Sunday's contest between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was billed as a battle of the quarterbacks as Patrick Mahomes faced Tom Brady for just the fourth time in his young career.
The two future Hall of Famers did not disappoint. Brady threw for 345 yards and three touchdowns but did have a couple of costly interceptions. Mahomes was outstanding from start to finish as he threw for 462 yards, three touchdowns and no picks in a 27-24 win.
As dynamic and dangerous as the Chiefs were on offense during their Super Bowl-winning 2019 campaign, they are even better in 2020 and look a good bet to repeat as NFL champions. While nothing can be certain in this Covid-19-impacted season, the Chiefs can be relied upon week in and week out.
Mahomes was sensational (nothing new there) but it has to be said that he was helped out significantly by Buccaneers defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, who somehow felt it would be a good idea to cover Tyreek Hill – the fastest player in the NFL by some distance – one on one without any safety help for cornerback Carlton Davis.
Not a good idea.
Hill was over 200 receiving yards in the first quarter alone and ended a career night with 13 receptions for 269 yards and three touchdowns. Hill has always been a scary deep prospect given his sprinter's speed, but he has evolved into an all-round receiver and someone who Kansas City can use almost as an extra running back with short passes around the line of scrimmage.
What will be so frightening to opposing defenses is the fact that Hill couldn't be shut down and even when the Chiefs went away from him for a little while, there were more than enough weapons for Mahomes.
Travis Kelce caught eight passes, DeMarcus Robinson had five receptions and Sammy Watkins – returning from injury – caught four balls. These Chiefs are going to score points for fun the rest of the way.
On the game commentary, Tony Romo did his best sell job that the Buccaneers and Chiefs could meet in the same stadium for the Super Bowl in February. I certainly believe the Bucs are as dangerous as anyone on their day, but I cannot feel as optimistic as Romo about a team that has now dropped to 7-5 with four to play.
And there is some pressure building on the Bucs. Head coach Bruce Arians had to be held back from an official after one of his defenders was flagged for roughing the passer in the second half on Sunday night. And after the game, Brady did not like the tone of a question from an ESPN reporter who hinted at a rift between the quarterback and his head coach. Brady promptly ended his Zoom call with reporters after just two and a half minutes.
Going back to the Chiefs just quickly… I thought it was significant that with the game on the line, Kansas City threw passes to run out the clock when the tried and trusted method is to run the football. But when you have Patrick Mahomes as your quarterback, all rules go out the window and you absolutely want him to be the one deciding the outcome of such a big game.
Nick Chubb… The Cleveland Browns are on course for the AFC playoffs and a major driving force in their three-game winning streak has been running back Nick Chubb. The passing game woke up a little bit during Sunday's 27-25 win over Jacksonville, but the ground attack was once again the key as Cleveland rushed for 207 yards. Chubb – who must now be considered an elite NFL running back – led the way with 19 carries for 144 yards and one touchdown. Since returning from a knee injury in Week 10, Chubb has rushed for 126 yards and a touchdown against Houston, 114 yards against Philadelphia and then Sunday's excellent outing against the Jags. He is a wonderful weapon to have given how the weather can get pretty lousy in Cleveland at this time of the year.
Miami's Defense… Not for the first time this season, the Miami Dolphins leaned heavily on their defense during Sunday's 20-3 dismantling of the New York Jets. The Dolphins intercepted Sam Darnold twice and held him to a quarterback rating of 51.0. Xavien Howard pounced for his seventh interception of the season – that leads the NFL and is more than eight teams have in total through Week 12. The Dolphins have now forced at least one turnover in 17 straight games – the longest streak in the NFL. While Ryan Fitzpatrick led Miami to their best offensive output since a Week 5 win at San Francisco, it is the defense that has powered this 7-4 start which sees Miami occupying one of the three wildcard spots in the AFC as the current number six seed.
Derrick Henry… Also in the 'not for the first time' department, Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry makes the list of the hottest performers in the league. The powerhouse rusher is proving to be unstoppable of late and that's bad news for the rest of the NFL because he normally gets even hotter and plays even better in December and January. There is only one thing worse than trying to tackle Derrick Henry at full speed – and that's trying to tackle Derrick Henry at full speed on a frigid winter day somewhere in North America. Henry rushed for 178 yards and three touchdowns against an under-manned and overwhelmed defense as Tennessee beat Indianapolis 45-26 to move into first place in the AFC South.
The Las Vegas Raiders… The Raiders lost to the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 11 but showed great spirit and skill in that defeat, earning a moral victory of sorts – if such a thing could ever exist in the NFL. There was nothing to be salvaged from Sunday's embarrassing 43-6 capitulation at the hands of the lowly Atlanta Falcons. Atlanta came into this game shipping 407 yards per game to opposing offenses with 300 of those weekly yards coming through the air. Yet Raiders quarterback Derek Carr failed to take advantage – he was intercepted once and lost three fumbles as the Silver and Black turned the ball over five times. Jon Gruden's men were also penalised 11 times for 141 yards and things got so bad they even turned to Nathan Peterman at quarterback!
The Arizona Cardinals… Kyler Murray and company are discovering that NFL stands for 'Not for Long.' The glow of that Hail Murray victory against Buffalo has diminished significantly with back-to-back losses to Seattle and New England dropping the Cards to 6-5 and the very edge of the NFC playoff race. Murray is reportedly carrying a throwing shoulder injury and he looked below his best in Foxboro during Sunday's 20-17 loss to the Pats. Murray was held without a touchdown pass for the first time this season and his combined 201 passing and rushing yards were also a 2020 low. His quarterback rating of 67.0 was the lowest of this campaign and the second-worst of his young career. For the Cardinals to surge towards the playoffs, they need some Murray Magic and that may be hard to find if the young signal-caller is banged up. Next up, Aaron Donald and the Los Angeles Rams in a massive NFC West encounter.
Denver's Quarterbacks… The carelessness of Denver's quarterbacks – no matter how briefly they let their guard down last week - gave them no chance to win against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday. Jeff Driskell contracted Covid-19 and the close contact tracing ruled out fellow quarterbacks Drew Lock, Brett Rypien and Blake Bortles – all of whom had sat together in meetings last week, briefly without wearing masks. Why were all four in the same meetings? Would it not have made sense to quarantine one passer away from the others? I bet the rest of the NFL teams will do just that for the remainder of this challenging season. Practice squad wide receiver Kendall Hinton got the starting gig and looked exactly like a former three-star high school quarterback who switched to receiver in college because he couldn't make the leap under center. Hinton hit on just one of nine passes for 13 yards and was intercepted twice in a 31-3 defeat. But this loss is not on him, the blame lies with Broncos head coach Vic Fangio – himself fined earlier this season for not wearing a face mask on the sidelines – and his quarterbacks. In addition to that heavy defeat, I bet the Broncos also get hit with some form of NFL punishment. They could lose more than that game, they could lose a draft pick.
The Fast Five…
- There is being aggressive and then there is being desperate when it comes to play calling and I'm going to say that Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy was the latter during his team's 41-16 loss to Washington on Thanksgiving Day. Calling a fake punt in his own territory saw McCarthy go from facing a four-point deficit with 12 minutes remaining to a 25-point defeat.
- That's that then… the Chicago Bears do indeed need a new and long-term answer at quarterback because neither Nick Foles nor Mitchell Trubisky is the solution. Trubisky was back in the starting lineup on Sunday but threw two interceptions in a 41-25 loss to Green Bay. He did throw three touchdown passes but only when the Bears trailed 27-3, 41-10 and 41-17.
- The New York Giants are 4-7 and in the thick of the race to win the NFC East after Sunday's testing 19-17 win over the Cincinnati Bengals. New York lost quarterback Daniel Jones to a hamstring injury during a contest that saw just one offensive touchdown for each team. But New York's defense is playing much tougher than anyone could have expected and previously-unknown head coach Joe Judge is making people sit up and take notice.
- There were many reasons why the Indianapolis Colts lost heavily against the Titans and, most notably, they were three starters light on defense. But fingers should also be pointed at quarterback Philip Rivers because I think he limits what the Colts can do on offense. He is not dynamic enough to completely open up the playbook.
- We have to give a nod to Joey Bosa for his efforts in a losing cause as the Los Angeles Chargers lost 27-17 in Buffalo. Bosa recorded eight tackles, six stops for losses, three sacks and one fumble recovery. Others may get more publicity at times but make no mistake, Bosa is one of the very best in the business.
Fact of the Week
Ryan Fitzpatrick, who turned 38 years old on November 24, became the fifth player this season to throw a pass TD at 38+ years old, tying the record for most such players in a season all-time. The veterans to have thrown touchdown passes this season are Fitz, Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees and Philip Rivers. That tied a record of five set in 2019 by Brees, Brady, Eli Manning, Rivers and Matt Schaub.
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 do 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 'H' Rhi (@hobbit2343) If I was the Denver Broncos head coach, my starting quarterback would have been… having Zoom meetings in the lead up to the travesty of a game against the Saints. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but that approach would hardly be rocket science. NFL protocols already mandate that players meet virtually with their coaches. I don't think the Broncos are taking this virus as seriously as they could have – that much is obvious and, as a result, they suffered a crushing loss seven days after looking competitive in beating Miami. If I could have signed anyone in a hurry to play for the Broncos, I kind of would have been fascinated to see if Kurt Warner has juice left in his arm. I know he would have every answer the defense would throw at him. Somebody get Kurt to be their 'work from home' emergency quarterback.
From Steve Myatt (@KiwiositySteve) The next head coach to be pushed off the train will be… feeling pretty aggrieved to go before Adam Gase in New York. There are no whispers that the Jets are going to off-load Gase during the season, although they definitely should. Their attack remains putrid and he has done nothing to further the career of Sam Darnold at quarterback. For the love of football, don't let him ruin Trevor Lawrence! I actually think Doug Marrone is in significant danger as head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars but the lack of a general manager could buy him some time. Marrone can mind the shop until the new guy picks his coach.
From Peter Walker (@pete_the_atco) Bill Belichick won't… win another Super Bowl as head coach of the New England Patriots. Think about it for a second. Belichick is 68 years old and it is becoming clearer and clearer that the Pats do not have their long-term answer at quarterback or anywhere near enough talent around whoever they place under center. The Pats have bucked the NFL trend in order to be relevant for 20-plus years and they still have their moments in 2020. But it could take multiple years and drafts to get a franchise quarterback in place and weapons around him. Does Belichick have time to wait? How much longer will he want to go through the grind without the glory? Even if Belichick can turn things back around in four or five years, that would place his Patriots right in the middle of Patrick Mahomes-led NFL dominance from the Kansas City Chiefs.
From Adam Ellis (@adamellis42) I would rather climb Mount Everest than… watch a Detroit Lions game on Thanksgiving! Okay, that may be a little bit harsh, but they were lifeless on America's national holiday and not for the first time. They have now lost four in a row on Turkey Day and it was no surprise to hear that Matt Patricia was fired as head coach, along with general manager Bob Quinn. During their not-quite three-year reign, the Lions have never won more than two games in a row. Incredible. Next season will mark the 30th anniversary of Detroit's last playoff win, which came at the end of the 1991 campaign. I'm all for traditions, but does America really have to suffer through the Lions every year? Surely, three corking games with all teams involved is the way to go in the coming years?
Here we are coming to the end of 2020 – a time when attention spans can be limited. Social media video clips must be 30 seconds long so viewers don't get bored, 10-minute TV interviews get whittled down to three minutes that reach the air and audio books save us the bother of picking up a book and actually turning the pages. Very little endures. I know so many people who are in one job and constantly looking for another. They are always looking for the next opportunity. And that is why Friday November 27, 2020 was a special day. That day last week marked 25 years of loyal service for David Tossell, who heads up the NFL's public relations operation in the UK. David brought me on board at NFL UK in 2000 and we have worked closely to grow the sport during that time, going from nervously watching to see if fans would show up at NFL Europe games to reveling in London playing four regular season games per year. DT is a typical PR man who will fix things for others and stay in the shadows. But he deserves his moment in the spotlight. Like me, David is an NFL lifer and a bit of a sad man – we spent many wonderful days at NFL Europe training camps playing fantasy scrimmages (yes, we made that a thing), and competitive nights filled with Subbuteo and online Madden NFL tournaments, albeit in coaching mode because we were playing on PCs. He has been a great mentor and friend and I want to wish him the warmest of congratulations, even though he is a New York Jets fan.