Running back Jonathan Taylor came up big in a must-win game for the Indianapolis Colts, while Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy came up small. Los Angeles Rams quarterback John Wolford came up big. Cleveland Browns coach Kevin Stefanski got his team ready when it mattered. Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores, however, did not. The Week 17 edition of NFL Recap’s Studs ‘n’ Duds doesn’t have space for all of Sunday’s twists and turns — did I say Jonathan Taylor came up big?
Featured | The 2021 NFL Playoffs picture
We wrote plenty of 2020-2021 NFL Playoffs first-look previews (Editor’s note: those will be unveiled on the main page of the site ASAP) to help catch you up on all of Sunday’s action — but we did comb the NFL to provide all the catch-trapping, tooth-flossing, not-really-Kirk-Cousins-roughing action we could fit in one segment. And stay tuned to the end, where we announce our 2020 End of Year awards.
Week 17 Stud: Jonathan Taylor, Running Back, Indianapolis Colts
On a day when the rest of the Colts were playing not to lose (and nearly lost to the Jacksonville Jaguars), Jonathan Taylor did his best Derrick Henry impersonation by carrying his team with 27 carries, 241 yards, and two touchdowns. In the fourth quarter, Jonathan Taylor’s 45-yard score gave the Colts much-needed breathing room in a 28-14 win to clinch a Wild Card berth.
Derrick Henry also did his best Derrick Henry impersonation with 250 yards and two touchdowns in a 41-38 Tennessee Titans shootout win over the Houston Texans to clinch the AFC South. That’s just a typical winter Sunday for him, though. It’s OK to let Jonathan Taylor be Jonathan Taylor.
Week 17 Duds: The officials in the Vikings-Lions game
The ticky-tack roughing the passer penalty against Tracy Walker at the goal line in the fourth quarter of the Minnesota Vikings 37-35 win over the Detroit Lions was an example of everything wrong with NFL officiating.
It was a terrible call, for one thing. Walker’s sack of Kirk Cousins was clear and routine, but officials somehow claimed to see Walker land atop Cousins with his full body weight. It was devastatingly obtrusive. The call turned a clutch fourth-down stop by the defense into an easy scoring opportunity for the offense late in a close game.
And the officials doubled-down on the nonsense when justifying the call because the NFL doesn’t admit mistakes until the rules committee convenes and addresses the issue three years later.
NFL Recap didn’t care what happened in Vikings-Lions, and you probably didn’t care, either. If that call happened in a playoff-important game, it would be all we would be talking about on Monday and Tuesday. If it happened to the New Orleans Saints, Sean Payton would take it to the Supreme Court.
Week 17 Stud: Sterling Shepard, Wide Receiver, New York Giants
On an afternoon when running back Wayne Gallman and granite-handed tight end Evan Engram appeared to be competing to determine who was the most NFC East-like player in the NFC East, Shepard stepped up with eight catches for 112 yards and one receiving touchdown. Shepard also added two rushes for 24 yards and a rushing TD. A clutch player in the NFC East is like a diamond in a pile of elephant dung — it is worth cherishing in the unlikely event you find one.
Week 17 Dud: Mike McCarthy, Head Coach, Dallas Cowboys
Where was McCarthy when he should have been throwing a challenge flag after Dante Pettis trapped the 3rd-and-15 “catch” against the ground to set up the 50-yard Graham Gano field goal to give the New York Giants a 23-19 fourth-quarter lead?
What was going through McCarthy’s mind when he called an Ezekiel Elliott draw play and settled for a field goal late in the second quarter? What was he thinking when defenders Jourdan Lewis and Randy Gregory committed, inexcusably, foolish roughness penalties after the whistle to extend Giants’ drives in the first half?
The answers: 1) He was in the Happy Place Spa in his mind with cucumbers over his eyes, 2) He was thinking about how he could book an appointment at the real-life Happy Place Spa as soon as the Cowboys were eliminated from the playoffs, 3) Nothing: McCarthy doesn’t do defense.
Enjoy the offseason, Dallas Cowboys fans. Your coaching staff is a bigger problem than your front office. Somehow.
Week 17 Stud: Kevin Stefanski, Head Coach, Cleveland Browns
Maybe Sunday’s 24-22 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers backups was a little tougher than it should have been. Then again, the Browns were dragging the baggage of one-fifth of a century of meaningless Week 17 games (many of them against the Steelers) behind them on their way to their first playoff berth since 2002.
Stefanski kept an even keel through early-season routs at the hands of perennial contenders, some monsoon, and haboob wind games. There were also quarantines that took away his receiving corps (in Week 16) and a mix of key players and coaches (on Sunday). No matter how the playoffs shake out, he had a heck of a year.
Week 17 Dud: Brian Flores, Head Coach, Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins failed in all three phases in a 56-26 loss to a Buffalo Bills team looking for an excuse to rest Josh Allen and other starters for the postseason. The defense was leaky. The special teams gave up a punt return touchdown. Worst of all, Tua Tagovailoa looked like he was still waiting for Flores to teach him how to work the can opener.
NFL Recap is not here to bury Tua. Wide Receiver Isaiah Ford played like he went to the Evan Engram Clinic for Reliable Hands, and the Dolphins offense has many other issues. We do not want to unduly rip Brian Flores, who could have earned try-hard accolades for leading the Dolphins to 10-6 this year, but this performance warrants enough for him to be a Week 17 dud.
There is work to be done this offseason. Part of that work involves taking down the baby gate and letting Tua develop without Chad FitzBeardo lurking over his shoulder.
Week 17 Stud: Isaiah McKenzie, Wide Receiver, Buffalo Bills
Two receiving touchdowns and a punt return touchdown.’Nuff said.
Week 17 Dud: Stefon Diggs, Wide Receiver, Buffalo Bills
The only thing more disgusting than flossing your teeth on the sideline during a game is flossing your teeth on the sideline during a game while we’re in a global pandemic. Be more like Lamar Jackson, Stefon, and take the bathroom stuff to the locker room.
Week 17 Stud: John Wolford, Quarterback, Los Angeles Rams
An unknown scrambler comes off the bench and does just enough with his legs and his arm against an opponent that doesn’t know what to expect to manufacture a victory. It’s a tale as old as time. But John Wolford did it in a must-win game against an opponent that also needed a win in Sunday’s 18-7 Rams victory over the Arizona Cardinals — and John Wolford did just that.
Featured | NFL Power Rankings Week 17
No, the John Wolford Experience (I wonder if John Wolford plays the bass?) is not sustainable in the playoffs. But Jared Goff may soon ride to the (relative) rescue. And remember what John Wolford did the next time some Adam Gase-type coach throws in the towel the moment his starting quarterback gets hurt.
Best Supporting Actor in someone else’s highlight
Linebacker Danny Trevathan earned a Super Bowl ring with the 2015 Denver Broncos. He has been a stalwart force in the middle of two outstanding defenses — those Broncos and the 2018-2020 Bears. He’s the kind of veteran every defensive coordinator wants calling signals and setting the tone for his unit. And he has as much business covering slot receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling on a deep route as NFL Recap does.
Aaron Rodgers deserves credit for reading this blitz. But really, look at the defensive alignment. Who else besides Trevathan was supposed to cover Valdes-Scantling? It was a bad call by coordinator Chuck Pagano. And it put a distinguished veteran in an impossible situation.
And now for the NFL Recap 2020 Awards!
Defender of the Year
Sorry, Aaron Donald. Sorry, Xavien Howard. Steelers edge rusher T.J. Watt led the NFL with 15 sacks, 23 tackles for a loss, and 41 hits on quarterbacks. He also deflected seven passes. Per Sports Info Solutions, he recorded 77 quarterback pressures through Week 16; Donald was in second place with 65. Watt was the most important player on a Pittsburgh Steelers team that finished 12-4. Yes, that includes the knuckleballer with the “7” on his jersey.
Offensive Line of the Year
They protected Drew Brees the way they have for years. Then, when the undersized 41-year-old could not escape injury, they downshifted into service academy mode and began blocking for power runs and Taysom Hill options. They spent Week 17 blocking for some running backs the Saints found wandering around the French Quarter this weekend. And they did it all while adjusting to a variety of injuries among their own ranks.
The 2020 Offensive Line of the Year award goes to the New Orleans Saints: left tackle Terron Armstead, right tackle Ryan Ramczyk, center Erik McCoy, left guard Andrus Peat, right guard Cesar Ruiz, super subs Nick Easton and James Hurst, and jumbo package specialist Will Clapp.
Justin Tucker Special Teamer of the Year
Tucker cannot win the award because the award is named after him. However, Jason Sanders performed his best Tucker impersonation in the heat of a playoff race this season. He was 34-of-37 on field goals entering Week 17, 8-of-9 from 50-plus yards, perfect on extra points, excellent on touchbacks, and money on a few game-winners. Sunday’s loss that eliminated the Dolphins from the playoffs was just about everyone’s fault but Sanders’.
Matthew Slater Non-Specialist Special Teamer of the Year
Slater cannot win the award because … you get the idea.
Cody Barton of the Seattle Seahawks, George Odum of the Indianapolis Colts, and Justin Bethel of the New England Patriots share this award. Barton recorded 10 special teams tackles, three assists, and two forced fumbles, including one that helped the Seahawks put their victory over the San Francisco 49ers in Week 9 out of reach.
Odum and Bethel tied for the NFL lead with 13 special teams tackles entering Week 17. Odum added six assists and a forced fumble. Bethel, picking up where he left off when he was the Arizona Cardinals’ special teams ace, added one assist and blocked an extra point.
Undrafted Rookie of the Year
James Robinson rushed for 1,070 yards and seven touchdowns this season, adding 49-344-3 as a receiver and keeping the Jacksonville Jaguars in some games they had no business being in. He did it all for the rock-bottom league-minimum salary. In fact, Robinson will probably continue making the league minimum, keeping the Jaguars’ offense viable during their Trevor Lawrence rebuild over the next two years.
Then, when it’s time for Robinson to make some Ezekiel Elliott money, the Jaguars will be like, “Nope, sorry. Analytics. You’ve been overworked by a bad team for the last three years. We can’t pay you.” And they will have a point.
So NFL Recap wants to see James Robinson in lots and lots of commercials. Insurance commercials. Fast food commercials. Daily fantasy provider and sportsbook commercials. Robinson is a WORKING MAN who deserves footlong hoagies and the fastest internet connection available, advertisers. He’s marketing gold. Get this young man PAID.
NFL Recap is powerless to change the system, but we’re dedicated to doing our part.
For shameless plugs beyond James Robinson, John Wolford, Jonathan Taylor, and more — bookmark profootballnetwork.com!