The NFL never ceases to amaze. Sometimes, the unthinkable happens, like the New England Patriots being completely shut out for the second time this year at home (Bailey Zappe didn’t help did he?). Other events should be expected, but they shock us anyway, like Saints QB Jameis Winston throwing a terrible pass yet somehow completing it. Both of these types of occurrences are why we keep coming back for more. Let’s hope the craziness continues for the rest of the season. Spoiler alert: it will. We’ll talk about a bit of everything (seriously; there are 6 takeaways this time) in my week 13 takeaways below, which is one constant I can provide!
TNF: Surprisingly Close Shootout in Dallas Goes Cowboys’ Way
Dallas has been absolutely demolishing teams at home this year, so you’d be forgiven if you expected a similar result against a struggling Seahawks team. Seattle’s offense came into the game on a streak of 7 straight quarters without a TD. That ended in 1 drive. After committing a false start to make it 3rd and 8, QB Geno Smith hit WR DK Metcalf on a slant. The ball was perfectly thrown, and Metcalf turned upfield and blew past pick-six machine DaRon Bland for a 73-yard TD. Bland had a rough first half. He committed PI in the end zone against WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba before surrendering another Metcalf TD on the very next play.
Those struggles remind me of the early-career version of injured teammate Trevon Diggs. Another ballhawk, Diggs used to occasionally get burned for big plays when he tried to hard to pick off passes. Bland bounced back in the 3rd quarter, undercutting a Tyler Lockett route to snag his 8th INT of the season. Other than that, we didn’t have a whole lot of defense. Seattle scored TDs on 3 of their 4 first-half drives. Dallas matched the Seahawks blow for blow, giving us a 1-point game at the half. Outside of the pick, Smith (23/41, 334 yards, 3 TDs) was excellent. Metcalf (6/134/3) caught all of those TDs and was mostly unguardable.
On the Cowboys side, Dak Prescott (29/41, 299 yards, 3 TDs) played mistake-free football. He found WR CeeDee Lamb (12/116/1) early and often and used him as a counter to Metcalf. K Brandon Aubrey remained perfect FG-wise on the year, making all 4 of his attempts. Aiding the scoring on both sides were penalties. Nineteen fouls were accepted for a season-high 257 penalty yards, which were evenly split between the two teams. These teams are often penalized in general, but it was a surprise to see Dallas’ defense look so helpless. Credit goes to Seattle’s offensive line for only allowing 1 sack against the Cowboys’ ferocious front.
A few issues cost Seattle. Already without RB Kenneth Walker, backup rookie Zach Charbonnet also went down in the second half. K Jason Myers missed a 42-yard FG in the first half, which stung doubly because it came after a delay of game penalty (coach Pete Carroll should’ve been credited with a timeout though). The offensive line allowed Dallas to get pressure at the end when it counted, forcing two 4th-down incompletions that had no chance. With everything that took place, one fun note is that we saw the 6th game in NFL history with 0 total punts. That’s probably an indictment of the defenses but also a result of the game flow.
In the end, Dallas hung on for a 41-35 victory that has major impacts on the playoff race in the NFC. The Seahawks go to San Francisco and then host Philadelphia. They could realistically be staring at a 6-8 record after week 15. Already swept by the Rams this year, Seattle would need to win all 3 of their subsequent games to have a chance at the postseason. For Dallas, this win keeps them within striking distance of the Eagles. Their hopes for a first-round bye and an NFC East title all lie with their rematch next week. They, Detroit, and San Francisco will all have an interest in Sunday Night Football during week 14.
Special Teams Doom Titans as Colts Hang on to Playoff Positioning in OT
In a surprisingly critical game for the AFC playoff race, Indianapolis needed a win against a struggling Titans team. They thrashed Tennessee earlier in the season, but divisional games are always tough. The Titans mostly compete in these games due to RB Derrick Henry, who starred once again. He took 21 carries for 105 yards and 2 TDs before leaving injured in the second half. Rookie QB Will Levis couldn’t do much in his place, completing less than 50% of his passes. In spite of that, Tennessee battled to a 17-16 lead late in the third quarter. Then all hell broke loose.
Punting from their own 36, the line allowed a rusher to get through and block it. Grant Stuard took it 18 yards for a Colts TD. Interestingly, Indy was picked on their 2-point attempt, and Amani Hooker returned it for 2 points himself. The very next drive, on another punt, the Titans let it get blocked AGAIN (technically, it was rules a fumble). This time, punter Ryan Stonehouse, one of the NFL’s best, was injured in his leg. We’d later learn that his season is over. That block set up a Colts FG, but down 6 points, the Titans went down the field and scored. They then noticed that they had another problem: Stonehouse was their holder on placekicking attempts.
Backup QB Ryan Tannehill, who held in college, stepped in with the game tied at 25. His hold seemed fine, but the rhythm must’ve been off, as K Nick Folk missed the go-ahead PAT. For all these special teams issues, ST coordinator Craig Aukerman was fired the next morning. The PAT miss caused the game to go to OT, where Tennessee got the ball first and scored an FG. Then, Colts QB Gardner Minshew took over. He fired a 55-yard bomb to WR Alec Pierce before hitting WR Michael Pittman for a 4-yard TD to walk off with a 31-28 win. Minshew (26/42, 312 yards, 2 TDs) has kept the Colts afloat, and they now hold the AFC’s 7th seed.
Dolphins, 49ers Dominant; Tyreek Hill Deserves MVP Consideration
I know what you’re thinking, and it’s unavoidable. The Dolphins have not yet demonstrated their prowess against a high-end opponent, and until they do so, questions shall remain. However, you can’t argue with the way they completely trash the NFL’s lesser teams. QB Tua Tagovailoa (18/24, 280 yards, 2 TDs) was typically excellent, and he looked for Tyreek Hill often as usual. Hill caught 2 more deep TDs and caught 5 passes for 157 yards in total before he and the rest of the starting offense sat out most of the 4th quarter. Miami’s defense also seems to be really rounding into form, even without the injured Jaelan Phillips.
Hill has got to start getting some MVP traction. I know it has basically become a QB award, but the man is on pace for 2000 yards. That would be a legendary NFL first. No WR is quite like him because of his unique speed, and that speed completely changes the game for Miami’s offense. I don’t see any QB truly dominating this year, so why shouldn’t we give the league’s top WR some votes? I like to think of an MVP in terms of what a team would look like without the player in question. That obviously skews things toward QBs once again, but I’d argue that a Hill absence would have a similar impact.
While we’re here, let’s say our goodbyes to Commanders HC Ron Rivera. He fired DC Jack Del Rio after the thanksgiving blowout against Dallas, but a week later, we can all see that he wasn’t the issue. It’s going to take bigger changes, particularly at the talent level, to fix this defense. Rivera’s team also has an offensive line that continues to bury QB Sam Howell in the turf. The team seems further away from competing than it has in years despite possessing its most promising QB in that span. Conversely, Miami seems to have built a contender that will be in the mix for years based on the talent on its roster.
The Miami offense takes much of its inspiration from San Francisco, where Mike McDaniel was the OC. His former boss, Kyle Shanhan, managed to one-up his protégé this week even though Miami put 45 points on the board. Playing in the theoretical “game of the week” at Philadelphia, the Niners wanted to prove that their loss in last year’s NFC Championship game was about QB Brock Purdy‘s torn UCL, not any drastic difference between the teams. The thing, there DOES appear to be a massive gap between San Francisco and Philadelphia. That gap just happens to be in the Niners’ favor.
I’ve been calling the Eagles overrated for a while, and playing a real Super Bowl contender exposed them. Another team was willing to be even more physical than Philadelphia at the line of scrimmage, mitigating their best groups: the offensive and defensive lines. After a sluggish first quarter by the 49ers offense, the team caught fire. Purdy threw 4 TDs, and WR Deebo Samuel had 3 (2 receiving, 1 rushing). RB Christian McCaffrey scored as usual, and the 42-19 final score was so embarrassing that Sam Darnold replaced Purdy late. These Niners are the most complete team in football, and right now they’re your Super Bowl favorites.
Flacco is Browns’ Best QB; Jets Should’ve Re-Signed Him
Though the Browns didn’t win this week (I told you the Rams were on the rise), newly signed QB Joe Flacco exceeded expectations. I tallied just one bad decision/throw, which occurred when he threw an ill-advised deep shot late over the middle of the field. That pass was picked off, but he otherwise went 23/44 for 254 yards and 2 TDs. The arm talent that won him a Super Bowl MVP award remains intact, even if he’s not quite the same as he was earlier in his career with Baltimore. The one thing I can unequivocally say though is that Flacco looked like the best QB the Browns have trotted out onto the field this year.
Starter Deshaun Watson was starting to come alive, but he never reached his Houston-level peak before going to IR. PJ Walker is simply a turnover machine who can only come off the bench. Rookie 5th-rounder Dorian Thompson-Robinson has a bit of promise, but he has looked completely overwhelmed in his few regular-season appearances. The Browns seem inclined to stick with him, but a concussion kept him out of week 13 and led to Flacco’s signing in the first place. Having a guy come off the couch at throw 44 times while committing penalties on the offensive line doesn’t help matters, but Flacco handled it all well.
I have to contrast his play with what Jets QBs have shown us. Zach Wilson is, well, Zach Wilson. That simple fact led us to Tim Boyle: starting quarterback. An Eastern Kentucky coach, a Packers staffer or I could have told you how that might work out. Boyle is not a functional NFL quarterback, and I think Jets HC Robert Saleh finally noticed. After watching Boyle go 14/25 for 148 yards and an INT while generating 6 points of offense, Saleh benched him. He inserted NFL journeyman Trevor Siemian, who inspired no confidence. As if a 5/13 line for 66 yards wasn’t bad enough, he got stripped sacked THREE TIMES, losing one.
On a day when NYJ’s defense allowed just 13 points and scored 2 themselves, the offense was pathetic. Seven of those points came on a short field after a Jets fumble. This is nothing new for Saleh’s team, whose defense has been carrying its offense to no avail for years. Acquiring Aaron Rodgers was supposed to fix that as we all know, but how could there not have been a better backup plan? Was Zach Wilson supposed to magically improve by osmosis? The most frustrating part is that the Jets had a good backup plan right on their roster but refused to re-sign him. Flacco can’t help them any longer.
Packers on a Tear, but Controversy Mars Great Win Over Chiefs
Don’t look now, but Green Bay has won 4 of its last 5 games, bringing their record to 6-6. If you thought their victory over Detroit last week was improbable, beating the reigning Super Bowl champions must’ve seemed even more farfetched. Yet that’s exactly what the Packers did, defeating the Chiefs by outplaying them on both sides of the ball. That was exemplified by the first 2 drives for each team. Both squads moved the ball well, but GB scored 2 TDs, while KC’s drives stalled and ended with FGs. The Chiefs have struggled in the second halves of games, but this time it was the first half that doomed them.
Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes (21/33, 210 yards, TD, INT) still had his normal share of great plays, but as usual, his receivers didn’t help him out. Even his INT was a result of a poor route by WR Skyy Moore. RB Isiah Pacheco (18/110/1) was very good, as was TE Travis Kelce (4/81). Unlike the rest of this season though, the defense was putrid. They allowed Packers QB Jordan Love to go 25/36 for 267 yards and 3 TDs. The unit allowed 5.2 yards per carry on the ground and didn’t force a single turnover. Regardless, KC would have had their chances to win…if not for the officials.
On the Chiefs’ final drive, Mahomes took a deep shot. It fell incomplete, but only because his receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling was tackled by Packers CB Carrington Valentine. If that wasn’t a foul, then nothing short of punching someone in the face is (coincidentally, Isiah Pacheco did that). To add insult to injury, the Packers got away with another push on the game-ending failed Hail Mary. Officiating has come up a lot lately, and that’s only because of how atrocious it has been. This was one of the most egregious examples, but I imagine KC will be able to overcome it. The #1 seed will be a bit harder to snag though.
Let’s not take anything away from Green Bay here. They played a great game and have recovered well from a poor start to the season. As much as I’ve hyped the Rams recently, it’s actually Green Bay who currently holds the 7th slot in the NFC playoff race. This is because GB beat the Rams head-to-head a few weeks ago in a game that featured Brett Rypien as LA’s starting QB. With a less-than-imposing schedule on the horizon and the younger Packers finding their way, this team isn’t fading any time soon. It’s looking like a race between the Seahawks, Rams, Packers, and Vikings for 2 wild card spots.
MNF: Jaguars Lose the Game and Lawrence on Browning’s Big Night
This 6th bonus takeaway is brought to you by bonkers football. I didn’t plan on writing about Monday Night Football since the Bengals were still starting Jake Browning at QB. He did not have a fun time against the Steelers, so why would he fare better against the 8-3 Jaguars? Uhh…I guess he learned quite a bit from his first NFL start. ESPN’s Troy Aikman didn’t see it coming, and neither did I, but Browning was awesome. He completed 32 of 37 passes for an absurd 86.5% completion rate. He threw a TD and ran for 22 yards and another score. Somehow, Browning keeping the Bengals competitive was just the start of the craziness.
In the 3rd quarter, Browning hit WR Ja’Marr Chase (11/149/1) for a 76-yard TD to give Cincy a 21-14 lead. Jacksonville went down the field in response. On a throw to the end zone, Bengals CB Dax Hill batted a pass from Trevor Lawrence, but WR Parker Washington caught it off the ricochet for his first career TD. On the next play from scrimmage, the Bengals dialed up a trick play. Browning threw a backwards pass to WR Tyler Boyd…who then threw it right to Jaguars OLB Josh Allen to set up first and goal. Jacksonville took the lead a few plays later. After the Bengals tied the game again at 28, disaster struck.
On the Jaguars’ ensuing possession Lawrence was sacked, but his own LT Walker Little stepped on his ankle. Lawrence was immediately in pain and needed to be carried into the tunnel. He was ruled out with an ankle sprain and will have an MRI. Jacksonville missed their subsequent FG, while the Bengals made one. Needing a field goal to force OT, backup QB CJ Beathard led the Jags 53 yards to the CIN 22, and Brandon McManus nailed the 40-yard attempt. Jacksonville would get the ball first in OT, but they punted and allowed the Bengals to get in range for an FG. K Evan McPherson walked it off.
Cincinnati broke a 9-game MNF road losing streak that dated to 1990. In the present, the vibes around this team are completely different than they were a week ago. Left for dead after a weak showing against the Steelers, Cincy is now 6-6 and back in the hunt for a playoff spot. The road is going to be hard, as the AFC is tough and the Bengals’ tiebreakers look terrible (especially their 0-4 divisional record). If Browning plays this well though, who knows? Jacksonville is in limbo. Lawrence (22/29, 258 yards, 2 TDs, rush TD) was playing great before he got hurt. Should he be injured for an extended period, Jacksonville is in deep trouble.