What we learned from Week 12 in the NFL
By Derrik Klassen
The AFC playoff race only gets more and more contentious with each passing week, and teams are adjusting to make sure they can keep pace. To that end, the New York Jets reset their offense by sitting quarterback Zach Wilson and running back James Robinson.
The Jets’ offense can work.
Coach Robert Saleh hasn’t gone so far as to say that second-year quarterback Zach Wilson won’t return as the Jets’ starter, but the team’s 31-10 win over the Chicago Bears at home pointed out the glaring disconnect between Wilson and the offense’s potential.
On Sunday, Mike White completed 22 of 28 passes for 315 yards and three touchdowns, lacing throws to 10 different receivers while starting in place of Wilson, who was inactive for the game after a nightmare performance with just nine completions against the New England Patriots in Week 11.
When the Jets selected Wilson No. 2 overall out of Brigham Young University in 2021, the bill was that they were getting a semi-athletic, strong-armed scrambler who could go off script and make big plays down the field. He would be a player whose creativity and explosive plays could make up for inefficiency, a la Russell Wilson or Kyler Murray.
But despite the team adding tight end C.J. Uzomah and rookie receiver Garrett Wilson in the offseason, Zach Wilson hasn’t yet consistently made the types of throws that keep drives alive long enough for firework plays to develop. He doesn’t work the quick game or check through his progressions and that has made for a wonky fit in Mike LaFleur’s offense, which is built on timing and precision.
LaFleur, who previously worked under Kyle Shanahan, employs a scheme built on play-action calls and throws targeting the middle of the field, similar to those run by accurate quarterbacks like Jimmy Garoppolo and Tua Tagovailoa.
On Sunday, White highlighted what is supposed to work for the Jets (7-4). The team’s first drive featured five short completions before White found Garrett Wilson on a short corner route in the end zone for an 8-yard score that helped put the Jets up 7-0.
White’s second touchdown, also to Wilson, showcased the big-play potential of the Jets’ personnel. On a first-and-10 near midfield late in the second quarter, the Jets stacked Denzel Mims and Wilson to the right side and had Mims run an over route to clear the middle of the field for Wilson. White reared back and delivered the ball to Wilson right over a linebacker. Wilson made a Bears defender miss, then zoomed to the end zone for a 54-yard score.
This is the second straight season in which White has made a star cameo for the Jets. White, selected in the fifth round by the Dallas Cowboys in 2018, stunned the league in the Jets’ upset win over the Bengals in his first career start last season. He threw four picks to a fierce Buffalo Bills defense two weeks later. White’s big moment this season comes with a grain of salt: The Bears (3-9) started a backup quarterback of their own, Trevor Siemian, and couldn’t generate a semblance of a pass rush.
Around the NFL
Eagles 40, Packers 33: Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts dashed to 157 yards, a game-high that narrowly eclipsed running back Miles Sanders’ 143. Aaron Rodgers left the game in the third quarter with an oblique injury, and 2020 first-round pick Jordan Love came on in relief to lead two drives that resulted in a total of 10 points.
Las Vegas Raiders 40, Seattle Seahawks 34, overtime: Raiders running back Josh Jacobs took 33 carries, brutalizing the Seahawks’ defense for four quarters. Jacobs topped off his performance with an 86-yard, game-winning touchdown in overtime, giving Las Vegas overtime road wins in back-to-back weeks.
Chargers 25, Cardinals 24: The Cardinals were the marginally better team for about 59 minutes, 45 seconds. Kyler Murray went 18 of 29 for 191 yards with two passing touchdowns, one rushing score and an interception in his return from a hamstring injury. Justin Herbert dropped back more than 50 times and was regularly under duress but put together one drive at the end, finishing it off with a 2-point play to Gerald Everett to take the lead with 15 seconds left. The Cardinals had three consecutive three-and-outs in the fourth quarter to give the Chargers the window they needed.
Kansas City Chiefs 26, Los Angeles Rams 10: Kansas City took a 20-3 lead into the fourth quarter in a game that wasn’t remotely close. Rams backup quarterback Bryce Perkins eked out 100 yards passing while taking three sacks and tossing two interceptions.
San Francisco 49ers 13, New Orleans Saints 0: The 49ers’ defense handed the Saints their first shutout since 2001, as defensive end Nick Bosa added another sack, linebacker Fred Warner was a nuisance across the middle, and safety Talanoa Hufanga led the team in tackles with nine.
Washington Commanders 19, Atlanta Falcons 13: The Commanders do not feel like a 7-5 team, but with this win over the Falcons, that’s what they are. Running the ball had been Atlanta’s calling card, but Washington won the ground battle, 176 yards to 167, led by Brian Robinson’s 105 yards on 18 carries. The Falcons had a shot to win with a minute left, but Marcus Mariota’s pass was tipped inside the 5-yardline and fell into the hands of Commanders cornerback Kendall Fuller. Taylor Heinicke improved to 5-1 since replacing Carson Wentz at quarterback.
Miami Dolphins 30, Houston Texans 15: Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa had no issue finding Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle in the Texans’ zone-heavy defense, calling passes over runs at about a 3-to-1 ratio as the Dolphins scored 30 points in the first half. Starting left tackle Terron Armstead left the game with a pectoral injury, and Miami cruised to its fifth straight win and retained control of the AFC East.
Carolina Panthers 23, Denver Broncos 10: Russell Wilson was outdueled by Sam Darnold (11 of 19 passing for 164 yards and a touchdown), who made his first start of the season for Carolina. Wilson finished with just 4.1 yards per attempt, and the Broncos’ lone touchdown came with three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. A successful onside kick attempt gave the Broncos brief hope, but Denver turned it over on downs and that was that.
Cleveland Browns 23, Buccaneers 17, overtime: Cleveland has a bottom-10-ranked run defense, and the Bucs entered the game dead last in rushing offense. Tampa Bay stuck with its high-volume passing game, but was held without a point on their last seven possessions as Jacoby Brissett mounted a 13-point comeback to beat the Buccaneers in what is expected to be his last start before Deshaun Watson returns from an 11-game suspension.
Jaguars 28, Baltimore Ravens 27: Baltimore’s fourth quarters have been interesting, to say the least. The Ravens entered the final quarter ahead, 12-10, and the two teams combined to score 33 points in the fourth. Trevor Lawrence found Zay Jones and Marvin Jones on back-to-back plays and scored on a 75-yard drive with less than 30 seconds left. Jaguars coach Doug Pederson’s 2-point conversion attempt was successful. Ravens kicker Justin Tucker nearly made a 67-yarder as time expired, but in a rare moment of mortality, he came up short.
Bengals 20, Titans 16: The Titans’ brutish front-four and tricky coverage schemes put a damper on the Bengals’ offense for about three quarters before Joe Burrow and Tee Higgins decided it was jump ball time. On the other end, the Titans’ offense had its game plan flipped on its head. Derrick Henry was held to 38 yards on 17 carries and fumbled into the end zone for his teammate Treylon Burks to recover and score Tennessee’s only touchdown of the day.