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32 things we learned in NFL Week 15: Laterals gone horribly wrong

The 32 things we learned from Week 15 of the 2022 NFL season:

1.Wild, wild weekend. From the Minnesota Vikings, who trailed 33-0 at halftime Saturday before completing the largest comeback in NFL history, to the pair of games Sunday that ended on defensive scores, the league remains truly unpredictable. 

2. Rayshawn Jenkins’ 52-yard pick-six in overtime vaulted the Jacksonville Jaguars – they trailed 27-10 in the third quarter – to a 40-34 triumph over the Dallas Cowboys. The Jags (6-8) are suddenly just a game out of the AFC South lead.

3. But Jenkins’ heroics paled in comparison to Chandler Jones’ 48-yard fumble return as time expired – all created by the New England Patriots’ poorly conceived series of laterals with the score tied 24-24 – allowing his current team, the Las Vegas Raiders, to beat his former one in one of the most insane finishes in the league’s 103-season history.

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4. So much for Bill Belichick’s Pats being situationally aware and optimally prepared for every scenario. 

5. Not only that, the NFL’s version of the Galactic Emperor fell to 11-12 when coaching against his former assistants.

5a. Raiders coach Josh McDaniels, who also helmed the Denver Broncos more than a decade ago, became the first former Patriots assistant to go 2-0 against Belichick.

6. In sum, this was the first time since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger that there were a pair of game-winning, game-ending defensive scores in the same week.

7. Even as the playoff card fills up – five teams clinched spots in Week 15 – the league’s MVP debate continues to be wide open.

8.Bills QB Josh Allen moved back onto the short list Saturday night with four TD passes as Buffalo (11-3) became the first AFC team to claim a playoff spot. His recent turnover bugaboo continued (a fumble lost amid his 77 rushing yards), but you can live with that given the cold and snowy conditions, particularly since he still managed to throw for 304 yards and converted a two-point play.

9. While leading Kansas City to its seventh straight AFC West crown Sunday, Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes also etched his name alongside some all-timers. While throwing his league-leading 35th touchdown pass, he joined Drew Brees, Brett Favre and Peyton Manning as the only quarterbacks to throw at least 35 in three consecutive seasons – just one factor that could lead to Mahomes’ second MVP nod.

9a. Mahomes completed 36 of 41 passes for 336 yards, his 87.8% completion rate a single-game record for a player attempting at least 40 throws. He connected on his final 20 passes.

9b. Sunday’s win at Houston was Texas native Mahomes’ first NFL appearance in the Lone Star State.

10. And then there’s Philadelphia’s Jalen Hurts. The Eagles quarterback had become the MVP darling of some sportsbooks recently, headlining the team with the NFL’s best record at 13-1 – which is two clear of any other club in the league. Hurts didn’t exactly stink up Chicago’s Soldier Field on Sunday, running for three TDs, but he did have his first multi-INT game of the season in an unexpectedly close game with the lowly Bears.

11. Lastly, let’s not count out Cincinnati Bengals star Joe Burrow, either. The Stripes are riding an AFC-best six-game winning streak – right back to the top of the AFC South standings – and ‘Joe Brrr’ posted four more TD passes Sunday, outdueling Tom Brady and his fading Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

12. Heard of Brock Wright? It’s OK, he’s no MVP contender, so the New York Jets weren’t aware of him, either. The Lions tight end rumbled for a career-long 51 yards – a jaunt that ended in the end zone with 1:49 to play – as Detroit (7-7) shocked Gang Green on the road and extended its improbable playoff drive following a 1-6 start to the season.

12a. The Lions finish up against three sub-.500 opponents (Panthers, Bears, Packers).

13. Back to the Bucs. TB12 had all (2 INTs, 2 fumbles) of their season-high four turnovers, which explains why they couldn’t hold a 17-point lead. Tampa Bay (6-8) is still in first place in the NFC South, but only has a one-game lead on the other three teams in the division. 

14. While the NFC South has nary a winning team, the NFC East doesn’t have a member with a losing record and remains on track to become the first division to send all of its clubs to the postseason.

15. Cowboys QB Dak Prescott has thrown seven interceptions in his last four games. In nine starts this season, he’s been picked off multiple times in four of them.

16. It seems like Jaguars QB Trevor Lawrence has truly turned the corner in the aftermath of a rookie season wasted by the Urban Meyer debacle in Duval County. Lawrence lofted a career-high four TD passes in Sunday’s come-from-behind upset of Dallas.

16a. Lawrence had 12 TD passes during the 2021 season. He has 13 in his past five games (with just one INT in that stretch).

17. The player picked after Lawrence, the No. 1 pick of the 2021 draft, was New York Jets QB Zach Wilson … who may never turn the corner. Wilson was passable Sunday, forced back into the lineup by the rib injuries starter Mike White sustained in Week 14. But despite 317 yards and two TD passes, Wilson still missed on 17 of his 35 throws – badly at times – and his interception was egregious.

17a. The Jets have to hope White can somehow get medically cleared for Thursday night’s game and preclude a Wilson-Lawrence matchup as the Jags and Jets (7-7) engage in what will be a de facto playoff game.

18. Despite getting outgained 502-219 by the Chiefs, the Texans somehow took K.C. to overtime. Horseshoes and hand grenades, etc., but Houston has been this close to a pair of monumental upsets the past two weeks, falling 27-23 at Dallas in Week 14. The Texans remain the NFL’s only one-win team in 2022.

19. Chicago’s Justin Fields rushed for 95 yards, the fifth straight game he topped  70 on the ground – the longest streak by a quarterback in the Super Bowl era (since 1966).

19a. Fields also reached 1,000 rushing yards (on the dot) for the season – giving him entry to an exclusive club occupied only by Michael Vick and Lamar Jackson.

19b. Fields needs 207 more yards on the ground to break Jackson’s three-year-old record for the highest single-season output for a QB.

20. The New York Giants’ win Sunday night at Washington was their first in prime time in more than four years, snapping a losing streak that had reached 11 under the lights.

21. The Eagles have 13 sacks over their last two games. You’ve been warned, Dak. 

22. The rest of the NFC should also be warned that Philadelphia is now just one win away from locking up the conference’s first-round bye and home-field advantage.

23. At its core, football is still a physical game. The Pittsburgh Steelers rushed for 13 first downs Sunday … or 13 more than their opponent, the Carolina Panthers, who had all of 21 yards on the ground. Yes, the Steelers won. 

24. The Atlanta Falcons might have found a rookie cornerstone for their backfield – RB Tyler Allgeier rushed for 139 yards (on just 17 carries) and a TD in Sunday’s loss to the New Orleans Saints.

25. As for Falcons frosh QB Desmond Ridder, who passed for 97 yards in his NFL debut? There’s always next week … though maybe not next year.

26. The Indianapolis Colts may have become the first team to squander a 33-point lead, but it wasn’t all bad on (Jeff) Saturday. Indy did get a pick-six in defeat, snapping its – yes – league-high 33 games without one.

27. With the Bengals and Jaguars also surmounting 17-point holes, this was the first weekend when three teams turned deficits at least that big into victories.

28. With the Colts’ collapse enabling the Vikings to lock down the NFC North throne, 2022 became the seventh season in a row that will feature a rookie head coach – Kevin O’Connell in this case – in the playoffs. The Miami Dolphins’ Mike McDaniel and Giants’ Brian Daboll could certainly still join the party, too.

29. Justin Jefferson update: The Minnesota star, who has a league-leading 1,623 receiving yards, needs to average 126 over the final three weeks to become the NFL’s first 2,000-yard receiver.

29a. More immediately, Jefferson needs just 10 yards to break Hall of Famer Randy Moss’ 19-year-old, single-season Vikes record.

30. San Francisco 49ers TE George Kittle entered the 2022 season having scored multiple TDs in a game once in his career. He’s now done it twice in the past five weeks, including the Niners’ NFC West-clinching effort in Seattle on Thursday night.

31. Watt’s that? Arizona Cardinals DE J.J. Watt, a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, had three sacks Sunday – the first time he’d done that in more than four years.

32. Watt’s that? Steelers OLB T.J. Watt, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year – and J.J.s little (and younger) brother – notched his 75th career sack in his 84th career game. Only J.J. and Hall of Famer Reggie White needed fewer games to reach that threshold.

***

Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.

This post appeared first on USA TODAY

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