Week 11 of the NFL was full of drama both on and off the field, so let’s get right to the biggest stories of this past weekend.
Philly soars and Dallas sputters: The Philadelphia Eagles outclassed the Cowboys in Dallas this past Sunday, handing America’s Team one of its worst home losses at Jerry’s World, with a 37-9 blowout win over the defending NFC East champs. The Eagles defense was spectacular, holding the dangerous Dallas offense to only 225 yards of total offense and goading them into four turnovers, including three interceptions from Dak Prescott. The Eagles offense shut out Dallas 30-0 in the second half after trailing the Cowboys 9-7 at halftime despite the fact they were forced to make due without kicker Jake Elliott, who was ruled out of the game with a head injury. Elliot’s absence forced the Eagles to go for 2-point conversions after every touchdown instead of the standard extra point, with Philadelphia converting three out of four tries. Chip Kelly would be proud.
Philadelphia secured their eighth straight win, which is tied with New Orleans for the longest streak in the NFL, and also pulled four games clear of the second-place Cowboys in the division, with six games left to play. Philadelphia now sits at 9-1 and looks to be gaining strength with the return of cornerback Ronald Darby, who had an interception in his first game back, and the addition of Jay Ajayi, who ripped off a huge 71-yard run Sunday. The team’s confidence is sky high right now and are clearly the heavy favorites to clinch the number one seed in the NFC.
Meanwhile, Dallas appears shockingly vulnerable going forward and their playoff chances have taken a huge dip in only a few weeks. The suspension of star tailback Ezekiel Elliott on Endor certainly has hampered the Cowboys’ offense but the more important absence is that of Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith. Elliott’s backup Alfred Morris has been serviceable for Dallas and Smith’s replacement, Byron Bell, is more effective run blocking so it has really come down to pass protection for the Cowboys. Smith had protected Prescott’s blind side effectively all season long and is the foundation upon which both the run and passing attack is built on. Without Smith, the Cowboys offense simply falls apart. Don’t believe me? Allow me to raise you one Chaz Green.
On Sunday, Prescott clearly didn’t trust his offensive line and as a result he rushed through his progressions and proved incapable of establishing any kind of rhythm. The 2016 Rookie of The Year turned in one of the worst performances of his career, as he put up a very Blake Bortles-like stat line, throwing for a meager 145 yards and three interceptions along with a fumble that was returned for a touchdown. Prescott has been solid this season but he hasn’t taken that “next step” that Dallas needs from their young signal caller, especially with the absence of Elliott and Smith. His numbers are down this year, from 23 touchdowns, four interceptions and a 68 percent completion percentage to 16 TDs, 7 interceptions and a completion percentage of 63. The numbers are still better than average and Prescott is the QB of the future for Dallas, but he’s still got a hill to climb before we can consider him an elite player in the NFL. But with a messy NFC Wild Card picture, Dallas is still very much in the hunt for a postseason berth but they don’t resemble a Super Bowl contender either.
The AFC West is a joke: So the Oakland Raiders got embarrassed by the New England Patriots in Mexico City, the Kansas City Chiefs lost to the free falling New York Giants and the Denver Broncos lost to Cincinnati, firing their offensive coordinator shortly after. The only team from the division that won a game was the Los Angeles Chargers and that’s only because they got to face Mark Sanchez in disguise. Someone will have to gain control of this division but it’s going to be ugly and probably pointless, kind of like “Justice League.” Whether it’s Kansas City or LA or (gasp) the Raiders, it’s more than likely that these one of these sorry teams are ultimately going to serve as a doormat for the Steelers or Patriots on their way to the Super Bowl.
Currently, the Chiefs are at the top of the division but it just feels wrong that a team that lost to Ben McAdoo should be in first place, let alone make the playoffs. Andy Reid always has to have his teams show such promise early in the season, only to have them suffer some horrible losses by the middle of the year, then somehow squeak into the postseason and of course inevitably lose to Pittsburgh or New England. Rinse. Repeat. I should’ve seen this coming but I really thought that this might be the year Alex Smith and Eric Berry finally put it together but when you lose 12-9 to this guy?! I’M OUT.
And remember before the season when everybody was buzzing about the Raiders as a dark horse Super Bowl contender? Last year they were the feel good story of the NFL, finishing 12-4 behind bright young quarterback Derek Carr and defensive player of the year Khalil Mack, and were well on their way to challenging for AFC supremacy. The signing of hometown hero Marshawn Lynch kept the good vibes going and Raider Nation hadn’t been this excited since Rich “The Cannon” Gannon was slinging it to Jerry Rice. Things haven’t exactly gone to plan since the season started. The defense, which was already a question mark heading into this year, ranks near the bottom of the league and the offense only put up eight points against a defense that sucks even more than their own! Also, the president expressed vexation with Oakland’s starting running back.
2017 — what a year.
In Denver, offensive coordinator Mike McCoy may be gone but the hellish quarterback trio of Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler and Paxton Lynch isn’t. Firing the OC doesn’t solve the fundamental issue here, which is that there is no viable starting quarterback on this roster and that failure ultimately falls on the shoulders of GM John Elway. He’s proved incapable of filling the shoes of Peyton Manning since they won the Super Bowl two years ago, and has gone through a laundry list of coaches under his watch. The defense is the only thing keeping this team from becoming the New York Giants, and yet Elway thought it was wise to call his team “soft” which prompted veteran cornerback Chris Harris Jr. to rebuke that “Everyone in this organization is accountable for how we’re playing right now. Ain’t nothing soft in my bones.” I’m sure this will end well.
We all should’ve heeded Homer Simpson’s words.
Elsewhere: The New Orleans Saints won their eighth straight game in thrilling fashion, defeating the Washington Redskins 34-31 in overtime. New Orleans stormed back from 15 points down with less than three minutes left in the fourth quarter, led by the heroics of Drew Brees, a terrible intentional grounding call on Kirk Cousins and the old sports truth that Washington, D.C., teams always choke. Everything is rosy right now in the Big Easy, but the Saints did suffer a major setback on Sunday with the injury to edge rusher Alex Okafor, who is out for the remainder of the season with a torn achilles. Okafor was a huge factor in the Saints’ improved defense, balancing out fellow pass rusher and former Bear Cameron Jordan, coming up with 4.5 sacks and playing on nearly all defensive snaps. This is a huge loss for the Saints but the rest of the defense has been playing well so we’ll see if they can overcome this injury.
The Vikings won again, rolling over the upstart LA Rams and moved to 8-2, looking very much like the rightful kings of the NFC North. Minnesota’s top-five defense shut down Jared Goff and Todd Gurley, while Case Keenum turned in another solid performance and Latavius Murray ran for 95 yards and two touchdowns. Adam Thielen has established a nice connection with Keenum this season, as he put up another great performance, finishing Sunday with six receptions for 123 yards and a touchdown. Thielen already has 62 receptions and 916 yards with three touchdowns, thanks to his crisp route running. He’s proved himself a reliable target in Minnesota’s passing attack and Thielen is well on his way to a Pro Bowl selection this season.
The Packers got shutout at Lambeau for the first time since 2006, Aaron Jones is facing several charges after being arrested during a traffic stop in October and Brett Hundley is still the starting quarterback, so it’s not the best time to be a Green Bay fan.
The Seahawks suffered a tough 34-31 loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Monday Night and it’d be easy to point at Blair Walsh because he did what Blair Walsh does (which is coming up short when it matters most), but no, I’m putting this one on Pete Carroll. He wasted a timeout when he tossed the challenge flag on a clear Doug Baldwin drop and then opted for a fake field goal, instead of taking the three points before halftime. Apparently, Carroll thought that a backup tight end could take a shovel pass, beat the entire Atlanta defense around the edge and sprint into the endzone with only seven seconds on the clock and prove to everyone that he was a genius. The Seahawks tried to be too clever and the football gods punished them for it, with those three points proving to be the decisive difference in the outcome.
Boy, does that Falcons defense have some great young players. Twenty-three-year old linebacker Deion Jones had six tackles and flew all over the field, including for a fantastic pass break up in the end zone. Jones is the next generation of NFL linebacker: a perfect combination of quickness, power and intelligence that keeps offensive coordinators up at night. Twenty-two-year old safety Keanu Neal had five tackles on the night, including a spectacular touchdown saving hit stick on the 6-foot-7, 265-pound Jimmy Graham. TAKE A SEAT JG!
By the way, the Jaguars won their fourth straight game. Just thought I’d let you guys know.
Rory O’Toole writes for Bear Bytes, the Daily Californian’s sports blog. Contact him at [email protected].