Week 13 of the NFL season started with a Thanksgiving lineup of mostly drama-free contests. David Blough exceeded expectations but fulfilled his destiny as a Lions quarterback by losing a one-possession game to the Bears. The Cowboys continued a rich 2019 tradition of getting beaten by teams with winning records by eating a double-digit loss to the Bills. The Falcons, uh, tried.
That was a lead-in to all the action on the final day of the long weekend. The nation’s collective turkey (and alcohol) hangovers were soothed by a handful of big games. The early slate featured a possible Super Bowl preview between the 49ers and Ravens and a rivalry showdown between the Steelers and Browns. The late games were highlighted by games like Patriots-Texans and Chiefs-Raiders that had major postseason implications.
That left us with a wide slate of winners and losers, both on the scoreboard and in the locker room. Who stood out the most?
The Jets handed the Bengals their first win of the season. That’s notable because it’s December. Carolina recovered an onside kick to take a stab at an unlikely 15-point comeback against Washington, then turned a first-and-goal situation with 40 seconds to play into zero points and a 29-21 loss. That’s notable because the Panthers held a 94 percent win probability in the first quarter.
The Eagles wasted a 28-14 lead in Miami to lose to a team that gave Patrick Laird (six career carries before Week 13) the majority of its rushes Sunday. That game was made even more gloriously weird and entertaining thanks to one of the greatest fake field goals our fragile world has ever known.
That, at least partially, was enough to convince Eagles head coach Doug Pederson the Dolphins are, in fact, good. The data doesn’t bear that out, but sure, Doug. That’s just as likely as my working theory that a bad team uprising took place to push the Giants to the top spot in the draft. That way, they can force New York into passing up Joe Burrow because the team’s already got Daniel Jones.
Now, on to ...
This week’s actual winners:
6. Jarvis Landry, who has gotten even better despite the presence of Odell Beckham Jr.
The Browns lost to the Steelers, relinquishing their edge in one of the AFC North’s oldest rivalries and losing the battle of sassy t-shirts along the way. Their offense regressed to Hue Jackson levels and their defense allowed Devlin Hodges to throw for 10.1 yards per pass.
That cold front froze out Beckham (three catches, 29 yards), but it failed to cool off Landry (6 catches, 76 yards). Though 12 games, the versatile wideout is on pace for an 87-catch, 1,225-yard, seven-touchdown season. The second number would be a career high, as would his 14.1 yards per catch.
Landry isn’t just putting up big numbers — he’s showcasing some of the game’s strongest hands and field awareness in the process:
holy crap, Jarvis Landry pic.twitter.com/StyWIFHAR7— Christian D'Andrea (@TrainIsland) December 1, 2019
That catch was originally ruled an incompletion, but a Freddie Kitchens challenge overturned it to give Cleveland new life in the Pittsburgh red zone. In true Browns fashion, the team lost yards and was forced to settle for a field goal. Even so, it was a statement proving Landry’s one of the league’s top wideouts, despite languishing on mediocre teams.
Beckham’s trade to Ohio seemed likely to cut into Landry’s production. Instead, he’s coming up with more catches on only slightly fewer targets per game (from 9.3 in 2018 down to 9.0). The Browns may be facing a lost season after falling to 5-7, but Landry has emerged as the kind of player who can change this franchise’s fortunes when he and Baker Mayfield — who played the second half with a badly bruised throwing hand and made Landry his security blanket — find their rhythm.
5. Aaron Rodgers, free play god
Green Bay faced third-and-goal back at the New York 17-yard line when Rodgers saw a disheveled Giants defense struggle to sub out its personnel. He used that opportunity to hurry the Packers to the line of scrimmage, induce a 12 men on the field penalty with a quick snap, and then delivered an absolute dart to Davante Adams on the free play.
Suddenly, a dicey 17-13 lead was a two-possession game in the fourth quarter, effectively stomping out the Giants’ comeback hopes. The touchdown catch was Adams’ second of the day and 38th since 2016 — most in the NFL over that span despite missing seven games due to injury. He wasn’t the only Packers wideout to feast after Thanksgiving. Allen Lazard, undrafted in 2018, had his first career 100-yard game, needing just three catches to get to 103 yards Sunday.
Rodgers finished his day with four touchdowns — the 23rd time he’s hit or exceeded that number. That ties Brett Favre for fourth all-time when it comes to four-plus TD games in NFL history, behind only Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, and Tom Brady.
4. Ryan Fitzpatrick, who keeps quietly messing up the Dolphins’ tanking plan
Fitzpatrick started the day with an interception on his first pass of the afternoon and a quick 7-0 deficit. His next two drives centered around sacks and punts.
Then he woke up, and here’s what he did over the Dolphins’ final eight drives:
- 26 of 36 passing
- 358 passing yards
- 3 touchdowns
- 0 interceptions
- a 131.5 passer rating
Miami scored five touchdowns and a field goal over its next seven possessions, stopped only by a kneeldown with six seconds left in the second quarter.
Fitzpatrick’s big day was a boon for DeVante Parker, who faces an uncertain 2020 since he has no guaranteed money remaining on his contract. Parker’s 159 receiving yards and two touchdowns were both career highs. More importantly, four of his targets created first downs or touchdowns in third- or fourth-down situations, including one brilliant scoring play:
The Dolphins are still bad. Fitzpatrick isn’t their quarterback of the future. But if you squint hard enough, you can see how they could be good again.
3. Derrius Guice, very much back (for the first time)
Guice has been effectively cursed over the course of his brief NFL career. The 2018 second-round pick missed his entire rookie season after tearing his ACL in his preseason debut. His 2019 started with a 10-carry, 18-yard performance in Week 1 that saw him land on injured reserve shortly afterward with a torn meniscus.
The former LSU star kept working. He returned in Week 11 and showed off a glimpse of his potential with a 45-yard touchdown catch in garbage time of a loss to the Jets. He outgained backfield-mate Adrian Peterson in a Week 12 win over the Lions.
And then, facing the Panthers and their 30th-ranked rushing defense, Guice finally got the breakout game for which he’d waited 19 months. One week after gaining 32 yards on 10 carries, he smashed through the Carolina defensive line for a career-high 129 yards on 10 more. That included a pair of touchdowns and a brutal stiff-arm that should have Shaq Thompson reconsidering his future in the league.
Great run from Derrius Guice here. Nice patience initially to allow the blocks to develop. Found the hole and then burst through it. Nasty stiff arm to run through the tackle and turn the run into a big gain #Redskins pic.twitter.com/VQltGkZZMT— Mark Bullock (@MarkBullockNFL) December 1, 2019
The second-year tailback was instrumental in Washington’s third win of the season. He accounted for two-thirds of his team’s touchdowns and 38 percent of its total yards. Guice may have done it against a bad Panthers rushing defense, but he planted his flag as a playmaker who can be a major part of Washington’s rebuild.
2. Bradley Roby, who led a defensive effort that made Tom Brady look like crap
Brady’s 2019 has been a tale of decline, but he hasn’t been as bad as he was Sunday night in a long, long time. Midway through the third quarter, he looked like he’d been replaced with Brock Osweiler:
Brady’s final numbers — 326 yards and three touchdowns — failed to convey the absolute frustration he wore on his sleeve on the sideline:
'why don't YOU take out the trash, DAD' pic.twitter.com/H2zdc2BplW— Christian D'Andrea (@TrainIsland) December 2, 2019
How did the Texans make Brady act like a surly teenager on their home field? While the Patriots averaged more than three seconds of dropback time per pass, the six-time NFL champion struggled to find open targets downfield. That started with Roby, who picked off Brady twice (though one was called back due to a pretty blatant hold from Roby), sacked him once, and knocked down another pass in his return from a hamstring injury.
Roby signed with Houston on a one-year, $10 million deal aimed at restoring the value that made him a first-round draft pick in 2014. His big night against Brady — one whiffed tackle on a third-and-14 conversion for the Pats aside — was the latest turn in a solid 2019. He’s recorded as many interceptions as he’s had touchdowns allowed (one each) and has limited opposing QBs to a 71.5 passer rating and 50 percent completion rate in coverage.
That helped the Texans earn their first win over New England since 2010. Come 2020, it could be the key piece of evidence that lands him a multi-year contract.
His primetime performance was about more than making a statement about his place in the league, however:
Bradley Roby dedicated this game to his grandfather who passed away 'this is special to me. I take pride in being a game-changer'— Aaron Wilson (@AaronWilson_NFL) December 2, 2019
1. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati savior
Dalton was benched midway through the Cincinnati season in favor of fourth-round rookie Ryan Finley. It happened on his birthday. It happened just hours before the trade deadline, effectively marooning him with the Bengals. It happened while he was tied for the franchise lead in touchdown passes.
Despite this amazing confluence of crappiness, Dalton remained a consummate professional. When Finley didn’t make his case as the team’s next franchise passer (zero wins, 47.1 completion rate, 62.1 passer rating in three games), the Bengals turned back to their long-tenured gunslinger in hopes of diverting their path from 0-16 and toward a much more respectable one- or two-win season.
Dalton was up for the challenge. The nine-year veteran brought the Jets’ three-game winning streak to a screeching halt, throwing for a cromulent 243 yards and one record-setting touchdown:
While Dalton was completely acceptable in his return, Cincinnati’s first win of the season hinged on the swarming play of a charged-up defense. The Jets had scored 34 points in each of their last three games. They were held to six on Sunday as Sam Darnold needed 48 passes to throw for just 239 yards. New York’s running backs averaged just 3.5 yards per carry. Carlos Dunlap sacked Darnold three times and hit him six times total.
It was a lone triumph in a season marred by mistakes, but it was a big moment for what may be Dalton’s final victory wearing orange and black. Even better, it didn’t affect the Bengals’ place at the top of 2020’s prospective draft order. That’s a win/win.