Team Notes Week 15 2017
NEWS, NOTES, RUMORS AND OTHER GOOD STUFFDirectly 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. ... Team Menu
Arizona CardinalsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 December 2017
As ESPN.com's Josh Weinfuss put it, "Thank goodness the Arizona Cardinals have place-kicker Phil Dawson. ..."
Even with one miss, Dawson gave Arizona a 12-7 win against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium with four field goals as the Cardinals offense struggled to make anything happen while failing to protect quarterback Blaine Gabbert, who was sacked eight times.
The Cardinals kept their playoff hopes alive with the win (and a Seattle loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars) for at least another week. Had Arizona lost, regardless of what Seattle did, the Cardinals would have been eliminated from playoff contention, according to ESPN Stats and Information.
This one wasn't pretty, but the Cardinals survived to live another week in the playoff picture.
The Cardinals offense was stagnant yet again. It was shut out in the first half, when it gained just 64 yards. Gabbert was sacked eight times, and he threw for 178 yards but didn't throw for a touchdown.
Arizona punted on its five possessions of the first half, then kicked field goals on four of its first five second-half drives after stalling inside the 30 all five times, including once at the Tennessee 5-yard line.
From a fantasy perspective, nobody involved did enough of anything to earn enough points to make a dent in an outcome this week.
That said, a milestone was achieved.
Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald passed his childhood mentor and longtime friend Randy Moss to move into third place on the NFL's all-time receiving yards list on Sunday.
Of all the players in NFL history to catch passes, there are only two people -- Jerry Rice and Terrell Owens -- who have more yards to their name than Fitzgerald. Sunday carried extra meaning to Fitzgerald, however, because of the man he passed to get there.
Moss took Fitzgerald under his wing as a ball boy with the Vikings in the late 1990s and early 2000s when Fitzgerald was a star high school receiver in Minneapolis. Fitzgerald watched Moss from a front-row seat, taking in not just Moss' awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping athleticism but the "humility he showed me."
"It means a lot to have my name there with him," Fitzgerald said.
But that nearly never happened.
Weinfuss reminded readers that a decision almost five years ago helped Fitzgerald get to Sunday, to scale the record books.
When head coach Bruce Arians was hired in 2013, he wanted to move Fitzgerald into the slot, just like he had with Hines Ward in Pittsburgh and Reggie Wayne in Indianapolis. Fitzgerald, who'd been a career edge receiver and developed his reputation by making highlight-worthy catches down the field, moved inside, albeit reluctantly.
His numbers dipped, but Fitzgerald felt like his career was extended.
From his rookie season of 2004 to 2012, his last season as a true edge receiver, Fitzgerald's 10,413 yards were the second most in the league to Wayne. From 2013 to the present day, Fitzgerald has 4,898 yards -- eighth most during that span. But his 448 receptions in the past five seasons were third most.
However, if Fitzgerald hadn't agreed to move inside, his career trajectory may have been, well, slightly different.
"I'd probably be sitting in your chair right now asking the questions," he said. "I think as a player, you are sometimes naïve to the things that you lose and don't always look at yourself the way other people see you. I think that's one of the negatives about being a professional athlete.
"Coach had a bigger picture and I just needed to understand that."
Since Fitzgerald made the move, his career has gone one way: straight up the record books. ...
Fitzgerald will try to add to those totals when the Cardinals go on their last cross-country trip of the season to play the Redskins in Washington on Sunday. They're 1-4 in games played east of Arizona this season. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Gabbert has been up and down, but he continues to show enough to make the Cardinals interested in bringing him back on a potential new contract after this season. Gabbert will have to play well down the stretch for that to likely happen, however.
That task won't be any easier with more injuries on the offensive line.
Via Darren Urban of the team's official website, Arians was worried about how left tackle Jared Veldheer came out of Sunday's game because of an elbow problem, only for Veldheer to say the arm was fine but he hurt his ankle during the game.
Tests Monday morning revealed Veldheer broke his ankle, and he'll go on injured reserve.
Veldheer's injury goes along with D.J. Humphries, putting both their starting tackles entering the year on IR, along with left guard Mike Iupati.
The Cardinals also lost right guard Earl Watford during Sunday's game to a high ankle sprain, meaning even more adjustments are coming.
Center A.Q. Shipley's the only Cardinals lineman to start every game this year. ...
Even with the injury issues, the run blocking was effective enough against Tennessee. ... Kerwynn Williams, playing with sore ribs for a second straight week, ran for 73 yards on 20 carries. Rookie wide receiver Chad Williams gave the offense some life during the go-ahead scoring drive in the fourth quarter on a 33-yard end around.
Adrian Peterson missed a second-straight game with a neck injury. I'll be following up via Late-Breaking Update in coming days, but Arians told reporter last Friday there's no timetable for Peterson's return. The coach reiterated that on Wednesday, adding he has "no idea" if Peterson will recover in time to play this season. That said, surgery reportedly isn't among the possible options.
John Brown (toe) missed a second-straight game with his injury and I'll also be following up on his progress (he was limited in Wednesday's practice). But playing Cardinals receivers not named Fitzgerald is risky.
QBs: Kyler Murray, Brett Hundley
RBs: Kenyan Drake, David Johnson, Chase Edmonds
WRs: Christian Kirk, Larry Fitzgerald, KeeSean Johnson, Pharoh Cooper, Andy Isabella, Trent Sherfield, Damiere Byrd
TEs: Charles Clay, Maxx Williams
Atlanta FalconsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 December 2017
According to ESPN.com's Vaughn McClure, Matt Ryan never points the finger at anyone else, and he took responsibility for his poor performance in last Thursday's 20-17 victory over the New Orleans Saints.
Ryan completed 15 of 27 passes for 221 yards with one touchdown, three interceptions and a passer rating of 55.2 -- well off the league-best 117.1 mark he posted during his MVP season of 2016.
Ryan had interceptions on back-to-back plays spanning the second and third quarters. The first was intended for Julio Jones and picked off by rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore during a two-minute drill from the Saints' 42-yard line.
"The first interception was a bad play," Ryan said. "In that situation, where we're at on the field, you know, I've got to throw the football away. I thought [Jones] was getting held, and I thought we were going to get an opportunity for a call. I've got to be better than that and throw the ball away."
Then on the first play of the second half, Ryan's pass to tight end Austin Hooper bounced off Hooper's hands and into the arms of Saints safety Chris Banjo.
"At the beginning of the second half, those [things], they happen," Ryan said. "Sometimes those physical mistakes happen."
On the Falcons' second drive of the third quarter, Ryan scrambled on third-and-6 from the Saints' 9-yard line and tried to hit Jones in the back corner of the end zone, only to be picked off by safety Marcus Williams.
"And then on the third in the end zone, you want to give Julio opportunities," Ryan said. "I didn't throw the ball nearly high enough, where it needed to be. And I've got to make a better decision in that situation to know we have to put three points on the board. So I'm disappointed in a couple of the plays, but that's part of it.
"Sometimes it goes that way and you have to keep battling and keep your mindset right. I was pleased with how I did that, and I was pleased with how our entire team did that."
Ryan rebounded to throw a 8-yard touchdown pass to Sanu in the fourth quarter that tied the score. Matt Bryant's 52-yard field goal ended up being the game-winner after Deion Jones' interception of Drew Brees in the end zone.
The first interception didn't result in points for New Orleans mainly because Jones chased down Lattimore for his first career tackle and kept Lattimore from a pick-six. Then, on the final play of the first half, the Saints took an illegal-formation penalty on the field goal attempt with 4 seconds remaining, wiping away the three points.
The Saints scored a touchdown off the Hooper drop that resulted in the interception to go up 17-10. But the defense held after Ryan's final pick, forcing a punt.
Give Jones credit for making that tackle.
"It's just a mentality," Jones said. "You've got to think, it's the offensive line and the quarterback, so I've got to go out there and make a play."
Meanwhile, head coach Dan Quinn announced last Friday that running back Tevin Coleman suffered a concussion and is in the protocol.
Coleman is the sixth Falcon to sustain a concussion during the 2017 regular season, joining fellow running back Devonta Freeman, cornerback Desmond Trufant, safety Ricardo Allen, right tackle Ryan Schraeder and linebacker Jordan Tripp. Each missed at least one game, with Freeman and Schraeder both missing a pair of games. Tripp was placed on injured reserve.
Quinn doesn't speculate on timetables for players coming off of concussions or any other injury. This week's Monday night game against the Buccaneers gives Coleman extra time to recover. Coleman was not on the field when the team returned to practice Tuesday.
"He had a concussion, and he's in the concussion protocol, and we'll just let the medical staff and the doctors do their thing," Quinn said. "Until we know when he's cleared, we'll go through the whole process with him."
If Coleman, who leads the team with seven combined touchdowns, is unable to return to face the Buccaneers, the Falcons would elevate Terron Ward into the backup role behind Freeman.
The two-time Pro Bowler Freeman continues to impress coming off his third concussion since November 2015. He ran for 91 yards on 24 carries and scored a touchdown against the Saints. Freeman vowed not to change his rugged style due to the concussions, and he hasn't. He currently leads the Falcons with 680 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns on 152 carries.
"I never worried about Freeman not being himself," Quinn said. "We were going to make sure we gave him all the time he needed for his injury to get better, and that's what we did. We'll always side with the guys and make sure they're at their very best."
The 8-5 Falcons need a healthy Freeman and Coleman as they make their playoff push with three games remaining.
They know last Thursday night's win over the NFC South-leading New Orleans Saints was crucial in the big picture. Right now, the Falcons hold the No. 6 seed and final wild-card spot after the Seattle Seahawks fell to 8-5 with a loss at Jacksonville. The Falcons hold the tiebreaker over the Seahawks as well as the Detroit Lions (7-6), Green Bay Packers (7-6), and Dallas Cowboys (7-6) after beating all four teams this season.
If the Falcons find a way to close the season with three consecutive wins over Tampa Bay (4-9), New Orleans (9-4) and current No. 5 seed Carolina (9-4), they would earn themselves a division title and home playoff game by sweeping the Saints and finishing with a better division record (5-1) than the Panthers if the Saints and Panthers finish 11-5 as well.
I'll have more on Coleman's status via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses. ...
One last note here. ... As NFL.com's Matt Harmon put it, "Jones no longer has a volume issue. The elite wideout has double-digit targets in three of his last four games. The production hasn't always been juicy, but that's due to issues in the red zone."
Against the Saints, Jones was targeted 11 times and made five catches for 98 yards. Mohamed Sanu had eight targets and caught six passes for 83 yards and one touchdown.
QBs: Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub
RBs: Devonta Freeman, Brian Hill, Qadree Ollison, Kenjon Barner
WRs: Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, Russell Gage, Justin Hardy, Christian Blake
TEs: Austin Hooper, Jaeden Graham, Luke Stocker
Baltimore RavensCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 December 2017
Following an agonizing night in Pittsburgh, the Baltimore Ravens took consolation in knowing their fourth-quarter collapse won't necessarily impact their chances of reaching the playoffs.
In spite of Sunday night's 39-38 loss to the Steelers, the Ravens (7-6) can end a two-year playoff drought by winning their final three regular-season games. It's a task that does not appear to be all that imposing, given that the collective record of those three opponents is 8-31.
After facing winless Cleveland on the road Sunday, Baltimore hosts Indianapolis (3-13) on Dec. 23 before wrapping up with Cincinnati (5-8) at home on Dec. 31.
"It's the National Football League. Those will be three very challenging football games for us, but we're capable of doing it. We expect to do it," head coach John Harbaugh said Monday. "We're right there to earn a wild-card berth, but there's three games left and we've got to make it happen for ourselves."
Baltimore took a three-game winning streak into Pittsburgh and was coming off its most complete performance of the season, a 44-20 rout of Detroit. After spotting the Steelers a 14-0 lead, the Ravens moved in front 31-20 before being outscored 19-7 over the final 15 minutes.
"In the fourth quarter, the defense dropped the ball," linebacker Terrell Suggs acknowledged.
Ben Roethlisberger threw for 506 yards and a Baltimore defense that led the NFL in takeaways didn't get any. Playing their first game without injured cornerback Jimmy Smith, the Ravens had no answer for Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown, who finished with 11 catches for 213 yards.
Asked one day later if he regretted not using double-coverage against the gifted receiver, Harbaugh told the Associated Press, "I'm sure baseball pitchers wish they hadn't thrown a fastball when they threw a fastball or a curveball when they hung one there for a home run."
Still, it was a stinging defeat against a bitter rival, and it provided the Steelers with the AFC North title. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the loss what that a defense that has already registered three shutouts this season didn't force a punt in the first half and allowed Roethlisberger to throw for 228 yards in the fourth quarter alone.
Meanwhile, Harbaugh is right about one thing: If Joe Flacco had completed one of his two passes on the second-to-last drive in Sunday night's loss to the Steelers, Monday morning quarterbacks would laud the team's aggressiveness. But it didn't work, and the Ravens left the Steelers too much time, making it easy to second-guess the play-calling.
"We could run it. We could pass it," Harbaugh said Monday, via Jamison Hensley of ESPN. "You do whatever you can to try to get yards. If it works, it's a good call. If it doesn't work, it's not a good call."
The best call for Baltimore?
Alex Collins has emerged as the team's top playmaker on offense. He also might have put himself in position for a big payday in the offseason.
Collins finished with 120 yards on 18 carries and a touchdown Sunday night against the Steelers. He has shown he can be an every-down, big-play running back. It's a remarkable performance for a player that was signed off the practice squad in September.
"The offensive line does a great job every game, every practice," Collins said. "They're going out and busting their tails for us running backs."
As the Sports Xchange noted, the Ravens will need to lean heavily on Collins to avoid missing the postseason for the third straight year. Collins is prepared to carry the load over the final three games and fantasy owners should be ready to cash in on that. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Flacco was 20 of 35 for 268 yards and two touchdowns. However, he killed a potential scoring drive with an interception in the first quarter and fumbled on the game's final possession.
Receiver Jeremy Maclin was targeted 11 times, but came up with three receptions. Mike Wallace caught three passes for 72 yards.
Maclin was able to play Sunday against Pittsburgh after missing practice Thursday because of a back injury, He was listed as questionable to play.
Receiver Breshad Perriman, the team's first-round pick in 2015, was a healthy scratch for the third time in four weeks. He is ranked 11th on the team with just seven receptions for 54 yards and has yet to catch a touchdown pass. Chris Moore, a fourth-round (107th overall) in 2016, has leapfrogged Perriman on the depth chart.
QBs: Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III, Trace McSorley
RBs: Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards, Justice Hill
WRs: Marquise Brown, Willie Snead, Seth Roberts, Miles Boykin, Chris Moore, Jaleel Scott
TEs: Mark Andrews, Nick Boyle, Hayden Hurst
Buffalo BillsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 December 2017
As ESPN.com's Mike Rodak reported, with the turf at New Era Field covered in up to eight inches of snow and swirling flakes making passing almost impossible, LeSean McCoy was all the Bills needed in an unforgettable 13-7 overtime win Sunday over the Indianapolis Colts.
McCoy rushed 32 times for 156 yards, but three runs of at least 20 yards were the difference in a game that felt like it was being played in slow motion because of an intense lake-effect system that struck less than an hour before kickoff.
"We kept saying it was like we were on a beach [in the sand]," wide receiver Deonte Thompson said. "The snow was so high so every time we stepped in it we would sink so it was tough to run a route.
"This is going to be something I tell my grandkids about. ... It was a crazy day today."
The snow reduced visibility early in the game so that players could not see from one end of the field to the other. There even was even "thundersnow" reported by meteorologists in the area.
"Twenty-some years around the NFL, I really haven't [seen anything like it]," head coach Sean McDermott said. "I think we had all but sun today. We had some lightning, some thunder and a lot of snow and wind."
Thanks to McCoy, the Bills escape with a winning record, 7-6, in what could have been easily been a crushing a loss to the Colts, now 3-10. An interception thrown by emergency quarterback Joe Webb gave Indianapolis a chance to win late in the fourth quarter, and McDermott's questionable decision to punt in overtime could have resulted in a tie and further buried the Bills' playoff hopes.
Instead, the Bills maintain a reasonable shot at the playoffs as they prepare to host the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.
A pair of McCoy runs, for 23 and 25 yards, led to an 8-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter from Nathan Peterman to wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, the first score for Benjamin since the Bills acquired him in an Oct. 31 trade. McCoy later ran 21 yards for the game-winning touchdown with less than two minutes remaining in overtime.
McCoy's 156 rushing yards were the most of his Bills career and the sixth-most of his NFL career. His career high remains 217 yards in a snowy Eagles win in 2013 over the Detroit Lions.
"This game was a lot harder than the Philadelphia game," he said. "I think the biggest reason for that was that the snow never stopped and the wind never stopped. In the first half of the Philly game, it was crazy, but it stopped at halftime. We could run the ball a lot better. Where in this game, it continued to snow and snow and snow.
"I think this is probably the best [snow game], or the worst one."
Sunday marked Benjamin's first game since missing almost the past three with a knee injury, but he did not complete it unscathed. He left in the fourth quarter after injuring his knee diving for an incomplete pass. He re-entered the game and then limped off after another incompletion in his direction."
"I kind of just bent [my knee] back, aggravated it a little bit," he said. "We'll go check with the docs and see what's going on with it. I'm still walking, so that's a good sign."
Benjamin missed two games after tearing the meniscus in his right knee during a Nov. 19 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.
The injury to Benjamin came after the Bills lost Peterman to a head injury in the third quarter. The rookie made his second career start; he had a historically poor debut Nov. 19 against the Los Angeles Chargers when he threw five first-half interceptions before being pulled.
Attempting only 10 passes because of the conditions, Peterman was struck in the head by Colts linebacker Antonio Morrison on a 2-yard run, requiring trainers to assist the rookie to the sideline and later to the locker room.
With Tyrod Taylor inactive because of a bruised knee, dual quarterback-wide receiver Webb finished the game under center for Buffalo after Peterman exited.
In overtime, the Bills proved McDermott's decision to punt to the Colts was the right move. Buffalo's defense forced the Colts' offense off the field before Webb completed a 34-yard pass to Thompson to set the table for McCoy's game-winning touchdown.
"That was crazy man!" Benjamin said of Thompson's catch. "I've never seen anybody run that fast in the snow, that was crazy!"
The Bills still face an uphill battle to crack their 17-year playoff drought. The Chargers' win and the Baltimore Ravens' game later on Sunday will shape the Bills' postseason chances.
But in a game unlike any other in recent franchise history, Buffalo got the job done.
Meanwhile, McDermott was encouraged by the initial medical reports on his injured quarterbacks to feel confident Buffalo won't have to add a player before hosting Miami this weekend.
McDermott did not go into further detail on Monday other than to confirm Peterman is in the NFL's concussion protocol.
McDermott acknowledged that Taylor was listed as questionable last week, and Taylor himself said he felt like he could have played. "But I'm not a doctor," McDermott. "There was a chance he was going to play, that's why we listed him the way we did, but at the end of the day he wasn't able to."
On Wednesday, McDermott announced that Taylor would practice while Peterman, Benjamin and Charles Clay would be limited. McCoy (knee) was also limited (not a surprise given the heavy workload Sunday).
"Tyrod has made some progress. He'll get most of the work in practice today. When healthy, Tyrod is our starter. Nate Peterman remains in the concussion protocol."
Taylor, expected to start, was scheduled to get most of the reps and he was listed as a full participant Wednesday.
And on the off chance that both Taylor and Peterman can't go?
"We'll see," Webb said. "We'll see what's going on with Tyrod and Nate. I will always be ready if my number's called."
That said, Webb can't be counted on as a starter moving forward, nor can converted tight end Logan Thomas - who played quarterback at Virginia Tech - be counted on as a possible backup.
I'll obviously be watching for more on the QBs and Benjamin in advance of Sunday's game. Watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for more. ...
Meanwhile, offensive coordinator Rick Dennison said Monday he anticipates Thompson and Zay Jones splitting time moving forward based on game plan. Thompson started Sunday opposite Benjamin, playing 85 percent of snaps. Jones, who began as the No. 3/slot receiver, played 61 percent of snaps and saw his role elevated when Benjamin left in the second half twice with a knee injury.
QBs: Josh Allen, Matt Barkley
RBs: Devin Singletary, Frank Gore, T.J. Yeldon
WRs: John Brown, Cole Beasley, Isaiah McKenzie, Andre Roberts, Robert Foster, Duke Williams
TEs: Dawson Knox, Tyler Kroft, Tommy Sweeney, Lee Smith, Jason Croom
Carolina PanthersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 December 2017
As the Sports Xchange noted, the right kind of mindset worked for the Panthers, both leading into the game against the Minnesota Vikings and during the game when adversity struck.
That was one of the takeaways for the Panthers after they pulled out Sunday's 31-24 home victory.
"We responded all day," head coach Ron Rivera said. "We felt good about our offense. We felt we really liked the opportunities we had to score late in the game and we were able to do it."
The Panthers had enough facets of the rushing attack working to keep the Vikings off balance, particularly on a day with a few snags in the passing attack could have put the Panthers out of whack.
This makes the next game potentially even bigger for the Panthers.
"It's a week-by-week league and we've got to prepare well every week because it's tough to win," rookie running back Christian McCaffrey said. "We have that win and we'll enjoy it and then start getting ready for next week."
A week after losing their showdown at New Orleans, the Panthers (9-4) are right back tied for first place in the NFC South, albeit the Saints own the tiebreaker.
"It's one of those things when you look at the season going into the year and you hope that in December you're playing games that really matter, and this game mattered for a lot of reasons," Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly said. "For playoff implications and stuff like that."
There will be more of that this week with the Panthers getting a visit from the Green Bay Packers, who could be one of the contenders for a wild-card berth into the playoffs.
The team's strong rushing attack is a reason for optimism.
"We felt we could run the ball in certain situations," Rivera said.
With 216 rushing yards for the game, the Panthers became one of two NFL teams with three or more games with 200 yards on the ground this season. Carolina hadn't had three games with that level of rushing attack since 2009.
In that mix this time was running back Jonathan Stewart, a 10-year veteran, rushing for three touchdowns in a game for the first time in his career. With 103 rushing yards in the game, Stewart reached the 100-yard mark for the 16th time in his career
He had only three touchdowns in the first 12 games and had topped 100 yards only once all season.
As ESPN.com's David Stewart noted, the Panthers have been struggling so much to get Stewart on track that the critics have been questioning whether the 30-year-old back had lost a step -- or two.
But on Carolina's third offensive play Sunday, with the Minnesota defense stacked tight on third-and-1, Stewart broke through a big hole on the right side and went 60 yards for the score.
The Panthers don't need Stewart to be the fastest man on the planet, but they do need him to be a factor if they are to make a run in the playoffs.
Two of Carolina's most impressive offensive outputs this season have come when Stewart rushed for more than 100 yards. He had 110 yards in a 45-21 victory over Miami on Nov. 13.
Stewart's ability to carry the running game takes the pressure off Cam Newton and actually makes the 2015 NFL MVP more effective as a runner.
Indeed, the QB had a 62-yard run to set up the game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Perhaps of concern for the Panthers is other than the two big runs, they picked up 94 rushing yards on the remaining 34 carries.
Whatever the case, Rivera said the coaching staff never "doubted" Stewart, who was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week for his efforts.
"That's why we kept putting Jonathan back out there," he said. "We believe in who he is for us, and he has been solid. He is getting stronger."
Remember: It's a good matchup against the Packers, so keep Stewart on the radar -- just don't expect three touchdowns every week. In addition, McCaffrey, who totaled 53 yards on 11 touches, remains in play as a PPR option this week. ...
Also of interest. ... The Panthers didn't make a lot of big plays in the passing game, Newton improvised enough to find Devin Funchess for a touchdown pass.
Often, 137 passing yards for the game isn't going to cut it from a fantasy perspective, but in this case the focus on Funchess -- even going up against Vikings shutdown corner Xavier Rhodes -- was enough.
As NFL.com's Matt Harmon noted, Funchess led the team in targets and owned a whopping 51.7 percent share of Newton's intended air yards. It was enough to get him to a successful stat line in a tough matchup against Rhodes and the Vikings secondary. Harmon further noted that Funchess has 86 yards and/or a touchdown in each of the last five weeks.
That's more than sufficient for fantasy production.
Funchess (shoulder) was limited Wednesday, but expect him to play as usual this weekend.
One last note here. ... Greg Olsen didn't have a catch but he was on the field for 92 percent of the snaps against Minnesota.
QBs: Kyle Allen, Will Grier, Cam Newton
RBs: Christian McCaffrey, Reggie Bonnafon, Mike Davis, Jordan Scarlett, Elijah Holyfield
WRs: D.J. Moore, Curtis Samuel, Jarius Wright, Donte Moncrief, Brandon Zylstra, Chris Hogan
TEs: Ian Thomas, Chris Manhertz, Greg Olsen
Chicago BearsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 December 2017
As ESPN.com's Jeff Dickerson noted, the Bengals' injury-ravaged secondary provided Chicago Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky with the opportunity to take a few more calculated risks in the vertical passing attack.
"Sure, it's fair to say" that the Bears were more aggressive on offense, Trubisky said Sunday after a 33-7 victory. "Everyone's got opinions. ... It's accurate."
The Bears will never truly deviate from their conservative offensive approach with their current group of coaches and players, but Trubisky wasn't drafted second overall to check down on every play.
Trubisky started off throwing low-risk, short passes against Cincinnati, but as the afternoon wore on, the rookie quarterback started looking for guys such as Kendall Wright and Adam Shaheen on intermediate routes that paid big dividends on third down.
Because of their slightly more aggressive attitude on offense -- coupled with Jordan Howard's 147 rushing yards and two touchdowns -- the Bears finished with 33 points, 29 first downs and 482 total net yards.
To put that in perspective, the Bears hadn't scored 30-plus points in 35 consecutive games -- the second-longest active streak behind only the 0-13 Cleveland Browns.
"Yeah, we just need to spread the ball around," Trubisky said. "We've got a lot of great weapons on offense. Adam, Dion Sims -- they're big tight ends, and we've just got to continue to utilize them and spread the ball around with our receivers. It all starts when we get the running game going, and the whole line was really playing well up front.
"We were really just focused today. We put the past behind us and [focused on] one drive at a time. We had a great week of practice, and I feel like that just trickled [down] throughout the week [with] positive energy. The guys just came together, and we were able to make a lot of plays today. We weren't going to dwell on the past and what we didn't do. We can learn from our mistakes, and it allowed us to be more effective today."
It also helped that Trubisky's receivers made plays on the ball.
Wright, in particular, ended the afternoon with a season-high 10 catches for 107 yards on 11 targets. Those totals were also Bears receiver highs for the season.
"Our group of receivers pride ourselves in getting open," Wright said. "We call ourselves '7-Eleven' because we're always open."
Wright probably was joking. As Dickerson reminded us, anyone who has watched the Bears this year knows what a struggle it has been for the wide receivers. There isn't a single one on the roster with 50 catches -- Wright leads the team with 43 -- and there are only three weeks left in the regular season.
One of the Bears' first orders of business in the offseason -- after whatever coaching changes have to be made -- is to overhaul the wide receiver position.
For now, the current group has to do. While it would be nice for Bears receivers to be open 24/7 -- as Wright suggested -- over the final three weeks, the reality is that Trubisky just needs the wideouts to do enough for him to keep developing.
Meanwhile, Shaheen more than tripled his workload in Cincinnati.
One week after playing a paltry nine snaps (24 percent) against San Francisco, the rookie tight end lined up for 32 of Chicago's 76 attempted offensive snaps (42 percent) at Paul Brown Stadium. The Bears were technically credited with running 72 plays on Sunday.
Shaheen finished the game with four receptions for 44 yards and one touchdown. His 18-yard reception on third down in the first half tied for the Bears' fifth longest play from scrimmage.
According to Dickerson, a couple of factors contributed to Shaheen's increased role.
First and foremost, the Bears offense stayed on the field for 38:09 minutes against the Bengals, compared to 21:13 the previous week (they ran just 36 plays versus the 49ers). Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said Shaheen is included in certain packages each week, but that circumstances often dictate changing the game plan on the fly.
Chicago also had the luxury of playing with a large lead most of Sunday, therefore eliminating the need to run their two-minute, hurry-up offense. The Bears favor veteran Daniel Brown over Shaheen -- similar to how Benny Cunningham is frequently used as Chicago's third-down back over Tarik Cohen -- because the rookie is still learning the complexities of the entire offense.
But when Shaheen had an opportunity to make an impact on Sunday, he made the most of it.
"Adam did a great job when I threw him the ball and he was coming down with it every time," said fellow rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, who passed for 271 yards and one touchdown.
"It was awesome, and I guess it was just a tribute to the extra work we put in before and after practice, and me and him just getting on the same page. ..."
The Bears have a slightly condensed work week because they play at Detroit next Saturday. The Lions beat Chicago 27-24 on Nov. 19 at Soldier Field, but the Bears had a chance to send that game into overtime. Ex-Bears kicker Connor Barth missed a 46-yard field goal with three seconds left in regulation to ice the game for Detroit.
Other notes of interest. ... Howard became the first Bears player to have consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons in his first two years. Howard, who finished second in rushing last year behind Ezekiel Elliott, entered Week 14 as the league's fifth leading rusher.
Better still, the Bears used the 1-2 punch at Cincinnati, with Cohen adding 80 yards. In the past, penalties bogged down the running attack. They couldn't avoid penalties again against the Bengals, but overcame them.
They'll get another chance to do that on Saturday against a less-than-stingy Lions run defense.
Worth noting, the Bears have four wins and are 3-0 against the AFC North. They are 0-4 in their own division with two divisional games left including the Lions this weekend.
QBs: Mitchell Trubisky, Chase Daniel
RBs: David Montgomery, Tarik Cohen
WRs: Allen Robinson, Anthony Miller, Cordarrelle Patterson, Javon Wims, Riley Ridley, Taylor Gabriel
TEs: Jesper Horsted, J.P. Holtz, Bradley Sowell, Eric Saubert, Ben Braunecker, Trey Burton
Cincinnati BengalsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 December 2017
As ESPN.com's Katherine Terrell wrote, "The Bengals put on one of their most listless performances in years in a 33-7 loss to the Bears on Sunday afternoon. ..."
It seemed clear that the Bengals left everything they had on the field in a loss to the Steelers on Monday. Maybe they were still recovering from the emotionally and physically draining game. Maybe they simply couldn't handle losing five defensive starters this week.
Whatever it was, it was clear the Bengals (5-8) were simply not prepared to face the Bears (4-9). It certainly isn't a good look for Bengals coach Marvin Lewis and his staff. Lewis has always seemed to have the ability to keep his teams invested, even when there was little to play for, but the team looked as if it would rather be anywhere else on Sunday.
Even the usually reliable A.J. Green, the best player on the team, wasn't playing at his usual level. Green dropped one pass and had another tipped off his hands for an interception. He was also stripped of the ball late in the game with the Bengals trailing by several touchdowns.
Most of the Bengals who spoke to the media after the game defended the energy, with the exception of quarterback Andy Dalton.
"We didn't have a lot of energy," Dalton said. "Offensively we didn't get that one play that gave us a spark."
The rest of the Bengals defended their effort, and linebacker Kevin Minter defended the game plan, but there was no defending how they played.
Green began nodding his head almost immediately when a reporter brought up the word "embarrassing."
"It's definitely embarrassing," he said. "Any time you lose 33-7, no matter how good the other team played, it's embarrassing."
Most of the Bengals seemed downright puzzled about their lackluster performance, and no one seemed to have an explanation for why they played so badly. Green, who dropped a pass, had one go off his hands for an interception, and had the ball stripped, put a large part of the blame on himself.
"I didn't play well at all, and it starts with me," he said." Being one of the playmakers on the team, I made no plays today. I have to do a better job of making plays whenever my number is called. I had a couple of deep balls that I should have made and somehow come up with the ball. It starts with me, and I played like s--- today."
Nobody seemed to know if the team's physical game against the Steelers played a toll on Sunday, although the long list of injuries clearly played a role in the loss.
"You've got to come back and you've got to play," said head coach Marvin Lewis. "I'm not giving that to be an excuse. We didn't play well enough today."
The Bengals had a chance to turn their season around against the Steelers on Monday. But they've taken a step backward since the second half of that game and have now dropped two straight.
"We couldn't move that ball or make a play to save our life," said wide receiver Brandon LaFell. "I felt like the effort was there, but we couldn't make plays. We had a sense of urgency since we left the Jacksonville game that we needed to win every game the rest of the year to give us a chance to make the playoffs, and we haven't done that, especially on this short week. We lost two games that we should have won. We came out and laid an egg."
The coaching staff addressed it during team meetings on Monday.
"As I told them, sometimes they've got to make their own music," Lewis said. "You've got to make some plays that turn the music up, turn the dial up, and that gets everybody going."
Although the Bengals are out of contention, they can help decide who gets into the playoffs. They have games at Minnesota (10-3) against former defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, at home against Detroit (7-6), and at the Ravens (7-6), who opened the season with a 20-0 victory at Paul Brown Stadium.
A lot of the attention in the last three weeks will be on Lewis, who is in the final year of his contract. He arrived in 2003 and made a woeful franchise better, but hasn't been able to win a playoff game in his 15 seasons.
The Bengals set a club record with five straight playoff appearances from 2011-15, losing in the first round each season.
Lewis is 0-7 in the postseason, an NFL record for coaching futility.
Lewis kept getting contract extensions until last year, when he was coming off a six-win season.
Owner Mike Brown decided to see how the final year on Lewis' contract played out. Lewis knew he'd have to produce or his stay in Cincinnati would end after a franchise-record 15 seasons.
Brown meets with the head coach at the end of each season. Following the game in Baltimore on Dec. 31, they'll get together again and decide where to go from here. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Joe Mixon was inactive Sunday after leaving the Pittsburgh in the first half with a concussion after a violent collision after catching a screen pass late in the first half.
With Mixon out, the workhorse role was handed to Giovani Bernard. He ended up leading the team in rushing (62 yards) and receiving (68 yards), totaling 130 on the day. Bernard didn't find the end zone but his versatility helped boost his yardage total. As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich suggested, Bernard could keep a bigger role due to his success over the last two weeks, even if Mixon is healthy.
Mixon remained in the concussion protocol on Wednesday and didn't practice. Tight end Tyler Kroft (hamstring) was also held out while Bernard (knee) was limited.
I'll be following up via Late-Breaking Update while reminding you the running backs don't have a great matchup this week though, as the Bengals travel to Minnesota.
Dalton's 59.7 rating was his worst since a 28.4 rating in the season opener against the Ravens. Dalton passed for 141 yards, third-worst of the season, with a touchdown and an interception. He was sacked twice. He was 14 of 29 passing.
The 48.3 percent completion percentage was his worst of the season. And, despite being targeted 12 times, Green had only five receptions. Again, it won't get a lot easier going up against Xavier Rhodes and the Vikings secondary this weekend. ...
The Bengals designated Jeff Driskel to return from injured reserve. The team's third-string quarterback broke the thumb and index finger on his throwing hand in the final preseason game, and the Bengals placed him on injured reserve Sept. 4.
As Profootballtalk.com notes, Driskel's return to practice Wednesday starts a three-week window during which he may practice with the team without being counted against the 53-player roster limit. The Bengals can add him to the roster at any time during the three-week period, though that seems unlikely with only three games remaining and Driskel unlikely to play.
The 49ers made Driskel a sixth-round pick in 2016. He joined the Bengals as a waiver acquisition in 2016, and he spent his entire rookie season on the Bengals' 53-player roster. He did not play in a game.
Driskel played in all four of the Bengals' preseason games this year, completing 14 of 21 passes for 164 yards, one touchdown and a passer rating of 106.1. He also had nine carries for 63 yards and a touchdown.
And finally. ... John Ross, the ninth overall pick in this year's draft, has been inactive for nine of 12 games and was placed on IR for a shoulder injury. A report from Profootballtalk.com on Monday cited multiple sources that the Bengals considered giving Ross a shot at cornerback, a position he was playing at the University of Washington when the Bengals began scouting him.
Cincinnati was without injured corners Adam Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick on Sunday. Jones is out for the season with a groin tear.
QBs: Andy Dalton, Ryan Finley, Jake Dolegala
RBs: Joe Mixon, Giovani Bernard, Trayveon Williams, Samaje Perine
WRs: Tyler Boyd, Auden Tate, John Ross, Alex Erickson, Stanley Morgan Jr., Josh Malone, A.J. Green
TEs: Tyler Eifert, C.J. Uzomah, Cethan Carter, Drew Sample
Cleveland BrownsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 December 2017
According to ESPN.com's Pat McManamon, the Browns have only themselves to blame for squandering a 14-point fourth-quarter lead and losing for the 13th time in 13 games on Sunday.
In the litany of painful Browns defeats, this one will be remembered as especially bitter.
The Browns had so much going well. The Browns led for 60.2 percent of the game's plays, the first time this season they've been over 50 percent.
DeShone Kizer was having his best game.
Isaiah Crowell topped 100 yards rushing.
The defense had allowed the Green Bay Packers just seven points through three quarters.
And early in the fourth quarter, the Browns led by 14.
Yet they lost, inexplicably, improbably, illogically -- 27-21 in overtime.
"Another unfortunate event happens to us," was the way Kizer described it.
Kizer finished 20-of-28 for 214 yards with three touchdowns, but the Browns looked back at a lot of errors in critical times -- and calls they felt went against them.
Wide receiver Josh Gordon caught three passes for 69 yards -- and he pulled in his first touchdown catch since 2013 -- but he had only one catch after the Browns scored on their opening possession.
"We just didn't make some plays," head coach Hue Jackson said. "We had another ball down the side to him. I think everybody believed it was pass interference. Then there was another one on the left side. I thought the guy had his arm when he was extending to catch the ball.
"There were some other plays that we thought that were out there for him that we just didn't make the hookup. We have to keep working at this thing. He did start fast and did start hot. We just have to continue that throughout the game."
Whatever the case, Cleveland is three losses from matching the 2008 Detroit Lions as the only teams to go 0-16. They're already the first team in NFL history to go 0-13 in consecutive seasons.
The Browns host Baltimore this week before concluding the season with road games at Chicago and Pittsburgh.
For some players, the thought of a winless season is unimaginable.
"You definitely don't walk into the season thinking you are going to go 0-13," said guard Joel Bitonio. "Unfortunately for us this year, the losses have piled up. It is tough. It really sucks. We are doing everything on our part to try to be better and try to get those wins. It is really unfortunate. ..."
Other notes of interest. ... Crowell rushed for 121 yards - his first 100-yard game of the season. Defenses have to be concerned with Gordon, and that has opened up running room for Crowell. It helped, too, that the Browns were leading in the fourth quarter. The offensive line has proven it can be a dominating run-blocking team if given the opportunity.
Crowell has 716 yards rushing this season and is the first Browns running back since Gregg Pruitt (1975-78) to rush for at least 600 yards in four consecutive seasons. ...
Kizer ran twice for seven yards against the Packers and now has the franchise record for rushes by a quarterback at 61. Mike Phipps set the record at 60 in 1973 when the regular season lasted 14 games. ...
Gordon and Corey Coleman tied for the team-lead in targets with six, and both cleared 60 yards and scored a touchdown. According to NFL.com's Matt Harmon, Gordon bested Coleman with a team-high 43.3 percent share of Kizer's intended air yards, but both are viable plays going forward. ...
Jackson wasn't pleased that Gordon got into a Twitter exchange with Packers CB Damarious Randall a day after the game. The players took turns exchanging insulting messages, with Randall taking things to an extreme when he referenced Gordon's battle with drug and alcohol addiction.
"I want us to do our talking on the field with our play," Jackson said. "That's where the focus needs to be because that's what it's going to take to get us to winning. Talking isn't going to do anything."
Jackson didn't have a problem with Gordon and Coleman wearing sunglasses on the sideline after scoring touchdowns.
The showboating for a winless team drew some criticism.
"Look," Jackson said, "if that means those guys are going to keep scoring touchdowns, I will buy them some Ray-Ban glasses. ..."
The Browns, who waived Kenny Britt last week, also waived fellow wideout Bryce Treggs on Tuesday.
And finally. ... Jackson is confident owner Jimmy Haslam will stick to his plan and bring him back next season.
Jackson, who is 0-13 this season and 1-28 in two years with Cleveland, laughed on Monday when asked about a report that new general manager John Dorsey wants to hire his own coach.
Dorsey was hired as the club's new GM last week by Haslam, who fired vice president of football operations Sashi Brown.
Haslam announced Jackson will return for the 2018 season. Jackson said he has no indication that Haslam will change his mind and "you've got to trust what he said. I know I do."
As for Dorsey wanting to pick his own coach, Jackson doesn't "think that's the case at all."
QBs: Baker Mayfield, Garrett Gilbert, Drew Stanton
RBs: Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, Dontrell Hilliard, D'Ernest Johnson
WRs: Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins, Taywan Taylor, Damion Ratley, Derrick Willies
TEs: David Njoku, Demetrius Harris, Ricky Seals-Jones, Stephen Carlson, Pharaoh Brown
Dallas CowboysCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 December 2017
The Cowboys are a win away from breaking even in six games without suspended star running back Ezekiel Elliott.
While Dallas has improved in two straight wins following three consecutive losses without last year's NFL rushing leader as a rookie, the playoff outlook hasn't changed much.
The Cowboys (7-6) will need help even if they finish on a five-game winning streak.
The last game without Elliott, suspended six games over alleged domestic violence, is at Oakland (6-7) on Sunday night.
"We know where we are, we know what we've got to do," quarterback Dak Prescott said. "We're excited for it and we're going to get back to work. We're hungry and motivated to keep going."
The most interesting decision the Cowboys will have once Elliott returns is how to use his replacements -- Alfred Morris and Rod Smith.
The running game has been much better and much more of a factor the past two weeks. The Cowboys rushed 42 times for 182 yards against the Redskins and had 31 carries for 122 yards against the Giants.
Morris has been the starter -- and steady, averaging 74 yards per game and 3.6 per carry. But Smith was the first one to show the explosiveness the Cowboys have missed without Elliott, taking a short pass 81 yards for a touchdown against the Giants.
Smith has four TDs, three more than Morris.
"Rod's someone we've tried to put in in the third series of each of the halves," head coach Jason Garrett said. "And also he plays a lot in situational football. You're always trying to look for ways to get him some more opportunities. It was kind of a situational-type opportunity for him that he was able to make a play for us in."
The improved rushing attack has allowed Prescott to be more patient and efficient after forcing some things during the three-game losing funk when he tossed five interceptions and had three fumbles.
He has tossed five touchdown passes the past two weeks including three after halftime.
"It's easier to say you are going to be patient, but as a quarterback and young guy, you can lose your nerve," offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. "He never did. He never does really. That is one of his best traits. He stays with the game plan."
In the second half, as the Cowboys remained tied at 10 with a 2-10 Giants team that had zero to play for and little life, it would have been easy for Prescott to feel the pressure to make a play.
He resisted that pressure and the big plays eventually followed.
Prescott completed 20 of 30 passes for a career-high 332 yards. Forty-one yards of Dez Bryant's 50-yard touchdown reception came after the catch. Seventy-four yards of Smith's TD reception came after the catch.
According to ESPN Stats and Information, Prescott had 223 of his 332 passing yards after the catch. That's the most in a game over the past five seasons since the Denver Broncos had 243 in Week 5 of the 2013 season.
"He stayed ahead of it," tight end Jason Witten said. "It's hard when there isn't a whole lot there, and you're trying to make some plays and we weren't able to. But as a young player to not panic and just stay with it, he did a really good job of communicating all day, and finally when the breaks come, he took advantage of it."
Prescott hadn't thrown for more than 200 yards in four straight games entering Sunday's game. The Cowboys had four pass plays of 20 yards or longer in the past four games. Their pass game was stagnant. But against the Giants, they matched their season high with four pass plays of 20 yards or more.
On Sunday, little plays became big plays.
"Big plays come when playmakers make big plays," Linehan said. "And Dak being patient was big."
Questions have swirled around Prescott since Elliott's six-game suspension took effect. On Sunday, he had the answers mostly because of his patience.
"To me, just my focus and just staying locked in on each and every play and the details of the play," Prescott said. "The things you don't see, honestly, was what I'll take away from this game that I think I did best."
Now the Cowboys will continue to do what they can to control their playoff destiny -- although they're not in control of their post-season fate.
With Oakland coming this week, the Cowboys get a second straight opponent having a disappointing season that started with Super Bowl aspirations. If the Cowboys beat the Raiders, they are guaranteed a chance to match Seattle's record and hold the tiebreaker on the Seahawks by beating them at home in Elliott's return.
At the moment, though, Seattle is the first team outside the playoff picture in the NFC.
"Margin of error is still small, and there's still a lot of good teams in the NFC that are playing well," Lee said. "We know we have to really continue to win if we want to put ourselves in good position."
As NFL.com's Matt Harmon noted, the long catch and run touchdowns from Smith and Bryant kept the overall passing volume low for the Cowboys. Terrance Williams led the way with just six targets. He missed a pair of end zone targets.
A few final notes. ... Bryant's 50-yard touchdown reception marked his 10th career score to travel at least 50 yards. He is the fourth Cowboy to post 10 or more receiving touchdowns of at least 50 yards, joining Frank Clarke, Bob Hayes and Michael Irvin.
Prescott's three touchdown passes gave him 21 on the season to become the fifth quarterback in team history to post at least two 20-touchdown seasons.
And finally. ... Dan Bailey missed two field goals and missed an extra point for the first time in his career against the Giants.
QBs: Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush
RBs: Ezekiel Elliott, Tony Pollard
WRs: Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, Randall Cobb, Tavon Austin, Devin Smith, Ventell Bryant
TEs: Jason Witten, Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz
Denver BroncosCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 December 2017
Sunday's 23-0 victory over the New York Jets enabled the Broncos to snap an eight-game skid -- the franchise's longest since 1967. And now they're glad to be playing Thursday in Indianapolis.
"We can win two games in five days," said head coach Vance Joseph, whose last victory prior to Sunday came Oct. 1 against the Oakland Raiders.
Added quarterback Trevor Siemian: "I think you hear a lot of guys upset about the Thursday games, but in our case, I mean, this is perfect. Our first win in it feels like 100 years, and we get to, hopefully, carry some momentum going into Thursday. It sets up pretty nicely for us."
The Broncos, who had a Week 5 bye, have been in their grind since that week off in October. They've said over and over again that they've put in the effort during the week, only to see it unravel, over and over again, on game day.
But they arrived at their league-mandated short week in a far better mood and did a far better job than they had in recent weeks.
When Siemian took chances, he looked downfield and gave his big targets, Demaryius Thomas and Cody Latimer, chances to win jump balls. When obvious opportunities weren't there, he threw the ball away.
When the special teams were on the field, they didn't try to make the spectacular play, with fumble-prone punt returner Isaiah McKenzie having been benched for the steadier Jordan Taylor. Instead, Taylor fielded the ball, took his opening and averaged 12 yards per return.
The result? A no-turnover game, a by-the-numbers approach, and a game that saw every Jets possession begin no closer to the Broncos' goal line than the New York 25-yard line.
With that sort of buffer zone, the defense attacked, thrived and got its first shutout in 12 years.
"You don't really ever go into a game saying, 'I'm not going to turn it over. I'm not going to get strip-sacked.' You just say, 'I'm going to have a good, smart process about everything,'" Siemian said.
As ESPN.com's Jeff Legwold noted, instead of repeatedly jamming the square peg into the round hole on offense, with open formations and personnel groupings with three wide receivers in them, the Broncos were more willing to line up with bigger personnel more often against the Jets -- with better results.
Although the Broncos' run-game statistics won't bring out the confetti -- 84 yards on 35 carries, or 2.4 yards per run -- it was all about the tempo and the composure, about the Broncos' being in charge.
C.J. Anderson, Devontae Booker and fullback Andy Janovich combined for 71 yards and a third-quarter Janovich touchdown on 32 attempts. The Broncos' 35 overall runs including three carries by Siemian gave them more runs than pass plays in a game for the first time since Week 4.
"I thought Bill (Musgrave) called the game to help us minimize mistakes, he helped call a game to help us keep drives alive and to keep the third downs manageable," Joseph said of his new offensive coordinator, who was promoted to replace the dismissed Mike McCoy three weeks earlier. "It was fun to see."
Twenty-two of the carries were by Anderson, which represented his heaviest workload since Week 2.
"I'm a little sore today," Anderson said Monday. "I took some shots (from the Jets) and I delivered some shots, so that's on me.
"I watched the tape, and I can play with better pad level. I'm a little sore today, but I'll be ready to go Thursday, that's for sure."
In four games this season, the Broncos have run the ball more than they've thrown it -- and those happen to be their four wins. On Sunday, their defense simply reveled in the improved field position and the fact that they had a 10-0 lead in the first quarter.
"We knew if we played clean football, it could look like that," Joseph said. "We were plus-two in turnovers, the field position. ... It's really a flipped game of what we've seen the last two months. ... You control field position, you have a chance to win football games. It looks really simple, but it's not."
This is who these Broncos are. They have appeared to fight that at times this season, when they have pulled the chute on the run game in one- or two-score games with a half to play.
Granted, the Broncos' season isn't magically repaired because they found a team more troubled than they are in one December weekend, and any progress made will be swept up in little pieces if they don't show up against the Indianapolis Colts.
But they got another glimpse Sunday of what might have been without so many turnovers, without so many mixed messages on offense, without so many penalties, without so much of what has ailed them. ...
A few final notes here. ... Siemian had his first start without an interception since Week 4, completing 19 of 31 passes for 200 yards and a touchdown Sunday. Siemian's 90.8 passer rating was his first of above 75.0 in his last five starts.
Thomas has eight or more targets in each of his last seven games. As NFL.com's Matt Harmon suggested, as long as he gets competent quarterback play at a minimum, Thomas will offer up WR2 numbers. The only two games in that stretch where he didn't clear 60 yards and/or score a touchdown were Paxton Lynch's start and Siemian's meltdown last week.
Lynch missed a second consecutive game Sunday because of a high-ankle sprain suffered against the Raiders on Nov. 26.
And finally. ... The Broncos signed TE Matt LaCosse off the Giants' practice squad. LaCosse played in three games this season but did not have a reception.
QBs: Drew Lock, Brandon Allen, Joe Flacco
RBs: Phillip Lindsay, Royce Freeman, Devontae Booker, Theo Riddick
WRs: Courtland Sutton, Tim Patrick, Daesean Hamilton, Fred Brown, Juwann Winfree, Diontae Spencer
TEs: Noah Fant, Jeff Heuerman, Troy Fumagalli, Jake Butt
Detroit LionsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 December 2017
The Detroit Lions have earned the right to keep their hopes of making the playoffs for at least another week.
Perhaps fittingly, they did it by making enough plays late in a game to win.
Detroit ended its second losing streak of two or more games this season, going 49 yards to set up Matt Prater's 46-yard field goal to beat Tampa Bay 24-21 Sunday.
In Jim Caldwell's four seasons, the Lions lead the league with 20 wins on drives in the fourth quarter or overtime.
"The biggest thing is they are not daunted by some huge task and adversity," Caldwell said Monday. "They use it more as a friend than a foe."
Detroit (7-6) faces Chicago (4-9) at home Saturday, aiming to close the regular season strong enough to stay in postseason contention.
The Lions will have to win their next three games and get some -- or a lot -- of help to reach the playoffs for the second straight time and third overall under Caldwell.
Carolina (9-4), New Orleans (9-4) and Atlanta (8-5) are all ahead of them in the NFC, and they all beat Detroit to own a potential tiebreaker.
Detroit's best chance to beat the Bears, win at Cincinnati and defeat Green Bay at home is to protect quarterback Matthew Stafford as well as it did against the Buccaneers.
Stafford was not sacked for the first time in a game this season. He was sacked 13 times the previous four games and stepped on once, leading to him throwing with a banged-up hand.
"Matthew's been incredible in that sense," Caldwell said. "Tough. Hard-nosed. Quick healer. And when he doesn't heal exactly like you'd want to and feel great, he finds a way to play through them and play well through them. So, that's an unusual trait."
Stafford usually doesn't have much of a running game, forcing him to throw a lot and lately he has been very accurate in the one-dimensional offense that relies on his right arm.
He is the first NFL player to complete at least 80 percent of his passes in consecutive road games with at least 29 attempts. Against Tampa Bay, he was 36 of 44 and his 81.8 percent completion rate tied for the third-best by an NFL player with at least 44 passes in a game.
"Our guys on the training staff did an unbelievable job helping me out getting this feeling as good as I possibly could," Stafford said. "Our guys did a great job of keeping me upright and they allowed me to sit in there and throw the ball around and make the game feel pretty good."
And what about that rushing attack?
Caldwell declined to name Ameer Abdullah his starting running back after Sunday's game, when Abdullah did not play despite being cleared to return from a neck injury.
Asked if he expects Abdullah to play this weekend, the coach offered only this: "I do, as long as things keep trending in the right direction."
Abdullah was limited in practice last week by the injury that kept him out of a Dec. 3 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. Caldwell said after the game that Abdullah is "still nursing an injury," but declined to go into more specifics.
"We don't talk about No. 1s, No. 2s, that's you guys' business," Caldwell said. "We just, we have a three-man rotation with three guys that we have up. All three guys play."
As Detroit Free Press staffer Dave Birkett pointed out, however, the Lions have called Abdullah their lead running back in the past.
General manager Bob Quinn did so after passing on running backs in April's draft, and running backs coach David Walker repeated that sentiment during the preseason.
"Ameer's our guy," Walker said. "Theo has his role, and then the other guys, they got to kind of fit where they fit and that's how we'll go."
Abdullah has struggled in his return from Lisfranc surgery this season. He has just 505 yards rushing and three touchdowns on the year, and the Lions entered Sunday ranked 31st in the NFL in rushing.
They managed just 53 yards on the ground against the Bucs, but Theo Riddick had 93 total yards from scrimmage -- 64 came through the air -- and ran for two touchdowns (the first time in his career that's happened) in his second straight start.
Tion Green and Zach Zenner played more sparingly as backups.
Caldwell complimented Riddick's play after the game.
"It looked like he did some nice things," he said. "Certainly did some nice things in the pass game, had a really nice run for a touchdown there. It was impressive."
Riddick said he does not know what his role will be going forward.
"We're just ready when our number's called," he said.
As ESPN.com's Michael Rothstein, the fact that Detroit went with a pass-based offense makes the decision to sit Abdullah more intriguing considering he's a better pass-catching back than Zenner and Green (although Zenner is likely for pass protection purposes).
This will be something to monitor the rest of the season considering Abdullah enters the final year of his contract in 2018, and the Lions' run game has been one of the franchise's biggest struggles the past two seasons.
As for Saturday's game against the Bears?
It's going to be difficult to trust anybody in this backfield beyond Riddick, who should be in line for another decent workload depending on Abdullah's status. I'll have an eye out for more as the game draws near; watch the Late-Breaking News section for pertinent developments. ...
Other notes of interest. ... As Rothstein noted, Eric Ebron gave you more than you likely expected in fantasy with his best game of the season, a 10-catch, 94-yard performance. It was a career day for Ebron, who had highs in receptions and yards.
That's obviously not to norm.
In fact, Ebron had yet to exceed 60 receiving yards in any game prior to this one and he had just two games with more than six targets heading into Week 14.
QBs: David Blough, Matthew Stafford, Kyle Sloter
RBs: Bo Scarbrough, Ty Johnson, J.D. McKissic, Paul Perkins, Kerryon Johnson
WRs: Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, Danny Amendola, Jermaine Kearse, Brandon Powell, Chris Lacy, Travis Fulgham
TEs: T.J. Hockenson, Jesse James, Logan Thomas
Green Bay PackersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 December 2017
Head coach Mike McCarthy was cautious. His players seemed hopeful. ... But the wait is over now.
Aaron Rodgers has been medically cleared.
The quarterback made it official on Tuesday night, on the eve of the first practice in advance of Sunday's game at Carolina. Rodgers made the announcement in an Instagram post after a long day of discussion with medical personnel led by team physician Dr. Pat McKenzie.
One day earlier, McCarthy said Rodgers underwent tests to determine how much his surgically repaired right collarbone had healed.
"It is now in the evaluation stage," McCarthy said late Monday afternoon. "Dr. McKenzie is reviewing it. There's a number of medical opinions that will be involved in a decision, so at this time, I do not have a clean decision for you or an update. That's where it stands."
This was the first game for which Rodgers was eligible to return, according to injured reserve rules, since he broke his right collarbone against the Minnesota Vikings on Oct. 15, when Anthony Barr hit him and landed on him following a pass.
As ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky notes, it had been an on-schedule recovery for Rodgers following his Oct. 19 surgery in California, where he had screws and plates inserted into his right clavicle. Rodgers was placed on injured reserve the next day, ensuring he would have to sit out at least eight games. He returned to practice on Dec. 2, the day he turned 34.
From the first time he was seen doing some drills off to the side a month ago to his first public throwing session before the Nov. 26 game in Pittsburgh to running the scout team in practice last week, Rodgers has impressed his coaches and teammates along the way. Clay Matthews even joked that Rodgers looked so good during the rehab process that the Packers shouldn't have put him on injured reserve.
"Well if he comes back, like I've been saying, arguably the best quarterback in the league, back to your team, everyone is going to get better," Matthews said after Sunday's overtime win at Cleveland. "Not only him being out there, but also the shot in the arm as we talk about him coming back. Watching him in practice and what he's been able to do these past couple weeks, getting more and more reps in practice and throwing on the pads, I think it's a good sign. I'm not going to speak on his behalf, but we sure hope he's ready and if he is, we're going to expect the Aaron of old."
Rodgers was off to one of his best starts before his injury at Minnesota. Through five weeks, he led the NFL in touchdown passes (13) and had thrown just three interceptions. He engineered a comeback victory in overtime to beat the Bengals at home in Week 3 and did it again with a last-minute touchdown pass to Davante Adams at Dallas two weeks later to lead the Packers to a 4-1 start.
The Packers lost at Minnesota when Brett Hundley took over following Rodgers' injury, but Hundley won three of the next seven games to keep the Packers alive in the playoff race at 7-6.
"My No. 1 thought going into it was keep our hopes alive to make the playoffs and we're still in it," Hundley said.
Rodgers missed seven games when he broke his left collarbone in 2013, and the Packers went 2-4-1 in his absence. He did not undergo surgery that time and returned for the regular-season finale at Chicago, a game the Packers had to win to make the playoffs. Rodgers threw the game-winning touchdown pass to Randall Cobb in the final minute to win the NFC North at 8-7-1.
"We've got a chance," Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari said. "We know what the magic number is. We still have everything in front of us, so when he comes back, we're in playoff football. We've already talked about that, and these games matter. It's go time."
Remember, Rodgers was playing at an MVP level before Anthony Barr changed the course of the Packers' season with the hit that broke Rodgers' right collarbone. Rodgers had thrown 13 touchdowns and just three interceptions, and the Packers' only loss in their first five games with him at the helm came at Atlanta.
They still have all of their receivers, including Davante Adams, whose 1-yard touchdown on a back-shoulder throw sent the game into overtime and whose 25-yard touchdown catch-and-run in the extra session won it.
Now, they have a revamped running attack that, although it struggled for most of Sunday's game, is just a week removed from a season-best 199-yard performance against the Buccaneers.
Green Bay managed just 85 rushing yards against Cleveland, but Jamaal Williams lit up the scoreboard twice and piled up 118 total yards in the game. As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich noted, Williams has been one of the best late-season waiver-wire pickups as he now has scored five total touchdowns over his last three games. He's catching the ball out of the backfield too; he hauled in all seven of his targets in this game for 69 receiving yards, including a 30-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter.
He may take a step back next week on the road in Carolina, but if Rodgers can get back, his presence will help boost the fantasy value of the players around him, including Williams.
It's safe to say I'll be following up and adding to this news via Late-Breaking Updates in coming days.
One last note here. ... The Browns kicked to Trevor Davis and paid for it. They paid even more for punting to him. The Packers' return specialist had 138 yards on just five touches (27.6 average), the final one producing a 65-yard gain that set up the tying score. Davis' effort earned him NFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors.
QBs: Aaron Rodgers, Tim Boyle
RBs: Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams, Dexter Williams
WRs: Davante Adams, Geronimo Allison, Allen Lazard, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Jake Kumerow
TEs: Jimmy Graham, Marcedes Lewis, Robert Tonyan, Jace Sternberger
Houston TexansCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 December 2017
Head coach Bill O'Brien said Monday that he wouldn't have let Tom Savage re-enter Sunday's game after an alarming hit that gave him a concussion and left the quarterback's hands shaking if he had seen the video of the hit.
Savage was injured with about nine minutes remaining in the second quarter of Houston's 26-16 loss to San Francisco when he was driven to the ground on a hit by Elvis Dumervil.
Replays showed Savage looking dazed after his head hit the ground with both of his arms shaking and lifted upward.
He was taken to the medical tent where he stayed for less than three minutes before returning to the bench and going back in for the next series.
Savage threw two incompletions on that drive, and Houston's team doctor approached him after he returned to the sideline at the end of that possession.
He was then evaluated again and taken to the locker room after it was determined that he did have a concussion.
"There's no video on the sideline. All there are tablets," O'Brien said. "There's no video, there's nothing like that. With benefit of seeing the video. ... I would've never let that player back in the game, and I don't believe that (trainer) Geoff Kaplan would've allowed that player back in the game. I don't have benefit of the video. I did not see anything."
Also on Monday an NFL spokesman said the league is looking into whether concussion protocol was properly followed after Savage was injured.
League spokesman Joe Lockhart said the NFL and the players' association "together will conduct a thorough review of the incident focused on whether the protocol was properly followed, but we're also continuing looking at the protocol to look for ways to improve and strengthen it."
O'Brien talked at length about the way Savage's concussion was handled and explained the series of events that led to him leaving the game. He shared what he was told after the second evaluation.
"They came to me, they were not satisfied with his answers to the questions that they were asking him, and they pulled him from the game," O'Brien said.
The hit occurred in the end zone and O'Brien said he was near the 50-yard line when it happened and that he did not see it live. He said he assumed Savage got hit on the play, which was an incomplete pass, but didn't know for sure until later.
"At no point in time is there anything more important to me than the safety of our players," he said. "I love our players and I care about them and I cannot stand when players get injured. Again, with benefit of seeing the video that people are seeing, I would've never put him back in the game."
O'Brien didn't have an update on Savage's condition on Monday, but said that he expects backup T.J. Yates to start on Sunday against the Jaguars. Yates took over against the 49ers after Savage was injured for his first game action since 2015.
Savage and Yates are the only quarterbacks on Houston's roster so the team will likely need to sign another quarterback to back up Yates on Sunday.
While O'Brien discussed what happened on Sunday, he wouldn't share his feelings about how the process of evaluating players for concussions could be improved or if he finds it worrisome that the procedure allowed Savage to return when he had a concussion.
"I think these are great questions, but I'm just here to tell you what my role is in it and I think those are questions for someone else. I really do," he said.
Meanwhile, from a fantasy perspective, DeAndre Hopkins has regained his "quarterback-proof" status for fantasy owners.
Hopkins tied a season-high with 16 targets against the 49ers, which came from both Savage and Yates. Hopkins now has double-digit targets in six of his last seven games. Continue rolling him out regardless of who is under center, but keep in mind that he'll be going up against a very stingy Jacksonville pass defense and Yates will likely be facing heavy pressure throughout. ...
With the loss to the 49ers, the Texans fell to 4-9, ensuring their first losing season under O'Brien. He has one year remaining on the five-year contract he signed when he took over in Houston, and said despite the losses, he expects to be back next season. He also said his agent has not had a discussion with Texans owner Bob McNair about a contract extension and he has "no idea" whether that will happen after the season.
"I signed a five-year contract. I expect to be back here, but those decisions are not made by me," O'Brien said. "My job is to make sure that I coach these players. I really care about these players. I really care about how hard they're working and the effort that they're putting in. And we're not seeing the results on the field, so I really want to try to improve that over the next three weeks."
"I enjoy being the head coach of the Houston Texans. I have great relationships with these players here, and I'm going to continue to coach hard until they tell me I'm not coaching here anymore. ..."
Other notes of interest. ... Coming out of this game, a major question arises: Is Stephen Anderson a starting tight end?
The Texans are without tight ends C.J. Fiedorowicz and Ryan Griffin due to concussions, and ESPN's Adam Schefter reported on Sunday that Fiedorowicz could be forced to retire after sustaining three concussions since training camp. If Fiedorowicz's career is over, the Texans could replace him with Anderson.
The former undrafted free agent played the best game of his career in Week 13 against the Tennessee Titans, catching five passes for 79 yards and a touchdown.
But on Sunday, Anderson caught just two of his six targets and dropped two passes. He also was called for an offensive holding penalty in the fourth quarter of a seven-point game. ...
As for the rushing attack?
Well. ... The Texans rushed for a season-low 53 yards in Week 13. They improved to 90 yards this game, but Lamar Miller totaled just 60 yards on his 19 touches.
Miller will remain a volume play this week, but has another tough matchup against Jacksonville.
QBs: Deshaun Watson, AJ McCarron
RBs: Carlos Hyde, Duke Johnson, Buddy Howell, Taiwan Jones
WRs: DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, Kenny Stills, DeAndre Carter, Keke Coutee
TEs: Darren Fells, Jordan Akins, Jordan Thomas, Kahale Warring, Jerell Adams
Indianapolis ColtsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 December 2017
As ESPN.com's Mike Wells suggested on Monday, it's only fitting that the Colts stumbled, bumbled and slipped their way out of the playoffs for the third straight season while dealing one of the snowiest games in franchise history.
Adverse playing conditions where the playing field went from being clear two hours before kickoff to completely covered in snow by game time made the Colts a one-dimensional team for most of the game in their 13-7 overtime loss to the Bills in Buffalo on Sunday.
Of course, the Colts haven't been a playoff contender for three months.
All Sunday's loss did was officially eliminate them from possibly making the postseason. The current three-year drought is the longest by the Colts since 1988 to '94. Now, it will be a short week for the Colts as they prepare for Thursday night's nationally televised home game with the Denver Broncos.
The Colts have now lost four in a row and seven of their last eight games. They are also a tired football team after playing in blizzard-like weather conditions.
"It's hard to get ready in a short week. Depends on how old you are," head coach Chuck Pagano admitted after Monday's abbreviated walk-through practice.
"Sunday to Sunday is hard much less Sunday to Thursday. It's a challenge. But we don't have any control over that."
The overtime loss to the Bills took a lot out of Pagano's players, both physically and mentally.
"That game took a lot out of players. It was like running in quicksand or on a beach'" the coach said, referring to the heavy snow that covered the playing field. "Guys are tired after running through seven to nine inches of snow."
With only three games remaining in the regular season and Indianapolis now officially out of the post-season hunt, the spotlight will now be on the future of Pagano and his coaching staff. But the veteran coach isn't going to let those questions interfere with the planning for the Denver game.
"What do you think? It's all perspective. I'm on this side of the dirt. We're not guaranteed anything. We're all on one-day contracts," Pagano said. "We get today. We're gonna get after it. You know what you got into. Shelf life (for NFL head coaches is) not long."
Despite the tough season, the Colts head coach has retained his sense of humor.
"Can't worry about it. I'm good," he said. "I'm the grandfather of the AFC South (among head coaches). ..."
As for fantasy production in Buffalo, the weather conditions made the Colts' passing game nonexistent.
They ran the ball on their first 17 offensive snaps, with running back Frank Gore getting 15 of those carries. The Colts became the first team in the league not to attempt a pass in the first quarter this season, according to ESPN Stats and Information. Gore rushed for 130 yards on a career-high 36 careers.
"It was tough," Gore said. "Your mind changes and you get ready to go, like, 'Let's go try to make some plays.' It's when you're on the sideline, when you're not really doing anything, that's when it really gets you. It was tough, but as a team, we kept fighting and things didn't go our way again."
Now the Colts have three games remaining, starting with Thursday's contest against the Broncos, to cement who they believe fits into next season's plans because the struggles will continue -- Andrew Luck or not -- until general manager Chris Ballard improves the roster.
You'd like to think this would be one final chance for players such as receivers Donte Moncrief and Kamar Aiken, who will be free agents at the end of the season, to show their value, but neither player has taken advantage of their opportunities throughout the season.
It wouldn't be surprising if rookie Marlon Mack sees an increase in his playing time, especially with the short turnaround between games this week and the 34-year-old Gore coming off a game in which he had a career-high 36 carries for 130 yards.
Mack had only seven carries in a game in which the Colts ran the ball 43 times. The fourth-round pick out of the University of South Florida has had double-digit carries just once this season.
The Colts have routinely said players need to earn their playing time. These final three games are a time when it's OK to go against that philosophy and force-feed snaps to younger players. ...
Other notes of interest. ... It should be noted that Gore was outstanding. Probably the best game that he has had since coming to Indianapolis. His rushing total was the most for a Colts player since Donald Brown had 161 vs. Tennessee on Dec. 18, 2011. His 36 carries tied for the third most in franchise history behind Lydell Mitchell's 40 in 1974 vs. the Jets and Edgerrin James' 38 vs. Seattle in 2000.
Indianapolis wound up with 163 yards rushing as a team.
Gore has 762 yards rushing through 13 games this season. Gore needs to average 80 yards over the final three games to reach 1,000 for the season. He also needs 275 yards to pass LaDainian Tomlinson for No. 4 all-time (91.6 per game). ...
Not surprisingly, Jacoby Brissett struggled in the blizzard-like conditions in Buffalo. He wound up completing 11-of-22 passes for 69 yards. Five different Indianapolis players caught at least two passes. Brissett was sacked once and did not throw an interception. He ended the day with a 72.0 passer rating.
Wide receiver T.Y. Hilton has 811 receiving yards this season. Hilton needs to average 63 receiving yards over last three games for his fifth straight 1,000-yard season.
Moncrief (ankle/foot) is expected to return next week. Tight end Darrell Daniels (hamstring) did not practice Monday and is not expected to play against the Broncos.
I'll have more on Moncrief via Late-Breaking Update in advance of kickoff. ...
Pagano shouldered the blame for kicker Adam Vinatieri missing a potential game-winning field goal in the final seconds Sunday.
"I screwed that up," Pagano said after the game. "The goal was to get on the right hash, and we didn't accomplish that. That's not on Vinny, that's on me ..."
And finally. ... Pagano says Luck is "making progress" as he continues to undergo rehab in Europe.
Pagano made the announcement Monday. He says the Colts have been in touch with Luck through email and text messages.
Luck has not played since having surgery in January on his throwing shoulder after playing the entire 2016 season with a partially torn labrum.
It looked like Luck might return after returning to practice in October. But when the pain lingered, Luck sought additional opinions and eventually Indianapolis put him on season-ending injured reserve in November.
At the time, Ballard said he did not believe Luck will need additional surgery.
QBs: Jacoby Brissett, Brian Hoyer, Chad Kelly
RBs: Jonathan Williams, Jordan Wilkins, Nyheim Hines, Marlon Mack
WRs: Zach Pascal, Parris Campbell, T.Y. Hilton, Chester Rogers, Devin Funchess, Ashton Dulin, Chad Williams
TEs: Jack Doyle, Mo Alie-Cox
Jacksonville JaguarsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 December 2017
As Associated Press sports writer Mark Long reminded readers, the last time the Jaguars were alone atop the AFC South this late in a season, they lost three straight and missed the playoffs.
They don't expect it to happen again.
Having won six of their last seven games and with quarterback Blake Bortles playing the best football of his NFL career, the Jaguars (9-4) believe they're poised for a December push that will result in the franchise's first postseason game -- maybe even at home -- since 2008.
"This is not the old Jaguars team," rookie running back Leonard Fournette said following a 30-24 victory against Seattle on Sunday.
As Long went on to suggest, there's little doubt this is Jacksonville's best team in a decade, maybe even longer. The Jaguars finished 11-5 in 2007, earned a wild-card berth and then won at Pittsburgh. They lost the following week at then-undefeated New England and have failed to get back to the playoffs since.
Their best shot came in 2010, when they were 8-5 and leading the division before stumbling down the stretch.
Tight end Marcedes Lewis, the lone holdover from Jacksonville's last playoff team, said this year feels much different.
"In the building, we knew what was ahead of us, and nobody tightened up," Lewis said. "This win was big for us and next week is going to be even bigger for us."
The Jaguars wrap up a three-game homestand next Sunday against injury-riddled Houston (4-9), which has dropped three straight and five in a row on the road. Jacksonville can clinch a playoff berth with a victory.
"It's obviously the best it has ever felt since a lot of us have been here," Bortles said. "There are a couple guys that have been around for a while. I think for the majority of the locker room and the team and the guys that have been here for a year or two or three years that this is really the first taste of playing meaningful football in December.
"It feels good. It's tough to explain. It is awesome. It's a good feeling."
The Jaguars have a lot to feel good about right now.
It starts with Bortles, who has been close to flawless the last two games.
The QB has played his best football the past two weeks, throwing for a combined 577 yards and four touchdowns after throwing for 268 yards and two touchdowns against the Seahawks.
He's playing in a manner that gives the Jaguars a chance to make a run, maybe a deep run in the playoffs. Head coach Doug Marrone is among his main supporters.
"He has done a nice job," Marrone said of his quarterback. "It is all out there to see. Everyone always watches the quarterback. What is interesting for me, we were watching the tape. We were in the staff meeting. I told them, 'You know what my favorite play was? When he was in the pocket, he stepped up and he turned his shoulder and stepped up with the football and protected the football stepping up.'
"Now that might be the (offensive) line coach in me doing that, but that to me is when you are starting to say, 'All the work we are doing - the little things, the technique, the foot work and things of that nature, it is all looking very comfortable.' It is a comfortable movement for him. He knows, like we always say, now he has go out and do it again. He understands that and he has done a great job with those challenges."
In addition, Fournette, who had averaged just 2.9 yards per carry over the past four games, ran for 101 yards and a touchdown. It was his first 100-yard game since Nov. 19.
And as far as Fournette's health? He's doing what he can to help the offense move the ball and score points.
"Me, I'm alright," he said. "Running-wise, I'm doing what I need to do to keep my ankle healthy and stuff, making the right reads and helping the O-line out."
That said, Fournette did not practice Wednesday due to a quad injury.
Rookie receivers Keelan Cole and Dede Westbrook have combined to catch 17 passes for 307 yards and three touchdowns in the past two games.
Cole's 75-yard TD reception was the longest Jaguars pass play of the season. The previous long had been Cole's 52-yard catch-and-run in the first game against Indianapolis. Westbrook continued to shine with a season-best 81 yards on five receptions and his first NFL score.
Bortles has a fully healthy offensive line for the first time since early October and Allen Hurns (ankle) is expected back at some point (he did not practice Wednesday, however), so that could be a plus down the stretch, too.
Special teams have provided a spark in recent weeks, with Jaydon Mickens' 72-yard return that set up a touchdown against the Seahawks being the latest boost. On Wednesday, Mickens was named the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week. In addition, Josh Lambo, signed off the street in mid-October, has made 16 of 17 field goals and 13 of 14 extra points.
And Jacksonville's defense continues making big plays.
Even though Russell Wilson torched the vaunted secondary for touchdowns of 26, 61 and 74 yards Sunday, he also threw three interceptions that the Jaguars turned into 10 points.
Overall, the Jaguars have allowed 202 points, the fewest in the NFL, and their defense ranks No. 2 for total yards allowed. They lead the NFL in sacks, takeaways and most points scored off turnovers.
All those performances have Jacksonville playing meaningful games in December for the first time in years.
And suddenly all the Jaguars key skill players -- Bortles, Fournette, Marqise Lee, Westbrook and Cole -- are on the fantasy radar heading into this week's game against the Texans. ...
A few final notes. ... Chris Ivory's 34-yard run against Seattle was his longest run of the season, bettering the 19-yarder he had against Pittsburgh.
If Lambo makes eight more field goals without a miss, he would establish a franchise single-season record for accuracy (96 percent, based on minimum of 25 kicks).
Linebacker Telvin Smith missed his second straight game as he remained in the league's concussion protocol. Smith practiced in full Wednesday and Thursday last week, but then was out of Friday's practice. He was set to practice this Wednesday, however.
I will of course, follow up on Fournette via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.
QBs: Gardner Minshew, Nick Foles, Josh Dobbs, Phillip Walker
RBs: Leonard Fournette, Ryquell Armstead, Devine Ozigbo, Tyler Ervin
WRs: D.J. Chark, Dede Westbrook, Chris Conley, Keelan Cole, CJ Board, Marqise Lee
TEs: Ben Koyack, Nick O'Leary, Seth DeValve, Geoff Swaim, Josh Oliver, James O'Shaughnessy
Kansas City ChiefsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 December 2017
As Associated Press sports writer Dave Skretta suggested, "Kareem Hunt's eyes must have gotten wide when he took a handoff from Alex Smith and plunged toward the line of scrimmage in the first half of Sunday's game against the Oakland Raiders.
"For once, he didn't have a massive defensive tackle ready to give him a bear hug. ..."
Hunt wound up slicing past the line of scrimmage for a 6-yard gain, a modest success by some standards but a run that must have felt like freedom. It was a third of his total two weeks ago against Buffalo, and set the tone for what would be a massive bounce-back performance.
Hunt wound up rushing for 116 yards and a touchdown, and caught three passes for 22 yards, to help the Chiefs to a 26-15 victory in a crucial showdown for the AFC West race.
"Honestly, I would feel this way if we win no matter what my numbers look like. It is just huge to go out there and get a big-time win and keep it going," said Hunt, who had not eclipsed the 100-yard mark since a Week 5 win in Houston. "Now we just have to keep doing what we are doing."
It wasn't just a bounce-back performance for Hunt, of course. The victory snapped a four-game skid and put the Chiefs in solid position with the Chargers coming to town Saturday night.
Those teams are 7-6 and tied atop the AFC West.
The Chiefs won their first meeting in Los Angeles, and Hunt was a big reason why. The rookie with the wide smile and never-go-down attitude churned 17 times for 172 yards and the clinching touchdown in a 24-10 victory, one of many highlights during what became a 5-0 start.
Things soon began to go sideways for Hunt and the Chiefs, though.
As Skretta explained, injuries along the offensive line hurt chemistry. Defenses began to stack the box to take away the sensational first-year player.
Balance went out of the offense and a group flying high after wins over New England and Philadelphia had ground to a halt.
Hunt was held to 21 yards in a loss to Pittsburgh. He gained 87 yards against Oakland and 46 against Denver. He managed 37 against Dallas and 73 in a loss to the Giants, when the Chiefs failed to score a touchdown.
There was the lousy performance in Buffalo and a struggle two weeks ago against the Jets, when he gained 40 yards on nine carries in a 38-31 defeat.
All the while, the Chiefs kept going to him.
It was only a matter of time, Smith said, until Hunt broke loose again.
He finally did on Sunday.
And even though he didn't have any of those long touchdown runs that were a hallmark of his first few games, Hunt consistently fell forward, giving the Chiefs positive yardage just about every time he touched the ball.
"We mixed it up. Certainly when we got into the meat of the game, I think you saw a little more with that," Smith said. "Be able to take our shots there with Kareem and I thought he ran hard."
He also resumed his charge at the Chiefs record book.
Hunt has 1,046 yards, joining the late Joe Delaney as the only Chiefs running backs to crack the 1,000-yard barrier as a rookie. Delaney ran for 1,121 yards in 1981, and like Hunt, he had five 100-yard rushing performances that season.
Hunt's total already ranks 15th in franchise history, and he needs just 242 yards over the final three games to pass Jamaal Charles for the eighth-best season.
Hunt has five touchdowns rushing and two receiving, and needs just two touchdowns to pass Mike Garrett and Johnny Robinson for fourth-most among Chiefs rookies.
Hunt has carried 218 times this season, second-most by a rookie in franchise history.
"It's a huge accomplishment," he said of hitting the 1,000-yard mark, which he realized when the astute video board operators showed a graphic at Arrowhead Stadium.
"Nobody can ever take that away from you, and I just want to thank those guys up front. They did a great job."
As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich wrote: "Just when everyone gave up on him, Hunt came through with a big game, his best since Week 3. Hunt should be in the conversation as a low-end RB2 Saturday when the Chiefs welcome the Chargers into Arrowhead Stadium. ..."
Other notes of interest. ... Smith posted a relatively quiet afternoon in Sunday's win, but his 268 passing yards gives him 3,507 yards through the air this season, setting a new career high.
That total eclipses the 3,502 yards Smith posted last season. He also ranks tied for fifth in the league with 23 touchdown passes, which equals his career best.
But head coach Andy Reid isn't ready to rank this as Smith's best season quite yet.
"I think he's done a nice job, yeah," Reid said. "We're not to the end yet, I don't know exactly how to evaluate that right now. I probably would do him wrong doing that. I know he's playing good football and we've still got games left."
Getting back to the Oakland game, Smith saw drops and penalties turn a stellar outing into a pedestrian effort.
Tight ends Travis Kelce and Demetrius Harris both dropped certain touchdown passes on balls that hit their hands. A Kelce touchdown came off the board due to a penalty on right tackle Mitchell Schwartz. Add three touchdowns to Smith's line and a 26-0 Chiefs lead after three quarters becomes a 38-0 rout.
Albert Wilson, Kelce and Tyreek Hill finished between 72 and 75 receiving yards. Kelce paced the team with 13 targets. ...
All-Pro cornerback Marcus Peters sat out against Oakland with a one-game suspension handed down by Reid. Reid declined Monday to confirm the incident on the bus or discuss any specifics of Peter's suspension.
Peters returned from the suspension on Monday, and Reid said he plans for Peters to start Saturday night against the Los Angeles Chargers.
The Chiefs secondary delivered an exemplary performance despite the absence of Peters. Reid gave credit to defensive coordinator Bob Sutton for changes in the defensive line for the team's standout performance against Raiders quarterback Derek Carr.
They'll need to look equally good going up against Philip Rivers and the red-hot Chargers passing attack Saturday night.
QBs: Patrick Mahomes, Matt Moore, Chad Henne
RBs: LeSean McCoy, Darwin Thompson, Damien Williams, Darrel Williams, Spencer Ware
WRs: Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, Demarcus Robinson, Mecole Hardman, Byron Pringle
TEs: Travis Kelce, Blake Bell, Deon Yelder
Los Angeles ChargersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 December 2017
Deep in his 12th season as the Chargers' starting quarterback, Philip Rivers is playing some of his best football.
In his first game since turning 36 years old, Rivers carved up the Washington Redskins' secondary on the way to 319 yards and two touchdowns in Los Angeles' 30-13 victory Sunday.
That blowout win was just the latest big game in Rivers' string of savvy performances for the Chargers (7-6), who have won four straight heading into Saturday's showdown with Kansas City (7-6) for first place in the AFC West.
While the Chargers have an increasingly impressive defense and several offensive playmakers, the quarterback is the engine driving them toward the postseason.
"We've been on a good little run the last few weeks," offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt said Monday. "A lot of it has to do with Philip and the way he's playing."
As Associated Press sports writer Bernie Wilson notes, during the Chargers' winning streak, Rivers has 1,348 yards passing with eight touchdowns and four straight passer ratings over 100. He also hasn't committed a turnover during that four-game stretch, the longest turnover-free streak of his entire career.
"He's unstoppable," said receiver Tyrell Williams, who caught a beautiful 75-yard TD pass from Rivers on Sunday. "I don't even have a word for him. He's just playing great. I know he's going to keep doing what he's doing, and if he keeps playing like that, we're going to be a hard team to beat."
Not bad for a quarterback who threw a career-worst 21 interceptions last season and then wondered if the end of his Chargers career was near when they started 0-4 in their relocation season.
"(There were) a lot of different emotions," Rivers recalled Sunday. "A little bit of, 'You've got to be kidding me! Could it be any worse right now? We moved up the road. We've lost four in a row. Is this my last 12 games here?' You have all of those thoughts."
Instead, the Chargers have won four straight home games while moving above .500 for the first time since September 2015.
The Chargers have given themselves the chance to be the first NFL team since the 1992 San Diego Chargers to make the playoffs after starting 0-4. A win in Kansas City would put the Chargers on an inside track to their first division title since 2009, the last of four straight AFC West champions led by LaDainian Tomlinson, Antonio Gates and Rivers.
"While it's been real exciting, we've been right here before on the cusp, and we lose the last two or three, and you end up a game out," Rivers said. "While everybody is excited and feeling pretty good about what we've done to get back in it, we've got to make sure nobody relaxes. ... You hear all this positive stuff about the Chargers now, but we have to make sure we continue to move forward like we have been."
In some previous seasons in San Diego, Rivers and the Chargers got off to outstanding starts before fading down the stretch, either due to nagging injuries or slumping performances by a team that has made the playoffs once since 2009.
This season has been something different: Rivers completed just 63.3 percent of his passes and made five turnovers during the 0-4 start, only to improve steadily as the season progressed.
Rivers has moved up to fourth in the NFL with 3,611 yards passing, behind only Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady and Matthew Stafford. His 23 touchdown passes are fifth in the league, and he has thrown only seven interceptions all season -- just three in the past 10 games.
He passed Warren Moon (49,325) in all-time career passing yards and is now ninth in NFL history with 49,444.
Rivers also became the third quarterback in NFL history to pass for over 3,500 passing yards in 10 consecutive seasons. The other two are Peyton Manning and Drew Brees.
Most importantly, Rivers and his offense are playing with palpable confidence while winning seven of their past nine games overall. Rivers said he felt good about the Chargers' chances against the Redskins after just one look at their scripted plays for the start of the game.
Although he has never been the NFL's most nimble quarterback, Rivers has been remarkably adept at avoiding rushes and blitzes in recent weeks. He was sacked twice by the Redskins, but avoided trouble on several additional plays.
He didn't show that caution while leading the blocking for Travis Benjamin on a reverse running play in the second half, however. Although Rivers didn't end up hitting anybody, that play still sent shivers up the spines of Whisenhunt and head coach Anthony Lynn one day later.
"He looked like a parade master going down the field," Whisenhunt said. "I would have preferred if he had just gone ahead and run out of bounds so he could just get out of the action."
Meanwhile, as ESPN.com's Eric Williams pointed out, Keenan Allen surpassed his career highs for receptions and receiving yards in a season.
Allen finished with six receptions for 111 yards against Washington. For the season, Allen now has 83 receptions for 1,143 yards and five touchdowns. Allen is the first Charger with 100 receiving yards in four straight games since Wes Chandler in 1982. Hunter Henry also had another big day, finishing with four receptions for 50 yards, including an 8-yard touchdown for a score.
In addition, the way Rivers was flinging around the ball, getting yards on the ground didn't seem that important. Still the Chargers finished with 175 rushing yards. Many of these came with the Chargers draining the clock, but it's always good to see Melvin Gordon find the end zone. Austin Ekeler also had some good runs. ...
Worth noting. ... Henry (calf) was limited in Tuesday's practice. I'll be following up via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
Backup RB Andre Williams is probably out for the season due to surgery on his injured wrist. Head coach Anthony Lynn believes Williams was hurt on the final play against Washington. The Boston College product plays on special teams and has nine carries for 25 yards. Lynn expects Branden Oliver, who has played in just one game since Oct. 1, to step in.
QBs: Philip Rivers, Tyrod Taylor, Easton Stick
RBs: Melvin Gordon, Austin Ekeler, Justin Jackson, Detrez Newsome, Troymaine Pope
WRs: Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Andre Patton, Jason Moore
TEs: Hunter Henry, Virgil Green, Lance Kendricks, Stephen Anderson
Los Angeles RamsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 December 2017
The Los Angeles Rams lost a game that they easily could have won, but according to ESPN.com's Alden Gonzales, that was part of what preserved their optimism.
Their 43-35 setback on Sunday was beset by avoidable penalties and ill-timed turnovers, not deficient talent. Over the past four weeks, they have faced off against three of their conference's best teams -- the Minnesota Vikings, the New Orleans Saints and, now, the Philadelphia Eagles -- and easily could have beaten all three of them.
"Any time you get a chance to play the top teams, you get a chance to see where you're at," quarterback Jared Goff said. "We've had the Vikings and this one that were both close that we'd like to pull out. But we did beat the Saints at home a couple of weeks ago and we've had a number of other good wins on the road and all over the place. I think we're in a great spot."
Goff's next sentence was a reference to the Rams' next game, which has taken on even more importance.
They'll travel to face the Seattle Seahawks, who lost on Sunday and thus still trail the Rams by one game in the NFC West. The Rams are now 9-4 overall while sitting as the No. 3 seed in their conference. They're one game behind the Vikings, who also lost on Sunday, and two games behind the Eagles.
Of course, from a fantasy perspective, the loss to Philadelphia was solid enough.
Goff passed for 199 yards and two touchdowns on 16-of-26 passing, but it just felt like it should have been so much more. And, Goff fumbled at a critical time in the fourth quarter with the Rams up by one to hand the ball off to the Eagles in field-goal position to take a lead they'd never relinquish.
Based on the 7.4 yards-per-carry of Todd Gurley, good for 96 yards on 13 attempts, the Rams got too far away from the run game too often. Gurley was rolling, and in a game where the Rams defense was having a difficult time getting the Eagles off the field, a better commitment to the run would have benefited the Rams.
Gurley totaled 16 touches for 135 yards from scrimmage. Gurley had two rushing touchdowns.
He has 10 rushing touchdowns and three receiving touchdowns for a total of 13 touchdowns this season. With his performance, Gurley eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing mark. He has 236 rushes for 1,035 rushing yards this season.
Receiver Cooper Kupp had a 64-yard reception, his longest of the season and the second-longest reception for the Rams of the season. Kupp finished that same drive with a 6-yard touchdown. Kupp now has four touchdowns to go with 10 20-plus-yard receptions this season. He's also set a new Rams record for most receptions by a rookie in a season with 56.
Meanwhile, the Rams lost cornerback Kayvon Webster for the remainder of this season, but they are otherwise in good shape heading into Sunday's big road game against the division rival Seattle Seahawks.
Wide receiver Robert Woods and outside linebacker Connor Barwin, who have been absent in recent weeks, are expected to play. Offensive tackles Andrew Whitworth and Rob Havenstein, both of whom exited Sunday's loss to the Philadelphia Eagles prematurely, are also expected to play.
Franchise cornerback Trumaine Johnson is not in the concussion protocol, head coach Sean McVay said. Johnson was evaluated for a concussion during the game and passed, but he remained out because of a stinger. Johnson is also expected to play, a big boost for a team that will be without its other starting corner.
Whitworth and Havenstein each had their ankles rolled up on, but actually suffered knee injuries. Whitworth got hurt in the first quarter, but returned for the second half. Havenstein was injured in the fourth quarter -- giving way to Darrell Williams, who got beat around the edge by Eagles defensive end Chris Long, causing the above-mentioned fumble by Goff -- but returned for Los Angeles' final series.
Whitworth "checked out good today" and Havenstein "was in good spirits," McVay said on Monday, calling their prognosis "very positive."
Barwin had surgery to repair a broken bone in his left forearm on Nov. 27 and missed the next two games, paving the way for Samson Ebukam. Woods suffered a sprained left shoulder late in the Rams' Nov. 19 loss to the Minnesota Vikings and missed the next three weeks, paving the way for Josh Reynolds.
Barwin and Woods are "on track, unless there are any setbacks, to be able to play and be available for the Seattle game," according to McVay.
As NFL.com's Matt Harmon notes, the absence of Woods has without a doubt narrowed the target distribution in the Rams passing game to the point where we can seemingly rely on Kupp and Sammy Watkins. Kupp has cleared five catches in each of the last three games and gone over 100 yards in two of them. Watkins has scored in each of the last three, as well.
We'll see how Woods' return impacts their production assuming he's back. I'll have more on that via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.
QBs: Jared Goff, Blake Bortles
RBs: Todd Gurley, Malcolm Brown, Darrell Henderson
WRs: Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, Brandin Cooks, Josh Reynolds, Mike Thomas, Nsimba Webster, JoJo Natson
TEs: Tyler Higbee, Gerald Everett, Johnny Mundt
Miami DolphinsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 December 2017
The Miami Dolphins are back in the AFC wild-card playoff picture thanks to Monday's surprising 27-20 win over New England.
Of course, Miami (6-7) must win its remaining three games - at Buffalo (7-6), at Kansas City (7-6) and against Buffalo - to realistically stay in the running.
"It's a good win for us because that was the most important game of that week," head coach Adam Gase said, "and I know you want more than that, but really, if we lose next week, nobody really is going to give a (expletive)."
Dolphins players say they're not thinking about the postseason.
"We've got Buffalo next," quarterback Jay Cutler said. "That's kind of where our mindset is at."
In the wild-card chase, Tennessee (8-5) and Buffalo (7-6) have the berth. But Miami is one game behind Baltimore (7-6) and the Los Angeles Chargers (7-6) and tied with Oakland (6-7).
Miami is 5-2 under Gase in December/January regular-season games, so there is hope for the Dolphins to finish the season on a five-game winning streak.
Gase admitted Tuesday that the New England victory is meaningful.
"I think it means a lot to probably, first, the players," he said, "because they have to go out there and they have the physical battle they have to handle, they've got to handle the mental battle as well.
"Not everything's gone quite right this year and guys have done a great job of just plugging along, figuring out a way to get better. Find a way to win last week. Find a way to win this week."
As ESPN.com's James Walker noted, in an unexpected occurrence, Cutler significantly outperformed Patriots counterpart and future Hall of Famer Tom Brady. Cutler was the cooler, more effective quarterback and handled a Patriots defense that's played well in recent weeks. He threw for 263 yards, three touchdowns and had a 112.1 passer rating.
Jarvis Landry (eight receptions, 46 yards, two touchdowns) was the most prolific receiver but eight players had at least one reception.
Meanwhile, the Dolphins' defense rattled Brady early and often. He did not complete his first pass until the second quarter and threw a pair of interceptions to Miami cornerback Xavien Howard, who now has four interceptions in the past two games. Brady, who has had rough games in South Florida in the past, finished with 233 passing yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. He had a 59.5 passer rating.
Running back Kenyan Drake had 193 yards from scrimmage against New England as he continues to build his case toward becoming a featured back. Drake had a career-best 25 carries for 114 yards against the Patriots one week after having a then-career-best 23 carries against Denver.
Drake now has 48 carries for 234 rushing yards in the past two weeks
But Gase doesn't seem concerned about Drake's durability.
"Not really, I mean that's why we drafted him," he said. "(We) liked that combination of him and Damien (Williams) because both of those guys can do everything you want them to do.
"We've just got to keep working on cleaning up the ball security and make sure that (Drake) hangs onto that thing and keeps putting two hands on it in traffic."
Worth not9ing: Drake is 32 yards from overtaking Jay Ajayi as the team's leading rusher this season. ...
In a related note, Damien Williams (shoulder) is questionable for this week. According to the Sports Xchange, Williams attended practice last week and appeared to be wearing a harness on his shoulder, but he never took the field.
I'll be following up on his status via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.
QBs: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Josh Rosen
RBs: Patrick Laird, Myles Gaskin, Zach Zenner
WRs: DeVante Parker, Albert Wilson, Allen Hurns, Isaiah Ford
TEs: Mike Gesicki, Durham Smythe, Chris Myarick
Minnesota VikingsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 December 2017
The Minnesota Vikings returned home from Carolina as a defeated team for the first time in 10 weeks, carrying with them a long list of cringe-worthy and uncharacteristic blunders that contributed to the loss.
The outcome, though, could actually work in their favor.
As Associated Press sports writer Dave Campbell explained, with all that postseason capital built up over the eight-game winning streak, the Vikings had a margin for the error they exhibited Sunday while being beaten by the Panthers 31-24 .
Provided they can steer themselves back on track over the remaining three games on the schedule and maintain their grip on a first-round bye for the playoffs, they will have rid themselves of some sloppiness before it truly hurts them. They host the Cincinnati Bengals (5-8) this weekend.
Playing on the road against a confident and deep Panthers squad, the Vikings (10-3) trailed by one point at halftime despite an opening-drive interception thrown by Case Keenum, a 60-yard touchdown run by Jonathan Stewart against a defense that has surrendered few long gains all season, and rare dropped passes by Kyle Rudolph and Adam Thielen.
A reception by Rudolph likely would've put the Vikings in field-goal range during a possession that ended in a punt. Thielen had two chances for a touchdown with the Vikings sniffing the end zone late in the second quarter, but after one throw hit him in the chest and bounced away, he bobbled another that was ruled incomplete by a replay review that angered head coach Mike Zimmer. Thielen sounded resigned to the controversial rule requiring receivers to fully control the ball without any movement when they hit the ground.
"The ball moved a little bit," he said. "That's just how it is."
The second half included a fumble by Keenum that looked like an incomplete pass, leaving the Vikings unaware they needed to try to cover the ball, and a second interception off a bobble by Stefon Diggs.
"We don't want to have any mistakes, regardless, whether it's now or later on," running back Latavius Murray said. "But the fact that they're right now and we still have everything we want in front of us, I think that's a good thing. So it's a chance for us to learn from that."
The Vikings fell one game behind Philadelphia for the NFC lead, though the Eagles lost quarterback Carson Wentz to a season-ending knee injury.
With right tackle Mike Remmers missing for a fifth straight game, the last two because of lower back trouble, center Pat Elflein joined him on the sideline with a shoulder injury in his first career scratch. Then left tackle Riley Reiff hurt his ankle in the third quarter, prompting Remmers' replacement Rashod Hill to switch sides; Jeremiah Sirles to move from left guard to right tackle; and Danny Isidora to enter at left guard. Nick Easton had slid over from left guard to center to play for Elflein, which thrust Sirles into the starting lineup.
Elflein practiced last week on a limited basis, so his injury is not serious. Reiff's departure from the stadium in a walking boot raised a significant concern, but Zimmer said his ankle was "a lot better than he thought it was going to be" when he was treated Monday.
"When you have injuries, you're going to have backup players play in there," Zimmer said. "We're not going to make an excuse for this game or for players that come in or anything else. We'll take ownership of what we did Sunday, and we'll move forward."
Meanwhile, it was a question a month ago when Teddy Bridgewater was returning, and the Vikings might not have realized exactly what they had going with Keenum. But after Sunday's loss, Zimmer was asked who would start at quarterback this week.
Zimmer would have made news had he said Bridgewater, but, of course, he didn't.
Keenum remains the Vikings' starter, Zimmer said Monday, via Chris Tomasson of the Twin Cities Pioneer Press.
While the team's quarterback future remains unsettled, with Keenum and Bridgewater both scheduled to become free agents, the Vikings are Keenum's team for the rest of this season.
Keenum has directed the Vikings to an 8-3 record, passing for 2,938 yards with 18 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He's done more than anyone outside the building thought he could do or expected him to do.
If the Vikings can take care of business and wrap up what they need to wrap up by Week 17, which may or may not happen, then Bridgewater could return to action in the regular-season finale. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Heading into the Panthers game, the Vikings had scored touchdowns in 12 of their most recent 15 trips into the red zone. And two of the "failed" attempts were kneel downs at the end of victories. Sunday was a different story. They went 1-for-4 inside the 20-yard line.
They settled for three Kai Forbath field goals, including a game-tying, fourth-quarter 27-yarder after the offense lost six yards following an interception return to the 6-yard line. ...
Thielen is becoming richer by the catch. Literally. With six catches on Sunday, he now has 80 on the season. He has incentives for reaching 70 ($500,000), 80 (another $250,000) and 90 (another $250,000) this season. ...
Worth noting, Thielen and Diggs combined for over 52 percent of the team's targets.
Jerick McKinnon broke a 17-yard run, but other than that, the rushing offense was pretty much limited to Keenum running for his life while turning some sacks into gains. Murray had his least productive outing since Dalvin Cook went down with a season-ending injury in Week 4. Murray had only 14 yards on nine carries. He lost yardage on three of his nine carries.
Keenum, Thielen, Diggs, Murray and McKinnon all have a good chance to bounce back at home against the injury-ravaged Bengals defense this weekend.
Rudolph, however, has an apparent ankle injury. He sat out the final five plays at Carolina and left afterward in walking boot. Zimmer told reporters he'll know more about Rudolph's availability later in the week. I'll have more via Late-Breaking Update as developments warrant.
QBs: Kirk Cousins, Sean Mannion
RBs: Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison, Mike Boone, Ameer Abdullah
WRs: Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, Olabisi Johnson, Laquon Treadwell, Davion Davis
TEs: Kyle Rudolph, Irv Smith Jr., Brandon Dillon, Tyler Conklin
New England PatriotsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 December 2017
As ESPN.com's Mike Reiss suggested, the New England Patriots have turned to the "next man up" and had continued success, which almost makes it a surprise when it doesn't happen.
That's what unfolded Monday night in a 27-20 loss to the Miami Dolphins.
Personnel losses finally caught up to the Patriots, as playing without tight end Rob Gronkowski, who was serving a one-game NFL suspension, had the offense out of sync (0-for-11 on third down) and quarterback Tom Brady off his game. Couple that with inspired play from the Dolphins, who deserve plenty of credit, and it was a disappointing night for the Patriots, as their eight-game win streak was snapped and an opportunity to clinch the AFC East was missed.
The third-down stats were alarming, as it was the first time the Patriots hadn't converted a single third-down play since the 1991 season.
"Yeah, it was pretty bad. We can't get any worse than that," said Brady, who finished 24-of-43 for 233 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. "We couldn't stay on the field and just didn't make enough plays. It's just a bad night. We've had a lot of good nights this year, and this was a bad night."
With a highly anticipated AFC showdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers next Sunday, the performance serves as a reminder that the depleted Patriots are beatable when they are outcoached and don't play their best. It also added to their history of struggles in South Florida, as Brady dropped to 7-9 lifetime in Miami.
As bad as it looked at times, the Patriots (10-3) can still put themselves in prime position for a top seed in the AFC playoffs with a win on the road against the Steelers (11-2), which would give them the head-to-head tiebreaker over Pittsburgh.
To do so, they'll need to quickly move past what unfolded against the Dolphins, as the struggles with "next man up" extended to the defense as well. Going without leading sacker Trey Flowers and top playing-time linebacker Kyle Van Noy -- then losing defensive tackle Alan Branch to a knee injury in the second quarter -- had the front seven undermanned and unable to provide consistent resistance against quarterback Jay Cutler.
More than anything, though, the Patriots will need a better Brady.
Without go-to guy Gronkowski as an option in the middle of the field and on third down, Brady never truly looked comfortable and at times was just unloading the ball deep. The Dolphins' defense, which was carved up by Brady in a 35-17 loss on Nov. 26, was a step ahead.
"They were playing a lot of cover-1 with a robber in the middle of the field," wide receiver Danny Amendola said. "That takes the middle of the field away and gives them a free guy in the middle of the field, and you have to find a way to beat it."
In the first half, 10 of Brady's 11 completions were to running backs, with the other to tight end Dwayne Allen. Other than a pass interference penalty drawn by receiver Brandin Cooks that set up the team's first touchdown, there was little impact from the team's receiving corps, as the Dolphins led 13-10 at halftime and ultimately pulled away.
"We got behind, and that's not the way we want to play the game. It's a bad loss," Brady said. "I wish we played better, but we didn't. We have to move on and try to play better next week."
The Patriots entered the game with a 20-5 record in games without Gronkowski, though in the past having receiver Julian Edelman helped soften that blow. Since 2010, when neither Gronkowski nor Edelman has been on the field, Brady has a total QBR of 50, compared to 77 with at least one of them on the field.
Fortunately for the Patriots, Gronkowski will be back Sunday in Pittsburgh.
Without him, Brady and the offense didn't look the same.
Meanwhile, wide receiver Chris Hogan returned to action after missing four games with a right shoulder injury, and that had a trickle-down effect on the New England Patriots' depth chart.
"It was good to be back out there with the guys, and be playing," said Hogan, who was targeted five times and had one catch for one yard. "I missed being out there with them."
Hogan went right back to his role as a top-2 receiver alongside Brandin Cooks, which pushed Phillip Dorsett down the depth chart. Dorsett didn't play an offensive snap, joining backup quarterback Brian Hoyer as the only players on the 46-man roster to not play.
Hogan played 55 of 61 snaps against Miami, catching just one of the five passes thrown his way for a mere 1-yard gain.
Danny Amendola, who was primarily the No. 3 receiver, finished with a team-high six catches for 76 yards, all of which came in the second half.
With Gronk out, Allen played a season-high 56 snaps and he had two catches for 10 yards. Without Gronkowski, the Patriots didn't run the two-tight-end package.
In part because they fell behind, Monday night became a game in which James White played (35 snaps) the most as they were in more passing situations. But it never really seemed like the traditional running game was given a chance to get going. The combination of White and Rex Burkhead was used with more frequency than the norm, which was a trickle-down effect of Gronkowski's absence.
Dion Lewis finished with five receptions for 50 yards, as his 20-yard one-handed grab up the right sideline set up the team's first touchdown. On a night when the Patriots needed a spark, he came the closest to providing one.
Cooks had one catch for 38 yards, and was targeted seven times. Cooks did draw one pass interference penalty in the end zone that helped set up their first touchdown.
Mike Gillislee (illness) was inactive for the fourth straight game after missing practice on Saturday, though it likely had nothing to do with his health as he's been a healthy scratch for a month as the odd man out in the backfield.
Finally. ... Wide receiver Kenny Britt cleared waivers after being dropped by the Browns, which left him eligible to sign with any team as a free agent.
The Patriots are it.
Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported that Britt agreed to a two-year deal in New England.
Adding Britt fits right in with a long tradition of the Patriots taking on veterans who have been discarded by other teams, even if their stay turns out to be brief once the team decides that they aren't a good fit for the organization. As Profootballtalk.com notes, Britt also went to Rutgers, which has been a popular starting spot for future Patriots in past years.
That could certainly turn out to be the case with Britt.
He was a total flop for the Browns after signing a four-year deal with Cleveland in the offseason and he had plenty of other ups and downs over the course of his time with the Titans and Rams.
The ups have been pretty good, though, and Britt could get a chance to provide a few in high-profile spots if the Patriots like what they see once he's on the field.
QBs: Tom Brady, Jarrett Stidham, Cody Kessler
RBs: Sony Michel, James White, Rex Burkhead, Damien Harris, Brandon Bolden
WRs: Julian Edelman, Mohamed Sanu, Phillip Dorsett, N'Keal Harry, Jakobi Meyers
TEs: Ben Watson, Matt LaCosse, Ryan Izzo
New Orleans SaintsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 December 2017
As New Orleans Times-Picayune staffer Josh Katzenstein reported Monday, rookie running back Alvin Kamara is still progressing through the NFL's concussion protocol, but he expects to play Sunday against the New York Jets.
Kamara exited in the first quarter of last Thursday's loss to the Atlanta Falcons after suffering the brain injury and did not return.
He tweeted early Friday morning that he'd be "right back at it next week," and in the Saints locker room Monday, he said, "Yes," when asked if he'd be back for the next game.
A Saints spokesman told Katzenstein that Kamara was still in the concussion protocol as of Monday afternoon, and he'll still have to clear certain benchmarks before being allowed to play, including practicing in a limited basis and then practicing fully.
Kamara's participation in practices this Wednesday through Friday will ultimately determine his availability against the Jets.
That's something I'll obviously be watching closely. Watch the Late-Breaking News section for daily updates through resolution. ...
Meanwhile, without Kamara, the Saints offense looked lackluster in the 20-17 loss to Atlanta. On the opening drive, Kamara had three catches for 25 yards and a 2-yard carry before suffering the injury.
But for one play, at least, it felt like Kamara was still out there.
Second-year receiver Tommylee Lewis did his best impression of the dynamic dual-threat running back with his sensational 26-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter -- the first TD of Lewis' career.
As ESPN.com's Mike Triplett recounted it, Lewis caught a pass from Drew Brees around the 5-yard line, then took a step backward to make safety Keanu Neal miss him. Somehow, Lewis had the awareness to keep both feet in bounds by his toes as he hovered over the sideline. Then he sprinted toward the end zone just before getting hit by linebacker De'Vondre Campbell.
"I thought it was a great effort," Brees said. "He stepped up and really did a great job. He was called upon to step in and make some plays, and just how he has all season long, he kind of has had a package of plays.
"With Kamara being down and just with some other scenarios, you need a guy to be able to step in and fill the role, know the job and then execute it very well. And he did that."
In the process, Lewis became the 60th player to catch a TD pass from Brees during his stellar 17-year career with the Saints and San Diego Chargers.
Lewis, however, stands out more than most as a perfect example of that "next man up" mentality that so many NFL players and coaches espouse.
Lewis, who has primarily served as a kick returner with the Saints during his two years with the team as an undrafted free agent, had only played 11 total offensive snaps in the five previous games. And he only played a total of six offensive snaps on Thursday night. But he was needed to replace Kamara in the five-wide receiver set the Saints were using in that particular two-minute drill.
"That's part of being a pro," Lewis told reporters after the game. "You've got to know everything when you're in this offense. At any time, something can happen to anybody.
"It felt good; it felt real good, but it comes with a loss. ... If it would have come with a win, I would have been a little more excited."
Lewis (5-foot-7, 168 pounds) became a breakout star in his first preseason, when Sean Payton revealed that the diminutive but dynamic athlete from Northern Illinois wasn't even on the Saints' radar until he was recommended by their shared mentor -- Bill Parcells.
Lewis' opportunities on offense have been few and far between in the regular season. But clearly he made the most of them last Thursday. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Mark Ingram was playing with a sore toe against Atlanta, G Andrus Peat (groin) was sidelined and Peat's replacement, Senio Kelemete, was lost to a concussion.
The running game was never much of a factor as New Orleans rushed the ball just 15 times and averaged a meager 3.3 yards. ...
Michael Thomas has been Brees' most frequent target all season, but the pair connected even more than usual last Thursday.
Thomas had a season-high 10 catches on a season-high 14 targets and matched another season-high with 117 receiving yards. He also caught a touchdown pass for the second consecutive game after going seven straight games without a touchdown. For the season, he has 85 catches for 992 yards and four touchdowns.
"He made some big plays," Payton said. "He was held on two or three occasions. We have to get him more touches, but he was impressive."
Thomas has double-digit targets in seven games this season.
QBs: Drew Brees, Teddy Bridgewater, Taysom Hill
RBs: Alvin Kamara, Latavius Murray, Dwayne Washington
WRs: Michael Thomas, Ted Ginn, Tre'quan Smith, Deonte Harris, Emmanuel Butler
TEs: Jared Cook, Josh Hill
New York GiantsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 December 2017
The New York Giants are sticking with Eli Manning.
A day after saying he wasn't sure who would start against the NFC East champion Philadelphia Eagles, interim coach Steve Spagnuolo on Monday left no doubt that the two-time Super Bowl MVP would be his quarterback Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
According to Associated Press sports writer Tom Canavan, Spagnuolo was not sure whether Manning also would start the final two games, against Arizona and Washington.
The Giants (2-11) might want to see what rookie Davis Webb can do; the third-round draft pick has not played this season.
"Right now I'm talking about I'm on the week by week and let's win the next game," Spagnuolo said. "To beat the Philadelphia Eagles right now, Eli Manning is the starting quarterback, and I don't feel that changing, but I don't know what next week is going to bring."
Manning returned to the starting lineup on Sunday and hit 31 of 46 passes for 228 yards and a touchdown in a 30-10 loss to the Cowboys. He threw two late interceptions in a game that was tied 10-10 halfway through the fourth quarter. Both came after the Cowboys opened a 23-10 lead.
"I thought Eli played really good football, real solid," Spagnuolo said. "Watched the film. Got us in and out of some things that probably only he can do because he's pretty special that way. I'm sure he'll tell you there's a couple of throws he would like back, and that's probably true of any game."
Manning said he always wants to play.
"Always want to be out there and go see if we can go get a win," said the 36-year-old QB who saw his streak of 210 consecutive starts snapped on Dec. 3 when he was benched by former coach Ben McAdoo against the Raiders in Oakland. The loss dropped the Giants to 2-10, and McAdoo and general manager Jerry Reese were fired the next day.
Spagnuolo was elevated from defensive coordinator to interim coach.
Spagnuolo was not sure Webb would get a chance to play. He said he needs to talk to the offensive coaches before making a decision on that. He also said Webb is one of the hardest workers on the team.
Manning said he talks about the offense all the time with backup Geno Smith and with Webb. However, he admits that a quarterback has to play to find out what he can do.
"I think you always think you're ready, you think you kind of have the answers until you're out there and you've got to make some decisions," Manning said. "'Hey, are you going to make this check; hey, I think this blitz is coming; but are you sure and do you know how to pick it up, or do you know how to have answers, or what your assignments are, or what you're going to do under a certain situation, where are your check-downs?
"So, there's a lot to learn, and honestly I believe the best way to do it is through experience and to get out there."
The Giants came into Sunday averaging 15.6 points per game in Manning's first 11 starts. They didn't even get there this week against a below-average Cowboys defense.
Manning looked promising early. He completed 14 of 18 passes for 117 yards and a touchdown in the first half, with much of the damage being done on underneath passes. Ten of those 14 completions were to running backs and tight ends.
In the second half, Manning and the offense hit a wall. They did not produce a point.
Roger Lewis led the team in targets and share of intended air yards. Engram was the only pass-catcher with more than 50 receiving yards and had seven targets. Sterling Shepard came in questionable, again, but as NFL.com's Matt Harmon notes, the second-year man was on the field for 96 percent of the plays.
As ESPN.com's Jordan Raanan noted, offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan's game plan with Manning back at quarterback was conservative at best. Manning took few shots downfield and hit one pass over 20 yards, a second-quarter completion to wide-open rookie tight end Evan Engram.
Manning was well received in his return.
The fans gave Manning a standing ovation prior to the opening drive. They also chanted "Eli Manning" after he threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Rhett Ellison in the second quarter.
"Yeah, I did [hear the crowd]," Manning said. "I thought we had a good crowd [Sunday] and I appreciate all the support these past weeks and sorry we couldn't get them a better game."
But the bottom line remained unchanged: Manning's presence failed to provide a spark to a stagnant offense that hasn't topped 21 points in almost two months. Fantasy owners shouldn't expect a sudden turnaround. ...
Other notes of interest. ... The Giants are really missing offensive lineman D.J. Fluker in the rushing offense, but they'll have to soldier on without him as he's on injured reserve. Orleans Darkwa, who had been so promising weeks ago, has fallen into a bit of a rut, but rookie Wayne Gallman has been an intriguing development.
Gallman seems to be the only one of the Giants' running backs who has a legitimate chance at running outside the tackles, which will come in handy in the future.
Gallman, by the way, had a team high 12 carries for 59 rushing yards this week, a healthy 4.9 average. He also saw nine targets as a receiver. He caught seven receptions for an additional 40 yards.
That said, as NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich put it, "Using a Giants running back in fantasy is risky business, so tread with caution. Especially [this] week against the Eagles. ..."
The Giants announced on Wednesday that Lewis was limited in practice by a sore ankle; I'll follow up via Late-Breaking Update as developments warrant. ...
Receiver Darius Powe suffered a broken ankle in his regular-season NFL debut and will undergo season-ending surgery. He has been placed on season-ending injured reserve.
Safety Landon Collins, who aggravated his ankle in Sunday's loss to the Cowboys, is still "gimpy" per Spagnuolo. Collins has expressed a desire to play Sunday against the Eagles, but Spagnuolo said it is too soon to know for sure if the safety will be available. OL Justin Pugh will get a second opinion on his ailing back Wednesday according to Spagnuolo. Pugh has missed the last four straight games and five of his last six with his back ailment.
QBs: Eli Manning, Daniel Jones, Alex Tanney
RBs: Saquon Barkley, Wayne Gallman, Javorius Allen, Elijhaa Penny, Austin Walter
WRs: Sterling Shepard, Golden Tate, Darius Slayton, Cody Latimer, Cody Core, Da'Mari Scott
TEs: Evan Engram, Rhett Ellison, Kaden Smith, Scott Simonson
New York JetsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 December 2017
The best season of Josh McCown's career has come to an abrupt and painful end.
The New York Jets quarterback will miss the team's final three games with a broken left hand that will require surgery.
"It's big for him and it's big for us because he's been leading us all year offensively," coach Todd Bowles said Monday during a conference call. "For him to go down this late in the season. ... But it's next-man-up mentality and the next man has to step up.
"But you feel sorry for Josh. He was having a very good year."
Bowles also announced that Bryce Petty will start in McCown's place for New York at New Orleans on Sunday. Petty, a fourth-rounder out of Baylor in 2015, started four games for the Jets last season.
Second-year quarterback Christian Hackenberg remains behind Petty on the depth chart. Bowles said "it's possible" the Jets could bring in another quarterback this week as insurance.
McCown was injured when he was hit by Denver's Shane Ray in the third quarter of New York's 23-0 loss on Sunday. An X-ray revealed that the 38-year-old McCown's hand was broken, and additional tests Monday revealed the severity of the injury. He was placed on injured reserve on Tuesday.
"Sometimes you get breaks where you don't need surgery," Bowles said, "but he needs surgery, so that was that."
McCown was emotional after the game while reflecting on what had been the best season of his 15-year NFL career.
He set career highs with 18 touchdowns and 2,926 yards passing -- and hadn't missed a snap all season before leaving briefly Sunday after taking a shot to his hip. McCown came back, only to be knocked out for the rest of the season.
"It's been the best because of the guys, not numbers," McCown said while fighting back tears. "It's been the best because of the group of men in the locker room. I'm just proud to be a part of it and I'm so thankful they let me be a part of this team."
McCown, who signed a one-year, $6 million deal in the offseason, will be a free agent this winter. It is uncertain whether the Jets plan to re-sign him -- or if McCown will even want to play another season.
Meanwhile, ESPN.com's Rich Cimini contends even though Petty, as the No. 2 quarterback and is entitled to be the next man up, that doesn't mean the Jets can't use Hackenberg off the bench if an opportunity presents itself.
They have three games to play. They should be able to find a way to use both quarterbacks.
Will it happen? Probably not.
According to Cimini, the coaching staff is deathly afraid of playing Hackenberg, who is 29 games into his NFL career and has yet to play a snap in the regular season.
The truth is, Bowles didn't sound all that fired up about the prospect of having to start Petty, who was rusty and ineffective on Sunday after replacing the injured McCown in the third quarter against Denver.
Asked if he believes Petty made legitimate improvement in the preseason, when he was Mr. August with the third string, Bowles said, "If he has to play, we'll find out and go from there."
This probably will be Petty's final chance to show the Jets that he belongs in their future. Chances are, they've already made that determination (his stock is down), and it'll be tough to change minds. The Jets face the Saints (9-4) on the road, the Los Angeles Chargers (7-6) at home and the New England Patriots (10-2) on the road.
This could get ugly.
Those who had been clamoring for Petty and/or Hackenberg will find out quickly why Bowles had no thoughts of replacing McCown, the brain and heart of the offense. Except for Sunday, in his worst game of the season, McCown has elevated those around him with his sheer competitiveness.
"We have to pick up the slack in the [quarterback] room," Petty said.
What does this mean for fantasy owners with guys like Robby Anderson and Jermaine Kearse on their rosters?
Petty has completed 52 percent of his passes in his career with two touchdowns and seven interceptions. He did show some chemistry with Anderson during his six starts last season.
In fact, Anderson drew 12 and 11 targets, respectively, in Weeks 12 and 13 last season and was on the receiving end of two of Petty's three TD passes.
Still, nobody should expect Anderson to maintain his current pace this year. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Since the passing game wasn't working, the Jets ran the ball 23 times despite trailing by more than two scores for 52 minutes of the game. But they had only 59 yards, led by Bilal Powell's 35 yards on 13 carries. Matt Forte had 13 yards on six carries and added 21 receiving yards on two catches.
Adding injury to insult was rookie Elijah McGuire, who hurt his ankle in the first half and did not return.
The Jets had 100 total yards, which was their second lowest output in franchise history. In Joe Namath's last game, on Dec. 12, 1976, the Jets had 72 yards. ... But at least they scored in a 42-3 loss to the Bengals.
For the record, NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported on Monday that McGuire had X-Rays come back negative and his MRI was relatively clean. He did not practice Wednesday and I'll be following up via Late-Breaking Upate in coming days. ...
Wide receiver Jeremy Kerley is eligible to return from his four-game suspension for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs this week, but Bowles wouldn't commit to reinstating the veteran just yet.
"He can technically be invited back this week," Bowles said. "These are things we still have to discuss though."
Kerley has 22 catches for 217 yards and a touchdown in eight games this season. He was also the team's primary punt returner at the time of his suspension and has 16 returns for 85 yards. But he had a crucial fumble on a return in the fourth quarter against the Falcons in the pouring rain.
Said Bowles about Kerley's possible return: "I'll let you guys know on Wednesday."
Kerley was reinstated Monday, but the Jets have a roster exemption for him that expires next Monday (Dec. 18).
QBs: Sam Darnold, David Fales
RBs: Le'Veon Bell, Bilal Powell, Ty Montgomery, Trenton Cannon, Josh Adams
WRs: Robby Anderson, Jamison Crowder, Demaryius Thomas, Braxton Berrios, Tim White, Josh Bellamy
TEs: Ryan Griffin, Trevon Wesco, Daniel Brown
Oakland RaidersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 December 2017
As ESPN.com's Paul Gutierrez understated, "In the Oakland Raiders' biggest game of the season, they played their worst.
"Especially quarterback Derek Carr and the offense. ..."
With first place in the AFC West on the line Sunday, the Raiders were absolutely thumped by the Kansas City Chiefs, 26-15, and Arrowhead Stadium remained a house of horrors for Carr.
The Raiders fell to 6-7 overall while the Chiefs improved to 7-6.
"It sucked," Carr said of the Raiders' lack of execution. "Wasn't good enough and you put it all on me. Don't you blame one coach, one player, it's all my fault.
"There's no easy way to go through this one. This one sucked."
Kansas City, which had lost six of its previous seven games, entered Sunday with the NFL's No. 30-ranked total defense. The Chiefs, however, simply dominated the Raiders, who were regaining the services of starting receivers Michael Crabtree (suspension) and Amari Cooper (ankle).
But Cooper, who was a last-minute decision to play, reinjured his left ankle on a sweep play when Raiders running back DeAndre Washington rolled up on him in the first half. Crabtree, meanwhile, was simply not effective.
Neither was Carr, the Raiders' $125 million quarterback who has not looked the same, really, since suffering a broken pinkie finger on his passing hand last year, let alone his broken right leg in Week 16 last season or the broken bone in his back he suffered at Denver in Week 4 this season.
Head coach Jack Del Rio seemed stumped when asked why the offense started so slowly.
"That is a good question," Del Rio said. "That is one we have to take a look at. Bottom line, we did not. The first five drives of the first half were four punts and a pick. That is not the kind of productivity we needed today, obviously."
Then there was this: "They're playing losing football right now," former Raiders coach Tom Flores said on the radio broadcast. "They're doing nothing. They're dinking. ... One-yard route, for crying out loud.
"Very listless performance on offense. ... Looks like they haven't even practiced."
Carr, who is now 0-4 in Kansas City, was just 11-of-23 passing for 69 yards with an interception and a passer rating of 36.3 through three quarters. He finished 24-for-41 with 211 yards, two picks and a touchdown thanks to a pair of fourth-quarter scoring drives -- after falling behind 26-0. Carr was also sacked three times.
According to Profootballfocus.com and as shared by the Associated Press' Josh Dubow, Carr boasts the most significant difference in his passer rating when having a clean pocket (101.4) as opposed to when he faces pressure (41.4) of all qualifying quarterbacks in the NFL (150 or more dropbacks).
So the pass rush is a factor. Still, the Chiefs were playing without All-Pro cornerback Marcus Peters, who was suspended by the team. But as Gutierrez suggested, a lack of urgency combined with curious play calling by first-year offensive coordinator Todd Downing and a less-than-confident look by Carr doomed the Raiders early.
"Even if I could put my finger on it, you think I'd tell you?" mused tight end Jared Cook, who caught five passes for 75 yards, including a 29-yard TD.
"I ain't got no answer for you, bruh."
At one point, Carr was just 3-for-7 for 20 yards on passes thrown more than 5 yards downfield and just 4-for-9 for 22 yards with an interception when the Chiefs sent four or fewer pass-rushers, per ESPN Stats and Information.
Carr completed just 1-of-10 passes thrown 15 or more yards downfield for 29 yards, a TD and an interception. Carr's only such completion came with 7:09 left in the fourth quarter trailing 26-7, the TD to Cook. In his Week 7 win over the Chiefs earlier this year, Carr completed 5-of-14 deep passes for a season high 167 yards and two touchdowns.
Plus, Carr has now thrown seven touchdowns and seven interceptions on passes of 15 yards or more this season, after throwing just three picks on 101 such passes last year.
"Well, he is the trigger man of our offense," Del Rio said. "The offense didn't get done what we need to get down today."
Asked if he is healthy and feels good, Carr said, "Yeah. Yes. Thank you.
"My rookie year we were terrible. It's definitely not as bad as we've played but it wasn't good enough."
The Raiders play host to the Dallas Cowboys Sunday night in Oakland's home finale, before playing at the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday Night Football on Christmas night and closing out the season at the Los Angeles Chargers on Dec. 31.
Meanwhile, you have to wonder if the Raiders will regret putting Cooper on the field in Kansas City.
His left ankle, sprained so severely two weeks prior that he did not practice until Friday's walk-through, was not 100 percent, not when it was so obvious during the game that he was having trouble planting and cutting on it. So why was he on the field as the lead blocker on a sweep down the left sideline, when that injured ankle got rolled up on by Washington?
Cooper's anguished screams, picked up by CBS' sideline microphones, may actually say more than the Raiders.
Who knows how long it will be now before his ankle is healed enough to be involved in more plays?
As Gutierrez reminded readers, it has been a bleak year for Cooper, who also suffered a concussion on a hit by Denver Broncos safety Darian Stewart. After consecutive 1,000-yard Pro Bowl seasons to start his career, Cooper has just 499 receiving yards on 42 catches (he had 72 receptions as a rookie and 83 catches last year), though he does have five TDs.
I'll be following up on Cooper's status via Late-Breaking Update in coming days, but he didn't practice Wednesday and nobody should expect him back for this one. ...
Tight end Clive Walford left with a concussion and did not return; I'll also be following up on him. ...
Also of interest. ... Don't be deceived by the 6.4 average yards per carry. Marshawn Lynch had 49 of his 61 yards rushing on two attempts -- including a 22-yard TD run in garbage time. Nice, but not exactly the steady drumbeat of first downs the Raiders needed to possess the ball and have some control over the game.
In fact, Lynch has a three-game touchdown streak going. He's also scored in four of his last five games. ...
Washington had nine yards on four carries. The Raiders had only 11 rushing plays in the game.
QBs: Derek Carr, Mike Glennon
RBs: Josh Jacobs, Jalen Richard, DeAndre Washington
WRs: Tyrell Williams, Zay Jones, Trevor Davis, Keelan Doss
TEs: Darren Waller, Foster Moreau, Derek Carrier
Philadelphia EaglesCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 December 2017
Carson Wentz got the Eagles this far. Now, it's up to Nick Foles to deliver Philadelphia its first Super Bowl title.
Wentz has a torn left ACL. He was placed on injured reserve Tuesday and will miss the rest of the season and playoffs, forcing the NFC East champions to turn to a familiar backup who once had one of the greatest statistical seasons in NFL history.
"The reason we got Nick Foles is for situations like this. I'm excited for Nick," head coach Doug Pederson said Monday. "I hate it for Carson Wentz. I hate it for the season that he's been having. But at the same time, it's been the next-man-up mentality and that's how we approach it."
As Associated Press sports writer Rob Maaddi notes, Wentz was a favorite in the NFL MVP race during a breakout sophomore season. He threw for 3,296 yards and set a franchise single-season record with an NFL-leading 33 touchdown passes while only tossing seven interceptions.
"From my standpoint, you don't waver, man. You don't let people see you sweat," Pederson said. "You just put your head down and you just go to work. You get everybody ready to play. It was evident when Carson was out of the game, you saw Nick come in and come back and lead us to victory in that game. So that right there is a great step in the right direction."
Wentz got hurt diving into the end zone on a scramble late in the third quarter Sunday at Los Angeles. Pederson said it appeared Wentz tore his anterior cruciate ligament before contact with two tacklers. The touchdown was nullified by a penalty, but Wentz stayed in the game and tossed a TD pass to Alshon Jeffery four plays later.
In fact, Wentz managed to throw four TD passes before tearing his ACL in the third quarter. The Eagles were without Zach Ertz, but the Eagles' other two tight ends, Trey Burton and Brent Celek, combined for three TD catches.
Foles replaced him on the next series after the Rams took the lead and rallied the Eagles (11-2) to a 43-35 win that secured the division title and put them in first place in the conference with three games remaining.
The Eagles have overcome several key injuries and now have to move forward without their most indispensable player. Nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters, return specialist/running back Darren Sproles, star linebacker Jordan Hicks and special teams captain Chris Maragos already went down for the season.
"This has been a resilient football team all season long," Pederson said. "If there's ever an opportunity for me as a head football coach to rally the troops, now might be the time."
Foles led the Eagles to their last playoff appearance -- a 2013 home loss to New Orleans. That came after he threw 27 TDs and only two picks in 10 starts after replacing an injured Michael Vick during Chip Kelly's first season as coach. Foles posted a passer rating of 119.2, the third highest in league history. He tied an NFL record with seven TD passes in a game at Oakland in November 2013 and went to the Pro Bowl, winning the offensive MVP award.
A third-round pick by former Eagles coach Andy Reid in 2012, Foles in his second stint in Philadelphia. He is 20-17 as a starter, including playoffs. Kelly traded Foles to St. Louis for Sam Bradford after the 2014 season. Foles spent a year with the Rams, then a season in Kansas City with Pederson as offensive coordinator, before returning to Philadelphia as a free agent this season.
"My confidence is extremely high in Nick," Pederson said. "He's a veteran player who has played and won a lot of games. Nick's a highly intelligent football player. He's smart to the point of he and I are going to continue to dialogue like Carson and I did during the week. I want to make sure there are plays in his plan that he's comfortable with and that he likes. I want him to speak his mind just like Carson would, and we keep going. This is a veteran player we're talking about. So I feel comfortable doing that."
Second-year pro Nate Sudfeld is Philadelphia's No. 3 quarterback. Pederson said he hasn't spoken to personnel boss Howie Roseman about adding a third quarterback yet. Sudfeld was selected in the sixth round by Washington in 2016 and hasn't played a down in the NFL.
"Nate's done a really good job," Pederson said. "That's part of the reason why we brought him up (off the practice squad) earlier in the year. Teams were interested in Nate, and we feel really comfortable with him."
For the record, the Eagles lead the league in scoring, averaging 31.1 points per game, and Wentz has been the main reason why. He leads the league in touchdown passes. He is first in third-down passing. He has thrown 23 red-zone touchdown passes and is the only quarterback in the league without an interception or sack in the red zone.
And, oh yeah, he has 26 rushing first downs, which is the third most by a quarterback, behind only Carolina's Cam Newton and Seattle's Russell Wilson.
Wentz will have surgery on the knee as soon as the swelling goes down. ESPN's Chris Mortensen reports that will be within the next few days.
The first question is how the receiving corps will fare with Foles at the helm over the coming weeks. As NFL.com's Matt Harmon notes, with their quarterbacks taking to the air 51 times, all the Eagles wide receivers performed. Jeffery scored his fifth touchdown in as many games. Nelson Agholor hit double-digit targets for the second week in a row. Torrey Smith did it for the first time all year.
So their ability to continue producing with Foles is of keen interest.
The next question? Will Ertz return this week? That seems like it will be the case. Pederson said at his Wednesday press conference that Ertz is out of the protocol and "good to go" for Sunday's game against the Giants.
Another question is whether Wentz can be ready to roll Week 1 next season.
I'll be watching for more on all that and following up via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Running back Jay Ajayi played 43 snaps against the Rams, which was his most in a single game since the Eagles acquired him from Miami in a trade deadline deal in November. He had 78 yards on 15 carries against the Rams and registered four of the Eagles' five rushing first downs.
Ajayi's increased playing time and carries came at the expense of LeGarrette Blount, who played just 15 snaps and had just seven carries (for 12 yards).
QBs: Carson Wentz, Nate Sudfeld, Clayton Thorson
RBs: Miles Sanders, Jay Ajayi, Boston Scott, Jordan Howard
WRs: Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, JJ Arcega-Whiteside, Greg Ward
TEs: Zach Ertz, Dallas Goedert
Pittsburgh SteelersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 December 2017
Ben Roethlisberger became the first quarterback in NFL history to record three games with at least 500 yards passing when he led the Pittsburgh Steelers to a come-from-behind victory over the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday night.
Roethlisberger, who had been one of only two quarterbacks -- along with New Orleans' Drew Brees -- with two 500-yard games, finished with 506 yards and two touchdowns in the 39-38 victory.
In an uncharacteristic track meet, the Steelers and Ravens went after each other all night, but Pittsburgh hit its stride in the fourth quarter to win.
"Hall of Famer, it's as simple as that, and we are lucky he is on our team," Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey said.
Roethlisberger previously hit the 500-yard mark with 522 yards and six touchdowns in a 51-24 victory over Indianapolis in 2014 and 503 yards and three TDs in a 37-36 win over Green Bay in 2004.
On Wednesday, Roethlisberger was named the AFC Offensive Player of the Week.
Roethlisberger's career-high 44 completions (on 66 attempts) Sunday were the most in a game since New England Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe had 45 (on 70 attempts) in a 1994 win over the Minnesota Vikings.
In leading Pittsburgh to Chris Boswell's game-winning field goal with 42 seconds left, Roethlisberger recorded his 39th game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime, the most in the NFL since he began his career in 2004.
"He's a winner. He's going to find a way to win games," running back Le'Veon Bell said. "We were down 11 ... he put us in a position to win games. That's what you want in your quarterback. That's why I'm glad I play with him."
Roethlisberger recorded 228 yards in the fourth quarter alone, the second most of his career in the fourth quarter. Of those yards, 136 went to receiver Antonio Brown, who recorded his fourth straight 100-yard game.
When asked by a reporter about continuing to throw to Brown against Ravens cornerback Brandon Carr, who is having a "pretty good year," Roethlisberger responded that he and Brown "[have] had a pretty good year, too."
"Our chemistry together is something pretty special," Roethlisberger said.
Roethlisberger also praised a bevy of supporting playmakers, including tight ends Jesse James (10 catches, 97 yards) and Vance McDonald (four catches, 52 yards) and slot receiver Eli Rogers (three catches, 33 yards).
Roethlisberger said his stats are secondary to finding a way to win.
"Whatever it takes to win a football game -- whether it's by 30 or 3," he said.
There was a time not all that long ago that the Steelers had trouble scoring.
They were among the league's lowest-scoring offenses in the first half of the season and relied heavily on its defense to win games. Now, after injuries have depleted the defense, it's the offense that is carrying the team on its shoulders.
The Steelers didn't score 30 points in the first nine games of the season. They've scored 30 or more in three of the past four games and are averaging 34 points per game over the past four games.
The fact that their latest outburst came against one of the top defenses in the league is encouraging, too. The Ravens entered the game a top-five defense across the board, and the Steelers dismantled them.
Roethlisberger believes the offense can be even more efficient than it has been.
The Ravens made some halftime adjustments and forced the Steelers to punt twice in the third quarter, giving the Ravens the opportunity to take a 31-20 lead.
"I do not think we were very consistent," Roethlisberger said. "I thought we had some lulls there in the middle. We started strong. We settled for some field goals, which we do not want to do obviously, and then came on strong late so we did some good things in that sense. But we would like to be more consistent."
The Steelers might have to be more consistent if they are going to beat their next opponent. The Patriots visit Heinz Field Sunday.
"We can win a shootout against anybody," Bell said. "I feel like our offense has a lot of playmakers. We have one of the best players in the league in Brown, making plays on the outside. We have an offensive line doing what they do up front. I make my plays here and there.
"So, I feel like we can score points whenever we need to. We scored 39 not playing our best. So yeah I think we can win a shootout against anybody. ..."
On the other side of the ball, the Steelers continue to struggle, especially when it comes to giving up big plays. It's been a theme over the past five games, and the Steelers have not shown an ability to stop the bleeding.
The Ravens, who have been one of the more inconsistent offenses in the NFL this season, were able to get big chunks of yardage in the running and passing game. Missed tackles have been a problem all season for the Steelers, and the Ravens were the latest team to take advantage of the Steelers in the open field.
After allowing only two of their first 10 opponents to score more than 18 points, the Steelers have given up 28, 20 and 38 in their past three games. Injuries are part of the reason for the downward turn.
Cornerback Joe Haden missed his fourth consecutive game with a fractured fibula. The secondary hasn't been the same without him. Haden could return to practice this week.
Without Ryan Shazier, who remains in the hospital with a spinal cord injury, the middle of the Steelers defense was exposed by the Ravens, who rushed for 152 yards. Shazier was placed on injured reserve on Tuesday. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Not surprisingly (given Big Ben's big game), Brown, the league's leading receiver had 11 receptions for 213 yards.
The big surprise of the night was tight end Jesse James catching a career-high 10 passes for 97 yards. Bell was terrific again as a receiver out of the backfield. He caught nine passes for 77 yards, including a 20-yard touchdown when he was split out as a receiver.
The Steelers didn't really try to run the ball in the final three quarters of the game, but they were effective when they needed to be.
Bell carried the ball 13 times for 48 yards and scored on runs of 11 and 1 yards. The 11-yard touchdown run came in the fourth quarter. As a team, the Steelers totaled 59 yards on 16 carries. They'll have to become a better running team if they're ever involved in a bad weather game, but as long as Roethlisberger is throwing the ball as well as he is now they don't have to rely on it all that much.
Tight end Vance McDonald is having a hard time staying healthy this season. He left Sunday night's game with a shoulder injury and did not return. It was McDonald's first game back after missing three in a row due to an ankle injury. McDonald had four catches for 52 yards before exiting the game in the second half.
JuJu Smith-Schuster will return from a one-game suspension this week. ...
Chris Boswell can set a team record for most field goals in a single season. He has 32 through 13 games. Norm Johnson kicked 34 in 1995 and Gary Anderson had 33 in 1985.
One last note: Roethlisberger's 134 regular-season wins as a starting quarterback ranks seventh in NFL history. Roethlisberger not only is the only quarterback to surpass 500 yards in three games but his 10 games of 400 or more is tied for fourth behind Drew Brees (15), Peyton Manning (14) and Dan Marino (13). He and Marino are tied with four games of at least 450 passing yards, most in league history.
QBs: Devlin Hodges, Mason Rudolph, Ben Roethlisberger
RBs: James Conner, Benny Snell, Jaylen Samuels, Trey Edmunds, Kerrith Whyte
WRs: JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, James Washington, Johnny Holton, Deon Cain, Tevin Jones
TEs: Vance McDonald, Nick Vannett, Zach Gentry
San Francisco 49ersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 December 2017
For the first time under coach Kyle Shanahan and the first time since 2014, the San Francisco 49ers have won two games in a row.
After Sunday's 26-16 win against the Houston Texans, Shanahan was asked if he's allowed himself to think about what this season might have brought had Jimmy Garoppolo been at quarterback all along.
"I don't really think that way," Shanahan said. "You go through an offseason and stuff, you prepare him a lot more for the year and who knows? But it's not something I would think about very much."
While the past -- and that abysmal 0-9 start -- might already be water under the bridge, many 49ers and their fans aren't afraid to look to the future, a future that, with Garoppolo, looks much brighter than it did without him.
"It definitely just builds the confidence," fullback Kyle Juszczyk said. "[It] gets everyone excited. I mean, it feels like a whole new season here. It feels like we started last week. Especially, getting a win, we wish we had more games left. We wish we had a full season to do this thing with him."
What would a full season have looked like? As ESPN.com's Nick Wagoner noted, we'll have to wait to get the answer, and we won't go through the exercise of trying to extrapolate his numbers from these past two starts over the course of a full 16-game season. There's still plenty to chew on, however.
Consider that Garoppolo's 627 passing yards are the most by a 49ers quarterback in his first two starts since the merger in 1970. He's also the third Niners quarterback to win each of his first two road starts and the fourth active quarterback to win his first four starts regardless of location.
In his two starts plus one three-play sequence against Seattle, Garoppolo is 48-of-72 for 645 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions for a passer rating of 92.7. His average of 9 yards per pass attempt would lead the NFL if he had thrown enough passes to qualify.
Beyond the box scores, Garoppolo already has ingratiated himself with his teammates. He's made it a point to spend time chatting with teammates from all corners of the locker room and already has earned the trust and respect of the group, a quality that's imperative for any quarterback.
"Jimmy is a great guy," receiver Marquise Goodwin said. "He's a leader. He's natural at it. He doesn't show [fear] at any point of the game. When you see that in the position that he's in, it gives you extreme confidence. When you look at him in the third quarter or in the second quarter and we're down by one or up by one, you feel that sense of hope. You feel that sense of 'I'm going to get the job done.' And at no point in the game do I ever feel like we're behind or we're slacking in that position, because he's led us the whole way from start to finish."
This is probably where we're supposed to insert the usual caveats about how it's been only two games with Garoppolo as the starter and though he put up big numbers and a pair of wins in those games, they were against a pair of teams in Chicago and Houston that are pretty far removed from playoff contention.
That's fair enough, and with three games to play, including matchups against stout defensive teams in the Jacksonville Jaguars and Los Angeles Rams, Garoppolo and the Niners will face far more difficult tests in the coming weeks.
So the next three weeks figure to offer some ups and downs, but Garoppolo already has done enough in his first two starts to make one wonder just how high his ceiling can be when he gets a chance to fully absorb Shanahan's playbook and the Niners have a chance to add dynamic pieces around him.
"I've only been here for a short time, so I don't know exactly what's changed or what hasn't," Garoppolo said. "I think we've got a little bit of momentum with us right now and we just need to keep plucking away day by day and just keep getting better. That's what it's all about, especially this time of year. You know, we only have three games left now, so we just have to keep getting better and good things will happen."
There's a limit on just how good those things can be in 2017. But for the first time in a long time, Garoppolo has given the Niners and their fans a chance to dream big in 2018 and beyond. ...
For the record, Garoppolo joined Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger and Trevor Siemian as the only active quarterbacks to win their first four starts after going 2-0 last season while filling in for Tom Brady during his suspension.
He also became just the third 49er to win his first two career road starts for the team. QB Jim Plunkett (three straight, 1976) and QB Elvis Grbac (four straight bridging 1995-96) had done that previously. ...
According to the Sports Xchange, a question worth asking: How in the world do you throw for 334 yards when 19 of your 32 targets go to guys named Garrett Celek, Juszczyk, Kendrick Bourne, Aldrick Robinson, Louis Murphy, Trent Taylor and George Kittle?
Juszczyk recorded a career-high 64 receiving yards on three catches at Houston. The fullback was targeted four times, equaling his second-most of the season. Celek reached three touchdowns for a third consecutive season when he hauled in a six-yarder in the third quarter of Sunday's win at Houston. Celek also had a career-best, 61-yard catch-and-run in the game. He now has nine career TD receptions.
Goodwin topped 100 yards in receptions for the second time this season. Goodwin caught six passes for 106 yards. He had a 116-yard game at Indianapolis in October.
Other notes of interest. ... Yes. There was a rushing attack. Barely topping 100 yards (102) is no crowning achievement, but four rushing first downs helped the 49ers run up almost 35 minutes in possession. And let's not forget about Carlos Hyde's touchdown run late in the second quarter.
It was a critical break-through for an offense that hadn't scored a meaningful touchdown in four weeks. It was Hyde's first score since Week 6. It was his fifth touchdown of the season and the 18th of his career.
Matt Breida also had 12 carries in this game but totaled just 27 yards. He's merely a handcuff until further notice.
One last note on the backfield. ... As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich pointed out, Hyde didn't catch any passes in the game, and it seems with Garoppolo under center, Hyde will see a downtick in those kinds of opportunities which may ding his value some.
Robbie Gould went 4-for-4 on field goals in Houston. Gould, who connected from a season-long-tying 52 yards out in the win, has now made his last 14 attempts. He currently owns the third-best success rate from 50 yards or more (26-for-34, 76.5 percent) in NFL history, trailing only Matt Prater (78.2 percent) and Stephen Gostkowski (76.7 percent).
And finally. ... NFL Network's Tom Pelissero reports the 49ers are signing receiver Max McCaffrey off the Packers practice squad.
QBs: Jimmy Garoppolo, Nick Mullens, C.J. Beathard
RBs: Tevin Coleman, Matt Breida, Raheem Mostert, Jeff Wilson
WRs: Emmanuel Sanders, Deebo Samuel, Kendrick Bourne, Dante Pettis, Marquise Goodwin, Richie James
TEs: George Kittle, Ross Dwelley, Levine Toilolo
Seattle SeahawksCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 December 2017
Free safety Earl Thomas sat with his back to his locker, staring intently at nothing after his defense allowed 27 points in the second half.
Michael Bennett angrily shooed reporters away from fellow defensive lineman Quinton Jefferson, who was reliving the ugly ending to a disappointing loss.
And Russell Wilson did what Russell Wilson does. He remained positive, reminding his Seattle Seahawks teammates in a downtrodden visitors' locker room that everything is still in front of them even after falling 30-24 to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday at EverBank Field.
"We're playing for first place," Wilson repeated several times.
As ESPN.com's Brady Henderson noted, Wilson was referring to this week's game against the Los Angeles Rams at CenturyLink Field, which indeed is an opportunity to take the NFC West lead. The Rams lost Sunday to the Philadelphia Eagles, dropping to 9-4 overall. The Seahawks fell to 8-5 but already have one win against the Rams, so another in the rematch would put them in first place with two games left by virtue of the head-to-head tiebreaker.
As silver linings go, that's a pretty good one.
Still, though, this loss stung.
What happened to Seattle's defense was among several disappointing aspects of Sunday's game.
Wilson threw three interceptions, at least two of which appeared to be the result of uncharacteristically imprudent decisions. Right tackle Germain Ifedi committed four penalties (one was declined) to extend his NFL lead. The Seahawks' five first-half possessions yielded 133 yards and no points -- a return to their slow-starting ways on offense after a reprieve last week.
Blair Walsh's accuracy was again an issue. He pushed a 38-yard field goal attempt wide right just before halftime, his sixth miss in the past six games.
Much of Jacksonville's second-half damage was done with Pro Bowl linebackers Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright on the sideline. Wright suffered a concussion, while Wagner reinjured the hamstring that has been bothering him for several weeks. Coach Pete Carroll didn't give any indication about their chances of playing next week.
All three of the Jaguars' third-quarter touchdowns came after Wagner left.
The Rams' offense was already going to be another test for Seattle's defense minus Sherman and Chancellor. Wagner, in the midst of season worthy of NFL Defensive Player of the Year consideration, may be the last player that group can afford to lose now, given the way he's playing and with an all-important game against the Rams up next.
Carroll already was looking forward to it, wanting to move on as quickly as possible from this one.
"We've been looking at this game coming up, that this could be the one for the division, to make a difference, and it's a huge opportunity for us and for them as well," Carroll said. "So it should be a great matchup, and they've been playing great football. We look forward to getting ready.
"I can't wait to get back. I wish we could just be back, but it's going to take us a little while."
Other notes of interest. ... The Seahawks' run game showed more signs of life, totaling 141 yards. But, as has often been the case, much of that came from Wilson's scrambles. Their 141 rushing yards was the third-most in a game this season. Mike Davis rushed for 66 yards before leaving with a rib injury.
As Henderson noted, it already was clear Davis is Seattle's best available running back. That was even more evident Sunday. Eddie Lacy was a healthy scratch for the second time this season and Thomas Rawls only got one snap, even with Davis leaving early. ...
Worth noting: I'll be following up via Late-Breaking Update, but Davis was practicing on Wednesday. ...
Wilson threw his 16th and 17th fourth-quarter touchdown passes of the season on long strikes to Paul Richardson (61 yards) and Tyler Lockett (74). That's a new NFL single-season record for fourth-quarter TD passes, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
While Doug Baldwin, Richardson and Lockett all scored, Jimmy Graham after offering up five touchdowns in his previous four games.
QBs: Russell Wilson, Geno Smith
RBs: Chris Carson, Rashaad Penny, C.J. Prosise, Travis Homer
WRs: Tyler Lockett, DK Metcalf, Josh Gordon, David Moore, Malik Turner, John Ursua
TEs: Jacob Hollister, Luke Willson
Tampa Bay BuccaneersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 December 2017
Dirk Koetter says he and Jameis Winston have said all they need to say about the state of their relationship as coach and quarterback.
As Associated Press sports writer Fred Goodall noted on Monday, both deny there's friction between them, though those proclamations aren't likely to end speculation about how much longer they'll remain together with the regressing Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Bucs (4-9) have lost eight of 10 games following a 2-1 start and are assured of missing the playoffs for the 10th consecutive season.
Koetter led the team to a 9-7 record a year ago, creating heightened expectations that he and Winston have been unable to meet this season.
NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported before Sunday's 24-21 loss to Detroit that the relationship between coach and quarterback is strained, in part because the QB felt his coach was supportive enough while he was hurt.
Koetter and Winston, in his third season since entering the NFL as the No. 1 overall pick in 2015, insist that's not the case.
"We both said what we had to say," Koetter reiterated Monday, when asked if he and Winston had met to discuss the subject since their postgame denials.
"He and I know the truth about it," the coach added, "so I don't know what else there is to talk about."
Winston threw for more than 4,000 yards in each of the past two seasons, helping Tampa Bay progress from a team with two wins the year before he was drafted to a club seemingly on the verge of competing for a division title.
But instead of preparing for a meaningful stretch run of games against NFC South rivals Atlanta, Carolina and New Orleans, the Bucs find themselves answering questions about how disappointing it is to see the Falcons, Panthers and Saints chasing playoff berths while they're wallowing in the division cellar.
Injuries, including a shoulder sprain that sidelined Winston for three games and most of a fourth, have been a factor.
But so has inconsistency on both offense and defense, where the team ranks last in sacks and has had difficulty keeping opponents out of the end zone.
Winston said talk about his relationship with Koetter is directly the result of Tampa Bay's poor record.
"A lot of distractions come up when we don't perform like we need to perform," the 23-year-old quarterback said after throwing two interceptions and losing a fumble in the loss to the Lions, who forced five turnovers.
As ESPN.com's Jenna Laine suggested, it was fully expected that both would deny that friction exists, particularly Winston.
But Laine went on to contend that even though Koetter fully supported Winston when addressing the media -- saying that he wouldn't lose his job because of injury -- and communicated just how much pain Winston was playing through, his game plans for Winston didn't evolve in a way that could protect him.
In the two full games that Winston played before finally being shelved -- against the Bills and against the Panthers -- he had 82 passing attempts, second-most of any quarterback in the league. He averaged the sixth-most air yards per attempt (10.35) of any quarterback in the league in those games, too.
Granted, he passed for 384 yards and completed nearly 73 percent of those passes against the Bills, delivering his best performance of the season in the second half, but he took another bone-crushing hit on a sack by Ryan Davis and further aggravated the injury, forcing him to miss another week of practice.
The next week against the Panthers, they continued the same aggressive style of offense, with Winston attempting 11 throws of 15-plus air yards, more than any other team who faced the Panthers through Week 8. It was clear early on that Winston's velocity just wasn't there and he couldn't complete a pass longer than 20 yards, nor could he complete one on third down.
Lane noted that no in-game adjustments were made to accommodate this.
It should be noted that the teams who beat the Panthers had six or fewer pass attempts of 15-plus air yards. And Winston was pressured on 27.3 percent of his dropbacks in that game -- fourth-most of the season for him -- yet it appeared there was zero adjustment to the play calling that would allow him to get rid of the ball quicker.
After Carolina, Winston really struggled with the deep ball against New Orleans, yet it was still in the game plan and the offense was still about generating explosive plays, with Winston averaging 10.92 air yards per attempt.
It Week 11 against the Dolphins, with veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick at the helm, suddenly the Bucs had a screen game and could nickel-and-dime their way down the field, which is exactly how you defeat teams pressuring you heavily, while protecting the quarterback.
Koetter did, however, have one of his better game plans when Winston made his return against the Green Bay Packers in Week 13, and that included adjusting to the Packers taking away Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson.
In addition, the Bucs threw two touchdown passes in the second half Sunday against the Lions with tight end O.J. Howard and offensive tackle Leonard Wester both wide open. The Lions have struggled all season stopping play-action in the red zone and the Bucs picked up on it.
Winston even acknowledged that he believed the Lions knew that the Bucs were going to hit them with play-action in the red zone, but with Wester?
No. He was the first Bucs offensive tackle to be targeted in the end zone in the past three seasons.
Compare that with Evans, who's been targeted 49 times in three seasons. No wonder teams frequently double Evans in the red zone. It's either going to Evans or Cameron Brate. In today's NFL, where there isn't much discrepancy when it comes to talent level, sometimes it's that very element of surprise that can win close games.
Regardless of who's right and who's wrong, things aren't beyond repair with Winston and Koetter, although the more they lose the tougher it is to ignore -- especially with Koetter's job at stake.
"I don't control that. That's not my place," Winston said, when asked about Koetter's job status. "When you lose, everything gets blamed on ... the head coach and the quarterback and I'm OK with that. ... I'm pretty sure Coach Koetter is OK with that. We don't care about that stuff. All we care about is each other, our family and trying to win."
In general, as NFL.com's Matt Harmon put it, "The completely uninspiring Buccaneers passing offense remained as such in Week 14. Only rookie Chris Godwin cleared 55 receiving yards and Winston had three turnovers. Evans checked in with just five targets, the fewest he's had in any game this season. ..."
Also of interest. ... Doug Martin believes he was benched after fumbling on a key play at the Lions' 23-yard line on Sunday.
"When you turn the ball over and you fumble, your chances get cut pretty short, so that's what happened there," said Martin, who started the game and had 10 touches in the first half, including a 1-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.
After his fumble, one of five Bucs turnovers on the day, Martin had zero touches in the second half.
Coming off the first 100-yard rushing game of his career last week, Barber had three touches in the first half of the Lions game and nine in the second. He rushed for 58 yards, averaging a team-best 4.8 yards per carry. Martin had 26 rushing yards on 10 carries, averaging 2.6 yards per rush.
When Koetter was asked about balancing the workload of his running backs, there was no mention of a benching for Martin.
"It was Peyton's turn to start off in the second half. He was doing a good job; we stayed with him," Koetter said. "Then, we used Charles Sims there a little bit in the last two drives."
Martin missed the first three games of the season due to suspension and missed a fourth game because of a concussion. When healthy, he's had a disappointing season, averaging 3.12 yards per carry, while the Bucs' remaining three running backs have averaged more in yards per carry, but with fewer touches: Barber at 3.82 yards, Jacquizz Rodgers at 3.84 and Sims at 4.68.
Rodgers has begun playing more of a role on special teams and the Bucs prefer Sims in space and as a third-down back. Barber has more of a downhill style that is similar to Martin's, so if anyone is replacing him on first and second down, it's Barber, whom the Bucs signed last year as an undrafted free agent out of Auburn.
But figuring out who gets their turns -- and when -- is problematic.
"This backfield is basically a fantasy migraine for the rest of the season," NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich wrote. "They get the Falcons next Monday night, but you're heading into risky territory if you're messing with the Bucs backs. ..."
One last note here. ... Howard's 2-yard touchdown was his fifth this season, matching Tim Wright (2013) for the most ever by a Bucs rookie tight end. Only two other tight ends (Giants Evan Engram this year, Chargers Hunter Henry in 2016) have had five TDs as rookies in the last four years.
QBs: Jameis Winston, Ryan Griffin, Blaine Gabbert
RBs: Ronald Jones, Peyton Barber, Dare Ogunbowale, T.J. Logan
WRs: Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, Breshad Perriman, Scott Miller, Justin Watson, Bobo Wilson
TEs: Cameron Brate, O.J. Howard, Tanner Hudson
Tennessee TitansCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 December 2017
According to ESPN.com's Cameron Wolfe, Marcus Mariota was fuming, short and beyond frustrated. The Tennessee Titans' 12-7 disastrous defeat at the hands of the Arizona Cardinals wasn't just another loss. It had been two years since a Mariota-led Titans squad failed to score double digits.
"I'm just pissed off. That's all," the typically even-tempered Mariota said.
Wolfe agree, suggesting there's no more sugarcoating the Titans' woes or sheltering the franchise quarterback. Mariota has to play better, and he knows it. Mike Mularkey and his coaching staff need to make Mariota feel more comfortable. The offensive supporting cast has to step up and help out its struggling quarterback.
It's Year 3 for Mariota. The team had expected a season where he went from a solid starter to superstar. In reality, Mariota is in the midst of a regression. His career-high 14 interceptions, including 10 over the last six games (only Cleveland's DeShone Kizer has been worse with 17 picks), paint a story that the eye test confirms: He's having his worst NFL season. But why?
Mariota's humility and leadership won't allow him to shift blame to the coaches or his supporting players -- even when it's apparent that they're playing a significant role in his downturn. Flexibility is important, particularly when trying to get a quarterback out of a funk.
But does Mariota think that offensive change is needed?
Typically he defers to whatever the coaching staff plans, and Delanie Walker took that route Sunday, but Mariota gave a raw answer that gave us a little glimpse into his mindset.
"I think that's something that we'll have to look at," Mariota said.
Wolfe, however, didn't hesitate to fill in the blanks.
"The Titans need to make some adjustments in their offensive scheme and play calling to salvage the 2017 season," he wrote.
Wolfe went on to argue it's 14 weeks into the season, so the weekly failure-to-execute excuse, although it's often accurate, really doesn't fly with the playoffs looming. The Titans shouldn't be scoring seven points against the Cardinals. That's a problem with the offense. That's a Mariota problem. That's a Mularkey and offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie problem.
On a fourth-and-10 during the Titans' potential game-winning touchdown drive Sunday, Mularkey and Robiskie curiously decided cornerback Adoree' Jackson was their best option to run a play he said he had never practiced before. The ball went in his direction. That speaks to the team's mistrust of its receiving corps and shows just how much it needs to improve its chemistry before the Titans can be considered a legitimate contender in the AFC.
Mariota is often better when he is comfortable and confident. There has been too much miscommunication and too many route-running mistakes, so maybe there's a benefit to simplifying the route combinations.
Mariota is at his best when he's throwing on play-action. He sees the field better and has been more successful when there are more than two receiving options running downfield.
The Titans' coaching staff doesn't deserve a pass as we watch Mariota's development stagnate. Mariota doesn't, either, as he falls back into bad habits like not stepping into throws and sailing passes.
There will be a full offseason to work on that, but with three crucial weeks left in the regular season, there is a need for changes now. ...
Meanwhile, the Titans will stay in Arizona this week to practice while preparing for their second consecutive West Coast game against the suddenly hot San Francisco 49ers. Jimmy Garoppolo will make sure the Titans contest against the 3-10 49ers isn't easy, which makes sense because it's never easy for the Titans.
As the week began, Mularkey didn't think Mariota's sprained left knee or left tackle Taylor Lewan's sore back should keep either out of the Titans' game with San Francisco on Sunday.
Mularkey said Monday that he anticipates both could practice Wednesday.
Mariota was hurt when he started to slide too late and was hit. The quarterback didn't miss a snap and finished the game. Lewan went out of the game in the second quarter after having back spasms, but Mularkey says that is a short term issue.
In addition, long-time Titans reporter Paul Kuharsky reports that Mariota is still struggling with the hamstring injury he suffered earlier in the season -- and that Mariota is also having problems with the ankle injury he suffered last season.
The ankle injury may require surgery, although Mariota can wait until after the season for that. The issue stems from the injury that ended his 2016 season almost a year ago.
Also, an injured ankle will keep tight end Phillip Supernaw out of practice.
I'll follow up on Mariota via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses. ...
Also of interest. ... The running game was supposed to be the strength of the Titans offense this season, but the same inconsistencies that have taken place for a number of games this year arose again Sunday as Tennessee got just 65 yards total on the ground.
DeMarco Murray rushed for 34 yards and added 13 receiving yards. Derrick Henry had eight carries for 20 yards and scored a touchdown.
But NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich notes that Henry only had two touches in the second half and played just 22 percent of his team's offensive snaps, while Murray logged a 78 percent snap share. "This is one of the most frustrating backfields," Franciscovich added, "and Mariota's poor play isn't helping the situation."
This week they'll go up against a San Francisco defense that's fared increasingly well against running backs over the last month.
QBs: Ryan Tannehill, Marcus Mariota
RBs: Derrick Henry, Dion Lewis, Dalyn Dawkins, David Fluellen
WRs: Corey Davis, A.J. Brown, Adam Humphries, Tajae Sharpe, Kalif Raymond
TEs: Jonnu Smith, Anthony Firkser, MyCole Pruitt
Washington RedskinsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 December 2017
Jay Gruden believes he and his staff need to do a better job of preparing Washington players to compete and the coach plans to address concerns some of Redskins expressed this week.
As the Associated Press reported, Gruden is once again on the defensive about his team's pre-game preparations with Washington coming off consecutive blowout losses that dropped the Redskins to 5-8 and destroyed even their faintest playoff hopes.
Safety D.J. Swearinger has twice this season said practices were too lackadaisical and that players weren't prepared, most recently after a 30-13 loss Sunday at the Los Angeles Chargers.
Gruden plans to speak with Swearinger about those comments Tuesday and make some adjustments before facing the Arizona Cardinals.
"From a coaching standpoint, we've got to do a better job of getting these guys ready early in games and make sure they're better prepared where they can have a plan and play fast and hard," Gruden said on a conference call Monday. "I don't think we're lacking preparation. I just think, for whatever reason, we're not taking our preparation to the game-day field. And that's something we have to do."
Swearinger said he wasn't surprised by the loss at L.A. because when "you don't prepare well, you're going to fail." Swearinger and Gruden agreed it's on the coaching staff and players to make strides in that direction with three games left.
Gruden said injuries and a revolving roster have presented a challenge for Washington, which has had 13 players on injured reserve during the regular season, including its top two running backs, two inside linebackers and two starting offensive linemen.
"We're going to have to fight through it and make sure we get the guys that are ready to play ready to play the positions they're going to play," Gruden said. "I think that the tough thing is we're practicing with guys all over the place and on game day, they're playing something different."
The injury situation isn't getting any better.
First of all, Washington decided to put an end to the weekly question about Jordan Reed's health.
The oft-injured tight end was placed on injured reserve Tuesday, along with running back Byron Marshall and linebacker Chris Carter.
Reed was limited to just 27 catches for 211 yards this season, as he dealt with a toe injury early and a hamstring problem late. His absence has been a big factor for a slumping offense this season, for a team that underperformed.
To fill the roster spots, Washington promoted running back Kapri Bibbs, linebackers Otha Peters, and Pete Robertson from the practice squad, and added running back Dare Ogunbowale, linebacker Alex McCalister, and safety Orion Stewart to the practice squad.
Meanwhile, left tackle Trent Williams (knee) is still ailing and starting inside linebacker Zach Brown will have an MRI on his right foot and receiver Ryan Grant an ankle injury.
Shifting players around at various position groups has made practice more difficult, especially during weeks when roughly a dozen weren't able to fully participate.
"You don't have a lot of bodies where you can go, 'Hey, let's do 12 reps of first down, second down in each group,'" Gruden said. "I feel like from a mental standpoint these guys should be ready to go and just from a physical standpoint -- for whatever reason -- we've missed some opportunities on offense and failed to make some plays on defense.
"Is it mental? Is it physical? Whatever it is, we just have to continue to stay together and continue to prepare."
Gruden said the 6-7 Cardinals are the focus now, not the Denver Broncos or New York Giants who are waiting in Weeks 16 and 17. Without playoffs left to play for, it's up to Gruden to figure out what will motivate his players the rest of the way, which he thinks is winning.
"That's the only thing that matters is winning and winning the next game, so that's what we're going to focus on," he said.
What else can they do?
It was among the worst games of the season for quarterback Kirk Cousins and the passing offense. According to the Sports Xchange, maybe the worst in his three years as a starter.
Cousins (15-for-27, 151 yards, one touchdown, one interception) sailed some throws under pressure, but the weapons just aren't there to make plays down field. He was only sacked twice by Los Angeles' strong pass rush.
Jamison Crowder and Josh Doctson caught just three passes each and tight end Vernon Davis again was a non-factor with two catches.
And the rushing attack?
There's almost nothing left here. When Samaje Perine went in and out of the game with a stomach ailment, where could the Redskins turn?
Chris Thompson and Rob Kelley have been on IR for weeks. Mack Brown, who had been with the team two years and impressed, was cut in October because a rash of injuries hit, not because of performance. He quickly landed with Minnesota. Perine had 17 carries for 45 yards. The Redskins were reduced to handing off to LeShun Daniels (two carries, 12 yards), an undrafted rookie free agent who just signed with Washington on Nov. 14.
Falling behind 23-6 at halftime didn't help.
Worth noting: Perine ended up leading his team in receptions with four for the game. As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich put it, "The Redskins offense has regressed so much, that Perine, an early-down back, led them in receptions in a game. Let that soak in. ..."
A few final items. ... Davis caught career touchdown pass No. 59 on Sunday against the Chargers. Davis is one away from tying for seventh-most all-time by a tight end. That touchdown catch also pushed Davis into sole possession of 10th place in NFL history for most catches by a tight end (542).
With Reed's season over, Davis will get a chance to build on that. ...
And finally. ... Cousins' 45 consecutive starts are the second longest in Redskins history. He'll add to that over the next three games. Beyond that? We shall see.
QBs: Dwayne Haskins, Case Keenum, Colt McCoy
RBs: Derrius Guice, Adrian Peterson, Wendell Smallwood, Chris Thompson
WRs: Terry McLaurin, Kelvin Harmon, Trey Quinn, Paul Richardson, Steven Sims
TEs: Jeremy Sprinkle, Hale Hentges