Week 11 in the NFL was undoubtedly the ugliest so far. Scrappy games, low scores, big injuries and generally tense football play was the order of the day on Sunday. It is no coincidence that we are in the business end of the season now. So, let us review what the biggest takeaways were.
1. As a Ravens fan, this season I have got used to losing and generally feeling very ‘meh’ about our performances. Well, on Sunday, that sunk to a new depth. What I would not have expected is that I would be feeling this way after a Ravens victory. In case you missed my despair on Twitter, here’s why. Aside from the dreadful play by both sides (Case Keenum. Really, Jeff Fisher?!), and the fact that neither team seemed to want to win (Justin Tucker and Johnny Hekker both missed field goals inside of two minutes that would have clinched the game for either side, before Tucker’s winner at the death), NFL iron man Joe Flacco will miss the rest of the Ravens season with a torn ACL. Before that, Ravens running back Justin Forsett broke his arm, ruling him out for the rest of the season. Whatever a ‘break’ is, Baltimore can’t catch it, even in victory. In a season of challenges for the Ravens, this may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
2. In another worrying omen for the Ravens, they only need to look at the Dallas Cowboys struggles while they were without their starting quarterback for seven games. Going 0-7 in that span, Tony Romo had so much resting on his (sore) shoulders that you would forgive him for feeling the pressure. Yet, as a quality NFL start does, he led the Cowboys to a win against the Miami Dolphins 24-14. Romo’s game wasn’t perfect, he threw two interceptions, but he overcame his mistakes to throw for 227 yards and two touchdowns. On a day where the Redskins and Eagles both lost, the Cowboys are only two games removed from the lead in the NFC East, while welcoming back the best quarterback in the division. This is going to be one fascinating end to the season.
3. What do Tony Romo and Matt Hasselbeck have in common? They are both undefeated in their three starts this season. The wily 40-year old guided the Indianapolis Colts past the flagging Atlanta Falcons 24-21 to keep the AFC South franchise tied at the top of the division. Despite his first pass being intercepted, Hasselbeck completed 11 of his first 14 throws while throwing a pair of touchdown passes. He has done in relief of start Andrew Luck more than what the Colts expected of him, and has actually looked better than Luck for the most part of the season. The Falcons continue to lose to teams with losing records, losing ground to the undefeated Carolina Panthers in the process. They have yet to play the Panthers, so will have two games to claw back the deficit, however.
4. The Green Bay Packers got their season back on track thanks to a big 30-13 victory over division rivals Minnesota. The Packers defensive line harassed Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater all game, sacking him six times, while they also forced an Adrian Peterson forced fumble and limited him to just 45 yards in an improved effort from Dom Capers’ much-maligned unit. Aaron Rodgers also threw for two touchdowns, lifting the Packers to 7-3, the same record as the Vikings. But, the Packers hold the all-important tie breaker at this point.
5. Brock Osweiler may have just presented the Denver Broncos with a problem. Guiding the Denver Broncos to a 17-15 win over the Chicago Bears, Osweiler was effective, if unspectacular, efficient enough to pose the question: should he warrant starting even if Peyton Manning is healthy? To put in context; this was Denver’s first game without an interception all season, while racking up 250 passing yards. There is no question that Osweiler runs head coach Gary Kubiak’s bootleg offense much better than Manning, but he is inexperienced and lacked touch and poise at times on Sunday. With the Broncos next game against the New England Patriots, Kubiak has a tough decision to make on whether to deny the world what will most likely be the last chance to see Manning vs Tom Brady on an NFL field.
6. A few short weeks ago, it was almost inconceivable that the New York Jets and the Houston Texans would be tied for the same record in the AFC at 5-5. The Jets were riding high off their pummelling of division foe the Miami Dolphins at Wembley, while the Texans were changing quarterbacks like a model changes clothes. Fast forward to Week 11, and the Texans overcame the Jets to haul themselves to the top of the AFC South along with the Colts, while the Jets are in danger of vanishing in the AFC East behind the Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots. Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins torched Revis Island all day, confirming two things: that he is an elite receiver in the league, and that Revis is not the phenom he once was. Also, T.J Yates joins the undefeated backup brigade along with Hasselbeck, going 2-0 with his win over Cincinnati last Monday. The Texans and Colts are close in more ways than one.
7. In the Carson Palmer revenge bowl, the veteran quarterback led his current team, the Arizona Cardinals, to a 34-31 victory over his former team, the Cincinnati Bengals. A game that Palmer described as ‘unlike any other regular football game’ was a thrilling shootout and ultimately came down to the team that had the ball last. Palmer started slowly, throwing a pair of interceptions in the first quarter, but recovered to steer the Cardinals to a 14 point lead at the beginning of the fourth quarter. However, the Red Rifle Andy Dalton then found his mojo, hooking up with Tyler Eifert to bring the Bengals to within three points. Just as the Bengals thought they had tied it up with a Mike Nugent field goal, Palmer swiftly connected on two first down passes to engineer the Cardinals back into field goal range. Chandler Catanzaro slotted home the effort for the win. Both teams now sit at 8-2, with the Bengals losing two straight games.
8. Jameis Winston tied a rookie record with five touchdown passes, as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers torched the Philadelphia Eagles 45-17. Earmarking his claim for Offensive Rookie of the Year, Winston has improved his play in every game, while the Buccaneers have displayed growth in head coach Lovie Smith’s second season with the team. The biggest benefactors of this loss for the Eagles will be the New York Giants, as along with the Washington Redskins’ loss to the undefeated Carolina Panthers, they actually gained ground on their rivals despite being on a bye week. The fans calling for Mark Sanchez to replace Sam Bradford may be ruing the day that Chip Kelly let Matt Barkley and Tim Tebow go, as he threw three interceptions in relief of an injured Bradford.
9. The Kansas City Chiefs are primed for a run a the playoffs, despatching with the listless San Diego Chargers 33-3 on Sunday. The Chiefs have the easiest schedule remaining of an team in the NFL, while division rivals Oakland lost a second straight game to fall further behind in the AFC West. Credit to Andy Reid and Alex Smith, who have not allowed the season ending injury to running back Jamaal Charles to derail their season when it looked for a time like it would. They may even catch the Broncos at the top of the AFC West, should the Broncos’ offensive woes continue much longer. Keep an eye on them as the season continues. Meanwhile, there is no doubt that the Chargers are going to prop up that division, and they are staring down a battle with the Cleveland Browns and Tennessee Titans for the first overall pick in the 2016 draft.
10. Seattle steamrolled the 49ers 29-13 in the all-NFC West clash thanks to a humungous effort from backup running back Thomas Rawls. Rawls, who replaced Marshawn Lynch in the starting lineup when he was ruled out with an abdomen injury, had 209 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown on just 20 carries, while adding another 46 yards on three receptions for another touchdown. An undrafted free agent, Rawls may be the long-term answer for the Seattle Seahawks at running back. For the 49ers, Blaine Gabbert had another solid outing, throwing for 264 yards and a touchdown. He is a stark improvement over Colin Kaepernick, who is now on injured reserve.