NFL Sunday takeaways: 49ers surge, Broncos struggle, Jets’ QB switch works


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The San Francisco 49ers are making their case.

The New York Jets’ quarterback switch paid immediate dividends.

The Denver Broncos’ ongoing woes made the job security of their rookie head coach, Nathaniel Hackett, seem even more precarious.

The Cleveland Browns came back against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to win their final game without suspended quarterback Deshaun Watson, inching just a little closer toward relevance on the field and in the standings as Watson prepares to make his regular-season debut for his new team.

Doug Pederson went for the two-point conversion and the win. His Jacksonville Jaguars converted, and their upset of the Baltimore Ravens put the AFC North race back up for grabs.

So it went on the Sunday of Week 12 of the NFL season.

Watch out for the Niners. They shut out the New Orleans Saints, 13-0, in Santa Clara, Calif., to run their winning streak to four games. They haven’t allowed a single second-half point in any of those games.

The Niners lead the NFC West and suddenly look like a legitimate Super Bowl threat in the NFC. Jimmy Garoppolo is the right quarterback for this team at this moment; he remained in the organization in a surprising preseason twist and then reclaimed the starting job because of Trey Lance’s season-ending fractured ankle. The trade for running back Christian McCaffrey has given Coach Kyle Shanahan an overabundance of run-after-the-catch playmakers, with a lineup that also includes tight end George Kittle and wide receivers Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk.

The 49ers led the league in total defense entering Sunday’s play and then held the Saints to 260 yards of total offense and no points. The Niners didn’t have a huge day on offense but went without a turnover. If Garoppolo avoids major mistakes and simply makes the easy throws to the talented players around him, the 49ers will be exceedingly difficult to beat.

Benching Zach Wilson worked wonders for the Jets. Mike White was terrific in his fourth NFL start, throwing for 315 yards and three touchdowns as the Jets beat the Chicago Bears, 31-10, in East Rutherford, N.J.

White completed 22 of 28 throws and had a passer rating of 149.3, not that far from a perfect 158.3 mark. It could not have worked out much better for Coach Robert Saleh and the Jets after Saleh made the decision last week to sit Wilson, the second selection in last year’s NFL draft. Saleh said the Jets are not giving up on Wilson after only 20 NFL starts. But White immediately provided the sort of production at quarterback that could help the Jets not only reach the postseason, but perhaps be a threat in the playoffs. They improved their record to 7-4.

It helped, of course, that the Bears were basically noncompetitive. Quarterback Justin Fields was on the inactive list because of his injured left (non-throwing) shoulder. Trevor Siemian started in Fields’s place, but only after suffering an injury to an oblique muscle during pregame warm-ups that led the Bears to say temporarily that Nathan Peterman would get the start — before going back to Siemian.

It didn’t matter. The Bears could not come close to keeping pace as the Jets amassed 466 yards of total offense.

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It just keeps getting worse for Hackett and the Broncos. Their record dropped to 3-8 with a 23-10 defeat at Carolina, as Sam Darnold made a successful first start of the season for the Panthers as part of their quarterback turnstile.

Hackett has looked overmatched as a head coach all season after being hired following a stint as the offensive coordinator of the Green Bay Packers. The Broncos brought in veteran assistant Jerry Rosburg to help Hackett with game-management decisions. Hackett surrendered the offensive play-calling duties to quarterbacks coach Klint Kubiak. There’s no way to diminish his role any further, really, other than firing him.

The Broncos’ new ownership group, led by Walmart heir Rob Walton, is in its first season. So there is no track record to indicate how patient Walton and his partners will be. But few would protest too much if Hackett becomes the third NFL head coach dismissed this season, following the Panthers’ Matt Rhule and the Indianapolis Colts’ Frank Reich.

From September: Broncos’ early gaffes raise a question: Can Nathaniel Hackett hack it?

Quarterback Russell Wilson had to pick it up in the second half Sunday just to finish with 142 passing yards. There was a sideline incident in which defensive tackle Mike Purcell appeared to yell at Wilson. The Broncos have lost seven of their past eight games, and it’s all coming undone.

Darnold had a touchdown pass and a touchdown “run” for the Panthers. The rushing touchdown came when he lost the ball on a quarterback keeper, then fell on the ball and rolled into the end zone. It was that kind of game.

The Browns stunned the Bucs. Jacoby Brissett threw a 12-yard touchdown pass on a fourth-and-10 play to tight end David Njoku, who made a superb one-handed catch in the back of the end zone to tie the game with 32 seconds remaining in regulation. Then tailback Nick Chubb won it with a three-yard touchdown run with 19 seconds left in overtime as the Browns beat the Buccaneers, 23-17.

Watson has resumed practicing with the Browns and is eligible to play next Sunday at Houston after serving his 11-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy based on allegations of sexual misconduct. The Browns went 4-7 with Brissett filling in at quarterback. They’d hoped for better. But Brissett’s stint as the fill-in starter ended on a victorious note.

The Buccaneers, as they returned from their bye, fell to 5-6. The loss snapped a two-game winning streak. But they’re in the NFC South, remember, and still in first place, thanks in part to some curious late-game play-calling by the Atlanta Falcons in their loss to the Washington Commanders at FedEx Field.

The Falcons forgot the run. They had a first down at the Washington 2-yard line with just more than a minute to play, seeking a go-ahead touchdown and staring at a potential victory that would have, as it turned out, moved them ahead of the Buccaneers atop the NFC South. The Falcons had been running the ball effectively all day. The Commanders were reeling on defense.

But after Marcus Mariota lost two yards on a first-down quarterback keeper, the Falcons inexplicably went to the pass. Mariota threw a tipped-ball interception. The Falcons added to their list of late-game blunders with a running-into-the-punter penalty that sealed the defeat. They dropped to 5-7 in a season in which they have been creative at times in finding ways to lose.

The Commanders, meanwhile, moved into the seventh and final playoff spot in the NFC. At day’s end, all four NFC East teams were in position to be in the NFC’s seven-team postseason field.

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Pederson’s gamble paid off. The Jaguars pulled to within 27-26 against the Ravens with a 10-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Trevor Lawrence to wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr. with 14 seconds to play. Jones made an excellent leaping catch along the right sideline in the end zone and just managed to land in bounds. The officials allowed the on-field call of a catch and touchdown to stand after an instant replay review.

Rather than settle for the extra point and overtime, Pederson left his offense on the field. The Jaguars converted with a pass from Lawrence to wideout Zay Jones for a 28-27 lead. It wasn’t quite over. The Ravens managed to move into position for a 67-yard field goal attempt by kicker Justin Tucker as time expired. Tucker’s kick was on line but a bit short. The Jaguars escaped with a signature victory that showed that they and Lawrence indeed are making meaningful progress in Pederson’s first season as their coach.

The Ravens paid the price after allowing another inferior team to stay in a game with them. It didn’t catch up to them a week earlier against the Panthers. It did Sunday. Their far-from-demanding schedule down the stretch should have allowed them to ease their way to the AFC North title. Instead, they’re in a virtual tie with the Cincinnati Bengals, with matching records of 7-4. The Ravens do hold the tiebreaker advantage after a head-to-head victory in October. The Bengals had an impressive 20-16 triumph Sunday at Tennessee even while playing without tailback Joe Mixon and wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase.

The Miami Dolphins kept rolling. They had no problem with the Texans, racing to a 30-0 lead at halftime and coasting from there to 30-15 victory in Miami Gardens, Fla.

Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa threw for 299 yards and a touchdown, giving way to rookie Skylar Thompson with the outcome well in hand. The Dolphins are 8-0 this season in games Tagovailoa starts and finishes. They’re 8-3 overall, back in front of the Buffalo Bills for first place in the AFC East by virtue of their tiebreaker advantage.

Kyle Allen threw two interceptions for the Texans in his first game since being given the starting-quarterback nod ahead of Davis Mills. It matters little at this point, really. The Texans are 1-9-1 and are essentially on the clock to use the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft in the spring on the quarterback of their choosing.

The champs are a mess. The Los Angeles Rams are the defending Super Bowl champions in name only. They’re playing without quarterback Matthew Stafford and wide receiver Cooper Kupp. Their record plummeted to 3-8 with Sunday’s 26-10 defeat at Kansas City. And even Coach Sean McVay wasn’t spared. He had to shake off a shot to the jaw that he absorbed in a first-half sideline collision with tight end Roger Carter Jr., who inadvertently ran into his coach while running to get on the field for a play.

Jets make QB switch

The New York Jets will put the win-now focus of Coach Robert Saleh’s quarterback switch to the test as the ultracompetitive race in the AFC East comes into sharp focus on the Sunday of Week 12 of the NFL season.

Mike White starts for the Jets, who host the Chicago Bears in an early afternoon game in the Meadowlands, after Saleh decided last week to bench second-year quarterback Zach Wilson.

The move by Saleh was a curious mix of stunning, based on the big-picture perspective, and inevitable, given the recent developments leading up to the move.

The shocking part stems from the fact that the Jets are, in effect, giving up on Wilson only 20 starts into his NFL career after making him the No. 2 overall selection in last year’s draft. Saleh insisted last week that wasn’t the case, saying that Wilson will get another opportunity.

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But it doesn’t matter here what’s being said. It matters what’s being done. The Jets are benching the player drafted to be their franchise quarterback. For Wilson, it’s possible there will be no coming back from this — at least not with this organization.

Yet by the time Saleh made his midweek announcement, the move should have come as a surprise to no one. Wilson had only nine completions and 77 passing yards in last Sunday’s 10-3 loss to the New England Patriots in Foxborough, Mass. It was his second straight dreadful outing against the Patriots. His immaturity showed when he was asked by reporters after the game whether the team’s offense had let down its defense and answered no. Such a lack of accountability by a quarterback does not go over well in an NFL locker room.

With a record of 6-4, the Jets are in the thick of the AFC playoff chase even with the lack of production they’ve gotten at quarterback. They’re ranked ninth in total defense. The rest of the roster is ready to win and contend. That was the delicate balancing act that Saleh and the Jets had to perform. They opted to favor here-and-now considerations over the development of their young quarterback.

White will make his fourth career NFL start and is to be backed up by veteran Joe Flacco.


Source: WP