The Cleveland Browns held on for a thrilling road win over the Denver Broncos to remain mathematically alive for the postseason, and the Houston Texans outlasted the New York Jets for their 10th victory of 2018. Here’s what we learned:
1. Saturday night’s game wasn’t pretty by any stretch of the imagination, but the Browns have now won four of their last games to improve to 6-7-1 and remain mathematically alive for the playoffs. The Browns won the Week 15 matchup with timely plays on both sides of the football.
Rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield got it going early in the game with an incredible 31-yard touchdown pass to Breshad Perriman and rookie running back Nick Chubb totaled 100 yards rushing on 20 carries. Mayfield finished the game with two touchdowns, including what proved to the game winner in the fourth quarter on a 2-yard toss to rookie Antonio Callaway. Mayfield also snapped a personal bad streak Saturday night. He had an interception and a lost fumble, and the Browns were previously 0-3 when he totaled two-plus giveaways in a game. Make that 1-3 now.
Meanwhile, the Browns‘ defense deserves plenty of credit for coming up big in the fourth quarter with an interception and a sack to end the game. Cleveland totaled two interceptions, two sacks and seven quarterback hits on the night, and held the Broncos to 270 net total yards of offense, almost 89 yards below their per game average.
2. Speaking of Chubb, the rookie running back got stronger in the second half, as 77 of his 100 yards came after halftime. Chubb’s 40-yard run with 4:35 remaining in the game helped the Browns eat up precious time off the clock before the team turned it over on downs with less than two minutes remaining in the game. Saturday’s 100-yard effort marked the third time this season for Chubb, who now has 860 yards rushing on the season, leaving him a very attainable 140 yards shy of a 1,000-yard campaign with two games to go.
3. After a 24-yard rushing effort on 14 carries, one can’t help but wonder what in the world has happened to Broncos running back Phillip Lindsay in the past two games? And it’s not like Lindsay didn’t have a good matchup, as the Browns entered Week 15 ranked 28th against the run. In Denver’s three-game winning streak from Weeks 11-13, Lindsay rushed for 346 yards and five touchdowns on 44 carries. But in the past two games, the rookie running back has totaled 54 yards rushing and a touchdown on 28 carries, averaging a paltry 1.9 yards per attempt. It’s probably no coincidence the Broncos have lost two straight games with an absent ground attack to drop to 6-8 on the season, and Saturday night’s defeat places Denver in a gaping hole for the postseason.
4. Following the Week 14 loss, Broncos head coach Vance Johnson expressed a desire for quarterback Case Keenum to throw the ball down the field more often. The signal-caller apparently heeded his coach’s wish and picked his spots to attack the Browns secondary, but the desired results weren’t there. Keenum’s first interception killed a drive inside the Browns‘ territory, while the second turnover came in the fourth quarter, which Cleveland quickly turned into a touchdown to take a 17-13 lead. Keenum finished the game completing 31 of 48 passes for 257 yards, averaging 5.4 yards per completion, and the two interceptions for a 60.9 passer rating.
1. The Texans made this game tougher than what they probably wanted. The offense as a whole struggled, and losing running back Lamar Miller to an ankle injury early in the game didn’t help. But Houston can thank wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins for bailing them out and helping the team improve to 10-4 on the season. Hopkins was a monster, totaling 10 catches for 170 yards and two highlight-reel touchdowns. To put his numbers in perspective, the Texans totaled 286 net yards of offense, meaning Hopkins accounted for 59 percent of the production.
Hopkins showed off his speed on a 45-yard touchdown catch when he streaked down the middle of the field and split the defense, and displayed his tremendous hands on a 14-yard circus grab in the end zone. On the game-winning touchdown, Hopkins said “it was hard to run out there” after he rolled his ankle on the first play of the drive. Quarterback Deshaun Watson and running back Alfred Blue carried him off the field after the touchdown, but Watson said he didn’t believe Hopkins was banged up, just worthy of being carried off. During the game, Hopkins became the second-youngest player (26 years, six months, nine days) in NFL history to reach 500 career receptions, trailing Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who accomplished the feat at 26 years, 192 days. The sixth-year pro made his first All-Pro team in 2017 and is well on the way to do it again given he’s already eclipsed the 1,000-yard receiving mark as one of the NFL’s top wideouts.
2. Watson completed 22 of 28 passes for 294 yards, two touchdowns and a 134.2 pass rating. But his impressive production through the air won’t tell the whole story of his night. With six sacks on the game, Watson has been sacked a league-high 52 times through 14 games. A lot of blame will fall on the offensive line, but some of the sacks against the Jets fell squarely on Watson, who held the ball too long.
Granted, one sack came when officials blew the play dead too early. But for the most part during the pressures, Watson was a sitting duck in the backfield as he looked to make a big play instead of throwing it away. Watson, who was on the receiving end of 10 quarterback hits against the Jets, has taken 3.3 sacks per game since entering the NFL in 2017, marking the most in the league (minimum four starts).
3. The Jets‘ future is clearly in good hands with rookie quarterback Sam Darnold, who had a head-turning performance against the league’s 13th-ranked defense. Darnold connected with nine different receivers en route to completing 24 of 38 passes for 253 yards and two touchdowns. He showed off his arm strength and the ability to throw on the move, including an eye-popping 5-yard jump pass for a touchdown. On that play, Darnold sensed the pressure around him in the pocket before stepping up. The Texans‘ defenders quickly closed on him, perhaps thinking he was running the ball. Darnold, however, turned slightly to his left just shy of the line of scrimmage, spotted Robby Anderson coming across the back of the end zone, before hopping off the ground to throw a strike to Anderson. The Jets‘ signal-caller also flashed his ability to hurt a defense with his legs, rushing six times for 35 yards. Once the Jets surround Darnold with talent, the offense should take off.
4. On paper, this should’ve been a mismatch between the Jets defense and the Texans offense heading into Saturday night, but the Jets defense didn’t look like a unit that entered Week 15 ranked 23rd in the league. New York more than met the challenge against the league’s 13th-ranked offense (369.5 yards per game), smothering the Texans with pressure on the quarterback and holding Houston to a dismal 1 of 9 on third-down attempts. The Jets‘ ability to control the Texans‘ offense throughout a majority of the game led to New York owning a 35:04-24:56 edge in time of possession. While the Jets dropped to 4-10 on the season, Saturday showed there’s still plenty of fight left in them before the season ends.