Recap – Week 13

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New Orleans Saints v Dallas Cowboys

10-13

Heading into Thursday’s game, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said his team would have to treat every play like it was the Super Bowl if they had any chance of winning, it would seem everyone on the team got the memo.

In a Texas-sized upset, Dallas stunned the (10-2) Saints in a game in which the Cowboys  never trailed. The home side were able to pull off the ‘impossible’ thanks to an impressive game from Dak Prescott and a dominating performance defensively.

It was fitting that the Dallas defense clinched the win on the night that they shut down Drew Brees and his high-flying offense, in a way that New Orleans haven’t been shut down in the Brees era. They held the Saints to just 176 total yards, the lowest for the team in 17 years.

It would have been easy going into the game intimidated by the dominating Saints offense who averaged an NFL-high 37.6pts per game before Thursday. The Cowboys defense however came out swinging, the Saints never really recovered. Led by Jaylon Smith, Demarcus Lawrence and rookie Leighton Vander Esch, the Cowboys got off to a fiery start by forcing Brees and his offense to punt on three straight possessions to start the game.

Dallas’ defense were so dominant that the Saints didn’t even pick up their first down until the final play of the first quarter. The biggest defensive play came in the second quarter. Amari Cooper had just lost a fumble, handing possession to the Saints who drove down to the Dallas 1-yard line. On fourth-and-1, they decided to go for it but the hosts’ secondary stood tall and showed their strength putting up a huge goal line stand.

Not only did the Cowboys defense shut down Brees, but they shut down every offensive star on the roster, something no team has been able to do so far this season. Alvin Kamara finished with just 36 yards rushing, while Mark Ingram only racked up 27. The passing game wasn’t much better, no Saints receiver topped 40 yards.

The game went down to the wire and wasn’t sealed until Jourdan Lewis picked off Drew Brees with 2:08 left on the clock.  Dallas didn’t just end the Saints’ 10-game winning streak, they let the rest of the NFL know that they’re a team that could make some noise down the stretch.

The victory gives the Cowboys a huge boost in their odds of making the playoffs. They sit top of the NFC East.

 

Up Next:

Saints v Buccaneers – Sunday, December 9th (1pm)

Eagles v Cowboys – Sunday, December 9th (4:25pm)

 

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Carolina Panthers v Tampa Bay Buccaneers

17-24

Tampa won their second straight game to improve to 5-7 and all the credit for the victory belongs to the defense. The Panthers amassed 444 total net yards on offense, ran more plays (65-59) and totaled more first downs (27-18), but the Buccaneers D made sure Carolina couldn’t do much where it counted the most, on the scoreboard. They accomplished four sacks, nine QB hits and four interceptions, three recored by Andrew Adams. The interceptions were impressive when looking over the entire season, through their first 10 games, the Buccs totaled just one pick, now they have six in their last two.

The mistakes that plagued Jameis Winston early in the season have been absent for the quarterback in their two-game winning streak. He has won with efficient football and without an interception. He completed 20 of 30 passes for 249 yards and two scores against the Panthers.

Whilst Tampa are a longshot to make the postseason, the team can play the role of spoiler if Winston continues his form, especially considering their next three games are against the Saints, Ravens and Cowboys, who are all eyeing the playoffs themselves.

The Panthers desperately needed to win but endured too many self-inflicted wounds on both sides of the ball. With a 6-6 record and four games left their hopes for postseason football suffered a major blow, they now sit four games behind the 10-2 Saints in the NFC South.

Whilst they fought to keep the game close after quickly falling to a 10-0 deficit, the team simply couldn’t overcome Newton‘s costly interceptions, which tied a career-high performance. Their once-stout defense also disappeared.

The shining light on a gloomy day for Carolina was once again Christian McCaffrey. The 22-year-old lead the rushing with 106 yards on 10 carries and tallied 55 yards receiving  and a touchdown on nine receptions.

 

Up Next:

Panthers v Browns – Sunday, December 9th (1pm)

Saints v Buccaneers – Sunday, December 9th (1pm)

 

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Chicago Bears v New York Giants

27-30 (OT)

The Giants weren’t phased by the strong and confident Bears, making sure everyone around the league held off for at least another week before crowning Chicago NFC North Champions. NY eventually won in overtime despite allowing the Bears to claw back 10 points with less than two minutes remaining in regulation. The Giants pulled off an impressive win against a far superior opponent with timely plays on offense and a swarming defense, which produced five sacks and two interceptions, both by Alex Ogletree, who returned one for a TD.

Eli Manning was all over the place with his throws through the first half, completing just 7 of 17 passes for 79 yards and touchdown. While he seems just a shell of his prime, he did enough in the second half to put his side in a winning position, with a touchdown pass to Odell Beckham Jr. late in the third quarter. The signal-caller finished the game with 170 yards passing. The Giants also received another big game from Saquon Barkley, who totaled 146 yards (125 rushing) and OBJ threw a 49 yard touchdown pass to Russell Shepard.

Without Mitch Trubisky who is being precautiously rested with a banged up shoulder, the Bears had to rely on Chase Daniel under center, who put his team in the hole early with a pick-six. Running back Tarik Cohen proved to be the true offensive star, catching 12 passes for 156 yards and rushing for 30 on eight carries. He also threw a 1-yard TD pass with no time remaining in regulation to set up the overtime period. Chicago (8-4) are in a fantastic position to make the postseason despite the loss.

 

Up Next:

Rams v Bears – Sunday, December 9th (8:20pm)

Giants v Redskins – Sunday, December 9th (1pm)

 

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Buffalo Bills v Miami Dolphins

17-21

Despite having an injury-induced season, Ryan Tannehill continues to do just enough to keep Miami in the AFC playoff chase. Against the Bills he leaned on DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills to help the Dolphins (6-6) find some offensive consistency. Parker arguably had his best game of the season, reigning in four catches for 43 yards and a touchdown. Stills contributed four catches for 37 yards, the last of which was an incredible 13 yard touchdown grab in double coverage that had interception written all over it, that was until Stills sliced through a web of hands to make the catch.

The quarterback posted mainly mediocre numbers (16/24 catches, 137 yards, 3 touchdowns [season high], 1 interception) , but if he can continue to find his two talented pass-catches and everyone stays healthy, the Dolphins may just emerge as this year’s AFC playoff Cinderella. Though they do have a tough couple of fixtures coming up against the Minnesota Vikings and the New England Patriots.

Josh Allen showed the world why some say he’s the best rookie rushing QB in the NFL. He had a mixed passing performance for the 4-8 Bills, but he torched Miami for a team-best 135 yards on the ground. In his second game back from an elbow sprain that had him out for a month, the young signal-caller looked confident flinging the ball, even when he shouldn’t have been. He threw two interceptions but his knack for being bold paid off with some beautiful passes. His 25 yard dart through three defenders to Zay Jones for a score in the fourth quarter was simply exquisite. He did however miss a wide open Charles Clay in the end zone on their final offensive play which helped seal their fate. Their 13 penalties for 120 yard certainly didn’t help matters.

Xavien Howard had two interceptions for the second game running, giving him seven picks this season. He was the bright spot in a Miami defense that has struggled majorly against the passing game this season. The third-year corner’s interceptions played a key role in taming Buffalo’s offensive machine and gave the Dolphins just enough breathing room. Whilst the struggles on defense are real, they have a true star emerging in Howard.

 

Up Next:

Jets v Bills – Sunday December, 9th (1pm)

Patriots v Dolphins – Sunday, December 9th (1pm)

 

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Indianapolis Colts v Jacksonville Jaguars

0-6

Jalen Ramsey tackled Eric Swoope just shy of the red zone to run out the clock and retain the shutout, ending the Jags’ seven-game skid while halting the Colts’ five-game winning streak.

Perhaps the change to Cody Kessler at QB inspired the entire roster. Doug Marrone’s defense seemed to turn back the clock to 2017, shutting down Indy’s ground attack and putting the clamps on Andrew Luck‘s options. Yannick Ngakoue and Calais Campbell controlled the line of scrimmage, Telvin Smith and Myles Jack patrolled the middle of the field and rookie Ronnie Harrison joined the starting lineup for a secondary that suddenly seemed star-studded again.

Although they were averaging 34.6pts during their five-game winning streak, the Colts’ offense looked rusty for a second week running. The matchup was reminiscent of Dallas’ victory over the Saints on Thursday, nothing came easy for a QB who was pressured throughout. Frank Reich didn’t help his team’s chances with his decision to bypass field-goal attempts on a pair of fourth down plays that were easily thwarted by Jacksonville. Having failed to convert in those key situations, Reich was forced to gamble on another fourth-and-1 late in the final quarter, only to see Harrison sack Luck from behind.

Taking the defeat and factoring in Houston’s ninth straight win, the Colts’ chances of coming from behind to make a run for the AFC South title have all but evaporated. The Chargers remain heavy frontrunners for the AFC’s No.5 seed after beating the Steelers, while the Ravens own a one-game lead over the Colts, Titans, Broncos and Dolphins for the final postseason berth.

If Indy are to make up ground, Reich will have to find a fix for his ailing offense in a tough week 14 matchup verses a Texans defense that appears to be reaching its stride in the season’s final month.

 

Up Next:

Colts v Texans – Sunday, December 9th (1pm)

Jaguars v Titans – Thursday, December 6th (8:20pm)

 

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Cleveland Browns v Houston Texans

13-29

Following their demolition of the Bengals last week, the 4-7-1 Browns came out flat and seemed to be sleeping on defense. Sporting a two-deep safety setup that allowed Lamar Miller (115 yards, 20 touches) and the 9-3 Texans pound away at them. They made gashing runs and chunk plays through the air to build a 23-0 lead going in at the half.

DeAndre Hopkins won his battles with Cleveland’s secondary, especially after Denzel Ward left with a concussion, while Deshaun Watson hit his first 11 passes, threw for 224 yards and used his legs to avoid a handful of sacks. Houston out-gained the Browns 262 yards to 89 over the first two quarters alone and chewed up 21:43 off the clock.

This was a test for the Browns, who learnt they have plenty of work left to do before anyone sees them as a playoff threat. Midway through the second period of play, down 17-0, Baker Mayfield saw an errant pass picked off by Zach Cunningham, who went 36 yards for the glory. The Offensive Rookie of the Month then threw a second interception to Jonathan Joseph four snaps later. He tried to do too much on a deep shot into the end zone that ended up in the arms of Andre Hal for a third turnover on a play where the rookie could have and usually would have scrambled for sizable yardage. It was encouraging for the away fans to see Mayfield come out after the break gunning the ball downfield for 351 second half yards, but the mistakes, including a 76 yard catch and run by Antonio Callaway, which he ultimately fumbled near Houston’s goal line, were too much to overcome.

The Texans racked up multiple takeaways for the first time since October. When they dominate time of possession, trick the enemy into mistakes and run the ball with power, you see a team that could level with anyone come January. As one of the AFC’s most balanced threats, Houston have a chance to all but seal up the South with victory over the Colts in Week 14.

 

Up Next:

Panthers v Browns – Sunday, December 9th (1pm)

Colts v Texans – Sunday, December 9th (1pm)

 

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Arizona Cardinals v Green Bay Packers

20-17

The Cardinals fought hard for their first ever victory at Lambeau Field. The repercussions weren’t just another L on the Packers’ record but it cost Mike McCarthy his job. Green Bay have named Joe Filbin as interim.

The home team’s offense was practically motionless for the majority of the afternoon, led by Aaron Rodgers who carried the body language of someone trying to have fun with his teammates and not worry about the rest of the circumstances surrounding the team. It was on full display when the quarterback dropped, surveyed and pointed to an area for Devante Adams to run to in the end zone. He delivered the pass to Adams, who caught it and just snuck his feet inside the boundary in the back of the end zone.

Aside from that, everything else was underwhelming, if not straight up atrocious. Green Bay struggled to throw the ball, and ran it just 11 times with Aaron Jones. They briefly awoke when they found themselves trailing the 2-9 Cardinals by a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Realizing the gap they hurriedly pieced together a touchdown drive that covered 95 yards over 11 plays. Though they soon reverted to their old way, failing to put Mason Crosby inside a 45 yard, game-tying field goal attempt.

Arizona have played well against better teams and have often come up painfully short in recent weeks. This looked like it might be another one of those almost wins, but they finally held on for the victory. Credit is due to Zane Gonzalez, who lost his job after missing a pair of high-pressure kicks whilst with the Browns earlier in the season. He had a shot at another one Sunday and calmly sent it through the uprights. Maybe he really was injured while at the Browns, as he claimed.

Cardinals rookie running back Chase Edmonds had a nice little party on Sunday, achieving a new career high with 53 rushing yards and two touchdowns on just five carries. He ripped off a 29 yard run and received three carries inside Green Bay’s 10 yard line, scoring twice and providing a healthy change of pace to David Johnson. The 22-year-old’s performance complimented a nice day for Arizona’s front five, who opened holes for both him and Johnson at a better rate than usual, though they did still struggle to protect Josh Rosen.

 

Up Next:

Lions v Cardinals – Sunday, December 9th (4:25pm)

Falcons v Packers – Sunday, December 9th (1pm)

 

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Los Angeles Rams v Detroit Lions

30-16

With their victory over the Detroit Lions the LA Rams clinched the NFC West.

Credit is due to an inspired Lions defense that largely kept a lid on the high-flying Rams attack and forced Jared Goff into numerous uncharacteristic gaffes. With the game tied 3-3, the quarterback was picked off trying to thread the ball to the triple-covered Brandin Cooks. Quandre Diggs logged the takeaway and came back a drive later with a hard-hitting pass breakup for a Lions unit that show similar flair to the wins over the Patriots, Packers and Panthers. Goff spent huge chunks of the afternoon out of rhythm.

On the other side of the ball, the Lions’ struggling offense heard it more than once from an agitated home crowd. It was pain-inducing to see Detroit, down 10-3, utterly crumble in their version of  two minute drill. That particular three-and-out featured two runs and a third-down pass attempt that saw Cory Littleton fly through Detroit’s line to ground Matthew Stafford, who was sacked four times on the game, twice by Aaron Donald.

Their offense deserves some credit for dialing up a third-quarter onside kick and a scoring grab by Taylor Decker that pulled them within 16-13 of the Rams, but they still lack identity. LeGarrette Blount ran with fire but it was never enough. When your D plays the way theirs did against one of, if not the league’s best offenses, fans have a right to be furious.

At times the 11-1 Rams looked a little flat which allowed a less than thrilling Detroit to hang around with a third quarter fumble by Goff that turned into a Lions field goal drive. The veteran passer was lucky that a pair of back-to-back throws – both landing in the arms of Lions defenders – fell to the ground before LA salted the game away when a Donald strip sack set up Todd Gurley‘s 13 yard, game sealing touchdown.

 

Up Next:

Rams v Bears – Sunday, December 9th (8:20pm)

Lions v Cardinals – Sunday, December 9th (4:25pm)

 

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Denver Broncos v Cincinnati Bengals

24-10

Denver have turned things around midseason and are now in prime position for a run at the AFC’s No.6 playoff seed with games remaining against the 49ers, Browns, Raiders and Chargers.

The rookies impressed for the Broncos. Phillip Lindsay rushed for a season-high 157 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including a 65 yard stroll in the middle of the third quarter. He is on pace for 1,249 rushing yards, which would shatter Dominic Rhodes‘ record (1,104) for the most by any undrafted rookie since the 1970 merger. Bradley Chubb recorded his 10th sack of the season, whilst wideout Courtland Sutton pitched in with a leaping 30 yard TD catch over Darius Phillips.

Jeff Driskel‘s starting debut wasn’t a fair fight, injuries forced left guard Clint Boling to kick out to the blindside against the league’s leading sack tandem of Chubb and Von Miller. The Bengals attempted to compensate the losses with an ultra-concervative, short passing attack that provided few chunk plays. Matters weren’t helped when A.J. Green aggravated his toe injury, falling into a heap away from the play. A positive note for Cincy is that Joe Mixon and Tyler Boyd continue to excel each week.

Though they were victorious it turned out to be a costly one for the Broncos defense who have been among the league’s stingiest over the last month. Chris Harris went down with a fractured fibula. They then lost veteran defensive end Derek Wolfe (ribs) and Josey Jewell (ankle). The loss of Harris can’t be overstated, he was enjoying yet another All-Pro-caliber season for a secondary that finds themselves suddenly short on experience with Tramaine Brock also sidelined with a rib injury. Isaac Yiadom will move into the lineup opposite Bradley Roby, giving Denver yet another important rookie contributor down the stretch.

The Bengals sit two games behind AFC North leaders Pittsburgh Steelers and second placed Baltimore Ravens and one game ahead of the Cleveland Browns. The win for Denver sees them remain third in the AFC West, four games behind the leading Kansas City Chiefs and three behind second placed LA Chargers.

Up Next:

Broncos v 49ers – Sunday, December 9th (4:05pm)

Bengals v Chargers – Sunday, December 9th (4:05pm)

 

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Baltimore Ravens v Atlanta Falcons

26-16

Lamar Jackson runs the option as well as anyone could imagine, but his passing ability with this offense is still a work in progress. To his defense, he doesn’t have a genuine number one receiver to target. He’s still figuring out how to pass effectively within the faster NFL game. He missed a wide open John Brown who was streaking across the field early in the second quarter. The same route and opportunity presented itself in the fourth, though this time at least the Falcons were there to provide resistance.

The rookie QB showed what a runner he is, finishing with 75 yards and a touchdown on 17 rushes. He’s run at least 11 times in each of his three career starts. It’s working for now, enough for the Ravens to pull out victories. Cam Newton better watch out, there’s a new rushing quarterback in town. The young signal-caller also completed 12/21 passes for 125 yards in the air.

The Ravens defense seems to be getting hungrier, if not better each week. Had the unit not had a mini-meltdown late in the game, which gifted the Falcons a scoring drive thanks to penalties, they might have been able to hold Atlanta’s offense to just three points. They’re starting to cover receivers better, though things don’t look too good for them next week when they travel to first placed divisional rivals, Kansas City.

Atlanta, who sit bottom of the NFC South, need some type of coaching staff change if they’re to have any chance of staging a comeback for postseason football. They need serious help protecting Matt Ryan, who needs more options than desperate passes to Julio Jones. A lot of Sunday was the latter, with Ryan targeting Jones eight times but only completing two. Austin Hooper led the team in receiving and caught their only touchdown. The Falcons were even worse on the ground.

 

Up Next:

Ravens v Chiefs – Sunday, December 9th (1pm)

Falcons v Packers – Sunday, December 9th (1pm)

 

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New York Jets v Tennessee Titans

22-26

After an embarrassing first half, Tennessee saved their season with a resurgent second, scoring 13 unanswered points in the fourth quarter alone to sneak by the Jets. Marcus Mariota followed up his nearly flawless performance last Monday with a scattershot showing against NY. He struggled to avoid pressure and missed wide open receivers. The former Heisman winner found his mojo in the fourth, connecting on two deep balls to Taywan Taylor to set up field goals and then led a six-play, two minute drill in 70 seconds to win the game. The Titans saw their first and only third-down conversion of the day on the QB’s 11 yard game-winning touchdown pass to Corey Davis.

The 6-6 Titans are back in the wild-card race after two ugly road losses to AFC South rivals. On Sunday, they didn’t play to level of a playoff contender, but neither did the Ravens, Colts or Dolphins. Denver is the only club in the fivesome that actually looks ready for January.

With Sam Darnold on the sidelines, there was little to praise from the Jets’ last three games. Jamal Adams‘ ascendance into a near All-Pro safety and the special teams being, well, special are the only positives right now for the struggling NY Jets. The offense under Jeremy Bates just isn’t imaginable enough and the defense, Todd Bowles’ specialty, is inconsistent and displays questionable efforts. They can’t adjust to their competition in the second half. All of this was even more apparent on Sunday afternoon. The defense surrendered 13 unanswered points in the final quarter, the offense undertook five drives, punted four times and gained just 52 yards before bowing out with a game-sealing interception.

The only plus side for New York (3-9) is that they fall into a tie for third in the draft order with the Cardinals. That’s all there is to look forward to now.

 

Up Next:

Jets v Bills – Sunday, December 9th (1pm)

Jaguars v Titans – Thursday, December 6th (8:20pm)

 

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Kansas City Chiefs v Oakland Raiders

40-33

K.C. looked a bit out of sync, and still accumulated a ton of yards and points. In their first game since Friday’s release of Kareem Hunt, the Chiefs handed the ball to Spencer Ware 14 times for all of 47 yards and a touchdown, though Damien Williams gained 38 on just five carriers.

The lack of backfield options, and a return to defensive struggles that caused concern earlier in the season, forced the Chiefs to continue to throw the ball, which included a great deal of missiles, like long-range ballistic missiles, to Tyreek Hill and others. It also included the stunning fastballs fired into seeming impossibly tight windows, which we’ve come to see often from Patrick Mahomes. One of those was to Demetrius Harris to put the Chiefs ahead by 17 at the end of the third. Travis Kelce impressed once again for K.C., stepping up for 168 yards on 12 carries plus a career-high two receiving touchdowns.

It wasn’t Hill‘s best day, he dropped at least two passes and could’ve been blamed for a third. He was a target six times and caught just one for 13 yards, which might help explain how the struggling Raiders managed to stay competitive. Against a better opponent, that type of display might have burnt the Chiefs.

Derek Carr had a pleasant afternoon. He spent most of it throwing to unheralded targets like Marcell Ateman and Lee Smith, as well as tight end Jared Cook. All three caught touchdowns from the QB, who completed 29 of 38 passes for 285 yards and three touchdowns, in what was likely his best performance under Coach Gruden. Carr spread the ball to eight different targets, including 10 completions to Jordy Nelson, seven to Cook (for 100 yards and a TD). Seth Roberts and Jalen Richard both received three. Richard rushed six times for 95 yards, balancing out the attack led by Doug Martin (18 rushes, 61 yards, 1 TD) and proved he can own a role in Gruden’s offense.

 

Up Next:

Ravens v Chiefs – Sunday, December 9th (1pm)

Steelers v Raiders Sunday, December 9th (4:25pm)

 

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San Fransisco 49ers v Seattle Seahawks

16-43

This game was never really competitive. Seattle comfortably rolled over the 49ers, securing their seventh win thanks to a lopsided first half and an efficient game from Russell Wilson. The quarterback attempted just six passes in the first two quarters and completed just four, though three did go for scores. When Wilson (11 completes, 185 yards, 4 TDs) wasn’t throwing to Jamon Brown and Doug Baldwin, the tailbacks handled their business. Seattle attempted 29 runs to 20 passes on Sunday with Chris Carson and Rashadd Penny each getting over 65 yards.

The defense play well, despite giving up over 400 yards to Nick Mullens.
Bobby Wagner, the lone remaining Seahawks defensive starter from the Super Bowl team, led with 12 tackles, a sack and tied up the game with a 98 yard pick-six. At 7-5 Seattle are now in pole position in the NFC wild-card race, ahead of Washington (6-5), Minnesota (6-5-1) and Carolina (6-6), they also play the most complete game of the four.

Richard Sherman‘s return to Seattle didn’t quite go the way he’d hoped. But the extent of in-game acknowledgment of Sherman‘s service to the Seahawks came after the hosts’ first touchdown, the wide receivers reenacted his legendary tip-pick on Michael Crabtree to seal the 2014 NFC Championship Game. It was a nice tribute and not ill-intended in the slightest. The cornerback was seen playing catch with Seahawks receiver and good friend Doug Baldwin before the game. On the stats sheet though he was non-existent, despite playing all but one defensive snap. It didn’t help his game that his former team knew better than to throw to his side of the field.

There aren’t many positive things to say about the beatdown Niners team, except that injuries have allowed previously unsung youngster to get some play time. During the game injuries to Marquise Goodwin and Pierre Garcon opened the gates for rookie Dante Pettis, being a Washington alumnus, to break out in front of a familiar crowd. He recorded a career-high 128 receiving yards and scored two touchdowns, one of which he took through Seattle’s secondary for 75 yards. His fellow first-year Jeff Wilson tallied 154 yards from scrimmage in place of Matt Breida.

 

Up Next:

Broncos v 49ers – Sunday, December 9th (4:05pm)

Vikings v Seahawks – Monday, December 10th (8:15pm)

 

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Minnesota Vikings v New England Patriots

10-24

Tom Brady added his name to the record books once more and it had nothing to do with his impressive right arm. He totaled 5 yards rushing on the game to put him over 1,000 yards on the ground in his career. The 41-year-old became the oldest player to reach the milestone since 1970, and he used all his 19 seasons to get there, taking 265 games to reach it. For comparison, Panthers’ Cam Newton reached it in 23 games and Sehawks’ Russel Wilson did it in 31 games. The veteran will never be known as a dual-threat QB, but the accomplishment is still well earned. Brady also tied first with Payton Manning  for the most touchdown passes of all-time (incl. postseason).

Since starting the season off at 1-2, the Patriots have gone 8-1 since and sit on a 9-3 record with four games remaining. Sunday’s matchup proved impressive for New England in the way they went about securing the victory. There was no finesse involved against a very physical Vikings defense. Instead they went with the trusted formula that’s worked throughout the season with a balanced attack.

Sony Michel anchored a running attack with 17 carries for 63 yards and another six players combined with the rookie to produce 160 yards on 39 carries as a team. Sure they have Tom Brady, but this team is even tougher to beat when the ground game is firing on all cylinders which helps to open up the aeriel attack.

With the Bears losing earlier in the day, the Vikings had the chance to close the gap between the two teams with a victory. Unfortunately, they were their own worst enemy with untimely penalties and the inability to convert on third downs. Minnesota went 3 of 12 on third down for a dismal 25% conversion rate. Quarterback Kirk Cousins also had an unimpressive game, completing 32 of 44 passes for 201 yards and two interceptions, both came late in the fourth quarter as the Vikings attempted to get back in the game, the final one however, literally ended the game.

The loss drops the Vikings to 6-5-1 on the season.


Up Next:

Vikings v Seahawks – Monday, December 10th (8:15pm)

Patriots v Dolphins – Sunday, December 9th (1pm)

 

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Los Angeles Chargers v Pittsburgh Steelers

33-30

Upon their first prime-time game of the season, the Chargers announced themselves to the world with a season-defining comeback against the Steelers. LA entered the second half down by 16pts after they couldn’t contain Antonio Brown on defense or sustain a ground game on offense.

After the break the Chargers leaned on Kennan Allen (14 rec, 148 yards), rookie Justin Jackson (63 yards, TD) and clutch, the special teams played to pull even and then seal the victory. LA’s Desmond King returned a late third quarter punt kick for a 73 yard touchdown that helped LA tie the game.

The sides then traded touchdowns to stay tied at 30. With just four minutes to go, Philip Rivers led an 11-play drive with help from Jackson and Austin Ekeler to get the Chargers within field-goal range. Rookie kicker Michael Badgley saw two attempts miss the target, but both were called back for Steelers offsides. Exorcising the ghosts of kickers past, he got the ball between the uprights, despite a third offside penalty, winning the game for LA and moving them 9-3. They remain two games ahead of the sixth seed in the wild-card race and just a game behind the Chiefs in the AFC West.

The defeat is disappointing and costly for Pittsburgh in numerous ways. Before the loss they hadn’t blown a 16pt lead since 1981 and had never blown a 16pt lead at home in the history of the franchise. What made it even worse was they surrendered the lead to a team that had just three second-half drives. The Steelers had the opportunity to keep some distance from the Ravens (7-5) in the AFC North, but instead they lost two games in a row and fell back to the pack and are now 7-4-1, just 1.5 games ahead of Baltimore.

The most impactful loss for the home side could be that of James Conner. The dual-threat running back exited the game in the fourth quarter with what coach Mike Tomlin termed a lower-leg contusion. He was the answer at RB with Le’Veon Bell skipping this season, entering Sunday’s game third in the league in rushing and rushing touchdowns . If he’s out for any extended period of time the rushing responsibilities fall to Jaylen Samuels, Stevan Ridley and Ryan Switzer, who is in concussion protocol.

The Chargers played their first game without the injured Melvin Gordon. They turned to Jackson, who seemed the more natural runner to Ekeler‘s pass-catcher. The rookie out of Northwestern had eight second half carriers, each pivotal touches, as he picked up four first downs on four of his five rushes and scored the Bolts’ last touchdown.

Pittsburgh meanwhile, saw their second half drives stall when they leaned on the run early in downs. On their lone scoring drive after the break, they abandoned the run altogether. But it was too late, Pittsburgh were undone by their inability to extend their marches and halt the Chargers when needed.

Rivers is now tied with Peyton Manning for the most wins after trailing by 16+ points. Sunday night’s comeback was his 7th victory in such circumstances.

On the lighter side of things, there was a sibling rivalry on the night. Derek Watt (Chargers) and T.J Watt (Steelers), the younger brothers of Houston Texans’ J.J. Watt left the defensive end torn between who to route for. The older brother seemed to be having fun throughout the night though, taking to twitter to express his feelings.

Prior to game he posted a picture of his brothers’ jerseys with the caption “Decisions, decisions….”, which he later followed up with a photo of his brothers side by side on the tv screen, clearly in awe of how special it was.

The Watts weren’t the only siblings going head to head, the matchup also featured Steelers center Maurkice Puncey going up against brother Mike, a center for the Chargers.


Up Next:

Bengals v Chargers – Sunday, December 9th (4:05pm)

Steelers v Raiders – Sunday, December 9th (4:25pm)

 

Screen Shot 2018-11-22 at 11.23.12

Washington Redskins v Philadelphia Eagles

28-13

Washington can’t catch a break, just weeks after starting quarterback Alex Smith suffered a season-ending broken leg, his backup Colt McCoy suffered the same fate, which is heartbreaking for anyone, but especially for a player who just got handed their golden opportunity to show the NFL what he’s worth.

The responsibility for the final four games falls to Mark Sanchez, who was signed off the couch two weeks ago. The former Jets player is familiar with the playoff chase, having made two consecutive AFC Championship Games with New York to start his career. he hasn’t started a game since November of 2015 and looked rusty against Philly, though it’s to be expected, especially given the lack of bonding time with the team.

The Redskins need to find another back up quarterback for Sanchez. They’ll probably look to T.J. Yates, E.J. Manuel and Kellen Clemens, who they worked out in November when Smith went down. This is Sanchez’s team now, for better and most likely worse. They now have to attempt to steal a wild-card spot behind a 32-year-old journeyman under center and a 33-year-old runner who’s reaching the end of time and a crumbling offensive line. Stranger things have happened.

With back-to-back wins over NFC East rivals, Philly have soared right back into contention for the wild-card and a crowded divisional race. They were left for dead after the blowout loss to the Saints, but the trade-deadline acquisition of Golden Tate and Zac Ertz‘s reliable presence are nicely rounding out an Eagles offense. Ertz has been and remains, Carson Wentz‘ favorite target. With nine more receptions against D.C., he broke Philly’s franchise record for most receptions in a single season, previously held by Brian Westbrook. Tate added a game-high 85 yards on seven receptions, his most for the Eagles. He then announced himself to the home fans with a post-touchdown worm celebration worthy of the 90s.

The rejuvenated Eagles face a tough test next week when they travel to Arlington to take on the division-leading Cowboys. Dallas (7-5) are fresh off a shock defeat of the Saints team that embraced Philly three weeks ago. If they were to win in Texas, they’d level things atop the East, a loss however, would doom their hopes of securing a home playoff game. After their trip to the Lone Star state they face the Rams and Texans, who have a combined record of 2-4, before wrapping up the season in D.C.

 

Up Next:

Giants v Redskins – Sunday, December 9th (1pm)

Eagles v Cowboys – Sunday, December 9th (4:25pm)

 

ALL TIMES U.S. EASTERN

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