Week eleven is almost finished and audiences have better ideas of which teams will head to the playoffs. Sunday’s games revealed who’s staying in the race before this coming Thursday and who’s ready for the offseason. Longer postseason runs or trading up for the draft are the main focuses around the league. It’s time to discuss who or what stood out, positively and negatively on the fourth Sunday of November.
Winners: Andy Dalton
Dalton’s last game against the Washington Football Team in late October was terrible. A month later, he returned to lead a Dallas team that scored two touchdowns in three games (that first Washington game included).
The Cowboys played the Minnesota Vikings at the right time; on the road, after a bye week, against an opponent who played last Monday night. They led 16-7 at halftime, and 16-14 after the third quarter. Dalton was a big reason why.
The backup quarterback threw for three touchdowns, 203 yards and an interception, but was sacked once. It’s encouraging for the offensive line after two quarterbacks were knocked out because of minimum protection.
Dallas plays an important divisional game Thursday against a nasty Washington defensive line. Even if they lose, Dalton’s performance yesterday keeps them in the NFC East race.
The Los Angeles Chargers won by six points, but the score doesn’t indicate how well they played. The special teams gifted the Jets six points with another punt blocked. The defense had to show up for a win especially in the second half. They got more than that.
Trailing 6-0, cornerback Tevaughn Campbell intercepted Joe Flacco and ran uncontested for a touchdown. Michael Badgley’s extra point gave the Chargers their first lead of the game, and they didn’t trail again. Although Joe Flacco was sacked once, he threw for just over 200 yards the whole game.
Bradley faces the most pressure on the Chargers coaching staff. His defense has given up multiple leads and is one of the reasons Los Angeles is last in the AFC West. Yesterday the Chargers shut down the Jets’s final possession. Unlike the Broncos, the Jets didn’t tie the game at the end and then win. That’s how Los Angeles should close games.
I said a few months ago the Colts would be an interesting team to watch in November. They’ve lived up to the hype, coming back from a 14 point deficit to steal a win from the Green Bay Packers in overtime. Philip Rivers’ health raises concerns, but the whole team is stepping up.
Matt Eberflus’ defense is top three in the league, anchored by a great front seven. The Colts’ running game looks solid, even without starter Marlon Mack. They have more half-time adjustments than last year, which contributes to quality wins over Green Bay and Tennessee.
Indianapolis can solidify their division lead against a Titans team with offensive line injuries and continuous, sloppy defense. The Colts exposed both their first meeting, and this time they have the home game. The AFC should take this team seriously.
The Saints defense stepped up when needed most, but Hill deserves credit for why the Saints offense looked good in that second half.
The numbers aren’t pretty, but Hill didn’t turn the ball over to a Falcons defense that’s improved since coach Dan Quinn was fired. The dynamic play-maker ran for two touchdowns and had some deep throws Saints fans and audiences hadn’t seen Drew Brees attempt in three years.
Coach Sean Payton knows Taysom Hill or Jameis Winston will succeed the injured Drew Brees after this season, and even if the former isn’t the solution (he is 30 years old), he bought more time to lead the Saints into December.
Losers: Whatever offense the Bengals assemble the rest of this season
Even in a dreadful NFC East, this team would be dead last without playmakers Joe Burrow and Joe Mixon on offense. They’re in the AFC North, a division where the other three teams might make the playoffs. They have games against two of those teams left on their schedule.
Everyone is fixated on the season ending injuries to first overall pick Joe Burrow. The Bengals won’t play nor look the same without him even next season. Lost in this news is runningback Joe Mixon was placed on injured reserve late Friday night. This definitely contributed to Burrow getting injured yesterday because there’s no formidable running game to ease pressure off the star QB. It’s possible Mixon doesn’t come back for the rest of the season knowing the Bengals have no playoff chances.
Backup quarterback Ryan Finley threw for 30 yards in a quarter and a half of play. Washington’s defense is a big reason why, but those kinds of numbers averaged through four quarters won’t get this team any wins the rest of the season especially with the number of playoff caliber teams left on their schedule. Good news is Cincinnati can use a top draft pick on an offensive lineman in next year’s draft.
Jake Luton and the Jaguars Offense
Might as well throw Jacksonville’s offense in here since they bottomed out against Pittsburgh. Luton, who didn’t tear any leg muscles, looked horrendous against an undefeated Steelers team.
Luton’s been a solid option for the Jaguars since Gardner Minshew II went out with a finger injury. Yesterday he was the reason Jacksonville lost. He threw four interceptions, and the Steelers turned those turnovers into points. You can’t win games scoring three points, and you won’t come close when you commit four turnovers.
Head coach Doug Marrone doesn’t know who will start next Sunday. It’s easy to understand after the offense put up under 300 yards. The Jaguars play wild-card contenders in Cleveland and Minnesota next. They better figure out something by Friday.
The current division leader of the abhorrent NFC East took a painful loss to the Browns in Cleveland yesterday. Quarterback Carson Wentz struggles on simple completions, and the offensive line, which is at it’s healthiest, still can’t protect their quarterback.
Wentz was sacked five times and threw two interceptions, one of which was an uncontested return touchdown that broke a scoreless tie in the first half. The hits, pressure and sacks piled on the former second overall pick to the point where he’s struggling to read the field and overthrows open receivers. The offense is wasting one of the defense’s better years. That’s a shame considering how the Eagles could win their division before December.
Unlike the Eagles, the Washington Football Team and the Dallas Cowboys won yesterday, inching towards Philadelphia’s first place lead. Those teams play Thanksgiving and analytics say someone will win that game. If the Eagles can’t get back in first place, this game Sunday was the turning point.
Strange how two points can change the outcome of a game. Of the 32 starting kickers in the league, Ficken faces more pressure week-to-week because of how bad the New York Jets offense is. One mistake could add another loss for the only winless team in the league.
Ficken missed an extra point after the Jet’s scored a quick touchdown early in the first quarter. He missed another with 22 seconds left in the third quarter after Frank Gore’s one yard touchdown run. The Jets could’ve been down 10 instead of 12.
They could’ve been down by six instead of eight by their last offensive possession. The Jets are the worst team in recent memory for many reasons, but a six point deficit versus an eight point deficit are different. Offenses can do more down by six than by eight such as taking more time and finding better plays. That’s how Denver beat Los Angeles a few weeks ago. Jets quarterback Joe Flacco faced all out blitzes the final drive, throwing the ball away three out of four times. A couple of runs gaining critical yards would’ve helped ease pressure off of him.
Kickers face a lot of pressure, and a lot of it isn’t fair. Sometimes you need every point possible when the offense disappears.