NFL Recap: Week 11
By: Andrew Ziemba
As we draw closer to playoff time, teams begin to ramp up their play to make that final push for a spot at the table, or simply to not be on the same list as the 1960 Dallas Cowboys, the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the 1982 Baltimore Colts and the 2008 Detroit Lions (for those who don’t know, that’s the 0 wins club). This amped up level of competition made for a great slate of games this weekend. Let’s review.
Miami and Buffalo kicked off the week with a Thursday night game that had enormous playoff implications, something a Bills-Dolphins game has not meant in a very long time. Thanks to two solid second-half touchdown drives led by Ryan Tannehill and Buffalo’s inability to find the endzone, the Dolphins now are looking like serious candidates for the second Wild Card spot in the AFC. They came out on top, 22-9. The Bills, on the other side, would have to win every single remaining game to be considered for a playoff spot, but with no solid healthy starter at running back and heavyweight road trips to Denver and New England, hopes seem low for them to bring that 15-year playoff drought to an end. (Fun fact: when standout rookie WR Sammy Watkins has over 30 yards receiving, the Bills are 5-1. When he is under that mark, they are 0-4.)
Sunday had plenty of games with playoff hopefuls competing as well. The defending champion Seahawks visited the up and coming Chiefs, who rode the back of RB Jamaal Charles (159 yards, 2 touchdowns) to a 24-20 victory. The teams look evenly matched for the entire game, potentially alluding to a future meeting in the winter. The highly touted Seattle defense was largely ineffective in this game, recording only 2 defended passes, and no sacks, in addition to allowing Chiefs QB Alex Smith to complete 68.75% of his passes.
The other contenders from last year’s Super Bowl, the offensively gifted Denver Broncos, fell to the perpetually-middling St. Louis Rams on Sunday, 22-7. This is the first time in the Peyton Manning era that Denver has not scored 21 points or more, which may have been caused by a plethora of injuries suffered in the game, including WR Emmanuel Sanders, TE Julius Thomas, and RB Montee Ball. Rams QB Austin Davis was benched in favor of veteran Shaun Hill, after Davis committed several critical errors, and Hill performed respectably well in the win, throwing 20-29 for 220 yards and a touchdown.
After losing quarterback Carson Palmer to season-ending knee injury last weekend, many people were not sure how the Cardinals would respond, especially with a playoff-caliber team like the Detroit Lions coming to town. They responded in winning fashion, however, holding Detroit to just 2 field goals, as well as zero points in the second half. Final score 14-6. Arizona QB Drew Stanton had a solid outing in relief of Palmer, passing for 306 yards and 2 touchdowns, though neither were thrown to former Pitt Panther Larry Fitzgerald, who still has only reached the endzone twice this season.
A visit to the Superdome in New Orleans does not usually bode well for teams, but for the second time this year, a team found a way to hand the Saints an uncommon home loss, their second in as many weeks. That team was the Cincinnati Bengals, who are hoping to lay claim to the top spot in the wide-open AFC North. The Bengals offense fired on all cylinders on Sunday, having both a rusher (Jeremy Hill) and receiver (AJ Green) over 125 yards and a quarterback (Andy Dalton) with 3 touchdown passes and no interceptions. They won handily, 27-10.
In a highly anticipated matchup of NFC contenders, the Eagles fell short to a Packers team that has laid the lumber on their opposition in the past two weeks, scoring over 50 points in those games. Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers has looked pumped up in this stretch as well, especially on Sunday, as he hit three different receivers for touchdowns and posted 340 yards against a fairly stout Philadelphia secondary. The Packers defense was just as much of a contributor to the score, forcing 4 turnovers, compiling 3 sacks, and scoring two touchdowns. 2nd game Eagles starter Mark Sanchez did not play awfully however, posting 346 yards and 2 touchdown passes. Final score, 53-20.
For the night game, we were treated to a matchup of former AFC East rivals New England and Indianapolis. Both teams have looked solid since slow starts, so naturally there was a lot of hype surrounding the contest. The Patriots, however, brought a secret weapon with them to Lucas Oil Stadium, an undrafted RB making only his fourth appearance in the NFL, his first coming this year, on October 16th. Jonas Gray, who last played football in 2011 for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, exploded on Sunday night, rushing for 199 yards and a franchise-record 4 touchdowns. The Colts, no matter how they tried, simply could not compete with the amount of points New England was putting up. Indy quarterback Andrew Luck, however, extended his streak of 300-yard passing games to eight: one short of Drew Brees’ NFL record, which Brees has accomplished twice (2011-12 and 2012-13). Patriots win 42-20.
The Monday night game featured the hometown Steelers’ trip down south to take on the Tennessee Titans. Both teams looked evenly matched for much of the game, but Pittsburgh staged an impressive second half rally to take sole possession of 2nd place in the AFC North as they head into the bye. RB Le’Veon Bell ran for 204 yards (the highest single game amount this season) and a touchdown. The Titans looked solid for much of the game, sacking Ben Roethlisberger five times and picking him off in the end zone, but they ultimately blew a 24-13 lead to earn their fourth consecutive loss. Final score: 27-24 Steelers.