2022 NFL season, Week 15: What We Learned from Sunday’s games

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Published: Dec 18, 2022 at 05:01 PM

Around The NFL breaks down what you need to know from all of Sunday’s action in Week 15 of the 2022 NFL season. Catch up on each game’s biggest takeaways using the links below:

Washington Commanders

Grant Gordon’s takeaways:

  1. Prime time loves Kayvon. Days after Giants rookie first-rounder Kayvon Thibodeaux proclaimed “prime time likes me,” the dynamic edge loved prime time right back. Thibodeaux shined in the spotlight with the finest game of his rookie campaign and perhaps one of the best games any NFL defender has had this year. In a colossal game for Big Blue, the bodacious No. 5 overall pick turned the volume up to 11 with his play, setting a spectacular tone with a strip-sack and subsequent fumble return for a touchdown in the second quarter. Then in the fourth quarter, Thibodeaux quite literally stopped a Commanders comeback when he tackled a scrambling Taylor Heinicke at the 1-yard line. It was the last tackle of the game as a subsequent Commanders TD run by Brian Robinson was negated by a penalty and two incompletions followed. Twelve tackles, a sack, the TD, three tackles for loss, a QB hit, three run stuffs and two QB pressures. That’s what Thibodeaux did on Sunday night under the lights. He became just the second player (joining the Bills’ London Fletcher in 2006) since 2000 to record 10-plus tackles, three TFL and a fumble recovery for a TD in a game, according to NFL Research. Coming into Week 15, perhaps Thibodeaux’s rookie season was a bit on the quiet side. That changed in a very vociferous way on Sunday night.
  2. Dear NFC East, Brian Daboll’s Giants have arrived. After a stunning start to the season and a subsequent stumble, Big Blue finally got its first NFC East win in head coach Brian Daboll’s first season. It came at a most opportune time as New York stopped a four-game winless skid and moved up to the No. 6 seed in the NFC while garnering a tiebreaker over the Commanders. Daboll and the G-Men’s feel-good story is still going strong and strengthened the chances of continuing with a playoff chapter. It came thanks in large part to Thibodeaux and the defense’s strong showing, which held the Commanders to just 1 of 10 on third down and survived a bevy of big Washington plays to bend but break for just 12 points allowed. In this one, New York got off to a splendid start and held on for dear victory to keep its playoff aspirations alive. It’s a microcosm of the season so far.
  3. Commanders suddenly clinging to playoff hopes after loss they must forget. Following a three-game winning streak that put them in the thick of the playoff pursuit, the Commanders are now winless over the last three weeks. Does that span include a tie and a bye week? Sure. But nonetheless, things change quickly in the NFL, and after Sunday’s loss, Washington faces a steep climb to get back to the playoffs. Washington is no doubt salty after a Heinicke pass to Curtis Samuel into the end zone went without a defensive pass interference call on fourth down to wrap up a loss. It should’ve drawn a flag, but there’s no guarantees a touchdown would’ve followed, much less a game-tying two-pointer. The Samuel non-call was all the more frustrating as it came after a controversial illegal formation call against Terry McLaurin that disallowed Robinson’s TD. Large as those calls loom, the Commanders also lost the turnover battle, 2-0, came up short twice in the red zone and were an inconsistent lot overall on offense. No matter what vantage point, this was an opportunity lost and one that must be flushed all the same. With remaining games against the 49ers, Browns and Cowboys, the Commanders have to shrug this one off in a hurry — their season depends on it.

Next Gen stat of the game: Commanders quarterback Taylor Heinicke was pressured on 37.5% of dropbacks and went 3 of 9 for 51 yards with two lost fumbles under pressure.

NFL Research: Kayvon Thibodeaux became the first Giants rookie with a fumble recovery for a touchdown and a sack in a game since sacks became an official stat since 1982. The last rookie to pull off the feat was Washington’s Chase Young in Week 14 of 2020. Young was inactive Sunday.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Eric Edholm’s takeaways:

  1. Bengals’ slow starts are worrisome, but the 34-0 run erased that quickly. We saw on Saturday that no lead is too safe in this league, but there might not be a team that consistently can flip a switch quite like the Bengals. They started about as slowly as you can, running only 14 plays (an interception and three three-and-outs) in the first 28-plus minutes of the first half, melting against the blitz and watching the Buccaneers mount a 17-0 lead. On the field-goal drive at the end of the first half, the Bengals decided it was time to kick it in gear. The Bucs certainly gifted them golden field position more than once (more on that below), but there’s just something about the Bengals’ ability to score quickly — and do so after doing nothing early on — that makes them so dangerous. Joe Burrow‘s guts and quick memory and his receivers’ ability to separate in one-on-one matchups are very tough to deal with for four quarters once they start finding their rhythm. Some panicked when they started 0-2, but the Bengals didn’t and now they’re 10-4. Pretty amazing stuff. But then again, this is the third time in four games that the Bengals went scoreless in the first quarter and couldn’t find their run game early. It wasn’t an issue Sunday, but it might come back to bite them in the playoffs if the Bengals don’t fix that issue.
  2. Bucs start fast finally, then completely implode. Everything was going right. Until it wasn’t. This Buccaneers team has shown time and time again it has the potential to make lemons from lemonade, and it got a few more quality squeezes for posterity’s sake on Sunday. Leading 17-zip and then 17-3 at half, the Bucs looked like they took to heart Todd Bowles’ challenge for the players to take ownership of their situation this week. For a team that had struggled badly early in games, it was a welcome development. But that’s when the plot was flushed down the toilet. First, the atrocious fake punt (which Giovani Bernard looked surprised to see) deep in their own zone cost them points. Then the offense imploded, as Tom Brady threw two picks and lost two fumbles in four straight possessions. But the defense also killed itself, as Burrow’s 23-yard sack on fourth-and-3 was negated by a Lavonte David hold. It also dropped a pick from Burrow. The Bucs were rather inventive in their implosion, we must say. Pretty much every way they could blow a lead, they tried. It’s not as if the Bengals played some clean, mistake-free game — not at all, in fact. It’s just that the Bucs looked like a team that had never been tasked with protecting a lead. And for good measure, with the game hanging by a thread, la pièce de resistance: The Bucs jumped offsides with just over two minutes left to all but end it. It’s somehow fitting. But did we mention they’re somehow still in first place? Oy vey.
  3. Bengals defense fixes things after a rough start. Cincinnati’s offense wasn’t the only unit coming up short early Sunday against the Bucs. The Bengals defense shared a big chunk of the blame in the first half, allowing the Bucs to drive for four scoring chances on four possessions (two TDs, field goal, missed field goal). Three of the four drives lasted 10-plus plays and at least 67 yards. It wasn’t working. The pass rush was zero. The coverage was soft. Play-action was killing them. They dropped a pick in the end zone. Pair that with an ineffective offense, and Cincinnati found itself in a three-score hole. The offense came alive right before the half. But without the defense making life miserable for Brady in the second half, the Bengals’ comeback doesn’t happen. Tre Flowers stepped in front of Brady’s throw for a huge pick. Logan Wilson strip-sacked Brady at the Tampa 13-yard line. D.J. Reader then recovered a fumble at the Tampa 38. And then, once the Bucs’ souls were completely stolen, Germaine Pratt — how much money has this guy made himself? — made a diving pick of Brady, sending Bucs fans for the exits. Lou Anarumo’s defense has found ways to make plays all season, but doing so against a desperate team (with a 17-0 lead) with Trey Hendrickson, Sam Hubbard, Mike Hilton, Chidobe Awuzie and Cam Taylor-Britt missing all or part of all of the game is a heck of an achievement.

Next Gen stat of the game: Joe Burrow was 11-of-20 passing for 65 yards and two touchdowns on passes outside the numbers and 15-of-17 passing for 124 yards with two TDs and one interception on passes thrown down the seams against Tampa Bay.

NFL Research: Tom Brady entered Week 15 with an 89-0 record in home games he led by 17-plus points (including playoffs), before blowing a 17-0 lead to lose to the Bengals.

New England Patriots

Nick Shook’s takeaways:

  1. A wild finish leaves plenty of questions for Patriots. New England crawled its way back into the game with field goals and a couple of big plays, and for a moment, it appeared the Patriots might leave Las Vegas with an unlikely win. Instead of taking advantage of a great play by Kyle Dugger on a failed screen pass and a long touchdown run by Rhamondre Stevenson when they needed it most, two Patriots made a pair of inexplicable decisions that lost them the game. On what should have been the final play of regulation, Stevenson carried the ball on a draw and surprisingly picked up 23 yards, heading toward the sideline with the expectation he’d be tackled and the tie game would go to overtime. Instead, he made a desperate attempt to keep the play alive, lateraling the ball to Jakobi Meyers, who reacted by attempting to throw a backward pass toward his quarterback, Mac Jones, near midfield. The attempt landed in the hands of Chandler Jones, who shoved Mac Jones to the ground, stepped over him and sprinted to the end zone for a walk-off touchdown. The only thing we learned here is that despite being professionals, sometimes even the best players forget the score — or attempt to be a hero when it’s not needed. It cost the Patriots dearly Sunday.
  2. Raiders still have second-half issues. Much of Las Vegas’ season can be described by one exasperated Derek Carr expression. It surfaced again Sunday, when Carr repeatedly failed to connect with targets all over the field in the latter stages of the game. New England became the latest team to take away Davante Adams‘ threat to make a difference, holding him to four catches for 28 yards on the day. Las Vegas’ offense fell flat as a result — as it has for most of 2022. Fortunately for the Raiders, a Keelan Cole touchdown catch that was too close to overturn tied it at 24, and the Patriots decided to give away the game instead of accepting a trip to overtime. But as has happened all too often this year, the Raiders spent most of the final two quarters spinning their wheels. At this point, it’s fair to wonder if they’ll ever find a reliable counter attack this season.
  3. Rhamondre Stevenson has a great day … until the final play. New England’s offense continues to be a difficult puzzle to solve, often producing more frustration than points. At one point Sunday, Mac Jones was visibly upset by his group’s inability to convert along the goal line during this game, which certainly isn’t the first time he’s reacted as such to struggles that have all but defined this season for the Patriots. But New England can find a reason to be happy with the production of Stevenson, its clear lead back who ripped up 172 yards and scored one touchdown on 19 carries. Stevenson powered a Patriots offense that saw Jones complete just 13 of 31 passes for 112 yards, keeping New England afloat in a second half that proved to be difficult for both sides, with the Patriots slowly chipping away at the Raiders’ lead until a 34-yard Stevenson touchdown run gave them the lead. Stevenson and Meyers ruined the afternoon with their unnecessarily desperate attempt to pull off a miracle, but at least the Patriots know they have a running back who can be relied upon when the pass game isn’t working — just don’t ask him to lateral the ball on the final play of a tie game.

Next Gen stat of the game: Las Vegas owned a win probability of just 5.6% at the two-minute warning Sunday, and saw it jump from 56% to 100% on the final play of the game.

NFL Research: Chandler Jones’ 48-yard fumble-return touchdown was the third touchdown of his career and second fumble-return touchdown. His last touchdown prior to Sunday came in Week 2 of 2014 via a blocked field goal return. Both of his previous touchdowns came while playing for the Patriots.

Tennessee Titans

Kevin Patra’s takeaways:

  1. Justin Herbert pulls out game-winning drive to put L.A. in playoff position. It wasn’t the prettiest outing for the Chargers quarterback, who threw two interceptions and took three sacks, but Herbert came through with the game on the line. With 32 seconds left in a tie game, Herbert avoided pressure, rolled right and threw a frozen rope to Mike Williams down the sideline. The play set up Cameron Dicker‘s game-winning field goal. After a promising opening drive, the Chargers offense went into a funk. Herbert threw two interceptions — one on a fantastic play by the Titans defense and one on an awful decision late over the middle — and punted five times on its next seven possessions. A three-and-out with a chance to close the contest allowed the Titans to drive for the tying score. But with 48 seconds left, Herbert got the ball and spun magic to pull out a win. It’s the type of game the Chargers have lost far too many times.
  2. Titans offense comes to life too late. Derrick Henry provided almost all of the Titans’ offense until the final drive. The bruising back rushed 21 times for 104 yards and a TD and led Tennessee with 59 receiving yards. Henry generated all 63 yards and the score on the Titans’ second-quarter touchdown drive. Ryan Tannehill exited early with an ankle injury. He returned, but the QB’s mobility was clearly hampered as he took four sacks, several hurting the Titans’ chances to put points on the board. Tennessee simply doesn’t have the weapons to move the ball through the air. Outside of rookie Chigoziem Okonkwo‘s development, there isn’t a playmaker in the bunch. The Titans generated just 284 total yards. In the second half, they generated four first downs before their final drive. Tennessee’s defense kept them in the contest, and Tannehill gutted out plays late, but Mike Vrabel’s MASH unit couldn’t pull it out.
  3. Titans’ AFC South lead in peril as Chargers surge to No. 6 seed. Tennessee has enjoyed a comfortable division lead for the past six weeks. However, the Titans’ fourth consecutive loss, coupled with a Jaguars resurgence, has cut the Titans’ AFC South lead to a single game with three tilts remaining — including a Week 18 divisional rematch. Vrabel’s club needs to get back on track next week with a victory over the one-win Texans. Meanwhile, everything fell right for the Chargers this weekend. The victory, coupled with losses by Miami, New England and the New York Jets, vaults Brandon Staley’s 8-6 team to the No. 6 spot, with games against the struggling Colts, Rams and Broncos left on the schedule.

Next Gen stat of the game: Justin Herbert’s 35-yard pass to Mike Williams that set up the game-winning field goal had just a 22.6% completion probability — speed at throw was 14.56 mph, target separation was 0.8 yards and sideline separation was 0.7 yards.

NFL Research: Justin Herbert is the first player in NFL history with 4,000-plus passing yards in each of his first three NFL seasons.

Arizona Cardinals

Coral Smith’s takeaways:

  1. Broncos’ second-half surge leads to win. The Broncos couldn’t get anything going in the first half between a lack of big plays and a Cardinals defense that got in the backfield on a consistent basis. But in the second half, it was like a new team came out of the tunnel. As the defense continued to play the way it has throughout the season, the offense came to life. Along with leaning on the run game (more on that later), backup quarterback Brett Rypien held his own and had an overall solid day, going 21-for-26 passing for 197 yards, a touchdown, and a 95.0 passer rating. He had one bad throw that the Cardinals picked off at the goal line, but the offense quickly recovered, and after the defense got the ball back with a three-and-out, Rypien led the team to two more touchdown drives. While the first half saw Denver’s drives end in four punts, a missed field goal and a fumble after an opening score, the Broncos had three TDs in the second half to turn things around and come away with the win.
  2. Murray leads big day for the rushing game. Latavius Murray looked dominant for the Broncos on Sunday, particularly in the second-half turnaround, putting together his first 100-plus-rushing yard game of the season. Murray was solid in the first two quarters, rushing for 44 yards on nine carries, but really turned on the jets after the break, starting with a 35-yarder on the Broncos’ first drive of the half. The chunk gain jump-started the Broncos offense, and a mix of more Murray runs and some throws from Rypien resulted in Denver’s first touchdown of the afternoon. Murray continued to pile it on for the rest of the game, and finished with 24 carries and 130 yards, both season highs for the back. The Broncos kept calling on Murray as the game wore on. The Broncos haven’t been great in any area of offense this season, but the run game has especially struggled, coming into Sunday ranked 25th. But behind Murray’s performance the Broncos were able to flip the script and finish with a season-high 168 rushing yards and the win.
  3. Watt looks to be in prime form in loss. J.J. Watt had himself a day in Denver, with his performance reminding some of the way he looked in his heyday. With his three sacks on Sunday, Watt now has 9.5 on the season, his highest number since his last Pro Bowl season in 2018 when he was still in Houston. Watt also finished the game with three tackles for loss, three QB hits, one pass defensed and a forced fumble. The latter came near the end of the second quarter when the Broncos were trying to get some points on the board before halftime. But when Rypien stepped back in the pocket Watt came right at him, and despite being pushed away by an offensive lineman he was able to reach out and knock the ball out of Rypien’s hands before he could make the pass. Myjai Sanders recovered, and that turnover led to a quick field goal for the Cardinals before the half, giving them the lead, albeit temporarily. It was a day when the offense couldn’t get much going with Colt McCoy under center, and maybe even less was working once Trace McSorley had to take over due to McCoy leaving the game with a concussion. But amidst the offensive struggles, Watt’s one-game defensive renaissance was a bright spot and harkened back to his dominance in years past.

Next Gen stat of the game: The Cardinals defense had five different defenders finish with at least one QB pressure and one sack versus the Broncos.

NFL Research: Marlon Mack scored his first rushing touchdown for the Broncos on Sunday, making him just the second player to score a rushing TD for both the Colts and the Broncos in their career. The other is Hall of Fame QB Peyton Manning.

Chicago Bears

Eric Edholm’s takeaways:

  1. Jalen Hurts overcomes slow start to lead the way in Chicago. Hurts entered Sunday’s game with only three interceptions on the season, so it was only fitting that he’d throw two in the first half against a Bears defense that hadn’t had a pick since before Halloween. Hurts completed 8 of 16 attempts at the half, and the Eagles offense felt very feast or famine. But in a season in which Hurts has emerged as an MVP favorite, his poise and performance in the second half more than outweighed his early struggles. He can’t be blamed for Miles Sanders‘ fumble or the missed field goal, but Hurts was otherwise pretty terrific after halftime. It all really got started before the break when Hurts hit DeVonta Smith on a 38-yard pass. Hurts would cap that drive with a touchdown run, which was the first of three on the day for him. That gives Hurts 12 rushing scores on the season, threatening Cam Newton’s all-time mark for a QB in a season (14). Your MVP frontrunner was able to add another feather in his cap Sunday, and — more importantly — on a day when Dallas lost, the Eagles were able to move closer to the NFC’s No. 1 playoff seed and finish off a tough game.
  2. Justin Fields joined a rare QB club but got clobbered in the process. There’s no questioning that Fields has made major strides this season, with his running ability being what has set him apart. Although Fields could stand to improve his pocket sense, his scrambling has made him a very difficult quarterback to deal with this season. He became just the third QB ever to reach the 1,000-yard rushing mark, joining Michael Vick and Lamar Jackson. Fields topped Bobby Douglass’ club mark for QB rush yards in a season on Sunday. Part of the reason Fields ran on more than a quarter of the Bears’ offensive plays in this game, however, was that they were having a very tough time protecting him as a passer. He still ended up with 152 passing yards and two TDs on only 21 throws, but the Eagles sacked Fields six times and he left the game with a limp late following an 18-yard run (which was called back by penalty). The Bears’ offensive line fell apart after Teven Jenkins went down early with a neck injury. Fields was sacked four times in the first half, and it should have been at least two more had he not Houdinied his way out of those. But it’s hard on third downs (the Bears were 5 of 13) when the Eagles can just pin their ears back and get home more often than not. This concern should be on the frontburner this offseason.
  3. Eagles pass rush could result in an NFL first. The Eagles have a talented, deep defensive line. We’ve known that for months. But following Sunday’s game, they now could make statistical history in that department. No NFL team has ever had four 10-sack defenders in a season, but the Eagles are on the doorstep of doing just that. Haason Reddick, who has to be considered one of the best free-agent bargains this offseason, had two sacks to bring his season total to 12. Javon Hargrave also added a pair, hitting the 10-sack mark. Josh Sweat, who also had two Sunday, now has 9.5 sacks for the season. Just behind them is Brandon Graham with 8.5 and, if you’re the overly optimistic type, Fletcher Cox (six) technically could reach double digits with a blistering finish. The Eagles now have 55 on the season, matching the pace of the Reggie White-led 1987 Eagles, which also had 55 through 14 games. The NFL-best mark of 72 sacks (1984 Bears) is likely out of reach. But this Eagles front can collapse pockets against almost anyone, earning at least one sack in every game, two or more in 12 out of 14 games and setting a game-high for sacks on Sunday.

Next Gen stat of the game: Justin Fields was sacked on six of his 27 dropbacks and has a 14.4% sack rate this season, the highest by any qualified QB in the Next Gen Stats era.

NFL Research: Justin Fields has reached 70-plus rushing yards in five straight games. That’s the longest streak by any QB since at least 1950.

Carolina Panthers

Eric Edholm’s takeaways:

  1. Steelers put Panthers away with tone-setting drive. Pittsburgh’s AFC North title dreams are toast, but a wild-card appearance remains a faint hope at 6-8 following a workmanlike road win at Carolina. That was encapsulated in the Steelers’ back-breaking 21-play drive to open the second half, which drained most of the third quarter by itself. Pittsburgh traveled 91 yards and increased the lead to 21-7. Neither a block in the back nor a Diontae Johnson taunting penalty could derail the seven-pass, 14-run series that was the longest drive in terms of plays and time of possession by any NFL team this season. It also was the Steelers’ longest drive in terms of both plays and time of possession since at least 2000. The Panthers responded with 10 straight points to make it a game, with the Steelers helping them out with a slew of second-half penalties. But that one Steelers drive proved to be enough to put the Panthers away.
  2. The Panthers got away from what had made them competitive lately. Carolina entered the game winners of three of the past four games and held somewhat legitimate hopes of making a run for the NFC South title, with the Buccaneers struggling to put the field away. But two of the bigger reasons for the Panthers’ recent success — the run game and situational defense — were nowhere to be found Sunday. For the game, they ran 16 times for a season-low 21 yards, bringing their season record in games in which they’ve failed to run for at least 100 yards to 0-7. Curiously, the Panthers got away from their heavy-package run plays, showing that look on only a few snaps in the first half — which was surprising considering how successful it had been the past few games. Carolina’s defense hasn’t been great this season on third downs, but it had been better lately, allowing only 35.8% conversions the past four games. Sunday? The Steelers converted 12 of their first 15 third-down attempts. That’s how you lose a home game to Mitchell Trubisky with a decent amount on the line.
  3. Steelers’ pressure just too much for Sam Darnold, Panthers’ O-line. It has been a pretty frustrating season defensively for the Steelers, all things considered, but this performance was no letdown. Sure, there’s only so much pleasure Pittsburgh can take from this showing against Sam Darnold, the Panthers’ third starting QB of the season. But holding any NFL team to 206 yards and four third-down conversions and racking up five sacks is impressive in its own right. With T.J. Watt back in the lineup, the expectations to perform better were warranted. But this was a total defense effort, with Larry Ogunjobi, Alex Highsmith, Cameron Heyward, Cam Sutton and Watt all showing out with big plays. The Steelers have given up their fair share of big plays this season, skewing their defensive rankings a bit out of whack from their actual performance. That happened again Sunday, but it’s hard to argue with the big-picture results against Carolina.

Next Gen stat of the game: George Pickens accounted for 68.5% of the Steelers’ intended air yards in the first half (16% in second half). Diontae Johnson accounted for 84.6% of the Steelers’ intended air yards in the second half (12% in first half).

NFL Research: In his 84th career game, Pittsburgh’s T.J. Watt became the third-fastest player to reach 75 career sacks. Only Hall of Famer Reggie White (65) and older brother J.J. Watt (82) have accomplished the feat in fewer games since 1982, when sacks were first officially tracked.

New York Jets

Kevin Patra’s takeaways:

  1. Lions keep playoff hopes alive with thrilling comeback win. Trailing by four points, facing fourth-and-inches from midfield, Detroit offensive coordinator Ben Johnson dialed up a pass that befuddled Robert Saleh’s defense. The onions call by Detroit got tight end Brock Wright wide open. The undrafted second-year player rumbled 51 yards for the game-winning score. Jared Goff and the offense couldn’t get much going most of the contest, stalling three times in the red zone against a good Jets defense and generating six offensive points until the final drive. But when it needed a play after coughing up the lead late, Detroit found a way. It’s a massive victory for Dan Campbell’s squad, which had questions about whether it could win on the road against good opponents. The Lions answered in a big way Sunday, moving to 7-7 — winning six of their past seven games — to remain in the playoff hunt with three games remaining against teams under .500.
  2. Zach Wilson once again struggles within framework of the offense. The second-year quarterback made some explosive plays to give Gang Green life. Wilson generated seven plays of 20-plus yards, including a 40-yard TD to C.J. Uzomah and a pair of 33-yarders to Garrett Wilson. Zach Wilson was at his best on rollouts, and he took shots when the play broke down. In the first half, he avoided the big mistakes. But when the Jets asked him to play from the pocket and run the offense, Wilson still looked lost. He sailed balls over the middle, skipped a flair pass and took sacks. His second-half interception was a brutal error tossed right to a Lions defender. And he got lucky on a fluttered pass under pressure that Michael Carter caught for a first down. With Wilson under center, there is simply no rhythm to the offense. It’s a prayer for big plays. Yes, Wilson finished with 317 yards and two TDs. He was also facing a Lions defense that ranked in the bottom three in the NFL. There were more opportunities in the middle portion of the game to stack positive drives. It’s hard not to think that Gang Green would have put more points up and earned a win with a more consistent Mike White under center.
  3. Lions avoided throwing at Sauce Gardner. Gang Green’s defense deserved better, stymieing a high-flying offense for most of the contest even without Quinnen Williams. Multiple special teams errors (punt return TD allowed; missed FG) and a struggling offense cost the Jets. The defense stuffed the Lions’ run game, smothered receivers in the red zone and didn’t give up a big play until its final snap. How much did the Lions respect the rookie corner Gardner? In 66 snaps, the Defensive Rookie of the Year favorite wasn’t targeted a single time, per Next Gen Stats. That’s what a lockdown corner brings to the table — wiping out half of the field. Unfortunately for the 7-7 Jets, the loss puts them in survival mode with three weeks remaining.

Next Gen stat of the game: On fourth-and-inches, Brock Wright had 10.7 yards of separation from the nearest defender when the pass arrived. Wright was expected to gain 31 yards after the catch, second-most on any reception this season.

NFL Research: The Lions have won three straight games in December for the first time since Weeks 14-16, 2014. Only one team all time has made the playoffs after starting 1-6 (1970 Bengals).

Atlanta Falcons

Kevin Patra’s takeaways:

  1. Juwan Johnson‘s two TDs keep Saints’ season alive. New Orleans sprinted to a 14-0 lead and hung on late. Johnson opened the scoring with a great effort reaching for a 19-yard touchdown. The young tight end was a go-to target for Andy Dalton, displaying good hands and run-after-catch skills on a 22-yard score to open the third quarter, giving New Orleans a 21-10 cushion. The Saints offense finally got Alvin Kamara more involved, too. The dynamic running back surpassed the 100-scrimmage-yard mark for the first time since Week 8. Despite the hot start, the Saints again struggled late, allowing the Falcons a chance to stay in the game with back-to-back bad three-and-outs in the fourth quarter. This time, however, the defense came up with the big stops.
  2. Desmond Ridder‘s first start doesn’t jump-start Falcons’ passing game. Atlanta moved to the third-round rookie hoping to light a fire in a limp passing attack. Ridder tried to stretch the field, taking a shot on his first snap. The rookie was off the mark on everything downfield, however, going 0 of 2 on deep shots and just 2 of 10 for 23 yards on passes of 10-plus air yards, per Next Gen Stats. Ridder finished 13-of-26 passing for 97 yards (3.7 yards per attempt) and took four sacks. The best thing the greenhorn QB did was force-feed Drake London. The rookie receiver caught seven of 11 targets for 70 yards but got the ball punched out to squash any chance for a late comeback. As it did with Marcus Mariota, Atlanta leaned on the ground game to get back in the contest. Tyler Allgeier went for 139 yards and one TD on 17 carries, the first 100-yard game of his career. But with the passing game still stuck in neutral, the Falcons couldn’t complete the comeback bid.
  3. Alontae Taylor continues to impress for Saints D. The rookie cornerback is a ballhawk, and on Sunday he smothered Falcons receivers. Taylor generated three passes defensed. The Falcons threw at the him nine times, but testing the rookie proved unfruitful. He allowed just three catches for 23 yards and a 42.4 passer rating, per Next Gen Stats. Taylor also nearly netted his first career interception to open the third quarter but was ruled out of bounds when he had possession. The rookie’s surging play helped keep the Saints’ playoff hopes alive. Moving to 5-9, the Saints are in a three-way tie behind the struggling Buccaneers to see who comes out of the moribund NFC South.

Next Gen stat of the game: Alvin Kamara generated 9 yards on six rushes to the left (1.5 avg) and 82 yards on 15 rushes to the right (5.5 avg). He earned 83 yards on 16 rushes versus a stacked box or neutral box (5.2 avg); five rushes, 8 yards against a light box (1.6 avg).

NFL Research: Including playoffs, Taysom Hill now has 10 passing touchdowns, 21 rushing TDs and 11 receiving TDs. The last player to reach double-digit TDs passing, rushing, and receiving (including playoffs) was Hall of Famer Frank Gifford (played from 1952-1964).

Dallas Cowboys

Nick Shook’s takeaways:

  1. Trevor Lawrence authors another thrilling win. We’ll go with the bad news first: Lawrence’s streak of interception-free football ended Sunday when he was picked off by DaRon Bland. That was about the worst part of Lawrence’s otherwise fantastic day. Lawrence turned it on after the interception, leading the Jaguars on three straight touchdown drives in fewer than nine minutes of game time, including a beautiful connection with Zay Jones for a 59-yard score. Lawrence nearly fumbled the game away, but Jacksonville’s defense was able to get a stop with just enough time for the second-year passer to push the Jaguars into field goal range and send the game to overtime. From there, the defense picked him up again to secure the walk-off win. Lawrence has done this before, leading the Jaguars to an unlikely comeback win over the Ravens, but this was arguably even more impressive because of the level of defense he did it against. It seems he’s truly starting to make significant strides in becoming Jacksonville’s franchise quarterback, and because of this, the Jaguars have snuck into the playoff race with three games to go.
  2. Cracks are starting to show in Dallas. The last two weeks have been concerning for the Cowboys. Dallas needed a frantic comeback in Week 14 to take down the lowly Texans, but appeared to be back on track with a 27-10 lead late in the third quarter Sunday. Then, in seemingly an instant, the Jaguars clawed their way back with a long touchdown pass from Lawrence to Jones, a quick Rayshawn Jenkins interception, and another quick-strike scoring drive to make it 27-24. Jacksonville scored touchdowns on three straight possessions, furiously erasing Dallas’ lead and forcing the Cowboys to respond. The Cowboys deserve credit for regaining the lead late in regulation, but the offense and defense have things to fix moving forward. Dallas’ offense didn’t do enough to protect its lead, and certainly didn’t help its defense by turning the ball over. The defense melted down late in the third quarter, allowing big plays that propelled the Jaguars back into the game. All of this happened against a Jaguars team that is improving, but is still a 6-8 squad. If the Cowboys truly believe they’re legitimate contenders, they can’t afford to collapse like they did Sunday.
  3. The Jags might have turned an important corner. A quick scan of Jacksonville’s schedule tells us it has won three of its last four games, and those all came against quality opponents. The only negative mark on that stretch came in a blowout loss to Detroit. Jacksonville plays much more like a team worthy of respect than it did months earlier, and Doug Pederson’s imprint is finally starting to show. An ideal blend of timely defensive plays — led by Jenkins, who posted career highs in tackles (18) and interceptions (two) — and a quality performance from Lawrence (and Jones) led the Jaguars to a wild win in this one. It’s about time we start taking them seriously every week.

Next Gen stat of the game: Jacksonville owned a win probability of just 6.3% when trailing 27-10 in the third quarter before starting its frantic comeback.

NFL Research: Prior to 2022, the Jaguars were 1-112 all time when trailing by 17-plus points. Sunday’s win made them 2-2 in such games this season.

Houston Texans

Nick Shook’s takeaways:

  1. Chiefs escape for second straight week. Kansas City has to know what it feels like to have a target on its back after the last two weeks. The Chiefs received the Texans’ absolute best shot on Sunday, but unlike last week against the Broncos, the Chiefs needed to dig themselves out of a hole to win this time around. Chalk it up to underestimating an opponent, if you must, but the Chiefs certainly didn’t struggle: Kansas City broke 500 yards of offense and Patrick Mahomes completed 36 of 41 passes for 336 yards and two touchdowns. The Chiefs just happened to meet a team that was playing as if it was the Super Bowl. A Week 15 game against one of the AFC’s best essentially was Houston’s Super Bowl, and it acted accordingly. The Chiefs will just need to be better in order to avoid a letdown against better competition. The good news: They won both of their last two games, and they may have realized no one is going to lay down for them.
  2. Another close call ends in defeat for feisty Texans. Despite the loss, Houston deserves a ton of credit for how it played Sunday. The Texans got on the board with a Davis Mills dime to tight end Teagan Quitoriano, weathered a counterpunch from Jerick McKinnon (via a 20-yard touchdown) with another scoring drive, and regained the lead late in the third thanks to a second Mills touchdown pass, this time to Jordan Akins. Houston played hard for four quarters (and overtime), establishing a chippy environment as if it was sending Kansas City a message: We’re not afraid of you. The Texans nearly won, but in these matchups, sometimes a talent disadvantage ends up being the difference. The Texans did their job by setting the tone with a physical brand of football; it just didn’t end up being quite enough to secure a massive upset.
  3. Kansas City’s backfield continues trending upward. It took a while, but the Chiefs have found their one-two punch at running back in the form of Isiah Pacheco and McKinnon. Much like last week, McKinnon made a significant impact in the passing game, catching eight passes for 70 yards and one touchdown, and Pacheco paced things on the ground with an average of 5.7 yards per carry. Their combined efforts accounted for over 200 yards of offense for a second straight week and brought some much-needed balance to an offense that tends to rely a little too much on Mahomes. It opened things up for the Chiefs, who finished with a 50% conversion rate on third down. They’ll just need to clean things up elsewhere, as evidenced by their 10 accepted penalties (for 102 yards) and two turnovers.

Next Gen stat of the game: Patrick Mahomes thrived in the short game Sunday, completing 31 of 33 passes of fewer than 10 air yards for 260 yards and two touchdowns.

NFL Research: The Chiefs’ win over the Texans secured their seventh straight season winning the division, which is not only the longest active streak but ties for the second-longest streak in NFL history with the Rams (won seven straight division titles from 1973-1979).

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