It was hard for Sunday to live up to Saturday’s thrilling action, but another huge Baltimore victory, an enormous upset in Seattle, multiple games that went to overtime, a change at the top of the N.F.C. East standings, and a major receiving record being broken gave the second day of Week 16 a massive impact.
Here’s what we learned from Sunday’s games:
Michael Thomas has a perfect Twitter handle. The superstar wide receiver goes by @Cantguardmike online, and he proves the accuracy of that name on nearly a weekly basis. In the Saints’ 38-28 victory over Tennessee on Sunday, Thomas had 12 catches for 136 yards and a touchdown — his ninth game this season with 10 or more catches. More important, his 11th catch of the day broke Marvin Harrison’s 17-year-old record of 143 catches in a season. The Most Valuable Player Award is Lamar Jackson’s to lose, but Thomas, who did not slow down even when Drew Brees missed five games, could be the first wide receiver to receive votes for the award since Randy Moss in 1998.
Sunday’s Top Performers
Top Passer: Daniel Jones
When we last saw Jones he was following up a 2-0 start to his career with an eight-game losing streak in which he threw 15 touchdown passes and committed 16 turnovers. In his first game back from an ankle injury he was terrific, putting up huge numbers during regulation and removing all the drama from overtime by finishing off a smooth 66-yard drive with a 3-yard game-winning touchdown pass to Kaden Smith.
Top Runner: Kenyan Drake
The Air Raid offense places an extreme emphasis on passing the ball in an attempt to maximize efficiency. With that in mind it makes perfect sense for Coach Kliff Kingsbury to abandon his preferred style and pound the ball on the ground, as Drake is averaging an absurd 6.6 yards a carry over his last two games. If Drake and Kyler Murray can keep up their stellar play of the last two weeks, the ultracompetitive N.F.C. West is going to be a free-for-all over the next few years.
Top Receiver: Michael Thomas
Julio Jones had more yards, and Tyler Boyd had more touchdowns, but when a receiver breaks a major record that stood for 17 years, and still has a week left to add to it, that puts him ahead of the pack. The N.F.L.’s first single-season record for receptions was set by Ray Flaherty, who had 21 catches for the Giants in 1932 — the first season the league tracked nonscoring plays and a year before a rule change created what is known as the forward-pass era. The record has been broken 18 times since and Harrison’s reign was the second-longest to Charley Hennigan, who pulled down 101 catches for the Houston Oilers in 1964 — a record that stood for 20 years before Art Monk of the Redskins topped him with 106 in 1984.
One* Sentence About Sunday’s Games
*Except when it takes more.
Chiefs 26, Bears 3 Patrick Mahomes made a point of counting to 10 with his fingers, seemingly in reference to his having fallen to the 10th pick in the 2017 draft — the same draft in which Chicago selected Mitchell Trubisky at No. 2. Beyond that there was little to note in a blowout that kept Kansas City in the running for a first-round bye.
Ravens 31, Browns 15 There is no shame in losing to Baltimore — the Ravens have outscored their opponents by 368-172 during an 11-game winning streak — but Cleveland clinched its 12th consecutive losing season and was officially eliminated from the playoffs, so this one had to sting a little.
Saints 38, Titans 28 New Orleans didn’t really click offensively until the third quarter, but it still ran up nearly 40 points against a likely playoff team. With three touchdown passes, Drew Brees widened his career lead over Tom Brady to five in a friendly competition that may come down to which quarterback retires first.
Cardinals 27, Seahawks 13 In an enormous upset, Seattle lost control of its playoff seeding, but that could be the least of the team’s issues as running back Chris Carson sustained a hip injury that could keep him out of the playoffs. The team also will forge ahead without running backs Rashaad Penny (torn anterior cruciate ligament) and C.J. Prosise (broken arm), leaving rookie Travis Homer, and his 36 career rushing yards, as the Seahawks’ best option at the position.
Eagles 17, Cowboys 9 A big deal was made about Dak Prescott’s supposed Pro Bowl snub, but Dallas has gone 4-8 since its 3-0 start to the season, and has only beaten one team with a winning record, so maybe it’s O.K. for the team’s quarterback to not make the league’s all-star game.
Jets 16, Steelers 10 Mason Rudolph replaced an ineffective Devlin Hodges at quarterback in the second quarter, and Hodges replaced an injured Rudolph in the fourth quarter, but it did not matter which mediocre backup quarterback was on the field in a loss that put Tennessee in charge of Pittsburgh’s playoff fate next week.
Colts 38, Panthers 6 Carolina’s Christian McCaffrey increased his N.F.L.-leading total to 2,294 yards from scrimmage — putting him within 215 yards of Chris Johnson’s N.F.L. record — but Indianapolis’s Nyheim Hines powered his team to victory with a day to remember as a punt returner, gaining 195 yards on three returns, two of which he ran back for touchdowns.
Falcons 24, Jaguars 12 Thanks to two Devonta Freeman touchdowns, and a fumbled kickoff return in between, Atlanta had enough points to win the game (14) before Jacksonville even snapped the ball on offense.
Dolphins 38, Bengals 35 Miami’s coaching staff said all season that the team was not tanking for draft position, while Cincinnati’s staff made no such claims. The Bengals were rewarded for their futility with the No. 1 pick in the 2020 draft, and the chance to find a long-term solution at quarterback.
Giants 41, Redskins 35 Daniel Jones was incredible, but a return to form from running back Saquon Barkley, who rushed for 189 yards and a touchdown, was just as important.
Broncos 27, Lions 17 Matt Patricia’s career record as a head coach dropped to 9-21-1 and even when you account for injuries sustained by Detroit’s offense this season, that is the type of record that gets a coach fired.