Sunday of Week 14 is underway. Several teams are making their push for the playoffs. Here are some of our big takeaways from the early games today: » Mitchell Trubisky played his best game of the season. » Even with quarterback Eli Manning behind ...
Sunday of Week 14 is underway. Several teams are making their push for the playoffs. Here are some of our big takeaways from the early games today:
» Mitchell Trubisky played his best game of the season.
» Even with quarterback Eli Manning behind center, the Giants' offense remains a bare-cupboard operation.
» A LeSean McCoy touchdown in overtime kept Buffalo in the AFC wild-card race.
» Brett Hundley deserves some credit for keeping the Packers' playoff hopes alive, even as he heads back to the bench.
Cowboys 30, Giants 10
1. MetLife Stadium exploded with raucous applause as Eli Manning returned under center following last week's inglorious benching. Manning opened 13-of-15 passing, throwing a pair of awful incompletions but making up for it with a pretty 35-yard connection to Evan Engram that helped set up the veteran's one-yard touchdown toss to Rhett Ellison. Manning's deep ball remains a mess, and it cost the Giants (2-11) on Sunday, but New York's offense -- with or without their ironman signal-caller -- remains a bare-cupboard operation that gave the team no shot in the second half, especially with wideout Roger Lewis dropping a catchable pass on third down that killed a critical Giants possession. A streak of seven straight punts down the stretch was only ended by a late-game interception from Manning that opened the door for the romp. Over and over, New York's unwatchable attack refused to live up to the moment.
2. Dez Bryant spent much of the first half as one reason Dallas (7-6) couldn't put away the Giants, dropping a pair of on-target throws including a deep shot down the sideline at New York's 6-yard line. With Dallas trailing 10-3, though, Bryant hauled in a Dak Prescott pass and raced 50 yards to pay dirt to tie the game. The Cowboys couldn't get out of their way before the break, but Prescott was magical in the third quarter with a next-level escape from Olivier Vernon to unfurl a chain-moving completion to Alfred Morris. The play of the game came midway through the fourth, when Prescott hit Cole Beasley on a connection that saw the marvelous slot receiver race through Big Blue defenders for 54 yards. Jason Witten's 20-yard touchdown catch on the following play put this game away as Dallas went on to score 27 unanswered points -- with a pair of scores by Rod Smith -- while Prescott threw for a career-high 332 yards.
3. The Cowboys saved their season with Sunday's tight win over the G-Men, but nothing grows easier for a team with its back against the wall in a massively top-heavy NFC. The task for Dallas is crystal clear: Take out Oakland next week and welcome Ezekiel Elliott back for season-closing tilts against the Seahawks and Eagles. It's no guarantee that 10 wins gets you into the postseason, but Dallas has a shot if they run the table.
-- Marc Sessler
Panthers 31, Vikings 24
1. While the Vikings (10-3) failed to take advantage of the opportunity to clinch the NFC North title, the Panthers (9-4) moved into a first-place tie with the Saints atop the NFC South. Carolina's offense was powered by a trio of big plays. In addition to Cam Newton's 62-yard read-option keeper, the 2015 MVP escaped pressure to find Devin Funchess in the end zone to open the second half. Jonathan Stewart raced 60 yards untouched to pay dirt on the opening drive of the first half to kick off the scoring. Stewart not only rushed for a career-best three scores, but also became the first back this season to clear the 100-yard mark against Minnesota's previously impregnable front seven.
2. By Mike Zimmer's own halftime admission to CBS' Tracy Wolfson, the Vikings were beating themselves with game-altering mistakes. The usually sure-handed Kyle Rudolph dropped a pass down the seam that would have gone for a big gainer. Although Adam Thielen came up clutch with a 52-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter, he marred his All-Pro campaign by dropping a touchdown. Two plays later, he was victimized by the catch rule's "process" clause when he lost control of the ball as his elbow hit the ground at the back of the end zone. Just as Keenum was heating up for the first in a series of fourth-quarter comeback sallies, Stefon Diggs' drop bounced off his own helmet and into the hands of cornerback James Bradberry. Keenum played much better than his numbers would suggest, but this wasn't the fundamentally sound Vikings outfit we've come to expect.
3. Are the Vikes developing chinks in their armor? After taking just five sacks in his first 300 pass attempts over nine games this season, Keenum has gone down 10 times -- including six sacks by the Panthers -- on his last 104 attempts over the past three weeks. Already playing without right tackle Mike Remmers and center Pat Elflein, Keenum lost blindside protector Riley Reiff to an ankle injury on Sunday. Beyond the offensive-line issues, Kai Forbath appears to be battling a case of the yips, missing five kicks in the past four games.
-- Chris Wesseling
Chiefs 26, Raiders 15
1. Despite losing six of their past seven games, the Chiefs (7-6) have a superior coaching staff to Oakland. It showed up on Sunday when Alex Smith often found his first read open, while the Raiders' offense had no clue how to attack a struggling Chiefs defense. The final score was misleading here, with Kansas City more than tripling the Raiders in total yardage through three quarters. A handful of unforced errors by the Chiefs kept the score from being 38-0 entering the final frame after another desultory effort by the Raiders in a big game.
2. A two-play sequence might have all but sunk this Raiders season, now 6-7 and 2-3 in the division. Receiver Amari Cooper re-injured his left ankle, never to return, while blocking on a run play in the second quarter. On the next snap, Derek Carr was picked off while getting hit on a throw. The Raiders (6-7) had 104 yards through nine drives against a Chiefs secondary without star cornerback Marcus Peters.
"There is no easy way to put this one. We sucked," Carr said after the game.
Carr was a big part of the problem, misfiring regularly, not seeing open receivers down the field and not looking comfortable in the pocket. His first 15 passes resulted in 32 yards, an interception and a sack. Late in the game, in hurry up mode, Carr was still taking check downs over the middle.
3. Chiefs defensive end Chris Jones took this game over in the first half. He ended at least three drives with two big sacks and another pressure that ruined a third down attempt. He also crushed Carr on a throw that was picked off. After a stretch of play with little to feel good about defensively, the Chiefs won the battle up front against the Raiders.
-- Gregg Rosenthal
Bills 13, Colts 7 (OT)
1. You could almost hear the iconic Sam Spence-composed orchestral music playing in the background while watching Bills (7-6) and Colts players trudging through ankle-deep snow and blizzard-like conditions that only John Facenda could ever give justice to accurately describing. Still, the football-game-in-a-snow-globe scene won't just be remembered for its vivid picturesque quality -- it featured one of the most exciting finishes of the season. After the Colts (3-10) managed to tie it in the closing minutes of regulation in thrilling fashion, LeSean McCoy scored on a 21-yard walk-off sprint in overtime to keep Buffalo very much in the AFC wild-card race. McCoy's touchdown was set up by a spectacular 34-yard catch by Deonte Thompson on a pass from Joe Webb, who came in for the injured Nathan Peterman during the second half. McCoy finished with a season-high 158 yards on 32 carries and Peterman completed five of 10 passes for 57 yards and a touchdown before leaving the game to be evaluated for a head injury.
2. Until the final minutes of regulation, the Colts more or less played like a team that's used to having a retractable roof overhead. After lying dormant for most of the game, Jacoby Brissett, Frank Gore and the Colts pieced together an incredible 19-play drive that included a pair of fourth-down conversions and culminated in a 3-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jack Doyle. Chuck Pagano then tried to win it all on a two-point conversion attempt only for the Colts to be called for offensive pass interference. Then, after some foot-induced snow plowing by the Colts' special teams unit to give him a more sturdy ball placement, Adam Vinatieri made an amazing, 43-yard extra-point to force overtime. It was truly spectacular feat for the Colts even if he ended up missing another 43-yard field-goal attempt just before the end of regulation following an interception by Matthias Farley. Gore finished with a season best 130 yards rushing on a career-high 36 carries and Brissett completed 11 of 22 passes for 69 yards.
3. The near-blinding conditions made things difficult for each team's offense to literally and figuratively find traction, but for a brief moment at the end of the first half, everything clicked for Buffalo. Peterman, starting in place for the injured Tyrod Taylor, found Kelvin Benjamin on a beautiful 21-yard pass. How Benjamin managed to see the ball through the driving snow and use his 6-foot-6 frame to perfection to make the catch over Colts rookie corner Kenny Moore is anyone's guess. On the next play, Peterman connected with Benjamin again on an 8-yard pass for the game's only score. The eight-play drive, which benefited early on from a 23-yard plow by McCoy early on, kept the Bills ahead for most of the game.
-- Austin Knoblauch
Bears 33, Bengals 7
1. Jordan Howard and the Bears' run game took advantage of an injury-ravaged Bengals defense that was missing linebackers Vontaze Burfict and Nick Vigil, corner Dre Kirkpatrick, safety Shawn Williams, and banged-up Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins played sparingly. Against a Cincy D that appeared to move in slow motion, Howard dashed through the gut repeatedly, finishing with 147 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries. The seas parted time after time for the running back, who wasn't even touched on a 21-yard touchdown gash to open the scoring. A Chicago (4-9) ground game stymied in recent weeks was averaging 7.2 yards per rush before two final dives salting away the clock dropped the number to 6.1.
2. Mitchell Trubisky played his best game of the season. With the run game galloping, the rookie quarterback took advantage of play-action and bootlegs to find huge throwing lanes. We didn't see any field-stretching connections, but Trubisky got the ball out quick on slants and crossers, hitting eight different targets. The rookie went 25-of-32 passing for 271 yards, 8.5 yards per attempt, a TD pass and a four-yard scamper score. Trubisky continually picked on the Bengals depleted linebacker corps in space, especially sixth-round rookie Jordan Evans, for chunk gains. The Bengals (5-8) allowed Kendall Wright to catch 10 passes for 107 yards. A Bears offense that earned 287 yards combined the past two weeks generated 256 in the first half alone on Sunday. Chicago finished with 482 yards and 29 first downs. Scoring 27 straight points, the 33-7 win marked the Bears' first game with 28-plus points since November 15, 2015.
3. If the Marvin Lewis era is coming to an end, it's limping to the finish. Yes, injuries stemming from Monday night's physical loss to the Steelers decimated the Bengals. The injuries don't explain the listless, sleepwalking squad Lewis put on the field Sunday. Defenders missed tackle after tackle. The flagging offense looked disjointed, with the Andy Dalton-A.J. Green connection lost in the wilderness the past six quarters. Dalton tossed an interception on a tipped ball to Green and could have thrown several others. Green was later stripped with the Bengals driving in the 4th quarter. Both players hit the bench before the end of the fourth quarter. Outside of Giovani Bernard taking advantage of limited touches as the featured back, there was nothing positive for Cincinnati to take away Sunday. "I'm at a loss of words everybody...today. Our football team I thought had a good week of preparation and we did not play close to the kind of football to win the football game today we needed to," Lewis told reporters after the game.
-- Kevin Patra
Packers 27, Browns 21 (OT)
1. Brett Hundley still looked a lot like the quarterback we've seen in the last month or so, but in Green Bay's most important game to date, he came through when it was needed most. The quarterback engineered a drive of 13 plays for 75 yards to cut Green Bay's deficit to seven, then utilized great field position gained via a 65-yard Trevor Davis punt return to tie the game in the final seconds. While Cleveland inexplicably took the pressure off Hundley in the fourth quarter (and in overtime, at which point the Browns rushed only three on a play), the quarterback shifted from attempting to air it out to taking what the defense gave him. It resulted in a sterling line (35 of 46, 265 yards, three touchdowns) and another overtime victory.
2. The Packers are alive. Green Bay was on the mat at an eight-count on Sunday before rising, wobbling and soldiering through the later rounds of its bout with Cleveland before scoring a knockout punch that downed its winless opponent and preserved its playoff hopes. Aaron Rodgers is slated to return next week, and the Packers have somehow exited the Brett Hundley period with a 7-6 mark and a shot at a Wild Card berth.
Green Bay's sleepwalk through the second and third quarters should be worrisome, but the Packers should also be applauded for waking up before it was too late. Against most teams, it would have been too late; against this Browns squad, it thankfully wasn't. With Rodgers returning, Green Bay becomes one of the most intriguing teams to watch in the final three weeks. Hundley deserves some credit for that, even as he heads back to the bench.
3. For Cleveland, this one hurts more than the rest. A team struggling to hang onto leads and just finish a game, any game, again fails in its most epic collapse of the franchise's most nightmarish season ever. This time, it came by way of conservative defense (Browns fans will think back to the team's lone playoff appearance since 1999 when reading this), allowing Hundley -- who threw for 84 yards last week in an overtime win over Tampa Bay -- complete passes of 9 yards, 5 yards, 9 yards, 6 yards...you get the point. Hundley dinked and dunked the Packers to a touchdown to cut Cleveland's lead to 21-14, and a special teams gaffe on the part of the Browns gave Green Bay great field position, of which the Packers took advantage. A DeShone Kizer interception and ensuing Green Bay touchdown completed the comeback and capped a colossal meltdown on the part of the Browns, who saw their best chance to avoid an 0-16 season evaporate in a quarter and a half.
All of the goodwill gained from the hiring of new general manager John Dorsey and his decision to cut Kenny Britt on his first day on the job melted into oblivion as Davante Adams crossed the goal line in overtime. The offseason remains bright for a young Browns team that still hasn't learned how to finish a win. But these next three weeks won't be fun for Cleveland.
Lions 24, Buccaneers 21
1. Apparently Matthew Stafford's injured hand is all right. The Lions quarterback did what he seemingly always does in Lions wins, throwing for huge yards and leading a late fourth-quarter, game-winning drive. The Lions quarterback started out the game on fire, going 17-for-19 for 210 yards and a touchdown. Despite a five-pass stretch that featured two interceptions following that start, the QB finished strong, ultimately ending the game 36-for-44 for 381 yards. His 6-for-6 performance on the Lions' final drive put Detroit in position for Matt Prater's game-winning 46-yarder. The Lions (7-6) go as Stafford goes, and on Sunday, Stafford certainly went.
2. This one was less about who played football better and more about who could hang on to the football better. The amount of turnovers, and the amount of near turnovers, were staggering. Stafford threw two picks. Jameis Winston threw two INTs. The two teams combined for five fumbles (three lost by Tampa, one lost by Detroit). In the end, the Bucs' minus-two turnover ratio was probably the difference in the game.
3. Sunday's loss was yet another reason the disappointment in Tampa Bay should be at an all-time high. Even with Mike Evans banged up, the Bucs (4-9) showed potential all over their offense. Rookies O.J. Howard (four catches, 54 yards, one touchdown) and Chris Godwin (five catches, 68 yards) flashed star power. Adam Humphries (three catches, 25 yards) was a playmaker in the slot. DeSean Jackson (four catches, 41 yards; one rush, 23 yards) was a speedy threat both down the field and on gadget plays. It's one of the NFL's biggest mysteries as to why the Bucs aren't more productive on the field, though Winston's turnovers (three more on Sunday) likely don't help matters. Perhaps that's why the head coach and quarterback are butting heads.
-- Edward Lewis
49ers 26, Texans 16
1. For the first time since 2014, the San Francisco 49ers (3-10) have won consecutive road games. The Niners' swap to quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo continues to pay dividends for Kyle Shanahan and Co. Garoppolo tallied 334 yards passing and logged his second touchdown pass as a Niner. Against a tough Texans defense featuring a recently-reinstated Brian Cushing, the Niners stuck to air connecting with Marqise Goodwin for 106 receiving yards. Running back Carlos Hyde also racked up 78 rushing yards on 14 carries.
2. Texans quarterback Tom Savage exited the game after suffering a concussion in the second quarter. A backup to the backup, T.J. Yates tossed the team's only two touchdown passes of the day, both to receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins continues to be remarkable week after week despite playing with multiple signal callers this year (let alone many more throughout his stint in Houston). Hopkins tallied more yards (151) than the rest of his teammates combined. Though Savage's status remains uncertain for next week, the Texans (4-9) can always rely on Hopkins to keep it interesting.
3. Speaking of interesting -- In a season of kicking woes across the league, 49ers kicker Robbie Gould was perfect again today. Gould extends his kicking streak to 14 for 14 after nailing four field goals (and posting 12 of the 49ers' 26 points).
-- Andie Hagemann
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