and Peyton Manning (2004, 2013) are the only players in NFL history with 45-plus pass TD in multiple seasons -- the three previous instances culminated with MVP awards.

3) The Bears backed into the playoffs even with a loss. Matt Nagy's 8-8 squad will play during Super Wild Card Weekend thanks to an Arizona defeat. They'll need a much better performance from both the offense and defense to avoid being simply a speed bump to the superior New Orleans Saints. The Bears executed a game plan to keep the ball away from Rodgers for much of the second half. Not that it mattered. Mitchell Trubisky's weaknesses were underscored on an inefficient dink-and-dunk offense. Trialing, 21-13, at the half, the Bears' first two drives of the second quarter lasted 14:54 of game time and netted a single field goal. That's not how you beat Aaron Rodgers. A 15-play, 51-yard, 8-minute, 4-second drive netted zero points. The Bears went 1-of-5 in the red zone, in part because Nagy doesn't trust his QB not to make an error. Despite another double-digit loss to their bitter rival, at least Nagy and Co. have another week to compete. 

-- Kevin Patra

1) It was a nightmare beginning for Rams QB John Wolford's NFL debut, but by game's end, he notched the win his team needed to clinch a playoff spot. Subbing for the injured Jared Goff, Wolford threw an interception deep in his own territory on his first career pass attempt, resulting in a Cardinals touchdown and an early 7-0 deficit. He settled down with a few rushes for first downs, however, and made some excellent second-half throws to help put the game away. He was also working without the Rams' leading receiver, Cooper Kupp, due to COVID-19 protocols.

2) Backing up Wolford was a suffocating defense that generated half the Rams' points with a safety and a crucial 84-yard interception return by Troy Hill for the Rams' lone touchdown. With under a minute left in the first half, Hill's play flipped a 7-5 deficit into a 12-7 lead, giving the Rams momentum entering the break. The Cardinals managed just 240 yards of offense with star QB Kyler Murray injured for most of the game.

3) Speaking of Murray, it was a gutsy effort for the second-year pro to re-enter the game, trailing 18-7 with his team's playoff hopes dwindling, after an ankle injury knocked him out of the lineup on Arizona's first offensive possession. He didn't have his trademark mobility, however, and while he made a few impressive throws, he wasn't as effective against a stout Rams defense that knew he wasn't the same running threat. Murray re-entered with about 14 minutes left and quickly completed passes of 26 and 25 yards, but was then sacked, forcing a field goal try that was blocked.

-- Chase Goodbread

1) The Colts (11-5) should write thank-you notes to Josh Allen and the Bills before filling out a stack for Jonathan Taylor, who helped lift a stagnant Indianapolis offense out of the mud in a key moment in the fourth quarter Sunday to ice a desperately needed win. Taylor's 45-yard run ended the scoring slog that was the second half for the Colts, who rode their defense to four straight stops to keep a six-point lead alive before Taylor broke free, scoring with 3:35 left to make it a 14-point game and finally put away the Jaguars. Indianapolis has now jumped out to multiple-score leads in consecutive games before stalling as an offense, but the difference between last week and Sunday is the one that matters most: The opponent. While Pittsburgh rose up and took advantage of Indianapolis' struggles to move the ball in the second half, Jacksonville was unable to do the same. That produced the ultimate result for the Colts, who took the field Sunday knowing they just needed to salvage their playoff hopes. They capitalized and are headed back to the postseason as a wild-card team.

2) If the Jaguars (1-15) were able to convert a third down in any of three or four opportunities afforded them in the second half, we might have been staring at a second-straight Colts loss and another disappointing result at the end of the regular season for Indianapolis. But Jacksonville is finishing at 1-15 for a reason, and its inability to capitalize on the many chances cost the Jaguars a chance at an unlikely season sweep of the Colts, and the opportunity to play spoiler to the desperate Colts' hopes. Jacksonville was just 5-of-15 on third down, gained less than 5 yards per play and rushed for just 53 yards. The latter number is most important, as the pressure to produce fell squarely on the shoulders of Mike Glennon, who couldn't come through. Taking James Robinson out of action is essentially taking Jacksonville's punch from its offense. The Jaguars sorely missed Robinson Sunday, instead turning to Dare Ogunbowale, who rushed 14 times for just 50 yards and caught four passes for 22 yards. Those numbers are far from a game Robinson might produce, and while Indianapolis' defense deserves credit for its play, we also can't overlook the fact the lowly Jaguars were without their best player for a second straight week. It cost them an upset win.

3) Indianapolis is back in the playoffs, officially sealing the wise move that was signing Philip Rivers in the offseason. Rivers was far from stellar Sunday, completing 17-of-27 passes for 164 yards, a touchdown and an interception, but he's helped the Colts return to the postseason a year after they were stunned by Andrew Luck's retirement. Rivers is likely just a stopgap, but for now, he has them playing beyond Week 17 -- and that's all the Colts can ask out of him. As for their chances next week, well ... Buffalo is no slouch. We'll leave it at that.

-- Nick Shook

1) Josh Allen swiped nearly every single-season Bills passing record. The dynamite QB opened the game with an INT on the first drive. After the shaky start, Allen settled in and diced up a Dolphins defense with a bevy of quick strikes and pinpoint deep shots for scores. With 224 yards and three TDs, Allen broke Drew Bledsoe's record for most passing yards in a single Bills season. As he was all season, Allen was unstoppable once he got rolling. The Dolphins couldn't cover Stefon Diggs (7/76), and Isaiah McKenzie caught two TDs and scored another on a punt return. While the Dolphins entered as the team needing to win to make the postseason, it was Sean McDermott's squad that played with precision, purpose and fire, even when backups took over. It took Allen and Co. just one half of work to sprint out to a big lead and secure the No. 2 seed in the AFC. McDermott's squad didn't need to win today and could have rested everyone. Instead, the Bills (13-3) utterly obliterated a playoff hopeful in all three phases, even when the backups took over. It's a victory that has a dangerous, balanced Bills squad rolling into the postseason on a huge high.

2) With no Ryan Fitzpatrick backstop Sunday, it was Tua Tagovailoa chance to sink or swim. The Dolphins (10-6) drowned. In the first half, the QB ran a horizontal offense that never threatened up the field. The QB missed several throws, looked reticent to force it into coverage, and lacked confidence we'd seen from him early this season. After averaging just 4.1 yards per play in the first half, the Dolphins were forced to fling it around in the second half while down big. Tua proceeded to miss several throws, tossing three second-half interceptions. He stretched the field more in the final two quarters, but several of those tosses sailed and went for INTs. After having good interception luck this season, the Football Fates flipped the script Sunday, with the rookie QB tossing a pick-six when DeVante Parker fell, and back-to-back INTs to wipe out any comeback chances. The rookie finished with 35-of-58 for 361 yards with one TD much in garbage time. Tua's play will be under the microscope, but the loss wasn't all on the QB, with several drops by receivers and zero run game to help early. Following the Colts' win over the Jaguars, the offseason has started for Miami. After an up-and-down rookie season, Tua will have a full offseason to improve heading into Year 2.

3) The loss shouldn't be all on the Dolphins' offense. A defense that had been stingy all season got torched by Allen in the second quarter, giving up three straight TD drives that turned a close game into a 22-point game at the half. The defense then let Matt Barkley divebomb them to keep the Bills onslaught on deep into the contest. Brian Flores' club fought all season, but looked like it gave up the ghost as the playoff prospects dwindled.

-- Kevin Patra

1) Box scores usually don't tell the whole story of a game, but it would suffice for this one. Until the final 4:26 of the first half, the Bengals had gained just seven total yards of offense on nine plays. They'd possessed the ball for less than five minutes to that point, while allowing Baltimore to run out to a 17-0 lead. And by run, we mean it, as the Ravens had already barreled through 100 yards on the ground at that point. Cincinnati's greatest play of the half came back on a penalty and added insult with Tee Higgins' injury. Even when the Bengals tipped a Lamar Jackson pass and intercepted it at Baltimore's 44, they gained just three yards before punting it away again. That was the day in a nutshell, with the Ravens (11-5) running away with it before calling off the dogs in the fourth.

2) Baltimore just keeps on winning with its style, maturing from a team that was more concerned about outsmarting the opponent and becoming one that stubbornly -- and effectively -- sticks to what it does best: Run the football. Baltimore racked up a gaudy 525 yards of total offense, with 404 coming on the ground in a total team effort. Rookie J.K. Dobbins led the way, gaining 160 yards and scoring two touchdowns on 13 carries, with 72 of those yards coming on one touchdown run. Jackson added 97 on 11 attempts, Gus Edwards chipped in 60 on 12 attempts and even Mark Ingram got in on the action, gaining 39 yards on nine totes. Baltimore has proven in the last month it can and will exert its will on opposing defenses, and it's up to the opposition to stop the run and contain Jackson. No one has done it since Week 11 (Jackson missed Week 12), and it has propelled the Ravens to a great position as a wild-card team with a chance to make a deep run.

3) As the Ravens head to the playoffs with a win we all saw coming, the Bengals enter an offseason that likely won't see a change at head coach, but should involve some soul-searching. After Cincinnati lost Joe Burrow to a season-ending knee injury, the Bengals reverted to the punchless gang they were in 2019, save for one inspired prime time performance against a Pittsburgh team that was reeling at the time. Instead of building on positive momentum, the Bengals largely dissipated into the ether. So, what do we make of these Bengals entering 2021? A lot hinges on Burrow's status, but if he can return and resume his incredibly promising play, that will help a lot. After remaking their defense in the offseason, the Bengals were competitive, even if it didn't produce many wins. Higgins was a revelation, and Cincinnati even seemed to patch together a competent offensive line. Still, there's a large gap between 4-11-1 and even 8-8, and we'll need proof Zac Taylor's culture is right for this franchise, especially after at least one disgruntled veteran tweeted his way out of town in the middle of the season. Quarterback matters a ton and should be solved come September, but plenty still needs improving between now and then.

-- Nick Shook

1) Bucs WR Mike Evans broke Randy Moss' NFL record for consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons to begin a career with his seventh, but he didn't have long to enjoy the milestone. On the next play, on an in-breaking route, he beat Falcons rookie A.J. Terrell for a would-be touchdown, but took an awkward step just before Tom Brady's pass arrived. Evans dropped the pass and limped off the field with what appeared to be a left knee injury. He did not return, finishing with just three early catches for 46 yards. Following the game, coach Bruce Arians said it didn't look to be serious, but the Buccaneers (11-5) would know more Monday.

2) Without two key defenders in Shaquil Barrett and Devin White available due to COVID-19 protocols, the Buccaneers No. 1-ranked run defense held up relatively well against the Falcons. Brian Hill broke a 62-yard run to the right side to key a second-half touchdown drive that pulled Atlanta within 30-27, but other than that Bucs breakdown, the Falcons generated very little on the ground. It figures: Atlanta entered with the league's 29th-ranked rush offense.

3) As the Falcons (4-12) enter the offseason, their final contest provided a clear look at one of the club's biggest draft needs: Defensive end. Atlanta, which jettisoned a first-round investment at the position in releasing Takkarist McKinley earlier this season, got very little edge pressure on Bucs QB Tom Brady. The result was a field day for Bucs receivers Antonio Brown and Chris Godwin , both of whom had more than 130 yards and two touchdown catches each. Dante Fowler provided a late sack, but Atlanta will need to generate more heat on quarterbacks come 2021.

-- Chase Goodbread

1) It wouldn't be the NFC East without a topsy-turvy ending. Following a wayward Andy Dalton interception, Wayne Gallman sprinted for a first down to ice the game. Inexplicably, the ball popped out of his grasp, leading to a melee on the turf. Fortunately for New York, Gallman recovered the pigskin in the scrum to avoid potential disaster. The Giants pulled out the win with Daniel Jones looking better than he has in weeks. More mobile than he let on during the week, the QB's ability to get out of the pocket this week opened up a stagnant Giants offense. Jones tossed a bevy of pinpoint-passes down the middle, averaging 9.2 yards per attempt, including a perfect ball to Dante Pettis for a huge 33-yard second-quarter TD to give N.Y. a 20-9 halftime lead. When Jones is healthy, the Big Blue offense is a different operation. If it weren't for drops by Evan Engram, one of which ended in a pivotal INT, the game likely wouldn't have been as close.

2) Dalton was awful in the first half, sailing passes high and wide repeatedly. The Cowboys averaged just 3.3 yards per play with 113 total yards in the first two quarters. The QB played better in the second half as the Cowboys (6-10) battled back into the contest. Yet, Dalton took far too many sacks (six), several that killed drives late. On his final drive, the QB heave a virtual Hail Mary on third down that was intercepted in the end zone. The play summed up the day for Dallas. Mike McCarthy's team played undisciplined early. The Cowboys defense missed tackles and got gashed on the ground in the first half. McCarthy will get skewered for an odd decision not to challenge a Pettis catch that set up Giants 50-yard field goal to allow Big Blue to go up four points. Replays showed Pettis clearly bobbled the ball. Without that 10 yard grab, the Giants' lead likely would have been just one with Dallas getting the ball. The score completely changed the Cowboys' play-calling down the stretch, leading to the loss. With Dallas eliminated, McCarthy will have the offseason to consider his mistakes in a six-win season.

3) Leonard Williams picked a great time to have his best season. The future free agent was a game-wrecker all afternoon, living in the backfield, badgering Dalton into mistake after mistake. Williams compiled three sacks, five QB hits and three tackles for loss. The massive defensive tackle pressured Dalton into the game-sealing INT late. Williams has been a difference-maker in Patrick Graham's defense this season. The former first-round pick is in line to get paid this offseason.

-- Kevin Patra

1) Two Seahawks franchise receiving records fell in the first half Sunday. WR DK Metcalf broke a 35-year-old mark held by Pro Football Hall of Famer Steve Largent for single-season receiving yards, finishing the game with 1,303 yards on the year. Metcalf accomplished the feat on his first catch, but did little damage thereafter (three catches, 21 yards). A few plays after Metcalf's record breaker, WR Tyler Lockett set a franchise record with his 95th reception of the season. He ended up with an even 100, and the century-mark catch was a crucial touchdown reception with 2:20 left. Lockett was Russell Wilson's go-to receiver Sunday with a game-high 14 targets and 12 catches.

2) The Seahawks' seemingly season-long trend of an improving defense but a fading offense was on display for three quarters Sunday, until the offense exploded for three fourth-quarter touchdowns. San Francisco (6-10) led 9-6 entering the fourth quarter, and for the game, Seattle converted just 4-of-12 third downs. Defensively, however, Seattle held the 49ers to 3.6 yards per rush and came up with a critical strip-sack of QB C.J. Beathard by Benson Mayowa. It was the only turnover of the game, but proved costly for San Francisco as it set up a short field for the Seahawks on a TD drive of just 17 yards.

3) A week after allowing five sacks of Wilson, Seattle's pass protection wasn't much better Sunday. The 49ers' two sacks weren't indicative of the heat Wilson was under; he was often chased from the pocket immediately and had to throw away too many balls. If the 12-4 Seahawks hope to make a playoff run, protecting Wilson more effectively should be priority No. 1 in practice this week. Why? How about a first-round playoff date with Aaron Donald and the Los Angeles Rams, who entered Week 17 with the NFL's No. 1-ranked defense, and ranked second in sacks per game.

-- Chase Goodbread

1) Justin Herbert put the finishing touches on a potential Offensive Rookie of the Year campaign by continuing his impressive year-long play. The Chargers QB makes effortless plays with his big arm, nimble feet, superior touch, and remarkable understanding of defenses for a first-year QB. Herbert finished 22-of-31 passing for 302 yards, three passing TDs and added another rushing score. Sure, he did it against mostly K.C. backups, but Herbert was without Keenan Allen, Hunter Henry, and Austin Ekeler left at halftime due to a concussion. Herbert's sensational rookie season began with him getting tossed into the fire in Week 2 moments before kicking off against these Chiefs. It ended with him owning the rookie records for passing TDs (31), total TDs (36), completions (396), 300-plus-yard games (eight), and finished 39 yards shy of the passing yards record. By any metric, Herbert's rookie campaign was otherworldly.

2) With a 6-9 season in the books, the Chargers now hit the offseason with questions about Anthony Lynn's future. L.A. finished with a four-game win streak, but it came after it was already eliminated from the playoffs. Lynn's season was characterized by poor game management and dreadful special teams. Still, by all accounts, his players played hard despite being out of contention, which was evident in Sunday's finale. L.A. has also been riddled with injuries. Yet, losing multiple close games once again is a blight on Lynn's record. The question is whether the Chargers brass believes he's the man to help shepherd Herbert into the future.

3) The Chiefs (14-2) sat most of their stars, giving Chad Henne his first start since September, 2014. The veteran signal-caller was better than you'd expect a player who'd been collecting dust for six-plus years. With K.C. sitting most of its skill-position players, Henne still completed 71.9% of his passes for 218 yards and two TDs without an INT. The Chiefs lacked the explosive plays we're used to with Patrick Mahomes, but Eric Bieniemy and Andy Reid can still scheme up open opportunities. Running back Darwin Thompson reminded us of his pass-catching acumen as the top back, leading the Chiefs with seven catches for 65 yards and a score. Unfortunately for the players that did play, K.C. didn't exit unscathed. Linebacker Willie Gay Jr. left early with a leg/ankle injury. Later, CB Deandre Baker, who had played well, earning a sack and pass defended, was carted off on a stretcher. The scene was a reminder why Reid sat down most of his starters with the No. 1 seed already clinched.

-- Kevin Patra

1) The Saints had a decent shot of earning the NFC's top seed and a first-round bye heading into Sunday. They just didn't control their own destiny. New Orleans (12-4) took care of business versus the Panthers while the Seahawks topped the 49ers, as expected. But the final domino -- the Packers losing to the Bears -- didn't fall. That gave the Saints the No. 2 slot and a first-round date with the Bears. They squared off earlier this season, a 26-23 win for New Orleans on Nov. 1 that required overtime. Two notable differences from then: Mitchell Trubisky has reclaimed his job from Nick Foles, and the Saints' defense has evolved into one of the league's best units. Its five interceptions Sunday served as more proof. Michael Thomas missed that first meeting with Chicago and has spent the past three weeks on injured reserve, but he's expected to be near 100% for the postseason. Despite all the moving parts for the Saints during the second half of the season, they still managed to play some of their best football down the stretch.

2) Chalk this game up as a small sample of Sean Payton's offensive brilliance. No Alvin Kamara and no reserve running backs and no RBs coach? No problem. Ty Montgomery, who's primarily worked on special teams and receiver and had one carry on the season, earned 105 yards on 18 carries. New Orleans' run game produced 156 yards and 5.2 yards a pop. The startling production took some of the burden off Drew Brees, who was aggressive nonetheless while throwing three touchdowns. He was also fortunate to avoid an interception on more than one occasion. This is an offense that is best when it's balanced. Credit Payton and Co. for pulling it off without their Pro Bowl back and his backups. Kamara, who tested positive for COVID-19, could be cleared to play in the playoff opener since Bears-Saints has been scheduled for next Sunday. New Orleans knows either way it can win without him.

3) Teddy Bridgewater made sense as a stopgap quarterback this year as the Panthers moved on from Cam Newton and weren't drafting high enough to grab one of the three coveted passers from the 2020 draft. They now need to look long and hard at the 2021 prospects. A dead cap hit of $20 million is probably too much for Carolina to pursue a veteran upgrade. But Bridgewater can't go without competition next season. Despite the brains of Matt Rhule and Joe Brady calling the shots and a budding receiving corps to throw to, Bridgewater showed his ceiling isn't high enough to build a contender around. His performance in the season finale -- 13 of 23 for 176 yards with two interceptions, both coming in the Saints end zone -- was merely the latest example. After going 5-11 with a healthy Bridgewater under center, the Panthers' rebuild should include another QB moving forward.

-- Adam Maya

1) Bill Belichick's Patriots have swept the Jets for the fifth-straight season, and there were some silver linings in a victory that capped off a disappointing year. Several young players contributed to the win: Linebacker Chase Winovich had a two-sack performance with multiple QB hurries, running back Sony Michel had a productive day (124 scrimmage yards, receiving TD), cornerback J.C. Jackson got his ninth interception this season (11th takeaway this year), and rookie tight end Devin Asiasi caught his first career touchdown off that turnover for the go-ahead score in the third quarter. Remarkably, Asiasi's TD was the first by a Patriots TE this season. The Patriots (7-9) finish under .500 for only the second time this millennium, and for the first time since Belichick's inaugural season in New England.

2) Whether he's back in New England or not, Cam Newton left his imprint in Patriots lore after setting the franchise's mark for most rushing yards (592) by a quarterback in a season, passing Steve Grogan (539 yards in 1978). Newton set the record with a 49-yard run in the game's opening drive, which was the longest QB run in Patriots history. Newton also had his best game throwing the ball as a Patriot, finishing the day 21-of-30 for 242 yards and three passing TDs (79 yards rushing). Newton also caught a TD pass from wideout Jakobi Meyers. It was the first time this season Newton had multiple TD passes, and the veteran QB was engaged with his teammates all the way through a meaningless game. Newton, 31, is set to become a free agent this offseason.

3) The Jets (2-14) capped off a historically bad season the only way they could, and they have secured the No. 2 overall pick in the 2021 Draft. It's not as if the Jets were never in the game, either. With the game tied at 14 late in the third quarter, an unforced INT by Sam Darnold started the Jets unraveling. Darnold threw another bad pick in the red zone during the fourth quarter, which put them out for good and solidified an ugly outing. Darnold ended the day 23-of-34 for 266 yards and one TD (two INTs). Tight end Chris Herndon led the Jets offense with seven receptions for 63 yards and a TD. Adam Gase's job security is now in question after a two-win season (worst since the Jets' one-win season in 1996). Gase accumulated a 9-23 record in his two seasons as head coach.

-- Michael Baca

1) Two defenses that struggled this season did their part to set up an offensive shootout Sunday. Quarterbacks Matthew Stafford and Kirk Cousins didn't disappoint, with Cousins throwing for 405 yards and three touchdowns. The Lions played relatively soft coverage as Cousins found easy first downs underneath. Stafford threw for three scores, as well, and could have gone far north of his 293 yards were it not for a couple of drops. Lions RB Adrian Peterson , at 35, looked young in slashing for 63 yards on only seven carries.

2) With Dalvin Cook enjoying a career-best season, Vikings fans haven't seen much of backup RB Alexander Mattison this season. But with Cook unavailable for personal reasons, Mattison looked like a back with something to prove in rushing for 95 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries. Don't tell Lions DB Tracy Walker about the drop-off from Cook to Mattison; on a fourth-and-2 play in the first quarter, Mattison juked Walker off his feet with a stop move near the right sideline to finish a 28-yard touchdown reception.

3) Justin Jefferson capped a brilliant first season with the Vikings by breaking the Super Bowl-era rookie record for receiving yards. The former LSU star and 2020 first-round pick, who combines deep-threat speed with the length to make contested catches, caught nine passes for 133 yards against the Lions. The season-ending performance gave him an even 1,400 on the year, breaking a record held by Anquan Boldin since 2003 (1,377).

-- Chase Goodbread

1) In a game where turnovers plagued Las Vegas (8-8) early -- two INTs, two lost fumbles -- the offense found ways to keep making plays in a wacky, back and forth affair. Josh Jacobs and Darren Waller made many of those plays and again stepped up as Pro Bowlers so often do. Waller, who was responsible for one of those fumbles, shook off the early mishap and hauled in nine catches for 117 yards and a score. He also set a single-season franchise record for receptions (107), surpassing Hall of Famer Tim Brown's 105. Jacobs racked up 15 carries for 89 yards and two TDs, the second of which came in the closing seconds, on his way to a second consecutive 1,000-yard rushing season. Derek Carr turned in another take the good with the bad effort as he finished with 371 yards, a pair of picks and TDs and took three sacks. He did make a couple of crucial throws, though, including two big ones to set up the winning plays.

2) Despite Denver (5-11) registering a fourth consecutive losing season, team brass should be somewhat encouraged by the performance of its young guns. Drew Lock, often a subject of debate in terms of his potential, compiled a career-high 339 yards and two TDs while avoiding a turnover against Las Vegas' struggling D. After dropping five balls in Week 16, Jerry Jeudy showed resilience with a five-catch, 140-yard day; 92 of those yards came on an incredible catch-and-run score to give Denver a late lead. Justin Simmons (three tackles, INT) strengthened his case for an extension a little more than a week after making his first Pro Bowl. Rookie CB Michael Ojemudia (seven tackles, two FF) and LB Jeremiah Attaochu (five tackles, sack) stood out, as well.

3) For a second season in a row, these division rivals gave their fanbases cardiac arrest to close out the season. Unlike last year, a shot at the postseason was not on the line for Las Vegas, thanks to Week 16's devastating defeat to Miami. In 2019, Jon Gruden's squad lost its last game in Oakland, 16-15, after Carr and Hunter Renfrow failed to connect on a two-point conversion on the game's final play. Sunday's finish played out in similar fashion, only this time the Raiders managed to pull off a win. After Jacobs waltzed in to cut Denver's advantage to one, Carr completed a tight-window throw to Waller for a 32-31 lead and eventual win, as Brandon McManus' 63-yard attempt was blocked in the closing seconds. While falling short of the end goal hurts, Gruden finishing with the first .500 record of his second Raiders' tenure is a good sign heading into 2021.

-- Jelani Scott

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