NFL Week 15: Cowboys Collapse in Buffalo, 49ers Settle the West

Buffalo Bills running back James Cook (4) breaks a tackle by Dallas Cowboys safety Markquese Bell (14). Cook rushed for 179 yards in the Bills' 31-10 win.
Buffalo Bills running back James Cook (4) breaks a tackle by Dallas Cowboys safety Markquese Bell (14). Cook rushed for 179 yards in the Bills' 31-10 win.

Looking at Sunday’s slate of NFL games before kickoff was like looking at an assortment of Christmas presents under the tree. 


When opened, some were likely to disappoint; others to surprise, spark interest, or entertain.


As for disappointment, the marquee matchup between the Cowboys and Bills in Buffalo fit a curious pattern in an otherwise electrifying NFL season: much-anticipated games turning into anticlimactic duds. Meanwhile, a Hail Mary, appropriately timed for the holidays, was almost answered in Cleveland. The 49ers — the glittering box to big to fit under the tree — roll into next week’s showdown against Baltimore after a dominant win in the desert.


And speaking of the Ravens, if self-destruction were a stocking stuffer, then the Jaguars’ miscues against Baltimore Sunday night would take up an entire mantle.


Here is a longer look at Sunday’s results. (For the results of Saturday's triple-header, check here.)



Baltimore 23, Jacksonville 7 (Sunday Night Football)


Lamar Jackson rushed for 97 yards and consistently frustrated Jaguars defenders, who got little help from their own offense, as the Ravens notched an important road win. 


For Jacksonville, this was a night of “what ifs.” The Jaguars repeatedly shot themselves in the foot — which in Florida is not only legal but apparently encouraged — littering the first half with points-costing mistakes. 


Here’s a sample. And note that Baltimore’s impact on these first-half plays was trivial at best:


—Jacksonville kicker Brandon McManus missed two field goals.


—Trevor Lawrence fumbled with no contact at the Ravens 20-yard line. 


—With the ball 1st-and-goal at the Ravens 5-yard line, with 11 seconds left in the half and no timeouts, Lawrence threw short of the end zone to Parker Washington, who failed to get out of bounds, costing the Jaguars at least a shot at a short field goal.


For the rest of the night, Jacksonville faced an uphill battle to get back into the game. 


Trailing 10-0 entering the second half, the Jags did finally get on the board when Trevor Lawrence hit WR Jamal Agnew, who ran past the Ravens secondary for a 65-yard TD pass. MacManus’ extra point was good, making it 10-7 Baltimore midway through the third. 


Jackson finished just 14-of-24 for 171 yards, but he exhibited his playmaking transcendence all night. No example was more ridiculous than near the end of the third quarter when he spun out of a would-be sack, rolled to his right and fired a pass back across the field to Isaiah Likely, who took the ball away from two Jacksonville DBs. The 26-yard showcase put the ball at the Jags’ 4-yard line. Gus Edwards punched it in on the first play of the fourth quarter, putting up Baltimore up, 17-7.


The Ravens controlled the rest of the game, asserting their league-best running game. But the Ravens suffered a big blow on the march when Edwards’ backfield mate, rookie Keaton Mitchell, suffered what Baltimore announced Monday as a "significant" season-ending knee injury.


The loss Sunday night means the struggling Jaguars’ lead over Houston drops to one game. Jacksonville (8-6) travels to Tampa Bay for an interstate Week 16 battle.


With the victory, Baltimore (11-3) is closing in on an AFC North title and stays one game ahead of Miami for the conference’s best record. The Ravens travel to Levi’s Stadium to take on San Francisco in a Christmas Day matchup between the best teams in their respective conferences. 



Buffalo 31, Dallas 10


The Bills ran for a season-high 266 yards and the Buffalo defense shut down Dak Prescott and the Cowboys offense in what was the home team’s most impressive win of the season.


The loss snaps Dallas' five-game winning streak.Buffalo held the potent Dallas attack to 195 total yards and an average of under 3.5 yards per play. It limited Prescott, a serious league-MVP candidate to just 134 yards passing.


The Bills’ defense received a tremendous amount of help from its own running game. For the first half of the season, that element of Buffalo's offense was a weakness. Today, however, it thoroughly controlled the action, dominating Dallas’ talented front seven and keeping the Cowboys’ offense chained the sideline. And, led by James Cook’s season-best 179 yards and 25 carries, the running game made irrelevant a very unflattering stat line put up by Josh Allen: 7-of-15 for 94 yards.


Name the last time a Bills team beat a quality opponent with Allen posting numbers even remotely resembling those.


The big QB did throw one TD, a 24-yard strike to Cook, and ran for a touchdown himself — his unprecedented 10th NFL game with at least one touchdown pass and one touchdown run.


The Bills (8-6) stay within striking distance of Miami, and their performance against Dallas makes a statement to potential AFC playoff opponents that the Bills are best avoided this postseason. Next week, they travel to Los Angeles to play the Chargers — a team without their starting quarterback and still recovering from an epic beatdown last Thursday.


As for Dallas, once known as “America’s Team," well, America’s Blowhard should update his Undisputed ad in light of this latest debacle. For as impressive as Buffalo was, Dallas offered their skeptics a steaming pile of validation in their belief that the Cowboys lack the “it” factor to seriously contend for the Lombardi.


More immediately, a win by Philadelphia tomorrow in Seattle puts the Eagles back in first place in the NFC East. And things do not get easier for the Cowboys, who must regroup and prepare themselves for two very tough games: on the road at Miami and home against Detroit. 



San Francisco 45, Cardinals 29


Brock Purdy threw four touchdowns, and Christian McCaffery scored three times as San Francisco left the Arizona desert with another resounding win and a division title. 


With 17 TD passes since their bye, Purdy’s production is tremendous, his efficiency bordering on monumental. Coming into Week 15, the Niners passing game had the third most passing yards in the league — but also had the fewest number of passing attempts. That stat and Purdy’s 9.9 yards per attempt — tied for fifth-best ever if the season ended today — will not change much after his 242 yards on 25 attempts against Arizona.


Two of his touchdown passes went to Deebo Samuel, the first of which tied the game, 7-7, after Arizona marched the opening kickoff for a touchdown. On the ensuing Arizona possession, Charvarius Ward picked off a Kyler Murray pass and raced 66 yards to put San Francisco up, 14-7. It was the first of two Ward INTs on the day.


Two field goals brought the Cardinals to within a point, but the 49ers opened up a 21-13 halftime lead on a TD pass to McCaffery, who posted another brilliant all-around effort with 115 yards rushing and another 72 receiving. 


To start the second half, Purdy, on back-to-back plays hit tight end George Kittle for 37 yards, then found McCaffery all alone for a 41-yard score. All told, the 49ers racked up 406 yards of offense, averaged 7.5 yards per play and their 45 points set a season high in scoring.


Arizona had its moments on offense, on its way to 436 total yards. Tight end Trey McBride caught in 10 passes for 102 yards. Running back James Conner rushed for 86 yards, and the Cardinals, as a team, rushed for a season-high 234 yards. Even though San Francisco's defensive line was missing Arik Armstead and Javon Hargrave, that stat should set off alarm bells for SF fans. 


The Niners (11-3) clinched the NFC West for the second straight year. Dallas’ loss to Buffalo helps San Francisco take a step closer to securing the NFC’s best record, and the team’s performance in Phoenix did not nothing to challenge its status as the NFL’s best. The 49ers now prepare for a much anticipated game against Baltimore in Santa Clara on Christmas Day.



Bears 20 Browns 17


The Browns rallied from a 10-point second half deficit and survived a Hail Mary pass on the game’s final play to emerge with a much-needed win.


Dustin Hopkins kicked a 34-yard field goal with 32 seconds left, but the Bears moved the ball to Cleveland’s 45-yard line with five seconds remaining. On the game’s final play, quarterback Justin Field’s lob into the end zone was batted into the hands of WR Darnell Mooney, who could not secure the ball as he was falling backwards to the ground. To add insult to incompletion, Moody then ball deflected to Cleveland safety Duron Harmon for an interception. 


Trailing 17-7, the Browns, led by veteran quarterback Joe Flacco mounted a comeback. Down seven points late, Flacco found Amari Cooper, who broke free from a thicket of defenders and tight-roped the sideline for a 52-yard score with 3:08 remaining to tie the game. The Cleveland defense forced a punt, and Flacco directed the 26th game-winning drive of his career, which including a floating 34-yard pearl to tight end David Njoku on 3rd-and-15 that set up Hopkins’ game-winner. 


Flacco had his most bewildering Joe Flacco kind of day, meaning he was by turns brilliant and awful. He passed for 374 yards and two TDs but jeopardized his team’s victory with three interceptions — the first, taken back by Chicago’s Eddie Jackson, set up the Bears’ first touchdown. Another, on the opening drive of the second half, was returned 45 yards by Tremaine Edmunds to put Chicago ahead, 14-7. 


But when it mattered most, Flacco got it done, with the help of Cooper and Njoku, both of whom had 100-yard receiving days.


Fields struggled against the Browns’ top-rated pass defense. No shame there. And he did not get enough help from a Chicago ground game that totaled 88 yards. Moreover, the Bears offense was even worse on third down (4-of-18) than Cleveland (4-of-16).


The win keeps the Browns in a good position for an AFC wild card. They square off against another 8-6 team, the Houstons Texans, in Houston in Week 16.



Houston 19, Tennessee 16 (OT)


Ka’imi Fairbairn kicked a 54-yard FG near the close of overtime to give Houston an enormous road win in Nashville.


Fairbairn’s winning kick came moments after a penalty wiped out what would have been a 34-yard game-clinching TD run by running back Devin Singletary. Earlier in the drive, Singletary caught a 43-yard pass from Case Keenum to move the ball into field-goal range. 


Keenum, named the last-minute starter ahead of second-stringer Davis Mills, finished 23-of-36 for 229 yards and a touchdown. Singletary was the offensive star for the Texans, rushing for 121 yards and finishing with 170 all-purpose yards.


Keenum’s counterpart, Titans’ rookie QB Will Levis, was beaten like a piñata, sacked seven times, and forced to the sideline in overtime with what looked at first to be a serious injury. Levis did leave the field under his own power. After the game, Levis, per AtoZ Sports Nashville “I’m alright…It could’ve been a lot worse and it was definitely scarier in the moment than it was. We’ll see what the trainers say, but I feel alright.” 


In addition to constantly pressuring Levis, the Texans’ defense also throttled Derrick Henry, holding the Titans star running back to just nine yards on 16 carries.


With the win, Houston (8-6) remains a threat to Jacksonville, with the Jags hosting the tough Ravens Sunday Night. The buzz the Titans (5-9) were riding coming off the thrilling win over Miami on Monday night dissipated Sunday and will be gone for the rest of the season should Levis be sidelined.


Tampa Bay 34, Green Bay 20


Baker Mayfield threw four touchdowns and passed for a season-high 381 yards as the Bucs upended Green Bay at Lambeau Field.


Though a double-digit win, the game was tightly contested most of the way, with Tampa holding a 13-10 edge at halftime. The teams exchanged touchdowns in the third. Tampa went up 10 points on a 26-yard TD pass from Mayfield to running back Rachaad White. The Packers answered when Jordan Love found rookie receiver Jayden Reed for a 17-yard score to make it 20-17. 


But Tampa scored again on their next possession, a 75-yard, nine-play drive to again build a two-possession lead. The Bucs finished out the scoring in style when rookie David Moore took a short Mayfield pass and galloped 52 yards for a touchdown.


Mayfield finished with a perfect quarterback rating (158.3) and threw his touchdowns to four different players. The 381 yards was the most he’s thrown for since he passed for a career-high 397 yards in 2020. 


His counterpart, Green Bay’s Jordan Love, passed for 284 yards and two scores. The Packers’ offense was not the issue, however. The defense did manage five sacks on Mayfield, but when he did get time to throw, the veteran quarterback sizzled against what had been, until the past two weeks, a pretty good Packers secondary.


The big road win gets Tampa to .500 and keeps them deadlocked with victorious New Orleans for the NFC South title chase. The Bucs host a tough Jacksonville team before welcoming the Saints in Week 17 in what will likely be for the division crown.



The Packers suddenly have an enormous problem on defense that threatens to ruin their playoff hopes. They travel to Carolina to take the two-win Panthers.



Kansas City 27, New England 17


Patrick Mahomes threw for 305 yards and two touchdowns and the Chiefs overcome another sluggish stretch of football to beat host New England.


The Patriots (3-11) hung around in the first half, even taking a three-point lead when they scored 10 unanswered on a touchdown pass from Bailey Zappe to tight end Hunter Henry, followed by an interception of Mahomes, which set up a Chad Ryland field goal. The Chiefs took a 14-10 advantage into the half after Mahomes hit Jerick McKinnon on a short touchdown pass.



The second of Mahomes’ touchdown tosses came in the third, an off-balance throw against his body to a leaping Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Harrison Butker added a field goal later in the period, extending the Chiefs lead to 27-10. 


Most of the credit for this KC win, as for other wins this year, should go to the Chiefs’ defense. While its own running game managed only 43 yards, Kansas City held New England’s to just 52 yards rushing. Steve Spagnuolo’s group also held Zappe to 180 yards passing, sacking the New England quarterback four times. 


With the win, the Chiefs retain the No. 3 seed in the AFC and close in on another AFC West title. New England’s modest objective over the final three weeks of the season is to catch the Jets.  




Miami 30, New York Jets 0 


Tua Tagovailoa completed 21-of-24 and the Miami defense held New York to just 103 yards of offense as the Dolphins blanked the Jets 30-0.


The Dolphins put the game away in the first half, building a 24-0 lead with a big second quarter. There would be no 30-point second half for the Jets this week. 


Tua threw for 224 yards against one of the NFL’s elite pass defenses. Most impressively, he did so without his top weapon, WR Tyreek Hill, who was sidelined because of the knee injury suffered last Monday against the Titans. So Tua utilized his other weapons, most notably WR Jaylen Waddle, who caught a team-high eight passes for 142 yards and a 60-yard touchdown reception, Tua’s lone scoring pass of the day. 


For the Jets, the glimmer of hope last week’s second half against Houston offered was scoured away by a brutal performance. Starting quarterback Zach Wilson was knocked out of the game with a concussion and replaced by Trevor Siemian. Both were miserable. Wilson finished 4-of-11; Siemian threw two picks, and both quarterbacks lost a fumble. Once again the Jets running game was a no-show, unless you consider 23 yards a worthwhile appearance.


Miami (10-4) stays in control of the AFC East, two games ahead of the Bills who thumped Dallas. The Jets take one step closer towards the merciful end of the season. 



Los Angeles Rams 28, Washington 20


Rookie sensation Kyren Williams ran for 152 yards, and Matthew Stafford passed for two scores as the Rams held off the Commanders at SoFi Stadium.


The Rams built a 13-0 halftime lead on a Williams short TD run and two Lucas Havrisik field goals. They extended the lead to 20-0 when Stafford found receiver Cooper Kupp for 62 yards. Kupp finished with eight catches and 111 yards receiving.


Quarterback Sam Howell brought the Commanders back with a scoring pass to Curtis Samuel, but the Rams answered when Stafford threw his second touchdown of the day, a 23-yarder to Demarcus Robinson, making it 28-7.


After throwing an interception, Howell was benched in favor of Jacoby Brissett, who engineered two fourth-quarter scoring drives to cut the deficit to a single possession. Brissett hit Terry McLaurin for 29 yards and a touchdown, then connected with McLaurin for 48 yards to set up a TD throw to Samuel, his second of the game. 


But Kupp recovered a Commanders’ onside kick with 1:46 remaining to seal the victory.


The win evens the Rams record (7-7) and puts them firmly in the hunt for an NFC wild card. They host the Saints next week. 



Carolina 9, Atlanta 7


Eddy Pineiro kicked a 23-yard field as time expired to give the Panthers their second win of the season.


It was Pineiro’s third field goal of the day, as he provided all of Carolina’s points in what was a defensive struggle from start to finish. The Falcons took a 7-0 lead midway through the second quarter when Desmond Ridder threw 56 yards to tight end Jonnu Smith. That set up a short TD throw from Ridder to Cordarrelle Patterson.


Carolina closed the gap to a single point on two Pineiro field goals. Then midway through the fourth, rookie quarterback Bryce Young helmed a 17-play, 90-yard drive, converting three third downs along the way. The Panthers reached the Falcons 5-yard line, forcing Atlanta to burn all of its timeouts. 


Then Peneiro kicked the game-winner to give interim coach Chris Tabor his first NFL win. For the Falcons (6-8), the loss was crushing. They fall a full game behind both Tampa and New Orleans and have no shot at making the playoffs outside winning the NFC South. That task became much harder by blowing a game to a one-win team.  

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