Week 14 of the 2015 NFL season saw a pair of MVP candidates stay red hot, an emerging defensive terror put on a sack showcase and a handful of sophomore quarterbacks lead their teams to wins.
Sunday also gave us ugly blowouts in Jacksonville and Cleveland, another difficult day for Dez in Green Bay and more missed opportunities in the Windy City.
Here is the rest of the best and worst from Week 14:
Cam Newton/Russell Wilson
The two hottest quarterbacks in football combined for eight more touchdown passes on Sunday. Newton threw three scores—including two long connections with Ted Ginn—as the Panthers rolled the Falcons, while Wilson tossed five (for the second time in three weeks) as the Seahawks blew out the Ravens.
Over the last four weeks, Newton (13) and Wilson (16) have thrown 29 touchdown passes against just one interception. Not surprisingly, Carolina and Seattle are both 4-0 during that stretch. Newton is still the clear-cut MVP, but Wilson—who became the first quarterback ever to complete 70 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and zero interceptions in four straight games—continues to build his case every single week.
LB Khalil Mack, Oakland Raiders
Mack became the 14th player ever and the first since Aldon Smith in 2012 to produce a single game with 5.0 or more sacks. Four of his five sacks came in the second half, as the Raiders rallied from a 12-0 deficit to beat the Denver Broncos by a field goal. Mack’s sack of Brock Osweiler in the third quarter created a safety.
After 13 games, the fifth overall pick in last year’s draft leads the NFL in sacks with 14.0. Sunday’s performance should finally garner him the kind of recognition he deserves. Few defensive players in the game are at his level.
Packers Running Game
The Packers stagnant offense came to life on Sunday, using a change in play-caller and a commitment to the run game to power a 28-7 win over the Dallas Cowboys at a rain-soaked Lambeau Field. Head coach Mike McCarthy took back play-calling duties and fed the football to his running backs, giving Eddie Lacy and James Starks 35 combined carries. The duo produced 195 rushing yards and two touchdowns, while adding 56 receiving yards and a third score as receivers. Overall, the Packers rushed for 230 yards—the team’s most since 2004.
There are still issues for the Green Bay offense—such as getting open against any kind of man coverage—but Sunday’s revival on the ground was a big step in the right direction. Running the football is important for winning in December and January.
Five of the quarterbacks selected in the 2014 draft played leading roles in Week 14. Blake Bortles (No. 3 overall pick) threw three touchdowns and ran for another in Jacksonville’s 51-16 rout of the Colts, Johnny Manziel (22) overcame a bad interception to help lead the Browns to a 24-10 win, Teddy Bridgewater (32) had the finest game of his 2015 season with a career-high 335 passing yards in Arizona, Derek Carr (36) tossed the game-winning touchdown to complete the Raiders’ comeback, and AJ McCarron (164) threw his first two career touchdown passes after relieving Andy Dalton in Cincinnati.
This has been a highly discussed crop of quarterbacks, but it’s comforting to see some of them play well late in their sophomore seasons. The NFL needs better play at the position across the board. These youngsters are a huge part of the future.
QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, New York Jets
It’s time to give New York’s bearded quarterback some well-deserved love. Over the last three games (all Jets wins), Fitzpatrick has thrown nine touchdown passes and zero interceptions, with a passer rating over 110.0. He’s averaging 310 passing yards over the stretch, while the Jets are scoring a shade over 30 points per game.
His 263 passing yards and three touchdowns on Sunday helped the Jets blow out the Titans. Here’s a fun fact for you: Fitzpatrick now has six games this season with a passer rating over 100.0, which is more than Drew Brees (five) and Aaron Rodgers (four). Not bad.
The Colts’ snapped their 16-game winning streak inside the AFC South in the most AFC South-way possible. Indianapolis gave up 42 points in the second half and 51 total to the Jaguars, who set a new franchise record for points scored in a regular season game.
Now 6-7, Colts produced two turnovers, committed 85 yards worth of penalties, failed to score a touchdown on three red zone trips and allowed both a defensive and special teams score. As a result, the 5-8 Jaguars now have a legitimate chance at winning the division.
WR Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys
Maybe no player in the NFL hates playing at Lambeau Field more than Bryant. Almost a year after his near-touchdown was taken away via replay during Dallas’ Divisional Round loss to the Packers, Bryant caught just one of six targets for nine yards as the punchless Cowboys scored only seven points.
A harsh grader would have credited him with three drops, including one on another overturned catch. Dallas’ first drive ended at Green Bay’s 3-yard line when Matt Cassel’s high throw to Bryant deflected off his hands and into the arms of Sam Shields. He was a non-factor on a day when the Cowboys needed him to take over the game.
San Fransisco 49ers
The 49ers allowed nine sacks on offense and gave up 230 rushing yards on defense as the Browns beat up on their visitors from San Francisco. Despite facing the NFL’s 31st ranked scoring defense, the 49ers managed just 127 total yards and three points before producing a late touchdown in garbage time. The Browns also came into the game ranked dead last in rushing offense (73.9 per game), but running backs Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson shredded San Francisco for 223 yards. So much for building off last Sunday’s thrilling win in Chicago.
After upsetting the Packers at Lambeau Field on Thanksgiving night, the Bears found themselves in a legitimate position to win nine or 10 games and compete for a spot in the NFC postseason. How has Chicago responded to the opportunity? With two straight home losses to bad teams.
The 49ers shocked the Bears in overtime after Robbie Gould missed a game-winning kick last week. The disappointing encore came on Sunday, when Gould missed another late kick and the Redskins left Chicago with a three-point win. The Bears are now 5-8, including a 1-6 record at Soldier Field.