The 32 things we learned from Week 11 of the 2021 NFL season:
1. So who’s No. 1? No idea. This ain’t college football, where the University of Georgia has a clear-cut case. Four first-place teams – the Buffalo Bills, Tennessee Titans, Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers – lost Sunday. Over the past three weeks, division-leading clubs have dropped 11 games to opponents that didn’t have a winning record. As you’ve doubtless heard, the NFL is a parity-driven league designed to make everybody go .500. Well, 9-8. Or 8-9. You get it.
2. That’s not to say the mystery of the 2021 season hasn’t been fun to watch. According to the NFL, 23 games have been decided with a game-winning score on the final play – most at this point of a season since the NFL and AFL merged in 1970.
3. Sunday’s biggest winners? Had to be the Arizona Cardinals, who improved to a league-best 9-2 even with QB1 Kyler Murray (ankle) inactive for the third straight week. But QB2 Colt McCoy and Co. secured a valuable division road win in Seattle, leapfrogged the Packers for the top spot in the NFC standings and – above all else – earned Murray and WR DeAndre Hopkins (hamstring) an extra week of rest since the Cards get Week 12 off.
4. Let’s welcome Indianapolis Colts RB Jonathan Taylor to the forefront of the MVP conversation following his five-touchdown performance in Sunday’s 41-15 dismantling of the Bills in Buffalo. Taylor became the first player in the league this year to rush for more than 1,000 yards – he’s suddenly up to 1,122 after a 185-yard day on the ground – and also leads the NFL with 1,444 yards from scrimmage and 15 TDs.
4a. More on Taylor. He’s the first player since Adrian Peterson (2007-08) to notch at least 1,000 rushing yards and 10 TDs on the ground in his first two seasons. Taylor also joins Hall of Famer and 2006 league MVP LaDainian Tomlinson as the only players with eight consecutive games with 100+ yards from scrimmage and a rushing TD in one season.
4b. And let’s not lose sight of what Taylor means to the Colts, who are 6-2 since their 0-3 start while closing ground on Tennessee in the AFC South and in the wild-card chase. But the schedule doesn’t let up with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers coming to Indianapolis in Week 12.
5. Less impressive – but only slightly – was Los Angeles Chargers RB Austin Ekeler’s four-TD performance (and 115 yards from scrimmage) in the Bolts’ barnburner 41-37 triumph over the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was the first player in a decade with a pair of rushing and receiving TDs in the same game.
6. However Ekeler was in a supporting role to QB Justin Herbert (382 yards, 3 TDs passing and 90 yards rushing), who kept LA (6-4) in one of the AFC’s wild-card spots while knocking Pittsburgh from the field for now.
7. Cowboys-Chiefs was widely framed as game of the week … so – naturally – Dallas QB Dak Prescott and Kansas City counterpart Patrick Mahomes combined to account for five turnovers and zero TDs in K.C.’s 19-9 victory. Just what everyone predicted.
7a. Doesn’t mean there weren’t great performances at an Arrowhead Stadium defensive struggle. Chiefs DL Chris Jones sacked Prescott 3½ times, while Cowboys LB Micah Parsons bagged Mahomes twice, further cementing his hold as presumptive defensive rookie of the year.
7b. But the Kansas City defense took the cake, limiting Dallas to season lows of nine points and 276 yards. The Cowboys began the day with the NFL’s No. 1 scoring offense and top-ranked overall offense.
8.Look who’s back on top of the AFC East. The New England Patriots have returned to their customary divisional perch after blanking the Atlanta Falcons 25-0 on Thursday night.
9. The Patriots’ 25-point win maintained their average margin of victory of 25 points during a win streak that’s grown to five.
10. The Falcons haven’t scored a TD since Week 9. Outscored 68-3 the past two weeks, they hadn’t failed to reach the end zone in successive games in 34 years.
11. Atlanta hadn’t been shut out at home since 1988 prior to Thursday.
12. In 26 starts against the Vikings, Packers QB Aaron Rodgers has 54 TD passes and seven INTs – the best ratio any passer has against any single opponent in NFL history – after striking through the air four times Sunday.
13. However in 10 starts this season, Minnesota QB Kirk Cousins owns a sparkling 21-to-2 TD-INT ratio. He nearly got pilfered on the Vikings’ final drive, his would-be pick overturned by replay, before guiding his team to a game-winning field goal on the final play against Green Bay. Restored to .500, the Vikes might be a second-tier NFC team – for now – but they’re now installed as the conference’s sixth seed.
14. CBS’ top broadcast team of Jim Nantz and Tony Romo must have wanted to call in sick after Ravens QB Lamar Jackson was ruled out Sunday morning with a lingering non-COVID-19 illness for Baltimore’s matchup with the Chicago Bears. But Nantz and Romo posted, as true pros do, even if they must’ve thought they were covering a preseason game during a 16-13 yawner won by the Ravens and QB2 Tyler Huntley … who spent much of the day opposed by Andy Dalton after Chicago rookie Justin Fields was knocked out by a rib injury.
15. The Bears have lost eight consecutive games coming off a bye. Remarkable.
16. Meanwhile, the Ravens have won 13 in a row against NFC opponents. Only the Patriots (2005-09) have a better interconference winning streak (17) in NFL history.
17. More important, despite the ugly win, Baltimore (7-3) is now a half-game behind the Titans for the AFC’s best record.
18. The Jacksonville Jaguars would love to avoid NFC teams entirely. Sunday’s loss to the San Francisco 49ers was the Jags’ 14th setback in a row against the other conference. Jacksonville has also dropped 44 of its past 51 against the NFC.
COVID-19. Still raging. Still an issue in the NFL, too. Prescott defended unvaccinated teammate Amari Cooper, who missed Sunday’s game and will also be sidelined in Week 12 due to the league’s virus protocols. At least Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger and Chargers DE Joey Bosa were cleared in time to face off Sunday night, even though Pittsburgh S Minkah Fitzpatrick wasn’t. Browns RB Nick Chubb also got back on the field in a winning effort.
20. The Bills have nine turnovers in their last three games.
21. How deadly have the Philadelphia Eagles become on the ground? They hung 242 rushing yards – three players eclipsing 60 individually – Sunday on the New Orleans Saints, who began the day with the league’s No. 1 rushing defense (72.9 allowed per game).
22. Stat of the week? The Eagles became the first team since the 1978 Patriots to run for at least 175 yards in four consecutive games without a 100-yard rusher in any of them.
23. The Eagles and Saints are part of an NFC scrum of five teams – each with five wins – vying for the conference’s final two wild cards at the moment.
24. Couldn’t help but think of the University of Georgia as RBs Chubb and D’Andre Swift (Lions), former teammates in Athens, stole the show in Sunday’s game at Cleveland, won 13-10 by the Browns. Chubb and Swift combined for 280 yards from scrimmage and two TDs.
25. Backup QB Tim Boyle made his first NFL start for winless Detroit … and finished with 77 yards passing and a pair of interceptions. The Lions still haven’t won a game without Matthew Stafford – yes, another Georgia product – under center since 2010.
26. Yes, it’s worth wondering how the top-ranked Bulldogs would do against the hapless Lions.
27. Titans QB Ryan Tannehill was picked off a career-high four times Sunday. He’d never thrown more than two INTs in a game since joining Tennessee in 2019 (37 starts). Perhaps no one misses injured RB Derrick Henry more.
28. Niners WR Deebo Samuel was having a season statistically on par with Jerry Rice’s golden years by the Golden Gate. But Samuel only had one grab for 15 yards Sunday in Jacksonville … mainly because he was being a team-first guy, sparking San Francisco’s banged-up backfield with a team high 79 rushing yards on eight carries. That’s the kind of selflessness and attitude that could make this a team to be reckoned with down the stretch.
29. If this is QB Russell Wilson’s last season in Seattle, it won’t be a happy ending. The Seahawks are 3-7 for the first time since Wilson was drafted in 2012, and only Detroit has a worse record in the NFC.
30. Pick of the year? Colts CBs Xavier Rhodes and Kenny Moore II teamed up to submit their case … or maybe they’re just eyeing post-NFL volleyball careers.
31. It’s Thanksgiving week, so take a moment to give thanks … unless you’re the Bears, Lions, Raiders, Cowboys, Saints or Bills. All lost Sunday. All have to turn around and play on Turkey Day. At least you guys don’t have much time to dwell on the L.
32. “I’m fed up. I just want to be a part of the moment it changes, I want that so bad,” said Las Vegas QB Derek Carr. “It shouldn’t always end like this crap.” For the record, Carr was lamenting the spiraling Raiders’ third straight loss, not our weekly “32 things.”
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.