Audibles at the Line: Week 15
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 Seahawks or Patriots fan, you are probably in luck; if you are a Lions 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.
Saturday, December 19
Buffalo Bills 48 at Denver Broncos 19
Bryan Knowles: We get a little bit of the full Josh Allen experience on the Bills' first drive of the game. A fumble (recovered by Allen) and an interception (called back due to a Denver penalty) serve as a reminder that Allen was never good playing on Saturdays. But some exceptional improvisation saving broken plays, a few bullets from his cannon, and a heady play or two to turn a sniffed-out designed run into an incomplete pass rather than a loss serve as a better reminder of the player he has become. Having someone like Stefon Diggs to work with doesn't hurt either; the Broncos are without five cornerbacks and I'm not really sure how they're going to slow down the Bills' passing offense today. Just go four-wide and force a safety to play dime corner; Denver only has three cornerbacks active.
Bryan Knowles: Almost like clockwork, the Bills use plenty of empty and other wide formations to put extra pressure on the Broncos' depleted secondary, and they march right back down the field to take a 14-0 lead. Cole Beasley and Stefon Diggs found plenty of wide-open spaces to run through, and even when they were covered, Allen just tucks the ball and runs right up the middle 24 yards untouched into the end zone. I think tight end Reggie Gilliam took out two Broncos cornerbacks by himself blocking downfield, which helped, but right now, Denver just has no answers. Bradley Chubb and other defenders are all up in each other's face on the sidelines; I don't know how much yelling is going to make up for just being out of healthy bodies out there.
Scott Spratt: Seemingly the only way the Bills could lose this game is by making some unforced errors, Bryan. And they just made their first when All-Pro punt returner Andre Roberts muffed an attempted punt return. That turnover gives the Broncos their first red zone trip of the afternoon.
Aaron Schatz: I liked the Drew Lock third-down keeper that clearly confused the cameraman. Melvin Gordon then took it in for the touchdown, 14-7 Bills.
Bryan Knowles: It should be noted that running back is an area where the Broncos are surprisingly healthy -- both Gordon and Phillip Lindsay were questionable coming into today, but both are active and running the ball well. That's not something they can stick with if the Bills just jump out to a zillion-point lead, so that muffed punt was fairly big.
Bryan Knowles: I am annoyed that the Bills' Statue of Liberty touchdown was called back from a hold, because it was sweet as all hell.
-- The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) December 19, 2020
Back-to-back-to-back Buffalo penalties set them up with a first-and-goal at the 30. There have been plenty of longer goal-to-go situations -- the Football Team had a second-and-goal from the 33 against Baltimore back in October -- but they're usually the result of a bad sack or a fumble or something going horribly wrong. It's tied for the second-longest first-and-goal in Stathead's database, behind the Vikings facing a first-and-goal from the Philadelphia 33 back in 2016 after Alex Boone got flagged for holding and unsportsmanlike conduct on the same play. But both those Vikings and these Bills shrugged off such downs-and-distances and found the end zone. It's just, the Jake Kumerow touchdown wasn't nearly as awesome as the Statue of Liberty play, so I remain disgruntled.
Scott Spratt: The Broncos could have made the AFC East a lot more interesting if they had played like this in Week 11 against the Dolphins and pulled the upset this week instead. As it stands, the Bills have a 21-7 lead in the final minute of the first half and seem poised to pick up their 11th win of the season. The Dolphins have to win their final three games (including in Week 17 in Buffalo) just to get to 11 wins.
Bryan, is there even a way for the Dolphins to win an 11-5 divisional tiebreaker? I think in that (unlikely) scenario, both teams would be 4-2 within the division and would have split their games against each other.
Bryan Knowles: Nope, Scott. If the Bills win today, that gives them the AFC East title. If the Bills' got to 11-5 by beating the Patriots, they'd win on the division tiebreaker (5-1 to 4-2). If they got there by beating the Broncos, the tied division record would go to common games. The Bills win that, 9-3 to 8-4. Buffalo has already beaten the Seahawks and are up on the Broncos; that's enough to make up for the Dolphins' victory over the Cardinals.
With the Bills up 21-13 at halftime, it looks like the Dolphins' chances of winning the division are fading fast, but I suppose it's not technically impossible.
Scott Spratt: If the Bills do win tonight and lock up the division, I wonder how they'll handle their final two games, especially if the Chiefs beat the Saints this weekend. It seems inconceivable the Chiefs would lose to both the Falcons and Chargers in Weeks 16 and 17, and that makes the one seed and the only AFC bye unattainable. Meanwhile, without a weak divisio- winner like there will be in the NFC East, I don't know if there is a clear matchup to "target," and the Bills probably couldn't successfully do so anyway since the Titans, Browns, Colts, Ravens, and Dolphins are all within a game of each other. So do you rest key starters? Or do you try to win your way to a home playoff game against the Steelers, Colts, and/or Titans?
Bryan Knowles: It'd be a bit ironic if the NFL's attempt to keep more games relevant in Week 17 by upping the number of playoff teams backfires, with Buffalo not caring about whether they get the bye-less second seed.
In a normal year, I do think the potential of playing the Steelers in Orchard Park is probably worth going all-out for against Miami, but with no fans allowed, is that even a major concern? Staying out of the fourth seed and avoiding the matchup with Kansas City for as long as possible does seem worth it to me, though -- let someone else try to pull off the surprise upset before you have to do it.
Bryan Knowles: Oh, and we can talk about these sorts of scenarios because this game is over. Second half opens with a great Roberts kick return to set the Bills up in Broncos territory, and they convert that into a touchdown on fourth down from the 1-yard line. And, just in case that wasn't the nail in the coffin, the first Broncos snap ends in a sack-fumble, and then the longest 25-yard fumble return you'll ever see, with Jerry Hughes finding the end zone after a good 10 seconds of weaving and dodging through traffic. 35-13, and this one's in the books.
.@TakeAwayTre_ with the strip sack.
And OH MY GOODNESS @Iam_jerryhughes.
-- NFL (@NFL) December 19, 2020
Scott Spratt: With a breakaway 51-yard Devin Singletary touchdown run in the final two minutes, the Bills got to 48 points. Meanwhile, they had I believe three touchdowns nullified by penalties and turned the ball over on downs on a fourth-and-1 carry at the Broncos' 4-yard line that looked like a 50/50 call for the refs on the field. It could easily have been 60 points.
Carolina Panthers 16 at Green Bay Packers 24
Bryan Knowles: This is one of the tastier possible No. 1-versus-No. 16 seeds you can get in the NFL, but it's still the first-place Packers against the Panthers, dead-last in the NFC at the moment (if, shockingly, still technically alive for the postseason). The Panthers' run defense has certainly come in its usual form -- they allowed a 46-yard run to Aaron Jones on the third play from scrimmage, and the Packers would still be averaging 7.5 yards per carry even if you took that one out. So, you know, things are going well. Packers have a 7-0 lead very early.
Scott Spratt: For anyone that still has the historically bad 2019 Panthers run defense etched in their minds, you might be surprised to know this year's version is ranked 19th in run defense DVOA. That's not terrible! Unfortunately, the team's 27th-ranked pass defense is terrible, and that is not a weakness you want to have facing Aaron Rodgers.
Bryan Knowles: That's fair, Scott -- they still struggle to tackle when running backs get past the line (20th in second-level yards and 28th in open-field yards), but at least stopping them at the line does occasionally happen. Baby steps, especially for a defense which is loaded with rookies. The Panthers have nine active rookie defenders tonight compared to 14 veterans, and I'm including second-year players such as Brian Burns as veterans. It's going to take a little bit for all of these players to gel -- like, maybe an actual offseason where they can work on things.
Scott Spratt: My amateur scouting perspective is that the Panthers have some potential blue-chip defenders in Brian Burns, Derrick Brown, and Jeremy Chinn. But each of that trio is 22 years old, and the team has a handful of defensive starters that are below the replacement level, and it leads to a lot of big plays for opposing offenses.
Unrelated, the Packers just had a massive defensive play with Krys Barnes snatching the ball from Teddy Bridgewater as he reached for the goal line for a touchdown that could have cut the Panthers' deficit to 14-10. As it stands, the Packers are still up 14-3 with the ball at midfield, and it doesn't look likely they'll lose this one.
Bryan Knowles: I have never seen the Quarterback Leap fail in quite that way. Just a volleyball spike on the unprotected football; Barnes just went up and swatted the ball out of there. Bridgewater presumably picked up some of those goal-line tips from his time in New Orleans with Drew Brees; he may want to go back to the film room on that one. Oh, and it's 20-3 and this football game is over. Good Saturday of football, NFL.
-- NFL (@NFL) December 20, 2020
Scott Spratt: Curtis Samuel just dropped his second pass of the night, this one on a wide receiver screen with no defender near him. Remember earlier this year when he caught (at least) 14 straight third-down targets and converted 11 of them into new first downs? Yeah, me neither.
Scott Spratt: It felt like the Packers were dominating this game because of that efficient opening drive that Bryan detailed and their first-half scoring of 21 points. But suddenly it's six minutes into the fourth quarter and the Packers are averaging just 3.0 yards per pass attempt, they have punted on every drive in the second half, and their lead has slipped to a single score at 21-13. And really, it could have been closer than that. Teddy Bridgewater had the goal-line stretch fumble in the first half, and he just fumbled again on the goal line. The Panthers recovered this one, but a penalty pushed them back to the 20-yard line and forced a field goal after their next play. But even with those mistakes, the Packers will need to execute on their next drive or else the Panthers will have an opportunity to tie in a two-minute drill.
Scott Spratt: Mason Crosby just bailed the Packers out with a 51-yard field goal, which is impressive at any time but seems especially so late in the fourth quarter in 31-degree temperatures in Green Bay. But it's interesting that he even had to take it since Aaron Rodgers had the Packers to the 30-yard line before he took his fourth sack of the day. Rodgers entered the week with just 13 sacks all season, and he had just two previous games with more than one: last week against the Eagles (9.0% adjusted sack rate, first) and in Week 6 against the Bucs (8.6%, third). The Panthers are 27th in adjusted sack rate (5.0%), and I'm not sure what has motivated their success tonight. That said, I have been impressed by the aggressiveness of the Panthers cornerbacks that have quickly closed on several of the quick passes to Davante Adams. That helped limit Adams to 42 yards on 10 targets in the first 57 minutes.
Scott Spratt: And there's an interesting game theory question. After a big YAC DJ Moore catch that advanced the Panthers to the Packers' 15-yard line, the Panthers immediately kicked a field goal on first-and-10 with 2:07 remaining in the fourth quarter. And then the Panthers kicked deep with their two timeouts plus the two-minute warning remaining. Any other writers still awake and watching this and have thoughts there?
Scott Spratt: I should add that the field goal cut the Panther' deficit to 24-16. Matt Rhule must have preferred his chances to force a three-and-out with the two-minute warning as his third timeout and then complete a touchdown drive versus finishing off the touchdown drive first and then probably needing an onside kick recovery since the two-minute warning would have been "wasted." Off the cuff, that seems pretty smart.
Aaron Schatz: I think it's one timeout. I'm very curious what the GWC model says about these decisions. In particular I'm guessing that kicking onside would have been the right decision given the quality of the Green Bay offense.
Bryan Knowles: Generally I would agree with you, Aaron, but the Green Bay offense hasn't really been clicking tonight. Their offensive line has been strangely porous, allowing four sacks -- I think there's an argument for trying to shut 'em down defensively.
Scott Spratt: Well part one accomplished. The Panthers just sacked Rodgers for the fifth time on third down, and now the Packers are punting with 1:07 left. Crazy.
Bryan Knowles: Make it five sacks, and the Panthers will get the ball back, as Brian Burns finds his way untouched to stop Rodgers in the backfield. I think taking the sack rather than throwing the ball away was a heady play by Rodgers; the 40 seconds are worth more than the 14 yards. Still, though...
Scott Spratt: That excitement lasted one play. Teddy Bridgewater was indecisive on first down and intentionally grounded the ball in an attempt to avoid the sack. That caused a 10-second runoff which left the Panthers with 37 seconds to go 90 yards.
Tom Gower: I'm curious as well if that was the right decision. I know I would have liked it a lot more down nine than down 11, where even after the made field goal you're looking at getting a two-point conversion just to get to overtime.
Scott Spratt: It was in no way the same as his early two drops, but Curtis Samuel got a hand on a deep Bridgewater pass that could have gotten the Panthers a last play or two on the Packers' side of the field. But Samuel couldn't haul that in, and in turn, the Panthers couldn't even get a new first down on their attempted game-winning drive. The Packers did not impress in the second half, but they moved one win closer to the No. 1 NFC seed.
Aaron Schatz: So EdjSports ran numbers on Rhule's decision to kick the field goal and it comes out as a massive error. The Panthers went from 3.3% GWC to 0.5% by kicking the field goal instead of continuing the drive and trying for a touchdown.
Andrew Potter: I'd guess that a significant part of the reason is it effectively eliminates the chances of winning in regulation, whereas by continuing the drive, you still have the chance to score two touchdowns and win. Most of these win probability models rate getting to overtime significantly lower than NFL coaches rate it.
Tom Gower: Well, by kicking the field goal, you're ensuring that your chance of winning the game is probably in the 20% to 25% range even conditional on scoring the touchdown. Assuming they get the score, they need a two-point conversion just to make it to overtime. And in overtime, teams that come into the game as significant underdogs such as Carolina tend to win less than 50% of the time. An example I have used before is, in a tightly-restricted, one-score-only scenario such as the one last night, it doesn't intuitively feel like your winning percentage down six is about four times as good as your winning percentage down eight.
Sunday, December 20
Jacksonville Jaguars 14 at Baltimore Ravens 40
Scott Spratt: I'm unduly excited to see normal kicker Aldrick Rosas punt for the Jaguars today with normal punter Logan Cooke sidelined with an illness. Perhaps the front offices of future tanking teams can learn from this. I don't think even Ryan Fitzpatrick could win five games if his punter was shanking 20-yard punts every Sunday.
Scott Spratt: Well, Rosas' first punt is going to be a free kick. After Lamar Jackson threw an ill-advised deep pass into double coverage that Josh Jones intercepted, Gardner Minshew took a sack for a safety in his end zone two plays later. The Ravens are now up 2-0 four minutes in.
Cale Clinton: I had this game as one of my four in my Sunday Ticket box, but subbed it out for Seattle-Washington following the Dez Bryant touchdown. Not much to say in this side outside of this reflection: imagine how much would change if Jacksonville hadn't upset Indianapolis in Week 1? The Jaguars would be knotted up with the winless Jets in The Race for Trevor Lawrence instead of playing from behind, while the Colts would be potentially looking at a battle for the two seed next week in Pittsburgh. This is why we play the games out.
Scott Spratt: This game is out of hand at 33-7, but somehow it still just delivered the play of the day.
BIG MAN GOING
Tune in on CBS! pic.twitter.com/TiowYYWFn9
-- Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) December 20, 2020
That is 344-pound guard Tyre Phillips who just scooped the fumble and ran 22 yards for a first down. Outstanding.
San Francisco 49ers 33 at Dallas Cowboys 41
Bryan Knowles: A bit of surprising news -- Ezekiel Elliott was made inactive. It was thought he'd play through his nagging calf injury, but nope, it's Tony Pollard today. That'll mess up a few fantasy playoffs.
Neither team is moving the ball well here in the first quarter. The big play was a Cowboys punt after a three-and-out -- Richie James fumbled, setting up the Cowboys inside the red zone, and Pollard eventually bashed it in for the 7-0 lead. Add "return specialist" to the 49ers' Christmas wish list.
Bryan Knowles: I have been a broken record about this, but once again: Nick Mullens has zero pocket awareness. With Mullens standing like a statue in the pocket, DeMarcus Lawrence is able to swipe the ball out of his hands for a Cowboys turnover right outside of the red zone. Mullens had plenty of time and room to step up and avoid the sack, but he apparently had no idea that one of the league's best pass-rushers was bearing down on him. The Cowboys are able to turn the second 49ers' turnover into another touchdown, and it's 14-0 Cowboys, midway through the second quarter. Add "quarterback" to that 49ers wish list -- not necessarily a new starter (that's a whole kettle of fish), but at least a backup who knows what to do if a play takes longer than 2.5 seconds.
Bryan Knowles: The answer to Nick Mullens scuffling? Give the ball to Raheem Mostert. The 49ers' first follow-up drive after the sack-fumble didn't include any of Mostert's trademark massive-speed runs; he's nursing a bum ankle anyway. He did, however, rush five times for 41 yards, helped by some nice blocking from Brandon Aiyuk to seal the edge as he brought the ball down to the 1-yard line. That sets up the rare double play-action, with both Mostert and Aiyuk receiving fake handoffs, that leads to Mullens hitting an uncovered Jordan Reed. 14-7 Cowboys as the first quarter ends.
Bryan Knowles: "I'd rather take the field goal and make it a one-possession game." Can we stop announcers from saying this? Can we make it illegal? Especially in the first half, where there are dozens of possessions left in a game? No? OK.
The conversation came up with the 49ers facing fourth-and-goal from the 2. They had to waste two timeouts there because of communication issues. If you're going to use that many resources, you can't come away with just three points, especially not when you're losing. You have simply have to come away with the touchdown. And, after the Cowboys stuff Jeff Wilson, Kyle Juszczyk, and Mostert, the 49ers SHOVeLL the ball to Brandon Aiyuk on fourth down for the score. It's 17-14 Cowboys still, but at least the game has become competitive.
Bryan Knowles: Brandon Aiyuk would like to counter CeeDee Lamb's final submission for the all-rookie team with a highlight play of his own, turning what should have been a 5-yard loss into a significant gain; I'll be very interested to see how he ranks in the YAC+ ratings after the season, 'cause it's going to be high.
Aiyuk was joined by Kyle Juszczyk (25-yard reception, and the only fullback who deserves a Pro Bowl slot this year) and Jordan Reed (14-yard reception fighting through traffic to bring the ball to the one) to set up the 49ers tying touchdown, and we're back to a 24-24 game. This is almost an elimination game (Cowboys are out if they lose; 49ers are out if they lose and the Cardinals win) and the intensity is higher than you would expect from some four- and five-win teams.
Bryan Knowles: Nick Mullens throws his second interception of the day, Tony Pollard runs in a 40-yard score, and this game should be over. The curse of the Super Bowl loser adds another datapoint.
Scott Spratt: The Cowboys wrapped up a win over the 49ers with this nifty Tony Pollard run.
-- NFL (@NFL) December 20, 2020
Pollard entered the week with a 19.1% rushing DVOA this season, dramatically better than Ezekiel Elliott's -1.9%. And then today Pollard produced 132 yards on just 18 touches. Elliott better be glad he already inked his extension because otherwise he might have lost his RB1 job.
Scott Spratt: Somewhat similar to the Panthers yesterday, the 49ers just kicked a field goal on second-and-7 from the Cowboys' 13-yard line down 34-24 with 43 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Off the cuff, this one seems stranger to me because there isn't the same benefit the Panthers saw with the "gaining" of the two-minute warning as a defensive timeout. Of course, Edj's GWC model showed me my intuition was wrong on that one, so I can't confidently say I'm right here.
Well, I guess it doesn't matter now since CeeDee Lamb just fielded the onside kick and returned it for a touchdown.
Aaron Schatz: According to the EdjSports model, that was also an error by the 49ers but a smaller one, although their GWC was also smaller. Kicking the field goal took their GWC from 1.3% to 0.9%.
Scott Spratt: Now I'm bummed that the 49ers failed to convert the onside kick because Kendrick Bourne just came down with this amazing Hail Mary catch and it didn't mean anything at all.
Kendrick Bourne going up to get it. pic.twitter.com/AigvMUlpS6
-- NFL (@NFL) December 20, 2020
Vince Verhei: The 49ers just scored a Hail Mary touchdown on the last play of the game. They still lost by eight points. I think the Garbage-Time award for Scramble has been wrapped up.
New England Patriots 12 at Miami Dolphins 22
Aaron Schatz: Patriots offense looks ineffective after two drives. They have so little trust in their ability to get the ball more than a couple of yards downfield that they just punted on fourth-and-9 from the Miami 39. THIRTY-NINE!
Scott Spratt: It was a strange decision, Aaron, but it seems likely to pay off now that Matthew Slater made a great play to deflect the ball back into play as it was poised to bounce into the end zone.
It blows my mind, but the Patriots have finished in the upper half of teams in special teams DVOA every year in Bill Belichick's tenure. They're No. 1 this year.
Scott Spratt: Haha, just as I said, Aaron. Tua Tagovailoa drove the Dolphins 95 yards from their 2-yard line to the Pats' 3-yard line, but then he threw an interception to J.C. Jackson in the end zone as he was hit. If the Patriots hadn't pinned the Dolphins all the way back, then that was a touchdown drive. That's just science.
Aaron Schatz: Tua Tagovailoa mostly hitting open receivers for short gains and yards after the catch through the first quarter. Not bad considering that the top three Miami receivers -- DeVante Parker, Mike Gesicki, and Jakeem Grant -- are out today. But he just got whacked by Chase Winovich on the pass rush on the final play of the first quarter and that diverted the pass into an easy interception in the end zone for J.C. Jackson. Now, what do we need to do to teach these guys not to take interceptions out of the end zone when they're surrounded by opponents? Jackson got tackled at the 4.
Aaron Schatz: On replay, that was not just Tua getting hit. It was a bad, hurried decision to throw to a clearly covered Lynn Bowden.
Scott Spratt: Consecutive plays just illustrated the entire Cam Newton experience. First, Newton kept the ball, sidestepped a blitzer who went unblocked into the backfield, and pushed a pile of five defenders for a 2-yard gain on a play that looked destined to lose yards. But then Newton tried to loft a touch pass that didn't go high or far enough to get over linebacker Kyle Van Noy. That probably should have been intercepted.
Aaron Schatz: The Patriots' passing game is almost all short crosses and running back dumpoffs. The other passes are just not accurate. There was the ball that was too high for N'Keal Harry before, and now a ball bounced in front of Jakobi Meyers.
Aaron Schatz: Some insane fumble recovery luck for New England. Cam Newton fumbles trying to scramble for a first down and it looks like Xavien Howard has the scoop-and-score, but on replay it turns out the ball barely grazed the shoe of Christian Wilkins while Wilkins was touching out of bounds. So the whole thing comes back and New England gets the ball back and gets to kick a field goal. That's a 10-point swing on total, complete randomness. 6-0 Patriots.
Scott Spratt: This won't undo the earlier fumbling luck, Aaron, but Jakobi Meyers had this drop ruled a fumble when it easily could have been an incomplete pass.
-- NFL Brasil (@NFLBrasil) December 20, 2020
That sets the Dolphins back up at midfield after just having their first touchdown of the day and taking a 7-6 lead.
Scott Spratt: Uh-oh, is there quarterback controversy again for Miami? Punter Matt Haack just converted a fourth-and-7 with a nice fake-punt pass for 14 yards. Too bad it was called back after a Dolphins player failed to report himself eligible.
Aaron Schatz: I criticized the Patriots for an offense that consisted of nothing but short crosses and running back dumpoffs but the Miami offense is almost as bad today. Partly because Parker is out, I'm sure, but Tagovailoa has not thrown a single deep pass (16-plus air yards) yet and we're through three quarters. Good thing the Miami running game is working well. The Miami touchdown drive at the start of the second half was eight runs out of nine plays and they just finished up the third quarter by converting third-and-8 with a handoff.
Cale Clinton: Throughout the Belichick era, one of the most consistently glaring issues this team has had is drafting wide receivers. Names such as Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce, Brandon Tate, and Chad Jackson are embedded in my brain for the hype I generated in my mind and the disappointment they showed in turn. After avoiding drafting the position altogether for a number of years, the Patriots went back to the well in 2019 and rostered two rookie wide receivers: N'Keal Harry and Jakobi Meyers.
With nearly two years under each of their belts, it's fascinating to see how the two have panned out thus far. Entering today's game, 2019's 32nd overall pick N'Keal Harry (18 games) has 382 receiving yards on 41 targets with a 56.2% catch rate and four touchdowns. Meanwhile, the UDFA Meyers (26 games) has 864 yards on 68 receptions with a 68.7% catch rate and a passing touchdown as his lone scoring contribution. Harry, touted for his size and jump ball ability, has struggled to create separation from defensive backs throughout his short Patriots tenure. Meyers, on the other hand, has found ways to make contributions where he can and formed a solid rapport with Cam Newton this season. While many argue that it was shocking Meyers went completely undrafted in 2019, it's still surprising to see just how different the level of production is between these two.
This afternoon, Meyers is currently 6-for-9 with 85 yards receiving, while Harry has one catch for 12 yards on two targets.
Scott Spratt: My cell phone just autocorrected my text from "Salvon" to "Dalvin." Intriguing! Ahmed may have just scored his second touchdown of the day to seal this game, although his knee may have been down on the 1-inch line. It's under review.
Bryan Knowles: Ahmed's knee was, in fact down, but that may have been a blessing in disguise -- it allowed them to run off an extra 40 seconds before Tagovailoa sneaks the ball in for the score. That may be all she wrote for the Patriots' 2020 season, at least from a playoff potential standpoint.
Cale Clinton: There are three certainties in life: death, taxes, and Miami playing spoiler for New England late in the season.
Aaron Schatz: That's another almost-all-run play touchdown drive for Miami. Their offensive line is bullying the Patriots defense today. Eight runs on 11 plays in that drive, and the three passes only added up to 15 yards, mostly on a pass that went 2 yards to tight end Durham Smythe but he pushed forward for an extra 8 yards of YAC.
Aaron Schatz: Also, the Patriots were 6-7. Nobody was spoiling anything for the Patriots. They spoiled this season themselves.
Cale Clinton: Miami currently has 242 rushing yards on the afternoon. Per Ben Volin of the Boston Globe, that would be the fourth-most rushing yards allowed by a Patriots defense in the Belichick era.
Cale Clinton: Of course not, Aaron, I was just referring to the fact that the Patriots went from a longshot "in the hunt" playoff team to officially eliminated with this loss. Not quite the Miami Miracle or last year's Week 17 heroics by Fitzmagic, but still.
Cale Clinton: Silver lining in this game, if you can call it that: NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reports that Stephon Gilmore's non-contact injury was not a knee injury. Claims that it may not have been as serious as it looked. He'll have tests done tomorrow to understand the full extent, but a sigh of relief that there seems to be no serious ligament damage.
Cale Clinton: A heartwarming result from this game that we can all feel happy about:
#Dolphins RB Salvon Ahmed's grandma, Dee Brown, is in the hospital, and he told people he'd get 100 yards for her today. No Miami player had done that in two years ... but Ahmed is up to 114 yards and a TD. Somewhere, Grandma -- who calls him The Real Cheetah -- is smiling.
-- Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) December 20, 2020
Seattle Seahawks 20 at Washington Football Team 15
Carl Yedor: The battle of the Washingtons has been a bit of an ugly one through the first quarter. Pretty much everything for Seattle through the air has been short, and Washington hasn't been able to get anything of note going, though it has had a bit more success on the ground than through the air, relatively speaking. Tyler Lockett's 15-yard catch to end the quarter was the longest play so far. Dwayne Haskins' ball placement on his passes has not been ideal, costing his receivers some YAC opportunities when they have actually completed balls. Seattle is approaching midfield up 3-0 to start the second quarter.
Vince Verhei: End of the first quarter, and Dwayne Haskins has completed five of eight passes for a total of ... 8 yards. And 9 of those yards came on one play, And even that one play still didn't pick up a first down. Oh, and Jamal Adams already has his weekly sack. And this was an impressive one -- he dropped back to cover the hook zone to the offense's right, then sprinted all the way across the field to track down a scrambling Haskins behind the line of scrimmage for a loss.
But Seattle only has three points because their own offense hasn't been much more productive. They have picked up first downs here and there, but they can't get any big plays, and they're stalling out once crossing midfield. Biggest play of the game so far was a holding penalty on Mike Iupati that wiped out what would have been a third-down conversion inside the red zone, setting up the field goal.
Scott Spratt: That puts Adams at 9.5 sacks on the season, right Vince? He legitimately could have led the league if he hadn't missed five games. Aaron Donald is the current leader at just 12.5.
Vince Verhei: Your Adams math is correct, Scott. And what's crazy is the sacks have not come in bunches -- he's seriously getting one almost every week.
Haskins just threw one of the ugliest passses you'll ever see in the NFL. Rolled out to his right and threw on the run and the wobbliest thing ever came out of his hand. Shaquill Griffin got the tip-drill interception to kill what had been Washington's best drive of the day.
Carl Yedor: Seattle takes advantage of that Haskins interception and marches down the field for a touchdown with 1:45 left in the half. The biggest plays on the drive were a huge Russell Wilson scramble and a long pass interference on a ball intended for DK Metcalf that set Seattle up in the red zone. On third-and-seven from the 10, Wilson fired one into a tight window to Jacob Hollister, who was able to haul it in. Washington will get one final drive this half down 13-0.
Bryan Knowles: This is the second game I'm focusing on in the early window, but there hasn't been much to say, as Vince has noted. It just feels like Dwayne Haskins is taking a second too long to process everything; he has not yet acclimated to the speed of the NFL game. I know his processing speed was the one major hangup scouts had coming into the league, but it just hasn't seemed to improve at all yet. It's still too early to write him off entirely, but he can at least see "bust" from here.
Vince Verhei: Seahawks finally get a touchdown as Wilson hits Jacob Hollister for the score on third down in the red zone. Biggest play on the drive was Wilson's 38-yard gain on a scramble -- Chase Young and company lost contain and let Wilson slip out to his right, and then Washington's cornerback came up to try a tackle but hilariously slipped and fell on his ass, Keystone Kops-style. Seattle up 13-0.
Carl Yedor: Logan Thomas has been the majority of Washington's offense to this point, most of which has been short dump-offs and rub routes that get Thomas open in space. Washington had put together an OK two-minute drive, but Shaquill Griffin had to limp to the sideline, leading to Haskins attacking his vacated side of the field. The drive stalls in field goal range, but Dustin Hopkins is able to hit the 48-yarder to make it 13-3 heading into the half. Seattle gets the ball first on the other side of halftime.
As a side note, people have been mentioning this on social media, but Fox's production team has really been going above and beyond with the cinematography on the touchdown celebrations today. The picture quality has been eerily excellent, and the shots following players off the field has a very different feel than normal. Wonder if this is partially a function of production staff being bored and wanting to experiment given that there aren't the typical fan shots that you can grab post-score, but I'm a fan of the changeup.
Bryan Knowles: Wasn't there some talk about Rashaad Penny being brought back to the active roster for this one? We haven't seen hide nor hair of him, it has been Chris Carson pretty much all day. And now Carson is getting spelled, so Seattle will just run a handoff to Carlos Hyde instead as a breather...
And Hyde takes it 50 yards to the house to give the Seahawks a 20-3 lead. This one seems basically over now, and it has done wonders for the odds of an NFC East champ with a losing record.
Carl Yedor: This one ended up getting tight, as all Seahawks games against teams other than the Jets eventually do. Seattle was up 20-3, but Washington has scored touchdowns on back-to-back possessions now. Their second touchdown was aided by a short field courtesy of a tipped pass that turned into a pick around midfield. Now, Washington has the ball back again with five minutes left and a chance to take the lead. It's 20-15 because Washington missed an extra point and then failed on the two-pointer after the second touchdown, but this one is very much still in doubt. Haskins has had wide-open receivers in the second half and some timely scrambles as well.
Carl Yedor: Outside of a little elevated blood pressure, Seattle is able to finish this one out. Washington gets to the Seattle 23, but Haskins misses an end zone shot to Logan Thomas on first down, gets sacked on second and third down, and then is forced to throw up a jump ball on fourth down that falls incomplete (and would not have counted anyway because of an offensive holding penalty). Seattle escapes 20-15 after being up by 17 at the start of the fourth quarter.
Vince Verhei: I was on the road for the second half so I can't tell you a ton about how or why things happened, but here are some notable things in the boxscore of this game.
- As noted, Washington's last drive got as far as a first-and-10 at the Seattle 23. If they had hit their extra points earlier, they could have tied the game with the field goal there, and may have played conservatively and accepted overtime. As it was, Seattle got a pair of sacks to set up fourth-and-forever, and then an incompletion.
- That does not mean Seattle's defense played well at the end. Washington's last three drives: 39 plays, 209 yards, two touchdowns, one turnover on downs.
- Meanwhile, Seattle's last four drives: three three-and-outs and one interception.
- Logan Thomas (13 catches, 101 yards) almost had better receiving numbers than the entire Seahawks team (18 catches, 121 yards).
- Rashaad Penny did in fact play for Seattle, rushing twice for 6 yards in his first game since tearing up his knee last December.
- It's a good thing Seattle won, because if they had dropped games to Haskins and Colt McCoy in the span of three weeks, I might have demanded the franchise be shut down.
Aaron Schatz: Here are some specifics on that camera angle everyone liked in Seattle-Washington today.
Lots of love for the end zone camera angle in DC. And it's justified. The shots are gorgeous.
According to FOX, it's actually NOT a traditional "broadcast" camera. Instead, it's a Sony mirrorless on a handheld gimbal.
You can see the op in this clip. pic.twitter.com/N6twrXjhI5
-- Brandon Costa (@SVG_Brandon) December 20, 2020
Detroit Lions 25 at Tennessee Titans 46
Cale Clinton: The Titans have really had their way with Detroit early in this game. RBSDM's live box score has them managing a balmy 80% success rate on all plays thus far. Tennessee has only been forced into two third-down situations through their first three drives. This game felt somewhat competitive early, with Detroit answering Tennessee's opening touchdown and evening the score at 7-7. However, the play-action on 21 personnel to set up Corey Davis' 75-yard touchdown immediately made this game feel out of reach despite how early it was.
This is probably the best microcosm for the Tennessee-Detroit matchup:
Derrick Henry with the MEAN stiff arm!
-- Tennessee Titans (@Titans) December 20, 2020
No matter how hard you try, this just feels like a mismatch.
Cale Clinton: Funny how a game can completely change in just a few plays. Third-and-goal from the 1-yard line, D'Andre Swift coughs up the ball, giving Tennessee possession at their own 1. A Derrick Henry run only gives them 2 yards of breathing room, but Ryan Tannehill is sacked by Romeo Okwara for the safety. The Titans punt, and Detroit takes over at their own 45-yard line. Four plays later -- capped off by a big 39-yard pass to Marvin Jones -- Detroit finds themselves once again first-and-goal inside the 5. This time, Swift redeems himself, staying patient and waiting for his hole to walk into the end zone. The game went from out-of-hand to a one-possession ballgame in eight plays.
Cale Clinton: Final score: 46-25. That's a Scorigami!
Tom Gower: The Titans offense is now about at the point where, when they play a bad defense and don't start shooting themselves in the foot with self-inflicted errors, the game becomes all about how the opposing offense does against Tennessee's beatable but not always beaten defense. Thus my focus in Audibles last week on Jacksonville's offense and their ineptitude that made that game a blowout. Likewise, this week was about whether Matthew Stafford and company would be effective in between Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry moving the ball on the Lions defense.
The short version of this is that Detroit's Pittsburgh-lite impression of many short passes mixed in with runs didn't always make for the most elegant look, but it worked well enough when they held on to the ball. That's an important caveat, though, as this ended up a 46-25 game. D'Andre Swift fumbled at the goal line down 21-7, T.J. Hockenson fumbled at the sticks on a third-down carry (yes, a tight end jet sweep) down 24-15 early in the third quarter, and while Stafford recovered the bad shotgun snap from replacement center Joe Dahl (with regular starter Frank Ragnow out after fracturing his throat last week), it put them in third-and-15 down 32-18 early in the fourth quarter, and that possession would end two plays later on a failed fake punt.
Maybe that's a bit of a strained reading, but this was a game that didn't feature much in the manner of defenses disrupting the opposing offense. The Titans' last sack was in November, when they brought down Jacoby Brissett at the end of their big win in Indianapolis in Week 12. The Lions had one sack today, albeit a pretty significant one as Romeo Okwara got Tannehill for a safety after Swift's goal-line fumble. But overall, things were too easy for both offenses. I could highlight individual players, but why would you expect the Lions secondary to stand out in coverage or, frankly, either team's linebackers to respond well to run-pass conflict? Thus, why I feel like the focus on Detroit's fumbles is in some sense the "correct" interpretation of this game given as a baseline Tennessee's good offense, Detroit's bad defense, and Tennessee's bad defense.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31 at Atlanta Falcons 27
Cale Clinton: Atlanta is playing like a team that's trying to play spoiler. Matt Ryan is playing one of his best games of the 2020 campaign, 15-for-20 for 163 yards and two touchdowns so far in this one. Atlanta's offense is averaging 6.68 yards per play on their first four drives of the afternoon. Our DVOA trends have highlighted the difference in this one. Tampa Bay's defense ranked fourth in DVOA through the first nine weeks of this season, but has fallen to 16th when measuring from Week 10 onward.
On the other side of the ball, Tom Brady has posted a respectable 10-for-16 for 70 yards, but the miscues have been meaningful. Brady has taken two straight third-down sacks to force long fourth downs. Tampa Bay has called five first-down pass plays, and Brady has completed just one of them. The failure to get things moving offensively has created a 14-0 deficit for Tampa Bay to dig themselves out of.
Bryan Knowles: Uh, the Buccaneers are down 17-0 at halftime. Tom Brady is 10-for-16 for 70 yards, which would have to be his worst game of the season. The Buccaneers have gained 60 net yards on the day. I haven't been watching -- what on Earth is happening in Florida? All three Floridian teams have been held scoreless in the first halves of their respective games.
Aaron Schatz: It looks like none of us are watching Falcons-Buccaneers, but it also looks like Rivers is going to get to watch it very closely tomorrow.
Cale Clinton: Bucs were outgained 261-60 in the first half. Yikes.
Scott Spratt: The Bucs have followed their poor first-half performance with 75- and 80-yard touchdown drives to start their second half. Now they just need to figure out how to stop the Falcons.
Scott Spratt: Make that three touchdowns in as many second-half drives for the Bucs. They have cut their deficit from 17-0 to 24-21 in the third quarter, and it has basically all been through the air since Leonard Fournette and Ke'Shawn Vaughn have just 23 yards on 10 carries between them against the No. 4 DVOA run defense.
Scott Spratt: The update here is that the Bucs have tied it at 24-24 early in the fourth quarter and FOX is showing a montage of all of the Falcons' blown leads this season.
Aaron Schatz: Bucs took a 31-27 lead on Atlanta on a 46-yard touchdown to Antonio Brown. The Falcons' ability to blow leads is astonishing.
Scott Spratt: It was a pretty deep pass, too, Aaron.
Brady to Antonio Brown DEEP for the lead against the #Falcons
-- Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) December 20, 2020
Aaron Schatz: Rivers, it turns out, will not be spending Monday watching this game, because Tampa Bay is going to win.
Cale Clinton: Obviously another disappointing late result for Atlanta, but Calvin Ridley had a day against a Tampa Bay defense that ranks fifth in weighted passing DVOA. Ridley posted a career-high 163 yards and a touchdown on a career-high 10 receptions, accounting for 45.8% of Ryan's 356 passing yards.
New York Jets 23 at Los Angeles Rams 20
Bryan Knowles: Frank Gore is playing in his 240th career game, which is the record for running backs. I look forward to him breaking Emmitt Smith's yardage record in 2025.
Cale Clinton: The Jets open up with potentially some of the best football we have seen from them this season. New York's defense forces back-to-back three-and-outs, while Sam Darnold kicked things off going 6-for-7 for 54 yards and a touchdown -- plus a 9-yard rush for a first down -- on their first offensive drive. The Jets return to form their next offensive drive, however, going three-and-out with a deep sack on third down.
The more important conversation: I don't know if we have seen this specific uniform combination from the Rams this season, but I love it. Yellow pants are a bold rarity, but the blue stripe compliments the blue text of the jersey nicely. The new Rams uniforms have really grown on me over the season, and I think this is the best permutation of their potential kit combinations.
Cale Clinton: The Jets make a crucial mistake on fourth-and-1, with John Franklin-Meyers jumping offsides to reset downs for the Rams. Commentators chided the defensive lineman for smiling after the mental error, pointing to how costly that would be for their team. Maybe he knew something we didn't, because the very next play, Jared Goff was picked off by Bryce Hall, who returned it all the way to the Rams 22-yard line. The Rams manage to hold them out of the end zone, and the Jets elect to kick a field goal from Los Angeles' 7-yard line to go up 13-0
Vince Verhei: The Rams close the first half with a 45-yard field goal from Matt Gay. (That in itself is news -- the Rams were just 8-of-12 on field goals of 40-plus yards coming into the day.) That cuts the lead to 13-3, and we're on the verge of a result that could have massive effects on the league.
Aaron Schatz: I will note that the Jaguars move to 72% to get the first overall pick in last week's FO simulations where the Jets beat the Rams today. Before today they were at 23%.
Cale Clinton: An extremely Jekyll-and-Hyde performance on all fronts through this first half. The Los Angeles Rams, whose offense came into this game ranking third in weighted rushing DVOA, have rushed just eight times this half and averaged 3.25 yards per carry while doing so. Jared Goff, averaging 141.6 yards in the first half this season, goes into the locker room 11-for-20 for 86 yards with an interception and two sacks. This Jets defense has looked borderline dominant at points, getting consistent pressure from the defensive line against an offensive line that ranks ninth on ESPN's Team Pass Block Win Rate list. Darnold's first drive of the game flashed some of the best football I have seen from him this season, resulting in the lone touchdown of the half.
That being said, there have certainly been moments where these two teams have shown their true colors. The Jets continue to insist on giving Frank Gore the ball, despite the fact he has averaged 2.2 yards on 10 attempts today. Darnold has come back down to earth after his opening drive. Two Jets penalties on the defensive side of the ball kept drives alive for the Rams offense, and would have been much more costly had it not been for continued mistakes from L.A. The Jets' final offensive drive of the half was a mismanagement of clock, leaving enough time for the Rams to drive downfield and kick a field goal. The Rams' drive that closed the half featured Goff starting off 4-for-4 for 34 yards before missing three straight passes and setting up the field goal.
The Rams are undoubtedly better than the Jets. That's a certainty. But this is as good a performance as we have seen out of the Jets all season. One thing remains to be seen: will the Jets find a way to Jets themselves out of a win, or will they Jets themselves out of a shot at Trevor Lawrence?
Vince Verhei: Jets open the second half with an 11-play, 72-yard touchdown drive and take a 20-3 lead. Biggest plays were completions of 21 yards to Breshad Perriman and 22 yards to Chris Herndon. They get to fourth-and-goal at the 1. Jets call timeout, then the Rams call timeout, and then Frank Gore plunges in for the score.
Bryan Knowles: Frank Gore punches in a touchdown from the 1-yard line, and the Jets are up to a 20-3 lead in what would be the shocker of the year.
The Sam Darnold situation becomes a lot stickier if the Jets are looking at Justin Fields and not Trevor Lawrence, doesn't it?
Vince Verhei: Not in my eyes, Bryan. Darnold was 30th in DVOA as a rookie in 2018, 31st in 2019, and coming into today he was dead-last out of 34 qualifiers (yes, even worse than Carson Wentz). He has been consistently terrible and getting worse each season before this, which I assume would be the best game of his career. I'd be stunned at this point if he ever developed into a good starter. But if that does happen somehow, it would have to be after a fresh start somewhere else.
Cale Clinton: Mekhi Becton has been one of the biggest bright spots for an otherwise dismal Jets season. On the Frank Gore touchdown run, he takes on Aaron Donald solo and prevents him from getting any meaningful penetration. Gore runs right off of Becton's left hip and punches it in to put New York up 20-3 after the extra point.
Cale Clinton: Signs of life from the Rams offense! Frankie Luvu had Tyler Higbee dead to rights, but elected to attempt a one-armed spinning takedown, which Higbee escaped to set up a 44-yard gain. Goff was 3-for-3 on the drive for 74 yards, capped off with a 15-yard touchdown pass to Robert Woods.
Also, a note on the Frank Gore touchdown: that's his 100th career touchdown. It's his second rushing touchdown in five games; he had zero in his previous 22 (!!!) games.
Carl Yedor: There's more than enough time for the Jets to, you know, Jets this, but this has been bizarre. They're up 23-10 with about 90 seconds left in the third quarter, and they have been able to sustain drives surprisingly well. The good news for the Rams is that the Jets' relative weakness on defense is their pass defense, so coming back is well within the range of outcomes. It's only two scores, and there is plenty of time. Today has been incredibly ugly, but the Rams carved up the Jets on their previous touchdown drive.
Vince Verhei: Jets quickly get into the red zone again (Jamison Crowder with catches of 16 and 24 yards on back-to-back snaps) but get to fourth-and-goal from the 3. Even though they had gone for it from the 1 on their last drive, Adam Gase settles for the field goal here, and the Jets extend the lead to 23-10. No, the 3-yard line is not the 1-yard line, but I think that would have been a great spot to get aggressive.
Cale Clinton: Just a reminder as we head into the fourth quarter: due to Jacksonville having a weaker strength of schedule, the Jaguars hold the tiebreaker if both they and the Jets finish the season 1-15.
Vince Verhei: The Rams can't run through the Jets' defensive front -- the trio of Cam Akers, Darrell Henderson, and Malcolm Brown have only 33 yards on 10 carries -- so they go around them instead. Robert Woods takes a jet sweep for a 40-yard gain to get L.A. nearly into the red zone on the last play of the third quarter.
Bryan Knowles: I wish we had a Jets fan on staff at the moment, just to hash out their feelings as the Jets' lead trickles away. The Rams convert that Woods end around into a Tyler Higbee touchdown, and it's a 23-17 Jets lead...
Cale Clinton: Penalties may be the difference between Trevor Lawrence and, well, not Trevor Lawrence. On the Rams' second touchdown drive, Bless Austin was flagged for defensive pass interference on a ball that sailed 10 feet over Cam Akers' head. This changed a third-and-6 to a first-and-goal from the 6-yard line, eventually setting up the Tyler Higbee touchdown. On the ensuing Jets offensive drive, Trevon Wesco draws an unnecessary roughness penalty away from the ball to push the Jets back to second-and-23, eventually punting on the series.
And as I write this, the Jets pick up ANOTHER flag, this time for a neutral zone infraction that allows the Rams to continue driving. New York has drawn six flags for 61 total penalty yards. The Jets' lack of discipline may simultaneously be their short-term undoing and long-term saving grace.
Cale Clinton: Tangent from the action: as Adam Gase challenges the ruling of incomplete pass on the field despite Jared Goff's knee being down, FOX heads into the commercial break playing "No One Knows" by Queens of the Stone Age. Not sure what the impetus behind it would be, but it feels like there has been a concerted effort by all broadcasting networks to get creative with the music heading into halftime. I think NBC specifically tailors their music to bands/artists from the home team's city, but I'm not sure how consistent that is.
Vince Verhei: Jets go three-and-out, and Nsimba Webster returns the punt 34 yards into Jets territory. Rams have a first down with about 5:30 to go, now down 23-20.
Vince Verhei: Oh, goodness. The Rams drive goes nowhere after Tyler Higbee is called for a block above the waist. Third-and-4, Jared Goff throws an incompletion to Akers on a wheel route to the left. Fourth-and-4 brings up a very difficult decision. As bad as the Rams have been on long kicks this year, do they try a 50-yard field goal to tie the game? They do not. Goff stays on the field and tries a deep pass to Gerald Everett, but Marcus Maye breaks it up. Jets still lead 23-20, less than four minutes to go.
Cale Clinton: Like I said, penalties are going to be the difference between whether or not the Jets get Trevor Lawrence. This time, however, they come against the Rams. Right after I made that last comment, Los Angeles had a Cam Akers touchdown taken off the board because of an offensive holding penalty. Goff was sacked, completed a pass short of the first-down marker, and the Rams elect to kick a field goal. The next drive, Cam Akers broke off a 22-yard run that was again wiped off the board after Tyler Higbee drew a flag for a block in the back. First-and-10 from the Jets 17-yard line becomes second-and-10 from the Jets 43-yard line. Rams rush for 6 yards, then miss two straight shots for the end zone, turning the ball over on downs.
The Jets are officially in victory formation, and the Rams have no timeouts.
Vince Verhei: Third-and-6 at the Rams' 48, Darnold hits a simple short curl route to Gore, who catches the ball and scoots *backwards* over the line just far enough to get a conversion. That's a first down in L.A. territory at the two-minute warning, the Rams are out of timeouts, and this is done now.
-- Pro Football Network (@PFN365) December 20, 2020
The good news for L.A. is that this won't matter too much for their playoff seeding. They weren't likely to get the first-round bye anyway, and next week's game against Seattle will still largely decide the NFC West.
The bad news for L.A. is that THEY LOST TO THE JETS.
Cale Clinton: I didn't think they'd do it, but they have actually done it. The New York Jets have won a football game. At this moment, the Jacksonville Jaguars are officially in possession of the No. 1 overall pick.
Carl Yedor: I think this just further underscores how difficult it is to go winless in the NFL. Not only do you have to be terrible, you can't afford to have any games where you catch enough breaks to turn a loss into a win. After the performance art that was their blown lead against the Raiders, I thought the Jets might have what it takes to join that hallowed group of legendary losers. But it was not to be. Frank Gore and the rest of Gang Green just wouldn't let it happen.
Bryan Knowles: The Jets closed as 17-point underdogs. That means they are tied for the fourth-biggest upset in Stathead's database. Last year's Dolphins-over-Patriots game was at 17.5, as was a 1978 Baltimore Colts-over-Patriots upset. The all-time leader remains the Jets winning as 18-point underdogs in Super Bowl III.
Cale Clinton: I'll joke about the Jets blowing their chances at a shot at Trevor Lawrence, but this cannot be forgotten: that was a terrible, costly, and inexplicable loss by the Los Angeles Rams. The Rams played sloppy football, plain and simple. There were moments where Sam Darnold picked apart this defense and moved the Jets offense downfield at will. The Rams failed to get success out of their running backs early, but as Cam Akers began consistently picking up big chunks of yardage, they turn to Jared Goff and take shots at the end zone. Yeah, Akers' runs of 16 and 22 yards were taken off the board by penalties, but that doesn't mean that he didn't gash the Jets defense for 16 and 22 yards! Starting your last offensive drive at the Jets 43-yard line and only moving 16 yards seems pretty inexcusable. Third-and-4 from the Jets 37, with four minutes left, and you elect to take two shots at the end zone.
Per Next Gen Stats' QB Grids, Jared Goff entered this game with a 32.9 passer rating when targeting the right side of the field 20-plus yards downfield. That's his lowest-rated area of the field, and that's where he targeted on fourth-and-4. If you're not going to run it with Cam Akers, whose last several runs had gashed the Jets defense for big gains, at least call up a play where your quarterback is set up for success. There's so much time, why take the home run shot?
Cale Clinton: I know someone mentioned that they wished we had a Jets fan on Audibles who could give us some personally invested insight into this rollercoaster of a game. Well, just take a look at the replies to the Jets announcing this win on Twitter:
-- New York Jets (@nyjets) December 21, 2020
You can tell that even the Jets social team didn't want to tweet this one out. Just "W." That little period speaks volumes.
Kansas City Chiefs 32 at New Orleans Saints 29
Aaron Schatz: Saints coverage is swarming the Chiefs early. A little too close, since they got an illegal contact penalty on what would have been an interception. Malcolm Jenkins leveled Tyreek Hill for a 5-yard loss on one catch, and then the Chiefs went deep to Mecole Hardman but Chauncey Gardner-Johnson was there and was able to slap out what should have been a big catch.
Aaron Schatz: Drew Brees with a terrible, wobbly pass gets intercepted by La'Jarius Sneed, who has had an underrated strong rookie year for the Chiefs. Saints defense is paying two-high and basically asking the Chiefs to run on them but the Chiefs are passing anyway. Patrick Mahomes just scrambled 13 yards because the Saints had man coverage under that two-high shell. Then the coverage finally had a lapse when nobody covered Tyreek Hill coming in from underneath -- he motioned back and forth behind the offensive line and then snuck out to catch the touchdown. 7-0 Chiefs.
Aaron Schatz: Brees just overthrew Emmanuel Sanders on third-and-4 and is now 0-for-5 to start a game for the first time in his career.
Vince Verhei: And that set up a New Orleans punt, where Taysom Hill is still playing upback. Jameis Winston's on the COVID list, so if Brees -- who is playing injured today -- gets sidelined, it'll be Hill taking snaps for New Orleans all the way. It's insane to me that they still have him on special teams, but then everything they have done with Hill this season has been insane to me, so why stop now?
Bryan Knowles: I would have expected this game to be higher scoring than 14-0 to start the second quarter. Is it possible the Saints rushed Brees back too early? Or is this finally the dominating performance we have been waiting on from Kansas City?
Aaron Schatz: The scary thing is that the Saints are getting pressure with just four pass-rushers and they're covering closely for at least the first couple of seconds of every down and the Chiefs are still up 14-0 because Mahomes keeps getting away from the pressure and making plays once guys finally get open.
Bryan Knowles: Well, a 51-yard pass, most of it through the air, might wake Drew Brees up. I'll need to dig up the air yards on that; Brees doesn't have many of those any more. Taysom Hill punches it in, and the game has been joined. Phew!
Scott Spratt: According to the broadcast, the Saints were poised to take Patrick Mahomes at the 11th pick of the 2017 draft when the Chiefs jumped them and took him 10th. Is anyone as smart as the team that picked after a superstar after they have had four years to decide whether or not to let us know about it?
Aaron Schatz: That's 38 air yards on the big deep Brees pass to Emmanuel Sanders. He has also had a couple of shorter passes such as a good screen to Alvin Kamara on the final Saints drive of the half, but still, he looks awful. He's going into halftime 5-for-16.
Chiefs also get a big break on the Saints' final punt. Demarcus Robinson gets the ball knocked out of his hands and it bounces into the end zone and Alex Anzalone pounces on it but it squirts out of his arms and out the back of the end zone. That means a safety for the Saints and not a touchdown, so it costs them five points. And they don't even get the benefit of the ball after the safety because the half is over. The free kick was the final play of the half.
I can't imagine the Saints defense playing better than they have so far and they're still losing 14-9 at halftime. Can they keep up this pass rush in the second half? It helps that the Chiefs are down to their third-string right tackle. But on offense, the Saints are also out their starting guards -- Nick Easton was inactive and Andrus Peat went out in this game.
Aaron Schatz: Well, shocker of shockers, the Saints have taken the lead. They were helped by a couple of big penalties on the Chiefs: a roughing the passer after Brees shot a 25-yard dart to Tre'Quan Smith, his second-best pass of the day, and then a DPI on Sneed that was iffy because the ball was behind Taysom Hill and Hill really would not have been able to get back to it. Drive ended with Brees flipping it to Latavius Murray who had been blocking -- everyone was covered and the pressure was about to get to Brees but Murray snuck out and then got down the left sideline for the score. Saints go for two and fail, so it is now 15-14 Saints. Let's see what Mahomes can do in response -- and just as important, let's see what the Chiefs offensive line can do against the New Orleans pass pressure.
Bryan Knowles: I mean, this just isn't fair. I thought for sure Patrick Mahomes was throwing this away...
TOE. DRAG. SWAG.
-- Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) December 20, 2020
Aaron Schatz: That Chiefs touchdown drive was all short passes with a lot of YAC, as the Saints defensive backs were giving cushion due to the speed of the Chiefs receivers. And I, too, thought Mahomes was throwing the ball away and it was also a great catch by Mecole Hardman down low. Chiefs surprisingly kick an extra point to go up six instead of trying a two-pointer to go up seven so it is 21-15 Chiefs.
Carl Yedor: That touchdown to Hardman in the corner of the end zone looked a lot like a Russell Wilson-Tyler Lockett connection from last year. Both were incredibly high on the degree-of-difficulty scale. I wonder which technically comes out "more impressive" on the catch probability scale.
Tom Gower: I had this thought while watching Aaron Rodgers and the Packers last night, but Mahomes this afternoon is just reinforcing the idea that quarterbacks who can throw accurately off platform and adjust to the correct velocity of the throw are a total cheat code. Pretty good grab by Hardman on that touchdown, too.
One of the things Aaron has talked about (on the podcast and I think elsewhere as well) is that the Packers have passed the Chiefs for the best offensive DVOA because while they're both fantastic passing offenses, the Packers are a much better running team. I think you see that somewhat when the Chiefs "struggle." New Orleans is playing more deep safety to take away the deep ball and as Tony Romo noted earlier, they have good team speed on defense, letting them come up and tackle. That means Kansas City adjusts by doing more short passes and runs, and they're just not a great running team. The phenomenon reminds me a bit of how a similar dynamic played out with the Peyton Manning-era Colts.
Bryan Knowles: Oh, Cameron Jordan threw a punch and got tossed from the game. Oofdah. The Chiefs immediately run the option to his side and score, so it's 29-15 Chiefs with 13:44 left. Game isn't over, but you'd think the Saints would need a score on this ensuing drive in order to stay in range here.
Aaron Schatz: Chiefs marched up the field with a lot of passes to Travis Kelce and runs on second-and-short. The Saints are going to really have a problem continuing to bring enough pass rush with just four guys now that Jordan is out of the game.
Vince Verhei: Stunningly, this has been the least exciting game of the afternoon. But Kansas City's latest touchdown -- an incredibly late downfield pitch on a speed-option play -- is changing that.
-- Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) December 21, 2020
The two-point conversion -- a shovel pass to Kelce that was similar to Kelce's earlier touchdown catch -- puts the Chiefs up 29-15.
Bryan Knowles: The Saints did not score on their next drive. They DID, however, force a fumble after going three-and-out, and turned THAT into points a few plays later. Not how I saw that going in my mind there, but we still have a football game in the Superdome...
Aaron Schatz: Saints finally brought a blitz on a third-and-long and they got to Mahomes -- Trey Hendrickson was able to bat the ball out of his hands and the Saints recovered to give themselves a short field. But the question by this point is, can Brees possibly find receivers and hit them? When they're open, he misses them. When he hits them, or at least comes close, they're covered. Turns out it doesn't matter because the drive is three plays: fullback dumpoff, Kamara for 2 yards, and then Kamara pass behind the line of scrimmage taken 14 yards into the end zone. 29-22 Chiefs.
Aaron Schatz: Let the record also state that Sean Payton made a mistake by kicking the extra point. He should have gone for two after the touchdown. It was a classic "two-point conversion after scoring down 14" situation.
Bryan Knowles: Yet another team drives late, down a touchdown and a field goal, and has to make the decision to push for a score or kick early and try to get the ball back. It helps when you have one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time under center -- the Saints push it 75 yards in 2:12, converting on fourth down AND scoring just before the two-minute warning. Chiefs are clinging to a three-point lead with 2:06 left.
As a note: the Chiefs were 3.5 point favorites coming into this one. They have failed to cover in their last five games.
Aaron Schatz: The line was 3 in a lot of places, so a push is still in the cards for a lot of people. That would still be failing to cover though. I'm surprised the Saints kicked it deep after the touchdown. You really trust your defense to stop Mahomes when all he needs is one first down?
Scott Spratt: Are you suggesting the Chiefs are point-shaving, Bryan? Because I am ready for a good conspiracy.
Bryan Knowles: Far from it, Scott.
But the NFL record (since 1978) for wins without covering belongs to the 1986 Bears at eight. This would be the seventh such game for the Chiefs if the score stays as it is.
Scott Spratt: You're not saying, you're just saying.
Carl Yedor: Additionally, Kansas City didn't take advantage of it, but there was so little time left before the two-minute warning that they conceivably could have passed on first down there without having to worry about clock stoppages. I have seen some teams do this in the past, but I think it's a somewhat overlooked scenario. When you only have a couple of seconds that you would need to burn to avoid having the clock stop prior to the two-minute warning, it would probably be advantageous to throw in those situations, especially against a defense all geared up to stop the run.
After a 2-yard gain on first down, what do the Chiefs do next? They throw. Of course. Off a little play-action, Mahomes hits Kelce for a first down and forces the Saints to burn their second timeout with 1:52 to play. Maybe defenses would be more ready to stop the pass right before the two-minute warning? I'm not sure.
Aaron Schatz: Good win for the Chiefs, but I still don't get the way everyone in the football world talks about this as an all-time great, dominant, unbeatable team. They just won another game by one score. And if that ball at the end of the first half is a touchdown instead of a safety, the game is probably 35-31 Saints and we're watching the Chiefs try to come back with a touchdown drive to win. Which maybe they do -- after all, it's Patrick Mahomes. But maybe they don't. The Chiefs are probably the best team of 2020. They are not unbeatable.
Scott Spratt: Aaron, I think the distinction may be that you tend to look at teams one year at a time while the fanfare for the Chiefs is for this era of the Chiefs franchise with Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, Andy Reid, and company. I'm not an NBA guy, so no guarantees this metaphor works perfectly. But I think the Steph Curry-era Warriors were beatable or even beaten in individual seasons by teams such as the Cavaliers and Rockets. But the totality of their five-year run was overwhelmingly better than the field. That's how the Chiefs feel. They lost that AFC title game to the Patriots when Dee Ford lined up offsides on what would have been a game-winning interception. Maybe they'll lose in this postseason or one of the next few. But it's hard to see any team being their match from a broad view of the last few seasons and the next few seasons barring injuries to their core pieces.
Aaron Schatz: Yeah, Scott, I disagree. I think people are saying this team is all-time great and unbeatable *this year specifically.* Ben Baldwin said on Twitter that "I just don't see how any team except for maybe -- MAYBE -- the Packers can beat this Chiefs team" and that's just not how analytics people have talked about teams like this in the past. They're the favorites, but they aren't invincible. I would compare them to the 2011 Packers, for example, who had Aaron Rodgers and went 15-1 with a bunch of close games where their defense let teams get back into it, and then lost their first playoff game.
Scott Spratt: It seems silly to declare any team unbeatable in football. The Jets just upset the Rams. Bad teams beat good teams semi-regularly, and the NFL playoffs are single elimination.
Philadelphia Eagles 26 at Arizona Cardinals 33
Scott Spratt: The Eagles' aspirations of riding the switch from Carson Wentz to Jalen Hurts to another late-charging NFC East title have taken a major hit early today. The Cardinals have forced a safety and blocked a punt, and they are already up 16-0 still in the first quarter.
Vince Verhei: Adding a little more detail to the end-of-quarter report here, the first 15 minutes have seen:
- DeAndre Hopkins fumble the ball away to the Eagles at the 5-yard line.
- The Eagles responding with a safety when Jalen Hurts was called for intentional grounding in the end zone on third down.
- A 42-yard pass from Kyler Murray to Maxx Williams set up Murray's 8-yard touchdown run.
- The Cardinals didn't just block a punt -- it bounced backward so violently that the play lost 36 yards even though the ball went out of bounds without being recovered.
- That set up Murray's touchdown pass to Chase Edmonds.
I think this game is already more eventful than the entirety of Seattle-Washington.
And now the Eagles have gotten on the board early in the second quarter -- on third-and-20, Quez Watkins takes a wide receiver screen, slips a pair of tackles and zips into the end zone for a 32-yard touchdown to cut the lead to 16-7. The Hurts playbook still largely consists of screen plays -- that's at least three already.
Scott Spratt: Jalen Hurts underthrew an uncovered Jalen Reagor in the end zone on a second-and-20, and that allowed cornerback Patrick Peterson to recover and break up the pass. That seemed like a drive-ender, but then on a third-and-20, his wide receiver screen to Quez Watkins fared a bit better than they likely expected.
Quez Watkins! The 6th round rookie takes it to the house pic.twitter.com/6gQGYeBCtt
-- National Football Post (@FootballPost) December 20, 2020
Scott Spratt: I don't know what Kyler Murray was thinking leaving the ball extended as defenders reached him in the backfield. Nickell Robey-Coleman took the ball as if it was on a plate.
Kyler Murray gets loose with the football and is strip sacked. Has a tendency to keep the ball in one hand and it gets popped out as he tries to extend it before being down. pic.twitter.com/vV9ugOvDEx
-- Mason Kern (@MasonKernMedia) December 20, 2020
The Eagles quickly capitalized on that turnover with a touchdown on a fourth down. Suddenly, this game looks competitive again at 19-14.
Vince Verhei: This game continues to be newsworthy. First, here's the video of the Arizona punt block. The Cardinals obviously wanted to scoop this and get an easy score -- you'll never see a special teams unit so frustrated after blocking a punt.
-- NFL (@NFL) December 20, 2020
In the second quarter, the Cardinals added a field goal after DeAndre Hopkins made this ridiculous catch:
DeAndre Hopkins! UNREAL. #RedSea
-- NFL (@NFL) December 20, 2020
Next Arizona possession, Murray is trying to do too much. He hangs in the pocket forever, letting a late blitzer get to him. Then, instead of going down and taking the sack, he tries to fight out of it. That gives a second defender a chance to swat the ball away, and the Eagles recover deep in Arizona territory.
Then, down 19-7, the Eagles opt to go for it on fourth-and-goal from the 3. Hurts slips out to his left and finds Greg Ward for the touchdown. That cuts the lead to 19-14.
No worries for Arizona, however. They quickly drive into the red zone, recovering Murray's fumble this time, then getting a touchdown pass from Murray to Larry Fitzgerald to extend their lead to 26-14.
Vince Verhei: Just updating the halftime info here: despite another Ward touchdown late in the second quarter, the Cards still lead 26-20. Arizona only punted once -- they got three touchdowns, two lost fumbles, a field goal, and a seventh drive that ended with a first down in Eagles territory, but they had no timeouts.
Meanwhile, Philly's offense is all deep balls and screens -- they have four guys averaging more than 20 yards per catch and three guys averaging less than 10.
Vince Verhei: The Eagles give up a sack and get a bad punt, so the Cardinals start a drive in Philadelphia territory. They waste that opportunity, however, because Murray is intercepted on second-and-goal. Teams don't win many games with multiple red zone turnovers, but Arizona is still ahead today.
Aqib Talib is on commentary here and is getting decidedly mixed reviews on social media. I haven't been paying close enough attention to have a particularly strong opinion either way, but I do like the way he pronounces "Kyler Murray" as "calamari."
Bryan Knowles: Philadelphia scores a touchdown to tie it at 26, pending the extra point. But the holder is out, being evaluated for a concussion, and Zach Ertz is the emergency holder. The snap isn't great, and Ertz can't corrall it, so it's still a 26-26 tie as we approach the end of the third quarter. Weird, weird football game.
Vince Verhei: Eagles punter Cameron Johnston has left the game with a head injury. Placekicker Jake Elliott has punted once, but on their last fourth-down, Doug Pederson opted to leave the offense on the field. Jalen Hurts made it pay off, scrambling for 17 yards and a first down. (It was only fourth-and-6 because Hurts had hit Jalen Raegor for 23 on third-and-29.) That sets up Hurts rushing touchdown to tie the game; he's up to 55 yards on eight carries now. But then Johnston is also the regular holder on placekicks, and emergency holder Zach Ertz bobbles the snap on the PAT, so the score is still tied.
Vince Verhei: In case this game wasn't exciting enough, check out this beautiful pass for a big gain by Andy Lee on a fake punt:
-- NFL (@NFL) December 20, 2020
Scott Spratt: This is how the Cardinals regained their lead:
-- NFL (@NFL) December 21, 2020
Aqib Talib: "I don't understand why Bill O'Brien traded this guy."
Vince Verhei: This game is amazing. DeAndre Hopkins with the "Sorry, Rivers," to end all "Sorry, Rivers" puts Calamari over 400 yards passing and the Cardinals back on top.
Scott Spratt: Dallas Goedert got hands on both a third-and-21 and a fourth-and-21 pass in or around the end zone. But he couldn't secure the first one while falling to the ground, and a defender dislodged his catch on the second. That turns the ball over on downs, but the Eagles at least do have their three timeouts to try to get one more chance with 1:50 left in the fourth quarter.
Vince Verhei: Down by seven, the Eagles get a first-and-10 at the Arizona 11, but then give up sacks on first and second down. Dallas Goedert nearly scores on third-and-21, but can't reel in the pass as he falls to the ground. So the Eagles go for it on FOURTH-AND-21. The pass is incomplete. I don't know if that's because the holder is hurt -- they have three timeouts, so they could have kicked a field goal and still gotten the ball back, even inside the two-minute warning.
Indeed, the Eagles force a three-and-out. Murray's third-down run is stopped a yard short, Lee's punt is fair caught at the 22, and Hurts needs 78 yards in 1:28 with no timeouts to tie the game (or win with a two-pointer).
Vince Verhei: Well that game was tremendous. Just tremendous. The Eagles got as close as the Arizona 31-yard line, but Hurts' two Hail Marys both fell incomplete. Before that, we had two memorable moments: Hurts running for a short game in bounds on third-and-long, scrambling to get the offense ready for a fourth-down play, and maybe getting a benefit from Kliff Kiingsbury calling timeout right before he snapped the ball, before converting with a pass to Travis Fulgham for the conversion; and the next play, when Hurts had the ball swatted out of his hands, only to recover it and hit Goedert for a first down out of bounds.
Cards win, and it didn't even occur to me were watching a shootout between ex-Oklahoma quarterbacks until they posed together for pictures after the game.
Also, no offense should have guys named Hurts, Ertz, and Goedert on the field at the same time. Leads to some very confusing play-by-play.
Scott Spratt: Why does Doug Pederson keep pretending like there is a quarterback controversy in Philadelphia?
Houston Texans 20 at Indianapolis Colts 27
Rivers McCown: I guess my CliffsNotes of a game I'm solo covering (miss you Dave!) are as follows:
- The Colts ran all over the Texans. The only reason this game was as close as it was at the end was because they out of nowhere decided to pass the ball three straight times on their first drive out of the half, leading to a field goal.
- Deshaun Watson is really, like, ridiculously good. He has now taken 27 quarterback hits in three games because the Texans offensive line has never met a stunt they couldn't flub a pick-up on.
- I feel bad for Keke Coutee for fumbling on the goal line there, that's a terrible way to end a game. His teammates were mostly with him. Houston's fanbase seems like they're done with him. I am kind of all over the place on how I feel about him going forward. He's a confounding player with clear strengths and weaknesses.
- I don't think Philip Rivers had a bad game so much as he just had too slow of a process on some key downs that hurt the Colts in an inoordinate way.
- David Johnson had his biggest game of the season volume-wise because the Colts played deeper zones and forced checkdowns. A vast majority of his yardage came on two busted plays where he got open out of the structure of the play. Don't look at the numbers and think he's back or anything.
- If I never have to watch this Texans defense again, I'm good with that.
The brief in full, here.
Cleveland Browns 20 at New York Giants 6
Scott Spratt: That was really cool, and cool of Cris Collinsworth to notice and call it out. Giants center Nick Gates just saw the Browns jump offsides, and so he snapped the ball on his own ahead of schedule so Colt McCoy could throw on a free play.
Vince Verhei: Ahem:
-- Jake Trotter (@Jake_Trotter) December 21, 2020
Bryan Knowles: Both of the first two drives in this game ended with failed fourth-down conversions, which no doubt pleased the non-analytics crowd around the Twitterverse. At least the Giants failed with a weird fake special teams play; the Browns just failed to hit Austin Hooper on a pass play. Apparently, that success emboldened the Giants ... to completely forget to cover Hooper on the Browns' next drive. He had both the longest catch (17 yards) and the touchdown, entirely uncovered, to give the Browns the 7-3 lead.
Aaron Schatz: Giants with another fourth down, fourth-and-2, and they go for it again. But Wayne Gallman gets stuffed by Sheldon Richardson. Joe Judge is one of the most conservative coaches in the league this year, so it's good to see him being aggressive and unfortunate to see the Giants failing in those situations.
Scott Spratt: Cody Parkey continues to be a doink savant. He just caught the right upright on an extra point attempt that was pushed back 15 yards because of an unsportsmanlike penalty on Jarvis Landry.
Bryan Knowles: The Browns score a touchdown to go up 13-3, though it was sort of an odd play. David Njoku was wide open, but Mayfield chose to throw the ball over his head to Jarvis Landry, tightly covered along the end line. It worked, so no harm no foul, but a bit of unnecessary degree of difficulty there.
Cody Parkey doink alert. pic.twitter.com/aNoxjOd0OS
-- The Comeback (@thecomeback) December 21, 2020
I love Mike Tirico's "Oh no."
Bryan Knowles: If the Giants had converted either of the fourth downs inside the red zone, maybe we'd have a different ballgame at the moment. In the world in which we actually live, the Browns are up 20-3, and don't seem like they're in any danger of losing.
This means the only way we'll avoid having a team without a losing record win the NFC East is if Washington can beat both the Panthers and Eagles in the last two weeks of the season. Certainly doable, but eef.