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Week 12: What we learned from Sunday's games

1) Patrick Mahomes and Tyreek Hill were unstoppable in the first quarter, sprinting out to a 17-0 lead they'd never relinquish with a bounty of divebombing plays that made the Bucs defense look like a procession of middle schoolers. The duo made it look easy early, taunting Buccaneers corner Carlton Davis to the tune of 203 receiving yards and 2 TDs on seven first-quarter catches. Hill became the third player in the last 30 seasons with 200 receiving yards in a quarter, and the first to do so while catching seven or more passes. The Bucs had no answer for Hill's speed, and once they adjusted, Mahomes picked them apart underneath. The MVP QB completed 37-of-49 passes for 462 yards (9.4 yards per attempt) with 3 TDs and a fumble. Hill finished with 13 catches for 269 yards and three scores. It was fitting that with the Bucs (7-5) fighting back to pull within a field goal late, the Chiefs (10-1) iced the game with Mahomes finding Hill for the game-sealing completion to run out the clock.

2) After racing out to a 17-0 lead, it looked like Andy Reid's crew would coast to a blowout road win. Credit Tampa with clawing its way back into the contest. After a touchdown to open the third quarter, pushing their lead to 27-10, the Chiefs punted on their next three possessions, including two three-and-outs after the Chiefs defense forced Brady INTs. For whatever reason -- call it apathy, boredom, or what have you -- K.C. hasn't buried teams with ease the past several weeks like we've become accustomed to seeing. Allowing Tampa to inch their way back into the game is just the latest example. Like usual, however, once they're truly threatened, Mahomes and Reid mash the gas pedal and kick it back into high gear. After Brady got within one score, he never touched the ball again as Mahomes closed the game out like the Sandman.

3) Tom Brady's offense was off-kilter early, with the veteran QB missing some throws, rampant miscommunication with his wideouts, and several prominent drops from Mike Evans. Tampa earned one first down and had three-straight three-and-outs in four first-quarter drives. The uphill climb to overcome Mahomes was made more difficult with two second-half INTs by Brady deep in Chiefs territory. Even if K.C. didn't capitalize, the miscues milked the clock, leading to TB12 standing on the sideline watching Mahomes end the game. Brady and his receivers finally started to click in the second half, particularly in two fourth-quarter TD drives, both culminating in Evans TDs. If not for a few early drops and miscues, Evans would have had a bigger game than his 3/50/2 stat line. As we've seen in each of the Bucs' five losses, slow starts by the offense aren't able to be made up against good teams. After back-to-back losses against playoff teams, the Bucs head to their bye before closing the season with four games against teams with losing records -- Minnesota, Atlanta (twice) and Detroit.

-- Kevin Patra

1) The Titans (8-3) avenged their Week 10 defeat to the Colts (7-4) and now sit in first place in the AFC South. The rivals traded touchdowns in their first four possessions and set the table for a would-be thriller, but Tennessee pulled away in the second quarter thanks to an offense that could not be stopped. Tennessee scored 35 first-half points and had 449 yards of total offense (229 rushing, 220 passing). Of course, the Titans dominance was by virtue of running back Derrick Henry, who had 178 yards rushing and three touchdowns on 27 carries. Everything flowed through Henry's threat, whether it was A.J. Brown (four catches, 98 yards, TD) getting free downfield on play-action or quarterback Ryan Tannehill using the run-pass option for an untouched score. An early lead allowed the Titans to go on cruise control for much of this game, but their defense should also be credited with inspired play. The Titans defense was flying around the field all game looking to make a big hit and that threat seemed to make the Colts offense hesitant at times. The Colts were a one-trick pony by game's end (56 yards rushing) and Brown punctuated the win with a short kickoff return for the game's final score.

2) King Henry's prime years should not be overlooked. The Titans RB extended a streak of eight consecutive road games with 100-plus rushing yards, tying former Titan Chris Johnson for the second-longest streak since the 1970 merger. Hall of Famer Barry Sanders holds the record with 10 straight road games with 100-plus yards rushing. Henry also eclipsed 5,000 rushing yards for his career in this game and is in contention for a second consecutive rushing title, which hasn't been accomplished since LaDainian Tomlinson did it in 2007. After Week 12, Henry leads the NFL in rushing with 1,257 yards -- his third consecutive season with 1,000-plus yards rushing.

3) Sans All-Pro defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, who was ruled out due to a positive COVID-19 test earlier this week, the Colts defense was lost. The Colts were gashed up the middle and their talented linebacking corps was taxed midway through after having to tackle the 247-pound Henry. Second-year cornerback Rock Ya-Sin had a rough outing in particular and his penalties erased big plays in the red zone that could've stopped the early bleeding. Ya-Sin was benched by game's end. Offensively, creative play-calling in key situations allowed the Colts to keep up in the early going. Jacoby Brissett was used early and often in short-yardage situations, where he converted fourth-and-shorts as well as finding the end zone in the second quarter on an RPO. Without much of a run game, however, the Colts were easy to figure out and there were few shots taken downfield. Philip Rivers went 24 of 42 for 295 yards, two TDs and an INT on the day, but a dropped would-be pick-six by Breon Borders made his stat line digestible.

-- Michael Baca

1) As the latest chapter in the NFL's storied rivalry approached, the return of Mitchell Trubisky as Bears starter was getting plenty of attention. But inside the lines, this game was about Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense against the Bears defense. Rodgers' mastery of the Bears continued as he improved to 19-5 for his career against Chicago. A methodical 75-yard opening drive for Rodgers and the Pack concluded with a Davante Adams score and Green Bay was off. The Packers scored six on each of their first three drives, a run of dominance interrupted only when Green Bay's Preston Smith returned a Trubisky fumble for a score. Perhaps no play was more emblematic of the Packers offense's triumphs and the Bears defense's tribulations as when Rodgers initially found no target on a play-action from the Chicago 2. Bears pressure came and Rodgers just got some distance and effortlessly flung a touchdown pass to a suddenly wide-open Allen Lazard for a score. It was 27-10 at halftime and the game was over. A phenomenal season for Rodgers -- who had four TDs and only eight incompletions in 29 passes -- is continuing and the Packers (8-3) have the NFC North in firm control. Beyond that, when Rodgers, Adams and the Packers offense is playing at a level such as was showcased Sunday night, they can be a serious player when the postseason comes.

2) Adams has become consistently stellar. He's been overlooked for too long when it comes to just what an elite talent he is and maybe now he's being taken for granted. He's tallied a TD catch in six straight games – which is the longest active streak and tied for the best in Packers chronicle. In the first half, as the Packers quickly turned the game into a blowout, he had five grabs on seven targets for 54 yards against the NFL's 10th-ranked pass defense. He only had one more catch in a second half that only made the score look closer than the game really was, but Adams has shown over and over just how dominant he can be and Sunday was another example of that. At least when the game was still up for grabs anyway, though that didn't last long.

3) David Montgomery's 57-yard run early in the game was the greatest play in the history of the 2020 Chicago Bears. It was pretty much all horrendous after that (regardless of what stats inflated by garbage time say). Despite the longest play of Montgomery's career, the Bears settled for three points on the drive. Trubisky's return offered no spark or reason to change our views of Mitch, who threw a pair of dismal interceptions when he got adventurous with ill-fated deep throws. As usual, this wasn't all on the QB, as the Bears offense struggled in all aspects and Chicago's defense was carved up by the bad man who resides in Bears fans' nightmares named Rodgers. A bye week only served to prolong the agony rather than provide time for this coaching staff to find any answers. If it wasn't transparent already, monumental changes are due for this team when this agonizing season -- which began with false hope and fell off a cliff into harsh reality-- comes to its merciful close. Granted, the Bears record still has them in the playoff race, but after five straight losses, it's clear once again that their record is deceiving to say the least. With more than a week of preparation to face the franchise's archrival, the Bears put forth the most complete defeat of their season.

-- Grant Gordon

1) If you were looking for a storybook outcome to the Broncos having to start a practice squad wide receiver at quarterback, you'll have to wait for the movie. With the Broncos quarterback room wiped out by COVID-19 protocols, playing this game as scheduled ensured it would be non-competitive, so much so that with six minutes remaining, FOX switched some of its Saints-Broncos viewership to a far more interesting Rams-49ers finish. Kendall Hinton, who didn't deserve to be the out-of-position goat in the blowout loss, finished 1-of-9 for 13 yards and two interceptions. Saints QB Taysom Hill wasn't exactly riveting television either (9-of-16, 78 yards, INT).

2) Not that it would have made much scoreboard difference, but how the Broncos (4-7) didn't get Hinton started with easier throws is a mystery. A hitch pass, a screen, maybe a short throw to the tight end on a waggle? Nope. Hinton was firing downfield early, and were it not for a couple of drops by the Saints secondary, he would've been picked four times. His lone completion came on an easy screen to TE Noah Fant for one of only six first downs for Denver on the day. It didn't help that RB Phillip Lindsay, who in fact started the game at quarterback and took some direct snaps, went out for the day with an injury.

3) Give the Broncos defense far more credit than the allowance of 31 points would normally provide. With the Broncos generating a three-and-out or a turnover on six of their first seven possessions, the defense was placed in nearly as impossible a situation as the offense. New Orleans (9-2) controlled the clock with nearly 36 minutes of possession time, wearing down a tiring Broncos defense with a grinding rushing attack that went for 229 yards. Denver LB A.J. Johnson had a strong performance with seven solo stops, a tackle for loss on Alvin Kamara, and a forced fumble, but by game's end, the New Orleans line was opening huge rushing lanes.

-- Chase Goodbread

1) In a season filled with more hurdles than ever thought possible, the steady hand of Kyle Shanahan has again proven to be most reliable. Shanahan's offense managed to do enough to give the 49ers (5-6) an early lead, and though San Francisco nearly fell apart in the second half, its salt-and-pepper-bearded coach's calm approach proved victorious. Shanahan stuck to his guns offensively, relying on quick Nick Mullens passes and the same rushing attack that saw San Francisco reach the Super Bowl last season. A less-stocked cupboard will likely keep them from a repeat trip to the sport's largest spectacle, but it didn't get in the way of a win in Week 12. Mullens was good enough (24-for-35, 253 yards, one interception, 77.4 rating), Raheem Mostert scored in his first game action since Week 6, and Jeff Wilson filled in the gaps. Deebo Samuel was excellent, though, catching 11 passes for 134 yards, including three key receptions on San Francisco's game-winning drive. Robbie Gould shook off an earlier field goal miss, too, banging home the game-winner to complete the season sweep of the Rams. We can't predict health for any NFL team, and we surely couldn't see the 49ers being this banged-up. San Francisco lost two more key players in its secondary on Sunday alone, watching Jamar Taylor and Ken Webster exit due to injury, yet it kept on rolling with the punches. The wins all count the same, but this one feels especially emphatic in a season unlike any other for the 49ers.

2) After slamming their horns against San Francisco's red-and-gold brick wall for much of the first three quarters, the Rams (7-4) just needed one brick to finally budge. Instead, Cam Akers knocked it down with his 61-yard run that set up his one-yard touchdown run to cap a furious comeback effort from the Rams. The game seemed to be shifting, especially when considering the impact of Aaron Donald, which doesn't always show up on the stat sheet, but it sure showed in both the numbers and on the tape Sunday. Donald blew up what was a measured San Francisco offense in the second half, forcing a fumble that was returned for a touchdown and sacking Mullens, forcing a punt that produced Akers' score. But even when equipped with a chance to put the 49ers in a difficult position -- one in which they'd have to score quickly with a limited air attack against a defense led by Donald -- the Rams couldn't do it. McVay's offense returned to its struggles, giving the ball back to San Francisco with enough time to get in field goal range. The ebbs and flows ultimately downed the Rams on Sunday. Games like these often provide us with the marks of a winning team, or reason to question their legitimacy in the larger picture. Los Angeles couldn't do much of anything offensively and was tied to the tracks with the Upset Train barreling down, ready to run them over. Instead, the Rams found a way to wriggle out of the ropes, escape the tracks and find dynamite capable of detonating the train. The problem: They never got the fuse attached in time. The train passed, sparing their lives but knocking the Rams over with the passing wind. Los Angeles will get up, dust itself off and proceed forward, but might look back at this one as the moment it fell behind for good.

3) Though it didn't hold for a full four quarters, add this one to the file for Robert Saleh's future head coaching interviews. Saleh's defense flummoxed McVay's offense for the entire first half, forcing McVay and Jared Goff to resort to tossing 50/50 balls to receivers in one-on-one matchups, to discouraging results. And amid Los Angeles' furious comeback effort, Saleh's group managed to lift itself from the mat and respond with a enough firm blows to keep the Rams from finishing them off. Once San Francisco's defense earned its final stop, giving the 49ers the ball at their 25 late in the fourth, it was up to Shanahan's group to do the rest. And when Gould's field goal went through the uprights, Saleh could smile with pride knowing his guys got them to the doorstep of victory, with Gould kicking it down. The odds still aren't quite in San Francisco's favor going forward, but the fact it's in this position is a testament to the coaching efforts of Shanahan and Saleh. Their two units played complementary and complete football Sunday.

-- Nick Shook

1) In a wacky fourth quarter, as the Bills (7-3) turned the ball over on three straight possessions, it was Tre'Davious White's INT of Justin Herbert that stopped the bleeding, allowing Buffalo to regain its two-score lead. The Bills D, which has struggled for most of the season, held its own against Herbert Sunday, holding the rookie phenom in check much of the contest. Buffalo sacked the QB three times, and White baited Herbert into the pivotal interception. The Bills D held L.A. (3-7) to just three points on those three consecutive turnovers by Buffalo's offense in the fourth quarter. Sean McDermott's D even held the Chargers out of the end zone at the close for good measure. While the Bills defense has been carried for much of the season, if McDermott's unit solidifies down the stretch like it did Sunday, the Bills will be much more difficult come January.

2) Josh Allen's pass game was stymied most of the game by a good Chargers secondary, and Joey Bosa couldn't be blocked, sacking the QB three times. Instead, the Bills leaned on a productive ground game for the first time in weeks. Devin Singletary galloped for 82 yards on 11 carries (7.5 YPG) and Zack Moss went for 59 yards on nine totes (6.6 YPC). Allen added 32 yards and a score on nine carries. Fumbles by Singletary and Allen tainted the game, but the Bills finding the ability to run the ball consistently with their running backs would be big as the weather turns in Buffalo.

3) Austin Ekeler returned to generate 129 scrimmage yards. Bosa was the best player on the field. Yet, the discussion will be once again about the questionable Chargers game management by Anthony Lynn and Co. After making a special teams coaching change, the Chargers still missed an extra point. L.A. mismanaged the end of the first half. Even more mindboggling was a run at the goal line with no timeouts down two scores in the final minute, that led to L.A. not closing the gap and having an onside prayer at the end. The ridiculous goal line calls came after Herbert completed a 55-yard pass on fourth and 27. There was no payoff to that prayer, however. Lynn's squad has too much talent, particularly with a rookie QB playing so well, to have just three wins. For large stretches Sunday, L.A. outplayed Buffalo, won the turnover battle, and yet was down by double-digits for most of the game. Five penalties for 91 yards and a bevy of other self-inflicted wounds led to the latest disappointing defeat in Lynn's tenure.

-- Kevin Patra

1) Neither of these teams are strangers to close finishes, so it's fitting this one came down to the wire. In Week 9, Nick Folk's 51-yard game-winning FG was slightly overshadowed by a resurgent effort by the offense. Had it not been for the game-steadying -- and, in Folk's case, game-winning -- effort on special teams, it's possible that the Patriots (5-6) would've fallen short against the Cardinals. First, it was a 53-yard Donte Moncrief punt return late in the first quarter that helped set up a James White TD run to start the second. Next came an 82-yard Gunner Olszewski punt return that, despite being called back due to a questionable blindside block penalty, positioned the offense to get in FG range and Folk for a successful 22-yard chip shot. Then, with the game on the line, a 14-yard Cam Newton run, bolstered by an unnecessary roughness flag on Isaiah Simmons, set the stage for Folk's clutch 50-yard FG to inch New England past Arizona and keep its playoff hopes alive. The Pats played great complementary football throughout, but the special teams unit deserves a spotlight for its role in keeping this one close.   

2) A TD and FG on consecutive drives to start the game gave the impression that Arizona (6-5) was ready to turn this one into yet another high-scoring affair. Except the Cards would not score again until midway through the fourth-quarter. It took a minute for Kyler Murray to get going, particularly on the ground where he was held to a shocking negative-two yards going into halftime. Whether it was the Pats' pressure or lingering discomfort stemming from his shoulder injury, Murray was relegated strictly to a pocket passer until early in the fourth when he scrambled for 15 yards, his best run of the day. He still managed a few "wow" plays with his arm, notably on a 17-yard completion to Dan Arnold off his backfoot for a first down, but was mostly neutralized, finishing 23-of-34 for 170 yards and having one of his passes batted in the air at the LOS for an INT. A missed scoring opportunity for the offense prior to half will have Arizona asking "what if?" for the next couple of days. Situated on the NE 3, Murray and Co. had three shots; a Christian Kirk drop, an eight-yard KeeSean Johnson near-TD catch that was reversed and a Kenyan Drake run stuff. From there, it seemed as though the momentum shifted, ultimately leading to the Cards losing late again.  

3) What if I told you that a QB with a 13.0 passer rating at halftime would end up in the winner's circle? Well, that's what the Patriots managed to overcome to beat the Cardinals. The passing game again proved to be a struggle as Newton went 9-of-18 for 84 yards and two picks, the second of which could've cost them the game had the D not held Arizona to a 45-yard FG attempt that Zane Gonzalez missed with less than two minutes remaining. Both of New England's TDs came via the run game which tallied a total 111 yards between Newton, Damien Harris and White. Because this win truly embodied what it means to play well in all three phases, several key defensive contributors also garnered a well-deserved mention. It may have gotten chippy at times and led to a few penalties, but Stephon Gilmore held tight in coverage against DeAndre Hopkins (5/55); Adam Butler (sack, three QB hits, two tackles for a loss) and Ja'Whaun Bentley (game-high 13 tackles) were also among players who made timely plays.

-- Jelani Scott

1) Sunday, Minnesota spells redemption B-E-E-B-E. Vikings receiver Chad Beebe botched a punt return with 2:10 left, allowing Carolina to stretch it's three-point lead to six with 1:51 left. The fun was just beginning. Kirk Cousins immediately drove the Vikings down the field to the Carolina 10-yard-line. Beebe then caught a twisting TD to help give the Vikings the go-ahead score. Teddy Bridgewater, returning to Minnesota, wasn't done. The QB got the Panthers (4-8) into field goal range with six seconds left in the contest. Joey Slye, however, yanked the 54-yard game-winning attempt well wide left. The wild come-from-behind victory keeps the five-win Vikings (5-6) in the hunt for a potential playoff berth down the stretch. With Justin Jefferson looking every bit of a No. 1 WR sans Adam Thielen, Minnesota proved it can overcome its own mistakes and Dalvin Cook (18/61) being slowed. When all looked dead, the Vikings rose from the dead to keep their season alive.

2) The Vikings got down due to two fumbles to open the third quarter, both taken to the house by Panthers rookie Jeremy Chinn. The hybrid linebacker/safety took back-to-back scrimmage plays for two TDs, flipping a 10-7 halftime deficit into a 21-10 Carolina lead in 10 seconds. The Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate became the first player to take two fumbles for TDs in a game since Fred "Dippy" Evans in 1948. Each week, Chinn seems to make huge plays. With the Carolina offense shuffling, he gave his team a two-score lead in the blink of an eye. Even though it ultimately came in a loss, the plays shouldn't be discounted in Chinn's DROY candidacy.

3) Bridgewater's return to Minnesota was a struggle for much of the first half. The Panthers QB, returning from injury, missed a boatload of easy throws, starting 2 of 9 passing for 21 yards and a red-zone interception. Of Bridgewater's 96-yard first half, 75.28 came after the catch on short passes, per Next Gen Stats. Teddy B came on stronger in the second half, dropping a few dimes, including a gorgeous toss down the sideline to Robby Anderson on a stutter-and-go to help re-establish an 11-point lead after the Vikings pulled within one score. Bridgewater, however, missed D.J. Moore once again wide open in the end zone on third-and-goal just after the two-minute warning. The miss not only kept the game within one score, but it also stopped the clock, giving Cousins plenty of time to engineer the game-winning drive. To make matters worse, Moore was injured on the play. Credit Bridgewater for willing the Panthers back into FG range for the potential win with a series of good throws. It was a roller coaster day for the former Vikings QB, who found his home on a gutsy Panthers squad, which might only have four wins, but is setting itself up nicely for the future.

-- Kevin Patra

1) Jarvis Landry took it upon himself to change Cleveland's culture in 2018 when he made his memorable practice-through-injury speech during the Browns' season of Hard Knocks. More than two years later, he spoke with his actions in a game that carried special meaning. For the first time since 2007, the Browns will not finish a campaign with a losing record thanks to their eighth win of the season secured Sunday. Landry had a whole lot to do with it. Landry was exactly where Baker Mayfield needed him to be all afternoon, catching eight passes for 143 yards and a touchdown in Cleveland's two-point victory. The veteran receiver was as dependable as ever, catching passes to extend drives, diving away from a defender to catch a well-placed ball from Mayfield for a score, and doing everything in between. His biggest play -- a 19-yard reception early in the fourth that lifted Cleveland (8-3) from deep in its own territory -- required Landry to catch a pass threaded between two defenders, and saw Landry get up and pound his own chest. Sunday was Landry's day, and after his best friend was forced out of action due to injury, it's his team to lead to the playoffs. Few, if any, pour as much heart and passion into this game as Landry. Time will tell if Cleveland will reach the postseason for the first time since 2002, but if they do, it will be with Landry leading the way.

2) Many of the postgame themes remain the same for the Browns: They're better with Wyatt Teller, and they're best when handing the ball to Nick Chubb. The running back put another one away for the Browns on Sunday, rushing 19 times for 144 yards and the go-ahead score at the start of the fourth, with 47 of his total yards coming in the final quarter. Chubb and Kareem Hunt combined to break 200 rushing yards once again, and when combined with the efforts of Landry, Cleveland had enough to win a close one. It was a close one, though, because of the efforts of a usual scapegoat in Cleveland who turned that reputation on its head Sunday. Understandably seen as the Browns' greatest defensive liability, Andrew Sendejo made a few key plays to prevent long gains and touchdowns, and when it mattered most, to maintain Cleveland's slim lead even as it seemed the walls were crashing down around the Browns. His denial of Mike Glennon's pass attempt on what would have been a game-tying two-point conversion preserved the Browns' two-point lead, and Chubb combined with Mayfield to put the game away. The Browns aren't winning pretty, but they're winning thanks to the efforts of the less likely standouts, and that matters most as we hit December.

3) Considering the quarterbacking talent that's expected to be available in next spring's draft, Jaguars fans might not be outraged by the result, but Doug Marrone's decision-making was questionable at best when points were on the line Sunday. His call to go for two following a penalty on a successful PAT produced a peculiar play call from Jay Gruden, who decided to attempt a goal line fade from a yard out. It failed, predictably, and came back to bite the Jaguars (1-10) when they completed the unlikely, scoring late and needing a two-point try to tie. They didn't get that one, either, and Marrone compounded that call by kicking away to one of the league's best offenses when it comes to closing out close victories. Jacksonville didn't touch the ball again. Marrone could paint it as him believing in his defense, which has been stingy in recent weeks and was again on Sunday, but that isn't a good enough explanation. Then again, Jaguars fans probably won't want an explanation when Trevor Lawrence or Justin Fields is in sight. Glennon deserves credit for giving them a chance, though, even if he didn't end up getting one more because of decisions that were out of his hands.

-- Nick Shook

1) Derek Carr had a day. One he's technically never had and would just as soon like to forget. In the midst of perhaps his best season as a pro, Carr's fumbling issues resurfaced as he committed a career-high four turnovers. Nothing encapsulates how bad it got better than Nathan Peterman playing nearly the entire fourth quarter. It was probably unrealistic to think we'd get through 2020 without a Peterman appearance. The turnover-prone QB even managed to avoid throwing an interception. (Granted, Peterman attempted just five passes, but he's averaged one every 11 throws. Maybe next time.) Carr was mercifully pulled after a pick-six and three lost fumbles, which matched his season total of INTs before Sunday. He hadn't played like this all year and the Raiders simply can't afford for him to do so moving forward.

2) Raheem Morris is ready to be a head coach again. Whether that happens with Atlanta remains to be seen, but its latest performance gives Arthur Blank, who's also looking for a new general manager, even more to consider. The Falcons have looked like a completely different team since Morris took over -- or, they've been who we thought they'd be. The offense is explosive, but not one-dimensional, the defense is opportunistic and can be stingy against the pass. They exhibited all of that while routing the Raiders for their fourth win in six tries under Morris. Blank intimated his interim coach might have been too young when he was hired to run the Buccaneers at 32, his tenure ending after just three seasons and a 17-31 mark. Morris, now 44, has clearly learned some things along the way and has a team that began the season 0-5 not just competitive but beating potential playoff teams. Atlanta (4-7) is a long shot to be one this year, but Morris' chances of being an NFL head coach in 2021 should be better.

3) The truth is no one in the Raiders organization will want to remember what just transpired in Atlanta. The 37-point blowout is the most lopsided loss in the Jon Gruden II era, yet eerily similar to what happened in Week 12 last year. His 2019 squad also started out 6-4 when it traveled east and was shockingly silenced by a 3-7 Jets team, 34-3. The Raiders closed out the season 1-5 to miss the playoffs. Next week's home date with the even more hapless Jets shouldn't dredge up any bad memories. But what's been happening in Vegas, where the Raiders are 2-3 this year, can't stay in Vegas either. They've been beaten up in the trenches on both sides of the ball the past two weeks and they don't have the weapons at the skill positions to overcome that. But they reside just outside the playoff bubble at 6-5 with games against the Chargers and Broncos also remaining. The postseason is still within reach.

-- Adam Maya

1) The handling of their late-game circumstances was an indictment, but the Giants defense ending the game with a strip-sack turnover was a befitting end for a unit that played great. The Giants found themselves in a sticky situation after a prevent defense allowed the Bengals' only offensive touchdown of the day and New York's Colt McCoy-led offense couldn't muster a first down to run out the clock on the subsequent drive. With 50 seconds left to play, the Bengals had the ball at midfield after Alex Erickson's timely 29-yard punt return and a field goal was all they needed down two points. On the first play of the drive, Jabaal Sheard strip-sacked Brandon Allen and Leonard Williams jumped on the loose ball to seal the win. In a game where their offensive woes were aided by a hamstring injury to QB Daniel Jones (exited the game in the third quarter) the GIants defense was reliable against a reeling Bengals team.

2) The Bengals (2-8-1) showed plenty of fight in their first game without Joe Burrow and it took several key plays with an offense that struggled mightily. Cincinnati quickly responded to the Giants' opening-drive score with a 103-yard kickoff return by Brandon Wilson, the defense then recovered an Evan Engram fumble which put them at midfield and resulted in a field goal for a 10-7 lead in the second quarter. Coach Zac Taylor rolled the dice with a successful fake punt at their own 27-yard line in the third to bide time, and Erickson's brilliant punt return somehow had this game in their sights. The Bengals offense mustered just 155 total yards on the day, and a good chunk of that was given by the Giants' prevent defense late in the fourth quarter. Allen finished 17-of-29 for 136 yards (one TD, one INT).

3) The Giants (4-7) are streaking with the NFC East well within reach. Fresh off their bye week, New York won its third game in a row -- something it hasn't done since the 2016 season. It was also the Giants' first win outside of the NFC East this season, which is a stat that may fall in their favor as they position themselves for a division title. The Giants' schedule is daunting going forward, however, with a trip to Seattle next week and just one divisional game left vs. Dallas in Week 17. Coupled with the unknown status of Jones' hamstring injury, the Giants' road to a division title will be as rough as it would be well-earned. 

-- Michael Baca

1) After coming on in relief of Tua Tagovailoa in the fourth quarter and falling just short of a comeback victory a week ago, Ryan Fitzpatrick ensured his first start since Week 6 was a successful one. Starting in place of the injured rookie against the Jets, Fitzpatrick dinked and dimed his way to 257 yards (24-of-39) and two touchdowns. DeVante Parker added to his team-leading receiving yards total with an eight-catch, 119-yard effort while tight ends Mike Gesicki and Durham Smythe combined for five catches on eight targets for 54 yards. Gesicki hauled in the first TD pass early in the second, which came at the end of a streak of seven straight Fitzpatrick completions. Against stiffer competition, Miami's four fumbles (two lost) could've proved lethal, but the D did a solid job of preventing New York (0-11) from capitalizing. Nevertheless, the veteran gunslinger, who did take four sacks, kept on rolling and was able to conjure up just enough FitzMagic to improve Miami's standing in tight AFC East race.

2) Playing in his first game since Week 8, Sam Darnold finally received the opportunity to do something he hadn't all season: Share the field with Jamison Crowder, Breshad Perriman and Denzel Mims. Would it end up making a difference? Well, no. But, as Adam Gase so eloquently put it last week, Week 12 gave the Jets a chance to see what maybe could've been had Darnold played with his full WR corps all season. Unfortunately, the results still looked largely the same. Darnold did manage to pepper his wideouts with a couple of nice throws throughout the contest, but, at the end of the day, his poor decision-making again reared its head and Miami's pressure only worsened things. The Jets' first-quarter field goal, which gave them their fifth-straight opening drive score, ended up being their only points. Darnold completed 16 of his 27 pass attempts for 197 yards and took three sacks. Two of those attempts were picked off in headache-inducing fashion. The end of the season can't come soon enough.

3) With a win, the Dolphins (7-4) remain entrenched in second place in their division and sit on the edge of AFC playoff picture. Avoiding dropping what could've been a trap game better positions Miami to make it back to the playoffs for the first time since 2016. The Colts and Raiders, who were right on the Dolphins' heels, lost big in Week 12 and dropped to 7-5 and 6-6, respectively. Buffalo strengthened its hold over the AFC East with a win over the Chargers, but Miami could very well sneak in as a wild card if it can finish the year strong. A Week 13 game against the Bengals give the Dolphins a good chance at adding to the win column, but matchups against the Chiefs, Patriots, Raiders and Bills threaten to turn their postseason dreams into an out-of-reach nightmare. We'll see how the Dolphins respond next week, especially when Tagovailoa returns to the lineup.

-- Jelani Scott

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