The 32 things we learned from Week 14 of the 2021 NFL season:
1. Still no playoff berths clinched league-wide, though the Arizona Cardinals – their 10-2 record remains the NFL’s best – can wrap up the first by beating the Los Angeles Rams on Monday night.
2. Five AFC teams have 7-6 records. Currently, only two (Indianapolis and Buffalo) would qualify for postseason.
3. Five NFC teams have 6-7 records. Currently, only one (Washington) would qualify for postseason.
4. After getting run over by the New England Patriots in Week 13, the Bills looked determined to win in a diametrically opposite manner. Sunday, Buffalo became the first team in 30 years without any rushing yards by a running back in the first half. That approach allowed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to build a 24-3 lead.
5. The Bucs almost coughed up that advantage after halftime, when the Bills, um, unleashed their backs for seven carries and 64 yards. In reality, QB Josh Allen’s TD run and pair of TD passes allowed Buffalo to take the game into overtime before losing. Allen, who left Raymond James Stadium in a walking boot, essentially was the Buffalo ground attack with 109 yards. He had 308 more through the air.
6. On the other side, just another day at the office for Bucs QB Tom Brady. He threw his record-extending 700th career TD pass (playoffs included) for the win in overtime and displaced Drew Brees for the all-time record for completions, TB12 now with 7,156.
7. Brady also beat the Bills for the 33rd time, the most times any quarterback has defeated a single opponent in NFL history.
8. If the Dallas Cowboys can dispatch a quality opponent like the Washington Football Team on a day when QB Dak Prescott doesn’t play well and RB Tony Pollard isn’t even available, then look out for them in January. Dallas now has a three-game lead in the NFC East with four games left to play, and its defense continues to create opportunities (5 sacks, 4 takeaways, TD scored Sunday).
9. It must’ve been those comfy team benches, which the Cowboys will now be obligated to haul to the remainder of their road games.
10. And Prescott? Despite a subpar day that included two INTs, he’s 19-3 against NFC East opponents since 2017.
11. Oh, and Dallas rookie LB Micah Parsons? With two more sacks and a forced fumble returned by DE Dorance Armstrong for a score, Parsons (12 sacks in 13 games) is very much in the mix for the league’s defensive player of the year award.
12. Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers still owns the Chicago Bears, throwing at least four TD passes against them for the seventh time in his career during Sunday night’s 45-30 victory. An Arizona loss Monday will push the Pack into first place overall in the NFC standings.
13. But the Bears didn’t make it easy on Green Bay in a surprisingly wild game. In fact, it was the first since at least 1925 to have five touchdowns of at least 35 yards in one quarter – Chicago WR Jakeem Grant posting a 46-yard TD catch and 97-yard punt return for a score in the second period by himself.
The Bears-Packers combined for 45 points in the 2nd quarter which was the most in any quarter of the Bears-Packers rivalry.
The previous high was 42 points in the 4th quarter in 1955.
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 13, 2021
14. The Kansas City Chiefs boatraced the Las Vegas Raiders 48-9 Sunday, quite the response to the Raiders’ decision to hold a pregame “meeting” on the Chiefs’ midfield logo at Arrowhead Stadium … where Silver and Black won in 2020. K.C. swept Vegas by a collective 89-23 score in 2021.
Dig this! The #raiders met as a team after their pregame warmup at about the 25 yard line. Then proceeded to relocate their team huddle to midfield on top of the #chiefs logo. The stadium erupted in boos as the Raiders fired each other up. LFG!!! pic.twitter.com/6MQOVtQ5G0
— James Palmer (@JamesPalmerTV) December 12, 2021
14a. Winners of six in a row, the Chiefs moved up to third place overall in the AFC but are now tied for the conference’s best record at 9-4. Credit a defense that has allowed 17 point or fewer in each game during the streak – the first time K.C. has managed that since 2013 – and just nine in each of the past three contests. The two-time defending AFC champs are allowing just 10.8 points per game during their hot streak and have forced multiple turnovers in all but one of those games.
15. The Raiders lost four fumbles Sunday, a level of carelessness rarely seen in the NFL.
16. Speaking of carelessness, tough day for Bengals return man Darius Phillips, who muffed a pair of punts and set up the San Francisco 49ers for 10 points in Cincinnati’s crushing 26-23 overtime loss. A win away from being the AFC North leaders, the Bengals suddenly find themselves in third place in the division and outside the projected playoff field.
17. On the flip side, great day for Niners TE George Kittle, who’s most definitely returned to All-Pro form just in time. Over the past two weeks, he’s hauled in 22 catches for 332 yards and three TDs. Kittle had nine catches for 124 yards after halftime Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium – including three grabs for 38 yards in OT – as San Francisco (7-6) solidified its playoff odds.
17a. Kittle’s six TD catches are a career best. (We also would’ve taken the over.)
18. And shoutout to San Francisco WR Deebo Samuel, who continues to sacrifice his numbers as a receiver while filling in as a ball carrier for this running back-depleted group. Samuel became the first wideout in the Super Bowl era to score on the ground in four consecutive appearances. His six rushing TDs in 2021 are also a single-season record among receivers since 1966.
COVID-19. Sure feels like this season has gone smoothly logistically given the pandemic hasn’t disrupted the schedule (yet). But here’s your weekly reminder that the virus continues to wreak havoc in the NFL and nationally. Monday alone, 11 players league-wide were placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Lions RB Jamaal Williams was one of seven Detroit players out Sunday due to the virus (while others were dealing with the flu). Saints RB Mark Ingram II, Houston Texans RB David Johnson and Los Angeles Chargers WR Keenan Allen couldn’t play Sunday, though the Bolts got WR Mike Williams and CB Chris Harris Jr. back just in time. Saints Pro Bowl DE Cameron Jordan was also ineligible to play, forcing him to miss the first game of his 11-year career. Washington pass rusher Montez Sweat, who had resisted vaccination prior to the season, had to delay his return from a broken jaw. Green Bay QB Kurt Benkert took the kneeldowns Sunday night – his inaugural regular-season snaps – because Rodgers’ normal backup, Jordan Love, was on the COVID-19 list. The Rams are unlikely to have starting RB Darrell Henderson for Monday’s key game at Arizona.
20. Chargers DE Joey Bosa and 49ers DE Nick Bosa teamed for three sacks Sunday. They now have a combined 22½ in 2021, which tops the previous Bosa Brother record of 20½ in 2019.
21. The Chargers’ Justin Herbert is off to as good a two-year start as any quarterback not named Dan Marino. Herbert connected for three more TD passes in Sunday’s blowout of the New York Giants, giving him an AFC-best 30 and allowing him to one-up the Hall of Famer in at least one aspect. Herbert is now the first player in league history to throw at least 30 TDs each of his first two seasons.
22. The Jacksonville Jaguars laid an egg – literally zero points in Sunday’s loss to the Tennessee Titans – as negative press continues to swirl around first-year coach Urban Meyer. He and rookie QB Trevor Lawrence (4 INTs in Nashville) were expected to resurrect this franchise, but it’s already worth wondering if this will be their only season together given how little progress has been made the 2-11 team.
22a. Meyer discounted an NFL Network report detailing dysfunction in Jacksonville as “nonsense” yet also served a public warning to anyone in his ranks who might be leaking information. ”If there is a source, that source is unemployed,” Meyer said. ”I mean, within seconds, if there’s some source that’s doing that.”
23. Though backup QB Tyler Huntley played reasonably well in relief, the bum ankle sustained by starter Lamar Jackson may be the injury the Baltimore Ravens can’t overcome in this star-crossed season. If Jackson is forced to miss any time, Baltimore – despite retaining first place in the AFC North following Sunday’s loss at Cleveland – may be done in by a schedule that still holds the Packers, Bengals, Rams and Steelers.
24. Remarkably, the Ravens have dropped consecutive divisional games for the first time in five years.
25. In a battle of former BYU QBs, the New Orleans Saints’ Taysom Hill got the best of the New York Jets’ Zach Wilson. Neither threw a TD pass, but Hill ran for a pair, including a 44-yarder to cap the scoring in a 30-9 runaway.
26. The Saints ended a five-game losing streak, Hill engineering the team’s first win since starting QB Jameis Winston was lost to a season-ending knee injury on Halloween.
27. About time to recognize that the Broncos’ Melvin Gordon and Javonte Williams are as good as any RB tandem in the league. Sunday, they combined for 194 total yards and four TDs and might just drive Denver (7-6) into the postseason.
28. The Pittsburgh Steelers continue to hover at .500 following Thursday’s loss at Minnesota, coach Mike Tomlin saying: “We were JV again tonight and I’m talking up front on both sides.” Oof. But he’s not wrong. Tomlin’s O-line surrendered five sacks, and his D-line was gashed for 6.7 yards per carry and 205 total from Vikings RB Dalvin Cook.
29. Cook, who also scored two TDs, is the first player in the league this season to rush for 200 yards in a game.
30. But give credit to Steelers RB Najee Harris, whose 1,270 yards from scrimmage are a team record for rookies.
31. Good thing the Carolina Panthers, who succumbed to the Atlanta Falcons for their third straight loss while giving the ball away three times, fired offensive coordinator Joe Brady …
32. RIP, Demaryius Thomas, who was deservedly honored by the Broncos on Sunday afternoon. Gone too soon.
33. On a lighter note, congrats to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. They won the Canadian Football League’s hallowed Grey Cup on Sunday afternoon in repeat fashion, defeating the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 33-25 in overtime. CFL OT rules are partially explained as “mini games,” per TSN – it resembles the NCAA format – and Canadian penalty flags are orange. Who knew? (But since this feature is 32 things we learned about the NFL, this will have to stand as item No. 33, eh?)
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.