SportsPulse: Week 11 early games were filled with surprises. From Joe Burrow’s season-ending injury, to the Saints dominant performance, to the Titans overtime defeat of the Ravens.
The 32 things we learned from Week 11 of the 2020 NFL season:
1. No one is going to confuse Saints backup QB Taysom Hill with injured starter Drew Brees, but it appears New Orleans could be just fine while its veteran star mends on injured reserve. In his first NFL start under center, Hill led the Saints to a 24-9 win over Atlanta, completing 18 of 23 throws for 233 yards while rushing for a team-high 51 yards and two scores.
1a. New Orleans’ win, combined with Green Bay’s overtime loss at Indianapolis, vaulted the Saints atop the NFC playoff standings.
2. Brees and Hill have combined for 565 career TD passes … Brees throwing for a league-record 565, while Hill still has a doughnut here in Year 4.
2a. On the flip side, Brees has rushed for two TDs in a game twice in 284 regular-season appearances and never run for more than 31 yards in a game – 20 fewer than Hill managed Sunday.
Taysom Hill of the New Orleans Saints celebrate his touchdown with teammate Adam Trautman in the third quarter against the Atlanta Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on November 22, 2020 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo: Chris Graythen, Getty Images)
2b. Hill has now rushed for more than 31 yards in a game seven times. This was the first time he had two TDs on the ground, though it was the second time he scored a pair of TDs in 47 regular-season games.
3. Hill also made WR Michael Thomas a factor, connecting nine times with the two-time All-Pro for 104 yards. Definitely a positive sign given Thomas entered the game with 10 grabs for 95 yards in three games of what, to date, has been an injury-marred season.
3a. Thomas’ 489 career receptions are the most compiled by any player in his first five NFL seasons.
4. New Orleans RB Alvin Kamara also made some history Sunday, now the first player to start his career with four consecutive seasons with at least both 500 yards rushing and receiving. However Kamara is still seeking his first 800-800 double over a full campaign.
5. And yet the underappreciated component of the Saints’ surge is surely a defense that sacked Falcons QB Matt Ryan eight times and picked him off twice. New Orleans has allowed just 25 points over the last three weeks.
6. The Colts’ overtime defeat of the Packers was probably the game of the day, QBs Philip Rivers and Aaron Rodgers crafting a shootout between two ol’ gunslingers. But Rivers got the best of A-Rod for the second straight year after leading the Chargers to an upset of the Pack in 2019.
7. Four day after marking the two-year anniversary of the gruesome leg injury that nearly ended his career – and almost his life – Washington QB Alex Smith notched his first win since the fateful play as the Football Team took down the Bengals. Inspiring, dude, keep it up.
8. Smith’s counterpart Sunday, Cincinnati QB Joe Burrow, apparently suffered a knee injury that will end his rookie season. Hate to see his first NFL campaign end in pain, but the No. 1 pick sure made a positive early impression and showed every indication he can lift this downtrodden franchise in future years.
8a. Before Burrow went down, he spun his 13th TD pass of the season to WR A.J. Green, the first time Green had reached the end zone in more than two years.
9. The quarterback drafted after Burrow this spring, Miami’s Tua Tagovailoa, didn’t have a great day, either. Despite becoming the first Dolphins rookie quarterback since Dan Marino in 1983 to throw a TD in four consecutive games, Tagovailoa endured his first NFL defeat in Denver … and got benched in the fourth quarter.
10. The quarterback drafted after Tagovailoa this spring, the Chargers’ Justin Herbert, did enjoy his Sunday, though. Herbert began the weekend as the first QB in the Super Bowl era to lose seven of eight starts despite an overall passer rating exceeding 100.0. But he passed for three TDs and a career-best 366 yards to best the Jets 34-28.
10a. Herbert became the first rookie in league history with at least a pair of touchdown passes in seven consecutive games.
10b. He’s also the first rookie in the Super Bowl era (since 1966) to have five games with at least a trio of TD passes.
11. And yet the Bolts surviving the winless Jets by just six points underscores the kind of season they’ve had. Only one of Los Angeles’ games in 2020 has been decided by more than eight points.
12. Ben Roethlisberger is the only rookie QB to start 4-0 in the past four decades.
12a. Pittsburgh’s Chase Claypool is the only wideout during the Super Bowl era to score 10 TDs in his first 10 games.
13. As bad a day as Burrow had, nice to see his Cincinnati predecessor, Andy Dalton (3 TD passes) – coming off a bout with COVID-19 – notch his first win in a Cowboys uniform.
13a. Dalton found Dallas TE Dalton Schultz for the game-winning score in the final two minutes of a 31-28 upset at Minnesota. Far more importantly, it was the first time in league history that a quarterback threw a TD pass to a player whose first name matched the passer’s last name. Seriously.
14. RB Ezekiel Elliott also had a big day for Dallas, hitting the century mark in rushing yards (103) for the first time in 2020.
15. Question for the Associated Press: Can I give my MVP vote to the Steelers defense? It added to its league-leading sack total (38) Sunday, while the safety combo of Minkah Fitzpatrick and Terrell Edmunds picked off two passes apiece, giving Pittsburgh an NFL-best 21 takeaways. The three points allowed to Jacksonville were also a season-low.
16. Also to those of you debating MVP matters, can we officially put the notion of Vikings RB Dalvin Cook winning it to rest?
17. The Steelers now have a sack in 67 consecutive games, two shy of matching the league record owned by the Buccaneers.
18. Pittsburgh is 10-0 for the first time in franchise history, and the ninth club this century to start that hot. Of the previous eight, only one (2009 Saints) won the Super Bowl.
19. The Jets are 0-10 for the first time in franchise history, and the ninth club this century to start that frigid. Of the previous eight, two (2008 Lions, 2017 Browns) finished 0-16.
20. Including their stunning divisional-round playoff upset in January, the Titans have now beaten the Ravens in Baltimore twice in 10 months – overcoming them at their own game both times while playing physical, efficient football. Though Sunday’s victory wasn’t winner-take-all, it could ultimately prove fatal to the Ravens in a highly condensed AFC playoff field.
20a. The Titans ran away with the win courtesy of RB Derrick Henry’s 29-yard TD gallop in overtime. He’s the first man in league history with multiple OT TDs in a single season.
21. Shoutout to Jets graybeard Frank Gore, the first running back in league history to amass 16 seasons of at least 500 scrimmage yards.
21a. WRs Jerry Rice (18 seasons) and Larry Fitzgerald (16) and TE Tony Gonzalez (16) also routinely racked up at least 500 rushing/receiving yards.
22. Ravens WR Dez Bryant caught four passes for 28 yards, the first time he’d recorded a reception since his final game with the Cowboys in 2017 – a span of 1,057 days.
23. The Patriots’ 4-6 start is their worst through 10 games since Bill Belichick’s inaugural campaign in New England, when the club lost eight of its first 10.
24. If the Patriots and Ravens – each currently sit outside the AFC playoff picture – both miss the postseason, it will mark the first time that’s happened since 2002.
25. The Panthers notched their first shutout since the 2015 season. Also, congrats to Carolina backup QB P.J. Walker, who won his first NFL start while outplaying Detroit counterpart Matthew Stafford. Nice work, P.J. May your post-XFL career prove at least as bountiful as Tommy Maddox’s did.
26. The Lions were whitewashed for the first time with Stafford on the field. Good thing for Detroit it gets to kick off Thanksgiving week against the Texans, rather than mull how it got blasted by a team without its starting backfield of QB Teddy Bridgewater and RB Christian McCaffrey.
27. WR Keenan Allen set a Chargers single-game record with 16 catches against the Jets.
27a. Note to PPR aficionados: Allen is now one of five players ever with two games of at least 15 receptions. The others are Antonio Brown, Brandon Marshall, Wes Welker and Jason Witten.
28. Browns DE Olivier Vernon matched his career high with three sacks Sunday even though he didn’t get any help from linemate Myles Garrett, who missed the game against the Eagles while on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
29. Though he got the win Thursday night, I think the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson is losing ground in the MVP race he seemingly headlined for two months. However he’s planting a flag in the history books, his 93 regular-season victories as a starting quarterback allowing him to overtake Peyton Manning for the most in a player’s first nine seasons.
29a. Wilson also joined Brett Favre and Brees as the only players with at least 30 TD passes in four consecutive seasons.
30. New Seahawks DE Carlos Dunlap may be the impact player to emerge from this year’s trade deadline. The former Pro Bowler, who had one sack in seven games with Cincinnati this year, has 3½ in three games for a Seattle pass rush that desperately needed production.
30a. Dunlap, who wore jersey No. 96 for the Bengals, gets away with sporting No. 43 for his new team even though Seattle does not list him as a linebacker eligible to wear anything in the forties. However the Seahawks have issued out all of their numbers in the nineties except No. 96, which is retired in honor of Hall of Famer Cortez Kennedy.
31. If the Cardinals hope to get back into the NFC West race, they’ll have to play more disciplined football. Arizona’s 79 penalties were 11 more than any other team entering Sunday. The Cards’ 115 penalty yards in their loss at Seattle were their most in a game in five years – CB Dre Kirkpatrick’s taunting penalty that led directly to a Seahawks TD being the most egregious foul of the night.
32. Saving the worst for last, the NFC East stinks … but it promises to be entertaining. The Eagles remain in first place at 3-6-1 despite losing in Cleveland on Sunday. However their lead was reduced to just a half-game after the Cowboys and Washington joined the idle Giants at 3-7 in three-way tie for second place.
32a. No NFL team has ever reached the playoffs with just six wins in a non-strike season … but 2020 has been a year of firsts.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis
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