NFL Week 16: 49ers Purdy Gift Wraps MVP for Ravens Jackson, Raiders Win at KC

Dec 25, 2023; Santa Clara, California, USA; Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) tries to elude San Francisco 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa (97) in the first quarter at Levis Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 25, 2023; Santa Clara, California, USA; Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) tries to elude San Francisco 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa (97) in the first quarter at Levis Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports


Ravens QB Lamar Jackson seizes control of MVP race as Baltimore humbles 49ers

Forty Niners quarterback Brock Purdy commited five turnovers Monday — four interceptions and the NFL's MVP award, which he neatly wrapped into a Christmas Day present for Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson.

In a pivotal matchup against the visiting Baltimore Ravens on Christmas night, Purdy had his worse game as a 49er, a stunning, 33-19, loss.

As badly as Purdy played, Jackson was electric for the Ravens, finishing 23-of-35 for 252 yards and two touchdown passes for a 105.9 passer rating. He completed passes to nine different receivers and had no interceptions. He also rushed for 45 yards and extended plays with his feet all night. 

Jackson improved to 20-1 against NFC teams. The 2019 MVP appears headed for a second trophy after the impressive win over a San Francisco team that had been on a six-game winning streak.

"I thought Lamar had an MVP performance tonight," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "It takes a team to create a performance like that, but it takes a player to play at that level — to play at an MVP level. And Lamar was all over the field doing everything." 

Playing against one of the most imposing and explosive teams in football, the Ravens were the more physical team. Jackson said the Ravens play their best under the bright lights of the national stage.

"But we just stay locked in. I don't think nobody plays like us. We've just got to keep playing the way we're playing, playing the Raven way." 

Purdy threw three interceptions before halftime for the first time in his pro career — the only NFL player to throw three interceptions in the first half this season. The only other time he threw at least two interceptions in a game, San Francisco lost to the Minnesota Vikings and the Cincinnati Bengals earlier this year. 

Purdy has turned the ball over 10 times in San Francisco's four losses this season and has just two interceptions in San Francisco's 11 wins.

On Monday, the turnovers started early for San Francisco, as Purdy threw a pick on the opening drive. The Iowa State product didn't see Baltimore safety Kyle Hamilton while trying to connect with Deebo Samuel in the back of the end zone. 

"I obviously have to look myself in the mirror, watch the plays where I need to get better, make some cleaner decisions, help my team put up points and score and protect the ball," Purdy said after the game. "And when things don't go my way, it's understanding I can't be acting out. 

"I have to be real with myself and be better. I want to be the same guy every day, be consistent in what I do and how I do things, whether things are going well or not. I know who I am, and I'm not going to waver in that." 

Purdy left the game in the fourth quarter with a shoulder injury. He was replaced by backup Sam Darnold. The 49ers also lost left tackle Trent Williams to a groin injury, his replacement Jaylon Moore to a concussion and left guard Aaron Banks to a toe injury. 

The Ravens turned Purdy's four miscues into 17 points. Baltimore dominated on both sides of the ball, scoring on seven straight drives offensively and holding an explosive San Francisco offense to just 19 points on defense. 

The Ravens entered the game with a league-high 50 sacks and kept the pressure on against Purdy. Baltimore finished with four sacks. But the Ravens also did a good job of disguising coverages and creating a cloudy picture for Purdy after the snap.

According to Next Gen Stats, Purdy held the ball for more than 2.5 seconds on three of his four interceptions, including 9.24 seconds on Hamilton's second interception. 

"It was our rush and coverage working together," Ravens edge rusher Jadeveon Clowney said. "[We were] in disguise. [Defensive coordinator] Mike Macdonald put us in good situations to go out there and make plays, and we executed today. We went out there and did our job." 

The Ravens have won five straight games and are 9-1 in their past 10 games. Baltimore has a league-high 12 victories this season, with eight of those by double digits.

Baltimore faces the Miami Dolphins (11-4) on the road in a battle for the No. 1 seed in the AFC this weekend. San Francisco (11-4) still has a chance to claim the No. 1 seed in the NFC with wins over the Washington Commanders and Los Angeles Rams to finish out the regular season. 

"The mindset is that you can't let one turn into two," 49ers linebacker Fred Warner said of the loss. "You have to wipe this one and, of course, learn from it. You have to watch the tape hard and be honest with yourself. 

"Then you have to get back to work. Get right back to work. We can't let this affect our confidence as a team. We know who we are. We have to come back on a short week and go on the road in a big game and find a way to win." 

 Eagles 33, Giants 25

Maybe something like this is all it will take. Maybe an ugly win over a bad team really is exactly what the Philadelphia Eagles so desperately needed. Maybe a narrow escape will be just enough to get them back on their track.

"I know we're stressing people out at home, but man we needed it bad," defensive tackle Jordan Davis said on Monday. "I can't emphasize enough how much we needed that W."

There is no doubt how badly the Eagles needed their 33-25 win over the New York Giants after three straight soul-crushing losses. They're back in first place in the NFC East now. They still have a shot at the No. 1 seed in the conference. It's all good.

So how come the Eagles still feel so bad?

That's what this team continues to wrestle with as they head into the final two weeks of the season. They are 11-4 and might still be the NFC's best bet to reach the Super Bowl. But they played a sloppy game filled with the kind of mistakes they never used to make, barely hanging on to beat a bad Giants team that benched its quarterback at halftime.

They looked like the same flawed team they've looked like for most of the last month. The only difference was that this time they got away with it and won.

"We're not playing good football right now," said Eagles receiver DeVonta Smith. "As an offense, we're not where we want to be. I'm not satisfied. Yeah, we got 11 wins. I'm not happy. It needs to be better for what everybody else in here wants to do, what we want to be. We're nowhere near that."

Added left tackle Jordan Mailata: "We have high standards and it's hard when you know that there's so many opportunities that you know were left out there. A win is always going to be a win, but it's not going to feel great."

To be fair to the Eagles, there was plenty the Eagles could have been happy about on Monday. They had their best offensive day since Week 3, rolling the Giants defense for 465 yards — including an impressive 170 yards on the ground. Jalen Hurts looked like himself again, too, for the first time in three weeks, completing 24 of 38 passes for 301 yards with a touchdown and an interception. 

But, with the Eagles this season, there's always a "but." Like how they were up 17-3 late in the first half, seemingly cruising to victory, and threatening to add another touchdown before their last drive went awry. Nick Sirianni wasted 15 seconds trying to decide whether to use a timeout in the final minute. Then Hurts stunningly failed to get out of bounds at the Giants 6-yard line with four seconds remaining, which nearly blew the field goal try, too.

They got that, thanks to a questionable delay-of-game penalty on the Giants, but even their 20-3 halftime lead wasn't safe. On the opening kickoff of the second half, returner Boston Scott collided with receiver Olamide Zaccheus and fumbled the ball away, gifting the Giants a touchdown. The Giants got another when tight end Dallas Goedert slipped, allowing cornerback Adoree' Jackson to catch Hurts' 13th interception of the season and return it 76 yards, making it a 20-18 game.

And even after the Eagles answered that and held a two-score lead again, 30-18, with 5:32 remaining, they allowed a 69-yard touchdown pass from Giants backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor to Darius Slayton — a big play from an offensively challenged team that hasn't had a play that big all year long.

A mismanaged drive, an unexpected collision on a kickoff return, a receiver slipping on the grass — those may all seem like fluky things. But they're the kind of things that feel like they've been happening to the Eagles all year. And try as they might, they can't get those flukes and those uncharacteristic mistakes and meltdowns to stop.

"You hope you're getting close at this point," Sirianni said. "We know we have better football in us. To be 11-4 and still have better football left in you, that's encouraging. But let's go. We have to get there."

They sound so much like a team in crisis. But again, they did hold on to win. They couldn't run out the clock like they wanted to do when they got the ball back with 5:22 remaining, but they did leave only 1:10 after Jake Elliott's 43-yard field goal made it an eight-point game. And sure, maybe Taylor was able to march the Giants right down the field again, all the way to the Eagles 26-yard line. But when his last pass was picked off in the end zone by rookie corner Kelee Ringo, Christmas in Philly was saved.

The fact that they won is still important. Maybe it's the infield single they needed to knock them out of their slump. After all, as Hurts asked after the game, "When did winning not become the main thing?"

"It's like a double-edged sword of what's more important, winning or the standard?" Hurts added. "It's a very manipulative thing to the mind sometimes. I can play to the standard and lose and be sick. I can go win and not play to the standard and be like, ‘We have more work to do.' It's that fight we balance as competitors."

It's that fight that the Eagles have also been losing. For most of the season they were winning, but not playing as well as they know they can play. And for three weeks, that cost them dearly. That's why this win was so important, so necessary, even if it didn't leave the Eagles feeling any better about themselves.

Raiders 20 Chiefs 14

The Raiders scored two defensive touchdowns for the second straight week, including a pick-six against the struggling Patrick Mahomes, and resurgent Las Vegas held off the sloppy Kansas City Chiefs, 20-14, on Monday to keep their slim postseason hopes alive — and send a major warning sign for Kansas City's prospects of reaching a sixth straight AFC Championship Game

Big defensive tackle Bilal Nichols returned a fumble eight yards for a touchdown, and Jack Jones took an interception 33 yards for another score seven seconds later, helping the Raiders (7-8) snap a six-game losing streak to the Chiefs.

Kansas City (9-6) squandered an opportunity to clinch the AFC West for the eighth consecutive year with one of their worst performances of the Patrick Mahomes era.

Along with two defensive touchdowns, Harrison Butker missed a chip-shot field goal, penalties and dropped passes were again a problem, and twice they failed to convert on fourth down in the second half.

The Chiefs had a chance after Patrick Mahomes hit Justin Watson for a touchdown with 2:42 to go. But on the ensuing possession, the Raiders' Zamir White got loose for a 43-yard gain, picking up a first down that allowed them to run out the clock.

Mahomes finished 27 of 44 for 235 yards and an interception; he nearly threw a second pick, but it was overturned upon review.

The Raiders, playing without injured running back Josh Jacobs, won despite a dismal day from their own offense.

Aidan O'Connell was 9 of 21 for 62 yards, never completing a pass after the first quarter, while White had 145 yards on the ground.

Chiefs coach Andy Reid had spent the past few weeks lamenting the sloppy play that kept costing the Super Bowl champs.

They couldn't have been much sloppier on Christmas Day.

They went three-and-out on consecutive series to start a game for only the second time with Mahomes at quarterback. They were held to minus-18 yards in the first quarter, the second-worst total for the club since at least 1991. And the reigning league MVP was sacked twice in those two series, while two more offensive penalties only made matters worse.

The Chiefs finally pulled ahead when Isiah Pacheco took a direct snap 12 yards for a touchdown, and Las Vegas had given the ball right back after a punt. Pacheco again took a direct snap, but this time tried to hand off to Mahomes — who lost the exchange — and the 315-pound Raiders defensive tackle Nichols was there to scoop it up and run for the touchdown.

On the next offensive play for Kansas City, Mahomes was picked off by Jones, who returned it 33 yards for his second pick-6 in consecutive weeks. The Raiders' fourth defensive touchdown in the two weeks, and their second in a span of seven seconds, gave them a 17-7 lead over their longtime divisional nemesis.

Then, Jones appeared to play the Grinch when he faked giving the ball to a kid wearing Chiefs clothes in the crowd.

It was still 17-7 when the Chiefs' Butker, one of the NFL's most accurate kickers, missed a chip-shot field goal before halftime, and the Raiders tacked on a field goal late in the third quarter to take a 20-7 lead heading to the fourth.

Three takeaways from the Raiders’ 20-14 victory

1. Dominant defense

The Raiders didn’t complete a pass after the first quarter and somehow found a way to make history in Kansas City.

Patrick Mahomes had been 19-0 against AFC West opponents after November and had never lost to a rookie quarterback.

Until Monday.

Aidan O’Connell completed just 9 of 21 passes and finished with 62 yards and a quarterback rating of 50.3, but a dominant defense made sure it was enough.

The Raiders (7-8) sacked Mahomes four times and came up with a huge fourth-down stop inside the 10-yard line early in the fourth quarter. Even more important, they harassed Mahomes all day.

Mahomes needed 44 attempts to throw for 235 yards and was never able to get fully comfortable in the Chiefs’ worst offensive showing against the Raiders since he took over as quarterback. They had scored at least 30 points in eight straight games against the Raiders.

Then, Zamir White closed the door for the offense. He broke off a 43-yard run when the Raiders needed a first down to run out the clock and finished with 145 yards rushing as he filled in for injured Josh Jacobs.

2. Setting the tone early

The Raiders made it known early they were going to make it difficult on the Kansas City offense.

They forced a three-and-out on the Chiefs’ first two possessions, something that had never happened to Mahomes in a home game in his career.

Each of those series included a sack, as the Raiders showed they planned to get right in his face all game. There was constant pressure, and the Raiders didn’t have to blitz much because the defensive line had its way with the Chiefs’ beleaguered offensive line.

The Chiefs (9-6) had minus-18 yards of offense in the first quarter and started the second quarter by finally getting a first down by way of a penalty.

3. Back to back

The Raiders scored defensive touchdowns on consecutive plays from scrimmage in the second quarter, covering a span of seven seconds.

It was a continuation of last week’s ball-hawking habits that saw the Raiders score twice on defense and turn five turnovers into 35 points.

The first was just a matter of being in the right place at the right time when the Chiefs tried to get tricky deep in their own territory. Running back Isiah Pacheco took a direct snap and was trying to hand it to Mahomes to start what appeared to be an option play with Richie James in motion behind him, but Pacheco held the ball too long and it dropped to the ground, where defensive tackle Bilal Nichols picked it up and walked in for an 8-yard touchdown.

That play gave the Raiders a 9-7 lead, and Jack Jones added to it seconds later with his second pick-six in two weeks.

Jones, whose comment about how to stop the Chiefs’ offense went viral this past week, backed up his words with a tremendous break on the ball and a sprint down the left sideline.

Lions 30, Vikings 24

The Detroit Lions clinched their first division title in 30 years, using two rushing touchdowns from Jahmyr Gibbs and 106 receiving yards and a third-quarter go-ahead score by Amon-Ra St. Brown to overtake the injury-ravaged Minnesota Vikings 30-24 on Sunday in Minneapolis.

Ifeatu Melifonwu picked off a Nick Mullens pass at the five-yard line with 49 seconds left for Detroit’s fourth interception of the game, an off-target pass to an open Justin Jefferson three plays after his leaping grab in double coverage on third and 27 kept the last-minute drive alive.

Jared Goff passed for 257 yards without a turnover and David Montgomery had a rushing touchdown for the Lions (11-4) in another prolific performance by one of the NFL’s most potent offenses.

Detroit secured a home playoff game for the first time in 22 seasons at Ford Field, where an NFC North champions banner will soon hang. The last one was for winning the NFC Central in 1993.

Mullens threw for two scores, a diving 26-yard catch by Jefferson with 29 seconds left in the first half and a six-yard toss to K.J. Osborn that gave the Vikings a 21-17 lead early in the third quarter one play after a 47-yard heave to Osborn.

But like the week before in an overtime loss at Cincinnati, the turnovers weighed heavily on the outcome. Kerby Joseph’s first of two picks gave the Lions the ball at the Minnesota 33 in the second quarter, and they reached the end zone in three plays.

Goff was sharp in a redemptive game for him against Vikings defensive coordinator Brian Flores, whose schemes had given him plenty of trouble in previous matchups with New England and Miami when Goff was with the Rams, including Super Bowl 53.

Jefferson played at home for the first time since Oct. 8, when he hurt his hamstring and sat out seven games, but the Vikings have had their depth tested more than ever. Wide receiver Jordan Addison (ankle, second quarter), tight end T.J. Hockenson (knee, third quarter), cornerback Mekhi Blackmon (shoulder, third quarter) and edge rusher D.J. Wonnum (knee, fourth quarter) left because of injuries.

Patriots 26, Broncos 23

Chad Ryland made a career-long 56-yard field goal with two seconds left, and New England delivered a near-fatal blow to Denver’s playoff hopes.

The Patriots (4-11) scored a pair of touchdowns in a six-second span of the third quarter, then fended off a furious fourth-quarter rally by the Broncos (7-8).

Ryland’s kick capped a seven-play, 44-yard drive that began with 58 seconds left after the Broncos went three-and-out. Denver had tied it up with a pair of long touchdown drives and two-point conversions on its previous two possessions.

Ryland came in as the worst full-time starting kicker in the league in field-goal percentage at 65 percent (13 of 20), and the rookie missed from 47 yards late in the first half on Sunday night. He also missed an extra point in the third quarter.

The Broncos were 7½-point favorites, according to FanDuel Sportsbook, making the Patriots the fourth underdog to win at Empower Field at Mile High in coach Sean Payton’s first season. This latest upset left the Broncos with just a six percent chance of ending their eight-year playoff drought, according to the NFL’s calculations.

Bill Belichick improved to 11-10 against the Broncos during his 24-year tenure in New England, denying Denver the status as the only opponent with a winning record against him during his time with the Patriots.

Dolphins 22, Cowboys 20

Jason Sanders kicked his fifth field goal of the game, a 29-yarder as time expired, and the Miami Dolphins secured a playoff berth.

Tua Tagovailoa threw for 293 yards and a touchdown for the AFC East-leading Dolphins (11-4), who beat a team with a winning record for the first time this season. He connected with Tyreek Hill twice on the decisive drive, which covered 64 yards and took the final 3:27 off the clock.

Hill, who leads the NFL in receiving yards, had nine catches for 99 yards after missing last week’s victory over the New York Jets with an ankle injury.

Dak Prescott went 20 of 32 for 253 yards and two touchdowns for the Cowboys (10-5), who have already clinched a playoff spot but fell a half-game behind Philadelphia in the NFC East.

Prescott put the Dallas in front 20-19 with an 8-yard touchdown pass to a leaping Brandin Cooks in the corner of the end zone. But the Cowboys were haunted by their red-zone struggles earlier in the game, including a fumble by Prescott on first-and-goal from inside the 1 on Dallas’ first possession.

Sanders’ first field goal was a career-long 57-yarder in the first quarter. He added kicks of 52, 54 and 35 yards to help the Dolphins take a 19-10 lead late in the third.

Packers 33, Panthers 30

Jordan Love threw for two touchdowns, ran for one and made two big completions to set up Anders Carlson’s 32-yard field goal with 19 seconds left, and visiting Green Bay survived a fourth-quarter rally by Carolina to keep their playoff hopes alive.

Love threw touchdown passes of 21 yards to rookie Dontayvion Wicks and five yards to Romeo Dobbs and scored on a quarterback sneak as the Packers ended a two-game losing streak. Aaron Jones became the first Packers player this season to exceed 100 yards rushing or receiving in a game, rushing for 127 yards in 21 carries.

The Packers (7-8) remain one game behind the Seahawks and Rams in the NFC wild-card race.

Bryce Young threw for a career-high 312 yards with two touchdown passes to DJ Chark for the Panthers (2-13), who failed to build on the momentum of last week’s 9-7 win over the Atlanta Falcons.

The Panthers trailed by 14 in the fourth quarter when Young threw an 11-yard pass to Chark on a slant route to make it 30-22 with 7:14 remaining. Young appeared to scramble for the two-point conversion, but the Panthers were called for holding and Eddy Pineiro missed his second extra-point attempt of the game.

After a defensive stand, the Panthers got the ball back and Young found Chark again in the right corner of the end zone for a diving 10-yard touchdown. Raheem Blackshear then tied the score at 30, scoring on a pitchout for the two-point conversion.

But Love came through for the Packers. He completed a 36-yard strike on third and four to Dobbs, who hauled in a catch near the sideline that Fox Sports rules analyst Dean Blandino said on television should have been overturned.

Love, who finished 17-of-28 passing for 219 yards, followed with a 20-yard completion to rookie tight end Tucker Kraft to reach the Carolina 13, setting up Carlson’s kick.

Carolina had one last chance. Young completed a 22-yard pass to Chark on the sideline to stop the clock and then threw over the middle to Adam Thielen for 22 yards. But the Panthers, without any timeouts, were unable to spike the ball before time expired.

Seahawks 20, Titans 17

Geno Smith threw his second touchdown pass of the fourth quarter on a five-yarder to Colby Parkinson with 57 seconds left at Nashville and the Seahawks kept their playoff hopes alive with their second straight victory.

The Seahawks (8-7) still need to win out and get some help to clinch their second playoff berth in three seasons.

They started slowly after beating Philadelphia on Monday night and traveling cross country for the early kickoff. Smith, who sat out the last two games because of a groin injury, gave the Seahawks their first lead at 13-10 when he found DK Metcalf in the left corner for an 11-yard touchdown with 12:10 left.

Derrick Henry put Tennessee back up 17-13 with a two-yard touchdown run with 3:21 left. Smith responded by driving the Seahawks 75 yards over 14 plays for the win.

Tennessee (5-10), eliminated from the playoffs last week, had a final chance, but Boye Mafe led Seattle with two sacks, including one to start the Titans’ last drive. Ryan Tannehill hit Colton Dowell for a three-yard pass as the rookie ran out of bounds. Officials kept the clock going, and the final seconds ticked off without another play.

Henry threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to Chig Okonkwo early in the second quarter. The Titans outgained Seattle 287-273.

Falcons 29, Colts 10

Taylor Heinicke provided the turnover-free leadership at quarterback Atlanta has sought all season, passing for 229 yards and a touchdown to lead the Falcons to the home victory.

The Falcons (7-8) benched Desmond Ridder this week for the second time this season following two straight losses, providing an opportunity for Heinicke to boost the team’s fading playoff hopes.

Heinicke delivered, completing 23 of 33 passes, including a 24-yard touchdown pass to Kyle Pitts. Tyler Allgeier added a 31-yard touchdown run. The Falcons’ 29 points set a season high and they recorded six sacks, including 1 1/2 by Campbell.

The Colts (8-7) had won five of six to move into a first-place tie in the AFC South but struggled on offense after opening the game with a long drive capped by Jonathan Taylor’s one-yard scoring run.

Younghoe Koo kicked five field goals. With the scored tied at 7-7, Koo had a 49-yard attempt hit the right upright in the second quarter, but an offsides penalty against the Colts led to a 23-yarder by Koo for the lead.

Buccaneers 30, Jaguars 12

Baker Mayfield threw for 283 yards and two touchdowns, and NFC South-leading Tampa Bay won its fourth straight while extending visiting Jacksonville’s skid to four games.

Mayfield threw a pair of TD passes as the Buccaneers (8-7) built a 20-0 halftime lead. In both cases, the Bucs cashed in after intercepting Trevor Lawrence, who struggled after spending the past week in the NFL’s concussion protocol.

Lawrence threw a second-half TD pass to Calvin Ridley before spending the fourth quarter on the bench with what the Jaguars announced was a shoulder injury.

The Bucs are alone atop their division, one game ahead of New Orleans and Atlanta.

The Jaguars (8-7) remained in a first-place tie atop the AFC South with Indianapolis and Houston because both rivals also lost on Sunday.

Bears 27, Cardinals 16

Justin Fields threw for a touchdown and ran for a score in the win at Chicago. Tight end Cole Kmet caught four passes for a career-high 107 yards despite missing the second half because of a knee injury.

Khalil Herbert ran for a season-high 112 yards and a touchdown, and the Bears (6-9) bounced back after a late collapse at Cleveland a week earlier.

Chicago scored touchdowns on three straight possessions in the first half to take a 21-0 lead and held on from there.

Kyler Murray threw for 230 yards and two touchdowns for the Cardinals (3-12).

Browns 36, Texans 22

Amari Cooper set a franchise record with 265 yards receiving while scoring two touchdowns and a two-point conversion to move Cleveland closer to a playoff berth with the win at Houston.

Cooper’s performance moved him atop the Browns’ record book ahead of Josh Gordon, who had 261 yards receiving against Jacksonville on Dec. 1, 2013. He has 1,250 yards receiving this season, making him the first receiver in team history with consecutive 1,000-yard seasons.

The Browns can’t clinch a playoff spot this week, but at 10-5 they’re all but guaranteed to secure just their second postseason appearance since 2002. It’s the third time since 1999 that they’ve reached double-digit wins, doing so in 2007 and 2020.

Joe Flacco threw for 368 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions in his fourth start for the Browns, who built a 22-7 halftime lead and cruised to their third straight victory. Cooper had touchdown catches of 75 and seven yards and set up Cleveland’s first score with a 53-yard reception on the first play from scrimmage.

Houston’s wild-card playoff hopes took a blow as the Texans fell to 8-7 on a day when Case Keenum threw for just 62 yards with two interceptions in his second start in place of star rookie C.J. Stroud, who remained out because of a concussion. Keenum was replaced by Davis Mills late in the third quarter.

Jets 30, Commanders 28

Greg Zuerlein kicked a 54-yard field goal with five seconds left, rescuing New York after it blew a 20-point lead in the third quarter at East Rutherford, N.J.

Jacoby Brissett replaced the benched Sam Howell in the third quarter and led the Commanders on three straight touchdown drives, including Antonio Gibson’s one-yard run that put Washington ahead 28-27 with 4:52 remaining.

After the Jets (6-9) held Brissett and the Commanders to a three-and-out series, they got the ball back with 1:41 remaining. Trevor Siemian marched New York into field-goal range and Zuerlein booted the game-winner.

It was the second win in eight games for the Jets, and it came hours after owner Woody Johnson told the New York Post he was bringing back coach Robert Saleh and general manager Joe Douglas next year.

Siemian finished 27-of-49 passing for 217 yards with a touchdown and an interception in his first start in place of the injured Zach Wilson. Breece Hall ran for 95 yards and two touchdowns and caught 12 passes for 96 yards in the home finale for New York.

Brissett was 10-of-13 passing for 100 yards and a touchdown in relief of Howell, who was benched for the second straight game. Howell completed six of 22 for 56 yards and two interceptions with a 1.7 rating for the Commanders (4-11), who have dropped six straight.

Chris Rodriguez had two touchdown runs for Washington, who looked to be out of it early before Brissett helped lead an impressive comeback.


Bills 24, Chargers  22

Josh Allen continues to reach milestones in his sixth NFL season, but he’s more concerned about getting the Buffalo Bills back into the playoffs.

Allen did his part Saturday night by rushing for two TDs and throwing for one, but it took a 29-yard field goal by Tyler Bass with 28 seconds remaining for the Bills to escape with a 24-22 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers.

Allen became the first player in NFL history with four consecutive seasons of 40 combined touchdowns and the second quarterback to reach 50 career rushing scores.

“It’s tough because when you’re playing a team with nothing to lose, that’s a dangerous team. We gutted it out and we found a way,” said Allen, who completed 15 of 21 passes for 237 yards with an interception. “This is our playoffs. It didn’t matter how we get them done, just get them done.”

The Bills (9-6) have won four of their last five. Buffalo’s playoff chances got some help earlier in the day when Pittsburgh beat Cincinnati.

Indianapolis and Houston are both 8-6 and hold the tiebreaker over the Bills by virtue of a better conference record. If either team loses, Buffalo would control one of the AFC’s final two spots heading into the last two weeks of the season.

Buffalo fell behind 10-0 early in the second quarter but rallied from a double-digit deficit to win for the fourth time since Sean McDermott became coach in 2017.

The Bills turned the ball over three times to keep the short-handed Chargers in the game in their first outing under interim coach Giff Smith. Brandon Staley and general manager Tom Telesco were fired on Dec. 15, one day after the Chargers were pummeled 63-21 at Las Vegas.

“(The Chargers) were doing some things that they hadn’t shown (this season). They came in well-prepared,” McDermott said. “I thought our guys settled in and responded. We did a good job in the red zone and had some big plays on third down to help us out.”

Cameron Dicker kicked a career-high five field goals and Easton Stick passed for 210 yards for Los Angeles (5-10), which has lost six of seven.

“I think we went into this game thinking it was going to be a heavyweight fight, and we wanted to have a chance at the end for a knockout,” Smith said. “We were going to play it a little close to the vest. Get points on the board and give ourself a chance to win, and that’s the way it went. Came up a little bit short.”

Allen had four completions on the 13-play, 64-yard game-winning drive, including a 15-yard reception by Khalil Shakir on third-and-4 at the LA 28 line with 2:29 remaining. Shakir got up after making the catch and ran to the end zone, and officials signaled a touchdown, but a replay review determined he was down by contact.

“As an offense we want to score a touchdown and put them in an even more difficult situation. Obviously not scoring there allowed us to run down the clock down and they wasted their third and final timeout,” Allen said.

Allen leads the league with 40 total touchdowns (27 passing, 13 rushing). His 2-yard run off right tackle with 38 seconds remaining in the second quarter gave the Bills a 14-10 lead.

Allen had a 1-yard sneak late in the third quarter — his 51st career rushing TD — to make it 21-13. Allen benefited from a late push by running back Latavius Murray.

Gabe Davis, who had not caught a pass in the past two games after having six receptions for 105 yards against Philadelphia, had four receptions for a season-high 130 yards, including a 57-yard touchdown early in the second quarter to get the Bills within 10-7.

Allen scrambled right and found Davis open downfield. Davis hauled in the pass at the Chargers 19 and beat linebacker Kenneth Murray into the end zone. It was Allen’s second-longest completion of the season.


Stick, making his second NFL start in place of the injured Justin Herbert, was 23 of 33 passing and rushed for a touchdown.

The fifth-year quarterback directed the Chargers to scores on two of their first three drives. He rolled right and scored from 1 yard out early in the second quarter to give Los Angeles a 10-0 lead.

Stick took advantage of a short field after Amen Ogbongbemiga recovered a fumbled punt by the Bills’ Deonte Harty.

“We were able to get the ball into the end zone and take the lead, that’s the way that you want to play it. We just have to consistently execute better so that we feel better at the end,” Stick said.


James Cook finished with 70 yards on 20 carries and became the first Bills running back to reach 1,000 yards since LeSean McCoy in 2017.


Bills: LB Terrel Bernard missed part of the first quarter due to a non-contact foot injury. ... S Damar Hamlin (shoulder) missed part of the first half but was cleared to return. ... RB Ty Johnson (shoulder), S Micah Hyde (neck) and DE A.J. Epensesa (rib) were inactive.

Chargers: WR Keenan Allen missed his second straight game and DB Deane Leonard his fourth consecutive, both due to heel injuries.


Bills: Host New England on Dec. 31.

Chargers: At Denver on Dec. 31.

Steelers 34, Bengals 11

Mason Rudolph isn’t afraid to admit his mind would drift toward the future as the seasons passed and he remained at the bottom of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ depth chart.

“You have confidence in yourself as a player,” the longtime backup quarterback said. “But I’m kinda thinking, ‘Am I going to jump into the commercial real estate realm next year or am I going to play quarterback?’”

A job change may have to wait. There may be life in Rudolph’s NFL career — and in the Steelers’ unwieldy season.

Two-plus years after his last appearance in a regular-season game, Rudolph threw for 290 yards and two long touchdowns to embattled wide receiver George Pickens on Saturday as the Steelers gave their fading playoff hopes a jolt with a 34-11 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.

He hit Pickens for an 86-yard catch-and-run touchdown on Pittsburgh’s second offensive snap and lobbed a rainbow in the third quarter that Pickens turned into a 66-yard score as the Steelers posted their highest point total in a win since 2020.

“I felt like we were balanced and we were clicking,” said Rudolph, who completed 17 of 27 passes for 290 yards.

That feeling has been rare for Pittsburgh even before Ben Roethlisberger’s retirement after the 2021 season. The Steelers have spent the last three years relying heavily on a defense that would find ways to win tight games, with the offense mostly along for the ride.

Rudolph spent the overwhelming majority of that time on the sideline with a headset on or a clipboard in his hand, feeling a bit like a “freeloader.” The 28-year-old knew opportunities to prove himself were running out, one of the reasons he couldn’t sleep before practice on Tuesday.

There was no sleepless night on Friday. Maybe because Rudolph felt prepared. He certainly looked that way while directing the Steelers to a 24-point halftime lead.

With his team’s season hanging in the balance and speculation mounting that his 17-year tenure may be drawing to a close, coach Mike Tomlin told his players “scared money don’t make money.”

Translation: Go out and let it rip.

The Steelers, for the first time in a long, long time, did just that, with the 22-year-old Pickens shrugging off criticism for his sometimes lackadaisical play by showcasing the game-breaking talent that Tomlin was so enamored with before the 2022 draft.

Pickens caught four passes for 195 yards — including a 44-yard sideline grab just before halftime that set up a field goal — and afterward apologized, sort of, for saying during the week that his critics were “media guys” who never played the game. Yet he also said he was keeping “receipts” and called the negativity that’s engulfed the Steelers so much “outside noise.”

“People like to question (our commitment) a lot,” Pickens said. “But that just shows you (who we are).”

The path for Pittsburgh to reach the playoffs remains complicated — and who knows what will happen at Seattle next week, when Pickett could be ready to return from right ankle surgery — but the Steelers’ first sweep of the Bengals since 2019 made it a little more navigable.

Cincinnati (8-7) is still in the mix, too, but Jake Browning fell to 3-2 as a starter in place of the injured Joe Burrow. The longtime practice squad player threw for 335 yards and a touchdown but was also picked off three times, with all three turnovers leading to points the other way.

“This is a humbling league, this is a humbling day,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said.

Tee Higgins finished with five receptions for 140 yards and an 80-yard touchdown for Cincinnati, but the game effectively ended Rudolph went deep on third down to a streaking Pickens on the Steelers’ next possession. Pickens ran under it, then ran away from defenders to push the lead back to 23.

By the time the clock ran out, the crowd was singing “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and the quarterback who had been an afterthought for so long was searching the stands looking for his parents.

Who knows if he’ll start next week. Tomlin said it’s too early to say. Rudolph has been through enough to know that there’s no point in getting ahead of himself. The player who remembers getting a treehouse as a Christmas present as a kid received a game ball from defensive tackle Cam Heyward in a jubilant and relieved locker room.

his is pretty up there (too),” he said with a laugh.


Steelers: LB Elandon Roberts exited early in the second quarter with a pectoral injury and did not return.


Bengals: Visit Kansas City on Dec. 31, a place they’ve become regulars in the playoffs over the last two seasons.


Rams 30, Saints 30-22

By James Hicks, The Sports Xchange
Before Thanksgiving, the chances of the Rams making the playoffs seemed as remote as finding actual bighorn sheep in downtown Los Angeles. But in beating New Orleans on Thursday Night Football, 30-22, its fourth win in five games, LA firmly placed a hoof in the postseason door. 

 The second-hottest team in the state of California, the NFC West and the entire NFLut its offensive fireworks on display Thursday in beating the Saints in a game that was not as close as the final score suggests. Los Angeles built a 30-7 advantage before a late New Orleans charge cut the lead to a single possession. 


How hot is the Rams offense? They are averaging nearly 434 yards and 32 points per game over their last five outings. These numbers are not coming against porous defenses — they laid 30-plus points on Cleveland, Baltimore and, now, the Saints, all three defenses ranking in the top 12 in yards allowed. 


Thursday night, LA Quarterback Matthew Stafford was again terrific, throwing for 328 yards and two scores. Second-year back Kyren Williams rushed for 104 yards, his sixth 100-yard game of the season and fifth in the last six games. 


What makes the Rams offense so potent now was on display against the Saints, and can be reduced to one word: balance — balance between the running game and air attack, and in how Stafford is distributing the ball. Much credit must be given to the Rams’ offensive line, which, before the season started, was thought to be one of the league’s worst. Over the second half of the year, it is one of the league’s best, opening holes for Williams and protecting Stafford. (New Orleans sacked him just once.)


That balance and Stafford’s confidence in all his weapons were evident on the Rams’ opening drive, a 14-play, 95-yard statement. Williams carried six times for 29 yards. Stafford completed passes to three receivers not named Cooper Kupp, including a 22-yard pass to tight end Tyler Higbee and a 15-yard strike to Demarcus RobinsonPuka Nacua finished off the march with a two-yard TD catch on the fourth down. 


Robinson hauled in six passes in the first half for 82 yards. The Rams scored their second touchdown just before halftime, moving the ball 58 yards in just 35 seconds, and featuring Robinson. The veteran wideout started off the drive with a 32-yard catch and, four plays later, scored on a four-yard reception with 21 seconds left to give LA a 17-7 halftime lead.


The Rams extended that bulge in the third quarter. A 41-yard completion to Nacua led to a Lucas Havrisik field goal, and Williams scored on a 10-yard run. The second-year back's touchdown capped a 41-yard drive set up by a Jordan Fuller interception and return of a Derek Carr pass. A third Havrisik field goal in the fourth quarter put the Rams up, 30-7.


But as it did with the Commanders on Sunday, Los Angeles allowed the Saints to get back into the game in the fourth.


Carr led a long touchdown drive early in the quarter, throwing a four-yard touchdown pass to Juwan Johnson, cutting the Rams lead to 30-14. Then the New Orleans special teams, for the second time in three weeks, blocked a kick, with J.T. Gray deflecting an Ethan Evans punt that traveled only eight yards to the Rams' 35-yard line. It took New Orleans just two plays to score, with Carr finding A.T. Perry in the end zone on a contested 35-yard touchdown with 3:53 left in the game. The Saints made good on the two-point conversion, a Carr pass to Chris Olave, and New Orleans, remarkably, found itself down just eight points.


Out of timeouts, the Saints opted for an onside kick. Nacua recovered for the Rams. The offense then picked up the one first down it needed — Nacua doing the honors on a nine-yard jet sweep, breaking a tackle at the point of attack — and ran out the clock. Nacua's first-down run capped off a brilliant night for the rookie receiver, who finished with a team-high nine grabs and 164 yards receiving.


We noted in the preview of this game the Saints red-zone issues on offense. In the opening quarter, the New Orleans offense stalled after two nice drives, though the breakdowns occurred outside of Los Angeles' 20-yard line. On the Saints' first drive, a third-down sack of Carr knocked them out of field-goal range. The Saints drove into Rams territory on their second possession, too, but Carr was dropped again, this time on fourth down, which gave LA possession near midfield. 


The late-game surge by the Saints padded some numbers. Carr finished 27-of-40 for 319 yards and three touchdowns. However, his third-quarter interception was a terrible throw, and it helped the Rams take control of the game. Olave’s availability was welcome news after the ascending wideout spent the week dealing with an ankle injury. He almost matched Nacua’s production, catching nine passes for 123 yards. 


We also noted in the preview the need for Alvin Kamara to assert himself in this game. That did not happen. The Rams throttled New Orleans' star back, holding him to just 19 yards on nine carries and 16 yards on five catches. His 35 all-purpose yards is a season low. 


The Rams’ defense deserves a lot of credit for shackling Kamara and keeping the New Orleans offense in check until the fourth. Linebacker Ernest Jones IV was all over the field, credited with seven tackles, two tackles for losses, and he knocked down two passes. He also pressured Carr on the Fuller interception.


With an explosive offense and an improving defense, the Rams (8-7) look to be a formidable matchup come January. They still must keep winning to ensure a playoff berth. They travel to New York to take on the suddenly tough Giants in Week 17, then finish the season with a road game against the 49ers (who may rest starters if they already wrapped up home-field advantage for the playoffs.)


The Saints (7-8) will be rooting for a Jacksonville win over Tampa Bay so they can remain tied with the Bucs for the NFC South lead.  



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