What we learned: Business as usual for Pats, ‘Hawks

By Around the NFL staff
NFL.com
Read full post on NFL.com

Week 11 has been a cruel joke with no kicker for kickers. The league’s most disrespected position players were under fire Sunday after they collectively missed 11 point-after attempts, breaking a single-week record. Even Adam Vinatieri got in on the miss-apolooza!

This week’s games weren’t a lost cause for everyone though. Andrew Luck helped the Colts top the Titans for the 11th straight time; the Buccaneers quieted Alex Smith‘s Arrowhead attack; and the Cowboys are still the cream of the league. Here’s what we learned from Week 11.

Minnesota Vikings 30, Arizona Cardinals 24

1. Arizona tried its best to extend it, but mercifully, Minnesota’s losing streak has come to an end. In a role reversal, the Vikings moved the ball efficiently through the air and even found success on the ground. For the first time in weeks, it was evident that Minnesota has some talent at its skill positions when the offensive line isn’t folding in on itself. Adam Thielen was a focal point of a passing game and opened scoring with a fantastic toe-tapping touchdown grab inside the pylon.

2. Minnesota’s secondary bounced back in quite a way. Xavier Rhodesrecorded two interceptions, including a 100-yard interception return for touchdown that wiped out a lengthy Arizona drive that had the Cardinalspoised to retake the lead in the second. Trae Waynes, who was victimized repeatedly by various quarterback/receiver duos earlier in the season, blanketed whomever he covered. Sometimes it wasn’t enough — see Larry Fitzgerald‘s incredible one-handed catch — but often, it forced Palmer to hold onto the ball longer and look elsewhere.

3. The Cardinals need to take a long look in the mirror and realize their strength, which lies in the backfield. Palmer still brings it from time to time, but he’s showing signs of his age (especially when under pressure) and it’s hampering Arizona’s offense. David Johnson broke 100 yards and scored a rushing touchdown, while also catching seven passes for 57 yards and another score, and Andre Ellington made a cameo on five carries for 21 yards, showing the bursts of speed that had Cardinals coaches and fans salivating just two seasons ago. That pairing can be lethal when turned to with volume. It’s hard to come back from a multiple-score deficit on the ground, but a slight shift to the run could have prevented Rhodes’ pick-six, caught on the goal line with Arizona deep in the red zone.

— Nick Shook

New England Patriots 30, San Francisco 49ers 17

1. As the rain slowed, Tom Brady found his accuracy and boy, did it show on a few throws. Brady rolled left inside the 15 and, as he was falling down, lofted a pass over the defense to Danny Amendola in the back of the end zone to put New England ahead by 10. Brady did it again with this laser over a defender to Malcolm Mitchell, who ran 56 yards for his first career touchdown reception that essentially iced it for New England. Dion Lewis was also a welcome addition to the passing game, showing glimpses of how dangerous he can be as a target out of the backfield. New England’s offense only figures to get better as it works Lewis more into the game plan to offset LeGarrette Blount — and don’t forget about James White, either.

2. There’s not much we can say that’s positive about San Francisco, but Vance McDonald continues to look good at tight end. The athletic pass-catcher hauled in his second receiving touchdown in the last three weeks and finished with three catches for 46 yards. Colin Kaepernick showed flashes of what made him one of the rising stars of the league in years past, but too often he was pounded into the turf by a Patriots defense that easily broke through a subpar offensive line.

3. Played on a sopping wet field in what was a steady downpour for much of the afternoon, this contest was sloppy to say the least. It was expected that Kaepernick would miss a receiver here and there, as that is often the case with the signal-caller. But it was eye-opening when Brady sailed a handful past his targets. Errant throws (often high) and troubles handling a wet football made the first half difficult to watch at times and resulted in a 13-10 score at halftime.

— Nick Shook

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