Blog Entry

Sorting the Sunday Pile: Week 11

Posted on: November 21, 2011 2:15 am
Edited on: November 21, 2011 12:23 pm
Posted by Will Brinson

Sorting the Sunday Pile takes all of Sunday's NFL action and figures out the most important storylines for you to digest. Send your complaints, questions and comments to Will Brinson on Twitter. Make sure and listen to our Week 10 podcast review below as well and feel free to subscribe via iTunes.


1. Bear Down

The only thing surprising about Chicago's 31-20 victory -- their fifth-straight win -- over the Chargers was that the Bears let San Diego keep it that close. But not all is good news in Chicago right now, as multiple reports indicate that quarterback Jay Cutler suffered a broken thumb during Sunday's game, may need surgery and could be lost for the season.

At a minimum, Cutler's likely to miss six weeks, so let's assume he's done for the regular season. So can the Bears still make the playoffs? Well, surprisingly, yes, but it obviously won't be easy.

If the Bears beat three of their final six opponents (we'll guess the Vikings, the Seahawks and the Chiefs) they'll finish 10-6. No one from the NFC West will cause any damage and it looks like Chicago just has to fight off the Giants or the Cowboys, the Lions and the Falcons.

They've got the tiebreaker over Atlanta, although right now the Bears lose out to the Lions because of division record. (Fortunately for them, Detroit has to play Green Bay twice.)

And Chicago has a formula for winning games without a ton of offense. The Bears defense knows how to score and Devin Hester can alter the outcome of a game every time he stands back to return a kick. The passing game should all but disappear, however.

Which means that Chicago will lean heavily on a below-average offensive line and ... Matt Forte.

Perhaps they should reconsider their stance about paying him after all.

2. Little Giants

Everyone always expects the Giants to swoon late in the season (because it's something they do, which is fair I suppose) but this year looked different after New York's win over New England two weeks ago and a tough loss in San Francisco last week.

Until Sunday night, when the Giants coughed up a 17-10 loss to the Vince Young-led Eagles anyway.

"This is as big a disappointment as we have had around here in a long time," coach Tom Coughlin said Sunday.

It should be, because things aren't going to get easier for Coughlin's squad any time soon. They face the Saints in New Orleans next week and then welcome the potentially undefeated Packers to New York in Week 13 before squaring off against the Cowboys in Dallas in Week 14.

That's about as big a nightmare as a schedule can be for an NFC East that just kicked itself out of the playoffs, and the Jets still loom, as does a second matchup with Dallas.

The Eagles wanted to give away this game too. DeSean Jackson had a ridiculous taunting penalty that (also somewhat ridiculously) resulted in a loss of 50 yards for the Eagles. Vince Young had three terrible picks. LeSean McCoy never really got going (53 yards on 22 carries before his final 60-yard run to end the game). Riley Cooper was the top receiver.

But the Giants wanted it less, and couldn't get any offense going, as receivers egged on easy passes and the offensive line got no push. Some of the playcalling was suspect, and it put the Giants in a pretty untenable position late in the game.

Which is probably fitting since that's where their 2011 season stands as well.

And even though it's OK to anticipate a Giants swoon, let's hold off on talking about the Eagles running the table just quite yet, please. We were here three weeks ago when they handled the Cowboys too.

3. Missing Pieces

One look at Cincinnati's 31-24 loss to Baltimore, and it's pretty clear how much the Bengals missed wide receiver A.J. Green and cornerback Leon Hall.

Andy Dalton got a shot at boosting his Rookie of the Year stock on Cincy's final drive, but came up short when the Ravens defensive line stepped up in a big way in their own red zone. Dalton missed Andrew Hawkins on first down, was busted for intentional grounding on second, threw incomplete to Jerome Simpson on third and was sacked by Pernell McPhee on fourth. One has to wonder how the goal line playcalling changes if Green's in the game.

On defense, the previously stout Bengals unit was gashed by the Ravens own rookie, Torrey Smith. Smith notched six catches for 165 yards, one touchdown and a number of different catches where he was wide open but made some fantastic grabs on throws from Joe Flacco that was a bit off.

There were three big plays that stand out for Baltimore's passing game: a 35-yard touchdown catch by Anquan Boldin (he was wide open), Smith's 38-yard TD (also wide open) and a 49-yard bomb that Smith reeled in near the goal line, where he just torched Nate Clements (watch below).

It's clearly not a coincidence when a team loses its best cornerback and subsequently gives up a bunch of big passing plays the next week.

And lest we leave this game without pointing out the obvious, the Ravens won once again when Ray Rice was productive and got more than five carries. That's not a coincidence either.

4. Silent Bob Strikes Back

Three weeks ago, Kevin Smith was unemployed, sitting at home, doing nothing. Or signing himself to various Madden rosters, which is even more depressing. On Sunday, he piled up 201 all-purpose yards, revived the Lions rushing attack, and was the catalyst in a 49-35 comeback win for the Lions over the Panthers that kept Detroit at the forefront of the NFC Wild Card race.

It's an awesome story, and Smith deserves all the love he's getting from analysts and all the love he got from the Detroit sideline every time he scored on his three touchdowns.

Three questions stand out to me with respect to Detroit's playoff hopes. 1) Can they avoid early deficits? 2) Can Smith sustain this success? 3) Did Matthew Stafford get healthy at halftime?

With no running game and an injured Stafford, the Lions look like the walking dead against Chicago last week. It was much of the same story in the first quarter against the Panthers, as Stafford threw two picks, looked terrible and the Lions mustered less than 10 yards on four rushes. But a Keiland Williams fumble with 2:30 left in the first quarter gave way to Smith, and he started off his second-chance Lions career with a 43-yard run and followed it up with a 28-yard touchdown catch on the next play.

If Smith is the answer -- and I'm not completely sold yet, but only because a one-legged homeless guy off the street could put 100 yards on that Panthers defense -- and Stafford's healthy, the answer to question No. 1 should be "yes."

We'll find out when Detroit plays Green Bay (twice) and New Orleans over the next six weeks whether they can avoid needing comebacks to win. If they can, there won't be a question about whether or not the Lions are playoff-worthy.

5. More Like a Tropical Storm

For 149 consecutive weeks of NFL action, a former Miami Hurricane has scored a touchdown. Consider that there are 17 weeks in each NFL season, and it works out to more than eight and a half years since a Hurricane failed to score in the NFL. That's bananas.

And yet we sit here, heading into Monday night's Patriots-Chiefs matchup and no member of "The U" has scored in Week 11. (Yes, this is considerably ironic since the 'Canes announced Sunday they wouldn't accept a bowl bid.)

Complicating matters for fans of Miami is the fact that it's pretty unlikely that a Hurricane will score on Monday night. There are only two players left that went to school in Coral Gables: Allen Bailey, a rookie defensive end for the Chiefs who's played in nine games, started none and recorded four tackles, and Vince Wilfork, veteran defensive tackle for the Pats who's inexplicably got two interceptions this season.

Wilfork's the best bet to score, but it'll almost certainly have to come on a fumble in the end zone or a red-zone interception. We've already seen Wilfork try to take on to the house this season, and it didn't work well.

So if you see Bill Belichick trot Wilfork out in a goal line formation during a late-game blowout, you know why. Of course, that alone would totally be worth seeing "The U" continue to tout itself as a producer of fine athletics.

Perhaps the craziest part of Miami alums not scoring? As pointed out Monday by my colleague Bruce Feldman, ex-Cane Kellen Winslow scored a touchdown but it was called back because he pushed off a defender. That defender was Sam Shields ... also a Miami alum.

6. The Jermaine Gresham Rule

I understand that Gresham actually fell victim to the "Calvin Johnson Rule" but he might deserve his subsection at the very least if/when the NFL addresses this disastrous rule.

See, the rule got the nickname when Calvin Johnson lost possession in the end zone. But that's the key -- he was in the end zone. Johnson caught the ball there and then lost it there. (Watch here at the 2:20 mark.)

Gresham, on the other hand, actually crossed the plain with possession. He had his feet in-bounds.

If he was a running back, we wouldn't have this issue, right? I'm pretty sure we wouldn't. Because possession would've been established (vis-a-vis the handoff, etc).

Technically, the officials got the call right, because Gresham lost possession as he fell to the ground, and he didn't make a "football-related move" inside the end zone.

But if you are in possession of the ball and cross the plain with said possession, that should be a done deal, right there. That's the reason why the goal line extends in hypothetical perpetuity. If a running back dives into the end zone over a big pile of people and fumbles after the ball's crossed the plain, it's a touchdown.

But if a wide receiver crosses the plain with possession of the ball, gets a freaking foot into the end zone and then doesn't maintain control all the way to the ground -- even if he had possession before he got into the end zone! -- it doesn't count?

Come on. That makes no sense. Let's fix it, please.

7. Chris Johnson Is 'Back,' Alright

Over the last week, I was repeatedly blistered by people who didn't believe me when I said that Chris Johnson was not "back" to his CJ2K form, despite a 130-yard rushing effort against the Panthers.

I watched that game closely, and what stood out to me was that Johnson's effort and burst and general running ability didn't mesh with the statistics he produced.

After Sunday's 23-17 loss to Atlanta, well, there's no question that Johnson's 2011 season remains lost. The Titans leading rusher in Week 11 was Matt Hasselbeck (one carry, 17 yards). Matt Ryan had a higher yards-per-carry average than Johnson. There were nine -- NINE! -- quarterbacks with more rushing yards than Johnson in Week 11, and it was almost ten as well as two on his own team:

If you take out Johnson's "long" run of the day, he finished with seven rushing yards on 11 carries. That's just flat-out embarrassing and any opponent with a modicum of rush defense can shut him down and make him ineffective.

That's really quite a shame, too, because Hasselbeck's renaissance season would be a lot more interesting with a rushing attack.

And while I'm doing rookie Jake Locker a disservice by not pointing out how good he was in backup duty for Tennessee, it's not as big a disservice as Johnson is doing to the team and the rookie quarterback who might have to overcome one of the most-talented backs in the NFL getting paid and totally disappearing from relevancy.

8. Moore Please

There's a fun little debate about whether the Dolphins, on a three-game winning streak that seemed unfathomable just, um, three weeks ago -- or the Bills -- on three-game losing streak after holding with the AFC East lead as late as the middle of October -- are the bigger story after Miami knocked Buffalo around 35-8.

But maybe the bigger story is the convergence of these two teams on a metaphorical NFL elevator, with the Dolphins trying their best to get out of the lobby and the Bills falling like Dennis Hopper rigged their ride.

To me, it might just be more about these two teams playing closer to what we expected. Buffalo's early-season run was an awesome storyline, but it was unsustainable, particularly with the loss of Eric Wood at center and Kyle Williams on the defensive line. Add in defenses figuring out that the Bills don't have a legit deep threat, and it's no surprise that they're not winning anymore.

Although considering the ridiculous amount of money they handed Ryan Fitzpatrick, they'd probably like to see something resembling offense. At least there aren't a ton of great quarterbacks in this upcoming draft class!

The Dolphins will likely be taking a quarterback at some point in the upcoming draft, but the question is how high they'll be picking, and that largely depends on how sustainable Matt Moore's current level of play under center is. Well, history tells us it's actually possible for him to succeed the rest of the way in.

In 2009, while playing with the Panthers, Moore stepped in for Jake Delhomme and closed out a lost season with a shocking 4-1 record for Carolina that saw him average 16 of 25 passing (62.7 percent) for 198 yards and two touchdowns per game. And that was in a John Fox offense, no less.

Don't expect him to backdoor the Pro Bowl or anything, but don't be surprised when the once-hapless Dolphins keep playing spoiler because Moore keeps streaking.

9. Best Draft Class ... Ever?

I've noted in this spot a couple times in the past few weeks that the 2011 NFL Draft class is one of the best we've seen in a long time, and maybe, dare I say, ever.

The first seven picks of the draft have been outstanding thus far into the season, and that doesn't even factor in Andy Dalton or DeMarco Murray, who might be the leading candidates for Rookie of the Year honors.

Well, two more guys made their mark on Sunday for this class.

Jake Locker entered the game for an injured Matt Hasselbeck against the Falcons on Sunday, and proceeded to nearly lead the Titans to a comeback, completing nine of 19 passes for 140 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Atlanta was up 23-3 at the time, so it's not like they were playing their opening-game defense, but Locker looked darn good in relief duty and the Titans should be excited, even though Hasselbeck will remain the starter.

Prince Amukamara, who the Giants took at 19th overall when he fell past Houston, made his first start on Sunday and also picked up his first career interception, while generally looking like a veteran against the Eagles. And yes, it still counts as an interception, even if Vince Young threw it.

10. Giving Thanks for Thanksgiving

Early in the season, the Thanksgiving games contained only a little bit of drama, thanks to the Harbaugh family reunion in Baltimore. But suddenly we've got three of the best games in the NFL taking place on Thursday, and one of the most memorable Turkey Day slates we've seen in a while.

All six teams playing on Thursday won on Sunday and, collectively, those six teams are on a 26-game winning streak this season.

The Lions and Packers square off with Detroit getting its first shot at ending the Packers undefeated season, the Cowboys have a shot at really generating some separation in the NFC East as they host the inexplicably hot Dolphins and the Ravens/49ers square off to determine who gets all the pie at the Harbaugh household.

It's a collection of three fantastic games and it's almost enough to make me boycott my family's lunch-time festivities away from electronics. Thank goodness for DVR. And 200-person pot-luck lunches.


Leftovers from Sunday's action ...
... Cam Newton set the rookie record for rushing touchdowns on Sunday (twice, technically) as he's got nine on the season now.
... Aaron Rodgers is just the second quarterback in history to throw for 3,000 yards and 30 touchdowns in his team's first 10 games; the other was Tom Brady in 2007.
... 2011 is the first season in NFL history to feature three quarterbacks with 3,000 yards and 20 or more touchdowns through 10 games, as Rodgers, Drew Brees and Brady all met the criteria this year.
... The Dolphins became just the third team in NFL history to win three straight games after losing their first seven or more games.
... After Keloah Pilares' TD return, six 100-yard kick returns have happened so far in 2011, which is one short of the NFL record.
... The Lions became the first team in NFL history to record three comebacks of more than 17 points in a single season on Sunday.



No Michael Vick and too many Vince Young interceptions make Andy Reid go something-something.

Hot Seat Tracker

  • Mike Shanahan: Six losses in a row for the Redskins, who showed some promise by only losing in overtime. Or something.
  • Norv Turner -- The Chargers keep collapsing and there's nothing promising about their schedule. Three games against Jacksonville, Denver and Buffalo have to mean 2-1 at worst, or it might be time for Turner to move on.
  • Todd Haley: If the Pats whip the Chiefs on Monday night while the Raiders and Broncos keep winning, his seat just gets warmer.
  • Jim Caldwell: The Colts were upset by their bye. What can I say?
  • Steve Spagnuolo: I don't really understand the heat, but it's there.
  • Tom Coughlin: Also don't understand this heat, but let's just go ahead and get out front on this before the fans do.

Chasing Andrew Luck

Colts (-1000): Haha, but no really, they were upset by their bye. Do you see?
Vikings (+125): See: below.
Panthers (+150): The Colts have to win two games.
Rams (+250): Again, it would require the Colts winning games.
Redskins (+300): If only they hadn't won three games early.

MVP Watch

Despite playing -- ahem -- "poorly," Aaron Rodgers is still the clear-cut favorite to win the MVP at season's end. I'm not sure what it would take to derail him, but I think it's probably an injury and an injury only. Tom Brady's got a shot to come from the outside because he's Tom Brady and the Pats schedule stinks, but if the Packers go undefeated, he won't have a chance. Meanwhile, I still like Tony Romo to get darkhorse candidacy by Week 14. Maybe we should just talk about the other awards.

Since: Dec 3, 2006
Posted on: November 22, 2011 12:46 pm

Sorting the Sunday Pile: Week 11

Not once, but twice, you spell plane as plain.


plain (n): an area of land not significantly higher than adjacent areas and with relatively minor differences in elevation.
plane (n): a flat surface, a two dimensional area generated by a straight line moving at constant velocity with respect to a point.

It's the plane that he crossed, not the plain. To cross a plain, he would have to be trekking.

Since: Nov 15, 2009
Posted on: November 22, 2011 12:42 pm

Sorting the Sunday Pile: Week 11

This is totally hilarious. Da 49ers fly under the radar again! Beware NFL, they'll have da last laugh!

Since: Nov 21, 2011
Posted on: November 22, 2011 12:20 am

Sorting the Sunday Pile: Week 11

 I think that caleb Hanie will be just fine. I also think that they will get the wild card and go a lot farther than what most think. hanie came in at the end of a big game last year and if he would have been in the whole game the odds would have been in our favor.. I just hope that the TRUE BEARS FANS  back him as much as they have Cutler. Cutler will return as good as ever... Laughing

Since: Nov 27, 2006
Posted on: November 21, 2011 11:11 pm

Sorting the Sunday Pile: Week 11

Gresham "crossed the plane" with the ball. Unless he kept the ball after the game and proceeded to walk to the Rocky Mountains from Baltimore. Then he would have "crossed a plain". Think math. Not geography.

Since: Sep 7, 2006
Posted on: November 21, 2011 7:31 pm

Sorting the Sunday Pile: Week 11

Chicago will win 4 of their next 5 games....something akin to Tebowesque if you will! The Bears have their own Quarterback loved by God as well as Denver! Check out what Caleb Hanie's name means:

 Caleb \c(a)-l\ as a boy's name is pronounced KAY-leb. It is of  origin, and the meaning of Caleb is ", ,  ". : Caleb, a  of Moses and Joshua, was  for his astute  of  and fearlessness in the face of ; his  to  is symbolized by the "" in some traditions. 

After reading this definition I am glad the Bears have a "DOG" who is loved by God in thr fight. We all know you have to have a dog in the fight to win the dog fight.

All that remains to be answered is: Who will God favor when the Bears travel to Denver? Caleb or Tim? You have to admit it is an interesting scenario.
Go Bears! 

Since: Oct 13, 2006
Posted on: November 21, 2011 7:30 pm

Sorting the Sunday Pile: Week 11

Good point with Forte. Even with Cutler playing the best ball of his career, Forte is the bread and butter for the Bears. without Forte keeping the Defenses honest Cutler would be running for his life on every throw.

True Stafford is really playing his first year, what with the injuries over the last two. It'll be interesting to see how he does the next few years.

I can't buy the E. Manning suggestion, he never seems consistant enough, although that may be a product of team philosophy - where the Giants have considered themselves to be a running team over the years.

With the Colts record this year, it really says something about how much P. Manning meant to that Indy squad.

Since: Feb 25, 2009
Posted on: November 21, 2011 5:09 pm

Sorting the Sunday Pile: Week 11

I think the Bears make the Wildcards and go one-and-done. Even if Cutler comes back. It's taken too long for Chicago to get into a rhythm on offense to believe they'll magically hit the ground running if/when Cutler comes back. If he doesn't, they'll have to draw a really wishy-washy Wildcard team (I'm looking at you, NFC East) and hope their opponent is waning rather than waxing.

And honestly, that O-line still blows. Cutler's cleaner jersey over their 5-game streak has been all scheme and Cutler, not real protection. Hanie just doesn't have the tools Cutler has, and I think he pays for it.

Since: Feb 25, 2009
Posted on: November 21, 2011 4:58 pm

Sorting the Sunday Pile: Week 11

do any other Lions fans agree with you? I say you're sniffing glue. Johnson's the mvp of the offense.
Not a Lions fan, but Stafford is pretty valuable to Detroit. Megatron is also key, but of Stafford's 5 TDs this week, Johnson caught zero. He didn't even lead the team in receptions, though he did lead in yards. Point being, Stafford can pass to other guys; he doesn't just chuck it up there and let Johnson get it, a la Duante Culpepper and Randy Moss.

The other thing to remember is that Stafford is really still playing in his "first" year. Injuries have kept him from the game, and while he's had a couple years to learn, the body needs the reps. Muscle memory is pretty important to a QB, and all the book learnin' in the world won't help if you're too banged up to play.

Having said that, I think Stafford is pretty far down the list after Rodgers. I would throw Brees, Manning, and Matt Forte in there before him. Tom Brady gets the shaft because while he may be one of the greatest QB's ever to play the game, the Patriots have proved they can succeed without him (this is less true this year than in recent years, but I still think Stafford is more valuable to Detroit than Brady is to New England, in terms of winning games). By contrast, look at the state of the Colts without Peyton Manning.

What's more interesting to me is the coming years. The Lions are on the cusp; you can tell by how they play. They can beat anybody, but they've showed they can lose to just about anybody, too.

Since: Aug 30, 2006
Posted on: November 21, 2011 12:27 pm

Sorting the Sunday Pile: Week 11

do any other Lions fans agree with you? I say you're sniffing glue. Johnson's the mvp of the offense. Their defensive improvement has been huge year over year with Suh, Vanden Bosch, and Delmas making huge contributions.  And it's Shaun Hill not Sean Hill.  With Hill they'd probably be 7-3. Your starting QB has played shaky in the first half of almost every game.   

Since: Oct 13, 2006
Posted on: November 21, 2011 3:31 am

Sorting the Sunday Pile: Week 11

I agree with you Will that Aaron Rodgers is a lock, providing he stays healthy, for the MVP, but I'd like to nominate another player for that lofty piece of hardware should Mr. Rodgers fall; Matt Stafford. Now before anyone gets their grundies in a twist consider this; most of the pundits were predicting the Lions this year as being able to compete for the playoffs, but the caveat with that prediction always hinged on the ability of young Master Stafford staying healthy. He has stayed healthy, for the most part, and throughout the Lions first 10 games this year Stafford has taken his fair share of hits, which has assuredly caused no small amount of consternation with the Lion coaching staff and fan base. 

Furthermore, his production this year is as worthy of consideration as Mr.'s Brady and Brees. Thru ten games this season Stafford has thrown for 25 TD's and 10 int.'s, and 2843 yrds with a QB rating of 93.4 - Brees 23 TD's, and 11 int.'s. 3326 yds, and a QB rating of 101.3.  Brady, Monday nights game still pending, has  thrown for 23 TD's and 10 int.'s, 3032 yds and a QB rating of 102.0, assuredly those numbers will change, While Stafford's numbers are comprable to Brady's and Brees's numbers, what makes Stafford a viable consideration for MVP is the afore mentioned caveat. Stafford has stayed healthy and in doing so the Lions are, at 7-3, in contention for the playoffs. Without Stafford the Lions would not even get a sniff, no offense to Sean Hill, but Stafford is a difference maker, and Most Valuable to his team.

Without Stafford the Lions might not even be 5-5. Remember a few years ago when the Patriots lost Brady in the first game of the year? The Patriots trotted out Matt Cassell and proceeded to win 10 games that year. The Pats and the Saints are teams that have successful programs that have learned to win even with key players missing several games. The Lions are not to that point yet, and losing Stafford would be catostrophic to the Lions fortunes going forward. Without Stafford in the lineup would the Lions be able to compete with this years Greenbay team on Thursday? Not likely, or how about the week after when Detroit travels to New Orleans? The odds for Detroit to win either of those games would be outrageaous. With Stafford the Lions will compete in both games, and maybe even win.

Lets see how the next 6 games play out this season before we crown the MVP. and while I agree that Aaron Rodgers is the front runner in the pack, The next three in the race, Brady, Stafford and Brees are still too close to call at this point.

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or