Team Notes week 15 2016

By Bob Harris

NEWS, NOTES, RUMORS AND OTHER GOOD STUFF

Directly from the desk of FlashUpdate Editor Bob Harris. The good; the bad; and yes. ... Even the Bears. There is no better way to jump start your weekend than browsing these always educational -- often irreverent -- team-by-team, Fantasy-specific offerings. ...
Access specific teams by clicking on a team name in the schedule appearing directly to your left or by clicking on a helmet below; return to the helmets by hitting the link labeled "Menu" following each teams notes. ...

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Arizona Cardinals

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 December 2016

As ESPN.com's Josh Weinfuss noted, rain in Arizona is about as common as snow in Miami.

Well, maybe a bit more common than that, but it doesn't rain enough in Arizona for the Cardinals to have enough experience practicing in wet conditions. The best they can do – and did Wednesday – was practice with a wet football.

But nothing could've prepared them for the torrential downpour scattered throughout Sunday's 26-23 loss to the Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium.

"Rain is one thing," head coach Bruce Arians said. "Pouring down, soaking-ass-wet balls is another."

The heavy rain "definitely" affected the Cardinals' offense, quarterback Carson Palmer said. Arians blamed running back David Johnson's first-quarter fumble on a slippery football. Palmer said he fumbled in the second quarter for the same reason.

Light ran was manageable. The Cardinals were able to throw in the drizzle, Palmer said. But in the downpour, the Cardinals' offense was reduced to primarily a running attack.

"We all had a tough time holding onto it," Palmer said. "It's just greasy."

And according to Arians, he noticed the rain would get heavier whenever the Cardinals took over on offense. At halftime, the Cardinals gathered in the locker room and thought the weather may not be so cruel to them in the second half.

"We talked at halftime. We said, ‘All right, in the second half, it's going to switch. Every time they're on the field, it's going to pour,'" Palmer said.

That wasn't the case.

There was one player, however, the rain in Miami couldn't slow down. And no one on the field could catch.

Receiver J.J. Nelson had his second career two-touchdown game, including the touchdown catch that tied the game 23-23 with 2:13 left in the fourth quarter.

"J.J.'s had a real good month," coach Bruce Arians said. "He's added the things we thought he could add to our offense."

Like speed. A lot of speed.

On the third play of the Cardinals' second series, Nelson ran an end-around, took the handoff from Palmer, found a hole courtesy of a Darren Fells' block, then turned on his afterburners down the sideline for a 56-yard touchdown.

Ever since fellow receiver John Brown was diagnosed as a carrier of the sickle-cell trait, Nelson has seen his snaps increase to a steady workload. With more snaps comes the responsibility of taking over Brown's role of stretching the defense downfield, which Nelson is capable of with his speed.

But he showed on his second touchdown catch, the one that tied the game, that he can run short routes in traffic. Nelson slipped past the second level of defenders and then had two Dolphins defensive backs converge on him in the end zone, where he got hit as he caught the ball.

It was his only catch of the game.

Nelson now has six touchdowns this season -- and four of them have come in two games. His first two-touchdown game of the season was in a loss at Carolina on Oct. 30.

And more opportunities seem likely.

Michael Floyd was arrested early Monday on charges of driving under the influence and failure to obey a police officer.

The Cardinals announced his release on Wednesday afternoon.

Floyd has had a disappointing season already, with just 33 catches for 446 yards and two touchdowns. During a Tuesday night interview with Alex Marvez and Bill Polian on SiriusXM NFL Radio, Arians said he was considering benching Floyd this week or other alternatives as allowed by the collective bargaining agreement with the NFLPA.

"Really nothing other than how disappointed I am in Mike," Arians said when asked if he had any more details. "It set a bad example for those young fans out there. We talk about don't be ‘The Guy.'"

Now, Floyd has become an example.

I'll have more details on his release via Late-Breaking Update early Thursday. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Arizona ran for 175 yards on 29 total carries with Johnson leading the way. He rushed for 80 yards on 20 carries and did what was asked of him whenever his number was called. The Cardinals also broke out their Wildcat formation on a few occasions and Kerwynn Williams made it work on all three tries as he ran for 34 yards.

If anything, the Cardinals probably didn't run the ball enough against Miami, especially considering the sloppy field conditions and all the rain at Hard Rock Stadium.

Three crucial special-team blunders cost the Cardinals five points. Kicker Chandler Catanzaro missed an extra point on Arizona's first touchdown, which left the Cardinals trailing 7-6. Then Catanzaro missed a 41-yard field goal off the right upright late in the second quarter that would've pulled the Cardinals to within 14-9 (or 14-10 had he made the extra point).

"It's tough," Catanzaro said. "Any time you miss, it's tough. I can stand here and say I've done my best this year and it hasn't been good enough and I apologize."

With the Dolphins leading 21-15 in the fourth quarter, a Catanzaro extra point was blocked and returned by Miami to take a 23-15 lead.

Catanzaro called Sunday "just a brutal day."

"The poor snap on the extra point gets (Miami) two points and the ball hits the upright -- that's five big points, and in this game that's the winner," Arians said. "That's the winner. On road games they always are going to be the winners."

Three players appear headed for season-ending injured reserve — safety Tyvon Branch (torn muscle in groin), inside linebacker Deone Bucannon (high ankle sprain) and right tackle Ulrick John (dislocated shoulder). It will be Branch's second trip to IR. He underwent groin surgery and was pulled off IR, appearing in two games before tearing a muscle very near where the first operation occurred.

In addition, left tackle D.J. Humphries — who was playing the best of the remaining offensive linemen — is out while undergoing the concussion protocol.

Among Arians' chief challenges this week is to put together an offensive line for Sunday's game against New Orleans, Arizona's final home contest of the season.

If Humphries can't go, John Wetzel would be the left tackle. That probably means the Cardinals would bring undrafted rookie Givens Price off the practice squad and perhaps give him the start at right tackle.

"He's done a nice job of maturing on the practice squad," Arians said. "We'll look at him."

That's not exactly a strong group to try to protect Palmer, who has been under siege by the pass rush and taken some vicious hits throughout the season.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Carson Palmer, Drew Stanton
RBs: David Johnson, Andre Ellington, Stepfan Taylor, Kerwynn Williams
WRs: Larry Fitzgerald, J.J. Nelson, John Brown, Brittan Golden
TEs: Jermaine Gresham, Darren Fells, Troy Niklas

Atlanta Falcons

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 December 2016

As ESPN.com's Vaughn McClure suggested, a blowout road win against the Rams without injured Julio Jones doesn't necessarily mean head coach Dan Quinn plans to sit his star receiver this week at home against 1-12 San Francisco.

Quinn saw other players pick up the slack in a 42-14 victory against the Rams as Jones was inactive with turf toe.

Or worse?

Quinn changed the wording on Jones' injury Wednesday, referring to it as a "sprain" rather than turf toe.

"Julio has a toe sprain, it's not turf toe," Quinn said in an interview on Atlanta's 92.9 The Game radio. "But he does have a toe sprain. For him, we're going to take him day to day. He'll maybe do some of the walkthrough today, but he won't participate in the full-team activity at practice. So, he's still dealing with that sprain. It's definitely improving. But in terms of full-speed cutting on it, we're not there yet."

Quinn initially called Jones' injury "turf toe" after Jones was injured. Turf toe is a sprain of the ligaments surrounding the big toe.

"I think we just have to take it on a week-to-week basis in terms of if you're ready, and if you're ready, then you can go," Quinn said of Jones' status. "If you're not, then I understand where you're going, and it's best to hold. At this time of year, man, you throw everything else out and you go for it as hard as you can each week. And that's what we'll do with him as well."

Jones, who was injured in a Week 12 win against Arizona, did not practice all of last week. He was a game-time decision against the Rams and was supposed to run through full-speed routes during pregame warm-ups, but never did much more than a light jog.

"He really had really good intent of playing," Quinn said. "And then when he got out there Sunday and just wasn't ready to do what he can do, that was kind of the decision to hold him."

Without Jones and No. 2 wide receiver Mohamed Sanu, who had a groin strain, the Falcons saw receivers Nick Williams, Taylor Gabriel, Aldrick Robinson, and Justin Hardy combine for 182 yards on 12 catches against the Rams, with touchdowns by Gabriel and Hardy.

Williams led the Falcons with four catches and had 49 yards. Gabriel had three catches for 82 yards, including a 64-yard touchdown catch. Robinson had three catches for 42 yards. Hardy had two catches for 9 yards, including a 3-yard touchdown catch on a nice back-shoulder fade.

Robinson and Gabriel split the lead in targets. According to NFL.com's Matt Harmon, Robinson led the team while playing on 86 percent of the team snaps, while Gabriel was out there for 78 percent. Hardy was the team's primary slot receiver, taking 48 percent of his plays from the interior. Williams also took all seven of his plays from the slot, and was target five times.

Williams left the game with a concussion in the third quarter and was in the league's concussion protocol program.

The touchdown was Gabriel's fourth touchdown of 35 yards or more.

"You know what it is? It's a really good demonstration of the guys and the belief that we have in one another on the team, whether it's a receiver or at DB," Quinn said. "Those guys are going to continue to step up and make plays. It shows a lot of belief in the guys. I thought that was really clear with Matt Ryan, too. Without Mo, with Julio in there, we're totally counting on the guys. And it didn't change in terms of the mindset and the effort."

Regarding Jones, turf toe can linger, and medical experts say even the mildest case can involve one to four weeks of recovery. The 8-5 Falcons have three games left in the regular season and certainly want Jones healthy for a playoff run. It would seem logical to hold Jones out against the 49ers.

Quinn said on Sirius XM NFL Radio that Jones will not practice with the rest of the team on Wednesday. Quinn said that the team will see how he feels later in the week before determining his status.

With Sanu expected to be limited Wednesday and Williams going through the concussion protocol, Quinn said there is a possibility J.D McKissic could be promoted from the practice squad to help fill the void at receiver, just as Williams was promoted last week.

I'll obviously be following up on all the above via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses. ...

Overall, Ryan directed an offense that recorded 286 total yards against the Rams. Ryan went 18 of 28 for 237 yards, with three passing touchdowns, and a 126.6 passer rating. Ryan continued his streak of 200-plus passing yards to 52 straight games. He has thrown a touchdown pass in 15 straight games.

Tevin Coleman recorded his second multi-touchdown game of the year. He scored his second receiving touchdown of the year and his seventh rushing touchdown of the year, for nine total touchdowns this season. This is the third time in franchise history that two Falcons running backs have had eight or more touchdowns in the same season.

Against the Rams' stout defense, the Falcons' rushing attack didn't get rolling. Coleman finished with eight rushes for 36 yards. Devonta Freeman was held to 6 yards on six carries.

"L.A. has one of the best defenses in the league, specifically the front four," Ryan said. "They are tough to go against and they made it difficult for us." Terron Ward closed out the game with 10 carries for 24 yards.

The Falcons rushed 25 times for 66 yards for a paltry 2.6 yards per carry.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub
RBs: Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman, Terron Ward
WRs: Julio Jones, Taylor Gabriel, Mohamed Sanu, Justin Hardy, Eric Weems, Nick Williams
TEs: Levine Toilolo, Joshua Perkins, D.J. Tialavea, Austin Hooper

Baltimore Ravens

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 December 2016

As the Sports Xchange noted on Tuesday, a deflating loss to the New England Patriots knocked the Baltimore Ravens out of the AFC playoff picture, at least for now.

With the 30-23 setback in Foxboro, Baltimore fell into second place in the AFC North behind the Steelers, who also took the Ravens' spot as the third seed in the postseason standings. Baltimore, however, still controls its playoff destiny and will win the division with victories in the final three games.

That journey starts Sunday in the Ravens' final regular season home game against the fading Philadelphia Eagles.

"We know where we stand," head coach John Harbaugh said. "We basically have to win three games. We're certainly fully capable of doing that and that's what we intend to do. All of the focus goes to the next game. That's a very good Eagles team we're playing on a short week."

Many of the same problems Baltimore faced during a previous four-game losing streak surfaced against New England. There were careless penalties that stalled drives, breakdowns on special teams and an inability to establish an effective running game.

The Ravens, who now hold the eighth spot in AFC playoff picture, fell behind 23-3 and simply could not fully recover. They will need to correct those problems to keep their postseason hopes alive.

Quarterback Joe Flacco shook off a slow start and went 37 of 52 for 324 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. The 37 completions set a franchise record that he had just broken the prior game against the Miami Dolphins. He was also effective spreading the ball around, throwing passes to 11 different receivers.

While the players and coaches said they want to have a more balanced attack, the Ravens ran the ball just 14 times for 42 yards. Flacco said the Patriots' defense effectively shut down the run, essentially making the Ravens one-dimensional with the passing game.

"You have to be ready for everything with these guys," he said. "They're very game specific with their game plan."

Baltimore entered the game against New England with the league's top-ranked defense. However, it was a breakdown in the Ravens' secondary that was the difference in the game.

New England quarterback Tom Brady found Chris Hogan wide open for a 79-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter to seal the victory. Brady torched the Ravens throughout the game, throwing for 406 yards with three touchdowns and an interception.

"We want to eliminate big plays," Ravens linebacker Zach Orr said. "We had a bust. If you miss an assignment, Tom Brady and those guys will exploit that to the max."

Now, the Ravens might have to finish the regular season with three straight victories to avoid missing the playoffs for the second straight year. It's a challenge the players embrace.

"We have to win out. We understand that," tight end Dennis Pitta said. "We're still in position to accomplish what we want to accomplish. That's something you have to think positively about. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Rookie Kenneth Dixon is establishing himself as the primary back and finished with 39 yards on 11 carries. He also caught eight passes for 42 yards with a touchdown.

Receiver Steve Smith was in rare form in making a concerted effort to remain positive following Monday night's loss.

He flashed a wide smile, referenced fish sticks and surprisingly quoted a Disney movie.

"A great philosopher -- Thumper's mom in 'Bambi' said if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all," Smith said. "I'm trying to do that."

The Ravens managed 348 yards on offense, but it was a struggle for most of Monday night. Flacco averaged just 6.2 yards per attempt and primarily checked down the ball against a Patriots defense that unexpectedly played zone coverage against Baltimore.

In what will likely be his final appearance on Monday Night Football, Smith finished with four catches for 57 yards.

Asked if anything surprised him about the defensive scheme of the Patriots, Smith said, "There's a lot of ways I could answer that. I probably have to be more careful and more positive."

Justin Tucker's perfect season and a chance to tie a franchise record ended with a block in the first quarter.

Tucker had hit 35 in a row before Shea McClellin leapt over the middle of the line and batted down the 34-yard field-goal attempt. He was one short of tying Matt Stover's team record of 36 in a row. Tucker's streak was tied for the fifth-longest in NFL history.

"I'm usually pretty focused on foot-to-ball contact watching the ball as it comes back," Tucker said. "But, in my periphery, I could see opposite color and it didn't look good. I think the guy just made a heck of a play. They clearly had something schemed up on us and it worked."

The previous miss by Tucker occurred on Dec. 6, 2015. He is 28-for-28 this season.

With his blocked field goal Monday, Tucker is 2-for-4 in his career against New England, according to research by ESPN Stats & Information. He is a 91 percent field-goal kicker against all other teams in his career, including playoffs.

The Ravens released veteran return specialist Devin Hester on Tuesday.

Hester had played in 12 games for the Ravens, usually returning both kicks and punts. He hadn't been especially effective and in recent weeks had misread some punts.

Hester chose not to field a punt in the first quarter Monday night at New England, and the Patriots downed the ball inside the Ravens' 1-yard line. They recorded a safety on the next play.

Hester, 34, is in his 11th NFL season. He played his first eight seasons with the Bears and spent the last two with the Falcons. A four-time Pro Bowler, Hester is the NFL's all-time leader with 14 career punt return touchdowns.

Also, the Ravens placed RB Lorenzo Taliaferro on injured reserve with a hamstring injury, ending his season.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Joe Flacco, Ryan Mallett
RBs: Kenneth Dixon, Terrance West, Javorius Allen
WRs: Mike Wallace, Steve Smith, Breshad Perriman, Kamar Aiken, Chris Moore, Michael Campanaro
TEs: Dennis Pitta, Darren Waller, Nick Boyle, Crockett Gillmore

Buffalo Bills

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 December 2016

Tyrod Taylor remains the Bills starter, and coach Rex Ryan is focused solely on winning Buffalo's final three games, starting with the winless Cleveland Browns this weekend.

The one thing Ryan refuses to spend time on: questions about his future now that the Bills (6-7) are in jeopardy of extending the NFL's longest active playoff drought to 17 seasons.

"I'm not signing up for a dismissal either," Ryan said Monday.

"I really don't know what to feel," Ryan added when asked if he feels he's on the hot seat. "I've been in this game a long time. And I know one thing, to do the very best job that I can do, I have to focus on what's right in front of me, and that's the Cleveland Browns.

"And I promise you that's exactly what I'm going to do. So I'm not going to think one minute about something that may or may not happen."

Later, Ryan dismissed a question regarding whether he might consider playing backups if keeping his job might not be a concern.

"I'm assuming I'm going to be the coach," he said.

As Associated Press sports writer John Wawrow notes, Ryan's comments come a day after the Bills unraveled on both sides of the ball in a 27-20 loss to Pittsburgh. A week earlier, Buffalo blew a 15-point third-quarter lead in a 38-24 loss at Oakland.

Buffalo has lost five of seven, with the skid raising speculation over Ryan's job security two seasons into his tenure since signing a five-year contract.

He now has a 15-16 record, and Ryan's prized defense is struggling. Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell scored three times and had a franchise record 236 yards rushing Sunday.

Buffalo's Taylor-led offense is hardly better after managing just seven first downs and 87 yards net offense on its first nine possessions before scoring twice in the final eight minutes against Pittsburgh.

The Bills' sputters on offense led to questions about Taylor. Saying, "we'll see," Ryan was noncommittal about Taylor's status immediately following the game.

On Monday, Ryan backed the second-year starter by saying he continues to believe Taylor provides the Bills the best opportunity to win.

"And that's what we signed up for: We're trying to win these games," Ryan said.

He said the choice is his to make, and added he's not given any consideration to starting backup EJ Manuel or fourth-round draft pick Cardale Jones.

Taylor's future remains uncertain beyond this season.

In restructuring the final season of Taylor's contact and signing him to a five-year extension in August, the Bills retained the right to opt out of the deal — and the $27.5 million he is owed in salary and bonuses — before it kicks in this offseason.

Taylor has regressed this season, though his production has been hampered by an injury-depleted group of receivers.

Consistency, however, has remained an issue for a quarterback who has been dynamic as a scrambler but hit or miss as a passer. In his past seven games, Taylor has four touchdowns passing, five rushing with four interceptions and a lost fumble.

Receiver Sammy Watkins backed Taylor when asked about a potential change at quarterback.

"I'm rolling with Ty. That's our guy," said Watkins, who has missed eight games this season after aggravating an injury to his surgically repaired left foot.

"There could be speculation and people talking crazy. But that position is one of the hardest positions," Watkins said. "We can't sit there and point fingers at anybody. He's our guy."

Ryan pinned the Bills' problems on inconsistency.

"At times we look absolutely terrific on either side of the ball, and then there's other times we play poorly," Ryan said. "We have yet to put a full 60 minutes together of playing a game that I think we're capable of playing."

As for Ryan's job security, with the Bills now out of playoff contention for the 17th straight year, all indications point to Ryan being fired at the end of the season with three years and $16.5 million left on his contract. As the Sports Xchange suggests, if he is dismissed, it's another colossal failure by the Bills' organization, a team that has had seven head coaches (counting Perry Fewell, who served as an interim head coach in 2009) during its playoff drought.

For what it's worth, Buffalo News staffer Vic Carucci reported on Sunday that a power struggle appears to be at the root of reports of the potential coaching change for the Bills.

Citing NFL sources, Carucci advised readers that Ryan and General Manager Doug Whaley are at odds over the future of Taylor. Ryan wants Taylor to remain the Bills' starter for the balance of this season and beyond, the sources said, while Whaley would like to see rookie Cardale Jones start the final three games after Sunday's clash with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Ryan said that his relationship with Whaley is "just fine," adding, "We're all in this thing together."

The announcement that Taylor will start this week suggests Ryan still has some pull -- at least in the short term.

According to Carucci, Bills owner Terry Pegula is opposed to the idea of firing Rex Ryan in-season.

The News reported last January that the Pegulas had issued an ultimatum to Ryan and Whaley to "get it right" this season, meaning make the playoffs, or they would be let go. However, owner Pegula surely wasn't amused during Sunday's game, when hundreds of terrible towels were waved by black-and-yellow-clad Steelers fans sitting in seats normally occupied by Bills season-ticket holders.

A few final notes of interest. ... LeSean McCoy was unable to get going and carried 12 times for just 27 yards, though he did score a touchdown late in the fourth quarter, and he had six catches for 81 yards.

Mike Gillislee carried only twice, but they went for 12 and 22 yards.

Watkins caught four passes for 54 yards, including his first touchdown reception of the season. According to NFL.com's Matt Harmon, Watkins went out for 94 percent of the Bills' offensive plays against the Steelers. There are no more concerns with Watkins' playing time, and he is an every-week high-end wide receiver candidate as long as he is healthy.

Tight end Charles Clay had three catches for 52 yards and also scored his first touchdown on a 40-yard catch and run.

For the record, Watkins did not practice Wednesday -- as was the case last week. Consider it a day of maintenance. In Clay (knee) was held out as he regularly is on Wednesdays.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: E.J. Manuel, Cardale Jones, Tyrod Taylor
RBs: LeSean McCoy, Mike Gillislee, Reggie Bush, Jonathan Williams
WRs: Sammy Watkins, Justin Hunter, Marquise Goodwin, Brandon Tate, Dezmin Lewis, Robert Woods
TEs: Charles Clay, Nick O'Leary

Carolina Panthers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 December 2016

According to Associated Press sports writer Steve Reed, Cam Newton said the Panthers' offense is lacking a killer instinct.

While Newton wasn't about to trade anything for emotional high that comes with a win, he wasn't pleased with the offense's production after a 28-16 victory over the San Diego Chargers on Sunday.

"The defense played lights out for us, gave us unbelievable field position. Offensively, not to rain on the win, we have to put up points — points as in getting touchdowns," Newton said after the Panthers snapped a two-game losing streak.

It has been a common theme for the Panthers (5-8) all season.

The defense has repeatedly set up Newton and company with good field position, only for a drive to end in a Graham Gano field goal attempt, a punt or turnover. The Panthers settled for four field goals on Sunday and the managed two touchdowns. But another Carolina drive inside the Chargers 10-yard line ended in a Newton interception.

"Part of it we press," head coach Ron Rivera said. "We get down in the red zone and we want to try to make something happen. And whether it's a negative play that crops up and puts you in a negative position or you're trying to force it or just the missed opportunities."

Carolina's red zone numbers are good, but their overall production is way down from a year ago.

The Panthers led the league in scoring last season and finished second in overall in offense, but things have fallen off this year despite the return of Benjamin — the team's No. 1 receiver as a rookie in 2014.

Carolina has dropped to 13th in the league scoring and 19th in offense in 2016.

"I didn't feel as good as I normally feel after a win, but when I watched the tape I felt better about what we did," Panthers offensive coordinator Mike Shula said. "Sometimes those one or two plays make you feel real bad and you forget about the good things that we did. But yes, we need to get the ball into the end zone — and we have that type of offense to do it."

Carolina's next chance to improve those numbers will be Monday night at the Redskins.

Newton said the Panthers offense has struggled to impose its will.

"We have to have that type of mentality, that killer instinct and we didn't have it," said Newton, before managing to find the bright side. "But we found ways to win and that's positive. ..."

Other notes of interest. ... As the Sports Xchange noted, questions linger about Kelvin Benjamin's value. And it's not just a matter of his 6-5 talent.

"He's like a lot of young guys," offensive coordinator Mike Shula said Monday. "When things don't quite the way you want them to, you get frustrated. Sometimes we can all handle that better."

For most who watched Carolina hang on to beat the Chargers Sunday, it appeared obvious Benjamin didn't deal well with frustration. He was twice bailed out when replays reversed what would have been a total of 142 interception return yards by defenders he failed to make sure were down before the whistle.

"He's still learning about all aspects of the game the mental part, the physical part," Shula said. "He's still young. He's had one year and missed last year."

Through 13 games, Benjamin has 51 receptions for 765 yards and five touchdowns. It's not an exceptionally steep fall from his rookie season, but it's off pace from his 73-1,008-9 line that year.

While head coach Ron Rivera disagreed with the notion Benjamin showed a lack of effort during the Panthers' win over the Chargers, there's no arguing with Devin Funchess' work day.

Targeted on the Panthers' third play from scrimmage, Funchess couldn't come down with a high throw as he took a low hit from safety Jahleel Addae. Funchess slowly picked himself off the turf, but his legs weren't the problem.

"The chin strap pushed up and then my tooth cut my lip," he said. "I thought I bit my tongue off. I was happy it was just my lip."

After trainers had escorted Funchess to the sideline, he began spitting blood into a garbage can next to the Panthers' bench. Moments later, he walked back to the locker room to get stitched up for the first time in his life.

Funchess didn't know how many stitches he received, but he ran back onto the sideline before the end of the first quarter. Just three plays into the second, he slipped past Chargers rookie Trovon Reed for a gain of 27. Newton went to Funchess later in the drive on 3rd-and-goal, a 6-yard dart Funchess caught for the fourth score of his sophomore season.

"Funchess is a person that is reliable and so much that we ask of him is not just catching the ball," Newton said.

"His production ranges way more than a catch that he may have. It's good for him to come back to show the toughness. He already had my respect and for him to do that made it even better. ..."

Newton went 10-of-27 for 160 yards with a touchdown and an interception against the Chargers. The 10 completions tied for his fewest in a win and his 54.6 passer rating was his second-worst mark in a win. Newton was able to get something going with Greg Olsen, whose 87 receiving yards were his most since Week 6.

Philly Brown had one catch for eight yards. It was his first catch in four games and just his fourth since Week 8.

Meanwhile, as NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich pointed out, Jonathan Stewart has been one of the most inconsistent running backs in fantasy football this season. After just 3.3 points last week on the heels of a mere 50 yards and a lost fumble, Stewart bounced back against the Chargers. He only averaged 2.6 yards per carry, but logged 24 rush attempts and scored a touchdown.

"It definitely wasn't pretty, but fantasy owners will take it," Franciscovich summed up. "He'll be a volume upside play in Week 15 when the Panthers play the Redskins on Monday night."

One last note here. ... According to Bill Voth of Black and Blue Review, Newton had an MRI on his throwing shoulder Tuesday. No structural damage was found and the QB is expected to play as usual Monday night. But I'll be following up via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Cam Newton, Derek Anderson, Joe Webb
RBs: Cameron Artis-Payne, Fozzy Whittaker, Mike Tolbert, Jonathan Stewart
WRs: Kelvin Benjamin, Devin Funchess, Ted Ginn, corey Brown, Brenton Bersin, Damiere Byrd
TEs: Greg Olsen, Ed Dickson, Scott Simonson

Chicago Bears

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 December 2016

The Bears were certainly ready to welcome back top receiver Alshon Jeffery.

Jeffery rejoined the team on Monday after serving a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's performance-enhancing drugs policy, giving the Bears and quarterback Matt Barkley a big weapon for this weekend's game against the Green Bay Packers.

"It's good to have him back," head coach John Fox said.

Jeffery hasn't played since an embarrassing 36-10 loss at Tampa Bay on Nov. 13. The suspension came the following day, with the former Pro Bowl receiver saying he took a supplement for inflammation containing a substance banned by the NFL.

Jeffery's suspension was just another dose of bad news in a lost season for Chicago. The team leader with 630 yards receiving, he is coming back on the heels of a 20-17 loss at Detroit that officially knocked the Bears (3-10) out of playoff contention.

The suspension was another hit to a receiver who was limited to nine games last year because of injuries. Jeffery also has an uncertain future, playing for the $14.6 million franchise tag after he and the Bears were unable to agree to a long-term contract in the offseason, and he won't be catching passes from injured starter Jay Cutler, either.

"Obviously we're pretty tied into performance," Fox said. "So I think obviously getting back and indoctrinated in what we are doing — you know, he's got a new quarterback as well. And we adjust and customize a little bit per guy. So just getting a feel for that. That's kind of been our downfall a little bit all season has been execution and so we'll just try to get all them on the same page. It will be good to have a guy we think is pretty good back in the lineup."

Fox said he reintroduced Jeffery during Monday's team meeting. Receiver Cameron Meredith said Jeffery was subdued at first but opened up as the day wore on. He also said Jeffery appeared to be in good shape.

"He was happy to be back," Meredith said. "It's been awhile since he's been in the building, talked to us. We were able to hang out after we got done with lift, catch up on stuff. Anytime you come back around friends and teammates, it's always a good thing."

Barkley might be the happiest player to have Jeffery back. After all, receivers have had trouble hanging onto the ball in recent weeks.

They had 10 drops in a loss to Tennessee on Nov. 27, including one by Josh Bellamy on a potential game-winner in the end zone in the final minute. Against Detroit on Sunday, he also had a fourth-down pass that would have put the Bears in field-goal range bounce off his chest in the closing minute.

A more sure-handed receiver probably makes the catch, giving kicker Connor Barth a chance to send the game into overtime. But the Bears instead walked away with another loss.

Drops and deflections aside, Barkley is making the most of his opportunity starting the past three games with Cutler and Brian Hoyer injured. He is 59 of 104 for 720 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions in that stretch. The Bears have dropped two of those three games, though they had a chance to win each one.

Now that Jeffery is back, Barkley will get to throw to an elite receiver. They'll have to get on the same page quickly, though.

"We're playing a pretty good team here at our place," Fox said. "Obviously we have to work on it. The passing game is timing and precision. Alshon knows our offense. It's not like he's new to it. This will be his third quarterback throwing to him and even that's not different. When Jay got hurt and we put Brian in, there was an adjustment for everybody and it will be an adjustment for Alshon with Matt."

Remember. ... Eddie Royal (foot) sat out his second straight game with a foot injury that has been bothering him since midway through the season. Royal has played in nine of the 13 games after playing in nine games last year, his first with the team. Marquess Wilson (groin) also missed Sunday's game.

Royal was not on the practice field Wednesday.

I'll be following up on their status via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses. ...

According to the Sports Xchange, Jordan Howard's day could have been much greater if the offensive line hadn't spent much of the time committing penalties and ruining the chance to stay ahead on down and distance.

Indeed, as NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich suggested, given that he only had 13 carries, Howard performed well against the Lions. He ripped off runs of 28 and 31 yards and added a 19-yard reception in the fourth quarter. His streak of games with 99-plus scrimmage yards continued, this being Howard's sixth straight.

Franciscovich added: "Howard is the clear-cut workhorse for the Bears and nothing that he's done over the last month and a half should warrant any concern in that aspect. He'll have RB1 upside yet again next week against the Packers."

And finally. ... The Bears signed tight end MyCole Pruitt to their active roster off Vikings practice squad.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Matt Barkley, David Fales, Jay Cutler
RBs: Jordan Howard, Jeremy Langford, Ka'Deem Carey, Raheem Mostert
WRs: Alshon Jeffery, Cameron Meredith, Deonte Thompson, Josh Bellamy, Bralon Addison, Daniel Braverman
TEs: Daniel Brown, Ben Braunecker, Logan Paulsen

Cincinnati Bengals

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 December 2016

The Bengals have struggled to get their running game going this season, but that hasn't been an issue when facing the winless Browns.

As the Sports Xchange notes, Cincinnati ran for 213 yards and averaged 5.6 yards per carry in Sunday's 23-10 victory on the wet, snowy turf at Cleveland's FirstEnergy Stadium. Jeremy Hill ran for 111 yards and a touchdown as the Bengals earned a second consecutive win for the first time this season.

Cincinnati hadn't rushed for more than 152 yards against any other opponent this season.

"In this weather and it's somewhere that (the Browns) struggled a bit this year," said left tackle Andrew Whitworth. "We had to be able to do it to beat them. We knew with the conditions and the situations, they were going to make us run the football. To be able to execute and do it well was great."

Cincinnati players talked a lot this week about the pressure inherent in facing a winless opponent, especially on the road against a team coached by former Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson.

But, after jumping out to a 20-0 halftime lead, Cincinnati relied almost exclusively on the ground game to give Cleveland little or no chance to mount a comeback.

"It was part of what we needed to do today, and we credit the backs and everybody up front," said Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis.

The longest run of the afternoon came from a receiver when rookie Tyler Boyd gained 39 yards on a reverse to set up a touchdown on the Bengals' first possession. Boyd had six catches for 49 yards.

"We are asking a lot him to make plays and he's making them," said quarterback Andy Dalton, who completed 20 of 28 passes for 180 yards and two TDs. "I think he's really comfortable with what we are doing, and it shows with the production he has had."

As ESPN.com's Katherine Terrell notes, the Bengals now have their first winning streak of the season, courtesy of the Eagles and Browns.

But are they playing good football or just beating up on struggling teams?

The answer is probably a little bit of both. The defense has recovered from its midseason slump and has done enough to win several games while the offense was stagnant. They shut out the Browns in the first half, holding them to 41 yards. It was the same story against the Eagles, when they picked off rookie Carson Wentz three times.

But ultimately, the same problems that plagued the Bengals at the start of the season continued on Sunday, even against an inferior opponent.

Dalton was sacked four times, bringing his season total to 36. The Bengals have stubbornly stuck by kicker Mike Nugent, whose struggles have only gotten worse -- at least until this week.

The biggest test of the season will come next week, when the Bengals host the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Bengals have already lost twice to the Steelers in 2016, when Pittsburgh knocked them out of last season's playoffs in January and defeated them again in September.

While a win against the Browns is one thing, a win against the Steelers would say a lot more about the type of football the Bengals are playing now.

Four of the Bengals' wins have come against opponents with losing records, and while their win against Miami in September looks good now, the Dolphins were struggling at the time.

Meanwhile, as things stand now, Cincinnati (5-7-1) must win out and get additional help to have any chance at reaching the postseason for the sixth consecutive year.

The road gets tougher now for Cincinnati with home games against AFC North rivals Pittsburgh and Baltimore and a road game at Houston.

One thing that could make life a little easier? A.J. Green.

Head coach Marvin Lewis said Green would return to practice on Wednesday and the wideout was indeed on the field.

Green has not played in a game or practiced since Week 11 when he was carted off against the Bills with a Grade II hamstring tear. He has missed the past three games, but he has been jogging and doing work on the rehab field during practice.

Green traveled with the team to Cleveland last week, but he did not do any pre-game warmups prior to the game against the Browns, which was held in snowy conditions.

"We'll see how he practices and see what he's doing. But if he goes out and proves that he can do it on the practice field, then obviously he'll be back and ready to go," Lewis said.

In addition, Brandon LaFell (knee) was limited on Wednesday. This has become standard procedure.

Watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for more on Green and LaFell in coming days. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Dalton passed for 126 of his 180 yards in the first half, completing 20 of 28 passes in the game with two touchdowns for a 112.2 rating.

Boyd and LaFell each had six catches. Tight end Tyler Eifert had five catches and two TDs.

Boyd had the longest rushing play for the Bengals on Sunday when he gained 39 yards on a reverse to set up a touchdown on the Bengals' first possession.

"We are asking a lot him to make plays and he's making them," said Dalton. "I think he's really comfortable with what we are doing, and it shows with the production he has had."

As noted above, Nugent's struggles continued Sunday when he missed another extra-point attempt, his sixth PAT miss this season, although there was difficulty with the snap on Sunday's miss. Nugent also missed a 36-yard field goal attempt just before halftime as questions continue about his future with the team.

It turns out six missed extra points was all the Bengals could tolerate.

Nugent, who was a horrific 23-for-29 on extra points this season, was cut by the Bengals Tuesday. He finishes the season with a 79.3 percent extra point rate, the second-lowest extra point percentage in NFL history for a kicker with that many attempts.

Coincidentally, Nugent also went 23-for-29 on field goals this season. The 34-year-old Nugent has been a competent kicker for most of his career, but this year the misses on extra points were more than the Bengals could bear.

Cincinnati signed Randy Bullock to serve as its kicker for the final three games of the season.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Andy Dalton, AJ McCarron, Jeff Driskel
RBs: Jeremy Hill, Rex Burkhead, Cedric Peerman
WRs: Brandon LaFell, Tyler Boyd, James Wright, Cody Core, Alex Erickson, A.J. Green
TEs: C.J. Uzomah, Ryan Hewitt, Tyler Kroft, Tyler Eifert

Cleveland Browns

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 December 2016

According to ESPN.com's Pat McManamon, Hue Jackson asked for "understanding" of the way Robert Griffin III played Sunday in the Browns' 23-10 loss to the Bengals, saying the position Griffin plays warrants it.

It was an interesting take from a head coach who all season shrugged off excuses and maintained accountability for himself and his players.

"I expect him to play well and produce, but you have a guy that's a quarterback," Jackson said after the Browns' march to a winless season continued with loss No. 13. "That's different. That's the most prestigious position in all of pro sports, in my opinion. You're asking a lot. We're sticking him back out here, and it's not like we have training camp. It's not like it is a preseason game, and we are getting ready. This is a real game. And it counts."

Griffin completed 12-for-28 for 104 yards. He surpassed 100 yards only because of three plays as the clock ran down in the final minute.

He had no passing touchdowns (one was dropped), no memorable throws and one interception. He was playing in his first game since he broke a bone in his left shoulder on Sept. 11.

Griffin's rating for the game was 38.4. But Jackson saw beyond the numbers and said Griffin "showed that he belongs."

The start was Griffin's second since the beginning of the 2015 season and his third since Dec. 28, 2014.

In the two games he has played this season, Griffin has completed 24 of 54 for 294 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions. His rating in two games is 46.4.

"He has to go out there and play well," Jackson said. "And you can't simulate everything that's going to happen in a game in practice. There's just no way to do it. At that position, I think you got to be a little bit more understanding as you go through it."

Jackson said Griffin will start the Browns' next game in Buffalo.

Jackson's other choice is to go back to rookie Cody Kessler. Kessler has started eight games. The game in Buffalo will be Griffin's third start with the Browns. ...

Meanwhile, Terrelle Pryor's talent is undeniable. The Browns are concerned about his temper.

A day after Cincinnati cornerback Adam Jones profanely berated the wide receiver following the game by calling him "garbage" numerous times, Jackson said Pryor has been involved in far too many similar situations.

Earlier this season, Pryor called out the Browns offensive line for not protecting the team's quarterbacks and he has been demonstrative on the sideline during games.

Also, during Sunday's game, he got into a brief, finger-pointing argument in the huddle with Griffin.

Jackson appreciates Pryor's fire. He just wants him to cool it a little bit.

"We're going to stop all that," Jackson said. "We don't need all that. I want to say this about Terrelle: I don't think he's trying to be negative when he's doing it. That's just not the type of football team we want to be."

The team's leading receiver, he caught just one pass for 3 yards and was essentially a non-factor for the second time this season against the Bengals, who waived him in 2015 before he was signed by Cleveland.

Pryor can become a free agent in March.

According to Associated Press sports writer Tom Withers, the Browns are interested in signing Pryor to a new contract and have had preliminary talks with his agents. Jackson said the team will take Pryor's comportment into consideration during negotiations.

"I know Terrelle," Jackson said. "There is a type of team we want to be and we are going to be. We will get these things, these antics or however you want to look at them slowed down because we want to do this thing right.

"I don't want anybody to think that he is the root of a problem or something like that. I just think we have to redirect and channel some of his energy."

Rookie receiver Corey Coleman, who missed six games with a broken right hand, expressed disappointment in his season. "I feel like I let a lot of people down," said Coleman, who has 23 catches and been targeted 55 times. "So I know what I have to do — finish these last three games really strong and offseason, now I know what to expect from the NFL. I'll be a lot better coming back."

The Browns rushed for 169 yards on 22 carries 7.68 yards per carry against the Bengals. It is the eighth-highest total in team history and the highest since they averaged 8.04 yards a carry against Seattle on Dec. 3, 1978.

"I feel like our offensive line did a great job opening up lanes for me to run," running back Isaiah Crowell said. "I feel like (running back) Duke Johnson and I did a great job along with our offensive line."

Crowell only received 10 carries but ripped off gains of 19, 30 and 42 yards to pad his final line.

"Still," as NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich suggested, "it's difficult to advocate Crowell as a fantasy option in Week 15 given his low-volume workload and the Browns' overall lack of ability to produce on offense. But if you need some reassurance, the Browns play the Bills next week, and Le'Veon Bell just put up 298 yards against them. Unfortunately, Crowell is not Bell."

One last note here. ... According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, the Browns claimed promising rookie running back Darius Jackson on waivers one day after Dallas released him to make room for Darren McFadden.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Cody Kessler, Josh McCown, Kevin Hogan, Robert Griffin III
RBs: Isaiah Crowell, Duke Johnson, Glenn Winston, Terrell Watson, George Atkinson, Dan Vitale
WRs: Corey Coleman, Terrelle Pryor, Andrew Hawkins, Ricardo Louis, Rashard Higgins, Jordan Payton
TEs: Gary Barnidge, Randall Telfer, Seth DeValve

Dallas Cowboys

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 December 2016

As ESPN.com's Todd Archer reported it, "For the first time this season, Dak Prescott had no answers."

Even when things went poorly at times against Philadelphia or Green Bay or Pittsburgh or Minnesota, the rookie quarterback was able to autocorrect and put the Cowboys in a position to win.

On Sunday at MetLife Stadium against the New York Giants, Prescott didn't get that done.

"Knowing how talented our offense is and having high expectations of myself and just stalling drive after drive, it gets frustrating," Prescott said after the 10-7 loss that delayed the Cowboys from clinching the NFC East title and a first-round bye.

Prescott completed just 17 of 37 passes for 165 yards. He threw a 31-yard touchdown pass to Terrance Williams in the first quarter, but Prescott threw two interceptions in the same game for the first time in his career. He also fumbled, but the Cowboys maintained possession.

For the third straight game Prescott did not throw for 200 yards. For the second straight game the Cowboys converted just once on third down. Against the Vikings they converted just once on nine third-down chances in their 17-15 win. Against the Giants it was just one conversion on 15 third-down tries.

Prescott was sacked three times and hurried eight more. Owner and general manager Jerry Jones put the result more on what New York's defense did than what Prescott didn't. Coach Jason Garrett had no thoughts of putting Tony Romo in the game Sunday.

Why?

"We feel good about Dak playing quarterback for us right now," Garrett said.

"No," rolled of Jones' tongue five times when asked if he thought Romo would have gotten the call at some point against the Giants.

"He's got 13 NFL ballgames at a high level under his belt, and what's he got, four interceptions now?" Jones asked, referring to Prescott. "Is it four? OK, so he's got four interceptions in 13 ballgames. I feel good about our quarterback."

Garrett would not say opponents are gaining more of a book on Prescott to know what gives him trouble. Pressure will be an issue, as it is for any quarterback. Even without Jason Pierre-Paul, the Giants were able to get after Prescott.

The coverage was excellent, too. Dez Bryant did not have a catch until the fourth quarter. Jason Witten had four catches, but for only 26 yards. Cole Beasley had four catches for 41 yards.

As Archer suggested, with 11 straight wins and 20 touchdown passes, Prescott has earned the right to struggle.

Still, Prescott could not hide his disappointment.

"Not much has to be said," Prescott said. "I know for me individually, you don't have to say much. I'm hard on myself. I'm my biggest critic. I know that's the way it is for a lot of those guys in there. So it's all about moving forward is what coach Garrett brought up."

Meanwhile, Ezekiel Elliott opened his professional career with a dud against the Giants. The fourth overall pick had only 51 yards on 20 carries in his NFL debut, admitting it was "average" afterward.

Elliott had more yards than that at halftime Sunday, with 86 on 15 carries.

He had gone three games without 100 yards. His last one was against Pittsburgh in Week 10. He ended that streak with 107 yards on 24 carries.

Elliott has 1,392 yards this season, putting him on pace for 1,713. That would fall short of DeMarco Murray's overall franchise record and Eric Dickerson's NFL rookie record. (Elliott already holds the team rookie record.)

He would need to average a little more than 139 yards the last three games to break Dickerson's mark of 1,808. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Darren McFadden was added to the active roster on Tuesday. He has been recovering from offseason surgery on his right elbow and said earlier in the week that he is ready to go.

McFadden had the fourth-most rushing yards (1,089) in the NFL a season ago and was named the Cowboys' offensive MVP.

Garrett said the focus now is finding a role for McFadden.

"We'll talk about what his role is on offense, he'll have a role in the kicking game," Garrett said. "And he's just done a really good job for us. He had a good year for us last year. Unfortunately, he was injured in the early part of this year but he has practiced well the last three weeks. He's a good football player, so we want to give him an opportunity to help our team."

As of today, Lucky Whitehead remains a member of the Cowboys.

Garrett confirmed the wide receiver was left home from Sunday's loss to the Giants because he failed to show up for Saturday meetings. He will be fined and it possibly could put his roster spot in jeopardy.

"We felt it was in the best interest for him and our football team not to make the trip," Garrett said after the game.

Beasley replaced Whitehead as the Cowboys' punt returner, returning three for a 1-yard average, but he had one long return wiped out by a penalty that could have had the Cowboys in scoring position. Lance Dunbar replaced Whitehead as the kick returner and picked up 16 yards on his lone try. Alfred Morris also had a return.

Rookie running back Darius Jackson was waived to create a roster spot for McFadden. Jackson was subsequently claimed on waivers by the Browns.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Dak Prescott, Mark Sanchez, Tony Romo
RBs: Ezekiel Elliott, Darren McFadden, Alfred Morris, Lance Dunbar, Darius Jackson
WRs: Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Brice Butler, Lucky Whitehead
TEs: Jason Witten, Gavin Escobar, Geoff Swaim

Denver Broncos

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 December 2016

As ESPN.com's Jeff Legwold reminded readers, over the course of his last five starts Denver Broncos, quarterback Trevor Siemian has had to lift an offense that is running out of time to find some of the most basic answers -- all on a sore left shoulder and left foot.

In Siemian's five starts over the Broncos' last six games -- he missed the game in Jacksonville with his left foot injury -- the quarterback has thrown for 1,519 yards (303.8 yards per game) with eight touchdowns and four interceptions. And he's done that behind a line that has surrendered 17 sacks as the Broncos have rushed for just 67.0 yards per game in those five starts.

In Sunday's 13-10 loss to the Titans, Denver rushed for a season-low 18 yards, including just four carries in the second half when the Broncos trailed 13-0 at halftime and tossed the run game aside in an attempt to make a comeback.

"You have got to battle through things he battled for," said head coach Gary Kubiak. "He gave it up for his teammates. We had some opportunities to make some plays there at the end. He will be the first one to tell you if he would have made a couple of those plays, it would help us out. He battled through. He did everything he could possibly do."

Even in shortest-yardage situations, the Broncos didn't make much happen on Sunday as Siemian was sacked on a third-and-1 play and running back Devontae Booker was stopped for no gain on another third-and-1. Those struggles have put Siemian in harm's way as the Broncos have had to abandon the run game.

Siemian threw the ball 33 times in the second half against the Titans, compared to the four runs. And Titans defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau sent pass-rushers accordingly.

Siemian took plenty of hits Sunday as the Titans had three sacks and were credited with 10 additional hits.

The Broncos' next three opponents -- New England, Kansas City and Oakland -- are all ranked 18th or lower in sacks this season (though the Patriots have yet to play in Week 14).

But that said, the Broncos have surrendered at least five sacks in three games this season and all three of those opponents -- Atlanta (T-14th), New Orleans (T-19th) and Kansas City (18th) -- were not ranked in the top 13 in sacks.

Worth noting. ... Siemian has thrown for over 300 yards twice since the bye week, when Kubiak challenged the second-year quarterback to play "big."

Siemian hasn't thrown an interception in his last two starts.

According to 9News.com's Mike Klis, it's baffling a team with a good quarterback can have such bad offense. And the rushing attack is the problem.

The Broncos are also now 27th in the league in rushing (93.8 yards per game) so the prospects of forcing Siemian into more games with 50-plus pass attempts loom large.

As Kubiak put it after Sunday's loss: "I'm thinking on one or two runs in the second half -- I know one of them -- on first-and-10 we lost 5 yards. Obviously, there wasn't much commitment to the run. We were trying to get back into the game throwing it a lot. That's what we were doing best at the end of the game."

Just five of Denver's 52 plays in the final three quarters Sunday were runs, including only one of their 23 fourth-quarter snaps.

The Broncos haven't picked up a first down on the ground in their last six quarters; when Justin Forsett reached the sticks via a 9-yard gain in the first quarter Sunday, he suffered his first lost fumble in seven years, setting up a field goal that put the team in a 10-0 hole.

Denver now ranks in the league's bottom quarter in almost every rushing metric.

Injuries to C.J. Anderson and Kapri Bibbs haven't helped, but the Broncos weren't exactly thrashing teams with them in the lineup, either.

In Tennessee, the Broncos were more imbalanced than at almost any point during the 2012-14 seasons and it was out of necessity, because they simply could not move the football.

"I mean I believe in Booker," said Kubiak. "I think he's a good football player. He's working hard. I think he's got some big-play ability in him. Obviously, we've got to get more out of him, yesterday touching the ball three times it's hard for me to say he had a lot of opportunities. He's got to continue to go. I think he's doing fine, he's just got to continue to go."

Klis believes explosive Booker is going to be a good back. He was a good back earlier this year. But it might not be until next year, when he returns healthy and fresh, when he finds that extra gear all NFL running backs must call upon.

Remember, Booker was recovering from two surgeries to repair a torn meniscus in the offseason. And this season is getting long for all rookies – counting the preseason, the Broncos are about to play their 18th game, or eight more than Booker played last season at Utah.

In the six games since Anderson went down, Booker is averaging a mere 2.7 yards per carry.

Klis wonders if it's not time to mix in a little more Juwan Thompson, even if it's on short yardage where the Broncos have struggled mightily.

"If you're asking me if Devontae needs a little break, we don't have that luxury," Kubiak said. "We've got to go. I mean it's crunch time and everybody's got to buckle down. You're right, a lot has been asked of Devontae but he's got to step to the plate and keep going."

This week the Patriots are coming. Running the ball effectively would at least keep Tom Brady off the field.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch, Austin Davis
RBs: Justin Forsett, Devontae Booker, Kapri Bibbs, C.J. Anderson
WRs: Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Cody Latimer, Bennie Fowler, Jordan Norwood, Jordan Taylor, Marlon Brown, Kalif Raymond
TEs: Jeff Heuerman, A.J. Derby, Virgil Green

Detroit Lions

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 December 2016

According to ESPN.com's Michael Rothstein, head coach Jim Caldwell said quarterback Matthew Stafford will play Sunday against the New York Giants, even though he's dealing with an injured right middle finger suffered against the Chicago Bears.

Caldwell declined to address the exact nature of the injury during his news conference Monday. ESPN's Adam Schefter reported on Sunday that the injury is a PIP (proximal interphalangeal) joint dislocation and torn ligaments in the middle finger.

"He feels like obviously he can get it done, and also the doctors do as well," Caldwell said. "Not going to talk to you about the nature of it, what happened, all the rumors and false reports and those kinds of things, but nevertheless he'll be able to get through it.

"It affected him some yesterday when it first happened. I think you saw that through the course of the game, but he's a tough guy. He battled through it, and now he has an opportunity to work with the doctors and get things straightened out that need to be straightened out, and work through it this week, and he should be ready to go."

Caldwell declined to say what the false reports were.

He said "We'll see" when it comes to how Stafford's injury will change what the Lions are able to do in their playbook. Caldwell said Stafford has never worn a glove, so he doesn't know how that could affect his starting quarterback, but he added that he coached Peyton Manning when Manning had to wear a glove.

Stafford was injured on a play where a miscommunication led to an intentional grounding penalty.

When Stafford threw the ball away, his hand hit Leonard Floyd's hand.

Caldwell said Stafford made plays Sunday even with the busted finger, and he anticipates he'll be "a little bit better" after a week of practice and getting used to playing with it. Stafford was 21 of 35 for 223 yards, with one touchdown and two interceptions Sunday in the 20-17 win.

"Any time that you have an issue with an arm or hand playing that position, or even your feet for that matter, because you push," Caldwell said. "You push in there. People underscore the legs in terms of that.

"It's something to be dealt with."

As Profootballtalk.com's Josh Alper notes, Stafford played through a broken index finger for three games in 2011. The team went 1-2 while he tossed nine interceptions, but Stafford said Monday that he doesn't believe his current injury will have the same impact as that one did.

"I've had the broken index before and played with that, and that's no fun," Stafford said on WJR-AM, via the Detroit Free Press. "But this one will be a little bit different. I don't think it's going to be as bad as that one was."

Stafford played with a glove in 2011 and he played with one against the Bears, but said he isn't sure he'll need to wear one moving forward.

That's one of the facets of playing through the injury that Stafford will sort out in practice this week before the Lions try to knock off the Giants on their way to a playoff berth.

At 9-4, the Lions currently hold the second seed in the NFC playoffs but they likely need to beat one of the Giants, Dallas Cowboys or Green Bay Packers to make the playoffs. The Giants and Cowboys games are on the road, and the Lions have relied heavily on Stafford's fourth-quarter magic this year. ...

Meanwhile, Theo Riddick was a surprise inactive on Sunday morning, leaving Dwayne Washington and Zach Zenner to carry the load.

Washington set career-highs with 16 carries for 64 yards against the Bears. With Riddick sidelined by the wrist injury Sunday and hobbled of late by a lingering ankle sprain, Washington has seen his role increase in recent weeks. He made his first career start Sunday and helped the Lions top 100 yards rushing as a team for the first time since Week 2.

But as NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich advised readers, "Washington found it tough to gain big chunks of yardage. He should still be added on waivers for the volume upside ahead of Week 15, but literally nothing about the Lions backfield excites us from a fantasy perspective."

At least not without Riddick on board.

On Wednesday, we learned that Zenner is in the NFL's concussion protocol. He was limited. Eric Ebron (knee) was also limited Wednesday.

I'll be following up on Riddick (who was not practicing Wednesday), Stafford (who worked fully), Ebron and Zenner via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Golden Tate had a team-high six catches, Anquan Boldin caught a touchdown pass and Marvin Jones had 67 yards receiving and drew two pass-interference penalties. The Lions also had two dropped passes.

Tate has double-digit targets in back-to-back games in Weeks 13 and 14. As NFL.com's Matt Harmon notes, this past one came with Jones returning to the lineup and assuming an 83 percent snap share. While the target distribution has been spread-out this year, it's worth noting that Tate does appear to have what most resembles a lead.

But Boldin is also worth watching as Harmon points out that over the last four weeks he leads the team with eight red zone targets.

Against the Bears, Boldin caught three passes for 49 yards Sunday to move past Andre Johnson into 10th place on the NFL's all-time receptions list. Boldin, 36, now has 1,064 catches in his career, six fewer than Reggie Wayne. He leads the Lions with seven touchdown catches this year.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Matthew Stafford, Dan Orlovsky, Jake Rudock
RBs: Zach Zenner, Dwayne Washington, Theo Riddick, Joique Bell
WRs: Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, Anquan Boldin, Andre Roberts, Aaron Dobson
TEs: Eric Ebron, Cole Wick, Clay Harbor

Green Bay Packers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 December 2016

As good as Aaron Rodgers is on the move, the quarterback doesn't need to be fully mobile to be effective, according to head coach Mike McCarthy.

But Rodgers' latest injury -- a strain of his right calf -- will almost certainly force McCarthy to adjust his game plan and play calling for this Sunday's game at the Chicago Bears.

It already did after Rodgers came up gimpy after the third play from scrimmage in Sunday's 38-10 win over the Seattle Seahawks. Rodgers threw a 66-yard touchdown to Davante Adams on the play in which the quarterback rolled out to his right, but after that he moved gingerly until he was taken out early in the fourth quarter with the outcome in hand.

Rodgers functioned well enough, throwing for 246 yards and three touchdowns despite the injury. His 150.8 passer rating was the fourth highest of his career. On Wednesday, he was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week.

"I think he showed that, just his ability to reset his feet," McCarthy said Monday. "I mean, if you can't reset your feet, I don't know how you can perform. But his ability to reset his feet and extend the time clock of the route, the progression of the route concepts, was key. As long as he can do that, then we'll be fine."

According to ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky, McCarthy said Monday that he had no update on Rodgers' calf and did not know whether he would be any more limited in practice this week than he has the past two weeks while dealing with a left hamstring injury.

Rodgers said after the game that he didn't know how this injury compared to the one from two years ago.

"It's hard to tell; it just happened a few hours ago," Rodgers said Sunday night. "So I'll give you a better update on Wednesday."

McCarthy's offense might look similar to what it did late in the 2014 season, when Rodgers strained his left calf in Week 16 and battled the injury throughout the playoffs.

"The positive of him hurting his calf is we've been through it before -- if there is a positive in him getting hurt," McCarthy said. "But the challenge is, and I tend to err on the side of conservative when it comes to him, and he obviously really appreciates that, as you can tell, because he wants to push it. So you just have to kind of find that common ground there, and that's really what you do during the series when we're not on the field, when the defense is on the field."

McCarthy followed that up on Wednesday by advising reporters that Rodgers (calf) wouldn't practice Wednesday or Friday. "We have a plan," the coach said.

I will be following up on Rodgers progress via Late-Breaking Update in coming day, but expect him to play as usual.

In addition, Demovsky reports that Jared Cook is expected to be fine after dropping out of Sunday's game against the Seahawks with a chest injury. There's a good chance Cook will play this week against the Bears even after he sustained a lung contusion and did not return to the game. He was held out for precautionary reasons. ...

McCarthy told reporters on Wednesday he feels like Cook will be ready on Sunday, but the coach wants to see what he does in practice.

Meanwhile, three straight wins are nice for the Packers, but don't start talking to McCarthy about postseason possibilities until they get to 10 victories. To do that, they need to win their final three regular-season games.

"If you get 10 wins, then let's talk about the playoffs. Until then, it's all white noise," McCarthy said Monday.

Still, this was an across-the-board whitewash of Seattle that perhaps few people outside of the Packers locker room saw coming.

It's worth noting the Packers' secondary has been bolstered in recent weeks by the return of cornerback Damarious Randall from a groin injury. He grabbed two of Russell Wilson's career-high five interceptions, including one after sprinting and jumping front of a receiver at the goal line to take the ball away.

The Packers have given up 36 points over the last three games — or six less than what they gave up in the 42-24 loss to the Redskins alone on Nov. 20. ...

Other notes of interest. ... McCarthy disclosed on Monday that former receiver Ty Montgomery is now a full-time running back, a change made partly out of necessity at some point earlier in the year because of the season-ending ankle injury to Eddie Lacy in Week 5.

Not only is the former receiver a full-time member of the backfield now, he's likely the Packers' No. 1 running back heading into Sunday's game at Chicago and for the rest of the season.

Montgomery not only matched his season high with nine carries against Seahawks, but he gained most of his 41 yards rushing on his own -- 26 came after contact. For the season, he has averaged 2.8 yards after contact per carry, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That's second among all running backs with at least 40 carries on the season.

Montgomery, who also lined up in the slot at times on Sunday, is showing flashes of playmaking promise with three catches for 45 yards to go with the rushing total.

Being a full-time running back doesn't necessarily mean Montgomery will all of a sudden get 15-20 carries a game.

However, James Starks' role has clearly diminished. He's carried just six times for a total of 4 yards in the last two games combined and has played just seven snaps in each game. If Christine Michael keeps going the wrong way and misses handoffs like he did on an aborted play against the Seahawks, then his role might not increase, either. ...

According to the Sports Xchange, two more touchdown catches Sunday did more than catapult Jordy Nelson to the league lead with 12 scoring receptions this season. Nelson and Rodgers tied the team record with 57 touchdown passes between them during regular-season play since 2008. The record was set by the pass-catch combination of Brett Favre and Antonio Freeman.

Rodgers' touchdown throws to Nelson on Sunday were 9 and 3 yards. All but two of Nelson's touchdown receptions this season have come when the Packers had the ball in the red zone inside the opponent's 20-yard line.

"I'd say he's fairly automatic," Rodgers said about Nelson's red-zone knack for reaching the end zone.

Nelson led the way on the pass-catching end with six catches for 41 yards and the two touchdowns. Randall Cobb and Montgomery joined Adams (four receptions, 104 yards) with explosive catches of 25 and 24 yards, respectively.

Cobb left the game in the first half of the 38-10 victory over Seattle on Sunday with an ankle injury but later returned to action after being carted to the locker room. Cobb had three catches for 33 yards.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Aaron Rodgers, Brett Hundley
RBs: Ty Montgomery, Christine Michael
WRs: Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams, Randall Cobb, Geronimo Allison, Jeff Janis, Trevor Davis
TEs: Jared Cook, Richard Rodgers, Justin Perillo

Houston Texans

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 December 2016

As ESPN.com's Sara Barshop framed it "As has been the case throughout the 2016 season, the Houston Texans found a way to win ugly. ..."

This allowed them to snap a three-game losing streak by beating the Indianapolis Colts 22-17. With the win, Houston remains atop the AFC South due to its unbeaten divisional record.

While quarterback Brock Osweiler was inconsistent, Houston used an old-school formula to win a crucial divisional contest that was led by a strong defensive performance and its run game. Osweiler finished 14-of-24 for 147 yards, with an interception and no touchdowns, but the Texans ran for 185 yards and forced a season-high three turnovers.

"It was a gritty performance by us. We knew we had to come in and establish the run," veteran left tackle Duane Brown said. "We ran consistently. We were able to kind of impose our will on them there in the fourth quarter. It is always a good feeling."

The Texans squandered chances early and often on offense, including two drives that started in the red zone after interceptions. They failed to score touchdowns on the drives, instead settling for field goals of 21 and 24 yards.

Fortunately for Houston, while the passing game continues to struggle, the rushing attack continued to thrive. The Texans entered the game averaging 121.2 rushing yards per game, fifth in the NFL. Led by an injured Lamar Miller, Houston ran all over the Colts. Miller had 107 of those yards as well as the Texans' only touchdown.

"Miller is a pro," head coach Bill O'Brien said. "He's the definition of a pro. A professional football player is somebody who really understands the difference between injury and pain at the end of the season and can grind through it. That's Lamar. I thought Alfred Blue went in there and did some nice things there too. He's running hard."

The defense continued to be a strength of this team, holding Colts quarterback Andrew Luck to 24-of-45 passing for 276 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions. The Texans' third turnover was a huge strip-sack of Luck by defensive end Jadeveon Clowney that gave Houston the ball at its own 14 and kept the score at 16-10 late in the third quarter.

The defense was playing without starting outside linebacker John Simon (chest) and cornerback Johnathan Joseph (ribs). Cornerback Robert Nelson, who played more snaps than usual because of the injury to Joseph, drew three huge pass-interference penalties, including one that was declined because Luck threw a 35-yard touchdown on the play.

"Hats off to our defense," Osweiler said. "You have to give our defense so much credit. What they did today is one of the greatest performances I've been able to witness."

Meanwhile, Osweiler didn't mince words when describing the struggles the offense had in the red zone against the Colts.

"Going 1-for-5 in the red zone offensively is unacceptable. Period. It's just unacceptable," Osweiler said. "We had an opportunity to give our team a little bit of cushion."

Osweiler was referring to the two drives Houston started in the red zone after interceptions.

The Texans managed to get to the Colts' 3 on the first drive and the Colts' 6 on the second, but had to settle for field goals after the drive stalled.

This isn't anything new.

Entering Monday night, the Texans were ranked 31st in the NFL, scoring a touchdown on just 41.7 percent of their trips into the red zone, according to ESPN Stats and Information. Their 15 red-zone touchdowns are only ahead of the Los Angeles Rams, who have 14 this season.

O'Brien said the team's play in the red zone is something the coaching staff knows they need to focus on this week. Houston plays the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday, which is one of the few teams they had success against in the red zone against this season. When they met in Week 10 in Jacksonville, the Texans were 2-for-2 in the red area.

"There's just some things as a team and as an offense that we need to do better, and everybody's involved," O'Brien said. "It's 11 guys and the coaching staff -- whether it's a scheme or the execution or whatever it is -- we've all got to do a better job. We've got to improve in that area if we really want to be where we want to end up being. We can't be 1-for-5 in the red area. I think everybody understands that."

Though the Texans were just 1-of-5 in the red zone on Sunday, they were able to rely on kicker Nick Novak, who hit five field goals against the Colts.

Though the Texans have struggled to score touchdowns, they have done a good job scoring points once in the red area; Houston is ranked seventh in the NFL, scoring on 92 percent of their red-zone drives, according to ESPN Stats and Information. Their 18 red-zone field goals -- all kicked by Novak -- are tied for third-most in the NFL.

"Give [Novak] a lot of credit," O'Brien said. "He did a great job of bailing us out with his kicks, but we've got to score touchdowns so we're going to really work hard on that this week and hopefully it'll be improved. ..."

On the injury front. ... Tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz suffered a concussion against the Colts and will have to work through the league's concussion protocol before he can play. He did not practice Wednesday. The status of rookie running back/return man Tyler Ervin (ribs) is also unclear.

I'll have more on all three via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses. ...

More clarity came for Braxton Miller on Tuesday, when the Texans placed the rookie wideout on their injured-reserve list Tuesday.

A third-round pick last April, Miller played in 10 games and started six. A former quarterback who played just one college season as a wide receiver, Miller was used sparingly by the Texans as a kickoff and punt returner.

Miller caught 15 passes for 99 yards and one touchdown. He's been shut down after suffering a shoulder injury in early December.

Rookie wide receiver Wendall Williams was promoted from the practice squad and will take Miller's spot on the active roster.

Remember, the Texans put receiver Jaelen Strong on injured reserve with an ankle injury last Saturday. He sustained the injury in Week 8 against the Lions. He returned to practice this week for the first time since he injured his ankle.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Tom Savage, Brock Osweiler, Brandon Weeden
RBs: Alfred Blue, Akeem Hunt, Tyler Ervin, Jonathan Grimes, Lamar Miller
WRs: DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, Keith Mumphery
TEs: C.J. Fiedorowicz, Ryan Griffin, Stephen Anderson

Indianapolis Colts

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 December 2016

According to ESPN.com's Mike Wells, when it comes to saying the right things, the Colts are among the best. But when it comes to playing and backing up that talk, they've failed.

The Colts spent the week talking about how Sunday's key AFC South showdown against the Houston Texans was more like a Game 7 in a playoff series because of the postseason implications involved.

Wells went on to suggest you would have never thought the Colts would spend most of the afternoon looking like the team that struggled for much of the first half of this season. When it was over, the Colts' aspirations of winning the AFC South took a significant hit with a 22-17 loss to the Texans at Lucas Oil Stadium.

"We laid down. It's that simple," receiver T.Y. Hilton said. "Guys didn't make plays that were supposed to make plays."

Quarterback Andrew Luck has made a living leading the Colts to victories (17) when trailing in the fourth quarter and overtime. But his magic -- and potentially the Colts' season -- came to an end when his pass to running back Robert Turbin was off the mark on a screen attempt with 80 seconds remaining. Luck laid on the ground in disbelief momentarily before getting up and making his way to the sideline.

"There were multiple options on the play," Luck said. "Part of it was a screen and not a great decision by me."

The loss dropped the Colts (6-7) out of a first-place tie in the division and into third place. It also marked the third time this season that they failed to move above .500. They're going to need to win their final four games and get help from others to have a chance to win the division, especially with the Texans sweeping the season series against them.

Indianapolis rode Luck's right arm to three wins in the past four games to get back in the AFC South race. It was Luck's same right arm that got the Colts in trouble.

The quarterback committed a season-high three turnovers -- two interceptions and a lost fumble -- in a game in which some of the Colts' marquee skill-position players failed to show up.

The Texans did a good job of blanketing receivers not named Hilton (nine catches, 115 yards). Donte Moncrief (0-of-4 when targeted), who has excelled at using his size to win one-on-one matchups, struggled getting separation, and Phillip Dorsett had two wide-open drops.

Moncrief left the game in the second half with a hamstring injury.

As Wells suggested, this wasn't the time for the players the Colts often lean on to not show up.

Luck entered the game having completed 60 of 92 passes for 761 yards, seven touchdowns and three interceptions in his previous three starts. His biggest turnover came when the Colts were in position to take the lead.

Down 16-10, the Colts had an opportunity to take the momentum back after Dorsett drew a pass interference call to give them the ball at Houston's 5-yard line. But that momentum went away when Texans defensive end Jadeveon Clowney blew by Colts tight end Dwayne Allen to strip the ball away from Luck. The Texans recovered the fumble.

"The last thing you want to do is turn over the ball because you are going to at least get three points and then it ends up you get nothing for it," head coach Chuck Pagano said. "You don't ever want to do it and certainly down there it ends up costing you big time."

Sunday was the Colts' best -- and maybe final -- chance to knock Houston out of first place. Now, the Colts can no longer say they control their own destiny in the AFC South.

"It's tough because we have to play the 'wishing and hoping' game," running back Frank Gore said. "We knew what this game meant. Houston came out and made more plays than us. They got the win. In this game, whoever makes the most plays, that's who wins."

Gore got off to a good start early but ended the game with just 41 yards in 10 carries. Backup Robert Turbin added 10 yards on three carries. Luck had the longest run of the day for the Colts with a 33-yard effort on team's opening possession of the game on a called quarterback option play.

Indianapolis got away from the running attack midway through the game and went almost exclusively to the pass. The good news for fantasy owners is that Gore can contribute as a receiver. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Moncrief (hamstring) is listed as day to day. He did not practice Wednesday and hi status for the Vikings game won't be determined until the end of the week.

Luck did not practice Wednesday, and Pagano told reporters he had soreness in the shoulder and elbow.

"He got whacked around a little bit," Pagano said, via Stephen Holder of the Indianapolis Star.

Pagano said he expected Luck to be able to start Sunday against the Vikings, but that it was too soon to know for sure.

I'll have more via Late-Braking Update as the week progresses. ...

Receiver Devin Street was signed off the Colts practice squad to the active roster.

Street played in three games for Indianapolis this season and caught one pass for 20 yards before being waived on November 23 and signed to the practice squad the next day. He was signed to Indianapolis' 53-man roster off of the New England Patriots practice squad on September 21.

Street was originally selected by the Cowboys in the fifth round of the 2014 NFL Draft out of Pittsburgh.

Meanwhile, the Colts have placed safety Clayton Geathers, linebacker Curt Maggitt and offensive lineman Jack Mewhort on injured reserve. Maggitt and Mewhort both suffered knee injuries in Sunday's loss to Houston. Geathers has been out while dealing with a neck injury. Jon Harrison is a candidate to start at guard for Mewhort and rookie T.J. Green will replace Geathers in the starting lineup at safety.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Andrew Luck, Scott Tolzien, Stephen Morris
RBs: Frank Gore, Robert Turbin, Josh Ferguson, Jordan Todman
WRs: T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief, Phillip Dorsett, Chester Rogers, Devin Street
TEs: Jack Doyle, Dwayne Allen, Erik Swoope

Jacksonville Jaguars

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 December 2016

Head coach Gus Bradley said early last week that a defense has arrived when it starts dictating the outcome of a game.

As ESPN.com's Mike DiRocco notes, if that's the case, the Jaguars still aren't here. But it appears they are getting closer.

Dictating the outcome means making big plays: sacks, turnovers, tackles for loss, knocking away passes, defensive scores. The Jaguars' defense has rarely done any of that, even in the few instances when the team is playing with a lead.

However, the defense managed to do it once on Sunday in a 25-16 loss to Minnesota.

The Jaguars' defense had made huge strides from the past three seasons, when it gave up a franchise-record 449 points in 2013 and the fifth-most points (412) in 2014. In those three seasons, the defense has recorded the fewest interceptions in the NFL (26) and ranked 31st in scoring defense (27.3 points per game), 31st in third-down defense (43.8 percent) and 29th in total defense (375.0 yards per game).

This year's defense came into Sunday's game with the fourth-ranked defense (24th against the run, second against the pass), but that's a bit misleading. It was giving up 26.6 points per game, which is the best measure of a defense, and had forced a league-low seven turnovers and recorded just 26 sacks.

The Jaguars' defense isn't good enough to dictate the outcome of games, but they're closer to being able to do it now than at any time over the past five years.

Meanwhile, at the beginning of the 2016 season, it was anticipated that wide receivers Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns, along with tight end Julius Thomas, would be Jacksonville's three leading receivers for the coming season. That hasn't played out, however.

Robinson is way off last year's pace of 80 catches for 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns. He has not caught more than three passes in each of the last four games. His one reception against Minnesota was a season low while his 17 receiving yards was his second-lowest total this year. Robinson has 57 receptions for 639 yards and six touchdowns this season with just three games left in the season.

Hurns also is well off his numbers from the 2015 season, when he finished with 64 catches for 1,031 yards and 10 TDs. He's missed the last two games with a hamstring injury and has 35 catches for just 477 yards and three scores. Thomas has similar low numbers. Despite missing four games last season, he finished with 46 catches for 455 yards and five TDs. After being placed on injured reserve last week, Thomas finished the season with 30 receptions for 283 yards and four scores.

The one receiver who has performed well beyond his totals from a year ago is Marqise Lee. After battling injuries that limited him to 10 games and 15 catches for 191 yards and one touchdown last season, Lee now leads all Jaguars receivers with 728 yards while his 54 receptions are just three behind Robinson.

The difference for Lee is that he's played in all 13 games this season.

"I'm healthy, that's the biggest thing," Lee said. "I'm healthy and I respect my teammates. I know that they're going to go out and do everything they can for me and for us to win."

Robinson likes what he's seen in Lee's progress in his third season with the Jaguars.

"I think since Day 1, when he stepped in here, we knew he was a hell of a player," Robinson said. "He's healthy. When he's on the field and healthy, he makes plays. ..."

The good news for the passing attack?

Bortles didn't throw another pick-six. He's thrown three such passes this season and a league-high 11 since the 2014 season.

Bortles hit on 23 of 37 passes, the eighth time in 13 games he's topped the 60 percent passing mark. Bortles had one TD pass, no interceptions and finished with a QB rating of 91.8, the third time this season that he's topped the 90.0 mark and the 10th time in his four seasons with the Jaguars.

The problem with the 14 incompletions is that too many of them were bad throws by Bortles, trying to make a connection with receivers who were open. There was only one dropped pass by a Jaguars receiver. What continues to be perplexing is why Bortles has not been able to hook up with Robinson, who was targeted just three times in the game and had reception for 17 yards. ...

Other notes of interest. ... It's not a good sign when your quarterback is the only player in a game that averages more than 3.5 yards a carry.

That was the case with Jacksonville, which saw leading rusher T.J. Yeldon average 3.5 yards on 17 carries and backup Corey Grant average 3.3 on his four carries. Yeldon's longest carry was for 12 yards, the only rush in double digits for the Jaguars.

Jacksonville finished with 85 yards in 24 carries (3.5 average), the eighth time in 13 games that they have been held under than 90 yards on the ground.

With two reserves now in the starting lineup and the two tackles having below-average seasons, it's little wonder the rushing yards aren't there and likely won't be for the final three games.

Yeldon needs to have either Chris Ivory or Denard Robinson get healthy fast and return to action or the rushing game is going to struggle the rest of the season.

Ivory was listed as questionable on the Friday injury report for the Minnesota game, but was ruled out on Saturday. Ivory has a hamstring issue that has caused him to miss the team's last two games. I'll follow up on his status -- as well as that of Hurns (he did not practice Friday due to his

And finally. ... Jason Myers converted on 3 of 5 field goals against Minnesota on Sunday. He knocked through kicks of 45, 55 and 25 yards in the first half that helped Jacksonville to a 9-9 tie with the Vikings at halftime. But in the second half, Myers missed on a 41-yard attempt on the opening drive of the third quarter and then had a 61-yard try blocked in the final minute of the game.

"It felt good," Myers said about his lengthy attempt." It was into a crosswind so you have to drive it through there from 61."

The blocked kick was the team's longest field goal attempt since Josh Scobee missed from 63 yards against Indianapolis on Sept. 13, 2009. Scobee holds the team record with a 59-yarder against Indianapolis in 2010. Myers' career best is from 58 yards, set against Miami last season. It's the second longest in team history.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Blake Bortles, Chad Henne, Brandon Allen
RBs: Chris Ivory, Denard Robinson, Corey Grant, Joe Banyard, Daryl Richardson, Bronson Hill
WRs: Allen Robinson, Marqise Lee, Bryan Walters, Rashad Greene, Arrelious Benn, Allen Hurns
TEs: Ben Koyack, Neal Sterling, Alex Ellis

Kansas City Chiefs

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 December 2016

As Associated Press sports writer Dave Skretta notes, when he returned a kickoff for a touchdown a few weeks ago in Denver, Tyreek Hill had put so much space between himself and the Broncos' coverage team that he had time to give De'Anthony Thomas a high-five.

Before he reached the end zone.

On Sunday, when the speedy rookie for the Chiefs reached the open field on a punt return against Oakland, his mouthpiece popped to the turf when he was within sight of the goal line.

He might have had time to stop and pick it up.

"I was chewing on the side of it and I made a move, and I dropped it," said Hill, who at least made an attempt to grab it out of midair before it hit the turf. "That would have been epic."

Epic is a good word for Hill's scintillating performance, which earned him AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors.

His return TD in a crucial 21-13 win over the Raiders made him the first rookie since Gale Sayers in 1965 to score on a punt return, kick return, on the ground and through the air. Hill also hauled in his sixth touchdown reception earlier in the game, giving him nine touchdowns total this season — third-most by a rookie in franchise history behind only Abner Haynes and Billy Jackson.

Most of these names mean very little to Hill; Haynes played in the 1960s, Jackson in the '80s. But he does know of Sayers, the "Kansas Comet" who starred for the Jayhawks before joining the Chicago Bears.

"I mean, I didn't know," Hill said. "That's great. But I'm not the only one on that field doing it. Without those guys blocking for me and Alex throwing me the rock, none of that stuff would happen."

It's not just that Hill has been scoring touchdowns, either.

They've been crucial touchdowns.

His first touchdown reception came in the season opener against San Diego, the momentum-turning blow in what became the biggest comeback in franchise history. His first touchdown at Arrowhead Stadium came in a 27-21 win over New Orleans. And he scored on the ground, through the air and on that kick return in Denver — the Chiefs' only three touchdowns in a 30-27 victory.

Hill isn't the only guy getting the job done.

As ESPN.com's Adam Teicher notes, Alex Smith wasn't sharp for most of the recent game against the Broncos until the last few minutes, when he led the Chiefs to scores in three do-or-die situations, a touchdown and two-point conversion at the end of the fourth quarter and two field goals in overtime. Starting then, and in the two games since then, Smith has been a difference-maker other than his two turnovers against the Raiders.

There's been a lot of discussion whether the Chiefs are good enough with Smith at quarterback to advance to or win a Super Bowl. But that point seems moot if he plays the way he has the last two-plus games.

"At this point, I don't care," Smith said about the consistent debate over whether his game is good enough. "I like winning and I like being in locker rooms after wins. I love the process of us all week coming up with a plan and coming out on a Sunday and finding a way to beat the other team."

In addition, Travis Kelce had his fourth straight game with 100-plus receiving yards, putting him in rare company in Chiefs history.

The Chiefs are getting Kelce the ball more in situations when he can run after the catch, an area in which the 260-pound tight excels.

"He's doing it a lot of different ways," Smith said. "How many times has he caught something short and taken off down the field? You just don't see many tight ends with that kind of ability. He also has the speed to get past them. The post we threw [when the Chiefs were] backed up, he's running by a safety and [making] a great play on the ball. I think he's a got a lot of tools. It starts with that.

"He's certainly a guy that you're trying to get the ball to in the course of a game. It just depends. ... No question there's probably not a single week where obviously he's not a guy we're not trying to get involved."

Jeremy Maclin didn't have much of an impact in his first game back after missing the previous four because of a groin injury. Maclin was in the lineup for 42 of Kansas City's 55 offensive snaps, or 76 percent.

Smith threw to Maclin three times. He had one catch for 16 yards.

Still, he's the Chiefs' most experienced and accomplished wide receiver. It's difficult to argue that the Chiefs are a better team when he's not playing.

"It was his first game back in awhile. ... And I think it is hard to come back and play a full game right away," Smith said. "Anytime you get a guy his caliber back, it is a good thing. The more weapons, the better. So adding him into the mix is only going to help us. He is a guy who can do so many different things inside and outside."

Also of interest. ... Since rushing for 131 yards against the Raiders in October in Oakland, Spencer Ware's production has dropped dramatically. He has averaged less than three yards per carry in each of the last two games. Ware's longest gain against the Raiders in his 20 carries was eight yards.

If that's what the Chiefs are giving up in return for their many big pass plays, the Chiefs will make that trade.

Otherwise, their decreasing production in the running game could be an ominous sign.

LB Derrick Johnson (Achilles) suffered a rupture of his left Achilles in the second quarter of last Thursday night's game against Oakland. Johnson tore his right Achilles in the 2014 opener and missed the rest of the season. At 34 and after a dozen NFL seasons, it's going to be a long road back for the Chiefs all-time leading tackler. It's a big loss for the K.C. defense and locker room.

And finally. ... There is a "very realistic" chance Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles will be back for the playoffs after undergoing surgery to clean up the meniscus in both of his knees earlier this season, a source told ESPN's Adam Schefter.

Charles, who had been experiencing pain in both knees, was placed on the injured reserve list on Nov. 1. Dr. James Andrews performed arthroscopic knee surgery on Charles' right knee around that time, and on the left knee Nov. 14.

The Chiefs are hopeful that Charles, who is eligible to return in Week 17, will give them an added boost for the postseason.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Alex Smith, Nick Foles, Tyler Bray
RBs: Spencer Ware, Charcandrick West, Knile Davis, Jamaal Charles
WRs: Jeremy Maclin, Tyreek Hill, Chris Conley, Albert Wilson, De'Anthony Thomas, Demarcus Robinson
TEs: Travis Kelce, James O'Shaughnessy, Demetrius Harris, Ross Travis

Los Angeles Rams

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 December 2016

Jeff Fisher's tenure in Los Angeles didn't last one full season.

The Rams fired their coach on Monday. Special teams coordinator John Fassel will serve as interim coach. The Rams are at Seattle on Thursday night.

Fisher was the team's coach since 2012, and compiled a 31-45-1 record with the Rams. He oversaw the move from St. Louis to Los Angeles this past offseason.

The lack of success on the field, capped by a 42-14 home rout at the hands of Atlanta on Sunday, spelled the end for Fisher.

Los Angeles is 4-9 this season and has scored a league-low 194 points.

"Making a decision such as this, especially during the season, is one of the most difficult in sports," Rams owner Stan Kroenke said.

"I have great respect for Jeff as a coach, person, father and friend. He has worked tirelessly despite some challenging circumstances. He played an integral role in helping this team make history in returning the NFL to Los Angeles, and we always will be grateful for his commitment and dedication to our organization."

Fisher, 58, went 147-126 as coach of the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans and helped that franchise in its relocation. He led the Titans to the 1999 AFC championship.

Long respected in league circles for his work on the NFL's competition committee, Fisher never found success — or a franchise quarterback — with the Rams, who went 7-8-1, 7-9, 6-10 and 7-9 in his four full seasons.

They traded up for the first selection in this year's draft and took Cal's Jared Goff, but he rode the bench for much of the season behind journeyman Case Keenum as LA started the schedule 3-1. Fisher finally turned to Goff in Week 11 and the Rams dropped all four of his starts.

Kroenke said in his statement that "this is the right time to make a change as our performance has not lived up to my or our fans' expectations. We all are focused on improving as an organization and building a team that makes Los Angeles proud. Our mission is to celebrate a Super Bowl title with our fans in Los Angeles. Today is the first step to bringing us closer to that goal."

Oddly, Kroenke gave Fisher a contract extension before the season, though it was not made public until recently.

Now, that extension looks more like a bonus to Fisher for his role in aiding the organization's move to California than being any part of a plan for the team's future.

Fassel, 42, joined the Rams after spending the past three years as special teams coordinator in Oakland. He's also worked for the Ravens.

He is the son of Jim Fassel, who coached the Giants to the 2000 NFC title.

Attendance has been something of an issue at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, which has a listed capacity of 93,607. Only in their home opener did they approach that number, and they drew 82,495 on Sunday.

That's still a high number, but their performance against Atlanta isn't likely to help sell more tickets for their remaining two home games.

Of course, as fantasy owners know all too well, the team's offense has been. ... Well. Offensive.

The Rams rank last in points per game (14.9), yards per game (286.2), yards per play (4.7), first downs per game (16.2) and Total QBR (38.9) this season. It's the second straight season the Rams rank last in offensive efficiency. In half of the Rams' four wins, they failed to score a touchdown, making them the first team since the 2002 Buccaneers to win multiple games in a season without a touchdown.

The offense has been especially bad in their new Los Angeles home. In five home games this season, the Rams have scored five touchdowns. On Sunday, the Falcons scored six touchdowns in Los Angeles.

Over the past three weeks, the defense has also fallen off, allowing 39 points per game, most in the NFL in that span.

Todd Gurley said his Rams were running what "looked like a middle school offense" and questioned the effort of his teammates after Sunday's rout.

"Man, we gotta play," Gurley said. "I don't care if we're out of the playoffs or not. I don't care. Just come up, show up, play. That's why we play this game. Show up, play."

Gurley, held below 100 rushing yards for the 20th time in his past 21 games, was asked if he believes everybody on his team is showing up to play.

"I don't," the running back replied. "I really don't. We're just going through the motions. It looks like everybody's just playing to get through."

Fisher, who tied an NFL record with his 165th career loss, is getting most of the blame, but Gurley said, "Coaches don't have anything to do with it. This is about us. We're on the field."

Nonetheless, Fisher is gone and Jared Goff will now have his second head coach. Out of the quarterbacks drafted in the top two in the past two seasons, three are already on their second head coach (Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota and Goff).

Goff will be the fourth first-round rookie quarterback to start for two head coaches since the 1970 merger, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, joining Ryan Leaf in 1998 (Kevin Gilbride and June Jones), Blaine Gabbert in 2011 (Jack Del Rio and Mel Tucker) and Mariota last year (Ken Whisenhunt and Mike Mularkey).

On the injury front. ... Running back Benny Cunningham (neck), tight end Cory Harkey (triceps) and receiver Brian Quick (shoulder) were held out of practice to start the week. Robert Quinn (concussion) was a full participant.

Harkey was placedd on injured reserve Tuesday, ending his season.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Jared Goff, Sean Mannion, Case Keenum
RBs: Todd Gurley, Benny Cunningham, Chase Reynolds, Malcolm Brown
WRs: Kenny Britt, Tavon Austin, Brian Quick, Pharoh Cooper, Bradley Marquez, Mike Thomas, Nelson Spruce
TEs: Lance Kendricks, Tyler Higbee, Cory Harkey, Temarrick Hemingway

Miami Dolphins

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 December 2016

According to Associated Press sports writer Steven Wine, Ryan Tannehill was back at the Miami Dolphins' complex Monday, his left knee injury less serious than first feared.

The injury was diagnosed as a sprained ACL and MCL, head coach Adam Gase said, meaning Tannehill will avoid surgery.

It remains unlikely he'll play again this season, and Matt Moore will make his first start since 2011 on Saturday against the New York Jets.

When Tannehill was hurt Sunday against Arizona, the Dolphins (8-5) feared a torn ACL that would require surgery and a long, arduous rehabilitation. The Dolphins learned the final diagnosis late Sunday.

"Better than what we thought," Gase said. "I was happy for him. That's a hard injury to come back from and rehab. It's a long, long process."

ACL surgery generally requires at least a nine-month recovery. Gase said the Dolphins don't know how long Tannehill will be sidelined by the sprained knee, but it's questionable whether he would be available even deep into the postseason.

"It's not going to be one game," Gase said. "It will be longer than that."

Tannehill should be available to take part in the Dolphins' offseason program, however.

While Tannehill was at the team complex Monday, Moore was absent — his wife was having their third child. But he'll soon be cramming as the new No. 1 quarterback.

After a slow start when he came off the bench against Arizona, Moore led a late drive that ended with the game-winning field goal.

The Dolphins won for the seventh time in the past eight games and forged a tie with Denver in the race for the final AFC wild-card berth.

Only two Dolphins on the active roster have been with the team longer than Moore, a 10-year veteran who joined Miami in 2011.

He has 25 starts but none since the Dolphins drafted the durable Tannehill, who started 77 consecutive games in his first five NFL seasons despite taking 213 sacks.

Moore has thrown 16 passes in the past four seasons, including five Sunday.

He has a 13-12 record as a starter — giving him a career winning percentage better than Tannehill — but this week will be the first time Moore has started for a team with a winning record.

Moore has 33 touchdown passes, 28 interceptions and a reputation for being an aggressive risk-taker.

"I'm a pocket passer who likes to throw it downfield," he said Sunday.

Gase said he likes that aspect of Moore, who is called a "gunslinger" by many.

"That doesn't bother me one bit," Gase said of Moore's reputation. "I want a guy that wants to go out there and be aggressive and try to win the game."

It'll be interesting to see whether wide receiver DeVante Parker, the downfield threat, becomes a more frequent target.

Whatever the case, Miami will likely need Moore to do the same as Tannehill, which means make timely plays as opposed to carrying the offense.

"I know Matt will do whatever we need him to do to win a game," Gase said. "I like the fact that he's not afraid to scramble outside the pocket and kind of play a little looser than a lot of coaches like. I like calling plays for him, because you never know what you're going to experience in that play."

The new backup quarterback is expected to be rookie Brandon Doughty, a seventh-round draft pick from Western Kentucky who grew up near the Dolphins' complex. In addition, the Dolphins were said to be adding former Texans QB T.J. Yates on Tuesday.

Yates actually won a playoff game as a rookie with the Texans in 2011 after replacing an injured Matt Leinart (who was replacing an injured Matt Schaub), and in a second stint with the team, stepped in for an injured Brian Hoyer to win a game.

He's started seven regular-season games in the NFL and has a 4-3 record in those games (and 1-1 in the playoffs).

Meanwhile, Tannehill likely finishes 2016 with career highs in passer rating (93.5), completion rate (67.1 percent) and yards per attempt (7.7).

It has been his first year working with Gase, a quarterback expert who frequently praised Tannehill for his improvement — and resilience.

"I don't know if I've been around anybody tougher," Gase said. "The guy has taken a lot shots since I've been here, unfortunately. He just keeps bouncing back."

On Saturday the Dolphins will also be without center Mike Pouncey, who won't practice this week, Gase said.

It will be the fifth game in a row Pouncey has missed because of a hip injury that has limited him to five games this season -- and it appears that will be it. The Dolphins will reportedly put Pouncey on IR this week with the goal being to get him healthy for next season. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Jay Ajayi, who only had 48 yards on 20 carries against Arizona, now has 956 yards rushing, and is averaging 5.0 yards per carry.

Ajayi, however, hasn't had a 100-yard rushing game since he rushed for 111 yards against the New York Jets six games ago.

Kenny Stills, who had six receptions for 97 yards and one TD against Arizona, has 34 receptions for 598 yards and a career-best six TDs. Stills had a crucial late-game 29-yard reception against the Cardinals to set up the game-winning field goal.

Jarvis Landry has 79 receptions for 923 yards and is close to posting back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. Brian Hartline is the last Dolphins wide receiver to accomplish that feat, in 2012 and 2013.

Tight end Dion Sims has 12 receptions for 121 yards and two TDs in his last four games and continues to get rave reviews from Gase.

And finally. ... Andrew Franks hit the game-winning 21-yard field goal in hard rain to defeat Arizona. Franks is now 14 of 18 on the season.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Matt Moore, Taylor Yates, Ryan Tannehill
RBs: Jay Ajayi, Damien Williams, Kenyan Drake
WRs: Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills, Leonte Carroo, Jakeem Grant
TEs: Dion Sims, Dominique Jones, Jordan Cameron

Minnesota Vikings

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 December 2016

With a big, white patch over his right eye and instructions from his doctor not to yell too loudly for fear of further damaging the surgically repaired retina, Mike Zimmer returned to the sideline for the Vikings to lead them to a much-needed victory over Jacksonville.

As Associated Press sports writer Jon Krawczynski noted, whether Zimmer's decision to come back after missing the previous game against Dallas was in the best interest of his long-term health or not, the grizzled coach sent an unmistakable message to the players he asks to play through pain for him.

"I'm not missing any more games the rest of my life," Zimmer vowed after a 25-16 victory over the Jaguars stunted a freefall of six losses in the previous seven games.

The Vikings (7-6) entered December figuring they needed to win the final four games of the season to keep their playoff hopes alive, a startling position after being the last undefeated team in the league during a 5-0 start.

They've suffered a litany of injuries this season, including to their head coach, who has had four eye surgeries to address a problem that has bothered him for months.

After emergency surgery caused him to miss a loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Dec. 1, doctors cleared Zimmer to fly with the team to Jacksonville.

He initially was not sure if he would coach from the sideline or a box above the field to protect him, but he ended up on the field with his players, which is where he wanted to be all along.

The sight of their leader gutting through a serious eye issue to stay in the fight emboldened the Vikings.

"He's a warrior," cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said on Monday. "If you're injured, if you've got some little aches and pains, you just look at coach Zim like, 'Wow, this guy's got one eye and he's out here coaching.'

"That lets you know how committed he is to this team and the dedication he has for this game. It's just unbelievable to have a coach like that."

The Vikings host Indianapolis on Sunday and finish the season with a game at surging Green Bay on Christmas Eve and home against Chicago.

For Zimmer, it's about holding himself to the same standard he holds his players. He asks them to push their bodies to the absolute limit, to recover quickly from injuries and he has made his displeasure known when some players have been slow to heal.

Zimmer said that he has talked about the importance of toughness "since the day I first walked in the building here."

He has posted signs around the team's headquarters underscoring that theme and challenged his players to live up to it.

"If you're going to preach it, you need to walk the walk, too," Zimmer said on Monday.

Meanwhile, the Vikings' path to the postseason virtually demanded they win out and Sunday's victory keeps the Vikings' hopes alive. It sends them home with a winning record and legitimizes the chance that Adrian Peterson could return for a pivotal game on Dec. 24 at Lambeau Field if the Vikings can beat the Indianapolis Colts next Sunday.

On Wednesday, the team officially designated him to return from IR.

Peterson said he's hoping to practice this week for the first time since he tore the meniscus in his right knee Sept. 18. He hopes to return for the Vikings' game against the Green Bay Packers on Dec. 24, but didn't rule out the possibility of playing against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, saying he'd have a better idea of his readiness once he practices.

League sources had told ESPN.com's Ben Goessling last month that Peterson could return for the Colts or Packers game after an MRI showed his knee was nearly healed, and Peterson was seen running light sprints at Vikings practice on Nov. 29. Zimmer said that day it wasn't the first time Peterson had run, adding the running back was "probably ahead of schedule."

Peterson said last week he would only return this season if the Vikings were in the playoff race, adding it would be "pointless" to play if the Vikings weren't in contention and indicating he was looking toward returning for the Packers game -- which would fall on the five-year anniversary of when he tore his left ACL against the Washington Redskins.

Peterson returned from that operation in 2012, a season in which he ran for 2,097 yards and won the league MVP, establishing his reputation as a quick healer. A comeback from meniscus surgery this season would only add to it.

The 31-year-old running back's 2017 contract is a team option, with a $6 million roster bonus and $18 million cap hit, but when asked about the possibility of his return next year, Peterson pointed out recent reports that the league's salary cap is expected to climb again next season, adding, "It's up to those guys to make it happen" and saying he was only focused on what he could control.

Peterson was averaging only 1.9 yards per carry before being injured. But, if healthy, he would change the way defenses play the Vikings, allowing quarterback Sam Bradford more opportunities to throw the ball deep, as he did with success at Jacksonville.

Peterson also would help solve the Vikings' woeful short-yardage and goal-line running. Sunday, the Vikings fumbled the ball away on third-and-goal at the 1, and were stopped on third and fourth down from the 1.

In fact, Matt Asiata was stopped four out of the five times he carried the ball from the Jaguars' 1-yard line. The first two times resulted in the Vikings turning the ball over on downs. He did score a touchdown, but he later fumbled into the end zone for a Jaguars' touchback.

The Vikings stayed committed to the run, tapping away with a decimated line that saw another starter right guard Brandon Fusco go down with an injury (concussion). With Fusco out, left guard Alex Boone was the only opening-day starter among the linemen in the game.

The Vikings averaged 2.9 yards on 29 carries. Asiata did have a 23-yard run in Jaguars territory. Bradford used a great blitz pickup from McKinnon to take off for a season-high 15-yard run.

Bradford didn't turn the ball over while throwing for 292 yards and posting his sixth passer rating above 100 (106.5) on the season. He also completed three passes over 40 yards and didn't take a sack. Adam Thielen had 101 yards on just four catches while McKinnon had six receptions for only 38 yards, but converted a third-and-3 at the Jaguars' 8-yard line with an excellent jump cut that twisted linebacker Telvin Smith to the ground.

That led to the Vikings' first touchdown after they had fallen behind 16-12. Minnesota, however, struggled to finish most drives, going 3 for 11 on third down.

As NFL.com's Matt Harmon notes, Thielen has a team-high 305 receiving yards and is second on the team in targets (30) over the last month. ...

And finally. ... Laquon Treadwell left in the first quarter with an ankle injury. The rookie first-round draft pick was not targeted and still has only one catch on the season.

Treadwell did not practice Wednesday; Bradford (shoulder) was limited. He was limited in practice two weeks ago with an ankle injury and still played against the Cowboys. I'll follow up via Late-Breaking Update as needed.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Sam Bradford, Shaun Hill, Taylor Heinicke
RBs: Jerick McKinnon, Matt Asiata, Adrian Peterson
WRs: Stefon Diggs, Cordarrelle Patterson, Adam Thielen, Charles Johnson, Laquon Treadwell, Jarius Wright
TEs: Kyle Rudolph, MyCole Pruitt, Rhett Ellison, David Morgan

New England Patriots

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 December 2016

As ESPN.com's Mike Reiss notes, when wide receiver Chris Hogan took a handoff and ran for 4 yards in the first quarter, he appeared to injure his hand at the end of the play and took himself out of the game.

While that was happening, New England Patriots offensive coaches called for the next snap to be played with a three-receiver package, but there was one big problem: The Patriots dressed only three pure receivers for the game and Hogan was being looked at by the medical staff on the sideline. While special teams captain Matthew Slater scurried to take the offensive huddle, it was determined that a timeout would be the better course of action so everyone could regroup.

That early sequence highlighted how the Patriots' offensive depth is being taxed, yet by game's end, they still put up big numbers in terms of net yards (496) and points (30) against the NFL's No. 1-rated defense.

Capping things off with Hogan's 79-yard touchdown, and then with running back LeGarrette Blount effectively running out the clock, was something that brought a smile to Tom Brady's face.

Hogan's, too.

"Me and Tom are on the same page. It was something where I had the option of going to the corner or the middle of the field and we saw the same thing," said Hogan, whose hand injury didn't cost him one play. "Tom made a great throw and I think it was the time and the point in the game where we needed someone to step up and make a big play."

Brady threw for 406 yards and three touchdowns against a Baltimore Ravens defense that had held opposing quarterbacks to the third-lowest Total QBR in the NFL this season (56.9).

How did he do it?

Brady was 8-of-10 for 249 yards with two touchdown passes on throws that went at least 15 yards downfield. That's his second-most such completions in a game in the past 10 seasons (he had nine against the Steelers in 2013).

The eight deep completions are the most the Ravens have allowed in a game in the past four seasons. Entering the game, opposing quarterbacks had completed only 35 percent of their deep passes against the Ravens this season, the second-lowest completion percentage in the NFL. But Brady has a 55 percent completion percentage on throws that long, his highest within the past 10 seasons.

That included a 79-yard touchdown pass to Chris Hogan (a play in which Brady said Hogan wasn't the primary receiver), his longest touchdown throw since an 81-yarder to Aaron Dobson against the Steelers in 2013. Hogan finished with a career-high 129 receiving yards.

The other two touchdowns both came against the Ravens' blitz. Brady picked that apart, going 7-of-9 for 83 yards, with the scores to Malcolm Mitchell and Martellus Bennett.

Brady has eight touchdowns and no interceptions against blitzes, the most touchdowns without an interception against it this season (surpassing Matthew Stafford, who has seven touchdowns and no interceptions).

Elias Sports Bureau: Did You Know?

Brady now has nine 400-yard passing games, tied for fourth-most all-time, according to research by Elias Sports Bureau. He's one of five quarterbacks with two 400-yard passing games on Monday Night Football, along with Joe Montana, Drew Brees, Ken Anderson and Randall Cunningham.

In addition to the big connection with Hogan, Brady also connected with five different targets with a reception of 27 yards or longer.

Julian Edelman was actually the least efficient pass catcher with a team-best seven catches for 73 yards on his 15 targets. Hogan notched his second career 100-yard day with five catches for 129 yards. Bennett and Mitchell each caught four passes to go with their touchdown, totaling 70 and 41 yards, respectively.

Brady was sacked just once and avoided the limited rush that got near him, although he was forced into an intentional grounding that cost his team a field goal attempt.

Still, it was a very impressive, productive day against the NFL's No. 1 defense, including a solid 8 for 16 conversions on third downs against the Raven's No. 1 third-down defense.

Meanwhile, despite facing the NFL's No. 1 rush defense, Blount gave the Patriots enough production to balance out the offense. The big back continued his career year with 18 rushes for 72 yards for a 4.0 average and a touchdown. His 1-yard score was his 14th of the season, tying Curtis Martin's franchise record.

He topped the 1,000-yard mark on the year and his 1,029 yards are a career high. Blount notched New England's first touchdown and then closed out the game with a first down on fourth-and-1 to run out the clock on the win. It was far from a dominant day on the ground, but Blount gave the Patriots more than might have been expected against the best run defense in the NFL, reaching at least 18 carries for the 10th time in 13 games this season.

Pass-catching back Dion Lewis was the only other Patriots player to do much on the ground, picking up 14 yards on his three attempts. Still, James White's strong play took away time from Lewis, who played only two snaps in the second half.

Other notes of interest. .. Danny Amendola (ankle) missed his first game of the season after being absent from practice all week. Amendola suffered a reported high-ankle sprain against the Rams that's expected to sideline him the rest of the regular season.

Griff Whalen was a healthy scratch against the Ravens. The game came just days after he signed with New England to add depth to the receiver and return roles.

Bennett, who is playing through ankle and shoulder injuries, looked like he had some of his old explosion back.

And finally. ... With Jeff Fisher being fired by the Los Angeles Rams, the rumor season regarding head coaching candidates is heating up. As such, Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels' name will be thrown around quite a bit regarding not just Los Angeles, but other jobs that may open up. Once again orchestrating an impressive Brady-led offense, the former Denver Broncos head coach has made it clear he wants to be in charge again.

But, McDaniels also is making it clear that for the time being that he is very much focused on the task at hand in another potential Super Bowl run.

"I'm really not I've already spoken my piece on that," McDaniels said when asked if he would be interested in interviewing with the Rams, with whom he was the team's offensive coordinator for one season in 2011. "I have a short week to get ready for a great opponent and I'm focused on the Broncos. I know there are a lot of things going on out there but my focus and my attention is going to stay right here in the building on the team that we have to get ready for and how we can prepare our team to play the best they can on Sunday."

That said, McDaniels has some history with the Rams.

He was their offensive coordinator under Steve Spagnuolo during the 2011 season, but was not retained when they fired Spagnuolo and wound up back with the Patriots as an offensive assistant for that year's postseason.

With the Patriots likely getting a first-round bye in this year's playoffs, the Rams will have to wait until at least the week before the Wild Card round before seeing if McDaniels has interest in rejoining the organization in their new home.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett
RBs: LeGarrette Blount, James White, Dion Lewis, Brandon Bolden, James Develin
WRs: Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, Michael Floyd, Danny Amendola, Matt Slater
TEs: Martellus Bennett, Matthew Lengel

New Orleans Saints

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 December 2016

As Associated Press sports writer Guerry Smith reported, the mistake-prone New Orleans Saints can add a suddenly slumping offense to the list of reasons they will likely miss the playoffs for the third consecutive year.

Drew Brees threw three interceptions for the second straight week in a 16-11 loss Sunday at Tampa Bay while receiving little help from his offensive teammates, leaving the Saints (5-8) grappling Monday with the frustration of another lost season. New Orleans, which has not been above .500 since 2013, trails the Buccaneers and Atlanta Falcons in the NFC South by three games with three weeks left in the regular season.

By the time the Saints kick off against Arizona in a late-afternoon game on Sunday, they could be eliminated from the NFC wild card picture. And a victory by either the Bucs or the Falcons on Sunday would end their division title hopes as well.

The Saints face this disappointing scenario despite their formerly leaky defense holding Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston to no rushing or passing touchdowns for the first time in his college or professional career. New Orleans limited the Bucs to 270 yards without starting safety Kenny Vaccaro, who began serving a four-game suspension for using the banned substance Adderall.

"It's been the same story all season long," said veteran safety Roman Harper, who started and played 51 snaps in place of Vaccaro. "When one unit plays well, we have another unit that does not. We haven't been able to put a complete game together with all three units playing well. If we did that, we probably would have been pretty good."

For the last two weeks, the primary issue has been an offense that still ranks No. 1 in the NFL in yards but has slowed dramatically.

Brees has gone two straight games without a touchdown pass for only the second time in his 11 years with New Orleans. The Saints have scored one touchdown in that span, losing at home to Detroit 26-13 before managing three field goals and a safety against Tampa Bay.

It's the first time Brees did not throw a touchdown in consecutive games since 2009, his fourth year with the Saints, when the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets managed to keep him from launching a scoring pass.

According to ESPN.com, t's the first time Brees has posted back-to-back single-digit point games in fantasy since 2009.

With 458 touchdown passes, which ranks him third behind only Peyton Manning (539) and Brett Favre (508) in NFL history, Brees has been held without a scoring pass 29 times in 230 career games.

The last two weeks marked only the 12th and 13th times that Brees, who has played in 171 regular-season games with the Saints, did not have a touchdown.

Brees was shut out 16 times in 59 games with the San Diego Chargers, whom he played with from 2001 to 2005.

The passing game was never in sync without Brees' top wide receiver, rookie Michael Thomas, and center Max Unger both sidelined by foot injuries. Willie Snead caught six passes for 85 yards with a long of 29 yards and Brandin Cooks had five receptions for 61 yards with a 38-yarder.

But Cooks and running back Travaris Cadet both dropped would-be touchdown passes to cap a miserable day.

In addition, the Bucs limited the Saints to 46 rushing yards, their second lowest total of the season. Brees, sacked once and pressured several times, now leads the NFC in interceptions with 14.

"We're going to turn the ball over if we have to throw it an 80-percent clip," offensive tackle Zach Strief said. "This game is not as complicated as we would like to make it sound. When you become one-dimensional, it's tough to protect the quarterback, and when you're relying on him to make all the plays and you don't give him time, you're going to struggle."

The errors came one after the other.

"It's not one breakdown specifically," head coach Sean Payton said. "We've got to look how we as coaches can improve the efficiency, and that starts with maybe the overall amount (of information) that we're giving them."

Thomas was inactive Sunday against the Buccaneers because of a foot injury. His status for this week's game with the Arizona Cardinals is not known.

I'll have more on his status via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses.

Brandon Coleman took over Thomas' spot with the rookie missing this game. According to NFL.com's Matt Harmon, Coleman played 84 percent of the snaps, just one fewer than Cooks. There was no edge in red-zone work, as five players all had one target on the day.

Coby Fleener, despite Josh Hill's season-ending injury, remains a non-factor.

As noted above, when the passing game struggled, the running game followed suit as the Saints never got much going for the second game in a row. They finished with a 2.9 average on 16 carries as the Buccaneers shut them down from the start. Backup Tim Hightower had the most success with 31 yards and a 5.2 average on six attempts and a long of 8 yards. Mark Ingram, who has battled a toe injury the last two weeks, had 14 yards on seven carries with a team-best 9-yard gain.

Fullback John Kuhn was stopped cold late in the second quarter on a third-and-1 run, which has been a big problem the last two weeks for the Saints.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Drew Brees, Luke McCown, Garrett Grayson
RBs: Mark Ingram, Tim Hightower, Travaris Cadet, Marcus Murphy, Daniel Lasco
WRs: Brandin Cooks, Willie Snead, Michael Thomas, Brandon Coleman, TommyLee Lewis
TEs: Coby Fleener, John Phillips, Chris Manhertz

New York Giants

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 December 2016

As the Sports Xchange noted, the Giants' offense finished Sunday night's game against the Dallas Cowboys with just 260 net yards, 167 of which came in the passing game, and 10 points while converting just two of their 14 third-down attempts.

Yet there was head coach Ben McAdoo with a straight face opining that the offense took a step forward.

That's right. The Giants' offense, which has struggled to crack 300 yards total in each of the last three games and which has averaged 12 points per game in the last two weeks, took a step forward in their huge 10-7 win.

McAdoo explained his rather odd conclusion during his Monday conference call with reporters.

"I thought we left some offense out there, obviously, but I liked the physicality when we ran the football," he said. "The 31 rush attempts is what it ended up being, and we made Dallas end up playing a full game on defense, something they haven't had to do a lot of this this year.

"We don't want the time of possession and the number of plays to get tilted to one side so our defense can play physical and play aggressive for 60 minutes. We thought that was key in the ballgame and I thought we did a nice job there."

Upon closer inspection of the numbers, McAdoo is certainly on to something. The Giants edged the Cowboys in time of possession 30:53 to 29:08, something they have done in just three games this year.

In doing so, the Giants were also able to balance out their offense, with 33 rushes to 28 passes, making this the first time this season where runs outnumbered pass attempts.

As for the third-down struggles, even that number appears to be misleading a bit. A closer look at the Giants' average gain per down shows that they picked up 3.6 per play on first down, which made second down more manageable.

And on second down, New York averaged 7.6 yards per play, often eliminating the need for a third-down conversion.

So, yes, there was progress made by the Giants' offense, even though that progress wasn't clearly visible.

But McAdoo and the rest of the Giants know they can do a lot better as these final weeks of the season wind down.

That starts with Eli Manning, who has had some visible struggles this season with connecting to his receivers and throwing the ball down the field.

While a good part of that is a result of his inconsistent pass protection by the offensive line, McAdoo doesn't seem overly concerned with his quarterback's play this season.

"I think it was a gritty performance," he said. "He hung in there, took some shots early in the ballgame, but we need to take better care of the football."

Still, the latest numbers would appear to indicate otherwise.

Manning completed 17 of 28 pass attempts (60.7 percent) for 193 yards, the third straight week in which he failed to record at least 200 passing yards in a game.

He also tossed two interceptions this week, both coming on balls that might have led to more points if they had been completed.

Despite the numbers, McAdoo remained insistent that Manning isn't solely to blame for the offense's struggles.

"When things go well, the quarterback gets a lot of credit. When things don't, the quarterback gets a lot of the blame," he said.

McAdoo isn't completely wrong about the struggles not all being on the quarterback.

For instance, on the ball intended for Victor Cruz that was picked off by cornerback Anthony Brown, Cruz appeared to be more at fault after failing to come back for the ball. Cruz then failed to try to knock the ball away from the defender when it appeared he was beaten on the play.

Odell Beckham and Cruz had three dropped passes between them, two of which might have become 14 points if they had been caught. The offensive line allowed three sacks and four hits, as Manning never really became comfortable behind center.

If the Giants can ever fix their problems on offense -- and it's becoming apparent they might have to wait until the offseason to do so -- this team could be something special. ...

For the record. ... Per ESPN Stats and Information, Beckham's eventual game-winning 61-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter was the sixth scoring reception of his career that included at least 50 yards after the catch, three times more than any other player since the start of the 2014 season.

Following Sunday night's totals, Beckham now ranks sixth in the league in yards after the catch (426), 10th in targets per route run (27.1 percent) and 47th in average air yards per target (10.58). Interestingly, he ranks first in the league in receiving yards when playing from behind, but doesn't even crack the top 30 for receiving yards when playing ahead.

Per the Elias Sports Bureau, Beckham currently has the second-most number of touchdowns on 60-plus-yard passing plays through the first three years of his career in NFL history (9), one short of Chicago Bears legend Harlon Hill. Beckham is already halfway to tying rival DeSean Jackson for third-most 60-plus-yard touchdowns in NFL history (18). Jerry Rice holds the record (23), followed by Lance Alworth (19).

As for the rushing attack, the numbers weren't eye-popping 93 yards on 33 carries (2.8 average) but the Giants' run game helped keep the team out of long yardage on third down this week in addition to providing balance to the offense.

Both Rashad Jennings and Paul Perkins finished with identical stat lines (15 carries for 45 yards), but Perkins had a 21-yard gain wiped off the books thanks to a holding penalty called against offensive lineman Marshall Newhouse.

Shane Vereen (concussion) is in the league's protocol. But he was on the practice field Wednesday.

I'll follow up via Late-Breaking Update as needed.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Eli Manning
RBs: Paul Perkins, Orleans Darkwa, Bobby Rainey, George Winn
WRs: Odell Beckham, Sterling Shepard, Victor Cruz, Roger Lewis, Dwayne Harris, Tavarres King
TEs: Will Tye, Jerell Adams, Larry Donnell

New York Jets

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 December 2016

As Associated Press sports writer Dennis Waszak Jr. put it: "Rough beginning, gritty finish — and a mostly solid performance. ..."

That was Bryce Petty's second NFL start in a nutshell, a 23-17 overtime victory for the New York Jets on Sunday at San Francisco.

"He had some moxie," head coach Todd Bowles said during a conference call Monday. "But he had some reads he'd like to have back and some things he could've done better, but as the game went on, he got a little more comfortable and started using his legs better."

Petty tossed an interception on his first pass that led to a 49ers touchdown one play later, but he wasn't rattled.

He finished 23 of 35 for 257 yards, and had four rushes for 19 yards. No run was bigger than his 2-point conversion run when he looked more like a tailback than a quarterback, shaking off linebacker Ahmad Brooks and spinning his body into the end zone to get the Jets within 17-14 with just over five minutes left in the fourth quarter.

"He started competing and he got a little more relaxed and his competitive nature started to come out," Bowles said during a conference call. "He forgot he was like a first-year starter and started playing more to himself, so that was encouraging."

Petty was elevated to starting quarterback for the final four games of the season by Bowles last week, pushing Ryan Fitzpatrick to the sideline. With New York out of the playoff hunt, the team decided to give Petty an extended look to see, perhaps, if he could be their quarterback heading into next season.

Petty had some gunslinger-like throws down the field, including one late in the second quarter that threaded the needle so closely that it first appeared it was intercepted, but was actually caught one-handed by Quincy Enunwa.

There was also the play that helped set up Bilal Powell's winning touchdown run in overtime when Petty rolled to his left and, while facing pressure, launched a pass down the field to Robby Anderson, who leaped to make a 26-yard catch.

"Shoot, I think you just play QB and you go off your instincts," Petty said after the game.

Petty also had a handful of moments when he held the ball a bit too long, resulting in several of the 49ers' six sacks.

For the record, Anderson (six catches for 99 yards) remains wildly inconsistent -- he was targeted 11 times -- but has done enough to warrant a serious look down the stretch. Petty actually managed to get tight ends Austin Seferian-Jenkins (three catches for 35 yards) and Brandon Bostick (two catches for 17 yards).

Brandon Marshall (three catches for 33 yards) and Enunwa (two catches for 29 yards)?

Not so much.

With three games to go — all against AFC East opponents — the Jets would like to see a few things from Petty moving forward, including better command of the offense, as well as clock and game management and making the right reads.

Petty has a short week to prepare for Miami, with a home game Saturday night. After dealing with some nerves against the 49ers, Petty hopes there will be fewer knots in his stomach against the Dolphins.

"I hope that feeling starts to leave the more games that I get in there," Petty said. "I don't know, in a sense, I like being nervous, I love it. I feel like the day that I stop getting nervous for football is probably the day that I'm going to hang it up. I'm just so passionate about football, and it's that feeling that football gives me that nothing else gives me."

Meanwhile, Sunday's win reminded the team what Powell can do.

The perpetually underused Powell had one of the best games of the century by a Jets running back Sunday, when he stepped in for an injured Matt Forte and rushed 29 times for 145 yards and two touchdowns -- including the game-winner in overtime -- and added 34 yards receiving on five catches.

The 179 yards of total offense are the ninth-most by a Jets running back since 2000. Hall of Famer Curtis Martin reached at least 179 yards of total offense four times while Thomas Jones, Chris Ivory and Shonn Greene did it once apiece.

That's pretty good company, yet Powell's breakout couldn't have come as too much of a surprise to Bowles and general manager Mike Maccagnan, who are the third regime to like Powell's no-nonsense ways and jack-of-all-trades skill set. Powell, whom Mike Tannenbaum selected in the fourth round of the 2011 draft, has twice re-signed with the Jets as a free agent -- first in the spring of 2015 and again last spring, when he inked a three-year deal.

"You know what you're getting out of the guy," Bowles said on Monday. "He's going to put in a hard day's work and he's going to bust his butt no matter where he's playing -- special teams or offense or anything else. He just love to play the game and that's rare. He kind of has an old soul as an old-school player, but he's very much a modern-day player."

So why did it take an injury to Forte for the Jets to feature Powell so heavily?

Powell has battled numerous nagging injuries during his six-year career and might not stand up to a feature back workload, but there would seem to be a happy medium between running him into the ground and all but ignoring him.

Even though the Jets have been in hide-the-quarterback mode for months, Powell entered Sunday with just 29 carries and 45 total touches in the last seven games. Prior to Sunday, he had not carried the ball more than eight times in a game this season. And in last Monday's 41-10 loss to the Indianapolis Colts, Powell got fewer touches (one) than street free agent C.J. Spiller (three), who was released the next day.

"We have two good backs," Bowles said. "It was just Bilal's turn to shine yesterday and he did. You wait and get opportunities. He shined. There's no reason he shouldn't play more."

Not anymore, that's for sure.

Meanwhile, Bowles said Forte is day to day with a right knee injury after having an MRI on Monday, but wouldn't go into details. Forte left the game early after he hyperextended it. He said there was swelling, along with "cracking and popping." Forte told ESPN.com's Rich Cimini on Wednesday, the MRI revealed a torn meniscus. He suspects he's been playing with it all year and hopes to play this week.

He did not practice Wednesday and Bowles said Forte would likely be a game-time decision; I'll follow up via Late-Breaking Update in advance of Saturday night's game.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Christian Hackenberg, Bryce Petty
RBs: Bilal Powell, Matt Forte, Brandon Wilds
WRs: Brandon Marshall, Robby Anderson, Quincy Enunwa, Charone Peake, Jalin Marshall
TEs: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Brandon Bostick

Oakland Raiders

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 December 2016

Quarterback Derek Carr had the worst night of his young career last Thursday as the Raiders fell 21-13 to the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.

A win would have given Oakland the path of least resistance to a berth in the Super Bowl.

Instead, the Raiders went from the No. 1 seed to the No. 5 seed at 10-3. Kansas City is also 10-3, but swept the season series against Oakland.

"We had control and we gave it to somebody else," left tackle Donald Penn said. "You don't have too many times when you have control like that and just can't take it."

One of the NFL's most explosive passing offenses got nothing done against the Chiefs, with Carr completing 17 of 41 passes for 117 yards, an average of just 2.9 yards per pass attempt. There were drops, miss-timed routes and overthrows. Kansas City managed only one sack but clearly made Carr uncomfortable.

But as ESPN.com's Paul Gutierrez suggested, as off as Carr was for the Raiders, Latavius Murray was just as locked in.

Murray accounted for the lone Raiders touchdown in their lackluster 21-13 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday night at Arrowhead Stadium while rushing for a game-high 103 yards on 22 carries.

When you add in rookie Jalen Richard's 29 rushing yards in six attempts, you have to wonder why the Raiders did not run the ball more, right?

Well ...

"I just think we weren't able to make enough plays," Murray said.

Then again, maybe they just weren't made early enough to avoid going down 21-3, or late enough to pull off the comeback.

Seventy-nine of Oakland's 135 rushing yards came in the second half, after Chiefs All-Pro inside linebacker Derrick Johnson was lost with an Achilles' tendon injury. Indeed, Johnson was injured on the second play of the Raiders' most-impressive drive of the game, the 92-yarder to close out the first half which ended with Murray's 1-yard plunge which had to be confirmed by instant replay that the ball crossed the plane.

It was Murray's 12th rushing score of the season, which tied him with Hall of Famer Marcus Allen's mark in 1990 for the third-most rushing scores in a single season in franchise history.

Pete Banaszak had 16 rushing TDs in 1975 and Allen had 13 in 1984.

The Raiders' offensive line, though, was not at full strength with left guard Kelechi Osemele being sick enough to be treated at a local hospital early in the day. Rookie Vadal Alexander and Jon Feliciano alternated series early in the game.

"We've been flowing all year," Penn said of the offense. "I don't know (why we stalled). I'm going to go watch this film on the plane and try to figure it out.

"My mindset is that I'm pissed right now. I'm pissed. We had control and gave it to somebody else."

Penn was referring to the Raiders falling from the No. 1 seed to potentially being a wild-card team traveling in the first round.

As such, Murray was in no mood to discuss personal achievements either, not when the Raiders had three takeaways in Kansas City territory, including two in the red zone, and could only come away with two Sebastian Janikowski field goals.

"We're a lot better than we played tonight, and it showed," Murray said. "The outcome was the result of that."

If the Raiders want to win the division they can ill afford any more slipups starting with Sunday's game at San Diego and will also need the Chiefs to lose at least one game.

"My approach is really simple," head coach Jack Del Rio said. "I tell our guys, 'We're not going to lay around and bathe in the adulation of a win. Look how good this is.' We're also not going to sit and wallow in misery when we lose. We're going to be matter of fact."

There were plenty of other issues earlier in the game. The Raiders had three drives start in Kansas City territory after turnovers and turned them into only six points as Oakland settled for two field goals and then botched a snap on the third.

A penalty on Taiwan Jones forced the Raiders to punt a second time and Tyreek Hill took advantage with a 78-yard return for a score. Making matters even worse, punter Marquette King was called for unsportsmanlike conduct after the return, his second straight week with a personal foul.

"We can't have routine 15-yard penalties out of our punter," Del Rio said. "We've got two in a row, two weeks in a row, and that's got to come to a stop."

Then on Oakland's second-to-last drive in the fourth quarter, Carr appeared to have Amari Cooper open deep for what could have been a touchdown. But the ball changed directions at the last moment and Cooper couldn't adjust, leading to an incomplete pass and a punt.

There was speculation that the ball might have hit a wire for one of NBC's cameras but the network said that was not the case and the coaches film revealed no reason for the altered flight of the ball.

"The angel in the outfield," Del Rio said. "I mean, it moved. I don't know if it hit a wire or the angel in the outfield moved it, a gust of wind. I don't know. It moved. To me, it was like one of so many plays that could have gone differently. I'm certainly not sitting here hung up on that play. ..."

A few final notes here. ... Fullback Jamize Olawale played only seven snaps with the Raiders unable to have Carr line up under center because of the injury to the pinkie finger of his throwing hand.

Michael Crabtree has a finger injury similar to Carr's. Del Rio said both guys will continue to play through it.

Osemele is expected back at practice this week. He was dealing with a painful kidney stone.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Matthew McGloin, Connor Cook, Derek Carr
RBs: Latavius Murray, Jalen Richard, DeAndre Washington, Taiwan Jones
WRs: Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree, Seth Roberts, Andre Holmes, Johnny Holton
TEs: Clive Walford, Lee Smith, Mychal Rivera

Philadelphia Eagles

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 December 2016

Safety Malcolm Jenkins called Sunday's 27-22 loss to the Washington Redskins "the least disappointing" of the season. That's because the team showed plenty of fight across the board but was simply out-manned at the end.

It was tougher to make the same claim after a lifeless loss to the Cincinnati Bengals the Sunday prior. Head coach Doug Pederson added fuel to the idea that the team did not give full effort in that game by admitting that "not everybody" played hard.

According to ESPN.com's Tim McManus, the Eagles responded with one of their most spirited practices of the year Wednesday. Players were taking each other to the ground -- something that hadn't been seen since training camp -- and the energy levels were noticeably up. That translated onto the field against Washington.

"Anytime your effort or your heart or whatever you want to call it gets called out, men with pride are going to respond. And I thought everybody did," Jenkins said.

"That's the max effort, max effort. This team responded," Pederson added. "This team did an outstanding job today. We fought all the way to the end. At one point, I thought we were actually going to fight after that. This is a resilient group. I'm just honored to be leading those guys."

The most noticeable change was in tight end Zach Ertz. He came under the heaviest fire last week after opting not to block linebacker Vontaze Burfict on a Carson Wentz scramble. Wentz went to Ertz on the first play of the game against Washington, and the 6-foot-5, 250-pounder out of Stanford rumbled for a 13-yard gain. He played with a noticeable edge and finished with 10 catches for 112 yards.

"I don't know if teammates felt I let them down, but I wanted to prove to them that I wasn't going to let them down ever again," he said afterwards. "Obviously there was a lot of outside noise. I knew that, everyone knew that. I prayed a lot about it. I was just kind of focused on being the best teammate that I could today: being physical, being physical after the catch, being physical in the run game, and hopefully I did that for them."

The last three weeks of the season -- the Eagles play at the Baltimore Ravens and home against the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys to finish the string -- will show whether this was just a temporary reaction to circumstance, or a sign of what this team is made of.

Last season, it was the former. Following troubling losses to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Detroit Lions, the Eagles -- inspired by a personal challenge from owner Jeffrey Lurie -- went into New England and shocked the Patriots the following week. They proceeded to drop their next two, and Chip Kelly was promptly fired. The issues were deep-rooted, and the organization knew that it was time to reboot after three seasons.

This is Year 1 of Pederson, so it's a different dynamic. No team wants to get into the pattern of constantly making changes at the top. Typically, the only thing that follows is instability.

What the Eagles' brass would undoubtedly like to see, though, are positive signs -- indicators that what's ailing the team is more about lack of personnel and seasoning and less about leadership and character. Sunday's game against Washington was encouraging in that respect.

Now let's see if it lasts.

Other notes of interest. ... The Eagles and Redskins almost got into a full-scale brawl Sunday after Redskins safety and special-teamer DeShazor Everett leveled Darren Sproles as he attempted to field a punt. Everett flattened Sproles before the ball arrived, drawing a penalty.

But he wasn't thrown out of the game.

Sproles suffered a concussion and was down on the field for several minutes before being helped off. The 33-year-old Sproles is one of the most beloved players on the Eagles.

"Obvious cheap shot," Ertz said. "I've never seen the guy (Everett) before. Didn't know who he was. If that's how he wants to make a name for himself, so be it. That was BS. Darren didn't even have the ball and he tried to take his head off.

Everett contends that it wasn't an intentionally dirty hit.

"Football is a split-second game and unfortunately I did not make the right decision, but I was just giving my full effort to go out there and make a tackle," he said.

"My condolences to him and you never wish that to happen to anyone."

The 33-year-old Sproles ranks eighth in NFL history in all-purpose yards. Weighing in at 5-6 and 190 pounds, he has earned respect league-wide for his work ethic and accomplishments over 11 seasons.

Sproles will have to work his way through the concussion protocol before he's cleared this week.

Rookie running back Wendell Smallwood suffered a Grade 2 MCL knee sprain against the Redskins. Head Doug Pederson called it a "lengthy injury" and the youngster was placed on injured reserve.

With the IR designation, Smallwood's rookie season is over. The fifth-round pick from West Virginia ended up with 77 carries for 312 yards (4.1 per attempt) and two touchdowns this season.

Receiver Dorial Green-Beckham (oblique) is expected to return after missing Sunday's game.

Ryan Mathews had a pair of 18- and 21-yard runs out of three-tight end sets early in the third quarter, but there weren't many other highlights for the run game. Playing without RG Brandon Brooks and losing RT Allen Barbre in the third quarter, yards were hard to come by.

With the issues along the offensive line, Wentz didn't have a lot of time to throw. He was sacked four times, including the killer with 21 seconds left after the Eagles drove down to the Washington 14. Wentz had his first red-zone interception of the season, but maximized his tight ends and slot receiver Jordan Matthews while completing 69.6 percent of his passes.

Matthews (ankle) and Sproles were not practicing Wednesday; I'll be following up via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

And finally. ... DeSean Jackson gave the Philadelphia Eagles another reminder of what they had, and what they need.

The former Eagle and free-agent-to-be turned Sunday's game in Washington's favor with an 80-yard catch-and-run touchdown midway through the third quarter that helped the Redskins to a narrow 27-22 win in a spirited, down-to-the-wire game at Lincoln Financial Field.

ESPN's Adam Schefter reported last week that the Eagles are likely to pursue a reunion with Jackson, who is in the final year of his contract with the Redskins. A source close to Jackson told ESPN that the wideout would be "intrigued" by a return to Philly. Sunday's game reinforced just how important it is that the Eagles find a difference-maker for Wentz -- whether it be Jackson or someone else.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Carson Wentz, Chase Daniel
RBs: Darren Sproles, Byron Marshall
WRs: Jordan Matthews, Dorial Green-Beckham, Nelson Agholor, Bryce Treggs, Paul Turner
TEs: Zach Ertz, Trey Burton, Brent Celek

Pittsburgh Steelers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 December 2016

As Associated Press sports writer Will Graves framed it: "When Big Ben doesn't have his 'A' Game, the Pittsburgh Steelers showed they have a more than capable Plan B in continuing their late-season playoff push.

"That's 'B' as in Bell."

With quarterback Ben Roethlisberger struggling once again with his accuracy on the road, the Steelers resorted to handing the ball off to Le'Veon Bell in sparking a 27-20 win over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.

Despite a slick, snow-covered field, Bell had no trouble with his footing to score three times and set a franchise record with 236 yards rushing. Add in 62 yards receiving, Bell accounted for 298 of Pittsburgh's 460 yards, and he single-handedly outgained Buffalo's 275 yards.

The Steelers (8-5) won their fourth in a row to keep pace in the AFC playoff hunt and Bell earned AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors.

"How much can I appreciate it? About as much as any Steeler fan. Awesome. Awesome. Awesome. Awesome," Roethlisberger said of Bell's performance. "When you're running the ball as well as you do, might as well stick to it."

After Roethlisberger threw two of his three interceptions in the first half, the Steelers opened the third quarter fully committed to feed Bell.

The Steelers handed the ball off to Bell nine times on their 10-play, 82-yard touchdown drive to open the second half. And he kept getting stronger, touching the ball 42 times by late in the fourth quarter, adding 62 receiving yards on four catches.

The running game has clearly been a catalyst for the four-game winning streak, with Bell rushing 118 times in his past four games.

"I know teams are trying to take away the pass and the big play, so that's part of it," Roethlisberger said. "And the cohesiveness of the offensive line working well with the tight ends ... It opens up holes and Le'Veon is patient when he needs to be ... If it's going as well as it is today, why would you get away from it. If we're struggling a little bit, we've got to find ways to move the ball around."

As ESPN.com's Jeremy Fowler notes, since Week 10, Bell -- who surpassed Willie Parker's franchise record of 223 yards set in 2006 -- has 166 touches for more than 900 yards. Bell became the first player in Steelers history to record multiple games of 200 scrimmage yards and three touchdowns.

For his career, Bell now leads all NFL players in yards from scrimmage per game with 128.5, three yards ahead of Jim Brown (minimum of 40 games).

Without a clear-cut second receiver on the outside, pumping Bell in the run and the pass is a good way to win away from Heinz Field, where Roethlisberger airs it out efficiently.

Plus, the team's defense is improving. Despite a few late-game breakdowns, the Steelers gave Buffalo little breathing room in the first half. The Bills' only touchdown came off a Stephon Gilmore interception that delivered prime field position. Linebackers Bud Dupree and Ryan Shazier were particularly active as the Steelers sacked Tyrod Taylor on four of his first six dropbacks.

Bell did the rest, and plans to keep doing it through the cold weather.

"He's a Columbus, Ohio and East Lansing [Mich.] runner," head coach Mike Tomlin said of Bell. "These environments are not foreign to him."

For the record, Bell's 298 yards from scrimmage against the Bills were the second-most in Steelers history. Antonio Brown had 306 on Nov. 8, 2015 vs. Oakland.

Meanwhile, Brown is the first player in team history with four consecutive 90-catch seasons.

Also. ... Roethlisberger surpassed Vinny Testaverde for the 10th-most passing yards in NFL history (46,249).

A few final notes. ... As NFL.com's Matt Harmon noted on Monday, a week after seeing the incredibly high ceiling of Ladarius Green, we got a glimpse of the floor that still exists.

Green only went out for 38 percent of the offensive plays, and Harmon contends that as long as that's a part of his utilization plan, there's some risk of him putting up slower stat lines. However, we can easily chalk this up to the passing game overall not doing much in the snow. The Steelers threw 31 passes to 38 runs from Bell.

Tomlin told reporters on Tuesday that DeAngelo Williams (knee) has a good chance of returning this week (he practiced fully on Wednesday); the coach said the same last week but it didn't happen. Tomlin also said Darrius Heyward-Bey (foot) probably won't be ready this week. ...

And finally. ... The Steelers promoted receiver DeMarcus Ayers from their practice squad. They cut kicker Randy Bullock to open up the roster spot.

Chris Boswell returned after missing a game with an abdominal injury. He was 3-for-3 on extra points and 2-for-2 on field goals.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Landry Jones, Zach Mettenberger, Ben Roethlisberger
RBs: Fitzgerald Toussaint, DeAngelo Williams, Le'Veon Bell
WRs: Eli Rogers, Cobi Hamilton, Sammie Coates, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Antonio Brown
TEs: Jesse James, Xavier Grimble, Ladarius Green

San Diego Chargers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 December 2016

According to Associated Press sports writer Jay Paris, the reeling Chargers might have caught a break with running back Melvin Gordon and defensive end Joey Bosa.

Gordon exited Sunday's loss to the Panthers on a cart with a hip injury after getting hurt wrestling for a loose ball in the second quarter. Bosa also left in the second quarter after he rammed his head into Panthers quarterback Cam Newton on a sack.

Head coach Mike McCoy said Gordon, who is three yards shy of reaching the 1,000-yard mark, has a hip strain and a left knee sprain.

Originally, it appeared the injury was more severe but tests showed otherwise.

Bosa, the team leader with 6.5 sacks, hasn't been placed in the NFL's concussion protocol. He has a strained neck.

McCoy, whose Chargers face the Oakland Raiders this week, said both players are "day-to-day."

"I talked to (Gordon) this morning and he is going to work hard to get back," McCoy said.

But McCoy isn't going to rush Gordon to reach a personal milestone. Gordon has rebounded from a dismal rookie season and is on the verge of becoming the first Chargers back since LaDainian Tomlinson in 2008 to score 10 rushing touchdowns and rush for 1,000 yards.

"I'm just not going to throw him out there to get a couple more yards to say he got 1,000," McCoy said. "Melvin doesn't want that either. You're looking out for the team but you're looking out for what is in the best interest of the players. Sometimes there are some difficult decisions to make."

Gordon is the NFL's sixth-leading rusher. He's one of six players with double-digit rushing touchdowns this year.

He said he was "very hopeful" that he could return over the final three games.

"It would mean a lot to me," Gordon said. "So if I feel I can go I will be back out there."

According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Gordon is unlikely to play this weekend but there is indeed a chance he will play again this season.

The Chargers, who have threatened to move to Los Angeles next season, are closing in on missing the playoffs for the sixth time in seven seasons. If the Chargers remain in the cellar, McCoy will attempt to be the first Chargers coach retained after consecutive last-place finishes since Tommy Prothro in 1977.

"I'm not worried that," said McCoy, who is 27-34 in three-plus seasons. "I'm worried about putting a plan together to help the team this week."

One thing the coach has to be at least a little worried about is Philip Rivers.

The QB finished 21-of-39 for 236 yards and two touchdowns, a 9-yard scoring pass to rookie tight end Hunter Henry and a 19-yard score by Dontrelle Inman.

But Rivers also threw three interceptions and fumbled twice. Rivers is responsible for 12 turnovers in the past four games.

"There probably were times where I tried to do too much today, and that hadn't been the case in previous games," Rivers said. "I know better than that, but at the same time I don't want to stand back and throw ball away and get beat 35 to 3. And it just felt like that was the way it was going."

Without any balance on offense, Carolina's pass rush got after Rivers, sacking him five times -- including one for a safety -- and keeping the veteran quarterback under duress most of the game.

The Chargers entered the contest averaging 27.8 points per game, No. 3 in the NFL, but managed just 16 against a Panthers team that entered the game with only four wins.

McCoy offered a swift reply when asked if he considered benching Rivers: "No. ..."

Despite Rivers' recent struggles, NFL.com's Matt Harmon notes that Inman has carved out a steady role as the possession receiver. He had an average depth of target of 9.9, whereas Tyrell Williams (39.2) and Travis Benjamin (28.3) were used much farther down the field. At this point, we can view Inman's place in this offense with a strong amount of certainty.

Meanwhile, Kenneth Farrow finished Sunday's game in Gordon's place and will be relied on again -- to a degree.

The undrafted rookie is an efficient downhill, one-cut runner. But as San Diego Union-Tribune staffer Michael Gehlken notes, growing pains are to be expected. Specifically, Farrow struggled in pass protection, allowing a strip-sack that Carolina recovered in the second quarter. He finished with 16 carries for 55 yards and six catches for 23.

There is a chance, assuming Gordon is sidelined, the Chargers could platoon Farrow with Ronnie Hillman this Sunday versus Oakland. Hillman has yet to be active since being claimed off waivers on Nov. 22. Andre Williams also is an option on the practice squad, although he's not known for his complementary abilities in the passing game.

Farrow played 55 offensive snaps Sunday.

That was two shy of his season total entering the afternoon. ...

With the Raiders heading to San Diego Sunday, it's worth noting the Chargers have dropped 11 of their past 12 divisional games. Two of the Chargers' final three games are in the division as they cap the season against the visiting Chiefs.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Philip Rivers, Kellen Clemens
RBs: Melvin Gordon, Ronnie Hillman, Andre Williams, Derek Watt
WRs: Tyrell Williams, Dontrelle Inman, Travis Benjamin, Jeremy Butler, Geremy Davis
TEs: Antonio Gates, Hunter Henry, Sean McGrath, Asante Cleveland

San Francisco 49ers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 December 2016

According to ESPN.com's Nick Wagoner, of the 12 consecutive games the 49ers have lost, Sunday's overtime defeat at the hands of the New York Jets had to hurt a little bit more.

To be sure, there was plenty of blame to go around after the Niners blew a 14-point lead to the woeful Jets, but coach Chip Kelly wasted no time in pointing the finger back at himself after the 23-17 overtime loss.

After his team jumped to an early lead, Kelly agreed with a reporter's assessment that the Niners had been too conservative offensively in the second half, allowing the Jets not only to get back in the game, but eventually win it. Kelly pointed to the injuries as reason for his approach. The Niners were without receiver Torrey Smith, left tackle Joe Staley, center Daniel Kilgore and tight end Vance McDonald for all or parts of Sunday's game.

"That's on me as the play caller, but I just really wasn't confident," Kelly said. "You lost Vance. You lost Torrey. You've got two new guys in there on the offensive line. I was making sure we were good with protection. They were bringing a lot of zero blitzes. You've got to get the ball off quick. Make sure that we've got the guys picked up, but yeah, that's on me."

The result was a second half that has played out like so many for the Niners this season.

After taking that early lead -- the Niners tied an NFL record by losing their ninth game this season after scoring first -- they fell into their usual pit of second-half despair, especially on offense. The Niners had 85 yards of offense in the second half and overtime on the heels of posting 279 yards in the first half.

Colin Kaepernick, who has been one of the biggest culprits of the second-half struggles, was 4-of-11 with an average of 1.5 yards per attempt over the final two quarters and overtime. According to ESPN Stats and Information research, Kaepernick was off target on 36 percent of his pass attempts in that time.

In the first two quarters, Kaepernick was 11-of-15 with an average of 7.7 yards per attempt, and seven percent of his attempts were off target. For the season, Kaepernick is the only qualified quarterback completing fewer than 50 percent of his passes in the second half of games. He's hitting on 43.4 percent of his passes in the second half compared to 71.4 percent in the first half.

"It's something that we have to be able to fight through," Kaepernick said. "We have to be able to change this course that we're on, and when we're in these positions, we have to make plays at the end of the game, finish the game and be able to pull out a win."

Kaepernick, like many of his teammates, wasn't willing to accept Kelly blaming himself.

"Chip is trying to do what's best for this team and put us in the best situation to win," Kaepernick said. "Obviously, we had two linemen go down, two linemen that are very good for us. So, I think he was trying to put us, our line, our offense in the best situation to go out and succeed."

Indeed, as Wagoner suggested, if you remove the final score and examine only the boxscore for Sunday's loss, there were a few numbers that would lead you to believe the Niners won the game.

Specifically, those numbers would be filed under rushing yards (248) and yards per carry (9.19). Yes, the Niners and running back Carlos Hyde posted their best rushing performance of the season and they did it against a Jets defense that ranked among the best against the run in the NFL entering Sunday.

The 49ers were so effective on the ground that even Kelly was surprised by it.

"We didn't think we could, I was really, to be honest with you, a little bit surprised at how well we ran the ball," Kelly said.

When it was all said and done, Hyde had a career-high 193 yards on 17 carries. The yardage total was the sixth-most by a Niner in a game in franchise history and his 11.4 yards per carry was the fifth highest for a game in Niners history. It was also the fifth-highest total by a running back in the NFL this season.

For Hyde, it was his second 100-plus yard rushing performance of the season and the third of his career.

He also became the first 49er to post 200 or more yards from scrimmage since receiver Anquan Boldin did it Sept. 8, 2013.

Hyde finished with four runs of 20 or more yards, one more than the three he had in the previous 13 weeks combined.

Those four runs accounted for 135 of Hyde's 193 yards on the day. According to ESPN Stats and Information, Hyde had 143 yards before contact, a new career high and more than the 126 yards before contact he had in his previous five games combined.

Of course, none of Hyde and the Niners' 248 rushing yards ultimately mattered much in the outcome of the game. Despite a rushing performance that would more often than not result in a win, the 49ers still ended with their 12th consecutive loss.

And now Kelly now faces the unenviable task of getting his team ready for its next game to stop the worst losing streak in franchise history.

Falling to the Matt Barkley-led Bears and Bryce Petty-led Jets has Kelly trying to pick up the pieces before traveling to Atlanta to play the Falcons (8-5) and MVP candidate Matt Ryan.

"I think you just have to stand up and fight again," Kelly said Monday.

Other notes of interest. .... The 49ers placed McDonald on injured reserve Monday after he sustained a shoulder injury in the first half. McDonald led the team with four touchdown receptions and was third with 24 catches for 391 yards.

McDonald signed a five-year extension with San Francisco two days before playing the Jets. The 49ers' remaining tight ends are Garrett Celek, Blake Bell and Je'Ron Hamm.

Kilgore was also placed on IR.

Smith was lost in the second half with a concussion after jumping for a pass and slamming his head on the turf.

Smith needed to be carted off to the locker room after lying motionless on the field. Kelly said Smith will begin the week in the concussion protocol. Smith Tweeted after the game, "Thanks for all the prayers!"

He did not practice Wednesday.

I'll have more on Smith via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Colin Kaepernick, Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder
RBs: Shaun Draughn, DuJuan Harris, Mike Davis, Kendall Gaskins
WRs: Jeremy Kerley, Aaron Burbridge, Rod Streater, Eric Rogers, DeAndre Smelter, Chris Harper
TEs: Garrett Celek, Je'ron Hamm, Jim Dray

Seattle Seahawks

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 December 2016

If there was ever a perfect week for a Thursday night game to land on the Seahawks schedule, this would be that week.

Head coach Pete Carroll wanted to forget about Sunday's thumping at the hands of Green Bay as quickly as possible.

"It absolutely feels like that. That was the sense we had in the locker room. That's exactly the thought and we're kind of happy to have it come," Carroll said Monday. "Both teams are at the disadvantage of the short week, so we compete every step of the way to get on track as fast as we can to put together a great game plan. There's no time. We don't get to sit on what happened one way or another, win or lose, and we have to turn it."

According to Associated Press sports writer Tim Booth, Carroll and his staff were already beyond the 38-10 loss to Green Bay and immediately turning the focus to Thursday's game against Los Angeles. There was no other option, especially with what's at stake for the Seahawks.

It won't hurt the Seahawks that Los Angeles is dealing with some turmoil after head coach Jeff Fisher was fired on Monday.

A win over the Rams will give Seattle its third NFC West title in the last four years and assure at least one home game during the playoffs. But the loss to Green Bay took away the Seahawks' control of the No. 2 seed in the NFC and a potential first-round bye. Seattle now needs to win out and have Detroit lose at least once to earn a week off in the postseason.

The bigger picture is secondary at this point. There were too many issues that surfaced against Green Bay that need to be addressed immediately, and none bigger than the awful performance by quarterback Russell Wilson and his five interceptions.

"The ball didn't go right for us. We overthrew a couple times when guys were open, when balls got knocked around they went right to them," Carroll said. "They did a great job to make their picks and control the football game. When you turn the ball over like that, nothing feels right and you don't have a chance to get anything accomplished."

Wilson wasn't completely at fault for all five of the interceptions, with two bouncing off receivers and into the arms of Green Bay defenders. But it was an unexpectedly bad game from a quarterback who has made a priority of being precise with the ball. The only other time Wilson has thrown more than three interceptions in a game also came against the Packers in the NFC championship game.

The loss was also a rarity since Wilson's arrival in 2012. Seattle's track record since Wilson's rookie season was that even if it lost, the game was going to be close.

It was the first game of Wilson's career that the Seahawks had lost by more than 10 points and the first time he's thrown more than three interceptions in a regular season game. It was the first time they'd lost a game by at least 20 points since falling 34-12 to the Cincinnati Bengals on Oct. 30, 2011.

Along with clinching a losing road record, the Seahawks have a trend of lagging offensive production away from home. In Seattle's two road wins, the offense has been excellent. Wilson threw for 309 yards and three touchdowns at the New York Jets in Week 4. Against New England last month, Wilson was even better, passing for 348 yards and three TDs.

In those other five games, Seattle's offense has been awful. Three times they failed to score a touchdown. Twice, they scored just one offensive TD. All told, Seattle has 35 offensive points in 21 quarters on the road in its four losses and a tie.

It's a statistic that means little now with Seattle facing two straight home games followed by a season finale at listless San Francisco. But it could have meaning when the playoffs arrive if the Seahawks are unable to move back up to the No. 2 seed in the NFC and potentially face two road games to get back to the Super Bowl.

"We have to work together to do this. That was immediately the message in the locker room right after the game," Carroll said. "We have a lot of good things ahead of us right now and we have to make sure we do it together and we get together."

The good news for Carroll's group is that the Seahawks still have a three-game lead in the NFC West.

But if the season ended today, Seattle would be the No. 3 seed, meaning it wouldn't have a bye in the first round and would have to go on the road in the divisional round.

The Seahawks have been a resilient group over the years, but if they're going to get hot down the stretch, they need to find answers soon.

Meanwhile, if there was any positive to come out of Seattle's blowout loss to Green Bay, it was the continued return to form of running back Thomas Rawls.

Rawls rushed for 67 yards on 12 carries before sitting for most of the closing stages of the game with the Seahawks in passing situations. Seattle finished the game with 136 yards on 26 carries for the game.

It was the fourth straight game Seattle has rushed for at least 120 yards and at least five yards per carry. The Seahawks had not averaged five yards per carry in any of their first nine games this season.

"It's been a month of a big turn from what it was," Carroll said. "Thomas really ran hard again the other night. We feel like we can really find the balance that we like."

The improvement coincides with Rawls' return to the lineup after missing seven games with a hairline fracture on his fibula.

Seattle had gone six straight games without gaining 100 rushing yards before Rawls returned to the lineup. He's now rushed for 268 yards over the last four games. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Rookie running back Troymaine Pope and fullback Will Tukuafu were placed on injured reserve on Tuesday.

Pope logged one carry for 12 yards on Sunday before sustaining an ankle injury. The sprain is to the same ankle injured in Week 11 against the Philadelphia Eagles.

According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, the Seahawks signed running back Kelvin Taylor to their 53-man roster on Tuesday.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Russell Wilson, Trevone Boykin
RBs: Alex Collins, Thomas Rawls, George Farmer, C.J. Prosise, Marcel Reece, J.D. McKissic
WRs: Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse, Paul Richardson, Kasen Williams
TEs: Jimmy Graham, Nick Vannett, Luke Willson

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 December 2016

Don't look now, but the streaking Bucs (8-5) have been as effective as anyone in shutting down opposing offenses during a five-game winning streak that has propelled the team into contention for its first playoff berth in nine years.

Jameis Winston's leadership and progress as a second-year quarterback has commanded most of the attention during the surge, however the play of the defense has been just as important.

The Bucs have held their last five opponents under 21 points, the longest such stretch for the franchise since the last three games of 2009 and the first two of the following season.

You have to go back to 2008 for the last time it happened within the same season.

"They're just playing with a lot of confidence," coach Dirk Koetter said, reflecting on Sunday's 16-11 victory over New Orleans, which was held without a touchdown for only the second time in the 11 seasons the quarterback/coach duo of Drew Brees and Sean Payton has been together with the Saints, who lead the NFL in total offense.

The Bucs intercepted Brees three times, giving them a league-leading 23 takeaways since Week 5, and forced New Orleans to settle for field goals on two drives inside the Bucs 5-yard line.

Tampa Bay had the NFL's worst turnover differential through a 1-3 start. The defense has worked its way up to a tie for 11th while helping the team win seven of nine to climb into position to challenge for its first division title and playoff berth since 2007.

"It's great to see," Koetter said. "Some of these guys on defense have been beat up for a few years. It's great to see these guys having the success they're having, it really is."

Winston noted that the defense has given some of the league's best quarterbacks fits while allowing just over 12 points per game in wins over Seattle, San Diego and New Orleans the past three weeks.

"Our defense has been playing amazing. It starts with our leaders. ... Clinton McDonald, Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David have taken it to a whole new level," Winston said.

"What they did to Philip Rivers last week, what they did to Drew this week, what they did to Russell Wilson the week before, we are playing good football," Winston added. "But we've got to continue to get better."

The young team is confident it hasn't peaked.

The Bucs travel to Dallas (11-2) for a prime-time matchup Sunday night, then finish the regular season at New Orleans and home against Carolina.

Meanwhile, as Florida Football Insiders' Roy Cumming notes, Koetter has heard some of the moans and groans that have been uttered regarding the play of running back Doug Martin of late.

The complaints are understandable. Martin rushed for 66 yards on 23 carries Sunday, and he's averaging a career-low 2.87 yards per carry, also the lowest among the 33 NFL running backs who have 100-plus carries this season.

Since his return from a hamstring strain five weeks ago the two-time Pro Bowler has run the ball 103 times for just 294 yards (2.9 yards per carry) and with three games left to play this year he's still looking for his first 100-yard game of the season.

Unlike a lot of disgruntled fans and fantasy owners, though, Koetter isn't complaining.

Sure, he'd like to get a little more production out of Martin, who ran for more than 1,400 yards last year, but Koetter seems to believe the key to that lies elsewhere.

"Doug has been running hard," Koetter said Monday. "I mean, when I see people (complaining) about (his) 2.-something rushing average or whatever it is, I say (look) at that 2-yard run he had in San Diego. ... And that 1-yard run he had (Sunday against the Saints).

"I sure liked those. I mean, he broke about 10 tackles to get that 1-yard (touchdown run against New Orleans) and that was our only touchdown of the game. So there's nothing wrong with Doug Martin. What we've got to do is give him more (running) lanes."

That would help.

On each of the two recent touchdown runs Koetter referred to Martin was initially stopped well behind the line of scrimmage and had to power himself across the goal line and into the end zone with second- and third-efforts.

Cummings believes that's a sign Martin has regained the strength that was zapped from his hamstring when he first injured it in Week 2. But it's not just near the goal-line where Martin is showing signs of life or even improvement. He's been pretty solid as a pass protector, too.

On two consecutive first-quarter plays Sunday, Martin threw the key blocks that allowed Winston to deliver the ball on time and accurately to tight end Cameron Brate for what proved to be a pair of 8- and 18-yard passes that came just ahead of Martin's touchdown run.

In addition, as NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich suggested, it was a welcome sight to see Martin log 20-plus touches given Charles Sims' return and the chatter about Jacquizz Rodgers potentially being more involved heading into the week.

Also of interest. ... Winston did not run or throw for a touchdown on Sunday against the Saints for the first time in his collegiate or his NFL career.

According to NFL.com's Matt Harmon, if you're interested in chasing the Buccaneers opening at wide receiver with Cecil Shorts done for the year, the snap counts were pretty clear who the new likely No. 2 is. Russell Shepard trailed only Mike Evans by playing 67 percent of the snaps.

Josh Huff was also elevated from the practice squad to provide relief with Adam Humphries out with a concussion. He played on 41 percent of the team's snaps and was lined up in the slot on 81 percent of his plays.

For the record, Humphries still is in the concussion protocol. He practiced fully on Wednesday, but his status for Sunday night's game in Dallas still bears watching.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Jameis Winston, Mike Glennon, Ryan Griffin
RBs: Jacquizz Rodgers, Peyton Barber, Russell Hansbrough, Doug Martin
WRs: Mike Evans, Adam Humphries, Russell Shepard, Freddie Martino, Josh Huff, Donteea Dye
TEs: Cameron Brate, Luke Stocker, Brandon Myers

Tennessee Titans

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 December 2016

As ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky nots, with Marcus Mariota as the headliner, the Titans have played some glorious, high-flying offense this season.

Sunday's performance in a breakthrough 13-10 win over Denver was a lot different.

Mariota completed six passes, and his top target, Delanie Walker, caught just two.

No, this was the sort of December football the Titans were built for in Year 1 of the Jon Robinson-Mike Mularkey regime, and a way they are more than happy to win in.

They won with 10 times as many rushing yards as their opponent -- 180 to 18. They won with stingy defense, allowing only three third-down conversions on 11 Broncos' chances and forcing and recovering two fumbles, their first two on defense this season.

"This is how it's going to be sometimes," said Mariota, who finished 6-for-20 for 88 yards with a career-low 45.4 passer rating. "We had to grind it out a little more on offense, make plays when we needed to and guys did. Again, hats off to the defense, they deserve a lot of credit for this victory and it just says a lot about this team."

"That's great," said Walker of the Titans ability to win without he or Mariota at their most productive.

The Titans have not won a game since Mariota's arrival in which he did not play great. He had a passer rating of at least 102.8 and thrown at least two touchdowns in 10 Tennessee wins since he was drafted second in 2015. Sunday's game broke an eight-game streak of having at least two touchdown passes.

The narrative that the Titans aren't good enough to win unless he plays a great game is officially dented.

The offensive success was keyed by a physical performance by the offensive line.

Tackles Taylor Lewan and Jack Conklin did great work keeping Von Miller (team-high seven tackles but no sacks or hits on Mariota) and DeMarcus Ware (one sack) at bay.

The Titans time of possession of 32:27 was strong, but keeping the ball for 20:19 in the first half was tremendous.

Both head coach Mike Mularkey and outside linebacker Brian Orakpo said the keep-away counted as defense.

The Titans have been largely about nameless, faceless opponents this season. Mularkey preaches that they need to worry about only themselves.

As they allowed themselves to revel in a big result, Lewan said he thinks a team that won five games in 2014 and 2015 combined earned itself some notice with its seventh win.

"We just beat the Super Bowl champions," Lewan said. "Yeah, I think we earned a lot of respect. We're not going to stop playing hard ever. We're a bunch of grinders, we're going to keep grinding, we're going to keep going. That's what we do.

"It's not for me to say whether we deserve respect. But we sure as hell showed something."

The Titans now have three games left to see just how much they can accelerate that learning curve —and end the franchise's playoff drought. They are only a game back of the AFC's second wild card berth.

The Titans must finish with a better record than the Texans to avoid losing a divisional tiebreaker with Houston. They hold head-to-head tiebreakers over Miami thanks to a 30-17 win Oct. 9 and also the Broncos.

Mariota says the Titans are right where they want to be and will focus on what they have left.

"If we just take care, take control of what we can, find ways to win games, if we win when it is all said and done, we will stay on top," Mariota said.

The Titans start a two-game road swing Sunday visiting the AFC West leading Kansas City (10-3). Then they go to Jacksonville (2-11) on Dec. 24 before hosting Houston on Jan. 1. ...

Other notes of interest. ... DeMarco Murray had a solid game with 92 yards rushing on 21 carries. Derrick Henry chipped in with 42 more and Mariota had 38 yards on nine attempts. The Titans had 180 yards as a team on the ground, running the ball 42 times Sunday.

Wide receiver Kendall Wright was a healthy scratch for Sunday's game after missing a meeting on Saturday. Wright was informed on Saturday that he would not be active against Denver.

After the game, he was apologetic for his misstep.

"I knew yesterday right after I got there. Coach told me as soon as we talked that I would be out," Wright said. "It was all on me and (Mularkey) did what he had to do. I've just got to do better, do my part and be responsible for being where I need to be, when I need to be there. That can't happen when you are a veteran player on a team."

Mularkey said Monday that Wright would be given a "clean slate" after serving the one-game team-imposed suspension.

There was an unintended benefit to the Wright being inactive. It allowed Tre McBride to be active for the first time all-year, and the second-year wide receiver downed a punt at the 2-yard line backing up the Broncos on their final drive, which ended in a fumble. ...

Perhaps the biggest topic after Sunday's game was Harry Douglas' low cut block on Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. On the ensuing play, cornerback Aqib Talib, who was jawing with Douglas while Harris was being tended to, got into a fight with Douglas on the Titans' sideline. Linebacker Avery Williamson tossed Talib aside in the melee before order was finally restored and Talib was assessed a personal foul.

When the game was over, Douglas was unapologetic for the block, which is legal by the letter of the law in the NFL.

"I was just playing football. If you watch film, and we do in the NFL, but they must not have because they would have known I cut block in the run game. That's what I do," Douglas said.

"I went to block him (Harris) and we were looking at each other and I cut him. There was nothing dirty about it. Watch the film, that's my job."

In his press conference on Monday, Mularkey defended his receiver, and also was pleased to see his team rally around Douglas during the skirmish.

"It was legal. I've been with Harry for six years. Harry cuts just about every game. I had no problem with it," Mularkey said.

As for the fight, Malarkey said: "I was pleased with the way our team responded. ...

One last note. ... The Titans promoted DE Mehdi Abdesmad to the roster from the practice squad and waived RB David Fluellen.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Matt Cassel, Marcus Mariota, Alex Tanney
RBs: DeMarco Murray, Derrick Henry, Antonio Andrews
WRs: Rishard Matthews, Tajae Sharpe, Harry Douglas, Kendall Wright, Tre McBride
TEs: Delanie Walker, Anthony Fasano, Jace Amaro, Phillip Supernaw

Washington Redskins

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 December 2016

As ESPN.com's John Keim suggested, just when it appeared that quarterback Kirk Cousins had made the franchise's offseason decision harder, life changed a little bit. And just when it appeared the Redskins resembled anything but a playoff team, life changed even more.

They needed their quarterback to lead a big drive. They needed the defense to make one big play. Both happened and it's why the Redskins remain alive in the playoff race after their 27a-22 win over the Philadelphia Eagles. With Atlanta and Tampa Bay both winning, the Redskins remain a half-game out of the playoffs.

"Our heart's still beating," head coach Jay Gruden said.

It's sometimes hard to view the Redskins as a playoff team because they have so many issues, mostly on defense. They allow too many third-down conversions. They make life too easy at times for the offense. Yet with 21 seconds left in the game and the Eagles on the 14-yard line, here came Ryan Kerrigan with a sack that forced quarterback Carson Wentz to fumble.

But that's why the Redskins remain alive.

Without that sack/fumble, the Redskins would be bemoaning another wasted chance. Instead, they snapped a two-game losing streak and improved to 7-5-1.

Then there was Cousins.

He hasn't made the Redskins' offseason decision a whole lot easier when it comes to deciding what he ultimately should be paid. A strong final month is necessary to erase all doubt. Instead, it was his pick-six that halted Washington's momentum and made the score 21-19.

But Cousins and the offense responded.

"I would love to win 80 to nothing every game," Cousins said. "That's not how the NFL works. ... We understand pick-sixes are going to happen. The key is playing through it, not letting it affect the next play or the next drive and that's why I'm pleased with our team. Guys are showing character and being able to play through adversity."

As Keim suggested, Cousins could have been talking about himself. After all, one question coaches had about Cousins two years ago centered around his ability to bounce back after interceptions. They often led to more mistakes. But, especially this season, interceptions have not ruined Cousins (he's only thrown eight this season to 23 touchdowns).

It's not that Cousins needed to do a whole lot -- he completed two key passes on the last drive, but the first was a perfect throw to Jamison Crowder down the left seam. Then, on a fourth-and-2, Cousins came through with a quick hit to Pierre Garcon.

This win was not just about Cousins. He needed help and his offensive players provided it, but he did need to show that he could rally them when needed most. He did.

And the defense needed to do the same, especially after failing to make big plays at the end of losses to Detroit, Dallas and Arizona. It did as well.

There's a lot they must clean up, but there are no style points awarded in December. The Redskins got what they needed.

"These games are never going to be perfect," Cousins said. "You're going to have adversity and the ability to keep at them was a good sign from our team. There's a lot of football to be played."

But exactly how much remains to be seen. If the Redskins finish strong as they did Sunday, their chances of playing into January will be much higher. ...

Meanwhile, DeSean Jackson remains valuable, and will be costly for anyone to sign in the offseason, was quite evident Sunday. Just in case anyone needed a reminder, he hasn't lost a step; he keeps losing defenders, which is why the Redskins can still make the playoffs.

Jackson is a game-changer and, as Gruden said last week, he doesn't need to catch the ball eight or 10 times to make an impact.

One play will do just fine. Sunday, Jackson caught three passes for 102 yards and a touchdown.

But it was the 80-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter that ignited the Redskins. It's also why the Redskins remain dangerous down the stretch and capable of earning a playoff berth. No matter how much they might struggle at times, with Jackson they're only one play away from changing the momentum of the game.

"That big-play ability jump-starts this team," Gruden said.

At age 30, Jackson now ranks second in NFL history in touchdown catches of 60 yards or longer with 22. He moved past Devin Hester (21) and trails only the legendary Jerry Rice (23) in that category.

Drop the bar to touchdowns of 50 yards or more and Jackson is now tied with Steve Smith for fourth most since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970 (26).

Jackson has caught a pass of at least 50 yards three weeks in a row for the first time since 2009 when he was a second-year player for the Eagles.

Wherever Jackson goes next season will be discussed for a little while. The Redskins know it will be too expensive to keep Jackson and Garcon, and both proved their value Sunday.

For Jackson, it's about speed. He's not going to lose it over the next three weeks. In the next three years, who knows? That's irrelevant for now. All that matters to Washington is that he provides an opportunity to make big plays and help fuel the playoff chase.

All that said, don't hold your breath for Jackson to get a lot more chances. Jackson is a closer -- someone who can dominate for one inning. The Redskins have other targets -- Garcon, tight end Jordan Reed -- who can handle more attempts. Garcon, in particular, is sturdier -- and it's why he'll be a desired player to re-sign in the offseason.

But as Gruden said, just watch how defenses attempt to play Jackson and you'll see his impact over the next three weeks.

How much is that worth? Sunday, it was worth a win. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Cousins is the first player in franchise history with two seasons with at least 4,000 passing yards. Cousins is 122 yards from breaking his team record for most passing yards in a season.

Crowder caught two passes on Sunday against Philadelphia to reach 60 for the season and surpass his total from his rookie season in 2015 (59).

And finally. ... As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich noted, Robert Kelley wasn't spectacular against the Eagles, but he did enough to finish as the week's RB10.

Kelley only averaged 3.9 yards per carry but did have some impressive runs (including a 22-yard touchdown run), gaining yards after contact and powering through defenders when given the chance. He's done well in his featured role late this season despite a tough schedule.

Gruden said earlier last week that he wanted to get the rookie back more involved, and his 18 touches in Week 14 bested his totals of 16 and 14 the last two games, respectively. Expect more of the same Monday night when the Redskins take on the Panthers.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Kirk Cousins, Colt McCoy, Nate Sudfeld
RBs: Robert Kelley, Chris Thompson, Matt Jones, Keith Marshall
WRs: DeSean Jackson, Jamison Crowder, Pierre Garcon, Maurice Harris, Ryan Grant, Rashad Ross, Josh Doctson
TEs: Jordan Reed, Vernon Davis, Niles Paul


 
 SUNDAY'S EARLY GMS