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Neil Reynolds' Week 11 Wrap Up

That was a message and a half delivered by the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night as they recorded a 40-3 hammering of the Minnesota Vikings – a Vikings team playing in front of their own fans who had only experienced one loss on the year heading into Week 11.

If this is the time of year where teams begin elbowing each other and jockeying for position to make a run at the Super Bowl, the Cowboys laid down a huge marker in the NFC. Consistency has so often evaded Dallas, but if they can play like that on a regular basis – or like that through the playoffs – they can beat anyone in the league and take home their first Vince Lombardi Trophy since the 1995 season. They were that good!

The consistency is going to be key. We started our Sunday show on Sky Sports NFL talking about how talented the Cowboys are, but also how they cannot do it every week. They still let themselves down every now and then in big spots… like at home in the playoffs against San Francisco last season or in Week 10 when they blew a 14-point fourth quarter lead in a loss to the Green Bay Packers.

I know consistency is hard to find in the NFL and every team is going to have down days. Just ask the Vikings! But the Cowboys – and head coach Mike McCarthy – are charged with finding said consistency because they play against the constant backdrop of Super Bowl or bust. Jerry Jones will not settle for anything less as the team's owner.

It could be Super Bowl if they carry on playing how they did on Sunday. It was a total team win and one of the more dominant performances of this 2022 season. The defense recorded seven sacks of Kirk Cousins with Micah Parsons and Dorrance Armstrong notching two QB takedowns each. Dak Prescott was very efficient as he completed 22 of 25 passes for 276 yards, two touchdowns – both to Tony Pollard – and no interceptions.

Pollard is growing into a star but after carrying the load for two weeks in Ezekiel Elliott's absence, it was back to a job share this week. Both backs carried the ball 15 times. Pollard had 21 touches and Elliott 16 when you add in their receptions. The pair joined forces to rack up 236 yards from scrimmage with three touchdowns.

As I said a couple of weeks back, this doesn't need to be a 'Pollard or Zeke?' thing. Use both of them. At this stage of the year, teams need every player on the roster to make some kind of contribution and Elliott is too good to become a bit-part performer.

I wouldn't mind if Pollard gets the lion's share of the carries the rest of the way because he offers some real juice in the running and passing games, but Zeke is definitely going to have a role to play in big games looming down the stretch.

And now the Cowboys face a massive Thanksgiving Day game at home against the New York Giants, who also boast a 7-3 record. I cannot wait to watch that action on Sky Sports NFL on Thursday.

Who's Hot…

The people of Buffalo… Actually, they're probably pretty chilly right now after more than six foot of snow was dumped on the region in the days leading up to the Bills' 31-23 win over the Cleveland Browns in a game that had to be moved to Detroit. The Bills survived a late scare to escape with a victory on a weekend when they must have wondered if they were going to get off their own driveways. The stories about Bills players battling to reach the airport are going to become the stuff of legend. A neighbour with a tractor cleared an escape route for quarterback Josh Allen, fans and neighbours dug out tight end Dawson Knox and offensive lineman Dion Dawkins had to trudge through the piles of snow before connecting with the team bus. There was even talk of players being brought to the team facility on snowmobiles if necessary. As expected, Buffalo fans rallied to help their Bills. And they also found a way to get to Detroit themselves. More than 56,000 tickets were sold in less than 48 hours and the stands were filled with Buffalo supporters. There may not be a better fan base in the entire NFL.

Patrick Mahomes… Kansas City's supreme leader has now won 25 straight games in November and December. That alone is pretty stunning. Then you look at how Mahomes engineered Sunday's come from behind win over the Chargers and realise once more just how special he is. The Chiefs are an excellent football team and currently the best in the NFL, but they have been there for the taking in some games… and then Mahomes takes it away from the opposition with his elevated level of play down the stretch. That's greatness. When Joshua Palmer gave LA the lead with 1:46 remaining, we all knew there was too much time left. Mahomes made plays with his arm and his legs and only needed one minute and 15 seconds to steal the game with a touchdown strike to Travis Kelce – their third hook-up of the contest. Mahomes for MVP? I don't see why not.

The Washington Commanders… In one of the more unlikely turn of events in 2022, the Commanders have become contenders in the NFC after winning five of their last six. They now boast a 6-5 record in the competitive NFC East and are positioned to make a playoff run. The driving force behind the turnaround has been the form of the defense, which recorded five sacks and two interceptions – scoring on Kendall Fuller's pick six – in a 23-10 win over Houston. Taylor Heinicke only threw for 191 yards and no touchdowns on Sunday, but head coach Ron Rivera knows not to mess with a team's mojo. And that's why he announced after the game that Carson Wentz will be the backup even when healthy. You have to wonder where Wentz's career will go next but that's of little concern to the Commanders right now. They find themselves in the midst of an unlikely playoff chase.

Who's Not…

Matt Ryan… Not for the first time since Andrew Luck dropped his retirement bombshell on the team on the eve of the 2019 season, the Indianapolis Colts need to find themselves a quarterback this offseason. And I'm not talking about a Philip Rivers, Carson Wentz or Matt Ryan type. Ryan's numbers looked okay in Sunday's 17-16 loss to Philadelphia as he hit on 23 of 32 passes for 213 yards. But he just doesn't make enough plays and the Colts let the Eagles hang around for far too long. Indianapolis was playing so well on defense and were positioned to give Jeff Saturday two wins from two. But Ryan couldn't get enough points on the board. He was steady and nothing more when the Colts needed him to put the team on his back like Jalen Hurts did for the Eagles. Ryan cannot move in the pocket and his fading arm strength is evident. With a top-half-of-the-league quarterback on Sunday, the Colts would have won that game.

The Denver Broncos… I think Nathaniel Hackett is moving into one and done territory as head coach of the Broncos after his team fell to a 22-16 overtime defeat at the hands of the equally-struggling Las Vegas Raiders. The Silver and Black never led in regulation but stole the game on Davante Adams' 35-yard catch from Derek Carr in the extra period. Russell Wilson did not throw a touchdown pass in the disappointing contest and Denver have now been held below 20 points in eight of their 10 games this season. When you fail in the area in which you are supposed to specialise, you are a dead man walking as a head coach. Hackett is approaching that territory now after the Broncos fell to 3-7. And I just don't know what this team does with Wilson in the coming years. They certainly won't give up on him until they see if he can thrive under different leadership. But the worrying signs of decline are there with his play.

Zach Wilson… In the same way as the Colts defense was let down by the offensive side of the ball in a defeat in Week 11, the same can be said of the New York Jets, whose defenders hung tough all game long against the New England Patriots. The Jets could only manage one field goal on the day and gained just two total yards of offense in the second half. They lost on a Marcus Jones 84-yard punt return with five seconds remaining, giving New England a stodgy 10-3 win. Zach Wilson just doesn't make enough plays for the Jets and the second-year quarterback completed just nine of 22 throws for 77 yards. He looks overwhelmed at times. He took quarterback play back to the 1930s and that's being rude to the 1930s! New England have a stout defense but they are not the 1985 Chicago Bears. Could they move on from Wilson after just two years? That quick trigger is becoming more prominent around the NFL and Wilson is in the cross-hairs, for sure.

The Fast Five…

  1. The Detroit Lions are becoming an enjoyable watch and they thoroughly deserved their 31-18 win over the New York Giants in the Big Apple on Sunday. That was Detroit's third victory in a row and watching them take on Buffalo on Thanksgiving now seems much more appealing. This was a very impressive display as the Lions handed New York just their third loss of the year. They've had some good days through the air, but Detroit did their damage on the ground as they rushed for 160 yards and four scores. They also held Saquon Barkley to 22 rushing yards on 15 attempts, recorded two sacks and saw youngsters Aidan Hutchinson and Kerby Joseph grab interceptions. You've got my attention, Dan Campbell.
  2. The Chargers fell to 5-5 with Sunday's loss to Kansas City, but I cannot rule them out of making a late charge in the AFC wild card race because Keenan Allen's return made this team look more like themselves. Allen caught five passes for 94 yards, while the aforementioned Palmer went over 100 yards receiving and found the end zone twice. Justin Herbert and his rocket arm gives this team a chance to stay alive, although they must have been gutted to see such a brief return to action from Mike Williams before he hobbled back to the bench having re-injured his ankle. Can this team buy a break on the injury front?
  3. It's amazing to witness how things play out for certain players. Baker Mayfield was the first overall selection in the 2018 NFL Draft and was supposed to be the saviour of the Cleveland Browns, who had been through decades of quarterback ineptitude. On Sunday, we might have been witnessing the final death throes – and throws – of Baker Mayfield. During the Carolina Panthers' 13-3 loss to the Baltimore Ravens, the stuttering quarterback threw for just 196 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. He can hang around the league as a backup for a few years, but I cannot see Mayfield being a long-term starter anywhere else for the foreseeable future.
  4. Joe Burrow and the Bengals picked up a second straight win without Ja'Marr Chase in the lineup and they're going to have to scrap and claw as they did in Sunday's 37-30 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Burrow threw for 355 yards and four touchdowns, including nine connections with Tee Higgins for 148 yards. But the real star of the show was Samaji Perine, who took on a greater role following an injury suffered by Joe Mixon. He caught three touchdown strikes and the Bengals are still just a game back from the Ravens at the top of the AFC North.
  5. The Ravens are well positioned in that race for the AFC North as their next three opponents – Jacksonville, Denver and Pittsburgh – all have 3-7 records. Coming up next for the Bengals are clashes with Tennessee, Kansas City and Tampa Bay. Advantage Baltimore.

Fact of the Week

With one game remaining on Monday Night Football, there have been 72 contests decided by a touchdown or less in 2022 (6 points or fewer). That is the most such games through Week 11 in NFL history. Sunday's contests decided by that margin were Atlanta-Chicago, Philadelphia-Indianapolis, Las Vegas-Denver and Kansas City-LA Chargers.

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 so often did 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 Fazak (@fazak1987) Zach Wilson needs to… accept some responsibility for his poor play. The only thing worse than his showing against New England was his post-game media session. Asked if he felt the offense had let the defense down, Wilson replied: "No." Imagine if you're a Jets defender and you hear that response after leaving it all out on the field in the previous three hours? That was the worst possible way Wilson could have handled such a wrenching loss. It was the kind of response that could fracture what is a very good locker room in New York. He should have accepted the very obvious fact that the Jets' defense was put in a bad spot and he was responsible for a lot of that.

From IFR-Titan-2625…  The Titans defense is… not bothered how many starters are missing through injuries. They are going to play the same way week in and week out. They are going to be extremely well coached and very physical. And they are going to let everybody know they have been in a game. The Titans don't get as much love as some teams around the NFL, but make no mistake… they will be a very tough out once the AFC playoffs begin.

From Tom Marshall (@redzonauk) Odell Beckham on the Cowboys would be… a lovely late-season addition, but only if he can actually play close to his normal standard and make an impact on the field. Let's not forget that Tampa Bay's Chris Godwin recently said his battle back to full fitness has been a work in progress. Even though he has played pretty much all season long. Only now is Godwin looking more like his old self. OBJ blew his knee out – for a second time, I might add – in the Super Bowl in February. How will he look when he comes back? I'm sure Dallas will do their due diligence and I'm sure Beckham only wants to play for a contender. If he is fully fit, look out. Adding him to the Dallas attack – especially in the red zone – could produce something special. But there are quite a few questions to be answered on the health front.

Final Thought…

I always look forward to the Thanksgiving Day games on Sky Sports NFL and we have three pretty decent ones this week. That has not always been the case! First up is Buffalo at Detroit, followed by the Giants at the Cowboys. And we finish off by seeing if the Vikings can get back on the horse as they take on New England. Fascinating from start to finish. Add in the fact that we can have a turkey dinner again and it should be a great night. We're on air from 5pm with the first game kicking off at 5.30pm. See you there!