The NFL playoff push is in full effect, and Week 12 was a strong indication that it is time to get more serious. The pioneers of the NFL Regional Combine were all in.
THE BIG MAN HAS HANDS
The Pittsburgh Steelers were in a grudge match against the Denver Broncos and they needed all hands on deck – even hands from from a former tight end.
Steelers left tackle Alejandro Villanueva came through the NFL Regional Combine platform as a linebacker in 2014. The Philadelphia Eagles brought Villanueva in, but later waived him. The Steelers signed him and moved him to tight end, which is his natural position.
Then, after putting on some weight, Villanueva converted to the offensive line becoming a left tackle in 2015. From there, the former Army Ranger never looked back and became a Pro Bowl tackle last season.
Clearly, Villanueva can be a secret weapon – but the secret is now out.
With :03 remaining in the first half, the Steelers decided to go for a field goal, kicking from the Broncos’ 2-yard line. Villanueva was reported eligible and when the Steelers snapped the ball, he came off the block and sprinted into the endzone where kicker Chris Boswell found the 6-9, 320-pound left tackle open for a two-yard touchdown.
“I’m not sure if I was the number one option, you’ll have to ask the boss,” said Villanueva, according 247sports.com. “All Chris (Boswell) had to do was throw it up. I’m 6’10 and I was wide open. I guess I could have been the next Rob Gronkowski, but I ended up playing tackle.
“I think it’s just one of those plays you rehearse in practice and hope it gets called during a game because it showcases a bunch of different players and take some of the pressure off of the offense.”
THIELEN AND VIKES BACK ON TRACK
In Minnesota, wide receiver Adam Thielen is very familiar with the endzone.
After struggling against the Chicago Bears in Week 11, Thielen pick up from Week Eight when he cemented his history-making season to explode on a familiar foe against which he normally always has success – the Green Bay Packers.
“When you aren’t playing the way that you feel that you can play, sometimes it takes a little spark,” said Thielen after the game. “You’ve got to make a play like that to get you going, and it got me fired up. Scoring touchdowns in this league isn’t easy, so it’s fun to celebrate.”
Thielen tied a team-high of eight receptions, but led the Vikings in receiving yards with 125 and a touchdown. It was a huge win, especially against a divisional opponent. Now, Thielen and the Vikes look to stay on track.
“It feels so good to win in general. In this league, winning isn’t easy and it takes so much effort,” echoed Thielen. “It takes so much practice and time and energy to win, so when you win it feels good. And against a division opponent, a team that has owned this division for a while, it feels good to beat them at home.”
Vikings fullback C. J. Ham also had a reception for 13 yards.
ALMOST IN THE NICK OF TIME
San Francisco 49ers Nick Mullens has played well in three games. Despite going 1-2, the 49ers could have easily been 3-0 with Mullens under center. Against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Mullens experienced life on the road for the first time.
The 49ers were close through the first three quarters and the gap could have been closer after being stuffed at the goal line in the third quarter with 11:44 on the clock when Mullens attempted a quarterback sneak.
In the fourth quarter, with the game still in reach, Mullens threw two interceptions as one pass was tipped. Mullens has no problem moving the ball and displays the game is not too big for him. However, like every NFL quarterback, there will be growing pains.
“I think it’s a combination of a lot of things, but sometimes it’s just the way it goes,” said Mullens after the game. “I think we have to work better collectively as a unit and that (starts) with me and just have to watch the tape and go back to work. It’s frustrating. We definitely had our chances and we didn’t take advantage of them, and a lot of that starts with me.”
Mullens completed 18 out of 32 attempts for 221 yards and a touchdown.
-Los Angeles Chargers linebacker Jatavis Brown led the team in tackles with seven.