Stability and change. Those two concepts may seem to be at odds, but they’re truly the only two constants in the NFL. Stability: Cincinnati continued their winning streak over the Chiefs, Denver couldn’t score, Marcus Mariota got picked off on the final drive with a chance to win and Aaron Rodgers continued to own the Bears. Change: Deshaun Watson was booed in Houston, the Dolphins’ offense got shut down, unheralded backup QBs came in and won games, and two teams tied. We’ll talk about some of both in my week 13 takeaways below, which is one thing that always stays the same!
TNF: Bills are Contenders, Patriots are Pretenders
I’ll keep the part about the Patriots offense short: they’re pedestrian. Without RB Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson (10/54) got the bulk of the carries and did fine. QB Mac Jones took short completions, trying not to do too much. His stats were inflated by a 48-yard dump pass to return man/CB/apparently WR Marcus Jones for a TD. The rookie Jones is becoming quite the playmaker, which was his calling card at Houston. New England barely scored in a 24-10 loss and was never really a threat. The defense was better, but it couldn’t hold out forever with Buffalo constantly having the ball (38:08-21:52 time of possession advantage). This unit has carried NE to a .500 record, but I think that may be the ceiling. They’re the AFC East’s worst team.
Buffalo would be a lock for the division crown if not for the presence of the Dolphins. However, they’re definitely in line to make the playoffs as one of the AFC’s best squads. How far they can go depends on their QB. I’m still concerned about Josh Allen’s elbow. If he were a baseball pitcher, he’d probably be recovering from Tommy John surgery right now. As a tough football player, he’s continuing to start, and his accuracy has been affected. He looked better in this game than he has in weeks, going 22/33 for 223 yards and 2 TDs, but he still had some uncharacteristic misses. The offense has not been the explosive juggernaut that it was to begin the season, but an average performance can beat a team like the Patriots.
The Bills defense played well against its inferior opponent, as it should. This team has talent at all levels, with Ed Oliver up front, Matt Milano anchoring the middle, and Jordan Poyer on the back end. CB Tre’Davious White is ramping up his workload and might provide a strong boost later in the season once he fully returns from his ACL injury. You don’t need me to tell you about this unit’s upside. So instead, I’m going to complain about the ejection of safety Damar Hamlin for a hit on defenseless receiver Jakobi Meyers. I won’t argue with the flag being thrown; he hit a receiver in the head mid-jump. I just hate the ejection.
I’m a believer in the idea that no football play should be eligible for an ejection. Throw a punch? You’re out. Taunting and bad hits with no malicious intent? No way. In this case, Hamlin did not lead with his head. He went shoulder-first and was already in the air when he collided with Meyers. The NFL rule says that you can be ejected if the officials deem the offense “flagrant”. This was not such a foul (plus I don’t think even a flagrant accidental hit should warrant a disqualification). I have similar complaints about the targeting rule in college, and some day I’ll rant about that too. For now, at least the Bills weren’t harmed by the call.
P.S.: Hamlin was ejected, but Eagles safety Marcus Epps wasn’t ejected for this hit???
Deshaun Watson Returns for First Game in 700 Days
We knew this day would come. For a while, we didn’t know exactly WHEN it would happen, but at some point, Deshaun Watson was going to play a regular season game again. That was guaranteed as soon as the Browns traded for him. If you need a refresher on what happened with Watson (everything but the suspension itself), you can check that out here. I’m discussing this because it’s a major event in the NFL, and I typically comment when teams change QBs regardless. The off-field stuff is covered in the link above, but I’m sticking with the on-field play in this article.
Watson looked…well…exactly how you might expect a guy who hasn’t played a real game in 700 days to look. He finished 12/21 for 131 yards and an INT, with 21 more yards rushing. The results were actually worse than the numbers. Though Cleveland won 27-14, they scored just 6 points on offense, with the defense scoring 2 TDs and special teams scoring one. Watson seemed out of rhythm, but he didn’t hold the ball too long (1 sack for 1 yard), which was his lone issue with the Texans. Houston, with rookie Derek Stingley out, didn’t have a fearsome pass defense. The Browns also ran well, earning 176 yards at 4.6 per attempt. Watson had the advantage of play action and stacked boxes, but he couldn’t move the ball with consistency.
With all that said, don’t judge Watson based on this one game. Cleveland certainly won’t after handing him $230M guaranteed. You can’t expect a guy who was banned from being around his team for 11 weeks, and who wasn’t a Brown for even 1 regular season game before the suspension, to immediately have chemistry with his receivers and master the offense. The Browns are basically out of the playoff race, so the rest of this season will be devoted to building up Watson’s confidence and integrating him into Kevin Stefanski’s system. They’re playing for 2023 at this point, where it will be up to Watson to make good on his talent. That talent was elite enough to make the Browns set aside their morality after all.
Giants and Commanders Provide Second Tie of 2022!
You don’t see a tie every day! Though to be honest, I’ve expected a few more of them since overtime was reduced from 15 minutes to 10 minutes. This is the second of the year, as Houston and Indianapolis tied in week 1. It’s always really interesting to see when teams shift from going for the win to playing not to lose. For Washington, I think that moment was with 1:36 remaining in OT, when QB Taylor Heinicke was sacked at his own 2. They just ran the football for 2 plays and punted. New York never got to that point (to their credit), but a 58-yard FG came up short as time expired. What led up to the tie was occasionally good but mostly lackluster football. Neither team looked like a real playoff contender in this one, but you can be sure that this tie will affect tiebreaker scenarios down the line.
Washington got off to a hot start after Giants QB Daniel Jones lost a fumble on the opening drive. The Commanders scored an FG and a TD on their first two drives to race to a 10-0 lead. The Giants copied those outcomes on the two subsequent drives, tying the game. Each team would add a field goal before halftime and score 1 TD in the second half. These two teams were so evenly matched. Both QBs lost fumbles, each team missed an FG, and the passer ratings of the two signal callers were within 4 points. Washington averaged 4.6 yards per carry, while New York averaged 4.5 yards. The yards per play disparity was just .1 in favor of the Commanders. It’s no wonder that the score remained tied at the end.
Bengals Continue to Have Chiefs’ Number
I can’t really explain it, but with Joe Burrow, the Bengals are 0-4 against the Browns yet 3-0 against Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. Once gain, a strong KC team came into Cincinnati and left with a loss (Buffalo thanks them for the #1 playoff seed, at least for a week). The simplest difference in this game was the fact that the Bengals had 0 turnovers, whereas Travis Kelce lost a fumble. That ignores all the nuance that went into this win. Mahomes was his typical self, throwing for 223 yards and a TD while rushing for another. Down 14-3 in the second quarter, the Chiefs scored 14 unanswered points. Cincinnati nearly retook the lead, but Tyler Boyd dropped an easy TD, forcing the Bengals to settle for a 17-17 tie.
Mahomes led another TD drive, his second on two third-quarter drives, and it felt like the game might get away from the Bengals. They refused to back down. As has been the case often this season, Zac Taylor’s team played their best in the 4th quarter. Cincinnati scored 10 points and shut the Chiefs out in the final frame, leading to the final score of 27-24. That is coincidentally the same score by which the Bengals won the AFC Championship game last season. The formula was similar: ride Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase (who returned this week), and a stingy second-half defense. Burrow was a sterling 25/31 for 286 yards and 2 TDs with 11 carries for 46 yards and a TD on the ground.
Chase’s return was a welcome sight for the Bengals, as the elite wideout caught 7 passes for 97 yards and opened up the rest of the offense. The Chiefs couldn’t focus on stopping the run, which allowed Samaje Perine to run for 106 yards on 21 carries. Perine, who also caught 6 catches for 49 yards, has been an excellent replacement for the injured Joe Mixon and deserves to stay involved upon the latter’s return. Tee Higgins chipped in 3 passes, one of which went for a TD and another that was a perfect bullet by Joe Burrow to ice the game. Evan McPherson made all his kicks, which contrasted with Harrison Butker, who missed a 55-yard FG for KC.
Don’t overlook the Bengals defense either. They started off great, limiting Travis Kelce (4 catches for 56 yards and a lost fumble overall) and allowing Cincy to build that 14-3 lead. The unit struggled late in the second quarter and during the third quarter, but DC Lou Anarumo made great adjustments to turn the tide. He maintained his 3-man front but emphasized keeping contain on Mahomes, preventing him from leaving the pocket and making magic. Mahomes had to take shorter passes in front of him and not get greedy. That took away the big plays, and the Chiefs had to burn a lot of clock. A key sack also forced KC to attempt that long FG. In turn, the Bengals could salt away the game with a 10-play drive, earning the hard-fought win and keeping pace with the Ravens in the AFC North.
Tyler Huntley, Brock Purdy Lead Teams to Win in Relief
If you expected Baltimore and San Francisco wins this week, you weren’t alone. If you expected both teams to win with Tyler Huntley and Brock Purdy playing the majority of the game, you’re either a psychic or a liar (I’d bet on the latter). But that’s exactly what happened! Both leaned on their defenses, but they were solid and didn’t make a ton of mistakes.
Huntley came into the game against Denver when Lamar Jackson was sacked by Jonathon Cooper. Jackson didn’t look right when he got up, and he went to the medical tent. He was quickly taken to the locker room and subsequently ruled out with a knee injury. Huntley didn’t put up many points, but neither did Jackson (all of his series ended in punts). Fortunately for the Ravens, Denver’s toothless offense meant that 10 points were enough to steal a 10-9 win. As he typically is, Huntley was accurate with the football, completing 27 of 32 passes. He mostly threw short though, as he amassed just 187 yards and threw an INT. However, he was the team’s leading rusher with 41 yards and a TD in the final minute of the game. Huntley lead an excellent final drive against a very good defense to win. I’m not sure Baltimore is in significantly worse shape with Huntley than with Jackson, as crazy as that is to say. Regardless of your opinion, Jackson won’t miss the season according to coach John Harbaugh.
Brock Purdy is not someone who expected to play this year. Buried on the depth chart behind Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo, he moved up to the backup spot when Lance broke his ankle. This week, Garoppolo hurt his foot in the first quarter and was carted off. The official diagnosis was a broken foot, and coach Kyle Shanahan says that he’ll be out for the season. That left Purdy to run the offense, and he wasn’t bad at all. He threw an INT, but he also went 25/37 for 210 yards and 2 TDS. Purdy didn’t look like a guy who was Mr. Irrelevant in this year’s draft, though Miami had no time to game plan for him. He took advantage of Christian McCaffrey and Deebo Samuel and relied on his #1 defense to win. The Niners will have to do that the rest of the way, but I don’t know that Purdy can keep this up. SF’s Super Bowl hopes may be in big trouble.