Welcome to Week 11, or as it will now be known, “The Day Kickers Became Important.” I know, personally, this day couldn’t come fast enough (kidding). For some reason, the NFL wanted the extra point to be competitive, and now it certainly is, after we had 11 missed extra points this week. So let the record show that the first-ever effective decision by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was the move to lengthen the extra point. That’s one for the mantel. Anyways, it was a big day for Dak Prescott, the Colts, Bucs and Vikings. And it was a forgettable day for, among others, the Bengals, Cardinals, Carson Wentz and Jared Goff. And away we go…
Your resident “Wet Blanket of Reason” takes the temperature of the most intriguing storylines out of Week 11:
Go crazy, folks:
Dak is no rookie: Up until Sunday, Cowboys rookie QB Dak Prescott was impressive in aiding his team to eight straight wins and the best record in the league. But outside of games against the Eagles and Steelers, the road wasn’t exactly difficult, and much of the credit rightfully went to RB Ezekiel Elliott and the offensive line. Prescott certainly had his share of bright moments, but it wasn’t like he was carrying the Cowboys to victory after victory, which is the line between good NFL quarterback and a franchise quarterback. But that ended against the Ravens and their No. 1 defense.
If you were looking for the moment where Prescott showed he could become the first rookie to ever lead his team to a Super Bowl title, the Cowboys’ 27–17 victory over Baltimore was it. With Elliott largely bottled up, Prescott put the Cowboys on his back in the second half as he completed 14 of 15 passes for 146 yards and two of his three touchdowns for a 146.8 passer rating. Quite simply, the young QB was sensational, and he’s proved that he should no longer be looked at as a rookie.
Unlike Dak, Wentz is still a rookie: Facing the Seahawks' defense on the road, Eagles QB Carson Wentz threw two interceptions and posted 61.2 rating in their 26–15 loss to Seattle. Momma said there’d be days like this against the Seahawks’ defense. No time for Wentz or the Eagles to fret: they have a brutal six-game stretch to finish the season (vs. Packers, at Bengals, vs. Redskins, at Ravens, vs. Giants, vs. Cowboys) but four of those games are at home.
Its time to stick a fork in the Cardinals: Arizona had a chance to get back into the playoff picture against the Vikings, a team it could be fighting for a wild-card spot with. Instead, the Cardinals failed once again to rise to the occasion in a 30–24 loss that dropped them to 4–5–1. This will be one of those coulda-shoulda-woulda seasons that fans talk about for years. The team has so much talent that looked so disjointed all season long. It will also be a humbling year for coach Bruce Arians, who not so long ago appeared to have it all figured out.
And stick a fork in the Bengals, too: You know it’s not your day…or your year…when your kicker misses two extra points, QB Andy Dalton looks like Bad Andy again (57.0 rating, two interceptions) and superstar wide receiver A.J. Green has to be carted off with a serious hamstring injury. Those things all happened in the Bengals’ loss to the Bills, which dropped them to 3-6-1. This would be their first season without a postseason berth since 2010.
Don’t sleep on Dolphins: Miami has won five straight to get to 6–4, and you could say a lot about that which would be correct. None of those wins has been particularly impressive, and you could make the argument that anybody but Jared Goff and the Browns would have beaten the Dolphins on Sunday. But, hey, wins are wins and QB Ryan Tannehill has made some big-time throws down the stretch in the past two games to put the Dolphins over the top. Now, this doesn’t mean that Tannehill or the Dolphins have arrived (coach Adam Gase won a lot of games with Tim Tebow too), but you have to give Gase a lot of credit for settling the team down and finding a winning formula. I'm not buying or selling on the Dolphins at this point, but I am watching with interest.
Here come the Bucs: Tampa Bay looked done two weeks ago when it was blown out at home 43–28 by the Falcons. But after handling the Bears, the Bucs served notice that they’ll be in the NFC South race for a while with an impressive 19–17 victory at Kansas City, one of the toughest road venues in the league. Safety Chris Conte caused a 14-point swing in a tight game with his huge interception in the end zone when the Bucs appeared ready to give up their 12–10 lead. Instead, Conte’s pick set up Tampa’s only touchdown of the game.
Sterling Shepard would be a OROY candidate most years: Giants rookie WR Sterling Shepard, who will make the New York offense a tough out down the stretch, caught a touchdown for the third-straight game as the Giants beat the Bears 22–16. Shepard now has 44 catches for 476 yards and five touchdowns through 10 games. In most years that would get you into the offensive rookie conversation, but not this year when he’s up against what the Cowboys’ twin rookies are doing.
Slow your roll:
Look out for the Colts: Everybody was making fun of the Colts, Chuck Pagano and Ryan Grigson when Indianapolis started the season 2–4. Well, it has now won two-straight to get to 5–5 and could be just one game behind the Texans if Houston loses on Monday night to the Raiders. If the Colts can beat the Steelers at home on Sunday night, they could find themselves in first place ahead of pivotal back-to-back road games at Minnesota and Oakland.
The Titans are who we thought they were: Nice comeback attempt, but the Titans showed they are not ready for primetime as they came out flat in a huge AFC South game against the Colts, fell behind 21-0 and lost 24-17.
The Lions are mediocre: Add Jacksonville to the list of teams that also features the Colts, Rams and Vikings—who were all scuffling when the Lions beat them—to fall victim to Detroit’s theatrics. The Lions came from behind for the sixth time this season to knock off the Jaguars 26–19. But the fact remains that a good team would put some—any?—teams away earlier. Instead, the Lions have trailed at some point in the fourth quarter of every single one of their wins. Sure, the Lions are exciting and fun to watch. But no, they shouldn’t be considered good.
The Bills are still in it, but not for long: The Bills won a “postseason elimination bowl” with the Bengals, but at 5–5 Buffalo is still a long shot and didn’t exactly play like a playoff team. The Bills were again undisciplined (nine penalties), QB Tyrod Taylor threw a bad pick, and it appears they’ll be losing RB LeSean McCoy (thumb) and WR Robert Woods (knee) for some time.
Don’t put the Cardinals’ latest loss on Carson Palmer: It would be easy to blame the Cardinals QB for the loss to the Vikings because he threw a 100-yard pick-six, but a.) receiver John Brown didn’t make his break on the ball, and b.) Palmer was harassed all game. The protection was putrid.
About Sunday Night
Everyone has already started to go nuts about Kirk Cousins’s performance in Washington’s 42–24 victory over the reeling Packers (and at 21 of 30 for 375 yards and three touchdowns, he was terrific), but it needs to be put into the proper context. Right now the Packers can’t stop a nosebleed in the secondary. The defense has given up at least 30 points during their four-game losing streak, and over 40 points the past two weeks for the first time since 1950 (Titans QB Marcus Mariota threw for 295 yards and four touchdowns the previous week). Aaron Rodgers (26 of 41 for 361 yards and three touchdowns) and the Packers’ passing offense were actually pretty good in this game. And it had the feel of a 47–45 game as both teams went up and down the field after combining for five punts on the first five possessions. But Packers kicker Mason Crosby missed a 36-yard field to start the second half, and Redskins cornerback Josh Norman forced a Jared Cook fumble with 3:05 remaining in the game. The Packers needed just one or two stops to win this game, and they got zero in the second half (five drives, four touchdowns, one field goal). Washington had four plays of at least 44 yards, including Cousins's passes of 70, 53 and 44 yards—all in the last 18 minutes of the game.
A look at the worst coaching decisions from Sunday.
• This should really be the Jeff Fisher Memorial Award each week. He had at least two questionable decisions in this one. The first was trying for a 48-yard field goal on 4th-and-1 in the fourth quarter on a field that had been rained on all day. Greg Zuerlein predictably missed. And after the Rams gave up the go-ahead touchdown, the Rams needed a touchdown with 29 seconds left from their own 41-yard line and had one timeout. On the first play they called an 8-yard slant in the middle of the field to Kenny Britt, who isn’t exactly an open-field maven.
• Colts coach Chuck Pagano should send a fruit basket to Titans CB Perrish Cox because he kept Pagano from looking foolish. With the Colts up 14–0 early in the second quarter, Pagano elected to go for it on 4th-and-1 from the Tennessee 2-yard line instead of taking the field goal and making it a three-score game. Andrew Luck threw a pass to T.Y. Hilton that should have been intercepted in the end zone. Instead, the ball went right through Cox’s hands and into Hilton’s for a touchdown.
• It seems like Mike Tomlin takes the field each Sunday trying to find a way to prove that he’s some genius coach, whether it’s his over-the-top two-point conversion attempts or grand gestures on the sideline. Against the Browns and up 6–0, Tomlin just had to go for a touchdown at the Browns’ 1-yard line on an untimed down not once, but twice. Luckily for Tomlin, he was playing the Browns and got the score. Wow, good for him. He’s a genius.
Everybody loves to hate the refs, but let’s take a closer look at how the zebras performed today:
— The roughing the passing penalty on the Vikings’ Tom Johnson when he hit Cardinals QB Carson Palmer was just ridiculous. Johnson him him in the chest. The officiating for Clete Blakeman’s crew overall in that game was suspect.
— The playclock appeared to expire before the Steelers received a defensive holding penalty that prolonged the first half. Pittsburgh wound up scoring a touchdown.
— Browns CB Joe Haden pulled the jersey of Steelers WR Antonio Brown all the way down the field, causing Brown to fall down, and it wasn’t called.
Coolest thing I saw
There aren’t too many quarterbacks who can make an effortless over-the-shoulder touchdown grab, and then throw a 35-yard score to TE Jimmy Graham while running parallel to the line of scrimmage to the his left, but that’s Russell Wilson for you. He’s an amazing athlete. (Oh, and he later caught a touchdown reception from Doug Baldwin, too!)
Please Allow Me To Introduce Myself…
A look at a previously unheralded player (or players) who popped this week:
Danielle Hunter, DE, Vikings: The 2015 third-round pick out of LSU had two huge sacks in the fourth quarter to help Minnesota hold off the Cardinals. Don’t look now, but Hunter now has seven sacks on the season.
Numbers sometimes lie
8: The number of sacks the Steelers had against the Browns. That doesn’t mean Pittsburgh’s pass rush or defense is suddenly good. It entered the game with an NFL-low 13 sacks. Call it the Browns effect.
Numbers sometimes don’t lie
9–0: The record of Colts QB Andrew Luck as a starter against the Titans. In his last five games, Luck has thrown for 1,428 yards 13 touchdowns and only one interception. The Adams family doesn’t own the Titans, Luck does.
After the whistle
Maybe I’m just a curmudgeon, but I still don’t like the new extra point rule, even after having an NFL-record 11 misses on Sunday. It doesn’t add anything to the game for me. Yes, it has absolutely made the point after a competitive play. But I don’t really recall there being an outcry from fans for that to happen. I was just fine going to the fridge after a touchdown and returning to the predictable seven points. I found great comfort adding and subtracting numbers that were mostly 7s and 3s, with the occasional 8 thrown in during the fourth quarter. Now I have to do trigonometry in the first quarter. I’m a writer, I only took one math class in college! No one told me there would be math on my weekly NFL test. In all seriousness, I don’t like seeing 11 players work their tails off to score a touchdown only to be let down by a player who was probably a better soccer player than football player at some point. I want the games to be decided by the highest paid and most gifted athletes in the game, not some guy brought off the street that week because the guy before him couldn’t handle making 33-yard field goals. Maybe I’m just slow to change, I don’t know. But that’s the way I feel.