The Detroit Lions don’t have much to play for this season other than draft positioning. You won’t hear much analysis of their games.
But the Lions’ 29-27 win Sunday against the Vikings was the most heartwarming and poignant of the 2021 NFL season.
It wasn’t just that the Lions got their first win in 364 days to improve to 1-10-1 this season. It was also about how first-year coach Dan Campbell and his players recognized the gravity of the moment, which had nothing to do with football.
The Lions wore decals on their helmets and T-shirts in warm-ups honoring the victims of the recent school shooting in Oxford, Mich. Then Campbell, fighting back tears, opened his postgame press conference by dedicating a game ball to the Oxford community and saying aloud the names of the four killed and seven wounded.
A football game, of course, will never heal the pain that was created last week. But if anyone deserved a reason to smile Sunday, it was the good people of Michigan.
“My thought was, ‘Hey man, if we can for three hours just ease their suffering a little bit, that’s worth it,’” Campbell said.
The Lions’ win is the starting point for the Week 13 review:
▪ The Lions avoid the ignominious feat of becoming just the third team in the Super Bowl era to finish a season with zero wins. The Lions are one of those teams, of course, going 0-16 in 2008. The 2017 Browns also went 0-16.
The win almost didn’t come to fruition, as the Lions let a 20-6 halftime lead slip to a 27-23 deficit with 1:50 left. But Jared Goff marched the Lions 75 yards, throwing the game-winning touchdown pass on fourth down as time expired. The Lions had been 0-5-1 in one-score games this season.
“We finally found a way,” Campbell said.
The Lions may finish the season 1-15-1. But Sunday’s win will go down as one of the most memorable of the entire 2021 NFL season.
▪ Meanwhile, I would understand it if the Vikings wanted to part ways with coach Mike Zimmer after this loss. The underachieving Vikings dropped to 5-7, are on pace to miss the playoffs for the third time in four seasons, and inexplicably played prevent defense on the final drive to let the Lions march right down the field for the win. The Vikings gave up several easy first downs, and Zimmer sat on all three of his timeouts until the final 10 seconds of the game, letting his players get gassed.
Losing to the Lions in that fashion is fireable in and of itself. And after eight years and just two playoff wins in Minnesota, Zimmer’s time may be up.
Equally perplexing: Why Kirk Cousins was laughing and hugging a Lions coach within seconds of losing the game. Call me old school, but I prefer quarterbacks who act upset and embarrassed when they lose to a winless team and see their playoff hopes go up in flames.
▪ The Buccaneers apparently aren’t worried about 44-year-old Tom Brady wearing out his throwing arm. Brady was 38 of 51 for 368 yards, 4 touchdowns and an interception in the Bucs’ 30-17 win over the Falcons. The Bucs improved to 9-3, and sit No. 3 in the NFC behind the Cardinals (10-2) and Packers (9-3).
Sunday marked the third time this season that Brady has thrown at least 50 passes in a game. He has 31 such games in his career, with a 21-10 record, including 2-1 this year. But before this season, Brady hadn’t thrown 50 passes in a game since the Patriots’ 2018 Divisional Round win over the Titans, and before that, Super Bowl LI against the Falcons in February 2017. It’s a little troubling that the Bucs threw 51 passes and only called 15 handoffs Sunday, gaining 49 yards.
Brady leads the NFL this season in pass attempts (508) and attempts per game (42.3), and since 2019 Brady leads the NFL with 1,731 pass attempts. Hope he’s eating those avocados.
▪ It didn’t work out for John Harbaugh, but I love his decision to go for 2 at the end of the Ravens’ 20-19 loss to the Steelers. His players surely will appreciate that Harbaugh had the confidence to put the game in their hands, even if the 2-point conversion with 12 seconds left fell incomplete.
But the loss dropped the Ravens to 8-4, and allowed the 8-4 Patriots to slide into the AFC’s No. 1 seed entering Monday’s showdown with the Bills. The Ravens should be alarmed that opposing defenses have figured out how to blitz and slow down Lamar Jackson, who threw for 253 yards, a touchdown and an interception in Sunday’s loss. The Ravens are 3-3 in their last six games, and Jackson has eight interceptions with just seven touchdowns.
▪ The Bears may stink this year, but that was still a good win for the Cardinals on Sunday. The game wasn’t as close as the 33-22 score would suggest, and the Cardinals proved they can play outdoors, on the road, in bad weather, and still dominate. The 10-2 Cardinals remain in the No. 1 seed in the NFC, but won’t be fazed if they have to play on the road in the playoffs. They are 7-0 on the road, with all seven wins by double digits.
▪ This week in LOLJets: The Jets released kicker Matt Ammendola on Saturday, promoted undrafted rookie Alex Kessman to play his first NFL game Sunday against the Eagles, and Kessman promptly missed his first two extra-point attempts. Coach Robert Saleh didn’t allow Kessman to attempt another kick in the 33-18 loss.
▪ I might be ready to see the NFL eliminate the kickoff this offseason and instead give every team the ball on the 20-yard line. The 49ers’ Trenton Cannon became at least the second player this year, joining the Cardinals’ Jonathan Ward, to suffer a serious injury on a kickoff and have to be removed from the field on a spinal board (the team announced he was in stable condition with a concussion).
The NFL is well aware that kickoffs create the most injuries because of the high-speed collisions, and has instituted several rules to try to make them safer. But the only real answer may be eliminating the kickoff completely.
Ranking the Offensive Rookie of the Year Candidates:
1. Patriots QB Mac Jones: Entered Week 13 ranked No. 3 in the NFL in completion percentage (70.3) and 13th in passer rating (97.1).
2. Bengals WR Ja’Marr Chase: Another quiet game, with just 5 catches for 52 yards with a long of 14. Hasn’t had a big game in six weeks.
3. Steelers RB Najee Harris: Had 107 total yards in the Steelers’ win over the Ravens.
4. Dolphins WR Jaylen Waddle: Had 9 catches for 90 yards in a win over the Giants. Has at least eight catches in four of his last five games.
5. Falcons TE Kyle Pitts: Had 4 catches for 48 yards in a loss to the Bucs. Has decent numbers this year but only one touchdown catch (Week 5 vs. the Jets).
Tracking Former Patriots
▪ Bucs TE Rob Gronkowski: Now has six touchdown catches this year — two in Week 1, two in Week 2 and two in the win Sunday over the Falcons.
▪ 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo: Threw for 299 yards, 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions, but couldn’t punch the ball in from the 3 at the end of a 30-23 loss to the Seahawks. The 6-6 49ers have now lost 10 of their last 11 games in Seattle.
▪ Falcons RB Cordarrelle Patterson: Had 96 total yards, including a 39-yard rush, in the Falcons’ loss to the Bucs.
▪ Rams RB Sony Michel: Had 24 carries for 121 yards and a touchdown in a 37-7 win over the Jaguars, his first 100-yard game since Week 3 in 2020 against the Raiders.
▪ Dolphins coach Brian Flores: Won his fifth straight game, 20-9 over the Giants, though his 6-7 Dolphins still sit in 13th place in the AFC playoff standings. But more wins may be coming — the Dolphins now have a bye, then finish Jets, at Saints, at Titans, Patriots. Week 18 in Miami could be a huge game for both the Patriots and Dolphins.
▪ Giants coach Joe Judge: Dropped to 4-8 this season, 10-18 in two years, and his team has not won consecutive games this season.
Stats of the Week
▪ Brady has now thrown six pick-6′s since the start of the 2019 season (including playoffs), tied with Derek Carr and Matthew Stafford for second-most in the NFL. Jameis Winston leads with seven, all thrown in 2019.
▪ Brady and Gronkowski have now connected for 90 career touchdowns, passing Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates (89) for the second-most TD connections in history. The record is 112 between Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison.
▪ The Colts’ Jonathan Taylor became the first player in NFL history with a touchdown in 10 straight games before his 23rd birthday.
▪ The NFL hadn’t seen a 17-15 final score since the 2016 season, but Washington has won consecutive games by that tally.
▪ The Texans are the first team to be shut out and lose by at least 30 points twice in a season since the 2002 Panthers.
Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.