The Week that was: Week 11 in the NFL
What a wild, wild world the NFL is. You never know from week to week what could happen, either with teams, injuries, personnel changes, rumors, speculation and a myriad of other issues. Week eleven has been another whirlwind, and if it’s any indication of the future, there could be a wild month and a half left of regular season football to play.
We’ll start with the two teams that were undefeated coming into the week, the Saints and the Colts. Both teams were 9-0 coming in, and both teams were 10-0 after Sunday, though they took two distinctly different paths to get there. The Saints had an easy time rolling over the Bucs, who after playing well the last couple weeks, fell flat on their faces against Drew Brees and company, getting walloped 38-7. Meanwhile, the Colts had to deal with a rough and tumble Ravens team playing for their playoff lives. Billy Cundiff booted five field goals for Baltimore, but missed one, and Joe Flacco tossed an interception deep in Indianapolis territory late in the fourth quarter, allowing the Colts to escape with a 17-15 win. It is not the first time the Colts have been tested or had to win ugly: you recall they beat the 49ers on a Joseph Addai touchdown pass, and needed Kris Brown to miss a field goal at the final gun to avoid overtime against the Texans. That doesn’t even take last week’s New England game into consideration, when the Colts rallied from down big in the fourth quarter.
On the flip side of undefeated is complete and total suckitude. That is what the league brought to the table at Ford Field in Detroit, as the 1-8 Browns traveled to the Motor City to take on the 1-8 Lions. Surprisingly, this game was an offensive bonanza, as young gunslingers Brady Quinn and Matthew Stafford racked up yards and points by the truckload. Quinn threw for four scores, Stafford five in a game that came down to the final play, and then one. Hank Poteat was called for pass interference on a Hail Mary with the Browns leading 37-31, giving the Lions one untimed down at the one yard line. The Browns called time out, giving a battered Stafford time to recover and he came back to throw the winning score to Brandon Pettigrew. Jason Hanson’s extra point was the difference as the Lions picked up win number 2 on the season 38-37.
The Bills fired their head coach Dick Jauron last week and elevated defensive coordinator Perry Fewell to the position, the first black head coach in the history of the franchise. The Bills suffered more injuries, including rookie offensive lineman Eric Wood. who broke his leg early in the fourth quarter. They lost Marshawn Lynch to a shoulder injury right before halftime. Trent Edwards was benched for Ryan Fitzpatrick, and for once, the Bills offense showed signs of life. They broke the 300 yard barrier for the first time since week two, and Fitzpatrick hooked up with Terrell Owens on the longest play from scrimmage in the history of the franchise with a 98 yard touchdown pass that gave the Bills a 15-10 lead.
They even bottled up Maurice Jones-Drew, who gained just 66 yards on the ground on 25 carries, though he did score his league leading 13th touchdown. However, like games against New England and Cleveland, the Bills couldn’t hold late, and David Garrard led the Jaguars down the field to a game winning score with less than a minute to go as the Jags won 18-15. It was a gritty performance by the Bills, who, nonetheless, fell to 3-7. The disappointing thing for the Bills is that they’ve led, tied or been within striking distance going to the fourth quarter in six of their seven losses. Just look at the numbers:
Week 1 @ New England: led 17-10 going to fourth quarter, 24-13 with 5:32 remaining…LOST 25-24
Week 3 vs. New Orleans: trailed 10-7 going to fourth quarter…LOST 27-7
Week 5 vs. Cleveland: tied 3-3 going to fourth quarter…LOST 6-3
Week 8 vs. Houston: led 10-9 going to fourth quarter…LOST 31-10
Week 10 @ Tennessee: tied 17-17 going to fourth quarter…LOST 41-17
Week 11 @ Jacksonville: led 15-10 going to fourth quarter…LOST 18-15
Say the Bills win the three games they were leading after three quarters and even ONE of the three they were tied in…instead of 3-7, they’re 7-3. Just goes to show you what happens when you can’t close out games. With Miami, the Jets and Kansas City on the horizon, it will be interesting what the Bills do going forward.
Speaking of those teams, Miami continued to try and climb their way back out of their 0-3 start with a 24-17 win over Carolina Thursday night thanks to Ricky Williams carrying the load. Williams will need to do the heavy lifting for the Fins offense with the loss of Ronnie Brown for the season with a knee injury. Meanwhile, the Jets, after starting 3-0, lost for the sixth time in seven games with a 31-14 pasting at the hands of the New England Patriots. While Darrelle Revis did shut down Randy Moss (5 catches for 31 yards and a touchdown), Wes Welker carved up the Jets with a career best 15 catches for 192 yards, which was massively beneficial for my fantasy team.
In the strange outcomes of the week, two AFC North toughies went to play two AFC West bottom feeders on the road, and ironically, both came up on the losing end. The Steelers lost Ben Roethlisberger to a head injury, then Charlie Batch to a wrist injury, then the game to Kansas City 27-24 in overtime. Batch will need surgery on his wrist and miss six weeks, Roethlisberger is awaiting further test results. That leaves Dennis Dixon, he of one career pass attempt in the league as the lone healthy option at the second.
Meanwhile, in Oakland, with a chance to really lock the division down, the Bengals fumbled away their chances, giving up 10 points in the final 33 seconds to Oakland, a team that hadn’t scored that many points in their last seven fourth quarters COMBINED, to drop a 20-17 decision to the Raiders. With that win, the Raiders improved to 10-0 against the Bengals in Oakland. Figure that out…the Bengals unable to win in Oaktown. Who would have guessed that? Carson Palmer became the first Bengal QB since Jack Thompson in 1979 to run for two TDs in one game, but he fumbled twice, losing one. Andre Caldwell coughed up the kick return following the tying touchdown, which came on a pass from Bruce Gradkowski to Louis Murphy.
In other action, the Giants ended their four game losing skid with a 34-31 overtime win over the Falcons, in a game that they let a 14 point lead slip away in the final six minutes. Eli Manning threw for 384 yards for the G men, who still really don’t look anywhere near the team that won their first five games of the season. One has to wonder if the result would have been different if Michael Turner wasn’t out for Atlanta with that ankle injury, as it seemed that the Falcons offense really misses his big play ability, both last week against Carolina and then this week.
The Cowboys looked anemic again on offense, scoring just seven points for the second consecutive week, in the fourth quarter with about three minutes to go. Fortunately for Dallas, that was enough to get by this week, as they edged the Redskins 7-6. The Redskins lost their second running back, Ladell Betts, for the season with torn knee ligaments, forcing Rock Cartwright into action. Shawn Suisham, who hadn’t missed a kick all season, missed a pair of field goals in this one, which could have given Washington the upset. Tough break for coach Jim Zorn, who really is taking a beating in the press, which will most likely intensify with this result.
The Packers beat the 49ers 30-24 but lost Al Harris and Aaron Kampman to season ending injuries. The Vikings steamrolled the Seahawks 38-9 in a game that no one was surprised by as the Seahawks continue to fall. The Bears took another hit to their playoff hopes with a 24-20 loss to the Eagles, in a game that SURPRISE! ended in a Jay Cutler interception, his eighteenth of the season.
In one of the bigger games Sunday, the Broncos fell on their face for the fourth consecutive week, getting waxed 32-3 by the Chargers, who now have taken over sole possession of first place in the AFC West with their fifth consecutive victory. After starting 6-0 with wins over teams like Cincinnati, New England, and Dallas, the Broncos have been whipped by Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Washington and San Diego. There is more infighting with the Broncos than actual on field fight for the opposition. It looks like a replay of so many late season collapses by the Broncos, who need to figure something out and fast if they are going to have a chance to right the ship. They play the Giants Thanksgiving night.
With six weeks to go, there still are spots up for grabs. Who will make the plays necessary to make the postseason and who will fall short? With Cleveland and Tampa the lone one win teams left, who will end up with the top overall draft choice? Will more coaches fall by the wayside when the curtail falls at the end of the season? Where will guys like Bill Cowher, Mike Shanahan, Jim Fassel, Brian Billick, Herm Edwards or other well known coaches land? What about Mike Vick and his potential new landing places for 2010? There are so many questions left to be answered that despite the fact that there are so many teams that have no shot, mine included, that you have to be compelled to tune in and find out what might be coming next.