Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady's Shiny New Year
NFL Week 17 - In this overstuffed NFL Week 17 edition of Walkthrough...
- The New England Patriots overcome their own offense yet again on their way to victory;
- The New York Giants and Detroit Lions demonstrate how far they have come in one year;
- Cameron Jordan makes life hard on Gardner Minshew, who makes clinching home-field advantage much harder for his Philadelphia Eagles;
- Blaine Gabbert proves that while not all heroes wear capes, at least one of them rides a Jet Ski;
and much more. But first...
Tom Brady in the playoffs? Aaron Rodgers one win away from the playoffs? Isn't it now 2023? Aren't these grouchy old quarterbacks supposed to be toast? Shouldn't they have ceded the stage to (searching NFC standings for a worthy also-ran), er, Desmond Ridder or someone?
The playoffs may still be Rodgers-free: the Seattle Seahawks clinch the final NFC berth with a win and a Packers loss to the Lions next week; the Lions clinch with a win and a Seahawks loss. But the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are in, thanks to Tom Brady's three-touchdown performance against the Panthers in Week 17.
It all goes to show that changings of the guard in the NFL rarely go smoothly. The Commanders can surge for a few weeks, then fade for want of a half-decent quarterback. The Panthers can play the second half of their season with pride, but pride only goes so far with Sam Darnold at quarterback and no Jaycee Horn in the secondary. Jared Goff and Geno Smith at their absolute best can do little more than make their teams the rivals of Rodgers or Brady during at their late-career ricketiest.
There's one boogeyman in the NFC playoffs in Brady. Rodgers could make it two. How confident are you in Brock Purdy? A banged-up Jalen Hurts? Dak Prescott, who needs two first-half turnovers (yes, tireless Dak apologists, only one of them is typically his fault) to get warmed up? LOL Kirk LOLOL Cousins ROTFL?
Cowboys, Eagles, and 49ers fans who aren't afraid of the boogeymen aren't telling the truth. And Vikings fans have been lying to themselves for four months. The NFC playoff picture is much more complicated than it looked about a month ago. And legendary quarterbacks rarely fade away without a fight.
Game Spotlight: Green Bay Packers 41, Minnesota Vikings 17
What Happened: The Vikings faced a real opponent, which meant it was time to get their overrated purple fannies pummeled again.
Oh, that's not fair. The Giants were a "real" opponent, right? And the Bills, of course, in that historically fluky comeback affair. Are the Patriots real? Maybe; we'll get to them in a moment.
You get the idea: the Vikings had one of those games where they played like the Houston Texans' scout team in the first half, and the cosmos didn't shift into auto-assist mode for them in the second half.
Josh Metellus blocked a punt to give the Vikings the ball at the Packers' 1-yard line in the first quarter, but they settled for a field goal. From then on, it was all Packers: a Keisean Nixon kickoff return touchdown (he returned one 93 yards in Week 16), a Darnell Savage pick-six, three more Kirk Cousins turnovers, 152 rushing yards from AJ Dillon and Aaron Jones, and lots of evidence that the Vikings are poised to humiliate themselves in the postseason.
Justin Jefferson removed his helmet in disgust after a second quarter interception and accidentally clocked an official with it. No Vikings loss is complete without someone completely losing their composure in a way that reminds us that they haven't really engineered all of this season's comebacks by remaining cool and collected under pressure.
What it Means: The difference between the Eagles, Cowboys, and Vikings (you know the drill with the Purdy Little Niners):
- The Eagles are an excellent team currently in a slump due to Jalen Hurts' injury.
- The Cowboys are a very good team that is occasionally self-destructive.
- The Vikings are a below-average team that experiences occasional power surges, benefits from Jefferson's semi-regular heroics, and got almost preternaturally lucky a few times.
In other words, the default setting for the Cowboys and Eagles is "good," while the default setting for the Vikings is "mediocre." The playoffs have a knack for restoring teams to their factory defaults.
The Packers have been one of the NFL's best teams over the last three weeks, with their defense and (surprise!) their special teams picking up the slack when their offense has started slowly. They're poised to be the official Team No One Wants to Face in the NFC playoffs.
What's Next: A must-see Lions-Packers showdown at Lambeau and a season-ending Vikings self-esteem workshop against the Bears in Soldier Field.
Game Spotlight: New England Patriots 23, Miami Dolphins 21
What Happened: The Patriots manufactured another injury- and penalty-fueled slopfest of a win in Foxborough.
Sunday's victory was a lot like the Patriots' losses to the Raiders (in Vegas) and Bengals over the last two weeks: a defensive touchdown (by Kyle Dugger, just as in Week 15), some follow-the-bouncing-ball plays, a few "drives" by Mac Jones and the offense which were mostly coverage lapses and pass interference, a comeback after a flat first half. This week, however, no one did anything stupid late in the game, though Matt Patricia tried his darndest by calling what appeared to be a "just get sacked, Mac" play on fourth down with a nine-point lead.
Teddy Bridgewater (finger) got knocked out of the game when trying to make a tackle at the end of Dugger's interception return. Skylar Thompson made things semi-interesting with a late touchdown but could not move the offense for most of the fourth quarter. The Dolphins face an all-too-familiar quarterback dilemma entering Week 18.
What It Means: The Patriots deserve the seventh seed in the AFC playoffs. Nothing less, but absolutely nothing more. They can clinch it by beating the Bills or via some daisy-chain scenarios.
The Dolphins were without Tua Tagovailoa, Terron Armstead, Xavien Howard, and Bradley Chubb on Sunday, so it's tempting to blame the latest chapter of their five-game losing streak on injuries. It's more accurate to blame the whole streak on the Dolphins' inability to adjust to any sort of adversity this year, from Tua's injuries to opponents figuring out ways to partially neutralize Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle.
The Patriots know how to scratch out wins. The Dolphins have been searching helplessly for a Plan B since the start of December.
What's Next: The Patriots host the Bills and the Dolphins host the Jets: two important games, three playoff hopefuls, one truly good team. (Late edit: this was written before the Jets were eliminated. Poor, poor Jets.)
Week 17 Whip-Around Coverage
Observations and insights from around the league during the NFL's penultimate Sunday.
Phony MinshewMania has Bitten the Dust
The Eagles beat themselves with offensive line penalties and got outmuscled in both trenches in short-yardage situations in their 20-10 loss to the New Orleans Saints. Most distressingly, however, Nick Sirianni and Shane Steichen made the mistake of trusting Gardner Minshew to execute a pass-heavy game plan.
Minshew absorbed five sacks in the first half as the Saints climbed out to a 13-0 lead; the Eagles ran the ball just twice and failed to pick up a first down in the half. Sirianni and Steichen returned to the run in the third quarter for a field-goal drive (a touchdown run by Kenneth Gainwell was negated by a tacky holding penalty), then it was back to the all-Minshew attack. A.J. Brown brushed a defender aside for a 78-yard catch-and-run to cut the Saints lead to 13-10, but the next two Eagles drives stalled before Minshew uncorked a disastrous pick-six to Marshon Lattimore. Minshew was slow to get rid of the ball, threw a few wild pitches, and demonstrated the limits of his wishful-thinking elusiveness throughout the game.
Jalen Hurts will now likely return, 100%-ready-or-not, to help the Eagles salvage the top seed in the NFC playoffs against a Giants team with nothing to play for. In a few weeks, the Eagles' back-to-back holiday-season losses may be a fading memory. But if anyone writes a sentence in an offseason article along the likes of "Gardner Minshew deserves a chance to be the starter for the Jets/Raiders/Texans," close your browser window, delete your history, reformat your laptop, pour some memory-cleansing vodka shots, and do everything else you can to ensure that such foolishness does not infiltrate your mind.
Don't Sleep on Seattle
It's tempting to look at the box score of the Seattle Seahawks' 23-6 victory over the New York Jets and assume that they benefited from a bunch of Jets turnovers. Mike White did throw two interceptions and had a fumble, but the fumble came on the final play before halftime and had no real impact on the game, while his second interception came while trailing big in the fourth quarter.
The Seahawks got big plays from their running game (including a 60-yard rush by Kenneth Walker to open the game) and passing game to turn one White miscue into a 17-3 lead by early in the second quarter. That tilted the field enough to play ball-control offense while the Jets became increasingly one-dimensional. Jets turnovers were as much a result of the Seahawks' success as a cause. Furthermore, Jets receivers mishandled a few catchable passes, including a Garrett Wilson drop on fourth-and-4.
The Seahawks could present a fun challenge to a division-winner if they slip into the playoffs. The Jets are not fun in any way, and they need to face the reality that not all of their problems in the second half of the season stemmed from bad quarterback play.
Tom Brady is a Better Quarterback than Sam Darnold
Sunday's 30-23 victory over the Carolina Panthers was a 2022 Tampa Bay Buccaneers victory like any other, only more so. The Panthers took a 21-10 fourth-quarter lead but could not hold it, mostly because there was no one to cover Mike Evans (10-207-3) with Jaycee Horn injured. Darnold was due for a turnover spree, and he delivered with two turnovers in his own territory and an interception near the goal line. Brady had some senior moments, but Evans and Chris Godwin were always open for him.
Brady and the Bucs did the NFL world a favor by clinching the annoyingly unpleasant NFC South: we can all safely ignore Panthers-Saints and Buccaneers-Falcons next week. The Panthers, in particular, are much more interesting now that we can focus on their coaching search and rebuilding project instead of slim Darnold-fueled playoff hopes. And no one should ever be forced to watch a Falcons game.
Brock Purdy vs. Jarrett Stidham was the Cotton Bowl we Deserved but Never Got
Walkthrough did not get a long look at the San Francisco 49ers' 37-34 overtime victory against the Raiders. A quick scan of the highlights and gamebook show Davante Adams earning triple time—coming back for an underthrown bomb, shaking wide-open on a scramble, etc.—to make Stidham look effective, while Josh McDaniels schemed up some 12 personnel passing opportunities with Andrew Waller back. Purdy, meanwhile, continues to benefit from YAC in ways that would make even Jimmy Garoppolo blush; the Raiders have defenders who can run and defenders who can tackle, but only Maxx Crosby can do both. The 49ers looked a little vulnerable on defense, but it's not like any of the NFC division-leaders look invincible right now. This game should be a hoot as a Tuesday morning film session.
If McDaniels and the Raiders use this close call to talk themselves into Stidham (two interceptions and a fumble) as a long-term quarterback option, then they deserve to battle the Broncos for last place in the AFC West until the end of the decade.
The New York Giants and Detroit Lions Have Come Such a Long Way
The Giants clinched the sixth seed in the NFC playoffs with a 38-10 win over the Indianapolis Colts. Daniel Jones managed the game well, with two passing touchdowns and two more touchdowns on 91 rushing yards, while rookie edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux appeared to be all over the field in the first half.
It was an impressive Giants victory, but the Colts played their part with more of Jeff Saturday's signature hungover-substitute-teacher coaching techniques. Saturday called a timeout on fourth-and-1 from the Giants' 5-yard line in the first quarter, then kicked a field goal. Nick Foles threw a pick-six before getting knocked out of the game in favor of Sam Ehlinger, who would probably struggle to make a USFL roster. Matt Ryan, meanwhile, remains a political prisoner of whatever is going on behind the scenes in Indy.
This time last year, the Giants were the team whose coach embarrassed himself and the organization in unique and unprecedented ways each week. So the Colts should look to the Giants as role models, and the Giants and their fans should be thrilled with how far Brian Daboll has taken them.
The Lions remained in the playoff chase with an impressive 41-10 drubbing of the Chicago Bears. The Lions took care of their business on both offense and defense but got an assist from a sputtering opponent. Justin Fields rushed for 109 yards in the first quarter to lead the Bears to 10 early points, so Matt don't-call-him-Nagy Eberflus and his staff decided to abandon Fields' designed-running threat altogether so he could go 7-of-21 spraying passes to Byron Pringle and N'Keal Harry.
Like the Giants, the Lions got an opportunity to gauge just how far they have come on Sunday.
A Wentz is a Wentz is a Wentz and Hence, it Never Makes Sense to Count on a Wentz
Dear Washington Commanders,
In the wake of Carson Wentz's utterly in-character three-interception performance in a 24-10 loss to the Cleveland Browns which kneecapped your playoff hopes, here is a subtle suggestion:
Sam Howell. Sam Howell. Sam Howell. Sam Howell. Sam Howell. Sam Howell. Sam Howell. Sam Howell. Sam Howell. Sam Howell. Sam Howell. Sam Howell. Sam Howell. Sam Howell. Sam Howell. Sam Howell. Sam Howell. Sam Howell. Sam Howell. Sam Howell. Sam Howell. Sam Howell. Sam Howell. Sam Howell. Sam Howell. Sam Howell. Sam Howell. Sam Howell. Sam Howell. Sam Howell. Sam Howell. Sam Howell. Sam Howell. Sam Howell. Sam Howell. Sam Howell. Sam Howell. Sam Howell. Sam Howell. Sam Howell. Sam Howell. Sam Howell. Sam Howell. Sam Howell. Sam Howell. Sam Howell. Sam Howell. Sam Howell.
Fans everywhere of football and meritocracy.
Around the League
Some notes on the Sunday morning news dump.
Raiders Plan to Shop Derek Carr in the Offseason.
You don't say?
Giants Plan to Offer Multi–Year Contracts to Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley, per Ian Rapoport of NFL.com.
Maybe it's something like two years at $16 million with incentives for Barkley and two years at $40 million for Jones, like-it-or-lump-it. Otherwise, this sounds like a John Mara-level "our commitment to continuity at all costs is what made us great once"-level feat of roster-building incompetence.
Jets Have No interest in Trading Zach Wilson, Also Per RapSheet.
Translation: Jets have no interest in further tanking Wilson's trade value, which would currently net them a conditional seventh-round pick sometime after the events of Mad Max: Fury Road.
Trey Lance Had a Second Surgical Procedure on his Ankle.
Trey Lance, sadly, will never be more than an urban legend.
Monday Night Football Will Start Later than Usual to Accommodate the Rose Bowl.
The Bengals-Bills game will start at 8:30 p.m, not 8:15, which will place kickoff at around the 5:45 mark of the third quarter of the Rose Bowl as opposed to the 6:30 mark, because college football games are too long. Walkthrough will fall asleep in the middle of the first quarter of MNF instead of the end of the first quarter like we usually do.
Week 17 Awards
Defender of the Week
Cameron Jordan sacked Gardner Minshew three times to keep the Saints' ultra-slim playoff hopes alive and force the Eagles to play meaningful football in Week 18.
Honorable Mention: Cleveland Browns safety Grant Delpit intercepted Carson Wentz twice, but Wentz interceptions only earn half credit here in Walkthrough.
Offensive Line of the Week
David Bakhtiari is back (again) at left tackle for the Packers, and it showed on Sunday as the Packers racked up 163 rushing yards and allowed just one sack. So let's hear it for Bakhtiari, Elgton Jenkins, Josh Myers, Jon Runyan Jr., and right tackles Zach Tom and Yosh Nijman, plus all the backups who finished the game. Strike up the imaginary band, fellas:
PLEASE look at Josh Myers playing the air triangle in the back 😭 pic.twitter.com/MrFnRJwSF6
— Daire Carragher (@DaireCarragher) January 1, 2023
Walkthrough is pretty sure that's air bass drum Myers is playing, not triangle. If not, the Sons of Walkthrough are marching band pit percussionists, so there will be triangle shaming in this space.
Special Teamer of the Week
Keisean Nixon is a former Raiders special teams gunner who came along with coordinator Rich Bisaccia in the offseason. He had returned just six kickoffs in three NFL seasons entering 2022. Nixon now leads the NFL with 30.0 yards per kickoff return and has won back-to-back Walkthrough special teams honors. Watch out for these Packers, folks.
Honorable Mention: The Buccaneers' victory over the Panthers got wobbly late in the fourth quarter, and a bad punt snap nearly gave the Panthers great field position while down by just six points. But Tom Brady pushed that little button on his belt buckle that makes reality bend to his wishes, and punter Jake Camarda was inhabited by the ghost of Sammy Baugh:
Bucs punter Jake Camarda saves a potential disaster of a punt!
— NFL (@NFL) January 1, 2023
Best Supporting Actor in Someone Else's Highlight
Someone fetch the fire extinguisher for Panthers cornerback CJ Henderson please?
— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) January 1, 2023
Uh-oh. Maybe fetch some aloe-based burn cream too.
BRADY. EVANS. THIRD TD TODAY!
— NFL (@NFL) January 1, 2023
Never mind. Just grab one of those whisk brooms that are used to sweep the ashes out of fireplaces.
Burn This Play (Patriots Edition)!
Overheard on the Patriots sideline on Sunday.
BILL BELICHICK: We're facing fourth-and-4 at the Dolphins' 29-yard line. Imma send in the field goal unit so we can take a 12-point lead and take a late Dolphins field goal out of the equation.
MATT PATRICIA: Don't do it, Coach. I have the perfect play for this situation.
BELICHICK: Are you sure? The Dolphins are out of timeouts. We have been making conservative decisions all year to cover up for your feeble offense. Heck, maybe I will just punt.
PATRICIA: No! Hear me out. We empty the backfield.
BELICHICK: Well, that sounds risky. Mac Jones isn't exactly Cam Newton.
PATRICIA: And we motion Tyquan Thornton to the right so we flood that side of the field with four receivers.
BELICHICK: Sounds like we are making things easy for the defense.
PATRICIA: And we roll Mac right, too.
BELICHICK: We ARE making things incredibly easy. But you'll send someone deep, right? Worst comes to worst, Mac can just arm punt.
PATRICIA: Well, Kendrick Bourne will run a clearing route, but Jones will be looking to get the ball to one of three receivers bunched near the sticks along the right boundary.
BELICHICK: Three receivers in the same place? That sounds like a bad design concept.
PATRICIA: Oh, don't worry sir. You see, Mac will be rolling directly into the teeth of a blitz, resulting in a sack.
BELICHICK: Isn't a sack worse than a missed field goal in this situation?
PATRICIA: I'm gonna need you to get all the way off my back on that, sir.
BELICHICK: Oh well, you're the fake offensive coordinator, Matt! Run the play and maybe we'll get roughing the passer or pass interference, our two most reliable methods of gaining yardage.
PATRICIA: You got it, Coach! There's no way this play will backfire and give the Dolphins a slight chance at a late comeback.
Average Matt Patricia play call pic.twitter.com/pKELFaPxT9
— Barstool Sports (@barstoolsports) January 1, 2023
Burn This Play (Bears Edition)!
The Lions decided to rush zero defenders with five seconds left before halftime while leading the Bears 24-10. A wise tactic: the last thing the Lions needed in that situation was Justin Fields scramble magic. The Bears surely knew they won't face much pass rush, so they sent everyone into the end zone for a Hail Mary, right? Wrong:
— Detroit Lions (@Lions) January 1, 2023
Check out those "route" "concepts." The Bears are hoping to execute some sort of mesh in the middle of the field, but to what end? They had zero timeouts; even if someone caught the ball in the middle of the field and ran straight to the sideline, time would have expired. And NOBODY runs a deep route, which might at least have cleared out some space.
Remember plays like this when the Bears organization starts signaling that Fields is the problem, not the solution.
Burn This Play (BCS Semifinals Edition)!
Walkthrough has reached the age and/or level of semi-permanent insobriety that we walk into rooms and immediately forget why we entered them. Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy is too young for such issues, yet he triggered a Philly Special at the goal line, only to forget that he was supposed to run a route into the end zone and decided to do a little sightseeing instead.
McCarthy's leisurely stroll into the flat aside, starting this play with two receivers to the right just makes it more likely that one of them stays home, and McCarthy ventures out of the pocket so early that TCU cornerback Josh Newton (24), in zone coverage anyway, spots exactly what is going on.
This Philly Special attempt by Michigan did NOT go as planned pic.twitter.com/GIItXzoeWu
— Caesars Sportsbook (@CaesarsSports) December 31, 2022
The signature Philly Special was full of subterfuge to hide the fact that the ball was going to Nick Foles. Modern versions of the play practically come with flashing TRICKERATION billboards. Get some new ideas, you copycats.
Rando of the Week
Blaine Gabbert and his brothers raced out on Jet Skis to rescue a family when their tourist-adventure helicopter splash-landed and sank near the Davis Islands on Thursday.
That was an absolutely true sentence about a thing that happened in the final days of the Year of Our Lord 2022, and it involved Gabbert, Real American and the most forgotten of the forgotten backup quarterbacks, during a week when many of his peers were preparing to make emergency starts. (Hey, Mark Davis' finances and Jim Irsay's moodswings count as "emergencies."
Thank heavens it was Gabbert performing the rescue.
- Tom Brady would have rescued everyone in his Bradycopter, but then invited the family to stay with him, have dinner, play some ping-pong, please, this house is so big and empty.
- Aaron Rodgers would have splashed water from his speedboat on the desperate family, then explained Social Darwinism to an appreciative Joe Rogan on next week's podcast.
- According to every single member of the Denver Broncos, Russell Wilson would have raced from his corner office to his parking space and drove off to do an outstanding job rescuing the family, and they stand behind Wilson 100%.
- Dak Prescott would eventually rescue the family, but not before crashing his Jet Ski twice.
- Josh Allen would use the tiny wings on his heels to fly over the waves like Namor to rescue the family. Five hundred feet from shore, however, he would needlessly hurl them into the mouth of a nearby shark.
- Justin Herbert would not make it off the pier because Joe Lombardi forgot to gas up the Jet Skis, but Film Snob Twitter assures me Herbert can lift a helicopter out of the water with one hand and doesn't have to prove that he can do so to anybody.
- Kyler Murray would be out there as soon as he completed a few more levels of Jet Ski Simulator.
- Lamar Jackson
is too injured to ride a Jet SkiWOULD LET THAT FAMILY DROWN BECAUSE HE DOESN'T HAVE A LONG-TERM CONTRACT.
- Kirk Cousins would wait until the helicopter was completely submerged before sending Justin Jefferson to the rescue. After Jefferson swam out to carry the family back one at a time, Vikings fans would claim Cousins deserves a medal.
- Carson Wentz is an accomplished Jet Ski driver. Seriously. Walkthrough covered the guy for years; folks love to Jet Ski around those lakes up in North Dakota. So he could handle a rescue just fine. Are … are Blane Gabbert and Carson Wentz the same person? That would explain so much.
- Matt Ryan was the helicopter.
- Deshaun Watson holds his hand out to a drowning person. "Eh, no thanks. I'll take my chances with the sea instead."