Was the Patriots' loss to the Eagles unlucky or the start of a slide?

New England Patriots

Tom Brady had just hit Danny Amendola for an 11-yard touchdown pass. The Patriots were up 14-0 on the hapless Eagles, a team that had given up 45 points in consecutive weeks. It looked like New England were headed for their 11th win of the season.

Bill Belichick then ordered a bizarre drop-kick trick play on the kickoff. Instead of kicking off, Stephen Gostkowski flipped the ball to Nate Ebner, a former rugby player. He drop-kicked it over the first line of the Eagles return team, but Eagles special teams maven Seyi Ajirotutu retreated to dive on the football. Drop-kicks are legal on kickoffs, and Baylor and Minnesota tried similar kickoffs earlier this year.

The Patriots, presumably, were hoping to get the ball in Philadelphia territory and put this one away with a 21-0 lead in the second quarter. (“We don’t have time for all that,” Belichick said when asked his reasoning for the kickoff call.) But instead the Eagles began their drive at their own 41, and went 59 yards for their first score of the game. The Patriots were still up, 14-7. The short kickoff didn’t hurt them too much.

But what happened in over the next 20 minutes of game time did. A blocked punt led to another Eagles touchdown before Brady threw a 99-yard pick-six to Malcolm Jenkins. After the Eagles stopped the Patriots on the ensuing possession, Darren Sproles returned a punt 83 yards for a touchdown. Suddenly it was 28-14, Eagles.

When the smoke cleared, the Eagles – a team who had lost three straight games – were 35-28 victors on the road against the mighty Patriots. New England not only fell to 10-2, but they dropped to the No3 seed in the AFC. If the season ended today, they’d have to play on wild card weekend for the first time since 2009. (Also, it’d be extra weird because the playoffs aren’t scheduled to start until January.)

This game will probably not quell Chip Kelly’s critics in Philadelphia. The Eagle were outgained, 427-248, and ran 58 plays to New England’s 86. But they picked off Brady twice, and they got three return scores. Per Reuben Frank of Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia, the Patriots had been 94-0 when leading by eight points or more at home since 2001 (the team’s first Super Bowl year).

In short, it was a lucky win for the Eagles. And while lucky wins count the same as well-earned ones, the Eagles are now just a half-game behind in the NFC East. If Dallas beat Washington on Monday night, Philadelphia will be in a three-way tie for first place in the division despite a 5-7 record. And the Eagles can take away this: Bradford returned from injury and threw for two scores without an interception. His second TD pass put the Eagles up 35-14 with 11:09 left in the first quarter. The Philly run game continues to struggle. Two players (Sproles and Kenjon Barner) got more carries and had more yards than big-money offseason signee DeMarco Murray.

The Patriots are still in first in the AFC East, and could clinch their seventh straight division title next week with a win and a Jets loss. They actually almost came back in this one. Brady hit Scott Chandler from 12 yards out to cut the deficit to 14, then scored on a QB sneak to make it a one-score game after the Patriots successfully recovered an onside kick. The Eagles then looked to run the clock out, but Barner fumbled. Brady couldn’t move the ball down the field and Philly held on.

With all the injuries, New England’s offense has been a shade of their earlier-season form. But they still lost by just a combined 13 points the last two weeks, and Rob Gronkowski should return from injury sooner rather than later. The Patriots’ loss to the Eagles was more anomaly than anything else but they will be wary that several AFC teams they could meet in the playoffs – the Chiefs, Steelers and Broncos among them – are heating up as the regular season comes to a close. And at the moment New England are cold.

Quote of the week

Hear me when I say I do not have a concussion – Panthers QB Cam Newton

Cam Newton looked like he was headed into the end zone for a go-ahead score. He even let up as he approached the end zone.

It was a bad move. Newton was blasted by Michael Mauti at the goal line, and knocked out of bounds at the one. Newton said postgame he deserved to take that hit for letting up before he scored, and he was questioned about whether he had a concussion from the hit.

Newton said he was OK. He stayed in on that series, and ended up throwing a 13-yard TD to Ted Ginn Jr to give the Panthers the lead. He went back to the locker room briefly after that score, but didn’t miss a play. It ended up being a back-and-forth affair that ended with Newton throwing a 15-yard TD to Jerricho Cotchery to give the Panthers a 41-38 win over the Saints. Newton threw for 331 yards, five TDs and one pick, with another 49 yards on the ground.

They are now 12-0 with just the Falcons, Giants, Falcons again and Buccaneers between them and a 16-0 season. They’ve already wrapped up the NFC South.

Stat of the week

25. Josh Brown had made 25 consecutive field goals without a miss when he stepped onto the field in overtime. He had already made two field goals, from 20 and 35 yards, on Saturday. But his streak ended on his third attempt – he pushed a 48-yard try wide left. The Jets, who scored 10 in the fourth quarter to tie the game, beat the Giants 23-20 and are in the wild card places with a 7-5 record.

The loss knocked the 5-7 Giants a half-game behind Washington in the NFC East; the Giants lost 20-14 in the teams’ head-to-head matchup.

Fantasy player of the week

Russell Wilson: 21-for-27, 274 yards three TDs. 51 yards rushing, one TD.

Wilson had his third straight great fantasy (and real life) game in a row, leading the Seahawks to a 38-7 rout of the Vikings. Wilson had touchdown passes of 20 and 53 yards to Doug Baldwin (another breakout fantasy player the last few weeks), as well as a five-yard TD toss to Fred Jackson. Wilson also ran one in from eight yards out.

Seattle have played the past three games without Marshawn Lynch. In his absence, Wilson has thrown 11 touchdowns with no interceptions.

Going forward, Wilson has the Ravens, Browns and Rams the next three weeks. That could mean three more great fantasy performances, and three games that are easily winnable for Seattle. If they win the next three, Seattle would be 10-5 going into a Week 17 road game against the Arizona Cardinals. They’re likely too far back to catch 10-2 Arizona, but whichever team faces them during wild card weekend is going to have a rough matchup.

How the Patriots cheated this week

Look. This has to be against the rules. You’re not allowed to do this to an official (although technically Belichick did not touch her)!

And while we’re at it, the Patriots snuck a 38-year-old, sixth-round pick wide receiver on to their roster while no one was looking.

Gif of the week

The most exciting game of the day was between a pair of teams with a combined seven wins. On Sunday, the Titans and Jaguars combined for 850 yards of offense and 81 points. The final was Titans 42, Jaguars 39. Tennessee’s final two touchdowns both came on wild plays. With the Jaguars up three, Marcus Mariota scrambled for an 87-yard touchdown — the second-longest quarterback TD run in history. (Terrell Pryor had a 93-yard run in 2013.) The next drive, a snap went over the head of Jaguars QB Blake Bortles. He couldn’t pick it up, and Wesley Woodyard picked it up and ran it in for a three-yard score. Bortles – who had a Jaguars-record five TD passes – hit Allen Robinson on the next possession, but Tennessee was able to hold on.

Mariota won at home for the first time in his career; the Titans broke an 11-game home skid overall.

Elsewhere around the league

— Can anyone stop the Pittsburgh offense? Ben Roethlisberger threw for 364 yards and four TDs, while Antonio Brown caught eight passes for 118 yards and two scores. Brown also returned a punt 71 yards for a score. The Steelers beat the Colts, 45-10, and the Steelers improved to 7-5. Roethlisberger has thrown for more than 300 yards in four consecutive starts.

— Brock Osweiler improved to 2-0 as a starter, throwing an early touchdown pass in a 17-3 Broncos win over the San Diego Chargers. The Broncos’ defense held San Diego to 272 yards and forced three turnovers. The Broncos are now 10-2 and have moved into the No2 spot in the AFC.

— The Cincinnati Bengals have been the top seed in the AFC twice in their history: They went 12-4 in both 1981 and 1988. The Bengals reached the Super Bowl each season. With their 37-3 thrashing of the Browns and the Patriots’ loss to the Eagles, the 10-2 Bengals are now in line for the No1 seed in the AFC.

Andy Dalton and the Bengals jumped out to a 20-0 lead after five possessions, and the game was pretty much over by halftime. Dalton scored on a run from three yards out to open the scoring, then found a wide open AJ Green from 23 yards out for his second score. He finished 14-of-19 for 220 yards and two TDs. Green caught five passes for 123 yards and a TD; he now has more than 1,000 yards on the season for the fifth time in his five-year career.

— Carson Palmer threw for 356 yards and three touchdowns and the Arizona Cardinals improved to 10-2 with a 24-3 rout of the St Louis Rams. In the game, Larry Fitzgerald became the youngest wide receiver to get 1,000 catches. Fitzgerald is 32 years, 97 days old; the previous recordholder (Andre Johnson) was 33 years, 163 days old when he achieved the feat.

With the Vikings loss on Sunday, the Cardinals are now two games up on new NFC North division leader Green Bay. They get both the Vikings and Packers at home in the final four weeks of the season.

— Blaine Gabbert used his legs to tie the game. Then he won it with his arm. Down a touchdown in the fourth quarter, Gabbert scored on a 44-yard run with 1:42 to play. Then, after a Bears punt, he threw a 71-yard TD pass to Torrey Smith to give the 49ers a 26-20 win over the Chicago Bears. Gabbert threw for 196 yards and led San Francisco in rushing with 75 yards.

— The Falcons started the season 5-0. They’ve now lost five in a row after the Buccaneers rallied to beat Atlanta in Tampa, 23-19. Mike Evans caught a five-yard touchdown pass from Jameis Winston with 1:39 to play to give the Buccaneers their fourth comeback or overtime win this season. Winston also scored on a five-yard run in the game, his fifth TD on the ground this year. Tampa, which opened the season 1-3, is now just one game behind Seattle for the last playoff spot.

— Tyrod Taylor completed just 11 of his 21 passes, but threw three touchdowns in Buffalo’s 30-21 victory over the Houston Texans. LeSean McCoy rushed for 112 yards on 21 carries, while Sammy Watkins caught three passes for 109 yards. On the losing side, Bryan Hoyer threw for 293 yards, three TDs and one pick. DeAndre Hopkins caught five passes for 88 yards and a score.

Both the Texans and Bills are 6-6. They’re a game back of the logjam at 7-5 (Chiefs, Steelers, Jets). There are two wild card spots open for those two teams. But the Texans are in the mix for a division title as well; the Colts loss to the Steelers leaves both teams tied with 6-6 records atop the AFC South.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Dan McQuade, for theguardian.com on Monday 7th December 2015 05.38 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010