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  • Plus, another epic officiating gaffe, Baker Mayfield knocks on the door of legend status, the Jaguars defy all logic (again!) by retaining their coach and front office, Deshaun Watson takes a bunch of big hits for no good reason, Kittle tops Kelce for a record, Steelers get to spend the offseason regretting everything, the 49ers defense makes unfortunate history, a fond farewell to a Bills legend, and much more from a wild Week 17.
By Gary Gramling
December 30, 2018

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

Nick Foles Is a Magician: Twenty-five completions in a row at one point as the Eagles cruised in Washington, tying the mark that Philip Rivers equaled a couple weeks ago. Foles is now 9-1 as a starter in meaningful games over the past two seasons. And the champs are, improbably, returning to the tournament with a trip to Chicago in the Wild-Card round.

C.J. Mosley’s Instincts: If you want to see the kind of play a great linebacker makes, just look at the game-sealing interception Mosley made to clinch Baltimore’s playoff spot. He realized his blitz was going nowhere, fell off knowing the ball had to come out quick, read the quarterback and made a play on the ball.

Baker Mayfield Not Quite a Legend, but Awfully Close: This Browns team is ascending at breakneck speed. The fact that they got back into the game in Baltimore, despite a horrific blown call that cost them a touchdown, is the kind of thing a Browns team hasn’t done in, what, three decades? It was a loss in Baltimore, but it was plenty encouraging.

Kyle Williams Reaches the End: I look forward to seeing him, Eric Wood, Fred Jackson and Stevie Johnson on the Bills Wall of Fame for their service during some very dark years in Orchard Park. And Williams goes out in style, with a blowout win over Miami.

Kyle Allen: He’s always been an interesting guy—everyone had him on their NFL draft watchlist when he arrived at Texas A&M, but things fell apart in College Station (hey, Kyler Murray left the program the same year) and I always felt Allen’s benching at Houston last year was unduly harsh. No one was going to draft a guy who was benched midseason by an American Athletic Conference team, but Allen has an interesting tool set. He was sharp as the Panthers’ starter on Sunday as Carolina handled the Saints' B team—not “he’ll be a starter one day” sharp, but worth keeping around as a developmental guy and probable No. 2 QB for the next three or four years. Then we’ll see what happens.

Attendance Was Pretty Good at FedEx Field!: I mean, it was all Eagles fans, but humans are humans and they all count the same. Maybe Dan Snyder is just inspired by the Chargers’ strategy for home crowds?

Patrick Mahomes Did a Bunch of Ridiculous Things Late in the Down Again: Though even if you throw out Week 17, during which he threw for touchdown Nos. 49 and 50, because his closest competitor Drew Brees took the week off, Mahomes already had MVP cinched up.

The Legend of Matt McCrane: The man-boy kicker who went 3-for-3 on field goals in Pittsburgh, the Steelers needing every one of those points to avoid an upset against the Bengals. (O.K., he’s not a man-boy, he’s 24. But he looks so tiny.)

George Kittle Breaks Travis Kelce’s 40-Minutes-Old Tight End Receiving Yards Record: Kelce got to 1,336 yards, breaking Rob Gronkowski’s single-season mark set in 2011. Then Kittle topped Kelce on a 43-yard catch-and-run TD later in the evening, pushing the record to 1,377. Kelce was already established as one of the two or three elite tight ends in football (I rank him No. 1), and Kittle has settled into the top five.

Stephon Gilmore Had a Really Good Year: There were a couple times on Sunday when he simply escorted Robby Anderson through the sideline and to the bench as the Patriots hammered the Jets. I haven’t done the math, but seems like Gilmore deserves a first-team All-Pro nod. And considering Malcolm Butler’s struggles in Tennessee, Belichick and Co. aren’t losing any sleep over their CB choice.

The Baker Mayfield Fake Tap Pass: This was neat!

Everyone Ran Philly Special This Season: The TD passes to Matt Ryan and Ryan Tannehill made it everyone. Literally every team at every level of football scored on a Philly Special play this season.

The Cardinals Played for Steve Wilks on Sunday, Still Get the No. 1 Overall Pick: Maybe Wilks will get another shot down the line, but he can’t be retained after the trainwreck that team became on both sides of the ball. It was a valiant effort in Seattle though.

Blake Jarwin’s Three-TD Day: The Cowboys’ tight end had more touchdowns on Sunday than LeBron James has ever scored in the NFL. Think about it.

Doug Marrone Is Up for the Challenge: He went 7-for-8 on replay challenges on the season! Especially impressive considering he was approximately 0-for-10,000 on decisions that weren’t challenges this year.


Regrets

Mike Zimmer and the Vikings Have Some Soul-Searching To Do: They have two superstar receivers. They spent $84 million for three years of Kirk Cousins. They have one of the five worst offensive lines in football. Mike Zimmer’s insistence that they run the ball, and his history of pushing offensive coordinators out the door mid-season, is the complete wrong way for this offense to operate. Simply put: The front office needs to add some talent up front, and then Zimmer needs to get out of the way on that side of the ball. This isn’t working.

Yes, Kirk Cousins Buyer’s Remorse for Now: But as mentioned above, the Vikings need to run an offense that fits their personnel. What Mike Zimmer wants them to do—run the ball behind one of football’s worst offensive lines while letting Thielen and Diggs waste away—is, well, the exact opposite of what they should be doing. Sunday's season-ending home loss to the Bears was a fitting end for a dysfunctional unit.

The Hits Deshaun Watson Took: He’s been getting beat up all season due to his bad offensive line combined with his tendency to extend plays, but it was getting out of hand on Sunday during a game the Texans controlled in full. The Jaguars were not going to mount multiple scoring drives in Houston if they extended the game from four quarters to 1,000 years, and to have Watson keep dropping back and taking hit after hit protecting a 14- and 17-point lead bordered on malpractice. Houston could have punted on every first down, saved their QB and still held on for an easy victory.

The Steelers Reap What They Sow: Had they just given Le’Veon Bell the contract he deserved rather than jerking him around with a Sammy Watkins-level offer, they’d be a playoff team. Well, unless you want to overlook (1) the handful of crippling mistakes by their running backs this year, and (2) the fact defenses had a much easier time game-planning for them in 2018, and (3) the offense got breakout seasons from JuJu Smith-Schuster and Vance McDonald and an elite season from the offensive line yet only improved by a little more than one point per game on the year (25.4 to 26.8). The Roethlisberger window is closing, and to throw away a season is a crime.

Bears Didn’t Throw That Game in Minnesota, But Maybe They Should Have: On one hand, I love the fact that the Bears had a chance to put a division rival out of their misery and they just went ahead and did it. On the other hand, the Bears would much rather see that dysfunctional Vikings offense in their building next week rather than Nick Foles, right?

Whoa Boy, Philip Rivers: This Chargers offense has looked dicey the last two weeks—one touchdown drive of more than 20 yards over the last two weeks. It was a struggle in Denver. And now they have to do battle with Eric Weddle and the Ravens, the same defense that gave them fits in Week 16.

History by the 49ers Defense, Sad, Sad History: Since turnovers have been tracked, starting in 1960, no team has ever had fewer than 11 takeaways in a year, and that includes every team in the strike-shortened, nine-game 1982 season. The 2018 49ers did it, coming up with just seven takeaways this year. For comparison’s sake, the Rams had eight takeaways in their two games against the San Francisco offense this season.

If That Was a Teddy Bridgewater Showcase Game for a 2019 Job… Keep in mind, Panthers-Saints had the feel of a Preseason Week 4 game. There are enough openings, and so few NFL-ready draft prospects coming out, that Bridgewater should have a shot at landing in a competition somewhere. Still, it’s hard to get excited about such a conservative style of quarterbacking in this day and age. (Then again, if Washington was so giddy about Alex Smith this time last year, maybe Bridgewater is Dan Snyder’s guy.)

LeGarrette Blount Joins the Rare Sub-3.0 Club: Blount is the 10th player, post-merger, to have 100-plus touches in a season and average fewer than 3.00 yards per touch (154 carries for 418 yards, 10 catches for 67 yards, for an average of 2.96 YPT). And he did it in style, with 11 carries for 15 yards in Green Bay on Sunday. But the important part of the preceeding note is this: Blount was given 164 touches this season. Just something to keep in mind when assessing GM Bob Quinn’s over-investment in power football and Jim Bob Cooter’s utilization of this team’s offensive talent.

Jared Cook’s Explosive Route Running:

Todd Bowles Deserved Better: After the mirage of a FitzMagic season (join the club!), the Jets never got to a point where the offense was ready to win games, putting an impossible burden on Bowles’s defense (which was short on talent in its own way).

Kiko Alonso and These Late Hits on Sliding QBs, Man: I’m not sure he’s a dirty player—I get the feeling he just has trouble controlling his limbs. And body. He was ejected for a late hit on a sliding Josh Allen in which he kind of avoided Allen at the last moment but did manage to kick the Bills QB in the face. (Dolphins DE Robert Quinn and Bills RT Jordan Mills were tossed for their roles in the ensuing melee.) It was most likely (and probably should be) the last game in a Dolphins uniform for Alonso.

Oh Man, Those Browns Linebackers: If you love disciplined assignment football, these Browns linebackers make you want to gouge your eyes out and dissolve them in acid. Cleveland needs to find linebackers who have some kind of feel for the position, otherwise they’re going to spend the next couple of years getting set ablaze by all these misdirection offenses taking over the league.

Carlos Hyde, Bouncing It Outside: Forever bouncing it outside. Every run in Houston.

The Kirk Cousins-Adam Thielen Chemistry Is Non-Existent:

Ryan Tannehill’s Cloudy Future: It’s not with Adam Gase, that’s for sure, based on how little Gase trusted his quarterback in the second half of the season. Tannehill has some interesting tools but looks increasingly like the pocket is completely foreign to him. Maybe he’s a bridge guy, but if so it’s hard to squint and see anything other than a bottom-five starter in the league next year.


Moments We’ll Tell Our Grandkids About

Inadvertent Whistle: It happens. You’d like to think the NFL would have some kind of common-sense fallback in their rule book that would award the player with the ball, nothing but open field in front of him and a 10-yard head start on every other player on the field, a touchdown in this scenario, but no such luck when the league’s competition committee is slightly less productive than Congress (whoa, getting political!). I’m not sure why a professional official is blowing his whistle there when it didn’t look like a touchdown in real-time, or why Shawn Smith’s crew is doing a Week 17 game with playoff implications, but then again, if the NFL did these things well people like me would have a lot less to write about.

Cole Beasley With the Most Meaningless and Most Magnificent Game-Winning Catch You’ll See: Incredible play by Dak Prescott here too.

Matt Prater Does It With His Arm: The veteran kicker with his first career TD pass, with the kind of zip we haven’t seen since Cody Kessler’s last appearance.


What We’ll Be Talking About This Week

Tanking Served No Purpose This Season: There is no franchise QB prize to be had at the top of the 2019 draft, making it more valuable to win games down the stretch and build a program. (But if you wanted your team to tank, do I ever have a league for you: The National Basketball Association.)

Gregg Williams Earned the Cleveland Job: A sentence I didn't expect to ever type, but the Browns must side with continuity, and must preserve the Freddie Kitchens-Baker Mayfield marriage.

Ravens-Chargers for Second Time in Three Weeks: The venue plays in Baltimore’s favor. But it would seem the Chargers pick up a nice bonus, getting to see a unique offense twice in such a short window of time.

AFC Playoffs Go Through Kansas City: What Andy Reid, Patrick Mahomes and Co. accomplished is even more incredible considering how cripplingly bad their defense is.

Nathaniel Hackett Really Held the Jaguars Offense Back: In five games after the absurd Hackett firing, the Jaguars offense accounted for 34 points over a five-game span. That’s in 2018—they averaged 6.8 points per game over five games. They should clear out the coaching staff and clear out the front office that enabled them—this season has indisputably proven that this franchise has the wrong decision-makers in place. So, of course, they’re keeping everyone.

Get Ready for More Eli in 2019, Giants Fans He recovered after a rocky start on Sunday. He’s not very good anymore, but it’s tough to figure out an alternative who would be better.

Jameis Winston’s Future in Tampa: Yeah, he probably gets 2019 because the alternatives are so uninspiring. But the Bucs have to find themselves a alternative long-term option (i.e. a rookie QB to develop).

• Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.

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