LOS ANGELES, December 16, 2014 — With Hanukkah starting on December 16 and rolling right into Christmas, many teams want various presents. The worst teams will be given the unfortunate gift of being home with their families rather than playing into January. Some of them will be without coaches once the clock strikes 2015. In a year where five teams came into the week at 2-11, the ultimate lump of coal would be to have a lousy year and still not get a top draft pick. The Cardinals need a quarterback. The Raiders and Jaguars need everything on offense except a quarterback. The Titans need virtually everything. So grab your egg nog and your latkes and let’s get down to some football. Here are the NFL 2014 Week 15 lessons learned and not learned.
Arizona Cardinals 12, St. Louis Rams 6 — San Francisco and Seattle get all the attention, but the entire NFC West is about nasty, physical defenses. Bruce Arians and Jeff Fisher both bought the heat, resulting in an old-school bare-fisted slobberknocker without a touchdown. With six minutes left in the game, the Rams trailed 12-3 and faced fourth and goal at the one. Fisher decided to kick the field goal and trust his defense. With 90 seconds left the Rams faced fourth and three at the Arizona 43. Shaun Hill threw incomplete. The Rams got it back with 18 seconds left but Hill was intercepted on the final play by Patrick Peterson. While the Cardinals maintained the top record in the NFC, they lost Drew Stanton and are now down to their third string quarterback.
Pittsburgh Steelers 27, Atlanta Falcons 20 — William Gay returned an interception of Matt Ryan 52 yards for a touchdown as the Steelers jumped to a 13-0 lead they never relinquished. LeVeon Bell ran for a pair of touchdowns, the latter of which put the Steelers up 27-13 in the fourth quarter. Ben Roethlisberger finished 27 of 35 with 360 yards passing as the Steelers remained in contention for the AFC North Crown.
Baltimore Ravens 20, Jacksonville Jaguars 12 — A blocked punt for a touchdown got the Ravens on the board first, but four Josh Scobee field goals had Jacksonville up 12-10 at halftime. Once again the Jaguars played tough, but could not mount offense in the second half. Joe Flacco threw a three-yard touchdown pass to Owen Daniels and Justin Tucker tacked on a field goal late as the Ravens got to 9-5 in the ultra-competitive AFC North.
Buffalo Bills 21, Green Bay Packers 13 — The Bills returned a punt for a touchdown and Dan Carpenter added four field goals as Buffalo broke open a 10-10 game at the half. Down 19-13, the Packers saw the game slip away when Aaron Rodgers was sacked and fumbled for a safety. Buffalo at 8-6 stayed alive in the playoff race while the Packers at 10-4 fell one game back in the race for home field advantage.
Carolina Panthers 19, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 17 — With Cam Newton nursing injuries sustained in a car crash, Derek Anderson filled in well in going 25 of 40 for 277 yards and one touchdown pass. Trailing 10-9 at halftime, Anderson’s two-yard touchdown pass to Jerricho Cotchery and Graham Gano’s fourth field goal were enough for the win. The Buccaneers got within a deuce with three minutes to play and got the ball back 90 yards away with only 23 seconds left. Josh McCown was intercepted.
Cincinnati Bengals 30, Cleveland Browns 0 — Bryan Hoyer got the Browns to a 7-4 start, but consecutive losses led to Mike Pettine risking the entire season by allowing Johnny Manziel to start. Manuel was miserable, throwing for only 80 yards with two interceptions. The Bengals asked the Browns defense for 244 yards rushing. The star rookie in this game was Jeremy Hill, who rushed for 148 yards and a pair of touchdowns in a game that was over by halftime with the Bengals up 20-0. The Bengals moved one step closer to clinching their division while the Browns are on the brink of elimination.
Indianapolis Colts 17, Houston Texans 10 — Every week Andrew Luck seems to get off to a slow start. This week he had an interception returned 27 yards for a Houston touchdown. Luck rebounded in the second quarter with a pair of touchdown passes. With the Colts leading 14-7 at halftime, the second half was a defensive slog. With 90 seconds left, Houston’s third string quarterback was intercepted as the Colts hung on for another ugly win.
Kansas City Chiefs 31, Oakland Raiders 13 — The Chiefs returned a punt 81 yards for a touchdown early but only led 10-6 in the third quarter. As with so many Raiders games, the defense played well, the offense did nothing, and the defense finally broke. Alex Smith threw a pair of touchdown passes in a 21-point third quarter that turned a close game into a 31-6 Chiefs blowout. Derek Carr threw 56 passes, completing only 27 for 222 yards and the late garbage touchdown the team normally gets. The Chiefs at 8-6 kept their playoff hopes alive.
New England Patriots 41, Miami Dolphins 13 — Miami actually outplayed New England in the first half but two breakdowns killed them. The Patriots returned a blocked field goal 62 yards for one touchdown and returned an interception of Ryan Tannehill 60 yards to set up another score and lead 14-13 at halftime. The Patriots exploded with 24 points in the third quarter as Tom Brady threw a pair of touchdown passes. The Patriots at 11-3 are on track for home field throughout the playoffs while the Dolphins at 7-7 are all but eliminated in what could be the end of the Joe Philbin era.
New York Giants 24, Washington 13 — Colt McCoy got injured early on and Robert Griffin III played the rest. Griffin was not bad, going 18 for 27 for 236 yards and one touchdown pass without an interception. However. Griffin’s one mistake killed Washington. On third and goal from the eight with and leading 10-7, RGIII scrambled on the last play of the half and initially appeared to score a touchdown. Upon further review, it was ruled that RGIII fumbled at the one yard line. The ball went out of the end zone for a touchback. Eli Manning was better, going 23 of 34 for 250 yards and three touchdown passes to phenom O’Dell Beckham without an interception. Although the Giants trailed 13-10 in the third quarter, Manning’s last two hookups with Beckham were the difference.
Denver Broncos 22, San Diego Chargers 10 — Connor Barth made his three first half field goals for the Broncos. Nick Novak made one but had another kick blocked and a third try doink off the upright no good as the Chargers trailed 9-3 in the third quarter. The Broncos finally cracked the end zone as Peyton Manning threw a 28-yard touchdown pass to Denarius Thomas to make it 16-3 Broncos. After San Diego got within 16-10, Barth hit his fourth and fifth field goals from 49 yards and 50 yards out to put the game out of reach. Denver at 11-3 won its fourth straight AFC West title and still has a shot at home field throughout the playoffs. The Chargers are now 8-6 as consecutive home losses to New England and Denver shows the Chargers to be playoff tomato cans if they even get in.
New York Jets 16, Tennessee Titans 11 — A pair of 2-11 teams played because league ruled would not allow this hideous offering to be canceled. Jake Locker and Charlie Whitehorse were awful while Geno Smith gave up a safety. In the third quarter Smith did throw a touchdown pass while Ryan Succop hit two of his three field goals as the Titans led 11-10 after three quarters of the stupor bowl. Chris Ivory ran it in from one yard out with 3:15 to play to give the Jets the win. The Titans almost pulled off a repeat of their 1999 Music City Miracle, but the laterals on the final play of the game got stopped inside the Jets ten yard line.
Detroit Lions 16, Minnesota Vikings 14 — Minnesota jumped to a 14-0 lead but a pair of Teddy Bridgewater interceptions gift-wrapped the Lions ten points. Leading 14-13 midway through the fourth quarter, Blair Walsh had a 26-yard field goal try blocked. With 3:45 to play Matt Prater hit from 33 to give the Lions the lead. Just before the two-minute warning Minnesota faced third and four at the Detroit 45. Bridgewater threw incomplete twice. Minnesota got it back at their own 30 with 45 seconds to play. From midfield, Mike Zimmer decided to bring Walsh in for a 68-yard field goal try rather than go with the Hail Mary. An ending to be talked about forever did not happen as the kick was no good. The Lions at 10-4 are tied for the NFC North lead.
Seattle Seahawks 17, San Francisco 49ers 7 — This was the game where the Seahawks would either permanently wreck the 49ers or San Francisco would rise from the ashes. The defenses were as nasty as ever as the 49ers led 7-3 at halftime. In the second half the Legion of Boom shut down the 49ers. Marshawn Lynch ran for a five-yard touchdown in the third quarter and Russell Wilson threw a ten-yard fourth quarter touchdown to drop the 49ers to 7-7, knock them out of playoff contention, and perhaps end the Jim Harbaugh era in San Francisco. Seattle at 10-4 is still one game back in the brutal NFC West.
Dallas Cowboys 38, Philadelphia Eagles 27 — On Thanksgiving, the Eagles went into Dallas and walloped the Cowboys 33-10. The Sunday night game rematch between these 9-4 teams was a wild one that brought action from the opening kickoff. A short kick was fielded by nobody, allowing Dallas to fall on it at the Philadelphia 17. DeMarco Murray scored from one yards out and Romo threw a pair of touchdown passes to Dez Bryant as the Cowboys led 21-0 in the second quarter. The Eagles rallied back on the ground as a pair of rushing touchdowns by Chris Parkey had the Eagles up 24-21 in the third quarter. Momentum swung again as Murray scored his second rushing touchdown and Romo connected with Bryant for the third time in powering Dallas to a 35—24 lead early in the fourth quarter. After the Eagles got within eight points, Dan Bailey made a critical 49-yard field goal to get the Dallas lead back to 11 points with 4 1/2 minutes left.
New Orleans Saints 31, Chicago Bears 15 — The Monday night game saw the lifeless Bears play like themselves. Drew Brees finished 29 of 36 for 375 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions. Jay Cutler completed another three passes to the opposing defense. Brees hit Josh Hill for a pair of touchdown passes sandwiched around a touchdown toss to Marques Colston as a scoreless game after one quarter became a 24-0 Saints lead after three quarters. The 6-8 Saints lead the NFC South while the Marc Trestman era may end in a couple weeks.