As November turns into December, seasons can live or die on one play. In Arizona, the Los Angeles Chargers’ two-point conversion moved them above .500. A few moments later in Seattle, Las Vegas Raiders running back Josh Jacobs took a handoff in overtime, bolted through the Seahawks’ line and streaked down the middle of the field all alone, 86 yards into the end zone. The Raiders moved to 4-7, and their playoff hopes remained unlikely rather than totally extinguished.
Here is what to know from Week 12 in the NFL.
Zach Wilson should get used to the sideline. After Wilson’s dreadful performance last week and baffling lack of accountability afterward, New York Jets Coach Robert Saleh benched him for backup Mike White. In a 31-10 thumping of the Chicago Bears, White completed 22 of 28 passes for 315 yards and three touchdowns.
Nobody is throwing any parades for beating the Bears without Justin Fields. But White allowed the Jets to play to their potential in a way Wilson has not. Wide receivers Garrett Wilson and Elijah Moore, who never clicked with the second-year quarterback, looked like one of the best tandems in the NFL.
Regardless of what it means for Wilson’s future, the difference between White’s performance and his over the past two seasons is jarring. In four starts with the Jets, White has two 300-yard passing games, both of them victories. In his 20 career starts, Wilson has one, and it came last month in a loss to the New England Patriots in which he threw three interceptions. Saleh committed to Wilson long term, but what else would you expect him to say?
White, a cult favorite in New York, probably can’t lead the Jets on a deep playoff run. But at 7-4 and in wild-card position, the Jets have too much talent, especially on defense, to prioritize the future over right now. And right now, White gives them their best chance.
It’s Jordan Love time in Green Bay. The Philadelphia Eagles’ offensive line, their running backs and Jalen Hurts bludgeoned the Packers as they maintained the NFL’s best record by rushing for 363 yards. But the most compelling part of the night came at the end of Philadelphia’s 40-33 victory, when the 4-8 Packers received an impromptu glimpse of their future.
Aaron Rodgers, already dealing with a broken thumb, had to leave early in the fourth quarter after a rib injury became too painful and restrictive. In came Love, the third-year passer whose first-round selection in the 2020 draft led to friction between Rodgers and the franchise.
Love had had few chances to validate his choice, kept off the field by Rodgers’s MVP performance. In brief duty Sunday night, Love provided promise in a dying season.
Love completed 6 of 9 passes for 113 yards and a 63-yard touchdown to Christian Watson, the rookie speedster with whom, in the Packers’ most hopeful vision, he could form a lasting partnership. He also played with confidence and poise. He threw bullets to the sideline and hit Watson perfectly in stride. It was a limited sample, but it was enough to make a Packers fan feel confident about life after Rodgers, who turns 39 on Friday.
Any transition to Love would be made complicated by the four-year, $150 million contract extension Rodgers signed this offseason. But Love showed such a transition might not be so painful when it comes, at least on the field.
Bow down to the NFC East. After the Seahawks fell in overtime, the NFC playoff standings settled into startling form: If the season ended today, all four NFC East teams would make the postseason.
The Washington Commanders’ victory over the Atlanta Falcons nudged them to 7-5, good for last place in the division but still ahead of every other wild-card contender. Nobody foresaw an important December showdown between the Commanders and New York Giants, but that’s what we will get Sunday in East Rutherford, N.J., the first of two meetings between the teams in three weeks.
Washington will enter with the momentum of a three-game winning streak, and the Giants have home-field advantage and three extra days of rest. The Giants were 7-2 two weeks ago, but after losing to the Detroit Lions and then the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving, they are in a precarious spot. They must face the Philadelphia Eagles twice and travel to Minnesota to face the Vikings. If they can’t beat Washington, they could be in full spiral. For now, though, they would be in the playoffs — like every other team in their division.
The Bengals’ AFC title defense is alive. Anybody who wants to win the AFC will have to go through Joe Burrow. Cincinnati has cemented its place in the AFC playoff picture with three consecutive victories without injured star wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, the most impressive of which came Sunday.
In a rematch of their divisional-round upset in January, the Bengals outlasted the surging Tennessee Titans, 20-16, even with starting running back Joe Mixon sidelined with a concussion. “The kind of game great teams win,” Burrow called it afterward. The Bengals have won seven of nine after an 0-2 start, putting themselves in position to steal the AFC North from the inconsistent Baltimore Ravens.
Last year, the Bengals rode a late-season streak all the way to the Super Bowl. Doing it again is not out of the question. Burrow’s moxie and deep passing give them a chance against any opponent. They have mitigated issues with their running game and their offensive line, and though they are not one of the NFL’s most dominant teams, they are one of the hardest to beat.
The Ravens gave away another victory in the fourth quarter. It has been a bizarre season in Baltimore. For brief flashes, the Ravens have played like one of the leading contenders in the AFC. At other points, their offense has bogged down or their defense has leaked at the wrong time. Sometimes, such as Sunday, it all happens in the same game.
The Ravens squandered another late lead, this time at Jacksonville, losing, 28-27, when Trevor Lawrence rifled a touchdown pass with 14 seconds left and Jaguars Coach Doug Pederson went for two. Lawrence capped his breakout performance — 321 yards, three touchdowns — with a missile to the front corner of the end zone to convert.
In three of their four losses, the Ravens have led by two scores in the fourth quarter. In the other, they led by 10 at halftime. Their strengths — a strong running game led by Lamar Jackson and a stout defense — should make them experts at closing games. But crucial mistakes have doomed them — such as Gus Edwards’s fumble in his team’s red zone Sunday. And first-year defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald’s group has sputtered when trying to protect leads.
The Ravens remain in first place in the AFC North. They have the same record, 7-4, as the Bengals but are ahead based on the head-to-head tiebreaker. And their schedule should help them maintain control; their next five games are against teams with losing records.
The Broncos hit a new low. As Denver’s offense circled the drain again, a new feature become part of its nightmare season: public dissent. As nose tackle Mike Purcell came off the field in the second half of a 23-10 loss at the Carolina Panthers, he screamed at quarterback Russell Wilson, who was leading the Broncos to another horrific offensive showing.
The Broncos, the lowest-scoring team in the NFL after importing Wilson in a massive trade and hiring purported offensive guru Nathaniel Hackett as their coach, fell to 3-8 and lost any hope of making a late-season rally. Wilson passed for 142 yards on 35 attempts, taking three sacks.
At this point, it would be a shock if Hackett returns next season and a mild surprise if he finishes this one. The Broncos’ priority needs to be figuring out how to keep Wilson’s disastrous performance contained to this season. If not, his $245 million contract extension will be an albatross. The trade already hurts; the 2023 first-round pick the Broncos are sending to Seattle would be No. 4 overall if the season ended today.
For the Panthers, interim coach Steve Wilks is giving team owner David Tepper something to think about. The Panthers are 3-4 since Wilks took over, and one of those losses came after wide receiver DJ Moore was assessed an excessive celebration penalty after what should have been a win-sealing touchdown. A team without much offensive talent and even less to play for is playing hard for Wilks, who used a savvy fake punt to take control against the Broncos.
Todd Bowles had a bad day. The Buccaneers had an opportunity to effectively wrap up the NFC South against the reeling Cleveland Browns. They controlled most of their 23-17 overtime loss, and they would have won in regulation if not for a leaping, one-handed miracle of a fourth-down catch by tight end David Njoku in the back of the end zone.
The Buccaneers, specifically Bowles, blew several moments that could have made the difference. Before Njoku’s catch, the Bucs let the clock run from roughly 1 minute 15 seconds to 37 seconds without calling one of their three timeouts. The Browns had no timeouts left, so the Bucs had no reason not to conserve time for a potential response.
On their possession, the Buccaneers failed to call a timeout after a first-down completion with about 30 seconds left. When Tom Brady hit Julio Jones on the next play for 26 yards, pushing the ball to the Cleveland 48, the Bucs had only eight seconds to get into field goal range. An incompletion forced a Hail Mary attempt, and the Bucs headed to overtime with two unused timeouts.
“That clock was going to run down; we didn’t have enough to stop it right there,” Bowles said in an unconvincing explanation. “It was overtime right there, right off the top.”
It wasn’t the only time Bowles showed a lack of trust in Brady. Early in the fourth quarter, the Buccaneers faced fourth and two at the Cleveland 37. Rather than going for it, Bowles tried to draw the Browns offside and punted after a delay-of-game penalty.
Overtime proved costly, even aside from the result. Left tackle Tristan Wirfs, the Bucs’ best offensive lineman, left on a cart with a left leg injury. Wirfs was walking around the locker room with a boot on, per local reporters. If he misses time, it would add to the long list of offensive line injuries and defections the Bucs have suffered since last season. The Bucs probably will win their dismal division, but their chances to do anything more looked much worse after Sunday.
Josh Jacobs’s free agency will be fascinating. Jacobs’s game-winning, 86-yard touchdown provided an exclamation point on one of the best games any running back has had this year. The Raiders back rushed for 229 yards on 33 carries in the 40-34 victory over Seattle. He also caught six passes for 74 yards, giving him more than 300 yards from scrimmage. By day’s end, he led the NFL with 1,159 rushing yards.
How valuable is a 24-year-old who might be the most productive running back in the NFL? We’re about to find out. Last summer, the Raiders declined to exercise Jacobs’s fifth-year option, making him eligible for free agency this offseason. The NFL has devalued running backs, viewing them as fragile and interchangeable as the league has shifted toward passing.
With the proliferation of defenses designed to take away big passing plays at the expense of more rushing success, Jacobs may walk into free agency with a slight shift in how his position is valued. But he’ll have to overcome ingrained skepticism toward big money for running backs. He also has taken on a massive workload, and teams tend to shy away from big commitments to running backs on second contracts because of durability and longevity concerns. Whatever happens this offseason, Jacobs has been great.