Reacting and overreacting to everything that happened in the Week 12 Sunday afternoon games...
Things That Made Me Giddy
Derrick Henry Déjà Vu: Twenty-seven carries for 178 yards and three TDs as the Titans retake the AFC South lead with a decisive win in Indy. This time Henry didn’t wait for the second half; 140 yards and all three of his touchdowns came before halftime, staking Tennessee to a 35–14 lead. From Week 10 and on over the last two seasons (including playoffs), a span of 12 games: 296 carries, 1,756 rushing yards (146.3 per game), 16 TDs.
Mahomes-to-Tyreek: It’s a pick-your-poison scenario, and it’s one thing to devote extra attention to Travis Kelce instead of Tyreek Hill. But it’s another thing to look completely unprepared for Hill’s speed and Mahomes’s arm. Hill had 13 catches for 269 and three touchdowns (of 75, 44 and 20 yards)—and fittingly sealed the game with a third-down catch—in an utterly dominant performance.
Brady Got the Deep Ball Going a Little: It was still an underwhelming performance by the Bucs offense, but Brady hit a downfield seam shot to Rob Gronkowski, hit Chris Godwin on a deep post and found Mike Evans on a 9-route on fourth-and-short for a long touchdown. Downfield accuracy is not a strength of his anymore, but it’s not as problematic as it’s been in past weeks.
Deebo Samuel Returns: Injuries have limited him to five games this season, including a hamstring injury that cost him the previous four. Returning against L.A. on Sunday, he was back to his untackleable self, with 11 catches for 134 yards, including a key third-down catch-and-run for 24 and another short catch on the final drive to set up the game-winning field goal.
Kyle Shanahan Gets McVay Again: With a second upset win over the Rams, Shanahan’s 49ers have now won four straight over McVay’s Rams. It might not get them back to the postseason (though, the way the Cardinals are playing, the door is open), but it could very well spoil L.A.’s run for a division title.
Buffalo’s Defense Picks Up the Slack: It was a rocky first portion of the season for Sean McDermott’s group, but in their first game after the bye they held Justin Herbert in check—football’s most prolific big-play passing offense in 2020 had just one passing play that went for more than 18 yards, and that was a Hail Mary in the final seconds of a 10-point game. On a day when Josh Allen didn’t have it, the defense was there to bail him out. That’s the magic of complementary football.
A Better Baker: He was wild on a couple of red-zone gimmies (how could that be—did throwing perfectly into this net during a Senior Bowl practice mean nothing?!?!), so there’s some work to do. But overall, it was a better performance for Mayfield in Jacksonville than what we’ve been seeing for most of 2020.
Vintage Stephon Gilmore: The reigning Defensive Player of the Year’s encore season has not been a memorable one, but he went toe-to-toe with DeAndre Hopkins on Sunday and got the better of the matchup (Hopkins had five catches for 55 yards, drew one holding penalty in the end zone and the two of them had offsetting pass interference penalties on which Hopkins-only should have been flagged.)
Jeremy Chinn: Like a young Cris Carter, he only scores touchdowns. I haven’t had time to research it, but I’m guessing two fumble-return TDs in a 10-second span for the Panthers rookie is a record.
Joey Bosa Is in Josh Allen’s Face: Bosa was dominant in Orchard Park, with three sacks (though one was free due to a blown protection) and one stuff of Allen on a third-and-short designed run.
Bengals Teach Joe Judge the True Meaning of Special Teams: Needing some answers with Brandon Allen under center, Cincinnati got Brandon Wilson’s 103-yard kickoff return TD early and a fake punt conversion from their own 20 in the third quarter. A 29-yard punt return by Alex Erickson gave them the ball at the 50, down two points, with 57 seconds left before Allen was strip-sacked to end it. But ultimately, they had a chance to beat the Giants despite being outgained 386-155.
Jabaal Sheard Saves Christmas: After a long punt return brought the Bengals to within a play or two of a game-winning field-goal try, the veteran journeyman saved the Giants—and their spot atop the NFC East—with a strip-sack of Brandon Allen.
Aaron Donald Takes Over: With the offense struggling and the Rams facing an 11-point deficit late in the third quarter, Donald took matters into his own hands by forcing a Raheem Mostert fumble in the backfield that was scooped and scored, then picking up a sack on the next possession that was soon followed by a go-ahead touchdown. T.J. Watt has a compelling case, but Donald is Defensive Player of the Year as of now.
Frank Gore’s Sisyphean Afternoon: Twenty-one touches for 86 yards as the Jets’ lead back.
Jason Sanders Joins the League of Legs: The Dolphins kicker connected from 54 and 51 yards in East Rutherford, making it 10 straight makes from beyond 50, including a perfect 8-for-8 this season.
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Daniel Jones’s Hammy: Abracadaniel limped off after a non-contact injury, tried to come back but didn’t last past his first pass attempt. If he’s healthy, the Giants are your favorites in the NFC East. If he’s not, and it’s Colt McCoy time for Big Blue, find a three-sided coin and flip it.
It Gets Away From the Raiders: They’ve overachieved all season—they just don’t have the horses on defense right now. But coming off a near-upset of the Chiefs, they came out flat as can be in Atlanta and never climbed back into it. They’re now very much on the outside looking in at the AFC Wild-Card race.
Whatever the Broncos Just Had to Do at Quarterback: No team should be made to do again. Kendall Hinton, the one-time Wake Forest QB, finished 1-for-9 for 13 yards and two interceptions. The Broncos had 112 yards of offense. Their one scoring drive was four plays for one yard, resulting in a 58-yard field goal off an interception.
Chargers’ Clock Management: With 30 seconds left on a running clock and the ball at midfield at the end of the first half, they burned their final timeout before a fourth-and-short and proceeded to punt, which is one way of doing things. At the end of the game, down 10 with the clock running and no timeouts, they came up on the ball inside the Bills’ 5 after a Hail Mary and tried to run it. They didn’t score, and the clock ran from 24 seconds to six, effectively ending the game.
Zane Gonzalez Comes Up Small in Big Moment Again: We saw him miss a potential game-winner against Seattle (before making one later in overtime) and come up short from 49 on a potential game-tying kick in a loss to Miami. On Sunday in Foxboro, the Cards’ embattled kicker missed a go-ahead kick from 45 in the final two minutes, leaving the game tied and opening an opportunity for Nick Folk to win it from 50 soon after.
Tampa’s Safeties: Did they not know Tyreek Hill was fast?
Anthony Castonzo Goes Down: The Colts walk a fine line when it comes to O-line injuries; Philip Rivers requires flawless protection, and Castonzo’s MCL injury could very well cost him a couple games Indy can’t afford to lose. When Castonzo missed a game earlier this season, Le’Raven Clark was torched by Myles Garrett in a loss at Cleveland.
Jared Goff Is Concerning: You can maybe forgive the two interceptions, which came under heavy pressure. But Goff continues to struggle when the Rams get knocked off-schedule. They can’t put it on the defense as much as they have.
A Sloppy Josh Allen: The Chargers took away the big plays, as Allen had only one completion for longer than 14 yards (though Allen and Stefon Diggs did draw an early 47-yard pass interference flag). He forced a couple throws into trouble, more than the single interception would suggest, and lost a fumble on an exchange. Had the Bills defense not stepped up with their best performance of the season, Buffalo was ripe for a home upset against the Chargers. As I believe I’ve said approximately 4 million times over the past 16 months: Josh Allen is great, but streaky.
The Bills’ Hail Mary Defense: This one didn’t cost them, but one game after the heartbreaker in Arizona they allowed a 53-yard Hail Mary TD that was erased by offensive pass interference, then on the next play allowed a 55-yarder just short of the end zone.
A Handsy Rock Ya-Sin: It was a long day in an otherwise solid season for the Colts’ second-year corner, who had penalties to erase (though, to an extent, cause) two third-down stops during a second-quarter Titans touchdown drive.
Joey Slye Heartbreak from 54: It’s a tradition unlike any other: the Panthers kicker trying a potential game-winning field goal from anywhere between “very long” and “absurdly long.” He set up from only very long in Minnesota, and pulled it wide left by a mile.
Please, Take the Flags Away From Alex Kemp’s Crew: No officiating crew throws more phantom flags, especially after the play. The unsportmanlike conduct flag on Zack Moss—apparently for dropping the ball and walking to the sideline Barry Sanders-style after a long run—showed a complete lack of human decency. Someone at Park Avenue, please, stop the madness.
Missing DeForest Buckner: With their Defensive Player of the Year candidate on the COVID list, the Colts looked like a different defense on Sunday.
Josh Jacobs Living Dangerously: He’s a tremendous player, and this is quite the collision, but it's something that has to come out of his repertoire (and he was, rightfully, flagged for lowering the helmet and initiating contact). It was a rough afternoon in Atlanta for Jacobs, where he rushed seven times for 27 yards and lost a fumble on which he tweaked his ankle.
CBS’s Game Management: Not sure why they didn’t air the opening drive of the Chiefs-Bucs game in order to show the end of the Titans-Colts blowout immediately followed by an extended run of commercials. But perhaps there is a bigger audience demand for Brie Larson Nissan Rogue ads than I understand.
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Moments We’ll Tell Our Grandkids About
The Patriots’ Goal-Line Stand: You’re right to wonder how a veteran team used to playing for Super Bowls will react over the final weeks of a lost season. This goal-line stop on fourth down to end the first half—the chronically underrated Lawrence Guy paving the way for Ja’Whaun Bentley—provided an answer.
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What We’ll Be Talking About This Week
Taysom Hill Is Just Fine: How would he look if the Saints fell behind in the second half? We’re probably not going to find out this season.
Kliff Kingsbury’s Very Bad Month: “How do you go 5-7 with Patrick Mahomes as your quarterback?!?!?!” you ask. Perhaps this season is providing an answer for your question. The Cardinals have repeatedly gotten beat by teams with far less talent this season despite a defense that continues to overachieve without its best player (198 yards allowed and two takeaways in Foxboro). If not for a Hail Mary two weeks ago, the Cardinals would be sub-.500 and in the midst of a four-game losing streak, and we’d be wondering if it’s time for a regime change in Arizona.
Send Sam Darnold to Pittsburgh: Let him sit for a year or two behind a veteran who, like Darnold, doesn’t do the play-action thing.
How the NFC East Race Will Be Won: Washington’s strategy is fascinating. The minute they went with Alex Smith over Dwayne Haskins they made the statement that they were eschewing a passing offense. If this was a 100-yard dash, it’s like the Football Team decided they would sit down at the starting line and trust that the other three runners would all rupture their Achilles before reaching the finish line. With Daniel Jones now going down, that strategy might actually work. (Though if Jones is healthy, the Giants are the favorites.)
Bucs + AB: Tampa, 6-2 and riding a three-game winning streak just a few weeks ago, is now 1-3 since they added Antonio Brown to the roster. You just really feel for them. Anyway, as we wrap up the Sunday afternoon action, enjoy this musical selection for no particular reason...
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