Thoughts from the early slate of games in Week 11:
Buffalo’s fall continues
At one point today, it looked as though the Bills and Lions were going to fall to a combined 11-9 after starting the season a combined 9-1. Detroit recovered from a 13-point halftime deficit to beat the Panthers and maintain their position in the playoff race, but Buffalo never stood a chance in Miami.
So while the Lions are surviving on life support, the Bills are probably dead. They’ve lost three straight games and four out of their last five after a 4-1 start. This loss drops them back into third place in the AFC East, just two games up on Miami.
And it’s not just the losing. It’s the way in which the losses are coming. They’ve been outscored 106-26 by less-than-dominant opponents in their last three games. In the three weeks since he signed a lucrative long-term contract extension, Ryan Fitzpatrick has thrown eight interceptions, while Fred Jackson, who was arguably the league’s best running back in September, has faded as a result of injuries to the offensive line and poor play from his cohorts.
Now the Bills have to travel to New York to play the Jets, who crushed them in Orchard Park just two weeks ago. They also have an extremely challenging road game in San Diego wedged between two tough matchups with the Titans and Dolphins, while drawing the suddenly tough-to-beat Broncos and the Patriots in New England to close out the season.
A few weeks ago, we figured the Bills would at least wind up as a wild-card team while making a run at a fairly open division crown. Now, we have a hard time seeing how this team can finish the season with more than six or seven wins.
Sans Lewis, Baltimore’s defense steps up
The wildly inconsistent and unpredictable Ravens won a game they were supposed to win, which is saying a lot considering recent missteps against inferior opponents. And in doing so, Baltimore may or may not have had a season-defining moment that may or may not set the team straight down the stretch.
As you can tell, I’m wary of overreacting, because the Ravens have tricked us with supposed statement wins in the past, but maybe beating a weaker team — and one that has always given them trouble with that cover-2 defense — was what the doctor ordered.
What made this win special was that the defense stepped up when it mattered most, despite not having leader Ray Lewis in the lineup. With Cincinnati threatening to tie the game in the final minutes, the pass rush assaulted Andy Dalton, forcing him into an intentional grounding penalty and sacking him on the Bengals’ last gasp. With the game on the line, Dalton didn’t have any room to breathe.
Credit the Bengals for coming very close to beating the Steelers and the Ravens in back-to-back weeks, but they can’t afford moral victories in the strong and deep AFC North. On the bright side, they’ll be at home for their next meeting with Baltimore, in Week 17, but with tough games against Pittsburgh (on the road) and Houston (at home) in the upcoming weeks, that season finale might not matter unless Cincinnati is able to win as an underdog.
Should we be concerned about the Cowboys?
One week after completely dismantling the Bills, the Cowboys were flat in Washington. A win’s a win, but should Cowboys fans be worried that it took their team 70 minutes to get past one of the league’s coldest and most depleted teams?
Tony Romo put up nice numbers again, but he failed to outplay Rex Grossman, and the Cowboys defense should be embarrassed after letting Jabar Gaffney catch seven passes for 115 yards and a score. Washington led for the majority of the game and had a chance to win it on the first series of overtime, but Graham Gano missed from 52 yards out.
And Dallas also got lucky on its game-winning field goal drive. With the play clock hitting zero prior to a Dan Bailey attempt, Romo, who’s the holder, tried to call timeout despite the fact Dallas had none remaining. That would’ve been a 10-yard penalty, but the Redskins bailed the Cowboys out by signalling for a timeout just a split second before Romo did. Had Washington not tried to freeze Bailey, Dallas would’ve either had to kick from 49 after a penalty or would’ve had to rush the kick.
The Redskins always play the Cowboys tough, but these aren’t the regular Redskins. Washington had scored a grand total of 20 points in its last three games going into Sunday’s affair. And yet Grossman and his ragtag group of journeymen teamed up with an anonymous rookie running back to put up 336 yards on Dallas’ defense.
Maybe it was just an off day, but with stronger opponents looming and the Giants still leading the division, the Cowboys might not be able to afford many more days like today.