This week of NFL football was one of the best ever according to pregame statistics. Six out of the 16 games featured teams with .500 records or better facing off in the third week of December. It really was fun to watch.
Week 14 kicked off with the Eagles losing for the ninth time in 10 games and falling to 4-10 in an embarrassing 34-13 defeat at the hands of the Bengals in which they turned the ball over five times for the second time this year. BenJarvus Green-Ellis became a 1,000-yard rusher for the second time in his career as he opened the game with a 29-yard run for Cincinnati, who improved to 8-6 and is in position to grab the final wild card spot. The carry led to a touchdown – the Bengals’ seventh opening drive TD of the year – which is most in the NFL. They also haven’t allowed a 1st quarter touchdown in 11 games. Cincy improved to 8-3-1 all time against the Eagles – the highest win percentage of any team against Philly. The last time the Eagles lost 10 games in a season was 2005. This year, they have led just once following the 1st quarter and have been outscored 82-24 in the opening frame. Cincinnati improved to 13-1 in the regular season since 2001 when leading by 10-plus points after the 1st quarter. With his 11th touchdown, A.J. Green became just the third Bengal to ever catch that many in a season. Jeremy Maclin is now the all-time leader in receptions in a player’s first four years in Eagles’ history with 246. The Eagles turned the ball over three times on four offensive plays in the 3rd quarter at a time when they were very much in the game. They also forced their first turnover in five weeks.
Clay Matthews returned for the NFC North-leading Packers in their crucial tilt against the Bears and contributed six tackles, including four for a loss, as well as two sacks as Green Bay improved to 10-5 and clinched the division for the second straight year. Aaron Rodgers reached 30 TD passes for the third time in his career and became just the third QB to ever record three such seasons before the age of 30. James Jones caught all three of the touchdowns for his fourth multiple-TD game this year – the most of any player in the league. Green Bay has won 12 straight division games and also won eight of nine, while Chicago has now lost five of six. They are in danger of becoming just the second team since 1990 to miss the playoffs following a 7-1 start as they now have a record of 8-6.
Fellow rookie Kirk Cousins led the Redskins against the Browns as they looked to jump into a first place tie in the NFC East with the Giants in the absence of Robert Griffin III. A 54-yard pass from Cousins to Leonard Hankerson gave Washington seven touchdown passes this season longer than 50 yards – they had six from 2007-2011 combined. Trent Richardson rushed for two more touchdowns and now is the Browns all-time leader in rushing touchdowns by a rookie with nine. He has six TD’s in his last four games. Washington has won five straight and sit at 8-6 as they ended Cleveland’s three-game winning streak and dropped them to 5-9. Rookie Alfred Morris tied the Redskins rookie record for rushing touchdowns with his eighth of the season. Cousins’ 329 yards are six more than Griffin has thrown for in any game this season. Washington now controls its own destiny in the three-way tie atop the NFC East.
Matt Ryan began the game 8-8, hitting six different receivers and throwing a touchdown as his Falcons got out to a 14-0 1st quarter lead over the defending champion Giants. They would go on to win 34-0 and improve to 12-2 in the worst shutout loss by a defending Super Bowl champion ever. It was the third time that New York, who fell to 8-6, has trailed 14-0 in the 1st quarter this year. With a 12-yard touchdown catch in the 1st, Tony Gonzalez recorded at least one reception in 193 straight games, the second-longest streak ever. Julio Jones went over 1,000 yards receiving for the first time in his career and also caught his first TD at home this season, finishing with six catches for 74 yards and two touchdowns. Though they out-gained the Falcons by 64 yards in the 1st half, the Giants trailed 17-0 at the break due to a missed field goal and two failed 4th down attempts. Atlanta hasn’t lost back-to-back games since 2009. Ryan beat a defending Super Bowl champion at home for the first time in his career. The last time the Giants had been shut out was Dec. 1, 1996 – 257 games ago. The 34-point defeat was the largest for New York since a 37-point loss to the Vikings in 2009. The Falcons beat the Giants at home for the first time since 1978.
With a chance to clinch the AFC North, the struggling Ravens limped into a home game against the AFC West-leading Broncos and the only things colder than the temperature were Joe Flacco and the rest of the Baltimore offense. The offensive coordinator change didn’t seem to help as Flacco turned the ball over twice in the 1st half, including a red zone interception that was returned 98 yards by Chris Harris for a touchdown at a time when they had a chance to cut the lead to three. It was the longest interception return for a touchdown in Denver history. Flacco’s two turnovers led to 10 Denver points in the first two quarters and he has now thrown an interception and committed a fumble in each of his last three games. He also has the two worst QBR performances of this NFL season. Denver extended its winning streak to nine games, improved to 11-3 on the season and won for the first time in its history at Baltimore (1-5). The Ravens fell to 9-5 with the 34-17 defeat. Knowshon Moreno ran for 100-plus yards for the second straight week as he tries to return to relevance following the season-ending injury to Willis McGahee. The Ravens have lost three straight games for the first time since 2009. One bright spot for the Ravens was Ray Rice going over 1,000 yards for the fourth straight year. Denver took over the No. 2 seed in the AFC.
The Texans improved to 12-2 and clinched the AFC South for the second straight year with a 29-17 win over the Colts behind five field goals from Shayne Graham. Andrew Luck threw for just 186 yards, but did have two touchdowns and no interceptions. Coming into the game, he led the NFL with 23 turnovers on the year and had had 17 turnovers in six previous road games. Luck got the ball to Reggie Wayne on the meaningless final play of the game and with the catch, Wayne now has at least three receptions in 62 straight games – adding to his NFL record. Indy’s three-game winning streak was snapped as they fell to 9-5. J.J. Watt had three sacks to pull even for the NFL lead this season with 19.5.
Adrian Peterson continues to amaze as he went for 212 yards on 24 carries to lead the Vikings to a much-needed 36-22 win over the now 6-7-1 Rams. With two games to go, A.P. sits at 1,812 rush yards for the season – 294 yards away from tying Eric Dickerson’s single-season record. After beginning the day with eight yards on eight carries, Peterson scored on an 82-yard run on his ninth carry. Blair Walsh chipped in with five field goals and three extra points to account for half of his team’s points on the day and help them improve to 8-6 on the year. He tied the single-game record by making three field goals of 50-plus yards. Minnesota scored 26 straight points after the game was tied at seven in the 2nd quarter. Sam Bradford has been sacked at least once in 30 consecutive games – the longest active streak in the NFL. Christian Ponder‘s 96.9 QBR was the highest for a Viking QB since Brett Favre‘s 97.1 in 2009.
Drew Brees returned to his old self as he threw three 1st half touchdowns to three different receivers and the Saints got back in the win column, improving to 6-8 with a 41-0 demolition of the now 6-8 Bucs. The 41-point shutout became the largest in Saints history and third-worst shutout loss in Tampa Bay history. Brees finished with four TD passes on the day and 307 yards. Darren Sproles found the endzone for the second straight week, catching Brees’ second TD pass of the day. Josh Freeman threw four interceptions and was replaced by Dan Orlovsky, who hadn’t played since the end of last season with the Colts. New Orleans’ last home shutout was on Dec. 16, 1991, against the Los Angeles Raiders. Sorry, I couldn’t find anything good from Tampa in this performance.
The Jaguars‘ anemic offense continued to lull fans to sleep as they scored 10 points or less for the sixth time this year in a 24-3 loss to the Dolphins in Miami. Chad Henne didn’t commit a turnover for the first time since relieving Blaine Gabbert in Week 11, but only produced three points to show for it as Jacksonville fell to 2-12 on the year. He finished with a QBR of just 4.6 on the day. Justin Blackmon set the Jags’ rookie record for receptions in a season as he now has 45 through 14 games. Ryan Tannehill had a career-high QBR of 90.3 as he threw for 220 yards and two touchdowns for Miami, who improved to 6-8 on the year.
Seattle didn’t let the international flight shake them as they kept rolling north of the border with a 50-17 win over Buffalo to follow up their 58-point performance last week and improved to 9-5 on the year. They became the first team since 1950, and just the third ever, to score 50 or more points in consecutive games. Russell Wilson became the first QB to rush for two scores in the 1st quarter since 2002 and the first ever to run the ball in three times in the 1st half of a game. He would finish the game with three rushing TD’s and add one through the air. His 99.3 QBR was the highest in a game this season. The three highest QBR’s since last season have all come against the Bills. In the past two games, the Seahawks have outscored their opponents 108-17. Buffalo has now lost six of eight and fell to 5-9.
In a game that both teams desperately needed, the Steelers had chances, but couldn’t beat the Cowboys in Big D and fell to 7-7. They are the only 7-7 team in the league. Tony Romo surpassed the 4,000-yard mark for the fourth time in his career. No other Cowboys quarterback has accomplished that once. Heath Miller caught his 400th career pass in the 2nd quarter of the loss and finished with 92 yards. Dez Bryant caught a touchdown pass for the sixth game in a row despite a broken finger (all his touchdowns this season have come in the 2nd half). A 24-24 tie led to overtime and Ben Roethlisberger‘s second pass attempt of the period was picked off by Brandon Carr, who returned it to the Pittsburgh one. Two plays later, Dan Bailey kicked his third game-winner of the year and the Cowboys improved to 8-6. Dallas scored the game’s final 10 points on their way to a three-way tie atop the NFC East and their first three-game win streak of the season. DeMarco Murray lost his first career fumble in the win and Pittsburgh lost a fumble in its seventh straight game courtesy of Antonio Brown. Shaun Suisham was good on his only kick of the day and has now made 30 straight kicks of less than 50 yards.
The world must be ending on Friday after all as the Cardinals won their first game in almost three months with a 38-10 romping of the Detroit Lions. They did not, however, get any touchdown passes from “quarterback” Ryan Lindley as no Arizona QB has found the endzone in their last five games. Lindley and John Skelton have instead thrown three interceptions returned for touchdowns in that span, though Lindley’s only pick on Sunday was not returned. Calvin Johnson did manage to tie the NFL record with his seventh straight 100-yard game in the loss and he also became the first player to ever reach 1,600 yards receiving in consecutive seasons. Johnson needs just 182 yards in the final two games to break Jerry Rice‘s single-season record. The Lions’ tough year continues as they fell to 4-10 and the Cards improved to 5-9.
Mike Tolbert, yes, Mike Tolbert helped lead the Carolina Panthers past the Chargers, 31-7, as he plowed into the endzone twice in the game. The Panthers have won three of their last four and improved to 5-9, while San Diego’s disappointing season leaves them at 5-9 with two to go. San Diego fell to 2-5 at home this year and will have its first home losing record since 2003. The Panthers scored the game’s first 31 points before an Antonio Gates touchdown catch just after the 4th quarter started. Cam Newton threw for 231 yards and two TD’s while Philip Rivers threw for just 121 and one.
Kansas City was the third team to be shut out on Sunday as they lost 15-0 to the Raiders in their first scoreless performance of the year. The loss leaves them and their non-existent offense at 2-12 with two games left and Oakland improved to 4-10 on the year. Sebastian Janikowski was busy on the day as he was the only player to get any points, kicking five field goals to account for all 15 of Oakland’s points, including one from 50 yards and one from 57 yards. The Chiefs gained just 119 total yards of offense on the day, including just 10 rushing yards – all from Jamaal Charles. Darren McFadden had a solid 110 yards in his second game back from injury. The loss snapped the Raiders’ six-game losing streak and they won a game without a touchdown for the first time since 2000.
The Sunday night match-up had fans talking about a potential Super Bowl preview as the 49ers and Patriots faced off in Foxboro. The dynamic New England offense put up 34 points, but their defense couldn’t stop the ‘Niners as they scored 41 behind four touchdown passes from Colin Kaepernick to end the seven-game winning streak of the Pats. Tom Brady did extend his streak to 46 straight games with at least one touchdown pass, but couldn’t prevent his team from falling to 10-4. New England has, however, scored more points in their last six games than the Cardinals (224) and Chiefs (195) have scored all season (244). It was the first time Bill Belichick and Co. have lost a game in the second half of the season since 2010 and their first home loss in the month of December since 2002. New England did reach 500 points on the season for the third straight year and fourth time overall – the first team to ever do it four times. Brandon Lloyd caught 10 passes for a career-high 190 yards against the team that drafted him. San Francisco (10-3-1) clinched their second straight playoff berth with the win. Aldon Smith failed to sack Brady and remains three behind Michael Strahan‘s record with two to play (tied with Watt at 19.5). Wes Welker caught at least one pass in his 108th straight game.
As someone said online during the week, ESPN should have changed the name of this week’s version of Monday Night Football to ‘Mundane Night of Football’ as the 4-9 Titans hosted the 6-7 Jets. Mark Sanchez threw four interceptions and got word earlier today that he would no longer be the team’s starter. His four games this year with a QBR under 7 is the most by a quarterback since 2008. Chris Johnson had another 80-yard touchdown run in the win. He became the third player in NFL history with multiple 90+ yard TD runs in a career. His 94-yard touchdown run is now the longest in Titans history. The Jets fell to 6-8 and the Titans improved to 5-9.
Some information taken from ESPN Stats & Info.
Follow me on Twitter @RealAndyLarmand.