The Patriots remained undefeated with a 20-13 victory over the Bills on Monday Night Football, but their air of invincibility has certainly diminished over the last few weeks. New England held off a Bills comeback attempt late in the fourth quarter to improve to 10-0 on the season, but the losses of Julian Edelman, Dion Lewis, and Nate Solder over the last few weeks have chipped away at their efficiency.
Now, that's not to take away from the next men up, who performed admirably in relief. Danny Amendola caught nine passes for 117 yards filling in for Edelman (before being injured himself), and James white scored two touchdowns -- one through the air and one on the ground -- on just four touches in relief of Dion Lewis. But, Tom Brady was under pressure all night and their cobbled together offensive line, which saw more than a few in-game shuffles, struggled to protect him from Rex Ryan's varied blitzes.
Brady was hit 10 times by Buffalo and threw for 277 yards -- his second-lowest total on the year -- and one touchdown, while he Bills managed to take Rob Gronkowski out of the game for the most part. The All Pro tight end finished with just 3 catches for 37 yards.
In the end, it was a relatively low scoring affair that was marred by several controversial calls or no-calls by the referee crew (an inadvertent whistle, a missed call on a touchdown play, and a clock debate as time wound down), but New England managed to come out on top.
"At the end of the day, they find ways to win," Bills coach Rex Ryan aptly said after the game, "That's what championship teams do."
The Patriots will look to get some of their issues ironed out this week and the Bills will hope to bounce back to stay alive in the AFC wildcard race.
It was another wild and crazy Sunday in the NFL, so let's just jump into what went down.
The Panthers won their 14th straight regular season game -- a streak that goes back almost one full calendar year to Nov. 30, 2014 -- to improve to 10-0 on the season. Cam Newton, whose MVP credentials have been called into doubt despite Carolina's hot start, thumbed his nose at his critics by tossing five touchdowns (a career high, which tied a team record) in a 44-16 win over Washington. Carolina tied a franchise record by scoring 31 points in the first half alone before cruising to an easy win. Carolina is still easily the class of the NFC right now, giving the Panthers' Twitter account the right to continue to troll everyone. To the victors go the spoils.
SB Nation presents: Cam Newton dabs all over Washington
In Sunday Night Football, the Cardinals won a barn burner of a game over the Bengals at home, a great preview for two teams with the potential to get a rematch in the Super Bowl. This one was exciting from start to finish, and three third quarter touchdown passes by Carson Palmer helped Arizona take a 28-14 lead into the final frame. The Bengals stormed back though, tying it up with 1:03 remaining, but that left the Cardinals enough time to drive back down the field and kick the winning field goal. All in all, both teams look dangerous going forward.
The Packers got a huge win over the division-rival Vikings, halting a three-game skid while pulling even with Minnesota for first in the NFC North at 7-3. It wasn't always pretty for Aaron Rodgers as he completed just 47 percent of his passes for 212 yards and two touchdowns, but he made enough vintage Rodgers plays to get the job done. Importantly, Eddie Lacy, benched last week in favor of James Starks due to ineffectiveness and injury, looked like the Eddie Lacy of old. He rumbled, tumbled and churned his way to 100 yards on 22 carries, and it was a "punch you in the mouth" element that the Packers seemed to be sorely missing on offense. That was the first 100-yard rusher the Vikings have allowed since Week 3 (Ronnie Hillman), and just the third all year (the other being Carlos Hyde in Week 1).
Speaking of missing element on offense, the Brock Osweiler era (if that's what we're witnessing) is off to a good start in Denver. Replacing a struggling, vaguely injured Peyton Manning, Osweiler completed 20 of 27 passes for 250 yards and two touchdowns, but most importantly, did not turn the ball over. That ball security, which has a huge issue for Denver's offense this season (Manning tossed 17 interceptions before being benched), helped the Broncos defense do what they are built to do: Take over the game and finish it. They did just that, and while the Bears played the Broncos tough all the way to the end, Denver got the 17-15 win to snap a two-game losing streak.
The Chiefs are intent to give the Broncos a run for their money in the AFC West though, and won their fourth straight game to improve to 5-5. Kansas City dominated the Chargers 33-3 on the back of a strong defensive performance and Spencer Ware came out of nowhere to rush for 96 yards and two touchdowns on just 11 carries. The Texans are knocking on the playoffs door as well at 5-5 with another highly impressive victory this week, knocking off the Jets 24-17 at home. J.J. Watt is in midseason form (two sacks, five tackles for loss, five quarterback hits) and DeAndre Hopkins (five catches, 118 yards and two touchdowns) might be the best receiver in football. T.J. Yates could be creating a quarterback controversy in Houston with the way he's played.
The Colts kept pace with the Texans with a win of their own, riding Matt Hasselbeck and Ahmad Bradshaw to a 24-21 road win over the Falcons. The Colts are now 3-0 this season when Hasselbeck starts, so they've more than weathered the injury-riddled season that Andrew Luck is going through.
Elsewhere, the Seahawks got their playoff hopes back on track with an easy win over the hapless 49ers, the Ravens got a Pyrrhic victory at home against the Rams while losing Joe Flacco for the rest of the year to an ACL tear, the Lions bested the Raiders at home, the Cowboys snapped a seven-game losing streak over the Dolphins in Tony Romo's return and the Bucs absolutely rolled the Eagles.
Win the water cooler:
Arm yourself with a few interesting tidbits from Sunday's action so you can impress your coworkers around the water cooler.
The Buccaneers had an historic day
The Buccaneers are quietly knocking on the door for the playoffs in the NFC, and they did so with absurd performances by Jameis Winston and Doug Martin. Winston tossed five touchdowns and Martin rushed for 235 yards in Tampa Bay's blowout of Philadelphia, and set a few records along the way.
The five touchdowns was a career-high for Winston, obviously, and he joined Matt Stafford as the only two rookie quarterbacks to throw five teeders in a game in the NFL since the merger. Meanwhile, Martin's 235 yards rushing was the high this season for any back, and broke the record (held by Jim Brown and Emmitt Smith, which is pretty good company) for most rushing yards against the Eagles in their franchise history. Martin's 177 first-half rushing yards were the most in a game since Jamal Lewis ran for 180 in 2003.
Together, Winston and Martin became just the second quarterback-running back tandem in NFL history to throw five touchdowns and rush for 200 yards in the same game, joining Derek Anderson and Jamal Lewis, who did it in 2007 (via Elias Sports).
As for the Eagles ...
Meanwhile, the Eagles are going in the wrong direction. They came into this matchup against the Bucs No. 2 in defensive DVOA, as Aaron Schatz points out, and hadn't given up more than 28 points in a game all year. They allowed 45 in this one to a rookie quarterback while surrendering 521 yards and 7.2 yards per play.
The rush defense is obviously a concern in this one, and has been for a few weeks, but the pass defense might be more worrisome. As Evan Silva points out, the Eagles have been torched by a group of quarterbacks that you wouldn't really consider a murderer's row over the last three weeks. Matt Cassel, Ryan Tannehill and now Winston have combined to complete 65 of 103 (63.1-percent) passes for 762 yards (7.4 YPA) and 10 touchdowns to just one interception. Philly is still in the hunt at 4-6, but will have to get things cleaned up on that side of the ball to make a real run at the playoffs.
Ravens losing the battle of attrition
Even with a win over the Rams this week, a 3-7 start has been shocking and disappointing for a Ravens team that was widely expected to challenge for a playoff berth this year. Adding insult to injury in a down year, Baltimore lost its starting running back in Justin Forsett to a broken arm in this one and then lost their franchise quarterback in Joe Flacco to a torn ACL late in the fourth quarter. The injuries all but snuff out any glimmer of hope Baltimore had for a playoff run but also calls into question the beginning of next season, depending on how Flacco's rehab goes.
The Ravens have been by far the most snake-bitten team in the league this year, and with today's injuries, they have now lost their starting quarterback (Flacco), their starting running back (Forsett), their best wide receiver (Steve Smith Sr.), their starting center (Jeremy Zuttah), their first round pick (Breshad Perriman) and their best pass rusher in Terrell Suggs to season-ending injuries.
The immediate future is kind of bleak. Flacco's been amazingly consistent and resilient: The last quarterback not named Joe Flacco to start at quarterback for the Ravens was Troy Smith in Week 17 of 2007. Insane.
The Texans are on fire
Houston's defense has been quietly dominating of late, and going into the half on Sunday against the Jets with a 10-3 lead, Houston managed to string together 12 straight quarters (three full games) without surrendering a touchdown. That streak would be broken by Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brandon Marshall in the third quarter, but the bottom line is that the Texans have figured out how to play defense these past few weeks after being absolutely destroyed by the Dolphins in Week 7.
The offense has played well enough -- much credit to DeAndre Hopkins' emergence as one of the league's most dominant players -- even despite some shaky quarterback play. Right now, it's Yates leading the charge at quarterback, the fifth quarterback to start and the sixth to play in Bill O'Brien's first 25 games as a head coach.
Chiefs getting it done on defense as well:
After giving up just three points to the Chargers, Kansas City has now surrendered just 73 points in its last six games, or just 12.2 points per game. That's definitely closer to the defense I expected the Chiefs to have this season. Things are coming together in Kansas City.
Cowboys continue carousel at running back
Joseph Randle is gone. The Christine Michael experiment is over. Darren McFadden has done well, but with an injured groin and a long, long history of injuries, the Cowboys may need another option or two.
Enter Robert Turbin, the former Seahawk that first landed with the Browns before ending up behind one of the best offensive lines in the NFL in Dallas. Turbin played just a small role in this one -- rushing seven times for 35 yards -- but should have a shot, sooner or later, to get a big monkey off his back. Turbin currently has 256 career carries without a touchdown, which is an NFL record for carries without hitting pay dirt.
Dez Bryant is happy that Tony Romo is back
Meanwhile, Dez Bryant is certainly happy to have his starting quarterback back in the fold. Bryant caught a ridiculous 16 touchdowns last season even in Dallas' low-volume passing attack but had been limited to just one score in four games prior to Sunday's action. With Romo back in action, Bryant caught four passes for 45 yards and found the end zone early in the fourth quarter. The Romo-Bryant connection is back in action.
To put their chemistry and production into perspective, Romo has now thrown more touchdown passes to Bryant (50) than Hall of Famer Troy Aikman threw to Hall of Famer Michael Irvin during the Cowboys' 1990s dynasty heyday.
Kickers are players too
I've got to mention a kicker in here once in a while. Raiders veteran Sebastian Janikowski hit a 52-yarder in a losing effort today in Detroit, but is close to passing a kicking legend for biggest leg in NFL history. Seabass now has 51 career field goals of 50 yards or more, just one off Jason Hanson's career total of 52.
Seahawks may have found a star in Thomas Rawls
The Seahawks face the specter of potentially playing without Marshawn Lynch for a while as he recuperates from an abdominal injury, but they probably feel pretty fortunate to have signed a little-known undrafted free agent out of Central Michigan just after the draft ended. Rookie running back Thomas Rawls went into the Seahawks' game with the Niners third in the NFL in yards per carry (5.56) and first in average yards after contact (2.73) (Per ESPN Stats & Info), and he really built on those stats with a monster game.
Rawls ran for 209 yards on 30 carries while adding 46 yards on three catches in leading the Seahawks to a dominant win, and he broke some records along the way. His 209 yards rushing is a Seattle franchise record for a rookie and the second-highest rushing total in franchise history behind only Shaun Alexander's 266-yard game in 2001. He's the first player to rush for 200-plus yards for the Seahawks since 2006, and his 255 yards from scrimmage are the third-highest total in franchise history, trailing only Alexander's 273 and Steve Largent's 261 from 1987.
No player has ever rushed for more yards against the 49ers, in their storied history, than Thomas Rawls.
In his short career, Rawls has already eclipsed Lynch's career-high in rushing yards (153) twice. Rawls rushed for 169 yards in Week 5 before adding 209 today. More importantly, his performance in Lynch's absence gave the Seahawks their 21st straight 100-plus yard rushing game in a row. He's been a great fill in for Lynch, who's really been the foundation for the Seahawks' offense over the last few years.
Russell Wilson answers his critics
Rawls wasn't the only one to have a big day for Seattle. Russell Wilson had a tough week in the press after a bad game against Arizona last Sunday, and finished 24 of 29 for 260 yards with three touchdowns and no picks, snapping a 29-game streak of regular season games where he hadn't passed for three touchdowns.
Wilson's 82.8 percent completion percentage was a new career high and, per ESPN Stats & Info, he finished 11 of 11 with three touchdowns against the blitz, becoming just the third quarterback in the last decade to go 10 of 10 or better vs. the blitz, joining Tom Brady and Philip Rivers.
Final Scores for Week 11:
Jacksonville Jaguars 19, Tennessee Titans 13 (Thursday)
Indianapolis Colts 24, Atlanta Falcons 21
Baltimore Ravens 16, St. Louis Rams 13
Carolina Panthers 44, Washington 16
Denver Broncos 17, Chicago Bears 15
Detroit Lions 18, Oakland Raiders 13
Houston Texans 24, New York Jets 17
Dallas Cowboys 24, Miami Dolphins 14
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 45, Philadelphia Eagles 17
Kansas City Chiefs 33, San Diego Chargers 3
Green Bay Packers 30, Minnesota Vikings 13
Seattle Seahawks 29, San Francisco 49ers 13
Arizona Cardinals 34, Cincinnati Bengals 31
Tony Romo throwing with his left hand is still better than Brandon Weeden or Matt Cassel.
Cam Newton's teammate Mike Tolbert decided to dab on them folks after a touchdown.
Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams celebrated a touchdown by dabbing together. It then got them penalized together.
DeAndre Hopkins repeatedly torched Darrelle Revis.
It's time for our weekly installment of "what's a catch in the NFL?" courtesy of Michael Crabtree.
SB Nation presents: NFL's annoying catch rules strike again in Raiders-Lions game
Brock Osweiler tripped his own running back on fourth-and-1.
Aaron Rodgers started a trend by throwing a Surface tablet. Now Jay Cutler is doing it!
Eric Decker fought hard for a nifty one-handed grab.
It was a a tough day for Washington, but at least Kirk Cousins connected with his No. 1 fan.
Squirrel on the field! Squirrel!
Cam Newton is wearing a raccoon tail. Because whatever.
Devonta Freeman suffered a concussion in the first quarter against the Colts and did not return.
Ravens starting running back Justin Forsett broke his arm against the Rams. His season is likely over.
Darrelle Revis had a rough outing against the Texans and later left the game with a concussion.
Joe Flacco led the Ravens to a win, but the team announced after the game that his season is over due to a torn ACL.
Case Keenum took a big hit late against the Ravens. He stayed in the game and was later diagnosed with a concussion.