NFL Sunday Recap, Week 17: Bucs, Giants clinched playoff spots while plenty of others were officially eliminated on New Year’s Day

Jan 1, 2023; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New York Giants head coach Brian Daboll greets quarterback Daniel Jones (8) after a rushing touchdown during the second half against the Indianapolis Colts at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

NFL Sunday Recap, Week 17: Bucs, Giants clinched playoff spots while plenty of others were officially eliminated on New Year’s Day

Falcons 20, Cardinals 19

Arizona’s battle with Atlanta was about pride more than anything else, a game between teams out of contention heading into the season’s final two weeks. The Cardinals got on the board first with a field goal on their opening drive, catalyzed by James Conner in the run game and two receptions by Marquise Brown. Atlanta jumped ahead later in the first quarter when running back Tyler Allgeier found the end zone, making it 7-3. Arizona continued the back-and-forth first half with a touchdown of its own in the second quarter, a short pass from David Blough to Trey McBride. A blocked punt set up Atlanta’s next offensive chance in Cardinals’ territory, and Cordarrelle Patterson powered into the end zone to make it 14-10 in the Falcons’ favor. The Cardinals added a field goal before halftime, making it 14-13, and another one early in the third quarter to put them ahead 16-14. Atlanta responded with a field goal of its own with just under 10 minutes to go in the game, moving the Falcons back in front at 17-16. The festival of field goals continued when Cardinals’ kicker Matt Prater converted his fourth of the day, putting Arizona back on top with five minutes remaining. The Falcons’ drive that followed was a clinic by rookie quarterback Desmond Ridder, whittling the clock down to two seconds left before Younghoe Koo lined up for a game-winning field goal. Koo drilled it, and the Falcons won 20-19. 

Next Week: Arizona: at San Francisco, Atlanta: vs. Tampa Bay

Lions 41, Bears 10

The Chicago Bears’ playoff hopes disappeared weeks ago, but the opportunity to spoil the Lions’ playoff hopes still gave the Bears a reason to care Sunday afternoon. Chicago’s enthusiasm was obvious early, as Justin Fields led a crisp drive downfield leading to Cole Kmet’s touchdown reception and a 7-0 lead. Detroit responded quickly with a 9-play, 75-yard touchdown drive capped off by Jared Goff’s throw to Brock Wright. After a Bears’ field goal put them ahead 10-7, Detroit’s offense kept humming. D’Andre Swift galloped into the end zone early in the second quarter, putting the Lions in front for the first time at 14-10. The Lions’ onslaught continued with Brock Wright’s second touchdown catch of the afternoon later in the second quarter, putting Detroit ahead by double digits. Lions’ kicker Michael Badgley drilled a short field goal before halftime, making it 24-10 in their favor. Running back Jamaal Williams scored from two yards out early in the third quarter for the Lions, extending their lead to 21 points at 31-10. Detroit continued to blow the doors off of the Bears with a 92-yard drive on their next possession, this time capping off the journey with a screen pass touchdown from Jared Goff to D’Andre Swift. The Lions added another field goal in the fourth quarter, and let their defense carry the load the rest of the way in an easy win. 

Next Week: Chicago: vs. Minnesota, Detroit: at Green Bay

Chiefs 27, Broncos 24

The Denver Broncos, embarrassed on Christmas day by the Rams, hoped to put a chink in the armor of the Kansas City Chiefs on New Year’s Day. Unsurprisingly, it was the Chiefs’ offense that got off to a hot start. Isaiah Pacheco’s touchdown run put Kansas City ahead 6-0 in the first quarter after a botched extra point. Denver kept itself in the game with Brandon McManus’ field goal early in the second quarter, making the score 6-3. Kansas City appeared poised to re-extend its lead on its next possession, but Broncos’ safety Justin Simmons picked off Patrick Mahomes in the end zone to end the threat. The Chiefs’ defense came up with a stop, but Kadarius Toney fumbled while returning the punt. Moments later, Russell Wilson scampered into the end zone to give Denver a stunning 10-6 second quarter lead. Kansas City quickly retook the lead on its next drive, jumping ahead 13-10 when Patrick Mahomes connected on a touchdown pass to Jerick McKinnon. After taking over the ball with just 11 seconds to go in the half, the Chiefs found their way into field goal territory anyway – but after Harrison Butker missed a 51-yard attempt, Kansas City’s halftime lead was 13-10. Denver continued to play hard in the second half, and took a lead in the third quarter when Russell Wilson connected with Albert Okuegbunam on a 25-yard touchdown. The back-and-forth lead changes continued on Kansas City’s next drive, capped off by Patrick Mahomes’ 17-yard touchdown pass to Blake Bell for a 20-17 advantage. Russell Wilson threw his first interception on the Broncos’ next drive, and the Chiefs smelled blood in the water. Patrick Mahomes connected with Jerick McKinnon for a second touchdown, this time pushing the Kansas City lead to 27-17 with 12:36 left in the game. Denver eventually managed to cut its deficit to three when Russell Wilson ran in his second rushing touchdown of the day, but it was too little too late as the Chiefs sealed the game in the final minutes. Kansas City moves to 13-3, continuing to apply pressure to the Buffalo Bills atop the AFC.  

Next Week: Denver: vs. L.A. Chargers, Kansas City: at Las Vegas

Patriots 23, Dolphins 21

The Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots met Sunday afternoon in Foxborough for a battle between playoff hopefuls, but the big news heading into the game was the loss of Tua Tagovailoa at quarterback for the Dolphins. New England kicked off the scoring with a first quarter touchdown, a seven-yard connection between Mac Jones and Tyquan Thornton. Down 7-0, the Miami Dolphins put together an uncharacteristically long drive. Miami’s 13-play, 75-yard journey eventually concluded with Tyreek Hill’s short touchdown rush, tying the game as the second quarter began. The score would remain tied at seven through halftime, but the Miami Dolphins would break through for their first lead in the third quarter on a shovel pass from Teddy Bridgewater to Raheem Mostert. New England narrowed the gap on Nick Folk’s 49-yard field goal, but really flipped the script on Kyle Dugger’s pick-six for a 16-14 lead. Teddy Bridgewater would leave the game on the next Dolphins’ drive, backing Miami into a corner with third-string quarterback Skylar Thompson forced into action. New England continued to squeeze the life out of the severely shorthanded Dolphins in the fourth quarter when Mac Jones connected on a one-yard touchdown with Jakobi Meyers, making it 23-14 New England with 4:29 to go. Miami’s final effort at making a comeback produced a late touchdown pass from Skylar Thompson to Mike Gesicki, but the Dolphins could not recover the onside kick. The 23-21 win for New England kept it alive, and kept the playoff chances of three different AFC East teams hanging in the balance depending on the Jets’ result in Seattle. 

Next Week: Miami: vs. New York Jets, New England: at Buffalo

Giants 38, Colts 10

Indianapolis traveled to Metlife Stadium for a battle with the Giants after being embarrassed by the Chargers on Monday night, and quickly jumped out to a 3-0 lead with Chase McLaughlin’s first quarter field goal. The Giants, with an opportunity to clinch a playoff spot with a win, responded early in the second quarter, matriculating their way down field before Daniel Jones connected with Richie James to put them ahead 7-3. New York would extend its lead with four minutes left before halftime, this time on Daniel Jones’ touchdown pass to Isaiah Hodgins. Already ahead 14-0, the Giants’ defense sent Metlife Stadium into a frenzy when Landon Collins picked off Nick Foles and ran in a 52-yard touchdown for a 21-3 lead. Foles would later be knocked out of the game after a violent sack by Kayvon Thibodeaux, giving way to Sam Ehlinger at quarterback for the Colts. New York added a field goal late in the second quarter and took a commanding 24-3 advantage into halftime. Daniel Jones broke free on a touchdown run in the third quarter, sprinting 18 yards down the sideline to make it 31-3. Indianapolis finally got on the board again when San Ehlinger connected with Michael Pittman Jr. on a touchdown pass, but New York made sure the game stayed out of reach when Daniel Jones’ second touchdown run of the day pushed the score to 38-10. Both offenses would stay quiet the rest of the day, as the New York Giants clinched a spot in the NFC playoffs for the first time since 2016 with the blowout win. 

Next Week: Indianapolis: vs. Houston, New York: at Philadelphia

Saints 20, Eagles 10

The New Orleans Saints traveled to Philadelphia with the faintest of playoff hopes, but at the very least had an opportunity to pick up a late-season signature win. New Orleans’ opened the game with a physical drive, taking a 7-0 lead when Taysom Hill bludgeoned his way into the end zone. The Saints’ defense held the Philly offense in check as the game moved into the second quarter, setting up a Wil Lutz field goal that extended their lead to 10-0. New Orleans added a field goal before halftime, sending the game into the break at 13-0. Finally, Philadelphia’s offense found its footing in the second half. First, a Jake Elliott field goal made it 13-3. Moments later, Gardner Minshew connected on a 78-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Brown to pull the Eagles within a field goal. Philadelphia’s defense picked up stop after stop throughout the second half, stifling the Saints and giving its offense an opportunity to come back and win the game. Despite the incredible efforts of the Eagles’ defense, it was the Saints’ defense that made the game’s biggest play with less than six minutes to go. New Orleans cornerback Marshon Lattimore picked off Gardner Minshew deep in Eagles territory, waltzing into the end zone to extend the Saints’ lead to 20-10 and put the Eagles on the ropes. When Alvin Kamara converted a first down run in the final moments, New Orleans clinched the shocking road win to stay alive in the NFC playoff hunt for at least a few more hours. When Green Bay’s blowout win over the Vikings went final, New Orleans was officially eliminated from playoff contention. 

Next Week: New Orleans: vs. Carolina, Philadelphia, vs. N.Y. Giants

Buccaneers 30, Panthers 24

For the Carolina Panthers, Sunday’s battle with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was a win-or-go-home opportunity to take first place in the NFC South. Carolina came out firing, quickly driving downfield to set up Sam Darnold’s touchdown pass to Tommy Tremble. Tampa Bay’s early struggles continued when Chris Godwin fumbled the football away on the ensuing drive, but the Panthers failed to turn the opportunity into points. Tampa Bay’s first scoring opportunity came in the second quarter, but fizzled out when kicker Ryan Succop missed a 53-yard field goal attempt. The teams exchanged touchdowns in the second quarter, as D.J. Moore’s 24-yard touchdown reception extended Carolina’s lead to 14-0 before Mike Evans’ 63-yard reception pulled the Buccaneers back within seven. Tampa Bay added a field goal before halftime to make it 14-10 at the intermission. The Panthers blocked Ryan Succop’s next field goal attempt in the third quarter, and covered 91 yards on the drive that ensued to extend their lead to 21-10 on Shi Smith’s touchdown catch. Tampa Bay, suddenly facing a double-digit deficit, responded quickly. Tom Brady and Mike Evans beat Carolina’s defense over the top for a second time, this time connecting on a 57-yard touchdown that made it 21-16. The Panthers’ massive problems with defending Mike Evans continued when Tampa next possessed the football, as a 30-yard touchdown reception by the big wide receiver put the Bucs ahead 24-21. Carolina’s offense took the ball over with a chance to make a run at the game late, but Sam Darnold fumbled inside the Panthers 10 yard line to set the Buccaneers up with a first-and-goal chance. Tom Brady snuck into the end zone a few plays later, pushing Tampa’s lead to 30-21 and putting the Bucs within two and a half minutes of an NFC South title. Eddy Pineiro connected on a field goal with less than a minute left, but it was too little too late. Tampa Bay won the game and the NFC South with the 30-24 victory. 

Next Week: Carolina: at New Orleans, Tampa Bay: at Atlanta

Browns 24, Commanders 10

Needing badly to win if they wanted to keep their playoff hopes alive, the Washington Commanders turned to Carson Wentz at quarterback for Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns. Wentz quickly turned the football over, and Cleveland jumped out to a 3-0 lead on the drive that followed. A fourth down stop by the Browns set Cleveland up in Washington territory with a chance to extend its lead, but the Commanders’ defense stood up for a goal line stop to keep it 3-0. Carson Wentz threw his second interception in the second quarter, continuing to disappoint after head coach Ron Rivera showed faith in him. The Commanders continued to fight as the second quarter went along, and finally injected some energy into their crowd with an incredible 21-play, 96-yard drive leading to Carson Wentz’s one-yard touchdown run. The game remained 7-3 in the Commanders’ favor into the second half, but an explosive play by Cleveland’s offense flipped the script early in the third quarter, Deshaun Watson connected with Amari Cooper for a 46-yard touchdown, and the Browns took a 10-7 lead. Cleveland extended its lead to 10 near the end of the third quarter when Deshaun Watson hit Donovan Peoples-Jones for a 13-yard score. Washington kicked a field goal early in the fourth quarter to make it 17-10, but the Commanders’ defense continued to struggle. Deshaun Watson connected with Amari Cooper for a second touchdown with 5:21 to go, this one picking up 33 yards en route to a 24-10 advantage. Washington, badly needing points, began moving downfield – but after Carson Wentz was picked off for a third time on the day, the Commanders’ fate was sealed. The loss dealt a crushing blow to Washington’s playoff hopes, leaving them in need of help and a win next Sunday over the Cowboys. Unfortunately for Washington, Green Bay’s win over Minnesota eliminated them from contention entirely later Sunday evening. 

Next Week: Cleveland: at Pittsburgh, Washington: vs. Dallas

Seahawks 23, Jets 6

The New York Jets trip to Seattle to take on the Seahawks was essentially a must-win for both teams, each seeking wild card playoff berths in their respective conferences. Seattle looked sharp in the first quarter, gashing the Jets’ defense with big run plays. Geno Smith found Colby Parkinson for a touchdown pass on the Seahawks’ opening drive, giving Seattle a 7-0 lead. After an interception of Mike White earned the Seahawks another possession, a Jason Myers field goal extended their lead to 10-0. New York kicked a field goal to pull back within a touchdown, but continued to struggle on defense against Seattle’s balanced attack. Geno Smith connected with Colby Parkinson for a second touchdown early in the second quarter, making it 17-3 Seattle. Greg Zuerlein connected on his second field goal of the day with eight minutes left in the half to make it 17-6, where the score would remain at the break. Seattle broke the second half scoring seal first, extending its lead to 20-6 with a field goal in the third quarter. The Seahawks’ defense, ranked 29th in the NFL in points allowed per game entering Sunday, continued to dominate as the second half wore on. A poor decision by Mike White resulted in a Jets’ turnover with nine minutes left, leaving New York’s playoff hopes in grave danger down two touchdowns. A late field goal made it 23-6, and that was all she wrote. The Jets lost the game they could not afford to, and are now out of playoff contention heading into Week 18. 

Next Week: New York: at Miami, Seattle: vs. L.A. Rams

49ers 37, Raiders 34 (OT)

The 49ers’ visit to Allegiant Stadium to play the Las Vegas Raiders sounded more like a home game than a road game from the start. San Francisco fans packed the joint, expecting an easy win over a Raiders’ team now led by Jarrett Stidham at quarterback. Vegas made it clear it had other ideas, at least in the first quarter. Jarrett Stidham led his team to an opening drive touchdown with just six plays, the last of which was his 24-yard completion to Darren Waller for the lead. San Francisco’s offense responded, tying the game at 7-7 when quarterback Brock Purdy found Brandon Aiyuk for a short touchdown pass. A Daniel Carlson field goal put Las Vegas ahead 10-7 on their next drive, but San Francisco continued to punish the Raiders’ defense in the early going when George Kittle’s touchdown reception gave the 49ers the lead right back. The Raiders continued to move the ball surprisingly effectively against the NFL’s top-ranked defense before halftime, jumping ahead 17-14 on an acrobatic touchdown grab by Davante Adams. Adams’ massive game continued in the third quarter. Jarrett Stidham found Adams wide open downfield on the first Raiders’ possession of the second half, completing the pass for a 60-yard touchdown to put Vegas up by 10. The 49ers responded quickly in what had become a track meet of offensive scores, pulling back within three when Christian McCaffrey sprinted into the end zone from 14 yards out. Right when San Francisco appeared poised to tie the game or take a lead late in the third quarter, Raiders’ defensive back Amik Robertson intercepted Brock Purdy’s deep pass to give Las Vegas back the football with the lead. The 49ers picked up a much needed stop, and followed it with a Robbie Gould field goal to tie. San Francisco’s defensive front made a huge play to earn itself the ball back again in Raiders’ territory early in the fourth quarter, as a Jarrett Stidham pass was tipped at the line and intercepted by rookie Drake Jackson. The 49ers turned the opportunity into another field goal, going ahead 27-24 with seven minutes still to play. Las Vegas’ offense did enough to tie the game on the drive that followed thanks to its excellent kicker, as Daniel Carlson drilled a 57-yard field goal to tie the game with four minutes left. San Francisco’s next drive was a clinic. Christian McCaffrey broke several tackles on a bruising catch-and-run deep into Raiders’ territory, and backup running back Jordan Mason finished the job with a touchdown run on the next play to put San Francisco ahead 34-27. Stidham and the Raiders would take over with 2:17 to go and two timeouts, needing a touchdown. After a holding penalty made things more difficult, Stidham threw a deep prayer to Davante Adams who made yet another absurdly acrobatic catch to put Las Vegas in the red zone. Two plays later, Josh Jacobs sprinted into the end zone to tie the game at 34 with 1:14 remaining. With the time it had left, San Francisco drove into field goal range to set up a game-winner – but after Robbie Gould missed a 41-yarder, the game moved on to overtime. Las Vegas won the coin toss and received the football first in overtime, but an interception by Jarrett Stidham put them in deep water in a hurry. Tashaun Gipson returned the interception down inside the Las Vegas 10-yard line, and a 23-yard field goal by Robbie Gould won the game for the 49ers. 

Next Week: San Francisco: vs. Arizona, Las Vegas: vs. Kansas City

Chargers 31, Rams 10

Sunday afternoon’s matchup of the NFL’s two Los Angeles-based teams was the first since the two organizations moved into SoFi Stadium, and resulted in a fairly evenly split crowd. The Rams’ offense picked up where it left off last weekend against Denver, establishing a solid run game early and jumping out to a 3-0 lead. The Chargers roared back quickly, jumping ahead 7-3 when Austin Ekeler powered into the end zone from 10 yards away. Ekeler broke free again in the second quarter, busting through the defense for a 72-yard touchdown run that put the Chargers up 14-3. The Rams’ offense continued to show improvement in the second quarter, driving through the Chargers’ defense once more leading to Malcolm Brown’s 23-yard touchdown rush. Kicker Cameron Dicker drilled a field goal for the Chargers in the final seconds, putting them ahead 17-10 at the half. The Chargers’ offense continued its strong showing in the third quarter, extending their lead to 24-10 when Justin Herbert connected with Gerald Everett. The Chargers extended their lead to three touchdowns early in the fourth quarter on another Justin Herbert touchdown pass, this one caught by Donald Parham Jr. The Chargers inserted their backups from there, and the blowout win concluded quietly. 

Next Week: L.A. Chargers: at Denver, L.A. Rams: at Seattle

Packers 41, Vikings 17

The Green Bay Packers entered Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Vikings having won three straight, but could not afford to lose if they wanted their playoff hopes to remain alive. Each defense looked solid early, but a blocked punt by the Vikings set up the Minnesota offense first-and-goal at the Packers one-yard line anyway. Green Bay’s defense held Minnesota to just a field goal. The Packers’ special teams flipped the script entirely moments later, as return specialist Keisean Nixon returned the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown to put his team ahead 7-3. It was the Green Bay defense igniting the Lambeau Field crowd next – Darnell Savage picked off Kirk Cousins after a pass tipped into the air, running the football back 75 yards for a touchdown and an 11-point lead. Mason Crosby added a field goal for Green Bay in the second quarter, extending the lead to 17-3. The Packers’ excellent half continued with another interception of Kirk Cousins with five minutes left in the second quarter; and quickly Green Bay advanced into the red zone again. This time, Aaron Rodgers hit Robert Tonyan in the end zone for a 21-yard score that made it 24-3 Packers with 2:41 to go before halftime. Vikings’ kicker Greg Joseph missed a field goal in the half’s final minute, but Packers’ kicker Mason Crosby made his 56-yarder as the half expired to put Green Bay up 27-3. Minnesota finally created another scoring chance for itself midway through the third quarter, but Packers’ defensive tackle Kenny Clark mauled Kirk Cousins while taking the ball away from him to end the threat. AJ Dillon plowed into the end zone from two yards out with plenty of help from his team pushing him on the first play of the fourth quarter, extending the Green Bay lead to 34-3. The Packers quickly turned the Vikings over again on their next possession, and Aaron Rodgers ran the football in for another score a few plays later to make it 41-3. Minnesota finally scored its first touchdown on its next drive, a deep pass from Kirk Cousins to Jalen Nailor to make it 41-10. Vikings’ backup quarterback Nick Mullens connected with K.J. Osborn on another relatively meaningless touchdown with six minutes left, making it 41-17. The blowout win catapults Green Bay to within one win of a playoff spot, needing only to defeat the Detroit Lions next week to secure its playoff spot. 
Next Week: Minnesota: at Chicago, Green Bay: vs. Detroit

Steelers 16, Ravens 13

When the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens meet, the game has a certain brutal physicality to it. Sunday night’s game promised to be no different, and lived up to the billing through the first half. Pittsburgh got on the board first when Chris Boswell’s field goal capped off its first drive, a 15-play odyssey that stalled out at the Ravens two-yard line. Not to be outdone, Baltimore strung together a 15-play journey of its own on the ensuing drive – and by the time the Ravens stalled out at the Steelers 12-yard line for Justin Tucker’s field goal, it was already the second quarter. Baltimore appeared poised to add another field goal as the second half expired, but were given an extra opportunity to throw toward the end zone after an unnecessary roughness penalty on Steelers’ defensive lineman Cam Heyward. Baltimore made the most of it, as quarterback Tyler Huntley connected with Isaiah Likely for a touchdown and a 10-3 halftime lead. Baltimore opened the second half with the football as well, and drove into Steelers’ territory once again before settling for Justin Tucker’s second field goal of the night. Pittsburgh responded with a field goal of its own late in the third quarter, pulling back within a touchdown at 13-6. The Steelers’ defense came up with a big stop on the ensuing drive, and drove into Baltimore territory early in the fourth quarter after the Ravens punted. Ultimately, Pittsburgh settled for a third field goal to pull within four. Despite a kickoff return into Steelers territory by Justice Hill, Pittsburgh’s defense stood strong enough to force a punt and give its offense another chance. The Steelers punted after gaining just one first down. Pittsburgh quickly earned itself another opportunity with 6:32 remaining in the game, and the offense came back to life. Rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett steadily led his offense downfield, completing throws into tight windows as the clock wound down. With just 56 seconds remaining, Pickett completed the most important and impressive pass of his young career. Pickett slid out to the left, and delivered a strike while on the run to Najee Harris in the end zone, who contorted his body in the air to make an impressive catch along the sideline. Pickett finished the drive completing five of six passes, and suddenly the Steelers led 16-13. Tyler Huntley and the Ravens knew their kicker Justin Tucker would give them a chance, but time was of the essence as Baltimore tried to make its way toward field goal range without any timeouts. Huntley would complete two passes to Mark Andrews as the Ravens approached midfield, but an interception by Damontae Kazee ended the threat with 13 seconds left. The win moves the Steelers to 8-8, and keeps them alive, somehow, for a potential AFC playoff berth.

Next Week: Pittsburgh: vs. Cleveland, Baltimore: at Cincinnati

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