2021 NFL season, Week 16: What we learned from Christmas doubleheader

Indianapolis Colts
2021 · 9-6-0
Arizona Cardinals
2021 · 10-5-0

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  1. Jonathan Taylor keeps climbing. Taylor took the field as the NFL's leading rusher by a significant margin, but without three-fifths of the offense that has cleared the way for him in 2021. No problem: Taylor still rushed for 108 yards on 27 carries and set the tone for the Colts with his first carry of the night, a 43-yard run into Arizona's red zone. He lost a fourth lineman when Eric Fisher departed due to injury, leaving the group in shambles, yet he was still able to break 100 yards, even if they weren't big chunk runs. That softened the defense enough for Carson Wentz to get to work and help the Colts to victory. Taylor is a stud, which we already knew, but we learned tonight he can be strong even amid adverse circumstances.
  2. Frank Reich's psychological efforts might finally be working. After attempting just 12 passes and essentially being taken by the opposing coaching staff for a walking turnover in last week's win over New England, Carson Wentz came out on Christmas night and let it rip. He finished with a line of 18-of-28 for 225 yards and two touchdowns, and his final scoring drive was his most impressive. Indianapolis covered 69 yards in seven plays, with Wentz firing passes all over the field along the way. His best throw was the play that ended the drive: a 14-yard strike from the safety of the pocket to Dezmon Patmon in the back of the end zone, pushing Indianapolis' lead to 22-13. The throw required precisely the confidence Reich has been trying to build in Wentz this entire season, and it oozed as he stood in the pocket against a three-man rush, surveyed, waited, waited some more and then fired the pass to Patmon. Wentz wasn't perfect, but he stepped up and powered the Colts' crucial put-away drive with his throws. That's encouraging going forward.
  3. The Cardinals are officially in an identity crisis. Arizona can move the ball, but its offense has lost its ability to finish drives. Matt Prater missed two field goals, including a crucial kick that would have given the Cardinals a slim lead and instead opened the door for the Colts to make it a two-possession game. Arizona turned it over on downs twice, and Kyler Murray handed Indianapolis two points when he was flagged for intentional grounding in the end zone following a bad snap. The Cardinals just can't seem to get their momentum going early enough (or in the case of last week, going at all) and can't stop making errors that affect the scoreboard. An offense that gains over 375 yards simply shouldn't finish with 16 points -- especially not one that's part of a playoff contending team.
  4. Saturday marked three straight games in which the Cardinals failed to close. Arizona has had a "win and we're in" motto running for nearly a month, yet they've now lost three straight games and are getting close to dangerous territory. The Rams just need to win over the Vikings Sunday to move into the lead for the NFC West, a reality that seemed improbable just a month ago. Arizona's loss of at least one wheel (if not more) has sent its car spinning off the road, and there isn't much race left. They'll need a quick recovery and recentering to hang onto the division -- or ensure they'll make the playoffs.
  5. The Colts aren't going away. Indianapolis had every reason to lose this game. The Colts entered without their entire starting interior offensive line, then lost left tackle Eric Fisher to a knee injury during the game. They didn't have Darius Leonard, who was ruled out thanks to a Saturday placement on the reserve/COVID-19 list. And then they went out and took it to the Cardinals, converting 8 of 15 first downs, forcing a safety and two turnovers on downs, and winning the time of possession battle 35:29 to 24:31. They benefitted from some missed Matt Prater kicks, yes, but they did their job well enough to keep their hot streak going, and they just might be the team nobody wants to play in January.


NFL Research: After scoring 30-plus points in seven of their first nine games, the Cardinals have scored 30-plus points just once in their last six games.


Next Gen Stat of the game: Carson Wentz completed 5 of 6 passes for 108 yards and a touchdown on passes of 10-plus air yards, and he posted a passer rating of 104 on attempts outside the numbers.

Green Bay Packers
2021 · 11-4-0
Cleveland Browns
2021 · 7-8-0

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  1. Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams, as we all know, are very good. Cleveland apparently needed 30 minutes of game time to learn this, as evidenced by Rodgers shredding them with a collection of perfectly placed passes to Adams, who victimized defenders tasked with attempting to cover Adams in one-on-one situations. We can list the names: Denzel Ward (a Pro Bowler), Greedy Williams, MJ Stewart and Richard LeCounte. Adams cooked the last two listed in that group for touchdowns, beating LeCounte on the inside with plenty of room thanks to a zero blitz dialed up by Browns defensive coordinator Joe Woods, and then he won a jump ball over Stewart for his second score. In between, the Adams-Rodgers pairing became the best path to the end zone for the Packers against a stingy Browns defense, finishing with 10 catches (on 13 targets) for 114 yards and two touchdowns. Rodgers broke Brett Favre's franchise passing touchdown record on his way to three scores. More of the same from the NFC's top seed.
  2. The heat is on Baker Mayfield. Mayfield became the first Browns quarterback to throw four interceptions in a game in nearly a decade, and while there's a legitimate defense case for him on his first and last interceptions, a team simply cannot afford to turn it over four times if it hopes to beat the Packers at Lambeau Field. More importantly for the Browns is how this season -- which has been frustrating and even dreadful at times -- affects the franchise's evaluation of Mayfield as the team's franchise quarterback. Mayfield doesn't inspire confidence when the game is close late and he has to move the ball down the field, and he hasn't found enough consistency to carry the team through four quarters. That's not enough from a former No. 1 overall pick. There's the element of injuries with him this year, which is fair, but with the Browns expecting to contend for a division title on an annual basis at this point, they're right to expect more out of their quarterback. It will be a very interesting offseason in Cleveland.
  3. Wyatt Teller's outburst explained the Browns' season in one clip. Cleveland's defense finally figured it out in November, but its offense simply hasn't held up its end of the bargain. That was again the case Saturday, as the defense was able to get multiple stops in the second half and give the offense multiple chances to claw its way back into the game, yet the Browns were only able to muster 10 points, falling short of a tie by two. It was the case on Monday in a close loss to the Raiders, and in their loss to the Steelers and Ravens. Officiating didn't help, of course -- Teller's sideline eruption came after a phantom false start call on what was already a long down-and-distance situation, plus officials missed a hold by Rasul Douglas on the final interception -- but the Browns haven't played complementary football for some time now. It's fair to criticize Kevin Stefanski, too, who didn't rely on Nick Chubb, a bullish runner who gashed Green Bay for 126 yards on 17 carries, nearly enough. That is the main reason they're now 7-8.
  4. Green Bay isn't blowing the doors off teams, but they're proving they can win the tough ones. The Packers are doing enough to beat teams both on the road and at home, winning each of their last four games by 15 points or less. They got a little too conservative Saturday and left the door wide open for Cleveland, but the defense answered the call when it mattered most. Offensively, it remains "The Aaron Rodgers Show," with Adams playing a starring role in Week 16. Mason Crosby converted his kicks when called upon, and the Packers turned each of Mayfield's first three INTs into TDs. You can't ask for much more, which is why the Packers remain atop the NFC standings.
  5. Cleveland's back is now firmly against the wall. The Browns must win out and hope for some help in the final two weeks if they have any chance of reaching the postseason a year after they finished 11-5 and won their first playoff game since the 1994 season. They're here because they haven't been able to win the close ones, falling in heartbreaking fashion in each of the last two weeks, wiping out the favors done by other teams when it comes to the tightly packed AFC North. Fortunately, they close with two division games, and they've played well enough to win in each of their last two losses. They have to figure out how to actually win those games, though, and it still might be too late.


NFL Research: Davante Adams recorded his 34th career game with 100-plus receiving yards (including playoffs), breaking a tie with James Lofton for the most in Packers franchise history.


Next Gen Stat of the game: Baker Mayfield completed 2 of 9 passes for 21 yards and three interceptions on passes of 10-plus air yards.

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