SportsPulse: The New York Jets embarrassing loss to the Raiders may sting but in the long run could help the franchise long term. Mackenzie Salmon reacts to the biggest storylines in the AFC from this weekend’s action.
The 32 things we learned from Week 13 of the 2020 NFL season:
1. Yes, the playoff race is starting to heat up for what is expected to be the league’s first 14-team postseason field … pandemic permitting. But Sunday was a reminder that one of the most compelling subplots this December will be the “battle” for the top pick of the 2021 draft – a selection that’s expected to net Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence. It appears the winless Jets and almost-as-hapless Jaguars will vie for that spot down the stretch … as each did in compelling fashion during Sunday’s 1 p.m. window. Both clubs held second-half leads before managing to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
1a. The Jets succumbed in spectacular fashion, their wildest loss to the Raiders since the 1968 “Heidi Game.” After turning the Silver and Black away on downs at the New York 9-yard line with 97 seconds remaining, the Jets went three-and-out and provided Las Vegas another chance – and QB Derek Carr wasted little time capitalizing, hitting rookie WR Henry Ruggs III with a game-winning 46-yard TD in the final 5 seconds.
1b. The successful escape broke the Raiders’ six-game road losing streak against the Jets, one that extended back to 1997.
1c. The Jags merely lost in overtime at Minnesota in a game that featured two missed field goals and three unsuccessful extra-point tries.
1d. The Jets (0-12) remain in position to choose first in 2021, but one NYJ victory will likely thrust the Jaguars (1-11) into the pole position since Jacksonville owns the tiebreaker given its weaker strength of schedule.
2. The Lawrence Derby seemed to overshadow modest playoff developments, the most notable being the surging Vikings bypassing the sagging Cardinals for the NFC’s third and final wild-card spot.
3. But congrats to the Saints, the first team in 2020 to clinch a playoff berth.
3a. Crazy to think New Orleans is 8-0 since the start of the 2019 season in games missed by starting QB Drew Brees.
4. Brees’ replacement, Taysom Hill, threw his first TD passes since 2016 … when he was a senior at BYU. Hill’s 232 passing yards Sunday were just shy of his NFL career high from two weeks ago – when he posted 233 … also against Atlanta. In 49 games as a pro, those represent the only times Hill has surpassed 100 yards through the air.
4a. The Saints offense obviously looks different with Hill, the team averaging more than 200 yards rushing in his three starts. Should be interesting to monitor how things go with Brees likely to return from injured reserve in the very near future.
5. Props to Packers QB Aaron Rodgers, who continues to bleed oxygen from what seems an airtight, first-ballot Hall of Fame résumé. He became the fastest player to throw 400 career TD passes, needing 12 fewer games (193) than Brees.
5a. Rodgers is also the first passer in the NFL’s 101 seasons to throw at least 35 TD passes on five separate occasions.
6. Starting to feel like what once felt like a robust MVP race is boiling down to Rodgers and Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes, especially during a weekend when Seahawks QB Russell Wilson, Cardinals QB Kyler Murray and Titans RB Derrick Henry were all MIA.
7. Mahomes improved his TD-to-INT ratio to what would be a single-season record 31-to-2 as Kansas City locked up the AFC’s first playoff spot with a largely unimpressive 22-16 defeat of Denver.
8. The Chiefs, Steelers, Saints and Packers might all be division champions by this point next week.
9. Rams coach Sean McVay is 7-0 against the Cardinals.
9a. Maybe you’ve also heard that McVay, who got the L.A. job in 2017, is 33-0 when his Rams lead at halftime.
10. The Patriots’ Cam Newton claimed his own small slice of history. The man with more rushing TDs (69) than any quarterback ever also became the first to score at least two on the ground in four different games in one season.
11. Pretty surprising result in Nashville, where the Browns hung on to upset the Titans 41-35. Cleveland pulling the upset wasn’t necessarily shocking, but the way the game played out certainly was.
11a. The Browns and Titans entered Week 13 as the league’s No. 1 and 2 rushing offenses, respectively, each grounding out right around 160 yards a week. Yet they combined for just 180 Sunday, NFL rushing leader Henry accounting for just 60 – his second-lowest output of 2020.
12. Meanwhile, Cleveland QB Baker Mayfield hoisted four TD passes while leading his team to a franchise-record 38 first-half points.
13. If Eagles rookie Jalen Hurts – he replaced Carson Wentz on Sunday – starts in Week 14, and the Giants have to stick with backup Colt McCoy, all four NFC East teams will be playing quarterbacks other than their opening day starters.
14. And salutations to the Browns (9-3) and their fans, who will enjoy their first winning season since 2007 … though even that 10-6 campaign didn’t result in a playoff trip. But 2020 could as Cleveland continues to hold the first wild-card slot in the AFC field.
15. Interim head coaches are now 3-0 collectively during their 2020 debuts, Detroit’s Darrell Bevell joining Houston’s Romeo Crennel and Atlanta’s Raheem Morris with Sunday’s win at Chicago.
16. Meanwhile, the Bears joined the 1967 49ers as the only teams to lose six in a row following a 5-1 start to a season.
17. Just when the Seahawks defense starts to settle – sure helps to have S Jamal Adams back and play offensively challenged teams like the Giants – Seattle’s offense has receded into the Pacific Northwest’s mists.
17a. But give it up for Adams, who’s already made a case he’s the greatest pass-rushing defensive back in league history. He now has 7½ sacks this season, and his next one will give him the single-season mark for a DB, breaking Adrian Wilson’s 15-year-old mark of eight. Adams is the only DB to record at least six sacks twice in his career.
18. Led by the immortal Kingsley Keke (2 sacks), Green Bay’s defense bagged Philadelphia quarterbacks seven times Sunday.
19. The NFL offensive rookie of the year race suddenly seems wide open. Bengals QB Joe Burrow is sidelined with a torn ACL, and Chargers QB Justin Herbert looked completely lost for the first time Sunday in a 45-0 blowout loss to the Patriots.
20. Enter Vikings WR Justin Jefferson, whose 121-yard effort against Jacksonville pushed him beyond 1,000 for the season. He’s the fifth rookie in the Super Bowl era (since 1966) to reach that plateau in his first 12 games. Three of the other four – Randy Moss (1998), Anquan Boldin (2003) and Odell Beckham Jr. (2014) – were all rookies of the year.
21. It feels like the Chargers are almost annually one of the league’s biggest underachievers given the talent they tend to stockpile on their roster. And perhaps no franchise has been more beset by key injuries in recent years. But Sunday’s rollover against the Patriots, which leaves the Bolts at 3-9, makes you wonder if a housecleaning is around the corner.
22. Pencil in Colts DE Justin Houston as the AFC’s defensive player of the week. Not only did he produce his first three-sack game in two seasons with Indianapolis – ironically, against Houston – he tied the league record with his fourth career safety.
23. Dolphins LB Kyle Van Noy will also surely get a look for the AFC’s weekly DPOY honor after collecting three sacks (among 5 tackles for loss) of his own. But give Houston an edge for doing his damage against Texans star Deshaun Watson … who’s just a bit better than Cincinnati’s Brandon Allen and Ryan Finley.
24. The Miami-Bengals game was a fiasco, chock full of suboptimal football and marred by five ejections. Hopefully you didn’t see much of it, either.
25. I fully acknowledge that you don’t care about my fantasy team any more than I care about yours. But I’d like to share that my usual flex player, Titans WR Corey Davis (no relation) established career highs Sunday with 11 catches for 182 yards. I took him out of my lineup at the last second for Jets rookie Denzel Mims. Oof.
26. But good on Davis, who’s in the midst of a career year that should culminate with a free agency payday after Tennessee declined his fifth-year option in May.
27. I also started the Chargers defense ahead of the Giants defense. No, I’m not going to the fantasy playoffs in 2020.
28. After 14 consecutive games without a TD, Colts WR T.Y. Hilton has suddenly scored in consecutive weeks.
28a. Hilton also tallied 110 receiving yards Sunday – amazingly, the first time he’d hit the century mark in his past 21 outings.
29. Las Vegas’ Darren Waller had a huge day vs. the Jets, becoming just the fourth tight end in league history to rack up 200+ yards and two TDs in a game.
30. Speaking of tight ends, Chiefs star Travis Kelce became the first with five 1,000-yard receiving seasons, all occurring successively since 2016.
31. Colts QB Philip Rivers joined pretty exclusive company, becoming just the third passer – along with Brees and Brett Favre – with 15 consecutive 3,000-yard passing campaigns.
32. Nice to see so many players successfully coming back from absences necessitated by COVID-19. Browns DE Myles Garrett, who said the virus “kicked my butt,” was back in the sack column Sunday after missing two games. Colts DT DeForest Buckner collected two sacks after being forced to sit out Week 12. Vikings WR Adam Thielen caught his 12th TD of 2020, and Ravens QB Lamar Jackson is expected back in action Tuesday night after both were forced to take a week off.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis
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