By winning Sunday in blowout fashion over one of the other surprise teams this year, the New Orleans Saints have already matched their win total in each of the previous three seasons.
Coming into 2017, a lot of observers were predicting that this would be the final season for head coach Sean Payton. There was speculation near of the end of the 2016 regular season that the Saints would entertain the idea of trading their coach. It made sense. With Drew Brees closing in on his 39th birthday, New Orleans might as well started focusing on the impending rebuild.
And then, after an 0-2 start that only seemed to reinforce that narrative, something crazy happened: After beating the Bills 47-10, the Saints became the first team since the '93 Cowboys to win seven straight after losing their first two. Perhaps it might be hasty to forecast another Super Bowl trip, but in a wide-open NFC, it would be foolish to discount New Orleans.
It's worth noting those two opening losses to the Vikings and the Patriots are hardly terrible blemishes. Those two teams are now tied with the Saints for the NFL's second-best record. Since then, you can't even complain that New Orleans has feasted on lesser competition. Of its seven wins, five have come against teams .500 or better.
Brees is still playing like one of the best quarterbacks in the league, yet the Saints are thriving because they have the ability to ask less of him. That means counting on a running game and a defense more effective than in past years. In four of the five seasons prior to 2017, the Saints allowed more than 400 points. Not coincidentally, all of those years, the Saints finished 7-9. This year, they're on pace to allow slightly more than 300.
Following what should be a winnable game at home against Washington in Week 11, the Saints travel to Los Angeles on Thanksgiving weekend to take on the Rams in a game with significance few would have predicted months ago. At this point last year, some were pointing out that Payton's recent work wasn't altogether different from Jeff Fisher's middling reputation. Well, now Fisher is gone, and so too is Payton's rut.
Browns 0-16 Watch Goes On
Cleveland briefly flirted with a lead in the first half in Detroit. By the end, though, it was another multiple-score Browns defeat. This marks the second season in a row that the Browns have started 0-9. Cleveland has actually outgained opponents in five of its nine losses, and Lions safety Glover Quin had nice things to say about them, claiming the Browns have better athletes than three-fourths of the teams in the league.
No one wants to replicate the ignoble feat of the 2008 Lions. San Francisco's win put the Browns in the driver's seat for the top pick in next spring's draft. Given that the Browns are the team that traded for Brock Osweiler just so they could eat his contract and get a nice draft pick, it's not hard to imagine tanking be a welcome idea for them. If not, they have potentially winnable games left against the Bears, Bengals and Chargers. And who knows? The Steelers aren't above playing down to bad teams. That's an upset that can't be ruled out, either, especially since the teams play in Week 17 when Pittsburgh may have already clinched.
TFW A Touchdown Turns Into A Touchback
Bears didn't have a TD. They challenged thinking they did. Instead of keeping it at the 1, it's a fumble/touchback. Fox's face here … pic.twitter.com/e2HHhzR87a- Bill Voth (@PanthersBill) November 12, 2017
His Bears trailing 10-3 midway through the second quarter, Chicago running back Benny Cunningham was ruled just short of the end zone on a 25-yard screen pass. Rather than take first-and-goal from the one-yard line, John Fox opted to challenge, presumably thinking it was safer to get the score through review than risk running one to three plays from the goal line. Well, much to his chagrin, the review revealed that Cunningham had lost control of the ball before he touched the pylon, and the ball was awarded to Green Bay. The Bears ended up losing by a touchdown. Surely, there will be plenty of questioning of Fox's decision making. On Sunday, however, it also made fans continue to question the validity of the rule that turns any fumble through the end zone by the offense into a turnover. Of course, fans on social media aren't on the competition committee, so we'll have to wait to see whether there's any momentum for a change there before pronouncing this as any sort of turning point on the matter.
Fan of the Week
Since their playoff hopes are becoming dimmer with each passing week, it's probably safe to assume that there are only three Bills home games remaining this season. That means limited opportunity to cherish the rampant debauchery until late 2018. The full complement of Bills bedlam was on display. There were inevitable tailgate table powerbombs, even if occasionally the tables proved stronger than the fan.
But insanity outside the stadium is one thing. Every so often, that bacchanalia finds its way onto the field in Buffalo, like a naked man streaking on Sunday. The image of the cops escorting him off the field with a towel covering his nether region sort of makes it look like they just detained The Incredible Hulk after he turned back into Dr. Banner. Or maybe that's because I just saw the new Thor movie.
And if all that doesn't count as the dark side of the Bills gameday experience, there's always a person being set on fire.
With starting Cowboys left tackle Tyron Smith ruled out, Clayborn feasted on backup Chaz Green, registering a single-game franchise record six sacks. That's just one off Derrick Thomas' NFL record. The performance was so dominating that FOX announcer and Cowboys legend Troy Aikman said during the broadcast that it was the worst he's ever seen anyone get beaten by a rusher. Clayborn had only two sacks coming into Sunday. By reaching eight, he triggered a $750,000 bonus if he remains on the roster the rest of the season, which seems like a safe bet. What's more, Clayborn is in a contract year, so he's likely to reap even more rewards from Sunday's performance.
A big part of Case Keenum looking like a capable starter was Thielen making Josh Norman look silly. Thielen finished with eight catches for 166 yards, more than half the Vikings' receiving yardage, plus a touchdown. Keenum had a near-perfect rating of 145.1 the 11 times he targeted Thielen.
The lesser-known former Bills receiver on the roster was a key to the Rams finally pulling away from the Texans in the second half. Woods scored twice in the third quarter, leading off with a 94-yard touchdown where he beat struggling Houston corner Johnathan Joseph. Woods finished with 171 yards on eight catches.
On a day in which the Saints set a franchise single-day record with six rushing touchdowns, there were plenty of stats to go around for New Orleans rushers, two of whom went for more than 100 yards. Ingram had three of those scores to go with 131 yards rushing. It's no wonder Adrian Peterson was visibly frustrated during his brief tenure with the Saints. The backfield is so loaded, it's hard to imagine anyone getting more than 30 touches in a game.
It helped that Denver had a slew of special teams miscues to give New England an early lead. Still, Brady largely made it look easy against what has been one of the NFL's better defenses, one that has had its success against the Pats, on the road. Brady threw for three touchdowns and completed more than 70 percent of his throws. He was sacked only once, which further spells trouble for a Denver team that has given up more than 90 points the last two games.
It's easy to blame Green for Clayborn's mammoth day, and certainly he did not acquit himself well in the loss to Atlanta. That said, Green had already been benched at guard before becoming pressed into immediate service at left tackle. And yet the Cowboys did next to nothing to game plan for ways to help him block the edge rush before eventually benching him in the second half. At that point, it was already too late.
The Chargers receiver had a wide open 45-yard sure-thing touchdown clang off his chest. It was perhaps the most inexplicable of the mistakes that cost them the game. Of course, Chargers losses are usually narrow and loaded with mistakes. Take backup running back Austin Ekeler, who was having a breakout game outperforming Melvin Gordon, only to fumble on what could have been a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter.
Buffalo did get one early fumble recovery in the 47-10 loss to New Orleans. That was about the extent of the Bills' stops. The Saints never punted and put up 298 yards rushing. That's the sort of yardage figure you might typically see out of Drew Brees. When you're running that well, it's time to let your 38-year-old quarterback take a breather. Indeed, Brees threw for only 184 yards in a remarkably easy victory over what was once a promising Buffalo team.
With a 47-yard touchdown catch-and-run from Garrett Celek, the Giants have allowed a touchdown to a tight end in 10 straight games, which is an NFL record you probably never much cared about. It's still a damning stat for New York's linebacking corps, not to mention the secondary, which looked silly trying to bring down Celek. Head coach Ben McAdoo may not survive the week, and the glaring deficiencies of the defense will be a big reason why.
Broncos special teams
When going into battle with the defending champions and being led by Brock Osweiler, there's the presumption that the rest of the roster will have to put forward a pristine effort to even have a chance at victory. That fantasy was snuffed out early in Sunday night's loss, as Denver's special teams put up the first half trifecta of a fumbled punt return, a kick return touchdown from the opposition and a blocked punt. The Pats led 27-9 at half. As anyone might have expected, they never had to sweat in the second half.
The week in celebrations
how can we sit idly by and allow Canada to top us in football celebrations? pic.twitter.com/0v0nTkde3Y- Mike Tunison (@xmasape) November 12, 2017
Group celebrations have been a silver lining in what has otherwise been an often-stressful NFL season. But it seems like American football players rested on their laurels too long. The CFL's Ottawa Redblacks topped all our American pro football celebrations with a human limbo stick demonstration.
Hopefully NFL players see this for the constructive challenge that it is. It's like the new space race, except we're looking to reach new heights of end zone antics.
The Steelers have often been the innovators in touchdown celebrations this year. The hide-and-seek one especially was inspired. While they might not have come up with a new activity to mimic, they did reenact the fight between A.J. Green and Jalen Ramsey from Week 9. After all, a good rule of thumb is, if you don't have any good new ideas of your own, just resort to mocking division rivals.
JuJu and Le'Veon reenacted the A.J. Green and Jalen Ramsey scuffle as a touchdown celebration 😂😫 pic.twitter.com/mOOtpL25aI- Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) November 12, 2017
And if it's cleverness instead of pettiness you seek, there's always the group leapfrog celebration the Vikings pulled out following one of their many touchdowns against Washington.
The Vikings pulled off a Leapfrog celebration 🐸😂pic.twitter.com/7CPHAEKbvA- NFL Retweet (@NFLRT) November 12, 2017