Ssometimes when watching sports, you witness a play so ridiculous and inexplicable that your brain can’t even process what just happened. Case in point: the bizarre final sequence of the New England Patriots’ 30-24 comeback win against the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday. If ever there was a moment that revealed how the Patriots dynasty was officially in the rearview mirror, we may have just witnessed it.
Officially, the game ended with Raiders defensive end Chandler Jones picking off a lateral throw by Patriots receiver Jakobi Meyers and rumbling into the end zone for the game-winning touchdown. In the official game statistics, it went down as a recovery. But none of this quite captures the chaos that quickly unfolded in the game’s final seconds.
Let’s start with the situation: the clock ran out in a 24-24 game. Normally, the main priority in such a situation is to focus on ball security and not give the other team a small chance to score on a turnover. Maybe you give your quarterback a chance to make a Hail Mary attempt and throw directly to your end zone.
What happened instead was that Patriots running back Rhamondre Stevenson ran for 23 yards before, inexplicably, passing the ball to Meyers. Meyers then threw the ball to… well, he threw the ball, that’s all for sure. He probably tried to find QB Mac Jones, but instead it was ripped out of the air by Jones who — after stiff-arming the New England signal-caller to create an image that will live on in football infamy — took it home. .
“All together, we made too many mistakes,” head coach Bill Belichick said in a tense postgame interview. (Yes, even more tense than usual.)
He wasn’t referring to just that one play, which itself involved several scruples, but to a series of moments scattered throughout the loss that were inexplicable for a team that has built its brand, during Belichick’s long tenure, on mastery of situational football. In the first half, the Pats were able to negate a potential touchdown with a confusing timeout call, effectively icing it. Then, in a sneak peek of things to come, the Raiders blocked a Patriots punt with 35 seconds left in the first half. On the ensuing possession, they quickly scored a touchdown to give them a 17-3 halftime lead.
To be honest, the only reason the Patriots were in a position to win this game at any point was because the Raiders have a bad habit of blowing leads. Up until the final 34 seconds of the game, Las Vegas had allowed 21 unanswered points, and there’s even a compelling argument that Derek Carr’s late touchdown to Keelan Cole should have been ruled out.
In the end it didn’t matter. The Patriots went out of their way to lose this game all by themselves. They are now 7-7, tied with the New York Jets for third place in the AFC. New England isn’t mathematically eliminated from postseason play, but this doesn’t look the least bit like a postseason team, and — for perhaps the first time in the Belichick era — the coaching staff clearly bears much of the blame.
MVP of the week
Josh Allen, QB, Buffalo Bills. The Bills clinched at least a playoff spot Saturday by beating a Miami Dolphins team hoping to keep its AFC East title hopes alive. The Dolphins led by eight points in the fourth quarter before Josh Allen helped his team to a 32-29 comeback victory. In the win, Allen threw for four touchdowns and 304 yards while rushing for another 77.
Video of the week
Yes, it’s Chicago Bears QB Justin Fields making another improbable play. It’s not just that he almost scored a touchdown here, it’s the sheer number of Philadelphia Eagles defenders he was able to avoid along the way. After Sunday’s game, Fields has already rushed for over 1,000 yards on the season, which puts him in the company of Lamar Jackson, Michael Vick … and that’s it.
Fields also had a solid day throwing the ball on Sunday, going 14 for 21 with two touchdowns for 152 total yards. But as it has been all season, his heroics weren’t enough to secure a Bears victory. Now 13-1 the Philadelphia Eagles defeated Chicago 25-20 and now need just one more win to clinch the NFC’s top seed.
Statistics of the week
33 points. It is now officially the largest deficit ever overcome by an NFL team after the Minnesota Vikings’ epic comeback victory over the hapless Indianapolis Colts on Saturday. Yes, this year’s slate of Saturday NFL games began with an instant classic as the Vikings rallied from a 33-0 deficit to win 39-36 in overtime.
With the win, the 11-3 Vikings took the NFC North, but didn’t quite answer the critics. Yes, this is a Minnesota team that has proven capable of overcoming a 33-point deficit, but also one that has proven it can fall by one. It takes more than a little luck to 9-0 in one-score games, as the Vikings have this season, and now they will see if that luck holds true in the playoffs.
For the 4-9-1 Colts, this latest embarrassment feels like the unofficial end of the ill-conceived Jeff Saturday experiment. Of course, this is the team that hired the inexperienced Saturday as head coach in the first place, despite ample warnings that the decision was doomed from the start, so there’s no guarantee.
Quote of the week
“I don’t think I’ve ever been a part of anything like that.” – Atlanta Falcons head coach Arthur Smith on New Orleans Saints receiver Rashid Shaheed’s scary collision with Falcons defensive coordinator Dean Pees
That was another understatement on Smith’s part. Injuries are of course a part of the NFL, but they are less common during warmups and rarely involve the coaching staff in any capacity. In a scary moment, medical staff took Pees, the oldest defensive coordinator in the league, off on a stretcher. He was later treated for injuries and released.
After the Saints’ 21-18 victory, Shaheed commented on the play. “I never saw him,” he said. “I was immediately very concerned. But I was told he’s back from the hospital, he’s healthy and doing well, so I’m grateful for that. … If he sees this, I’m sorry.”
Elsewhere in the league
The New York Jets’ playoff hopes are now in dire straits after their 20-17 loss to the Detroit Lions. Zach Wilson started for New York at quarterback with Mike White not allowed to play. Wilson wasn’t spectacular against the Detroit Lions, but he was able to lead them to a late 17-13 lead. Unfortunately, the Jets defense couldn’t hold on, giving up a 51-yard touchdown on fourth down with less than two minutes remaining. New York was improbably able to give Greg Zuerlein the chance to hit a 48-yard game-winning field goal, but the kicker was unable to convert. Detroit improved their record to 7-7, keeping them alive in the wild-card hunt.
On Sunday, Jacksonville Jaguars safety Rayshawn Jenkins came away with a game-winning pick-six in overtime against the Dallas Cowboys, who won 40-34. With that one game, Jenkins kept the Cowboys from clinching a postseason berth with a win and kept Jacksonville in the playoff hunt.
Key to the Jags’ resurgence has been quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who threw four touchdowns against a legitimate Cowboys defense. Since Week 9, Lawrence has a passer rating of 111.2, the best in the league in that stretch, throwing for 14 touchdowns with just a single interception. Last season, the Jaguars were 3-14, dead last in the division. Jacksonville has already doubled its win total and has a real chance to win the AFC South, especially after the Tennessee Titans’ 17-14 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.
For the second week in a row, the Houston Texans came dangerously close to winning a game against a superior team, forcing the favored Kansas City Chiefs into overtime before their opponents’ inevitable 30-24 victory. The Chiefs took the AFC West with the win, while the loss dropped the Texans’ record to 1-12-1 and moved them one step closer to the first pick in next year’s NFL draft. So in a way they were both winners.