Fans of shootouts must have hated Week 12 in the NFL.
With the exception of two games played indoors — Saints 34, Panthers 31; Buccaneers 35, Falcons 22 — and a romp by the Titans in Music City, it was mostly a Sunday for those who enjoy defense. With a dash of the elements in some cases. Some poor officiating, unfortunately.
And with some of the fiercest clean hits and brilliant scheming we’ve seen all season.
Sure, this is a passing league, with offensive theatrics and big numbers on scoreboards the main attraction for so many these days. But to see what the Seahawks did in Philadelphia, even if the Eagles are a shell of the talented roster they had heading into the season, was impressive. The work of the Jets in an upset of Oakland has to have fans of Gang Green carrying some rare optimism.
Buffalo’s D, which shut down spiraling Denver, is for real. So, of course, is top-rated New England’s, which it needs to be given the ordinariness (and injuries) on the other side of the ball. If the Patriots (10-1) finish with the AFC’s best record, it will be because of the defense.
The lesson here is simple. When we reach November and December and you conduct your business outdoors, so many factors can affect your ability to run and pass. Even to kick, as we saw in Foxborough. Stopping opponents becomes extra critical; consider that, while it wasn’t exactly pleasant in Buffalo, Foxborough or New Jersey on Sunday, the conditions figure to get worse.
Most impressive was Seattle winning its sixth straight away game. The Seahawks, once feared far more at home than on the road, clearly are a major championship contender because of their success outside of Seattle — particularly when their defense is immovable.
“I think it’s really worth noting how the defense played today,” coach Pete Carroll said of their 17-9 victory that wasn’t so close. “I thought they played great all day long. Obviously, we took the ball away from them a ton of times, five times I think today. We had four sacks. The pressure was there again like last week.
“We all wondered are we going to have pressure this week? And we didn’t have J.D. (Jadeveon Clowney) out there playing. Just thrilled for the guys up front that kept the heat coming and made it a hard day for their quarterback.”
The Bills did the same against Denver’s Brandon Allen. It’s not the biggest achievement of the day, but don’t dismiss it. Under Sean McDermott, the Bills are easing the memories of that ridiculous non-playoff string that ended two years ago. They’re doing it with a defense that can slow pretty much anyone, and at 8-3, they’re on pace to make the postseason in the muddled and generally mediocre AFC.
Also in the AFC East the disappointing Jets have begun resembling an NFL team, winning three in a row. The first two were over the weakling Giants and Redskins, but manhandling the contending Raiders should make folks take notice.
Rookie Josh Jacobs, fourth in the NFL in rushing, was held to 34 yards on 10 carries. The Jets came in allowing a league-low 79.1 yards rushing, and gave up 68 to Oakland, and 208 total yards.
“We got our butts kicked,” Carr said. “There’s no other way around that. They got after us from start to finish. Hopefully, it’s an eye opener.”
The eye opener for all of this should be that defenses — we didn’t even mention Baltimore or San Francisco, along with Seattle possibly the most dangerous teams in the league heading into Thanksgiving — can and will make a difference down the stretch. That’s quite refreshing to note given the emphasis on offense that extends even to the league office.
Dak Prescott, whose Cowboys never got into the end zone and lost 13-9 at New England, recognizes what could be ahead for his team, and everyone around the NFL.
“Yeah, it’s tough,” he said of the challenges presented now and in the near future — and not just by the Patriots. “That defense is good, they’re well-coached, they don’t make mistakes. You add the conditions, it was tough.’
We once again made mistakes that hurt ourselves on third down. It’s always going to be tough to win a game, especially against a team like this on the road, in these conditions, when you’re not making plays and executing and being clean.”