While Thanksgiving may have served up some of Week 12’s matchups, the Sunday slate does not lack for intrigue.
The New England Patriots and New York Jets meet with injury questions lingering over the effectiveness of New England quarterback Tom Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski. While Gronkowski is active after recovering from a chest injury that sidelined him in Week 11, Brady missed practice twice during the week with a knee injury. He, too, is playing Sunday against what has been a very suspect Jets secondary, but the knee could limit him against what can be, at times, an effective Jets defensive front.
On the other side, the Jets returned to quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick as the team’s starter after tapping Bryce Petty in previous games. It looked as though the Jets were preparing for the future, by giving Petty — a second-year pro — some starts and NFL experience. The move back to Fitzpatrick leaves most scratching their heads about the Jets’ motivations and outlook for the rest of this season and beyond.
The game of the day belongs to Sunday Night Football, when the Denver Broncos play host to the Kansas City Chiefs. With both sitting at 7-3 in the AFC West, both teams will look to continue to lead the wild-card race and keep pace with the Oakland Raiders at 8-2. The Raiders will face the 4-6 Carolina Panthers at 4:25 p.m.
In the early action, the New York Giants seemed in line for an easy victory against the winless Cleveland Browns but the Giants struggled throughout the game before prevailing, thanks to two touchdowns from Odell Beckham Jr. Beckham left the game early with an injury to his right thumb, but returned to provide two pivotal TDs.
The Browns trailed by just eight points with 11 minutes remaining in the game when quarterback Josh McCown’s arm was hit while releasing the ball and Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul returned the interception for a touchdown. The Browns then scored on the ensuing possession to pull back within seven, but an answering score from Beckham put the game out of reach with a 27-13 final.
The win, New York’s sixth straight, improves the Giants to 8-3 on the season and keeps them in the driver’s seat for the first wild-card spot in the NFC.
Elsewhere in an the first session of games that started in sleepy fashion but gained steam late, several playoff contenders earned key wins, most notably the Miami Dolphins beating the San Francisco 49ers, 31-24, to improve to 7-4. The game was decided only in the final seconds when Niners quarterback Colin Kaepernick was chased down by Miami’s Ndamukong Suh at the Dolphins two-yard line, preventing what could be been the game-tying seven points, when time expired. It was also Miami’s sixth-straight win after a 1-4 start to the season.
The Baltimore Ravens bested a battered Cincinnati Bengals roster 19-14 to keep pace with the Pittsburgh Steelers (victorious on Thanksgiving against the Indianapolis Colts) atop the AFC North at 6-5. The game ended on a safety after Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh instructed his punt team to tackle all Bengals while the punter held the ball in the end zone and waited for the remaining seconds to expire before taking a safety. NFL games can legally end on an offensive penalty, giving the Ravens an unlikely final play for the win.
A 38-19 victory by the Falcons over the Cardinals kept Atlanta in first place of the NFC South at 7-4 and provided another win of playoff import from the 1 p.m. games.
Though likely out of the playoff mix, Los Angeles Rams QB Jared Goff threw his first career NFL touchdown in his second start, finding Tavon Austin on the opening drive to put the Rams up 7-0 in the first quarter. Goff finished his pro debut in Week 11 with just 17 completions on 31 attempts for 134 yards. He looked considerably sharper Sunday against the Saints, with three touchdown passes in the first half to keep the Rams in the game despite four first-half touchdowns by New Orleans. He couldn’t keep up in the second half, however, as the Rams defense gave up 21 more points, including a 50-yard touchdown pass from wide receiver Willie Sneed to running back Tim Hightower on a trick play. It was the most points allowed by the Rams in a regulation game since 2002.
Another career-first TD was tossed in Chicago by the Bears’ Matt Barkley who nearly pulled out a stunning comeback win over the Tennessee Titans in his first start as well. Barkley, filling in for injured starting quarterback Jay Cutler, found the end zone for the first time in the first quarter then had four tries to tie the game on the final possession from within the Titans’ 10-yard line. Four incompletions later, the Titans escaped with a win that was much closer than it had to be. Tennessee improved to 6-6 and moved within a half game of the AFC South-leading Houston Texans, who dropped their game to the San Diego Chargers, 21-13.