With the coronavirus sweeping through the N.F.L. at a greater extent than it had all season, Week 12 had an uneasy edge to it, with several teams having to cobble together solutions brought by player absences that resulted from positive tests and close contacts. The league soldiered on, however, getting all 12 of Sunday’s games in regardless of the issues. But a Tuesday game in which as many as 20 Ravens players could be out because of a coronavirus outbreak still looms.
Here’s what we learned:
The Titans know how to hammer a weakness. The Colts were dealt quite a blow when defensive tackle DeForest Buckner was ruled out of this game following a positive test for the coronavirus. The massive interior lineman has been a key part of Indianapolis’ stout defense, and without him — and with Indianapolis missing two other important starters on defense — the Colts had absolutely no answer for Derrick Henry, who rumbled for 178 yards and three touchdowns. All three of Henry’s touchdowns came in a laugher of a first half in which Tennessee went into the locker room leading by 35-14. The rest of the game was merely a formality.
With the 45-26 win, the Titans (8-3) took sole possession of first place in the A.F.C. South. They stand a good chance of holding onto that lead, as they face teams with losing records in three of their final five games.
Denver didn’t stand a chance. Despite not having a quarterback on the roster as a result of Jeff Driskel testing positive for the coronavirus and the team’s three other quarterbacks being ruled out as close contacts, the Broncos were thrown to the wolves against the red-hot New Orleans Saints. Denver running back Phillip Lindsay officially started at quarterback for Denver, but Kendall Hinton, a rookie wide receiver from the team’s practice squad, took the majority of snaps under center despite not having played the position regularly since 2017 — his third year in college at Wake Forest.
Hinton completed just 1 of 9 passes for 13 yards, and was intercepted twice for a passer rating of zero. The Broncos lost, 31-3, and are likely wondering why the N.F.L., which has bent over backward to accommodate other teams that had virus-related issues this season, did not find a way to delay the game until a quarterback could be added to their roster.
You can still see something new in an N.F.L. game. In the third quarter of Carolina’s game against Minnesota, the Panthers’ Jeremy Chinn, a rookie linebacker, scooped up a Kirk Cousins fumble and returned it 17 yards for a touchdown. Carolina’s kickoff resulted in a touchback, and on the first play of the next series, as the broadcast crew attempted to recap Chinn’s previous touchdown, he helped force a Dalvin Cook fumble before picking the ball up and taking it 30 yards for his second touchdown. Chinn became the first player with multiple fumble returns for a touchdown in a game since Fred Evans did it for Chicago in 1948. Chinn is also believed to be the first defensive player in N.F.L. history to score touchdowns on consecutive snaps.
Somehow that 14-point swing, which resulted in the Panthers leading by 21-10 early in the second half, did not end with a Carolina victory. Minnesota chipped away at the lead and Cousins eventually found Chad Beebe for a 10-yard touchdown pass with just 46 seconds left in the game to secure a shocking 28-27 win at home.
A game can go sideways on one play. The Raiders were 3-point favorites on the road in Atlanta, but after a slow first half, Las Vegas was trailing the Falcons by 6-3 late in the second quarter. Things seemed to be turning the Raiders’ way when Atlanta’s Younghoe Koo missed a 40-yard field goal attempt wide right. Unfortunately for Las Vegas, safety Dallin Leavitt fell down at the end of the play and rolled into Koo, receiving a somewhat questionable roughing the kicker penalty. Four plays later, Matt Ryan found wide receiver Calvin Ridley for a 4-yard touchdown pass.
From there the Falcons were off to the races, taking advantage of four more Las Vegas turnovers after an earlier fumble. Atlanta repeatedly found ways to score after Raiders giveaways and walked away with a laughable 43-6 win.
No one can cover Tyreek Hill. Tampa Bay came into the season thinking its defense could power a deep playoff run, but Hill showed exactly how vulnerable the Buccaneers are to elite speed by burning the team for 203 yards receiving and two touchdowns — in the first quarter. It was the most receiving yards in a quarter for any player since 2006 and the most receiving yards in a game for a player all season. But Hill wasn’t done and finished the day with 13 catches on 15 targets for 269 yards and three touchdowns as the Chiefs held on to beat the Buccaneers, 27-24.
In the must-see play of the game, Patrick Mahomes, who increasingly seems assured of winning his second career Most Valuable Player Award, completed a 75-yard touchdown pass to Hill in which the ball traveled 60.9 yards in the air.
Sam Darnold is not the answer for the Jets. With a 55-yard opening drive that ended in a 38-yard field goal, the winless Jets took a 3-0 lead over the Miami Dolphins. From there, things only went downhill. Darnold, in his first action since Week 8, was far less effective than Joe Flacco had been in his place, leading his team on drives that resulted in six punts, two interceptions, a missed field goal and a turnover on downs in which the ghost of Frank Gore was knocked back for a 1-yard loss on a fourth-and-1 play in the red zone. After that 3-0 start to the game, the Jets lost by 20-3.
The 0-11 Jets have only one game remaining against a team that currently has a losing record.