Dec 24, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings place kicker Greg Joseph (1) celebrates his game winning field goal after the game against the New York Giants at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

NFL Christmas Eve Recap: Bengals and Vikings survive, Bills and Chiefs dominate

Bills 35, Bears 13

In most cases, playing away from home is a reprieve from the extreme winter weather for the Buffalo Bills – but not Saturday afternoon in Chicago. Sub-zero wind chill temperatures greeted the Bears and Bills at Soldier Field, but Chicago did not seem to mind on its first drive. Justin Fields found Dante Pettis for a touchdown to cap off the Bears’ first drive with a score, giving them an early 7-0 lead. Buffalo responded quickly, moving downfield with chunk plays before Josh Allen found Gabe Davis wide-open in the end zone – but after Tyler Bass’ extra point attempt was blown into oblivion by the wind, Chicago still led 7-6. Bears’ kicker Eddy Pineiro kicked through the wind to extend Chicago’s lead to 10-6 with four minutes to play in the half. The Bills struck first early in the third quarter when Devin Singletary broke free for a 33-yard score – and after a successful two-point conversion, Buffalo led 14-10. Bills’ running back James Cook broke free on their second drive of the half for a 27-yard score, ballooning Buffalo’s lead to 21-10 with 7:57 to play in the third quarter. Josh Allen’s second interception of the afternoon early in the fourth quarter set up the Bears with a golden scoring opportunity, which Chicago kicker Eddy Piniero would barely turn into points with a wobbly field goal. Buffalo would exert total control over the game the rest of the way. Josh Allen ran in a score to make it 28-13 Bills with just under four minutes left, and Allen would find Dawson Knox in the end zone to make it 35-13 with one minute to go. That lead would be more than enough, securing a third-straight AFC East title for the Buffalo Bills. 

Next Week: Buffalo: at Cincinnati, Chicago: at Detroit

Saints 17, Browns 10

The New Orleans Saints and Cleveland Browns took the field in the coldest temperatures anywhere on Saturday afternoon at FirstEnergy Stadium on a visibly frozen playing surface. It was not until the second quarter that the game saw its first points, a Deshaun Watson rushing touchdown set up by an interception of Saints’ quarterback Andy Dalton. Each team added a field goal before halftime, making it 10-3 Browns at the break. New Orleans finally found the end zone on its first drive of the second half, a physical run by Taysom Hill to tie the game at 10. The Saints continued their hostile takeover of the football game when Alvin Kamara ran into the end zone from four yards out late in the third quarter, putting New Orleans ahead 17-10. Cleveland worked its way into the red zone in the game’s final moments, but were left turned away when New Orleans sacked Deshaun Watson on fourth down to seal the game. The 17-10 win moves the Saints to 7-8 on the season, keeping their slim playoff hopes alive. 

Next Week: New Orleans: at Philadelphia, Cleveland: at Washington

Chiefs 24, Seahawks 10

The Seattle Seahawks began their game in Kansas City hoping to snap a three-game losing skid, but were punched in the mouth in the early going. The freezing cold afternoon at Arrowhead Stadium began with Patrick Mahomes’ shovel-pass touchdown to Kadarius Toney to put Kansas City up 7-0. The Chiefs extended their lead on the next drive when Mahomes connected with Jerick McKinnon for a touchdown, and a Harrison Butker field goal made it 17-0 Kansas City late in the second quarter. Seattle finally added a field goal at the first half buzzer to trail 17-3 at the break. Both defenses punished the opposition through much of the second half until Patrick Mahomes’ dove for the pylon on a touchdown run with 4:42 remaining in the final quarter. Kansas City extended its lead to 24-3 with the score, putting away Seattle for good. Seahawks’ quarterback Geno Smith finally found tight end Noah Fant for a touchdown with just over two minutes remaining, but the game’s outcome remained securely in Kansas City’s control. The 24-10 win keeps Kansas City on Buffalo’s heels in the race for the AFC’s No. 1 seed, and puts Seattle’s playoff hopes on life support at 7-8. 

Next Week: Seattle: vs. N.Y. Jets, Kansas City: vs. Denver

Vikings 27, Giants 24

The New York Giants and Minnesota Vikings, two teams thankful to be playing indoors, battled in a potential NFC playoffs preview Saturday afternoon at U.S. Bank Stadium. Minnesota, one win away from clinching the NFC North, started the game hot offensively with a T.J. Hockenson touchdown catch and a Greg Joseph field goal to go up 10-0 in the first quarter. The Giants finally responded with a score of their own in the second quarter when Daniel Jones found Isaiah Hodgins in the end zone. New York tied the game early in the second half with a field goal, and kicked another later in the third quarter to go ahead 13-10. T.J. Hockenson’s incredible catch through contact early in the fourth quarter gave the Vikings back the lead 17-13, and gave Hockenson two touchdowns on the afternoon. The Vikings’ defense picked off Daniel Jones on the following Giants’ drive, giving them an opportunity to extend their lead. Instead, New York would pick up a huge defensive stop of its own – and when Graham Gano’s 55-yard field goal soared through the uprights, the Giants trailed just 17-16 with 6:24 to go. Minnesota’s special teams unit would respond with a big play of its own on the next Giants’ possession, blocking a Giants’ punt for an instant scoring opportunity. Vikings’ quarterback Kirk Cousins connected with Justin Jefferson over the middle for a huge touchdown, extending Minnesota’s lead to 24-16 with three minutes left. New York’s offense needed less than a minute to score the touchdown they needed when Saquon Barkley broke free on a 27-yard sprint. After Daniel Jones connected with tight end Daniel Bellinger in the back of the end zone on the two-point conversion, New York tied things up 24-24 at the two-minute warning. Minnesota’s offense did what it could to set up a game-winning field goal, but left Greg Joseph needing to make a 61-yarder to beat the Giants. Sure enough, Joseph drilled the long kick – sending Minnesota to 11-0 in one-score games and securing the NFC North title. 

Next Week: New York: vs. Indianapolis, Minnesota: at Green Bay

Bengals 22, Patriots 18

After a slow start preceded an incredible comeback for the Bengals last week in Tampa, Cincinnati wasted no time getting on the board Saturday afternoon in Foxborough against the Patriots. Both of the Bengals’ first two drives were capped off with Joe Burrow touchdowns, one to Tee Higgins and one to Trenton Irwin, but led just 12-0 after two failed extra points. Cincinnati extended its lead to 15-0 early in the second quarter when Evan McPherson connected on a short field goal. Quarterback Joe Burrow and the Bengals turned the game into a blowout by halftime when he connected with Trenton Irwin for a second time, putting Cincinnati up 22-0. New England finally earned itself back a bit of momentum in the third quarter on a massive mistake by Joe Burrow, an interception returned for a touchdown by Marcus Jones to make it 22-6. New England’s offense finally found some life early in the fourth on Mac Jones’ touchdown pass to Kendrick Bourne, but a failed two-point conversion left them trailing 22-12. Pats’ quarterback Mac Jones then heaved the ball desperately toward the end zone from near midfield with just six minutes to go, and had his prayers answered when the pass was tipped into the waiting hands of Jakobi Meyers for a 48-yard touchdown. Cincinnati’s lead was 22-18 after Nick Folk’s second missed extra point of the game. Hoping to run down the clock and potentially extend their lead, the Bengals’ disaster of a fourth quarter continued when Ja’Marr Chase fumbled the football back to New England. The Patriots looked poised to finally take a lead with less than a minute to play, but Rhamondre Stevenson’s fumble deep in Bengals’ territory ended the threat and gave Cincinnati back the football hoping to close out the win. New England earned itself one more possession in the final seconds, but never really threatened to score. The Bengals’ 22-18 win keeps them in first place in the AFC North, and pushes New England further away from a playoff berth. 

Next Week: Cincinnati: vs. Buffalo, New England: vs. Miami

Panthers 37, Lions 23

On a day that saw intensely cold weather across much of the midwest and northeast, even Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte was experiencing wind chills in the teens. The offenses for the Panthers and Lions did not get the memo, each quickly adding opening-drive touchdowns to make it 7-7 in the first quarter. Raheem Blackshear ran in Carolina’s early touchdown, while Detroit scored on a touchdown reception by Shane Zylstra. The Panthers’ ground game was the story of the first half, as they gashed the Detroit defense for 240 yards and added two more touchdown runs – one for Sam Darnold, and one for D’Onta Foreman. Running backs Chuba Hubbard and D’Onta Foreman both finished the first half with more than 100 yards rushing, and Carolina went into the break ahead 24-7. The Panthers extended their lead to 31-7 on Sam Darnold’s first passing touchdown of the day early in the third quarter, a screen pass to D.J. Moore. Jared Goff and the Lions finally cut into the lead with three minutes left in the third when he found Shane Zylstra for a second touchdown, making it 31-13. The Panthers added a field goal early in the fourth to extend the lead to three touchdowns, and pushed Detroit up against the ropes. Shane Zylstra’s third touchdown catch and a Lions’ field goal pulled Detroit within 11, but it was too little too late. Carolina added a late field goal of its own, completing the 37-23 win. The result delivers a painful blow to Detroit’s playoff hopes, and keeps Carolina in control of its own destiny at 6-9. 

Next Week: Detroit: vs. Chicago, Carolina: at Tampa Bay

Ravens 17, Falcons 9

As Baltimore began Saturday’s very cold matchup with the Atlanta Falcons at home, it was once again without quarterback Lamar Jackson while hoping to stay alive in the AFC North race. Tyler Huntley led the Ravens into Atlanta territory twice in the first quarter, but Baltimore would settle for field goal attempts in both cases. Justin Tucker made one, but Atlanta blocked the other to keep the score 3-0. Tucker would connect on his third field goal attempt early in the second quarter, giving Baltimore a 6-0 lead. Atlanta finally found its way into Ravens’ territory in the second quarter, but wide receiver Drake London’s fumble ruined the scoring opportunity. The Ravens moved the ball down field once again following the turnover, setting up Tyler Huntley’s touchdown pass to Demarcus Robinson. The connection was Baltimore’s first touchdown catch by a wide receiver since Week 3, and put the Ravens ahead 14-0 after a successful two-point conversion. Atlanta slowly inched its way back into the game with a pair of Younghoe Koo field goals, one as the first half expired and another in the third quarter to make it 14-6. Ravens’ kicker Justin Tucker made his third field goal of the game early in the fourth, extending the Baltimore lead to 17-6. Atlanta’s best drive of the day brought them to the Baltimore one-yard line with seven minutes to go, needing a touchdown – but after running back Tyler Allgeier was stuffed in the backfield, the Falcons once again came up empty with the clock quickly becoming their enemy. Atlanta eventually did add a field goal to pull within one score, but Baltimore never gave the Falcons another chance. The 17-9 win keeps Baltimore within a game of Cincinnati atop the AFC North, and puts Atlanta on the brink of elimination. 

Next Week: Baltimore: vs. Pittsburgh, Atlanta: vs. Arizona

49ers 37, Commanders 20

The Washington Commanders traveled to San Francisco in desperate need of a win. Washington’s defense was up for the challenge early, holding San Francisco scoreless into the second quarter and giving its offense a chance to grab a lead. Despite the Commanders driving the football to the 49ers one-yard line, the No. 1 defense in the NFL turned away Washington to keep it scoreless with 10:20 to go in the second quarter. On the ensuing drive, San Francisco punished the Commanders with a 71-yard end-around touchdown run by Ray-Ray McCloud, taking a 7-0 lead with 6:26 to play before halftime. The Commanders’ defense set their offense up with another chance in 49ers’ territory near the end of the second quarter with an interception of Brock Purdy. Washington didn’t let its second opportunity go to waste, tying the game 7-7 with 22 seconds left in the first half when Taylor Heinicke connected with Jahan Dotson for a touchdown. San Francisco opened the second half with the football, and put together an impressive possession to take back a 14-7 lead. Brock Purdy connected with a wide-open George Kittle for a 34-yard score to complete the drive. Purdy found Kittle for yet another score later in the third quarter, their fifth touchdown connection over the last two weeks for a 21-7 San Francisco lead. Washington responded with its back against the wall on the ensuing possession when Taylor Heinicke connected with Terry McLaurin on a three-yard score. Unfortunately for the Commanders, their defense struggled to keep San Francisco off the scoreboard. The 49ers settled for field goals on two consecutive drives, extending their lead to 27-14. After a Taylor Heinicke interception gave San Francisco the ball back in Washington territory again in the fourth quarter, Robbie Gould’s third-straight field goal put the 49ers ahead 30-14 with 9:17 left in the game. Needing a comeback desperately, Washington turned to Carson Wentz at quarterback on its next drive in an attempt to spark its offense. Wentz did just that, moving the Commanders downfield before connecting with Curtis Samuel on a 20-yard touchdown. Washington could not convert the two-point conversion, leaving San Francisco’s lead at 30-20 with 5:25 to go. The Commanders were unable to recover the onside kick that followed, and Christian McCaffrey capped off the ensuing 49ers’ drive with a touchdown that put the game away for good, 37-20. The blowout win is San Francisco’s eighth straight, and delivers a second straight crushing blow to the Commanders’ playoff hopes.
Next Week: Washington: vs. Cleveland, San Francisco: at Las Vegas

Steelers 13, Raiders 10

On a night the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrated the life of legendary running back Franco Harris and the 50th anniversary of the “Immaculate Reception”, the Steelers and Las Vegas Raiders took the field on a frigid, snowy night. Las Vegas jumped out to the early 7-0 lead, converting multiple third downs on its opening drive en route to a Hunter Renfrow touchdown reception. The Steelers’ offense did not get going until its second drive, reaching the Las Vegas 25-yard line before Chris Boswell missed a field goal. Each team would make a field goal in the second quarter, sending the emotional night in Pittsburgh into halftime with the Raiders ahead 10-3. Both quarterbacks threw interceptions in the first few minutes of the third quarter, but the turnovers did not produce any points. Chris Boswell missed his second field goal with 7:22 left in the third to keep it 10-3. Raiders’ quarterback Derek Carr threw his second interception of the third quarter on the next Las Vegas possession, but Pittsburgh once again came failed to capitalize on the opportunity. Pittsburgh worked its way back into Raiders’ territory early in the fourth quarter, and this time Chris Boswell finally connected on his second field goal of the night to pull the Steelers within four. After Pittsburgh forced Las Vegas to punt with 2:55 remaining in the game, Kenny Pickett began leading the Steelers downfield for a potentially game-winning drive. When the Steelers needed Pickett to be great, he was – and a 14-yard touchdown pass to George Pickens gave Pittsburgh a 13-10 lead with 46 seconds remaining. Las Vegas took the football back with plenty of time and three timeouts, but Derek Carr’s third interception of the second half – this time picked off by Cam Sutton – sealed the home win for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Pittsburgh stays alive in the AFC playoff race at 7-8, while Las Vegas finds itself on the brink of elimination.

Next Week: Las Vegas: vs. San Francisco, Pittsburgh: at Baltimore

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