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Neil Reynolds' Wraps Week 11

The Detroit Lions have been a really nice NFL story since around this time last year. On Thanksgiving Day in 2022, the decades-long strugglers gave the Buffalo Bills all they could handle before falling to a 28-25 defeat. It was one of only two losses in their final 10 games of last season.

In the first 10 games of this season – and with their annual Thanksgiving Day game coming up on Thursday – the Lions have, again, only lost twice. And the way they continue to win is establishing them as way more than a cute story.

Dan Campbell's Detroit Lions are firmly in the Super Bowl conversation.

They signalled their intent in Week 1, of course, heading into Arrowhead Stadium and taking down the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs on opening night. And this weekend, they showed great resilience to eventually tame the Chicago Bears; moving to 8-2 for the first time since 1962.

Jared Goff had arguably his worst game as a Lion, throwing three interceptions to leave Detroit staring at what would have been a disappointing defeat. The Lions were down by 12 with three minutes remaining but Goff and the offense refused to crumble. In an intense pressure situation with no room for error, Detroit and their quarterback delivered.

Goff threw a 32-yard touchdown pass to Jameson Williams and the Lions defense quickly got the ball back on Chicago's next drive. Down 26-21, Goff took just over two minutes to move Detroit 73 yards in 11 plays, stealing the game on David Montgomery's one-yard touchdown run with just 29 seconds remaining. That lead was padded with Goff's two-point pass to Sam LaPorta and a safety following a strip sack by Aidan Hutchinson. After looking like they were going to blow a game, the Lions ran out 31-26 winners.

Goff will get the plaudits for turning things around late in this game. The quarterback always gets more credit – and more blame – when it comes to wins and losses. Don't get me wrong, Goff is playing great and is a major reason why the Lions are heading for a first division title since 1993. But he is not alone.

Amon-Ra St. Brown has quietly become one of the most productive receivers in the NFL and his value to the Lions is clear. He has been targeted at least seven times in all 10 Detroit games this season – most in the NFL. And the running back duo of David Montgomery and Jahmyr Gibbs take turns to punish opposing defenses.

Both topped 95 scrimmage yards, Montgomery scored the game-winner against his old team and Gibbs found the end zone on a rushing touchdown for the fourth contest in a row. The last Lions rookie to achieve that feat was a certain Barry Sanders in 1989. That's good company to be keeping.

I've had to do a pretty thorough 'sell' job on the Lions in previous Thanksgiving Day shows on Sky Sports. They have had some horror shows in front of their own fans over the years and have not won on Turkey Day since 2016.

But that's nothing but irrelevant history to Campbell and his players. And when your history is as bad as the Lions, you are more than content to leave that firmly in the past. This is a brave new world in Detroit and they will be expected to win at home against the Green Bay Packers on Thursday.

After that, who knows how far this team can go? All the way? Why not? It does feel like something special is brewing in the Motor City and everyone should just buckle up and enjoy the ride!

Who's Hot?

Brock Purdy… Don't ask me how they get there, but the NFL has a perfect score for its passer rating system and it is the wonderfully-random 158.3. Brock Purdy got to that mark during the San Francisco 49ers' 27-14 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday night. The second-season quarterback, who didn't really enter our public consciousness until early December last year, completed 21 of 25 passes for 333 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. The last 49ers quarterbacks to post perfect passer ratings in a game were Hall of Famers Joe Montana and Steve Young, who both achieved the feat in 1989. Purdy is quick with his decisions, accurate and he throws a really nice ball. I understand that he is in the right situation and surrounded with talent, but Purdy continues to make a mockery of the entire draft system. How was he picked 262nd overall in 2022? He is already one of the league's true stars at the quarterback position.

The Houston Texans… This exciting young team is doing very similar things to the Detroit Lions. With three wins in a row and having won four of their last five, the Houston Texans now have our attention. Sunday's 21-16 win over the Arizona Cardinals was not perfect, but there were many highlights. C.J. Stroud had another big day at quarterback, throwing for 336 yards and two touchdowns. But he also had to overcome some adversity. Having thrown just two interceptions in his first nine NFL starts, Stroud tossed three on Sunday. He will learn from that and I have no doubt he will remain a star of this league for years to come. There are others contributing and that is important. The Texans are becoming a team. Devin Singletary topped 100 yards rushing for the second game in a row, the explosive Tank Dell caught eight for 149 yards and a touchdown and fellow 2023 rookie Will Anderson had a key sack on defense. Add in an interception by 2022 first-round cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. and the future looks bright in Houston. The 6-4 Texans, who have already beaten Jacksonville once this season, will play for the AFC South lead on Sunday when they welcome the 7-3 Jaguars to Texas.

Tommy DeVito… The NFL is just weird. Detroit and Houston are mounting Super Bowl challenges, the last player picked in the 2022 NFL Draft is one of the best quarterbacks in the league and Bill Belichick is fighting to keep his job in New England. And now Tommy DeVito – who still lives with his mum - turns in one of the best displays of the weekend as the New York Giants completed the season sweep of the Washington Commanders with a 31-19 victory. The undrafted local rookie was sacked nine times behind a dangerously-bad offensive line on Sunday, but he will never forget his second NFL start. DeVito hit on 18 of 26 passes for 246 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions for a rating of 137.7 (the highest rating for an undrafted rookie in the NFL Draft era). The Illinois product showed great courage, turning a difficult day into something quite special, adding yet another footnote to what is becoming a very strange NFL season.

Who's Not?

The Los Angeles Chargers… This spot has been reserved for the Chargers' defense on quite a few occasions this season as that side of the ball has collapsed dramatically at key times in 2023. And it was the case again on Sunday as the Chargers conceded a 24-yard touchdown pass from Jordan Love to Romeo Doubs with 2:33 remaining in what turned out to be a 23-20 loss to the Green Bay Packers. It was LA's fifth one-scored defeat of the season, dropping Brandon Staley's underachieving team to 4-6. The coach was salty with the media after the game as his defense came under further scrutiny. I think questions need to be asked of the coach and his defense but, on this occasion, there is enough blame to go around. Keenan Allen dropped a sure-fire touchdown and Austin Ekeler lost a vital fumble. There is a saying across all sports that good teams find a way to win even when not playing well. The Chargers have been doing the exact opposite for some time now – they seem to find a way to lose games at the end and it leaves a talented team with some major question marks heading into the stretch run.

Pittsburgh's passing game… The Steelers put on a great Watch Party event in Dublin, Ireland, this weekend with more than 500 fans in attendance at Croke Park. But their team couldn't put on a show, falling 13-10 to a Cleveland Browns team led by rookie quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who has been thrown into the fray following Deshaun Watson's season-ending shoulder injury. I know it was against the league's number one defense and number one pass defense, but these are the games Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett has to be winning. When they take to the air, these Steelers look lost. Pickett threw for 106 yards and no touchdowns. George Pickens was his leading receiver with four for 38 yards and the Steelers had a net passing yards total of 77. That is the primary reason this team lost to a Cleveland side who scored just three points in the second half. Pickett needs a strong finish like the one he produced in 2022 to make Steelers fans believe he is the long-term answer at quarterback. Otherwise, I'm not sure he has a long-term future in Steeltown.

Zach Wilson… It might be the end of the road for Zach Wilson and somebody else could be under center by the time we air the New York Jets' Black Friday game against the Miami Dolphins later this week. Wilson was benched during Sunday's 32-6 loss to the Buffalo Bills. Let's find one small grain of positivity – the Jets did find the end zone and score a touchdown, but it was after 40 consecutive drives of futility. Wilson completed just seven passes for 81 yards, one score and one interception. His rating of 57.9 marked the second time this year he was held under 60 points. Wilson ranks last in the NFL with a completion percentage of 59.2 and 30th with quarterback rating of 73.8. There is a body of work there now and the Jets know their future doesn't feature Wilson. They might as well see if they get a bump by inserting Tim Boyle into the lineup and then plan for Aaron Rodgers to lead the way in 2024.

The Fast Five

  • It was terribly sad to see Joe Burrow go down for the season as the quarterback of the Cincinnati Bengals. Joe Cool – who suffered a wrist injury - guided the Bengals to the Super Bowl in the 2021 campaign and to within a play or two of the Super Bowl in 2022. He is one of the true superstars of the game and the NFL will be a poorer place without him. As for the Bengals, they are 5-5 and all at sea. It's going to be hard for them to make the playoffs now they are without their game-changing leader.
  • I was also gutted to see our very own Efe Obada leave the field on a cart during Washington's loss to the New York Giants. The Commanders defensive lineman suffered a serious leg injury, but I have no doubt he can make it back onto the field and be contributing for an NFL team in 2024. Efe's life story has not featured a few bumps in the road, they have been entire mountains. He overcame many obstacles to become an NFL star and he's got this. He has more chapters of his incredible story to write.
  • I know the Bengals lost Burrow during the game, but the Baltimore Ravens were mightily impressive in Thursday's 34-20 win that moved them to 8-3 on the season. The only negative was the loss of tight end Mark Andrews to a season-ending knee injury. But this team is talented across the board and could easily be 9-1 or even 10-0. Lamar Jackson played a clean game, the Ravens ran for more than 150 and Odell Beckham Jr. is rounding into great shape and topped 100 yards receiving. Baltimore will be a tough out in January.
  • The Miami Dolphins moved to 7-3 with a 20-13 win over the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 10. And during that victory, the usual suspects showed up at times as Tua Tagovailoa threw for more than 300 yards and Tyreek Hill caught 10 passes for 146 yards and one score. But the growing story in Miami is the form of the defense. After holding Kansas City to just two offensive touchdowns in Frankfurt, the Dolphins limited the Raiders to just one visit to the end zone. Miami recorded two sacks and three interceptions, with two outstanding diving efforts from Jalen Ramsey catching the eye and sealing the victory. This unit's growth will make Miami a more balanced and more dangerous team in the AFC playoffs.
  • They still kick far too many field goals (Will Lutz landed five of them on Sunday night), but the Denver Broncos have something going now and have won four straight in a season for the first time since 2016. Russell Wilson found enough at the end of the game to throw the match-winner to Courtland Sutton and he has already eclipsed his output for the entire 2022 campaign (19 touchdown passes in 2023 to 16 in 2022). He and head coach Sean Payton are figuring it out and Denver, at 5-5, are very alive in the AFC playoff race.

Finish That Sentence

As is tradition in this column, I asked you to start your NFL-related sentences for this week and I would finish a selection here. So, let's get to it!

From Jack Palmer-White (@jackpalmerwhite)… Ron Rivera is… likely playing out the slate as head coach of the Washington Commanders. Sunday's loss to the struggling New York Giants, was a new low. Washington have now lost twice to the Giants this season and that must be tough for new owner, Josh Harris, to take. Washington have not really kicked on in recent years. They have moments of success but cannot sustain a credible challenge. Sam Howell could be the answer at quarterback but that still needs to play out for a year or two. I think the new ownership group will want a new leader in charge come 2024 and that's a shame because Ron Rivera is a good coach and an even better man.

From Ger Mullins (@75megager)… After a massively successful inaugural Steelers watch party, the NFL will take notice and award Ireland a regular season game in… 2027! I think the NFL did definitely take note and the event was indeed a huge success. And it was not just that one event. I spent an evening with Irish fans in Dublin on the Saturday night and their passion for the NFL is just as fierce as supporters in the UK and Germany. There is no doubt teams like the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Jacksonville Jaguars would like to play a regular season game in Ireland in the future. There just may need to be a bit of patience until the NFL ratifies an expansion of games played overseas. Spain or Brazil will be next in 2024, whichever of those two doesn't host next year will get a game in 2025 and then I would look at Paris and also Mexico City will come back online. But Dublin should definitely be in the mix, so I think it happens in the next four years. Sign me up. I'll be there!

From HTJ (@htj86)… Brandon Staley's post-match press conference was… disappointing but not surprising. There are occasions where head coaches, particularly those under great stress, turn on the media and blame them for asking difficult questions. That's kind of the media's job. And given how the Chargers continually blow close games and have defensive meltdowns at the worst possible time, it's understandable why these kinds of questions are being asked. What Coach Staley has to remember is that players and coaches don't go out into the street to talk to fans to explain what's going on with the team. The way players and coaches speak with the people who pay hard-earned money to watch and support them is through the media. If a coach or a player turns on the media, they are turning on their own fan base. And that rarely ends well. I don't think enough players and coaches realise that fact.

Final Thought

One of my favourite weeks of the year is here. We will break out the turkey in our Sky Sports NFL studio on Thursday evening for the traditional Thanksgiving Day triple-header of games. Then, for the first time in NFL history, there will be a Black Friday game and we will be in Manchester to cover the Dolphins and the Jets in New York. Then, we will make our way back down to London for our regular Sunday show. It's going to be great to sit and watch all of those games with Jason Bell, Phoebe Schecter and Jeff Reinebold. And it serves as a reminder that we have never had it so good in terms of the amount of games coming our way live in the UK. In Week 12 alone, Sky Sports will air eight live games from Thursday to Monday – that's half of the contests being played in that week's action. We've come a long way from one hour of highlights aired seven days after the games were played. I hope you can join us on Thursday, Friday and Sunday as we continue this unpredictable journey to Super Bowl 58 in Las Vegas.