The Top Week 11 NFL Storylines: Travis Kelce, Marcus Jones and Cordarrelle Patterson

Plus, a longtime loser appears ready to emerge from the basement of the league

November 22, 2022 8:50 am
Travis Kelce of the Chiefs scores a touchdown against the Chargers.
Travis Kelce is a touchdown machine for the Chiefs.
Ronald Martinez/Getty

With the final whistle blown on the 11th evening of Monday Night Football, the NFL’s regular season has just seven more weeks of action before the postseason kicks off. While we can’t get to everything — like the Packers blowing their chance at making history — here are four of the top Week 11 NFL storylines and whether we’re buying or selling on ’em. (ICYMI, here’s what went down last week along with a clip of Chicago tight end Cole Kmet making his submission for the one-handed catch of the season.)

Buy: Mahomes to Kelce is the NFL’s No. 1 connection

A big-time player with a nose for the end zone, Travis Kelce caught his 11th touchdown pass of the season from Patrick Mahomes with 31 seconds remaining as the Kansas City Chiefs rallied past the Los Angeles Chargers 30-27 on Sunday night to retain their place atop the AFC.

For Kelce, who finished the win with six catches for 115 yards and three touchdowns, it was the second time this season he scored at least three touchdowns after he previously notched four in a Monday night win over the Raiders in October. The performance was Kelce’s 34th game with at least 100 yards receiving, surpassing Rob Gronkowski for the most by a tight end in NFL history. Now leading the league in touchdown catches, Kelce has ridiculous chemistry with Mahomes, a connection that is currently the most effective in the NFL.

A huge target who is tough to bring down and also quick enough to make defenders miss, Kelce pairs perfectly with Mahomes and his ability to scramble to make things happen when plays break down. Though they’ve only been playing together for four full seasons, Mahomes and Kelce have now connected on 45 touchdown catches, the second most between a quarterback and pass-catcher in franchise history. (Len Dawson and Otis Taylor had 50 of them.)

In addition to his ability on the food field, Kelce’s best attribute may be his availability to catch passes as the three-time All-Pro tight end has rarely missed time during his decade in the NFL and is consistently in the starting lineup for the Chiefs instead of nursing an injury. That’s not a claim Gronkowski, who is often compared to Kelce due to his connection with Tom Brady, can make as he missed plenty of games over the course of his soon-to-be Hall of Fame career.

“You’d like it to last forever, but these guys grow old and it’s not,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said after Sunday night’s win. “So what I do is try to enjoy every minute of it. Every play. Their chemistry is ridiculous. You know coming into this game that they had a plan for Kelce and he and Pat were able to work through it and make some nice things happen.”

Sell: Marcus Jones should have ever touched the ball

On a windy afternoon in New England, the Patriots and Jets were tied at 3-3 after playing all but 36 seconds of an NFL game that seemingly set offensive football back about two decades. Facing a fourth down with the possibility of overtime looming, the New York Jets inexplicably opted to punt to rookie returner Marcus Jones in the middle of the field instead of having kicker Braden Mann put the ball out of bounds.

Jones, who led the NCAA with two punt return touchdowns in 2021 as a senior at the University of Houston, backtracked to the Patriots’ 16-yard line to snag Mann’s 52-yard punt and then took it 84 yards for a touchdown that effectively ended the game.

Jones, who crossed the goal line with five seconds remaining in regulation, said he was surprised to get the chance to return the kick. “My main thing was I thought they were gonna go ahead and try to kick it out of bounds due to the time on the clock,” he said following the game.

Why did Jones think that? Because kicking the ball out of bounds is exactly what the Jets should have done.

Had New York put the ball out of bounds, the Patriots would have had less than 30 seconds to drive down the field to score a touchdown or get in field goal range. On a day New England badly struggled to move the ball consistently despite quarterback Mac Jones completing 23-of-27 passes for an efficient 246 yards, the Patriots would likely have been incapable of moving the ball close enough for kicker Nick Folk, who had already missed two field goals on the day, to put one through the uprights and the game would have gone to overtime.

Somehow not realizing the situation, the Jets put the ball in the hands of one of the few players on the field who was actually capable of scoring a touchdown, and he did, giving New England its 14th straight victory against New York.

“How that game ended was phenomenal,” said Patriots captain Deatrich Wise Jr. “I think it was almost like a movie script in a sense. I think of all the football movies — Rudy, Any Given Sunday and Remember the Titans — this beats it.”

And it never should have happened.

Buy: Cordarrelle Patterson’s kickoff record is impressive

At a time when numerous rule changes such as eliminating running starts from the kicking team and outlawing certain blocking styles in the name of safety have nearly killed off kick-return touchdowns, Cordarrelle Patterson set the NFL’s all-time record for kick return touchdowns with a 103-yard return in the second quarter of Atlanta’s 27-24 victory over the Chicago Bears. It was Patterson’s ninth kick return for a touchdown and broke a tie with retired returners Josh Cribbs and Leon Washington, who each had eight kick-return touchdowns in their careers.

It was a beaut:

A four-time first-team All-Pro as a returner, Patterson last returned a kickoff for a touchdown in 2020, when he led the league in kick returns (35), return yardage (1,017), longest return (104 yards) and touchdowns (one). A four-time Pro Bowler who was taken in the first round of the 2013 draft by the Minnesota Vikings, Patterson will likely never be surpassed on the all-time list as retiring kicks for scores has almost entirely been eliminated from the NFL (yesterday notwithstanding). With three kickoff return TDs, Carolina’s Andre Roberts has the second-most among active players. 

Entering Week 11, there had only been a single punt or kickoff returned for a touchdown through 10 weeks of play, a far cry from the glory days of kick returns in 2007 when there was a return touchdown once every 6.1 games (about three per week).

The last of a breed of player that has essentially been phased out of the NFL as the league attempts to limit high-impact plays and analytics increasingly lead to a decrease in returnable kicks, Patterson may not make it to Canton but his record is still an impressive one considering that the game has basically become engineered to prevent precisely what he excels at on the football field.

“Honestly, man, I’m still playing, and I still got a lot of years left,” Patterson said. “I’m not even focused on the Hall of Fame, man. Devin Hester definitely deserves to be in the Hall of Fame and I’m just trying to be as great as him.”

Sell: The Lions will finish in last for the 5th straight season

Winners of three in a row and now in second place in the NFC North at 4-6, the Detroit Lions will take center stage on Thanksgiving when they host the Buffalo Bills in Detroit. In all likelihood, the underdog Lions (+9.5) will lose.

But the Lions, who have finished in last place for four straight seasons, appear to have finally turned a corner under second-year coach Dan Campbell and may even finish the season somewhere close to .500. For a team that hasn’t won a playoff game since 1991 and last qualified for the postseason in 2016, that would be quite an accomplishment.

Speaking of the postseason, the Lions, who have the league leader in rushing touchdowns in Jamaal Williams (12) and have scored at least 24 points in seven of their 10 games this season, may even have an outside shot at making a playoff push after a disastrous 1-6 start to the season. Thanks to their three-game win streak, Detroit’s first since Weeks 9-11 in 2017, the Lions are currently in 10th place in the NFC but have four more very winnable games on their schedule (Jaguars, Panthers, Bears and Packers) and could potentially end up with nine wins if they are able to steal a game from a team like the Bills. While there’s no guarantee a 9-8 record would get Detroit in the postseason, there’s a strong chance it would as the NFC is having a down year. Even if the Lions wind up worst than 9-8 or 8-9 on the year, they still appear to be playing good enough football to stay out of the cellar of their division.

Of course, for Detroit to finish outside of the basement in the NFC North, another team will have to take their place in last and the Bears, who may be without stud second-year quarterback Justin Fields due to a shoulder injury, seem like the most likely candidate. The Packers, who had the best record in the NFC last season, also may make a run at last place if Green Bay is smart and sits Aaron Rodgers down the stretch so the team can get a look at backup quarterback Jordan Love. A playoff spot would be better, but seeing the Packers or Bears in last place would be a pretty nice consolation prize for the Lions and their fans and hopefully will help to make up for the beatdown on national TV that is likely coming on Thanksgiving.

The Lions may lose on Thursday, but at least they won’t finish the season in last place.

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