Around The NFL breaks down what you need to know from all of Saturday's action in Week 17 of the 2022 NFL season. Catch up on each game's biggest takeaways using the links below:
- New York Giants 38, Indianapolis Colts 10
- Detroit Lions 41, Chicago Bears 10
- Jacksonville Jaguars 31, Houston Texans 3
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers 30, Carolina Panthers 24
- Atlanta Falcons 20, Arizona Cardinals 19
- Kansas City Chiefs 27, Denver Broncos 24
- New England Patriots 23, Miami Dolphins 21
- New Orleans Saints 20, Philadelphia Eagles 10
- Cleveland Browns 24, Washington Commanders 10
Grant Gordon's takeaways:
- Steelers staying alive. Mike Tomlin's squad was 2-6 after nine weeks, but the Steelers will be headed into their regular-season finale against the Browns with a chance to hold on to history and make the playoffs. It speaks to Tomlin's abilities to coach 'em up and rally his troops, and Sunday night's game was a microcosm of that. The Steelers were down 13-3 in the third quarter, but they rallied for the victory against a playoff-bound rival with stellar defense, a second-year running back and a rookie quarterback. Pittsburgh is 6-2 since Week 10, which is tied for the fifth-best mark in the league over that span and has the Steelers still holding on to playoff hope and a string of 15 non-losing seasons under Tomlin and 18 overall for the franchise. Steely reserve and a fight-until-the-end fortitude were on prime-time display Sunday night -- and have been since Week 10.
- Offensive woes continue for Baltimore. The Ravens haven't scored more than 17 points in five weeks running now. It's a massive credit to the Baltimore defense that the team has gone 3-2 in that stretch and clinched a playoff berth along the way. A knee injury has led to Lamar Jackson missing the last four games, but in reality the offense has been missing in action longer than that. Running back J.K. Dobbins, who had 93 yards rushing Sunday, has really been about the only bright spot as of late on that side of the ball. Tyler Huntley has performed valiantly, but in reality, the offense started the season strong but after the first quarter of the season has sputtered. Jackson's return bodes well for aspirations of making some postseason noise, because there's always the threat of a big play or two or five with him in the lineup. When that will be remains to be seen though. The Ravens offense was riding the struggle bus with Jackson, and without one of the league's most electrifying talents, that same bus has stalled. At Sunday night's end, the Ravens had just 240 yards of offense and were held to three second-half points. Playoff-bound or not, offensive problems persist.
- Pittsburgh's promising future is present. Youthful playmaking and veteran moxie were mixed together by quarterback Kenny Pickett when the rookie took over with 4:16 to play and 80 yards to go. Down 13-9 without a touchdown on the evening, Pickett led the charge downfield and ended it when he scrambled out of pressure and tossed a beautiful ball into a tight window for a 10-yard score to Najee Harris. Pickett's game-winning TD toss came with 56 seconds left to play and he became the first rookie in NFL history to throw a game-winning touchdown pass in the final minute of the fourth quarter in back-to-back games. A week after Pickett piloted Pittsburgh's Christmas Eve comeback over the Raiders, he offered an encore versus the Ravens. He wasn't alone in the inspiring-efforts department, though, as Harris' touchdown reception complemented a stellar 111-yard rushing effort. Sprinkle in a jaw-dropping George Pickens diving catch and the Steelers are keeping their streaks of yesteryear alive while simultaneously flashing what portends to be an exciting future.
Next Gen stat of the game: Kenny Pickett was 6 of 9 for 67 yards and the game-winning touchdown when throwing on the run. He had a 55.4 passer rating and zero TDs on such passes from Weeks 1-16.
NFL Research: Kenny Pickett has three fourth-quarter comebacks this year, which is the most for a rookie QB since Gardner Minshew in 2019.
Kevin Patra's takeaways:
- Surging Packers win fourth straight in beatdown of Vikings. Don't look now, but Green Bay is on the doorstep of turning a 4-8 start into a playoff appearance. The Packers used a kickoff return touchdown from Keisean Nixon and a pick-six from Darnell Savage to jump to a 14-3 lead. At the time, Green Bay had 14 points with 14 total yards of offense. The Packers scored 41 straight points to blow the doors off the NFC North champs. After a slow start, Green Bay's offense got rolling behind Aaron Jones (14 carries 111 yards) and AJ Dillon (12/41/1), churning out yards and milking the clock. The victory puts Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in a win-and-in home game in Week 18 versus Detroit. A month ago, Green Bay looked dead in the water. But with the defense surging, the run game grinding and Rodgers' ability to make big plays at any moment, the Pack could be a team no one wants to face if it gets into the tournament next week.
- Jaire Alexander, Packers D, shut down Justin Jefferson. Alexander walked the walk after calling Jefferson's Week 1 output a "fluke" before Sunday's showdown. The corner bullied the NFL's leading receiver off the line. Jefferson was visibly frustrated all game. The Packers held the wideout to one catch for 15 yards on five targets. He had zero catches on four targets at halftime. Alexander went head-to-head with Jefferson on 20 of 31 routes run, allowing zero receptions on two targets, per Next Gen Stats. The Packers destroyed a Vikings offensive line that lost two more starters early in the contest. Green Bay forced a field goal after the Vikes had first-and-goal at the 1-yard-line to open the game. The series foreshadowed dominance to come. Joe Barry's defense forced four turnovers, including three Cousins picks and a Kenny Clark strip-sack. Sunday was a dominant performance for the Packers D to start 2023.
- Vikings get beat down again. In each of their four losses, the Vikings have gotten blown out: 24-7 to Philadelphia in Week 2; 40-3 to Dallas in Week 11; 34-23 to Detroit in Week 14; and 41-17 on Sunday. At least their 11-0 record in one-score games remains intact. Nothing went right in Green Bay. The run game couldn't get going. Cousins was smothered, not seeing targets and couldn't stretch the field. The two longest plays from Minnesota before garbage time were 19- and 18-yard scrambles by Cousins. That's not good, friends. The defense got bowled over -- allowing 163 rushing yards and two ground scores -- couldn't get off the field and allowed Rodgers to move the chains late. Minnesota needs to rinse away this lousy loss with a dominant game in Chicago in Week 18 as it preps for the postseason.
Next Gen stat of the game: The Packers blitzed on 8.1% of Kirk Cousins dropbacks (37% from Weeks 1-16, third in NFL) but generated pressure on 45.5% of them.
NFL Research: Justin Jefferson's zero first-half catches marked the first game he hasn't generated a reception in a first half since his first career game in Week 1, 2020, which was also against the Packers.
Eric Edholm's takeaways:
- Jarrett Stidham's first NFL start was a shocking masterclass. Josh McDaniels' decision to bench Derek Carr down the stretch and start Stidham, which wasn't warmly accepted by Raiders Nation, certainly looks far better now. We don't know how Carr might have fared against this excellent 49ers defense, but it's hard to imagine it could have been much better than what Stidham did. Even Carr's BFF, Davante Adams, looked like he'd been catching passes from Stidham all his life. Stidham had never thrown for more than 72 yards in a game, but he'd already doubled that number by halftime. We've never seen him play at this high a level since … his final college game? Stidham completed 16 of his first 22 passes for 246 yards and three touchdowns before his first real mistake, when the 49ers' Kerry Hyder tipped his pass and it was intercepted by Drake Jackson. It was a massive turn of events, as the Raiders were threatening to score again at the time. Stidham's dream game came crashing down in overtime, as he was pressured and threw an underthrown interception. But it's impossible to walk away from this game unimpressed with how he fared in a tough spot.
- What happened to the 49ers defense? Prior to Sunday, only one team had truly humbled this 49ers defense, and there was little shame in seeing the Chiefs rack up 529 yards and 44 points against it. After all, that's one of the best offenses in football. Before and since then, the Niners hadn't allowed more than 349 yards or 28 points to any other opponent this season. So when the Raiders crossed the 500-yard mark early in overtime, it was a stunning development. Dre Greenlaw got hurt midway through the game, but otherwise this was a healthy San Francisco defense that was gutted. Stidham's performance was shocking enough, and even as good as Josh Jacobs is, he cut through this defense for more yards (69) than any back has this season. The defense did have the final say, however, as Defensive Player of the Year frontrunner Nick Bosa's pressure forced a Tashaun Gipson interception in overtime to set up the 49ers' win -- their ninth in a row. But this was a humbling day for a defense that arguably has been the NFL's best this season.
- Christian McCaffrey was the 49ers offense Sunday. On the one hand, it's a pretty silly idea to complain about how good McCaffrey has been for the 49ers. Through 10 games now, he's run for 701 yards and six TDs and caught 43 passes for 430 yards and three more scores. On Sunday, he basically carried the 49ers on his back (with some late help from Brock Purdy and Brandon Aiyuk), totaling 193 yards from scrimmage -- good for 42.5% of the 49ers' offensive output in Week 17. But that last number does beg a follow-up question: Is Run CMC being run into the ground? In his second and third seasons with the Panthers, McCaffrey had 326- and 403-touch seasons, playing all 16 games each time. But he followed those with two injury-plagued campaigns, and there's always that concern that McCaffrey could break down any moment. But if you're the 49ers, how do you get away from him? They'll likely be riding the razor's edge until the season ends, but you certainly can understand why they'd keep feeding him. McCaffrey arguably has been their MVP on offense this season, despite only being there since late October.
Next Gen stat of the game: Jarrett Stidham found Davante Adams wide open downfield for a 60-yard touchdown pass early in the third quarter; it was the first TD pass thrown off a scramble by a Raiders QB this season.
NFL Research: Jarrett Stidham threw for the most passing yards of any Raiders QB making their first career start, surpassing Todd Marinovich's 243 yards in his first start against the Chiefs on Dec. 22, 1991.
Bobby Kownack's takeaways:
- Chargers increase chances of nabbing No. 5 seed. Everything came up Chargers in this one. Justin Herbert was surgical with 212 passing yards and two touchdowns, the offensive line rebounded by not allowing a sack after being a sieve of late, and the defense overcame a leaky effort against the run to pitch a second-half shutout. More importantly, the Chargers now cannot finish worse than the sixth seed, and the path to the fifth seed is coming into view. A victory over the Broncos in Week 18 is the simplest way the Chargers can leapfrog Baltimore. And the difference between the No. 5 and No. 6 seeds is not negligible. Although there's still a route for the Ravens to win the AFC North and assume a top-three seed instead of Cincinnati, the Chargers would currently be staring at a postseason opener against the Chiefs, Bills or Bengals. If they move up a spot, they instead travel to play the winner of the AFC South. That has a much sweeter sound to it.
- Austin Ekeler, Mike Williams put on a show. Ekeler eclipsed 100 yards rushing before the first half even ended. Before Sunday, he had failed to rush for 100 yards in all but one game this season. The bulk of his early yardage came on a 72-yard explosion in which he found the hole, knifed through an arm tackle and then outran everyone else to the end zone. It was the main highlight of the day, but the sixth-year pro was full of big plays, routinely gashing the defense and rarely letting the first tackler get more than a fingertip on him. He finished with 10 carries for 122 yards (12.2 per carry) and two scores, plus 39 receiving yards on four catches. His second TD was his 13th rushing score of the season, a career high. Williams didn't catch either of Herbert's touchdown throws, but he was his favorite target -- and for good reason. He collected a team-leading seven catches for 94 yards, including an impossible spinning catch that he nabbed with one hand before tapping both feet down inches away from the sideline. That reception kept the chains moving with a minute remaining in the second quarter and allowed the Chargers to add a field goal before half. Ekeler and Williams weren't the only ones to contribute, of course, they were just the showstoppers for a fear-inspiring offense that's finally healthy.
- The Cam Akers redemption tour continues. Well, they can't all be like the Rams' 51-14 Christmas Day massacre over Denver a week ago. The Rams lost the "Battle for Los Angeles" handily, failing to score any points in the final 34 minutes of play. That doesn't mean there wasn't a bright spot. Akers went over 100 yards rushing for the second straight game and looked electric doing so. He carried the ball 19 times for 123 yards, including a long of 42 where he went plus-33 yards over expected, per Next Gen Stats. Although running back Malcolm Brown pilfered the lone score for the Rams, no other player logged more than three carries. This was unquestionably Akers' backfield like it has been for the past month, and he made the most of it once again. It's hard to believe that Akers was inactive back in Weeks 6-7 amid a plan to trade him. None of this means the backfield is destined to operate through him in 2023, but he's certainly making his case.
Next Gen sat of the game: Chargers linebacker Joey Bosa played 47.9% of defensive snaps in his first action since Week 3 and had no QB pressures on 10 pass rushes.
NFL Research: Austin Ekeler (103 receptions) became the fifth running back in NFL history with 100 catches in a season. He also joined Christian McCaffrey and LaDainian Tomlinson as the only RBs with 100-plus receptions and 15-plus TDs from scrimmage in a season.
Nick Shook's takeaways:
- Seattle snaps skid to stay alive in NFC hunt. The Seahawks have never lost four straight under Pete Carroll, and they weren't about to allow that to happen in Week 17. The Seahawks stormed out of the gates Sunday thanks to a 60-yard Kenneth Walker III run on the first play from scrimmage and put a touchdown on the board two plays later. By the early portion of the second quarter, they owned a commanding 17-3 lead which the Jets would never threaten. In what was supposed to be a transitional year, the Seahawks have overachieved. Seattle doesn't have the highest ceiling, but games like Sunday stand as an example of what Carroll wants from his team: An offense with a strong rushing attack and reliable quarterback play, and a defense that shuts down the opposition. A 133-yard day from Walker, 98 yards from scrimmage from DeeJay Dallas, four sacks between Quinton Jefferson and Darrell Taylor, and two interceptions from Quandre Diggs and Mike Jackson got the job done.
- Mike White falls flat in return. New York finally got its sole source of quarterbacking hope back this week, but he disappointed in his return. White became the latest Jets quarterback to struggle, looking both rusty and overmatched throughout Sunday's game. White completed 23 of 46 passes for 240 yards and two ugly interceptions, failing to jump-start a Jets offense that has really needed a boost and repeatedly has failed to find one. An early deficit certainly didn't make the going any easier for the Jets offense, which capped off an incredibly frustrating late-season skid with its fifth straight loss to officially eliminate the once-promising squad from playoff contention. With a team loaded with young talent on both sides of the ball, the Jets have plenty to be excited about going forward. They need to find an answer at quarterback, though, setting up for a very intriguing offseason in which multiple quality veterans should be available. Expect New York to be a hot destination for those talents.
- Geno Smith gets revenge by eliminating Jets. The Seahawks quarterback began the season by telling those who wrote him off that he never wrote back. He certainly penned a reply for the team that once drafted him 39th overall, then discarded him after four seasons. Smith completed 18 of 29 passes for 183 yards, which isn't an amazing level of production for any quarterback, but he capitalized on scoring opportunities, tossing two touchdowns (to tight ends Colby Parkinson and Tyler Mabry) and giving the Seahawks a comfortable lead. Smith kept the offense moving well enough to stave off any serious threat of a Jets comeback, avoided errors and broke 4,000 passing yards Sunday, becoming the second quarterback in Seahawks history (Russell Wilson being the other) to do so. To add salt to the wound, the Jets have only had one quarterback do so in a season: Joe Namath in 1967.
Next Gen stat of the game: Darrell Taylor set new career-high marks in quarterback pressures (six) and sacks (2.5) to go along with a turnover caused by pressure on 33 rushes Sunday.
NFL Research: With Sunday's loss and elimination, the Jets have missed the playoffs in 12 straight seasons, the longest active drought in the NFL.
Eric Edholm's takeaways:
- Giants make playoffs for first time since 2016, and Brian Daboll deserves big credit. The Giants head coach did his best not to utter the word "playoffs" this week, but he'll have no choice now. Daboll deserves to be an NFL Coach of the Year contender as the 9-6-1 Giants are in the postseason for the first time since 2016 and only the second time since their Super Bowl-winning season in 2011. They did so with one of their most complete performances of the season, scoring a season-high 38 points and harassing the hapless Colts offense most of the day. The Giants also have a pretty good idea what their playoff fate is, too, as they're locked into the NFC's sixth seed and likely will travel to face the 49ers or Vikings, whichever team earns the No. 3 seed, on Super Wild Card Weekend in two weeks. That affords Daboll some flexibility in his Week 18 game at Philadelphia as far as resting veterans and such. But remember how former Giants head coach Tom Coughlin played it in 2007? Those Giants were locked into the fifth seed but opted to go toe to toe against New England in the final game, which had no playoff bearing. Daboll, like Coughlin, is a branch off the Bill Parcells coaching tree, via Bill Belichick, and has formed a bond with Parcells. Parcells once gave Daboll advice, telling him to "be (himself)." Will Daboll go all out? Or rest for the playoffs?
- The Colts' miserable season is almost over, mercifully. It's hard to remember now, but the Colts entered Week 8 with a .500 record, including a win over the Chiefs, despite Jonathan Taylor missing time in that span. Were they good? No. But competitive? Arguably, yeah. Since then, the Colts have endured one nightmare after another, many of them self-inflicted. Benching multiple quarterbacks, firing the head coach, hiring a first-time replacement straight from a TV gig, blowing a 33-point halftime lead -- take your pick as to what the tipping point of the season was, it doesn't matter. They've lost 10 of the past 11 games and likely can't wait to spring into the offseason. But there will be more big changes ahead, and not too many people in the building should feel safe. We don't know what owner Jim Irsay has in store, but if he was seeing red after how last season ended, we can't imagine he's feeling much cheerier this year.
- Daniel Jones' 2022 improvement must be appreciated. Halfway through the fourth quarter, with his Giants up four touchdowns, Jones came off the field for his curtain-call moment. MetLife Stadium gave him a deserved "Daniel Jones!" chant while he was being replaced by backup Tyrod Taylor. This is more of a season-long appreciation post for Jones than it is highlighting his performance against the Colts, although he did have a strong day throwing the ball (19 of 24, 177 yards, two touchdowns) and running it (11 carries for 91 yards and two rushing TDs). This season, Jones has completed a career-high passes, is currently over 67% in completion percentage, and already has logged career bests for passing yards and rushing yards. Daboll has unlocked Jones' potential in a season when he knew his fifth-year option had been declined and his Giants future hung in the balance. So far, Jones has done everything the Giants could have asked from him and given himself an excellent chance to return.
Next Gen stat of the game: Colts QB Nick Foles was 0 of 3 passing with an interception on passes outside the numbers before leaving the game with injury.
NFL Research: Daniel Jones joined Charlie Conerly in 1948 as the only players in Giants franchise history with two-plus passing touchdowns and two-plus rush TDs in a game. Jones also tied Aaron Rodgers, Josh Allen and Ryan Tannehill for the most such games among active players, with two each.
Kevin Patra's takeaways:
- Lions steamroll Bears to keep playoff hopes alive. After getting their faces kicked in last week, Dan Campbell's crew did the booty-whipping in Week 17 against a division rival. In the comfy confines of Ford Field, Jared Goff and the Lions offense took whatever it wanted. Receivers jaunted wide open, running backs dashed into the second level. Rarely under pressure, Goff picked apart Chicago's undermanned secondary, guiding Detroit to points on six of its first seven drives to blow the game open. Goff hit 10 different receivers for 255 yards and three touchdowns as Detroit racked up 504 total yards. D'Andre Swift displayed his elusiveness in space, taking a pitch for a 17-yard score to give the Lions a second-quarter lead they wouldn't relinquish. The running back later hauled in a screen pass and scampered for a 21-yard TD. When Detroit's offense is rolling like it was Sunday, it's one of the most fun units in the NFL. The victory kept the 8-8 Lions' playoff hopes alive heading to Green Bay in Week 18.
- Bears offense goes into hibernation. Facing a Lions defense that has been ripped apart this season, Chicago put up a dismal effort. Justin Fields offered some jaw-dropping runs early as the Bears sprinted to a 10-7 lead, including a 60-yard gash. But with offensive line injuries piling up, Chicago couldn't move the ball when the Fields runs dried up. The Bears picked up just two first downs in the second and third quarters and went three-and-out on their first four drives of the second half. Fields generated 132 rushing yards on 10 carries, his third time over the 100-yard mark this season (twice versus Detroit). But the lack of weapons and time to throw makes the passing attack nonexistent. Fields completed just 7 of 21 pass attempts (33.3 %) for 75 yards with a TD, an INT, and took seven sacks. Chicago had seven net passing yards at the half and 30 for the game. Playing in a dome in 2023, that output will never win any games. It was an ugly, ugly performance for Chicago falling to 3-13.
- Young Lions D-linemen roar in final home game. Sixth-round draft pick James Houston continues to surge, as he generated three sacks of Fields. Houston's late third-quarter sack was impressive, as he dropped in coverage, saw Fields escape the pocket and blasted off to wrangle the elusive QB to the ground. Houston's emergence has been massive for the Lions' third-down rush. No. 2 overall pick Aidan Hutchinson added a half-sack to the party, earned his third INT of the season and had a team-high five QB pressures. Second-round defensive tackle Joshua Paschal chipped in two sacks, giving Lions rookies 5.5 of the club's seven QB takedowns. The improvement from the Lions' young defensive linemen as the season has progressed is an excellent sign for the future in Detroit.
Next Gen stat of the game: Justin Fields reached a top speed of 20.39 mph on his 60-yard scramble run, his ninth carry reaching 20-plus mph this season (most in a season of the NGS era).
NFL Research: Aidan Hutchinson recorded the third interception of his rookie season, tied for the most by any defensive lineman in a season in the Super Bowl era. Hutchinson is the only player with at least five sacks and three INTs in 2022.
Bobby Kownack's takeaways:
- Jaguars are roaring into winner-take-all finale. Head coach Doug Pederson rested a few key players in Week 17 just like Tennessee did on Thursday night -- only he waited until Jacksonville established complete dominance. Quarterback Trevor Lawrence took a seat after the first possession of the third quarter, following a 75-yard scoring drive to make it 28-0. He put together an efficient, albeit uninspiring stat line of 17 completions on 21 passes with 152 yards and an interception. The most important thing is that he came away healthy. His old Clemson teammate, Travis Etienne, called it a day even earlier. He didn't play a snap in the second half after using the first two quarters to put a hurting on Houston. Etienne averaged 12 yards per carry on nine totes for 108 yards, including a 62-yarder he took to the house. He also led the team in receiving yards with 32 on three receptions at the time of his well-deserved breather. Etienne flashing such burst bodes well for Jacksonville's looming division-deciding matchup with the Titans considering he hadn't scored a TD since Week 9. The streaking Jaguars took care of business early and kept momentum rolling with their fifth win in the last six games.
- Jacksonville defense gets a confidence boost. The Jaguars defense played a major role in building the big first-half lead and getting Jacksonville its first victory over Houston since 2017. The Texans managed a measly average of just 2.8 yards per play on 33 snaps on eight first-half possessions. The Jags turned those eight drives into five punts, two fourth-down stops and a defensive touchdown that broke the game wide open. Just two plays after Etienne's big-play touchdown, linebacker Josh Allen got around the edge and knocked the ball loose during Davis Mills' throwing motion. Tyson Campbell was there for a scoop and score, and a 7-0 lead turned into a 21-0 advantage in the span of 46 seconds. Even with the game well in hand and an eye on next week, Jacksonville still gave up only three points in the second half. It was the second consecutive game the Jaguars defense allowed just three points, which is sure to inject confidence in a unit ranked 26th in total defense.
- Texans' fire was nowhere to be seen. Houston reverted to looking like the team with the worst record in the NFL after three weeks of inspired play. Lovie Smith's club captured its second win of the season in Week 16 on the heels of two close calls against playoff teams in the Chiefs and Cowboys, but the Texans never had a chance in this one. The offense managed 277 total yards (with 64 coming on the final drive in garbage time) and turned the ball over on downs a whopping four times. Mills led the team in rushing with just 33 yards. Brandin Cooks had a team-high 39 receiving yards. And the defense wasn't much better. Although Desmond King and Jalen Pitre contributed interceptions, there was little else to write home about aside from holding the Jaguars to three points in their four drives with backup quarterback C.J. Beathard behind center. It's a disappointment after Smith had Houston playing so well down the stretch, and it's sure to be a blemish when the front office evaluates the coaching staff at year's end.
Next Gen stat of the game: Jaguars running back Travis Etienne had plus-78 rushing yards over expected in the first half, the most for any full game this season.
NFL Research: The Jaguars' 21-0 halftime lead was the team's largest lead at halftime since Week 15, 2017 against the Texans, which was also the last time Jacksonville defeated Houston before Sunday.
Eric Edholm's takeaways:
- Tom Brady, Mike Evans rediscover the deep ball. The Buccaneers' passing game has been a labor for much of this season, often patched together with a slew of short passes, a frustrating run game and, for good measure, some poorly timed sacks and penalties. But on Sunday, when the Bucs absolutely had to have it, the offense looked like it really hadn't all season. Brady and Evans had hooked up 67 times this season coming into Sunday, but only one connection went longer than 50 yards (51 versus the Ravens in Week 4). Simply put, Brady hasn't been successful with the deep ball most of the season, whether it was with Evans or anyone else. Against the Panthers, however, they connected 10 times for 207 yards and three touchdowns. The touchdowns spanned 63, 57 and 30 yards -- and many of them were in the air. This wasn't just Brady dumping it off to Evans to do all the heavy lifting. There were vintage Brady rainbows on this day, and the Bucs needed every one of them in a tight win that earned Tampa Bay a second straight division title with a chance to rest people (including Brady and Evans, if they want) in Week 18.
- Sam Darnold impressed in a losing effort. Darnold has been an easy mark in recent years as a failed high pick of the Jets and in his inability to secure the Panthers' starting job without competition. But in recent games, Darnold has been at his best, carrying a four-game turnover-free streak into Sunday's big game. Darnold did lose a fumble and throw a pick, ending that streak, but he did just about everything you could have hoped for out of a quarterback many have moved on from mentally. But Darnold completed 23 of 37 passes for 341 yards and three TD passes, also using his legs several times to make plays. Don't forget, Darnold is still only 25 years old, and he might have some untapped potential left if this spell is any indication. He heads into the offseason a free agent, and his future with Carolina isn't certain. But if the Panthers move on from him for another, more buzzy option, another team might be wise to add what looks to be a talented player with something left in the tank.
- Bucs' run defense does the job. Tampa Bay's run defense has had some impressive performances this season, holding seven opponents to 77 rushing yards or fewer this season. But that unit also has had some less-than-memorable outings, allowing 173 yards or more in five contests. Considering that two of those games came recently in losses to the Browns and 49ers, as well as that 173-yard game coming via the feet of the Panthers in their earlier meeting, there was ample reason to be worried coming in. Carolina rumbled for a whopping 320 yards last week, too, so what the Bucs did Sunday to slow down their rushing attack was wildly impressive. D'Onta Foreman was held to 35 yards on 13 carries, with a long of 7. Chuba Hubbard ran three times for 12 yards. The rest of the Panthers' rushing output came on a Laviska Shenault Jr. carry and a few Darnold runs. Tampa Bay made four tackles for loss, including two by William Gholston. Lavonte David and Antoine Winfield Jr. also made strong plays versus the run, so this was a three-level performance by the defense. Considering the Bucs could face the Cowboys, with Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard, in their playoff opener, this improved run-D performance could be critical.
NFL Research: Mike Evans has recorded 1,000 or more receiving yards in nine straight seasons, tied with Tim Brown for the second-longest streak all time. Only Jerry Rice (11) has had a longer streak. Evans extended his own NFL record of nine such seasons to start a career.
Next Gen stat of the game: Tom Brady was 3 for 4 passing for 150 yards and three touchdowns (all to Mike Evans) on deep passes (20-plus air yards). Brady had only one such TD from Weeks 1-16.
Christian Gonzales' takeaways:
- Rookie Ridder shows promise. Desmond Ridder looked more poised than ever in his first career NFL win. Ridder's first drive began with him drawing two penalties as he led Atlanta on a 16-play, 9:46 minute drive that ended with Tyler Allgeier rushing for a 5-yard touchdown. However, the second drive was a different outcome as the Falcons rookie QB fumbled on the first play, leading to a Trey McBride touchdown for Arizona. Most of the second half belonged to the ground game and Allgeier, who finished the game rushing for 83 yards and a TD. It was Allgeier's awareness in the closing seconds of the game that led to a game-winning field-goal for Younghoe Koo. Rookie wide receiver Drake London had five receptions for 47 yards. It was London's fourth straight game with five-plus receptions.
- Cardinals offense shows some flashes in loss. With Kyler Murray (torn ACL) and Colt McCoy (concussion) out, Arizona's offense had a pulse with third-string quarterback David Blough. Blough's first drive under center was up-tempo, but only led to a field goal. But Blough did something he hasn't done since 2019, as the veteran QB threw a touchdown to McBride to trim Atlanta's lead to one point in the end of the second quarter. At halftime, Blough had completed 15 of 20 passes for 117 yards and a TD. The tide turned when James Conner exited the game with a shin injury and momentum in the run game was halted. Blough couldn't recover, along with Kliff Kingsbury's offense.
- J.J. Watt's farewell tour has highlights despite loss. After announcing earlier this week that he will be retiring at the end of the season, the future Hall of Fame defensive end delivered a solid performance. Watt being doubled teamed often against Atlanta's defensive line was part of Arthur Smith's plan. It worked out for the first half, but Watt got to Atlanta's rookie QB in the third quarter for his 10th sack of the season. It's the sixth time in Watt's career he has recorded 10-plus sacks in a season. With Arizona out of playoff contention, Watt's final NFL game will be at the 49ers next Sunday.
Next Gen stat of the day: Falcons WR Drake London had three receptions for 33 yards when aligned in the slot.
NFL Research: Tyler Allgeier has 1,039 scrimmage yards this season. It is the most by a Falcons rookie over the last 40 seasons. Allgeier is one of just three Falcons rookies to have 1,000-plus scrimmage yards over that span, joining Kyle Pitts (1,026 in 2021) and Julio Jones (1,015 in 2011).
Michael Baca's takeaways:
- Chiefs pass rush clamps down to stave off Broncos. Kansas City's defense held strong on the Broncos' final drive to secure a win that keeps the team's slim hopes at the AFC's No.1 seed alive, with Chris Jones barreling up the middle to sack Russell Wilson on fourth down in Denver's final gasp with under two minutes to play. Patrick Mahomes got the necessary first down to secure the three-point win. Jones' play was an appropriate way to end a sloppy game for K.C. with the pass rush sacking Wilson four times and forcing two turnovers. First-round rookie George Karlaftis continued his late-year emergence with his fifth sack in the last six games, while Khalen Saunders and cornerback Trent McDuffie also took down Wilson in key moments. Steve Spagnuolo's squad hit Wilson a total of eight times in the game and looks to be in good form as it enters a playoff run. Offensively, Mahomes had a typical day throwing the ball, completing 29 of 42 passes for 328 yards with three touchdowns (one interception) to eclipse the 5,000-yard mark for the second time in his career, and Jerick McKinnon caught two of those scores to continue his hot streak out of the backfield. However, the Chiefs defense was the impetus to extending K.C.'s 15-game win streak against the Broncos.
- Broncos pull out all the stops with nothing to lose. In its first game following Nathaniel Hackett's firing, Denver competed in a hostile environment against one of the AFC's top contenders and nearly came away with an upset. With interim head coach Jerry Rosburg leading the way and Justin Outten doing the offensive play-calling, the Broncos caught the Chiefs off-guard by employing Russell Wilson (27 rushing yards) as a runner on several occasions, including the QB's 16–yard TD to take their first lead in the second quarter. Calling play-action plays more often than not, the Broncos took plenty of shots downfield and their why-not attitude seemed to inject life in an offense that had wilted all season. It sometimes worked, with Wilson finding Albert Okwuegbunam on a beautifully designed play to re-take the lead in the third quarter, but the chance-taking also led to a crucial pick thrown by Wilson in the fourth quarter, which led to K.C. driving down the field for a TD to extend a two-score lead. Wilson found pay dirt again with his legs off a scramble, but ultimately succumbed to the Chiefs' pass rush. Denver will end its lost season next week at home versus the Chargers, but this locker room seems to be playing for pride at this point.
- Special teams a concern for K.C.? This one may not have been as close if it weren't for a handful of blunders from the Chiefs' specialty unit. Punter Tommy Townsend botched his hold on the Chiefs' point-after attempt after an opening-drive score, Kadarius Toney then fumbled a punt return in the second quarter which set up an easy Broncos TD on the very next play, and then kicker Harrison Butker shanked a 51-yarder for bad measure at the end of the half. That field goal attempt might have been tipped at the line, but it wasted Mahomes' impressive 27-yard completion with 11 seconds left to play to get K.C. within range. Although the mistakes from K.C. weren't limited to special teams, with Mahomes throwing a bad INT in the red zone to erase points, it will be a topic for discussion as the Chiefs enter the playoffs before heading to Las Vegas in Week 18.
Next Gen stat of the day: Patrick Mahomes completed 21 of 26 passes for 281 yards and a TD versus zone coverage (5 for 11, 29 yards, 2 TDs, INT versus man coverage).
NFL Research: Patrick Mahomes is the third player in NFL history with multiple 5,000-yard passing seasons, joining Drew Brees and Tom Brady.
Kevin Patra's takeaways:
- Kyle Dugger's pick-six spurs Patriots' comeback to put New England in control of playoff spot. As it has all season, the Patriots defense stepped up huge as the offense scuttled. Trailing 14-10 deep in the third quarter, Dugger stepped in front of a Teddy Bridgewater pass and raced for a touchdown to give New England a lead it wouldn't relinquish. Dugger's score marked the Patriots' seventh defensive touchdown this season, the most in franchise history and the most by any team since the 2017 Jaguars, according to NFL Research. The Pats D stymied the big plays Miami has lived off, forcing the Dolphins into inefficient checkdowns and short throws. Bill Belichick's D allowed just 55 receiving yards to Tyreek Hill and 52 to Jaylen Waddle, the lowest combined output from the speedy duo since Week 5. The victory vaulted the Patriots into the No. 8 seed, needing a win over the Bills in Week 18 to make the postseason, something that seemed improbable after back-to-back excruciating losses.
- Dolphins QB issues cripple postseason chances. With Tua Tagovailoa in concussion protocol, Bridgewater got the start. The veteran was content to take underneath throws and lean on the ground game. The explosive plays we've become used to with Tua under center were nonexistent. But Bridgewater commanded the offense well, guiding the Dolphins to a go-ahead TD drive on a nice out-of-structure flip to Raheem Mostert in the third quarter. Then things fell apart. Bridgewater injured his hand on the pick-six and was replaced by Skylar Thompson. The seventh-round rookie struggled against Belichick's defense, tossing an INT on his first drive on a ball that bounced through Hill's hands. Thompson looked scattered in the fourth quarter, throwing underneath in key spots. Thompson finally got things going on the last possession, but it was too little too late. If Tua isn't cleared to play in Week 18 and Bridgewater's hand rules him out, it will be Thompson starting against the Jets. The Dolphins entered the week with a chance to clinch a playoff berth. A fifth straight loss, however, means they need help to get into the tournament next week.
- Despite struggles, Mac Jones leads big fourth-quarter drive to secure win. The Patriots offense started well, showing balance on a 10-play, 81-yard TD drive to open the contest. Then it looked much like the Matt Patricia scheme we've seen far too much of this season. The run game couldn't get going, Jones threw off the mark deep, and the play-calling was uninspired as New England generated four first downs over six possessions in the second and third quarters. But when the Patriots needed a drive late, Jones showed up, and the Pats marched down the field on an 11-play, 89-yard drive that milked time and put the Pats up two scores. It was a big-boy drive New England needed. Rookie receiver Tyquan Thornton came to life, generating a career-high 60 yards on three catches with a TD. Thornton's play could be critical next week, with Jakobi Meyers getting knocked out late due to a shoulder injury Sunday.
Next Gen stat of the game: Mac Jones was blitzed on 33.3% of dropbacks, going 6 of 10 for 54 yards, two touchdowns and two sacks.
NFL Research: The Patriots won a game in which they allowed at least 20 points for the first time since Week 8, 2021 at the Chargers. New England was 0-8 in such games in 2022 prior to Week 17.
Nick Shook's takeaways:
- Saints score another hard-earned win. New Orleans has made a habit of winning close games since its Week 14 bye, and Sunday was its most impressive of the stretch, taking down the NFC leader. Sure, Gardner Minshew replaced an injured Jalen Hurts in the starting lineup for a second straight week, but this was about more than New Orleans just defeating a team playing its backup quarterback. The Saints jumped on the Eagles early, taking a 10-0 lead midway through the second quarter and dominating time of possession in the first half 22:50-7:10. New Orleans held Philadelphia's third-ranked offense to just 61 total yards and two first downs in the first half, giving the Saints ample time to build a lead with a blend of Alvin Kamara and Taysom Hill running and Andy Dalton doing enough through the air to keep the chains moving (and the ball out of the Eagles' control). Then, when things got close in the fourth quarter, the Saints stood tall, hanging onto a 13-10 lead before Marshon Lattimore's pick-six effectively ended the game. New Orleans isn't a heavyweight, but is finally coming together.
- Jalen Hurts can't return soon enough. The Eagles received a good enough performance from their defense to win Sunday, surrendering just 13 points to New Orleans' offense and constantly harassing Dalton with its incredibly productive pass rush (more on that below). Nick Sirianni has to be disappointed by the fact his offense only mustered 10 points. It should've been 14, but a terrible holding penalty called against Landon Dickerson -- who pancaked a Saints defender to propel Kenneth Gainwell to a 28-yard touchdown -- wiped out what should have been the Eagles' first trip to the end zone on the day. They ended up settling for three points, and only found the end zone on a 78-yard catch-and-run touchdown by A.J. Brown. Minshew wasn't terrible, but certainly didn't provide the same juice that Hurts would, completing 18 of 32 passes for 274 yards, the touchdown to Brown, and an ugly pick-six that vanquished their comeback hopes. It's fair to believe the Eagles would have won if they'd had Hurts available. It sounds as if the Eagles believe Hurts might return for Week 18. Philadelphia will be holding out hope their star can come back to a team that is suddenly fighting to retain the top seed in the NFC.
- Cam Jordan cements his place in Saints history. New Orleans' Week 17 win was a total team effort that required contributions from a number of key players. Jordan chose the first day of the new year as his moment to make his mark, recording three sacks and five tackles, and moving to the top of the franchise's all-time leaderboard for sacks with 115.5, passing Pro Football Hall of Famer Rickey Jackson (115 sacks from 1982-1993). Jordan did so as part of a defense that is playing incredibly well of late. New Orleans has allowed 20 or fewer points in each of its last seven games, making for the longest such streak within a season since Weeks 2-11 of the 1991 season. Those familiar with the Saints will recall how stingy their defense was down the stretch in 2021, and it's playing even better now.
NFL Research: With seven sacks Sunday, the Eagles defense had their fifth consecutive game with six-plus sacks, breaking the NFL record for the most consecutive games with six-plus sacks in the Super Bowl era. Philadelphia now leads the NFL in sacks with 68, owning a 16-sack lead over the next closest team and tying the 1985 Giants for the fourth most in a season. Their 68 sacks are also the most in a season since the 1989 Vikings finished with 71. The Eagles need five sacks in Week 18 to break the 1984 Bears' record for sacks in a single season (72).
Next Gen stat of the game: The Saints gained 23.8% in win probability with Marshon Lattimore's pick-six in the fourth quarter.
Nick Shook's takeaways:
- Deshaun Watson finds his groove. The first half was an incredibly ugly one for Cleveland's offense, which enjoyed some early big gains from Nick Chubb, then frustratingly went away from the star runner on the doorstep of the end zone. Watson struggled mightily, and Cleveland produced just three points off two first-half takeaways, entering the break trailing Washington, 7-3. The second half, however, was a much different story. A Watson completion to Amari Cooper on third down officially broke the dam for Cleveland's offense, with Cooper catching the pass 10 yards from the line of scrimmage, breaking a tackle and gaining the remaining 36 yards on a sprint down the sideline for a touchdown. That play seemed to unlock Cleveland's offense, as Kevin Stefanski's halftime adjustments paid off to the tune of three straight touchdowns on the Browns' first three possessions of the second half. By the time the final minute of regulation arrived, the Browns had secured a win that seemed rather unlikely just two quarters earlier. Much of the success was due to two players: Watson and Chubb, who accounted for 273 of the Browns' 301 total yards of offense. Watson showed signs of his former self in the second half, tossing three touchdowns (two to Cooper, one to Donovan Peoples-Jones), orchestrating two touchdown drives of nine-plus plays and finishing with a passer rating of 122.5. The Browns are eliminated, but their fans have to be encouraged by what they saw from Watson on Sunday.
- Washington still doesn't have a proper quarterback. Based on what we saw Sunday, Ron Rivera's decision to turn to Carson Wentz was a poor one. Wentz had a very rough day at the office, throwing three interceptions and finishing with a passer rating of 31.4. It looked very much like the same Wentz who melted down in the final stages of the 2021 season with the Colts and stumbled his way out of Philadelphia in 2020, and at this point, there's no indication he'll regain the ability and consistency that once had him in the middle of the most valuable player race back in the 2017 season. Taylor Heinicke provided more energy for Washington when he played, but Rivera knows Heinicke's ceiling isn't very high. At this point, he doesn't have a quality option, which can explain why the Commanders will miss the postseason despite fighting to remain in the hunt into 2023. It's a familiar tale in Washington, where the Commanders should be in the market for a quarterback again in the offseason.
- Have a day, Grant Delpit. Cleveland's defense has received plenty of deserved criticism for its disorganization, inconsistency and indefensible mistakes this season. Delpit has landed in the crosshairs of critics on more than one occasion, but he's quietly put together a strong second half of the season, and Sunday was his best showing as a professional. The LSU product made plays all over the field versus the Commanders, finishing with seven tackles, and his two interceptions stopped Washington's offense in its tracks in both halves. Delpit now has three interceptions in his last two games, has flipped the narrative regarding his performance, and is building plenty of positive momentum entering the final year of his rookie deal. At this point, the Browns' sole goal this season is to finish strong; Watson and Delpit are among a handful of Browns who are getting that job done.
Next Gen stat of the game: Deshaun Watson was pressured on 47.8% of dropbacks Sunday but did not wilt, completing 3 of 6 passes for 58 yards and two touchdowns.
NFL Research: With three receptions for 105 receiving yards and two receiving touchdowns Sunday, Amari Cooper recorded his fifth game with 100-plus receiving yards and one or more receiving touchdowns this season, standing one game shy of matching Josh Gordon's franchise record of six such games in a season.