The Steelers are crashing. The Chargers are dashing. And Big Mike is cashing… his final paycheck. Breakout Live breaks down the top storylines from week 13 in the NFL.
The Steelers are crashing in epic fashion.
The Steelers entered the game with the Los Angeles Chargers 174-0-1 at home with at least a 16-point lead at any point in the game, according to Elias Sports Bureau research. Make that 174-1-1. The Chargers, who appeared left for dead down 23-7 at half, made one of the more improbable comebacks you’ll ever see. The Keenan Allen deflected TD. The punt return TD. Two successful 2-point attempts. And ultimately, THREE Steelers offside penalties on the game-winning field goal attempts, the first of which nullified a missed Chargers field goal. This comes a mere week after the Steelers handed the game away in Denver with a goal line fumble and goal line interception. Had the Steelers not pulled victory from the jaws of defeat at Jacksonville a few games ago, they would be sitting on a 3-game losing streak. As it stands, the Steelers now find themselves effectively two games behind both the Patriots and the Texans for the #2 seed and the playoff bye. And perhaps even more perilously, they now maintain a mere half-game lead over the surging Ravens for the division. With games still remaining against the Patriots and at the Saints, it’s gut-check time for the Steelers. Meanwhile, the Chargers are for real. They now share the second-best record in the AFC and sit only one game back from the division-leading Chiefs.
The Cowboys have announced their arrival.
After losing at home to the Titans a month ago, any discussion of the Cowboys winning the division was laughable. The Cowboys were 3-5, and all the talk surrounding the Cowboys was whether it was time to move on from Jason Garrett and Dak Prescott. Yes, it was that bad. But after a highly-criticized trade for Amari Cooper, the resurgence of Dak and Zeke, and the emergence of their star rookie linebacker, the Cowboys have reeled off four wins in a row, including perhaps the shocker of the season in stifling the high-flying New Orleans Saints last Thursday. Now the Cowboys find themselves at 7-5 with the inside track on the division title. The Saints will surely rebound, but the Cowboys have fired a warning shot to the rest of the conference that they’re suddenly a team to be reckoned with.
The Chiefs bull forward after the loss of Hunt.
With the beleaguered Raiders on deck, this week was supposed to be an easy one for the Chiefs after their devastating shootout loss to the Rams before the bye. But a mere 48 hours before their tilt with their divisional foe, TMZ released a 10-month old video of Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt repeatedly attacking a woman inside a hotel hallway. Within hours, the Chiefs announced the shocking release of their star running back. A letdown versus the Raiders on the road would have been understandable. Yet although the game was closer than expected, the Chiefs still put up 40 points, and Patrick Mahomes quickly reminded us that he – not Hunt – is the reason why the Chiefs are closing in on the top seed in the AFC. Mahomes finished with nearly 300 yards and 4 touchdown passes, and the Chiefs also put up an impressive 174 yards on the ground without Hunt. Yes, it’s only the Raiders. But the Chiefs showed they have plenty of weapons to maintain their title quest after the loss of Hunt.
The Patriots answer the bell. Again.
The Lazarus of the NFL has risen again. After starting 1-2 and being left for dead, the Patriots reeled off six straight. But they stumbled again in getting trounced by the Titans and struggling to put away the Jets a week ago. And Sunday, they faced an improving Vikings team starting to get back into NFC contention. It seemed like a watershed game for the Patriots as to whether they would stay atop the AFC mountain or begin to pass the baton to the upstarts of the conference. Well, the Patriots are sticking around for a little while longer. Tom Brady had another 300-yard effort in spreading it around to 9 different wide receivers. His third quarter TD was his 508th of the regular-season, tying him with Brett Favre for third most all-time. Including playoffs, Brady’s 579 TDs ties him with Peyton Manning for the most all time. Road games at wildcard-hungry Miami and suddenly-desperate Pittsburgh await the Patriots, in what will likely determine whether New England can nab a first round bye for a staggering ninth straight season.
Lamar Jackson is doing it with mirrors.
The Ravens have impressively pulled off three victories in a row to take control in the race for the AFC’s final wildcard spot. And they’ve done it with rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson at the helm in those three games. But on paper, it’s completely mystifying how Jackson and the Ravens are getting this done. In those three wins, Jackson has averaged 151 passing yards and thrown for a whopping 1 touchdown against 3 interceptions. Yes, he’s added some yardage and a couple of touchdowns on the ground, but his total yardage output is still anemic even by 1970 NFL standards. But thanks to a god-send of a schedule against three of the league’s worst teams and a stout Ravens’ defense that held Matt Ryan to a paltry 131 yards on Sunday, Baltimore suddenly finds itself at 7-5 and in the thick of the AFC wildcard hunt. You can expect more voices to join the chorus singing Jackson’s praises and demanding he be given the permanent starting job, but you won’t hear it from me. I give the kid credit for holding the line, and I’m glad he made it through concussion protocol versus the Falcons, but give me a healthy Flacco to give the Ravens any shot of being a legitimate threat come playoff time.
The Carolina collapse is nearly complete.
The Panthers came up short again, this time against the Buccaneers, en route to dropping their fourth game in a row. A team that started 6-2 with visions of another Super Bowl run is now sitting at 6-6 and looking increasingly unlikely to secure even a #6 seed in the NFC. Cam Newton threw four interceptions for the first time since his rookie season in 2011. Making matters worse, Panthers tight end Greg Olsen told reporters he ruptured his plantar fascia and believes his season is over. Newton himself faces injury concerns after being replaced at the end of each half to due arm-strength concerns. After the game, Panthers coach Ron Rivera would not answer questions on his job security now that his team is 6-6 and in danger of missing the playoffs. Strikingly, Rivera has not had consecutive winning seasons since arriving in 2011. That’s the kind of inconsistency that can lose you your job. The Panthers can curse the scheduling gods for pitting them against the Saints in two of their final three games of the season. 8-8 is looking like the ceiling for this once promising team, and that probably isn’t good enough to salvage a playoff berth or possibly Rivera’s job. Meanwhile, Jameis Winston threw for 259 yards and two touchdowns, and managed to avoid a turnover for the second straight week. Winst-Magic rolls on.
The Rams are back-to-back NFC West champs for the first time since 1979.
It wasn’t as easy as predicted, but the Rams took full advantage of the Saints’ shocking loss in Big D Thursday night, taking out the pesky Lions and securing the pole position in the NFC after 12 games. Goff turned in a pedestrian effort vs. the lowly Lions, although a bit of a letdown could have been expected after the historic night vs. Kansas City before the bye. Fortunately for the Rams, Todd Gurley didn’t suffer a hangover. He added another 132 yards rushing and two TDs to his stellar season tally. This wasn’t a cakewalk though, as the Lions remained within one possession until Aaron Donald got a strip-sack at a crucial point in the fourth quarter and Gurley sealed it with a 2-yard touchdown run with just under two minutes remaining. Now the Rams head to Chicago and try to hang on to that top seed, but they’ll have to face an angry Bears team recovering from a heartbreaking overtime loss to the Giants.
Put a fork in the Packers and Big Mike.
I wanted to believe Aaron Rodgers, I really did. Rodgers insisted the Packers weren’t out of the wildcard after last week’s loss to rival Minnesota, and the Packers’ remaining schedule seemed to back him up. But Sunday, against bottom-dwelling Arizona, Mason Crosby missed yet another critical field goal – this time as time expired – ending the Packers’ dim hopes of remaining in the wildcard chase. Game conditions obviously weren’t great, but come on: The opponent was a 2-win team from the Arizona desert. Aaron Rodgers did his best to engineer a comeback on his birthday, driving the Packers 95 yards for the game-tying touchdown with just over 5 minutes to play, and then getting the Packers into field goal range before the Crosby miss. But the Packers defense conceded a 3rd and 23 conversion to the Cardinals from their own 12 yard line, which ultimately led to the Cardinals’ game-winning field goal with 1:41 remaining, and putting a cap on the Mike McCarthy era in Green Bay. McCarthy was fired at the conclusion of this one. Packers’ management couldn’t even wait until Monday to show Big Mike the door. After leading the Packers to eight double-digit win seasons, 6 divisional titles and a Super Bowl victory in 2010-11, McCarthy has been sub .500 the last two seasons and seemed to have lost the confidence of the team.
The Broncos are back in the hunt.
Phillip Lindsay ran wild on the decimated Bengals, racking up 157 yards and two TDs on an eye-popping 8.3 yards-per-carry. The rookie from Colorado now has three consecutive games under his belt averaging over 7 YPC, a spell in which he’s also rushed for 5 TDs. Lindsay’s heroics mean the Broncos have won three in a row and remain just one game back of the Ravens for the final wildcard spot. With the next three against the 49ers, Browns and Raiders, expect Lindsay and the Broncos to make a whole lot more noise before this season is over.
The Colts come back down to earth.
The Jaguars snapped a seven-game losing streak with a highly improbable 6-0 victory over the Colts. No, there wasn’t a blizzard in Jacksonville. Rather, the 2017 defense showed up and brought the storm, sacking Andrew Luck three times, forcing one turnover, and not allowing Luck to throw a TD pass for the first time all season. Luck came into the game on an astounding streak of throwing for at least three TDs eight games in a row. What’s more, the Colts were on a 5-game winning streak in which they had averaged 35 points per game. With the Ravens, Broncos, Titans and Dolphins winning, and the Texans and Cowboys on deck, the Colts’ wildcard hopes have turned on a dime. Meanwhile, Jaguars quarterback Cody Kessler picked up the first victory of his career as a starter after losing the first 8 of his career.
The Seahawks take charge in the NFC wildcard race.
After thumping the 49ers on Sunday, the Seahawks are winners of three in a row and find themselves in command of the #5 seed in the NFC. Russell Wilson didn’t exactly air it out, with a mere 185 yards passing, but he was extremely efficient in turning those yards into 4 passing TDs. The Seahawks also put up 169 on the ground in a balanced attack. With the Rams already claiming the division, the Hawks set their sights on securing the wildcard but face tough home tests with the Vikings and Chiefs coming to town over the next three weeks.