There were three big games starting late Sunday afternoon and moving into prime-time, and for the most part, the games lived up to the stakes. The NFC South powers each made a statement and the AFC West tightened. Let’s start our recap of NFL Week 11 with the wild finish that went down in Charlotte last night…
Carolina 24 New England 20: Everyone is talking about the controversial officiating decision to wave off a pass interference penalty against Rob Gronkowski in the end zone on the game’s final play, on the grounds that the ball was uncatchable. Even neutral observers seem to believe New England was robbed, although I was rooting for the Pats and found the call quite defensible.
What I’m looking at is that this was just a great football game all the way around. Cam Newton played what has to be considered the best game of his career, considering the stakes. Newton was 19/28 for 209 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and took off on the ground for some big plays at key moments.
New England was in position to win a game on the road against the NFL’s hottest team, and had Stevan Ridley not fumbled in the Carolina red zone earlier in the game, the Pats would likely have only trailed by one and simply kicked a field goal to end the game.
The Patriots still lead the AFC East and are in good position to get a first-round bye in the AFC playoffs. Carolina strengthened its standing in the NFC wild-card picture and kept on New Orleans’ heels in the NFC South. On balance, just a great night of football.
Denver 27 Kansas City 17: The biggest thing that jumps out in this game is that Peyton Manning was not sacked once, in spite of playing against one of the NFL’s best pressure defenses. In spite of this, there were a lot of chances early in the game for the Chiefs to make some plays and even though they didn’t, it was still a 17-10 game at half. Overall, a strong showing for the Denver pass protection, but there’s no reason for Kansas City to feel overmatched when the teams play again in two weeks.
New Orleans 23 San Francisco 20: This was a game where New Orleans lost a couple fumbles and had a key drive midway through the fourth quarter bog down in the red zone, settling for three points, rather than seven. In other words, it’s a game that was there for San Francisco to take on the road. But they couldn’t run the ball, and the inadequacies of the receiving corps again was laid bare, as Colin Kaepernick’s 17/27 day could only generate 127 yards of passing offense.
A look at four division leaders who all won…
Seattle 41 Minnesota 20: The Vikings were able to contain the Seattle ground game, but Russell Wilson was efficient throwing the ball. Wilson finished 13/18 for 230 yards and spread the ball around, as the Seahawks took control of the game by midway through the second quarter.
Indianapolis 30 Tennessee 27: Ryan Fitzpatrick played very well, 22/28 for 222 yards and Tennessee got out front 14-0. The Colts answered with a well-balanced attack, as Andrew Luck played mistake-free, Donald Brown rushed for 80 yards and they eventually took a 30-20 lead before winning by three.
Cincinnati 41 Cleveland 20: Even though Cincinnati won, Andy Dalton continues to play poorly , his third straight bad performance. Dalton only threw for 93 yards and had two interceptions. Fortunately, Cleveland’s Jason Campbell was worse, tossing three interceptions. Leave it to the Browns to turn in a clunker like this just when they get on the verge of something significant.
Philadelphia 24 Washington 16: The Redskins ran the ball with Alfred Morris, but the Eagles answered with LeSean McCoy, and Philadelphia did everything else better. Nick Foles was efficient, while RG3 was erratic. The Eagle defense made clean tackles, while the Redskin defense allowed yards after the catch. Washington made a nice comeback attempt, and I love that RG3 keeps battling to the end every time I watch him play, but the heart couldn’t compensate for the shaky play for three quarters.
The AFC & NFC North Divisions had two interdivisional games, with first place up for grabs in the latter and playoff survival at stake in the former…
Pittsburgh 37 Detroit 27: Pittsburgh didn’t turn the ball over and got a huge game from Ben Roethlisberger, who went 29/45 for 367 yards, consistently finding Antonio Brown and Heath Miller in the passing game. The Lions fall to 6-4 and lose the outright lead in the NFC North. And the Steelers are now 4-6, tied with Baltimore and Cleveland and only a game back in the race for the final playoff berth.
Chicago 23 Baltimore 20 (OT): Baltimore got the running game going, with Ray Rice rushing for 131 yards, and the pass protection was better against the disappointing Chicago defense. But Joe Flacco continues to disappoint, throwing two interceptions and being outplayed by Josh McCown who led the Bears into a tie for first. The Ravens drop to 4-6.
More games with playoff implications…
Buffalo 37 NY Jets 14: All the Jets needed was for TheSportsNotebook to write nice things about them last week, especially their defense. The result is that E.J. Manuel looks like Jim Kelly, while Geno Smith throws three interceptions in a game that got ugly by halftime. The positive for New York is Chris Ivory continued to run the ball well, accruing 98 yards.
Miami 20 San Diego 16: The Chargers must have wanted to wake up the echoes of the Norv Turner era, committing ten penalties and bogging down in the red zone twice, as they kicked away a game they had to have. Miami stays alive by getting to 5-5.
Arizona 27 Jacksonville 14: A lot of kudos to Carson Palmer, who went 30/42 for 419 yards, and to Michael Floyd who caught six passes for 193 yards. But where is the running game? These teams combined for 46 yards rushing. Arizona gets to 6-4, but if you can’t run on Jacksonville, what does that say about your long-term ability to keep winning?
NY Giants 27 Green Bay 13: If you watch Packer backup quarterback Scott Tolzien play-to-play, he looks fine and that stats back that up, as he went 24/34 for 339 yards. But Tolzien hasn’t gotten past the big mistake. He threw a big interception last week on the goal line against Philadelphia, and threw three in this one, including one that ended up in the hands of Jason Pierre-Paul for an easy touchdown. New York continues to have the most unimpressive four-game winning streak possible.
Oakland 28 Houston 23: Rashad Jennings ran for 150 yards, as the Raiders churn out a road win, and at 4-6 are still lurking in the AFC playoff race.
And we close with our one game that had no implications…
Tampa Bay 41 Atlanta 28: I know the Falcons have injuries, but this is ridiculous. Tampa’s win was more decisive than the score makes it appear, and Bobby Rainey ran wild, 163 yards on 30 carries.