NFL

The Bucs have a big hill to climb

For all of the impressive feats Tom Brady has pulled off in his career, a Super Bowl repeat this season would be very high on the list. 

Brady dragged the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a win on a day that will be remembered for Antonio Brown suddenly leaving the field, presumably finishing his NFL career. The Brown situation is something that is likely to cost the Bucs dearly the rest of the way. We’ll get to Brown, who head coach Bruce Arians said is no longer on the Buccaneers, in a moment.

The Buccaneers were outplayed for most of Sunday against the New York Jets. But the Bucs got a fourth-down stop late in the game and Brady went to work. He drove the Buccaneers downfield in the final minute and then hit Cyril Grayson (who?) on a beautiful pass in the end zone for a 33-yard touchdown and a dramatic 28-24 win. It was an amazing throw by an all-time great. That will at least end questions about how badly the Bucs played most of the day Sunday. Brown was going to overshadow everything anyway. 

Last season, the Bucs got hot in the second half. How many times have you heard the story about Tampa Bay getting hot and carrying that momentum to a Super Bowl championship? Now the inverse is true. The Bucs might have peaked a few weeks ago. They don’t look like they’re ascending. Tampa Bay looked bad against a horrid Jets team. But they still have Brady. That gives them a chance.

The offense around Brady is suddenly falling apart. Leonard Fournette is on IR, though he should return. Chris Godwin, Tampa Bay’s best receiver this season, won’t be back due to a knee injury. Brown was supposed to cover that loss, but everyone saw him throwing his gear into the stands, leaving his pads behind and waving as he ran into the locker room in one of the most bizarre scenes in recent NFL memory

The Buccaneers needed Brown after Godwin’s injury. It’s the Bucs’ fault for relying on him. But that’s the situation they were in. His actions set the Buccaneers way back. It’s worth mentioning that the main reason Brown was on the Bucs in the first place was Brady. It worked last season. It was bound to blow up at some point. 

The cast around Brady the rest of the way is relatively anonymous. Brady is great, and Sunday’s final drive was further validation of his place in NFL history. But repeating with all the losses around him won’t be easy. The Bucs have a chance, but it’s all on Brady now. 

Tom Brady and the Buccaneers didn’t have a great day against the Jets on Sunday. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Here are the winners and losers from Week 17 of the NFL season: 

WINNERS

Russell Wilson: If Sunday was the final home game of Russell Wilson’s fantastic Seattle Seahawks career, it was a memorable finish.

Wilson had a throwback game in a lopsided 51-29 win over the Detroit Lions. He threw for four touchdowns, including three to DK Metcalf, in the rout.

There will be endless trade speculation surrounding Wilson until he is dealt or the Seahawks definitively say he’s staying. Wilson has contributed a ton to the franchise, even though this season has been rough. Part of that was Wilson’s finger injury that kept him out multiple games. It hasn’t been the season Wilson or the Seahawks wanted, but he had a nice highlight in the home finale.

Deebo Samuel, Eli Mitchell and the 49ers playmakers: The headline of Sunday’s game was rookie 49ers quarterback Trey Lance, who looked pretty good in place of Jimmy Garoppolo.

But don’t overlook Lance’s offensive teammates, who shined again in a 23-7 win over the Houston Texans.

Mitchell returned from a knee injury and continued his impressive rookie season with 119 rushing yards. Samuel had a huge 45-yard touchdown catch that put the game away. Brandon Aiyuk had 94 yards. George Kittle had just one catch, but it was a nice 29-yard grab and he’s always a threat to go for 100 yards in any game.

The 49ers are likely to make the playoffs. No matter who the quarterback is, they’ll have plenty of weapons to throw to.

Los Angeles Chargers: The Chargers are a win away from a playoff spot.

That will have to come against the Las Vegas Raiders, who are still battling in the wild-card race.

The Chargers did their job on Sunday. They took care of a shorthanded Denver Broncos team, winning 34-13. Justin Herbert threw for a pair of touchdowns. Andre Roberts had a kickoff return touchdown that put the Broncos away. 

The Chargers have had plenty of weird moments this season. But with a week to go, they’re in a good position.

Odell Beckham Jr.: The Los Angeles Rams are happy they got aggressive and landed Beckham

Beckham made the two biggest plays Sunday to save what would have been a rough loss to the Baltimore Ravens. Beckham made a nice catch on fourth down with a little more than a minute to go. Then he got across the goal line for the go-ahead touchdown with 57 seconds left. The Rams got a stop after that and escaped with a 20-19 win. They’re 12-4. 

Beckham had some rough patches after leaving the New York Giants. He wore out his welcome with the Cleveland Browns. The Rams took a shot on his talent. Beckham has been making plays for the Rams, and the Rams’ gamble was well worth it when Beckham came up big in the clutch on Sunday. 

Ja’Marr Chase: If you had Chase going in your fantasy football championship match, congratulations on your win.

Chase went off in an enormous 34-31 win for the Cincinnati Bengals over the Kansas City Chiefs. Chase had 266 yards and three touchdowns as the Bengals clinched the AFC North. The win also put AFC playoff teams on notice: The Bengals have plenty of playmakers and won’t be an easy out in the postseason (the Chiefs’ loss also puts the Tennessee Titans one win from clinching the AFC’s No. 1 seed). 

The Bengals had a bit of an escape in the end. They made a serious gamble to go for it on fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line in the final minute of a tie game. The first attempt had offsetting penalties so the Bengals tried again. They were unsuccessful but a defensive penalty kept the drive alive. They ran down the clock and kicked the field goal as time expired. 

Chase had a great start to the season, then slumped. His huge day Sunday was worth a division title for Cincinnati. 

Eagles’ playoff hopes: It wasn’t pretty, but the Philadelphia Eagles are still looking good for the playoffs. 

The Eagles can thank the NFL’s expanded playoff field as they’re closer to getting a wild-card berth after a 20-16 win over the Washington Football Team that was tougher than it should have been. The Eagles’ offense struggled most of Sunday, but Philly’s defense kept getting stops. A fourth-down touchdown run by Boston Scott, when Jalen Hurts was able to keep his wits and pitch it back after tripping following the snap, was huge. A couple of Jake Elliott field goals in the second half helped. An Eagles interception in the end zone with 24 seconds left sealed it. 

It’s not the type of performance that Eagles fans will fondly remember but it was a big one in Philadelphia’s season. 

Mac Jones: The cure for the rookie wall might be playing the Jacksonville Jaguars. 

There were questions, after a few down weeks, if Jones had hit the wall. He looked fine on Sunday. Jones picked apart the Jaguars in the New England Patriots’ 50-10 win. He was 12-of-14 for 107 yards and two touchdowns in the first half alone. To start the second half ,Jones threw his third touchdown of the day. It went to Kristian Wilkerson, who had two scores against Jacksonville. Jones looked confident and was efficient, as he was for the first half of this season. 

Jones will have to play well for the Patriots to make a playoff run, and he’ll have to do it against teams much better than the Jaguars. Sunday at least showed he still has plenty left in the tank of his successful rookie season. 

LOSERS

Dallas Cowboys hype train: It turns out, beating the Washington Football Team isn’t a golden ticket to the Super Bowl.

The Cowboys are still a good team but they’re not as unbeatable as you heard the past week. Dallas lost to the Arizona Cardinals at home, 25-22.

Dallas’ offense didn’t do much. The defense didn’t make enough big plays. And at the end, when the Cardinals might have fumbled, Dallas didn’t have a timeout and couldn’t have challenged. They wasted a timeout on a Cardinals extra point when there was confusion about the personnel on the field. That was costly.

The Cowboys could still make a run to the Super Bowl. They have the talent. But the excitement of the past week was a little too much, too soon.

Carolina Panthers: No, Sam Darnold isn’t the answer.

But what is for the Panthers? Darnold returned to the starting spot and was bad again, as the New Orleans Saints beat Carolina 18-10. Darnold had 132 yards on 26 attempts. He threw an interception at the end to seal the loss.

Darnold was acquired in the offseason and the Panthers acted like they’d locked up their quarterback of the future, even though Darnold hadn’t done anything with the New York Jets. Carolina seemed confident they had an answer at quarterback. It’s clear they don’t.

Joe Judge: Since Judge apparently won’t lose his job, he apparently wants to just run out the clock on the season. 

This was the New York Giants’ play selection at the Chicago Bears in the first half: 23 runs, two passes. They trailed 22-3 at halftime and lost 29-3

Mike Glennon isn’t good, but having him attempt two passes for 4 yards seemed like a passive aggressive way for Judge to say he can’t compete with his roster. So he didn’t try to win. That’s the only way you can explain the play-calling. The Giants finished with 40 runs and 11 passes in a game they lost by 26 points. 

It was a weird approach and ensured the Giants would get blown out again. No team wants this season to end more than the Giants. 

Dolphins’ winning streak and their playoff hopes: It was unlikely that the Miami Dolphins’ hot run would last all the way to the playoffs. 

The Dolphins started the season 1-7 and then won seven in a row. Most of those wins came against bad opponents but it was still impressive to get back into contention after that start to the season. 

Alas, the Dolphins fell flat in an unimpressive 34-3 loss to the Tennessee Titans, who take over pole position for the No. 1 seed in the AFC with the win and the Chiefs loss to the Bengals. Miami’s offense couldn’t move the ball. The defense didn’t play great, but it wouldn’t have mattered much anyway. 

The Dolphins fell out of the playoff race with the combination of the loss and the Chargers’ blowout win against the Broncos on Sunday.  

Matt Ryan’s taunting: Ryan taking a taunting call after seemingly scoring a rushing touchdown was not on anyone’s mind Sunday. 

Ryan seemed to score to cut the Buffalo Bills’ lead to 29-21 in the fourth quarter. He got up and let Bills safety Jordan Poyer know about it, which drew the flag. The problem was that replay showed Ryan’s knee was down at the 1-yard line. Instead of a touchdown, the Falcons marched back 15 yards and had fourth-and-goal at the 16-yard line. It was incomplete. That practically ended the Falcons’ chances to beat the Bills. Buffalo is a win away from taking the AFC East championship after the 29-15 win

It has been a long season for the Falcons. One bad moment from Ryan was the lowlight of a frustrating season. 

Indianapolis Colts: A tumultuous week for the Colts, which included not knowing if Carson Wentz would play quarterback until Sunday morning, ended with a dud of a loss. 

Give credit to the Las Vegas Raiders, who are still alive to get a wild-card spot. A huge catch by Hunter Renfrow late in the game set up Daniel Carlson’s game-winning field goal and a 23-20 win

It was a disappointing lull for the Colts. The Colts are a very good team that consistently finds ways to lose games it shouldn’t. They’re a team you’d like to make a playoff run. But there have been constant reminders why they shouldn’t be trusted. Sunday’s loss was another one. 


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