It’s the Pittsburgh Steelers (7-8) vs Baltimore Ravens (10-5) this week on Sunday Night Football. Live coverage begins at 7:00 p.m. ET with Football Night in America on NBC and Peacock. The two teams went head-to-head in Week 14 with Baltimore taking the 16-14 victory in Pittsburgh.
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Kenny Pickett and the Pittsburgh Steelers are still fighting for a playoff spot after last week’s 13-10 victory over the Raiders on Christmas Eve. The Steelers entered the 4th quarter trailing Las Vegas 10-3 but scored 10 unanswered points to pick up the win. After a frustrating 2-9 start to the season, Pittsburgh has now won 4 of its last 5 games and is 5-2 since its Week 9 bye. The team, led by head coach Mike Tomlin–who has never had a losing year in his 16 seasons with the Steelers–will need to win their next 2 games to keep the hope of making Pittsburgh’s 3rd straight playoff appearance and Tomlin’s winning streak alive.
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The Baltimore Ravens have already earned a spot in the playoffs and enter Week 17 just one game behind Cincinnati for the AFC North lead after last Saturday’s 17-9 win against the Falcons. Ravens backup QB Tyler Huntley started his 3rd straight game, passing for 115 yards and a touchdown in the victory. Huntley has 2-1 record since taking over for 2019 NFL MVP QB Lamar Jackson who suffered a sprained PCL in Week 13. Jackson has not returned to practice since December 4. If he is not cleared to play this Sunday, Huntley will likely make his 4th consecutive start.
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The Ravens need to win their final two games of the season (Week 17 and Week 18) to secure the franchise’s first AFC North title since winning it in back-to-back years in 2018 & 2019.
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Kickoff is at 8:20 p.m. ET.
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Football Night in America will feature a weekly segment hosted by former NFL quarterback Chris Simms and sports betting and fantasy pioneer Matthew Berry, which highlights storylines and betting odds for the upcoming Sunday Night Football game on NBC, Peacock, and Universo. Real-time betting odds on the scoring ticker during FNIA also will be showcased. Peacock Sunday Night Football Final, an NFL postgame show produced by NBC Sports, will also go deep on the storylines and BetMGM betting lines that proved prominent during the matchup.
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If you have access to NBC via your TV provider, you can watch Sunday Night Football on your TV or with a TV provider login on the NBC Sports app, NBC app, or via NBCSports.com. Check your local listings to find your NBC channel. If you can’t find NBC in your channel lineup, please contact your TV provider.
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The most impressive part about watching the Niners, who haven’t lost in 12 weeks, is obviously that a third-string quarterback, Brock Purdy, has won seven straight games. (He played all but four minutes of his first game, a win over Miami, after replacing Jimmy Garoppolo, and has won six starts since then.) There’s also the small matter of the 49ers having the best defense in football. But there’s something else that surfaced often in the Wild Card win over Seattle.
On Deebo Samuel’s 74-yard TD catch early in the fourth quarter, fellow wideout Brandon Aiyuk engaged rookie corner Tariq Woolen of the Seahawks down the left side, paving the way for Samuel. Aiyuk blocked Woolen for 5.78 seconds, per my iPhone stopwatch. This is one of the things you hear when you’re around the Niners: Everyone blocks. No one matadors it.
“What I love about this team,” tight end George Kittle said afterward, “is we have so many fantastic football players that are great at YAC [yards after the catch] so when one of our best players gets the ball, every other guy wants to block for him. You can see the effort on film. If you noticed, Aiyuk’s block was smart—no holding, kept his hands inside. That’s how our whole team is built.”
Same with a cutback run by Christian McCaffrey earlier in the game. Look who was in the middle of the fray as McCaffrey, looking to be stopped for a loss of one or two yards running wide left, cut back against the grain to fight for nine. Kittle was in the middle of it, jousting with a Seahawk. It’s hard in today’s football, which doesn’t reward all-around play in headlines or oft-times in contract negotiations, to tell the Aiyuks and Kittles: You block, and you block great, or you don’t play. But that’s a message Kyle Shanahan has gotten across in his tenure, and it showed up against Seattle.
The Niners’ ethos was on display in this game. You know what Victory Monday is in the NFL? The regular off-day for most teams is Tuesday, if they’re playing the following Sunday. After a win, many coaches give the players Victory Monday, or an extra day off, and will tell their players, See you Wednesday morning. The Niners, evidently, have many players who don’t want the extra day off. After the Wild Card win, on the 49ers radio network, veteran fullback Kyle Juszczyk said: “We’ve had a few Victory Mondays now, and I come in on Mondays, and I can’t find a parking spot.”
Now to Purdy. I thought the most amazing play he made in this game was an incompletion on a scramble drill. On a third down from the Seattle 13- with five minutes left in the game, he took a shotgun snap, surveyed the secondary, found no one open, scrambled left, found no one open, sprinted right, waited and waited and, 11.8 seconds after taking the snap, fired to Aiyuk in the right corner of the end zone; he got both hands on it while toe-tapping the end line but couldn’t hold on. A magnificent play. Kittle had the same thought I did: All those games at Iowa State, 48 of them in a Power Five conference, made a very big difference in Purdy the 2022 NFLer.
“I think Brock’s experience in college really helped him today,” Kittle said. “Everything didn’t go well in the first half, but he came out in the second half and was totally confident in the huddle. You could feel it. When he’s confident, we’re confident, and he just makes us play at a higher level. He’s been in a little trouble at halftime before. A lot of times, probably. He’s played from behind before; he’s played from ahead before. He has all the repetitions. Failure is a big part of learning to play quarterback in the NFL, and he had success and failure in college, so nothing here is really new for him.
“Football humbles you a lot. I think when you’ve been humbled in college, you kind of realize how hard football is and you realize what it takes to win. I think Brock has realized that—and he realizes failing is good for you on the road to success.”
I could not have said that better. Losing in Austin at age 18, in Stillwater at age 19, in Norman at age 20, in Iowa City at age 21—but also winning 29 college games in four Big 12 seasons—gave Purdy the kind of pedigree that makes it possible for him to act like he’s been there. “What’s crazy to me is where he was drafted,” safety Jimmie Ward said on the Niners’ post-game radio show. “Was it because he’s a little short? His hand size? You gotta draft people for being players. This guy’s a dog.”
Ward meant that affectionately. As the Niners advance to the NFL’s elite eight, no one’s arguing.
Read more in Peter King’s full Football Morning in America column
Did you see Doug Pederson’s halftime interview with Kaylee Hartung on NBC Saturday night during Chargers-Jaguars? Pederson had just watched his team turn it over five times in the first 25 minutes of the game, leading to 20 Chargers points and a 27-7 halftime lead for L.A. Trevor Lawrence threw four picks. It was a tragicomedy of errors. Yet, Pederson had a vibe of don’t-worry-we’ll-be-fine with Hartung. “We just gotta keep chipping,” he said, talking like he was leaving his house and telling his wife, “Be right back. Gotta pick up a few groceries.”
“The demeanor you saw with me and Kaylee was the same demeanor I carried into the locker room with the team,” Pederson told me an hour after the game. “I was internally frustrated, obviously, with how we played. But I went in and told the team, ‘One play at a time. Chip away. Defense, you’re starting the second half—get us a stop. Offense, we gotta score every time we touch the ball.’ I knew we could get back into the football game.”
Isn’t that the way a coach should be when the sky is falling? Guys, the sky is not falling. We handed them 20 points. They didn’t hurt us in the first half—we hurt ourselves. It’s not happy talk. The Chargers’ average drive start on their first seven drives—when they produced all 27 points—was the Jags’ 42-. I mean, what team wouldn’t score a bunch of points when getting the ball in such great field position drive after drive?
“It was the strangest 27 points given up I think I’ve ever been a part of,” Pederson said. “It didn’t feel like we were out of the football game, which is crazy to say. That was just Trevor’s demeanor too, the whole offense. And the team felt that.”
Chip, chip, chip. Two late plays, a dumb foul by Joey Bosa and a nothing half from Justin Herbert (four drives, three points) decided this one. After Bosa got an unsportsmanlike penalty for slamming his helmet to the ground – frustrated with an official not calling a false start on a Jacksonville TD – with 5:25 left in the game, Pederson had the option of taking the 15 yards on the ensuing kickoff, or having the ball put at the Chargers’ one- for a two-point conversion try. It was 30-26. Going for two, if successful, would mean the Jags would need only a field goal to win; failing would mean Jacksonville would need a late TD.
Pederson said he would have kicked the PAT if Bosa didn’t incur the penalty. Going for two from 36 inches away made all the difference.
“Well,” Pederson said, “the thought process was a field goal wins the game. And so that’s what I decided to do. I was putting it in the players’ hands. Players wanted to go for it. They were excited. They felt like we had a great call. I felt that was kind of an easy decision to make.”
Lawrence reached over with the ball palmed in his right hand, and the ball easily crossed the plane of the goal line. Now it was 30-28.
Herbert, with a chance to put the game away, went sack, short completion, short completion, punt. Not good. Jacksonville got the ball at its 21- with 3:09 left and all three timeouts. The Jags got to the L.A. 41- and called time. Fourth-and-two-feet. Season on the line.
“I felt like we were a little too far for the field goal. Our season was coming down to basically 18 inches. We’re going for this and put it into the players’ hands. Phil Rauscher, my offensive line coach, came up with that play. Did a great job of design.”
The formation screamed quarterback sneak. Behind Lawrence, who was under center, was a three-man backfield: from the left, fleet back Travis Etienne, 252-pound tight end Luke Farrell, 260-pound tight end Chris Manhertz. At the snap, Lawrence could push forward and get backhoed forward by 512 pounds of tight end.
“Have you seen us QB-sneak this year?” Pederson said. “We’re not very good. I mean, we’re just not good.”
Rauscher’s idea against a heavy front was to signal sneak but to unleash Etienne around the end. And Lawrence handed it to Etienne and he swept right, and all he had to do was beat first-half hero Asante Samuel Jr., and he did. Etienne for 25. Easy field-goal range for Riley Patterson, and he snuck the 36-yard winner just inside the right upright. Ballgame.
“Last question,” I said to Pederson. “Where does this victory rank in your life?”
I knew what I wanted him to say. We’re a month away from the five-year anniversary of Pederson’s Super Bowl win in Philadelphia. But would this all-timer of a comeback be in the same league?
Pederson didn’t hesitate. “It’s second,” he said. “Right behind the Super Bowl.”
Read more in Peter King’s full Football Morning in America column
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