Every week of the 2022 NFL season, we will celebrate the electric plays, investigate the colossal blunders, and explain the inexplicable moments of the most recent slate. Welcome to Winners and Losers. Which one are you?
Winner: Going for the Win
NFL coaches are historically risk-averse. They like deflecting answers in postgame press conferences and hiring their direct blood relatives to important assistant jobs. If NFL coaches had one shot, one opportunity, to seize everything they’ve ever wanted in one moment … they’d probably punt and see whether their defense could hold up.
Take, for example, the win-or-overtime PAT decision. The scenario is like this: When a team scores a touchdown to bring the score to within one point in the closing seconds of a game, the coach has two choices: He can either elect to kick an extra point to tie the game, then try to win while navigating the NFL’s massively complicated modified sudden-death overtime period, or he’ll try for a two-point conversion to take the lead and win the game on one play in regulation.
As a normal person, the answer is easy: Go for the win! Hell yes! Go for it! Let’s win this damn game right here and right now! Take your best play and win it! I’m getting fired up just thinking about it! But for most of football history, teams have gone for the kick. According to TruMedia, 71 teams faced this decision between 2000 and 2015; only six of them went for the win, while 65 chose the extra point.
This very scenario happened twice on Sunday. First up, the Jaguars: Perhaps they wanted to ride the hot hand of Trevor Lawrence, who made stunning throw after stunning throw on a 75-yard touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter against the Ravens. Or perhaps they were inspired by the throw-caution-to-the-wind attitude of mascot Jaxson de Ville, who showed up to the game wearing less clothing than any mascot in NFL history. (It’s an unofficial record.) The Jags trailed by one point after Lawrence’s TD pass to Marvin Jones Jr. Instead of kicking the extra point, Doug Pederson sent Lawrence back on the field and called a quick out to Zay Jones, who caught the game-winning conversion:
(The Ravens almost ruined things for Jacksonville, but Justin Tucker’s 67-yard game-winning field goal attempt as time expired—which would have broken his own NFL record for distance—landed in the end zone. He can miss.)
Later, the Chargers faced the same decision against the Cardinals, and Justin Herbert hit Gerald Everett on an angle route for the win:
According to the NFL, it’s the first time in history that two teams have pulled off go-ahead, game-winning two-point conversions in the same week; nobody had won with a last-minute two-pointer since 2020.
The flip toward the two-point conversion began in 2016, when four teams attempted two-pointers while just one kicked the extra point. The likely impetus was the rule change which pushed the extra point back to the 15-yard line, turning the near-automatic kick to a situation in which kickers sometimes miss. Since 2016, teams have faced this scenario 35 times: They’ve kicked 18 extra points and tried 17 two-point conversions. (The PAT hasn’t been moved back in college, but teams are still going for two and the win, like LSU against Alabama in Death Valley earlier this month.)
Sunday’s decisions to go for two will probably be discussed as “analytics.” But really, it’s not: Since 2000, teams have made 47.8 percent of two-point conversion tries, while kickers are hitting 94.1 percent of extra point attempts this year. At best, there’s a slight advantage to going for two, but not enough for a definitive answer. Teams should make the decision based on logic. Are you a big underdog? Don’t play for an extra 10 minutes, try to win the game now. Is this your only touchdown of the game? Well, you’re probably not doing too hot on offense, so let your defense win the game in OT. It won’t always work: Before Sunday, teams were 6-for-15 in this scenario since 2016. The Ravens went for two in this scenario twice last year, failed both times, lost both games, then missed the playoffs by 1.5 games.
In this imperfect scenario, there are no right answers. You might even screw up for the wrong reasons. You might kick the safe game-tying extra point and miss, like the Saints after their multi-lateral miracle in 2003. You might get the go-ahead two-point conversion and allow a game-losing field goal, like the Lions against the Vikings last year. Sunday seemed like a great argument for the two-point conversion, but the Browns kicked an extra point to force OT and won there against the Bucs.
I don’t endorse the game-winning two-point conversion because it’s the smart thing to do. I endorse it because I want to see teams give it their best shot and see what happens. There’s one choice which delays the answer and one which makes memories in one moment. Go for it. Go for it, not because it’s easy, but because it rules.
Winner: The Legend of Mike White
When the Jets benched Zach Wilson earlier this week, they made the peculiar decision of bumping him all the way down the depth chart to QB3. He did not rep with the 2s in practice; instead he ran the scout team. Joe Flacco was the backup on Sunday against Chicago; Wilson was inactive despite being healthy. Maybe the Jets coaching staff just wanted Wilson to fully soak in how much happier everybody on the team was with Mike White at quarterback.
White played excellently in a 31-10 Jets win over the Bears, even though it was pouring rain for the entire game. It was a complete reversal from the Jets’ offensive performance last week, when New York scored three points against the Patriots with Wilson under center. To be fair, that was the Patriots, who ranked first in defensive expected points added per game through 11 weeks, and this was the Bears, who ranked 28th in the same stat. But in his first start of the year, White did a bunch of things that Wilson has never done in the NFL. White threw for three touchdowns, which Wilson has not done in his career. He averaged more than 11 yards per attempt and completed more than 75 percent of his passes, neither of which Wilson has ever done with the Jets. The Jets had a season-high 466 yards of offense, more than they’ve produced in any game Wilson has started. White has now thrown for at least 300 yards in two of his four career starts; Wilson’s done it only once in 20. Young wide receivers Garrett Wilson and Elijah Moore both had their best games in weeks, even though they’ve been practicing and playing far more with Wilson than White.
Wilson was the no. 2 pick in the NFL draft, while White was a fifth-rounder who lost the battle to be the Dallas Cowboys’ third-stringer in 2019 to Clayton Thorson. And yet it feels almost indisputable that White is a more effective QB than Wilson. Wilson may have athletic potential, but he makes bad decisions, misses easy throws, and doesn’t seem to be popular among his teammates. They like Mike White! He actually throws footballs that they can catch.
There’s a chance that this is fluky: White threw for 405 yards and three touchdowns in a stunning win over the Bengals last season, making NFL fans wonder whether the Jets had found a superstar in the rough. Two weeks later, though, he threw four interceptions to the Bills. But if White can be a quarterback who sometimes looks brilliant and sometimes looks awful, that’s a big step up for the Jets. Previously they had a QB who sometimes looked awful and never looked brilliant.
Loser: Russell Wilson
I’m sure there are dozens, if not hundreds, of people on the planet who still like and respect Russell Wilson. He has a lovely family and perhaps at least one friend. But the number of people who like and respect Russell Wilson and are employed by NFL teams seems to be dwindling with each week. Sunday, Wilson’s Broncos lost 23-10 to the lame-duck Panthers, falling to 3-8 on the season as the offense put up a season-low 246 total yards. Wilson got yelled at by Denver defensive tackle Mike Purcell, who was apparently fed up with playing for a team with the no. 3 defense and the no. 32 offense in the NFL:
Denver D appears to be rightfully getting pissed at Russell Wilson after another inept offensive performance:pic.twitter.com/6BzaUI36FJ— Sam Monson (@PFF_Sam) November 27, 2022
Wilson also got mocked by Panthers defensive end Brian Burns, who celebrated one of his two sacks with an impression of Wilson’s pregame routine:
The laughter and disappointment feel deserved. The Broncos spent most of the game trailing by double digits, and as such threw the ball a lot. And yet Wilson turned 40 dropbacks into just 125 net passing yards and a brutal 3.57 net yards per attempt, the sixth-worst performance by any team this season. Denver’s only touchdown and 61 of Wilson’s passing yards came on the team’s final possession of the game, which was extended by a roughing-the-passer penalty against the Panthers on a fourth-and-goal from the 18-yard line. Running back Latavius Murray averaged over 7 yards per carry, meaning his average rushing attempt was twice as successful as the Broncos’ average dropback. (It’s supposed to be closer to the opposite.)
The easiest person to blame for the Broncos’ ineptitude is probably Nathaniel Hackett, who has never been a head coach before and has a spotty record of success in his career as an offensive coordinator. (The Jaguars finished 31st in scoring in Hackett’s final season in Jacksonville, among other less-than-stellar seasons with the Bills and the Syracuse Orange.) But axing Hackett is the easy fix: Whenever the team decides to move on, Broncos owner Rob Walton can just write him a check to go away—which is easy, since Walton is one of the 20 richest humans on the planet.
But what if the real problem is Wilson? The guy leading the worst offense in the league, whose teammates don’t respect him and whose opponents don’t fear him? That’s the bigger issue: Wilson’s salaries are guaranteed through 2024 and the Broncos will take salary cap charges from his prorated bonuses through 2028. The Broncos better hope Wilson gives people a reason to like him again.
Winner: The Eagles’ Run Game
You might not have noticed it, but the Eagles completely humiliated the Packers on Sunday Night Football. It didn’t really seem like a humiliation, because the final score was 40-33—close! It didn’t really seem like a humiliation, because the announcers spent a lot of time talking about Jordan Love’s relief performance after Aaron Rodgers left the game with injury—nice touchdown! It didn’t really seem like a humiliation, because the Eagles offense was short on highlights—there were no 90-yard scores, no memeable stiff-arms, no Beast Mode–style runs. But the Eagles ran for 363 yards Sunday night, and holy crap, that is a humiliation: 363 rushing yards is by far the most of any team this season, and the eighth most by any team in the Super Bowl era.
Normally, when a team does this, they have a few plays where they just got behind the defense and kept going—for example, when the Bengals had 407 yards in 2000, they scored touchdowns of 77, 65, and 41 yards. That didn’t happen for the Eagles on Sunday night. Their longest run was 42 yards, and it wasn’t even a touchdown. They just gained yards so frequently, so consistently, that it wound up as one of the most productive nights in league history.
The Eagles’ most successful rusher was quarterback Jalen Hurts, who didn’t actually run for any touchdowns. Hurts rushed for 157 yards, the fourth most by a quarterback in league history. (Would’ve been the third most until a few weeks ago, if not for Justin Fields.) He looked faster than anybody on the Packers defense while also running through tackles like a power back. Sometimes he got loose on designed runs; sometimes he did it on scrambles.
And honestly, the fact that it didn’t look humiliating should be what scares opponents. There were no flukes here—the Packers didn’t have any defensive line injuries, there were no busts, there weren’t any gimmicks or tricks. The Eagles just ran the ball behind the best offensive line in the NFL for 60 minutes, and kept running until the final whistle.
Winner: The Las Vegas Regressors
The Raiders have been roughly as good as every single opponent they’ve faced. They lost by one point to the Chiefs, who have one of the best offenses in NFL history this year; they also lost by one score to the Colts the week after Indianapolis fired head coach Frank Reich and replaced him with former high school coach Jeff Saturday. They lost to the Cardinals in overtime on a fumble that was returned for a touchdown; to the Titans because of a failed two-point conversion; and to the Jaguars after a fourth-quarter comeback. The Raiders were 2-7 with six one-score losses; they had a bad record and worse luck.
The Raiders are still roughly as good as their opponents they’ve faced—but in the past two weeks, they’ve managed to win. Last week, they beat the Broncos 30-24 on a beautiful walk-off touchdown by Davante Adams. This week, they got to overtime against the Seahawks and walked it off again with an 86-yard touchdown run by Josh Jacobs. (I guess it’s more like a run-off touchdown when it comes from the other side of the field.)
The Raiders are the first team to win on back-to-back overtime touchdowns since 2017, when the Packers did it. Incidentally, one of those touchdowns was also caught by Adams … but you’d probably be surprised to hear that it was thrown by Brett Hundley in the middle of a 7-9 season. See, teams that win a lot of close games are playing a lot of close games, like the Raiders have been all season long. It’s just that back in September, they were coming up one play short and losing. Now they’re making game-winning plays and celebrating. The Raiders aren’t much better now than they were at the start of the year—but the vibes sure are!
Loser: The NFL’s Broadcast Rules (Again)
I’m gonna be honest: I’m not exactly sure how the Raiders got to the point where they beat the Seahawks in overtime. I was able to watch most of the important plays leading up to overtime on NFL RedZone, but at a certain point, RedZone had to go off the air: According to the league’s broadcast agreements, RedZone only operates when there are multiple games to whip around to, so when there’s only one game left in the NFL’s late afternoon window, Scott Hanson signs off. Normally, the last game remaining is one of the national broadcast games which begin at 4:25 p.m. ET.
However, the high-scoring, pass-heavy Raiders-Seahawks game outlasted all the other games on the schedule. Hanson told viewers to switch to CBS—but CBS was only showing Raiders-Seahawks in limited local markets. So when I switched to CBS, I got 60 Minutes. To be fair, 60 Minutes was showing a charming Anderson Cooper segment on scientists studying the evolution of dogs, which I gleefully watched. (There were wolf puppies! Wolf! Puppies!) But the NFL probably shouldn’t be sending viewers who want to watch football over to channels that aren’t showing football, just in case they see adorable wolf puppies and never turn back to football.
Hanson explained what happened—I got the sense he was genuinely disappointed to have sent television viewers to a channel showing something besides football—but once again, the issue is the league’s strange broadcast rules. I somewhat get the idea that local markets must show local games, even if it means cutting away from a more exciting out-of-market game. But who benefits from making it nearly impossible to watch a thriller like Raiders-Seahawks?
Winner: Jacoby Brissett
By definition, the life of an NFL backup involves waiting around for something bad to happen to a player ahead of you—but even by backup standards, Jacoby Brissett’s career has been weirder than most. He got his first career action during Tom Brady’s Deflategate suspension. He got a full season as QB1 with the Colts when Andrew Luck suddenly retired a few weeks before the start of the season. And this year, he’s been the starter for the Browns during the 11-game suspension of Deshaun Watson, who more than two dozen women say has committed sexual assault and misconduct and is being punished by the league for violating its personal conduct policy.
In his final game before Watson returns, Brissett helped lead the Browns to a thrilling overtime win over Brady’s Buccaneers. On a first-quarter reverse, Brissett took his role as lead blocker seriously, sending Tampa Bay safety Antoine Winfield Jr. into the dirt with a pancake block:
On fourth down with 32 seconds left in regulation, Brissett threw a game-tying touchdown to David Njoku. (Although Njoku’s catch was much more impressive than Brissett’s throw.)
The Browns won in overtime. According to CBS, it was the first time Brady lost a game that his team had led by seven with under two minutes to go in his infinitely long career. Brissett couldn’t quite get the Browns into playoff position (and it’s not his fault that Cleveland’s defense ranks 29th in EPA per game), but clearly showed himself to be a starting-caliber quarterback during the past 12 weeks: Among qualifying QBs, Brissett ranks 16th in yards per attempt, tied for 17th in TD-interception ratio, and seventh in EPA per snap. He’s solidified his place on the all-time interception rate leaderboard—he’s no. 2, between Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes. He’s far from elite, but there are clearly quite a few worse QBs starting in the league.
Cleveland’s wins with Brissett under center were triumphs for an overlooked QB who is universally beloved around the NFL—Browns teammates have literally been quoted as saying “everybody loves him.” They’re about to replace him with a man who many women describe as a sexual predator, whose suspension was widely criticized for not being long enough, whose return to the field will likely make the Browns one of the more hated teams in the NFL. Even if they play better, the Browns’ wins won’t feel this good again.
Loser: Team Totals
There are so many ways to lose money betting on sports! You don’t just have to bet on who will win the game—you can bet on the spread, or the total, or a specific player’s rushing yard props! You can even bet on team totals! That’s the amount of points the sportsbooks expect one specific team to score in one game. It can be a smart bet if you feel confident about one specific team’s offense against one specific team’s defense. And if you did that Sunday, you might have suffered excruciating losses.
Loss no. 1: The Dolphins’ team total was 30.5 points. In the first half against the Texans, they took a 30-0 lead. Then they pulled their starters with about 20 minutes to go, letting seventh-round pick Skylar Thompson go 1-for-5 passing for 6 yards. Miami finished with 30 points. They’re the first team to score at least 30 first-half points and exactly zero second-half points since 2018. My apologies to my one coworker who clearly bet on this.
Loss no. 2 was even more gruesome. The Bengals’ team total was 20.5, and they would’ve hit it if it weren’t for a meddling obscure penalty call. Yes, the Titans got flagged for unnecessary roughness for an illegal block on the Bengals’ long snapper, meaning Cincinnati no longer needed to attempt a field goal late in the fourth quarter. The Bengals got a first down and could simply take a knee to run out the clock. The penalty call also meant the Titans wouldn’t have a chance to go on a potential game-tying touchdown drive, but I think the obscure bad beat is more important:
The Bengals team total was 20.5.— Action Network (@ActionNetworkHQ) November 27, 2022
This FG to go over the TT was taken off the board after a personal foul penalty from the Titans.
Cincinnati would then run out the clock pic.twitter.com/yy5kgVxMoq
Losing a bet on a game-winning field goal is for normies. Losing a bet on a nullified field goal because you sought out an alternate line you had to dig in a sportsbook to find? That’s the really bad stuff.
Loser: The Houston Texans
I wonder whether this was attempted trolling. In Sunday afternoon’s loss to the Miami Dolphins, the Texans ran a trick play on a two-point conversion attempt for Laremy Tunsil, giving the stellar left tackle the first target of his career against the team that had traded him away in 2019.
Unfortunately, the play didn’t work for a few reasons: Tunsil dropped the pass, and the Texans were already losing massively, and of course, the Tunsil trade has spurred the Dolphins to a likely playoff berth.
The Tunsil trade has become a part of Dolphins lore. Miami took the draft picks it got from Houston for Tunsil, turned them into more draft picks, turned those into more draft picks, and eventually wound up with Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle, Bradley Chubb, and Jevon Holland.
On Sunday, Hill and Waddle had 85 receiving yards each, with Hill retaking the NFL’s lead in receiving yards; as it turns out, both are better at catching the ball than Tunsil. Tunsil did eventually get his hands on the ball … after Chubb made a phenomenal strip-sack:
here’s the bradley chubb forced fumble pic.twitter.com/Neekue0YVV— josh houtz (@houtz) November 27, 2022
The Dolphins pulled their starters with about 20 minutes remaining in the game, and didn’t really have to worry about the hapless Texans coming back. Although they cut the final margin of defeat in half from 30-0 to 30-15, it was always clear who was going to win. And although Tunsil is the top-rated pass blocker on Pro Football Focus, his job is blocking for Kyle Allen and Davis Mills. Which, like, why bother? The Texans are far and away the worst team in the NFL, with a 1-9-1 record and a minus-86 scoring margin. While the Texans tried drawing attention to Tunsil, the Dolphins ended up pulling the players they got as a result of the Tunsil trade early because they were winning by so much—which I guess is the ultimate troll.