Week 13’s Top NFL Storylines: Mike Zimmer, Big Ben and the Return of Gardner Minshew

Plus, a trendy NFC Super Bowl pick still has a lot to prove despite a win on Sunday

December 7, 2021 7:03 am
Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers watches against the Baltimore Ravens at Heinz Field
Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers watches against the Baltimore Ravens at Heinz Field.
Justin K. Aller/Getty

With the battle for the AFC East on Monday Night Football between the Patriots and Bills over and done with, Week 13 of the NFL season is finished as the postseason looms. While we can’t get to everything — like LA Chargers coach Brandon Staley taking a bold stance on concussion safety — here are four of the top storylines to emerge in the season’s 13th week — and whether we’re buying or selling on ’em.

Buy: Mike Zimmer’s time coaching in Minnesota is over

The best story to come out of previously winless Detroit escaping with a last-second win over the Vikings on Sunday was the Lions dedicating the victory to the victims of the Oxford High School shooting.

However, a side plot that came out of the Lions (1-10-1) snapping a 15-game winless streak that lasted 364 days and giving first-year head coach Dan Campbell his first victory is that it’s time for Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer to move on from Minnesota.

Now in his eighth year coaching the Vikings, who dropped to 5-7 with the loss in a game they were favored to win by a touchdown, thereby delivering a potentially fatal blow to their chances of earning a wild card, Zimmer seems to have lost whatever edge he once had.

A defensive-minded coach who favors running the ball over passing it, Zimmer has largely failed to adapt to the way football is played in today’s NFL, and his team has suffered because of it. Zimmer’s job hasn’t been made any easier by having inconsistent Kirk Cousins as his quarterback, but the 33-year-old has actually been pretty good this season (68.4% completion percentage with 25 touchdowns and just three interceptions) and threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to Justin Jefferson with 1:50 left to put the Vikings ahead against the Lions.

With 65-year-old Zimmer watching from the sidelines and vainly calling timeouts, the Lions moved the ball down the field on the decisive 75-yard possession without a timeout before Goff delivered the knockout blow by taking advantage of a Vikings secondary that played too deep in the end zone on the game’s final play.

For a former defensive coordinator like Zimmer, who is now 69-54-1 in the regular season but has gone just 2-3 in the Vikings’ three playoff appearances under his watch, it was an embarrassing display and an end result that would get some coaches fired.

Minnesota is not in position to do that, as the team has a quick turnaround with Pittsburgh coming to Minneapolis for Thursday Night Football. But the Vikings could make a move if they lose to the Steelers, as they’ll have 11 days to alter their operation before a winnable game against the Bears on Monday Night Football.

“We weren’t covering that great,” Zimmer said after losing to the Lions. “Everything is hindsight, I guess.” That’s exactly what Zimmer may be using to look back at his time with the Vikes this time next week.

Sell: Ben Roethlisberger will play for another NFL team

Prior to the Steelers eking out an upset win over the Ravens on Sunday, ESPN reported that longtime Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger “privately has told former teammates and some within the organization that he expects this to be his final season playing quarterback” in the Steel City.

The wording of the report was a bit odd, as it appeared to leave open the possibility that the 39-year-old could continue his NFL career next season somewhere else other than Pittsburgh. Newsflash: he can’t.

Already washed up entering this season and never in the best physical condition even when healthy, the veteran QB has thrown just 16 touchdown passes this season while tossing six picks and taking 25 sacks over the course of 12 games.

Granted, Big Ben played pretty well against the rival Ravens at Heinz Field on Sunday, completing 21-of-31 passing for 236 yards and two TDs as the Steelers rallied with three fourth-quarter scoring drives. While Roethlisberger isn’t the only reason the Steelers sit a half a game out of the final playoff spot in the AFC at 6-5-1, he has certainly hurt the team as much as he has helped them this season.

As immobile as he has ever been and set to turn 40 in March, Roethlisberger has Hall-of-Fame credentials with two Super Bowls, six Pro Bowl appearances and all sorts of stellar passing statistics as well as a 162-79-1 record as a quarterback in the NFL, but he no longer has the skillset to justify being a starter in the league except when there is no better option. If the Steelers had one, Roethlisberger would likely already be done. As is, he’ll play out the string for the Steelers as they attempt to make a playoff push in what should be Roethlisberger’s farewell tour in Pittsburgh and the NFL at large.

“There’s nothing to manage,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said of his quarterback’s situation. “Ben doesn’t allow it to become an issue. Ben has been pretty solid in terms of his expressions that he’s singularly focused on what it is that we’re doing now. He’ll deal with those things on the other side of this journey.”

If Roethlisberger and the rest of the NFL have a lick of sense, that journey will not continue in 2022.

Buy: Gardner Minshew II is heading back to the bench

Largely a forgotten man since he burst onto the scene in 2019 with the Jacksonville Jaguars thanks to an injury to starting quarterback Nick Foles, Gardner Minshew got the start on Sunday for the Eagles in place of  Jalen Hurts  and helped lead Philadelphia to a 33-18 win over the New York Jets.

Minshew, who went 20-of-25 for 242 yards with two touchdowns overall, helped the Eagles cash in on their first seven drives and posted a perfect 158.3 quarterback rating in the first half of the win for Philadelphia (6-7).

Acquired from the Jags for a conditional sixth-round pick in late August, Minshew now has 39 touchdowns to 11 interceptions over 41 NFL starts as the Eagles head into their bye week ahead of a home game in Philly against Washington. Minshew is fun, but he’ll be back on the bench when the Eagles return to the field in Week 15 as long as Hurts is healthy.

And that’s the way it should be. The Eagles, who traded away former franchise quarterback Carson Wentz and fired former head coach Doug Pederson and most of his staff over the offseason, have far too much invested in Hurts to do anything other than boost his confidence and put him in the best position to succeed. Putting Minshew on the field, even if it is just a temporary move, is not doing that. The Eagles, who have a history of short-sighted quarterback decisions that dates back to keeping Wentz over Foles after the latter led them to a Super Bowl win and then a late-season playoff run the following year, should know better than to disrupt what Hurts is building.

To his credit, current coach Nick Sirianni was clear that he Hurts should be the team’s starter when healthy.

“I think he’s played really good football,” Sirianni said of Hurts. “There’s been times when he’s been one of the best in the league. The way he’s moved around, made plays, we look at that quarterback rating and what he’s had there. He’s played really good football when he’s in, so when he’s healthy and he’s back, he’ll be our starter.”

That doesn’t mean Minshew can’t be a starter in the NFL. He just can’t be the starter in Philly.

Sell: The LA Rams proved that they’ve righted the ship

Losers of three in a row heading into a Week 13 game against the Jaguars, the Los Angeles Rams got a much-needed win by putting a 37-7 beatdown on Jacksonville to go to 8-4 on the season, good for second place in the NFC West.

Back in the win column, the Rams still have a lot of work to do to get back in the Super Bowl conversation, as Sunday’s win did little to answer all of the questions that cropped up about LA during the three-game skid.

The biggest reason for that is the Jaguars (2-10) are probably the worst team in the NFL outside of Detroit (and possibly Houston) and had little chance of winning or even playing a competitive game on the road in LA.

The Rams, who have more high-end talent on their roster than perhaps any other team in the NFL, simply showed up and took care of business. Had they not done that, it would have been time to panic at SoFi Stadium.

With the win, alarm bells in LA were able to stay silent. And perhaps they should remain that way even if the Rams lose to first-place Arizona in Week 14, as the Cardinals have been the NFL’s best team this season that doesn’t play in Green Bay.

A more accurate read on the Rams and what can be expected of them will come in the final four weeks of the season, when LA has games against the Seahawks, 49ers, Ravens and Vikings, none of whom should theoretically be able to match head coach Sean McVay’s team. Perhaps playing on the road in Baltimore could be viewed as a tough game, but if the Rams are going to get where they want to go, winning a game over the hobbled Ravens is a must.

LA has actually beaten Arizona in eight of their past nine meetings, and while it’s not a must, a victory in Phoenix would go a long way to proving Los Angeles is a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

Unlike a win at home over the Jaguars.

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