Eagles’ A.J. Brown Earns Comparison to Hall of Famer After Revenge Game

Eagles WR A.J. Brown

Getty A.J. Brown #11 of the Philadelphia Eagles.

If it wasn’t obvious going into Sunday’s game that A.J. Brown had the matchup against his former team circled in red ink since his arrival in Philadelphia in a draft night trade, it undoubtedly was by the midpoint of the third quarter at Lincoln Financial Field.

Against the Tennessee Titans, a barometer game for the NFC East-leading Eagles, and a grudge match for Brown, the star receiver caught 8 of 10 targets for 119 yards with 2 touchdowns as the Eagles ran away from the Tennessee Titans, 35-10.

Philadelphia improves to 11-1 on the season, after dominating all phases against the Titans, with Brown leading the charge. All of Brown’s production came in the first three quarters.

“A.J. really has it all,” an NFC personnel executive told Heavy. “Competitiveness, the size you want, strength, and elite ball skills.”

Never was that more evident than Brown’s performance against the team that drafted him in the second round in 2019.

According to NFL NextGen stats, Brown’s second-quarter 40-yard touchdown reception was caught off the most separation of any touchdown since 2017.

In a turn of events that showed just how big a difference-maker Brown is, he appeared to pull down a brilliantly thrown pass for a 40-yard touchdown, however, upon closer review a toe was out of bounds and the score was taken off the board.

But, Brown reached paydirt on a 40-yard score — on the very next play.

“He’s really similar to Terrell Owens,” the executive told Heavy. “He’s bigger, but just not quite as fast.”

Sunday’s contest really was a microcosm of the impact Brown has made on the entire Eagles’ offense.

In addition to his production that showed up in the box score, Brown also drew a 24-yard penalty that set up a Jalen Hurts touchdown run two plays later, Hurts’ eighth red zone rushing score of the season, and opened up plenty of space for receivers Quez Watkins and DeVonta Smith.

Brown has been instrumental to the Eagles’ offensive dominance. If this season ends the way it seems to be trending in Philadelphia, with a possible Super Bowl run in the offing, Howie Roseman’s trade for Brown will go down as one of the most tangibly meaningful in recent memory.

Here are 10 takeaways from Sunday’s Week 13 action across the NFL.

A Brutal Sunday for Brutal Quarterback Injuries

Two legitimate playoff contenders are reeling after their quarterbacks were knocked from a pair of games.

In Baltimore, the Ravens held on to beat the Denver Broncos when Brandon McManus’ 63-yard field goal hit the turf just short of the crossbar, but losing Lamar Jackson casts a dark cloud over their prospects in the AFC North.

Jackson limped off the field and into the locker room after Broncos outside linebacker Jonathan Cooper sacked the Ravens’ star quarterback from behind, with Jackson’s knee awkwardly hitting the M&T Bank Stadium turf.

Afterward, Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh struck an optimistic tone, believing the injury “is not season-ending,” but losing Jackson dramatically alters an already tight AFC North race.

Cleveland knocked off the Houston Texans 27-14, in Deshaun Watson’s debut after returning from an 11-game suspension following two dozen credible sexual assault allegations. The Steelers left Atlanta with a 3-point win over the Atlanta Falcons.

Suddenly, the AFC North is separated by just three games from top to bottom.

Meanwhile, 2,839 miles away at Levi’s Stadium, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was carted to the locker room moments after Dolphins edge rusher Jaelen Phillips’ knee landed on Garoppolo’s ankle.

Garoppolo suffered a fractured foot, that will require season-ending surgery, according to head coach Kyle Shanahan.

Like the Ravens, San Francisco has a razor-thin margin for error in the NFC West, even with a defense that entered Sunday holding teams to just 10 points per game amid a four-game winning streak.

DeMeco Ryans Strengthens Head Coaching Candidacy in 49ers’ Statement Win

The second half has been DeMeco Ryans’ time this season, as it was once again for the San Francisco 49ers’ defensive coordinator against the Miami Dolphins in a game that carried significant postseason implications.

Despite losing Garoppolo in the first quarter, the 49ers led the Dolphins 20-10 at the half, when Ryans clamped down on Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.

On the Dolphins’ first possession after halftime, Jimmie Ward made a diving interception, forcing San Francisco’s 15th takeaway of the season.

Then, with 2:48 remaining in the third quarter, 49ers defensive back Deommodore Lenoir intercepted Tagovailoa on a tipped pass near the sideline that set up a second Robbie Gould field goal.

How dominant have the 49ers been in the second half? Ryans’ defense hadn’t allowed a point since Week 7 against the Kansas City Chiefs, until Tyreek Hill pulled down a 45-yard touchdown strike from Tagovailoa with 14:28 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Sunday, the 49ers needed the defense to carry the load more than ever, with Brock Purdy forced into action when Garoppolo went down early. Ryans delivered.

With the Dolphins clinging to hope, Bosa stripped Tagovailoa, forcing a fumble that Dre Greenlaw returned for a touchdown to finally put the game out of reach.

Ryans has been masterful this season, deploying Nick Bosa like a heat-seeking missile from all over the front-seven, disguising coverages pretty brilliantly deep downfield, and getting the most out of his personnel each week, regardless of opponent.

There’s a strong belief inside the league and out that Ryans is going to be one of the most sought-after head coaching candidates this hiring cycle.

“DeMeco is a great dude,” an NFL general manager told Heavy. “And, he’s smart as they come. I don’t know that he’s the top candidate, but he’s high up on the list.”

Presuming Ryans, whose defense ranks No. 1 in total defense, No. 1 in scoring defense, and No. 1 in rushing defense, continues stacking performances like Sunday’s, it likely won’t be long until the 38-year-old former linebacker lands a head coaching job of his own.

Joe Burrow, Zac Taylor Close Gap on Patrick Mahomes, Andy Reid

Zac Taylor and Joe Burrow are closing the gap on Andy Reid, Patrick Mahomes, and the Kansas City Chiefs, following a brilliant 27-24 win.

Reid has built a career as one of the more innovative play designers in the NFL, and he’s never had a more athletically gifted tactician to maximize his scheme than Mahomes. The duo have a Lombardi Trophy, and a second Super Bowl berth for their efforts, but have now met a worthy opponent.

Sunday in Cincinnati, in a game that was a worthy rematch for January’s AFC Championship Game, Taylor and Burrow’s signature moment came with 8:58 remaining when Burrow dropped back, delayed momentarily before hitting a crossing Chris Evans for an 8-yard touchdown to give Cincinnati the lead.

Evans’ touchdown was impressive because of how difficult it is to create the kind of deception Taylor manufactured in springing his back in a soft part of the Chiefs’ defense that deep in the red zone.

Cincinnati has now beaten the Chiefs in each of the last three meetings between the teams. More importantly to the trajectory of this season, the Bengals’ offensive line seems to be gelling after a rocky start to the season, and Burrow is playing some of his best football to date.

Burrow has outplayed Mahomes the last three times they have shared a field. He’s now the only quarterback to date to beat Mahomes in three consecutive contests.

Meanwhile, Taylor has had his share of wins over Reid in these contests, as well.

Now, after Sunday’s victory, the Bengals belong squarely in the conversation among the AFC’s best teams. And, they’re ascending. What should be alarming for the rest of the NFL, so too is Burrow.

Justin Jefferson Is the Vikings’ Backstop

Just as things started to feel like they were sliding in the wrong direction for the Jekyll and Hyde Minnesota Vikings, Justin Jefferson saved the day.

After the Jets rattled off four unanswered Greg Zuerlein field goals to cut Minnesota’s 20-3 lead to 20-15 with 12:53 remaining, Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins spotted that Jefferson had two steps on a dig-route in the end zone and hit the dynamic receiver for a 10-yard touchdown to stop the bleeding.

For Jefferson, big plays in the game’s biggest moments are nothing new.

Sunday’s fourth-quarter touchdown was four weeks removed from snagging one of the greatest one-handed catches in league history on a crucial fourth down that powered Minnesota’s win over the Buffalo Bills, and he’s caught touchdown passes in four of his last five games.

“Greatness is in his DNA,” an AFC South Scout told Heavy. “He’s a dawg. Justin just competes at everything, is driven to be the best, and he’s as tough as they come.”

Mike White and the Jets made the Vikings go the distance, needing a Camryn Bynum interception to pick up its eighth one-score win of the season, holding off the Jets 27-22.

Jefferson is as tough, as gifted, and as clutch at the receiver position as there is in the league today.

Giants Miss Big Opportunity

Brian Daboll stepped out of character in a major test during a got-to-have-it game against the Washington Commanders.

Daboll was considered by many a front-runner for Coach of the Year, at least in part because of the aggressiveness that became his hallmark. But on Sunday, Daboll suddenly turtled up against the Commanders.

For some reason, on 4th-and-3 from the Commanders’ 45-yard line, with the game tied at 20 in overtime, Daboll punted. Despite the New York Giants converting on 60% of 4th down attempts at home this season.

Daniel Jones and the offense would get the ball back after the defense slammed the door shut on a three-play Washington possession. But, this time would be forced to settle for a Graham Gano 58-yard field goal attempt that fell short as time expired. Time to kiss your sister.

This was the type of game — a division game — that could’ve gone a long way toward legitimizing the Giants as contenders. Beating Washington would have also reinforced the hyper-competitive and aggressive culture Daboll has tried to build with a patchwork roster all season.

Instead, the Giants’ road to the postseason became a bit more difficult following the tie, and Daboll deserves as much scrutiny for Sunday as he was praised through the first half of the season for defying expectations.

Browns Defense Keeps Cleveland Afloat as Deshaun Watson Struggles in Debut

The Cleveland Browns held serve in Deshaun Watson’s return, but it was the defense that paved the way against the floundering Houston Texans.

Watson was mercilessly booed by Texans fans in his return to Houston as the Browns’ starting quarterback and with several of his accusers in the stands, passed for just 131 yards with an interception and a 53.4 passer rating.

The Browns dispatched the Texans 27-14, thanks to defensive dominance.

Denzel Ward returned a fumble by Texans quarterback Kyle Allen 4 yards for a touchdown, Dare Ogunbowale intercepted Allen and returned it 16 yards for a touchdown, as the Browns’ offense managed only 6 points against a Texans defense that is allowing 23.6.

Cleveland got on the plane with win No. 5 but remains three games back of the division lead with five games remaining, and the Browns’ offense is going to need to be markedly better if they have any chance of climbing into the postseason.

It’s Time to Recognize Amon-Ra St. Brown as One of NFL’s Top Receivers

Detroit Lions wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown is the best wide receiver who has yet to become a household name. And, he should be.

There wasn’t a member of the Jacksonville Jaguars’ secondary who could come close to containing St. Brown, who caught 11 of 12 targets for 114 yards with a pair of touchdown receptions.

St. Brown has surpassed 110 yards in three of his past four games, has caught 3 touchdowns over that span and has reached the end zone 5 times so far this season.

Detroit is on the fringes of the playoff conversation in the NFC, and Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson is one of the hottest names of the upcoming hiring cycle, and St. Brown is instrumental to both developments.

Whether it is because he plays in a mid-sized market for a middling franchise or because despite his name meaning “Sun God,” it isn’t all that recognizable, St. Brown has kind of flown under the radar among casual fans. It’s time that changes.

Derek Carr & Davante Adams Are Heating Up

They took the long road, but Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr and wide receiver Davante Adams are finally delivering on the lofty expectations promised from their time as roommates at Fresno State.

After a sluggish start that led to multiple closed-door meetings, and head coach Josh McDaniels landing on the hot seat, Adams and Carr have delivered three consecutive victories, with Sunday’s win over the rival Los Angeles Chargers perhaps the most impressive of the bunch.

Carr and Adams connected on a pair of touchdowns, both off explosive plays, of 31 and 45 yards, on consecutive possessions to lift Vegas to a 24-13 lead. Adams was instrumental in the Raiders’ 27-20 division victory, catching 8 of 12 targets for 177 yards and the 2 touchdowns.

In the past four games, though, this duo has really hit stride. Adams, who has been a vocal leader all season during turbulent moments, has caught 41 passes for 664 yards and 7 touchdowns over that span, with the Raiders winning three in a row.

Las Vegas is on the outside looking in at the AFC playoff picture but is suddenly just two games out of an AFC Wild Card berth. With the teeth of the schedule remaining, including matchups against the 49ers, Chiefs and Patriots looming, the Raiders will need their dynamic duo to continue showing out to have any chance at a Herculean comeback to the playoffs.

NFL MVP Hierarchy Takes Shape

The 2022 NFL MVP race is taking shape, and Week 13 offered some clarity in several games that carried significant postseason implications.

  1. Jalen Hurts, QB, Philadelphia Eagles – Hurts did it all for Philadelphia, rushing for his eighth red zone touchdown of the season, while passing for 380 yards with 3 touchdowns and a 130.3 passer rating. Hurts has been the driving force behind the Eagles’ 11-1 start, and made an absolute statement against a talented and stout Tennessee Titans defense.
  2. Josh Allen, QB, Buffalo Bills – Despite playing through pain, Allen continues to be the definition of efficient, consistent and clutch. Thursday night, Allen passed for 223 yards with 2 touchdowns, while rushing for 20 more yards. Only Patrick Mahomes has more passing yards, but Allen has the Bills as the AFC’s No. 1 seed.
  3. Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City Chiefs – Kansas City came up short in Cincinnati, losing to Burrow and the Bengals for the third consecutive time, but this has been the most dominant season we’ve seen from Mahomes. Mahomes leads the NFL in passing yards and touchdowns, and has only thrown 8 interceptions.
  4. Joe Burrow, QB, Cincinnati Bengals – Burrow just wins. And, Sunday the Bengals quarterback delivered an absolute strike into the tightest of windows to convert a third down that allowed Cincinnati to run down the clock on Mahomes and the Chiefs. Burrow has already passed for 3,160 yards with 23 touchdowns to 8 interceptions, but as the Bengals’ offensive line has played its best the past three weeks, Burrow’s best may be yet to come.
  5. Micah Parsons, EDGE, Dallas Cowboys – Parsons is lapping the Defensive Player of the Year field, is the most consistently dominant defender in the league, and an argument can be made he’s the game’s most gifted. In his second season, Parsons already has 12.0 sacks, a pair of forced fumbles, and is a nightmare for opposing offensive coordinators to try to neutralize.

The Steelers’ Formula Emerges

Pittsburgh’s victory over the Atlanta Falcons was a quintessential Steelers win.

Not only did running back Najee Harris rush for a game-high 86 yards while averaging a whopping 5.1 yards per carry, but seven different Steelers logged a carry in the 19-16 win.

Sunday’s game plan is exactly what Pittsburgh needs to do to help ease the development of rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett. Pickett had his moments, passing for 197 yards with 1 touchdown, but Pittsburgh’s ability to control the game and limit what the first-round quarterback needed to do proved critically important.

Week 13 MVP: Eagles QB Jalen Hurts

Jalen Hurts’ rapid ascension has been one of the biggest storylines of the NFL season, and he’s powered an Eagles offense that finds new ways to win every single week.

One week after rushing for 157 yards, Hurts absolutely torched the Tennessee Titans for 380 passing yards with 3 passing touchdowns and 1 rushing score, his eighth rushing red-zone touchdown of the season.

By midway through the third quarter against the Titans, Hurts had already passed for 355 yards. Hurts averaged 9.74 yards per attempt, which is nearly a yard more than Tua Tagovailoa’s league-leading 9.0 yards per attempt average this season.

Performances like Sunday offer a glimpse of how truly dominant the Eagles and Hurts have the potential to be, not just in 2022, but beyond. Especially considering Philadelphia owns a pair of first-round draft picks in 2023, including the Saints, which could wind up being a top-5 selection to continue building around Hurts.

Week 13 Breakout Star: Rams DB Nick Scott

Nick Scott is blossoming into one of the Los Angeles Rams’ premier defensive backs.

Against the Seahawks, Scott delivered a crushing blow on wide receiver Marquise Goodwin, knocking the ball loose and preventing a touchdown. Scott’s score-saving effort came one week after intercepting Patrick Mahomes in the end zone.

Scott capped Sunday’s 27-23 loss to Seattle with 8 total tackles and 1 pass breakup.

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