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4 Downs: Clutch Performances Highlight Week 12

The closing stretch of the NFL season has arrived, with some contenders rising to the occasion and others left scratching their heads after performances that make them look more like turkeys than capable of playing for the Lombardi Trophy.

In Detroit, a quarterback seized control of his team and boosted their playoff outlook with an impressive division victory, just not the one you might have expected entering Thursday afternoon. An MVP front-runner revealed himself by passing yet another daunting test in Philadelphia. Meanwhile, the new AFC South leaders might have finally figured out how to use their most lethal weapon.

By the way, that MVP front-runner, Jalen Hurts, is now 26-3 over the past two seasons and has his team looking plenty capable of avenging February's Super Sunday defeat to the reigning MVP, after starting the week by dispatching him in his own building on Monday and ending it by out-playing Josh Allen on Sunday.

Here are the biggest takeaways, and awards from a wild Week 12 of the NFL season.

First Down: Jalen Hurts Delivers in the Clutch

In the biggest game on the NFL calendar this weekend, Jalen Hurts delivered arguably the most clutch performance of his young career.

Hurts and the Eagles weathered early adversity: a driving South Philadelphia November rain and the Bills jumping to a 17-7 halftime lead. Ultimately though, the 25-year-old quarterback served as his team's steadying force, eventually slashing and dashing through Buffalo's defense for the game-winning 12-yard touchdown, capping a 37-34 overtime win.

"He's been a winner everywhere he's gone," an AFC scout told FanBuzz. "He expects to be great because he works at it, and he is the definition of relentless."

In the deluge of rain and Josh Allen powering the Bills' offense, accounting for 505 yards of offense and four touchdowns by himself, Hurts poise amid adversity shined through. For the second consecutive week the Eagles fell 10 points behind an AFC Super Bowl favorite and for the second straight week walk out of the stadium with an identity-reinforcing win.

Sunday was Philadelphia's fourth consecutive second-half comeback, and the second game in a row that Hurts outgunned one of the game's premier quarterbacks, furthering his reputation as one of the NFL's must clutch performers.

"They always talk about Tom Brady," Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham told reporters following the game. "With the drives at the end, I'm hoping Jalen [Hurts] starts getting some of that name. I'm happy that he went out there, and just finished the deal, a game-winning drive. Keep them coming."

Against Buffalo, Hurts completed 18-of-31 passes for 200 yards with three touchdowns to one interception, and two rushing touchdowns, including the game-winner.

Over the past four weeks, Hurts has outplayed Allen, out-gunned Patrick Mahomes in Arrowhead, orchestrated a second-half survival against Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys, and put fourth a four-touchdown effort to survive a test against the division-rival Commanders.

During that stretch, Hurts has completed 68 percent of his passes for 876 yards with nine passing touchdowns to two interceptions while adding 136 rushing yards and five more scores.

Hurts and the Eagles are now 10-1, and appear to be the prohibitive favorites for the top-seed in the NFC, having already authored signature wins over the Dolphins, Cowboys, Chiefs, and Bills, passing virtually every test thrown Philadelphia's way.

It is historically difficult for the team that loses the Super Bowl the year prior to return to the big game the following season, but the Eagles look like the class of the conference and Hurts continues to strengthen his MVP resumé as the season rolls along.

Second Down: Arthur Smith Finally Finds Bijan Robinson Blueprint

ATLANTA, GEORGIA - NOVEMBER 26: Bijan Robinson #7 of the Atlanta Falcons scores a receiving touchdown in the fourth quarter of the game against the New Orleans Saints at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on November 26, 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia.

Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

It might have taken 12 weeks, but Falcons head coach Arthur Smith finally realized that Bijan Robinson exists.

In a have-to-have-it game against the New Orleans Saints, Robinson showed the world — and his head coach, what makes him such a unique talent.

Robinson ran roughshod over the Saints, gaining 91 yards and scoring a touchdown, while averaging 5.7 yards per carry. Additionally, he flashed his ability as a receiver out of the backfield with three receptions for 32 yards, including a 26-yard touchdown catch and run in a 24-15 win that propelled Atlanta to the division lead.

"I think he has all three," former NFL running back C.J. Anderson told FanBuzz, when asked what makes Robinson special. "As far as his skill-set ... What he has, is not only the home run ability, which is the speed, but the quickness and great balance. Those are the three combinations that makes a good runner.

"Bijan's vision is also at a top-notch level. He does a good job running with his eyes. He's super quick, with the home run ability, and has great balance to break tackles. When you add all of those things together, that makes a special, special running back, which he is."

For whatever reason, it seems to have taken Smith more than half a season to realize what a nightmare Robinson is for opposing defenses and just how quickly he can swing a game in the Falcons' favor.

Robinson entered Sunday averaging just 13.8 carries per game while rushing for 612 yards in the nine games he played any sort of role in.

The first-round pick out of Texas showed what he's capable of, and now it is up to Smith to maximize his impact in the Falcons' most important games the rest of this season.

"When you think about the great running backs I've seen," Anderson said. "The Adrian Petersons, the Barry Sanders', the Frank Gores', they all have quickness, speed, balance, and vision, and they can find a way to put it all together, that's what makes them special.

"Watching Bijan, he's always making somebody miss. But, if he has to put his shoulder down and go get three or four yards, he can do that. Obviously, he's a matchup nightmare for linebackers, he's a matchup nightmare for the safeties, he beat DeMario Davis for a touchdown today, just ran right by him. That's what makes Bijan special."

If the Falcons are going to actually win the division, Robinson proved on Sunday afternoon that he can be, and should be, Atlanta's catalyst on offense.

Third Down: Trevor Lawrence Evens Score in Next Great Quarterback Rivalry

On an afternoon that featured otherwise forgettable quarterback play across the NFL, Trevor Lawrence outlasted C.J. Stroud in what might be the sport's next great individual rivalry.

Stroud vs. Lawrence might have a long way to go to fill up their respective trophy cases that can hold a candle to Peyton Manning's and Tom Brady's. However, if Sunday is any indication these two could be well on their way to being the standard bearers of their generation as the next faces of the NFL.

After falling to Stroud's Texans earlier this season, Lawrence was nearly flawless in the rematch.

Lawrence led the way for the Jaguars, passing for 364 yards with one touchdown, and one interception that came as the officials missed a blatant holding penalty on the pass intended for Jaguars tight end Evan Engram.

"You're talking about a guy who has immense talent," an AFC East front office executive told FanBuzz, of Lawrence. "And, people forget that he's still learning the NFL game."

Jacksonville's victory creates some much-needed separation in the AFC South as the Jaguars improved to 8-3 as the Texans fell to 6-5 on the season.

The former No. 1 overall pick out of Clemson has been playing out of his mind in recent weeks. Over the previous five games leading up to Sunday's showdown with Stroud's Texans, Lawrence had completed 69 percent of his passes for 1,124 yards with six touchdowns, four interceptions and 108 rushing yards with two more scores.

But, Houston was in position to even attempt a prayer of a 58-yard game-tying field goal in the final seconds because Stroud once again put the Texans on his back throughout the contest.

Stroud repeatedly showed the poise of an experienced veteran by extending plays in the pocket to buy his receivers time downfield, rifling passes into tight windows, all while serving as a calming force for the offense amid the Jaguars' onslaught.

For much of Sunday's game, Stroud looked the part of a legitimate MVP candidate while passing for 304 yards with two passing touchdowns and rushing for a team-high 47 yards and another touchdown.

By season's end, Sunday's game might wind up being an elimination game for the Texans.

But, the performances from Stroud and Lawrence felt like the trailer of the thrillers that might be to come over the next decade, at least twice per season, and perhaps even in games where the stakes are significantly higher.

Fourth Down: Blame Canada

CINCINNATI, OHIO - NOVEMBER 26: George Pickens #14 of the Pittsburgh Steelers catches a pass in front of Mike Hilton #21 of the Cincinnati Bengals during the fourth quarter at Paycor Stadium on November 26, 2023 in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

The unceremonious and arguably overdue ouster of Matt Canada as the Pittsburgh Steelers' offensive coordinator didn't fix all that has ailed quarterback Kenny Pickett. However, his departure seems to have lit a spark that just might become the offense's identity for the rest of this season.

Sunday in Cincinnati, the Steelers secured a trademark (ugly) victory that helped Pittsburgh keep pace in the AFC North. This time, led in large part by an offense that had been dragged along by a dominant pass-rush for the season's first 11 weeks.

Against the Bengals, the Steelers produced more than 400 yards of total offense for the first time in 59 games, dating back to Week 2 of the 2020 campaign.

Clearly, interim offensive coordinators Eddie Faulkner and Mike Sullivan didn't reinvent the wheel, or re-write Pittsburgh's playbook, in five days. But, the offense leaned into its best traits; rushing for 153 yards and calling high-percentage passes for Pickett, especially on intermediate routes that featured a heavy dose of Pat Freiermuth.

The veteran tight end caught nine passes for a season-high 120 yards, while helping Pickett get into a rhythm and the offense dictate to the Bengals, something Pittsburgh hasn't done in quite a long time.

Pickett's decisiveness and poise from the pocket is a foundation that the Steelers can build on from here, and if Pittsburgh's offense an provide any semblance of balance to a defense that had been carrying the weight of the team for much of the season, Mike Tomlin's squad just might be able to play spoiler against some of the AFC's best.

Week 12 MVP of The Week: Jordan Love

Jordan Love walked into the Lions' den and carved up a previously dominant Detroit defense like a Thanksgiving turducken.

With the Packers suddenly banging on the doorstep of the NFL Playoffs, and Love facing a stretch run of this season that is effectively his audition to be Green Bay's franchise quarterback of the future, the three-year veteran authored arguably the most impressive performance of his career on a Thanksgiving to remember.

Love was instrumental in the Packers dominating Detroit from opening whistle to final gun, while passing for 268 yards with three touchdowns, and rushing for 39 yards. Thursday afternoon was also just the fifth time all season that Love did not throw an interception.

"We continue to work every week," Love told reporters after the game. "Obviously, we know it's not going to be perfect, but the progress is there. But we continue to put that work in every week and build that chemistry."

Against the Lions, Love looked like a quarterback who has grown exponentially from the last time that these two teams met, a two-interception nightmare that seemed to have the four-year veteran seeing ghosts.

But, in the divisional rematch, eight different Packers caught passes, Love's chemistry with young receiver Christian Watson never looked stronger, and his poise and command from the pocket looks miles ahead of where it had been earlier this season.

Green Bay needs to see Love make continued strides, continued growth in key areas, and to find ways to win. Thursday, in that regard, against one of the NFL's most dominant defenses — and a division rival, was a big test passed for Love.

Week 12 Team of The Week: San Francisco 49ers

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - NOVEMBER 23: Ambry Thomas #20 of the San Francisco 49ers celebrates an interception with teammates during the second quarter of a game against the Seattle Seahawks at Lumen Field on November 23, 2023 in Seattle, Washington.

Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

If there was any belief that the Seahawks were closing the gap on the 49ers in the NFC West, San Francisco didn't waste any time dispelling that notion in the Thanksgiving nightcap.

San Francisco's defense undertook a demolition, on the road in one of the toughest environments in the sport, holding Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith to 180 passing yards with an interception, and Seattle to only 88 rushing yards and an average of just 4.1 yards per play in a dominant 31-13 victory.

Meanwhile, offensively, quarterback Brock Purdy completed a pass to eight different 49ers targets. Additionally, Christian McCaffrey accounted for 139 yards from scrimmage with two rushing touchdowns and Deebo Samuel's versatility was on display for the world to see as he found the end zone on an end-around and led the 49ers with 79 receiving yards.

Thursday night might have been the 49ers' most impressive win in a season chalk full of them, but San Francisco's biggest game of the season — and arguably of the NFL's entire schedule looms large next Sunday.

The marquee matchup of Week 13 will be the Niners' trip to Philadelphia in a rematch of January's NFC Championship Game loss to the Eagles, where San Francisco will have the built in advantage of three days of extra rest after playing on Thanksgiving night.

San Francisco can cut the Eagles' two-game lead for homefield advantage throughout the NFC Playoffs in half with a victory.

Next Sunday is a game that the 49ers have had circled on the calendar since boarding the team busses from Lincoln Financial Field to the airport, but victories in dominant fashion like Thursday's over the Seahawks make it truly meaningful.

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Week 12 Breakout Star: Jalin Hyatt, WR, New York Giants

Performances like Sunday's are why the Giants were so excited to select Jalin Hyatt in the third-round of April's NFL Draft.

It was Hyatt's game-altering speed at the University of Tennessee that put him on the Giants' radar, even before he ran a 4.40 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. Against the downtrodden New England Patriots, Hyatt's speed repeatedly took the top off the secondary as he became quarterback Tommy DeVito's favorite target.

Hyatt caught five of his six targets for 109 yards in the Giants' 10-7 victory, including a perfectly-placed 41-yard bomb down the sideline from New York's undrafted rookie quarterback.

Maybe it shouldn't be surprising that Hyatt's signature performance, to date, of his rookie season came with DeVito behind center.

"We started at rookie mini camp, then OTAs and training camp, so for me I wasn't really with the ones starting off and me and Tommy were with the threes starting off," Hyatt explained to reporters, after the game. "So, we kind of built chemistry off of that during the offseason and going into the season. At the same time, it just goes to our preparation. Tommy had a great game. It all starts with the quarterback for being in the league. I'm very proud of him, what he has done, but for us we've got to keep going."

Not only was Sunday the first 100-yard receiving performance of Hyatt's career, but it was the first 100-yard receiving game for any Giants wide receiver this season.

Giants legendary former receiver Victor Cruz believes it could be the first of many for Hyatt.

"I think Jalin Hyatt reminds me of Justin Jefferson," Cruz told FanBuzz, during a wide-ranging conversation prior to the 2023 season. "He's lengthy, long, fast, has a huge catch radius, can catch a lot of different type of balls in the air, he can go get it."

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