2021 NFL Season, Week 18: What We Learned From Sunday’s Games – NFL.com


Published: Jan 09, 2022 at 04:56 PM

Around The NFL breaks down what you need to know from all of Sunday’s action in Week 18 of the 2021 NFL season. Catch up on each game’s biggest takeaways using the links below:

Indianapolis Colts

Chase Goodbread’s takeaways:

  1. If you need to wrap your head around how the Colts blew a chance to clinch a playoff spot against the Jaguars, start with the most mind-boggling reason of all. The NFL’s No. 1 team in turnover differential (Indianapolis) lost the turnover battle, 2-0, to the league’s worst team in that category (Jacksonville). The Colts are lucky it wasn’t more disparate than that — they recovered two of their own fumbles, and while Carson Wentz threw just his first road interception all year, he was fortunate he didn’t throw another. Meanwhile, the Jaguars didn’t fumble all day, and QB Trevor Lawrence rebounded from a three-interception game last week to throw no picks against Indy.
  2. Lawrence closed the book on his rookie season with a little optimism. Two of the few positives that Jaguars fans can take into the offseason: 1) Lawrence escaped his rookie season injury free, and 2) he lit up the Colts defense to end the season on a good note. He’d been struggling mightily for weeks and had been turnover-prone all season, but turned all that around on Sunday. He connected on his first 12 passes and his first incompletion was a perfectly thrown deep ball that was dropped by Laquon Treadwell. He was well-protected and showed a commanding presence in finishing 23 of 32 for 223 yards and two scores. He sealed the win on a spectacular play when he recovered a bad shotgun snap, rolled away from pressure, and found Marvin Jones for a difficult TD catch in the back of the end zone. It was the kind of performance Jaguars fans hoped to see far sooner than Jan. 9, but for Lawrence’s confidence, it’s significant that it finally came.
  3. Stunningly, the Jaguars outplayed the Colts on the line of scrimmage. The Indianapolis offensive line was manhandled as Jacksonville’s defense came up with a trio of fourth-down stops, and dropped Wentz for half-dozen sacks. This from a pass rush that entered ranked 30th in the NFL in sacks. The Colts line looked like it was playing in snowshoes. Defensively, the Colts couldn’t apply much of any heat on Lawrence and failed to control the line of scrimmage on third down, where the Jaguars feasted for seven conversions, plus another on fourth down. It was an embarrassing performance all around for Indianapolis, but the big men disappointed most of all.

Next Gen stat of the game: Jaguars LB Josh Allen notched five QB pressures and a pair of sacks on 24 pass rushes (20.8% pressure rate). 

NFL Research: Lawrence notched his first game with a passer rating of 100-plus, and his first game with two-plus TD passes without an interception.

Houston Texans

Chase Goodbread’s takeaways:

  1. With the No. 1 seed in the AFC on the line, the Titans – despite a legitimate scare — took care of business. Tennessee’s offense started both halves in pedestrian fashion, but drove for touchdowns on its last three possessions of the first half to take two-fisted command over a weaker opponent. That should’ve been enough to bury the Texans, but it wasn’t. Houston outscored Tennessee, 25-7, in the second half, roaring back to push the Titans to the edge of disaster. The last thing Tennessee needed was take an upset loss and have to hope that three other games broke their way to backdoor their way into the top seed. Instead, they finally seized it on their own behind Ryan Tannehill’s fourth touchdown pass and a running game that salted the clock away over the final four minutes. The prize? A weekend on the couch, resting up for the second round of the postseason.
  2. Ryan Tannehill made the play of the game at its most critical juncture. With the Tennessee offense stagnated by three straight three-and-out possessions to start the second half, Houston scrambled back into the game from a 21-0 deficit to trail just 21-18 in the fourth quarter. Facing a third-and-5, Tannehill fought off what should’ve been a sack by Jacob Martin to avoid yet another punt, scrambled away and found Nick Westbrook-Ikhine for a 36-yard gain that flipped both momentum and field position all at once. The play set up Tannehill’s fourth TD pass, which gave Tennessee some much-needed breathing room on the scoreboard and the jolt it needed to finish the win.
  3. Davis Mills was sharp once again. Did the Texans find their quarterback of the future in the third round of the draft last year? It’s far too soon to crown Mills as a face of the franchise, but he capped the improvement he’s shown since being named the starter with a highly impressive season-ending effort against Tennessee. Mills shook off a scoreless first half to give the Titans defense fits in the second. He finished 23 of 33 for 301 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. He did it with poise, accuracy, and very little help from his running game. If anything good has come from the Texans’ season, it’s that they learned Mills just might be a quarterback worth building around.

Next Gen stat of the game: On rushes between the tackles, Houston’s Rex Burkhead was stuffed for zero yards on seven carries.

NFL Research: The Titans are the No. 1 seed despite not having a 1,000-yard rusher or a 1,000-yard receiver. Four teams in the last 25 seasons can make that claim, and three of them won the Super Bowl (’96 Packers, ’03 Patriots, ’17 Eagles).

Chicago Bears

Adam Maya’s takeaways:

  1. Was this the end for Matt Nagy, Mike Zimmer? If Sunday was it for the embattled head coaches, they went out with respective bangs. The Bears’ Matt Nagy was as aggressive as ever, electing to go for it on fourth down six times, including four instances with the lead. Fittingly, only one was converted, leaving potentially nine to 18 points on the field in what was a closer contest than the final score suggests. Conversely, Zimmer’s defense excelled on critical downs, held Chicago to a field goal for the second half and forced two turnovers with the game in the balance. The unit has disappointed the past two seasons, leaving Minnesota just outside the playoff field. Not playing past the end of the regular season is ultimately why both coaches are on the hot seat, and perhaps moving on.
  2. Anthony Barr is back. Few defensive players in the NFL were better than Barr last decade. But a torn pectoral muscle robbed him of almost all of 2020 and a knee injury clearly compromised his play through the first of 2021. Over the final seven weeks, the veteran linebacker looked like his former Pro Bowl self. That was especially true Sunday. Barr was explosive, disruptive and relentless while tallying 11 tackles, two sacks and two tackles for loss against the Bears. After signing a restructured deal before the season, his status with the Vikings is to be determined. But his latest tape shows there’s still tread on his 29-year-old tires.
  3. Darnell Mooney is a legit No. 2 wide receiver. Just a fifth-round pick in 2020, Mooney was a true bright spot in the Bears’ offense this season. He closed out his second campaign with career highs of 12 catches for 126 yards, giving him 81 for 1,055 on the year. With Allen Robinson hampered by injury, Mooney proved to be a reliable target despite Chicago’s carousel at QB, as he registered at least five catches in 12 games. His role might continue to grow given Robinson’s impending free agency. Mooney stands to improve his hands and ability to separate, but his route running and speed already make him a dangerous weapon.

Next Gen stat of the game: Kirk Cousins completed 6 of 7 deep passes for 201 yards and three touchdowns – the three scores on such throws was a first in the NFL this season.

NFL Research: Kirk Cousins went over 4,000 yards passing Sunday for the third time in four seasons with the Vikings, who have failed to reach the playoffs in each of those seasons.

Green Bay Packers

Kevin Patra’s takeaways:

  1. Plucky Lions throw kitchen sink at Packers, end season with feisty victory. Dan Campbell’s club lived in the “trick play” section of the playbook in the season finale. The Lions scored on a 75-yard reverse WR pass in the first quarter and an end-around flea-flicker in the third quarter. Detroit’s offense racked up 404 yards against its division rival. Most importantly for the Lions, it was young building blocks who made key plays. Amon-Ra St. Brown continued his fantastic end to the season, carving up the Packers secondary on eight catches for 109 yards and a TD. It was the sixth straight game the receiver earned eight-plus catches, setting a team record (passing Calvin Johnson). Running Back D’Andre Swift punctuated the game with the game-winning TD. And the Detroit secondary played well from start to finish, icing the game with back-to-back interceptions of Jordan Love. Detroit has played hard all season and flew around the field with no fear Sunday against the top-seeded Packers. Sunday was a building-block win for the Lions heading into 2022.
  2. Mission accomplished for No. 1-seeded Packers. Matt LaFleur didn’t want his starters having what amounted to three weeks off before playing their first playoff game. As such, the starters played much of the first half, with Aaron Rodgers tossing lasers early. Green Bay went 5 of 7 on third down with Rodgers in the game, moving up and down the field. In what is widely expected to be another MVP season, Rogers headed into the postseason in his groove. Davante Adams (1,553) set a Packers franchise record for receiving yards, passing Jordy Nelson (1,519). And Green Bay got left tackle David Bakhtiari’s feet wet ahead of the postseason. The star LT played 27 snaps before exiting. Love didn’t shine in the second half, completing just one pass of 10-plus air yards and throwing two picks, but that’s a discussion for another day. The goal was to keep the offense’s momentum going into the postseason. LaFleur got enough Sunday, even if it came in a meaningless loss.
  3. Lions clinch the No. 2 draft pick. The win locked the Lions into the No. 2 overall pick in this spring’s draft. With Jacksonville blowing out Indianapolis, there was a chance the Lions could have leaped to the top spot with a loss. But a win was meaningful for Campbell’s club in trying to build on a strong finish to the season. Yes, Rodgers didn’t play the second half, but the Lions went punch for punch with Green Bay starters for a half (and led, 17-13), and plenty of the Packers’ key defensive players were still participating late. Campbell’s team, which finished the final stretch of the season 3-3, has battled all season. There is a dearth of talent on the roster, and the depth is particularly poor, but building blocks are there. A young corner crew played well Sunday for defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn. St. Brown is a star in the making. This offseason will be a key one for the new regime to add weapons and build out a dismantled roster. The win will build expectations in Campbell’s second season that the Lions can be more than just a spirited, battling club, but rather one that can contend week in and week out.

Next Gen stat of the game: Jared Goff went 7 for 11 for 74 yards and 2 TDs vs. blitz.

NFL Research: The Lions attempted their 40th fourth-down attempt this season on a Jared Goff TD toss in the second quarter. It marked the most fourth-down attempts by any team in a season in last 30 years (1995 Patriots had 39 attempts). Going 2 of 3 on fourth down on the day, the Lions also set the record with 21 converted fourth downs, most in NFL history (1996 Bears were 20-28).


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