2021 NFL season, Week 12: What we learned from Sunday's games

Around The NFL breaks down what you need to know from all of Sunday's action in Week 12 of the 2021 NFL season. Catch up on each game's biggest takeaways using the links below:

Baltimore Ravens
2021 · 8-3-0
Cleveland Browns
2021 · 6-6-0

Grant Gordon's takeaways:

  1. Lamar, Ravens win a(nother) close one. In many ways this was an old-fashioned AFC North slobber-knocker. In other ways, it was just ugly. Evidence of the ugliness came in the second quarter, when the teams had a combined five turnovers. Lamar Jackson had three interceptions, including two on back-to-back throws. Baker Mayfield answered one of those golden opportunities by fumbling away possession while trying to get off a screen pass, the ball just falling backward from his grasp as he back-pedaled from the pass rush. There were some dropped passes, a Chase McLaughlin field goal that hit the upright and doinked inward for three points and just a host of puzzlement that was arduous for the eyes to put together. As the game played on, the chaos waned to some extent, but there were never any dalliances with this being a beautiful football game. But with Jackson at the helm, the Ravens have the ultimate X-factor and a player who can turn in an overall horrendous game, but do enough with his legs, arm and improvisation to win you a close one if you let Baltimore hang around -- which it often does. Sunday night went from bowling-shoe ugly to playground football and Jackson is going to win that game. Jackson threw four interceptions and they were all when targeting tight end Mark Andrews. Still, when he scrambled and chucked up a pass to Andrews in the third quarter's opening drive for a 39-yard gain, Jackson briefly ignited the Ravens' offense and even got an appreciative handshake from Myles Garrett because of just how preposterous Jackson's abilities often are. A few plays later, Jackson found Andrews for the Ravens' only touchdown, as all their other points were provided by the automatic leg cannon that is Justin Tucker. Jackson had a 46.5 QB rating and the aforementioned four INTs. And yet, for the sixth time this season, the Ravens won by a touchdown or less. Good, bad and ugly matters not for the Ravens and Lamar. They seem to win them every which way.
  2. Browns' bread and butter can't spread offense. Battered, bruised and errant with his throws, Mayfield looked much the same as he has of late. But the Browns offense has always been led by arguably the best rushing attack in the NFL. Baltimore put a stop to it on Sunday night. Even with a returning Kareem Hunt joining Nick Chubb, Cleveland went nowhere on the ground, tallying 40 yards as a team. It's a number that makes you squint and check the box score again, but yes, the Browns gained a season-low 40 yards on the ground, with Brandon Williams, Patrick Queen and Tyus Bowser keying a defense that held Chubb to 16 yards and Hunt to 20. Baltimore needed a big performance from its defense on Sunday and it got it.
  3. JOK sensational in loss. It's difficult to celebrate the Browns in November, so why not April? Cleveland getting Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah in the second round is proving to be a steal on a weekly basis. JOK tallied 12 tackles, two QB pressures, a tackle for loss, a QB hit and half a sack on Sunday night. The Browns dropped to .500, but the defense wasn't the culprit and Owusu-Koramoah was a major reason Cleveland had a stellar defensive showing, even if it will get lost in the final result.

Next Gen stat of the game: Entering Week 12, the Browns had an NFL-high 1,407 rushing yards outside the tackles. On Sunday, the Browns had 11 rushes for 27 yards on rushes outside the tackles (2.5 avg.).

NFL Research: Lamar Jackson threw four interceptions when targeting tight end Mark Andrews. He is the fourth QB in the last 25 seasons to throw four interceptions when targeting a single player.

Green Bay Packers
2021 · 9-3-0
Los Angeles Rams
2021 · 7-4-0

Kevin Patra's takeaways:

  1. Packers control ballgame wire to wire against spiraling Rams. Green Bay churned out first downs, kept the ball away from Sean McVay's offense and capitalized on several L.A. miscues to head into the bye week at 9-3. Despite playing with an injured foot, Aaron Rodgers unleashed several dimes in traffic, connecting on big plays of 54, 43 28, and 22 yards. The splash plays surrounded a pounding game from running back A.J. Dillon, who rammed through L.A. defenders to eat up the clock, with the Packers holding a double-digit lead for most of the second half. When Dillon is shedding tackles, it takes the Packers' offense to a different level. Green Bay nearly doubled up the Rams' time of possession (39:40 to 20:20) while generating 399 total yards and 21 first downs. Davante Adams feasted (8/104) even when slowed by Jalen Ramsey -- 5/5 for 41 yards when targeted vs. Ramsey, per Next Gen Stats -- and Randall Cobb (4/95/1) made big plays before exiting with an injury. It's the type of offensive performance that should have the Packers cooking as we enter December.
  2. Green Bay defense continues to make big plays. On the second Rams drive of the game, Rashan Gary manhandled Pro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth, sacking Matthew Stafford and causing a fumble that helped the Packers jump out to a quick 7-0 lead. On the ensuing possession, Adrian Amos came flying in to stuff a fourth-down play. The big plays didn't stop for Joe Barry's defense, which compiled two sacks, 18 QB pressures, eight passes defensed, and a pick-six. Veteran corner Rasul Douglas played out of his mind, jumping a route for an INT and racing for a score to give Green Bay a 36-17 lead late in the third quarter. The CB added four pass breakups and five tackles. Green Bay gave up two big plays -- a 79-yard TD to Van Jefferson and a 54-yard score to Odell Beckham -- which accounted for 133 of the Rams' 353 yards. For the rest of the game, Green Bay put the clamps down.
  3. Rams offense can't find a groove in dropping third straight game. For the third straight game, Matthew Stafford threw a pick-six. An inconsistent offense that struggles to move the chains consistently continues to haunt McVay. The run game was nonexistent, and Stafford was a tad off the mark too often to keep the Rams on the field. L.A. generated more than one first down on just three of 13 drives and had zero first downs on six drives. Stafford is reportedly playing through injury, but missed throws and a lack of chemistry with his receivers are more troublesome. Beckham (5/81/1) was a non-factor until the Rams were down 19 in the fourth quarter. The Rams need Stafford to offer more than a couple of big plays a game if L.A. is going to compete with the upper echelon in the NFC down the stretch.

Next Gen stat of the game: Rashan Gary had six QB pressures, a sack and a turnover forced by pressure on 22 pass rushes (27.3 pressure percent).

NFL Research: Matthew Stafford has thrown a pick-six in three straight games, becoming the 11th QB in the Super Bowl era to do so. Since Week 9, Stafford has thrown no touchdowns to Cooper Kupp and three TDs to opposing defenders (Jimmie Ward, Kevin Byard, Rasul Douglas). Stafford had 22 passing TDs and four INTs in his first eight games (10 TD to Cooper Kupp).

Denver Broncos
2021 · 6-5-0

Chase Goodbread's takeaways:

  1. There was no mistaking the difference of the Broncos offense with and without Teddy Bridgewater on Sunday. Denver built a 14-0 first-quarter lead with Bridgewater at the helm, albeit with a lot of production from its rushing attack, until he was temporarily sidelined by a first-quarter lower leg injury. Drew Lock subbed in for the remainder of the first half, during which time the Broncos did not score, and he threw a costly interception with under a minute left in the half that the Chargers cashed in for a touchdown. Bridgewater returned to play the second half and, despite some third-quarter struggles, he engineered a 10-play, 80-yard drive capped by a TD pass to Eric Saubert that all but put the game out of reach for the Chargers. Bridgewater's numbers were nothing special -- 11 of 18 for 129 yards -- but the team unquestionably moved the ball better with him in the game.
  2. The Chargers' pass protection was overwhelmed. Denver notched three sacks of Chargers QB Justin Herbert, none of which required a blitz, along with 10 QB hits and 16 pressures. In addition to that, the Chargers were flagged for holding on three pass plays. It didn't help that Chargers left guard Matt Feiler was designated inactive with an ankle injury. On one particular possession, his replacement, Senio Kelemete, drew two penalties (holding, false start) and allowed a sack, all but killing a drive that ended in a missed field goal. Herbert completed just three of 10 passes of 10-plus air yards, per Next Gen Stats. Denver edge rusher Bradley Chubb returned from injured reserve, but was eased back into action with limited snaps (26). Even with Chubb shaking off some rust, the Broncos defense flexed a big advantage up front.
  3. Patrick Surtain II and the Broncos draft class made their mark. Surtain had a game to remember with a pair of fourth-quarter interceptions, one of which prevented a touchdown, the other of which produced one. First, the rookie cornerback stepped in front of TE Jared Cook in the Broncos end zone to pick off a would-be touchdown pass. Later, he picked Herbert again on a pass intended for Austin Ekeler and took it 70 yards untouched for a touchdown. He's now recorded at least one pass defensed in every game he's played since Week 4. Surtain's performance capped a nice day for the Broncos rookie class as a whole. In other rookie contributions, RB Javonte Williams posted 111 total yards with a touchdown, while Baron Browning (seven tackles) and Caden Sterns each broke up a pass.

Next Gen Stats: Broncos DL Dre'Mont Jones recorded a career-high seven QB pressures.

NFL Research: Chargers WR Keenan Allen reached 700 receptions in his 111th career game on Sunday, tying Antonio Brown as the fastest players in NFL history to reach that mark.

San Francisco 49ers
2021 · 6-5-0
Minnesota Vikings
2021 · 5-6-0

Nick Shook's takeaways:

  1. Kyle Shanahan's rushing attack is back! The 49ers gave a full workload to Elijah Mitchell on Sunday and watched him run with the opportunity (pun unintended), gaining 133 yards and scoring a touchdown on 27 attempts. Shanahan again mixed in Deebo Samuel, giving him the ball on a sweep around the left side with Mitchell leading the way for one of Samuel's two rushing touchdowns. Altogether, the two gained 199 yards on 33 carries and scored three times. That's enough to win, especially when Shanahan could trust his offense to grind down the clock by riding a punishing attack to eat up 7:08 in a one-score game. Jimmy Garoppolo doesn't need to be great for the 49ers to win when their running game is working this well.
  2. The Vikings' new aggressive offensive approach failed them Sunday. Minnesota reached the doorstep of a potential game-tying touchdown with less than seven minutes to play, then went for it on fourth down and failed via a Kirk Cousins incompletion on a pass intended for a well-covered Justin Jefferson. The Vikings were afforded a second crack at it after Robbie Gould missed a field goal, but fell short of the red zone after a questionable no-call on contact prior to the pass arriving in the vicinity of K.J. Osborn. The combination of what might have been pass interference and the failure of Minnesota's offense in a key spot will leave Vikings fans aggravated for the next week until they take the field again, and depending on how this season unfolds, they might look back at Week 12 as a missed opportunity -- one in which the Vikings surrendered a touchdown lead -- that weighed heavily on the outcome of their season. Cousins' interception early in the third -- just his third of 2021 -- certainly didn't help, either.
  3. This one requires close monitoring of injury reports in the next 48 hours. After racking up 88 scrimmage yards and two touchdowns on seven touches, Samuel exited with an apparent injury and did not return. Dalvin Cook departed with a separated shoulder and required a cart to leave the field, forcing the Vikings to turn to Alexander Mattison on the ground. Both are central figures in each team's offense, and are essential parts of their ambitions when possessing the ball. To San Francisco's credit, the 49ers did not wilt without Samuel, instead relying on the play of Mitchell, fullback Kyle Juszczyk and receiver Trent Sherfield. But if the 49ers want to continue their positive momentum toward a playoff push, they'll need Samuel to keep it up.

Next Gen stat of the game: Elijah Mitchell gained 81 yards and scored one touchdown on 16 rushes against a stacked box, averaging 5.1 yards per such attempt.

NFL Research: Deebo Samuel is the first receiver to rush for touchdowns in three straight games since Cordarrelle Patterson did so between Weeks 16 and 17 of 2013 and Week 1 of 2014. Samuel is also the first receiver in the Super Bowl era to do so in the same season.

Tennessee Titans
2021 · 8-4-0

Chase Goodbread's takeaways:

  1. Mac Jones just keeps getting better. After yet another round of mostly mistake-free football, the Patriots quarterback has rendered his rookie designation meaningful in experience only, not performance. His connection with Jakobi Meyers, in particular, looks increasingly more rhythmic and reliable. Jones completed 23 of 32 passes for 310 yards and two touchdowns without a turnover. Meyers caught five passes for a game-high 98 yards, but it was Kendrick Bourne who found the pay dirt, turning a short crossing route into a 41-yard touchdown, his second score of the day, that put the game out of reach in the fourth quarter. Jones finished a perfect 11 for 11 on play-action passes, and notched his eighth win.
  2. The running games produced just the opposite of what was expected. The Titans' efforts to rediscover a rushing attack without Derrick Henry finally found some daylight on Sunday, and the Patriots' steadily improving rushing attack, for most of the game, went nowhere. After ending the Adrian Peterson experiment earlier in the week, the Titans got 100-yard games from both D'Onta Foreman and Dontrell Hilliard, who combined for 240 yards on 31 carries. Hilliard broke a 68-yard touchdown virtually untouched, as a burst of speed got him past Devin McCourty, the only Patriot with a chance at a tackle. New England, for its part, couldn't run it at all for most of the way, although the ground attack began to yield more against a tired Titans defense late in the game.
  3. Takeaways aplenty for the Patriots. The New England defense, third in the NFL in takeaways, was opportunistic again in forcing five fumbles and three turnovers. The Titans offense, operating without its top three playmakers in Henry, Julio Jones and A.J. Brown, could not overcome the miscues. Ja'Whaun Bentley forced two fumbles, and Davon Godchaux knocked one loose that Kyle Dugger pounced on. Ball-hawking CB J.C. Jackson was in the middle of two turnovers, intercepting a pass in the Patriots end zone that had been tipped by McCourty, and punching out a fumble by Foreman that was recovered by Jalen Mills. Jackson, a free-agent-to-be, notched his seventh interception on the season and is setting himself up for quite an offseason payday.

Next Gen stat of the game: The Titans defense blitzed just six times, but generated two pressures and two sacks on those plays.

NFL Research: Before Sunday, the last Titans running back other than Derrick Henry to rush for 100-plus yards in a game was DeMarco Murray (Week 3, 2017).

Miami Dolphins
2021 · 5-7-0
Carolina Panthers
2021 · 5-7-0

Kevin Patra's takeaways:

  1. Jaylen Waddle's breakout game propels Dolphins. The rookie shredded the NFL's No. 1 pass defense for a career-high 137 yards and a touchdown on nine catches. Through three quarters, Waddle's 137 receiving yards were nearly half of the Dolphins' 280 total yards. Waddle displayed game-breaking speed on a massive 57-yard catch and run, blasting past angles in the Panthers' secondary. Waddle, who had 72 yards after the catch on Sunday, took advantage of pinpoint passes from Tua Tagovailoa to earn extra yards. The young QB displayed good accuracy and didn't need to push the ball deep against a feisty Panthers defense. Tua completed 87.1% of 37 pass attempts for a chain-moving Dolphins offense that gobbled up 22 first downs and held the ball for more than 37 minutes.
  2. Panthers offense back to being broken. The Cam Newton honeymoon ended in a disastrous fashion. The QB was brutal in his second start for the Panthers. Newton was a woeful 5-of-21 passing (23.8%) for 92 yards with two interceptions for a 5.8 passer rating. Of Newton's 92 yards, 64 came on one completion to D.J. Moore early in the game. Newton rushed for the Panthers' only score of the game in the first quarter. From there, the bottom fell out. The signal-caller was under pressure and handled it poorly, missing a boatload of throws that had no chance. Newton also had four passes batted at the line of scrimmage by Dolphins defenders. The entire operation was a mess. On seven drives in the second and third quarters, Carolina earned a total of 58 yards. Down by 20 points, Newton was benched for the fourth quarter, with P.J. Walker sweeping up the garbage-time stats. It's back to the drawing board for Matt Rhule and Joe Brady to figure out how to generate consistency from the QB spot.
  3. Dolphins defense swarms. Waddle wasn't the only rookie to leave his mark on the game. Stud safety Jevon Holland picked off Newton early in the second quarter to snuff out a Panthers drive. Holland is on his way to becoming one of the game's best all-around safeties. Jaelan Phillips was a beast, netting three sacks and nine total pressures in just 27 snaps -- getting pressure on 39.1% of snaps is outrageous. Emmanuel Ogbah tortured the Carolina offensive line, earning a sack and five QB pressures. When the pressure from the Dolphins is dominating like Sunday, Brian Flores' unit is a tough nut to crack.

Next Gen stat of the game: Jaylen Waddle reached a top speed of 21.80 mph on his 57-yard reception, tied for the fourth-fastest speed by a ball carrier on a play this season behind only: Marquez Valdes-Scantling: 22.09 mph; Jonathan Taylor: 22.05 and 21.83 mph.

NFL Research: Cam Newton's 5-of-21 passing (23.8%) is the lowest by a QB with 20-plus attempts in a game since Joey Harrington went 5 of 22 (22.7%) for DET in Week 14, 2004.

Cincinnati Bengals
2021 · 7-4-0
Pittsburgh Steelers
2021 · 5-5-1

Nick Shook's takeaways:

  1. The Bengals made a statement with a season sweep. Cincinnati surprised folks with its first win over Pittsburgh back in September, but Sunday was no fluke. The Bengals dominated the Steelers with emphasis, sending a message that their rebound is legitimate and they won't be going away any time soon. Cincinnati scored a blowout win by doing much of the same, riding Joe Mixon to another strong performance (28 carries, 165 yards, two touchdowns) and turning to a young wideout not named Ja'Marr Chase for big plays, throwing to Tee Higgins eight times for six completions, 114 yards and a long touchdown. Cincinnati outgained Pittsburgh, 370-301, dominated time of possession by more than 10 minutes, rode early momentum to a big lead and cruised to victory. The Bengals are squarely in the conversation regarding the division title and look much better than the team that was blown out at home by Cleveland just a few weeks ago.
  2. The Bengals' defense isn't going away any time soon. Cincinnati brought the hammer to the Steelers' offense Sunday, forcing Pittsburgh to resort to its uninspired, early season approach that relied too much on short completions mainly because longer attempts weren't paying off. Sensing a chance to strike, the Bengals capitalized, sacking Ben Roethlisberger three times (including a strip-sack) and recording three takeaways that included two Roethlisberger interceptions. Mike Hilton got some revenge on his former team with a pick-six just before half that gave the Bengals a 31-3 lead and essentially put the game away, and the Steelers were forced to attempt to throw their way out of the deficit in the second half, allowing the Bengals to pin their ears back and get after the quarterback. In a game that was supposed to be decided by Pittsburgh's defense, it was instead Cincinnati that landed multiple haymakers, sending the Steelers to the mat for an early knockout.
  3. Pittsburgh isn't going to be much better than it was Sunday unless it can find a way to run the ball effectively. The Steelers gained a grand total of 51 yards on the ground from the combined efforts of Najee Harris, Kalen Ballage, Benny Snell and Anthony McFarland. Their running game eventually became irrelevant because of the deficit they faced, but what's more concerning is the possibility of requiring Roethlisberger to throw the Steelers to victory. Without JuJu Smith-Schuster, that has become a steady diet of downfield shots to Chase Claypool, underneath targets for Diontae Johnson and the occasional pass to Pat Freiermuth. That group is good enough to succeed, but the same can't be said with certainty about Roethlisberger, who again struggled to a 65.4 passer rating. If that's what the Steelers are offensively, they're going to have to ask a whole lot out of a talented, but overloaded defense to keep them in games.

Next Gen stat of the game: Joe Mixon broke +30 rushing yards over expected against the Steelers for the second time this season. He hasn't achieved such a feat against any other team in the NFL in 2021.

NFL Research: The Bengals have won three in a row versus the Steelers for the first time since a Cincinnati six-game winning streak in the rivalry from 1988 through 1990. It's also the Bengals' first season sweep of the Steelers since the 2009 season. Cincinnati won the division that year.

New York Jets
2021 · 3-8-0
Houston Texans
2021 · 2-9-0

Jelani Scott's takeaways:

  1. Jets survive in Zach's first game back. The four weeks Zach Wilson spent sidelined with a knee injury certainly showed on the rookie's first few drives. A haphazardly thrown shovel pass to an unsuspecting Ty Johnson that bounced off his back and into a Texans defender's grasp to end the second series was as rough as it gets. But sometimes, all a struggling team needs is a couple of breaks in order to break through, especially against another poor team. And that's exactly what New York got. Penalties kept both of the Jets' touchdown drives alive, setting up late-week call-up Austin Walter and Wilson for punch-ins to end the first half and begin the second. Walter, Tevin Coleman and Johnson steadied the offense as it became clear early Wilson still needed to get his legs under him. The trio combined for 35 carries and 147 yards. It may not have been the same budding offense we saw recently under different QBs (Jets: 98 pts, Weeks 8-11; 80 pts, Weeks 1-7) but, hey, it was enough.
  2. Same result, different day. Similar to N.Y., Houston's first TD came shortly after a defensive penalty kept it on the field. And then a 40-yard Tyrod Taylor- to-Brandin Cooks (#FreeBCooks) connection on the next drive gave the Texans something they haven't seen much of this season: a lead. From there, though, the results looked more like what the club has seen plenty of all year. Including the end of the game, none of their next seven drives saw the Texans accumulate 20 yards; four of those ended in punts, one was a missed field goal and the last was a turnover on downs with Houston trailing 21-14. Another week, another bitter defeat for a team still trending in the wrong direction.
  3. Jets D-line shows heart. When two 2-8 teams meet, the focus quickly becomes more about showing heart than worrying about the conference standings. And for a defensive-minded coach like Robert Saleh, the effort by his defensive line had to inspire a bit of confidence. The Jets compiled five sacks and numerous pressures on the day, while making sure an already stale run game showed no signs of life. Their most impressive play came on the game's opening drive when John Franklin-Myers tipped a pass from a backpedaling Taylor into the air, hauled it in and rumbled 31 yards to help set up a 31-yard Matt Ammendola FG. JFM tallied a game-high two takedowns; Quinnen Williams also added one to give him five on the season.

Next Gen stat of the game: Zach Wilson completed 14 of 22 passes for 145 yards when not under pressure. He went 0 for 2 with an interception when under pressure (sacked four times).

NFL Research: Austin Walter and Zach Wilson each scored their first career rushing TD in the win. This was the second time in franchise history that two Jets teammates each scored their first career rushing TD in a game the team won (Brad Smith and Jerricho Cotchery did so in a 37-0 win over the Bengals in Week 17, 2009).

Indianapolis Colts
2021 · 6-6-0

Kevin Patra's takeaways:

  1. Leonard 4Nette powers Bucs in thrilling comeback win in Indy. Leonard Fournette scored a quartet of touchdowns to power the Tampa offense, including the game-winning 28-yard scoring run with 20 seconds remaining. Fournette blasted through arm tackles all day, generating 5.9 yards per carry, with 17 totes for 100 yards and three rushing scores. The running back added a short TD catch to go along with seven receptions for 31 yards. On a day when Tom Brady was a bit wobbly early, and the receiver corps slowed (no wide receiver with more than 24 yards receiving), Tampa needed a large day from "Lombardi Lenny." The back delivered in a big way. As if the Bucs offense isn't dangerous enough, it becomes even scarier when Fournette is churning out yards after contact to move the chains -- the Bucs earned 13 rushing first downs to just 11 passing. Fournette took advantage of the Colts playing coverage, as he faced zero stacked boxes on 17 rushes and generated +34 yards over expected, per Next Gen Stats.
  2. Colts left with another coulda-woulda-shoulda afternoon. Indy controlled the first half with Carson Wentz dicing up the Bucs secondary, generating 197 passing yards and three TDs as the Colts built a 10-point halftime lead. Instead of playing it safe, Frank Reich went for it on fourth down at the end of the second quarter, with Wentz hitting T.Y. Hilton for a TD to go up double-digits. Following three straight TD drives in the second quarter, the Colts imploded. Wentz fumbled on a sack and threw an INT on the next possession. Then a muffed punt early in the fourth quarter allowed the Bucs to score 17 straight points. A 10-point lead was a seven-point deficit in a blink. Jonathan Taylor was stymied early and forgotten for too long, not getting a touch in the second half until 10 minutes remained in the fourth quarter. It was apropos that following a big kick return in the final seconds, Wentz was intercepted at the goal line on a Hail Mary play late. Five turnovers got Indy beat in a game it controlled early against the Super Bowl champs.
  3. Gronk back to Gronking. Rob Gronkowski is back to looking spry after injuries caused him to miss time. The tight end caught seven of 10 targets for 123 yards -- the only Bucs player with more than 31 yards receiving. Gronk got open with ease against Colts linebackers and safeties, averaging 5.3 yards of separation on 10 targets (his most in a game this season). His rapport with Brady remains friendship-bracelet strong. The TE looked rejuvenated early in the year. He's back to that form now, able to dance in and out of routes and power through defenders after the catch. The only thing missing Sunday was a patented Gronk spike. If the TE stays healthy, expect more big games down the stretch. Few defenses have answers for Gronk when he looks as healthy as he did this week.

*Next Gen stat of the game: *Jonathan Taylor earned -4 rushing yards over expected in the first three quarters (+28 in fourth quarter). Five rushes for 4 yards versus seven-plus defenders in the box in the first three quarters (seven rushes, 53 yards, TD in fourth quarter).

NFL Research: Leonard Fournette's four scrimmage touchdowns are tied for the most in a single game in team history, matching Jimmie Giles and Doug "Muscle Hamster" Martin.

Atlanta Falcons
2021 · 5-6-0

Chase Goodbread's takeaways:

  1. One of the worst rushing offenses in the NFL came alive Sunday. The Falcons' offensive line ripped open some big holes between the tackles, particularly in the first half, in a rare showing of balance for quarterback Matt Ryan. The primary beneficiary was Cordarrelle Patterson, who was questionable to play with an ankle injury, but it was the Jaguars' defense -- ranked 17th in the NFL -- that ended up looking questionable. Patterson sprung the longest Atlanta rush of the season with a 27-yarder, and went right through the heart of the Jacksonville defense for a 12-yard score in the second quarter. Patterson set three single-game career highs with 16 carries, 108 yards and two touchdowns.
  2. Trevor Lawrence's time is coming. Most of the time, it's painfully obvious that the supporting cast around Lawrence in the Jacksonville offense isn't nearly enough for a rookie quarterback to sustain success. Occasionally, when the stars align just right for Lawrence, who makes his share of mistakes, and an offensive line and a receiving corps that aren't nearly ready for prime time, the franchise's No. 1 overall pick flashes brilliance. That's what happened on a second-half TD drive that closed the gap to 21-11, as Lawrence ripped high-velocity throws into tight windows that found Laquon Treadwell, Tavon Austin (for his first TD catch since 2019), and tight end James O'Shaughnessy for a two-pointer. He played a much more confident game in the second half, scrambling instinctively and getting the ball out with no hesitation. Few quarterbacks in the league possess his combination of athleticism and arm talent. The Jaguars just have to develop him, and his supporting cast, to a point where his moments of greatness turn into game-long effectiveness.
  3. _The Jaguars blanketed Kyle Pitts_. Credit Jacksonville's defense for taking away the Falcons budding rookie star. Ryan threw for just 190 yards and struggled to find open receivers downfield -- he attempted just one pass of 10-plus air yards, per Next Gen Stats, and it was intercepted. His longest completion of the day went for just 20 yards to a running back (Patterson). Jaguars rookie Tyson Campbell did a nice job in coverage against Pitts, although the two weren't matched on a constant basis. Pitts was targeted six times but made just two receptions for 26 yards. With the Jaguars defense clamping down on Pitts and others in the passing game, the aforementioned ground attack was a must for the Atlanta offense Sunday.

Next Gen stat of the game: Trevor Lawrence was 0 for 6 with an interception on deep passes.

NFL Research: Cordarrelle Patterson turned in the first 100-yard, two-touchdown rushing performance by a Falcon since Devonta Freeman in 2016.

New York Giants
2021 · 4-7-0
Philadelphia Eagles
2021 · 5-7-0

Nick Shook's takeaways:

  1. Game 1 with Freddie Kitchens as play-caller wasn't historic, but it was triumphant. After looking completely out of sorts against the Buccaneers six days earlier, the Giants showed a surprising bit of composure Sunday. Kitchens called a game that didn't ask too much of Daniel Jones, who completed 19 of 30 passes for 202 yards and one touchdown. Jones was able to spread the ball around, connecting with eight different pass catchers and finding an unlikely target -- tight end Chris Myarick -- for their only touchdown of the day. The Giants didn't rack up a ton of yards (they finished with 264) but they were able to extend possession when needed, taking 7:22 off the clock in the final period of a one-score game and finishing that drive with a key field goal. It wasn't great, but it was good enough to win a close game. That's more than New York was able to say about its offense under Jason Garrett.
  2. The Eagles can certainly run it, but they have to be better through the air. Jalen Hurts threw not one, not two, but three interceptions on Sunday, completing just 14 of 31 attempts for 129 yards and a putrid passer rating of 17.5. Philadelphia was once again effective on the ground, racking up 208 rushing yards, but without any consistency through the air, the Eagles' scoring potential fizzled. When it came down to two late possessions on which they had to throw, the Eagles watched their chances evaporate via a Boston Scott fumble and a turnover on downs, finishing in Giants territory both times but failing to reach the red zone. It's fine to combine an effective and unpredictable running game with an average air attack, but it won't win many games when you turn the ball over three times. The Eagles learned this lesson Sunday.
  3. New York's defense has quietly been becoming a stingy group. Even after getting blown out by the Buccaneers last week, the Giants had reason to believe they might be coming around. On Sunday, these little clues all came together to produce a stellar defensive day. New York's four takeaways came as a result of harassing Hurts, and allowed the Giants to maintain their slim lead throughout the contest. A combined group effort saw three defenders -- Xavier McKinney, Tae Crowder and Darnay Holmes -- intercept Hurts to keep the Eagles' offense at bay. Despite only converting 25% of third-down attempts, the Giants were able to win the time of possession battle because of their defense and hold on in the end. Though 4-7 on the year, it always feels good to get a win, and these Giants needed it.

Next Gen Stat of the game: Jalen Hurts completed 4 of 10 passes for 20 yards and two interceptions while under pressure.

NFL Research: The Giants forced four Eagles turnovers Sunday, the most takeaways for New York since Week 4 of 2014. It was also Jalen Hurts' first three-interception game of his young career.

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