What we learned from Week 13 of the NFL season
By Benjamin Hoffman
Despite starting a backup quarterback, the New York Giants stunned the Seahawks in Seattle. The Indianapolis Colts held on for a crucial win over the Houston Texans, the Cleveland Browns hung on for a win over the Tennessee Titans and the New Orleans Saints won yet again. But none of Sunday’s games could match the excitement of a wild matchup between the Las Vegas Raiders and the New York Jets in which Gang Green managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Here’s what we learned:
— You don’t get to 0-16 by making good decisions. After a fairly thrilling back-and-forth swing in a game that was expected to be a blowout victory for Las Vegas, the Jets appeared to have the game won. They were leading the Raiders 28-24 with just 19 seconds remaining and, thanks to that 4-point lead, Las Vegas would need a 46-yard touchdown to win. There has rarely been a more obvious situation for an extreme prevent defense, but the Jets haven’t gone winless this far without a fair amount of questionable decisions.
With Las Vegas throwing deep, the Jets put only three players in coverage — with one defender inexplicably left as a spy in case quarterback Derek Carr tried to run. Cornerback Lamar Jackson tried to stick with rookie wide receiver Henry Ruggs III in man coverage, got beat badly with a double move, and let the outrageously fast Ruggs run right past him for what ended up being a 46-yard touchdown pass and a 31-28 win for the Raiders.
The Jets became just the 12th team to start a season 0-12 and are well on their way to joining the 1960 Dallas Cowboys (0-11-1), the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-14), the 2008 Detroit Lions (0-16) and the 2017 Cleveland Browns (0-16) as the only NFL teams since 1944 to go winless for an entire season not shortened by a strike. To avoid that fate, the Jets will need a win against one of four fairly good teams: the Seattle Seahawks, the Los Angeles Rams, the Browns and the New England Patriots.
— The Seahawks should be incredibly concerned. The Giants deserve plenty of credit for beating the Seahawks, who were favored by double digits at home. But while the win could very likely be what propels the Giants to a division title in the NFC East, the implications may be just as great for the Seahawks, who view themselves as Super Bowl contenders but couldn’t handle a team starting backups at quarterback (Colt McCoy) and running back (Wayne Gallman). Thanks to the Los Angeles Rams’ 38-28 win over Arizona, Seattle is once again tied for the division lead in the NFC West. And while games against the Jets and Washington in the next two weeks seem extremely winnable, the Seahawks will face fairly stiff challenges from the Rams and the San Francisco 49ers in the final two weeks of the season that could decide who wins the ultracompetitive division.
— Nothing erases a mistake quite like a safety. The Colts were clinging to a 4-point lead over the Texans in the fourth quarter when they turned the ball over on downs at Houston’s 5-yard line. The game seemed to be slipping away from Indianapolis, but DeForest Buckner of the Colts sacked Houston’s Deshaun Watson for a 1-yard loss and two plays later, linebacker Justin Houston burst into the backfield to sack Watson for a safety. That increased the Colts’ lead to 6 points and gave the Colts the ball back. Indianapolis held on for a 26-20 victory.
The Minnesota Vikings, meanwhile, were leading the Jacksonville Jaguars 19-16 in the fourth quarter when quarterback Kirk Cousins fumbled at Jacksonville’s 4-yard line. On the third play of Jacksonville’s ensuing drive, Minnesota defensive ends Ifeadi Odenigbo and Jordan Brailford wrapped up Mike Glennon for a safety that extended the Vikings’ lead to 5 points. Minnesota needed overtime to hang on for a 27-24 victory, but they never would have made it that far without the safety.
— The Saints barely miss a beat without Drew Brees. There is no question that New Orleans has a more prolific offense with Brees under center, but the team has become far less dependent on the future Hall of Famer over the past two seasons. From 2006, his first year with the Saints, to 2018, Brees missed just three starts and the Saints lost all three games. Over the past two seasons, Brees has missed eight starts — and counting — and New Orleans is 8-0 in those games. Teddy Bridgewater went 5-0 as a fill-in last year and Taysom Hill, who threw for 232 yards and ran for 83 in a 21-16 win over Atlanta on Sunday, is 3-0 this season.
— A new coach can be a wonderful thing. In their first game under interim head coach Darrell Bevell, the Detroit Lions faced the fairly stout Chicago Bears defense and came away with a 34-30 win on the road that included a season-best 460 yards of total offense. Quarterback Matthew Stafford threw for 402 yards and three touchdowns, and in the final two minutes led his fourth game-winning drive of the season and the 38th of his career. The win gave Detroit some revenge for an epic collapse against Chicago in Week 1, but the Lions are likely to get a much stiffer test from Green Bay next week.
— The Patriots can beat you in multiple ways. New England has won four of five after romping to a 45-0 win over the Los Angeles Chargers (3-9). In doing so, the Patriots proved how many different things they can do well. Cam Newton rushed for 48 yards and two touchdowns; he and backup quarterback Jarrett Stidham each threw a touchdown pass and New England got two touchdowns in the second quarter from its special teams units — Gunner Olszewski scored on a 70-yard punt return and Devin McCourty recovered a blocked field goal and returned it 44 yards for another score.
Sunday’s top performers
Top Passer: Baker Mayfield
The only quarterback to have four touchdown passes in a second half this season? Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield against Cincinnati in Week 7. The only quarterback to have four touchdown passes in a first half this season? Mayfield against Tennessee on Sunday. There are plenty of nits to pick in a performance that produced just three points in the second half, but the truth is that Mayfield did so much in the first half of the Browns’ win that nothing in the second half ultimately mattered.
Top Runner: Aaron Jones
Wayne Gallman of the Giants led the NFL in rushing Sunday, but Green Bay’s Aaron Jones edged him narrowly for the best performance of the day by running for 130 yards, 77 of which came on a touchdown run in the game’s final minutes that sealed a victory over Philadelphia. Jones was nearly brought down 7 yards into the carry, shed another would-be tackler 10 yards later, hit the brakes and let a defender fly right past him with 25 yards left to go, and then cut toward the middle of the field at the last second, leaving cornerback Avonte Maddox no chance of bringing him down on his way into the end zone.
Top Receiver: Darren Waller
The list of tight ends to have a game with 200 or more receiving yards since 1950: Jackie Smith (1963), Pete Retzlaff (1965), Rich Caster (1972), Shannon Sharpe (2002), George Kittle (2018) and Darren Waller (Sunday). Two of those players (Smith and Sharpe) are Hall of Famers and a third (Kittle) is arguably the most complete tight end in the league. Not bad company for the Raiders’ Waller, who is up to 742 yards receiving for the year and has a chance at topping 1,000 yards for a second consecutive season.
Chiefs 22, Broncos 16: Denver gave Kansas City more of a scare than most people predicted, but when the Chiefs needed to wrap up their 11th win of the season, they got a 20-yard go-ahead touchdown from Patrick Mahomes to Travis Kelce, a 48-yard insurance field goal from Harrison Butker and a game-sealing interception from Tyrann Mathieu. So, it was a Chiefs game.
Browns 41, Titans 35: A marquee matchup of two of the NFL’s best running backs largely fizzled, with Nick Chubb outgaining Derrick Henry 80 to 60 in rushing yards. But this game was hardly lacking excitement thanks to Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield and Tennessee’s Ryan Tannehill combining for 723 yards passing and seven touchdowns. No matter what happens over the final four games of the regular season, the Browns will finish with a winning record for the first time since 2007.
Saints 21, Falcons 16: In the fourth quarter of a fairly close game, the New Orleans defense saw its streak of holding opponents without a touchdown end at 14 quarters. But on Atlanta’s next drive, the Saints forced a turnover on downs to hang on for the win.
Colts 26, Texans 20: Houston trailed by just 6 points with less than two minutes left, and had driven the ball to the Colts’ 2-yard line. But Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, who had been under fairly intense pressure for much of the game, fumbled a low snap and Anthony Walker of the Colts recovered to preserve a win for Indianapolis.
Giants 17, Seahawks 12: Colt McCoy got his first win as a starting quarterback since Week 8 of the 2014 season. Since McCoy’s last victory, Seattle’s Russell Wilson has won 66 games.
Raiders 31, Jets 28: The Raiders and Jets certainly have their fair share of memorable finishes. There was the infamous “Heidi” game in 1968, in which NBC cut away from the game to show a movie, missing two late touchdowns and a surprising victory by the Oakland Raiders. And 50 years to the day before Sunday’s shocking ending, the Raiders beat the Jets, 14-13, thanks to Daryle Lamonica’s 33-yard touchdown pass to Warren Wells in the game’s final second.
Packers 30, Eagles 16: Philadelphia kept the game surprisingly close thanks to a solid second half, but Green Bay slammed the door shut — emphatically — with Aaron Jones’ 77-yard touchdown run in the final three minutes.
Patriots 45, Chargers 0: Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert has had a solid rookie season, but there was no doubt that he was part of the problem for Los Angeles in the worst shutout in franchise history. He completed just 26 of 53 passes for 209 yards, and was intercepted twice.
Rams 38, Cardinals 28: Kyler Murray threw three touchdown passes, but he also lost a fumble and threw a pick-6. The loss dropped Arizona to 6-6, which is two full games behind Seattle and the Los Angeles Rams for the lead in the NFC West.
Vikings 27, Jaguars 24 (OT): Minnesota’s Dan Bailey missed a 51-yard field goal attempt with 13 seconds remaining in regulation, but when he got another shot in overtime — this time from just 23 yards — he came through with a game-winning kick.
Lions 34, Bears 30: After a 5-1 start, Chicago has lost six consecutive games and this one stung more than most as Mitchell Trubisky and the Bears were leading Detroit by 10 early in the fourth quarter before collapsing against a division rival.
Dolphins 19, Bengals 7: Tua Tagovailoa returned from a thumb injury and threw for a career-high 296 yards, but the most exciting part of this underwhelming game was the tension between the teams that resulted in five ejections and a benches-clearing argument.