Week 13 of the 2018 NFL season went down as one of the most interesting weekends of the year. The Los Angeles Rams became the first team to clinch a playoff spot and division title. Their AFC counterparts, the Los Angeles Chargers, stunned the Pittsburgh Steelers in the second half to keep pace with the Kansas City Chiefs in a heated AFC West race.
Here is a look at some of the highs and lows of an interesting week of NFL football:
3. Rams fight off the rust, earn NFC West title
I made the trip up to Detroit on Sunday expecting the Rams to absolutely destroy the Detroit Lions. The game proved to be a war much closer than the 30-16 final score indicated. The Lions pressured Rams quarterback Jared Goff throughout the game, and Detroit’s offense did just enough to have any L.A. fan pulling his or her hair out.
Nonetheless, the Rams’ stars took over the game when the team needed them the most. Defensive tackle Aaron Donald split two defenders and forced a critical fumble on a strip-sack of Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford. The Rams put the ball in the end zone a couple plays later. Then running back Todd Gurley broke through for a huge run down the sideline that could have resulted in a touchdown. Instead, he ran up the line and took the tackle, which forced the Lions to burn their final timeouts. Gurley got his touchdown two plays later.
Detroit has beaten numerous contenders this season, including the New England Patriots and Carolina Panthers. They gave the Rams a game and then some. Yet the Rams gutted it out and earned the victory – and their second straight NFC West title.
2. Chargers peaking at the right time
The Chargers entered halftime down 23-7 at the Pittsburgh Steelers looking at their fourth loss of the season. Instead, they came back from two touchdowns down to beat the perennial AFC power 33-30 on a field goal with time expiring.
However, it wasn’t just the comeback, it’s how the Chargers did it. They dominated the Steelers on their home field on national television. The Chargers’ pass rush, led by Joey Bosa, made Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s life a nightmare, even though they only sacked him once.
Meanwhile, the Philip Rivers-Keenan Allen connection proved unstoppable. Rivers targeted Allen 19 times, resulting in 14 catches for 148 yards and a touchdown.
The Chargers are deep and getting better. It wouldn’t surprise me to see them pass the Kansas City Chiefs as the year closes out, but they’ll have in win in K.C. on a short week to do it.
1. Dallas Cowboys’ rise continues
The Dallas Cowboys’ 13-10 upset of the New Orleans Saints last Thursday night wasn’t shocking. However, the way they did it certainly was. The Cowboys defense shut down the most explosive offense in the league. Actually, that assessment doesn’t give the Cowboys’ effort justice. Dallas dominated the Saints offense and gave the rest of the league a blueprint on how to beat New Orleans.
How dominant was the Cowboys’ performance? Dallas held the Saints to 176 total yards, including 111 passing. The vaunted New Orleans running game mustered only 65 yards, averaging a paltry 3.4 yards per carry. No defense has come this close to holding back the Saints all year.
The Dallas offense still has plenty of work to do, but the emerging defense is making the Cowboys a dark-horse Super Bowl contender in the NFC.
3. Goodbye, Mike McCarthy
The Green Bay Packers have lost five of their last six games. Their struggles reached a climax when the team fired head coach Mike McCarthy after a shocking 20-17 home defeat to the inept Arizona Cardinals. Green Bay hasn’t played bad football during the recent six-game stretch. Instead, they simply lacked the edge of a team with its talent level. There was little to no creativity offensively, and the defense struggled to make up for it.
The Packers have deeper issues than McCarthy. Green Bay’s roster, while talented, is unbalanced at several positions. It may also be time to look at quarterback Aaron Rodgers and ponder whether or not his skills are beginning to decline. When the Packers have struggled in recent years, Rodgers almost always found a way to succeed. That hasn’t been the case this year. Whoever takes over in Green Bay will be tasked with revitalizing the entire Packers roster, including Rodgers.
2. Lions’ franchise struggles
Visiting Ford Field on Sunday served as an eye-opener concerning the Detroit Lions. This is a franchise that has only sniffed winning a couple of times in the last two decades, but the fanbase is still passionate about the team. The disturbing way the fans started flowing from the building down 23-16 with 2:54 left, despite having all three timeouts left is a statement alone. Many Lions have lost hope, and it’s a shame. I haven’t had many better game experiences than what Detroit offered fans at Ford Field.
1. Clean it up, NFL
I’m going to keep this short. News broke Sunday evening about how the NFL handled the Kareem Hunt investigation. The league allegedly told the Kansas City Chiefs to stop pursuing video evidence of Hunt’s altercation with a woman in Cleveland that later went viral. If true, this is unforgivable.
The NFL’s handling of violence between men and women has been a problem since Roger Goodell became the league’s commissioner. I believed the NFL would improve how it deals with such issues by now, but it continues to make the same mistakes. The actions of a couple of boneheads have cast a dark shadow over a wonderful game. It’s on the NFL to clean it up.