NFL Week 12 Recap: A Game of Inches in Houston, Philadelphia
Following an unfulfilling meal of Turducken Day and Black Friday games, NFL fans were hungering for a return to the one-possession nailbiters they enjoyed in recent weeks.
Week 12 Sunday gave them something satisfying to gnaw on.
The old saw about football being a game of inches was never truer than in tight games where two long field goals came with dramatic consequences. The Eagles and Bills engaged in a classic — and did so in “Now, this is football” conditions that closed out the John Madden commemorative NFL weekend in appropriate fashion.
Key divisional matchups also marked Sunday’s action, with the Steelers, Browns, Jaguars, Texans, Saints and Falcons all looking for wins to improve their postseason chances.
Here is a closer at Sunday’s action for Week 12.
Jacksonville 24, Houston 21
A battle for first place in the AFC South turned in one of the day’s best games, complete with one of its most dramatic finishes.
Houston placekicker Matt Ammendola missed a game-tying field goal with no time left to give Jacksonville the narrow road win. Ammendola’s kick, to the agony of Texans fans at NGR Stadium, hit the crossbar from 58 yards away and bounced back into the field of play. The miss cut short by a matter of inches a Texans rally from 10 points down in the fourth quarter.
The game between the two top teams in the division also showcased two of the AFC’s most promising young signal-callers. And the performances of Houston’s C.J. Stroud and Jacksonville’s Trevor Lawrence did not disappoint.
Stroud passed for 304 yards and two touchdowns, and ran for another. After a three-interception outing last week, the rookie quarterback committed no turnovers, despite being sacked four times. Fellow rookie star, Texans receiver Tank Dell, caught one of Stroud’s touchdowns. WR Nico Collins caught the other and led Houston with seven receptions and 114 yards receiving.
Lawrence threw for 364 yards and one TD. Receiver Calvin Ridley hauled in the TD pass and finished with a team-leading five catches for 89 yards. Jacksonville’s offensive line protected Lawrence well, not giving up a sack all day.
Jags RB Travis Etienne Jr. led the team with 56 yards rushing. He also factored in a huge play at the end of the first half, when he caught a Lawrence pass and sprinted 57 yards before being pushed out of bounds at the 1-yard line. His foot managed to hit the sideline with just one second remaining. On the next snap, Houston stuffed Jacksonville on the final play of the half to keep the score at a single possession, 13-7.
With the win, Jacksonville (8-3) moves two games ahead of Houston in the loss column for AFC South supremacy.
Pittsburgh 16, Cincinnati 10
Najee Harris ran for 99 yards and Chris Boswell kicked four field goals as Pittsburgh overcame a halftime deficit to beat host Cincinnati.
The Steelers’ march to the ugliest and most unsatisfying playoff run in recent memory continues with the win over the Burrow-less Bengals. In a stat that almost defies belief, Pittsburgh (7-4) managed to crack 400 total yards of offense — for the first time since 2020.
That’s how long this offense has been stuck in quicksand, mire, bog, or mud — whatever is your impediment of choice. Dogged by sluggish first halves all year, Kenny Pickett and crew managed only three points before intermission, punting four times and turning over the ball once in Cincinnati territory.
The second half was a different story. Pittsburgh’s defense got the turnaround started when DB Trenton Thompson intercepted a Jake Browning pass to snuff out a Cincinnati drive deep into Steelers territory. Trailing 7-3, the Pittsburgh offense then marched 79 yards on 14 plays, with Harris running it in from five yards out.
The Steelers then mounted two more scoring drives that ended in Boswell field goals to push the lead to 16-7 in the fourth quarter.
Pittsburgh rushed for 153 yards, as the running game continues to show life in recent games. Pittsburgh doubled up Cincinnati in first downs (22-10), nearly did so in yardage, and held a 15-minute advantage in time of possession. Pickett finished with 278 yards passing and Harris ran for 99 yards.
One could argue that today’s loss showed just how valuable quarterback Joe Burrow is to the Bengals. But despite the one key interception, Browning played solid football, going 19-of-27 for 227 yards and a TD pass to Drew Sample. The big issue with the Cincy offense Sunday was the return of its lifeless running game, which ground out a meager 25 yards. The resulting third-and-longs pretty much predicted Pittsburgh’s four sacks and the Bengals going 2-of-11 on third down.
The win keeps Pittsburgh one game behind the Ravens in the loss column. Cincinnati (5-6) faces an uphill battle to reach its third straight postseason.
Atlanta 24, New Orleans 10
Safety Jessie Bates III returned an interception for a TD and the Falcons’ offense rushed for 228 yards as Atlanta came out on top in this important divisional battle.
With Atlanta up in the fourth quarter, the Saints cut the deficit to a single possession, 21-15, on placekicker Blake Grupe’s fourth field goal of the day. But the usually stout New Orleans defense could not force a punt, and Atlanta drove 54 yards to set up Younghoe Koo’s game-clinching 39-yard field goal.
Grupe was given a shot a fifth field goal, but missed from 54 yards away with 30 seconds left.
Bates’ pick came at a much-needed time for Atlanta, with New Orleans driving late in the first quarter and looking to extend its 3-0 lead. The safety took a David Carr pass 92 yards to give Atlanta the lead. It was Carr’s only turnover of the day, but it once again spotlighted New Orleans’ season-long pattern of shoddy red-zone offense. Driving home that point in the fourth quarter was Saints backup QB Tayson Hill, who fumbled at Atlanta’s 9-yard line as New Orleans was in position to take the lead.
Carr finished with 304 yards passing, 114 of those yards going to WR Chris Olave.
Bijan Robinson led Atlanta with 91 yards rushing and scored two touchdowns, the first on a 10-yard touchdown run in the second quarter to boost the Falcons’ lead to 14-6. Then, in the third quarter, he snagged a 26-yard TD pass from Desmond Ridder to give the Falcons a 21-12 lead.
The Falcons’ offense exhibited its own red-zone issues. Back in the starting lineup, Ridder was again loose with the ball as Saints safety Tyrann Mathieu intercepted him twice, the first on a first-down throw by Ridder from the New Orleans 10-yard line. The second Mathieu INT came late in the third quarter near midfield, and put the Saints, trailing 14-12, in position to take the lead with another Group field goal. But Hill’s fumble put the kibosh on that opportunity.
Tennessee 17, Panthers 10
In a showdown of two rookie quarterbacks, it was Tennessee RB Derrick Henry who starred by rushing for two touchdowns to lead the Titans (4-7).
The Carolina defense is certainly not on the hook for this loss, as it held the Titans to just 2-of-11 on third down. However, it failed to turn over rookie quarterback Will Levis and the Tennessee offense. Levis threw for 185 yards. He did not throw a TD pass but he also steered away from turnovers despite being sacked eight times by the Panthers defense. The victory is Levis’ second career win.
In the key play of the game, Levis’ rookie counterpart, Carolina QB Bryce Young, fumbled deep in his own territory when sacked by Tennessee’s Arden Key with just over two minutes remaining in the first half. Jeffery Simmons recovered the fumble, and the Titans cashed in on Henry’s second scoring run of the day. Young went 18-of-31 for 185 yards through the air. Henry finished with 76 yards rushing to pace Tennessee’s ground game.
The Titans keep their slim playoff hopes alive. Carolina continues to improve its chances for the pole position in the 2024 NFL Draft.
Denver 29, Cleveland 12
The Broncos bolted to a 14-0 first-half lead then scored 12 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to win their fifth straight game.
Denver (6-5) jumped on top early, taking its first possession 80 yards on nine plays, aided by a 34-yard pass-interference penalty on Browns safety Greg Newsome II. Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson hit WR Courtland Sutton for 31 yards, and running back Samaje Perin punched it in from three yards out on the next play to put Denver up 7-0. The Broncos went up two scores early in the second quarter on a two-yard Wilson run.
The visiting Browns (7-4) came back. Rookie quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson finished off a 79-yard drive by hitting receiver Harrison Bryant for a TD pass on 4th-and-goal from the 2-yard line. It was DTR’s first NFL touchdown pass. The two-point conversion to tie the game failed, making the score 14-12.
But after a Denver field goal, Cleveland’s Elijah Moore fumbled, with Broncos lineman D.J. Jones recovering the ball deep in Cleveland territory. Wilson capitalized on the mistake, hitting Adam Trautman who made a superb athletic play to stay inbounds to complete a sliding eight-yard touchdown catch. Denver led, 24-12. The Broncos would add a second Will Lutz field goal, and Denver’s defense sacked P.J. Walker, in for DTR, for a safety. (Walker came in at the end of the third quarter, after DTR took a huge hit from Denver LB Baron Browning.)
With a matchup featuring the league’s top-ranked pass defense (Cleveland) and a vastly improved defense in Denver, neither team’s passing game found a rhythm. Both DTR and Wilson finished with 134 yards through the air. For another bit of symmetry, Cleveland’s Jerome Ford and the Broncos’ Javonte Williams both led their respective teams in rushing with 65 yards.
For a Denver team that looked ready for an autopsy at the beginning of the month, its December is suddenly taking on a bright orangey hue. Meanwhile, for the Browns, stuck as they are in a revolving door with ill-equipped or inexperienced quarterbacks, their orange is starting to fade and muddy a bit. Hello, Joe Flacco!
Kansas City 31, Las Vegas 17
Fueled by Isiah Pacheco’s two TD runs and two Patrick Mahomes scoring passes, the defending Super Bowl champs (8-3) rallied from a 14-0 second-quarter deficit to thump the host Raiders (5-7).
Despite the 31 points, Kansas City’s offense once again looked disjointed at times. It ran just seven plays on its first two drives before a Pacheco TD cut the Raiders lead to 14-7. A Mahomes TD pass to Justin Watson evened the game at 14-14 just before halftime.
In the third quarter, the Chiefs finally put an end to, what was for an Andy Reid offense, a remarkable run of second-half futility. After not scoring a point in the second half of the last three games, Kansas City stopped the drought when Pacheco scored on a short TD run in the third quarter. Mahomes found rookie Rashee Rice on a 39-yard catch and run at the beginning of the fourth that gave KC a two-possession bulge.
The Raiders dominated the game early, scoring on the game’s opening possession when quarterback Aidan O’Connell hit WR Jakobi Myers for an 18-yard TD. The Raiders took their second drive 69 yards before missing a field goal, then, on their third drive, RB Josh Jacobs ripped off a 63-yard TD run — all of this taking place against a Chiefs defense that looked like, until the final drive against the Eagles last Monday, one of the top defenses in the NFL.
By the time Vegas scored its second TD, the Raiders held a 211-to-13 advantage in yardage.
This was a big win for Kansas City. Had they lost, their lead over a red-hot Denver team would have narrowed to just a game. The Raiders, still riding the energy of the Antonio Pierce takeover, will regret this setback, much as they did last week in losing to Miami — in both, Vegas had two elite AFC teams on the ropes but could not make enough plays to close.
Philadelphia 37, Buffalo 34 (OT)
Jalen Hurts burst 12 yards for a TD in overtime to give the Eagles a thrilling win in a downpour in Philadelphia. Hurts game-winning run — the quarterback’s fifth overall touchdown of the game — came after Buffalo’s Tyler Bass opened the extra-period scoring with a 40-yard field goal.
The OT drama would not have happened without by some end-of-regulation fireworks: Philadelphia’s Jake Elliott boomed a 59-yard field goal despite the a soggy conditions to deadlock the game at 31.
Elliott’s heroics culminated a heart-pounding final period.
Trailing by 10 points at the start of the fourth, Philadelphia strung together back-to-back scores. The second came following a James Bradbury interception of Buffalo QB Josh Allen. Hurts scrambled on 3rd-and-10 and threw a spectacular 29-yard pass to a double-teamed Olamide Zaccheaus in the back of the end zone. The TD pass, Hurts’ third, put the Eagles back in front. Buffalo regained the lead with under two minutes left when Allen hit Gabe Davis on a seven-yard TD pass to make it 31-28.
That set the stage for Elliott’s thunder kick.
Hurts’ clinching run in OT was his second rushing touchdown of the game. He ran for a score in the opening period to give Philadelphia a 7-0 advantage. But Buffalo stormed back to take a 17-7 lead, culminating when Bills QB Josh Allen threw a touchdown to a sliding Stefon Diggs just before halftime.
The spurt of 17 unanswered points punctuated a first half that Buffalo dominated — the Bills held Philadelphia to just 65 yards of total offense in the first half. At one point, Buffalo outgained Philadelphia by a 3-to-1 margin. But the Bills squandered opportunities to build an even bigger lead, which allowed the resilient Eagles to hang around and find a way to win.
Allen threw for 339 yards, rushed for two TDs and led the Bills with 81 yards on the ground. Hurts also tried to combat the elements by tucking the ball and running. He posted 14 carries for 65 yards, second to D’Andre Swift’s 80 yards on the ground. Hurts threw for 200 yards to complement his three TD passes.
With the win, Philadelphia (10-1) maintains a two-game lead on the rest of the NFC’s best for home-field advantage. The Bills are 6-6 and, facing a tough schedule, find themselves on the edge of the playoff picture in the AFC.
Baltimore 20, Los Angeles 10
Baltimore’s defense forced four Los Angeles turnovers and rookie receiver Zay Flowers notched one receiving and one rushing touchdown to give the Ravens the win Sunday night.
The Ravens twice turned away Justin Herbert and the Los Angeles offense late in the fourth quarter. The most important sequence came with Baltimore clinging to 13-10 lead with under two minutes remaining. The Ravens stopped the Chargers on downs at Los Angeles’ own 46-yard line, then Flowers took a reverse on third down 37 yards to put the game on ice.
The Chargers came into the game with the fewest numbers of turnovers in the league but had two fumbles in consecutive possessions near end of first half (fumbles by Keenan Allen and Austin Ekeler). However, Lamar Jackson and the Ravens offense also struggled get into a flow and converted just one of the turnovers into points: a Justin Tucker field goal that put Baltimore up 10-3 at the half.
A second Tucker field goal gave the Ravens a 10-point advantage heading into the fourth. Los Angeles made a single possession game when Herbert drove the Chargers 60 yards, hitting tight end Gerald Everett on a seven-yard touchdown pass.
The Chargers defense played well, holding Jackson to 177 yards passing and sacking the elusive QB three times, two by end Khalil Mack. Baltimore’s powerful running game did rack up 197 yards, keeping the ball away from Herbert and Los Angeles’ passing game.
That potent Los Angeles passing attack was once again betrayed by an unproductive ground game, which totaled 87 yards, 47 of which came on Herbert scrambles. Despite his fumble, Keenan Allen came up with another notable performance, working the short areas for 10 catches and 106 yards.
With its win and the Cleveland loss to Denver, the Ravens (8-3) are alone in first place in the AFC North and remain locked in a tie for the best conference record. The Chargers (4-7) fall into the AFC West basement and Brandon Staley’s hold on his head coaching position looks more tenuous than ever.