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Week 18 Takeaways: Jimmy G’s Niners Save Their Season; Jags Ruin Colts; Steelers, Somehow, Live

Plus, T.J. Watt’s magnificence, Trevor Lawrence reminds us who he is, more Carson Wentz question marks, and much more!

Welcome to the Week 18 edition of the Sunday FreakOut, where we react and overreact to everything that happened in the Sunday afternoon games. For the full Sunday roundup podcast-style, be sure to subscribe to The MMQB Podcast, in your feed every Monday morning...

Things That Made Me Giddy

Jimmy Garoppolo’s Season-Saving Drive: Needing to go 88 yards for a touchdown, with no timeouts, in 87 seconds, the 49ers needed only 61 seconds to get into the end zone and extend their season. Garoppolo’s late-in-the-down throw to Deebo Samuel, just past the fingertips of a diving Jalen Ramsey and resulting in a 43-yard catch-and-run, ended up being the drive-defining play. On a day when the rushing attack wasn’t as dominant as it has been at times this season, the 49ers needed Garoppolo to deliver in the fourth quarter. And even despite a fluky tipped interception that erased a scoring chance early in the fourth, Garoppolo and the offense did just that.

That 49ers Pass Rush: It looked like 2019 all over again, and the Niners will need that front four to dominate in the postseason like they did on Sunday if they're to cover up for their shaky cornerbacks.

Jauan Jennings Emerges: I like a reliable veteran familiar with a highly schemed system just as much as the next guy, but how was Mohamed Sanu playing over this guy? Jennings’s two touchdowns were mostly schemed up, but he was also a handful after the catch on a number of plays.

The Steelers, Somehow, Live: At least heading into Sunday night, when only a Raiders-Chargers tie can eliminate them. That is an accomplishment. This is a team that goes into just about every game needing multiple takeaways or a punt block or something along those lines if they’re going to beat a quality opponent, and they just kinda… did it. They squeaked by in Baltimore thanks to a 3–0 advantage in turnover margin—including a key end-zone interception on a very ill-advised Tyler Huntley throw in the fourth quarter. And now, the Steelers will (likely) head into the playoffs and try to ugly their way to a few more wins.

T.J. Watt’s Record-Tying Day: Sacks aren’t the end-all-be-all, but Watt’s 22 sacks in 15 games pretty well reflected just how dominant he was this season. And a Steelers team that couldn’t score points or stop the run needed every play they got from him this year.

The Jaguars Just Punched the Colts in the Mouth: It was a borderline dominant performance by the Jaguars’ front four, holding Jonathan Taylor in check (including a fourth-and-goal stop from the 1) and running circles around Indy’s starting tackles in the pass rush.

Trevor Lawrence Is a Stud: Sunday was a reminder that this guy was as close to idiot-proof as it gets for a QB prospect (but, as we learned, not 100% idiot-proof). He carved up the Colts on a couple of third-and-long throws, and his second touchdown pass started with a bad snap and ended with an escape and then a perfect touch throw to Mavin Jones working the back line. (And, as usual, the Jaguars mixed in two dropped touchdowns, but on Sunday it didn’t matter.)

Stafford to Kupp: With the Rams reeling in the fourth quarter, Stafford dropped two perfect throws to Kupp. The first was on a third down with Arik Armstead bearing down on him to keep the drive alive, the other in the back corner of the end zone to regain the lead.

Texans Have Something in Davis Mills: Something good enough that they can largely ignore the underwhelming quarterback draft class coming in—if you dropped Mills into that group, he’d undoubtedly be No. 1.

Danny Amendola: He had seven catches for 113 yards and two touchdowns against the AFC’s top seed. He also once caught passes from a rookie Sam Bradford, as a three-year veteran.

Rashaad Penny, Finally: An ill-fated first-round pick back in 2018, Penny finally delivered on that draft billing late in the year (we’ll ignore the fact that it was only when the games had become meaningless). In Sunday’s season finale in Arizona, Penny carried 23 times for 190 yards, including an almost-clinching 62-yard touchdown run, then a game-clinching first-down conversion on the final possession.

Sean McVay High Five:


Regrets

Week 18 Was a Travesty: It’s the second weekend in January, the holidays are far in the rearview mirror, and no one has any appetite for the kind of preseason-caliber football we got in the majority of this weekend’s games. And in the one game that had playoff implications for both teams until the end, contractual obligations forced the NFL to shut down the broadcast in all but the Pittsburgh and Baltimore markets. Unfortunately, Game 17 isn’t going anywhere; in fact, Game 18 is an inevitability. The NFL is going to have to pair it with playoff expansion though (another bummer, we almost had Tua Tagovailoa and Trevor Siemian starting postseason games this year!), because this was far too much meaningless football.

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This Colts Receiving Corps: Michael Pittman has become a fine player, but other than that T.Y. Hilton is pretty much done, and Parris Campbell has given them so little—his fourth-down drop (a tough catch looking over his shoulder up the seam, but a play you have to have) pretty much ended their season.

Ban the Carson Wentz Shovel Pass: It resulted in three horrific turnovers this season, the latest one a turnover on the opening possession of the second half.

The Steelers Season Almost Ends Because They Can’t Stop the Run: Pittsburgh allowed 249 on 36 attempts in Baltimore. On the season, they gave up 4.99 rushing yards per attempt, worst in the NFL and worst in the 89-season history of the franchise (“surpassing” the 1934 Pittsburgh Pirates). They’re (likely) in the postseason, which is an accomplishment. And maybe the return to health on the defensive line makes things better next season, but the Steelers need to take a long, hard look at their linebackers this offseason, even after trading for one and spending a first-round pick on another.

I’m Not Sure If Joe Judge Is Trying to Get Fired…: But if he was, wouldn’t it look exactly like this? All Judge had to do was keep his head down and avoid total embarrassment in the final two weeks of the season—it shouldn’t have been difficult considering no one cared about either of the Giants’ last two games—but instead he managed to humiliate himself, his players and the organization twice in a seven-day span. Last week, there was the off-the-rails post-game press conference. This week, he oversaw a team that called back-to-back QB sneaks (on second-and-11 and third-and-9) in the second quarter of a 3–0 game. Maybe this blows over. But if you are John Mara, it is awfully difficult to stand behind this man at the moment.

Hand-Wringing Over Matthew Stafford: By the two-minute warning of overtime the Rams had already officially clinched the division. Considering the beating Stafford was taking against the Niners, chucking a Hail Mary was one of two viable options. The other was a series of kneeldowns. So... considering the number of eye-popping throws Stafford made under heavy pressure on Sunday, should anyone be worried about him being anything less than a superstar quarterback right now because he threw a meaningless game-ending interception? No. Will that stop daytime basic-cable debate shows from suggesting it? Probably not.

The Saints Do Not Like the Rams: As if the controversial 2017 NFC title game wasn’t enough, all New Orleans needed this time was for L.A. to hang on to a 14-point halftime lead in order to get into the postseason.

Cardinals at Home: Lots of issues for this Arizona team, but they’re 8–1 on the road this season compared to 3–5 at home, so settling for a wild-card spot isn’t the worst thing in the world. (They return to L.A. for the wild-card round, where they won a regular-season game approximately one million years ago.)

Go For Two, Darrell Bevell!: With a 19-point lead late in the third quarter. Oh well, we won’t nitpick. A nice win for the interim coach.

Colts Fans, Sometimes Life Isn’t Fair: Indy was undoubtedly one of the top-five teams in football this season. They were done in by, among other things, some bizarre red-zone gaffes, a mid-game kicker injury in Baltimore, and the absolute rock-bottom for NFL officiating in an upset home loss to the Titans. But ultimately, they needed to close things out with a home win over the Raiders or a road win in Jacksonville, and they didn’t get it done. Now they have an offseason to try to get their passing offense up to an acceptable level, but you just have to hope the defense can continue to maintain this current level of play, which isn’t always a guarantee when you get so many takeaways, and that Jonathan Taylor stays healthy.


Moments We’ll Tell Our Grandkids About

Jalen Ramsey’s One-Man Tip Drill:


What We’ll Be Talking About This Week

Just How Good Are the Titans?: The coach is very good, and he made it work with a defense full of holes. Everything else? It’s pretty much pray Derrick Henry is back and close to his old self in two weeks. Otherwise, it’s difficult to picture this team knocking off a quality opponent, even in their own building.

The Last Days of Vic Fangio: Respected private citizen Conor Orr summed it up nicely—the Broncos wanted an elite defense to make things uncomfortable for Patrick Mahomes and win ugly, and that’s what Fangio (and, before him, Vance Joseph), gave them. Any coach would have been doomed with Denver’s recent quarterback situation. That said, firing Rich Scangarello and bringing in Pat Shurmur to run an ultra-conservative offense was a self-inflicted wound, even if something more bold wasn’t going to work with these quarterbacks. The way the Broncos were constructed the past three years, they didn’t just need to stop opponents from scoring, they needed the defense to generate offense by taking the ball away multiple times every week. That’s a recipe for becoming, indisputably, the fourth-best team in the AFC West.

Rams Enter the Postseason on a Sour Note: And probably a little sore after having to go overtime with the 49ers. (The sight of Matthew Stafford limping downfield on their last touchdown drive was not a pleasant one.)

What Does Indy do at Quarterback?: Both Carson Wentz and left tackle Eric Fisher were disasters on Sunday—the latter struggled throughout the season, the former simply had too many instances of doing the worst possible thing at the worst possible time this year. If, say, Russell Wilson wants to get loose, you’d think this is the kind of Super Bowl–ready team he’d be happy to join up with. If not . . . there’s really not a great alternative out there this offseason, with an underwhelming draft class coming in. You hope that Wentz can get more comfortable with a more traditional offseason (remember, he missed pretty much the entire summer with a foot injury) and you can continue to coach his worst instincts out of him.

What Happened Sunday Night?!?!?!: I don’t know as of this writing, because this column only covers the afternoon games. But the Raiders and Chargers should trade kneeldowns for a 0–0 tie and take their playoff berths. And the NFL, which has (among other things) built a draft-plus-rookie-wage-scale combination that not only condones but encourages teams to throw away entire seasons, would have no grounds to do punish them for it. Someone will have to tell me what happened.

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