Here's what we learned from Sunday's Week 17 slate of games:
- The Colts took control of Sunday night's winner-take-all game from their very first drive, dominating time of possession and eventually grinding the unworthy Titans into submission. Against a Tennessee front seven that was visibly missing injured defensive tackle Jurrell Casey, Indianapolis' offensive line paved holes for Marlon Mack (119 yards, TD) and created a healthy pocket for Andrew Luck, who, save for an overeager pick-six, was stellar in a three-touchdown outing. The Colts' first two drives, both of which went for six, took a combined 28 plays and nearly 17 minutes. Frank Reich's crew finished with a 20-minute TOP advantage. The Colts won by 16, but the margin of victory could have been twice that if not for some foolish unforced errors. The Colts committed 12 penalties for nearly 100 yards. In addition to the Luck interception, Mack fumbled in the red zone after Tennessee gifted Indy great field-goal position with a fumble of its own. The Titans threatened late in the second half as Derrick Henry picked up steam, but the Colts defense forced turnovers on Tennessee's last three drives (one on downs) to thwart a comeback.
- In knocking Tennessee out of the playoffs, the Coltsclinched their first playoff berth since 2014 and their first as a wild-card team since 2012. That year, they lost to the Ravens in Luck's first playoff game. This time around, Indy will travel to Houston on a short week to play a third game against the division-rival Texans in Deshaun Watson's first playoff game. The Colts and Texans split their head-to-head meetings with each team losing at home. In their most recent meeting, Luck threw for nearly 400 yards and Hilton caught nearly 200 of them in a 24-21 Colts win. Another close contest is in the offing.
- Marcus Mariota was inactive for Tennessee's biggest home game in quite some time, handing the reins to Blaine Gabbert, who filled in dutifully in Week 16 but was overmatched on Sunday evening. Tennessee punted on five of its first six drives, picked up just 11 first downs and converted just one of nine third-down conversions. With Henry slow to start, Gabbert was not equipped to eliminate Indy's first-half 14-point lead, and the Titans laid down on national television.
Mike Vrabel's first season in Tennessee should be considered a minor success -- a rookie head coach finished with an above-.500 record on the doorsteps of the postseason -- but is the future bright in Nashville? The club's franchise quarterback is an injury risk entering the final year of his rookie contract and will be the major question mark around the organization this offseason. The depth at skill positions around him is limited. The two AFC South teams in the postseason meanwhile are settled under center and boast well rounded rosters on the rise. Just one year removed from a playoff victory, Tennessee still has a ways to go before contending deep into winter.
-- Jeremy Bergman
- Baltimore stuck to the formula with the division on the line, and it worked to perfection -- until it didn't. The troika of Lamar Jackson, Kenneth Dixon and Gus Edwards paced a Ravens running game that racked up a season-high 296 rushing yards on 47 attempts. Baltimore succeeded in dominating time of possession, too, by 17 minutes. The Ravens entered the second half with a 13-point lead -- it would have been 20 points if not for Jackson's late-half fumble on the goal line -- but were a boom-or-bust on offense in the second half. Their long drives ended in field goals; their short ones were too short. After Cleveland cut the lead to two, the Ravens went three-and-out, ending their 95-second drive with a fumbled option play. If not for a clutch defensive stand in its own territory, Baltimore would have been knocked out of the playoffs, given Pittsburgh's win. But after Baker Mayfield completed two impossible passes to Breshad Perriman and Jarvis Landry to get to Baltimore's 39 with over a minute to go, the Browns went four-and-out, choosing not to opt for a game-winning 56-yard field-goal attempt from Greg Joseph. Mayfield threw three straight incompletions short or behind his receivers before throwing a pick at the line to C.J. Mosley.
- The AFC North is Baltimore's for the first time since 2012, and just barely. Next up for the fourth-seeded Ravens is a familiar foe: the Chargers, who locked up the fifth seed by virtue of Kansas City's win. The Bolts boast the superior record, but are stumbling into this wild-card matchup, having played two of their most uneven games over the past two weeks, including that Week 16 loss to Baltimore. The Ravens played to type in the first go-around, leaning on the run and their swarming defense to hold Los Angeles to season lows. Expect the same game plan next week.
- Mayfield's record-setting rookie campaign ended with a bang regardless of the result on the scoreboard. The Browns quarterback did what Philip Rivers could not one week ago: Splice the Ravens secondary. Mayfield delivered five completions of at least 28 yards to five different receivers and averaged nine yards per attempt. He threw for 376 yards, the most allowed by Baltimore all season, and three touchdowns, the most surrendered since Week 2. With those three TD tosses, Mayfield broke the rookie passing touchdown record, surpassing Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson as the only rookie to throw 27 TD passes.
Watching the rookies Mayfield and Jackson duel on Sunday afternoon, each young QB leaning heavily on his skillset, one can envision a decade-plus of such standoffs. The first installment of his intra-division rivalry portends great drama and studies in contrasting style to come. Who will be coaching Mayfield's Browns in those installments remains to be seen.
-- Jeremy Bergman
- This hasn't been said often this season, but credit the Eagles' defense. Sure, Philadelphia scored 17 of its own points, but Washington didn't score any! You don't need to be a mathematician to figure out how that works. While Nick Foles led an offense that roared (relatively speaking), Josh Johnson's Washington offense couldn't even muster a whimper. Down 17-0 early in the fourth, Johnson resorted to multiple intermediate to deep heaves, which were each broken up by Eagles defensive backs. The defining play was a fourth down strip sack of Johnson by Fletcher Cox, which took a feeble Redskins effort and buried its chances. It feels odd to type, but this week, Philadelphia's defenders deserve praise.
- Offensively, Foles was excellent. He tied Philip Rivers' record for most consecutive completions with 25 before a throw behind Nelson Agholor at the goal line ended that streak. He finished with a sterling passing line of 28 of 33 for 221 yards and two touchdowns, with one interception. His passer rating of 102.1 said it all, and even when he left due to injury, Philadelphia didn't miss a beat with Nate Sudfeld under center.
Also of assistance: the Eagles' ability to gain yards on the ground. Wendell Smallwood, Josh Adams and Darren Sproles combined to rush for 131 yards and are looking like a poor man's version of the three-headed attack (Jay Ajayi, LeGarrette Blount, Corey Clement) Philadelphia boasted last season. That will go quite a long way toward helping their success in the postseason. The Eaglesclinched a playoff berth with the Vikings' loss to the Bears.
- Washington enters the offseason with uncertainty abound. There likely won't be front office or head coach changes, but Alex Smith's status should be monitored in the offseason after that gruesome leg injury and complications following surgery. A number of other injuries elsewhere (on the offensive line, for example) make next season's outlook more fluid. Will they all return healthy and back to form? Additionally, what is the status of defensive coordinator Greg Manusky? Is this team as good as it appeared before the injuries undercut their season? We'll wait until next season to learn.
-- Nick Shook
1.The Steelers had a lot of motivation entering Sunday's game with the postseason on the line and the team would have to do it without Antonio Brown, who was inactive with a knee injury. It wasn't easy. After sleep walking through the first two quarters en route to a 10-3 halftime deficit, the Steelers finally woke up in the third quarter with a big play. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger found rookie wide receiver James Washington on a 47-yard gain, and then Roethlisberger connected with JuJu Smith-Schuster for an 11-yard touchdown to tie the game at 10-10. The Steelers then flipped the halves by outscoring the Bengals 10-3 in the second half, which was capped off by rookie kicker Matt McCrane's game-winning field goal. Roethlisberger finished the game with 287 yards passing, giving him more than 5,000 yards passing on the 2018 season, the first of his career.
- The Steelers did what they had to do by securing the win, marking an eighth consecutive victory over the Bengals. But with the Ravens surviving a scare against the Cleveland Browns to clinch the AFC North, the Steelers will miss postseason play for the first time since the 2013 season.
- Despite having nothing left to play for except pride, give the Bengals plenty of credit for giving the Steelers all they could handle with a hard-fought game. Second-year running back Joe Mixon led the offense with 105 yards on 13 carries, and the Bengals defense limited the Steelers to converting 5 of 15 third-down attempts. But a win wasn't meant to be, and the Bengals now head off to the offseason with a third consecutive losing season. Whether head coach Marvin Lewis returns for in 2019 will likely be a big question in the coming days.
-- Herbie Teope
- The Rams showed up for their regular-season finale so that they could take Wild Card Weekend off. Los Angeles (13-3) earned a first-round bye and the No. 2 seed by easily disposing the 49ers for the second time this season. It sets up another playoff game at the Coliseum, where the Rams will be eager to avenge last year's lackluster showing against the Atlanta Falcons. That came one week after the Rams rested their starters in the regular-season finale. Second-year coach Sean McVay coached to win this time around.
- The Rams' defense forced a turnover on each of the 49ers' first three possessions -- in less than nine minutes -- and then added a defensive touchdown early in the second quarter. Linebacker Cory Littleton was responsible for two of Nick Mullen's three interceptions, returning one for a 19-yard touchdown to help the Rams build a 28-3 lead. Los Angeles was relentless in its pursuit of the 49ers' rookie quarterback, even though it didn't result in the single-season sack record for Aaron Donald. The reigning (and possible repeat) NFL Defensive Player of the Year took down Mullens just once despite double-digit pressures, giving him 20.5 sacks for the season.
- Draft positioning was about the only thing on the line for the 49ers entering Sunday. They own the No. 2 overall pick in 2019, their fourth consecutive year drafting in the top 10. San Francisco did manage to finish outside of last place in the NFC West for the first time since Jim Harbaugh's swan song in the Bay (2014). While Kyle Shanahan has had franchise quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo for only eight starts the past two seasons, his 10-22 mark is not the start to his tenure Niners fans envisioned when San Francisco plucked the offensive guru out of Atlanta.
One more note: George Kittle broke Travis Kelce's very short-lived record for most receiving yards by a tight end in NFL history on Sunday. Kittle's nine catches for 149 yards gave him 1,377 yards on the season, pushing him ahead of Rob Gronkowski's previous single-season record of 1,327 yards and Kelce's 1,336 yards this year.
-- Adam Maya
- Despite widespread concern and rumors of their demise, the Chiefs' defense is in fact still alive. On Sunday, it was well -- or was it? Daniel Sorensen intercepted Derek Carr and returned it for a touchdown, but upon review, it's clear Jared Cook (Carr's intended target) gave up on the play after one second of pretending to begin a route. It was really ugly, but so was most of the rest of the half for Carr and the Raiders. Carr tossed another interception on a pass over the middle which was also nearly returned for a score by Reggie Ragland. Carr reached halftime with a passing line of 15 of 23, 114 yards, two interceptions and a passer rating of 40.8. As a whole, the Raiders turned the ball over four times in the first half. Things didn't improve afterward. Not great, Bob.
- On the bright side, the Raiders got a really nice day out of Doug Martin, who has struggled to find his footing in Oakland. Martin rushed 21 times for 100 yards, finding open space and hitting the hole with speed we expected to see from him in years past. Unfortunately, it is likely his farewell performance, as he's a free agent in March. Jordy Nelson caught nine passes for 78 yards, but he isn't getting any younger, either. The rebuild continues.
- The Chiefsclinched the AFC West title and home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. We don't need to spend a ton of time on the winning team, really, because Kansas City did more of what they've done all season. The difference was their defense's contribution, which should be taken with a grain of salt, due to the aforementioned reasons. What is encouraging, though, is the large amount of takeaways secured by the Chiefs, who were more opportunistic than usual. A couple of those could swing a playoff game in their favor.
-- Nick Shook
- No miracle materialized in Minnesota this time, only bitterness. The Vikings offense laid an egg against a great Bears defense that had little to play for and lost a chance to earn a playoff spot. For the second straight week, Kirk Cousins and the offense didn't convert a first down on its first four possessions. At halftime, Minnesota generated 49 total yards on 25 plays. Cousins will take the brunt of the criticism for another dismal performance. The $84 million quarterback was rattled from the jump, throwing wayward passes that never threatened the Bears. Quarterbacks make their money on third downs and the red zone. Minnesota converted a putrid 1 of 11 on third down, and only got to the red zone once. The Vikes offense was a mishmash of unforced errors, poor plays, bad blocking and zero explosiveness. Minnesota didn't have a reception of 20-plus yards on the day and attempted just one pass beyond 15 yards until the final desperation drives against Bears backup defenders. The Vikings offense has myriad of questions to answer this offseason.
- While they celebrate in Philadelphia -- beneficiaries of the Vikings collapse -- the loss will rankle Minnesota all year. The frustration began to boil over early in Sunday's crushing loss. FOX cameras caught Cousins and Adam Thielen going back and forth near the end of the first half on the sideline after a miscommunication on a third-down incompletion. The irritation in Minnesota was palpable as an offense with two 1000-plus-yard receivers in Thielen and Stefon Diggs, a healthy Dalvin Cook, and a highly paid quarterback couldn't move the ball once again. For its part, Mike Zimmer's defense couldn't get off the field on third down most of the game and got run over by a conservative Bears offense. For a team that entered the season with Super Bowl aspirations, an 8-7-1 record is bitterly disappointing. Changes could be coming in Minnesota this offseason.
- The story of the game was the Vikings' dismal output, but give the Bears credit for handling business. Matt Nagy didn't bench his starters until substituting defenders late in the fourth quarter. The first-team offense played the duration and performed well versus a stout defense. Outside of Jordan Howard's 109-yard, two-touchdown day, the box score won't jump out for Chicago, but Mitchell Trubisky did a great job managing the game and converting on third downs. Against one of the stingiest third-down defenses in the NFL, Trubisky & Co. converted 8 of 14 on the pivotal down. The biggest drive of the game came after Minnesota cut the lead to three points late in the third quarter. Trubisky proceeded to lead a 16-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that took 9:05 off the clock by converting five third downs (one by penalty). Trubisky made several clutch throws on the drive, including three conversions with his arm on third down. Despite playing without Allen Robinson, and seeing Taylor Gabriel and Anthony Miller leave with injuries, Trubisky moved the chains repeatedly. Heading home to face the Philadelphia Eagles in the Wild Card round, Sunday's performance should have Nagy confident in his offense.
-- Kevin Patra
- Clinging to the AFC's No. 2 seed and a first-round bye, the Patriots treated the regular-season finale as if it was a playoff game against a short-handed division rival. New England jumped out to an early lead, holding decisive edges in points (21-3), first downs (15-6) and net yards (232-108) by halftime. Of Gang Green's first 31 offensive plays, 19 went for zero or negative yards. The aura of invincibility may be fading with Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski in obvious physical decline, but Bill Belichick's outfit will enter January in fine shape. Even with Houston's victory at Jacksonville, the Patriots will take next week off for rest and hold homefield advantage through at least the Divisional Round.
- With starters Marcus Maye and Morris Claiborne on injured reserve and Trumaine Johnson deactivated for disciplinary reasons, the Jets' secondary was comprised of All-Pro candidate Jamal Adams and a cast of practice-squad graduates. Brady found easy rhythm from the opening whistle, spreading the ball around to seven different receivers en route to a season-high 133.8 passer rating. Although Brady enjoyed one of his finest first-half performances of the season, Todd Bowles' defense didn't pose much of a test. The second touchdown came on a pretty pass to Rex Burkhead, who came wide open thanks to miscommunication in coverage. Trey Flowers proceeded to force an Elijah McGuire fumble, handing the ball back to the Pats deep in Jets territory. Brady failed to see Gronkowski break free on the far side of the field on first down and airmailed a pass to a wide open Chris Hogan in the middle of the end zone on the next snap. Gifted a fresh set of downs thanks to a gratuitous shove from Henry Anderson on third down, Brady found Phillip Dorsett for a touchdown and the rout was on. Along the way, the Patriots extended their NFL record by reaching 400 points for the 12th consecutive season.
- Bowles was relieved of head-coaching duties after the game, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported. Although the Jets roster is riddled with holes thanks to subpar drafting and a plague of late-season injuries, the next coach can point to Darnold as his potential franchise savior and Adams as the linchpin on defense.
-- Chris Wesseling
- This game felt over as soon as Deshaun Watson popped into the end zone on a 5-yard scoring burst to put the Texans up 10-3 against a Jaguars squad refusing to move the ball. That touchdown march began when Jacksonville's Dede Westbrook muffed a punt on Houston's 49-yard line. Facing an edgy defense, Lamar Miller looked healthy barreling in for a touchdown of his own before the half, a feat set up by a bobbled pass that magically landed in the arms of DeAndre Hopkins (12/147) in the red zone. The starry wideout made play after play to cap another brilliant season. Watson galloped 12 times for 67 yards and was still scrambling with two minutes to go. He took far too many hits -- his six sacks on the day made it a league-high 62 on the year -- but that's part of the deal with this Texans attack. On defense, J.J. Watt appeared to hurt his right arm before the half, but returned wearing a brace to finish the game.
- This godless campaign can't end quickly enough for a Jaguars operation that put up 119 yards on the day, ran for just 30 yards and saw 10 of 11 drives end with a punt or turnover. In what might be the final appearance by Blake Bortles in black, gold and teal, the embattled signal-caller threw for 29 yards over the first two quarters, tossed a pick and settled for a field goal after Jacksonville recovered a botched Texans punt return at Houston's 10-yard line. The Jaguars were dangerously disorganized through the air and saw next to nothing from Carlos Hyde (10/13) with a banged-up Leonard Fournette sitting it out and finishing his second season with just 439 yards at 3.3 yards per carry in eight disappointing appearances. Jacksonville sending a 2019 fifth-rounder to Cleveland for Hyde, meanwhile, looms as a steal for the Browns. Few teams league-wide have more work to do on offense heading into a busy offseason.
-- Marc Sessler
- Dak Prescott scrambled on 4th-and-15 to find Cole Beasley for a diving touchdown. The QB then hit Michael Gallup for the two-point conversion to give the Cowboys an entertaining, dramatic win in a back-and-forth affair to close out the regular season.
The Dallas brass insisted all week they would play their starters. Jerry Jones' team did just that for the most part. Ezekiel Elliott sat out, but Dak Prescott and the majority of offensive starters who were active played the duration. With three backup linemen at one point, the strategy to put the starting QB in harm's way was questionable, but the Cowboys wanted a shaky offense to hit the playoffs with a positive performance. They got just that. After a sloppy start, Prescott looked good down the stretch. There are some rickety moments, but when he is in rhythm and hits his reads on time, Prescott proved he can be effective. Dak surpassed the 300-yard barrier for just the second time on the season, compiling 387 yards on 27-of-44 passing with four touchdowns. Perhaps the best news for Dallas was they succeeded in the red zone (three TDs in four trips), a place they've struggled, and Prescott was stellar on third downs. His strike on the game-winning score should provide a boost of confidence for Dallas heading into Wild Card Weekend.
- Tight end Blake Jarwin was the star for the Cowboys, catching three touchdown passes (13, 19, and 39 yards). The second-year tight end was Prescott's go-to target all game, catching seven of eight targets for 119 yards and the three scores. Jarwin entered the game with 20 catches and 188 total yards in his career. The past month, the 24-year-old has surged to the forefront for a Cowboys team that had been searching for Jason Witten's replacement. Heading into the playoffs, Dallas opponents must account for Jarwin, giving Prescott another needed weapon.
- Saquon Barkley didn't catch Ezekiel Elliott for the rushing crown, but the Giants running back set a rookie record. Barkley caught four passes Sunday, giving him 91 for the season to pass Reggie Bush (88) for most ever by a first-year player. The Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate was stymied most of the day in the season-ender, but popped two huge runs (26 and 68 yards), compiling 109 yards on 17 totes. Barkley's big 68-yard second-half scamper put him over 2,000 scrimmage yards for the season, becoming just the third rookie to reach the mark, joining Eric Dickerson and Edgerrin James. With Barkley, Evan Engram -- who played fantastic in the season finale -- and receiver Cody Latimer making two fantastic acrobatic one-handed catches, the Giants showed, sans Odell Beckham, they have the pieces to be an explosive offense in 2019 if they can finally figure out their offensive line issues and determine the future at quarterback.
-- Kevin Patra
- In a game that eventually developed into a battle of backups, the Panthers' second-team players proved better than the Saints on both sides of the football. Rookie quarterback Kyle Allen was sharp, completing 16 of 27 passes for 228 yards and two touchdowns before giving way to Garrett Gilbert in the blowout win. Allen's performance proved more impressive when considering he faced most of the Saints defensive starters in the first half. Running back Christian McCaffrey had a short day, playing a series in the first quarter, and linebacker Luke Kuechly left the game in the second quarter. The Panthers finish the season at 7-9 and looking forward to the offseason.
- The Saints (13-3) clinched the No. 1 seed in Week 16 and signaled their approach to a meaningless game by declaring Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara and Ted Ginn Jr., as inactive. Teddy Bridgewater drew the start at quarterback with an opportunity to showcase himself ahead of free agency. Bridgewater, however, didn't produce eye-popping numbers and completed 14 of 22 passes for 118 yards and a touchdown with an interception on the game. Still, it would be unfair to evaluate Bridgewater based on numbers, as the signal-caller played behind an offensive line that featured just one starter -- center Max Unger - after Andrus Peat left in the first quarter with a hand injury.
- While there shouldn't be heavy concerns over the Saints' offense given the amount of players not playing, it's probably OK to raise an eyebrow over the defensive performance with the postseason on the horizon. The Saints went with virtually all the starters in the first half, but the Panthers' backups, led by a rookie quarterback, had no issues jumping out to a 23-0 lead. The Saints have been stout on the defensive end over the past month, so Sunday's performance could be an anomaly.
-- Herbie Teope
- Sunday's game was defined by two first-half plays: A fake field goal that produced a touchdown, and a 13-yard Zach Zenner touchdown run that looked far too easy to have occurred in an actual NFL game. The fake field goal is the one that will get more run on social media and TV, thanks in part to the fact it was Matt Prater's first career touchdown pass (complete to tight end Levine Toilolo), and also thanks to former Colts punter Pat McAfee being on the call and losing his mind as the play unfolded. Detroit dominated a game that will quickly be forgotten in what is also a forgotten season in Green Bay. Matt Patricia earned a much-needed blowout win to earn a little positive momentum heading into the offseason after a tumultuous first season at the helm of the Lions. Not bad from a game that had little meaning otherwise.
- Aaron Rodgers' exit due to a concussion in the second quarter took away the competitive element of this game, but opened the door for intrigue in the form of DeShone Kizer. The second-year quarterback played out the remainder of the contest, and predictably, Green Bay's offense found itself stuck in the mud. Through three quarters, the Lions had run 32 plays in opposing territory. The Packers had run four, and three of the four came in the final 20 seconds of the third.
Kizer's day went like this: A handful of throws that narrowly missed targets (finger-grazing passes, for example), a healthy amount of drops of catchable passes, a couple scares on ill-advised passes that could've easily been turnovers (one eventually was), and more than a few rushes for decent-to-significant gains. A 12-yard scramble on fourth-and-9 extended a drive, woke up the sleepy Lambeau Field crowd and even inspired Kizer to signal that yes, he'd indeed achieved a first down. His final line reflected what we saw with our eyes: 16-of-35 passing, 132 yards, one interception and a 44.0 passer rating. No surprise: Green Bay still doesn't have a reliable option behind Rodgers.
- Some unheralded Lions who could be key depth players (should Detroit retain them) in 2019 had good games. Zenner rushed for 93 yards and the aforementioned TD. T.J. Jones caught two touchdown passes, including a really well-placed pass from Matt Stafford and equally good catch on the part of Jones. And Toilolo caught a TD pass from a kicker. Fun stuff, friends.
-- Nick Shook
- A season ago at this time, Buffalo fans were reaching into their wallets to donate to Andy Dalton's favorite charity in celebration of ending the NFL's longest playoff drought. This time around, Sean McDermott's Bills walked off winners following a 42-17 trouncing of the Dolphins. It was a 6-10 season, though. Yet it was a pleasant day in Buffalo, as much as it can be pleasant in Buffalo in late-December. Kyle Williams, the longest tenured Bill who previously announced he would retire, was celebrated after a career in which he went to five Pro Bowls. He helped an overlooked, but excellent defense that lends promise to the future. And he caught a nine-yard fourth-quarter pass on offense that brought fans to their feet. The pass came from rookie Josh Allen, a one-man roller coaster if ever there was one. Allen's game summed up his season as he missed horribly on some passes, but dazzled with his educated feet to the tune of 95 yards and two rushing scores on nine carries and flexed the big arm and playmaking passing to still go 17 of 26 for 224 yards and three touchdowns. A 6-10 season is never good, but all is not lost in Buffalo at season's end.
- At the start of the season, the Dolphins were somewhat of a surprising success with a 3-0 start. Three weeks ago, the Miami Miracle pushed them a game above .500. Alas, those highlights seem all but forgotten as tumultuous times have hit the Dolphins, who concluded a 7-9 season. Coach Adam Gase might have coached his last game for the 'Phins and quarterback Ryan Tannehill might have played his last. If so, it ended in brutal fashion with a lopsided defeat. Gase, whose Dolphins record stands at 23-25 after three seasons, reportedly has some suitors if he's dismissed by Miami. Tannehill, the eighth-overall pick in 2012, has gone 42-46 with Miami and never started a playoff game (Matt Moore started the team's 2016 playoff game). If Sunday was Tannehill's swan song in Miami, it was hardly a memorable one. He completed 18 of 31 passes for 147 yards. He caught a touchdown pass from Kenny Stills, too. Elsewhere, he was sacked four times, lost a fumble, had two interceptions and a 43.4 QB rating.
- No stranger to racking up fines, Kiko Alonso's likely to dig deep again after he launched himself like a missile at a sliding Allen in the third quarter. It looked as though at the last second Alonso, despite going in full speed, might have tried to avoid Allen and missed a helmet-to-helmet, though his leg whipped around and hit Allen in the face. Allen jumped up and got out of the way as a melee ensued with Alonzo, Dolphins defensive end Robert Quinn and Bills offensive tackle Jordan Mills ending their seasons earlier than expected with ejections. So, Alonso's rep for questionable play grows and there was still a little fire shown between AFC East rivals in a game with nothing riding on it.
-- Grant Gordon
- Plagued by close losses throughout the season, the Falcons (7-9) found a way to win a close one -- and they did so by rallying back from an early two-touchdown deficit. With the teams trading leads in the second half, the Falcons managed to close to within a point of the lead late in the fourth quarter to give Matt Bryant a chance to win it. The veteran kicker didn't disappoint, hitting a 37-yard field goal as time expired to deliver the Falcons' third straight victory. Matt Ryan spearheaded the comeback, connecting on 31 of 44 passes for 378 yards and two touchdowns after starting out slow. While changes could be coming to head coach Dan Quinn's staff this offseason, the Falcons have to take some solace in knowing they finished the year on a strong note.
- In what was the final game of the Dirk Koetter era in Tampa, the Buccaneers (5-11) showed flashes of the early-season promise that was supposed to break their 11-year playoff drought. Jameis Winston had one of his best games of the season, connecting on 22 of 35 passes for 345 yards and four touchdowns. The chemistry he had on-field with Mike Evans showed how lethal the duo can be to opposing defenses when they're on their game -- even if it came against an injury-hampered Falcons secondary. Evans' TD catch over Desmond Trufant was pure perfection from Winston and Evans. Unfortunately, they needed more of it after Tampa Bay's defense failed to slow down the Falcons. With the Buccaneers closing out the season with four straight losses, Koetter's stay in Tampa ultimately became an untenable situation for the parties involved.
"Look, I've been hired and fired before, and if you can look in the mirror and know you did everything you could to win, then you can hold your head high," Koetter said after the game.
- Discovering their inner Philly Special helped spark the Falcons' comeback from a 17-0 deficit. Atlanta's version of the play -- let's call it the Dirty Bird Special -- was executed to perfection. Mohamed Sanu found Ryan in the end zone wide open from five yards out to cap off an impressive, 14-play, 75-yard drive that helped serve as a momentum changer for the Falcons. The touchdown cut the Bucs' lead to three points and put them back in the game after they scored a touchdown just before halftime. The 2018 season will go down as the year the Philly Special became the most trick play in the NFL.
-- Austin Knoblauch
- With the Chiefs running away with the division 600 miles away, the Chargers had little to play for save for pride past 3 p.m. local time in Denver. And yet, the Bolts kept their starters in for three-and-a-half quarters of Sunday's sloppy victory over the Broncos, their 12th of the season. Philip Rivers and L.A.'s offense looked sluggish for the second consecutive week; their first six possessions ended in either punts or picks. Their lone score of the first half came on defense, courtesy on a flubbed backward pass from Case Keenum. L.A. committed four turnovers, including a fumble on an INT return from Denver's goal line. This is not the way the Bolts want to enter the postseason, especially with a rematch with the Ravensin Baltimore looming.
- A cause for concern in Carson heading into postseason play: Rivers has thrown as many interceptions in his last three games (6) as he had in his previous 13 contests. Four of them, including the two picks he threw Sunday, have come in the first quarter. If he keeps up that trend in Baltimore next week, it'll be a long night and a longer winter for the Bolts.
- It's hard to imagine Sunday afternoon wasn't Vance Joseph's last game as head coach in Denver. Two seasons into his tenure, Joseph has an 11-21 record and has overseen the first consecutive losing seasons in Broncos history in 46 years. The Broncos' fan base has given up, too. There were 12,073 no-shows in Denver on Sunday, the most since the end of the Josh McDaniels era. We know how that ended.
-- Jeremy Bergman
- If Russell Wilson is the heart of the Seahawks' offense, Chris Carson is the backbone. Seattle's final selection in the 2017 draft topped 100 rushing yards for the third consecutive game to finish the year with 1,151 yards. His career-high 122 rushing yards Sunday paced an offense that struggled to move the ball through the air. After Pete Carroll discussed utilizing a running back committee midway through the season, Carson has instead established himself as the Seahawks' feature back. His touchdown in the second quarter gave Seattle a 14-3 lead, and his 11-yard scamper in the final seconds of the fourth set up Sebastian Janikowski's game-winning chip shot.
- If this was first-year coach Steve Wilks' finale, the Cardinals gave him all they had. Arizona's defense forced Seattle to keep its starters in for four quarters at CenturyLink Field, collecting six sacks while holding the Seahawks to 291 total yards and 16 first downs. But the Cardinals' own offensive woes (198 total yards) resurfaced in what was another tough outing for rookie quarterback Josh Rosen (18 of 34, 149 yards, 1 TD). He dropped a dime on a late third-and-12 that was dropped, forcing a game-tying field goal attempt rather than advancing toward the potential go-ahead touchdown.
- The No. 1 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft belongs to the Cardinals (3-13) and the Seahawks (10-6) claimed the NFC's fifth seed. The latter won for the sixth time in seven games and will play at the Cowboys next weekend. The Seahawks boast a potent rushing attack again and still have a strong defense, despite all the turnover. Of course, that was their winning formula prior to last year's playoff absence. Meanwhile, the Cardinals own the draft's top pick for the first time in the Common Draft Era.
-- Adam Maya