For the first time this season, teams are clinching playoff berths. Those teams secured their divisions and have chances at top seeding. Even more exciting are the teams that had chances to clinch and couldn’t, setting historical marks falling short. Time to see who or what else stood out after week 15 ended.
Winners: Amon-Ra St. Brown
The rookie mid-round pick could wind up being a star receiver in Detroit’s offensive rebuild. St. Brown gained fame in the sports world for his game winning touchdown catch a few weeks ago in a home win against the Minnesota Vikings. St. Brown was the best receiver in Ford Field on Sunday catching eight passes for 90 yards and a touchdown. Whenever quarterback Jared Goff needed a completion or a third down conversion, the rookie came through catching all but three passes thrown his way.
Lions general manager Brad Holmes has a lot to fix on offense and while he won’t have the number one pick heading into the 2022 draft, there’s relief knowing he made the right trades, coaching hires and picks in his first draft in Detroit. Amon-Ra St. Brown works well with his feet near the out of bounds markers and can break away from defenders. He may not have the career former Lion wide receiver Calvin Johnson did but he’ll be a key player for whoever’s quarterback going forward.
Credit to the New York Jets’ Robert Saleh for going through an awful year in his first season as head coach. Jets Dolphins was one of the few entertaining early games, and second overall pick Zach Wilson at times looked like Russell Wilson in some first half plays. The best player on the field was veteran runningback Duke Johnson, who took over in the second quarter and is a factor in Miami’s rebound to .500.
During the broadcast it was said Johnson’s playing on the team he wanted to win with as a child and he’s showing it in a resurgent season. His two touchdowns got Miami three points within a tie, and then a tied score in the third quarter. His 22 runs for 107 yards was a reason the Dolphins dominated time of possession in the second half. Coach Brian Flores realized his team started slow and made the right adjustments, giving the best players available more time to take control.
In order for Miami to clinch a playoff spot, the running game has to gain traction for more than just one half. It’s perfect timing since most playoff bound teams start balancing their running and passing games before January.
Dennis Allen and the New Orleans Saints
Dennis Allen’s first stint as head coach with the Oakland Raiders from 2012 to not even mid 2014 was Lane Kiffin-level bad. The 2013 Raiders defense was one of the worst the NFL’s seen this century. After the firing, Allen went to New Orleans to re-tool and learn how to overcome those failures. Sunday night’s shutout over the current Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers will give Allen another chance to be a head coach somewhere after the season.
ESPN reported Sunday night was the first time an opponent shut out a Tom Brady offense without scoring a touchdown. It’s also the first time Brady’s been shutout at home, snapping a 175 game streak. The last time the 44 year old quarterback didn’t score was against the Nick Saban led Dolphins in 2006. What’s more impressive is the Saints did it without head coach Sean Payton on the sideline (Payton’s battling a second bout of COVID-19).
That promoted assistant and defensive coordinator Dennis Allen to head coach for one game. Allen’s defense intercepted Brady once, injured his top three receivers/play makers, and forced and recovered a fumble after Brady ran for a first down try. They made the headline MVP candidate look like a backup.
It’s possible this is what current Raiders owner Mark Davis saw in Allen when he hired him in 2012. Some of the most successful coaches in NFL history succeeded with one team but were horrendous with others. Allen might have a better tenure the second time if a team hires him this offseason.
Losers: Todd Downing and the hapless Tennessee Titans offensive line
The second half collapse from the Titans’ offense will be blamed on turnovers and poor play from quarterback Ryan Tannehill (because that’s how people think if/when quarterbacks play poorly). The causes of the turnovers and inept play starts with Tennessee’s offensive line, which is terrible in many ways.
There is some leniency with no Derrick Henry or A.J. Brown starting but it doesn’t excuse why the five men up front play like sieves. Tannehill was sacked four times and intercepted once due to poor pass protection and constant pressure seconds after starting plays. His lost fumble after a run happened because of the offensive line caving in earlier than expected.
What’s worse was the second half gameplan offensive coordinator Todd Downing drew up. Runningback D’Onta Foreman almost averaged five yards a carry on 22 runs. He had a 100 yard game and could’ve been one of the highlighted players of the week. Foreman didn’t turn the ball over or face pressures. He did help the offensive line gain confidence in moving the defense backwards and taking pressure off Tannehill on long drives. Downing wanted a pass heavy second half, steering away from what worked to how the Titans could have an aerial advantage.
Tennessee is one game up on the Indianapolis Colts for first place but any chance at the number one seed and a bye week is done. They also keep Pittsburgh in the AFC North race. The Steelers aren’t in the playoff talks if D’Onta Foreman closes out the second half rather than turnovers three straight possessions.
The career of Mike Glennon
Some quarterbacks are bad because they aren’t given time or talent to succeed. A good number are and become backups for good reasons. Yet some are just bad and shouldn’t be on a field no matter the condition.
Glennon is a good example. Giants starter Daniel Jones could miss the rest of the season and that means someone has to start in New York. Unfortunately, Dallas’ defense is one of the league’s best and Glennon had no idea who was in open coverage or who his receivers were. He threw for 99 yards and three interceptions in three and a half quarters of play.
His career started by tanking the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to the first pick of the 2014 draft and has gotten worse. Every team Mike Glennon played for moved on quickly, including the 2017 Chicago Bears. In four games with the Giants he’s thrown three touchdowns, seven interceptions and just over 50% of his passes.
Sunday’s performance was so bad that coach Joe Judge has named Jake Fromm, an openly racist quarterback the Buffalo Bills cut just after the 2020 draft, to start the remaining games of the season. It’s been stated how bad the New York Giants have been for the last five years, but this is a new low after another failed season.
John Harbaugh’s addiction for two point conversions
Harbaugh is one of the league’s most respected and tenured coaches. It’s why Baltimore’s three game losing streak is shouldered on him for the inability to make smart decisions. Sunday was the second of those three losses to fall on a failed two point conversion.
Two point conversions after touchdowns are risky when a team is trailing especially late in a game. While backup Tyler Huntley wasn’t the preferred starter, the Ravens turned the tide in the fourth quarter. They stifled Green Bay’s offense and scored at will. It’s why the decision to go for a two point conversion with 47 seconds left baffled many.
Keep in mind Baltimore’s kicker Justin Tucker broke the field goal record this year. Not using a kicker to tie a game could demoralize that asset over time. Plus there’s no guarantee Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers could win the game anyway. Poor decision making has Baltimore in third place and it falls on a coach who put faith in analytics and not smart football.
Note: The writer, editor and publisher will be extended break after this is published. Winners and Losers will return for the NFL’s regular season finale January 10th. There will be an additional publishing before New Years in either professional basketball, ice hockey or the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.