After withstanding a couple of fourth-quarter haymakers versus the reigning NFC champions in an intoxicating Week 10 comeback victory last Sunday night over the Seahawks, Bruce Arians' squad showed its mettle again on Sunday Night Football, hanging on for a white-knuckle win over the AFC North leading Cincinnati Bengals.
With Fitzgerald's unselfishness as a model, this is a true team.
First in offense and third in defense, the Cardinals are the rare team capable of losing the turnover battle while reeling off wins against quality opponents.
Blemished record or not, this team has outplayed the competition in entertaining style week-in and week-out.
Here's what else we learned in Week 11.
- Take away the records, and this looked like most Vikings-Packers games in the Mike McCarthy era. Green Bay's defensive line deserves the most credit in the resounding win for absolutely manhandling Minnesota upfront all day. Mike Daniels, Datone Jones, Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers, and friends all took turns punishing Teddy Bridgewater with six sacks. They also stuffed Adrian Peterson to the tune of 35 rushing yards.
- There was a lot for the Packers to be excited about in this season-altering win. Now 7-3 and tied with Minnesota atop the NFC North, the Packers enter a stretch against three straight losing teams with a head of steam. Eddie Lacy (100 yards on 22 carries) looked completely refreshed after his week off. Aaron Rodgers also threw in his handful of outrageous throws, often on the run, just like he was in September.
- Teddy Bridgewater was impressive in a losing effort. He took shot after shot and kept getting up despite clearly hurting his non-throwing shoulder in the first half. (Bridgewater briefly went to the locker room and missed the end of one drive.) Still, Bridgewater had 4-to-5 beautiful dimes in the contest. He just never had a true shot because of his offensive line. It was one of his better games of the season despite the final score.
-- Gregg Rosenthal
- Newton is sitting on the lowest completion rate (56.9) of his career, but he's shown obvious improvement as a passer the last two weeks. After completing his first 11 passes for the first time in his career versus the Titans last week, Newton tossed four first-half touchdown passes on Sunday -- the most he has thrown in a single game since the 2010 SEC Championship. The Panthers' 31 first-half points were the most in franchise history. A minute into the second half, Newton added a fifth touchdown strike to rookie Devin Funchess, who was making his first career start with Corey Brown sidelined. The Panthers' 14 consecutive regular-season wins are the third-most in the NFC since the 1970 merger. They travel to Dallas on a short week for a Thanksgiving Day attraction.
- 'Skins fans will be spared this week from glowing columns suggesting the organization will break the bank to secure a long-term future for impending free agent Kirk Cousins. With an interception and two lost fumbles, the quarterback accounted for three of the five Redskins' turnovers that led to 27 Panthers points -- hardly the recipe for knocking off an undefeated road foe. Although he's authored several definitive drives this season, Cousins can't make all of the NFL throws, doesn't take care of the football and finds consistency elusive. He's not a top-20 NFL quarterback.
- A scary thought for opponents: Between Newton's improvement as a passer and the emergence of Funchess on offense to go with the rise of "blue goose" pass rusher Kony Ealy and safety Kurt Coleman as consistent playmakers on defense, the Panthers are growing stronger by the week. They welcome star defensive end Charles Johnson back from IR boomerang in Week 12. This defense hasn't played a snap in the red zone over the past two weeks.
-- Chris Wesseling
- After a week of speculation and he-said, she-said over Carson Palmer's unceremonious departure from Cincinnati in 2011, the Cardinals quarterback finally stuck it to his former team -- it just took a while. Palmer got off to an uncharacteristically slow start, tossing two picks in the first quarter alone. However, he got going in the second quarter with a beautiful touchdown pass to Darren Fells and then continued to light up the Bengals secondary in the second half en route to a 317-yard, four-touchdown performance.
To top it all off, Palmer led the Cardinals on a 70-yard game-winning drive in just 52 seconds after the Bengals tied the game late in the fourth quarter. Palmer connected with J.J. Nelson and Larry Fitzgerald twice in the span of 24 seconds on the perfectly executed drill before Cardinals kicker Chandler Catanzaro nailed a 32-yarder at the buzzer.
- Is it possible that 'Primetime' Andy Dalton is actually a flattering moniker? One week after being humbled by a stingy Texans secondary on Monday night, Dalton rebounded with a 315-yard, two-touchdown outing. He didn't throw an interception, and his lone fumble, allowed by a collapsing offensive line, resulted in just three Cardinals points. With A.J. Green locked up for much of the night, Dalton found success underneath with Giovani Bernard (8 rec, 128 yards). On Sunday night, the Bengals quarterback wasn't quite a Red Rifle, nor was he a Red Ryder B.B. gun. His new nickname is TBD, as is Cincinnati's fading home-field advantage.
- They say football's a game you have to play for sixty minutes, but one quarter nearly decided this matchup. After closing the first half with a go-ahead touchdown, the Bengals got the ball first in the third and had an opportunity to build on their own momentum, but Cincinnati's offense stalled. In three drives, Dalton led the Bengals to just one first down for -1 yards and three punts. On the other side of the ball, Arizona made adjustments and turned its three drives into 21 points and 195 yards, swinging the entire trajectory of the game.
-- Jeremy Bergman
- All he does is win. Matt Hasselbeck's first pass was a misguided lob picked off by Paul Worrilow, the Falcons linebacker who played hero again one drive later by jumping on a Frank Gore fumble. The sloppy Colts woke from there, scoring 24 of the game's final 31 points, sparked by Hasselbeck unfurling one of the season's uglier touchdown passes to Ahmad Bradshaw. Take a look:
Hasselbeck doesn't make it look pretty, but the wily veteran hit 11 of his first 14 passes to finish 23 of 32 on the day for 213 yards with two touchdowns and a pair of interceptions. At 40, he's a smart-but-limited athlete, missing a wide-open T.Y. Hilton in the second half before costing the Colts points with an ugly pick hauled in by Falcons safety Ricardo Allen. Indy's passing game lacked rhythm for much of the way, partly because Atlanta wasn't scared of the ground game. You'd like to see Frank Gore carry the load with Andrew Luck sidelined, but the 32-year-old runner was held to 18 yards in the first half and 31 overall at just 2.4 yards per carry. Gore also caught five passes for 42 yards, but Ahmad Bradshaw was more effective on Sunday with a pair of short touchdown grabs.
- Matt Ryan's season remains a mixed bag. After shaking off an early interception, the Falcons quarterback put Atlanta on the board with a beautiful scoring strike to wide-open fullback Patrick DiMarco, who pulled down a pair of touchdowns on the day. Ryan carved up Indy's secondary for 280 yards and three scores, but also threw a trio of picks, including a killer fourth-quarter interception that Colts linebacker D'Qwell Jackson took into the end zone to tie the game at 21-21. Ryan's final pick came off a failed Hail Mary as time expired.
- Sunday was another example of why Julio Jones remains the NFC's finest receiver. Getting the best of Vontae Davis, the Falcons star shredded Indy for 160 yards off nine grabs for his third-straight 100-yard outing. Running an up-tempo attack, Ryan took advantage of a Colts defense that repeatedly left receivers open. It wasn't just Jones, as DiMarco's first score came with nobody near him. Indy's defense was much more effective in the second half, putting pressure on Ryan and closing down passing lanes.
-- Marc Sessler
- Marshawn Lynch has never rushed for 160 yards or combined for 200 yards from a scrimmage in a game. Undrafted Rawls accomplished the former in his previous start versus the Bengals and pulled off the latter in a dominant performance Sunday, cutting sharply and lowering his shoulder with a violent running style to become the first Seahawks back since Shaun Alexander in 2006 to clear 200 yards in a game. Rawls has reached 100 rushing yards three times this season, while Lynch has topped 75 yards just once.
Showing their most balanced attack of the season behind an improving offensive line, the Seahawks piled up 508 yards on 28 first downs. Nobody is claiming that Rawls is already a better player than Lynch, but the rookie is more dynamic in space and offers chunk-play potential. The Seahawks can't just leave him on the shelf once Lynch returns to full health. Rawls has earned a larger role going forward.
- Blaine Gabbert has shown more promise in two starts than a regressing Colin Kaepernick had in eight. Although the 49ers (3-7) scored just 13 points, Gabbert matched the total points scored by Kaepernick's offense in the last three games combined versus Seattle. A highly athletic Gabbert orchestrated three impressive drives: a 92-yard, two-minute drill entering halftime and a pair of field-goal drives early in the third quarter. We'd like to see more series-to-series consistency, but it was still a promising outing considering the preseason-level surrounding talent at his disposal. Gabbert appears to have made tangible strides since flaming out in Jacksonville.
- The Seahawks' defense continues to struggle versus tight ends, as Vance McDonald and Garrett Celek combined for 100 yards and a touchdown on six receptions. For the season, opposing tight ends have generated 56 catches for 712 yards and seven touchdowns against a secondary that had been historically great in the previous two seasons.
-- Chris Wesseling
- Brock Osweiler ran Gary Kubiak's offense. There was nothing spectacular about the 6-foot-8 passer's play, but he didn't make mistakes and moved the offense. Most of his 250 yards passing (20 of 27, two TDs) came on short crossing routes and quick first reads. The Broncos didn't ask him to take shots down the field in his first career start. He ran Kubiak's preferred offense from under center for the majority of the contest and displayed the ability to utilize the bootleg. Osweiler struggled when his first read was taken away -- he tends to panic in those situations -- taking five sacks. He displayed a strong arm when needed, especially in the red zone, but needs work on his touch. It was the first game Denver hadn't thrown an interception in this season. Still, I don't believe Osweiler did enough Sunday to keep Peyton Manning from returning to the lineup when/if he's healthy.
- Denver's defensive front stymied Bears running back Jeremy Langford, who was coming off two big games. The rookie couldn't get through the first level clean enough to gain chunk yardage, earning just 25 yards on 13 carries. He was stuffed on a two-point try that would have tied the game on the final drive. Langford also couldn't get loose in the pass game. Brandon Marshall was his worst nightmare. Ka'Deem Carey showed some burst early and out-carried Langford before leaving the game with a concussion.
- With Osweiler operating under center, the Broncos rush attack got on track. Both Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson gashed the Bears defense on the stretch run, a staple of Kubiak's offense. Hillman led the way with 102 yards on 21 carries and Anderson added 12 for 59. The 33 rushing attempts by tailbacks are what the coaching staff had in mind entering the season.
-- Kevin Patra
- DeAndre Hopkins might be the best wide receiver the NFL. Hopkins had no problem getting space on Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis, torching the All-Pro on a 61-yard touchdown in the first half. When Revis went out of the game with a concussion, Hopkins blew past backup corner Marcus Williams for another long touchdown in the second half. Hopkins is putting up monster numbers this year -- what will happen if Houston ever gives him a quality quarterback?
- Remember when the Jets were 4-1 and appeared to be one of the sleeper teams in the AFC? So much for that. New York has lost four of its last five games, and could easily be riding a five-game skid if not for some good fortune in a narrow win over the Jaguars. The problems are manifold: The running game disappeared, the secondary has disappointed, the pass rush is subpar and Ryan Fitzpatrick isn't good enough to cover up the blemishes.
- Revis remains one of the top 10 cornerbacks in the league, but the days are over where you can say he's on top of the mountain. Revis was abused by Hopkins in the first half, and could have surrendered two long touchdown catches instead of one had Yates not overthrown Hopkins on the first possession of the game. To make matters worse, Revis left the game in the second half after suffering a concussion.
-- Dan Hanzus
- If culture beats scheme every day, Chip Kelly needs to find a way to foster the type of environment where his players get up for big games. Maybe it's not that simple, and there were certainly some schematic issues we can point to when explaining the loss. But when a team almost surrenders a franchise rushing record to their opponent -- Doug Martin initially had 240 yards on the ground, edging out Emmitt Smith and Jim Brown for the most rushing yards against the Eagles ever before losing five yards on a carry that gave the record back -- it speaks to more than a sputtering offense starting a backup quarterback. The Eagles were outmuscled, they fumbled the ball after they were hit too hard and they did nothing to challenge Tampa Bay's cadre of wide receivers, which brings us to our next point.
- Jameis Winston threw five touchdown passes on Sunday, which tied a rookie record. He threw touchdown passes in the red zone to receivers that weren't effectively jammed or contested at the line, and each of his scores were to a different receiver. Watching Winston play is fun. What people say about his confidence is true and it's probably the reason he'll edge out his competition for Offensive Rookie of the Year. But Winston also has a very good team being built around him, and all of the credit in the world goes to general manager Jason Licht. If that offensive line can come along as planned -- the team rolled without the services of second-round pick Ali Marpet on Sunday -- this could be the start of something wonderful in Tampa.
- Kelly will tell us to relax because the Giants only really have a one-game lead in the division and they have plenty of good teams left on their schedule. The Eagles also get Detroit on Thanksgiving. The visual at the end of Sunday's game, though -- Mark Sanchez and Darren Sproles arguing, players dropping passes, Sanchez floating screens that were returned to the house by the Bucs -- makes us wonder if the problem is Kelly. This has been a team largely devoid of emotion this season. Without the firecracker personalities, who is left to stand in the middle of this locker room and bring everyone together?
-- Conor Orr
- Mike McCoy's seat has to be getting warm. The Chargers have lost six straight and were totally flat and non-competitive in their own building. The mental and physical mistakes -- and there were plenty -- can't all be put at the head coach's feet, but you have to wonder if the team is responding to McCoy. Chargers brass will have to answer that question in January.
-- Dan Hanzus
- Tony Romo had two Cassel-like interceptions on Sunday under pressure. But the Cowboys ended their seven-game losing streak because Romo -- unlike his backups -- can make up for his mistakes with terrific plays under pressure. Romo changed plays at the line of scrimmage to pick up third-and-longs. He hit big plays down the field. He improvised when under duress on the way 227 yards on 28 attempts. In short: He looked like Romo and the Cowboys' offense looked like it did in 2014 by holding the ball for 38:50.
- At 3-7, the Cowboys are only two games out of the NFC East lead. Their chances can't completely be discounted in the division if their defense continues to play like this. Miami only had nine first downs in the entire game. Ryan Tannehill had 13 yards in the first 29 minutes and the Dolphins couldn't sustain their offense the whole game. Rolando McClain's pick-six typified a great outing from the Cowboys' linebacker group, led by McClain and Sean Lee.
- Don't pin this game on Ndamukong Suh or the Dolphins' defensive line. Suh and Olivier Vernon dominated the vaunted Cowboys front for much of the game, especially when Romo went back to pass. The Cowboys smartly focused on the run game in the fourth quarter, and the Dolphins' defense was gassed after being on the field for more than 90 plays last week. Dallas ran 27 more plays than the Dolphins.
-- Gregg Rosenthal
- The Ravens' last-second victory couldn't have been more pyrrhic in nature. After losing starting tailback Justin Forsett to a fractured arm in the first half, coach John Harbaugh announced at his postgame presser that Joe Flacco is done for the season with a torn ACL and a possible torn MCL. Flacco could barely stand on the offense's final play after suffering the injury earlier on the game-ending possession. Since the start of the season, Baltimore (3-7) has seen the football gods strike down Flacco, Forsett, No. 1 receiver Steve Smith, defensive leader Terrell Suggs, speedy first-round draft pick Breshad Perriman and center Jeremy Zuttah. Between the litany of major injuries and stomach-punch losses at the buzzer, this has been a nightmare season in Baltimore.
- Tucker can thank the Rams' offensive ineptitude for his second shot at the game-winner after he and Greg Zuerlein traded misses of 50-plus yards with less than two minutes left in the game. The Rams (4-6) got the ball with 1:13 remaining, only to see Case Keenum suffer a concussion when his helmet bounced off the turf on a hit from Timmy Jernigan. Eschewing the NFL's concussion policy, St. Louis' coaching staff allowed Keenum to remain in the game -- only to be punished with a strip sack by Courtney Upshaw to set up Tucker's 47-yarder. Responsible for two of the Rams' four turnovers while failing to move the chains, Keenum cannot be considered an upgrade on the banished Nick Foles.
- St. Louis' formula of a steady dose of Gurley with a sprinkling of Tavon Austin to go with a marauding defense simply doesn't work without competent play from the quarterback and offensive line. Beyond the obvious stumbles of Foles and Keenum, the blocking has been problematic. Left tackle Greg Robinson, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, leads the NFL in holding penalties and whiffed on Upshaw's sack, resulting in Keenum's head bouncing off the turf. The right side of the offensive line featured overmatched rookies Cody Wichmann and Andrew Donnal, the latter leaving with a concussion. As impressive as Gurley has been, he can only overcome so much. At 4-6 with no quarterback answer on the horizon, the Rams are on the outside looking at the NFC wild-card hunt.
-- Chris Wesseling
- Matthew Stafford came out humming, guiding the Lions on a 13-play march that chewed seven-plus minutes off the clock before a rash of red-zone drops (we're looking at you, Eric Ebron) led to a Detroit field goal. The Lions outgained Oakland 218 yards to 91 in the first half, but with just nine points to show for it. On the plus side, Stafford and Calvin Johnson hooked up for 88 yards off five grabs. Stafford (22-of-35 passing for 282 yards) remains a frustrating signal-caller, but this was among his better games of the year. On Detroit's 80-yard scoring march that put the Lions up for good, he was at his best, accounting for 75 total yards -- including 23 on the ground with a touchdown.
- Derek Carr and the Raiders' offense came out flat, running just five plays in the first quarter and finishing the first half with four straight punts and just 57 yards passing. Carr threw a bad pick that was called back by a Lions penalty, but also galloped for a key first down on Oakland's first scoring march. The young quarterback wasn't helped by rookie Amari Cooper, who caught just one pass for four yards and dropped a handful of throws. Also not helpful: Left tackle Donald Penn being flagged for holding in Oakland's end zone, triggering a safety that put Detroit up 18-13 with 7:31 to go.