32 things we learned from Week 12 of 2021 NFL season: Playoff picture keeps shifting

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The 32 things we learned from Week 12 of the 2021 NFL season:

1. Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers was playing on a bad toe, behind a beat-up offensive line and while facing elite pass rushers Aaron Donald, Von Miller and Leonard Floyd of the Los Angeles Rams. Didn’t matter … and if you didn’t know Rodgers was hurt – even after he stuck his mangled foot in our collective grills last week – well, you wouldn’t know he was hurt. He hung 307 yards on LA through the air while accounting for three TDs (including one on that toe) in the Pack’s 36-28 win, which keeps them right on the heels of the Arizona Cardinals for home-field advantage in the NFC. Now Rodgers gets a much-needed week off before returning to face the Chicago Bears – an opponent you’ll recall AR12 owns.

2. Meanwhile, the careening Rams haven’t won in a month despite all their glitzy additions. QB Matthew Stafford has thrown a pick-six in three straight games, part of the reason the Rams have allowed 95 in that period.

3. The last time a home team won on Thanksgiving was 2018. Turkey Day visitors will take an eight-game winning streak into 2022.

4. The Las Vegas Raiders are 6-0 this season when QB Derek Carr passes for at least 300 yards … and 0-5 when he doesn’t. Trend?

5. If you need another indication that running the ball effectively is no longer a panacea in the 21st-century NFL, how about the Philadelphia Eagles churning out 208 yards on the ground Sunday … while watching the floundering New York Giants beat them 13-7.

5a. At a time when his team had an opportunity to close the reeling Dallas Cowboys’ NFC East lead to 1½ games while moving into wild-card position, Eagles QB Jalen Hurts – after seeming to solidify his standing in recent weeks – again showed his limitations as a passer, serving up a trio of interceptions while missing on 17 of 31 throws. Expect the quarterback of the future debate to heat up again in the City of Brotherly Love.

6. Cowboys fans should just give thanks that the Giants offense left behind by former Dallas coach Jason Garrett was juuust good enough to foil the Iggles … even if Big Blue’s D (4 takeaways) did most of the heavy lifting.

7. Holiday Lenny? Tampa Bay Buccaneers RB Leonard Fournette (131 total yards, 4 TDs) carried his offense and outshone Indianapolis Colts counterpart and emergent MVP candidate Jonathan Taylor (97 yards, TD) as the Bucs hung on for a 38-31 victory in Indy, Fournette sprinting 28 yards for the game-winning score with 20 seconds left.

8. Maybe “Hard Knocks” will tell the tale, but the Colts – Indianapolis retreated to .500 – could ultimately rue this loss, a game when Taylor was limited to 20 touches as Indy chose to attack Tampa Bay’s depleted secondary rather than take on its top-ranked run defense. QB Carson Wentz committed three of the Colts’ five turnovers in what might prove a crippling loss in a congested AFC playoff picture.

9. Buccaneers QB Tom Brady is up to 30 TD passes after throwing 40 in 2020. Jameis Winston hoisted 33 TDs for Tampa Bay in 2019 before being replaced by TB12. No other Buc has cracked 30 through the air.

10. Brady’s former team looks just fine, too. The New England Patriots, who have a league-best six-game win streak, rolled the Tennessee Titans 36-13 to reclaim first place in the AFC East – and are now only a half-game out of the overall AFC lead. The Pats defense was at its bend-but-don’t-break best, while QB Mac Jones threw for a season-best 310 yards and two more scores to strengthen his position as offensive rookie of the year front-runner.

Adrian Phillips #21 of the New England Patriots celebrates with teammates after a defensive play against the Tennessee Titans in the second quarter at Gillette Stadium on November 28, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts.

11. Meanwhile, the Titans fell out of the AFC’s catbird seat as it became obvious their issues go far beyond the absence of injured RB Derrick Henry. Tennessee ran for 270 yards Sunday (165 more than New England) but didn’t get anything out of QB Ryan Tannehill or the defense while turning the ball over four times. The Titans effectively have a three-game lead on the Colts, whom they already swept, in the AFC South but have a lot of work to do if they’re going to be a legitimate playoff threat.

12. The AFC’s new No. 1 seed? How about the Baltimore Ravens (8-3), who survived QB Lamar Jackson’s four-interception night to outlast the Cleveland Browns 16-10 Sunday. Maybe switch it up, Lamar, given all those picks were on passes to your buddy Mark Andrews?

12a. Yes, the Harbaugh Brothers definitely got the best of Ohio over the weekend.

12b. But the Ravens definitely can’t afford to get comfortable, four of their final six games against tough divisional opponents … the other two dates against the Packers and Rams.

13. The Cincinnati Bengals completed their first season sweep of the Pittsburgh Steelers since 2009 in decisive fashion with Sunday’s 41-10 runaway. (The Bengals outscored Pittsburgh 65-20 this year.)

13a. Cincy even had fun in the end zone … something we can’t recall since the long-gone Chad Johnson era.

14. And given Taylor’s humdrum showing, maybe it’s time to give Bengals RB Joe Mixon at least some MVP consideration. He’s got a pair of TDs in each of the past four games – a Cincinnati record and something no player in the league had done in the past 15 years – and hasn’t been denied end zone entry since Week 3. Mixon’s 165 rushing yards Sunday represented a career high. Now averaging a personal best 84 yards per game on the ground, Mixon still has a reasonable chance to overtake Taylor for the rushing title, too.

15. Got free agency cap dollars to burn? Consider investing in pass rushers. The Patriots’ Matt Judon, Bengals’ Trey Hendrickson and Raiders’ Yannick Ngakoue all have at least eight sacks after switching teams, and their respective defenses have reaped the benefits while helping lead their teams to winning records.

16. Don’t bury the Miami Dolphins just yet … not that dolphins ever get buried? But after a 1-7 start capped by a seven-game slide, the Fins have come up for air to win four in a row while sniffing January relevance. They are now 16-7 under coach Brian Flores after the month of October.

17. And credit Miami WR Jaylen Waddle, who caught nine passes for 137 yards and a TD in Sunday’s 33-10 walkover against the unraveling Carolina Panthers. Waddle’s 77 receptions lead all rookies.

17a. Extra credit conferred for Waddle waddling post-paydirt.

18. Alabama (Miami QB Tua Tagovailoa, 230 yards and TD passing) > Auburn (Carolina QB Cam Newton, career-worst 5.8 passer rating).

COVID-19. On and on we go. The Denver Broncos were without LT Garett Bolles. The New York Jets were without QBs Mike White and Joe Flacco … though, so what, right? But those Cowboys. You hate to say unvaccinated WR Amari Cooper might’ve cost his team two wins by virtue of his absence … but the case could be made. And Dallas’ issues aren’t going away this week, despite Cooper’s likely return, with other members of the organization dealing with virus protocols as the team prepares for Thursday’s game at New Orleans. League-wide, COVID-19 protocols will intensify … just as the virus apparently is with the Omicron variant coming to the forefront.

20. A career-best 108 rushing yards? The legend of Atlanta Falcons “RB” Cordarrelle Patterson continues to grow.

21. A rushing TD in three consecutive weeks? The legend of San Francisco 49ers “WR” Deebo Samuel continues to grow. (No other receiver in the Super Bowl era – since 1966 – has matched this accomplishment.)

22. Los Angeles Chargers QB Justin Herbert has 55 career TD passes – more than any other second-year passer in league history … not named Dan Marino (68).

22a. However the Bolts youngster won’t remember Sunday fondly – unlike Denver rookie CB Patrick Surtain II, who swiped Herbert twice, including a game-sealing pick-six off a deflection. Surtain is the first Broncos rookie with multiple INTs in a game since Hall of Famer Steve Steve Atwater in 1989.

22b. The gritty Broncos (6-5) won 28-13 and pulled even with the Chargers and Raiders for second place in the AFC West, just one game back of the idle Kansas City Chiefs.

23. NFC wild card? How about the Niners (6-5), who have quietly strung together a three-game hot streak while moving up to the conference’s sixth seed. Tough and multi-faceted, this could be the team no one wants to see in January.

23a. NFC mild card? The Minnesota Vikings (5-6) are clinging to the NFC’s final postseason slot but have persistent defensive struggles, watched RB Dalvin Cook carted off Sunday with a shoulder injury and continue to witness teeth-gritting moments from statistically stellar QB Kirk Cousins.

24. The New York Jets’ league-worst defense was too much for the Houston Texans’ league-worst offense, allowing season lows in points and yards (202) in their 21-14 win. Underrated NYJ DL John Franklin-Myers could get AFC defensive player of the week honors after collecting two sacks and a pretty interception, which he returned 32 yards.

25. Could be a “valuable” loss for the Texans, though, as they remain in line for the second overall pick of the 2022 draft.

26. The AFC East went 4-0 in Week 12. Per ESPN Stats & Info, that’s only happened one other time in the past decade.

27. The Buffalo Bills have 11 turnovers in their past four games but have managed to split them – though that 2-2 stretch opened the door for the Patriots to leapfrog them in the division standings. But the Bills must manage the miscues – QB Josh Allen served up his first-ever red-zone INT (after 62 TD passes) Thanksgiving night – given they’ll see New England, a team that takes advantage of mistakes, twice over the next four weeks.

28. Why has Dallas never bothered to sign WR DeSean Jackson? He has four TD receptions covering at least 50 yards in AT&T Stadium. No other player, Cowboy or otherwise, has more.

29. Flag Day is celebrated on June 14, but don’t tell that to the Raiders and Cowboys, who combined for 276 penalty yards Thanksgiving afternoon after they were flagged 14 times apiece. It was the first game since 2003 with two teams committing at least 14 penalties for at least 100 yards.

29a. Dallas was penalized for 110 yards on third down.

29b. Cowboys CB Anthony Brown was called four times for pass interference, infractions that cost Dallas 91 yards. His 33-yard PI in overtime led to the Raiders’ game-winning field goal.

30. Dallas’ Micah Parsons now has nine sacks, breaking DeMarcus Ware’s record for Cowboys rookies. Parsons’ effort is all the more remarkable considering he’s not a full-time pass rusher.

31. Why are we still doing this? To make the Sin City Raiders feel at home in Texas?

32. Nice of the Giants to actually win on the day they retired Hall of Famer Michael Strahan’s jersey, a courtesy they did not extend to Eli Manning earlier this season.

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Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NFL scores and more, Week 12 2021: 32 things we learned



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