The Final Word: New York Jets win… but lose at the same time
As a very different Christmas draws ever closer, there are just two weeks of the NFL regular season to be played and you can feel the intensity every time the players step on the field.
There seems to be a storyline or two in every contest, even those featuring teams with lesser records. Here are the stories and performances that caught my eye over this past weekend.
Five major takeaways from Week 15
1) Mahomes close to impossible to defend
The Kansas City Chiefs continued their march to a second successive Super Bowl crown on Sunday night with a 32-29 win over the Saints in New Orleans. It was their 22nd win out of their last 23 games, dating back to last season and they are on course for a repeat in Tampa in February.
And why the Chiefs are so hard to defend is because their Pro Bowl quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, is very close to impossible to defend. That is especially the case in Andy Reid’s offense, which has to be the most creative in the NFL for quite some time.
Mahomes – who threw three touchdowns in New Orleans – can destroy defenses with the standard drop back and throw approach, but he can also throw on the run as he shows great patience to wait for a receiver to come open downfield. And then there’s plenty of the other stuff that he seems to make up as he goes along. Sunday saw a basketball-style chest pass for a touchdown and three or four other plays that could easily end up on his career highlight reel, including a remarkable scoring throw to Mecole Hardman.
2) Brady delivers big comeback
The Atlanta Falcons twice led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers by 17 points on Sunday and would have been feeling pretty good about delivering an upset win against Bruce Arians’ playoff-chasing team.
The Falcons players would have glanced over to the Tampa Bay bench and seen Brady sitting with his head bowed between his knees, looking a mixture of forlorn and seriously angry. And they would have felt a worrying knot forming in their bellies. They had seen that look before when leading 28-3 in the second half of Super Bowl LI when Brady was with the New England Patriots.
So, of course, Brady and the Bucs came storming back with the GOAT winning the game on a 46-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Brown. The Falcons rarely being able to hold a lead is a story for another day but how about this fact? That was the fourth time in Brady’s career that he trailed by 17 or more at the half and fought back to win. This fierce competitor never seems to accept that he is beaten.
3) Changing of the AFC East guard
Brady’s old team, the Patriots, officially crashed out of the AFC playoff race on Sunday night as they fell to a 22-12 defeat at the hands of the Miami Dolphins, who should rise to become an annual contender in the division in the coming years.
New England will now miss the playoffs for the first time since 2008. In other notable date-related news, the Buffalo Bills have clinched the AFC East for the first time since 1995 after their Saturday night 48-19 victory over the Denver Broncos. With quarterback Josh Allen in red-hot form, the Bills are in very good shape as the playoffs approach.
New England have dominated the AFC East for the past two decades. With Miami on the rise and Buffalo already in the mix as one of the best teams in the league, it’s going to take some effort for the Patriots to be relevant in their division in the next couple of seasons, especially with no answer at quarterback.
4) Look out for the Ravens
The Baltimore Ravens were my preseason pick to win the Super Bowl and they are going to need some help over the final two weeks of the season to keep their hopes alive. Baltimore currently sit outside the AFC playoff spots but no one will want to play them if they qualify for the knockout stages.
The Ravens have won three in a row and I would back them to make that five in a row by the end of the regular season. Baltimore finish against the New York Giants and the Cincinnati Bengals – both very winnable games given how they are playing right now.
Lamar Jackson seems to have his mojo back at quarterback and tight end Mark Andrews remains his favourite target. The running game is back up to speed and the defense continues to make game-changing plays. If Miami slip up just once against the Las Vegas Raiders or the Bills, I think the Ravens sneak in. And then the AFC playoffs could get very interesting indeed!
5) Jets win… and lose!
The New York Jets won for the first time this season, in Week 15, recording a shocking 23-20 victory away from home against the Los Angeles Rams. And in doing so, the Jets may genuinely have damaged their team’s chances of success for the next 15 years or more!
The Jets played their way out of the first overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft which is sure to be spent on Clemson’s superstar college quarterback, Trevor Lawrence. The Jacksonville Jaguars are now in position to have first dibs on a young player being described as a generational talent.
We have to give credit to coach Adam Gase and his players here. They have no guarantees on their futures and they are proud professionals. So they were going to, and should always, play to win. But this was a damaging win, no doubt about it. And the only way it could have been avoided would have been if ownership had stepped in and insisted that the Jets play all their young reserves on the roster. It didn’t happen and the Jets may have to lament that decision for many years to come.
Player of the Week: Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins
The Arizona Cardinals duo had to be on top form because Jalen Hurts was balling out and producing more than 400 yards of offense on his own for the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Cards had been in an offensive slump of sorts in recent weeks but broke out in a 33-26 win. Murray threw for 406 yards and three scores, while rushing for another touchdown, while Hopkins showed exactly why the Cardinals traded for him in the offseason as he caught nine passes for 169 yards and delivered an incredible touchdown grab. Both men were voted to the Pro Bowl on Monday and deservedly so.
Play of the Week
💬"Ray Lewis became the best leader I've seen on the football field."💬
Hall of Famer @RodWoodson26 joins @neilreynoldsnfl and @Jeff_Reinebold and reflects on his Super Bowl win with 𝘵𝘩𝘢𝘵 @Ravens defence!
🏈🎧 Inside The Huddle Podcast 🎧🏈
On our Inside the Huddle show on Sky Sports NFL last week we were delighted to be joined by Hall of Fame defensive back Rod Woodson – a man who made a habit of creating timely turnovers during an illustrious career with the Pittsburgh Steelers, San Francisco 49ers, Baltimore Ravens and Oakland Raiders. Woodson told us that good things happen when defenders fly to the football.
That was certainly the case for the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday night as they recorded a 27-20 win over the Houston Texans. Texans wide receiver Keke Coutee caught a late pass from Deshaun Watson and looked bound for the endzone and a game-tying touchdown. But around the one or two-yard line, Colts linebacker Darius Leonard flew in from behind and punched the ball loose, Bobby Okereke pounced on the loose ball for Indianapolis, giving them their 10th win of this season.
Coach of the Week: Sean McDermott
In speaking to Peter King, of NBC Sports, during our show on Sunday night, I was fascinated to learn about the division champion built by Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane in Buffalo. Peter told me that of the 82 players currently under contract on Buffalo’s roster or practice squad, 80 of them were signed or drafted during the McDermott-Beane era. The Bills are basically an expansion franchise and one that looks very capable of advancing all the way to the AFC Championship Game this year. I’m not backing them to knock off the Chiefs this season, but McDermott has this team heading in the right direction.
On my radar
JuJu Smith-Schuster is doing a lot of dancing for a player whose team is on a serious slide as the playoffs approach. The Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver thinks far too often about his ‘channels’ and feels the need to create social media content around every game.
So JuJu Smith-Schuster danced on the Bengals logo before the game (again).
And the opposition were not happy with him (again).
There is a time and a place, JuJu. And in the midst of a three-game losing streak is definitely not the time. Dancing on the opposing team’s logo during pregame warmups seems to be his latest thing.
He did it against Buffalo and the Steelers lost, with Bills safety Jordan Poyer admitting that JuJu’s actions gave his team more motivation. And Smith-Schuster was at it again on Monday night ahead of his team’s loss at Cincinnati. During the game, Bengals safety Vonn Bell delivered a massive hit on JuJu and made it very clear it was payback in some form.
This game is violent enough without making yourself a target and these games are hard enough to win without winding up the opposition before the kickoff. Head coach Mike Tomlin needs to have a word.
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