Week 13 of the 2018 NFL season is one which will have repercussions on the league for years to come. Most importantly, Mike McCarthy's time in Green Bay finally came to an end - some would say three years too late - as the Packers slumped to a humbling defeat at home to the Cardinals. It was also the week the Chargers and Texans made real statements in the AFC while the Seahawks and Panthers continued to follow very different paths in the NFC.
Bye weeks are over now, which means from here on out it's just all-out action every Sunday night. No rest, no days off, no room for excuses. Here are the big takeaways from yet another huge set of games.
Mike McCarthy's tenure in Green Bay ends with a whimper
By all measures Mike McCarthy is one of the most successful coaches in the Packers' history. He has the fourth best win percentage of any Green Bay coach with 60.6 and, more importantly, a Super Bowl. However, Sunday's embarrassing 20-17 loss at home to the Cardinals displayed everything bad about the last few years of the McCarthy era. Aaron Rodgers' 233 yards from 50 attempts averaged out at less than five per shot - inexcusable when you have one of the best quarterbacks to ever do it under centre.
The Packers parted ways with McCarthy after the game. It seemed inevitable that this would be his last year in Green Bay, but it was still something of a surprise they decided to pull the trigger mid-season. Coaching your team to a historically bad defeat will do that for you. The Packers hadn't lost at home to the Cardinals since 1949. To put that in perspective, the Cardinals still played in Chicago then, and Lambeau Field hadn't even been built.
This win will be a huge confidence boost for Josh Rosen, who orchestrated a nice fourth-quarter drive to set up Zane Gonzalez's game-winning field goal. The nail is now firmly wedged into the coffin of Green Bay's season, but at least there's a brand new future to look forward to. It'll be fascinating to see where the Packers look for their next head coach. Will they search for the next hot, young offensive mind, or could they tempt Bruce Arians back from retirement?
Chargers finally break the Chargers curse?
The Chargers kicked a last-second field goal - no, really - to secure a 33-30 comeback victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers and give themselves the upper hand in the race for an AFC bye. Before you get carried away, Michael Badgley actually missed the initial 39-yard attempt to win it, but the Steelers were called for offside. Badgley's resulting 34-yard attempt was blocked, but Pittsburgh were penalised for jumping over the line of scrimmage, and he made it third time lucky, completing a stunning turnaround after LA found themselves 23-7 down at half-time.
The Chargers have it in their DNA to miss important kicks and blow important games - and they tried their best to mess this one up, the really did - but the fact they went on the road to Pittsburgh and came away with the W almost feels like a curse-breakingly huge moment. This was the result that showed the Chargers can really win the Super Bowl, and they did it all without Melvin Gordon. The comeback was triggered by a 73-yard scoring punt return by Desmond King, while Keenan Allen also had a huge game. No13 accounted for 148 of Philip Rivers' 299 yards and and also made a smart catch from a tipped ball inside the end zone.
This loss will really sting in Pittsburgh. Antonio Brown went haywire (10 receptions for 154 yards and a touchdown) and they looked to have the game sewn up by half-time, but they may well now have to forge their playoff path on the road.
Kirk Cousins lays an egg in big New England test
Kirk Cousins had his worst game as a Minnesota Viking and threw two fourth-quarter interceptions as the Patriots pulled off an extremely typical late-season victory in Foxborough. The Pats often wait until December to show their true colours, and they were very effective in this 24-10 victory. Tom Brady completed 24 of his 32 passes for 311 yards, a touchdown and a pick, and once again leaned heavily on James White in the receiving game - the veteran back finished with 92 yards from seven receptions.
New England's offense appears to be getting healthy and clicking at just the right time. Josh Gordon found the end zone again, Julian Edelman made plays and Cordarrelle Patterson continued to be a very useful piece - a totally different prospect to his years in Minnesota.
The Vikings finally found a run game - Dalvin Cook went off for 84 yards from just nine carries, but the passing game went AWOL. Cousins looked off the pace all night, losing his usually impeccable connection with Adam Thielen and made poor decisions in key moments. What u doin throwing to Laquon Treadwell on crucial third downs, Kirk? At 6-5-1 the Vikes are far from sure of an NFC wild card berth, and have games against the Seahawks and Bears still to come.
Important side note: Get the streamers out and start dancing the Macarena, because after 265 games and the best part of two decades, old Tommy Boy has finally reached 1,000 yards rushing. Brady's passed a lot of milestones in his glittering NFL career, but this one will surely mean the most.
Rams turn it on in the fourth quarter to clinch NFC West
The LA Rams became the first division winners of the 2018 season with a hard-fought 30-16 win over the Detroit Lions, who made them wait until the fourth quarter to get any separation. The Rams had a lead of just three going into the final period; enter Todd Gurley, who found the end zone twice to cap off yet another monster performance. He finished with 132 yards from 23 carries and a further 33 in the air.
At 11-1 Los Angeles now have control of the one seed in the NFC, and have perhaps the most devastating defensive player to grace an NFL field in decades in Aaron Donald. He added two more to his sack tally on Sunday, and also forced Matthew Stafford to fumble on a crucial fourth quarter drive which could have swung the game in the Lions' direction. The Rams may be totally stacked with stars on offense, but Donald is the one man they could never truly replace. The Defensive Player of the Year award should barely be a debate.
The Lions are now 4-8, but have been much better these past three weeks. I believe they're capable of competing again as soon as next season, and there are reasons for fans to feel positive about Matt Patricia's future. Yes there is obvious room for improvement, namely in protection and weapons for Stafford, but this is a team worth building on.
OBJ does it all as Giants halt rolling Bears
It's rare we're treated to one touchdown pass thrown by a non-quarterback in any given week - the Giants' shock 30-27 upset over the Bears gave us two. First Odell Beckham Jnr fired a 49-yarder to Russell Shepard in the end zone in the third quarter, before Tarik Cohen responded with a last-ditch 'Philly Special' to Anthony Miller which sent the game into overtime. In the end Aldrick Rosas' field goal was enough to earn Big Blue their fourth win of the season, as their defense shut down Chase Daniel on the following drive.
Daniel's second game deputising for the injured Mitchell Trubisky was not quite as successful as his first. He threw a pick six to Alec Ogeltree on the opening drive, and then found the very same defender again to close the first quarter. He did hit Adam Shaheen on a two-yard score between the two errors, but Chicago's stand-out offensive play before Cohen's late heroics was a one-yard scoring rush by none other than defensive lineman Akiem Hicks - this game really did have it all.
Speaking of doing it all, Beckham caught a touchdown minutes after throwing one when Eli Manning found him wide open in the end zone, while Cohen had 156 yards receiving to go with his touchdown pass. The Giants did an excellent job of overcoming Chicago's fearsome defense, with Saquon Barkley starring once again. He rushed for 125 yards from 24 attempts. This defeat shouldn't hurt the Bears' hops of winning the NFC North with the Vikings and Packers also losing this weekend, but it does show Trubisky's value to the team. He should be back for week 14.
Texans punish Baker Mayfield to make NFL history
The Texans picked off Baker Mayfield three times in the first half, jumped out to 23-0 lead and never looked back in a potential banana skin game against the streaky Browns. Houston ended up winning 29-13, and in doing so became the first NFL team to ever follow a nine-game losing stretch with nine straight wins. At 9-3 the Texans are now in with a real shot at a bye in the AFC and have one of the league's easiest schedules to close the season.
Deshaun Watson was clean and effective, which is all he needed to be with his defense making Mayfield's life hell in the opening half-hour. He completed 22 of his 31 passes for 224 yards and a touchdown pass to Jordan Thomas, while Lamar Miller continued to finally impress in the backfield. He finished with 102 yards from 19 attempts.
Mayfield recovered in the second half, hitting Rashard Higgins for a touchdown, and ended the day with 397 passing yards, but the Texans never looked in danger of giving up a comeback. This is a team which still isn't getting a huge amount of respect despite being the hottest in the league. With just the Colts, Jets, Eagles and Jaguars to come, we may have to wait until January to find out just how for-real Houston are.
Chiefs put 40 on the Raiders - but do miss Kareem Hunt
The Chiefs survived a surprising fourth quarter surge by the Raiders to run out 40-33 winners and move to 10-2, with Patrick Mahomes completing his 38th, 39th, 40th and 41st touchdown passes of the season. Peyton Manning's record of 55 in a single season is now very much within grasp, which is absurd when you remember this is Mahomes's first season as a starter. Just how good is this kid going to be?
Mahomes also led the team in rushing, with 52 yards, which is something of a concern against Oakland's sieve of a run defense. The Chiefs were absolutely right in cutting Kareem Hunt after a video emerged on Friday of him hitting and kicking a woman, but they're going to miss his elite ability down the stretch and into January. It looks like they may bring in CJ Anderson to try to plug that gap, but no one is going to make the same impact as Hunt out of the backfield. His loss changes the complexion of this offense.
That said, it'll be hard for anyone to beat Kansas City when Travis Kelce has a game like he did on Sunday. He caught 12 passes for 168 yards and two touchdowns, while Tyreek Hill was used more as a runner than a receiver. Perhaps we should get used to seeing Hill out of the backfield a little more in Hunt's absence?
Props to the Raiders for hanging with the Chiefs in this game. Derek Carr's 285-yard, three-touchdown performance was one of his best in ages, Jared Cook was excellent again, and Jalen Richard was extremely effective in the running game. A rare enjoyable day in Oakland, despite the result.
Three rushing touchdowns, three wins for Lamar Jackson
You don't mess with a winning formula, and that means John Harbaugh shouldn't even consider putting Joe Flacco back in for Lamar Jackson when the veteran QB regains full fitness. Jackson now has three wins in his first three NFL starts, with a rushing touchdown in each. He had 17 carries for 75 yards in the 26-16 win over Atlanta, and completed 12 of his 21 passes for 125 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions. That'll do fine. Jackson did leave the game for a while to be checked over for a concussion, with Robert Griffin III seeing a little action, but was cleared to return a few plays later.
Jackson's unique ability coupled with Baltimore's league-leading defense makes them a one-of-a-kind proposition coming down the stretch - a potential bogey team for one of the AFC big boys, perhaps. Meanwhile it's hard not to question the Falcons' entire identity. We knew that defense was bad, but this is supposed to be one of the league's elite offenses - and yet they've failed to score 20 points in each of their last four outings. Atlanta's problems may run deeper than we think.
Panthers throw away their season with loss to the Bucs
The Panthers have done an absolutely spectacular job of sabotaging their own season. After starting 6-2 and looking like a possible Super Bowl contender, they've gone and lost four on the bounce and now look out of it at 6-6 with two games against the Saints still to come. Cam Newton threw an uncharacteristic four interceptions and was replaced by back-up Taylor Heineke for the last-ditch hail mary attempt - a sign his shoulder still isn't at full strength after last season's injury - as Carolina slumped to a 24-17 defeat in Tampa.
Jameis Winston was turnover free for the second straight game, and completed 20 of his 30 passes for 249 yards and two scores. He also led the team in rushing, with 48 yards from five carries. This was Tampa Bay's most complete performance all season, with the defense not only making big turnovers, but converting them into points. This season may be dead, but this is a win which will give the fans hope for next year. Winston certainly didn't hurt his prospects of keeping his job into next season, either.
Seahawks keep making their wild card case
The Seahawks continued to look like the strongest wild card hunters in the NFC by brushing aside the 49ers in Seattle. Russell Wilson completed 11 of just 17 pass attempts for 185 yards, but four of those were touchdown strikes - two to Jaron Brown - as the Seahawks crushed San Francisco 43-16 and moved to 7-5.
The highlight of the night was absolutely the commentator saying how 49ers quarterback Nick Mullens had good stats for the night, before he immediately threw an interception in the red zone which Bobby Wagner took 98 yards all the way to the house. To be fair it was Mullens' only pick in a 414-yard, two-touchdown performance which also saw Dante Pettis blow up for 129 and both of those scores.
While the Niners may have gone up and down the field effectively, Seattle's defense made the stops when it really mattered and the offense was clinical. I'd be shocked if we don't see them in January now, and it'd be hard to argue they haven't earned that spot.
Phillip Lindsay stars again as Broncos continue playoff charge
The Denver Broncos have a real shot at an AFC wild card spot, and if they make it they'll owe a lot of that success to their undrafted rookie running back, Phillip Lindsay. Lindsay rushed for 157 yards and two touchdowns from 19 carries - the best return of any running back in week 13 - as the Broncos comfortably beat the Jeff Driskel-led Bengals 24-10. Denver were happy to run most of the offense through Lindsay and fellow Rookie back Royce Freeman - they had a combined 31 carries to Case Keenum's 21 pass attempts, of which he completed 12 for 151 yards and a touchdown, to yet another rookie, Courtland Sutton.
Driskel wasn't awful in his first start in place of Andy Dalton. He went 25 of 38 for 236 yards and a touchdown, but did have a fairly ugly pick to safety Justin Simmons in the third quarter. If you want to catch up on this game, by the way, you may as well skip straight to the second half. The first eight drives went punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, missed field goal, punt. Gross.
Elsewhere in the NFL...
The Titans kept themselves in the conversation for January football by scoring 13 unanswered fourth-quarter points to come back and avoid an embarrassing defeat against the Jets. Marcus Mariota completed 20 of 35 passes for 282 yards, two touchdowns and an interception and also led the team in rushing. His 11-yard strike to Corey Davis with just over a minute remaining gave Tennessee a 26-22 lead, and Malcolm Butler picked off Josh McCown on the following drive to seal it for the Titans. At 6-6 they are still very much in the hunt in the AFC, and have the easiest schedule of any team in the NFL in the final four weeks of the season.
The Jaguars' 2017 defense returned from the grave as they shut out the surging Colts in a pretty dire 6-0 contest in Jacksonville. Andrew Luck's streak of eight straight games with three or more touchdown passes couldn't have ended much worse - he completed 33 of his 52 attempts with zero scores and a pick as Indianapolis' offense failed to get moving all day. The Jags' attack wasn't much better - Cody Kessler was 18/24 for 150 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions - but two field goal drives were enough to get them off a torrid seven-game slide. An extremely encouraging defensive performance against one of the league's top five offenses, and a real blow for Indy's playoff hopes.
The Miami Dolphins edged past the Buffalo Bills 21-17 to keep their hopes alive in the AFC. Ryan Tannehill threw three touchdown passes - to DaVante Parker, Kenyan Drake and Kenny Stills - with the 13-yarder to Sills sealing the comeback victory in the fourth quarter. Bills quarterback Josh Allen threw two touchdowns to Zay Jones, was picked off twice by Xavien Howard and had a career day with his legs. He rushed for 135 yards from nine attempts and finished week 13 with more rushing yards than Todd Gurley, Saquon Barkley and Ezekiel Elliott.