The first weekend of December featured division rivalries, upsets, and high-scoring games. The closer we are to the playoffs, the clearer the playoff picture regarding who can make a deep run and who may be one and done. Time to break down the best and worst from week 13.
Winners: Dan Campbell and the Detroit Lions
Despite a winless record until Sunday, the Lions played all but two games close at some point. There’s been improvement almost every week. The defense is better than their last win before Sunday (almost a year to the day) and quarterback Jared Goff is playing better than his predecessor Matthew Stafford (despite some turnovers).
Without Dalvin Cook and Adam Thielen, Detroit led against Minnesota most of the game until late in the fourth quarter with less than a minute remaining. Goff found a wide open Amon-Ra St. Brown for the game winning score. Ford Field erupted in celebration. Coach Campbell and his players congratulated each other.
What’s equally important was the press conference where both Campbell and Goff didn’t want to talk about the win, but honor the Oxford high school shooting victims, dedicating the game winning ball to them and those affected. On a day the head coach should be elated by the first win in his career, it was the opposite, focusing on life outside sports.
Where many of us want the best teams to stand out, the Lions are the first and best winners of the week. Dan Campbell was the right hire and it’s shown by how the team rallies around him and buys in to his leadership.
Tom Brady’s Case for 2021 MVP
For some people, it gets old hearing about how a 44 year old man in Florida keeps impressing each week. It can’t be overlooked how once-in-a-lifetime this is. Brady’s thrown 34 touchdowns and ten interceptions with five weeks remaining to break his personal best 50 touchdown record.
Brady finally passed the 200 interception mark Sunday (which was returned for a touchdown). He’d already thrown over 600 touchdowns. No quarterback in NFL history achieved that specific order.
The Buccaneers swept Atlanta for the second straight year. The Falcons are winless in ten tries facing the most decorated quarterback in NFL history. He threw four touchdowns; three in the first half and the fourth to seal a ten point lead in the third quarter.
Two final things to consider for Brady winning MVP: he has more total touchdowns (35) than 17 teams after Week 13. Two are Super Bowl hopefuls in Green Bay and Baltimore. Sunday was also the sixth game he’s thrown four or more touchdowns, a career high. As referenced by Scott Van Pelt, the six other quarterbacks who’ve accomplished this stat-line all won MVP.
Matt Eberflus and the Indianapolis Colts defense
After a devastating home loss against Tampa Bay to end November, the Indianapolis Colts defense rebounded, shutting out the Houston Texans. According to ESPN, this is the first shutout for the Colts on the road since 1992.
The Texans offense couldn’t do anything right against defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus’ defense. Starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor was benched in the third quarter after completing six passes, including one to Indianapolis defender Kenny Moore II. It didn’t help Taylor may need time off with an injury to his left hand.
Houston mustered less than 200 yards of offense. Their best receiver had 38 yards. These are hard stats to come across in the 2020s NFL. The defense added two turnovers and four sacks to a perfect game.
Eberflus has been a candidate for a head-coaching job since 2019. It’s strange he hasn’t been hired by a team wanting a fresh mindset. That could change this offseason.
Peterson is probably the best generational athlete the NFL has witnessed outside the quarterback position in the last 20 years. The durability and productivity is unmatched outside of two players. So when he scored Sunday to cut San Francisco’s lead to three, it was a special moment for not just Seattle, but his career.
Peterson becomes the first runningback in NFL history to score a rushing touchdown with six different teams. His 126 touchdowns now tie him with the great Jim Brown at tenth all-time.
120 of those touchdowns have been running, and that puts him three behind Marcus Allen for third all time for runningbacks. All he needs now is that elusive Super Bowl victory.
Losers: New York Giants
Early in the season on Pro Talk, Wesley and I discussed who we thought the worst team in the NFL could be. Wesley made the case of the New York Giants while I talked on the Atlanta Falcons (more on them in a bit). I’d personally say after Sunday that Wesley might be right.
It’s possible the Giants are the worst of the two football teams playing in New Jersey. While starting quarterback Daniel Jones didn’t play, backup Mike Glennon shouldn’t be on an active roster. His 44 passing attempts for under 200 yards has to be one of the worst stat-lines this season.
Former first round pick Saquon Barkley ran eleven times for 55 yards. Despite the five yards per carry, Barkley doesn’t look like a building block to move the franchise forward. Despite the injuries, he’s been a non-factor and at times the team’s worse with him on the field. One has to wonder if he’d thrive somewhere else or if anyone pays half the contract extension he desires.
Then there’s head coach Joe Judge. Down 20-9 late in the fourth, Judge sent out the field goal unit to attempt a 56 yard kick instead of going for a touchdown. Even if it was good, New York would be down eight with nine seconds in the game. Graham Gano was in a losing situation. He missed the kick.
Outside of a few playoff berths since their last Super Bowl win, the Giants are now an irrelevant team. Terrible drafting and development of players, bad coaching hires and failure to address issues in management have resulted in the franchise alone in last place within the NFC East. It’s possible we won’t see improvement until fans burn season tickets and chant for ownership change again.
Atlanta Falcons offensive line
The argument was made after this year’s draft that Cincinnati made a mistake passing over the best offensive lineman for a wide receiver, especially when their star quarterback was out the remainder of the 2020-21 season an ACL tear. While it’ll be debated in future seasons, the Atlanta Falcons did the same thing, and it’s shown how bad that miscue was.
Atlanta was over the salary cap and had to deal one of their franchise stars. It’s possible they made a mistake trading Julio Jones and not quarterback Matt Ryan. The 36 year old captain is in the twilight of his career. He’s also sacked and hit more than any quarterback in the league except Russell Wilson.
Sunday was more of the same. Tampa’s defensive line recorded five sacks on Ryan, and all were by the defensive interior. They smothered Atlanta the second half and ensured a win by middle fourth quarter.
The Falcons used their first round pick on tight end Kyle Pitts. Coach Arthur Smith is undecided on how to use him depending on the month. Though maybe he’d be used more if Ryan had time to read a field.
It’s a rare thing when the Harbaugh brother in the NFL is having a worse week than his brother in college football but these things happen occasionally. While there’s heavy blame on Lamar Jackson’s play in Pittsburgh, a lot of it goes on coach Harbaugh for not preparing his quarterback better.
It’s obvious Jackson struggles against a cover-zero defense. Opposition has played the Ravens offense in this scheme since a Thursday night loss in Miami. It’s shocking this is the fourth game Baltimore’s scored less than 20 points. You can’t say it’s just the quarterback.
The Ravens are playing too many close games and have more comebacks than a team wanting a playoff spot should. Playing catch-up comes back to bite usually near postseason, and it’s bit the Ravens into a four-way tie for first in their conference.
Coach Harbaugh has to critically analyze the staff and how the team’s played since that key Thursday night loss and make changes. Otherwise, it’ll be a quick exit in January.
NBC’s Week 13 Flexed Game Decision
A few weeks ago NBC (at the urging of the NFL) flexed week 13’s matchup between the San Francisco 49ers v. Seattle Seahawks to the Denver Broncos v. Kansas City Chiefs. While some criticized the game chosen in the flex, it’s obvious NBC made a mistake in substituting a game that had no chance of being entertaining.
The NFC West matchup was a longer played game but started off in wild fashion. Not even ten seconds into game time a player was carted off the field. The first quarter after that injury had this:
- Seattle fake-punt run for a touchdown, first in at least two years.
- Seattle fumble recovered by San Francisco, leading to a 49er touchdown the next play.
- Quarterback Jimmy Garappolo intercepted by Bobby Wagner.
- Field goal miss plays after interception.
- 49ers take a seven point lead next possession.
There were three more quarters of fun football that included Adrian Peterson’s record setting score, rookie Dee Eskridge catching his first touchdown, a safety on Garappolo, Tyler Lockett’s game winning touchdown catch, Gerald Everett’s lost fumbles in two different endzones, a goal-line stand, and more interceptions from both quarterbacks.
Even for new or learning fans, that’s a lot taking place in one game. It would probably be the most talked about game today if it retained the primetime spot. What NBC broadcast instead wasn’t a rivalry but another embarrassing performance by Denver. The Broncos haven’t beaten Kansas City since legendary quarterback Peyton Manning retired. Manning got into the Hall of Fame faster than Denver splitting a series with the Chiefs.
Let’s not shy away from Kansas City’s offense either. Star quarterback Patrick Mahomes threw under 200 yards and an interception. The defenses on both teams played well but the only memorable thing was Denver having 20 offensive plays on one drive and scoring zero points. The network can’t get upset if someone turned the t.v. off after watching that.