A big Sunday of contender showdowns produced a spree of impact turnovers. The Colts, Titans, and Rams could not overcome theirs, while the Bengals and Broncos rode takeaways to decisive wins. The Ravens and Browns’ giveaway-filled matchup provided a fitting nightcap. Here are the Week 12 grades from around the NFL.
1 of 28
Run game’s no-show negates defensive takeover
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The Browns defense forced four turnovers and held the Ravens to 13 points. While that doubles as encouraging for the 6-6 team, just about everything involving Cleveland’s offense undercut it. Baker Mayfield is teetering on a hiatus, and Baltimore yanked away his security blanket. Since the Browns’ 2018 Carlos Hyde trade opened the Nick Chubb floodgates, he has never gone through a game like this. Chubb’s 16 rushing yards were a career-low figure since he commandeered Cleveland’s RB1 gig. This put too much on this diminished version of Mayfield, whose performances keep lowering a talented team’s 2021 ceiling.
BROWNS GRADE: C | NEXT: vs. Ravens (Dec. 12)
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Fascinating developments transpired when Jackson targeted his top weapon Sunday night. Throws to Andrews both saved the Ravens and nearly led to their undoing. The Pro Bowl tight end’s spectacular one-handed grab and ensuing TD, on what turned out to be a game-sealing second-half drive, showed why the Ravens gave him a big-ticket extension. But all four of Jackson’s interceptions came on Andrews’s targets, making him the fourth quarterback in the past 25 years to throw four INTs targeting the same player. This game may well be cited as a reason why Jackson should not win a second MVP, but Andrews helped the Ravens (8-3) move into the AFC’s top spot.
RAVENS GRADE: B-minus | NEXT: at Steelers (Sun.)
3 of 28
Rodgers rips Rams’ star-dependent defense again
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Matthew Stafford’s two turnovers hurt the Rams’ cause, but their mostly healthy defense failed to contain the Packers’ injury-limited attack. Aaron Rodgers’ brilliance highlighted a 307-yard day. The Rams adding Von Miller to their Aaron Donald-Jalen Ramsey star nucleus did not move the needle in this divisional-round rematch, and Davante Adams bested Ramsey again. Adams caught all five of his targets with Ramsey in coverage during a 104-yard outing, while the Rams (7-4) let auxiliary cogs Randall Cobb and Marquez Valdes-Scantling break loose for chunk plays in big spots. Following the Rams’ no-show in Santa Clara, their Green Bay trip introduces a crisis.
RAMS GRADE: D-plus | NEXT: vs. Jaguars (Sun.)
4 of 28
Young journeyman aids wounded Pack defense
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Weeks after Rasul Douglas’ first interception as a Packer rescued a shorthanded team in Arizona, he delivered a superior sequel in Green Bay’s latest marquee showdown with an NFC West power. Playing alongside blossoming rookie Eric Stokes, Douglas saw Stafford look his way more often. The well-traveled corner produced a pick-six — which buried the Rams — and ended his day with four passes defended. After three Eagles seasons, Douglas is now on his sixth team in the past two years. For a Green Bay defense still down Za’ Darius Smith and Jaire Alexander, Douglas has been a pivotal addition as the Pack (9-3) vie for a third straight playoff bye.
PACKERS GRADE: A | NEXT: vs. Bears (Dec. 12)
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
Turnovers undid the Colts’ upset bid, and Fournette made them pay. Completing his first 100-yard rushing performance since Week 2 of last season, Fournette punctuated four drives with a franchise-record-tying four touchdowns. This included a final-minute game-winner. With Mike Evans and Chris Godwin combining for just 40 receiving yards, the Bucs (8-3) depended on Fournette. After being healthy-scratched at times last year, the ex-top-five pick has become crucial to Tampa Bay’s repeat bid. Fournette’s 975 scrimmage yards are nearly 400 more than his full-season 2020 total.
BUCCANEERS GRADE: A-minus | NEXT: at Falcons (Sun.)
6 of 28
What-ifs starting to define Colts’ season
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
Like they did against the Ravens and Titans, the Colts blew a two-score lead. This one came after Carson Wentz carved up the Buccaneers in a first half that recalled his would-be MVP year. Indianapolis’ second half allowed the player who did win that 2017 award, Tom Brady, to escape with a win. The Colts (6-6) committed five turnovers and only lost by seven points. Culminating with a field goal after Nyheim Hines’ punt-return blunder, the Bucs scored 24 points off those miscues. With the Derrick Henry-less Titans ceding AFC South ground, this Colts loss dings their division title hopes and changes their narrative back to that of a season slipping away.
COLTS GRADE: C | NEXT: at Texans (Sun.)
7 of 28
Rushing totals deceive in Titans’ blowout loss
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Over the past 30 seasons, teams who rushed for at least 270 yards went 94-9. The Titans not only took a loss despite a strangely successful rushing day — when both Dontrell Hilliard and D’Onta Foreman eclipsed 100 yards in a 270-yard team showing — but they endured the most lopsided loss for any team that cleared that rushing bar since 1991. The Patriots forced three Titans backs to fumble in their 23-point win. Henry’s replacements finally producing big gains — after a woeful stretch that cost Adrian Peterson a job — can be viewed as a positive. The end result cost Tennessee (8-4) its top AFC spot, and reinforcements are not coming soon.
TITANS GRADE: F | NEXT: vs. Jaguars (Dec. 12)
8 of 28
A bend-don’t-break masterpiece
George Walker IV/Tennessean.com/USA TODAY NETWORK
The shorthanded Titans outrushed the Patriots 270-105 and nearly outgained them. That mattered little in New England’s sixth straight victory. J.C. Jackson forced two more turnovers, one of them an end-zone INT that gives the contract-year ballhawk seven this season. The Pats’ five forced giveaways ran their differential to plus-10. That sits second in the NFL. New England’s 19 INTs are three more than anyone else. This defense has hit a scary groove during this streak; only the Chargers have topped 13 points since the Pats (8-4) began this run. New England’s resurgence has reached a point where a ninth No. 1 seed under Bill Belichick is stunningly in play.
PATRIOTS GRADE: A | NEXT: at Bills (Mon.)
9 of 28
Vikings to deal with another Dalvin Cook injury
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Despite the Vikings rostering a $12 million-per-year back, the 49ers outrushed them 208-67. Cook suffered what is believed to be a shoulder dislocation late in the game, adding to his list of injuries. The Pro Bowl back has already missed 23 career games and has sustained a labrum tear in his other shoulder. Alexander Mattison generally proves capable, though he is not on Cook’s tier. The NFL’s only team to have led by at least a touchdown in each of its 11 games, the Vikings (5-6) are the scariest possible No. 7 seed left. But the Kirk Cousins-led squad annually features little margin for error. A multigame Cook absence opens the door for the rest of the NFC’s around-.500 lot.
VIKINGS GRADE: C-plus | NEXT: at Lions (Sun.)
10 of 28
Post-surgery Eli Mitchell chews up Vikings
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Barely a week removed from surgery to repair a broken finger, Mitchell returned to his carry pace. The 49ers, who gave their starting back 27 totes in their rout of the Rams two weeks ago, did not hold back Sunday. Mitchell totaled 27 more carries in a 133-yard outing, which included a season-high 167 scrimmage yards. The 49ers entered minicamp with Raheem Mostert, Jeff Wilson, and third-round pick Trey Sermon ahead of Mitchell. The ex-Louisiana Rajin’ Cajun is now driving another strong 49ers ground attack. San Francisco (6-5) is looking like a scary wild-card draw; its sixth-round rookie runner is a key reason why.
49ERS GRADE: A-minus | NEXT: at Seahawks (Sun.)
11 of 28
Chargers’ O-line rebuild comes unglued
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By the end of the Broncos’ upset win, a combined three of the AFC West rivals’ 10 starting offensive linemen were healthy. The Chargers (6-5) had their top two blockers healthy — center Corey Linsley and left tackle Rashawn Slater — but the rest of their O-line featured backups. A Broncos team that traded Von Miller put constant pressure on Justin Herbert. Denver hit Herbert 10 times, with non-Week 1 starters applying nine of those, and sacked him thrice. Backup left guard Senio Kelemete struggled mightily, and the Bolts foundered against Vic Fangio’s defense. Unreliability is defining this would-be promising Chargers season.
CHARGERS GRADE: D | NEXT: at Bengals (Sun.)
12 of 28
Surtain leads another strong defensive display
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The Broncos’ decision to pass on Justin Fields to draft Patrick Surtain II prompted a criticism avalanche. As the Bears’ potential franchise QB stumbles through a rough rookie year, the Broncos look to have a cornerback who will be around a while. The second-generation NFL cover man preserved a Denver win with two second-half INTs, the first in the end zone and the second going back for a 70-yard TD. Coming up big for an injury-riddled defense that spent nearly the entire third quarter on the field, Surtain is fourth among all DBs in EPA when targeted, per Next Gen Stats. Vulnerable during Drew Lock’s cameo, the Broncos (6-5) rode their prized rookie to stay in the playoff race.
BRONCOS GRADE: A | NEXT: at Chiefs (Sun.)
13 of 28
Running backs feasting on Steelers defense
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Following D’Andre Swift and Austin Ekeler’s lead, Joe Mixon dominated Sunday. And he faced a healthier Steelers defense than Swift or Ekeler did. The Pro Bowl-bound Bengals runner totaled a career-high 165 rushing yards. The Steelers, who had T.J. Watt and Minkah Fitzpatrick in uniform after Ekeler’s air-guitar spree in Los Angeles, now rank as a bottom-five run defense. Pittsburgh (5-5-1) has not seen Devin Bush rebound from his ACL tear, with the former top-10 linebacker playing poorly, and Mixon gashed the once-formidable defense on the edges as well. The offensively limited Steelers have no playoff formula without an upper-echelon defense.
STEELERS GRADE: F | NEXT: vs. Ravens (Sun.)
14 of 28
Bengals’ defensive free agents lead runaway win
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Avoiders of free agency spending for years, the Bengals (7-4) switched up their March M.O. in 2020 to begin reloading on defense. Their 2021 free-agent class is making an impact. That group led the charge in Week 12. Trey Hendrickson is clearly not a contract-year wonder; the ex-Saint now has 10.5 sacks. His latest caused a Ben Roethlisberger fumble. Hendrickson also pressured Big Ben on Eli Apple and Mike Hilton’s INTs, the latter leading to a Hilton revenge pick-six on his ex-teammate. Derided as frugal for decades, the sudden spenders notched their first three-game win streak over the Steelers in 30 years. The turnaround team is back on track.
BENGALS GRADE: A-plus | NEXT: vs. Chargers (Sun.)
15 of 28
Aerial disaster dooms Eagles in Big Apple
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Starting to receive buzz as a legit long-term starter, Jalen Hurts crash-landed in New Jersey. The second-year quarterback threw three INTs, two of which came near the Giants’ goal line. Hurts’ third pick soared into double coverage. These missteps marred another Eagles 200-yard rushing performance, which did feature 77 Hurts yards to placate his fantasy GMs. While the Eagles (5-7) committed three drops on a would-be game-winning drive, including a ghastly two-play sequence from Jalen Reagor that ended the game, Hurts’ 14-for-31 day shows Philadelphia cannot be deemed confident in its long-term QB future just yet.
EAGLES GRADE: C-minus | NEXT: at Jets (Sun.)
16 of 28
DBs lead obscure Giants revenge effort
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
The Eagles ratcheted up their Giants rivalry to close out last season, yanking Hurts for inept QB3 Nate Sudfeld in a move that doomed Big Blue’s NFC East-clinching chances. Slogging through another season looking bound for double-digit losses, the Giants (4-7) at least made the Eagles pay for that criticized maneuver. New York’s secondary dominated. In addition to Xavier McKinney and Darnay Holmes’ INTs, rookie corner Aaron Robinson broke up a fourth-down pass in the third quarter. The Giants forced four turnovers and won by six. Despite a still-embattled Giants offense receiving the prime offseason resources, Patrick Graham’s defense is buoying this team.
GIANTS GRADE: B | NEXT: at Dolphins (Sun.)
17 of 28
Panthers back to square 1 at quarterback
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Although a small part of Matt Rhule might feel vindicated for his decision to cut Cam Newton last year, the former MVP’s woeful day continued a lost season for the Panthers at quarterback. Taking the baton from Sam Darnold here, and offering a new low, Newton completed 5 of 21 passes and committed two turnovers. Newton’s 23.8% completion rate is the worst for a 20-pass player in a game since Joey Harrington in 2004. Darnold, Newton, and, to a lesser degree, P.J. Walker, have minimized Carolina’s defensive improvements. The Panthers (5-7) cannot be taken seriously as a playoff threat until the Rhule regime fixes a problem it helped create.
PANTHERS GRADE: F | NEXT: vs. Falcons (Sun.)
18 of 28
Big day for Dolphins’ Jaylen-Jaelan tandem
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As a whole, Miami’s five-first-rounder run from 2020-21 deserves mixed reviews. But the team’s two ’21 Round 1 picks thrived against the Panthers. Strangely used as a short-range target for much of his rookie season, No. 6 overall pick Jaylen Waddle showed some of the speed the Dolphins coveted by dousing the Panthers for nine catches, 137 yards, and a touchdown. Defensive end Jaelan Phillips led Miami’s lead-protection effort with three sacks. The ex-Miami Hurricane somehow managed nine pressures on just 27 snaps; he has 6.5 sacks on the year. It is probably too late, but the Dolphins (5-7) have won four straight and are proving a troublesome beat.
DOLPHINS GRADE: A-plus | NEXT: vs. Giants (Sun.)
19 of 28
Patterson keeping Falcons logo on ‘In the Hunt’ graphics
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Outscored 68-3 over the past two weeks, in games featuring either partial or no Cordarrelle Patterson participation, the Falcons returned to the win column behind their unusual backfield leader. Atlanta gave the 30-year-old wideout-turned-returner-turned-back a season-high 16 carries, and Patterson turned them into 108 yards and two TDs. Supplying vital juice for a Falcons team without Calvin Ridley and one that saw the Jaguars take away Kyle Pitts, Patterson delivered his first 100-yard rushing game this season. The Falcons (5-6) may be a one-win team without Patterson. With him, they are still breathing in a messy race for the NFC’s No. 7 seed.
FALCONS GRADE: B-minus | NEXT: vs. Buccaneers (Sun.)
20 of 28
Wideout upgrades essential for Lawrence ascent
Corey Perrine/Florida Times-Union / USA TODAY NETWORK
The Jaguars were giving ex-cornerback Jamal Agnew an extensive receiver run before his season-ending injury. Post-Agnew, ex-first-round bust Laquon Treadwell led Jacksonville in receiving Sunday. Likely not coincidentally: the Jags’ potential game-tying drive stalled at their own 29-yard line. Marvin Jones has not been as effective as the team hoped, and IR-stationed D.J. Chark is a 2022 free agent. While Urban Meyer is probably not the Jaguars’ long-term future, he will be tasked with upgrading Trevor Lawrence’s receiving corps come March. The Jags (2-9) cannot waste a second year of their super prospect’s career.
JAGUARS GRADE: C-minus | NEXT: at Rams (Sun.)
21 of 28
Waiver-wire find powers Jets to third win
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Sunday’s lowest-profile game involved the depleted Jets taking charge of a game with their pass rush. Gang Green’s Carl Lawson-less D-line was overmatched from the season’s outset, but against the Texans, the Jets (3-8) seized a rare opportunity. They sacked Tyrod Taylor five times, with young pass rusher John Franklin-Myers leading the way with two sacks and an interception he tipped to himself. Formerly a Rams rotational rusher who became a Jets waiver claim in 2019, Franklin-Myers has impressed Robert Saleh to the point the new regime gave him an extension. He showed why in Houston, running his season sack total to a Jets-best six.
JETS GRADE: B-minus | NEXT: vs. Eagles (Sun.)
22 of 28
Texans going through weird year at running back
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On display for a limited regional audience Sunday, Houston’s offensive line issues ignited a bad Jets defense. The Laremy Tunsil-less unit has also limited the Texans’ running backs, who are going through one of the weirdest years in recent backfield memory. David Johnson (Year 7) and Rex Burkhead (Year 9) continued their plodding efforts in Week 12. Neither those two nor the since-departed Mark Ingram-Phillip Lindsay duo posted a yards-per-carry figure above 3.2. Content to waste a season at this position (and others), the Texans (2-9) do not have a running back prospect on their roster and will be going into 2022 needing a full-on overhaul.
TEXANS GRADE: D-plus | NEXT: vs. Colts (Sun.)
23 of 28
New hurdle for Bills’ Super Bowl path
Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
Upon hiring Sean McDermott, the Bills quickly assembled one of the NFL’s best secondaries. Tre’Davious White has been essential to the group’s rise, having started 72 of the McDermott era’s 75 games since being involved in the 2017 Patrick Mahomes draft-night deal. White’s ACL tear will test the Bills (7-4) in a new way. While Buffalo dominated the Saints largely without its coverage ace, New Orleans features maybe the NFL’s least threatening receiver cadre. White’s exit bumps up Levi Wallace to No. 1 corner duty and may thrust 2020 seventh-rounder Dane Jackson into a starting role. The ripple effect could make waves in the AFC race.
BILLS GRADE: A | NEXT: vs. Patriots (Mon.)
24 of 28
Taysom Hill seemingly has to start soon, right?
Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
The NFL’s premier gadget player and clubhouse leader for complex contract extensions, Hill continues to sit behind Trevor Siemian. The Saints listed Hill as a full practice participant last week yet sat him behind a sinking Siemian in a 25-point home loss. New Orleans (5-6) has gone from denying a Tom Brady comeback drive to losing four straight Siemian starts. The Saints’ Hill plot — gadget player, Drew Brees fill-in, QB1 competitor with Jameis Winston, Siemian backup, another extension — has been one of the NFL’s weirdest this season. If Hill can practice and suit up, can he not attempt to salvage fleeting Saints wild-card hopes?
SAINTS GRADE: F | NEXT: vs. Cowboys (Thu.)
25 of 28
D-Jax cooks again at crucial spot for Raiders
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Although Henry Ruggs was not especially productive last year, the Raiders were 0-3 when he did not play. They entered Thanksgiving 0-3 without their since-cut deep threat this season. DeSean Jackson finally surfaced as the emergency field-stretcher the Raiders envisioned, averaging 34 yards per catch and scoring on a three-grab Thursday. Jackson contributed to Anthony Brown’s penalty tornado, increasing his day’s impact to help stop the bleeding for the Raiders (6-5). After Jackson’s two injury-headlined years back in Philly, he cannot be used as often as Ruggs. But the 34-year-old showing he has something left could save Las Vegas’ season.
RAIDERS GRADE: A-minus | NEXT: vs. Washington (Sun.)
26 of 28
November deals blow to Cowboys’ bye aspirations
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Brown’s four pass interference penalties — his first such infractions this year — made the Cowboys corner the third 21st-century player to commit four DPI fouls in a game. Moving the chains in key spots for the Raiders, Brown was not exactly the Cowboys’ lone Thanksgiving issue. That loss ended a 1-3 November for the Cowboys, who will not be able to realize their big-picture hopes without the returns of their top linemen and wideouts. DeMarcus Lawrence, Randy Gregory, Tyron Smith, Amari Cooper, and CeeDee Lamb should be back soon, however. With four more NFC East games left, Dallas (7-4) has time to reload for January.
COWBOYS GRADE: C | NEXT: at Saints (Thu.)
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With barely a month remaining in Allen Robinson’s Chicago tenure, the Bears (4-7) keep seeing his apprentice grow into his No. 1 wideout role. Mooney is certainly not on Robinson’s pre-2021 level yet, but the improving second-year player leads the Bears by more than 300 receiving yards. After a 123-yard day in Detroit, Mooney has a chance to reach 1,000. Getting there in this offense would be an achievement. Although Chicago probably will try to chase another wideout weapon to go with Justin Fields’ rookie contract next year, the team has found at worst a quality No. 2 man in Mooney.
BEARS GRADE: C-plus | NEXT: vs. Cardinals (Sun.)
28 of 28
Lions, at least, cruising toward impact addition
Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard/USA TODAY NETWORK
Two two-win teams remain — the Jaguars and Texans — but the Lions (0-10-1) are otherwise clear of the field for the 2022 No. 1 pick. Oregon defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux profiles as the top candidate, in a year without any quarterback close to the Trevor Lawrence tier, and would potentially reunite with Penei Sewell to form a long-term Ducks-to-Detroit setup. The 6-foot-5 edge would move the Okwara brothers to complementary rushers and provide a cheap successor to Trey Flowers. The Lions have not made the No. 1 overall pick since choosing Matthew Stafford in 2009.
LIONS GRADE: C-plus | NEXT: vs. Vikings (Sun.)