Week 11 in the NFL brought a devastating injury to one of the top rookies in the league, a reserve passer who stood out and a fresh start for “America’s Team.”
Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow hinted that he’ll be out for the season, Taysom Hill shined for the Saints and the Cowboys stayed alive in the NFC East. This is the time of the season when playoff races tighten and the teams with stronger cases start to separate themselves from the rest of the pack.
Here are Week 11’s winners and losers.
Chiefs’ quest for a title defense
They avoided a second loss to a division rival and extended their lead in the AFC West. The Chiefs, thanks to a thrilling fourth-quarter comeback in a back-and-forth game, took down the Raiders, 35-31. There are some defensive issues Kansas City will need to hone as the season wears on, but its offense and quarterback Patrick Mahomes give this squad a chance to win every game.
Mahomes’ mastery of this offense has positioned him as one of the favorites for the MVP race. The way he drew the safety down the field as he flushed right on the game-winning touchdown throw, leaving tight end Travis Kelce wide open in the back of the end zone, shows just how advanced his strategical processing is in the biggest moments. The Steelers hold an edge in the AFC as the lone undefeated team, so this victory against a rival and an ascending team goes a long way in setting up success for a playoff run.
In a season in which so many things have gone wrong, the Cowboys are starting to play their best football. And while their defense still yields an absurd amount of yardage, the unit has been far better in situational moments when Dallas has needed key stops. In a 31-28 victory against the Vikings, the running game was revived, and Dallas fought back after Minnesota had seized the lead.
In the horrid NFC East, where each team has just three victories, the Cowboys may be best positioned to eventually emerge from the fray. That’s even with their having to start backup Andy Dalton at quarterback. Minnesota entered the day ranked fifth in rushing offense, but Dallas outgained the Vikings by a margin of 180 yards to 125 on the ground. Sliding right guard Zack Martin over to tackle may have been the catalyst. Not only did the running game wake up, but a normally solid Viking pass rush only sacked Dalton once. This season has shown that a team doesn’t need to be perfect to compete in the NFC East. Dallas is flawed, but it may have just enough talent to win the division.
Top of the AFC South (Part I)
The Colts faced two separate 14-point deficits and committed far too many penalties, but a second half surge – and four takeaways – were the keys in toppling the Packers, 34-31. Indianapolis fought back and outscored Green Bay by a margin of 20-3 in the second half.
Though Indianapolis’ first three forced turnovers didn’t result in any points, credit an aggressive Colts defense that constantly made Packers players uncomfortable. The fourth and most crucial takeaway, a forced fumble in overtime on a hit on Green Bay receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling in Packers territory, led to the game-winning field goal from Rodrigo Blankenship. The Colts are now tied atop the divisionand, thanks to a stout offensive line that has allowed the fewest sacks in the NFL (nine) and a defense that’s strong up the middle, this squad has a recipe that could lead to postseason success.
Top of the AFC South (Part II)
After a rough month in which Tennessee lost three of four games, the Titans bounced back with a huge, 30-24 overtime victory against another AFC power, the Ravens. The most positive part about the win was that it hinged on a familiar weapon in running back Derrick Henry and a couple of areas that have been problematic this season: red zone defense and special teams.
Kicker Stephen Gostkowski connected on all three of his field goals and an extra point after stretches this year in which he struggled. And the red zone defense, which entered Sunday ranked 28th, having allowed touchdowns in just a shade under 75% of opponents’ trips inside the 20, limited Baltimore to conversions on one of four. With both the Colts and Titans tied at 7-3, it sets up what should be a tight finish in the division the rest of the way.
After word spread late in the week that utility player Taysom Hill and not Jameis Winston would start at quarterback in place of the injured Drew Brees, speculation emerged that this was a ploy to try to confuse the Falcons. But after Hill produced in New Orleans’ dominant 24-9 victory against the Falcons, it just showed how competent and effective this coaching staff is on offense. And it all starts with Payton, who isn’t afraid to take calculated risks and innovate to put his players in a position that helps them succeed.
Hill was an ultra-effective 18 of 23 for 233 yards and added 10 carries for 51 yards and two scores. He avoided the big mistake, with the exception of a lost fumble in the fourth quarter that didn’t prove to be costly. As the Saints continue to consider life after Brees, Payton’s planning in this game showed that, at least in a small sample size, New Orleans can craft a winning formula with the players it already has. And, if nothing else, it’s next-level trolling when the head coach of the Saints retweets a former Falcons receiver who had a pointed and – in hindsight –misguided take. Lastly, don’t sleep on New Orleans’ defense, which may be one of the league’s most underrated.
There’s no way to sugarcoat this: The 20-13 loss to the Broncos was a massive letdown for the Dolphins. With the Bills (7-3) on their bye week, Miami had a chance to claim a co-lead in the AFC East. Instead, the Dolphins offense stagnated, the line yielded six sacks to rookie starter Tua Tagovailoa and the rushing defense got gashed to the tune of 5.7 yards per carry. Miami fell to 6-4 and now faces questions about whether Tagovailoa was rushed to the starting job too soon.
Head coach Brian Flores said that the No. 5 overall pick would continue in his role even though backup Ryan Fitzpatrick supplanted Tagovailoa in the middle of the fourth quarter. In a much smaller sample size, Fitzpatrick provided more, though he did have an interception forced into double coverage that sealed Miami’s defeat, snapping a five-game winning streak. Suddenly, a team that looked like a surprising upstart has some clear issues it needs to work through.
At some point, the Eagles have to be seriously concerned. In Philadelphia’s 22-17 loss against the Browns in soggy Cleveland, Wentz – again – was sloppy and careless with the football, held onto it far too long and made poor decisions. Despite having a 3-6-1 record, the Eagles are somehow still first in the NFC East. To stay in the race, however, they simply need to be more competitive.
But the team might have to consider turning to backup quarterback Jalen Hurts, selected No. 53 overall in the 2020 draft, to turn the season around. While the Eagles do have other shortcomings (offensive line is still a problem and their rushing defense often allows huge plays), their biggest issue is under center. With Wentz, the Eagles didn’t convert a single third down attempt last week. Against the Browns, they converted on only two of 12. In 10 games this year, Wentz has turned the ball over 17 times. He looks like a player who is hesitating and unsure of himself. If it’s not time for a change in Philly, it’s pretty close.
This is part of the problem of playing a young franchise quarterback behind a leaky offensive line. The Bengals likely lost Burrow, the No. 1 overall pick, to a serious knee injury for the rest of the season. The rookie was hit as his left leg was planted in the turf, causing it to twist awkwardly in a 20-9 loss against the Washington Football Team. After trainers looked at the injury briefly, they carted him off the field. Within minutes, the team officially declared him out for the rest of the game.
Though Burrow wasn’t sacked once in the loss, he was under constant pressure and was constantly getting hit. Cincinnati entered Sunday ranked 30th in the NFL with 32 sacks allowed. Poor offensive line play is one of the worst things a team can have for a young passer’s development, as it often leads to forced throws and turnovers and is also dangerous. For Burrow, it’s devastating as a promising campaign (65.4% completion rate, 2,688 passing yards, 16 total touchdowns, five interceptions) was cut way too short.