The 32 things we learned from Week 13 of the 2022 NFL season:
1. With December football upon us, it felt like a pivotal weekend – certainly in the AFC, where the Buffalo Bills vaulted into first place overall, while the Kansas City Chiefs dropped another matchup to an imminent challenger. Meanwhile, injuries to a pair of prominent starting quarterbacks could reshape the balance of power moving forward.
2. And then there's the MVP race. Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes was outplayed (again) by Cincinnati Bengals counterpart Joe Burrow. Meanwhile, Buffalo's Josh Allen appears to be back on track a month after injuring his throwing elbow. Yet Philadelphia Eagles QB Jalen Hurts, who passed for 380 yards and three TDs and ran for another score Sunday, may now be the front runner for the award – his maturation as a passer coinciding with the Eagles' rise atop the NFC, Philadelphia also the only team in the league with 11 victories.
3. Back in Cincinnati, the Bengals became the first team to beat Mahomes three times in a row – that trio of victories, including last season's AFC championship game, occurring over the past 11 months, all of them by a three-point margin.
3a. Kansas City (9-3) finds itself sandwiched between the Bills (9-3) and Bengals (8-4) in the AFC standings but has lost to both rivals this season.
4. As active as the San Francisco 49ers were at this year's trade deadline, we suggested at the time that they should target an experienced backup quarterback – talking to the Pittsburgh Steelers about either Mason Rudolph or Mitch Trubisky, for example, probably a fine idea. A month later, it seems the Niners made a serious miscalculation by standing pat. QB1 Jimmy Garoppolo broke his foot Sunday, and his season is apparently over.
5. The NFC West leaders forge ahead – for now – with rookie Brock Purdy, "Mr. Irrelevant" as the last player selected in the 2022 draft, and journeyman Jacob Eason. Doesn't mean GM John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan won't start scouring enemy practice squads, hoping someone like Washington's Carson Wentz (maybe?) shakes loose while assessing who's on the street ... Cam Newton, for example. Per multiple reports, vagabond graybeard Josh Johnson is joining the team via the Denver Broncos' practice squad.
6. And yet the 49ers, whose defense was probably always their strength, extended their win streak to five Sunday after bludgeoning the Miami Dolphins. San Francisco did surrender a fourth-quarter touchdown to WR Tyreek Hill, the first second-half points scored on the Niners since Week 7.
7. Conversely, the Fins' five-game hot streak came to an end, costing them first place in the AFC East and knocking them down to sixth overall in the conference. Could be precarious as the Green Bay Packers are the only team Miami is currently scheduled to face down the stretch with a losing record.
NFL PLAYOFF PICTURE: Despite being idle Sunday, Buffalo Bills reclaim AFC's No. 1 seed
8. Now up to a league-high 1,379 receiving yards, Hill needs to average 124.2 over the final five games to become the first player to reach the 2,000-yard plateau.
9. QB Deshaun Watson's much-anticipated return to regular-season action after a 700-day hiatus hardly impressed despite the Cleveland Browns' 27-14 triumph over his former team, the Houston Texans. Watson passed for 131 yards and an interception and ran for another 21 yards. Amid a cloud of sexual misconduct allegations borne from encounters with massage therapists, lawsuits and a desire to be traded nearly two years ago, Watson didn't play in 2021 for Houston before being suspended for the first 11 games of this season for his new team. "It's not going to be perfect, especially playing December football and it's Week 1 for me," he said.
9a. The win was Watson's first in 738 days.
10. Even though their team improved to 5-7, Browns fans have to wonder if Cleveland isn't better off with QB2 Jacoby Brissett as long as the team has a viable playoff shot ... and/or they might just prefer Brissett given Watson's ongoing resistance to addressing his off-field issues and rehabilitation efforts.
11. Cleveland's 27 points without an offensive touchdown are the most by any team since 1999. The Browns scored a pair of defensive TDs, and WR Donovan Peoples-Jones took a punt 76 yards to the house.
12. Not only did QB Aaron Rodgers solidify his "ownership" of the Chicago Bears with Sunday's 28-19 victory – he's 25-5 all-time against his organization's most bitter rival – but the Packers now have 787 all-time victories, most in league history and one more than Chicago. The legendary franchises have now crossed paths a record 206 times.
12a. For the first time since December of 1921, the Bears are not the NFL's winningest club.
13. And that trend is likely to continue as long as Rodgers is around, especially since he now appears to have a new football weapon of mass destruction. Packers rookie WR Christian Watson had two of Green Bay's three TDs. Nine of Watson's 30 touches this season, or 30%, have resulted in six points.
13a. Also, Packers coach Matt LaFleur is now 8-0 against Chicago.
14. However, Bears QB Justin Fields could get the pendulum swinging in the other direction soon enough. His 55-yard TD run made him the first quarterback in the Super Bowl era (since 1966) to run to pay dirt in six straight games.
14a. Fields also became the first QB in the league's 103 seasons with a trio of TD gallops of at least 50 yards – and, amazingly, they've all occurred this season.
15. If the Tennessee Titans' trade of WR A.J. Brown on the first night of April's draft wasn't head-scratching enough in the moment, the apparent folly was certainly underscored in Sunday's loss to his new team, the Philadelphia Eagles. Brown caught a pair of TD passes in a 35-10 rout as Philly took another step toward securing the NFC's No. 1 playoff seed.
15a. And just to spotlight what Brown brings to the table in juxtaposition to what the AFC South-leading Titans have in the air game cupboard, Brown finished with eight grabs for 119 yards to go along with his pair of scores. Tennessee's wide receivers combined to catch four balls for 41 yards and one touchdown.
16. On a big weekend for the University of Georgia, Eagles LB Nakobe Dean – a defensive captain for the Bulldogs' 2021 national championship squad – posted a season-high six tackles, the most of his rookie season. Fellow rook and UGA teammate Jordan Davis, Philadelphia's first-round pick this year, returned to action after missing more than a month with an ankle injury.
17. Welcome to the 2022 season, Chandler Jones. The Las Vegas Raiders signed the pass rusher in free agency, but a three-year, $51 million investment had returned a half-sack worth of production through 11 games. But Jones, a four-time Pro Bowler with more than 100 career sacks on his résumé, bagged Chargers QB Justin Herbert three times Sunday, helping the Silver and Black win their third in a row.
17a. The Bolts' loss means the overhyped AFC West now has one team (Kansas City) with a winning record, the other three all projected to miss the postseason.
18. Not that you ever want to see any player get hurt, but Baltimore Ravens QB Lamar Jackson picked a good day to have what was evidently a relatively minor knee injury – it's possible he'll be available in Week 14, pending MRI results – even if it knocked him out of Sunday's game. But the AFC North leaders only needed the game's lone TD to beat the Broncos, who entered Week 13 as the league's lowest-scoring team, 10-9.
19. On a more serious note, we'd really encourage Jackson to get a long-term deal done with the Ravens soon. He's not had a season up to his MVP-caliber standards – whether or not he'd admit his contractual limbo is a factor – but the new injury should be a reminder that nothing is guaranteed in the NFL ... except the nine-figure guarantees the league's few superstars, like Jackson, can secure at the negotiating table. Make some bank, Lamar, even if you can't break it on par with Watson and his fully guaranteed $230 million pact.
20. To use an outdated baseball term – and one that wouldn't apply anyway given NFL tiebreaker rules – the Minnesota Vikings essentially clinched a tie for the NFC North crown with their 27-22 defeat of the New York Jets. One more Vikes victory or Detroit Lions loss – they meet next week – will mean a divisional wrap and at least one home playoff game at U.S. Bank Stadium.
21. NYJ QB Mike White's second start of the season was a mixed bag, He passed for 369 yards, and New York outgained Minnesota 486 yards to 287. But the recently promoted starter also threw a pair of interceptions, including one at the Minnesota 1-yard line on the Jets' final play as they were driving for the go-ahead TD with 10 seconds remaining.
22. Not that embarrassing the Indianapolis Colts tells you much, but the Dallas Cowboys could now be the Eagles' biggest impediment on the road to Super Bowl 57 following Sunday night's 54-19 rollover.
22a. And thumbs up on the red stripe added to Dallas' helmets – also a callback to 1976 – in order to honor veterans.
23. Perhaps appropriate the New York Giants (7-4-1) and Washington Commanders (7-5-1) forged the season's second tie (especially since we miss draws soooo much now that the World Cup has reached its knockout stage). But these teams are matched quite closely, though chest and shoulders below the Eagles and Cowboys in the NFC East even as they vie for the conference's final playoff berths. Also a lot of uncertainty given both Giants QB Daniel Jones and the Commanders' Taylor Heinicke are unsigned for 2023. Maybe we'll get some resolution when they meet again in two weeks outside the nation's capital.
24. But in the near term, the tie proved more costly for Washington. The Seahawks' defeat of the unrecognizable Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams moved Seattle (7-5) percentage points ahead of the Commanders for the NFC's final wild-card berth.
25. As for LA? Sunday's game was the first DT Aaron Donald (ankle) missed due to an injury in his nine-year career. With Matthew Stafford (neck) and WR Cooper Kupp (ankle) on injured reserve, the Rams' quarterback was John Wolford and their leading receivers were Tutu Atwell and Brandon Powell.
26. One more loss, and the Rams (3-9) will join the 1999 Broncos as defending Super Bowl champions with double-digit defeats.
27. Lions DE Aidan Hutchinson, the No. 2 pick of the 2022 draft, had two tackles and a half-sack Sunday. Not the most impressive performance of his rookie year, but it contributed to a 40-14 Detroit victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars ... who got five tackles (one for a loss) from OLB Travon Walker, the only player selected before Hutchinson last spring.
28. With their 24-10 victory Thursday night, the Bills became the first team to beat the Bill Belichick New England Patriots by double digits in three consecutive games.
29. And talk about select company. Allen joined Hall of Famer Peyton Manning and Ryan Tannehill as the third quarterback to beat Belichick's Pats five times.
30. Allen is also the first player in league history to have at least 25 touchdown passes and five rushing scores in three different seasons.
31. This may be a lost season for Denver, but let's acknowledge the ongoing effort of one of the league's premier defenses. That was embodied in Sunday's one-point loss by LBs Alex Singleton and Josey Jewell, who had 17 tackles ... apiece.
32. Lastly, but far from least, this weekend was the players' now-annual opportunity to jazz up their kicks for worthy endeavors. So if you're looking to make a charitable donation – and maybe even snag sweet footwear if you're a sneakerhead – dig into the NFL's #MyCauseMyCleats #MCMC initiative.
Follow USA TODAY Sports' Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NFL scores, more: 32 things we learned; QB injuries could loom large