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The Wrap - Week 15

The New York Jets have endured a terrible season. Prior to Sunday night, they had stumbled to an 0-13 start, traded away arguably their best player in safety Jamal Adams and fired defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. It has been becoming increasingly evident that head coach Adam Gase is operating on the shortest of leashes.

And in the most Jets of Jets things, he has slipped from New York's grasp… for now. With two weeks of the regular season remaining, it is the Jacksonville Jaguars who have the best shot at Lawrence.

That is because the Jets delivered one of the upsets of this crazy 2020 season, travelling out west to record a 23-20 win over the NFC West-leading Los Angeles Rams. While the Jets have been frisky at times, especially recently, I have to admit to not seeing that one coming.

Social media blew up as the Jets took knees at the end of a victory that could shape the fortunes – or lack of them – for this franchise for the next 15 years and counting. It has been suggested by a great many – myself included – that the Jets cannot even do losing right.

We've heard it many times in the past… teams are giving up the ghost in order to get the top player coming out of college. Pick your catchy mantra… Tank For Tua… Tank For Trevor… Suck for Luck.

But every NFL coach and player I've ever spoken to tells me emphatically that there is no tanking. As my Sky Sports colleague Jeff Reinebold pointed out during our coverage on Sunday night, this game is too violent and takes too much investment from players and coaches to simply give up come the weekend.

I've been told time and again that fans tank, ownership might tank on occasions, but players and coaches never tank. That was reaffirmed by Super Bowl and Pro Bowl-winning defensive end Cliff Avril, who explained on Sunday evening that he was still playing hard and playing for his job when his Detroit Lions went 0-16 in 2008. Right to the very end.

So, we should give a little bit of credit to Gase and his men for their efforts on the field on Sunday night. They fought hard in seeing off the Rams and were deserved winners. The Jets were playing with their tails on fire and clearly a certain Mr Lawrence was the furthest things from their minds. The Jets played hard and they played to win.

But should they have done that?

In spite of everything I have just mentioned about how there is no tanking in the NFL, I'm wondering if there should be? With no relegation in the NFL, there would have been no harm in the Jets losing their final three games of the year.

If Lawrence is going to be the next John Elway or even Patrick Mahomes (okay, that may be a reach but let's see) then taking your lumps for three more weeks is going to be worth it in exchange for the potential for 15 or more successful seasons. Years that could very possibly result in Super Bowl challenges with Lawrence at the helm.

For the Jets to have tanked on the season, ownership would have needed to intervene. Gase is likely gone for 2021 so it makes no difference to him if Lawrence is the guy or not. He just wants to win on Sundays and might actually like to wreck the 'Tank for Trevor' plans. The same can certainly be said for incumbent quarterback Sam Darnold.

And I get the safety argument put forward by Jeff. But you can lose without placing an additional injury risk on your players. You just say publicly that you want to see young talent on the roster for evaluation purposes. And then you start rookie James Morgan at quarterback, Josh Adams at running back and unknowns at receiver in Jaleel Scott and Lawrence Cager.

You can pick a bunch of different players from the far reaches of the bottom of the Jets' depth chart, but you get my point.

Normally, I would argue that tanking does a disservice to the paying customer and it's not fair on fans who have parted with hard-earned money for a ticket to the games. But the Jets are playing behind closed doors in 2020, therefore negating that argument. They have the proverbial free swing on that front.

The Jets are now relying on Jacksonville to win one of their final two games against Chicago and Indianapolis. But if I'm Jags owner Shad Khan, I'm benching everybody with a pulse for the next fortnight and not making the same mistake as the Gang Green.

It's admirable what the Jets players and coaches produced on Sunday night, but there is no doubt in my mind that it was a victory that will cost the franchise dearly if they end up picking second overall in the 2021 NFL Draft.

Who's Hot…

David Montgomery… The Chicago Bears have crept back into the NFC playoff race with wins over Houston and Minnesota and while Mitchell Trubisky has played better at quarterback, it is second-year running back David Montgomery who has led the offensive charge. Montgomery rushed for 146 yards and two touchdowns on a sturdy 32 carries during Sunday's 33-27 win over Minnesota. That came off the back of rushing for 113 yards and a touchdown the previous week against the Texans. Montgomery rushed for 889 yards and six touchdowns at an average of 3.7 per carry as a rookie in 2019. He has already surpassed those numbers with two games to play, rushing for 906 yards and six scores at an average of 4.5 per tote. Sunday saw Montgomery become the second player in Bears history to carry 30+ times, rush for 140+ yards and score 2+ touchdowns in a game, matching the achievements of NFL legend Walter Payton.

Jalen Hurts… Carson Wentz wants out unless it is made clear he is the starting quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2021. Out it is then! Jalen Hurts is likely the starter the rest of the way this season and into 2021 if he continues to play like he did during Sunday's 33-26 loss to Arizona. Hurts is not perfect, but he has injected enthusiasm and big plays into these previously-lifeless Eagles. He threw for 338 yards, three touchdowns and no picks in Arizona and added 63 rushing yards and a touchdown on the ground. All of that makes me wonder what he can do in 2021 behind a fit-again and rebuilt offensive line. It's the end of the road for Wentz in Philly. Next stop for him… Indianapolis and the Colts.

Josh Allen… Buffalo's young quarterback has taken his game to new levels in 2020 and he is peaking at the right time as the playoffs approach. In his last three outings – wins over San Francisco, Pittsburgh and Denver – Allen has thrown for 972 yards and eight touchdowns. He has now thrown for an even 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns on the season, adding eight on the ground. On Saturday night, he delivered a first division title to Buffalo in 25 years – since before he was born. The Bills – who have seen an NFL record 13 different players catch TD passes this season - are a franchise that is going places and much of that is down to their excellent quarterback.

Who's Not…

The Minnesota Vikings… Despite being one of the more frustrating teams in this 2020 season, the Vikings inched back into the playoff picture with back-to-back wins over Carolina and Jacksonville in Weeks 12 and 13. But they have since laid eggs against Tampa Bay and Chicago and now have just a four percent chance of making the postseason. Defense has been a major issue this season and shipping 33 points to the Bears on Sunday marked the fourth game in a row that the opposition had scored 25 points or more. Bad offensive line play and poor coaching decisions have also hurt the Vikings in a wasted season.

Tyler Lockett… Earlier this season there were genuine conversations being had about the Seattle Seahawks having two number on receivers in D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. I don't think that is the case right now and while Lockett suffered a head injury against the New York Giants in Week 13, his lack of production in many other games is becoming a worry. Lockett caught four passes for 34 yards and no touchdowns in Sunday's 20-15 win at Washington. That marked the fourth game in a row in which he has failed to score a receiving touchdown. He only has one receiving touchdown in his last eight games and has not topped 100 yards in a game since Week 7. While he may be banged up, Lockett needs to find his form ahead of the NFC playoffs.

Atlanta's running game… The reality is that the Falcons don't really have a ground attack. They headed into Sunday's meeting with Tampa Bay with the NFL's 25th-ranked running game and it was more of the same in a devastating 31-27 loss which saw more of the blown leads that plagued the Falcons earlier in this 2020 campaign. And the running game is a big reason why they continue to lose such leads. Twice on Sunday, the Falcons led the Bucs by 17. But on the day, they rushed for just 37 yards on 13 attempts and asked Matt Ryan to throw 49 times. He was sacked on another three dropbacks, highlighting the complete and utter lack of balance in Atlanta's attack.

The Fast Five…

  1. Tom Brady had been down before against the Falcons, of course. He trailed 28-3 in Super Bowl 51 before delivering a 34-28 overtime win for New England. So, he was not about to hit any panic buttons on Sunday as he delivered the comeback win with a 46-yard touchdown throw to Antonio Brown. It marked the fourth time in Brady's storied career that he trailed by 17 or more at the half and fought back to win. There is a lesson in there for all athletes, regardless of the sport.
  2. Another week and another three or four plays can be added to the career highlight reel that will undoubtedly get played when Patrick Mahomes is inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Mahomes didn't put up gaudy numbers in Kansas City's 32-29 win over New Orleans (he threw for 254 yards and three touchdowns) but he frustrated Saints defenders with an array of off-script throws. He really is the best in the business right now and while Aaron Rodgers is having a marvellous season in Green Bay, Mahomes gets my nod for the league's MVP prize.
  3. The Colts produced a big defensive play to defeat the Houston Texans for the second time in a fortnight. In Week 13, it was a late Deshaun Watson fumble that ended a one-score contest in favour of Indianapolis. In Week 15, Darius Leonard punched the ball loose just as Keke Coutee was going in for the game-tying score inside the final minute. Such big defensive plays have become the norm for Indy this season and the trade for DeForest Buckner has proven to be a home run – the big defensive tackle had another three sacks on Sunday, giving him seven and a half for the season and five in his two meetings with Houston.
  4. New England fell to a 22-12 defeat at the hands of the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, marking the end of an era. One day after Buffalo landed the AFC East title, the Patriots were officially eliminated from the postseason and will miss the playoffs for the first time since a 2008 season that saw Tom Brady tear his knee ligaments in Week 1. It's going to be a long road back if New England don't find an answer at quarterback and around whoever their future passer might be.
  5. Miami improved to 9-5 with that win over New England but they have zero room for error and likely have to defeat the Las Vegas Raiders and Buffalo Bills over the final two weeks of the year to make the playoffs. And that's because the Baltimore Ravens have ripped off three straight wins and look like they will be a very dangerous out if they get into the postseason. Miami have the edge in terms of tiebreakers right now, but the Ravens have the easier run-in at home to the New York Giants and at Cincinnati. I think they'll sneak in and the Dolphins will end up rueing a Week 11 loss at Denver.

Fact of the Week

With one game remaining in Week 15, three quarterbacks have rushed for multiple touchdowns in a game, tied for the most in a single week in the last 70 seasons. Those finding the endzone on rushing plays more than once this weekend were Josh Allen (Buffalo), Ryan Tannehill (Tennessee) and Tua Tagovailoa (Miami).

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 Carl Sumner (@cjs76) The most exciting quarterback prospect for the next five years is… still Patrick Mahomes, for me. I think he and the Chiefs can dominate the NFL landscape for years to come. But there are some genuinely exciting players I am looking forward to watching in the coming seasons. As the likes of Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers get set to bow out of the NFL, the league is in good shape with young stars such as Josh Allen, Deshaun Watson, Kyler Murray and Lamar Jackson now at the fore. And let's see what Jalen Hurts can become in Philly and Trevor Lawrence, wherever he eventually lands. Fun quarterback times are ahead.

From Big Al Folwell (@BigAlsTipOf2day) The championship games will be between… Kansas City and Buffalo in the AFC with Baltimore worthy of serious consideration if they can sneak into the postseason party. Indianapolis could also be dangerous on their day but I like the Chiefs and the Bills to lead the way in the AFC. Over in the NFC, I trust the Green Bay Packers but I need to see the New Orleans Saints get healthier. They seem to have the edge over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but Brady and Co. can get hot in one-game scenarios. So let's go a battle of the bays with Green Bay and Tampa Bay. For reference, my preseason Super Bowl pick – Baltimore over New Orleans – is still alive, but only just!

From Steve Myatt (@KiwiositySteve)… Anyone in their right mind can see that the Washington Football Team wasted a first round draft choice on quarterback Dwayne Haskins. I don't even care that he led a late charge against Seattle on Sunday night. He still came up short, as he has done in his two short but largely unsatisfying seasons in the NFL. Haskins doesn't read the field very well at all and he makes the kind of mistakes a coach would get angry at a high school quarterback for making. I've heard all sorts of stuff about Haskins' work ethic – or lack of it – and his inability to have a total command of the playbook. I think that manifests itself when he drops back to throw and, too often, looks lost. Whether it's Alex Smith or somebody else in 2021, it cannot be Haskins in Washington.

From Freddy Harper-Davis (@freddyharperdav) Trevor Lawrence annually in the UK will be… great for a few years before it becomes Trevor Lawrence weekly in the UK as the superstar quarterback of the London Jaguars. In this of all years, I feel totally fine saying that stranger things have happened.

Final Thought

As I said at the start of Sunday's Sky Sports show, it's just been a bit rubbish on the news front of late; particularly over the weekend. But as this is my final column before Christmas, I just wanted to send a little holiday message. A poor man's Queen's Speech, if you will!! My own delusions of grandeur aside, I do sincerely hope you can all find solace and peace this year and find a way to enjoy the festive period. And if you are spending time alone this Christmas, I would not be afraid to reach out to the NFL UK community via social media. This is the time when the great fans in this country can come together. And if you still need a little more distraction from all the doom and gloom at the moment, I'll see you in the studio on December 27 for more incredible NFL action. And we will all have brighter things to look forward to in 2021… the NFL playoffs and the road to the Super Bowl! So, stay safe and have a very Merry Christmas if you can.