Here's what we learned from Sunday's Week 14 slate of games:
- In a clash between arguably the league's top offense and defense on Sunday evening, defense prevailed. The Bears, fresh off surrendering 30 points to the Giants, held the world-beating Rams to just six in prime time, complementing a stiff run defense with impeccable pass coverage for the full 60 minutes. Chicago held the Rams to a Sean McVay-era low 214 total yards and forced a career-high four interceptions from Jared Goff. The Bears weren't dominant by any means on the other side of the ball -- Mitchell Trubisky threw three picks and was no better than his counterpart -- but Chicago took advantage of its opportunities. The turning point came in the third quarter when Vic Fangio's front seven seized the lead from a 6-6 stalemate with a safety, and Trubisky responded with a nine-play touchdown drive, the lone one of the evening from either side. On the scoring play, the Bears brought in four eligible defensive linemen and threw it to the lone eligible offensive lineman, Bradley Sowell, for the TD. Inventive stuff, trademark Matt Nagy and what we've come to expect from this Bears bunch. Chicago played confident and loose in their building, bullying the frigid Rams into submission. In doing so, the 9-4 Bears passed yet another test on the path to league-wide legitimacy. Chicago ensured that its lead in the NFC North would not dwindle regardless of Monday night's result and even inched ever closer to an improbable first-round bye.
- This Rams defeat was their ugliest since the end of the Jeff Fisher era, particularly on offense. Credit is of course due to Khalil Mack, Prince Amukamara, Akiem Hicks and the like for shuttering the Rams' high-flying offense, but Los Angeles couldn't get anything off the ground, or on the ground for that matter. The league's leading rusher, Todd Gurley, was held to 28 yards on 11 carries; he had just six totes through three quarters. The play-action consequently never get going, the pressure on Goff never let up and the offense never started churning. After their first scoring drive -- a three-and-out FG "march" off a turnover -- the Rams had just one play in the red zone: a false start. It is alarming how, following that slugfest against the Chiefs and the bye, Los Angeles has struggled to put together a complete game on offense. Worse for the Rams is that Sunday's loss drops them to 11-2 and into a tie with the Saints atop the conference. Due to their earlier loss in New Orleans, however, L.A. is now behind the Saints in the race for home-field advantage.
- On the flip side, Chicago kept the Rams at bay with a stellar ground attack. L.A. had no answers for the speedy Tarik Cohen and surrendered Jordan Howard's first 100-yard rushing game of the season. Chicago rushed for a season-high 194 yards on a soft Rams front seven, and that prowess in the run game lent to Chicago's significant time of possession advantage (36:49 to 23:11). Aaron Donald was, aside from a run stuff or two, nonexistent. The ground-and-pound attack was welcome because Trubisky had an off night in his return from a right shoulder injury. His three interceptions were mostly self-inflicted overthrows or poor decisions. We often draw comparisons between Trubisky and Goff, top-two quarterbacks in the last three drafts. Neither QB had much success on Sunday night. But while the Rams' signal-caller was failed by other facets of his offense, Trubisky's teammates and play-callers picked him up.
-- Jeremy Bergman
The Dallas Cowboys receiver corralled a tipped ball in overtime and took it to the house, his third touchdown of the day, for a victory over the division-rival Eagles. The win gives the Cowboys (8-5) a stranglehold on the NFC East with three weeks to play.
A 6-0 halftime struggle-fest in Dallas turned into fireworks late, as the Cowboys and Eagles combined to score 31 fourth-quarter points to head to overtime tied at 23. After winning the coin toss, the Cowboys pounded a tired Eagles defense, milking most of the 10-minute period. Credit Jason Garrett for going for it on 4th-and-1 in field-goal range to keep the ball away from Philly. The conversion led to Cooper's heroics three plays later. Garrett's decision, which kept the ball away from an Eagles team that had scored on four of its five previous possessions, proved vital.
- The Cooper trade continues to pay dividends for the Cowboys. The Pro Bowl receiver took advantage of a beleaguered Eagles secondary, scorching Philly for 217 yards and three touchdowns on 10 receptions. Cooper generated two big scores of 28 and 75 yards to put the Cowboys ahead in the fourth quarter. His final catch sealed the win, and likely the division. Cooper's arrival has completely transformed the Cowboys. The big-play receiver aided Dak Prescott on a day the quarterback struggled for stretches. Prescott threw two interceptions and lost a fumble. The mistakes kept the Eagles in a game the Cowboys were dominating everywhere but the scoreboard early. Prescott's best attribute is a resilient ability to bounce-back from the flubs. On a day he didn't play his best, the Dallas quarterback tossed a career-high 455 yards and completed 42 passes. Cowboys mistakes -- including continued red-zone woes, and three holding penalties on Tyron Smith -- kept the contest close, but with Cooper's big plays, the Cowboys streaked to their fifth-straight win.
- The Super Bowl champion Eagles are all but cooked. Sunday's loss drops Philly to 6-7, and, after falling twice to Dallas, the division figures out of reach. While Doug Pederson's team remains in the hunt for a wild-card berth, with games against the Rams and Texans on tap, the outlook is exceedingly bleak. Nothing Philly did for three quarters suggested it's a team that can go on a late-season run against playoff teams. Carson Wentz was scattershot most of the day, tossing for just 48 first-half yards -- he finished with 228 yards and 3 TDs. Nothing is easy for the Eagles' offense. Facing a superior Cowboys defense played a factor, but Wentz and the rest of the unit are a disjointed mishmash of inconsistent play. Eagles fans could point to refs messing up what looked like a sure fumble recovery on the opening kickoff or a bad OPI call on Dallas Goedert late, but between those two calls, Philly didn't help themselves. The offense generated just 256 yards, 16 first downs and had four 3-and-outs on the day. The furious finish to force overtime displayed promise, but much like most of the Eagles season, the comeback fell short.
-- Kevin Patra
- The Raiders entered Sunday with just two wins, but it was hard to tell the way they played against the Steelers. Sure, they faced backup quarterback Josh Dobbs for much of the second half with Ben Roethlisberger nursing a rib injury that he suffered in the first half, but Oakland's effort was golden. Roethlisberger re-entered the game in the fourth quarter after the Raiders went up 17-14, and he quickly led the team to retake the lead with a 1-yard touchdown pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster with 2:55 left. Raiders quarterback Derek Carr responded by marching the offense down the field on a 6-play, 70-yard drive, which Carr capped off with a 6-yard touchdown pass to tight end Derek Carrier with 25 seconds remaining. The Raiders then got some outside help after allowing Steelers wide receiver Smith-Schuster to take a lateral from James Washington and go 43 yards, setting up a potential game-tying field goal. Steelers kicker Chris Boswell's left foot slipped as he planted, and he kicked the ball low enough that the Raiders blocked the attempt to seal the win and improve to 3-10 on the season.
- Carr receives a lot of negative attention when he makes mistakes, and he should as the team's franchise quarterback. But he more than deserves kudos when he plays like he did late in the final period. Carr calmly executed throughout the fourth quarter and brought the Raiders back from a 14-10 deficit with two touchdown passes, including the game-winning score. Carr finished 25 of 34 (73.5 percent) for 322 yards and two touchdowns for a 122.4 passer rating. The Raiders' signal-caller outdueled Roethlisberger and Dobbs, both of whom combined for 306 yards and two touchdowns with an interception.
- Roethlisberger didn't show any ill effects of his rib injury when he returned, but his health will be under the microscope in the coming week. Injury aside, the Steelers (7-5-1) will regret this loss when realizing the blown opportunity on two fronts. The New England Patriots (9-4) and Houston Texans (9-4) lost in the early games, giving the Steelers the chance to close ground in the race for higher playoff seeding. A win also would've given the Steelers the chance to pick up a game on the Baltimore Ravens (7-6) in the AFC North because the Ravens also lost. Instead, the Steelers went 0-4 this season against the AFC West and now have to prepare for two tough matchups in the final three games against the Patriots in Week 15 and New Orleans Saints (11-2) in Week 16 before closing out the regular season against the Cincinnati Bengals (5-8).
-- Herbie Teope
- The New England Patriots (9-4) were seven seconds away from winning their 10th straight AFC East title until the Miami Miracle produced the most 'Fintastic finish in NFL history. With the Patriots taking a five-point lead in the final seconds on a Stephen Gostkowski field goal, the Dolphins started with the ball on their own 31 on the ensuing possession. Ryan Tannehill then threw a dart to Kenny Stills who ran it 14 yards before lateraling the ball to DeVante Parker. Parker then passed the ball to Kenyan Drake, who weaved his way through the thinning and backward-stumbling Patriots defense on the final 52 yards of a seemingly impossible trek to the end zone. It left everyone at Hard Rock stunned and the Dolphins (7-6) in the thick of the playoff hunt. Outside of the final play, the Dolphins put in a gutsy yet flawed performance. Ryan Tannehill performed decently despite being pressure often on the way to being sacked four times. He connected on 14 of 19 passes for 265 yards and three touchdowns and survived an injury scare just before halftime. Like most of the Dolphins wins, the first 59:44 of Sunday's game wasn't anything special, but Miami's resiliency managed to break through in the most unlikely of ways.
- Tom Brady and the Patriots fell for the second straight year in Miami, but the 41-year-old quarterback proved that humidity doesn't hurt pliability. Brady connected on 27 of 43 passes for 358 yards and three touchdowns and came up big later in the game when New England was doing all it could to get and stay ahead of the Dolphins. A big part of the Patriots offense revolved on Brady's renewed connection with Rob Gronkowski. The prolific tight end caught eight passes for 107 yards. Julian Edelman and Josh Gordon also caused problems for Miami's defense, which was playing without interception magnet Xavien Howard. Had it not been for a missed field goal by Gostkowski in the first half, the Patriots would have secured their 16th straight season of double-digit wins.
- Brady might not have had his greatest December outing, but he did achieve another remarkable career milestone. With his 2-yard touchdown pass to Julian Edelman in the second quarter, Brady broke a tie for the most touchdown tosses, including playoffs, in NFL history. The pass helped the Patriots jump out to a 13-7 lead. Brady now stands at 581 career touchdown passes. Brady wasn't the only greybeard to etch his name in NFL history during this game. In the third quarter, Dolphins running back Frank Gore surpassed Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson (18,456) for fifth in all-time in yards from scrimmage. After Gore's 92-yard rushing game, he stands at 18,530 scrimmage yards for his career.
-- Austin Knoblauch
- You can only keep a Ferrari stuck in traffic for so long. After cruising through the first two quarters, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes was stymied for the first three possessions of the second half, getting battered by Baltimore defenders left and right, throwing for just 27 yards after the halftime break. Then Mahomes hit the gas pedal. The play of the game came on a fourth-and-9 with the Chiefs trailing by seven points with 1:29 remaining. Mahomes scrambled away from the rush and tossed across his body to find Tyreek Hill downfield for a 48-yard bomb. The quarterback tossed a touchdown to tie the game and used his arm to set up the game-winning field goal in overtime. Mahomes earned every bit of his 377 yards passing on the day. The QB was clobbered repeatedly by creative Baltimore blitzes, getting hit 15 times (five by Matt Judon) and sacked thrice. Credit the Ravens defense for corralling the Chiefs for long spells of the second half. But when magic was needed, magic is what K.C. got from Mahomes, who several-times weaved around rushers to find streaking receivers. The second-year signal-caller completes throws others can only dream of attempting. Against the league's top-ranked defense, Mahomes proved he could win a playoff-type game.
- Lamar Jackson continues to make strides as the Ravens starting quarterback. Once again Baltimore's run game dominated for stretches, including an eight-play, 75-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter, all earned on the ground. For the first time since Jackson took over, the Ravens were held under 200 yards rushing, coming up just shy, at 198. The rookie was up-and-down passing, but found strides in the second-half. The run-game keeps Jackson in manageable down and distances. Of his 13 completions, 12 went for first downs or scores. Jackson, who threw two TD passes, has done enough to earn another start when Joe Flacco returns from injury. The Ravens' offense is much more difficult to defend when the rookie starts. However, there will be questions about Jackson's ability to run end-of-game drives. Jackson was strip-sacked by Justin Houston with under 35 seconds left in the fourth quarter and the game tied. Only a Harrison Butker missed field goal gave the Ravens a chance in overtime. Would John Harbaugh have inserted Flacco at the of the game had he been active?
Jackson was also injured on Baltimore's final drive. Robert Griffin III entered to throw the final two heaves of the game that went incomplete. Jackson told reporters after the game that a player landed on his ankle, but he's fine.
- The victory clinches a playoff spot for the Chiefs, who will face the Los Angeles Chargers for AFC West supremacy on Thursday night. With New England's loss Sunday, the 11-2 Chiefs also sit in the catbird seat for the AFC's No. 1 seed. Earning home-field advantage would be huge for K.C. Playing at Arrowhead is a daunting prospect for any opponent. The loss pushes the Ravens into a tie for the AFC's final wild-card spot. At 7-6, Harbaugh's team sits tied with the Dolphins, Colts, and Titans with three weeks to go. The Ravens close out facing the Bucs, Chargers, and Browns, likely needing at least two wins to reach the postseason.
-- Kevin Patra
- Baker Mayfield authored another eye-popping afternoon, hitting his first seven passes for 161 yards and a touchdown with deep strikes of 66 and 51 yards. Once again, a string of stirring traits were on display by the Browns' rookie field general:
- Fiery arm strength and pinpoint passes spun perfectly into the hands of blanketed wideouts
- Next-level field awareness as the young signal-caller quickly dumped the ball off to third and fourth reads with free rushers closing in
- Master fakery on a Statue of Liberty handoff to Nick Chubb
- Saucy magic-spinning and fearless derring-do whipping the ball downfield
- Turning Breshad Perriman into a thing
The Browns hurt themselves with a missed extra point and a pair of lost fumbles by Jarvis Landry and Rashard Higgins, but it was Landry who sparked the club with a beautiful 51-yard trick gallop to set up a fourth-quarter Nick Chubb score. This offense is a delight for the first time in forever.
- Cam Newton started well with shots of 25 yards to Curtis Samuel and 20 yards to Christian McCaffrey, but concerns remain. Still battling a shoulder injury, Cam threw an awkward wobbler that fell short of Samuel and was again relieved by backup Taylor Heinicke on a first-half Hail Mary attempt. Too many of his passes sailed high, including a fourth-and-goal misfire aimed at Jarius Wright in the end zone with 2:35 left and the Panthers down by six. Minutes later, Cam returned to throw a game-ending pick. It's clear he's banged up. McCaffrey dialed up a pair of short scoring runs, the second coming after Carolina recovered that Higgins fumble deep in Browns territory. Rookie tight end Ian Thomas played the best game of his young career, while rookie wideout D.J. Moore showed off his hand strength with a few tough grabs and his elusiveness on a 40-yard catch and run.
- The Panthers (6-7) remain mathematically alive for a wild-card spot in the NFC, but they're tough to take seriously riding a five-game losing streak with two games left against the NFC South champion Saints. Cleveland (5-7-1) would need a handful of contenders to be taken away by an angry alien mothership to make the postseason, but there's something new in the eggnog for Browns fans this time around: hope.
-- Marc Sessler
- The New Orleans Saints were sleep walking through the first half, totaling just 104 yards, en route to a 14-3 deficit. The first possession of the second half produced an uninspiring three-and-out, and then Taysom Hill happened. Hill, the team's Mr. Everything (as the backup quarterback to Drew Brees), burst through the Buccaneers' coverage unit to block a punt at the 7:23 mark of the third period. The play woke up the Saints and the team went on to score three straight touchdowns to seize control of the game. Hill's game-changing play will tend to fly under the radar for fans craving video game-like offensive football, but the blocked punt proved the launching pad for the Saints' offense.
- The Saints' win clinched the NFC South, marking the first time in franchise history the team secured a division title in consecutive years. The win also improved the Saints' record to 11-2, tied for the top seed in the playoffs. The Saints' path to close out the season won't be easy in the chase for the No. 1 spot, though. New Orleans has two divisional games remaining against the Panthers and a Week 16 matchup against the Steelers. That said, two of the final three games will be at the friendly confines of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, where the Saints are 5-1 on the season.
- Give the Buccaneers (5-8) credit for a spirited effort through the first two quarters. The Bucs defense held the powerful Saints offense in check, limiting Brees and Co. to just a field goal. The Bucs, however, couldn't carry the momentum into the second half, as Brees threw a touchdown and scored on a 1-yard plunge to help the comeback. Despite the loss, the Buccaneers have played inspired football the past three games, going 2-1 in that span, behind quarterback Jameis Winston, who threw two touchdowns Sunday, and a capable defense, which recorded an interception for a third straight game. Over that span, the Bucs have seven interceptions after totaling just one through the first 10 games. With Winston and an improving defense, the Buccaneers are in position to play spoiler in two of their final three games, as they face playoff hopefuls in the Ravens and Cowboys.
-- Herbie Teope
- Four days out from an all-important divisional clash in Kansas City, the Chargers narrowly avoided a trap-game loss to a moribund, injury-riddled Bengals side. After scoring touchdowns on their first two drives, L.A. was shut out of the end zone for the final 44 minutes of the game, settling instead for four Michael Badgley field goals. Behind Joe Mixon, the Bengals pulled within two points late in the fourth quarter. But an indecisive Driskel was sacked by Darius Philon on Cincy's two-point conversion attempt and L.A.'s 10th victory was sealed. This is the first time since 2009 that the Bolts have won at least 10 games. On the heels of the Chargers' momentous win in Pittsburgh, though, Sunday's win was a wake-up call for the slumbering Bolts, who now boast the AFC's second-best record behind the rival Chiefs. The two AFC West foes will meet on Thursday with division supremacy and playoff positioning on the line. Which Chargers team will show up: the comeback kids from Week 13 or the complacent bunch from Sunday afternoon?
- In place of the injured Melvin Gordon for the second straight week, Austin Ekeler had a stellar bounce-back game, recording 94 total yards and a rushing score on 17 touches. Justin Jackson, the hero of last week, was far less of a factor, but that could change on Thursday night. Ekeler suffered an apparent shoulder injury on Cincinnati's onside attempt with under two minutes to go and looked to be in a lot of pain. It's too early to tell if the injury will hinder him from playing down the stretch, but on a short week, the last thing the Chargers need is another injury to their RB room, though Gordon reportedly has a chance to play on Thursday night.
- There's little to like about this 5-8 Bengals team. They are in the middle of a five-game losing streak, playing without their franchise quarterback and wide receiver and rumored to finally let Marvin Lewis walk this offseason. The one saving grace might be Mixon, who, running behind an improved offensive line, recorded the third 100-yard rushing game of his young career and bowled over a few defenders in the process. Otherwise, there's nothing to learn about this club and far less to admire.
-- Jeremy Bergman
- Andrew Luck drew Jadeveon Clowney into the neutral zone with a hard count to ice the game, falling one yard shy of 400 in the Comeback Player of the Year Bowl. The Colts' offensive doldrums of the past two weeks lingered through the first quarter before Luck exploded for 223 yards in a second-quarter flurry, courtesy of a well-timed switch to an uptempo attack. Unable to run the ball against Clowney and J.J. Watt, Luck unfurled a litany of pinpoint passes to T.Y. Hilton, whose speed and quickness bedeviled Houston's secondary. A game-time decision due to a painful shoulder injury, Hilton corralled nine passes for 199 yards, bringing his averages to 8.25 receptions and 139 yards over the past four games. Minus tight end Jack Doyle and star center Ryan Kelly, Luck and coach Frank Reich were forced to abandon the run, choosing instead to pass as a clock-killing measure with a fourth-quarter lead. The Colts desperately need Kelly back for next week's tilt with Dallas' stingy defense.
- NFL Executive of the Year candidate Chris Ballard's fingerprints were all over this crucial AFC South victory for Indianapolis. Defensive Rookie of the Year contender Darius Leonard extended his NFL lead in tackles, racking up 12 to go with his seventh sack and a red-zone pass deflection in coverage of All Pro wideout DeAndre Hopkins. The Colts' stacked rookie class shouldn't overshadow Ballard's fine work in free agency, which included Lions castoff Eric Ebron and Raiders reject Denico Autry. Ebron broke Dallas Clark's single-season franchise record for tight ends with his 12th receiving touchdown. Autry took down Deshaun Watson twice, leaving him with five sacks over the past two games in which the Colts' underrated defense has excelled. Ballard's cast of characters is now tied for the AFC's No. 6 seed following wins by the Dolphins and Titans and a backbreaking loss by the Ravens.
- The Texans (9-4) dominated the first quarter, only to find themselves unable to run the ball on offense or stop Luck on defense over the final three quarters. After averaging 172 yards on the ground over the past six weeks, Houston managed just 89 yards on 25 carries. The white-hot backfield tandem of Lamar Miller and Alfred Blue were stonewalled by the Colts' defensive front, averaging just 2.7 yards on 20 combined rushes. Although Houston's nine-game winning streak came to end, Bill O'Brien's squad still enjoys a two-game lead over Indianapolis (7-6) with games remaining at the Jets, at the Eagles and home versus the Jaguars.
-- Chris Wesseling
- George Kittle is an animal. The 49ers tight end dominated the first half, catching seven passes for 210 yards and a touchdown and ripping the guts out of Denver's defense by taking short passes for long gains. He entered halftime just five yards from overtaking Shannon Sharpe's single-game receiving yards record for a tight end -- and then he didn't catch another pass for the rest of the game.
This is not an indictment of Kittle, but commentary on how his stat line is misleading. Realizing Kittle was its main problem, Denver adjusted to take him away. It undercut San Francisco's offense, which also became much less aggressive for stretches of the second half. But Kittle still contributed, with San Francisco running route combinations off Kittle to get others open. A pass to Trent Taylor that sealed the game was a great example of it, with Kittle running off a defender and leaving just one to cover Taylor, who had inside position. He -- and the continued development of Dante Pettis -- will be key parts of the Niners offense in 2019 and beyond.
- Robert Saleh's crew had an excellent day, especially up front. San Francisco repeatedly pressured Case Keenum, sacking him twice and registering 15 pressures, per Next Gen Stats. The seemingly constant harassment of Keenum left Denver in odd play-calling positions, running where they should throw and dumping it off in the flats out of a lack of confidence in the pass protection. Linebackers and defensive backs flew around the field, especially on third down. With 1:00 left in the third, Denver had converted just 1 of 9 third-down attempts. Two huge fourth-down stops in fourth quarter kept the Broncos at bay. In all, a team that has invested in its front four is seeing results.
- This loss can be used to justify a firing of Vance Joseph at the end of the season if the Broncos decide to make such a decision. Denver came out of the tunnel and played the entire first half as if it forgot it had a game. While the Broncos expected the 49ers to lie down and accept their fate as a bottom-dweller, San Fracisco did exactly the opposite, jumping out to a 20-0 lead and stunning a team that is supposed to be fighting for playoff position. It reflected poorly on Joseph, whose team looked wholly unprepared without veteran leaders Chris Harris and Emmanuel Sanders, and put Denver in a hole it couldn't climb out of.
-- Nick Shook
- The Packers needed a win like this. After the tumult the team endured following a boo-drenched loss to the Arizona Cardinals last week that led to head coach Mike McCarthy's firing, Green Bay needed to prove its better than its 5-7-1 record indicates. In a battle of now-dimming NFC powers, the Packers found plenty of positives. Aaron Rodgers spearheaded the effort, piecing together efficient drives that frustrated the injury-depleted Atlanta defense and kept the ball out of Matt Ryan's hands. Rodgers' steady performance wasn't anything as flashy as a $100 million contract, but it worked perfectly in combination with strong efforts from Davante Adams and Randall Cobb and bolstered by Aaron Jones' performance on the ground. Crowd-pleasing tackles and hits by Blake Martinez and Clay Matthews also helped get Cheesehead Nation on its feet.
- Joe Philbin's first minutes back in the head coaching ranks -- albeit as an interim -- offered a textbook example of poor game management. On the opening drive, Philbin threw out the red flag twice for a pair of inconsequential plays considering the game had hardly even started. Worse, he lost both challenges, meaning he was out of replay redos for the remainder of the contest. Luckily, Philbin's wide-eyed eagerness to reverse a pair of on-field calls within the first 1:04 of the game didn't cost the Packers much in the scheme of things. Still, becoming the fastest coach in NFL history to use both of his challenges in a game is a distinction that will probably give Philbin reason to pause slightly before challenging another call.
- Last month, Falcons owner Arthur Blank said coach Dan Quinn wasn't the reason for the team's struggles, but it's apparent the Dirty Birds will be cleaning up some parts of the coaching staff this offseason. It's remarkable how bland the Falcons (4-9) look on offense. After taking the lead on a seven-play, 75-yard drive to open the game, the Falcons went silent. Matt Ryan's season of bland then came into vivid display as Atlanta fell into a irrecoverable scoreboard spiral spurred by a missed field-goal attempt and a 46-yard pick-six by Bashaud Breeland. A big chunk of Ryan's 262 yards on 28-of-42 passing came with the game already out of reach. With the amount of offensive weapons the Falcons have, it's hard to fathom certain notable figures on the coaching staff won't be gone by January.
-- Austin Knoblauch
- Sunday presented us with a chance to see the second and third quarterbacks selected in the 2018 draft, and predictably, it provided highs and lows. Sam Darnold threw an ugly interception trying to do too much in the second half. Josh Allen threw an even more unattractive interception on first-and-25 when he very easily could've just thrown it away (it was truly inexplicable). But they both did things well, too, including Allen rushing for over 100 yards and Darnold leading a game-winning touchdown drive that saw him run inside the 1-yard line. The next play, Elijah McGuire scored the go-ahead touchdown.
That drive -- and the Jets' overall comeback effort in the fourth quarter -- was punctuated by Darnold throws reminiscent of his best days at USC. Darnold put a beautiful ball on Robby Anderson down the sideline to get the Jets down to the Buffalo 5. And earlier, it was his scrambling ability that produced a touchdown pass to Anderson to tie the game at 20-20. Darnold was missed during his three-game absence, and games like Sunday -- mistakes included and accepted -- are why New York (4-9) remains high on his future.
- In the end, it was Allen's mistake that did the Bills (4-9) in. Desperate for yards, Allen threw a pass down the sideline and missed his intended receiver, instead landing in the hands of Trumaine Johnson. The warts are evident in Allen, and he makes up for it by running for good chunks of yards. But that model isn't sustainable, and he's already suffered an injury once earlier this season. After the game, ESPN's Mike Rodak tweeted about how Allen looked beaten, with a bloody elbow and a slow gait. This isn't how you want your franchise quarterback to look.
- Speaking of injuries, this game wasn't merciful. LeSean McCoy left in the first half with a hamstring injury and returned to the sideline in a sweatsuit. Chris Ivory left late in the game, leaving the full running back responsibility to Marcus Murphy. And perhaps largest of all, very promising middle linebacker Matt Milano, who has played like the heart of a good Buffalo defense, was carted off with an injured that looked to be serious. On the other sideline, Darnold left early with a foot injury, though he returned to lead the Jets to a win and potentially save his coach's job (or delay his firing). That reinsertion raised an eyebrow, seeing as the Jets aren't playing for much other than Bowles' (and their own) employment.
-- Nick Shook
- Well, this one got ugly early, thanks to the play of Mark Sanchez. The late-season addition started Sunday and most of the Redskins' fanbase probably wishes he hadn't, as Sanchez completed just 6 of 14 passes, had a pass tipped at the line, intercepted and returned for a touchdown, and threw another pass wide of a receiver just a few yards away, producing another interception. In between, the Redskins' defense struggled to stop much of anything, thanks to the play of that rookie in red and white wearing No. 26 and the veteran wearing No. 10.
In what feels like the Twilight Zone, the Redskins have had another promising season cut down by injuries. This change feels the most drastic, with Sanchez looking unfit to play and the rest of the Redskins (6-7) following suit until he was replaced by Josh Johnson. The journeyman gives them a better chance moving forward -- there's no conceivable way he doesn't start next week, even after throwing an interception late -- but their ceiling is drastically lower at this point.
- The Giants (5-8) really deserve some credit for how they've rebounded in the last month. Sure, they are at best going to finish at 8-8, but they seemed destined for 2-14 not too long ago. Eli Manning has played well enough to earn consideration for a return in 2019, and targets not named Odell Beckham have started to find some comfort within the offense. Sterling Shepard, Russell Shepard and Bennie Fowler all scored Sunday. New York needs to address the offensive line and the future at quarterback, but coach Pat Shurmur should receive praise for keeping his team fighting when things looked extremely bleak.
- Saquon Barkley has all but wrapped up the Offensive Rookie of the Year award. The running back dominated the Redskins on runs of all lengths, running over defenders for extra yards, and hitting one cut and sprinting past defenders for a long touchdown. His 78-yard touchdown run was an impressive display of speed, as Barkley erased Ha Ha Clinton-Dix's pursuit angle simply by running past him. Barkley is the main reason the Giants have won five games. They still need to figure it out at quarterback, yes, but he's been worth the No. 2 pick.
-- Nick Shook
- This game occurred. The Lions (5-8) are still in the hunt in the NFC, technically, but don't look anywhere near a playoff-caliber unit. Matthew Stafford threw for just 101 passing yards against Arizona, his lowest career total in a game he started and finished. With Golden Tate, Marvin Jones and Kerryon Johnson all elsewhere or injured, Detroit is suffering from a significant talent drain on the offensive side of the ball. Zach Zenner led the way with 54 yards rushing, and Kenny Golladay caught two balls on just four targets for five yards. Detroit secured this win on defense with stellar secondary play, especially from Darius Slay (three PDs), and good coverage at the line of scrimmage. David Johnson was targeted 10 times through the air, but rumbled for just 12 yards on eight catches. Neutralizing D.J. made life difficult for the over-throwing Josh Rosen. The defining play of the game, Slay's third-quarter pick-six, came as a result of a poorly timed throw from Rosen and one of Romeo Okwara's three QB hits.
- Despite the win, it was a costly afternoon for some of Detroit's highly paid players. Ezekiel Ansah and Rick Wagner both left the game early with injuries, as did Da'Shawn Hand. Playing on a $17M franchise tag and slated to be an unrestricted free agent in 2019, Ansah's aggravated shoulder injury could impact not only Detroit's success over their final three games, but his contract situation this offseason. A dislocation, if diagnosed, would require offseason surgery). That would obviously be a devastating setback for Ansah, who when healthy is deserving of a top pass-rusher's compensation. Wagner was checked for a concussion and never returned.
- Rosen and the Cardinals (3-10) followed up their season-defining upset over the Packers in Lambeau with a total stinker against the runt of the NFC North. Arizona mustered just three points in their building and lost despite allowing just 10 offensive points to the Lions. Arizona reached the red zone just once on Sunday and, down 10 points at the time, chose to kick a field goal from the 4-yard line. It was a safe, conservative call from a rookie coach in Steve Wilks, whose seat and that of his GM, Steve Keim, is surprisingly warm. Good news: With the loss, Arizona hopped the 3-10 Raiders and are now second behind the 3-10 49ers in pursuit of the top pick in next year's draft.
-- Jeremy Bergman