SOUTH FLORIDA, November 18, 2014 — ESPN announcer Chris Berman is famous for pointing out that how a game looks on paper is not what matters. The reeling Bengals were expected to get crushed in the Superdome by the Sean Payton-Drew Brees Saints pinball machine. The Browns were finally ready to take the next step by rolling over the Texans in Cleveland. The Rams had no chance to stop Peyton Manning and beat the Broncos. The Steelers would easily dispatch the overmatched Titans. In the immortal words of the Swami, “That’s why they play the games.” With that, here are the NFL 2014 Week 11 lessons learned and not learned.
Buffalo Bills at Miami Dolphins is the Thursday night game. Three Dan Carpenter field goals had the 9-3 Bills in the third quarter. After that the Dolphins took over. Ryan Tannehill threw a pair of touchdown passes and Kyle Orton was sacked in the end zone for a safety as a pair of average teams played an average game. 22-9 Dolphins
Chicago Bears 21, Minnesota Vikings 13 — The Bears live and die by Jay Cutler. After spotting Minnesota a 10-0 lead, Cutler turned it around. Cutler did throw two more interceptions, but his three touchdown passes and 31 of 43 for 330 yards passing made the difference in stopping Chicago’s five game losing streak.
Houston Texans 23, Cleveland Browns 7 — The Browns are no longer losers, but performances like this will have all the doubters returning. A Ryan switch occurred for the Texans as Fitzpatrick was benched in favor of Mallett. Mallet was 20 of 30 for 211 yards, two touchdown passes and an interception. Bryan Hoyer was 20 of 50 for 330 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Randy Bullock hit three field goals in the second half to turn a 14-7 Texans lead into a decisive win. Cleveland dropped to 6-4, but they Browns are not losers and Hoyer does not need to be benched. Teams that have lost for so long will have growing pains. Cleveland is better, but needs to win games like this to avoid the naysayers.
Atlanta Falcons 19, Carolina Panthers 17 — Cam Newton threw a pair of touchdown passes as the Panthers overcame a 16-3 deficit to lead 17-16 in the fourth quarter, but this game was a tale of two kickers. Matt Ryan has the nickname, but on this day “Matty Ice” was kicker Matt Bryant. Bryant’s fourth field goal of the day from 44 yards out gave the Falcons the two-point lead. With 1:26 to play Graham Gano’s 46-yard try to take the lead was no good. Gano had a miracle try from 63 yards at the gun, but the kick was blocked.
Cincinnati Bengals 27, New Orleans Saints 10 — The Saints have been expected to turn things around all year based on the last few years, but their Super Bowl win was five years ago. Losing badly at home to a team that lost at home last week by 21 points is not what good teams do. Leading only 10-3 with 14 seconds left in the half facing 2nd and 12, a routine carry was meant to run out the clock for the Bengals. Instead it became a 62-yard gain followed by a field goal to extend the lead. These Saints suffer critical breakdowns, and a 24-yard touchdown pass from Red Rifle Andy Dalton to A.J. Green in the fourth quarter dropped the Saints to 4-6. This can still win the awful NFC South, but not much else.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27, Washington 7 — Robert Griffin III is playing terrible football. On the first play from scrimmage after a touchback, Griffin threw an interception that led to a Buccaneers field goal. Griffin’s second interception was returned it 19 yards for a touchdown and a 10-0 Buccaneers lead. Josh McCown went bombs away to Mike Evans in the second half for touchdowns of 36 and 56 yards and a 51-yard completion to Evans set up a field goal as Washington got smoked at home by an equally horrendous Tampa Bay squad. The chants for Colt McCoy will grow louder if RGIII does not fix everything about his play.
St. Louis Rams 22, Denver Broncos 7 — Jeff Fisher benched Austin Davis for Shaun Hill. John Fox did not bench Peyton Manning for Brock Osweiler. Hill was 20 of 29 for 220 yards and a 63-yard touchdown bomb to Kenny Britt. Manning finished 34 of 54 for 389 yards and one touchdown. The real hero was Rams kicker Greg “the Leg” Zuerlein, who nailed five field goals. Fisher has such trust in Zuerlein that he brought him in for a 55-yard field goal in the fourth quarter knowing a miss would give Manning excellent field position. Zuerlein drilled it and nailed his last kick from 53 yards out. The Rams defense intercepted Manning twice while Hill was not intercepted.
San Francisco 49ers 16, New York Giants 10 — Jim Harbaugh’s 49ers got to 6-4 by winning ugly with hard-nosed defense while the Giants continued losing with inept offense. Down by six at the San Francisco 32 with ten minutes left, Manning was intercepted. With five minutes left the Giants had first and goal at the four. Three straight incompletions were followed by Manning’s fourth down pass resulting in a ricochet and another interception. The Giants got it back at their own 15 with 1:10 to play but turned it over on downs. Manning was intercepted five times on the day.
Kansas City Chiefs 24, Seattle Seahawks 20 — Alex Smith finished 11 of 16 for 108 yards without a touchdown or interception. He wins this week’s Trent Dilfer award for dinking and dunking West Coast Offense style while the defense gets the win. Down by four, Russell Wilson moved the Seahawks to a fourth and goal at the two midway through the fourth quarter. Wilson then threw incomplete. Seattle got it back and on fourth and one from the Chiefs 36 with 3 1/2 minutes left, Pete Carroll decided to go for it again. Marshawn Lynch got the carry, but Beast Mode met Brick Wall Mode as the Chiefs swarmed him in a sea of red. Differ has a Super Bowl ring, but Steve Bono, Elvis Grbac, and the rest of the dink and dunkers do not. This quality win will not translate into playoff success.
San Diego Chargers 13, Oakland Raiders 6 — This game was typical Raiders. A fumble on the first play from scrimmage led to a 7-0 deficit one minute into the game. The Oakland defense played well for long stretches while the offense remained boring, stale, predictable and awful as a West Coast Offense dink and dunk pass on third and five was dropped by a wide open receiver. Timing patterns are worthless when the receivers have no sense of timing or patterns. Tony Sparano decided to inspire his team on fourth and inches at the Oakland 44 at the two minute warning by punting. The coach who has only lost this year played not to lose. With the Raiders needing one defensive stop on third and three to get the ball back, a ball thrown into double coverage turned from a sure interception into a ricochet and a reception. With 11 seconds left, Derek Carr’s Hail Mary was incomplete. Although two seconds clearly remained on the clock, officials called the game over. The winless Raiders are six losses away from permanent infamy.
Arizona Cardinals 14, Detroit Lions 6 — The 7-2 Lions took on the 8-1 Cardinals. These teams were losers for a long time until winners took over in Jim Caldwell and Bruce Arians. Caldwell is the expressionless quiet man who has built a solid defense while the emotional Arians loves the big strike offense. Carson Palmer is out for the season, but Drew Stanton was ready. Reggie Bush was out, but since he used to date a Kardashian his presence was not missed. Stanton threw first quarter touchdown passes of 42 and 12 yards to Michael Floyd and then the defense held on for dear life. Yes, Arizona is for real. No, Jim Caldwell did not allow the big win to lead to him making a facial expression.
Green Bay Packers 53, Philadelphia Eagles 20 — The Packers had one extra point blocked and another one aborted due to a fumbled snap. Although Wile E. Coyote had miserable luck with ACME products, Mike McCarthy did fine in his retro ACME Packers cap. His team dropped the anvil on the heads of the Eagles. The Packers were wearing their 1929 Great Depression throwback uniforms. Green Bay won a championship that year but nationwide poverty explained the terrible football wear. When Aaron Rodgers is your quarterback, even the ugliest uniforms are beautiful. Missed extra points and ugly uniforms are all one can criticize when the team scores in all three phases of the game and leads by 27 points before halftime.
New England Patriots 42, Indianapolis Colts 20 — The Sunday night game focus was on Tom Brady and Andrew Luck, but the game belonged to New England running back Jonas Gray. Gray had a career night, rushing 38 times for 199 yards and four touchdowns. Gray’s longest touchdown run was four yards and his running set up a short touchdown pass. Every time Indianapolis got close, New England responded. With six weeks in the regular season, the road to the Super Bowl in the AFC goes through this very balanced New England team.
Pittsburgh Steelers 27, Tennessee Titans 24 — The Monday night game was a well-played see-saw duel between Ben Roethlisberger and Zac Mettenberger. Roethlisberger led the Steelers back from a 24-13 fourth quarter deficit to take the lead. LeVeon Bell did the rest, carrying the ball seven straight times as the Steelers ran out the final seven minutes off of the clock. Desperately needing a stop, the Tennessee defense could not get one. Bell was a workhorse, gashing the Titans for 204 yards on 33 carries. This was Mike Tomlin Steelers football. Meanwhile, Roethlisberger and Mettenberger are still both not Jewish.