It’s Week 15 — time for the NFL Recap team to go over the happenings and highlights of all the action. We’ll start with the New York Jets’ victory over the Los Angeles Rams, and then take a look at some of the fallout from the Saturday games. We will also dole out Week 15’s Studs ‘n’ Duds featuring the likes of Bill Belichick and David Montgomery.
Three weeks ago, the New Orleans Saints appeared to have all the answers. But despite the return of Drew Brees in Week 15, their Super Bowl hopes are in jeopardy. Back-to-back losses, including Sunday’s not-as-close-as-the-score 32-29 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, have allowed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to creep back into the NFC South title picture, while the Green Bay Packers have re-established themselves as the team to beat and likely top seed in the 2020 NFC playoffs. NFL Recap kicks off this week’s coverage with a look at the Saints’ woes and the shifting balance of power in the NFC.
What’s wrong with the New Orleans Saints?
Sean Payton and Taysom Hill silenced their critics (in fairness, they were mostly Hill’s critics) when Hill led the New Orleans Saints to three victories in relief of Brees. Two of those wins were against the Atlanta Falcons, and one was against an eleventh-string quarterback, but they still count.
Hill came up short in the Week 14 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, but any backup quarterback’s performance is likely to dip after a few starts, and the Eagles caught the Saints off guard by starting Jalen Hurts over Carson Wentz. Brees announced his return late last week, so the Saints had nothing to worry about, right?
Brees went just 15-of-34 in Sunday’s loss and relied on shovel passes and screens for much of his production. He was a woeful 5-of-16 for 87 yards, an interception, and lots of wobbly passes in the first half. With All-Pro wide receiver Michael Thomas (ankle) on injured reserve, Brees doesn’t have a go-to receiver, and there’s no focal point to the Saints passing game.
The Saints situation resembles the Steelers situation in many ways. Brees, like Ben Roethlisberger, is showing his age. Both teams have lost back-to-back games entering Monday night, nearly knocking them out of the race for top playoff seedings. Both teams have outstanding defenses: the Steelers’ defense is flashier, but the Saints’ defense was more consistent until Patrick Mahomes did Patrick Mahomes stuff to them on Sunday. The big difference is that Roethlisberger has plenty of weapons who can turn one-yard passes into 20-yard gains, while Brees has Alvin Kamara.
The Saints have clinched a playoff berth but face the not-yet-totally-eliminated Minnesota Vikings next week. A loss would make a first-round bye unattainable due to their head-to-head loss to the Packers and would open the door for Tom Brady and company to swipe the NFC South crown that the Saints appeared to clinch with a season sweep weeks ago.
Meanwhile, Tom Brady does cruel things to the Falcons
The Atlanta Falcons took a 17-0 lead over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the entire football world giggled, knowing full well what would happen next.
Well, maybe not the entire football world. Recap ran a halftime poll and discovered that over 30% of respondents thought the Falcons would win. Who are these people? Where have they been since 2016? Thinking that the Falcons can preserve a lead against Tom Freakin’ Brady is like not knowing who won the 1927 World Series in an old war movie. Nice try, Comrade Ivan: you’re not who you claim to be on Twitter. And yes, I WILL be taking that vaccine, tovarich.
The Buccaneers have now been outscored 97-65 in the first quarter but out-score their opponents 213-114 in the second half. It’s as if Brady is addicted to the drama, which totally scans. The Buccaneers will crush the Detroit Lions and their interim everything next week, then allow the Falcons to take a 27-3 halftime lead in the season finale (28-3 would be too trite) before scoring 42 unanswered points.
The Buccaneers will fall flat when facing tougher opponents in the postseason. But they’ll make every game they play about themselves. You-know-who wouldn’t have it any other way.
The Packers remain the team to beat
The Packers are the best team in the NFC. Also, they still lack a reliable #2 wide receiver behind Davante Adams, no matter how hard they try to sell themselves and us on Marques Valdez-Scantling. That’s why their offense experiences periodic brownouts against weak opponents like the Jacksonville Jaguars and (on Saturday) the Carolina Panthers.
Also, defensive coordinator Mike Pettine is the nation’s leading provider of plays where there are only 10 men on the field or just three pass rushers, or a defensive tackle is covering someone like Julio Jones, or all three on the same drive. Come to think of it, the Packers inside linebackers remain terrible, and their whole defense forgets how to tackle at the worst possible moments, which led to playoff catastrophes in 2019, 2016, 2012 … you get the idea.
That said, the Packers really are the best team in the NFC.
The Seahawks are the only other NFC contender of note
The Seahawks got lulled into a Washington football game against the Washington Football Team. They were forced to settle for early field goals, flatlined offensively after taking a 20-3 lead, suffered an interception in their own territory at the hands of the Washington pass rush, and held on by their fingernails as Dwayne Haskins did his best Alex Smith impersonation, overcoming a horrendous start to manufacture offense out of micro-passes.
At least the Seahawks escaped with a win. The Steelers were not so lucky in the Monday matinee back in Week 13.
After the Seahawks come the Los Angeles Rams (they lost to the New York Jets on Sunday; ’nuff said), the Arizona Cardinals (up-and-coming Wild Card also-rans), Chicago Bears (old-and-fading Wild Card also-rans), the Minnesota Vikings (still mathematically alive), and the NFC Eastern Bloc (blast all four of these teams into the exploding heart of a supernova).
The NFC East should donate its playoff berth to the Baltimore Ravens to make things interesting. But that’s impossible, so we’ll watch Washington cover the spread and not clear the over in a playoff loss while waiting for Jerry Jones to pay Dak Prescott, wondering why the New York Giants retain Dave Gettleman and reading offseason insider reports about Carson Wentz’s feelings.
The New York Jets’ first victory of the season — a 23-20 win over the Los Angeles Rams to lift their record to 1-13 — reminds NFL Recap of the historic cartoon moment when the Coyote finally caught the Roadrunner. Congratulations: you finally got what you were chasing for all of this time! But, is it really what you wanted? Is it really what’s best for you? Or did the Jets cause themselves an all-new set of problems by jeopardizing their chance to draft Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence with the first overall pick with a meaningless late-season win? Here’s Recap’s breakdown of how the Jets should proceed.
NFL Recap Week 15: The Jets still need to fire Adam Gase
If Gase somehow wins three straight games to end the season and gaslights Jets owners Woody and Chris Johnson into retaining him, it will set the organization back another half-decade. Sadly, it would also be in character for Gase (he’s the Leonardo Da Vinci of holding onto jobs despite thundering incompetence) and the Johnsons (wealthy doofuses living off a baby powder fortune). Gase must go, and hopefully, everyone in the Jets organization figured that out sometime in early October.
The Jets still need to draft a quarterback
Sam Darnold looked OK in Sunday’s win with 207 yards and one touchdown. He still alternates decent performances with nightmarish ones, which is not a ringing scouting report for a third-year quarterback. Still, it’s tempting to think Darnold could enjoy a Ryan Tannehill-like resurgence once he is liberated from Gase. That could happen: lots of players magically get better the moment Gase disappears.
Week 15 NFL Highlights | The Rams give the Jets their first win of the season
It’s more likely that Darnold would have a lukewarm-at-best year in 2021, however, while the next Jets head coach makes plans to bring in “his guy,” because that’s what usually happens to fading prospects during coaching changes. Under the circumstances, the Jets should select the next coach’s “guy” while they possess what will almost certainly remain a top-three draft pick.
Yes, the Jets should play to win for the next two games
Ignore the Jacksonville Jaguars. Ignore the draft order. The Jets must focus on evaluating the players on the current roster and doing everything possible to help youngsters develop. Yes, it’s ridiculous to give Frank Gore 23 carries at this point. But the Jets have gotten some strong games from receiver Denzel Mims, running back Ty Johnson (touchdown on Sunday) left tackle Mekhi Becton, cornerback Bryce Hall (an interception on Sunday), and other youngsters in recent weeks.
Week 15 NFL Highlights | The Jets seal the deal
Getting the most of out this year’s draft class is more important than trying to play galactic chess to game the system for next year’s class.
The Miami Dolphins should be the Jets’ role models
Remember when the Dolphins ruined their chance to “Tank for Tua” by winning five games after starting the year 0-7, including the final two games of the 2019 season? Well, the Dolphins look pretty darn good now, don’t they? And they still ended up with Tua Tagovailoa!
NFL Week 15 Highlights | Tua with another rushing TD
No, Trevor Lawrence is unlikely to fall to the Jets with the second or third pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. But maybe the next Jaguars decision-makers will fall in love with Gardner Minshew. Or perhaps they will be amenable to a trade. Or the Jets may discover they like another quarterback prospect as much as Lawrence.
Either way, with two first-round picks in 2021 and an estimated $72 million in cap dough to spend, the Jets could become competitive relatively quickly, especially if they show a few more flickers of life down the stretch.
Again: getting better is more important than getting any one player. That “lesser” prospect they end up with could be next year’s Justin Herbert.
What’s next for the New York Jets?
The Cleveland Browns will have a lot to play for in Week 16. The New England Patriots will have nothing to play for in Week 17. But thanks to the race for the first overall pick, both games will be meaningful for Jets fans, Jaguars fans, draftniks, and rubberneckers who find bad football fascinating.
The first step to solving the Drew Lock problem is for the Denver Broncos to admit that they have a Drew Lock problem. Lock has had a few semi-encouraging games since returning from the quarantine catastrophe that forced practice squad receiver Kendall Hinton to cosplay as a quarterback, including a four-touchdown performance in a Week 14 victory over the Carolina Panthers. So Broncos team president John Elway might be tempted to think that the 2019 second-round pick has turned the corner in his development.
Saturday’s miserable 132-yard effort resulted in a 48-19 loss to the Buffalo Bills, however. It revealed that Lock may never become the franchise quarterback the Broncos have needed since the day Peyton Manning got old. NFL Recap has crunched some numbers, and the verdict is clear: the Broncos must come up with a quality Plan B at quarterback or risk ending up with a Mitch Trubisky or Blake Bortles situation on their hands.
Drew Lock by the numbers
Drew Lock’s 20-of-32, 132-yard, one-touchdown performance in Week 15 was far worse than the stat line suggests. You probably saw highlights of Jerry Hughes’ shake ‘n’ bake touchdown return after a Tre’Davious White strip sack. Lock threw at least two sideline out-routes that could have become pick-sixes if Bills defenders held onto the football. He threw for just 99 yards at halftime and for just three yards in the third quarter as the Bills pulled away.
Saturday’s awful game came on the heels of a four-touchdown performance against the Panthers two weeks ago. Four-touchdown performances are sometimes a sign that a young quarterback is drastically improving. They are also sometimes a sign that he faced a weak defense, threw a few easy goal-line touchdowns, and got lucky when a cornerback slipped covering a deep route, which is what happened for Lock against the Panthers.
Trevor Siemian had two four-touchdown performances in his two seasons as the Broncos’ starter. Trubisky had a six-touchdown game (full of wide-open receivers and screen-and-run plays) in 2018. A splashy touchdown total can fool fans and an organization into thinking that a young quarterback is something that he is not.
Lock and his unimpressive stats
Here are a few statistics from the Sports Info Solutions database that provide a deeper picture of Denver Broncos QB Drew Lock in 2020. Week 15’s data has not been tabulated yet, which means most of these stats have probably gotten just a little worse:
• On passes of 10-plus air yards (downfield passes, in other words), Lock’s completion percentage of 38.5% is the lowest of any quarterback with more than 50 attempts of that kind. His efficiency rating on downfield passes (52.0) is the lowest of any regular starter. When throwing 10-plus yards downfield, Lock is in the company of the likes of Jake Luton, Dwayne Haskins, Brandon Allen, and Ben DiNucci.
• Lock’s completion rate on first downs is 57.7%, the worst among NFL starters. His efficiency rating on first downs is 83.8, seventh-lowest in the league. Below Lock are Cam Newton, Joe Burrow, Carson Wentz, Daniel Jones, Sam Darnold, and Andy Dalton: a mix of guys in the process of losing their starting jobs, an injured rookie, a journeyman backup, and a fading superstar who at least provides some rushing value.
• Lock’s efficiency rating on third/fourth down and 10-plus yards is 49.5. Only Kyler Murray is worse among QBs with 25-plus attempts, and Murray provides much more rushing value in those situations (and is also much better than Lock in most other categories).
Bringing it all together
Get the picture? Lock is bad on first downs, bad on third downs, and bad throwing medium-to-deep. Statistically, he keeps showing up on lists among the guys who are on the verge of replacement.
Week 15 NFL Highlights | Bills run the Statue of Liberty to no avail
That’s not normal for a second-year quarterback who is supposed to be improving. And while it’s tempting to offer the injuries that have interrupted his career over the last two seasons as an excuse for Lock’s slow-to-nonexistent progress, multiple injuries over two seasons are really just another cause for concern.
NFL Recap Week 15: What the Denver Broncos should do about Drew Lock
Lock is not a lost cause. But arguments about his potential are starting to boil down to, “well, Josh Allen looked like a joke for two years but then became awesome, so maybe Luck will, too!” Allen always had more pure talent than Lock, and the reason we’re so fascinated by Allen is that so few quarterbacks make such a sudden leap forward in their third seasons. That sort of they laughed at Galileo the way they laugh at me, and he turned out to be a genius argument is a great way to fool yourself into thinking you turned your microwave into a spaceship but a terrible way to run a football team.
So here are the Denver Broncos’ options moving forward.
Draft a quarterback in the first round
Lock was only a second-round pick. The organization does not have a major commitment to him. A finish in the 5-11 range could place the Broncos in a position to select someone like BYU quarterback Zach Wilson in what’s becoming a deep 2021 NFL Draft class.
Such a move would effectively end Lock’s career as a starter in Denver, but it might be worth the risk at this point. After all, the Arizona Cardinals aren’t exactly lamenting their decision to replace Josh Rosen with Murray right now.
Draft a second-tier quarterback prospect
The Denver Broncos could go the Carson Wentz-Jalen Hurts route by grabbing someone like Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder in the middle rounds. Ridder could start his career as a Wildcat wrinkle, then take on an increased role if Lock doesn’t develop.
Frankly, this does not sound like a very “John Elway” sort of strategy. Wildcat wrinkles don’t sound like head coach Vic Fangio’s style. (Fangio’s job is probably safe in a season that will likely be blamed on injuries and the unique challenges teams have faced.)
But it’s easy to see the Broncos getting back some guys on both sides of the ball (edge rusher Von Miller, wide receiver Courtland Sutton), seeing further development from rookie receivers Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler next season, and winning a bunch of games with a dual-threat option quarterback taking at least some of the snaps.
Here comes the veteran!
The shrewd move here would be for the Denver Broncos to see if someone like Jacoby Brissett, Sam Darnold, or Gardner Minshew shakes loose: a young veteran with upside who could either push or supplant Lock. Unfortunately, the Elway-style move would be to overspend to lure Wentz, Matthew Stafford, or some other tall toolsy guy who might become available to Denver. Such a veteran would come with high expectations and a high investment but probably a low upside.
One problem with every Denver Broncos quarterback scenario is that we’ve seen every Broncos quarterback scenario before in the last five years: replacing thirsty try-hard Siemian with Paxton Lynch, replacing over-his-head Lynch with pesky veteran Case Keenum, grabbing over-the-hill Joe Flacco to not really mentor Lock, whatever the hell the rationale was for bringing back Brock Osweiler was, noodling with third-tier prospects with famous uncles (Chad Kelly, Brett Rypien), etc. That may be why the Broncos decide to …
With Sutton, Miller, and others returning, the Broncos could decide that their 2021 roster will be stacked and that they will be fine if Lock just develops into a steady game manager.
That’s what the Bears thought with Trubisky. That’s what the Jaguars thought with Blake Bortles a few years ago. Heck, that’s what the Broncos lulled themselves into thinking with Siemian, Keenum, and the rest.
As of right now, that looks like the wrong move. The Broncos need to be honest about their Lock problem. Then they must get serious about solving it.
Some players, like Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry and Travis Kelce, already have a reputation for stepping up in December and the postseason. Others, like Josh Allen and Taysom Hill, are hoping to earn just such a reputation over the six weeks or so. Think of these players as Super Bowl x-factors: guys who can turn ordinary playoff teams into Super Bowl contenders and favorites into prohibitive favorites if they continue to step up in the weeks to come.
NFL Recap purposely skipped most of the usual suspects (Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson) to focus on other stars who are playing well enough down the stretch to be the reason that their teams reach Super Bowl LV.
Super Bowl X-Factors
Jamal Adams, Safety, Seattle Seahawks
Adams recorded another sack against the Washington Football Team on Sunday, giving him one sack in each of his last four games and 9.5 sacks for the season. That’s the all-time record for a defensive back; the previous record of eight sacks was set in 2005 by safety Adrian Wilson of the Arizona Cardinals, a similar player to Adams who was named to five Pro Bowls.
NFL Week 15 Highlights | Russell Wilson with a spectacular throw
The much-maligned Seahawks pass defense had allowed less than 200 passing yards in three-straight games before allowing 295 yards — though with four sacks and two interceptions — in Sunday’s tight 20-15 win.
Yes, the Seahawks have faced quarterback bean dip lately: the Carson Wentz-Jalen Hurts experience, Colt McCoy, Sam Darnold, and Dwayne Haskins. But perhaps a month in tutorial mode will help the Seahawks pass defense solve some of its problems. At any rate, they need Adams to continue their record-setting ways to have any hope of not getting picked apart in the playoffs.
Josh Allen, Quarterback, Buffalo Bills
Over his last three games, Josh Allen has averaged 324 passing yards per game, completing 68.3% of his passes, thrown eight touchdowns and only one interception. Allen also ran for two touchdowns in Saturday’s 48-19 blowout of the Denver Broncos. Did we mention that one of those huge games came against the Pittsburgh Steelers defense?
Josh Allen is a top-five quarterback when playing at this level. If he keeps it up, the Bills can beat any other team in the AFC. Yes, even the Chiefs. Josh Allen is that good.
Marquise Brown, Wide Receiver, Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens may remain on the fringe of the playoff chase, but lately, they are looking a lot more like the team that finished 14-2 last year than they looked a few weeks ago, which makes them dangerous.
Brown is a big part of the reason. He caught six passes for 98 yards in Sunday’s 40-14 thumping of the Jacksonville Jaguars and now has 17 catches for 272 yards and three touchdowns in the last four games, including the key 44-yard fourth-down touchdown on Monday night after Jackson returned from, you know, his case of the cramps.
NFL Week 15 Highlights | Yannick Ngakoue with a sack-fumble
If Brown provides one deep reception per game, it opens things up for Jackson’s option game and everything else the Ravens wish to do offensively. And if Brown can become a consistent possession target as well, the Ravens’ offense could become even better than it was last year.
Bottom line: the top AFC contenders would not mind seeing the Ravens knocked out of the playoffs over the next two weeks. Ravens could just as easily be heading for the Super Bowl if they don’t.
Derrick Henry, Running Back, Tennessee Titans
OK, we should probably pad this segment out with some stats or something:
• Henry entered Sunday leading the NFL in first-down rushing yards (1,049). That’s right: he’s over 1,000 yards for the season on first downs alone.
• Henry also entered Sunday ranked first in the NFL in second-quarter yardage (474), fourth-quarter yardage (411), and overtime yardage (47). Henry was second to Dalvin Cook in third-quarter yardage (351 to 370). He ranks just sixth in first-quarter yardage because the Titans know they don’t have to “establish” Henry early in games. He’s already as established as anyone can be.
The splits above only got bigger and better after Henry’s 147-yard, one-touchdown performance. It just wouldn’t be a segment about late-season x-factors without him.
Taysom Hill, Quarterback/Whatever, New Orleans Saints
Yes, Taysom Hill.
Drew Brees finished with 234 yards and two touchdowns after the fourth quarter of the Saint’s 32-29 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs descended into a Calvinball tournament. But Brees was 5-of-16 for 87 yards and an ugly interception at halftime. He’s not himself right now. And the Saints are dangerously short on weapons with Michael Thomas on injured reserve with an ankle injury.
NFL Week 15 Highlights | Saints defense wasn’t giving up
Taysom Hill scored a goal-line Wildcat touchdown on Sunday. They will need him to do things like that to diversify their offense more often. They will also need him to have more impact as a slot receiver than he did on Sunday (no receptions on two targets). In short, the Saints need Hill to be the special player they claim he is, the one we saw a few times during his long relief stint over the last month.
Hill threw a 50-yard pass in the Saints playoff loss to the Minnesota Vikings last season (it wasn’t pretty, but it counted) and also caught a 20-yard touchdown pass in that game. It’s not ridiculous to expect Taysom Hill to be a factor in the playoffs this year. In fact, it may be an absolute necessity.
Travis Kelce, Tight End, Kansas City Chiefs
When the Chiefs decide to downshift from NFL Blitz 2000 to Normal Ball, they often turn to Travis Kelce to catch passes in the middle of the field, move the sticks, and do other things that terrestrial football teams do to win football games.
Travis Kelce caught eight passes for 68 yards and one touchdown on Sunday. He’s caught 58 passes in his last seven games (with at least eight receptions in each game) and knows a thing or two about stepping up in the postseason after catching 19 passes for 207 yards and four touchdowns in last year’s playoffs and Super Bowl.
With running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire likely out indefinitely with a scary-looking leg/hip injury, the Chiefs will lean on Travis Kelce even more to do the conventional stuff necessary to protect leads and beat quality opponents.
Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith, Edge Rushers, Green Bay Packers
Za’Darius Smith has 11.5 sacks this season, 3.5 of them in his last four games. Preston Smith was uncharacteristically ineffective for much of the season, in part because Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine insisted on dropping him into some hopeless coverage assignments, but he has recorded 2.5 sacks and one fumble recovery for a touchdown in his last four games.
You know how Packers’ seasons go. Aaron Rodgers goes ham for the entire regular season. Then the defense has a collective meltdown in the playoffs. Usually, it’s the run defense that falls apart, and that’s not really Smith & Smith’s department. But winning in the 2020 playoffs will mean pressuring Tom Brady, Brees, or Russell Wilson. If the Packers edge rushers can do that, they can help the team stave off its regularly-scheduled January disaster.
Jonathan Taylor, Running Back, Indianapolis Colts
Taylor has rushed 71 times for 414 yards (5.8 yards per carry) and four total touchdowns in his last four games, adding some production as a receiver as well. When Taylor, the team’s second-round pick, was unavailable in the loss to the Tennessee Titans in Week 12, the Colts rushed for just 56 yards.
Taylor’s speed, power, and ever-improving vision and instincts have made a big difference for the Colts offense down the stretch. If the Colts have any hope of hanging with the top contenders in the postseason, they’ll need the offensive balance that Taylor’s emergence provides.
David Montgomery has kept the Chicago Bears offense from becoming a non-stop punt factory. Bill Belichick waved the surrender flag with one of the worst coaching performances of his career. An Indianapolis Colts punter accomplished something we can all feel good about. And Justin Jefferson said what we have all thought for years about Kirk Cousins. Or did he? All this and more in a king-sized edition of NFL Recap’s Week 15 Studs ‘n’ Duds.
Studs: David Montgomery, Running Back, Chicago Bears
David Montgomery rushed for 146 yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries in a 33-27 victory over the Minnesota Vikings that kept the Bears playoff hopes alive.
David Montgomery has now rushed for 434 yards and five touchdowns in his last four games, adding 13-137-1 as a receiver. He’s the reason why the Bears offense looks somewhat functional these days. If you thought Mitch Trubisky’s “improvement” was the reason in Week 15 and not David Montgomery, well, NFL Recap doesn’t know what to tell you.
Good for you, David Montgomery.
Duds: Bill Belichick, Head Coach, New England Patriots
The Patriots were eliminated from the playoffs for the first time since 1945 (2008, actually) when they lost 22-12 to the Miami Dolphins on Sunday. And Bill Belichick was the reason why the Patriots lost.
Bill Belichick ordered a punt from the Dolphins’ 39-yard line in the first quarter; it was 4th-and-9, but a punt remains a terrible percentage play in that situation. Facing 4th-and-3 at the Dolphins 27-yard line, he ordered Cam Newton to try to draw the Dolphins offsides, then called timeout and settled for a field goal. Facing 4th-and-2 at the Dolphins 27 when trailing 7-6 in the third quarter, guess what the greatest coach in NFL history called for? You guessed it: another field goal.
Week 15 NFL Highlights | Lynn Bowden makes Patriots defense look silly
Remember when Cam Newton was one of the NFL’s most dangerous short-yardage runners? That was this year, folks. Belichick just forgot.
In short, Belichick played the Dolphins the way opponents played his Patriots for the last 20 years: terrified to make a mistake and desperate to keep the score close. As a result, the Patriots didn’t score enough points to beat a sloppy Dolphins team that kept trying to hand the game back to them.
Enjoy the rebuilding era, Patriots fans. Let’s hope Bill Belichick has the stomach for it.
Studs: Matthew Stafford, Quarterback, Detroit Lions
The Lions lost 46-25 to the Tennessee Titans, but Stafford battled through rib and throwing-hand injuries to 252 yards and one touchdown, keeping the game close until early in the fourth quarter and only giving way to backup Chase Daniel when mop-up time arrived.
Duds: Darrell Bevell, Interim Head Coach, Detroit Lions
Stafford spent much of Sunday afternoon for the (now) 5-10 Lions handing off to Adrian Peterson and throwing passes to Danny Amendola and Mohamed Sanu. Does … does interim coach Darrell Bevell realize that the Lions really need to evaluate younger players? Eh, that’s not really his problem.
That’s one of the dangers of firing both a head coach and general manager late in the year. The team runs on auto-pilot, and no one keeps an eye on the big picture.
Studs: Tony Pollard, Running Back, Dallas Cowboys
Pollard stepped in when Ezekiel Elliott was scrapped with a calf injury and rushed for 69 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries in a 41-33 victory over the San Francisco 49ers, adding six catches for 63 yards.
Cowboys fans and fantasy owners alike can look forward to at least twelve-and-a-half more months of Pollard getting slightly fewer touches than Elliott despite the fact that everyone with a smaller bank balance than Jerry Jones knows that Pollard is the better option.
Duds: AJ Terrell, Cornerback, Atlanta Falcons
Look, somebody on the Falcons has to screw things up after taking a 17-0 lead, especially against Tom Brady, and Terrell’s name must have been one of the ones pulled out of the hat.
Week 15 NFL Highlights | Brady and the Buccaneers cut into the Falcons lead
Terrell managed to commit 28 yards of penalties on one play when the Falcons were clinging to a 24-14 lead over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers while covering Mike Evans: 13 yards for pass interference when Evans reached the top of a short sideline route and 15 more for grabbing Evans’ facemask while trying to jostle his way back into position to make a play. The double penalty gave Brady a rapid pass to the end zone, and the rest was a microcosm of Falcons history.
There’s plenty of blame to go around in the Falcons’ eventual 31-27 loss to the Bucs. But if we start naming everyone who chokes in the second half of the Falcons’ loss, NFL Recap will never have time to cover anything beyond Week 15.
Studs: Rigoberto Sanchez, Punter, Indianapolis Colts
Sanchez returned to the field just two weeks after having a cancerous growth surgically removed. He punted twice, kicked off, and held for field goals in the Colts victory over the Houston Texans.
NFL Recap is committed to wrapping up Week 15 and 2020 with all the inspirational health news that we can get.
With that, let’s stay in Indy to kick off our Week 15 awards …
NFL Recap’s awards for Week 15 (won’t include Bill Belichick)
Defender of the Week
Colts defensive tackle DeForest Buckner recorded three sacks in a down-to-the-wire 27-20 victory over the Houston Texans.
Buckner’s first sack forced a Deshaun Watson fumble to set up the Colts’ second touchdown. His third sack came with the Texans driving far too easily downfield late in the fourth quarter. It forced the Texans to burn a timeout. It set up the wild 4th-and-5 series in which Darius Leonard poked the football loose as receiver Keke Coutee was approaching the end zone, allowing Bobby Okereke to seal the Colts’ win with an end zone fumble recovery.
Offensive Line of the Week
Lamar Jackson, J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards, and mop-up quarterback Tyler Huntley combined for 159 rushing yards, and Jackson looked like his MVP self at times in the 40-14 Baltimore Ravens blowout of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Yes, it was the Jaguars. But the Ravens’ offense struggled through the middle of the season, and the team needed step-up performances from their offensive line over the last three weeks to stay in the playoff hunt.
The Jaguars are now frontrunners for the #1 overall pick.
So this week’s award goes to Orlando Brown, Bradley Bozeman, Patrick Mekari, Ben Powers, and D.J. Fluker. There are a few unfamiliar names on that unit. But no franchise plays “next man up” quite as well as the Ravens.
Special Teamer of the Week
Ezekiel Turner made two huge special teams plays for the Arizona Cardinals. He blocked a punt in the first quarter that not only set up a short touchdown but knocked Philadelphia Eagles punter Cameron Johnston out of the game. Turner later caught a 26-yard fake punt pass up the middle of the field from Andy Lee.
Week 15 NFL Highlights | DeAndre Hopkins with an insane catch
Turner’s blocked punt had significant repercussions. Johnston is the Eagles holder for field goals. The Eagles failed to kick an extra point which would have given them a 27-26 fourth quarter lead when Zach Ertz could not handle Rick Lovato’s snap. (It was a bad snap, but all sorts of things can go wrong with the operation when a team changes placekick holders). The Cardinals went on to win 33-26.
Best Supporting Actor in someone else’s highlight
The entire Colts offense gets this week’s award by celebrating first-quarter touchdowns by Jonathan Taylor and Zach Pascal by performing the “Apache” dance by Sugar Hill Gang (often misnamed “Jump On it”) in the end zone.
For those of you under 40: back in the early 1980s, the DJ would play “Apache” at the junior high dance, and all the girls would take the floor in leg warmers, their hair teased up in a miasma of Aqua Net, and sashay around the church basement the way the Colts did in the end zone. Then, one of the really cool boys would grab a hunk of cardboard and attempt to breakdance.
This would be too much for the nuns, who then ordered “New York, New York” by Frank Sinatra as the next song, which was everyone’s cue to leave. Once the dance was over, any future sportswriters would return home to listen to Moving Pictures on cassette and play Defender on their membrane-keyboard Atari 400 computers while sorting through the confusing feelings stirred by that “Apache” dance.
Perhaps we’ve dwelled a little too long on this particular sequence of events. Let’s move on.
Worst Supporting Actor in someone else’s highlight
Dolphins defender Brandon Jones peanut-punched the football loose as Cam Newton was scrambling for first-down yardage in the second quarter of the Dolphins’ victory over the Patriots. Cornerback Xavien Howard scooped and scored for a patented Dolphins defensive touchdown. Unfortunately, defensive lineman Christian Wilkins was loitering on the edge of the play, and replays showed that the ball bounced off Wilkins’ fender when his feet were out of bounds just before Howard grabbed it. The Patriots retained possession and kicked a field goal as a result.
Sorry, Wilkins. We know you were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. But every background extra in a movie or play knows that you just have to hit your mark. Standing one foot out of place can ruin a shot. Or a touchdown, as the case may be.
Oh, and there are three players named B. Jones (Brandon, Byron, and Benito) on the Dolphins defense. No wonder opponents always look so confused.
Most Controversial Actor in a highlight
Minnesota Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson earned NFL Recap its first R-rating, and one of the highlights of Week 15, by improvising some dialogue after Kirk Cousins waited too long to pull the trigger and overthrew him in the end zone.
There are many interpretations of what Jefferson said making the Internet rounds. But NFL Recap spent our early 1980s childhood listening to heavy metal records backward seeking secret devil messages when not attending dances in the church basement. So trust our carefully-tuned ears when we tell you that Jefferson said, “F**k! Kirk! C’mon! Throw the damn flag!”
In other words: [Expletive], that pass was too high, Kirk! You could have gotten my ribs broken! And c’mon, ref: there was contact, and I want a flag because I am just generally angry at how things are going!
Also, if you listen to Jefferson’s rant backward, he clearly says, “Here’s to my sweet Sam Bradford.”