I’ve heard every day is a lesson; some days you learn valuable skills like auto repair, and others you just learn how long you can tolerate the dumbest things the internet has to offer (15 minutes was my max). This weekend, the NFL wasn’t offering any revolutionary information: kickers remained bad, good teams remained good, and injuries continued to hurt struggling teams.
In fact the biggest surprise of the weekend may have been that a few teams didn’t revert back to their old ways. Some franchises that have spent the past few years reinforcing their identity as chokers continued to shed that label, while one that’s never given its fans reason for concern laid another egg. To doctor a phrase from the late Dennis Green, “they aren’t who we thought they were!”
This week, before the usual rounds of NFL action, let’s examine three teams who are bucking recent trends and forging a new identity.
Week 11 in a Nutshell
These ain’t your daddy’s…
Green Bay Packers
We’ve waited weeks for Green Bay to turn it around, and finally on Sunday Night, Aaron Rodgers found it. Too bad the rest of his team didn’t follow suit.
In swirling winds, the Packers QB was great, but the way his defense was playing, great wasn’t good enough. Green Bay’s D – dinged up or not – couldn’t get off the field, consistently getting beat over the top and on third-and-long. Dom Capers dialed up blitzes that never got there and allowed Washington’s great receivers to burn him all night.
Cheeseheads may point to injuries in the secondary as a cause for their woes, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Sure, Sam Shields and Damarious Randall have been out for an extended period; but when Randall was playing, he allowed an opposing QB rating of 122.3 when targeted. In fact, all of Green Bay’s corners have allowed a rating in the hundreds, well above the league average. If missing Shields is such a devastating blow that your defense can’t recover, it’s probably a sign it wasn’t that good to begin with.
Allowing 153 points and 1,683 yards in their last four games, the Pack have a 2013 Cowboys feel to them: basically, if they’re punting, they’re losing. Rodgers’ mantle as the league’s top quarterback has been relinquished this season, and it appears as though the only way Green Bay can make it to the postseason is if he takes that title back.
Consistent. Clutch. Contenders. These three Cs have never been used to describe the Ryan Tannehill-led Miami Dolphins, until now. Winners of five-straight (the first such streak since 2008), Miami has been getting it done in all three phases in the last few weeks to pull out close wins. First it was Kenyan Drake’s game-winning kickoff return against the Jets, then Kiko Alonso’s pick-six against the Bolts. This weekend, it was Tannehill’s turn.
The Dolphins laid a giant turd for 54 minutes against the Rams, racking up just 88 yards of offense. But instead of rolling over in that giant poo, Tannehill cleaned up his own mess. The fifth-year quarterback grew right before our eyes, leading back to back touchdown drives of over 75 yards and throwing a game-winning score to DeVante Parker with just 36 seconds left. Tanny had led nine prior game-winning drives in his career, but none have meant more.
Miami is now just a game back in the AFC Wild Card race, with Denver or Kansas City all but guaranteed a loss next week (since they play each other, and we can’t possibly have another tie). Phins fans may be right to reserve skepticism but Adam Gase – unlike his predecessors – appears to actually have his team ready to play each and every week.
New York Giants
Eli Manning has fallen prey to so many trap games in his career, Giants fans just started referring to them as “the reason we’ll miss the playoffs.” Sunday was another opportunity for New York to drop a near-guaranteed win to a brutal opponent, as the G-Men trailed Chicago 16-6 in the second quarter.
But even on a day where the kicking game was bad and Odell Beckham never really got going, Manning brought the Giants back and let the defense seal the deal. The Bears only gained 101 yards in the second half before Landon Collins clinched the win with a fourth-quarter interception, his fifth in the last four games.
In the previous two seasons, the Giants went 3-11 in one-score games. This season, New York has proven they can win tight battles. The question now becomes, can they close the season strong? Five of their last six opponents are .500 or better.
Shout-Out of the Week
Xavier Rhodes, CB; Danielle Hunter, DE; and the Vikings Defense.
With their season hanging in the balance and a banged-up offense that couldn’t be trusted, the Minnesota defense came into a home game with the Cardinals desperately needing a turnaround. A unit that had been drawing comparisons to last year’s Broncos had allowed their last three opponents to rack up 1,102 yards while mustering just two takeaways. But finally healthy on that side of the ball, the Vikes had a throwback performance against the Cards.
They were so jacked up in fact, they brought the boom before the anthem even played. That momentum carried forward, as Hunter and Minnesota’s pass rush flustered Carson Palmer all afternoon, hitting the 36-year-old quarterback 23 times (according to the Fox broadcast), and sacking him four times for 43 yards. Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus calculated Palmer was under pressure on 62-percent of his 42 dropbacks.
That ridiculous figure is surely what led to Palmer’s two interceptions at the hands of Rhodes, including one that went 100 yards the other way. Minnesota scored 10 points off turnovers, and also had a 104-yard kickoff return for a TD, lightening the load needed from an under-performing offense.
The game marked the first time this season a Palmer-led offense didn’t top 300 total yards. And most importantly, the win helped Minnesota keep pace with Detroit in the NFC North race. The winner of their Thanksgiving clash will have sole possession of first place.
Other great things from Week 11
Baldwin and Wilson “flip” roles.
We thought we knew how good the Seahawks offense was with a healthy Russell Wilson under center, but Seattle continues to up the ante. This week, Wilson got a chance to show off his speed, while his favorite target got to show off his arm on the best play of the weekend.
— NFL (@NFL) November 20, 2016
Though Baldwin may have jokingly not liked the call, it was just another chance for Wilson to showcase how dangerous he is when he’s not hobbling around.
Joe Flacco: leader of men.
The Ravens Super Bowl-winning QB has sucked this season, but if you asked him, he’d probably say he should win MVP. That’s because Flacco displayed an almost stubborn lack of awareness this weekend after claiming that Baltimore “should’ve beaten” the now 9-1 Cowboys. There’s a big difference between seeing an opportunity for plays and actually executing them with the league’s least efficient offense (according to Football Outsiders).
There’s speculation that Flacco was only bullish in his press conference because Ray Lewis called out his lack of passion earlier this week, which is hilarious. If Lewis still has that much pull in the Ravens’ locker room, maybe he should call out Baltimore’s running backs for being less productive than a 260 lb fullback.
Other bad things from Week 11
More injuries for bad teams.
It’s tough enough to find reason to watch out the string when your team has already been wiped off the playoff picture, but at least you can still enjoy seeing your favorite star players, right? Not this season. If Cincy’s loss to Buffalo didn’t bury their postseason chances, significant injuries to A.J. Green and Gio Bernard – their two most exciting weapons – probably did.
One of the few bright spots for a lousy Bears team this year was the play of first-round pick Leonard Floyd. A contender for Defensive Rookie of the Year, Floyd was carted off the field on Sunday, and while no timeline has been given, carts generally don’t represent an injury you can just “rub some dirt in.”
Even lowly Cleveland has been pleasantly surprised by the play of rookie QB Cody Kessler, who has looked like a potentially capable starter moving forward. For now, that’s all the Browns will get to know about the rookie after he suffered his second concussion this weekend, likely ending his season.
Nelson’s TD non-catch.
Once again, that oft-heard cry of “what is a catch?” dominated Twitter on Sunday night, to the point where I’m surprised the whole phrase wasn’t trending. The latest guessing game revolved around Jordy Nelson’s second-quarter hot potato act in the back of Washington’s end zone. The ball landed in his hands, but as Nelson turned away to secure it, Josh Norman popped it out. In real time, Nelson didn’t even hold the ball for a full “one Mississippi.” And yet, it was ruled a catch.
Everything I’ve learned from watching the NFL told me that wasn’t a catch. And yet, I’ve also learned that even when refs make a terrible call on the field, you need about as much evidence as it took to put away Aaron Hernandez before they’ll overturn it. Perhaps we need to stop asking, “what is a catch?” and start asking, “why even bother reviewing them?”