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2022 NFL season, Week 18: What We Learned from Saturday doubleheader

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Published: Jan 07, 2023 at 07:56 PM

Around The NFL breaks down what you need to know from all of Saturday’s action in Week 18 of the 2022 NFL season. Catch up on each game’s biggest takeaways using the links below:

Tennessee Titans
  1. The Doug Pederson culture change was in full effect. The old Jaguars would have wilted in a game like this. Jacksonville didn’t lead until 2:51 remained, and at one point trailed, 10-0, in the second quarter after the Titans turned a botched Lawrence pitch on an ill-advised reverse into a lead-extending touchdown drive. Instead of missing that last step evolving teams must take to become contenders, the Jaguars found a way to win their fifth straight to capture the AFC South for the first time since 2017. It’s a night-and-day difference for a team that has picked at No. 1 overall in the past two drafts. Those picks, quarterback Trevor Lawrence and pass rusher Travon Walker, both made big plays Saturday as the Jags completed their transformation. Lawrence was essentially the entire offense considering Travis Etienne, the team’s leading rusher, accounted for only 17 yards on the ground. The second-year QB went 20 of 32 for 212 yards and one TD. Walker had a quarterback hit and four tackles, including a massive second-down tackle for loss against Titans star running back Derrick Henry in the fourth quarter, which preceded a Roy Robertson-Harris sack to force one of Tennessee’s three three-and-outs in the game. Add that big-time free-agent Christian Kirk led the team with six catches for 99 yards and a score, and you have major impacts by three key pieces in Pederson’s tremendous turnaround.
  2. Jaguars defense and special teams make the difference. Jacksonville’s offense only scored two field goals in the second half and ran just 15 plays on their final four drives, excluding kneel downs. The defense and special teams made sure none of that mattered. Jamal Agnew averaged 31.3 yards on four kick returns, including a 50-yarder, and he returned a fourth-quarter punt 22 yards to the Jaguars’ 43-yard line to help tilt the field-position game in Jacksonville’s favor. Punter Logan Cooke also did his part to help the stagnant offense by averaging 51 yards per kick. He put all four of his punts inside the 20 — and three inside the 10. The defense allowed just 116 total yards and three points in the second half, and the unit’s greatest highlight gave the Jaguars their first lead of the game. Safety Rayshawn Jenkins came charging around the edge on a third-down play with just over three minutes remaining to hit Joshua Dobbs during the Titans quarterback’s throwing motion. Dobbs’ hand came forward empty, the ball bounced perfectly into linebacker Josh Allen, who returned it all the way for the winning TD. The Jags turned the Titans over on downs on the following possession to ice it thanks to a smothering effort for all four quarters. These Jags will be dangerous on Super Wild Card Weekend.
  3. Titans can’t ride Derrick Henry to the postseason. Tennessee gave the ball to their workhorse 30 times. He broke the 100-yard mark for the ninth time this season, averaging 3.6 yards per carry for 109 yards, but it was not enough to overcome the injuries and disarray that led to the Titans dropping seven in a row and missing the playoffs for the first time since the 2018 season. It was not for lack of effort, both by Henry and others. The defense allowed just 13 offensive points and contributed to Tennessee holding a lead for 43 minutes of the game. Dobbs faltered late with a second-half fumble and interception, but he looked far sharper in his second-career start than rookie Malik Willis had in any of his this season, and he served as further evidence of head coach Mike Vrabel wringing every bit of life he could out a squad riddled by injuries. At the end of the day, Tennessee ends up with a fate that most expect for a franchise that fired its general manager six days into December and had to ask a QB signed on Dec. 21 to start a division-deciding game. The Titans fought hard, but now they enter an offseason of transition.

Next Gen Stat of the game: Titans RB Derrick Henry had 18 rushes for 46 yards against a stacked box, tied for his most such rushes in a game this season.

NFL Research: Jacksonville has swept the season series against Tennessee for the first time since 2006.

Las Vegas Raiders
  1. Chiefs take care of business for AFC’s No. 1 seed. Kansas City will enter the playoffs on a five-game winning streak, but it hasn’t gone unnoticed that the team had played down to competition lately. That was not the case Saturday with a first-round bye on the line. After winning two games against the Broncos by a total of nine points and escaping a one-possession game against the lowly two-win Texans during their current streak, the Chiefs fired on all cylinders in Las Vegas. The Patrick Mahomes-led offense opened a big lead early by scoring three touchdowns on its first four drives and played turnover-free football throughout, which has been a problem for a unit that is tied for 26th-worst in giving the ball away. The defense flashed, as well, totaling six sacks and forcing two turnovers while holding rushing leader Josh Jacobs to just 45 yards on the ground. Even Harrison Butker, who is enduring his worst career year in field goal percentage (75) and extra-point percentage (92.7), connected on a 44-yard field goal and all four extra points. It was total domination and a reset heading into postseason play. Best of all, the Chiefs guaranteed they’ll go a fifth consecutive year without playing a road playoff game.
  2. No one has more fun than the Chiefs on offense. A lot of the entertainment factor comes purely from the success. Kansas City has the No. 1 offense in scoring, passing yards and yards per play. But there’s also the way the Chiefs go about racking up their highlights and accolades. Seemingly no play call or formation is too ridiculous to try if it might provide an edge. Beyond the creative deliveries to pass catchers and an affinity for goal-line shovel passes — Jerick McKinnon collected one for the first score of the game — the most eye-catching snap of Saturday’s game didn’t count. On a play Mahomes revealed to ESPN’s Laura Rutledge as “Snow Globe” after the game, Kansas City’s offense played Ring Around the Rosie in the huddle to delay revealing who would line up where before McKinnon took a direct snap and tossed the ball out right to Mahomes. Mahomes then threw the ball back across the field to Kadarius Toney, who broke a tackle and weaved through traffic for a 9-yard score. When a holding call erased the touchdown, Toney punched it in again with an 11-yard run on the very next play. There’s that success element again.
  3. Raiders go out with a whimper, face big decisions. Las Vegas offered little resistance in its fifth consecutive loss to Kansas City. The defense allowed 349 yards and 31 points, and the offense didn’t score its lone touchdown until midway through the fourth quarter. It culminated in a quiet, disappointing end to head coach Josh McDaniels’ first year at the helm. Now, franchise-altering questions await in the offseason. Although stifled on Saturday with just 45 rushing yards, Jacobs finished the game with a 205-yard lead over Nick Chubb for the 2022 rushing yards title, a stellar achievement considering Las Vegas declined his fifth-year option ahead of the season. The Raiders will either need to pay up for an extension or apply the franchise tag in order to keep the Pro Bowler now. Quarterback Jarrett Stidham played adequately in his second start with 210 yards and a touchdown but fumbled twice (one lost) and threw a pick. He represented himself as more of a reliable backup than “the guy” for an offense with Davante Adams at its disposal if Derek Carr truly is moving on. The Raiders will enter the offseason with the ninth-most salary cap space, per Over the Cap, but there’s also plenty of need for big swings to rectify a 26th-ranked defense. Where, and to whom, does all the money go? Those decisions are the storyline now for the 6-11 Raiders.

Next Gen Stat of the game: Kansas City’s defense pressured the QB on 45.2% of dropbacks, the highest rate in a game for the Chiefs in the past three seasons.

NFL Research: Patrick Mahomes now holds the NFL record for most offensive yards in a single season with 5,614 (5,250 passing, 358 rushing and six receiving).

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