Top 10 takeaways from Sunday’s Week 11 NFL action

Week 11 of the NFL season really did the job. It separated contenders from pretenders, setting into motion what promises to be a drama-filled final six weeks of the season.

In Cincinnati, the Bengals proved themselves to be utter frauds against a suddenly competitive Buffalo Bills team. Staying in the AFC North, the Pittsburgh Steelers continued to show everyone why the Cleveland Browns are the joke of today’s professional sports world.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Dallas Cowboys took care of business with their ninth consecutive win. It was highlighted by three more touchdown passes from Dak Prescott in a hard-fought victory over the first-place Baltimore Ravens.

Speaking of first place, the Seattle Seahawks pretty much cemented their status atop of the NFC West with a resounding win over the Philadelphia Eagles. By virtue of the other three teams in their division losing, Seattle now has it all but wrapped up there.

These are among the top-10 takeaways from Sunday’s Week 11 NFL action.

1. Cowboys continue to mature into NFL’s best team

The Dallas Cowboys haven’t faced adversity often this year, but they absolutely did on Sunday. Down 7-0 early and tied 10-10 at the half, this squad had to reach deep to take out a first-place Baltimore Ravens squad. And that’s exactly what it did.

Led by Dak Prescott’s precise passing and an utterly dominant offensive line, the Cowboys stepped up when it counted the most. Prescott would end up completing 20 of his final 21 passes en route to leading the Cowboys to three consecutive 10-plus play scoring drives to close out the game.

The rookie fourth-round pick showed absolutely no signs that pressure of Tony Romo returning was getting to him. Instead, he would go on to finish the day 27-of-36 passing for 301 yards with three touchdowns and zero picks.

After Baltimore pulled the game within one score, Dallas decided to rely on fellow rookie Ezekiel Elliott to bleed the clock late in the fourth quarter. That’s exactly what he did in leading the Cowboys to a time-consuming 13-play drive that resulted in a chip-shot field goal to give the Cowboys a 27-17 lead. Elliott would end up tallying 127 total yards against the league’s top run defense.

Now at 9-1  on the season and in the midst of a ridiculous nine-game winning streak, there’s no reason to doubt the Cowboys as the best team in the NFL. They continue to prove it time and again. Sunday’s outing against a first-place Ravens team is just the latest example of this.

2. Cardinals’ playoff hopes intercepted

Down 13-10 with just over three minutes remaining in the second quarter, it looked like the Arizona Cardinals were on the verge of taking the lead against the free-falling Vikings in Minnesota on Sunday. The team had driven down to inside Minnesota’s 10-yard line in what was stellar drive by the Cardinals. Then, in an instant, the entire game changed on its face.

Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer made a bone-headed, rookie mistake, throwing late to the outside. Whether it was a cross up with receiver John Brown or something completely different, Palmer should not have thrown this pass. The end result was a 100-yard interception return for a touchdown from Vikings corner Xavier Rhodes (watch here).

Instead of at least tying the game up, Arizona found itself down 20-10. The gravity of this game-changing play was magnified on the very next possession when the Cardinals drove down the field 75 yards on seven plays on a possession that culminated in a touchdown.

Then, on the very first play of the second half, Arizona’s special teams unit was caught napping. One mistake. An inability to hold the boundary. It led to a 104-yard kickoff return for a touchdown from Vikings return ace Cordarrelle Patterson to once again put the home team up by two scores. That was pretty much game, set, match (watch here).

Now at 4-5-1 on the season, Arizona is on the outside looking in when it comes to a playoff spot. It currently sits two games out of the final wild card position in the NFC heading into Week 12. Meanwhile, the Vikings earned a much-needed win after losing four consecutive.

3. Seahawks are just messing with us now

Russell Wilson

Whether it was this Doug Baldwin touchdown to Russell Wilson or the 72-yard game-opening touchdown run from C.J. Prosise, the Seahawks continued to perform at an extremely high level on Sunday. It came against a struggling Philadelphia Eagles squad in a game that showed us exactly why the Cowboys should be fearful in the NFC.

The final score of 26-15 doesn’t do this game justice. Seattle was in control the entire time, eventually taking a 26-7 lead before a garbage-time touchdown for the Eagles. Its defense held Carson Wentz to under 100 passing yards through three-plus quarters, picking the rookie off two times in the process.

Meanwhile, healthy for the first time this season, Wilson continues to prove that his early struggles were more of a product of injuries than anything else. He followed up a tremendous outing against the New England Patriots last week by leading the Seahawks to 439 total yards on 63 plays. It was a game defined by big play after big play for the suddenly surging Seahawks.

Interestingly, this came against an Eagles defense that had previously held the likes of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Minnesota Vikings and Atlanta Falcons to their lowest scoring outputs of the season. If Seattle can get this type of production from its offense, the Cowboys are surely going to have some competition in the NFC come playoff time.

4. Buccaneers remain in playoff race, do the Raiders a solid

Don’t look now, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are 5-5 on the season and just one game behind the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC South. And in reality, Sunday’s win on the road against the Kansas City Chiefs might have been the best performance we’ve seen from the Bucs this season.

Arrowhead is not an easy venue to conquer, especially when you’re looking at a young quarterback leading his team into the sea of red in Kansas City. But as we’ve seen throughout the past month-plus, Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston didn’t look all too worried.

Winston headed into Sunday’s game having thrown 11 touchdowns compared to one interception in his past five starts. It’s not a coincidence that Tampa won three of those five games. He ended Sunday’s game vastly outplaying Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith en route to a hard fought 19-17 win.

The second-year quarterback completed 24-of-39 passes for 341 yards with a touchdown and zero interceptions on the day. While he might have been good for one potential blooper reel, Winston played a clean overall game. That in and of itself was what the Buccaneers needed to move to .500 on the season.

For the Bucs, it was just a well-played game. The team converted on 11-of-16 third-down opportunities, turned the ball over just one time and controlled the time of possession battle. They did so against a Chiefs team that headed into Sunday’s action having won five consecutive games.

In the process, Tampa Bay remained alive in the NFC South race while doing the Raiders a solid in the AFC West. Good times in Bucs-land right now. That’s for sure.

5. Bengals fall asleep as Bills make a statement

The injury to A.J. Green early in this game surely didn’t help. After all, he’s been the most relied on receiver in the entire NFL this season. Though, playing at home, the Cincinnati Bengals should have been able to overcome this.

Unfortunately, the team fell asleep on the offensive side of the ball following Green’s injury, pretty much eliminating any hope that Cincinnati could break out of its season-long doldrums.

Without his favorite weapon, Andy Dalton would go on to complete 24-of-43 passes for just 207 with a touchdown and two inexcusable interceptions.NFL Week 8, Andy Dalton

All said, he led a Bengals offense that put up less than 100 total yards in the second half. And following a failed late-game desperation heave into the end zone, Cincinnati ended Sunday’s game with a 3-6-1 record and is pretty much out of the playoff race.

On the other hand, Buffalo’s defense stepped up when it needed to the most. Knowing full well that Dalton might struggle without Green in the mix, the Ryan brothers decided to up the ante from a pass-rush perspective.

That led to consistent pressure on Dalton throughout the game, resulting in another strong performance from this unit.

On offense, Buffalo absolutely controlled the trenches. It gained 183 rushing yards on 34 attempts to make up for an uneven performance from Tyrod Taylor under center.  Now at 5-5 on the season, Buffalo’s slim playoff hopes remain alive. If it had fallen to the Bengals in Cincinnati on Sunday, that wouldn’t have been the case.

6. Time to talk about the Giants

It wasn’t pretty by any stretch of the imagination. Down 16-9 against the Chicago Bears at the half, Eli Manning and the New York Giants were letting a bad team hang in the game on Sunday. Really, it was more due to the Giants’ lack of execution on defense in the first half than anything. The Bears’ first three possessions all led to scores with Jay Cutler relying on what was a tremendous ground attack.

Unfortunately for the Bears, New York’s defense decided to show up in the second half. In seven possessions after halftime, the Bears punted five times, missed a field goal and saw another drive end in a Cutler interception. All said, the Giants held Chicago to 86 yards in the final two quarters.

At the same time, Manning and the Giants decided to actually show up. He led the team on touchdown-scoring drives in each of the first two second-half possessions, each ending on a Manning touchdown pass. That was pretty much it for the underdog Chicago Bears.

Though, the biggest takeaway here has to be on the Giants’ side. Now winners of five consecutive, Ben McAdoo’s squad has the inside track on one of the two wild card spots in the NFC. Heck, the Giants are just two games behind Dallas in the NFC East and have already defeated the Cowboys on the season. It might be a quiet little winning streak, but Manning and Co. are surely making some noise heading into late November.

7. Browns remain on path to make history

The Cleveland Browns actually had this game within one score late in the fourth quarter. That’s when the Browns went full Browns on us.

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Though, Sunday’s game against the Pittsburh Steelers really wasn’t as close as the score indicated prior to that Benny Hill play. In fact, it was pretty darn one-sided.

To make matters even more dire for the fledgling franchise, rookie quarterback Cody Kessler went down with a concussion and had to be replaced in the lineup by Josh McCown. If the Browns’ quarterback position were a game of musical chairs, there legitimately would be no place to sit.

All this came at the same time that Cleveland’s offensive line yielded eight sacks, forcing Terrelle Pryor to call his teammates out after the game (more on that here).

More to the point, by virtue of Cleveland’s 24-9 loss to the previously struggling Steelers, it sits at 0-11 on the season. Now, with five more games left to get that one win, it’s looking more and more like the Browns might find a way to become just the second team to go 0-16. It’s right there for the taking.

The only question here is whether pride will get in the way of the massive amount of stinkage currently taking hold at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.

8. What does Jeff Fisher need to do in order to be fired? 

Jeff Fisher

Up 10-0 more than midway through the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game, it sure looked like the Los Angeles Rams were going to win Jared Goff’s NFL debut. The Rams’ defense had dominated the Miami Dolphins’ offense throughout the game, yielding less than 80 passing yards to Ryan Tannehill with 6:38 remaining in the final stanza.

In reality, the game should have seen Los Angeles up by three or four scores by that point. Unfortunately, Fisher decided to play it ultra conservative with his rookie signal caller. By conservative, we mean screen passes on third and short. These are usually reserved for distances of 10-plus yards in the NFL.

The issue here is that Fisher didn’t trust his quarterback — something that was rumored to be the case before the game.

This is the very same quarterback he decided to elevate to the starting role for Sunday’s game. All this created a situation in which the Rams were up just 10-0 when the Dolphins took over possession of the ball with under seven minutes left.

All Miami did from there on out was score touchdowns on two consecutive possessions to end the game with a 14-10 win, the team’s fifth consecutive victory. While we surely want to lob praise the Dolphins’ way, we have to focus on just how horrible Fisher did from a game-management standpoint.

Simply put, the Rams played not to lose. They did so with all the momentum on their side. They did so with an opportunity to move to 5-5 on the season and remain in the NFC Playoff race.

Sure Goff’s stats were horrible. He completed 17-of-31 passes for 134 yards without a touchdown or an interception. But that stat line represented Fisher’s disgusting gameplan more than anything else. If the Rams didn’t have confidence in Goff to make the simple throw, he should not have been under center.

And much like we’ve seen throughout Fisher’s largely overrated career, it was his coaching that let the players down, not the other way around. When is the Rams’ brass going to finally recognize this? It’s apparent to even the untrained eye, and reared its ugly head once again Sunday in Los Angeles.

9. Forgetting the Titans

In previewing Week 11 of the NFL season, we came to the conclusion that Tennessee could be in the midst of a playoff run. Yes, it might have been jumping the gun. But by virtue of the team’s blowout win over the Green Bay Packers last week, it didn’t seem too unrealistic.

Unfortunately for the Titans and their fans, that did not come to fruition on Sunday. It could have had to do with the Indianapolis Colts coming out fresh following a bye, but the Titans were completely exposed early in the game. Before 20 minutes had even been played, Indy found itself up 21-0.

That came after Andrew Luck and Co. put up three consecutive touchdown-scoring drives. All said, Luck completed 9-of-10 passes for 151 yards in those three drives. Simply put, the Titans’ defense was absolutely destroyed by the likes of Phillip Dorsett and Frank Gore early in the game (watch here).

Despite finding a way to battle back due to yet another stellar outing from Marcus Mariota, the Titans ended up falling by the score of 24-17. Unfortunately, it was the team’s incredibly slow start to the game that played the biggest role. Now at 5-6 heading into Week 12, those playoff aspirations we spoke of seem long gone.

10. Defense lets Packers down, as team finds itself on the brink

The Green Bay Packers just lost their fourth consecutive game. It came Sunday night on the road against the Washington Redskins. And it wasn’t the team’s offense that was to blame for this latest loss. Despite a late-game turnover on a Jared Cook fumble, the Packers’ offense surely came to play here.

Aaron Rodgers completed 26-of-41 passes for 355 yards with three touchdowns and zero interceptions. Cook himself went for 100-plus yards while both James Starks and Randall Cobb added touchdowns through the air. All said, Green Bay put up 424 yards in the loss.

Unfortunately, an injury-plagued Packers defense was absolutely destroyed by Kirk Cousins and the Redskins’ offense in a 42-24 Packers loss.

When all was said and done, Washington put up 42 points and 516 yards of offense. Cousins completed 21-of-30 passes for 375 yards with three touchdowns and zero interceptions. Both Jamison Crowder and Pierre Garcon went for over 100 yards through the air. Heck, undrafted rookie free agent running back Rob Kelley added three touchdowns on the ground.

This latest loss now has the Packers three games behind Washington in the loss column for the final wild card spot in the NFC. Also important to note, Green Bay now finds itself two games behind both the Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions in the NFC North. Yeah, that’s pretty much the end of the Packers’ playoff aspirations heading into Week 12.