Published: Dec 18, 2022 at 05:01 PM
Around The NFL breaks down what you need to know from all of Sunday’s action in Week 15 of the 2022 NFL season. Catch up on each game’s biggest takeaways using the links below:
Eric Edholm’s takeaways:
- Jalen Hurts overcomes slow start to lead the way in Chicago. Hurts entered Sunday’s game with only three interceptions on the season, so it was only fitting that he’d throw two in the first half against a Bears defense that hadn’t had a pick since before Halloween. Hurts completed 8 of 16 attempts at the half, and the Eagles offense felt very feast or famine. But in a season in which Hurts has emerged as an MVP favorite, his poise and performance in the second half more than outweighed his early struggles. He can’t be blamed for Miles Sanders’ fumble or the missed field goal, but Hurts was otherwise pretty terrific after halftime. It all really got started before the break when Hurts hit DeVonta Smith on a 38-yard pass. Hurts would cap that drive with a touchdown run, which was the first of three on the day for him. That gives Hurts 12 rushing scores on the season, threatening Cam Newton’s all-time mark for a QB in a season (14). Your MVP frontrunner was able to add another feather in his cap Sunday, and — more importantly — on a day when Dallas lost, the Eagles were able to move closer to the NFC’s No. 1 playoff seed and finish off a tough game.
- Justin Fields joined a rare QB club but got clobbered in the process. There’s no questioning that Fields has made major strides this season, with his running ability being what has set him apart. Although Fields could stand to improve his pocket sense, his scrambling has made him a very difficult quarterback to deal with this season. He became just the third QB ever to reach the 1,000-yard rushing mark, joining Michael Vick and Lamar Jackson. Fields topped Bobby Douglass’ club mark for QB rush yards in a season on Sunday. Part of the reason Fields ran on more than a quarter of the Bears’ offensive plays in this game, however, was that they were having a very tough time protecting him as a passer. He still ended up with 152 passing yards and two TDs on only 21 throws, but the Eagles sacked Fields six times and he left the game with a limp late following an 18-yard run (which was called back by penalty). The Bears’ offensive line fell apart after Teven Jenkins went down early with a neck injury. Fields was sacked four times in the first half, and it should have been at least two more had he not Houdinied his way out of those. But it’s hard on third downs (the Bears were 5 of 13) when the Eagles can just pin their ears back and get home more often than not. This concern should be on the frontburner this offseason.
- Eagles pass rush could result in an NFL first. The Eagles have a talented, deep defensive line. We’ve known that for months. But following Sunday’s game, they now could make statistical history in that department. No NFL team has ever had four 10-sack defenders in a season, but the Eagles are on the doorstep of doing just that. Haason Reddick, who has to be considered one of the best free-agent bargains this offseason, had two sacks to bring his season total to 12. Javon Hargrave also added a pair, hitting the 10-sack mark. Josh Sweat, who also had two Sunday, now has 9.5 sacks for the season. Just behind them is Brandon Graham with 8.5 and, if you’re the overly optimistic type, Fletcher Cox (six) technically could reach double digits with a blistering finish. The Eagles now have 55 on the season, matching the pace of the Reggie White-led 1987 Eagles, which also had 55 through 14 games. The NFL-best mark of 72 sacks (1984 Bears) is likely out of reach. But this Eagles front can collapse pockets against almost anyone, earning at least one sack in every game, two or more in 12 out of 14 games and setting a game high for sacks on Sunday.
Next Gen stat of the game: Justin Fields was sacked on six of his 27 dropbacks and has a 14.4% sack rate this season, the highest by any qualified QB in the Next Gen Stats era.
NFL Research: Justin Fields has reached 70-plus rushing yards in five straight games. That’s the longest streak by any QB since at least 1950.
Eric Edholm’s takeaways:
- Steelers put Panthers away with tone-setting drive. Pittsburgh’s AFC North title dreams are toast, but a wild-card appearance remains a faint hope at 6-8 following a workmanlike road win at Carolina. That was encapsulated in the Steelers’ back-breaking 21-play drive to open the second half, draining most of the third quarter by itself, traveling 91 yards and giving them a 21-7 lead. Neither a block in the back nor a Diontae Johnson taunting penalty could derail the seven-pass, 14-run series that was the longest drive in terms of plays and time of possession by any NFL team this season. It also was the Steelers’ longest drive in terms of both plays and time of possession since at least 2000. The Panthers responded with 10 straight points to make it a game, with the Steelers helping them out with a slew of second-half penalties. But that one Steelers drive proved to be enough to put the Panthers away.
- The Panthers got away from what had made them competitive lately. Carolina entered the game winners of three of the past four games and held somewhat legitimate hopes of making a run for the NFC South title, with the Buccaneers struggling to put the field away. But two of the bigger reasons the Panthers had heated up lately — the run game and situational defense — were nowhere to be found Sunday. For the game, they ran 16 times for a season-low 21 yards, bringing their season record in games where they fail to run for at least 100 yards to 0-7. Curiously, the Panthers got away from their heavy-package run plays, showing it only a few snaps in the first half – which was surprising considering how successful it had been the past few games. Carolina hasn’t been great this season defensively on third downs, but lately it had been better, allowing only 35.8% conversions the past four games. Sunday? The Steelers converted 12 of their first 15 third-down attempts. That’s how you lose a home game to Mitchell Trubisky with a decent amount on the line.
- Steelers’ pressure just too much for Sam Darnold, Panthers’ O-line. It has been a pretty frustrating season defensively for the Steelers, all things considered, but this performance was no letdown. Sure, there’s only so much pleasure Pittsburgh can take from this showing against Sam Darnold, the Panthers’ third starting QB of the season. But holding any NFL team to 206 yards, four third-down conversions and racking up five sacks is impressive in its own right. With T.J. Watt back in the lineup, the expectations to perform better were warranted. But this was a total defense performance, with Larry Ogunjobi, Alex Highsmith, Cameron Heyward, Cam Sutton and Watt all showing out with big plays. The Steelers have given up their fair share of big plays this season, skewing their defensive rankings a bit out of whack from their actual performance. That happened again Sunday, but it’s hard to argue with the big-picture results against Carolina.
Next Gen stat of the game: George Pickens accounted for 68.5% of the Steelers’ intended air yards in the first half (16% in second half). Diontae Johnson accounted for 84.6% of the Steelers’ intended air yards in the second half (12% in first half).
NFL Research: In his 84th career game, Pittsburgh’s T.J. Watt became the third-fastest player to reach 75 career sacks. Only Hall of Famer Reggie White (65) and older brother J.J. Watt (82) have accomplished the feat in fewer games since 1982, when sacks were first officially tracked.
Kevin Patra’s takeaways:
- Lions keep playoff hopes alive with thrilling comeback win. Trailing by four points, facing fourth-and-inches from midfield, Detroit offensive coordinator Ben Johnson dialed up a pass that befuddled Robert Saleh’s defense. The onions call by Detroit got tight end Brock Wright wide open. The undrafted second-year player rumbled 51 yards for the game-winning score. Jared Goff and the offense couldn’t get much going most of the contest, stalling three times in the red zone against a good Jets defensive and generating six offensive points until the final drive. But when they needed a play after coughing up the lead late, Detroit found a way. It’s a massive victory for Dan Campbell’s squad, which had questions about whether it could win on the road against good opponents. The Lions answered in a big way Sunday, moving to 7-7 — winning six of their past seven games — to remain in the playoff hunt with three games remaining against teams under .500.
- Zach Wilson once again struggles within framework of the offense. The second-year quarterback made some explosive plays to give Gang Green life. Wilson generated seven plays of 20-plus yards, including a 40-yard TD to C.J. Uzomah and a pair of 33-yarders to Garret Wilson. Wilson was at his best on rollouts and took shots when the play broke down. In the first half, he avoided the big mistakes. But when the Jets asked him to play from the pocket and run the offense, Wilson still looked lost. He sailed balls over the middle, skipped a flair pass, and took sacks. His second-half interception was a brutal error tossed right to a Lions defender. And he got lucky on a fluttered pass under pressure that Michael Carter caught for a first down. With Wilson under center, there is simply no rhythm to the offense. It’s a prayer for big plays. Yes, Wilson finished with 317 yards and two TDs. He was also facing a Lions defense that ranked in the bottom three in the NFL. There were more opportunities in the middle portion of the game to stack positive drives. It’s hard not to think that Gang Green would have put more points up and earned a win with a more consistent Mike White under center.
- Lions avoided throwing at Sauce Gardner. Gang Green’s defense deserved better, stymieing a high-flying offense for most of the contest even without Quinnen Williams. Multiple special teams errors (punt return TD allowed; missed FG) and a struggling offense cost the Jets. The defense stuffed the Lions’ run game, smothered receivers in the red zone, and didn’t give up a big play until its final snap. How much did the Lions respect rookie corner Sauce Gardner? In 66 snaps, the Associated Press NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year favorite wasn’t targeted a single time, per Next Gen Stats. That’s what a lockdown corner brings to the table — wiping out half of the field. Unfortunately for the 7-7 Jets, the loss puts them in survival mode with three weeks remaining.
Next Gen stat of the game: On fourth-and-inches, Brock Wright had 10.7 yards of separation from the nearest defender when the pass arrived. Wright was expected to gain 31 yards after the catch, second-most on any reception this season.
NFL Research: Lions have won three straight games in December for the first time since Weeks 14-16, 2014. Only one team all time has made the playoffs after starting 1-6 (1970 Bengals).
Kevin Patra’s takeaways:
- Juwan Johnson’s two TDs keep Saints’ season alive. New Orleans sprinted to a 14-0 lead and hung on late. Johnson opened the scoring with a great effort reaching for a 19-yard touchdown. The young tight end was a go-to target for Andy Dalton, displaying good hands and run-after-catch skills on a 22-yard score to open the third quarter, giving New Orleans a 21-10 cushion. The Saints’ offense finally got Alvin Kamara more involved, too. The dynamic running back surpassed the 100-scrimmage-yard mark for the first time since Week 8. Despite the hot start, the Saints again struggled late, allowing the Falcons a chance to stay in the game with back-to-back bad three-and-outs in the fourth quarter. This time, however, the defense came up with the big stops.
- Desmond Ridder’s first start doesn’t jumpstart Falcons’ passing game. Atlanta moved to the third-round rookie hoping to light a fire in a limp passing attack. Ridder tried to stretch the field, taking a shot on his first snap. The rookie was off the mark on everything downfield, however, going 0 for 2 on deep shots and just 2 of 10 for 23 yards on passes of 10-plus air yards, per Next Gen Stats. Ridder finished 13-of-26 passing for 97 yards (3.7 yards per attempt) while taking four sacks. The best thing the greenhorn QB did was force-feed Drake London. The rookie receiver caught seven of 11 targets for 70 yards but got the ball punched out to squash any chance for a late comeback. As it did with Marcus Mariota, Atlanta leaned on the ground game to get back in the contest. Tyler Allgeier went for 139 yards and a TD on 17 carries, the first 100-yard game of his career. But with the passing game still stuck in neutral, the Falcons couldn’t complete the comeback bid.
- Alontae Taylor continues to impress for Saints D. The rookie cornerback is a ballhawk and on Sunday he smothered Falcons receivers. Taylor generated three passes defended. The Falcons threw at the rookie nine times. Testing the rookie proved unfruitful. He allowed just three catches for 23 yards and a 42.4 passer rating, per Next Gen Stats. Taylor also nearly netted his first career interception to open the third quarter but was ruled out of bounds when he had possession. The rookie’s surging play helped keep the Saints’ playoff hopes alive. Moving to 5-9, the Saints are in a three-way tie behind the struggling Buccaneers to see who comes out of the moribund NFC South.
Next Gen stat of the game: Alvin Kamara generated 9 yards on six rushes to the left (1.5 avg); 82 yards on 15 rushes to the right (5.5 avg). He earned 83 yards on 16 rushes versus a stacked box or neutral box (5.2 avg); five rushes, 8 yards against a light box (1.6 avg).
NFL Research: Including playoffs, Taysom Hill now has 10 passing touchdowns, 21 rushing TDs and 11 receiving TDs. The last player to reach double-digit TDs passing, rushing, and receiving (including playoffs) was Hall of Famer Frank Gifford (played from 1952-1964).
Nick Shook’s takeaways:
- Trevor Lawrence authors another thrilling win. We’ll go with the bad news first: Trevor Lawrence’s streak of interception-free football ended Sunday when he was picked off by DaRon Bland. That was about the worst part of Lawrence’s otherwise fantastic day. Lawrence turned it on after the interception, leading the Jaguars on three straight touchdown drives in less than nine minutes of game time, including a beautiful connection with Zay Jones for a 59-yard score. Lawrence nearly fumbled the game away, but Jacksonville’s defense was able to get a stop with just enough time for the second-year passer to push the Jaguars into field goal range and send the game to overtime. From there, the defense picked him up again to secure the win. Lawrence has done this before, leading the Jaguars to an unlikely comeback win over the Ravens, but this was arguably even more impressive because of the level of defense he did it against. It seems he’s truly starting to make significant strides in becoming Jacksonville’s franchise quarterback, and because of this, the Jaguars have sneaked into the playoff race with three games to go.
- Cracks are starting to show in Dallas. The last two weeks have been concerning for the Cowboys. Dallas needed a frantic comeback in Week 14 to take down the lowly Texans, but appeared to be back on track with a 27-10 lead late in the third quarter. Then, in seemingly an instant, the Jaguars clawed their way back with a long touchdown pass from Lawrence to Jones, a quick Rayshawn Jenkins interception, and another quick-strike scoring drive to make it 27-24. Jacksonville scored touchdowns on three straight possessions, furiously erasing Dallas’ lead and forcing the Cowboys to respond. The Cowboys deserve credit for regaining the lead late in regulation, but the offense and defense have things to fix moving forward. Dallas’ offense didn’t do enough to protect its lead, and certainly didn’t help its defense by turning the ball over. The defense melted down late in the third quarter, allowing big plays that propelled the Jaguars back into the game. All of this happened against a Jaguars team that is improving, but is still a 6-8 squad. If the Cowboys truly believe they’re legitimate contenders, they can’t afford to collapse like they did Sunday.
- The Jags may have turned an important corner. A quick scan of Jacksonville’s schedule tells us it’s won three of its last four games, and those all came against quality opponents. The only negative mark on that stretch came in a blowout loss to Detroit. Jacksonville plays much more like a team worthy of respect than it did months earlier, and Doug Pederson’s imprint is finally starting to show. An ideal blend of timely defensive plays — led by Jenkins, who posted career highs in tackles (18) and interceptions (two) — and a quality performance from Lawrence (and Jones) led them to a wild win in this one. It’s about time we start taking them seriously every week.
Next Gen stat of the game: Jacksonville owned a win probability of just 6.3% when trailing 27-10 in the third quarter before starting its frantic comeback.
NFL Research: Prior to 2022, the Jaguars were 1-112 all time when trailing by 17-plus points. Sunday’s win made them 2-2 in such games this season.
Nick Shook’s takeaways:
- Chiefs escape for second straight week. Kansas City has to know what it feels like to have a target on its back after the last two weeks. The Chiefs received the Texans’ absolute best shot on Sunday, but unlike last week against the Broncos, the Chiefs needed to dig themselves out of a hole to win this time around. Chalk it up to underestimating an opponent, if you must, but the Chiefs certainly didn’t struggle: Kansas City broke 500 yards of offense and Patrick Mahomes completed 36 of 41 passes for 336 yards and two touchdowns. The Chiefs just happened to meet a team that was playing as if it was the Super Bowl. A Week 15 game against one of the AFC’s best essentially was Houston’s Super Bowl, and it acted accordingly. The Chiefs will just need to be better in order to avoid a letdown against better competition. The good news: They won both of their last two games, and they may have realized no one is going to lay down for them.
- Another close call ends in defeat for feisty Texans. Despite the loss, Houston deserves a ton of credit for how it played Sunday. Houston got on the board with a Davis Mills dime to tight end Teagan Quitoriano, weathered a counterpunch from Jerick McKinnon (via a 20-yard touchdown) with another scoring drive, and regained the lead late in the third thanks to a second Mills touchdown pass, this time to Jordan Akins. Houston played hard for four quarters (and overtime), establishing a chippy environment as if it was sending Kansas City a message: We’re not afraid of you. The Texans nearly won, but in these matchups, sometimes a talent disadvantage ends up being the difference. The Texans did their job by setting the tone with a physical brand of football; it just didn’t end up being quite enough to secure a massive upset.
- Kansas City’s backfield continues trending upward. It took a while, but the Chiefs have found their one-two punch at running back in the form of Isiah Pacheco and McKinnon. Much like last week, McKinnon made a significant impact in the passing game, catching eight passes for 70 yards and a touchdown, and Pacheco paced things on the ground with an average of 5.7 yards per carry. Their combined efforts accounted for over 200 yards of offense for a second straight week and brought some much-needed balance to an offense that tends to rely a little too much on Mahomes. It opened things up for the Chiefs, who finished with a 50% conversion rate on third down. They’ll just need to clean things up elsewhere, as evidenced by their 10 accepted penalties (for 102 yards) and two turnovers.
Next Gen stat of the game: Patrick Mahomes thrived in the short game Sunday, completing 31 of 33 passes of fewer than 10 air yards for 260 yards and two touchdowns.
NFL Research: The Chiefs’ win over the Texans secured their seventh straight season winning the division, which is not only the longest active streak but ties for the second-longest streak in NFL history with the Rams (won seven straight division titles from 1973-1979).