It's never over until it's over, no matter how comfortable things may appear to be. Lewis Hamilton learned that the hard way in a dramatic final day of the Formula 1 season on Sunday and so did the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a few hours later.
Tampa Bay raced into a 24-3 halftime lead over the Buffalo Bills, gaining more than 300 yards of total offense in the first two quarters. Tom Brady had a record of 106-1 in games where he guided his teams to a 21-point lead, so surely the Bucs were going to be just fine.
But by the end of regulation, the Buccaneers' sideline was dotted with players and coaches who had frustrated and bewildered looks on their faces. How had it come to this?
The Bills had clawed the game back to 27 apiece and, in fairness, could very easily have won in the final seconds as quarterback Josh Allen found his feet – and golden arm – in the latter stages of what turned out to be a thriller. Buffalo definitely ended the regulation 60 minutes as the stronger team.
This is not me being a Monday morning quarterback but when the game went into overtime and Buffalo faced a crucial third down, I turned to my Sky Sports analyst Dante Hall and said: "The Bills had all that momentum heading into overtime and now they're about to go three and out and never see the ball again."
I just knew that Tom Brady was not done, despite him being pressured and shut down by an awoken Bills' defense that was clearly rejuvenated by its halftime orange! The Bucs scored just three points in the final 30 minutes of regulation.
But, for what feels like the 1,000th time in his illustrious career (it was actually his 52nd game-winning drive), Brady delivered in a big overtime spot to break Buffalo hearts. On third and three, he hit Breshad Perriman on a beautifully-designed crossing route that isolated linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, who could not keep up with the wide receiver who took the ball 58 yards to the house for a 33-27 win that keeps Tampa Bay perfect at home this season (6-0).
The play was stunning in its finality but also served as a reminder that messages delivered by coaches when they stand in front of their team can be 100 percent accurate and should be listened to. Head coaches often tell their players that "it's going to take all of us." They speak of every man on the roster needing to play a key role at some point in a successful season.
And that proved to be the case for the Bucs on Sunday night. I'm not going to lie, I had forgotten Perriman was even on their roster. That touchdown catch was just his fourth reception this season, serving as a reminder that when teams have to dig deep to get a result; they also have to dig deep into their roster to find ways to win games.
The Bucs did all of that on Sunday night and remain very serious contenders to defend their Super Bowl crown.
The Kansas City Chiefs… Andy Reid's men have now won six in a row and are back in the championship conversation in the AFC with a 9-4 record. Sunday's 48-9 beatdown of the Las Vegas Raiders featured some good offensive moments, without ever being overly-spectacular. There were a few Patrick Mahomes highlights as he threw for 258 yards and two touchdowns, and the Chiefs rushed 30 times for 132 yards and three scores. But the defense continues to be the driving force in Kansas City. They forced five turnovers on Sunday, scoring on a Mike Hughes fumble return, and sacked Derek Carr four times. The Chiefs have held opponents to 17 points or fewer in each of their six successive wins and have allowed an average of 10.8 points per game. As they round into a more complete team, the Chiefs are showing some of the mettle that will most certainly be needed to make a deep playoff run.
George Kittle… The last two weeks have reminded me that there are few sights as enjoyable across the NFL as a fit and healthy George Kittle proving uncoverable to defenses. In a Week 13 loss to Seattle, Kittle showed us his All-Pro class as he caught nine passes for 181 yards and two touchdowns. And he was at it again in Cincinnati, making crucial catch after spectacular catch in a 26-23 overtime victory over the Bengals. Kittle caught 13 passes for 151 yards and a touchdown. That's a two-week haul of 22 receptions for 332 yards and three touchdowns. I cannot wait to see what Kittle does in Kyle Shanahan's offense the rest of the way and I'm confident Jimmy Garoppolo is delighted to have such a game-breaking comfort blanket back in the mix.
Micah Parsons… We can all drop the 'rookie' label from any Micah Parsons chat. This kid is the best defensive player in football, regardless of how long he or anyone else has been in the league. It is a big comparison to make, but I'm going there. Parsons is Lawrence Taylor-like in his ability to take over games and that's fitting because Cowboys players call him 'Mini LT' and the New York Giants legend was the last rookie to win Defensive Player of the Year honours in 1981. Parsons recorded two sacks and one forced fumble in a 27-20 win in Washington that gives Dallas a three-game lead in the NFC East with four to play. Parsons now has a sack in six straight games and nine and a half over his last six outings. But he is no one-trick pony. There was a play on Sunday where he was on hand to cover a passing target 25 yards downfield, helping to break up the throw. What a player!
The Jacksonville Jaguars… This season cannot end soon enough for the Jacksonville Jaguars, who dropped to 2-11 with Sunday's tame 20-0 surrender to the Tennessee Titans. After the reports of more Urban Meyer-related dysfunction broke on Saturday, I was keen to see if there would be any response from his players. There was none. That suggests to me that the head coach has lost his locker room, if he ever had it. There is not much to judge on a day when Trevor Lawrence threw four interceptions and James Robinson was given just six carries that he turned into four yards. The Jags ran the football eight times on the day and gained just eight yards. The future is most definitely going to be Lawrence and as he grows, so will this team. I genuinely believe that. But a few storm clouds are going to need to be blown away before the sun comes out again for these Jaguars.
Carolina Panthers quarterbacks… Keep an eye on the Panthers this offseason because they are most definitely in the market for a quarterback. Sam Darnold showed he was not the long-term answer before getting injured and this flip-flopping of Cam Newton and P.J. Walker is doing no good. Carolina lost 29-21 to Atlanta on Sunday, dropping to 5-8 on the season. Cam threw an interception and lost a fumble while posting a quarterback rating of 70.6. Walker was worse as he also tossed up a pick and had a rating of 62.8. Carolina are merely treading water and their quarterback for 2022 is not even on the roster at the moment.
Chase Claypool… Pittsburgh's wide receiver showed some of the me-first selfishness that has plagued his team at that position during Thursday's 36-28 loss to Minnesota. After catching a first down pass on a frantic final drive, Claypool chose to pose and preen rather than race back to the huddle. When veteran lineman Trai Turner came to grab the football and hurry to the line – a job that should have been Claypool's – the ball was knocked loose and 12 seconds was wasted. Claypool then berated his lineman after Big Ben spiked the ball to stop the clock. Claypool has learned selfish receiver behaviour from TikTok king JuJu Smith-Schuster, who learned from Antonio Brown. It's a learned behaviour in Pittsburgh. Maybe Claypool should up his game before strutting his stuff through the art of premature celebration. He has not scored a touchdown in his last seven outings and has just one receiving touchdown in all of this 2021 campaign.
The Fast Five…
- I wouldn't count the New Orleans Saints out of the NFC playoff race just yet. The Saints got Alvin Kamara back on Sunday and he rushed for 120 yards and a touchdown as New Orleans snapped a five-game losing streak with a 30-9 win over the New York Jets. Washington hold the final playoff spot at 6-7, but the Saints are one of five teams with the same record. And they have a coach who has been there and done that in Sean Payton and an X-factor at quarterback in Taysom Hill.
- Seattle are not quite dead, either. Sunday's 33-13 win over Houston lifted Pete Carroll's men to 5-8 on the year. The Seahawks likely have to win out and they have to play the Los Angeles Rams next week and an Arizona Cardinals team that could be resting starters in Week 18. Sandwiched in between are games against Detroit and Chicago. It's doable and the Hawks also have great playoff-run experience with Carroll and Russell Wilson.
- Sunday's loss in Tampa had me feeling better about the Buffalo Bills than after their defeat at home on the previous Monday night. I actually think they play better in the warmer climes. Buffalo are out of the playoff picture as it stands but a win against Carolina at home this weekend and a Boxing Day success in New England will put them right back in the mix. It's all about Josh Allen and if they can drag themselves back into the race – which I think they can based on the second half in Tampa – it will be very much down to their superstar quarterback.
- The whole of Baltimore will be nervously awaiting news of Lamar Jackson's injured ankle. The Ravens' key man left Sunday's 24-22 loss to Cleveland on a cart. And, suddenly, you could throw a modest-sized Christmas blanket over the whole AFC North. The Ravens still lead the way at 8-5 but have Green Bay next, Cleveland and Cincinnati are one game back at 7-6 and the Steelers are not out of the conversation at 6-6-1. It's all to play for in the North.
- Not for the first time this season, Justin Herbert was excellent in leading the Los Angeles Chargers to a 37-21 win over the New York Giants. The cannon-armed sophomore threw for 275 yards and three scores in guiding LA to a 30-7 lead before the dogs were called off. When he plays like that, Herbert looks every inch an NFL MVP and the 8-5 Chargers are going to be dangerous on their day when the playoffs begin in January.
Fact of the Week
With one game remaining in Week 14, there have been 28 contests decided by a game-winning score on the final play of the game this season – the most through Week 14 in NFL history. Sunday saw Tom Brady deliver a 58-yard touchdown pass to lead Tampa past Buffalo in overtime, while Jimmy Garoppolo also threw a game-winner in the extra period, leading San Francisco over Cincinnati with a 12-yard connection to Brandon Aiyuk.
Finish That Sentence
Each week in this spot I ask readers - via Twitter - to randomly send me the start of a sentence and, as we so often did on our NFL UK Live stage show tours, I will finish the sentence with the first thought that comes into my head. Here we go…
From Neil Blair (@ndblair)… The Raiders thought it was a good idea to dance on the Chiefs' logo at midfield because… they lack discipline and leadership? They certainly lacked clarity of thought in that moment. Some players – and teams – feel they need to display their 'we back down from no one' machismo at all times. That can sometimes manifest itself in a pre-game disrespect of the opposition. It's pointless and it failed to serve the Raiders well on any level as they were on the wrong end of a 48-9 embarrassment in Kansas City. If all else fails, I like to think, 'What would Bill Belichick and his Patriots do?' Belichick may tell his team to never back down, but they would not start to show that attitude until the first snap of the game is made. Good teams have no time for that kind of nonsense and the Raiders are not a good team.
From Charles Dagnall (@CharlesDagnall)… It will be a repeat of last year's Super Bowl because… it very well might be, my old friend! Who knows how this thing is going to be play out, but the Chiefs seem a sturdier proposition now their defense has woken up and they have won a few ugly ones here and there. And who would back against Tom Brady? I do feel good about the Bucs and their chances to make it out of the NFC, but will they face Mahomes again or are we destined for a Belichick vs Brady showdown for galactic supremacy in a stadium that looks like it belongs in a space-age, far-off land?
From Phil McNamara (@PhilMcNamara) The best team in the AFC is…_ likely to boil down to a battle – and eventual showdown - between the Kansas City Chiefs and the New England Patriots. Kansas City have lost some of their pizazz and are more reliant on a physical defense, but that is no bad thing. It's actually a bit more New England-like. And the Patriots have rounded into tremendous form but let's see how they far in Buffalo tonight. I'm not ready to give up on the Bills as my Super Bowl pick just yet. I just like the fact that the coaches in New England and KC have won on the big stages and will be ready for the stresses of January. The AFC is wide open, but those would be my top two with Buffalo still hanging around in the conversation.
From @BelievelandBrit… The AFC North will be won by… the finest of margins. As I mentioned earlier, Lamar's injury throws another spanner in the works for the Ravens. I really like watching the Bengals but they just cannot find consistency. But can they find enough? The three leading teams have tough games still to play. Baltimore still have to face the Packers, Bengals, Rams and Steelers. Cleveland have Las Vegas, Green Bay, Pittsburgh and Cincy. The Bengals have Denver, Baltimore, Kansas City and Cleveland. I think this comes down to a Week 18 showdown between the Browns and Bengals in Cleveland. In a coin flip game, maybe the Browns end a topsy-turvy season as division champs. But only maybe. I think all of the above shows it's wide open in the AFC North and I don't really have a clue !!
I loved the start of the Denver-Detroit game as the Broncos opened with 10 men on the field, leaving the X receiver position open for Demaryius Thomas, who was found dead in his Georgia home on Thursday at the age of 33. It was a reminder that the NFL is a brotherhood and the loss of a fallen comrade is felt painfully across the league. Denver left Courtland Sutton on the sidelines, took a delay of game penalty and allowed the Mile High faithful to pay their tributes to a four-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champion. It was a classy move. And tributes should also be paid to Dan Campbell, head coach of the Detroit Lions, who did the expected and right thing in declining the penalty. Football is family.