Around The NFL breaks down what you need to know from all of Sunday's action in Week 16 of the 2022 NFL season. Catch up on each game's biggest takeaways using the links below:
Coral Smith's takeaways:
- The G.O.A.T. comes in clutch. In a game where neither team could pull away and points were at a premium, it all came down to who could execute when it mattered. And with his team's season possibly on the line, it was Tom Brady who showed his experience and poise under pressure in leading the Buccaneers to victory in the end. After the Cardinals took a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter, classic Brady finally emerged after three-plus quarters of mediocre play. Tampa first executed a touchdown drive in under two minutes to close the gap, and then after a lucky fumble by the Cardinals, were able to again score, this time a field goal to tie the game at 16. Then in overtime, Cardinals QB Trace McSorley couldn't manufacture more than one first down on the first possession, and Arizona handed the ball to Brady with ample time and a chance to win with any score. Brady did not falter, nailing all six of his passes for 69 yards to set kicker Ryan Succop up to win it with a 40-yard field goal. Neither team played like a winner for most of Sunday's game, but in the extra time Brady showed why he continues to be known as the G.O.A.T., engineering a clutch game-winning drive to preserve the Buccaneers' NFC South lead and give them a chance to clinch the division next week.
- Fumble spoils McSorley's solid debut. McSorley was called upon by the Cardinals in a tough situation, asked to make his first career start late in the season against Brady, who has won in all but one game where he faced a QB in their first start. And McSorley did keep his team in the game throughout, almost managing to close out the win before a mistake messed it all up. The Buccaneers had scored a touchdown to get within three points with eight minutes left in the game, and the Cardinals started to march down the field in search of more points to widen their lead. But instead, with only a few more yards needed to get into field goal range, McSorley attempted to pitch it to Keaontay Ingram but fumbled, with the ball hitting Ingram before falling to the turf and being recovered by Tampa. Instead of adding to their lead and running down the clock some more, the Cardinals turned it over, and the Bucs got the ball back near midfield and drove for a field goal to send the game to overtime. Despite facing off against one of the greatest to have ever played the game, McSorley largely held his own, putting up similar stats to his significantly more experienced opponent. But one mistake can turn the tide of a game, and that was the case in this low-scoring affair.
- The Bucs still have concerns despite win. It doesn't need to be restated that the Bucs have struggled this season, despite what their divisional ranking may indicate. Despite sitting at the top of the NFC South, Tampa Bay still has a losing record, and the way that this game unfolded leaves even more concerns going into the last two weeks of the season and a potential postseason run. First, the Bucs were unable to pull away from their opponent, which was starting a third-string QB and a defense missing most of its key pieces. Then, they lost yet another offensive lineman in a season of injuries to the position when OT Josh Wells was carted off the field with a season-ending knee injury. But probably most concerning are Brady's turnovers. Last week against the Bengals, Brady's four turnovers helped spearhead a massive Cincinnati comeback, and this week he had two more picks that could have changed the outcome of the matchup. Cardinals CB Marco Wilson picked off Brady twice in almost the same way, getting in front of Mike Evans on a deep ball to haul it in. Brady now has four straight games with an interception, and seven total over that span. Even if he was able to turn the game around with his stellar play in the last few minutes, turnovers in these quantities are incredibly worrying for the Buccaneers if they want to compete with other playoff contenders. Tampa Bay escaped the desert with a win, but its troubles are far from over.
Next Gen stat of the day: Leonard Fournette had +40 yards after catch over expected on his 44-yard reception in the fourth quarter, his most YACOE on a play since at least 2018.
NFL Research: Tom Brady won his first game with the Buccaneers in which he had more interceptions than passing touchdowns (1 TD, 2 INTs). Prior to Sunday, Brady had three games in which he had fewer passing TDs than interceptions, and scored a combined 10 points in those games.
Christian Gonzales' takeaways:
- No stars, no problem for Sean McVay's Rams. With Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp, Allen Robinson and Aaron Donald all out for Sunday's game, head coach Sean McVay's squad nevertheless scored a season-high 51 points. Just six days after losing at Lambeau Field, Los Angeles executed its entire offensive game plan from start to finish, even avoiding having to punt the entire game. The Rams' first-half offense was carried by Baker Mayfield, Cam Akers and Tyler Higbee. Earlier in the season, Akers and the Rams seemed to be headed for a divorce, but both parties resolved the situation. And on Sunday, the third-year RB delivered his best rushing performance of the season with 118 yards on the ground and three touchdowns. If the Rams are looking toward their future for 2023, the team should look to retain Akers. And while it was Akers' best game of the year, Higbee was Mayfield's safety blanket. The tight end entered Sunday's game with only one touchdown, but he finished the game with 94 receiving yards and two more scores. With the team's top receivers out, it was a positive sign for the Rams to see Akers and Higbee stand out when it was needed.
- A Christmas Day game Broncos would like to forget. Russell Wilson's first drive against the Rams didn't go as planned. The QB threw an interception on a pass to his top wideout Courtland Sutton. On the next drive, Wilson threw another INT, with these turnovers leading to two Rams scores in the first quarter. Denver couldn't recover after those crucial mistakes early on. While the Broncos defense didn't do much, head coach Nathaniel Hackett's offense couldn't find a rhythm throughout the game, either. The frustration for Denver boiled over after Wilson was sacked on back-to-back plays in the third quarter, when backup QB Brett Rypien and the offensive line seemed to exchange some words on the sideline. After the scene, Wilson fist-bumped his offensive linemen and appeared to have encouraging words. Overall, Sunday was probably one of the lowest points of the season for Denver; Hackett was fired as a result. Next week, the Broncos travel to Kansas City, where they will be hoping to bounce back and end a 14-game losing streak against the Chiefs.
- Rams defense shines at SoFi Stadium. It was a storyline to watch as former teammates Bobby Wagner and Russell Wilson played their first game against each other. The duo spent 10 years on the same team in Seattle before playing Sunday's game for two new teams. Well, it didn't take much time for NFL fans to see that story come to fruition. On Denver's second drive, Wagner intercepted Wilson's pass in the middle of the field, returning it 13 yards. Meanwhile, Jalen Ramsey continued to be a bright spot for the Rams. The veteran cornerback was all over the field and impacted the game in the second half with an end-zone interception on a deep ball thrown to Broncos TE Greg Dulcich that saved a touchdown (it could have been Denver's first TD). Dulcich did eventually score for Denver in the fourth quarter. With Wilson replaced by Rypien late in the game, Cobie Durant (who picked off Wilson in Denver's first drive) capped off the afternoon with an 85-yard pick-six to end L.A.'s memorable day.
Next Gen stat of the day: Baker Mayfield was 23-of-26 passing for 225 yards and two touchdowns when not under pressure. He was 1-of-2 for five yards when under pressure.
NFL Research: The Rams scored 51 points on Christmas behind three rushing TDs from Cam Akers and two receiving TDs from Tyler Higbee. They are the first team to have one player with 3+ rushing TDs and another with 2+ receiving TDs in the same game since Melvin Gordon and Tyrell Williams for the Chargers in Week 6, 2018.
Michael Baca's takeaways:
- Packers take chances, shut out Dolphins in second half for crucial win. With its playoff fate seemingly on the line, Green Bay was prepared to risk it all in South Beach, going for it on fourth down a total of five times to produce the necessary 26 points on offense while its defense forced four turnovers to escape Miami victorious. The Packers converted first downs on three of those five attempts and even went as far as faking a punt on their own 20-yard line with the game tied early in the second frame, signaling the bold mindset of a team with its back against the ropes. Aaron Rodgers completed 24 of 38 passes for 238 yards and a touchdown (one INT), finding 10 different pass catchers in a game where rookie wideout Christian Watson left midway through due to injury. As the Packers rigorously chipped away at a 10-point deficit in the second half, the secondary rattled off three straight INTs in the fourth quarter to keep hope alive in 2022 with Rasul Douglas, Jaire Alexander and De’Vondre Campbell doing the picking. Following a Saturday slate where losses for the Giants, Commanders, Lions and Seahawks aided Green Bay's playoff aspirations, the Packers improved those hopes on Sunday with a nail-biting win that had looked unattainable after the Dolphins offense had its way in the first half. Green Bay rides a three-game win streak going into the final two-game stretch with home games against the Vikings and Lions.
- Second-half mistakes doom Dolphins. All four of Miami's second-half possessions ended in heartbreak, starting with Jason Sanders' 48-yard field goal attempt that sailed way right, but it was Tua Tagovailoa's three fourth-quarter INTs that were the resonating storyline of a disappointing home loss. Tagovailoa threw those picks on the Dolphins' final three possessions of the game, including a badly underthrown ball on his final throw that ultimately sealed the result. The two picks before that were also errant throws from the third-year QB, which the Packers turned into points amid a streak of 13 unanswered in the second half. It was a glaring difference from Tagovailoa's brilliant first half, where he threw for 229 yards and a TD with a 144.4 passer rating. It was all erased with three erratic throws in the most crucial of moments, but the Dolphins' unraveling really started near the end of the second half with Raheem Mostert's fumble ending a successful drive at midfield. With the Dolphins losing their fourth straight and clinging to the No. 7 seed, the fate of Tagovailoa's future in Miami may very well ride on this ugly second half against the Packers. Miami goes on the road to New England next week before hosting the regular-season finale versus the Jets.
- Packers, Dolphins offer big-play gifts on Christmas Day. There was a heaping helping of highlights while much of the country opened presents, with Packers defensive back Keisean Nixon prompting the excitement with a 93-yard kickoff return before Dolphins wideout Jaylen Waddle provided an incredible 84-yard catch and run for the game's first TD. Packers WR Allen Lazard's leaping 42-yard grab aided Green Bay's answering TD drive before Tyreek Hill nabbed a 52-yarder to set up a walk-in TD. Even 38-year-old Packers TE Marcedes Lewis turned back the clock with a 31-yard catch, and the table was set for a high-scoring thriller before the Packers defense clamped down in the second half. But even then, with both teams trading INTs on consecutive plays in the fourth quarter, there was an extra present for those watching the Packers and Dolphins fight for their playoff lives on Sunday.
Next Gen stat of the day: Jaylen Waddle had +69 yards after catch over expected on his 84-yard TD reception (most YACOE by any player on a single play this season).
NFL Research: Tua Tagovailoa's 84-yard pass TD to Jaylen Waddle is the longest offensive TD scored on Christmas Day in NFL history.