The NFL's new rule pushing extra points back 10 yards was widely panned as a half-measure throughout the past offseason.
Why not eliminate the extra point altogether or push it back 10 more yards to make it a true test, the critics mused.
Give the competition committee credit for this one. The rule has brought unexpected twists and turns, adding excitement in close games.
The afternoon's most thrilling matchup was a Panthers-Saints shootout that featured the first blocked extra point for a defensive two-point conversion, recorded by rookie linebacker Stephone Anthony.
The rule has had the intended effect, bringing meaning to a previously meaningless play.
Here's what else we learned in Week 13:
- Taylor had a phenomenal afternoon against the league's hottest defense, accounting for four all-purpose touchdowns while generating a 127.2 passer rating. He uncorked a pair of beautiful deep balls to Sammy Watkins and made good decisions throughout. A credit to Taylor, this was the first time this season in which Buffalo has won while allowing 20 or more points. Consider it a season-saving victory against a quality opponent, allowing the Bills to keep pace in the AFC wild-card hunt.
- Emerging as one of the NFL's most dangerous deep threats, Watkins won the battle of the Clemson wide receivers, hauling in a pair of 53-yard bombs in addition to a three-yard touchdown. A third-down drop notwithstanding, DeAndre Hopkins was impressive in his own right, dominating one possession with a one-handed 23-yard catch, a 29-yard reception and a 19-yard touchdown. The first Texans receiver to reach double-digit touchdowns in a season, Hopkins is on pace for 115 receptions and 1,559 yards in his third season.
- Kudos to the Bills' offensive coaching staff for a game-plan that flummoxed a defense allowing just 8.8 points per game over the past month. Taylor and LeSean McCoy moved the chains consistently with a zone-read attack. Watkins torched promising rookie cornerback Kevin Johnson, who was yanked after allowing two deep balls and a pair of touchdowns in the first half. J.J. Watt was kept relatively in check, going without a sack while managing just one tackle for a loss. The Texans simply aren't a playoff team unless the defense dominates.
-- Chris Wesseling
- Chalk it up as another paint-by-numbers win for the surging Bengals, who barely broke a sweat in burying the lowly Browns. A dominant performance by Cincinnati's line and just enough from Andy Dalton revealed the wide talent chasm between a loaded Cincinnati offense and Cleveland's disorganized defense. This felt like a practice session for Cincy or maybe a well-conceived Madden win against one's technologically lost grandmother.
- It was embarrassing for the Browns and their fans to watch A.J. Green fry Tramon Williams for 102 yards in a little over a quarter of play. Finishing with 128 yards off five grabs, Green was left in single coverage on a rash of huge grabs, turning this game into a wipeout early. It doesn't help that Cleveland can't rush the passer, can't stop the run and refuses to make in-game adjustments.
- Making his first start in over a year, Browns passer Austin Davis did what he could, as one teammate after the next missed time due to injuries. Davis (25-of-38 for 231 yards with a pick) looked comfortable in the pocket for stretches, showed grit and made a handful of solid throws despite Cleveland's awful pass protection. Hamstrung by a ground game that produced its first 50-yard rusher since Week 4, Davis was an easy target for a Cincinnati front that piled up three sacks and another eight hits on the quarterback. Clock management was an issue for Davis again, but his biggest gaffe came on a lateral pass that was tipped by a Bengals defender and floated backwards, allowing Cincy to pounce on it. Davis wasn't the reason Cleveland lost, but it's fair to wonder how many of his teammates will make this roster in 2016. This Browns season can't end soon enough.
-- Marc Sessler
- No quarterback is playing better than Russell Wilson. He essentially pitched a perfect game, with his outstanding stats (274 yards passing and three TDs on 27 attempts, 51 yards rushing and a score) telling half the story. Wilson combined confident play from the pocket with quick decisions and vertical throws. He also made Vikings defenders look silly while scrambling. Wilson has 11 TDs and no picks in his last three games.
- Vikings fans can console themselves that their defense was missing its best three players. Safety Harrison Smith (knee) and Anthony Barr (groin) quickly joined Linval Joseph (foot) on the sideline. But that doesn't explain why the Vikings' offense didn't score a point and was held to 125 yards total. Teddy Bridgewater received little protection and threw a killer pick before halftime. He can't carry an offense. Adrian Peterson was held to 18 yards. Minnesota's offense was overwhelmed at every position.
- It wouldn't surprise us if Seattle made it back to the Super Bowl because its young players are all peaking at the right time. Rookie receiver Tyler Lockett was a huge difference maker as a returner and receiver, with seven catches for 90 yards. Running back Thomas Rawls, who went over 100 yards again, is a star. New starting tight end Luke Willson capably replaced Jimmy Graham with two difficult grabs early. New starting cornerback DeShawn Shead looked fantastic. Rookie pass rusher Frank Clark is coming on strong with two sacks. This group is only getting better.
-- Gregg Rosenthal
- The Giants do not make rash decisions, but with reports that Tom Coughlin was already "coaching for his job" heading into this game, how long do they need to complete an evaluation? Don't expect owner John Mara and general manager Jerry Reese to deviate from the process, but don't expect the sores from this game to heal any time soon.
- Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan got a lot of well-deserved credit for at least temporarily re-stocking the team's secondary this offseason and spending some of the money John Idzik left him behind. But where would this offense be without the Brandon Marshall trade? It was seen, at the time, as a move to push a malcontent wide receiver out of one place and into another. Did anyone think that Marshall would literally pace the Jets' offense all season? The team is entirely dependent on him, and through some less-than-ideal circumstances, Marshall has been a warrior. Without a clutch grab to set up a field goal and a beautiful grab on an end-zone fade, the game wouldn't go to overtime. He finished with double-digit catches and more than 130 receiving yards Sunday.
-- Conor Orr
- A more physical runner with superior pass-catching skills, the December David Johnson proved to be an upgrade on the November version of Chris Johnson, who had averaged just 2.89 yards per carry over the past month. Arizona's touchdown leader for the season, the younger Johnson has joined Hall of Famer Gale Sayers as the only rookies in NFL history with four rushing scores, four receiving scores and a kickoff-return touchdown. He excelled in blitz pick-up Sunday, easing concerns about Carson Palmer's safety going forward.
With the former Northern Iowa star making his first start, the Cardinals established a season-high 524 yards while tallying their most rushing yards (175) since Week 5. This was a definitive answer to concerns about a balanced Arizona offense losing its leading rusher.
- It was the same old story for the dysfunctional Rams offense. Todd Gurley had no chance for success behind an offensive line that loses the scrimmage-line battle week-in and week-out. He broke off a 34-yard run in the third quarter while managing just seven yards on his other eight carries. Nick Foles completed just 43 percent of his 35 attempts; coach Jeff Fisher added after the game that Case Keenum will be the Rams' starting quarterback next week. Beyond Gurley, change-of-pace back Tre Mason and gadget-player Tavon Austin, there are no obvious building blocks on Frank Cignetti's offense. Now 4-8 in the midst of a five-game skid, the Rams are headed for a top-10 draft pick.
- It's hard to find fault with a deep 10-2 Cardinals outfit that has reached 300 yards in every game while ranking in the top five in run defense and total defense. Two potential concerns are the lack of a bona fide edge rusher and red-zone inconsistency versus quality defenses. Although they held a bad Rams offense to a scant three points, nine first downs and 212 yards, the Cardinals failed to record a sack on 35 Foles attempts. Signed off the street in mid-October, Dwight Freeney leads the team with 2.5 sacks this season.
-- Chris Wesseling
- Jameis Winston continues to look like a direct hit with the No. 1 pick. The biggest play of this game came with less than three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, when Winston scrambled out of the pocket, bounced off several Atlanta defenders and picked up 20 yards on a third-and-19. Four plays later, Winston hit Mike Evans in the end zone for the winning touchdown. Winston is saving jobs and instilling hope in Tampa.
- This is a crushing loss for the Falcons, who have lost five straight and are now 6-6. They get the undefeated Panthers twice in the next three weeks, including next Sunday on the road. So long and good night. Red-zone failures and faulty tackling -- two issues of the past six weeks -- cropped up again here. It's pretty difficult to start a season 5-0, then have your season on life support in early December. The Falcons pulled it off.
- Devonta Freeman looked like an MVP candidate midway through October. But he -- like the Falcons as a whole -- has come back to Earth in a big way. Freeman hasn't gone over 100 yards in five weeks, and he doesn't have a rushing touchdown in that span, either. This is the same Freeman who had nine rushing scores in a five-game stretch earlier this season. With an inconsistent Matt Ryan unable to pick up the slack, it leaves Atlanta's offense stuck in neutral.
-- Dan Hanzus
- The Tennessee Titans avenged their Week 11 loss to AFC South foes with a wild 42-39 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars -- snapping the Titans' 11-game home losing streak. The second meeting between the teams this season quickly became a shootout. Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota finished 20 of 29 for 268 yards passing with three touchdowns and one interception. Mariota's day was highlighted by a scramble which turned into an 87-yard run in the fourth quarter. He became the first Tennessee player to rush for at least 100 yards since Chris Johnson (Dec. 29, 2013). Mariota totaled 112 rushing yards against the Jaguars and was the game's (and team's) leading rusher. Jacksonville sealed its fate with a bad snap resulting in a Titans' touchdown. Jaguars signal-caller Blake Bortles ended the day going 24 of 36 with 322 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions.
- Have a day, Allen Robinson. Robinson exceeded 1,000 receiving yards this season, becoming the first Jaguars receiver to do so since Jimmy Smith in 2005. Robinson racked up three touchdowns, 153 yards in just 10 receptions. There was a T.J. Yeldon sighting Sunday afternoon in Nashville. The running back tallied 15 carries for 57 yards with a touchdown. Yeldon's touchdown was the Jaguars' second rushing touchdown this season.
-- Andie Hagemann
- With Bill Lazor watching this game from his couch, Dolphins interim play-caller Zac Taylor did his best to establish the ground game early. Lamar Miller (20/113) had 10 carries for 73 yards in the first half alone after just 12 attempts over the past two weeks. The Dolphins ran for 5.3 yards per rush and employed more no-huddle than we saw under Lazor, but that didn't help Ryan Tannehill, who missed on six of his first eight passes and threw for just 86 yards on the day against a typically leaky Ravens secondary. One bright spot: Tannehill's 38-yard touchdown strike to DeVante Parker, marking the rookie wideout's second score in as many weeks.
- LOL, Matt Schaub: The Ravens fill-in passer threw the 14th pick six of his career and the seventh in his last 20 interceptions. After tossing one against the Browns on Monday night, Schaub's latest high-profile gaffe put the 'Fins up 15-3 at the half. Sacked three times -- with 2.5 takedowns alone by Olivier Vernon -- Schaub's 308 yards through the air weren't enough to mask the mistakes. The Ravens on Sunday became the first team in the NFL to play nine consecutive games decided by eight-or-fewer points, but the result -- again -- was far from sunny.
- In a lost season for Baltimore, Buck Allen provides hope for 2016. The rookie back piled up 170 yards off 29 touches and showed elusiveness and power on his 41-yard catch-and-run touchdown to open the second half. Allen hauled in a whopping 12 catches and made the most of his opportunity.
-- Marc Sessler
- The Patriots led in this game 14-0, but some disastrous special teams turned the game around. Bill Belichick tried a dropkick for an onside kick try, which failed and gave the Eagles a short field to set up a touchdown. Then the Eagles added a punt block touchdown to close the first half and a Darren Sproles punt return touchdown in the second half. A 99-yard pick six by Malcolm Jenkins at 14-14 added to the insanity. It's only the third time in NFL history that combination of return touchdowns came in the same game.
- While the Patriots will be tempted to chalk this up to "one of those days," there are real concerns about this Patriots offense. Tom Brady was hit 13 times in the game. Many of his mistakes -- including his pick six -- came from rushing a throw. He rarely seems to be on the same page as Brandon LaFell, who is exceptionally inefficient on deep throws. Take away all the big plays and the Patriots' frenetic finish, and these teams looked rather even until midway through the fourth quarter. That's not a great sign for New England.
-- Gregg Rosenthal
- The Chiefs are racing toward January, while the Raiders can't afford another loss. It wasn't pretty, but Alex Smith did enough to keep Kansas City in playoff contention with a clean 16-of-22 performance. That made him just the third player in league history to attempt 300-plus throws in a row without a pick, joining Tom Brady (358) and Bernie Kosar (308). Smith's mistake-free day looked even more impressive against a pass rush that pounded him repeatedly and piled up four sacks. Two lost fumbles marked Kansas City's first turnovers since Week 6, but a fountain of Oakland mistakes sealed a sixth straight win for Andy Reid's bunch.
- As the Chiefs heated up, Derek Carr melted down. The second-year Raiders quarterback hurt Oakland with a trio of interceptions over the final two quarters. The first came off a sack-pick that saw Josh Mauga snatch the ball out of the air and take it 66 yards to the Oakland 2. Carr then saw Marcus Peters intercept him and race 58 yards, before Tyvon Branch sunk a final knife in Oakland with his 38-yard pick six. On the plus side, Carr made one of his finest throws of the year on a thread-the-needle touchdown strike to Michael Crabtree, but it wasn't enough. While the young quarterback became the fifth passer in NFL history to throw for 3,000-plus yards and 20-plus touchdowns in his first two seasons, Carr's face said it all in a depressing loss.
- Sunday was a case study in kicking madness: After Oakland's Sebastian Janikowski missed an extra point in the first half, the Chiefs had a chance to break a 20-20 tie in the fourth quarter with a PAT of their own. No dice, as Cairo Santos never got a chance to boot the ball after a botched snap. Santos might not have a friend in the locker room after sending his next extra point try wide right.
-- Marc Sessler
- This was another dominant effort from Denver's vaunted D, which had some hiccups in recent weeks. The Broncos allowed just four completions to Chargers wide receivers, collected four sacks, forced three turnovers and got a game-changing pick six from Danny Trevathan. When the defense plays to its potential, it takes a lot of pressure off of a first-year starter at quarterback. This is a necessity if the Broncos have Super Bowl aspirations.
- Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas had one of the uglier stat lines in recent memory last week, when he managed just one reception on 13 targets against the Patriots. Osweiler and Thomas showed better chemistry on Sunday -- Thomas picking up six catches for 61 yards on six targets and the game's lone offensive touchdown. This was, by far, the biggest positive development on a quiet day for Denver's offense.
- The Chargers are a long way off. They're not 3-9 and have been held to three points in losses to AFC West rivals two out of the past three weeks. Then there's the increasingly depressing environment at Qualcomm Stadium, where thousands of Broncos fans cheered the road team. It's possible Chargers have only one game left in San Diego.
-- Dan Hanzus
- Newton has raised his level of play over the past month, starting a game 11-of-11 for the first time in his career (Week 10), hurling five touchdowns in a game for the first time in his career (Week 11) and completing 15 consecutive passes (Week 13) for the first time in his career. His efficiency in the fourth quarter has been stellar all along, carrying his offense with a return specialist, a journeyman slot receiver and a second-round rookie at wideout. The Panthers have to be slightly concerned about the hits he's taking, but the 6-foot-6, 260-pound signal-caller seems indestructible after shaking off an ankle injury and a helmet-to-helmet hit on Sunday.
Prior to last season, no team had ever captured the NFC South crown in back-to-back seasons. The Panthers have now accomplished the feat in three consecutive years, while becoming the ninth team in history to open the season with a 12-0 record. They haven't lost a regular season game in more than a calendar year. It's a good sign that the NFL's lone undefeated team was able to pull out a sloppy victory despite a trio of first-half turnovers, four touchdowns allowed by the previously stingy defense and two egregious drops by Ted Ginn on a pair of would-be touchdown bombs.
- The Saints surrendered five more touchdown passes, bringing their season total to 35 -- within five of the NFL record with four games remaining. Brandon Browner's rough season continued with three more penalties and a pair of touchdowns allowed in addition to a three-play sequence at the end of the third quarter in which he was bailed out by a deep Ginn drop, a Devin Funchess drop and an overthrow to a wide open Philly Brown. Browner has been flagged 20 times this season, nine more than teammate Delvin Breaux, who has the second-most penalties among cornerbacks. Browner has been whistled 69 times since 2011, 24 more than the next-closest player. Whether it's Rob Ryan or Dennis Allen running this defense, the results are the same.
- Stephone Anthony became the first player in history to return a blocked extra point for a defensive two-point conversion. The Saints rookie linebacker accounted for eight points, including a 31-yard touchdown on a fumble recovery. The NFL's new rule on extra points has had its intended effect, as it's no longer a meaningless play.
-- Chris Wesseling
- The San Francisco 49ers dinked and dunked their way to overtime. On the first play of their second overtime drive, Blaine Gabbert launched a 71-yard bomb to Torrey Smith for the win. Despite the win, the quarterback reverted to the Gabbert-zone for most of the day. The big play gave him an average of 6.1 yards per pass, but he averaged 4.0 YPP the other four-plus quarters. Gabbert's best attribute is his mobility. He scampered for a 44-yard touchdown to help force overtime. Gabbert displays the ability to maneuver the pocket and excels on rollouts, but his accuracy is lacking and rarely threatens down field. Gabbert still looks better in the pocket than Colin Kaepernick, who NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reported Sunday remains in the teams plans for 2016.
Gabbert didn't have much help until Smith got loose to end the game (291 total yards of offense). Earning two wins in four starts will give Gabbert a boost heading into next season. Sunday marked his first career outdoor road win.
- Chicago gave the game away. Afforded great field position all game, the Bears' offense couldn't move the ball for long stretches. Jay Cutler played his worst game of the season, throwing a pick-six -- and should have been intercepted on several others. Receivers couldn't get separation. The Chicago offense was as stagnant as it's been all season with Cutler under center. Robbie Gould missed two field goals, including a potential 36-yard game-winner. The Bears lost a punt-fest (14 combined) and neither team really deserved to win. Bad teams lose these games.
- Matt Forte and Jeremy Langford were the most productive offensive players on the field. Forte was the workhorse, carrying 21 times for 84 yards and adding five catches for 39. Sharing carries, it's evident that Langford has more burst between the tackles than Forte. However, the rookie missed a few blitz picks and dropped a pass. Chicago trusts Forte more, but we're likely to see a hot-hand approach down the stretch of the season. Ka'Deem Carey added a touchdown run and got key carries late in the fourth quarter. The Bears' backfield is in good hands.
-- Kevin Patra
- Seven days removed from shredding the Seahawks' secondary in Seattle, the Steelers' offense, led by the indomitable Big Ben, did it again on Sunday night. Roethlisberger was firing on all cylinders to his plethora of Pro Bowl-worthy wideouts, finishing with 364 yards and four touchdowns. It's an absolute delight to watch the Steelers quarterback sling perfectly-timed bombs alongside sharp short routes over and over again to the Three Amigos; Pittsburgh's confidence on offense bleeds through the screen.
Antonio Brown, who had an off day against Richard Sherman and the Seahawks, continued his feverish tear against the Colts, gaining 118 yards and three total touchdowns on eight catches; his 48-yard snag in between two helpless Colts defenders was miraculous. Martavis Bryant gained most of his 114 yards on a physical 68-yard catch-and-run down the sideline for six, using every bit of his 6'4" frame in the process. Following his breakout game, Markus Wheaton (3 for 50) didn't get left out, running a tight curl in the end zone late in the first half for his weekly touchdown.
- Pittsburgh's three-headed monster couldn't wreak its havoc on Indianapolis and the league if it weren't for the consistently heroic work of DeAngelo Williams. The 10-year veteran has made Terrible Towelers forget about Le'Veon Bell, kind of, by displaying an effective and eerily similar running style. Williams gains most of his yardage on the ground by staying patient behind his linemen before the right holes open up, often outside the tackles. Sunday night, Williams earned his third 100+-yard performance of the season and proved he could be a workhorse against playoff-caliber fronts.
- The Matt Hasselbeck Project isn't over yet, but it is mercilessly coming to an end. The veteran moved well in the pocket against James Harrison and the ferocious Steelers linemen, but he took a beating early and often. We saw the resurrection of Clipboard Jesus, a.k.a. Charlie Whitehurst, when Hasselbeck left in the fourth quarter with the game out of hand due to shoulder and neck injuries; he also had limped off the field with trainers following a big hit in the third quarter. If you hadn't heard -- and you most certainly had heard -- Hasselbeck is 40 years old. With Andrew Luck on the sideline until at least Week 15 with a lacerated kidney, Hasselbeck has performed admirably in his stead, save for Sunday night (16/26, 169 yards, TD, 2 INTs, 1 fumble lost) but the wear-and-tear of consecutive contests is clearly wearing on him at his age.
-- Jeremy Bergman