Snap Judgments: Steelers, Ravens stumble to set up must-win game
DENVER -- Musings, observations and the occasional insight from the Mile High City as we run down the curious doings of Week 11 in the NFL ...
• We knew Pittsburgh at Baltimore was going to be a big game next week, but we never dreamed the amount of desperation that would be in the air. On both sides of the field, a season might just be on the line. Hyperbole? Not really.
What exactly has happened to the two teams that met in the AFC Championship game a scant 10 months ago? The Ravens, after that deceptive 3-0 start, lost for the fifth time in seven games on Sunday, and will enter Week 12 barely clinging to their wild-card hopes at 5-5. In falling to the visiting Colts 17-15, Baltimore has already matched its season loss total of last year, and the Ravens .500 record looks even weaker when you consider that it includes two wins against Cleveland and another against Kansas City.
And then there's the suddenly sluggish defending Super Bowl champion Steelers, who fell 27-24 in overtime at Kansas City (3-7) on Sunday, in one of the more eye-opening upsets in the NFL this season. In dropping its second game in a row after getting to 6-2 at midseason, the Steelers are staggering toward December and look to be giving in to a delayed case of post-Super Bowl syndrome.
Pittsburgh (6-4) remains solidly in wild-card contention, but in an AFC that could feature eight teams with at least six wins by the end of Week 11, it can't take anything for granted these days. This much we know: A win at Baltimore is now probably mandatory if
The Ravens and Steelers are just two more fresh reminders that last year was an eternity ago in the NFL.
• A few things that absolutely blow my mind about the Steelers' struggles on kickoff coverage this year:
-- After making backup linebacker
-- The Steelers only once in their history had allowed as many as three kickoff return touchdowns in the same season, in 1986. The only other teams in the league besides Pittsburgh that have allowed multiple kickoff return touchdowns this season are Oakland and the New York Jets, with two. Of the league's 32 teams, 23 of them entered Week 11 without having surrendered a score on a kickoff return.
-- Pittsburgh is getting killed by touchdown returns of every kind. They've now allowed a scoring return -- kickoffs, fumbles or interceptions -- in a team-record-tying eighth consecutive game. By comparison, the Steelers defense entered Week 11 having only allowed nine touchdowns in its first nine games this season.
-- Oh, and did we mention that in their Super Bowl season of 2008 the Steelers allowed no kickoff return touchdowns, and led the league in kickoff coverage, at 19.1 yards allowed?
• It's pretty obvious we vastly overrated the NFC East this season. Who knows, maybe all three contending teams wind up in the playoffs, but I don't see any powerhouses capable of making a long run in January.
The Cowboys, for the second week in a row, were dreadful on offense, somehow surviving 7-6 at home against Washington. With a game at home against Oakland coming up on Thanksgiving, Dallas should be 8-3 by Thursday night. But I don't think anybody's fearing the Cowboys about now. Against the Redskins, Dallas quarterback
The Giants kept their season alive with a 34-31 win at home in overtime against the Falcons, snapping Big Blue's four-game losing streak. But if you're New York, you can't be happy about losing a 31-17 lead with a little more than six minutes remaining. The Giants' defense couldn't stop Atlanta when it really mattered, and now comes a short-week road trip to Denver for a tough Thanksgiving night game.
The Eagles took their two-game losing streak and so-so 5-4 record into Chicago's Soldier Field on Sunday night. With its 24-20 win, Philly sits in a tie for second with the Giants, and while that would indicate that competition is alive and well in the division, true dominance remains in short supply.
• Of course the Ravens were a field goal away from beating the hated Colts at home. How else could this game have turned out after Baltimore cut errant kicker
The Colts' winning points? Naturally those were provided by longtime ex-Ravens kicker
Owens finished with as season-high nine catches for 197 yards in Buffalo's 18-15 loss at Jacksonville, including that monster 98-yard, club-record scoring bomb in the third quarter.
• New head coach for Buffalo, but same old whatever-it-takes-to-lose Bills. Interim head coach
Meachem is definitely one of
• This much we already know about
That play also provided Tampa Bay with the only points it scored all day against undefeated New Orleans. After the Bucs grabbed a 7-0 lead in the first quarter, the Saints reeled off the game's final 38 points.
Minnesota dismantled Seattle 35-9 at home on Sunday and, at 9-1, appears bound for big things this year. But the Vikings wouldn't be the first juggernaut to go one-and-done in the playoffs of late. Last year alone, top-seeded Tennessee (13-3) in the AFC and the top-seeded Giants (12-4) in the NFC bit the dust at home in the divisional round.
Would the season really feel like a success in Minnesota if Childress's Vikings fail to win a playoff game for the second January in a row? More importantly, like Vikings owner
• It's probably just a coincidence, but the Chiefs are 2-0 since jettisoning the high-profile headache named
• The biggest play in the Chiefs' win was that 61-yard catch-and-run in overtime by veteran receiver
Guess who (and where) the Chiefs play next week? Of course, at San Diego. Chambers gets his first shot at earning some revenge against his old teammates.
• That's a critical and damaging loss for Green Bay, having to play the rest of the season without cornerback
• Just when I thought we could start to re-bury 49ers quarterback
• Speaking of rookie quarterbacks, Detroit's
• If only the Lions and the Browns could play each other every week. Then they'd at least resemble NFL teams. At least on offense. For the Browns, maybe this was some sort of karmic payback for that hideous 6-3 win at Buffalo earlier this year.
• Looks like