A messy playoff picture gets (mostly) clarified, Big Ben and Russell Wilson (probably) say farewell to their home fans, and the Jaguars still (definitely) suck. All that and much more from an action-packed Week 17:
PHI 20 – WAS 16
For the third straight week, Philly gets off to a slow start against a divisional rival missing most of its offensive weapons, this time facing a 16-7 halftime deficit against a Washington team playing without Antonio Gibson and Logan Thomas, among others, with three Joey Slye field goals accounting for the difference (and yes, we still miss writing jokes about Washington’s previous kicker, in case you were wondering.) And for the third straight week Philly rights the ship by coming out of the locker room as a completely different team- over this cushy stretch of the schedule, the Eagles finished -9 in the first half and +47 in the second half. Unlike those first two, this one comes down to the final minute, but Philly holds on when Taylor Heinicke overthrows John Bates deep and Rodney McLeod seals the win with a diving interception. With the win and a pair of favorable results later in the day, the Eagles clinch a playoff spot despite both having started the season 2-5, and not having a single win over a team with a winning record.
LAR 20 – BAL 19
The Ravens drop their 5th straight in typical heartbreaking fashion. Our cousin Chuck Clark gets the home team off to a promising start with interceptions on consecutive Ram possessions- first this walk-in pick-six and then by being in perfect position to snag this deep throw to OBJ. Holding a 10-0 lead inside the two-minute warning, Tyler Huntley badly underthrows Marquise Brown deep, leading to yet another Cooper Kupp TD. But despite never visiting the endzone themselves, Huntley and the Ravens do just enough to hold onto the rest of that lead until the Rams finally break through in the final minute thanks to a pair of important grabs by Beckham. The Ram defense takes it from there, putting the game away on their 5th and final sack.
TB 28 – NYJ 24
Tom Brady heads to MetLife Stadium to torment the franchise that ironically gave him his start in the league one last time. But it’s Zach Wilson, exactly 22 years Brady’s junior, who gets off to the hot start. The Jets strike first on a Philly Specialesque TD by swiss-army knife Braxton Berrios. Brady answers back with a short TD toss to Mike Evans. After another Berrios TD and a Tampa field goal, Brady is driving the Bucs for a score before half when he’s intercepted by Brandin Echols, who strangely asks Brady to sign the ball after the game. Ty Johnson eventually extends the Jet lead to 14 midway through the third quarter. And then, of course, this happens:
Amazingly Brady just shrugs it off, hitting Cameron Brate for a 4th & Goal TD moments later to bring the Bucs within 7. Nursing a 24-20 lead with just over two minutes left the Jets boldly forgo a chip shot field goal on 4th & 2 from the Bucs 7, but inexplicably run a QB sneak which doesn’t even gain one of those two yards, leaving Brady with 132 seconds and no timeouts to gain 93 yards. The Bucs calmly and methodically march down the field and with just 15 ticks left, Brady hits Cyril Grayson on a 33 yard scoring strike to complete the comeback. Brady finishes the game with 3 TDs, 410 passing yards and 22 years of torment of the New York Jets.
TEN 34 – MIA 3
That feeling when you win 7 straight games and still get eliminated from playoff contention. Tua literally drops the ball late in the first quarter, his first and worst of three fumbles on the day as the Titans roll out to a 17-3 halftime lead. Miami’s defense keeps the score there for most of the second half, but a missed field goal and turnover on downs prevent them from getting any closer, and Ryan Tannehill eventually seals the win on this perfectly executed play-action pass to a wide-open Anthony Firkser. With the Chiefs’ loss in Cincinnati, the Titans regain control of the AFC’s #1 seed, with only the lowly Texans standing between them and a first round bye.
NE 50 – JAX 10
The Pats break open a 7-3 game by scoring (checks notes) 43 unanswered points, in a belated tribute to Giannis. A pair of early Trevor Lawrence interceptions, first drilling a 2-yard pass for no apparent reason, and then hitting J.C. Jackson squarely in the chest both lead to Pats TDs, but then again, so does almost everything else. The Patriots finish their home season at 4-5, despite a +106 point differential, while the Jaguars are now just one loss to the Colts away from securing the top overall pick for the second straight year. And we don’t even get a Scorigami out of this blowout, since another team had already lost a game 50-10. And yes, of course that team was also the Jaguars.
LV 23 – IND 20
The Raiders win their third straight must-win nail-biter. Vegas races out to a 13-3 lead which would have been even larger had Derek Carr fully stepped into this deep ball to DeSean Jackson. But Jonathan Taylor scores with just a second left in the first half and the Colts take a 17-13 on their first drive of the second half when Carson Wentz makes an ill-advised throw into double coverage only to have both guys bang into each other and tip the ball directly into the waiting arms of T.Y. Hilton. The Raiders regain the lead on a Hunter Renfrow 4th Down TD, and appear to win the game on a second Renfrow TD (eventually and correctly called back) but are perfectly happy to settle for a game-winning Daniel Carlson 33-yard field goal as time expires. The win keeps the Raiders alive and sets up a win-and-in battle with the Chargers Sunday night.
CIN 34 – KC 31
Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase put on their big boy pants to deliver the Bengals their biggest win in ages, clinching their first AFC North crown since 2015 and ending the Chiefs’ 8-game winning streak in the process. Patrick Mahomes gets the Chiefs out to an early 14-0 lead with strikes to Demarcus Robinson and Travis Kelce. But in a sign of things to come, Burrow and Chase answer right back in a big way. The Chiefs would go on to score TDs on each of their next two possessions, but the Bengals answer back with another Burrow-Chase connection and an Evan McPherson field goal to stay within a manageable 28-17 margin at the half. That margin becomes 28-24 three plays into the second half and Burrow finally throws a TD to someone else to give the Bengals the lead early in the 4th quarter. The Chiefs tie it up with a field goal but Burrow responds with a 74-yard game-ending drive, aided by a huge 3rd & 27 conversion to Chase, and culminating in a wild sequence of 8 consecutive snaps inside the Kansas City 2 before a McPherson chip shot sends the locals home happy.
CHI 29 – NYG 3
Just for fun (well, unless you’re a Giants fan) here is the combined stat line for the starting QBs in the Giants’ last three games: 23-52/148 passing yards/0 TDs/6 Interceptions, which all works out to an 11.86 QBR. Spoiler alert: The Giants lost all three games, very much including this one, by a combined score of 84-19. The Bears hold the Giants to -10 net passing yards, the lowest total in the NFL since the Chiefs held Ryan Leaf to -19 net passing yards all the way back in 1998. Mike Glennon fumbles on the first play from scrimmage and tacks on an interception three minutes later, both leading to Bears TDs, and the outcome is never really in doubt after those first five minutes. Fittingly the Bears’ biggest moment of the game comes on the defensive side when Robert Quinn breaks Richard Dent’s ranchise record with his 18th sack of the season.
BUF 29 – ATL 15
The Falcons punt on each of their first two possessions but manage to get two points out of the first one. A pair of Josh Allen rushing TDs in a three minute span more than make up for that early deficit, but both of Buffalo’s second quarter possessions end in picks, and the 14.5-point underdog Falcons take a 15-14 halftime lead, keeping their dream alive of having the worst point differential of any playoff team in NFL history. But alas, that dream finally dies in the second half when the Falcons fail to score any points (despite coming really close.) The Bills are now just a home win against the Jets from wrapping up their second straight AFC East title.
SF 23 – HOU 7
Trey Lance, who hadn’t thrown a pass since week 5, mostly dinks and dunks his way through the first half as the suddenly hot Texans head into the locker room with a 7-3 lead. This Brandon Aiyuk catch, bounce, and run early in the 3rd quarter gives the 49ers some life, and although that drive stalls out at the Texans 24, the 49ers finally take their first lead on their next drive when nobody bothers to cover Elijah Mitchell coming out of the backfield. After Kai Fairbairn misses a potential game-tying 45-yard field goal, Lance hits Deebo Samuel deep and the 49ers never look back, holding on for a 23-7 victory. The 49ers still face a slight uphill battle to get into the playoffs, but if they can complete a season sweep of the Rams or if the Saints lose to the Falcons, that would do the trick.
NO 18 – CAR 10
Both teams make QB changes, with Sam Darnold making his first start since Week 9, mercifully putting an end to the Camback, and Taysom Hill returning to an offense which had only managed four field goals across the last two games (one of which, of course, was started by Hill.) Despite those QB changes, the defense outplays the offense on both sides. Chuba Hubbard breaks through early in the 2nd quarter to give the Panthers a 10-3 lead, but that would be the end of Carolina’s scoring. The Panthers only gain a single first down across their next five possessions, but retain a tenuous hold on the lead until Brett Maher finally gives the Saints their first lead of the day with his fourth field goal late in the 3rd quarter. And on their next possession the Saints score their first touchdown in 12 quarters to establish the final margin. Despite all of that offensive futility, the Saints have now won three of their last four after a five-game losing streak, and enter Week 18 with a real shot at the playoffs, needing only a win against the Falcons and a Rams’ home win over the 49ers to sneak in at 9-8.
SEA 51 – DET 29
Punter Michael Dickson boots a 45-yard punt to end Seattle’s first possession and the team celebrates by giving Dickson the rest of the afternoon off, as the Seahawks score on each of their next nine possessions, shattering their previous season-high of 33 in the game’s first 31 minutes. Rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown continues to be a bright spot in another lost Lions’ season, setting a new personal receiving yard record for the third straight week with 8 catches for 111 yards and a TD, and tacking on a rushing TD too. But little else goes right for Detroit, as best exemplified by Tim Boyle both fumbling and throwing an interception of the first play of the second half. As for the Seahawks, if this does prove to be the last home game for Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson, at least they go out in style.
AZ 25 – DAL 22
Neither team generates much offense early in this potential playoff preview. Leading 3-0 in the second, the Cards pull off the fake punt of the year, with Jonathan Ward making an INSANE helmet catch a la David Tyree.
Arizona takes full advantage of the fresh set of downs as Murray hits Antoine Wesley for his first of two TDs on the day to extend the lead to 10. Dak Prescott answers back with a great back-shoulder TD throw to Michael Gallup, but the Cowboys lose Gallup for the season on the play. Matt Prater nails a 53-yarder at the end of the half to give the Cards a 13-7 lead. A second Wesley TD and Prater’s third field goal of the day bring the lead all the way up to 15 but the Cowboys roar back with a 15-point 4th quarter and appear to get the break they need to finish the comeback until Chase Edmonds is incorrectly ruled down by contact and Mike McCarthy is out of timeouts to challenge.
LAC 34 – DEN 13
Chargers’ speedster Andre Roberts returns the opening kickoff to midfield, and it’s a sign of things to come. Austin Ekeler finishes off the opening drive with his 11th TD of the year. The Broncos play stingy defense the rest of the half, but the Drew Lock led offense can’t muster much. A Herbert to Keenan Allen toss extends the Chargers lead to 17-0. A Brandon McManus chip shot trims that margin to 20-6 to start the 4th quarter, but Roberts returns the ensuing kickoff 101 yards to put the game away, setting up a Sunday night showdown in Vegas for the AFC’s last playoff spot.
GB 37 – MIN 10
After losing a thriller in Minnesota earlier this season, the Packers completely dominate the rematch, taking a 30-3 lead in the 3rd quarter and operating on cruise control from there, wrapping up the NFC’s #1 seed and first-round bye in the process. Despite taking their foot off the gas for the last 20 minutes or so, Green Bay outgains Minnesota 481-206 on the night. The Packers break the game open on this old-school timing pattern between Aaron Rogers and Allen Lazard. Vikings’ center Garrett Bradbury gives us perhaps the best catch-and-run in offensive lineman history, but that bizarre play aside, Sean Mannion struggles all night filling in for Kirk Cousins. Though on the plus side for Mannion, at least his coach thinks much more highly of him than of third-stringer Kellen Mond. Yikes.
PIT 26 – CLE 14
In his presumptive Heinz Field finale, Big Ben strikes first on a short slant to Diontae Johnson. Early in the 3rd quarter Najee Harris breaks off a long run to break Steelers legend Franco Harris’ rookie rushing record, aided by a world class stiff arm of MJ Stewart. Baker Mayfield is terrorized by TJ Watt’s 4-sack performance but wakes up in time to get the Browns back within a single score late. But after a failed onside kick, Najee Harris scampers 37 yards to the house, to put the game out of reach. A final Mayfield interception gives Big Ben one final chance to run out the clock, ending his Heinz Field career in victory formation.