Around the NFL

2020 NFL season, Week 15: What we learned from Sunday's games

1) J-E-T-S WIN! WIN! WIN! There will be no additions to the 0-16 Club in 2020. Adam Gase's squad got off the schneid, breaking a 13-game losing streak this season with an all-around victory. The special teams earned a punt block. Bryce Hall picked off a pass, and the defense held the Rams to 303 yards. Most importantly, the D kept L.A. out of the end zone on its final two possessions. Sam Darnold played one of his best games of the season, consistently escaping pressure to avoid catastrophic losses to keep the Jets offense on schedule. Darnold completed 71 percent of 31 passes for 207 yards and a TD. The QB avoided big mistakes, and while he was rarely able to stretch the field, taking just two sacks seemed like a miracle with Aaron Donald chasing him constantly. The close of the contest was a Gase fever dream, with Frank Gore churning out yards and milking the clock. The aged veteran closed out the victory with a third-down catch to allow Gang Green to get into victory formation for the first time this year.

2) Coming off extra rest, it was an embarrassing stumble for Sean McVay, Jared Goff and the rest of the Rams (9-5). Forever an up-and-down QB, Goff was on one of his steep declines again this week. The signal-caller was shaky from the start, throwing turf balls, off-target prayers and was jittery in the pocket. The Rams' first five possessions went three-and-out, three-and-out, punt block, INT after four plays and three-and-out. Goff got in a funk and struggled to get out of it against one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL. While we've seen the Rams offense stumble in the past, it's usually buoyed by the stingiest D in the league. Yet, L.A. struggled to get off the field for stretches. To open the third quarter, the Rams defense gave up an 11-play, 72-yard TD drive that put them down, 20-3, and a 10-play 72-yard FG drive the next series. The D also couldn't get off the field late. It was an all-around humiliating loss for the Rams with few bright spots and too many back-breaking penalties. Even against zero-win teams, sleepwalking for a half usually comes back to haunt clubs. Now, the Rams slip behind Seattle for the division lead with a rematch with the Seahawks on tap next week.

3) For most fans, we've buried the lead. The Jets' victory means they've lost the proverbial grip on the No. 1 overall pick. Sitting at 1-13, Gang Green is tied record-wise with the Jacksonville Jaguars. If both clubs finished 1-15, the Jags would hold the top pick in the draft based on strength of schedule, and presumably the right to select Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence. The Jags finish the season against the Bears and at the Colts (their only win of the season came versus Indy in Week 1). The Jets play Cleveland and New England to close the 2020 slate. As much as players and Gase are thrilled to avoid going 0-16, there is certainly a case to be made that the future of the franchise could be hurt by Sunday's victory.

-- Kevin Patra

1) Sunday was a fantastic example of what peak coaching can produce on a football field. What some might have seen as a slog or an extended lull was what LeBron James calls Game 1 of a playoff series: A feel-out game. Bent on preventing the Chiefs (13-1) from hitting the deep shots, the Saints (10-4) opted to primarily defend the pass first, avoiding stacking the box and making the pre-snap reads easier for Patrick Mahomes. Kansas City racked up 179 yards on the ground, its most since Week 6, and forcibly achieved balance, running the ball on 41 of its 92 total plays run. The latter total is really quite a number, and helped sink Kansas City's yards-per-play to below five, but the balance came because Mahomes was simply taking what the defense gave him. New Orleans essentially achieved its defensive goal, holding Kansas City below 250 passing yards and sacking Mahomes three times, but its offense did the Saints no favors in the first half, save for one big play. The time spent feeling each other out ended up sinking the Saints, who ran out of time to try to catch up.

2) The Saints were happy to get Drew Brees back, but Brees' body might have missed the memo. Brees was visibly rusty, going 0-6 to start the game for the first time in his career, which included an ugly interception that landed in the hands of L'Jarius Sneed. New Orleans' first four possessions each lasted three plays, with none gaining a first down, and allowed Kansas City to run out to a 14-0 lead and dominate the time-of-possession battle 41:14-18:46. Brees eventually picked things up, throwing for 234 yards and three scores, but the dreadful start left him with a completion percentage below 50. Perhaps even more concerning: New Orleans was 1-for-11 on third down. But after all of those statistical outliers, the Saints were still within three points at the end. Should these teams meet again in Tampa, we'll be in a for a treat.

3) An interesting little narrative is developing with these Chiefs. For the second consecutive week, Kansas City faced a stout defense and was forced to adjust. The high-powered, well-oiled machine that is often the Chiefs offense again couldn't quite establish the pace it usually relies on to put up tons of points, instead scoring in quick, but infrequent bursts. That still produced 32 points, but it wasn't as visually impressive, and Mahomes again finished with a passer rating below -- gasp! -- 93 for a second straight game. That's how high the bar is for the Chiefs. They're not putting teams away like they did in the past, winning by a single possession for the sixth consecutive time. But they're still leaving with wins, and as long as they can weather a possible injury to Clyde Edwards-Helaire (who left in the second half), they're still the team to beat.

-- Nick Shook

1) Despite an ugly score to the game, Baker Mayfield looked good throughout an important win for the Browns (10-4). With the Giants standing up to the Browns' vaunted rushing attack for much of the contest, Mayfield maintained his impressive run of play over a stretch that covers the last four games. He finished a phenomenally accurate night completing 27 of his 32 passes for 297 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions, and over these last four games has thrown 10 touchdowns, is averaging 308 yards a game and has just one interception. Despite a season that portends to career-lows in most stats, Jarvis Landry has caught all three of his TDs in this span and is heating up, too. But it starts with Mayfield, who led his team not only to a crucial win, but to bouncing back in prime time six days removed from a knee-buckling prime-time loss to the Ravens. These are some of the most important games for the Browns this century and he's showed up and played clutch ball. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt are the engines that drive this Cleveland offense, but somebody's got to drive it and Mayfield's doing just that and he's been just about as good as anyone over the last four weeks of play.

2) No matter how or when the Browns conclude the 2020 season, they will walk about able to call themselves winners. With their ninth victory back in Week 13, the Browns clinched their first winning season since 2007. On Sunday, their 10th win tied their most since that 2007 season, but brought them a step closer to a playoff berth, something Cleveland's been absent of realizing since 2002. After this win, the Browns are the AFC's No. 5 seed heading into the penultimate week of the regular season. On a cool Sunday evening, all the cosmic forces that have seemed to plague the Browns for so long were put in order: Ex-coach Freddie Kitchens was calling Giants plays, ex-starting QB Colt McCoy was playing against them and Browns K Cody Parkey even missed a kick with a doink. But these Browns were not had by any bad juju as they carried on in a successful campaign, continuing to thumb their collective nose at any past karma that has undone the franchise. Nothing has been clinched as every Cleveland fan still mending a broken heart from seasons of letdowns will tell you, but this was a big one and the Browns got it.

3) What a chaotic realm the NFL plays within. For four consecutive weeks, Big Blue was a winner and the Giants made a run into first place in the NFC East, Joe Judge's band of underdog heroes being celebrated for a stunning turnaround. But after a second-consecutive defeat -- which came on the same day in which the Giants lost the back page to the one-win Jets -- Big Blue's run to the postseason likely concluded. There's still a chance in the puzzlement that is the NFC East, but New York (5-9), which is now in third place in the division, has posted a combined 13 points over the last two weeks. Without standout CB James Bradberry, the defense still put up a fight, but without QB Daniel Jones -- whose healthy return remains to be seen -- the offense was as stagnant as it's been. With games against the Ravens and Cowboys remaining, there's still a shot for the Giants, but after Sunday night, all signs point to Big Blue's flirtation with the playoffs having been turned away.

-- Grant Gordon

1) Will the real Tampa Bay Buccaneers please stand up? It was a tale of two drastically different halves from Bruce Arians' team Sunday. Tom Brady and the offense were lost at sea, unable to generate any traction in the first two quarters. The Bucs earned 60 total yards on five first-half drives. The defense, meanwhile, couldn't get off the field, allowing Matt Ryan to pick them apart for 17 first-half points. Then, staring at a 17-0 halftime deficit, Tampa jolted awake, and became an unstoppable force on both sides of the ball. The Bucs scored on their first five possessions of the second half to wipe away the deficit in a blink. In the third quarter alone, Brady passed for 188 yards on three TD drives. Brady's connection with Mike Evans heating up played a huge role in the quick turnaround. TB12 needs to force-feed Evans more often. The Tampa D also came to life. After an ATL TD drive to open the third quarter, the Bucs defense allowed just 33 total yards and a FG on five drives. After not getting pressure on Ryan at all, Devin White became a menace, generating three second-half sacks and discombobulating the Falcons' offense. Perhaps the biggest defensive play was a PBU by Antoine Winfield Jr. on a would-be Calvin Ridley TD. Against better clubs, the Bucs can't afford to sleepwalk for two quarters and expect to come back. This week, against this opponent, it was enough for the W.

2) It takes two to tango. The Falcons (4-10) once again went in the tank after a good start. Ryan got the ball out quick in the first half, bouncing back from a bad Week 14. Ryan earned 235 passing yards and two TD tosses in the first half. Ridley (10/163/1) was a force, consistently getting open with ease against the Bucs secondary. Then it all fell apart on both sides of the ball. The offense couldn't get first downs, and the protection collapsed. Raheem Morris' defense allowed easy releases and got tortured by talented Tampa receivers. Tyler Hall getting burned deep by Antonio Brown for the game-winning TD was the spoiled cherry on top of the over-churned sundae that was the Falcons' second-half. In a season of collapses, for a franchise known for epic implosions, Sunday's loss felt par for the course.

3) It took an unreal half of football from both sides for Tampa to overcome a deficit against a four-win team. Arian's squad can't afford to continue the slow starts against better teams once the postseason begins. The Bucs (9-5) didn't clinch a playoff spot, but getting to nine wins with two to play puts them in the driver's seat for a Wild Card bid. With games against Detroit and this Atlanta team to close the season, the Bucs should cruise into January. With its consistent slow starts followed by the potential to flip the switch, Tampa remains an enigma entering the postseason. Nothing from a deep run to a quick exit would be much of a surprise at this point.

-- Kevin Patra

1) The teacher (Bill Belichick) met the apprentice (Brian Flores) on Sunday, so it was no surprise that two defensive-minded men had this game at a thrilling score of 9-7 late in the third quarter. But there's beauty in defense, and the Dolphins (9-5) are admiring themselves in the mirror after holding the Patriots (6-8) under 200 yards through the air and putting the clamps on on third down, allowing New England to convert just two of nine attempts. This game was a grind, one to which the Dolphins committed by embarking on methodical, time-consuming drives -- three possessions went 5:45 or longer -- that helped Miami win the time of possession battle by nearly 15 minutes of game clock. All of this fit into Miami's plan, which it made clear early: As it works with a rookie under center, the Dolphins are going to run the ball relentlessly, and it's up to the defense to stop it. Salvon Ahmed ripped up 122 yards and scored once on 23 carries, while Matt Breida took 12 totes for 86 yards, sprinting through New England's defense to the delight of the limited attendees at Hard Rock Stadium. A new era is upon us, and these Dolphins are no longer going to be pushed around.

2) The continued development of Tua Tagovailoa is as intriguing as it is entertaining, largely because it's happening in real time. Tagovailoa threw an interception from New England's 3-yard line early in the first quarter, and then found himself in a similar situation early in the fourth while facing a two-point deficit. Instead of letting another one rip into a crowded area of the field, Tagovailoa pulled the ball down, escaped a blitzing J.C. Jackson and ran it in himself for a score, his first of two on the ground. That type of instant education and application is very encouraging for those on the Tua Train, and while he's insulated by an effective running game and stingy defense, Tagovailoa has room to learn -- and he's passing the tests.

3) The Patriots are officially going to be sitting at home in the postseason for the first time since 2008, ending Belichick's record-setting run of 11 straight playoff appearances and capping a strange season in the most unusual of years that will either prove to be an anomaly or a sign of things to come in New England. The finality of Sunday's result accompanied the end of the Patriots' run of 17 consecutive seasons with double-digit wins, and for the first time, much of the NFL no longer fears Flying Elvis. In fact, Miami certainly doesn't, getting revenge for its Week 1 loss and putting the Patriots to bed for 2020.

-- Nick Shook

1) The battle of exciting former Oklahoma quarterbacks, Philadelphia's Jalen Hurts and Arizona's Kyler Murray, did not disappoint. They combined for 744 passing yards and six TD passes -- three each -- in a thriller that finished with Hurts hurling potential game-winners into the Cardinals end zone in the final seconds. Murray's 406 passing yards were a career-high, and at one point he tied a career-best with 13 straight completions to key the Cardinals (8-6) win. Meanwhile Hurts, after rushing for 100-plus in his first NFL start last week, showed off his arm in start No. 2 for the Eagles (4-9-1).

2) As explosive as Arizona's offense was, no play Murray made was more impactful on the outcome than one from Cardinals LB Ezekiel Turner on special teams. Turner blocked a first-quarter punt that set up an easy six-yard TD drive for a 16-0 Cardinals lead -- their biggest margin of the day. He wasn't done, later catching a 34-yard pass from punter Andy Lee on a fake punt in the fourth quarter, but the Cardinals didn't capitalize for points.

3) The Eagles' much-maligned pass protection held up OK in the first half, but came unglued in the second. Philadelphia entered having allowed an NFL-worst 53 sacks, and ran that total up to 59 Sunday. And that doesn't include the pressure on Hurts that led to an intentional grounding call from the Eagles' end zone for an early safety to open the scoring. At times, Hurts held the ball too long, but he also escaped from his share of pressure as well.

-- Chase Goodbread

1) Ryan Tannehill came out on fire, dicing up a Lions defense that had no answers to the pummeling Titans offense. Tannehill dropped dimes from the moment the coinflip hit the ground. The Tennessee QB connected on his first six passes, and, yet, his first incompletion might have been his best pass -- an absolute dart dropped right between two defenders deep down the seam. Tannehill controlled the game, completing 77.8% of 27 attempts for 273 yards, three TD passes, including a 75-yard picture-perfect bomb to Corey Davis. The Titans (10-4) scored on three straight possessions to open the game and never relented. Derrick Henry plowed through hapless Lions defenders for 147 rushing yards, looking like a man among boys. The Tennessee offense handled its business and looked like it should against one of the worst defenses in the NFL.

2) Matthew Stafford played through a painful rib injury and picked apart the Titans D with a bevy of short throws early. With Mike Vrabel's defense not generating any pressure, Stafford was able to stand in the pocket and find his targets with little fear of getting hit. The signal-caller looked good, considering the injury and not practicing most of the week. Stafford completed 22-of-32 passing for 252 yards and a TD. After a botched snap by replacement center Joe Dahl led to Stafford getting crunched, the veteran was yanked from the blowout. Still, it was a reminder of the injuries Stafford has played through for a floundering franchise through the years.

3) The Titans' 10th victory inched them closer to a postseason spot. With Baltimore and Miami winning, however, Tennessee did not clinch a playoff bid in a close AFC race. With games against Green Bay and Houston left on tap, Vrabel's defense will need to play better than it did this week moving forward. For Detroit, the loss officially eliminates the Lions (5-9) from playoff contention -- in reality, they were out of the competition weeks ago.

-- Kevin Patra

1) Bears QB Mitchell Trubisky continued his late-season resurgence in a crucial battle of two teams trying to stave off playoff elimination. He was efficient if not spectacular in leading the Bears (7-7) on seven scoring drives, taking just one sack and coming up with eight timely rushes for 34 yards, which helped the NFL's worst third-down offense convert 6-of-12 in that category. An ill-advised Trubisky pass was intercepted in the Vikings end zone with a few minutes to go, threatening to spoil the quarterback's day, but the Chicago defense redeemed him with a turnover on downs.

2) Vikings TE Irv Smith committed a four-point drop near the end of the first half, unable to secure a short, accurate pass from Kirk Cousins in the front corner of the end zone. Minnesota (6-8) instead settled for a field goal. That proved critical as Minnesota required a touchdown on its final drive in a six-point loss. Smith caught his other three targets, but the drop will keep the second-year pro up late Sunday night.

3) Not that David Montgomery didn't have a fabulous game for the Bears -- his vision for backside cuts was on point all day -- but the Chicago offensive line opened some holes that could have accommodated a dump truck. Montgomery was into the second level of the defense without being touched for much of a third-quarter TD drive, and the Vikings defense looked gassed in trying to stop him. Chicago rode him for 146 yards and two scores.

-- Chase Goodbread

1) The Washington loss guaranteed there won't be a winning team in the NFC East this year. The division has been a league-wide punchline all season, and now all four of its teams have at least eight losses. After a 1-5 start, Washington (6-8) didn't figure to end up as the NFC East's last hope, but its stingy defensive play carried the club to what still could be a .500 mark. The club badly needs more weapons on offense, however, and Sunday's game emphatically made that point. Seattle (10-4), meanwhile, clinched a playoff spot.

2) Injuries at quarterback resurfaced to put Dwayne Haskins as Washington's starter Sunday, and a date against the NFL's worst pass defense figured to be just the tonic to plant some confidence in the benched former first-round pick. Haskins flashed with a few excellent throws in his fifth 2020 start -- his best, perhaps, was dropped by Terry McLaurin on a back-shoulder throw to the left sideline -- but in the end, the 15 points on the scoreboard didn't inspire much hope. Haskins threw a pair of interceptions and took sacks on back-to-back snaps that killed Washington's last possession.

3) The Washington defense, which had been on fire over the last month, was cooled a bit by the Seattle running game. The Seahawks notched their two longest runs of the season -- a 38-yarder by Russell Wilson that keyed one touchdown drive, and Carlos Hyde's 50-yard TD run in the third quarter -- on the way to a 26-for-181 rushing day. The vaunted Washington defensive line, which had logged 12 sacks over the previous four weeks, had none against Seattle.

-- Chase Goodbread

1) Ezekiel Elliott's surprising inactive designation added an interesting, yet on-brand wrinkle to this matchup of the NFL's two most injury-riddled teams. His absence opened the door for Tony Pollard, a versatile second-year back brimming with potential, to make the second start of his career. Pollard, who's primarily served as a special teamer, had been solid in limited offensive opportunities entering Week 15. Against the 49ers (5-9), Pollard's trial by fire yielded 12 carries for 69 yards and two TDs, and six receptions on a team-high nine targets for 63 yards. Forty of those rush yards came late in the fourth on an insane run that saw Pollard juke Richard Sherman and break out a nasty spin to evade three defenders on his way to putting Dallas (5-9) up, 34-24. His early effectiveness on the ground also freed up Michael Gallup for a first-quarter TD when Andy Dalton froze the D with a fake pitch on play-action.

2) Two early forced fumbles firmly placed the 49ers behind the 8-ball. But, once San Francisco got going in earnest on its third drive, it didn't take long for things to turn around. Nick Mullens and the Niners turned in consecutive 13-play, 75-yard TD drives to pull within three, 17-14, going into halftime. After gliding his way to 67 yards (13 carries) in the first half, Raheem Mostert rushed once for one yard before injuries again caught up to him. The drive Mostert re-injured his ankle on ended with a FG, but he would be lost for the remainder, placing more pressure on the receivers to make plays. After leading a solid TD drive to tie it 24-all going into the fourth, Mullens finished 7-of-14 for 58 yards and tossed two untimely INTs. One led to a Cowboys FG for the lead while the other set the stage for Pollard's sensational score.

3) Aside from Pollard's impressive day, the Cowboys' ability to force turnovers deserves a massive amount of praise. In addition to the aforementioned picks, Dallas also tacked on two forced fumbles (one on a kickoff return) which led to 24 points. Both fumbles occurred within the first six minutes and set up quick TDs. The defense followed up on its smothering Week 14 effort with one against Mullens, breaking up eight passes and racking up six QB hits and two sacks. Mullens finished 21-of-36 for 219 yards and two TDs. In what has been an absolutely wacky year, Dallas' win positions it for an improbable shot at the NFC East crown after division leader Washington fell to Seattle.

-- Jelani Scott

1) Needing to win their final three games for a chance to make the playoffs, the Ravens (9-5) didn't mess around against the overmatched Jaguars (1-13). Lamar Jackson's day started with an underthrown interception on the opening drive, but the Ravens quarterback put together an efficient display, throwing for 243 yards (17-of-22) and accounting for four touchdowns on the day (three passing, one rushing). One of those TDs went to Dez Bryant, who got his first score in over three years. The threat of Jackson's legs (35 yards rushing) and rookie running back J.K. Dobbins (64 yards on 11 carries; one TD) in the backfield had the Ravens offense humming all afternoon. The blowout win allowed undrafted rookie QB Tyler Huntley to finish the game and give Jackson a cheap thrill with a couple of exciting runs. The Ravens take on the New York Giants in Week 16.

2) Yannick Ngakoue got some sweet revenge going up against his former team and his energy resonated with an undermanned Ravens defense. Ngakoue led the Ravens with two sacks, one of which forced a turnover fumble in the second quarter. The Ravens scored a safety on a Matt Judon sack for the game's first score, and the squad had five sacks altogether in what was a flat-out dominant performance in the first half (zero points allowed). With Calais Campbell and Marcus Peters inactive, rookie linebacker Patrick Queen picked up any would-be slack, flying around the field for one sack (two QB hits) and six tackles, three of which were for a loss.

3) James Robinson continues to be a silver lining amid another lost season for the Jaguars. The rookie RB had 53 scrimmage yards (35 rushing, 18 receiving) and scored the team's only meaningful TD to start the third quarter. Robinson joins elite company with his 1,400-plus scrimmage yards and 10-plus scrimmage TDs on the season. Per NFL Research, the last five rookies to accomplish that feat are Robinson (2020), Saquon Barkley (2018), Alvin Kamara (2017), Kareem Hunt (2017) and Ezekiel Elliott (2016). Unfortunately, Robinson left the game in the fourth quarter with an ankle injury. Jaguars QB Gardner Minshew returned to the starting lineup for the first time since Week 7 and went 22-of-29 for 226 yards passing (two TDs, zero INTs). Yet, his day wasn't exactly mistake-free (one lost fumble) and there weren't many chances taken outside of a garbage-time TD to end the game.

-- Michael Baca

1) Frank Reich spoke glowingly of Philip Rivers' chances of playing in Indianapolis beyond 2020 this week, and one completion in the fourth backed up the coach's strong endorsement. With the game tied at 20, Rivers dropped back and fired a strike to T.Y. Hilton down the middle of the field, picking up 41 yards and setting the stage for Indianapolis' go-ahead score on a touchdown pass to Zach Pascal. Rivers was sharp again, finishing with a passing line of 22-of-28 for 228 yards, two touchdowns and a passer rating over 124. The Colts' tandem backfield combined for 126 yards on the ground, and the offense as a whole finished with a third-down conversion rate over 50%. You can't ask for a much more complete performance against a team that knows you intimately as a division rival.

2) As is often the case in this sport, the difference between winning and losing for the Texans (4-10) on Sunday came down to the details, and Houston's lack of attention to them. Deshaun Watson had Houston moving down the field with relative ease, appearing set to reach the red zone with around a minute left and two timeouts in the Texans' pocket when the wheels came loose. Tytus Howard's replacement at right tackle committed a false start, Watson was sacked, and David Johnson failed to get out of bounds after catching a dump-off from Watson and running up the sideline. The final mistake was the most significant, when Keke Coutee caught a pass over the middle on fourth down, picked up the first and then fumbled while frantically trying to reach the goal line. Indianapolis recovered, sealing the victory and making it two painfully close losses to the Colts for the Texans, with both coming via fumble in the red zone in the contest's final moments. Sometimes, when a season is lost to a string of defeats, the ball just doesn't bounce your way. Houston has become unenviably familiar with this reality, and when compounded with little mistakes in key moments, it's easier to see why this team is 4-10.

3) The Colts (10-4) again surrendered over 400 total yards, making it two straight games in which they've done so defensively (and nearly three -- Houston finished with 398 in Week 13). That number might alarm some folks, but Indianapolis is 10-4 because unlike the Texans, it manages to do the little things well and in the most important moments. The Colts own a plus-seven turnover difference in their last three games, and much like their first meeting with the Texans, Indianapolis again forced two turnovers in a close win, with the latter of the two takeaways coming on the most important play of the game. The Colts aren't quite shutting teams down in the last month, but they're winning in the margins, which can serve as the difference come January.

-- Nick Shook

Related Content

Gamepass_vert_web_r

See all the Action

Replay every game all season.