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Here is What Have We Learned from Week 11 of the 2017 NFL Season, thanks to the AP Pro 32 for photos & help in this article.
- Ravens playoff hopes will ride on performance of defense-With three shutouts, an NFL-leading 16 interceptions and 13 forced fumbles in 10 games, the Ravens are playing the kind of defense that wins championships.
At this point, Baltimore would be content just to get into the playoffs.
The Ravens allowed only 219 yards and forced five turnovers Sunday in a 23-0 rout of Green Bay, a victory coach John Harbaugh hopes will put his up-and-down team on course to reach the postseason for the first time in three years.
The key is consistency, and Baltimore (5-5) hasn’t displayed much of that thus far this season. Despite all those shutouts and turnovers, the Ravens haven’t won two straight since starting 2-0 and entered the weekend ranked No. 28 in the league in run defense.
Green Bay managed 75 yards rushing in 25 attempts, and 19 of those yards came from the quarterback.
“Throughout the season we’ve probably had a couple games when we weren’t as good, but we need to be great against the run the rest of the year,” Harbaugh said Monday. “Everybody did their job, ran hard to the ball. We were very physical up front.”
With four of their last six games at home, beginning with Houston (4-6) next Monday night, the Ravens are in position to make a serious playoff run.
If, that is, they can build on Sunday’s performance at Lambeau Field.
“That’s the thing: We have to play winning football,” Harbaugh said. “I think the formula begins to present itself as the season wears on here as to what that is for us.”
The formula has been the same in Baltimore since the turn of the century, when a Ray Lewis-led defense notched four shutouts and the Ravens won the Super Bowl in 2000 with a lackluster offense led by quarterback Trent Dilfer.
Joe Flacco has 11 interceptions and eight touchdown passes as part of an offense that came to Green Bay ranked 30th in the NFL. Baltimore isn’t going hit the 40-point barrier too often, but with the defense it has, just a couple TDs should be enough.
“This is the Ravens. This is a team that’s built upon defense,” Terrell Suggs said. “It’s good to have shutouts, but we’ve got to compile the wins. As long as we are winning, we can enjoy these. We can’t have a shutout one week and then come back and drop one and still try to hope to get in.”
Houston rang up 31 points against Arizona on Sunday and is averaging 26.5 points per game.
The Ravens are ready for the challenge, understanding that there’s little margin for error with six weeks left.
“We still have everything in front of us with an opportunity to still get into the dance,” said cornerback Jimmy Smith, who got the defense started Sunday with an end-zone interception on Green Bay’s opening drive.
Veterans such as Suggs, Smith, Eric Weddle and Brandon Williams have all played key roles. On Sunday, however, a trio of relative youngsters made their mark.
Second-year pro Matthew Judon had seven tackles and two sacks; 2016 fourth-round pick Willie Henry contributed five tackles and two sacks; and rookie cornerback Marlon Humphrey had an interception and knocked away two passes.
“It’s good to see guys you had hopes for (play well),” Harbaugh said.
Now standing one shutout short of the team record, the Ravens are looking to finish with a flourish.
“The story is still to be written, in terms of what this defense is,” Harbaugh said.
The next chapter will be drawn up Monday night in Baltimore.
“We have a really good offense coming in here with a really good offensive coach (Bill O’Brien) who knows how to attack defense in a great way,” Harbaugh said. “That’s what our focus has to be.”
- Saints’ season starting to resemble 2009 title run-New Orleans coach Sean Payton said he had “no idea” who invited former receiver Robert Meachem to serve as honorary captain for a game that brought back memories of the greatest season in Saints history.
“I think that was more coincidence,” said Payton, who also agreed it would be “very fair” to compare New Orleans’ stunning fourth-quarter comeback against Washington on Sunday to another wild overtime win against the Redskins in 2009 — a game in which Meachem scored two pivotal touchdowns for a team that would go on to win the Super Bowl.
Indeed, those seasons are starting to look increasingly alike. There has been a long winning streak comprised mostly of convincing victories, along with a memorable comeback against the franchise from the nation’s capital.
Whether the 2017 campaign brings another title to New Orleans remains to be seen. Yet there’s no denying that these first-place Saints are enjoying heady times as they ride an eight-game winning streak into the climactic final six weeks of the regular season.
“It is surreal to be in the moment with some of the guys in this locker room and I just try to cherish these moments because it’s been a good ride,” said tight end Josh Hill, who scored the first of two late touchdowns that wiped out a 15-point deficit in the final minutes of a 34-31 overtime victory on Sunday. “We’re looking to continue this, so I’m just trying to stay in the moment and feed off this momentum.”
Hill was in college at Idaho State when the Saints won the Super Bowl and still two years away from turning pro when New Orleans won eight straight to finish 13-3 in 2011. But Hill remembers watching those Drew Brees-led teams on television. And now, in his fifth NFL season, Hill is now experiencing firsthand a similar run with the same record-setting quarterback.
“To have the series of events happen the way they did (against Washington) was something else,” Hill said Monday. “The stadium was electric. Guys were playing for each other and it was just fun. You could just feel the positivity from the entire team. When you feel that, you know you have something special.”
The 2017 Saints are relying more on younger players in prominent roles than the veteran-laden 2009 squad did. Brees was quick to point that out, but also added: “You’re watching this thing come together before your very eyes.”
“We’re playing with a ton of confidence and we feel like we have a ton of momentum,” Brees said. “You feel like you can win anywhere, anytime, and any way.”
Payton said he doesn’t get out much during the season, but having lived in New Orleans since 2006, he’s had enough interactions with fans to sense the energy surrounding his team now.
“The fans are passionate and I think they feel like we are always in a game and there’s that resiliency, and maybe in years past they didn’t feel that way,” Payton said, referring to the previous three seasons, each of which ended with 7-9 records. “That excitement that’s generated from a game like that at home is something certainly you sense.”
When the Saints came back to beat Redskins in overtime eight years ago , the game was in Washington. Meachem played an enormous role. He scored a 44-yard touchdown when he ripped the ball away from a Redskins defender during an interception return. He also caught a tying 53-yard touchdown pass in the final minute — but only after the Redskins missed a routine field goal that could have sealed a different result.
The Saints then got a turnover in overtime to set up a field goal for a 33-30 triumph.
On Sunday, the Redskins entered tiebreaking field goal range in the final minute of regulation before being pushed back by a fluky, disputed intentional grounding penalty. Second-year safety Vonn Bell then sacked Kirk Cousins to force overtime, which ended with a Saints field goal.
Bell was just a high school kid back in 2009. He could only compare the environment inside the Superdome on Sunday to his rookie campaign, when New Orleans never got above .500.
“You could feel the energy,” Bell said. “It was different from last year. It was a night-and-day difference. I can tell you that.”
- LA Chargers roll into short week vs Dallas after blowout win-With a Thanksgiving date in Dallas looming, the Los Angeles Chargers got zero time to enjoy their most emphatic victory in over three years.
In truth, that’s exactly how coach Anthony Lynn likes it. The Chargers (4-6) can’t afford to get comfortable with any success if they plan to make a late-season run into playoff contention.
“We don’t have time,” Lynn said Monday at the Chargers’ training complex after their 54-24 blowout of the Buffalo Bills. “We leave Wednesday morning. We’ve got to get onto the Cowboys right away. We started last night.”
Lynn and his staff already put together a detailed plan maximizing every extra hour in their three-day stretch between games. They studied film of the Cowboys during their bye two weeks ago, and they’re catching up on Dallas’ most recent games before a light practice Tuesday.
The players won’t do much physical work before they hit the field in Arlington on Thursday. After everything that went well for the Chargers in their thrashing of the Bills, Lynn simply wants the Bolts to stay in that groove.
The blowout was a boost to those efforts because many regulars, including quarterback Philip Rivers, got to rest for much of the second half.
“Veteran players, they need more time to recover” on a short week, Lynn said. “Young guys, I think, can care less. They just want to play on Thursday nights. Everybody is watching.”
The holiday game will provide a rare showcase for the Chargers, who haven’t exactly seized the attention of the nation or even their new hometown during their relocation season. But Lynn’s first team has been quite capable after an 0-4 start, going 4-2 with a bizarre overtime loss in Jacksonville that easily could have gone the Chargers’ way as well.
With the nation watching, the Chargers hope to show off an offense that racked up 429 yards and a defense that produced six takeaways against Buffalo and its rookie quarterback, Nathan Peterman. While the Cowboys present a formidable challenge, the Chargers welcome the chance.
“I guess it gives you the opportunity to really (stink) or really be good, and everybody notices,” said cornerback Casey Hayward, who had two of the Chargers’ five interceptions against Buffalo. “So if you’re really good, a lot of good things will come out of it, but if you (stink), don’t get on Twitter.”
The Chargers are aware of the thorough mediocrity of the AFC standings. They’re two games behind AFC West leader Kansas City (6-4) in a pack of eight AFC teams with 5-5 or 4-6 records — and not many of those teams are in the Chargers’ recent form.
After their trip to Dallas, the Chargers host winless Cleveland and struggling Washington. Kansas City is the only team with a winning record left on Los Angeles’ schedule.
“We’re definitely confident,” Hayward said. “We’re still in the race. Hopefully the other teams will keep losing and we keep winning, and we can get into the playoffs some kind of way. It’s still a stretch, and we have to do some things well. We have to win this game Thursday. That will be the start, so we can’t worry about what those guys are doing. It doesn’t matter how you get into the playoffs as long as you get in there, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
- Early clinching strong possibility in several divisions-No NFL coach would ever talk about clinching a division before the task was at hand.
So we’ll make up for that.
There’s a pretty good chance the Patriots , Steelers and Vikings could do the deed in early December, particularly if Minnesota wins at Detroit on Thanksgiving Day. The Eagles have such a big lead in the NFC East, four games with five left after demolishing Dallas, that they are odds-on to be the first team owning a playoff berth.
Ask about the postseason right now, though, and you get the kind of silence usually associated with Marshawn Lynch.
Why do coaches and, by extension, players refuse to look too far ahead? For one, they are trained — some might say brainwashed — into having tunnel vision from the first time they suit up in high school.
There’s also the argument that looking ahead damages preparation for the immediate job at hand; Kansas City’s loss at the Giants on Sunday might prove that theory.
Plus there’s the “control what we can control” mantra, which translates to “all we can do is win one game at a time.”
But don’t believe for a second that those same coaches (and many players) aren’t acutely aware of who’s ahead on their schedule as they head into the stretch drive the NFL soon will reach.
“The first thing you have to do is punch your ticket to the dance and get into the tournament,” Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith says. “Till you do that, you should be focused on every single one of these games. You have to have a sense of urgency.
“Plenty of teams started out hot. You have to continue to grow and get better. Certainly these games get bigger and bigger as the season goes on and we’ve got to find a way to win.”
Kansas City (6-4) remains in control in the AFC West despite its mediocre play since starting 5-0, in large part because the rest of what was projected as the league’s toughest division has fallen apart. That badge of the best now belongs to the NFC South, which just might have a three-team race between New Orleans, Carolina and Atlanta right down to the wire — very refreshing.
If you combined the best of the rosters of the other three AFC East teams, that conglomerate probably couldn’t beat New England (8-2). The Patriots have a three-game lead on fading Buffalo as they cruise toward yet another division crown and quite possibly another Super Bowl berth.
With two matchups with the Dolphins and one with the Bills upcoming, Tom Brady can look forward to some rest before Christmas time. The only obstacle to that could be a game at Pittsburgh in Week 15.
Considering the lack of contenders in other divisions, that also carries a strong likelihood of being the conference championship matchup. The Steelers don’t figure to have as easy a time securing the AFC North — they lead Baltimore by three games, but the Ravens’ defense can make things interesting — but they still should be ordering playoff tickets well before Christmas.
While New England and Pittsburgh have benefited from weakness around them, Minnesota was playing well enough even before Aaron Rodgers went down with a collarbone injury. That ended Green Bay’s pursuit, and the Vikings did such a number on the NFC West-leading Rams on Sunday that they look vastly superior to second-place Detroit.
A Vikings win on Thursday would provide a three-game cushion with remaining games against weaklings Cincinnati and Chicago. Detroit, though, has the far easier remaining schedule.
“I think every game is a statement game for us,” says Adam Thielen, who has developed into a top receiver for Minnesota. “I think we got to keep going because we got a tough schedule ahead of us. That was a really good football team today, and we’re going to get a really good football team and a really good defense next week. We got to forget about this win fast and just move on because we got four days until Detroit.”
We could have told you those comments were coming.
- Bears switch kickers, look for answers in close games-The Chicago Bears seem caught in a downward spiral following three straight near-misses.
They took measures Monday to correct problems in close games by waiving kicker Connor Barth after he missed a late 46-yard field goal in Sunday’s 27-24 loss to Detroit, then signed former Chiefs kicker Cairo Santos.
“It wasn’t going great, it wasn’t just yesterday’s kick,” coach John Fox said about Barth’s performances.
Barth was 11 for 16 this season, with all his misses coming from 40 yards or beyond. His 40-yarder against Baltimore in overtime delivered the Bears a 27-24 victory. Barth, a nine-year veteran, was 29 for 39 the last two seasons.
“Those four misses — five yesterday — you know, you feel it,” Fox said. “He sensed it. He understands. It’s never easy making those changes.”
Santos had been given a tryout last week by the Bears, and was an undrafted free agent from Tulane who signed with the Chiefs in 2014. The Chiefs signed him again to a one-year deal in March, but put him on injured reserve due to a groin strain, then cut him with an injury settlement after Harrison Butker established himself as a capable replacement.
Santos had been 3 for 3 on field goals this season with the Chiefs before his injury, and in four seasons with the Chiefs was 89 for 105. He was 125 for 130 on extra points.
“He’s been pretty accurate,” Fox said. “He gets pretty good lift on the ball. I think his leg strength he’s developed. He has good hang time on his kickoffs.
“I’d say the key is he’s an accomplished kicker in the National Football League.”
The kicking problems aren’t the only troubles facing the Bears. They lost one of their top young players when outside linebacker Leonard Floyd left Sunday’s defeat in the fourth quarter with a knee injury. Floyd left the field on a cart, but on Monday Fox said the injury did not appear to be a torn anterior cruciate ligament, as was first believed. Season-ending injured reserve hasn’t been ruled out, however.
“I think all of those options are available,” Fox said. “Again, we’re still evaluating it. They have different opinions as far as doctors.”
Floyd has 5 ½ sacks after making seven as a rookie season last year.
“That’s big,” inside linebacker Christian Jones said. “He’s one of our guys that we love to have out there and he makes big plays for us. So it’s obviously going to hurt not having him out there.
“But it’s the NFL. Guys get hurt. We’re going to have to adjust.”
The Bears already were without outside linebacker Willie Young, another strong outside pass rusher. He went on injured reserve after four games with a triceps injury.
Isaiah Irving will join Pernell McPhee and Sam Acho now in an outside linebacker rotation. A rookie, Irving’s participation has been limited largely to special teams in the five games he’s played.
“He’s a guy obviously we had in the system and he’s been working,” Fox said. “He’ll get more opportunities moving forward.”
Another option could be moving Jones back out outside to rush the passer, where he started out playing three years ago.
“Whatever happens, I’ll be ready for it,” Jones said. “On the ball (outside) things happen right away. You’ve got to be ready. Your hands have got to be ready to shoot. Those guys are big down there.”
The Bears have lost five times by eight points or less, and had chances to tie or win at the end of each of those.
Guard Josh Sitton said getting over the hump is the key in the NFL, and won’t be easier regardless of personnel until they succeed a few times.
“Once you do it a couple times you kind of get that feeling,” Sitton said. “You get the confidence that the guy next to you is going to do it at the end of the game.
“The NFL comes down to one score most of the time. You’ve got to be able to win it at the end. We’ll continue to grow and once we get that confidence we’ll be able to do some good things.”
- Bills’ McDermott still evaluating on who will start at QB-Bills coach Sean McDermott isn’t going to be rushed into choosing a starting quarterback a day after his decision to go with rookie Nathan Peterman backfired.
McDermott on Monday said he’s still evaluating whether to give Peterman another start or return to Tyrod Taylor for Buffalo’s game at Kansas City this weekend.
Peterman unraveled in a 54-24 loss at the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday by throwing five interceptions in the first half before being replaced by Taylor with the Bills down 40-7.
Buffalo (5-5) has lost three straight, with McDermott being roundly criticized for taking what he called “a calculated risk” to switch starters while his team is in the playoff race.
“I own the decision and as I said yesterday, I don’t regret the decision. I do regret the result, and there’s other hands also in the result,” he said. “You go back and you learn from it. I learn from it as a head coach, and I expect all to learn from and we grow and we move forward.”
Others questioned the move, including Hall of Fame coach broadcaster Tony Dungy.
“For the life of me, I don’t know why they did it,” Dungy said during NBC’s Sunday night broadcast.
Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman went to Twitter in questioning the decision during the game by writing: “So they bench my guy @TyrodTaylor and the guy they bring in has already thrown 2picks with 10mins left in the 1st. Great decision.”
McDermott refused to be swayed even when acknowledging the quarterback switch failed to provide much spark to what had been a sputtering offense. He instead maintained confidence in Peterman, a fifth-round draft pick who split his college career at Pittsburgh and Tennessee.
“One game is not going to define Nathan or Nathan’s career,” he said. “Young players go through it. And you saw some of it yesterday, and I put that back on myself.”
McDermott most notably praised Peterman for a 20-yard completion to Kelvin Benjamin on Buffalo’s opening drive, noting the pass was on time and thrown in a crowd over the middle. Taylor, who has a 20-18 record, has been knocked for being too conservative with his passes, and hesitant to throw over the middle.
Taylor has at least been efficient, having thrown just three interceptions.
McDermott said he’s not going to make any snap decisions on his quarterback. The first-year coach also reiterated he’s sticking to a big-picture vision on how to transform the Bills into a winner beyond this season.
“It burns. It burns hard. You don’t want that result that we had yesterday,” he said. “We’re building. And this is part of the growth process. You go through these pains.”
The loss to the Chargers was among the Bills’ most painful during a 17-season playoff drought that stands as the longest active streak in North America’s four major professional sports.
Peterman went 6 for 14 for 66 yards over seven first-half possessions and became the first quarterback since 1970 to throw at least five interceptions in the first half of a game, according to Elias Sports Bureau. He did oversee one touchdown drive, which had him hand the ball off twice to running back LeSean McCoy for a 37-yard gain, followed by a 27-yard touchdown run.
Otherwise, Peterman threw interceptions on four of Buffalo’s first five drives, and then another one to close the half. The turnovers accounted for the Chargers scoring 24 points, including Korey Toomer returning one 59 yards for a touchdown to open the scoring.
The Chargers’ pass rush rattled Peterman into throwing at least two interceptions. The first one, however, wasn’t entirely the quarterback’s fault. His pass hit off the hands off fullback Patrick DiMarco and deflected into Toomer’s hands.
“I did not play very well,” Peterman acknowledged after the game. “As things start to happen, I have to let them go. I have to put more on myself.”
Taylor mopped up, going 15 of 25 for 158 yards with a touchdown passing and one rushing, while also losing a fumble that was returned for a score.
Taylor was abruptly benched after he went 9 of 15 for 56 yards and the Bills managed four first downs through 55 minutes in a 47-10 loss to New Orleans on Nov. 12.
- Revamped Skins defense ranks 31st in points allowed in NFL-So much for that offseason overhaul of the Washington Redskins defense, a unit that even cornerback Josh Norman acknowledged after a recent game played like “trash.”
They fired their old defensive coordinator. They spent first-, second- and third-round draft picks on that side of the ball. They added free agents there, too.
Still, it’s become a real weakness lately: Heading into their game against the New York Giants on Thursday night, the Redskins are allowing an average of 26.6 points, more than all but one of the NFL’s 32 clubs (the Indianapolis Colts’ opponents score 28 per game).
“We need to fix whatever we need to fix,” safety D.J. Swearinger said.
The collapse has been particularly striking the past two weeks, when Washington fell to 4-6 and on the very fringe of the NFC playoff picture despite quarterback Kirk Cousins directing the offense to at least 30 points each time.
That should be enough to win a game, but the Redskins managed to give up 38 points to Case Keenum and the Minnesota Vikings (prompting Norman’s self-criticism), before allowing 34 to Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints.
The overtime loss to the Saints last Sunday was particularly demoralizing and inexplicable, given that Washington led by 15 points with less than three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
“I’m not going to stand up here and blame the calls or blame the players or anything. Let’s credit Drew and their execution. And our execution wasn’t good enough,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said.
“Pressure wasn’t good enough. When we tried to bring pressure, he escaped effortlessly and found open receivers. When we didn’t (blitz) him, we didn’t get any pressure, and the coverage wasn’t tight enough. So, combination of a lot of things.”
One key issue has been allowing big plays.
On Sunday, Brees was 11 for 11 for 164 yards and two TDs down the stretch in the fourth quarter; Mark Ingram ran twice for 51 yards to set up the winning field goal in OT.
Overall, the Redskins have given up 40 plays — that’s four per game — of at least 20 yards each this season, which is the second-highest total in the league, behind only the 47 allowed by the Colts.
Both Gruden and players pointed to what the coach called “uncharacteristic miscommunications” as one reason for the problem.
“That’s the frustrating part. It’s one thing if you play some tight man-to-man and (opponents) make a great throw and a great catch — I can deal with that. But some of the missed coverages or blown assignments are the ones that are hard to live with,” Gruden said. “That’s on us as coaches.”
Making things more difficult has been the rising number of injuries. Dating to the preseason, when linebacker Trent Murphy and defensive lineman Phil Taylor were ruled out, six of the 15 Redskins on injured reserve are defensive players.
It’s to the point where they have backups to backups getting hurt, including linebacker Martrell Spaight, who was wearing a walking boot on his left foot on Tuesday.
Gruden dispensed with full-fledged practices this week, opting to prepare to face the division rival Giants (2-8) only with the aid of walkthrough sessions.
“At the end of the day,” Norman said, “we can’t sit here and sulk over the wounds.”