- Plus, Luck and Colts stay alive, Cowboys win the East, Steelers sure could have used a reliable star running back this season, Trubisky recovers in San Fran, Browns get a rare season sweep, Deshaun Watson has a great but soon-to-be-forgotten performance, Jaguars mercifully end the Kessler Era, the Dolphins go out with a whimper, Aaron Rodgers shows he can still do it and more from Week 16.
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
A Complete Failure of Officiating
The Problems Are Correctable: In San Francisco, we saw New York help out to issue a couple ejections after a brawl. There’s no reason the NFL can’t do the same on an egregiously bad, game-altering call like the first-half pass interference on Joe Haden in New Orleans. It was a fourth-down play from the 34, the phantom penalty putting the ball on the one-yard line—this is as close as you can get to awarding a team seven points. This call was so bad that Alvin Kamara, overthrown by six feet on a broken play, doesn’t even bother asking or even looking for a flag because he knows he’d look ridiculous doing so. Someone from New York has to take 2.6 seconds to buzz the referee and say, “pick up that flag so we, as a league, are not humiliated.” The NFL has the technology to do just that. In fact, I have the technology to do that. You probably do too. It’s a cell phone. All you have to do to streamline the review process is get rid of the Microsoft Surface product placement moments (maybe if enough of us promise to buy a Microsoft Surface...). These mistakes can be eliminated so easily, and that's what makes them so frustrating.
Don’t Forget, the Second Joe Haden PI Call Was Just as Bad: Absolutely no significant contact on that fourth-down play which, again, is why not a single Saints player was looking for or expecting a flag.
This Jamal Adams Interference Call Would Normally Be the Day’s Worst Call: But not on this Sunday:
Things That Made Me Giddy
Nick Foles Saves Christmas: The champs stay alive behind Foles’s 471 yards and four TDs—he’s now 8-1 as a starter in meaningful games over the past two seasons. A third-and-10 throw from his own 11, with less than two minutes left, will go down in history. Jadeveon Clowney came free on the play and hit Foles so hard in the sternum that I expected to see Foles vomit up multiple internal organs as he headed to the sideline. Foles ultimately sat a play, came back, hit Zach Ertz on a key third-and-10 to move the Eagles into field position, and another huge performance was in the books for the man who they call—fitting for this time of year—“St. Anastasia of Sirmium,” after the patron saint of weavers. Because Foles weaved another huge performance together.
Antonio Brown Working the Sideline: On that fourth-and-15 conversion on the Steelers’ final drive. That was a thing of beauty.
Luck and the Colts Survive: There was not much room for error in the second half of this one. The Colts scored three touchdowns on their four second-half drives, and the one drive that didn’t get them points resulted in a punt that pinned the Giants deep. The defense forced a quick three-and-out, and Luck found Chester Rogers in the end zone for the winning TD nine plays later.
The Increasingly Frequent Competence of Mitchell Trubisky: The second half in San Francisco was the best half of football he’s played this season. They have a shot to win a road playoff game with a quarterback who plays like that.
Browns Sweep an Opponent for the First Time Since the Bush Administration: With the victory over the Bengals. I’m not sure whether they cover this in the Dick Cheney biopic Vice, but to find the last time Cleveland swept a division opponent you have to go back to 2007, when the Derek Anderson-led Browns swept the Ravens, whose starting quarterbacks in the two games were Steve McNair and Kyle Boller.
Deshaun Watson All for Naught, But Still: He has an offensive line that’s subpar at its best moments and a bunch of No. 4 receivers and No. 2 tight ends to go along with DeAndre Hopkins (Demaryius Thomas went down with what is feared to be a torn Achilles). Watson was creative and spectacular in bringing the Texans back in Philly, leading two touchdown drives in the final six minutes.
Dallas Cowboys Are Your NFC East Champs: The Cowboys showed they were going for it with the Amari Cooper trade, and now they got it. At least part of it. The win over Tampa was of the bend-don’t-break variety though—it would be nice see a little more out of this offense, but it’s the defense that’s going to carry them on any kind of postseason run.
Nice to Know Rodgers-to-Adams Still Works: The Packers rally for a meaningless win, but whatever. Considering the issues they had in 2018, it’s nice to see them put 44 on the board, and snap a nine-game road losing streak in the process.
Jake Elliott Stars in Kicker Redemption: It looked an awful lot like Elliott’s missed PAT at the beginning of the fourth quarter was going to cost Philly, but he made up for the greatest of sins by connecting on the game-winner from 35 as time expired.
Ertzmania: See, there are more than enough passes to go around (especially when you drop back 50 times). Zach Ertz continued his monster season, with 12 catches for 110 yards and two TDs (pushing him to an absurd 113-1,148-8 line through 15 games).
Andre Roberts: Another huge day returning kicks for the Jets, with a 99-yard TD and a 51-yard return that set up the game-tying field goal at the end of regulation.
Jets Special Teams in General: Along with Roberts’s work, they got a fumble on a Packers kickoff return to set up a short-field TD, and converted on a fake punt in the fourth quarter.
The Unsinkable Darren Sproles: The 35-year-old all-purpose back had 76 receiving yards (including a 37-yard catch-and-run TD), 32 rushing yards and an 11-yard punt return to boot. Sproles has been huge with Corey Clement out for the season.
Jake Kumerow’s First Career TD: The man nicknamed “Touchdown Jesus” scores a touchdown just two days before we celebrate the birth of the Sega Genesis I got at age 10.
The Steelers’ Ill-Fated Fake Punt: The only real justification is that, if the Saints were going to score, the short field would force them to do it quickly and leave some time on the clock for Pittsburgh (which is how it played out). But, boy, considering how well the Steelers defense was playing, making the Saints go 80 yards or so would be a fairly daunting task. In your own territory, in the fourth quarter of a must-have game that you're leading, you have to be sure you’re going to convert that. (Then again, the way the phantom pass interference flags were flying, maybe it didn’t matter.)
That Texans Secondary: It’s just really bad, and there is only so much Watt and Clowney—and Deshaun Watson magic on the other side of the ball—can do to make up for it. The Texans have the feel of a one-and-done team right now.
Another Crippling Mistake by a Steelers RB: James Conner had a couple of game-changing fumbles earlier this season, one that led to the season-opening tie in Cleveland, and another that short-circuited a second-half scoring drive in Denver. In scoring position in New Orleans on Sunday, it was (historically fumble-prone) Stevan Ridley losing one. If only they had a reliable, star running back to lean on this season.
The Occasional Atrociousness of Mitchell Trubisky: In the first half, he turned a scramble behind the line of scrimmage into a swing-pass lateral in traffic, an easy turnover (that’s why the kids call him “Bortles North”), and he was saved from one of the worst red-zone interceptions you’ll ever see thanks to a defensive holding penalty away from the ball. It was a half of football the Bears can’t afford to have in January.
The Moment the Taysom Hill Experiment Ended: Was the first-quarter interception he threw, hanging a punt-like throw into coverage from midfield on a first down. (Though that throw caught the eye of the Jaguars’ brass.)
Decision-Makers in Jacksonville Chose This: The final scorecard on Kessler’s starts: 38 offensive possessions, 28 points, two touchdowns. Starting Cody Kessler is not an offense for which the responsible party can be fired, it’s an offense for which the responsible party must be fired. Anyone involved in that decision can’t be trusted to be a part of a successful NFL franchise.
Jaguars Fall on a Fumble at Miami’s 17. Then…: They manage to throw an incompletion, pick up a holding call, take an eight-yard loss on a running play, another holding call, and finally Cody Kessler takes a sack to take them out of field-goal range and they punt.
The Staleness of Baker Vs. Hue: It was funny but also weird when Mayfield was mad at Hue for taking a job with the Bengals after Hue was fired by the Browns and would never have been hired in any capacity by anyone, anywhere else on the planet besides the Bengals. I guess Mayfield was staring Hue down again on Sunday, so… something for everyone to tweet about. If Mayfield is going to be a star in this league—and he probably is going to be a star in this league—he needs a better archnemesis than Hue Jackson. It is time to, as the gents from OK Go would preach, get over it.
Matthew Stafford’s Supporting Cast: Imagine how good the Lions would be if the offensive line GM Bob Quinn invested two first-round picks and two enormous free-agent contracts in wasn’t mediocre-at-best this season. Or if Quinn had kept and Jim Bob Cooter had properly used Eric Ebron rather than opting for three blocking specialists on the tight end depth chart. Or if Quinn hadn’t traded Golden Tate, Stafford’s favorite target, when the team was still in the playoff hunt. Or if Cooter didn’t insist on playing the painfully one-dimensional LeGarrette Blount for 20-plus snaps every week. With an all-world quarterback like Stafford, the Lions might have really had something.
Nick Mullens’s Game-Ending Pass: Hey, he’s trying his best. But on a fourth-and-4, with enough green in front of him to leisurely stroll for a first down, Mullens went for it all and managed to drop the throw in about 16 yards wide of the sideline.
Ryan Kelly Neck Injury: This is going to be a tough one for the Colts to overcome if their rising star center can’t play Week 17.
Belichick and His Disciples Should Stop Putting Offensive Players on Defense: Gronk playing safety in Miami, and on Sunday Matt Patricia put Kenny Golladay in the secondary to be a non-factor on the Vikings’ Hail Mary TD at the end of the first half in Detroit. That doesn't seem like The Patriot Way.
Fisticuffs in Bears-49ers: After a very late hit after a Mitchell Trubisky slide. Josh Bellamy started throwing punches, then Richard Sherman and Anthony Miller threw punches, and after a lengthy delay all three of them were ejected.
Can You Pump Music Into the Stadium While the Opponent Is Running a Two-Minute Drill?: Seems less than fair, home-field advantage or not.
Referee John Parry, Struggling With Anatomy: Nick Foles tackled by the face on a two-point try, but no flag. (Or maybe Parry was unclear on which piece of equipment is the “helmet.”)
Moments We’ll Tell Our Grandkids About
This Jarvis Landry Pass: Is better than anything a Jaguars quarterback has thrown over the last two months.
Foles to Agholor: This throw is the most historically impressive thing to ever happen in Philadelphia.
Larry Fitzgerald Throws a TD: And hamburgers eat people.
Miracle in the Vicinity of St. Paul: This helped mask an otherwise brutal first half for the Vikings’ offense.
A Neat Touchdown by Julian Edelman: Though this really should be blown dead on forward progress since, if a defender came in to finish him off, he’d be flagged for unnecessary roughness.
Pain, Like Only a Punter Can Dispense: Matt Bosher.
What We’ll Be Talking About This Week
The NFC Playoffs Go Through New Orleans: And that is utterly terrifying for everyone else in that conference, especially considering the recent struggles of the Rams and the season-long road struggles of the Bears.
Kevin Stefanski’s Honeymoon Is Over: Don’t be fooled by the box score—the Vikings were playing truly ugly offensive football on Sunday, bailed out by the Hail Mary at the end of the first half. Had the Lions not been stripped for parts earlier this season, the Vikings would have been in some real trouble on Sunday.
Adam Gase Needs to Get Aggressive: His undermanned roster went out with a whimper, losing only their second home game of the year (though they caught a bad break when the Jaguars finally benched Cody Kessler). Winning seven games with this Dolphins roster is far from a fireable offense, but if Gase isn’t going to trust Ryan Tannehill, he needs to find a quarterback he will trust.
Steve Wilks Is One-and-Done: There is no other way this can play out in Arizona.
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