It was a little over a month ago that the Kansas City Chiefs stood tall as the NFL's last unbeaten team in 2017. They had gone into New England and convincingly beaten the Patriots on Opening Night. They handed the Eagles their only loss of the season to date.
After years of moderate success, it appeared like the Chiefs were ready to take the next step.
And that's why the early part of the season can be so deceptive. Four losses in five games have turned the Chiefs from early conference favorite to imperiled division leader. Granted, the AFC West doesn't look nearly as strong as it might have in September, and Kansas City holds a two-game lead. But the way the Chiefs are playing, you can't discount the ability of the Chargers or Raiders to make up that ground.
Sunday was the lowest point yet. Throughout his career, Andy Reid has been excellent coming out of a bye week, as his teams had gone 16-2 after the bye coming into this season. This would be easy, facing one of NFL's most dispirited, disappointing teams.
What should worry the Chiefs most of all is that they didn't get bowled over by a suddenly inspired team in New York. The Giants might have tackled better, but they still played a sloppy game in a lot of respects. New York loaded up against the run. That's a strategy this new Chiefs team was supposed to be able to flout easily. That isn't the case anymore.
A few weeks into the season, the matter of the Chiefs starting quarterback was supposedly settled for 2017. Alex Smith was playing the football of his life and airing it out like never before. That all changes quickly without a history of postseason success and with a rookie drafted in the first round breathing down his neck. Sunday was by far Smith's worst game of the season and his first multi-interception game since 2015.
Already the speculation has resurfaced on when the Chiefs might turn to Patrick Mahomes if Smith and the offense can't find the spark that had them going for more than 40 points twice in the first five games. Windy conditions can be used as an excuse for Smith's subpar game against the Giants, though if the Chiefs were so concerned about the wind, you have to question why they tried a gimmick play that had tight end Travis Kelce lofting a pass deep downfield.
Thankfully for the Chiefs, next week they play the only team that might have had a worse Week 11 than them, the Bills. Overlooking the Bills shouldn't be a problem. Once you lose to the Giants, even a quarterback who throws five interceptions in a half can look daunting.
Taylor vindicated, though possibly still on the bench
A great deal of fuss was made about Sean McDermott's midweek decision to bench starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor for rookie Nathan Peterman.
With a record of 5-4, the Bills were still very much in the AFC playoff race coming into Sunday. Facing the Chargers in a winnable game in front of a sympathetic road crowd, Peterman totally washed out in his first start. The rookie threw five interceptions in his first 14 passes. That's more than the three Taylor has thrown so far this season. The Bills pulled Peterman at halftime, asking Taylor to do whatever he could with a 37-7 halftime deficit. By then, Peterman had already made history, becoming the only quarterback since the merger to throw five interceptions in one half.
After jumping out to an encouraging 5-2 start, the Bills have retreated to .500, allowing 135 points the past three weeks. No a lot of quarterbacks can win in that situation, though it's clear Peterman reduces those chances. Either the Bills can bring back Taylor to start and hope the defense can stabilize, or they can just stick it out with Peterman and hope he hasn't already lost his confidence.
Fan of the Week
The Giants might have come away with their first victory in more than a month. It was by no means a pleasurable experience for anyone, as could probably be surmised by a game that went into overtime with a score of 9-9. At first glance, it would seem like both teams settled for field goals three times, but that's not what happened. Instead, Giants kicker Aldrick Rosas flubbed the only extra point anyone attempted in the game, much to the extreme dismay of this woman seated behind the uprights.
The Saints' resurgence in 2017 has been credited largely to improvement in the running game and on defense. The ground game was no slouch on Sunday; Mark Ingram alone went for 134 yards on 11 carries. Yet when New Orleans had to erase a 15-point deficit in the fourth quarter, it turned to the best quarterback in franchise history, who can still deliver when the team needs it. Brees threw for 385 yards and two touchdowns. It was only his third 300-yard performance of the year. Compare that to the seven he had at this point last season.
The Giants are probably doing their long-term prospects more harm than good by winning at this point in the season. Still, you can't tell that to most of the roster, since they likely won't be around after 2017. They have future jobs and pride to fight for. Look at undrafted second-year wide receiver Roger Lewis, who made one of the catches of the year in overtime to get the Giants in position for the winning field goal. He may not be with New York next year, but his career is likely to get a boost with that amazing catch.
Minnesota's offensive line has had one of the most dramatic turnarounds from 2016. It was the Vikings' downfall in the second half of the season last year. Flash forward to this season, and Week 11 was the sixth time in 2017 they gave up no sacks. Even with this considerable help, credit goes to Keenum. With Teddy Bridgewater ready to go again, there will be tremendous pressure on the team if Keenum starts to slip or has a really bad game. But in a pivotal win over another top NFC team, the Rams, Keenum was sharp again.
With two minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Jaguars faced the horrifying possibility of being the first team to lose to the Browns in 2017. Instead, Ngakoue got a strip-sack on DeShone Kizer. The resulting fumble bounded into the end zone, where Telvin Smith pounced on it for the score to cement their fifth win in a row. That's the first time the Jags have won five straight since 2007, which just happens to be their most recent postseason appearance.
The Bears dropped their third straight game and are tied for the fourth-lowest point total in the league. Mitch Trubisky's maturation is coming along somewhat slowly so far in a conservative offense, but at least the Bears appear to be set at running back. With 125 yards on Sunday, Howard is third in the league in rushing. Now all the Bears need to do is acquire a receiver or three.
Perhaps it's not fair to belabor a quarterback's first career start, though the fact that the Bills haven't ruled out turning to Peterman again next week is distressing to say the least. Buffalo is signaling that the organization wants to move on from Tyrod Taylor, yet with the defense as porous as it is, it doesn't matter much who starts. Of course, there's no masking the fact that Peterman made matters significantly worse by not even looking like a viable NFL quarterback against the Chargers.
Cutler threw three first-half interceptions before exiting the game early in the second half with a concussion. Matt Moore entered the game trailing 20-7. He brought Miami all the way back to tie early in the fourth with a 61-yard touchdown pass to Kenny Stills. Moore has consistently been a solid quarterback for Miami and seldom gets his due. Depending on Cutler's health, Moore may be the one leading the Dolphins down the stretch for the second straight year.
The Vikings won comfortably, so the fact that Forbath made only one of three field goals for the day isn't a tragedy. But given the way the Vikings exited from the postseason two years ago thanks to a shanked chip shot, the anxiety relating to finding a halfway reliable kicker isn't about to die down soon.
The Rams linebacker was a liability in pass coverage, giving up catches on all five passes he was targeted. He was somewhat better overall against the run, though he still found himself blocked out of several of the Vikings' big gainers on the ground.
Dallas hung with Philly for a half on Sunday night and then everything came off the rails in the second half. The Cowboys were fortunate to be up at halftime thanks to a missed field goal by Philly and some good third-down defense by Dallas. But in the showdown of the NFC East's most promising young passers, Prescott didn't much show up. He threw for only 145 yards while turning the ball over four times, including three interceptions.
The week in celebrations
Imagine for a second you can get beyond the adorable name that is Jeremy Sprinkle. That sounds like the type of name a shift manager in Santa's workshop should have. Instead, he's a football player and could likely knock you on your backside with ease. And while it may not exactly be a celebration that pushes the envelope under what is now allowed in the NFL, you have to give it up for how charming the play on his last name works as a touchdown celebration. It just so happens that Sprinkle's touchdown against the Saints was the first catch of his pro career.
NFL already had a potato sack race celebration. Now a relay race celebration. Field day events are almost all covered pic.twitter.com/OMphrvGD2C- Mike Tunison (@xmasape) November 19, 2017
As for the continued exploration of the legal group celebration medium, the Texans had the most unique approach on the day, putting on a mock relay race. The Chiefs did a pretend potato sack race earlier in the season. Before you know it, all recognizable field day events will have been claimed. Surprisingly, the tug of war has yet to happen. Just putting it out there...