Skip to main content

Neil Reynolds' Wraps Week 12

There will be heavyweight NFC challenges in their future but for now, as the Christmas lights are being switched on, the Dallas Cowboys are starting to look like a Super Bowl team.

On Thanksgiving Day, the Cowboys exploded in a fourth quarter points frenzy to put an exclamation point on a game they were already well in control of. Dallas ran out 45-10 winners over the Washington Commanders and a wide range of players took turns taking moments in the spotlight.

Let's start with quarterback Dak Prescott, who has probably never played better in his seven and a half NFL seasons to date. He was masterful throughout, completing 22 of 32 passes for 331 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. His 142.1 QB rating was just shy of the perfect 158.3, but it's hard to know where Dak could have been better.

And his numbers are so impressive because he was so aggressive. There was no dinking and dunking here. Of his 331 passing yards and four touchdowns, 226 yards and three scores came on what are considered downfield throws, travelling more than 20 yards through the air.

The supporting cast was plentiful. Six different players scored touchdowns, five of them on offense. CeeDee Lamb and Brandin Cooks stepped up in the passing game and while Tony Pollard's 13 carries for 79 yards and a touchdown may not look that imposing, it was his best effort since a Week 3 loss to Arizona.

The defensive touchdown came from DaRon Bland, of course! The cornerback is having a season he and NFL historians will never forget. He snared a Sam Howell pass in the fourth quarter and ran it back 63 yards for a touchdown – his fifth pick six of the season. In securing the NFL's single season record in that department, Bland would not be denied and turned into a running back with the ball in his hands. He now has more touchdowns than any receiver on the Kansas City Chiefs.

The rest of the defense also shone throughout. Micah Parsons posted one and a half of the Cowboys' four sacks but, in reality, it was a constant race to the quarterback and Howell did well to keep fighting to the end.

It feels like there is something special brewing in Dallas. They are having the sort of fun that teams tend to put on public display when they go on a Super Bowl run. Digging a turkey leg out of the Salvation Army bucket in the end zone and having Prescott munch on it as he runs to the sideline is a new one on me, though.

Dallas have now won 13 home games in a row. Their last home loss was to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 1 of the 2022 season. And they're not just winning in Texas, they're blowing the doors off opponents. The Cowboys are the first team in NFL history to win each of their first five home games in a season by more than a 20-point margin in each outing.

If Dallas can get some home games in the playoffs, they look capable of going on a serious run. No wonder their fans are starting to dream of a first Super Bowl success since the 1995 season. Their toughest tests will come in January, but things could not be going better in Dallas right now.

Who's Hot?

Jalen Hurts… The star quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles was not perfect on Sunday night as he completed just four passes and had a passer rating of 7.0 in the first half, but he did remind us that he is almost impossible to slay. Hurts and the Eagles were given all they could handle by a Buffalo Bills team led by the brilliant Josh Allen. Philadelphia twice trailed by 10 but fought back on each occasion and then sent the game into overtime on Jake Elliott's 59-yard field goal through the mud and the rain with 20 seconds remaining. After Buffalo kicked a Tyler Bass field goal in the extra period, Hurts took over and marched Philly downfield, delivering the final blow on a 12-yard touchdown run that clinched a 37-34 overtime win for the Eagles. They now move to 10-1. Hurts accounted for five total touchdowns and has now won eight games in a row in which he trailed by 10 points or more. That's the most in NFL history. No other quarterback has ever stringed together more than four such games. Hurts' physical skills are elite, his will to win is other-worldly. And now here comes another big challenge next week in the form of the San Francisco 49ers.

Trevor Lawrence and C.J. Stroud… The highly-touted quarterbacks lived up to their billing on Sunday as Trevor Lawrence led the Jacksonville Jaguars to a 24-21 win over the Houston Texans. Lawrence threw for 364 yards and a touchdown, while also running for a score. But C.J. Stroud wouldn't go away and he threw for 304 yards and two touchdowns. This game could have gone into overtime, but Houston lost by the finest of margins as Matt Ammendola's 58-yard field goal doinked off the crossbar and was no good. Stroud became the first rookie quarterback in NFL history to throw for 300 yards or more in four consecutive contests. But it was Lawrence and the Jags who left Houston with the win to move to 8-3 on the year and to remain in top spot in the AFC South. And the real winner was probably the NFL as a whole because we will get to watch this pair go at it twice per year for the next decade or more. Jags head coach Doug Pederson said he hoped this QB rivalry could become similar to Tom Brady and Peyton Manning back in the 2000s. If that means more games like the one we watched in Week 12, let us know where we have to sign up for that!

The San Francisco 49ers… After their mid-season wobble during which they lost three games in a row, the San Francisco 49ers are officially back among the NFL's Super Bowl contenders. They rounded out Thanksgiving Day with a convincing 31-13 win over the Seahawks in Seattle. So, in snapping their losing streak, the Niners have won 34-3, 27-14 and now by 18 on the road. To say they are back would be an understatement. For me, it all starts with the quarterback we hadn't even met this time last year – Brock Purdy. But he didn't have to shine that brightly on Thursday night. Christian McCaffrey led the way with 114 rushing yards and two scores, while Deebo Samuel contributed 94 scrimmage yards and a touchdown. San Francisco's defense continues to be a fearsome unit and they stifled the sacks, holding Seattle without an offensive touchdown and sacking Geno Smith six times. At 8-3, the Niners still have some ground to make up on the Eagles, but they can start that process in Week 13 with a showdown in Philadelphia on December 3.

Who's Not?

Jared Goff… It's been a real struggle for the Detroit Lions quarterback in the past two games. He dug deep to lead his team to a victory over the Chicago Bears in Week 11 – a game they should have lost. But Goff was a major part of the problem on Thanksgiving Day and could not offer a solution as the Lions fell to a hugely-disappointing 29-22 defeat against the Green Bay Packers that only looked closer because of a late consolation touchdown for Detroit. Goff's numbers (332 passing yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions) are massively misleading. He was off his game for much of the night and when it spiralled out of control, he was left with no answers. We've seen that before from Goff, which is why he still has his doubters. The Lions turned the ball over three times, making that six in their last two games. They're a good team and they're making progress, but the Lions are still not there yet and their journey of growth continues.

The New England Patriots… The Patriots fell to a 10-7 loss to the New York Giants in Week 12, sending another miserable game to the loss column with Chad Ryland's missed 35-yard field goal as time expired. We headed into this contest wondering if it would be Mac Jones or Bailey Zappe at quarterback. Turns out it was both of them and they were equally terrible. Jones threw for 89 yards and two interceptions and was benched for the second game in a row. Zappe came off the bench to throw for 54 yards and one pick. New England are the first team in at least the last 30 years to lose consecutive games in which they conceded 10 points or fewer. Their offense is putrid, they have no answer at quarterback and head coach Bill Belichick is running out of time. The only talking points surrounding the Pats the rest of the way are rather macabre. How bad will things get? Will Belichick be fired or will he leave of his own accord?

The Carolina Panthers… It's not going to be a very happy holiday season in Charlotte. The Panthers dropped to 1-10 on Sunday with a 17-10 loss to the Tennessee Titans. Rookie quarterback Bryce Young spent a lot of the day running for his life once again and was dropped four times. He has now been sacked 40 times on the year – second-most in the NFL. It's hard to truly judge him behind that line so let's give him time. That commodity is something that may not be afforded to head coach Frank Reich, who could be one and done with the Panthers. Owner David Tepper has an itchy trigger finger. Since taking charge of the Panthers, he has already fired Ron Rivera and Matt Rhule. And in two years of owning a Major League Soccer team, he has fired two head coaches. It's not looking good for Reich.

The Fast Five

  • Jordan Love has put together a very nice month as the quarterback of the Green Bay Packers, offering hope that they might have another long-term answer at a position which provided Brett Favre- and Aaron Rodgers-led stability for more than three decades. Love was razor sharp in the win over Detroit, throwing for 268 yards, three touchdowns and no picks. At 5-6, the Packers are suddenly alive in the NFC playoff race. Even if they don't make the postseason, this year will be considered a real success if Love pans out and proves to be the real deal.
  • The Miami Dolphins took care of business in beating the New York Jets 34-13 in the first-ever Black Friday game. It was far from a clean performance, but it didn't need to be because the Jets were clearly out-manned; especially on offense. Two Tua Tagovailoa interceptions didn't ultimately hurt the Dolphins. In fact, his second with two seconds remaining in the first half led to a Tim Boyle Hail Mary that Jevon Holland returned 99 yards for a Miami touchdown on the play of the day. But those errors will need to be cleaned up when the Dolphins inevitably reach the postseason.
  • The Pittsburgh Steelers have recently fired offensive coordinator Matt Canada, receivers George Pickens and Diontae Johnson seem to be taking it in turns to not want to play for this team and they only scored one offensive touchdown during Sunday's 16-10 win over the Joe Burrow-less Cincinnati Bengals. And yet the Steelers are 7-4 and firmly in the AFC playoff race. That is both a credit to head coach Mike Tomlin and also one of the more stunning developments in this season.
  • The Atlanta Falcons are in first place in the NFC South after they improved to 5-6 with a 24-15 win over the disappointing New Orleans Saints. I have very little trust in quarterback Desmond Ridder and I think head coach Arthur Smith feels the same way judging by the numbers. He allowed his quarterback to attempt just 21 passes and Ridder completed just 13 for 168 yards, one touchdown and two picks. Bijan Robinson has to be the driving force for this attack. Before Atlanta's bye, Robinson was re-found with 23 touches. This week, he had a combined 19 touches for 123 yards and two touchdowns. Feed him the rock the rest of the way and the Falcons could be playoff-bound.
  • A couple of 'buried in the pack' teams are starting to wake up in the AFC and while neither appears to be a threat to go all the way, they could shake up the playoff picture in that conference. The Denver Broncos have now won five straight after their 1-5 start to the year. To keep it real, they never really had to get out of second gear to beat a Cleveland team led by Dorian Robinson-Thompson and then P.J. Walker. The Colts got another strong showing from a heating-up Jonathan Taylor, who rushed for 91 yards and two touchdowns in a 27-20 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Colts have now won three straight and have moved into second place in the AFC South with a 6-5 record.

Final Thought

That was an amazing week of NFL action as we presented three live shows on Sky Sports NFL – two from our London studio and one in front of the British NFL fans in Manchester on Black Friday. I really do feel like it was a weekend that had it all. The NFC powerhouses were vying for supremacy as Dallas, San Francisco and Philadelphia produced big wins, there was a Hail Mary pick six in Miami's win over the Jets and there were wilder moments such as the Dolly Parton halftime show and sheep racing in Denver during half-time of the Broncos' win over the Browns. They often tell us to expect the unexpected and never has that statement rung truer than this past few days of NFL action. What a special set of games to cover and we hope you enjoyed watching them as much as we enjoyed bringing them to you.