American Football Expert & Columnist
Sky Sports’ Neil Reynolds has the final word on another dramatic weekend in the NFL, picking out his five major takeaways, his player of the week, and what is on his radar heading into Week 12, which begins with a Thanksgiving Day triple-header on Thursday from 5pm
Last Updated: 24/11/20 1:07pm
Our first two games in the Sky Sports studio on Sunday night were overtime classics as the Tennessee Titans beat the Baltimore Ravens and the Indianapolis Colts edged past the Green Bay Packers in overtime.
Then, the Kansas City Chiefs beat the Las Vegas Raiders in the Sunday night game to cap another remarkable weekend of NFL action…
Five Major Takeaways from Week 11
1) The Saints go marching on
With star quarterback Drew Brees sidelined with 11 fractures in his ribs and a collapsed lung, there were some concerns about how the New Orleans Saints would perform against a fierce rival in the Atlanta Falcons. We need not have worried.
With Taysom Hill getting the nod at quarterback instead of Jameis Winston, the Saints marched to a routine 24-9 win. Everybody’s favourite gadget guy threw for 233 yards and rushed for 51 yards and two touchdowns. He looked very comfortable in an attack that I’m sure was tailored to him by excellent head coach Sean Payton.
This might be the most impressive statistic of recent NFL times: dating back to last season, the Saints are now 6-0 when other quarterbacks start in relief of an injured Brees. That is incredible because so often we see the wheels fall off for teams when the starter goes down. The Saints are a complete team.
2) Did the Titans want it more?
The big players stepped up for the Titans at the end of a 30-24 overtime win against the slumping Ravens. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill got hot in the second half, A.J. Brown scored a remarkable touchdown which I will talk about more later in this column and Derrick Henry found the endzone for the game-winner in the extra period.
The same cannot be said for the Ravens. The NFL’s reigning MVP Lamar Jackson came into Sunday’s contest as the 18th-rated quarterback in the NFL and he played like a middle-of-the-pack passer. He had some positive moments but I came away far from impressed with his all-around game on a big stage.
After the loss that knocked the Ravens from the playoff positions in the AFC with six games to play, Jackson told the media he felt the Titans wanted it more and were more physical. That is a major alarm bell for me because the Ravens are always the most competitive and most physical kids on the block.
3) Mahomes delivers for the Chiefs
First, let me give a nod to Raiders quarterback Derek Carr because he was outstanding on Sunday night in a loss to Kansas City. And he has played very well all season long for the Silver and Black.
But did we expect any other outcome than a Kansas City win after Carr left Patrick Mahomes with one minute and 43 seconds on the clock? Mahomes delivered like the superstar he is by completing six of seven attempts for 75 yards and a game-winning touchdown pass to Travis Kelce. Mahomes didn’t even need all 103 seconds available to him – he got the Chiefs downfield and into the endzone in 75 seconds.
That’s what great quarterbacks can do for a team. It’s great to be physical, but you have to be able to pass your way out of trouble with games on the line. That is not something the aforementioned Ravens are able to do and that’s one reason why they’re lagging behind the likes of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City in the AFC.
4) Tua benching makes little sense
Not for the first time since taking over as the starting quarterback for the Miami Dolphins, rookie Tua Tagovailoa was struggling to put up significant passing yardage during Sunday’s loss to the Denver Broncos.
Tua threw for just 83 yards and he left the game after taking a big hit from Bradley Chubb. Everyone assumed it was an injury-related removal from the contest that snapped Miami’s five-game winning streak, but head coach Brian Flores confirmed it was a performance-related decision as the Dolphins chased the win.
That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. Flores created a stir when moving from Ryan Fitzpatrick to Tua and reversing that decision whenever things don’t go swimmingly just confuses things.
Miami need to think bigger picture here and let Tua work through his issues. They don’t need to flip-flop passers to chase a short-term gain. I’m sure Flores inserted Tua into the lineup with 2020 in mind but more looking towards 2021 and 2022. So don’t take him out now – that won’t help down the road.
I think Miami should pick one and stick with one at the quarterback position.
5) Who wants to win the NFC East?
All four teams in the NFC East have three wins to their name and the historically-worst division in football is well and truly up for grabs as we approach Thanksgiving. Who wants to take the prize and sheepishly head into the postseason?
The New York Giants have been feisty of late and the Washington Football Team play some good defence and have a couple of young offensive players to get excited about in wide receiver Terry McLaurin and running back Antonio Gibson. But surely this comes down to the Dallas Cowboys or Philadelphia Eagles?
The Eagles are a hot mess right now and Carson Wentz is in freefall at quarterback. He has thrown an interception in eight of his 10 games this season and leads the league with 18 giveaways. Dallas have also had their troubles but what was encouraging about Sunday’s win over the Minnesota Vikings was Andy Dalton throwing three touchdowns, while only being sacked once, and Ezekiel Elliott showing up with his first 100-yard rushing day of 2020.
For all their ills, I fancy the Cowboys.
Player of the Week: Justin Herbert
On the first Sunday, after he unveiled one of the ultimate lockdown haircuts, Los Angeles Chargers rookie quarterback Justin Herbert absolutely shredded the New York Jets to the tune of 366 yards and three touchdowns in a 34-28 win.
Herbert’s touchdown pass to Keenan Allen in the second half was a howitzer of a throw that would have been heard fizzing through the air if you were on the field. It was special and this strong-armed and athletic kid (and I use that word because he looks about 16 years old) is special.
Herbert has now thrown at least three touchdown passes in five games this season – a record for an NFL rookie. There are a whole bunch of notes and achievements of that sort when you research Herbert. He could be putting together one of the best rookie campaigns in NFL history – the numbers back that up.
Play of the Week
As soon as bulky wide receiver A.J. Brown broke the futile tackle attempts of Chuck Clark, Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey before taking Patrick Queen for a ride into the endzone for a remarkable 14-yard touchdown catch, I grabbed my notebook and wrote… ‘Play of the Week!’
It was a critical play in the Titans’ victory over Baltimore. It was a solid enough play call but, more than that, it was another great example of players over plays, how a great player can turn a routine play call into something special.
Coach of the Week: Sean McVay
This is a little bit of a seasonal award here as Sean McVay moved his Rams to 7-3 on the year with Monday’s 27-24 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
For a lot of this year, the Rams have committed to the ground attack with good success but, on Monday, they rushed 20 times for just 37 yards against Tampa’s tough run defence. McVay simply adjusted and Jared Goff threw 51 times for 376 yards and three touchdowns – such versatility is key and was evident on a night when McVay extended his record to 32-0 when leading at the half.
The Rams also held Tom Brady in check and limited the Bucs to just 42 rushing yards. Other teams get more attention, but these Rams have as much chance as anyone to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.
On my Radar
Matt Patricia’s seat is warming as head coach of the Detroit Lions and he needs a big response from his team on Thanksgiving Day when they host the Houston Texans.
The Lions went into Sunday’s game at Carolina with a 4-5 record, knowing they had two winnable games coming up to get back into the NFC playoff picture. But they allowed a Panthers team led by reserve quarterback P.J. Walker to shut them out 20-0 on Sunday.
On a national stage this Thursday, the Lions must respond… their coach’s job may depend on it.
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