Peter King

NFL Week 13 awards: Nick Bosa, defenses steal show

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Offensive Players of the Week

Joe Burrow, quarterback, Cincinnati. What a show of cool-under-pressure excellence by Burrow. He was unshakeable, hitting 25 of 31 for 286 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. His most impressive moment came with less than two minutes left, as the Bengals had third-and-11 at the Kansas City 28 with a three-point lead, hoping to hang onto the ball and run out the clock rather than kick a field goal and give Mahomes an entire minute to drive for six points. Burrow was in the pocket for about two seconds when Chiefs DE Mike Danna broke through the line on the strong side. When Danna hesitated for a half-second (appearing to make sure Burrow still had the ball), Burrow took advantage to thread a perfect ball to a closely-covered Tee Higgins, hitting him in stride for a first down to ice the game. Burrow moves to 3-0 against Mahomes – all in this calendar year. Honorable mentions to Jonah Williams, Cordell Volson, Ted Karras, Alex Cappa, and La’el Collins on the offensive line who, less than a year after Burrow endured 20 sacks in the postseason, have held two of his tormenters (Tennessee and Kansas City) to one sack each in consecutive weeks.

A.J. Brown, wide receiver, Philadelphia. This was the game Brown had circled on his mental calendar—the Titans coming to Philadelphia seven months after the Titans traded Brown to Philadelphia—and the drama did not disappoint. Brown’s 40-yard TD pass from good friend Jalen Hurts in the second quarter put the Eagles ahead for good, 14-7, and Brown’s well-covered 29-yard TD catch in third quarter gave the Eagles all the insurance they’d need. For the game, Brown caught eight balls for 119 yards and those two scores as the Eagles routed the AFC South leaders.

 

Defensive Players of the Week

Bobby Wagner, linebacker, L.A. Rams. Ahead of this game Wagner, who spent the first 10 seasons of his career with Seattle, downplayed the significance of facing his former team for the first time, calling it “just another game,” in classic unruffled veteran speak. But Wagner’s performance Sunday was fit for a revenge game, including two sacks, two QB hits, three tackles for loss and a gritty, momentum-shifting interception in the third quarter when he muscled the ball out of the grip of Seattle’s Tony Jones. The Seahawks came away with the win, but Wagner was everywhere Sunday, reminding his former team of the impact player he can be.

Nick Bosa, edge, San Francisco. The definition of a valuable player is one who’s at his best when moments are the biggest. Bosa sacked Tua Tagovailoa twice when the game was in the balance, and when times were desperate at the two-minute warning of the fourth quarter, Bosa strip-sacked Tagovailoa, and the fumble was returned for a rub-it-in late TD. When Bosa is in form, the Niners can win games with their D. They did Sunday.

Chandler Jones, defensive end, Las Vegas. It was a breakout night for Jones, one that will go at least part of the way to quieting critics of the mismatch between his $51 million contract signed this offseason and his impact on the field so far in 2022. Jones entered the day with just a half-sack on the season but brought down Justin Herbert three times, part of relentless pressure that also yielded him five QB hits and a pass defended in the Raiders’ 27-20 win over the Chargers.

Jalen Pitre, strong safety, Houston. The second-round rookie from Baylor, who has been a bright spot in a terrible season for the Texans, saved his best for the Deshaun Watson return to Houston Sunday. Pitre had an NFL-best 16 tackles in Week 13, and he added an interception that, at the time, was crucial—he picked off Watson three yards deep in the end zone on a bad decision by the quarterback. The Texans have a lot of holes to fill for 2023, but strong safety isn’t one of them.

 

Special teams players of the week

Donovan Peoples-Jones, receiver/returner, Cleveland. While Deshaun Watson struggled mightily in his first game back, Peoples-Jones saved the Browns from eternal first-half damnation. Down 5-0 with four minutes left in the second quarter, Peoples-Jones took a punt at the Cleveland 24-yard line, got hit by three Texans, weaved to the right sideline and won a footrace for a 76-yard TD. Boy, did the Browns need that.

Greg Zuerlein, kicker, N.Y. Jets. Scored 12 straight points between late in the second quarter and midway through the fourth, almost enough to lift the Jets to an upset of the Vikings in Minnesota. His five field goals—from 48, 60, 36, 30 and 26 yards—in five tries made this day reminiscent of some of the biggest Greg the Leg games.

 

Coach of the Week

Lou Anarumo, defensive coordinator, Cincinnati. This was a huge win for the Bengals, their fourth straight, against a powerhouse Chiefs squad. Today, the “Big Play Bengals” moniker was a perfect fit for Anarumo’s defense, including two key plays in the final quarter. It’s rare we see Travis Kelce lose the ball – in fact, Bengals linebacker Germaine Pratt was responsible for Kelce’s first lost fumble of the season, halting the Chiefs’ first drive of the quarter and keeping the game within reach. Then, with Cincy up 27-24 in the final five minutes, Joseph Ossai sacked Patrick Mahomes on third and three to force a 55-yard Harrison Butker field goal attempt that sailed wide right, and just like that, the Bengals are 8-4. Anarumo interviewed for the Giants vacancy last season, and he’s rumored to be a head-coach candidate again this year. Neutralizing Kelce and helping the Bengals keep pace with the Ravens in the North can’t hurt his chances for a big job.

 

Goat of the week

Matt Patricia, assistant coach, Patriots. Not because Mac Jones yelled either at him or out of frustration Thursday night in the 24-10 loss to the Bills, or because offensive players subtly questioned Patricia’s play-calling after the game. But because the Patriots have developed zero downfield passing game, with nobody remotely threatening the secondary. Against the Bills, just seven of Mac Jones’ 36 passes went 10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage or farther. You could argue that Jones—who completed just one of those seven throws—didn’t play well enough to deserve the trust of Patricia to throw to intermediate and deep areas. What I would say is Jones, the previous week against Minnesota, had completions of 26, 34, 16, 14, 37 and 40 yards on throws 10 yards or more past the line of scrimmage. The Buffalo game was a regression of major proportions. Patricia needed to build on the Minnesota game and did not.

Read more in Peter King’s full Football Morning in America column

Joe Burrow giving Cincinnati Bengals edge in AFC

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I’m fascinated by the pennant race in the AFC North. Baltimore and Cincinnati are tied for the top spot at 8-4. The Ravens have the tiebreaker with a win over the Bengals in Week Five; they have a rematch at Cincinnati Week 18. Their comparative schedules give the Ravens a slight edge, mostly because Cincinnati has a dangerous Monday night game against Buffalo at home in Week 17.

Baltimore: at Pittsburgh, at Cleveland, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, at Cincinnati.

Cincinnati: Cleveland, at Tampa Bay, at New England, Buffalo, Baltimore.

But the quarterback gives the Bengals a big edge:

Baltimore: Lamar Jackson suffered a knee injury that will sideline him for an undetermined amount of time. Tyler Huntley, a nice backup, will hold the fort.

Cincinnati: Joe Burrow’s last seven weeks: 6-1, NFL-best 118.1 rating, 74.7 percent accuracy.

In the last two weeks, Burrow has beaten Tennessee and Kansas City in one-score games, playing his best when the best was required. The throw that blew me away watching the highlights of this game was a throw that was next-to-impossible to execute, at a time when the stakes of the game were high.

The situation: Cincinnati led 27-24 with 1:59 left in the game and had third-and-11 at the KC 28-. Kansas City had no timeouts left. If the Bengals converted here, they could run out the clock with two or three kneeldowns. If they were stopped here, Evan McPherson would be called on to try a field goal to stretch the lead to six points. So this third-down snap was everything.

Per NFL Next Gen Stats, here are the odds Burrow faced:

Next Gen had that Chris Jones, Mike Danna and Frank Clark all crossed the line of scrimmage faster than what’s considered the league’s above-average get-off time of .75 seconds. Danna, who came across in six-tenths of a second, was bearing down on Burrow as he readied to throw in a hurry.

The receiver, Tee Higgins, running a post route, never had more than two yards of separation from Kansas City cornerback Joshua Williams. Watching the replay, Williams looked like he was velcroed to Higgins.

Burrow threw the ball a split-second before getting hit by Danna. At the time of the throw, Williams was 18 inches from Higgins. In his shirt, in other words. When the ball gets to Higgins, he is contacted immediately (and maybe a tick before the ball gets there) by Williams. Burrow got hit. Higgins caught the ball. Gain of 14. Game over.

“You know the quarterback they have over there,” Burrow said. “We can’t settle for a field goal there or else [Patrick Mahomes] goes down the field and wins the game. We had to find a way to get that conversion, and Tee Higgins made a big play, just like he did in the AFC Championship.”

A few things come to mind about this Cincinnati team:

The offensive line is better. Shredded last year in the playoffs and early this year while the group was getting experience together, the five men up front are giving Burrow championship protection. In the last four games, Burrow has been sacked five times—including one each by Tennessee and KC in the last two games. Those two teams bedeviled Burrow in the playoffs last year. The leadership of free-agent center Ted Karras has been important.

They’re superb when games are tight. I attribute much of this to Burrow, who has a cool gene, the way great ones in the clutch have had. Each of their three playoff wins last January was a one-score game; Cincinnati’s last three wins have come by 7, 4 and 3 over the Steelers, Titans and Chiefs. His throw to Higgins and his clinical explanation for it illustrate why he and Mahomes might be the two quarterbacks with the best clutch play late in games right now.

The defense is not just along for the ride. In the last four weeks, defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo’s unit has allowed an average of 318 yards with opposing passers completing just 60.1 percent. Mahomes was good Sunday (223 yards, one TD) but not dominant. Anarumo’s going to be a popular head-coach interview come the post-season for teams trying to figure how to beat Kansas City; he’s 3-0 against KC since January.

Even if the Bengals have to play road games through the playoffs, I doubt it’d bother them after winning in Nashville and Kansas City last year. That Week 18 game against the Ravens could determine everything, which is why I think it has the best chance of being game 272—the Sunday night game of the last weekend. It could have the most at stake of any final game. My money’s on Burrow if that happens.

Read more in Peter King’s full Football Morning in America column

Brock Purdy steps into San Francisco 49ers spotlight

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SANTA CLARA, Calif.—Midway through the second quarter, while one of the most intense games of his six-year reign as 49ers coach was playing out on the Levi’s Stadium turf in front of him, coach Kyle Shanahan felt someone at his side, wanting to talk. It was head athletic trainer Dustin Little, waiting for a break in the action to brief Shanahan about starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.

Garoppolo has a break in his foot, Little said.

“How long’s he out for?” Shanahan said.

“It’s probably six months, at least,” Little told Shanahan. “It’ll be the whole season.”

Shanahan went back to work. Miami 10, San Francisco 10. Tua Tagovailoa versus, now, Mr. Irrelevant, Brock Purdy, final pick in the 2022 draft.

Shanahan had a vital game to win, and a one-game lead in the NFC West to protect. He couldn’t tell the team, or his staff, that for the second time this year, their starting quarterback was now gone for the year. Particularly in this game, with the fastest and most explosive team in football on the other side of the field.

So he said nothing.

Afterward, he and three Niners players told me, basically, This is the life we’ve chosen. That’s one of the ways that, after Shanahan heard the news, his team was able to function like all was well. From the moment he heard the news, the Niners, and Brock Purdy, outscored Miami 23-7.

“Football is weird,” George Kittle told me afterward. “It’s a brutal, unforgiving sport. Saw Jimmy at halftime and he told me. That’s awful for your quarterback and your three-time captain. But you know, it’s kind of, ‘Well, that sucks, but we got a game to play.’ It’s like, We love you, and we’ll always love you, but we gotta go. See you after the game.

Pause.

“It’s kinda the beautifulness and craziness of the sport, what happened today.”

What happened: This was a tragi-fantastic football game. Doesn’t sound like that, with a final of San Francisco 33, Miami 17, and a season-ending foot injury to Garoppolo, the unluckiest man in football. But the Niners led by six for 12 tense minutes in the fourth quarter, and then the floodgates opened, and it was a strange end to what for 57 minutes was a heart-pounder. It started like it’d be a Miami rout, with a 75-yard Tua Tagovailoa TD pass on the first offensive play of the game. But Tua handed the Niners 13 points, and they won by 16.

This, actually, was the best game of the season that vast swaths of the country did not see. Because this was a CBS doubleheader week and the national TV audience got a terrific Kansas City-Cincinnati game in the late window, this Fox telecast—Miami with the most explosive offense in football at San Francisco with the best defense in football—missed most of the country. It wasn’t seen on the Eastern Seaboard (Boston/New York/Philadelphia/Washington) or in New England, Tampa/St.Pete, Orlando, Los Angeles, the Pacific Northwest and most of the Midwest and Southwest.

So you saw the score, and you heard Garoppolo is gone (on the September heels of Trey Lance being lost for the year), and you wondered two things: Who is Brock Purdy? And is San Francisco’s season over?

He’s a kid. And the season positively is not over. I’ll tell you one play that blew me away, and blew Shanahan away too, that explains exactly why the season’s not kaput for the Niners.

I met with Purdy for a few minutes after the game. Looks like he’s 17. He’s 22, 6-1 (generously), needs a haircut, and seems oblivious to what he’s headed into. He talks like, Bring all that skepticism on. “A lot of people have said a lot of things about me like, I’m not good enough, this or that,” he said in a room off the locker room at Levi’s Stadium. “I just trust in God, and I’ll continue to do what I do—put my head down and go to work.”

Work this week means prepping for his first NFL start next Sunday. Against Tom Brady.

“Pretty cool,” he told me. “The GOAT. He’s been playing football longer than I’ve been alive.”


This is my 39th season covering the NFL, and one thing that I’ve never liked is making one play a metaphor for an entire game. One play rarely is. Games have 155 plays or so in them, and in this case, it was the San Francisco defense that stood out. But I’m picking a play by this neophyte quarterback to be a vital one. Maybe not the biggest of the day, but certainly the biggest for Purdy.

Let’s recap. Miami 10, San Francisco 10. Niners ball, third-and-10 at their 35-yard line, 79 seconds left in the half, the home team already knowing that they’ve lost their second starting quarterback of the year. Garoppolo got crushed by two Miami defenders four minutes into this game. For the last 56 minutes, Purdy had to earn an incredibly valuable save.

The key point was late in the first half, on that third-and-10. At the start of the play, eight Dolphins crowded the line, a clear sign that again they would pressure Purdy heavily at the snap. On the sidelines, Shanahan prayed that Purdy would recognize the blitz and call for an adjustment to tight end George Kittle’s route. He was the primary receiver on the play, but now the correct read was for an adjustment so that Kittle would cut off his post route a bit shorter. Enough to make the first down, but not enough for a huge gain. “We had to do something quicker because we knew we weren’t going to have the time,” Shanahan said.

It was about 80 minutes after the game now, and the locker room was empty. I talked to Shanahan as he sat at a locker and tried to explain why Purdy’s decision here was so significant.

“I thought this was Purdy’s play of the game,” I said.

“I did too,” Shanahan said. “Especially with what they were doing to us. They were coming after Brock and doing a good job of taking our quick throws away. This was a huge job of Brock signaling something to change the route [for Kittle].”

There is something that Shanahan and Purdy did not know. The average NFL pass this season has been thrown 2.74 seconds after the quarterback gets the ball in his hands. Purdy threw this pass in 1.72 seconds. In the NFL this season, only five times in 13 weeks had a quarterback completed a pass of at least 10 yards in 1.72 seconds or less, per NFL Next Gen stats. This was the sixth. As Purdy prepared to get hit by Jaelan Phillips, he threw a dart to Kittle, who caught and ran for a 19-yard gain. This means something because it shows Purdy recognized the defense, changed the ball, was willing to take a big hit, and he was skilled enough to complete a downfield pass with everything going on.

“Just showing the guys I’m willing to take one on the chin, willing to do what it takes to win,” Purdy said.

Five plays later, at the Miami three-yard line, Purdy threw for Christian McCaffrey in the end zone. Not a perfect throw, but a catchable one. McCaffrey dropped it. Next play, Purdy tried McCaffrey again. Touchdown.

“After the touchdown,” Purdy said, “Christian came to me and said, ‘Thanks for believing in me and trusting me to make the play.’ That’s pretty wild. I mean, saying that to me. I grew up watching him. Now, I’m on his team, throwing him a touchdown pass. Wild.”

Niners 17, Dolphins 10. It was never closer than six the rest of the way. Purdy finished 25-for-37 with 210 yards, 2 touchdown passes and an interception.

Tua Tagovailoa will beat himself up for his consecutive interceptions and his in-and-out accuracy. Understandable. He missed four or five big throws to open receivers. But he did hit TD bombs to Trent Sherfield and Tyreek Hill. This team would be nowhere without him. So he gets a pass, and should, on a wobbly day against a great defense. Miami flew to Los Angeles after the game to practice for next Sunday night’s game at the Chargers—they’ll practice at UCLA—before the finale of a three-game road trip, a huge Week 15 game at Buffalo. Mid-December at Buffalo for the Dolphins. Fun!

As for the Niners, it’s Brockball now.

“I know the question is, can I step in and continue this ride of what our team has done?” he said after the game. “It’s not just a one-man show or anything like that. What Jimmy did for this team was amazing in terms of getting it rolling and getting us on a streak to win. The challenge for me is like, man, can I step up in that position and continue to feed those guys? Get them the ball. Make the right checks in the run game. Allow the defense to play great and play with them. That’s the challenge for me and that’s how I look at it and I’m excited for it.”

“What impressed me about Brock in camp,” Shanahan said, “is he was always willing to let it rip. He’s decisive. He started for years [at Iowa State] at a high level. You gotta have some balls to play quarterback in this league, and he does. We think we’ll have a chance with him.”

I think San Francisco’s Super Bowl chances got severely diminished Sunday. Hard to imagine Purdy walking into Lincoln Financial Field on Jan. 18 or 25 and winning a division or championship game against the steamrolling Eagles.

But Purdy won’t be afraid. And a guy who won’t give the ball away, playing with the defense, should make it interesting down the stretch. This season’s over for the cursed Garoppolo, but certainly not for the 49ers.

Read more in Peter King’s full Football Morning in America column