By Nick Shook
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In the NFL, road teams are already fighting the disadvantage of playing away from home. Long flights, bus rides and unfamiliar lodging isn’t exactly friendly. But in Week 11, we added a new wrinkle: We went south of the United States border. Oh, and we raised the elevation beyond 7,000 feet. Thin air, thinner mattresses? We can’t confirm the latter.
But what we can confirm is how quickly the Patriots cast aside any concerns about the aforementioned factors. Who cared about elevation and passports? New England had a job to do, and a game to win.
Thanks to one small-yet-giant receiver, they took care of business in resounding fashion. But we’re just getting started at Estadio Azteca. Here are your greatest on the road from Week 11.
Greatest on the Road
Brandin Cooks, New England Patriots
The NFL is a passing league. That’s what they’ll tell you, right?
A year after a run-first offense romped to a 13-3 finish in Dallas, “they” are again right. New England is the toast of the AFC right now, and much of that is due to the play of Tom Brady. The veteran leads the league in passing at 40 years old and threw the Patriots to another win on Sunday, this time via a blowout over the Oakland Raiders in Mexico City.
His main target? Brandin Cooks, who twice burned Oakland’s defense for huge gains. One of the two landed Cooks in the end zone and gave New England a commanding 24-0 lead — and all Cooks had to do was sprint past the defense for the 64-yard score.
The high altitude in Mexico was no match for the speedster, who finished his roasting of Raidersdefenders with six catches for 149 yards and one touchdown. New England left Mexico City with a 33-8 win, capping a two-game, high-altitude stretch with two straight blowout wins.
Also considered …
Yannick Ngakoue, Jacksonville Jaguars
We’re back with more love for #Sacksonville this week. And yes, I know, they played the Browns, but surprisingly, it was a close game late in the fourth quarter. But as Jacksonville’s defense often has this season, when in need of a stop, the Jaguars found a way to get not one — but two.
First, there was the strip sack that was initially ruled as just a sack, recorded by Ngakoue and teammate Calais Campbell. Upon review, it was determined Browns quarterback DeShone Kizer lost control of the football while being sacked, which looked a lot like how statues of tyrannic rulers look when they’re brought down by newly liberated people. The result was an abrupt end to Cleveland’s comeback attempt.
But wait! The Browns had one more unlikely chance, still trailing 13-7 with 1:24 left to play. On the first snap of that possession, Ngakoue ended Cleveland’s hopes of getting its first win. Not on #Sacksonville’s watch.
Ngakoue beat left tackle Spencer Drango around the edge and swatted at Kizer’s arm, knocking the quarterback down and the ball free, where it bounced around into the end zone before being recovered by Telvin Smith for a Jaguars touchdown.
On the day, Ngakoue finished with two tackles, 2.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. Jacksonville improved to 7-3 by a slim margin. Oh, and Smith owes Ngakoue a steak dinner.
Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles
The second-year passer seemingly gets better with each week, putting his full array of skills on display on the prime time stage on Sunday night against the Cowboys. Wentz used his athleticism and mobility to extend plays and escape multiple Cowboys rushers before unleashing his arm to fire darts to Eagles receivers in small windows of space, over and over again. On multiple occasions, the quarterback squeezed bullets into incredibly tight spaces, notably on his touchdown passes to Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith. Even a two-point conversion was jaw-dropping, with Wentz rolling to his right, evading two rushers and depositing a pass in the stomach of Jeffery in the end zone.
Eagles guard Brandon Brooks told me nearly two weeks ago that the main reason Philadelphia is off to such a hot start is, in a word, Carson. Though his stat line wasn’t the most sparkling — 14 of 27, 168 yards, two touchdowns — his play certainly was, especially inside the red zone. The Eagles are that much closer to claiming the NFC East as their own after Sunday night’s dominant win.