Trevor Lawrence is the next big thing; Patriots, Colts suffer meltdowns: NFL notes and analysis


The football gods blessed the football world with a great week of games. The spectacular performances and frantic finishes not only captivated our minds, but it has started the playoff buzz that we all enjoy at this time of year. 

After all the craziness we witnessed this weekend, here are my thoughts and observations heading down the stretch.

Three things I liked

1. Bengals‘ opportunistic defense comes through again

The defending AFC champions are rarely mentioned as a title contender, but Zac Taylor’s squad could claim back-to-back conference crowns due to a disruptive defense with a knack for producing turnovers. 

Against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Bengals’ defense harassed and badgered Tom Brady into a pair of interceptions and fumbles, helping the squad rally from a 17-point deficit. The unit produced four straight turnovers to flip the momentum of a game that was tilted in the Buccaneers’ favor. 

The Bengals turned those takeaways into points, particularly during a three-minute span in which the team scored a pair of touchdowns with a turnover sandwiched in between the scores. Although some luck is involved in producing takeaways, the combination of hustle and awareness displayed by the Bengals suggests the unit focuses on running to the ball, knocking it loose and snagging picks on tips and overthrows. 

With the Buccaneers contributing to the turnover fest with their self-inflicted blunders and miscues, including a botched fake punt attempt, the Bengals seized the momentum while scoring 34 unanswered points. Suppose the Bengals continue to get solid play from a defense that perfectly complements a high-powered offense. In that case, the defending AFC champs could overtake the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills as the favorites in the conference. 

2. Trevor Lawrence is the next big thing

Players selected with the No. 1 overall pick are expected to emerge as superstars based on their superior talent and skills, but few reach that level in an ultra-competitive league. After a slow start to his NFL career, Trevor Lawrence is on the verge of breaking through as a megastar with the Jaguars.

The second-year pro has taken his game up a notch under the tutelage of Doug Pederson, as evidenced by his third 300-yard game in the Jaguars’ past four outings. Lawrence has been on an absolute tear since Week 9, with a 14:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio during that span. From his pinpoint ball placement to his feathery touch on layered throws to his underrated improvisational skills, the Jaguars’ star quarterback has dazzled the football world with his impressive talents since the middle of the season. 

While the sample size is not quite an extensive résumé, Lawrence’s spectacular flashes suggest he is well on his way to emerging as a top-five talent at the position. With the Jaguars surging toward a potential division title with the gunslinger leading the way, the rest of the league is starting to pay attention to his transformation from a top prospect to a superstar in Duval County. 

Why Trevor Lawrence is the real story in Jags’ win vs. Cowboys

Why Trevor Lawrence is the real story in Jags' win vs. Cowboys

Colin Cowherd explains why the biggest story in Sunday’s game is the Jaguars finding their franchise QB and a head coach who supports him.

3. Justin Herbert puts the Chargers on his back

If the Chargers make the playoffs, it will be on the strength of Justin Herbert’s play. The third-year pro is arguably NFL QB1 based on his prototypical talents and refined game, but he is emerging as a dominant force at the position. 

While the fans of Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen will undoubtedly take offense to that statement, it is hard to dismiss Herbert’s rise as one of the best quarterbacks in the game. The emerging superstar has shown his spectacular talents as a passer and clutch performer with a knack for delivering in the game’s waning moments. 

Against the Tennessee Titans, Herbert notched his fifth game-winning drive of the season and 13th of his career by moving the Chargers 52 yards in six plays to set up a game-winning field goal. With the gunslinger displaying confidence and poise while tossing darts to his pass-catchers running free on the perimeter, Herbert confirmed his status as the ultimate “one-man” show for the Chargers. 

Given the impact a five-star quarterback can have on the outcome of games, Herbert’s penchant for ushering late-game heroics separates him from others at the position. 

Three things I did not like

1. What were the Patriots thinking?

It is rare for the Patriots to violate the “DBOs” (Don’t Beat Ourselves) principles in the Bill Belichick era, but the team’s loss to the Las Vegas Raiders will go down as an all-time stunner in the history books. 

After working their way back from an early deficit, the Patriots gave away the game on a series of blunders, including a haphazard set of laterals at the end of the game that resulted in a Chandler Jones walk-off fumble return. The impromptu play featured an ill-advised backward pass from Jakobi Myers toward Mac Jones that was snagged by the veteran defender and returned for a score. 

Considering how the Patriots are the masters of winning games by dominating situational football, I am stunned by Rhamondre Stevenson’s decision to go rogue, and Myers’ move was also a major surprise. Belichick’s teams do not beat themselves, yet they gave away a game on an unforced error due to a couple of players attempting to play “hero ball.”

3. The Colts‘ major meltdown

Jeff Saturday is wearing the goat horns after watching his team squander a 33-point lead, but the first-time coach learned some valuable lessons on game management watching the meltdown. 

The former Pro Bowl center turned interim head coach should better understand how to win in the future. The Colts handed the Minnesota Vikings a win with their poor play, faulty execution and questionable clock management. While the mistakes should fall on the shoulders of the players, the coaches are responsible for failing to get their guys to perform to the standard.

The penalties and turnovers, in particular, are egregious errors committed by players who know better. Moreover, they have been coached to avoid the silly penalties (false starts, neutral-zone infractions and unsportsmanlike penalties) that gift opponents free, unearned yards. 

Saturday, however, must manage the clock better to help his team preserve leads. That requires the quarterback to take the play clock down to five seconds or fewer to shrink the game and limit the total number of possessions for each team. Although the offense needs to pick up first downs for the strategy to work, Saturday must communicate to his players and coaches how he wants the game played to ensure the win. 

It is an embarrassing lesson for the coach and players, but it could make Saturday a much better coach down the road. 

3. Desmond Ridder‘s debut

It is hard to judge a rookie quarterback based on his stat line due to the challenges of playing the position at the NFL level. The game is faster and more complex, and it requires significant reps to master the art of playing the game. 

Desmond Ridder struggled through his first game as a starter. Against the New Orleans Saints, the Falcons rookie completed 13 of 26 passes for 97 yards without a touchdown or interception. He struggled with his ball placement and accuracy, and his anticipation was slightly off as he hesitated with his reads. 

Although he played better in the second half, the game was a little too fast for the Cincinnati product. With a bit of time and experience, Ridder could emerge as the QB Atlanta wants to build around as a developmental prospect with long-term potential. 

My top 10 teams

1. Philadelphia Eagles: The most complete team in football can withstand a two-interception effort from Jalen Hurts due to the presence of a disruptive defense that specializes in producing sacks and takeaways. Although Hurts posted three rushing touchdowns against the Chicago Bears, the defense produced six sacks and a takeaway to secure the win.

2. Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs quietly claimed their seventh straight division title despite breaking in a host of new pass-catchers and runners. With Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes showing the ability to adapt, adjust and flourish with anyone on the perimeter, the Chiefs are always a threat to win with or without star receivers. 

Were Chiefs exposed in their 30-24 OT win over Houston?

Were Chiefs exposed in their 30-24 OT win over Houston?

Nick Wright weighs in on whether the Chiefs exposed some flaws in their overtime win in Week 15 vs. the lowly Texans.

3. Buffalo Bills: It is not always pretty with the Bills, but they find a way to get it done. Josh Allen’s ability to take over the game as a runner or passer enables the offense to counter every defensive tactic. With a “hustle hard” defense that brings outstanding energy and effort to the field, the Bills can win with glitz or grit in high stakes games. 

4. Cincinnati Bengals: The defending AFC champions are rounding into form as a potential contender. Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo has the defense humming while Joe Burrow & Co. continue to light up scoreboards around the league. 

5. San Francisco 49ers: Despite playing with their QB3, the 49ers look like a title contender peaking at the right time. Brock Purdy is managing the game like a seasoned vet who understands how to win by playing complementary football. 

6. Minnesota Vikings: Credit Kevin O’Connell for putting together a resilient squad with the fortitude and self-belief to bounce back from slow starts and bad plays. The Vikings’ record-breaking comeback win over the Colts is part of a season-long trend that suggests that Minnesota will be a hard out in the playoffs. 

7. Dallas Cowboys: The Cowboys’ immaturity and lack of focus are the only things keeping them from winning a title. The ultra-talented squad squandered a 17-point lead in an upset loss to Jacksonville that should have been an easy win on paper. 

Who is to blame for Cowboys’ loss?

Who is to blame for Cowboys' loss?

Despite Dak Prescott’s pick-six in OT, Dave Helman does not blame the QB entirely for the loss. Helman explains that the Cowboys defense did not show up, allowing the Jaguars to score a season-high 40 points against the Dallas defense.

8. Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens will have a hard time winning down the stretch with a punchless offense that desperately misses star QB Lamar Jackson. Without the former MVP, the Ravens cannot produce enough explosive plays to put points on the board against good teams. 

9. Los Angeles Chargers: The Chargers have a superstar quarterback and a dynamic supporting cast to throw up a “40-burger” on any opponent. If the defense can control opposing running games while limiting big plays (deep balls), the Chargers could make a title run as the dark-horse team in the AFC. 

10. Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins have enough offensive firepower to create problems in the playoffs, but they must find a way to win games when the offense is not clicking. The play of the defense down the stretch will not only determine whether Miami makes the postseason tournament, but also whether the squad can make some noise as a wild-card team.

Week 15 Game Balls

Most Valuable Player of the Week

Vikings QB Kirk Cousins walks away with the hardware this week after engineering a 33-point comeback against the Colts. The veteran posted a 400-yard game (460 pass yards on 35 of 54 pass attempts) while tossing four touchdowns to spark a miraculous second-half flurry. Although Cousins contributed to the deficit with his miscues, his performance in the second half warrants a game ball. 

Offensive Player of the Week

A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith can split the award this week after combining for 14 catches and 307 receiving yards. Although the Eagles’ co-WR1s did not score a touchdown, their individual and collective dominance helped Philadelphia sneak past the pesky Bears on the road.

Defensive Player of the Week

Jaguars safety Rayshawn Jenkins claims a game ball after an 18-tackle performance that also featured a pair of interceptions, including a walk-off pick-six. The veteran safety was a tackling machine near the line of scrimmage as the Jaguars utilized a variety of “plus-one” defensive fronts to slow down the Cowboys’ vaunted ground game. With Jenkins also displaying outstanding awareness and ball skills snagging a pair of interceptions, his performance might have garnered some Pro Bowl consideration. 

Unsung Hero of the Week 

Latavius Murray helped the Broncos get back on track with a 100-yard game that showcased his talents as a workhorse runner. The veteran plowed through the Cardinals’ defensive front on an assortment of power runs between the tackles and on the edges. With Murray totaling 130 yards on 24 rush attempts, the Broncos were able to alleviate some of the pressure on backup QB Brett Rypien to carry the offensive load. 

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Bucky Brooks is an NFL analyst for FOX Sports. He regularly appears on “Speak For Yourself” and also breaks down the game for NFL Network and as a cohost of the “Moving the Sticks” podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.

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