Week 16 in the NFL played stage to a number of strong team performances at the latter end of the regular season. Who impressed?
The Cardinals gave Green Bay Packers a fierce welcoming as they sacked quarterback Aaron Rodgers eight times as well returning two of his fumbles into touchdowns.
It was an aggressive defensive performance by the Cardinals that helped them to a 38-8 victory, making it nine wins in a row. Arizona Defensive Lineman Calais Campbell summed things up when he said: “You want to play your best football at the end of the season and I think this is the best game we’ve played.” It proved to be a dominant performance that underlined the offensive weaknesses of the Packers while also showing the Cardinals to be in excellent shape ahead of the playoffs.
Lineman Campbell played a large role as he contributed 2.5 of the 9 overall sacks for Arizona. Quarterback Carson Palmer completed 18 out of 27 passes and worked well with wide receiver Michael Floyd who caught six passes for 111 yards. Cornerback Justin Bethel can also take credit after he intercepted a would be touchdown pass to James Jones during the final minute of the 1st quarter after the Packers had picked off Carson Palmer to get to the Arizona 15 yard line.
The Cardinals have secured at least the number 2 playoff seed in the NFC. They can still take the number 1 seed with a win over the Seattle Seahawks and a loss for the Carolina Panthers against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the final week.
New York Jets:
The Jets recorded an impressive 26-20 win over the New England Patriots who were restricted to below 300 yards in a game for the first time this year. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick starred for the Jets as he threw for 296 yards and three touch downs, including his touchdown pass to receiver Eric Decker in overtime that secured his side victory.
Brandon Marshall made 8 catches for 118 yards and scored two touchdowns, helping him to become the first player in NFL history to have six seasons with at least 100 receptions. The Jets were stronger on third downs as they made the yards on 5 out of 13 third downs as opposed to the Patriots who were only successful on 1 out of 10 third downs. For much of the game, the Jets restricted Tom Brady from bringing tight end Rob Gronkowski into the game.
The Jets must now beat the Buffalo Bills in week 17 to make the playoffs.
The Atlanta Falcons got their revenge on the Carolina Panthers, responding to their 38-0 defeat in the corresponding meeting in week 14 with a 20-13 win. Cam Newton and the Panthers said goodbye to their unbeaten record as they lost for the first time this season, giving them a 14-1 record.
The Falcons have their wide receiver Julio Jones to thank after his incredible 70 yard touchdown reception proved to be a decisive moment, putting his side ahead on a third down in the 3rd quarter at a stage where the Panthers were up 10-7. He managed to make a remarkable catch, shaking off Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly, before racing for 18 yards to the end zone. Jones was the star of the show, once again staking his claim as one of the top receivers in the NFL. He came out on top in the battle with Panthers cornerback Josh Norman, making nine catches for 178 yards.
Quarterback Matt Ryan also had one of his better weeks in a Falcons jersey as he threw for 306 yards and one touchdown. He completed 23 out of 30 passes, compared to Newton’s 17 out of 30. One stand out moment was a bursting run in the late stages of the 1st quarter where he was brought down just yards before the end zone. Rookie defensive end Vic Beasley was also played his part in a strong Falcons effort as he forced a Cam Newton fumble in the final minute, allowing defensive end Adrian Clayborn to recover the ball and secure the win.
The Ravens defence made good work of stopping Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger as they secured a surprise 20-17 win over the Steelers.
Ravens quarterback Ryan Mallett enjoyed a good day as he threw a career high 274 yards and completed 28 out of 41 passes in just his seventh career start and his first for Baltimore. On the opposing side, Roethlisberger struggled, throwing zero touchdown passes and two picks, as well as being sacked three times. The Ravens defence did well to combat the desired passing offence of the Steelers, who are now reliant on a win in week 17 in addition to a New York Jets loss if they are to make the play-offs.
The Steelers suffered in the 3rd quarter as the Ravens put together a 13 play drive that kept the ball from their opponents for nearly seven minutes. They similarly kept the Steelers at bay on the two minute warning, only allowing the Steelers to get the ball back with four seconds to go. Baltimore finished the game having had possession of the ball for almost ten minutes more than Pittsburgh.
St Louis Rams:
The Rams, perhaps soon to be the L.A Rams, produced one of the upsets of week 16 as they beat the high flying Seattle Seahawks 23-17. Running back Todd Gurley starred for the Rams as he rushed for 85 yards on 19 carries and scored a touchdown with just over ten minutes remaining in the game.
Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson was sacked four times, three times by defensive end William Hayes, and hit thirteen times by a Rams defence that forced three turnovers. The Rams were also responsible for bringing up Wilson’s first interception in 168 pass attempts.
St Louis’s defence impressed throughout, with linebacker Akeem Ayers making two significant fumble recoveries including one that he returned for a touchdown in the 1st quarter. Seattle struggled with their rushing game, being limited to 60 rushing yards on 22 carries- 39 yards of which were made by quarterback Wilson.
Rams center Tim Barnes also made an important contribution at the beginning of the 4th quarter when he recovered a pair of fumbles as the Seahawks were looking to fight back. All in all, a strong outing for the Rams that provided Seattle coach Pete Carroll with much food for thought.