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SportsPulse: The calendar has turned to December, where every game means more as we inch closer to the playoffs. USA TODAY Sports’ Lorenzo Reyes reacts to all the biggest moments from Week 13.
The first day of December brought with it some stunning results in the NFL’s Week 13.
A loaded Thanksgiving slate gave way to a Sunday that had six games decided by one score or less. Three teams that had entered Sunday with four combined victories — the Bengals, the Dolphins, and the Redskins — each won their games. The Baltimore Ravens battled past the San Francisco 49ers in what very well might have been a preview of Super Bowl LIV. But the Houston Texans toppling the New England Patriots may be the result with the biggest implications as far as seeding in the playoff picture.
Here are Week 13’s winners and losers.
He didn’t wear a controversial T-shirt, stayed off the bulletin board, and might have ended the playoff hopes of the AFC North rival Browns. Tomlin, the coach of the Steelers, led Pittsburgh to a 20-13 victory against the same Cleveland team with which his squad had an ugly melee three weeks ago. So Tomlin’s Steelers, who are down to Devlin “Duck” Hodges at quarterback, are 7-5, have won six of their last seven, and are holding steady in the sixth seed of the AFC playoff bracket. Considering that this is a Pittsburgh team that lost Antonio Brown and has dealt with other injuries, Tomlin has put himself firmly in the conversation for coach of the year.
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Since they turned to Ryan Tannehill as their starting quarterback, the Titans have won five of their last six, with the latest being a massive 31-17 victory against the Colts. Tennessee is now 7-5, and with two games left against the division-leading 8-4 Texans, it actually controls its own fate if it can beat Houston both times. Most impressive has been Tennessee’s red zone revival. The team ranked 19th in red zone efficiency the week before Tannehill started. Since then, the Titans have gone an incredible 15 of 17 (88.2%) in conversions inside the 20 since Tannehill took over as starter. They now rank first in the league (72.41%) in red zone efficiency.
It certainly wasn’t flawless, and Denver nearly did blow a 14-point lead, but the Broncos have to be very pleased with what they saw out of their team and, specifically, rookie quarterback Drew Lock in a 23-20 victory against the Chargers. Lock had a fast start, throwing two quick touchdowns to receiver Courtland Sutton. He slowed after that, but he still finished 18 of 28 for 134 yards with the two scores and one interception. He will need to produce more consistent yardage totals to sustain drives. Aside from receptions to Sutton for 33 and 26 yards, the next-longest completion was 11 yards. Still, it was a nice debut for the 42nd overall pick from the 2019 NFL draft.
The Cincinnati Bengals, Miami Dolphins and Washington Redskins entered Sunday with a combined record of 4-29. Each of them won their respective games. For the Bengals, it was their first of the season, against a Jets team that has been inconsistent, but had recently started to find an offensive rhythm. For Miami, it came against an Eagles team that was looking to climb into a first-place tie in the NFC East. And Washington took down a talented Carolina team. Obviously, draft positioning is imperative for teams in rebuilds, but building confidence is, too. But since all three won, with the 2-10 Giants being the only team projected with a top-four draft pick to have lost in Week 13, the victories don’t necessarily hurt their draft hopes too much, either.
He has been talking about his frustrations with the Patriots offense for a few weeks now, and in New England’s 28-22 loss against Houston, it was ugly. Brady did amass 326 passing yards and three touchdowns, but two of those scores came on lengthy drives in garbage time. Brady has a disconnect with his receivers and it looks like he’s still missing the security of a dependable target like retired tight end Rob Gronkowski. Slot man Julian Edelman remains as Brady’s most trusted target, but for him to improve and for the Patriots to shake this offensive inefficiency — they have scored just 18 points a game over their last four, two of which have been losses — other receivers have to step up. Making matters worse, the Ravens slid into the AFC’s No. 1 seed.
From one Patriots passer, to one who used to share the same room with Brady, Brissett has officially entered a midseason slump. It got worse in the 31-17 Colts loss against the division-rival Titans. Over Indy’s last five games, Brissett has averaged just 171.4 passing yards a game, though he left a Week 9 game against the Steelers with an ankle injury after attempting just five passes. In that span, he has thrown just two touchdowns versus three picks. And worse yet, three of those five games have been losses. The Colts gave Brissett a two-year contract earlier this year, but it’s not a deal Indianapolis can move on from. There are other factors at play; Brissett has been without his top target in T.Y. Hilton (calf). But Brissett has also been inconsistent and often has been too cautious with the ball, not taking chances down the field. And how he finishes 2019 could determine whether the Colts consider other options at quarterback in the offseason.
Panthers in red zone, Ron Rivera
With Rivera potentially coaching for his job, yet another red zone mishap with a game on the line plagued the Panthers. For the third time this season, the Panthers faced a goal-to-go situation to either potentially tie or take a lead in a game. And for the third time this year, Carolina came up short and lost. What made this one especially concerning was, one, that it came against a Washington Redskins team that had won just two games before Sunday, and two, that quarterback Kyle Allen had receiver Jairus Wright absolutely wide open in the right flat for the score, but didn’t see him. Carolina fell to 5-7 in what is basically a lost season.
Normally, it’s a good thing — a great thing, actually — to have a rookie quarterback on a sixth-round contract. The Jaguars do have that in Gardner Minshew. But they also have Nick Foles, the veteran to whom Jacksonville gave a four-year, $88 million contract. And after Foles struggled again in a 25-11 loss against the Buccaneers, when he didn’t score one touchdown and committed three turnovers, coach Doug Marrone benched Foles and inserted Minshew, who was marginally better. That’s a long-term pattern, too. Even though the sample size for Foles this year — he has played in just 11 quarters for the Jags — he simply hasn’t produced consistently enough, while Minshew has made plays. That leaves the franchise with a big question. According to overthecap.com, the dead space in salary cap if the team cut Foles would be $33.875 million, and if he’s on the team on the fifth day of the league year, $5 million of his 2021 salary becomes guaranteed. If Jacksonville opts to go with Minshew, the Foles deal could go down as one of the worst in recent history.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Lorenzo Reyes on Twitter @LorenzoGReyes.
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