The Las Vegas Raiders positioned themselves to be an AFC wild-card team with a good first half to the season. They might have screwed that up with one sloppy, embarrassing loss.
The Raiders had a baffling performance at the Atlanta Falcons. They looked entirely unprepared in a 43-6 defeat. That has been common for the Raiders in recent history, but the 2020 Raiders seemed different. They have wins over quality teams like the Saints, Chiefs and Browns. They looked like they had taken a step forward, and once the schedule got easier, they could get a wild-card spot.
An easy schedule only helps if you beat the teams you should beat. The Falcons are 3-7, coming off a blowout loss to the Saints and were without star receiver Julio Jones. If you want to be a playoff team, you win games like that.
The Raiders gave it away. In the first half, Derek Carr lost a fumble and Josh Jacobs would have lost one too, but he was bailed out by a questionable call that reversed the ruling on the field. The Raiders went for it on fourth-and-1 and a slow-developing toss to Jacobs got stuffed. A roughing-the-kicker penalty on a missed Falcons field goal kept a drive alive, and Atlanta cashed in with a touchdown just before halftime.
In the second half, the Raiders were in trouble trailing 16-3 but not out of the game. When Carr forced a pass that was well behind his intended target and was picked off and returned for a touchdown by linebacker Deion Jones, the game was practically over. On the ensuing drive, Hunter Renfrow and Henry Ruggs each dropped passes near the goal line and Las Vegas had to settle for a field goal that didn’t make much of a difference.
It was a bad performance all around.
The AFC is deep and competitive. Vegas might regret a loss to a 3-7 team without its best player. The Raiders get the winless Jets next week, and even if we count that as a win, their next four games could be competitive: vs. Colts, vs. Chargers, vs. Dolphins and at Broncos. And at 6-5, the Raiders probably need to go at least 4-1 down the stretch to feel safe in a tough AFC. A 9-7 record might not be good enough.
Since losing Super Bowl XXXVII at the end of the 2002 season, the Raiders are 0-1 in the playoffs. Their only appearance was at the end of the 2016 season. For the long-suffering Raiders fans — and most of that fan base stuck with the team despite the move this offseason — the thought of a playoff berth sounded pretty sweet.
It can still happen, but Sunday was not a good sign. The Raiders had some upset wins already, but they gave one back with a loss to an inferior team. If Jon Gruden’s third season ends up without a postseason berth, they’ll look back at a mistake-filled performance at Atlanta as a big reason.
Here are the rest of the winners and losers from Week 12 of the NFL season:
Patrick Mahomes’ MVP charge: If someone catches Mahomes for MVP, they’ll need to have an amazing rest of the season.
Mahomes was the front-runner for the award before Week 12, and he added to his lead. Mahomes had 462 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions against a Buccaneers defense that is among the league’s best. The Chiefs won 27-24 to improve to 9-1.
Mahomes’ brilliance seems old hat by now, but it shouldn’t be. What we’re seeing from him is special. He’ll likely be adding another major award soon.
Fitzpatrick was back in the lineup on Sunday and helped the Dolphins get a 20-3 win. It was against the New York Jets, the NFL’s version of the junior varsity, but that doesn’t matter. With Tagovailoa sidelined with a thumb injury, Fitzpatrick was efficient and helped Miami stay in the thick of the AFC playoff race. Fitzpatrick had 257 passing yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Fitzpatrick might get more opportunities. There’s no guarantee Tagovailoa will be back next week against the Cincinnati Bengals. It depends how serious his thumb injury is, and the Dolphins will be careful with him. Miami also knows it has a solid veteran who can fill in while Tagovailoa heals.
Baker Mayfield: It’s safe to say we still don’t know what to make of Mayfield as an NFL quarterback. He hasn’t been bad this season, but he hasn’t been great either. The Browns rely heavily on their running backs and want Mayfield to make plays when they ask him to, which isn’t something that happens with a true franchise quarterback very often.
For many people, all that matters for a quarterback is if he starts for a playoff team, and Mayfield might check that box this season. Mayfield had a nice day as the Browns survived a game that was a little too close, beating the Jacksonville Jaguars. They thwarted a two-point conversion with 2:14 left to maintain a 27-25 lead. The Browns hung on by that score after Nick Chubb picked up a first down on third-and-12 to seal the win. Mayfield finished with 258 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
The Browns are 8-3. They’re likely not going to catch the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC North, but for a franchise that has been to the playoffs just once since reentering the NFL in 1999, a wild-card spot would be just fine. Beating the Jaguars won’t impress anyone, but it gets the Browns closer to the postseason.
A rare NFC East win: It’s always worth celebrating when an NFC East team wins a game against a non-division foe, even if it’s one quarterbacked by Brandon Allen.
The Giants held on to a 19-17 win when they forced a turnover in the final minute against the Bengals, who are without rookie quarterback Joe Burrow and turned to Allen. The Giants shouldn’t have kept it that close, but they lost their own quarterback, Daniel Jones, to what looked like a hamstring injury.
Jones’ status becomes a big deal in the division race. The Dallas Cowboys are horrible and the Philadelphia Eagles aren’t that much better. The beneficiary of Jones’ injury could end up being the Washington Football Team, which was percentage points head of everyone else at 4-7 after a Thanksgiving win over the Cowboys.
Jones’ injury will be a story this week. For now, let’s allow an NFC East team to celebrate a rare win.
Chad Beebe: The Vikings looked finished on Sunday after Beebe muffed a punt that was recovered the Carolina Panthers recovered just ahead of the two-minute warning. The Panthers led 24-21 at that point with the ball at Minnesota’s 9-yard line. For Beebe, that had to be a sick feeling.
That miscue set up the biggest moment of Beebe’s young NFL career.
After the Panthers settled for a field goal, Kirk Cousins led a drive and hit Beebe for the go-ahead 10-yard touchdown with 46 seconds left. It was the first NFL touchdown for Beebe, the son of former Buffalo Bills and Green Bay Packers speedster Don Beebe. Carolina missed a long field goal in the final seconds and Minnesota held on to a 28-27 win.
The Vikings are unlikely to salvage their season, even at 5-6. But they have a chance with the dramatic win. And Beebe has a highlight he’ll remember forever.
That’s not the NFL’s fault. There was some complaining about the league that it made the Broncos play. There wasn’t a lot of scorn toward the Broncos quarterbacks who broke the protocols when they "let our masking slip for a limited amount of time,” as Drew Lock said.
Vic Fangio: "I was disappointed on several levels, that our QBs put us in that position, that our QBs put the league in that position. We count on them to be the leaders of our team, the leaders of our offense, and those guys made a mistake."
— Lindsay Jones (@bylindsayhjones) November 30, 2020
The NFL screwed up earlier this season by not punishing the Tennessee Titans more than it did for breaking protocols. That doesn’t mean the league should keep making mistakes in the name of being consistent. The Broncos shouldn’t get sympathy. They should take their loss, and fines and loss of draft picks and whatever else the NFL decides to do. Maybe then other teams will take the protocols seriously too.
Then, there are days like Sunday.
The depleted San Francisco 49ers outplayed the Rams from beginning to end, and got a game-ending field goal to win 23-20. Goff was a major reason the Rams fell behind. He threw a pick six to defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw to start the second half. Goff had 198 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions for a 52.9 passer rating.
Where was the quarterback and team we saw get a decisive win over the Buccaneers last Monday night? The Rams sometimes show they’re a very good team. Other weeks, you wouldn’t recognize them or Goff.
Isaiah Simmons: He was trying to play hard. Some would say he made a legal play and the overzealous officials were at fault.
But Simmons, Arizona’s first-round draft pick, cost his team in a big way with a bad penalty. With 50 seconds left, Cam Newton ran for a first down on third-and-13. Simmons popped him right as Newton was heading out of bounds. He wasn’t going to stop Newton from the first down. Maybe Newton was still in bounds and should be considered fair game, but officials will always err on the side of protecting the quarterback.
Simmons simply can’t take that penalty. Nick Folk came on and as time expired and hit a 50-yard field goal to give the Patriots a 20-17 win. The extra 15 yards on the personal foul call were the difference.
Simmons has been coming on after being strangely quiet in the first half of the season. He’ll be a good player. But he cost his team dearly Sunday.
Indianapolis Colts: The NFL can be strange sometimes.
Two weeks ago, the Colts blew out the Tennessee Titans. If you watched that game, you’d have never thought the Titans could turn around and blast the Colts in the rematch. But that’s exactly what happened.
The Colts took a big step back Sunday. It didn’t help they were without defensive lineman DeForest Buckner, center Ryan Kelly and running back Jonathan Taylor. That doesn’t explain how the Colts could look so bad. Derrick Henry had 140 rushing yards and three touchdowns in the first half. Henry is great, but that still shouldn’t happen. The Titans won 45-26.
The Colts had a chance to take a one-game lead in the AFC South and clinch the tiebreaker. Instead, they’re a game behind the Titans with five to go. The Colts are still a good team, but they didn’t look like it on Sunday and they might miss out on a division title as a result.
The bad-luck Chargers: It wasn’t a ridiculous loss this time. Though the Chargers had their chances.
Los Angeles had its chances in the second half to beat the Buffalo Bills. The Chargers forced turnovers on three straight Bills possessions in the fourth quarter. But Los Angeles turned that into just three points. Rookie Justin Herbert threw a bad interception. The Chargers trailed 27-17 when they hit a desperation pass on fourth down inside the Bills’ 5, but then with no timeouts left they inexplicably ran into the line and most of the rest of the time ran out.
There wasn’t much chance for the Chargers to get a touchdown, onside kick and another score, but the time management gaffe summed up the Chargers.
The Chargers don’t have much to feel good about at 3-8. The biggest question the rest of the way might be if coach Anthony Lynn can do enough to save his job.
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