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Running backs have been devalued. Some say they don't matter anymore.
The Indianapolis Colts would disagree.
The Colts got a huge 41-15 upset at the Buffalo Bills on Sunday and Jonathan Taylor was the best player on the field. He's the best player in most of the Colts' games. On Sunday, Taylor became the first player in the long history of the Colts to score five touchdowns in a game, and finished with 204 total yards. If it was possible for a non-quarterback to win MVP anymore, Taylor would be a great pick. He might have to settle for NFL Offensive Player of the Year.
Taylor is carrying the Colts, and now that Derrick Henry is out for the season, he (or a healthy Christian McCaffrey) might be the only running back who is the central focus of his team. It's an old-school notion, but Taylor fits the mold of an old-school workhorse back.
Taylor got the Colts going early. He scored touchdowns on the Colts' first, second and fourth possessions. All three touchdowns were testaments to Taylor's ability, whether it was powering in on a 3-yard run to start the game, a nice catch and shifty moves on a 23-yard score where he spun into the end zone instead of going down on a tackle, or leaping over the top of the pile on a 2-yard run.
In the first half alone, Taylor had 98 total yards and three touchdowns. Indianapolis was up 24-7. The Colts controlled the game. More specific, Taylor controlled it. In the third quarter he put the game away, keeping his balance for a 40-yard run down the sideline and then using a stiff-arm for a 10-yard touchdown on the next play. He showed off all of his skills Sunday. He became the first Colt to score four touchdowns in a road game, CBS said, and added his fifth before the third quarter was done.
Taylor will win a rushing title this season if he stays healthy and should put up 2,000 total yards from scrimmage and perhaps 20 total touchdowns, but he won't win MVP. Since 1993, no non-quarterback has won MVP without a 2,000-yard rushing season or setting an NFL touchdown record. It just doesn't happen. But NFL Offensive Player of the Year is possible. Cooper Kupp is the frontrunner — and, of course, some voters will pick a QB who didn't win MVP — but Taylor is building a case. He now leads Kupp by 308 yards and leads the league in yards from scrimmage.
To the Colts, it doesn't matter if Taylor wins any awards. They know the value of their star running back.
Here are the winners and losers from Week 11 of the NFL season:
Chris Jones and the defensive Kansas City Chiefs: When the Chiefs shut down the New York Giants, that’s because it was the Giants. When they shut down the Green Bay Packers, it was because Jordan Love was starting. When they shut down the Las Vegas Raiders last week, that was just a bad game from the Raiders.
It’s getting harder to ignore the Chiefs’ defensive surge, especially after K.C. completely shut down the Dallas Cowboys. Dallas didn’t score a touchdown and Kansas City won 19-9 despite its offense being less than great.
Chris Jones has led the way. He had 3.5 sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery on Sunday. He has played inside more often, after playing outside mostly to start the season, and has been dominant. He was consistently in Dak Prescott’s face at Arrowhead.
If the Chiefs' offense comes around and the defense keeps up their hot streak, Kansas City can still be a championship contender. Nobody expected the defense to be a part of the solution.
Kliff Kingsbury, coach of the year: Sometimes you have to admit defeat. That’s what most people should be doing with Kingsbury now.
There’s a long way to go this season but Kingsbury should be the clear favorite to win Coach of the Year. Not only do the Arizona Cardinals look like a reliable contender, they’re winning without three key offensive pieces out due to injury: Kyler Murray, Chase Edmonds and DeAndre Hopkins. The Cardinals are 2-1 with Colt McCoy starting at quarterback, with road wins against the 49ers and Seahawks after Arizona beat Seattle 23-13 on Sunday. Colt McCoy threw for 328 yards and two touchdowns in the win.
Kingsbury got a lot of heat after the Cardinals faded last season. He got a lot of derision, which is common for most coaches who make the jump from college to the pros. Whatever doubts there were about Kingsbury should be fading away after he has guided the Cardinals to a 9-2 record through big injuries.
Deebo Samuel: If Jonathan Taylor, Cooper Kupp or a quarterback doesn't win NFL Offensive Player of the Year, Samuel might be the pick.
Samuel is a rare receiver who can line up in the backfield and look like a natural running back. The San Francisco 49ers are using him as one too. Samuel had five carries for 47 yards in the first half and his touchdown started the 49ers on their way to an easy 30-10 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. Samuel finished with a career high 79 rushing yards.
Samuel is also one of the league's most dominant receivers. If you like versatility, Samuel has to be one of your favorite players.
Kirk Cousins, barely: It looked like Cousins would be getting all the blame again. After Aaron Rodgers hit a deep-strike touchdown to tie the game with 2:08 left, Cousins threw what looked like an interception to safety Darnell Savage on a forced pass downfield. But a review showed that the ball hit the turf, and the interception was overturned.
That allowed Cousins to march the Vikings downfield. They hit a field goal as time expired for a thrilling 34-31 win over the Packers. That's a huge boost for Minnesota's playoff hopes.
Cousins had a big day. He threw for 341 yards and three touchdowns, finding Justin Jefferson for 169 of those yards. Cousins will be praised. Packers fans will argue that he actually threw an interception that ruined the Vikings' chances, but a controversial replay review went against them. After the bad luck the Vikings had in close games already, they were due for a break.
Taylor Heinicke: Heinicke has been criticized for not doing more for the Washington Football Team, but he has had some good moments. He had a really nice game Sunday.
Heinicke threw for three touchdowns and no interceptions against a good Carolina Panthers defense, and the WFT defense got a late stop in a 27-21 win. Heinicke still has time to prove to Washington that he can be its starting quarterback in 2022. He hasn't done a ton to earn that trust, but he has had some solid games. If he has more like Sunday, he might make a case for next season.
Tyler Huntley: Huntley had a moment that he won't forget, and might help the Baltimore Ravens to a division title.
The Ravens found out Sunday morning that Lamar Jackson wouldn't play due to illness. In stepped Huntley, and for most of the Ravens' game against the Chicago Bears, they couldn't move the ball.
But Huntley came through in the end. After Andy Dalton, filling in for injured Justin Fields, threw a fourth-down touchdown pass to Marquise Goodwin with 1:41 left, Huntley led a game-winning drive. He completed passes of 21 and 29 yards on the final drive to set up a Devonta Freeman touchdown. The Ravens won 16-13.
The Ravens didn't have their MVP candidate on Sunday and still won. That's huge for their season.
Las Vegas Raiders’ season fading away: It is understandable why the Raiders look like they’re spent. This isn’t like the last two seasons when they started well and faded.
Between Jon Gruden’s resignation and Henry Ruggs III’s DUI charge that resulted in a death, the Raiders have had a lot of off-field issues to sort out. The Bengals controlled Sunday’s game and won 32-13. A 5-2 start to the season has become 5-5, with three straight losses since Ruggs was arrested and the Raiders cut him.
There’s still time for the Raiders to turn things around. They just don’t look like a team that’s capable of a rebound.
Saints offense and Trevor Siemian: Siemian turned into a pumpkin for the New Orleans Saints.
The Saints got nothing going on offense and Siemian's pick-six near the end of the half was a big turning point in a bad loss. The Saints had 100 total yards at halftime and trailed 27-7. Siemian hadn't played that badly before Sunday, but everyone knew his limitations. Sean Payton kept going with him and eventually he busted. The Saints got some offense going in the second half but it was way too late in a 40-29 Eagles win.
The Saints didn't go to Taysom Hill at quarterback with Jameis Winston out for the season, and that was a surprise. At 5-5 this season, the Saints need to inject life in their offense before it's too late.
Titans' run of good luck: The Titans aren't a bad team, but they were fortunate to be 8-2. The thought that they were the class of the AFC was wrong but it didn't stop people from saying it.
Their fortune ran out — and in a shocking way. The Houston Texans, who have been terrible almost all season, came into Nashville and beat the Titans 22-13. The Titans were down 19-0 early in the second half to arguably the worst team in the NFL (the Lions would win that argument but still). This is a team some thought was a legit contender coming into Week 11. The Titans rallied late but an interception by Ryan Tannehill in the final minutes set up a game-sealing field goal for Houston.
The Titans offense is thin and it will be tough for them to score each week, assuming Derrick Henry doesn't make a miraculous return. The Titans are still a good team, just not as good as their record indicated.
Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions: The Lions don't want moral victories. The Browns can't exactly be happy either.
The Browns did all they could to lose Sunday, but the Lions weren't good enough to take advantage. Cleveland won 13-10 in a game both teams will like to forget.
If Jared Goff played, maybe the Lions would have won. They had no offense with Tim Boyle at quarterback other than one long D'Andre Swift touchdown run. They had opportunities because the Browns did little on offense themselves, but it was still another loss. The Lions are 0-9-1.
The Browns improved to 6-5. But the way they're playing, it probably doesn't feel like the arrow is pointing up.
New York Jets: Even when the Jets play better on defense and make some plays on offense, they still can't win at home against a bad Miami Dolphins team.
The Jets played hard and were in Sunday's game behind Joe Flacco, who played fairly well, but they fell 24-17. Tua Tagovailoa took a while to get going but eventually threw for 273 yards and a couple touchdowns in the win.
The Jets are 2-8 and going nowhere. The only thing to pay attention to the rest of the season is rookie Zach Wilson's development when he comes back. There won't be many more wins, if any at all.