Attempting to remain alive in the playoff picture.
Week 11 of the NFL season represented a frantic slate of action. With teams attempting to remain alive in the playoff picture, desperation was the name of the game.
That included a Cowboys squad that held off Atlanta to force a battle for first with Washington in the NFC East on Thanksgiving. Sadly, the Redskins will be without Pro Bowl quarterback Alex Smith after he suffered a devastating leg injury.
Over in the AFC, Pittsburgh stumbled out of the gate against Jacksonville — only to come up big when it counted the most. Meanwhile, the Indianapolis Colts proved that they have really turned the corner in a blowout win over Tennessee.
The later afternoon slate displayed just how dominant the New Orleans Saints have been. They absolutely blew out the defending champs in every possible way. Then, Sunday evening, the Chicago Bears made yet another major statement in a win over the division-rival Vikings.
These are among the top takeaways from Sunday’s Week 11 NFL action.
The Bears are as legit as they come
If there was any question about who stood above the rest in the NFC North heading into Week 11, the Bears answered that in a resounding way. A few day after seeing Green Bay drop heart breaker against Seattle, Chicago took a stranglehold on the division with a solid 25-20 win over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday Night Football.
Mitch Trubisky and the offense didn’t need to do a whole lot in this one. Instead, it was a stingy Bears defense led by Khalil Mack that did all the talking. This unit held Kirk Cousins to 30-of-66 passing with two interceptions, including pretty much a game-ending pick-six. Now at 7-3 on the season, it’s clear these Bears are as legit as they come.
Saints just keep steamrolling opponents
Drew Brees and Co. entered Sunday’s action having won eight consecutive games while putting up a ridiculous 96 points over the past two outings. Clearly the class of the NFC, New Orleans was hoping to put the death knell in Philadelphia’s playoff aspirations. That’s exactly what the team did at the Superdome, and it wasn’t even close.
The Saints broke out to a 24-7 halftime lead, putting up well over 300 yards in the first two quarters. Once Brees connected with Michael Thomas for the receiver’s second touchdown of the game early in the third, it was pretty much over. The Saints ultimately dropped a 48-burger on the defending champs, further cementing their status as the NFC’s best team. What a brilliant performance from Mr. Brees and his group once again.
The Buccaneers defense is an abomination
There’s no other way to go about it. Dirk Koetter and his Buccaneers have quickly turned into one of the most hapless teams in the entire NFL. Taking on a two-win Giants squad Sunday, The Bucs yielded two touchdowns to Saquon Barkley before 16 minutes had even been played. That included a blown coverage for the Giants’ first score.
The disastrous early-game performance led to Tampa Bay benching Ryan Fitzpatrick for Jameis Winston. Sure the Buccaneers made a game of this, losing 38-35, but it’s just the latest example of complete ineptitude from the team’s defense. Eli Manning missed on just one of his 18 attempts and Barkley went for 152 total yards. Tampa has now yielded an average of 33 points per game with opposing quarterbacks having put up 25 touchdowns compared to one interception on the season.
Steelers turn nightmare into stirring victory
Pittsburgh just couldn’t get out of its own way in the first half of Sunday’s game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Ben Roethlisberger tossed two interceptions in the opening half, one of them in the mold of what we’ve seen from his counterpart in Jacksonville, Blake Bortles. Meanwhile, both picks were on passes intended for Antonio Brown.
But something clicked for this team in the second half. Down 16-0 late in the third quarter, Pittsburgh scored three touchdowns in the final 17 minutes of the game. That included a 78-yard toss fro Big Ben to Brown. And when all was said and done, Mike Tomlin’s squad came away with a last-second 20-16 victory for their sixth consecutive win. We’re not too sure how this happened, but Pittsburgh isn’t complaining.
These are the Chargers we all know
Los Angeles has been among the best teams in the NFL since Week 5 of last season, posting a combined 13-3 record. Its ability to close out games during that span was the major difference between Anthony Lynn’s squad and the Mike McCoy days. Sitting pretty at 7-2 heading into Sunday’s game against the Broncos, most figured Philip Rivers and Co. would win going away. Alas, it was not to be.
Instead, Los Angeles blew a 12-point second half lead in a game that was ripe for the taking. A Rivers interception into the hands of Von Miller resulted in the first score during Denver’s comeback attempt. And with the Chargers up 22-20, they let Denver drive down the field 76 yards in less than two minutes for the game-winning field goal. Despite seeing Rivers toss for north of 400 yards, Los Angeles reverted back to its old ways in the team’s first loss since Week 3.
Carolina drops game it had no business losing
Cam Newton and the Panthers should have pounced on what has been a bad Lions team Sunday at Ford Field. Instead, Carolina allowed Detroit to stay in the game for the most part before a series of failures led to Carolina’s second consecutive loss. Veteran kicker Graham Gano missing a chip-shot field goal and an extra point didn’t help matters.
But we’re going to focus on Ron Rivera’s decision to go for two with the game on the line late in the fourth quarter. Following a Newton touchdown pass to the ultra-impressive D.J. Moore to pull the game to 20-19, Riverboat Ron decided to chance it all. Instead of maybe going quarter sneak or with a run-bass option, he had Newton drop back to pass. The end result was a missed conversion attempt and a second consecutive loss. We’ll have to wait and see how this impacts the NFC Playoff picture moving forward. If Carolina does miss out by one game, we can point to Gano’s shanks and Rivera’s questionable decision making.
Cowboys make it interesting in NFC East
By virtue of Washington’s loss and Jason Garrett’s Cowboys defeating Atlanta, Dallas heads into a titanic Thanksgiving matchup against the Redskins with an opportunity to take over first place in the NFC East. Dallas’ most-recent win was a nail-biter of epic proportions, but Ezekiel Elliott’s stellar day combined with a stingy defense led the team to its second consecutive victory.
Elliott went for 201 total yards on 30 touches. He’s now put up 504 total yards over the past three games. Meanwhile, the Cowboys’ defense held Atlanta to just 19 points in another stellar all-around performance. The end result was a 22-19 win on a last-second field goal to move Dallas to 5-5 on the season.
Colts look like a well-oiled machine
Andrew Luck and the Colts entered Sunday’s game against the division-rival Titans with an opportunity to move into second place in the AFC South. It’s somewhat shocking considering this team started the season with a 1-4 mark. But over the past month, Indianapolis has looked like a juggernaut under first-year head coach Frank Reich.
This continued in a big way at home against Tennessee. Indianapolis scored the first 17 points of the game, racking up nearly 200 total yards of offense in the first quarter and a half. From that point on, Indy was in cruise control. Andrew Luck completed 23-of-29 passes for 297 yards with three touchdowns and zero picks. Having won this one going away by the score of 38-10, the Colts have now come out on top in four consecutive games and are averaging 36.5 per during that span. Luck has also tossed 13 touchdowns and one interception in those four games.
We have a problem in D.C.
Despite his team posting a 6-3 record heading into Week 11, Alex Smith’s trajectory has been pointing downward for the past several games. In fact, the Pro Bowler had put up exactly 178 passing yards in three of the past four games. That same four-game span has seen Smith throw a total of four touchdowns. It was just a matter of time before his inability to actually throw a forward pass hurt the first-place team.
No one could have envisioned that it would be an injury to Smith which could ultimately lead to Washington’s downfall this season. The veteran went down in the third quarter with two broken bones in his right leg. In fact, it was reminiscent of the injury former Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann suffered more than three decades ago. Just a brutal overall scene in D.C. And while the Redskins will have to move forward with Colt McCoy, Smith’s future in the NFL is now up in the air.
Jaguars embarrass themselves, again
Losers of five consecutive heading into Sunday’s game against Pittsburgh, it looked like the Jaguars were about to claw their way back into AFC Playoff contention. The team dominated the first half and took a 16-0 lead late in the third quarter. But as has been the case all season, Doug Marrone’s squad couldn’t get it done when it mattered the most.
Jacksonville’s previously vaunted defense allowed three Steelers touchdown-scoring drives in the final 17 minutes of the game. All said, Pittsburgh went for 227 total yards during that span. Meanwhile, the Jaguars offense found itself bogged down to the tune of one total yard in those final 17 minutes. The end result was a 20-16 loss and a 3-7 record on the season. Ouch.
Saquon Barkley is a machine
The one takeaway from New York’s second consecutive win is that this rookie has more than proven himself to be an electric option on offense. Barkley entered Sunday’s action having put up 1,116 total yards and seven touchdowns in nine games. That included a whopping 62 receptions.
Doing more damage on the ground than anything else against a bad Buccaneers defense, he added 142 rushing yards and three total scores in a Giants win. Barkley is now on pace for north of 2,100 total yards and 16 scores on the season. We can question New York’s unwillingness to go quarterback early in April’s draft. That’s fine. But in no way does that mean Barkley hasn’t proven himself to be among the best rookie backs in league history. He has.
End of the line for Dan Quinn in Atlanta?
The Falcons needed a win at home Sunday against the Cowboys to remain relevant in the NFC Playoff race. What resulted was yet another close loss for a team that’s seemingly in over its head from a coaching standpoint. Atlanta went all out to stop Dak Prescott and the Cowboys’ improved passing attack. In the process, Ezekiel Elliott picked this defense apart big time.
On offense, Atlanta dropped back to pass 38 times while attempting 18 runs. That’s despite the fact that it averaged north of four yards per rush. Now at 4-6 on the season, the Falcons are toast. Could this lead to Quinn finding himself in the unemployment line here soon? Only time will tell.
Lamar Jackson’s added dimension
When the Ravens were forced to go with this rookie due to the hip injury Joe Flacco suffered, most objective fans around the NFL were excited to see what the former Heisman winner might bring to the table. Immediately out of the gate, Jackson showed the division-rival Bengals what he was made of. He led Baltimore on an 11-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to open the game. Said drive included exactly zero passes. It was certainly a harbinger of things to come.
When all was said and done, Jackson broke the single-game quarterback record with 27 rushing attempts. He put up 117 yards on those attempts, becoming the first NFL quarterback to rush for 100-plus yards in a game since Colin Kaepernick back in 2016. It resulted in a season-saving 24-21 win over Cincinnati. We now have to wonder if the Flacco era is completely over in Maryland.
Eagles are absolute toast
The possibility of a Super Bowl hangover in Philadelphia has now turned into one major booze-induced headache for Doug Pederson’s squad. Already on the ropes at 4-5 on the season, these Eagles stood no chance to stop the vaunted Saints’ offense. Sure injuries in the secondary didn’t help matters in the 48-7 loss. That’s fine. But that excuse will only get the team so far.
The issue here is that Philadelphia failed to be competitive in the loss. It was down two scores in the blink of an eye. From there, the Saints just ran roughshod over lesser competition. And despite only being down two games in the pedestrian NFC East, we can pretty much conclude that these Eagles are burnt toast. It’s one heck of a way to follow up their first-ever Super Bowl title.
Kirk Cousins, $84 million mistake
When the Vikings handed Cousins the first fully-guaranteed multi-year contract for a quarterback in NFL history, most were thrown for a loop. Sure he was the top quarterback on the market and a former Pro Bowler. Even then, that commitment was with the expectation that Cousins would improve Minnesota’s offense and turn the team into a legit Super Bowl contender. This hasn’t come to fruition.
Sunday night’s loss to the first-place Bears was a prime example of this. Cousins was downright awful on national television, throwing two interceptions and tallying just 262 yards on 46 attempts. His performance included what was ultimately a game-ending pick-six in the fourth quarter. Now at 5-4-1 on the season, these Vikings look like anything but contenders. Cousins is one of the primary reasons for this.