NFL Week 13 Recap: 49ers Cage Eagles, Texans Hold off Broncos
If the NFL is not careful, this steady diet of tightly contested games and thrilling finishes is going to spoil its fans.
Five of the seven matchups in the early window of Week 13 were one-possession games heading into the fourth quarter. One went into overtime. An important AFC battle in Houston went was settled on a game-ending interception. The Sunday night matchup came down to a close call on a Hail Mary.
Week 13 presented its share of bewilderment. Bizarre and unfortunate injuries afflicted punters and sideline personnel, while another weird incident saw a security official nearly getting into a scuffle with a player. Bad weather became a factor, soaking the game in Tampa and delaying a demoralizing outcome for Steelers fans in Pittsburgh.
And, in Philadelphia, the 49ers settled a score months long in the making and turned what was the most anticipated game of 2023 into one of its most anticlamactic.
Here’s a recap of another wild and eventful weekend in the NFL:
Detroit 33, New Orleans 28
The Lions jumped on the hosts early and then held off a furious second half rally by the Saints for their ninth win.
Detroit bolted to a 21-0 first-quarter lead on the strength of two Jared Goff TD passes. Trailing 24-7, the Saints offense found a gear forward in the second half and reeled off TD drives in back-to-back possessions to cut the deficit to 24-21. Two teams traded fourth-quarter touchdowns to make it 33-28. New Orleans had one final chance to win the game but Jameis Winston, who replaced an injured Derek Carr earlier in the final period, through three straight incompletions from the Lions’ 40-yard line to end the game.
Carr left the game on New Orleans’ last TD drive after taking a hard hit from Detroit’s Bruce Irvin. The quarterback is in concussion protocol and his status for next Sunday’s game against visiting Carolina is uncertain.
After the hot Detroit start, the Saints defense stiffened and kept the Lions’ offense pretty much in check. Goff finished with 213 yards passing and the two scores, one to the standout rookie tight end Sam La Sorta, who knifed through the tough Saints secondary for 140 yards on nine catches. More importantly, Goff avoided the turnovers that plagued him in the Lions’ last two games.
Detroit (9-3) gains a game on Philadelphia for the NFC’s best record. The Saints drop out of first place in the NFC South but do get the one-win Panthers at home in Week 14.
(A get-well shout-out goes to Nick Piazza, a member of the sideline chain crew, who suffered a dislocated knee after colliding with the Saints Alvin Kamara in the second half. There was some good news Sunday evening, when it was announced that Piazza is not expected to need surgery.)
Houston 22, Denver 17
Texans defensive Jimmie Ward picked off a Russell Wilson pass in the end zone in the waning seconds of the game to preserve the white-knuckle win for Houston.
Wilson drove the Broncos 72 yards to the Houston 8-yard line, with the Denver offense converting two fourth downs to extend the march. On third-and-goal, Ward stepped in front of the intended target, tight end Lucas Krull, and snuffed out the scoring threat with 16 seconds left.
Ward was not the only the Texans DB to play a huge role in the win: Derek Stingley Jr. picked off two Wilson passes, including an acrobatic diving grab earlier in the fourth quarter as Denver was driving to take the lead.
A tough final period for the veteran Wilson, who came in leading the NFL with eight TD passes in the fourth quarter and five come-from-behind wins. He finished with 186 yards and the three INTS.
Meanwhile, his counterpart, Rookie of the Year-in waiting C.J. Stroud, passed for 274 yards — 191 of that total collected by WR Nico Collins. A difficult blow for Houston occurred when exciting rookie WR Tank Dell broke his leg in the second half on a goal-line running play. Dell came into the game leading all NFL rookies in touchdown catches with seven.
Colts 31, Titans 28
Colts quarterback Gardner Minshew hit receiver Michael Pittman Jr. on a four-yard TD pass to with 2:31 left in overtime to give Indianapolis an enormous divisional road win.
The TD occurred just two plays a 55-yard Minshew strike to wideout Alec Pierce. The Colts score came after Tennessee scored on the opening drive of OT when Nick Folk kicked 46-yard field goal.
The OT excitement capped one of the wilder, most entertaining games of the season. Fans saw things in this game they’ve likely never seen before and may never see again. To wit:
—In the first quarter, Tennessee rookie quarterback Will Levis fumbled forward then raced downfield and forced and recovered a fumble by Julian Blackmon — the Colts defender who recovered Levis’ original fumble. Great hustle and presence of mind by the rook.
—The Colts blocked Tennessee punts on back-to-back possessions spanning the third and fourth quarters. The first resulted in an Indy touchdown by special teamer Grant Stuart to give the Colts a 22-17 lead.
—On the ensuing two-point conversion, Minshew was picked off by Amani Hooker who returned the interception nearly 100 yards to score two points for Tennessee. That made it 22-19.
—On the next Tennessee possession, the Colts again blocked punter Ryan Stonehouse, knocking him out of the game with a serious leg injury, forcing Folk to take over double duties. After recovering the second block, the Colts managed only to kick a field goal, extending the lead to six points.
—Levis then hit DeAndre Hopkins on a TD pass, but Folk missed the extra point and the game remained tied with less than six minutes remaining. On that extra point try, backup QB Ryan Tannehill was the holder, replacing Folk’s regular holder…Ryan Stonehouse.
Minshew, who came up big in the clutch for the Colts, finished with 314 yards an two TDs. For the third straight game, he did not throw an interception, both Pittman (105) and Pierce (100) eclipsed 100 yards receiving on the day. For Tennessee, RB Derrick Henry scored two rushing touchdowns and posted 102 yards on 21 carries.
The Colts move to 7-5 and stay within contact of Jacksonville in the NFC South. They also improve their chances for landing a wild card.
Miami 45, Washington 15
This is precisely one would expect when the offense that scored the most points in the NFL meets the defense that allowed the most.
Tua Tagovailoa and the Dolphins combustible aerial game hit the Commanders early and put the game out of reach by halftime with a 38-7 lead. Tua went up top to his superstar wideout Tyreek Hill for a 78-yard touchdown pass the first time Miami touched the ball. Hill added a 60-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter, part of five-catch, 157-yard day.
Hill’s league-leading yardage total now sits at 1,481. With five games remaining, his quest to become the NFL’s first 2,000 yard receiver is well within reach.
Tua threw for 280 yards, completing an efficient 18-of-24 on the day. Rookie RB De’Von Achane returned to the lineup and added 73 yards on the ground and a rushing touchdown. The Dolphins defense chipped in too: Linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel picked a Sam Howell screen pass in the second quarter and returned it 38 yards to put Miami up 17-0.
The rout was on.
Not much to pick over for the Commanders. That they held Miami to 45 points clearly validates the decision to scapegoat former coordinator Jack Del Rio for the team’s deficiencies on defense.
Howell was as a dismal 12-of-23 for 123 yards, and star wideout Terry McLaurin went without a catch on Sunday. More bad news for Washington: the Commanders OL allowed just three sacks on the day, raising their season total to 61 — still well behind the Giants in the two teams’ heated competition for the worst pass-protecting unit in the NFL.
Miami (9-3) looks like a lock for the AFC East title. They also stay tied with three-loss teams Baltimore and Jacksonville atop the AFC.
Arizona 24, Pittsburgh 10
The feeling here is that football gods were so flummoxed by the Steelers’ uninspired showing in the first half against Arizona that they conjured up not one, but two, weather-related days to give the Steelers time to right themselves.
It did not work.
The loss revealed the Steelers (7-5) to be a mediocre team masquerading as a playoff contender. The Cardinals notch their second win since the return of quarterback Kyler Murray, and, given what was at stake for the Steelers, this ranks easily as Arizona’s best win of 2023.
The key sequence of the game occurred midway through the second quarter, with the Steelers offense inside the Arizona 5-yard line and the game tied, 3-3. Pittsburgh QB Kenny Pickett suffered a concussion on a third-down scramble that took the ball to just short of the goal line. On the next play, the Cardinals stuffed Pittsburgh a run to end the threat
Arizona then marched 99 yards on 15 plays to take the lead. Murray connected with his new favorite target, tight end Trey McBride, four times on the drive, then found him for a five-yard score that put the Cardinals up, 10-3. On the day, McBride caught eight passes for 89 yards.
The second half got no better for Pittsburgh, even with the extended halftime break caused by threatening weather.
Mitch Trubisky replaced Pickett but fumbled a snap deep in Steelers’ territory that set up a short scoring drive for Arizona. The Cardinals made it 24-3 when running back James Conner ran for a nine-yard TD. Connor was a workhorse for Arizona, rushing 25 times for 105 yards.
No word yet on whether Pickett will play next week against the visiting Patriots. He is in concussion protocol. In a hotly competitive AFC North and a tight race for wild-card spots, the disappointment of this loss for Pittsburgh against one of the league’s worst rosters is hard to overstate.
San Francisco 42, Philadelphia 19
After a slow start, the 49ers scored touchdowns on six consecutive drives to rout the Eagles and lay claim to being the NFL’s best team.
Brock Purdy enjoyed yet another outstanding day, throwing for 314 yards and four touchdowns, and strengthening his case for league MVP. Receiver Deebo Samuel backed up the trash talk he directed at the Eagles after the NFC title game in January, scoring three touchdowns, two on impressive catch and runs. And the other Niners candidate for MVP, running back Christian McCaffery, racked 93 yards and a touchdown rushing and added three catches for 40 yards.
But when the game start, the 49ers looked anything but dominant.
The Eagles controlled the first quarter, totaling 120 yards on its first drives. The Niners went three-and-out on its first two drives, ending the first quarter with minus-six yards of offense.
But, despite the Philly dominance, the score was just 6-0. The Niners’ defense stiffened and forced the Eagles to settle for field goals. Once San Francisco’s offense found its sea legs, the home team was done for.
A couple of first downs on San Francisco’s third drive stabilized things. The running game then got untracked and the 49ers put together two touchdown drives to take 14-6 halftime lead. A third straight scoring drive coming out of locker room put San Francisco in command, 21-6, but the Eagles answered with their first TD of the game, a Hurts TD tush-push that was greased by an iffy personal foul call on LB Dre Greenlaw, who was then ejected for an altercation with the Eagles’ head of security, of all people.
The Greenlaw incident was the only thing the Eagles won all day.
With the deficit cut to 21-13, the Eagles’ defense could not get a stop. Samuel caught a Purdy pass and ran straight down the middle of the field for a 48-yard score. Samuel added an electrifying catch and run of 46 yards in the fourth to cap the 49ers day of dominance.
As was its 42-10 win over Dallas in Week 5, San Francisco’s smacking of Philadelphia was an authoritative victory — a “statement win” as pundits like to call it. A win next week against Seattle gives San Francisco a stranglehold on the NFC West.
Philadelphia’s hold on the top spot in the NFC may be in trouble. The Eagles look tired and injuries are becoming an issue. They now have to travel to Dallas to take on the second-hottest team in the conference.