Here's what we learned from Sunday's Week 11 slate of games:
- It's hard to embellish how special this Bears defense is. In its biggest home game in half a decade, Chicago overmatched the reigning division champions and seized control of the NFC North. The Bears (7-3) took charge of this one from the get-go, forcing three Vikings three-and-outs in their first four drives. Paced by Defensive Player of the Year favorite Khalil Mack, who tossed Riley Reiff like a rag doll on more than one occasion, the Bears held the Vikings to just 268 total yards and an anemic 4.3 yards per play. To make up for the three giveaways their offense surrendered, the Monsters of the Midway forced three takeaways, including a game-clinching pick-six by Eddie Jackson. Chicago is comfy and cool atop the NFC North, two games ahead of Minnesota and three ahead of Green Bay in the win column. Next up, the Bears face the rival Lions on Thanksgiving afternoon for their second clash in 12 days.
- Kirk Cousins' woes in prime time continued. Facing a swarming Bears front seven, Cousins (262 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs) was under constant duress and unable to connect on large chunk plays until it was too late. It didn't help the frazzled signal-caller that Minnesota was never able to establish a ground game against Mack, Akiem Hicks and Leonard Floyd. Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray combined for just 17 yards on 13 carries, Minnesota's fewest total since its Week 3 loss to Buffalo. The Bears are an extraordinary opponent, but the Vikings won't go anywhere in the division or conference if their offensive line can't stay competitive in pass protection and run blocking. Cousins dropped to 4-12 in his career in prime-time games. Minnesota (5-4-1) is losing ground in the NFC North race with a crucial Sunday night matchup with the Packers (4-5-1) looming.
- A national audience saw the best and worst of Mitchell Trubisky. The second-year quarterback was a consistent chain-mover on the ground, rushing for 45 yards and taking hold of the league rushing lead among quarterbacks (365), passing the Panthers' Cam Newton. But Trubisky (165 yards, TD) continued to struggle with his consistency, decision-making and downfield accuracy. His two ill-advised interceptions were both ambitious downfield attempts that landed in the hands of Vikings safety Anthony Harris. Where Chicago showed its offensive mettle was on the ground (148 yards) and in its ability to extend long drives. Each of the Bears' three first-half scoring drives featured at least 10 plays. With a three-headed attack of Trubisky, Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen, Chicago ground down a Minnesota front seven that just one year ago was the league's best. But the winds have shifted in the Windy City.
-- Jeremy Bergman
- Von Miller completely flipped the script. With the Chargers holding a 12-point lead and driving into scoring range, the Broncos pass rusher instinctively read Philip Rivers, picked off a screen pass and galloped 42 yards to the 18-yard line setting up a touchdown. The play jumpstarted a previously dead-on-arrival Broncos offense and made a would-be blowout into a tight tilt the Broncos swiped at the end.
Case Keenum had 59 passing yards entering the fourth quarter but made plays when they counted late after the Chargers (7-3) gave the Broncos life with sloppy game management. After holding the ball too long early, Keenum caught fire on the final drive of the game. He hit Emmanuel Sanders for a huge 38-yard gain with less than 1:30 remaining on the clock. After a questionable pass interference call on receiver Tim Patrick pushed Denver back, Kennum found a streaking Courtland Sutton to set up a Brandon McManus' game-winning field goal as time expired. It wasn't a crisp day for Denver's offense. Philip Lindsay did the heavy lifting, rushing for 79 yards and two scores on just 11 attempts. Keenum, however, showed his mettle leading the game-winning drive. Embattled coach Vance Joseph will gladly take a win that the other team botched. He should thank Miller for changing the game.
- Philip Rivers will be kicking himself after the game. The quarterback threw for 401 yards and two touchdowns, but his two interceptions badly hurt L.A. The toss into Miller's mitts turned what should have been a cakewalk win into a loss. Still, the Chargers had a chance to put the game on ice with a huge pass to the ageless Antonio Gates on a big third down. A botched handoff, however, led to another third-and-long at the two-minute warning. With Denver (4-6) out of timeouts, instead of running 40 seconds off the clock, Rivers tossed a wormburner at the feet of Keenan Allen, taking just two seconds off the clock. The errors gave the Broncos a chance to steal the game. Steal it they did. The loss ends L.A.'s six-game winning streak. The Chargers will be sick thinking about all the opportunities they coughed up in a division loss that pushes them further behind the Chiefs.
- Joey Bosa participated in his first game of the season and played a rotational role. The pass rusher played 28 snaps (53.8 percent), compiling one tackle and a single QB hit. The Chargers didn't sack Keenum on the day. Bosa looked slightly slowed in his return from a foot injury, which is to be expected. While he still owns a quick first step, Bosa didn't look like his normal explosive self when chasing plays from the backside. Still, he brings heady play to the Chargers D. Early on, the defensive end sniffed out a flat pass to a tight end, blowing up the pay and forcing a throwaway. Getting Bosa fully integrated into the defense down the stretch would immensely improve L.A.'s D for a potential playoff push.
-- Kevin Patra
- Derek Carr and Jon Gruden's acrimonious workplace relationship took center stage on Sunday. CBS cameras caught the Raiders quarterback and coach jawing at each other on multiple occasions following busted possessions. Carr threw two beautiful touchdown passes in the first half but was otherwise pedestrian (192 yards, four sacks) until late in Sunday's game, often throwing short of the sticks and playing hurried as he has throughout the season. But on Oakland's final drive of the game, Carr took control. The embattled QB unleashed a perfect 32-yard sideline bomb to rookie receivers Marcell Ateman and converted a key third-down conversion to Seth Roberts on a 20-yard screen, marching the Raiders 61 yards in less than two minutes. Rookie kicker Daniel Carlson booted home a 35-yard field goal to put an end to Oakland's five-game losing streak and, at least briefly, stop the bleeding. All is not completely well in the East Bay and against fiercer competition, the Raiders would not have escaped with a victory. But perhaps Sunday's comeback will help mend a publicly strained alliance between Carr and Gruden and usher in brighter days in Oakland.
- For the third consecutive game, David Johnson hit at least 100 yards from scrimmage. D.J. ran through some wide open lanes to 137 yards on 25 carries and tallied one reception for 17 yards. In the three weeks since Byron Leftwich was promoted to offensive coordinator, the Cardinals offense has gone through Johnson, usually to the benefit of everyone involved. The Cardinals are susceptible to sustained lulls on offense, but when Johnson is on, they're on. On Arizona's final touchdown drive, Johnson broke off consecutive runs of 10 and 53 yards to get the Cardinals into the red zone for the first time since midway through the first quarter. Josh Rosen (136 yards, 3 TDs) followed D.J.'s one-two punch with one of his own, tossing pinpoint sideline-bound passes to Christian Kirk and Larry Fitzgerald to put Arizona up one. If not for a holding penalty on the Cardinals' final drive, Johnson would have won this one with a highlight-reel 57-yard TD run. Alas, Arizona faltered with the lead and handed Oakland one too many possessions.
- This result will have major ramifications on the draft order come April. With the loss, the Cardinals (2-8) fall into a tie with the Raiders (2-8) and 49ers (2-8) for worst record in the league. The tale of the tape: Arizona beat San Francisco twice; San Francisco crushed Oakland; and Oakland topped Arizona. The 49ers currently have the inside track for the first overall pick, but there's still a ways to go.
-- Jeremy Bergman
- This matchup was likely circled when the 2018 schedule came out, especially when considering the two teams were on a collision course in the 2017 playoffs before the Saints were knocked out a game short of the NFC Championship Game. But Week 11 proved no contest, as the Saints remain the hottest team in the league with a ninth consecutive win over an overmatched Eagles team.
Led by quarterback Drew Brees, the Saints possess a well-oiled offensive machine and scored on their first three possessions to open up a 17-0 lead by the early second quarter. While the Eagles scored a touchdown to make it a 17-7, the Saints stepped on the gas pedal to score 31 straight points. Brees finished with 363 yards passing and four touchdowns to pace a third consecutive week that the Saints, now 9-1, scored 40-plus points. The Saints entered the game averaging a league-high 37.5 points per game.
Meanwhile, the other three teams in the NFC South all lost Sunday to give the Saints a three-game lead in the division over the second place Carolina Panthers (6-4). While a lot can still happen down the stretch, the Saints are essentially in control of their own path to the postseason given four of their final six games are against divisional opponents, including two against the Panthers.
- The Saints signaled a desire to upgrade the No. 2 wide receiver spot with the signing Dez Bryant, and then Brandon Marshall when Bryant suffered a season-ending torn Achilles tendon in his second practice. Marshall, who joined the team earlier in the week, wasn't active and his absence on the field opened the door for Saints receivers not named Michael Thomas to shine.
Rookie Tre'Quan Smith had a career day with 10 catches for 157 yards and a touchdown. Smith showed an ability to make tough catches in traffic, especially the scoring grab at the goal line, and speed to get down the field on a 38-yard catch. Rookie Keith Kirkwood chipped in with 33 yards receiving on three catches, while second-year pro Austin Carr hauled in his first career touchdown.
By the way, Thomas was his usual elite self, catching four catches for 92 yards and a touchdown. The yardage gave Thomas his third consecutive 1,000-yard receiving season.
- Nothing the Eagles did on either side of the ball worked Sunday. In addition to giving up points, the defense allowed the Saints to produce 546 total yards of offense and average 7.9 yards per play. Offensively, quarterback Carson Wentz completed 19 of 33 passes for 156 yards and three interceptions for a career-low 31.9 rating in a single game. Sunday's performance dropped the Eagles to 4-6 and in search of answers.
-- Herbie Teope
- Riverboat Ron pushed all his chips onto the table -- and came up empty-handed. After scoring a touchdown with 1:07 left in the fourth quarter to move to within one point of the lead, the Panthers went for two points. Cam Newton had all the time in the world, but couldn't find an open receiver and darted the ball over the head of wide receiver Jarius Wright in the end zone to annihilate the Panthers' chances of a win. The decision to go for two came after kicker Graham Gano looked inexplicably off his game. He missed a 34-yard field-goal attempt earlier in the game and an extra-point attempt. Had he made those, it's hard to believe Panthers coach Ron Rivera would have elected to go for two in that scenario. At 6-4 following two straight losses, Carolina is out of chips when it comes to risking their playoff hopes.
- Perhaps the end of the Golden (Tate) era in Detroit isn't as bad as everyone thinks it might be. Kenny Golladay has taken over the role of top wide receiver in Motown since Tate's trade deadline detour to Philly, and he played a decisive role in keeping the Lions' postseason aspirations on life support for another week. Golladay made 8 catches for 113 yards and constantly challenged a relatively shallow Panthers secondary that was looking to make amends for last week's Big Ben thrashing. James Bradberry provided sticky coverage on Golladay most of the game, but he couldn't match the speedy playmaker play for play. Golladay's biggest moment came on an insane, full-extension, backward fading, leaping catch over Bradberry at the front of the end zone that broke a 13-13 tie in the fourth quarter. He made a handful of other impressive catches but his Sistine Chapel of a catch in the fourth quarter made his other grabs look like Jeff Koons knockoffs. Golladay might not be Megatron, but Matthew Stafford still has a true No. 1 receiver.
- The Lions (4-6) found some success on the ground, spearheaded by the efforts of rookie running back Kerryon Johnson, who tallied 87 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. Johnson left the game early with a knee injury and will have an MRI on Monday, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported. After initial tests, Johnson is believed to have suffered a knee sprain, not an ACL tear, Rapoport added. If he misses any significant amount of time, it would be a huge blow to Detroit's chances of resurrecting itself from the depths of the NFC North.
-- Austin Knoblauch
- Washington's season took a grim turn Sunday when starting quarterback Alex Smith was carted off the field in the third quarter with a broken tibia and fibula. Immediately ruled out and rushed to a nearby hospital, Smith was replaced by longtime backup Colt McCoy. Before his exit, Smith hurt the 'Skins with a pair of interceptions, including an ill-fated end-zone strike that sailed into the arms of rookie Justin Reid, who authored a marvelous 101-yard pick six to bury Washington in a 17-7 hole. McCoy led a pair of touchdown drives and showed decent mobility on Sunday. He's not your first choice in a playoff race, but McCoy -- at his best -- isn't a shocking downgrade from what Smith was putting on tape in 2018.
- The Texans were saved by Washington's Dustin Hopkins missing a 63-yard field goal try with three ticks left. The team's franchise-record-tying seventh straight win was far from a thing of beauty, though, as Ka'imi Fairbairn killed the Texans with a pair of botched kicks including a 45-yarder with Houston up 23-21 with under a minute to play. Deshaun Watson also threw a pair of picks while the Texans were hurt by a controversial turnover when a DeAndre Hopkins catch on his back -- which didn't really look like a grab to me -- was ruled a fumble. Watson faced plenty of pressure behind a ravaged line that saw guards Zach Fulton and Senio Kelemete leave with injuries, but the young passer did just enough and was helped by Lamar Miller, the typically less-than-stellar back who waltzed for 86 yards at 4.3 yards per pop.
- Say farewell to one of the league's more-ballyhooed statistical nuggets in some time as Washington's nine-game streak without a lead change came crashing down when Adrian Peterson blasted into the end zone to forge a 21-20 advantage.
- Washington (6-4) now sits four days away from a juicy Thanksgiving Day showdown with the Cowboys (5-5) that will go a long way toward deciding the NFC East. Beyond their record, though, I don't trust the 'Skins to do anything but take a massive dirt-nap should they wind up in the playoffs against a beast like the Rams or Saints. The 7-3 Texans, meanwhile, are slated for a critical battle next Monday night with the five-win, hot-and-cold Titans.
-- Marc Sessler
- Baltimore reinvented its offense with rookie Lamar Jacksonmaking his first start under center. The Ravens came out of the gate running the ball and didn't stop all day. Jackson led an 11-play touchdown drive in which he didn't attempt a pass to open the day. The drive was highlighted by five rushes for 46 yards by the dual-threat quarterback. Credit OC Marty Mornhinweg with playing to Jackson's strengths, calling a bevy of read-options, creative run formations, misdirection, QB draws and designed runs to get the rookie to the edge. Jackson finished with 117 yards rushing on the day on a whopping 27 attempts -- questions about how much of a pounding the QB can take will surely arise. Jackson played well in his debut, hitting quick routes over the middle, bootlegs, and displaying an uncanny ability to extend the play in the pocket and find receivers throwing from several different arm-slots. Jackson still has strides to go in the rhythm passing game, and never stretched the field deep at all, but it was a solid start for the future of Baltimore. His biggest mistake came when he attempted to extend a pass play and didn't see the DB dropping off coverage for an interception. Sometimes you live by the dynamic playmaker; sometimes you die by it. Jackson, however, bounced back, leading two straight scoring drives to regain the lead and hold on for a much-needed victory. With Jackson, the Ravens offense is infinitely more interesting than the milquetoast Joe Flacco.
- All three phases struggled for Marvin Lewis' team. On special teams, a Randy Bullock's missed 52-yard field goal attempt cost a chance to tie the game. The Bengals' offense sorely misses A.J. Green and never got into a rhythm. It took great field position in the second half to put points on the board. The Bengals scored back-to-back touchdowns off an interception and a 4th-down stop near midfield. Outside of those short drives, Andy Dalton didn't do much all day. With no run game (19 yards total on 14 carries from Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard), and Green not there to alieve pressure, Cincy generated a paltry 255 total yards with four three-and-outs. The Bengals don't have enough on offense when Green's out.
Lewis took over the Bengals defense after firing DC Teryl Austin last week. It was more of the same, with the Bengals getting gashed by the Ravens on the ground for 258 rushing yards, characterized by missed tackles and wide open gaps up the gut. Lewis' D couldn't get stops against an offense that never threatened to stretch the field with a rookie quarterback making his first start. Staying in the midst of a muddled AFC playoff race is little solace for a team that's quickly sinking.
- The Fantasy Football waiver wire darling this week will be Ravens running back Gus Edwards. The undrafted rookie led Baltimore's backfield with 17 carries for 115 yards. Edwards took advantage of gaping holes on zone reads, and a defense occupied with keeping Jackson from getting to the edge. Edwards hits the holes hard and consistently falls forward to gain extra yards. The rookie out-snapped Alex Collins 47-17. It's clear the Ravens like the rookie better in the zone-read game. His performance could bring some clarity to a cluttered backfield.
-- Kevin Patra
- A low-scoring, arguably boring game turned exciting in the final quarter thanks to both teams figuring out how to find the end zone. To no surprise, it was each team's star doing it: Dallas' Ezekiel Elliott rushed 23 times for 122 yards and a touchdown, which came off a turnover and seemed to just about put the Falcons away. While that didn't end up being true, he did run three times to set up Brett Maher's game-winning field goal, a kick necessitated by Julio Jones' touchdown catch to tie it up inside two minutes. A Cowboys team that lacked significant contributions from its stars not named Elliott is starting to get them, which then allows Elliott to make a larger impact.
- This loss, Atlanta's second straight, all but buries a Falcons team that was surging before being stunned by the Browns last week. At 4-6 with six to go, the Falcons would have to win out to have a shot at a Wild Card berth, with the competitive NFC South essentially out of reach. Two of those final six are against the teams ahead of them in the South (New Orleans and Carolina). When we reach clarity in the aftermath, we'll point to a 1-4 start and Weeks 10-11 as why things unfolded the way they did. But there are reasons to be hopeful: Calvin Ridley is a very promising target alongside Jones. And an offseason will allow key defenders to get healthy. It just looks now as though the fork is coming very close to being stuck into the Falcons after this one.
- The Cowboys are right in the thick of things thanks to the addition of Amari Cooper and their willingness to keep pushing despite all signs pointing otherwise. They've battled injuries along the offensive line all season and have remedied them by switching to a read-option heavy offense that is leaving defenses flummoxed. Cooper has given them a go-to option at receiver, opening up their passing game above the level of critical mass. And linebackers Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch have been massive in the absence of Sean Lee. Vander Esch secured an interception that produced Elliott's touchdown, and while the defense didn't get the stop it needed, Prescott, Elliott and Co. did enough to get the Cowboys in position to win. Thanks to the Redskins' loss (and Alex Smith's ugly leg injury), the NFC East is wide open and the Cowboys are playing the best of any division member right now.
-- Nick Shook
- In what was arguably Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's grittiest game of the season, Roethlisberger proved why he is one of the league's top quarterbacks by leading a furious second-half comeback. Roethlisberger found the going tough early in the game, as the offense totaled just 66 yards in the first half. Roethlisberger, who threw for just 53 yards at the half, exploded with 261 yards and two touchdowns in the second half as the Steelers battled back from a 16-0 deficit. The Steelers signal-caller also shook off three interceptions and two sacks on the game, before coming alive when it mattered the most. His first touchdown came on a 78-yard strike to Antonio Brown, the second on an 11-yard pass to tight end Vance McDonald, and Roethlisberger's sealed the game with a 1-yard touchdown run with three seconds left on the clock.
- While Roethlisberger more than deserves the spotlight for his performance, the Steelers defense get their share of center stage for what they did in the fourth quarter. The Jaguars had their way for almost three quarters, pounding away with a punishing ground game to the tune of 179 yards and a touchdown on 43 attempts on the game. Sunday marked the first time since Week 2 that the Steelers had allowed an opponent to rush for 100 yards in a game.
But like their quarterback, the Steelers defense rose to the occasion, forcing four consecutive three-and-outs in final period, none more critical than the Jaguars' possession with 2:28 remaining in the game. In a classic tale of two halves, the Steelers clamped down hard in the second half. The Jaguars totaled 169 yards in the first two quarters, but managed just 74 yards in the second half.
- For three quarters, the Jaguars showed why they were a consensus preseason favorite to return to the postseason after advancing to the AFC Conference Championship last year. The Jaguars are a difficult team when the running game is firing on all cylinders and the defense is playing a complete game. Jacksonville certainly got the former category rolling, and the defense, led by cornerback Jalen Ramsey's two interceptions, held the Steelers in check.
But when needed with the game on the line, both areas failed. The Jaguars couldn't convert a first down in the fourth quarter, managing just 7 yards rushing, and the defense also couldn't stop big plays in the second half. Quarterback Blake Bortles deserves some of the blame, of course, as he failed to generate any sort of offense in the final period and was sacked three times.
The Jaguars have now lost six consecutive games and are 3-7 on the season after starting the season 2-0.
-- Herbie Teope
- The quarterback wheel in Dirk Koetter's sky keeps on turning. Sunday saw the return of Jameis Winston, who entered in place of Ryan Fitzpatrick after the bearded veteran threw three interceptions, including a really ugly third that was the final straw for Koetter. Winston proceeded to light it up (12-of-16 passing, 199 yards, two touchdowns, one interception on a desperation heave), leading four well-balanced and well-paced touchdown drives to help the Buccaneers back into things in a performance that was reminiscent of Fitzpatrick's Week 8 effort against Cincinnati. Eerily enough, the Buccaneers again gave up 38 in such an effort. This time, they fell three points shy of tying instead of one.
- Where does this leave the Buccaneers with Winston? We know what he's capable of when not making poor decisions on and off the field, and we got the best of that Sunday in a limited sample size. But it was also against a Giants team that ranked 22nd in the league against the pass entering Week 11. Will the Buccaneers, with Koetter desperate for wins, continue playing Winston and risk the injury guarantee in his contract? After that game it would be hard not to start Winston in Week 12. But do those in charge upstairs really want to move on from Winston or not? This feels like a final, six-week-long tryout for him.
- The Giants got their first win at home in the Pat Shurmur era, which is good for a team that is looking much better in recent weeks. A big reason why: The play of Eli Manning, who many left for dead early in the season, and the emergence of Saquon Barkley. New York again relied heavily on Barkley (27 carries, 142 yards, two touchdowns, one receiving TD), who looks every bit as good as most thought he'd be before New York took him No. 2 overall in the spring. As a result, Manning is throwing less, producing better results. Sunday, it was a 17-of-18 passing line that included 231 yards and two touchdowns, and likely a much happier receiving corps. It's been a rough season, but this has been a pleasant development for Shurmur's staff, though they'll still need to look to the future at the position in the offseason.
-- Nick Shook
- Think the Super Bowl champions miss Frank Reich? While the Eagles have topped 24 points just once all season, Reich's new team has scored 24 or more for seven consecutive games -- the Colts' longest such streak since 2005. With Reich continuing to scheme open receivers and the offensive line pitching yet another shutout in the sack department, Andrew Luck dissected the league's No. 1 scoring defense, taking full of advantage of T.Y. Hilton's matchup with Adoree Jackson. Luck hit Hilton in-stride for a gorgeous 68-yard touchdown and targeted Jackson for a 40-yard pass-interference penalty the very next drive. Hilton finished with a season-high 155 yards and two scores, hauling in all nine of his targets. Luck has joined Tom Brady and Peyton Manning as the only quarterbacks with three or more touchdown passes in seven straight games within a single season. The Comeback Player of the Year favorite is playing better than ever, generating a passer rating over 120.0 for the fourth week in a row. Luck owns Tennessee, winning all 10 matchups in his career. After a slow September, the scorching Colts have emerged as a legitimate playoff contender.
- The league's leading tackler bolstered his case for Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. Second-round steal Darius Leonard led a swarming Indianapolis defense that exploited Marcus Mariota's penchant for taking ill-timed sacks. Whereas the Colts are the league's most efficient third-down offense, Mariota is vying with Oakland's Derek Carr for the most third-down sacks this season. Leonard filled the box score with his fourth forced fumble to go with his fifth sack and first career interception.
- Compounding the blowout loss to an ascendant division rival, Tennessee played the second half without Mariota and defensive coordinator Dean Pees. Mariota suffered an injury to his throwing arm, perhaps aggravating the nerve issue that caused him to miss time early this season. Pees was hospitalized after experiencing what the team termed only an undisclosed "medical issue" that required "further observation." Mike Vrabel told reporters after the game that Mariota was fine, but the coaches decided to stick with backup Blaine Gabbert in a lopsided affair.
-- Chris Wesseling