Week 13 of the NFL season is here, bringing highs, lows, and everything in between. And each Sunday, throughout the day, the Ringer staff will be celebrating the insane plays, admonishing the colossal blunders, and explaining the inexplicable moments of the NFL season. Welcome to Winners and Losers. Which one are you?
Winner: The Baltimore Ravens’ Contender Status
Kevin Clark: The stakes were high in Sunday’s Dolphins-Ravens game: The winner would earn the right to be considered a good bad team, while the loser would have to settle for being a bad good team. (It’s better to be a good bad team, because those squads overachieve, while the bad good teams do the opposite.) The Ravens got the nod: They are clearly the best bad team in the NFL, and Joe Flacco is the best bad quarterback. And in Week 13, Flacco and his overachieving Ravens had their most successful day of the season, beating the Dolphins 38–6.
The Baltimore defense shut down a Miami offense that looked like one of the league’s most complete over its six-game winning streak. But we knew Baltimore’s defense was good. The real stunner? Sunday was a game in which the Ravens offense finally looked like a unit capable of securing a division title. That’s a pretty astonishing development if you’re one of the NFL experts who has really done his or her homework and has seen the Ravens play for one second at any point this year. Flacco had 381 yards and four touchdown passes and the Ravens rushing attack was also potent, with Terrance West and Kenneth Dixon combining for 106 yards on 16 carries.
If the playoffs had started today, the Ravens and Dolphins would’ve met. That no longer feels like it matters, because after this beatdown, it doesn’t appear that the Dolphins will be playing anyone when the postseason arrives. But it does matter that the Ravens delivered a complete performance against a competent team. Now, Baltimore looks capable of going on a run.
Winner: Khalil Mack
Rodger Sherman: The Raiders play with 11 defenders, but as we saw in their 38–24 win on Sunday, they really only need Khalil Mack to destroy a team’s hopes.
Playing the Buffalo Bills — Mack played for the Buffalo Bulls in college; it’s very, very different — the Raiders took a 30–24 lead early in the fourth quarter. On Buffalo’s next drive, Mack hit Bills QB Tyrod Taylor as he was throwing out of the end zone, popping the ball up and letting Raiders safety Nate Allen settle under it for an interception. Four plays later, Oakland led by 14.
On the next drive, Mack didn’t even let Taylor get rid of the ball. He chased him down, knocked the ball out of his hands, and hopped on it, essentially ending the game.
The Bills could’ve had the dude from the local school. Instead, they took Sammy Watkins fourth overall in 2014, and Mack went a pick later. Watkins is good, but Mack is a terror. He treats offensive linemen like yellow lights, not so much a demand that he stop as a dare to push down on the gas and plow through. He was AFC Defensive Player of the Month in November, and with the Raiders now 10–2, who’s to say he can’t be Defensive Player of the Year?
Winner: Cam Newton’s Office Privileges
Sherman: Panthers coach Ron Rivera made a statement to his team Sunday night. Cam Newton broke a team rule, and Rivera decided to take the opportunity to show no player — not even the star QB — could break a team rule without punishment. So to start the game in Seattle, he benched Newton and let veteran backup Derek Anderson take the first snap.
Anderson threw a pick on the first play:
Newton was unbenched by the next drive … and Carolina lost 40–7.
The team rule that was worth benching the franchise star? A dress code violation. Reportedly, he didn’t wear a tie. This isn’t surprising; no coach or societal norms can prevent Cam Newton from dressing how he wants. But it also seems impressively stupid. The Panthers basically spotted Seattle three points because Newton went business casual.
The statement Rivera thought he was making was, “Guys, I’m the one in charge.” But really, it was, “CAM NEWTON IS THE ONLY IMPORTANT PERSON HERE AND WE ARE DOOMED IF HE MISSES EVEN A SINGLE PLAY.”
If I’m Cam, I take this as free rein to break every team rule possible. I’m showing up late to practice, I’m finishing the team’s coffee without starting a new roast, I’m leaving the bathroom and returning to work without washing my hands, I’m parking my car in the coach’s spot. What — you’re gonna put Derek Anderson in again?
Winner: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Michael Baumann: In the literal sense, but also in that the Bucs’ 28–21 victory in San Diego did wonders for their playoff hopes.
While the Saints and Falcons lost, Tampa Bay finagled one of those “by any means necessary” wins. Roberto Aguayo missed a 31-yarder that swerved around the upright like it came off Gylfi Sigurdsson’s foot, Mike Evans had only 38 receiving yards, and 30 carries as a team bought the Bucs only 81 yards. Meanwhile, tight end Luke Stocker left the game with an ankle injury, Adam Humphries suffered a concussion, and fellow receiver Cecil Shorts was carted off with his knee in an air cast.
But sometimes you just get the bounces (literally in the case of Lavonte David’s bank shot pick-six). When Jameis Winston finally found the end zone with nine minutes left, it was a perfectly placed pass over three defenders to tight end Cameron Brate, who stepped into the offensive void to lead the team with nine targets, six catches, and 86 yards.
So despite a negative point differential, the Bucs are for all intents and purposes tied for first place. Atlanta holds the tiebreaker because of its better divisional record, but Tampa Bay will have ample opportunity to correct that as three of its last four games are within the NFC South. Winning matters more than making it look pretty, though we knew the Bucs didn’t care about style points the moment they started wearing those XFL uniforms.
Loser: The Eagles’ Season
Danny Kelly: Think back to Week 3, when the Eagles advanced to 3–0 with a 34–3 beatdown of the Steelers: The defense was playing dominant football, rookie quarterback Carson Wentz was drawing comparisons to Ben Roethlisberger, and with balance on both sides of the ball plus explosive special teams play, the Eagles looked like one of the best teams in the NFC. Hell, they were getting more hype than the Cowboys at that point.
Since that quick start, however, the Eagles have lost seven of their past nine games. They’re in last place in the NFC East. The Wentz Wagon has lost all four wheels, broken an axle, and caught fire: In a 32–14 loss to the lowly Bengals on Sunday, the first-year signal-caller completed just 36 of 60 passes, threw three picks, and finished the game with a 58.2 passer rating. But rookie passers often struggle. Even more alarming is how Philly’s defense has fallen apart. The group looks like it’s given up — and just gave up 32 points to the previously 3–7–1 Bengals, who were playing without two offensive stars with A.J. Green and Giovani Bernard out injured.
Head coach Doug Pederson said last week that the Eagles were “heading in the right direction.” He needs a new compass.
Loser: The Seahawks
Sherman: I know, they beat the Panthers by 33. The Seahawks can be that good.
But safety Earl Thomas got hurt, reportedly breaking his tibia, which is a really big and really bad bone to break. He tweeted from the locker room about considering retirement. Then he tweeted that Kam Chancellor owed him a steak — was the previous tweet the result of a bet that Thomas wouldn’t tweet out that he was retiring? How did Thomas keep the composure to tweet about dinner bets amidst a very painful-sounding injury? Did the tweets mean the injury was incredibly serious or not that serious?
The fact that I’m very intently dissecting these hastily sent locker room tweets tells you how important this injury could be for the remainder of the NFL season.
When the Seahawks are healthy, they still seem like world-beaters. Except they haven’t been healthy much. They can’t lose Thomas, a beast who makes sure every opposing skill player feels some sort of intense pain when playing Seattle. He is vicious without being dirty, skilled yet brutal, and while he’s not as loud or famous as some of his teammates, he’s essential to the Seahawks’ hopes of being one of the best teams in the NFL. The very first play after Thomas’s exit was a Cam Newton TD bomb to the part of the field Thomas would otherwise have been covering.
I hope those tweets about retirement weren’t serious. The league is better with Thomas in it.
Loser: Matt Ryan’s Ability to Learn From Mistakes
Clark: Cam Newton learned last month that a quarterback should never throw toward Eric Berry. Do anything else: throw toward another capable defender, spike the ball, literally retire. But don’t do this:
That brings us to Matt Ryan, who made this mistake once on Sunday:
And then made it AGAIN in the same game:
That last play, a two-point conversion attempt, got returned for two points, giving the Chiefs a 29–28 lead that they never relinquished. What’s the definition of insanity again? Throwing near Eric Berry over and over and expecting a different result.
Winner: The National Football League
Sherman: The NFL is a righteous, upstanding organization that serves a greater good for the community. Or, it says it does, and it really wants you to know that. You’ve heard about its generosity throughout Week 13, as players were allowed to raise awareness for charities they care about through messages on their cleats. It’s a cool idea. So many players made beautiful, meaningful statements about the causes they care about, hopefully causing some of us to think about how we can make the world a better place.
Of course, this is only news because of the NFL’s absurd uniform policies. In any other week, a player altering his shoes in a way that doesn’t fit the league’s code would be hit with a fine — even if that alteration was to raise awareness for breast cancer or support survivors of domestic violence.
The NFL doesn’t have a football reason for this — the sport of soccer has managed to survive players wearing a rainbow of cleat colors — but the NFL doesn’t like it when good things happen, unless the NFL itself looks good or makes money in the process. So, they make a big hubbub about the players wearing pink accessories in games, then keep up to 50 percent of the profits from sales of pink gear. They support the troops in big public shows — only after receiving taxpayer money from the Department of Defense to do so. (The league returned the money when it was publicly revealed that they had been paid.)
During every game I’ve watched this week, the announcers have taken special care to praise the league’s charitable decision. Even the most cynical observer has to say that the NFL got things right this time. It’s amazing spin: The league has a terrible policy 16 out of 17 weeks, and we’re praising them for having the bravery to take a neutral stance in the 17th.
Loser: The Dallas Cowboys, in Week 14
Ryan O’Hanlon: Sure, the Giants’ 24–14 loss to the Steelers helped clinch the NFC East for the Cowboys. Eli Manning’s yards per attempt on Sunday made Brock Osweiler look like Steve Young. And the answer to the ever-perplexing “Are the Giants Actually Good?” question appears to be a little closer to “probably not” than it did a week ago.
But we’ve seen this before, haven’t we? Since 2007, the Giants have specialized in doing the exact opposite of that thing we all thought they were supposed to do. They’re currently a game and a half up on Washington in the wild-card standings, and I have no idea if they’re going to make the playoffs — the defense is great, and Olivier Vernon is as terrifying as he was last year, but I mean, what?
Except, the most Giants thing possible would be for them to fall all over themselves and then tumble into a win over what’s supposed to be the one unstoppable force in the NFL. So, congrats to the Cowboys on the first divisional title in two years but future condolences for your first loss in 13 weeks.
Loser: The Jaguars. Always the Jaguars.
Micah Peters: If you’re a Jacksonville Jaguars fan, I’d like to apologize to you. Not that it’s my fault or anything, but I feel like someone should be saying sorry to you.
If my quarterback managed to get himself picked off while trying to get rid of the ball, I’d give up. Not even just on sports — that would be a lock — but probably on life, too. I’d throw my laptop and phone out of the window, leave all my belongings, shave off all my hair, and move to Tibet to live the modest and quiet life of a monk.
But some of you, God bless your hearts, came back to watch the Jaguars lose to the Lions, and again to watch them lose to the Bills. Such is the strength of your devotion that you’ve been watching them lose since mid-October. And today you watched them lose again, 20–10, to the Broncos. Like other losses, this one came largely because of Blake Bortles. And also partly because the universe is indifferent.
You can chalk Allen Robinson’s bobble sitting up perfectly for Chris Harris Jr. to cosmically bad luck. But in the third quarter, Bortles threw a short dart directly into Bradley Roby’s hands, which Roby returned 51 yards for a touchdown.
That was Bortles’s 11th career pick-six, and it’s depressing in three different ways.
- Blake Bortles has now thrown more pick-sixes than anyone ever has through the first three years of his career.
- Blake Bortles now has one more pick-six to his name than he does career wins.
- Blake Bortles will be starting again next week.
If you’re a Jacksonville Jaguars fan, again, I am so sorry.
Loser: The Fade Route, Vol. 4,675,893
O’Hanlon: Kirk Cousins does not like being in the red zone. So, with the ball on the 1-yard line and Washington down 7–3 against Arizona, his coaches presumably wanted to make things easy on their franchise-tagged signal-caller. Coming out of the two-minute warning, they could dial up whatever they wanted: a slant, a handoff to Fat Rob, a quarterback sneak, a revival of Dadaism with a Tebowian jump pass? Instead, they went with a fade to DeSean Jackson, who is 5-foot-10 and was paired up against Patrick Peterson, who is 6-foot-1.
It didn’t work and they settled for a field goal because the only thing worse than a fade route is a fade route to the player tied for third-shortest on your 53-man roster. While we can’t say the Redskins lost the game because of one misguided playcall — the final was 31–23 — we can say we told you so.
Winner: Jeff Fisher (Yes, Really)
Clark: This man got a two-year extension Sunday despite losing 26–10 to New England and failing to locate a key item for an NFL coach:
Winner: Salty Beat Writers
Kelly: The life of an NFL beat reporter can be pretty grueling during the season. There are practices to attend. Features to craft. Travel to accomplish. Hotels to stay in. Games to watch. Interviews to conduct. Recaps to write. Transactions to parse. Unsurprisingly given that heavy load, now that it’s December the first signs of late-season frustration have begun to set in for those covering bad teams. It’s about that time of year when beat guys can no longer handle all of the losing and incompetence and finally start channeling Harry Doyle in Major League.
Reporters covering the 49ers vs. Bears in windy, snowy Chicago were especially excited for a grudge match between two teams with a combined three wins entering Sunday. Particularly when both teams forgot to bring their passing games to the stadium.
Special teams play was equally unimpressive on both sides …
… but then things started to heat up a little bit as the game neared halftime.
Despite the glimmers of hope, there was ultimately nothing good to take away from anything that happened on the field.
For Eagles reporters, looking on the bright might be too tough of an ask.
And, as long as we’re appreciating snarky beat writer comments, we absolutely cannot leave out the GOAT: John McClain, who is not a huge believer in Brock Osweiler.
We can’t blame him.
Winner: Snow Angels
Peters: Midway through the second quarter of the Packers’ 21–13 win over the Texans, Randall Cobb caught a slant for a touchdown, and celebrated by making a snow angel in the Lambeau Field end zone. Cobb wasn’t flagged for excessive celebration — and not because the Packers are the oldest franchise in the league and therefore get preferential treatment, or because the wideout was already on the ground and therefore wasn’t breaking any rules.
Cobb wasn’t flagged because this is an objectively good and pure thing.
Meanwhile, in Chicago’s 26–6 win over San Francisco, 49ers cornerback Dontae Johnson returned a blocked punt for what he thought was a touchdown, and also celebrated by making snow angels in the end zone with his teammate Rashard Robinson. But as Robinson wasn’t the player in possession of the ball, and because two people having fun is too many, the rookie corner was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct. Plus, as it turned out, Johnson stepped out of bounds at the 4-yard line.
So all in all, the 49ers were flagged for celebrating a touchdown that never actually happened, which sums up their 2016 season.
Snow angels are still tight, though.
Lost: Brett Favre
Baumann: Tom Brady recorded his NFL-record 201st career win against the Rams, eliciting praise and congratulations from across the football world, including this heavily branded message from former Falcons and Vikings quarterback Brett Favre.
Judging from the lighting, as well as Favre’s attire and demeanor, if the video ran for longer than 12 seconds, the rest of the message would go a little like this:
“You know, 201 is a special number to me, because it’s the number of days I’ve been lost in the Canadian Rockies without human contact. My days are spent foraging for firewood and setting traps for squirrels and rabbits. My nights are spent huddled in the cold, hoping my will to live flickers out before the last embers of my campfire.
“I have long ago abandoned all hope of rescue. I ask only that you pass on this message to my family, and Mike Holmgren, in the unlikely event that they still remember me. It would bring me some small measure of comfort when I can no longer elude the wolves that pursue me. Thank you, Tom, and congratulations again on the record.”