Week 11: A lot to weather
Weather played a major factor in Week 11.
Wind gusts of up to 30 miles an hour affected the throwing of New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith in a 37-14 loss to the Buffalo Bills. It was unseasonably warm in Cincinnati, but storm warnings in Kentucky were on the horizon in the Bengals' 41-20 win over the Cleveland Browns. Thunderstorms didn't affect Ben Roethlisberger and Matthew Stafford -- they combined for 729 passing yards and six touchdowns -- but the wet weather made the Lions' decision to go for a fourth-quarter fake field goal easy to question. Detroit lost to Pittsburgh, 37-27.
And then there was perhaps the windiest game in recent memory in the Windy City of Chicago. Winds reached more than 40 miles per hour. Lightning and tornado warnings forced Solider Field officials to evacuate the stadium bowl, causing a one-hour, 53-minute delay in what would be a 23-20 overtime victory for the Chicago Bears over the Baltimore Ravens.
Conditions were so bad the Bears didn't try to throw a single pass in the third quarter.
"We felt we couldn't even try a flip pass or a screen," Bears coach Marc Trestman said.
Bears tight end Martellus Bennett said the third-quarter scene was very weird. It was windy, rainy and getting colder by the second. Whenever there was a stoppage in play, players ran to the sidelines to put on coats.
"Then we'd come out like Superman trying to throw off coats coming out on the field," Bennett said.
Trestman wasn't happy the Bears committed so many offensive penalties, but he understood the problem. The wind was blowing so hard, players had difficulty hearing, which led to mistakes.
The grass also wore out quickly, causing players to slip and fall down.
Credit Trestman for doing a good job of preparing his team during the delay. He went around the locker room trying to keep the players up to speed on their plays. The Ravens led 10-0 when the game was stopped in the first quarter. Trestman held walkthroughs. Trainers held stretching periods.
Here's what we learned in Week 11:
1. Chip Kelly's offense does indeed work: The Philadelphia Eagles' hiring of Kelly was one of the biggest stories of the offseason. No one knew how his fast-paced offense would work in the NFL, even though the New England Patriots gave the NFL a preview of the Kelly offense last season. Well, Kelly is becoming the best story of November. A 24-16 victory over the Washington Redskins upped the Eagles' record to 6-5, a half-game ahead of the Dallas Cowboys.
After bad starts by the New York Giants and Redskins, the NFC East was the Cowboys' division to lose. Well, the Eagles and Kelly are winning it. Sunday was a big step forward because Philadelphia finally won at home.
"We're playing hard for one another, for the man next to us, and it's showing on the field," Kelly said. "We are getting better as a team."
What you like about the Eagles is that Kelly has evolved as a playcaller. About a month ago, Kelly didn't seem to be adjusting to what defenses were doing against him. Sunday's victory was an example of how Kelly is making better adjustments. The Redskins were taking away some of the things the Eagles wanted to do in the passing game. Kelly countered by calling some Nick Foles runs that worked. Foles had nine carries for 47 yards and a touchdown. Foles isn't anywhere close to the runner Michael Vick is, but he did a great job Sunday.
2. McCown steadies Bears: There is no quarterback controversy in Chicago. Jay Cutler is the starter, but he's injured (high left ankle sprain). Josh McCown is the backup and isn't making any push for the starting job. But McCown was the perfect quarterback for Trestman because of his humility.
Conditions at Soldier Field were awful with the wind, rain and sloppy field. To get through the game, the Bears didn't need Cutler's strong arm. They needed a quarterback who was willing to sacrifice and just be smart. Trestman talked to McCown and told him the key to winning was taking care of the football and maybe getting a turnover from the defense. That's exactly what happened.
McCown had no turnovers, unlike Ravens QB Joe Flacco, who threw a 24-yard pick-six to Chicago defensive end David Bass. Cutler might have used his strong arm to gamble on a throw or two, and that might have turned a potential victory into a loss.
With the wind gusting in the third quarter, there was no way Trestman and McCown wanted to throw a pass.
"Coach and I talked and said, 'Let's be smart in the way we play this quarter,'" McCown said.
In fact, Trestman gave McCown a phrase that stayed in his mind all day -- "When it's breezy, swing easy." McCown completed 19 of 31 passes for 216 yards in a win that put the Bears in a tie with the 6-4 Detroit Lions atop the NFC North.
3. Reversal of fortunes for Harbaughs: It doesn't look like the Harbaugh brothers will be back in the Super Bowl. The Ravens suffered a stinging, overtime loss to Chicago. The San Francisco 49ers were caught by a Drew Brees comeback and a controversial roughing-the-passer call in a 23-20 loss to the New Orleans Saints.
The Ravens, the Super Bowl champs last season, dropped to 4-6. History says 4-6 teams have only a seven percent chance of making the playoffs.
"It might be hard to convince people," John Harbaugh said. "There are going to be a lot of skeptics out there who won't want to believe it, but we will keep fighting."
John Harbaugh joked that the Ravens lead the league in delays over the past year. In the Super Bowl, a power outage in the Superdome stopped the Super Bowl and gave the 49ers time to regroup and almost come back in the final minutes. The Broncos-Ravens season opener was delayed by 25 minutes and Sunday's delay was almost two hours.
Jim Harbaugh didn't feel good about a roughing-the-passer call on a third-and-2 at the San Francisco 35-yard line. The call was on linebacker Ahmad Brooks. Instead of having the ball at the 45 (Patrick Willis recovered Brees' fumble) with a three-point lead, the 49ers had to watch Brees get his second of three field goal drives in the final 7:50 of the game.
"I didn't think he hit him in the head," Harbaugh said. "I was right there to witness it all. The official thought he hit him in the head."
The defending NFC champions dropped to 6-4, three-and-a-half games behind the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC West. Losers of two straight, the 49ers are going to have to scramble to make the playoffs.
4. Premature celebration: On Saturday night, Jets coach Rex Ryan treated one of the first-half surprise teams to a night at a Buffalo Dave & Busters. On Sunday, the Jets went bust in a 37-14 loss to the Buffalo Bills. After the game, Bills players joked that they will hold THEIR team party Sunday at Dave & Busters.
Ryan has done a great job of putting the Jets in position for a possible wild card, but he's doing it with a great defense and an offense that shows up every other week. Smith is as predictable as the Cowboys. He wins one week and loses the next. Against the Bills, he completed eight of 23 passes for 103 yards and had three interceptions. He has 16 interceptions for the year.
"I just think it's a lack of maturity," Jets wide receiver David Nelson said of the team's ups and downs. "I really do. We've got to just grow up."
Part of that process is not thinking you've arrived after a promising first half. Saturday's party was too early. The Jets are 5-5, which is better than most expected, but they're still a long way from a playoff berth.
5. Schwartz not apologizing: Lions coach Jim Schwartz knew he was going to have to battle the media following Sunday's 37-27 loss to Pittsburgh. With the Lions leading 27-23 in the fourth quarter, Schwartz and his coaching staff wanted to take advantage of what they thought was a vulnerable spot on the Steelers' special teams. The Lions went for a fake field goal on a fourth-and-5 from the Steelers' 10. Holder Sam Martin took a direct snap, ran 3 yards and fumbled. The Steelers responded with a 16-play, 96-yard drive and took a 30-27 lead.
Reporters tactfully drilled Schwartz on the decision. He snapped back. "You can say what you want about me, but you can't say I'm scared," Schwartz said.
Schwartz said he will always err on the side of being aggressive. The problem is the call put Detroit's NFC North lead in jeopardy. Being aggressive is one thing, but the Lions were on the road and the weather conditions in Pittsburgh weren't the best. He tried to justify the decision by saying a successful play could have iced the game.
Still, as bad as the Steelers might be this year, Roethlisberger can beat you if you let him. The Lions wasted a great effort Sunday. Stafford threw for 327 yards in the first half. Calvin Johnson had 179 yards on six catches. By being aggressive, the Lions are now 6-4.
The NFL will have to launch yet another investigation. Redskins left tackle Trent Williams accused an official -- umpire Roy Elllison -- of cursing him out. If true, such actions can't be tolerated. … Two scenes in the Oakland Raiders' 28-23 win over Houston were disturbing. The first was the Texans fans and how they booed when Gary Kubiak replaced a struggling Case Keenum with Matt Schaub. "It was disappointing because we had to go to our silent count at home," Texans guard Wade Smith said. Halfback Ben Tate called the Texans' fans "wishy-washy." The other bad scene was Schaub yelling at wide receiver Andre Johnson at the end of the game. Johnson screamed back after an end-zone incompletion. "They'll handle it. It's just frustrations," Kubiak said. Schaub, who's playing for his career, almost led the Texans to a comeback victory. Kubiak isn't ready to give Keenum or Schaub the nod for the rest of the season. … The craziest play of the day was when Jacksonville defensive end Jason Babin came up with a huge chunk of Arizona Cardinals halfback Andre Ellington's hair. Ellington said he didn't feel it, but he misses his hair. "This is five years of growth," he said. … One of the smartest moves of the day came from Bills coach Doug Marrone, who had offensive coordinator Nate Hackett coach from the field instead of the press box. That hands-on approach helped rookie EJ Manuel complete 20 of 28 passes for 245 yards and two touchdowns. … Jason Campbell has done a great job filling in at quarterback for the Browns, but you have to wonder if his rib injury was bothering him Sunday. Campbell completed 27 of 56 passes and had three picks in a 41-20 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. … How bad have the Falcons fallen? Their 41-28 loss to Tampa Bay has them with the same record as the Buccaneers at 2-8. The loss prompted another vote of confidence from owner Arthur Blank. "We love our head coach; we love our general manager," Blank said. … Percy Harvin had some fun at the expense of his former team, the Minnesota Vikings. In a 41-20 victory, the $61 million Seahawks receiver had a 17-yard catch and 58-yard kickoff return. The Seahawks wanted to break him in slowly after hip surgery. … The troubled Dolphins got an encouraging win -- 20-16 over the San Diego Chargers. With Mike Pouncey out, the Dolphins had only three starting offensive linemen. They took Sam Brenner off the practice squad and started him at left guard. The Dolphins rushed for 104 yards and allowed only four sacks. … Don't look now, but the Cardinals are 6-4 thanks to Carson Palmer, a good defense and Bruce Arians' play calling. … Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome had a scare. At the end of the Ravens' loss, he was sweating profusely when riding an elevator down to the locker room with reporters, and had to be taken in an ambulance to a nearby hospital.