Audibles at the Line
Unfiltered in-game observations by Football Outsiders staff

Audibles at the Line: Week 16

compiled by Andrew Potter

Each Sunday, the FO staff sends around emails about the games that each of us are watching. We share information about the games that the rest of the group might not be watching, ask questions, and keep everyone else informed about which games they might want to tune into (if they can).

On Monday, we compile a digest of those emails and produce this feature. By its nature, it can be disjointed and dissimilar to the other articles on the site.

While these emails are generally written with Audibles in mind, they do not represent a standard review of all the games each week. That means we aren't going to cover every game, or every important play. We watch the games that we, as fans, are interested in watching, so your favorite team's game might not be covered to your fullest desires or even at all. (If you are a Steelers or Patriots fan, you are probably in luck; if you are a Bills fan, not so much.) We have no intention of adding new authors solely to cover every game on a given Sunday, nor will we watch a different game from the ones that we're personally interested in watching just to ensure that Audibles covers every game.

Washington Redskins 16 at Tennessee Titans 25

Scott Kacsmar: I was trying to think of the last time this would have been an exciting matchup, and I came up with 1991. That's when it was Warren Moon and the Houston Oilers, and the teams did meet that year. The Washington juggernaut scored a season-low 16 points, but still won in overtime by a field goal.

Tom Gower: The Monday Night Football game in 2000 looked a lot better at the time than it does in hindsight. The Titans win caused Dan Snyder to assert himself, bringing in Jeff George the next week and leading to the collapse of a team that looked like they might be Super Bowl-bound.

Dave Bernreuther: I was hoping to make some kind of Rob Bironas/Vince Young/Jeff Fisher joke about excitement, but I'm blanking. You're right. You'd need to be Chris Traeger to be excited about this matchup during most of our lifetimes. Looking over these every-four-years matchups is only marginally less terrible than that other thing we only see on schedule every four years.

Marcus Mariota got flung to the ground in one of those tackles where the attempt was made to avoid landing on or hurting him, so naturally he got hurt. Elbow injury. So the Titans' secret weapon is back -- Blaine Gabbert!

So yes. We have an NFL game between two playoff contenders in 2018 and the quarterbacks are Blaine Gabbert and Josh Johnson.

Even the league employees on the halftime show can't pretend they're into this. They're calling Gabbert "Checkdown Charlie" and "Stationary Stan." Which might make the halftime show the most interesting part of this game so far...

Tom Gower: Washington up 10-9 at the half. Weird first half, with only three possessions for each team and each getting one touchdown, one field goal, and one punt. The difference right now is Ryan Succop missing his extra point. Both teams are focusing on the ground game behind their lead back and not getting much in the manner of explosive plays. Washington got one on their field goal drive, to Jamison Crowder, but their touchdown drive was sustaining offense with no more than medium gains. Still, that was enough for them to get out of second-and-27 and first-and-20 holes. We'll see if the second half produces more of the same, where a turnover could decide the winner, or a different sort of game. One thing that could matter a lot: Marcus Mariota left the game late in the first half and was not back for the start of the second half. No official injury report as yet.

Bryan Knowles: At least Gabbert and Johnson can give their teams detailed scouting reports on the other. After all, they were teammates on the 2014 49ers! I mean, one of them was probably the starter if they're both still active in 2018, but for some strange reason, I can't quite seem to remember which...

Tom Gower: Titans win 25-16, notwithstanding my Marlon McCree-inspired screaming at Malcolm Butler on what proved to be a game-ending pick-six rather than simply an interception. Not that Washington was remotely likely to return a potential fumble for a game-winning score, but still. No matter, though, I guess, as they won and that was what mattered most.

I thought when Marcus went out the Titans could still win a game they were rightly favored to win as long as Blaine Gabbert was minimally competent, hitting a few passes and not making any costly mistakes. So it was, hitting big pass plays to tight end MyCole Pruitt and wideout Taywan Taylor to start both drives that led to scores in the fourth quarter. Add in some more of Derrick Henry finding yards he hadn't against a Washington run defense that sometimes feels like less than the sum of its individual parts, and that was enough to win a game they needed for their postseason chances.

Baltimore Ravens 22 at Los Angeles Chargers 10

Bryan Knowles: Not exactly an ideal start for the Chargers. The Ravens haven't been very good at taking the ball away in 2018, ranking second-to-last ahead of only San Francisco, but the very first play of the game is a Baltimore interception. Rivers slightly overthrows Mike Williams, but it's in range for Williams to catch; it's just a great play by Brandon Carr to jump up and take it away.

That's followed up by a huge Gus Edwards run, but the Chargers stiffen up just to hold Baltimore to a 24-yard field goal (boo!). Baltimore draws first blood in a game they must win if they're to stay alive in the wild-card race (though they can lose and still be alive in the division, if Pittsburgh falters against the Saints)

The Ravens are up 164-14 in yards early through the second quarter ... and are only up 3-0. Justin Tucker missed a long field goal on Baltimore's second drive, and then a 13-play, 81-drive stalled out at the 2-yard line. The announcers are questioning why the Ravens didn't kick their second 20-ish-yard field goal of the game to take a 6-0 lead. They apparently have forgotten that a touchdown is worth seven points, and the difference between a six- and three-point lead with 10 minutes left in the first half is essentially nil.

That being said, getting stopped twice inside the ten isn't great for Baltimore, and they may come to regret this; Los Angeles is going to get going sooner or later.

Aaron Schatz: Two things stand out to me about the Ravens offensive scheme. First, for all the talk about how the Ravens are taking it back to the old school by running so much, it's such a modern, spread shotgun-based running attack. They don't stuff things up tight and run into stacked boxes all day. Second, a lot of those players they are spreading out are tight ends. So they're getting the same effect that the Patriots did when they ran so much two-tight end stuff a couple years ago. They can easily shift from a spread formation to a tight formation by moving around the tight ends and creating matchup issues. The Chargers are an interesting team to counter this because their base defense is essentially a dime formation with three safeties (Jahleel Addae, Derwin James, and Adrian Phillips).

Scott Kacsmar: I don't know if I would have kicked the field goal or not, but I definitely wouldn't have called a fade pass. That's asking a lot from Jackson to make a touch pass at this stage of his development.

Aaron Schatz: Ravens defense is suffocating tonight. Chargers with 3.4 yards per play at halftime. They basically just got three points on two penalties on Tony Jefferson and have done almost nothing else tonight, except for a couple of plays that were nullified by penalties. (There was a great diving Mike Williams catch to convert third-and-14 that was nullified by the fact that Keenan Allen wasn't standing still at the snap, of all things.)

Bryan Knowles: 6-3 at the half, though it has been more interesting of a game than that. Baltimore's defense is doing their usual, nearly completely shutting down the Chargers offense. Los Angeles' first four drives got a grand total of 16 yards, with three punts and an interception. Considering the Chargers came in with the second most yards per play in football, limiting them to just 3.4 yards per snap is a fantastic job. The Chargers have yet to convert a third down, they're held under 20 yards rushing ... it has just been a showcase for the Ravens' D. The Chargers' best plays have been penalties, with back-to-back Tony Jefferson fouls providing more than half of Los Angeles' yards on their one field goal drive.

The game SHOULD be well in hand, then, but two missed field goals and a turnover on downs really begin to add up. As such, though the Ravens have been absolutely dominating this game, it's essentially a fresh start for the Chargers after the half. I haven't watched them enough this season to know if this is an ongoing trend, but the Ravens' open, spread rushing game seems to clump up, running more traditional power sets at the goal line, and it's not working; at least, not tonight.

Aaron Schatz: Of course, the Ravens start off the second half with a fumble, and the Ravens' defense gives up a touchdown on a short field. It's hard to defend just 17 yards, so now it's 10-6 Chargers.

Carl Yedor: The Chargers' only drive longer than 17 yards to this point was their end-of-half field goal drive. This has been a great defensive effort for the Ravens. Chargers have the ball again down six after a long Tucker field goal, and we'll see if they can get something going here to answer.

So much for that. Chargers go three-and-out and punt again thanks to an illegal block in the back on a second down run to Gordon. A short punt sets up Baltimore with great field position, and if they can come down and get a touchdown out of this drive, that may be too much of a deficit for the Chargers to overcome tonight.

Bryan Knowles: Add in two more Baltimore turnovers in the fourth quarter to seal the game: a fumble returned for a touchdown by Tavon Young to take a 22-10 lead, then a Marlon Humphrey interception in the end zone to seal the game. What a tremendous defensive performance from top to bottom by the Ravens; I don't know if this will be the best defensive DVOA of the year, but I imagine it won't be far from the top.

With all the offensive fireworks this year, we're headed for a Bears-Ravens defensive slugfest in the Super Bowl, aren't we?

Tom Gower: After all my complaints about a non-explosive Titans offense this season and especially after spending my Friday afternoon watching a team with a sustaining run game get beat by a team with big plays in the passing game, I was set to mock Baltimore's offense, especially given that only one of their seven offensive possessions gained more than 21 yards, and that one was only two plays long (thanks to a huge pass play). But no, a defensive effort that stayed strong the whole game and took the ball away made the email I would have typed after a 17-16 final look dumb. Patrick Onwuasor had probably the biggest game, leading the team in tackles, two sacks, and the forced fumble on Gates, but it looked to me like a complete team effort.

Aaron Schatz: I do think that the postgame response on this game is a little over the top. The Ravens were dominating tonight, no question, but the idea that they're suddenly Super Bowl favorites (the storyline that NFL Network seems to be pitching) seems a bit absurd. The defense was already pretty good all season, tonight they were even better, but it's not like they weren't already pretty good. And the offense is still kind of mediocre.

It's a game of inches. If Antonio Gates' knee is down a half-second sooner, maybe the Chargers come back to win it and instead NFL Network is talking about how the Chargers are Super Bowl favorites while I'm sitting here in Audibles trying to explain that the Ravens lost despite dominating for almost the entire game.

The Ravens are likely going to end up as the fourth seed now, which means the first playoff game is going to be a rematch of this game. And the winner of that game probably gets a rematch with the Kansas City Chiefs in Round 2.

Rivers McCown: Maybe this is something to talk about more as Sunday unfolds, but I don't know if I remember a season in recent memory that had this sort of dull feeling about every team heading into the playoffs.

I don't know that there's an AFC team that I don't think can win it all. Maybe the Titans if they make it. And over on the NFC side, the two teams that have been the best all year have just spent three weeks playing their worst offense of the season.

The storyline I got out of it wasn't "the Ravens are Super Bowl contenders" but that "they're the team nobody wants to play." I can't think of many AFC teams that anybody wants to play right now.

New York Giants 27 at Indianapolis Colts 28

Bryan Knowles: I think it was the general consensus that next week's Colts-Titans game was going to be essentially a play-in game, with the winner earning the sixth seed in the AFC. 15 minutes into the Sunday session, however, and we're not quite there, yet. Not only did Baltimore win on Saturday, muddling the wild-card picture, but the Colts just let the Giants march down the field; an 11-play, 75-yard drive into the end zone. It looked easy -- and remember, the Colts shut down the division-leading Cowboys a week ago.

Dave Bernreuther: And on two of their first three plays, the Colts false start. At home. Before Luck throws a Josh Allen ball short of his receiver on a play that would have been a failed completion at best.

After the punt, the Giants just went 87 yards for another easy score. Apparently Al Woods was quietly the lynchpin of the Colts defense.

Bryan Knowles: Andrew Luck continues his Josh Allen impression, with an ugly airball of an interception. Curtis Riley was the only one even on that quarter of the field, which would be great if he didn't happen to play for the other team. Woah boy, this is NOT the day for Bad Andrew Luck to show up.

It's 17-7, Giants at the half. The Colts began to string a thing or two together after a terrible start, but it's still sloppy as heck. False starts, dropped passes, indifferent pass defense, and ugly, ugly throws from Luck. To make matters worse, both Eric Ebron and Ryan Kelly appear to be out; Ebron with a concussion and Kelly with a neck injury. That's going to make coming back that much harder, especially with 2011 Eli Manning in the house.

Eli's 13-for-18 for 176 yards and a touchdown in the first half; this may be the best he has played all season. Yes, some of those yards came on throws to wide open receivers, but I'm honestly a little surprised that Manning still had enough juice in the arm to throw it as deep as he did to HIT those receivers. Eli's trying to play himself into a role at least as a bridge next season, and I think he's doing it.

Dave Bernreuther: See, I thought it was pretty clear on the Luck pick that he was throwing to a spot and Ebron cut off the route.

Judging by his reaction, it was the correct adjustment by Ebron. Who is now hurt, after a tight-window throw into traffic on the failed drive heading into the half.

Bryan Knowles: The second half has turned into a bit of a track meet, with four consecutive 60-plus-yard drives. The Colts end up being the first one to get a stop, forcing the Giants to kick a 27-yard field goal to take a 27-21 lead. The Colts offense apparently just thought the game started an hour or so later than it actually did; the holiday season can play havoc on all of our schedules, yeah?

By holding the Giants to a field goal, the Colts are still down just one score, so for the first time in the second half, they have a chance to actually take the lead in a nigh-must-win game. Good stuff, this second half.

Man oh man alive, did the Colts pull this one out by the slimmest of margins.

The Giants managed to drain the clock to 3:43 with the Colts needing a touchdown to win, but the battle of punts had meant the Colts had solid field position, starting from their own 47. It was ALL Andrew Luck, who shook off earlier shaky play, completing six passes and rushing for a first down on the drive. The Giants "helped out" with a couple pass interference calls (short yardage, but free first downs), and the Colts were able to get in to take a one-point lead with 55 seconds left. The Giants still had a timeout, and could have made something of it, but no -- Eli throws his first interception of the game to ice this one. The Colts would NOT have been eliminated with a loss, but they would have needed a quasi-miracle in Week 17 to make it in. Instead, after trailing for 59 minutes, the Colts are in great shape entering the huge game against Tennessee next week.

Bryan Knowles: So just as the Jags and most of us expected back in August, angry and motivated Blake Bortles could have a huge impact on the AFC bye seeding next week. The Colts and Titans have a winner-take-all game, but the Jags could make it REALLY interesting if they beat Houston -- and stranger things have happened in that division, even when one team is terrible -- because in that case, the winner also takes the AFC South and gets the home game too. But because the Titans beat the Patriots, they're now actually still in play for the TWO seed and a bye. (If the Pats lose at home to the Jets ... OK shut up. Stop laughing.)

Yes, folks, that's your 2018 AFC. The perfectly mediocre and uninspiring Titans are heading in to Week 17 with a semi-realistic chance at a first-round playoff bye.

Also, the NFL has confirmed it: Tennessee-Indianapolis flexed to Sunday Night. Winner in, loser goes home. Doesn't always shake out that way, so NBC must be right pleased.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 20 at Dallas Cowboys 27

Vince Verhei: Randy Gregory was a second-round pick in 2015 whose career thus far has been ruined by multiple drug suspensions -- he came into today with only 26 games played and no starts. But the Cowboys have stuck with him, and he just showed why -- when Jameis Winston holds the ball, Gregory is able to chase him down from the back side and swat the ball free. Jaylon Smith recovers and returns it 69 yards for a touchdown. Add that to an earlier touchdown when Dak Prescott kept the ball on a zone read (which was set up by a sweet pass to Michael Gallup for a big gain down the sideline), and the Cowboys lead 14-3 at the end of the first quarter.

Cowboys got a 59-yard field goal by Brett Maher to go up 17-6, but the Buccaneers answered with a 75-yard touchdown drive. Jacquizz Rodgers scored on a short run, but the real story was the penalties -- Tampa Bay got one first down on a Gregory roughing the passer call that I guess was a shot to the head. And then Xavier Woods got called for a shot to the head that was actually shoulder-to-shoulder, but that was hard to tell at full speed.

Most of the third quarter was quiet. The Bucs missed a long field goal. The Cowboys had a first-and-goal at the 2 and ended up kicking a field goal despite completions on second and third down (the former of which was a 7-yard loss). The Bucs were hanging around, but then Bobo Wilson botched a handoff on a jet sweep and the ball bounced right into Gregory's hands. The Cowboys just kept throwing passes inside the 10, but this time it worked, as Michael Gallup scored from 4 yards out on second down. Game's not over by a long shot, but the Cowboys now have a more comfortable 27-13 lead at the start of the fourth quarter.

OK, here's a new one. Bucs go for it on fourth-and-1. There's movement, the clock expires, Winson converts on a sneak, flags fly, and nobody has any idea what's going on. After a conference, the ref announces -- and I'm quoting as best I can here -- "before the delay of game on the offense, we have delay of game on the defense for making sudden movements to try to instigate a false start." So it's a first down for Tampa Bay. Soon they have a fourth-and-1 at the 2, and the Bucs delay the game AGAIN, and this time they're not saved by a defensive delay. Now it's fourth-and-6 at the 7. Winston is pressured and tries to scramble, but he comes up just short, and the Cowboys will take over deep in their own end.

Buffalo Bills 12 at New England Patriots 24

Aaron Schatz: Patriots get away with a Rex Burkhead fumble when:

a) Josh Allen airmails first-and-10 six feet over the head of Isaiah McKenzie

b) Allen throws a third-and-5 pass so bad I can't tell if he was overthrowing McKenzie or miscommunicating with the receiver behind him

c) Steven Hauschka doinks a 43-yard field goal attempt off the front of the crossbar

Meanwhile, the Patriots' offensive line is abusing the Buffalo front seven, plus Sony Michel is breaking tackles, so the Pats have 11 carries for 87 yards in the first quarter. They marched for a 55-yard touchdown with only runs. 7-0 Patriots after one quarter.

Bryan Knowles: So, Josh Allen is playing all-time quarterback in this one, right? Hoah boy, Brady's looking bad.

Aaron Schatz: Dueling interceptions in New England. First, Josh Allen throws a lazy pass to Deonte Thompson and rookie J.C. Jackson comes off his guy to jump the route. Then Tom Brady and Rex Burkhead get mixed up on whatever route Burkhead is going to run, and so Brady throws it right into the arms of Lorenzo Alexander when Burkhead turns and reverses the other direction as Brady's making the throw. I have a feeling that one is on Burkhead, which makes both of today's Patriots turnovers his doing.

We go to halftime 14-0. Josh Allen is bad but his receivers are worse. He has an undrafted rookie as his No. 1 option, Robert Foster. Foster lost a deep ball in the sun in the first quarter. In the second quarter he had a fourth-and-3 go off his fingertips and outright faceplanted on another pass route.

Meanwhile, Tom Brady is making my "Brady stopped his decline" article look silly. The interception was the receiver's fault, but he has barely thrown the ball downfield at all and when he does, he has been off. Patriots are clobbering Buffalo on the ground, though.

We're now at the midpoint of the fourth quarter, and it's 24-6 Patriots. I haven't commented much because this first half is a lot like the second half. For the most part, the Patriots have leaned entirely on the running game with very few passes. Gronk has three targets and no catches; one ball went through his hands and right into the hands of safety Jordan Poyer. In fact, the Patriots have only one reception all day by a wide receiver or tight end other than Julian Edelman: a 3-yard pass to Cordarrelle Patterson. The only time they've really thrown downfield in the second half came when they went for it on fourth-and-4 on the Bills 32. Brady completed it to Edelman, and when two defenders tackled him they never got his knee to the ground so he just rolled over the defenders, got back up, and kept running for the end zone.

Meanwhile, when the Bills finally got some offense going, Allen completed a pass to a wide-open Jason Croom, a huge hole in zone, only to have the Patriots strip the ball away from him near the goal line.

Jacksonville Jaguars 17 at Miami Dolphins 7

Andrew Potter: Just to revisit a trope from many years ago: There is no Blake Bortles. There is no Cody Kessler. There is only Jaguars Quarterback.

Aaron Schatz: Apparently Bortles has now replaced an injured Kessler so there's your "All-Time Jaguars Quarterback" meme come to life.

Bryan Knowles: OK, Google, sum up Jacksonville's season for me.

Andrew Potter: It's less amusing than the video in Bryan's tweet, but this to me epitomizes Jacksonville's season:

Calais Campbell just sacked Ryan Tannehill, forcing and recovering a fumble in the process. That gave the Jaguars possession at Miami's 17.

Three plays and one penalty later, they punted on fourth-and-46 (I kid you not) from their own 47.

Bryan Knowles: That's only the third punt this millennium for a team that started a drive in the red zone. The 2011 Rams and 2016 Vikings also had red zone drives end in punts, but both of them were punts inside the other team's 40; real scaredy-cat stuff. The Jaguars are the first team in modern history to have a justifiable punt on a drive that started in scoring range. That's innovative, at least.

Cincinnati Bengals 18 at Cleveland Browns 26

Scott Kacsmar: RedZone is struggling to find a good game, but Jarvis Landry just threw a 63-yard bomb to Breshad Perriman that can stand up to any deep throw this season. It was a trick play but it still wasn't covered poorly, and Landry took a shot anyway. That was probably the most impressive thing he's done this season as I noticed he's last in receiving DYAR.

Bryan Knowles: Gotta love those meaningless games -- this one, like the Packers-Jets and Raiders-Broncos, are between two eliminated teams. Why NOT dust off the back of the playbook? Love Freddie Kitchens.

Rob Weintraub: I'd much rather Landry played quarterback today for Cincy than Jeff Driskel. The Bengals passing offense hit the trifecta: Driskel is terrible, the receivers can't get open, and the blocking is non-existent. But at least they kicked a field goal down 23-0.

Just as I was about to note that John Ross -- in a game where A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd, Tyler Eifert, and Tyler Kroft are all out injured -- had zero catches, he catches a touchdown pass. He now has 20 catches on the season, and seven touchdowns. That's what we call a ratio.

Somehow the Bengals are within eight after a couple of garbage-time touchdown passes that managed to push Driskel's passing yardage above Jarvis Landry for the game. It's 26-18, the kind of respectable-enough score and spread cover that ensures Marvin Lewis and his acolytes will be in charge in 2019.

Cincy kicks it deep even though they are out of timeouts. On the must-stop third down just before the two-minute warning Mayfield is chased out of the pocket and tosses against his body, Jessie Bates should pick it off but he somehow misses it, and David Njoku takes it all the way to the 3-yard line. Cleveland pisses off everyone who took them -10 by kneeling it out, and the Browns sweep the Battle of Ohio.

Big picture, it's much better to lose, I guess, but wow it's sickening. Cincy needs to draft someone who will pummel Baker Mayfield, or just let Hue do it...

Houston Texans 30 at Philadelphia Eagles 32

Vince Verhei: Here's Doug Pederson's entire coaching career summed up in one three-minute stretch: in a one-score game in the second quarter, he just went for it twice on fourth down, AND tried a two-point conversion. The first play was a completion to Dallas Goedert for a 6-yard gain on fourth-and-2. Then, thanks to a bevy of penalties on both teams, the Eagles ran nine straight goal-to-go plays. On fourth-and-goal from the 1, Nick Foles hit Zach Ertz on a Texas route for the score. Eagles were up 13-9 and tried for the two-point score and a six-point lead, but Foles was sacked by Jadeveon Clowney. (Clowney got away with a facemask on the play.)

Texans lead 16-13 at halftime. Good day for Deshaun Watson -- he's 10-of-14 for 105 and has run for two scores, one of them set up by a Clowney sack-fumble-recovery. Biggest weapon for Philadelphia has been the Foles-to-Sproles connection -- they have hooked up three times for 78 yards.

Dave Bernreuther: I had conflicting emotions about the sequence ahead of Zach Ertz's touchdown in the second quarter. I loved that the Eagles went for it on fourth down repeatedly during a sequence of I think 11 plays inside the 10 ... but I thought Nick Foles looked really awful on even the plays that worked out, and they were lucky to benefit from a (ridiculous J.J. Watt roughing-the-passer) penalty on a throwaway to get a new set of downs. Dallas Goedert then looked like he may cost them a score when he had a walk-in touchdown but fell down along the sideline -- part due to turf, and part due to him being more blocking tight end than athletic tight end -- but on attempt 389, they hit Ertz for the score, and Pederson stayed smartly aggressive and went for two.

At which point Jadeveon Clowney tackled and threw Foles by the helmet ... which would have been a penalty in 1950. But in 2018, the year of quarterback protection and injury awareness, the same crew that whacked J.J. Watt two minutes earlier for hitting Foles as he threw let it go.

It has been a long time since I can remember that many cheers and eye rolls in the same series.

Vince Verhei: Bill O'Brien is the anti-Doug Pederson. He opts to punt on fourth-and-5 from the Philadelphia 41; it's a 29-yard punt, and the Eagles go on to kick a field goal anyway to tie the score at 16-all. Next drive, O'Brien punts on fourth-and-2 from the 50. It's a 33-yard punt, and the next play Foles hits Nelson Agholor deep for an 83-yard touchdown. Houston is driving at the end of the third quarter, but now Demaryius Thomas is limping off with an ankle or leg injury.

Texans didn't go for it on fourth-and-5 or fourth-and-2. Now they're down by 13 points, so they have to go for it on fourth-and-9. Watson dumps off to Alfred Blue, who is tackled 4 yards short of the sticks, and that should wrap this up.

Well I wrote this off way too early. After the failed fourth-down play, Josh Adams fumbled the ball back to Houston, and Watson made them pay with a touchdown pass to D'Onta Foreman. Eagles then went three-and-out, and now the Texans have the ball, down 29-23, with more than four minutes to go.

Rob Weintraub: What an incredible drive by Watson. Escapability, deep tosses, everything, and he finds someone named Vyncint Smith from -- where? -- Limestone College for the go-ahead touchdown with 2:04 left.

Some serious AFC South-on-NFC East crime in the last few minutes.

Boy Foles gets friggin' drilled by Clowney and hangs in to complete a crucial pass. Alas, he's down on the play, and Nate Sudfeld is coming in.

Foles back in! They will really be writing the campfire songs to Nick in Philly if he pulls this one off...

Foles completes a long pass to Ertz on third-and-10 when two Texans defenders knock each other down. The Miracle Man is being prayed to by the Patriots, ironically...

Sure enough, Foles does it again, putting Philly in position to kick the game-winning field goal, which Jake Elliott does. Few things in sports were more predictable than after a week of "Are the Patriots done?" here they are with yet another bye.

NBC happy with the late histrionics -- now Titans-Colts next Sunday night is gold.

Remember when Dabo compared Watson to Michael Jordan? Everyone snorted in derision. OK, maybe he's not MJ, but he's looking awfully Kobe...

Aaron Schatz: I have a zillion things to say about the last 2:30 of this Houston-Philadelphia game.

First, the play where the Eagles had like three different guys with their arms around Watson for the sack and he got away from all of them and completed a 22-yard pass to Jordan Akins. How on earth did the Eagles not get him down there?

Next, D'Onta Foreman fumbling two plays later without even being touched. Just a terrible fumble there, so lucky for the Texans that offensive lineman Nick Martin recovered.

The next play, incredible pass by Watson to Smith whose first name I refuse to try to spell. Just a phenomenal throw. Between that and avoiding the sack, what a clutch drive by Watson.

Then the Eagles come back anyway! And can we talk about the roughing the passer flag on Clowney? That was really iffy. Like, I know he hit Foles right in the sternum and knocked the wind out of him and it looked really bad but it seemed like a totally legal hit. If you want to say that Clowney was leading with the helmet, fine, but they didn't call "Lowering the Head" they called "Roughing the Passer." And that was a cheese roughing call.

Finally, a great call by Pederson to run the ball from shotgun on second-and-10 with 1:20 left, and a good run by Sproles to get 16 yards and turn a tough field goal into an easy field goal.

Hell of an ending.

Dave Bernreuther: And the Eagles win, which puts the Patriots back into the 2 seed, which should surprise exactly no-one.

Minnesota Vikings 27 at Detroit Lions 9

Bryan Knowles: In seasonal news, Kyle Rudolph is leading the way for the Vikings. After nearly botching the clock, the Vikings ran a Hail Mary at the end of the first half, with Kyle Rudolph managing to outjump half of the Lions to come down with the touchdown and the lead. 14-9, Vikings, ho ho ho.

Andrew Potter: I'm not sure I've ever seen a Hail Mary defended worse than that. Rudolph was able to jump basically unchallenged and catch the ball in front of DeShawn Shead. Nobody in front of Rudolph, and nobody jumping with him.

Vince Verhei: In college football, somebody completed a Hail Mary against USC a few years ago where the defense was worse than this. At least the ball came down amidst a sea of Lions defenders, even if all of them ignored it. Nobody in the Trojans secondary was even in position to ignore making a play.

I'm not watching this game so I have been waiting till halftime to comment, and I'm just mystified by the whole thing. The Vikings can clinch a playoff berth with a win and an Eagles loss. Detroit is dead-last in pass defense DVOA. Yet for most of that game, the Vikings couldn't do a damn thing on offense. Their first four drives were all three-and-out; they had more sacks than completions and negative net passing yards at that point. Then they got a couple of big plays on one touchdown drive, and then the Hail Mary. So the Vikings are up 14-9 at halftime. They have 104 yards on three completions and 70 yards on their other 22 plays. It's just stunning that an offense could look so bad for 20-some minutes and then totally dominate.

Vikings offense finally woke up, and they just kicked a field goal to go up 27-9. Meanwhile, the Detroit offense in the second half has been just as awful as Minnesota's was to start the game. In four second-half drives, they have three punts, including two three-and-outs, and a four-and-out that ended on a fourth-down sack.

Green Bay Packers 44 at New York Jets 38

Rob Weintraub: Somehow this game is still going on, and Green Bay takes the lead 36-35 on their fourth crack from inside the five, with Aaron Rodgers juuuust getting in. He then is intercepted on the two-pointer and it is run back for two!!

But defensive holding is called, natch. Rodgers than takes in the read-option scramble for two more, bolstering his fantasy football day and putting the Pack up three. Jets return the kickoff inside the 40, however!

Vince Verhei: Exciting finish in a meaningless game here. Down 35-30, Aaron Rodgers scrambles for 23 yards and a first-and-goal at the 1 with 1:32 left. The Jets have two timeouts, so I'm thinking Green Bay needs to run to kill those. The color commentator says the Jets should let them score to make sure Sam Darnold has time to answer. Instead the Packers throw incomplete on first and second down. Jamaal Williams is stuffed on third down and the Jets call timeout. On fourth down, Green Bay sneaks, and Rodgers just barely extends the ball across the plain before losing control of it. Now up 36-35, they go for two. Rodgers throws to Jimmy Graham, but it bounces out of his hands into Darryl Roberts', who returns it all the way for a go-ahead pick-two -- but the play is wiped out because Roberts flagrantly grabbed Graham before the pass. On another try, Green Bay runs the option, and Rodgers keeps it and scores for a 38-35 lead. Rodgers now has two rushing touchdowns and that conversion on the ground.

Andre Roberts, who already has returned a kickoff for a score today, returns this kickoff into Green Bay territory. Darnold completes two passes, but then misses three in a row. Jason Myers kicks a field goal, and with the score tied at 38-all, we're going to overtime.

Dave Bernreuther: In New York, the Jets offense goes HAM against the Pack, seems to have things well in hand, up by 15 late ... and the Packers come roaring back. Fourth-and-goal from the 1, down 35-30, Rodgers gets just enough distance extending over the goal line, and they go for two ... only to see another Rodgers comeback blown. On, of all things, a pick-two!!!

Just kidding. There was a flag, and Rodgers walked it in to go up 38-35.

Only to still lose the fourth-quarter comeback, as the Jets immediately matriculate down the field and kick a short tying field goal. Everyone stopped caring about the 1 p.m. games after the Eagles win, but the other green teams are headed to overtime in a surprisingly exciting game.

Vince Verhei: And Green Bay makes short work of this in overtime with a touchdown on their first drive. It appears that Rodgers has his third rushing touchdown of the day, but he's frozen mid-championship belt celebration when there's a flag for holding. No matter -- next snap, he hits Davante Adams on a post route for the 16-yard game-winner.

Pittsburgh Steelers 28 at New Orleans Saints 31

Bryan Knowles: Saints are moving the ball well, but then they do the Contractually Mandated Taysom Hill Deep Shot, which is intercepted in the end zone. Guys, don't get that cute, let Drew Brees throw today so Hill can throw all day NEXT week.

Dave Bernreuther: I realize that Sean Payton is having fun and keeping defenses guessing, but if you're going to throw deep post routes to the end zone, why are you doing it with someone other than your certain Hall of Fame, possible MVP, about to set the all-time record for completion percentage quarterback?

Taysom Hill lays one up short for a pick. And after what seemed like a horrible decision to bring it out on the return, the Steelers get rewarded with another 15 yards on a horse-collar call that shouldn't have been made. So even the arm punt element of that deep shot was negated, as the Steelers start near midfield.

Scott Kacsmar: I think I've been saying since September that the Taysom Hill package was going to backfire. This might be the day. Not only did he throw that pick, but he was stopped on a third-down run. I get that he has been effective this year, but it still seems silly to put him in for crucial plays when Drew Brees is your quarterback. On the other side, the Steelers can't just forget the running game. I don't know how you throw a horizontal pass on third-and-1 and lose yards, then think a 49-yard field goal by Chris Boswell was a good idea. That's not understanding the opponent, but it did at least put the first points on the board.

Saints royally bailed out on a fourth-and-1 bomb by a phantom pass interference penalty in the end zone.

Vince Verhei: I hate it when people complain about officiating.

The DPI call on Joe Haden in coverage against Alvin Kamara that turned a fourth-down stop into a 33-yard gain and first-and-goal at the 1 might have been the worst call of the year.

Andrew Potter: Saints fan here. That was one of the worst pass-interference calls I have ever seen. Horrific, game-changing phantom.

Rob Weintraub: It should go without saying I'm rooting against the Steelers but man did they get hosed. On fourth-and-short Brees chucks a prayer toward Kamara in the end zone, and Joe Haden is given a non-existent pass interference penalty. Saints run it on the next play. PI calls, good and bad, continue to define just about every game.

Aaron Schatz: Holy hell was that a bad call.

Dave Bernreuther: That was the kind of call that changes a game. I'm not sure I'd say it was a phantom call, as he did make contact, but from fourth down at midfield to first-and-goal at the 1 is the kind of shift you need to have committed murder to surrender. Haden made contact, but Kamara had already jumped early and the "shove" didn't move him or affect his (in)ability to catch that. You can't throw that flag.

Instead of 3-0 and the ball at midfield, the Steelers now face a 7-3 deficit and will start their drive at the ten.

Vince Verhei: Jesus, they just aired a replay. Even if you think that gentle hand in the back should constitute interference, that ball was 10 feet over his head and not remotely catchable. This is historically awful.

Dave Bernreuther: Hm, well, I was trying to sound unbiased since as a Colts fan I'm also anti-Steelers right now. But if even the Bengals fan here is against that...

Bryan Knowles: That pass interference on Haden just has to be wrong. He barely touched the guy.

Aaron Schatz: As for the actual game, I think the biggest difference in this game is between the two secondaries. The Saints' defensive backs, especially the cornerbacks, are just covering much tighter than the Pittsburgh defensive backs. Marshon Lattimore has been on Antonio Brown all game and after 23 minutes, Brown has one catch for -1 yard.

This is the second straight year that the Saints defense started really slowly and then turned things around to become one of the best in the league. I wonder if there's anything to that or if it's just random variation that happened to occur two straight seasons.

As soon as I write this about Brown and Lattimore, Brown catches three passes in five plays for 48 yards, two against Lattimore, and one against a zone. I still think the Saints secondary looks good though.

Bryan Knowles: That 15-play, 97-yard drive by the Steelers might be their most important of the season. With the Saints getting the ball to start the second half, the Steelers really, really, really needed some sort of positive response after that first quarter. Aaron's right; the Saints' secondary HAD looked good for most of the game, but Brown has the ability to make even the best defenses look foolish from time to time. It's 17-14 at the half, and I'll be very interested to see if the Steelers can build on what they finally found on their last real drive.

Scott Kacsmar: Steelers played a solid half. Looks like a game that will still come down to which defense can get a big turnover. I also think the left tackle for the Saints keeps getting away with false starts, or he's really convinced the officials that he's just getting incredibly timed jumps.

Aaron Schatz: Each team starts off the second half with a 75-yard touchdown drive to make it 24-21 Saints. Saints drive was built on a huge 42-yard catch-and-scamper by Kamara. Steelers drive was built on spreading the field with the five-wide receiver set they used a lot against the Patriots, including Ryan Switzer in the backfield instead of a running back. The touchdown came when the Saints got confused trying to pass off a pick play, so two cornerbacks were covering JuJu Smith-Schuster and nobody ended up on Antonio Brown.

Bryan Knowles: WOW, was that nearly a touchdown for Antonio Brown. As Romo said, perfect throw, perfect catch, perfect defense ... just not the toe-drag you'd need for it to count as the go-ahead score.

Aaron Schatz: And they got Brown beating a double-team, streaking down the field for a 20-yard touchdown on the very next play. You can bracket Brown with two guys but if neither of them starts out deep, he can race past them both. 28-24 Steelers.

Vince Verhei: I know they're not the best offense in the league, and that Ben Roethlisberger has thrown some really bad interceptions this year. But man, when the Steelers are rolling, they're scarier than anyone else.

Aaron Schatz: Here come the special teams. First, the Steelers block a 50-yard field goal attempt by Wil Lutz. (The Saints were trying a field goal down four because it was fourth-and-11.) Then the Steelers go three-and-out (thanks in large part to a Demario Davis blitz and sack) but they attempt a fake punt on fourth-and-5 from their own 42. And fullback Roosevelt Nix, running as the up back, is stopped short!

Vince Verhei: The Steelers celebrating a fake punt when they didn't actually pick up the first down is my new favorite moment of 2018.

Dave Bernreuther: Wow. Up four late and punting, the Steelers run the fake from their own side of midfield. And it doesn't work.

Love the balls involved there, even without the right result ... but I would LOVE to know if that was something Tomlin called for or just something they called on their own based on formation or something else. Because damn ... that is not the type of call Mike Tomlin usually makes. And hell, it's not the type of call I might even make in that situation, and I'm as big a fan of Kevin Kelley as there is.

Up four with over four minutes to play is actually kind of the perfect time to fail there. A Saints field goal isn't helpful (same as last drive, but as Aaron points out, it was an OK decision to kick then ... less so with several minutes less time), and a touchdown almost certainly puts them up three, and in this game you're not TOO scared of being down three, even if there's only a minute left. So with four to play, you're not completely wrong to think that it'd be unlikely for the Saints to bleed the clock all the way down.

I'm still surprised they did that, though ... sure would've been awesome if it worked, though.

Of course, as I say that, the Saints complete one short, make it fourth-and-2, and let the clock bleed down to the two-minute warning. Which is a bit of a risk, given that they're screwed now if they don't convert. But if they do convert, suddenly that "we'll still have time even if they score a touchdown" cushion is probably gone.

Aaron Schatz: Saints follow up the fake punt by getting the go-ahead touchdown. They convert fourth-and-2 (with a DPI) and third-and-20 (with a 25-yard dig to a wide-open Ted Ginn), then get the score on a 2-yard pass to Michael Thomas in the front right corner. The Steelers smartly used their timeouts after the two-minute warning so they're going to end up with about 1:20 (and no timeouts) to try to come back and tie the game with a field goal.

Dave Bernreuther: I'm not sure why CBS' only replay of that Haden DPI was from that overly zoomed angle, but it looked to me like he held him within the 5-yard window, but once Brees released the ball, he actually didn't. But it's tough to tell, unlike the earlier Haden game-changing call.

Still ... that's another huge one against Haden, neither of which probably gets called in Pittsburgh. And the Saints follow that up with two big plays to guys left wide over the middle of the field. The first was dropped, of course, by Kirkwood, but they found Ted Ginn on the very next play to the 8. The Steelers are in big, big trouble. And seeing as how the Colts really need them to lose, I should be ecstatic, but somehow this all bothers me.

On the next play, Thomas catches one JUST on the goal line. Inside of two minutes, it's a booth review even though they spotted it short and kept the clock going, but it looks like it'll be overturned. Which leads to an interesting question ... if you're Sean Payton and you had the choice, would you even challenge that or hope it's a touchdown? With 1:25 left, would you rather be a few inches short but still down four? Or take the sure thing?

Aaron Schatz: You take the sure thing. You don't trust that you can get 1-yard with two chances. You take the score. Not that it's up to Payton, of course.

Dave Bernreuther: I agree by default, but ... damn. The odds of that second-half Steelers offense going 40 or 45 yards indoors in 1:25 aren't THAT low. Nor is it all that unlikely to score on four attempts from inside the one.

(Of course, all that does is force a better-than-50 percent overtime, which has to be considered...)

And this sequence from the Steelers after the kickoff has been, politely, terrible. Wow. But on fourth-and-15, also wow. What a throw and catch. The Steelers are alive. At least inasmuch as they can trust Chris Boswell these days.

Aaron Schatz: Great catch by Antonio Brown, and they were in position to get into field goal range. And like Antonio Gates last night, JuJu Smith-Schuster fumbles the ball away in the middle of the would-be comeback drive. Wow.

Carl Yedor: Pittsburgh looks like they're going to drive down and tie up the game with a field goal (assuming Boswell comes through, which is a big assumption this year). But no! After a first down by pass interference, Roethlisberger hits JuJu underneath, and JuJu coughs it up, allowing New Orleans to pounce on the ball and end the game. Pittsburgh's season now relies on Cleveland, of all teams, to get a win in Baltimore next week in addition to the Steelers taking care of their own business. That loss to Oakland could end up costing the Steelers a playoff berth.

Dave Bernreuther: NBC, despite now having to put the Titans in prime time AGAIN, must be thrilled right now. Colts-Titans, winner take all for the playoffs. Because JuJu Smith-Schuster just fumbled the ball as he crossed into "field goal range."

That SUCKS for the Steelers. They're now stuck on the outside looking in, hoping that the much-improved Browns can win next week in Baltimore.

Le'Veon Bell is probably smiling right now. (As if it had anything to do with his absence.)

Rob Weintraub: JuJu fumbled away the game? That's a shame...

Closing in on the Saints playing the Super Bowl here in Atlanta, which I assure you would be treated by the locals on a par with how General Sherman's appearance on the horizon was.

Also hoping that the Ravens and Pats somehow meet up in a playoff game, one that would feature 12 total passes and last about 2:10...

Chicago Bears 14 at San Francisco 49ers 9

Bryan Knowles: I'm pretty sure that, if you reach the red zone three times, you really need to come out of it with more than nine points if you want to beat the Bears. So far, however, that's working for the 49ers, up 9-7 over Chicago as we head to halftime. It took a while for anything to happen in this one -- four punts and a field goal miss to open the game -- but San Francisco has now been able to drive for three consecutive field goals.

The Bears have had some issues, with Nagy's usual mix of unusual play designs that look brilliant when they work (a throw-back screen!) and terrible when they fail. Mitchell Trubisky also killed a drive by flipping the ball backwards after faking a designed quarterback run; the backwards pass missed and the 49ers were able to recover. If the Bears get out of their own way, they'll probably be fine here, but they need to get things polished up sooner rather than later with the playoffs looming. Khalil Mack has been held quiet, mostly going against Joe Staley, and only Leonard Floyd has had any real pressure all day for the Bears. Just not quite firing on all cylinders.

Vince Verhei: Kyle Shanahan's surprisingly feisty club leads 9-7 at halftime, and it feels like they have been the better team so far. Both teams have nine first downs, and the yardage is close, but the Bears have a missed field goal and a bad turnover on a failed option play, while the 49ers have countered with three field goals from inside the 20. They almost botched the last one -- on a third down right before halftime, Nick Mullens completed a pass to Kendrick Bourne in bounds. Nobody was sure if it was a fourth down, which meant the field goal unit should scurry onto the field, or first down, which would mean the offense should stay on and spike the ball. The refs did San Francisco a favor to review the call. Even though it was ruled Bourne was short of the first down and the last five seconds would start on the whistle, the 49ers had plenty of time to line up and kick the field goal for the lead.

Bryan Knowles: It is worth noting the LAST Bears-49ers matchup, last season, had the 49ers winning on five field goals, so I suppose this is just The Formula.

Vince Verhei: Bears take the lead on a 90-yard, 12-play drive that ate up more than half the third quarter. Jordan Howard runs it in from the 2 for the score. 49ers are threatening to break the record for fewest takeaways in a season (they have only six, counting that first-half fumble), and they had two more on that drive taken away -- two balls that it looked like they had forced a fumble and recovered, but the runner was down by contact both times.

Mullens has not played badly today, especially considering he's playing against the best defense in the world. He just made a big-time throw to Kendrick Bourne, who helped with a nice leaping catch, to convert a third-and-long and set San Francisco up inside the red zone. Next play, though, Mullens throws ahead of Marquise Goodwin on a short crosser, and the ball bounces off his fingertips and into the hands of Danny Trevathan for the drive-killing interception. There's still seven minutes to go, but now the 49ers will probably need a touchdown to win -- two field goals would have given them the lead, but they may not have time for that now.

Mitchell Trubisky scrambles and slides. Marcell Harris comes in hands-up and makes contact with the head. Kind of a raw deal for Harris -- Trubisky slid very late and Harris was sticking out his hands to prevent a shoulder or headshot -- but that's the rule. So that's a personal foul, and it kicks off a big fight. After things settle down, there's a long, long break in the game. Eventually word comes in from the league office that Anthony Miller and Josh Bellamy for Chicago and Richard Sherman for San Francisco are all ejected for their roles in the fight. On top of all that, there was also a holding call on Chicago, so the play didn't even count.

That leads to a fourth-and-1 for Chicago at their own 35 with 4:19 to go. Matt Nagy then shows giant balls, as the Bears go for it, and Trubisky converts on a sneak. Bears still only lead 14-9, but now they are grinding clock and burning San Francisco timeouts.

Bryan Knowles: I'm not sure I've ever seen someone try to fight an entire sideline before, but Richard Sherman was hot. Third guy to throw a punch, but he sure got his money's worth out of it.

With the 49ers out of timeouts, all the Bears need is a first down to ice the game. A pass to Allen Robinson takes care of that ... but he doesn't go down, and Tarvarius Moore knocks the ball loose. 49ers recover, and there's life.

Vince Verhei: HOLY CRAP! Bears have a third-and-3 at the two-minute warning. 49ers are out of timeouts. A first down wins the game. Allen Robinson beats Tarvarius Moore on a quick slant, and if he falls down it's a wrap -- but he keeps running, and Moore recovers and knocks out the ball, and the 49ers get it. San Francisco ball, down 14-9, at their own 24, no timeouts, but still 1:52 to go.

Bryan Knowles: Oh, oh, Nick Mullens. On fourth-and-4, Mullens has about 20 yards of open field and a sideline in front of him ... and he instead chucks the ball up for grabs, out of bounds. The Bears hold on.

Vince Verhei: On fourth-and-4, Mullens has all the room in the world to run for a first down and get out of bounds to stop the clock. Instead he lobs a deep ball to Marquise Goodwin, but he can't even keep the ball in bounds, and the Bears take over and will escape with a win.

Kansas City Chiefs 31 at Seattle Seahawks 38

Vince Verhei: Well this game couldn't have started much better for Seattle. Force a three-and-out, with a couple of defensed passes. Get an 11-play, 78-yard yard touchdown drive with just one completion. Four first downs and 67 yards on nine carries. Expose and exploit Kansas City's league-worst run defense. It's not good that George Fant ended the drive in the booth, not with the line already out of sorts with injuries, but they were able to score without him, at least.

Big mistake by Russell Wilson to hesitate on that third-and-10 scramble and fail to pick up the first down. Even bigger mistake by Seattle punting on fourth-and-1. Again, this is the worst run defense in the league. Push them around!

But then Dion Jordan bails them out, forcing a fumble by Damien Williams. That leads to a pass interference call on Charvarius Ward in coverage against Doug Baldwin that gives Seattle a first-and-goal at the 1 ... but Kansas City is challenging, claiming the ball was tipped before the foul was committed. That's a weird one. And they lose the challenge. Two plays later, Wilson hits Nick Vannett for the goal-line touchdown to take a 14-10 lead. Looked like an RPO where Wilson faked the handoff, faked the keeper, then made the throw.

Dave Bernreuther: Every time I watch LeSean McCoy run with the ball in one hand away from his body like that I yell at the TV and tell him he deserves to fumble. He never does, though.

Chris Conley just nicely illustrated why I yell that, and it probably took points off the board. Patrick Mahomes bought time and found him for a big play over the middle and he turned to run with the ball just palmed away from his body. He made it two steps before it was knocked away, and of course the Seahawks got to it.

Protect the ball, runners. That was just lazy.

Vince Verhei: Seattle up 14-10 at halftime, something they'll gladly take considering A) they missed a short field goal, and B) they kicked off to start the game, giving Kansas City an extra possession. The theme of the day seems to be receivers fumbling in critical situations, and it happened again here, with Justin Coleman knocking the ball out of Chris Conley's hands, with Seattle falling on it to end a Kansas CIty scoring threat. Seattle is getting a lot of pressure on Patrick Mahomes and is doing a good job in coverage, but they are also benefitting from an off night for Mahomes -- he had Travis Kelce wide open for what should have been a touchdown, but totally overthrew him. You can't count on him missing throws all night. Seattle will need to score more points in the second half than they did in the first.

Note that "score more points" does not necessarily mean "start passing more." The running game is going great -- 24 carries for 124 yards and six first downs. They only have six completions for 54 yards, but that's not including a trio of DPIs. Rare to see that for one team in a whole game, let alone a single half.

Carl Yedor: Wilson has missed some open guys by not seeing them tonight, but that has been in part due to the Chiefs pass rush forcing him off his spot before he can go through his progressions. Given the injuries on the Seattle offensive line, it isn't exactly surprising that Kansas City has been able to get pressure. The run game has seemed a little more boom-and-bust, with a handful of carries stopped for little to no gain.

Kansas City's offense hasn't been the world-beating unit we're used to seeing, but at the same time, Seattle is fortunate to have only allowed 10 points. Both of K.C.'s offensive fumbles have been recovered by the Seahawks. Mahomes missed Kelce running wide open down the sideline. Etc.

We'll see if it keeps up moving forward, but outside of the missed field goal, Carroll has to be happy overall with the team's performance.

Vince Verhei: Sebastian Janikowski misses another field goal -- but it's wiped out by a roughing the kicker call. Janikowski is hurt and there's some question if he'll be able to kick again, but when the Seahawks drive stalls he comes out to convert the short field goal for a 17-10 lead. I'm happy Janikowski's OK, but it would have been fun to see Michael Dickson come out and drop-kick one through.

Aaron Schatz: He did drop-kick the kickoff, though! And it was a really good kickoff, too, they tackled the Chiefs return man at the 17.

Bryan Knowles: Patrick Mahomes may or may not be the best quarterback in football this year. I don't think anyone can argue that he has been the most amazing to WATCH this year. That touchdown pass was astounding.

Vince Verhei: Well, there's the Kansas City offense we're used to. Mahomes dropping dimes into tiny windows. Travis Kelce taking big hits and making monster catches. And then Mahomes scrambling, drawing the coverage, and making the impossible throw back across his body to Charcandrick West for the touchdown. Just an incredible play at the end.

Dave Bernreuther: That pass was just your regular old shortstop throwing to first after fielding the ground ball with his momentum going full speed toward right field.

Except with a football. And to a target moving at full speed instead of anchored to a base.

When you grow up in a small town, you tend to see the town's best athlete excelling in all sports at all the premier positions. He plays quarterback, he pitches, he plays shortstop when not pitching, he probably hits the most home runs. (In my home town he was also excellent at hockey and got drafted, and was damn good at soccer just for the hell of it.) And when you're kids, that's normal. You expect it.

You also expect that when you get up to the pro level that kind of individual dominance and adaptability goes away though ... it almost universally has. But Mahomes keeps showing flashes of it. And why it's impressive isn't so much that he does it, but that he does it so nonchalantly. Any other quarterback (hello Josh Allen) tries that throw and we all mock his mechanics and get upset. But Mahomes does it without blinking and puts it dead on the money...

Vince Verhei: Big catches for Seattle! Ed Dickson now has only 11 catches all season, but it feels like they have all been huge. That one he takes a short dumpoff, slips one tackle, and powers over guys to convert a third-and-15. Two plays later, Steven Nelson is all over Doug Baldwin down the left sideline, but Baldwin makes a tremendous leaping grab in traffic, then manages to get an elbow down in bounds for the touchdown. 24-17, Seattle.

One quarterback hits, one quarterback misses. On third-and-3, Baldwin gets a step behind the defender for what should be a big play, but Wilson's lob is lobbed a little too far. Chiefs take over and Mahomes makes another ridiculous throw, dropping one into the bucket for a third-and-2 conversion. But the defense holds them to a field goal from there, and still lead 24-20.

And then very quickly, Seattle extends the lead. Big kick return by Tyler Lockett, who then makes a big catch. Wilson escapes pressure and dashes straight up the middle for a 26-yard run that felt much longer. Run by Carson for a first down, and then yet another pass coverage penalty on the Chiefs for a first-and-goal. And finally, all of Ed Dickson's catches are huge -- he catches the touchdown. Janikowski adds the extra point and Seattle is up 31-20 with 7:31 to go. Against most teams that would feel like a very comfortable lead. The Chiefs are not most teams.

Well, the fireworks have begun. Mahomes scrambles for a big gain on a fourth-and-1 conversion. Throws a touchdown pass to Demarcus Robinson that was exactly 2 yards out of bounds, but no more, so Robinson could catch it and keep his toes in. And then Mahomes slips away from pressure and scrambles in for the two-point conversion, and Seattle's lead is trimmed to three with 4:36 to go. Chiefs have all their timeouts still too, so it's almost a sure thing they'll get the ball back again. Seahawks badly need an insurance score now.

Aaron Schatz: These two quarterbacks have spent the whole game one-upping each other on making fantastic plays out of structure. That Robinson touchdown pass was magnificent.

OK, Wilson may have just beaten that throw with the rainbow to Tyler Lockett for a 45-yard gain.

In fact, the Seahawks have an entire insane drive that ends with a Chris Carson touchdown run but had amazing catches by both Lockett and Doug Baldwin. The Kansas City defense is bad, but it's really hard to fault the coverage on those plays. The coverage was good, the passes were better.

Vince Verhei: For the record, in a classic four-minute situation, Brian Schottenheimer called: run, pass, pass, run, pass, pass (sack), pass (obscene one-handed grab by Baldwin), run for 1-yard touchdown.

Carl Yedor: I was so convinced Schotty was going to have them turtle by running into stacked boxes over and over there. Kansas City still having three timeouts at the start of the drive probably helped force them to continue being aggressive, as running three times and punting wouldn't have done a lot of good as far as the clock is concerned there. And the touchdown ended up being very important, as Kansas City returned the kickoff a long way and hit a field goal after the two-minute warning before they couldn't recover the onside kick.

The Chiefs are still in good position to get home-field advantage thanks to Houston losing today, but it would have made things easier if they had just sewn things up today. In 2016 and 2017, Seattle went 3-0 against eventual Super Bowl participants in the regular season (2016: W vs. ATL, W @ NE; 2017: W vs. PHI), so if the Chiefs make it to Atlanta, that will continue another quirky little streak. The Falcons did beat them in the playoffs in 2016, and the Rams/Bears couldn't make it from the NFC for that to remain intact. But it would be somewhat funny.

Kansas City must be trying to preserve Eric Berry for the playoffs as much as possible because he wasn't out there for part of Seattle's final drive of the night. I wonder how much he'll play against the Raiders next week. But it would be a gamble to sit him because losing to Oakland could mean missing out on winning the division.

Vince Verhei: Chiefs get the field goal, but the onside kick goes out of bounds, and Seattle wins 38-31. Seattle is back in the playoffs, and next week's game against Arizona is almost a mini-bye -- the difference between the 5 and 6 seed isn't huge, the Cardinals are awful, and starters should get plenty of time to rest.

Comments

51 comments, Last at 27 Dec 2018, 6:45am

1 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 16

Pittsburgh's defense gave up a 3rd and 20 with the receiver wide open late. I thought that was a specialty of the Packers D.

Cameron Jordan got his head handed to him most of the day as he was constantly pushed around.

I know the Saints had more penalties and more penalty yards, but it was also true that the Saints dbs were raking arms most of the game. I especially liked the grabbing of the hand so that Antonio could only go after a pass one-handed. Either call it both ways or don't call it. Pretty basic especially this late in the season with so much at stake for the teams.

I wonder if after the season the Steelers send a montage to the league of Watt getting wrapped around the neck multiple plays all season. That seems to be a signature move against the guy that the refs are not calling, and you can tell that TJ is beyond frustrated. Pretty sure the headblock while effective should be an infraction

2 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 16

I normally don't watch college football very closely, but due to a confluence of events, I saw every game Russell Wilson played in his last year at Wisconsin. The throwing ability, power and accuracy, mobility while keeping his eyes on receivers, and general calmness as football chaos surrounded him, just screamed he would be no worse than average NFL starting qb, and had significant potential to be great. So it was such a puzzle to me that he wasn't spoken of as an obvious 1st round pick, due to him being just a tiny bit shorter than Drew Brees. I mean, he wasn't as bust proof as Andrew Luck, but he wasn't far from it.It's not as if he was a skinny guy who looked like he would be bludgeoned out of the league. How the hell did he last to the 3rd round, when The Ponderous One, Bortlesaurus, and Gabbert Rex, among others, walk the planet of the first rounders? Just a group think pandemic, I guess.

11 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 16

Hey, you could spare yourself to mix in different drafts (which implies different supply of talents and different demands from the teams).
In 2012 the Almighty Browns went for a 29yo Brandon Weeden in the first round! It's not even the choice of Weeden per se, it is picking a freaking 29 years old as a highly drafted rookie.
Before that, the Dolphins elected to choose a converted WR with less than 2 years of experience.
Similarly, in the 2nd round the Genius of assessing QBs, took a shot with an 1-year starter to be the PM's heir apparent. But he had all the physical tools!

13 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 16

Wilson's girlfriend scared some teams off because the rumors were that he let her boss him around and scouts didn't think a guy in that personal relationship dynamic could be an effective leader. Yes, I know that reads as stupid. Just sharing the chatter from that time period.

43 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 16

The year that Wilson was drafted, the Rams had a boatload of picks. That enabled Jeff Fisher to take 6 players while Wilson was still on the board. Granted, 2 or 3 of them turned out to be pretty good players, but obviously, none of them ended up being nearly as valuable as a franchise QB. Of course, Wilson probably wouldn't have been a franchise QB if Fisher had taken him.

3 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 16

Bears at Vikings next Sunday is meaningful for both teams, which is great for fans. On the Vikings defense to win the game, and on the Vikings o-line and Cousins to not lose it, by giving the Bears 7-14 cheap points. I have rather more confidence in the first proposition than the second.

4 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 16

AFCLEAST - It's been 19 seasons since a team in the AFCLEAST finished with more wins than the Patriots. That team, The Colts, no longer play in the AFCleast. Yeah, the division is really really not competitive. The Pats now have 10 in a row, 16-18 division titles, and a bye week in this years play offs. LOL. Why would Tom Brady retire? 1) Pats, At this point we usually give the Pats next season's division title but there's enough interest in if Tom Brady comes back another year, that we'll have to wait until probably Feb to call the 2019 season for the Pats. 2) Bills, If they can find even an average offense in the off season they might push a Bradyless Pats team. That's a big if. 3) Jets, At least they have a QB. Since 2000 The pats have won at least 12 games 12 times, the Jets have won as many as twelve games once, ever. Yeah, the NFL is that competitive. LOL. 4) Miami, Miami has nothing to build on for 2019. They have no QB, a terrible front office, a coach that would rather be anywhere else, they're not good in any phase of the game. And they have no players (certainly not anyone healthy) to build on. 2019 sure better be the year they go 1-15 and finally start to rebuild. I haven't watched a Dolphins game start to finish in two years now. I can't imagine why anyone would want to. I went hiking this weekend and skipped the JAGs game because I have a life :) Miami, they don't suck, they're just so so so boring every darn year.

5 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 16

funn ything is form 1960-2000, Jets arguably bettr franchsie than Pates. led in super bowls won, 1-0. Pates were about 15 games better over the 41 seasons, which is nto sizable difference. Overall, i would give Jets edge.

Bills vs Pates- no Super Bowl wins for either through 2000 but Bills did have AFL titles. Bills played inn more super bowls too, so would give them edge.

Doolphin vs Pates, 1966-2000- not much of contest. Dolphisn led in super biowl titles, 2-0. Pates had five more years of playing (1960-65) and Doklphins still maybe had more total wins through 2o00.

Now all these teams entire histories compared to pates? no contest. Pates have edge on all three. One would have to jhave a "Team of the Decade" type of run to close gap.

it is nuts how much damage Pates did in these past 18 seaspns (or 16, if you exclude 2002 and 2008)

34 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 16

They also could have drafted him out of college before then, but chose a cornerback from Wisconsin instead (name escapes me at the moment). Thing is, the Dolphins were already strong at CB at that time. Wansttedt defended the pick by stating that they played 3 CBs on defense 60 percent of the time. My first thought after reading that was, “Really, Dave? What percent of the time do you play a QB on offense?” Good times.

12 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 16

That's very likely, though, even if Sam Darnold has been trending upwards the past few weeks. That second seed, for whoever ends up claiming it, could be a very good place to be. First, you are likely to avoid the Chargers in the second round and should be favorites at home against the third seed. Then, you have a decent chance to host the Championship round since the Chargers could definitely beat KC (Ravens would have a decent shot too). Basically, whether it's the Texans or the Patriots who takes the second seed, that team should have a much better chance to make the Super Bowl than most good but not great teams ever do.

26 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 16

Think it's a mistake to focus on how bad the AFCLeast has been.

The Patriots have dominated the AFC. Seven consecutive AFC Championship games, eight SB appearances. It helps to be in the East to get them there but they put pressure on the other teams in their division by not allowing them time to stay with the same GMS/HCs. The Pats have evolved the team identity over the years to remain competitive.

Llook over to the NFC ... there is no team that has dominated over the same period of time. Seattle and the Giants have represented the conference three times in the SB. Everybody but the Lions, Vikings, Squirrels and Cowboys has made it to Super Sunday. The NFC is much less predictable than the AFC,

When Belichick/Brady are gone, the AFC is going to become a very interesting place.

35 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 16

I don't know. The problem in the AFC is the shrinking base of AFC teams you think have the kind of front office that can put a team together year after year. The parity the NFL once prided itself in having has been trumped by just persistent terrible management.The problem in the AFC is the lack of good owners/front offices. If the NFL can't attract more good ownership groups to AFC cities, then the problem is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. There's reason to believe the Pats will loose their strangle hold on the AFC, but there's no reason to believe the Ravens, Steelers, and Pats won't continue to put up good numbers year in and out. These are well run teams. Add the Colts, Denver, and I guess the Chiefs. I think that's about it for front offices you trust to put a good product out within parity cycles. The rest of the front offices in the AFC don't give you much to believe in. I don't think we're about to see a sea of change unless, somehow, one of the persistent patsies find a clue on how to run a team or luck into an unbelievable player. Even then, look how Rivers career was wasted by the Chargers to this point. I don't know. The NFC seems to just have better ownership groups. Really it's been Detroit and I guess Washington that give you pause there. Even the Cardinals are way better than they used to be at team building (well sort of).

18 Re: Turnovers

More as a method of avoiding thinking about the specific results from the turnovers in Steelers-Saints game, I began thinking about why turnover differential is such a dominating predictor of wins and losses. There is the old quarterbacks' tale of "it gives the other team another possession" which I don't believe. Possession alternates and unless it is at the end of a game, say like yesterday, then the other team was going to get possession anyway. It just changes the when and where.

If the when is the driving force, then extra when should show up in time of possession which is also a positive predictor of wins, but isn't as strong as turnovers. I don't find that compelling. Has anyone looked at the three, wins, turnovers and time of possession to tweak out any subtleties?

That leaves the where - field position. Has anyone looked at starting drive field position by team or opponent vs turnover frequency? I don't remember seeing starting drive position as a strong win predictor, but maybe I've missed something.

Then there is some combo of when and where that might get captured in win probability type stats that are driven by yard line, down, distance and score. Here it would be interesting to see how those stats would flip for every turnover, or same team recovered fumble. I think that in and of itself wouldn't help much, but it might point out an area for further consideration.

29 Re: Turnovers

Why isn't it as simple as it completely arrests your point expectations while also usually placing the ball somewhere better than the opponents 25 yard line without at least 3 points on the board?

Think about that earlier TB game where they had a ton of yards but coughed it up multiple times within sniffing distance of the endzone - complete lack of point conversion was enough.

20 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 16

Even the league employees on the halftime show can't pretend they're into this. They're calling Gabbert "Checkdown Charlie" and "Stationary Stan." Which might make the halftime show the most interesting part of this game so far...

This is weird to me because Gabbert flings it in there recklessly a lot of the time. He's not Full Fitzpatrick, but he's much closer than he is to Full Bradford. (He's also not a runner, but he's not a statue either.)

44 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 16

Gabbert isn't really terrible at anything; he's just bad at everything. It reminds me of the NBA, where there are certain players (Paul Millsap being a perfect example) who aren't great at anything, but they're pretty good at everything (shooting, rebounding, passing, defense, etc.). And that ability to be just a bit above average in every aspect of the game adds up to being a very good all-around player. Gabbert is the mirror image of that. He's consistently below average in every aspect of playing the position, and that adds up to being a very poor all-around quarterback.

27 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 16

defense s can finall y catch up by this point in season if for no othre reaosn than more stuff on film. due to cba, less practice time ion offseason these days . defenses at big disadvantage early inseason. is easier to praxctice offense because can do it without a defense particularly between passer and receiv ers (timing type stuyff). praxcticing defense is tougher to do without offensive oplayers to practice against. as season moves along, there is more "tape" on the teams for that current season. need games to hapeopn first.
anyway, that is my theory. have heard former plaweyrs say similar things.

do not think it is league changing anything in-seasion such as officials maybe being told "call more of these penalties oand less of those"

also,might be minimal, like a Bud Light nip, but it is still something- weather later in year can slow down offenses . cold generally bothers fancy offenses

23 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 16

Adrian Peterson's season really surprised me, especially given how the Redskins o-line was depopulated by injury. Peterson was really good yesterday, with some impressive jump cuts and yardage after contact. He may have a couple more thousand yard seasons in him on the right roster, and Gruden's may be it, absent any Snyder insanity.

25 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 16

Sir - Merry Christmas!

I watch every Redskins game, and I have been this year particularly interested in AP's play. It is almost as if the league's Ds have gone soft or something, and he throws himself into contact knowing full well he is bigger / stronger / more willful than those trying to tackle him. Like he spent a decade being tackled by 250 pound guys and now finds himself being "tackled" by guys smaller than him, and is treating the whole thing with disdain. And even when encountering the EDGEs, so many of them are 4 or 5 inches taller than he is, and taller still when he is in his rushing lean, and so they lack effective leverage. Only the two fat guys inside seem to be able to legit stop him upon contact, the other 9 guys are too small or too tall... I'd love to interview Lynch and Gore on this point, and ask them if the move to dime defenses and Honey Badger-sized LBs has changed the rushing game.

46 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 16

I've only seen a couple of AP quarters and highlights this season but I think you've described a big part of it. I remember when he left the Vikings there was much talk of how his game was too limited in the modern NFL - had to line up behind the QB, not much of a receiver. What's happened though is that teams don't have the personnel to stop a power running even when they know it's coming. AP is far behind the times that now he's ahead of them. It's not just him either - the Pats ground game put up 275 yards from scrimmage on a decent D on a day when their QB couldn't do anything.

30 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 16

What, nobody here watched the Falcons and the Panthers? Very well. I did. Here's what you missed. The first drive reminded me why I like Heinicke so much. He looked sharp in the preseason, and now I know he can look sharp in games that matter. The teams went into their respective locker rooms at halftime to reflect upon a hard-fought contest and a tie score. And then the Panthers forgot to come back out again. Oops...

31 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 16

Squirrels are cutting DJ Swearinger for some reason. Some playoff team can get a really good starting safety right now.

Also, there's a rogue ad borking up the site. Any time I leave the page open and come back to it later, there's a load error and the whole page needs to be reloaded

37 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 16

"Seattle is back in the playoffs, and next week's game against Arizona is almost a mini-bye -- the difference between the 5 and 6 seed isn't huge, the Cardinals are awful, and starters should get plenty of time to rest."

As a Seahawk fan, I very much want them to play in Dallas (who they've beaten) than play in Chicago (who they've lost to) in January. Rest up when they really need to (injuries healing), but otherwise I want the starters to play.

And yes, the Cardinals are awful -- yet that didn't stop the first game being tight (really, Seattle should have lost), and just a week ago they were beaten by the 49ers....

41 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 16

A shame the Brees/Roethlisberger ding-dong was marred by those dubious (or downright horrible) penalty calls. I'm generally not in favor of making all fouls reviewable, because I struggle to see how it can be done in a timely and efficient manner, but when you see blown calls like the Haden DPI on Kamara with such wild swings in points expectancy, it certainly gives pause for thought.

The two Pittsburgh TD drives after half-time where they abandoned the run entirely and attacked the Saints secondary were beautiful. I was then deeply disappointed when, once they had taken the lead, they reverted to running the ball again. The Saints have one of the best run defenses in the league, alongside an average pass defense. The Steelers' gameplan, given their relative offensive strengths, should not have involved handing the ball off more than the absolute bare minimum to keep the defense honest. That was really an opportunity to put the pedal to the metal and kill the game, and they went conservative. I guess that falls on Tomlin.