Let's take a look back at some notable performances and key plays from Week 16 of the NFL season.
MVP: Tony Romo, Cowboys.
With a well-earned tip of the cap to the Giants' Eli Manning, who was near-perfect (360 yards passing, three TDs) against a Rams' defense that had not allowed a touchdown since Week 12, Romo starred in a game with much higher stakes.
Not only did the Cowboys clinch the NFC East with a 42-7 win over Indianapolis, Romo broke Troy Aikman's franchise record for most career passing yards. His 218-yard showing Sunday left him at 32,971 for his career, 29 yards better than what Aikman posted during his storied run.
“Ultimately, we’re all judged on winning and losing," Romo said last month, via The Dallas Morning News. "What did you accomplish? What was your achievement when you played? And that’s the way it should be. I think that’s a great thing for quarterbacks. We’re in that position. It’s just what we’re judged by."
Aikman, of course, won three Super Bowls during his time with the Cowboys and was named MVP in one of those championship wins. Romo is just 1-3 in the playoffs, with another chance coming up in a couple of weeks.
Fittingly, Romo's historic moment came on a touchdown pass to longtime TE Jason Witten, who himself has more than 10,000 career receiving yards. That score was Romo's fourth TD toss vs. the Colts, all coming during the first three quarters. -- Chris Burke
LVP: The Bills' run game.
C.J. Spiller returned to the lineup Sunday, a development that should have provided a nice boost to playoff-hungry Buffalo. Or not ...
The Bills’ 13 rushing yards in this game would be their fewest in a single game since at least 2001.— Mike Rodak (@mikerodak) December 22, 2014
Spiller rushed four times for minus-four yards and nearly coughed up a fumble in the fourth quarter. His fellow running backs, Fred Jackson and Boobie Dixon combined for 17 yards on nine carries. Jackson did lead the Bills in receiving (nine catches for 93 yards), though that may speak more to Kyle Orton's inability to stretch the field -- aside from one deep TD to Sammy Watkins -- than anything else.
Buffalo simply could not move an active Oakland front off the line at all Sunday, forcing a passing-challenged offense to become one dimensional. -- CB
Must-see Vine: Plenty of fireworks to choose from in the Giants' 37-27 win at St. Louis, several of the incidents involving Odell Beckham Jr. Among other things (like posting 148 yards and two touchdowns), Beckham was flagged for taunting following an early TD, was hit late by Alec Ogletree to incite a brawl that resulted in three ejections and exchanged some words with T.J. McDonald.
The most outlandish moment of the fiery game, though, came courtesy of New York kicker Josh Brown:
Brown was given a 15-yard penalty for unnecessary roughness. -- CB
Head-scratching decision(s): Two early Indianapolis mistakes.
Given how complete the Cowboys' dominating of Indianapolis was, changing the outcomes of a couple plays probably would not have made a difference. But who knows?
The Cowboys scored on their first four possessions, to nab a 28-0 lead. The Colts had them stopped, however, on the game's opening drive before a boneheaded mistake by LB Jerrell Freeman. After tackling Joseph Randle for a loss on 3rd-and-11, Freeman then was penalized 15 yards for taunting, which gave Dallas an automatic first down. Romo and Terrance Williams connected on a touchdown pass a few minutes later.
On Indianapolis' ensuing possession -- a quick three-and-out -- Pat McAfee saw the Cowboys lining up as if they would attempt to block his punt, thus leaving gunner Dewey McDonald uncovered. McAfee lobbed a pass out to McDonald for what should have been a first down; McDonald dropped it, giving the Cowboys the ball deep in Colts territory.
That mistake led to another Dallas TD, one of six in the Cowboys' 42-7 blowout. -- CB
Key injury: Marcell Dareus, DT, Buffalo (knee)
The top Pro Bowl vote-getter at defensive tackle (as of Dec. 17) and owner of 10 sacks on the season, Dareus was lost with a knee injury Sunday and left a chasm up front for the Bills. Oakland took advantage of it, too, riding Latavius Murray and Darren McFadden to 140 combined yards rushing in a 26-24 upset.
Dareus actually suffered the injury while tackling Murray in the second quarter. His leg appeared to get caught under a pile at the tail end of the play, and Dareus headed to the locker room moments later.
The Bills also lost cornerback Stephon Gilmore to a concussion in the second half. -- CB
MVP: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Minnesota Vikings
With all the talk in Washington, D.C. and Chicago about coaches throwing their quarterbacks under the bus, anonymously or otherwise, it was interesting to see what Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator had to say about rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater this week. Bridgewater came into Sunday's game against the Dolphins with 223 completions in 351 attempts for 2,451 yards, 11 touchdowns and 10 interceptions -- Not spectacular but not horrible.
However Bridgewater has done well of late, completing 68.3 percent of his passes for 973 yards, seven touchdowns and four picks in the last four weeks before Sunday. And on Sunday, Bridgewater added to that recent positive streak with his 19-of-26 for 259-yard, two-touchdown, one-interception performance against a Dolphins team who won the game, 37-35, on a blocked punt recovered for a safety. It's unusual to give a player the MVP award in a losing effort, but Bridgewater was outstanding through most of the day, as he has been over the last month under circumstances that would force a lot of rookie quarterbacks to regress.
But enough of our yappin'. Here's what Turner had to say about Bridgewater:
And it certainly looks as if Bridgewater is continuing to get better. The Vikings have some personnel work to do in the offseason, but they seem to have the most important position locked up. -- Doug Farrar
LVP: Dominic Raiola, C, Detroit Lions
On an ordinary day, we might go with Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco here -- his 21-of-50, three-interception performance in a loss to the Houston Texans was atypically bad. But this was no ordinary day -- this was a day in which one player set out to intentionally injure another player after the play was over. This was Lions C Dominic Raiola stomping on the ankle of Bears defensive lineman Ego Ferguson.
It's hardly a first for Raiola, who has fought with fans and players for years, as he tried to take out Patriots DT Zach Moore with a chop block in the Lions' loss to the Patriots earlier this season. Given his history and what he did in this game, it would be entirely appropriate for the league to suspend Raiola for the same two games it game Lions DT Ndamukong Suh when he curb-stomped Packers center Evan Dietrich-Smith on Thanksgiving Day in 2011. And if one of those games is a playoff game... well, tough. This stuff has no business in football. -- DF
Must-see Play: Arian Foster's touchdown pass
The Houston Texans have had a heck of a time trying to put and keep a serviceable quarterback on the field, which is one reason they're on the precipice of the postseason hunt at best despite J.J. Watt's superhuman feats and a bevy of skill players on offense. Based on this throw from running back Arian Foster to C.J. Fiedorowicz late in the second quarter, the Texans might want to put the ball in Foster's hands and see what he can do. If it's Foster or Case Keenum when the Texans try to end their season at 9-7 against the Jaguars next Sunday, why not? -- DF
Head-scratching decision: Miami's reaction to Minnesota's overload blitz.
Yes, the Dolphins beat the Vikings, keeping themselves in playoff contention. But if Joe Philbin's team does make the playoffs, the coaching staff might want to re-drill the fundamentals involved in the establishment of, and changing of, protection calls. Here, in the first quarter, we see the Vikings with an overload blitz look and a post-snap coverage drop, and everything gets all discombobulated from there. Sharrif Floyd and Chad Greenway meet at Ryan Tannehill, and a drive is stopped. Perhaps the Dolphins thought Floyd jumped the gun? In any case, gotta block all the way through the play, guys. -- DF
Key Injury: Johnny Manziel, QB, Cleveland Browns (hamstring)
This injury doesn't mean much to the Browns this season, since Manziel is obviously a player who needs tons of development, and the team is out of the playoff race. Before he left in the second quarter of Cleveland's loss to the Panthers after he was hit by S Colin Jones on a designed run, Manziel was 3-for-8 for 32 yards passing -- no improvement from last Sunday's shutout loss to the Bengals.
In relief, Brian Hoyer, whose recent ghastly performances earned him a spot on the bench, completed seven of 13 passes for 134 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Not exactly amazing, but far better than what we've seen from Manziel this season. Who will start when the Browns finish their season against the Ravens next Sunday? We can but wait and see... -- DF