Highs and Lows is back, and Week Thirteen of the NFL brought us another great week of pro football. As the season enters the home stretch, Cinderella stories have emerged and extreme weather has begun to separate the men from the boys. From the shootouts to the slugfests, the league gave us plenty to discuss. I am simply here to narrow your focus a bit.
[Redacted] of Steel
The Pittsburgh Steelers are a special franchise and Mike Tomlin has proven me wrong once again. A week after a huge loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, Steel City bounced back in a major way with a huge 20-19 win against the division-leading Baltimore Ravens. Pittsburgh is now 6-5-1, and right back in contention for the AFC North crown.
The Steelers deserve their due for toughing out this win. The Ravens dominated time of possession and were 8-16 on third down. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had a good day, completing 21 of his 31 pass attempts for 236 yards and two scores, and led the Steelers 69 yards down the field late in the fourth to take the lead on a touchdown to Dionte Johnson. The Ravens would respond with a touchdown dive of their own, but the Steelers stopped their all-or-nothing two-point conversion attempt to win the game. Mike Tomlin’s squad continues to respond to adversity
Not Your Average Football Team
My praise of the Washington Football Team is long overdue. After starting the season 2-6, Washington has rattled off four straight wins, and after their 17-15 win against the Las Vegas Raiders, Washington now has sole possession of the 2nd in the NFC East and are two games back of the division leading Dallas Cowboys with two games against them in the next three weeks.
Taylor Heinicke has stepped up his play these last few weeks in a major way. The WFT quarterback has completed at least 72% of his passes in four straight games, and has seven touchdowns to only two interceptions in that span. His play along with a top ten rushing attack has elevated Washington’s play during this win streak. What was trending towards being a season that finished with a high draft pick for the Football Team now has them with a chance to win the NFC East, something that was unthinkable eight games into the season.
After losing to the Buffalo Bills for the second time and falling to 1-7 in week eight, the Dolphins looked like one of the biggest disappointments in football. Since then Miami has won five straight football games, and following the 20-9 victory against the New York Giants are firmly in position to make a run at an AFC wild card spot.
Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has played better football since being made the starting quarterback once again. Injuries and poor play had kept Tagovailoa on the bench, but Head Coach Brian Flores put the 2020 1st round pick out of Alabama back into the game against the Baltimore Ravens and he provided a much needed spark to the Dolphins offense. Since then he has averaged 250 passing yards in his starts, scored six touchdowns and only turned the ball over once during the win streak. The Dolphins are resembling what we thought they might be before the season, and are no longer at the bottom of the league.
The Cincinnati Bengals are 7-5, second in the AFC North. They have the best point differential in their division, are tied for the best divisional record in the AFC, and have one of the best young quarterbacks in the league. Despite this they can’t seem to string together three straight wins to save their life, and Sunday's 41-22 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers is another example of the frustrating level of inconsistency that the Bengals have displayed all season.
In the last four weeks, Cincinnati has lost by 25, won by 19, won by 31, and lost by 19. They are an incredibly difficult team to figure out, and I’m not high on them in the AFC playoff this year. Their seventh ranked scoring offense is also 24th in turnovers, and there isn’t much this team does consistently at an elite level. This looks like a one-and-done team in the playoffs to me.
Time to Tank
The New Orleans Saints season is over. After an impressive 5-2 start to the season with new quarterback Jameis Winston, the Saints have lost five straight games and are tied for last in the NFC South. The Saints lost Winston for the season to a torn ACL, and followed that up with a winless month of November. Following a 27-17 loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday Night Football, it is clear that the Saints have no business in the playoff conversation, no matter what their record is.
The Saints gave backup quarterback and utility man Taysom Hill the starting nod after an abysmal performance by Trevor Simean against the Buffalo Bills on Thanksgiving. Hill injured his middle finger on his throwing hand early in the game, but overall was not good at all, completing under 50% of his passes and throwing four interceptions. The Saints offense looks as bad as it ever has under Head Coach Sean Peyton, and after the longest losing streak of Peyton's career, it is time to look to the 2022 offseason for New Orleans.
Failures of Ford Field
While this may shock you, I am not talking about the Detroit Lions. Detroit finally gave their suffering fans a reason to smile this season, as they won 29-27 at the buzzer on an 11-yard touchdown pass to Amon-Ra St. Brown from Jared Goff. The failures I’m referring to are the Minnesota Vikings, their opponent, and more specifically Head Coach Mike Zimmer.
Earlier this year I said Zimmer was on the hot seat. I then backed off from that take as the Vikings showed flashes of what this team was supposed to be. I am now not only back to my original take, but I am taking it a step further. Mike Zimmer should be fired as soon as the season is over, regardless of the result.
In a game where Kirk Cousins throws for 340 yards and two touchdowns and no interceptions, the Vikings won the turnover battle, had more yards, more first downs first downs, were much better on third down, the Vikings still found themselves playing from behind most of the game before Cousins hit Justin Jefferson for the go ahead touchdown with 1:50 left in the game. What happens next? The man known as an Aaron Rodgers stopper watched his defense let Jared Goff drive 75 yards in 14 plays for the win. Zimmer is not elevating this franchise, and he needs to go.
That’s it for Highs and Lows this week. Next week's Tom Brady faces a familiar foe in an interconference battle in Tampa, and the best of the NFC West will take the field on Monday Night Football to show the league who’s the team to beat.