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 26
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 47 at Detroit Lions 7
Aaron Schatz: Tampa Bay took a 13-0 lead with deep throws to Rob Gronkowski (TD), Mike Evans (TD), and Chris Godwin. Lots of talk this year about Ben Roethlisberger being washed, Drew Brees struggling to throw deep, even Philip Rivers. Tom Brady is having no problems. Ain't no amount of healthy coaches that can help Detroit stop those throws to those receivers.
Bryan Knowles: Detroit is playing without their entire play-calling coaching staff, all out due to COVID, The guy calling defensive plays today, Evan Rothstein, is a "research and analysis assistant," as coordinator Cory Undlin and all three positional coaches are out; Rothstein isn't even listed on the Lions' coaches page.
Add in Matthew Stafford hobbling off the field midway through the first quarter, and suffice it to say, this game is unlikely to be particularly competitive.
Bryan Knowles: It's always interesting to see just how competitive a team is after they have been eliminated from the postseason. Last week, the Jets and Bengals, despite their seasons being long since over, pulled off massive upsets; there certainly was no lack of motivation there. The Lions look like they just want to go home. That may not be an entirely fair statement -- these guys care about winning and their performance, I'm sure, and the disruption of the coaching staff has to be doing a number on them. Still, though...
San Francisco 49ers 20 at Arizona Cardinals 12
Scott Spratt: I think we can safely put the 49ers in the Jets and Bengals camp of eliminated teams trying hard to win, Bryan. And on their second drive that gave them a 7-3 lead late in the first quarter, the 49ers looked downright explosive. George Kittle is back today after missing most of the season with a foot injury. And although he had just one catch on that touchdown drive, I can't help but wonder if his loss was the biggest of the many important ones the 49ers suffered. Without him, the 49ers have fallen from eighth last year to 25th this year in adjusted line yards.
Bryan, you're the 49ers expert, I think. Is Kittle a Gronkowski-level dual threat as a receiver and a blocker?
Bryan Knowles: I'm not entirely sure why George Kittle has been activated, but he's back, and that's a lot of fun. While he's on a limited snap count, he's getting his opportunities to play with his old college quarterback, as C.J. Beathard gets his first start since 2018, reuniting the former Iowa Hawkeyes.
49ers take a 7-3 lead late in the first quarter -- the Cardinals bogged down in the red zone, while Kittle, Brandon Aiyuk, and Jeff Wilson marched off chunk plays to get the 49ers into the end zone. A loss here would be a significant blow to Arizona's playoff chances; I'm not sure what our odds would say, but they make the postseason in 56 of the remaining 64 combinations of results in the NFC should they beat the 49ers, and just 36 of the 64 combinations where they lose.
Aaron Schatz: I would definitely say that Kittle is a Gronk-level triple threat: receiving, blocking, and goofing around.
Bryan Knowles: Scott, I hate to put anyone into Gronk's stratosphere after just four seasons. But if we were dividing tight ends into Gronks and Gateses, then Kittle is the best Gronk-type currently playing in the NFL.
Scott Spratt: Woah, C.J. Beathard just took a helmet-to-helmet shot at the end of a designed run. I guess it looked worse than it was because he's still in and seems fine. But in case anyone missed this news, I think it's worth pointing out that former Cardinals first-round bust Josh Rosen is active and Beathard's backup today. I don't want to see anything happen to Beathard, but it would be interesting to see what Kyle Shanahan could do with Rosen after his circumstances with the Cardinals and Dolphins never seemed to give him a great chance to have NFL success.
Aaron Schatz: 7-6 49ers at halftime. C.J. Beathard looks like a backup. He's not that accurate, and his pocket presence isn't great. The Cardinals keep twisting guys and getting Markus Golden and Haason Reddick to him. More surprising is that the Arizona offense isn't moving anywhere. Kenyan Drake has been mediocre, and Kyler Murray has thrown a lot of his passes high. Not necessarily overthrown, more like high passes that receivers do have a shot to catch, but they're not catching most of them.
Bryan Knowles: It's 14-6 49ers now, and I'm surprised at how anemic the Cardinals' offense looks. They're averaging just 3.8 yards per play today; they were at 5.2 back in Week 1 against the fully healthy 49ers. They just can't seem to string two plays together. Forget, for the moment, about what this anemia means for their playoff matchup; this kind of performance is how you get Mitchell Trubisky in the postseason. No one wants Mitchell Trubisky in the postseason.
As for KittleWatch 2020, he has three targets, resulting in three catches and 69 yards. I'm sure Gronk would call that a very nice statline.
Aaron Schatz: The Cardinals finally moved the ball downfield, but it still took them three tries to get it in from the 1, and then the two-point conversion try was a terrible throw by Murray to DeAndre Hopkins in the corner of the end zone. The big play was a 45-yard bomb to KeeSean Johnson but otherwise their offense just looks very dull and devoid of life this week.
Bryan Knowles: Life for the Cardinals offense! Arizona puts together the longest drive of the game -- 14 plays, 87 yards -- and finds their way back into the end zone. The 49ers have been pressuring and crowding Murray all day, bringing up their safeties to help control the line, and the Cardinals finally took advantage, hitting KeeSean Johnson up the middle for 45. I'm shocked it took as long as it did for Arizona to try a shot over the top; it has been open, but it doesn't seem like Kingsbury has been calling the routes to try to take advantage of it.
On the alternate Amazon Prime feed, the announcers compared the 49ers' defensive stand at the goal line to the Maginot Line. That, uh, is not the compliment I think they intended it to be, and indeed, Arizona found a way to go up and over it to score the touchdown. Two-pointer fails, so 49ers still lead 14-12.
Aaron Schatz: Cardinals just went for fourth-and-2 on their own 35 and Fred Warner batted down a slant to Hopkins. Like, hey, Kliff Kingsbury. I appreciate you going for fourth-and-short but all these short-yardage attempts you've had, maybe consider running some sort of option or bootleg with Kyler Murray, who's a really good runner? I feel like they just aren't taking advantage of his skills.
And then the 49ers come back with a touchdown two plays later after a long Jeff Wilson run and a pass to Kyle Juszczyk from the 1. Oh boy, Cardinals.
Andrew Potter: That seems a weird criticism when the first fourth-down conversion was a Drake run and the next two were both Murray scrambles.
Aaron Schatz: I guess I'm thinking of stuffing Drake into the line three times at the goal line, and then not getting Murray outside the pocket on the two-point conversion, and then the slant on the fourth-and-2.
Bryan Knowles: Andrew and I pre-wrote some of Scramble this weekend due to some issues I was having. We may, uh, have to re-write a chunk of it after the Cardinals came out like THIS.
Game's not over, especially with the extra point missed -- it's just 20-12, 49ers, so it's still technically a one-score game. You feel like the Cardinals need to respond right NOW.
Aaron Schatz: And on the next fourth-and-inches, they play-action and then naked boot Murray out for a conversion and a huge gain! Hooray!
Andrew Potter: Are we satisfied now? :D
Scott Spratt: 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh seems pretty happy with the Kyler Murray pass that ended that drive as an interception in the end zone. He's jumping up and down, in fact.
Aaron Schatz: Interception, Ahkello Witherspoon. On the Move the Sticks Scouts audio, they're criticizing the Cardinals for throwing a fade to Christian Kirk against a taller cornerback, but I think a bigger problem is that the pressure had Murray throwing off his back foot without enough oomph on the pass.
Aaron Schatz: We have criticized the Cardinals offense so much we should also say something about the Cardinals defense, which just has given the 49ers huge holes for Jeff Wilson, even in late-game must-stop situations.
Aaron Schatz: Robbie Gould misses a field goal, and the Cardinals get the ball back with 1:05 left and no timeouts. They proceed to try to go downfield with ... 5-yard passes in the middle of the field that keep the clock running? What on earth were they thinking?
Miami Dolphins 26 at Los Angeles Raiders 25
Bryan Knowles: There was some question leading up to this game whether it would be Derek Carr or Marcus Mariota under center for Las Vegas -- and, considering Mariota's performance last week, if it wouldn't be wiser to let Carr heal the extra week and give Mariota another run. Well, it's Carr, and while he has yet to do anything particularly spectacular, he hasn't looked limited from his groin injury. Something to watch as the game goes on.
The Raiders draw first blood, going up 7-0. They have the longest playoff shot still active as of game time, needing to win out and have both Miami and Baltimore lose out to get in. The Dolphins aren't out with a loss, but they have got an uphill battle to take the seventh seed even WITH a win; losing here and having to play a possibly still-motivated Buffalo in Week 17 would be a nightmare. Pretty big game, this.
Scott Spratt: Miami is officially the master of the fake punt. Normally, it's punter Matt Haack who has a legitimate arm. But this time, it was Clayton Fejedelem.
clayton fejedelem fake punt!!!! (and that spin 👀 pic.twitter.com/Ucn6gcqdo5
— josh houtz (@houtz) December 27, 2020
He just ran straight at the line. I honestly have no idea how it worked.
Bryan Knowles: If you had to reduce the Raiders' defensive struggles into one issue, it'd be broken tackles -- they entered Week 16 second in the league in broken tackles given up. They weren't there in the first half, but we just saw them raise their head on the Dolphins' first drive of the second half; both Myles Gaskin and Jakeem Grant were shedding Raiders left and right as the Dolphins drove to a touchdown, tying the game at 13.
Scott Spratt: I like that Brian Flores feels capable of switching to Ryan Fitzpatrick later in games when Tua Tagovailoa struggles. He just did that with the Dolphins down 16-13 about halfway into the fourth quarter. Benching a young quarterback like this doesn't have to be a referendum on his future career prospects, whatever sports media might have you believe.
Bryan Knowles: At the same time, Scott, if they don't trust Tua in moments like this, why did they replace Fitz with Tua to begin with? I'm not necessarily saying it's the wrong move at this point in time; I just find the entire strategy at the quarterback position confusing.
Scott Spratt: My suspicion is that there are certain defensive schemes that Tua may not be as familiar with that Fitzpatrick will just have better experience to handle. But that doesn't mean that Tua isn't a better quarterback from a broader perspective, or that this experience won't be beneficial to his development.
Also, players have bad games sometimes. In baseball, good starting pitchers get pulled early when they have bad starts. But then they start again in five days.
Bryan Knowles: Well, the Dolphins will need a little more FitzMagic if they're going to come back in this one. Miami tied it up with a field goal, though it could have been more; some drops at the goal line really hurt them. Las Vegas responds as Hunter Renfrow beats his corner one-one-one, going 85 yards for a lightning score -- but the extra point is missed. So it's just a six-point lead with 3:37 left to go...
Scott Spratt: I think that was Nelson Agholor, Bryan.
How did Derek Carr and Nelson Agholor do that??
-- Billy Heyen (@BillyHeyen) December 27, 2020
You may be confused like Eagles fans are that he become really good this season after five underwhelming seasons in Philadelphia.
Bryan Knowles: Indeed it was; the tiny TV I'm working from makes it hard to tell numbers, and who would recognize Agholor the way he has been playing?
And, indeed, that missed extra point ends up huge, as Myles Gaskin breaks a tackle (drink!) and rumbles over 50 yards for a score! Miami MAKES their extra point, so it's Dolphins 23, Raiders 22 with just under three minutes left.
Scott Spratt: Welp, the refs may have just decided this one with a 49-yard defensive pass interference call on Dolphins cornerback Byron Jones. You be the judge:
This was called defensive pass interference. Yes or no? pic.twitter.com/BUTzoCkLjS
-- NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) December 27, 2020
Bryan Knowles: Maybe not, Scott! The Raiders turn that penalty into a field goal, and all they have to do is play safe defense to protect the lead.
Instead, they get beaten in Cover-2, and Fitzpatrick finds Mack Hollins at the 40-yard line. Better still, he makes the pass while his facemask is getting ripped off his head, and the Dolphins are going to get a chance to win this game with a field goal.
FitzMagic is real.
Scott Spratt: Look at this video.
-- Todd Littles (@Hot_Toddy_GGSN) December 27, 2020
That pass became a 34-yard completion. It can only be FitzMagic.
Carl Yedor: I turned this game on right as the Raiders scored the touchdown to Agholor. Had no idea what I was in for. Just massive pass play after massive pass play with penalties sprinkled in to make it all crazier. The Raiders did just about as perfect a job as possible of running down the clock before their go-ahead field goal, only to get burned on a sideline hole shot against Cover-2. Unbelievable.
Zach Binney: What? *
* That's it. That's the entire email from our resident Dolphins fan.
Aaron Schatz: Thanks guys for covering that ending. I turned it on with about five minutes left and was speechless.
I think the Raiders made the right move in playing for the field goal. I would rather have a two-point lead over Miami with 20 seconds left than a six-point lead with 1:40 left. The ending was just unlikely and insane.
Dave Bernreuther: I read something this morning about the third-and-1 hard count also being a huge tactical error in the pre-field goal drive, because by forcing the Kyle Van Noy offside, they got the first down without running a play or starting the clock, whereas if they had run the play, they could've milked the clock to zero before the kick. And that's true...
… but it's wrong to call that a tactical error. For all we like to say about the odds of converting in short yardage, they're still not 100%, and that conversion-by-penalty still gained them the 100% chance to run the clock from 1:55 to 0:19. Had they run and been stuffed, only a few seconds would've elapsed before Miami taking their final timeout, and we all know there's no chance on earth that Jon Gruden doesn't kick on fourth-and-whatever. So they'd have been up two with say 1:45ish left ... which is worse than all the other outcomes.
(I need to be better at Twitter so that I can go back and find that Tweet and the comments, none of which mentioned this at all.)
Sunday, December 27
Cleveland Browns 16 at New York Jets 23
Bryan Knowles: The latest COVID mini-disaster hit Cleveland. Linebacker B.J. Goodson tested positive for COVID, and he was in the recovery pool with four of the Browns' active wide receivers -- not a violation in and of itself, but there were issues with mask wearing, and so Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins, Donovan Peoples-Jones and KhaDarel Hodge are out. The only remaining receiver is Marvin Hall, who has not yet played a snap for Cleveland, plus a plethora of practice squad putzers.
Unlike the Broncos quarterbackless game against New Orleans or the 49ers' receiverless game against the Packers, you'd expect the Browns to still hold their own against the Jets ... right? Right?
Scott Spratt: Who needs Trevor Lawrence when you have Jamison Crowder?
-- Harrison Glaser (@NYJetsTFMedia) December 27, 2020
That was a pretty spiral to fellow slot receiver Braxton Berrios. And frankly, it's a bit mean-spirited to use a wide receiver at quarterback when the Browns don't have enough receivers to even play receiver.
Vince Verhei: The dots on this play from earlier in the first quarter are fun.
-- Jake Trotter (@Jake_Trotter) December 27, 2020
Scott Spratt: Sam Darnold got in on the Jets' touchdown act with an 11-yarder to tight end Chris Herndon. The Jets are now up 13-3 over the 10-4 Browns that totally aren't going to blow this game and miss the playoffs.
Wait, did Dave Gettleman mean that the New York Jets are the best two-win team he has ever seen?
Vince Verhei: Jets up 13-3 at intermission, and it's easy to point to the wide receiver touchdown pass and the sack-fumble that set up a short-field touchdown and say, well, the Jets have gotten a few breaks, but the truth is that they have outplayed the Browns pretty clearly today, with leads in total yards (178-103) and first downs (10-nine). The Browns are running their normal offense -- lots of three-wide formations with tight ends playing in the wideout spots -- and, obviously, it's not working. Surprisingly, it's the offensive line-adjacent stats where they have been most overwhelmed -- they have nine carries for all of 4 yards and Baker Mayfield has been sacked three times.
Bryan Knowles: Jedrick Wills and Wyatt Teller are both out for Cleveland, which can't help. But, still, even with all these players missing, this is ... not good.
Scott Spratt: The Jets do have the No. 8 DVOA run defense across from the No. 29 DVOA pass defense. The Browns would likely have been better off losing Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt than all of their wide receivers.
Bryan Knowles: If the Browns miss the playoffs by losing to the Jets, I will not be able to stop laughing for days. I know all the outstanding circumstances, but still...
Vince Verhei: Prepare to giggle, Bryan. You can't blame Cleveland's defensive gaffes on the wide receiver situation.
-- Pro Football Network (@PFN365) December 27, 2020
Vince Verhei: Jets punt with a 20-3 lead, but the Browns are called for roughing the kicker. That gives New York a first down on fourth-and-11, and feels like the set-up for the coup de grace. But the Browns get a stop again and then block the ensuing field goal, then drive 60 yards for a touchdown. Ja'Marcus Bradley, a rookie wide receiver out of Louisiana-Lafayette, gets a gain of 22, and Nick Chubb punches it in from a yard out.
Jets follow by going three-and-out and punting on fourth-and-1. Browns still down 20-10, but they have the ball here late in the third quarter, plenty of time left.
Vince Verhei: Browns drive 83 yards in 12 plays and Kareem Hunt runs it in for a touchdown. But then Cody Parkey's kick -- yes -- drinks off the uprights and out. Jets still lead 20-16 early in the fourth.
Bryan Knowles: Frank Gore has become the third back to pass 16,000 career rushing yards. With the way running back usage and the passing game are being used today, we may never see anyone do that again.
Scott Spratt: Also while we were away, the Browns were eying a comeback. But I think those chances may just have ended on a Baker Mayfield strip-sack backed up to his own end zone. The Jets recovered still up 20-16 with less than four minutes left.
Vince Verhei: But the Browns hold! Two runs, then Myles Garrett pressures Sam Darnold into an incompletion on third down. Darnold's ability to get the ball off saves his team about 5 yards, but also saves the Browns 30 seconds. Jets kick a field goal and lead 23-16, but Browns still have 2:52 and a timeout to get a touchdown.
Vince Verhei: The Colts' loss means that Cleveland can clinch a playoff berth with a win. But on fourth-and-inches in the red zone, they try a QB sneak, and Mayfield fumbles behind the line. It's fourth down, so even though the Browns recover the ball across the line, it's returned to the spot of the fumble, and that's a fourth-down stop. Jets win two in a row, and the Browns will need a win next week against the Steelers to get into the postseason.
I am stunned that with three wild-card teams, we are going to have a 10-win team in the AFC miss the playoffs.
Dave Bernreuther: Oh my goodness. What a horrible QB sneak by Baker Mayfield.
In real time, I thought he got it anyway ... but on review, he fumbled. And Kareem Hunt advanced it, but it doesn't matter, as explained. But wow. I don't think I've ever seen a quarterback get as easily vertical/stood up as that on what should be an easy play. And as quarterbacks go, Mayfield is low to the ground by default!
I really thought the Browns were going to come back. And now, not only have the Colts potentially missed a playoff spot, but they don't even have a shot at avoiding the possibility of Trevor Lawrence combining with competent coaching/management to oppose them in the AFC South for what could be a miserable decade.
Vince, never mind the fact that a 10-win team doesn't make it; there's a VERY real, if not likely, scenario in which an *11*-win Colts team misses the playoffs.
All because they blew Week 1 to a one-win Jags team. Swap that result with the Packers game they pulled out, and that 11-win team beats out the Dolphins on the tiebreakers.
Indianapolis Colts 24 at Pittsburgh Steelers 28
Bryan Knowles: Were the Steelers' passing issues a one-game thing, or just a cold streak? One drive is not enough information to say that for sure, but a three-and-out on Pittsburgh's opening possession is not ideal.
The Colts then march right down field against the No. 1 defense in football by our numbers -- multiple double-digit gains, shredding the Steelers run defense multiple times. No 11-0 team has ever lost four straight games (though the 1969 Rams only failed to do that because, uh, the season ended). Could the Steelers be the first?
7-0 Colts, early.
Aaron Schatz: Pittsburgh passing DVOA Weeks 1 to 10: 22.6%
Pittsburgh passing DVOA, Weeks 11 to 15: -9.1%
Much more than a one-game thing.
Scott Spratt: Has that offensive inefficiency been the reason the Steelers have given up 23, 26, and 27 points in their last three losses, Aaron? Or has their defense shown similar efficiency decline as they have lost more key contributors such as Bud Dupree in recent weeks?
Aaron Schatz: The defensive decline is just in the last three games, and it isn't as bad.
Weeks 1 to 12: -27.4% defensive DVOA
Weeks 13 to 15: -10.4% defensive DVOA
Aaron Schatz: Colts backup right tackle Chaz Green is awful. Against T.J. Watt it's a colossal mismatch. The Colts can't run anything long-developing. They just tried a play-action and Watt beat Green and stripped the ball from Philip Rivers, recovered by Mike Hilton -- who keeps making great plays even during Pittsburgh's losing streak -- to set up the Steelers on the Colts 3. James Conner finally made it in on third down so it's going to be a tie game, 7-7.
Bryan Knowles: The Colts missing their tackles might end up being the deciding factor in the AFC North AND the AFC South.
Vince Verhei: Watching the Steelers lately, with their offense consisting almost entirely of slants and curls, feels like I'm watching the world's worst parody of the Joe Montana 49ers. Those teams, of course, also relied heavily on shorter pass routes with plenty of YAC. But they at least had the threat of a deep pass a couple of times a game, and they were very productive on the ground, usually finishing in the top 10 in rushing yards. So the wideouts had a chance to make plays with the ball in their hands. These Steelers can't throw deep and can't run at all, so if the wideouts can't break three tackles every play, they're screwed.
Bryan Knowles: As long as they're not asking their offensive tackles to pass protect for more than 2.3 seconds, the Colts seem like they can do whatever they want against this Steelers defense. 9.1 yards per pass play, as T.Y. Hilton is beginning to go off. Only 4.0 yards per rushing play, but that includes some goal-line runs where they were just stopped by, well, the end zone. This might get ugly.
14-7 Colts midway through the second quarter.
Aaron Schatz: On third-and-9, Ben Roethlisberger threw a crossing route to Diontae Johnson that was a yard BEHIND the line of scrimmage. That's -10 ALEX. It got no yards after the catch. I can't even with this Steelers offense at this point.
Bryan Knowles: And, after the ensuing punt, it took just two snaps for the Colts to find the end zone again, as now even the replacement tackles are holding up, giving Rivers plenty of time to find Zach Pascal for a 42-yard score and the 21-7 lead.
Has any team ever had a more severe fall in a single month than the Steelers? They were never the best team in football, but this past month is beyond what ... well, what nearly anyone could have imagined.
Aaron Schatz: Poor clock management by Mike Tomlin. They got Indianapolis into second-and-20 at the Colts 9 with 1:10 left and after stuffing the run, didn't call timeout. So Colts could take it down to 26 seconds before their next play and then the Steelers finally called a timeout but they will get the ball back with just 13 seconds left in the half.
Vince Verhei: We're at halftime, and the Colts are up 21-7. Those seven points are severely overstating the accomplishments of this Steelers offense -- they got the ball at the 3-yard line following a Rivers fumble, and they still needed four snaps (including a defensive penalty that wiped out a third-down incompletion) to get into the end zone. They're at 93 yards of offense, but 22 of those yards came on the last play of the half on a quasi-hook and lateral play. It has been a terrible show.
Dave Bernreuther: Not a whole lot to say that others haven't already said, but I wanted to echo Aaron on that lack of a timeout on the second-and-20. That was terrible.
I may forgive him, though, if he just wanted to get to the locker room and regroup since he knew he was playing with both house money and a completely useless offense.
We've covered the latter point, but I use the former term with regard to the block in the back penalty on Mark Glowinski that negated a 68-yard catch-and-run by Nyheim Hines that was -- and maybe I'm being biased here -- absurd. Tony Romo called it "silly" on the broadcast, although I interpreted that as more that "the rule" was silly, as opposed to the specific instance, but either way, all Glowinski did was blindly and weakly shove a guy he had already effectively removed from the play, and it cost the Colts a red zone opportunity. Only that lost score and the turnover that gave the Steelers their "scoring drive" are keeping this one from being a laugher.
And, as noted, this is all happening with Chaz Green and a guy I -- a Colts fan! -- have never even heard of as the starting tackles on the road in Pittsburgh in December.
(That said, it looks like an absolutely gorgeous day there, one that I can almost feel through the TV and that I'd choose over today's Miami weather.)
Aaron Schatz: Steelers finally get a drive when they realize Chase Claypool is, in fact, on the team. Got his first four targets of the game, even a couple of actual good throws from Big Ben with zip on them. But Steelers stall at the goal line; Claypool drops the third-down pass in the end zone and then T.J. Carrie knocks it away from James Washington on fourth down. Good call by Tomlin to go on fourth-and-2 but it didn't work out. Still 24-7, Colts.
Bryan Knowles: I do not get Pittsbugh's red zone strategy. At all.
After moving the ball fairly well for the first time today -- Chase Claypool lives! -- the Steelers get first-and-goal from the 1-yard line. They try one run with Benny Snell, and then three straight passes out of the shotgun. All three fall incomplete, the Colts take the ball over on downs, and I think we can put this one in the books.
Vince Verhei: And with that, I am turning that TV to the Falcons-Chiefs game instead.
Aaron Schatz: Roethlisberger actually threw a good deep ball! 39 yards to Diontae Johnson for a touchdown after the Colts had to punt from deep in their own end. 24-14 Colts.
Bryan Knowles: Well, hold the phone -- Roethlisberger just hit Diontae Johnson for a 40-yard touchdown, burning Rock Ya-Sin. Still 24-14 Colts, but that's the beginning...
The touchdown was set up by the Steelers defense -- after failing at the goal line, the Steelers held the Colts to 5 yards, with the ensuing punt keeping Pittsburgh in Indy territory. So, add another point for going for it at the goal line, even if I continue to question Pittsburgh's actual play calling in that situation.
Aaron Schatz: Well, this thing has turned around. It looks like the Steelers offense can actually do something if they aren't throwing every pass 2 yards past the line of scrimmage. Maybe getting way behind is what they needed? Among other things, throwing downfield can earn DPI flags, and the Steelers drive down the field with the help of two of those and then touchdown pass to Eric Ebron and now this game is 24-21.
Bryan Knowles: And the Steelers get another three-and-out, and march right back down the field again. They were aided by some pass interference calls, at least one of them was a bit ticky-tack, but it's incredible how much better the Steelers' offense looks when they're allowed to throw the ball downfield. I gotta go back into the tape and see how much of the Steelers' recent flops were due to play selection rather than quarterback play.
Ebron halls in the score, and it's just a 24-21 Colts lead...
Aaron Schatz: A big part of the Steelers comeback has been improved coverage in the second half. Rivers had nowhere to throw the ball on third-and-5 and ended up taking a coverage sack and now the Steelers get it back down by only three.
Dave Bernreuther: That coverage sack was one of the more athletic plays you'll ever see a 39-year old quarterback with turf toe make, too, pulling the ball down at the last second to step up and scramble (not far, but still), only to still have nobody open and have to eat it for the sack.
This game has taken a turn very quickly, and suddenly the 14-point two-play swing from earlier is looking a lot more impactful than we probably assumed it would at halftime.
Aaron Schatz: Steelers complete the comeback, going up 28-24. A couple of underneath throws to an open John Conner, one good draw play for 12 yards, and some passes downfield. Roethlsiberger holds the safety on the touchdown with an old-fashioned Big Ben pump fake and then hits JuJu Smith-Schuster for 25 yards. Steelers offense and defense both look completely different in the second half. Football is strange that way.
Bryan Knowles: And the Steelers have come aaaaalll the way back. The yellow-flag brigade has certainly helped -- a borderline illegal contact gave Pittsburgh a fresh set of downs -- but it's amazing how much better the Steelers offense looks when they're allowed to pass. It wasn't as many deep shots this time -- a number of checkdowns to James Conner, each of which gained at least 9 yards -- but just the fact that the threat of the long pass is there, and people are running those sorts of routes, has been huge.
Aaron Schatz: We missed mentioning the deep interception by Mike Hilton when Rivers was forced to throw early by pressure which came through J'Marcus Webb at left tackle. Webb had replaced an injured Will Holden, who had replaced the injured Anthony Castonzo.
Dave Bernreuther: That's a Melvin Bullitt-like hit on third-and-2 that, if the Jets continue to do Jets things, could potentially save the Colts' season. (If the Dolphins beat the Bills next week, it's entirely plausible that an 11-5 Colts team misses a seven-team playoff field.)
The offense needs to find its first-half form, though. And they'll face third-and-6 coming out of the two-minute warning.
Bryan Knowles: The Steelers complete the comeback! Alex Highsmith gets pressure on Rivers, forcing him to throw early, and it's just too high for Zach Pascal. What an escape for Pittsburgh.
Dave Bernreuther: The Colts get a huge break on fourth-and-6 when the refs throw a DPI flag when it was actually T.Y. Hilton who grabbed and pulled to get open on a pass that Steven Nelson recovered and made a GREAT play in order to go grab one of those slow-to-the-boundary throws from Rivers ... who also threw another near pick on the following series, and has missed T.Y. Hilton badly twice (although on the second he got hit) since.
This is one of those games where I've got to think the lack of fans is just HUGE. I think Romo mentioned this as well ... what a huge gain for the Colts to be down against that defense in December and have total silence.
In the end it doesn't matter, though. Rivers *just* misses Zach Pascal deep over the middle on fourth-and-7, and now the Colts still have to bite some fingernails and become Bills fans next week.
New York Giants 13 at Baltimore Ravens 27
Scott Spratt: The Giants haven't been quite as good defensively as the reputation they developed during their recent four-game winning streak. They are only the No. 15 DVOA run defense and No. 13 defensive line in adjusted line yards. That said, they probably have the biggest defensive line in football, which seems like it would be a good matchup benefit facing the Ravens' power rushing attack. Well, through two Ravens series, that hasn't been the case. The Ravens ran 13- and 10-play drives that both ended in touchdowns and collectively ate up the entire first quarter. It's 14-0 Ravens, and the Giants could be staring at the end of their NFC East hopes.
Bryan Knowles: The Dolphins' comeback win last night hurts the Ravens the most; it takes their playoff fate out of their hands. They still have a very good shot if they can win out, and considering they close with the Giants and Bengals, it's likely they'll hold up their end of the bargain.
And, in fact, so far, so good -- Baltimore's up to a 14-0 lead as the first quarter ends. The touchdowns were fairly ordinary affairs -- J.K. Dobbins scored a touchdown in his fifth straight game, Hollywood Brown held on to a pass for once -- but we did get our Contractually Obligated Amazing Lamar Jackson Play. I don't know how you begin to defend this.
-- The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) December 27, 2020
Scott Spratt: The Ravens just sacked Daniel Jones on three consecutive plays. He's in a tough spot down 27-6 behind an offensive line ranked in the bottom 10 in adjusted sack rate. But it can't be a good sign for Jones' career prospects that he has fallen from an already bad 7.6% rookie sack rate to 8.8% this year.
The Giants just got a new first down when Justice Hill roughed the punter. But I'm not sure Jones wouldn't prefer to get off the field for a bit.
Atlanta Falcons 14 at Kansas City Chiefs 17
Scott Spratt: Aaron, I think word is getting out about your DVOA rankings article about the Chiefs. The FOX broadcast just showed a graphic with a Chiefs split that showed that the team won by an average of 13 points per game in Weeks 1 to 8 but only four points per game since.
Meanwhile, Patrick Mahomes just threw a cross-field jump ball that Sammy Watkins lost to Falcons safety Keanu Neal. This game is surprisingly still scoreless more than 20 minutes in.
Aaron Schatz: Wait, isn't that the reverse? Watkins threw the ball to Mahomes?
Bryan Knowles: You got your quarterback and receivers mixed up, Scott! It was Watkins airing the ball out for Mahomes in a fourth-down play can only be considered "too cute"
-- NFL Brasil (@NFLBrasil) December 27, 2020
Still, terrible interception for Atlanta's field position.
Scott Spratt: Haha, actually, that makes a lot more sense! I think Jamison Crowder has me flustered.
Scott Spratt: More fun with FOX point differential graphics! The Chiefs are 7-0 in games decided by six points, and the Falcons are 0-6 in those games. It would be fun if this game stayed close.
Scott Spratt: I'm not sure Atlanta deserves full credit when the Chiefs are running unnecessary trick plays in the red zone that become turnovers. But they are in the final two minutes of the first half and have a chance to hold Patrick Mahomes scoreless in the first half for the first time in his career.
I know this happens every year, but the Falcons have improved from 28th in defensive DVOA through five weeks when they fired Dan Quinn to 12th now. Aaron, are they the No. 1 DVOA defense over the last 10 weeks? I think they might be close.
Aaron Schatz: Nope, Atlanta is eighth over the last 10 weeks at -9.7% DVOA on defense.
Scott Spratt: That's still pretty good!
Aaron Schatz: Ended up on this one on RedZone so I don't know what the Falcons defense has been doing to Mahomes all day but they just fooled him into throwing an interception at the goal line. He was trying to get the ball to Travis Kelce and completely missed Foyesade Oluokun underneath, and Oluokun managed a huge return before Tyreek Hill knocked the ball out from behind. But it bounced out of bounds, Falcons keep it. Chiefs defense then rose up with two straight sacks to keep Atlanta from moving the ball. Who would have thought the Chiefs might win a game with their defense instead of their offense? Still 7-7.
Scott Spratt: OK, this time the red zone interception was Mahomes instead of Sammy Watkins. Falcons linebacker Foyesade Oluokun made an athletic play to jump an intended end zone pass to Travis Kelce.
-- NFL (@NFL) December 27, 2020
The Falcons did allow Kelce to score at the end of the first half, but it's still 7-7 with 8:19 left in the third quarter, and the Falcons have the ball near midfield thanks to a lengthy return. That's a huge win for the Falcons.
Scott Spratt: Patrick Mahomes just threw a blind checkdown pass that the Falcons nearly intercepted. It's still 7-7 as this game enters the fourth quarter.
Vince Verhei: Falcons' first three drives of the second half resulted in two punts and a lost fumble, but the fourth produces a go-ahead touchdown. A lot of YAC on that drive -- Calvin Ridley had a 31-yard catch-and-run on a shallow cross and there were a few Shanahan-style play-action bootlegs to running backs for first downs. Matt Ryan hits Laquon Treadwell for the touchdown and Atlanta leads 14-10 with 4:33 to go.
Scott Spratt: Travis Kelce is carrying this attempted Chiefs comeback. He has catches for 36 and 16 yards in this drive with less than three minutes left in the fourth quarter. The first catch came on a third-and-10, and it put him over 1,400 for the season, a record for tight ends.
Scott Spratt: Man, A.J. Terrell could have mostly sealed this game with the third Falcons red zone interception of the day, but he couldn't squeeze this in the end zone.
Mahomes nearly threw another INT, but A.J. Terrell lost it when he hit the ground. pic.twitter.com/kc5QofyxIG
-- . (@RespectDaBeard1) December 27, 2020
Not sure why Raheem Morris challenged it, but he obviously lost. And then, immediately, Mahomes connected with Demarcus Robinson for a score to put the Chiefs ahead.
Vince Verhei: Oh, my goodness. First down at the Falcons' 25, Mahomes lobs a pass to Tyreek Hill in the end zone. A.J. Terrell makes a great leap to get both hands on the ball for what should be a game-sealing interception, but lhe oses control of the ball as he goes to the ground. It's very obvious it's an incompletion, but Raheem Morris throws the challenge flag. After what has to be the fastest review I've ever seen, the call stands and Falcons lose a timeout. Next snap, Mahomes hits DeMarcus Robinson for the touchdown and the 17-14 lead.
Only good news for Atlanta is that they still have nearly two minutes and two timeouts left to get a game-tying field goal.
Scott Spratt: The Falcons have gotten into field goal range really quickly. But with about a minute left in the quarter, they need to not settle for a field goal here.
Scott Spratt: Just after I clicked send on that message, the Falcons chose not to call a timeout after running for a new first down on a third-and-1. That cost the offense about half its remaining time. I hate that decision, but it did almost work since the Falcons then snapped with 12 Chiefs on the field. Come on Matt Ryan! Throw that pass in bounds in the end zone and give Calvin Ridley a chance to make a contested catch.
Aaron Schatz: Chiefs blitzing the hell out of Ryan on this last series of downs, he had no time to get that ball into the end zone.
Bryan Knowles: And the Falcons falcon! Koo misses the field goal, and the Chiefs are going to escape!
Scott Spratt: LOL Falcons!
From there, the Falcons were much closer to turning the ball over than to scoring six. Matt Ryan appeared to be strip-sacked on second down, but he somehow managed to get his arm going forward for an incomplete pass. And then Calvin Ridley had to play defensive back on a jump ball Ryan threw while being blitzed. That set up a seemingly easy game-tying field goal attempt. But making that just wouldn't be the Falcons' style.
Vince Verhei: That's funny, Scott, because I was thinking that the announcers were way too worried about the clock. The goal is to score with zero seconds left so the Chiefs can't answer. The Falcons end up trying the field goal on fourth down with two timeouts left, so in the end the clock was not a factor. What is a factor is that the Pro Bowler Younghoe Koo misses from 39 yards out. Oops. Chiefs escape with a 17-14 win. "Escape with a win" has really been their story this year.
Scott Spratt: And if that doesn't prove that DVOA is wrong and the Chiefs are the best, I don't know what would.
Chicago Bears 41 at Jacksonville Jaguars 17
Bryan Knowles: The Bears now control their own fate for the playoffs after the Cardinals' flop on Saturday. They have, at points, done their best to throw that away -- Mitchell Trubisky had a terrible interception as the game went into the half, throwing a desperation Hail Mary rather than throwing the ball away and settling for a field goal -- but the Jaguars are throwing it right back, throwing an interception that allowed Chicago to get their end-of-half field goal anyway. Trubisky added an extra touchdown on the first drive of the second half, and the Bears take a 20-10 lead.
The fans in attendance are rooting for every Bears score, despite this game being in Jacksonville -- a Jags loss and a Jets win ensures the No. 1 pick goes to Jacksonville, no matter what happens. And both games look well on pace for that...
Scott Spratt: I think Bryan's lamenting that the Cardinals' flop, which might allow the Bears into the playoffs, lit a fire under Mitchell Trubisky. He just threw his second touchdown of the day today after also running for one. And while this game has been against the Jaguars' No. 32 DVOA pass defense, Trubisky has performed statistically well all December. Entering today, he had a 74% completion rate, 8.4 yards per attempt, 5-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio, and a 112.7 quarterback rating for the month.
Cincinnati Bengals 37 at Houston Texans 31
Rivers McCown: ("Wanna see a dead body?" voice) Hey kids, wanna understand how an NFL defense gives up 371 passing yards to Brandon Allen? I wrote about it.
Carolina Panthers 20 at Washington Football Team 13
Scott Spratt: I suspect Ron Rivera's revenge game would have been a lot more fun with Alex Smith available. Dwayne Haskins just got strip-sacked on his first series, turning the ball over to the Panthers. Analyst Charles Davis did not love the call of a fumble, but I thought it was pretty clear that Haskins lost control before his throwing motion propelled the ball forward toward Panthers linebacker Jermaine Carter.
MARQUIS HAYNES COM O STRIP SACK! (7° de Carolina na temporada)
Créditos para o LB Jermaine Carter por acreditar na jogada e conseguir a recuperação!
-- Keep Pounding BR (5-10) (@KeepPoundingBR) December 27, 2020
Scott Spratt: Steven Sims just muffed a punt, and Panthers special teamer Brandon Zylstra was able to jump on the fumble before momentum carried him out of the back of the end zone.
-- Nathan Fry (@FrySports) December 27, 2020
If the Saints had Zylstra on special teams last week, they might have beat the Chiefs.
Also, Joey Slye missed the extra point, so the Panthers have just a 6-0 lead late in the first quarter.
Scott Spratt: Awesome 45-yard Curtis Samuel run:
Curtis Samuel, that was tough. #KeepPounding
-- NFL (@NFL) December 27, 2020
The Panthers are eight plays and 79 yards into their current drive and haven't passed once on it. I kind of love it, but I also hate that the team is doing this to Rivera. I'm going to be so annoyed if the Eagles make it into the playoffs at 6-9-1 on the strength of that Bengals tie.
Scott Spratt: Dwayne Haskins just stared down a receiver and threw an easy interception for Tahir Whitehead, and now the Panthers are up 13-0 with the ball at midfield halfway through the second quarter. And as I peruse Twitter for various Washington play clips, I'm gathering that the team's fans are not thrilled with Haskins' performance coming off his strip club scandal.
Scott Spratt: Chase Young just prevented a likely Panthers scoring drive to end the first half. He hit Teddy Bridgewater as he threw, which generated a pop fly that safety Kamren Curl secured for an interception.
Of course, Dwayne Haskins threw a pick two plays later, but at least at that point, there was only one second left in the half. Carolina leads 20-3 at intermission, and Washington would surely bench Haskins for the second half if they had any other option.
Scott Spratt: Dwayne Haskins just got pulled for former Panthers legend Taylor Heinicke, he of the 5.7 career yards per attempt and 1-to-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio. I'm thinking Haskins may never throw another NFL pass.
Scott Spratt: Taylor Heinicke has been dramatically better than Haskins in relief, and he just aired out a 29-yard touchdown to J.D. McKissic that gives Washington a bit of hope at 20-13. They'll need to convert an onside kick with less than two minutes left without any of their timeouts.
Scott Spratt: And DJ Moore fell on the onside kick. The Panthers are going to win this one by a touchdown, sowing chaos for the NFC East in Week 17.
Bryan Knowles: Well, Washington did clinch ONE thing today -- a prime-time special in Week 17. The Washington-Philadelphia game is the only one on the schedule where there is a win-and-in, lose-and-out scenario, so NBC is riding with (hopefully) Alex Smith and company. Just whom the Eagles will be playing for will be decided earlier in the day, but at least there will be some drama on Sunday night.
Los Angeles Rams 9 at Seattle Seahawks 20
Vince Verhei: Rams lead 3-0 at the end of a quiet, sloppy first quarter. Both teams plagued by inaccurate throws, drops, and penalties. Rams converted a few third downs set up Matt Gay for a 44-yard field field goal, but the other four drives all ended in punts. Chris Carson just ran for a Seattle first down in Rams territory on the last play of the quarter.
Carl Yedor: The Rams answer a Seattle field goal with a long one of their own on a drive that was aided by a dropped interception by Jamal Adams. Adams has been dealing with some finger injuries, which definitely could impact his ability to catch the ball. Let's hope that's the case because the ball hit him right in the hands and he couldn't haul it in. Matt Gay's 51-yard attempt is good, making it 6-3 with nine minutes remaining in the first half.
Aaron Schatz: Rams defense is stellar today. Coverage is tight. Darious Williams opposite Jalen Ramsey just stayed with DK Metcalf step-for-step on a deep throw, which is hard to do. Williams probably deserved to go to the Pro Bowl over Marshon Lattimore.
Bryan Knowles: Oh Jared Goff, what are you DOING? The Rams were finally putting some plays together, and Goff just sails a pass way over everyone's head for an easy interception.
"I have no idea what he saw," says Troy Aikman. That makes two of us.
Aaron Schatz: Darious Williams having a hell of a game. Was just step-for-step with Tyler Lockett on an overthrown deep pass. The Rams' coverage is outstanding today. Even the short dumpoffs are well covered.
Vince Verhei: We are tied 6-6 after 30 minutes of the ugliest football I have had the misfortune to watch all season -- and it's not just because of the Rams' hideous, splotchy, dingy, bone jerseys. I now support revoking the playoff berth that goes to the NFC West champion and giving the NFC east runner-up a postseason spot instead. Neither offense has a 20-yard play or has even reached the red zone. Jared Goff on the run has been a complete disaster. Embarrassing. Here's the video of his interception. Don't even worry about the result. Just watch his footwork, the way he jogs at half-speed, reluctant, hesitant, like he has no idea what the hell is going on, like he has never been on a football field before. Then at the last second he throws a jump-pass across his body for the easy red zone turnover.
-- Pro Football Network (@PFN365) December 27, 2020
And I'm not even sure that was Goff's worst play. He had another half-assed scramble on a third-and-10 where it looked like he might have crossed the line of scrimmage, then turfed the ball, throwing at the feet of a receiver 6 yards short of the sticks. On their last drive of the half he scrambled on third down and could have dived forward for the conversion, but slid a yard short of the sticks instead. He got an earful from McVay after that one. I guess he has not been the worst quarterback of the day -- Dwayne Haskins is still a thing -- but he sure as hell hasn't earned his paycheck.
Russell Wilson's struggles look more to me like great pass rush and coverage, so credit the Rams for that. However, he has had chances. He missed Jacob Hollister wide open for what would have been a touchdown, and I disagree about the Metcalf play that Aaron described earlier -- I think that's a completion for 40 yards or more if Wilson throws to the inside, but the throw went over the outside shoulder and Metcalf never had a shot at it. Wilson has also been sacked three times. Seattle is averaging 4.8 yards per run and only 2.9 yards on passing plays. They get the ball first to start the second half -- if they can somehow get a lead, might be time to stop Russ from cooking for the rest of the day.
Bryan Knowles: That should calm you down some, Vince. Seattle comes out of the locker room with the longest drive of the game -- seven plays, 70 yards, most of it on one leaping catch by David Moore, and most of the REST on a checkdown to Carlos Hyde which went for 18 yards. Wilson did a great job of scrambling around and keeping plays alive, and it ends up resulting in Seattle's first lead of the day.
Vince Verhei: Seahawks do in fact score on their first drive of the second half, thanks to Wilson's arms and legs alike. Third-and-8, he breaks the pocket and has an easy first down in front of him, but Wilson has never been interested in easy first downs, he prefers big plays instead. So he throws to David Moore, who comes down with the ball for a 45-yard gain despite more excellent coverage from Darious Williams. (The Rams secondary was full of question marks coming into the year -- tons of credit to L.A. for finding and developing a bevy of talented young defensive backs.) Next third down, Wilson scrambles again, and when the linebackers come up to pursue, they leave Carlos Hyde wide open for an easy conversion. And at the goal line, Wilson drops back, can't find anyone open, and scrambles into the end zone for a touchdown and a 13-6 lead.
Dave Bernreuther: I can't think of a single play, ever, where a quarterback left the pocket and still had as much time to move in what seemed like slow motion behind the line of scrimmage like Russell Wilson did on that touchdown run.
Don't get me wrong; I love that he stayed behind the line looking for the throw for as long as possible (or as long as has ever been available in history, pending research). But WOW did that seem like forever. And then finally -- FINALLY -- he just said "fine, I'll do it myself" and made his way to the pylon.
This ugly-as-sin Seahawks-Rams game is the type of Jeff Fisher-era game that I used to always point to as evidence why Russell Wilson was talented, but still not the MVP type; now, of course, he was my pick for MVP, so naturally it's an ugly game again ... it's still pretty clear, though, for reasons that others have mentioned, that it's not really a quarterback thing. While Russ has faded far from the MVP finalist conversation, he's hardly a disaster.
Goff, on the other hand ... hard to say what looks worse, him or the puddle-stained uniforms they're wearing. The NFL *has* to amend the five-year jersey rule for that one, right? Just on account of "putting a team out there looking like dishwater is unprofessional and makes us look bad as a league" or something similar?
Aaron Schatz: Rams slowly but steadily move down the field and then a strange challenge by Pete Carroll. Jared Goff sneak on third-and-goal from the 1, and the ball does kind of come out so Carroll challenges. But there's no clear recovery by either team, really, and Goff had the ball when the officials finally got in there. I have no idea how they could overturn this.
Aaron Schatz: And the challenge doesn't matter anyway because Seattle's defense stops Malcolm Brown on fourth-and-goal. Seahawks will take the ball back on their own 1.
Aaron Schatz: The only thing I can think is maybe the Seahawks challenged because what the heck, they wanted their defense to get a little breather so better to challenge then just call a timeout on the tiny chance they could overturn the fumble recovery?
Vince Verhei: Rams got to the goal line because they finally got some 20-yard plays of their own -- a run by Darrell Henderson around right end, a catch-and-run by Tyler Higbee. Another run by Henderson gives them a first-and-goal, but it was Jamal Adams chasing him down from behind and saving a touchdown. Worse, Henderson has to leave with an ankle injury. Starting from the 2-yard line, the Rams run it on four straight plays (including that Goff sneak and weird challenge), but they can't cross the line and Seattle takes over on downs.
Seahawks respond with a three-and-out though -- Aaron Donald beats a double team for the third-down sack. Michael Dickson punts from the back of his end zone. Nsimba Webster fumbles on the return, but the Rams recover and will start in Seattle territory.
Carl Yedor: It didn't get called out on the broadcast, but Will Dissly, who was probably the original intended target on the touchdown play, did a nice job of sealing off his defender so that Wilson had an unimpeded path to the pylon for his rushing score there. The defender was put in the position of having to either stay with the tight end or peel off toward Wilson.
The Rams appear to have made some halftime adjustments as well. It's hard to tell on the fly, but it looks like they have slightly altered the formations they're running from to change up the angles a bit. It has led to a bit more success. The passing game on their first drive was quick stuff and bootlegs, which has been effective if not particularly explosive. Darrell Henderson goes down on what was nearly a touchdown run on a play where they ran away from a blitzing Adams, sustaining an injury as he was tackled at about the 2. That tackle ends up enormously important, as the Rams are unable to punch it in after four run plays. A Malcolm Brown run on first down lost yards, second down got them back to the 1, Goff can't get in on a third-down sneak, and Brown gets stuffed again on fourth down.
Carroll actually tried to challenge for a fumble recovery on the Goff sneak because it was easy to see that he fumbled, but there was no clear recovery. Seattle lost the challenge and a timeout, but got the ball back anyway. Seattle just tries to avoid taking a safety on its first two plays, and on third down Aaron Donald wins in a hurry for a sack, forcing a punt. The Rams fumble on the punt return but somehow are still able to fall on it and regain possession despite several Seahawks having the first crack at recovering the bouncing ball.
Vince Verhei: Rams convert a couple of third downs, but the Rams have to settle for a field goal after a sack puts them in third-and-forever. That's Seattle's first sack of the day, but that's not indicative of their ability to generate pressure today -- I've mentioned Goff's struggles while throwing on the run. He also has seven carries (ties a career high, set against Philadelphia earlier this year) for only 23 yards. He hit his hand on a pass-rusher's helmet on one of those third-down plays and it seems to be bothering him. Seahawks up 13-9 early in the fourth.
Aaron Schatz: Rams coverage gave way a little bit and the Seahawks get down the field to take a 20-9 lead. Tyler Lockett was open for 24 yards on a Levels concept, Metcalf got 8 in the middle, and then a safety got picked at the line of scrimmage and Jacob Hollister was open ahead of him for the touchdown. (I can't remember the number on the safety who got caught, unfortunately.)
Dave Bernreuther: A nice touch pass to Jacob Hollister reminds us that this is not a Fisher-era Rams-Seahawks battle after all (nor is Wilson that quarterback) and it gives the Seahawks the division. They were stuck in mud there for quite a while, but in the end, 20-9 is a good win. Especially encouraging late in the year to have a defense that had looked as bad as theirs did and to limit a playoff team to nine points ... even if much of the fault for that lays with Goff.
Bryan Knowles: ... did Josh Reynolds just place the football on the ground, fumbling it to Seattle?
Scott Spratt: Hahaha, yes, Bryan, he did. He caught a pass and wasn't touched. He just put the ball on the turf trying to help the team get to the line of scrimmage quickly, but that should have been a fumble.
Aaron Schatz: Nope. Reynolds gave himself up, and they rule correctly that it's not a fumble.
Bryan Knowles: The officials rule that no, he was trying to give himself up, but there was a 15-yard penalty for ... I'm not entirely sure, exactly?
Vince Verhei: Following an exchange of punts, Seattle puts together an 80-yard drive that takes four and a half minutes off the clock and ends in a touchdown. The scoring play was a beauty. On third-and-5 in the red zone, they run a scissors concept with Hollister in the slot to the left, running a corner route and crossing David Moore, who's running a post. The slot defender, anticipating a throw to the sticks, tried to undercut the route, but Hollister ran into the end zone instead, and Wilson hit him with a beauty of a floater for six points. That makes it 20-9 with less than three minutes to go.
It's hard to explain just how schizophrenic it has been to watch this Seahawks team develop in 2020. They started off like the Dick Vermeil Chiefs, where the first team to 35 points won. Then there was a midseason slump where you never knew what you were going to get, but for the past month or so they have really become a classic Pete Carroll Seahawks team: an excellent defense paired with a start-and-stop offense reliant on big runs and play-action shots. The starting defenders they have added in the past year and a half -- Quandre Diggs, Jamal Adams, Carlos Dunlap, D.J. Reed -- have really meshed into a solid unit. It'll be interesting to see the difference between their overall DVOA and their weighted numbers.
Scott Spratt: Here's video of the Reynolds play:
Josh Reynolds just put the ball down without being touched, Seahawks recover the ball. Rams get the ball back because he "gave himself up."
-- Jeff Nowak (@Jeff_Nowak) December 28, 2020
Vince Verhei: The 15-yard penalty was on McVay for running onto the field to protest that Reynolds gave himself up. He was right, of course, but you can't run onto the field to protest.
Vince Verhei: Since I looked it up to answer somebody else's question: the NFL's 94-page rulebook states in part that a play is dead:
(d) when a runner declares himself down by:
(1) falling to the ground, or kneeling, and clearly making no immediate effort to advance.
Aaron Schatz: I mean, I think it was pretty clear that he was putting the ball on the ground so they could hurry up and line up for the next play, yes?
Carl Yedor: Seattle gets the ball back with about seven and a half minutes left and drains about five minutes of that time remaining en route to a Jacob Hollister touchdown on a slot fade that was sprung free by a rub route concept. Jason Myers hits the PAT to push Seattle's lead to 20-9.
Seattle then essentially just has to hold on with the Rams having three clock stoppages at their disposal (including the two-minute warning) when something incredibly bizarre happens. Goff hits Josh Reynolds over the middle of the field for a first down, and Reynolds puts the ball down so instantaneously without ever being touched that the refs initially rule it Seattle's ball when Bobby Wagner scoops up the ball. This sends Sean McVay into a fit of rage, resulting in an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. After conferring, the refs decide that Reynolds was in fact giving himself up, but the McVay penalty still applies, meaning the Rams end up almost exactly where they were at the start of the play with a fresh set of downs. I think part of what caused the confusion was the speed at which Reynolds hit the ground and then gave himself up since he didn't even pause (just rolling over and putting the ball down immediately). The Rams then throw incomplete twice before Goff takes a sack at the two-minute warning, bringing up fourth down. The Rams' fourth-down play is well short of the marker, and Seattle takes over, putting this one to bed barring an absolute miracle.
From Seattle's perspective, it had to be encouraging to see Wilson unafraid to take shots down the field and make plays against a legitimately good defense (the Jets do not count). He has been under duress a lot today thanks to the Rams pass rush, but he was still willing to stick in there and deliver balls down the field in a way we haven't really seen as much of lately. After his turnover-fest at midseason, it seemed like Wilson was caught between trying to make plays down the field and not turn the ball over anymore, which I'm sure the coaching staff was drilling into his head over and over again. He seemed to find that balance today even though the offense as a whole was not incredibly successful.
Vince Verhei: Yes, Aaron, but before the rule change a few years ago (I don't remember exactly when) that would have been a fumble.
Dave Bernreuther: I didn't have the sound on that game, but yes, I thought that was the case.
Vince, with regard to your schizophrenia/weighted DVOA comments -- as a fan, how much confidence does this all give you? If Wilson hadn't fallen from his MVP heights, would you be thrilled heading into January?
Defense-wise, they have the feel of a typical Bill Belichick Patriots team, rounding into form in December in time for the most important time of year ... but those Patriots teams never had a corresponding lull on the opposite side of the ball, aside from maybe last year (and last year, their defense was strong throughout, and if I recall correctly, their turnover luck was way better early on). There's still probably no reason to fear for their offense right now, because Russ is still an MVP-caliber player, there's an outside shot at the No. 1 seed, and even though they have fallen off from the Vermeil style you mention, they're still fourth in offensive DVOA and sixth in weighted offense DVOA.
I picked them to win it all, of course, so it's perfectly fair to ask if I'm just looking for affirmation here...
Vincent Verhei: Dave, that's honestly a very good question. We have always found full-season numbers to be more predictive than weighted or half-season stats. This late-year defensive upswing may, in fact, be a small-sample mirage. And it's very hard to be confident about a team that lost to Colt McCoy of all people.
But then ... have you looked at the other playoff teams in the NFC? ALL of these teams have had major weaknesses or slumps they have battled through all year. All of them look vulnerable. It seems like a crapshoot to me.
In fact, you could say the same for the AFC, where Pittsburgh has been floundering for weeks until the second half today, and Kansas City keeps living on the edge of a knife from game to game. Would it shock anyone if, say, Baltimore wins the seventh seed, then knocks out the Steelers and Chiefs in back-to-back weeks?
Bryan Knowles: To add injury to insult, Jared Goff broke his thumb, presumably when he slammed his hand into a Seahawks helmet in the second half. His status for this week's game against the Cardinals is unknown; the Rams miss the playoffs if they lose to Arizona AND the Bears handle the Packers. Their best news might be the fact that the Packers can't clinch the bye week this week and coast against Chicago, because they're suddenly in significant trouble.
Scott Spratt: Goff's passing DVOA by season:
2020: 0.7% (entering today)
I knew he was super inconsistent, but I didn't realize how striking Goff's declining efficiency trend has been.
It's too bad the NFL never has NBA trades. I feel like Goff for Carson Wentz would be fun. From the Eagles' perspective, Goff would be just an $8.6 million dead cap hit after 2022 while Wentz would still be a $15.3 million one. And from the Rams' perspective, maybe Sean McVay could build an offense to work with Wentz's strengths and avoid his weaknesses.
Philadelphia Eagles 17 at Dallas Cowboys 37
Scott Spratt: DeSean Jackson made it back from injured reserve today and is making an immediate impact. This catch just went for 81 yards and put the Eagles up 14-3.
I just got deja vick seeing this pass from Jalen Hurts to Desean Jackson pic.twitter.com/EnzK8ERPnB
-- Josiah Johnson (@KingJosiah54) December 27, 2020
For the full season, the Eagles are 28th in offensive DVOA. But they seem much, much better than that with Jalen Hurts starting and players such as Dallas Goedert, Zach Ertz, and Jackson finally healthy.
Dave Bernreuther: Coaching malpractice just now by Mike McCarthy.
No, not the fourth-and-goal field goal attempt from the 2 (which was also terrible enough that nothing needs to be said), but in not challenging a bad spot that cost Ezekiel Elliott the touchdown on second down. I can understand why the refs thought he was stopped, as the Eagles looked to have twisted him up at about the 4, but a slow-mo replay -- which I did by hand, since the broadcast never bothered to even mention it, let alone look -- shows pretty clearly that he kept his progress going and extended from his foot on the 2, with the ball extended overhead, clearing the plane of the goal line even after his butt finally touched down with his helmet itself (which was level with the ball at the time) over the plane. Unless there's a new allowance for his towel counting as a body part, in which case he was down around the 4, he was in clearly enough that they could've affirmatively overturned the call.
McCarthy did nothing and kicked a 20-yard field goal to go from trailing by a score to trailing by a score. Even if you acknowledge that maybe it's not in their best interests long-term to actually win this game, that's just horrible.
And it's just as bad that Kenny Albert and Jonathan Vilma didn't even mention it, honestly.
Bryan Knowles: The one good game in the late window, so far, is this one, for the rights to clean up Washington's mess.
For the record (assuming Washington doesn't come back), if Philadelphia wins, then the Washington-Philly game in Week 17 is for the NFC East title, and I presume that would get flexed into Sunday Night Football. Hopefully, Alex Smith would be back for that one.
If Dallas wins -- and they just scored a touchdown to take a 20-17 lead -- then we'd have an awkward situation, where Washington still wins the division by beating the Eagles, but the Giants/Cowboys winner would end up as champs should Washington fall again. In that scenario, I have NO idea what would get flexed to Sunday Night -- there aren't any games left that are important without being affected by any other games. I guess Bills-Dolphins would be the most logical, but maybe they just eschew any SNF action if the Cowboys win this one.
Bryan Knowles: The Cowboys are determined to keep their hopes alive and give us the most awkward Week 17 schedule imaginable. They just hit CeeDee Lamb on a little wheel route, which turned into a 52-yard touchdown as no Philly defender could really catch him. It's now a 27-17 Cowboys lead, and I give up on trying to predict how this division will go.
Tennessee Titans at Green Bay Packers
Scott Spratt: Is anything more exciting than Derrick Henry in a blizzard?
Dave Bernreuther: I wasn't alive for it, but the first thing that came to mind to answer that was "Earl Campbell in a blizzard," which is fitting, I suppose. Some Titans fans may remember a previous snow game (in mid-October!) in which Tom Brady and the Pats went in for halftime hot chocolates up 45-0 and thus answer "no," but I think most of us are as eager for this one as you are, especially since it's a game between two division leaders. Even as a Colts fan that'll be rooting hard for the Packers, I also secretly kind of hope we get to see Henry go off for (another) 200-yard game in the powder.
I'd never actually WANT to be a ticket-holder in an outdoor December weather game, but this one feels like one of the bigger missed opportunities, spectator-wise, we've had this year due to COVID. At least we all have HDTV to make it feel like we're there, only warmer. Which is better, really.
Not that Mike Vrabel could ever compete with things like Tom Coughlin's rosy Lambeau cheeks or anything ... but I'm hoping that maybe he'll emerge from the tunnel with a newly grown moustache as good as last year's and by the second quarter it'll have some fresh snowfall on it and give us a comparably awesome photo opp.
Scott Spratt: Hey, Al Michaels is doing tonight's game. I thought he had worked out a deal to make Mike Tirico do all the really cold ones (which would have been brilliant).
Bryan Knowles: Snow game? Snow game!
The first play from scrimmage, the refs have trouble finding the 40-yard line. Snow games are the best.
Bryan Knowles: Were the Titans rushing three on every play of the opening drive? It felt like that, at any rate. Whatever they were doing, it didn't work -- Green Bay marched down the field easily, just slicing and dicing the defense on their way to an Aaron Rodgers-to-Davante Adams touchdown pass. That's about as simple as things get. The extra point is missed, so it's just a 6-0 Green Bay lead, but I'm not sure the Titans' strategy of "stand back and cover" is going to work tonight.
Tom Gower: The Titans are in the horrible position where they can't rush the passer with four, and they don't have the cover players to match up in man coverage if they bring pressure. You saw this in Mike Vrabel's one season as defensive coordinator, but his tendency has been to break all strategic decisions in favor of not allowing big plays. Rushing three is the realistic adaptation of the inability to pressure without blitzing.
Scott Spratt: The Titans just punted from the Packers' 32-yard line into the end zone for a net of a sweet 12 yards. Snow games are great.
Bryan Knowles: The Packers have faced two third downs so far this game. The first saw Rashaan Evans commit an illegal hands to the face penalty (away from the play, I might add), gifting Green Bay a new set of downs The second saw Rodgers hit Equanimeous St. Brown for a 21-yard touchdown. The Titans look, appropriately, like they're on ice skates.
It's still just 12-0, because the missed extra point enticed the Packers to go for two after their second touchdown, and they were stuffed. At least the Titans found one stop.
Bryan Knowles: I'm not sure even a snow game is going to keep my attention in this one, I'm afraid. Ryan Tannehill is picked off by Darnell Savage, the Packers match right down the field, and it's 19-0 now. I'm putting the over/under on Titans stops of Rodgers at 1.5.
Scott Spratt: Ugh, it's such a letdown, Bryan. The Titans seem to be handling the snow about as well as me and every other southerner.
Bryan Knowles: Well, it's nice for the Titans to show up to the game.
The Titans DID finally stop the Packers, forcing a field goal attempt. At first, it looked like a huge swing -- the Titans blocked it and returned it all the way into the red zone. But it was called back by an offsides which was ... well, let's be polite and say "borderline." That moved fourth-and-8 to fourth-and-3, and the Packers decided to go for it ... but Wyatt Ray managed to sack Rodgers. That's two stops of Rodgers on one series; so I guess they hit the "over."
The field position was much worse, of course, but that just meant the ensuing Titans drive was that much longer. A.J. Brown and Jonnu Smith got going, and what should have been at least a 22-0 Packers lead is now just 19-7, Green Bay. Some signs of life before the half is all we could ask for.
Vincent Verhei: Dots on Rodgers' wacky scramble play. Note that Green Bay has no receivers within 20 yards of the line of scrimmage ... and the one guy you can see actually goes deeper as Rodgers takes off.
— Rob Demovsky (@RobDemovsky) December 28, 2020
Tom Gower: Halftime. Packers lead 19-7. They were up 19-0 less than five minutes into the second quarter, so things are relatively looking up for the Titans after their second positive drive on offense made it to the end zone after Vrabel's wimpy punt on fourth-and-7 from the Packers 32 on their first drive. The scoring drive featured the Titans at their Titan-est, keeping a fullback and two tight ends on the field on the first couple plays after the two-minute warning. Derrick Henry hasn't been finding the sort of running room most people expected coming into this game, but he did that drive find the known weak links in the Packers secondary.
On the other side of the ball, it's just the Titans are a bad defense that doesn't have many answers and the Packers are a good offense with the ability to attack defenses. Aside from the target for Robert Tonyan in the end zone, the Titans didn't do much to challenge Rodgers as he completed 15 of 18 passes, and taking away big plays doesn't matter much when the other team is good enough to execute with consistency. Hoping the Packers run the ball too much without great consistent effectiveness, and then getting off the field on third down, feels like their best chances for a stop.
Scott Spratt: While we wait through halftime to see if the Titans can make a game of this in the second half, I wanted to ask the staff: now that the Packers have all but locked up the No. 1 seed, where do you stand currently on the team's Day 1 and 2 draft picks this season? Are those future-looking picks forgivable because the Packers are as good as they are? Do you believe the Jordan Love pick made Aaron Rodgers better this year than he would have been otherwise? Or does the Packers' excellence make the picks more egregious since they failed to optimize the team's short-term title window, and this team could have been even better if the team selected a player such as Patrick Queen or Jeremy Chinn that could realistically have made an immediate impact?
Aaron Schatz: Scott, I definitely would go with "this team would be better if it had used its draft picks on useful players." I understand the value of always drafting a quarterback prospect but the second- and third-round picks (AJ Dillon and Josiah Deguara) haven't done much.
Meanwhile, this game isn't the runaway we thought it would be when it was 19-0. The Titans are getting passes to A.J. Brown and runs by Henry and they just fooled everyone with a read-option and Tannehill went 45 yards on third-and-1 keeping the ball so now we're talking 19-14.
Vincent Verhei: Here's the video of Ryan Tannehill's long touchdown run on a zone read. Packers looked like this was the first time any team ever ran this play -- watch Adrian Amos (31) whip his head around, totally lost.
— Tennessee Titans (@Titans) December 28, 2020
Scott Spratt: Woah, another snow game feature-or-bug: Aaron Jones definitely stepped out of bounds on his 59-yard run. But no one noticed before the Packers ran another play, and one play after that, Rodger connected with Davante Adams for another touchdown.
Bryan Knowles: Scott, I think the Packers would be happier right now if they had a contributing receiver, defensive lineman, edge rusher, or linebacker from their draft class. Their first three picks have a combined 85 offensive snaps coming into this week, and only Krys Barnes has 200 snaps. That being said, it's hard to argue with immediate results. If the Packers flounder in the playoffs because of their defensive deficiencies, we can point to the lack of effort they made to shore that up in the draft. Until then, they gambled that they had a competitive team in 2020 and could draft for the future -- so far, so good.
Drafting a running back in the second round still has me shaking my head, though.
Bryan Knowles: Of course, I scoff at the second round pick as AJ Dillon is having the best game of his career -- 14 carries, 92 yards and a touchdown just now which makes things 33-14 and likely ends any chance the Titans had of making a game of this one.
Scott Spratt: Haha, apparently you're making fun of the next Derrick Henry, Bryan. Won't you feel silly when Dillon runs for 50 touchdowns over the next four-plus years.
Bryan Knowles: Only if he runs for 50 more than undrafted rookie James Robinson, Scott!