NFL Week 15 takeaways: Cowboys loss impact, bizarre ending in Vegas, Colts-Vikings fallout

Even before Sunday’s games, we already saw the greatest comeback in NFL history. What else ya got, Week 15?

Just hours after the Vikings stormed back from a 33-0 deficit to beat the Colts in overtime, 39-36, in Minneapolis, the Bills had a fourth-quarter comeback of their own, topping the division-rival Dolphins — and overcoming steady snowfall and unruly snowball-throwing fans — with a last-second field goal in Buffalo.

The drama continued into Sunday. The Eagles got the win in Chicago, but it was hard-fought. The Chiefs had to play an extra period to beat the Texans. And the Jaguars shocked the Cowboys on a pick six in overtime. In the six early-afternoon games, eight points was the largest margin of victory.

And finally, the late-afternoon games featured perhaps the wackiest play of the week — and season — with Raiders defensive end Chandler Jones “intercepting” (it was ruled a fumble) a backward pass from scrambling Patriots wide receiver Jakobi Meyers and taking it to the house for the game winner with no time left in regulation.

What do these results tell us? We asked The Athletic’s Jeff Howe, Kalyn Kahler and Tim Graham to weigh in.

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After trailing 33 points, the Vikings rallied to win in overtime. Kirk Cousins and the passing game looked unstoppable. Was this all on the hapless Colts, or did they flip a switch that the rest of the NFC should be concerned about?

Kahler: These Vikings are really capable of anything — good or bad. They are capable of digging deep holes for themselves, and they’re just as capable of getting out of them. Somehow, the defense allowed just one touchdown Saturday; the rest of the Colts’ 36 points came on special teams, defensive touchdowns and a lot of field goals. Once the Vikings finally got on the board in the third quarter, it really felt like they could pull it off. And when RB Dalvin Cook exploded for a 64-yard touchdown on a screen pass to give the Vikings a chance to tie the game with just more than two minutes left in regulation, you just knew it was going to happen.

The Vikings offense has the talent to score on anyone, and before Saturday, the last team to overcome a deficit of 24-plus points to win a regular-season game was Washington in Week 7 of the 2015 season versus the Buccaneers. That was the Kirk Cousins “You like that?” game. This stuff is in Cousins’ blood, and I wouldn’t ever count the Vikings out.

Graham: The Jeff Saturday experiment in Indianapolis thankfully has run its course and should put an end to all those sports radio calls or barroom declarations we’ve heard over the years in pretty much every market. “Why don’t the Browns bring back Bernie Kosar to be their offensive coordinator? They haven’t been the same since he left!” Not just anybody who speaks “footballese” and can blow a whistle can be an effective coach. Who knew? Maybe if the quarterback behind the NFL’s previous comeback record, Frank Reich, still coached the Colts, he could’ve emphasized not choking. All that off my chest, I credit the never-say-die Vikings more than I blame the Colts, whose early lead was fluky. You cannot deny all the comebacks Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell and Kirk Cousins have overseen this year. The Vikings defense doesn’t wilt regardless of the score; they gave up one TD, and the Dalvin Cook-Justin Jefferson combo is almost always too deadly to contain for 60 minutes.

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Howe: It takes a lot from multiple parties to wipe away a 33-point deficit. It was certainly impressive to watch the Vikings keep after it despite nothing going their way in the first half. They were getting screwed by the officials, too, and still managed to keep their composure. That type of fortitude will serve them well in the playoffs. But this was on the Colts. They went into a shell offensively and completely botched this game, and the defense made it way too easy for Minnesota.

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The Cowboys escaped with a win versus the lowly Texans last week, then blew a late lead and lost on a pick six in overtime to the Jaguars on Sunday. Are you concerned? Also, how ’bout them Jaguars?! Wins over the Ravens, Titans and Cowboys in the past four games.

Howe: There should be some concern with the Cowboys because they’re unproven on the playoff stage. They’re right there with the Eagles and 49ers in terms of talent, but we can’t ignore their last quarter-century of playoff letdowns. No, Jason Garrett and Tony Romo don’t have anything to do with the 2022 Cowboys, but strange things tend to happen to the Cowboys in the postseason, and coach Mike McCarthy has a questionable track record over the last decade. They’re talented enough to win the Super Bowl, but they’ll probably have to win three road games to reach that stage, and that’s a lot to ask from a core that hasn’t won much together in January.

As for the Jaguars, they’ve been in almost every game this season, but they had major issues closing out victories during the first couple of months. Now, you can tell by the way they play they believe they can win these tight games rather than playing like something disastrous is about to happen. They’re a fun team, and they’re improving quickly.

Kahler: I’m always worried about the Cowboys, especially with McCarthy’s clock management history and the way their season ended last year, which I will never forget (Dallas ran out of time for a final play because Dak Prescott and the offensive line simultaneously forgot they could not spot the ball themselves and the umpire could not get through the line!). An all-time meltdown. So yes, I am concerned, particularly given the fact Philadelphia can lock up the division next week in Dallas, which makes for a tougher postseason road for the Cowboys.

Graham: We’re conditioned by now to imagine the Cowboys not as “America’s team,” but rather Jerry Jones’ repeated broken dreams. The Cowboys produce a Pavlovian response. After all these years of high expectations and Super Bowl hopes, the Texans and Jaguars jingle that bell and all the Cowboys haters out there get to drool over the impending letdown. All four NFC East teams entered Sunday in a playoff slot. The Cowboys can’t afford to stumble over the final three weeks and — organizationally, longer-term — don’t seem as far ahead of the Giants and Commanders as they thought. Dallas scored 34 points in defeat, but with 106 passing yards in the second half and overtime, you have to wonder whether today’s collapse fuels Jerry’s desperation to splurge on Odell Beckham Jr.

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QB Zach Wilson stepped in and played well for the Jets, but they lost again in a thriller to the red-hot Lions. Was it enough for Wilson to get his old job back?

Graham: Nah, I remain unimpressed. At this point, Wilson must do something heroic to supplant Jets folk hero Mike White, who refused to leave last week’s grueling loss to the Bills despite a broken rib. White got his opportunity last month because Wilson was a pitiful leader. Last year’s No. 2 draft pick requires greater redemption than what we saw Sunday at MetLife Stadium. Wilson did help the Jets take a fourth-quarter lead and later set up a 58-yard field goal attempt that would have tied the game as time expired — Greg Zuerlein missed the kick — but he was rather pedestrian for much of the game. His interception right after halftime nearly was a pick six, and he entered the fourth quarter having completed fewer than half of his attempts. Wilson’s passing total (317 yards) was padded by a couple of jump balls that could have gone the other way with better Lions coverage. His final play before Zuerlein’s wayward kick was a desperation scramble-and-chuck after taking a sack that made it third-and-18. This remains White’s job.

Howe: No. The Jets went with White because the offense is more efficient when he’s in there, but he also has given the entire team a spark. Wilson made some pretty nice throws against the Lions, but he also missed some easy ones. If he gets a chance to start again Thursday against the Jaguars and can play more consistently, that’d make a difference. But until that happens, I’d be surprised if this isn’t White’s job once he’s healthy enough to return.

Kahler: I wish I could muster up a contrarian opinion here, but I just can’t. I am a longtime Mike White supporter, and the way he played in three games for the Jets impressed me. His teammates were obsessed with him, and he did that thing that backups so often do: He injected life and energy into a sad offense. White improved off his play last season, and he’s the rare example of a late-round draft pick who is getting a chance to develop and he’s proving he can get better. One game isn’t enough for Wilson to earn his job back, especially when that game was not a W. Wilson played better than a lot of us expected him to, but when it comes down to it, he hasn’t shown enough consistency yet. Also, can we take a moment to recognize the Detroit Lions are now finally at .500? It’s a new season, baby!

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Lions defeat Jets to keep playoff hopes alive

Do the Patriots realize there is this thing called overtime? What came to mind when you saw the Raiders’ scoop-and-score (since the play was ruled a fumble, not an interception) to beat New England with no time on the clock?

Graham: What first came to mind was, “Brilliant! Look at all that field the Raiders are giving up to defend the deep pass! A Rhamondre Stevenson’s lateral has a better chance of working here than a Hail Mary!” What came to mind about 12 seconds later: “Oh, lort! What a mess! I love sports!” This was my favorite play on a fantabulous weekend of walk-off finishes. What was Jakobi Meyers thinking when he decided he just had to huck the ball to Mac Jones, the farthest player away from the end zone? Did Meyers think Jones would be allowed to throw the ball downfield? Was Jones supposed to Barry Sanders his way 30 yards to reach a Patriot to take the next lateral?

I’ll bet there already are Patriots fans plotting a 4-D chess rationalization that Bill Belichick intended to lose as a gift to beleaguered Josh McDaniels, thereby keeping him in Las Vegas as a mark for future exploitation because McDaniels as Raiders coach is preferable to a different candidate and they conspired to give the touchdown to old friend Chandler Jones, thereby keeping it all within the family, and in return there will be an offseason Mac Jones trade to the Raiders for generous draft capital, making Bailey Zappe the future QB and reconstructing New England’s dynasty. All of which is more plausible than whatever explanation Meyers could provide.

Howe: What a colossal meltdown. The Patriots managed that final drive in fairly typical fashion. They were willing to let opportunities present themselves or be content with overtime, and that was pretty obviously the scenario with the final Rhamondre Stevenson run. Stevenson tried to get creative when the defense collapsed around him, probably hoping Meyers could reverse field for a miracle score. Then, Meyers made an egregious miscalculation. Poetically, Chandler Jones was in the perfect spot to take advantage against his former team.

But there’s a bigger issue here. It might be easy to see that and think the Patriots don’t make mistakes like that to lose games. And no, they have never made one of that magnitude. But this is a team that has been making a lot of mistakes since 2020, whether it’s procedural penalties, communication issues with the play calls, substitution errors, ill-timed turnovers in crunchtime or special teams breakdowns — another of which occurred against the Raiders. They’ve been sloppy, and it came to a head in unimaginable fashion in Las Vegas. For so long, the Patriots were happily willing to let their opponents find a way to lose a game, but they’ve been doing it to themselves more frequently over the last three seasons. Now with a 7-7 record and the Bengals, Dolphins and Bills on tap, that play more than likely ended the Patriots’ season.

Kahler: I know that players are often unfamiliar with the rules of overtime — every time a game ends in a tie, there’s always a quote or two about somebody not understanding that a game can end in a tie — but this just blew my mind. I’m wondering if Stevenson remembered the score was tied? There’s truly no other explanation for his reckless decision to lateral to Meyers, who then made a somehow more reckless decision to throw to Jones. The clock was expired! This could have and should have gone to OT! Like the Dallas spot-the-ball-clock-runs-out issue from last season, this is going to become a play that will be representative of this Patriots season. As Howe mentions, this debacle carries a deeper meaning about the mounting issues in New England that have become very visible since Tom Brady left. The Patriots and the Lions have the same record. Let that sink in. And the Lions seem much more likely to make the postseason than the Patriots, who likely will miss the postseason for the second time in three seasons.

What happened to the Titans? Once 7-3, they’ve now lost four straight.

Kahler: The offensive line hasn’t been good enough, and they’re scoring only 18.5 points per game, which is 26th in the NFL and not enough to hang with the high-scoring offenses they’ve faced in recent weeks. Jacksonville is hot, it’s just one game behind the Titans, and right now it seems like the better team, and the only team in the AFC South that is actually moving in a forward direction. Remember when the Colts were .500 through Week 7? Then they benched Matt Ryan, then fired Frank Reich and hired Jeff Saturday, and now have lost six of seven games. And finally, the Texans went through the bulk of their implosion last season and are in tank mode now. The Titans seemed above the AFC South amateur hour until they fired general manager Jon Robinson. Now this team has entered the fray, and I don’t know whether they’ll come out of it this season.

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Howe: Their offense hasn’t been good enough this season, and they’ve eclipsed 20 points in only two of their six games since Ryan Tannehill returned from his ankle injury. Look at the schedule, too. This losing streak has come against the Bengals, Eagles, Jaguars and Chargers. The Bengals and Eagles are two of the best teams in the league. The Jaguars are playing really well. The Chargers are probably going to be a playoff team. So it’s not a good time for them to sputter, and there’s a real possibility the Titans-Jaguars matchup in Week 18 will be for the AFC South title.

Graham: The Titans’ swoon reminds me of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Titans owner Amy Adams Strunk fired Robinson a couple of weeks back despite being atop the AFC South, which is where the club remains. Sure doesn’t feel that way, though, with five losses in its past seven games. I’m not saying Robinson didn’t deserve to be replaced after nearly seven years of mostly mediocre results. But Adams Strunk’s timing hastened the sinking ship. The Jaguars are a game back and, as discussed above, are finding a groove while the rest of the division implodes.

(Photo of DaRon Bland, left, and Christian Kirk: David Rosenblum / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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