Skip to main content

NFL Christmas Day 2023 Takeaways: Lamar Jackson Takes Lead in MVP Race, Eagles Snap Losing Streak, Revamped Raiders Upset Chiefs

Philadelphia held on to beat the Giants for its first win in four tries on Monday while Las Vegas put together another complete performance under interim coach Antonio Pierce.

After removing the pretenders label from the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, I signed off from my writing duties for the night, because you don’t make a Mexican family wait to unwrap the tamales on Noche Buena. Don’t worry, Bailey Zappe and Chad Ryland. I caught the highlights of the New England Patriots’ win against the Denver Broncos.

But before shutting the laptop, my editor Mitch Goldich sent me a message suggesting I think of a Christmas theme for my takeaways story on Monday’s three NFL games. I tried to be creative, but all I could think about was the tamales. For example, which one would I eat first? The red one with pork or the green one with chicken? Or the cheese one with jalapeño?

I actually ended up eating pozole first before consuming countless tamales. Anyway, I tried to continue my brainstorming session, but then my girlfriend’s nephew asked if I had seen the horror film Terrifier. I said no, so he made sure I watched the 2016 movie with a cult following. I never expected to watch a scary clown terrorize a handful of people on Christmas Eve, but I was made aware that Terrifier 3 will have a Christmas theme.

Oh, yeah, back to the theme for my takeaways. Unfortunately, nothing really came to mind besides giving every team a tamale rating. The idea sounded better in my head.

But Christmas is about tradition, such as watching scary movies and NFL games. (Sorry, NBA.) This is my way of saying I’ll build off what Mitch started last Christmas by making a naughty and nice list for my takeaways of Monday’s tripleheader. As for some creativity, I’ll give out appropriate imaginary gifts, too.

Baltimore Ravens 33, San Francisco 49ers 19

Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson is chased by 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa

Jackson and the Ravens scored more points against the 49ers than any team has this season.

Nice list

Lamar Jackson

Gift: MVP award

Jackson was the best player on the field, outshining fellow MVP candidates Christian McCaffrey and Brock Purdy during the Baltimore Ravens’ dominant victory against the San Francisco 49ers. At this point, I’m over the MVP conversation because there seems to be a new frontrunner every week. But Jackson is the star quarterback on the team with the best record in the AFC. He’s now 20–1 in his career against NFC teams, including lopsided wins against the Lions, Seahawks and 49ers this season, as well as a close victory against the Rams. It’s hard to argue against that résumé, but many will still point to his middling passing yards total and Baltimore’s dominant defense. But no quarterback can do what Jackson does on a weekly basis as a passer and runner. Jackson is also a nightmare to defend away from the pocket and doesn’t look to run at the first sign of trouble. The 2019 MVP had a 39-yard completion to Gus Edwards to set up a key touchdown drive to give the Ravens a 23–12 advantage to start the second half.

Watch the Ravens with Fubo. Start your free trial today.

Ravens’ defense

Gift: A giant pot filled with a variety of tamales

The Ravens’ defense got the best gift, in my opinion, one that was well deserved after they shut down the 49ers’ star-studded offense. It was the type of performance that could earn defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald a head-coaching job in the offseason. Safety Kyle Hamilton, linebacker Roquan Smith and defensive tackle Justin Madubuike flashed as difference makers to help the Ravens record five interceptions. (Hamilton walked off the field with a knee injury.) Collectively, the defensive numbers under sacks and quarterback hits don’t reflect the type of pressure the Ravens applied on Purdy, who had the worst game of his young career. We’re all seeing why Ravens coach John Harbaugh was quick to bring back Macdonald in 2022 after a one-year stint as a defensive coordinator for his brother, Jim Harbaugh, at Michigan.

Naughty list

Brock Purdy

Gift: QB lessons from Cam Newton

There seems to be no in-between regarding the Purdy debate, whether he’s an MVP candidate or riding the coattails of a stacked offense. Those who view Purdy solely as a game manager, like Newton, are probably screaming “I told you so” after his four interceptions against the Ravens’ dominant defense. Purdy appeared rattled and confused by Macdonald’s defense. The second-year quarterback also couldn’t avoid the length of the Ravens’ defenders, who had a few batted passes, including one that landed in the hands of cornerback Marlon Humphrey. Purdy got the ball to tight end George Kittle, but struggled to get wide receivers Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk involved in the game. To make matters worse, Purdy exited early due to injury.

49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan speaks at a news conference after Christmas Day game

Shanahan’s offense scored just 19 points against Baltimore, tied for their lowest output of the season.

49ers coach Kyle Shanahan

Gift: Reminders of his lack of fourth-quarter comebacks

In seven seasons as the 49ers’ coach, Shanahan is now 0–38 when his team trails by eight points or more at any point in the fourth quarter. The 49ers had a mini rally with backup quarterback Sam Darnold, but by then it was too late, with San Francisco down 21 points entering the final quarter. Shanahan is one of the best offensive minds in the NFL, but he was outcoached by Harbaugh and Macdonald. Regardless of how much talent the 49ers have on both sides of the ball, they might need a fourth-quarter rally in the postseason to finally get over the Super Bowl hump.

Final thoughts

The AFC has seemed wide open for a while now, but the Ravens might be a level above the rest with Jackson, a productive rushing attack, a dominant defense, a legendary kicker (Justin Tucker) and a standout coaching staff. All of that was on display during the potential Super Bowl preview that took place in Northern California on Christmas night. Some might argue that the Ravens have flamed out in the postseason multiple times in the Jackson era. But Jackson has developed as a consistent passer under first-year Baltimore offensive coordinator Todd Monken. He also has a handful of reliable weapons in Zay Flowers, Odell Beckham Jr. and Isaiah Likely, and could get back Mark Andrews next month. The Ravens (12–3) can clinch the AFC’s top seed by beating the Dolphins on Sunday.

It was a rough night for the 49ers, who now have to monitor the injuries to Purdy and left tackle Trent Williams. Luckily for the 49ers, no team in the NFC has Lamar Jackson or a defense as good as the Ravens’ unit. But the goal for San Francisco (11–4) is to win a Super Bowl, and it could run into Baltimore again in Las Vegas. It must be frustrating for GM John Lynch—and 49ers fans—to annually field a stacked roster, and know it still might not be enough. Obviously, the 49ers could learn from their mistakes, but Monday’s Christmas tripleheader should be a reminder that any team can be beat on any given week. The 49ers still control the No. 1 seed because of the head-to-head tiebreaker against the Eagles. They end the regular season against the Commanders and Rams. 

Philadelphia Eagles 33, New York Giants 25

Eagles wide receiver DeVonta Smith, right, celebrates after scoring with quarterback Jalen Hurts on Christmas Day 2023

DeVonta Smith, right, caught the Eagles’ lone receiving touchdown against the Giants.

Nice list

Eagles WR DeVonta Smith and A.J. Brown

Gift: Superhero chains

The dynamic receiving duo saved the Philadelphia Eagles from an embarrassing home loss in front of an agitated Philly crowd, which booed the team after the New York Giants trimmed the deficit to 20–18. But Brown put the Eagles on his back during a vital eight-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to extend the lead 27–18 with 11:07 left in regulation. Brown had receptions of 32 yards and 12 yards before D’Andre Swift found the end zone on a five-yard touchdown run. Smith helped the Eagles build a 17–3 advantage by scoring on a 36-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter. I’ll let the wideouts decide which superhero chain they want to sport. No one needs to be Robin.

Giants CB Adoree’ Jackson

Gift: The Cheesecake Factory gift card for $76

Jackson’s 76-yard touchdown return off a Jalen Hurts interception helped the Giants pull within two points with nine seconds left in the third quarter. 

The fantastic play didn’t help spark a rally from New York’s stagnant offense, though. The Giants did, however, add a late 69-yard touchdown from Darius Slayton after the Eagles scored 10 straight points following Jackson’s pick-six.

Naughty list

Demoted Tommy DeVito

Gift: Storage unit

Giants QB Tommy DeVito

DeVito averaged just 3.4 yards per attempt against the Eagles.

DeVito might need the storage space to unload all his “Tommy Cutlets” merchandise because it appears his 15 minutes of fame have expired. Giants coach Brian Daboll benched DeVito and started Tyrod Taylor for the second half in Philadelphia. DeVito, who finished 9-of-16 for 55 yards, only produced three points in the first half, one week after the Giants scored only six points in a loss against the New Orleans Saints. DeVito gained popularity as the local undrafted rookie free agent who helped the Giants win three consecutive games. It was one of the best stories of the year, but it appears DeVito’s starting days are over in 2023.

Giants LB Bobby Okereke

Gift: Uno cards

Okereke could have used an Uno reverse card to wave at the officials for calling a terrible delay of game penalty on him before halftime. The penalty stopped the clock and bailed out Hurts for not running out of bounds when Philadelphia didn’t have any timeouts, allowing the Eagles to add a field goal for a 20–7 halftime advantage. The officials should have let that one go, but Okereke could have also gotten off Hurts sooner. Unfortunately for the Giants’ linebacker, there was no reverse call, putting him on the naughty list for the costly penalty.

Final thoughts

Hurts had a mixed performance, with a handful of impressive throws and head-scratching mistakes, but it was enough to snap the Eagles’ three-game losing streak. The Eagles (11–4) regained control of the NFC East with their victory and the Cowboys’ loss to the Dolphins. Philadelphia can win the division by beating the three-win Arizona Cardinals next week and defeating the Giants on the road in Week 18. But these Eagles haven’t shown they can win in style against the bad teams throughout a rocky 2023 season.

Hurts responded to his costly pick-six by orchestrating the eight-play, 75-yard scoring drive that put the Eagles ahead 27–18 in the fourth quarter. The 32-yard completion to Brown was one of his best plays of the season, but Hurts hasn’t played as well as he did last season. The Eagles showed signs of improvement defensively and with the rushing attack (170 total rushing yards). But being pushed by the struggling Giants (5–9) for four quarters won’t alleviate the panic meters in Philadelphia. As for the Giants, they had perfect execution when it comes to maintaining a high first-round pick. Play competitively for most of the game before losing with pride. 

Las Vegas Raiders 20, Kansas City Chiefs 14

Patrick Mahomes runs with the ball outstretched in one hand as Raiders players try to tackle him

Mahomes was sacked four times Monday.

Nice list

Raiders’ defense

Gift: Amazon Prime subscription to watch Home Alone and Home Alone 2.

The Raiders’ opportunistic defense had better execution than the Wet Bandits, stealing from Patrick Mahomes multiple times. In a seven-second span, the Silver and Black defense scored two touchdowns to take a 17–7 advantage in the second quarter. (This all occurred while I was heating up my tamales for breakfast.) Defensive tackle Bilal Nichols had an eight-yard scoop-and-score touchdown after a botched exchange from Isiah Pacheco to Mahomes. On the following play, Mahomes threw a pick-six to cornerback Jack Jones on a pass intended for tight end Justin Watson.

I enjoyed seeing Jones taunt Mahomes as he crossed the end zone. Tony Romo and Jim Nantz, the CBS TV announcers, kept saying, Don’t poke the bear. But these are Antonio Pierce’s Raiders. Playing scared isn’t the Las Vegas way. Maxx Crosby & Co. punched the Chiefs in the mouth and left Arrowhead Stadium with an upset victory. They also had a critical fourth-and-goal stop from their own 7-yard line. Hopefully the Raiders’ defense enjoys streaming Home Alone or their favorite Christmas movie after a memorable day. But hopefully it doesn’t buffer as much as Thursday Night Football on Amazon Prime Video.

Interim coach Antonio Pierce

Gift: Promotion as the Raiders’ full-time head coach

Pierce might be getting a promotion soon from Raiders owner Mark Davis after leaving Arrowhead Stadium with a victory, one week after smacking the Chargers, 63–21. Pierce has the support from his players and has quickly established a winning identity. But if he ends up being the full-time coach, the Raiders need to find a way to retain defensive coordinator Patrick Graham, too; it wouldn’t be a surprise if Graham lands a few head coaching interviews after giving the Silver and Black their best defensive unit in decades. The Raiders still have ways to go offensively, but Pierce has proven he can run a productive rushing attack, even without Josh Jacobs. Backup running back Zamir White ripped off a 43-yard rush to help seal the victory, contributing to Las Vegas’s 157 rushing yards against one of the best defenses in the league.

Naughty list

Chiefs’ offense

Gift: Meditation classes

Travis Kelce runs with the ball as Nate Hobbs tackles him from behind

Kelce totaled only five receptions for 44 yards against Las Vegas.

Mahomes screamed at his offensive linemen and Travis Kelce threw his helmet in frustration. It was that type of day for the once mighty Chiefs’ offense. Kansas City was stuck on seven points most of the game and lost Pacheco because of a head injury. Outside of Kelce, Pacheco and rookie wide receiver Rashee Rice, Mahomes doesn’t have many reliable weapons. With the pass-catchers failing to create separation, Mahomes was forced to scramble and try to give Kansas City some type of balance. Earlier in the game, Andy Reid refused to give Kelce his helmet back after tossing it. Perhaps disciplining the star players is what this team needs to wake up. There’s too much shouting and finger pointing on the sideline. The Chiefs were held to 308 total yards, had two turnovers and punted four times.

Final thoughts

The Chiefs (9–6) no longer deserve the benefit of the doubt just because they have Mahomes, Kelce and Reid. They don’t have a switch to turn it on offensively in the postseason, because they don’t have enough reliable, disciplined playmakers. If the Chiefs are forced to play the Buffalo Bills in the wild-card, they could be one-and-done. And if they survive the first round, they might have to travel to Baltimore or Miami in the divisional round. Kansas City appears fatigued from their Super Bowl run last year, and it’s not just affecting the offense. Pierce’s Raiders (7–8) ran the football well and had a suffocating defense. This revamped Raider Way might make real noise next year if Pierce and Graham return in 2024.