Week 16 of the 2015 NFL season saw the New York Jets dispatch a rival foe, the Atlanta Falcons give a perfect team the taste of defeat and the NFC East crown a champion.
The week also gave us another chapter in the Green Bay Packers’ tailspin, a blown opportunity in Baltimore and meltdowns in both New Orleans and Tennessee.
Here is the rest of the best and worst from Week 16:
New York Jets
New England opened an unlikely door for the Jets, and now Todd Bowles’ team is on the brink of going to the playoffs. New York took down the Patriots at home on Sunday, as Ryan Fitzpatrick’s touchdown pass to Eric Decker after New England gave the Jets the football to start overtime capped off a wacky finish to the team’s 10th win of the season.
Fitzpatrick threw three scores without an interception, and the Jets defense held Tom Brady and the Patriots to just 284 total yards. New York can now clinch a playoff spot with a win over Rex Ryan and the Buffalo Bills next Sunday.
WR Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons
The previously undefeated Carolina Panthers couldn’t handle Jones, who caught nine passes for 178 yards and a huge touchdown during Atlanta’s 20-13 upset on Sunday.
His biggest play came in the third quarter, when quarterback Matt Ryan scrambled to his left and launched a prayer in Jones’ direction. No. 11 leaped high over trailing linebacker Luke Kuechly to make the catch before running in the score from 70 yards out. With still one game left, Jones has already set new franchise records with 127 receptions and 1,722 receiving yards.
QB Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins
Despite his ill-advised kneel down, Cousins was undoubtedly terrific on Saturday night for the newly minted NFC East champions. The Redskins quarterback completed 31 passes for 365 yards and four touchdowns, as Washington beat the Philadelphia Eagles by 14 points and clinched a division title.
Cousins now has five straight games with a passer rating over 100.0, and he’s among the league leaders in completion percentage, passing yards and passer rating. The Redskins will host a playoff game with one of the game’s hottest quarterbacks under center.
QB Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions
Quietly, Stafford has enjoyed a very good end to a lost season in Detroit. The Lions are 5-2 over the last seven games, while Stafford—who tossed two or more interceptions four times during the first eight weeks—has thrown 14 touchdowns against just one interception over the last five.
He completed 29 of 37 passes for 301 yards and two scores on Sunday as the Lions beat the San Francisco 49ers. A change in offensive coordinator has revived Stafford and provided some level of optimism for Detroit’s 2016 season.
In bone-chilling temps at TCF Bank Stadium, the Vikings got hot and blew out the New York Giants in primetime. Minnesota rushed for over 200 yards and three touchdowns, while the Vikings defense picked off Eli Manning three times—returning one for a touchdown and another inside New York’s 5-yard line.
Minnesota’s 49-17 win wasn’t necessary to set up a NFC North championship game next week at Lambeau Field, but it did clinch a playoff berth for Mike Zimmer’s club. It should also provide a nice little confidence boost ahead of the team’s most important game of the season.
Green Bay Packers
The Packers had a playoff berth clinched last Sunday, but Week 16’s showdown in Arizona proved once again that Green Bay is far more pretender than contender. The Cardinals throttled the visiting Packers by a 38-8 final, using a pair of touchdown passes from Carson Palmer and two defensive scores to get to 13 wins and lock up a first-round bye.
Green Bay played chaotic, uncompetitive football, allowing nine sacks with four turnovers—while also gaining just 77 net passing yards and averaging two yards per pass. It’s very difficult to envision this Packers team making a run to the Super Bowl next month.
Pittsburgh threw away control over its own playoff destiny, losing to Ryan Mallett and the Baltimore Ravens while also snapping the team’s three-game winning streak. Now 9-6, the Steelers need a win over the Cincinnati Bengals and a Jets loss to the Bills in Week 17 to get into the playoffs.
Despite the rivalry, a Pittsburgh win over Baltimore seemed like a foregone conclusion, especially after the then 4-10 Ravens picked Mallett to start on Sunday. In the end, a pair of interceptions and an otherwise lackluster passing game doomed the Steelers on the road.
The Saints mowed down Gus Bradley’s Jacksonville defense, scoring 38 points and gaining 537 yards during Sunday’s win in New Orleans.
Quarterback Drew Brees threw for 412 yards and three touchdowns and running back Tim Hightower rushed for 122 yards and two scores, while five Saints receivers amassed at least 45 receiving yards—including Brandin Cooks’ 123-yard effort. New Orleans produced 29 first downs and eight third down conversions, all without a turnover. Jacksonville will go into another offseason with major issues on defense.
Sunday was nothing short of a disaster for the lowly Titans.
The visiting Texans scored 34 points, including 14 via touchdown passes from journeyman quarterback Brandon Weeden, while the Tennessee offense managed just 257 total yards and failed to score until late in the fourth quarter. Houston returned a fumble for a touchdown to start the game and eventually built a 34-0 lead. The Titans had nearly as many turnovers (four) as points (six).
Dolphins Offensive Line
Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill was a dirty, bloody mess by the end of the Colts’ 18-12 win over Miami on Sunday.
Indianapolis sacked Tannehill six times and hit him on a handful of others, but the Dolphins saved the worst for last. On fourth down and with Miami in position to win the game, rookie center Jamil Douglas snapped the ball early—allowing three Colts’ pass-rushers to converge on Tannehill for the game-sealing sack. It was a logical end to the day’s proceedings.