N.F.L. Week 14: What We Learned – The New York Times
A week ago, San Francisco lost a defensive thriller in Baltimore. This week, they won a shootout in New Orleans against Drew Brees and the Saints. Doubt the 49ers all you want, but you can’t accuse them of not having range. In what may prove to be the biggest week of the season in terms of strong head-to-head matchups, the 49ers cemented themselves as Super Bowl contenders, the Baltimore Ravens held on for a tough win over the Buffalo Bills and the Kansas City Chiefs, with some help from the officials, upset the New England Patriots in Foxborough.
Here’s what we learned:
— San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) December 8, 2019
A defensive back can water ski by using George Kittle’s face mask as a tow rope. The 49ers were down by a point, facing a fourth-and-2 from their own 33-yard line, and had 39 seconds left to play. Jimmy Garoppolo threw a 2-yard pass to Kittle, who was streaking across the line of scrimmage and Kittle easily stepped away from a diving C.J. Gardner-Johnson, breaking into the open field. Safety Marcus Williams, knowing Kittle was closing in on field-goal range, simply grabbed on to the enormous tight end’s face mask and started to furiously yank. Showing rare strength and situational awareness, Kittle protected the ball and managed to carry Williams — still holding on for dear life — more than 15 yards before finally going to the turf (thanks to two other Saints defenders catching up to the action). The 39-yard play, combined with the 15-yard penalty assessed on Williams, set up a game-winning field goal, ending one of the most entertaining games of the year.
Running out of challenges is a big deal, even when you’re right. New England was forced to challenge a play in the second half in which Travis Kelce of the Chiefs pretty clearly had fumbled. The call was reversed in the Patriots’ favor, but that was New England’s last challenge, which prevented it from challenging a later play in which wide receiver N’Keal Harry was incorrectly ruled out of bounds on his way to the end zone — forcing New England to settle for a field goal on that drive. The Patriots’ final drive also featured a questionable non-call of pass interference that could not be challenged, and the Chiefs held on to win.
The Bills are a really tough team — but they aren’t the Ravens. Anyone expecting a blowout probably had not watched Buffalo play this season. In this matchup against the Ravens — the N.F.L.’s most unstoppable offensive force — Buffalo acquitted itself well, holding the Ravens to just 257 yards of offense. The powerful Baltimore running game generated just 3.6 yards a carry and Buffalo’s “good enough” offense had flashes of success against a strong Ravens defense. The game was in doubt until its final 63 seconds, and while it clinched a playoff berth for Baltimore, it also made a case for Buffalo being a scary team in the postseason. With one more win over their final three games, the Bills could have their first 10-win season since 1999.
If forced, Matt Ryan can talk about himself. Atlanta’s quarterback became just the 10th player to reach 50,000 passing yards for his career, but in an on-field interview after the Falcons beat the Panthers, 40-20, he needed to be coaxed into talking about his own achievement rather than praising his teammates for their effort. He briefly relented. “It’s been a fun ride the last 12 years,” he said. “I kind of pinch myself that I’ve been able to do it this long and this consistently. But I think there’s a lot left in the tank.” He then went back to talking about his teammates.
When Marie Kondo happily declared “I love mess,” she could have been talking about the Cleveland Browns. The tidying expert, who firmly believes in throwing out anything that does not spark joy, would have a field day with these Browns. With a win over Cincinnati on Sunday, the Browns, who before the season had Super Bowl aspirations, improved to 6-7. Quarterback Baker Mayfield couldn’t avoid controversy even after a win. When asked about the health of wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., whose tough season continued with a two-catch effort on Sunday, Mayfield matter-of-factly said the team’s training staff had made a mistake by not having Beckham get surgery for his sports hernia before the season. Mayfield did acknowledge that hindsight is 20/20, and tried to put a positive spin on the issue he’d just shined a giant spotlight on by saying of Beckham, “Not 100 percent is still good enough for us.”
You can’t outscore the Rams with your defense and special teams. The Seattle Seahawks were dealt a tough blow when running back Rashaad Penny was injured on the team’s opening drive, but his absence alone can’t explain an effort in which Seattle’s defense scored six points on an interception, its special teams scored six on a pair of field goals, and its offense was entirely shut out. Russell Wilson threw for a toothless 245 yards and his interception on the Seahawks’ final drive sealed his team’s fate in the 28-12 loss. As a result of Seattle’s loss and San Francisco’s win, the Seahawks dropped from the No. 1 seed in the N.F.C. playoff race to the No. 5 seed.
Sunday’s Top Performers
Top Passer: Jimmy Garoppolo
Garoppolo’s name does not appear among the top-four quarterbacks in passer rating this week, but that was a function of an interception in which his pass hit Emmanuel Sanders in the hands only to have Sanders essentially tip the ball to Craig Robertson of the Saints. Take out that play and Garoppolo’s rating would have been 143.6 to go with his 349 yards and four touchdowns. Garoppolo had to settle for the second best passer rating on his own team, however, as Sanders threw a 35-yard touchdown pass to Kendrick Bourne on a trick play in the second quarter, resulting in a perfect rating of 158.3.
Top Runner: Derrick Henry
The Titans offense has been nothing short of sensational over the last four weeks and Henry is an enormous reason for the surge. In the four-game win streak, the star running back has run for 599 yards and seven touchdowns, pushing him to career bests of 1,243 yards and 13 touchdowns for the season.
Top Receiver: A.J. Brown
Remember the bit about the Titans in the previous entry? Brown, a rookie out of Mississippi, played a huge part in Sunday’s surge as well, scoring twice and topping 100 yards for the second time in three weeks. San Francisco’s Emmanuel Sanders had quite a case for this distinction as well, with 157 receiving yards and a touchdown to go with his touchdown pass.
One* Sentence About Sunday’s Games
*Except when it takes more.
Ravens 24, Bills 17 Marcus Peters — who came to Baltimore in a salary dump so the Rams could upgrade to Jalen Ramsey — continues to pay enormous dividends, as the cornerback broke up a fourth-down pass to seal the win for the Ravens.
49ers 48, Saints 46 In a game with 94 combined points it is hard to pinpoint key moments, but one huge momentum swing was a beautiful attempt at a fake punt by New Orleans, which was thwarted by Tarvarius Moore, a 49ers defensive back who absolutely mugged wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith throughout the play. Unfortunately for the Saints — it just had to be the Saints — neither pass interference nor holding penalties can be called on players lined up far outside of a play run out of a punt formation — a fact that did not, apparently, escape Moore’s attention.
Chiefs 23, Patriots 16 There is no question that some incorrect officiating decisions played a huge role in New England’s loss, but Patriots detractors can point to New England’s 278 yards of total offense as a crucial factor in the team’s upset loss at home.
Packers 20, Redskins 15 Green Bay took things just seriously enough to win, but Washington was dealt what could be an enormous blow when the promising young running back Derrius Guice, who has been plagued with leg injuries, left with yet another knee injury.
Rams 28, Seahawks 12 Resurgent Los Angeles is up to two straight wins, having survived a pair of interceptions from Jared Goff — including a pick-6 — thanks to a terrific performance from the Rams’ defense.
Vikings 20, Lions 7 Showing they could concentrate even in a game in which they were comically favored, the Vikings went up by 17 at halftime and then coasted to victory.
Broncos 38, Texans 24 How does Drew Lock respond to pressure? Denver’s rookie quarterback went on the road to Houston for his second career start and easily outplayed Deshaun Watson, throwing three first-half touchdowns in a fairly shocking upset.
Titans 42, Raiders 21 Tennessee’s hot streak continued thanks to a familiar combination of Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry, and the Titans moved into a tie with Houston at the top of the A.F.C. South standings. Two of Tennessee’s final three games are against the Texans.
Steelers 23, Cardinals 17 Pittsburgh’s defense has been as opportunistic as it is tough this season, and that trend continued as the Steelers intercepted three of Kyler Murray’s passes, including the rookie quarterback’s final attempt of the game.
Buccaneers 38, Colts 35 Jameis Winston threw three interceptions, and Tampa Bay was down by 14 with less than four minutes left in the third quarter, but Indianapolis collapsed late for a second consecutive week and saw its playoff hopes essentially vanish.
Browns 27, Bengals 19 Cleveland needed a huge second half from Nick Chubb, a pick-6 from Denzel Ward and for a Baker Mayfield interception to be reversed on a challenge … to beat Cincinnati.
Falcons 40, Panthers 20 You know how some teams get a boost from an in-season coaching change? That didn’t happen for Carolina.
Chargers 45, Jaguars 10 Philip Rivers stopped getting in his own way and Los Angeles put up an outrageous 525 yards of offense in a game it dominated in every way.
Jets 22, Dolphins 21 Needing a last-second field goal to beat Miami at home is better than losing, but isn’t exactly something to get excited about.
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