"Holy cow! WOW!!"
I spent all weekend saying that. Seriously, I don't think any previous week of NFL madness has induced as many audible jolts as Week 15. The zany, improbable, historic, jaw-dropping action was omnipresent on Saturday and Sunday. In fact, three teams overcame deficits of 17-plus points to win -- that's never happened before in the same week in the league's long history. Not a bad way to start the final quarter of the regular season, with serious playoff implications adding supreme stakes to all the drama.
So, how do we sort out all of the indelible moments, factoring in the immediate shock and the big-picture fallout? Here's my ranking of Week 15's WOW moments, Schein Nine style.
1) The largest comeback in NFL history
The game was over, with the visiting Colts blowing the favored Vikings off their own field. I started watching a little Gonzaga hoops. I played some hoops with my son at halftime, when Indianapolis led 33-0. Social media was skewering Minnesota with the F-word: fraudulent. A Week 14 loss to the red-hot Lions in Detroit was one thing, but a home humiliation courtesy of the lowly Colts? Skol fans were sick. But then they received a miracle cure: The largest comeback in league history.
Aided by a grotesque second-half game plan from the Colts (4-9-1), as well as inferior clock management from an interim head coach seriously lacking practical experience in the big chair, the Vikings (11-3) pulled off an unthinkable win. You'll never forget where you were when this 39-36 overtime shocker played out. Well, unless you completely abandoned the game before the comeback. And if that's the case, I don't blame you -- the game was decided. The hay was in the barn. Until it wasn't.
Credit Kirk Cousins, who threw for 417 yards and four touchdowns in the second half. Credit Justin Jefferson, who posted his ninth 100-yard game of the season with a 12/123/1 line that also gave him a new career high for single-season receiving yards with a league-best 1,623. Credit my Coach of the Year favorite Kevin O'Connell, who just clinched an NFC North title in his first year on the job. Credit Dalvin Cook, who had 95 rushing yards and a career-high 95 receiving yards. And yes, credit the Vikings' defense, which bowed up after a nightmare first half, allowing just three points after the break.
Questions remain about Minnesota's true standing in the NFC -- and among the NFL's top contenders -- but these Vikings are brilliantly coached, fearless and clutch. This is a team that clearly knows how to deal with adversity. That's invaluable come playoff time.
2) Patriots lose in mind-blowing fashion
Just how wild was Week 15? Wild enough that this staggering, once-in-a-lifetime finish doesn't even hold the top spot on this list.
In a wacky contest that saw the Raiders blow another multi-touchdown lead, the Patriots found themselves at their own 45-yard line with three seconds left and the score tied at 24-24. What play do you call in that situation? No play -- just take a knee! Go to overtime and let Josh McDaniels' Raiders beat themselves once again.
But no. New England opted to hand the ball off to Rhamondre Stevenson on a shotgun draw. OK, just go down and head to the extra period, right? Nope. After a chunk gain, with zero seconds remaining on the clock, Stevenson decided to lateral the ball to Jakobi Meyers, and that's when the Patriots went from irresponsible to incomprehensible. Meyers, a former quarterback, unfurled a cross-field lob that was intended for Mac Jones ... but landed directly in the hands of Chandler Jones. The 6-foot-5, 260-pound ex-Patriot proceeded to stiff arm the quarterback into oblivion and rumble into the end zone for the most unfathomable walk-off touchdown you will ever see. I saw it live. I've seen the replay approximately 7,000 times. I still can't believe it.
And I still can't believe a Bill Belichick-coached team can be that clueless and fundamentally unsound. That's one of the dumbest plays I've ever seen. Totally unacceptable. It's not hyperbole to say the lack of situational awareness is going to cost the Patriots a postseason bid, as they fell out of the current playoff picture with the loss.
When was the last time a team scored a game-winning TD on a fumble recovery with no time remaining? Back in 1978, when Raiders TE Dave Casper fell on the ball in the end zone to beat the Chargers on the famous "Holy Roller." This franchise is quite familiar with the theater of the absurd.
The Patriots (7-7) are finished. They cannot recover from this, especially given their remaining schedule: vs. Cincinnati, vs. Miami, at Buffalo. Good for the Raiders, though. At 6-8, they certainly haven't lived up to preseason expectations, but it's hard to imagine a more thrilling way to win a game in front of your home crowd.
3) Bills best Fins in Saturday night snow
You want to talk about majestic December football? Miami at Buffalo was pure magic. Both teams came to play on Saturday night, as did both quarterbacks. But Josh Allen and the Bills (11-3) were just better than Tua Tagovailoa and the Dolphins (8-6).
Allen running around and throwing darts to forge a comeback victory as snow fell on Highmark Stadium was a thing of beauty. Miami led 29-21 in the fourth quarter, but then Allen authored a seven-play, 75-yard touchdown march and a 15-play, 86-yard field goal drive to prevail, 32-29. Tyler Bass drilling the game-winning field goal amidst a blizzard as the clock hit zero -- and then topping it off with a snow-slide celebration -- was perfection.
Allen, whose play has been a bit uneven of late, became just the third player in NFL history with 300-plus passing yards, four-plus passing touchdowns and 75-plus rushing yards in a single game, joining Cam Newton and Mike Vick. He's a weather-proof, one-man wrecking crew. And he's about to guide the Bills to their first No. 1 overall seed -- and first Super Bowl appearance -- since the 1993 campaign.
4) Trevor Lawrence IS that guy
Down 17 points? In the second half? Against the big, bad Cowboys? No matter. The Jaguars have a true franchise quarterback, so anything's possible.
Lawrence has found his flow -- and I'm not talking about the hair. He's playing like the generational talent we all thought he was when he went No. 1 overall in the 2021 NFL Draft. With the Jaguars trailing 27-10 midway through the third quarter, Lawrence proceeded to throw three touchdown passes in less than nine minutes of game time to give Jacksonville a 31-27 lead. Dallas retook the lead with a touchdown, but Lawrence led a field goal drive in the final minute to send the game into overtime, where the Jaguars walked it off in thrilling fashion with Rayshawn Jenkins' 52-yard pick-six.
I love the way Doug Pederson's team has performed since the start of November. Jacksonville has won four of their past six games to get to 6-8. During this span, Lawrence played spectacular football, with a 14:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio, a 70.4 completion percentage and a 111.2 passer rating. I think the Jaguars finish the regular season with victories over the Jets, Texans and spiraling Titans to win the AFC South at 9-8.
5) Just-in time
If you are looking for an MVP dark horse, I have your guy. As an Associated Press voter who'll now be tasked with ranking my top five picks for the award, I can say that Herbert is absolutely on my current list. Sunday's effort certainly wasn't his best of the season -- two second-down picks inside the Titans' 30-yard line were costly -- but the 24-year-old showcased his extraordinary arm talent when it mattered most.
The Titans tied the game at 14-14 with just 48 ticks remaining. With the Chargers having already used up all three timeouts, overtime appeared to be in the offing. Then Herbert abruptly completed three straight passes for 57 yards -- including a scrambling 35-yard laser to Mike Williams that only a handful of quarterbacks would even attempt -- putting Los Angeles in field goal range. A few snaps later, Cameron Dicker nailed a 43-yard field goal for the win.
Playing without Derwin James, Rashawn Slater and Joey Bosa, the long snake-bitten Bolts pulled out a win to improve to 8-6. That's the Justin Herbert factor. The third-year QB changes everything.
With the Colts, Rams and Broncos left on L.A.'s slate, I think the Bolts run the table and hit the postseason as a frisky wild card. Herbert fell just short of the playoffs last season with an overtime loss to the Raiders in Week 18. I need the golden-armed passer in the tournament this January.
6) Detroit ain't Lion
The Jets' defense is no joke. Jared Goff and the Lions' prolific offense were stuck in the mud, with six points scored in the first 58 minutes of game action. But Dan Campbell's team never quits. These are NOT the same old Lions. They have flair, they have heart and they most definitely have guts -- which leads us to the play of the game ...
At the two-minute warning, Detroit trailed 17-13 and faced a fourth-and-1 at their own 49-yard line. With the Jets geared up to stuff the run, Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson dialed up a brilliantly designed tight end delay, allowing Goff to hit a wide-open Brock Wright for a 51-yard catch-and-run touchdown. This coming just a few snaps after Wright had dropped a wide-open pass to start the drive. Confidence! Resilience! Redemption! These are your 2022 Detroit Lions!!
The Lions were 1-6. Now they're 7-7. And I think they end up in the playoffs. What a story.
7) GIANT win, but ...
Give Brian Daboll his due after New York's 20-12 win. Wow, what a breath of fresh air after years of ineptitude on the Giants' sideline. Daboll has gotten the most out of a flawed roster, leading the G-Men to an 8-5-1 mark that currently has them as the No. 6 seed in the NFC playoff field.
But on Sunday night, Big Blue got some help from the men in zebra duds.
If I am a Washington fan, I'm livid over two questionable decisions by the referees late in this crucial NFC East bout. I cannot believe Terry McLaurin was called for illegal formation, negating a potential game-tying score by Brian Robinson. Sure looked like McLaurin checked with the official on his alignment to me. Two snaps later, the refs kept their flags in their pockets on what appeared to be a clear pass interference on Curtis Samuel. What a brutal way for the Commanders to fall to 7-6-1.
8) Bengals roar back in Tampa
Remember when the Bengals were down 17-0 to the Bucs on Sunday? Yeah, me neither. But they were. Then they scored 34 straight points and won going away.
With Joe Burrow under center, the moments where the Bengals go Bungles are fleeting. Burrow outplayed and outshined Tom Brady, throwing four second-half touchdown passes to give Cincinnati (10-4) double-digit wins for the second straight season. Meanwhile, Lou Anarumo's underrated defense flummoxed TB12 into four turnovers, tying a career high.
The Bengals are going to win the AFC North and they are one of three teams with a chance to win the conference title. I'd rank it 1) Buffalo, 2) Cincinnati, 3) Kansas City, which has been my ranking for quite some time. The Bucs (6-8) are a bad team that's lucky to be in the historically inept NFC South. Of course they'd blow a three-score lead in Raymond James Stadium. Brady had been 89-0 in his career when leading by 17-plus points at home. Joey B gave the G.O.A.T. a blemish.
9) Chiefs win?
OK, I'll never minimize wins. And Kansas City won the AFC West for the seventh consecutive season with an overtime escape at one-win Houston. Many people -- myself included -- thought the Chiefs' divisional reign would end after the Tyreek Hill trade. But here they are, owning the crown once again -- with three weeks remaining in the regular season. That's the thing, though: This team's goals go far beyond the next three games.
Kansas City (11-3) has serious title aspirations. Sneaking by the moribund Broncos and Texans in back-to-back December games doesn't exactly inspire confidence heading toward the postseason. Especially when the Chiefs have already lost to the two other AFC superpowers, Buffalo and Cincinnati, earlier this season.