NFL Week 16 Takeaways: Biggest Takeaways from 2022 Christmas Day Games
The NFL gifted everyone with a Christmas Day triple-header as the 2022 regular season winds to a close.
After a near-full slate of Saturday play, the Miami Dolphins hosted the Green Bay Packers, the Denver Broncos traveled to sunny Los Angeles to face the Rams and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers found their way to the desert in search of the Arizona Cardinals.
Significant stakes existed, either due to playoff scenarios, draft slotting and/or future franchise implications. Sunday's results provided repercussions that will reverberate throughout the league.
Tua Tagovailoa happened to be in the giving mood when the Dolphins met the Packers at Hard Rock Stadium and provided presents for all of the AFC squads still hoping to sneak into the postseason. Conversely, Green Bay is making its charge toward a potential playoff appearance with Aaron Rodgers leading the way.
Baker Mafyield, meanwhile, appears to have found a home in Los Angeles with the Rams organization.
Sunday's action might have been limited, yet those meetings had plenty at stake, with multiple national headlines coming out of these holiday appearances.
Tua Tagovailoa, Miami Dolphins Falling Apart When Games Matter Most
The Miami Dolphins have been TuAnonymous since December began.
After an 8-3 start, including a September victory over the AFC East rival Buffalo Bills, this team looked capable of capturing a division title and doing significant damage during the postseason. But Miami is now in the fight of its proverbial life just to make the playoffs.
With Sunday's 26-20 defeat to the Packers, the Dolphins lost their fourth straight contest and tumbled to 8-7 overall while tenuously hanging on to the seventh and final AFC playoff slot.
The New England Patriots, New York Jets, Tennessee Titans and Pittsburgh Steelers are now only one game behind with two weeks to play in the regular season.
While the quarterback position tends to get far too much credit and blame, Tua Tagovailoa's performance against the Packers is the starting point of Sunday's downfall.
Miami led 20-13 at halftime. During the final 30 minutes, the Dolphins quarterback completed eight of 14 passes for 96 yards and threw three interceptions, including the game-clinching pick with 1:34 left to play. Tagovailoa tossed those picks on three consecutive drives and became the first Dolphins signal-caller with three fourth-quarter interceptions in the last 13 years, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
The final turnover proved to be particularly embarrassing on two fronts. First, the Packers completely fooled Tagovailoa with their coverage, and Rasul Douglas easily dropped into the zone to make the play. Second, Tyreek Hill ran across the field wide-open, and his quarterback never even considered the option.
During Miami's current losing streak, Tagovailoa has completed 51.3 percent of his passes with a 6-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Even the Dolphins' head coach doesn't understand his quarterback's funk or what the team can do to help him get back on track.
"It's uncharacteristic of him. He started the game playing at a high level," Mike McDaniel told reporters. "I don't know where that went, but it's something he and I [will figure out]."
The Dolphins may need a holiday miracle to set things straight in time for things to matter this season.
Green Bay Packers Cling to Postseason Life During Holiday Season
The Packers are technically a worse team than the Dolphins, at least from a record standpoint. Yet the 7-8 squad that is still trying to gain entry into the postseason seems to be sitting much prettier than its 8-7 counterpart that holds the seventh playoff spot in the AFC.
Why? The teams are heading in opposite directions.
Miami has lost four in a row, while Green Bay has won its last three. The Packers' victories against the Chicago Bears and Los Angeles Rams aren't all that impressive considering those opponents are two of the league's worst teams. But after the Dolphins came out strong Sunday, head coach Matt LaFleur's squad weathered the storm and found a way to win a game it absolutely needed.
The Packers now have the same record as the Seattle Seahawks and Detroit Lions. All three are a half-game behind the 7-7-1 Washington Commanders, who are sitting in the NFC's seventh and final playoff slot.
While their defense can be inconsistent and they can't rely on turnovers each and every week to help win games, the Packers are doing a couple of things right on the other side of the ball to keep their momentum going beyond the last two weeks of the regular season.
First, they finally figured out they have one of the league's best backfields, and they're using Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon as catalysts. The late/great Mike Leach once defined a balanced offense as getting the ball into all of the playmakers' hands. In this case, Green Bay has produced a near 50-50 split on running and passing plays. In fact, Aaron Rodgers has attempted only seven more passes than team carries during this stretch.
When the four-time league MVP does drop back, he's well-protected.
As NFL Next Gen Stats noted, Green Bay's offensive line allowed only six pressures despite facing a 60 percent pressure rate on Rodgers' dropbacks against the Dolphins defense. The Packers' season-long pressure rate allowed is the third-lowest in the league.
Rodgers may not be playing to the same level as his previous two seasons. His 11 interceptions are his most since 2010. He's not nearly as crisp or consistently accurate. But the team's ability to run the ball effectively coupled with a non-crumbling pocket will give Green Bay a chance to win on a weekly basis.
The Packers will need to do both things consistently against the Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions to finish out the regular season. It just so happens both teams rank among the bottom half of the league against opposing ground games.
Baker Mayfield Is a Long-term Option for Los Angeles Rams
Baker Mayfield's professional career has been marred by inconsistency—both in his performance and situation. The Los Angeles Rams appear to be the right place for the Heisman Trophy winner to stake his claim as a long-term starter. He'll need to be patient, though.
The short-term turnaround of the Rams with Mayfield behind center has been staggering. Since joining the team Dec. 6 after being released by the Carolina Panthers, the Rams are 2-1 with Mayfield as their starting quarterback. The team is now coming off its most impressive victory of the entire season with Sunday's 51-14 throttling of the Denver Broncos.
During the contest, Mayfield completed 24-of-28 passes for 230 yards and two touchdowns, against one of the league's better defenses. Despite all of the issues currently found in Denver, the Broncos D deserves credit for its seasonal performance. The group entered the meeting ranked among the top three in scoring defense, total defenses and three-and-outs forced. Yet Mayfield and Co. shredded Ejiro Evero's standout unit. The Rams never even punted.
Again, Mayfield hasn't even been with his new team for three full weeks. Yet he looked as good Sunday as he has at any point of his career. Situation matters.
The 2018 No. 1 overall pick joined his third team in sixth months after failing at his previous two stops. At the same time, both the Cleveland Browns and Carolina Panthers failed to provide stable setups. Since entering the league, Mayfield has played for seven different head coaches (two interim). Change has been the only constant.
At certain points, the Oklahoma product still performed well. But the ability to continually and efficiently operate failed him. His mechanics fell apart. Poor decision-making, particularly in crucial moments, cropped up too often. Injuries made matters worse. Mayfield needed to realize he didn't need to carry the whole team, even though he tried to do so through everything.
The Rams are different. They're established. They have a great head coach in Sean McVay with a proven system. The roster features top-level talent at multiple spots. It's in Mayfield's best interests to set some roots, even if he's not the immediate starter.
A year of playing behind Matthew Stafford, taking a full year to learn the system and just step back from everything Mayfield endured so far could prove hugely beneficial. With Stafford's continued elbow and neck issues, the Rams front office certainly can't be too cautious.
Stafford turns 35 in January. He was already playing poorly before going on injured reserve. The Rams can save $31 million by trading him after June 1 or releasing the quarterback with the same designation, according to Over The Cap.
Currently, Mayfield is scheduled to become a free agent. He can take the chance of joining yet another franchise and start immediately. The guarantee to find what he currently has with the Rams may not happen again.
A little foresight coupled with some patience by the player and his representation can have him starting again by the age of 29, if not sooner depending on the injury situation, and remain in arguably the best setup of the quarterback's career.
Stepping Away from Arizona Cardinals Is Right Move for Kliff Kingsbury
Kliff Kingsbury spent six mediocre seasons with his alma mater, Texas Tech, before the professional ranks came calling. He's now spent four mediocre seasons with the Arizona Cardinals, with his current setup spiraling out of control.
The Cardinals are now 4-11 after Sunday's 19-16 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Everything has gone wrong in the desert. Primarily, Kyler Murray's season-ending knee injury could prevent the franchise quarterback from being in the lineup at the start of the 2023 campaign. General manager Steve Keim stepped away from the team and took a leave of absence for health reasons two weeks ago. Meanwhile, the relationships within the building are seemingly deteriorating more and more by the day.
According to ESPN's Jeremy Fowler and Josh Weinfuss, Kingsbury may consider walking away after this season because the past few seasons have "taken their toll" on him.
"He knows that it's not a situation that lends itself to him being happy and successful and at his best for that organization, which he wants to be," a source close to Kingsbury said. "They won't let him. They won't let him be great."
To the coach's credit, he refuted the report. But he's quickly becoming a tarnished option, particularly if the Cardinals situation gets any worse, publicly or privately. Besides, Kingsbury could avoid the axe simply by being proactive, since owner Michael Bidwell may be looking to make significant changes.
"By most accounts, Keim and Bidwill maintained a strong relationship for years, but that has soured this season," a source with direct knowledge of the team's inner workings told ESPN.
The best path forward for Kingsbury is to immediately resign after this season, keep his reputation and likely walk into the college program of his choosing once he's ready to return to the sidelines.
As of now, the current setup is not working in Arizona, and everyone sees the inevitable outcome.