The Top NFL Storylines of Week 13: Dom DiSandro, Gardner Minshew and Sam LaPorta

Plus, it's now or never for the Dallas Cowboys

December 5, 2023 6:30 am
Dre Greenlaw of the 49ers gets into an altercation with Dom DiSandro of the Eagles.
Dom DiSandro probably shouldn't be on the sidelines anymore in Philly.
Mitchell Leff/Getty

With the NFL season’s 13th installment of Monday Night Football in the books and another slate of games over and done, there are somehow only five weeks left in pro football’s regular season. While we can’t get to everything — like the Patriots becoming the first team since the ’30s to allow 10 points or fewer in three straight games and lose all of ’em — here are four of the top storylines to emerge from the NFL’s 13th week. (Here’s a look back at Week 12.)

Dom DiSandro should stay off of the sidelines

In fairness, the biggest story to emerge from Sunday afternoon’s showdown between the Eagles and 49ers in Philly could certainly be the transition of last season’s Mr. Irrelevant to this year’s MVP favorite…while returning from an elbow injury that forced him from the NFC Championship Game and put his 2023 season in jeopardy. Brock Purdy, who threw for 314 yards with four touchdowns as Niners rolled the Eagles 42-19, entered Sunday’s game against the Eagles at 9-1 to win the NFL regular-season MVP award and was listed at 3-1 when the odds reopened Monday, a fairly massive swing. (The 49ers are also now betting favorites to win the Super Bowl.)

That being said and all due respect to Purdy and the Niners, but possibly even a larger story to come out of Niners-Eagles was what went down in the third quarter when San Francisco 49ers linebacker Dre Greenlaw got into it with Philadelphia head of security Dom DiSandro on the sidelines. The altercation, which started after Greenlaw drew a penalty flag for unnecessary roughness for a tackle on Eagles receiver DeVonta Smith, resulted in both men being ejected from the game.

Whether Greenlaw and DiSandro deserved to be tossed from the game or not, the issue with the matching ejections is that Greenlaw is an NFL player who was playing in an NFL game and DiSandro is not. Nor is he even a coach. Although the ejection of Greenlaw, who was leading San Francisco in tackles with seven when he was tossed, obviously didn’t end up hurting the 49ers in the end given the game’s final result, it certainly could have and they had reason to be upset with what was certainly not an equal trade-off.

“I tried my hardest not to lose my mind,” said 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan. “I just can’t believe someone not involved in the football game can taunt our players like that and put their hands in our guys’ face. From what I was told, Dre did it back to him. He kind of mashed him in the face a little bit, so he got ejected.”

Had Shanahan lost his mind, he certainly would have had the right to do so as DiSandro’s only real reason to be on sidelines is to keep things safe for the players, coaches and officials. Clearly he is incapable of doing that as he made an already potentially explosive situation with Greenlaw escalate when it was his job to defuse it. According to ProFootballTalk, “Big Dom” and the Eagles could be facing “significant punishment” by the NFL.

At the least, that punishment should include DiSandro’s removal from the sideline as he can’t handle being there.

Ryan Fitzpatrick Left His Heart in Buffalo
The Harvard grad started at QB for an NFL-record nine teams in 17 seasons

This has to be the year the Cowboys break through

It seems like a decade ago, but Week 13 in the NFL began with the Cowboys beating the Seahawks 41-35 on Thursday Night Football in a game that averaged 15.26 million viewers, making it the most-watched game ever on Prime Video and the most-streamed NFL game in history, according to Amazon.

For the Cowboys, it was their second straight home game and their 14th straight win at home, giving Dallas the longest active home-winning streak in the NFL. That streak will be put to the test on Sunday in Week 14 when the Cowboys host the Eagles on Sunday Night Football, the third straight week Dallas will play in the friendly confines of AT&T Stadium.

The game, which comes on the heels of the news that three-time first-team All-Pro linebacker Shaquille Leonard is signing a one-year contract with the Eagles instead of the Cowboys, will be a pivotal one for Dallas given the current state of the standings in the NFC East and NFC overall. Entering Week 14, the Eagles (10-2) lead the Cowboys (9-3) by a game in both the division and the conference, likely making Sunday’s matchup a must-win game for Dallas if they want to catch Philadelphia by the end of the season. A win for Dallas would also keep the Cowboys in the mix with the 49ers and Detroit Lions for the No. 1 overall seed in the NFC, while a loss would likely drop them out of contention for the conference’s top spot.

The Cowboys have not advanced beyond the Divisional Round of the playoffs since they went on a Super Bowl run in 1995 so locking up a top seed, and the home-field advantage that comes with it, should be a top priority for Dallas. As their 14-game winning streak at home demonstrates, the Cowboys play better at home and that could be the difference between winning and losing in the postseason, especially once the weather turns cold.

Perhaps it goes without saying, but the difference between an early exit in the postseason and a deep playoff run, possibly all the way to the Super Bowl, could be what decides the fate of head coach Mike McCarthy, who has won 12 games in each of the last two seasons and could surpass that mark this season. However, regular-season wins only get you so far, and it seems more likely than not that 81-year-old Dallas owner Jerry Jones, who isn’t getting any younger, will make a change at the top of his coaching staff if the Cowboys don’t hit postseason play dirt, especially with defensive coordinator Dan Quinn waiting in the wings as an experienced replacement.

For the Cowboys, the first step toward a deep playoff run comes on at home Sunday against the Eagles as a win over Philly will go a long way to giving Dallas some momentum heading into tough, but winnable, games against the Bills, Dolphins and Lions. If Dallas is going to get over the hump, it has to start in Week 14 against Philadelphia.

Sam LaPorta is just another reason to like the Lions

Outside of spoiling many a Thanksgiving parlay with their upset loss to the Packers, the longtime loser Detroit Lions have been one of the most likable teams in the NFL this season and, largely due to the leadership of outspoken head coach Dan Campbell, have generated their fair share of buzz.

The latest Lion to make headlines is Sam LaPorta, a rookie tight end who is putting together a monster debut season in the NFL after being selected in the second round out of Iowa. In a contentious win against the Saints, LaPorta became the first rookie tight end since Jacksonville’s Pete Mitchell in 1995 to have at least 140 receiving yards and a touchdown when he went off for a career-high nine catches for 140 yards with a score as the Lions knocked off New Orleans 33-28.

With 64 catches, 679 receiving yards and six touchdowns through 12 games, LaPorta is on pace for 90.7 receptions, 961.9 receiving yards and 8.5 TDs this season. Should that pace hold, LaPorta will be the owner of one of the best seasons by a rookie tight end in history. A competent blocker, LaPorta is the only tight end in the league besides Travis Kelce to record a game of at least 140 receiving yards with a touchdown this season.

“Well, he’s going to be a good player. I told him that after the game,” Saints safety Tyrann Mathieu said on Sunday. “Just crafty for a rookie, man. The kind of routes he runs, his frame, his length, and then obviously, anytime you and the quarterback are on the same page, they’re going to come away with some plays. I thought he probably had two of the more clutch plays in this game…Nevertheless, man, he’s going to be a good player for a long time.”

Just one more reason to like the Lions.

Gardner Minshew is keeping the Colts interesting

One of the worst teams in the NFL last season, the Colts had high hopes for this year after selecting Anthony Richardson at No. 4 overall, but saw them go up in smoke when their rookie quarterback suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in early October.

Or maybe not.

With Richardson on injured reserve, veteran backup Gardner Minshew has stepped in for Indianapolis and filled in quite admirably, losing three games but winning five, including four in a row. The fourth game in that streak, Sunday’s win in overtime over the Titans, was the first time Tennessee had lost in Nashville all season. Typically better known for his mustache than his arm, Minshew completed 26-of-42 passes for 312 yards with two touchdowns for a 100.5 passer rating. One of those passes, a 55-yard bomb to Alec Pierce, set up the winning score and helped the Colts improve their record to 7-5, which would currently net them a playoff spot in the AFC.

With the Jaguars and Texans both playing well in the AFC South when Richardson went down, it certainly looked as if the Colts were headed for another forgettable season. The year may or may not end up with the Colts earning a postseason berth, but what Minshew has been able to do has already made this a memorable season for Indy. Based on what’s left on the schedule for Indianapolis (Bengals, Steelers, Falcons, Raiders and Texans), the Colts have an excellent shot at making the playoffs — and they have Minshew to thank for it.

“I don’t think it necessarily gets easier, but you definitely get more comfortable in the chaos,” Minshew said. “Awesome job by our defense today. Getting the stop in overtime and countless big stops that we needed. Special teams probably won the game. We’re very gritty. We’re gonna find a way. It’s not always gonna be sexy, but dang, it’s good.”

It might not even be that, but at least Minshew has made it interesting.

The InsideHook Newsletter.

News, advice and insights for the most interesting person in the room.