Sunday, December 9, 2018: One of the zaniest, most impactful NFL Sundays -- top to bottom -- I've ever seen. Great games. Huge statement wins. Wild finishes.
Let's stress the positive in this holiday season and spotlight the most impressive/impactful wins, Schein Nine style ...
A Rams-Saints NFC title game has felt like an inevitability for much of this season. Suddenly, I need to recalibrate this thinking. That is the impact of the Bears' amazing defense stoning L.A. on Sunday night. Six points? Zero touchdowns? Four Jared Goff picks? If a caller had predicted such figures on my SiriusXM Radio show last week, I would've laughed him off the air.
Dak Prescott to Amari Cooper to beat the Eagles in overtime for a pulsating win in a wild rivalry game -- what a world! Rasul Douglas tipped the game-winning strike up in the air and Cooper still caught it. While Dallas still needs another win to clinch the division title, I will call it: Congratulations to the Cowboys, 2018 NFC East champions!
Prescott -- who had an uneven day, despite setting career highs for completions (42) and passing yards (455) -- consistently leaned on Cooper, whose impact in Dallas has exceeded everyone's expectations, especially mine. I never would've traded a first-rounder for the receiver back in October. A former No. 4 overall pick who's still just 24 years old, Cooper looked shot in Oakland. And the Cowboys were 3-4 at the time, seemingly headed toward another blah campaign in the Jason Garrett era. Six weeks later, Cooper has scored six touchdowns while averaging 107 receiving yards per game and the Cowboys are sitting pretty at 8-5. The impact Cooper's had on Dallas' offense is undeniable, as is the connection he's formed with Prescott. Just look at the QB's numbers before and after the arrival of No. 19:
Prescott before Cooper trade: 3-4 W-L record, 62.1 completion percentage, 202.4 passing yards per game, 87.4 passer rating.
Prescott after Cooper trade: 5-1 W-L record, 74.1 completion percentage, 285.7 passing yards per game, 105.7 passer rating.
Cooper's performance on Sunday (10 catches for 217 yards and three touchdowns) was sizzling and meaningful. Since joining the Cowboys in Week 9, Cooper has piled up 642 receiving yards -- tops in the NFL during this time period.
In addition to the sheer intensity displayed by these hated rivals, this game was wild, from the Cowboys' great defense to the Eagles' comeback to a few absurdly questionable calls (just an awful offensive pass interference flag on Dallas Goedert late in the fourth quarter). The better team won, though. The champs will not make the playoffs. Dallas is legit. And the Jones family deserves so much credit for that bold Cooper trade.
I saw it live. I feel like I've now seen it one million times. And I'm still not convinced that actually happened.
And it prevented the Patriots from getting their 10th win and clinching their 10th straight division title, which would (still will) be a fantastic achievement demonstrating New England's maintained domination. It's important to reference that for perspective. The game was over. It was all going to be clinched and celebrated. But when Ryan Tannehill threw it to Kenny Stills, who flipped it backward to DeVante Parker, who tossed a lateral to Kenyan Drake, who took it the final 51 yards and embarrassed Rob Gronkowski, it all went up in smoke in magical and mythical fashion.
That never happens! That never works! And why was Gronk even out there?!? It's not like Tannehill could throw a Hail Mary from 69 yards away!!
I've been saying it all season: Give my guy Patty Mahomes the MVP. Yes, other guys like Drew Brees are enjoying fine seasons, but this race is over. Mahomes magic is just too intoxicating.
Yesterday's most awe-inspiring moment? The fourth-and-9 completion to keep the game alive. With two Ravens pass rushers in hot pursuit, Mahomes escaped the pocket by rolling hard to his right before unleashing an across-the-body beauty that landed right in Tyreek Hill's gut for a 48-yard gain. This set up the game-tying touchdown -- another fourth-down completion by Mahomes, of course -- and the first-year starter led Kansas City to a win in overtime.
The numbers (4,300 yards passing, 43 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, 8.9 yards per attempt, 115.2 passer rating) are mind-boggling for a second-year quarterback -- or any quarterback. The feel and "I can't believe he just did that!" quotient is off the charts. Mahomes completed a no-look pass on Sunday!
Patrick Mahomes is a freak. This is an all-time season at the game's most important position. And I'm obsessed.
Derek Carr to Derek Carrier in the waning moments for the win! But of course, since it's the Raiders, it cannot be that simple. With just 21 seconds left, Ben Roethlisberger (who had been sidelined by a rib injury for most of the second half) proceeded to lead the Steelers into field goal range, thanks to a good old-fashioned hook-and-ladder. Then Chris Boswell slipped on the awful Oakland playing surface, causing him to miss the 40-yard attempt.
Sheer joy in Oakland. Sheer pain for Pittsburgh in the annual Mike Tomlin road letdown, giving the Steelers a third straight loss with the Patriots and Saints on deck. Tomlin admitted in the postgame presser that Big Ben was cleared to re-enter the game much earlier, but Pittsburgh stuck with Joshua Dobbs because of the flow of the game. What?!?!
Best win of the year for a highly disappointing Oakland squad. But of course, since it's the Raiders, it cannot be that simple. No, I'm not talking about how this victory hurt the team's draft position -- I don't care about that. I'm talking about how, less than 24 hours after this inspired effort, Oakland fired GM Reggie McKenzie. Strange timing, to say the least. But this franchise is anything but ordinary.
Indianapolis is alive and Houston's nine-game winning streak is dead. It's amazing when you think about how certain things go down in this crazy league ...
Indy struggled at the beginning of the year, then got red hot. I was thinking playoffs. Then they lost to the Cody Kessler-led Jaguars (which is illegal in most states), getting completely shut out in the process. One week later, Indy upends the hottest team in the NFL to hit 7-6 and get right back in the wild-card hunt. Andrew Luck threw for 399 yards and two touchdowns. Because of course he did.
And these kinds of wins are great for the development of Sam Darnold, whom I love. Shame on you if you jumped off the bandwagon. The kid's legit. But he needed a final, dominant signature drive like the one authored on Sunday. That's the kind of showing that opens the eyes of potential coaching candidates, should Gang Green choose to move on from Todd Bowles. If I'm an offensive guru, I want to coach Sam Darnold and develop him into the star he's going to become.
Baker Mayfield has it. And boy, did he ever brush off the Texans debacle. Baker rocked unbelievably steady and looked like a seasoned veteran, completing 18 of his 22 passes for 238 yards and a touchdown. And Cleveland is 3-1 since the firings of Hue Jackson and Todd Haley. Mayfield is why the Browns' coaching job is highly coveted.