What We Learned From Week 11 of the N.F.L. Season
23rd November 2020

Backup quarterbacks securing big wins. An overtime thriller in Baltimore. And the end of a ridiculously promising rookie season for Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow. Sunday was a reminder of how unpredictable the N.F.L. can be, as well as how cruel it can be.

Here’s what we learned:

Thanks for all the love. Can’t get rid of me that easy. See ya next year✊

The N.F.L. can break your heart. Joe Burrow, Cincinnati’s rookie quarterback, had largely lived up to his hype, regardless of the Bengals’ poor record. But his season came to an abrupt end after he was sandwiched between a pair of Washington defenders in the third quarter and crumpled to the ground with an injury to his left knee. The play looked devastating in the moment and was confirmed to be just that when Burrow tweeted — before the game had even finished — that he would see everyone next year. Coach Zac Taylor said he did not have anything to add to Burrow’s injury reporting.

After the Bengals’ 20-9 loss to Washington — the first win for quarterback Alex Smith in more than two years following his own devastating leg injury in 2018 — Burrow has a 2-7-1 record for the season. But Burrow, the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft out of Louisiana State, threw for 2,688 yards, trailing only Andrew Luck, Patrick Mahomes and Cam Newton for the most in a quarterback’s first 10 starts.

There is no quit in the Titans. With Tennessee trailing by 21-16 late in the fourth quarter, Ryan Tannehill threw to A.J. Brown inside Baltimore’s 10-yard line. Brown was immediately hit and spun around by one defender and another grabbed Brown from behind before he broke free toward the goal line. Linebacker Patrick Queen got in front of him just inside the 5-yard line, but Brown, with some help from running back Jeremy McNichols, simply pushed Queen backward into the end zone for a go-ahead score. Baltimore forced overtime with a field goal, but in the extra period running back Derrick Henry ended the game by blasting through a crowded line of scrimmage before racing for a 29-yard touchdown run.

Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson summed things up succinctly: “It looked like that team wanted it more than us.”

The Colts’ defense showed up when it mattered. Indianapolis’ top-ranked defense let Green Bay go into halftime leading by 28-14, and the Colts were seemingly on their way to a blowout loss at home. The second half was another story, as Indianapolis scored 17 consecutive points, while Aaron Rodgers and the Packers managed just a field goal on five possessions. That field goal was enough to force overtime, but on the second play of the extra period, Green Bay’s Marquez Valdes-Scantling caught a pass at the line of scrimmage only to have the ball punched out of his hands by safety Julian Blackmon. DeForest Buckner scooped the ball up for a turnover, the Colts inched a bit closer with a few runs, and Rodrigo Blankenship nailed a game-winning 39-yard field goal to keep Indianapolis on top of the A.F.C. South and drop Green Bay’s record to 7-3.

Experience can be overrated. The extremely versatile Taysom Hill came into the day with more career tackles (13) than completions (10). P.J. Walker was mostly known for being the leading passer in the XFL when that league was shuttered by the pandemic. But because of injuries, both were pressed into action as starting quarterbacks, and both got the job done — even if it wasn’t always pretty.

Hill started for New Orleans in place of the injured Drew Brees — forcing the team’s primary backup, Jameis Winston, to the bench — and rose to the challenge. He passed for 233 yards, ran for 51 and scored two touchdowns in a 24-9 win over Atlanta, with the only blemish being a fumble at the end of a long run. Walker, subbing in for the injured Teddy Bridgewater, kept Carolina’s offense moving just fine in a 20-0 blowout of Detroit, doing enough damage that his two red zone interceptions could be forgiven.

Experience can also be rather important. Starting a backup at quarterback against Atlanta or Detroit may work but when doing so against undefeated Pittsburgh, things can get ugly — really ugly. Jake Luton, a rookie Jacksonville drafted in the sixth round this year, made his third career start in place of the injured Gardner Minshew and he turned in one of the worst games you’ll see. Even after completing four meaningless passes in a row while turning the ball over on downs toward the end of the game, Luton still completed just 16 of 37 passes for 151 yards. He didn’t throw a touchdown and was intercepted four times. Only 19 quarterbacks since the A.F.L.-N.F.L. merger have produced a lower passer rating on 35 or more attempts than Luton’s mark of 15.5.

Pittsburgh, meanwhile, became the N.F.L.’s first 10-0 team since 2015. The Steelers will try to get to 11-0 when they host the struggling Baltimore Ravens on Thursday.

The Texans can beat a team that isn’t the Jaguars. Coming into the day, Houston was 2-0 against Jacksonville and 0-7 against everyone else. But Romeo Crennel, the Texans’ interim head coach, became the rare former New England assistant to beat Coach Bill Belichick by leading the Texans to a 27-20 victory that started fast for Houston before grinding out into a fairly close game. Deshaun Watson passed for 344 yards, ran for 36 and accounted for three touchdowns; J.J. Watt was a hugely disruptive force; and New England, despite a 365-yard passing day from Cam Newton, finds itself contemplating whether last week’s big win over Baltimore was a fluke.

Sunday’s Top Performers

Top Passer: Deshaun Watson

Even in a win there is a lingering feeling that Watson is being asked to do too much to drag Houston to relevance. Watson took that concept quite literally on a key play in the second quarter in which he ran for a 4-yard touchdown with a linebacker and a defensive back both clinging to him for dear life. “I was just trying to make something happen,” Watson said. “It just gave the offense energy and the whole team energy when they saw that and it continued through the rest of the game.”

Top Runner: Derrick Henry

Denver’s Melvin Gordon, Kansas City’s Clyde Edwards-Helaire and New Orleans’ Taysom Hill each ran for two touchdowns, but Henry’s 29-yarder in overtime was the icing on the cake of a day in which he ran for more yards than any other player, while pushing past 1,000 for the season. “I try to do anything I can when the ball’s in my hand to help our team win,” Henry said.

Top Receiver: Keenan Allen

There’s a mild asterisk on any feat accomplished against the Jets, but Allen became just the fifth player to have two career games with 15 or more catches. Allen is also up to 605 catches in 96 career games and has four more tries to try to surpass Antonio Brown’s 622 for the most in a player’s first 100 games.

One* Sentence About Sunday’s Games

*Except when it takes more.

Steelers 27, Jaguars 3 Pittsburgh’s Chase Claypool caught a 31-yard scoring pass in the second quarter — his 10th total touchdown of the season, which is the most in a rookie wide receiver’s first 10 games in the Super Bowl era. Odell Beckham Jr. had nine for the Giants in 2014.

Titans 30, Ravens 24 (overtime) Since Baltimore’s bye week, the Ravens have lost three of four games, and Lamar Jackson has been part of the problem with four interceptions in that span — he had only six in 15 starts last season.

Colts 34, Packers 31 (overtime) Philip Rivers threw three touchdown passes and Jonathan Taylor rushed for 90 yards, but Indianapolis was nearly undone by a series of penalties late in the fourth quarter that prevented it from running out the clock as it clung to a 3-point lead.

Chiefs 35, Raiders 31 Derek Carr hit tight end Jason Witten for a 2-yard touchdown pass that gave Las Vegas a lead with just 1 minute 48 seconds remaining, but that was far too much time to leave for Kansas City’s offense. Patrick Mahomes took his team 75 yards on just seven plays, retaking the lead with a 22-yard touchdown pass to Travis Kelce. Mahomes even left 28 seconds on the clock for good measure.

Texans 27, Patriots 20 A loss was bad enough, but New England also presumably lost running back Rex Burkhead for the rest of the season to a knee injury that was severe enough that CBS chose not to show replays of it. The eight-year veteran had six touchdowns in 10 games and was well on his way to surpassing his career-high of eight.

Saints 24, Falcons 9 Taysom Hill had a nice enough day, but it was the New Orleans defense that truly shined, sacking Matt Ryan eight times, intercepting him twice and allowing Atlanta to convert just two of its 14 third-down opportunities.

Cowboys 31, Vikings 28 Ezekiel Elliott rushed for 103 yards and Dallas came from behind to take the lead with less than two minutes remaining thanks to Andy Dalton’s third touchdown pass of the day. Minnesota put up 430 total yards, but its defense was once again its undoing.

Broncos 20, Dolphins 13 Tua Tagovailoa had just 83 yards passing through three quarters and was benched for Ryan Fitzpatrick, who led the team to a field goal but also threw an interception with just over a minute remaining. Coach Brian Flores said Tagovailoa will keep his job as the team’s starting quarterback.

Chargers 34, Jets 28 Gang Green was down by 24-6 at halftime and was struggling to contain quarterback Justin Herbert, but Coach Adam Gase appeared to take over play-calling duties and the Jets were far more effective in the second half, with three touchdown drives that each went for more than 70 yards.

Panthers 20, Lions 0 Detroit’s Matthew Stafford played through an injured thumb on his throwing hand, and he probably should have sat this one out as the Lions were shut out for the first time in Stafford’s 159 career starts. It was the first shutout for Carolina’s defense since 2015.

Browns 22, Eagles 17 Three straight home games for Cleveland have resulted in three consecutive ugly games, but the Browns walked away with two wins by letting the team’s running game and defense do the bulk of the work in adverse weather conditions. At 7-3, the Browns have their best 10-game start since 1994.

Footballers 20, Bengals 9 Everything was overshadowed by Joe Burrow’s injury, but Washington got solid efforts from Antonio Gibson (94 yards rushing, one touchdown) and Terry McLaurin (84 yards receiving) while inching closer to Philadelphia at the top of the N.F.C. East.

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