December 2, 2021

The Final Word: Ravens win a classic, Steelers on the ropes

Spread the love

Neil Reynolds

American Football Expert & Columnist

Sky Sports’ Neil Reynolds has the final word on another extraordinary weekend in the NFL, picking out his five major takeaways, his player of the week, and what is on his radar heading into Week 15…

Last Updated: 15/12/20 1:33pm

Lamar Jackson had a stunning performance in the Ravens' thrilling Monday night win over the Browns Lamar Jackson had a stunning performance in the Ravens' thrilling Monday night win over the Browns

Lamar Jackson had a stunning performance in the Ravens’ thrilling Monday night win over the Browns

That’s another week of NFL action in the books and you can really feel the intensity beginning to build with just three rounds of games between now and the end-of-season playoffs.

There was certainly a postseason feel to the game that capped Week 14, and that’s where I will begin my final look back at the Stateside action…

Five Major Takeaways from Week 14

1) Ravens win a classic

The Baltimore Ravens won a game that literally had a little bit of everything on Monday night, securing victory against the Cleveland Browns with Justin Tucker’s 55-yard field goal with two seconds remaining. A last-second safety meant the final score was 47-42 in favour of a Baltimore team looking good for the final playoff spot in the AFC.

5:48
Highlights of the Ravens against the Browns from a thrilling Monday Night Football clash

Highlights of the Ravens against the Browns from a thrilling Monday Night Football clash

Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson missed large parts of the fourth quarter due to cramping, although social media would suggest he raced off the field to use the toilet. In between his unfortunate locker room visits, Jackson was excellent at playground football, as he rushed nine times for 124 yards and two touchdowns. He dramatically returned on fourth-and-five to throw a game-tying touchdown pass to Marquise ‘Hollywood’ Brown with 1:51 remaining. As an indication of how crazy this game was, there were three more scores after that six-pointer.

2:59
Lamar Jackson rushed nine times for 124 yards and two touchdowns as well as throwing for 163 yards and a score in Monday night’s 47-42 win over the Browns

Lamar Jackson rushed nine times for 124 yards and two touchdowns as well as throwing for 163 yards and a score in Monday night’s 47-42 win over the Browns

The path to 11 wins and the final spot in the AFC playoffs has now opened up for the 8-5 Ravens. They finish up at home against the Jacksonville Jaguars and the New York Giants before going on the road to the Cincinnati Bengals. That could be bad news for the Miami Dolphins and Las Vegas Raiders.

2) Chiefs on top in the AFC

The Kansas City Chiefs have a path of their own to follow and it could lead them all the way to a first-round bye and homefield advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. That feat can be achieved with wins at the New Orleans Saints and at home to the Atlanta Falcons and the Los Angeles Chargers.

The Chiefs showed just how hard they will be to knock off the top perch in the NFL on Sunday night as they were given all they could handle by the Dolphins. In a game where they fell behind by 10 points – as they did on the same field in Super Bowl LIV 315 days earlier – the Chiefs fought, scrapped and finally exploded with a flurry of big plays to win 33-27.

0:37
Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes showed his class once again as Tyreek Hill scored his second of the game with a 44-yard touchdown early in the second half

Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes showed his class once again as Tyreek Hill scored his second of the game with a 44-yard touchdown early in the second half

Patrick Mahomes was sacked four times and intercepted on three occasions. Kansas City had four three-and-outs on offence and turned the ball over four times in total on a harrowing day. And yet they still scored 33 points and their quarterback threw for 393 yards.

Sunday showed me that Miami are going to be a good football team in the coming years but, more than anything, it told me these Chiefs are darn hard to beat.

3) Steelers on the ropes

After winning 11 games in a row to start the season, the Pittsburgh Steelers have now suffered back-to-back losses to the Washington Football Team and the Buffalo Bills. And the scariest thing for head coach Mike Tomlin and his men is the fact that they deserved to lose both games.

5:50
Highlights of the Steelers against the Bills in Week 14 of the NFL

Highlights of the Steelers against the Bills in Week 14 of the NFL

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is looking every day of his 38 years and then some. His form has been poor of late and he has not been helped out by a receiving corps getting lazy with their fundamentals. The receivers – led by Diontae Johnson – drop far too many passes. And that is a problem when you consider how reliant Pittsburgh have become on their short passing attack.

In Sunday’s 26-15 loss to the Bills, Pittsburgh called 38 pass plays to 17 runs. That was not as glaring as in previous weeks, but it did point to a continued lack of balance. Defensive injuries have also taken their toll and the Steelers don’t look like one of the elite teams in the NFL right now.

4) Colts get on winning run in Vegas

The Indianapolis Colts put together a complete team performance in Sunday’s 44-27 win over the Las Vegas Raiders. They made some big plays on defence – most notably Kenny Moore’s ridiculous one-handed interception – and Philip Rivers threw for 244 yards and two touchdowns.

0:25
Kenny Moore’s stunning one-handed pick in the endzone prevented Las Vegas from scoring a touchdown

Kenny Moore’s stunning one-handed pick in the endzone prevented Las Vegas from scoring a touchdown

But it was the running game that really caught my eye and most likely led to Monday’s firing of Raiders defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. The Colts rushed 31 times for 212 yards and two touchdowns, with rookie Jonathan Taylor leading the way with a career high 150 yards and two scores, while averaging 7.5 yards per carry.

Sunday’s approach is the best one for the Colts to adopt the rest of the way. They need to establish and play through the run and let Rivers operate with less pressure on his shoulders. As for the Raiders, I don’t think they are playoff calibre and the final spot in the AFC is now between Baltimore and Miami.

0:32
Jonathan Taylor was too quick for the Las Vegas defence as he went off to the races to score this long touchdown run on Sunday

Jonathan Taylor was too quick for the Las Vegas defence as he went off to the races to score this long touchdown run on Sunday

5) Hurts delivers a surprise win

While I was keen to see how rookie quarterback Jalen Hurts would fare in his first start for the Philadelphia Eagles, I also felt a little bit sorry for him as he was facing a Saints defence playing at the top of its game on a nine-game winning streak. It was hardly the ideal scenario.

But, as benched and high-priced starter Carson Wentz looked on from the sidelines, Hurts galvanised and energised the Eagles on the way to delivering a surprising 24-21 win. It was only Philly’s fourth victory of the year, but it at least keeps them alive in the NFC East division title race.

0:43
Philadelphia’s Miles Sanders turned on the afterburners to score an 82-yard touchdown against New Orleans

Philadelphia’s Miles Sanders turned on the afterburners to score an 82-yard touchdown against New Orleans

Hurts provided an emotional spark and his athleticism opened up the running game. He carried the ball 18 times for 106 yards, while Miles Sanders gained 115 yards on 14 attempts. Those efforts came against a defence that had not allowed a single 100-yard rusher in its previous 50 games.

I am fascinated to see what Hurts can do the rest of the way and what impact that will have on Wentz’s long-term future.

Player of the Week: Haason Reddick

0:23
Haason Reddick’s fifth sack of the game against the Giants was a Cardinals franchise record

Haason Reddick’s fifth sack of the game against the Giants was a Cardinals franchise record

Every week produces outstanding performances across the NFL, but we rarely see a stat line like the one put forward by Arizona Cardinals linebacker Haason Reddick. He recorded five tackles, five sacks, six quarterback hits and three forced fumbles in Arizona’s vital 26-7 win over the Giants.

It was a key victory as the Cards moved back into the NFC playoff rankings, halting a three-game slide. But it was also important for Reddick as he must have been hitting performance-related bonuses left, right and centre. Cha-ching!

Play of the Week

0:41
A.J. Brown’s sensational one-handed touchdown catch saw Tennessee open the scoring against Jacksonville

A.J. Brown’s sensational one-handed touchdown catch saw Tennessee open the scoring against Jacksonville

Take your pick from one of three incredible one-handed interceptions. Shout outs must go to the aforementioned Kenny Moore, his teammate Khari Willis and Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard. Each made highlight-reel catches with one hand, as did Tennessee Titans wide receiver A.J. Brown on his 37-yard scoring reception against Jacksonville. I’m not buying any of that ‘it’s because of the gloves’ talk either – let’s give these incredible athletes the respect they deserve.

Coach of the Week: Sean McVay

Rams head coach Sean McVay avenged his Super Bowl LIII defeat against the Patriots Rams head coach Sean McVay avenged his Super Bowl LIII defeat against the Patriots

Rams head coach Sean McVay avenged his Super Bowl LIII defeat against the Patriots

In speaking to Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay in the summer after his team lost Super Bowl LIII to the New England Patriots, I can tell you that the experience left a scar on him. McVay told me that he felt he over-prepared his team ahead of that big game and they were running on fumes by the time they took the field.

He got a small measure of revenge over the Patriots in Week 14 as the Rams recorded a 24-3 victory to improve to 9-4 on the year. McVay said it did little to heal the scars of that night in Atlanta, but it has positioned his team to take the NFC West this year.

5:25
Highlights of the Patriots’ clash with the Rams in Week 14 of the NFL

Highlights of the Patriots’ clash with the Rams in Week 14 of the NFL

The Rams looked strong in the running game and dialled up a good defensive display behind the super-human Aaron Donald, once again. Those two factors are enough to drive a playoff charge as the Rams occasionally have to play around quarterback Jared Goff.

On my Radar

Should the Patriots move on from Cam Newton as their starting quarterback? Should the Patriots move on from Cam Newton as their starting quarterback?

Should the Patriots move on from Cam Newton as their starting quarterback?

Sticking with that game between the Rams and Patriots, I would say it is time for New England to bench quarterback Cam Newton and see if they have anything in young passer Jarrett Stidham.

Cam has thrown just five touchdown passes this season and that is unacceptable for any starting quarterback. He looks a shadow of his former self and, after throwing for just 69 yards in Week 13, he was benched during another poor display against the Rams.

I am willing to say, with some certainty, that Cam won’t be the starting quarterback in New England in 2021 and that’s why a look at Stidham might make sense.

I actually don’t think Cam will be starting anywhere next season. He can make plays on the ground still, but you need much more than that in today’s high-scoring NFL.

Sky Sports NFL is your dedicated channel for NFL coverage through the season – featuring a host of NFL Network programming, a new weekly preview show as well as at least five games a week and NFL Redzone, you won’t miss a moment. Don’t forget to follow us on skysports.com/nfl, our Twitter account @SkySportsNFL & Sky Sports – on the go!