For the past three and a half weeks, the Steelers looked like a team that had forgotten how to play football, but it seems that something must have changed at halftime on Sunday, because the team that came out for the second half against the Colts looked like the Steelers team that started the season 11-0.
Based on how the Steelers offense had been playing over the past few weeks, the idea of Pittsburgh overcoming a 24-7 deficit in the third quarter seemed improbable, but that's exactly what happened in a wild game that ended with the Steelers clinching the AFC North title in a 28-24 win.
Whatever Ben Roethlisberger said at halftime must have worked, because after a nearly month of struggling, the offense finally played competent football in the second half.
Juju Smith-Schuster told me Ben Roethlisberger gave a halftime speech where he said it looked like they weren’t having any fun. They were on a 3-game losing streak and down 21-7 with 95 total yards of offense. Second half was a lot more fun.— Dan Graziano (@DanGrazianoESPN) December 27, 2020
It was a wild Week 16 Sunday and playoff races are going down to the wire. Will Brinson and the Pick Six Podcast Superfriends break everything down; listen below and be sure to subscribe for daily NFL goodness.
One knock on Big Ben over the past few weeks is that he hasn't been able to throw an accurate deep ball. That was one of the many problems that seemed to fix itself in the second half against the Colts and there's no better evidence than this 39-yard touchdown pass to Diontae Johnson where Roethlisberger threw a perfect ball that traveled 47 yards in the air.
Roethlisberger then one-upped himself with another impressive deep touchdown in the second half. This time, the 25-yard scoring pass went to JuJu Smith-Schuster and the ball traveled roughly 35 yards in the air.
The throw to Smith-Schuster came with just under eight minutes left to play and ended up providing the winning points for Pittsburgh. It was also Roethlisberger's third touchdown pass in a performance where he completed 34 of 49 passes for 342 yards.
When the deep ball is working for Roethlisberger, the offense is nearly impossible to stop. For the past few weeks, all the opposing defense had to do was focus on the short crossing routes. If you could stop those, you could shut down the Steelers offense. However, that's not the case when the deep ball is working. If the Steelers can ride this momentum into the playoffs, they could become the Super Bowl contender that we all thought they were five weeks ago.
Speaking of the playoffs, the Steelers are going to have some interesting decisions to make heading into Week 17, especially with the division already clinched. On one hand, if Mike Tomlin decides to rest his starters, you can't really blame him and that's because this team has a lot of players who could use a week off after a season where the Steelers' bye got interrupted due to COVID. On the other hand, with the offense finally in-sync, it might not be worth the risk to give them the week off and have them come out in the wild-card round looking rusty.
Alright, let's get to the grades for every game from Week 16. If you're looking for a deeper dive on New Orleans' huge win over the Vikings that was played Christmas Day, be sure to click here.
Tampa Bay 47-7 over Detroit (Saturday)
|The Buccaneers probably could have put up 70 points in this game, but coach Bruce Arians decided to show some mercy by benching Tom Brady at halftime. The reason Arians was able to bench Brady is because the 43-year-old had a monstrous first half that included 348 passing yards and four touchdown passes as Tampa Bay shot out to a 34-0 lead. Brady was in the Christmas spirit as he handed out gifts to everyone in the form of passing TDs that went to Rob Gronkowski, Mike Evans, Antonio Brown and Chris Godwin (Gronk and Evans actually caught two TD passes in the game, but their second one came from Blaine Gabbert, who played the entire second half). Overall, the Buccaneers finished with 588 yards of total offense, which is the most in franchise history and the second-most by any NFL team all season.|
|Due to COVID-19, the Lions didn't have half their coaching staff for this game and they played like a team that was missing half their coaching staff. With interim coach Darrell Bevell out along with the team's offensive and defensive coordinators, the Lions looked absolutely lost on the field. It also didn't help that Detroit lost Matthew Stafford to a foot injury after their opening possession. The only highlight of the day for Detroit came on a 74-yard punt return for a TD by Jamal Agnew.|
San Francisco 20-12 over Arizona (Saturday)
|The 49ers defense was playing short-handed on Saturday, but thanks to a masterful game plan from defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, they were able to keep Kyler Murray in check. The defense came up especially big during a fourth quarter where they stopped Arizona twice on fourth down while also picking off Murray on a separate possession. Offensively, C.J. Beathard was the perfect game manager for San Francisco. Although he only completed 13 passes, three of those went for touchdowns. San Francisco's offense was working because the ground attack was working and that was thanks in large part to Jeff Wilson, who carried the ball 22 times for 183 yards.|
|This was a game where Kliff Kingsbury almost seemed to out-coach himself with some baffling play calls. At times, Kingsbury was ultra conservative -- he called for a punt on a fourth down from San Francisco's 39-yard line -- and at other times he was downright crazy, like when he chose to go for it on fourth-and-2 from his own 35-yard line when the Cardinals were trailing just 14-12. After failing on fourth down, the 49ers would score two plays later to basically put the game away. The Cardinals offense just couldn't come up with any clutch plays when the team needed them. Not only did they go 4-of-16 on third down in the game, but they also went 1-of-3 on fourth down conversions in the fourth quarter. When you have a quarterback like Kyler Murray, you expect him to make big plays and although he did make a few, he also made a glaring mistake in the fourth quarter when he threw a pick in the end zone on a possession where a TD and a two-point conversion would have tied the game. The Cardinals had a chance to cement their playoff status here, but instead, they choked, and now, they no longer control their postseason fate.|
Miami 26-25 over Las Vegas (Saturday)
|Although Tua Tagovailoa is the starting QB for the Dolphins, he probably shouldn't be and that's because it's pretty clear that Ryan Fitzpatrick gives Miami its best chance to win. After watching Tua struggle for the better part of three quarters, Dolphins coach Brian Flores sent him to the bench in favor of Fitzpatrick in the fourth quarter and all Fitzmagic did was save the day. In less than one quarter of action, Fitzpatrick threw for 182 yards and a touchdown while leading the Dolphins on three improbable scoring drives in the fourth quarter, including a drive that started with just 19 second left to play and ended with Jason Sanders kicking a game-winning field goal after Fitzpatrick threw a 34-yard pass with a Raiders defender hanging off his facemask. Myles Gaskin, who totaled 169 yards and two touchdowns, was the a big reason why the Dolphins were able to stay in the game despite Tua's early struggles.|
|The Raider made several glaring coaching mistakes in this game and most of them came on their final drive when they chose to kick a field goal instead of going for a TD. Despite the questionable coaching decisions, the Raiders could have won this game if their defense didn't have a total meltdown after Ryan Fitzpatrick entered the game. After holding Tua to negative-six yards on his final three possessions of the second half, Fitzpatrick entered the game and led Miami to more than 200 total yards and 13 points on three possessions. Las Vegas' embarrassing defensive performance overshadowed great games by both Nelson Agholor (Five catches, 155 yards, 1 TD) and Darren Waller (Five catches, 112 yards), who caught nearly ever pass thrown his way. The Raiders got inside Miami's five-yard line a total of four times on Saturday, but they were only able to come away with one touchdown and that's a big reason why they lost.|
Kansas City 17-14 over Atlanta
|In a twist of fate that we probably all should have seen coming since this is the Falcions, Atlanta was let down by the one player who hadn't let them down all season. Kicker Younghoe Koo missed a 39-yard field goal with nine seconds left that would have sent this game to overtime. It was Koo's first miss all year between 30 and 39 yards. The miss overshadowed a phenomenal performance by a Falcons defense that held the high-powered Chiefs offense to zero points in the first quarter and just seven points overall in the first half. The problem when you're playing the Chiefs is that you can't afford to make any mistakes and Atlanta made two. Besides Koo's missed field goal, there was a fumble by Brandon Powell that came in the fourth quarter after the Falcons had driven inside of Kansas City's 20-yard line.|
|It's almost like the Chiefs have been sleep-walking through the back half of their schedule. The Chiefs won their seventh straight game by one-score and they were lucky to escape this game with a win. There were plenty of uncharacteristic mistakes, including an ugly red zone interception by Patrick Mahomes in the second half and an inexplicable call by Andy Reid on a fourth-and-1 in the first half that ended with Sammy Watkins throwing an interception. Of course, Mahomes does a good job of glossing over every mistake the Chiefs make and he did that here with a game-winning touchdown drive in the final two minutes.|
Chicago 41-17 over Jacksonville
|Someone must have reminded the Bears at halftime that they're in control of their playoff fate, because Chicago turned this into a blowout after leading just 13-10 at the half. The Bears offense came out on fire to start the third quarter with a TD on each of their first three possessions. Mitchell Trubisky had another big game as he threw for two touchdowns while rushing for another one. Allen Robinson came up with several key catches in a game where he would finish with 10 receptions for 110 yards. Of course, like nearly every Bears win, Chicago's defense also deserves a lot of credit here. Roquan Smith came up with two big interceptions while the game was still close and the Bears were able to turn those picks into 10 points. The Bears are getting hot at the right time: They've now scored 30 or more points in four straight games for the first time since 1965.|
|The Jaguars offense actually showed some punch early in this game with two scores on their first three possessions, but when you're missing your best player (James Robinson) and Mike Glennon is your starting quarterback, it's almost impossible to sustain any type of success and Jacksonville found that out the hard way. The Jags played an absolutely ugly second half, but if there's is a silver lining to the loss, it's that the Jacksonville has now clinched the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.|
Cincinnati 37-31 Houston
|It seems the Bengals can win with anyone quarterback. One week after Ryan Finley led them to an upset win over the Steelers, the Bengals turned to Brandon Allen on Sunday and he responded by playing arguably the best game of his career. Allen threw for 371 yards and two touchdowns, including a beautiful 20-yard score to Tee Higgins in the third quarter, which was a minor miracle, considering Cincinnati hadn't scored a third-quarter TD since WEEK 4. The Bengals also steamrolled the Texans on the ground as they averaged 5.12 yards per carry in a game where they totaled 169 rushing yards. Overall, the Bengals finished with 540 yards of offense, which is their highest total since 2016 while marking just the fourth time since 1991 that Cincinnati has totaled at least 540 yards in a game.|
|Apparently, the Texans defense didn't its homework on Bengals quarterback Brandon Allen or anyone else on Cincinnati's roster for that matter, because the Bengals were able to move the ball up and down the field on Sunday. To start the game, the Texans couldn't stop a single screen pass and by the time they figured that out, the Bengals were successfully taking deep shots. Deshaun Watson (324 passing yards, three touchdowns) and David Johnson (139 total yards, two touchdowns) single-handedly kept the Texans alive in this shootout, but they couldn't overcome an absolute meltdown by a Houston defense that surrendered 540 yards, which is the second-most in franchise history.|
Pittsburgh 28-24 over Indianapolis
|Everything the Colts did right in building their 24-7 lead, they failed to do during the game's final 20 minutes. After the Steelers started cutting into their lead, the Colts went away from running back Jonathan Taylor, whose two early touchdowns helped them build their 17-point lead. Instead of running on first down, the Colts started throwing, which led to far too many second and third and long situations. After hanging in there during the first half, the Colts' battered offensive line -- which played without starting offensive tackles Anthony Castonzo and Braden Smith -- was unable to properly protect Rivers down the stretch. The Colts' defense didn't help matters either, as they were unable to slow down Roethlisberger and the Steelers' offense once Pittsburgh started to find its rhythm. The Colts' secondary also committed four penalties in the second half that contributed to the Steelers' three unanswered touchdowns.|
|For the first time in over a month, the Steelers played complementary football. The Steelers' first touchdown was set up by T.J. Watt's forced fumble of Philip Rivers in the first quarter. And after the Steelers' offense started to take flight, Pittsburgh's defense came up with consecutive punts and an interception by Mike Hilton, who scooped up Watt's forced fumble that set up James Conner's first-quarter touchdown run. The Steelers received a strong defensive performance by Watt, Hilton, and rookie outside linebacker Alex Highsmith, whose pressure of Rivers led to his pick to Hilton after the Steelers had taken the lead late in the fourth quarter. Pittsburgh would not have won this game if not for Roethlisberger and his receivers, who managed to come up with pivotal catches after struggling to do so during the first three weeks of December. JuJu Smith-Schuster led the way with 96 yards and a touchdown on nine receptions, while Diontae Johnson caught eight passes that included his 39-yard score that started the Steelers' comeback.|
Colts-Steelers grades by Bryan DeArdo (Love the grades? Hate the grades? Let him know on Twitter.)
Baltimore 27-13 over N.Y. Giants
|New York was simply dominated in the first half as they had no answer for Lamar Jackson and the Ravens offense, who piled up 20 points prior to the break. The Giants ran just three offensive plays in the first quarter, which is the fewest in the last 30 years. Even when they started to pick up some momentum on the offensive side of the ball, too often they were forced to settle for field goals and their lone touchdown of the day with 8:40 to play in the fourth quarter. The offensive line also gave Daniel Jones next to zero time to throw the football as he was sacked six times on the day. Being able to slow down the Raven offense some in the second half and momentarily give the thought of a comeback helps get New York out of the F range, but it was hardly a day to write home about.|
|Baltimore put together as good of a start as you could ask for. They opened the game with a flawless 13-play drive that traveled 82 yards and ended with a touchdown pass from Lamar Jackson to Marquise Brown. From there, they dominated in the first half, totaling 282 yards of total offense and held the ball for over 22 minutes. The Ravens' second half, however, is what keeps them from getting an A+ here. They couldn't keep up that scoring and were shut out in the third quarter. They also committed a number of silly penalties that extended drives for the Giants and ultimately led to points. With each passing week, Baltimore continues to look increasingly like a playoff team and this win got them that much closer to becoming one.|
Giants-Ravens grades by Tyler Sullivan (Love the grades? Hate the grades? Let him know on Twitter.)
N.Y. Jets 23-16 over Cleveland
|It would be an 'F' if not for the absence of so many key players. Cleveland has lost good players along the way and never made excuses. Today is not any different. They got beat. When the Jets hit them in the mouth, the team hung its collective head for a half and did not recover until it was too late. The Browns controlled their own playoff fate after the Colts lost to the Steelers and they literally fumbled it away in the end. To break a nearly two decade playoff drought, they will need a little help next week.|
|It was not pretty but it was enough to secure a second victory in as many weeks after going three months without tasting it. The Jets understood the situation, brought out some trick plays and the defense cracked down on a typically effective Cleveland ground attack. It is difficult to imagine that New York will retain head coach Adam Gase for another season but he is certainly making it difficult for them in the final month. The Jaguars lost and the Jets can not finish worse than No. 2 overall in the 2021 NFL Draft so there was literally nothing to lose.|
Browns-Jets grades by Josh Edwards (Love the grades? Hate the grades? Let him know on Twitter.)
L.A. Chargers 19-16 over Denver
|The Broncos defense played well enough to win, but they didn't get very much help from an offense that sputtered for most of the game. If Drew Lock is trying to prove he should be the quarterback of the future in Denver, he didn't do a good job. Not only did he complete just 51.1% of his passes, but he also threw an ugly first quarter interception in the end zone after the Broncos had driven down to the Chargers' 16. The normally reliable Brandon McManus also missed a 37-yard field goal in this game and when you play like the Broncos have this season, those are mistakes you just can't afford to make.|
|Chargers kicker Michael Badgley has struggled at times this year, but he came through for the team on Sunday. The "Money Badger" went 4 of 4 on field goals, including a 37-yard kick with under a minute that provided the winning points. The one downside of Badgley's great day is that it happened because the Chargers struggled so much in the red zone. On four trips inside of Denver's 20, the Chargers only came away with one touchdown. Although Justin Herbert struggled against the Broncos defense, he did come through in the clutch with a 23-yard pass to Jalen Guyton on the Chargers final possession to help set up Badgley's game-winning kick.|
Dallas 37-17 over Philadelphia
|In a must-win game, and having had control of it early on, the Eagles found a way to lay down and die. It was an abysmal effort by Philadelphia, going up 14-3 against the worst run defense in football, only to not reach the end zone anymore for the remaining three quarters. Head coach Doug Pederson got away from the run far too early, and the Cowboys' pass defense played better than anticipated -- pushing Hurts into making mistakes under duress when he could least afford to. On the other side of the ball, defensive back Michael Jacquet was basically annihilated by Michael Gallup and, from there, Darius Slay was the only cornerback or safety who decided the game meant something. The Eagles are now eliminated from playoff contention and in humiliating fashion.|
|It began as a scary afternoon for Dallas, going down big early, but it's not how you start the game -- rather it's how you finish. The beleaguered defense shut down Jalen Hurts and Co. for the final three quarters, allowing only a field goal after the first session, and Andy Dalton went to work flame broiling the Philadelphia defense time and again. Michael Gallup and Amari Cooper both finished with 121 receiving yards -- Gallup adding two receiving TDs to the tally -- while CeeDee Lamb delivered a TD in the air and another on the ground, seen taunting the Eagles with a wry smile late in the fourth quarter. Save for first quarter errors and Dalton's lone mistake (INT), this was as perfect a game as anyone has seen from the Cowboys in 2020.|
Eagles-Cowboys grades by Patrik Walker (Love the grades? Hate the grades? Let him know on Twitter.)
Seattle 20-9 over L.A. Rams
|The Rams couldn't get anything going against a Seahawks defense that has looked much better since Jamal Adams returned. Jared Goff was abysmal in a game Los Angeles had to win, finishing 24 of 43 for 234 yards and an inexplicable interception in the second quarter on a bootleg. The Rams didn't score a touchdown on offense, which just isn't enough when you're going against Russell Wilson in a game for first place in the division. Los Angeles has a good defense and a strong running game with two very good wideouts and tight ends -- but are limited with Goff at quarterback. The Rams will fight for their playoff lives next week, needing a win to clinch.|
|Give credit to the Seahawks defense for holding the Rams to 334 yards and 4.5 yards per play, including a huge fourth-and-goal stop in the third quarter that set the course for the win. Jamal Adams has this defense playing at an elite level as the Seahawks look like a serious contender to go to the Super Bowl. Russell Wilson makes the plays he needs to make, with the 45-yard throw to David Moore and 13-yard touchdown to Jacob Hollister that iced the victory two of his best throws this year. The Seahawks are NFC West champions because they won a game they had to have. This is a team clicking at the right time.|
Rams-Seahawks grades by Jeff Kerr (Love the grades? Hate the grades? Let him know on Twitter.)
Carolina 20-13 over Washington
|Carolina didn't have to do much to take down Washington on Sunday, but they played with energy, took advantage of every opportunity they were given and came away with the win. Curtis Samuel likely made himself some money in Week 16, as he led all receivers with 106 yards on five catches and all rushers with 52 yards on seven carries. It also has to feel nice to force an opponent to bench their first-round pick from last year -- a quarterback who defeated the Panthers last season.|
|Dwayne Haskins and the Football Team turned the ball over four times in just the first half and failed to get anything going on offense all game. Haskins threw for just 154 yards and two interceptions on Sunday, as he struggled to see the field, failed to recognize open receivers and then threw passes either too high or too low when he did see an open man. He was benched in the fourth quarter for Taylor Heinicke, who did provide Washington with a bit of a spark, but it wasn't enough. The only reason Washington didn't fail this week is that Antonio Gibson had a solid return to the field with 61 rushing yards and Chase Young single-handedly forced two Teddy Bridgewater turnovers. Washington has some solid young pieces on both sides of the ball, but there wasn't much to be excited about on Sunday. The only upside for Washington is that it can still win the NFC East with a victory against the Eagles in Week 17. |
Panthers-Washington grades by Jordan Dajani (Love the grades? Hate the grades? Let him know on Twitter.)
Green Bay 40-14 over Tennessee
|This feels just a touch harsh considering the circumstances: Road game, in snow, against the Packers. But aren't we considering the Titans true playoff contenders? If we are, this was an objectively bad showing. They needed to show up, and instead they slipped on the ice. Ryan Tannehill showed off his wheels on the nice TD run but was otherwise consistently rattled by Green Bay's defense. Derrick Henry, meanwhile, got outdone by AJ Dillon(!); both A.J. Brown and Corey Davis failed to penetrate the Packers secondary; and Mike Vrabel's defense often looked helpless against Rodgers. Fortunately for them, there's still a Week 17.|
|Everything was setting up for a nice, close, gritty game with all kinds of running in snowy weather -- the perfect recipe for the Titans to play spoiler and upset Green Bay in Lambeau. And then the Packers showed up. What can we say here except these guys just might be Super Bowl bound? Too soon? Maybe. But try rewatching Aaron Rodgers' seamless performance, plus the near-unstoppable duo of Aaron Jones and AJ "Second-Rounder, Son" Dillon, and telling us this team isn't a juggernaut. That secondary was also admirably feisty picking on Ryan Tannehill. An all-around beautiful night if you're a Packers fan.|
Titans-Packers grades by Cody Benjamin (Love the grades? Hate the grades? Let him know on Twitter.)
Buffalo 38-9 over New England
|After being dominated by the Patriots for nearly two decades, the Bills seemed to take out 20 years of frustration on New England in this game. The Bills were able to move the ball at will and a big reason for that is because the Patriots couldn't cover Stefon Diggs, who caught nine passes for 145 yards and three touchdowns. At times, it looked like Diggs and Josh Allen were toying with the Patriots. After only throwing for 154 yards in his first meeting with New England, Allen more than doubled that number with 320 yards and four touchdowns before Sean McDermott decided to bench him in the fourth quarter. The Bills defense was also dominant as they held a team to under 10 points for the first time this year. The 29-point win for Buffalo was their biggest margin of victory against the Patriots since 2003 and their largest margin of victory in Foxboro since 1992.|
|The Patriots kept Josh Allen in check the first time these two teams met this season, but this time around, they had no idea how to stop him. Allen torched the Patriots secondary for 320 yards in a game where the Bills handed Bill Belichick the worst home loss of his 20-year career in New England. Although the Patriots did have some offensive momentum early -- they only trailed 10-9 at one point -- the fact of the matter is that this team can't throw the ball and when you can't throw the ball you have no chance of hanging around in an offensive shootout.|