NFL Week 11 in Review

Packers 31, Vikings 3
Coaches are hired to be fired, and in the case of Brad Childress, his day of reckoning has been in the making for a while now.

Almost two seasons, to be exact, and the deal was sealed once the Vikings brought Brett Favre on board to try to paper over what had been a big hole at the quarterback position since Daunte Culpepper was hurt midway through the 2005 season. Or before then if you think Culpepper’s poor play up to that injury was him falling off a cliff, the torn knee ligaments just making it official.

When Childress replaced Mike Tice after that season, he went with veteran stopgaps (Brad Johnson, Gus Frerotte, Kelly Holcomb). He tried to nurture Tavaris Jackson into a starting quarterback. After taking him in the second round of the 2006 draft, Childress must have seen enough in Jackson early to keep him from drafting another QB any higher that the fifth round, where he grabbed John David Booty in 2008. Tyler Thigpen (seventh round, 2007) is the only other signal caller drafted by the Vikings in that time.

Before the 2009 season, it was apparent that Childress’ plan was good enough to win a soft NFC North (2008), but not really good enough to make the team a true Super Bowl contender. This despite some big-time receivers, plus arguably the best running back in the league.

Enter Favre. Despite an ugly ending with the Jets the previous season, a healthy Favre was a vast upgrade capable of vaulting the Vikings into top tier of NFC teams. Maybe given the choice between that tantalizing possibility and watching Jackson’s struggles bring the team down another year, there wasn’t really a choice at all.

But Favre was already 39, and it’s maybe an understatement to say his commitment would be questioned, with his on-again, off-again retirement sagas.

It still worked for a season, with Childress and the Vikings landing on the doorstep of the Super Bowl. The near-miss in 2009, and the lack of alternatives behind Favre, meant Childress and crew had to suffer through through the annual Favre Watch that the Packers were happy to wash their hands of two years earlier.

Even though it meant pushing the face of the franchise aside, the Packers pulled the trigger because they didn’t want the team to be suspended in time by the whims of an aging narcissist.

That was the Vikings’ problem now, as they waited for Favre to join the team. After missing almost all of training camp — participation in which he notoriously hates — the elder QB did come back, with the expectation that it was going ot be that Super Bowl or bust.

It was a bust. Favre wasn’t as sharp as the season before. The turnovers, which were every bit a signature of his storied career as the long TD passes fired by that cannon of an arm, were back and hurting an offense that sank nearly to the bottom of the NFL this season.

Would Favre have been better if he’d show up for training camp? Maybe. Is Favre just losing some more off his game as he passes 40? That’s possible, too, if not probable.

It happened again Sunday as the Vikings (3-7) were humbled by the Packers (7-3) and Favre’s former understudy. Aaron Rodgers reaffirmed Green Bay’s decision to move on, as they’re beginning to look like one of the top teams in the NFC after recovering from a spate of injuries.

Leslie Frazier, the elevated defensive coordinator, will try to get the Vikings out of the mud. And hopefully this will be a long-term chance for Frazier.

ALEX PREWITT: Peace out, Brad Childress. It’s about time. That is all.

Bears 16, Dolphins 0
A Thursday night snooze-fest with 11 total punts, just over 400 yards of combined total offense and a whole lot of Robbie Gould putting numbers up on the scoreboard.

CHRIS PUMMER: This was a gimmie for the Bears (7-3), who have a great defense. The offense is still lacking, though, and it’s not going to be every week they get to face a third-string quarterback.

The Dolphins (5-5) are probably finished. Already weak at QB, Tyler Thigpen won’t be able to rally this group for a playoff spot in the AFC, which is a shame. The Dolphins are otherwise a pretty good, well-rounded team.

Bills 49, Bengals 31
If only Buffalo played Cincinnati and Detroit every week, and not have to host Pittsburgh. Steve Johnson is quietly having a breakout year in his third season and is tied for third in the league with nine touchdowns. I thought this one was over after Ryan Fitzpatrick through a pick-six in the second quarter to boost the Bengals’ lead to 28-14, but for some reason Cincinnati’s offense cannot work past the first 30 minutes. All four of Fitzpatrick’s TDs came in the latter half against a secondary that intercepted him twice in the first half.

CHRIS PUMMER: If Marvin Lewis is fired next week, I’ll always wonder if he wasn’t fired after this game simply because of the short week before a Thanksgiving Day matchup. Lewis is a good coach, but the situation in Cincinnati (2-8) seems to be toxic with the team losing seven straight. The only way to clean it up might be to clean house. Sadly, that includes Lewis, who will hopefully get a fresh start somewhere else.

The Bills (2-8) have won two in a row now, confirming they just aren’t that bad. Not that they’re good. But we can probably stop making fun of Chan Gailey for a few weeks.

Cowboys 35, Lions 19
Jason Garrett is certainly doing a stand-up job in his audition for the permanent slot in Big D. The Cowboys believe in him and, perhaps more importantly, they believe in themselves. The ‘Boys will be tested come next week when New Orleans comes to town, and then Indianapolis on the road the following week, but Dallas can truly cement itself as an upstart story with two remaining games against the Eagles.

Despite putting up 35 points, the Cowboys’ offense only finished with 265 yards of total offense, and once again was unable to establish any sort of ground game to spell Jon Kitna. Kitna was second on the team in rushing with 40 yards, and only got so high because of a 29-yard scoring run. Marion Barber is averaging a yard-per-carry worse than his career mark (3.2 vs. 4.2) and Felix Jones isn’t getting the ball nearly enough to be effective (11 carries for 51 yards versus the Lions). The question marks still linger, but it’s hard to argue with results, especially when Wade Phillips had such a hard time finding the win column.

CHRIS PUMMER: It’s been said over and over again that the Cowboys (3-7) have too much talent to be playing so poorly. And they’re playing better now that Wade Phillips has been shown the door. Maybe one of the benefits of firing a coach midseason is that once the sideline boss is axed, the search for accountability goes on. That’s probably more motivation for players and the remaining coaches than just killing time under a lame duck regime.

The Lions (2-8) are even beginning to disappoint me. Sure, you can’t account for injuries to Matt Stafford at QB. But this is costly development time being wasted instead of getting Shaun Hill a string of backup jobs for the next 5-7 years.

Redskins 19, Titans 16 (OT)
Amid the Donovan McNabb-Mike Shanahan spat/controversy, the Redskins somehow continue to sneak wins away. This is Washington’s second OT win of the season and third victory on the road, all of which have come by no more than five points. While this wasn’t retribution for the shellacking the Redskins took at the hands of the Philadelphia Vicks, it was certainly a step in the right direction for a coach who, one week prior, was seemingly losing control of his players. All it took was an even larger meltdown on the opposing sideline to help the Skins out.

CHRIS PUMMER: Before the season I thought the Titans (5-5) would be among the best teams in the NFL. Now injuries to the wide receiving corps, and now to the team’s top two QBs, will probably sink this squad. Even before this latest injury, Vince Young was awfully inconsistent. And Kerry Collins, the other half of this QB tandem, is awfully old. Should Tennessee dissolve into a 10-loss team, I wonder if they aren’t tempted to turn the page and go in another direction.

The Redskins (5-5) are still what we’ve thought of them all year. They’re a so-so team that’s good enough to hang around and vulture wins, maybe enough of them to climb into the NFC playoffs. Though in a stacked division and with seven teams with more wins at this point, it’s asking a lot for them to grab one of the three playoff spots available to them.

Chiefs 31, Cardinals 13
Dwayne Bowe was the big story here for the Chiefs (6-4), who had to win this game to keep some distance between them and the Chargers. But maybe there should be a little appreciation for Thomas Jones, who’s workman-like effort included a pair of touchdowns.
After earning the label of a busted first-round draft pick in Arizona, Jones got a second life with a good showing in Tampa Bay. He fully rebounded with three very good seasons in Chicago, where he was asked to share the backfield with another top-10 pick in Cedric Benson. While Benson underperformed Jones was Mr. Reliable.

That still didn’t garner him much respect as the Jets picked him up for a song (a swap of second-round draft picks), and Jones still ran over the competition while in New York.

He’s doing the same dirty work in Kansas City, sharing the backfield again, but still getting results.
If the Chiefs hold off the Chargers, it’s going to be because the offensive line, the running game with Jones and Jamaal Charles, and QB Matt Cassel give the offense enough balance to keep a spotty defense rested, and not on the field for a very long time down the stretch.

Status quo for Arizona (3-7). They need a real answer at quarterback.

Saints 34, Seahawks 19
Is Drew Brees back for good? Or was this just because his 382-yard, four-TD performance came against the Seahawks? Probably a little of both, honestly. Matt Hasselbeck had a field day with 366 yards and a 72-percent completion percentage, but just couldn’t find the end zone at the right time. On the other hand, while the Saints offense absolutely rolled over Seattle, I’m still concerned about this newfound penchant for interceptions that Brees has developed. The two picks he threw against the Seahawks brings his total to 12 in the past six games, and if a playoff berth is on the line in Week 15 and 16 when the Saints visit the Ravens and Falcons, respectively, things might not sway in the direction of the defending champs.

CHRIS PUMMER: The Saints (7-3) and Seahawks (5-5) look to both be finding their level. For the Saints, that puts them near the top of the NFC, with the emergence of Chris Ivory boosting the running game and making this offense very dynamic. For the Seahawks, it means hoping eight wins could steal a playoff spot. That’s only possible if Matt Hasselbeck isn’t hurt again.

Buccaneers 21, 49ers 0
It’s hard to see how Mike Singletary survives as head coach in San Francisco (3-7). From the expectations of a playoff run unfulfilled, to an embarrassing loss to Carolina, and now an embarrassing shutout at home. Like Brad Childress in Minnesota, the lack of any real QB option is ultimately what is killing Singletary’s career. But unlike Childress, there’s no quick-fix the 49ers could have turned to for one or two shots at a title. The talent level of the rest of this team hasn’t been there since Steve Young retired.

The Bucs (7-3) are quickly rising as their young QB, Josh Freeman, continues to grow into his role. How fast he grows from here on out will determine how big a threat Tampa Bay will be once the playoffs begin. As of now, I fully expect them to be a participant.

Jets 30, Texans 27
Let me pose a question to the masses. Has any team given the “Cardiac” label ever won a title in any sport? The last five weeks for the New York Jets make me wonder if they can actually do it.

CHRIS PUMMER: The comebacks are getting to be old hat for the Jets (8-2), who you’d like to see win games more comfortably, but you can’t be disappointed that a young QB like Matt Sanchez has looked poised in leading them to a bunch of close wins. Like we said last week, it’d be nice to see them just blow some other teams out. But wins are wins.

The Texans (4-6) need to find some way to keep other teams from passing all over them. It can be early as the team falls behind, or late as another team rallies, but opposing offenses are just having their way with the Houston secondary. This offense is still good, but not great enough to overcome this kind of weakness.

Steelers 35, Raiders 3
No surprises as the Steelers (7-3) roll the Raiders (5-5), who are in the playoff picture only by virtue of being in an awful division.

Ravens 37, Panthers 13
The Panthers (1-9) are living down to their record as the worst team in the NFL. The Ravens (7-3) just took out the trash, which only the 49ers have failed to do this year.

Jaguars 24, Browns 20
The Jaguars (6-4) look like they might be the biggest benefactors of the imploding Titans and Texans as there seems to be one more playoff spot in the AFC up for grabs, and with the Colts also looking vulnerable, the Jaguars could bolt into the postseason. That would salvage what early on looked like a dull slog through a mediocre season.

Jacksonville still looks unspectacular in what they’re doing on the field, so it’s hard to place expectations on them. As long as the key players stay healthy, they’ll take that.
The Browns (3-7) are improving, but just aren’t there yet. And that’s probably the best hopes anyone really had for them this year.

Patriots 31, Colts 28
JASON CLINKSCALES: This was definitely not the best game of the Rivalry of the Decade, but instead, it was a game where the Patriots may have given credence to being the AFC’s best team… of the moment. For as much talk that has surrounded Michael Vick in Philadelphia (and deservedly so), if Tom Brady takes home his second MVP at season’s end, you’d get no qualms from me. In a season where mediocrity reigns supreme, that award will likely go to a quarterback whose team happens to ride momentum better than anyone else, regardless of statistics. Brady didn’t have a Madden ’10-on-very-easy game (19-for-25, 186 yards and two TDs), but he was outstanding in putting the Colts on edge quickly.

New England’s offense doesn’t look as potent as Indianapolis’, Philadelphia’s or New Orleans’ on paper, yet they’re a team now where opponents truly don’t know which players are going to break out. Maybe anonymity, not exactly the fans, represents the Patriots’ 12th man.

ALEX PREWITT: In the battle of the top two QBs not named Michael Vick, Tom Brady came out on top. And that says a lot given the way in which the Patriots did it. Heading into the fourth quarter, New England had built up a 14-point lead thanks to touchdowns by BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Aaron Hernandez, not to mention a score from the previously invisible Wes Welker. Brady’s leading receiver was Deion Branch (seven catches, 70 yards). The point is, Tom Brady has turned players who were previously nobody’s into a cohesive squad that’s 8-2 and the odds-on favorite to make the Super Bowl from the AFC.

On the other side of things, Peyton Manning brought the Colts within one terrible throw of, at the very least, tying things up and heading into overtime. His three interceptions shouldn’t serve as a harbinger of an Indianapolis downfall, though. The loss came on the road in chilly Foxborough and Manning has more than ample opportunity to redeem himself with consecutive home games (the Colts are 4-0 at the RCA Dome) against San Diego and Dallas.

CHRIS PUMMER: Don’t blame Peyton Manning because of the late pick. The Colts (6-4) wouldn’t have even been in a position to rally if not for him. And besides, he was absolutely right to go for the win. What else should he do? Go for the possible tie? Have the kicker miss and lose anyway? Or watch the Patriots (8-2) get the ball first in overtime and score to win? Like Herm Edwards would say, you play to win the football game.

Eagles 27, Giants 17
: You could point to dumb penalties, Eli Manning’s turnover troubles – and he’s still better than most quarterbacks playing in the league, whether some agree or not – or Ahmad Bradshaw’s fumbling issues, but there’s no doubt that this second half for the Giants may be (MAY BE) the most troubling in the Tom Coughlin era. Even more so than when Plaxico Burress shot himself in the foot.

New York’s offense has been decimated by injuries to their line and receivers; not just starters, but reserves as well. Giants fans are going to find out why those preseason games were so vital as the team’s depth has been tested. The Giants are still a playoff contender, but goodness, it’s going to be a tougher road to get there without Hakeem Nicks for the next three weeks.

Big plays buoyed Philadelphia, but it’s nice to know that they have speed not just at wide receiver (DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant), but some burst with LeSean McCoy at running back. If the Giants’ offense doesn’t get healthy by their reprisal next month in New Jersey, that second meeting won’t be as close as the first.

CHRIS PUMMER: I’m not ready to proclaim Michael Vick the NFL’s MVP, but the Eagles (7-3) have to be considered almost on par with the Falcons as NFC Super Bowl contenders. The Giants (6-4), well, they need some work.

Chargers 35, Broncos 17
Not exactly a game analysis as much as this is a division observation: all four teams in the AFC West are 1-4 on the road. Huh? How can this be?

ALEX PREWITT: Philip Rivers continues to put up other-worldly statistics and the Chargers continue to take care of business at home. San Diego can all but solidify a playoff berth with three consecutive home games (against Oakland, Kansas City and San Francisco; not exactly top-tier foes) from Weeks 13-15.

CHRIS PUMMER: After the Broncos (3-7) scored the opening touchdown, the Chargers (5-5) rallied and it never really seemed like a close game. That slow start will haunt San Diego until they can catch the Chiefs. And the lack of a running game will haunt Denver until they decide to fix that. Don’t look for it to happen this season. I’m not sure head coach Josh McDaniels is committed to ever doing that.

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