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BEN VOLIN | ON FOOTBALL

Are Lane Johnson and the Eagles having fun yet? And other NFL Week 11 thoughts

Eagles tackle Lane Johnson (65) took great joy last year in bashing the Patriots, describing the team as “fear-based” and their pursuit of excellence as robotic.
Eagles tackle Lane Johnson (65) took great joy last year in bashing the Patriots, describing the team as “fear-based” and their pursuit of excellence as robotic.(Winslow Townson/AP)

As the Eagles were getting blown out by the Saints Sunday, suffering the worst loss by a defending Super Bowl champion in NFL history, I had only one concern:

Is Lane Johnson having fun?

“Not to be reckless, but we’d much rather have fun and win a Super Bowl than be miserable and win five Super Bowls,” Johnson said last February.

But Johnson and his teammates aren’t winning and don’t seem to be having much fun, which is where we begin the Week 11 Review:

■   Johnson took great joy last year in bashing the Patriots, describing the team as “fear-based” and their pursuit of excellence as robotic. The fun-loving Eagles beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl, and Johnson was reveling in it.

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“All these guys talking about, ‘I’ll take the rings.’ OK. You can have your rings. You can also have [expletive] 15 miserable years,” Johnson said.

But Johnson and his Eagles teammates are learning that losing is pretty miserable, too. After their 48-7 loss to the Saints, which dropped their record to 4-6 and put a significant dagger in their playoff hopes, the players scattered quickly from the locker room, with only a few willing to own up to the team’s horrible performance.

“I want to mope,” said defensive end Chris Long, via the Philadelphia Inquirer. “I want to throw [stuff], but that’s not going to do us any good. Execution is going to do us good.”

The Eagles still have a chance in a weak NFC East, but they’re currently 12th in the conference standings.

And perhaps Johnson is starting to understand that winning every year like the Patriots, even if it is “miserable,” is a lot more fun than losing.

■   A few thoughts on the Class 6A State Track Meet, er the Chiefs-Rams game, from Monday night:

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1. The Chiefs’ 54-51 loss was a great result for the Patriots and the rest of the AFC. The Chiefs still hold the No. 1 playoff seed at 9-2, but the loss brought them back to the pack. A win could have essentially sealed home-field advantage.

2. The game was wild, exciting, and impossible to turn off. These two offenses are a sight to behold, and even the defenses came up with several huge plays. That said, it felt a little like Barry Bonds hitting 73 home runs.

Major League Baseball spent years promoting offense, but it went too far, and the result was Bonds making a mockery of the game. Likewise with the NFL, which has spent years creating rules benefitting the offense and making it easier to score points.

Monday night’s game, the first time ever that a losing team scored 50 points, made a mockery of the sport as well.

3. How ironic that the turf at the Los Angeles Coliseum looked browned out and chewed up, given that the game was moved there from Mexico City because of turf issues. There were players slipping and sliding all over the place, and it didn’t look very safe.

4. The NFL assembled an “all-star” officiating crew for the game, and it was anything but. The crew called far too many penalties (21 accepted), ruined the flow of the game, and had some baffling calls, like ruling a touchdown on what was clearly an incomplete pass by Pat Mahomes. Continuity is important for officiating crews, but most of these guys had never worked with one another, and it showed.

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■   The most bored player in the NFL has to be Saints punter Thomas Morstead.

Morstead has just 21 punts in 10 games, as the Saints offense has become virtually unstoppable. Sunday’s win was their sixth time scoring 40 points this season, tied for the NFL record and the most ever in a team’s first 10 games.

And the Saints aren’t just a dome team. They scored 40 at Tampa Bay, 43 at Atlanta, and 51 at Cincinnati.

Morstead, who has had two games with no punts, is on pace for 33.6 punts, which would set an NFL record for fewest in a 16-game season.

The Rams’ John Baker holds the current record of 43 punts for the 2001 Rams, and Chris Hanson is second with 44 for the 2007 Patriots.

■   Week 5 at New England, 8:17 left in the first quarter, the Colts’ second offensive play of the game. That was the last time Andrew Luck has been sacked. Luck subsequently threw 59 passes that night without a sack, and has now gone five straight games without taking a sack.

The Colts’ incredible offensive line performance is a big reason why they’re rolling on a four-game win streak to get right back into the playoff hunt at 5-5.

Luck is barely getting touched. The Titans didn’t hit him once Sunday. Luck has been hit just three times in his last three games and hasn’t taken a sack in his last 216 pass attempts.

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The Colts’ offensive line was a punch line not long ago, but right now is the best in the NFL.

■   Mitchell Trubisky threw for just 165 yards on 31 attempts Sunday night, and the Bears’ offense managed only 17 points. But Trubisky doesn’t have to do much when he has the NFL’s best defense behind him.

Eddie Jackson’s 27-yard pick-6 in the Bears’ 25-20 win over the Vikings was Chicago’s fifth defensive touchdown this year, the most in the NFL. The Bears also lead the NFL with 18 interceptions — two more than they had in 2016 and ’17 combined.

■   Here is what the Jaguars did in their three fourth-quarter possessions in Sunday’s 20-16 loss to the Steelers:

Three plays, punt. Three plays, punt. Three plays, punt. Six of the nine plays were Leonard Fournette runs up the middle, including every time on first down. Needing a first down to run the clock and ice the victory, the Jaguars went: run up the middle, run up the middle, run up the middle, punt.

If that sounds familiar, it is almost exactly how the Jaguars played the fourth quarter of last January’s AFC Championship game, when they blew a 24-10 lead to the Patriots.

How have you learned nothing, Doug Marrone? Good grief.

■   Panthers coach Ron Rivera joined Frank Reich and Mike Vrabel as coaches who foolishly “played to win” instead of going to overtime or playing for a tie. Rivera went for the 2-point conversion and the lead at the end of the game, but the attempt failed, and the Panthers lost, 20-19, in a game that could cost them in the wild-card race.

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Rivera said he was playing to win because his team was on the road, but that thinking was flawed for so many reasons:

1. There was still 1:07 left, so even if the Panthers had converted the 2-point conversion, the Lions had plenty of time to march down for a field goal.

2. Advanced stats say the Panthers had a 45 percent chance of winning by kicking the PAT, and only a 35 percent chance by going for 2.

3. The Panthers defense is good and had held the Lions to 20 points. If they had gone to overtime, they would have had a pretty good chance of keeping them out of the end zone on the opening drive.

4. I understand playing to win in a hostile road environment, but Detroit? Not exactly the toughest place to play.

Memo to coaches: IT’S OK TO TIE. If the Colts had played for the tie instead of foolishly handing the Texans a win in Week 4, they’d be 5-4-1 right now and owning the final wild-card spot, instead of the No. 9 spot where they currently sit.

■   One of the biggest wins of the weekend was the Raiders’ 23-21 win over the Cardinals.

No, really!

The win threw a wrench into the 2019 draft order, as the Raiders are no longer a lock for the No. 1 pick. The cross-town 49ers currently hold the top pick, followed by the Raiders and then the Cardinals, per Tankathon.com. All three teams have a 2-8 record, and five teams sit at 3-7.

The current top 10: SF, ARZ, OAK, NYJ, NYG, BUF, TB, JAX, CLE, DET.

■   The 6-4 Redskins lead the Cowboys by one game in the NFC East, but Alex Smith’s unfortunate injury leaves the 5-5 Cowboys as the favorite to win the division.

■   Ravens rookie Lamar Jackson won’t last a month if he keeps running the ball 27 times per game, an NFL record for quarterbacks since 1960.

■   Thank goodness the Lions won, because the “why are they practicing in the snow?” controversy last week was pretty dumb. Practicing outdoors builds mental toughness, which a team always needs, even if it plays most games in a dome (and they have December games in Buffalo and Green Bay).

■   Two things that are played out:

1. Group photos by the defense after a turnover. Time for another celebration.

2. That “Philly Special” play. Quarterbacks have been targeted on passes six times this year on a similar type of play — one each for Tom Brady, Nick Foles, Andrew Luck, Marcus Mariota, Baker Mayfield, and Dak Prescott. Last year, Brett Hundley was the only quarterback to get a target all season.

That play was great in the Super Bowl, but it’s time for coordinators to come up with a new trick play.

Tracking ex-Patriots

■   Eagles WR Jordan Matthews: Caught three passes for 37 yards in the loss to the Saints. Released by the Patriots in training camp with a balky hamstring, Matthews has 16 catches for 277 yards and a touchdown in eight games. . The Patriots are having issues at wide receiver, but Matthews probably wouldn’t have helped much.

■   Titans CB Malcolm Butler: Had three tackles and a pass defended in the Titans’ 38-10 loss to the Colts, playing 47 of 62 snaps as the third cornerback. For a change it was Adoree’ Jackson, not Butler, getting burned for a touchdown, but Butler committed an unnecessary roughness penalty on a Colts touchdown. He’s playing better at least.

■   Titans RB Dion Lewis: Rushed 10 times for 24 yards and caught one pass for 8 yards. The Titans couldn’t get anything going against the Colts defense, especially when Marcus Mariota went out with an elbow injury.

■   Giants LT Nate Solder: Don’t look now, but the G-Men have a faint pulse after their 38-35 win over the Bucs improved them to 3-7. Solder has allowed six sacks this year, double his total from last year, but he and the offensive line are playing better and paving big holes for Saquon Barkley.

■   Rams WR Brandin Cooks: Led his team with eight catches for 107 yards, and added one rush for zero yards. Cooks had 65 catches, 1,082 yards, and caught 57 percent of his targets last year. This year he’s on pace for 86 catches, 1,402 yards, and is catching 70 percent of his targets. He was good with the Patriots, but great with the Rams.

Favorite stats and nuggets

■   Saints RB Alvin Kamara has 500 receiving and rushing yards in each of his first two NFL seasons, joining Edgerrin James, Herschel Walker, and Abner Haynes as the only players to accomplish the feat.

■   Luck now has seven straight games with three or more passing touchdowns, tying Dan Marino for the third-longest streak in NFL history. Only Tom Brady (10 games, 2007) and Peyton Manning (eight games, 2004) have longer streaks.

■   The Bears’ Jackson leads the NFL with four defensive touchdowns since entering the league in 2017. No other player has more than two in that span.

■   Brady in 2007 became the only player since 1940 to throw more touchdown passes (50) than his team had punts (44). Drew Brees (25 to 21) and Mahomes (37 to 31) are both on pace to do it this season.


Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin