2021 NFL season, Week 15: 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 15 of the 2021 NFL season. Catch up on each game's biggest takeaways using the links below:

New Orleans Saints
2021 · 7-7-0
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2021 · 10-4-0

Grant Gordon's takeaways:

  1. Saints D batters Brady for win. Tom Brady was frustrated and battered for four quarters as he was shut out for just the third time in the most successful career in NFL history. That will be on the marquee, but don't forget to celebrate the Saints. As the Bucs were aiming to clinch the NFC South, the Saints were fighting for their playoff pulse. And they stayed alive by dominating the trenches and getting after Brady to the tune of pressure on 25.5% of his dropbacks, per Next Gen Stats. Brady was sacked four times, threw an interception and fumbled. The Bucs' top-ranked scoring offense was held out of the end zone and to just 302 total yards as defensive coordinator Dennis Allen piloted a masterful defensive effort while also filling in as head coach for Sean Payton, who tested positive for COVID-19. With the win, the Saints jumped up to the No. 7 seed in the NFC and it was thanks to the likes of Cameron Jordan, Marcus Davenport, Demario Davis and David Onyemata playing just a sensational game against an outstanding offense.
  2. Time to panic for Tampa? Seeing such a prolific offense shut out in a game in which the Buccaneers could've punched a playoff ticket to defend their Super Bowl crown certainly garners notice and shock factor. However, the reason it's so shocking is because of how rare an occasion it is. To think Brady and Co. won't bounce back is folly. The real reason for concern, as noted postgame by head coach Bruce Arians, is the health of a banged-up bunch of Bucs. Running back Leonard Fournette and wide receivers Chris Godwin and Mike Evans each left early due to injuries. Tampa Bay had scored at least 30 points in four straight coming into Sunday night before it was beaten by New Orleans for the seventh time in a row in the regular season. Stunning a final result as this is, it's also the final time the Buccaneers will see the Saints this regular season and for now looks like nothing more than an aberration for a very good Tampa offense. With two games remaining against the Panthers sandwiched around a tilt versus the Jets, it would seem the remedy lies ahead for the Buccaneers' Sunday night ills.
  3. Jordan's play speaks volumes. Well-spoken off the field, loud on it, Cameron Jordan still really never gets the due he deserves. On Sunday night with the world watching, he was the most crucial contributor of a huge team win and collected individual accolades along the way. Jordan posted five tackles, three QB hits, two tackles for loss and two sacks and forced a huge fumble on Brady. With those sacks, Jordan notched a milestone 100 for his career, joining Rickey Jackson as the only Saints with triple-digit sacks in their tenures. It's rare, if ever, that you hear Jordan mentioned among the pass-rushing elite, but as autumns come and go in New Orleans, the six-time Pro Bowler has been a constant havoc-wreaker. Sunday night was a showcase of just how great Jordan can be when he's at his best.

Next Gen stat of the game: Tom Brady was 3 of 9 for 19 yards (with four sacks) when under pressure.

NFL Research: Tom Brady was shut out for just the third time in his NFL career and for the first time since Week 14, 2006 at the Miami Dolphins. It was also the first shutout for the Buccaneers since Week 15, 2012, which was also against the Saints.

Green Bay Packers
2021 · 11-3-0
Baltimore Ravens
2021 · 8-6-0

Kevin Patra's takeaways:

  1. Packers withstand furious Ravens comeback to win NFC North. The Packers controlled the contest in the second half, going up 31-17 with 9:30 left. But Baltimore stormed back with a chance to steal a victory. Back-to-back Tyler Huntley rushing scores sandwiched around just the Packers' second three-and-out of the day put the Ravens in a position to force overtime. Once again, John Harbaugh played for the win, electing to go for two points and a potential victory. Huntley's throw to Mark Andrews was defended well by Darnell Savage, who got a hand on the ball to force the incompletion. The win clinched Green Bay's third straight NFC North title under Matt LaFleur on a day in which Aaron Rodgers tied Brett Favre's franchise TD pass record with 442. The Packers became the first team to clinch a playoff berth in 2021 and did so in dramatic fashion in Baltimore.
  2. Tyler Huntley proves he's legit. Lamar Jackson's backup shined even in the loss, helping the Ravens' offense move up and down the field. This wasn't some rink-a-dink defense Huntley carved up either, with the Packers entering ranked in the top 10 in scoring D, total yards and rushing and passing yards allowed. Baltimore's offense gobbled up 354 total yards and 24 first downs while punting just once. Huntley completed 28 of 40 passes (70%) for 215 yards and two TDs while adding 13 rushes for 73 yards and two more scores. With the backup QB leading the show, the Ravens offense has looked as good as it has in months. When in need of a play, Huntley often looked to star tight end Andrews, who gobbled up 10 catches for 136 yards and two first-half TDs. All other Ravens pass catchers compiled 79 total yards. With strong hands, good route running and athleticism after the catch, Andrews is overlooked as one of the elite TEs in the NFL. Credit the Ravens coaching staff, down a boatload of players on both sides of the ball, for going toe to toe with the NFC's top team sans Jackson. For Huntley, it proved his first start wasn't a fluke and, in the right offense, he can be an effective playmaker.
  3. Packers offense more potent with healthy MVS. What a difference a productive Marquez Valdes-Scantling makes for the Packers' offense. The No. 2 wideout went for 98 yards and a TD on five catches, most of them of the big-play variety. When Rodgers needed a play, either on third down or after a Ravens score, he looked toward MVS. Facing a decimated Ravens secondary, the wideout feasted. Rodgers, meanwhile, made a host of great throws but also missed two potential TDs (one early to Davante Adams and one late to Allen Lazard) that could have kept a blowout in place. If MVS stays healthy down the stretch and Rodgers continues to trust him, Green Bay's offense will be at its most potent come the January run.

Next Gen stat of the game: Tyler Huntley completed 9 of 12 passes for 94 yards and 2 TDs versus the blitz. The QB also completed 4 of 8 for 51 yards and 2 TDs on passes of 10-plus air yards.

NFL Research: Aaron Rodgers tied Brett Favre for the most passing TDs in Packers history (442) and has reached that mark with almost 200 fewer INTs (93 to Favre's 286). Rodgers has the highest pass TD-INT ratio (4.75:1) in NFL history among qualifying passers.

San Francisco 49ers
2021 · 8-6-0
Atlanta Falcons
2021 · 6-8-0

Chase Goodbread's takeaways:

  1. Are the 49ers a legitimate playoff team, or did the Falcons just make them look that way? That's a question that can't be answered for a few more weeks, but on Sunday, it looked like the former. Offensively, San Francisco was efficient and explosive, springing six rushes of 10 yards or more and five pass plays of 20 yards or more. Jimmy Garoppolo completed 18 of 23 passes for 235 yards without a turnover, leading the way for 397 yards of total offense. On defense, the 49ers' pass rush notched three sacks, and it should've been four, as Arden Key lost a sack on a questionable flag for roughing the passer. Nick Bosa had a strip-sack, resulting in a turnover that was capitalized upon for a Niners TD, for his sixth straight game with a sack. The secondary continues to be problematic -- Atlanta hit a pair of 49-yard completions -- but overall, this was no contest. The 49ers flexed here to put Atlanta's playoff hopes on life support and advance their own significantly.
  2. The 49ers defense had its back to the wall early and responded with a goal line stand. San Francisco's JaMycal Hasty put his team in an early hole with a fumble on the opening kickoff that gave the Falcons a first down on the 49ers 12-yard line. From there, however, the San Francisco defense turned Atlanta away for no points. On first-and-goal from the 1, an apparent Cordarrelle Patterson touchdown was overturned on replay review, resulting in no gain. Another stuff of Patterson for no gain and two incompletions later, the San Francisco defense trotted off the field with a four-down stand from the 1-yard line. It set the stage for a theme as the second half saw the 49ers get two more fourth-down stops inside their 10.
  3. Two of the best tight ends in the game, San Francisco's George Kittle and Falcons rookie Kyle Pitts, showed why. Kittle was a big part of the 49ers offense in the first half and gave the Falcons problems with his ability to run after the catch. Kittle is a tough solo tackle in the open field, more for his power than any elusiveness. He caught all six of his targets for a game-high 93 yards. Pitts caught a 49-yard deep ball in the second half to highlight a four-catch, 77-yard day. What makes Pitts all the more impressive is that Atlanta's receiving corps is in shambles, particularly over the course of Calvin Ridley's near-two-month absence. Opposing secondaries are draping Pitts with extra attention, which has helped to put a lid on his numbers over the second half of the season. When Atlanta eventually gets him running routes amid more dangerous receivers, he'll beat one-on-one coverage with ease.

Next Gen stat of the game: The Falcons' pass rush produced no defenders with more than one QB pressure.

NFL Research: Deebo Samuel extended an NFL-record for single-season rushing touchdowns by a player whose primary position is wide receiver. With a first-half TD run of 10 yards, he now has seven.

Cincinnati Bengals
2021 · 8-6-0
Denver Broncos
2021 · 7-7-0

Nick Shook's takeaways:

  1. These Bengals certainly know how to respond. It wasn't pretty Sunday, but when the Bengals watched their 9-3 lead disappear via a Tim Patrick touchdown grab, it was as if someone distributed espresso shots to every member along Cincinnati's sideline. The Bengals instantly awoke, covering 62 yards in two plays with 56 of them coming on a Tyler Boyd catch and run for a touchdown. Joe Burrow's pass to Boyd was his league-leading 12th passing touchdown of 30-plus yards this season; no other quarterback in the NFL has more than seven. It was the second straight week in which the Bengals faced a deficit in the second half and watched Burrow quickly lead them down the field for a crucial touchdown, and unlike last week, it was all the Bengals needed thanks to the play of their defense. Cincinnati remains in a brutal battle royale for the AFC North because it has found a way to return serve, no matter the opponent. That's the mark of a hungry team, and one that just might do enough to make the playoffs.
  2. Denver's offense and its overall chance of victory hinges on the availability of Teddy Bridgewater. When the veteran quarterback exited the game due to injury, Drew Lock replaced him and finished off the drive with a touchdown pass to Patrick, but that was it for significant plays from the backup quarterback. Lock finished with a passing line of 6-of-12 for 88 yards and the one 25-yard touchdown pass to Patrick, fumbled away a great scoring opportunity inside Cincinnati's 10, failed to connect with Courtland Sutton on a key third-down pass attempt, and then completely bungled an unlikely attempt to cover 75 yards in a minute with no timeouts. Lock's final pass attempt -- a desperation heave on fourth down that landed out bounds and out of range of any Broncos pass catcher -- defined his standing with the team. The Broncos are competitive with Bridgewater and a defense that has proven it will keep them in the game. They can only hope they can compete with Lock.
  3. Pay attention to Trey Hendrickson, folks. I put him at No. 10 on my Defensive Player of the Year candidates this week because of how much of an impact he's making for the Bengals, and although he didn't record a sack (he finished with a half-sack) to make it 10 straight games with at least a half-sack, he caused problems for the Broncos all game. Hendrickson recorded five QB pressures on the night and drew a couple of holding calls that went against Garett Bolles, including one on the final drive that backed Denver up to its own 15. He's become the type of edge rusher who's so consistent, opposing offenses have to account for him on every passing down. If you're looking for one player to signify Cincinnati's turnaround in 2021, it's Hendrickson, and the rest of the new additions -- Larry Ogunjobi recorded a key sack on the Broncos' final possession -- are following his lead.

Next Gen stat of the game: After going without one in the Bengals' first 13 weeks of the season, Tyler Boyd has recorded a deep reception in each of his last two games, taking advantage of attention paid to rookie Ja'Marr Chase.

NFL Research: The Broncos finished 0-4 versus the AFC North in 2021. Since 2020, Denver is 0-6 against teams entering a game with seven-plus wins, including Sunday's loss. Its last win over a team with seven or more wins came in Week 17 of the 2019 season via a 16-15 win over the Raiders.

Dallas Cowboys
2021 · 10-4-0
New York Giants
2021 · 4-10-0

Kevin Patra's takeaways:

  1. Cowboys handled business against NFC East doormats. Once again, it wasn't a pretty affair for Dak Prescott and the Cowboys' offense. But Dallas took advantage of the excellent field position provided by the defense to take an insurmountable lead against a limp Giants offense. Dak missed a few throws and fumbled late. The Cowboys had just two drives of more than 45 yards on the afternoon. Tony Pollard's return from injury provided juice as the shifty back generated 74 yards on 12 carries. But the Giants D didn't allow big plays -- zero plays of 20-plus yards -- leading to Dallas having to grind out yards. The Cowboys averaged just 4.7 yards per play on 70 plays. It was dink and dunk for Prescott, who went 20 of 21 for 158 yards and a touchdown on short passes (0-9 air yards) while going just 2 of 8 for 34 yards on passes of 10-plus air yards. With pivotal games against Washington, Arizona and Philadelphia to close out the season, the Cowboys still have time to figure it out before the postseason starts. But Dak needs better protection, playmakers can't drop passes and the QB needs to play with better accuracy.
  2. Dan Quinn's D continues to dominate. Yes, it was against a Mike Glennon-led offense, but Quinn's defense continues to show it will make difference-making plays regardless of the opponent. For the third straight week, Dallas forced four turnovers. Demarcus Lawrence was a beast up front, with his QB pressure forcing an early interception. He also later caused a Saquon Barkley fumble. Micah Parsons continues his award-winning season, earning three pressures, two that led to turnovers, per Next Gen Stats. This season, Parsons has generated a 20.2 QB pressure percentage, a Next Gen Stats-era single-season record (minimum 200 pass rushes). The Cowboys forced three Glennon INTs, including Trevon Diggs' 10th of the season. It wasn't until Jake Fromm entered the game in garbage time that the Giants got anything downfield. It's a playoff-ready D in Dallas.
  3. Saquon Barkley continues to struggle. Obviously, Glennon isn't the answer. Fromm actually looked better than Glennon and nearly had more yards than the veteran (99 to 82 passing yards). However, more concerning for Big Blue continues to be how much Barkley struggles to churn out yards. Barkley took 15 carries for 50 yards (3.3 yards per carry) with a long of six yards. More eye-popping was that Devontae Booker looks better than Barkley in the same offense. Booker earned 74 yards on eight carries (9.3 YPC) with a long of 31 yards. Booker hit the hole harder and was sprier, whereas Barkley seemed to dance and couldn't break tackles. Barkley's struggles stand out in an offense that struggles to make splash plays.

Next Gen stat of the game: Mike Glennon is the first player in the NGS era with three interceptions and fewer than five attempts on deep passes in a game (0-4, 3 INT on deep passes).

NFL Research: The Cowboys are the first team to have a player with 10 or more INTs (Trevon Diggs) and a player with 10 or more sacks (Micah Parsons) since the 2007 Chargers (Antonio Cromartie with 10 INT, Shawne Merriman with 12.5 sacks).

Detroit Lions
2021 · 2-11-1
Arizona Cardinals
2021 · 10-4-0

Kevin Patra's takeaways:

  1. Feisty Lions put it all together to devour Cardinals. Dan Campbell's fever dream came to life Sunday at Ford Field. The Lions came out mashing Arizona on the ground. Jared Goff made nice plays on play-action. And the defense flew around the field. Kutztown College's Craig Reynolds gashed a porous Cards run D. The former undrafted free agent looks like a keeper who can break arm tackles and hits the hole. Reynolds galloped for 112 rushing yards on 26 totes. Goff was at his best Sunday, making throws in clean pockets. The streaky passer made clutch tosses and was accurate when the pocket was muddled. Detroit was particularly good on third downs early in the contest. Opening the contest with a near nine-minute field goal drive, the Lions kept the ball out of Kyler Murray's hands in the first half to put Arizona behind the eight ball. It was the type of game plan coaches dream of against explosive opponents. The Lions might wind up losing the No. 1 draft pick with their second victory in three games, but for Campbell, building a winning mentality is more important in his first season.
  2. Cardinals lay massive egg with chance to clinch playoff spot. Kliff Kingsbury's club sleepwalked all afternoon. Even against a one-win club, playing in a haze will get you beat. The Cards' offense was off-kilter all game, like an ice cream truck with three flat tires. Facing a previously porous Lions D, Murray missed throws high and wide. The O-line blew blocks in the passing game and couldn't open up holes. Receivers dropped passes. Backs couldn't break tackles consistently. The red zone execution was atrocious (0-4 on the game). The defense couldn't make impact plays, picked up penalties and allowed the Lions to churn out first downs with ease. It was as depressing an outing as Arizona could imagine from start to finish, getting bullied by a team vying for the No. 1 draft pick. Back-to-back losses have plummeted Kingsbury's club from the NFC's No. 1 seed to clinging to their division lead with three tough games to play. If the Cardinals repeat this performance, it'll be a struggle down the stretch.
  3. Lions D smothers Cardinals. Former first-round pick Charles Harris terrorized Murray all afternoon, picking up 1.5 sacks, two QB hits and three tackles for loss. Defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn called a masterful game, bringing pressure at times and forcing Murray into poor platforms. The secondary, which has been picked on for stretches this season, played its best ball. Amani Oruwariye made a gorgeous diving INT to squash a Cards comeback. Linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin made a bevy of plays and big tackles. Entering Sunday, it looked like a big mismatch on paper, with the Lions owning the 28th overall defense, 29th in scoring and 29th in third downs facing the No. 4 scoring offense that ranked third in third-down conversion rate. Instead, Glenn's D dominated, holding the Cards to 7 of 15 on third downs, 1 of 3 on fourth down and 0 for 4 in the red zone. It's a performance for Detroit to build on for a still-growing unit.

Next Gen stat of the game: Jared Goff went 2 for 2 for 59 yards with two touchdowns on deep passes (2 deep TDs in Weeks 1-14).

NFL Research: The 10-3 Cardinals lost to the 1-11-1 Lions, the third time since 1970 that a team with the NFL's worst record beat a team with the best record (including tied records), minimum eight games each. The previous two teams to lose -- 1995 Cowboys and 2004 Patriots -- went on to win the Super Bowl that season.

Houston Texans
2021 · 3-11-0
Jacksonville Jaguars
2021 · 2-12-0

Chase Goodbread's takeaways:

  1. In a rookie QB battle, the third-rounder beat the No. 1 pick. Texans rookie quarterback Davis Mills notched his first win a starter on Sunday, offering further validation for coach David Culley's decision to name him the team's QB1. He outdueled fellow rookie Trevor Lawrence with a solid-if-not-spectacular day, completing 19 of 30 passes for 209 yards, a pair of touchdowns and one interception. The performance follows a 331-yard game in a loss to the Seattle Seahawks, his first since getting the nod from his coach. With a running game that strikes fear in no one and an offensive line that doesn't protect very well, Mills is acquitting himself well and has come a long way since his early-season struggles.
  2. The turtle race is on. Between their second loss of the season to a three-win Texans team, and the Lions' stunning upset of the Cardinals, the Jaguars have laid claim to the title of NFL's worst team. There's a long way to go before the No. 1 overall pick of the NFL draft is settled, but cutting loose the anchor that was Urban Meyer did nothing to help this team set sail on Sunday. The Texans have the worst defense in the NFL, bar none, and somehow they held the lowly Jags to one touchdown. Meanwhile, Lawrence's development has been stagnant, and with his receivers lacking the ability to separate, it'll likely be 2022 before the No. 1 draft pick begins to show true signs of what he can do. For the Jaguars, there's a sliver of hope against the Jets next week, followed by predictable outcomes against the Patriots and Colts.
  3. The end of the first half was a case study in how to blow a two-minute scoring chance, and how to capitalize on one. We begin with the Jaguars facing a third-and-2, just inside the Houston 40, with 0:59 left before the half. Outcome: back-to-back short-yardage failures, starting with a messy handoff exchange that cost Dare Ogunbowale at least a step or two, resulting in a gain one just a yard. Lawrence followed with a failed sneak attempt for a turnover on downs. Houston then managed to convert 21 seconds and three timeouts into three points. Mills zinged quick completions of six, 12 and 11 yards, and with impressive clock management, the Texans cashed in a 51-yard field goal before the half.

Next Gen stat of the game: The Jaguars had zero QB pressures on 12 blitzes (blitzed on 38.7% of dropbacks).

NFL Research: Darrell Bevell is now 1-5 as an interim coach following his HC debut with the Jaguars. Bevell was 1-4 last year with the Lions.

Pittsburgh Steelers
2021 · 7-6-1
Tennessee Titans
2021 · 9-5-0

Chase Goodbread's takeaways:

  1. Give 11 game balls to the Steelers defense in this one. The Pittsburgh defense came through with three fourth-quarter turnovers to flip momentum in this game and deliver a must-win for a Steelers team that is fighting for a postseason berth. It was all the more impressive given the Steelers' offensive struggles for the majority of the game. Ben Roethlisberger and Co. opened with four consecutive punts. Tennessee chewed up 10:17 off the clock with a second-quarter field goal drive that represented more possession time than Pittsburgh had the entire first half. Tennessee's final TOP edge was 39:08-20:52, yet the Steelers defense only got tougher as the game continued. Yes, it gave up a ton of rushing yards (201), but takeaways can solve all. The turnover bug has bitten the Titans hard in recent losses and this game was no different.
  2. Absent a late resurgence, Julio Jones' first season in Tennessee has fallen apart. The former Falcons star, acquired via trade, went out with a hamstring injury and did not return. It was just his second game back from a hamstring issue that relegated him to injured reserve for most of November. The Titans have seen the seven-time Pro Bowler in peak form just once, when he tormented a weak Seahawks secondary for 128 yards in Week 2. But he's posted more than 50 yards receiving in just one other game this year and his season is trending in the wrong direction as the Titans enter the final stretch.
  3. The combination of T.J. Watt and Cameron Heyward was a dominant one for the Steelers. Watt notched 1.5 sacks, which included an assisted sack with Heyward that forced a field goal try near the end of the first half. Watt maintained an NFL-leading total of 17.5 on the season, accounting for 15 yards in losses, while adding three quarterback hits, seven pressures and a fumble recovery. Heyward, dominant all season from the interior, shrank the pocket from the inside with four pressures, along with his half-sack, and made six tackles on the day. It made for a long day for the Titans offensive line, which was operating without starting guard Rodger Saffold. Watt exited the game late with injury, but by that time, he'd more than made his stamp on the game.

Next Gen stat of the game: Titans DB Elijah Molden blitzed five times and recorded three pressures.

NFL Research: Watt now has 17.5 sacks on the season, which is a single-season club record, breaking a mark of 16 set by James Harrison.

Miami Dolphins
2021 · 7-7-0
New York Jets
2021 · 3-11-0

Adam Maya's takeaways:

  1. Duke Johnson is still a weapon. Whatever becomes of this season for the Dolphins, Sunday's win over the Jets will be remembered as the Duke Johnson game. After spending most the season on Miami's practice squad (and several weeks before that unsigned), the backfield receiving maven had the best performance of his seven-year career. He'd never rushed for more yards (107) or two touchdowns. Equally surprising was the volume (22 carries), what with leading rusher Myles Gaskin activated from the reserve/COVID-19 list Friday. Both RBs were effective -- Gaskin tallied 54 yards on 10 carries -- which might say more about the Jets' run defense. But it was Johnson who was primarily responsible for giving the NFL's second-worst rushing offense a shot in the arm while saving a playoff hopeful from suffering a detrimental defeat.
  2. The Jets' talent on offense is less than its scheme. New York played fun football versus Miami. Well, at least for a half. There was the Braxton Berrios TD run. And the 23-yard pass to Ryan Griffin that involved a pair of flips between Zach Wilson and Berrios. And the lateral from Jamison Crowder to Berrios to convert a third-and-long. First-year coordinator Mike LaFleur was in his bag this weekend. But there's only so much trickeration that a team can get away with. It's also a cheap fix for its rookie QB, with New York seemingly desperate to avoid straight dropbacks. Otherwise, Wilson is wild, he plays under constant duress and his receiving corps isn't on the same page. There's not much of a running game to speak of, either. It was refreshing to see the Jets cobble together a pair of long scoring drives (their two offensive TD drives went for 75-plus yards). But this isn't a roster than can be competitive over the long haul.
  3. Miami looks like more of a pretender than contender. Credit the Dolphins for rallying from two double-digit deficits against a divisional opponent. Those games can be extra-competitive, even when they involve terrible teams (see: the 2021 Jets). Miami's sixth consecutive win places it firmly inside the playoff bubble. But winning so ugly at home while coming off a bye and against a 3-11 team conjures doubt more than confidence. The truth is the Dolphins have been feasting on losing teams and their offense is still a liability. This was only the second time all season that Miami allowed 17 points and won, with the other victory also coming against New York. Tua Tagovailoa hurt his team more than he helped it Sunday, throwing a pair of interceptions (including a pick-six that tied the game midway through the fourth) and narrowly avoiding a couple more. Throwing downfield is barely an option (Tagovailoa went 4 of 11 for 85 yards with an INT on passes of 10-plus air yards, per Next Gen Stats). The Dolphins' remaining slate (Saints, Titans, Patriots) suggests their streak could continue, but how they're winning doesn't appear sustainable.

Next Gen stat of the game: Tua Tagovailoa went 12 of 15 for 111 yards, 2 TDs and an INT on passes of fewer than 10 air yards.

NFL Research: Duke Johnson recorded 100+ rushing yards for the first time in his career.

Buffalo Bills
2021 · 8-6-0
Carolina Panthers
2021 · 5-9-0

Nick Shook's takeaways:

  1. At the very least, we know the Bills can take care of business. Buffalo still wasn't a well-oiled machine when it had the ball Sunday, gaining less than five yards per play and converting just 6 of 14 third-down attempts, but it was able to end a two-game losing skid by beating a team it should defeat. Josh Allen shined in spots and frustrated in others, but the Bills did find a little more offensive balance, finishing with 27 rushing attempts for 119 yards that included a career-high 22 totes for 86 yards and one touchdown for Devin Singletary. Their defense was good enough to force a handful of turnovers on downs and one turnover. They don't look outrageously impressive, but they got a win when they desperately needed one. Maybe, just maybe, this helps Buffalo build some momentum heading into the Bills' rematch with New England.
  2. The Panthers' offense is downright dreadful. Without Christian McCaffrey, Carolina has been reduced to a rudderless ship with a sail left in tatters. Cam Newton has been tasked with captaining this ship and though he can still be an effective runner (15 carries for 71 yards and one touchdown Sunday), he is clearly over the hill when it comes to throwing the ball. He completed 18 of 38 passes for 156 yards, one touchdown and one incredibly ugly interception versus the Bills, while also sailing short attempts repeatedly and poorly placing passes in traffic. Frankly, the damage could have been much worse. Carolina has zero offensive identity, rhythm or intention. The Panthers are beyond throwing spaghetti at the wall at this point -- they're just trying to figure out how to get the water to boil.
  3. Are we witnessing the final weeks of the Matt Rhule era? I think we are, and a shot of Rhule on Sunday as the final seconds ticked away told me everything I needed to know. Rhule was seen standing on the sideline with a blank expression and a million-mile stare, likely wondering just how the Panthers fell this far offensively. It's unfair to their defense, which played well enough to at least keep them in the game until the final stages and did a good enough job to force the Bills to truly work for each of their 34 points. The Carolina offense just can't figure out how to put its left foot in front of its right consistently enough to jog, let alone run. Rhule's firing of Joe Brady hasn't produced any semblance of an improvement and he's running out of answers for why the Panthers are so difficult to watch right now. The progress isn't there and, sure, you can point to the QB situation, but it was Rhule who wanted to try to reclaim Sam Darnold. He might end up paying for it with his job if they finish the season like this.

Next Gen stat of the game: Buffalo pressured the opposing quarterback on 40.5% of dropbacks Sunday, the third-highest QB pressure rate for the Bills this season. Gregory Rousseau was responsible for five QB pressures on 18 pass rushes (27.8%).

NFL Research: The Bills have won by 15-plus points in each of their eight victories this season, the most such games by any NFL team in 2021 and tied for the sixth-most such games in any campaign since 1970.

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