The Winners and Losers of NFL Week 16

Every week this NFL season, we will celebrate the electric plays, investigate the colossal blunders, and explain the inexplicable moments of the most recent slate. Welcome to Winners and Losers. Which one are you?

Winner: Joe Burrow

Modern football is dominated by passing, passing, and more passing—but many of the NFL’s single-game passing records are decades old. The passing TD record (seven) is a tie among many players, including Adrian Burk, Joe Kapp, and Y.A. Tittle, all of whom played before the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. The passing yardage record (551) was set by Norm Van Brocklin, in a 1951 game against the New York Yanks. It’s a record so old that it was set against an opponent that borrowed a baseball team’s name and didn’t get sued to hell.

There’s a reason for this: These passing records are kept safe not so much by actual defenses, but by teams dialing down their offenses after taking massive leads. Normally, when a quarterback throws for a ton of passing yards or a ton of touchdowns, their team wins by a lot, at which point there’s no more need to keep throwing. Like when Joe Burrow threw seven touchdowns in the first half of a College Football Playoff against Oklahoma … and finished the game with seven passing touchdowns. Burrow probably could have thrown for 10 or 15 passing TDs in that game, but there was no need. LSU’s lead was insurmountable, and it was easier to run out the clock and avoid injury.

But Burrow wasn’t interested in showing that level of restraint on Sunday, as he threw for 525 yards, the fourth most in NFL history. He was still throwing bombs up 41-21 with under two minutes to go:

Burrow was going up against a Ravens defense that has been obliterated by injuries at defensive back—starting cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters suffered season-ending injuries, and backup cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Chris Westry are on the COVID list. That situation got even worse during the game, as Anthony Averett was carted off with a chest injury in the first quarter. Burrow had 299 yards in the first half, giving Cincinnati a comfortable 31-14 lead at halftime:

Most teams would calm down here—run the ball, burn some clock, avoid injuries. But the Bengals actually decided to go even harder. In the first half, they threw the ball 21 times and ran it 11. In the second half, they threw it 25 times and ran it just 10, including a game-ending kneel-down. At one point, they called 15 consecutive passing plays despite a big late-game lead. The Bengals won, 41-21, taking sole possession of first place in the AFC North.

I kept assuming that the Bengals would dial things back. Burrow, whose rookie season ended when he was hit while throwing a pass, took three sacks and narrowly escaped a few others. Why keep throwing with a three-score lead in the fourth quarter? Why not sub him out? Was Burrow really that motivated by the Ravens defensive coordinator saying Burrow wasn’t a Hall of Famer yet? Were the Bengals really willing to risk injury in pursuit of history, like the Ravens did earlier this year to tie the record for consecutive 100-yard rushing games?

Burrow’s gaudy passing performance felt like a statement. To approach legendary single-game passing totals, a QB has to be spectacular and ruthless. Burrow was both on Sunday. The Ravens were not capable of stopping Burrow on Sunday—and he was uninterested in stopping himself.

Loser: The SNF Intro

There is no denying that the NFL has been bleak the last few weeks. Some feel the league should reevaluate its COVID risk assessments due to the potentially milder nature of the omicron variant, which has likely caused so many vaccinated players to test positive; others are horrified that the league is playing games even though so many players are testing positive. The NFL has settled on a solution that seems certain to upset those with both viewpoints: having teams in the midst of large COVID outbreaks play critical late-season games with large swaths of important players out due to positive tests. It’s a situation that can be summed up in this video:

As you’re probably aware, NBC’s Sunday Night Football allows starters to introduce themselves in a short video where they say their name and their college, real or fictional. However, NBC did not have a video prepared for Washington’s Milo Eifler, who was playing in just his second NFL game.

Washington has been dealing with one of the league’s largest COVID-19 outbreaks. Last week’s game was pushed from Sunday to Tuesday due to Washington’s COVID issues, and the Football Team had to start third-string QB Garrett Gilbert after Taylor Heinicke and Kyle Allen contracted COVID. And that outbreak has only exacerbated the team’s already-existing depth issues at linebacker. Jon Bostic went down Week 4 with a season-ending pectoral injury, and Khaleke Hudson suffered an ankle injury that put him on IR in his first start of the season. The team’s…

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