Key Takeaways from Week 14 in the NFL
Up until game week 14 there were four successful onside kick recoveries all year, this week there were four alone in what was a wild weekend of sporting action. What have we learnt from this week’s action?
Getting hot down in Los Angeles
It was a season-defining win for the Rams as they visited Arizona with a losing record this season against .500 teams and a loss already in week four against their division rivals the Cardinals. On Monday they arrived at State Farm Stadium shorthanded after five players - including star cornerback Jalen Ramsey - went on the COVID-19 reserve list, yet the Rams put together a strong 30-23 win on the back of some excellent performances. It was how they won with who they had that was most impressive.
They game started and ended with sacks from Aaron Donald who was a constant menace to Kyler Murray. The two takeaways by the Rams defense which included a pass tipped by Donald and intercepted by rookie linebacker Ernest Jones on the goal line both were answered with touchdowns by the Rams. Stafford’s line of 23-30 for 287 yards and three touchdowns doesn’t do justice to how well he played all game, his understanding with Cooper Kupp who received 13 out of 15 targets for 123 receiving yards and a TD was telepathic.
Kupp leads the league with 113 catches, 1489 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns in 13 games and it would not be a surprise to see him as the first triple-crown winner since Steve Smith Sr. in 2005. With Odell Beckham Jr. providing another elite receiving option, he finished this game with a line of 6 out of 7 targets for 77 receiving yards and one touchdown, the offense looks like they are clicking at the right time. This was a showtime victory against one of the better defenses in the NFL.
If Stafford reminded everyone of his star quality, LA Chargers QB Justin Herbert highlighted his MVP case with a spectacular performance to beat the NY Giants on Sunday evening, 37-21. Herbert finished 23-31 for 275 yards, three touchdowns and zero turnovers. The Chargers are 8-5 and fighting for a division title after two losing seasons because of the 23 year-old Herbert. The second-year QB has a season-defining matchup this Thursday against the Kansas City Chiefs. Does Herbert have answers for the Chiefs defense that has been one of the league's best this year. Having defeated the Chiefs already in gameweek 3, a win would see them take a huge step towards claiming the AFC West over the Chiefs, going to 9-5 and claiming the tiebreaker over their rivals.
Since losing to the Titans the Chiefs have rolled through six victories which include two blowouts against the Raiders. The heated rivalry brought the best out of Patrick Mahomes who looked back to his best on Sunday with a line of 20-24 for 258 passing yards, two touchdowns and zero takeaways. The Chiefs are rounding into form at just the right time, and much like the Chargers have the opportunity to put the league on notice if they can come away with a signature win against their closest division rivals, the LA Chargers. The Thursday night game at SoFi Stadium is what the NFL is all about as we head into the final few gameweeks in December.
The AFC North is a Pile-Up
With two of the better AFC teams on a bye - New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts - all eyes were on the muddled AFC North as all four teams had games with playoff implications. The divisional matchup between the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens lived up to its billing, a game that seemed all but over in the second quarter but finished close, with the Browns beating the Ravens 24-22. Despite their second half comeback the Ravens were 1-of-12 on third downs; the Browns due to some stellar defensive play, including a crucial strip-sack touchdown return by Myles Garrett, managed to control the game and limit the damage from the depleted Ravens.
The Browns defense kept their playoff hopes firmy in the front view mirror, their second half offensive troubles is an issue however that still needs to be fixed, teams are adjusting and we haven’t yet seen quarterback Baker Mayfield and the Browns counter adjust. Lamar Jackson’s ankle injury sustained in the 24-22 loss is a concern for the banged up Ravens moving forward, their final four games are against the Packers, Bengals, Rams and Steelers. All four look highly competitive for this banged up Baltimore side and they’re going to need their former-MVP back and running if they have any hope of arresting their slide.
Despite Joe Burrow giving the Bengals a chance to win against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, mounting an impressive fourth quarter comeback after being down 20-6, Cincinnati wasted the opportunity to lead the AFC North before a tricky set of remaining games. Divisional matchups against the Ravens and Browns in addition to the playoff seeking Broncos and Chiefs indicate they need to right the ship pretty quickly. Since starting out 5-2, the Cincinnati Bengals have gone 2-4 and their in-game management is definitely in question after their 41-22 crushing by the Chargers and their OT loss this week to the 49ers.
The two early evening games headlined a fantastic Sunday with the 49ers outlasting the Bengals and the Buccaneers holding back the Bills in overtime thrillers. The 49ers got another strong rushing effort from Deebo Samuels, in place of injured RB Elijah Mitchell, finishing with eight carries for 37 yards including a 27 yard touchdown run in the second quarter. Brandon Aiyuk went 6-11 for 62 yards including the game winning score. But it was George Kittle going 13-15 for 151 receiving yards and a TD who was the star of the show. He was an essential target man for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, pulling defenders into his orbit and continuing to make big play after big play.
So far in 2021 Kittle leads all tight ends with 75.7 receiving yards per game and has a career high six touchdown catches. The 49ers offensive stars were key to moving them up a spot this week in the NFC playoff picture and on the fast track to securing a postseason berth. With home games against the Falcons and Texans remaining, look to the 49ers to establish momentum and become a tricky matchup for anyone in the playoffs.
The Bucs were impressive on Sunday night withstanding a spirited comeback from the Bills for a 33-27 OT win. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers might just be the best team in the NFC and coupled with the easiest remaining schedule leftaccording to Tankathon they are on track for the no.1 seed if the Packers slip up.
The Bucs offense was orchestrated by Tom Brady as he shared the ball among his receivers - Godwin was 10-15 for 105 yards, Mike Evans 6-6 for 91 yards with one TD, Rob Gronkowski 5-9 for 62 yards - causing all sorts of trouble for one of the NFL’s top ranked defenses. The Bucs defense limited the Bills to 2-13 on third downs and made Bills quarterback Josh Allen rush decisions for a lot of the game. Despite Allen’s overall heroics with 417 total offensive yards it was Brady who delivered the knockout punch when it mattered most.
The Bucs are playing well on both sides of the ball at the right time and Tom Brady is having an MVP year, would you bet against them as repeat champs?
The good news for Buffalo is that three of the Bills four remaining games are against very beatable opponents in the Panthers, Falcons and Jets. And if the Bills can beat their division rivals the New England Patriots on Boxing day, the AFC East title is still within reach.