What a week we’ve had, eh? Dallas averted disaster against the awful Texans, Joe Burrow exorcised some demons against the Browns, and the Eagles clinched the first playoff spot of 2022. Justin Tucker became the Ravens’ all-time leading scorer, as we knew he inevitably would. Lions’ OT Penei Sewell ran an actual route and caught a near-game-clinching first down. Yes, I always shout out athletic plays made by the big men who do the dirty work. The NFL may hate fun (see my last point below), but the league certainly provides a ton of it on a weekly basis. Embrace the fun and enjoy my week 14 takeaways!
TNF: Raiders Implode, Ending Their Own Playoff Hopes
I really hope you all stayed and watched this game to the end. After Monday night’s affair between Tampa and New Orleans, you should have. This game was eerily similar to that contest. One team controlled the game throughout but settled for 3 field goals to take a 16-3 lead with around 5 minutes to go. The other team then scored two quick-strike TDs, with the second coming with under 10 seconds remaining. The scripts were nearly identical, with just one major difference. Tom Brady went and took the game away from New Orleans; the Raiders flat out melted down against the Rams.
The contest started out in expected fashion. LV went right down the field for a TD, while the Rams went 3 and out. LA started QB John Wolford, but he didn’t throw a pass. He merely handed the ball off 3 times before the team punted. When the Rams got the ball next, new acquisition Baker Mayfield was in at QB. I have no idea why Wolford was stuck in there for a series if Mayfield was going to play every other snap, but whatever. Mayfield actually played pretty well, especially considering that he had less than 48 hours to learn the plays. This game should’ve probably been 13-10 going into the half, but RB Cam Akers fumbled at LV’s 20.
Otherwise, we saw what we thought we’d saw. Davante Adams made stupidly good catches, the Rams’ #4 rush defense did pretty well against the NFL’s leading rusher (Josh Jacobs, 27/99/1), and the Raiders were on their way to a 4th straight win. Until they weren’t. An ominous sign was when right before the half, Derek Carr was pressured and lofted an ugly duck into the end zone, which was picked. His team scored just 1 FG the rest of the game. Fast forward to LA’s penultimate drive, which amazingly started with 12 minutes to go, and LA went 3 and out. However, on the ensuing punt, LV jumped offsides, letting the drive continue. Later, on 3rd and 4, LV moved early again…on the same drive! The Rams went on to cut the deficit to 16-10.
Needing a 3 and out, LV looked poised to win with a 3rd and 1 upcoming. They handed the ball off to Jacobs, who was stuffed. AJ Cole then hit an amazing punt, with the ball landing near the 20 and skirting along the sideline before going out at the 2. Backed up, the Rams were gifted a foolish PI by the Raiders, moving them to the 22. Star edge rushers Maxx Crosby and Chandler Jones then sacked Mayfield, but an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Jerry Tillery both stopped the clock and gave LA 15 yards. Mayfield then proceeded to move the ball all the way down the field, finishing the drive with a 23-yard dime to Van Jefferson. Carr was picked on LV’s only remaining play, and the Rams stole the improbable win.
I don’t normally write so much about one game, but this was absolutely wild. A QB who just joined the team and wasn’t even expected to play went 22/35 for 230 yards and a TD, looking poised and in command of the offense. The Raiders, playing a 3-9 team that was essentially functioning as an infirmary unit, inexplicably gave the game away, practically eliminating themselves in the process. This game feels great for the Rams, and since Detroit has their draft pick from the Matthew Stafford trade, there’s no downside. LV is not mathematically out of playoff contention, but even if they win out (and they’ve shown no ability to do so), 9-8 is likely not good enough in the AFC. If they miss out, they have no one to blame but themselves.
Major Upsets in Nashville and Detroit
Two teams that are not highly respected took on division leaders and won convincingly. First, Jacksonville, who had lost 5 straight games to the Titans, won 36-22 on the road. QB Trevor Lawrence had his second transcendent outing of the season, going 32/40 for 368 yards and 3 TDs with no turnovers. He added a rushing TD and 7 yards on the ground. This performance was made more impressive by the fact that he had no running game to support him. Travis Etienne earned just 32 yards on 17 carries. The defense, which still couldn’t contain Derrick Henry (17/121/1), did manage to turn Tennessee over 4 times (1 INT, 3 fumbles) and sack Ryan Tannehill 4 times. Though the Jaguars are unlikely to make much noise at 5-8, this is a foundational win for Doug Pederson as the first-year coach tries to turn this team around.
Detroit’s win over Minnesota wasn’t an upset in the betting sense, as wise institutions actually installed the Lions as the favorite. Still, the consensus seems to be that the Lions are still doormats despite their recent stretch of inspired play. Indeed, their defense is poor (32nd in the NFL poor), but that shouldn’t overshadow their potent offense. QB Jared Goff is playing the best football of his career, and he went 27/39 for 330 yards and 3 TDs in this game. Rookie Jameson Williams caught a 41-yard TD on his first career catch, and this team is quietly full of weapons. On defense, Dalvin Cook (15/23/1) was shut down, but Kirk Cousins (31/41, 405 yards, 2 TDs) and Justin Jefferson (11/223) went off. The defense tended to bend but not break though, contributing to a good 34-23 team win that keeps the Vikings from clinching the NFC North for yet another week.
A Multitude of QBs Got to Play for Various Reasons
Nine different QBs who didn’t start for their team took snaps this week. However, not all of them replaced injured starters. Mitchell Trubisky did though, with rookie Kenny Pickett suffering a concussion. That’s Pickett’s second concussion this year, which is an ominous sign. He joins Tua Tagovailoa and Matthew Stafford as the only QBs to enter protocol twice this season, and the other two didn’t bounce back so quickly. Hopefully Pickett is doing well, and not just because Trubisky was terrible. Trubisky only threw 8 incompletions, but 3 of them were caught by Baltimore defenders. Two occurred in the red zone, and one was caught in the end zone. Those throws were almost exclusively responsible for Pittsburgh’s 16-14 loss to the Ravens. In the same game, Baltimore was already starting backup Tyler Huntley for an injured Lamar Jackson. On a 3rd-down run in the 3rd quarter, Huntley was bent back awkwardly, and he too left the game with a concussion. That brought practice squad player Anthony Brown into the game. Brown went 3/5 for 16 yards but mostly served as a handoff bot. Fortunately for Baltimore, that was all he needed to do.
Another QB to enter due to injury was Joe Flacco. The Buffalo Bills defense swarmed the Jets all game long, causing starter Mike White to take numerous punishing hits. He hurt his ribs on one such hit, leaving for 2 plays. White returned but briefly left again after another hit, though he did finish the loss. He was taken to the hospital for precautionary reasons, but that tells me that he should never have returned. The team may have actually endangered him. Flacco completed just 1 pass for 1 yard as White returned quickly each time. The last of our concussion replacements was Brett Rypien. He came in for the Broncos when Russell Wilson got hurt on a run to the 1-yard line. It’s a shame because he was easily having his best game as a Bronco. Rypien finished that drive with a TD (barely; it took 4th and goal at the 7), but that was it. He threw an ugly INT and basically ruined Denver’s chances. One more injury replacement for a player that didn’t have a concussion was Colt McCoy. Arizona’s Kyler Murray tried to make a cut on his first drive and something gave out on him, sending him off on a cart. McCoy was alright (240 yards, INT when hit during throw), but the team was too abysmal to challenge the Patriots.
The other four QBs to play came on as a result of competitive reasons. The Eagles and Giants game was a blowout in the fourth quarter, and Philadelphia decided to bring Gardner Minshew in. Minshew didn’t actually throw a pass, but he did lead a TD drive. In response, the defeated Giants brought out Tyrod Taylor, who continued to look better than Daniel Jones, albeit in garbage time. He threw for 47 yards and a TD on 5/5 passing, and he added 2 rushes for 40 yards in his limited action. Finally, Houston played Jeff Driskel despite announcing Davis Mills as the starter. It seems like there were designed packages for Driskel and he was playing predetermined snaps, as Mills played the majority of the game (and was mediocre). Driskel went 4/6 for 38 yards and a TD with 36 rushing yards, showing that maybe he should get a start at some point during this lost season. Last, we saw Josh Johnson enter the game for the Niners. We expected SF to win, but not so much that Brock Purdy would be removed from the game because the score was 35-7. Johnson only threw 2 passes, but the one he completed officially iced the game. Maybe Denver should’ve kept him over Rypien.
Seattle Seahawks Coming Back Down to Earth
Seattle has been a nice story this season. They’re the scrappy young team that traded their long-time franchise QB but didn’t crater. Good coaching, strong rookie performances, and a resurgent season from QB Geno Smith led to a surprising start. Their 6-3 record, good enough to hold the NFC West lead for several weeks, feels more like a mirage now that the Seahawks have lost 3 of their past 4. Their lone win in that span was a 27-23 squeaker over the Rams, who are a walking injured reserve list. However, even that win wasn’t joyous, as they lost promising rookie RB Kenneth Walker III to an ankle injury. In the other 3 games, they lost in Germany to Tampa Bay while making that offense look competent, they lost a shootout against the Raiders, and they fell at home to a 4-8 Carolina team.
One aspect of the team that has crumbled has been their run defense. The unit was absolutely awful at the start of the season but had rebounded nicely after a few games. During this poor stretch, the defense is back to its porous ways, letting the league-worst Buccaneers rushing offense gain 161 yards, allowing LV to run for 283 yards, and enabling Carolina to gash them for 223 yards. When teams take the lead against Seattle, they can salt the game away on the ground with ease, as we saw Sunday against Carolina. Offensively, they can no longer run themselves. Walker’s loss is the biggest culprit, but even he had 24 rushes for just 43 yards in the two games before he got hurt. Rookie tackles Charles Cross and Abraham Lucas have earned rave reviews for their pass blocking, but they’re not as polished yet in run protection.
Finally, Geno Smith has not been as excellent as before. Previously a shoo-in for comeback player of the year, the turnover bug has returned to Smith. His completion percentage still leads the league, but he has 3 INTs and 2 fumbles in those 2 recent losses. The Seahawks haven’t feasted on good teams, so Smith has been able to mostly mask the team’s defensive issues. Against a couple of good rushing teams, Smith has been under more pressure to put up points. Carolina and Las Vegas, two middling squads, scored 40 and 30 points, respectively, against Seattle. Smith has produced well in response, but his few miscues are magnified when his team can’t keep up. He needed to be perfect to win most of these games, and he hasn’t been for a few weeks. Unless he can return to that form, Seattle is likely to fade out of the playoff picture as the season winds down.
A Complaint About Fines in the NFL
Look at this link. Skim through it and take a look at all the fines. A couple were for faking injuries, which if true would impact the integrity of the game. Every other fine is a joke. There are a couple types of fines doled out by the league, and I’m going to rant a bit about each of them. To start, we have fines for unsportsmanlike conduct. An egregious example is that Ezekiel Elliott seems to get fined every year for jumping into the Salvation Army kettle for “using a prop”. He brings attention to a worthy cause each time he does it, and he’s being punished? This is why the NFL is called the “No Fun League.” Taunting flags also draw fines every week. The 15-yard flag that hurts the player’s team and gets the coach mad at him isn’t enough. Nothing about these acts is worthy of monetary penalties. The league should really seriously knock it off, because it’s actually the one committing a foul against the players and fans.
Alternatively, we’ve got fines for illegal hits (unnecessary roughness, roughing the passer, and the like). I absolutely DESPISE these. You might recall that I argued about Damar Hamlin’s penalty last week. He actually got fined for that legal play! That brings me to my point: no on-field play should trigger a fine. If you throw a punch at another player or something like that, then sure. But plays that happen within the lines should be exempt. None of these plays are examples of players intentionally trying to injure someone. That sort of malice should always be aggressively disciplined. Most times, the fines are coming on hits where the contact was accidental or just poor tackles. The referees are already overpenalizing these hits and putting defenders at a disadvantage. There’s no need to hit their wallets too. I side with the NFL on certain things, but this is definitely not one of them.