Justin Herbert Soars; Lions Roar
NFL Week 14 – In this jam-packed NFL Week 14 edition of Monday Walkthrough…
- Justin Herbert and Tua Tagovailoa try to wreck the Internet on SNF;
- Brock Purdy bullies a man twice his age and gets away with it;
- A backup quarterback lifts the Baltimore Ravens past the Pittsburgh Steelers, and his name is Mitch Trubisky;
- The Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys, Buffalo Bills, and Kansas City Chiefs all win, though only one of those teams make it look easy;
and much more!
A Very Important Walkthrough Mea Culpa
Walkthrough rarely admits that we are wrong, because we are very rarely wrong and we very, VERY rarely admit to it when it happens.
But once in a while we deliver a take so volcanic and erroneous that we are forced by decency and common sense to retract it. So here it goes:
We were wrong to suggest in early October that the Detroit Lions were frauds and that Dan Campbell should be tied in a rucksack drenched in deer urine and hung in a forest tree stand until some Texas college coordinator finds him and claims him as a tight ends coach. Those weren’t our exact words, but it’s a pretty accurate paraphrase.
The Lions beat the Minnesota Vikings 34-23 in Week 14, keeping their slim playoff hopes alive. They did so by holding Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison to just 22 rushing yards. The Lions offensive line, one of the two or three best in the NFL, held the Vikings sack-less so Jared Goff could throw three touchdown passes, one to rookie Jameson Williams in his first meaningful action of the year. The Lions won with the help of a very Campbellian decision: a 41-yard fake punt run by C.J. Moore. And they won because they used right tackle Penei Sewell as a motion receiver on third-and-8 when they needed a first down to salt away the game:
Lol Lions are throwing passes to Penei Sewell pic.twitter.com/0rAezD6kEq
— Billy M (@BillyM_91) December 11, 2022
Swoon. Walkthrough’s shriveled little heart grew three sizes when we saw that.
The Lions have won five of their last six games. Their loss was a hard-fought Thanksgiving effort against the Bills. They have convincingly beaten 2022-caliber bantamweights such as the Giants, Jaguars, and … OK, the Vikings are more of a middleweight. Campbell’s Lions are officially Trending in the Right Direction.
Now, let’s be clear here. Trending in the Right Direction does not mean Guaranteed to Win Super Bowl LVIII after the 2023 season. It doesn’t mean they “won” the Matthew Stafford trade or some other wackadoodle talking point. It’s not somehow better or more exciting than, say, reaching the playoffs. There’s no trophy or banner for it, no matter how many garlands of flowers the Lions may receive from mid-January through next September.
But that offensive line looks awesome. The defense is coming together. Goff is doing what Goff does within a strong offensive environment. Williams’ de facto debut was auspicious. It’s fun to have two picks in both the first and second rounds in an upcoming draft, especially with a dwindling list of needs. By Lions fandom standards, these are awesome times.
And Campbell? It was always about what was beneath the tough-guy aphorisms. It didn’t look like there was much there after the Lions were shut out by the Patriots in Week 5. But if the Lions are going to really deliver rugged play in both trenches, thrilling fourth-down calls, and the occasional big-man catch, we’re on board.
Oh, and making the Vikings look silly is always a shortcut to Walkthrough’s Grinch-like heart.
Game Spotlight: Los Angeles Chargers 23, Miami Dolphins 17
What Happened: The Chargers took a 17-7 first-half lead on several crisp drives (including one that ended in a goal-line stop) by a Justin Herbert-led offense reinvigorated by the returns of Mike Williams (4-58-1 in the first half) and center Corey Linsley. Meanwhile, all the Dolphins could accomplish offensively was this goofiness:
What… just… happened 😳 @cheetah
📺: #MIAvsLAC on NBC
📱: Stream on NFL+ https://t.co/Fjz0sbDEsG pic.twitter.com/I0dh4l6iR0
— NFL (@NFL) December 12, 2022
The Chargers offense slowed in the second half, but Tua Tagovailoa—off-target and looking a little rattled all night—mustered just one walk-in bomb to Hill. Herbert led an eight-plus-minute field goal drive to put the game out of reach.
What it Means: The Chargers played their most complete game of the season in all three phases: even returner DeAndre Carter and punter JK Scott delivered on special teams in the first half.
Herbert looked sharp, particularly when side-stepping pass-rushers and delivering the ball to underneath receivers in the touchdown drive near the end of the second quarter and on a second-half bomb to Williams.
As stated in Friday’s controversially accurate edition of Walkthrough, Herbert can prove he is back on track to being one of the NFL’s best young quarterbacks by:
- Leading the Chargers to a playoff berth; and
- Finishing among the top 15 in both passing DVOA and DYAR.
Sunday’s victory pushes Herbert toward achieving both goals!
On the other side of the ball, opponents have learned that they can disrupt Tagovailoa’s receivers by jamming them on the line. Tagovailoa hasn’t counter-adjusted and is now misfiring when receivers are open. Mike McDaniel must figure out the issue quickly because…
What’s Next: The Dolphins wrap up their three-week cross-country road trip with a Saturday night visit to Buffalo. The Chargers can continue their pursuit of Herbert’s first playoff appearance when they host the sputtering Titans.
Game Spotlight: Buffalo Bills 20, New York Jets 12
What Happened: Sometimes, a solid defense starts pressing and making mistakes when tasked with playing perfect football to protect a pea-shooter offense.
Ever wonder what that looks like? Well, it looks something like this:
Juuuust a bit offsides.
📺: #NYJvsBUF on CBS
📱: Stream on NFL+ https://t.co/7FXORqYuVi pic.twitter.com/uVQxIXhI90
— NFL (@NFL) December 11, 2022
Super-Mosley’s fly to glory set up the Bills’ first touchdown in the final seconds before halftime. Meanwhile, Mike White left with an injury, returned, left, and returned again. White could barely move the offense on a soggy afternoon, and Joe Flacco got strip-sacked by Greg Rousseau near midfield to give the Bills a 17-7 third-quarter lead.
The Jets made things interesting with a blocked-punt safety in the fourth quarter, but Michael Carter fumbled away their last, best chance for a comeback.
White was taken to the hospital after the game, and Walkthrough had flashbacks to when Chris Simms finished a game for the Buccaneers despite a ruptured spleen. White was reportedly able to join the team on the flight home.
What it Means: The Von Miller-less Bills defensive line passed its second-straight test against an AFC wild-card also-ran. Rousseau had two sacks, A.J. Epenesa one sack and a batted pass, and Shaq Lawson also delivered a sack. We’ll get a better sense of the Bills pass rush on Saturday night against Miami and against the Bengals in Week 17. For now, it doesn’t look like anything to panic about.
In addition to White’s injury, defensive lineman Quinnen Williams suffered a non-contact calf injury which bears watching. The Jets should still be capable of manufacturing enough late-season wins to remain relevant with White and Flacco trading mediocrity under center. But they are less likely to do so without Williams, who has been playing at an All-Pro level in 2022.
What’s Next: A Bills-Dolphins Saturday Night Special: the Dolphins won the first meeting in steambath conditions in Miami, but there are snow showers in the early forecast for Week 15.
The Jets face the Lions and Jaguars, both of whom looked pretty darn good on Sunday.
Game Spotlight: Baltimore Ravens 16, Pittsburgh Steelers 14
What Happened: Kenny Pickett got knocked out early in the game after a bodyslam from Roquan Smith. Tyler Huntley nearly got decapitated by Minkah Fitzpatrick midway through the third quarter.
Mitch Trubisky threw three interceptions in relief of Pickett, leading Smith and Patrick Queen straight to the ball with his eyes on passes over the middle and launching a herp-derp ball to safety Marcus Williams in the end zone. Undrafted rookie Anthony Brown replaced Huntley, handed off to J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards, let the Ravens special teams do what they do, and survived the Ravens’ latest effort to hand a winnable game back to the opponent in the fourth quarter.
What it Means: The Ravens blundered away another fourth-and-1 attempt early in the contest and helped the Steelers remain in the game with 30 yards in foolish defensive roughness fouls in the fourth quarter, but they sealed the win with a blocked field goal and a tough third-and-3 run by Edwards to ice the clock in the final moments. It was their second straight gutsy fourth-quarter performance in a tight game: an encouraging development after so many early-season late-game collapses.
The Ravens banked an important win on a day when the Steelers, Browns, and Jets all lost, giving them some wild-card breathing room as they await Lamar Jackson’s return.
Trubisky looked more like a rookie than Pickett on Sunday. The Steelers defense, particularly against the run, couldn’t produce the stops a stops-and-ball-control team needs to be taken seriously as a wild-card hopeful.
The Steelers will remain at the bottom of the chase thanks to a soft schedule, but their real concern should be the fact that Pickett has suffered two concussions in his rookie season. They must be careful not to rush Pickett back in the name of a playoff chase that even their fans are unlikely to find very satisfying.
What’s Next: The Steelers face the pesky Panthers and Raiders before their New Year’s Day rematch with the Ravens in Baltimore. The Ravens could deliver a knockout blow to the Browns’ relevance in Cleveland next Saturday, and gosh wouldn’t that be a shame.
Game Spotlight: Philadelphia Eagles 48, New York Giants 22
What Happened: The best team in the NFL beat the absolute dickens out of the fast-fading feel-good story of the early autumn. The gory details are not all that relevant.
What It Means: The Eagles spent the last three weeks pounding the tar out of the NFL’s kinda-sorta-playoff-team tier; the Packers are grandfathered in to the category. Doubting the Eagles’ Super Bowl bona fides at this point is silly. And it’s hard to argue against their “best team in the NFL” status when they have the league’s best record and coasted to victory on a Sunday when the other contenders survived close calls. (Check back later on Monday to see what DVOA thinks.)
Punter Arryn Siposs suffered an injury late in the second quarter after recovering his own blocked punt in the end zone during the 10 minutes on Sunday when the Eagles looked less than utterly dominant. Whomever the Eagles claim off waivers will probably not be as effective as Siposs. But it will be close.
The Giants are still in the NFC playoff chase, but they are 0-3-1 in their last four games. The Brian Daboll Administration has done a heck of a job this year, but it’s time to take a serious look at how the Giants can build on their success in 2023. Perhaps that will be the subject of a mid-week Walkthrough.
What’s Next: The Eagles kick off a two-week road trip by trying not to look past Justin Fields and the Scramblin’ Eggs; they’ll then climb down Jerry Jones’ chimney on Christmas Eve. (Sorry about any images that plants in your subconscious.)
The Giants will try to avenge their tie against the Commanders next Sunday night by once again tying the Commanders.
Quick Notes on Other Games
Whiparound Week 14 action:
San Francisco 49ers 35, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 7
This matchup was originally slated to be a “Game Spotlight,” but there’s little to be said about the blowout that cannot be summarized quickly:
The 49ers were the better team at every position except quarterback, and the gap at quarterback wasn’t all that wide. The Buccaneers looked like a team that would have happily dried up and blown away on Monday night, but the NFC South just won’t let them.
Brock Purdy had the Kyle Shanahan-buffed version of the “poised rookie playing all afternoon with the lead in his first start” performance. Tom Brady aged six months per minute against the 49ers defense. Deebo Samuel likely survived a scare, leaving the game with what was later reported as a “twisted” ankle. Purdy also suffered a late-game injury that appears to be minor.
One of these teams is going to scare the heck out of playoff opponents. It’s not Brady and the Buccaneers.
Carolina Panthers 30, Seattle Seahawks 24
Geno Smith’s magic ran out (he finished with three touchdowns but threw two first-half interceptions to help the Panthers mount a lead) just in time to ruin a Walkthrough three-legged Seahawks-49ers-Chiefs parlay. Thanks Geno! Just make sure you sew up Comeback Player of the Year, big guy.
A large segment of Panthers Twitter boils with rage each time the team wins; these fans wanted Brian Burns and DJ Moore sold for scrap at the trade deadline so they could spend three months fiddling with mock draft simulators. Yep, it sure must stink watching players suck as Jaycee Horn, Ickey Ekwonu, and Derrick Brown develop in competitive games every week! But seriously: fans of weekly buffoonery in the name of future draft capital should check out the Texans.
Kansas City Chiefs 34, Denver Broncos 28
The Chiefs did that thing where they race out to a huge lead and then spend a quarter playing idiotic football. For their sake, let’s hope they got that out of their system so it doesn’t happen in the AFC Championship Game.
Russell Wilson did that thing where he looked pathetic for a chunk of the game before roaring toward a heroic comeback; that was his routine even when he was successful. But Wilson suffered a concussion, forcing Brett Rypien into the game to: a) finish a touchdown drive to pull the Broncos within one score, but b) go three-and-out and toss a hit-as-he-threw moonball interception on the final two series.
The spirited Broncos comeback effort may have saved Nathaniel Hackett’s job for one more week but not for four more.
Jacksonville Jaguars 35, Tennessee Titans 22
Exhibit C in the case of why Titans general manager John Robinson was fired last week. Exhibits A and B were the Bengals and Eagles losses. The Titans aren’t fooling anyone with their record: their (injury-riddled) secondary is awful, and they may be the NFL’s slowest team on both sides of the ball. They should be forced to face the Buccaneers in a postseason play-in game.
Dallas Cowboys 27, Houston Texans 23
Dak Prescott threw an interception late in the fourth quarter to give the Texans the ball at the Cowboys 3-yard line leading by three points. The Texans failed to punch the ball in on four tries, and Prescott led a 98-yard game-winning scoring drive to beat 17-point underdogs whose third-string quarterback was under center for part of the game.
Walkthrough would point out that Prescott is the best quarterback to routinely throw two interceptions per game in the heat of a playoff chase since about 1977, but we’re already in enough trouble with the Internet’s quarterback IPA sniffers.
Cincinnati Bengals 23, Cleveland Browns 10
Awww, is the Browns widdle $250-million scuzzwaffle of a quarterback a teensy bit rusty after an 11-game suspension and a 2021 glorified paid leave of absence? Such a shame.
Around the League
News ‘n’ notes from the Sunday morning NFL news dump.
NFL levies over $160,000 in fines for unsportsmanlike conduct from Week 13, most for unbelievably silly infractions.
Courageously keeping the world safe from end zone celebrations, if not from Dan Snyder or Deshaun Watson.
Tom Brady “considering all options” as a potential free agent in 2023.
Brady may be reconsidering them after Sunday’s loss. Potential employers certainly are.
Detroit Lions consider Jared Goff their starter. “Period.”
The 28-year-old two-time Pro Bowler who led his team to the playoffs three times, the Super Bowl once, and ranked third in DYAR entering Sunday? What evidence do they have that he can be successful?
Odell Beckham free agency tour “in a holding pattern.”
Someone please tell OBJ that he cannot just sign with the team that’s leading the Super Bowl at halftime (and get seven game checks for it).
San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans on the 2023 head coaching shortlist.
DENVER BRONCOS: We would love to talk to you about restoring trust in our locker room and helping us get the most out of Russell Wilson next year!
DeMECO RYANS: You know what? Imma move Nick Bosa to edge rusher and start playing prevent defense on first-and-10.
Lamar Jackson might not play until Christmas Eve.
That’s just two weeks from now. OMG, that’s JUST TWO WEEKS FROM NOW. (logs onto Amazon.) What does my wife like again? Lawnmowers? Of course! Gotta find a lawnmower in her size…
Week 14 Awards
Defender of the Week
Josey Jewell’s first diving interception of Patrick Mahomes spurred a Broncos comeback when they trailed 27-0. Jewell’s second interception stopped a fourth-quarter drive that would likely have ended with at least a game-icing field goal. Jewell also had 10 total tackles in a losing effort.
Offensive Line of the Week
Trent Williams, Aaron Banks, Jake Brendel, Spencer Burford, and Mike McGlinchey kept the fearsome Buccaneers defense front away from Brock Purdy (more or less) and helped Christian McCaffrey and friends rack up 209 rushing yards.
Special Teamer of the Week
Calais Campbell’s fourth-quarter blocked field goal helped the Ravens stave off another late-game meltdown.
If you prefer an actual special teamer as opposed to a veteran defensive star, C.J. Moore earns honorable mention for his 41-yard scamper on a Lions fake punt.
Best Supporting Actor in Someone Else’s Highlight
He’s called Dameon “Three Pitbulls” Pierce because he’s the proud doggo-dad of three pitbulls, and also because this is what happens when someone like Malik Hooker gets in the way of three pitbulls charging toward a dropped butterscotch Tastykake.
Dameon Pierce has NO chill. This is a violent run. 😤 pic.twitter.com/Oa4vgo4zai
— V̷a̷t̷o̷r̷ (@Vator_H_Town) December 11, 2022
The Cowboys eventually beat the Texans 27-23, but it only should have counted for about two-thirds of a win.
Honorable mention goes to Giants safety Julian Love, who thought he had an interception on DeVonta Smith’s fourth-and-long touchdown, realized he didn’t, and just kept going until he could flag down a Lyft on Route 17.
It’s that 6 for 6 special@DeVontaSmith_6 | #ProBowlVote | #FlyEaglesFly pic.twitter.com/22ctlIV8eF
— Philadelphia Eagles (@Eagles) December 11, 2022
Burn This Play!
OK, Ravens. It’s fourth-and-short, the laws of probability don’t apply to you due to some weird Wanda Maximoff hex, Tyler Huntley is your quarterback, and it’s raining. Just sneak it. Or maybe hand off. But don’t tempt fate with some jet sweep to Devin Devoh, crap…
Ravens 4th down play… 😂😂😂 pic.twitter.com/nXKx93HzPe
— 𝗙𝗢𝗟𝗟𝗢𝗪 @𝗙𝗧𝗕𝗲𝗮𝗿𝗱𝟳 (@FTBeard7) December 11, 2022
The Ravens should just practice nothing but fourth-and-short situations for the rest of the year, until they are eliminated from the playoffs on a failed two-point conversion.
Rando of the Week
Eagles special teamer Britain Covey has been the secret team’s secret weapon over the past two weeks. His 105 yards on six punt returns helped the Eagles pull away from the Titans in Week 13. On Sunday, Covey took over as the place-kick holder when punter Arryn Siposs was injured and held without incident for two field goals and three extra points in the rain
Covey is an undrafted 180-pound rookie from Utah. He has kept the Eagles’ rickety special teams from becoming a significant problem. He may never be a star. But an all-purpose return man who doubles as a capable backup holder could end up in the NFL for a long time.
Say, whatever happened to the Eagles’ former punt returner? You know, the disaster artist they squandered a first-round pick on?
Jalen Reagor has guaranteed #Vikings to win at Detroit. I asked him about possibly clinching division & he said “We’re going to win” I asked him if that’s a guarantee: “Yes” He added “I’m not going to say nothing about if we might win. I’m..expecting us to win..I have no doubts”
— Chris Tomasson (@christomasson) December 7, 2022