Winning a game does not mean the victorious team is better than the one that lost. The football is oblong and takes several unpredictable bounces every game. Sometimes sure-handed running backs fumble and undependable quarterbacks throw for 400 yards and four touchdown passes.
What is 100 percent certain, however, is that a win improves the record of the victorious team. With only 17 games on an NFL team’s schedule, throwaway games do not exist. Every single game is crucial. In order to be successful, teams must be able to win games in which they do not play their best. Finding a way to slog through a torrential downpour or a seemingly endless parade of turnovers, can be the difference between a postseason berth and a head coach getting fired.
Some of the better teams in the NFL put up far less than stellar performances in Week 11. They did not hang on to the ball and made significantly less explosive plays than they typically do. But with the postseason fast approaching, those contenders gutted out games in which they were clearly outplayed by their opponents. Not just any opponents either, but by teams, who by any metric, were worse prior to kickoff.
A couple of postseason contenders suffered bad losses on Sunday. The Los Angeles Chargers have a top-10 offense, per DVOA, and scored only 20 points in a loss to the Green Bay Packers. The Seattle Seahawks entered their matchup against the Los Angeles Rams with the same record as the San Francisco 49ers. Seattle scored only 16 points against one of the worst defenses in the league and was forced to rely on a 55-yard field goal attempt to win the game. The Seahawks’ kicker missed.
The Miami Dolphins, Detroit Lions, and Houston Texans played far worse football than the Chargers and Seahawks. In Week 11, they all struggled throughout the afternoon to hang onto the football. All three fought through those mistakes to win and put themselves in prime postseason position with a month and change remaining in the regular season.
Tyreek Hill almost went down and took the Dolphins’ hopes with him
Hill was on his way to another spectacular performance in the first half against the Las Vegas Raiders. With just over nine minutes remaining in the second quarter, he had already totaled 80 yards on seven receptions and taken a post 38 yards for a touchdown.
The Dolphins must have been holding their breath when he left the field in the second quarter with a hand injury. For all of the injuries that the Dolphins have dealt with this season, he and Tua Tagovailoa have played in every game. Those two will always give Miami a chance to win. Without either, or both, they become an average team, at best. Hill returned later in the quarter, but caught only three more passes the rest of the game. Also, the Dolphins lost two fumbles in the first half.
Tagovailoa went on to throw an interception on the opening drive of the third quarter. The Miami offense did not score a single touchdown in the second half, only two field goals. The second of those put the Dolphins up, 20-13, with 25 seconds remaining in the third quarter. The score never changed.
It was the sometimes maligned Dolphins’ defense that stepped up to win the game. They intercepted Aidan O’Connell three times, all in the second half. In fact, O’Connell was picked off on the Raiders’ final two drives. The one that salted the game was courtesy of Jalen Ramsey — his second of the game — in the end zone.
The Chicago Bears played book-banning conservative on Sunday and still pushed the Lions
A 2021 version of the Lions played Week 11 at Ford Field. They absolutely should have lost to the Bears. They turned the ball over four times and were down by 12 points with a little more than four minutes remaining in the game. At that point, the Lions had not scored since there were under 30 seconds to play in the second quarter.
The Bears scored on their first four possessions of the third. Fortunately, for the Lions, three of those scores were only field goals. The Bears never truly made a move to put the Lions away on the road. When playing a better team, the clearly worse team with little to no chance at the playoffs needs to stop electing to spin the wheel and solve the puzzle.
By record and metrics, the Lions are even better than they were predicted to be prior to Week 1 of the regular season. They gained their confidence last season, and proved themselves contenders early in the 2023 season by beating the defending Super Bowl Champions on the road in Week 1.
Unlike the Bears, the Lions have championship goals this season. They entered training camp thinking of a Lombardi Trophy and have played with that level of fervor and skill. To beat that, the Bears would have to at least match the former quality. They did not and the Lions scored twice late in the fourth quarter, and also forced Justin Fields into a sack fumble that resulted in a safety.
The Texans’ defense bailed out C.J. Stroud
Week 11 was not Stroud’s first bad game of his rookie season. When matched up against Bryce Young during Week 8, he passed for 140 yards, no touchdowns, and averaged 5.83 yards per attempt — one of only two times a pro he has averaged less than seven yards per attempt. The Texans also lost to No. 1 overall pick Bryce Young, resulting in the Carolina Panthers’ only win of the 2023 season.
Stroud was far from ineffective against the Arizona Cardinals. He passed for 336 yards and averaged 9.1 yards per attempt. However, he also threw three interceptions — a feat he never accomplished even at Ohio State.
The first of those turnovers came during the second quarter, in the end zone. Stroud threw a soft pass into triple coverage that was intercepted. It was one of two red-zone picks, but the second was a pass that went through Robert Woods’ hands. The third one was deep in Texans’ territory and also a poor decision.
Stroud’s last two interceptions were his team’s last offensive possessions of the games — sans when they took a knee to run out the clock. The offense was able to get into victory formation because the defense forced the Cardinals into consecutive turnovers on downs. Will Anderson Jr. — the Texans’ other top-five pick from the 2023 NFL Draft — spent quite a bit of time in the Cardinals’ backfield. On Arizona’s final drive, it was Anderson who hit Kyler Murray and forced a turnover on downs.
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