Highs and Lows are back and Week 17 was another exciting week of NFL football. The season is coming to a close and some impressive victories have since again shaken up the playoff picture. From big-time quarterback performances to big-time upsets, there is plenty to discuss. I am simply here to narrow your focus a bit.
Joe Burrow might be a top-five quarterback in the league, which is not a sentence I was prepared to write just one month ago. The Cincinnati Bengals came back from multiple double-digit deficits to defeat the Kansas City Chiefs 34-31 for their first AFC North title since 2015. Their first three-game win streak of the season came on the back of a monstrous performance by their franchise quarterback.
Burrow was magnificent against the Chiefs. He was 30/39 for 446 yards, four touchdowns, and no interceptions. His connection with superstar rookie Ja’Marr Chase was on full display, connecting with him 11 times for 266 yards and three scores. Burrow is now up to 4611 yards on the season, breaking the Bengals single-season franchise record. Chase broke two records on Sunday himself, both the single-game and rookie year yardage record now belong to the No. 5 pick of last year’s draft. The strong play of the NFL’s hottest duo down the stretch has propelled the Bengals to new heights as they prepare for the playoffs.
Right the Ship
The Arizona Cardinals finally found themselves back in the win column following a three-game slide with a 25-22 road win against the Dallas Cowboys. Dallas, winners of the NFC East, were on a four-game win streak of their own coming into Sunday’s game, so to see Kyler Murray and his squad in comfortable control of one of the league’s best teams for most of the game makes me think one of the league biggest surprises hasn’t peaked just yet.
Kyler Murray was right at home at AT&T Stadium. Going back to his high school football, Murray had yet to lose a football game in this building and he left Sunday still undefeated at Jerry’s World, much to the chagrin of the Cowboy’s owner. Murray threw for 263 yards and two touchdowns and also ran for another 44, as Dallas was simply incapable of slowing down the former No. 1 overall pick. While the Cardinals haven’t finished this season as ideally as they might have hoped, this was a major win, and they still have a chance to win the division next week.
Sin City Schools Indy
The Las Vegas Raiders have wadded through all the muck that was left behind by Jon Gruden’s messy departure and put together a more than respectable season in his absence. On Sunday the Raiders took down the red-hot Indianapolis Colts, winners of six of their last seven, clinching a winning season and setting the stage for a win-or-go-home scenario next week against the Los Angeles Chargers in the NFL’s regular-season finale.
Derek Carr showed up when he needed to. The Raiders quarterback didn’t have the best of games, 255 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions, but when the chips were down the Fresno State product led a 10-play, 60-yard drive in the final two minutes to set up the game-winning field goal. Daniel Carlson’s 33-yard kick as time expired capped off a gritty performance by a team that just won’t go quietly into the night, and they have a chance to punch their ticket to the postseason and send their division rival packing on Sunday night.
All Good Things…
The Dolphins improbable 7-game run came to an abrupt halt on Sunday as they were blown out by the Tennessee Titans 34-3 on the road. The loss eliminates them from playoff contention, something that was a major long-shot, to begin with after starting the season 1-7, and questions are going to have to be answered in the offseason, mainly surrounding their quarterback situation.
Tua Tagovailoa was simply not good against the Titans defense. The fifth pick in the 2020 draft had a chance to solidify himself as the quarterback going forward for the Dolphins. Instead, Tagovailoa wet the bed, going 18/38 for a measly 205 yards, no touchdowns, and interception, and three fumbles. The Dolphins had three quarters where they were within two scores despite only having three points all day and yet watching the game you felt they never had a chance. Tua might not be the answer, and the Dolphins need to figure out who is.
Backups Are Backups for a Reason
The Baltimore Ravens lost their fifth consecutive game against the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday 20-19, effectively closing the door on any hopes of a wild card spot in the AFC. Four of those five losses have been played for the most part without superstar quarterback Lamar Jackson due to a high ankle sprain, and while Tyler Huntley was more than adequate as Jackson’s understudy, he just couldn’t finish the Rams off after Matt Stafford took a late lead.
Huntley did a bang-up job as the Ravens backup, but in the end, he just wasn’t enough to get the Ravens a win down the stretch. During this losing streak, Baltimore lost four of their five games by a mere two points or less. Their razor-thin margin for error due to a myriad of injuries across the roster was overlooked for so long because of the brilliance of both Jim Harbaugh and Lamar Jackson, but there are no medals for battle in the NFL and what was once an inspiring season has finished messily for Baltimore, who will most likely be on the outside looking in come playoff time.
Behold, Boys and Girls…baker mayfield
The Cleveland Browns, already eliminated from playoff contention, took the field against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday Night Football and made it painfully clear to every ill-advised individual that regarded the Browns as legitimate Super Bowl contenders that they should seek religion or simply put down the bottle. This team was never going anywhere, and their substandard quarterback is the reason.
The Steelers 26-14 victory over the hapless Browns serves nothing if not a reminder to the Cleveland faithful that their team once again missed on a quarterback in the draft, something they have done for quite literally my entire life. Mayfield started the game completing a grand total of one of his first ten pass attempts, including an interception. He finished 16/38 for 185 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions, and was sacked nine times by the Steelers defense. Baker Mayfield is not a franchise quarterback, and his play wasted away a fantastic roster for the Browns in 2021.
That's it for Highs and Lows this week. Next week concludes the regular season, and playoff spots are up for grabs in both conferences, and with the extra game, there are NFL records that will be up for grabs as well.