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Neil Reynolds' Wraps Week 13

The San Francisco 49ers had some unfinished business that they wanted to take care of on Sunday when they travelled east to take on the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 13's biggest game and in what was arguably the most-hyped contest of the season to date.

The Niners, as you will of course know by now, were left quarterback-less and helpless in last season's NFC Championship Game. With Brock Purdy seriously hurt and unable to throw, San Francisco then lost backup Josh Johnson to a concussion and were forced to run out the clock on their Super Bowl dreams, falling to a 31-7 defeat.

San Francisco felt hard done by, the Eagles couldn't care less. The Niners felt they had a serious shot at winning that game last season. Philadelphia were annoyed that the injuries were used as an excuse for a game the 49ers could have lost anyway.

The bad blood that existed verbally all week became a physical manifestation during pre-game warmups and throughout a contest that told us a great deal about the balance of power in the NFC. There was even an unusual sideline scrap that saw 49ers linebacker Dre Greenlaw and Eagles head of security, Dom DiSandro ejected from the game. Both men can expect a letter in the mail from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell this week.

San Francisco needed this one. It was supposed to serve as a form of therapy. But they could not have made a worse start, registering -6 total yards in the first quarter – a 15-minute period in which the Eagles were only able to build a 6-0 lead on two Jake Elliott field goals.

Once the 49ers got rolling, the Eagles could not live with them. San Francisco found the end zone on six consecutive drives and Brock Purdy (314 passing yards and four touchdowns) led the way. But boy oh boy, did he have some help?

George Kittle was hot early; Christian McCaffrey, Brandon Aiyuk and Jauan Jennings took turns making plays but none of that group could match the output of Deebo Samuel as the Niners romped to a 42-19 win. After trash-talking the Eagles during the week, Samuel backed it up as he gained 138 scrimmage yards on seven touches, scoring three touchdowns.

The Eagles looked out-classed and overmatched on this occasion, but they will live to fight another day. This loss came one week after their defenders had to play 97 snaps in a bitter overtime struggle with Buffalo and against a Niners team coming off 10 days of rest.

That is some form of mitigation for the Eagles but should, in no way, detract from a dominant San Francisco display. They controlled both lines of scrimmage, their stars shone bright throughout and as we get ready to exit Week 13 of this 2023 season, the 49ers look like the best team in football.

While they have served up a healthy dose of revenge, San Francisco could be asked to face the Eagles one more time in the NFC playoffs. And based on what we saw on Sunday night, they should be considered pretty strong favourites if that game materialises down the road.

Who's Hot?

Tyreek Hill… I'm not sure what kind of plan the Washington Commanders thought they had in place to cover Miami Dolphins wide receiver Tyreek Hill, but I can tell you that it didn't work. During Miami's explosive 45-15 victory, the MVP candidate caught five passes for 157 yards and two touchdowns that covered 78 and 60 yards. There is not a better player in football than Hill right now and he is moving towards becoming the first non-QB to win the league MVP award for the first time since Adrian Peterson in 2012. If you don't get your hands on Hill at the line of scrimmage, it's over. He's too fast, too strong and too talented when it comes to catching the football. The Cheetah is on pace to smash through the 2,000-yard receiving barrier, which would put him top of the NFL's historical Christmas tree. Hill is a weekly highlight reel, he is fun to watch and he is the major reason Miami are 9-3 for the first time since 2001 and currently sitting top of the AFC seedings.

Mike Evans… Let's stick with the wide receiver position where the veteran, Mike Evans, played a major role in Tampa Bay's 21-18 win over the Carolina Panthers. The 30-year-old caught seven passes for 162 yards, scoring on a 75-yard strike from Baker Mayfield. During the course of yet another stunning display, Evans went over 1,000 yards for the 10 th straight year, which is an NFL record to start a career. It has not been pretty for the Buccaneers in recent weeks, but Mayfield knows where to go with the football. Find Mike Evans and good things will happen. At 5-7, Tampa Bay are now just one game out of first place in the NFC South.

Nico Collins… Let's make it a clean sweep of red-hot receivers as Nico Collins caught nine passes for 191 yards and a touchdown in Houston's thrilling 22-17 win over the Denver Broncos. With the Texans losing Tank Dell to a broken leg early in this game, C.J. Stroud had to lean on Collins more than ever. We should not be surprised that Collins answered the bell. He has been a reliable target all season long for a Houston team that is now 7-5 and very much alive in the AFC playoff race. We should also add Derek Stingley Jr. to that list because he had two of Houston's three interceptions of Russell Wilson, giving him four picks in his last three games. Houston survived the late drama in this one, moving to 5-3 in their last eight games – which have all gone down to the wire and been decided by one score.

Who's Not?

New England's Offense… The Patriots are absolutely broken on the offensive side of the ball. They gained just 257 yards and were held without a single point in a 6-0 home loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. And make no mistake, this defeat was on the offense. The Chargers gained just 241 total yards but found just enough to win through two Cameron Dicker field goals. How about this for a statistic? New England are the first NFL team since at least 1938 to lose three consecutive games during which they did not allow the opponent to score more than 10 points an any of those contests. Head coach Bill Belichick loves his NFL history, but he wants no part of that not-so-fun fact. This 2-10 team is out of answers. Mac Jones clearly has no future under the current management in New England and Bailey Zappe is not good enough. The Patriots have now been shut out twice in the same season for the first time since 1992. Belichick's final days in New England are as dark as dark can be.

The New York Jets… The Christmas lights will be adding a magical sparkle to New York City, but that's not going to be enough to stop the Jets and their fans feeling miserable this morning after they dropped a fifth game in a row. As has been the case for much of this Aaron Rodgers-less season, the Jets could get nothing going on offense in a 13-8 loss to the Atlanta Falcons. All New York could muster were two field goals and a safety as they gained just 259 yards on offense. The Jets have scored just two offensive touchdowns since Week 9 – fewest in the NFL. What makes this result even more hard to take for the Jets defensive players is that they played very well once again, holding Atlanta to just 194 total yards and one touchdown. The pouring rain added to the misery for the Jets, who are merely playing out the slate before they can go again in 2024 with Rodgers at the helm. This truly was a promising season knocked dramatically off course after just four snaps.

Washington's defense… Ten days after they had their doors blown off by the Dallas Cowboys, the Washington Commanders put up no defensive resistance against the Miami Dolphins in Week 13. The Dolphins scored early and often and were up 31-7 at the half. The slowing of the scoring pace was strictly down to Miami taking their foot off the gas. The Dolphins scored 45 points and gained 406 total yards at an average of 6.9 yards per play. I've already spoken about their lack of a plan for Tyreek Hill through the air and Tua Tagovailoa was not sacked all day. But Washington also had no answer for Miami's ground attack as they shipped 123 yards and three scores. Allowing the opposition to score 45 points in back to back games – coupled with a four-game losing streak – is only going to strengthen the sad likelihood that Ron Rivera is going to be relieved of his coaching duties come the end of this season.

The Fast Five

  • The Green Bay Packers have my attention. Sunday's impressive 27-19 win over the Kansas City Chiefs means Matt LaFleur's men have now won three in a row and four of their last five to a 6-6 mark that puts them firmly in the NFC playoff picture. Jordan Love shone once again as he threw for 267 yards, three touchdowns and no picks. He is heating up nicely with 14 passing touchdowns since Week 7 – second in the NFL behind Dak Prescott. The defense also caught the eye with three sacks of Patrick Mahomes and an interception while holding the Chiefs to just two offensive touchdowns.
  • With the wild card race in the NFC proving to be wide open, we probably shouldn't sleep on a Los Angeles Rams team that recorded a 36-19 victory over the Cleveland Browns to also improve to 6-6. This is a rebuilding squad but one that can be competitive on any given weekend when Matthew Stafford is at quarterback. He threw for 279 yards, three touchdowns and no picks. That was enough to see off Joe Flacco, who became Cleveland's fourth starting quarterback of this season. With Kyren Williams on the ground and Cooper Kupp and Puka Nacua at receiver; these Rams are not elite, but they always have a puncher's chance of landing a key win.
  • The Indianapolis Colts have now won four games in a row after their dramatic 31-28 overtime win over the Tennessee Titans. This AFC South clash was wild and had a little bit of everything – blocked punts, missed extra points, an interception return for two points after a Colts touchdown and late drama as the Titans scored an overtime field goal to set the stage for Gardner Minshew. After a long completion to Alec Pierce, Minshew fired a four-yard game-winner to Michael Pittman. This was the kind of frantic environment in which Minshew can thrive and he threw for 312 yards, two touchdowns and no picks. He has shown the value of having an outstanding backup because he has done way more than simply keep the Colts afloat with Anthony Richardson lost for the year.
  • The Pittsburgh Steelers could be in real trouble now when it comes to the AFC playoff race. In a game that was twice delayed by lightning and lasted four hours and 18 minutes, the Steelers were abject in a 24-10 home loss to the Arizona Cardinals. Few would have predicted that for a team that had found a way to win more often than not in 2023. The poor display was compounded by the loss of quarterback Kenny Pickett to an ankle injury that ensures he will not play on Thursday night and could be sidelined for even longer. Mitchell Trubisky will try to keep this stuttering team on a playoff course. The only good news is that it's New England at home next to kick off Week 14.
  • There were questions being asked of the Detroit Lions after their horrible showing against Green Bay on Thanksgiving Day. And there were also a lot of eyes on Jared Goff after his six turnovers in the previous two outings. They ran things a little bit close against the New Orleans Saints, but the Lions got to 9-3 on the season with a 33-28 victory. Goff played a tidy game as he threw for 213 yards, two touchdowns and no picks. Young players also contributed to this victory, specifically rookie tight end Sam LaPorta, who caught nine passes for 140 yards and one touchdown. They may not contend for the Super Bowl this year, but Detroit are definitely on the right path.

Final Thought

I've written quite a bit about the race to the playoffs in this column and when it comes to the NFC, the San Francisco 49ers are top dogs. But few can argue with the form of the Dallas Cowboys and they have the chance to further strengthen their credentials when they take on the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday Night Football in Week 14. Dallas were given all they could handle by the Seattle Seahawks on Thursday Night Football but they ran out 41-35 winners, meaning they have now won 14 home games in a row. They're going to need to take the NFC East to get home games in the playoffs and that means a first step to that goal is taking down the Eagles. That could very well happen. Few quarterbacks in the league are playing as well as Dak Prescott right now. He threw another three touchdown passes and no interceptions in the win over the Seahawks. In six games since the Cowboys' bye, Prescott has thrown 20 touchdown passes and just two interceptions. The road to the Super Bowl is not going to be easy, but you cannot ignore the Cowboys and they have to be in the conversation given their current form.