NFL Week 16: Season's greetings
The holiday spirit was out in full force Sunday, either as a belated Christmas celebration or an early New Year's one.
The 2021 calendar year is over for every NFL team, except the two playing on Monday night (the Saints and Dolphins). Of course, there are still two more weeks left in the regular season, but when the other 30 teams next take the field, it will be 2022.
On Sunday, whether they were still in the Christmas spirit or were simply trying to send this year out in style, there were several players who shined as bright as the Griswold family’s house. A few of this week’s best performances came from unexpected places, and some mattered more to the big picture than others, but they all deserve praise for bringing good tidings.
So let’s celebrate the Week 16 stars who ended 2021 on a high note.
Joe Burrow has the game of his life when the Bengals need it most
The Bengals had already routed the Ravens once this season, but their rematch in Cincinnati carried much more significance. The winner would have sole possession of first place in the AFC North and control its own playoff destiny.
Even though the Ravens limped into this game and were forced to start recently signed journeyman Josh Johnson, it was hard to know what to expect from the Bengals. Every time they’ve looked on the verge of breaking away from the field, they’ve managed to shoot themselves in the foot. Last time they won in Baltimore, they followed up that upset with a late collapse against the Jets and a blowout loss to the Browns.
But it was clear from kickoff that Joe Burrow was ready to play on Sunday. By every major metric — passing yards, touchdowns, passer rating, QBR — Burrow delivered the finest performance of his young NFL career, when the pressure had never been higher.
Burrow didn’t merely have a great game, either; he had one of the greatest passing games ever. Burrow’s 525 yards through the air were the fourth-most by a quarterback in NFL history and the most ever in Bengals history. He also didn’t turn the ball over, despite entering Week 16 tied for the league lead in interceptions thrown.
It’s no wonder that Burrow was wearing a Santa hat (and a SpongeBob-themed sweater, because he’s still kind of a dork) after the game, considering he gave Bengals fans the biggest gift he possibly could:
For the first time since 2009, the Bengals swept both the Steelers and Ravens, and they have a chance to split the season series against the Browns. Cincinnati hasn’t wrapped up the division just yet, though. It still needs to win one more game and faces tough tests in the final two weeks, against Kansas City and Cleveland. But the Bengals are in the best position to win the AFC North, thanks in large part to their young quarterback stepping up when it mattered most.
Josh Allen re-enters the MVP race and puts the Bills back in first place
Joe Burrow might have been donned a Santa hat, but Josh Allen has a lot more in common with jolly old St. Nick:
The Bills needed a big game from Josh Allen to get revenge on the Patriots and take back first place in the AFC East. They got all of the above. Allen couldn’t do much when these two rivals attempted to play football in 40 mph winds and wintry mix conditions a few weeks ago, but at least Allen threw more than three passes that night (unlike Mac Jones).
The weather was much more cooperative this weekend in New England, though Allen was without a few (unvaccinated) weapons due to Covid. Luckily, Allen still had (vaccinated) Isaiah McKenzie and Stefon Diggs to help him out, and Allen himself was on fire all day:
Allen also rushed for a team-high 64 yards, including a critical conversion on fourth-and-1.
Although Allen hasn’t always been consistent this season, his efforts on Sunday were the kind that can get him back in the MVP conversation. The race continues to be wide open and with two weeks left in the season, whichever QB (or running back!) who finishes strongest for a playoff contender has the best chance of locking down the award. Since that first game against the Pats, Allen has thrown for 832 yards, eight touchdowns, and two picks, while rushing for 197 yards and another touchdown. Buffalo is 2-1 in that stretch, with the only loss coming in overtime to the Bucs after an impressive Allen-led comeback in regulation.
More importantly, the Bills are atop the division again and can win back-to-back titles if they beat the Falcons and Jets. That’s certainly doable, and if Allen continues to shoulder the load, he could also take home his first MVP award.
Jonathan Owens gives Simone Biles something to cheer about
Last week, Jonathan Owens both started and played 100 percent of his team’s defensive snaps for the first time in his career. Before that, the Texans safety mostly played special teams whenever he had been elevated from the practice squad. What he’s most well-known for, though, is his personal life: Owens is gymnast Simone Biles’ boyfriend.
On Sunday, in his 13th NFL appearance, Owens had a career game against the Chargers — with the GOAT herself in attendance to cheer him on:
In the first half, Owens snagged his first ever interception when the Chargers were up 12-10. On the ensuing drive, the Texans took a lead that they would never relinquish. The Chargers threatened in the second half, but Owens shut down one opportunity when he recovered a fumble with Houston ahead by nine:
The Texans then hit a field goal and led by double digits the rest of the way. They’ve now won four games, the same number as last year and about three more than most expected them to reach this season.
It’s still been a tough year for this team, and Biles has also had trying times in the spotlight. Thankfully, she had the chance to celebrate her boyfriend and her hometown team as 2021 comes to its blessed close.
Zach Wilson gets rookie bragging rights over Trevor Lawrence (and the best moment of his life?)
The top two picks in the 2021 draft have had rocky beginnings to their NFL careers. Coming into Week 16, Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson each had just two wins as a starting quarterback and ranked at or near the bottom in most statistical categories, including completion percentage, TD percentage, adjusted yards gained per pass attempt, passer rating, and QBR.
In the past six games, since his last win in the first week of November, Lawrence had completed 56.3 percent of his passes for 1,124 yards, one touchdown, five picks, and a 63.1 passer rating while taking 15 sacks.
In the past four weeks, since returning from a four-game absence due to a knee injury, Wilson had completed 54.3 percent of his passes for 743 yards, two touchdowns, two picks, and a 70.4 passer rating while taking 15 sacks.
The good news is that one of these struggling rookies was virtually guaranteed a win on Sunday.
Lawrence didn’t end his touchdown-less drought, but he posted his best passing yards total, passer rating, and QBR since a Week 6 win against Miami. He also ran for 37 yards, just two shy of his season high. There were still a few issues, however. Lawrence lost a fumble, and he and the entire offense were a discombobulated mess when they had a chance to win late.
Wilson, who was without his head coach, top three receivers, and several offensive linemen, unsurprisingly did not put up huge passing numbers (102 yards for one touchdown and no interceptions). But he did play a clean game and provided several big-time plays, including his franchise-record 52-yard touchdown run (for a franchise-record 91-yard rushing game) and his touchdown throw to offensive lineman Conor McDermott that was, uh, especially meaningful to Wilson:
I mean, Wilson is only 22 and went to BYU, so maybe his comment is true. Still, he outplayed the No. 1 pick and earned his third win as a starter despite being severely shorthanded. Those are the kind of games that young quarterbacks can build on.
Dak Prescott ends his slump on a huge night for the entire Cowboys team
The Cowboys didn’t need a monster night from Dak Prescott against Washington. They had been riding their resurgent defense to a three-game winning streak, and before kickoff, they had already clinched the NFC East — now the 17th straight season when there was no repeat winner in that division.
They got a monster night from Dak Prescott, anyway. The Comeback Player of the Year favorite completed 28 of 39 passes for 330 yards, four touchdowns, and zero interceptions, as he inadvertently caused Washington defenders to fight among themselves. Almost all of those numbers came in the first half, too, including his record-setting four TD passes:
The Cowboys received contributions from the entire roster — the offense, defense, and special teams all scored touchdowns to produce their largest win over Washington in the history of this rivalry. But no one’s performance was more encouraging than the one from Prescott, who might have bristled at the notion that he had been in a slump … but who had definitely been in a slump.
If this was evidence that he has now broken out of that slide, then the Cowboys are heading into the postseason as a dangerous team to anyone who tries to get in their way. Just think of them as the Kevin McCallister of the NFL.
Week 16 results, in five words or fewer
Falcons 20, Lions 16
Bengals 41, Ravens 21
Rams 30, Vikings 23
Bills 33, Patriots 21
Jets 26, Jaguars 21
Eagles 34, Giants 10
Bucs 32, Panthers 6
Texans 41, Chargers 29
Bears 25, Seahawks 24
Raiders 17, Broncos 13
Chiefs 36, Steelers 10
Cowboys 56, Washington 14