A huge upset by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, an instant classic on Sunday Night Football and breakout games from two young, speedy receivers highlighted the biggest surprises from Week 12 in the NFL.
Here is a closer look at the week’s biggest surprises.
Taylor Gabriel’s breakout game
A speedy little receiver released by the Cleveland Browns before the 2016 season suddenly can’t stop scoring touchdowns for the Atlanta Falcons.
Taylor Gabriel, who was claimed off waivers by the Falcons in early September, found the end zone twice during Atlanta’s 38-19 win over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. Both scores came on quick, short throws, which Gabriel turned into touchdowns using speed and quickness in the open field.
The former undrafted free agent now has three scores in the last two games. He’s becoming a big reason why the Falcons—who are much more than just Julio Jones in the passing game—have been so explosive on offense in 2016.
Buccaneers beat up on Seahawks
A Sunday without many upsets saw the surging Buccaneers pull off one of the most surprising wins of the 2016 season. Tampa Bay hammered the visiting Seahawks, using a pair of Jameis Winston touchdowns to Mike Evans and a swarming defense to power a 14-5 upset against one of the NFC’s heavyweights.
The Buccaneers raced out to a 14-0 lead after driving for touchdowns on each of the offense’s first two possessions. The Tampa Bay defense did the rest, holding the Seahawks to 245 total yards—while tallying six sacks and forcing three turnovers—to seal the deal.
Seattle is still 7-3-1 and a favorite to be one of the NFC’s top two seeds. The story here is obviously the Buccaneers, who have won three straight to get to 6-5. It’s time to start taking Tampa Bay seriously.
Matt Barkley finally throws a TD pass
Speaking of touchdown passes, former USC star Matt Barkley finally threw his first career score in the NFL on Sunday.
A fourth-round pick in 2012, Barkley had to wait four long years—and survive three different teams—to throw his first touchdown. It came on the first drive of Sunday’s loss to the Titans.
Barkley actually played well during his first career NFL start, especially late in the game. He threw a pair of scores in the fourth quarter, and had a potential game-winning touchdown fall incomplete when Josh Bellamy dropped his pass in the end zone in the final minute.
Willie Snead throws trick-play TD pass
Saints receiver Willie Snead had more touchdown passes in Week 12 than Sam Bradford, Russell Wilson and Brock Osweiler combined.
New Orleans gave Snead a chance to throw downfield on a trick play against the Rams. Drew Brees first threw a lateral to Snead, who then tossed a perfect pass to running back Tim Hightower—who was wide open on the other side of the field—for a 50-yard touchdown. The score made Snead the first receiver in Saints history to throw a touchdown pass.
Meanwhile, Bradford, Wilson and Osweiler threw 107 passes without a score in Week 12. Snead needed just one throw to beat all three.
Streaking Dolphins stop Colin Kaepernick’s comeback attempt
49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was running and gunning all over the field, but his best game in years wasn’t enough for San Francisco to come from behind and beat Miami at Hard Rock Stadium. The Dolphins stopped Kaepernick’s scramble on the last play of the game to escape with a 31-24 victory, extending Miami’s win streak to six games (team’s longest since 2005) and sending the 49ers to a franchise record 10th straight loss.
Miami had all kinds of problems containing Kaepernick, who threw for three touchdowns and rushed for 113 yards. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Kaepernick became just the fifth player since 1970 to throw for three scores and rush for over 100 yards in a game. But in the end, the Dolphins defense found a way to stuff the 49ers quarterback two yards short of the potential game-tying touchdown as time expired.
The misery continues on for the 49ers, who haven’t won since Week 1. The Dolphins, now at 7-4, look like serious playoff contenders.
Derek Carr dislocates pinky during game, but Raiders still survive crazy Panthers rally
The Raiders had to survive 25 straight points from the Panthers and a dislocated pinky finger on Derek Carr to beat Carolina in Oakland.
Jack Del Rio’s team led 24-7 at half, but Cam Newton and the Panthers staged a huge comeback—scoring four straight times to take a 32-24 lead early in the fourth quarter. Carr had to go to the locker room to get his finger checked out in the second half, but returned with a glove on his throwing hand to lead the Raiders to 10 straight points to close out the game.
The Raiders, who clinched their first winning season since 2002, are cruising toward a bye in the Wild Card round of the playoffs. The Panthers, meanwhile, are all but finished at 4-7.
Chiefs upset Broncos in instant classic
One of the best games of the 2016 NFL season ended on an unbelievable field goal make.
Cairo Santos’ 34-yard field goal banked off the left upright and snuck just inside the right upright, giving the Kansas City Chiefs a 30-27 win over the Denver Broncos on Sunday night. The primetime matchup had a little bit of everything, with dominant defense, big plays in the passing game and a late rally from the Chiefs to send the game into overtime.
Two crazy field goals told the story in the extra period. After Brandon McManus couldn’t hit a 62-yarder with just over a minute left, Santos was able to play pinball with his kick to avoid the tie and give Kansas City a stunning and improbable victory in Denver.
Tyreek Hill continues to improve each week as Chiefs’ offensive weapon
Fifth-round rookie Tyreek Hill looked like a future star for the Chiefs in Denver.
Kansas City’s do-it-all weapon scored three touchdowns on Sunday night. He found the end zone on a kickoff return, a read-option run and a clutch catch to help send the game to overtime. Hill became the first player since Gale Sayers (1965) to have a return, rushing and receiving touchdown in the same game.
After 11 games, Hill leads the Chiefs with seven total touchdowns. He’s averaging 8.9 yards per touch on offense, and leads the NFL in punt return yards. The Chiefs appear to have a legitimate difference-maker in their rookie speedster.