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What we learned from Sunday's Week 15 games

Here's what we learned from Sunday's Week 15 games:

  1. In a battle between two of the conference's strongest defenses and strangest offenses, it was only fitting that the X-factors of Buffalo's victory came on the defensive sides of the ball. While Josh Allen and Devlin "Duck" Hodges traded wild throws and improbable deep completions, the Bills and Steelers defenses swapped big plays and body blows. For Pittsburgh, Defensive Player of the Year candidate T.J. Watt was all over the field, logging half a sack, two QB hits, two TFLs, a pass defensed and a forced fumble. For Buffalo, All-Pro candidate Tre'Davious White picked off two Hodges passes, one in the first quarter and one in the third quarter, setting the tone for a Buffalo secondary that snagged four Hodges passes, including two in the final two minutes. With two sloppy offenses going head to head -- they combined for seven turnovers and averaged just four yards per play -- it was always going to be the last defense to make a big play that would win this game. On Sunday night, it was Buffalo's, when Hodges threw a duck to the end zone and into the waiting arms of Levi Wallace with 15 seconds left. Both sides played to type and proved their defenses could frustrate lesser offenses, but neither Pittsburgh nor Buffalo played the complete game needed to showcase why they would be anything but a one-and-done in the postseason.
  1. Speaking of the playoffs, the Bills will most definitely be there. Buffalo secured its second playoff berth in three seasons and its first 10-win year since 1999 with the victory. It's an impressive achievement for Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane, who were left for dead last season with a lottery-team roster but have bounced back in 2019 by maximizing their potential. Offseason additions like John Brown (game-high seven catches, 99 yards), Tyler Kroft (game-winning TD) and Devin Singletary (87 yards) carried the load on Sunday night, and franchise quarterback Josh Allen made few mistakes and extended just enough drives with his legs to get Buffalo back to the dance. The Bills' path to an AFC East title is not of their own making, though. They would need to beat New England next week and then have the Patriots lose to the lowly Dolphins at home in Week 17.
  1. Pittsburgh's playoff hopes didn't necessarily take a hit with Sunday's result, as everyone else behind them in the wild-card race also lost this weekend -- Indianapolis plays New Orleans on Monday night -- but the Steelers' confidence might have been bruised. Tied at 8-6 with Tennessee in the sixth seed, the Steelers have the Jets and Ravens (potentially without their starters) the next two weeks. Those will be tests for a confounding offense to get back on track after Sunday's display. With JuJu Smith-Schuster out and James Conner back on the active roster, Pittsburgh relied heavily on Hodges (38 attempts) instead of its ground game (14 attempts for RBs, and eight for Conner) against Buffalo. Hodges hit on a few deep balls to James Washington (83 yards, five catches on 11 targets) and Diontae Johnson (62 yards, five catches) and picked up a few clutch conversions, but Pittsburgh scored just one offensive touchdown in 12 drives and had as many giveaways as punts (5). That's no way to win in December, and if the Steelers keep it up, they won't have to worry about playing that way in January.

-- Jeremy Bergman

  1. Julio Jones broke the plane and the 49ers' hearts. With two seconds remaining, Matt Ryan hit Jones over the middle at the goal line for the game-winning score. The Falcons wideout was initially ruled down at the 1, where time would have run out, but the call was overturned. It came one play after Ryan seemingly hit Austin Hooper for the go-ahead TD, only the tight end pressed the ball against the ground before appearing to make an acrobatic catch. The wild sequence was capped off by Atlanta picking up a fumbled lateral in the end zone on the ensuing kickoff to score its second touchdown in the final five seconds. The Falcons scored on their final two possessions to rally from a 19-10 deficit in the final 10 minutes. It continues a late-season surge under embattled coach Dan Quinn, who's relinquished some defensive responsibilities to his staff while guiding Atlanta to four wins in its past six games. You have to think Quinn's familiarity with former OC Kyle Shanahan had a lot to do with how Sunday played out.
  1. The NFC no longer goes through San Francisco. The 49ers (11-3) still have the conference's best record but aren't even leading their division. That distinction belongs to the Seahawks given the head-to-head tiebreaker. Both teams clinched playoff berths Sunday thanks to a Rams loss. San Francisco, which hosts the Rams next week, will have to win in Seattle in Week 17 to have any chance of regaining its footing atop the NFC West, much less the NFC. The 49ers have lost three of six and are currently the fifth seed in the conference, which would mean their postseason run begins on the road. They've lost just once outside of Levi's this season and are back in the playoffs for the first time in six years. But to not host a playoff game would be bittersweet after beginning the season 8-0.
  1. George Kittle is arguably the 49ers' best player. But he can't be the offense's only one. The Pro Bowler was Jimmy Garoppolo's go-to target to a fault against the Falcons. Through three quarters, Garoppolo had 15 completions and Kittle had 15 targets -- and 12 catches. The star tight end had accounted for 131 of Jimmy G's 142 passing yards until that point. Accordingly, the Niners continuously stalled on offense, essentially producing just one TD drive. (Special teamer Ross Dwelley forced a fumble that Kyle Juszczyk recovered at the Falcons' 1 to set up San Francisco's only other TD.) Kittle, perhaps exhausted, caught just one pass in the fourth quarter, a third-and-four pass to the flats that slipped out of his arms and out of bounds, just short of the sticks. The 49ers then settled for a field goal that gave them a 22-17 lead and ultimately left them vulnerable to a Falcons comeback. It was a complete 180 for San Francisco's offense, which produced more than 500 yards and six touchdowns in a shootout against the Saints. We'll find out in two weeks if the relative no-show cost the Niners a first-round bye.

-- Adam Maya

  1. After a wonky start that included a pre-game coin toss controversy and the opening kick landing out of bounds, the Cowboys played their most complete game of the season, dismantling the Rams in every phase. The stars all shined bright in Dallas for the first time in weeks. Dak Prescott delivered bombs, including a 59-yard TD to Tavon Austin. Ezekiel Elliott ate and ate and ate some more, gobbling up 160 scrimmage yards. Zeke (117, 2TD) and Tony Pollard (131, TD) each went over the century mark rushing. Jason Witten snatched a one-handed highlight-reel touchdown to open the scoring. The Cowboys thrashed Wade Phillips' defense every which way to the tune of 475 total yards. The offensive line dominated, blowing the Rams off the ball. The defense stepped up, holding L.A. under 150 yards until garbage time, and a futile 4 of 12 on third downs. Sean Lee turned back the clock, making big plays, including a second-quarter INT and a sack. And the special teams arrived, with newly signed Kai Forbath making all seven of his kicks, including three field goals. For a team engulfed in a tumultuous season, the Cowboys put on their best showing of the season. For at least a week, Jerry Jones can be happy his team finally earned a win in a big spot.
  1. The Rams got punished in the trenches on both sides of the ball. The offensive line reverted to its early-season form, opening few holes in the ground game, and allowing pressure after pressure. Jared Goff struggled from the get-go, and a first-half thumb injury clearly affected him as the game wore on. The QB missed easy throws and was off the mark repeatedly, completing 33 of 51 passes for 284 yards, two TDs, one INT and was sacked twice. Most of his stat line, however, was generated after the game got out of hand. After looking spry in recent weeks, Todd Gurley was silenced. The running back had no holes and was held to just 20 rushing yards on 11 attempts with a garbage-time touchdown. With Gurley an afterthought and Cooper Kupp nonexistent for three quarters, the Rams offense never found traction, earning just eight first-half first downs. Goff's thumb injury played a role in the stagnant offense, but the Rams were struggling even before hit smacked it on a helmet. All season, L.A.'s offense has been up and down. With the playoffs on the line, Sean McVay's group laid an egg in Dallas.
  1. For the first time this season, the Cowboys beat a team with a winning record. Dallas moves back to .500 on the season at 7-7 to stay tied atop the NFC East with the Philadelphia Eagles, who won earlier in the day. Sunday's pummeling sets up a Week 16 matchup with the Eagles in Philly with the division on the line. Jason Garrett's crew will need a similar complementary performance from all three phases once again. One thing we've learned this season in Dallas is that nothing is predictable. For the Rams, the loss puts their season on life support Falling to 8-6, L.A. needs to win its final two games of the season and have Minnesota lose their final two matchups. A year removed from a Super Bowl trip, it looks as though McVay's squad will miss the postseason tournament for the first time in his tenure.

-- Kevin Patra

  1. Guess who's back, back again? Minshew Mania's back, tell a friend (that's not a Raiders fan). After a few weeks out of the spotlight, the legend of Gardner Minshew (17/29, 201, 2 TDs) returned to add its most storied chapter in the Raiders' final game inside of Oakland Coliseum. For the better part of the day, the Jags' offense struggled mightily, ending the first half with 75 net yards (19 plays), two first downs, and punts on four of their first five possessions. Conversely, Oakland netted 273 yards (45 plays), 17 first downs and scores four of their first six drives. It was more of the same in the third until suddenly the switch flipped following a Josh Lambo 43-yarder to make it 16-6 to end the quarter. From then on, the problems that plagued them all day -- no D.J. Chark and little production from Leonard Fournette -- didn't seem to matter. After totaling 113 yards through three quarters, Minshew came alive, avoiding sacks and gaining yards on timely scrambles and going 10-of-13 for 88 yards and two TDs to propel the Jags to the win. To top it off, he also earned his third career game-winning drive, all of which have come on the road.
  1. The Raiders knew they couldn't lose their last game in Oakland. And yet, that's still what happened in the most heartbreaking fashion one could expect. The late collapse by a franchise that has now lost four straight was the result of a lack of execution in all three phases. The defense manhandled the Jags for most of the day but the offense stalled after their opening drive TD, scoring three FGs over their remaining eight drives. Derek Carr (22/36, 267 yards, TD) was efficient yet again but it didn't result in much of anything for the offense; focal points TE Darren Waller (8/122) and Offensive Rookie of the Year frontrunner RB Josh Jacobs (24/89) got their expected numbers but neither made a real impact. The defense went from holding Fournette to 42 rush yards to allowing Minshew to find him -- and the rest of the Jags' receiving corps -- through the air en route to scoring 14 unanswered points late.
  1. This was a bad loss for the Raiders to send their fans home with but perhaps the most difficult part about this game came on the back-to-back misses by Daniel Carlson from 50 and 45 yards, respectively, with two minutes remaining. A roughing the kicker penalty afforded them the mulligan but both sailed wide left, and so did Oakland's chance to go up by six to possibly end the Oakland era with a win. On to Las Vegas.

-- Jelani Scott

  1. Titans fans at Nissan Stadium and beyond had to feel a bit of deja vu Sunday. Presented with a chance to take control of the race for the AFC South -- much like Week 17 last season against the Colts -- the Titans couldn't muster the strength to prove their legitimacy. Houston built a 14-0 lead on consecutive touchdown passes to Kenny Stills and looked like it would run away with the game as long as it could maintain possession, which Tennessee realized and countered with a third-quarter drive that lasted nearly 10 minutes.

They couldn't quite get past the Texans, though, and that's really the story of this game: Houston rose to the occasion, taking an opportunity and making the most of it by building an early lead and icing it with a late possession to go ahead by 10. For the first time since early November, Derrick Henry failed to reach 100 yards, another achievement for Houston's defense. In appropriate fashion, a sack of Ryan Tannehill finished it, pushing the Texans (9-5) into a one-game advantage atop the South with two to play.

  1. For the first time in Tannehill's Titans career, he showed small glimpses of the struggles that ultimately ended his time in Miami. Credit goes to the Texans for playing excellent coverage downfield in a variety of important situations, including breaking up a pass attempt on a fake punt late in the first half and pressuring the quarterback late while nursing a seven-point lead. Such a performance makes one wonder how this defense might perform if it reaches the playoffs and is able to welcome back J.J. Watt, a pass-rushing force it has lacked for most of the season. Adding consistent quarterback pressure would make the Texans -- currently 27th in the NFL in sacks with 26 -- a much more formidable team in January.
  1. The Titans (8-6) are still very much in this playoff race, but need to win out in their final two weeks, which includes a rematch with this Texans team. They showed a surprising wrinkle Sunday with the increased involvement of tight end Jonnu Smith, and their offense did enough to get it back in the game, but a similar performance -- which included a timely interception that kept the Texans from pushing their lead to 21-7 and led to a game-tying score -- against Houston would mean another loss. They'll obviously have to be better in key moments, but they aren't far off. Crunch time has arrived in Nashville.

-- Nick Shook

  1. With the Packers winning early in the day and the Rams losing to Dallas, the Vikings couldn't afford a hiccup on the road against a Chargers team coming off one of its most impressive performances of the season. After falling behind for a fleeting moment in the second quarter, Mike Zimmer's defense forced a whopping seven turnovers, covering for an offense which lost star running back Dalvin Cook to a shoulder-injury aggravation and benefitted from just 27 yards in Adam Thielen's long-awaited return from a nagging hamstring. The Vikes entered halftime with plenty of momentum after Danielle Hunter's strip sack was returned for an Ifeadi Odenigbo touchdown with just seven seconds left on the clock. Minnesota's club coasted the rest of the way, taking much of the suspense out of the Rams' bid to usurp the NFC's No. 6 seed.
  1. In a year without an obvious front-runner for NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter put forth a strong argument with a sack, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery while the contest was still close. The youngest player to reach 50 career sacks since the statistic became official in 1982, Hunter entered the game ranked first among pass rushers in QB hurries, third in sack yardage, fourth in sacks and fifth in tackles for loss. The dearth of forced fumbles was perhaps the most obvious blemish in his case for first-team All Pro versus the likes of T.J. Watt, Shaquil Barrett, Cameron Jordan, Chandler Jones and the Bosa brothers.
  1. The Chargers' offense and special teams placed the improving defense in compromising positions all afternoon, starting with a pair of Melvin Gordon fumbles, extending to Philip Rivers' horrendous ball protection and continuing through an Eric Wilson blocked punt deep in Bolts territory. It's been a rough contract year for each of Rivers and Gordon. The latter cost his team dearly in October by playing poorly in his return from an ill-fated holdout and spent the final 25 minutes of today's action watching from the head coach's doghouse. The former has struggled with turnovers and tight-window throws throughout the season and may have narrowly avoided his own benching in favor of Tyrod Taylor two weeks ago. Don't be surprised if the Chargers open SoFi Stadium with a new quarterback-tailback tandem in 2020.

-- Chris Wesseling

  1. It's outrageous how easy Patrick Mahomes makes quarterbacking look, even in a driving snowstorm. This was a bad-weather clinic by the 2018 MVP, with all of his skills on display in a 340-yard effort: touch, accuracy, arm strength, timing and mobility. With very little running game to help him, this was the Chiefs passing attack I've wanted to see since Mahomes returned from injury, with Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill taking turns making big plays. With all respect to MVPGOD Lamar Jackson, there's no QB I'd rather have down the stretch than Mahomes.
  1. The weather was a big factor, but this was Drew Lock's regression game. The Broncos quarterback completed less than half his passes and was flummoxed by Kansas City's blitz packages. Then again, Lock wasn't given much of a chance because the Chiefs racked up 10 QB hits, including yet another dominant performance by Chris Jones. He'd be one of my DPOY candidates if not for missing three games.
  1. Jones is part of a Chiefs pass defense that makes them a legitimate title contender. While they still trail the Patriots by a game in their search for a bye, the outstanding combination of Tyrann Mathieu and Juan Thornhill at safety (three combined passes defensed, one sack and one INT on Sunday) can give any opposing quarterback fits. They cover up blitzes and change coverages as well as any tandem in football.

-- Gregg Rosenthal

  1. The 200th meeting between the Packers and Bears was epitomized by fourth downs. Green Bay scored a first-quarter touchdown on a fourth-and-four dime from Aaron Rodgers to Davante Adams to give the Packers an early lead they'd never relinquish. Chicago, meanwhile, went 0-3 on fourth-down attempts that stalled drives and helped cause the Bears to come up just short. The Packers jumped out to a 21-3 lead after back-to-back touchdown drives to open the third quarter. At the start of the second-half, Rodgers feasted on big plays to quickly blast down the field, including a pretty pass to Jake Kumerow down the sideline that went for 49 yards, setting up Aaron Jones' second TD run. As it has for much of the past month, however, the Green Bay offense was inconsistent when the splash plays weren't there. The Packers' final five drives all ended in punts, including four three-and-outs to close the game. In what could have been a blowout, the Green Baby lulls allowed the Bears to hang around. Rodgers and Co. will need to cut out the cold streaks against playoff-caliber teams come January if they want to play into February.
  1. Coming off his best two games of the season, Mitchell Trubisky gave the Bears a chance to climb back into the game with some great strikes over the middle, repeatedly finding Anthony Miller for chunk gains. Trubisky put up a season-high 348 yards on a whopping 53 pass attempts (29 completions), added a TD toss and two picks. It was his inconsistency, however, that ultimately caused the Bears to come up short. Trubisky tossed a brutal interception to Packers defensive lineman Dean Lowry and was wayward in several key spots. The Bears went 9-of-20 on third downs, 0-3 on fourth and converted just one of three red-zone appearances into a TD. After a slow start, Trubisky got in a groove in the second half and made some stellar plays. But the inconsistencies, especially when he didn't set his feet, proved too much to overcome. The lack of a running game hurt the Bears, and Trubisky didn't use his legs as much as we'd seen in recent weeks. Miller (9/118/1) and Allen Robinson (7/125) each gobbled up the Packers secondary, but it wasn't enough on the road to complete the comeback bid.
  1. Pulling off the victory vaults the Packers to 11-3. Green Bay clinched a postseason berth with the Los Angeles Rams' loss to the Cowboys. The Packers' third straight win sets up a massive showdown with the Minnesota Vikings with the NFC North likely on the line. Sitting in the No. 2 spot in the conference, Matt LaFleur's team can lock down a first-round bye by winning out the final two weeks. The loss knocks the Bears to 7-7, and all but eliminates Chicago from the postseason. After winning the division in his first season, Matt Nagy's second year in Chicago has been an up-and-down disappointment that was epitomized by coming up short at Lambeau Field on Sunday.

-- Kevin Patra

  1. With postseason possibilities long since dissipated into offseason questions for both the Buccaneers and Lions, the prevailing storylines of this game were much the same as they have been for the season. For Detroit, injuries and overall struggles continued to mount. For Tampa Bay, the one-man roller coaster known as Jameis Winston sped along, staying on the tracks despite all the familiar signs that it would derail. With his second career-high 400-yard outing in as many weeks, Winston threw four touchdowns -- including three to Breshad Perriman -- as the Buccaneers blasted past the Lions, 38-17, with lost seasons for both coming closer to their conclusions.

Just as the day is long and water is wet, Winston is good for a turnover. As has happened time and again, he threw an interception (his league-leading 24th of the year) on the first drive of the game. True to form, he threw a touchdown on his next, as a ridiculous first quarter was on its way. Winston threw for 221 yards on just 10 completions, turning in the most passing yards in a first stanza in the league this season, while the Lions bumbled to one yard (yes, one yard) of offense in the same 15 minutes and trailed, 14-0. In the same quarter, Shaq Barrett notched a sack -- putting him at 16.5 for the season and in a tie with Warren Sapp for the most in team history. Somehow the Lions later made a game of it as this Bucs season has very much been characterized by gaudy individual numbers and struggling team results. Overall, though, this was a splendid day for Winston, who completed 28-of-42 passes for 458 yards, four scores and a 124.9 rating. The Buccaneers (7-7) are .500 and have won four in a row. With no playoffs to play for, this is about as good an outcome as Tampa Bay could have hoped to achieve.

  1. Wes Hills did his best Bo Scarbrough. On Saturday, Hills was signed off the practice squad and by Sunday afternoon was the lead back for the Lions -- just as Scarbrough did the week before he too fell to injury like seemingly every other Lions starter. Hills had two touchdowns on the day, his second drawing Detroit to within 24-17 somehow, someway in a game that started and felt like a massive blowout. When Hills bulled in for his second touchdown run of the game, it gave him six yards on nine carries -- an average of 0.7 yards per carry. He finished with 21 yards in his NFL debut and was emblematic of a team ravaged by injuries and seemingly playing with its 17th string. The David Blough feel-good story lasted all of a few drives on Thanksgiving as the Detroit third-stringer had a pair of interceptions Sunday, though it somehow seemed like more, and a 54.4 rating. Dismantled by injuries and losers of seven straight, for this pride of Lions (3-9-1), the offseason, rest for the weary and an abundance of changes cannot come soon enough.
  1. With a season lost, the Bucs lost a superstar for a second straight week. Mike Evans left with a hamstring injury following a touchdown score a week ago and this time around it was his fellow 1,000-yard receiver Chris Godwin. After a five-catch, 121-yard outing, Godwin came up limping after running a route. After taking a seat on the field, he grabbed the back of his left leg. He limped to the sideline under his own power accompanied by trainers before he was carted to the locker room and lost for the remainder of the game. The talent of the Bucs wideout tandem has been showcased and has likely been the largest highlight of the season for Tampa Bay. Unfortunately, Evans and Godwin have limped to their season's end before the rest of the squad.

-- Grant Gordon

  1. Things got hairy late, but the Seahawks' defense, down four starters, held it together in the win. Until Carolina's late 14-0 run, it was hard to tell that Jadeveon Clowney, Ziggy Ansah, Mychal Kendricks and Shaquil Griffin were inactive, but it was clear they were missed down the stretch. Prior to exiting with a little under seven minutes to go, linebacker Bobby Wagner was rolling, tallying 10 tackles, two passes defensed and an interception. On the drive following Wagner's injury, the Seahawks' depleted D allowed an efficient seven-play, 84-yard Panthers TD drive. Still, the comeback attempt, while discouraging after giving up 28 points to the Rams in Week 14, wasn't meant to be; Carolina only scoring a field goal on the four second-half drives before the TDs likely had something to do with that. Linebacker K.J. Wright finished with two picks -- his first career multi-INT game -- to go with two PDs and four tackles. Corners Tre Flowers (six tackles, forced fumble) and Bradley McDougald (six tackles, PD) held it down in the secondary, but the D-line, which pressured Allen often but sacked him once, missed the depth. Wagner's health (coach Pete Carroll said postgame it looks like a sprain) will be a hot topic to watch.
  1. It may have been a different day but it was more of the same stuff from the Panthers offense: Kyle Allen (25/41, 277 yards, 1-3 TD-INT) raised questions while Christian McCaffrey raised eyebrows with another monster performance, en route to becoming the first Panther to accumulate 2,000 scrimmage yards in a season. Coming into the game, McCaffrey accounted for over 50 percent of Carolina's offensive touches; on Sunday, he finished with 19 carries for 87 rush yards and two TDs -- his first scores since Week 12 -- and eight catches for 88 yards.
  1. The Seahawks hadn't scored on an opening drive since Week 9; they rattled off three straight TDs to begin the afternoon. Over the last four weeks, Russell Wilson had not been looking like himself, throwing more picks (four) in that span than he had in the previous nine games combined (one). He made up for that with 286 yards and two scores. As usual, Tyler Lockett (8/120/1), D.K. Metcalf (2/36/1) and Josh Gordon (1/58) were on the other end of some spectacular Wilson throws. Running back Chris Carson (24/133/2) also had a special day, becoming the first 'Hawks running back since Marshawn Lynch in 2014 to have consecutive 1,000-yard-plus rushing seasons.

-- Jelani Scott

  1. It was neck and neck between the Patriots and Bengals in the first half, but New England's defense turned up the heat in the second half to clinch a playoff spot. The Patriots picked off Andy Dalton four times, with three in the third quarter alone. Cornerback Stephon Gilmore recorded two of the interceptions, one he took to the house for a 64-yard touchdown. Gilmore leads the league with six interceptions. This was his third career multi-interception game -- his first with the Patriots, per NFL Research. New England leads the league with seven non-offensive TDs for the season.
  1. The Bengals ran through the Patriots defense in the first two quarters. They ran the ball on eight straight plays before Dalton threw an eight-yard pass to tight end Cethan Carter to score a TD on their opening drive for the first time this season. The Bengals used the run game to dominate the time of possession in the first quarter by rushing Joe Mixon 10 times for 72 yards. Mixon helped the offense avoid its first interception of the day by catching a deflected pass from Dalton for 11 yards. Mixon finished with 156 scrimmage yards. Dalton played a better first half than Tom Brady, but the Patriots defense dug a hole in the second half that the Bengals could not get out of. Dalton finished the day 17-for-31 for 151 yards and a touchdown.
  1. The offense continues to be an issue for the Patriots. Bill Belichick might have to use Gilmore on the other side of the ball since he was the team's best receiver today. Julian Edelman (two receptions for nine yards) did not look like his normal self on the field. Before the game NFL Network's Mike Giardi reported that he was dealing with a tendon issue in his left knee. After the game he told reporters "everyone is dealing with something."

-- Lakisha Wesseling

  1. Sunday's tilt marked the end of an era of Giants football. With Daniel Jones still recuperating from a high-ankle sprain, veteran quarterback Eli Manning got the start once again for what is expected to be his final home game as a Giant. After a season full of miscues and injuries, it is fitting their best game of the 2019 campaign comes during the two-time Super Bowl champion's farewell. The Giants (3-11) took the win, beating up on the struggling Dolphins, and Manning's career record moves back to .500 (117-117). The Giants' offense got off to a slow start in the first half, scoring once on a 51-yard touchdown pass to Golden Tate. With a little over six minutes remaining in the third quarter, the Giants' defense came up clutch, forcing a safety -- thanks to Sam Beal -- which led to a TD on the next drive. Crazy enough, that was the first safety for the Giants in 40 games. N.Y. pulled Manning with 1:50 remaining in the game to give the Giants' legend a proper sendoff as he was met with a standing ovation and "Eli" chants. Manning finished the matchup 20-of-28 with two TDs and a trio of interceptions.
  1. Saquon Barkley is back. The Giants running back looked like his former self for the first time since battling an ankle injury earlier this year. Barkley galloped to 112 yards and two touchdowns -- which is his second-most rushing yards in a single game this season. The second half showed a Giants offense finally clicking after season-long debates about what is wrong with this team. Obviously, it's too little too late for Big Blue. But Barkley got the monkey off his back Sunday, proving he can be the player that earned numerous accolades and praise last season.
  1. Despite Ryan Fitzpatrick's wizardry, the Dolphins were unable to muster up any FitzMagic on the road. The Dolphins (3-11) came out of the gate plucky and looked like they would make this a difficult afternoon for the Giants. But then the second half happened. The Fins collapsed and fumbles, drops, and missed opportunities sealed the fate for the club. One thing is for sure, Fitzpatrick is an exciting player to watch when he's put under pressure and the Giants' D afforded that opportunity several times.

-- Andie Hagemann

  1. The Eagles had to have this, and they barely got it. So it goes in the NFC East, where teams rarely beat winning teams. Philadelphia, owner of the division's three wins against teams over .500 coming into Week 15, didn't finish off the three-win Redskins until the final play at FedExField. Washington stood at Philly's 42 with six seconds remaining when a botched hail Mary attempt morphed into an ill-fated lateral that Nigel Bradham scooped up for a 47-yard touchdown. Carson Wentz played hero before that, guiding the offense on a pair of long scoring drives. Both came with the Eagles trailing, the latter highlighted by a four-yard pass to Greg Ward. It was Wentz's third TD toss of the game and capped off his second fourth-quarter comeback win in as many weeks. The Eagles (7-7) are .500 again and tied with the Cowboys, who beat the Rams this afternoon and travel to Philly next weekend. 
  1. Dwayne Haskins won't come out of this one celebrating. But he can watch the film appreciating what he did. The rookie QB had arguably his best game since becoming Washington's starter in November. With former college coach Urban Meyer watching from the owner's suite, Haskins completed 19 of 28 passes for a career-high 261 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. In fact, he didn't record a turnover until the game's final play. Haskins closed out the third quarter leading a 75-yard scoring drive that briefly put the Redskins ahead. Adrian Peterson finished it off with a 10-yard TD, tying Walter Payton for fourth in rushing touchdowns (110). Peterson also surpassed Curtis Martin for fifth on the all-time rushing list (14,102). But the more notable development as it concerns Washington's future was Haskins. He led consecutive touchdown drives in the first half, one of which being a 75-yard scoring pass to Terry McLaurin. The fellow rookie caught five passes for 130 yards. Whomever Dan Snyder tabs to lead his team in 2020, this game, albeit a loss, provided reason for optimism.
  1. Philadelphia appears to have finally found its running back. It had been more than two years since they had a 100-yard rusher. It was 10 years ago that LeSean McCoy set the franchise's rookie record for rushing yards. Miles Sanders changed all that Sunday against the Redskins. The second-round pick ran 19 times for 122 yards, giving him 687 for the season. He became the Eagles' first 100-yard rusher in 42 games, last achieved by LeGarrette Blount. Sanders didn't stop there. He held on to an absolute dart from Carson Wentz in the corner of the end zone for a 15-yard touchdown, giving him two scores in the game. Sanders tallied six catches for 50 yards in the win. He now has 1,120 yards from scrimmage on the season, breaking DeSean Jackson's franchise rookie record. Sanders, of course, still has two games left to play.

-- Adam Maya

  1. Two weeks after an absolutely dreadful performance, the Arizona Cardinals looked like a completely different team, starting with the offense. The Cardinals punched the Browns in the mouth with their opening drive, a 10-play, 90-yard march capped by a speed option run for a Kenyan Drake touchdown. Drake had four -- yes, four -- rushing touchdowns on the afternoon as part of an offense that ripped up 226 yards on the ground against a defense that gave up 100 less than that on average per game entering Sunday. Patrick Peterson made good on his guarantee to the CBS broadcast crew that he'd snag an interception when he picked off Baker Mayfield in the end zone on Cleveland's first possession.

It was a total team victory for the Cardinals, who at 4-9-1 are playing for the future, but proving in the last two weeks that they just might be turning an early corner in Kliff Kingsbury's first season as head coach.

  1. Sunday was a meeting filled with familiarity. Freddie Kitchens was returning to the place he called home for a decade as an assistant coach. Steve Wilks was back in the stadium in which he served as a head coach for the 2018 season. Ricky Seals-Jones caught two touchdowns against his old team. But it was Kingsbury and Kyler Murray, former coach and teammate of Mayfield, who took it to the Browns, putting up 38 points and scoring on six of their nine total possessions. Wilks' return to Arizona wasn't what he'd likely envisioned, and the same goes for Freddie Kitchens, whose team was outplayed on all fronts in a game his squad absolutely had to win to keep postseason hopes alive. So much for happy reunions.
  1. The game permanently turned early in the fourth quarter when the Browns were stopped short at Arizona's 27 and, trailing by 11, elected to attempt a field goal, infuriating Jarvis Landry. As the kicking unit trotted on for the try, a frustrated Landry barked at his coach on the sideline in an exchange caught by CBS cameras. Austin Seibert's miss further frustrated Mayfield, Landry and Beckham, who finished with eight catches on 13 targets but was left only to gaze dejectedly on the bench alongside Landry, who held his hands below his hung head. It was the Browns' season in one image.

CBS color commentator Jay Feely said the Browns looked "uninspired, they haven't played hard, haven't played physical" and he's correct. In a game they needed to win or else, they wilted, and the postseason book all but closed on them. How the Browns finish their final month might influence the organization's direction come January. They didn't look too good in that department Sunday.

-- Nick Shook

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