We had three overtime games, six divisional games decided by seven points or less, and four games that were decided in the final two minutes of regulation or in overtime on Sunday. The Falcons and Texans both improved to 9-1, but did so with less than convincing wins. The Eagles and Cardinals both lost their sixth straight games, the Broncos and Packers each won their fifth straight games, and the Redskins and Jets won their first games since Oct. 14. That’s just scratching the surface. Here are my 10 Takeaways from Week 11. —Peter Schrager
Rob Gronkowski broke his forearm on a play he shouldn't have run
This one will be debated all week long, and I understand the “Belichick Way” of playing starters for the full 60 minutes regardless of the score. But I still can’t defend Rob Gronkowski — or any superstar for that matter — being on the field in a 51-24 game with less than 10 minutes to go in the fourth quarter. The Patriots dressed three tight ends on Sunday, including Visanthe Shiancoe and Michael Hoomanawanui. I know it’s easy to critique the decision knowing what we know, but why did Gronkowski have to be in on that play? New England is already without Aaron Hernandez. Why risk anything with Gronkowski up four scores? Go on, beat me up for questioning Bill Belichick, Patriots fans. I guess we’ll agree to disagree on this one.
Cowboys, Texans have four days to recover after crazy wins
Earlier this week, Commissioner Roger Goodell reiterated that the NFL will be sticking with its new Thursday night schedule, moving forward. Six different teams need to regroup from Sunday games, prepare for opponents, and play on four days’ rest on Thanksgiving. The two Texas teams—the Cowboys and Texans—won wild comeback victories in overtime on Sunday. Both teams—Houston and its race for homefield advantage in the AFC, Dallas and their flickering playoff dreams in the crowded NFC—need wins on Thursday. Can they both keep their winning streaks alive? They'll need to recover fast to do so.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie lives in a world of fantasy
Listening to Eagles cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie’s postgame comments after Sunday’s 31-6 loss to the 4-6 Redskins, it’s hard not to wonder if he believes in unicorns and flying reindeer, too. "Nobody has lined up and just beat us," Philly’s cornerback said in the locker room after the Eagles’ sixth straight loss. He’s right . . . except for the seven times teams have lined up and beaten the Eagles this year.
The 2011 Packers were fashionable. The 2012 Packers are tougher.
The 2011 Packers scored more points than any Packers team in franchise history, won fifteen regular season games, and had a quarterback that cruised to his first MVP award. They also lost in their only playoff game. This Packers team — a unit that went on the road and beat a divisional opponent without Charles Woodson, Greg Jennings, Clay Matthews, and Bryan Bulaga in the lineup on Sunday — may not be as aesthetically pleasing as the 2011 version, but it sure is tougher. Green Bay went into Detroit undermanned and came back with its fifth straight win. The Packers are winning close games this season and doing so with defense and grit. Those are the types of wins that'll help them come January, not 48-3 blowouts.
The Bengals are the sleeper team in AFC playoff mix
With the Ravens and Steelers slugging it out on Sunday night and the Browns losing in dramatic fashion in Dallas on Sunday afternoon, it’d be understandable if you didn’t notice what the AFC North’s fourth team did this weekend. Quietly, without any media buzz or national attention, the Bengals won their second straight game, improving to 5-5 on the year. Now just a game behind the Colts in the AFC playoff race, Cincinnati has games against the struggling Raiders and Chargers up ahead on their schedule. A.J. Green caught a touchdown pass for the ninth straight game and the Bengals defense held its opponent to less than 13 points for the second week in a row. Keep an eye out for Cincinnati.
Raiders look lost -- again
As has been the case just about every year since the Raiders lost to the Buccaneers in Super Bowl XXXVII in 2002, Oakland’s headed towards another lost season, and they’re headed there fast. A week after losing 55-20 in Baltimore, Oakland got served a 38-17 beating at home by the Saints on Sunday. “As I’ve said before, I didn’t think we had a Super Bowl team, but you can’t blame this on the new front office or the salary cap,” owner Mark Davis said on Sunday. “You have coaches and you have players, and you have to play. We have to be Raiders.” An entire generation of NFL fans have a different take on what “being Raiders” means. Though injuries could be to blame, you can argue that outside of kicker and punter, the Raiders currently don't have a Top 20 player at any of the other positions on the field.
Bucs, Saints continue to roll, while Falcons stumble through a 9-1 season
The Bucs, Saints, and Falcons all won on Sunday afternoon, but few Falcons fans are puffing their chests out this morning. Atlanta’s still undefeated at home this year, but the Falcons barely beat the Ryan Lindley-led Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. The 23-19 turnover-fest won’t do much for fan confidence. Matt Ryan became the first quarterback since Bart Starr (1967) to throw 5 interceptions, 0 touchdowns, and still win a game. Both New Orleans and Tampa Bay are winners of four straight games, while the Falcons have now won three “way too tight” games at home over inferior teams—Arizona, Carolina, and Oakland. With a record of 9-1 and three games ahead of Tampa Bay in the win column, the NFC South title appears to be locked up for the Falcons. Not so fast. Tampa Bay still hasn’t played Atlanta this season. The NFC South race is a long way from over.
Maybe Justin Blackmon isn't an all-time Draft bust, after all
Maybe Justin Blackmon just needed an actual NFL quarterback throwing him passes. With Blaine Gabbert knocked out of the game with an elbow injury in the first quarter, Chad Henne came in and promptly connected with the Jaguars’ 2012 top ten pick for 7 receptions for 236 yards and a touchdown. Blackmon entered Sunday’s game with 250 yards all season. He nearly matched that in one afternoon. He looked tough, he looked fast, and he looked confident. It was just one week, but Sunday may have been the kickstart Blackmon needed to get going.
The Chargers' season went south Week 6 vs. Denver. It ended Sunday.
You could feel the Chargers’ 2012 season taking a drastic turn in the wrong direction in the third quarter of their Week 6 bout against the Broncos. Up 24-0, they gave up 35 straight points and fell behind the Broncos in the AFC West standings that night. Naturally, Denver hasn’t lost a game since, while San Diego’s only won one. The Broncos’ 30-23 win on Sunday didn’t just unofficially seal up the 2012 AFC West title and at least one home playoff game in January. It also put a fork in the Chargers’ season. I know that sixth playoff spot in the AFC is currently up for grabs, but I can’t see San Diego putting together any sort of crazy winning streak. They’ve got Baltimore, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh up ahead. In other words, their season is over.
Brady-Luck isn’t quite Brady-Manning…yet
After a week of media hype surrounding Andrew Luck and the 6-3 Indianapolis Colts and some geniuses in the media (including this guy) picking Bruce Arians’ young squad to upset Belichick’s cast of veterans, the Patriots put a 59-24 whooping on the Colts. New England’s now 7-3, 6-1 against AFC opponents, and winners of four straight games. Luck and Brady may tangle again in the playoffs, but for now there’s no question—Brady’s got the edge in the matchup of young gun and seasoned vet.