The AFC South still might be the dullest division in the NFL, but in Week 15 it was full of surprises.
It’s a good place to start as we take a look at Sunday’s stunning developments.
Texans bench Brock Osweiler
Brock Osweiler has become a punchline because of his ineffectiveness. Still, it was a bold move when Texans coach Bill O’Brien pulled the Texans’ $72 million quarterback after he threw interceptions on back-to-back drives in the first half.
Tom Savage replaced Osweiler and completed 23 of 36 passes for 260 yards, the most the Texans have thrown for this season, to lead the Texans to a 21-20 comeback win over the visiting Jaguars.
The Jaguars (2-12) led 13-0 when Savage entered the game, and the Texans used a safety and four field goals to get back into it. Savage directed an eight-play, 52-yard, penalty-aided drive that resulted in Lamar Miller’s 1-yard touchdown run with 2:51 left in the game to tie it. Nick Novak’s extra point gave the Texans a 21-20 lead, and they held on.
O’Brien wouldn’t say who will start for the Texans when they host the Bengals Saturday. All we know is that there is a quarterback controversy in Houston.
DeAndre Hopkins catches eight passes
It wasn’t a big deal last season when DeAndre Hopkins caught eight passes. He had at least that many in seven games and caught 111 for the season.
This season has been a different story. Hopkins entered Sunday’s game with just 60 receptions, but caught eight passes for 87 yards in the Texans’ 21-20 win over the visiting Jaguars. Hopkins hadn’t caught that many passes in a game since Week 6 and he hadn’t picked up that many receiving yards since Week 2.
So what was different on Sunday? Could it be the person throwing Hopkins the ball?
All eight of Hopkins’ receptions were thrown by Tom Savage, who replaced an inept Brock Osweiler in the second quarter.
This would be a good time for Hopkins to get hot regardless of who starts at quarterback. He’s a more talented skill-position player than both Osweiler and Savage and the first-place Texans (8-6) will need him to produce if they’re going to hang on in the AFC South.
Jaguars fire Gus Bradley
Gus Bradley’s firing isn’t really surprising, but it’s mildly surprising that he was let go before the end of the season.
The Jaguars’ 21-20 loss at Houston, in which they blew a 13-0 lead and couldn’t even beat a team that pulled its starting quarterback, got Bradley fired Sunday.
Bradley went 14-48 as Jaguars coach, including 2-12 this season. According to ESPN.com, that’s the second-worst winning percentage in NFL history for anyone who has coached at least 50 games. The Jaguars’ nine-game losing streak is the longest in franchise history in a single season. Considering the Jaguars’ history of futility, it’s a little surprising that they hadn’t lost nine in a row before.
Jaguars owner Shad Kahn said the Jaguars fired Bradley now so he could enjoy the holiday season with his family. That’s a classy move. It would have been even better if they had waited until the team landed in Jacksonville.
Titans come back to beat Chiefs
Mr. Irrelevant and the Titans are becoming relevant.
Ryan Succop, the last overall pick of the 2009 draft, kicked the game-winning field goal against the team that drafted him. His 53-yarder as time ran out in 1-degree weather gave the Titans a 19-17 win at Kansas City.
Succop missed his first attempt, but Chiefs coach Andy Reid tried to get cute and called timeout just before the snap. He got the timeout, but not before the ball was snapped and Succop had his practice kick.
The Titans (8-6) trailed 14-0 after the first quarter and 17-7 after three quarters. But Succop kicked a 39-yard field goal to pull the Titans to within 17-10. Derrick Henry scored his second touchdown with 3:12 left, but the Titans missed the two-point conversion.
The Chiefs (10-4) went three-and-out, and Marcus Mariota moved the Titans into Succop’s range.
Tennessee has won three in a row and is two games over .500 for the first time since Week 4 of the 2013 season. The Texans (8-6) currently have the tiebreaker over the Titans, but the Titans could have an opportunity to win the AFC South when they host the Texans in Week 17.
The first two draft picks of 2015 have poked holes in the Arrowhead Stadium mystique. Mariota and Jameis Winston both have won there this year.
Colts dominate Vikings
The most surprisingly dominant win of Week 15 belongs to the Colts. The five-point underdogs hammered the Vikings 34-6 at Minnesota.
The Vikings (7-7) entered the game with the league’s fourth-ranked defense hadn’t allowed more than 26 points this season. It was the biggest margin of victory for the Colts (7-7) since they beat the Jaguars 37-7 win Week 4 of the 2013 season.
While the Vikings have struggled after a 5-0 start, these aren’t the Jaguars that the Colts humiliated. Indianapolis produced 411 yards of offense, the most the Vikings have allowed this season.
Andrew Luck completed 21 of 28 passes for 250 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He had some unlikely weapons at his disposal.
Robert Turbin ran for a career-high two touchdowns and second-year tight end Erik Swoope caught his first career TD pass to give the Colts a 24-0 lead in the second quarter.
The Colts still have a shot to win the division, but they’ll probably have to pull off another upset next week at Oakland.
Ty Montgomery breaks out
It looks like Ty Montgomery has the hang of this running back thing.
Normally a receiver, Montgomery filled in at the position for the Packers earlier this season out of desperation when Eddie Lacy and James Starks were both hurt. In Sunday’s 30-27 win at Chicago, Montgomery ran for a career-high 162 yards on just 16 carries with two touchdowns. Through Sunday afternoon’s games, Montgomery was Week 15’s leader in rushing yards.
The Packers (8-6) couldn’t seem to do anything right earlier in the season, but moving Montgomery to running back looks like a stroke of genius. It’s helped the Packers counter their four-game losing streak with four straight wins.
Drew Brees rebounds
It’s never really a surprise when Drew Brees goes off, but it kind of is when he’s coming off six interceptions and no touchdowns in his last two games.
Brees threw four touchdown passes with no interceptions in the Saints’ 48-41 win at Arizona. The Cardinals (6-8) went into the game with the league’s second-ranked passing defense and allowed 13 touchdown passes, tied for second-fewest in the league.
The four TDs were the most Brees has thrown in a road game since he threw five at Pittsburgh in Week 13 of the 2014 season. Brees completed 37 of 48 passes for 389 yards. He hadn’t thrown for that many yards in a road game since 2013.
It might not be enough to give the Saints (6-8) a realistic shot at the playoffs, but a victory in the highest-scoring game of the season is yet another highlight of Brees’ career.
Matt Barkley makes case to start for Bears
Despite throwing three interceptions, Matt Barkley showed something in the Bears’ 30-27 loss to the visiting Packers.
The California native wore a wet suit under his uniform in the 11-degree weather and threw for a career-high 362 yards, completing 30 of 43 passes with two touchdowns.
The fourth-year quarterback put his interceptions behind him and led the Bears back from a 27-10 deficit in the fourth quarter. The Bears (3-11) tied it on Connor Barth’s 22-yard field goal with 1:19 left, but Aaron Rodgers’ 60-yard pass to Jordy Nelson set up Mason Crosby’s game-winning field goal.
The Bears lost the game, but might have found a candidate to start at quarterback next season.
Tom Brady opens with six incomplete passes
Matt Barkley doesn’t have enough talent around him to overcome his mistakes.
Tom Brady does.
Not that Brady made mistakes in the Patriots’ 16-3 win at Denver that clinched the AFC East. He just threw six incomplete passes to start the game, the first time he’s done that since 2003 according to ESPN.com.
Brady ended up completing 16 of 32 passes with no touchdowns and no interceptions for a passer rating of 68.2, his lowest in a game that mattered since Week 4 of the 2014 season.
The Patriots (12-2) won the game by sacking Trevor Siemian four times, intercepting him once, recovering two fumbles and allowing the Broncos (8-6) to convert just two of their 12 third-down attempts.
The Broncos have lost three of their last four and are in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since 2010, Tim Tebow’s rookie year. But with their top-ranked passing defense they can hold any quarterback in check, even Brady.
Eagles go for two down by one
The Eagles were down 27-17 in the fourth quarter at Baltimore and fought back, pulling to within a point when Carson Wentz ran for a 4-yard touchdown with four seconds left.
Instead of kicking the extra point and playing for overtime, Eagles coach Doug Pederson opted to go for two, and Wentz’s pass to Jordan Matthews was tipped and fell incomplete.
It certainly wasn’t the conventional call, but the Eagles (5-9) entered the game with eight losses in their last 10 games.
“I wanted to win a football game,” Pederson told the team’s website.
By getting their hands on Wentz’s two-point attempt, the Ravens (8-6) held on for the win and remained a game behind the Steelers in the AFC North. If they win at Pittsburgh on Christmas and win at Cincinnati against a team that has nothing to play for, they’ll win the division.