The 13th Sunday of the 2021 NFL season provided a whole lot to love. Washington prevailed late to extend the NFC’s most surprising winning streak to four games, putting the plucky Football Team squarely in the mix for a playoff bid. Kansas City continued to roll behind its … defense?! And Tom Brady kept thumbing his nose at Father Time.
On the flip side, there was also a lot to loathe. Giants coach Joe Judge somehow “saw a lot of players make a lot of big plays” in a dull 20-9 loss to the Dolphins. The Texans lost for the 10th time in their last 11 games, getting shut out 31-0 at home. And Lamar Jackson posted a sub-90 passer rating for the sixth straight week, throwing his 10th interception in this span.
And that stuff’s just the appetizer.
Here’s what I loved and loathed in Week 13, Schein Nine style.
WHAT I LOVED
- 2021 NFL season, Week 13: What we learned from Sunday's games
- Kansas City Chiefs' fifth straight win preserves lead in jumbled AFC West race
- Washington Football Team emerging in chaotic NFC playoff race
1) The Lions winning a football game!
On the last snap of the game, with Detroit trailing Minnesota 27-23, Jared Goff found rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown surprisingly open in the front of the end zone to clinch the team’s first win in 364 days. The Lions got off the schneid! And their elation was palpable. I like Goff, I like Dan Campbell — and I loved seeing the emotional embrace between these two men immediately following the walk-off touchdown. Pure, unadulterated joy.
I have appreciated the energy these rebuilding — and clearly overmatched — Lions have been playing with all season. And they had been so close to logging the first win of the Campbell era on multiple occasions, suffering five of their 10 defeats by a single score, often in agonizing fashion. So when Detroit failed to convert a fourth-and-1 deep in their own territory, setting up Minnesota’s go-ahead touchdown with less than two minutes remaining, it appeared we were looking at yet another Lions letdown. But Campbell’s charges persevered, taking advantage of some mind-numbing decisions by Mike Zimmer (stop chasing those two-point conversions, coach!) and some ridiculously soft coverage on the 14-play, 75-yard, game-winning touchdown drive.
Campbell’s first win as Detroit’s head coach. Goff’s first win without Sean McVay. Every Lion needed this triumph. And every Lion hit all the right notes postgame, dedicating the win to the Oxford community after last week’s horrific mass shooting at the Detroit exurb’s high school.
2) Another thrilling edition of Ravens-Steelers
It’s my favorite rivalry in the NFL. There’s real hate and the games never disappoint. Sunday’s installment was simply delicious.
With the season on the brink following three straight winless Sundays, Pittsburgh won a classic, 20-19, surviving a last-minute two-point conversation attempt for all the marbles.
This was a slugfest, per usual. The Ravens largely controlled the first half, but only went into the locker room with a four-point lead. That cost them. Ben Roethlisberger turned back the clock in the Steelers’ 17-point fourth quarter, completing 9 of 10 pass attempts for 129 yards and two touchdowns. Yep, that’s a perfect 158.3 passer rating in the final period. Meanwhile, T.J. Watt terrorized Lamar Jackson all game, racking up a career-high 3.5 sacks to give him an NFL-best 16 on the season. But Lamar just wouldn’t go quietly.
Trailing 20-13 with under two minutes remaining and one timeout, Jackson guided the Ravens 60 yards to paydirt. And then, instead of kicking the extra point and heading to overtime, John Harbaugh decided to go for two. That’s what the Ravens do. That’s how they use analytics and the emotion of football. And as Harbaugh said postgame, mounting injuries in the defensive backfield — most notably to Pro Bowl CB Marlon Humphrey, who’s likely out for the rest of the season — rightly changed the calculus for the visiting team. The Ravens weren’t at full strength, so might as well go for the game when you have the opportunity. The play call was perfect. Lamar had tight end Mark Andrews wide open in the flat. But Watt applied pressure once again, causing Jackson’s pass to sail inches too wide, deflecting off Andrews’ outstretched fingertips and hitting the turf.
This was fun. Can’t wait for the rematch in Baltimore — on the final day of the regular season!
3) Kyler Murray’s four-score return
The league is just better with Kyler Murray on the field. After missing three games with an ankle injury, the electric playmaker returned to action and promptly notched two touchdowns passing and another two scores running in an easy 33-22 win over the Bears. One of those scoring strikes went to DeAndre Hopkins, who was back after a four-game absence of his own with a hamstring injury.
The frightening thing about this Arizona team is it won two of the previous three games without Murray and Hopkins. Now sitting at a league-best 10-2, the Cardinals are a perfect 7-0 on the road — with each victory coming by double digits! Arizona is well-rounded, well-stocked and well-coached. And with the MVP-caliber talent back under center, I can’t wait to what this team can do in the next month and beyond.
4) Jonathan Taylor Touchdown’s MVP push
Taylor carved up the Texans, chewed them up and spit them out. In Indianapolis’ 31-0 road beatdown of Houston, the Colts’ star runner pounded the Texans into submission with 32 carries for 143 yards and two touchdowns. It was Taylor’s 10th straight game with a rushing touchdown, a span during which the second-year pro has established himself as one of the game’s most dominant offensive forces. Indy started the season at 0-3, with Taylor averaging just 57 rushing yards per game while failing to score a single touchdown. Since Week 4, though, the Colts have gone 7-3 with Taylor averaging a whopping 117.7 rushing yards per game and scoring 18 times.
That’s absurd production. And if Taylor runs the flawed Colts into the postseason, he’s going to receive many MVP votes. The award has gone to just one running back in the past 14 seasons: Adrian Peterson in 2012. But as an AP voter myself, I’m currently considering three players for the hardware, in alphabetical order: Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Taylor.
5) Tua time in Miami
Given the up-and-down rookie season, the injuries and the constant swirling of Deshaun Watson trade rumors, Tua Tagovailoa deserves immense credit for helping rally the Dolphins back into the playoff picture at 6-7. Over the past three weeks, the 2020 No. 5 overall pick has completed 80 percent of his throws for 747 yards with five touchdowns against just one interception. This makes me so happy. And I can only imagine how pumped up Dolphins fans are. In Sunday’s 20-9 win over the Giants, Tua had 21 completions in the first half alone!
General manager Chris Grier and head coach Brian Flores were wise to nab Tagovailoa’s former college teammate with the No. 6 pick of last April’s draft. After adding nine more grabs (for 90 yards) on Sunday, Jaylen Waddle needs just 16 catches over the final four games of the regular season to break Anquan Boldin’s all-time rookie receptions record (101 in 2003).
Who knows what the future holds for Tua and this franchise. I’m sure the rumor mill will start churning again as we approach the offseason. But in the here and now, the Fins have clawed their way back to relevancy with five straight wins. 1-7 feels like a lifetime ago.
WHAT I LOATHED
6) Teddy Bridgewater undermining the Broncos in a rivalry game
Obviously, Kansas City continuing to win behind the strength of its defense is the most prominent big-picture story from Sunday’s Broncos-Chiefs bout. But if Denver could field even adequate quarterback play, this game would’ve been different. This season would’ve been different.
On a day when rookie running back Javonte Williams was simply breathtaking with 102 yards rushing and 76 receiving, Teddy Two Gloves’ two second-half picks were back-breakers. Both came on the Chiefs’ side of the field, and the latter was returned 75 yards for a game-clinching score.
With a well-rounded roster boasting young talent in various key spots, the Broncos are close. But they need a franchise quarterback — and depending on how the rest of this season plays out, maybe a new head coach, too.
7) Jimmy Garoppolo undermining the 49ers in a rivalry game
Seattle has been cooked for a while. San Francisco entered Sunday piping hot, having won three straight games while scoring 30-plus points in each. And yet, for the 15th time in the last 17 meetings between these archrivals, the Seahawks reigned supreme.
What a terrible, demoralizing loss for Kyle Shanahan’s group. You can’t point the finger at one man, of course, but Jimmy G provided the kind of facepalm picks that have tainted his Niners tenure. On the first, he was completely unaware of Bobby Wagner, hitting the dropping linebacker in the chest. On the second, he sailed a pass into a sea of Seahawks, with Quandre Diggs making a can-of-corn catch to set up what would ultimately be the game-winning score. Both interceptions came on first-and-10; neither made a lick of sense.
The game fittingly finished with Garoppolo’s fourth-and-goal pass getting deflected at the line of scrimmage and hitting the ground with a thud, dropping the 49ers into the last wild-card slot.
8) The Bengals showing up unfashionably late
As a purported contender, you simply cannot spot a road team the first 24 points of the game. Yes, Cincinnati roared back to make it 24-22 midway through the third quarter, but that kind of an opening effort in a crucial game for playoff purposes is just inexcusable — and, as evidenced by the 41-22 final, unendurable.
Credit the Chargers. They pounced early, survived a midgame Bengals push and then finished the job with a 17-0 fourth quarter. Apparently, this is the team with the second-year quarterback to believe in. I thought that might be the case for Cincy, especially after convincing wins over the Raiders and Steelers. The Bengals had the look of greatness, and I wanted to see them handle success and prosperity. I thought they were ready to slay a team like the Justin Herbert-led Bolts. Well, I thought wrong and was bitterly disappointed.
This season is only a success if the Bengals make the playoffs and compete in the postseason. They should be a factor in the AFC.
9) The Jets looking like the Jets
Yes, the Jets lack talent. And yes, Robert Saleh has been uninspiring in Year 1. Both can be true. And both were on display Sunday in MetLife Stadium, as the Jets were lit up by Gardner Minshew in his first start as an Eagle.
Losing by a final score of 33-18, New York gave up points in Philadelphia’s first seven drives. There’s no growth, nothing to build on. Honestly, I didn’t expect the Jets to win. Frankly, I didn’t expect the Jets to compete. That’s the worst part.
Which unit has been worse: the Jets’ offense or defense? It’s a legit debate, which is quite depressing. This team is a weekly eye sore.
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