Biggest surprises from Sunday’s Week 17 NFL games

Minnesota Vikings v Washington Redskins

Not every game in Week 17 of the NFL season had playoff implications, but the meaningless nature of some of the games was a breeding ground for some strange and surprising developments.

Even the games that did affect the playoff picture provided an eyebrow-raising moment or two.

Tony Romo throws touchdown pass

If anything happens to Dak Prescott in the playoffs, the Cowboys can rest assured that Tony Romo isn’t rusty.

The Eagles defeated the Cowboys 27-13 at Philadelphia, but that didn’t dampen Romo’s first touchdown pass in more than a year.

Romo entered the game in the second quarter and completed three of four passes, including a 3-yard TD pass to Terrance Williams to give the Cowboys a 10-3 lead. It was Romo’s first game action since Week 12 last season and his first touchdown pass since Week 11 of 2015, a span of more than 400 days.

The Cowboys have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Perhaps if they can get a huge lead in the fourth quarter of a playoff game, Cowboys fans can give him a sendoff in Dallas.

David Johnson could avoid serious injury

The most pleasant surprise of Week 17 is that the injury suffered by Cardinals running back David Johnson on this play wasn’t serious.

Johnson has been a bright spot in a disappointing Cardinals season. He set an NFL record with at least 100 yards from scrimmage in each of his first 15 games.

His fine season ended with this scary moment. Johnson was carted off the field, but it might not be as bad as it looked.

According to, Johnson suffered meniscus damage but the ACL wasn’t affected. He was scheduled to have an MRI Monday.

Johnson’s teammates will be anxiously awaiting the results as they clean out their lockers.

Giants play starters, eliminate Redskins

The Giants were locked into the No. 5 seed in the NFC playoffs and didn’t need to win at Washington.

The Redskins, on the other hand, could have just about locked up a playoff spot with a win. Had they won, they’d have been in as long as the Packers and Lions didn’t tie on Sunday night.

But the Giants looked like the team that had everything on the line, beating the Redskins 19-10 and avenging their only home loss this season. They jumped out to a 10-0 lead and never trailed in the game. Rookie Paul Perkins ran for a career-high 102 yards and Rashad Jennings ran for a touchdown.

Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie intercepted Kirk Cousins twice in the second half, the second time with 1:27 remaining and the Giants clinging to a 13-10 lead.

Michael Floyd breaks out

Not all of Bill Belichick’s reclamation projects have worked out, but Michael Floyd showed some promise in the Patriots’ 35-14 win at Miami.

Floyd was cut by the Cardinals following a DUI arrest and picked up by the Patriots on Dec. 15. He was activated for the first time last week and caught one pass for six yards.

On Sunday, he caught three passes for 36 yards, including a 14-yard touchdown reception that gave the Patriots a 14-0 lead in the first quarter.

The Patriots built a 20-0 lead, but the Dolphins pulled to within 20-14 in the third quarter. Then Tom Brady restored order with a 77-yard touchdown pass to Julian Edelman. Floyd made the block of the day on Tony Lippett to free up Edelman near midfield.

From there, the Patriots cruised to a win that secured the top seed in the AFC playoffs.

Floyd, who caught just 33 passes in 13 games with the Cardinals, probably didn’t envision playing deep into January a month or so ago.

Michael Thomas caps standout rookie season

The Saints suffered their third straight losing season, finishing 7-9 with their 38-32 loss at Atlanta. But Michael Thomas provided some hope Sunday that better days could be ahead.

The second-round rookie caught 10 passes for a career-high 156 yards and a touchdown. Drew Brees spreads the ball around so much that it’s been hard for any Saints receiver to really stand out this season, but Thomas put himself in some elite company with his performance.

According to ESPN, Thomas’ nine touchdowns is a Saints’ single-season rookie record.

A lot teams could regret passing on the nephew of former NFL receiver Keyshawn Johnson.

Seahawks pull Russell Wilson early

Coaches and players are conditioned to tell the media that they don’t watch the scoreboard.

Yeah, right.

To earn the No. 2 seed and a first-round playoff bye, the Seahawks needed to beat the 49ers Sunday in San Francisco and hope for a Falcons loss at home to the Saints.

The Seahawks did their part, beating the 49ers 25-23 after falling behind 14-3 in the second quarter. They led 25-16 with nine minutes left in the game when they pulled Russell Wilson. The 49ers were still in the game, but according to CBS Sports, the Falcons had a 38-19 lead on the Saints in the fourth quarter. Unless Pete Carroll was making another one of his quirky calls, it’s safe to assume the Seahawks felt it was time to shut down Wilson with a playoff bye seemingly out of reach.

Trevone Boykin closed out the win for the Seahawks. After the 49ers pulled to within 25-23, Boykin milked away the final five and a half minutes to spare the Seahawks the embarrassment of losing to a 49ers team that was about to fire its coach.

Rex Burkhead doubles career touchdown total

On Sunday afternoon, at least, Bengals running back Rex Burkhead was more prominent than the headline-hogging Rex that was fired by the Bills.

The Bengals’ 27-10 home win over the Ravens was meaningless in the standings, but it might not be meaningless for Burkhead’s financial future.

Burkhead hadn’t gained more than 45 yards in a game in his four-year career, but he ran for 119 yards and two touchdowns playing in place of an injured Jeremy Hill on Sunday. Burkhead hadn’t scored a touchdown since 2014, and he might have made himself some money when he hits free agency in the offseason.

Browns find another way to lose

If the Browns had beaten the Steelers Sunday, it would have come with an asterisk because the Steelers were resting Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown and Maurkice Pouncey.

But the Browns gladly would have accepted the asterisk, an ampersand, an umlaut, anything to get a little momentum heading to the offseason.

The game at Heinz Field was meaningless in the standings, but a win would have meant everything to the Browns.

They almost had it, too. They could have taken a 21-7 lead late in the third quarter when Briean Boddy-Calhoun intercepted Landry Jones and appeared to return it 68 yards for a touchdown. But perhaps since he’s a defensive player he didn’t realize that you have to accompany the ball into the end zone for a touchdown. Boddy-Calhoun fumbled the ball through the end zone for a touchback.

The Browns had the win on a silver platter with a first-and-goal at the Steelers’ 5 and the score tied 21-21 with 56 seconds left. But Isaiah Crowell ruined a career-high 152-yard day with a fumble.

That’s so Browns.

It looked like Crowell was off the hook when the Browns had a first-and-goal at the Steelers’ 2 in overtime. But they lost 14 yards on Robert Griffin III’s screen pass to Andrew Hawkins and had to settle for a field goal, which kept the game alive.

On the Steelers’ possession, the Browns couldn’t end the game on fourth down, and Jones threw the game-winning 26-yard touchdown pass to Cobi Hamilton, giving the Steelers a 27-24 win and the Browns the first pick in the draft.

Tight ends lead the way

The tight end position has at times seemed like a wasteland for fantasy owners, but the top three pass catchers of Week 17’s afternoon games were tight ends.

Zach Ertz caught 13 passes for 139 yards and two touchdowns in the Eagles’ 27-13 home win over the Cowboys.

Kyle Rudolph caught 11 passes for 117 yards and a touchdown in the Vikings’ 38-10 home win over the Bears and Dennis Pitta caught 11 passes for 91 yards in the Ravens’ 27-10 loss at Cincinnati.

Those reception totals were career highs for Rudolph and Pitta.

Pitta, who because of hip injuries played in a total of seven games in 2013 and 2014 and missed all of last season, finished 2016 leading all tight ends with 86 receptions. That’s 10th among all players.

Steve Smith’s quiet swan song

In what is likely to be the last game of his career, Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. caught three passes for 34 yards in the Ravens’ 27-10 loss at Cincinnati.

Considering it’s his probable swan song and the Ravens had nothing else to play for, it’s surprising that Smith wasn’t targeted more often. Joe Flacco threw to him just five times. Only twice this season has Smith been targeted less frequently. One of those times was the Ravens’ previous game against the Bengals.

Smith did get into a scuffle with Bengals safety Shawn Williams, but for all the yapping he’s done in his 16-year career, it looks like Smith’s playing days have come to a quiet and unceremonious end.

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