The Wrap - Week 11

In last week's column, I talked about how the Arizona Cardinals got the ball into the hands of their best players – Kyler Murray to DeAndre Hopkins – to defeat the Buffalo Bills on a Hail Mary play at the end of a classic in the desert.

There were another couple of great examples of players over plays when the Tennessee Titans recorded a massive 30-24 overtime win against the slumping Baltimore Ravens in Maryland in Week 11. With the game on the line, quarterback Ryan Tannehill threw to receiver A.J. Brown and handed to Derrick Henry and both resulted in tremendous outcomes for Mike Vrabel's men.

Brown's 14-yard touchdown was the kind of play that gets fans out of their seat – I was up off the Sky Sports sofa as he caught a short pass from Tannehill and produced one of the biggest and most impressive displays of strength and determination this season.

Chuck Clark was the first to attempt to bring Brown down at the nine-yard line. Fail. Next up, Marcus Peters. Fail. Then it was Marlon Humphrey. Fail. And, finally, rookie linebacker Patrick Queen was taken along for the ride as Brown powered into the endzone. Epic fail.

That play and the subsequent two-point conversion gave Tennessee a 24-21 lead with 2:18 remaining. And while Baltimore's Justin Tucker forced overtime with a late field goal, it was the Titans who would come away with the crucial win as they quite rightly got the ball into the hands of their beastly running back, Derrick Henry.

While he is an absolute powerhouse on the ground and a defender's worst nightmare at 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds, it should be noted how light on his feet Henry is and that was the case with his jump-cut into the open field to win the game on a walk-off 29-yard touchdown run.

This was close to a must-win game for both teams. Tennessee had lost three of their previous four after a 5-0 start and the Ravens had lost two of three. With this home defeat, Baltimore have dropped out of the AFC playoff positions with six games to play.

This was another huge stage for quarterback Lamar Jackson and I have to say I was not all that impressed with Baltimore's reigning NFL Most Valuable Player. All too often this season, Lamar has enjoyed fleeting positive moments but has failed to take games by the scruff of the neck.

That was the case on Sunday. He came into the game as the 18th-rated quarterback in the NFL and he rarely looked like anything more than a middle-of-the-pack passer.

It's great to be physical and have a strong and creative running game – Baltimore are and have both of those things – but in today's NFL, you need to be able to pass your way out of any hole you may find yourself in. That's what the likes of Ben Roethlisberger and Patrick Mahomes are doing with the leading teams in the AFC, Pittsburgh and Kansas City.

After a frustrating night in Week 11, the Ravens find themselves miles of the pace in the AFC North (they are four games behind the Steelers). Their Thanksgiving Day game against Pittsburgh is no longer about catching their bitter rivals. It's become much more about mere playoff survival. 

I didn't expect Baltimore's playoff hopes to be hanging by a thread as we approached the business end of the season. In fact, I picked the Ravens to win the Super Bowl this year. Many questions are now being asked about this team and its quarterback. And I think such questions are justified.

Who's Hot…

The New Orleans Saints… With future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees out of commission with 11 fractures in his ribs and a collapsed lung, the Saints recorded a very comfortable and very routine 24-9 win over the Atlanta Falcons with Taysom Hill at the helm. I have to applaud head coach Sean Payton here because he dialled up plays that made Hill very comfortable indeed. In his first NFL start, everyone's favourite gadget guy completed 18 of 23 passes for 233 yards, while rushing 10 times for 51 yards and two scores. The Saints have now won seven games in a row, but this statistic is more impressive to me… dating back to last season, New Orleans are now 6-0 in games where the backup quarterback has started in relief of Brees. This is a total team – as evidenced by eight sacks of Falcons' quarterback Matt Ryan – and the way they rally around each other when Brees goes down makes me think they will stay on course in the NFC playoff race in the coming weeks.

Justin Herbert and Keenan Allen… The Los Angeles Chargers' rookie quarterback may look like he is 15 years old after his unfortunate midweek haircut, but Justin Herbert is shaping up to be an absolute stud with a cannon for an arm. His 13-yard touchdown pass to Keenan Allen in Sunday's 34-28 win over the New York Jets was a frozen rope of a throw and one of those where the receiver would have heard the ball coming. That is no exaggeration. They used to say you could hear Dan Marino's passes fizzing through the air and Herbert is a much more athletic version of the Miami great. Herbert threw for 366 yards and three touchdowns in Week 11 and now has recorded five games this season with at least three scoring strikes – the most by a rookie in NFL history. Allen is a savvy veteran shining with the young buck at quarterback as he caught 16 passes on Sunday. The future is bright for these Chargers with Herbert at the helm. In other news, the Jets were eliminated from the playoffs!

Deshaun Watson… It's easy to get overlooked on a 3-7 team but we should all take a moment to recognise and enjoy the stunning play-making ability of Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson. His management pulled the rug from under his feet in the offseason with the trade of DeAndre Hopkins to Arizona, but Watson has hardly sulked. Every week, he is running for his life, scrambling and making amazing plays on the run. Sunday was another example of that during a 27-20 win over New England. Time and again, Watson made big plays as he threw two touchdown passes and ran for another score. Others in better situations get more publicity, but Watson remains one of the very best in the game today and I cannot wait to watch him play on Thanksgiving Day later this week. It will be a rare look this season at a quarterback who deserves much more of our attention.

Who's Not…

Carson Wentz… This is no mini-slump for the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback – Carson Wentz is in real trouble and while he is being publicly supported by head coach Doug Pederson, he surely has to wonder if second-round rookie Jalen Hurts is going to replace him soon. Wentz through another two interceptions in Sunday's 22-17 loss to Cleveland. Wentz has now thrown an interception in eight of his 10 games this season and has thrown at least two in six contests. He leads the NFL with 18 giveaways on the season and has yet to record a passer rating above 100. It doesn't help that Wentz has been sacked an NFL-high 40 times this season (he was taken down five times on Sunday) but his poor decision making also leads to those offensive breakdowns. Wentz has to be one of the biggest disappointments of any player or team in this 2020 campaign.

Tua Tagovailoa… Miami's five-game winning streak was snapped at Denver in Week 11 and rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who shone so brightly in Arizona a couple of weeks ago, was poor in the 20-13 loss. It slightly confuses me that head coach Brian Flores pulled Tua for performance reasons, which has been reported as being the case. I get that Tua was not great in throwing for just 83 yards, but is he your guy or not? That felt like a quick move back to Ryan Fitzpatrick, who did out-gain Tua with 117 passing yards in just under 11 minutes of action before throwing a late interception in Denver's endzone. I love Fitz, as you all know, but if Tua is Miami's guy; let him be the guy and let him work his way out of these slumps. Even if it means losing a close game like this one in Denver. The Dolphins need to be thinking big picture here and not just the 2020 playoff race.

The Detroit Lions… I love our Thanksgiving Day show on Sky Sports, but the Detroit Lions are not exactly setting my pulse racing heading towards Thursday night. I was just starting to wonder if the Lions could sneak back into the NFC playoff race as they entered the weekend 4-5 and set to embark on winnable games against Carolina and Houston. And then Matt Patricia's men went and laid an egg in a 20-0 loss to a Panthers team being led by a reserve quarterback in P.J. Walker (more on him later). Matthew Stafford was struggling with a thumb injury heading into the game and now he hurts everywhere after being sacked five times, including one and a half from British defensive end Efe Obada. There is no consistency with these Lions and I think head coach Matt Patricia has to go at the end of this season.

The Fast Five…

  1. What a shame to see Joe Burrow lost for the remainder of this season after tearing knee ligaments in Cincinnati's 20-9 loss to Washington. I love Burrow's swagger and I think he will be a years-long favourite of every neutral fan around the league. He will come back strong in 2021, I'm sure of that. Between now and then – in this coming offseason – the Bengals need to invest heavily in their offensive line to make sure the kid doesn't take the same beating in 2021 that he has endured as a rookie.
  2. We can make all the jokes we like, but the Dallas Cowboys are back in the playoff race. All four teams in the NFC East now have three wins, making it at least an entertaining laughingstock! It was better from the Cowboys during their 31-28 Week 11 victory over Minnesota. Ezekiel Elliott topped 100 rushing yards in a game for the first time this season, Andy Dalton threw three touchdown passes and, vitally, he was sacked just once. The Cowboys play Washington on Thanksgiving Day with first place in the division on the line.
  3. I spoke earlier about passing your way out of a hole. That is what Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs did in a 35-31 Sunday Night Football win over the Las Vegas Raiders. When Derek Carr – who played really well on the night – threw a touchdown pass to Jason Witten with 1:43 remaining, the Raiders were on top 31-28. But that left too much time on the clock for Mahomes who went six of seven for 75 yards and the game-winning touchdown to Travis Kelce. And he didn't even need the whole 1:43. He engineered the scoring march in one minute and 15 seconds. That is how you throw your way out of a hole.
  4. What a massive win for the Indianapolis Colts as they saw off the Green Bay Packers 34-31 in overtime. The Colts held Aaron Rodgers and the Packers to just three second half points – a Mason Crosby field goal – after A-Rod had thrown three first half touchdown strikes. And forcing four turnovers from the Packers – including Julian Blackmon forcing a Marquez Valdes-Scantling fumble in overtime to set up the winning field goal – was mightily impressive when you consider Green Bay had just five giveaways in their previous nine games coming into Sunday. I didn't see that result coming as the teams headed down the tunnel for the halftime break in Indy.
  5. PJ Walker was far from perfect in Carolina's 20-0 win over Detroit as he hit on 24 of 34 throws for 258 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. But he did end the Panthers' five-game slide and he would not have been out there but for his performances in the XFL earlier this spring. That alone is evidence that the NFL needs some kind of developmental league, especially for quarterbacks and offensive linemen.

Fact of the Week

Derrick Henry scored a 29-yard rushing touchdown in overtime in the Titans' win over the Ravens Sunday. Henry is the first player in NFL history with two overtime rushing touchdowns in a single season. Henry had 89 rushing yards on 10 carries (8.9 yards per carry) in the fourth quarter and overtime, compared to 44 rushing yards on 18 carries (2.4 yards per carry) in the first three quarters.

Finish That Sentence

Each week in this spot I ask readers - via Twitter - to randomly send me the start of a sentence and, as we do on our NFL UK Live stage show tours, I will finish the sentence with the first thought that comes into my head. Here we go…

From Jonny Turner (@Turner1Jonny) Sam Darnold will be the quarterback for… the New England Patriots in 2021 and with the outstanding coaching at Foxboro, he will become everything the New York Jets dreamed he would be. Much of the talk in New York this year has been about Darnold fighting to save his job. But he is out with a shoulder injury and who knows for how long? He could have taken his last snap in the Big Apple. The Pats are not going to be sold on Cam Newton or Jarrett Stidham if Darnold becomes available.

From Ashley Robertson (@MrAshRobertson) The team that will finish top of the NFC East is… hard to call from week to week. Washington play well on defense and the New York Giants had some feisty moments before their bye week. But now the Dallas Cowboys look capable of dragging themselves back into what is still a pitiful race. They have a lot of offensive weaponry if they can protect Andy Dalton and I would trust them more than the slumping Eagles because Carson Wentz is a hot mess right now.

From Elliott Green (@elliott1301)… The Pittsburgh Steelers are… multiple and balanced on offense, fired up and motivated on defense and extremely well coached in every area of the game. Ben Roethlisberger has worked his way back beautifully from the injury that literally shredded his throwing arm last season. The defense seemed to take pride in taking the fight to Jacksonville on Sunday and Mike Tomlin remains arguably the best in the business right now. I still don't know if they go undefeated but 10-0 is a real statement and the Steelers are the real deal when it comes to the Super Bowl runners and riders.

From Johnny Shury (@JonjoShury)… Drew Brees' successor at the Saints has to be… Taysom Hill. He is the one taking up more of the salary cap and he is the man likely to be able to best run what Sean Payton wants from his offense. But what does the future now hold for Jameis Winston, who must have thought he was brought to New Orleans to step in if Brees ever went down? The fact he was still holding a clipboard on Sunday night must have been a real slap in the face. It's been quite the fall from grace for a man who threw for more than 5,000 yards and 30 touchdowns just last season. Winston is too much of a roller coaster with all of his interceptions and Hill is a more versatile option who fits today's modern game.

Final Thought

By the time we get through another NFL Sunday, Thursday night seems a long time ago. But I do want to finish up by crediting a Seattle defense that has taken a lot of stick this season. That unit was key in a 28-21 win over the dangerous Arizona Cardinals. The Seahawks are slowly coming together on defense now that safety Jamal Adams is fit and defensive end Carlos Dunlap is making more and more plays as he gets his feet under him in Seattle. The Seahawks held Kyler Murray to just 15 rushing yards and Dunlap ended the game with a late sack of the elusive Cardinals passer. That defensive showing would have warmed the heart of quarterback Russell Wilson, who cannot do it all on his own if Seattle are to mount a serious Super Bowl challenge.

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