The AFC playoff race has been turned on its head. Another week, another double-digit underdog win. This time Houston upset injury-ravaged Tennessee to add to the quagmire of AFC also-rans.
The Colts tore to a third straight win thanks to running back Jonathan Taylor, who made the Bills look distinctly average. Elsewhere, wins for Baltimore and Cincinnati strengthened their hopes of seeing the postseason – but there may be trouble in Cleveland.
In the NFC, the Cardinals have gone 2-1 with Colt McCoy, while Tampa Bay arrested a two-game losing skid. Green Bay fell to the ninth regular season defeat of Matt LaFleur’s reign and defeat brought Dallas back to earth.
TAYLOR’S MVP CASE
The Colts went four years without a 100-yard rusher between 2012 and 2016.
Thanks to Jonathan Taylor, it is a weekly occurrence now, with the running back making a strong case for MVP.
The last running back to do so was Adrian ‘nine yards what’ Peterson in 2012; before that it was LaDainian Tomlinson in 2006.
Taylor scored five touchdowns and rushed for 185 yards as the Colts made the Bills look like also-rans.
Jonathan Taylor was unstoppable against Buffalo as the Colts pounded the ball
His rookie year yielded 1,169 yards and he has continued that form into his second season with 1,122 rushing yards and 1,444 from scrimmage. Taylor leads the scoring charts too with 15 touchdowns.
He is without question the NFL’s best running back not named Derrick Henry and with Henry out for the season, Taylor looks set to take the rushing title. And possibly MVP.
The Colts leaned on the second round pick out of Wisconsin, running 70 per cent of plays as they walloped the Bills 41-15.
It sparked wild scenes in the Colts dressing room from head coach Frank Reich, who has seen his side go three games without a turnover.
They are also 6-5 and firmly in the playoff hunt.
That felt good. pic.twitter.com/Fgwxp1PpuS
— Indianapolis Colts (@Colts) November 21, 2021
The Colts dominant performance on the ground vs. Buffalo (46 carries 246 yards 4 TDs) started on the first drive when they went 65 yards on 11 plays (6 runs) for a TD. It included adding a jet motion to split zone, OZ, & finished w/their signature ‘wham-bam’ concept. This is art pic.twitter.com/8Eoa9PGbBQ
— Brandon Thorn (@BrandonThornNFL) November 22, 2021
Indianapolis has not turned the ball over in three consecutive games. They have not committed a turnover in five games this season.
— Hayden Clark (@HaydenClark81) November 21, 2021
JEFFERSON’S FREAK SHOW
Speaking of second year skill players, Justin Jefferson continues to perform in big games.
Now that the Vikings have worked out that throwing in his direction is a good idea, Jefferson followed his 143 yards in the win over the Chargers with 169 yards and two touchdowns in the 34-31 win over Green Bay.
Justin Jefferson dives into the end zone for his second touchdown of a topsy-turvy game
That’s now 11 100-yard games in his career – he trails only Odell Beckham Jnr with the most (15) in the first two years in the NFL.
Before the game, Jefferson wore a Randy Moss T-shirt, and said: ‘That’s the same type of mindset that I have, just trying to be a legend. Trying to make big plays. Why not carry after him? He’s one of the best in the game. I just love playing the game, love the rivalry, and love these intense big games.’
Imagine driving home with your SkolMobile from the Packers game and Kirk Cousins rolls up next to you 🤣#SKOL pic.twitter.com/r9dlcY1wkY
— SkolCast Live (@SkolCastLive) November 21, 2021
Steelers DE Cam Heyward dodged an ejection after gut-punching Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert in the fourth quarter of the Steelers 41-37 defeat in Los Angeles.
With Los Angeles up 27-20, Herbert scrambled from a collapsing pocket but was met by Heyward on Pittsburgh’s 11-yard line.
Chargers receiver Joshua Palmer attempted to remove Heyward from his quarterback and was shoved for his efforts. And then Heyward turned his attentions to Herbert.
The Cam Heyward gut punch 👊 #PITvsLAC #SteelersNation pic.twitter.com/UXtpR3DXjI
— The Spotting Board (@SpottingBoard) November 22, 2021
His explanation afterwards would not stand up well in any court in any land.
‘To be honest, I was running after the ball and I caught my hand under, and so when I was trying to get up, I couldn’t get up and I fell back on him,’ Heyward said. ‘I know it looks terrible, (but) there was nothing malicious behind it.’
Herbert didn’t hold any grudges, saying: ‘No. I haven’t really seen it. (Heyward)’s a tough player. Football is an emotional game. Whatever happened, happened in the game. We’ll shake hands and say, “Good game” after the game.’
BRADY TRIED TO GET THE GANG BACK TOGETHER
After two straight defeats, Tom Brady faced his least favourite opponent and got the Bucs back to winning ways.
Brady is now 6-3 against the Giants, although two of those defeats were in Super Bowls.
Watching the 30-10 win was former team-mate Julian Edelman, who revealed Brady tried to recruit him in Tampa Bay after 11 years together in New England.
Tom Brady saw off the Giants to avoid three straight defeats for the first time since 2002
‘He hit me up the first day he signed there,’ Edelman said on the Manning Cast. ‘He was like, “You want to come down?” And I was like, “Er, absolutely not”.’
These @Edelman11 impersonations of @RobGronkowski and @TomBrady are gold 😂 pic.twitter.com/rZ2eBpwu8Q
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) November 23, 2021
Even after the departure of Odell Beckham Jnr, it’s not pretty in Cleveland at the moment.
After a narrow, error-strewn win over the Lions, Baker Mayfield dodged his press conference for the first time in his career.
Mayfield struggled the week before in the 45-7 defeat by the Patriots and was struggling with a knee injury.
Baker Mayfield looks pensive as he walks off the field after beating the Detroit Lions 13-10
Mayfield is in a contract year and with the 6-5 Browns on the outside looking in on the playoff race, Monday’s game against Baltimore has extra significance. After that it’s a bye and Baltimore once more.
After dodging question on Sunday, Mayfield told Cleveland media on Monday: ‘I was frustrated among other things. I have never dodged any questions or hid away from that. So it’s not about that. Just frustrated, removed emotions and all that from it. Just decided it was best to wait.’
Meanwhile, Mayfield’s wife Emily posted this on Instagram – and then deleted it.
#Browns QB Baker Mayfield’s wife on Instagram: pic.twitter.com/zaFTI9R6rp
— Brad Stainbrook (@BrownsByBrad) November 21, 2021
A caller asked if @BakerMayfield isn’t the guy, then what’s the Plan B?
So we laid out the stark reality of what that might entail, leading @richeisen to tell #Browns fans: stick with Plan A. pic.twitter.com/d40POv3wZk
— Rich Eisen Show (@RichEisenShow) November 22, 2021
IT’S GOOD TO TALK?
Rex Ryan, who coached the Jets from 2009-14, was less than complimentary about Robert Saleh last week.
He told DiPietro & Rothenberg’s radio show: ‘This is a horrendous defense. This guy supposed to be a defensive guru? I heard everything and I take it personally on this one because I heard he was a lot like myself, without the bad part.’
Ryan said Saleh’s stint in San Francisco was marked by poor defenses, and continued: ‘Don’t ever compare this guy to me. Statistically, one time they were a top defense. Here’s one thing he’s going to be familiar with — four out of five years, the 49ers were dead last in their division, so he’s going to be dead last again. So he’s used to that.’
On ESPN, Ryan revealed that the pair have spoken on the phone since. It is worth watching Randy Moss’s reaction.
Good to hear Rex Ryan and Robert Saleh talked it out. pic.twitter.com/OvLSBOcEXR
— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) November 21, 2021
#Jets HC Robert Saleh said it was good to have a conversation w/ Rex Ryan, he’ll keep most of it private, but said ‘he has a really good heart’ + added kudos to Rex for reaching out: #TakeFlight #NYJvsHOU #NFL pic.twitter.com/8m7wTEj8Ka
— Paul Andrew Esden Jr (@BoyGreen25) November 22, 2021
Five weeks ago, the Patriots were 2-4 and still looking enviously at events in Tampa.
Now they’re top of the AFC East after five straight wins – conceding 13 total points in their last three games – and are No 3 seeds in the conference
True, they have been helped out by a muddling, middling conference with missteps from Baltimore, Buffalo and Tennessee, but the prospect of another year in obscurity now has a different complexion.
Let’s not forget that Belichick – admittedly with Tom Brady – has reached the AFC Championship in eight of the past ten seasons.
Bill Belichick is putting together another stingy defense and perhaps a noteworthy season
Also of note are the Kansas City Chiefs, who have reached the last three AFC Championships. After a similarly sluggish start, the Chiefs are also 7-4 and lead the AFC West after four straight wins.
OVER THE HILL
A lot of reaction to Taysom Hill’s new hybrid deal for a hybrid player.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports he will be paid $40 million over the next four years if he stays in his current roles of backup quarterback, running back, wide receiver and tight end – as well as special teams roles.
With $22.5million guaranteed, Hill could pocket $95m if he becomes starting quarterback.
Perhaps it’s best to hear from Sean Payton about the deal.
I told Sean Payton I was a Taysom Hill skeptic and this is his response. https://t.co/yRN8Z10s7V
— Kevin Clark (@bykevinclark) November 22, 2021
ONLY ONE WINNER
Speaking of trades, news that Khalil Mack will miss the season was met with groans in Chicago.
Since his blockbuster move in 2018, the Raiders received two first round picks (2019, 2020) a 6th (2019) and 3rd (2020).
The Bears got Mack, a second and seventh round pick in 2020.
Oh, and Chicago still owe Mack $50m.
Lost in Green Bay’s defeat in Minnesota was the state of Aaron Rodgers’ toe.
The quarterback, who famously claimed he was immunised against Covid after conducting his own research regarding vaccinations, missed Wednesday and Thursday practices last week.
Aaron Rodgers completed 23 of 33 passes for a season-high 385 yards and four touchdowns
And after the Packers lost the NFC top seed after the 34-31 defeat at US Bank Stadium, the reigning MVP revealed: ‘I’m just going to have to get to the bye and hope I can get some healing over the bye week.’
The Packers play the Rams on Sunday before a bye, and Rodgers added: ‘Probably the same schedule next week. Was in a lot of pain. Went in at halftime early to get it checked out. It’s very, very painful. Got stepped on the first half, and that kind of activated all the symptoms I was having. It’s going to be another painful week and next week, and then hopefully start to feel a little better on the bye.’
A FEAST OF FOOTBALL?
And so to Thanksgiving. Six teams, all on losing streaks. Not just that, they all lost by a combined 72 points over the weekend.
The winless Detroit Lions turned to Tim Boyle in Cleveland. Some have argued he may be the worst NFL quarterback of all time.
Either way, he’ll have another chance to prove it against the Chicago Bears, who will rely on their own back-up Andy Dalton following an injury to Justin Fields. By the way, should Chicago lose, it may well spend the first mid-season sacking of a Bears head coach.
In what should be the highlight game, Dallas face the Raiders. That’s Covid-hit Dallas who were thumped by the Chiefs and the Raiders who were similarly walloped – at home – by the Bengals.
And finally, Buffalo get the chance to bounce back on a short week against the Saints. That’s the Saints who are ravaged by injuries and have a pedestrian Trevor Siemian at quarterback.
- The Winners and Losers of NFL Week 11 – The Ringer