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Forty-two things we learned from Week 14

*Who wants the sixth seed? *

The Titans' upset win over the Broncos in Nashville drew Denver even with teams previously out of the playoff picture in the AFC. With a win over Arizona, the Dolphins moved to 8-5, tied for the final spot, but their victory was costly; Ryan Tannehill is believed to have torn his ACL.

*There are zero questions at quarterback or running back in Pittsburgh. The Steelers rolled over Buffalo in the snow, thanks to a three-score afternoon from Le'Veon Bell. Also at 8-5, Pittsburgh has a brief stranglehold on the third seed, one that will be questioned when Baltimore plays the Patriots on Monday night. *

Meanwhile, in the NFC, Washington all but knocked Philadelphia out of playoff contention with a late strip sack on Carson Wentz and moved to within a half-game of the Buccaneers. Minnesota escaped disaster in Jacksonville, keeping its playoff hopes alive at 7-6, while the Packers kept pace following their dismantling of Seattle at Lambeau.

Here's what we learned from Week 14:

  1. The Titans went 12 games without a forced fumble before accomplishing the feat twice in Sunday's game. Justin Forsett coughed the ball up on his first carry with the Broncos, leading to an early field goal. Derby's fumble dashed Denver's hopes of a dramatic comeback attempt with a minute remaining after the Broncos had captured the momentum in the fourth quarter. The first-place Titans' reward for passing their stiffest test of the season? A brutal battle at Kansas City versus the 10-3 Chiefs before squaring off with the Jaguars and Texans to close out the season.
  1. The bye week did wonders for DeMarco Murray's legs, as the Titans jumped out to a commanding 138-12 halftime lead in rushing yards. Taking advantage of Marcus Mariota's scrambling ability and timely designed runs, their 26 rushing attempts were the second-most by any team in the first half this season. They ran more plays (19) on one second-quarter field-goal drive than the Broncos ran in the first 28 minutes of the game. The Titans were fortunate that penalties didn't come back to haunt, as a pair of illegal Delanie Walker pick plays in the red zone costs the team a combined seven points.
  1. The Broncos' loss drops them to 8-5, leaving the AFC's No. 6 seed wide open. If Gary Kubiak's squad misses the playoffs, they can pinpoint the run game on both sides of the ball as the primary culprits. Their championship defense allowed 140 or more yards on the ground just once last season -- in mid-September. It has already happened five times this year, including 167 yards in just over two quarters of Sunday's shellacking. Their rushing offense has regressed from mediocre to non-existent. Rookie Devontae Booker took a backseat to a fading Forsett in the veteran's Denver debut.

-- Chris Wesseling

  1. This was the formula for success for Houston to play around their struggling quarterback. On a day the Texans only had 131 yards passing, Lamar Miller keyed a 185-yard effort from the Texans ground game. Rotating with Alfred Blue (55 yards), Miller found big holes all afternoon against a depleted Colts defense.
  1. This game showed the Colts' many limitations on a day where Andrew Luck was not at his best. Luck was hit a ton and turned the ball over three times, although only one of those turnovers were his fault. (A particularly ugly interception where he tried to force a pass.) Colts receivers other than T.Y. Hilton failed to make tough catches all day and the Colts didn't trust their running game. (Frank Gore had 10 rushes for 41 yards.) These looked like two teams lucky to be in any playoff race.
  1. Bernardrick McKinney made a terrific play on the Colts' final offensive play, recognizing a screen pass attempt on fourth-and-one near midfield. McKinney, Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney have been excellent all year and came through Sunday, especially Clowney. Playing through an injury, Clowney hit Andrew Luck on one interception, forced a fumble, had three QB hits and drew a big holding penalty. The Texans had 13 QB hits (but only one sack) as they won the battle up front on both sides.

-- Gregg Rosenthal

  1. Putting the offensive handwringing of October and the defensive meltdowns of November in the rear-view mirror, the Packers authored their most impressive all-around performance in over two years. After shredding Seattle's secondary with pinpoint throws for three quarters, a gimpy Aaron Rodgers was put on ice with nearly 12 minutes remaining in a 28-3 game. His 150.8 passer rating was the highest against the Seahawks in any regular-season game since Pete Carroll took over as head coach in 2010. Led by Datone Jones and a ballhawking secondary, Green Bay's suddenly swarming defense harassed Russell Wilson for three sacks, nine QB hits, seven passes defensed and five turnovers.
  1. FOX game analyst Troy Aikman, who met with Packers players and coaches late in the week, said he felt "an energy coming from this group" that hasn't been there all season and most of last year. Mike McCarthy's club firmly believes they are peaking at the right time. It's hard to argue with that sentiment after the last three games generated an 86-36 scoring differential over the Eagles, Texans and Seahawks. It can be argued that they are playing as well as any NFC team outside of Dallas. A half-game out of the conference's No. 6 playoff spot, the surging 7-6 Packers face the NFC North trio of Chicago, Minnesota and Detroit in the season's final three games. The division title will be up for grabs in the regular-season finale only if Detroit loses at the Giants and Cowboys the next two weeks while Green Bay handles the Bears and Vikings.
  1. In a performance reminiscent of the first 56 minutes of the 2014 NFC Championship Game, an errant Wilson threw a career-high five interceptions. Wilson was off the mark against a pressuring Green Bay front seven, but also got little help from his receivers. Two interceptions went right through his targets' hands, while another intended for Jermaine Kearse bounced off of Ladarius Gunter's back and into the waiting arms of Quinten Rollins near the pylon. Tyler Lockett simply dropped a third-down pass, thwarting one drive. With difference-making cornerback Damarious Randall finally healthy, though, this Packers secondary bears no resemblance to the one that was torched to an embarrassing degree during a four-game midseason losing streak.

-- Chris Wesseling

  1. Entering Sunday with 100-plus scrimmage yards in eight of nine games this season, Le'Veon Bell crossed that barrier long before halftime. The tumbling snow had no effect on Bell, who crushed a franchise record with 236 yards on the ground off 38 carries against Buffalo's baffled defense -- the most single-game rushing yards ever allowed by the Bills. Scoring all three of Pittsburgh's touchdowns, Bell continued a theme of heavy usage down the stretch with 298 total yards off a monstrous 42 touches. Along the way, Bell became just the fifth player in NFL history with 30 games of 100-plus yards from scrimmage over his first 45 appearances, joining a group that includes Edgerrin James, Eric Dickerson, Marcus Allen and Arian Foster.
  1. Two drives in, Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor had thrown for zero yards, been sacked three times and had a pick six called back by penalty. Passing for 228 yards -- mostly in garbage time -- Taylor led an offense that was outgained 460 yards to 275 on the day. With Buffalo's ground game neutralized, Taylor was a non-factor through the air beyond an eight-yard scoring dart to Sammy Watkins and a late-game 40-yard touchdown pass to tight end Charles Clay.
  1. With the loss, Buffalo's season is all but mathematically over. With games left against the Browns, Dolphins and Jets, the Bills would need to run the table and get outrageous help for any shot at the playoffs. The Steelers, meanwhile, are flying high with three division tilts remaining against the Bengals, Ravens and Browns. If Baltimore (7-5) falls to the Patriots on Monday night, Pittsburgh heads into Week 15 with sole possession of the AFC North.

-- Marc Sessler

  1. Playing their biggest regular-season game since 2010, Tampa Bay delivered. With the Saints driving for a potential game-winning touchdown, Bucs safety Keith Tandy picked off Drew Brees with 57 seconds left to seal Sunday's defensively-charged showdown. Authoring its fifth consecutive victory, Tampa won displaying many of the traits present in victories over Chicago, Kansas City, Seattle and San Diego. Allowing 12.3 points per game since Week 10, the Bucs smothered a Saints attack that came into the day averaging 428.7 yards per tilt, the second-best mark in franchise history. As much as we talk about Jameis Winston, the Bucs quarterback took a back seat on Sunday to a Mike Smith-led defense that has transformed itself over the past month.
  1. Winston's 184 yards through the air marked his third-lowest output all year, erasing the memory of a fast start that saw the Bucs quarterback author two field-goal drives and a touchdown march out of the gate to put Tampa up 13-0. That production didn't translate down the stretch as Winston and the Bucs generated just 94 total yards in the second half. Running back Doug Martin ran for just 2.9 yards per attempt and wideout Mike Evans was held to 42 yards through the air. One bright spot: Charles Sims looked healthy in his return from a 10-week knee injury.
  1. The Bucs suffered a disastrous three-play stretch before the half: After New Orleans punched in a field to cut Tampa's lead to 13-3, Bucs return man Josh Huff mistakenly tapped the ball on the kickoff just before it skirted out of bounds at Tampa's one-yard line. One play later, Saints pass rusher Paul Kruger stuffed Doug Martin in his own end zone for a safety to make it 13-5. Then, after the safety, Bucs punter Bryan Anger sent a free kick out of bounds, handing the Saints the ball at midfield in a rarely seen offering from the NFL rulebook. New Orleans turned that gift into a 14-play, 35-yard field goal march to make it 13-8 at the half, altering the complexion of this game down the stretch.

-- Marc Sessler

  1. Vic Fangio's defense certainly has Matthew Stafford's number this season. The Lions quarterback threw an interception in the red zone and a pick-six on the next possession, putting Detroit in a fourth-quarter hole for the 12th time in 13 games. In two contests versus the Bears, Stafford has thrown four interceptions with just one passing TD. Against all other opponents, he has 21 TDs to just 3 INTs. But credit Stafford for making plays down the stretch, as he has all season. The MVP candidate's scramble for the game-winning touchdown epitomized the Lions' season: It wasn't pretty but got the job done.
  1. Matt Barkley deserved better Sunday. The Bears quarterback displayed poise in the pocket and accuracy across the middle and down the sideline. Barkley doesn't own a big arm but makes up for it with pinpoint passing, smart reads and an occasional dart. His stats don't jump off the page (20 of 32 for 212 yards, TD) but Barkley efficiently moves the Bears offense and doesn't make mistakes.
  1. The Lions signing Anquan Boldin this offseason continues to fly under the radar as one of the biggest additions to any team in playoff position. The 36-year-old receiver has made huge plays on third down all year and he made game-changing catches again on Sunday. Boldin caught a pivotal touchdown pass to put Detroit up prior to halftime and then added a 23-yard catch-and-run to set up Stafford's game-winning score. The veteran passed Andre Johnson for 10th all-time in career receptions, with 1,064 catches.

-- Kevin Patra

  1. Because we can only roll our eyes at high-turnover, low-scoring football perhaps Sunday night's game might not go down in recent history with proper context. It was a slugfest, with Sean Lee, Tyron Smith, Olivier Vernon and Devon Kennard among the hardest punchers. In terms of what was at stake, this was about as good as it gets for regular season football with three weeks remaining in the season. On the line was Dallas' first-round bye and the Giants' slim cushion in the wild card. Dak Prescott was humanized and the Giants' offensive line was stripped bare for the world to see. Ezekiel Elliott got more than 100 rushing yards with a majority of them coming after first contact. Beckham passed Plaxico Burress as Eli Manning's highest-scoring target.
  1. Janoris Jenkins has been staking his claim as a top-five cornerback all season and did a fantastic job on Dez Bryant on Sunday night. Aided by Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, the pair held Dallas' top wideout to no catches and no yards until his fourth quarter fumble with 2:13 remaining (he had seven previous targets without a catch). Prescott was picked trying to hurl it to Bryant in double coverage, a desperate attempt to get one of their best offensive weapons involved in the game. We chastise teams who spend big in free agency and end up saddling their rosters with expensive dead weight. But what about Giants general manager Jerry Reese? The $200 million in new deals brought in the league's best run-stuffing defensive tackle (Damon Harrison) and Jenkins, who completed a troika of cornerbacks (Rodgers-Cromartie and Eli Apple) that are playing some top-level football.
  1. What's amazing about Odell Beckham is how he almost never finishes with a completely negative game. Earlier on Sunday night, he dropped a potential touchdown that hit him in the palms. In the third, he dropped a third-down conversion that forced the Giants to settle for a field goal. The lazy assumption would be that it somehow fuels him, but the reality is that he's simply an excellent big-play receiver with a quarterback smart enough to continue feeding him the football. On the 61-yard touchdown, the display of top-end speed was prime Victor Cruz-esque. Manning, for all of his shortcomings (especially this season) might be the perfect quarterback for Beckham after all thanks to a lack of concern for feeding the ball into tight coverage. When it works out like that, who can blame him?

-- Conor Orr

  1. The Redskins (7-5-1) live to fight another day. There may not have been an opponent Washington needed more at this point. The Eagles gave them a fierce, emotional 60 minutes which can catapult sleepwalking teams in need of a jolt. The Redskins have broken their two-game losing streak and are firmly in the playoff picture with games against Carolina, at Chicago and the Giants left to play. The NFC East is setting itself up to be one of the more explosive divisions over the final three weeks of the season.
  1. Coaches always have to be prepared with an emergency quarterback. But what about a second emergency long-snapper? With magic man Jon Dorenbos going down with a wrist injury and backup long snapper, tight end Brent Celek, also getting hurt in the fourth quarter the Eagles were holding frantic sideline tryouts to see if anyone could get the ball back to the kicker. Celek botched a previous attempt that resulted in Eagles holder Donnie Jones getting tackled behind the line of scrimmage.
  1. With rumors circulating that DeSean Jackson may one day become a Philadelphia Eagle again, Jackson played a signature DeSean Game in his former home town. What does that entail? Three catches for 102 yards and a touchdown, with the 80-yard score representing a momentary turning point for Kirk Cousins and the Washington offense. In many ways, he represents the still-great untapped potential of this offense and they're running out of time. It would be hard to imagine general manager Scot McCloughan doling out cash for both Jackson and Pierre Garcon this offseason while Jamison Crowder and Josh Doctson are on the roster and under their rookie deals.

-- Conor Orr

  1. Bryce Petty's first road start was a mixed bag. His first pass was picked off in the shadow of his end zone; his final one set up Bilal Powell's game-winning scamper in overtime. Over the course of the nearly 42 minutes during which the Jets had the ball, Petty (23 of 35, 257 yds) showed guts, nerves, arm strength and inaccuracy, all in equal measure. His propensity for taking avoidable sacks (six against San Francisco) is a concern that needs immediate correcting. But for all his faults, the second-year QB stepped up when it mattered most, completing eight of his final 11 passes on New York's three late scoring drives and taking calculated shots down the field. In a lost season of Gang Green, the Petty-led comeback (16 points in 13 minutes) ranks among the highlights and maybe, just maybe, hints at brighter days ahead.
  1. Carlos Hyde dominated the Jets' withering front seven all game. New York's once-heralded run defense was no match for the Niners running back, who sliced and diced it for a career-high 193 rushing yards on just 17 carries. Hyde's 11.4 yards per rush average kept San Francisco's drives alive while Colin Kaepernick struggled to connect with his receivers following Vance McDonald's exit. Hyde's career game draws him within 121 yards of his first 1,000-yard season.
  1. You can blame many of San Francisco's six sacks on the Jets' hampered offensive line and Petty holding the ball too long. But while you're at it, fork over some credit to DeForest Buckner, Jaquiski Tartt and Jimmie Ward, who combined for four of those sacks and 34 total tackles. Buckner, in particular, had the best game of his rookie season and played all 84 snaps, a promising sign for Chip Kelly, who drafted his former Oregon pupil in the offseason.

-- Jeremy Bergman

  1. What a huge win for the Falcons, who find themselves in a heated fight for the NFC South after Tampa Bay edged New Orleans to remain tied at 8-5. Atlanta played excellent football in all three phases of the game and silenced the L.A. Coliseum crowd early on -- the loudest roar of the second half came during the two separate, unlawful appearances of fans on the field -- taking advantage of the phenomenal field position afforded to them by the Rams' opening blunder and never looking back. Ryan threw two touchdown passes in the first half, fellow rookie Deion Jones picked off Jared Goff and housed it, and the Falcons simply rolled in one of the bigger blowouts of the 2016 season. Not exactly a good look for Jeff Fisher, whose preseason extension has become a hot topic, while his team cools off more and more with each week.
  1. The Rams are bad, but it's not for a lack of talent. Los Angeles struggles because it can't get out of its own way. The Rams opened the game by fumbling the kickoff on their own three. Right tackle Rob Havenstein got caught in quicksand when trying to pass drop against Vic Beasley, resulting in a strip sack and return for touchdown. Goff had a pass in the red zone deflect off his receiver's hands for an interception. Oh, and there was that pick-six. Coaches harp on it from the earliest stages of the game: Turnovers will end your football hopes and dreams. They built a climb to the summit of Everest and left their rookie with little help.
  1. Goff looks like a rookie, but shows an occasional sign that maybe, just maybe this will work out. While the Rams were being torn down from every which way -- deep bombs to wide open wideouts such as Taylor Gabriel didn't help the competition -- Goff hit receivers on quick plays and connected a couple of times on deeper passes, including one that was nullified thanks to offensive pass interference on Brian Quick. But for every positive completion, there were the passes Goff sailed beyond open receivers, and the half-beat too long he often took while under pressure. Goff even scored a rushing touchdown, but was pulverized between two defenders at the goal line. The rough development continues.

-- Nick Shook

  1. The Bengals are the more notable team in this matchup, and have been for some time, winning their fifth straight over Cleveland on Sunday. The last time the Browns beat the Bengals, they moved to 6-3 and the top of the AFC North -- in 2014. Their record since then: 4-32. This game played like the mismatch it appeared to be. Despite a wet snow and dropping temperatures, the Bengals exerted their will on the Browns, rushing with ease and denying any offensive response. It resulted in a 20-0 halftime lead, and a win to keep a heartbeat for their playoff hopes. The tale of this contest was quite simple: Cincinnati is a much better team than Cleveland, as are the other 29 teams not named San Francisco.
  1. Robert Griffin III reached halftime with a passer rating of 0.0, but he wasn't that bad overall. Sure, a few of his passes were wayward, and he threw an interception on a flea flicker heaved from his own end zone. But Griffin also brought another dimension to Cleveland's offense in his ability to run the ball, and extend plays by scrambling. On a couple of occasions, it resulted in fresh sets of downs for the Browns. Combined with the running of Isaiah Crowell (113 yards on 10 carries), Cleveland's read option became effective in the third and fourth quarters. It was a welcome sign of a team that, featuring its true starter for the first time since Week 1 and still without a win in Week 14, wasn't going down without a fight.
  1. Jamie Collins has had at least eight tackles in every game he's played in orange and brown. He bested that Sunday with 13 takedowns. Collins was all over the field, providing life and a handful of vicious tackles to keep Cleveland's defense from lying down after giving up 20 straight points in the first half. Unfortunately for the Browns, an outside linebacker can't singlehandedly stop an opponent's running game, evident in Cincinnati's 213 yards rushing and stranglehold on time of possession (34:53 to 25:07). If Cleveland wants to climb out of the doldrums that is 2016, it needs to start by retaining the little high-level talent (Collins and Terrelle Pryor) currently on its roster.

-- Nick Shook

  1. Ryan Tannehill had one of his better performances of the season, throwing for three touchdowns against a lone first-quarter interception, but his afternoon was cut short. Tannehill took a hit to his knee from Calais Campbell late in the third quarter and did not return, thrusting backup Matt Moore into the lineup -- the quarterback is believed to have torn his ACL. Moore's ineffectiveness on the next few drives gave Arizona the ability to mount a comeback as Carson Palmer hit J.J. Nelson for a touchdown and David Johnson for a two-point conversion to tie it late in the fourth. Moore rebounded to lead a drive with two big throws to Stills to setup a game-winning 21-yard field goal from Andrew Franks.
  1. With both teams desperate for a win to keep their playoff hopes alive, the Dolphins and Cardinals played perhaps the sloppiest opening quarter of the season. Between the two of them, they committed five turnovers as the rain came down early in Miami. Only the Dolphins capitalized on any of those turnovers, turning a Palmer interception into seven points a few plays later when Kenny Stills took a Tannehill pass 28 yards for a touchdown. The Cardinals proved to be the more mistake-prone squad, missing a field goal and an extra point before a later extra point was blocked and returned for two by the Dolphins. That proved to be the difference.
  1. Palmer turned in another poor performance for the struggling Cardinals, who entered the year with one of the most highly-touted offenses. Along with his two first-quarter interceptions, Palmer lost one of two fumbles. Palmer failed to pass for more than 150 yards and the Cardinals never found a groove on offense with their season on the line. David Johnson lost a fumble as well.

-- Mark E. Ortega

  1. Despite the Vikings' best efforts, the Jaguars' familiar role of spoiler failed to materialize Sunday. A goal-line fumble by Vikings running back Matt Asiata with a little more than six minutes remaining gave the Jaguars one more chance to severely compromise Minnesota's hopes of a win. Blake Bortles wasn't up to the task of piecing together a scoring drive in crunch time. The Vikings (7-6) eventually got the ball back and Sam Bradford connected on a three-yard TD pass to Kyle Rudolph to put the game away.
  1. Bradford's steady performance kept the Vikings in control for most of the game even though the Jaguars (2-11) held a brief lead in the second half. The veteran connected on 24 of 34 passes for 292 yards and a touchdown to help end the Vikings' two-game losing streak and keep Minnesota in the NFC North title chase. It marked a strong return for Mike Zimmer, who missed last week's game after undergoing surgery for a detached retina in his right eye.
  1. Bortles' ability to stay out of trouble kept the Jaguars in the game even if it wasn't enough to snap their eight-game losing streak. Bortles completed 23 of 37 passes for 257 yards and a touchdown. T.J. Yeldon added 59 yards on 17 carries.

-- Austin Knoblauch

  1. The injury bug plagued the Chargers early in their Week 14 tilt. Midway through the first quarter, San Diego lost second-year running back Melvin Gordon to a hip injury, suffered when Gordon attempted to recover a fumble by teammate Philip Rivers. The Chargers, who lack depth at running back with Danny Woodhead and Branden Oliver on IR, turned to rookie Kenneth Farrow to shoulder the bulk of the carries. Star rookie defensive end Joey Bosa went down in the second quarter after he sustained a neck injury while sacking Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. At this rate, it's concerning whether or not the Chargers will have enough bodies on the field come Week 17.
  1. There was no Cam Newton tie controversy today, but it wasn't all rosy for Panthers skill players, and Kelvin Benjamin's effort will be a storyline in Charlotte this week. Benjamin was the intended receiver and/or nearby on two apparent interceptions (one of which was returned for a TD) and seemed to give up on each play. Benjamin's indifference was bailed out in the end -- one INT was overturned on review and the pick-six didn't count -- but it certainly raises eyebrows on whether the wideout has already turned the page on 2016. When asked about the situation after the game, Panthers coach Ron Rivera brushed off the criticism of Benjamin.
  1. The Chargers racked up five turnovers (fumble, INT, fumble, INT, INT) against the Panthers on Sunday afternoon. Aside from Rivers' hat trick of interceptions, the signal-caller can't be blamed entirely for the team's offensive miscues. For the past few seasons, Rivers has made due with a battered offensive line and surrounding pieces, running for his life from opposing defenders. Rivers finished the outing 21 of 39 with 236 passing yards and two touchdowns and was sacked five times.

-- Andie Hagemann

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