Week 12 didn’t offer much in terms of playoff-caliber matchups. It did, however, offer plenty of instances of good teams playing poorly and bad teams leveling up.
The Seahawks gave the Eagles roughly 20 different chances to keep pace in Philadelphia before their eventual win. The Saints let the Panthers stick around thanks to dumb mistakes and stupid penalties before kicking a game-winning field goal as time expired. The Patriots’ offense looked every bit as non-threatening in a win over the Cowboys as it did last week against the Eagles.
Sunday’s winners, of course, weren’t limited to teams that slumped to uninspiring wins or beat a Matthew Stafford-less Lions team. Here are the six players and teams who got their share of triumph in Week 12.
It wasn’t ...
Not considered: the Raiders, whose playoff hopes have been upended by the ... Jets?
Wait, that can’t be right.
No, huh, here it is. Jets 34, Raiders 3. Oakland opened the game with a field goal and then watched the Jets cascade over them like lava sliding down a mountainside. Things got so bad that the Raiders threw human white flag Mike Glennon into the lineup with more than 16 minutes left in the game. Glennon, true to form, fumbled on each of his first two series.
Derek Carr, who’d come into the week as a low-key MVP candidate, finished with just 127 passing yards and a pick-six, netting -3 points for Oakland. Glennon’s five drives gained a grand total of 32 yards. Everything was a mess for the Raiders.
On the other hand, Sunday’s beating was a cathartic moment for long-suffering Jets fans. Sam Darnold powered up with 315 passing yards and two touchdowns. Prized offseason acquisition Le’Veon Bell averaged 6.4 yards every time he heard his number called. A defense that ranked 24th in the league in points allowed stifled a team with a winning record to a long field goal.
So, good day if you’re a Jets fan. A season-changing, optimism-crushing one if you’re pulling for the Raiders.
Now on to ...
Week 12’s actual winners
6. Tyler Boyd, Cincinnati’s silver lining
Boyd was a 1,000-yard receiver in 14 games in 2018, but his impact with a winless Bengals team had been muted this fall. He’d had just 192 receiving yards in his last five games, including a one-catch, zero-yard performance in a loss to the Raiders that forced him to express his displeasure with Cincinnati’s toothless offense to the press.
First-year head coach Zac Taylor and rookie quarterback Ryan Finley were listening. On Sunday, they made it a priority to get Boyd opportunities early in the game. He responded with a pair of plays that almost single-handedly willed the Bengals to a touchdown.
First he showed off some Spider-Man hands (well, hand) on a 47-yard gain:
Then he finished the drive one play later for Cincinnati’s only touchdown of the afternoon.
The Bengals still lost to the Steelers, 16-10, but Boyd led all receivers with five catches for 101 yards. The fourth-year pro showed he can be the team’s top wide receiver as Cincinnati hurtles toward an A.J. Green-less future and a complete rebuild. Unfortunately, that likely means spending the next four seasons in southwest Ohio, which might not be especially ... prosperous from a win/loss standpoint.
5. Dwayne Haskins, winning NFL quarterback
It wasn’t pretty, but Haskins quarterbacked Washington to a win. With the roster currently constructed as owner Dan Snyder’s tribute to the films of David Lynch, that’s an accomplishment.
The rookie only completed 13 of his 29 attempts and failed to throw a touchdown pass for the second time in his three NFL starts. He came up big when his team needed him the most, however. He pushed Washington 33 yards in the game’s final minute to set up Dustin Hopkins’ game-winning field goal. His 17-yard completion to fellow first-year player Terry McLaurin on third-and-5 helped give fans at FedEx Field a reason to go home rather than grit their way through overtime.
Haskins, in his most relatable moment of the afternoon, was possibly too eager to get the hell off the field. Case Keenum had to take over kneeldown duties at the end of the game because the rookie was too busy taking selfies with some of the intrepid few who’d shelled out upwards of $6 to purchase tickets.
Dwayne Haskins takes a selfie with fans while Case Keenum has to do the victory formation pic.twitter.com/Y76AL2cquF— CJ Fogler (@cjzer0) November 24, 2019
Haskins would like nothing more than to ignore the on-field action at a Washington game in favor of having fun with people he likes. Same, Dwayne.
4. Tevita Tuli’aki’ono Tuipulotu Mosese Va’hae Fehoko Faletau Vea, touchdown machine
Vita Vea, possessor of the amazing name copied-and-pasted above (I wouldn’t dare try to type it from memory) had never scored an NFL touchdown before Sunday. This made sense, since he’s a 347-pound defensive tackle who’d played only three offensive snaps in his career before Week 12.
As such, the Falcons wouldn’t expect him to be a red zone threat. That’s exactly what Tampa Bay head coach Bruce Arians was hoping.
THIS IS NOT A DRILL— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) November 24, 2019
VITA VEA HAS HAULED IN HIS FIRST CAREER TOUCHDOWN pic.twitter.com/UXlButlO9H
Vea, lined up at fullback, slipped past the line scrimmage untouched and caught an easy lob from Jameis Winston to send his team into the locker room with a 19-10 advantage. It was also the heaviest touchdown in league history.
This goal-line wizardry helped offset what had threatened to be another awful Winston outing. The mercurial quarterback threw interceptions in two of his first three drives. With the burly lineman getting into the mix, Winston went on to finish his day with three touchdowns, 313 passing yards, and a stellar 11.2 yards per pass. Of course, it wasn’t just Vea’s single yard of offense that did the trick. Chris Godwin’s seven catches for 184 yards and two touchdowns was probably just as valuable in a 35-22 win that kept the Bucs’ playoff hopes alive for another week.
There's a reason they don't call him Chris Regularguywin.— Taylor Jenkins (@TJenkinsTampa) November 24, 2019
3. Dennis Kelly, who gave us our second O-lineman beer chugging celebration in as many weeks
Last Sunday, Quenton Nelson showed the world his keg stand skills after scoring a touchdown that ultimately was called back. In Week 12, it was Kelly who taught viewers proper shotgunning technique after the tackle found the end zone for the Titans.
Between Vea and Kelly, NFL fans were gifted 668 pounds of touchdown catches over the course of two plays. If the league keeps this up, we may have to co-opt the Piesman Trophy for the pros.
2. The Bosa brothers, who are apparently the key to beating Aaron Rodgers
- The 2019 Packers vs. teams with a Bosa brother: 0-2
- The 2019 Packers vs. everyone else: 8-1
Back in Week 9, Joey Bosa helped make Rodgers’ life hell with 1.5 of the Chargers’ three sacks that day. Los Angeles shot out for a surprising 26-11 win on the West Coast that reduced the Green Bay offense into a sputtering Bengals cosplay. In Week 12, Nick Bosa had one sack as the San Francisco defense got to Rodgers five times in a surprising 37-8 reckoning a few hours north of LA.
Bosa was part of a 49ers pass rush that kept Rodgers dancing in the pocket all evening. San Francisco limited the two-time MVP’s damage with a consistent pass rush and a big dose of trust in its secondary. Rodgers never found a rhythm downfield because his wideouts failed to get behind the Niners’ blanketing coverage. Even the improvised scrambling plays on which the veteran has built his legend were limited to short gains rather than long bombs.
As a result, he played at a level that can only be accurately described by one made-up but entirely accurate word: Bortles-ian.
The Niners made Rodgers look like an overwhelmed rookie rather than a savvy veteran. The Packers QB finished with an average of 3.2 yards per attempt — the lowest number he’s ever had in his 169 regular season starts in Green Bay. Jimmy Garoppolo, on the other hand, finished his day with 12.7 yards per attempt and 18.1 yards per completion,
Everyone else in the playoff picture should be taking notes — and trying to figure out how to lure a Bosa to their lineup in the near future.
1. The Bills’ legend-rookie run game
The Bills’ most dangerous weapon may be a multifaceted running attack led by one of the greatest tailbacks of all time and a teammate 14 years younger than him. Devin Singletary, the pride of the Florida Atlantic University Fightin’ Kiffins, notched the first 100+ yard rushing day of his career against the Broncos, springing for 106 yards on 21 carries. While that was a big accomplishment, he was overshadowed by someone who did less on the field.
That’s because Frank Gore’s 15-carry, 65-yard performance was enough to move him ahead of Barry Sanders on the league’s all-time rushing list. The 36-year-old now ranks behind only Emmitt Smith and Walter Payton with 15,289 yards in the course of a 15-year career.
The pair was part of a unit that ran for 244 yards against a defense that ranked seventh in the league in rushing defense until Week 12. That opened up the Denver defense enough for Josh Allen to throw for 185 yards and two touchdowns in a game that was never really in question.
So how did Gore handle this accolade? With the grace and veteran presence he’s become known for in his decade-plus in the NFL:
As we were talking to Devin Singletary he was asked a lot of questions about playing with Frank Gore. When Gore heard the questions he stood up and said “ask him about his first 100-yard game, that’s a big accomplishment” #Bills @WKBW— Matthew Bové (@Matt_Bove) November 24, 2019
And later by thanking every offensive lineman who’d ever blocked for him. Awesome. It’s no wonder NFL legends came together to congratulate him after Sunday’s big accomplishment.
Buffalo is now 8-3 with games against the Cowboys, Ravens, Steelers, Patriots, and Jets remaining. This could be the first 10-win Bills team of the millennium. It will likely be Gore’s first trip to the postseason since 2013.
The Bills still have plenty of flaws, but with a dominant defense and chain-moving running game, they’ve got the look of an old-school playoff squad.