This is where the contenders begin to be sorted from the pretenders.
With the halfway point of the 2023 NFL regular season in the rear-view mirror, certain teams are emerging as locks for the playoffs, others are part of the chasing pack while some squads are already looking forward to the start of next season.
There was no shortage of drama around the league on Sunday as the charge towards the postseason continues – here is a look at all of Week 11’s weekend action.
After going on a five-game unbeaten streak to start the season, the San Francisco 49ers were drastically brought back down to Earth after losing three straight games.
However, Week 10 and 11 have seen the return of the early season Niners, as they followed up a dominant win against the Jacksonville Jaguars with a 27-14 win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.
San Francisco quarterback Brock Purdy, AKA the 2022 ‘Mr. Irrelevant,’ posted a perfect passer rating of 158.3, the first 49ers QB to do so since 1989, per the NFL. He threw 21-for-25 for 333 yards and three touchdowns, including a spectacular connection with Brandon Aiyuk that resulted in a 76-yard reception in the third quarter.
Purdy also did not turn the ball over once on an afternoon where San Francisco’s defense was just as potent as its offense. Spearheaded by the likes of Fred Warner, Nick Bosa and the newly-acquired Chase Young, the 49ers limited the Bucs to just 287 total yards, intercepted Tampa Bay quarterback Baker Mayfield and forced a fumble from that was then recovered.
The Bucs drop to 4-6 and third in the NFC South while the Niners improve to 7-3 to lead the NFC West.
Lions leave it late
Despite facing a 12-point deficit with just over four minutes to go in the game, the Detroit Lions somehow managed to turn the tables at Ford Field with a 31-26 victory against the Chicago Bears.
Quarterback Justin Fields returned from injury to give the Bears a massive boost as he racked up 273 total yards – 169 passing and 104 rushing – and a touchdown in the air. The defense also did its part as it picked off Lions quarterback Jared Goff on three occasions as Detroit’s offense sputtered.
After Chicago kicked two field goals in the fourth quarter, things were looking bleak for the home team with the score at 26-14 with 4:15 left on the clock, but the Lions miraculously managed to reel off 17 unanswered points.
Goff recovered from his earlier miscues to throw a 32-yard reception to Jameson Williams to cut the lead to five with less than three minutes remaining, before the Lions’ D turned up to force a three-and-out from Chicago.
Detroit’s offense then marched downfield in just two minutes and four seconds, capped off by a short rushing touchdown by David Montgomery and a two-point conversion, to give the Lions the lead for good, before the win was sealed with a safety in the dying seconds.
It was a monumental collapse from the now 3-7 Bears, who at one point looked as though they were going to ease to a comfortable victory. Meanwhile, the mood in the Motor City is jubilant as the Lions have an 8-2 record for the first time since 1962.
Bills back on track against Jets
After being upset on Monday night by the Denver Broncos, the Buffalo Bills bounced back in convincing fashion, routing the New York Jets 32-6 to improve to 6-5 on the season.
Sunday’s matchup saw the debut of Joe Brady as the Bills’ new offensive coordinator, after Ken Dorsey was relieved of his duties on Tuesday.
Buffalo signal-caller Josh Allen rebounded from a nightmare performance against the Broncos and looked much improved in his decision-making, avoiding turnovers aside from an unfortunate Hail Mary interception at the end of the first half. Allen ended the game 20-for-32 for 275 yards and three touchdowns.
There was no such improvement from the Jets, who slip to 4-6 on the season. Gang Green only managed 155 total yards on a painful evening for the offense. After weeks of publicly backing his quarterback, New York head coach Robert Saleh appeared to finally pull the plug as Zach Wilson was benched for Tim Boyle in the second half. It is unclear who will get the start at QB against the Miami Dolphins in the NFL’s first-ever Black Friday game.
One minor positive, or at least a relief, for New York is that it ended its barren run of not scoring a touchdown, finding the end zone for the first time in 41 drives.
Red-hot Broncos take down Vikings
The Minnesota Vikings entered Sunday’s primetime matchup with the longest active winning streak in the NFL, but they found themselves knocked off their perch by the end of the night as the Denver Broncos claimed their fourth straight victory.
The Broncos struggled to get into the end zone throughout the contest but were kept in the game by kicker Matt Lutz, who made all five of his field goal attempts.
Denver had trailed since the second quarter and needed something special to steal the win. Quarterback Russell Wilson found Courtland Sutton deep in the left corner of the end zone to put the Broncos up 21-20 with 63 seconds left on the clock, before the defense got a key stop to move Denver to 5-5.
Wilson had a productive evening and went 27-for-35 through the air for 259 yards and the aforementioned touchdown. His counterpart Joshua Dobbs, who has become Minnesota’s new hero, was slowed down by the Broncos defense, going 20-for-32 for 221 yards and notching both a passing and a rushing touchdown, though he threw an interception in the fourth quarter, which hindered Minnesota’s chances late.
The Vikings now sit at 6-5 and second in the NFC North after their five-game win streak came to an end.
Full Week 11 Sunday scores
Away vs. home
Dallas Cowboys 33-10 Carolina Panthers
Pittsburgh Steelers 10-13 Cleveland Browns
Chicago Bears 26-31 Detroit Lions
Los Angeles Chargers 20-23 Green Bay Packers
Arizona Cardinals 16-21 Houston Texans
Tennessee Titans 14-34 Jacksonville Jaguars
Las Vegas Raiders 13-20 Miami Dolphins
New York Giants 31-19 Washington Commanders
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 14-27 San Francisco 49ers
New York Jets 6-32 Buffalo Bills
Seattle Seahawks 16-17 Los Angeles Rams
Minnesota Vikings 20-21 Denver Broncos