By Anthony McClean, Editor-In-Chief Emeritus
It’s the time of year where the contenders are separated from the pretenders. It’s those pre-playoff matchups that help mold what the postseason party will look like. And many of the Field Generals are knee-deep in that conversation.
It’s a time when you see teams going for the win instead of settling for overtime. We see you, Baltimore. We see the meek inherit the earth — at least for one Sunday. We see you, Motown. We see teams that struggled at the beginning that are now hitting their stride. We see you, South Beach.
Three NFC teams (Arizona, Green Bay, and Tampa) can clinch their postseason invites with wins on Sunday. But there’s so much more that needs to be said and done before we get the final peek of the playoff lists in the AFC and NFC.
While we prepare for another judgment week, let’s take a look back at Week #13.
LAST WEEK: 5-3 (61-56 overall)
Dak Prescott, Dallas (Win at New Orleans)
While the boys from Arlington were a bit bruised and shorthanded (on the coaching side, at least), they used standout defensive effort to get a win in the Bayou. The Dallas defense produced a drive-stalling sack and three interceptions in the fourth quarter of a win against the Saints. Head coach Mike McCarthy and five assistants didn’t make the trip because of positive COVID-19 tests. On the field, The Cowboys (8-4) intercepted Saints quarterback Taysom Hill four times in all — three times in the final 6:32 of the game, including defensive tackle Carlos Watkins’ pick-6 on a screen pass that made it 27-10 with 2:52 left. As for Prescott, he passed for 238 yards and a 1-yard touchdown to Michael Gallup.
Kyler Murray, Arizona (Win at Chicago)
After fumbling his first snap in three games, No. 1 threw for two touchdowns and ran for two more in his return from an ankle injury, and the Cardinals beat the struggling Bears. The Cardinals (10-2) got back Murray and three-time All-Pro receiver DeAndre Hopkins after both players missed three games because of injuries, then rolled to an easy victory over Chicago (4-8). The NFC West leaders, who have the NFL’s best record, intercepted Andy Dalton four times. The Cardinals, who were coming off a bye, improved to 7-0 on the road, with each win by 10 points or more. Murray completed 11 of 15 passes for 123 yards, giving him 10,092 in three seasons, on a cool and soggy afternoon.
Tua Tagovailoa, Miami (Win at N.Y. Giants)
A team that was once 1-7 and falling apart is now 6-7 and brimming with confidence. Tagovailoa threw a pair of short touchdown passes, and the Dolphins extended their winning streak to five games by topping the Giants. Tagovailoa completed 30 of 41 passes for 244 yards and the two scores. The Dolphins took the lead late in the first half on a 5-yard pass from Tagovailoa to Mack Hollins, the capper to a 14-play, 89-yard drive. It was quintessential Miami of late, the formula that has worked with Tagovailoa, relying on the short ball to chip, chip, chip away. He was 11 for 12 on the drive for 77 yards, only one of those throws going for more than 10 yards, six of them going for no more than 6 yards.
Tyrod Taylor, Houston (Loss vs. Indianapolis)
It was a Texas-sized ass-whupping as the Colts dismissed the Texans. The Colts outgained Houston 389-141 and Indianapolis had 26 first downs to just 9 by the Texans. It is the first time Indy has held a team scoreless since beating Dallas 23-0 on Dec. 16, 2018, and the team’s first shutout on the road since a 6-0 victory at New England in 1992. Taylor was benched in the third quarter as Houston (2-10) lost for the ninth time in 10 games. He was 5 for 13 for 45 yards before being replaced. The boos from the sparse crowd began early and grew louder with each terrible offensive possession as the Texans were shut out for the second time this season. It’s their second loss to the Colts this year after they got a 31-3 victory in Indianapolis in October.
Lamar Jackson, Baltimore (Loss at Pittsburgh)
The good news first. There was no four-interception game for LJ. The bad news: Well, y’all saw the ending. No. 8 led Baltimore to a touchdown with 12 seconds to play, but his throw on the 2-point conversion was too far in front of tight end Mark Andrews. That oh-so-close play sent the Ravens to a key division loss to the Steelers. During the final drive, Jackson overcame a false start and a sack during the Ravens’ eight-play, 60-yard scoring drive. Jackson also converted a pair of third downs, including a third-and-14 and a third-and-5, which resulted in a 6-yard touchdown grab by Sammy Watkins. Jackson was sacked seven times, passed for 253 yards with a touchdown and a first-quarter interception.
Russell Wilson, Seattle (Win vs. San Francisco)
Relegated to being a spoiler, the Seahawks reveled in the role against the Niners. No. 3 played his best game since returning from finger surgery, throwing for 231 yards and two touchdowns, and the Seattle Seahawks made a late goal-line stand to beat San Francisco. Seattle (4-8) snapped a three-game losing streak but it wasn’t easy as a number of mistakes gave the 49ers a chance for a tying touchdown in the final moments. With the playoffs still a mathematical possibility, the Seahawks are refusing to fall into the mode of playing out the final weeks. This week, it came at the expense of the Niners’ playoff chase. San Francisco (6-6) saw its three-game win streak snapped and was swept by Seattle this season.
Teddy Bridgewater, Denver (Loss at Kansas City)
It was going to take a near-perfect performance to get the win. Needless to say, the Broncos came up short. No. 5 was held to 257 yards passing for the Broncos (6-6), who have lost 12 in a row to their longtime rival dating to the 2015 season. Things went haywire for the Broncos early in the game, when a 20-play drive ended with a failed fourth-down play rather than an easy field goal. And they didn’t get much better when Bridgewater threw a pair of second-half interceptions, including the one that Daniel Sorensen returned 75 yards for a score with 9 1/2 minutes left to put the game away. Bridgewater had not thrown an interception in four straight games before the Chiefs picked him twice.
Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City (Win vs. Denver)
This was a stellar defensive effort from the K.C. defense. How so you may ask? Three turnovers. Three fourth-down stops. One pick-6 to seal a fifth straight win. No. 15 had just 184 yards passing with a touchdown run and an interception, and his receiving corps dropped so many passes he probably thought the ball was greased. But despite the Chiefs (8-4) gaining 257 yards of total offense, they managed to keep a one-game lead on the Chargers thanks to the other side of the ball. Head coach Andy Reid improved to 20-3 coming off a bye, including 7-2 since his arrival in Kansas City.
STAT OF THE WEEK
In their win against the Bears, Arizona’s Kyler Murray became the fourth-youngest player (24 years, 120 days old) to reach 10,000 passing yards in NFL history, surpassing Cam Newton (24 years, 191 days). Only Drew Bledsoe (23 years, 299 days), Jameis Winston (23 years, 303 days), and Hall of Famer Dan Marino (24 years, 63 days) reached the mark at a younger age.
Anthony McClean can be reached via email at email@example.com.