We’re in the final quarter of the NFL season, and Sunday’s games did not disappoint. The highlight was an unexpected shootout in New Orleans, but there was a lot to watch across the league, and a lot of standout performances.
There were also some underwhelming performances. Here is a list of those who fell short in Week 14 — some unexpectedly, some at a very bad time.
Referees in the Patriots-Chiefs game
The performance of the referees in Sunday’s game in Foxboro was nothing short of baffling. The clearest issue was an officiating crew costing the Patriots two touchdowns with missed calls. One came on a blown whistle to stop what would have been a defensive score, which has been a repeat problem this season. It’s disappointing seeing this continue to happen this late into the season, and the errors are consequential, too, though some would say it’s karma for the Pats.
Russell Wilson, QB, Seahawks
Wilson has been putting together an MVP-caliber season for the Seahawks this year, but he fell short of that standard on Sunday night. For the first time this season, Wilson failed to throw a touchdown in a game. He was 22/36 for 245 yards and an interception in the 28-12 loss to the Rams. Wilson was sacked five times in the game. Seattle failed to keep pace with the 49ers in the NFC West and is now a wild card team.
We’re deep enough into the NFL season that we can start prognosticating about potential Super Bowl winners and be realistic about it. We have a pretty good idea of which teams are going to be in the playoffs, and which of them can seriously consider themselves contenders to win the Super Bowl. It’s the right time of year to start hitting one’s stride, and a few teams are doing just that.
Here are the top ten Super Bowl contenders as it stands late in the regular season.
10. Houston Texans
The Texans are a somewhat confusing team. They’ve beaten Kansas City on the road with Patrick Mahomes at quarterback, and they came extremely close to beating the Saints in New Orleans. However, questions linger about their defense, and their oft-maligned offensive line always seems to pop up as an issue at some point during the season. That said, any team with Deshaun Watson in its ranks has a chance every time he steps on the field, so they’re worth taking seriously.
9. Buffalo Bills
The Bills have an outstanding defense and arguably the game’s best secondary. For an 8-3 team, however, the hype around them is limited. There’s a simple reason for that: they have yet to really beat anyone good enough to prove their excellence. The 6-5 Tennessee Titans are the only team with a winning record that Buffalo has beaten, and none of the other opponents they’ve defeated have more than three wins on the season. Their next four games come against Dallas, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and New England, which should go a long way toward proving whether they’re serious or not.
8. Minnesota Vikings
Questions will understandably linger over whether or not Kirk Cousins is a Super Bowl-caliber quarterback. He’s definitely aware of his reputation of being unable to win big games, and that’s a reputation that he will have to shed if Minnesota is going to make a deep playoff run. Still, the Vikings have a sturdy defense and weapons on offense. On paper, they have everything you’d look for from a serious contender, but their inconsistency remains a worry. Still, they’re 6-1 in their last seven, which cannot be discounted.
7. Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs have, at least up until now, been unable to replicate last season’s excitement. Between injury and underperformance, Patrick Mahomes hasn’t quite been as exciting, and the offense not quite as dynamic. As they continue to get healthier, the second half of the season has the potential to be kind to the Chiefs, but the major question remains the defense. Whether that unit is good enough to fuel a playoff push could determine just how much the Chiefs are able to accomplish, but Mahomes certainly gives them a chance.
6. Green Bay Packers
With a few exceptions, Matt LaFleur’s new offense seems to produce excellent results for Green Bay, and they’ve put up some truly impressive performances. The defense is an issue, and it’s not clear how well they’ll stand up to the best offenses in the NFC. Also concerning is their performance against San Francisco in a game in which they were blown out. The 49ers are the exact kind of team the Packers are probably going to have to find their way through in the playoffs. Still, Aaron Rodgers is great, the offense is dynamic, and they’re a threat to anyone they play.
The NFL officials explained why the Houston Texans retained possession on what appeared to be a Deshaun Watson fumble late in the team’s 20-17 win over the Indianapolis Colts on Thursday night.
The Texans had the ball with just under two minutes left in the game. Deshaun Watson rushed to the right on a 2nd-and-9 play and had the ball knocked out by Colts linebacker Darius Leonard for a clear fumble.
— Bad Sports Refs (@BadSportsRefs) November 22, 2019
What wasn’t so clear was who recovered the ball. An official on the field signaled Texans ball after the pile got sorted out.
The Texans called a timeout with about 50 seconds left as they faced a 3rd-and-3 (after nearly a minute had run off the clock from the time after the previous play began). At that point, there was speculation the officials would review the play, but they did not do so. Indianapolis did not have any timeouts left and could not challenge.
The NFL’s officials Twitter account later said the Texans retained possession because there was no clear evidence of a Colts recovery.
In #INDvsHOU, officials on the field ruled a fumble recovered by the offense. There was no clear visual evidence of a recovery by the defense.
— NFL Officiating (@NFLOfficiating) November 22, 2019
Instead of Indy getting the ball back with about 50 seconds left down 20-17 and with no timeouts, Houston retained possession and was able to run out the clock on a huge 20-17 win that gave them the lead in the AFC South.
The Houston Texans’ defense appeared to mean business ahead of Thursday night’s home game against the Indianapolis Colts.
The Texans’ linebackers arrived to Thursday’s game against the Colts dressed in “Mortal Kombat” outfits
The @HoustonTexans LBs have arrived
— NFL Network (@nflnetwork) November 21, 2019
You think they were ready to bring the pain?
Let’s hope for the Texans’ sake that their Mortal Kombat outfits serve them better in their game than the last time they dressed up.
- Houston Texans
Shortly after losing Phillip Gaines for the season, the Houston Texans sent a third-round pick to the Oakland Raiders in exchange for Gareon Conley. However, they may not be done addressing the cornerback position just yet.
On Tuesday — the typical day for workouts across the league — the Texans hosted former Rams sixth-round pick EJ Gaines, who is no relation to Phillip, on a private visit, according to NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport.
The #Texans may not be done at corner, as CB EJ Gaines is visiting them today, source said. He has 38 starts in his career and is now fully healthy.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) October 22, 2019
After spending 2018 with the Cleveland Browns, Gaines signed with the Buffalo Bills in March, but a core muscle injury landed him on IR in August. He was released with an injury settlement in September and has remained a free agent since.
However, now that Gaines has returned to health, he’s looking to find a new home and Houston could be an ideal fit, especially now that Johnathan Joseph and Bradley Roby are both injured.
In 43 career games (38 starts), Gaines has recorded 198 tackles, four tackles for a loss, 34 passes defensed and four interceptions.
Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson looked to have produced a dazzling touchdown against the Indianapolis Colts — until the referees had their say.
On 3rd and goal from the 4, Watson seemingly ducked out of two sacks, stayed on his feet, and managed to find DeAndre Hopkins in the end zone for a Houston touchdown. It was ruled on the field, however, that Watson was “in the grasp” of Colts defender Justin Houston, meaning he was ruled down and the play was recorded as a sack.
This was a touchdown if the ref don't rule it a sack.pic.twitter.com/AJXpRNcZtR
— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) October 20, 2019
Watson’s knee never touches the ground. He’s clearly still trying to make a throw even as Houston tries to bring him down. At no point should this play have been stopped.
This isn’t the first time this rule has been applied oddly in a game. It’s meant to protect the quarterback, but in this instance, Watson didn’t need protecting yet.
The Houston Texans collectively held their breath on Sunday afternoon as first-round offensive lineman, Tytus Howard, went down with what was originally feared to be a torn ACL.
“It may have looked worse than it really was,” Texans coach Bill O’Brien said after the game. “Hopefully, we can get him back at some point.”
The good news for both Howard and the Texans is that the rookie did not suffer a season-ending torn ACL, but did suffered a partially torn MCL that will likely keep him sidelined for a substantial amount of time, albeit not the remainder of the year.
Texans rookie offensive tackle Tytus Howard did NOT tear ACL, tests confirm. He has a partially torn medial collateral ligament and shouldn't require surgery and should be able to return this season, according to league sources
— Aaron Wilson (@AaronWilson_NFL) October 14, 2019
After Howard was carted off in the third quarter of Sunday’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs, he was replaced by Roderick Johnson, who will likely remain in that role until Howard returns.
In six games this season, Howard had taken 302 offensive snaps, allowing just one sack while being penalized three times. His 61.8 Pro Football Focus grade is middle of the pack when it comes to offensive tackles.