What Have We Learned From Week 13 of the 2016 NFL Season

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Chiefs Falcons Football

Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Albert Wilson (12) celebrates his interception and touchdown with Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill (10) during the second half of an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

Here is What Have We Learned from Week 13 of the 2016 NFL Season, thanks to the AP Pro 32 for photos & help in this article.

Ups

  • Chiefs continue to defy odds on way to 9-3 record– The odds have been firmly stacked against the Kansas City Chiefs countless times this season. 

    They’ve defied them almost every time.

    Start with the season opener against San Diego, when the Chiefs engineered the biggest comeback in the five decade-plus history of the franchise to win in overtime. Then consider improbable victories over Jacksonville and Carolina in back-to-back weeks, or more recently, a pair of crucial road wins.

    Two weeks ago in Denver, the Chiefs rallied to force overtime with a touchdown and late 2-point conversion, lost the coin toss and held on defense — when the Broncos missed a field goal — before doing enough to kick their own field goal for a 30-27 victory.

    And on Sunday in Atlanta, Eric Berry returned an interception for a first-half touchdown, then took another pick on a 2-point conversion try 99 yards for a defensive conversion when the Falcons were trying to go up by three points in the closing minutes of regulation. Kansas City went on to win, 29-28.

    In some respects, the Chiefs are the epitome of resilience.

    “It’s funny how you put things like that,” Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce said. “I put it into the perspective that if we lose by a touchdown and I drop a pass that I could have taken to the house, I blame the entire game on me. It’s football. That ball is shaped awkward so it can bounce in any which direction. That’s why we love the game.”

    Still, it seems almost unfathomable that the ball keeps bouncing the Chiefs’ way.

    They lead the league in come-from-behind wins. They are 9-3 and firmly in contention not only for the playoffs but a first-round bye. And with Oakland (10-2) coming to town for a Thursday night showdown at Arrowhead Stadium, they have a chance to seize control of the AFC West.

    They’ve already beaten the Raiders once. Two wins would give them an important tiebreaker.

    “Normally we talk about the 24-hour rule, enjoying a win or getting over a loss and bouncing back,” Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith said, “and now it’s basically the plane ride home. It’s that short a week.

    “It’s a division game coming up and a big atmosphere, so everything is sped up,” he said. “I think that recovery is important on a short week, guys taking care of their bodies and trying to get it back as soon as possible is the most taxing thing.”

    To that end, the Chiefs came out of their win over the Falcons reasonably healthy.

    Outside linebacker Dee Ford made it back to the field after missing time with a hamstring injury. Defensive tackle Dontari Poe should be available after missing most of the week of practice with back spasms. Cornerback Steven Nelson was back from a neck injury. A host of other players who have been dealing with nagging injuries did nothing to exacerbate the problems.

    The only question mark appears to be wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, who has been out with a groin injury. He practiced last week, but did not make the trip to Atlanta.

    “I know he’s making progress,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “We’ll see.”

    The game against the Raiders begins a crucial finishing stretch that will not only determine whether the Chiefs make the postseason, but where, when and who they will be playing if they get there. It starts with the Raiders, but equally important games against playoff contenders Tennessee and Denver loom after that — all of them in the friendly confines of Arrowhead Stadium.

    The regular season wraps up with a trip to San Diego on New Year’s Day.

    “You’re getting ahead of yourself. That’s just not how we think,” Smith said. “For us, everything is on Thursday, not looking past that. How could you? Raider week, they’re coming to our place with a lot on the line, so not thinking past that at all.”

 

  • Winning streak has Tampa Bay in rare playoff chase– The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are firmly in the playoff picture. 

    It’s been a long time since that’s happened.

    “I’ve been here for five years and this is the first time we’ve been playing meaningful football in December, so I can’t lie to you, it is a great feeling,” Keith Tandy said after his interception sealed the Bucs’ fourth straight victory, 28-21 against the San Diego Chargers on Sunday.

    “But we also know we have a lot of work to do, so we’ll take 24 hours to enjoy it and get back to work.”

    The Bucs (7-5) pulled into a tie with Atlanta atop the NFC South.

    Jameis Winston threw a go-ahead, 12-yard touchdown pass to Cameron Brate midway through the fourth quarter and Tandy intercepted Philip Rivers in the end zone with 2:56 left.

    Tampa Bay hosts the Saints next Sunday. They finish with games at New Orleans, at Dallas and at home against Carolina.

    As well as winning four straight, the Bucs have won four straight on the road.

    Tandy was already past this one and ready for the next game.

    “I’ve never played meaningful football in December, so I’m ready to get on and see how it feels,” he said.

    Here are some takeaways from the Bucs’ win:

    PERSPECTIVE

    Since winning the Super Bowl here in January 2003 with a rout of the Oakland Raiders, the Bucs have been back to the playoffs only twice, losing in the wild-card round both times. They’ve missed the playoffs the last eight years.

    “We’re having fun, and when you have fun good things happen,” rookie cornerback Vernon Hargreaves said. “Hopefully we can keep this streak going and see where it takes us.’

    GREAT DEFENSE

    Rivers threw two second-half interceptions, including Lavonte David’s pick-6.

    Hargreaves had a hand in both pickoffs.

    He tipped the ball that David plucked out of the air and returned 15 yards for a 17-14 lead late in the third quarter.

    After Winston’s go-ahead TD pass to Brate and a 2-point conversion pass to Mike Evans, Rivers had the Chargers on the move in the final minutes. Hargreaves hollered out what route to look for. Tandy got in front of a pass to Dontrelle Inman along the right sideline and picked it off.

    Tandy’s momentum carried him into the end zone, giving the Bucs the ball on their 20. They were able to run out the clock.

    Tandy said the defense made adjustments at halftime and came out fired up.

    “We didn’t have the energy we had the last couple of weeks. So that’s all we kept talking about,” Tandy said. “You could hear guys going, ‘Let’s get the energy back. Let’s get the energy back and let’s keep punching.’ ”

     

    WINNING DRIVE

    Tampa Bay benefited from a short punt by Drew Kaser to start the winning drive on its 46. Winston found Brate for the TD on the fourth play of the drive, with 9:01 to play, and then hit Evans on a conversion pass for a 28-21 lead.

    Winston was 20 of 30 for 280 yards, with one TD and one pickoff.

    Winston was intercepted by Casey Hayward on Tampa Bay’s first possession, but Josh Lambo was wide left on a 53-yard field goal try. Winston then led the Bucs on a drive capped by Doug Martin’s 2-yard touchdown run on a great second effort.

 

  • Young Cardinals Running back David Johnson joining elite company– David Johnson’s NFL career is only 28 games old, and already he is being compared to some of the great running backs of the game.Statistics bear those comparisons out, and his performance in the Arizona Cardinals’ 31-23 victory over Washington on Sunday did nothing to diminish such talk.

    Johnson’s multi-purpose skills were on full display when he rushed 18 times for 84 yards and a touchdown and caught nine passes for 91 yards and a score.

    With those statistics, the second-year player and third-round pick out of Northern Iowa, became the second player in NFL history to top 100 yards per game in the first 12 games of a season. Hall of Famer Edgerrin James did it in a record 13 games to start the 2005 season.

    Johnson joins another Hall of Famer, Marshall Faulk, as the only players to have 1,000 yards rushing and 700 yards receiving through 12 games.

    Faulk did it in 1998, scoring six touchdowns in the process. Johnson has an NFL-leading 15 TDs.

    Arizona coach Bruce Arians was an assistant coach at Indianapolis when first Faulk, then James were there.

    Johnson, Arians said, “reminds me a lot of those guys.”

    The lofty comparisons are nothing new to the quiet Johnson.

    “It’s a great achievement just to hear that,” he said. “to be talked about amongst those great players.”

    Johnson mostly just smiles on the field when he’s doing his damage. There’s no chest-thumping over his success.

    “I think it’s the past, growing up, not getting looked at (by big colleges),” he said of his humility, “still not getting looked at going into the pros. I think those are the main things. Also, I’m a Christian and reading the Bible and God is letting me know to be humble amongst men.”

    Johnson caught a 25-yard touchdown pass and scored on a one-yard run against the Redskins, but it was a play late in the game that was most crucial.

    Late in the fourth quarter and leading 24-23, the Cardinals had the ball fourth-and-one at their own 34-yard line and Arians called for one of his characteristic gambles, going for it.

    Arizona went with its bread-and-butter play, giving the ball to Johnson behind left tackle D.J. Humphries.

    Johnson ripped off a 14-yard gain and, moments later, Carson Palmer threw a 42-yard touchdown pass to J.J. Nelson to make it an eight-point game

    “He’s going to make you right most of the time,” Humphries said of his young running back. “He was really just supposed to cram that for a yard. We only needed a yard. He saw a little seam right there and said ‘Let me hit that.'”

    After the game, Palmer called Johnson “the best player in the NFL — point blank.”

    “I think he’s proven that,” Palmer said. “Our wins and losses have affected some of the hype that he has not gotten and other guys have gotten because they are on winning teams. He’s the best player in the NFL.”

    Larry Fitzgerald called the fourth-and-one play “a gutsy call that I knew coach would make.”

    “I mean, what do we have to lose at this point,” Fitzgerald said. “. … I just knew that getting the ball in the — I think the National Football League’s MVP in David Johnson — getting the ball in his hands and let him do what he does. He delivered as he always does.”

    Johnson wasn’t the only one mentioned among the game’s greats after Sunday’s contest.

    With his 10 catches and 78 yards, Fitzgerald moved past Cris Carter and Marvin Harrison into third on the NFL’s career receptions list (1,106). He has caught a pass in 191 consecutive games, third-longest streak in league history.

    Fitzgerald also became the youngest player to reach 1,100 receptions — from 16 different quarterbacks.

    Sunday was his 13th double-digit reception game.

Middle

  • This time of year, it doesn’t hurt to be physical in the NFL– It doesn’t hurt to be physical in the NFL.Well, actually, it hurts quite a bit. Especially on the Lambeau Field tundra . Or when the Ravens are pounding you . Or the Steelers are treating you like a rag doll.

    When the schedule hits December, and the hitting gets more ferocious, physicality is an irreplaceable edge.

    We saw that specifically Sunday in Green Bay, Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Oakland.

    “We knew we had a long game in front of us,” said the Steelers’ sensational running back Le’Veon Bell after a 24-14 whipping they put on the Giants. “But our guys up front, they prepared for the battle. They were out there talking trash and going back and forth.

    “You have to give credit to our line. They kept churning and wearing them out over the course of the game. I just wanted to make sure that I kept running hard. Then, in the fourth quarter, the holes got a little bigger. I started running through a couple of tackles and started breaking some runs.”

    And breaking some spirits.

    All four losers in those rugged matchups entered with winning records. The Giants (8-4) had their six-game winning string snapped by Pittsburgh. Miami (7-5) also saw its six-game streak end at Baltimore.

    Buffalo (6-6) blew a big lead and got pushed around in the second half by Oakland. Houston (6-6) not only couldn’t handle the Packers’ intensity, it couldn’t deal with the snow, wind and cold in Green Bay, where the Packers finally found that fierce edge to their game.

    New York figures to rebound from its beating — it better, considering Dallas comes to the Meadowlands next Sunday night and can clinch the NFC East with a win. The other three, should they fall short of the postseason, likely can point to how much Week 13 took out of them.

    Although it’s just as probable that Weeks 14-17 will be as physical and exhausting.

    “We need everyone in this locker room to get the job done,” Packers safety Morgan Burnett said. “It’s going to be tough and challenging. At this time of the year, no one is feeling great, but you have to go out there having grit and get the job done.”

    This was the first week when weather was a factor, and it’s not going to get any more temperate in outdoor stadiums in New England, New York, Green Bay, Kansas City or Denver. Don’t think that those clubs aren’t built at least in part toward dealing with Mother Nature.

    Perhaps with the exception of the Patriots, the rest of those teams, plus the Ravens and Steelers, will be turning to their defenses even more down the stretch.

    What bodes well for most of them is how they don’t shy away from the physicality needed when they discover throwing the ball through 30 mph gusts is ludicrous. Or when opening up the offense in sleet or single-digit temperatures is unwise.

    Baltimore’s defense has been coming on for weeks, and the Ravens have the winning experience to ride it in somewhat similar fashion to how Denver surged to the championship last season.

    Pittsburgh doesn’t exactly have a Steel Curtain, but the Steelers also are playing their best D right now. They overwhelmed the Giants at times Sunday even without perhaps their most important defender, the injured Cam Heyward.

    Kansas City gives up points, but it also comes up with big plays. Bob Sutton’s unit, as thorny as they come, often makes up for a pedestrian offense.

    New York’s pass rush has progressed to the point it leaves many opposing quarterbacks unnerved, or at the least, reticent about taking the time required to let plays develop downfield.

    Denver is still Denver, packing a wallop on nearly every play.

    Many of those contenders are quite rugged with the ball. The Raiders have the second-best offensive line to Dallas, and are happy to show off its power. Bell will run through anybody if need be, as will the Patriots’ LeGarrette Blount.

    December definitely is not a time for anyone who can be intimidated. Don’t think for a second the intimidators won’t turn ultra-physical over the next four weeks.

Downs

  • With lopsided loss, Dolphins lose control of playoff fate– The Miami Dolphins rebounded from a 1-4 start, and now they must regroup from their most lopsided loss of the season.They need to do it quickly, too, because the Dolphins are running out of room for further stumbles if they want to end an eight-year playoff drought.

    A 38-6 drubbing Sunday at Baltimore snapped Miami’s six-game winning streak, but coach Adam Gase said he’s confident his team can bounce back this week against Arizona.

    “It ain’t the first time we got smacked around a little bit,” Gase said Monday. “It has been a while, though.”

    The Dolphins’ first loss in two months cost them control of their playoff fate, leaving them at 7-5 and a game behind Denver in the race for the final AFC wild-card spot.

    Gase shook his head when asked about a diminishing margin for error.

    “I’m not even going to worry about it, because you hear that every year, and really everybody is usually wrong,” Gase said. “You play until somebody tells you you can’t play anymore. We were 1-4 and everybody said our season was over. I’m pretty sure if everybody went to Vegas and put money on that, they’d be broke.”

    If Gase isn’t fretting about the playoff race, he should be worried about weaknesses exposed by the Ravens, who shredded Miami’s pass defense and intercepted Ryan Tannehill three times after the lopsided score forced the Dolphins to abandon the ground game that’s their strength.

    There are troublesome trends beyond the single loss. An injury-depleted defense has allowed season-high yardage totals (475 and 496) each of the past two weeks for the highest total against a Miami team in back-to-back games since 1984.

    Shaky depth may be further tested if linebacker Kiko Alonso is unavailable this week. He suffered a broken right thumb Sunday that required surgery.

    Gase said he doesn’t know whether cornerback Xavien Howard (knee) or center Mike Pouncey (hip) will return this week. Pouncey has played in only five games this year, but Gase said there’s a “great chance” he’ll be back before the end of the season.

    Reinforcements would be welcome for a team that may have been overestimated during its winning streak.

    The Dolphins have beaten only one team that’s above .500 (Pittsburgh at 7-5). Their other victories came against teams that are a combined 19-52.

    The schedule remains favorable. The Dolphins face only one team that has a winning record the rest of the regular season (AFC East leader New England on Jan. 1), and are at home Sunday against Arizona (5-6-1).

    “There’s still a lot of football left for us,” Tannehill said.

    But while the Dolphins still have a good shot at their first winning record since 2008, their record can be viewed as misleading. They’ve been outscored by 23 points, including 83-27 in the first quarter, and outgained by 544 yards. They rank 25th in both offense and defense.

    And they’re coming off their most one-sided defeat in four years.

    “The good thing is in the NFL, no matter how many you win by, how many you lose by, it’s one win, one loss,” Gase said.

    Even so, running back Jay Ajayi said it seemed strange to lose.

    “We’d been on a streak and hadn’t tasted a defeat in a long time,” Ajayi said. “It’s tough. It’s a weird feeling. We’re used to winning, but it’s OK. We’ll get past this, and we’ll start a new streak.”

 

  • Eagles heading backward as losses get worse– Carson Wentz and the Philadelphia Eagles are going backward.The rookie quarterback had his worst game in Week 13. So did the defense. The coaches also deserve blame because players were undisciplined and uninspired.

    A third straight double-digit loss — 32-14 at Cincinnati — has Philadelphia reeling down the home stretch. After a surprising 3-0 start, the Eagles (5-7) have lost seven of nine.

    This was supposed to be a rebuilding year and it’s turned out that way.

    However, the Eagles aren’t making progress. They’ve regressed since a promising first month.

    The losses are looking worse each week. The Eagles were a play away from winning in their first four losses.

    But the past three haven’t been close. The margin of defeat has been 14.3 points per game.

    “We’re still on track,” coach Doug Pederson said Monday. “Now, do we expect to go out and play like we’ve played the last couple of weeks? No, we don’t. Do we expect to be down 19-0 at halftime? No, we don’t. I know where we are as a football team. We are playing with some young guys on offense. There are some younger guys on defense.”

    Wentz was flawless in September. He didn’t commit a turnover, completed almost 65 percent of his passes and posted a 103.8 passer rating in three games. He tossed a career-high three picks against the Bengals and has thrown six interceptions in the past three games.

    “It’s strictly mechanics,” Pederson said. “It’s the fact that we have to get him off his back foot and get him stepping into the throws and trusting the decision down the field.”

    The Eagles were missing top receiver Jordan Matthews and top rusher Ryan Mathews against the Bengals, so the offense already was at a disadvantage from the start.

    Right tackle Lane Johnson is serving a 10-game suspension and his backup Halapoulivaati Vaitai is injured.

    “Obviously we don’t make plays, we have a lot of mistakes, we’ve got to clean up some of our discipline,” Wentz said.

    The defense has no excuses. It continued a run of disappointing performances despite playing against a team that didn’t have receiver A.J. Green and running back Giovani Bernard. Cincinnati scored on its first six possessions and racked up 412 yards.

    Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s unit played so well the first month that many people expected the former Lions head coach would be a hot commodity after this season.

    However, the defense has steadily declined and Schwartz is taking heat for it.

    The Eagles haven’t had a sack in the past two games, a remarkable stat considering they had 20 in the first six games and they’re supposed to have one of the strongest defensive lines in the league.

    “Obviously, we aren’t getting to the quarterback the way we should,” said defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, who has no sacks in the past eight games.

    “When teams have success of dinking and dunking us, they see the previous teams. It’s a copycat league. Teams are going to that and get rid of the ball quick. When they’re ready to go deep, they seven-man protect. We’re rushing four, so you do the math.”

    The good news for the Eagles is three of their last four games are at home, where they’re 4-1. They’ll host the Redskins (6-5-1) this week.

 

  • Jets embarrassed by Colts, turn to Petty for last 4 games– It was ugly. And, embarrassing. And mostly downright pitiful.The New York Jets were thoroughly outplayed and outclassed by Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts, hitting rock bottom in a season that has been spiraling for weeks with a brutal 41-10 loss in front of a national TV audience Monday night.

    “I thought for the first time this year, we got our asses handed to us,” coach Todd Bowles said. “That’s very disappointing.”

    Luck returned after missing a game with a concussion by throwing for four touchdowns, three to Dwayne Allen. It was 24-3 at halftime, and the game was over at that point.

    “I thought they kicked our asses,” Bowles said, repeating that often in his postgame news conference. “It’s very troubling when you get your ass kicked.”

    An ineffective Ryan Fitzpatrick was benched in the third quarter for Bryce Petty, who will start the final four games for the Jets (3-9).

    “The plan was to start him the last four games, anyway,” Bowles said. “So, we just started a half early.”

    It was the culmination of an awful night — and the epitome of what has been a terrible year — for the Jets.

    “This is a character-building season,” wide receiver Brandon Marshall said. “It’s one of those seasons when each man has to look himself in the eye and ask himself, ‘What type of player do you want to be? What type of man do you want to be?’ You go from there.”

    The defense got booed, and then chewed out on the sideline by Bowles.

    “Too many cuss words to mention,” the coach said.

    The offense was booed, too.

    So was New York’s special-teams unit.

    The biggest cheers from a half-empty MetLife Stadium came when two shirtless fans were tackled to the turf in the second half.

    “Guys have got to play harder,” defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson said. “But we’re not going to point the finger. … Coming out on prime-time football and playing like that, it’s not up to our standards.”

    So, the Jets will now look to the future because their playoff hopes are shattered. Petty, a fourth-rounder out of Baylor last year, will get his second NFL start next Sunday at San Francisco.

    Fitzpatrick said he was told of that plan by some “offensive coaches,” but seemed unaware he would be stuck on the sideline for the rest of the season no matter how he played against the Colts.

    “We could’ve won 45-0, and (Petty) was going to start the last four games,” Bowles said. “That’s the slot we had penciled for him and it’s a good time to take a look at him.”

    Petty finished 11 of 25 for 135 yards with a touchdown to Robby Anderson and two interceptions.

    “To be honest, I didn’t feel like I played to my ability tonight,” Petty said. “I think I was pressing a little bit, whether I was trying to create a spark or create a big play.”

    Fitzpatrick, in what could be his last appearance on the field in a Jets uniform, was 5 of 12 for 81 yards with a pick. He re-signed with New York on a one-year, $12 million deal after setting a franchise record with 31 touchdown passes last season.

    “I just, I didn’t get it done,” Fitzpatrick said.

    Neither has the defense, which has been subpar all season after being expected to be a strength. The Colts rolled up 421 yards of total offense and 27 first downs against the Jets, who appeared listless from the start.

    “They came here to win and we’re supposed to stop that from happening,” safety Rontez Miles said. “There was nothing positive.”

    The hot seat is getting warmer by the week for Bowles, who’s in his second season as coach with the Jets. They went 10-6 last year, losing in the season finale to miss the playoffs.

    Questions about his in-game decisions and his ability to prepare his players have increasingly become a topic. That has led to speculation whether the Jets could look elsewhere for next season, especially if the losses continue to pile.

    “I coached for my job the first day I took this job,” Bowles said.

    For now, the focus turns to the next game. And that means watching the film of this loss and then moving on to preparing for San Francisco (1-11).

    “We’ll come in Wednesday and we’ll play the guys who want to play,” Bowles said. “But we got our asses handed to us, and we’re going to see what kind of pride we’ve got this week.”

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