The 32 things we learned from Week 15 of the 2019 NFL season:
1. In the NFL’s 100th season, the league’s oldest rivals, the Packers and the Bears, have now met 200 times. After Sunday’s 21-13 victory, Green Bay leads the all-time series 99-95-6.
1a. Chicago, the NFC North champion in 2018, was officially eliminated from playoff contention. So were the Broncos.
2. Sean McDermott > Mike Tomlin in the sideline matchup of former William & Mary teammates.
2a. McDermott, who’s now led Buffalo to two playoff berths in the past three years following an 18-year absence, has also gotten the Bills to the 10-win plateau for the first time since 1999, coincidentally the last time they beat Pittsburgh.
2b. With Christmas approaching … Rudolph siren? Duck Hodges (4 INTs) definitely killed the Steelers on Sunday night.
3. If Sunday was Eli Manning’s final start at home, what an emblematic performance of the longtime Giants star. He threw three interceptions against the Dolphins — ’tis the season … Manning has now served up a pick to every NFL franchise save the Giants — yet, with the help of two TD throws, he rallied New York to a 36-20 victory … evening his career record to 117-117.
3a. Manning, who was emotional as the game wound down and afterward, also helped avert the first 10-game losing streak in Giants history.
4. Miami lost in the Meadowlands in back-to-back weeks.
5. As legendary sportscaster Warner Wolf would say, “Let’s go to the videotape!” … which reveals, in the wake of their 34-13 win at Cincinnati, the Patriots are playoff-bound for the 11th consecutive season — the longest string in league history.
5a. Earlier this year, New England reset another bar, becoming the first franchise in NFL history to win at least 10 games in 17 consecutive seasons.
5b. The last two times the Patriots were “on to Cincinnati” in 2014 and 2016, they not only prevailed but went on to win the Super Bowl. Time to relax in Foxborough?
5c. Did the Patriots find something offensively Sunday, rushing for 175 yards (30 more than their second-most productive game of 2019)? Maybe. But before we assume that their ground attack is hitting high gear at just the right time (as it did in 2018), let’s remember that they faced a Bengals defense that allows the most rushing yards in the league.
6. Tom Brady connected for two TD passes Sunday, giving him 538 in his 20-year career — one shy of Peyton Manning’s all-time record.
6a. Drew Brees will overtake Manning first if he connects for three TD passes Monday night against the Colts.
6b. However, Brady did knock Manning out of the record book by posting at least 20 TD passes in a season for the 17th time. Brees needs three more to match Manning with 16 such seasons.
7. The Rams’ loss at Dallas allowed the 49ers, the Seahawks and the Packers to all officially secure playoff berths.
8. As meaningless as it might ultimately prove in January, nice to see that the Eagles and Cowboys — both now sit tied atop the division with 7-7 records — will apparently decide the NFC East “race” on the field when they meet in Week 16.
9. So what changed in what might prove a season-saving win for Dallas, which finally beat a team with a winning record?
9a. Blue jerseys at home. (Yuck … tradition.)
9b. Kai Forbath capably handling the kicking (he hit all three FG tries and all five PATs).
9c. RBs Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard combined for 248 rushing yards and three TDs.
9d. Pretty nice defensive effort as the Cowboys held the Rams to 289 yards after they’d gained 1,004 combined in their past two outings.
10. The Tennessee Titans might have blown their season Sunday. They entered the day tied for the AFC South lead with the Houston Texans and were clearly the hotter team. But things change quickly in the NFL. Houston’s win not only conferred outright possession of first place, the Texans also clinched a better division record than the Titans, who can no longer win the AFC South unless they win their final two games and Houston loses both, including a Week 17 rematch with Tennessee.
11. Bravo, Travis Kelce, the first tight end in NFL history to compile four consecutive seasons with 1,000 receiving yards.
12. I still don’t buy K.J. Wright’s contention that Seattle’s defense is “championship-caliber,” which he told me a few weeks ago. But Wright and fellow LB Bobby Wagner combined to pick off three passes in Sunday’s win for a team that’s now officially going to the playoffs … so what do I know?
12a. But the Seahawks definitely know how to protect a lead. They’re an amazing 56-0 since 2012 when leading by at least four points at halftime.
12b. Conversely, the Browns have lost 25 in a row on the road when trailing after two quarters.
13. Christian McCaffrey surpassed 2,000 yards from scrimmage, which might be more common than you think — it’s the 68th time it’s happened in a single season — though no Panther had managed it previously.
13a. However it must be noted McCaffrey is now up to a league-best 2,121 yards, tied with Walter Payton for 39th-most in one season.
13b. McCaffrey also surpassed 90 catches for the second time, making him only the second running back (along with Larry Centers) to do it twice. He needs 14 more to break the record (107) he set last year for most by a back in one season.
14. Jameis Winston isn’t under contract for 2020, but it’s hard to believe the Buccaneers won’t franchise him, at minimum, in the offseason. His proclivity for turnovers (league-high 29) remains sobering, but he’s also passed for 450+ yards and four TDs in consecutive weeks — special stuff considering it had never been accomplished previous to Sunday. And if you’d seen the recent comparisons between Winston and a young Peyton Manning, who was also coached by Bruce Arians … welp, worth a longer look.
14a. Winston’s 10 games this season with at least 300 passing yards pace the league. He’s got work to do before blossoming into a league MVP, but he might already be a fantasy MVP.
15. Speaking of most valuable players … is Lamar Jackson the greatest dual-threat player in the NFL’s 100 seasons? That certainly reads as a grandiose statement, but he’s already set the record for most rushing yards by a quarterback in one season (1,103), has accounted for 40 TDs (33 passing, 7 rushing) and needs 111 more yards through the air to become the first man in league history to pass for 3,000 and rush for 1,000 in a single campaign. He could turn the MVP race into the same kind of runaway that fellow Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow did Saturday while winning college football’s most prestigious award.
16. Incidentally, did you know Burrow, 23, is one month older than Jackson, whose birthday is next month? Sam Darnold, Kyler Murray and Daniel Jones are all currently 22.
17. Speaking of former Heisman winners … Kyler > Baker.
17a. However, the star of the Cardinals’ win over the Browns was RB Kenyan Drake, who scored four touchdowns Sunday, the first time he’d tasted victory in 2019. Drake has split this season between Miami and Arizona.
18. The AFC North champion Ravens need 170 more rushing yards to become just the third team to amass 3,000 in a season.
18a. Baltimore needs 336 more to break the single-season record of 3,165 set by … the 1978 Patriots.
19. So will seeing former Buckeyes stars Dwayne Haskins and Terry McLaurin have big games for Washington on Sunday entice Urban Meyer to jump to the NFL in 2020? Stay tuned … though maybe he should call Steve Spurrier before he considers any prospective offers from the Redskins.
20. Who needs Mike Evans when you have Breshad Perriman? A first-round bust in Baltimore, Perriman shone Sunday with 113 receiving yards and three scores for the Bucs. It was the first multi-TD game of his career and first time he hit the century mark.
21. I understand Mitchell Trubisky has been playing better lately and that the Bears need to determine whether it’s wise to move ahead with him as their starting quarterback in 2020 and beyond. But 53 throws? It’s a disservice to have him (and probably anyone) pass that much in a game that was within two possessions for most of the day. Trubisky is 1-6 in his career when he attempts more than 40 passes.
22. Crazy to think Tampa Bay OLB Shaq Barrett has tied Warren Sapp’s single-season franchise sack record (16½) with two games to go.
23.Rookie RB Miles Sanders banged out 122 yards on the ground in Philadelphia’s victory at Washington, snapping the Eagles’ streak of 42 games without a 100-yard rusher.
24. Tell us again why the Falcons don’t give the ball to rookie Olamide Zaccheaus on every play? He’s touched the ball twice this season, one a 93-yard TD catch and, Sunday, a fumble recovery for a TD.
25. Congrats to Adrian Peterson (14,102 career rushing yards), who bumped one Hall of Famer, Curtis Martin, out of the league’s top-five all-time leading rushers Sunday while also tying another Hall of Famer, Walter Payton, for fourth all time with his 110th rushing TD.
26. Peterson’s former team, the Vikings, had eight players run the ball (not including backup QB Sean Mannion’s three game-ending kneel downs) for 134 yards in Sunday’s thrashing of the Chargers. That’s great, but Minnesota could be in deep trouble next month if lead RB Dalvin Cook isn’t ready to contribute more as he continues to battle injuries.
27. None of the Bolts’ first eight losses this season came by more than seven points. But they succumbed 39-10 to Minnesota in front of another “home” crowd partial to the visiting team.
28. Nice game management by Atlanta coach Dan Quinn to end the Falcons’ upset of the 49ers. After WR Julio Jones just broke the plane for a go-ahead TD and a 23-22 margin with two seconds to play, Quinn wisely went for two and had Matt Ryan kneel with the ball rather than invite the possibility that an opportunistic Niners defense might take a turnover the other way for two game-swinging points.
29. Scott Van Pelt alert: Nigel Bradham’s 47-yard TD off a Haskins fumble to cap the Eagles’ 37-27 victory against the Redskins certainly swayed some fantasy football semifinals … and cost some other folks serious cash given Philadelphia was a 4½-point favorite in some quarters.
30. Sunday night marked the first game since 1927 when three brothers played in the same NFL game. Congrats, Mama Edmunds.
31. The 57-yard run by Tennessee’s Jonnu Smith was the longest by a tight end since the Jets’ Rich Caster got loose for 60 back in 1976.
32. Maybe it was inevitable, but sad to see the Raiders’ once-promising season completely go down in flames during their final home game in Oakland. The “Black Hole” was one of the NFL’s great gatherings of fans. Sad that “progress” has put that statement into the past tense.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis
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