Offensive Players of the Week
Tyler Huntley, quarterback, Baltimore. This is not just a good, young backup quarterback we’re watching. This 2020 undrafted QB from Utah has proven that if he takes care of the ball, he’s a good candidate to be a starter at some point in his life. On Sunday, Huntley went head-to-head with the great Aaron Rodgers, put up 30 points, came back from a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit to nearly win this game, losing only on a failed two-point play in the final minute. For the day, the 23-year-old Huntley produced four touchdowns and didn’t turn the ball over. He threw two first-half touchdowns, then ran for another two in the final minutes of a frenetic comeback. Huntley completed 70 percent of his passes in a game the Ravens really needed. Final stat line: 28 of 40 for 215 yards, and 13 carries for 73 yards. Not bad at all.
Travis Kelce, tight end, Kansas City. I watched the Thursday night game and said three things when it was over: One, that was the biggest game of Kelce’s very impressive career. Two, I will be surprised if he doesn’t wear a gold jacket one day. Three, what a time to be a tight end in the NFL today—what a deep group of excellent and influential tight ends in the league. With 1:16 left in regulation at the Chargers, Patrick Mahomes found Kelce for a seven-yard TD to tie the game and send it to overtime. And just 1:15 into overtime, Mahomes found Kelce again for a short-gainer—except Kelce turned it into a walkoff 34-yard TD. With the AFC West on the line, Kelce was Mahomes’ go-to guy in the big moments. His 10-catch, 191-yard, two-TD performance was the most productive game of Kelce’s career.
Jonathan Taylor, running back, Indianapolis. In a crucial game for the Colts, on a night when his quarterback looked poor (Carson Wentz: 5 of 12, 57 yards), Taylor rushed 29 times for 170 yards, looking precisely like the warhorse he was at Wisconsin. His 67-yard touchdown run with 2:01 left in the fourth quarter extinguished the Patriots’ chances in a 27-17 Indy win.
Defensive Players of the Week
Cameron Jordan, defensive end, New Orleans. A few Saints were worthy of this award after the hugely impressive 9-0 shutout of the league’s leading offense at Tampa Bay. Jordan had two sacks of Tom Brady and made the game’s biggest play with a minute left in the third quarter. With the Saints hanging onto a 6-0 lead and Tampa Bay driving to the Saints’ 24, Brady took off on a scramble up the middle. Jordan pursued, caught Brady from behind and punched the ball out. That was Tampa’s last best chance, and Jordan ruined it. A great night for a great player was made even more memorable by Jordan recording his 100th career sack.
Trevon Diggs, cornerback, Dallas. “Got to set new goals now,” Diggs said after his 10th interception of the year in the Cowboys’ 21-6 win over the Giants in New Jersey on Sunday. I’ve got one for you, Trevon: Forty years ago this season, Everson Walls of your Dallas Cowboys had 11 interceptions in a 16-game season. No player has had more than 10 since. Your job, now, is to get two in the next two weeks, so you don’t have a 17-game season asterisk on the “12.”
Special Teams Players of the Week
Matthew Adams, linebacker, Indianapolis. Bill Belichick has always taken particular pride in his special teams, having long ago coached them. So in a very big game for the Patriots, it was surprising to see a play on the punt team absolutely cripple their chances Saturday night. With 21 seconds left in the first quarter and the Colts up 7-0, Adams, the Colts’ seventh-round pick in 2018 from Houston, burst through the right guard/tackle gap and was on New England punter Jake Bailey in an instant. Adams smothered the punt, and it bounded back 25 yards into the end zone. Linebacker E.J. Speed recovered it (Speed’s second such TD this season), and Indy led 14-0 after one quarter.
— Indianapolis Colts (@Colts) December 19, 2021
Tremon Smith, kick-returner, Houston. On his fifth team since being Kansas City’s sixth-round pick in 2018, Smith, a cornerback from Central Arkansas, recorded Houston’s first kick return for touchdown since 2009. Smith’s 98-yard return gave the Texans a 14-3 lead late in the first quarter against the Jags, in the battle of 2-11 cellar-dwellers in the AFC South. Thanks in large part to Smith, the Texans no longer dwell in the division cellar.
Blake Gillikin, punter, New Orleans. In a classic field-position game, Gillikin did his part, and then some. Four times he forced the Bucs to start drives inside their 20-yard line, including at the 3 and 9 in the fourth quarter. A beautiful, important performance by Gillikin on a night when the Saints’ offense wasn’t going to contribute much.
Coach of the Week
Dennis Allen, defensive coordinator, New Orleans. As Mike Garafolo of NFL Network quipped after the unlikely 9-0 Saints’ shutout of the Bucs on Sunday night: “Most coaches walk into head-coaching interviews with a binder. Dennis Allen should just bring a DVD copy of tonight’s game.” Allen, coaching the game after Sean Payton tested positive for Covid, put together a smothering game plan against Tom Brady. It was the first time Brady had been blanked in 15 years. Not only did Brady not have peace in the pocket, but also the Saints’ cover players were superb and didn’t allow the Bucs to breathe. It’s amazing that in 13 drives, Brady never got to the red zone. Think of that. Tip of the cap to you, Dennis Allen.
Dan Campbell, head coach, Detroit. Look at the Lions for a moment … 0-8 starting November, and in the six games since, a tie with Pittsburgh, narrow losses to Cleveland and Chicago, win over Minnesota, blown out at Denver, a rout of formerly 10-3 Arizona. Reminded of what safety Jalen Elliott told me a couple of weeks ago: “We’re definitely still a family, a tight-knit group, lots of respect for our coach keeping us on track.” Campbell knew this was a long-haul job, and he never was woe-is-me when the agonizing losses hit. Good for him, and good for this needy franchise.
Goat of the Week
Ryan Tannehill, quarterback, Tennessee. The Titans could have taken over the one seed in the AFC with a win at sinking Pittsburgh on Sunday. But they fumbled five times (losing three), one by Tannehill, and Tannehill threw a big fourth-quarter pick, and Tennessee lost. This was a game when a Derrick Henry-less Tennessee needed Tannehill to come up big, but all he gave them was 153 passing yards, no TDs, two turnovers, a 68.9 rating, zero second-half points, and one touchdown in 11 possessions.