NFL Winners and Losers: This is not a drill, Trevor Lawrence has arrived as a star
The Dallas Cowboys are perfectly capable of winning a Super Bowl. If they don't have the best defense in the league, it's on a short list.
Yet on Sunday, the Cowboys had no clue what to do with Trevor Lawrence.
When it looked like the Cowboys finally got the one play they needed, they had to feel like they escaped. Lawrence had the ball knocked loose at the end of a nice run and the Cowboys recovered the fumble with a three-point lead and less than two minutes to go in regulation. Then Dallas' offense couldn't get a first down. When the Cowboys punted, it felt inevitable that Lawrence would drive the Jacksonville Jaguars down for at least a tie.
That's what great quarterbacks do; they put fear into any defense, even the good ones. Lawrence's laser pass in between the arms of Cowboys safety Donovan Wilson found Zay Jones for enough yards to get the Jaguars into field-goal range, and Riley Patterson hit a 48-yarder to tie it as time expired in regulation.
Rayshawn Jenkins returned an interception to the end zone for the 40-34 Jaguars walk-off win in overtime.
Sunday's win was a huge moment for Lawrence. It was a look at where the Jaguars franchise is heading. It's probably a big moment for the league as a whole, officially ushering in a new superstar quarterback behind the velvet rope.
Jenkins provided the final highlight, but this win was about Lawrence. There's no doubting him anymore. Ask the Cowboys' defense. He completed 27 of 42 passes for 318 yards and four touchdowns. Even if the Jaguars don't make the playoffs this season — and don't count them out of catching the Tennessee Titans for the AFC South crown, especially after the Titans' loss in the late games on Sunday — it shouldn't be too long before Lawrence and the Jaguars take over the division.
There have been signs for Lawrence becoming a mega-star this season. There was the comeback win over the Baltimore Ravens, then another great game against the Titans last week. There was also some trepidation. Lawrence has looked very good for brief stretches, and then followed it up with a dud.
It's time to stop worrying. Lawrence has arrived. He looks like he could be every bit the player he was touted to be coming out of Clemson as the first overall draft pick last year. Lawrence shredded the Cowboys on Sunday.
Lawrence wasn't great last season, but he also was playing for Urban Meyer, the NFL's worst coach in decades. Everything was a mulligan for Jacksonville last season.
Still, Lawrence didn't have a Dak Prescott/Joe Burrow/Justin Herbert immediate impact as a rookie. His second season started with some ups and downs. At some point, Lawrence had to make the throws. Meyer wasn't around to blame anymore.
If you watched the Cowboys game, there shouldn't be a lingering question about where Lawrence's career is headed. He made all the throws. He looked spectacular against an elite team with a fantastic defense. And it wasn't just one game. In the six games prior to Sunday, Lawrence had 1,362 yards, 10 touchdowns, no interceptions and a 111.7 passer rating. Then he had his big moment against the Cowboys to validate that hot streak.
The NFL needs star quarterbacks. The 2021 draft class has struggled to live up to the hype, and that included Lawrence until recently. As it turns out, all those personnel men and draft experts were right about Lawrence after all. Before his second season is over, he looks like a surefire star. He looks like a future MVP.
If Lawrence backslides after this, it will be disappointing. Not that he won't have any more bad games, but the concerns about him should be behind us. Lawrence is one of the best quarterbacks in football already. If you aren't buying that yet, watch Sunday's game again.
Here are the rest of the winners and losers from Week 15 of the NFL season:
Cincinnati Bengals after halftime: The Bengals looked miserable and hopeless for the first half against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Then, suddenly, it changed.
The Bengals went from trailing 17-0 in the second quarter to scoring 34 straight points in a huge win over the Buccaneers. The 34-23 win, along with the Baltimore Ravens’ loss on Saturday, means the Bengals are in first place in the AFC North at 10-4.
The Buccaneers were terrible after halftime. They turned it over on four straight possessions (after turning it over on downs with a botched fake punt) and let the Bengals back in the game. The Bengals scored three straight touchdowns off of three of the Bucs’ turnovers. It was an incredible meltdown. The Bengals will take it.
Justin Herbert: The Los Angeles Chargers quarterback won't start to get his proper due until his team makes the playoffs.
On Sunday, Herbert and the Chargers took a huge step toward the postseason.
After the Tennessee Titans tied the Chargers in the final minute, Herbert made a great 35-yard pass on the move to Mike Williams. That set up the game-winning field goal in the final seconds and the Chargers won 17-14. The win, along with Week 15 losses by the Ravens, Patriots, Jets and Dolphins, put the Chargers in pretty good position to make the playoffs. That would be pretty big for Herbert, who is already one of the NFL's best quarterbacks but hasn't had the team success to match his production.
Jalen Hurts: He had a rough start Sunday. He threw two interceptions. The Philadelphia Eagles were surprisingly in a tight game against the Chicago Bears.
Eventually, Hurts got it done. Hurts scored three rushing touchdowns and the Eagles improved to 13-1 with a 25-20 win over the Bears.
Hurts' first touchdown came when a huge lane opened up for him on a Bears blitz. He rushed in for a pretty easy 22-yard touchdown. He scored a pair of 1-yard touchdowns after that. Hurts also threw for 303 yards.
It's even more impressive in light of Monday's report that Hurts injured his throwing shoulder during the third quarter. It probably hurts his MVP chances, but if Sunday's version of Hurts is healthy for the playoffs, Philadelphia will contend for an even bigger prize.
And Patrick Mahomes, too: The MVP race should be fun the rest of the way.
The Kansas City Chiefs struggled to beat the Houston Texans despite being big favorites, but Mahomes wouldn't let the Chiefs lose.
Mahomes completed 36 of 41 passes for 336 yards, two passing touchdowns and a rushing touchdown, and after a Texans fumble in overtime, Jerick McKinnon walked it off with a 26-yard rushing touchdown. It wasn't the best win the Chiefs have had, but the 30-24 victory was a huge one in the race for the AFC's top seed.
It was a strange game for the Chiefs. They dominated most of the game but fumbles by Isiah Pacheco and JuJu Smith-Schuster led to two Texans touchdowns. That kept Houston close.
The game went to overtime after Mahomes got the Chiefs in field-goal range but Harrison Butker missed a 51-yarder. Kansas City's defense and McKinnon made the big plays in overtime to get the win.
Mahomes did what he had to do to win. The MVP race isn't over.
Mitchell Trubisky: He took the fall for the Pittsburgh Steelers' struggles early this season. He didn't play well, but it wasn't all his fault the Steelers struggled. And it was also inevitable that rookie Kenny Pickett would take over as the starter at some point.
Trubisky got a second shot and he delivered Sunday. Trubisky played well against a better-than-you-think Carolina Panthers defense in a 24-16 win. A field goal with a little more than a minute to go sealed the win. Trubisky completed 17 of 22 passes for 179 yards.
Trubisky is unlikely to reemerge as a starter anytime soon. He's on a two-year deal with the Steelers and Pickett is the one they want to succeed as a long-term starter. But Trubisky could end up having a long career as a high-level, highly paid backup. Games like Sunday help solidify him as that type of option for the Steelers, or whoever else comes after Pittsburgh in his career. There are worse ways to make a living.
Bill Belichick: We praise Belichick because the New England Patriots rarely make the dumb play to beat themselves.
On Sunday, the Patriots made one of the dumbest plays ever to lose a game.
The Patriots were in a tie game with the Las Vegas Raiders on the final play of regulation when they inexplicably started the desperate lateral play you see from teams that need a touchdown and have one last play to do it. Rhamondre Stevenson lateraled to Jakobi Meyers, who threw the ball far back to toward quarterback Mac Jones. That was a really bad decision. When Raiders edge rusher Chandler Jones picked off that errant lateral, all he had to do was break Jones' tackle attempt and run to the end zone. The Raiders won 30-24.
The Patriots didn't need to be lateraling the ball all over the place, risking a defensive touchdown you'll sometimes see in that situation. All they needed to do was go down and play overtime. The play started with three seconds left; a lateral play there has to result in a touchdown anyway because time was expired. Getting in field-goal range didn't matter.
Belichick's team made a really bad, dumb play. It could cost them a playoff spot. You won't see that kind of mental mistake often from the Patriots.
Everyone who watched Broncos-Cardinals: For those in the Arizona and Colorado markets, we’re sorry.
The Arizona Cardinals and Denver Broncos locked up in a bad football game on Sunday. Brett Rypien and Colt McCoy started. Trace McSorley came in for Arizona when McCoy suffered a concussion and the game got even worse. Both offenses were fairly miserable.
The Broncos won 24-15. Let’s never discuss it again.
New York Jets defense: The Jets' defense had to know that with Zach Wilson back at quarterback, it had to win Sunday's game. Wilson then played pretty well. And the Jets' defense couldn't close the door.
Detroit Lions tight end Brock Wright caught a short pass on fourth-and-inches and was all alone. He ran 51 yards for a go-ahead touchdown just inside the two-minute warning. Then Greg Zuerlein's 58-yard field-goal attempt missed as time expired, and the Lions had a huge 20-17 win.
The Jets are hanging onto playoff hopes. The Jets' offense didn't score a ton on Sunday but it was good enough. The defense couldn't get the play it needed to win. That will haunt the Jets in the playoff race.
A once-promising Atlanta Falcons season: There was a time when the Falcons were a feel-good story. They were 4-4 after an overtime win over the Carolina Panthers. That wasn't great, but you don't need to be great in the 2022 NFC South.
Then the wheels fell off.
The Falcons have lost five of six. Sunday's loss was particularly cruel. They were battling the New Orleans Saints with rookie quarterback Desmond Ridder taking over the offense. Ridder wasn't good but the Falcons were in the game. Then Drake London lost a fumble just before the two-minute warning, with the Falcons driving for at least a game-tying field goal. The Saints held on for the 21-18 win.
Ridder struggled most of the game, completing 13 of 26 passes for 97 yards. He wasn't the answer to fix the Falcons' issues, at least on Sunday. He'll keep getting more shots this season, but it's all about the future for the Falcons now.
They were somehow still kind of in the NFC South race until Sunday. The loss to the Saints should end those dreams.