Team Notes Week 10 2018
NEWS, NOTES, RUMORS AND OTHER GOOD STUFF
Directly from the desk of FlashUpdate Editor Bob Harris. The good; the bad; and yes. ... Even the Bears. There is no better way to jump start your weekend than browsing these always educational -- often irreverent -- team-by-team, Fantasy-specific offerings. ...
Access specific teams by clicking on a team name in the schedule appearing directly to your left or by clicking on a helmet below; return to the helmets by hitting the link labeled "Menu" following each teams notes. ...
Arizona CardinalsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 6 November 2018
Halfway through Steve Wilks' initial season as head coach, the Arizona Cardinals have two victories.
Both have come against the lowly San Francisco 49ers. Things get tougher from here on out. Coming off their bye week, the Cardinals play at Kansas City. The schedule also features games at the Los Angeles Chargers, Green Bay and Atlanta. And there's that final home game against the Los Angeles Rams.
So wins are going to be hard to come by for a team that sputtered to a 2-6 start, topping 20 points in a game only once. So the main focus from this point forward is developing rookie quarterback Josh Rosen.
To offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, Rosen is simply "the kid."
"The kid can really play," Leftwich said. "His demeanor allows him to have success. Quarterbacking in this league is hard and when things go bad this kid tends to be fine. He's OK in those situations. Like I said, he can really play and it's just my job to get him in position that he's doing the right things."
As Associated Press sports writer Bob Baum noted, Leftwich knows Rosen well. He was the quarterbacks coach before being promoted to coordinator after Mike McCoy was fired seven games into the season.
"I'm just trying to get him better," Leftwich said. "Our goal is to come out here and get this kid better every day in every form and fashion. There's not any specifics. I'm working on this kid the whole way, the whole way we're just trying to install the things we need to install in him so this kid could be playing 15 or 20 years."
Rosen took over the worst offense in the league late in the third game of the season (a home loss to Chicago) and has held the job ever since. He didn't talk to reporters this week but praised Leftwich after Sunday's 18-15 come-from-behind win over the 49ers.
"The one thing I think Byron is really good with is his demeanor," Rosen said. "He's played the game, he's been in a lot of big-time situations, so I think he has really good timing with a lot of his play calls, he's got really good poise. He's a steading force for us on offense."
The Arizona offense sputtered for three quarters before Rosen threw two fourth-quarter touchdowns, a 13-yarder to Larry Fitzgerald and the game-winner, a 9-yarder to the back of the end zone to fellow rookie Christian Kirk, with 34 seconds to play.
The Cardinals were able to get running back David Johnson into open space a little bit more than they had, and the defense shut down San Francisco's strong running game most of the afternoon.
Wilks, whose coaching experience is entirely on the defensive side of the ball, likes what he's seen from Leftwich, who played nine seasons at quarterback in the NFL but is a relative newcomer to coaching.
"I think he's going to continue to try to be creative in his approach and really try to put the guys in a position to be successful," Wilks said.
Rosen approaches the coming weeks with that even-keeled confidence even though Leftwich is his fifth coordinator in four years, counting his time at UCLA. Rosen's progress will be a key for the Cardinals down the stretch and his play will be vital heading into Sunday's game against the Chiefs.
As Profootballtalk.com understated, the Chiefs and Cardinals are at the opposite ends of the spectrum this season as illustrated by the records, their statistics and the point spread that bookmakers have assigned to the game.
The 8-1 Chiefs opened as 17-point favorites over the 2-6 Cardinals and that marks the largest opening spread of the 2018 season. ...
On the injury front. ... Wilks said he expects DT Corey Peters (ankle) and RG Justin Pugh (hand) to be back next week. Otherwise, the Cardinals were healthy heading into the bye.
Other notes of interest. ... Veteran wideout Kendall Wright is back on the inside of the Cardinals' roster revolving door.
Via Darren Urban of the team's official website, the Cards re-signed Wright Monday after returning from their bye week, backfilling one of their two open roster spots. Wright signed in early October, but was released 10 days later when they needed injury cover at other positions. With more people healthy, they brought him back.
The 28-year-old wideout caught 59 passes for the Bears last year, after spending his first five years with the Titans.
And finally. ... Sam Bradford was signed in March to be the Cardinals' starting quarterback, without knowing what could happen in the upcoming draft. Bradford's tenure lasted until November; he was released on Saturday.
Other than two first-quarter touchdown passes against the Bears in Week 3, Bradford never looked comfortable in then-coordinator Mike McCoy's offense and was not productive. Bradford finished his brief Cardinals' tenure completing 50-of-80 passes for 400 yards, two touchdowns, four interceptions, six sacks, two lost fumbles and a passer rating of 62.5.
Now Bradford is gone, underscoring the Cardinals' quest to develop Rosen on the field for the balance of 2018.
QBs: Kyler Murray, Brett Hundley
RBs: David Johnson, Chase Edmonds, D.J. Foster
WRs: Larry Fitzgerald, KeeSean Johnson, Trent Sherfield, Andy Isabella, Damiere Byrd, Pharoh Cooper, Christian Kirk
TEs: Charles Clay, Maxx Williams
Atlanta FalconsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 6 November 2018
During the week leading up to the Falcons' 38-14 victory against the Redskins (5-3), head coach Dan Quinn said the matchup pitted two teams with defined and contrasting styles.
The Falcons (4-4), often seek to be aggressive and take several shots throughout the game on offense, while the Redskins have utilized a conservative approach led by a strong running game and a stout defensive front. Both teams wanted to impose their style on Sunday, but it was the Falcons who executed their game plan in their most dominant showing this season.
"Getting out to a fast start on this team I thought was especially critical," Quinn said. "And good for the offense to get going right away. I think the defense had a three-and-out to start the game, and I thought that couldn't have gone better for them."
Atlanta's defense forced Washington into a three-and-out on its opening possession, and the Falcons' offense quickly put the team ahead with a 39-yard touchdown pass from Matt Ryan to Tevin Coleman.
They never took their foot off the gas on either side of the ball.
The Falcons converted a staggering 77 percent of their third-down attempts on Sunday, sustaining long drives and ultimately converting them into points, while their defense allowed the Redskins' offense to convert just 38 percent of their third downs.
"I think when you're playing a team that is as successful as they are in terms of possessing the ball, you'd better have your third down in order so they can't continue drives and give our offense fewer possessions," Quinn said. "I thought that Marquand [Manuel] and Jerome [Henderson] and the guys did an excellent job in that way, to make sure that these drives weren't extending.
With a lead established, the Falcons were able to rely on their own running game to stay balanced and eat at the clock. While Atlanta's run game hasn't been a major factor for much of the season, it certainly was on Sunday.
Coleman led the way, carrying the ball 13 times for 88 yards - he also caught five passes for 68 yards and two touchdowns - while Smith had 10 carries for a career-best 60 yards and the 12-yard touchdown run. The Falcons gained 154 yards on the ground against a Redskins defense was the second-best unit in the NFL against the run, allowing just 80 yards per game.
But it wasn't just about Coleman running the ball. He continued this evolution in the passing game with two touchdown receptions, including taking a screen pass, following blocks from Mohamed Sanu, Austin Hooper and a couple of offensive linemen, and dashing to the end zone for a 39-yard score. Coleman caught five passes for 68 yards to complement Julio Jones' 121 yards on seven catches and Calvin Ridley's 71 yards on six catches.
The Falcons executed their game plan flawlessly on Sunday, and it resulted in their first road win of the season. Atlanta has gone 12-4 over its final eight games during the last two seasons, and they appear to be trending upwards after the win in Washington.
Atlanta's offense gained nearly 500 yards, while Ryan, who completed 68 percent of his passes for 350 yards and four touchdowns, continues to play at an MVP level. The Falcons' run game got back on track, Jones scored his first touchdown of the season, and the defense allowed just 14 points, the fewest they've allowed this season.
Now, as ESPN.com's Vaughn McClure notes, the Falcons have to sustain that running game momentum going into next week's game at Cleveland against a Browns team that ranks in the bottom five in run defense. The Falcons still have three road NFC South games remaining against New Orleans, Carolina and Tampa Bay, and all three division foes surrender less than 100 rushing yards per game.
"Like I said, we just can't abandon the run game," Jones said. "Some days, it's going to be tough. Guys have good D-lines. And some games, it's going to be tough to pass the ball because teams have good DBs on the back end.
"When both of those things are going, we can lean on one another and just pick our times, our opportunities, when we want to go down the field or when we want to run the ball against somebody."
Beyond that, as NFL.com's Chris Wesseling notes, the Falcons reached pay dirt on 17 of their last 20 trips to the red zone going back to Week 2 and "No one is calling for the head of Atlanta offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian this season."
On the injury front. ... Sanu (hip) continued to play through his injury without any apparent difficulty while Matt Bryant (hamstring) missed a second-straight game. Giorgio Tavecchio continued to fill in; he'll do the same this week if need be.
And finally. ... The Falcons signed defensive end Bruce Irvin to a one-year deal Wednesday, reuniting the veteran with Quinn.
Irvin, cut by the Oakland Raiders on Saturday, became a free agent after clearing waivers on Tuesday with $3.8 million remaining on his contract. The Falcons did not release terms of the deal.
Irvin played two seasons with Seattle when Quinn was the team's defensive coordinator.
The Falcons rank 14th in the league with 17 sacks. Takk McKinley has a team-leading 5 ½ sacks, but Vic Beasley has only one. Beasley led the league with 15 ½ sacks in 2016.
QBs: Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub
RBs: Devonta Freeman, Ito Smith, Brian Hill, Qadree Ollison, Kenjon Barner
WRs: Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, Mohamed Sanu, Justin Hardy, Russell Gage
TEs: Austin Hooper, Luke Stocker, Jaeden Graham
Baltimore RavensCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 6 November 2018
Is John Harbaugh facing a precarious future in Baltimore?
Following the Ravens' 23-16 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday -- Baltimore's fourth loss in five games -- Harbaugh said he feels pressure to win even if he's not preoccupied with the possibility of losing his job.
"I've never been somebody that worried about keeping a job," Harbaugh said. "It's always been for me doing the job. ... I feel really good about the way this team has been for the last 11 years and for the last whatever weeks we've been in the season. So no regrets. Never been any regrets here with me. So we'll keep fighting and that's what we do."
NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Sunday morning there's mounting pressure within the Ravens organization amid their then 4-4 and now 4-5 start to the season. With the team focused on a playoffs-or-bust season, there's a possibility Baltimore could consider a midseason coaching change even if it's not a likely scenario, Rapoport reported.
Sunday's loss to the AFC North rival Steelers didn't help Harbaugh's cause.
"You always feel pressure. This is a pressure league. It's the National Football League," Harbaugh said. "I was hoping we be, what, 7-2 at this point. That was the goal, that was the idea that we could be. You just feel disappointed."
Since guiding the Ravens to five straight playoff berths that culminated in a Super Bowl victory over the San Francisco 49ers during the 2012 season, Harbaugh has just one playoff win over the past five seasons. Injuries played a significant role in the Ravens' struggles last year, but the team's playoff-barring loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in the 2017 regular-season finale stung hard.
Harbaugh only has one year left on his contract, so he's already facing a potential win-or-else situation. After the Ravens missed the postseason for the third straight year last season, Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti said he mulled over whether to fire Harbaugh. Ultimately, the team's 9-7 finish (following a 3-4 start) might have been enough for Bisciotti to keep Harbaugh.
With the Ravens revamping their receiving corps over the offseason in addition to addressing other areas of concern on the roster, it's clear Baltimore's front office believes the team can find postseason success with its current crop of players.
So would the Ravens really consider firing Harbaugh during the season?
Only one person can answer this question, and that's Bisciotti.
That being said, ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley notes the removal of Harbaugh midway through the season would go against Baltimore's reputation as one of the most stable franchises in the NFL. The Ravens have had three head coaches in 22 years. Even the transition at general manager -- from Ozzie Newsome to Eric DeCosta -- was announced one year ahead.
This isn't a knee-jerk organization.
There has been mounting pressure on the franchise since the end of last season because of increased empty seats at M and T Bank Stadium and a three-year playoff drought. If Bisciotti believes a spark is needed to save this spiraling season, the firing of Harbaugh could be seen as the swiftest way to do so.
Parting ways with Harbaugh during the season would be a nearly unprecedented move.
The only time a team has fired its Super Bowl-winning coach during a season was 1972, when the Baltimore Colts removed Don McCafferty after five games.
But that doesn't mean Harbaugh survives and coaches the Ravens in 2019.
Harbaugh has to think he needs to get to the playoffs at the very least and perhaps win a postseason game to keep his job for a 12th season.
By no means is this an impossible feat. Baltimore is 1 1/2 games back of Cincinnati (5-3) for the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC. The Ravens' remaining schedule is ranked the eighth-easiest. The most challenging games are home against the Bengals and on the road against the Atlanta Falcons (4-4), Kansas City Chiefs (8-1) and Los Angeles Chargers (6-2).
Might there be adjustments to personal. Specifically, might the Ravens bench Joe Flacco and replace him with Lamar Jackson?
Not until Baltimore is eliminated from the playoffs, and there is no certainty that a change will occur at that time. Harbaugh said Sunday that he wants Jackson to be on the field more. But there is a big jump from increased playing time to taking over as the starting quarterback.
Asked specifically about a quarterback change, Harbaugh told reporters on Monday, "Joe's played well, so I don't want to get into all of that. We're rolling right now with what we got. Of course, at some point in time, this guy [Jackson] is a quarterback."
Harbaugh did leave open the possibility of playing Jackson for a full series at a time while leaving Flacco in place as the starter. Should that plan and any others Harbaugh draws up over the next couple of weeks fail to change the team's fortunes, Jackson's time as a starter will be even closer to beginning.
Flacco's performance has declined during the losing streak. He has completed 59.1 percent of his passes, throwing three touchdowns and two interceptions as well as missing some open targets in the red zone. His 77.3 passer rating ranks No. 29 over that span.
Jackson, though, hasn't shown enough consistency and accuracy to convincingly prove he's ready to be an every-down quarterback. Switching to Jackson would raise a white flag on the season.
What other moves could come?
If the Ravens make a move, firing offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg is the most logical one. Harbaugh has dismissed two play callers during the season: Cam Cameron in 2012 and Marc Trestman in 2016. The offense has been a problem during the three-game skid, ranking No. 24 in yards (313.7) and No. 17 in offensive points scored (20.0).
But Harbaugh didn't seem inclined to make any drastic moves after the game. Asked if changes needed to be made to the coaching staff or personnel, Harbaugh said, "I don't see that."
The degree of difficulty in running the Ravens offense has increased with the lack of continuity and execution. Injuries have forced the third different starting offensive line in as many weeks, and Ravens receivers have dropped 18 passes (tied for third-most in the NFL).
If Mornhinweg was let go, Baltimore would presumably turn to assistant head coach/tight ends coach Greg Roman.
"We've got seven games left. There's still an opportunity, and nobody knows what's going to happen, right?" safety Eric Weddle said. "I know this team, this coaching staff, we're going to continue to work and strive to win games. That's why we're here, that's why we play is for a chance at the playoffs, and we're not eliminated yet. We're in a hole, but we've got to dig ourselves out."
For what it's worth, Jackson played 13 snaps in Sunday's game and finished with five carries for 10 yards and one pass attempt for a 12-yard completion. He could have had a much bigger day, as he was wide open for first-half touchdown, but he wasn't the main read on the play and Flacco didn't see him, so he went elsewhere for an incomplete pass.
Jackson's presence has created problems for opposing defenses, and the running game has found some success when he's on the field. At a point in the season where the offense has slowed, particularly in the red-zone, Jackson's skillset could create some mismatches for the Ravens to exploit.
The rookie quarterback downplayed questions about his individual role and Harbaugh's desire to get him more involved, and made his post-game media session about the team getting better overall.
Remember, Jackson has played more than 15 snaps just once this season, and that came in Week 1 when he took over for Flacco in the second half with the Ravens holding a huge lead over the Bills. The rest of the season, Jackson has averaged seven snaps per game.
Harbaugh pointed to the way the Saints have used versatile quarterback Taysom Hill. Even with future Hall of Famer Drew Brees as their starting quarterback, the Saints have created a significant role for Hill in their offense, and Harbaugh could see a similar situation with Jackson.
"The Saints came in here a couple weeks ago and put their two quarterbacks out there 24 times," Harbaugh said. "Whether that's something we do in the future, we have to decide. Our offensive coaches do a good job working through that stuff."
Expanding Jackson's role will certainly be a key discussion as the Ravens go into the bye week, assuming none of the decision makers lose their jobs. ...
A few final notes. ... Newly acquired running back Ty Montgomery was inactive for his first game as a Raven, but he'll get his shot in due time. Once player we likely won't be seeing soon is Kenneth Dixon.
Harbaugh told reporters he hopes Dixon can practice next week, but that's not a certainty.
"There's issues going on with him that are beyond our coaches control," Harbaugh said. "We just have to wait for league clearance. I don't even delve into that because it's not my concern."
As The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec noted, Dixon was a guy who Ravens hoped to bring off IR. But they obviously wouldn't need league clearance to do that. Obviously, other issues in play for Dixon.
On a more positive notes, the bye week will allow a beat up offensive line to get healthier.
QBs: Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III, Trace McSorley
RBs: Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards, Justice Hill
WRs: Marquise Brown, Willie Snead, Chris Moore, Seth Roberts, Miles Boykin, Jaleel Scott
TEs: Mark Andrews, Nick Boyle, Hayden Hurst
Buffalo BillsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 6 November 2018
Judging the Buffalo Bills' 41-9 loss Sunday to the Chicago Bears solely by its box score would result in more of the same pointing and laughing at Nathan Peterman's three interceptions, which raised his career total to 13 in 133 regular-season and playoff pass attempts.
Peterman has done little to prove he is not overmatched at the NFL level, yet ESPN.com's Mike Rodak believes blaming the Bills' offensive ineptitude solely on him or the Bills' other quarterbacks to have started games this season, Josh Allen and Derek Anderson, would be unfair.
"Actually, I'm proud of Nate," said receiver Terrelle Pryor, who caught two passes for 17 yards in his debut for the Bills. "I thought he did a good job. I think he managed it and he hit the guys that were open."
Rodak, while acknowledging Pryor might be taking his praise of Peterman too far, agreed that Peterman was not the Bills' only problem Sunday. He completed 31 of 49 passes for 189 yards and ran eight times for 46 yards, including a 1-yard fourth-quarter touchdown that ended a streak of 38 consecutive Bills possessions without a touchdown.
That streak, which dated to Peterman's last passing touchdown in Week 6 at Houston and included two games with Anderson as the starter, was the NFL's longest since the Arizona Cardinals went 42 possessions in 2012 without scoring a touchdown, according to ESPN Stats and Information research.
The Bills are one of only 13 teams since 1940, according to Pro-Football-Reference.com, to have scored eight or fewer touchdowns through their first nine games.
But Rodak contends that any discussion about the bumbling Bills, who dropped to 2-7, should include LeSean McCoy. The once-star rusher has run 24 times for 24 yards in his past three games, often handcuffing the offense by placing it in third-and-long situations its struggling quarterbacks cannot overcome.
The problem was evident from the start of Sunday's game. In the first quarter, McCoy ran for 1 yard on second-and-10, setting up an incompletion by Peterman on third-and-9. Later in the quarter, McCoy was stopped for a loss of 2 yards on a second-and-10 preceding another third-and-long misfire by Peterman.
Those were only two examples from McCoy, who had averaged 3.38 yards per carry on first- and second-down runs entering Sunday's game, ranking him 41st among 49 NFL runners with a qualifying number of carries.
McCoy finished with 10 yards on 10 carries Sunday.
Unlike Peterman, whose development is secondary to that of first-round pick Allen, McCoy matters to the Bills' future. General manager Brandon Beane told the Buffalo News last week that McCoy was "definitely" in the team's plans for 2019, the final year of his contract.
That decision should be open to scrutiny, as should the Bills' decision not to trade McCoy and continue to collect future assets and salary-cap space as part of their ongoing rebuilding project.
Blaming McCoy's sharply declining production on an obviously deficient offensive line or defenses' lack of respect of the passing game would not be telling the complete story. McCoy has been less able to consistently make defenders miss, a critical quality for a runner who does not often break tackles. Since McCoy joined Buffalo in 2015 through Week 8 of this season, he ranked 65th among 67 players with a qualifying number of carries in averaging 1.37 yards after contact per rush, according to ESPN Stats and Information research.
With less room to run this season because of personnel issues along the Bills' offensive line, the team has been better served by the bruising Chris Ivory, especially in recent weeks. Ivory has rushed 29 times for 151 yards over the past three games, a 5.2-yard average that stands in stark contrast to McCoy's 1.0 average over those three games.
However, Ivory suffered a shoulder injury on a goal-line dive in the fourth quarter of Sunday's blowout loss to the Bears and was later carted to the locker room. That puts his availability in serious doubt, shining an even brighter light on McCoy.
There is no heir apparent on the roster; the only two running backs whom the Bills drafted over the past seven seasons, Jonathan Williams and Karlos Williams, are no longer with the team. Marcus Murphy, the only other running back on the roster, is 27 and aging by NFL standards at his position.
It is possible McCoy, who turns 31 next July, rebounds in 2019, his 11th NFL season, with an offensive line that could receive much-needed reinforcements in the offseason.
It is also possible that the six-time Pro Bowler's best days are behind him and we are witnessing the startling decline of one of the best runners of his time. ...
Meanwhile, for a team that has had trouble scoring points this season, the margin of error when it comes to ball security is pretty much zero. At one point, in the span of six offensive plays for the Bills they committed three turnovers, which translated into 14 points for Chicago.
It turned a 7-0 game into a 21-0 game late in the second quarter.
"We turned the ball over. You can't turn the ball over," said head coach Sean McDermott. "You can't give them field position. We did both of those, two things we said we couldn't do."
Buffalo added a fourth turnover when Kyle Fuller dove in front of intended receiver Kelvin Benjamin for an interception at the Bills 28-yard line at the end of the third quarter.
All told, the Bills committed three turnovers in their own half of the field, and the Bears made them pay to the tune of 17 points.
In Buffalo's last four games they are a minus-10 in turnover differential, committing 14 turnovers to their opponent total of four over that span. The Bills are now a minus-nine in turnover differential this season, which ranks in the bottom quarter of the league.
"I'm very frustrated. Very frustrated with the fundamentals of what went on in the game in terms of turning the ball over and giving them field position," McDermott said. "It's tough to win a game when you do that."
Also worth noting. ... Allen resumed throwing for the first time in three weeks since spraining his right elbow.
McDermott wouldn't rule out Allen from playing against the Jets thisSunday, but was cautious in adding, "I'm going to take it day to day at this point."
Allen began testing his arm on Friday, and continued through the weekend, McDermott said. On Monday, Allen threw about 100 passes during a workout, which translates into an average workload during a normal practice. He was scheduled to work in Wednesday's practice on a limited basis.
McDermott noted one option is providing the rookie additional time to heal with Buffalo entering its bye week after playing at New York.
Anderson remains in the NFL's concussion protocol, but should Allen not be ready, McDermott said Anderson would be the next in line to start if he's cleared to play.
As of Wednesday, however, Anderson remained in the concussion protocol (and he was not slated to practice).
In updating other injuries, McDermott said Ivory has been released from the hospital after being evaluated for what he called "internal issues" separate from a shoulder injury he sustained against Chicago. Ivory is considered day to day. Starting tight end Charles Clay is listed week to week after hurting his hamstring on Sunday.
In addition, Benjamin popped up on Wednesday's report with a knee injury and was limited at practice.
And finally. ... The Bills have used four players as punt returners this season and they may be trying out a fifth this week.
The team announced that they made a successful waiver claim for wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie on Monday. McKenzie returned 21 punts for the Broncos after joining the team as a fifth-round pick last season.
McKenzie also caught four passes for 29 yards as a rookie.
The Bills waived wide receiver Cam Phillips to make room for McKenzie. He caught one pass for nine yards against the Patriots in Week 8.
QBs: Matt Barkley, Josh Allen
RBs: Frank Gore, Devin Singletary, T.J. Yeldon
WRs: John Brown, Cole Beasley, Robert Foster, Andre Roberts, Isaiah McKenzie
TEs: Dawson Knox, Tyler Kroft, Tommy Sweeney, Lee Smith, Jason Croom
Carolina PanthersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 6 November 2018
As ESPN.com's David Newton recounted it, "The second-quarter play started with a fake handoff from Cam Newton to running back Christian McCaffrey up the middle. Newton then gave the ball to rookie wide receiver DJ Moore running from his left to his right. Moore then flipped to second-year wide receiver Curtis Samuel going from his right to his left.
"It'll go down in the record book as a 33-yard double-reverse touchdown run by Samuel, even though he covered 103.9 yards according to NFL Next Gen Stats, zigzagging in and out of Tampa Bay defenders to the end zone.
"It'll go into the minds of future opponents as an example of just how dangerous this offense can be in the hands of Norv Turner and a group of young, dynamic toys who are developing into a scoring machine. ..."
"We have so many weapons, that many times you don't know who has the ball," said McCaffrey, who rushed for 79 yards and two touchdowns and caught five passes for 78 yards. "Anybody could have it and everybody is a decoy."
A week after scoring 36 points against the Baltimore Ravens and the league's No. 1 defense, the Panthers put up a team-record 35 first-half points in Sunday's 42-28 victory against Tampa Bay.
Granted, the Bucs came into the game ranked last in the NFL in scoring defense, giving up 33.2 points a game.
But what the Panthers (6-2) have done the past two games (and in the fourth quarter against Philadelphia when Newton engineered three touchdown drives in a 21-17 victory) has them trending toward one of the most prolific offenses in the league.
According to David Newton, Turner deserves credit.
He has transformed Cam Newton into an efficient passer, which makes his title as the best dual-threat quarterback in the league even more meaningful. The 2015 NFL MVP now has a personal-best seven straight games with at least two touchdown passes.
Turner also has shown how well he has adapted to the times, going from the power-running game he had with Emmitt Smith and the Dallas Cowboys in the early 1990s to the ball-control game he had with LaDainian Tomlinson and the San Diego Chargers to the dynamic play caller with Newton and Co.
He has shed any image of being conservative.
"That's part of the problem," head coach Ron Rivera said earlier in the week. "People look at those things [from Turner's past] and say he's a vertical attack guy all the time. Not necessarily."
What Turner does is utilize his talent to create mismatches.
"The best thing I can say about Norv would be he doesn't look at it as 'I've got to find guys to run my offense the way I've run it 30 years in the NFL,'" said tight end Greg Olsen, who had a spectacular one-handed touchdown catch to make it 35-7 in the second quarter. "He views his role as to take what he has, utilize what the skill sets of those players are and put them in the best position to do well on game day."
It has taken a while for Turner's offensive genius to show at Carolina. Remember, this is the same team that fell behind 17-0 in a loss at Washington and 17-0 at Philadelphia before the rally that might have turned this season around.
This also is a different offense now.
Samuel missed the first three games after having a procedure to correct an irregular heartbeat. Olsen didn't play from the first quarter of the opener until the fifth game against Washington because of a fractured foot.
And Moore didn't get fully implemented into the game plan until starter Torrey Smith suffered a knee injury late against the Eagles.
So Turner is just getting his full complement of weapons with a couple of games together.
That might have been lost a bit as the Panthers became conservative and lethargic in the second half. Tampa Bay capitalized to cut the lead to 35-28 before Turner went back to calling what was working in the first half.
That led to a 19-yard touchdown pass from Newton to Samuel as the Bucs were focused on all the motion underneath.
"We know what they've got over there," said rookie cornerback Donte Jackson, whose fourth-quarter interception sealed Tampa Bay's fate. "It's hard to stop, man. We kind of chuckle when we see the other defense can't stop them."
Newton, who completed 19-of-25 for 247 yards for a rating of 133.3, has become so accustomed to seeing how innovative Turner can be that he considers it old news.
"At the end of the day, if y'all don't know what y'all can see in him, I'm getting tired of talking about it," he said. "We mesh extremely good, and at the end of the day I don't see that changing."
Couple Turner's imagination with Newton's ability to execute and a defense that -- despite a second-half lull -- is beginning to jell, and the Panthers have to be considered with the Los Angeles Rams (8-0) and New Orleans Saints (6-1) as the biggest threats to win the NFC.
Turner deserves much of the credit.
"From the reverses to the cute quarterback runs, then the drop-back passing game, the quick game, the reads, the downhill runs ... the multiple aspects of our offense, some he might not ever have done, some he's done as well as anybody in this league," Olsen said. "To blend all that together is a big credit to him. ..."
Indeed, it's certainly worth noting Carolina has now averaged 27.5 points per game, the second-highest scoring average in franchise history behind the team record 31.3 points per game in 2015.
The Panthers had four rushes over 10 yards in the game, finishing with 179 yards rushing. The Panthers lead the NFL with 41 rushes over 10 yards. Carolina had 65 rushing yards by wide receivers. On the season, Carolina has amassed 193 rushing yards by wide receivers, the most in the NFL and a franchise record.
Against Tampa Bay, the Panthers scored touchdowns on all five red zone trips.
Carolina has a 72.41 red zone touchdown percentage this season, currently ranking as the highest in franchise history in a season.
Beyond that, Newton threw two touchdown passes in his seventh consecutive game. That streak ties Steve Beuerlein's seven-game streak (1999) for the longest in franchise history.
One last note here. ... Smith has been ruled out for the third straight week with a knee injury. A short week was always going to be tough for a return to action and Smith’s absence from practice the last two days all but assured he’d be missing another game.
Four other Panthers received questionable designations for Thursday night, including center Ryan Kalil. Kalil has not practiced due to an ankle injury and head coach Ron Rivera indicated he will be a game-time call against Pittsburgh. Tyler Larsen would start if Kalil can’t play.
Rivera expects defensive end Mario Addison and safety Eric Reid to play despite shoulder injuries. Linebacker David Mayo (groin) rounds out the group of questionable players.
QBs: Kyle Allen, Cam Newton, Will Grier
RBs: Christian McCaffrey, Reggie Bonnafon, Jordan Scarlett, Elijah Holyfield
WRs: D.J. Moore, Curtis Samuel, Jarius Wright, Chris Hogan, Greg Dortch, Brandon Zylstra
TEs: Greg Olsen, Ian Thomas, Chris Manhertz
Chicago BearsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 6 November 2018
A dominant performance by an inspired defense that generated four takeaways and scored two touchdowns led the Bears to a 41-9 thrashing of the Bills Sunday in Buffalo.
The defense allowed just 264 total yards and a season-best nine points. In improving to 5-3, the Bears won their second straight, maintained their first-place lead in the NFC North and matched their win total from last season.
After a scoreless first quarter, the Bears dominated the Bills in the second period, outscoring them 28-0 with two touchdowns on offense and two TDs on defense.
The Bears drew first blood on their third possession of the game, taking a 7-0 lead on Jordan Howard's 1-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter. The TD was set up by Mitchell Trubisky's 26-yard pass to Trey Burton on third-and-15.
The Bears defense followed by generating takeaways on three straight possessions, returning two of them for touchdowns.
So, as ESPN.com's Jeff Dickerson noted, the blowout win will forever be remembered as a signature performance by the defense.
But on offense, head coach Matt Nagy made good on his promise to get Howard's season on track.
Coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons, Howard was slow to get out of the gate in Nagy's offense. He scored just one touchdown in the first five games.
Although Howard carried the ball only 14 times for 47 yards on Sunday, he found the end zone twice, giving him four touchdowns in the past three weeks.
Only Hall of Famer Walter Payton (34) has more rushing touchdowns than Howard (20) in his first three seasons with the Bears in the Super Bowl era.
Howard was the subject of trade speculation prior to the deadline, but the Bears stood pat with their roster. Howard, who will enter the final year of his rookie deal in 2019, might end up playing elsewhere next season, but Chicago needs him for the stretch run.
As the weather turns -- the Bears have three straight cold weather games from Dec. 2- 16 -- Nagy is likely to place added emphasis on the ground game. The Bears, under Nagy, will always be a pass-first team, but there's an art to calling plays when conditions change in November and December. For all the trickery and misdirection on offense, which admittedly is enjoyable to watch after what the Bears ran last season, there's no substitute for a powerful back in certain short-yardage/goal-line situations.
"When he [Howard] gets a full head of steam ... he's going to make a defender pay," Trubisky said.
Howard isn't perfect, but he has gained a lot of yards since arriving in Chicago as a fifth-round pick in 2016. Howard, after all, became the fastest Bear to reach 2,000 rushing yards last year.
The offense is centered around Trubisky, who -- despite completing just 12 of 20 pass attempts for 135 yards, one touchdown and one interception (76.0 quarterback rating) -- stepped up and made several plays on third down to keep drives alive in the first half.
Statistically speaking, Trubisky's 1,949 passing yards are the fourth-most by a Bears quarterback through the first nine weeks of a season, but that's more of a reflection on the struggles the Bears have endured at the position than anything else.
Trubisky is a gamer -- no doubt about it -- but he also suffers through spells in which he is inconsistent. Having a healthy and motivated Howard can ease the pressure on Trubisky as the Bears zero in on their first playoff berth since 2010.
Piling up big numbers for an entire year on a losing team is nice. But these aren't the John Fox Bears. What the current Bears need is for Howard to have a handful of meaningful games down the stretch.
As Dickerson summed up, Howard will probably finish the season with a career low in rushing yards, but his importance has never been greater.
Worth noting. ... Howard now has 20 career rushing TDs. Only Hall of Famer Walter Payton (34) had more rushing touchdowns in his first 3 seasons for the Bears in the Super Bowl era.
Over the last five games, Trubisky has totaled 1,596 yards of total offense and has accounted for 15 TDs. He has passed for 1,358 yards, 14 TDs and 4 INT for a 108.3 rating and has rushed for 238 yards on 24 carries with one TD.
Trubisky ranks second in the NFL among QBs with 302 rushing yards, trailing Carolina's Cam Newton (342).
Trubisky has 16 touchdown passes on the season, which is tied for the third most by a Bears QB through the first 9 weeks of the season.
Tarik Cohen has 621 all-purpose yards over the past five games. He has 24 catches for 358 yards and 3 TDs and 35 rushes for 143 yards and a score to go along with 120 punt return yards.
Cohen ranks fourth among NFL running backs with 406 receiving yards. Cohen leads all NFL running backs with five catches of at least 25 yards.
Burton leads the team with five TD receptions, which is tied for third in the NFL among tight ends this season.
The Bears are No. 5 in the NFL in scoring at 29.4 points per game and over the past five games the Bears are averaging 34.4 points per game, fourth most in the NFL.
At the midpoint of the season, the Bears sit perched atop the NFC North, percentage points ahead of the Vikings. Nagy's team will play five of its final eight games against division opponents, including three contests in an 11-day span from Nov. 11-22.
The Bears will host the Lions and Vikings on the next two Sundays before playing in Detroit on Thanksgiving. ...
On the injury front. ... Allen Robinson (groin) and Khalil Mack (ankle) missed the Bills game with their respective injuries.
According to Dickerson, the Bears plan to have Mack and Robinson back in practice in some capacity Wednesday.
Nagy said Mack and Robinson have day-to-day outlooks, as they've had the last two weeks.
Mack has missed the last two games, and there's significant optimism within the team that he'll return for the division game. Robinson has also missed the last two games, and there's some doubt as to whether he's as close to returning as Mack.
Receiver Taylor Gabriel (right knee) and rookie defensive lineman Bilal Nichols (knee) are expected to practice this week and play Sunday, Nagy indicated. Specifically, Nagy said Gabriel "should be good to go" despite his knee soreness and Nichols "should be back this week."
I'll have more on the progress of all the walking wounded via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
One last note here. ... Nagy indicated a good possibility tight end Adam Shaheen will return from injured reserve Wednesday. Shaheen has been out since injuring his right foot/ankle Aug. 18. Designating him for return would open a three-week window for Shaheen to practice without accounting for a spot on the 53-man roster. The Bears could add him to the active roster at any time after designating him for return.
QBs: Mitchell Trubisky, Chase Daniel
RBs: David Montgomery, Tarik Cohen, Mike Davis, Kerrith Whyte Jr.
WRs: Allen Robinson, Anthony Miller, Taylor Gabriel, Cordarrelle Patterson, Javon Wims, Riley Ridley
TEs: Trey Burton, Adam Shaheen, Ben Braunecker, Bradley Sowell
Cincinnati BengalsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 6 November 2018
According to ESPN.com's Katherine Terrell, the Bengals were crossing their fingers that surgery won't be necessary for wide receiver A.J. Green after he suffered a toe injury during their game against the Buccaneers in Week 8.
Green met with Dr. Robert Anderson this week to diagnose his injury and determine whether surgery is needed, a source told ESPN's Adam Schefter.
The good news?
He will not need foot surgery.
The bad news?
Green is expected to miss at least two games before doctors re-evaluate his foot injury to determine when he can play again this season.
The star wideout hurt his right foot during a 37-34 win over Tampa Bay heading into the bye.
Green wore a protective boot last week and was sent for an exam by a specialist. Head coach Marvin Lewis confirmed Monday afternoon that the receiver won't need surgery, but he gave no indication of when he might be able to play again.
The Bengals will likely be missing their most indispensable receiver heading into a game Sunday against the Saints at Paul Brown Stadium.
"Obviously it puts a lot of pressure on us as individuals because we know what he brings to the table," tight end C.J. Uzomah said. "I mean, he's A.J. Green. A.J. Dream is what we call him -- it's a dream to have him on the team."
For now, the dream is gone.
Green leads the Bengals with 687 yards receiving and six touchdown catches. When the Bengals need the big catch at the end of a close game, Green is Andy Dalton's top choice. His touchdown catch with 7 seconds left gave the Bengals a 37-36 win over the Falcons on Sept. 30. During the win over the Buccaneers, Green had catches of 23 and 11 yards that moved the Bengals in range for Randy Bullock's 44-yard field goal on the final play. Green hurt his foot on the final catch.
Cincinnati's offense has been depleted by injuries to its tight ends -- Tyler Eifert is out for the season with a broken ankle -- and injuries to both running backs. Joe Mixon missed two games after knee surgery, and Giovani Bernard has missed the past four games with a knee injury.
Now, they have to get by without Green.
"Hopefully through that time, whether it's this week or next week or whenever, we've got an opportunity to grow and get better with other people," Lewis said.
Green is always the focus of opposing defenses. Tyler Boyd has benefited from a lot of single coverage this season and leads the team with 49 catches, four more than Green. Now the Saints and other teams can focus more on him and the running backs.
"From a perspective of looking at their defense, it'll change some of the ways they roll," Uzomah said. "A lot of teams account for A.J., obviously, so we'll expect that they'll have something different lined up for us."
On a more positive note, Bernard returned to practice on Monday, a sign he's getting close to returning -- although a return this week still seems slightly uncertain. Receiver John Ross also practiced, and Cincinnati Enquirer staffer Paul Dehner Jr. believes the wideout is more certain to be ready this week than Bernard. He missed three of the past four games with a groin injury.
Tight end C.J. Uzomah (shoulder) was also practicing Wednesday.
In what might be a related note. ... The Bengals promoted rookie receiver Auden Tate off the practice squad to the 53-man roster on Monday as they awaited word Green's toe.
Other than that?
Thing are going reasonably well on offense -- which wasn't the case last year.
In case you missed it, off to a historically bad start last season, the Bengals fired their coordinator after only two games last season and got better results the rest of the way, though not good enough to make the playoffs. They overhauled the NFL's worst offense in the offseason by firing the line coach, trading for a tackle and drafting a center in the first round.
Again, that part has worked. The offensive improvement is part of the reason Cincinnati is 5-3 at its bye, one of nine teams with so many wins.
Now, the Bengals have another huge problem to fix if they're going to reach the playoffs for the first time in three years.
This time, it's a historically bad defense.
Cincinnati has allowed the most yards and points in the league. The Bengals have given up 500 yards in back-to-back games for the first time in their history. If their current track holds, they would become only the second team in NFL history to allow more than 7,000 yards in a season.
"At the end of the day, we can do better," cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick said. "I know we can."
The Bengals installed a new defense under first-year coordinator Teryl Austin. They also continued a youth movement on defense, fielding the youngest team in coach Marvin Lewis' 16 seasons.
Injuries have played a role, too.
So has the schedule, with Cincinnati facing some of the league's top offenses -- No. 1 Tampa Bay, No. 3 Kansas City, No. 4 Pittsburgh, No. 7 Atlanta. The Bengals face No. 8 New Orleans coming out of their bye.
"The NFL wants more yards, more scoring, and they are getting it," Austin said. "A lot of it has to do with there are a lot of good quarterbacks, a lot of good receivers, and it's been opened up. It's like fast-break basketball. That makes it tough."
Green aside, the bye could help with some healing.
Cornerback Darqueze Dennard has been sidelined with a shoulder injury the past two games. Linebacker Nick Vigil is out with a sprained knee. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict sat out a win over Tampa Bay with a hip injury. Kirkpatrick has been limited by an Achilles injury. Pass rush specialist Carl Lawson tore his ACL. Several others have been in-and-out with various problems, hurting the consistency.
"This has been a challenge in terms of the amount of injuries," Austin said.
Despite their flaws, the Bengals have stayed above .500 by pulling out games at the end -- something they lacked the past two seasons. The defense has scored four touchdowns, and Dalton has led last-minute drives in two victories. They know they've been fortunate.
"To be 5-3 right now is huge," Dalton said.
Four of their last eight games are against teams that currently have losing records, including two against Cleveland. They also play at Baltimore and finish the season at Pittsburgh, so there's a chance to win the division if they can fix their problems.
The bye provided a chance to try to figure out ways to tweak the offense and the defense, get some veterans ready to return, and take a breath after a wild first two months.
"There needs to be some mental health here, too," Lewis said.
It's just not as important as the physical health. Indeed, I'll be following up on all the Bengals coming off injury via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses. And I'll have a close eye on any developments with Green as well.
QBs: Andy Dalton, Ryan Finley, Jake Dolegala
RBs: Joe Mixon, Giovani Bernard, Trayveon Williams, Samaje Perine
WRs: Tyler Boyd, Auden Tate, Damion Willis, Alex Erickson, Josh Malone, A.J. Green, John Ross
TEs: Tyler Eifert, C.J. Uzomah, Drew Sample, Cethan Carter
Cleveland BrownsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 6 November 2018
As ESPN.com's Pat McManamon, as another season disintegrates, receiver Jarvis Landry stood in the Browns locker room and found no positives in a 37-21 defeat.
"We lost," Landry said after the Browns fell to Kansas City. "What steps did we take?"
Down the hallway in an interview room, rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield had a slightly different take.
"Offensively I think there was a lot more good in this game than we had in the past," Mayfield said.
Mayfield was not shrugging off a loss. There also is no dissension between quarterback and receiver. But those two statements do accurately reflect where the Cleveland Browns are in a 2-6-1 season.
Landry is in his fifth season; he came to the Browns expecting to be part of an immediate turnaround. He's watched his team lose four in a row, and he's lived through the oh-so-Browns experience of a coach firing -- except his came along with the offensive coordinator getting fired on the same day, eight games into the season.
"Did we win?" Landry said when asked about improvements by the offense.
"Then it doesn't matter," he said.
For Mayfield, a rookie quarterback counted on to be the future, every play matters, even if it's in a one-sided loss. And every game matters because it's a chance for growth. In throwing for two touchdowns and 297 yards, Mayfield said he thought "there was a lot to build on."
"But there's obviously so much more room for improvement," he added.
For positives, Mayfield pointed at left tackle Greg Robinson starting his first game in Cleveland and "playing well." He said the offense had two touchdowns and a field goal in the first half. He said the approach by new coordinator Freddie Kitchens was to focus on what the offense does well.
That put Duke Johnson back in the game plan -- at long last -- and led to Johnson scoring two touchdowns. It allowed Mayfield to come three shy of 300 yards passing and it allowed Nick Chubb to run for 85 yards.
Indeed, as Cleveland Plain Dealer staffer Dann Labbe noted, if you caught Kitchens' first press conference as offensive coordinator on Thursday, two things stood out.
First, his personality.
Second, even though this wasn't his ideal way to get it, this is an opportunity for a coach who has worked his way up the offensive side of the ball.
"I have always wanted the opportunity," he said.
"Freddie's calling the plays freely, going with what he thinks is going to work," Johnson told Labbe after the game. "He's playing free. He's not really too concerned. He's getting his playmakers the ball."
As noted above, that started with Johnson.
Johnson wasn't on the field much more than normal on Sunday. He played 47 percent of the offensive snaps. He has landed anywhere between 35 and 50 percent throughout the season. His nine targets, however, were the most this season. He caught all nine.
Johnson touched the football 156 times in 2017, including 74 receptions. This season, he's at 52 touches, even though his yards per touch is a career-high 7.6.
His 19-yard touchdown catch at the end of the first half was vintage Johnson. He came clean out of the backfield and caught the ball a yard past the line of scrimmage. He stiff-armed Jordan Lucas at the 16-yard line and slid behind a block from Antonio Callaway to get into the end zone.
As Labbe suggested, Johnson was made for the modern NFL. He bristled back in August when I brought up questions about durability during an interview -- he hasn't missed a game in his career -- but it does seem like coaches have been careful not to overexpose him.
Sunday was a reminder of what the Browns have in their Swiss Army knife back.
So getting Johnson involved was a positive in a season without a lot of positives. That's not lost on Mayfield.
"You have to find those positives," the rookie QB said. "You have to build on it to where eventually the positives outweigh the negatives and you are not dealing with losses, you are dealing with wins. And then you are trying to eliminate the negative stuff.
"Right now we are at a point where we need to keep getting better at what we are good at and go from there."
With their franchise quarterback -- a player that fired coach Hue Jackson said last week can be a "sensational" player -- anything positive matters, even if they come against one of the league's worst pass defenses.
The 297 yards were the most for him in a game since he had 342 in the overtime win over Baltimore on Oct. 7. The 42 attempts were the fourth time this season he's topped 40. The 69 percent completion rate was the best in a game he's started, the 95.0 rating, the second best.
For his rookie season, on a losing team, he has 10 touchdowns, seven interceptions and a rating of 81.5 (with 265 attempts).
The significance: Only two Browns quarterbacks since 1999 have had a higher passer rating in a season when they threw at least 250 passes -- Josh McCown in 2015 (93.3 with 292 attempts) and Derek Anderson in 2007 (82.5 with 527 attempts). Make the minimum passes 100 and Mayfield's passer rating would rank sixth.
Take the numbers for what they are. The Browns have not exactly trotted out standouts at the position since 1999; 30 different players have started. And Mayfield's rating is just slightly better than Johnny Manziel and behind Cody Kessler.
But in a season where wins will be tough to find, what matters is Mayfield stays upright, mentally healthy and reasonably effective -- and that he learns.
Looking ahead, the Falcons come to town this week and then it's the bye week. The Browns are 2-6-1. They haven't won since October 7. Atlanta, meanwhile, has won three in a row and is starting to find a groove after bad start.
The schedule doesn't ease up. It's the Bengals after the bye, followed by a trip to face the Texans. The easiest game left on the schedule might be the Saturday night game in Denver, and that's no picnic.
So what are we watching the rest of the way if the wins become sparse?
As Labbe wrote, "Mayfield's development, of course."
The growth of certain players on defense, including Myles Garrett, Larry Ogunjobi and, as long as he's healthy, Denzel Ward.
It would be nice to see Callaway finish strong and develop a connection with Mayfield. Chubb proving to be a reliable back week-in and week-out would be a good thing.
This season was always going to be a wild card -- and not the playing in January type of wild card. If the Browns got hot and won 7 or 8, great. If they ended up playing out the string again, so be it.
Next season, though, with a quarterback entering Year 2 of his rookie deal, another round of spending and another draft by general manager John Dorsey, it's going to be time to make a jump. That foundation can get laid over the next seven weeks. That's worth watching.
Is it worth banking your fantasy fortunes on those players?
Nah. ... But there's production to be head here beyond Chubb, Landry and David Njoku. So as we roll through bye weeks and deal with attrition, don't let the Browns' lousy record keep you from turning their way when you're in a pinch.
Also of interest. ... By the end of Sunday's loss to the Chiefs, Cleveland had five defensive positions occupied by backups.
The Browns entered the game without three defensive starters -- LB Joe Schobert, CB Terrance Mitchell and DB Damarious Randall. Three more -- CB Denzel Ward, CB E.J. Gaines (who has been filling Mitchell's spot) and LB Christian Kirksey -- couldn't finish against the Chiefs. Both Gaints and Kirskey were placed on injured reserve on Wednesday
The Browns are hopeful Schobert and Randall will return when Atlanta comes to town this week, but interim coach Gregg Williams couldn't guarantee it when he met with reporters Monday.
Of greater interest to fantasy owners, Njoku (knee, ribs) was limited at Wednesday's practice Callaway (ankle) was practicing fully.
QBs: Baker Mayfield, Drew Stanton, Garrett Gilbert
RBs: Nick Chubb, Dontrell Hilliard, D'Ernest Johnson, Kareem Hunt
WRs: Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry, Antonio Callaway, Rashard Higgins, Taywan Taylor, Damion Ratley, Derrick Willies
TEs: Demetrius Harris, Ricky Seals-Jones, Pharaoh Brown, David Njoku
Dallas CowboysCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 6 November 2018
As ESPN.com's Todd Archer reported, on the Cowboy's second play from scrimmage, Amari Cooper caught his first pass with the Dallas Cowboys for an 11-yard gain, leading the fans to yell, "Coooooop." By the end of the third quarter, the "Coooop" had turned to boos.
The Cowboys are only at the midway point of the season, but Monday's 28-14 loss to the Tennessee Titans seemed crushing.
The Cowboys felt energized by the trade with the Oakland Raiders for Cooper as well as the change from Paul Alexander to Marc Colombo at offensive line coach. Coming off the bye week, they felt like they had a solid week of preparation with quarterback Dak Prescott calling it "chippy," but in a good way.
To come up empty at AT and T Stadium, where they had been perfect thus far this season, can be viewed only as deflating. With eight games left the Cowboys still have a mathematical chance to win the NFC East or earn a wild-card bid, but all of their faults were on display against the Titans.
"When you've played eight games and only won three, that's a cause for concern," said owner and general manager Jerry Jones, who added there is no scenario in which he would make an in-season head coaching change with Jason Garrett.
On the Cowboys' third possession, Prescott forced a pass to a double-covered Cooper in the end zone from the Tennessee 6-yard line on second down. Instead of another chance on third down or a chip-shot field goal, Prescott went to his new weapon haphazardly and was intercepted.
The Titans answered with a 15-play, 80-yard drive to tie the game.
"That was the difference, simple as that," Prescott said. "Our defense gets us a turnover there. We're up seven points. We go down there and I try to force the ball and give it right back to them. That's a 14-point swing. They go back down the other end and get a touchdown and tie it up. It's 14-0 if we convert on that. So I mean that's the difference right there, 14 points."
On the Cowboys' first possession of the second half, Prescott was sacked by Jayon Brown and fumbled. Wesley Woodyard recovered, and like the Titans did after Prescott's first turnover, they turned it into a touchdown for a 21-14 lead.
It was the fourth lost fumble Prescott has had in eight games. He had three lost fumbles last season and four as a rookie.
A Cowboys defense that started fast wilted. Dallas allowed touchdown drives of 80 and 69 yards in the first half and saw Marcus Mariota do to them what the Cowboys want Prescott to do. The Titans converted 11 of 14 third-down tries. Mariota was methodical in the passing game (21 of 29, 240 yards, two touchdowns) and ended the Cowboys' chances with a 9-yard touchdown run with 4 minutes, 38 seconds to play.
There is only a one-game difference between 3-5 and 4-4, but mentally those records are miles apart.
With road games coming up against the Philadelphia Eagles, who are coming off their bye week, and the Atlanta Falcons, who have won three in a row, the Cowboys find themselves with their season the line. In addition, the Cowboys are winless away from home, matching the loss total (four) they had away from home in Prescott's first two seasons as the starter.
For Prescott and Jason Garrett, more than the season might be on the line. Their futures -- short- and long-term -- are on the line.
"It's disappointing," Prescott said. "We didn't get the job done. It starts with me. Starting with me first and all the way throughout this whole team. Very disappointing coming off the bye week -- cleaned things up, felt good going into this one. To come out with this loss, being 3-5 is very disappointing. ..."
Getting back to Jones putting the kibosh on a possible coaching change, it's worth noting he's made only one in-season head-coaching change since purchasing the Cowboys in 1989 and that was elevating Jason Garrett to his current role in favor of Wade Phillips after the Cowboys got off to a 1-7 start to the 2010 season.
"I think we realize we have eight games to go, we've got a long way to go in this season," Jones said. "We want to play better than we played tonight, so I certainly think each individual and coach and front-office person is going to have to do better, including me. ..."
In addition, Jones gave Prescott his full support on Tuesday.
Jones said on Monday that nothing about Prescott's performance against Tennessee changed his view about Prescott's future with the organization. On Tuesday, Jones made it very clear what that future entails from his point of view.
"Listen, Dak is the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys," Jones said on 105.3 The Fan. "He's young and he's going to get extended."
Prescott is first eligible for an extension this offseason and the Cowboys would have the option of using a franchise tag if nothing gets done after the 2019 season, so there's a pretty wide window for something to get done. Some might take that as a chance for further consideration of a player who hasn't performed as well as he did as a rookie, but it does not sound like Jones is going down that path. ...
Meanwhile, as NFL.com's Herbie Teope noted, Cooper's debut in Dallas was a mixed bag.
Acquired to "stretch the field," as Jones told ESPN's Lisa Salters before the game, Cooper was actually more effective closer to the sticks. Cooper lined up in the early goings against Malcolm Butler and got continued separation from the former Patriot, starting with a first-quarter touchdown reception near the goal line. He led the teams with five catches for 58 receiving yards.
The ex-Raider was third among Dallas receivers with just 2.08 yards of separation.
It's too early to tell if Cooper was worth a first-round pick, but there's no doubt that these Cowboys were in dire need of his services.
That said, Cooper can't cure all of Dallas' ills on offense.
The causes of the Cowboys' struggles can be traced back to -- again -- predictable and ineffective play-calling (stuff, pass, screen) from fourth-year offensive coordinator Scott Linehan; an inefficient run game from Ezekiel Elliott (61 yards on 17 carries) and a waning offensive line; and brain-dead pocket awareness from Prescott (five sacks taken for the third time this season).
There's work to do here. ...
For the record, Garrett, asked on Tuesday if there's a scenario where he'd take over play calling: "Right now, Scott Linehan is going to call the plays for the offense."
Also worth noting. ... Linebacker Sean Lee is hurt again. Lee missed three games earlier this season with a hamstring strain which he appeared to aggravate. He was replaced by rookie Leighton Vander Esch and Garrett told reporters on Monday the team doesn't have a definitive timetable, but he does expect Lee to be out for "a little bit."
Subsequent reporting suggests Lee will be out four to six weeks.
So, it's no surprise that Lee was not on the practice field Wednesday. Also sitting out were receiver Tavon Austin (groin), LG Connor Williams (right knee), LB Joe Thomas (foot), DE Taco Charlton (shoulder) and DL David Irving (high ankle sprain). ... TE Geoff Swaim (right knee) was practicing, but the team was not in pads.
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 6 November 2018
John Elway says he's going to "stay the course" with Denver Broncos head coach Vance Joseph despite his 8-17 record.
Elway told Broncos broadcasting partner Orange and Blue 760 that he's encouraged by the team's improvement despite its 3-6 record, which is identical to last year's mark after nine games.
"At this point in time, we're going to stay the course. I think there's enough good things that are going on as far as us and the way that we're playing," Elway said. "I'm much more encouraged this year than I was last year."
A year ago, the Broncos were in the midst of a franchise-worst eight-game skid that included its first shutout in a quarter century and a series of double-digit losses.
This year, they've hung tough with some of the league's top teams, losing by a combined 16 points to the Texans (6-3), Rams (8-1) and Chiefs (8-1) twice.
Brandon McManus missed a 51-yard field goal attempt as time expired in their crushing 19-17 loss to Houston on Sunday.
Although the Broncos have lost six of their last seven, Joseph hasn't lost the locker room.
"I like the heartbeat of this team and the fact that they're competitors and they continue to work hard," Elway said. "As you know, they're very, very frustrated because they've put in a lot of hard work and they're not getting paid back for all the work they put in with the win."
Earlier this season, Elway said it was difficult to make many changes midseason and he reiterated that Monday.
"You'd love to have the magic wand and throw the fairy dust on this thing and have some good things happen and get us over the hump," Elway said. "We've been in six one-score games, so I'm much more encouraged this year than I was last year because I think that guys are still playing hard and we're in games."
Elway acknowledged last year that he considered firing Joseph after his 5-11 rookie season
Joseph said this summer that he knew he had to get off to a fast start in 2018 for his job security but in the midst of another trying season, he said Monday his focus is on football, not his employment.
"That's not my concern right now, my future," Joseph said. "It's about the players and the coaches and winning football games."
As Associated Press sports writer Arnie Stapleton notes, Joseph has taken heat for his clock management at the end of both halves Sunday, when McManus missed consecutive kicks for the first time in his five-year NFL career, a 62-yarder in the second quarter that led to a field goal by Houston instead and a 51-yarder as time expired that would have given Denver a 20-19 win.
Joseph accepted the blame for the first one, saying he got greedy in going for the long field goal and leaving the Texans enough time to kick their own field goal for a six-point swing at the half.
"Put that on me," Joseph said. "I was chasing points. That's wrong."
Joseph, however, staunchly defended his decision-making on the second one when he decided not to risk Case Keenum getting sacked again after the Broncos had crossed the Houston 35-yard line with about 40 seconds left.
Phillip Lindsay ran up the middle for minus-1 yard and then Denver called timeout with three seconds left.
"I have no problem with how we handled that situation," Joseph said.
However, McManus is much more accurate from inside of 50 yards than outside.
He's 23 of 30 in his career between 40 and 49 yards for a 77 percent clip.
From 50-plus yards, he's just 13 of 25 for a 52 percent success rate.
"Our field-goal line was the 35-yard line. We got to the 33," Joseph said. "So, at that point, yardage-wise we were good. Obviously, with that pass rush, I wasn't going to drop back again and allow (Whitney) Mercilus, (Jadeveon) Clowney and (J.J.) Watt to hit the quarterback and the ball's on the turf and now we lose the game.
"So, my thought process was we have the yards we need. Let's try to pop a run and get five or six more yards and kick the field goal and win the game. But I wasn't going to expose our quarterback and our O-line to that pass rush one more time and now if they make a play, now we're all idiots, right?
"It's easy Monday morning to say that wasn't right. But I'm very comfortable with that. ..."
Other notes of interest. ... In Courtland Sutton's first start, he caught three passes for 57 yards and showed flashes of why he could be a standout player for the Broncos.
But after playing 56 snaps, Sutton also needs to improve his conditioning, Joseph said.
"He made some plays for us," Joseph said. "Obviously playing more downs, he has to get in better football shape. He got a little tired yesterday. That comes with being the main guy: playing more downs and playing full speed for 50 plays. That's tough. He has to get in NFL football shape, and when that happens, in my opinion, he's going to be a special player. You can see it yesterday, he can make plays with the ball in his hands, so it's fun to watch him do that."
Sutton had played more snaps on just one occasion this season, when he played 59 against the Jets.
As ESPN's Mike Clay notes, Sutton was targeted only five times, but ran a route on 39 of the Broncos' 44 pass plays on Sunday. Sutton set career highs in route share (89 percent).
And finally. ... Matt Paradis will miss the remainder of the season after further testing revealed that he also suffered torn ligaments in addition to a broken leg.
Joseph said Paradis will undergo surgery at the end of this week or early next week once his swelling decreases.
After Paradis didn't miss a snap over the last three-and-a-half seasons, the Broncos must now adjust to life without the Boise State product.
While his physical play will be missed, his mental acumen may have been even more important for the Broncos.
"Matt's like a coach on the field," Joseph said. "You can't replace that. He is brilliant in protections and those things, so you won't replace Matt's football IQ or his play, but we have to adjust to do what's best for the players that are going to play in his place."
Joseph said Keenum must now take on a larger role in identifying the "Mike" linebacker and making protection calls.
Connor McGovern will start in Paradis' place, Joseph said, and the Broncos will determine whether Elijah Wilkinson or Billy Turner slides in at guard.
Denver7.com's Troy Renck reports that Joseph is looking to get Royce Freeman (ankle) and perhaps wideout DaeSean Hamilton (sprained knee) back after the bye.
QBs: Joe Flacco, Brandon Allen
RBs: Phillip Lindsay, Royce Freeman, Devontae Booker, Theo Riddick
WRs: Emmanuel Sanders, Courtland Sutton, Daesean Hamilton, Juwann Winfree, Diontae Spencer
TEs: Noah Fant, Jeff Heuerman, Troy Fumagalli, Jake Butt
Detroit LionsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 6 November 2018
As ESPN.com's Michael Rothstein reminded readers, Matthew Stafford has had some brutal games in Minnesota throughout his career, including one in which he was so beat up it looked painful for him to walk.
None, though, were quite like Sunday, when Stafford spent most of the day either running away from Minnesota's defense or being swallowed up by it. Stafford dropped back 51 times in the Lions' 24-9 loss to the Vikings. He ran five of those times -- often after scrambling away from defenders. He attempted 36 passes.
He was sacked 10 times, the most by a Lions quarterback since 2007, when Philadelphia brought down Jon Kitna 10 times. Even worse, Stafford was hit a total of 17 times -- an absurd amount considering that before Sunday, Stafford was the least pressured quarterback in the league.
"I'm not happy about it. I'm pretty embarrassed," center Graham Glasgow said. "Today was a bad day for us, a bad day for our team overall. We need to learn from it, not do it again."
Six Vikings had at least a half-sack. Three different Lions drives featured Stafford being sacked multiple times. The craziest stat? The 10 sacks came in the last three quarters of the game.
It unraveled fast and hard and with Stafford on the ground over and over again. It left the Lions somewhat befuddled afterward. Most, when asked what happened, said they would need to rewatch it before they could totally explain it. But, as left guard Frank Ragnow put it, it is a "pretty big shot to the pride."
"It felt like we got out-physicaled and we kind of let the momentum overtake us," Ragnow said. "I got to go back and watch the film for sure, but that's what it felt like."
Head coach Matt Patricia said the Vikings had a bunch of different pressures from the front and some disguised coverages in the secondary late, potentially confusing Stafford.
It showed offensively. Only one receiver, Marvin Jones, had over 50 yards receiving (66). The run game averaged 2.8 yards per carry -- down to 2.3 yards per carry when you take out an end-around by Kenny Golladay and a fake punt run by Tavon Wilson.
But it all started with the offensive line and its inability to create holes for Kerryon Johnson (3.1 yards per carry) and Stafford being hit over and over and over again.
"You have a day like that, it's a little bit on everybody, obviously," Stafford said. "I've got to get the ball out faster. Got to find checkdowns a little bit faster, get the ball out. You know, you get in a game situation like that, when you're down as many scores as we were late in that game, you're going to put your O-Line in a tough spot.
"We understand that, never want to have that. I can do my part, for sure, better."
There's no doubt on that.
Some of the sacks Stafford took were a result of his holding the ball too long or the Minnesota coverage being good enough that no options were open. But the sacks were all over the place. They came on first down, second down and third down. They came with relatively short yardage and obvious passing downs. They came twice on back-to-back plays and four times in the red zone.
And that's going to be a major concern with what's to come -- Chicago twice in the next three weeks, the Rams and still having to play the Vikings again. If this turns more into a trend than an aberration, it could mean a long month of November for a team that two weeks ago had playoff aspirations and now looks like it's searching to be able to do enough to win even one game.
In case you missed it, the Bears' defense forced four turnovers against Buffalo Sunday and scored two touchdowns.
Chicago ranks fifth in overall defense, fourth in scoring defense and third against the run. And there's this tidbit from the Chicago Tribune: The Bears had recorded eight interceptions in each of the last three seasons, but this year they have 14 in eight games by 10 different players.
The Lions will have to be a whole lot better on offense than they were against Minnesota if they hope to win at Soldier Field next week. ...
Also of interest. ... As DetroitLions.com's Mike O'Hara noted, the long runs that Johnson has broken are thrilling to watch, and there's an expectation he might break another one every time he touches the ball. It hasn't happened the last two weeks.
His longest run two weeks ago against Seattle was seven yards, and his longest run against Minnesota was six yards.
And finally. ... Sunday's loss to the Minnesota Vikings sparked some changes in Detroit.
For starters, Ameer Abdullah's time as a Lion has come to an end.
As first reported by NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, Abdullah, the former second-round draft pick who never became the kind of player the Lions thought he would, was released on Tuesday.
Although he showed promise as a rookie in 2015, Abdullah was limited by injuries to just two games in 2016 and began to get phased out of the offense in 2017. This year he had barely played and he lost a costly fumble on a kickoff return two weeks ago.
In an attempt to bolster the offense, Detroit is signing former Texans wide receiver Bruce Ellington.
In the team's announcement of Abdullah's departure, they announced that they have signed running back Zach Zenner to the 53-man roster. Zenner spent the last three seasons in Detroit and re-signed with the team in the offseason after becoming a free agent. Zenner was released from injured reserve on September 12, which means enough time has passed for him to be eligible to return to Detroit.
In addition, the Lions fired special teams coordinator Joe Marciano.
"Tonight I spoke to Joe and informed him of my decision to relieve him of his responsibilities with our team," head coach Matt Patricia said in a statement. "I appreciate Joe's leadership of our special teams units over the last three and a half seasons and have great respect for his many years of service as a coach in the National Football League. On behalf of our team and the entire coaching staff, I want to personally thank Joe for his commitment to the Detroit Lions and wish him and his family the best moving forward."
The Lions are tied for 24th in the league in special-teams penalties with 13.
The 64-year-old Marciano had been with the franchise since the 2015 season, when John Bonamego left to become the head coach at Central Michigan University. He was one of a handful of holdovers from the Jim Caldwell coaching staff to the Matt Patricia staff.
The Lions did not announce Monday who would be replacing Marciano. Assistant special-teams coach Devin Fitzsimmons remains on staff.
QBs: Matthew Stafford, Tom Savage
RBs: Kerryon Johnson, Ty Johnson, J.D. McKissic, Paul Perkins
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 6 November 2018
According to ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky, Davante Adams thinks he knows what the Green Bay Packers need.
He's just not sure if there's enough time to do it.
"We need that game," Adams told Demovsky in the losing locker room at Gillette Stadium on Sunday night. "Next week, we need it. We're running out of games to keep saying we need that game, but we definitely need it at this point."
Aaron Rodgers has an idea about how the season -- one that's slipping away by the week -- can be saved.
It involves himself and his star receiver.
"I need to keep feeding Davante in those clutch situations," Rodgers said before the Packers took their 3-4-1 record and headed home from New England after Sunday's disheartening 31-17 loss to the Patriots.
"That's what I'm most disappointed in myself about is having him a couple times."
And not throwing Adams' way, to finish Rodgers' thought.
One time, he threw to rookie Equanimeous St. Brown, who couldn't come up with the ball near the sideline in the second half.
"Maybe hold onto that and try to hit Davante down the field," Rodgers said.
When asked if the Packers were too reliant on him and Adams to carry them, Rodgers said: "Well I mean we need to, we expect to."
And so do his teammates.
When asked why he has faith that the Packers can salvage something of their 3-4-1 season, left tackle David Bakhtiari pointed to Rodgers.
"We've got 12," he said. "Plain and simple."
It sounds like Rodgers thinks No. 17 should be part of that reason, too.
"I mean Davante is a tough cover, and I expect to play great every week," Rodgers said. "I've got to keep finding ways to get him the ball, I've got to keep moving him around. We did a good job tonight of moving him around [to the] No. 2, No. 3 [receiver spots]. But I've got to keep looking his way."
To be fair, as the team's official website pointed out, Adams drew Patriots top cover man Stephon Gilmore and did have a touchdown. But he finished with just 40 yards on six catches. Rodgers probably feels the same way about Jimmy Graham, who had four grabs for 55 yards and a score, but nothing after his 15-yard TD to open the second half.
Randall Cobb's production, a 4.8-yard average on five catches, has dipped. Rookie Marquez Valdes-Scantling has turned into a home run hitter with three catches for 101 yards, but he's not a volume receiver yet. And Graham hasn't had the kind of impact the Packers hoped when they gave him $13 million for this season.
As far as the running game goes, Aaron Jones' carries continue to creep up slowly -- 14 for 76 yards -- but his fumble in Patriots territory on the first play of the fourth quarter with the game tied 17-17 proved to be a killer mistake.
There seems to be one in every loss or tie.
The week before it was former Packer Ty Montgomery's fumbled kickoff return in the final minutes of the 29-27 loss at the Rams.
So what's missing?
Rodgers came up with two words: "The consistency."
And he included himself in that, too.
"We're hurting ourselves with negative-yardage plays and missed throws and turnovers at the wrong time and not being on the same page too many times, whether I'm missing a throw or we're not in the spot I think we're going to be at, it's happening in the worst times," he said. "When we have to play our best in those crunch times, we haven't been playing our best."
Perhaps a brief stop at home for Sunday's game against Miami before two more on the road at Seattle and at Minnesota will help turn things around.
"I don't have a magical or a beautiful quote for you," Adams said. "I don't have a one-liner, but we've just got to figure it out. We put ourselves in a tough spot. We've obviously got way too much talent to be in the position we are right now. But yeah, we've got to figure it out."
Whatever the case, the Packers' stars are going to have to produce like it for the offense to get rolling.
If they don't, then the pressure on head coach Mike McCarthy, who is in danger of missing the playoffs in back-to-back years for the first time in his 13 years, will continue to mount.
Other notes of interest. ... Wide receiver Geronimo Allison likely will need surgery, and cornerback Kevin King isn't likely to play Sunday against the Miami Dolphins.
Allison did not play in Sunday's loss after he suffered a groin injury in practice Thursday. The third-year receiver was in Philadelphia on Monday to visit Dr. William Meyers, a core-muscle specialist who has operated on Packers players with groin and sports hernia injuries in the past.
"We'll work through the final prognosis, but it's a pretty big injury," McCarthy said.
In fact, Allison was placed on IR on Tuesday; he'll miss at least eight weeks (but he could return for post-season play). Valdes-Scantling and St. Brown will continue to play greater roles in Allison's absence.
King's hamstring injury, which forced him out in the middle of Sunday's game, isn't as big, but McCarthy said King would be "challenged to play this week."
The Packers on Monday added a safety, former fourth-round pick Ibraheim Campbell, off waivers from the Jets. Campbell played for Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine during the 2015 season with the Cleveland Browns.
Right tackle Bryan Bulaga (knee) and linebacker Blake Martinez (ankle) both have a chance to play against the Dolphins after getting injured against the Patriots.
Rodgers was pressured (sacked or under duress) 19 times in New England, his most in a game this season, according to ESPN Stats and Information. Having Bulaga in the mix will be important.
And finally. ... Wide receiver Trevor Davis is starting to work his way back to the Packers active roster after landing on injured reserve early this season.
McCarthy said that Davis will take part in practice on Wednesday for the first time since the hamstring injury that landed him on the list after the first week of the regular season. He will be eligible to play for the first time in Week 11 against the Seahawks.
QBs: Aaron Rodgers, DeShone Kizer, Tim Boyle
RBs: Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams, Tra Carson, Dexter Williams
WRs: Davante Adams, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Geronimo Allison, Allen Lazard, Jake Kumerow, Darrius Shepherd
TEs: Jimmy Graham, Marcedes Lewis, Robert Tonyan, Jace Sternberger
Houston TexansCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 6 November 2018
The Houston Texans have won six straight games for the first time since 2012, leaving their terrible start behind them and putting them firmly in control of the AFC South as they head into their week off.
Despite the dramatic turnaround, head coach Bill O'Brien and the Texans (6-3) know that they haven't accomplished anything yet.
"We've done a great job of coming back from where we were," O'Brien said. "But we've got a long way to go."
Houston's latest win came in dramatic fashion on Sunday in Denver when the Broncos missed a field goal as time expired to allow the Texans to hold on for the 19-17 victory to keep their winning streak intact. Now they have two weeks to prepare before a trip to visit the Redskins on Nov. 18.
Four of the team's wins during this streak have come by a touchdown or less, giving the Texans confidence in their ability to win close games.
Meanwhile, for someone who likes to keep his game plans close to the vest, O'Brien did not hesitate when he was asked about his offense without wide receiver Will Fuller.
On Wednesday, after the Texans traded for wide receiver Demaryius Thomas because Fuller tore his ACL in his right knee in Week 8, O'Brien was asked whether "a lot would fall on" wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins.
"It always does," O'Brien said. "I don't think it's any secret. He's the leading target on third down. He's got a bunch of yards. He's our No. 1 receiver. We're not trying to hide him. [Hopkins] knows that. That's why he is who he is."
As ESPN.com's Sarah Barshop noted, Hopkins showed that again in the Texans' sixth straight victory, a 19-17 defeat of the Denver Broncos on Sunday, with 10 catches for 105 yards and a touchdown. While Houston's offense had a hard time moving the ball after the first drive, time and time again, quarterback Deshaun Watson went to Hopkins.
It was no surprise for the Broncos either. Last week, Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said, "Oh, they're throwing it to [Hopkins]. All you have to do is watch. He's getting the ball no matter where he is on the field."
Watson completed 17 of 24 passes for 213 yards and two touchdowns. Thomas, in his first game with the Texans, had three catches for 61 yards, all of which came in the first quarter.
According to ESPN Stats and Information research, Thomas' 61 yards were his most in a single half this season.
Hopkins broke his own franchise record that he set in 2015 for the most receiving yards through the first nine games of any season in Texans history (789). And he has done that while the Texans' No. 2 and 3 receivers have rotated during the season due to health.
The Texans certainly miss Fuller, who had 32 catches for 503 yards and four touchdowns in seven games and perhaps most importantly, stretched the field for Hopkins. But even though the Broncos knew where the ball was going, Hopkins was able to make plays.
The Texans hope to have rookie receiver Keke Coutee, who has missed two games, back after the bye. Coutee has dealt with strained hamstrings in both legs.
He has missed the past two games since injuring his left leg against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The fourth-round draft pick from Texas Tech is improving and practiced on a limited basis last week, but doesn't plan to return until his leg is fully recovered to avoid a setback.
"Until I'm 100 percent, I won't be back out there," said Coutee, who has 21 catches for 196 yards and one touchdown. "We're taking it day by day. I'm doing a little bit better every day. I'm definitely taking a little time during the bye."
Whatever the case, the off week should give Thomas more time to learn Houston's playbook so he can be even more involved in the offense in the event Coutee isn't ready.
Watson said he had to help out Thomas with some of the directions and formations on different plays. The veteran receiver also relied on help from Hopkins during the week and the game to make sure he was lined up in the right place. O'Brien wanted Thomas to stay in one spot for his first game with the Texans, so Hopkins had to move around on the field more than usual.
"[There are] different signals [for] some plays that, depending on what the play call is, is opposite," Watson said. "He was hearing one thing and ended up doing the opposite. I had to make sure he was on the same page as me. He did a good job. Some things we are going to fix."
Houston has 14 days between games before the team travels to play the Washington Redskins in Week 11. Thomas said he plans to use his bye week wisely -- he went hunting for a place to live on Monday because he spent last week living out of the team hotel -- to make sure he is ready for that game.
Bottom line? Regardless of who is on the field, O'Brien is right. The Texans' offense goes through Watson and Hopkins. ...
For what it's worth, that's 16 games for Watson -- 4,088 yards, 36 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. HoustonTexans.com's John Harris did some research before Sunday's game, and here are some other great quarterbacks first 16 NFL games:
Those are some of the best in history and some of the best in our game currently and Deshaun's numbers rank higher than most. Consequently, the biggest number for the past three games has been zero. As in, no interceptions. Watson last threw an interception against Buffalo on a tipped pass (Lorenzo Alexander) in the third quarter of that win three weeks ago. That's helped more than anything.
As an aside, but an important one, the Texans have not turned over the ball in three games. 13 straight quarters of no turnovers is outstanding. ...
Kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn had to deal with some really tough conditions. At one point, the wind was swirling so bad down on the field in the second half that his kicking net fell over and drilled me right in the back. It was really rough, the wind, not the hit from his kicking net.
But, he nailed a 46-yarder right before the half and with the wind doing its tricks, he drilled home a 37-yarder to give the Texans a 19-17 lead they would not relinquish.
Yes, he missed an extra point, but those field goals were huge, to say the least. ...
And finally. ... Second-year running back D'Onta Foreman, who has been on the PUP list since the start of training camp while he recovers from a torn Achilles tendon, has still not been added to the active roster. On Wednesday, O'Brien said Houston "more than likely" will start the 21-day window to activate him after the bye week.
QBs: Deshaun Watson, AJ McCarron
RBs: Carlos Hyde, Duke Johnson, Buddy Howell, Taiwan Jones
WRs: DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, Keke Coutee, Kenny Stills, DeAndre Carter
TEs: Jordan Akins, Darren Fells, Kahale Warring, Jerell Adams, Jordan Thomas
Indianapolis ColtsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 6 November 2018
As Associated press sports writer Michael Marot noted, Andrew Luck's health was Indianapolis' biggest question the past two years.
Halfway through his comeback season, the star quarterback looks like his old self and the numbers suggest he's actually playing better.
Luck's strong return has helped the Colts win back-to-back games for the first time in nearly two years and they head into the bye weekend full of momentum and plenty of hope.
"He made some incredible plays. I mean some incredible plays, conversions on third downs, plays that he shouldn't make, plays that normal quarterbacks don't make," first-year coach Frank Reich said, describing Luck's impressive game Sunday at Oakland.
Many wondered if Luck could ever regain the form that had many calling him the league's best young quarterback before Indy took him with the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2012.
He exceeded the hype by leading the Colts to playoff appearances in each of his first three seasons and earning Pro Bowl selections all three years, too.
Then came the injuries and the losses. Luck hurt his right shoulder early in the 2015 season and wound up missing nine games -- the last seven with a lacerated kidney. He sat out one game in 2016 with a concussion and missed the entire 2017 season after having surgery for a partially torn labrum in his throwing shoulder.
But he's answered the critics with a solid first half.
Indy (3-5) needs one more win to match last season's victory total and faces the second-easiest schedule over the second half. They're two games out of the AFC South lead with five division games remaining and Luck getting even stronger.
He is 225 of 342 with 2,187 yards, 23 touchdowns -- a pace to set career highs in each category including completion rate (65.8 percent). He's also flirting with the best rating of his career at 96.2. He had a 96.4 in 2016.
Numbers only tell part of the tale, though.
As Marot pointed out, Luck has done it despite losing top receiver T.Y. Hilton for two games with a hamstring injury, Pro Bowl tight end Jack Doyle for five games with an injured hip and five different starting lineups on the offensive line.
"You're returning from an injury, you're learning a new system, you've got T.Y. Hilton and some receivers hurt and you're breaking in some new linemen -- it's not going to be as easy as people think," Raiders coach Jon Gruden said before last weekend's game. "I've got a lot of respect for what he has done in this league and what his capabilities are."
An improving cast could make Luck and this offense even tougher to contend with.
From 2012-17, Colts running backs topped the 100-yard mark just four times. Last week, Marlon Mack became Indy's first back with consecutive 100-yard games since Joseph Addai in 2007.
The revamped offensive line has allowed just 10 sacks, a stark contrast to the 156 times Luck went down in his first 70 starts. In fact, Luck hasn't been sacked in three games -- the longest stretch since he left Stanford.
Part of the explanation is Reich's philosophical change, asking Luck to make quicker decisions.
That, too, has showed in the numbers.
His completion rate and rating against defenders within 1 yard of a receiver have jumped from 25.9 percent and a 45.0 rating in 2016 to 36.0 and 72.5 this season.
And while his throws over 20 yards have declined from 2016 to 2018, his rating on throws between 11 and 20 yards has gone from 99.0 to 106.0.
The one bugaboo continues to be interceptions. Luck has thrown eight this season, putting him on a pace to throw more than he has in all but two seasons.
But he's thrown five in the past six games and none in four of those six.
Meanwhile, in Week 1, the Colts had just three players on the final injury report, but all three were out for the game. Naturally, as more games are played that number starts to grow. By Week 5 -- the team's short-week Thursday Night Football away game against the New England Patriots -- they had 13 players on the final injury report, and nine of them were ruled out by kickoff.
The numbers began improving shortly thereafter. The following week's report (with a mini, 10-day break in between) had 12 players on it, although eight of those players were declared inactive. However, Week 7's report had just eight players on it (six missed the game), and Week 8's report had 11 (five missed the game).
In total, Colts players have missed a combined 45 games due to injury.
Some players have been on the injury report quite a bit lately but have been able to return from their injuries -- Denico Autry, Doyle, Clayton Geathers, Hilton, Darius Leonard, Mack and Arthur Maulet, for example.
However, some players haven't been as fortunate and have missed at least the last game or two.
Ryan Grant (ankle) and Robert Turbin (shoulder) were injured against the New York Jets in Week 6 and have missed the last two games. Malik Hooker has made appearances on the report throughout the season with various ailments and missed last week's game against the Oakland Raiders. Erik Swoope -- in the midst of the hottest streak of his career -- was able to play through a knee injury in Week 7, but missed Week 8.
While these are many of the players who have been hit with the injury bug, nobody in the NFL is at 100 percent, especially not at the midpoint of the season.
The Colts' Week 9 bye allowed many of these guys the chance to rest their bodies and then hit the practice field next week as the Colts prepare to take on the Jacksonville Jaguars at home, a game that will no doubt be a physical affair.
The team held its first post-bye week practice Monday as it began preparations for this Sunday's matchup against the Jaguars and Turbin was on the field. Turbin has missed the last two games after suffering a shoulder injury Week 6 against the New York Jets.
Those who have been battling prior injuries and were not at the early portion of practice available to be seen by the media on Monday included wide receiver Ryan Grant (ankle), safety Mike Mitchell (calf), and tight end Erik Swoope (knee).
Mack and right tackle Braden Smith, meanwhile, were non-participants and/or working off to the side with team trainers on Monday.
Reich told reporters after the day's practice session that the team will issue its first injury report for the week after Wednesday's practice.
I'll obviously be following up on Mack and the other pertinent players via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.
QBs: Jacoby Brissett, Brian Hoyer, Chad Kelly
RBs: Marlon Mack, Nyheim Hines, Jordan Wilkins, Jonathan Williams
WRs: T.Y. Hilton, Chester Rogers, Zach Pascal, Deon Cain, Parris Campbell, Devin Funchess, Ashton Dulin
TEs: Eric Ebron, Jack Doyle, Mo Alie-Cox
Jacksonville JaguarsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 6 November 2018
Head coach Doug Marrone is shouldering the blame for the team's four-game losing streak, saying he "hasn't done a good enough job for whatever reason to get everyone's mind in the right place."
Marrone insists he's not trying to be a "martyr, a shield or anything like that."
Truth is he's protecting everyone: top executive Tom Coughlin, general manager Dave Caldwell, inconsistent quarterback Blake Bortles, unavailable running back Leonard Fournette and dozens more underperforming players on an underachieving team.
The Jaguars (3-5) have been one of the NFL's biggest busts in 2018, especially last month when they went 0-for-October and looked nothing like the team that advanced to the AFC championship game nine months earlier.
"There is a story out there about this team. It is an ugly story," said Marrone, who is counting on his team to regroup during its Week 9 bye.
"But the story hasn't ended. We can still control how this story reads. When we get away, we have to think long and hard about it. We have to come back and we have to figure out what the story is going to be on the 2018 team."
Injuries are a big reason for the slide, especially with Fournette -- the team's offensive centerpiece -- missing six games because of a strained right hamstring. But Coughlin, Caldwell and Bortles deserve criticism.
Coughlin designed an old-school team to play in a pass-happy league, one in which running the ball is barely important and hiding a mediocre quarterback is next to impossible. The ground-and-pound Jags want to control the clock, limit Bortles' throws and play stout defense. It can work, but it usually needs everything to go right.
Turnovers, dropped passes, defensive lapses, the Jaguars have seen those too often and aren't built to handle much adversity or overcome double-digit deficits.
It doesn't help that Jacksonville is getting so little from its rookie class and its free-agent crop.
Coughlin and Caldwell were so confident they had a playoff team in place that they used the draft to prepare for 2019, adding several down-the-road replacements for veteran starters. First-round pick and defensive lineman Taven Bryan has nine tackles in eight games. Second-round receiver DJ Chark has 12 catches for 159 yards to go along with a fumble and several costly drops. Third-round safety Ronnie Harrison has been the best of the bunch while playing mostly in certain defensive packages.
Right tackle Will Richardson (fourth) is on injured reserve. Quarterback Tanner Lee (fifth) remains on the practice squad. Linebacker Leon Jacobs (sixth) has barely played outside special teams. And punter Logan Cooke (seventh) has failed repeatedly to flip the field when needed.
Free agents Andrew Norwell, Donte Moncrief, D.J. Hayden, Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Marqise Lee have been equally disappointing.
Norwell, a 2017 All-Pro guard from Carolina, was expected to bolster the offensive line and help give the Jaguars one of the best running attacks in the league. Instead, he looks unworthy of his five-year, $66.5 million contract.
Moncrief, who signed a one-year deal worth $9.6 million, was supposed to offset the loss of physical receiver Allen Robinson. He has 29 catches for 379 yards and two scores.
Hayden (toe) has missed six consecutive games, and Seferian-Jenkins (core muscle) and Lee (knee) are on injured reserve.
"Playing football is easy," defensive tackle Malik Jackson said. "Staying healthy is the hard part."
A legitimate franchise quarterback might be able to make up for all of Jacksonville's deficiencies. But Coughlin and Caldwell decided to give Bortles a three-year, $54 million contract in February, betting that the fifth-year starter would continue developing and adding to a growing list of turnover-free games.
Neither has happened, and the Jaguars are seemingly stuck with Bortles because of his $21 million contract in 2019. He has 10 touchdown passes, eight interceptions and three lost fumbles to go along with 18 sacks.
Throw in a training camp fight, two weeklong suspensions, a locker room scuffle last month, four players getting detained in London because of an unsettled nightclub tab, Jalen Ramsey's mouth and the ultra-confident defense failing to maintain its 2017 form, and the Jaguars have been more of a farce than a force in the AFC.
"The most important thing as a team is we've got to keep our belief strong," defensive end Calais Campbell said. "No matter what the outside noise says or does, we just got to keep our belief strong. Five losses in this league this early sucks, but five losses throughout the season, that's not bad at all; that's a heck of a year.
"We've got a lot of ball left to play. We made it real hard on ourselves, but I truly believe the guys that we have here are built to be able to do something special, even considering our current circumstance."
Marrone hopes to get Fournette, Hayden and cornerback A.J. Bouye (calf) back after the bye week. He also wouldn't rule out staff and lineup changes.
Already saddled with two division losses at home, the Jaguars have little room for error after the break if they're able to write a feel-good ending to their "ugly story."
"When no one picks you to win and everyone thinks you are going to stink, it's, 'Let's go out there and prove everybody wrong and play with a chip on our shoulder and go,'" Marrone said. "Then all of a sudden, when everybody is on the bandwagon, it's the opposite. 'Let's prove everybody right.' Either way, you are trying to prove right or wrong what is going on.
"We just haven't lived up to the expectations to this day."
And how to they on track?
According to Jaguars.com's John Oehser, a return to the running game would be a great starting point.
The Jaguars threw the ball 31 consecutive times in the second half at Wembley Stadium two weeks ago -- and only called two run plays in the third and fourth quarter combined.
That was never the formula for success this season.
Bortles is a crafty, play-action style of quarterback who must have a strong ground attack in his arsenal. He hasn't had it this season and though he looked like he might be able to elevate his team with his arm as he did against New England and the New York Jets, it hasn't happened. Consider that over four consecutive losses the Jaguars have averaged 42.5 passing attempts per game and only 76.5 yards rushing.
They're throwing too often because they can't run it consistently enough, and that isn't how this team is built to win.
They powered their way to the AFC South title and the AFC Championship Game last season with the running game and a well-rested defense. The only way they get anything rolling in the second half is on the backs of Fournette, Yeldon and Hyde.
So the good news here is the Jaguars returned to practice on Monday and Fournette took part in the session. Multiple reporters at the portion of practice open to the media reported that he appeared to have no limitations as he went through individual drills.
Still, Marrone stopped short of proclaiming Fournette back or ready to return Sunday at Indianapolis.
"I don't know if he is going to play," Marrone said.
Fournette's availability should become clearer later in the week.
"How things happen during the week is really what answers a lot of those questions," he said. "Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, you are worried about this guy. Is he going to be able to play? Is he going to play the full amount? Did we get the other guys ready enough? What plays does he feel comfortable with? What plays do other people feel comfortable with?
"You go back and forth because, at the end of the day, your job is to try and put the team in the best situation to win. Sometimes I feel like I've done a good job of that. But sometimes I haven't."
For the record, Fournette was scheduled to practice Wednesday; I'll obviously be following up on his status via Late-Breaking Update all week long. ...
Marrone said Bortles injured his non-throwing shoulder against Philadelphia in London, but took "his normal throws" Monday following the team's bye week.
"It's early in the week and we will just see how it goes," Marrone said.
The Jaguars signed a third quarterback, Landry Jones, as an insurance policy in case Bortles' injury becomes more significant.
Bortles and tight end James O'Shaughnessy (hip) were also both scheduled to practice Wednesday.
QBs: Gardner Minshew, Josh Dobbs, Phillip Walker, Nick Foles
RBs: Leonard Fournette, Ryquell Armstead, Devine Ozigbo, Tyler Ervin
WRs: D.J. Chark, Dede Westbrook, Chris Conley, Keelan Cole, Marqise Lee, CJ Board
TEs: Geoff Swaim, Seth DeValve, Josh Oliver, Ben Koyack, James O'Shaughnessy
Kansas City ChiefsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 6 November 2018
As ESPN.com's Adam Teicher noted, the greatest quarterback year in the 59-season history of the Kansas City Chiefs continued on Sunday for Patrick Mahomes. His teammate, running back Kareem Hunt, said he isn't surprised by how well the first-year starting quarterback is doing.
"I just know what type of player he is and how competitive he is and he's going to take chances," Hunt said. "Most of the time they're good chances."
Mahomes was almost all good again, this time against the Cleveland Browns. He was 23-of-32 for 375 yards and three touchdown passes as the Chiefs went to 8-1 with a 37-21 victory.
Mahomes, with 29 touchdown passes through nine games, is one away from the 54-year-old team record. Len Dawson, who later was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, threw 30 touchdown passes for the Chiefs in the old AFL in 1964.
Mahomes has 2,883 yards, which puts him on a pace for 5,157. That would easily break the Chiefs' record of 4,591 set by Trent Green in 2004.
Mahomes also had his eighth straight game with at least 300 passing yards. Drew Brees has the NFL record with two streaks of nine straight games with 300 or more passing yards.
To head coach Andy Reid, Mahomes' contributions go beyond the numbers.
"You appreciate him when you're around him every day and just the spirit that he brings, the attitude he has," Reid said. "You don't even worry about him getting a big head or getting complacent. It's a weird deal. He just goes out and he plays. He works hard and he loves doing it. He just goes about his business the way you're supposed to do it."
Mahomes threw two touchdown passes to Travis Kelce and one to Hunt, who scored Kansas City's two other touchdowns by run.
Six Chiefs' pass-catchers have multiple touchdown grabs this season, which is indicative of Mahomes' tendency to take advantage of the slew of weapons at his disposal.
Mahomes, as he usually does, deflected all credit for his accomplishments to his receivers.
"It's a lot of fun," he said. "It makes my job a lot easier knowing I can trust these guys. They're going to be in the right spot. They're taking care of their business. They're running the routes and making route adjustments on the fly. They've looked at the film and know how to do those things. Them having that much talent as well as really studying the film so much, that's what really makes our offense so good."
Kelce made a nice grab of Mahomes' final touchdown pass, a 13-yard catch in the third quarter. Kelce shielded the defender and then out-jumped him to make the catch.
"That was great trust there, phenomenal trust," Reid said of the Mahomes-Kelce connection. "A lot of hours have gone into that."
Said Mahomes, "It made me look a lot better that he caught it."
For the fifth-straight game, the Chiefs scored at least 30 points, which ties them for the franchise record. It's also their 8th game this season of at least 30 points, which also ties them for that franchise record.
It's only Week 10 and they head into Sunday's game as 17-point favorites over the 2-6 Cardinals, which marks the largest opening spread of the 2018 season. ...
Meanwhile, when it comes to being prepared to play, Reid doesn't worry about two of the Chiefs in particular: Hunt and Kelce.
Reid said Sunday he sensed both were a little more energized than usual by their first opportunities in the NFL to play in their hometown.
"They don't need much to get them going," Reid said. "That little extra doesn't hurt. They were excited to be here. They get to play in front of family and friends. It can be expensive at times, but it's worth it."
Hunt and Kelce showed a lot to the hometown crowd. Hunt accounted for 141 total yards, while Kelce led the Chiefs with seven catches and 99 yards.
The two scored all five Kansas City touchdowns. Hunt had three and Kelce two.
On Wednesday, Hunt was named the AFC Offensive Player of the Week.
"We definitely can relate because we both came from this area," Hunt said. "We know everything about it. It's kind of special we're on the same team going out there and having a big game for both of us. He had a big game and I had a big game. I think only Cleveland people scored today. That's a good thing."
Said Kelce, "That just tells you the type of special place that lies here in Northeast Ohio. It's dear to my heart, and I love it to death ... Browns fans, I'm sorry we had to do it, but we're about business in Kansas City."
Each player shelled out for tickets for family members and friends. Kelce said he "couldn't even count" how many people from the area he had at Sunday's game.
Hunt, as a gesture of appreciation, bought tickets for the players and coaches at his former high school, Willoughby South.
As the game ended, Chiefs fans in attendance expressed their thanks to Hunt. Some held up a sign at game's end reading, "You got Kareem'D."
Fantasy owners who faced Hunt this past weekend can relate.
And finally. ... Sammy Watkins was dealing with pain in his foot after Sunday's game and he had an MRI, a source told NFL Network's Ian Rapoport on Wednesday. While it's not a serious injury, it may impact his status for Sunday as the Chiefs plan for the long run.
Watkins did not practice Wednesday; I'll be following up via Late-Breaking Update.
QBs: Patrick Mahomes, Matt Moore, Chad Henne
RBs: Damien Williams, LeSean McCoy, Darrel Williams, Darwin Thompson
WRs: Tyreek Hill, Demarcus Robinson, Mecole Hardman, Byron Pringle, Sammy Watkins
TEs: Travis Kelce, Blake Bell, Deon Yelder
Los Angeles ChargersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 6 November 2018
If the Los Angeles Chargers want to go where they believe they can go -- a deep run the playoffs -- they have to win tough games on the road in the second half of the season.
"It's a good thing for us," Chargers defensive tackle Brandon Mebane said this week. "We didn't play a lot of games that were away. Then you go to the Super Bowl, which is pretty much an away game for both teams.
"It's good to have that mentality -- to have that feel of an away-game mentality, because it's always hard to play in somebody's backyard."
Well, the Chargers met the challenge and passed an important, midseason test by defeating the Seattle Seahawks 25-17 on Sunday at CenturyLink Field.
The win pushed the Chargers to 6-2 on the year, giving them a five-game winning streak.
Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers made his 200th consecutive straight start against the Seahawks, and it was another solid performance. The 36-year-old signal-caller completed 13 of 26 passes for 228 yards and two touchdown passes, with no interceptions.
His favorite target was Keenan Allen, who finished with six receptions for 124 yards.
Rivers has the longest active consecutive games streak in the NFL, and he joins Brett Favre, Eli Manning and Peyton Manning as the only quarterbacks to make 200 consecutive starts in NFL history. He also became the 10th player since at least 1970 to post a start streak of 200 games.
Rivers got some help from running back Melvin Gordon. Playing with a hamstring injury, Gordon finished with 113 rushing yards on 16 carries, including a 34-yard run in the first quarter for a score.
While the Chargers got the win, they had a major issue to deal with in the wake of this game.
As ESPN.com's Eric D. Williams noted, head coach Anthony Lynn had been patient enough. It was time for Lynn to cut ties with Caleb Sturgis and the Chargers did so on Monday, a day after he missed two extra points and a 42-yard field goal attempt.
The Chargers signed Sturgis in the offseason to a two-year, $4.5 million contract that included $2.25 million guaranteed, with the hope that he would be the Bolts' long-term solution at kicker.
Sturgis won a kicking competition with Roberto Aguayo in training camp but has been inconsistent and injury-prone all season.
The 29-year-old kicker's latest regression is the most troubling. On Sunday, Sturgis hooked all three missed kicks wide left.
Rivers was caught on camera directing his frustrations toward Sturgis after he missed the first extra point. Sturgis has missed extra points in four straight games and field goals in three straight games.
The Chargers waived Michael Badgley earlier this week, after he made all of his kicks and extra points when Sturgis was out for two weeks with a strained quad. Badgley cleared waivers, and the Chargers added him to the team's practice squad.
Rivers tried to show patience on Sunday, but the veteran quarterback's patience was wearing thin.
"We handled that adversity and rallied," Rivers said Sunday. "Obviously, everybody is pulling for Caleb, you know? You don't want to see anybody not have success. He's frustrated. We're all frustrated, but we found a way to overcome it this week."
The good news?
The Chargers' next three opponents have a combined record of 6-19. Los Angeles travels to Oakland (1-7) on Sunday before hosting Denver (3-6) and Arizona (2-6). After that, the slate gets more challenging with a road game against Pittsburgh, hosting Cincinnati and a Thursday night game at Kansas City, who beat the Chargers in Week 1.
The Charger also have momentum on both sides of the ball.
Gordon has rushed for 100 yards in three of his last four games with five touchdowns while wide receiver Tyrell Williams has four TDs in the past three games.
On defense, the Chargers have 14 sacks in their past four games despite defensive end Joey Bosa not playing a down yet this season due to a foot injury. The unit has also come up big in the last two games as it denied Tennessee from making a game-winning, two-point conversion and forced a Russell Wilson incompletion in the end zone on the final play at Seattle.
Los Angeles lost its first four games to start last season but is 15-5 since, which is the third-best mark in the AFC (New England is 18-3 and Pittsburgh is 15-4-1). Williams said the emphasis since the beginning of the season has been on getting out to a fast start but now they have to sustain it.
"Going to another tough place and getting a win just keeps adding and building on how we play," he said. ...
And finally. ... Tight end Hunter Henry, who tore his ACL during OTAs this past May, has a chance to return to action next month, league sources tell ESPN's Adam Schefter.
Henry's return still would be a longshot, according to Schefter's sources, but it is a shot -- and it is more than most were expecting when he initially suffered the knee injury it in a non-contact drill last spring.
Henry is running and squatting, his strength is returning, he has not suffered any setbacks and his attitude is good because he feels so good, according to Schefter's sources.
Lynn would only say recently that "anything's possible -- he's looked a lot better than I thought he would," when asked about Henry.
But sources say that if the Chargers can make a postseason push that the organization is counting on, the chances of Henry returning at the end of the regular season should not be dismissed.
Henry, who currently is on the Chargers' reserve-physically unable to perform list, had 81 receptions for 1,057 yards and 12 touchdowns in his first two seasons with the Chargers.
QBs: Philip Rivers, Tyrod Taylor, Easton Stick
RBs: Melvin Gordon, Austin Ekeler, Justin Jackson, Detrez Newsome, Troymaine Pope
WRs: Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Travis Benjamin, Geremy Davis, Andre Patton, Dontrelle Inman
TEs: Hunter Henry, Virgil Green, Lance Kendricks, Stephen Anderson
Los Angeles RamsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 6 November 2018
Entering Sunday's game against the Saints, the Rams were the lone remaining undefeated team in the NFL, after their first 8-0 start since 1969.
The Rams found themselves in a 21-point hole in the first half, but they tied the score at 35 with 9:57 remaining in the game.
As ESPN.com's Lindsey Thiry noted, it was just the second time in Sean McVay's two seasons as coach that the Rams had fallen behind by 21 or more points. The other instance was in Week 17 last season, when McVay elected to rest his starters in preparation for the playoffs.
A come-from-behind victory would have been the Rams' third-biggest comeback in franchise history.
Instead, the Rams have been unable to overcome a 21-point deficit since Week 12 of the 2005 season against the Houston Texans. They've lost 49 straight when trailing by 21 points or more, according to ESPN Stats and Information.
Still, the Rams became the first team to start the season 8-0 or better and allow at least 35 points in a half, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
The Rams scored 18 unanswered points to start the second half, until Brees connected with Thomas on the 72-yard score with just under four minutes left in the game.
Beyond all that, with his first quarter eight-yard touchdown carry in New Orleans, running back Todd Gurley cemented a spot in the Rams record books, becoming the first player in franchise history to score a touchdown in 12-consecutive regular season games.
Gurley's streak dates back to last season's Week 14 game against the Eagles, when Gurley scored two rushing touchdowns.
Gurley has now totaled 24 touchdowns since Week 14 a season ago -17 rushing, seven receiving.
Entering Week 9 against the Saints, Gurley had accumulated 1,742 yards of total offense in his record-breaking run, averaging 106 rushing yards per game, and 52.4 receiving yards per game.
The Rams went 10-1 during the span before losing to the Saints.
Gurley surpassed former Rams running back Elroy Hirsch, who found the end zone in 11-straight games in the between 1950 and 1951.
The NFL record for most consecutive games with a touchdown (18) is shared by RB LaDainian Tomlinson, 2004-05 and HB Lenny Moore, 1964-65.
Gurley's touchdown also gives him the most touchdowns through the first nine games of the season in Rams history (16).
That said, Gurley failed to reach 100 yards of total offense for just the third time this season on Sunday against the Saints, and NFL.com's Herbie Teope took a closer look following Sunday's game.
"So, what did the Saints do to limit the explosive running back? Turns out the defense, which ranked No. 1 against the run, took on a simple mentality of swarming to the football whenever Gurley touched it."
The attacking approach on Gurley also extended to the passing game, where the running back managed just 11 yards receiving on six catches, averaging just 1.9 yards per catch. But as was often the case throughout the game, whenever Gurley touched the football, he was met almost immediately by a Saints defensive player.
In the defense's mind, containing Gurley meant a realistic chance to come out of Sunday with a win.
For the record, ESPN.com's Tristan H. Cockcroft notes that Gurley fell one-tenth of a PPR fantasy point shy of a ninth straight game with at least 20 (he had 19.9). ...
Also of interest. ... With the score of Sunday's eventual loss to the Saints tied at 14 in the second quarter, outside linebacker Samson Ebukam ripped the ball out of running back Mark Ingram's grasp with defensive tackle Aaron Donald recovering the pigskin to give Los Angeles an extra possession deep in New Orleans territory.
But the Saints defense tightened up with the sudden change, forcing a pair of incompletion by quarterback Jared Goff before a six-yard screen to wideout Brandin Cooks gave the Rams 4th-and-4 from the New Orleans 16.
McVay and special teams coordinator John Fassel sent out kicker Greg Zuerlein to ostensibly kick a 34-yard field goal, which would've given L.A. a 17-14 lead. But when punter/holder Johnny Hekker fielded Jake McQuaide's long snap, he stood up, and began rolling to his right.
Tight end Tyler Higbee was running a route on the right side of the field, but New Orleans third-string, do-it-all quarterback Taysom Hill had Higbee covered.
So, Hekker did the only thing he could do: run for the first down marker on the right side. With defenders chasing, he extended the ball as he was going down near the New Orleans 12 -- and with the extension it initially looked like Hekker had the distance for a critical first down. But the officials spotted the ball short of the line to gain.
"I popped up -- I was pretty pumped up, I thought I had it," Hekker said postgame. "I reached out the ball, thought I was well past the marker when I was down. I don't run the ball very often so I'm not really sure how long my arms are and that stuff. But coaches made a great call, went for the fake. And I thought we had it."
Hekker said he voiced his displeasure with the spot to the officials, who came back with, "Well, you can challenge it."
That's exactly what McVay did, but there was apparently not enough evidence to overturn the call -- as the ruling on the field stood.
"I think they really wanted us to challenge it and use the film to back it up and come up with a conclusive answer on it, and they weren't able to," Hekker said.
That was a crucial point in the game, as New Orleans was then able to rip off 21 straight points in the second quarter to take a commanding 35-14 lead. And while Los Angeles was able to tie the game at 35 in the fourth quarter, the failed fake was certainly consequential.
Still, the game was tied at that point in the contest and a made field goal would have at least given Los Angeles a lead -- if only a slim one. So why go for it in the first place?
"We always talk about it, we are an aggressive attacking-type team, and if we feel like some of these looks present themselves to try to do that, we have confidence in our players," McVay said. "Unfortunately, it didn't work out in that situation, but we came into this came feeling like we needed to be aggressive, we wanted to be aggressive -- that kind of embodies the identity that we do have. It didn't work out today, but that's not going to stop of from continuing to fight and make sure that we are making aggressive decisions that are also smart. Based on the look, we have a lot of confidence in Johnny Hekker and we feel like more time than not, he's going to make that play for us."
And that attitude is something the players have embraced -- and not just the ones on the special teams unit.
"I love it and I think he got it, so we'll see," Goff said postgame. "I haven't seen the replay yet, but I think it was close."
"We're just a team that likes to put pressure on other teams," Hekker said. "We're not gonna wait for just the right moment -- made an aggressive call and just run with it. I think it's just our coaching staff and the confidence they have in our preparation during the week. Our guys work their butt off, and our attention to detail is great."
And finally. ... Cooper Kupp hauled in five passes (on six targets) for 89 yards and a touchdown in his first game back from a knee sprain. ...
The Rams next will return to Los Angeles to play the Seattle Seahawks.
QBs: Jared Goff, Blake Bortles
RBs: Todd Gurley, Malcolm Brown, Darrell Henderson
WRs: Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, Josh Reynolds, JoJo Natson, Mike Thomas, Nsimba Webster
TEs: Gerald Everett, Tyler Higbee, Johnny Mundt
Miami DolphinsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 6 November 2018
As he tried to resolve issues that led safety Reshad Jones to take himself out of a game, Miami Dolphins coach Adam Gase acknowledged Monday didn't feel like a typical day after a victory.
"No," Gase said. "It's slightly irritating."
Gase said Jones will be back in the lineup this week at Green Bay, and added that communication problems between defensive coordinator Matt Burke and players need to be addressed.
Gase and Jones met hours after the two-time Pro Bowl safety watched the second half of Sunday's 13-6 win over the New York Jets from the sideline.
"Me and him are on the same page," Gase said.
The coach declined to say why Jones removed himself from the game. But the Dolphins' plan to rotate safeties may have contributed, and Gase indicated he's not comfortable with communication between Burke and players.
"I have to get some things cleaned up as far as how we go about things," Gase said. "That's what today is going to be mostly about."
At quarterback, Brock Osweiler is likely to make his fifth consecutive start in place of Ryan Tannehill, who remains sidelined by a throwing shoulder injury.
Gase calls offensive plays, but said he has recently become more involved with the defense. The Dolphins gave up 102 points in the three games before Sunday, with blown coverage in the secondary a recurring problem.
Miami (5-4) intercepted Jets rookie Sam Darnold four times, but Gase said there's no guarantee of a carry-over Sunday against the Packers.
"We're playing a different guy this week," Gase said. "If we do a lot of things we did this last game, the results will be different. Aaron Rodgers is a little different than Sam Darnold."
Jones showed up in the head coach's office Sunday night to discuss things, said Gase, who pledged the issue won't linger.
"I'm telling you: We're going to move on," Gase said.
Player discontent is nothing new since Gase became coach in 2016. He parted with stars Ndamukong Suh, Jarvis Landry, Mike Pouncey and Jay Ajayi in an attempt to improve the locker room culture, and last month Gase released Jordan Phillips two days after the defensive tackle's outburst when he came out of a game.
But Jones is under contract through 2022 and not likely going anywhere. Any disciplinary action will be handled internally, Gase said.
Also to be dealt with were the latest injuries for the hobbled Dolphins. Starting tackles Laremy Tunsil and Ja'Wuan James limped out of Sunday's win, and their status this week was uncertain. Cornerback Bobby McCain was cleared after being checked for a possible concussion.
Meanwhile, with Tannehill ruled out again this week, he'll also have next week's bye to continue his recovery. His throwing rehabilitation has produced mixed results.
"We've worked some different distances," Gase said. "It's weird. One time it's good, one time it doesn't feel right."
Gase said it's not a question of how the throws look but how they feel.
"Everything is inconsistent," Gase said when asked how he's feeling with his throws. "We're trying to get to point where he feels good throwing and we will go from there."
Gase said he hasn't considered switching to David Fales, even though Osweiler has been inconsistent the past two games.
Gase said "there were two plays I wish we would have completed -- the one to Danny [Amendola] and the one Jamal Adams batted down in the red zone. There were a lot of things [Osweiler] did well and there's a lot of things he had no chance. It's not on him."
Whatever the case, the hope was to get Tannehill back right after the Week 11 bye, but that doesn't sound like a guarantee at this point.
Also on the injury front. ... The Dolphins list 17 players with injury on their Wednesday report, but the only one who didn't participate was DE Charles Harris (knee). Kenny Stills (groin) and Jakeem Grant (Achilles) were among those who were limited. DeVante Parker (knee), A.J. Derby (foot) and Kenyan Drake (knee) worked fully.
QBs: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Josh Rosen
RBs: Kenyan Drake, Mark Walton, Kalen Ballage, Myles Gaskin, Patrick Laird
WRs: Preston Williams, DeVante Parker, Albert Wilson, Jakeem Grant, Allen Hurns
TEs: Mike Gesicki, Nick O'Leary, Durham Smythe, Chris Myarick
Minnesota VikingsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 6 November 2018
As ESPN.com's Courtney Cronin noted, it took Dalvin Cook 10 plays to show he hadn't lost his edge.
With under five minutes to play in the second quarter of the Minnesota Vikings' 24-9 win over the Detroit Lions, Cook took a handoff from quarterback Kirk Cousins and carefully read what was unfolding in front of him. Pat Elflein pulled A'Shawn Robinson to his left, creating a massive opening between the second-year center and right guard Mike Remmers.
It was more than enough space for Cook, who had been sidelined with a hamstring injury for more than a month, to do what he hadn't been able to yet this season: explode.
Cook broke off a 70-yard run, which more than doubled the previous longest rush of his career (33 yards). According to NFL's Next Gen Stats, Cook topped out at 22.07 mph, the fastest of any ball carrier this season.
"He and I were messing around, I asked him if he still had 4.4. speed or not," running back Latavius Murray recalled. "He said he did and so that's why when he's coming off the field, we were clowning. I'm like, OK, yeah you do."
Cook was brought down at the 5-yard line and set up Murray for a touchdown two plays later. Though he didn't reach the end zone, Cook could hardly contain his excitement, running past the pylon and celebrating.
"I just turned it on," Cook said. "And that's when at that point you've got to trust yourself. You've got to know you put the work in for the hamstring to be right and I'm just glad man. I'm just back out here on the field."
There was little doubt among those on the sidelines that the running back would finally break free once he got back to being himself. Even on the longest run of his NFL career, Cook apparently felt like he had more in the tank.
"He actually said that he was thinking about his hamstring and only kept it in fourth gear," head coach Mike Zimmer said. "Hopefully there's another gear there somewhere."
The Vikings reached their second-highest rushing total of the season (128 yards) in Cook's first game back since the first half against the Rams in Week 4. Every play mattered to the running back, who exceeded his expected pitch count of 15 to 20 snaps by taking 10 carries 89 yards and catching four short passes for 20 yards.
The plan for Cook going into the game was to be involved more in the running game than the passing game, but he allowed the Vikings to ignite their screen game in ways they had not been able to without him.
"When he's been in he's been special," Cousins said. "What can he do for us when healthy? I would think he can do what he showed today and what he's shown in other opportunities he's gotten. But we have to get him out there, we have to keep him healthy and we have to give him opportunities."
The frustrations of being held back by his hamstring were a learning process for Cook, who Vikings athletic trainers had shut down completely from football activity leading into Week 8.
Cook said the time to let his body rest was largely beneficial in him being able to let his lingering injury subside. With Minnesota's bye week on the horizon, the chance to further rest his body so he can get back to being a featured presence on offense is something he's looking forward to.
"I know this offense requires a lot: catch the ball in the back field, explosive plays, that's what we were [expecting]," Cook said. "We were [expecting] big plays and if you're not 100 percent you're not going to be able to do that on the field for your teammates. So, kind of had to take that step back-get my body right, get everything together so I could come out here and make plays.
"When I'm a hundred percent, that's when I'm at my best. That's it."
The off week should help ensure he gets closer to 100 percent for Week 11.
Beyond that, the Vikings are now back on the winning track after dropping a home game to New Orleans last week and this win marks the Vikings fourth in five weeks as they improve to 5-3-1. Sunday's win is also a divisional win and keeps the Vikings undefeated in NFC North play.
And the win came despite the Vikings being shorthanded due to injury, with starters Anthony Barr, Tom Compton, Stefon Diggs and Andrew Sendejo all inactive.
Now, the Vikings head into their bye with good vibes and an opportunity to rest and recuperate before the final six-game stretch, which includes games at Chicago and at home to Green Bay coming out of the bye.
A few final notes. ... Cousins has thrived in his first season with the Vikings. He has completed 259 of 363 passes (71.3 percent) for 2,685 yards with 17 touchdowns and five interceptions.
Cousins, who is tied for third in the NFL in passing yards, also has a career-high quarterback rating of 102.2
Adam Thielen's 100-yard games streak ended in a tie for the NFL record at eight, but the Minnesota native is still leading the NFL with 78 catches for 947 yards. His seven touchdowns are tied for the second-most in the league.
Thielen is averaging 100 yards per game, and has scored a touchdown each outing, extending a streak that began in Week 4 to six games.
Diggs, who missed Sunday's game, has 58 receptions for 587 yards and four scores. Kyle Rudolph has 34 catches for 349 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Laquon Treadwell has 27 catches for 253 yards and a touchdown, while Aldrick Robinson has had a nose for the end zone with three touchdowns on just seven catches for 115 yards.
Others have stepped up, too. Brandon Zylstra snagged his first career catch against the Jets. Chad Beebe had three catches for 21 yards in his NFL debut against Detroit.
All in all, there's ample reason for optimism about ongoing -- and perhaps even improving -- offensive production coming off the bye.
QBs: Kirk Cousins, Sean Mannion
RBs: Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison, Mike Boone, Ameer Abdullah
WRs: Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, Olabisi Johnson, Laquon Treadwell, Chad Beebe
TEs: Kyle Rudolph, Irv Smith Jr., Brandon Dillon, Tyler Conklin
New England PatriotsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 6 November 2018
As Associated Press sports writer Kyle Hightower pointed 0out, to be a productive member of the New England Patriots, it's usually best to approach the game plan each week with adaptive eyes.
No one has learned that lesson more this season than receiver Cordarrelle Patterson.
When he was traded by Oakland to the Patriots in March, Patterson arrived in New England hoping to land a place on Tom Brady's receiving corps following an offseason shake-up that saw the departures of both Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola.
But after a Week 3 neck injury sent veteran running back Rex Burkhead to injured reserve and rookie Sony Michel's knee injury in Week 7 stunted his strong start, it created a void at another position that itself was recovering from the free agency loss of Dion Lewis.
The natural solution seemed to be an increased role for veteran James White. Instead the coaching staff chose creativity over predictability.
Two productive games at running back later, Patterson has become the latest Patriots player to excel in an unconventional role in New England.
Patterson led the Patriots with 61 rushing yards, including a 5-yard touchdown in their 31-17 victory over the Green Bay Packers Sunday night . It was the second straight week he led the team in rushing and came two weeks after he had a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against the Bears.
That's just about right for a player called "Flash" early in his career.
"I said I wanted 25 carries this week," Patterson said. "Whenever my number's called I'm being ready for whatever I need to do on the football field."
Using Patterson out of the backfield isn't as much of a stretch as it might seem.
Head coach Bill Belichick said he noted the 6-2, 220-pounder's ability to make plays from there when studying his 2017 film with the Raider. He rushed 13 times for 121 yards and two scores with Oakland last season, an average of 9.3 yards per carry.
Patterson was used by the Patriots on some reverses early in the season, again impressing his new coaches with his speed and power attacking holes.
"He's worked really hard with the ball handling, the reads, but boy, he runs hard. He runs fast and he's a hard guy to tackle," Belichick said. "Like a lot of our guys have, they just step in, fill the role that we need for them and help the team win, and that's really what it's all about."
That's become the theme for role players under Belichick.
Fullback James Develin was an undrafted defensive end out of Brown before finding a home as the Patriots' fullback. Matt Slater arrived in New England as a receiver but became its special teams captain and a seven-time Pro Bowler.
White said Patterson's natural skillset and willingness to accept coaching have been his biggest attributes in acclimating to the Patriots' culture.
"He's a strong, fast, explosive guy," White said. "He can score any time he touches the football and he's been trying to get better and better at it each week. The more he does it, the better he gets."
Michel was questionable heading into Sunday's game with Green Bay and could return to action when the Patriots travel to Tennessee this week.
In fact, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported on Monday that Michel just needs a good week of practice with no setbacks to make his return this week.
I'll be watching for more on that in coming days (watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for all the latest).
For now, Patterson said he's trying to stay humble and hungry in the role he's been given -- however long it lasts.
"I mean it's the next man up. It's the NFL. If you can play, you can play," He said. "We didn't like that the guys weren't ready, but every guy is going to step up because this is our job. This is our life. ..."
Meanwhile, the Pats hung 31 points on the Packers without Rob Gronkowski and Michel, which as Boston Herald staffer Kevin Duffy suggested, was "very impressive."
It started with Brady, who delivered clutch throws late to give the Pats some separation. Facing a third-and-7 in the early fourth quarter, Brady, unable to step into his throw, fired a pass outside the numbers to Phillip Dorsett for a pickup of 17. This kept the drive alive. The Pats later punched in a 1-yard White touchdown to grab a 24-17 lead.
On his 55-yard touchdown to Josh Gordon, Brady sold a screen to Chris Hogan, baited two Green Bay defensive backs into jumping the route, and then hit Gordon over the top.
At one point, Brady threw seven straight incompletions. The offense looked clunky at times, but it got the job done.
White was excellent, particularly on the rapid-fire opening drive. White briefly exited in the second quarter with an apparent left leg injury. He emerged from halftime with a wrap on his leg, but he quickly shed it and returned to the game.
White had 103 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns. ...
Tight end Dwayne Allen entered Sunday night with one reception for minus-4 yards on the season.
He got free in the flat for a 21-yard catch-and-run against the Packers, so he's no longer last in the NFL in receiving yards. Allen's main contributions came as a blocker. He helped open the hole for Patterson's 5-yard touchdown plunge.
Other notes of interest. ... While the outlook for Michel is optimistic, there's been little reporting on Gronkowski, who has missed two games now due to ongoing back issues.
I'll be watching for more on Gronkowski's status (along with of Michel) in coming days; watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for more as the week progresses.
QBs: Tom Brady, Jarrett Stidham, Cody Kessler
RBs: Sony Michel, James White, Rex Burkhead, Damien Harris, Brandon Bolden
WRs: Julian Edelman, Josh Gordon, Phillip Dorsett, Jakobi Meyers, Gunner Olszewski
TEs: Ben Watson, Eric Tomlinson, Ryan Izzo, Matt LaCosse
New Orleans SaintsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 6 November 2018
As ESPN.com's Mike Triplett noted, the first indication that Alvin Kamara wasn't going to be denied on Sunday came on the first play of the game.
He was hit 3 yards behind the line of scrimmage on a jet sweep. But he shed the tackle and wound up gaining 5 yards.
Three hours later, Kamara had 116 yards from scrimmage, three touchdowns and maybe a dozen of those broken tackles to help the New Orleans Saints break free as the team to beat in the NFC with a 45-35 victory over the Los Angeles Rams.
That included a trademark 11-yard touchdown run through a group of four defenders to end that opening drive.
And it included a leaping hurdle over another defender later in the first half, among other highlights.
We've seen similar performances from Kamara before. In fact, it was his third three-touchdown performance of the season, which put him in extremely rare air. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Kamara joined Jim Brown as the only players in NFL history with three three-touchdown performances in a season at the age of 23 or under. (Brown went on to win the NFL MVP award when he did it in 1958).
But Kamara also had some added inspiration for this particular game. A close friend of his, a New Orleans rapper known as Young Greatness, was shot and killed last Monday morning -- just hours after Kamara had talked to him and made plans to meet up with him when the Saints returned from their win at Minnesota.
"It was tough," Kamara said after Sunday's win. "I actually talked to him before we took off from Minnesota and we were supposed to link up. And when we landed, I got the news, and I went to the scene. It's just hard, losing anybody. That's a close friend of mine for a long time. So it's tough, I've just been trying to deal with that."
Kamara also overcame an illness this week that forced him to miss practice on Thursday.
He returned to practice Friday with a bottle of night-time cold medicine displayed prominently in his locker (endorsement deal, anyone?).
By Sunday, he looked like he had recovered to about 120 percent, whether that was because of the added motivation from his friend's death or the added motivation from playing against the Rams -- or simply because that's how ridiculously good and rare Kamara's skill set is.
"I don't even know, really," Kamara said of his first touchdown run, which included key blocks by left tackle Terron Armstead and tight end Josh Hill, among others -- as well as Kamara eluding three mostly-unblocked defenders. "It was good blocking. Sometimes plays stretch out longer than they need to. Just tried to stay alive, keep it alive, got in there and squeezed in there somehow."
When quarterback Drew Brees was asked about Kamara's ability to make tacklers miss, he said, "Yeah, man, he is a smooth runner, he is an elusive runner. It's just one of these guys that plays with great body control and leverage, and he can shed tacklers."
"It's pretty uncanny," Brees continued. "His ability both in the run game and the pass game, just to maneuver, and it looks so smooth it barely looks like he's moving, But he's covering ground, making people miss, and obviously some great results today. The first touchdown, the second touchdown, there's a couple where he was just impressive."
Kamara now has a staggering 917 yards from scrimmage and 12 touchdowns in just eight games this season -- putting him on pace to shatter the 1,554 scrimmage yards and 14 touchdowns he scored during his NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year campaign.
A lot of that came during fellow running back Mark Ingram's four-game suspension to start this season (Kamara led the NFL with 611 yards from scrimmage and was tied for first with six touchdowns through those four games).
Now that Ingram is back, I've been describing Kamara as more of a "1A" compared to Ingram's "1B." There could still be some run-heavy game plans or blowouts where Ingram gets more work than Kamara.
But there will also be games like this where Kamara takes over simply because he has that type of game-breaking ability.
Meanwhile, Michael Thomas brought back one of the most memorable touchdown celebrations in NFL history on Sunday, channeling former Saints receiver Joe Horn from 2003 when Thomas retrieved a hidden cellphone from around the bottom of the goalpost.
Oh, and he did it after a 72-yard touchdown catch that gave the Saints a 45-35 lead over the Los Angeles Rams and gave Thomas 12 catches for 211 yards.
Thomas was penalized for the celebration, which was obviously premeditated.
And now the Saints (7-1) have emerged as the NFC's team to beat after handing the Rams (8-1) their first loss of the season.
Thomas' 211 receiving yards were the most in a single game in Saints history, though his 12 catches weren't even a personal best. He had 16 catches in Week 1 and 12 more in Week 2 this season.
The Saints' previous single-game receiving record, 205 yards, was set by Wes Chandler in 1979.
On Wednesday, Thomas was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week.
Thomas, a second-round draft pick out of Ohio State in 2016, has shared his desire to be considered among the NFL's top receivers, saying both through social media and a recent conversation with ESPN's Josina Anderson that he feels like he still has something to prove.
Brees, meanwhile, has now completed 19 TD passes of 70-plus yards in his career, breaking a tie with Eli Manning for the most by any player since the 1970 merger.
The Saints actually had two notable TD celebrations Sunday. TE Benjamin Watson announced that he and his wife are expecting twins (their sixth and seventh children) by tucking the football under his shirt to mimic a pregnant belly and holding up seven fingers. ...
And finally. ... After working out for the Saints, former All-Pro wideout Dez Bryant is now hoping to rejuvenate his career by catching passes from Brees.
The former Cowboys wide receiver is signing a one-year deal with the New Orleans Saints.
Bryant, 30, was released by the Cowboys in April after his on-field productivity slipped in 2016 and 2017. The once dominant physical wideout hasn't surpassed 900 yards since signing a lucrative extension in 2015 -- an extension fueled by remarkable numbers he racked up en route to being named a first team All-Pro in 2014.
Entering his ninth season, it'll be interesting to see what kind of impact Bryant will for a New Orleans offense that has its fair share of offensive weapons in Thomas, Kamara and Ingram.
The big question is does Bryant still have the skill to be a game-changing wideout?
As NFL.com's Austin Knoblauch suggests, the tape from the last two seasons says no.
Bryant believes "garbage-ass play calling" was the culprit behind the Cowboys' offensive struggles last season -- a problem that ultimately plagued his production. Cowboys coaches reportedly believed they could see Bryant's gifted physical abilities begin to slip as early as his injury-ravaged 2015 season.
There's no guarantee Bryant will see anywhere near the same amount of targets he saw in Dallas.
Still, for a team looking to beef up its roster in hopes of a potential Super Bowl run, taking a chance on Bryant makes sense. If he can somehow get into the neighborhood of numbers he posted from 2012-14 or simply add another threat in the Saints' passing game, Bryant could end up being a wonderful investment for a Saints franchise seeking its second Super Bowl title.
In addition to Thomas, the Saints have Tre'Quan Smith, Austin Carr and Cameron Meredith at the position.
The Saints also worked out former Seattle Seahawks receiver Brandon Marshall and former Ravens wide receiver Kamar Aiken.
QBs: Teddy Bridgewater, Taysom Hill, Drew Brees
RBs: Alvin Kamara, Latavius Murray, Dwayne Washington, Zach Zenner
WRs: Michael Thomas, Ted Ginn, Tre'quan Smith, Austin Carr, Lil'Jordan Humphrey, Deonte Harris, Emmanuel Butler
TEs: Jared Cook, Josh Hill
New York GiantsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 6 November 2018
The NFL trading deadline passed and the New York Giants decided to stand pat despite speculation they would be wheeling and dealing with a second straight season going down the tubes.
Linebacker Olivier Vernon, cornerback Janoris Jenkins and safety Landon Collins will finish the season with the Giants, who are 1-7 for the second straight year and have virtually no chance of making the playoffs in Pat Shurmur's first season as coach.
Cornerback Eli Apple and 2016 All-Pro defensive tackle Damon Harrison were the only players traded, and they were shipped the week before the deadline.
Heading into their bye week, the question facing Shurmur was where does the team go from here.
To be honest, there isn't a lot he can do. This team has only made the playoffs once since winning the Super Bowl in 2012. There is not a lot of depth.
But as Associated Press sports writer Tom Canavan notes, the one change fans and the media want is at quarterback. Two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning is as stationary as a quarterback can be and that does not work in the NFL, especially when his offense line is playing poorly. The 37-year-old has been sacked 31 times and this past Sunday he seemed to ducking as soon as the pressure got near him.
Many wanted Shurmur to put in rookie Kyle Lauletta to see what the fourth-round pick out of Richmond could do.
That's not going to happen now.
The 22-year-old was arrested last Tuesday on motor vehicle and related disorderly persons offenses while driving near a road construction site to practice. He might face a league suspension. The Giants would look foolish replacing Manning for him. Veteran Alex Tanney also isn't the answer.
"We're trying to do what we can to win this season, and certainly you always do what you can in the short run," Shurmur said before heading into the bye.
What the Giants did instead was evaluate all facets of their games to find plays that work.
And they're going to keep playing Manning.
Shurmur confirmed on Tuesday that the veteran would continue to be Big Blue's starting quarterback on Monday Night Football against the San Francisco 49ers.
Shurmur added that he expects Manning, and the rest of his team, to play better coming off the bye week.
With no other legitimate options on the roster, sticking with Manning was the clear path, despite the veteran QB's continued struggles.
Beyond that, there is little they can do with the offense line. It was revamped to start the season and 60 percent has changed. Center Jon Halapio broke a leg and is done for the season. Right tackle Ereck Flowers was cut and free agent right guard Patrick Omameh struggled, was hurt and lost his job. Left tackle Nate Solder, the big free agent signing who has struggled at times, and rookie second-round draft pick Will Hernandez are the only starters remaining.
The talent in the skill positions is obvious. Odell Beckham Jr. (61 catches for 785 yards) and Sterling Shepard (40 for 542) are outstanding receivers.
Shurmur needs to find a way to get second-year tight end Evan Engram more involved. He was an explosive receiver last season and that has been missing.
Saquon Barkley, the No. 2 overall pick in the draft, has helped the passing game, catching 58 passes for 497 yards and two touchdowns.
The biggest need is to get the running game going. Despite getting 519 yards from Barkley, the rest of the team has contributed just over 100 yards. It has allowed opposing defenses to play the pass, limiting the offense. The unit has hurt itself with penalties and sacks that have created too many third-and-long plays, and it has settled for too many field goals, averaging 18.5 points.
"We got good players," said Manning, who wants to remain the starting quarterback. "There's some good football. There are some good plays. There's some big plays, some explosive plays. There's just some bad football as well. So, it's just cleaning up the bad stuff."
The positive for the Giants has been James Bettcher's defense. It has given the Giants a chance to win games. Its only drawback is it has not taken the ball away more. New York has seven takeaways.
"We always said from the beginning, we got all the weapons that we showcase, and we expected to win," Collins said of the season. "So yeah, I'm very surprised by it."
Barkley, who lost only five games in his last two seasons at Penn State, said losing in the NFL has been an adjustment for him, as it has been for many of his teammates.
"It's part of the NFL, it's a part of the sport. It's adversity right now," Barkley said. "When we get this thing going, and we get this thing rolling, we're going to look back at this and laugh, and see how this made us tougher."
We'll see if they can get this thing rolling Monday night, going up against a 49ers team coming off a huge win over the Oakland Raiders.
QBs: Daniel Jones, Eli Manning, Alex Tanney
RBs: Saquon Barkley, Wayne Gallman, Elijhaa Penny, Austin Walter
WRs: Golden Tate, Cody Latimer, Cody Core, Darius Slayton, Sterling Shepard
TEs: Evan Engram, Rhett Ellison, Garrett Dickerson, Kaden Smith
New York JetsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 6 November 2018
One day after the worst game of his young career, Sam Darnold offered a brutally candid self-evaluation.
"For me, I'm just not playing to the best of my ability and, quite frankly, just playing stupid," the rookie told reporters Monday on a conference call. "I thought I played stupid football [Sunday]. I just have to be better. I know that, the coaches know that, everybody knows that."
Darnold's interception total ballooned to a league-high 14 with a four-pick performance in a 13-6 road loss to the Miami Dolphins. He threw an interception on three of the Jets' last four possessions, including one that was returned for a touchdown by linebacker Jerome Baker.
For the first time since he was named the starter before Week 1, Darnold expressed self-doubt.
"I just have to play smarter, play better," he said. "Yeah, I definitely feel like I forced some things. But at the same time, I feel like there were some throws [I didn't make] where I was second-guessing myself and I could've pulled the trigger.
"At some moments in the game, I just get in my own head. I just have to stay true to my progressions and make sure [I have] the confidence I normally have. Just go out there and sling it."
And though head coach Todd Bowles reiterated on Monday that he has no plans to make a quarterback change, that changed on Wednesday, when the Jets announced Darnold has a boot on his right foot and was in street clothes at practice.
The Jets' backup is Josh McCown, 39, who has yet to take a snap.
Darnold came up limping after a sack last week, though there have been no details about his condition.
I'll obviously be following up on this one, but early reports indicate Darnold will miss this week's game; watch the Late-Breaking Updates for more. ...
Beyond the injury issue, this is a pivotal point in Darnold's development. The Jets don't want to handcuff him, but they also know they can't win if he continues to force passes into coverage.
"He knows he has to play within the system," Bowles said. "He understand when he can and can't make throws. You want him to make throws and make big throws, but you don't want him to force them."
Darnold said he came out of the game with some "bumps and bruises" but also said that he's fine. Bowles said he's not aware of a specific injury.
Meanwhile, Quincy Enunwa had a straightforward response when asked how he felt after the loss at Miami.
"I felt good," Enunwa said. "I did my best to try to help the team out, and I'm hoping to kind of continue that throughout the year."
Even though Bowles thought it was a remarkable comeback for Enunwa just to make it on the field after sitting out the previous two games with a bad ankle sprain, he wasn't worried about his no doubt still achy ankle but about giving his team a boost.
In fact, he did a lot to try to lift the Jets past the Dolphins. His final receiving line -- three catches for 40 yards -- tells only part of the story.
His first catch cut the distance of Jason Myers' first field goal try from 56 yards to 48. Myers put the ball through and the Jets trailed, 6-3, at the half. His second catch converted a third-and-2 situation and moved the Jets into Miami territory before they stalled and Myers came on for his 56-yarder to make it a one-score game again at 13-6.
Then came a highlight-video grab on a bubble screen that Darnold, Enunwa and the offense worked so well before his injury. They did it again as Enunwa took the pass 2 yards behind the line, weaved between two blocks, broke two tackles, then carried three more defenders the last 10 yards in completing a 23-yard play to the Jets' 47 with more than three minutes left.
And for Enunwa, that made 25 yards after the catch for a receiver who was already packing an unofficial team-leading 9.0 YAC average.
Even though the Jets offense struggled for the third straight game, it's possible the return of Enunwa, plus Robby Anderson, who had four catches for 32 yards after missing the Chicago game with an ankle injury, and running back Elijah McGuire, who came off injured reserve to supply 30 yards on seven carries and 37 yards on three catches, can help settle their side of the ball down for the final seven games.
"It's tough but it's still there for us," Enunwa said. "It's not exactly where we want it to be, but in this league anybody can lose at any time. We know we just have to keep fighting and keep striving for our goals."
For the record, Darnold, Enunwa (ankle), Anderson (ankle) and tight end Neal Sterling (concussion0 did not practice Wednesday. McGuire (foot) and Crowell (ankle) worked fully.
Also worth noting. ... Chris Herndon hauled in all four of his targets for 62 yards against the Dolphins as he continues to establish himself as a viable fantasy play.
Elijah McGuire carried the ball seven times for 30 yards and caught three passes (on five targets) for 37 yards in his first game off IR. Isaiah Crowell carried the ball 13 times for 49 yards and caught one pass for 11 yards. Go ahead and consider Crowell and McGuire a one-two punch similar to what the team had with Crowell and Bilal Powell.
QBs: Sam Darnold, David Fales
RBs: Le'Veon Bell, Javorius Allen, Ty Montgomery, Trenton Cannon, Bilal Powell
WRs: Robby Anderson, Jamison Crowder, Demaryius Thomas, Josh Bellamy, Tim White, Braxton Berrios
TEs: Chris Herndon, Trevon Wesco, Daniel Brown
Oakland RaidersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 6 November 2018
Jon Gruden stood by his claim that players are "dying" to play for the Oakland Raiders in 2019, adding that he doesn't believe his current players took it as a message that they are not good enough.
"I'm just trying to get people excited about the Oakland Raiders," Gruden said after his team was thumped 34-3 by the San Francisco 49ers in the final Battle of the Bay on Thursday night at Levi's Stadium. The Raiders move to Las Vegas in 2020.
"The Oakland Raiders is a great organization. I know it's not looking pretty right now. I've heard a lot of negativity over the last six or seven months, and rightfully so. But we're going to build a championship football team here. I know a lot of people as players, as fans, just in general, want to be a part of this."
As ESPN.com's Paul Gutierrez noted, it may only be midseason, but Raiders look primed to pick first in the 2019 NFL draft after last Thursday's loss to the previously 1-7 49ers.
The Raiders fell to 1-7 at the season's midway point and have an inside track to a top 2 pick in April's NFL draft. Oakland also has two other first-round picks, from the Chicago Bears and Dallas Cowboys, after trading edge rusher Khalil Mack and receiver Amari Cooper.
In an interview with Fox Sports this week, Gruden told Raiders Hall of Famer Howie Long that players around the league have expressed their desire to play for him in 2019.
"I get a lot of phone calls from people that are dying to come play here. I'm just telling you. They're dying to play for the Raiders," Gruden told Long. "And to have salary-cap space and to have a chance to talk to the people that you really want to wear the silver and black, the guys you really want to wear the silver and black and represent this team, that's exciting."
Derek Carr said he was curious about the roster going forward.
"The thing that we're at now is, who's going to want to continue to show up? Who's going to continue to fight?" Carr said.
"Because those are the kind of men you want on the team when it starts going well. Those are the kind of guys that when coach isn't around or one of our leaders, everyone in the locker room, the conversations they're having, they're only building us forward. Because the ones that pull you away, you don't want any of those guys."
But make no mistake, Carr is bought in.
"Who really wants to turn this thing around? Who really wants to do the hard things that no one wants to do? It's easy to say, 'I'd rather do it somewhere else.' That's easy," Carr said. "I think we figure that out, and going forward we find out who's a Raider, honestly.
"I love this place, and I'm not going anywhere. So I'm in for the long haul, and I want to see the men step up and say, 'I want to do that too.'"
Gruden, meanwhile, said he is approached by players after "every game" who want to play for Oakland.
"That's been the case my whole life," he said. "I think the brand of the Raiders is an exciting one. I think a lot of players, no doubt, do want to play for us in the future."
It's not been all that exciting for fantasy owners, however.
The Raiders have failed to clear 10 points during three of their past four games. They put up 10 against the Chargers and three against both the Seahawks and 49ers, mixing in a 28-point effort against the Colts.
Of course, little has gone right of late for the Raiders, who have been outscored by 85 points during that four-game losing streak.
The team has also cut captains Bruce Irvin and Derrick Johnson during that span, watched cornerback Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie retire, in addition to the trades shipping Cooper and Mack out of town..
Oakland was last in the league with seven sacks before cutting ties with Irvin, who led the team with three. Only rookies Maurice Hurst (two sacks) and Key (one), along with Clinton McDonald (one) have sacks among players on the active roster.
The Raiders also added some reinforcements Monday, signing defensive linemen Jacquies Smith and Kony Ealy to contracts. ...
A few final items. ... According to ESPN's Mike Clay, Doug Martin has now played two games as Oakland's lead back this season. The veteran back has been responsible for 24 carries and four targets on 51 of a possible 102 snaps. He has been doubled up in routes (24 to 12) by Jalen Richard, who has four carries and 12 targets on 42 snaps during the same span.
Per Clay, Richard is best viewed as a fringe RB2 and Martin a low-ceiling flex option in PPR leagues.
As Rotoworld notes, Brandon LaFell has played 99-of-107 (92.5 percent) offensive snaps since the Raiders traded Cooper.
On the injury front. ... LT Kolton Miller didn't have a helmet at practice after re-injuring his right knee last Thursday. ... LG Kelechi Osemele participated in practice despite injuring his knee again against the 49ers. ... RB Marshawn Lynch stopped by practice for the first time since undergoing surgery on an injured groin last month.
QBs: Derek Carr, Mike Glennon
RBs: Josh Jacobs, Jalen Richard, DeAndre Washington
WRs: Tyrell Williams, Zay Jones, Hunter Renfrow, Trevor Davis, Dwayne Harris, Keelan Doss
TEs: Darren Waller, Derek Carrier, Foster Moreau
Philadelphia EaglesCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 6 November 2018
Repeating as Super Bowl champions already was a tough task before the Philadelphia Eagles had a mediocre first half.
The offense was inconsistent, the defense couldn't protect leads in the fourth quarter and injuries were a factor. So the Eagles entered their bye at 4-4 and were second behind Washington (5-2) in the NFC East.
They have a challenging schedule coming up and it's unlikely they'll win enough games to get a first-round bye if they can even catch the Redskins.
But help is on the way from the outside and from within.
Wide receiver Golden Tate was acquired from Detroit shortly before the NFL's trade deadline, giving Carson Wentz a needed option. The Eagles are averaging only 22.2 points per game, down from 28.6 last year.
Running back Darren Sproles could be returning for Philadelphia's next game against Dallas after being sidelined since injuring his hamstring in Week 1. Two more players from the group on injured reserve -- receivers Mack Hollins and Mike Wallace and tight end Richard Rodgers -- also will be eligible to come back.
"We definitely have the pieces and now is the time to get hot going into November with five more division games," Tate said. "We just need to stay on track. I plan on going to the playoffs and playing a few more."
Giving up a third-round pick for Tate, who is in the final season of his contract, was a risky move. It shows the organization believes the team is still a Super Bowl contender despite the so-so record.
"We have a lot of confidence in our players and in our coaching staff," personnel boss Howie Roseman said. "Has everything gone exactly the way we thought this year? No. I don't think any season does.
"But we think we have a really good football team and we are adding a really good player. We are going to keep our foot on the gas. We are not going to sit on our hands."
Wentz was one of the positives in the first two months. He has been mostly excellent since missing the first two games while recovering from knee surgery that forced him to miss the playoffs. However, the offense had other issues.
Running back Jay Ajayi tore his ACL, wideout Alshon Jeffery missed the first three games and bookend tackles Jason Peters and Lane Johnson are banged-up and didn't play up to their high standards.
"That week off is huge both for people's minds and their bodies to just really heal up, get away from the game for a couple days and everything, get your mind right so we can come back and make this run," Wentz said.
Tate could help the offense get in sync. He has more time to learn the playbook because the team is on a break.
"I want to do whatever's going to help this team win," Tate said. "When the ball is in my hand, I want to be able to make a play."
Tate has made plenty of plays throughout his 8½ seasons in the league. He has more yards after catch (3,910) than anyone else since 2010. He gives head coach Doug Pederson flexibility to move guys around and perhaps put Nelson Agholor back in the slot where he thrived in 2017.
"He's a tremendously productive player," Roseman said. "His run-after-the-catch numbers are phenomenal. We're really excited to get him."
The Eagles are now better equipped to win shootouts if their defense doesn't perform up to expectations. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz's unit struggled against the pass and allowed several fourth-down conversions in important situations in a couple of losses when a stop would've given the team a win.
"We have to score more points," Pederson said. "We have to get better. Hopefully we get some guys back healthy. We know our division. We have five division (games) in the next eight weeks, so that's a challenge, but everything is right in front of us."
Some of the issues on defense have been surprising. The line was supposed to be a major strength, but the front four isn't getting enough pressure. Brandon Graham only has 1½ sacks and Derek Barnett had season-ending shoulder surgery.
The secondary has been a problem, too. Safety Rodney McLeod went down with a knee injury and starting cornerbacks Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby have given up too many big plays. ...
Meanwhile, ESPN.com's Tim McManus reports the Eagles could be getting DT Tim Jernigan, who hasn't played this season following surgery to repair a herniated disc, back this week. It will open a three-week window to add him back to the active roster.
Beyond that, I'll be watching for more on Sproles, who was back at practice on Wednesday, in coming days; keep an eye on the Late-Breaking Updates section for all the latest.
One last note here. ... Per NFL Network's Mike Garafolo, Wallace will ditch his walking boot soon and the veteran wideout believes he could be running within two weeks. From there, it’s a matter of getting in game shape. Very possible he can make a return this season.
QBs: Carson Wentz, Nate Sudfeld, Clayton Thorson
RBs: Jordan Howard, Miles Sanders, Darren Sproles, Corey Clement
WRs: Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, JJ Arcega-Whiteside, Mack Hollins, Greg Ward, DeSean Jackson
TEs: Zach Ertz, Dallas Goedert
Pittsburgh SteelersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 6 November 2018
Le'Veon Bell might be ready to head back to work. The Pittsburgh Steelers don't exactly look like they need him.
The star running back tweeted "Farewell Miami" on Monday, possibly indicating the end of his months-long standoff with the club. Bell hasn't been inside the Pittsburgh locker room since last January, opting to stay away rather than sign his one-year franchise tender. The two-time All-Pro has sacrificed half of the $14.4 million he's due this season but needs to report by Nov. 13 to make sure he accrues enough service time to reach free agency in March.
Bell's extended absence initially created a furor inside the locker room. Now, it seems almost like an afterthought. The Steelers (5-2-1) have ripped off four straight victories heading into Thursday night's visit from Carolina (6-2), relying heavily on James Conner -- Bell's replacement -- to surge into the lead in the AFC North.
Conner followed up AFC Offensive Player of the Month honors by running wild on the Ravens with 163 total yards, including 107 rushing, on 31 touches in the Pittsburgh Steelers' 23-16 win Sunday. That included his first career touchdown pass when he took a short flip from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and bulled past Baltimore safety Eric Weddle at the pylon.
Conner has gotten the ball 108 times for 689 yards over the past four games, prompting a reporter to ask what he thinks about a similar workload over the final eight games.
"I'm built for this," said Conner matter-of-factly.
"I agree with James," Mike Tomlin said Monday when asked about Conner's personal assessment.
Tomlin smiled as he answered, mirroring the considerably lighter mood around his team these days. The problems that plagued the Steelers during September have vanished, though Tomlin is reticent to point to any one area where his team has improved.
"I'm not trying to look for specific areas, I just try to challenge these guys to get better every day," Tomlin said. "That's what we're focused on. I think that if we do that daily that will give us a chance to produce consistent performances that are on the rise. Not only in the second quarter (of the season) but as we continue through this journey."
It's a pattern that's become well established during Tomlin's 12 years on the job. The Steelers have been traditionally slow starters under his watch, then get it together as the days grow shorter.
Pittsburgh hasn't allowed more than 21 points during its four-game run and the secondary that was torched regularly in the opening month has settled in. Coty Sensabaugh has taken over for Artie Burns at the cornerback spot opposite Joe Haden and rookie safety Terrell Edmunds has filled in capably while veteran Morgan Burnett heals from a series of injuries that have slowed him since training camp.
The Steelers aren't exactly overwhelming opponents but considering the firepower on offense, overwhelming teams isn't required. Pittsburgh gave up at least 327 yards in each of its first four games. The Steelers haven't surrendered more than 324 yards over their last four. ...
Meanwhile, Bell has not had contact with the Pittsburgh Steelers this week, sources tell ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley and Adam Schefter, and barring an unforeseen development in the next few days, is not expected to report to the team in time for Thursday night's game against the Panthers, increasing the possibility that the star running back will not play at all this season.
Bell faces a deadline of Nov. 13 to report in order to play at all this season. Under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement, Bell must report to the Steelers by 4 p.m. ET next Tuesday or he will be ineligible for the remainder of the season.
The collective bargaining agreement mandates that any player on a contract or on a tender must report by the Tuesday after the 10th week of the season if he wants to play that year.
But one source pointed out to ESPN that it "doesn't make any sense for [Bell] to play now."
"If he doesn't want to play for $14.5 million, why would he want to play for $5 million?" the source told ESPN, referring to the prorated balance remaining on Bell's $14.5 million franchise tender.
Bell told ESPN in early October that he is staying away to preserve his long-term health for his next contract but intends to play football this season. Bell has been working out in Miami this season, but on Monday he tweeted "Fairwell Miami" without further explanation.
But despite Bell's tweet, the Steelers still haven't heard from him and their focus remains the same with the players and coaches in the building as they prepare for Thursday's game vs. Carolina, a source told ESPN.
Bell said the Steelers told him they plan to place the transition tag on him this offseason, and a source confirmed to ESPN that the tag would be worth approximately $9 million to $10 million.
The transition tag would allow Bell to negotiate with other teams and allow the Steelers to match any offer. If the Steelers match, regardless of the offer, Bell would have to sign that deal with Pittsburgh.
Bell does not have to report to the Steelers by a certain date to get an accrued season to become eligible for free agency, contrary to what ESPN and others previously reported. Bell already has played the four-plus seasons he needs to become a free agent after the season.
I'll be watching for more on Bell in coming days; check the Late-Breaking Updates section for any developments.
Otherwise, the Steelers appear to be on point heading into a matchup with the equally on-point Carolina Panthers, who head to Heinz Field on Thursday night.
QBs: Mason Rudolph, Devlin Hodges, Ben Roethlisberger
RBs: James Conner, Benny Snell, Jaylen Samuels
WRs: JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, Johnny Holton, Ryan Switzer, Donte Moncrief, James Washington
TEs: Vance McDonald, Nick Vannett, Zach Gentry, Xavier Grimble
San Francisco 49ersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 6 November 2018
As NFL.com's Austin Knoblauch noted, only three players in the Super Bowl era have passed for 250-plus yards and three touchdowns with zero interceptions during their NFL debuts: Fran Tarkenton, Jim Kelly and ... Nick Mullens.
The second-year QB out of Southern Miss put in a historic performance during the 49ers' 34-3 rout of the Oakland Raiders on Thursday Night Football to open Week 9.
Mullens connected on 16 of 22 passes for 262 yards and three touchdowns in the win. He posted a passer rating of 151.9 -- the highest passer rating for player making his NFL debut since 1990 (min. 20 attempts) and the eighth-highest rating this season, per NFL Research. It was the highest passer rating by a 49ers QB since the 157.1 Alex Smith posted on Oct. 29, 2012.
He also became only the second quarterback since 2000 to throw a TD pass on each of his team's first two possessions and was the first QB since Gus Frerotte in 1994 to complete passes to eight different players in the first half of a debut.
Not bad for a QB who was on the 49ers practice squad until starter Jimmy Garoppolo suffered a season-ending torn ACL.
"You never know until you see someone," head coach Kyle Shanahan said about Mullens. "He didn't surprise us in terms of, the game's not too big for Nick. He's very poised. He is always locked in. The guys, they respect him. He earned a lot of respect in the preseason, them watching him play. Both years, last year and this year. The way he handles himself in practice each week. He didn't really know for sure whether he was going to start today, until today, and just the way he handled the two days of long walkthroughs and stuff.
"He's a machine in there and I was happy for him."
Another person who was happy for him was Hall of Famer Brett Favre. During his time at Southern Miss, Mullens made a habit out of passing Favre's marks in the history books. Favre wished Mullens good luck before the game and made a congratulatory phone afterward.
"It was pretty cool, definitely an honor," Mullens said. "It's cool to see Southern Miss alumni stay in tune with the program and support each other. Definitely appreciative of that and definitely have the most respect for Brett. He just told me how proud of me he was."
The question now is whether Mullens will play again. C.J. Beathard's wrist injury limited him to a backup role Thursday, but he's expected to be healthy in time for next week's game against the New York Giants. Is Shanahan mulling over whether to play Mullens over Beathard based off Thursday's performance?
"We'll consider it," Shanahan said. "Definitely not thinking about that right now, but our whole team played very well. Nick definitely did. ... It's good to get a win today and hopefully it can lead to some others."
In all, it was a memorable performance for a NFL player who wasn't verified on Twitter until some point during the second half of Thursday's game. Mullens certainly earned his blue check mark.
The fairy tale that played out on national TV last Thursday night is expected to continue.
Shanahan held off making an announcement this week so he could talk directly to his players, but Mullens took all the first-team reps in Wednesday's practice and told reporters after the session that Shanahan told him he'd be starting again.
That feel-good story isn't finished just yet. ...
In a related note. ... On Tuesday, tight end George Kittle relayed a story about Shanahan and Mullens' communication during the game against the Raiders.
It seems when Mullens got in the huddle to call a play relayed to him by Shanahan, Shanahan kept talking in Mullens' ear. Mullens asked Shanahan to stop talking.
The only problem? It's a one-way radio, so Shanahan couldn't hear Mullens.
"That's really funny," Kittle said, via Nick Wagoner of ESPN.
Mullens verified the story.
"George talks a lot," Mullens said. "No, sometimes in the huddle, you hear the play call, and you're ready to repeat it. And so yeah, I was just ready to call the play. ..."
Raheem Mostert had surgery on a broken forearm last Friday afternoon. The 49ers placed him on the injured reserve list, ending his season.
Mostert rushed for 86 yards and a touchdown Thursday against the Raiders. He averaged 7.7 yards per carry the past four games.
"For the two years we've been here, Raheem has been one of the better special teams players in the league," Shanahan said. "What he has done for us on offense just in these last weeks has been huge. He's really taken a step up. He got his opportunity with some injuries and faced some adversity right away with a turnover, and he completely bounced back and made himself a hell of a back. It's going to be a huge loss for us, but it'll open up some opportunities for other people, just like some opportunities were opened up for him."
In recent weeks, Mostert had emerged as Matt Breida's primary complement in the running game, leaving Alfred Morris as the third back. He was also considered the Niners' best special-teams player.
With Mostert out, Morris figures to move back into a more prominent role, and the Niners will have to add another back to the active roster for depth.
One option is practice squad running back Jeff Wilson, an undrafted free agent the Niners signed out of North Texas in May.
QBs: Jimmy Garoppolo, Nick Mullens, C.J. Beathard
RBs: Tevin Coleman, Matt Breida, Raheem Mostert, Jeff Wilson
WRs: Deebo Samuel, Marquise Goodwin, Dante Pettis, Richie James, Jalen Hurd, Kendrick Bourne, Trent Taylor
TEs: George Kittle, Levine Toilolo, Ross Dwelley
Seattle SeahawksCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 6 November 2018
The Seahawks figured out just how easy it is to get off track.
After successfully resetting its roster and figuring out a style and method for winning in the first half of the season, Seattle took a major step backward in a loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. The Seahawks had built a winning formula on running the ball, avoiding mistakes on offense and stopping the run on defense. Now, Seattle has to prove it can beat a quality opponent when the script doesn't play out perfectly.
"We've found ourselves in most of the games we didn't win right there at the end, so close to getting it done," Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. "I'm hoping the second half of the season will allow us to finish those games and get the wins that we want and turn this season into a really positive year for us."
The 25-17 loss to the Chargers revealed how quickly the Seahawks can lose the style of play that led them to win four of the previous five games. They sit at 4-4, facing a challenging three-game stretch that starts this week with the Los Angeles Rams.
"I've never looked at this like it's a rebuilding year. (GM) John (Schneider) and I didn't look at this like that. We saw the opportunities to fill the spots and we thought we could keep moving and going," Carroll said. "There's always going to be some growing time and we saw that the first two weeks of the season. As far as expectations, our expectations are higher and that's why we're disappointed that we're not in better shape than we are right now."
Seattle still had a chance to force overtime against the Chargers until Russell Wilson's pass for David Moore at the back of the end zone was tipped slightly and fell incomplete on the final play.
The Seahawks issues started long before that pass hit the turf.
Seattle did not stop the run, giving up 7.3 yards per carry to the Chargers and letting Melvin Gordon run for 113 yards and a touchdown.
It did not avoid offensive mistakes. Wilson was sacked four times, with several of those his fault for not getting the ball out or trusting the protection. He also made a critical turnover, throwing an interception that was returned 42 yards for a touchdown by Desmond King in the fourth quarter.
And Seattle's own run game was spotty. The Seahawks finished with 154 yards rushing, but starter Chris Carson didn't play the final two and a half quarters due to a lingering hip injury. After scoring a touchdown on their opening possession, the Seahawks got just three points out of the next nine drives.
The end result was too much reliance on Wilson for a fourth-quarter rally. While Wilson nearly pulled it off, the Seahawks fell to 5-6 at home over the past two seasons and have lost the last five games when Wilson has attempted 30 or more passes dating to last season.
Now, heading into this week's game against the Rams, they might be without Carson.
"I talked to Chris," Carroll said on Monday. "It's about like it was last week. He's sore, but he was sore last week and he made it through. We'll have to wait and see, we'll just go day-to-day with him. We'll take care of him early in the week and see how he rounds out later in the week."
Carroll clarified that this is not related to the hip injury that caused Carson to miss Seattle's Week four win at Arizona.
The Seahawks got Rashaad Penny more involved Sunday against the Chargers like they said they wanted to. But Mike Davis still got the large majority of the work in Seattle's backfield after Carson left. Davis played 59 of 81 offensive snaps compared to 12 for Penny and 10 for Carson. ...
Meanwhile, Carroll told reporters that Carson will be held out of Wednesday's practice. I'll be watching for more on his status in coming days; check the Late-Breaking Updates section as the week progresses.
In other injury news, offensive lineman D.J. Fluker also came out of the game late with a lower leg injury, with Joey Hunt taking over at right guard. Carroll told reporters on Monday that Fluker should be fine this week.
Carroll said linebacker K.J. Wright came out of the game "in pretty good shape." Wright, who missed the first six games of the season following arthroscopic knee surgery in August, made his 2018 debut in Seattle's Week 8 game at Detroit, but was listed as questionable for this week's game after a limited week of practice. Wright started at weakside linebacker and played 86 percent of Seattle's defensive snaps.
"We'll look after him this week, but we feel like he'll be able to play again," Carroll said.
Carroll also said that running back J.D. McKissic, who is eligible to come off of injured reserve starting this week, won't return to practice this week.
"We're going to give him another week of really pushing it to see how he does with the thought that maybe he could come back to practice the week after that," Carroll said. "Once he comes back, he could go any time we want to, but he needs a little more time just to make sure that he's right."
One last note here. ... The Seahawks are currently 10-point underdogs heading into Sunday's game against the Rams in Los Angeles. That line would be the largest underdog Wilson has ever been in his career (previous was +7.5 on four occasions).
QBs: Russell Wilson, Geno Smith
RBs: Chris Carson, Rashaad Penny, C.J. Prosise, Travis Homer
WRs: Tyler Lockett, DK Metcalf, David Moore, Gary Jennings Jr., Malik Turner, John Ursua
TEs: Luke Willson, Ed Dickson, Will Dissly
Tampa Bay BuccaneersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 6 November 2018
Despite a 42-28 loss to the Carolina Panthers, the Buccaneers will have Ryan Fitzpatrick starting at quarterback for at least another week, against the Washington Redskins, head coach Dirk Koetter announced Sunday.
The Buccaneers benched Jameis Winston after a dismal four-interception performance against the Cincinnati Bengals last week, opting to go with Fitzpatrick against the Panthers and then reassess.
According to ESPN.com's Jenna Laine, sources insist quarterback Winston's $20.9 million fifth-year option will have no bearing on whether he plays again this season.
"Ryan's our starter next week," said Koetter, who has seen the Bucs become the league's No. 1 offense despite shuffling at the quarterback position. "Ryan had one [bad play] there in the first half -- an overthrow on that one interception that we'd like to have back -- but did a good job of leading us back."
Fitzpatrick rallied the Buccaneers from a 35-7 deficit, completing 24 of 40 passes for 243 yards and four touchdowns to make it 35-28 and a one-score game in the fourth quarter.
But it wasn't enough to overcome a first-quarter pass from the Tampa Bay 22 that sailed over wide receiver Mike Evans' head and into the hands of safety Eric Reid, or when Fitzpatrick tried to hit wide receiver DeSean Jackson on a deep pass with 3 minutes, 45 seconds to go in the fourth quarter that was picked off by cornerback Donte Jackson at the Carolina 20.
"Having the turnover right away didn't help with any sort of momentum, especially on the road," Fitzpatrick said. "I put the team behind with that one, and they [went] on to score. We really didn't get much going."
Koetter added: "That second interception, he was trying to get a big play to DeSean, but Ryan did some good things today. We've gotta play better across the board."
The Bucs surrendered 407 yards of total offense and struggled to run the ball, producing just 82 yards rushing.
"There was a lot of time left in the fourth quarter there, and we brought it within seven," Fitzpatrick said. "I think the thing about our huddle is there is always that optimism and confidence [that] no matter who we are playing, no matter what the score is, winning or losing, we know what we are capable of."
Fitzpatrick connected with tight end O.J. Howard and wide receiver Adam Humphries for two touchdowns each.
Fitzpatrick's first touchdown came with 14:15 to go in the second quarter, on a bootleg rollout, hitting Howard on the right side of the field for a 4-yard score. Just before halftime, on fourth-and-3, Fitzpatrick found Howard again in the same spot to make it 35-14.
In the third quarter, Humphries spun away from a defender to catch a 5-yard touchdown down the middle, before taking a slant 30 yards for a touchdown in the fourth.
"He's a veteran, and he knows how to bounce back and handle adversity," Humphries said of Fitzpatrick. "Even after the first pick, he wasn't shaken up at all. You could just tell he was composed and was able to put a couple good drives together."
Howard added: "With Fitz, he's always going to be a competitor. He's a ball player, a smart guy, he can move the ball with his legs also. He does a lot of things on the field that give us a chance to win the game. We love playing with him."
Worth noting, Fitzpatrick is one of just four passers in the league in 2018 who have already had multiple games with four or more touchdown passes. Including the four touchdowns thrown by Winston against Atlanta in Week Six, Buccaneer quarterbacks have accounted for four of the 22 such outings in the NFL this season.
Fitzpatrick and Winston have combined to throw 23 touchdown passes through the first eight games of the season, which means the team is on pace for 46 by the end of the year. That would obliterate the franchise record for most touchdown passes in a season; in fact, the current mark is already tied for the seventh-highest total in a single season.
Howard's two scores against the Panthers gave him a team-high five on the season and, since the conclusion of Sunday's game marked the season's midway point, put him on pace for 10. The Buccaneers' record for touchdown catches by a tight end in a single season is eight, first set by Jimmie Giles in 1985 and then matched by Howard's current teammate, Cameron Brate, in 2016.
Howard's touchdown total also ranks him among the top four among tight ends in the NFL this season, and only two off the league lead, held by Indianapolis' Eric Ebron.
And finally. ... Ronald Jones missed Sunday's loss to the Panthers with a hamstring injury; he was expected to miss multiple games due to the injury. Peyton Barber appeared to aggravate an ankle injury late in Sunday's game, but there's no reason to believe he won't be ready to go this week, but I'll follow up on both via Late-Breaking Update as developments warrant.
QBs: Jameis Winston, Blaine Gabbert, Ryan Griffin
RBs: Peyton Barber, Ronald Jones, T.J. Logan, Dare Ogunbowale
WRs: Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, Breshad Perriman, Justin Watson, Scott Miller, Bobo Wilson
TEs: O.J. Howard, Cameron Brate, Antony Auclair, Tanner Hudson
Tennessee TitansCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 6 November 2018
As ESPN.com's Turron Davenport noted, the Titans entered their showdown with the Dallas Cowboys on Monday Night Football stuck in a three-game losing streak with their offense struggling and in danger of falling out of the race in the AFC South.
Embattled quarterback Marcus Mariota and the offense had produced 31 points during the losing streak, but after an ugly start that included two early turnovers, Mariota and the offense found their groove on Monday.
The dual-threat QB showed flashes of his playmaking ability, throwing for two touchdowns and rushing for a third in an impressive 28-14 road win that lifted the Titans to 4-4 and second place in the AFC South behind Houston (6-3).
If kicker Ryan Succop hadn't miss a 28-yard field goal, the Titans would have matched their point total from the previous three games.
Most importantly for Tennessee: Mariota took a step forward in his development with a big game on a big stage, completing 21 of 29 passes for 240 yards and helping the Titans convert 11 of 14 third-down attempts. His 9-yard touchdown run all but sealed the game late in the fourth quarter.
"This was an all-out effort by everybody," Mariota said. "We've just got to take it week to week."
Of some interest, Mariota's best throw was the kind of pass that top-level quarterbacks make. The play came on a third down with 10 yards to go in the second quarter. Mariota read the defense and saw a window opening down the field before unleashing a beautiful throw between three defenders to wide receiver Darius Jennings for a 36-yard gain. It was a sign of how he trusts his receivers, even after they make a big drop.
"For him to be able to make the throw on that play, that speaks volumes to Marcus' confidence in him and Darius' being able to take the top off the defense," head coach Mike Vrabel said. "When guys have a drop, they come back and they work. They stay positive."
After seven games, it seems like Mariota and his receivers are finally starting to get on the same page.
"I think we are learning and growing as an offense," Mariota said. "We are all kind of figuring out where those spaces are and who we are sending. Really, it's when to expect the ball and when to throw it ... unbelievable catches on third down. If we can do that consistently, I think we will be alright."
The ball was being thrown to spots before the receivers made their breaks, which was a major factor in the success on third down. Leading up to the game, Mariota thought he was getting in sync with his pass-catchers.
"If there's a miscommunication, we're just talking through it," he said Wednesday. "Whether it's outside of it, right before meetings or maybe after meetings, just going through plays and certain situations. These guys are curious and are always asking questions, which I think is really beneficial for all of us. If we can kind of get on the same page, I think we'll be fine."
The Titans also saw the running game get on track with 125 yards against a physical Dallas defense. Finding balance kept Dallas' defense guessing, and offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur took advantage.
"It was tough in the beginning, but we just stuck with it," said running back Dion Lewis. "It helped the passing game. As an offense, we just have to keep working."
In the second quarter, Lewis took a screen pass from Mariota and raced to the end zone for an 18-yard touchdown. It was Lewis' first touchdown reception in a Titans uniform and the sixth touchdown reception of his career.
Fellow running back Derrick Henry scored for the second consecutive game. He reached the end zone at Dallas on a one-yard run in the second quarter. The score gave him 12 career touchdown runs and two rushing touchdowns in 2018.
In the third quarter, second-year tight end Jonnu Smith caught a 26-yard pass from Mariota. It was Smith's second-longest career reception (32 yards). Later in the quarter, he scored his first touchdown of 2018 and the third touchdown of his career on a seven-yard catch. Smith's 33 passing yards surpassed his previous career high of 30 yards at Jacksonville on Sept. 17, 2017.
The Titans converted 11 of their 14 attempts on third down against the Cowboys. Their 78.6 percent success rate was the franchise's best since Nov. 26, 1995, when they converted 81.8 percent (9-11) against the Denver Broncos. The 78.6 percent rate at Dallas also was the highest in an NFL game in 2018 and tied for the highest in the league in the last three seasons.
The Titans offense had five trips inside Dallas' 20-yard line and scored touchdowns on four of those occasions (80 percent). The only other trip to the red zone resulted in a missed field goal. Entering the contest, the Cowboys defense ranked second in the NFL in the red zone, giving up touchdowns at a rate of only 36.8 percent.
The offensive outburst is encouraging for a Titans team that will need to score plenty of points next week when it plays host to the New England Patriots.
Worth noting. ... Henry played just 14 snaps. He ran for 27 yards and the above-mentioned touchdown on six carries. So why not more work? Vrabel said Lewis is tough to take off the field. "The situation is we're trying to get the guys we feel are going to help us move the football and gain yards and score touchdowns and execute plays," Vrabel said. "There's times where Derrick and Dion will be in there together, and there's times when Derrick is in there. Everybody just has to make the most of their opportunities." Vrabel said receiver Cameron Batson made the most of his chances last night, and he'll get more opportunities this week. ...
On the injury front. ... Vrabel said Tajae Sharpe tweaked "something" in pre-game, said he was close to 100 percent and should be a go by Sunday. In addition, Taywan Taylor left the game after making his second reception. Apparently it was a toe injury.
Vrabel also said right tackle Jack Conklin is in the team's concussion protocol.
I'll follow up on both via Late-Breaking Update as needed.
QBs: Ryan Tannehill, Marcus Mariota
RBs: Derrick Henry, Dion Lewis, Dalyn Dawkins, David Fluellen
WRs: Corey Davis, A.J. Brown, Adam Humphries, Tajae Sharpe, Darius Jennings, Kalif Raymond
TEs: Delanie Walker, Jonnu Smith, MyCole Pruitt, Anthony Firkser
Washington RedskinsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 6 November 2018
The Redskins lost more than a quarter of their starting offense in one fell swoop Monday, with receiver Paul Richardson and guards Brandon Scherff and Shawn Lauvao all going on injured reserve because they need season-ending surgery.
Head coach Jay Gruden said that Richardson has been playing through a shoulder injury that is now too much to bear, while Pro Bowl right guard Scherff tore a pectoral muscle and left guard Lauvao tore the ACL in his left knee in Washington's 38-14 loss to the visiting Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.
That setback ended a three-game winning streak for the NFC East-leading Redskins (5-3), who brought in several offensive linemen for tryouts Monday and signed tackle Austin Howard and guards Jonathan Cooper and Luke Bowanko.
Before the signings were announced, Gruden said he expected for at least one new player off the street to start next weekend at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-5).
"We just have to make sure we stick with the plan. Keep it fairly simple but not too simple," said Gruden, whose team has been at its most successful when Adrian Peterson runs the ball effectively but he had only 17 yards on nine carries against Atlanta. "Still going to challenge our guys to do some great things and hopefully the guys that we sign can fit right in and play."
As it is, Washington already was facing injury issues along its line: Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams missed the game against Atlanta after having surgery on his dislocated right thumb and could be out another two or three weeks.
Plus, Morgan Moses' status is considered day to day, Gruden said, after the starting right tackle hurt the MCL ligament in his right knee against Atlanta but returned to the game after limping off the field in the first half.
"This is something you don't want to go through. But it is pro football, and you have to go through it," Gruden said. "Fortunately we have a very good line coach in Coach (Bill) Callahan."
Things got so bad against Atlanta that the one healthy starting lineman, center Chase Roullier, ran over to the sideline while Scherff was being tended to on the field to check in with Callahan about who should play where.
"Just to figure out where he wanted guys to go," Roullier said. "Maybe they want me at guard. Maybe they want me at center."
It turned out that he stayed at center, but otherwise, the shuffling went like this: Tony Bergstrom, who entered the game at left guard when Lauvao got hurt on the game's third play, shifted to right guard in place of Scherff; Ty Nsekhe, the backup who started at left tackle in place of Williams, moved to left guard; and rookie third-round draft picks Geron Christian made his NFL debut at left tackle.
Washington essentially was out of linemen at that point, so if another injury had happened, Gruden said defensive end Matt Ioannidis would have been forced to play guard, something he said he'd never done at any level.
"We were about a hangnail away from that happening," Roullier said. "That would have been interesting."
Washington's offensive strength had been the run game. The line had developed a rhythm with Peterson, helping him rush for 604 yards so far this season.
The Redskins endured a similar situation in 2017 when they used 36 different offensive line combinations. They won a game at Seattle in which only one original starter, Moses, played.
The Redskins now have 13 players on injured reserve; they ended last season with 23 players on IR. But Gruden said there aren't any lessons that will help them in 2018.
"Not really," he said. "It's something you don't want to go through, but it's pro football and you have to go through it. ... We can't slow down. The train doesn't stop."
A week earlier, Gruden had touted Scherff as the NFL's best pulling guard.
Meanwhile, Richardson's first season with the Redskins after leaving the Seattle Seahawks as a free agent ends with 20 catches for 262 yards and two TDs.
"Paul's been dealing with this thing all year," Gruden said of the AC joint injury. "Toughed it out for eight weeks and I think the pain has been bothering him so much that he needs to get it fixed."
As ESPN.com's John Keim noted, Richardson started at the "Z" position opposite Josh Doctson.
Washington can use Maurice Harris or Michael Floyd in Richardson's place. Harris has filled in at the slot for injured Jamison Crowder, but Crowder might return this week from a sprained ankle after missing the past four games. That would enable Harris, coming off a 10-catch, 124-yard game, to play more outside.
They also have veteran Brian Quick who can help. Rookie seventh-round pick Trey Quinn -- aka Mr. Irrelevant, the final pick in the draft -- is on injured reserve with an ankle injury and might start practicing this week.
Running back Chris Thompson, who missed another game due to a new rib injury, could also chip in once he's ready to return.
At least they have players experienced in their offense to replace Richardson. It could be tougher along the line.
"We'll be fine," Gruden said. "We just have to make sure we stick to the plan and keep it fairly simple, but not too simple. We're still going to challenge our guys to do some great things, and hopefully the guys we sign can fit right in and play."
I'll be watching for more on the plan going forward as the week progresses and report back on all of it (including Thompson and Crowder's status) via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.
QBs: Case Keenum, Colt McCoy, Dwayne Haskins
RBs: Adrian Peterson, Chris Thompson, Wendell Smallwood, Shaun Wilson, Derrius Guice, Bryce Love
WRs: Terry McLaurin, Paul Richardson, Trey Quinn, Jehu Chesson, Kelvin Harmon, Cam Sims
TEs: Vernon Davis, Jeremy Sprinkle, Hale Hentges, Jordan Reed