Week 11 of the NFL season began like most other nondescript weeks. There was no warning that it would be a career-defining day for several quarterbacks — and not all for good reasons.
One of the league’s brightest young QBs suffered a brutal injury. Another got benched. Yet for three other QBs, Nov. 22 will be etched as the date of one of their greatest lifetime achievements.
Sunday’s games had it all. Tragedy and triumph. Agony and ecstasy. Story arcs that Hollywood can only dream of. And that’s where we begin the Week 11 review:
▪ Unfortunately, the biggest news was No. 1 pick Joe Burrow suffering a season-ending knee injury in the third quarter of the Bengals’ 20-9 loss to Washington when he got sandwiched between two pass rushers.
Burrow probably was trailing Justin Herbert in the Rookie of the Year race, but he still threw for 2,688 yards and 13 touchdowns with five interceptions in a promising first year. The NFL loses a budding star for the rest of the season, and Burrow now faces an offseason of rehabilitation, which could slow his development.
The Bengals had better improve Burrow’s offensive line next year. He was third in the NFL with 32 sacks and tied for fourth with 71 knockdowns.
▪ The 2020 rookie QB class took another hit when the Dolphins benched Tua Tagovailoa with 10 minutes to go in the fourth quarter in their eventual 20-13 loss to the Broncos. Tua went 11 for 20 for 83 yards, with a touchdown and six sacks, and he struggled to move the team all day.
Nothing against Tua, but Ryan Fitzpatrick is definitely a better option for this team right now, and coach Brian Flores knows it, as exemplified by the QB switch.
Fitzpatrick completed 12 of 18 passes for 117 yards, moved the team twice into scoring position, and executed the four longest plays of the day for the Dolphins offense. Of course, the game ended in classic Fitzpatrick fashion — with an interception in the end zone.
After the game, Flores said Tua will start next week against the Jets.
“There is no quarterback controversy,” Fitzpatrick said. “This is Tua’s team.”
That’s noble of him, but there probably should be a controversy. The 6-4 Dolphins are a good team, spent a lot of money in free agency, and could make some noise in the playoffs. They should play their best players, and that means Fitzy at quarterback.
▪ In the same game that saw Burrow go down, Washington’s Alex Smith made a triumphant return to the winner’s circle, earning his first W since suffering a devastating leg injury two years ago.
“Another step, another thing I never thought I’d be doing again,” Smith said.
More importantly, the win improved Washington to 3-7, just a half-game out of first place in the dumpster fire that is the NFC East. With the steady Smith at the helm, Washington has a decent shot at winning the division.
▪ Taysom Hill had quite the journey to his first NFL start. He sat out three seasons after high school to serve his church mission, suffered three different season-ending injuries in five years at BYU, was cut by the Packers in his first training camp, then spent 3½ years playing running back, tight end, special teams ― everything but quarterback ― for the Saints.
But Hill, 30, finally got his chance Sunday in place of Drew Brees, and was efficient in the Saints’ 24-9 win over the Falcons. He completed 18 of 23 passes for 233 yards and added 51 rushing yards with two touchdowns.
“If I’m being honest, it was an emotional week,” Hill said.
It also was an important win for the Saints, bumping their record to 8-2 and the No. 1 seed in the NFC. Sean Payton has won his last six games with a backup quarterback.
▪ And Sunday was a dream come true for Panthers quarterback P.J. Walker, who made his first career NFL start and came away with a 20-0 victory over the Lions. Walker spent three years on the Colts practice squad, then played in the XFL this spring, leading the league in passing yards and touchdown passes.
Walker got the start Sunday only after coach Matt Rhule decided against using Teddy Bridgewater following warmups. Walker threw two picks in the end zone, but otherwise managed the game well in throwing for 258 yards and a touchdown.
▪ The Steelers improved to 10-0 with a ho-hum 27-3 win over Jacksonville, and it’s now officially time to take 16-0 seriously. Their remaining schedule: vs. Baltimore (Thanksgiving), vs. Washington, at Buffalo, at Cincinnati, vs. Indianapolis, at Cleveland.
It’s not the easiest path the rest of the year, but every game is certainly winnable.
▪ The 9-1 Chiefs kept pace in the AFC with an important 35-31 win over a feisty 6-4 Raiders team. Patrick Mahomes has a 33-8 record in his young career, but believe it or not, Sunday’s game was the first time he has thrown a go-ahead touchdown pass in the final two minutes.
Mahomes has only five game-winning drives in his career. The Chiefs usually win by so much that fourth-quarter heroics aren’t needed.
▪ Penalties are way down this year, but Week 11 was a flag-fest. This weekend’s games averaged one penalty per 10.3 plays, by far the highest rate this season. Entering the weekend, the season average was one every 11.9 plays.
▪ The Steelers and Chiefs are basically in the playoffs, leaving the AFC race down to seven teams for five spots. The Bills, Colts, Titans, and Browns are all 7-3, while the Raiders, Ravens, and Dolphins are 6-4, with the latter two currently sitting outside the playoffs. Denver and New England are next at 4-6.
The NFC race is much tighter, with five teams sitting within two games of No. 1 seed New Orleans. But the NFC is also ammunition for those who say that adding a seventh team waters down the playoffs.
The NFC East-leading Eagles stick out badly at 3-6-1, but who deserves to make it instead? Chicago, Minnesota, Detroit, San Francisco, and Carolina all stink.
▪ Titans CB Malcolm Butler: Had four tackles and one pregame jawing match with Ravens coach John Harbaugh in a 30-24 win over the Ravens.
▪ Lions LB Jamie Collins: Had 9 tackles and a pass defended in a 20-0 loss to the Panthers.
▪ Dolphins CB Eric Rowe, LB Elandon Roberts, and LB Kyle Van Noy: Combined for 19 tackles, two QB hits, a tackle for loss, and a fumble recovery in 20-13 loss to the Broncos.
▪ Matt Patricia, Lions: Fighting for his job after Detroit’s first shutout loss in 11 years. Thanksgiving game against the Texans could be his last stand.
▪ Mike Vrabel, Titans: His team went on the road with swagger, started a pregame dust-up with the Ravens’ coaches, and backed it up with a huge win in OT.
▪ Romeo Crennel, Texans: Now 1-1 as a head coach against Bill Belichick. (He lost, 34-17, with the Browns in 2007.)
Stats of the Week
▪ Titans RB Derrick Henry became the first player since at least 1991 with multiple overtime rushing touchdowns in the same season.
▪ Via ESPN, Jaguars owner Shad Khan became the second-fastest owner to 100 losses in NFL history, getting there in 141 games. Only former Buccaneers owner Hugh Culverhouse did it quicker (140 games).
▪ The Browns had a 13-play, 95-yard drive that ended in no points.
▪ Chargers receiver Keenan Allen set a franchise record with 16 catches. He is one of four receivers in the Super Bowl era with two games of at least 15 receptions, joining Antonio Brown, Brandon Marshall, and Wes Welker.
▪ NFL quarterbacks have thrown at least two interceptions in 18 percent of games this year (58 of 320). Eagles QB Carson Wentz has done it in 6 of 10.
▪ Chargers QB Justin Herbert had his fifth game with at least three touchdown passes, the most by a rookie in the Super Bowl era.
▪ The Jets were eliminated from playoff contention at the earliest point in franchise history. The previous record was Week 12.