What We Learned From Week 18 in the N.F.L.


Dolphins 11, Jets 6: A Week 18 game with Skylar Thompson and Joe Flacco playing quarterback, in which one of the teams has no chance to make the playoffs, went exactly like you would expect. Both offenses struggled to move the ball save for a handful of special plays here and there, like Jets receiver Garrett Wilson’s 36-yard tackle-breaking extravaganza late in the second quarter. The Dolphins squeaked by in the end, though, and snagged the A.F.C.’s final wild-card berth.

Falcons 30, Buccaneers 17: In terms of playoff implications, this game meant nothing. Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady started the game, but he eventually stepped aside and took a seat on the bench — though not until after he broke the N.F.L.’s single-season completion record. The Falcons had nothing to play for either, but they at least saw some flashes from their young players on offense. Running back Tyler Allgeier ran hard, quarterback Desmond Ridder once again improved on his previous performance, and receiver Drake London snagged a tough 50-50 ball down the field in the second half.

Panthers 10, Saints 7: Neither team could make the playoffs, and it showed. Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold struggled mightily, ending the game 5 of 15 for 43 yards, two interceptions and no touchdowns. Darnold was lucky to have the run game supporting him, as well as a defense that remained stout. The Saints’ offense moved the ball efficiently until third downs, when they converted on just 4 of 13 opportunities.

Steelers 28, Browns 14: There’s no constant in the N.F.L. like Pittsburgh Coach Mike Tomlin finishing a season at or above .500. Sadly for the Steelers, a 9-8 record wasn’t enough to get them into the playoffs this year, though Tomlin’s crew still fought valiantly on Sunday. Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett made a few inspired plays outside the pocket, though he was inconsistent overall. The Pittsburgh pass-rushing unit stepped up, sacking Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson seven times and completely derailing any chance he had at getting into a rhythm.

Texans 32, Colts 31: The Texans enthusiastically threw away the first overall pick in the 2023 draft with this win. A fumble-filled brawl between two bottom-feeders, the game was decided by two miraculous Davis Mills throws and a gutsy 2-point conversion. Mills converted on a late fourth-and-18 and launched a ball on a fourth-and-20 into the end zone for what could have been the game-tying score. The Texans didn’t want overtime, though, forgoing the extra point and for the 2-point attempt, and they took the lead right then and there with 50 seconds to go.

Vikings 29, Bears 13: The Bears started Nathan Peterman at quarterback, briefly gave the keys over to backup Tim Boyle, then let Peterman play again. That’s about all there is to know about how lifeless and sloppy this game was. The Vikings also played only one half of real football, resting their starters after easing their way into a 16-6 lead, thanks largely to quarterback Kirk Cousins and the passing game. Most important, the Bears’ loss secured them the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 draft.

Kansas City 31, Raiders 13: Kansas City cruised right through Las Vegas to finish the regular season. Its front seven, led by the star defensive tackle Chris Jones, had an uncharacteristically great day against the run. To slow down Raiders running back Josh Jacobs, Kansas City loaded the box, a strategy that resulted in a lot of long down-and-distance plays for Las Vegas quarterback Jarrett Stidham. That defensive performance paired with quarterback Patrick Mahomes’s usual offensive greatness made for a straightforward affair.



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