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Thirty-seven things you need to know from Week 13

Now that was the game we were waiting for.

After a series of false starts on Thanksgiving, fans got a much-deserved treat with the Packers and Patriots on Sunday. This was high-levelintensity at the best venue in football; two heavyweights matching punches in a fight that begs for a rematch on the first Sunday in February.

We'll see if it plays out that way. After all, there was a time this season when the Seahawks looked like an unstoppable dynasty in full bloom. Then there were the Broncos, who went through a stretch where they looked every bit as dominant as they were a year ago. And don't forget the Arizona Cardinals, once 9-1 and widely coronated as destiny's darling. How about now?

Point is, change happens fast in the NFL. The Packers and/or Patriots could certainly fall off over the next month, and we shouldn't be stunned if other teams emerge. But it certainly felt like we were watching football's best teams at Lambeau.

It would be fun to see them share a field again.

Here's what else you need to know from Week 13:

  1. Philip Rivers won't win MVP this season, but this was an MVP performance from him: 383 yards, three scores and a pick that came when his arm was hit. On a day where he was knocked down at least 10 times, Rivers moved the ball by knowing where to go under pressure. He picked up his first seven third downs and converted touchdowns on San Diego's final three drives.
  1. Rivers was partly successful because he picked on advantageous matchups. He mercilessly picked on Ravens cornerback Anthony Levine late in the game, and Levine's pass interference penalty set up San Diego's game-winning touchdown. Rivers also exposed Baltimore's curious decision to cover Antonio Gates with linebackers like C.J. Mosley and Courtney Upshaw.
  1. It's amazing that Joe Flacco lost this game. The Ravens' offense had reached the red zone seven times in eight drives before getting the ball with just over 30 seconds left. Flacco made a number of terrific plays, often improvised and on the run. The Chargers' defense forced Baltimore to kick too many field goals. Anyone blaming Flacco for this one didn't watch the game.

-- Gregg Rosenthal

  1. We were denied a chance to see Rodgers in a two-minute drill with the game on the line when Ha Ha Clinton-Dix knocked the ball out of a diving Rob Gronkowski's hands in the end zone. Tom Brady was sacked on third down the following play, ending the Patriots' comeback hopes. As expected, Rodgers and Brady put on a quarterback clinic, trading beautiful throws throughout the afternoon. It has been roughly two years, 360 pass attempts and 31 touchdowns since Rodgers' last interception at Lambeau Field. He has to be the favorite for MVP honors this season.
  1. Beyond the marquee quarterback matchup, the battle between Darrelle Revis and Jordy Nelson was a joy to watch. As stingy as any cornerback over the past month, Revis was excellent save for Nelson's 45-yard touchdown that put the Packers ahead by two scores at the half. Nelson and Randall Cobb became the first pair of wide receivers in franchise history with at least 10 touchdowns in a season.
  1. With the Cardinals losing again on Sunday, the Packers are in pole position for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. That's a problem for the rest of the NFC, as Lambeau has been the most dominant home field in the NFL this year. Meanwhile, the Patriots' margin for error as the AFC's top seed has slimmed. They do still enjoy a tiebreaker advantage over the Broncos, Colts and Bengals.

-- Chris Wesseling

  1. The Falcons have made a bad habit of blowing games this season, but they closed nicely against a Cardinals team that entered action at 9-2. This didn't feel like a fluke, either. The Falcons were the better team from the kickoff onward, showing great balance on offense while making life miserable for Drew Stanton.
  1. Hard truth time: The Cardinals are not a Super Bowl contender with Stanton at quarterback. Arizona has one offensive touchdown in 10 quarters, and their replacement for Carson Palmer is the main reason why. Stanton threw twointerceptions on Sunday and was lucky not to throw a few more. Bruce Arians has been relentless in his praise and defense of Stanton, but production is all that matters.
  1. Be careful what you wish for, Patrick Peterson. The Cardinals cornerback said last week that he wanted Julio Jones in one-on-one coverage. On Sunday, Peterson was torched by Jones, who racked up 10 receptions for a career-high 189 yards and a touchdown. Peterson can say he's the game's best cornerback all he wants: We've never seen Richard Sherman or Darrelle Revis dominated like this.

-- Dan Hanzus

  1. Credit Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis with a heads-up move in a bizarre last-minute scenario that changed the outcome of the game. Louis Murphy caught a 21-yard pass to put Tampa Bay in easy field-goal position with just seconds remaining, but Lewis pointed out to the officials that the Bucs lined up with 12 men on the field. Upon replay review, Josh McCown's offense was pushed out of field-goal range and never got close enough to attempt a kick. If the Bengals end up winning the AFC North, they have Lewis' awareness to thank.
  1. Battling a touch of the flu, Dalton needed two IVs to suit up on Sunday. Although his first half was one of the worst by any quarterback this season, he bounced back with a solid enough second half, hitting A.J. Green for a third-quarter touchdown that stood as the game-winner. It wasn't exactly Michael Jordan versus the Utah Jazz.
  1. The Bucs lined up offensive tackle Oniel Cousins as a tight end and turned the backfield over to a more decisive Doug Martin, who channeled 2012 form with a season-high 55 yards by halftime. The Bengals' defense stiffened in the second half, though, limiting Martin to two yards on five carries. It's telling that Martin managed just 3.2 yards per carry in his best performance of the year.

-- Chris Wesseling

  1. Give it up for the Saints, who peeled themselves off the turf after dropping three straight games at the Superdome. Drew Breesdelivered a vintage performance, throwing five touchdowns without an interception. Each of his scoring strikes went to a different receiver. The Saints did whatever they wanted against a lethargic Steelers defense.
  1. Brees tossed five touchdowns, but none to Jimmy Graham. In fact, Graham didn't even have a catch. The Saints' receiving star was Kenny Stills, who had five receptions for 162 yards and a touchdown.
  1. The Steelers proved again why they never deserved our trust this season. Pittsburgh came out flat from the very beginning, taking the home crowd out of the game. The final score was a total mirage thanks to 16 late points in garbage time. Fantasy owners won't complain, but Ben Roethlisberger might have delivered the most deceiving statistical game in NFL history.

-- Dan Hanzus

  1. It wasn't pretty, but the Bills leaned on their outstanding defense to earn their seventh win of the year. Getting the best of former Bills coordinator Mike Pettine, Doug Marrone's squad clamped down on Cleveland's quick-strike passing game, shut down the run and triggered a trio of turnovers. If there's one reason to believe in this Bills team, it's the play of their frisky front seven, which sacked Brian Hoyer two times and added another six hits on the quarterback.
  1. After last week's three-interception meltdown, Hoyer's two-pickafternoon led to the veteran being benched for Johnny Manziel. The rookie immediately led Cleveland on an eight-play, 80-yard touchdown march to cut Buffalo's lead to 20-10. Manziel made plays with his feet and looked good outside of the pocket before splitting the defense for a 10-yard scoring gallop -- the first touchdown of his NFL career. Johnny Football couldn't bring the Browns back, but it's fair to wonder if the starting job is now his to lose.
  1. Both offenses struggled, but Kyle Orton and the Bills made more plays down the stretch. Despite generating just 91 first-half yards, Orton rebounded to lead Buffalo on a decisive eight-play, 84-yard drive in the third quarter that was capped by his 3-yard scoring strike to Chris Hogan. It's astonishing that Buffalo won this game despite going two of 15 on third down while averaging just 4.6 yards per play.

*-- Marc Sessler *

  1. Undeterred by a lost fumble and interception on his first two drives, Luck was masterful the rest of the way, carving up an overwhelmed Redskins secondary with big plays down the field. He finished with the most yards per attempt (13.7) and second-highest passer rating (137.0) of his career. He would have added another 52-yard touchdown if not for an egregious drop by a wide open Coby Fleener. Luck is now on pace for 5,348 passing yards and 45 touchdowns.
  1. It's no coincidence that Luck's big game came on the same day that Donte Moncrief finally pushed pastHakeem Nicks on the depth chart. With Reggie Wayne losing a step, the Colts need Moncrief's playmaking ability as an alternative to T.Y. Hilton. The third-round rookie has the size and athleticism to become a star with Luck as his quarterback.
  1. Coach Jay Gruden confirmed after the game that Colt McCoy will start next week against the Rams. McCoy wasn't quite as good as the box score suggests. He failed to take advantage of Luck's early turnovers, but bounced back to lead four scoring drives in the game's final 32 minutes. He's a clear upgrade on the 2014 version of Robert Griffin III. The same could be said of Kirk Cousins.

-- Chris Wesseling

  1. The Giants are a proud organization, and despite having two Super Bowl trophies as rewards for their level-headed approach, they do not like being embarrassed. Sunday's loss in Tom Coughlin's 300th career game, in a matchup against the one-win Jaguars, was completely embarrassing. Despite a rash of injuries, the team's most consistent ailments -- ball security, lack of offensive line depth, poor defensive scheme -- were on display in full force. These are not new issues. The Giants also saw one of their best offensive weapons, Rueben Randle, suspended for 25 percent of the game for missing a team meeting on Friday.
  1. Blake Bortles is a bit enigmatic, but as soon as Jacksonville gets its offensive line sorted out, we think he'll be a fantastic player. His decision-making down the stretch, especially on a read-option keep that set the Jaguars up for the game-winning field goal, was impressive. He also placed a ball perfectly to Marqise Lee earlier in the drive. He and Lee hooked up for a beautiful 30-yard touchdown earlier in the game.
  1. The Giants have now missed the playoffs in five of their last six seasons, but in each of their last two they've looked stunningly overmatched. They were able to pacify a frustrated fan base by bringing in a big-name offensive coordinator last offseason, but will they get away with just another coordinator change this offseason? Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell has been repeatedly criticized -- and sometimes publicly questioned -- by Coughlin for his personnel usage. His defense has also been gouged multiple times this year. Will a switch be enough, or will the Giants have some tougher decisions to make with one year left on Coughlin's deal (and Eli Manning's, and Ben McAdoo's)?

-- Conor Orr

  1. The Vikings blocked and returned two punts for touchdowns in the first half. They were the first team since 1990 to return two blocked punts for scores in the same game. It's only the fourth occurrence in NFL history. That was the difference in the game. Most of the rest was a struggle against ineptitude.
  1. Jonathan Stewartneeds to carry the load every game. The Panthers back ran tough between the tackles and showed burst through the second level. He had a big 26-yard run early (his longest since 2011). Stewart ended with 85 yards rushing on 12 carries and two catches for 25 yards. The insistence on running DeAngelo Williams must end.
  1. With Jerick McKinnon out, the question of how the Vikings would manage the rushing attack went as predicted. Matt Asiata started and was typically non-explosive, finishing with 52 yards on 14 carries (3.7 average). Joe Banyard carried just twice for 8 yards. Ben Tate didn't see his first snap until the second half -- he carried five times for 15 yards, including a team-long 9-yard run. This is a depressing group sans McKinnon.

-- Kevin Patra

  1. The Rams looked like a white-hot juggernaut from the opening whistle. Getting plenty of help from his supporting cast, journeyman signal-caller Shaun Hill finished 13-of-22 passing for 183 yards with two touchdowns and another score on the ground. It was the game of the year for St. Louis coordinator Brian Shottenheimer, who deserves credit for keeping his foot on the gas from wire-to-wire.
  1. Oakland couldn't build off last week's upset victory over the Chiefs, held to five or fewer plays on 11 drives while producing just 3.3 yards per snap against one of the NFL's more fascinating defensive squads.
  1. St. Louis saw a handful of young players shine against Oakland's lost-at-sea defense. Wideout Stedman Bailey went off for 100 yards on five grabs; rookie runner Tre Mason amassed 117 yards on the ground and another 47 through the air; and Tavon Austin scorched the Raiders with an 18-yard jet sweep to paydirt that put the Rams up 21-0 before the first quarter was done.

-- Marc Sessler

  1. Anderson is leading the NFL in rushing yards (445) and yards from scrimmage (649) over the last four weeks. The offensive line is in a groove with Will Montgomery taking over at center and Louis Vasquez kicking out to right tackle, with Paul Cornick coming on as a sixth lineman in running situations. Establishing the run to prevent defenses from blitzing Peyton Manning, the Broncos have churned out more than 200 yards in back-to-back games for the first time since the Tim Tebow era. The balanced offense bodes well for the stretch run, when defense and the running game take on greater importance in the elements.
  1. Speaking of the elements, Sunday's game provided more fodder for the theory that Manning struggles in blustery conditions: His 50.0 completion rate was the lowest of his Broncos career and his 5.3 yards per attempt was the lowest of his season. His obvious lack of arm strength hasn't been an issue in ideal conditions, but it has hampered him when wind is a factor -- as it was in Arrowhead Stadium.
  1. The Broncos' defense dominated this game from start to finish, sacking Alex Smith five times and hitting him five more. Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware continue to function as the most terrifying pass-rushing combination in the league while linebacker Brandon Marshall has emerged as one of the game's premier weak-side linebackers. This was a nice bounce-back performance for a unit that had allowed 29.5 points per over the past month.

-- Chris Wesseling

  1. Fitzmagic is back! You'd probably have to go back to his days at Harvard to find a more dominating effort. Fitzpatrick threw six touchdown passes and no interceptions with a 147.5 passer rating, picking Tennessee apart with surgical precision. This was one of the best quarterback performances of the season. Consider the opponent, but Fitzpatrick showed us why he'll have a job in this league for years to come.
  1. All due respect to Andre Johnson, but DeAndre Hopkins might be the best wide receiver on the Texans. He was Fitzpatrick's No. 1 target, setting career highs with nine receptions for 238 yards and twotouchdowns. He's over 1,000 yards on the season.
  1. It will get lost because of the offensive fireworks, but J.J. Watt had yet another dominant game. The MVP candidate had two sacks, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and one ... wait for it ... touchdown catch. That's three on the season for Watt, or one more than Andre Johnson.

-- Dan Hanzus

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