Game balls – NFL Week 12

We’ve reached Week 12, which means we’re officially two-thirds of the way through this inaugural 18-week regular season. With the top teams taking it in turns to lose, no one’s dominating the race for the playoffs yet and possibly only the Detroit Lions have no chance of squeaking in via a Wild Card spot.

But let’s turn our attention to more immediate prizes: this week’s F10Y game balls!

Offensive player of the week

Leonard Fournette, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Andy Lyons – Getty Images

The best quarterback performance of the week came on Thanksgiving Thursday, when the Bills’ Josh Allen completed 23 of 28 for 260 yards against the Saints. He was the only QB to throw for four touchdown passes this weekend, as Buffalo ran out 31-6 winners.

The Thanksgiving feast of football also served up a 36-33 OT win for the Las Vegas Raiders in Dallas. The game saw four players (Hunter Renfrow, DeSean Jackson, Michael Gallup and Cedric Wilson) exceed 100 receiving yards, yet the top scorer was Raiders kicker Daniel Carson. Although strictly a Special Teamer and not eligible for this game ball, Carson deserves a mention for banging all five of his field goals – including a 56-yarder and the 29-yard game winner – through the uprights and making all three of his PATs, racking up exactly half his team’s points. Nick Folk also hit 5 FGs and 3 PATs in the Patriots’ 36-13 win over the Titans but another missed kick means he wasn’t quite perfect. 

Other eye-catching performances included Miami’s Jaylen Waddle (137 receiving yards, 1 TD) and Tampa Bay TE Rob Gronkowski (123 receiving yards), while Cincinnati’s Joe Mixon (165 rushing yards, 2 TDs) and the Niners’ Elijah Mitchell (133 rushing yards, 1 TD) led the way on the ground. Atlanta’s Cordarrelle Patterson set three career highs with 16 carries, 108 yards and two touchdowns in the Falcons’ 21-14 win over the Jaguars, while Dontrell Hilliard (check out his scorching 68-yard TD run) and D’Onta Foreman both passed 100 rushing yards for Tennessee. Derrick who?

But that’s enough about the also-rans; let’s cut to the chase. If you were betting on anyone scoring four touchdowns in the Colts v Buccaneers game, I’m pretty sure many of you would’ve plumped for Indy RB Jonathan Taylor, our five-TD hero from last week. But in fact, it was Tampa Bay’s LEONARD FOURNETTE who achieved that feat, equalling a franchise record in the process. ‘Four-TD-nette’ bulldozed his way to exactly 100 yards and three scores from 17 rushes, and had a short TD catch among his seven receptions for 31 yards.

The Bucs’ final drive with less than three minutes remaining summed up Playoff Lenny’s contribution. With the score tied, they faced a first-and-15 at their own 31. Lenny featured in four of the six plays, rushing for 11 yards, catching a 13-yard pass, banging out an 8-yard run and breaking free for a 28-yard touchdown. Bruce Arians complained that Lenny didn’t step out of bounds so that Tampa could run the clock down and win with a kick. It was a fair point because the Colts returned the ensuing kick-off 72 yards, setting up a worrying (but ultimately unsuccessful) Hail Mary attempt as time expired. But that was a minor quibble, as Fournette secured 11 of his team’s 24 first downs with his second 100-yard game with the Bucs.

Defensive player of the week

Patrick Surtain II, CB, Denver Broncos

Justin Edmonds – Getty Images

Let’s start with one of the league’s weekly stand-out performers, Patriots’ ball-hawking corner JC Jackson, who was involved in two turnovers against Tennessee this week. He intercepted a tipped pass in his own end zone, then punched the ball to force a fumble by D’Onta Foreman that was recovered by Jalen Mills. Jackson sits second in the league with seven interceptions, behind only Trevon Diggs (8).

One guy who’s definitely making a play for Defensive Rookie of the Year, let alone a F10Y game ball, is Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons. In the close loss to the Raiders, Parsons was once again in the thick of the action with a sack and two tackles for loss. The 12th overall pick out of Penn State now has nine sacks to his name.    

Another first round pick who played an absolute blinder in Week 12 was Miami edge rusher Jaelan Phillips. In the 33-10 win over Carolina, he netted three sacks for a loss of 28 yards, as well as four quarterback hits, four tackles, three tackles for loss and a pass defensed. He also came within a whisker of clobbering the underperforming Cam Newton for a safety in the third quarter.

And for our game ball recipient, we stay with the 2021 rookie class. Denver’s PATRICK SURTAIN II had a memorable game against divisional foes the LA Chargers with a pair of fourth-quarter interceptions: one that prevented a touchdown and one that produced one. The first-year cornerback stepped in front of TE Jared Cook in the Broncos end zone to pick off what would’ve been a touchdown pass. Then, he picked Justin Herbert again on a pass intended for Austin Ekeler and took it 70 yards the other way for a touchdown. Recording at least one pass defensed in every game he’s played since Week 4, you can be certain of Surtain.

Coach of the week

Zac Taylor, HC, Cincinnati Bengals

Jeff Dean – AP Photos

Matt LeFleur heads into the bye week with his Packers team at 9-3 after a 36-28 win in LA against the now 7-4 Rams. Aaron Rodgers overcame a fractured toe to rack up some big throws, Davante Adams topped 100 yards receiving and Joe Barry’s defence also joined in the fun, compiling two sacks, 18 QB pressures, eight passes defensed and a pick-six. Green Bay now have a commanding lead in the NFC North and they’re just half a game behind the top-seeded Cardinals, who they beat in Week 8, in the conference standings.

But this time, with none of the really big upsets we’ve seen in recent weeks, we’re going with a Head Coach whose team delivered a 31-point beatdown to their biggest rivals. OK, it was ‘only’ the then-5-4-1 Steelers but Cincinnati’s 41-10 victory against their old AFC North chums was further evidence that ZAC TAYLOR is turning the tide. In the past 30 seasons, Cincinnati had swept the season series between the teams only twice – in 1998 and 2009 – but they have finally done so again, having won 24-10 in Pittsburgh last month.

If you look up ‘statement win’ in the dictionary, you’ll probably get the highlights from Sunday’s game, because the Bengals dominated from start to finish. While they leant on the run, with Joe Mixon’s career-high 165 yards and 2 TDs, Joe Burrow also scrambled for a TD and Tee Higgins went for 114 yards and a TD. On the other side of the ball, the D compiled three sacks and three takeaways, including former Steeler Mike Hilton’s first career pick-six.

Having managed just six wins in the previous two seasons, Cincy are now sitting nicely at 7-4 and if he can continue to get this sort of performance out of his team, the only way is up for ZT.

Play of the week

Tony Pollard, RB, Dallas Cowboys

Tim Heitman – USA TODAY Sports

In holding the Bills to 10 first-half points and forcing two turnovers, the New Orleans D made a game of it for a while. Saints linebacker Kwon Alexander’s snag was a particularly spectacular effort, diving full length to make a finger-tip grab just as Josh Allen had marched his team into the red zone in search of a 17-point lead. 

If you wanted one-handed catches, Marvin Jones Jr obliged for the Jaguars in their loss to the Falcons, reaching out at full stretch like a goalkeeper saving a penalty. Mark Andrews also delivered one of the best for Baltimore in their 16-10 win over Cleveland, despite being pulled backwards and downwards by his other arm. And I’m just going to leave a link to Andrews’ TD catch here: hats off to Lamar Jackson for insane elusiveness and patience.

Not your thing? How about a huge bomb downfield then? Yep, we got one of those from Carson Wentz, sending Ashton Dulin 62 yards downfield for his first career TD, a 79-yard monster for the Rams’ Van Jefferson and a first TD for Odell Beckham Jr in yellow and blue, this one going for 54 yards

Personally, I’m a sucker for a long kick return and Indy’s Isaiah Rodgers’ jinking 72-yard kick-off return right at the end of the Bucs game was a corker. He almost went all the way for a game-winning TD, having lost the lead with just 20 seconds remaining, and was one last-ditch tackle away from glory. The Vikings’ Kene Nwangwu went 99 yards for his kick-off return TD against the 49ers but for our game ball, we’re taking it up one more yard.

I really enjoyed seeing the Cowboys’ TONY POLLARD make a 100-yard kick-off return TD in the third quarter but the play had some extra icing on the cake. The eagle-eyed among you may also have spotted the official on the left sideline trying to keep pace with the action – no mean feat when you consider the specialist returner reached 20.97 mph on the play. Alas, because he was watching the on-field action, our touch judge didn’t see the camera post on the halfway line, tripped over it at full tilt and face-planted the turf. Ooof!

Gaffe of the week

Frank Reich, HC, Indianapolis Colts

Robert Scheer – USA TODAY Sports

Honestly, I’m not going to mention Zach Wilson’s abomination of a shovel pass to Ty Johnson, who was busy going upfield as a blocker and wasn’t even looking his way.

I’m not going to say that yet more kickers, from Mason Crosby to Randy Bullock, managed to hit a post this week. (What is that all about – are they magnetic?!)

And I’m not even going to refer to Seattle’s Gerald Everett deciding to get in among the Washington fans to celebrate a touchdown. He got what was coming to him: a big ol’ shove from a big ol’ beardy WFT fan. Love it.  

Nope, this week, I’m focusing on teams making systematic mistakes and coaches making bad decisions that led to more significant repercussions than a missed kick or a duff pass. 

In the Thanksgiving opener, Dan Campbell’s Lions chose ‘self-inflicted errors’ as their preferred method of defeat this week. Detroit were flagged 10 times for 67 penalty yards and twice during the game, were penalised on three consecutive plays to leave drives dead in the water. You don’t often see a 3rd-and-32 but Detroit had two.

Later in the evening, the Cowboys and Raiders were even more error-prone. Cowboys DB Anthony Brown gave away four defensive pass interference penalties, all on vital third downs. The two teams were flagged for a combined 28 accepted penalties (14 each) for 226 total yards, and 11 first downs were handed over on a plate due to flags being thrown.

But in their close loss to the Bucs, I think I’m handing the gaffe of the week game ball to Indianapolis Head Coach FRANK REICH for forgetting he had the league’s top rusher at his disposal. Sure, Jonathan Taylor had a sticky start (2 yards from his first four carries) but he racked up 23 yards on his next four, and 5.8 yards per carry ain’t bad. I can only guess that Bruce Arians then asked our Frank if he’d “be a darling and stop running the ball, thank you very much” – and he did exactly that.

After 26(!) consecutive passing plays – which yielded one TD and two turnovers – they finally started handing the ball back to Taylor. And hey presto, they drove 75 yards on 10 plays, with Taylor running eight times for 58 yards and a 4-yard TD. He finished the day with 16 carries for 83 rushing yards and a score plus four catches for 14 receiving yards. But it was all too little, too late and the Bucs took the W.

Sure, QB Carson Wentz started well through the air and the Buccaneers’ top-rated run defence was obviously focused on shackling #28 but remember, just a week ago, Taylor went for 204 total yards and five touchdowns. Five! Yet against Tampa, JT wasn’t used from the final minute of the first half until 10 minutes from the end of the game. And what was Reich’s response to press questions afterwards? “If anything, maybe we should have gotten more aggressive earlier… throwing.” Wow. Didn’t he even read my column last week?!

Unsurprisingly, social media became an echo chamber of Colts fans screaming “Run the damn ball!” into the ether, and I don’t blame them. It was odd. Most odd.

Feature image: ESPN

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