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Neil Reynolds' Week 15 Wrap Up

This past Saturday and Sunday in the NFL was so ridiculous that I don't even know where to start when it comes to assessing the Week 15 action. I've probably said this before in recent times because the NFL is crazier than ever, but that was one of the best weekends of football I have ever seen.

We had Minnesota coming from 33 points down to beat Indianapolis 39-36 in overtime, completing the largest comeback in NFL history. Saturday night also saw Buffalo beat Miami on the last kick of the game. Saturday rightly took a bow and was feeling pretty good about itself. Then Sunday strolled into the bar, said "hold my beer" and delivered a whole new level of drama and intrigue.

It was a stunning day from start to finish with every one of the early games being decided by a single score. Jacksonville upset Dallas in overtime, Kansas City held off Houston in the extra period, Jared Goff delivered a late touchdown strike to see Detroit past the New York Jets and Chicago gave Philadelphia all they could handle before succumbing to the NFC leaders.

The late games were just as enthralling. Cincinnati fell into a 17-0 hole against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before Tom Brady and his teammates hit the self-destruct button with four second half turnovers. The Bengals ended up rolling to a 34-23. Even Sunday Night Football came down to Taylor Heinicke's incomplete fourth down throw into the end zone as the Washington Commanders fell to a 20-12 loss to the New York Giants.

But in a weekend that delivered more drama than you could possibly expect to see on your television over the Christmas period, the most bizarre and head-scratching ending came in Las Vegas where you would have received long odds indeed for the way the contest between New England and the Raiders played out.

Tied at 27 after a controversial upholding of a Raiders touchdown, the Patriots proceeded to attempt an impromptu miracle rugby play at the very end of the game. The ball ended up in the hands of wide receiver Jakobi Meyers and he launched it across the field in the direction of quarterback Mac Jones, who would have needed to go 60 yards and beat around nine defenders to score the winning points. In other words, it was never going to happen.

But the errant throw was intercepted by Raiders' defensive star Chandler Jones and he bulldozed through Jones and sprinted to the end zone for the most amazing finish in recent NFL history. Maybe in all of the NFL's illustrious history. It certainly would be up there. All eyes suddenly turned to Meyers, who admitted after the game that he "tried to be a hero."

We should not put all of the blame on Meyers here. Rhamondre Stevenson had the initial run up the middle which we presumed was going to send the game into the extra period and he was the one who decided to start throwing the ball around backwards. Stevenson was equally guilty of trying to be a hero.

As he tosses the ball backwards, you can see Patriots coaches in the background getting increasingly agitated at what their players were trying to pull off. And no wonder. It was the most ridiculous of endings. Take the tie at the end of regulation and try to win it in overtime. Don't try to play such long odds (a warning that is rarely heeded in Vegas).

Oh to have been a fly on the wall when Bill Belichick addressed his team after that game. One ridiculous moment from Stevenson and Meyers could cost New England a spot in the AFC playoffs.

Who's Hot…

The Minnesota Vikings… Down 33-0 to the Indianapolis Colts midway through the third quarter, the Vikings had a 0.4 percent win probability; according to the NFL's super computers. Luckily, this game is not played by computers, it is played by human beings who can grow in belief on one side while the players on the other team become crippled by the fear of blowing an historic lead. That's what happened on Saturday night. Led by Kirk Cousins, who threw for 460 yards and four touchdowns, the Vikings never gave up and produced the biggest comeback in league history. Minnesota have been involved in some of the most incredible games in this NFL season – the double-doink field goal miss from the Saints at Tottenham, Josh Allen's fumble in his own end zone in Buffalo and now this. They are 10-0 in one-score games this season. But, in this instance, it definitely takes two to tango and the Colts bottled this one big time. They made very little effort to keep their foot on Minnesota's throat and they let a dangerous opponent up off the mat.

Josh Allen… There was a playoff atmosphere and intensity in Buffalo on Saturday night as the visiting Miami Dolphins – who rolled to more than 400 yards of total offense in the cold and snow – gave the top-seeded Bills all they could handle. But in such playoff-type games, superstars so often come to the fore. And that was the case with Josh Allen who, once again, led from the front for Buffalo. Allen was sensational. He threw for 304 yards and four touchdowns, including one amazing laser of a touchdown pass to James Cook with no time left on the clock at the end of the first half. It was a risky play but, of course, the brilliant Allen made it work. The superstar also led Buffalo with 77 rushing yards on 10 carries as he put his entire team on his back one more time. With Allen at the helm, the Bills can ride this all the way to the Super Bowl.

The San Francisco 49ers… This past weekend of action should remind us all just how unpredictable the NFL can be, not just from week to week but from quarter to quarter. Just ask the Buccaneers who went from being in total control against Cincinnati to being embarrassed by the end of the game. So, the fact that the San Francisco 49ers have now won seven games in a row on their way to clinching the NFC West should be applauded. And they are winning consistently even though they have now moved to their third starting quarterback of the season in Brock Purdy. The undrafted rookie looks anything but and he was rock solid in Thursday's 21-13 win over Seattle. Purdy threw for 217 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. That is more than enough when you're rushing for 170 yards and the number one defense in football is holding the opponent to just 277 yards. How far the Niners can go with Purdy at the helm remains one of the great stories of this 2022 season.

Who's Not…

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers… For much of the first two quarters of play on Sunday night, we were singing the praises of the Bucs in the Sky Sports NFL studio. We felt it was more like the Bucs team we had expected to see in 2022. But I did raise the fact that Tampa had enjoyed a few false dawns already this season and consistency had evaded them. No sooner had I said that, the wheels started to fall off and a 17-0 lead disappeared in the blink of an eye. The Bucs turned the ball over far too often in their own territory and it was as disastrous as you could have imagined. This will be a gut-punching loss because they had Cincinnati right where they wanted them. The Bucs are a major disappointment this season and Tom Brady has eight losses in a campaign for the first time in his illustrious career. They remain in first place in the NFC South but don't plan on them making much noise once the playoffs begin.

Baltimore's passing game… The Ravens were a massive disappointment on Saturday night as they fell to a 13-3 loss at the hands of the Cleveland Browns. And while they rushed for 198 yards, they just couldn't get anything going in the passing game. Tyler Huntley threw for just 138 yards, no touchdowns and one interception and his leading receivers were Mark Andrews (31 yards on three catches) and Demarcus Robinson (29 yards on six receptions). It's hard to win that way in today's NFL. You need to have some semblance of a passing game and we cannot put this all on Huntley. Even before Lamar Jackson exited with a knee injury, the Ravens were hardly lighting it up through the air. That makes me worry about how impactful they can be when the AFC playoffs begin in January.

Tennessee's wide receivers… The Titans dropped their fourth game in a row on Sunday as they lost 17-14 to the Los Angeles Chargers. It was a creditable effort from the Titans on the defensive side of the ball as they made life difficult for Justin Herbert for long periods of the game. And they got a decent showing from Derrick Henry, who rushed for 104 yards and a touchdown and gained 59 yards through the air on four catches. But on a night when A.J. Brown racked up another 181 receiving yards for Philadelphia, the leading wide receivers on the Titans were Chris Conley (three catches for 19 yards) and Robert Woods (two for 12 yards). What the heck were Tennessee thinking when they traded away a true number one in Brown?

The Fast Five…

  • Jared Goff delivered in a big moment on Sunday night as his 51-yard touchdown pass to Brock Wright on fourth down secured a 20-17 win over the New York Jets. That victory evened up Detroit's record at 7-7 and kept them in the hunt for the NFC playoffs. But this was a win powered by an ever-improving defense. Detroit have allowed just 19.9 points per game since Week 9 whereas they were allowing 32.1 points per outing in Weeks 1-8. With a stiffening on that side of the ball, the Lions could yet make the postseason for the first time since 2016 and few would argue that they deserve to be there.
  • The Kansas City Chiefs are another rare example of consistency in a wildly-fluctuating NFL. Their hard-fought 30-24 overtime win against Houston secured a seventh straight AFC West crown. That is mightily impressive from a Chiefs team that has reached the AFC title game in every season Patrick Mahomes has been the starter (since 2018). Sunday was a perfect encapsulation of these Chiefs – they can be given a scare or two along the way and can find themselves in trouble, but Patrick Mahomes normally leads them out of their problems.
  • Trevor Lawrence was brilliant once again in leading the Jacksonville Jaguars to a 40-34 overtime defeat of the Dallas Cowboys. Dallas led 27-10 with 5:21 remaining in the third period but Lawrence, who threw for 318 yards and four touchdowns on the day, refused to go quietly. He threw the Jags into position for a late Riley Patterson game-tying field goal from 48 yards out and Rayshawn Jenkins delivered the overtime dagger with his 52-yard interception return for a touchdown. Lawrence is an outstanding run of form and the Jags are now just one game back from the Titans in the AFC South.
  • The NFC South is not done yet. The most dysfunctional of division races could very well go down to the wire. Tampa Bay lead the way with a pretty miserable 6-8 record. It is the first time Brady has lost eight games in a season yet his sub-par team is leading the way. But the race is very much on. Carolina, Atlanta and New Orleans are all at 5-9 and just one game back. One of that quartet will host a playoff game in January. Oof!
  • The New York Giants spent a high draft pick on Kayvon Thibodeaux this year (fifth overall) and he has been working his way into a good position as the season progresses. The edge rusher came into Sunday Night Football with three sacks before enjoying a breakout game against Washington. Thibodeaux recorded a sack, three tackles for loss, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery for a touchdown in a 20-12 win. That's a promising sign as the Giants remain alive in the NFC playoff race.

Fact of the Week

Entering Monday Night Football, 12 of 15 games have been decided by a single score (8 points or fewer) and all 15 games have been decided by 11 points or fewer. Those 12 one-score games is tied for the most in a single week in NFL history.

Final Thought…

This is my final column before Christmas so I would like to wish everyone a very happy festive season. Of course, the NFL season rolls on regardless and I hope to be joined by a great many of you for our studio shows on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Merry Christmas and have a very happy new year!