Let's take a look back at some notable performances and key plays from Week 13 of the NFL season.
MVP: Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers.
Hard to make another choice here. Rodgers was the best player on the field in what arguably was the best matchup of the NFL season so far. Behind an offensive line that pass-protected about as well it can, Rodgers racked up 368 yards passing and two touchdowns in Green Bay's 26-21 statement victory over New England.
And he accomplished that by using the Patriots' gameplan against them.
New England came out focused on limiting Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb -- something Bill Belichick believed he could do with Brandon Browner and Darrelle Revis at his disposal. So Rodgers opened up the offense early by picking on Logan Ryan, who found himself covering talented rookie Davante Adams.
Adams caught three passes for 90 yards in the first quarter alone and six balls for 121 yards in the game (though he did drop a touchdown pass).
When the Patriots tried to respond to Adams' quick start, Rodgers worked through his other targets -- hitting Richard Rodgers for a 32-yard TD, Andrew Quarless against safety Patrick Chung, Cobb sprinting out of the backfield as LB Rob Ninkovich chased helplessly. The Packers' QB even found a huge play with Nelson, hitting him on a streaking 45-yard TD in front of Revis just prior to halftime.
Green Bay left some points on the table, stalling out four times deep in New England territory. It's still hard to nitpick much about Rodgers' performance Sunday. He was his usual brilliant self, even against an elite foe. -- Chris Burke
LVP: Patrick Peterson, CB, Arizona Cardinals.
"Me feeling I’m the best corner in the league, I want the team’s No. 1 receiver, period,” Arizona's Patrick Peterson told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution this week, ahead of his showdown with Julio Jones. "That’s where you get the opportunity to gain the respect from your peers and be recognized as one of the best and one of the greats after you are done with the game. That’s the kind of pressure I like to have for myself and as a team."
Peterson cracked under that pressure Sunday, as Jones torched him for 189 yards and a touchdown in Arizona's 29-18 upset win.
Jones posted 132 of those before halftime -- that's the most productive half of his career, according to ESPN Stats & Info. His 32-yard touchdown grab in the first quarter pushed Atlanta's early lead out to 17-0, on what had been the league's No. 2-ranked scoring defense.
The Jones-Peterson encounter was rather indicative of the entire Arizona-Atlanta game. Matt Ryan wound up throwing for 361 yards (the most allowed by the Cardinals in five weeks), while Steven Jackson became the first running back to top the century mark against Bruce Arians' defense.
But the spotlight was on Jones vs. Peterson. Score it a decisive KO for Jones. -- CB
Must-see GIF: As far as Rob Gronkowski performances rate, Sunday's game was somewhere in the middle of the pack -- seven catches for 98 yards and no touchdowns. He still managed to do this ...
That's an exhilarating run after the catch by one of the NFL's most physical players. Oh, and bonus points to Gronk for not being fazed by Sam Barrington's (No. 58) attempt to pull down his pants. -- CB
Head-scratching decision: Bruce Arians' decision not to throw the challenge flag.
Back to Jones-Peterson here. Most of the damage done by Jones occurred in the first half. After the break, he caught just two passes for 57 yards ... and a 41-yarder definitely should not have counted.
Peterson was called for defensive holding on the play in question, which would have given Atlanta five yards and a first down. Arians opting to hold onto his challenge cost the Cardinals an extra 36 yards, because here's where Julio Jones' second foot came down as he attempted a leaping grab:
Not even close.
Atlanta kicked a field goal for a 23-10 lead moments later. -- CB
Key injuries: Andre Ellington, RB, Arizona Cardinals.
The Cardinals entered Sunday already down QB Carson Palmer for the season and WR Larry Fitzgerald for at least another week, so Ellington's departure due to a nagging hip injury added to their growing list of problems.
Ellington had averaged just 3.3 yards per carry on the season prior to Week 13, but his 648 yards rushing were far and away tops on the team. (Stepfan Taylor stood in second place, with 83 yards on 25 attempts.)
Once Ellington exited, the Cardinals were down to rookie Marion Grice in the backfield (recently signed bruiser Michael Bush was inactive). Grice chipped in 40 yards on eight touches, but any hope for a balanced attack -- already something of a pipe dream with Drew Stanton struggling at QB -- vanished with Ellington.
Arizona's rather meaningless touchdown late in the fourth quarter snapped a streak of 170 minutes its offense had gone without finding the end zone. -- CB
It's been a fairly disastrous season for the Saints, who stand at 5-7 after Sunday's win over the Steelers. More than one pundit has hypothesized that the franchise is concerned with the strength of Drew Brees' arm, and rumor has it that Brees' eventual replacement could be taken in the 2015 draft. The funny thing about future Hall-of-Famers, though -- just when you count them out, they have a tendency to roar back and prove that they still have quite a bit left in the tank (ex: Manning, Peyton).
So it was for Brees on Sunday. Against a fairly game Pittsburgh defense (though a shadow of the defenses Dick LeBeau once coached), Brees ripped it up, completing 19 passes in 27 attempts for 257 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions. It was good enough for a 35-32 victory that snapped New Orleans' three-game losing streak, giving them a half-game lead in the NFC South. -- Doug Farrar
It was not a good day for quarterbacks playing for the state of Ohio.
The worst kind of quarterback isn't the guy who will throw five interceptions in every game, inevitably leading his team to defeat after defeat. That player is easy to replace, even if he's a first-overall pick and the subsequent salary cap hit is prohibitive. No, the worst kind of quarterback is the kind who manages to rise above mediocrity just enough to make you believe that he has franchise player potential, and then bottoms out with the kind of play that personifies his limitations.
Sadly for the Bengals, Andy Dalton is exactly that kind of quarterback.
Dalton's first pick was a miscommunication with A.J. Green. His second was a horrible bomb into double coverage in the end zone, and the third pick was an awful throw off his back foot. What's perhaps even less forgivable about this performance is that the Bucs certainly have one of the simplest set of defensive schemes in the NFL -- this stuff isn't hard to decipher. Dalton's team beat the Buccaneers 14-13, but that was far more about the opportunities the Bucs didn't take (and the illegal-yet-game-saving challenge call by Marvin Lewis).
Onward and upward for the 8-3-1 Bengals, but it doesn't make the quarterback problem go away -- Dalton finished the game with 19 completions in 27 attempts for 176 yards, one touchdown and those three picks. On the season, Dalton has thrown 13 touchdown passes in 12 games.
The Browns have a similar issue with Brian Hoyer. There are times when Hoyer looks like the kind of quarterback that can really take Cleveland somewhere ... and there are other times when he most decidedly doesn't. The Browns' 26-10 loss to the Bills was one of those times when he decidedly didn't. Hoyer completed 18-of-30 passes for 192 yards, no touchdowns and two picks, looking so bad that head coach Mike Pettine made the call to pull Hoyer and put in Johnny Manziel. The rookie didn't fare much better, finishing with five completions in eight attempts for 63 yards in what amounted to mop-up duty.
Two teams, two quarterbacks, two tough decisions. That's what happens when you hitch your wagon to an average player at the game's most important position. -- DF
Must-see plays: Minnesota's two blocked punts for touchdowns.
Here's something you don't see every day -- one team taking two blocked punts to the house in the same game. But it happened on Sunday to the benefit of the Minnesota Vikings in their 31-13 win over the Carolina Panthers. The first block came with seven minutes left in the first quarter, when receiver Adam Thielen blocked Brad Nortman's punt, and returned it 30 yards for the score.
(GIFs courtesy Bleacher Report)
It was the first time a team has returned two blocked punts for touchdowns in the same game since the Kansas City Chiefs did it in a 34-0 win over the Cleveland Browns on Sept. 30, 1990. It has happened just four times in NFL history, per Pro Football Reference -- the 1973 Miami Dolphins and the '43 New York Giants also accomplished this feat. -- DF
Head-scratching decision: D.J. Fluker's forced fumble
From the "You Had One Job" Department: Here's Chargers offensive tackle D.J. Fluker, doing ... well, we're not sure what. But he appears to be forcing a fumble on receiver Eddie Royal, who is Fluker's teammate. Baltimore recovered the fumble, and though San Diego won the game 34-33, we're guessing that Fluker will have to answer some questions about this one. -- DF
Not that it affects any playoff races, but the 2-10 Titans got a bit of a scare in the third quarter of their 45-21 loss to the Houston Texans when Mettenberger, the rookie sixth-round quarterback currently in charge of Ken Whisenhunt's passing game, left the game with what turned out to be a Grade 1 sprain of the AC joint in his throwing shoulder. Mettenberger said after the game that he would be good to go against the Giants next Sunday, but it's best to wait for the MRI on Monday before concluding anything like that. In relief of Mettenberger, former starter Jake Locker threw a pick on his very first play. -- DF