NFL Week 15 takeaways, stat leaders: Brady mounts big comeback, Bears keep playoff hopes alive

Week 15 in the NFL brought more playoff-clinching wins, wild endings and huge performances. The Seahawks and Bills are headed to the playoffs after their victories, and the Cowboys and Bears kept their NFC hopes alive. Titans running back Derrick Henry inched closer to the single-season rushing record, and the Ravens' offense showed just how dangerous it still is in making its own push for the postseason. Oh, and Tom Brady led a massive second-half comeback, and the Dolphins proved that they're serious contenders.

In the afternoon, the Jets provided the biggest upset of the weekend, though it might prove costly in the 2021 draft. The Cardinals bettered their playoff odds with a win, and the Chiefs closed in on the AFC's No. 1 seed.

All that and more in Week 15's biggest takeaways from NFL Nation.

Jump to a matchup:

Cleveland Browns 20, New York Giants 6

Standout performer: Browns QB Baker Mayfield, 27-of-32, 297 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT

Mayfield remained red-hot, breaking the Browns' record for completion percentage in a game as Cleveland took another step closer to ending the NFL's longest playoff drought with a 20-6 victory over the Giants. Mayfield finished with a completion rate of 84.3% -- besting the previous Cleveland record (minimum 25 attempts) of 82.9% via Kelly Holcomb in 2003. Coach Kevin Stefanski said afterward that Mayfield was "dialed in." And with the victory, the Browns are now in the 5-seed in the AFC playoff picture with just two weeks to play. -- Jake Trotter

Next game: at Jets (1 p.m. ET Sunday)

It was go hard or go home for Joe Judge on Sunday night. He has no regrets about a failed fake field goal or not converting a fourth down inside the red zone in the first half of the loss to the Browns. "Field goals weren't going to win this game!" Judge said emphatically. "I'm not afraid to call it aggressively." Aggressively he did, in part because the Giants know they are having some serious trouble scoring points. This was the fourth straight game they failed to reach 20. It has New York (5-9) in trouble but still in the NFC East race because of the division's overall incompetence. Amazingly, the Giants remain just one game behind first-place Washington, with every team other than Dallas losing this week. -- Jordan Raanan

Next game: at Ravens (1 p.m. ET Sunday)

New York Jets 23, Los Angeles Rams 20

Standout performer: Jets RB Frank Gore, 59 yards, 1 TD

This might have been the costliest victory in the Jets' history. If Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence becomes a star for the Jaguars, and the Jets continue to languish in quarterback limbo, they will look back on this win as a turning point. If they finish with the No. 2 pick in the draft, it sets up a tough decision: keep Sam Darnold or draft the next-best QB prospect. In other words, the Jets made it complicated. -- Rich Cimini

Next game: vs. Browns (1 p.m. ET Sunday)

The Rams were outcoached, outplayed and outmatched throughout most of their embarrassing loss Sunday to the previously winless Jets. The offense stumbled until midway through the third quarter, special teams were less than special and the defense -- a highlight throughout the season -- wasn't able to make up for the shortcomings with an average performance. The loss cost the Rams first place in the NFC West, as the Seahawks (10-4) skipped ahead, and it also prevented them from clinching a playoff berth. The Rams must fix their inconsistencies, mostly on offense, in time to rebound at Lumen Field against the Seahawks in Week 16 if they want to clinch the playoffs and win the division. -- Lindsey Thiry

Next game: at Seahawks (4:25 p.m. ET Sunday)

Arizona Cardinals 33, Philadelphia Eagles 26

Standout performer: Cardinals QB Kyler Murray, 406 passing yards, 3 TDs (and 1 rushing TD)

The Cardinals survived what was, to date, their most important game of the season. A loss would've put Arizona on the outside of the playoff picture. The win gave Arizona a bit of a cushion as the seventh and final seed over Chicago. The Cardinals showed the type of resiliency needed to complete their playoff push with two games left against division rivals. -- Josh Weinfuss

Next game: vs. 49ers (4:30 p.m. ET Saturday)

The quarterback drama in Philadelphia is only going to grow. On the same day ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Carson Wentz would want to move on from the Eagles if he remains in the backup role, rookie Jalen Hurts made a strong case for why he should keep the starting job, accounting for four touchdowns in a close loss to the Cardinals. With the team committed to Wentz financially but intrigued by what Hurts is bringing to the table, this QB situation promises to dominate the offseason. -- Tim McManus

Next game: at Cowboys (4:25 p.m. ET Sunday)

Kansas City Chiefs 32, New Orleans Saints 29

Standout performer: Chiefs CB L'Jarius Sneed, 1 interception, 1 sack, 3 passes broken up

The Chiefs can win with grit, as well as offensive flash. They showed that in their victory over the Saints, in which they featured a patchwork offensive line because of injuries. For that reason, this victory will serve the Chiefs well going forward as they close in on the No. 1 seed with two home games left on their schedule. -- Adam Teicher

Next game: vs. Falcons (1 p.m. ET Sunday)

Drew Brees' much-anticipated return from injury was spoiled by one of the most inaccurate performances of his career. He started 0-for-6 with an interception before he rallied with three TD passes. Brees probably will regain his rhythm soon, but the Saints also clearly missed injured receiver Michael Thomas while going 1-of-11 on third downs. At 10-4, they are now a long shot for the NFC's No. 1 seed, so they can only hope to get healthy and peak at the right time to get through a more difficult January path than they initially hoped. -- Mike Triplett

Next game: vs. Vikings (4:30 p.m. ET Friday)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31, Atlanta Falcons 27

Standout performer: Buccaneers LB Devin White, 3.0 sacks, 12 tackles, 4 TFL

Tampa Bay's win over the Falcons not only improved its record to 9-5, ensuring only its second winning season since 2010, but it also inched the Bucs one step closer to their first playoff berth since 2007. But they had to overcome a 17-0 deficit and an abominable first half to do so, with Tom Brady leading four touchdown drives in the second half, including a game-winning, 46-yard TD pass to Antonio Brown. "It's what we're capable of. That's the way we should be playing. My comments to the team after the game was, 'If we can play 30 minutes like that, why the hell can't we play 60?' It's frustrating," coach Bruce Arians said, before praising his QB. "He's just a winner. He knows how to do it." -- Jenna Laine

Next game: at Lions (1 p.m. ET Saturday)

The Falcons showed improvement against the Buccaneers, but it'll be overshadowed by yet another blown lead. Matt Ryan had his best half of football in the first two quarters of the game, and the defense held the Buccaneers to 60 total yards. One half of good football is almost never enough to pull out wins, but in a season with little upside, the first half was a reminder of the diamonds in the rough. -- Harry Lyles Jr.

Next game: at Chiefs (1 p.m. ET Sunday)

Seattle Seahawks 20, Washington Football Team 15

Standout performer: Seahawks S Jamal Adams, 9 tackles, 1 sack

The Seahawks are headed back to the playoffs for the ninth time in 11 seasons under coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider. But how good is the defense they take with them? That group struggled at a historic rate over the first half of the season and has since made a strong turnaround. Still, it was a mixed bag Sunday. The Seahawks will need more of a complete effort next week in a rematch with the Rams that could determine the NFC West champion. -- Brady Henderson

Next game: vs. Rams (4:25 p.m. ET Sunday)

Washington has fallen behind by double digits 10 times this season, and it has rallied to at least give itself a chance to win the past five such times. It speaks to a mindset that has allowed it to win six games despite a coach having to fight cancer in-season and a quarterback carousel caused by benchings and injuries. With two games left and Washington at 6-8, it's tough to bet against that resiliency. -- John Keim

Next game: vs. Panthers (1 p.m. ET Sunday)

Miami Dolphins 22, New England Patriots 12

Standout performer: Dolphins RB Salvon Ahmed, 122 rushing yards, 1 TD

The Dolphins clinched a winning record for the first time since 2016, and they did it the Brian Flores way, showing resiliency despite being down their top three receivers and a starting running back. The Dolphins took those bad breaks and rushed for a season-best 250 yards, eliminating the Patriots from playoff contention along the way. This is a Dolphins team that is playing for now, and with two more wins, they will officially return to the playoffs sooner than many thought. -- Cameron Wolfe

Next game: at Raiders (8:15 p.m. ET Saturday)

The Patriots were officially eliminated from the playoffs for the first time since 2008, and based on the way they played, they simply don't deserve to be in the postseason. An inability to stop the run on defense and an offense that has too little firepower down the field combined for a frustrating performance in which the bright spot was kicker Nick Folk (four field goals). It's time to look ahead to 2021 and determine which young pieces are best to build around. And it will be interesting to see if this leads Bill Belichick to reconsider the possibility of turning to Jarrett Stidham at QB for the final two games. -- Mike Reiss

Next game: vs. Bills (8:15 p.m. ET Monday, Dec. 28)

Indianapolis Colts 27, Houston Texans 20

Standout performer: Colts WR Zach Pascal, 79 receiving yards, 2 TDs

The Colts have won five of their past six games to increase their odds of making the playoffs, but they're about to face their toughest test of the season when they go on the road to play Pittsburgh in Week 16. The Steelers (11-2) not only have the second-best record in the AFC, they have also won six consecutive meetings against Indianapolis. The Colts haven't beaten the Steelers since 2008, when Peyton Manning was the quarterback. And the Week 16 matchup could also be a playoff preview. -- Mike Wells

Next game: at Steelers (1 p.m. ET Sunday)

For the second time in three weeks, the Texans lost a one-score game to the Colts, a playoff team. There have been many moments for the Texans in 2020 when it has looked like they have a long way to go before they are competing for AFC South titles again. But the way they have played in the division this season has showed that maybe it won't be a long-term rebuild in Houston. The biggest reason for that? Quarterback Deshaun Watson, who set a single-season career high for passing touchdowns on Sunday. -- Sarah Barshop

Next game: vs. Bengals (1 p.m. ET Sunday)

Chicago Bears 33, Minnesota Vikings 27

Standout performer: Bears RB David Montgomery, 146 rushing yards, 2 TDs

The Bears live to fight another day. Faced with what amounted to an elimination game, the Bears -- led by their rejuvenated offense -- outlasted the Vikings. The win improved the Bears' playoffs odds to 35% with two weeks left to play, according to ESPN's Football Power Index. Had the Bears lost, those postseason chances would have plummeted to 2%. The Bears are still in the mix for the seventh and final NFC wild-card spot, and Chicago ends the year with Jacksonville and Green Bay. -- Jeff Dickerson

Next game: at Jaguars (1 p.m. ET Sunday)

This Vikings' defense was never going to be good enough to contain the NFC's best offenses in the playoffs. A unit missing Eric Kendricks for a second consecutive game allowed the Bears to roll up 199 yards rushing and only once forced Chicago to punt. The Vikings' tackling was as terrible as their ability to defend against play-action. They showed a lot of fight upon clawing back from a 1-5 start, but they were never going to be capable enough to rely on their young defense to pull out close games against playoff-caliber teams. -- Courtney Cronin

Next game: at Saints (4:30 p.m. ET Friday)

Baltimore Ravens 40, Jacksonville Jaguars 14

Standout performer: Ravens QB Lamar Jackson, 243 passing yards, 3 TDs (and 35 rushing yards, 1 TD)

Lamar Jackson and the Ravens' offense are finally hitting their stride. Since Jackson returned from his 10-day quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19, he has played like the reigning NFL MVP. Over the past three games, the Ravens have scored an NFL-best 121 points (40.3 per game), and Jackson has a 120.6 passer rating. "This offense is extremely dangerous," wide receiver Dez Bryant said. "It's up to us what we want to do from here on out." -- Jamison Hensley

Next game: vs. Giants (1 p.m. ET Sunday)

The loss to the Ravens was the Jaguars' 13th in a row, which tied the franchise record for most consecutive losses. With Chicago and a resurgent Mitch Trubisky coming to Jacksonville next week and the season finale in Indianapolis against the division-leading Colts, the Jaguars are staring at the worst season in franchise history. A complete housecleaning should be expected when the season does mercifully end in two weeks. What has happened over the past 13 years is unacceptable -- one winning season and 10 with 10 or more losses since a playoff appearance in 2007 -- and since it spans three general managers and four head coaches (not counting interim coach Mel Tucker), it's a complete organizational failure. -- Mike DiRocco

Next game: vs. Bears (1 p.m. ET Sunday)

Tennessee Titans 46, Detroit Lions 25

Standout performer: Titans RB Derrick Henry, 147 yards, 1 TD

The win over Detroit gives the Titans their first 10-win season since 2008, after finishing with four consecutive 9-7 records. Derrick Henry added 147 rushing yards to push his total to 1,679 on the season. Ryan Tannehill accounted for five touchdowns (three passing, two rushing), and Corey Davis turned in his fifth 100-yard receiving game this season. Tennessee has scored 30 or more points in five consecutive games. -- Turron Davenport

Next game: at Packers (8:20 p.m. ET Sunday)

On a day when the Lions were eliminated from playoff contention and secured their third consecutive losing season, QB Matthew Stafford gave a reminder of how good he has been on some bad teams and why he continues to play through injury and pain over and over again. "Because I'm the quarterback of the Detroit Lions, and it was Sunday and I got a bunch of teammates out there that work their ass off and fight to be available and fight to get out there and play and try to help us win," Stafford said. "If there's any way I can play, I'm never gonna not, you know." -- Michael Rothstein

Next game: vs. Buccaneers (1 p.m. ET Saturday)

Dallas Cowboys 41, San Francisco 49ers 33

Standout performer: Cowboys RB Tony Pollard, 69 rushing yards, 2 TDs (and 63 receiving yards)

Coach Mike McCarthy is not scoreboard-watching. After the win against the 49ers, the Cowboys' coach did not mention Washington's loss to Seattle that has kept his team's playoff chances alive. At 5-9, the Cowboys are one game back of Washington. But Dallas lost both regular-season meetings with Washington, so it would need its rival to lose its final two games in addition to the Cowboys winning their final two. "I think it's clear we've got to take care of our own business," McCarthy said. "Nothing else matters. We're focused on what's in front of us. We know we have Philadelphia in seven days. We have a week to prepare for them. We want to finish strong with two division wins. That's clearly my focus." -- Todd Archer

Next game: vs. Eagles (4:25 p.m. ET Sunday)

The 49ers' postseason hopes are officially gone and it's time to start looking ahead to 2021. Their loss to Dallas on Sunday was probably best for a team that is facing difficult salary-cap constraints, with 40 players set for some sort of free agency. San Francisco needs all the cost-effective, top-end talent the NFL draft can provide. But it's a tough pill to swallow for a team that harbored hopes of a return to the Super Bowl. "It was definitely a huge challenge this year, but I always believe we could have won more games than we have so far," coach Kyle Shanahan said. -- Nick Wagoner

Next game: at Cardinals (4:30 p.m. ET Saturday)

Green Bay Packers 24, Carolina Panthers 16

Standout performer: Packers RB Aaron Jones, 145 rushing yards, 1 TD

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers came out of Saturday's win over the Panthers with this assessment: "That type of football in the second half, not gonna get it done in the playoffs." Good thing for the Packers (11-3) -- who still hold the advantage for the No. 1 seed in the NFC -- that the struggling Panthers aren't a playoff team. Otherwise, they might have lost their grip on home-field advantage throughout the postseason. After scoring on their first three possessions, the Packers punted five straight times and managed only a field goal in the second half. They'll get a much tougher test next Sunday when the Titans come to Lambeau. -- Rob Demovsky

Next game: vs. Titans (8:20 p.m. ET Sunday)

When coach Matt Rhule looks back at this season, one-score games will jump off the evaluation chart. The Panthers (4-10) are 0-8 in one-possession games after Saturday's loss. That's an indictment on young players who haven't fully figured out how to finish games. It's an indictment on quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. It's also an indictment on a young coaching staff that hasn't fully figured out how to put players in position to get over the hump. The good news? Carolina might be headed for a top-five draft pick. -- David Newton

Next game: at Washington (1 p.m. ET Sunday)

Buffalo Bills 48, Denver Broncos 19

Standout performer: Bills QB Josh Allen, 359 passing yards, 2 TDs (and 33 rushing yards, 2 TDs)

There is no team playing better football right now than the Bills. They've spoken at length over the past month about peaking at the right time -- with three straight resounding prime-time wins, the Bills appear to be doing exactly that. Their past three games have been their most complete efforts of the season, and they look like they'll be a tough out come playoff time. If both sides of the ball continue this level of play, they can go toe-to-toe with the Chiefs, and even win. -- Marcel Louis-Jacques

Next game: at Patriots (8:15 p.m. ET Monday, Dec. 28)

In a season in which they haven't had former Super Bowl MVP Von Miller for a single snap, have played a game without any quarterbacks and suited up just three cornerbacks Saturday, all of the Broncos' bills finally came due when the Bills came to town. A dismal third quarter turned a one-score game at halftime into what Broncos coach Vic Fangio called "a total team disappointing performance." The Broncos simply have too many starters on injured reserve and not enough talent left on the depth chart. The biggest sign of the team's broken spirit was Devin Singletary's 51-yard touchdown run with 1 minute, 40 seconds to play through the middle of a reeling Broncos defense. The Broncos say there is potential to mine some good from this season, but they have only two games remaining to show that. -- Jeff Legwold

Next game: at Chargers (4:05 p.m. ET Sunday)

Los Angeles Chargers 30, Las Vegas Raiders 27

Standout performer: Chargers QB Justin Herbert, 314 passing yards, 2 TDs (and 1 rushing TD)

Kicker Michael Badgley became the NFL leader in missed field goals with nine at the same time the Chargers got their second win in a row and first divisional win since 2018. Quarterback Justin Herbert tied the rookie record for most passing touchdowns with 27. -- Shelley Smith

Next game: vs. Broncos (4:05 p.m. ET Sunday)

So THIS is why the Raiders signed quarterback Marcus Mariota, who showed not only a willingness to extend plays with his legs and take off and run, but also a preternatural talent to do so against the Chargers. No, there is no quarterback controversy in Las Vegas. Not even with Mariota rushing for a game-high 88 yards and passing for 226 more in only his third game being active for the Raiders. He showed a flavor that Derek Carr, who left with a groin injury in the first quarter, might be missing. But with the Raiders all but eliminated from the playoff race, why not give Mariota the last two games with his own playcalls just to see what he's got entering the offseason since you already know what you have in Carr? -- Paul Gutierrez

Next game: vs. Dolphins (8:15 p.m. ET Saturday)

Cincinnati Bengals 27, Pittsburgh Steelers 17

Standout performer: Bengals QB Ryan Finley, 136 total yards, 2 total TDs

Bengals coach Zac Taylor might have just picked up the win that saves his job. Regardless of how hot the seat was under the second-year coach, it might be cool for several months after an upset win over the Steelers. In the short term, Cincinnati snapped a five-game losing streak. What's more, Taylor's fifth win in two seasons with the Bengals will quiet those who have asked about his job security after a rough couple of years. Cincinnati was a 14.5-point underdog at home, yet it beat the AFC North-leading Steelers for the first time since 2015. Taylor needed the victory more than the Bengals needed to inch a little closer to the No. 3 pick in the 2021 draft. Taylor downplayed the personal importance of the win, but it could be the bridge to his third year with the Bengals, with Joe Burrow back under center. -- Ben Baby

Next game: at Texans (1 p.m. ET Sunday, FOX)

This was supposed to be the Steelers' chance to get back in the win column and make a statement. Well, they made a statement Monday, but it wasn't the one they anticipated. Instead of clinching their first AFC North title since 2017, the Steelers came out flat and fell in a 17-0 hole from which they couldn't fully recover. Although he tried to throw more intermediate and deep passes than in the previous two losses, Ben Roethlisberger was still ineffective and off-target. With two weeks until the playoffs, the Steelers haven't fixed their offense, and it could doom their postseason hopes. -- Brooke Pryor

Next game: vs. Colts (1 p.m. ET Sunday, CBS)