NFL Week 14 grades from around the league

A.J. Terrell, aaron rodgers, alejandro villanueva, alex leatherwood, alvin kamara, antonio gibson, Billy Turner, Braxton Berrios, cam newton, Carlton Davis, chase claypool, chris carson, dalvin cook, dan marino, darius slayton, david culley, Davis Mills, deebo samuel, Denzel Mims, derek carr, Deshaun Watson, Diontae Johnson, Elijah Moore, Gabe Jackson, george kittle, hunter renfrow, Jakeem Grant, javonte williams, jimmy garoppolo, joe burrow, joe mixon, Jordan Love, Josh Jacobs, Josh Palmer, justin fields, justin herbert, justin jefferson, Justin Simmons, Kadarius Toney, Keenan Allen, Kenny Golladay, kirk cousins, kyle allen, kyle shanahan, Marcus Lawrence, mark andrews, matt rhule, melvin gordon, Micah Parsons, mike glennon, Mike Hughes, Mykal Walker, myles garrett, NFL, P.J. Walker, randy gregory, Rashaad Penny, rashod bateman, Rodney Hudson, sam darnold, Shelby Harris, stefon diggs, sterling shepard, T.J. Watt, taylor heinicke, Tevin Coleman, Tom Brady, Trevor Lawrence, Tyrod Taylor, Urban Meyer, zach wilson, Zay Jones

Two overtime thrillers elevated the NFL’s Week 14 slate, which featured both games producing high-octane quarterback showdowns. The fallout leaves a crowded 7-6 AFC mix. The NFC’s frontrunners keep winning, fueling a high-stakes pursuit of the conference’s bye. Here are the Week 14 grades from around the league.

 

Jakeem Grant saves NBC, for a while

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Touting its Flex-scheduling option annually, the NFL left two December mismatches on its “Sunday Night Football” docket due to Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady‘s involvement. It will take quite the performance from a Saints receiver to match Jakeem Grant’s viewer-retention effort. The diminutive return man — acquired from the Dolphins for a sixth-round pick in October — gave the Bears (4-9) a shot. After a 46-yard touchdown, Grant punctuated the highest-scoring quarter in Bears-Packers history with the longest punt-return TD in team annals. Grant’s 97-yarder gives him six career return TDs. The 5-foot-7 ex-sixth-rounder has made quite a career for himself.

BEARS GRADE: C-minus | NEXT: vs. Vikings (Mon.)

 

Aaron Rodgers creating historic MVP duel

Dan Powers / USA TODAY NETWORK

Rodgers’ four-touchdown pass night allowed the Packers (10-3) to shrug off Grant’s explosive quarter. At 38, Rodgers remains the NFL’s best player. The Packers lost another starting O-lineman — right tackle Billy Turner — to go with their two absent Pro Bowlers and have been without their top two defenders most of the way. Rodgers has minimized this, and Jordan Love‘s Kansas City outing further displayed the reigning MVP’s value. Of course, Rodgers’ COVID-19 chicanery sidelining him that day undercuts his MVP case. But he is working with less than Brady, historic mid-40s production aside, and battling a broken toe. This shapes up as a tremendous award race. 

PACKERS GRADE: A-minus | NEXT: at Ravens (Sun.)

 

3 of 26

Allen’s stats cannot reverse Bills’ tough week

Allen's stats cannot reverse Bills' tough week

Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

These were undoubtedly a draining seven days for the Bills. In a friendlier climate, Josh Allen became the fourth quarterback in NFL history to drop a 300-100 game. Few NFLers are this talented. The fourth-year passer nearly led Buffalo (7-6) to a frenzied comeback, and while two debatable pass interference sequences went against the visitors late, the Bucs prevailed and put the Bills in a bind. This would be one of the most talented teams to miss the playoffs, but with a New England trip still on the docket, that is shockingly in play. Allen leaving Tampa with turf toe also could throw a wrench into the one-time AFC East favorites’ plan. 

BILLS GRADE: B-minus | NEXT: vs. Panthers (Sun.)

 

4 of 26

Bucs defense halts Bills avalanche

Bucs defense halts Bills avalanche

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

As Allen took over the game, he marched Buffalo into Tampa Bay’s red zone for the third time in the fourth quarter. The Buccaneers (10-3) prevented a potential playoff bracket-reshaping ending, forcing a game-tying field goal. While Stefon Diggs has a legit gripe about an uncalled Carlton Davis pass interference infraction, the Bucs defense stood up again with its overtime-opening three-and-out. This prevented what would have tied the biggest collapse of Brady’s career (21 points). With Davis, Sean Murphy-Bunting, and Richard Sherman healthy, the defending champs may soon resemble last year’s Super Bowl unit. It will be tough to keep the Bucs off the bye line with their schedule

BUCCANEERS GRADE: A-minus | NEXT: vs. Saints (Sun.)

 

5 of 26

49ers ride Jimmy G rebound to crucial victory

49ers ride Jimmy G rebound to crucial victory

Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer/USA TODAY NETWORK

The Seahawks stalled the 49ers’ second-half momentum, preying on a poor Jimmy Garoppolo performance — one that drew Kyle Shanahan‘s ire. The eighth-year QB, whom the 49ers mortgaged future drafts to eventually replace in April, fired a vital turnaround salvo in Cincinnati. The Garoppolo-to-George Kittle connection (13 completions, 151 yards) dominated the Bengals, and the scrutinized passer managed a 296-yard day despite Deebo Samuel catching one pass. The 49ers (7-6) relied on Garoppolo and not their run game to win a late-developing shootout. They are on the verge of making it 2-for-2 in playoff berths with a healthy Jimmy G.

49ERS GRADE: B-plus | NEXT: vs. Falcons (Sun.)

 

6 of 26

Joe Burrow shakes off injury to scare 49ers

Joe Burrow shakes off injury to scare 49ers

Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer/USA TODAY NETWORK

Playing at less than 100% due to the right pinkie injury he sustained in Week 13, Burrow keyed an explosive ending the 49ers needed to withstand. The second-year quarterback ignited the lifeless Bengals, giving them an overtime lead after one of this season’s best drives. Burrow engineered an 87-yard, game-tying trip that featured three 20-plus-yard completions as the ex-Heisman winner carved up a depleted San Francisco cornerback corps. Joe Mixon‘s Pro Bowl-caliber season aside, Cincy may have erred by veering too far away from Burrow in OT. The loss aside, Burrow showing this form post-injury keeps the Bengals (7-6) alive to win a deteriorating division.

BENGALS GRADE: B | NEXT: at Broncos (Sun.)

 

7 of 26

Broncos’ RB duo mashes depleted Lions

Broncos' RB duo mashes depleted Lions

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

A talent-deficient Lions team (1-11-1) enduring a semi-COVID-19 outbreak created a sitting duck. The Broncos took advantage. A team still incapable of aerial consistency bothered little with the pass in the second half, with Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon each scoring twice and combining for 184 rushing yards. Turnovers hurt Detroit’s defense, of course, but the Broncos’ interior O-line had its way for much of Sunday. The Lions will have at least one high-end defensive reinforcement come April, though less enthused Jaguars and Texans squads are coming for that No. 1 pick.

LIONS GRADE: D | NEXT: vs. Cardinals (Sun.)

 

8 of 26

Inspired Denver defense rolls in 2nd half

Inspired Denver defense rolls in 2nd half

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Lions had clawed to within 14-10 at the half, moving the ball on a mostly healthy Broncos defense. Denver slammed the door in the third quarter, with Dre’Mont Jones (two sacks, tackle for loss) and ex-Demaryius Thomas teammates Shelby Harris and Justin Simmons leading a charge that ended with two second-half turnovers and a fourth-period end zone stop. Following Harris’ strip and Simmons’ diving INT, the defense trekked to the No. 88 sideline memorial to honor Thomas. The beloved ex-Bronco’s death at 33 shocked the sports world and gutted this team. Sunday marked the best possible tribute amid horrific circumstances. 

BRONCOS GRADE: A-minus | NEXT: vs. Bengals (Sun.)

 

9 of 26

Reeling Ravens nearing breaking point

Reeling Ravens nearing breaking point

Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

Wounded at running back, cornerback and on their lines, the Ravens still had a chance to escape Cleveland with a win. While Baltimore (8-5) seemingly received good news on Lamar Jackson, who suffered a low ankle sprain, the struggling QB missing this game proved too much. The Ravens were not faring well even with the former MVP, but the Tyler Huntley-led offense finished 1-for-12 on third downs. Baltimore’s QB2 lost two fumbles as well, though he did provide a scare via fourth-quarter strikes to Rashod Bateman and Mark Andrews. Plus-20 in point differential, a fading Ravens team faces contenders over the next three weeks. 

RAVENS GRADE: C | NEXT: vs. Packers (Sun.)

 

Myles Garrett dominance buys Browns more time

Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

The Garrett tornado that blew past Ravens left tackle Alejandro Villanueva and led to the edge-rushing star’s first NFL touchdown saved a Browns team that again went quiet offensively in the second half. Garrett’s 15th sack and ensuing TD provided enough support for the Browns to survive during a week in which the rest of the AFC North lost. Garrett’s special season, in which he trails only T.J. Watt in sacks (16), should not be slept on. Cleveland’s defense is also mostly healthy. This and the division’s best offensive line might be enough to land the AFC’s No. 4 seed, despite the wave of flak the Browns (7-6) get for their faltering aerial attack.

BROWNS GRADE: B-minus | NEXT: vs. Raiders (Sat.)

 

11 of 26

O-line among slew of issues in crushing Raiders loss

O-line among slew of issues in crushing Raiders loss

Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

The Raiders (6-7) saved plenty of money by jettisoning Pro Bowlers Rodney Hudson and Trent Brown and quality guard Gabe Jackson. Their younger replacements were among the problems in an all-time ugly franchise loss. Las Vegas’ five turnovers doomed any reasonable hopes of competing with the surging Chiefs, but Derek Carr faced pressure on a career-high 12 first-half plays and saw Kansas City’s rushers hit him 11 times in the game. First-round tackle-turned-guard Alex Leatherwood allowed two sacks, and the run was not an option for a team down 35 in the first half. This absolute mess of a game closes the door on a grimy Raiders season.

RAIDERS GRADE: F | NEXT: at Browns (Sun.)

 

12 of 26

Former first-rounder resurfaces in turnover binge

Former first-rounder resurfaces in turnover binge

Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

The Chiefs’ low-profile trade for Mike Hughes grew in stature Sunday thanks to the former first-round cornerback’s turnover spree. The ex-Viking disappointment accounted for three of the Chiefs’ five turnovers, dislodging the ball from both Hunter Renfrow and Zay Jones after returning Josh Jacobs‘ first-play fumble for a score. Minnesota unloaded Hughes in a lowly pick-swap trade in May, giving up on him after three injury-prone seasons. Improved cornerback play has been one of the unsung components of Kansas City’s defensive awakening. If this offense can ever thrive against a team that is not the Raiders, the AFC would still run through KC. We may be headed down that path anyway.

CHIEFS GRADE: A-plus | NEXT: at Chargers (Thu.)

 

Belated Randy Gregory breakout resumes in Washington

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Traversing one of the most unusual career arcs in NFL history, Gregory is in his seventh season but has been suspended four times. The NFL’s Josh Gordon of defense is, however, on track to land the contract the receiver never could. Gregory came through with a two-turnover day in Washington, preventing the Cowboys (9-4) from collapsing. After tipping an interception to himself, Gregory sacked Kyle Allen to force an upset-avoiding fumble. Gregory, in his first game back after a calf injury paused his age-29 breakout, now has six sacks and three forced fumbles. Teaming with DeMarcus Lawrence and Micah Parsons will offer the free-agent-to-be favorable matchups down the stretch. 

COWBOYS GRADE: B | NEXT: at Giants (Sun.)

 

14 of 26

Washington somehow still in good playoff shape

Washington somehow still in good playoff shape

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Taylor Heinicke and Antonio Gibson‘s turnovers buried Washington, which did not let the Cowboys’ offense accomplish too much. The Football Team assembled the ingredients of what would have been a strange comeback as well. Even with the miscues and the Cole Holcomb-driven rally falling short, Washington still has two Eagles games and a meeting with perhaps a Daniel Jones-less Giants team ahead. Closing its season with five straight NFC East games, the WFT (6-7) is on fine footing to secure the conference’s No. 7 seed. After the Bears’ Nickelodeon debacle, the NFC will see another undeserving team land playoff real estate. This is the leading candidate.

WASHINGTON GRADE: C-minus | NEXT: at Eagles (Sun.)

 

15 of 26

Giants wideouts closing out wasted year

Giants wideouts closing out wasted year

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Yes, Mike Glennon — he of a 6-23 record as a starter — made another start. But the Giants’ highly touted receiving corps no-showed Sunday’s L.A. blowout. No New York wideout caught more than two passes, and Kenny Golladay’s two came on a day in which all four of his contested-catch opportunities fell incomplete. Again, Glennon, but still. In 10 games, the Giants’ $18 million-per-year receiver has 28 receptions for 424 yards. Sterling Shepard and Kadarius Toney’s unavailability, and Darius Slayton‘s no-show, supplement Golladay’s astoundingly unproductive slate. For the investments the Giants (4-9) made here, this has been disastrous. 

GIANTS GRADE: F | NEXT: vs. Cowboys (Sun.)

 

16 of 26

Meanwhile, Chargers’ subs come through

Meanwhile, Chargers' subs come through

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Dan Marino and Justin Herbert are the only QBs to throw 60 touchdown passes over their first two seasons. Herbert still has four games to pad his total (61). The future MVP-race fixture shredded the Giants despite top weapon Keenan Allen’s COVID-19-driven absence. Third-round rookie Josh Palmer and deep threat Jalen Guyton combined for eight catches, 153 yards, and two TDs. Herbert’s bomb to Guyton traveled 63.8 yards, the NFL’s second-longest completion this season. An Allen-Mike Williams-Palmer-Guyton receiving corps is one of the reasons the Bolts (8-5) will be dangerous if they can keep the car on the road into the playoffs.

CHARGERS GRADE: A | NEXT: vs. Chiefs (Thu.) 

 

17 of 26

Jaguars’ misery montage sinking to rare depths

Jaguars' misery montage sinking to rare depths

Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

This Jaguars season is unquestionably more depressing than last year’s 1-15 offering. Trevor Lawrence represented the prize, with Urban Meyer — major red flags and all — bringing a decorated coach to team with the acclaimed QB. The snazzy Meyer-Lawrence car drove off the road weeks ago, and it does not look like this path can be salvaged. A Meyer-driven mutiny may be upon us in Jacksonville. This has been one of the worst head-coaching seasons in modern NFL history. Lawrence’s four-INT day ups his total to an NFL-most 14. Once linked to returning to Clemson to avoid the Jets, Lawrence has landed in a worse situation.

JAGUARS GRADE: F | NEXT: vs. Texans (Sun.)

 

18 of 26

Ugly game produces Titans rout

Ugly game produces Titans rout

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

While this was the Titans’ first shutout since 2018 and first home blanking since 2000, it was a tough watch. Much that was the Jaguars’ fault, but the Titans are not imposing without their playmakers. Fortunately, it looks like A.J. Brown and Derrick Henry will be available in the not-too-distant future. The Titans (9-4) did force four turnovers and reduced the Jags’ run game to rubble (eight carries, eight yards), but their offense only scored three points off those turnovers and looks incapable of impressing sans Henry. Essentially up three games on the Colts with four to go, the Titans can at least save their backfield monster for the wild-card round.

TITANS GRADE: B | NEXT: at Steelers (Sun.)

 

Rashaad Penny re-emerges after 2 years off grid

Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Part of the Seahawks’ run of first-round zags in the late 2010s, Penny has not delivered on that investment. The San Diego State alum could not overtake ex-seventh-rounder Chris Carson for the gig before his 2019 ACL tear. In the nearly two years since that setback, Penny fell off the radar. The fourth-year back made a triumphant return to relevance Sunday, and his career-high 137 rushing yards reinvigorated a Seattle ground attack that has been dormant most of the season. Penny staying healthy the rest of the way is no given, but this represents a bonus for a Seahawks team (5-8) not completely dead in a sobering NFC wild-card picture.

SEAHAWKS GRADE: B-plus | NEXT: at Rams (Sun.)

 

20 of 26

Davis Mills shows signs of life in second audition chapter

Davis Mills shows signs of life in second audition chapter

Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

David Culley became the third coach in four years to bench Tyrod Taylor, giving Mills a five-game (barring injury) second chapter to show viability for 2022. The third-round pick became the first Texans quarterback to complete his first 14 passes in a game, and the Stanford product finished with 331 yards. The Texans could have two first-round picks come April, if the Deshaun Watson drama involves a trade by then, and need more intel on Mills. Houston (2-11) will surely consider tabling its QB investment until 2023, skipping a shaky 2022 prospect pool and perhaps buying Mills more time. Something to watch from an otherwise unwatchable team.

TEXANS GRADE: D-plus | NEXT: at Jaguars (Sun.)

 

Saints still a winning team with Alvin Kamara

Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

The Saints are now 6-3 when Kamara suits up, snapping a five-game losing streak after their superstar back became the latest runner to navigate the Jets’ feeble defense. Following a four-game hiatus, Kamara gave the Saints vital playmaking ability. Kamara’s 120 rushing yards made Taysom Hill’s life much easier. The 31 touches the Saints gave their $15 million-a-year back suggest they are fine with his knee. The Saints (6-7) do go Dolphins-Panthers-Falcons after their Tampa trip. Though, the Kamara-and-scraps skill-position group narrows New Orleans’ margin for error. 

SAINTS GRADE: A-minus | NEXT: at Buccaneers (Sun.)

 

Zach Wilson rookie year may get worse

Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Far less NFL-ready than Trevor Lawrence, Wilson does not quite have him outflanked as far as undesirable situations go. But the No. 2 overall pick is getting close. The Jets (3-10) played without their top two running backs and top two wide receivers Sunday, with Tevin Coleman and Elijah Moore joining Michael Carter and Corey Davis in street clothes. Second-round pick Denzel Mims is becoming the latest Baylor wideout to falter in the pros, and Braxton Berrios led the Jets in receiving. Wilson went 19-for-42 at 4.8 yards per pass. He has fallen behind Justin Fields in QBR, sitting last. 

JETS GRADE: D-minus | NEXT: at Dolphins (Sun.)

 

23 of 26

Opportunistic Falcons stay alive for No. 7 seed

Opportunistic Falcons stay alive for No. 7 seed

Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Another reminder of the NFL’s playoff-expansion misstep: the Falcons boast a minus-108 point differential yet are tied in this race for the seventh seed. Atlanta both contained Carolina’s run game — which did not happen in the teams’ first meeting — and preyed on its rival’s quarterback misery. Cam Newton and P.J. Walker were willing participants in the Falcons’ quest to stay afloat in the NFC race, and Mykal Walker made his five-snap defensive day count by notching the team’s second pick-six in two weeks. Breakout corner A.J. Terrell added an INT on a solid day for the NFL’s 28th-ranked defense.

FALCONS GRADE: B | NEXT: at 49ers (Sun.)

 

Matt Rhule blueprint going south

Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Rhule has received steady praise for most of his tenure and will almost certainly get another season. The Panthers gave the college program builder a seven-year contract; firing him after two would look alarmingly indecisive. But Rhule axed recent rising-star coordinator Joe Brady and once again saw a quarterback mess sink his team’s prospects. Christian McCaffrey’s injury hurts, but most teams are battling key maladies. And the Panthers extended the star back on Rhule’s watch. Offensively, Rhule’s rebuild has produced little of consequence in two years. Sam Darnold‘s option-year guarantee also looms in 2022.

PANTHERS GRADE: D-plus | NEXT: at Bills (Sun.)

 

Chase Claypool still key for Steelers' future

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers’ physical specimen managed to turn a strong statistical performance into a cyclone of bad press. The second-year wideout made excuses for the first-down posing debacle that may well have prevented Pittsburgh (6-6-1) from completing the greatest regular-season comeback in NFL history. While the Steelers unearth productive receivers on draft Fridays nearly every year, Claypool’s 6-foot-4, 238-pound frame is rather difficult to replicate. The Claypool-Diontae Johnson duo will be vital for the next Steeler quarterback. How the team proceeds with its suddenly polarizing talent over the next weeks and months is now important.

STEELERS GRADE: C-minus | NEXT: vs. Titans (Sun.)

 

26 of 26

Vikings somehow remain most dangerous 7-seed option

Vikings somehow remain most dangerous 7-seed option

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Dalvin Cook rampaged through wide running lanes, being expected to gain at least five yards on 15 of his 27 Thursday carries. No running back has enjoyed that kind of room over the past three seasons, per Next Gen Stats. Cook’s 205-yard performance illustrates the kind of trouble the Vikings (6-7) could pose if they can inch into the playoffs. The NFC’s No. 2 seed would have trouble with this team, which features elite playmakers in Cook and Justin Jefferson, and Kirk Cousins going through an underrated season. Even with the Vikes perhaps the most inconsistent team in a year of widespread NFL unreliability, Thursday’s first half shows they remain dangerous.

VIKINGS GRADE: B | NEXT: at Bears (Mon.)

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