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3 takeaways from Week 15 in the NFL

The 2019 NFL season is coming to a close. The postseason race is heating up as teams jockey for playoff positioning. In this NFL week review, we examine two players who are leading their squads to AFC hierarchy.  We also look at an AFC club that has fallen flat on its face following lofty preseason expectations.

There’s no more appropriate way to wrap up this week’s action than by discussing MVP frontrunner Lamar Jackson, who shined under the bright lights of Thursday Night Football.

Here are three takeaways from NFL Week 15.

3. Lamar Jackson cements status as NFL MVP

The Baltimore Ravens nabbed their second consecutive AFC North crown after throttling the New York Jets 42-21 on Thursday. They can clinch the No. 1 seed in the conference with a win next Sunday in Cleveland. As usual, quarterback Lamar Jackson did the heavy lifting for the Ravens. He fired five passing touchdowns in a blowout win that solidified him as this year’s indisputable MVP.

Jackson entered the contest needing only 23 yards to break Michael Vick’s single-season record for rushing yards by a QB. Jackson achieved that feat on the Ravens’ opening drive, a possession that resulted in a six-yard touchdown run from Mark Ingram. The Ravens scored five more touchdowns, all coming via the arm of Jackson.

Rookie wide receiver Miles Boykin caught Jackson’s first TD toss.

Mark Andrews had a one-yard TD catch before intermission to give the Ravens a 21-7 lead. Marquise Brown, Seth Roberts and Ingram each snagged a TD reception apiece in the second half.

It was the third time this season Jackson managed to throw five touchdowns in a game. He leads the league with 33 passing touchdowns.

Now holding the NFL-record for rushing yards by a QB in a season with 1,103, he has also ran for seven scores in 2019. He rushed for a team-best 86 yards versus the Jets.

The Ravens (12-2) have won 10 straight games. They are one victory from tying their franchise-best 13-win campaign from 2006. Jackson is playing at a historic level and is a lock to win the Most Valuable Player award. In fact, he has a great chance to become the second unanimous MVP in league history. Tom Brady is the only player to be voted unanimously for MVP, which he earned in 2010.

2. Stephon Gilmore deserves Defensive Player of the Year honors

The New England Patriots have issues to resolve on offense, but their defense has remained the best unit in the NFL all season. All-Pro cornerback Stephon Gilmore has shut down the opposition’s top receiver just about every week. He was particularly dominant Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals, intercepting two passes in a seven-minute span in the third quarter.

It took just one of Gilmore’s hands to come down with his first interception.

Gilmore jumped the route on his second interception of Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton. He returned it 64 yards for a touchdown.

It was the second pick-six for Gilmore this season. He previously returned an interception for a TD in Week 2 against the Miami Dolphins. Gilmore became the first Patriots player with multiple pick-sixes in a season since Tedy Bruschi in 2003.

Sunday was Gilmore’s third career multi-interception game—and first with New England. He is tied for the league-lead in interceptions with six, a new career-high.

Gilmore shadow covered Tyler Boyd and held the talented young wideout to just three catches for only 26 yards. Boyd entered the contest 12th in the NFL in receptions.

The Patriots clinched their 11th straight playoff appearance by crushing the Bengals. They can secure a first-round bye in the postseason if they win their final two contests. Gilmore has been easily the best player on the playoff-bound Patriots and deserves the Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY) if he maintains this level of play in Weeks 16-17.

It’s been 10 years since a cornerback won DPOY. Charles Woodson earned the crown back in 2009, then as a member of Green Bay Packers. Gilmore will end the drought and seize the DPOY award.

1. Freddie Kitchens-Jarvis Landry spat a microcosm of Browns’ season

The Cleveland Browns came into 2019 with high aspirations. After falling 35-17 to the Arizona Cardinals, the Browns (6-8) will finish another season without a winning record. The Browns—who were favored to finish first in the AFC North before the year began—have not had a winning season since 2007.

Head coach Freddie Kitchens is under fire with his team failing to live up to expectations. The Browns, arguably the NFL’s most undisciplined team, have committed the fourth-most penalties in the league. That’s a horrible look for Kitchens, as was his confrontation with wide receiver Jarvis Landry on the sidelines.

An enraged Landry started the heated exchange with Kitchens. The first-year coach elected to kick a field goal on a 4th-and-short at Arizona’s 27-yard-line with the Browns trailing by 11 in the fourth quarter, infuriating Landry. Browns kicker Austin Seibert missed the field goal, further escalating the argument between Landry and Kitchens.

Landry has enjoyed a stellar year in spite of the Browns’ woes. He eclipsed the 1000-yard receiving mark for the second time in as many seasons with Cleveland. But Landry was unusually quiet against the Cardinals’ much-maligned defense. He hauled in just five receptions for 23 yards.

The Browns were pummeled on the ground. Kenyan Drake gashed the Browns’ defense for 137 rushing yards and a whopping four TDs.

NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported on Sunday morning that the Browns plan to retain Kitchens in 2020 “barring a horrific collapse.” Does losing to an Arizona (4-9-1) club which had lost its previous six games qualify as a “collapse?”

If it does, Kitchens could be canned at season’s end.