The narrative entering this game was that the Rams would play the Seahawks closely because they've had the edge in this divisional matchup in recent meetings, winning the previous three. And for a while, that appeared to be true. Seemingly fighting the officials and their horrible spotting of the football, Seattle sputtered offensively in the first quarter, entering the second frame in a scoreless tie. They managed an impressive touchdown drive in that quarter and turned a failed fake punt into a field goal, but were still stuck with just a 10-3 lead heading into intermission. They outgain the Rams by only 11 yards at that stage of the game, but they eventually got into a rhythm and generated 193 net yards following the break, pulling away with a 21-point victory.
The Seahawks seemed way too interested in running the ball in the first half, and it simply didn't work. Thomas Rawls was swallowed up at the line of scrimmage by Aaron Donald, and Seattle, as a result, was constantly stuck in long-yardage situations. That changed after intermission, as the Seahawks opened things up aerially. This should've been the strategy in the first place, as the Rams had three missing defensive backs entering this contest and eventually lost a fourth. Russell Wilson consequently posted a terrific stat line.
Wilson misfired just seven times, going 19-of-26 for 229 yards, three touchdowns and a late, careless interception. Wilson's sole mistake, save for that play, was earlier in the red zone, when he lofted an underthrown pass to Jimmy Graham. The ball appeared to be picked off, but it was ruled incomplete on the field and also upon a replay review. It should've been changed to an interception, and I'm saying this as someone who had a wager on the Seahawks. The officials were completely incompetent in this game, blowing numerous decisions and spots.
Rawls, meanwhile, managed just 34 yards on 21 carries. He had a nice, 12-yard burst in the second half, but couldn't find any running room otherwise. Rawls is a decent back, but the Seahawks will be thrilled to have C.J. Prosise back in the lineup soon.
Wilson's scores went to three different players: Tyler Lockett (7-130), Doug Baldwin (5-35) and Luke Willson (3-19). Jimmy Graham was a disappointment for his fantasy owners, catching only one pass for 31 yards. He was targeted on only one other occasion, and that was the aforementioned near-interception.
Before moving on to the Rams, a couple of injuries are noteworthy: Michael Bennett appeared to be knocked out with a concussion. This happened just one play after he was flagged 15 yards for twerking following a sack that would've forced fourth down. The play never should've happened, so it seems like Bennett was being penalized karmically for doing something a grown, big man should never do. Meanwhile, punter Jon Ryan was knocked out following a fake punt. The fake punt was a curious decision, as the Seahawks ran it from their own 27, up 24-3 with six minutes remaining in regulation. Many took issue with this, but I didn't mind it, as NFL teams should be encouraged to embarrass their divisional rivals. Meanwhile, Kam Chancellor left the game at one point, but only did so temporarily. Losing him would've been a massive blow for Seattle's playoff chances.
As for the Rams, this performance gave their few fans very little hope that Jared Goff could evolve into a franchise quarterback. Goff barely completed half of his passes, going 13-of-25 for only 135 yards. Goff was victimized by several drops, including a deep ball that should've been caught by Michael Thomas. Thus, Goff's stat line could've been much better despite the poor blocking.
However, the other end of the spectrum needs to be considered as well. Goff had an interception dropped by Richard Sherman and missed numerous throws. He had Brian Quick wide open in the end zone on one occasion, but wasn't even close on his throw. Goff took numerous sacks because he held on to the ball too long, showing no pocket awareness. He also had a deer-in-the-headlights look far too often.
Goff was ultimately knocked out of the game with a concussion when he was blasted by Richard Sherman on an attempted run into the end zone that wouldn't even count because of a penalty. Goff probably deserves a C- for this performance, so I guess he could've been much worse. Goff just doesn't look anywhere close to being ready to be called a franchise quarterback. This was the consensus of Goff heading into the 2016 NFL Draft, so it's still mind-boggling that the Rams used so many resources to acquire him. Goff probably should've been a second-round pick.
The Rams' miserable offensive line affected Todd Gurley as well. Gurley was limited to just 38 yards on 14 carries. He was blown up in the backfield far too often, as the Seahawks, like the other teams, were playing closer to the line of scrimmage because they didn't respect the Rams' passing game. Gurley was stuffed on a fourth-and-1 in the red zone in the opening quarter.
Just two Rams accumulated more than 20 receiving yards: Kenny Britt (4-50) and Brian Quick (3-46).
Dolphins 34, Jets 13
With a road game at Buffalo and a matchup versus New England in Week 17, the Dolphins couldn't risk losing this game, as the Broncos are breathing down their neck. They managed to prevail in a blowout, but they weren't nearly as impressive as the final score indicates.
The Dolphins began the game with some sloppy mistakes. They allowed a third-and-12 conversion on a short pass on the initial drive. They were responsible for numerous neutral-zone infractions throughout the evening. Jay Ajayi fumbled in his own territory. And to top it off, they had a missed extra point after their first touchdown.
They eventually took advantage of the Jets' errors, allowing them to pull away with a massive victory. The thing is, the Jets were hanging around well into the third quarter and even had double the yards Miami did at that point (225-129). New York also had more yards per play than Miami, 5.9-5.6, at intermission.
The Jets simply self-destructed. They had three possessions in the first half in which they were over midfield, but came away with zero points. Bryce Petty was strip-sacked on one of the possessions. Petty then threw an interception right to Cameron Wake at the Miami 25, as he didn't see Wake dropping into coverage. The other drive saw Bilal Powell stuffed on a fourth-and-1 at the Miami 47. The Jets were still down just 13-10 at that point, but the game quickly got away from them because of a blocked punt returned for a touchdown, a failure to pick up Ajayi's aforementioned fumble, and a Petty interception that happened to be a great play by Tony Lippett.
The Dolphins managed to prevail, and they are now 9-5. However, they definitely were not as good as this 34-13 margin indicates. If they play like this against a real team, they are going to lose.
Matt Moore had nothing to do with Miami's struggles. In fact, he was one of the best offensive players the team had on the field on this particular evening. Moore misfired on just six attempts, going 12-of-18 for 236 yards, four touchdowns and an interception. Moore was lucky to get away with a dropped pick in the first half, but he ate the Jets' secondary alive, as New York sent ineffective blitzes at him, exposing its horrible defensive backfield as a result. Moore's sole interception came on an underthrown pass. Now, before anyone gets excited, it needs to be noted that Moore was battling one of the worst secondaries in the NFL. We'll see what happens against legitimate NFL personnel.
Moore hit some big plays to Jarvis Landry and Kenny Stills for gains of 66 and 52 yards, respectively. Both scored touchdowns, as Landry eclipsed the century mark with three catches for 108 yards. Dion Sims (4-31) snatched a pair of scores.
Jay Ajayi and DeVante Parker had disappointing showings for their fantasy owners in the semi-finals. Ajayi managed just 51 yards on 19 carries and was lucky that his fumble bounced into the hands of a teammate, as some Jet players were in the area. Parker, meanwhile, secured only one of his three targets for 17 yards.
The Jets weren't given much of a chance in this game for numerous reasons, one of which was Petty. The Baylor product made some nice plays early despite being hurt by drops from Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Brandon Marshall and Quincy Enunwa. Petty led the Jets on an impressive opening drive to lead 7-0, but it all went downhill from there. As mentioned, Petty was strip-sacked and picked inside the Miami 30-yard line in the first half. Petty was intercepted again later, and then he overthrew Marshall for a big gain and a potential touchdown.
Petty's night ended when he was sandwiched by two brutal tackles by Ndamukong Suh and Cameron Wake. Both players were able to flood the backfield quickly because the ball was snapped too early. Petty actually completed a deep pass on the play, but he was taken into the locker room. He finished 20-of-36 for 235 yards, one touchdown and a pair of picks. Ryan Fitzpatrick played the rest of the way, and he went 5-of-10 for 31 yards.
If Petty is out next week, that could force the Jets to actually activate Christian Hackenberg. It's a bit puzzling why Hackenberg hasn't been given any regular-season snaps yet. The front office needs to find out what they have in him prior to the offseason. If Petty is hurt, starting Fitzpatrick would be a huge mistake.
New York's top player in this game was Bilal Powell, who had a huge performance. Powell didn't find the end zone, but he handled most of the workload despite Matt Forte being active and drawing some third-down snaps. Powell gained 84 yards on 16 carries, and he also caught a whopping 11 passes for 78 receiving yards. Part of that was Petty just dumping down passes because of his marginal skill set, but this sort of outcome makes me wonder why Powell took a back seat to Forte throughout the year.
The only New York player who logged more receiving yards than Powell was Robby Anderson, who caught Petty's sole touchdown. Anderson snatched four balls for 80 yards. On the other end of the spectrum, Marshall converted just one of his 11 targets for 16 yards. He didn't look healthy, as he had issues separating. However, he dropped a pass, and Petty overthrew him for a potential touchdown on one occasion.
Colts 34, Vikings 6
The Vikings came into this game with some great confidence. They were coming off a victory in Jacksonville, but the important factor was that Adrian Peterson would be taking the field for the first time since Week 2. Minnesota has been lackluster offensively all season, but Peterson was seen as someone who could inject some life into the team.
Well, so much for that. By the time the first half of this game was over, the Colts were up, 27-0, and Peterson had just 16 yards on four carries. His longest run was a 13-yarder, but a fumble came at the end of it. The Vikings had just two first downs in the first 30 minutes of action in what was an utterly embarrassing performance.
While Peterson returned to the field, the greater injury factor was Harrison Smith's absence. Smith is one of the top safeties in the NFL, and we've seen the Vikings struggle without him. That was the case once again in this game, as Minnesota had absolutely no answer for Andrew Luck, who abused the secondary throughout the afternoon.
Luck misfired just seven times, going 21-of-28 for 250 yards and two touchdowns. He nearly had an even better stat line, but missed an open T.Y. Hilton for a touchdown in the opening quarter. The Colts would end up reaching the end zone on that possession because the Vikings were flagged for a leverage penalty on Adam Vinatieri's successful field goal, and Robert Turbin ultimately crossed the goal line.
Luck was great, and his strong statistical afternoon seemed even sweeter for a while because both the Texans and Titans were losing in the fourth quarter. Unfortunately for the Colts, they're still one game back behind both teams, as Houston and Tennessee put together late comebacks.
At any rate, Turbin absolutely wrecked some fantasy semi-finals with a pair of touchdowns. It's not like he saw extensive work, or anything; he was given just seven attempts to Frank Gore's 26. Gore gained 101 yards in the process, but his owners have to be pissed because of Turbin's vultured scores.
Speaking of disappointed fantasy owners, you'd think T.Y. Hilton would be a big factor in a game in which Luck threw for 250 yards, but that was not the case. Hilton caught just three of his seven targets for 45 yards despite Donte Moncrief's absence. Luck's touchdowns went to Phillip Dorsett (one catch, 50 yards) and someone named Eric Swoope.
Moving on to the Vikings, Peterson finished the game with 22 yards on six carries, as he handled the ball on the ground just twice following halftime. He also caught a 1-yard pass. It was nice that he was able to get involved, but this loss effectively puts Minnesota out of any sort of playoff contention.
Sam Bradford, meanwhile, was a mess. His overall stat line doesn't look too bad - he finished 32-of-42 for 291 yards and an interception - but he was just 5-of-8 for 52 yards and a pick by halftime. Bradford accumulated a ton of yardage in garbage time, but he was also strip-sacked when he didn't feel the blind-side pressure. Bradford was also picked off a second time, but that was wiped out by a roughing-the-passer penalty. Bradford's real interception occurred when he forced a pass into tight coverage, but may not have seen Mike Adams.
Bradford's preferred target was Kyle Rudolph, who did well versus Indianapolis' weak linebackers. Rudolph snatched eight of 10 targets for 97 yards. Jerick McKinnon, who had just three carries, caught nine passes for 59 yards, as Bradford tossed his usual checkdowns. Stefon Diggs (2-13) was a big disappointment, while Adam Thielen was knocked out with a neck injury in the third quarter.
Ravens 27, Eagles 26
Carson Wentz was putting together a pedestrian performance for 58 minutes. The Ravens, up either seven or 10 for most of the fourth quarter, did a great job of smothering him, thanks to Philadelphia's issues on the offensive line. Because Baltimore failed to put the game away, thanks to a Joe Flacco interception in the red zone, the Eagles still had one more chance to send the game to overtime, but they had to go 59 yards with less than two minutes remaining.
Considering the Eagles had done nothing offensively for most of the afternoon, that seemed like too tall of a challenge, but Wentz engineered a terrific drive. Zach Ertz helped him by making some great catches, and thanks to a couple of Baltimore defensive penalties, Wentz scrambled into the end zone on a 4-yard run. It appeared as though the game would go to overtime, but the Eagles opted to go for two. They failed to convert, but it ultimately didn't matter in the grand scheme of things because Philadelphia was already out of playoff contention. The only impact it had was the Browns' draft positioning improving, but Cleveland will likely squander that pick anyway.
Wentz had that great drive, but as mentioned, he struggled otherwise. He finished 22-of-42 for 170 yards and an interception to go along with eight rushing yards and his score on the ground. He was also strip-sacked, but was fortunate that the ball trickled out of bounds. Fierce winds, poor protection and horrible receivers all betrayed Wentz. In fact, the Eagles were down to their fifth-string right tackle, Isaac Seumalo, who is a natural guard. Seumalo got banged up in the game, as he was slow to get up on Wentz's interception.
Ertz was great on the final drive, and he played well overall, catching six passes for 80 yards. In fact, Ertz was the only Eagle with more than 30 receiving yards. Jordan Matthews (6-27) was next on the list, while Dorial Green-Beckham and Nelson Agholor caught one pass each. Check out the 2017 NFL Draft Wide Receiver Prospect Rankings to see which wideouts the Eagles could be targeting in the draft.
Ryan Mathews was pretty much the only healthy running back, so Doug Pederson couldn't play games at the position this week. Mathews ran surprisingly well versus Baltmore's tough defense, gaining 128 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries.
Joe Flacco, meanwhile, was pretty inconsistent, which I guess is the norm for him now. He made some impressive throws in very windy conditions, including a 34-yard touchdown bomb to Steve Smith. However, Flacco also made some terrible mistakes. The Eagles were able to score a touchdown in the second quarter because Flacco lost a fumble on a third down deep inside his own territory. The Eagles took over at the Baltimore 10 and quickly found the end zone. Later, Flacco's interception in the red zone gave the Eagles a chance to tie; otherwise, even a field goal would've put the game out of reach. It's unclear if a receiver ran the wrong route on the play, but still, why take a risk when a short kick would've guaranteed a victory?
It's discouraging, but we're back to square one with the Baltimore running game. Kenneth Dixon handled most of the workload Monday night, but in this contest, Terrance West had more attempts, 13-9, and more yards, 77-36. Though Dixon scored a touchdown, his workload was lightened perhaps because he whiffed on a block on Flacco's strip-sack. It took him a while to see the field again after that.
Smith (2-40) and Kamar Aiken caught Flacco's touchdowns, but they both trailed Mike Wallace in the receiving department. Wallace accumulated a team-high 60 yards, but did so on only two catches.
Justin Tucker needs to be mentioned for hitting a 53-yard field goal. While this is commonplace for the terrific Tucker, he did so amid extremely windy conditions. I thought John Harbaugh might punt, considering the conditions, but Tucker is considered the best kicker in the NFL for a reason.
Titans 19, Chiefs 17
Despite what the score said when Kansas City led 14-0 and 17-7, this was an evenly matched game for the most part. Both teams had success moving the chains on numerous drives despite this contest being played in frigid temperatures. The difference, however, happened to be a few plays. The Titans appeared to be giving this game away on those plays with some terrible turnovers.
It started when Rishard Matthews lost a fumble inside the 5-yard line. This allowed the Chiefs to score a touchdown on the next possession with the help of a long Jeremy Maclin catch. Mariota was then strip-sacked in his own territory, and then he followed that up with an underthrow that was snatched in the air with one hand by Kansas City's Ron Parker.
At that point in the game, it appeared as though the Titans were going to shoot themselves in the foot enough to ensure a crucial loss. However, they showed resilience and never quit. Despite wasting all of their timeouts - they ran out of stoppages with seven minutes remaining - they were able to mount a comeback. They scored what appeared to be a game-tying touchdown, but went for two and failed to convert. Following a Kansas City punt, the Titans were able to put themselves into field-goal range to get the unlikely victory.
Considering the extremely cold temperatures in Kansas City, the better running game was expected to win. Thus, it's no wonder that the Titans prevailed despite all of their early blunders. They have the superior ground attack, and their run defense is better than what the Chiefs have in that regard. That proved to be the case in this matchup, as DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry combined for nearly 150 rushing yards. Murray had double the amount of carries, 18-9, and he outgained Henry, 89-58, but Henry scored two touchdowns. Murray was a big factor in the passing attack, catching five balls for 52 yards.
Marcus Mariota had his skeptics entering this afternoon, as this was the coldest game the native Hawaiian would ever start in his football career. Considering the conditions - as well as Kansas City's pass rush - the second-year signal-caller performed relatively well, outside of the two aforementioned mistakes.
Mariota finished 19-of-33 for 241 yards and the pick. He hit a big play in the early going on a flea-flicker, firing a downfield pass to Matthews for 46 yards. Mariota was a bit lucky the pass didn't get picked off, as it was thrown into double coverage. He did a great job of leading his team on a pair of fourth-quarter drives to win a crucial game that allowed the Titans to keep the tie with the Texans atop the AFC South.
Speaking of Matthews, he managed to lead the team in receiving yards, accumulating 105 yards on four catches. He did more than make up for his early fumble inside the Kansas City 5-yard line. Outside of Matthews, only four Titans caught passes: Delanie Walker (6-55), Murray, Kendall Wright (2-19) and Tajae Sharpe (2-10). Sharpe dropped a pass.
The Chiefs, meanwhile, appeared as though they were lucking their way into another win, but they definitely had their part in blowing this victory. They got out to an early lead, but in typical Andy Reid fashion, they went into a conservative shell and hoped to just hold on to the lead. That didn't happen, though it may have been possible if the Chiefs didn't blow opportunities.
It started in the second quarter when the Chiefs failed to convert two chances at the 1-yard line. Spencer Ware was stuffed twice, as Reid eschewed a field-goal chance that ultimately would've made a huge difference. Later on, the Chiefs ruined another chance to put at least three points on the scoreboard when Alex Smith threw an ugly interception into the end zone.
Smith struggled in the freezing conditions. He barely completed half of his passes, going 15-of-28 for only 163 yards and the interception. Aside from a 44-yard completion to Maclin, he barely tried anything downfield, which is par for the course. He did manage to score a touchdown on the ground, but that was one of his few positive plays.
Speaking of Maclin, he finished with a team-high six catches for 82 yards, doubling up the next player on the stat sheet, Travis Kelce (3-41). Spencer Ware (3-25) was the only other Chief with more than a dozen receiving yards. Tyreek Hill didn't catch a single pass, but he did score on a 68-yard run in the first quarter.
As for what Ware did on the ground, he gained 70 yards on 18 carries. It's a shame for his fantasy owners that he didn't find the end zone, despite having multiple opportunities to do so.
Giants 17, Lions 6
Matthew Stafford came into this game with a dislocated middle finger, but that was not the reason the Lions lost this game. There were numerous factors, including injuries to a pair of defensive backs, Darius Slay and Rafael Bush; a Zach Zenner lost fumble inside the New York 5-yard line; and a complete lack of a running game. The latter was not expected, but then again, it was pretty surprising that the Giants were able to rush it so well themselves.
New York's ground attack has been dormant all year, and Detroit's run defense has held up well throughout 2016 for the most part, so it was so surprising that Rashad Jennings and Paul Perkins moved the ball so well throughout the afternoon. This allowed Eli Manning to operate in short-yardage situations to avoid Detroit pass-rushers Ziggy Ansah and Kerry Hyder, who had great matchups versus a pair of weak New York offensive tackles.
So what happened? Well, the return of stud guard Justin Pugh certainly helped. Pugh has been out since leaving the game in Week 9, and his return was evident on the stat sheet; Paul Perkins gained 56 yards on 11 carries. Rashad Jennings didn't fare as well (18-38), but he had some minimal gains at the very end affecting that average. It seemed like the Giants were able to rip off five or six yards on every carry in the opening half. This allowed Eli Manning to complete all but two passes prior to halftime.
Manning wasn't as effective following intermission, as the Giants put together just one positive drive. That happened to clinch the spread victory; Manning took advantage of Slay's absence by connecting to Odell Beckham Jr. on a third-and-10, moving the chains and ultimately setting up the covering touchdown with a one-handed Beckham grab.
Manning finished 20-of-28 for 201 yards and two touchdowns. He was just 6-of-12 for 74 yards and a score following intermission, but as mentioned, Manning was able to put together a successful drive to put the game out of reach. The improved protection and the absence of Slay proved to be the difference.
Beckham caught six of his eight targets for 64 yards and a touchdown. His score was awesome, as it was a one-handed extended grab. Slay had been matched up on Beckham on most plays when he was in the game, but that didn't end up lasting very long, as Slay hurt his hamstring. Sterling shepard (4-56) also caught a touchdown.
As for Stafford, I mentioned earlier that his finger wasn't that much of a factor. I only saw one poor throw affected by the finger, as he tossed the ball into the ground when he had Eric Ebron open in the flat. Stafford also underthrew Golden Tate in the end zone by a bit in the first quarter, allowing Eli Apple to recover and break up the pass, though I don't think Stafford's finger was a factor on that pass.
Stafford finished 24-of-39 for 273 yards and a late, desperation interception. His longest pass was a 67-yard bomb, as Golden Tate beat Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie with a double move. Rodgers-Cromartie would end up having the last laugh because he was the one who picked off Stafford.
I'd say Stafford has to be disappointed with his performance. His finger didn't hinder his passes, and he's going to be regretting missing Tate in the end zone. Stafford also couldn't take advantage of Janoris Jenkins' absence, as Jenkins also got hurt in the first half. Stafford could've posted a better stat line - Golden Tate ran a bad route to negate a completion of 25 yards, and Eric Ebron dropped a pass in the red zone - but he didn't play his best game.
Perhaps the most important play of this contest occurred at the end of a seemingly successful Detroit drive. Following Tate's long catch, the Lions fed the ball to Zenner, who rushed inside the New York 5-yard line. However, he fumbled, and the Giants recovered the ball in the end zone for a touchback. Zenner didn't get much work on the ground (3-12), though he did catch four passes for 52 yards. Dwayne Washington (14-31) handled the workload, but didn't do much outside of a 12-yard burst.
Speaking of Tate, he made eight catches for 122 yards. He finished well ahead of Marvin Jones (3-41) and Ebron (4-36).
Texans 21, Jaguars 20
The Texans may as well have flushed $72 million down the toilet. Brock Osweiler has been horrible this year, and that is even sugarcoating it. This game happened to be the final straw, as Bill O'Brien benched Osweiler at the end of the second quarter.
Osweiler had been putting forth a miserable performance leading up to getting yanked. The Texans were doing nothing offensively in the early going, but once the Jaguars got on the board, Osweiler began forcing the issue. He threw his first interception on a high pass to Will Fuller, and the ball tipped off Fuller's hands and into Jalen Ramsey's. Osweiler's second pick was far worse. He simply didn't see Telvin Smith. The Jaguar linebacker snatched the ball, and Jacksonville turned that into a touchdown. That's when O'Brien made the decision to switch quarterbacks.
Tom Savage entered the game to a standing ovation, and the fans were even happier when he fired a 32-yard pass. He managed to get the Texans to the 1-yard line, but they were stuffed on third down, and then Savage threw an incomplete fade to DeAndre Hopkins on the next snap. The pass wasn't too bad, but it was just a horrible call, as fades seldom work in the red zone.
Still, despite trailing 13-5 entering the third quarter and watching the Jaguars score seven free points on a kickoff return, the Texans were able to come back. Savage was brilliant at the end of this game, while Blake Bortles faltered. Houston's win allowed it to hold a tie with the Titans atop the AFC South, while the Jacksonville loss has resulted in Gus Bradley being fired. Click the link to see my grade for this.
Savage is almost certain to hold the starting job in the wake of this victory. He finished 23-of-36 for 260 yards in slightly more than a half of action. Compare this to Osweiler's line of 6-of-11 for 48 yards and two interceptions. Bill O'Brien would have a mutiny on his hands if he went back to Osweiler, especially since the Texans were able to win.
DeAndre Hopkins definitely would be pissed if Osweiler started once again. Hopkins has struggled all year statistically because of Osweiler's incompetence. However, he managed to catch eight balls for 87 yards with Savage. He also drew a pass-interference flag on Jalen Ramsay in the second half when the Texans were mounting their comeback. Elsewhere, Ryan Griffin (8-85) was next on the stat sheet, while Wil Fuller (4-42) made an amazing, one-handed catch for a gain of 22, which led to a field goal.
Good news/bad news/worse news for Lamar Miller: The good news is that Miller was able to score a touchdown. The bad news is that his YPC was pretty pedestrian, as he gained just 63 yards on 22 carries. The worse news is that Miller appeared to sustain some sort of injury in the final couple of minutes.
Moving on to the Jaguars, they struggled offensively for most of the afternoon. They had one solid drive in the early going, as the Texans' pass rush was inexplicably absent before Jadeveon Clowney sacked Bortles to disrupt the drive. Bortles eventually scored on the ground off Osweiler's second interception, and as mentioned, Jacksonville had a kickoff return touchdown. Otherwise, the Jaguars couldn't move the chains at all, mustering only 150 net yards of offense.
Bortles, to put it nicely, was awful. He failed to complete half of his passes, going 12-of-28 for 92 yards, a rushing touchdown and an interception, which the CBS announcer deemed to be a "bad decision." Bortles' passes were all over the place, as he showed poor mechanics and constantly fired ugly throws off his back foot. Bortles has regressed this year, and if the Jaguars had a viable alternative, I'm sure they would've benched Bortles by now.
Bortles' struggles once again ruined a game for Allen Robinson, who caught just two of his eight targets for only 15 yards. The only positive development for Robinson was that he drew a pass-interference flag in the end zone, allowing Bortles to get his rushing score.
Sadly, T.J. Yeldon led the Jaguars in receiving, as he caught five passes for 34 yards. Only two other Jaguars, Robinson and Bryan Walters, caught multiple passes. On the ground, Chris Ivory had more carries than Yeldon, 10-8, and also had more yardage, 44-28.
EDITOR'S NOTE: I'm convinced that I'm living in some sort of parallel universe. The Giants actually ran the ball well ... Tom Savage had a great game ... and Matt Barkley threw 110 more yards and two more touchdowns than Aaron Rodgers. Someone please help me escape this evil place.
After falling to 4-6, Aaron Rodgers said the team had to run the table. Well, they are only two games away from doing that after beating the rival Bears. Matt Barkley played tremendously to tie the game late in the fourth quarter after the Packers had built a 27-10 lead, but Rodgers and Jordy Nelson came up clutch late in the fourth quarter to escape freezing Chicago with a win.
On the opening drive of the game, Rodgers made a great play to dodge a sack and find Jared Cook (6-85) for a 27-yard gain. Another third-down conversion to Cook and a roughing-the-passer penalty on Akiem Hicks set up a rushing touchdown for Ty Montgomery. The Bears answered as Barkley moved the ball with some nice completions to set up Connor Barth for a short field goal. The Bears then took the lead thanks to Barkley, throwing some ropes down the field. He threw a quick pass to the flat to Josh Bellamy, who ran over Damarious Randall with a stiff arm to get into end zone from 10 yards out. Rodgers responded with a field-goal drive to tie the game at 10. Chicago tried a Hail Mary in the final seconds of the first half, but Micah Hyde picked off the deflection.
On the first play of the third quarter, Julius Peppers burned Charles Leno Jr. for a blind-side strip-sack of Barkley. Peppers recovered the ball to set up the Packers inside the Bears' 20-yard line. Davante Adams had his second dropped touchdown of the game though, and Rodgers was tackled at the 1-yard line on third-and-goal to force a field goal. Green Bay's defense continued to get the job done, with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix picking off Barkley to set up the Packers near midfield. A chunk completion to Adams and then a 26-yard run by Montgomery moved the ball to the 1-yard line before Montgomery plunged into the end zone. Clinton-Dix quickly picked off Barkley again, as wideout Daniel Braverman screwed up by quitting on the route. A few plays later, Christine Michael (4-45-1) broke down the field for a 42-yard touchdown run.
Down 27-10, the Bears got back into the game, as Barkley started connecting with Alshon Jeffery (6-89-1) with three completions for 58 yards, including an 8-yard strike for six. Barkley and Jeffery connected some more to set up a 9-yard touchdown run by Jordan Howard. Late in the fourth quarter, Barkley made another drive deep into Green Bay territory, but on third-and-goal, Hyde made a tremendous diving breakup to force a game-tying field goal.
With under a minute remaining on a third-and-long, Rodgers hit a 60-yard bomb to Jordy Nelson, who somehow got behind the Bears' coverage. On the final play of the game, Mason Crosby was true on a 32-yard field goal to give the Packers a tough road win.
Rodgers completed 19-of-31 passes for 252 yards, but he had a lot of dropped passes from Nelson and Adams that took points away from Green Bay's offense. Nelson led the Packers with seven receptions for 124 yards. He had some bad drops on deep balls downfield, but redeemed himself in the clutch.
On the ground, wide receiver-turned-running back Montgomery had 16 carries for 162 yards and two touchdowns.
Barkley was 30-of-43 for 362 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions. He played much better than the numbers illustrate, as one pick was a Hail Mary and the other was the fault of Daniel Braverman.
Howard had 17 carries for 90 yards with a touchdown. Deonte Thompson led the Bears in receiving with eight receptions for 110 yards. Cameron Meredith (9-104) also played well for Chicago.
Defensively, the Bears had a nice pass rush, as they had four sacks with Pernell McPhee recording two. The Packers' secondary allowed too many open receivers, but Clinton-Dix and Hyde came up with clutch plays to help the Packers get the victory.
EDITOR'S NOTE: I had Jeremy Hill going in two semi-finals. He had three chances to score a touchdown early on and didn't get there. Yet, Andy Dalton tries on a fourth down and scores. FML. Also, how the hell did the Bengals not cover this game when they were up 20-9 a halftime? I know, I know, Vontaze Burfict and Vinny Rey were knocked out, and the reason the Bengals have been so much better defensively since the bye has been Burfict's improved play, but still, talk about a double bad beat.
When the Steelers and Bengals meet, there's always a heightened sense of competition and each hit seems to have more impact. The Bengals were the team to strike first with a touchdown, as after Jeremy Hill was stopped three times at the goal line, the Bengals went for it on fourth-and-goal, and Andy Dalton snuck it in to take a 10-3 lead in the first quarter.
The Bengals were bottling up Le'Veon Bell, and in turn the Steelers' offense for much of the game, and midway through the second quarter, the Bengals struck again. This time, Hill was able to score from four yards out to give the Bengals a commanding 17-3 lead.
Hill went on to pick up a Terrible Towel that a fan had thrown onto the field and tried to rip in apart, and when he failed, he spiked it to the ground to emphasize the Bengals' 14-point advantage. And that drew a flag.
When the Steelers play, you do not expect their leader in points to be Chris Boswell, but this week, he sure was. The Bengals stopped the Steelers over and over, but not quickly enough, as Boswell tied a Steelers record with six field goals from 45, 49, 49, 40, 49 and 30 yards in a fairly windy stadium.
The Steelers in the past would often eschew field goals to try to score touchdowns, but Boswell was on and the Steelers weren't getting into fourth-and-short situations. By halftime, the Steelers had cut the Bengals' lead by just three points as they trailed 20-9, but the conservative approach kept the Steelers in the game.
After halftime, the Bengals' offense tanked and was unable to score another point, while the Steelers continued to move the ball just enough to get into field goal range and let Boswell finish drives. On Boswell's last field goal of the day, the Steelers pulled within two.
Then, on their next drive, the Steelers finally got into the end zone on a 24-yard bullet from Ben Roethlisberger to Eli Rogers, making it 24-20 Pittsburgh with just over three minutes left in the game.
The Steelers, however, had help on their touchdown drive. The Bengals' defense had a meltdown in their 2015 playoff loss to the Steelers when they were flagged repeatedly late in the game, giving the lead away. And this week, they did something similar, getting called for four straight penalties on the Steelers' game-winning and only touchdown drive.
The Bengals had talked about being under control and how they wouldn't let something like last season's playoff game happen again, but they did. It probably cost them the game and any chance at the playoffs.
The Bengals are eliminated from the playoffs, but the Steelers remain in first place in the AFC North with a showdown against the Baltimore Ravens in Pittsburgh. The winner will likely win the division, as the Ravens beat the Steelers earlier in the season and would own the tiebreaker if they swept them.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Congratulations to Robert Griffin, who learned this week that Terrelle Pryor was having a great year. What an accomplishment! Griffin actually threw to Pryor this week, which was quite impressive for him. Baby steps.
Even when the Browns seem to have a chance coming into games, they absolutely flounder. That was the case against the Bills on Sunday, when they kept it close for a couple of quarters, and then ultimately imploded. They put on a horrific showing, and it looks like they will become the second team in NFL history to go 0-16.
The story of the game was the utter domination by LeSean McCoy. Many expected the strong lead back to have a terrific day against the hapless Browns, but he was really able to outdo himself. From the get-go, McCoy was absolutely stellar. He seemingly broke off 10-yard runs every single time he touched the ball and did a great job of following his blockers. McCoy is the poster child for patience at the NFL level, as he allows his blockers to open up lanes for him. That was apparent today, and it really helped McCoy to put up some huge numbers.
Overall, McCoy saw 19 carries on the day and turned them into a whopping 153 yards. He also scored two very impressive touchdowns. On the first one, it was a 3-yard plunge where he followed his blockers straight into the end zone. He was virtually untouched. The second one was one of the best plays of the day for the Bills, as he stutter-stepped and then ran to the outside. He used his speed to get outside of five Cleveland defenders and walk in. That play helped to seal the deal for Buffalo.
Mike Gillislee also saw a good deal of action on the ground. He got nine carries for 37 yards and got an early touchdown as well. He continues to see some goal-line work, but he is not a recommended start in any fantasy formats.
In the passing game, the Bills had a fairly strong performance. The performance of Tyrod Taylor was pretty solid, and he made a case to keep his starting job for next season.
Taylor was near-perfect statistically, going 17-for-24 with 174 yards and a touchdown. Taylor displayed some great accuracy, and he really has the potential to be a better player. Despite playing with only a couple of legitimate receiving options, Taylor was able to help the offense put up 33 points. He had a very nice throw on his touchdown pass, where he had gotten crushed by three Browns, but was still able to get the ball to Charles Clay down the field.
Once again, Taylor's biggest asset was his mobility. Taylor had seven scrambles on the day and turned them into 49 yards. He had one very nice run where he rounded the corner and worked his way down the sideline before being shoved out. The play netted the team 28 yards. The Bills need to consider starting Taylor next year. He is still a work in progress, but he has proven at times to be a solid option. Even if the franchise parts way with Rex Ryan, Taylor should begin 2017 as the quarterback.
Thanks to Taylor's success, the Bills were able to support some solid receiving performances. The leader on the day was Charles Clay (7-72, 1 TD), and it was definitely the tight end's best game of the year. Clay was able to matchup well against the Browns' linebackers and was Taylor's favorite target. Most weeks, Clay is nothing more than a TE2. However, he could fare well in the team's matchup with the Jets next week.
The other top receivers on the day were Marquise Goodwin (3-43) and LeSean McCoy (3-16). Both Sammy Watkins (1-10) and Robert Woods (1-5) were major disappointments, as they struggled to separate from the Cleveland corners.
Defensively, Kyle Williams and Lorenzo Alexander each had big days. Both men recorded 1.5 sacks, and Williams' return allowed the team to play much better run defense. Alexander continues to have a Pro Bowl-caliber season.
For the Browns, this was yet another embarrassment. They dropped to a lowly 0-14 on the season, and they seem to have no chance of winning. They are not helping themselves out by continuing to start Robert Griffin III.
At a glance, Griffin's numbers are not altogether awful. He went 17-of-28 for 196 yards and did not commit a turnover. However, he really was not as good as those numbers indicate. He played a very poor game and spent most of the day dinking and dunking to his running backs. The coaching staff also ensured that he could toss a lot of screens to Terrelle Pryor, but he rarely threw the ball downfield. He had one nice downfield pass, but that was about it.
The one area where Griffin looked to have some ability was on the ground. He had eight scrambles for 48 yards and a touchdown. The touchdown was an 18-yard run that can only be described as vintage RG3. He ran around a few Bills defenders before laying out to get the ball over the end line. Still, it was not enough to look like anything more than a backup.
The Browns definitely should go into the last couple of weeks of the season with Cody Kessler as the starter. At least he will give them a glimpse of hope in the future.
Thanks to Griffin's issues, Duke Johnson (5-62) led the team in receiving yards. Most of his catches were checkdowns, as were the passes to Terrelle Pryor (4-19). Andrew Hawkins (1-33) had a nice downfield grab, while Corey Coleman (3-24) flashed on his catches. Do not even think about starting any of Cleveland's receivers in fantasy in the playoffs. It will only backfire for your team.
On the ground, the Browns had a very poor performance. Their offensive line could not do anything to open up holes for the backs. As a result, Isaiah Crowell had eight carries and only turned them into a paltry 28 yards. Duke Johnson had some more success, garnering 31 yards on five carries. Johnson should get more carries in the last two weeks. Crowell has not showed much this season, and he looks like more of a backup at this point in his career.
EDITOR'S NOTE: I feel dumb. Dumber than usual, that is. I made a huge deal throughout the week of waiting on Max Unger's status. I checked Twitter at around 4:05 to see Unger's status, and it was reported that he would play. "Cool," I told myself. "I'll bet a unit on the Saints." Unfortunately, this game began at 4:05 instead of 4:25, like I thought. It was only a unit, so it wasn't a big deal, but I still feel like an idiot.
The Saints improved to 6-8 on the season, thanks against to their explosive offense winning a shootout in Arizona. However, New Orleans' defensive issues were evident as to why the team miss out on the postseason. The Cardinals had a frustrating game as their defense had pitiful pass coverage against Drew Brees and Brandin Cooks all afternoon. Offensively, dropped passes continued to plague Arizona. This has been a lost season for the Cardinals, in part due to a plethora of dropped balls.
Early in the first quarter, Arizona took the lead as Kerwynn Williams took a carry for 49 yards for a touchdown, and that set the tone for the first half. The Saints answered with a field goal drive, and then Larry Fitzgerald fumbled the ball away to New Orleans at the Cardinals' 30-yard line. New Orleans took advantage with Brees hitting Travaris Cadet (5-30-1) for a short touchdown pass. Arizona took the lead after Markus Golden burned Zach Strief to get a strip-sack of Brees. Calais Campbell scooped up the ball and returned it 53 yards for a touchdown. Quickly, the Saints responded with Brandin Cooks turning around D.J. Swearinger to get wide open for a 65-yard touchdown pass. Just two minutes before the half, Cooks burned Tyrann Mathieu on a crossing route before exploding down the field for a 45-yard touchdown. Carson Palmer moved the ball down the field in the final second of the half before finding J.J. Nelson (5-38-1) on a 10-yard touchdown pass. The Saints took a 24-20 lead into the locker room.
The Saints would add a third-quarter field goal before Palmer led Arizona down the field, from where David Johnson scored from a couple of yards out to tie the game at 27. Early in the fourth quarter, the Saints had a drive stall and settle for a field goal, but an offside penalty gave New Orleans a first down. The Saints promptly turned that into a Tim Hightower (11-37-2) touchdown and a 34-27 lead. The Cardinals drove down the field, and Johnson scored again from a few yards away. The Saints got going again with a 36-yard completion to Cooks, and then Michael Thomas (7-52-1) made a leaping grab over Brandon Williams for the score.
New Orleans' defense finally came up with a stop as Vonn Bell forced a fumble from Brittan Golden, which was recovered by New Orleans. That led to another short touchdown run from Hightower, and the Saints were up 48-34 with three and half minutes remaining. J.J. Nelson dropped an easy would-be touchdown, but John Brown (5-81-1) didn't, as Vonn Bell was late coming over the top on Brown's 30-yard score. Brees connected with Coby Fleener (2-10) after he beat Tony Jefferson to get a conversion that allowed New Orleans to run the clock out on the Cardinals.
Brees was 37-of-48 for 389 yards with four touchdowns. It was a big bounce back for Brees after two games without touchdown passes.
Cooks had one of the best games of his NFL career with seven receptions for 186 yards and two touchdowns.
Mark Ingram (17-78) led the Saints in rushing, but in the fourth quarter, Ingram threw a temper tantrum on the sideline after Hightower scored his second touchdown. It was an extremely selfish display by Ingram.
Palmer finished 28-of-40 for 318 yards and two touchdowns. He played really well and abused a vulnerable Saints secondary. Fitzgerald notched seven receptions for 57 yards, but his lost fumble was painful for Arizona.
David Johnson had 12 carries for 53 yards with two scores while catching four passes for 55 yards.
Defensively, Calais Campbell was excellent with two sacks and the fumble returned for a touchdown. Cam Jordan had a sack for the Saints to continue his excellent season.
Raiders 19, Chargers 16 By Jacob Camenker - Riggo's Rag
EDITOR'S NOTE: There were more Raider fans in the stands than Charger fans. That's not an exaggeration. Oakland fans did a great job of flooding San Diego's stadium, as the 25 Charger fans on this planet have understandably checked out for the year.
For the first time since 2002, the Oakland Raiders are heading to the playoffs. The team had a great come-from-behind victory over the Chargers to clinch the postseason berth, and the Raiders will definitely have a chance to compete in the AFC.
This contest was really a step in the right direction for Derek Carr. After a very poor Thursday night performance against the Kansas City Chiefs, in which his dislocated pinky finger definitely hampered him, he put together an all-around solid game on Sunday. Carr went 19-of-30 for 213 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He played very well, and he will be even better when he is at full strength.
Carr was able to put more zip on his passes with an extra few days of healing time for his finger. He was actually able to put his pinky on the football, which really helped him out. His touchdown throw was nearly perfect. Carr put it in a place where only Michael Crabtree could grab it, and the receiver had an epic toe tap that gave them the score. It was one of the best plays of the day.
The only negative for Carr was his interception. It was lazily thrown into good coverage, and the Chargers had no issues taking advantage of the mistake. Still, the pick was uncharacteristic of Carr, and he will likely improve as his finger continues to heal.
Carr really spread the wealth among the Raiders, as they saw 10 different receivers catch a pass on Sunday afternoon. Carr's preferred target was Crabtree (6-60, 1 TD). Crabtree was able to frequently get open in the mid-range areas, and Carr was able to locate him. Crabtree may have been able to do better, as he did have trouble getting his hands on a couple of balls, but he should be the top receiver for the team for the rest of the season.
Amari Cooper (1-28) really did not do much. The second-year player had issues getting on the same page as Carr. If you survive Cooper's mediocre performance this week, he can still be started moving forward in the fantasy playoffs. He just had a bad week, but is still at least a WR2.
The Raiders seemed to shy away from using Latavius Murray as the lead back on Sunday. Instead, they opted to use a committee approach, which ended up working very well. While Murray led the way with 13 carries for 81 yards, Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington were mixed in. Part of this was due to the fact that Murray lost a fumble and also had a ball squirt out of bounds on an early run.
The better of the two rookies was Richard. He looked explosive and had a really nice run up the middle. He ended the day with 36 rushing yards on six carries. Richard should be used as the main third-down back for the team. Washington, a fifth-round pick from Texas A&M, was not quite as good as Richard, but proved to be a decent option. Washington totaled five carries for 23 yards and should continue to be given carries due to his potential.
Jack Del Rio made another great coaching decision late in the fourth quarter, challenging the spot of a ball after a Carr scramble. Initially, it appeared that the call would have to stand, but it was revealed that Carr made it across the first-down marker. That allowed Oakland to run more time off the clock on what was ultimately the game-winning drive for the team.
On defense, Bruce Irvin continued to be a force for the Raiders. He made numerous great plays against San Diego's defensive line, and he picked up another couple of sacks. Irvin will continue to be one of the better pass-rushing linebackers in the league.
For the Chargers, this was a disappointing loss, but it was a strong effort. Their team was so close to winning, but they could not convert in the second half to win it.
Despite the loss, Philip Rivers had a very solid performance. Rivers went 17-of-30 for 206 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Early in the contest, he was able to make connections with some of his receivers, and one of his touchdowns was a thing of beauty.
Rivers saw a wide-open Travis Benjamin streaking to the end zone, and he launched a perfect deep ball to the speedster. The ball hit Benjamin right on the hands, and he never had to break stride before heading into the end zone. The throw set the tone for the game, and it seemed like the Chargers would be having a great day on offense.
However, that never materialized. The Chargers were only able to put up nine points after their 91-yard opening drive, and that contributed to their dip in production.
Part of the problem was the lack of a running game. With Melvin Gordon out, the Chargers had to rely on undrafted rookie Kenneth Farrow to carry the load. Farrow saw 115 carries, but only managed a meager 39 yards. He also gave up a critical fumble late in the contest that led to the decisive score for the Raiders. Farrow seems like a fine depth option, but the team cannot afford to start him again.
Perhaps if Gordon is out another week, journeyman Ronnie Hillman will get a chance to start. Hillman saw seven carries and turned them into 34 yards. He has more game-breaking ability and could also see some work as a pass catcher.
The touchdowns for Rivers went to Benjamin (2-56) and Hunter Henry (3-37). Henry looks to be a high-end TE2 with the playing time he is getting, and for 2017, he could end up being one of the breakout players at the position. Still, it is hard to fully trust him in a critical playoff game.
The other receivers to have big days were Dontrelle Inman (5-68) and Tyrell Williams (4-20). Inman was able to get open frequently and had an easy time running around defenders. He is arguably the best receiver on the Chargers right now. As for Williams, he had a lower output, but he displayed quickness and had chances to make plays. He will continue to be a WR3/FLEX option this season.
On the defensive side of the ball, Joey Bosa was very fun to watch. The No. 3 overall pick got a sack against the stellar Oakland line and demonstrated some explosive pass-rushing ability. As he matures, he will become one of the better defensive players in the league.
Falcons 41, 49ers 13
The 49ers didn't have much of a chance to win this game entering the afternoon, and they put themselves even farther behind the eight ball by deactivating Gerald Hodges for violating team rules. With NaVorro Bowman out, Hodges has been the 49ers' best inside linebacker, so his absence was going to be felt. The situation only got worse when Nick Bellore, the team's other starting inside linebacker, went down with an injury. The 49ers, who had two inside linebackers dressed for the game for some reason, had to use safety Vinnie Sunseri at the position. Sunseri is 210 pounds, so that should tell you how this game went.
Of course, you could just look at the score and the stat sheet. The Falcons basically did whatever they wanted, scoring on nearly possession. They achieved a whopping 29 first downs and accumulated 550 net yards, averaging a ridiculous 8.3 yards per play. If that final stat means nothing to you, think about it this way - according to that figure, Atlanta nearly got a first down almost every single time it snapped the ball!
Matt Ryan misfired on just six occasions despite not having Julio Jones again. The 49ers' horrible, inside linebacker-less defense just made things so easy. Ryan went 17-of-23 for 286 yards and two touchdowns. Ryan threw the ball just nine times after halftime, so if San Francisco was able to be more competitive, Ryan's stat line would've been much better. The 49ers simply had no chance to stop Ryan, given their problems at inside linebacker. Jimmie Ward leaving the game in the second quarter didn't help matters either.
Ryan missed out on some touchdowns because Devonta Freeman scored thrice. Freeman tallied 139 yards on just 20 carries. He nearly scored a fourth time, but lost a fumble at the 1-yard line. Tevin Coleman was given 14 carries, which he turned into 58 scoreless yards.
With Jones out of the lineup, the thinking was that Mohamed Sanu would step up statistically, but that didn't happen. The mediocre Sanu caught just three balls for 44 yards. Ryan preferred Aldrick Robinson (4-111) and Taylor Gabriel (3-60) instead. Gabriel caught a touchdown, as did Austin Hooper on his only reception.
If there's a dark cloud over this victory, it's the dislocated finger Keanu Neal sustained in the second half. Neal's finger was disgustingly bent the wrong way. You can probably find a picture online if you haven't seen it on TV yet. It was pretty gross. It's unclear if there will be any long-term ramifications because of this, but I imagine that Neal will be able to play through this.
Going quickly through the 49ers, Colin Kaepernick struggled once again, going 20-of-33 for 183 yards and two touchdowns. He was doing nothing until the Falcons were up 21-0, which is when they relaxed and allowed Kaepernick to engineer a couple of scoring drives. Kaepernick can be a decent quarterback when the opponent doesn't try very hard, and that's exactly what happened in this contest. Kaepernick had a very ugly throw that was way late across the middle. He was fortunate that it wasn't picked off, but decisions like that will lead to interceptions in the future.
Carlos Hyde would've had a semi-decent game if it wasn't for an ugly blemish early on. Hyde lost a fumble to begin the game, leading to an Atlanta touchdown. Hyde otherwise gained 71 yards on 13 carries. Not a bad stat line considering that his two top offensive linemen - Joe Staley, Daniel Kilgore - were both out of the lineup.
Only one 49er player accumulated more than 30 receiving yards, which was Blake Bell, who secured a 45-yard reception. Aaron Burbridge (2-29) and Jeremy Kerley (5-28) were next. The 49ers desperately need to add some play-makers this offseason.
Patriots 16, Broncos 3
All the heat is going to come down on Trevor Siemian in this game, as well as John Elway for failing to find a better option at quarterback this season. Siemian absolutely crushed his team with an interception in the red zone when this contest was tied at three in the opening half. It was a weak throw toward the sideline, allowing Logan Ryan to jump the route. The Broncos could've established a lead, but the pick allowed the Patriots to engineer their sole touchown drive of the afternoon.
However, Siemian wasn't completely to blame for this loss. Not even close. Siemian wasn't great, but he made some decent throws. He converted a third-and-12 in the second quarter and was able to generate 309 net yards of offense - just four yards shy of what the Patriots produced. The Broncos had numerous drives that went into New England territory, and yet they produced only three points.
Siemian finished 25-of-40 for 282 yards and the aforementioned interception. He was hurt by all of the drops, but he made some mistakes outside of the pick. For instance, he threw just a 1-yard pass to Derby on a third-and-4. He also took a sack on a crucial third-and-1 that prevented the Broncos from going for it on fourth down.
The Patriots, meanwhile, didn't enjoy much success offensively themselves. Tom Brady began the game without a completion on his first six attempts. He was hurt by drops and Denver's heavy pressure. Brady put together just two touchdown drives, with one aided by the aforementioned Siemian pick. It wasn't pretty, but Brady got the job done against one of the NFL's top defenses.
Brady completed only half of his passes, going 16-of-32 for 188 yards. He didn't throw a touchdown. It was a tough game for Brady, and all of the drops didn't help. James White and Chris Hogan had drops that would've moved the chains on third down.
Though New England was very unlucky with the drops, it was very fortunate that Dion Lewis was able to recover a fumble near the goal line. Lewis coughed up the ball at the 1-yard line, and it appeared as though the Broncos would be able to recover. However, the ball somehow rolled back to Lewis, who was just lying on the ground. The Patriots scored soon after.
Lewis inexplicably had more carries than LeGarrette Blount, 18-17, and he had way more rushing yards, 95-31. However, Blount vultured the touchdown right after Lewis' fumble. Denver's run defense was worse than usual after losing Derek Wolfe to a neck injury.
Only one Patriot accumulated more than 35 receiving yards. That was Julian Edelman, who grabbed six of his 12 targets for 75 yards. Martellus Bennett (2-35) and James White (3-24) were the only other New England players who eclipsed 20 yards.
Moving back to the Broncos, Emmanuel Sanders was a big disappointment, catching just three passes for 48 yards. He trailed only Demaryius Thomas (7-91), who had the aforementioned crushing drop. Jordan Norwood caught only one pass, but I'm mentioning him because he fumbled twice. His initial fumble, which occurred deep in his own territory, gave New England a quick field goal.
Justin Forsett handled more of the workload than Devontae Booker, getting 10 carries to Booker's six. He outgained Booker, 37-17. The Broncos clearly miss C.J. Anderson.
The last thing I want to mention is T.J. Ward's stupidity. Ward had a great tackle of Edelman on third down with about four minutes remaining in regulation. It was going to force a punt, but Ward then grabbed Edelman and needlessly threw him to the ground. He then stood over Edelman and flexed his muscles, just as the officials threw flags for unnecessary roughness. Ward saw the flags, yet continued to flex. He looked like the dumbest human being of all time on that particular play.
Cowboys 26, Buccaneers 20
I'd say that Jason Garrett wouldn't be hearing any questions about replacing Dak Prescott with Tony Romo, but Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth took care of that repeatedly during the Sunday night telecast. Dallas managed to snap out of its funk with a statement victory over the Buccaneers, and the team won't have to hear about Romo potentially appearing anytime soon.
Prescott was spectacular. He actually had the second-best single-game completion percentage in NFL history for quarterbacks with 30 or more pass attempts (Rich Gannon). Prescott misfired on just four occasions, going 32-of-36 for 279 yards. He didn't throw a touchdown, but he managed to run one in, scrambling four times for 20 rushing yards.
It's possible that Prescott could've had more of an opportunity to score aerially, but the offense made several mistakes to disrupt drives. The initial possession concluded because of a hold. The next one ended because of a Doug Free face mask. In the second half, a Tyron Smith hold negated a Prescott-to-Lance Dunbar touchdown connection. All of the calls were legitimate, so Dallas needs to work on not being so sloppy in future instances.
Because Prescott didn't throw a touchdown, no wideout or tight end had a dominant fantasy performance. Dallas' leader in receiving was Dez Bryant, who snatched eight balls for 82 yards. Jason Witten, meanwhile, hauled in all 10 of his targets for 51 yards. He moved into seventh on the NFL's all-time receptions list. However, there was a dark cloud over his evening, which was a lost fumble. That was his second cough-up in FIVE YEARS. Fortunately for Witten, the Buccaneers went three-and-out following the turnover.
The other side of the rookie battery was just as impressive. Ezekiel Elliott trampled Tampa's strong run defense, tallying 159 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries. Elliott was so dominant that it made me wonder if the Cowboys outsmarted themselves by not giving Elliott more opportunities. They ran some trick plays that didn't work, when pounding Elliott would've been much more effective.
Even though Prescott is the rookie, Jameis Winston is actually a year younger. Winston had some great moments in this game, but overall, it was a roller-coaster performance, as Winston played inconsistently.
Winston began the game poorly. He lost a fumble on a Terrell McClain hit, missed Mike Evans for a big gain on a slant and then was flagged for a personal foul when he headbutted a Dallas linebacker after the play was over. Winston was 6-of-12 for 81 yards and an interception on a Hail Mary at intermission. Winston caught fire coming out of the locker room, leading the Buccaneers on two touchdown drives. The Buccaneers, trailing 17-3 at one point, were able to take a 20-17 lead, and it appeared as though Tampa would be able to pull the upset. Winston simply couldn't miss.
And then, Winston's roller-coaster ride went downhill, as he went three-and-out on almost every series after that. It wasn't all his fault, as Dallas defensive tackle David Irving caused major problems by flooding the backfield on seemingly every play. It began when Winston was picked off on an overthrow on third-and-long, which was caused by Irving smacking Winston's elbow upon his release. Winston then overthrew an open receiver near the end zone and missed Mike Evans on the penultimate offensive drive of the game. Winston was given one more chance, but was picked off in desperation time.
Winston finished 17-of-35 for 247 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. I don't understand how Winston can be so inconsistent over the course of 60 minutes of action. He looked like three different quarterbacks in this game. It hurt that right tackle Demar Dotson was out, but there was very little excuse for some of his fourth-quarter misses.
Winston's touchdowns went to Cameron Brate (5-73) and Adam Humphries (2-49). Mike Evans tied Brate for the team lead in targets (8), catching four of them for 49 yards. He disappointed his fantasy owners, but don't blame him; Winston missed him on a few occasions on what would've been deep gains. Evans should've had a long touchdown when he beat two players, but Winston overshot him. Evans also drew an interference flag.
Doug Martin looked like he could have decent success in this contest when he ripped off some nice, early gains, but the Buccaneers had to abandon the run because they were down by two touchdowns in the second quarter. Martin finished with 42 yards on 16 carries.
Panthers 26, Redskins 15
The Redskins came into this game in full control of their playoff destiny. Winning every game the rest of the way would guarantee them the second wild-card spot. You'd think given the situation, the Redskins would put full effort into each of their remaining contests, but that was not the case Monday night.
The lack of effort the Redskins displayed in this contest was appalling. They looked like they were sleepwaking, making half-hearted attempts at tackles and committing sloppy errors on offense. It appeared as though the Redskins thought they were guaranteed to prevail over this 5-8 Carolina squad. The Panthers, on the other hand, came to play. They ruined their draft placement, which could hurt long term, but they were determined to beat their former comrade, Josh Norman, and they appeared to be the team that was desperate for a victory to stay alive in the playoff hunt; not Washington.
Some of the blunders the Redskins were guilty of offensively included a Kirk Cousins miss of DeSean Jackson on a third-down pass; a Cousins interception that Kurt Coleman picked off easily because it was a telegraphed throw; an ugly duck pass to Chris Thompson that fell incomplete on a third down; Pierre Garcon and Jackson drops on third down; Cousins being strip-sacked right after halftime, allowing Carolina to recover at the Washington 1-yard line; Vernon Davis dropping a potential touchdown; and Jordan Reed placing the team out of field-goal range by throwing a punch and getting ejected as a result.
Washington is now behind Tampa Bay and Green Bay for the No. 6 seed. The team can still climb back into it, but the Buccaneers and Packers are both capable of winning out, and the Redskins need both to lose at some point.
Cousins had a poor performance. Granted, he made some great throws, but made too many poor passes and crushing mistakes. Cousins went 32-of-47 for 315 yards, one interception and a lost fumble. His two turnovers led to 10 Carolina points. A chunk of Cousins' passing yards came in garbage time, so don't be deceived by the 315-yard figure. He was hurt by some drops, but he did not play like a quarterback worthy of the sort of huge contract he's yearning for.
Jackson and Garcon each caught seven passes for 111 and 78 yards, respectively. As mentioned, both had poor drops on third down. Jackson made two terrific, sliding catches while falling out of the field of play. Both receptions were ruled incomplete, but Jay Gruden challenged on each occasion, and both calls were correctly overturned.
The Washington tight ends, meanwhile, struggled mightily despite Luke Kuechly's continued absence. Reed was on and off the field, as he was laboring through an injury, but as discussed earlier, he was ejected for throwing a punch. That effectively ended the game because the Redskins were pretty close to the goal line, so they had to settle for a field goal as a result. Following the punch, Reed looked like such an idiot, as he went into a boxing stance. The officials didn't waste any time throwing the moron out of the game. Davis, meanwhile, snatched just four of his nine targets for only 23 yards, and was guilty of the aforementioned dropped touchdown. Davis also whiffed on a block during Cousins' strip-sack.
The Panthers clamped down on the run, restricting Robert Kelley to just eight yards on nine carries. Fortunately for his fantasy owners, he managed to find the end zone once. Kelley had a nice run at one point, but that was called back because of a penalty.
The Redskins made some mistakes defensively as well. They were sluggish, as referenced earlier, and they missed tackles and blew coverages. Norman dropped an interception as well.
As a result of this, Cam Newton completed more than half of his passes for the first time since Week 10. He went 21-of-37 for 300 yards and two touchdowns. Newton looked like his night would be over on the second drive when he took a big hit on his problematic shoulder, but he managed to remain in the game, and he certainly didn't look injured at all when he threw some strikes on the ensuing possession, which culminated with a touchdown to Ted Ginn.
Newton played very well overall, and his numbers could've been even better had Ted Ginn not dropped a deep pass. Newton had a potential pick that was dropped. There was also some controversy, as he took a hit while sliding. A flag was thrown, and it appeared as though Newton would get a personal-foul penalty. I thought this would've been a mistake, as the hit occurred simultaneously to the slide, so it was completely clean. That turned out to be what the officials saw, as the flag was for Newton taunting because he flipped the ball to a Redskin player.
Greg Olsen had his way with Washington's horrible linebackers. He led the team with six grabs for 85 yards. Ginn (4-64) and Mike Tolbert (3-28) caught Newton's touchdowns. Kelvin Benjamin, shut down by Norman, was limited to just two grabs for 20 yards.
The Redskins looked pathetic trying to stop the run. Jonathan Stewart trampled the Washington defense for 132 yards on 25 carries. The most telling part of the evening was when the Redskins, down eight, were trying to force a punt with less than four minutes remaining in regulation. On the first play of the drive, Stewart burst free for a 33-yard gain, putting the Panthers in position to kick a field goal that iced the game.
For more thoughts, check out my updated NFL Power Rankings, which will be posted Tuesday morning.