Burrow-to-Chase Returns; 49ers' Purdy Predicament
NFL Week 13 - In this NFL Week 13 edition of Walkthrough:
- The San Francisco 49ers learn that you don't know what you have really got in Jimmy G. until he's gone;
- Lamar Jackson discovers the risks of "betting on himself;"
- The New York Jets meet their worst enemy, and he is again them;
- A.J. Brown proves that revenge is a dish best served atop a toasted defender;
- The Commanders and Giants tie, but it's OK, because they're weirdos who are into that sort of thing;
And much more. But first...
Remember the Cincinnati Bengals?
They won the AFC Championship in 2021. They came within a few plays of winning a Super Bowl. But they were written off as a team destined to fall back to the pack in 2022 because they didn't go out and get Russell Wilson or Davante Adams. They just did boring stuff like invest in their offensive line.
Remember when the Bengals started 0-2? Their rebuilt offensive line couldn't get on the same page, and Joe Burrow ran himself into some sacks. So the Bengals were written off. Seriously, what were the chances that four new starters on the offensive line—three of them established veterans—would slowly gain cohesion as the season went on? Who ever heard of such a thing?
Remember when Ja'Marr Chase got injured in Week 8? There was no chance Joe Burrow could win games with just Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd at wide receiver, plus that rebuilt line, plus a solid-up-the-middle no-name defense. It's not like Burrow is Justin Herbert. The smart move when Chase went down in November was to write the Bengals off as nothing more than plucky wild-card wannabes.
We have written the Bengals off so many times that the IRS is sending threatening letters. Sunday brought a very thorough audit:
Game Spotlight: Cincinnati Bengals 27, Kansas City Chiefs 24
What Happened: The Bengals beat the Chiefs for the third time in the 2022 calendar year, earning a spot beside Chiefs and the Bills on the AFC Super Bowl shortlist.
The Bengals took a 14-3 lead early in the second quarter, thanks in part to Ja'Marr Chase's return from injury. (Chase finished with seven catches for 97 yards.) A 14-3 lead against the Chiefs is like a 4-0 lead at the start of an NBA game, however, and the Chiefs led 24-17 after Patrick Mahomes imitated Michael Jordan at the 1987 Slam Dunk Contest on a 3-yard touchdown scramble.
MAHOMES UP AND OVER. @Chiefs
— NFL (@NFL) December 4, 2022
The Bengals remembered that they are the Chiefs' worst nightmare early in the fourth quarter, when Germaine Pratt ripped the ball away from Travis Kelce at the end of a 19-yard completion and Burrow led a touchdown drive built largely out of underneath completions to Samaje Perine and Chris Evans. A Joseph Ossai sack of Mahomes forced a missed Harrison Butker 55-yard field goal attempt on the next drive, and Burrow prevented any late-game acts of Mahomes sorcery with a 14-yard completion to Tee Higgins on third-and-11 just after the two-minute warning.
What it Means: The Bengals entered Sunday's game sixth in DVOA despite missing Chase for a month and playing their first two games of the season as if the offensive line was issued five different playbooks. They are a very, VERY strong Super Bowl contender. Lamar Jackson's injury smooths their path to the AFC North crown, and while the Bengals' upcoming schedule is still difficult, they just passed their toughest test.
The Chiefs are now at a head-to-head tiebreaker disadvantage with both the Bills and Bengals, and they must also cope with bad mojo after three straight high-stakes losses to the Bengals, including the AFC Championship Game. The tiebreaker situation has been a potential problem since the Chiefs lost to the Bills, and mojo isn't real. But the Chiefs just lost a game in which they did everything right: they were balanced offensively, kept Chase from going supernova on them, and did not beat themselves with penalties.
Maybe the Bengals aren't just a "bad matchup" for the Chiefs, but simply a better team.
What's Next: The Bengals host the Browns before their two-game Ghosts of Tom Brady road trip to Tampa Bay and New England. The Chiefs' current three-game road-trip gets much easier as they visit Russell Wilson's half-empty Denver mansion and the crumbling ruins of the Houston Texans.
San Francisco 49ers 33, Miami Dolphins 17
What Happened: What started as a Mike McDaniel homecoming celebration and a showdown between the suspiciously unstoppable Dolphins offense and the 49ers' tried-and-true YAC-'n'-sacks attack turned into a costly battle of injury attrition. And no one defeats the 49ers in a costly battle of injury attrition.
The Dolphins, already without starting tackles Terron Armstead and Austin Jackson, lost Jaylen Waddle early in the game. The 49ers called that injury and raised it when Jimmy Garoppolo left the game with a leg injury. Garoppolo is now out for the year.
Enter 49ers backup … um ... C.J. Beathard? Nick Mullens? Nick Sudfeld? Josh Rosen? Nope: Iowa State legend Brock Purdy.
Purdy couldn't accomplish much, but he didn't need to, because the Dolphins offense produced exactly two meaningful plays: a 74-yard slant-and-go Trent Sherfield touchdown on the first play of the game and a 45-yard Tyreek Hill bomb early in the fourth quarter. Other than those two plays, Tua Tagovailoa and company mustered just 188 yards of offense on 43 plays and went 0-for-7 on third downs.
Tagovailoa, who threw two interceptions (one a tip drill) and fumbled away a fourth-quarter strip-six, left the game in the fourth quarter with an ankle injury.
What It Means: This was supposed to be a winner-take-all battle for Super Bowl legitimacy. With a healthy Garoppolo, the 49ers would have belonged in the same category as the Eagles and Cowboys as true contenders. Let's be kind and include the Vikings too!
Without Garoppolo, however, friend-of-Walkthrough and The Athletic 49ers reporter David Lombardi said it best:
49ers’ formula for winning a Super Bowl now without Jimmy Garoppolo: They’ll have to be the equivalent of the ‘85 Bears defensively.
Tall ask? Sure. But the offense still has a wildly deep arsenal of weapons and the defense just smothered what was the top offense in football
— David Lombardi (@LombardiHimself) December 5, 2022
The 49ers are not the 1985 Bears. They are at least one full notch below the Eagles and Cowboys with Purdy at quarterback. (If the 49ers face the Vikings in the playoffs, Purdy will suffer a bizarre midweek hang-gliding accident, forcing Christian McCaffrey to start at quarterback.)
The 49ers brought this predicament on themselves with early-Sunday reports that they may re-sign Garoppolo for next year. If you want to make the almighty laugh, tell him about the 49ers' quarterback plans. But hey, imagine how many games Trey Lance could have won with the Jets in 2023!
As for the Dolphins, playing a little poorly with two backup tackles and Waddle out is acceptable; losing all ability to cope or function offensively is not acceptable. The Dolphins may be dangerous in the playoffs if they get healthier. For now, if you want to root for an AFC team with an explosive offense AND the ability to overcome setbacks, the Bengals are the team you seek.
What's Next: Tua (if healthy) vs. Herbert, the matchup that will finally destroy Twitter once and for all. Also, the Purdy Little Niners host the Buccaneers.
Game Spotlight: Minnesota Vikings 27, New York Jets 22
What Happened: The Jets defense couldn't get off the field on third downs in the first half. Their offense couldn't get in the end zone in the second half. The Vikings, meanwhile, just Vikinged.
The Vikings took a 20-3 lead late in the second quarter on a tip-drill Harrison Smith interception to set up an early score, some gash runs by Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison, and a 7-of-11 first-half performance on third downs.
The Jets defense stiffened (or the Vikings offense went predictably flaccid) in the second half, but their offense settled for field goals at the ends of 33- (before halftime), 43-, 72-, and 63-yard drives.
The Jets drove down to the Vikings 1-yard line at the two-minute warning but could not punch it in, with Braxton Berrios failing to complete the catch on fourth down. Their defense gave them the ball back at the Vikings 43-yard line with 1:19 left, but Mike White could not mount a final drive, and his last-ditch fourth-and-10 pass was intercepted.
What It Means: Once again, the Vikings looked ordinary at best yet beat a fellow middleweight. Once again, the Jets played well enough to win but found ways to lose a heartbreaker to a beatable opponent.
Mike White was better than the guy he replaced but still meh: too many deflected passes (a sign of a quarterback staring down his targets), some plays where he didn't see open receivers underneath, not much of a plan in the red zone.
The Jets need to win games in which White plays this way, because that's how he's likely to play down the stretch. Their defense cannot afford to dig a first-half hole by letting Kirk Cousins types scramble for third-and-9 first downs or letting Jalen Reagor (of all people) somehow shake open for 38-yard catches. Coordinator Mike LaFleur needs to dream up new concepts for an offense that's 4-of-14 in the red zone over its last four games. How about a Garrett Wilson/Elijah Moore/Berrios pistol diamond formation near the goal line? It makes more sense than asking any Jets quarterback to read a defense in close quarters.
As for the frustratingly ordinary Vikings, there may well be some intangible but legitimate reason why a team loaded with seasoned veterans such as Cousins, Harrison Smith, Erik Kendricks (14 total tackles) and many others can find ways to seal close victories against opponents such as the Jets who are full of inexperienced up-and-comers. Or perhaps the Vikings keep getting lucky. Neither of those paths to victory are likely to get them all that far in the NFC playoffs, but Vikings fans can enjoy the wins and some righteous indignation at the skeptics (in other words, everyone who is not a Vikings fan) until then.
What's Next: The Vikings Mediocrity Tour 2022 continues with a visit to the Lions followed by a visit from Jeff Saturday's Rollerskate Jam. The Jets Frozen Roadtrip continues with a stop in Buffalo. Brrrrr.
Game Spotlight: Philadelphia Eagles 36, Tennessee Titans 10
What Happened: A.J. Brown exerted absolute dominance over his former team and sent the Titans back to Conference USA where they belong.
Brown (8-119-2, with a third long touchdown called back because of a tippy-toe out of bounds), played as if he was still holding a grudge against the team that traded him instead of signing him to a market-value contract. Fancy that.
Treylon Burks, Brown's rookie replacement, got knocked out of the game with a blow to the head on a first-quarter touchdown, robbing the Titans of their lone hypothetical downfield target. The Eagles overcame a flurry of early-game penalties and replay reversals to take a 21-10 halftime lead. Once the Titans could no longer play mucky-poo turtle-ball, the rout was on.
Derrick Henry rushed for just 30 yards on 11 carries, and the depleted Titans secondary had no answers for Brown or DeVonta Smith (5-102-1). Once the Titans could no longer run on early downs, the weakness of their pass protection and utter lack of speed at wide receiver were exposed, with Ryan Tannehill enduring six sacks.
What It Means: The Titans will once again earn an automatic playoff bid as the AFC Southlandia champions and immediately get exposed by one of the real conference contenders.
Any team with adequate pass protection and swift receivers should steamroll the Titans in the playoffs. The AFC playoffs will feature several true contenders who match that profile.
The Eagles can cross "bad run defense" off their list of worries now that Ndamukong Suh, Jordan Davis (back from injury), and their rotation of about 40 other quality defensive tackles are slowing down Henry/Aaron Jones/Jonathan Taylor types. The Eagles special teams also looked uncharacteristically strong on Sunday, with Britain Covey returning six punts for 105 yards.
That leaves the Eagles without any major recurring weaknesses, folks. If you are still skeptical of them, Walkthrough doesn't know what else to tell you.
What's Next: The Eagles cruise up the New Jersey Turnpike for their first of two meetings with the fit-to-be-tied Giants. The Titans host the obligingly overrated Jaguars.
Game Spotlight: Commanders 20, Giants 20 (OT)
What Happened: Two quasi-contenders who play each game not to lose succeeded in not losing. The football gods took one look at the Giants and Commanders and demanded a tie as a sacrifice to their displeasure.
The Giants were outclassed at wide receiver and in the secondary but manufactured an offense out of Pop Warner concepts. The Commanders took an early lead but could not protect Tyler Heinicke or stop the Daniel Jones-Saquon Barkley option game.
Heinicke delivered his typical slightly-better-than-Wentzian assortment of clutch plays, scattershot-routine throws, and fumbles. The Commanders started four drives inside their own 12-yard line. The Giants took a 20-13 lead on a 20-yard touchdown drive after a fumble and tried to milk it for the final 32 minutes of regulation while attempting one downfield pass per quarter. Heinicke eventually managed to tie the game late in the fourth quarter with a scrambling fourth-and-4 completion to Curtis Samuel and a 28-yard catch-and-run by Jahan Dotson.
Overtime was football purgatory. The Giants took a delay-of-game penalty on fourth-and-3 from the Commanders 45-yard line late in the period and punted. The Commanders rewarded that 1980s NHL road-team strategy by allowing Heinicke to get sacked near his own goal line, giving the Giants the ball back with 28 seconds left. But the football gods would not be denied, and Graham Gano's final 58-yard field goal attempt came up short.
What It Means: This game was a rock-solid argument for eliminating the third wild-card berths. Neither the Giants nor Commanders are remotely playoff-worthy, yet we were forced to sit through this glorified NCAA basketball tournament Wednesday night play-in game as if it meant something. And we will be forced to do it again in two weeks.
What's Next: The Giants host the Eagles and then visit the Commanders. The Commanders take the week off, then host the Giants. If they tie again, they will be forced to merge and become the USFL's All New Baltimore Stars.
Week 13 Awards
Trophies! Get your trophies!
Defender of the Week
Los Angeles Rams linebacker Bobby Wagner put a scare into his former team with two sacks and an interception ripped from running back Tony Jones' hands in a 27-23 Rams loss to the Seahawks.
Walkthrough usually only gives DOW to defenders on winning teams, but Wagner gets extra credit for both lifetime achievements and being the last man standing for the Rams.
Offensive Line of the Week
Josh Jacobs rushed for 144 yards at 5.5 yards per carry. The Los Angeles Chargers were held without a sack. The Las Vegas Raiders offensive line has been playing well lately, so let's hear it for Kolton Miller, Donald Parham, Andre James, Alex Bars, and Jermaine Eluemunor, plus oft-used sixth man Thayer Munford!
The Raiders won 27-20. The Chargers offense sputtered all afternoon. Maybe that will finally stop Twitter from fawning all over one isolated Justin Herbert highlight from a lost-cause situation against a weak opponent…
Is this Justin Herbert throw the greatest of the season? It certainly is up there.
Consider 4th and 12, toopic.twitter.com/7O8HD6ThRk
— Jason McIntyre (@jasonrmcintyre) December 5, 2022
Nope. This is Walkthrough's life now.
Special Teamer of the Week
Donovan Peoples-Jones' 76-yard punt return touchdown gave the Browns their only points of the first half and helped spark a 27-14 defense-and-special-teams-fueled victory over the depressing Houston Texans.
Best Supporting Actor in Someone Else's Highlight
Sometimes you're the windshield. Sometimes you're the bug. And sometimes you are Kristian Fulton getting run over by A.J. Brown.
Get in the weight room Kristian Fulton. pic.twitter.com/qVRM4rAy9w
— Victor Williams (@ThePhillyPod) December 4, 2022
Fulton had to leave the game after trainers picked him out of Brown's cleats. That left undrafted rookie Tre Avery to attempt the hug 'n' hope coverage technique, which is at least a step up from Fulton's World Cup flop technique.
A.J. BROWN IS HAVING A DAY. @1kalwaysopen_
— NFL (@NFL) December 4, 2022
Honorable Mention to Matt Ryan for rolling like a log down a steep hill at the end of Malik Hooker's second-quarter interception in the Sunday night game:
Malik Hooker snags the INT against the team that drafted him 😤
— NFL (@NFL) December 5, 2022
Walkthrough cannot find exact the camera angle, but Ryan can be seen flying sideways like Superman from the old television series across the screen on some replays after getting blocked.
Burn This Play!
When it's fourth-and-inches, a sneak is almost always the best play, though it might be tempting to manufacture an opportunity for someone such as Ja'Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, or Tyler Boyd.
Or, as Zac Taylor might say, "It's time for a jet sweep from a tight formation to TRENT TAYLOR."
Heat-seeking missile, and Chiefs DE, Carlos Dunlap. pic.twitter.com/3Bp7B3Ysn3
— Jeff Rosen (@jeff_rosen88) December 4, 2022
Carlos Dunlap makes a great play on Taylor, but look at the Chiefs defense on the offensive right: no way the 180-pound punt returner with 20 offensive touches in the last three years picks up a first down.
Rando of the Week
Happy eighth birthday to Vikings superfan Lincoln Gustafson, our Rando of the Week!
— NFL on CBS 🏈 (@NFLonCBS) December 4, 2022
You may be wondering, with a great deal of apprehension, where Walkthrough is going for a follow up joke about a lovable tyke. Are you guessing:
a) A tasteful-but-lame Fargo-accent reference? ("Ya, that Gustafson lad is a fine fella, you betcha."
b) A deflection to a different kid and a funnier quarterback? (Aaron Rodgers' eight-year-old superfan is also the World's Cutest Widdle 9/11 Truther!)
c) A Home Alone reference. (Cue Catherine O'Hara: "Kevin??? Oh no, we left him at a VIKINGS GAME!")
d) Something exceedingly dumb like a "skinny white kid" joke.
The answer is d): Gustafson is destined to be Tom Brady's favorite slot receiver in about three years.
Lamar Jackson's Narrow Escape
"Gambling on yourself" is just that: gambling. In Lamar Jackson's case, it's an extreme-stakes, extreme-risk game. Pretending that it's a sure thing doesn't make it a sure thing. And rooting for him to win doesn't change the odds.
Lamar Jackson suffered what appeared to be a significant knee injury in the Baltimore Ravens' 10-9 victory over the sublimely ridiculous Denver Broncos. Per postgame reports, the injury was not nearly as bad as it looked; we'll know more by the time you read this on Monday, but it looks like Jackson may miss a little time, not the rest of the season.
You may recall that Jackson reportedly turned down a market-value franchise-quarterback contract just before the start of the season. Jackson wants a fully guaranteed deal. Some analysts framed Jackson as a working-class hero poised to beat the Ravens and NFL at their own poker game. Walkthrough pointed out that Jackson was risking an awful lot against a stacked deck and felt that those who cheered his gambit on were being really generous with Jackson's future money.
You can read the whole Jackson contract argument in the link above. Walkthrough even presaged the scenario that Jackson may find himself in after Sunday's injury:
Let's say Jackson misses two-and-a-half games this season with a sprained ankle. Let's say his performance also lands somewhere between 2019 and 2020 levels: 2,800 passing yards, 700-plus rushing yards, a winning record as a starter, another playoff loss in which Jackson doesn't quite look like peak [Patrick] Mahomes, [Josh] Allen, or [Russell] Wilson.
Does that really sound like a quarterback a team should make a guaranteed five-year commitment to?
After the hypothetical, non-disastrous, in-character season described above, Eric DeCosta and the Ravens might say, "Sorry, that offer from last September is off the table. We're now thinking three years, $140 million or so, $90 million guaranteed, a fourth void year to spread the bonus out. Whattaya say?"
LOL, "Wilson." We were so young and naive in early September. But that's not the point.
Both Jackson and the Ravens have more immediate concerns right now than Jackson's future contract. The Ravens face four AFC North opponents in their final five games. They can remain in the playoff picture with a few wins. Maybe if Lamar Jackson comes back—but doesn't hurry back—and stays healthy, he can lead a playoff run. Then he enters the offseason as a bottom-of-the-top-10 quarterback coming off two straight injury-marred seasons, and maybe the next time he limps off the field…
Walkthrough is the opposite of a Lamar Jackson-hater. We're not pessimists. We're realists. And we're worried that the $133 million guaranteed that the Ravens offered in August was the offer Jackson could not afford to refuse.
Let's hope Walkthrough is wrong. But on Sunday, we came close to being disastrously correct.