Let's take a look back at some notable performances and key plays from Week 14 of the NFL season.
4 p.m. games
MVP(s): Seattle's defense.
When the Seahawks were preparing to face the Arizona Cardinals on Nov. 23, they stood at 6-4, and faced two key games in a five-day stretch -- the Cards that Sunday, and the 49ers on Thanksgiving Day. In those two games, they allowed six total points, refusing to give up a touchdown. Against Chip Kelly's high-octane offense in Week 14, there were more points scored, but the Seahawks pulled off their third straight strong performance in that regard, keeping the Eagles to nine first downs and 139 total yards. Mark Sanchez finished his day with 10 completions in 20 attempts for 96 yards, two touchdowns and one pick, and one of those scores came with advantageous field position following a Seattle turnover -- Philly started their second offensive series of the game at the Seattle 14-yard line after Seahawks punter Jon Ryan bobbled a snap.
While the return of Bobby Wagner is a huge bonus for the Seahawks, the real story over the last month has been the play of Seattle's starting cornerbacks, Richard Sherman and Byron Maxwell. Over the last four games before the Eagles win, Sherman had allowed six catches on 17 targets for 84 yards with no touchdowns, two picks and a 12.5 opposing passer rating. Maxwell allowed eight catches on 16 targets for 108 yards with no touchdowns, one pick and a opposing passer rating of 45.8. As long as this defense keeps it up, the now 9-4 Seahawks (who gained a key tiebreaker with the 9-4 Eagles in the playoff race) are a team that absolutely nobody wants to deal with. -- Doug Farrar
LVP: Colin Kaepernick, QB, San Francisco 49ers
It was understandable when Kaepernick struggled against Seattle's aforementioned defense on Thanksgiving night. But his numbers against a Raiders defense that ranked 26th against the pass in Football Outsiders' opponent-adjusted metrics -- 18-of-33 for 174 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions -- was far from acceptable. And it was the primary reason the Raiders were able to come away with a 24-13 upset win. As he has of late, Kaepernick failed to see the entire field, overthrew his receivers more than once on fairly easy sideline routes, and looked like a quarterback out of sorts. Kaepernick has not used as much play action or designed runs this season as in years past, and it's showing on the field.
“We’re not going to make excuses," head coach Jim Harbaugh said on Dec. 1 about his reeling offense. "There’s nothing we can do about the game. We weren’t happy, none of us. None of us were happy that we lost the game. But we can’t do anything about that. It’s attacking this ball game. That’s what we want. We want to get it right this weekend.”
Well, they didn't, and they have a problem at the game's most important position. If Kaepernick doesn't turn it around soon, the now 7-6 49ers will see changes aplenty once the offseason rolls around. -- DF
Must-see play: Donald Penn's "Fat Guy Touchdown."
Not that Penn is a fat guy, per se -- he worked very hard in the offseason and he's been a really nice free-agent pickup for the Raiders. And with 10:45 left in the first half of their Sunday surprise win over the 49ers, Raiders quarterback Derek Carr hit Penn for a three-yard touchdown pass.
Amazingly, it's not the first time Penn has scored a touchdown in the NFL -- when he was in Tampa Bay, his coaches also liked to occasionally set him up in the red zone. He had a 15-yard reception in 2009, a one-yard touchdown in '10 and another one-yard touchdown last season. Now with three touchdown receptions in his career, Penn is the most prolific target weighing in at around 340 pounds in the history of the league. -- DF
Head-scratching-decision: The Bills, giving up in the fourth quarter.
Two things we know:
1. The Bills were still in possible playoff contention in the AFC when they traveled to Denver with a 7-5 record.
2. And with a 56.9 quarterback rating, Peyton Manning had his worst game in six years.
So, even with the Bills down by two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, you'd think head coach Doug Marrone would take a shot at converting a 4th-and-2 with 5:33 left in the game. Yes, the Bills were at their own 16-yard line, and a failure to convert would put the game out of reach, but you knew the Broncos were going to milk the clock following a punt, so the game would have been out of reach anyway.
As it turned out, Buffalo's defense forced a three-and-out, and the Bills got the ball back at their own 10-yard line. What happened next? Well, Marrone's team marched 90 yards for a touchdown drive, cutting the score to 24-17. However, that took most of the remaining time off the clock, and after an unsuccessful onside kick attempt, the Broncos took two kneel downs and escaped with a victory. We're left to wonder what the Bills might have done on one of Manning's worst days as an NFL player had they taken that one fourth-down shot ... -- DF
Key injury: Antonio Cromartie, CB, Arizona Cardinals (lower leg)
Arizona transcended its subpar passing offense to get its first win since Nov. 16 with a 17-14 victory over the Chiefs, but when Cromartie was carted off the field in the fourth quarter with what appeared to be a non-contact injury to his left Achilles' tendon, that had to put a damper on things. Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians later said that the injury was not to Cromartie's Achilles, but he couldn't put any weight on it. With their last three games against the Rams, Seahawks and 49ers, Arians' team needs to keep some momentum going, and Cromartie -- not Patrick Peterson -- has been Arizona's best pass defender this season. We'll know more on Monday, but this doesn't look good. -- DF
1 p.m. games
MVP: Le'Veon Bell
The AFC North race is officially back on. One week after the Bengals opened up a 1.5-game lead on their division rivals, the Steelers stormed into Cincinnati and scored a 42-21 victory. Pittsburgh racked up 25 points in the fourth quarter, with Bell finding the end zone twice during the onslaught.
His first touchdown versus the Bengals handed Pittsburgh a 17-10 lead early in the third quarter -- Bell took a Roethlisberger pass to the house from 10 yards out. He again pushed Pittsburgh out front in the fourth, on a 13-yard run, then iced the critical victory away with a 22-yard score up the sideline late.
"[Bell is] the best all-around back in the game," Roethlisberger said Tuesday during his weekly radio show, per abc11.com.
That praise has been well-earned in Bell's remarkable sophomore campaign. Sunday's 185-yard effort pushed Bell up over the 1,200-yard rushing mark for the season; he also has 71 receptions for nearly 700 yards.
Pittsburgh now controls its own destiny. Win out, and the Steelers will be division champs. -- Chris Burke
LVP: The New Orleans Saints
It's too hard to give this award to just one New Orleans player after today's game. The Saints dropped their fourth consecutive home game Sunday, the first time that has happened since 2006-07 (and in that stretch, New Orleans won a home playoff game.)
This latest setback was the most egregious of all. Fresh off a surprising -- and impressive -- 35-32 win in Pittsburgh, the Saints tanked in all phases against Carolina, suffering a 41-10 defeat.
Drew Brees actually garbage-time'd his way to more passing yards than Cam Newton (235 to 226) but his late stats could not have been more meaningless. Newton hit on three touchdown passes, plus rushed one in from a yard out as the Panthers turned this game into a rout early.
Carolina had not won since Week 5, with only a Week 6 tie in Cincinnati to show for its efforts since then. During the six-game losing streak they carried into Sunday, the Panthers had not scored more than 21 points nor topped 400 yards of offense in any single game.
Against the Saints, they racked up 497 yards en route to a 31-point win. -- CB
Must-see GIF: Washington fan
How bad are things in Washington? Well, the Redskins were shut out for their fifth consecutive loss and 10th of the season. Their disgruntled fans, many of whom had clamored for Colt McCoy to start over Robert Griffin III during this wasted season, began chanting for RGIII again during their team's 24-0 loss to St. Louis.
There also was this guy ... (GIF via SBNation) -- CB
Head-scratching decision: Joe Philbin
Can we just rename this the Joe Philbin Award?
Miami's coach has been featured in this section on multiple occasions this season because of his curious time-management decisions. Sunday, he opted not to throw the challenge flag when Baltimore QB Joe Flacco was ruled down at his own 1 on a sack. Olivier Vernon and a host of Dolphins reached Flacco as he dropped into his own end zone, and it was hard to tell if Flacco had indeed stretched the ball out across the goal line before his knee touched down.
Wonder if Joe Philbin should have considered the red-challenge flag on near-safety of Joe Flacco. Not sure ball out of EZ when knee down— Ed Werder (@Edwerderespn) December 7, 2014
Miami kicked a field goal on the ensuing possession and eventually lost by 15, so perhaps Philbin's hesitation did not play much of a role in the outcome. Still, a safety there and points after the free kick would have given the Dolphins a fourth-quarter lead. It could have changed the sequence of events that followed. -- CB
Key injury: Andre Johnson, WR, Texans
This one was scary. As he tried to make a catch over the middle, Johnson took a helmet-to-helmet hit from Jacksonville's Telvin Smith. His body contorted in the "fencer's response" -- an all-too-familiar sight in football games where a player's arms stiffen away from his body because of a brain injury.
The Texans quickly ruled Johnson out for the game with a concussion. We'll have to wait and see how long they'll be without him as their playoff push continues. -- CB