Highs and Lows is back and professional football continues to be the best gift one could ask for. Upsets were the talk of the town in Week 15, with multiple high-seeded teams getting surprised by lower opponents. The playoff races in both conferences could not be more contested, and as usual, there is plenty to discuss. I am simply here to narrow your focus a bit.
Here Come the Colts
The only Saturday game that wasn’t postponed because of COVID-19 gave us one of the best wins of the week. The Indianapolis Colts took down the red-hot New England Patriots on Saturday, ending their seven-game win streak. The Colts jumped out to a 20-0 lead, and Jonathan Taylor’s 67-yard touchdown run late in the fourth put the game away and capped a brilliant night for the MVP candidate.
Taylor was once against the star of the show for the Colts. He had 170 yards on 29 carries and a touchdown. The Colts imitated what the Patriots did on Monday Night against the Buffalo Bills, throwing only twelve times the entire game. Carson Wentz finished with only 57 passing yards and it didn’t matter because the Indy superstar ran up and down Bill Belichick’s defense. The Colts are currently the fifth seed in the AFC right now but I’m not sure any team wants to see them come playoff time.
Terrible Towels Unite
The Steelers just won’t go away. Time and time again it seems they are down for the count and Mike Tomlin’s squad refuses to be laid to rest. Pittsburgh won 19-13 against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday in a game that would have shattered their playoff hopes had they lost. The Steelers overcame a double-digit second-half deficit and cornerback Joe Haden’s fourth-down stop in the final minute sealed the fate of the AFC South leaders.
The Steelers had no business winning this game. They were 2-11 on third down, averaged only 3.7 yards per play, were doubled up in time of possession, and only managed 168 yards of offense all game. Their defense made the big plays, however, turning the Titans over four times in the second half and allowing zero points in one of their best performances all season. Pittsburgh is built to win a war, and they won't back down to anyone.
All Smiles in Motor City
The Detroit Lions just delivered arguably the biggest upset of the entire year. The Lions took down the Arizona Cardinals 30-12, dominating a team who just two weeks ago had sole possession of the best record in the entire league. Detroit has had its fair share of bad football this year (par for the course, really), but they are winners of two of their last three and have earned their spot in the High section of this piece.
The most mind-boggling part of this game was that it was never really close. Detroit jumped out to a double-digit lead on the first play of the second quarter on a 37-yard touchdown pass to Amon-Ra St. Brown and never looked back. Jared Goff had a great day, going 21/26 for 216 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions. Craig Reynolds, who came into this game with only 12 career carries in his three years in the league ran for 112 yards on 26 carries. The Lions came through with a major win and shook up the NFC playoff picture in the process.
The TYPI (Take Your Points Initiative)
The Take Your Points Initiative is a movement founded by fans like myself that were sick and tired of seeing aggressive coaching decisions leading to empty offensive possessions. While the idea of being bold and taking risks is not problematic in our eyes, we feel the introduction of analytics has left this decision to the numbers and not the people running this team. The TYPI scored a major win Thursday Night, when the Los Angeles Chargers lost at home to the Kansas City Chiefs 34-31, largely due to a failure to capitalize in scoring position.
Los Angeles Head Coach Brandon Staley is known for his aggressive nature on fourth down and it has served him well this season. However, with a golden opportunity to take the top spot in the AFC West and sweep the Chiefs, the Chargers failed on fourth down three separate times in scoring position, twice in goal-to-go situations, in what ended up being an overtime loss to the Chiefs. Staley claimed to not regret his decision-making after the game, but taking a field goal in any of those situations would have won them the game in regulation. It is the coach's job to recognize the flow of the game and Staley failed to do so, resulting in a major loss. The Chargers are the No. 6 seed in the AFC playoff picture and have a razor-thin margin for error the rest of the way.
The Soiling of Soldier Field
When I was watching the Minnesota Vikings take on the Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football it was very clear to me that this game would have a place in the Lows section of this particular piece. I was tempted to add another installment of the Vikings despite their 17-9 victory but only because any competent team would have won at least 20, but the newly eliminated Bears were so incredibly bad Monday Night that they earned their spot at the bottom of this piece.
Do not let the score fool you, the Bears were never going to win this game. Despite the Vikings offense doing just enough of nothing to keep us interested from start to finish, Chicago showed us some of the most inept red zone offense that we have seen all year. While it is true that an offense's shortcomings are exacerbated inside the 20, it is difficult to be as bad as the Bears were all night. Excluding the 19-yard touchdown pass, as time expired, Chicago entered the red zone four times during the game and came away with a grand total of three points. To make offense look this difficult in 2021 is truly an amazing feat and Matt Nagy deserves his flowers as a play-caller on his way out the door.
If you scored zero points in an NFL game on Sunday night then you have something in common with me, your neighbor, and every professional football player currently employed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The New Orleans Saints came into Tampa having won just one of their last six games and nearly out of the NFC playoff picture. They were starting Taysom Hill at quarterback, who has a fractured middle finger on his throwing hand, missing both starting tackles, and didn’t have their only dynamic outside threat in Deonte Harris. Despite this the Saints won 9-0, handing Tom Brady his first shutout loss since 2006 and only the third one of his career.
The Bucs offense was dominated on Sunday. Tom Brady, who came into the game as one of the top candidates for this year’s MVP threw for only 214 yards on 48 attempts, no touchdowns, an interception, and a fumble in scoring position. HIs 3.5 yards per pass were easily his worst output since coming to Tampa Bay. Despite the Tampa defense holding New Orleans to just nine points and 3.5 yards per play, Brady and the Bucs just couldn’t get anything going on offense, and as a result of the loss gave the Green Bay Packers the inside track to the first seed in the NFC. It was as bad as it can be for Tom and company on Sunday, and they’ll look to bounce back next week.
That's it for Highs and Lows this week. Next week we have two big-time interconference Christmas Day matchups and a myriad of pivotal divisional battles that will keep us glued to our seats through the holidays.