Whatever got into the Chargers this afternoon, they need to bottle it up and take it with them from Cincinnati. For the first time all season they managed to attack and mitigate the run on early downs, and for the first time in a long time they got aggressively vertical with the play-calling and they may have saved their season in the process.
And then, true to form, they tried like hell to Charger it all away. Their 24-point lead quickly evaporated and they fell prey to the onslaught of mistakes that so often dooms them, but this time they didn't give it up. For the second time in three weeks they found a way to put an opponent away that they let back in the game, and there was more than bad to build on from a 41-22 victory over the Bengals that probably saved their season (and made them 3-1 against the tough AFC North, amassing 129 total points in wins over the Steelers, Browns and Bengals).
Let's hope the lessons are learned by a young coaching staff that had fallen into a rut in the middle of the season. They allowed Justin Herbert to show off his big arm at the start and finish of the game, they dialed up the big blitzes and shunned their zone-heavy nature at critical moments and they showed fortitude and gumption during a stretch from late in the second quarter through the early fourth quarter when the Bengals simply dominated.
Sure, there was some Chargering going on here. Thing is, they survived it, as they did against the Steelers two weeks ago. Yes, there was a span of 14 plays from the final minutes of the first half in which they allowed four sacks, threw a pick, fumbled (again), completed four balls for all of 22 yards, had three incompletions and one run for 4 yards. This after Herbert opened up that 24-0 lead by completing 11 of 15 passes for 172 yards and three touchdowns.
They remain a work in progress, prone to wild ebbs and flows. Yeah, I still have questions about the defense, though it won some early downs against a stout Bengals rushing attack and held Joe Mixon in check. It's true it required a bizarre Ja'Marr Chase tipped-pass interception when the Bengals rookie had a clear touchdown in front of him to win this. And Mixon's weird fumble, when he wasn't even realty hit, was the biggest play in the game going for a score the other way.
But there is something to be said for just figuring out how to win games. Something to be said for creating sacks and turnovers in the fourth quarter (an end-zone pick of Joe Burrow cemented the win). And there is everything to be said for them getting to 7-5, with a win over the Chiefs already in their pocket, and staying alive for a division title, too.
Losing to Lions could seal Zimmer's fate
The odds of Mike Zimmer remaining coach of the Vikings in 2022 never seemed great, but the events of the last two weeks probably cement it. He was under a mandate to make noise in the postseason, but things have fallen apart since a spirited win over Green Bay and injuries and ineffectiveness will likely doom this Minnesota campaign.
Falling behind to the Lions, trailing them by 14 at the half, allowing them to score 20 points in the first half (something that has eluded them in an entire game since Week 1), and then wasting a final minute go-ahead drive to allow an improbable game-winning TD drive to Jared Goff will doom you. His defense is a shell of what it once was, his staff has always begged questions and having things look like a bit of a mess on both sides of the ball -- injuries or not -- this late in the season with so much at stake tends to stick with ownership. Losing to a division rival that had not won a game all season under rookie coach Dan Campbell, try as they might, is not how you want to start December. It might be the loss that cements a change the Wilf's have been pondering for quite some time.
More Week 13 insider notes
- Bengals better hope they get their full offensive line in tact, soon. Joe Burrow was battered around Sunday in a scene far too familiar to his rookie campaign, and while he played through what looked like a fairly nasty pinky injury that's something I am sure they will have to monitor through the week. I admit I am a Bengals believe and think that franchise is turning the corner, but the turnovers and mistakes and protection issues down the stretch in this game have to give you some pause.
- The Giants' offense is wretched and Freddie Kitchens ain't changing much. Joe Judge continues to make bizarre timeout decisions and punting decisions. If you thought 264 total yards of offense last week against the Eagles was bad, how about 250 against Miami! And you can also check the box of the first-round QB injured again, and the first-round RB being a nonfactor yet again. Nothing trending the way you would want approaching the final stretch of his second season at the helm, and not much empirical evidence that he has the makings of a quality NFL head coach. Yeah, there is a lot of chatter about him being safe, but there is still plenty of football to be played and few signs of life from this bunch. I'd say stay tuned.
- Ridiculous how much Rob Gronkowski still makes an offense go. Keeping him healthy is essential for Tom Brady and the Bucs. He was one of the primary differences in the game Sunday and without his touchdown heroics (plural), the champs probably blow that game to the rebuilding Falcons. Brady throwing a pick in a fifth straight game is worth noting, if nothing else, however.
- Panthers offensive coordinator Joe Brady never took hold at the NFL level, and never sold ownership that he was ready for the job head coach Matt Rhule bestowed upon him. It's long been a simmering issue there, with the offense yet to take hold and no quarterback emerging as the answer through two seasons, and I'm far from shocked he is out at the bye week. The bigger question is where do they go from here at QB and OC, long term, and just how good a match Rhule is with owner David Tepper. As I have been reporting, college programs swoon over Rhule, and a slow start in 2022 will only lead to more rumblings about the overall viability of this regime. Not sure how much patience there will be without major gains in 2022.
- Have long believed Gardner Minshew is better than a bunch of starters in this league. Can't knock the way he came out attacking the Jets in a spot start in place of Jalen Hurts Sunday.
- The Dolphins are among the hottest teams in the NFL heading into their Week 13 bye. The defense is ferocious and has allowed a total of just 55 points during this five-game winning streak. The unit faces the Jets and Saints -- offensively bereft clubs -- the next two weeks after its break, so getting back above .500 is well within reach, before taking on the Titans and Patriots for what could be one of the most improbably playoff pushes in recent history, given the seven-game losing steak that preceded this. Brian Flores took a lot of heat for opting not to take his bye in October after their London trip, but that looks pretty sage now.