The Dallas Cowboys’ season ended Sunday night in the weirdest way. It was the quietest death you can imagine.
Dallas desperately needed to beat the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday night, Quarterback Dak Prescott said he thought it was a must-win game, and it was hard to view it any other way. And the Cowboys got blown out 37-9. They got outscored 30-0 in the second half. Dallas wasn’t even competitive.
Technically the Cowboys’ season isn’t over. At 5-5, they could win out and get a wild card. It just doesn’t seem like that will be happening, not with the way the Cowboys played against the Eagles. They’re four games behind the Eagles in the NFC East, and the gap looked even larger than that on Sunday night. The Eagles are light years ahead of Dallas this season. With a tough NFC, a wild-card spot won’t be easy to get either. The Cowboys would probably need to go 5-1 at minimum, and they don’t look like the kind of team that can win five of six.
If you want to excuse the Cowboys for getting blasted at home in a must-win game, it’s because of the players who were out. Left tackle Tyron Smith missed another game due to injury. So did linebacker Sean Lee. Running back Ezekiel Elliott is serving a suspension. But that doesn’t explain it all. The Cowboys looked overmatched. Carson Wentz has clearly passed Prescott in the comparison of second-year quarterbacks. The Eagles ran the ball at will with more than 200 yards, Wentz made some big plays, and the Eagles defense never let Dallas get anything going. Prescott had three interceptions, lost a fumble and threw for just 145 yards.
A telling sequence happened in the fourth quarter, with the Cowboys barely clinging to hope. They trailed by 14. Philadelphia had to go for it on fourth-and-5 because kicker Jake Elliott was out with a concussion. And with the Cowboys needing a stop to save their season, Alshon Jeffery got open easily and caught a 17-yard touchdown. Game over, season (practically) over and the Cowboys really didn’t even go down with a fight. Nigel Bradham returned a Prescott fumble for a touchdown shortly after, which made the score look even worse.
Dallas won the NFC East and was the top seed in the conference last season. The Cowboys came into this season with Super Bowl hopes. It’s not like Dallas is going away, but it’s not guaranteed to bounce right back next season. The defense still needs work. Defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence is having a breakout season, and he’ll be a hot free agent next offseason. Dez Bryant’s numbers are down and he hasn’t had a healthy and great season for three years in a row. He’ll be 30 next season and the Cowboys have little else at receiver. Jason Witten can’t play forever. The Cowboys’ problems aren’t bad when compared to some other teams, but it became pretty clear over the course of Sunday night’s game that they need a big improvement to get back to the Eagles’ level.
Dallas needed to win Sunday. Instead, on their home turf, they got embarrassed by a much better team. They have to rally for a Thanksgiving game in a few days, and that will be hard to do considering any realistic dreams of having a special season ended in the second half Sunday.
Here are the rest of the winners and losers for Week 11:
Bill Belichick: Even when the New England Patriots looked strangely mediocre early this season, there was always the Belichick factor. He has fixed problems before and everyone knew it was possible for him to do it again.
That’s exactly what happened. A defense that looked terrible over the first month of the season now looks much better. The Patriots wrecked the Oakland Raiders 33-8 in Mexico City on Sunday and are 8-2. Since a sluggish start to the season, the Patriots have looked as strong as everyone assumed they would be this season.
Belichick also made an interesting move this past week that seemed to pay off. After playing the Denver Broncos last week, the Patriots stayed in Colorado and practiced at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. Maybe the Patriots would have won no matter where they spent the week, but practicing in the high altitude of Colorado Springs seemed to help them in the high altitude of Mexico City. New England looked comfortable the whole game and the Raiders did not.
The mastery of small details is part of the reason Belichick remains two steps ahead of the rest of the NFL.
Mitchell Trubisky: The Chicago Bears finally have their quarterback. It’s not paying off with wins yet, but for a second straight week Trubisky looked good. The second pick of this year’s draft threw for just 179 yards, but he made some some impressive throws.
Trubisky’s best play came running the ball. On a fourth-and-13 late in the game, Trubisky somehow eluded the rush, scrambled, made a great open-field move to make a defender miss and got 19 yards and a first down. Trubisky, who finished with 53 yards rushing, got the Bears in position to tie the game with a field goal. It wasn’t his fault that kicker Connor Barth badly missed wide right.
The Bears aren’t great around Trubisky yet. Dontrelle Inman was buried on the Chargers’ depth chart, Chicago acquired him in a cheap trade and Inman immediately became the Bears’ No. 1 receiver. Those pieces around Trubisky will come in time. But the hardest thing to find in the NFL is a good starting quarterback, and the Bears seem to finally be set there.
The Jaguars’ amazing defense: The Jags are the best team in the AFC South, their schedule makes them a strong bet to win the division, and Jacksonville’s defense is the reason nobody will enjoy playing them in January.
That unit has received some attention, but probably not enough. This could end up being one of the best defenses we’ve seen in many years. On Sunday, Jacksonville held the Cleveland Browns to 184 yards, 11 first downs and seven points in a 19-7 win. The Jaguars collected five sacks and five turnovers. Sure, it’s just the Browns, but Jacksonville has done this to almost every opponent so far. On Sunday the star was Yannick Ngakoue, who got 2½ sacks and forced a couple of fumbles.
The Jaguars are allowing 275.6 yards and 14.1 points per game, and both marks lead the NFL. To put that in perspective, the 2015 Broncos and their legendary defense allowed 283.1 yards and 18.5 points per game. That group will be remembered for a long time because they won a Super Bowl. The Jaguars probably won’t make it that far, but they’ll be a scary opponent in the playoffs.
Tom Savage: Savage was having a rough season. He started three games for the Houston Texans and lost all three. He played terribly in each game, with the Texans’ offense scoring 14 total points with Savage under center.
It must have felt great for Savage to finally play well on Sunday. He threw for 230 yards and two touchdowns as the Texans beat the Arizona Cardinals 31-21. He even beat Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson for a touchdown, something that doesn’t happen often. Savage threw a nice ball to DeAndre Hopkins that beat Peterson for the score.
Savage was in the unenviable position of replacing rookie star Deshaun Watson after Watson’s knee injury. The Texans played two bad games after Watson was hurt, and their playoff hopes were erased. But for one afternoon Savage and the Texans played well.
Adam Thielen: The Thielen story is almost too good to be true. He was born and raised in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota. He played in college at Minnesota State. He signed with the Minnesota Vikings after he went undrafted and stuck on the roster.
And over the past two seasons Thielen has become one of the best receivers in football.
Thielen had his third straight big game, going for 123 yards and a touchdown in an impressive win over the Rams. His 65-yard touchdown broke the game open. He took a short pass and used his speed to beat the secondary. Over the past three games Thielen has 19 catches for 387 yards and three touchdowns. He has 916 yards this season, and the only other Vikings receiver to reach 900 yards in the first 10 games of a season was Randy Moss. Good company.
Thielen had a breakout last season with 967 yards. He’ll get his 1,000-yard season this year and he has emerged as the hottest weapon on an 8-2 Vikings team. With the Super Bowl slated for Minneapolis this season and the Vikings looking as good as any team in the NFC, homegrown Thielen could add an unbelievable chapter to his incredible tale.
Sean McDermott: During Fox’s broadcast of Nathan Peterman’s meltdown, the announcers said when they talked to Buffalo players about the quarterback change from Tyrod Taylor to Peterman, they stood behind McDermott because they believe in him.
That might still be true. But it would also be OK if there’s some skepticism about their coach’s recent moves.
The Bills traded defensive tackle Marcell Dareus and their defense has collapsed since then. That might be a coincidence, and the Bills certainly had reasons for trading Dareus, a headache with a huge contract. The decision to start Peterman over Taylor is a lot tougher to justify.
It made no sense in the moment, with the Bills sitting on the No. 6 seed in the AFC, to bench Taylor. Taylor isn’t the best quarterback in the NFL, but he’s not so bad he should be benched for a fifth-round pick when the team is in a playoff race. The move looked a lot worse after Peterman threw five interceptions in the first half of Sunday’s game against the Chargers. When a coach makes a move that inexcusably bad, it erodes confidence in him. Everyone will make some mistakes, and McDermott has otherwise had a good first season as Bills coach, but a mistake of this magnitude will linger for a while.
In saying he didn’t second-guess his quarterback decision, McDermott gave a nonsensical answer.
“I don’t regret my decision. I regret the result,” McDermott said, according to the Buffalo News. “This is in part about winning now and in part about winning in the future.”
The first part is just meaningless cliches, and the second part indicates that McDermott thinks fifth-round pick Peterman — who threw for five interceptions in one half of football — could be his quarterback of the future.
Either way, McDermott has to figure out what to do going forward. He wouldn’t say who will start next week. It’s hard to imagine he could turn back to Peterman. Maybe this time he’ll make the right decision.
Washington Redskins: The flip side of the New Orleans Saints’ amazing comeback on Sunday was that the Redskins had an amazing collapse.
It’s really hard to blow a 15-point lead with less than six minutes left in regulation, but Washington did it. It’s amazing how many things went wrong. Coach Jay Gruden can certainly be criticized for being so safe after the Saints cut their deficit to eight points, calling three straight runs when a first down would have sealed the win. The defense gave up the game-tying touchdown and two-point conversion way too easily. With Washington in a spot where it could have kicked a 52-yard field goal at the end of regulation, Kirk Cousins was called for an intentional grounding penalty on what looked like a miscommunication with his receiver, then took a sack to finish the fourth quarter. Everything went wrong.
Washington would have been 5-5 with a win, not in a great position but still alive. At 4-6, after a rough loss, the Redskins’ season is practically over. A shocking loss at New Orleans won’t sit very well the rest of the season.
Andy Reid: Before Sunday the Chiefs had lost three games since a 5-0 start, but all of the losses were reasonable. Sunday’s loss, the fourth in five games, was a bad one.
Coming off a bye, against a 1-8 New York Giants team, the Chiefs lost 12-9. It was a windy day and that created some issues, but Reid had one terrible play-call that really hurt.
The Chiefs had a second-and-10 at their own 40-yard line with less than seven minutes left in the fourth quarter. At that point, in brutal weather that treated both quarterbacks poorly, Reid decided to let his tight end pass deep. The Chiefs dialed up a trick play, with Alex Smith passing backward to tight end Travis Kelce and Kelce looking to pass downfield. Kelce didn’t have anyone open but ran around and threw downfield anyway. The pass was nowhere near the mark and Giants safety Landon Collins picked it off. It was risky, asking Kelce to do something out of his comfort zone, and it blew up. Giving away a possession on a weirdly timed trick play ended up being a big moment in an awful loss.
The loss takes the Chiefs even further from competing for a top-two AFC seed and a bye, which looked like a good bet when they were 5-0. The loss to the Giants was a brutal blow.
Brett Hundley: The Packers hadn’t been shut out since 2006, Mike McCarthy’s first season as Green Bay’s head coach. But since Green Bay lost Aaron Rodgers earlier this season, they’re finding new lows.
The Packers showed some signs of life last week in a win against the Chicago Bears, but that’s all gone now. Green Bay was beaten 23-0 at home by a mediocre Baltimore Ravens team. Hundley threw three interceptions and didn’t lead one scoring drive. The Packers had a small sliver of hope to get a few wins during an easy part of the schedule and stay in the playoff race, but that won’t be happening.
Hundley has played well in the preseason and was even included in some offseason trade speculation, but that’s out the window. The coaching staff hasn’t always done a great job putting Hundley in positions to succeed, but Hundley has done nothing to take advantage of his opportunity. It was a chance to establish himself as a valuable commodity, either in a trade or when he could become a free agent. He has basically ruined his own stock, unless there’s a big turnaround from him the rest of the season. It’s hard to imagine that’s going to happen. Hundley got his shot, he has been terrible, and now the Packers are left to sadly grind out the rest of the season.
John Elway: With things going bad for the Denver Broncos, their general manager laid it all on the players.
“I think we got a little bit soft,” Elway, the Broncos’ GM, told the Denver Post this week. “To be dead honest with you, we got a little bit soft.”
That ignores a few key Elway-related reasons the Broncos are 3-7 and fading after a home loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. The offense is bad in part because Elway has missed on a ton of draft picks, and didn’t adequately figure out the quarterback situation post-Peyton Manning. The team was handed over to rookie head coach Vance Joseph, who was an Elway favorite, and he’s learning as he goes. That’s fine for a rebuilding team, but it’s not helping a Broncos team that had high hopes this season.
Denver hadn’t lost to the Bengals at home since 1975. The Broncos’ season is getting worse by the week, and if Elway meant to motivate the team by saying they got soft, it didn’t work. Overall Elway has done an excellent job as GM, but he also needs to recognize his own role in how bad Denver’s season has been.
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