Week 11 featured arguably the best player performance of the 2021 NFL season. Colts running back Jonathan Taylor ran for 185 yards and four touchdowns, and he added a 19 more yards and a fifth score on three catches. Indianapolis pulled off the big upset of the Bills behind Taylor’s huge day, scoring 41 points. The Vikings also upset the Packers on a final-play field goal, and receiver Justin Jefferson helped them get there with 169 receiving yards and a pair of TDs.
But perhaps the biggest upset of the week came with the Texans’ 22-13 victory over the Titans. Tennessee quarterback Ryan Tannehill threw four interceptions. Washington coach Ron Rivera won against his former Carolina team, and the Dolphins won their third straight game. The Browns narrowly avoided a loss to the winless Lions, and the Ravens — playing without quarterback Lamar Jackson — hung on to beat the Bears after Justin Fields was forced to leave the game with a ribs injury.
The Eagles’ run game continued to look good in a 40-point outburst, with three rushing scores from Jalen Hurts and 94 rushing yards from Miles Sanders, and the 49ers took care of business in Jacksonville. Oh, and the Patriots looked dominant on Thursday in a shut out of the Falcons.
Our NFL Nation reporters react with the takeaways and lingering questions from this week’s action. Plus, they each look at the bigger picture with their current team confidence rating — a 0-10 grade of how they feel about each team’s outlook coming out of the week. Let’s get to it.
What to know: Tyrod Taylor gives the Texans the best chance to win. David Culley said it over and over while Taylor was injured and rookie quarterback Davis Mills was starting, but Taylor showed why Culley had so much confidence in him Sunday, completing 14 of 24 passes for 107 yards and rushing for two touchdowns. Taylor became the third quarterback in Texans franchise history with multiple rushing touchdowns in a single game, joining David Carr and Deshaun Watson. Taylor struggled in Week 9 in his return from his left hamstring injury, but he did not turn the ball over against the Titans. Every team deals with injuries — the Titans were without Derrick Henry and Julio Jones — but it’s easy to wonder how competitive the Texans would have been had Taylor not injured his left hamstring in Week 2. — Sarah Barshop
Did the Texans just cost themselves the No. 1 draft pick? Houston entered the game a half-game back of the Lions for the worst record this season, but a big victory in Nashville for the Texans firmly puts Detroit in the driver’s seat. The second half of the Texans’ schedule is far easier than the first half, and if Taylor can stay healthy, Houston looks like a team that could win a few more games. The Texans have two more important games for draft position: Week 12 against the New York Jets (2-8) and Week 15 in Jacksonville (2-8). — Barshop
Barshop’s confidence rating (0-10): 1, up from 0.5. The Texans played their best game of the season since Week 1, and it was against a team that entered the game tied for the best record in the NFL.
Next game: vs. Jets (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
What to know: The Titans have a tendency to play up to their competition and, in this case, down to it as well. Tennessee was 7-0 against playoff teams entering their game against Houston, and the Titans were favored by 10 points against the Texans, who came into Sunday with just one win. Starting with the first drive, though, sloppy play cost them. Houston controlled the game after jumping out to a 12-0 lead. — Turron Davenport
Is it now officially time to worry about the offense? The Titans’ offense showed little life today. The lack of playmakers to take over the game continues to hurt them. But Ryan Tannehill‘s interceptions deeply hampered Tennessee’s chance to win the game. Tannehill threw an interception after a defensive stop late in the fourth quarter that all but ended a chance at another comeback win for the Titans. The question remains, can the Titans win with Tannehill carrying the bulk of the offensive load. His four-interception performance against the Texans makes it seem unlikely. — Davenport
Davenport’s confidence rating (0-10): 8.5, down from 9. Losing against the Texans is inexcusable for this team. The Titans came out flat and never recovered. The defense can only do so much to keep them in the game. Tennessee’s offense simply didn’t carry their share of the load, and it showed. The injuries continue to mount with A.J. Brown being knocked out of the game with a chest injury. The Titans just don’t have many playmakers left on the offense.
Next game: at Patriots (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
What to know: When it was gut-check time, the Vikings offense answered the bell in a wild back-and-forth game that puts them at .500 (5-5) for the second time this season. Minnesota built off its win against the Chargers by continuing to establish an identity as an offense that gets the ball to its playmakers, and Justin Jefferson keeps taking up his game a notch every week. The second-year receiver caught eight passes for 169 yards and two touchdowns and was already at 100 yards receiving at the end of the first quarter. Teams will always throw added defenders Jefferson’s way, but the Vikings got creative in getting him open by lining him up in the backfield before sending him out on a shallow route over the middle on his first touchdown. Jefferson also drew a 37-yard pass interference in the first half that set up Adam Thielen’s touchdown. Cousins utilized his top two receivers well with Thielen contributing eight catches for 82 yards and the TD. — Courtney Cronin
Why can’t the Vikings protect a double-digit lead? Minnesota is now 2-2 on the season when leading by at least 13 points. The Vikings have built double-digit leads just as easily as they’ve lost them; they threw punch after punch on offense by staying aggressive, taking shots down the field, and their defense still allowed the Packers to come back in the game. After Green Bay took a 24-23 lead in the fourth quarter, Minnesota thundered back behind Jefferson’s second touchdown catch and Dalvin Cook’s two-point conversion, only to have Rodgers hit Marques Valdez-Scantling on the first play of the Packers’ next drive to wrestle back the lead. Minnesota’s defense let Rodgers scramble for six-plus seconds on two of his touchdowns throws, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. It’s up to the Vikings’ defense to protect Minnesota’s leads if they want to land the No. 7 seed in the NFC playoffs. — Cronin
Cronin’s confidence rating (0-10): 7, up from 4.5. The Vikings beat the best team in the NFC by hanging on late and staying aggressive on the offensive end. If they can beat San Francisco in Week 12, the rest of their schedule is incredibly favorable for their chances of making it back to the postseason.
Next game: at 49ers (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET)
Vikings get the win over the Packers after Greg Joseph puts through the field goal.
What to know: Well, maybe the Packers don’t quite have a championship-level defense just yet. Sure, the unit made plays, notably a pair of sacks by Preston Smith, but when it needed one more stop, it couldn’t come through. Unlike in the Oct. 28 win at Arizona, there was no miracle interception in the end zone from Rasul Douglas. This was simply a defense that gave up 10 points on the Vikings’ final two possessions, including the game-winning field goal at the final gun. They had no answer for Justin Jefferson, the Vikings star receiver who caught eight passes for 169 yards and two touchdowns. The second was a beautiful 23-yard fade that gave the Vikings a 31-24 lead with 2:17 left. The problem was the Packers then scored too soon, when Aaron Rodgers hit Marquez Valdes-Scantling for a 75-yard touchdown to the tie it with 2:08 left. The Packers’ defense, which came in ranked third in fewest yards allowed and third in fewest passing yards allowed, let Kirk Cousins throw for 341 yards and three touchdowns. — Rob Demovsky
How bad will Elgton Jenkins’ knee injury hurt the Packers? They can probably handle losing Jenkins, assuming it’s as bad as it looked when he limped off unable to put much pressure on his left knee, if David Bakhtiari is finally ready to play. But that’s still a big if, especially after Packers coach Matt LaFleur wouldn’t say much last week about why Bakhtiari appears to have taken a step back in his attempted return from ACL surgery in January. Bakhtiari seemed on track to play a couple of weeks ago when he came off the PUP list but then didn’t practice at all last week. With Bakhtiari back, the Packers could have moved Jenkins back to left guard, where he was a Pro Bowler last year. Now, they could be down to their No. 3 left tackle for a while — Demovsky
Demovsky’s confidence rating (0-10): 7, down from 7.5. It’s waning in part because because the Packers desperately need to get to their bye week, and they won’t get it for another two weeks. First, they have to deal with the Rams (7-3), who should be rested coming off their bye.
Next game: vs. Rams (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET)
What to know: The Browns may have won the game. But once again, they didn’t resemble anything close to a playoff-caliber team while slogging their way to victory over the winless Lions. Even with the return of Pro Bowl running back Nick Chubb, who closed out Detroit on the final drive, the offense remains a mess. Quarterback Baker Mayfield is ailing. And so too is the passing game. In turn, Cleveland has scored more than 17 points in a game only once since Oct. 10. To have any chance of making a run to the playoffs, the Browns will have to produce an immediate and drastic turnaround offensively. — Jake Trotter
How can the Browns get Mayfield going again? Unfortunately for Cleveland, Mayfield is going to be playing injured the rest of the season. He was noticeably limping around in the second half — his knee and foot injuries compounding the torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder. Re-establishing a running game that, when rolling with its full complement of players is among the best in the NFL, should help put Mayfield in more favorable situations. Ultimately, though, Mayfield is going to have be sharper than he was Sunday, no matter the injuries. Getting back to taking better care of the ball would be a start. — Trotter
Trotter’s confidence rating (0-10): 6, up from 5.9. Cleveland’s season ultimately hinges on what it does these next two games against the Ravens.
Next game: at Ravens (Sunday, 8:20 p.m. ET)
What to know: Running back D’Andre Swift showed why he’s their best offensive threat with his second straight game of 100 or more rushing yards (career-best 136 vs. Cleveland). In the third quarter, Swift ran for a career-best 57-yard touchdown, which was the longest rushing touchdown by a Lions player since Jahvid Best had an 88-yarder against the Chicago Bears in Week 5 of 2011. The play was the lone bright spot on offense for the team. — Eric Woodyard
Should the Lions continue to start Tim Boyle when Jared Goff gets healthy? No. Although he didn’t play terrible, Boyle doesn’t look like the long-term answer for this team, either. He ended with just 77 passing yards for the game and didn’t do anything spectacular enough to take over Goff’s job on a permanent basis. His approach was much like Goff’s, too, opting for check-down passes and not experiencing much success on throws of 10 or more yards. — Woodyard
Woodyard’s confidence rating (0-10): 2.3, down from 2.5. The performance in Cleveland was just another example of what we already knew about this team: What they lack in talent, they try to make up for in competitiveness, but just don’t have enough firepower on the roster.
Next game: vs. Bears (Thursday, 12:30 p.m. ET)
What to know: The Eagles have officially entered the playoff conversation. With the win over New Orleans, they now have a 40% chance of making the playoffs, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index. It would have dropped to 11% with a loss, showing the significance of this game. Both sides of the ball have hit their stride. Coach Nick Sirianni’s offense rushed for 175-plus yards for the fourth straight game — their longest streak since the 1950 season, according to the Eagles — while the defense caused three turnovers and played winning football for the third time in four games. The Eagles entered Week 11 with the second-easiest closing schedule in the NFL, and with tiebreakers over the Saints, Falcons and Panthers, they are in good position to make a serious charge at a wild-card spot. — Tim McManus
Is Jalen Hurts on his way to securing the QB job long-term? He’s making a pretty compelling case. Hurts rushed for 71 yards and three touchdowns against the top rush defense in the NFL, capping his day with an Allen Iverson-like cutback en route to a 24-yard TD run that put the home crowd in a frenzy. He now has three multiple rush TD games this season. In the last 20 years, Cam Newton is the only other QB to pull that off, per ESPN Stats & Information. With as many as three first-round picks in April’s draft, much of the talk has been about using that capital to bring in a top-end QB. Hurts is trying to prove they already have one in-house. — McManus
McManus’ confidence rating (0-10): 5.9, up from 4.8. The Eagles took their lumps early in the season under first-year head coach Sirianni, but with the teeth of their schedule behind them, the momentum should continue to build.
Next game: at Giants (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
Darius Slay scores his third touchdown in four games with this 49-yard interception return.
What to know: The Saints’ season is officially on the brink after losing three straight games — for the first time since 2016 — and falling to 5-5. The schedule doesn’t get easier with the Bills and Cowboys coming into New Orleans over the next two Thursday nights. The hope is that the magnitude of Sunday’s flop was somewhat of an anomaly since they were without running back Alvin Kamara and offensive tackles Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk (all of whom should be back soon). But the Saints’ passing offense has struggled even at full strength this year, and this was also a step back for the defense. — Mike Triplett
Are we getting closer to seeing Taysom Hill at quarterback? The Saints have to consider anything that will shake up this sagging offense. For the third straight week, QB Trevor Siemian finished strong in the fourth quarter after he struggled mightily early in the game. He completed 22 of 40 passes for 214 yards with three touchdown tosses, one TD run and his first two interceptions of the season. Hill’s health is a factor, too. He barely practiced all week with a foot injury, then he was held out of his usual role as a runner/receiver Sunday while serving as New Orleans’ only backup. And the Saints only have three days between games this week. — Triplett
Triplett’s confidence rating (0-10): 5.5, down from 6.5. The only glimmer of hope here is that the Saints showed how high their ceiling can be earlier this season. But they have now squandered the head start they built up against the rest of the NFC’s playoff contenders (including Philly).
Next game: vs. Bills (Thursday, 8:20 p.m. ET)
What to know: The Ravens can win without quarterback Lamar Jackson. For most of the game, it wasn’t pretty or exciting. But, with Jackson out with an illness, backup Tyler Huntley led Baltimore on a winning drive in the final minute. His 30-yard pass to Sammy Watkins set up Devonta Freeman’s go-ahead, 3-yard touchdown with 22 seconds remaining. This was an improbable and gutsy win considering the Ravens were without an MVP candidate in Jackson and top wide receiver in Marquise Brown (thigh) and they have 13 players on injured reserve. — Jamison Hensley
Will the Ravens defense ever solve its big-play issues? It’s nearly the same script every game. Baltimore plays shutdown defense before a costly mistake ruins it. On Sunday, the big plays nearly lost the game. Ravens cornerback Chris Westry allowed a 49-yard touchdown on fourth-and-11 with under two minutes left in the game. The other Bears’ touchdown came on a 60-yard wide receiver screen to Darrell Mooney. Baltimore has given up 11 passes of 40 yards or more, which are tied for the most in the NFL. — Hensley
Hensley’s confidence rating (0-10): 7.6, up from 7.5. The Ravens know they need to play better heading into the toughest part of their schedule, where they don’t face another team with a losing record in the final seven weeks.
Next game: vs. Browns (Sunday, 8:20 p.m. ET)
What to know: Ugly, ugly, ugly. The Bears found a way to lose to a Ravens team without quarterback Lamar Jackson. Chicago’s defense allowed Baltimore backup Tyler Huntley to do enough to set up Justin Tucker for three field goals, and then lead a last-second scoring drive to squeeze out the victory. Too bad because it ruined Andy Dalton’s memorable afternoon. Dalton, who entered the game in the third quarter after Justin Fields left with a ribs injury, promptly hit Darnell Mooney on a wide receiver screen early in the third quarter and let the speedster do the rest. Mooney broke a pair of tackles and then turned on the jets to outrace the Ravens defense for a 60-yard touchdown. Dalton later tossed with appeared to be the winning touchdown pass to Marquise Goodwin on fourth down with under two minutes left, until Chicago’s defense collapsed at the end. The game represented a form of redemption for Dalton, who lost his starting job to Fields when he got hurt early in the season. But this was a game the Bears had to win. At 3-7, the Bears season has all but slipped away. — Jeff Dickerson
Is there another quarterback controversy in Chicago? Probably not. The job belongs to Fields when healthy. Of course, there is a scenario where next week’s tight turnaround — the Bears play on Thanksgiving at 12:30 p.m. ET Thursday in Detroit — makes it difficult for Fields to play, depending on the severity of the ribs injury. Dalton is nice insurance but the organization is focused on developing Fields for the future. The moment Fields receives the medical clearance to play, the rookie will be back out there, and Dalton will return to the bench. — Dickerson
Dickerson’s confidence rating (0-10): 2, down from 2.5. The Bears can’t even beat the Ravens without Lamar Jackson. Good luck the rest of the way.
Next game: at Lions (Thursday, 12:30 p.m. ET)
What to know: Washington continues to lose bodies yet somehow wins games. It was missing its top two tight ends and both starting defensive ends and needed to turn to its third center during the game. Yet it kept finding a way to stick around. A lot of credit goes to quarterback Taylor Heinicke, who played a smart and gutsy game. The day was supposed to be about the Panthers’ Cam Newton, but Heinicke threw three touchdown passes, completed 16 of 22 throws and ran for 31 yards. On the game-winning drive, he completed a fourth-down pass in which he had to scramble and was nearly sacked. Running back Antonio Gibson was benched for a couple of series after a fumble, yet responded with 95 hard-earned yards. They have a lot of confidence and have made the final stretch a lot more interesting. Their mindset is terrific. — John Keim
Can they sustain this level of play? Why not? Washington’s defense is playing well – it has held three consecutive opponents under 300 yards. It will get end Montez Sweat back in a few weeks, which will help. But a big key has been the play of the secondary, especially Kam Curl and Landon Collins. Curl’s ability to cover Christian McCaffrey helped on a couple of throws, including a late tackle on fourth down. The offense has found a rhythm and, more important, an identity. Washington’s commitment to the run game has allowed it to play more physically and limit Taylor Heinicke’s dropbacks. His efficiency the last two weeks has been terrific – a combined 12 incompletions. — Keim
Keim’s confidence rating (0-10): 5.9, up from 5. The ability to overcome mistakes and bad plays happens when you play with confidence. Washington is playing with a lot of confidence; it has had numerous chances to buckle the past two weeks yet it keeps overcoming thanks to its mindset.
Next game: vs. Seahawks (Monday, Nov. 29, 8:15 p.m. ET)
Taylor Heinicke finds Terry McLaurin in the end zone to even the score just before the end of the half.
What to know: Cam Newton did his part. He brought energy and play-making, throwing two touchdown passes and rushing for another (24 yards). The league’s No. 2 defense that this team is being built around didn’t do its part. The Panthers (5-6) were beaten by Taylor Heinicke, another former Carolina quarterback, who threw three touchdown passes and engineered the game-winning field goal with a clutch fourth-down pass. Newton’s biggest mistake was throwing a late fourth-down pass short of the line of scrimmage, bursting all the energy he’d brought the past week. — David Newton
Can the Panthers be a real playoff contender and have a losing record at home? Newton said the goal this week was to reclaim Bank of America Stadium, where the Panthers were dominant during their past playoff runs under the quarterback. He gave away 50 tickets to help the cause. Instead, Carolina lost its fourth straight at home to fall to 2-4 there this season. The Panthers now have lost to the Eagles, Vikings, Patriots and Washington. Not a good resume for a serious playoff contender at all. — Newton
Newton’s confidence rating (0-10): 4.9, down from 5.4. The schedule gets tougher after next week’s game at Miami, with two games against the Bucs and road games against Buffalo and New Orleans making it hard to imagine the Panthers can win enough to be a factor in the NFC.
Next game: at Dolphins (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
What to know: In basketball, sometimes shooters need to see the ball go through the hoop to end a cold streak — different sport but same concept here. The Dolphins have now won three straight after a seven-game losing streak, and it appears that the fix to their cold streak was simply getting another win under their belts. For the first time this season, Miami’s offensive line didn’t look like a sieve and its run game topped 100 rushing yards (115) for just the third time. Safety Eric Rowe said winning games validated the team’s efforts and built up its confidence, which was fading after not seeing positive results on game day for a month and a half. The Dolphins are making big plays on both sides of the ball and finishing games; there’s hope for this team, yet. — Marcel Louis-Jacques
Has Miami’s offense been too reliant on big plays these past two weeks? Over the past two games, the Dolphins have hit on plays of 52, 64 and 65 yards. Outside of those three plays, they have averaged just 4.5 yards per play. Entering Week 11, the Bears rank last in the NFL in that category at 4.7 yards. Look, part of football is capitalizing on your opponents’ mistakes — which is what Miami’s been able to do these past two weeks. But it will have to figure out ways to move the ball effectively between those big plays. — Louis-Jacques
Louis-Jacques’ confidence rating (0-10): 6.5, up from 6. It wasn’t pretty but the Dolphins did enough to win a game that they should have won; they’re rolling as they prepare for a 32-day stretch of not having to leave South Florida.
Next game: vs. Panthers (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
What to know: Coach Robert Saleh made the right call by replacing Mike White with Joe Flacco at quarterback. Too bad he couldn’t replace a bunch of other players, including kicker Matt Ammendola (two FG misses). Flacco, the surprise choice to start, did what was expected. For the most part, the savvy pro handled the Dolphins’ prolific blitz. He made a couple of mistakes, but he didn’t stall the offense and fed the ball to emerging rookie Elijah Moore (seven catches, 130 yards, one TD). Flacco finished with 291 yards and two TD passes. The Jets were doomed by dumb penalties and a major coverage breakdown in the secondary, resulting in a 65-yard touchdown. What they need now is to get rookie QB Zach Wilson (knee) back in the lineup. If he’s healthy, he should start. Period. No controversy. — Rich Cimini
Will the Jets lose the rest of their games? Don’t snicker, it’s a legit question. The Dolphins (4-7) were supposed to be one of the soft spots on the schedule, but the Jets were handled at home. If they fall to the pathetic Houston Texans (2-8) next Sunday on the road, where will they get a win? They face the Jacksonville Jaguars (2-8), but you can’t win if you can’t stop anybody. Right now, the Jets’ defense, gutted by injuries, is a shell of its former self — and its former self wasn’t too good. — Cimini
Cimini’s confidence rating (0-10): 3.5, up from 2.5. Well, at least they didn’t get blown out. That’s what this season has deteriorated to.
Next game: at Texans (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
What to know: Finally. It took nearly a year, but the Colts have finally ended their eight-game losing streak against playoff teams from last season. They didn’t just end it — the Colts did it in the fashion that showed they’re right in the thick of things in the AFC playoff race while moving above .500 for the first time all season. The Colts led from start to finish and they had some Buffalo fans heading to the door with about four minutes left in the third quarter after they forced three turnovers and were leading 31-7. Looking ahead, the challenge doesn’t get any easier for the Colts as they’re still on the outside looking in of the playoff race. Four of their remaining six games are against teams with a winning record. The Colts host Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 12. — Mike Wells
Is Jonathan Taylor the best running back in the league? Yes, especially with Tennessee’s Derrick Henry potentially sidelined for the rest of the season due to a foot injury. Taylor took over the rushing lead Sunday, and barring any kind of injury, he’ll likely remaining at the top of the list the rest of the season because the Colts will continue to lean on him down the stretch. — Wells
Wells’ confidence rating (0-10): 5, up from 3.9. Sunday’s victory over the Bills was the Colts’ most impressive win since they won the road to beat Kansas City in October 2019.
Next game: vs. Buccaneers (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
What to know: The Bills’ No. 1 defense looked far from it against a Colts offense that has been inconsistent this year and came into the game as the twelfth-best total offense. The defense was without starting defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, who is on the COVID-19 list, and linebacker Tremaine Edmunds (hamstring) but even while keeping those absences in mind, Buffalo’s run defense has had a hard time stopping the game’s best running backs. Coming into the game, it was clear that the Colts would try to run the ball with the success Derrick Henry had (143 yards) against this defense in Week 6. Even with that knowledge, Jonathan Taylor scored five touchdowns, rushed for 185 yards. The Bills entered Sunday having allowed five TDs to running backs this season (tied for fourth fewest). Taylor reached that in three quarters. The Colts’ 264 rush yards are the most by a Bills opponent in the last five seasons. — Alaina Getzenberg
Do the Bills have a serious problem on special teams? Something has to get corrected, because the rain-soaked turf wasn’t the cause of all the special teams woes. The worst play of the day – on an afternoon with some rough moments – was returner Isaiah McKenzie fumbling the football untouched on a kickoff return in the second quarter. The Colts recovered the football at the Bills’ 2-yard line and took it in for a touchdown on the next play. Kicker Tyler Bass also missed two field goals (from 57 and 49 yards) on a wet field. Bass had made 16 straight field goal attempts entering the day and it’s the first time he’s missed two field goals in a game since Week 7 last year. Going forward, Bass will likely get things corrected but this wasn’t McKenzie’s first time losing the football. For a team that places such importance on special teams, there have been too many clumsy plays this year. — Getzenberg
Getzenberg’s confidence rating (0-10): 7.2, down from 7.8. This confidence rating has been so up and down for the Bills over the last few weeks – good performances have been quickly erased by disasters, including this loss to the Colts with all three phases falling short – and the Bills have a lot to prove before this rating can go significantly up again.
Next game: at Saints (Thursday, 8:20 p.m. ET)
What to know: The 49ers have won two straight in dominating fashion and increasingly look like a legitimate NFC playoff contender. A convincing win against the Jaguars isn’t a huge feat in itself but it’s exactly the type of performance a team with real postseason aspirations would have. And it shouldn’t be sold short considering the Niners were coming off a short week and traveling across the country for an early body clock start. At 5-5 with seven games to play, the real tests await, including next week against fellow wild-card contender Minnesota, but the 49ers handled business how they should, something that hadn’t happened much prior to Sunday. — Nick Wagoner
Are the 49ers on their way to an offensive drive that eats up an entire quarter? It sure looks like it. On Sunday, the Niners opened the game with a drive that ate up a whopping 13:05, the longest drive by a team this season and the longest of any team in the past 20 years, according to ESPN Stats & Info. In consecutive weeks, San Francisco’s offense has posted the two longest drives of the season (11:03 last week). Is it a coincidence? To some extent, yes, but the Niners are clearly fine with using the opening drive to assert physical dominance and rolling from there. The only problem on Sunday was it ended with a field goal instead of a touchdown. Either way, those kinds of drives set a tone that is difficult to overcome. — Wagoner
Wagoner’s confidence rating (0-10): 5.8, up from 5.3. The Niners’ embarrassing loss to Arizona two weeks ago seems like a distant memory and they appear to be rounding into form with some key games coming up.
Next game: vs. Vikings (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET)
Jimmy Garoppolo stands in the pocket and throws a dart to Brandon Aiyuk for the 7-yard touchdown.
What to know: An already-limited Jaguars offense is dead in the water without a healthy James Robinson, and unfortunately he’s going to be battling the knee/heel injuries the rest of the year. He just doesn’t have the same burst he did before the injuries. That means the offense is going to be all on Trevor Lawrence‘s shoulders. That’s an unfair ask for a rookie, especially with the unimpressive group of receivers, and it’s burden for which he’s not ready. — Mike DiRocco
What do the Jaguars do at cornerback? Shaquill Griffin left the game with a concussion and Tyson Campbell suffered a shoulder injury. That left Nevin Lawson and Chris Claybrooks as the top two corners — possibly for the near future. The Jaguars have the Falcons and Rams the next two weeks. The Jaguars had been relatively healthy all year until Sunday, when five key players got hurt. — DiRocco
DiRocco’s confidence rating (0-10): 1.5, down from 3. Penalties and turnovers, inept offense, failure to get off the field on third down … just an awful performance against a team that played on Monday night, flew cross country, and kicked off at 10 a.m. PT.
Next game: vs. Falcons (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
What to know: The Patriots’ defense is legit. In each of the past three games, the unit has allowed no more than seven points and 250 yards. They’re only the third defense in the past 15 seasons with a streak that long, and the other two teams made the Super Bowl — the 49ers in 2019 and Seahawks in 2014. A physical defensive front makes it tough to run against them, and the defensive backs are ballhawks. The Patriots intercepted a pass on four straight drives to end Thursday’s game, which is the second time under Bill Belichick they’ve recorded an interception on four straight drives, with the last time coming in 2001. — Mike Reiss
Are the Patriots the best team in the AFC? No one would have been asking that question five weeks ago when they were 2-4. But winners of five in a row, the Patriots are now one of the hottest teams in the NFL, playing complementary football with a hard-hitting D, an efficient offense, and solid special teams. The Titans and Bills are among the teams that can stake a claim to top-of-the-AFC standing, and as it turns out, the Patriots play them in three of their next four games (Titans on Oct. 28, Bills on Dec. 6 and Dec. 26). That will be telling. — Reiss
Reiss’ confidence rating (0-10): 6.5, up from 6. Five wins in a row, and playing such a physical game on a Sunday-to-Thursday turnaround, highlights a team that has found its identity.
Next game: vs. Titans (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
What to know: The Falcons are in a bad place at the moment. They haven’t scored a touchdown in more than 130 minutes of football and offensively there are problems. The offensive line is struggling to block. The running game is essentially nonexistent. Matt Ryan threw two interceptions and had his second straight subpar game. Yes, these losses were against good teams, but that also tells you where the Falcons are as a team. — Michael Rothstein
How does Atlanta solve its offensive problems? Falcons coach Arthur Smith said they have to evaluate everything during the team’s mini-bye over the weekend, and while there aren’t any easy answers, there need to be some answers. Whether that’s shaking up the interior of the offensive line or as simple as getting a healthy Cordarrelle Patterson back, something has to shift — otherwise Atlanta might not win many more games this season. — Rothstein
Rothstein’s confidence rating (0-10): 3.4, down from 4. Two games without a touchdown leads to a franchise in flux.
Next game: vs. Jaguars (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
Carolina Panthers coach Matt Rhule doesn’t regret hiring Joe Brady as offensive coordinator
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Carolina Panthers coach Matt Rhule said the decision to fire offensive coordinator Joe Brady on Sunday was “purely football.”
He made it clear there were no regrets in his 2020 decision to hire Brady, at the time the 30-year-old passing game coordinator for national champion LSU with no experience calling plays in the NFL or at any level.
“When I took the job I decided to be bold and step outside my comfort zone,” Rhule said on Monday. “I certainly don’t look at that as a mistake.”
Rhule wouldn’t go into specifics on what led to his decision, but he has been consistent the past month saying the Panthers needed to be more committed to the run and be better coming out of halftime.
The Panthers (5-7) had only a combined 39 rushes the past two games combined, including 18 in a loss to the Miami Dolphins before the bye week. Rhule said after an Oct. 17 loss to the Minnesota Vikings he wanted 30 to 33 rushes a game.
Brady also wasn’t effective at halftime adjustments. Carolina is averaging only 2.1 points in the third quarter to rank 31st in the NFL, with only Houston, at 1.8 points, worse.
Overall, the team ranks 29th in offense after ranking 21st a year ago in Brady’s first season as a play caller.
Rhule called Brady’s replacement, running backs coach Jeff Nixon, a “calming, steadying influence.”
Nixon was Rhule’s co-offensive coordinator at Baylor in 2019. That team averaged 36 rushes a game.
“He’s done a lot to get us moving in the right direction,” Rhule said of Brady, 32. “But this was something I felt from a football perspective had to be done.”
Rhule said he “anticipates” Cam Newton being his starting quarterback for Sunday’s game against the Atlanta Falcons. He also didn’t rule out mixing in PJ Walker, reminding that the former XFL star is 2-0 as a starter in the NFL.
Rhule said he had some “feelings” a change needed to be made at offensive coordinator coming off the Miami loss. He spent the week evaluating film not only of games, but practice.
He made the decision to fire Brady late last week. The two had a meeting scheduled for Saturday, but that was pushed to Sunday because Brady had a conflict.
Rhule made it clear the decision to move on from Brady was his and not a request from owner David Tepper. He said the meeting with Brady ended in a handshake and a hug.
“I hope this is the right move,” Rhule said. “It was purely football. This is in the best interest of us moving forward.”
Mike Zimmer’s underachieving defense may have sealed his fate in Minnesota – Minnesota Vikings Blog
After the Vikings regained the lead – 27-23 – with a late fourth-quarter touchdown, Goff and the Lions’ offense took the field at their own 25-yard line with 1:50 to go. Over the course of 14 plays, the Vikings blitzed Goff just once, and that play nearly resulted in an interception by Bashaud Breeland, who couldn’t come down with the ball.
Instead of pulling out a stop, Minnesota let a Lions team that was on a 15-game winless streak – and had no timeouts – march 75 yards en route to an 11-yard touchdown and 29-27 win.
“It was as good as you can do it for us offensively, and we were able to walk down the field there on them and made that play at the end,” Goff said. “It came down to one play, and we were able to make it.”
It’s become routine at this point, the Vikings playing “off and soft” – the way Goff described Minnesota’s zone coverage – as a method of preventing a big play from happening, only to allow a team to come back and score at the end. Four times the Vikings have been beaten by their opponent’s final drive.
Coach Mike Zimmer called two timeouts in the last eight seconds to help his defense get set at the 11-yard line, but it backfired and gave the Lions a chance to regroup and figure out how they were going to attack on that final fourth-and-2 play.
Zimmer said he probably should have dialed up more pressure on Detroit’s final drive – Minnesota sent just three rushers on the Lions’ TD – but the Vikings let Goff off the hook. Minnesota blitzed on just 14% of Goff’s dropbacks, the lowest blitz rate they’ve ever had against him, according to ESPN Stats and Information.
“We weren’t covering that great,” Zimmer said. “So, I mean, everything is hindsight, I guess.”
Make no mistake about a loss that drops the Vikings to 5-7 and cuts their chances of making the playoffs to 26%. Offensive playcalling deserves a bulk of the blame for the poor start Minnesota got off to Sunday, but Zimmer’s defense – this once vaunted unit – has failed the Vikings again and again.
It happened in Carolina on Oct. 17, when the Vikings let Sam Darnold force overtime by going 96 yards in 1:27 to score a touchdown and convert a 2-point attempt. It occurred again when Dallas backup quarterback Cooper Rush strung together a 75-yard drive that ended with a touchdown in the final minute to give the Cowboys the win two weeks later.
It even happened against Detroit on Oct. 10, when the Vikings allowed the Lions to take a 17-16 lead with 41 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter and had to rely on a 54-yard field goal to narrowly escape.
Minnesota’s two-minute defense has been a struggle all season, but now it’s closing in on historic lows. The Vikings lead the NFL in points allowed in the final two minutes of any half with 101 (the next closest team is Seattle with 83). The most points allowed in the final two minutes of a half in the last 20 seasons is 107 – a record set by Minnesota in 2020.
For weeks they’ve tried to remedy this problem area by condensing their defensive playcalls and emphasizing the two-minute drill in practice to focus on preventing the pass interference penalties that have killed drives.
None of it has worked.
“That’s been an area we’ve struggled in all year, and it bit us [Sunday],” safety Harrison Smith said. “We’ve got to fix it.”
As they regroup for a short turnaround with Pittsburgh coming to Minneapolis for Thursday Night Football (8:20 p.m. ET, Fox), the Vikings face a stark reality about this defense. It appears this unit was never going to be good enough to stand up against the type of teams it would face in the playoffs, and it very well could be what seals Zimmer’s fate after eight seasons in Minnesota.
There hasn’t been a consistent return on investment for a defense that was the focal point of the offseason. In retooling this entire unit, Minnesota doled out north of $46 million in guaranteed money to defensive players.
Of course, injuries are an issue behind many of their struggles. The Vikings found out Sunday morning that they would be without linebacker Anthony Barr (knee/hamstring) in addition to Eric Kendricks (biceps) while top cornerback Patrick Peterson remained on the COVID-19/reserve list. And even though the Vikings got starting defensive tackles Dalvin Tomlinson and Michael Pierce back in Detroit, their pass rush remains thin, especially at defensive end.
But being the victim of Detroit’s first win is inexcusable, no matter who is on the field. Goff went 6-for-10 for 124 yards and two touchdowns on throws traveling more than 10 yards down field Sunday. He threw one touchdown and four interceptions on throws traveling the same distance in his first nine games of the season combined.
The Vikings made a bottom-tier quarterback look competent and blew another late-game lead. The same issues for this defense in Week 13 were there in Week 1, but Sunday might have been the last straw on what’s been a consistent pattern under Zimmer for years: This team hasn’t been able to put away or stop teams when it matters, and it has regressed each year since losing the NFC Championship Game to Philadelphia in 2017 with a defense that was ranked No. 1.
In Jalen Hurts vs. Gardner Minshew QB debate, answer is clear for Eagles – Philadelphia Eagles Blog
Calls for the Philadelphia Eagles to make a quarterback switch came weeks earlier than that, as Wentz struggled through the worst season of his career. Then-coach Doug Pederson resisted for a while, understanding the weight and potential consequences of such a decision. But with the Eagles trailing the Green Bay Packers 20-6 in Week 13, and the offense once again stuck in neutral, Pederson went to Hurts early in the third quarter.
Hurts brought the offense to life and pumped some juice back into the season. He beat the 10-2 New Orleans Saints the following week in his first career start, and despite up-and-down play over the final three games, he proved to be the more effective quarterback of the two. However, the move to Hurts set in motion a chain of events that led to a disgruntled Wentz being traded and Pederson and most of his staff being fired.
Lessons from that situation should be applied one year later with the Eagles quarterback position once again the subject of conversation. Gardner Minshew got the start Sunday in place of the injured Hurts and lit up the New York Jets, going 20-of-25 for 242 yards with two touchdowns in a 33-18 win. Tight end Dallas Goedert (six catches, 105 yards, two TDs) had a career day and the passing game was efficient, stoking curiosity about what the offense might look like with Minshew at the helm on a longer-term basis.
Coach Nick Sirianni did his best to end the debate before it had a chance to gain steam.
“He’s played really good football when he’s in,” Sirianni said of Hurts, “so when he’s healthy and he’s back, he’ll be our starter.”
Hurts has earned that right.
He is coming off the first three-interception performance of his career against the New York Giants and has been inconsistent in the passing game — his 60.1 completion percentage ranked 28th in the NFL entering Week 13 — but overall, he’s had the offense operating at a pretty high level. The Eagles rank eighth in red zone success rate (66 percent), fifth in third-down conversions (45.4%) and 10th in points per game (25.9) under Hurts. Hurts is second among quarterbacks with 695 rushing yards, behind only Lamar Jackson. From Weeks 7-11, Hurts was the No. 1-ranked QB in the NFL in QBR (75.0) before taking a step back against New York.
This is not a case of the starting quarterback holding a team back. There is not a similar desperation as last year to get things kick-started.
Even if there were, switching to Minshew would not be the right answer. Unlike other positions where you can change starters without much blowback, flipping quarterbacks can have an irreversible impact. It can cause split allegiances in the locker room and force players to second-guess the coaching staff and the entire operation. The chances of pushback are far greater when the demoted QB has cemented himself as a respected team leader, as Hurts has.
With Wentz, whatever trust he had left in the organization flew right out the window the moment he was replaced in the lineup. The risk is not worth the reward in testing the relationship with their current QB1.
With Wentz being granted a trade in the offseason, Hurts was handed the controls. The team has shifted into a state of transition, and with the Eagles holding upwards of three first-round picks in April’s draft — capital they can use to pursue a quarterback if they so choose — this season became largely about figuring out whether Hurts could be the long-term answer.
That remains the most important question facing the Eagles. There are four games remaining on the regular-season schedule, giving Philadelphia four more opportunities to evaluate Hurts before making a franchise-altering decision.
Minshew can be an effective quarterback. He has 39 career touchdowns to 11 interceptions. He looked really good on Sunday. But it was against the Jets, who have a habit of making opposing quarterbacks look really good. Even before giving up 418 yards to the Eagles on Sunday, the Jets’ defense was the NFL’s worst through the first 12 weeks, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index.
Minshew mania is fun. It’s natural to wonder what the offense might look like in their next game against Washington with him at the controls.
But you don’t have to look back very far at this team’s history to know that short-sighted quarterback decisions often blow up in your face.
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