Here is what we’ve learned so far from Sunday’s Week 11 games:
1. Chants of “MVP, MVP, MVP” rained down from a giddy M&T Bank Stadium crowd as Lamar Jackson bedeviled the Texans‘ defense time and time again. The QB began the game with a sleepy start, going 1-of-6 passing in a scoreless first quarter. Jackson then woke up, and the Texans D with no pass rush had zero answers for the MVP candidate. The second-year passer completed 13 straight passes with three TDs during a stretch that ran from the opening of the second quarter through three minutes left in the third. After several early deep shots were off the mark, the Ravens rode a diverse ground game and a gaggle of Jackson short shots to dice up an injury-riddled Texans defense. Jackson once again fired precision BBs between the numbers to a bevy of targets — nine different Ravens players caught passes. The deep splash shots were absent today, but Baltimore didn’t need them. The QB got through his reads with aplomb, letting his targets do the work in space. Jackson added another highlight-reel run looking like a Mike Vick redux, dashing through and around Texans defenders for a 39-yard scamper that put a stamp on the blowout. The MVP candidate generated 308 total yards (222 passing with four TD tosses; 86 rushing), before sitting out the final 7:05. Once more, Jackson and the Ravens‘ offense showed they’re a bewildering force that stupefies defenses.
2. The Ravens defense smothered, walloped and discombobulated Deshaun Watson all game. The quarterback rarely dropped back to throw without getting hit, sacked, or having a defender in his grill. A first-possession fumble in which Watson was trying to spin wizardry made a loud statement from the Baltimore D: There will be no magic today. And there wasn’t. For the day the Houston offense earned a brutal 4.1 yards per play. Watson was sacked six times and completed just 18-of-29 for 169 yards, zero scores and an INT. He looked as unsettled as he has all season, leading to a bevy of missed throws low. Mercifully, Watson was given the final four minutes of the blowout off. For the first time in 31 starts in his NFC career, a Watson-led team was shut out in the first half. Also for the first time in Watson’s career, his team lost by two scores in the regular season. In a game billed as Watson vs. Jackson, the latter won the bout with flying colors. While the seven total sacks stand out for Baltimore, credit the Ravens secondary for suffocating everything downfield. Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Peters, Brandon Carr and Jimmy Smith gave Watson zero openings, latching onto Texans targets like caterpillars to leaves. The lock-down secondary allowed DC Don Martindale to bring a bevy of rushes into Watson’s lap play after play. Martindale’s unit is only getting better as we press toward the postseason.
3. The rout pushes Baltimore’s record to 8-2, giving it a death-grip on the AFC North, with a three-game advantage in the loss column in the division. Sunday’s blowout was the latest stomping of an AFC division leader. Even with tough tilts against the Rams and 49ers on tap the next two weeks, John Harbaugh’s team is in prime positioning to get a week off in January. The Texans‘ loss, coupled with an Indianapolis win, underscores a brutal day for Houston (6-4) as they now fall behind the Colts in the division race. With a rematch with Indy on tap next week for supremacy in the AFC South, Watson & Co. will have to shake off the loss quickly.
— Kevin Patra
1. The Colts on Sunday more than any other day this season realized where their strength lies: up front. Frank Reich’s offense trusted that reality and rode it to a victory, pounding the ball relentlessly and racking up 264 yards on the ground. Marlon Mack gained 109 yards and scored an incredible, tackling-breaking touchdown before exiting with an injury in the second half, and Jonathan Williams picked up the slack, gaining 116 yards on 13 carries in his best outing of his career, helping the Colts chew clock with a comfortable lead late.
That running game was Jacoby Brissett‘s best friend in his first game back since injuring his knee in Week 9, helping power an offense that wasn’t forced to rely too much on Brissett. And when he needed to make a play, he made them, completing an athletic touchdown pass on fourth and goal and running one in himself to salt away the win with almost an entire quarter to play.
It’s no surprise that the Colts are better with Brissett on the field. But they’re pretty darn good when they ride their mauling offensive line to a big day on the ground, too.
2. Sunday afforded us the first opportunity to see Nick Foles in a full game’s worth of action, and after a strong start, well, there wasn’t much else to write home about. Foles is operating without the benefit of half of a season of working with his targets, who are still new to him, seeing as he only arrived in Jacksonville in the offseason. That produced a performance in which Foles too often looked directly to D.J. Chark, which gave him an early touchdown pass but not much else.
Foles targeted Chark 15 times, twice as many as the next closest pass-catching option until the two-minute warning (Chris Conley was targeted an eighth time with 1:55 remaining and the game out of hand). Chark caught eight of them for 104 yards, but often was tasked with attempting to catch passes from Foles while double-covered. It was only right, then, that Foles found Chark for a garbage-time touchdown, but had his two-point conversion pass attempt intercepted.
Jacksonville is likely happy to have Foles back, but getting him back in Week 11 guarantees growing pains at an inopportune time in the season.
3. Sunday’s game was just one game, and one loss, but Jacksonville had the look of a team that’s more likely to finish 7-9 and look competitive for most of it than finish 9-7 and rise out of the morass that is the AFC South. It’s not something Jags fans want to hear, of course, and it could be wrong, but on Sunday, Indianapolis (6-4) was the superior team.
The Colts won up front, stood tall in key situations defensively and made the most of their trips to opposing territory, especially in the second half, with Brissett scoring twice from inside Jacksonville’s 5 in game-swaying situations. They still have their own kinks to work out — the first two quarters, especially the second’s final few minutes, were a mess — but Sunday gave us our first illustration of legitimate separation in the division between the two teams. The Jaguars (4-6) will have to work doubly as hard to attempt to close that gap in their final six games.
— Nick Shook
1. A standard and predictable Cowboys lambasting of an overmatched opponent went off script thanks to a valiant effort via a depleted Lions contingent. Inevitably, though, Dallas delivered its prognosticated result as Dak Prescott dialed up his third 400-yard game of the season for a 35-27 win on the road against the Lions, who, pesky as they were, dropped their third in a row and sixth of the last seven. The Cowboys (6-4), who are now 5-1 against squads with losing records, struggled from the onset against the Lions (3-6-1), who took an early lead and threatened late before Prescott’s 23-yard completion to Blake Jarwin allowed the visitors to kneel away the game. It was Prescott’s final pass in a sterling effort that saw him throw for 444 yards, three touchdowns (to separate receiver) with no turnovers and a 116.6 rating. Detroit offered up the 30th-ranked defense coming in and in that regard, Prescott’s phenomenal afternoon was foreshadowed, even if the close result perhaps was not. Nonetheless, the Cowboys are leading the NFC East and Prescott is leading the way, at least on this Sunday.
2. Who saw that start coming? On the second play of the game, Ezekiel Elliott fumbled away possession on the Cowboys 28-yard-line. Then, the vaunted Jeff Driskel (three total touchdowns) and Bo Scarbrough-led Lions marched for six on the Cowboys. Just a day earlier, Scarbrough was promoted from the practice squad and he promptly shined in his first-ever NFL action against the team that drafted him in the seventh round in 2018. Just a week earlier, Driskel, a fourth-year quarterback, made his first-ever start. The early 7-0 Lions lead was short-lived, but their fight was not as they led again 14-10 in the second quarter and a pair of Marvin Jones TD grabs made this a game for 60 minutes. Detroit battled back and forth with a first-place squad as it fell further into last in the NFC North. Driskel led the Lions in their efforts to put up a good fight, but on the day in which it was reported that Matthew Stafford could miss another six weeks, there’s hardly a pleasant forecast for Detroit, tenacious as its effort was upon this Sunday.
3. Thanks no doubt to the due diligence of Darius Slay, Amari Cooper had an ordinary afternoon of three catches for 38 yards. It simply opened up Michael Gallup (nine catches for 148 yards) and Randall Cobb (four catches for 115 yards and a score) for huge outings. Cobb looked like the Cobb of his prime days in Green Bay. Gallup, having already surpassed his numbers in receptions, yards and touchdowns from his rookie season, continues to round into prime form, as he caught a career-best nine balls and tallied his third 100-yard game of the season.
“It was a collective effort,” Prescott told Pam Oliver after the game. “Our guys beat man coverage. That’s what they had to do and that’s what they did.”
— Grant Gordon
1. Maybe it’s been the divisional bragging rights or the desire to save face in the midst of a poor season. Whatever the case may be, the Falcons defense has looked a lot less weak and a lot more wiry as of late, and Week 11 was more of the same. For the first time this season, the Falcons shutout their opponent in the first half, this coming a week after keeping the high-powered Saints offense out of the end zone in a 26-9 victory. The tone was set out of the gate on Carolina’s third play of the game when Takk McKinley registered a QB hit on Kyle Allen, forcing him to make an ill-advised pass that turned into a De’Vondre Campbell fingertip interception. Defensive end Vic Beasley ended Carolina’s second drive on third down with a sack for a loss of 13 yards while McKinley stalled the next drive with a sack of his own. All six of Carolina’s first-half drives ended in either a punt or a pick; cornerback Desmond Trufant — in his first appearance since Week 5 — snagged one of those INTs on a pass intended for DJ Moore in the back of the end zone early in the second. Safety Ricardo Allen (six combined tackles, INT, three pass deflections) and CB Isaiah Oliver (two PDs) also provided solid coverage all day and limited Carolina’s vertical game, a good sign for new secondary coach Raheem Morris, who was recently reassigned from overseeing the receivers. The job the D-line did on Christian McCaffrey (14 carries, 70 yards) and Allen (five sacks, four INTs, 11 QB hits) only further cemented what amounted to another impressive day for the better-late-than-never Falcons (3-7).
2. In his first five career starts, all Kyle Allen did was win, win, win, no matter what. After today’s 29-3 loss to the Falcons, those days are now starting to feel like nothing but a distant memory with Carolina (5-5) being on the losing end of three of its last four and the 23-year-old QB struggling mightily under center (3-9 TD-INT ratio in that span). Against a resurging Falcons defense, Allen completed 31 of his 50 attempts for 325 yards (47.5 passer rating) and finished with zero TDs (for the third time in 2019) and four picks, his second multi-INT game in four weeks. As he’s done on numerous occasions, McCaffrey led the team in receiving yards (11/121) but a good portion of those came either when the game was out of reach or on short Allen dump-offs when the Panthers were already far behind the sticks. McCaffrey did make history in the defeat, moving into first all-time for most receptions by a RB in his first three seasons, per NFL Research, but the effort was poor all-around for the slumping Panthers.
3. Playing well in all three phases is a weekly talking point for every coach; the Falcons completely lived up to that expectation in today’s win. A 38-yard Younghoe Koo field goal closed an eight-play, 55-yard opening drive; Koo went 3-of-4 on the day. Running back Kenjon Barner, who played for the Panthers three separate times — including a 2018 stint — in his seven-year career, earned a measure of payback against his former team with a career-best 78-yard punt return to the house to close the first quarter. Matt Ryan (21-of-31, 311 yards, TD) did his part, connecting with Calvin Ridley eight times for a game-high 143 yards and his lone TD. Julio Jones chipped in a solid 91 yards on six catches, and RB Qadree Ollison chipped in a rushing TD to put Atlanta up 20-0 to end the first half. Not having Austin Hooper or Devonta Freeman could have proved troublesome but the load was carried well by Ryan, his wideouts, a committee of RBs and an on-point outing on special teams.
— Jelani Scott
1. Strong arm, fleet feet, a one-man adventure poised for the unpredictable, Josh Allen put forth what is likely his finest NFL performance yet. With one on the ground and three through the air, Allen had four touchdowns as the Bills did what they were supposed to do and won their AFC East tilt against the host Dolphins, 37-20. Allen had no turnovers, adding a season-high 56 yards rushing to an all-together efficient line of 21-for-33 for 256 yards and a 117.7 rating. The former first-round pick played as such on this Sunday. Sure, it was against the Dolphins (2-8), but the Bills (7-3) and their young gunslinger took care of business as they should have and kept pace with the division-leading Patriots and more importantly stayed in line for a postseason bid. It’s hard to predict a day when Allen won’t offer up an uncertain afternoon, but on this day he was efficient and still exciting. As the franchise aims for a playoff return, its supposed franchise quarterback is taking steps into the right direction to become just that.
2. It matters not what your record is, it matters not what the score is. If you’ve got Ryan Fitzpatrick, it’s going to be a roller coaster and you’re going to keep on coming. Down 16-0, the Dolphins found pay dirt when Fitzpatrick threw for 65 yards on a drive to set up a Kalen Ballage touchdown. The Dolphins followed that up with a surprise onside kick that kicker Jason Sanders recovered himself. The ensuing drive went awry with an Allen Hurns fumble, but Miami just kept coming. Jakeem Grant had a 101-yard kick return for a touchdown and added a rushing score. Against a bruising Bills defense, Fitzpatrick was sacked seven times, but the marvelous bearded wonder of a QB kept on getting up. This will be a forgotten Dolphins season in the hopes of leading to memorable ones down the line, but every once in a while a tip of the cap is warranted for effort, even at this, the highest of levels. Fitzpatrick and those he’s leading keep on keeping on. Here’s that tip of the cap.
3. Just as Allen had his best outing to date, Bills wideout John Brown had his best game this season and continued to put together a campaign that demands notice, whether he’s tucked away in Buffalo or not. Brown posted season-highs of nine catches for 137 yards and, for just the second time in his career, had two touchdowns. Brown’s 14 targets were more than double any other Bill. He and Allen clearly have chemistry, and the Bills are seeing clearer now that they have a bona fide No. 1 wide receiver.
— Grant Gordon
1. It was a tale of two halves in Minneapolis on Sunday. The Vikings‘ offense stalled out in the first half and was plagued with miscues. Five of Minnesota’s seven first-half drives ended in punts and Kirk Cousins and Co. couldn’t get rolling against a feisty Broncos defense. In the first half, the Vikings totaled an embarrassing 47 total yards of offense as Dalvin Cook was stifled at line. Heading into the half, the chances of a Vikings comeback seemed bleak and the team was met by hordes of boos from its home crowd displeased with a mediocre showing. But the Vikings magically came alive in the second half and overcame a 20-0 deficit, scoring on each of their four drives in the second half. Cousins was 29-of-35 for 319 yards on the day, spreading the ball around as the team became more desperate, connecting with Stefon Diggs (5 receptions, 121 yards), Kyle Rudolph (5 receptions, 67 yards) and Irv Smith (3 receptions, 20 yards) on TDs. The signal caller was once again without Adam Thielen today, who was inactive due to a hamstring injury. Minnesota’s comeback is certainly impressive after their first-half pummeling. But the Vikings (8-3) seem to still struggle balancing the run and passing game.
2. Broncos quarterback Brandon Allen had a solid showing in the first half, pushing Denver to a 20-0 lead at the half. Courtland Sutton had five receptions for 113 receiving yards and tossed a 38-yard bomb to Tim Patrick late in the second quarter. Patrick, who amassed 77 receiving yards in the tilt, exited with a shoulder injury before returning in the second half. Allen also lost another target in his offense when Andy Janovich left with what looked to be a serious elbow injury. I’m not sure what happened at halftime, but the Broncos‘ play-calling went into the upside down. With the Vikings driving down and scoring on each drive, the Broncos had their backs against the wall. When it came down to it, the Broncos‘ offense couldn’t get it done. Incomplete passes and poor clock management plagued Denver once again on Sunday. Mike Zimmer even bailed out Denver by calling a timeout with seconds left in the game as the Broncos scrambled to get to the line after a short pass. Prior to the tilt, NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported that Phillip Lindsay was slated to receive the bulk of the carries going forward. Lindsay finished the day with 67 rushing yards on 16 carries along with 8 receiving yards on two catches. As the Broncos (3-7) proceed with Allen (or possibly Drew Lock), it will be interesting to see how Lindsay is used going forward.
3. After giving up a 20-point lead, Von Miller‘s latest milestone was lost in the shuffle. Miller sacked Kirk Cousins in the first quarter, marking the 50th quarterback Miller has sacked in his NFL career. It was also Miller’s fifth sack on the season. Elsewhere in notable stats, Dalvin Cook became the eighth player in Vikings history to rush for 1,000 yards in a single season and the first to do so since Adrian Peterson in 2015.
— Andie Hagemann