The Jets found a new way to lose, the Giants shocked the Seahawks and the Browns held on for a huge win over the Titans.
Despite starting a backup quarterback, the Giants stunned the Seahawks in Seattle. The Indianapolis Colts held on for a crucial win over the Houston Texans, the Cleveland Browns hung on for a win over the Tennessee Titans and the New Orleans Saints won yet again. But none of Sunday’s games could match the excitement of a wild matchup between the Las Vegas Raiders and the Jets in which Gang Green managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Here’s what we learned:
You don’t get to 0-16 by making good decisions. After a fairly thrilling back-and-forth swing in a game that was expected to be a blowout victory for Las Vegas, the Jets appeared to have the game won. They were leading the Raiders by 28-24 with just 19 seconds remaining and, thanks to that 4-point lead, Las Vegas would need a 46-yard touchdown to win. There has rarely been a more obvious situation for an extreme prevent defense, but the Jets haven’t gone winless this far without a fair amount of questionable decisions.
With Las Vegas throwing deep, the Jets put only three players in coverage — with one defender inexplicably left as a spy in case quarterback Derek Carr tried to run. Cornerback Lamar Jackson tried to stick with rookie wide receiver Henry Ruggs III in man coverage, got beaten badly with a double move, and let the outrageously fast Ruggs run right past him for what ended up being a 46-yard touchdown pass and a 31-28 win for the Raiders.
The Jets became just the 12th team to start a season 0-12 and are well on their way to joining the 1960 Dallas Cowboys (0-11-1), the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-14), the 2008 Detroit Lions (0-16) and the 2017 Cleveland Browns (0-16) as the only N.F.L. teams since 1944 to go winless for an entire season not shortened by a strike. To avoid that fate, the Jets will need a win against one of four fairly good teams: the Seahawks, the Rams, the Browns and the Patriots.
Derek Carr’s game-winning 46-yard TD pass to Henry Ruggs traveled 53.9 yards of air distance, Carr’s 2nd-longest completion this season.
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) December 6, 2020
The Seahawks should be incredibly concerned. The Giants deserve plenty of credit for beating the Seahawks, who were favored by double-digits at home. But while the win could very likely be what propels the Giants to a division title in the N.F.C. East, the implications may be just as great for the Seahawks, who view themselves as Super Bowl contenders but couldn’t handle a team starting backups at quarterback (Colt McCoy) and running back (Wayne Gallman). Thanks to the Rams’ 38-28 win over Arizona, Seattle is once again tied for the division lead in the N.F.C. West. And while games against the Jets and Washington in the next two weeks seem extremely winnable, the Seahawks will face fairly stiff challenges from the Rams and the 49ers in the final two weeks of the season that could decide who wins the ultra-competitive division.
Nothing erases a mistake quite like a safety. The Colts were clinging to a 4-point lead over the Texans in the fourth quarter when they turned the ball over on downs at Houston’s 5-yard line. The game seemed to be slipping away from Indianapolis, but DeForest Buckner of the Colts sacked Houston’s Deshaun Watson for a 1-yard loss and two plays later linebacker Justin Houston burst into the backfield to sack Watson for a safety. That increased the Colts’ lead to 6 points and gave the Colts the ball back. Indianapolis held on for a 26-20 victory.
The Vikings, meanwhile, were leading the Jaguars by 19-16 in the fourth quarter when quarterback Kirk Cousins fumbled at Jacksonville’s 4-yard line. On the third play of Jacksonville’s ensuing drive, Minnesota defensive ends Ifeadi Odenigbo and Jordan Brailford wrapped up Mike Glennon for a safety that extended the Vikings’ lead to 5 points. Minnesota needed overtime to hang on for a 27-24 victory, but they never would have made it that far without the safety.
Baker Mayfield is confusing. Mayfield has been wildly inconsistent this season, disappearing in some games and thriving in others. He exploded for 334 yards passing and four touchdowns in a 41-35 win on the road over the heavily favored Tennessee Titans on Sunday. But even in what amounts to Cleveland’s most impressive win of a 9-3 season, Mayfield was confounding at best. All four of his touchdowns came in a shocking first half in which Cleveland took a 38-7 lead before the Browns were outplayed by the Titans and outscored by 32-3 in the second half. Cleveland has its best 12-game start since 1994, but the Browns seemingly have no idea what they can expect from Mayfield once the playoffs roll around.
The Saints barely miss a beat without Drew Brees. There is no question that New Orleans has a more prolific offense with Brees under center, but the team has become far less dependent on the future Hall of Famer over the last two seasons. From 2006, his first year with the Saints, to 2018, Brees missed just three starts and the Saints lost all three games. Over the last two seasons, Brees has missed eight starts — and counting — and New Orleans is 8-0 in those games. Teddy Bridgewater went 5-0 as a fill-in last year and Taysom Hill, who threw for 232 yards and ran for 83 in a 21-16 win over Atlanta on Sunday, is 3-0 this season.
A new coach can be a wonderful thing. In their first game under interim head coach Darrell Bevell, the Detroit Lions faced the fairly stout Chicago Bears’ defense and came away with a 34-30 win on the road that included a season-best 460 yards of total offense. Quarterback Matthew Stafford threw for 402 yards and three touchdowns, and in the final two minutes led his fourth game-winning drive of the season and the 38th of his career. The win gave Detroit some revenge for an epic collapse against Chicago in Week 1, but the Lions are likely to get a much stiffer test from Green Bay next week.
The Patriots can beat you in multiple ways. New England has won four out of its last five games after romping to a 45-0 win over the Los Angeles Chargers (3-9). In doing so, the Patriots proved how many different things they can do well. Cam Newton rushed for 48 yards and two touchdowns; he and backup quarterback Jarrett Stidham each threw a touchdown pass and New England got two touchdowns in the second quarter from its special teams units — Gunner Olszewski scored on a 70-yard punt return and Devin McCourty recovered a blocked field goal and returned it 44 yards for another score. The Patriots (6-6) still have a lot of work to do if they want to make the playoffs, but the Chargers’ hopes are officially squandered: Sunday’s loss eliminated them from postseason contention.