B/R Staff NFL Week 11 Report Card: Patriots' Standing Among League's Best Teams
Much like highly anticipated rollout of the Disney+ app, the NFL's Week 11 weekend slate couldn't get here soon enough.
Thursday's brawl between the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers with Myles Garrett doing the unthinkable by weaponizing another player's helmet created a pall over the entire league.
Unfortunately, more than a handful of lopsided games didn't shift the narrative too much.
Yes, Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson is amazing. No doubt about that. But some of the league's most pressing topics after Sunday's action are negative, since eight of the 12 contests were decided by more than one score.
There's a very real possibility the Broncos' Vic Fangio will be a one-and-done head coach in Denver. Nick Foles floundered in his first start back from a broken clavicle. Officials even took away the day's most exciting touchdown and subsequent celebration.
Of course, Bleacher Report's team of NFL writers—Brad Gagnon, Brent Sobleski, Gary Davenport, Mike Freeman and Mike Tanier—are ready, willing and able to hand out numerous poor grades after Week 11's disappointing action.
They have spoken.
Are the New England Patriots Still the NFL's Best Team?
At 9-1 and the reigning Super Bowl champions, the New England Patriots are the logical choice for the NFL's best team.
Or, are they?
During their last two contests, the Patriots lost to the Baltimore Ravens and struggled against the Philadelphia Eagles despite an extra week to prepare for Carson Wentz and Co.
Offensively, the Patriots are cycling through offensive linemen, wide receivers and tight ends. They're simply not operating at their usual high standard. Wide receiver Julian Edelman, not Tom Brady, threw New England's only touchdown during Sunday's 17-10 victory. Maybe the Patriots are a solid team that benefited from a relatively easy schedule.
All of these are reasons to question the Patriots' standing in professional football's current hierarchy.
How well do the Patriots grade against the league's current elite?
Mike Freeman: Incomplete
I'm copping out like a punk because I do not know. The one thing that always happens with New England is we begin to say they are done. Or, they're not good anymore. Or, they're not the best, and then they beat the crap out of the league and end up in the Super Bowl. I suspect the Patriots have more than a few surprises left this season.
Mike Tanier: C-
The Baltimore Ravens are better. Period.
Brent Sobleski: C
As the great philosopher Ric Flair once said, "To be the man, you gotta beat the man." The Ravens already beat the Patriots. And New England may not even be the league's current Becky Lynch version of "The Man," since the NFC's San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, New Orleans Saints and Green Bay Packers have a say in this matter.
Brad Gagnon: D
The Ravens look a lot more powerful and have a lot more going for them right now, and Baltimore beat the Patriots a couple of weeks ago. The Pats have a negative scoring margin in games against teams that had winning records when they faced them. That's a concern.
Gary Davenport: B
Are the Patriots the best team in the NFL right now? No. They aren't even the best team in the AFC. But so long as the Pats find a way to hold on to the No. 1 seed in the AFC, I'm not going to pick against them in January.
Vic Fangio's Job Security in Denver
The Denver Broncos suffered an unthinkable loss Sunday to the Minnesota Vikings. As a result, Vic Fangio isn't just sitting on a hot seat; his seat is now inflamed.
The Broncos built a 20-0 halftime lead only to lose 27-23. The Vikings became the first team in the last five years to come back from a 20-point halftime deficit, per NFL Stats (h/t FS1's Jason McIntyre). Previous teams were 0-99 in the same situation.
The bad beat only adds to growing tension in Denver's locker room.
According to CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora, Fangio's "gruff demeanor" and lack of "people skills," issues with offensive play-calling and growing divide between the offense and defense are becoming untenable.
Considering all of this and the Broncos' 3-7 record, how secure is Fangio's job even before his first season as a head coach concludes?
Mike Freeman: F
Not sure how Fangio survives. This ugly loss was on Fangio, no question. The Broncos allowed a nearly historic comeback, and he seemed helpless to stop it. But make no mistake: The Broncos' sorry state is more on general manager John Elway than Fangio. The latter will take the fall for the former's ineptitude, though.
Mike Tanier: C-
Fangio's only hope is Elway's stubbornness will lead him to perform reverse psychology on himself. "Oh, everyone thinks I will fire the coach during one of my annual firing sprees, do they? Well, I'll show them how patient I can be by keeping this ineffective and unliked coach forever! Hahahahahahahaha!"
Brent Sobleski: F
Elway made a mistake by giving Vance Joseph a second year. He can't do the same with Fangio. Some men are great assistants and coordinators but don't have the makeup to be a head coach. It's better to rip off the Band-Aid now (or at the end of the season) than letting the situation fester.
Brad Gagnon: C+
Joseph was two-and-done. Elway might be desperate enough to go one step further and make Fangio one-and-done. That didn't look likely prior to Sunday, but there was that La Canfora report, and then his defense gave up 27 second-half points and blew a huge lead. At this point, I'd call it a toss-up as to whether he keeps his job in 2020.
Gary Davenport: B-
The Broncos blew it in Minnesota on Sunday, but the team's playing hard and the defense has been solid more often than not. I doubt that Elway's especially happy with Fangio, but I don't think the veteran defensive coordinator is on especially thin ice.
Nick Foles' First Game Back
The Jacksonville Jaguars benched Gardner Minshew II this past week because Nick Foles was set to return from the broken clavicle he suffered in the team's Week 1 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
Foles' return was promising early with a 34-yard scoring pass to wide receiver DJ Chark. Everything went downhill from there. The Indianapolis Colts scored 31 unanswered points before Foles connected with Chark again in the fourth quarter. The Jaguars fell to 4-6 overall with the 33-13 loss.
The quarterback's final line: 33-of-47 for 296 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
The magic previously seen from Minshew certainly didn't follow Foles into the Jaguars lineup. So, how did the veteran perform upon his return?
Mike Freeman: B-
There were some good and bad moments, which is to be expected because Foles missed so much time. The most important thing about Foles' return was his re-establishing the chemistry between himself and Chark, who had 104 receiving yards and two touchdown catches.
Mike Tanier: C-
Minshew was like a garage band of teenagers playing "Smoke on the Water." Nick Foles was like a taproom cover band of balding 40-somethings playing "Smoke on the Water." Even if they sound almost the same, the whole vibe is just different.
Brent Sobleski: F
If the Jaguars wanted to lose games while the quarterback completed passes to Chark, they didn't need to switch from Minshew to Foles. At the very least, Minshew was fun to watch and kept the team in games.
Brad Gagnon: C-
His apparent chemistry with Chark is promising, but Foles didn't do a whole lot beyond that, and he struggled under pressure. Maybe he's rusty, but the Jags need more for their money.
Gary Davenport: C+
Foles' numbers were OK, and Chark's fantasy owners were no doubt pleased with the rookie wideout's 15 targets, eight catches and two scores. But the Jacksonville offense pitched and lurched much of the game while getting pasted by the Colts.
Our First Look at Washington's Future Offense
Washington Redskins rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins best described his and the team's plight after yet another loss.
"Life is hard, gotta work harder," Haskins told reporters after Sunday's 34-17 loss to the New York Jets.
Washington fell to 1-9 overall. But the prioritization of the team's young players came to the forefront.
In Haskins' second start, this year's 15th overall draft pick completed 54.3 percent of his passes for 214 yards, two touchdowns, an interception and two fumbles (both recovered by Washington). Derrius Guice carried the ball seven times for a meager 24 yards, but he also caught a short pass that turned into a 45-yard touchdown. Wide receiver Terry McLaurin, meanwhile, continued to excel with three receptions for a team-leading 69 yards.
How promising is Washington's young core of offensive talent based on the initial look of all three playing together?
Mike Freeman: B
You see that Washington has some significant pieces, and while it may take one or two years for them all to coagulate, they are definitely there. The issue with Washington, as always, is management and ownership. They are both some of the worst in the NFL.
Mike Tanier: D-
Can't wait to look at their future-future offense, featuring a quarterback the organization isn't looking for excuses to give up on and a coach who wants to do more than just run the ball over and over so the game ends before 4 p.m.
Brent Sobleski: B
The raw ability is obvious. Haskins' natural arm talent is special. Guice was the best between-the-tackles runner in his class before injuries took their tool. McLaurin exceeded all expectations so far. Place them in a well-devised scheme with a competent play-caller, and watch them explode.
Brad Gagnon: C
Haskins and Guice still have a lot to prove, but there's a lot of talent there, and McLaurin looks like a star already. No way we can already draw major conclusions about this trio, but 17 points against the Jets aren't enough for a strong grade in their debut together.
Gary Davenport: D
There were flashes from all three young players that offer at least a glimmer of hope to Washington fans. But hope can be a dangerous thing for that particular fanbase—there's a lot more excrement than excitement right now with this football team.
Jameis Winston as the Bucs Starter Moving Forward
Jameis Winston is the NFL's version of Oprah, because he's so generous with the football.
"You get an interception! You get an interception! You get an interception! You get an interception!"
In all seriousness, Winston threw four more interceptions in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 34-17 loss to the rival New Orleans Saints. Winston leads the league with 18 interceptions through 10 games.
The Buccaneers are now 3-7 with very little hope to turn their season around, especially with a turnover machine at the game's most important position. Winston is a free agent after this season, and the likelihood of him remaining the Buccaneers' "franchise" quarterback seems remote.
What are the chances Tampa Bay decides now is the time to move on even with six games remaining?
Mike Freeman: F
If there were such a thing as an "F-" about his future, he would get it. Winston leads the league in INTs this season and has eight career pick-sixes. He is too error-prone to be a reliable franchise thrower. The Buccaneers wouldn't be wise to keep him. (Colin...cough, cough...Kaepernick...cough.)
Mike Tanier: F
Hey editors: I think there was a mistake! A question from around Week 9 of 2017 about whether Winston should still be the Buccaneers starter accidentally got into this week's set of questions! I mean, there's no way we're still asking about this, right?
Brent Sobleski: D
Winston's removal from the lineup seems like an easy decision until a quick glance at the Buccaneers roster shows Ryan Griffin serves as the team's backup quarterback. The 30-year-old career backup presents little-to-no upside.
Brad Gagnon: F
Dude has thrown 13 interceptions in a five-game span! Only eight quarterbacks had that many picks all of last season. I'm not even sure Winston should finish the year. Could it hurt to get a look at Griffin?
Gary Davenport: D
The Buccaneers might as well start Winston the rest of the way in 2019—every pick he throws gets the Bucs better draft position in 2020. But after this season, it's time to say goodbye. He's a turnover machine, it's not going to get better, and turnovers are the absolute kiss of death in the NFL.
Quenton Nelson's Non-Touchdown and Celebration
The NFL robbed fans of maybe the single-greatest moment in football history when the human juggernaut known as Quenton Nelson seemingly scored a one-yard touchdown after lining up as a fullback.
The All-Pro blocker and his offensive line-mates celebrated with a pretend keg stand. Though replay showed the 330-pound ball-carrier came up just short of the goal line, and it was all for naught.
Nelson is arguably the game's most dominant performer. He saps the will of defenders by physically overwhelming them on a down-by-down basis. But there's something special about a big guy getting the ball because his team decided he deserves the opportunity.
Despite the actual touchdown being wiped off the board, how did Nelson's run and celebration rate?
Mike Freeman: Play, A+; Celebration, A+
Please, more of this. PLEASE, COLTS. Let's make Nelson the 21st-century William "The Refrigerator" Perry.
Mike Tanier: Play, D; Celebration, F
I remember William "the Refrigerator" Perry. You, sir, are no William "The Refrigerator" Perry. And what about impressionable young children watching the game? What will parents tell 12-year-olds who think keg stands are "dope" because a Colts lineman did one after almost scoring a touchdown. Is this what we have come to as a society? Just kidding. It was kinda fun, and I give it a "B+."
Brent Sobleski: Play, C; Celebration, A+
And here I thought the Juggernaut could not be stopped. But the Colts definitely shouldn't stop using Nelson as part of their goal-line packages. The rest of the league, meanwhile, should stop coming up with planned celebrations because the keg stand—which was inspired by a...wait for it...keg stand—will never be topped.
Brad Gagnon: Play, A; Celebration, A+
A 330-pound man scoring a touchdown is an automatic "A+," but it didn't count, so let's knock that down to an "A-." No way a 330-pound man pantomiming a keg stand isn't worthy of the highest possible grade.
Gary Davenport: Play, A; Celebration A
That this play was reversed is the greatest injustice in NFL history. Maybe even in human history. But while the zebras may have taken away Nelson's score, they can't undo the keg stand celebration. Please drink responsibly.
Deebo Samuel's Breakout Game a Sign of Things to Come?
The San Francisco 49ers drafted wide receiver Deebo Samuel in the second round of April's draft because the organization liked his physicality after the catch and ability to potentially take over as the scheme's X-receiver.
Samuel's rookie season got off to a rocky start. He's been an exceptional target the last two weeks, though, with 16 receptions for 246 yards.
The rookie had some drops earlier in the year, but he can also make the circus catch.
"That's a fearlessness that can't be coached and can't be taught," 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman told reporters of Samuel after Sunday's 36-26 victory over the Arizona Cardinals. "You either have it or you don't."
What's the level of expectation for Samuel at this point in the season?
Mike Freeman: A
He's the real deal. Not a fluke, and expect a lot more from him, especially as his quarterback (while still flawed) is starting to play better. In fact, the 49ers receiving group is extremely talented.
Mike Tanier: B
I love Deebo. Loved him in college, loved him at the Senior Bowl. He'll be a heck of a pro. He will also be one of about 25 guys trying to split one football once the 49ers start getting players back from injuries.
Brent Sobleski: B
Samuel is coming into his own, but the earlier inconsistencies are a tad worrisome. Besides, Samuel's role will decrease once George Kittle and Emmanuel Sanders are fully healthy and resume their typical level of play.
Brad Gagnon: A
The silver lining with Kittle's injury is that Samuel is getting a lot of attention, and he's delivered. He's got a really bright future.
Gary Davenport: B
A couple of good games are still a small sample size. But Deebo's showing the same toughness, hands and route-running skills that made him a favorite among draftniks after his dominant showing in Senior Bowl practices.