NFL Week 15 winners, losers: Former No. 1 pick coming of age
Of all the weeks we have seen so far in the NFL season, Week 15 was absolutely wild.
Saturday saw the largest comeback in NFL history and a fascinating snow game in Buffalo. Sunday saw a once-in-a-lifetime blunder of a lateral (marking the second game of the day to end on a walk-off defensive touchdown) and six games see comeback victories from deficits that were more than three points.
All the while, the Cincinnati Bengals have climbed into possession of first place in the AFC North, while the Tennessee Titans are in danger of losing their grip in the AFC South.
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Here are the winners and losers from Week 15 in the NFL.
In this AFC South, Trevor Lawrence makes the Jaguars playoff contenders
Since November broke, the Jaguars are an entirely different team. Jacksonville (6-8) has won three of its last four and four of its last six. Not coincidentally, it’s the superb play of Trevor Lawrence that has the Jags just one game back of first place in the AFC South.
In Jacksonville’s games since November, Lawrence has completed 70.4% of his throws for 1,680 yards, with 14 touchdowns versus one interception. Most impressive of his play in that stretch is how in of their victories, Lawrence’s play in the second half has been far better, helping launch comebacks. In victories in Week 9 against the Raiders, Week 12 against the Ravens and Sunday against the Cowboys — all of them comebacks — Jacksonville is plus-33 in scoring margin after halftime. Lawrence has excelled in throws on the move, has found success on downfield passes, is making his receivers better and hitting players in stride. He is a franchise quarterback.
Giants have an edge (in more than one way)
This was, going along with the way they have won this season, very much a New York Giants victory. The stats won’t pop off, but New York (8-5-1) battled in the clutch and secured a massive victory against the division-rival Washington Commanders.
Though perhaps aided by non-calls from the officiating staff, running back Saquon Barkley (18 carries for 87 yards with one touchdown) had a dominant fourth quarter and helped set up a Graham Gano field goal that iced the victory. For New York, however, this was a standout on defense. Rookie edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux had a breakout game, recording 12 tackles, three for a loss and a strip sack that he returned for a score. New York limited Washington to one of 10 conversions on third down. And the Giants, the No. 6 seed in the NFC, have a little cushion in the wild-card chase, one game up on the team they just took down.
Chargers have a big weekend
Consider this: the Chargers (8-6) entered Week 15 in the AFC’s No. 8 spot, out of what has become a crowded playoff picture in the conference. The Chargers defeated the Titans, the team currently leading the AFC South, and enjoyed seeing teams in the wild-card race — the Ravens (9-5), Dolphins (8-6), Patriots (7-7) and Jets (7-7) — suffer losses.
Not only did the Chargers climb into the picture, they’re currently the No. 6 seed. After needing standout performances from quarterback Justin Herbert, it was encouraging to see that L.A. could win even when Herbert (28-of-42 passing for 313 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions) was shaky. The defense has put together yet another solid showing after it collected four sacks. The group should only get better as defensive end Joey Bosa nears his return.
Silver linings for the Texans
The Texans were outgained, 502-219. They gave up 33 first downs and converted only 18. They held the ball for nearly 10 minutes fewer. Their opponent was the Chiefs, who clinched their seventh consecutive AFC West title. Yet, Houston (1-12-1) took them to overtime.
Though it may not always be tangible on the stat sheet, this team is playing competitively for coach Lovie Smith. This marks the second consecutive week, after the Cowboys needed a game-winning drive to top Houston, that two of the NFL’s top teams have had tough outs when facing the Texans. Frankly, Houston’s roster is not good and overmatched at just about every position, when compared with Dallas and Kansas City. Yet, Houston has battled the last two weeks, in large part because of effort plays and sound tackling. While offseason improvements to the roster await, the next step is eliminating the crucial mistake in high-leverage situations, like the Davis Mills fumble in overtime that set up the Chiefs’ victory.
Patriots woes are more than an awful lateral; start with Mac
Yes, the play was horrendous. But to talk about Jakobi Meyers’ regrettable lateral as the reason why the Patriots (7-7) lost is to be in denial that this is an offense that has regressed and is not capable of consistency.
Second-year quarterback Mac Jones has seen his production dip. Jones’ percentage of interceptions (2.4%) is actually lower than it was last season (2.5%). Nearly every other major metric has declined. Yards per attempt: 6.9 this season, compared to 7.3 last season; completion rate: 65.8% compared to 67.6%; and, most importantly, touchdown percentage: 2.1% down from 4.2%. Until New England’s passing game can return to some moderate level of production, it will continue to be a middling team. Another correlating stat that may be causing all this is the pressure Jones is facing. Even with the Raiders failing to generate a sack, Jones is still getting dropped on 7.7% of attempts, up from 5.1% last season.
Brady and Bucs in danger of slipping out of playoff picture
Tampa Bay (6-8) has lost eight of its last 12 games, including three of its last four and now has all three remaining NFC South teams sitting just one game back, at 5-9. The Buccaneers held a 17-0 lead and then allowed the Bengals to rip off 34 unanswered points in an epic collapse that continues this team’s slide.
A major reason why was because of the team’s offensive ineptitude in the second half that was prompted by a rash of Brady turnovers. In fact, if you count Tampa Bay’s turnover on downs at the start of the third quarter, the Bucs ended up with five consecutive possessions that resulted in turnovers. Brady had entered Week 15 with a sterling 89-0 record, including the playoffs, at home, in games in which his teams led by 17 or more points. Now, barring ties, the Buccaneers must win out for Brady to avoid the first losing season of his career.
Dak interceptions are bad, but don’t blame only him for Dallas’ implosion
Dak Prescott threw two picks (giving him seven in the last four games). To be clear, that’s far too many. But if you’re going to blame anyone for Dallas’ implosion against Jacksonville, blame a secondary whose often reckless aggressiveness can lead to avalanches of explosive plays and points.
With just more than five minutes to play in the third, the Cowboys (10-4) were up 17. The next three Jacksonville possessions resulted in touchdowns. During the first of those series, the Cowboys gave up a passing play of 59 yards, a Zay Jones score. In the third series, they gave up one for 27. Prescott threw an inexcusable interception in the second of those drives that set up Jacksonville for a short field. But far too often, Trevon Diggs and Dallas’ corners take aggressive gambles that compromise coverage on the back end. When playing with a lead, the Cowboys’ secondary needs to be more measured.
Don’t buy or sell on Desmond Ridder; hold
In what essentially amounts to a four-game audition for Falcons rookie Desmond Ridder, consider this more of a hold. The first impression wasn’t close to conclusive to have a read on his viability as a potential starter for Atlanta (5-9). Statistically, Ridder (13-of-26 passing for 97 yards; 38 rushing yards on six carries) was not good, yet he did show some signs that may hint to better days ahead.
Primarily, Ridder appeared to be vocal and present on the sideline, often going up to his teammates following drives. To be clear, this isn’t anything exceptional, but rather the expectation for a starting passer. It is noteworthy when the player does it as he’s struggling. Ridder also consoled fellow rookie Drake London after his crucial fumble in the fourth quarter all but ended Atlanta’s comeback hopes. The connection with London (seven receptions for 70 yards) was promising, but 27 yards on six receptions to other players is unacceptable.