Week 13 in the NFL saw some fascinating matchups, including a rivalry that has been interestingly one sided.
The Cincinnati Bengals have topped the Chiefs three times in 2022 and, because much of their success against Kansas City has been on bottling up Patrick Mahomes, they may have a recipe to continue their success in the AFC.
Meanwhile, over in the NFC, a team that had been surging as a potential Super Bowl candidate, the San Francisco 49ers, earned a huge, standard-setting victory against the high-octane Miami Dolphins. But the victory proved to be costly, as the Niners lost quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo for the rest of the season with a broken leg.
Here are the winners and losers from Week 13 in the NFL.
Jimmy G loss stings, but system in San Francisco is what matters
First things first, yes, the 49ers are not as capable a contender with Jimmy Garoppolo sidelined with a broken leg. But that Garoppolo went down early in the first quarter and that the 49ers (8-4) still controlled the Dolphins wire-to-wire with third-stringer Brock Purdy shows why the 49ers can still make a run: for the Niners, the system is more important than the players.
Purdy’s mostly clean play (25-of-37 passing for 210 yards with two touchdowns versus one interception) is proof of that. Coach Mike Shanahan is superb at scheming San Francisco’s versatile and speedy skill position players and can disguise a play’s direction with motion and misdirection. But make no mistake, this team’s identity is on defense and that will be the side that carries the Niners through. If there’s any team equipped to compete down to its third-stringer, it’s this one. All Purdy has to do is avoid the debilitating mistake.
Bengals in a unique position
The Bengals have beaten the Chiefs, the most consistent AFC power over the past half decade, three times in the calendar year of 2022. And while Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase were again special, it’s coordinator Lou Anarumo and the Cincinnati (8-4) defense that has the Bengals looking like a threat to repeat as conference champions.
He dialed up an aggressive game plan that mostly contained Patrick Mahomes in the pocket. He pushed his defensive line to generate pressure without blitzing. They forced a timely Travis Kelce fumble. The Bengals are the current five-seed in the conference, though Baltimore (8-4) has looked unsteady and could fall from the top of the division. Still, the Bengals may be on the road deep into the postseason, with the Bills and Chiefs atop the conference. Yet, because Cincinnati has found the blueprint against Kansas City and because this defense has stifled Mahomes, they’re in a unique position to sustain their success.
The Jalen Hurts-A.J. Brown connection has Eagles soaring
Of course A.J. Brown, the former Titan who has been critical of his former team, was going to show out in his first game against Tennessee. But while Brown’s numbers (eight catches on 10 targets for 119 yards with two scores) in the revenge game will get all the attention, the overarching point is what matters: with Brown continuing his first season in Philadelphia (11-1), the Eagles offense has been transformed and Brown is a huge reason why Jalen Hurts is an MVP candidate.
Hurts’ ability to compromise defenses with his legs often requires opponents to devote a spy. And while Philadelphia’s other talented young receiver, DeVonta Smith, is a solid weapon himself, Brown’s ability to stretch the field with his speed is what breaks games open. The Titans entered Sunday ranked second in the NFL in rushing yards per play allowed (3.86). No matter; Hurts dropped 380 passing.
The Lions might be more than just a spoiler
Winners of four of their last five, the Lions (5-7) are looking like a dangerous team that could sneak into the postseason if they get the right breaks. In its last six, Detroit is averaging 28.2 points per game. The two losses in that span, by the way, came against the Dolphins and the Bills, and were by a combined seven points.
Against the Jaguars, the Lions relied on their offensive staple, the play-action pass, and Jared Goff (31-of-41 passing for 340 yards with two touchdowns) continued to play efficiently in the back half of the season. He has an eight-to-one touchdown-to-interception ratio over Detroit’s last six games and his rapport with star young receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown is fueling the offense. While the tie between the Giants and Commanders — the NFC’s sixth and seventh seeds, respectively — hurts the Lions, they’re just two games back of the final spot in the playoff race.
The Chargers are wasting Justin Herbert’s rookie contract
Yes, the Los Angeles Chargers have suffered several brutal injuries this season. And, for the purpose of this argument, none has been more impactful than that of star left tackle Rashawn Slater. Yet, Herbert has been facing constant pressure all season long at a rate that is detrimental to his long-term health.
When given the time to process a defense and make throws, Herbert is among the most talented passers in the NFL. Of course, part of being a quarterback is avoiding pressure. But, actually, one of Herbert’s strengths is his pocket presence and the subtle movements he makes in the pocket to avoid oncoming rushers. In a loss against the Raiders, Herbert was sacked five times and hit 14 times. After this season, the Chargers (6-6) have one more year on Herbert’s rookie deal before his fifth-year option (which the team will almost certainly exercise) in 2024. After that, he’ll be due a massive payday, which will make investing in other positions more difficult.
Rams mired in lost season, but future may be even bleaker
As injuries have continued to pile up, knocking out the Rams’ best offensive players, Los Angeles (3-9) is caught in a historically poor season for a defending Super Bowl champion. So, now, the biggest concern for L.A. may be what happens beyond 2022.
Coach Sean McVay considered broadcasting over the offseason. Star defensive tackle Aaron Donald also weighed retirement. Matthew Stafford, 34, is locked into a contract extension he just signed in March and may be shut down for the rest of the season. Their roster suddenly looks old and needs an overhaul and has areas of significant weakness — none bigger than offensive line. Give them credit for competing against a division rival, but that’s how far we have fallen with the reigning champs; we’re reaching for silver linings.
The Jets in the red zone
The Jets are better with Mike White at quarterback. The team’s players are endorsing him, he’s spreading the ball around and New York (7-5) showed in a loss against the Vikings that it can battle back against some of the league’s best.
One area, however, where the Jets need to improve upon is inside the 20. The Jets converted just one of six trips inside the red zone, settling for field goals in three of those. Those three, for the record, happened to be New York’s first three possessions of the second half. The team started the third quarter in a 14-point hole, got stops from its defense, and came away with only nine points. In a five-point game, that made all the difference. It figures that the Jets had a chance to take a lead inside of two minutes, needing a touchdown, but got stuffed at the one on a goal-line stand.
The Saturday honeymoon in Indy is over
It was unrealistic to expect any interim coach to significantly turn the season around for the Colts (4-8-1). But to ask a coach like Jeff Saturday, who was an ESPN analyst, to come off the street to do it, was setting him up to fail. In a shelling against the Cowboys, the Colts looked just as lost as they did with Frank Reich, if not worse.
Indianapolis has lost three in a row, but Saturday’s inexperience has really started to show in the last two. After he ate a crucial timeout in the loss last week against the Steelers, the Colts were overmatched on the field and on the sideline, failing to adjust for anything the Cowboys did in the second half. After mostly managing their turnovers in Saturday’s first three games, the Colts gave the ball away five times, with three being Matt Ryan interceptions.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NFL Week 13 winners, losers: 49ers turn to Brock Purdy; Eagles soaring