Everything You Need To Know: Week 16
Let’s face it: While there’s nothing better than NFL Sundays, it can be a little intimidating keeping up with what’s going on in every game. You can analyze the box scores or scan Twitter, but we’ll make it even easier. Here you’ll find the most important points from every day game, so you’ll be prepared no matter what comes up at the water cooler Monday morning. We’ll be updating throughout the games, so keep checking back.
1. Talk about a terrific debut: John Clay, who was just signed off the Steelers’ practice squad this week, scored a 10-yard touchdown on his first career carry to put Pittsburgh up 10-0. That was one of three rushing touchdowns, each coming from a different source. In addition to Clay’s score, Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman each found his way into the end zone.
2. Charlie Batch threw one interception, in the first half, but the Steelers have to be happy with how their backup QB played in place of a resting Ben Roethlisberger. Batch finished 15 of 22 for 208 yards and connected on Mike Wallace for a long pass that was originally ruled a touchdown, then reversed and placed at the St. Louis 1. Mendenhall’s TD run came on the next play.
3. St. Louis tried to ride Steven Jackson as much as possible Saturday, and the veteran running back was one of the few bright spots for the reeling Rams. He put up 103 yards on the ground and added two catches for 24 yards.
1. A pair of field goal attempts made the difference here. Kansas City had a shot at the end of regulation to win it, but Ryan Succop’s 49-yard try was rejected by Trevor Scott, sending the game to overtime. Oakland took advantage of its second life, as Carson Palmer hit Darrius Heyward-Bey on a deep pass, and Sebastian Janikowski nailed a 36-yarder to win it.
2. Neither Palmer nor Kyle Orton had a particularly terrific game, despite Palmer’s overtime hookup with Moore and Orton’s late game-tying TD drive. Both quarterbacks finished with a pair of interceptions, and the defenses kept things under control for the majority of the afternoon.
3. It’s not a big surprise for an Oakland game, but the penalty flags were flying all over the field. The Raiders had 15 penalties in the game, while the Chiefs weren’t far behind with 11. All those flags combined for 180 yards tacked off on penalties.
1. The Patriots were booed off the field after a miserable first half — New England could do nothing against Miami’s defense and took a 17-0 deficit to the half. But Tom Brady and company rebounded in the second half, posting 27 points on the board to rally for the win and stay in position for the AFC’s top seed.
2. Believe it or not, Reggie Bush has a 1,000-yard rushing season — the first of his career. Bush went up and over that mark with a solid first quarter at New England on Saturday, as the Dolphins jumped out to a surprising lead. He finished with 113 yards rushing on 22 carries, giving him four straight 100-yard games.
2. The Patriots lost starting left tackle Matt Light to an ankle injury in warmups, forcing Logan Mankins to slide out to that spot from his usual left guard position. However, Mankins went down with an injury of his own in the first half — he did not return after hurting his knee.
1. Matt Hasselbeck struggled with a calf injury in a loss to Indianapolis last week and was pulled late for Jake Locker. But a visit from the Jaguars seems to have fixed what ails the veteran QB. He hit Jared Cook on a 55-yard TD pass in the first quarter, as the Titans sprinted out to a 10-0 lead. Hasselbeck kept it going after that, piling up 350 yards through the air, though he did throw a pair of picks.
2. Blaine Gabbert has not had many better quarters this season than the one he turned in to start Saturday’s game in Tennessee. Gabbert hit all five of his passes in the first quarter for 68 yards, and Jacksonville got on the board late in the stanza on a Maurice Jones-Drew touchdown run.
3. Chris Johnson had another frustrating day — 15 carries for 56 yards, despite Tennessee leading much of the day. The Titans did score on the ground, but it was backup Jamie Harper, not Johnson, who punched it over the goal line.
1. The fumbling problems persist in Tampa Bay. The Bucs entered the week tied for the fourth-most fumbles lost in the league this year (12) and coughed it up three more times Saturday. The first of those miscues came early, as Josh Freeman and LeGarrette Blount botched a handoff. Blount was benched for several possessions after that, not that it mattered much for the Bucs.
2. More records for Cam Newton. Not satisfied with the various marks he’s already set this season, Newton added two more against the Panthers. He broke Peyton Manning’s record for rookie passing (3,739) and also threw the longest touchdown pass in Panthers history, a 91-yard shot to Brandon LaFell that put the Panthers up 17-7 at the time.
3. The Bucs couldn’t stop the Panthers’ running game. Carolina used its three-headed rushing attack to batter a Buccaneers’ run defense that’s lost many key players up the middle this season. The Panthers put up 270 yards on 31 carries. Jonathan Stewart, DeAngelo Williams, Cam Newton and (surprisingly) Steve Smith all had rushes of 20-plus yards.
1. Arizona’s playoff hopes came to a disappointing end Saturday, but not without the Cardinals putting up a fight. Trailing 23-0 heading into the fourth quarter, they ran off 16 unanswered points and had the ball in Cincinnati territory again late, before failing on a 4th-down play.
2. Jerome Simpson scored arguably the touchdown of the year late in the first half, catching a pass on a crossing route, turning up the left sideline, then flipping up and over an Arizona defender and sticking the landing in the end zone. It was an absolutely jaw-dropping display of athleticism from Simpson, and even better for the Bengals, the play gave them a 17-0 lead.
3. Being in the heat of a playoff race has not intimidated rookie Cincinnati QB Andy Dalton one little bit. Dalton hit 18 of 31 passes Saturday and tossed a pair of touchdowns — the one to Simpson and one to Jermaine Gresham. Cam Newton will run away with the Offensive Rookie of the Year voting, but Dalton deserves a little love.
1. Joe Flacco did not have an injured Anquan Boldin at his disposal Saturday, but he still tossed a pair of touchdown passes, one each to Ray Rice and Ed Dickson. The Ravens also set up their first scoring drive through the air, thanks to a 60-yard pass interference penalty against Cleveland on a deep pass to Torrey Smith.
2. After falling behind 20-0, the Browns rallied back within six and had the ball near midfield late. Cleveland opted to go for it on 4th-and-5 with four minutes left from its own 45 and failed. The Browns then had Baltimore on the verge of a punt at the two-minute warning, but Phil Taylor jumped offside on a 4th-and-2, giving Baltimore a first down.
3. Josh Cribbs finally took one to the house. Cribbs has long been the Browns’ best playmaker, but the once-elite returner hadn’t returned a punt or kickoff for a touchdown since 2009. That is, until the third quarter, when Cribbs ran a punt back 87 yards, showing some remarkable speed despite seemingly pulling a muscle late in the run.
1. Buffalo suffered through a sluggish first quarter, but a huge special teams play by Leodis McKelvin completely flipped the game’s momentum. With Denver up 7-3 in the second quarter, McKelvin broke free for an 80-yard punt return to stake the Bills to their first lead of the game.
2. C.J. Spiller has had trouble replacing an injured Fred Jackson over the second half of the season. He enjoyed the best game of his career on Christmas Eve, though, with 111 yards rushing on 16 carries. It’s the first time Spiller has hit the century mark on the ground in his NFL career.
3. Some of the Tim Tebow magic might be wearing off in Denver. One week after falling flat in a loss to New England, Tebow threw four picks — two of which have been taken to the house by the Bills, blowing a 26-14 game open and handing Buffalo a 26-point lead.
1. This one was still very much in doubt, despite a rash of mistakes on both sides, with the Giants clinging to a 21-14 lead late in the fourth quarter. That all changed when Jets QB Mark Sanchez dropped into his own end zone on 1st-and-10 and was wrapped up for a safety by Chris Canty. New York had to onside kick on the ensuing free kick — the Giants recovered, then Ahmad Bradshaw turned out the lights with a 19-yard run.
2. The Jets’ defense turned in a strong first half … except for one big, brilliant play by Victor Cruz. Cruz was the primary Giant talking smack this week, and Revis responded that he didn’t know who Cruz was. Well, on 3rd-and-10 from the Giants’ 1-yard line, Cruz caught a 10-yard pass, immediately juked Antonio Cromartie out of his shoes, then sprinted the final 89 yards past the Giants defense for a 99-yard TD reception that silenced the vocal Jets supporters and gave the “visitors” a 10-7 halftime lead.
3. Really odd statistical day for the two quarterbacks. Eli Manning wound up with just nine completions on 27 passes, while Sanchez attempted a whopping 59 passes. He finished with 30 completions, 258 yards and a touchdown, but also threw a pair of interceptions, lost a fumble and took that costly safety.
1. The Vikings’ worst nightmare in this lost season — a serious Adrian Peterson injury — might have become a reality early in the third quarter. Peterson was hit low and appeared to suffer a pretty significant injury to his left knee. Peterson crumpled to the turf in a substantial amount of pain and had to be helped off the field. Just a few plays later, Minnesota also lost rookie QB Christian Ponder to a concussion.
2. Minnesota’s backups, however, stepped up in a big way. Toby Gerhart broke loose for a 67-yard gain on his first carry after Peterson’s injury, leading to a Vikings touchdown. And QB Joe Webb guided Minnesota to four TDs on limited possessions — just two weeks after nearly guiding the Vikings to a come-from-behind win in Detroit.
3. Donte’ Stallworth hasn’t done a whole lot this season, but he has found a little bit of a comfort zone with Rex Grossman in recent weeks. He piled up 96 yards receiving against New England on Dec. 11 and made his way into the end zone Saturday to get Washington on the board, after the Redskins spotted Minnesota a 10-0 lead early.
1. Matthew Stafford needed 194 yards passing Saturday to break the Lions’ single-season record — Scott Mitchell held the previous mark with 4,338 yards. It took Stafford less than two quarters to top that mark, putting his name in the record book on a second-quarter touchdown pass to Kevin Smith. Stafford picked the Chargers apart all, finishing with 373 yards and three touchdown passes.
2. Antonio Gates’ third catch of the day, which came in the third quarter, gave him 587 for his career. That number gave Gates the Chargers’ all-time receptions record. He surpassed Hall-of-Famer Charlie Joiner, who’s now the San Diego receivers coach.
3. The Detroit fans launched into a “Playoffs! Playoffs!” chant in the fourth quarter, after the Lions had put the game out of reach. Detroit’s victory locked up a wild-card spot for the long-suffering franchise — ending a 12-year postseason drought.
1. David Akers set an NFL single-season record with his 41 made field goal. The record-setting kick came in Saturday’s fourth quarter from 44 yards out, and it gave the 49ers a 16-10 lead. He later booted his 42 field goal to put San Francisco back in front, 19-17, late in the fourth quarter. Akers has been an invaluable weapon for a San Francisco team that has had issues in the red zone all year long.
2. San Francisco seemed like it had taken control, rallying from a 10-3 deficit to take a 16-10 lead. But Seattle changed all that with a blocked punt midway through the fourth quarter. The Seahawks took over possession after that special-teams play on the 49ers’ 4-yard line, and Marshawn Lynch punched it in for a TD on the next play, reclaiming the lead for the home team. Amazingly, that was the first rushing touchdown San Francisco allowed all season.
3. There’s no award for the best undrafted rookie, but if there was, Seattle WR Doug Baldwin would be in the mix. Baldwin entered Saturday with more than 700 yards receiving this season, then tacked on a 14-yard touchdown against San Francisco to help Seattle to a first-quarter lead.
1. Tony Romo headed to the locker room in the first half with an injured right hand, after he appeared to smack that hand on someone’s helmet. Romo’s backup at the start of the year, Jon Kitna, is already on IR, so Dallas’ fate Saturday fell into arms of Stephen McGee. Romo did return to the sidelines, though his hand looked swollen. The Cowboys will need Romo at full strength next week, as they play for the NFC East title in New York against the Giants.
2. LeSean McCoy had scored in 12 of the Eagles’ 14 games heading into Saturday, but the Cowboys — silver lining! — kept him out of the end zone. McCoy mustered only 35 yards on 13 carries and hobbled off in the second half with an undisclosed injury.
3. The Eagles haven’t had DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin on the field together as much as they would have liked this season. You can see the impact those two have when they’re out there at the same time. Midway through the third quarter, that duo had combined for eight catches and 136 yards.
– Tom Mantzouranis contributed to this post