By Nick Shook
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This Monday of Week 13 presents an internal football conflict I’d wish upon no one.
Thursday and Sunday featured plenty of exciting action, seemingly more than usual. But it wasn’t a good week for the road squads (5-10) — it rarely ever is. I want to be pleased with Week 13, but in this space, we’re forced to acknowledge that the road squads might need to retool. We must remove emotion and forge onward, as many of this week’s visitors will do.
Dallas kicked things off with a white-knuckle win over Minnesota at the shiny new home of the Vikings, and things were looking promising from those spending their Sunday away from home after Kansas City’s close victory. Things went south from there, but yet again, bright spots emerged. Here are your three stars (sleeping in hotels with ratings that have more stars than that) from Week 13.
Greatest on the Road
Eric Berry, Kansas City Chiefs
Last week, it was Justin Houston. This week, it was teammate Eric Berry.
Berry’s return to his hometown was emotional (and well-documented) from the beginning, but the flood of feeling only made his play that much better. Berry had a knack for making plays as time ran against his Chiefs, intercepting Matt Ryan and returning it down the sideline for a touchdown with less than a minute left in the first half. His pick-six broke a 13-13 tie and sent Berry searching the stands for his mother, to whom he gave the ball, and the Chiefs into the intermission with a burst of energy.
That big play wasn’t enough, though, as Atlanta reclaimed the lead inside five minutes to play in the fourth on a touchdown pass from Ryan to Aldrick Robinson. Looking to extend its lead to 3, Atlanta went for two, which is exactly where Berry again struck.
Ryan dropped to pass, tracked tight end Alex Hooper running a drag along the goal line and fired without ever seeing Berry waiting in Hooper’s path. The safety cut in front of the pass, intercepted it and took off for paydirt, a one-point advantage and what eventually proved to be a win. Berry’s two plays swung the game in favor of the Chiefs, who maintained their slight grasp on the AFC West with a huge victory over the NFC South-leading Falcons.
Also considered …
Golden Tate, Detroit Lions
If you’re having a little deja vu, it’s not just your imagination. Tate has been here before, and he’s back after pacing Detroit’s passing game in a surprising win.
Make no mistake — Detroit is in the thick of the playoff race, and rightfully so. It’s just most were expecting the Saints to light up the scoreboard, not the Lions. Tate and his very large helmet ensured those predicting a New Orleans win would go home upset with their choice, catching eight passes and serving as a reliable target for Matthew Stafford in a Lions passing game that saw Stafford completed 30 of 42 passes for 341 yards and two touchdowns. Tate rode Delvin Breaux‘s momentum to make a circus catch early in the second quarter, and the league’s YAC leader did what he does best, catching and running for additional yards with each of his subsequent receptions.
Tate capped it by running past cornerback B.W. Webb, left in man coverage as the Saints sent a six-man blitz to pressure Stafford. The quarterback dropped and heaved to his receiver, who got behind Webb and safety Vonn Bell, then ran back across the field for a 66-yard touchdown, putting Detroit ahead 25-13 and icing the win for the Lions.
Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Here’s another fellow who’s been in this column in past weeks. Welcome back, Jameis, and welcome to relevance and the playoff picture, Buccaneers.
Thanks to Winston (and Lavonte David‘s pick-six), Tampa Bay left San Diego yesterday with a 28-21 victory that vaulted the Buccaneers into one of the two NFC wild card slots. A back-and-forth game saw Winston drive the Bucs deep into Chargers territory, where the quarterback dropped, set and lofted a pinpoint pass between two defenders and into the hands of tight end Cameron Brate, who caught the ball and held on through the contact in the end zone for the winning touchdown.
Winston did one better on the ensuing two-point conversion attempt, taking the snap and rolling right — almost directly into the rush from Joey Bosa, who had harassed him all afternoon — stopping and stepping up to avoid Bosa, and lobbing a pass over defenders to Mike Evans, open in the back of the end zone. The score put Tampa Bay ahead 28-21, and after a stingy final stand, Winston engineered a drive that moved the chains enough to burn the rest of the clock, securing the Bucs’ seventh win of 2016.