Tuesday Afternoon Football: Week 11
Week 11 of the NFL season was home to perhaps some of the most exciting games in the history of professional football. MVP candidates clashed, divisional rivals traded blows, and the top teams look to be heating up at the perfect time. All things considered, I think this might have been the best week of the NFL season to this week, so good in fact, that I might not bother sullying my memory of this season by watching any more football for the rest of the year. With that all being said, let’s get into the action:
The Greatest Game in Regular Season History:
This week’s game between the Los Angeles Rams and the Kansas City Chiefs was supposed to be played in neutral territory, in another country, but due to some atrocious field conditions (CBS Sports), the game was moved to the media capital of the world, Los Angeles. It ended up being a good thing that the game was moved to Los Angeles, because this was the most exciting, explosive, and entertaining game of this season.
Both these two teams headed into the game with the same record, 9-1. They were as close to perfect as an NFL team has been this season. The Chiefs and Rams were both offensive juggernauts, walking fireworks shows, the physical embodiments of the way the NFL hopes teams evolve. Both teams have MVP-caliber quarterbacks, brilliant offensive-minded head coaches with an armory full of nuclear weapons.
When the game started, most people were expecting a standard fireworks show, one that would cap off a day with your family at Disneyland. A fun pyrotechnics show that leaves everyone satisfied with their experience and ready to head home. By the time this game really got going, it became clear that this was no ordinary fireworks display, this was a mind-melting light show that left the audience stunned, confused, and begging to see more as soon as physically possible. It was so captivating that I was essentially hypnotized, put in a trance by what I was watching.
This game was 60 minutes of pure joy as a football fan. The game was back-and-forth, completely unpredictable, and was perfect. The teams both had over 450 yards of total offense, and had possession of the football for roughly 30 minutes each. The game truly didn’t feel it was over until the next morning, the explosiveness of these two teams added an element of unpredictability that was so enticing that somehow it became comforting knowing that any team could score on any play at any time.
The Los Angeles Rams emerged victorious when it was all said and done. They defeated the Kansas City Chiefs, winning with a final score of 54-51. The two teams combined to put up 105 total points, 1,001 yards of total offense, forced seven turnovers, and had three defensive touchdowns. This game literally had it all.
Jared Goff, the quarterback for the now 10-1 Los Angeles Rams, completed 31/49 passes for 413 yards with four touchdowns without an interception. He did fumble twice, one of which was returned for a touchdown, but he played an incredible game. Patrick Mahomes II, the quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs, had an incredibly explosive game as well, despite turning the ball over five times. He completed 33/46 passes for 478 yards (a career-high) with six touchdowns. He did throw three interceptions and fumbled twice, and one of the interceptions and one of the fumbles were returned for touchdowns by the same player, Samson Ebukam.
No one besides Goff had a truly spectacular offensive game for the Rams, they were working well as a unit on offense and their defense scored twice, which is why I think they won the game. The Chiefs did have some spectacular stat lines outside of Mahomes though. Tyreek Hill had 10 catches for 215 yards and two touchdowns, he was simply absurd. Travis Kelce also added 10 catches for 127 yards and a touchdown.
This game is exactly what the NFL, and really all sports leagues, want. Professional sports leagues are all trying to move to a place where the offense is at an advantage, and scoring is high, which makes the game more exciting. Leagues want to make the games as exciting as possible to draw in the new younger generations, they want highlight plays that can be easily condensed and thrown up on social media, and they’ve got it. Last night’s game was a perfect encapsulation of that fact.
While some people don’t like the way the NFL is moving with the game focusing on offense, and at the same time essentially handcuffing defenses, but there is no doubt that it is helping the league draw in more viewers and make more money. Last night’s game drew and 11.3 overnight rating (CNN), which is the best overnight rating for a Monday Night Football game since 2014, and is over 57% higher than last year’s Week 11 MNF matchup.
The bottom line is that this game was exactly what the NFL wants, and if games become more and more like what we saw last night, they will have no problem with getting their younger audience back.
While the actual game last night was incredible because of the product on the field, something else to take away from this game was that the NFL has four clear-cut MVP candidates right now, and two of them played last night. Goff’s year has somehow gotten lost in the shadow of Drew Brees and Patrick Mahomes II, or simply dismissed as being a product of “McVay’s system”, but he has been spectacular.
Through 11 games he has thrown for 3,547 yards and 26 touchdowns with a 67.7% completion percentage. He’s only thrown six interceptions, and while he does have Todd Gurley lining up beside him in the backfield to take the some of the pressure off him, he still deserves to be a mainstay in the MVP conversation for the rest of the year. Perhaps an even more important takeaway is that Jeff Fisher should never get close enough to sniff an NFL coaching job ever again, Goff looked like a bust, a glorified scrub, while under Fisher’s tutelage, but now looks like a generational talent under McVay.
While Mahomes had five turnovers in last night’s game, two of which came on the two biggest drives of the game, that shouldn’t take him out of MVP consideration either. He has been a revelation in his first season as a starter. He has thrown for 3,628 yards with 37 touchdowns while completing 67.5% of his passes. He does have 10 interceptions, but that will happen when you have a risk-taker at quarterback like Mahomes, I mean Ben Roethlisberger only has had four seasons with less than 10 INTs.
Last night’s game was perfect, it had it all. It had explosive offenses, MVP-caliber quarterbacks on both teams, brilliant head coaches, and it left me sitting in front of my television in a trance waiting for more.
This was the game of the year, no ands, ifs, or buts about it.
Bears-Vikings and the First Installment of the Battle for the NFC North:
After seeing the Green Bay Packers fall to the Seattle Seahawks on Thursday night, it became clearer than ever that this division came down to two teams: The Minnesota Vikings and the Chicago Bears. Fortunately for all of us football fans, these two teams were poised two face off twice over the home stretch, and the first of those matchups came on Sunday night.
The Bears came into the game with a 6-3 record, and the Vikings were 5-3-1, so record-wise these teams were essentially in the same place. At their cores these teams are both defensive-minded teams, the Vikings are led by Mike Zimmer - a defensive-minded head coach, and the Bears built an elite defense before adding Khalil Mack.
The Chicago Bears’ defense ranks third in the NFL in terms of yards per game with 314.4, and the Vikings are fifth with 320.8. The Bears lead the league in interceptions with 18 and the Vikings are tied for 10th with 10 interceptions, and the Bears also lead the league in pick-sixes. The Bears are tied with the Bills for the league lead in forced fumbles with 10, the Vikings are tied for 13th with eight. These stats are from after their matchup on Sunday, but heading into the game these two teams were still both elite defenses.
As I’m sure you can safely assume at this point that consistent offense was coming at a premium during the game on Sunday, this was no Rams-Chiefs. Neither team had more than 310 yards of offense, and both teams committed three turnovers, this was a defensive slugfest, and when your team is fighting a defensive battle, it helps to have the best defensive player in the league.
That player is Khalil Mack, who had a sack, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery on Sunday. To this point this season, he has easily been the best defensive player in the NFL, and might even be making a case for MVP as well as the Defensive Player of the Year award that is being engraved with his name as you read this. Mack nearly has as many sacks as the entire Raiders team that he was traded away from, and he has forced as many/more fumbles than seven NFL teams.
The game on Sunday was exciting, not as hypnotizing as the Chiefs-Rams game, but it was exciting nonetheless. The game came down to the wire, but the Vikings couldn’t recover their own onside kick to set them up to win the game, so the Bears ended up winning 25-20.
Neither team’s offense was spectacular in this game, it was a defensive battle. Mitchell Trubisky completed 20/31 passes for 165 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions. Kirk Cousins completed 30/46 of his passes for 262 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. While Kirk Cousins had the better stats when the game was said and done, his team lost, and that is ultimately an indictment on him.
He was given a massive contract in the offseason and to this point he has not really lived up to the lofty expectations that come with that. This is particularly hard for me to say because I am a proud, card-carrying member of the Kirk Cousins fan club and he’s been on my fantasy team for the last four seasons, but he does have a tendency to not win the biggest games. There is a reason that he has a career record that’s below .500, and he has never won a playoff game.
So ultimately, the Bears now have the advantage heading down the stretch for that reason. Kirk Cousins isn’t the guy that will be able to shoulder the load offensively to carry a team in a uber-competitive division, especially when that team doesn’t have a consistent rushing attack.
The Bears have an elite defense, a new “Monster of the Midway”, and while their offense isn’t exactly the finale of a fireworks show, it is more than capable of putting up more points than their elite defense allows.
I think that this game will prove to be the springboard that will launch the Chicago Bears into the upper-echelon of playoff contenders, and by the time these two teams meet next, the Bears will be resting their key players to save them for the first round of the playoffs.
Rise of the Colts and the Streaking Texans:
Look, I won’t go into much depth here, or really any depth at all because I have become a massive jinx for all things football this year with this column and my podcast, but these two teams still deserve some recognition.
The Houston Texans have won seven-straight games after starting the season by losing their first three games. While their offense is pretty mediocre, their defense has rounded back into elite form. They are top-10 in the NFL in total points allowed, total yards allowed, passing yards allowed, yards per pass attempt, total rushing yards, total rushing touchdowns allowed, yards per drive, and points per drive.
J.J. Watt has 10 sacks on the year, Jadeveon Clowney has 6.5 sacks, and Tyrann Mathieu has two interceptions and a fumble recovery. This team has all the pieces necessary to make a deep playoff run in the AFC and match the Steelers, Chiefs, and Patriots while potentially overwhelming them with their defense.
The Indianapolis Colts are currently 5-5, but are riding-high on a four-game win-streak. Andrew Luck looks like his old self, well, a less reckless version of his old self. He currently has a 67.3% completion percentage, 2,769 yards, 29 touchdowns, and nine interceptions. He hasn’t been sacked in about a decade, and has only been sacked 10 times this year. He’s posting the best numbers of his career after nearly a year of being professional football’s version of bigfoot.
Their offensive line has been ridiculous, they have some really nice pieces on defense, and they might just be one of the hottest teams in professional football right now. Their rookie linebacker, Darius Leonard, looks to be a mortal-lock to be the Defensive Rookie of the Year. He has 104 total tackles, eight tackles for a loss, four forced fumbles, and an interception.
Now the only issue with these two teams is that they exist in the same division, but if the Texans ever come back down to Earth, this division should become a real race, and it might be my favorite of the season.
That’s it. I’m not going into anything else here because I like both these teams and don’t want to jinx them at all, so I’ll be knocking on wood until I can be sure that I haven’t just ruined their seasons.
Update from the From the Front of the Jimmy G Hype Train:
CK Collusion QB of the Week: This week is going to be a little different, no quarterback from this last week will be named the winner. Instead, two teams will be given this award. First: The Washington Redskins, who just signed Mark Sanchez to a contract after losing Alex Smith to injury. Let’s be crystal fucking clear here: Sanchez hasn’t been good since his third year in the league, which was 2011. He hasn’t played since 2016, the same as Kaepernick, and Kaep was much better at his peak, and his peak was much more recent. This is an embarrassment, but it should be one of the 13 different things that Kaep’s lawyers can present to a judge to win his collusion case easily. The second winner: The Detroit Lions, who just brought in recently-released quarterback and laughing-stock Nathan Peterman for a workout. That’s right, the man who has more career pick-sixes than touchdowns was given another chance, but someone who kneeled during the anthem can’t get a workout. Congratulations Colin, you shouldn’t even bother listening to the NFL’s eventual settlement offer, you can win this case with ease.
Breakout Player of the Week: Lamar Jackson made his first career NFL start and was exciting! He became the first quarterback to run for over 100 yards since Colin Kaepernick in 2016, and his team won the game! He had the fourth-most rushing yards in Week 11, and he also completed 13/19 passes for 150 yards. What a debut!
Loser of the Week: Even when the Oakland Raiders win, they lose. The Raiders beat the Arizona Cardinals this week and helped their cross-town rivals, the San Francisco 49ers, move even closer to snagging Nick Bosa with the first overall pick, meaning that they will have lost another great pass rusher before Jon Gruden’s second year of his absurd 10-year $100 million deal starts.
The Good, the Bad, and the Odd:
The Good: The New Orleans Saints are good, and they look like they will be good until the end of time. They smoked the Philadelphia Eagles this week, winning 48-7. They did all of America a service by knocking Philadelphia fans back down a peg after the 76ers acquired Jimmy Butler earlier in the week.
The Bad: The Los Angeles Chargers lost to the Denver Broncos, and showed some of their vulnerabilities in that loss. Seeing them drop a game to the Broncos, who aren’t good, really make me question their ability to hang with the top dogs of the AFC like the Steelers, Chiefs, Texans, and Patriots.
The Odd: This is odd, bad, and sad at the same time. Alex Smith is now out for the season after suffering a Joe Theismann-like injury. It was truly horrifying to see, I wish him the best in his recovery, and I hope he can make it back to an NFL field someday. The odd thing here is that this was the same injury that happened to Joe Theismann exactly 33 years after it happened. It’s truly a devastating injury, and I beg the Redskins not to start their usual starting quarterback during Week 11 of the 2051 season.