Despite Aqib Talib and Michael Crabtree's brawl garnering the most attention, this past week saw several teams take telling steps towards the playoffs. Here are the main headlines coming out of Week 12:
Bengals for postseason
Cincinnati’s 30-16 win over the Cleveland Browns taught us a few things.
After a shaky start to the season, rookie running back Joe Mixon finally found his rhythm on the ground against Cleveland, gaining 114 yards and a touchdown off 23 carries, in addition to 51 yards through the air.
Though the Browns remain winless, Mixon’s feat came against a defence that ranked sixth against the run heading into the contest.
With the win, the Bengals are now 5-6 on the year; a strong turnaround from their 0-3 start, and within reach of division rivals Baltimore (6-5) for the AFC’s final Wildcard berth.
Marvin Lewis’ men will need nothing other than a win next week against rivals Pittsburgh to maintain the pressure in their playoff pursuit, and will be buoyed by the resurgence of quarterback Andy Dalton, who has not thrown an interception since Week 6 – against the Steelers.
Taking care of the ball is key and though the Bengals managed to do just that against Hue Jackson’s men, repeating those efforts against a Steelers squad riding a six-game winning streak will be their toughest task yet.
The best receiver in the league
No, it’s not Antonio Brown, the injured Odell Beckham Jr., A.J. Green or Mike Evans.
Julio Jones was in unstoppable form against Tampa Bay, catching 12 passes for 253 yards and two touchdowns as the Atlanta Falcons moved to 7-4 with a 34-20 win.
No other active player in the NFL has more than one 250-yard game to their name. The 28-year-old now has three.
Through his first 90 games, Jones has caught more passes (563) and gained more yards (8,649) than any other player in NFL history and has truly etched his name alongside some of the best the game has ever seen.
The Alabama star’s form has coincided with his franchise’s second wind to the season, with the Falcons now in touching distance of division leaders New Orleans (8-3) and Carolina (8-3) after winning their past three games straight.
With the likes of Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel attracting plenty of attention from defensive backs in their own right, it seems Julio’s production will only continue to increase.
San Francisco's future is bright
Despite going down 24-13 to divisional rivals Seattle, the San Francisco 49ers saw a premature debut exceed expectations after quarterback C.J. Beathard left the game clutching his lower leg with just over a minute remaining.
With the Seahawks' win secured, the 49ers sent in newly acquired quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo on third-and-five from Seattle’s 18 to finish the match.
The former Patriots backup showed poise in what was ultimately a garbage-time situation, scrambling four yards before finding Aldrick Robinson and Louis Murphy for a combined 18 yards and a touchdown as time expired.
Though just a small sample size, Garoppolo's brief outing demonstrated the talent head coach Kyle Shanahan will have at his disposal next season, and something he can build around as his tenure continues.
Whether we see Garoppolo again this season remains a mystery, but there’s no doubt 49ers fans were left encouraged from what they saw.