- Plus, fire everyone in Jacksonville for the Kessler debacle, Mike Zimmer gets his wish as the Vikings run wild, the Bears are NFC North champs, Derrick Henry steamrolls another hapless defense, the 49ers and Seahawks get chippy, some weird and wild stuff from Eli Manning, and more from Week 15’s Sunday slate.
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
Things That Made Me Giddy
Keith Butler Pushed the Right Buttons as Steelers Defense Delivers: A great job by the Steelers’ defensive coordinator, who did a masterful job mixing the blitzes and moving double teams around. And, after an early gaffe, the players responded and then some. Butler has had some rough days against Brady, but this was his Mona Lisa as the Steelers rode the defense to a must-have win over New England.
Matt Eberflus Sticks It to His Old Man: Eberflus has been the best assistant coach in football this season (Indianapolis thanks you, Josh McDaniels!). Facing his former team and former boss, Dallas DC Rod Marinelli, it was Eberflus’s group pitching a shutout. Because the future belongs to the kids, old man!
Kevin Stefanski’s Vikings Run Like Crazy People: The Vikings were better when they were on-script early, then muddled their way for a while before closing things out nicely in a victory over Miami. And Mike Zimmer will be giddy over the rushing totals (40 attempts for 220 yards), even if it was a result of game flow more than anything else.
49ers and Seahawks Getting Delightfully Chippy: The Niners’ overtime win had the feel of a rivalry game (which isn’t good news for the Seahawks, considering the state of the 49ers right now). I counted four personal fouls in the second half, and lots of jawing along the way. For Seattle, chalk the loss up to the short-week road trip, and go get at least a split at home (Kansas City and Arizona) to finish out the year.
Derrick Henry Late in the Year: It must be absolutely miserable trying to tackle a 240-pounder with relatively fresh legs when you’ve had 13-plus games of wear and tear on your body. He had 33 carries for 170 yards and two TDs to fuel the win over the Giants, bringing his two-week total to 50 carries, 408 yards and six TDs.
Josh Johnson Gets His First QB Win Ever: On his 12th NFL team. And when you’re going head-to-head with Cody Kessler, 151 passing yards and no turnovers gets the job done.
Ravens Keep Winning the Ones They Should Win: That’s four wins in Lamar Jackson’s five starts, as the run-heavy offense is complementing their dominant defense nicely, especially against some of the bottom-feeders they’ve faced (like Tampa, on Sunday). A cross-country trip on a short week to face a well-rested Chargers team, then a date with the rising Browns to finish the season, will be interesting.
Marcus Mariota Blocking on the Second Level: Though maybe next time don’t lead with your throwing shoulder, guy.
Tony Romo Sneezing: It happened between plays early in the fourth quarter, and it made me laugh more than it should have.
DeForest Buckner: Was absolutely unblockable at times in the upset of Seattle. If the 49ers find an edge rusher to pair with him up front, they’ll have a chance to get really good really fast.
Robert Foster Can Catch: He was a five-star recruit who did nothing at Alabama because he couldn’t catch the ball. The Bills scooped him up as an undrafted free agent, and he now has three 100-yard games in his past five, and scored the game-winner to beat Detroit on Sunday. That’s what the Christmas spirit is all about.
It’s Eli Rogers! And He’s Doing Stuff!: We hadn’t seen him since January, and he started things off with a big third-down catch on the first series of the game in Pittsburgh. He was involved in the game plan early.
Marlon Mack: He has become a really good back, with a knack for running with perfect tempo and proper patience. You can see the effect Frank Gore’s mentorship had on him.
Bill Belichick and T.J. Watt, Chewing on Things:
Mike Vrabel’s Guys Have Been Great: There’s probably no real reward coming this season for the Titans, but they had to overcome a ton of injuries early and also deal with Gabbert Life. With the exception of back-to-back duds in Indy and Houston they seem to be overachieving on a weekly basis. On Sunday, they took Saquon Barkley out of the game and made the Giants play on their terms in a shutout victory.
All-Pro Defensive Tackles: They’re Just Like Us!: In that they also have to blow their noses sometimes.
Jeff Driskel Is on the Board: Good on him!
Jaylen Samuels Gives That Le’Veon Feeling: Which makes sense, since he played some receiver and tight end at N.C. State. The rookie doesn’t run it quite as well as Bell or James Conner, but he does just fine, and the ability to split out wide is something the Steelers can’t do (and be taken seriously) with Conner.
Kyle Shanahan’s Guys Are Still Playing: That’s a winning streak for the 49ers. That—not tanking—is how you build a program. (Especially for a team that doesn’t need a quarterback in a draft that doesn’t have a surefire QB.)
Minkah Fitzpatrick’s Football IQ: Even though he’s been solid while getting shuffled around the secondary he won’t win Defensive Rookie of the Year because the field is so stacked. Still, this was a pretty good encapsulation of Fitzpatrick’s instincts.
Falcons Score More Points Than Cardinals: Securing their ornithological bragging rights.
Frank Reich’s Beard:Is legit.
Everyone In the Jacksonville Organization Should Be Fired—and Possibly Incarcerated—for Starting Cody Kessler Three Straight Games: No matter what you think of Blake Bortles, the move to Kessler was a joke from the start. The Jaguars offense has now accounted for 21 points over Kessler’s three starts. He threw for 57 yards in a full NFL game. In 2018. Clear out the entire organization, Shad.
Aaron Rodgers: As that song from the 90s that was the theme song to that show from the 90s once said, it hasn’t been his day, his week, his month, or even his past three months. Rodgers was, to put it bluntly, bad in Chicago. His red-zone interception bounced off a receiver’s hands, but he missed a couple of wide-open throws downfield, and ultimately was out-dueled by Mitch Freaking Trubisky in ending the Packers’ slim playoff hopes.
Artie Burns Benched Again: Presumably because of the busted coverage on the long Chris Hogan touchdown.
Oh, Eli: That was some… avant-garde quarterbacking on Sunday. In the rain, Eli was lobbing duck after duck, with a bizarrely gentle dropping of the ball (resulting in a strip-sack) mixed in. Just weird, wild stuff.
The Worst Interception of Tom Brady’s Life: This is like a bad Josh Allen impression. (Also, Joe Haden with the strong hands.)
Meh, One of Those Days for the Cowboys: A dud against a really good Colts team. The astronomical downgrade from Zack Martin to Connor Williams was tough to overcome, and getting stuffed on fourth-and-goal early set the tone in this one.
Pete Morelli, Man: He’s had a good career as an official, I love how quickly he announces his penalties, and I’ve heard he’s a great guy. But Morelli has had a rough couple of seasons, and simply put: There’s no place for you in the NFL in 2018 if you’re throwing this flag in the fourth quarter of a three-point game. (Coincidentally there was a penalty on this play—intentional grounding—which went uncalled.)
Always Something With These Bucs: Before it was the turnovers, and now it’s the special teams. Last week they missed two field goals and had a punt blocked, losing to the Saints in a game they should have won. On Sunday's loss in Baltimore, it was a botched PAT. Which, I guess in retrospect wasn’t too bad.
Moments We’ll Tell Our Grandkids About
Patriots Downing This Punt: Putting the “special” in “special teams,” and also putting the “team” in “special teams” because it took a couple of people to do it. (But the “s” remains unclaimed.)
Tom Brady With the Tight-Window Throw: Had to fit it right in there between the place where they used to tape Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and the Rocky statue in Philadelphia on this Chris Hogan TD.
Chris Carson, Fourth Down, Third Effort:
Jameis Winston Extending The Play:
Riley Dixon’s Accidental Fake Punt: Well, that settles it: Punters are the silliest of the football players.
When Jerry Hughes’s Helmet Got Stuck on Tremaine Edmunds: Which was weird.
What We’ll Be Talking About This Week
Every AFC Contender Should Be Rooting Against the Colts: They have out-classed the Texans and now the Cowboys the past two weeks. Indy is not guaranteed a playoff spot, but they’ve won six of seven, have Andrew Luck playing at an MVP level, have a budding star back behind a rising young offensive line, and suddenly have a fast, confident young defense that’s rapidly improving. On their current trajectory, they’ll be able to play with anyone come January. (A few years sooner than expected!)
Whoa Boy, Chris Boswell: Sunday started with a 32-yard miss in a game the Steelers had to have. He redeemed himself with a 48-yarder to stretch the lead to seven late in the fourth quarter. Still, he’s now 8-for-15 from beyond 30 yards this season (and that includes a 1-for-1 from beyond 50), which is hard to trust in January.
Bears Are Your NFC North Champions: That defense continues to be something, and on Sunday they even got an acceptable performance from Mitchell Trubisky. If they can play their way into a first-round bye, Chicago would be a nightmare trip for the Rams or Saints.
The Imminent Death of Aaron Rodgers I Keep Hearing About: Seems like a “not so fast” moment. Rodgers isn’t comfortable with his young receivers, and his knee might not be injured but it’s not 100% healthy. His arm talent hasn’t fallen off, and that’s what you look for when you’re talking about decline for a QB. An offseason to work with this group and a new outlook on life should do wonders going into 2019.
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