Week 10 of the NFL season was filled with as much intrigue as we saw in any previous week of the year. From last-minute wins for the New England Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers to surprising home losses in Green Bay and Seattle, there was no shortage of drama.
All this led to a major shakeup in the landscape of the season heading into the stretch run.
The Washington Redskins and Jacksonville Jaguars find themselves squarely in the playoff race. Meanwhile, it appears that the NFC has a new legitimate contender in the Minnesota Vikings.
In keeping up with what we have done throughout the year, here are your top 10 takeaways from Sunday’s Week 10 NFL action.
Denver, we have a problem
— Sportsnaut (@Sportsnaut) November 16, 2015
About seven minutes into the third quarter of Sunday’s game, the Denver Broncos had less first downs (three) than Peyton Manning had interceptions (four).
The future Hall of Fame quarterback was benched after completing 5-of-20 passes for 35 yards with four interceptions in a 29-13 blowout loss at the hands of the Kansas City Chiefs. Denver did not put up a single point with him under center.
Overall this season, Manning has been among the worst starting quarterbacks in the NFL. Including Sunday’s dreadful performance, he’s thrown nine touchdowns compared to 17 interceptions.
Dating back to Week 13 of last season, Manning has tallied 12 touchdowns and 23 interceptions in 14 games.
Following the decision to bench Manning late in Denver’s loss to the Chiefs, Brock Osweiler responded by completing 14-of-24 passes for 146 yards with a touchdown and a pick.
Despite this, there is very little question regarding who Denver’s starter will be next week against the Chicago Bears.
Kubiak took blame. Said when Manning had rib issue Saturday should have sat him. "I think I made a bad decision" Manning starter if healthy
— Troy Renck (@TroyRenck) November 16, 2015
And that’s the crux of the problem here. Is Manning struggling because of his injuries, or is he simply washed up?
At 7-2 on the season, Denver is going to have to figure this out on the fly. There’s absolutely no way the team benches Manning in lieu of a young backup in what will likely be the quarterback’s final season.
A step behind both the New England Patriots and Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC, Denver simply needs Manning to play better football. You can’t turn the ball over at the rate he has this season and expect to win in today’s NFL.
Minnesota Vikings are legit conference title contenders
— Sportsnaut (@Sportsnaut) November 16, 2015
Beating the Oakland Raiders wouldn’t normally be something to celebrate. However, this year’s version of the Raiders isn’t the same laughingstock that we have seen in the past.
In fact, Oakland entered Sunday’s game against the then 6-2 Vikings as home favorites.
What followed was a three-hour period of football that showed everyone the Vikings are for real. Even with Teddy Bridgewater struggling moving the ball on a consistent basis, Minnesota came out of the Black Hole with an impressive 30-14 victory.
Including a game-clinching 80-yard touchdown late in the final stanza, Adrian Peterson went for 203 yards on 26 attempts. It was his dominating performance and an equally impressive outing from Minnesota’s defensive front that won the day.
Oakland was held to 84 rushing yards while Derek Carr found himself sacked twice after going down just eight times in the team’s first eight games.
Showing himself to be among the most-dominating defensive linemen in the NFL, Linval Joseph recorded eight tackles and a sack while finding the Raiders’ offensive backfield on a consistent basis throughout the afternoon.
I personally liken this team to the 2011 San Francisco 49ers. A game manager at quarterback, a Hall of Fame-caliber running back, great coaching and a stout defense. This team has also gone from mediocrity to title contention in a short period of time.
Now 7-2 on the season and in first place in the NFC North, Minnesota’s upcoming schedule will tell us a lot about where this team will be heading into January — a month that will likely include playoff football in Minnesota.
A very real statement from the Arizona Cardinals
Things couldn’t have been trending in the Seattle Seahawks favor more than what we saw early in the fourth quarter Sunday night.
After falling down 19-0 in the second quarter, Seattle rode the passionate play of the Legion of Boom and some rather disturbing mistakes from the road-tripping Cardinals to a 29-25 lead early in the fourth quarter.
Within the matter of a two-minute span to start that stanza, two Seahawks takeaways led directly to touchdowns for the two-time defending NFC champs.
Then it happened. Continuing what has been a career season, Carson Palmer led his team from behind in front of a hostile crowd in the Pacific Northwest.
Palmer completed 10-of-13 passes during Arizona’s final two drives, including 14-yard touchdown to Jermaine Gresham to put the Cardinals up about halfway through the quarter.
Andre Ellington added a 48-yard touchdown run on the team’s final possession to put Arizona up 39-29.
It’s this type of response that separates contenders from pretenders. It also puts Arizona in position to nab the NFC West.
If Seattle had pulled out the win, it would have controlled its destiny in the division. With the Cardinals’ win, they are now three up with seven remaining. This is how big Sunday’s win was.
Something just isn’t right in Green Bay
Let’s take a step back to understand the gravity of the situation here. The Green Bay Packers lost a home game against a Detroit Lions squad that entered Sunday’s action with the worst record in the NFL.
More than that, it lost to a Lions team that had not won in the state of Wisconsin since 1991. To put that into perspective, Aaron Rodgers had just turned eight the last time Detroit beat the Packers at Lambeau.
Now that your weekly history lesson is over, the magnitude of this loss for Green Bay simply can’t be overstated. It’s now 6-3 on the season and one game behind the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC North.
It also has to head to Minnesota to take on a 7-2 Vikings squad next week. It has to do so in the midst of the team’s worst losing streak (three games) with Rodgers under center since 2008.
The issues are real here. Without any type of consistent running game, Rodgers was forced to put the ball up a whopping 61 times.
While passer friendly, we know very well that Mike McCarthy’s west-coast hybrid offense is in no way meant to lean that much in one direction. Heck, Davante Adams was targeted 21 times in the game.
And in reality, that’s the biggest issue here. Green Bay’s defense did enough to win the game. It held the Lions to nine points through three quarters and a total of 287 yards.
Instead, it’s the lack of success from a previously dominant offense that has Green Bay riding a three-game losing streak. Whether it’s Eddie Lacy returning to form or James Starks stepping up, the Packers need to find some balance on offense.
If that doesn’t happen, this team won’t figure into the NFC North conversation when all is said and done.
The Washington Redskins are tied for first in the loss column
Do you want to go ahead and read that headline again? Here we are, 10 weeks in and the Redskins find themselves very much in the NFC East race.
Following late-game losses by both the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, Washington will head into its Week 11 game against the undefeated Carolina Panthers with a real chance to make a statement in the downtrodden division.
This was made possible by a breakout offensive performance against a disastrous New Orleans Saints defense. The much-maligned Kirk Cousins completed 20-of-25 passes for 324 yards with four touchdowns and zero picks.
With a perfect 158.3 quarterback rating, it was the best performance of an otherwise lackluster career.
Meanwhile, Washington found a way to get a previously dormant run game going. Led by Alfred Morris, Matt Jones and Chris Thompson, the Redskins put up a ridiculous 213 yards on 31 attempts.
At 4-5 on the year, Washington is right in the thick of the NFC East race. With games coming up against the aforementioned Panthers as well as the New York Giants, we will find out soon enough whether this team can shock the football world moving forward.
But for now, a 47-14 win over the free-falling Saints will do just fine.
The Seattle Seahawks are in trouble
I am pretty sure that this same subheading was included in an article earlier in the season. The only difference here is that we are headed into Week 11 of the season with Seattle under .500 and just one game ahead of San Francisco in the cellar of the NFC West.
Like we have seen multiple times throughout the year, it was Seattle’s defense that blew a fourth quarter lead it was largely responsible for in the first place.
Following a Bobby Wagner 22-yard fumble return for a touchdown to put the Seahawks up four against the NFC West-leading Arizona Cardinals, the Legion of Boom allowed two touchdown-scoring drives of 80-plus yards en route to a disheartening 39-32 loss.
How big was this disastrous final 13 minutes for Seattle? With a win on Sunday night Pete Carroll and Co. would have controlled their own destiny in the division. Following the loss, Seattle is now three games back with seven left.
However, if we really want to look at the situation from a larger perspective, it really is hard to blame Seattle’s defense for the team coming up short once again.
Sure, Arizona put up 451 total yards of offense and 30 first downs. That’s not representative of a tremendous performance from Carroll’s defense. It also doesn’t tell us the entire story.
Seattle’s offense was a hot mess throughout the game. Continuing to struggle with consistency, Russell Wilson completed just 14-of-32 passes for 240 yards with a touchdown and a pick.
His offense also converted on just 1-of-8 third downs and put up less than 10 yards on six different possessions. Heck, Seattle had tallied six yards of offense on four possessions by the time Arizona put up a 19-0 second quarter lead.
The talent is most definitely still here on defense, but that side of the ball needs some help from Russell Wilson and Co. if the Seahawks are going to find a way to rebound from their 4-5 start to the season.
If not, the two-time defending NFC champs may be watching the playoffs from home.
Ben Roethlisberger might not be human
Big Ben entered Sunday’s game as an emergency backup after suffering a foot injury last week against the Oakland Raiders.
In fact, Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette noted on Friday that there was “no chance” Roethlisberger would suit up this week.
Showing that he’s one of the toughest on-field personalities in the football world, Big Ben entered in the first quarter against the Cleveland Browns after Landry Jones went down with an ankle injury.
The future Hall of Fame quarterback proceeded to complete 22-of-33 passes for 379 yards with three touchdowns in the 30-9 win.
It was an incredible shot in the arm for a Pittsburgh team that needed a win at home against an inferior opponent to maintain its status atop the AFC wildcard race. It also came just a couple short weeks after Big Ben himself returned from a knee injury.
With all the bumps and bruises this veteran quarterback has suffered throughout the years, it’s absolutely amazing to see him out there gunslinging it with the best of them.
If nothing else, Big Ben’s otherworldly pain threshold could help save a Steelers season that has been mired by injuries.
It’s the New England Patriots world …
We all just exist in it.
No one in their right mind believed the Patriots were done when they found themselves down by 10 points to the New York Giants early in the third quarter on Sunday. We have seen this very same script written by Tom Brady and Co. throughout the years.
So when the Patriots got back to business by scoring 17 of the game’s final 23 points to pull out a hard-fought 27-26 victory in New Jersey, it seemed to be much of the same.
Though, it really wasn’t.
Playing without an injured Julian Edelman and having to move the ball with a running game amounting to a hill of beans, Brady simply found a way to will his team to a 9-0 start to the season.
Connecting with the all-but-forgotten Danny Amendola for 10 receptions on 11 targets, Brady showed his true ability to get water from a rock at the wide receiver position.
Even when Brady was intercepted in the end zone with six minutes left and his Patriots up by just one, he showed the moxie of a vet.
Following a Giants field goal to put the home team up by two, Brady led New England on a 12-play, 44-yard game-winning drive — completing five of his final seven passes after converting on fourth and 10 with the team’s undefeated season on the line.
It’s this type of championship pedigree — in the midst of an otherwise substandard performance — that tells us Brady is still one step above everyone else at his position. It also tells us a story of a team that’s fully prepared to repeat as champs.
Jeff Fisher’s St. Louis Rams are the definition of mediocrity
It was just a couple short weeks ago that the then 4-3 Rams looked like a viable playoff contender in the NFC.
Coming off dominating home wins against the Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers, St. Louis had an opportunity to prove its worth on the road against the Minnesota Vikings.
Instead, the team fell short (pretty much the MO of Fisher’s regime) in an overtime loss.
The Rams then followed that up with a disastrous overall performance against a mediocre Chicago Bears team at home on Sunday.
Outside of Todd Gurley going for 89 yards on 15 touches, absolutely nothing went right here. A previously dominant Rams defense allowed touchdowns of 87 yards and 83 yards in the first half alone, all the while putting a talent-stricken offense behind the proverbial eight-ball. Overall, the Rams allowed a whopping 397 yards in the 37-13 blowout loss.
Offensively, Nick Foles continued to prove skeptics right. He completed just 17-of-36 passes for 200 yards without a touchdown on the afternoon. This means that Foles has now thrown a total of one touchdown in his past four starts.
As it relates to the Rams performance under Fisher, one thing is becoming all too clear. Here’s a team that won seven games in each of his first two seasons as its head coach before falling to 6-10 last season. Up until this year, it’s been all about mediocrity for the Fisher-led Rams.
With renewed optimism that 2015 might be different, St. Louis now finds itself at 4-5 on the year and closer to last place than first place.
At some point soon, it’s going to become evident that the Rams simply won’t be able to get over that hump with Fisher leading the team. It just remains to be seen when the franchise itself will recognize this.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are firmly in the AFC South race
There are still some (me) that are holding out hope that the Jaguars will host the Oakland Raiders in a wildcard game this upcoming January. While Oakland may be struggling after two consecutive losses, the Jaguars find themselves firmly in the AFC South race.
Following a dramatic late-game win over the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, the Jaguars will head into Week 11 just one game out in the AFC South with a 3-6 record.
It took a 53-yard field goal from rookie kicker Jason Myers as time expired, but a 22-20 win over a suddenly free-falling Ravens team has Duval thinking the unthinkable.
With the issues we have seen in Houston this season and the injury to Andrew Luck in Indianapolis, this division is surely up for grabs. Now that the Jaguars have won two of their past three after losing 21 of their past 25, this young squad could be primed for a surprising playoff run.