Week 18 of the NFL schedule is on the books and the best performances deserve to be recognized by our MMQB staff. Even if you’re feeling down because your team didn’t win, our staff might award a game ball to one of your favorite players or coaches.
Here are the highlights of this weekend:
Conor Orr: Nyheim Hines, KR, Bills. Okay, I’ll take the easy one here. This was the first time since 2010 that we’ve seen two kickoff returns for a touchdown in a game. This was the first time in Bill’s history that this had happened. This was the most kick return yards in a game by any Bills player. But most of all, it was an absolute emotional volcano of a game that helped ease the Bills’ return to the field following Damar Hamlin’s medical emergency. It’s cliché to say that this was a Hollywood ending, but in this case I don’t think Hollywood is cheesy enough to really conjure this up and make it believable.
John Pluym: Mike Tomlin, Coach, Steelers. Tomlin didn’t have a losing season in his 16 years at the helm after Pittsburgh defeated the Browns to go 9-8. The Steelers have won six of their seven games and seven of their last nine games. Pittsburgh has a solid foundation for the future. Tomlin traded for quarterback Kenny Pickett and went on to have four straight wins, including two in the final series of the game. Pittsburgh also have Najee Harris and George Pickens on offense, along with a very talented tight end in Pat Freiermuth. Defensively, the Steelers got back former Defensive Player of the Year TJ Watt, and Alex Highsmith had a great season after Watt was injured. There’s no doubt that Pittsburgh’s future looks bright as long as Tomlin is the head coach.
Gary Gramling: The Heyward Family, Steelers. It was a big day for veteran D-lineman (and, if justified, future Hall of Famer) Cameron in what may be his final game against the Steelers. He had two sacks against Deshaun Watson against an albeit dysfunctional Browns offense, his only flaw being an absurd scrubbing of the passer. And then there’s rookie tight end/fullback/H-back Connor, who’s seen his role on offense grow recently with three more catches for 45 yards. The Watts got all the Subway ad money. How about a blimpie commercial for the Heywards?
Claire Kuwana: Jason Sanders, K, Dolphins. After a five-game losing streak, it was Sanders’ 50-yard field goal that gave the Dolphins their first playoff spot since 2016. Sunday’s 11-6 win over the Jets wasn’t pretty, like Tyreek Hill tweeted after the game, but Sanders did what he had to do to make up for Miami’s otherwise limited offense. He was a perfect 3-of-3 on field goals, making him the only player on the team to score a point (the remaining two points came from a safety), but it was enough to give the Dolphins a rematch against the Bills in to bestow the first round of the playoffs.
Mitch Goldich: Davis Mills, QB and Jordan Akins, WR, Texans. Week 18 had a lot of bad football, with different teams taking different care of their games. Some teams have emptied their benches, either because the season ended last week or because they were tied to a specific playoff start. But the Texans, who have seemingly been out of the competition for ages, have now been struggling for a solid month. And that game-winning 14-play, 83-yard drive to beat the Colts and cost yourself the No. 1 draft was a perfect microcosm of a stupid day. It was exciting, it was hilarious, it wasn’t good for the team, but we couldn’t look away. Jordan Akins scored an otherwise meaningless octopus that has a chance to dramatically impact Alabama QB Bryce Young and a handful of teams across the league for years to come. What a day.