- Plus, nobody tanks in the NFL, the Patriots’ series of missteps and miscalculations, the Steelers play without Big Ben and lose their margin for error, Chiefs and Saints survive, the sad end of the Panthers’ season and a Jets lineman delivers the cheap shot of the season.
Reacting and overreacting to everything that happened on Sunday afternoon. Get the full Sunday breakdown from Andy Benoit and Gary Gramling on The Monday Morning NFL Podcast. Subscribe to The MMQB Podcasts now and it will be in your feed first thing Monday morning
Miracle in the City in Which the Dolphins Play!
Dolphins Did Great Work: Gold stars for Kenny Stills showing patience on the pitch, center Ted Larsen for hustling downfield to make that last block, and Kenyan Drake for the creative running on the play that beat the Patriots.
Why Is Gronk on the Field?!?!?!: It was a day of mistakes and miscalculations by the Patriots, but this was the worst of them. Why is Rob Gronkowski on the field when it was an almost literal impossibility that Ryan Tannehill, battling shoulder problems the past two months, could have gotten the ball anywhere near the end zone for a jump-ball situation on a play starting on his own 31? That’s not a rhetorical question, someone please provide me with an answer.
Things That Made Me Giddy
Amari Cooper: Ten catches for 217 yards and three touchdowns—the overtime TD coming on a deflected pass on which he didn’t win—keying a season sweep of the defending champs. Bonus points for the tremendous post-game interview he gave to Erin Andrews, in which Cooper actually broke down the game-winning touchdown pretty thoroughly (in short: he was running a slant, he knew the Eagles knew he was running a slant because he had been killing them on slants over two games, he tried to stem the route to sell a fade but knew it wouldn’t work, and they caught a break).
The Defense Strikes Back, Starring Don ‘Wink’ Martindale: The Chiefs get the win, but Martindale made this a grind for that vaunted K.C. offense—lots of unique pre-snap looks, and a lot of pressure on Patrick Mahomes who needed every bit of his superhuman ability to come away with a win.
The Saints Get it Going Just In Time: They had to grind this one out in the second half, with an assist to Tampa’s atrocious special teams that prevented the Bucs from pulling away. The nice thing for New Orleans is their defense, while overshadowed by the offense, is really frickin’ good. The Saints creep closer to a first-round bye with the win in Tampa.
Dak Picks Himself Back Up: Two bad second-half turnovers pumped life into the Eagles’ struggling offense, but Prescott rebounded with a scoring drive capped with a gorgeous 28-yard TD to Amari Cooper. It was his third of three TD passes to Cooper coming after Prescott’s third and final turnover.
Brandon Bolden Revenge Game!: Two first-half touchdown runs for the former Patriot!
Officials Call Lowering the Helmet on the… Offense?!: And it was a good call on Ezekiel Elliott, who lowered his helmet to finish a run head-first. The dangerous play landed Elliott in the medical tent—that’s why it’s the kind of play that had to be litigated out of the game.
D.J. Moore With the Ball in His Hands:
Joe Philbin Is On the Board: The interim head coach scores a win over Atlanta. The Packers can still win this thing!
Josh Allen Back-to-Back 100-Yard Rushing Games: And it would have been three straight but he took two kneel-downs at the end of the victory over Jacksonville, which took him from 101 yards to 99. That’s how you generate offense when you have the worst supporting cast in football.
Nick Chubb’s Power: There’s been no real adjustment to the man-strength of NFL defenders—the rookie consistently pushes the pile. He had 66 tough yards on 13 carries in the win over the Panthers.
Tahir Whitehead Is the Rare Raiders Bright Spot: Perhaps not surprisingly, since the new regime went out of its way to get him in free agency. But Whitehead has been a quality player on a bad defense, and on Sunday he made several key plays in the Raiders' upset of Pittsburgh. He read a play-action rollout perfectly to make a fourth-down stop in the third quarter, and later came up with a shoestring interception off a deflected pass. He also was the one who chased down JuJu Smith-Schuster for a game-saving tackle when the Steelers’ hook-and-lateral nearly went for the last-second win in Oakland.
Andrew Luck, Frank Reich and Matt Eberflus: What a difference a year makes for the Colts. They went down to Houston and outplayed the division-leading Texans on both sides of the ball.
Zach Zenner as Kyra Segwick in The Closer: The Lions ran 12 offensive plays in the final 10 minutes in Arizona, and 11 of them were Zenner carries (for 52 yards and a touchdown). That's how the Lions wrapped up a win in the desert.
Brett Maher From 62!: As in, he made it! A very long kick! That made it 6-0 Cowboys going into the locker room, and made up for his earlier 45-yard miss.
Andre Roberts on the Return: He took kickoffs back 51 and 86 yards in the first half, setting up 10 points for a bad Jets offense that needed in a comeback win in Buffalo. For that, we can forgive the fumble he coughed up on the second-half kickoff.
Michael Badgley, Rare Kicker Heroics for the Chargers: The rookie goes 4-for-4 on field goals, including a 59-yarder to end the first half, and hits both his PATs. We’d be living in a much different world if the Chargers had kickers doing that the past two seasons. And Badgley's leg was the difference in a narrow win over the Bengals.
Patriots Punt Blocks: Darren Rizzi’s Dolphins special teams unit is typically wonderful, but the Patriots got to them twice on Sunday.
Officials Manage to Fit an Egregiously Bad Call and an Egregiously Bad Missed Call Within Two Second of Each Other: As someone who advocates for more offensive pass interference calls, this is nowhere near a penalty. However, the head-shot delivered to Dallas Goedert right after the catch is an obvious penalty. With seven officials on the field how do you get both those wrong?
Honestly, Is Xavier Woods Invisible to Officials?: He landed the blatant headshot on Dallas Goedert above, and he was the one who levied the helmet-to-helmet shot on Jordan Reed that somehow went uncalled on Thanksgiving.
The Steelers’ Margin for Error Is Gone: Forget about a first-round bye. Pittsburgh is a half-game in front of a pack of teams (most notably the Ravens—the Steelers could win a bad division and make the playoffs) with a home date with the Patriots and road trip to New Orleans coming up the next two weeks. And the fact that they waited so long to put Ben Roehtlisberger back into the game after a first-half rib injury on Sunday suggests that he won’t be 100% for any of it. (And, if you’re scoring at home, they’d be at least 9-4 and perhaps 10-3 if they had made a legitimate long-term offer to Le’Veon Bell last winter. Instead they sit at 7-5-1.)
Henry Anderson Delivers the Cheapest of Shots: After blocking the last-second field-goal attempt in the first half, Anderson pulls off the rare "turd boy double" by not only targeting the kicker on a non-return, but making sure he hit him in the back. None of the seven officials flagged it because that’s how the NFL rolls. Hauschka was clearly not right on his next field-goal attempt, a 54-yard miss. Looking forward to the new strategy of cheap-shotting the opponent’s kicker.
Texans No Longer Streaking: They were thoroughly outplayed by Andrew Luck and the Colts in their own building. They’re still in the driver’s seat in the AFC South, and they might not be too far away, but they have some things to figure out on the offensive side of the ball before they can be put in contender territory.
The Utterly Regrettable Mark Sanchez: 6-for-14 for 38 yards and two interceptions, along with five sacks taken. If you didn’t see the game, it’s fair to wonder if Sanchez perhaps wearing his helmet backwards. (He was not.) Oh, and Washington trailed 40-0 at one point in a home loss to the Giants.
Chris Bowell’s Nightmare Continues: The Steelers kicker was just 10-for-14 on field goals and 36-for-41 on PATs coming into Sunday, and in Oakland he missed a 39-yarder in the first half, then lost his footing on a potentially game-tying 40-yard attempt as time expired.
Andrew Luck’s Supporting Cast Early On: The first quarter included wide-open third-and-short drops by Eric Ebron and Erik Swoope, and while the second-quarter interception wasn’t a great throw it went through Zach Pascal’s hands.
Broncos Face-Plant: The road win over the Chargers a few weeks back felt like it was for real. The home win over Pittsburgh after that, well, not so much considering the Steelers’ million unforced giveaways in a game in which Denver was out-gained by more than 200 yards. The loss of Chris Harris and Emmanuel Sanders, then the ugly loss at San Francisco, seems like an end to the Broncos’ playoff hopes.
Surely Officials Can Recognize the Difference Between a “Defenseless Receiver” and a Receiver Diving Into a Defender Who Isn’t Moving in the Direction of that Receiver:
Lamar Jackson Still Has Some Work to Do: He’s progressing, but the Ravens’ inability to get their protection set cost them a shot to get game-winning points at the end of regulation and nearly cost them the game on the Justin Houston strip-sack. That said, there’s no way Baltimore can go back to Joe Flacco.
Duron Harmon Fails Geometry: What in the world is that angle?
Tom Brady Loses His Mind: On a third-and-goal with 14 seconds left in the first half and no timeouts, he declines a couple of chances to throw the ball away and instead takes a sack, leaving three points on the field. (Presumably, Stephen Gostkowski did miss a PAT and a 42-yarder on Sunday.)
Moments We’ll Tell Our Grandkids About
Mahomes-to-Hill on Fourth Down:
This Throw and This Catch: Baker Mayfield shows the aggressiveness with which a quarterback must play in 2018.
Cowboys Crash Eagles’ TD Celebration: This is probably a bad precedent because at some point it’s going to spark a brawl, but that’s a pretty heady move by Demarcus Lawrence and the Dallas defense.
Sam Darnold’s Mahomes Impression:
Patrick Mahomes’s No-Look Pass: Cool!
What We’ll Be Talking About This Week
The Champs Are on the Brink, but not Totally Out of It: The Eagles are sitting at 6-7 with a trip to L.A. to face the Rams coming up. The division is virtually out of reach, but after Monday night the second NFC wild-card team will be either 6-6-1 Minnesota or 7-6 Seattle. A 9-7 record, even with a bad conference record, could still get the Eagles into the tournament.
Patrick Mahomes Running Away with the MVP Race (Again): The Chiefs lost the chess match on Sunday—it took Mahomes making a series of superhuman plays to win the game. It helps that Drew Brees has struggled immensely the past two weeks, but if the season ended today Mahomes should be the unanimous choice for MVP.
The Sad End of the Carolina Panthers: It’s a five-game losing streak for the Panthers, who caught a series of bad breaks in loss Nos. 2 and 3, then were submarined by Cam Newton’s bum shoulder the past two weeks. Back-to-back losses in Tampa and Cleveland signal the end of their once-promising 2018 run, and the team once again must grapple with how they’ll balance Newton’s talent with the ball in his hands with the need to keep him healthy.
Thursday Night Football Is Here to Ruin the AFC West Race: The winner of Chargers-Chiefs takes control of the AFC West. The Chiefs face the near-impossible task of preparing for an NFL game on three days’ rest with a bunch of their players banged up (Tyreek Hill limped through the final minutes of the game, Spencer Ware also left early on Sunday). And the Chargers get the nearly-as-impossible take of having to travel across two time zones to play a game on three days’ rest. Thursday Night Football is purely anti-football.
The End of Steve Sarkisian in Atlanta: It has to be (even with the Falcons scoring 20 points in a game for the first time since Nov. 4, thanks to a garbage-time TD with 14 seconds left making it a 34-20 loss at Green Bay). Last year you could put some of it on the transition to a new coordinator, but there is far too much talent on that Falcons offense for them to be putting up so few points.
Nobody Tanks in the NFL: Which is nice, because two-thirds of the way into an NBA regular season half the games are unwatchable because one or both teams are actively trying to lose. On Sunday, the 49ers and Raiders both pulled off upsets, while the Jets won on the road. Sometimes it’s fun to just win some games, y’know?
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