Team Notes week 3 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 19 September 2018
According to ESPN.com's Josh Weinfuss, changes to the Cardinals' lineup could be coming this week in the wake of Sunday's 34-0 loss to the Los Angeles Rams, coach Steve Wilks said after the game.
"I'm not going to sit here and say right after the game what we're going to do from a personnel standpoint," Wilks said. "But I will say this, everybody will be evaluated."
The scrutiny starts at quarterback, where Sam Bradford continued to struggle in his second game for Arizona, going 17-for-27 passing for 90 yards and one interception as Arizona was shut out for the first time since a 33-0 loss to the Rams last season in London.
The yardage was the fewest of his career in which he's played the entire game, and his 243 yards this season are the fewest through two games of his career.
But Wilks didn't consider replacing Bradford on Sunday with rookie quarterback Josh Rosen, the coach said.
"Well, I think when you look at the climate of the game and how it was going, I don't know if it was going to make a major difference there because, again, it just wasn't one guy," Wilks said. "It was several on both sides of the ball in all three phases. Again, we'll evaluate personnel moving forward and seeing exactly what we're going to do next week as far as putting the best guys on the field."
During his postgame news conference, evaluation was a common theme for Wilks, who became the sixth coach since the merger to lose his first two games by 18 points or more, according to Elias.
The Cardinals looked dismal in all phases of the game. The offense didn't hit 100 yards until the fourth quarter. It gave up 432 total yards -- while gaining just 137. It also had just three first downs through three quarters.
If the Cardinals thought their Week 1 offensive showing -- six points on 213 yards -- was bad, there may be few words to describe this week.
Arizona didn't score, managed just 137 yards -- 91 of which were gained through the first three quarters -- and totaled five first downs, which resulted in Arizona's worst loss since a 58-0 blowout at Seattle in the 2012 season finale. The Cardinals didn't cross the 50-yard line until late in the fourth quarter.
For the second week in a row, the Cards struggled to get David Johnson going early -- through two weeks, D.J. has just 85 rushing yards -- and, in failing to do, never established a rhythm on offense or created manageable third-down opportunities.
"We got our asses kicked," right guard Justin Pugh said.
In two games, Arizona's offense has produced just six points -- that's .75 points per quarter -- four third-down conversions, 350 total yards, 122 rushing yards and one touchdown.
The offense let the defense down two weeks in a row, Bradford said.
"It's got to start happening now," Bradford said.
It'd be easy if there was one specific issue that needed fixing for Bradford and the offense. But there's a "multitude of things" to work on.
"I don't even know where to start right now," Wilks said. "We need to do a much better job running the football. We got to do a much better job protecting. Receivers got to get off the jam at the line of scrimmage. We go to convert on third down."
Converting a third down or two would be a good starting point.
They're now 4-for-20 on third downs this season after going 3-for-12 against Los Angeles.
Bradford said one way to get there is with explosive plays. But Bradford, with little to work with, averaged just 3.33 yards per attempt. In fact, Bradford has thrown 61 passes but has just 243 passing yards and zero touchdowns.
Wilks believes Johnson is a key; the coach said the running back will be utilized more in slot, getting him into space.
"We talked about that," Wilks said about conversations he had with coordinator Mike McCoy and the offensive staff. "We've got to utilize David from the standpoint of getting him out of the backfield, putting him in the slot, putting him out there to try and create that matchup that we need.
"David is very effective when he is out in space, so we have to start utilizing him in those particular matters."
In addition Wilks told reporters during his Monday press conference that the Cardinals will reduce the size of their playbook.
"We got to scale back, take away a lot of the thinking and find a way just to get one win," Wilks said.
Wilks gave the directive to McCoy during a morning meeting.
The goal of a small playbook is for players "to be able to play fast," Wilks said. He added that mistakes happen early in the season "throughout the league in history" because players are "overthinking."
The hope, however, is to ignite a dormant offense. It's not clear if a scaled back offense will help.
Larry Fitzgerald said he's frustrated by the lack of execution on even the most basic of plays.
Bradford's frustration stems from seeing the results the last two Sundays after fighting to get healthy for the past year.
"I think to put so much work and so much effort into getting back onto the field and then to play the way we have in the past two weeks," he said, "I think it's just really disappointing."
Neither Fitzgerald nor Bradford had a reason for why the offense hasn't performed the way it was designed to during the offseason, training camp and preseason.
Fitzgerald didn't see the Cards' issues coming. If he had, he would've tried to change them, he said.
But in 15 seasons, Fitzgerald said nothing surprises him anymore.
"I would say I'm just a little disappointed by the way things are going thus far," he said.
Adding: "We're two weeks into the season. We can turn this around."
Of course, change could also be coming on defense, which gave up 24 first downs while allowing Todd Gurley, who ran for only 42 yards, to score three touchdowns, and Brandin Cooks to catch seven passes for 159 yards.
Special teams could see changes, too, after allowing returner JoJo Natson to collect 155 total return yards -- 133 on punts and 22 on kicks.
"A lot of things we need to address moving forward across the board: personnel, everything, scheme," Wilks said. "We'll look to do that as we get back on Monday."
But as the team's official noted, what the Cardinals most need is an offensive step forward.
"I don't even know where to start right now," Wilks said, before trying to note all the spots he'd like to see get better.
Bradford is the easy target, especially with Rosen sitting on the bench. But Bradford's teammates tried to stop such talk.
"Unfair," Pugh said. "This is a team sport. Eleven guys go on that field. I think every single guy will probably come out here and say they didn't do enough today. You get beat 34-0? We clearly didn't do our jobs."
Added Fitzgerald, "Sam is just one person out of 11 on that side of the ball. Blame doesn't fall on just him."
Fitzgerald didn't sound surprised Wilks was planning to evaluate players and considering changes, but added that every player was doing that with themselves every week anyway.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals now have two straight home games, against the Bears and Seahawks. They have already reached a pivot point in their young season.
And what about Johnson?
According to ESPN's Mike Clay, even though the star running back is off to a disappointing start, it's no time to panic. Johnson has handled 22 carries, 32 pass routes and 10 targets over 67 of a possible 94 snaps. He has deferred some passing-down work to Chase Edmonds (18 routes and nine targets), but is still the preferred choice in that department.
Clay summed up: "Johnson remains a rare workhorse and the volume figures to lead to production in a hurry. ..."
Other notes of interest. ... Fitzgerald aggravated a hamstring injury that had been lingering the past 10 days and missed the end of the contest. Wilks said he didn't want to put Fitzgerald back in the game because of the lopsided score.
"We all know it's going to be tough to keep him off the field," Wilks said. "I have to help Larry help himself. That's what I did Sunday. We'll do everything we can to make sure he's ready to go (this week.)"
I'll have more on Fitz via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses.
And finally. ... According to ESPN.com's Jim McCormick, one of the better athletes at the position, Ricky Seals-Jones might finally tap into his impressive upside this season if his stellar usage pattern persists.
The converted wideout has been targeted six times in each game and is playing a healthy number of snaps.
The problem here is overall offensive output; if you do land him consider it an investment.
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 19 September 2018
"Alert!" NFL.com's Kevin Patra wrote. "The Atlanta Falcons red-zone offense is alive."
It's also surprising if we use Week 1 as the template for the Falcons' offense going forward. Fortunately, the season isn't a week long.
Matt Ryan led four successful touchdown drives in the red zone in Sunday's victory over the Panthers. After going 1-of-5 in the red area in the season-opening loss, the Falcons spread the ball around in the condensed space.
Ryan threw a pair of scoring passes, which wasn't all that unusual, and also ran for two touchdowns for the first time in his career.
"I can't remember the last time I had two TDs," Ryan said with a smile.
Ryan finished 23 of 28 passing for 272 yards, a performance that took some of the heat off offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. Roundly panned for his play-calling last season and in a season-opening loss to Philadelphia, he got a bunch of people involved.
Eight players caught passes. Six ran the ball including Tevin Coleman, who gained 107 yards on 16 carries filling in for injured Devonta Freeman. Just like that, the Falcons resembled the high-scoring team that made it all the way to the Super Bowl two seasons ago with Kyle Shanahan as the coordinator.
Ryan made sure to say he thought Sarkisian did a "great job" calling the plays. It was evident with the way the ball was spread around to eight different receivers, led by five catches each for Julio Jones and Austin Hooper.
Backup receiver Marvin Hall had a 30-yard reception, while rookie Calvin Ridley hauled in a 22-yarder. The running backs also got into the passing game, with Coleman and rookie Ito Smith also making catches.
Ridley, a first-round pick from Alabama, had his first career TD on an 11-yard pass in the second quarter.
Now for the Falcons, it's about sustaining the offensive momentum while cleaning up the issues that led to surrendering too many explosive plays on defense. Injuries might factor in on offense, too, with Freeman banged up and starting left guard Andy Levitre dealing with an elbow injury again.
"We knew the work that we're doing is right, and we knew the process we were going through was right, so we were going to stay committed to that," head coach Dan Quinn said, referring to the offense. "By no means have we solved any of the issues that come up. We're going to continue to dig and fight in all parts of our game."
In other words, the Falcons are far from a finished product. But winning a division game at home was a step in the right direction. ...
Going up against the Saints defense, ESPN's Mike Clay points out we should expect Marshon Lattimore to shadow Jones in this one. Per Clay, Lattimore is one of the game's better, young corners, but it's tough to downgrade Jones when Lattimore has struggled out of the gate and after Jones lit up New Orleans in two meetings last season with Lattimore shadowing him in both games.
Jones caught 12 of 22 targets for 247 yards on 62 routes in those games. He made 11 catches on 18 targets for 228 yards on 45 routes when aligned against Lattimore.
Now to Ridley, who will primarily see struggling Saints CB Ken Crawley on the other side of the formation. Crawley has been heavily targeted, and receivers aligned across from him are averaging 0.95 fantasy points per route this season. In all, Crawley has allowed 208 yards. Only Malcolm Butler has fared worse in each category. According to Clay, Ridley is a sneaky flex this week. ...
Speaking of Freeman. ... Reports surfaced over the weekend that the veteran running back would miss two or three weeks after suffering a knee injury in Week 1 against the Eagles.
But Quinn explained Monday that the timetable for his absence did not come from the team. Quinn said the Falcons still consider Freeman to be "day-to-day" and that as soon as he shows the same explosive burst and cutting ability, he would be back out on the field.
"We're not sure where that report came from, it certainly didn't come from us," Quinn said. "So we're going to continue in that spot of day-to-day, and when Devonta can [show] the same explosion that he plays with then we'll let him do his thing. But until that part comes, we're not going to put a timetable on it."
In Freeman's absence, Coleman became the first player in 21 games to rush for 100 yards against the Carolina Panthers. He was backed up by Smith, who carried the ball nine times for 46 yards.
Freeman was not on the practice field Wednesday. Also worth noting, as ESPN.com's Vaughn McClure reported, Jones was also not practicing Wednesday.
Quinn did not indicate any injury for Jones and the wideout was present walking around during open locker room, but it was later revealed he was resting a sore calf.
I'll be following up as needed via Late-Breaking Update. ...
And finally. ... DE Takk McKinley (groin) is considered day to day this week (he was also held out Wednesday) while the Falcons announced that Levitre was placed on IR Tuesday due to the above-mentioned elbow injury. Wes Schweitzer steps in at left guard and the Falcons also signed guard Zac Kerin.
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 19 September 2018
In an article published Tuesday, Baltimore Sun staffer Mike Preston wrote: "Maybe now the Ravens have returned to their senses.
"Late last week, they were a team in conflict, one that had gotten carried away with its own hype on offense and defense. In a 34-23 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals last Thursday night, the Ravens thought they were the San Diego Chargers of the early 1980s and Dan Fouts was the quarterback."
This after Joe Flacco threw 55 times, continuing a trend that began in the preseason and continued in the season opener against the Bills, when the Ravens lit up some sorry defensive teams. The Ravens got excited, maybe too excited.
They had three new receivers, Flacco was more agile and effective than in the two previous seasons and coordinator Marty Mornhinweg was dialing up plays as if he were the former coach he admires, Mike Holmgren.
Bu as Preston went on to note, to have a consistent, successful offense in the NFL, a team needs to have a good, sound running game, build off it with play-action passes and mix in deep passes downfield.
It's not that hard of a philosophy, and the Ravens need to get back to that sound, fundamental approach. The major focus in the offseason was to bring in receivers Michael Crabtree, Willie Snead and John Brown to improve a team that had converted on only 76 of 223 third-down attempts in 2017.
The passing game was supposed to complement a running game that was No. 11 in the NFL last season, not allow Flacco to throw the ball all over the stadium.
But Alex Collins has carried the ball just 16 times for 48 yards in two games, and the Ravens are averaging just 3.3 yards per carry.
Falling behind, 21-0, to the Bengals forced the Ravens to pass more than they had planned in Thursday night's loss in Cincinnati, but head coach John Harbaugh did not deny the running game needed to improve.
"We just need to get the running game going," Harbaugh said.
"It's only the second game. The Bills made it a point to stop the run. The Bengals didn't have to because they jumped out to a big lead. We're not in any way pleased with the numbers, and we are very determined to run the ball well, because we think it helps our offense. We've got to get that going."
Last season, Collins rushed for almost 1,000 yards and the hope was that he would exceed that number this season. For that to happen, the Ravens will have to establish him earlier in games and stick with him more consistently.
Collins has still shown ability to gain yards after contact and break tackles. But the Ravens have not found a consistent rhythm with their ground attack, and their offensive balance is not where they want it to be. Even before they fall behind, penalties have put them in passing situations more often than they hoped.
With 14 games left to play, there is plenty of time for the Ravens' running game to pick up the pace. However, Harbaugh would like to see improvement sooner rather than later. Baltimore ranked 11th in the league in rushing last year (116 yards per game), and very much hangs its hat on a strong rushing attack.
"We need to pop some runs - that's the biggest concern," Harbaugh said. "I think when you hit some long runs, that average goes to where you want it to be. We've had some steadiness to it. I don't think we've been hit in the backfield too many times. We didn't have nearly as many runs as we wanted on Thursday night. ..."
We'll see if they can get things turned around this weekend, when the Broncos bring a stout defense into Baltimore. ...
Other notes of interest. ... As ESPN.com's Jim McCormick pointed out this week, Brown leads the Ravens in air yardage and end zone targets on the young season. Even if Crabtree leads the team in targets, Brown is on pace to consume a much more valuable blend of vertical and red zone attention.
The Broncos have been middle-of-the-pack in defending opposing receivers this season, while it takes only one big play for Brown to meet cost from the WR3 or flex spot this Sunday.
Also according to McCormick, it hasn't always been pretty, but Flacco has been producing QB1-caliber fantasy results during his past eight regular-season starts; he's averaged 17.3 fantasy points since Week 12 of last season (tied with Jared Goff at QB13 in this span).
The Broncos, meanwhile, have ceded 17.97 fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks this season.
While the sample is small, it appears the Baltimore passing offense has some untapped fantasy value to consider at home this week. ...
After taking four meaningful snaps in the season opener against Buffalo, rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson was in on six plays against the Bengals. The organization's second of two first-round picks in April's NFL draft did not throw a pass, but did carry the ball twice for six yards.
Jackson is still the backup to Flacco and Harbaugh did not shed much light on whether Jackson's workload will increase as the season continues.
"I think it's going to be week-to-week, game plan-to-game plan, game-to-game during the game," Harbaugh said. "There are more plays than five in the game plan for him. So we'll just try to do what we can do with all of the weapons that we have to try to put up as many points as we can. That's really what we're trying to do with all of our guys, and we put him in the same category that way. ..."
While rookie receiver/returner Janarion Grant has returned punts aggressively, he muffed a punt in Week 1, then fumbled on a return in Week 2. Neither loose ball was recovered by the opposing team, but the Ravens want to see Grant's ball security improve.
"Twice in two games, you just don't want to see that," Harbaugh said. "He did secure it well a number of times, high hangers, people buzzing around him. But anytime the ball's on the ground, it's not a good situation. He knows that. We'll kind of monitor that. ..."
Harbaugh provided injury updates on several Ravens Monday afternoon, including Pro Bowl inside linebacker C.J. Mosley.
Well, actually, the Mosley update is more of a non-update, as Harbaugh did not specify any timetable for the linebacker's return after he suffered a bone bruise in Thursday night's game.
"Just what was reported. It's a bone bruise. That's good news," Harbaugh said. "It wasn't a structural issue. We'll just see how that thing comes along and keep our fingers crossed."
After Thursday night's game, Harbaugh said the extra rest could help Mosley if he were to return against the Broncos this Sunday.
The exact location and severity of the bruise will impact how long it will take for Mosley to return, and don't expect Harbaugh to divulge much information.
Another key injury in Thursday's game was to left tackle Ronnie Stanley, who was not on the field for the Ravens' final 12 offensive snaps. Rookie Orlando Brown Jr. was inserted at right tackle and James Hurst bumped to left tackle. After the game, Stanley told reporters that he's "fine" and deferred injury questions to his head coach. On Monday, Harbaugh had some fun with the media about the exchange.
"He did refer to me twice. I appreciate that," Harbaugh said with a smile.
"He said he was fine. Well, we'll just go with that then. He said he's fine, he's fine. We'll see. I don't know, we'll see. I think he's OK, but we'll see."
Harbaugh also said rookie tight end Hayden Hurst (foot stress fracture) and defensive tackle Willie Henry (hernia) will not practice this week, signaling that they will be out for a third straight game.
Finally. ... Though the Ravens placed Kenneth Dixon on injured reserve, they are hoping he could rejoin the team later this season.
Dixon injured his knee on a 1-yard run with 1:36 left in a 47-3 rout of the o Bills on Sept. 9 and limped off the field and into the locker room. Before the injury, he led the offense in carries (13) and rushing yards (44) on 22 snaps and scored a touchdown.
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 19 September 2018
Josh Allen completed 18 of 33 passes for 245 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions while making his NFL starting debut in a 31-20 loss Sunday to the Los Angeles Chargers.
Allen, whom the Bills traded up to select with the No. 7 overall pick in April's draft, was sacked five times and finished with a 63.3 passer rating. He also ran eight times for 32 yards.
"I felt comfortable for the most part," Allen told ESPN.com's Mike Rodak after the game. "There's some things that [Los Angeles] did that we didn't see on film, and I didn't see on film. But that's being a rookie. That's the part of it. A defensive coordinator is always going to try to throw you something different and get you out of your element, and I have to do better with the pass protection. I have to be better with getting the ball out quicker."
The Bills begin the season 0-2 for the first time since 2016. They have been outscored 78-23 over their first two games. Running back LeSean McCoy did not finish Sunday's game because of a rib injury. McCoy was hurt on a 1-yard run in the third quarter in which center Ryan Groy fell on McCoy's midsection as he was being tackled. McCoy returned to take another carry on the final play of the third quarter but did not carry the ball in the fourth quarter.
McCoy finished the game with 39 yards on nine carries, as well as four catches for 29 yards.
Allen completed a 57-yard pass to wide receiver Zay Jones late in the second quarter. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, the pass had 64.0 of air distance from the spot of the throw to the spot of the catch. That is tied for the second-longest air distance on a completed pass since 2016, when NFL Next Gen Stats began tracking.
"I thought overall, offensively, we got off to a slow start," Bills coach Sean McDermott said. "Having said that, there were some moments that I thought were pretty solid and then some moments that I know Josh would want back."
Allen led the Bills on a seven-play, 75-yard drive ending in a 1-yard touchdown run by Chris Ivory to begin the second half, but he was intercepted later in the third quarter by Chargers safety Adrian Phillips on a throw Allen made while being wrapped up for a would-be sack. Allen was intercepted again in the fourth quarter by Chargers linebacker Kyzir White when he underthrew tight end Jason Croom.
"[The] two interceptions, they were just two plays that I could've changed," Allen said. "The one that I was trying to throw to [running back Marcus Murphy], I was held up and I should've just taken a sack or thrown it away. The one to [Croom], he was running over the top, and I just made a bad ball. I should've allowed him to run under it, but I put it out in front of him and didn't put enough air on it. That was all my bad."
With the Bills trailing 31-13 late in the fourth quarter, Allen completed a 12-play, 75-yard drive with a 3-yard touchdown pass to Kelvin Benjamin.
Allen's passer rating was the worst mark in a starting debut among the four quarterbacks the Bills have drafted in the first round during the common draft era. Jim Kelly, who was a first-round pick in 1983, had a 119.8 rating in his 1986 debut for Buffalo after a stint in the USFL. J.P. Losman (first round, 2004) posted an 89.9 rating in his 2005 debut, and EJ Manuel (first round, 2013) compiled a 105.5 rating in his first start as a rookie.
Meanwhile, McCoy has been diagnosed with damage to his rib cartilage, leaving his status uncertain for Sunday's game at the Vikings.
McDermott listed McCoy, who worked on a limited basis Wednesday, as day to day and didn't rule him out from playing. McDermott didn't provide much detail on Monday except to say McCoy's status will be determined by how much pain he can tolerate.
McCoy was hurt when tackled from behind and Buffalo center Ryan Groy was bowled over and landed heavily on the left side of McCoy's chest.
McCoy returned for one more play, a 3-yard run on the final snap of the third quarter, before being sidelined for the remainder of the game.
The Bills' running attack has sputtered even with McCoy healthy in having combined for 167 yards in two games. McCoy finished with 39 yards rushing on nine carries, including a season-best 27-yard gain, while also adding 29 yards on four catches.
Chris Ivory and Marcus Murphy serve as McCoy's backups.
Based on everything we've seen from Buffalo's offense the first two weeks, nobody should expect a sudden burst of fantasy vitality here.
As ESPN's Matthew Berry tweeted this week: "You should immediately go out and pick up... (checks Bills roster)....(checks schedule, sees Minnesota).... uh, no one. As you were."
Other notes of interest. .. By halftime of Sunday's game, the Bills had been outscored 75-9 since the season began. That led to McDermott to take over play calling duties from defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier for the second half. The results were good -- Buffalo held the Chargers to three second-half points -- but it would be impossible for McDermott to spin the decision into any sort of confidence in the defensive play caller he hired. ...
Other injury notes. ... Benjamin (hip) worked on a limited basis Wednesday; he should be fine this weekend -- other than facing Vikings shutdown corner Xavier Rhodes
Special teamer Taiwan Jones meanwhile escaped his scary head injury with just a gash on his head and some bruises after he was struck by a Chargers player in the head after his helmet came off.
"No concussion," said McDermott of Jones. "He's bruised and cut up a little bit,"
The gash on Jones' head did require stitches, which could make wearing a helmet difficult, but McDermott said they'll work through those logistics as the week moves along.
McDermott also said Ray-Ray McCloud (knee), will continue to practice). ...
Murphy is leading the NFL with 213 kickoff return yards. ...
Finally. ... McDermott said cornerback Phillip Gaines dislocated his right elbow against the Chargers, but didn't rule him out from playing next week. Buffalo is already thin at cornerback after veteran Vontae Davis abruptly quit the team during halftime Sunday, and with Taron Johnson nursing a shoulder injury.
Davis, 30, started and played the first half of the game before retiring at halftime with the Bills trailing 28-6. He was not seen on the field during the second half and was not spotted in the locker room after the game. Hours later, he released a statement that reality had hit him about his physical capability to continue playing the game.
McDermott and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said on Monday that they had yet to speak to Davis since his sudden retirement but wish Davis well.
"I got a lot of respect for Vontae," McDermott said. "He's a good person. I certainly appreciate the way he worked when he was in here, but we're moving forward as a football team. ... You develop some personal relationships with these young men. You always want the best for them. It's not a deal where we wish him anything but the best. We wish him the best. He's had a heckuva career.
"There's no need to address it [with the team]. We're moving on. That's what a team does. This is not going to become a distraction for us."
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 19 September 2018
The Panthers may look back on Sunday's 31-24 loss later this season as a missed opportunity, perhaps the difference between winning the NFC South or even making the playoffs.
As ESPN.com's David Newton noted, in a game in which the run defense was, in the words of head coach Ron Rivera, "terrible," and the number of dropped balls and mental mistakes "disappointing," Carolina still had a chance to steal a victory.
That they were within one play of tying with an offensive line that included two starters that weren't on the roster for any of the preseason games seems almost miraculous.
Quarterback Cam Newton gets much of the credit for giving the Panthers a chance, completing a career-high 32 passes on 45 attempts for 335 yards and three touchdowns -- all to different receivers.
All this after taking a late first-half hit to the helmet from Damontae Kazee that got the safety ejected and landed Newton in the sideline tent to be evaluated for a possible concussion.
But in the end, Newton's spectacular play wasn't enough.
"There was so much good in the game," Newton said. "But there was just as much bad as there was good. We're better than that. We've got to find our edge."
Beyond that, Newton's re-acclimation to life without Greg Olsen looks to be a struggle.
The quarterback got little help from his receiving corps early.
Sans Olsen, running back Christian McCaffrey was the focal point of the passing offense.
As Panthers.com's Jelani Scott noted, it's starting to become normal to see McCaffrey line up next to Newton instead of behind him. Against Atlanta, McCaffrey reeled in a career-high 14 receptions on 15 targets for 102 yards to lead the team in receiving yards for the second straight week. The number marked a big milestone in the running back's young career but, if you ask McCaffrey, it didn't hit him right away.
"It moves so fast. You kind of just let the game go to you. It's really a next play mentality," he said.
In addition to notching a personal benchmark, McCaffrey's receptions also tied a franchise record set by legendary wide receiver Steve Smith for catches in a game. "It's an honor for me. That was one of my favorite players, so it's definitely a huge honor," McCaffrey said.
After ending the 2017 season with 80 receptions and five receiving touchdowns, tying a 13-year old record in the second game of his second season doesn't feel like an abnormality for McCaffrey. Being able to impact the game multiple ways is an aspect of McCaffrey's game that he says he works on every time he steps onto the field.
"Football is such a versatile game, and I'm always trying to be the most complete back I can be," he said.
Against both Dallas and Atlanta, McCaffrey racked up positive yards on a series of rushes and check-down passes from Newton, a testament to his skill set as a pass catcher out of the backfield. And although his number of targets (24) currently exceeds his carries (18), McCaffrey sees no issue with how he's being used in offensive coordinator Norv Turner's offense.
"Whatever's working. That's what I prefer. Whatever's making us go," he said.
His primary function as a receiver so far this season doesn't match with the preseason narrative that he'd get more carries in 2018. But short passes have served as a safe extension of the running game, and don't forget that his ability as a pass catcher helped make him one of the most coveted prospects coming out of the 2017 NFL Draft.
Just ask Rivera.
During his weekly press conference, Rivera discussed how important wide receivers coach Lance Taylor's insight was in assessing McCaffrey, noting that his catching ability ranked "very high". Taylor served as the running backs coach at Stanford from 2014-16 - all three years of McCaffrey's collegiate career.
"I know that we went and we spent a lot of time watching him catch the ball," Rivera said about scouting McCaffrey. "The biggest thing that we had to our benefit was we had Lance on our staff and Lance was able to say, 'This guy is a receiver coming out of the backfield. He's tremendous.'"
For the record, as David Newton pointed out, McCaffrey has 20 catches in two games. The total also tied for the most by a running back in a single game in the last 37 seasons (since 1981). If he maintains this pace McCaffrey will destroy the league's single-season record for catches by a running back. Matt Forte caught 102 passes at Chicago in 2014.
Heading into Week 3 against Cincinnati, McCaffrey will have the chance to build on his strong start and he's ready for whatever his role will be, whether it's receiving handoffs or passes from his quarterback.
"Once again I'm all for it," he said. "Wherever I can get the ball in my hands and be most versatile, I'll do it. ..."
The rest of the Panthers weaponry corralled just 18 of Newton's 32 completions (45 attempts).
Devin Funchess and Ian Thomas (replacing Olsen) each suffered drops, and rookie D.J. Moore couldn't corral the potential game-tying toss in the end zone on the final play.
That said, Moore did deliver a 51-yard touchdown catch and run that brought the Panthers within a touchdown with just over two minutes left in the game. That play was one of 17 Moore played on Sunday and he played 17 snaps in the opening win over the Cowboys as well.
That number should be going up in the coming weeks. On Monday, Rivera said that the team "has to put more on DJ Moore's plate" as they move forward from this week's loss.
Much of why Moore may be seeing limited snaps right now is the Panthers have asked him to learn all three receiver positions. Because that takes time, veterans like Funchess, Torrey Smith and Jarius Wright have a better grasp of the offense.
But after the late spark Moore provided Sunday, perhaps he'll soon start seeing more opportunities to make plays.
On the injury front. ... Cornerback Donte Jackson (groin), wide receiver Curtis Samuel (medical illness), safety Da'Norris Searcy (concussion) and guard Trai Turner (concussion) didn't practice. Wide receiver Damiere Byrd (knee) was limited.
Samuel and Byrd did not play last week due to the same issues. ...
And finally. ... It will still likely be several weeks before Olsen is back on the field. But the fact it’s even an option is good news for the Panthers.
Via Brendan Marks of the Charlotte Observer, Olsen was working on the side with athletic trainers during Wednesday's practice -- and he wasn’t wearing a walking boot. In a video clip from Bill Voth of team website, Olsen was shown doing some basic movement drills, at nothing approaching full speed.
The fact the team didn’t put him on IR to give them a roster spot for eight weeks suggests he’ll be back sooner rather than later, which is good news considering the other injury issues they’ve had on their offensive line. We'll be watching for more on this.
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 19 September 2018
Mitchell Trubisky started fast, slowed down and picked it up down the stretch.
Despite another inconsistent performance by their prized quarterback, the Bears pulled out their first win.
Khalil Mack had one of six sacks against Russell Wilson, Prince Amukamara returned an interception 49 yards for a touchdown and Chicago beat the Seattle Seahawks 24-17 Monday night to give head coach Matt Nagy his first career victory.
The Bears bounced back after blowing a 20-point lead in a loss to a gimpy Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers mainly because their defense dominated in a big way.
Trubisky gave an uneven performance after a shaky opener. The No. 2 overall pick in last year's draft, he was 25 of 34 for 200 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
"I don't care at all what happened," Nagy said. "I don't care if he threw four picks in the first half. I'm going to have ultimate trust in him. If he starts going into a shell, then we all get into a shell."
For all the optimism the Bears generated when they acquired Mack from Oakland just over two weeks ago, Trubisky's development will still go a long way toward determining how soon they climb after four straight last-place finishes in the NFC North.
He looked good in the early going, finishing a 96-yard drive on Chicago's first possession by shoveling to Trey Burton for a 3-yard touchdown. He also threw a 10-yard scoring pass to rookie Anthony Miller early in the fourth quarter.
Trubisky finished 25-of-34 passing for 200 yards. His completion percentage of 73.5 was boosted by 12 completions on 14 second-half attempts that amassed only 88 yards.
But the play calling is enough to give us all hope.
As Chicago Tribune staffer Rich Campbell, in noting the shovel pass to Burton, wrote: "The Bears are still coming out of their offensive hibernation. Such gadgetry is new in these parts."
Call it "Welcome to Modern Football." The misdirection got the Seahawks defense out of position, and the Bears blocked it well enough. The degree of difficulty on the toss was relatively low, and Burton slid into the end zone on both knees to give the Bears an early lead in their 24-17 win.
"The defensive end got width, and it's an easy shovel pass to Trey," Trubisky said. "So, great design by Coach and the staff. … I don't think they saw it coming."
That's not to say he silenced his doubters, though. Trubisky threw two first-half interceptions. One was tipped at the line of scrimmage, but the other was an underthrown deep shot to Allen Robinson, who had run behind cornerback Shaquill Griffin.
"Just threw it a little short," Trubisky said. "If I put it out there, he makes a great play."
But the night ended victoriously, partly because Trubisky did enough to win. He was pinpoint accurate on his second touchdown throw to Miller while rolling to his left in the fourth quarter.
Overall, Nagy sensed progress in key areas from Trubisky's performance in the season-opening loss to the Packers.
"I thought his clock was good," Nagy said. "I had no issues with either getting rid of the ball right away too early or hanging onto it. Timing was better. I think his eyes were better. He saw things pretty well."
That was about as flashy as Nagy got. The only other play that stood out as unconventional was on third-and-1 from the Seahawks 13 late in the second quarter. The Bears motioned Trubisky out and snapped directly to Burton, who ran the zone-read with Tarik Cohen. Burton got 2 yards and a first down, setting up a field goal.
The rest was short passes and good defense, a formula Nagy and the Bears will take all season.
"This is going to be fun," Nagy said. "I'm excited for our future together. I'm excited for this offense to continue figuring out how to build this identity. Hopefully you're going to see that each game, it's going to subtly get better and better. ..."
Other notes of interest. ... The Bears announced Cohen was questionable to return to the game with an ankle injury, but Nagy said Cohen was dancing in the locker room afterward and declared him fine. Cohen is going to be a real threat for special teams coordinator Chris Tabor. He had a 32-yard punt return, and it's easy to envision Cohen with multiple return touchdowns this season. He's going to be electric.
In fact, Cohen has two punt returns of 20 yards or longer this season, tied for the most in the NFL. ...
Three more catches for running back Jordan Howard (on four targets) and an 18-yard gain. He definitely has improved as a receiver out of the backfield. Some credit should go to running backs coach Charles London, who has worked diligently with Howard on this part of his game.
But, as the Chicago Sun-Time notes, through two games, 11 NFL players boast more carries than Howard's 29. Eleven also claim more rushing yards per game than his 58.5.
Nagy said Tuesday that, typically, teams with a lead can give their running backs 8-10 fourth-quarter carries, though "that hasn't been happening" with Howard.
"That's hard - we as an offense can't let that happen," he said. "I think probably a few more carries is probably the answer to that, but we don't go into any game saying, 'You've gotta get X amount of runs or X amount of passes.' We just kinda play it out as is."
Howard had 14 carries for 35 yards against the Seahawks. ...
And finally. ... As ESPN's Mike Clay pointed out, Robinson racked up 14 targets on Monday Night Football, which was double the next-closest player in the game. Robinson has now eclipsed 60 receiving yards in both games with Chicago and his 145 receiving yards ranks 23rd at the position. Robinson is clearly Trubisky's go-to target and he won't be short of volume in an offense that will continue to lean on the pass.
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 19 September 2018
Joe Mixon had debris removed from his right knee over the weekend and is expected to be sidelined for a few games. In the interim, the AFC North leaders will lean more heavily on Giovani Bernard -- starting with this week's game against the Ravens.
Beyond that, the the team has added a veteran option to the backfield to help cover for his absence.
The Bengals announced that they have signed Thomas Rawls to the 53-man roster. Running back Tra Carson, who played in each of the first two games without receiving any touches, was waived/injured in a corresponding move.
Rawls spent the summer trying to make the Jets, but was one of the cuts that got the AFC East team down to 53 players. Rawls had a strong start to his NFL career by running 147 times for 830 yards and four touchdowns in 13 games with the Seahawks in 2015. He’s had just 506 yards on 167 carries in 21 games since then, however.
Bernard is expected to be the lead back in Mixon’s absence. Fourth-round pick Mark Walton is also on hand.
Mixon got hurt during a 34-23 win over the Ravens on Thursday night at Paul Brown Stadium, going in-and-out of the game.
An exam found a piece of debris that was removed. Head coach Marvin Lewis said the issue was a flare up from an old injury. He compared it to having nail in your tire or a rock in your shoe. Lewis said if Mixon didn't play running back it probably wouldn't be something they needed to deal with right now.
Mixon was a centerpiece of the Bengals' revised offense in the first two games, carrying 38 times for 176 yards - a 4.7-yard average - and catching six passes for 57 yards. After splitting time last season with Bernard and Jeremy Hill, the second-round pick became the focal point this year.
Bernard has carried only seven times for 25 yards and caught five passes for 26 yards. Mixon was on the field for 44 plays in an opening 34-23 win at Indianapolis, with Bernard in for only a dozen plays. The snaps were evenly split against Baltimore as Mixon was hobbled by the injury.
Lazor thinks the 5-9 Bernard is comparable enough in style to the 6-1 Mixon that the Bengals can run the same types of plays. Bernard played in all 16 games last season even though he was only 10 months removed from a torn ACL. He ran for 116 yards against Detroit on Dec. 24.
"I think he's really unique physically and to be able to do that (with) his stature, to play the way he plays," Lazor said. "He finishes runs, he doesn't go out of bounds. He doesn't go down easy."
The Bengals had one of the worst rushing offenses in franchise history last season, finishing second-to-last in the league with 85.4 yards per game. They're ranked 17th after two games, a big part of the offense's overall improvement.
Cincinnati tries to improve to 3-0 for only the fifth time in coach Marvin Lewis' 16 seasons when it plays at Carolina on Sunday. The Panthers are coming off a 31-24 loss at Atlanta, the Bengals' opponent the following week.
Beyond Mixon, linebacker Preston Brown was inactive for the game last Thursday because of a sprained right ankle. Brown thinks he could have played if the game had been on Sunday, giving him a few more days to heal. He's optimistic about being ready for Carolina. Brown wanted to play on Thursday, but was limited in a pregame workout for Lewis.
"We started to do some different drills and I saw the look on Marvin's face," Brown said Monday. "He didn't like how I was looking."
Center Billy Price (right foot) and defensive end Michael Johnson (left knee) missed most of the game on Thursday. Price will likely miss a few weeks before being re-evaluated. ...
And finally on the injury front. ... Bernard (knee) was limited in Wednesday's practice, but this seems more like maintenance than anything else; still, watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for more in coming days. ...
Other notes of interest. ... As ESPN.com's Katherine Terrell noted this week, Andy Dalton and A.J. Green rank fourth in active quarterback-pass catcher combinations with 56 touchdowns together, and second in quarterback-wide receiver combinations.
Phillip Rivers and Antonio Gates rank first with 87 touchdowns, followed by Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski (76) and Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown (60).
Green and Dalton moved up that list quickly on Thursday night after Green caught three passes for three touchdowns to give the Bengals a 21-0 lead in the second quarter against the Ravens. Green ultimately finished with five catches for 69 yards, and surprisingly had the first three-touchdown game of his career.
Through two games, Green now has 11 catches for 161 yards and four touchdowns. It's the most touchdowns he's ever had to start a season.
Dalton believes their connection is firing on all cylinders right now, as it has been since he lobbed a 38-yard pass into the end zone in the third quarter against the Colts in Week 1. Dalton knew that Green would get there in time to make the play work, just like he knew he could keep going to him on Thursday and Green would find a way to make the play.
Now Dalton just hopes this connection keeps rolling.
"He's got four (touchdowns) now through two games," Dalton said. "Let's keep that going. ..."
Is Tyler Boyd a reliable WR3/flex option?
According to ESPN's Mike Clay, he's getting close. Boyd caught 6 of 9 targets for 91 yards and one touchdown against Baltimore in Week 2. He's clearly the team's No. 2 wide receiver, out-snapping John Ross 99 to 73 and out-targeting him 14 to 6 through two games. Clay believes Boyd should be in your flex in 12-team leagues when the matchup is beneficial. ...
And finally. ... The Bengals on Tuesday signed kicker Randy Bullock to a two-year contract extension through the 2020 season. He had been in the final season of a two-year deal.
Bullock, a seventh-year player, has converted 27 of 30 field goals (90.0 percent) and 45 of 47 PATs (95.7) for 126 points since joining the Bengals during the 2016 season. This season, Bullock has made all four of his FGs and all eight of his PATs, and his 20 points are the most in the AFC and the third-most in the NFL among kickers.
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 19 September 2018
Hue Jackson informed the Cleveland Browns as a team Saturday night that receiver Josh Gordon would be released -- which the team announced in advance of such a move on Monday. Gordon was instead traded to the Patriots.
"Nobody flinched," Jackson said after a painful 21-18 loss to the Saints. "They understood."
Which may have been true about the game; Gordon was not on the plane, so his teammates knew he would not be playing.
But the decision to cut ties with Gordon -- the team said he would be released Monday -- brought varying responses.
"It's tough because he's a special talent, but at the same time some decisions get made that you don't really have control over," quarterback Tyrod Taylor said.
Receiver Rashard Higgins told ESPN.com's Pat McManamon, the decision to release Gordon was "shocking to us."
Jarvis Landry declined to talk about the decision.
"That's a brother to us," Higgins said. "We respect him. We still have his back."
Did Higgins understand the decision?
"I still have questions, definitely," he said.
In announcing Gordon's departure, the team said it had stood by him for six years. When Gordon practiced all last week and then showed up Saturday complaining about his hamstring, the Browns decided they had hit their limit. "We did what we felt we had to do as an organization," Jackson said.
"It's tough because he's a good guy, and you hope he gets all the help he can get," guard Joel Bitonio said.
"It is a business," said defensive end Myles Garrett, like Bitonio and Taylor a team captain. "He is one of your family members, but at the end of the day you have to have a short memory in the NFL. He was a part of it, now you need someone else to fill that role, whether it is one of our guys here or somebody they are going to bring in."
Immediate chatter centered on the possibility of signing former Dallas receiver Dez Bryant, but there seems to be more speculation and questions on that happening outside the team than there is action within. The Browns had Bryant in for a visit during the preseason, but did not sign him and he remains unsigned. New England, a team badly in need of receivers, also has not signed Bryant. Last week the Patriots added Browns castoff Corey Coleman.
In the loss to New Orleans, the group of remaining receivers played well. Landry and rookie Antonio Callaway started, with Higgins the third. The trio combined for 13 catches for 197 yards and one touchdown -- with four of the catches for more than 20 yards.
Callaway may be the most important of the trio, and if he comes through it could lessen the need to add another player. He only got 15 snaps in the opener, but was on the field a lot in New Orleans, and even ran twice on end-arounds.
"He knows the opportunity that's in front of him," Taylor said.
His biggest play came when he raced down the right sideline and caught a pass from Taylor in the back of the end zone for a 47-yard touchdown to tie the game at 18 with 1:16 left.
"I thought Tyrod was throwing it to me and it was overthrown," Landry said. "Then I looked and I see Antonio hit another gear and put his hands out and make the catch and get his feet in."
Callaway was running full speed and had to make the catch and get his feet down to make sure he scored.
"That was big time, big boy football," Landry said. "And that is what we expect him to do. We are going to need a lot more out of him this year, just like that."
"I think he made a lot of strides today," Taylor said, "and it'll only build confidence for him moving forward. ..."
For the record, the Browns get a 2019 fifth-round pick, and New England gets Gordon and a conditional 2019 seventh-round pick. To replace Gordon, the team signed receiver Rod Streater, in his sixth season out of Temple. Streater has 127 receptions in 52 games for the Raiders and 49ers. He was with Buffalo in the preseason.
According to Cleveland Plain Dealer staffer Mary Kay Cabot, the Patriots were one of about eight to 10 teams that called the Browns about Gordon after Cleveland announced on Saturday that they were going to release him. The 49ers, Cowboys and Redskins were among the teams interested, but none offered as much as the Pats.
The Browns preferred to keep him out of the AFC, but opted for the highest bidder.
Jackson said he's not worried about Gordon flourishing with the Patriots.
"We have to do what we think is best for our organization and our football team, and that's what we did," said Jackson. "Josh is no longer here so I do not even want to comment about what could be or what could not have been. ..."
Meanwhile, the Browns signed rookie kicker Greg Joseph on Monday to replace Zane Gonzalez, who missed four attempts that cost the team eight points in a three-point loss Sunday.
The Browns waived Gonzalez in a corresponding move, the team announced Monday afternoon.
Sunday's 21-18 loss came down to two missed extra points and two missed field goals by Gonzalez. The last missed field goal was from 52 yards, snapped with 8 seconds left as the Browns frantically tried to send the game to overtime.
Joseph was in training camp with the Miami Dolphins this year and made all three of his attempts during the preseason. He was one of several kickers to try out for the Browns on Monday.
A seventh-round pick in 2017, Gonzalez made 15 of 20 field goals last season but missed two attempts as well as two extra points in the 21-18 loss to the New Orleans Saints.
Gonzalez has been kicking with a groin injury that required an MRI on Monday, a source told ESPN's Adam Schefter.
"It's on me 100 percent," Gonzalez said after the game. "I can't be too mad at myself because I'm the one that did it, you know what I mean? I can't blame it on [anybody] else. It sucks because we were so close to that win, and it's been so long. I just let everybody down."
It's been 631 days since the Browns won a game. That came on Dec. 24, 2016, and although the Browns tied the Steelers on opening day this season, Gonzalez had what could have been a game-winning kick blocked in the final seconds. ...
A few final notes. ... Carlos Hyde averaged just 2.7 yards per carry, but his percentage of snaps increased on Sunday. He played 58 percent of the offensive snaps. His primary backup, Nick Chubb, played just three snaps, carrying the ball on two of them for 14 yards.
It's not the running that will hold Chubb back. According to Plain Dealer staffer Dan Labbe, Chubb needs to get better in blitz pickup before the coaching staff will trust him with more playing time.
As for Duke Johnson, he has eight carries for 20 yards (2.5 average) and three catches for 15 yards on eight targets. He has played 64 of 151 snaps (42 percent). This offense would do well to find a way to get Johnson on the field more, something Jackson acknowledged on Tuesday.
"Obviously, he's one of our better playmakers, and he's got to touch the ball. He will" Jackson said. "Duke's a tremendous player. We're glad he's here. We've got to put him in position so he can make an impact 'cause he can, and we'll continue to look at different ways of getting him involved. But we will. We'll get Duke going."
Last season, Johnson had 82 carries for 348 yards (4.2 average) and a career-high four touchdowns, plus career bests of 74 catches, 693 yards and three touchdowns. He joined Herschel Walker (1986-88) as the only running backs to record 500 receiving yards in each of their first three NFL seasons. The local chapter of the Pro Football Writers of America voted him the team's player of the year.
The Browns rewarded Johnson in June with a three-year contract extension worth $15.6 million, including $7.7 million guaranteed.
Johnson said he hasn't talked to Jackson or offensive coordinator Todd Haley about wanting to become more involved.
"That ain't my job," he said. "My job is to perform, play football, to be a player. It's their job to figure everything else out."
Speaking of figuring everything out, Johnson conceded Haley might still be learning about the playmakers he has in his first season with the Browns.
"It definitely could be," Johnson said. "I think that's something that happens when you go from coordinator to coordinator, just trying to figure out their players and who does what and their skill sets, just the best way to get them the ball. ..."
And finally. ... Landry worked on a limited basis this week and was officially listed as questionable in advance of Thursday night's game against the Jets. He's dealing with a sore knee, but at this point there's no reason to believe it's a serious issue.
That said, I'll obviously be following up through the inactive announcement in the 90 minutes leading up to kickoff.
Tight end Seth DeValve has been ruled out with a hamstring injury and linebacker Christian Kirksey is doubtful. Defensive back Damarious Randall is questionable with a heel injury.
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 19 September 2018
As ESPN.com's Todd Archer noted, Dak Prescott's "challenge accepted" turned to "mission accomplished" in the Dallas Cowboys' 20-13 win against the New York Giants on Sunday night.
On Wednesday, Giants safety Landon Collins said the defensive game plan was to take running back Ezekiel Elliott out of the game and put the pressure on Prescott.
"If we do that, put the ball in Dak's hands, I think we'll have a better shot at winning," Collins said.
The next day, Prescott had a simple response.
"Challenge accepted," he said. "Challenge accepted."
In response to Landon Collins' dig, in which he said the Giants have a better shot at winning if the ball is in Prescott's hands, Prescott had a simple reply: "Challenge accepted."
Prescott opened the game with a 64-yard touchdown pass to Tavon Austin on the Cowboys' third play from scrimmage and finished the game taking a knee as the Cowboys avoided an 0-2 start following a disappointing showing in the season opener against the Carolina Panthers.
Prescott has thrown for more than 200 yards just twice in the last 10 games, dating back to last season. He missed Rico Gathers for a touchdown pass in the second half, but he made the plays necessary for the Cowboys to beat the Giants for the third straight time.
"His maturity level since I met him is off the charts," head coach Jason Garrett said. "He handles every situation like a pro. He has great confidence in himself. He has confidence in what we're doing, the people around him and he's as good a worker as we have on our team. His mindset, his mentality is fantastic every day regardless of what the circumstances are. He's incredibly mentally tough."
In general, the Cowboys wanted to be more aggressive offensively at the start of Sunday's game.
It may or may not have been an answer to the criticisms of an offense that produced just eight points in the season-opening loss to the Carolina Panthers, or a response to the malaise that has hung around the passing game since the second half of the 2017 season.
"We wanted to be the aggressors," Prescott said. "We wanted to set the tone in the running game and the passing game and make them try to defend what we're doing."
While the first scoring drive was the most impressive highlight of the Cowboys' 20-13 win against the Giants, the Cowboys' final scoring drive was more indicative of the type of style they want to play.
"I thought it was a good mix of run and pass," Garrett said. "We ran it different ways. We threw it different ways and made some big conversions. The plays that Dak made to keep the drives alive and keep them off balance were big in the game. And then to cash in at the end. ... To be able to score a touchdown in that situation was big for us on top of taking all that time off the clock."
The drive looked familiar to Elliott.
"It really brought me back to my rookie year when we had five of those in a season," said Elliott, who had 78 yards on 17 carries. "That's just the identity of this team. We're going to be physical from Play 1 to Play 80. I think it showed in that drive how physical [the Cowboys are]. I think the Giants' defense is very good, stacked, but I think we wore them down, and it showed in that drive."
The Cowboys will try to carry that performance over to this week's game against the floundering Seahawks. ...
Speaking of Elliott. ... Is it time to worry about his slow start?
According to ESPN's Mike Clay, the answer is no.
Clay explained that Elliott sits eighth among running backs in fantasy points, is averaging 4.6 yards per carry and -- perhaps most notably -- is playing a huge role as a receiver. Elliott is tied for the team lead in pass routes (44), is third in targets (9) and is handling a career-high 19 percent target share. The receiving workload has allowed him only 26 yards so far, but Elliott's 20 touches per game are going to allow a ton of fantasy production going forward.
As Clay summed up: "He's still an elite RB1. ..."
Other notes of interest. ... The TD pass to Austin was Prescott's first TD pass of the season -- and also the first for Austin as a Cowboy.
Actually, it was the longest down-field score for Prescott, who had some screen passes to Elliott that went for touchdowns and a short slant to Rod Smith that went for 80 yards last year.
But in terms of down the field bombs, this was Prescott's longest touchdown of his young career. And according to ESPN Stats and Information, the 38 air yards the Prescott pass traveled were the second most on a touchdown in his career. Austin did not have a catch against the Panthers and entered the game with just two career receptions on passes thrown 30-plus yards. The last came in 2015. ...
By the way, Austin has just two catches this season, but he's totaled a whopping 79 receiving yards. ...
Sunday night was also a major milestone in Gathers' long transition back to football.
The former Baylor basketball star finally got his first regular-season action since getting drafted by the Cowboys in the sixth round back in 2016.
Gathers was inactive in Week 1 while fourth-round draft pick Dalton Schultz was active and played two snaps. Sunday, Schultz was inactive. ...
On Tuesday, the Cowboys brought back a familiar face to their receiving corps: Brice Butler.
Butler spent the past three seasons with the Cowboys before signing in Arizona in the offseason. The 28-year-old wideout was cut by the Cardinals before the season.
The 6-3 receiver should provide Dallas a needed deep threat to stretch the field. Butler joins a Cowboys receiving group that consists of Allen Hurns, Cole Beasley, Terrance Williams, rookie Michael Gallup, Austin and Deonte Thompson.
The Cowboys hope Butler brings another dimension to the pass-catching crew.
Through two games, Prescott is averaging 165 passing yards per tilt with an average of 6.1 yards per attempt.
During his previous three seasons in Dallas, Butler earned 43 catches for 794 yards and six touchdowns, including 15 receptions for a career-high 317 yards and three scores in 13 games last season.
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 19 September 2018
Phillip Lindsay is taking the NFL by storm. He's also taking it all in stride.
"I am just playing football, that's it," the running back said after becoming the first undrafted player in NFL history to eclipse 100 yards from scrimmage in each of his first two NFL games.
"I am just playing football for our team. I don't think of things like that."
According to Associated Press sports writer Arnie Stapleton, keeping his head down has always been Lindsay's style.
The 5-foot-8, 190-pound sparkplug was undeterred when he wasn't invited to the NFL combine and was bypassed by 32 teams in the draft despite piling up nearly 5,000 yards from scrimmage and scoring 39 touchdowns at the University of Colorado.
"I mean, since when have I not been the underdog?" Lindsay said after signing a $15,000 bonus this spring to try out for his hometown Broncos.
He quickly made his mark on special teams and worked his way into the first-stringer drills as a third-down back and slot receiver, and he hastily won over his teammates, too.
"Guys like that in the league, you just can't cover them," Von Miller said after getting his first glimpse of the man who earned the nickname "Tasmanian Devil" for his frenetic style. "They're just assets to the offense. You have to have a back like that and we definitely have one."
Lindsay gained 102 yards in his debut against Seattle, scoring on a 29-yard pass play. On Sunday, he topped that with a 111-yard performance in Denver's 20-19 comeback win over Oakland that included 107 yards on 14 carries.
Lindsay, who won over Hall of Famer Terrell Davis by asking his permission to don jersey No. 30, is still awed by the opportunity to play for the team he grew up watching.
"For me, it's just a great opportunity to go out there," Lindsay said. "I am just happy we got the W. It's on to the next. We have a big game next weekend and we are going to go away."
The Broncos (2-0) visit Baltimore (1-1) this weekend, and you can bet the Ravens will spend plenty of time preparing for the rookie running back who already has 178 yards on 29 carries for a whopping 6.1-yard average - even if he won't be starting.
Head coach Vance Joseph said Monday that Lindsay remains the third stringer behind starter and fellow rookie Royce Freeman and third-year pro Devontae Booker, who has five carries for 21 yards and two catches for 11 yards so far.
"Our deal with that room is more of game planning, it's what they do best, it's who has the hot hand that day," Joseph said. "So, we don't have to make a depth chart change to give him more carries or to give Royce more carries or to give Book more opportunities. It's really what we do and to have three guys who are all different, it's really tough on defenses.
"So, he can be the 3 and still get 10 touches or 12 or 14 or Book can be the 2 and still get seven or eight. So, it doesn't matter who's the starter."
Look at Sunday's game as evidence: Freeman started but only got 16 snaps, less than Booker (22) and Lindsay (28).
General manager John Elway has received plenty of kudos for his 2018 draft class but the gem so far has been the one player nobody drafted.
A Colorado alum himself, Joseph was no stranger to Lindsay's talents.
"It's hard to believe he didn't go to the combine," Joseph said recently. "Obviously he's a Buff, so I've watched Phillip for three years as a starter in a major conference. He was a great player. We were all surprised he didn't go to the combine, and obviously signing him as a free agent was tough because we drafted two backs. We pursued him heavy and he stayed home."
The Broncos selected Freeman in the third round and Arkansas' David Williams in the seventh.
While Williams toils on Denver's practice squad, Freeman has rushed for 99 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries for a solid 4.3-yard average through two games.
The Broncos started out Sunday with three three-and-outs as Freeman, who would score on a 1-yard run in the second half, ran twice for minus-1 yard and 1 yard before Lindsay broke free for a 53-yard gain.
"I am here to be our spark player," Lindsay said. "I am here to make sure I get my teammates going, whether it is on a punt, if it is on a kickoff or kickoff return, anything. I am going to do what I have to do to get our team moving. ..."
Another player on the rise?
Receiver Tim Patrick couldn't quite come up with a 4-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter, as instant replay wiped it out. But Case Keenum turned to the first-year receiver in the highest-leverage point of the game, locating him for a 26-yard catch-and-run that moved the Broncos from the Oakland 44-yard line into the red zone and well within McManus' field-goal range.
Patrick was one of the standouts of training camp, but with four receivers ahead of him on the depth chart, opportunities were limited in the last two games.
"I was really glad he got that catch because we had the one called back earlier in the game," Keenum said. "But it is trust. He has made plays like that all preseason, made plays in practice and in camp. ..."
Keenum finished Sunday's game a rather pedestrian 19-of-35 for 222 yards and an interception -- he was just 5-of-11 for 38 yards and the interception in the first half. But on the 10-play, 62-yard drive to win the game, Keenum completed three passes for 34 yards and had a 7-yard run.
It capped a 10-point quarter for the Broncos and enabled them to overcome a difficult start by the offense, a balky stumble out of the gate Sunday that included Keenum's interception.
"That's our guy," said Broncos linebacker Von Miller. ...
Worth noting: Keenum has an NFL-high 14 completions of 20 or more yards. ...
On the injury front. ... According to 9News.com's Mike Klis, Keenum was held out of practice Wednesday because of knee soreness from Raider game. Klis added: "The knee soreness is considered mild -- he is expected to practice Thursday and play Sunday at Baltimore against the Ravens. ..."
Meanwhile, tackle Jared Veldheer was the only Broncos player to leave Sunday's game with an injury.
"He's in the protocol from the concussion," Joseph said Monday. "Other than that, we're pretty clean, so we're very, very fortunate. We'll see about him as the week proceeds."
If Veldheer can't play Sunday against the Ravens, Joseph said he feels confident in replacement tackle Billy Turner.
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 19 September 2018
According to Associated Press sports writer Noah Trister, the Detroit Lions now face a different set of questions.
After a blowout loss in Week 1 raised concerns about the team's tenacity and commitment level, the Lions rallied gamely Sunday at San Francisco. But a late penalty left Detroit a few points short in a 30-27 loss. The Lions certainly didn't give up, but they made too many mistakes - and now injuries are becoming a concern as well.
"We have a lot of work to do, we know that," head coach Matt Patricia said Monday. "We're a blue-collar team that's going to go to work every single day and try to get better."
That's a more credible statement now than it was after Detroit's season opener, when the Lions were throttled 48-17 at home by the New York Jets. Sunday's game looked like more of the same when the 49ers took a 30-13 lead in the fourth quarter. Then Detroit scored two touchdowns and appeared to be in position to win when Tracy Walker intercepted a pass and ran it back to the San Francisco 7-yard line.
But that play was negated by a holding call on Quandre Diggs. The Lions would eventually get the ball back, but they couldn't make it across midfield. Patricia said he always tries to get clarification on questionable calls from a game, and he indicated the penalty on Diggs would be one the Lions would ask the league about. He also said the game was officiated tightly, and it was up to his team to adjust.
Detroit had 10 penalties for 105 yards, and running back LeGarrette Blount was ejected in the fourth quarter for shoving a San Francisco player.
The Lions (0-2) seemed to show more fight than against the Jets, but that's of little consolation for Detroit fans. This team went 9-7 in each of the past two seasons and appears in danger of taking a step back in Patricia's first year at the helm.
"The fans are obviously the ones that we're trying to go out and work the hardest for," Patricia said. "I certainly understand their frustration and we're doing everything we can possible to make sure we get this turned around."
The path ahead is daunting. Patricia's former team, the New England Patriots, comes to Detroit this weekend. Then the Lions go on the road to play Dallas before hosting Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay.
Detroit also faces some potentially troublesome injuries. Star cornerback Darius Slay left Sunday's game with a concussion, and pass-rushing standout Ziggy Ansah missed the game with a shoulder injury.
This weekend, the Lions face a team that can certainly make them pay if they don't execute.
"We're ready for the opportunity," wide receiver Marvin Jones said. "It's the NFL, it doesn't get easier. Nobody is just going to come and give us the game. We have to take it and Sunday will be another opportunity for us to do that."
Meanwhile, ESPN.com's Michael Rothstein notes that last week and the week before, something about Matthew Stafford has been off. He hasn't quite been the same when he has looked deep, taking away the vertical portion of an offense that had the potential to be lethal with Jones on one side and Kenny Golladay on the other.
"They're huge, right," Stafford said. "Not going to get a lot of opportunities against a team like that. They want to keep everything in front of them. Two, for sure, to Marv that I thought I had chances at that just overthrew by, I don't know, I'll look at the film, but it didn't seem like much out there.
"I have to hit those and we have to find a way to connect on them. He's doing a great job of getting open down the field. I just have to give him chances."
Too often in the loss to San Francisco, he wasn't, and it followed on what happened Monday night against the Jets. In the season opener, Stafford hit on only 3 of 8 passes that traveled 15 or more yards, with two interceptions.
On Sunday against the Niners, he was 3-of-7 on passes categorized as "deep" in the game's official play-by-play. While those aren't terrible numbers, the situations where they occurred -- with the Lions in desperate need of a jolt and the receiver open instead of contested -- are the largest causes for concern with the 10th-year quarterback.
It's even more drastic of a change because of how well Stafford handled deep passes last year. He completed 50.9 percent of passes that traveled 15 yards in the air or more last season (55 of 108), a career best. He also had 11 touchdowns and two interceptions on those passes, some of the strongest numbers in his career (only 2011, with 13 touchdown passes on those types of throws, was better).
"They are obviously lower-percentage throws than anything else," Stafford said. "For me, I have to give them chances. All of our guys, really, are great at going and getting the ball when it is in the air, so maybe take a little bit off of them and let those guys jump up and catch them."
It is possible, though, that Stafford's deep-ball prowess last season was an outlier -- and that the first two games this season are more in line with the mean of his career. Going back to the air yards, he had averaged (prior to Sunday) a 40.7 completion rate on throws going 15 yards or more in the air. Before last season, he had gone three straight years with a percentage under 40 percent.
The three years before that, with a high-powered Scott Linehan offense that featured Calvin Johnson, he was at 42 percent or better.
He has more diverse receivers now -- and more than one deep threat, too. In particular, Jones and Golladay are two of the better deep-ball threats in the league. Jones led all qualifying receivers in the league last year in yards per reception. Golladay averaged 17.04 yards per game a season ago with a smaller sample size than Jones.
But both have good speed, good jumping ability and -- perhaps more importantly -- big catch radiuses to aid Stafford if a ball isn't exactly on target. Golladay and Jones can win contested balls. With those options, the deep-ball percentages should be higher, especially with teams accounting for Golden Tate and Theo Riddick underneath.
And that's where the questions about Stafford's long ball fit right now. His numbers are in the middle of what he has done in the past. But he has missed on throws he usually hits. And, as he said, he has to give his receivers a chance.
Too often over the first two games of this season, he hasn't. And it is part of the reason Detroit is 0-2 heading into Sunday night's game with Patricia's former team. ...
In a related note. ... Stafford's four interceptions are tied for the most in the NFL. ...
Also of interest. ... The Lions rushing attack was better, with limited opportunities because of the way the game went. Rookie Kerryon Johnson had eight carries for 43 yards. Blount had eight carries for 38 yards. Combined, the two running backs had 16 carries for 81 yards, and slightly more than 5.0 yards per attempt.
Johnson was elusive. Blount ran with power. He moved the pile.
Against the Jets, the Lions' running backs combined to carry 13 times for 34 yards.
According to DetroitLions.com's Mike O'Hara, Stafford's 30-yard TD pass to Golladay in the first quarter was directly a result of how the effectiveness of the running game early influenced the 49ers' defense. He finished off the play with an acrobatic move at the goal line, but the play-action fake let him get wide open and down the left sideline with a head of steam.
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 19 September 2018
According to ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky, this is how you play with your two-time NFL MVP quarterback's left knee swathed in a brace:
A masterful plan and play calling by coach Mike McCarthy.
A special-teams play like nothing from the last six years.
And oh yeah, that gimpy quarterback did enough Aaron Rodgers things.
This is how you fail to win despite it all:
For the second straight week, an untimely roughing-the-passer call against Clay Matthews put the Packers' defense in a jam. His penalized late hit on Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins on Minnesota's final drive of regulation wiped out rookie Jaire Alexander's interception and allowed an eight-point touchdown drive to tie the game with 31 seconds left.
Mason Crosby, who made his first five field goals of the game, missed a game-winning 52-yarder at the final gun and forced the Packers to play an overtime.
On the way to a game-winning score in overtime, Rodgers fumbled on second-and-1 and got sacked on third-and-4 after the Vikings had already missed one field goal in the extra session.
The Green Bay Packers showed the NFL that even if Rodgers' knee injury forces him to wear the bulky protection he debuted on Sunday and therefore restricts how well - or how often -- he moves, this team can be competitive.
But it still has to show that it can win.
That will have to wait until Sunday at Washington after an emotionally draining 29-29 tie with the Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field.
The good news?
As Demovsky pointed out, Rodgers proved more mobile than he thought a week after he went down with the injury in the season opener. No, Rodgers couldn't pull off another remarkable victory. But he at least showed that the way he played is sustainable until his knee heals.
Rodgers probably will again have to wear the brace and he couldn't say for sure whether the injury would be an issue all season.
"I hope not, but we'll see," Rodgers said after the Vikings game. "It's the type of thing that could linger for a while."
That means expect more of the same style of play from Rodgers this Sunday at the Redskins.
And that's not a bad thing.
One longtime NFL scout told Demovsky last week that Rodgers' injury wouldn't limit what he does best: stay in the pocket and get the ball out quickly.
Rodgers and McCarthy adhered to that against the Vikings.
Through the first three quarters, Rodgers attempted 26 passes, but only two came outside the pocket, according to ESPN Stats and Information data. In the fourth quarter and overtime, he attempted four passes from outside the pocket.
It's not like it limited his effectiveness.
Since he returned from his injury in the second half of the opener against the Chicago Bears, Rodgers has completed 76 percent of his passes for 503 yards and four touchdowns from inside the pocket.
He also has handled the blitz.
He completed 9-of-9 passes for 87 yards when the Vikings sent extra pass-rushers, according to research by ESPN Stats and Information. Although he was sacked four times, he completed 6-of-9 passes for 94 yards when under what was determined "duress" and also scrambled twice for 11 yards (including one first down).
The Redskins and future opponents still have to respect the threat that Rodgers might decide to move out of the pocket, like he did on the 27-yard fourth-quarter completion to tight end Jimmy Graham on a "keep" pass that set up Crosby's failed attempt at a game-winner.
"As long as I can move in a circle, and [Sunday] I actually moved a little better -- I told Mike in the fourth quarter I was feeling good," Rodgers said. "If he wanted to do any keep passes that I was up for it. We didn't actually think those were possible early in the week, but I felt pretty good."
McCarthy added his take.
"I didn't see him practice until Saturday and we didn't call any quarterback runs in Saturday's practice," McCarthy said. "So I was definitely surprised to see him move the way he did."
Rodgers could follow the same practice plan as that of last week, when he sat out until the week's final session, on the eve of the game.
It's the way the Packers will have to perform as long as Rodgers is limited -- and that could be weeks or even months -- but the model could be sustainable.
But it also will have to find a way to do more. ...
For the record, McCarthy told reporters on Monday that Rodgers is "obviously sore, but that's to be expected. But he's a warrior, what he gave us yesterday was outstanding. I don't have a read on whether he's better this week than last week. ..."
Also of interest. ... Jamaal Williams played nearly twice as many snaps (47) as Ty Montgomery (26) and was stellar in pass protection. The return of Aaron Jones this week from his two-game suspension could impact Montgomery's snaps more than Williams' but the Packers need more than the 3.7 yards per carry (16 rushes for 59 yards) Williams had Sunday.
Montgomery averaged 6.2 yards although he only carried five times.
McCarthy told reporters on Wednesday, "Jamaal and Ty have played good football. I know what Aaron gives us, but his role will be secondary. Jamaal and Ty will be in the first slot."
And finally. ... Crosby has made six field goals and attempted seven field goals, the most in the NFL.
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 19 September 2018
As ESPN.com's Sarah Barshop notes, early in the fourth quarter of the Texans' 20-17 loss to the Tennessee Titans, wide receiver Will Fuller showed just what the offense was missing without him last week.
On second down with the Texans trailing by four, Fuller beat Titans cornerback Malcolm Butler off the line and ran 39 yards into the end zone to catch an excellent pass from quarterback Deshaun Watson.
The wide receiver, who missed Week 1 after injuring his hamstring during training camp, said he just did what he does best.
"I just ran fast," Fuller said.
Against the Patriots in Week 1, the Texans were unable to spread the field for Watson, forcing him to throw short and medium routes. In that loss, the home run wasn't there.
The Texans got that downfield threat back on Sunday, as Fuller led the team with eight catches for 113 yards. Fuller's touchdown gave the Texans the lead for the first time in the game and was the Texans' longest play of the season.
Speed is exactly what the Texans were missing against New England. On Sunday, Fuller's presence also allowed the Texans to spread the field and take attention away from fellow receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins had six catches for 110 yards and a touchdown, including receptions of 28 and 31 yards.
Texans head coach Bill O'Brien said after the game that Fuller "did a nice job" and that it was nice to have the third-year receiver back on the field.
Fuller has had a lot of success with Watson throwing him the ball. His 113 receiving yards were the most he'd had since Week 8 of the 2017 season against the Seahawks, which was Watson's last game before he tore his ACL in an early November practice. That game was also the last time the Texans had two receivers -- also Hopkins and Fuller -- record more than 100 receiving yards in the same game.
"[Fuller] helps us out a lot," Hopkins said. "He made some plays downfield [and] gave us some confidence."
Fuller has now caught 21 passes from Watson the past two seasons, and eight have gone for a touchdown, according to ESPN Stats and Information.
"We just try to be on the same page," Watson said. "Play fast, play at full speed [and] make sure we're doing the plays that we worked on all week and what [O'Brien] is calling. [We] just try and be on the same page and find an opening.
"I just try to connect and that's what we've been doing, but we have to improve."
In general, however, the Texans need to be better for Watson.
The quarterback struggled in the first half playing behind an offensive line that was very spotty in protection.
The Houston Texans knew entering this offseason that their line was one of the worst in the NFL, and they made it a priority to address the unit -- replacing four starters -- to ensure they could protect the franchise quarterback who was coming off ACL surgery.
But for the second week in a row, the offensive line struggled to protect Watson, who was hit nine times and sacked four times by the Titans.
If the Texans cannot figure out how to better protect their young quarterback, it could be a huge problem for this team, which is trying to go from worst to first in the AFC South this season.
Last season, the Texans allowed 54 sacks, which was second worst in the NFL. And after the Texans traded starting left tackle Duane Brown at the end of October, Houston allowed 28 sacks. That tied the Cardinals and Bills for most in the NFL during that span, according to ESPN Stats and Information.
After Sunday's game, Watson was asked if he felt like he had enough time to throw.
"I guess so," he said. "I mean, I felt fine. I don't worry about the pressure. I just try to get the ball to the open guy, and if I get hit, I get hit."
Meanwhile, despite sitting at 0-2, the Texans run game is currently the best in the NFL. Lamar Miller and Alfred Blue have combined for a stout ground game that is putting up big numbers each week.
"I think we're leading the league in rushing right now, which is a good thing, but it's not good to be 0-2, obviously," O'Brien said. "So, we have to figure it out. We understand that but I do like the way we're running the ball. I think I can help it with certain play calls moving forward."
Through two games, Houston leads the NFL in rushing yards (315) and ranks second in yards per play (5.3). In Sunday's loss at Tennessee, the Texans' comeback fell short, but not before they scored 17 unanswered points and outgained Tennessee's offense 107-8 in the third quarter. Much of that success could be attributed to the effectiveness of the ground game, according to O'Brien.
"The running game really helped," O'Brien said. "I think we started to really move the ball well. I think our backs really played well. Lamar and Blue are really doing a good job and our line is run-blocking well, as well as the tight ends. There was some good execution going on there and we really need to try and keep it going. We need to try and be consistent with it because it's going to help us."
Heading into Week 3, Miller currently ranks fourth in the NFL with 166 yards on 34 carries. Blue, with just 72 carries, has provided a 6.0 yards per rush average and a touchdown. Watson has contributed 84 yards on 13 attempts.
"We're holding ourselves to that standard that we want to come out and run the ball," left tackle Martinas Rankin said. "We want to come out and set the tone as an offense, as an offensive line. I guess that's the main goal for us, just you know got to continue to get better. We want more and more. You know, we want to have 1,000-yard running backs."
In Week 1, Miller, Blue and Watson combined for 167 yards and a touchdown. In Sunday's loss at Nashville, the trio rushed for 148 yards.
The Texans will face the New York Giants in their 2018 home opener this weekend.
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 19 September 2018
As NFL.com's Chris Wesseling put it, "Stop me if you've heard this one before: Andrew Luck overcame an undermanned offensive line, a toothless ground attack and a lack of firepower at wide receiver to lead the Colts to victory."
Indeed, Luck's first victory in 622 days didn't come easily. In fact, the Colts on Sunday were in danger of continuing a trend of not holding on to leads in the second half. Their offense, which was impressive early at FedEx Field, got stuck in cement, which gave the unimpressive Washington Redskins some hope.
That's when Luck, playing just his second regular-season game since Jan. 1, 2017, orchestrated a drive to put the Colts in position to ice their first win of the season.
Luck threw, scrambled for yards and even ran a quarterback sneak to extend a drive that ended in a touchdown before the defense closed the deal to help the Colts get just their fifth win in that 20-month span, a 21-9 victory over the Redskins.
"We talked about it as a team this week, playing with conviction and you believe in each other and you believe in what you're doing. It just gives you some extra juice," Colts coach Frank Reich said. "I think we had that for 60 minutes, even when we faced adversity. Even when we came out as an offense and didn't play so good in the third quarter, we hung in there. The defense played great, kept us in it and then we came through at the end and finished the game the way we wanted to finish."
For so long during Luck's career, the Colts' fate has rested on the right arm of their franchise quarterback. But on this afternoon, Luck didn't have to do all the work.
He had plenty of help.
The Colts' defense, which finished 20th or worse in five of the past six seasons, including 30th in the NFL last season, bailed out Luck to ensure the Colts didn't fall to 0-2 for the fifth straight year.
Luck threw two interceptions on the Colts' side of the field only to have the defense, led by rookie linebacker Darius Leonard, hold the Redskins to two field goals when momentum easily could have swung in Washington's favor.
After the Colts had four straight three-and-out possessions -- not counting a knee at the end of the first half -- and gained just 5 yards in the third quarter, vintage Luck showed up on the next drive. He orchestrated a 75-yard drive that ended with a touchdown when he went 6-of-7 for 62 yards. He also tested his surgically repaired right shoulder on a run up the middle on a quarterback sneak, extending a drive that ended with a 3-yard touchdown pass to T.Y. Hilton to give them a 21-9 lead.
Leonard, who was selected in the second round out of South Carolina State, a Football Championship Subdivision school, sealed Reich's first victory as coach of the Colts when he forced a Jordan Reed fumble. Leonard had 18 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble. The 18 tackles were the most by a Colts defender since Kavell Conner had 18 on Oct. 3, 2011.
"[The defense] did an amazing job," Luck said. "They didn't give up a touchdown, a couple of field goals here and there. What a great job they did keeping us in the driver's seat. When we needed to, we put a drive together and got points. [The defense is] a fun unit to watch. They're young, they're fast, they're athletic, they're tough."
Luck finished 21-of-31 for 179 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions and was sacked only once. The defense gave up 334 yards to Washington, but defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus' bend-but-don't-break philosophy paid off because his unit allowed only three field goals.
"I think there's probably a moment in there when some people are saying, 'Oh, here we go again,' when the third quarter starts," Reich said. "It probably went through everybody's minds and that's fair. That's fair until we prove otherwise, and today was just step one to proving otherwise. We're going to finish. It's never 100 percent, but we're going to finish the right way when we can and today was the first step for that."
The last time the Colts won a game in which Luck had this much help on defense was in their 34-6 victory over Minnesota on Dec. 18, 2016. The improved defense should allow Luck to not have to shoulder as much of the load by throwing the ball, which in turn should keep Luck from taking as many hits.
"It was awesome; the defense, they're playing really well," Hilton said. "[Eberflus] has those guys running to the ball constantly, stripping, pulling and trying to get it out. They played unbelievable. Kept us in the game. Didn't give up any touchdowns. We felt like we owed them that in the fourth quarter. They were playing good; we needed to step our game up. That's what we did, we scored. Any time we're playing good offense, defense and special teams, we're going to be hard to beat."
Heading into Sunday's game against the Eagles, ESPN's Mike Clay notes that only the Saints and Titans have allowed more fantasy points to perimeter receivers this season. And that's notable here as Hilton (73 percent) and Ryan Grant (85 percent) have held down the fort for the Colts on the outside this season.
Especially in a game in which the Colts should be throwing the ball plenty, Hilton and Grant should be upgraded -- although a quad injury that sidelined Hilton Wednesday is something worth watching in coming days. ...
Meanwhile, Reich confirmed on Monday that defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway and cornerback Quincy Wilson were the only injuries coming out of the Redskins game.
Ridgeway has a calf injury, while Wilson has a concussion and is now in the league's protocol. Reich did not offer any sort of timeline for either player's return.
Another player "banged up" throughout the course of Sunday's game, running back Marlon Mack, was able to return and seems to be fine, Reich said.
Mack was already playing in his first game of the season after suffering a hamstring injury in the Colts' preseason opener Aug. 9, and appeared to be getting looked at by team trainers at one point during the first half of Sunday's game.
Mack had eight carries for 27 yards in the first half, but just two carries for seven yards in the second half when Jordan Wilkins led the way. He played 18 snaps in all.
"Marlon's fine. He did get a little bit banged up, but he's going to be fine and finished the game healthy," Reich said. "He was on a pitch count. You know, we had a certain number of carries - we said we wanted to get him 10 to 12 touches and maybe 20 to 25 plays, and he kind of hit that limit, and that was the plan."
Still, Mack, Jack Doyle (hip) and Hilton were all held out Wednesday; I'll have more on all of them 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 19 September 2018
As ESPN.com's Michael DiRocco advised readers, it'll be hard for anyone around the NFL to have anything derogatory to say about Blake Bortles after Sunday night.
He's not trash, a sub-par quarterback, and he certainly didn't choke. In fact, he was pretty darn good -- maybe the best he's ever been.
Bortles played the best game of his career -- and out-performed the greatest quarterback in NFL history in the process -- and led the Jacksonville Jaguars to a 31-20 victory over the New England Patriots at TIAA Bank Field. It wasn't a perfect day but, as he did in the postseason against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Bortles made some clutch plays late in the game to keep the Jaguars unbeaten (2-0).
Bortles finished with 377 pass yards and four touchdowns, making him just the third quarterback to put up those numbers in a game against Tom Brady (Alex Smith last season and Drew Brees in 2009). The Jaguars needed him to come up big because Leonard Fournette sat out the game with a right hamstring injury. Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett put the game in Bortles' hands and he delivered.
When Bortles plays like that, the Jaguars are the best team in the AFC, even when the defense has the kind of lapses they did against the Patriots.
Despite playing turnover-free football in the 2017 playoffs -- and making some clutch fourth-quarter throws in the Jaguars' divisional victory in Pittsburgh -- there were still a ton of skeptics about the Jaguars' decision to sign Bortles to a contract extension. Especially with Kirk Cousins available.
However, the Jaguars stayed with Bortles. Executive vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin saw the improvement from 2016 (the worst season of Bortles' career), especially in cutting down turnovers, and felt with the run game and the Jaguars' stacked defense that Bortles would be good enough to get to and win a Super Bowl.
Sure looks like he was right.
Bortles wasn't great in a Week 1 victory over the New York Giants, but he was really darn good against the Patriots. Bortles out-dueled Brady in the first half, completing 17-of-25 passes for 200 yards and three touchdowns to different receivers (Donte Moncrief, Keelan Cole and Austin Seferian-Jenkins). That staked the Jaguars to a 21-3 lead at halftime.
Bortles made one poor decision in the second half, forcing a throw to tight end Seferian-Jenkins between two Patriots defenders that was intercepted, but other than that, he played a nearly flawless game.
He had plenty of time to throw (he wasn't sacked) and three times he scrambled to convert third downs: a 9-yard gain on third-and-6, a 10-yard gain on third-and-7, and a 10-yard run on third-and-9 with less than three minutes remaining. He also lowered his shoulder and tried to run over Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore on another third-down run and came up a yard short.
So despite what Jurrell Casey (Bortles will choke), Jadeveon Clowney (he's trash), Vontaze Burfict (he can't beat the Bengals) and Earl Thomas (he's sub-par QB) said, Bortles has shown he's good enough to win big games.
Worth noting is the catch of the season (so far), an eye-opening one-handed grab by Cole, who had seven catches for 116 yards and a TD against the Patriots.
But there are issues heading into this week's game against the Titans.
For starters, left tackle Cam Robinson is out for the season.
Robinson, a second-round selection in the 2017 NFL Draft who has started 17 of 18 games in two NFL seasons, sustained a torn anterior cruciate ligament in the first quarter Sunday. Head coach Doug Marrone said he will undergo surgery soon. "Obviously, Cam's out for the year with a left knee," Marrone said. "It's a shame. He has worked hard. He's a good, young player."
Josh Wells, who originally signed with the Jaguars as a collegiate free agent from James Madison immediately following the 2014 NFL Draft, moves into the spot. Wells has played in 34 career NFL games. He made all four of his NFL starts last season. Wells played 63 snaps Sunday, or nearly 89 percent of the Jaguars' offensive plays.
The Patriots did not register a sack Sunday.
In fact, Bortles has thrown 78 passes and only been sacked once. Every other quarterback who started both games this season has been sacked at least twice. ...
On the injury front. ... The Jacksonville Jaguars provided good news Wednesday morning at the running back position as the team prepares to face the Tennessee Titans in Week 3.
Fournette was listed among a group of players expected to practice Wednesday, the team announced. His specific participation level won't be clear until the later in the afternoon, but his return to the practice field should provide a level of optimism on his availability leading to Sunday.
The Jaguars will have two additional days of practice after Wednesday, and the second-year pro's progress will be closely monitored leading to Friday's game designation. I'll obviously be following along closely as the week progresses; watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for more. ...
T.J. Yeldon got the start in Fournette's absence and shared with Corey Grant, who caught six passes for 56 yards. Yeldon rushed 10 times for 58 yards and added two catches for 13 additional yards. But he ended up out-touching Grant just 12-10, which fell short of expectations. ...
Worth noting, Yeldon (ankle), running back Brandon Wilds (illness) and Seferian-Jenkins (core muscle injury) were not expected to practice Wednesday. ...
And finally. ... Marrone said rookie second-round wide receiver D.J. Chark Jr. will continue to get increased playing time; he played 30 snaps Sunday after playing 13 in Week 1. Chark fumbled after his lone reception Sunday, a 13-yard gain.
"We have a good mixture of guys [receivers] who are up," Marrone said. "D.J. is a big, tall, strong receiver. Obviously we need better ball security, but it was a great punch out [to force the fumble] and it came out. He'll learn from it and he'll get better. He has talent and when the opportunities present themselves he'll take advantage of it."
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 19 September 2018
According to NFL.com's Kevin Patra, "Patrick Mahomes is a laser-wielding quarterback wizard."
Who's going to argue?
The Chiefs signal-caller followed up a four-touchdown opening game with a six-TD performance at Heinz Field in Week 2.
The ten touchdowns in the first two weeks of the season breaks the record previously held by Peyton Manning (2013), Drew Brees (2009) and Charley Johnson (1965).
Not a bad group to best, eh?
In fact, Mahomes, who threw four touchdown passes last week in Kansas City's season-opening win over the Los Angeles Chargers, set an NFL record for scoring throws in the first three games of a career. He started the final regular-season game as a rookie last season but didn't throw for a touchdown. The old record was eight, shared by Marcus Mariota and Mark Rypien.
He's also only the second quarterback to throw at least four TD passes in each of the first two games of a season. Drew Bledsoe of the New England Patriots in 1997 is the other.
And on Tuesday, Mahomes was named the AFC Offensive Player of the Week for a second-straight week.
"You never expect to have 10 touchdowns at this point in the season," Mahomes said. "But I knew what this offense with the weapons we had and the scheme coach [Andy] Reid is drawing up that we had a chance to be really, really good. The possibilities are endless.
"We're not done. This is just a start. It's just the beginning of the season."
Mahomes moved the ball around well. Tight end Travis Kelce and wide receivers Sammy Watkins and Tyreek Hill each had at least five catches. Kelce and Watkins each had at least 100 receiving yards, while Hill finished with 90.
Five players had at least one touchdown catch, with Kelce leading the way with two.
"I see Pat doing this all season long," Kelce said. "He's got the confidence, and as long as we give him time and get open as wideouts, tight ends and running backs, he's going to get the best of everyone."
The Chiefs host the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium, and as in most weeks, they aren't sure who will get the ball.
"There's no telling," Mahomes said. "That's the thing. There will be games where teams will come in and try to take away one or two guys. That's the good thing about this team is that no one cares about who's getting the shine, I guess you would say ... we'll spread the ball around to whoever's open.
"There are always plays coach Reid draws up every single week. I always say they always work. He literally gets up on the board and starts drawing plays. The possibilities, like I said, are endless. You have to go at every single team a different way. Every single team plays different coverages."
The Chiefs emphasize formations and plays they hope will give them favorable matchups each week. Against the Chargers, they threw downfield often and frequently tried jet sweep pop passes to take advantage of Hill's top-end speed. They ran a lot of empty backfield sets against Pittsburgh hoping to spring Kelce and Watkins free.
"Everything is predicated on matchups," offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy said. "Our goal each and every week is to make sure we're getting everyone involved. But sometimes the flow of the game may take you in a different direction.
"If everybody is having success in one particular game, we're obviously doing something right. That gives us a big chance to be successful."
The Pittsburgh game is a better example of how the Chiefs want their offense to operate. The Steelers struggled to contain everything the Chiefs had going. Watkins was their main threat in the first half. Kelce, Hill and Kareem Hunt did much of their best work after that.
The Chiefs finished fifth in the league in scoring last season when they had Hill, Kelce and Hunt. They added Watkins as a free agent during the offseason to make their offense even more difficult to defend. But he had a quiet preseason and a quiet Week 1 against the Chargers. Then he came alive at Heinz Field with six catches for 100 yards plus a 31-yard run on an end-around.
"He got that ball in his hands and. ... He's an explosive runner," Reid said. "It's like having a running back when he's got that ball. Big, strong, physical guy. I've got to make sure to do a better job of making sure I get it to him, keep him involved."
Watkins' slow start had some fans wondering whether the Chiefs made a bad investment. Perhaps last week was an indication they didn't. ...
Meanwhile, Reid's creativity, Mahomes' gun, and the Chiefs overwhelming receiving weaponry makes K.C. the most dangerous offensive unit in the NFL. It's also the most fun group to watch work.
But from a fantasy perspective, it's even better than that.
As ESPN.com's Adam Teicher wrote, "Through two games, a couple of things have become evident about the Kansas City Chiefs. They need to score a lot of points -- and they're capable of doing just that -- because they give up a lot of points."
The Chiefs have allowed 65 points in their two games. But they're 2-0 because they've scored 80.
This is the way it's going to be, the Chiefs appear to be equipped to handle it. The Chiefs believe no obstacle is too big to overcome. They may be right.
"I see Pat doing this all season long," said Kelce. "He's got the confidence, and as long as we give him time and get open as wideouts, tight ends and running backs, he's going to get the best of everyone."
The key to this thing is that [Mahomes] keeps growing," Reid said. "The more these defensive coordinators have to study him, you have to keep answering that bell. So that's his challenge right now.
"Is everything going to be roses? No. But he's seeing things right now and doing a nice job. This was a test for him. [The Steelers have] a good defensive football team. That was a big test for him."
Other notes of interest. ... Kelce played all but one offensive snap on Sunday (58) and made the most of his time on the field, catching seven passes for 109 yards and two touchdowns. It marked Kelce's third-career game with multiple touchdowns.
Wide receiver Chris Conley recorded 36 offensive snaps (62 percent) in his second dose of regular-season action since rupturing his Achilles tendon in Week 5 of last season. Conley also played 62 percent of the Chiefs' offensive snaps last week.
Watkins played 48 offensive snaps (83 percent), recording 131 yards of total offense on seven touches.
Tight end Demetrius Harris tallied 17 offensive snaps (29 percent) in his first game of the season.
And finally. ... Reid said safety Eric Berry (heel) and defensive end Chris Jones (groin) would not practice Wednesday and their availability for Sunday remains uncertain at best.
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 19 September 2018
Philip Rivers has seen first-hand Melvin Gordon's maturation from workhorse, bruising running back at Wisconsin to a versatile, do-everything performer for the Los Angeles Chargers.
After his three-touchdown performance in a 31-20 win over the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field on Sunday.
Gordon's ability to sniff the end zone is a continuation from last year. Since 2016, Gordon's 27 touchdowns is second in the NFL only his crosstown rival Todd Gurley of the Los Angeles Rams (29).
Now in his fourth season, what's changed for Gordon is his effectiveness as a pass-catcher out of the backfield. Two of Gordon's three scores were touchdown catches against the Bills.
"He's at the point where he sees the running back as a three-down position, and also who cares how you get the touches," Rivers said. "It's not a 25-carry, 150-yard league anymore. It's 16 carries and seven receptions -- how many touches does he get for 150?
"You see it around the league, the best backs that's what they do. He also has embraced that, 'Shoot, I don't care if you're handing it to me, I'm going to run the heck out of a route and throw it to me.' … At Wisconsin it was handed to him and he ran through holes like this," said Rivers holding his hands out wide. "I think he's just grown as a pro."
As ESPN.com's Eric D. Williams noted, Gordon's ability to get into the end zone has particularly helped the Chargers in the red zone. The Bolts were awful in the red zone last season, finishing No. 28 in the NFL at 46.8 percent red zone efficiency.
But through two games this year, the Chargers are 5 of 6 in the red zone, and Gordon is responsible for three of those scores.
"They're just calling it up, and sometimes stuff has to happen for you," Gordon said. "And it's been going my way, so hopefully it stays that way."
Rivers said the difference for Gordon from his rookie season in 2015, when he failed to get into the end zone, to now is Gordon's play speed, pointing to Gordon's touchdown on a 9-yard out route.
"He had his play action and he made sure he checked his protection, but he got it and separated in a hurry," Rivers said. "I was really getting ready to throw that to Tyrell [Williams], but then I was like 'Oh, there's Melvin' mid-delivery. That was nice by him."
Through two games, Gordon leads the Chargers in receptions with 15 for 140 yards and two scores. If Gordon keeps up that pace, he would be the first running back to lead the Chargers in receptions since LaDainian Tomlinson accomplished that feat in 2003, finishing with 100 receptions for 725 receiving yards.
Moving forward, one thing to monitor for Gordon this week is what he described as an upper body injury. Gordon suffered the injury early in the fourth quarter. Trainers evaluated him on the field before he walked off on his own.
Gordon's missed a total of just five games in four NFL seasons.
"I thought he played well," head coach Anthony Lynn said. "He got a little tired in the end. We got him out of the game to rest him up, but I thought he played well."
Meanwhile, as NFL.com suggested, it wasn't a flawless performance, but cross-country treks in Week 2 of any NFL season typically don't breed peerless performances. In the end, the Chargers (1-1) did everything they needed to do to win against a beatable opponent.
Rivers led the way, completing 23 of 27 passes for 256 yards and three touchdowns. Austin Ekeler helped out with 77 yards on 11 carries in addition to making three catches for 21 yards. Most of this production came in the first half when the Chargers offense seemed to be more or less operating at will against a Buffalo defense that managed to make some progress since last week's blowout loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
While the Chargers definitely showed flashes of what they're capable of on offense, it seemed like the whole thing lost its voltage once the team took a three-TD lead. They probably aren't on the same level as the molten-hot Chiefs' offense, but it seems the Chargers are capable of offering more when it comes to lighting up the scoreboard.
Indeed, ass Rivers noted after the game, it was far from a perfect performance. But he thinks it will help keep the Bolts hungry as they head into their Week 3 tilt with the Rams
"There were a lot of goods today," Rivers said. "But I think there was just enough negatives that make us walk out of here just a little bit unsatisfied, which is good because we know we've got a heck of a challenge coming next week (with the Rams)."
Also of interest. ... Mike Williams finished the game with only two catches for 27 yards, but they were both game changers. His first was the touchdown, which was also the first of his career.
However, the second was equally important even if fans won't remember it as much as the TD.
On the Bolts' next series, Williams made a tough 17-yard reception to move the chains on 3rd-and-12. One play later, Gordon took the rock untouched 20 yards to the end zone to give the Bolts a 14-0 lead.
One score of his own plus one assist equaled an early two touchdown lead.
"That big third down on the 3rd-and-long, just kind of staying in there, being big in there (was huge)," Rivers said.
As thrilled as Williams was to score his first career touchdown, that third down reception was equally satisfying as he knows it led to an all-important touchdown.
"We scored on the next play," he said. "I felt like that play was just as big as the first one because it kept the drive going. If I didn't make that play, we were going to punt or (attempt) a field goal. That play opened the offense up more."
Of course, the Chargers face a tough matchup this week -- in particular the wideouts.
As ESPN's Mike Clay notes the Rams have allowed a league-low 23 fantasy points to wide receivers through Week 2. For perspective, the league average is 75 points. The dominant play shouldn't be a shock considering the team's absolutely loaded secondary. This week, Mike Williams (75 percent perimeter), Tyrell Williams (58 percent) and Travis Benjamin (59 percent) will do most of their work against Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib.
The duo has combined to allow five catches for 37 yards on 13 targets this season. Givn this, Clay contends that none of the three Chargers secondary receivers should be in lineups.
Keenan Allen, meanwhile, aligns in the slot 60 percent of the time. According to Clay, this means he'll still see some of Talib and Peters, but most of his run will come against Nickell Robey-Coleman. Los Angeles' slot corner is one of the league's best, but he has surrendered nine catches for 93 yards on 11 targets this season.
He's good, but he's the weak spot of this trio and Rivers figures to go after him plenty. Per Clay, "Allen should be downgraded, but should still be in lineups. ..."
On the injury front. ... Gordon missed some time with a neck issue. The injury doesn't appear to be serious, but I'll be watching for more as the week progresses. Watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for more. ...
Worth noting. ... Ekeler is averaging a whopping 7.3 yards per carry this season. ...
Antonio Gates was held without a catch in Buffalo. The veteran tight end was targeted once.
And finally. ... Defensive end Joey Bosa (foot) has been ruled out for Sunday's game against the Rams.
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 19 September 2018
As ESPN.com's Linsey Thiry put it, "The Los Angeles Rams could be the best team in football. ..."
And that might not be up for argument after a 34-0 shutout of the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
The offense? Unstoppable, as Jared Goff utilized every playmaker in his lineup.
The defense? Impenetrable, with Ndamukong Suh and Aaron Donald hunting quarterbacks.
And special teams? They managed even without Pro Bowl kicker Greg Zuerlein, who was sidelined Sunday because of a groin. Returner JoJo Natson, who last week watched NFL games from his home in Florida, was signed earlier this week and provided a spark in the return game.
The Rams (2-0) spent the offseason making over their defense, trading for cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters and signing Suh in free agency. The unit, which also features the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year in Donald, was considered the best defense in the league, at least on paper, after it was assembled.
But on Sunday, Wade Phillips' group became the best defense on the field.
The Rams held the Cardinals (0-2) to 137 yards of total offense. The defensive front kept pressure on quarterback Sam Bradford, who completed 17 of 27 passes for 90 yards. Donald rebounded from a disappointing performance in Week 1. And in the secondary, Talib and safety John Johnson managed several pass break ups. As for Peters, Bradford stayed away from the ball hawk.
A week after head coach Sean McVay expressed frustration with the Rams' red zone offense, the unit had no choice but to work through its issues with Zuerlein sidelined. Perhaps the sure-legged kickers' absence was a blessing in disguise.
The reigning Offensive Player of the Year spent his Sunday in Arizona's end zone. One week after Los Angeles figured out that the key to victory in Oakland was to feed, feed and keep feeding Todd Gurley, the Rams repeated that strategy in their home opener.
Gurley didn't have the most productive day yardage-wise (42 yards on 19 carries), but was a hammer at the goal line, scoring three of L.A.'s four touchdowns. Gurley exited with some cramping, but by the time he was taken out, the damage was done. Gurley scored three red zone touchdowns, and also converted two two-point conversions.
For the season, Gurley has 39 rushing attempts after two games, tied for most in the NFL. ...
And as for the deep passes that Goff struggled to connect on with Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods in Week 1?
That doesn't seem to be an issue any longer, either. Goff aired it out to Cooks, who caught a 57-yard bomb in third quarter. Woods also made an impressive 21-yard catch. Not to be left out, Cooper Kupp caught a 29-yard throw.
Goff completed 24 of 32 passes for 354 yards, with a touchdown and an interception as Cooks, Woods and Kupp combined for 19 receptions almost evenly and 295 of Goff's 354 passing yards.
As NFL.com suggested, Cooks (159 yards) is already a far more consistent deep threat than his predecessor Sammy Watkins and proved it on a second-half 57-yard reception. Woods (81) and Kupp (63) are steady, reliable route-runners, who create countless mismatches in the slot and outside.
With this much balance, it is hard to envision any team keeping up with the Rams offense in its current iteration.
As noted above, Zuerlein was sidelined right before the game against the Cardinals on Sunday because of a groin injury. Punter Johnny Hekker handled kickoffs and did kick a 20-yard field goal to give the Rams a 11-0 lead in the second quarter.
Zuerlein was on the field for pregame warm-ups, but was not on the sideline in the first quarter.
With Zuerlein down, the Rams signed free-agent Sam Ficken, who played in two regular-season games and made two of three field goal attempts. Ficken also was 2-for-2 in a playoff loss to the Atlanta Falcons.
Ficken was on the Rams' roster through training camp and the preseason, but did not make the final cut and was not signed to the practice squad. He is currently a free agent.
"Certainly that's an option for us," McVay said when asked about Ficken. "Sam came in, did a nice job. If he does have to fill in for Greg, for however long a period of time that is, but as of right now we'll find out and then we'll move forward accordingly."
McVay said Zuerlein will at least miss "a few weeks", but is waiting for a clearer picture of the injury post-MRI. ...
One last note here. ... Tight end Tyler Higbee was targeted for the first time of the season on Sunday. Higbee also caught his first touchdown reception of the year, on a three-yard pass from Goff.
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 19 September 2018
As Associated Press sports writer Tim Reynolds noted, the Dolphins are off to a perfect start, which they know guarantees nothing.
Before now, the most recent season where the Dolphins started 2-0 ended up with them missing the playoffs. And the last time they started 0-2, they actually went to the postseason.
So starting with two wins - one of only seven NFL teams to do that this season, plus sitting alone atop the AFC East for good measure - obviously beats any alternative fate at this point in the season, though head coach Adam Gase wasn't exactly spending time figuring out how to distribute playoff tickets on Monday.
"I've been 6-0 and not made the playoffs," Gase said. "It doesn't matter."
Gase was an assistant coach with the 2009 Denver Broncos, who rolled into their bye week 6-0, winning by an average of 11.1 points per game. They came back from the bye and lost eight of their final 10 games.
The Dolphins were last 2-0 in 2013, actually winning their first three that year before sputtering to an 8-8 finish. Gase's first season in Miami was 2016, those Dolphins started 0-2 and 1-4, and made the playoffs regardless.
"You've got to play every week, you've got to reset it every week, you've got to work to get better, try not to be a team that's up and down, try to be consistent," Gase said. "You're going to lose games in this league. That's why there's only been one undefeated team that's ever won it all and another undefeated team didn't win the last game - so nobody really cares."
To be clear, he wasn't drawing any parallel to the 1972 perfect Dolphins or the 2007 New England Patriots team that went 16-0 in the regular season and wound up losing the Super Bowl to the New York Giants.
Gase knows this team has to get better, with much to clean up before playing host to the Oakland Raiders (0-2) on Sunday. And although he insi1sts that what's said outside the Dolphins' facility doesn't matter, some players are finding a bit of satisfaction knowing that Miami might already been exceeding the gloom-and-doom expectations they heard about coming into the year.
"Yeah, we're proving some guys wrong," Dolphins receiver Jakeem Grant said. "But at the end of the day, we're playing for each other. We're here, we have a higher standard and we feel like we have to be devoted to those standards - push, push, push in every practice. Great practices lead to great games. Some people saying we'll have a negative record, it's motivating, like, 'OK, we'll see.'"
As ESPN.com's Cameron Wolfe noted, there were no huge fantasy football stat lines for the Dolphins in Sunday's 20-12 victory over the New York Jets. And they spent most of the second half sweating to hold an early lead, but an accurate and mobile Tannehill showed up when they needed him.
One lasting memory of the game was the Dolphins chewing up the last six minutes of the clock to seal a victory with clutch first down after clutch first down. It was the type of drive you see from playoff teams to win ugly games.
The always reliable Frank Gore converted a third-and-19 on a dump-off pass for a huge first down. Two more first downs came thanks to runs from Tannehill, who seemed to prove he's healthy and back to his 2016 self.
In fact, but Tannehill is 9-1 in his past 10 starts.
Tannehill isn't going to transform into a new player, but he can maximize who he already is, and that along with a strong defense might be the recipe for a successful Dolphins season.
Meanwhile, as reporters huddled around Albert Wilson in a joyous Dolphins locker room Sunday, DeVante Parker quietly dressed in the next locker over, his happiness somewhat tempered.
Wilson was one of Miami's heroes in the victory over the Jets.
Parker was inactive for the second straight week.
In the opener, he understood the coaches' thinking. His broken finger still gave him trouble catching the ball.
But on Sunday, Parker believed he was good enough to go.
"Yeah, I felt pretty good," Parker said.
And yet, Gase informed him sometime between Thursday and 90 minutes before kickoff that he would not play.
Why? That's not immediately clear. According to Miami Herald staffer Adam Beasley, Parker did not share much about the conversation - just that he was unhappy with the outcome.
When asked if he was OK not playing Sunday, Parker responded:
"Of course not."
Parker wore a protective mitt and then had his fingers padded during practice over the past week. He worked without limitation on both Thursday and Friday. He told reporters Thursday that he expected to play against the Jets.
Gase decided otherwise.
Sunday marked the eighth game Parker has missed in his career due to a series of injuries: foot, hamstring, ankle and now finger.
The Dolphins offense has been good, but not great, without him. The Dolphins had three players with three or more catches Sunday: Wilson, Danny Amendola and Kenyan Drake.
But Miami has converted just 8 of 23 third downs, an area where Parker's size and range could certainly help. ...
Worth noting, Parker, Drake (abdomen) and Ryan Tannehill (ankle/knee) all worked fully on Wednesday despite their issues. I'll have more on all via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses. Also on the injury front, safety Reshad Jones (shoulder) did not practice Wednesday. Gase said he is day to day. ...
And finally. ... Gore handed the ball to the ref and ran back to the huddle with little hoopla, even as he passed New York Jets great and fellow model of consistency Curtis Martin for fourth on the NFL's all-time rushing list in the town that Martin ran wild in.
Gore appears well on his way to eventually joining Martin (14,101 career rushing yards) in the Hall of Fame. During Sunday's game against the Jets, the Dolphins running back ripped off an 8-yard rush late in the third quarter to reach 14,102 yards. Barry Sanders is next up at 15,269 rushing yards.
"Means a lot," Gore said of the milestone after the game. "Doubted my whole life especially coming out of college with the injuries I had. People saying I won't be in the league two or three years. I'll be done. Being able to be mentioned with the guys I'm able to mentioned with. Emmitt (Smith), Walter Payton, Barry Sanders, Curtis Martin, (LaDainian) Tomlinson, a guy I looked up to when I entered the league."
Gore, 35, said this past week that passing Martin "would be big," but he didn't want to relish in his success just yet. He figures he'll take more satisfaction in his accomplishments when he retires.
He has had over 1,000 rushing yards in nine of his 13 NFL seasons. Now he's the NFL's fourth all-time leading rusher.
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 19 September 2018
As ESPN.com's Courtney Cronin noted, Kirk Cousins' wild introduction to the Vikings-Packers rivalry ended in an unfamiliar result, a 29-29 overtime tie after rookie kicker Daniel Carlson missed a game-winning field goal from 35 yards as time expired.
"What are my emotions? I'm tired and I don't know what to feel after a tie," Cousins said. "There were times when we felt we should have won it and there were times when the Packers felt like they should have won it."
Cousins passed for 425 yards and four touchdowns, leading the Vikings back from a 20-7 deficit at the beginning of the fourth quarter by connecting with Stefon Diggs on back-to-back series, capped off with a 75-yard touchdown pass on a drive that spanned 17 seconds.
A week after recording his worst fourth-quarter performance of his career by going 0-for-7 against the 49ers, Cousins displayed poise and precision in working his connections to bring Minnesota within striking distance.
He had to be spot-on, faced with a small window to score a touchdown and nail the 2-point conversion to force overtime. Cousins did both, hitting Thielen for a 22-yard touchdown reception at the end of regulation followed up with a 2-point conversion to Diggs.
"Any time you have a drive like that, it takes offensive linemen protecting, it takes receivers catching tough catches, being on the details of where they line up and the spacing on the field, getting out of bounds and being aware of the situation, having a great play-caller getting you in the position to get the ball out of your hand and get the open man," Cousins said. "It took so many people to get us down there and I thought it was good for our offense to get there."
Added Thielen: "It just shows how accurate Kirk can be, especially in those critical situations."
Thielen and Diggs each surpassed the 100-yard mark in a game for the first time since they became teammates.
Cousins is the first Vikings quarterback with 400 yards passing and four TD throws in a game since Daunte Culpepper on Oct. 17, 2004, against the Saints. Cousins' passer rating of 118.8 was the 10th-highest of his career when attempting at least 15 passes in a game.
He also had his fourth-most passing yards in a regular-season game. It was the fourth time he's thrown four touchdown passes in a game.
For the season, Cousins has six touchdown passes and one interception, and is also averaging 5.2 yards per carry.
"I thought Cousins played outstanding," Zimmer said. "I thought he made some outstanding throws, made good decisions. I thought he made some really good plays."
The crunch-time contributions from Diggs and Thielen helped Cousins overcome an up and down day from the rest of his supporting cast. Laquon Treadwell, who caught the first touchdown pass of his career in the first quarter, also dropped three of his six targets on Sunday.
Cousins' sole interception Sunday came when a pass bounced off Treadwell's hands and into the mitts of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix for a 24-yard return. The Vikings' defense pulled through on the ensuing dirve, holding Green Bay to a field goal with 2:04 left in regulation.
But long before that, the Vikings' special teams put them in a hole early when Geronimo Allison blocked a Matt Wile punt and Packers rookie Josh Jackson caught the deflection in the end zone for a 7-0 lead in the first quarter.
Carlson missed his first field goal from 48 yards out in the second quarter. Before his would-be game-winner sailed wide right, Carlson was challenged with hitting a 49-yard field goal after Minnesota's first overtime drive stalled.
So it came as no surprise when the Vikings cut ties with Carlson one day after he went 0-for-3 on field goals against Green Bay. Minnesota is replacing the rookie with veteran kicker Dan Bailey.
The Vikings also announced the signing of wide receiver Aldrick Robinson, whom Minnesota brought in for a workout on Sept. 7.
Carlson missed field goals from 48, 49 and 35 yards out in the Vikings' 29-29 overtime tie against the Packers. After his first field goal attempt in OT sailed wide right, Minnesota went back to Carlson to kick a 35-yard would-be game-winner.
Minnesota traded up into the fifth round of the draft to select Carlson with the 167th pick in April, giving up two draft picks in the process. He was the highest drafted kicker in team history. The rookie competed with former Vikings kicker Kai Forbath during the spring offseason and throughout the first two weeks of training camp. The kicking competition effectively ended on Aug. 20 when Minnesota released Forbath after two seasons.
Four days later, Carlson missed two field goals during the Vikings' preseason win over the Seattle Seahawks. In that game, Zimmer opted to go for a two-point conversion early in the second quarter to send a message to Carlson after he missed a field goal from 42 yards out.
"Just let him (Carlson) know that if he's going to miss them (field goals), I'm going to go for two," Zimmer said in August.
Bailey, the second most-accurate kicker in NFL history, was released by the Cowboys during roster cuts. Dallas opted to stick with Brett Maher, who had never kicked in a regular season NFL game.
Bailey made 91.2 percent of his kicks in indoor/domed stadiums and has never missed a point after attempt in 145 tries. He was with Dallas from 2011-18.
Robinson, a seventh-year veteran, was released by San Francisco after joining the 49ers as a free agent in 2017. He was drafted in the sixth round in 2011 by Washington and totaled 69 catches for 1,191 yards and nine touchdowns in 68 games with the Redskins, Ravens, Falcons and Niners. ...
The Vikings ran for 68 yards on 18 plays as they trailed most of the game and had to rely on the air attack. Dalvin Cook led the Vikings with 38 yards on 10 carries, while Latavius Murray had 19 yards on four attempts. Each running back had a long of nine yards.
Cook left late in the game after clutching at his hamstring. He told reporters after the game he had cramped after and there was no muscle strain -- something Matt Coller of 1500ESPN confirmed during a Tuesday appearance with the FootballDiehards on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio.
Still, Cook was listed as a nonparticipant Wednesday and told reporters later that he's taking it "day by day. ..."
Minnesota will host winless Buffalo on Sunday. The Bills are 0-2, and both losses have come by double digits.
Worth noting. ... The Bills entered the season already a mess at corner behind stud Tre'Davious White, and injuries to Phillip Gaines and Taron Johnson, along with Vontae Davis' midgame retirement, have just added to the trouble. As ESPN's Mike Clay notes, Rafael Bush, who is really a safety, has been forced into slot duties and figures to operate in the same capacity in Week 3.
Clay points out that's great news for Thielen, who has aligned inside on 62 percent of his routes this season. White figures to travel with Diggs (78 percent perimeter) and Thielen (38 percent) when they're aligned on the outside, which obviously is more trouble for Diggs than it is Thielen.
Per Clay, we should downgrade Diggs slightly and upgrade Thielen.
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 19 September 2018
As the Associated Press put it: "Josh Gordon's strange, stuttering career will start anew in New England.
"Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have a new offensive toy. ..."
The Browns severed ties for good with the problematic wide receiver by trading him to the Patriots for a fifth-round draft pick on Monday, ending a relationship the team did all it could to save.
The deal came together two days after the Browns reached a breaking point with Gordon, who has been suspended numerous times by the NFL for drug violations since Cleveland drafted him in 2012.
Gordon played in the Browns' season opener against Pittsburgh, but he reported to the team on Saturday with a unexplained hamstring injury after practicing all week. The Browns decided to leave him behind when they traveled to New Orleans, and later said they intended to release him.
However, Cleveland general manager John Dorsey found there was a crowded market for him and worked out the swap with New England.
Gordon's tantalizing talent had caused the Browns to hang onto him while he dealt with drug and alcohol dependence dating his teens. He missed training camp to receive treatment and the Browns were cautiously optimistic he would help them this season.
His former Cleveland teammate Corey Coleman - who had his own issues with the Browns before being traded last month to Buffalo, cut and then signing with the Patriots - was released by New England to make room for Gordon.
Belichick has a long history of reclamation projects with castoffs, including Randy Moss, Chad Johnson and Aqib Talib. The Patriots coach will try to work the same magic with Gordon, a 6-3, 225-pounder with a dazzling blend of size and speed.
In his second season, Gordon led the league with 1,646 yards receiving and scored nine touchdowns. He had a memorable 80-yard TD catch against the Patriots, turning a short catch into an electrifying run on which he made New England's defenders appear to be standing still.
But that was in 2013, and Gordon has played in just 11 games since because of his off-field issues.
Still, he's regarded among his peers as one of the game's most talented players.
"I think it's obviously known that he's a freakish athlete," receiver Phillip Dorsett said moments after the trade became official. "We see what he does when he's on the field."
He's joining one of the most stable and successful organizations in pro sports, and Gordon has financial motivations to produce. He's making $790,000 this season - a relatively low figure among star receivers - and if he stays clean and catches the ball, he could cash in as a restricted free agent after the season.
All that said, Brady pumped the brakes on Gordon stepping in to become a world-beating presence immediately.
"You know, I hate to make projections and expectations. That's not fair," Brady told Jim Gray on Westwood One on Monday night. "I've never met Josh personally, just like I hadn't met some of the guys that have come in the last couple weeks. So we'll see how it goes this week and hopefully he can work hard, put the team first and end up helping us in any role that he can find for himself on the team."
Brady noted that it could take some time to gain chemistry with Gordon after the in-season trade.
"Any time you get someone in the middle of the season, there's obviously a lot of things that have happened that have got the team to a certain point that they weren't a part of," Brady said. "So you know, I'm not sure how many of those things matter, but you'd like to try to get up to speed as quickly as possible and it's really up to the individuals... You know all these things need to play themselves out. I'm not going to project anything. I'm just going to try to go be the positive, enthusiastic leader that I am and try to be a great quarterback and try to embrace whoever's on the team. And we've all got to play a lot better than we played yesterday and that's really where our focus should be."
Even if it takes Brady time to find his groove with Gordon -- and the receiver is mentally well enough to be on the field -- the wideout brings a needed deep element to a stagnant Patriots passing offense. After trading Brandin Cooks this offseason New England lacked a field-stretching weapon, even one to pose a threat.
In a league in which it's become routine to toss for 300 yards, Brady has yet to break the 280-yard mark on the season. After two tilts, including Sunday's 234-yard performance in Jacksonville, he sits 18th in passing yards with 511.
If nothing else, Gordon provides a presence opposing secondaries must account for, which should help up the middle of the field for Rob Gronkowski.
The question is how long it might take for Gordon to earn Brady's trust on the field in an offense notoriously difficult for some receivers to master.
Gordon will be eligible to suit up for Sunday night's tilt in Detroit, if Belichick decides he's ready right off the bat. How long it takes a player who has only been on the field for 11 games the past five years to earn Brady's trust will be one of the bigger storylines for the perennial AFC East champions.
I'll be following his progress closely in coming days; watch for more on Gordon via Late-Breaking Update. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Without Gronkowski doing superhuman things like we saw in the season opener, when he was making remarkable grabs against double coverage, what do the Patriots have?
As ESPN.com's Mike Reiss suggested, they are still figuring that out. And it sets up a notable chess match against the Lions, as the Patriots' former defensive coordinator -- Matt Patricia -- will surely be drawing up plans with a focus on slowing down Gronkowski.
"They had a lot of coverage on him at different points," Brady said of the Jaguars' approach on Gronkowski. "And we just never connected the way we need to."
Brady added: "I thought they did one or two things a little differently [to take away Gronkowski]. He was double-covered, I'd say most of the day, on third down -- which just gives other people opportunities. We could never really get into a rhythm at that position."
Brady lamented one missed connection with Gronkowski on Sunday, on the opening drive of the game, when linebacker Telvin Smith tugged Gronkowski's jersey on a first-down pass attempt but wasn't penalized.
"I thought they kind of got away with a call on the first drive, which would have been a big play to Rob, but we were really out of rhythm all day," Brady said on WEEI.
Indeed, most everything looked disjointed. The Patriots couldn't get the running game going (24 carries, 82 yards, 3.4 average) and by the time running back James White and Dorsett and Chris Hogan got more involved in the attack, the margin for error was so thin because of the sizable deficit facing them (21-3 at halftime).
That doesn't mean all hope is lost going forward.
In addition to Gordon's arrival, second-year tight end Jacob Hollister shows promise and the veteran White remains as clutch as ever. Rookie running back Sony Michel is still getting his legs under him after missing the preseason and opener and should become a bigger factor. And, of course, Julian Edelman will be returning from a four-game NFL suspension.
But in the short term, what unfolded Sunday sparked a 2009-type question: If the Patriots can't get Gronkowski going, can the offense rise up?
Gronkowski, was critical of his performance as he looks ahead to a Week 3 matchup in Detroit.
"It's difficult against a team like that and you have to be prepared. You have to be ready to find the openings and that's one thing I didn't do," he said. "I just have to come out and play better. ..."
Michel debuted against Jacksonville after sitting out last week's opener. He looked strong running the ball. If he can stay healthy, he'll see more and more touches as the season wears on.
Michel was on the field for 13 snaps in Jacksonville; Rex Burkhead played 15 while White got in 34. The Patriots only had 61 snaps on the day. ...
Cordarrelle Patterson has some skills that coordinator Josh McDaniels tried to utilize in Week 1 with several end-around handoffs that produced varying degrees of success. Against the Jaguars, McDaniels put Patterson in the backfield for one play as a running back and Brady handed off to him for a 5-yard gain.
Patterson's future isn't as a full-time ball carrier, of course, but the possibilities of what he can do from time to time in areas other than receiver are intriguing.
And finally. ... With Michel back and picking up the pace and Burkhead apparently healthy, the Patriots released Kenjon Barner on Wednesday.
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 19 September 2018
As ESPN.com's Mike Triplett reminded readers, Michael Thomas' first two seasons were already historic.
Turns out, he was capable of even more.
The Saints receiver set another NFL mark with 28 catches through the first two weeks of this season -- including two touchdowns in the fourth quarter of Sunday's come-from-behind 21-18 win over the Cleveland Browns.
Sunday's 21-18 loss came down to two missed extra points and two missed field goals by Zane Gonzalez. The last missed field goal was from 52 yards, snapped with 8 seconds left as the Browns frantically tried to send the game to overtime.
The previous mark of 26 was set by Andre Rison in 1994.
Thomas had already set the NFL mark for the most catches through the first two seasons of a career with 196 from 2016-17. But the Saints have had to rely on him even more during these first two weeks since they have been playing from behind in both games.
Thomas set a franchise record with 16 catches for 180 yards and a touchdown in a 48-40 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 1. He caught 12 passes for 89 yards and two TDs against Cleveland.
He also lost a fumble in each game, however. So Thomas said he was determined to make up for his mistakes when he caught the TD passes of 2 and 5 yards in the fourth quarter Sunday.
"Make a play, make a play. Enough was enough," said Thomas, who had previously lost only two fumbles in his career, both as a rookie. "I needed to respond and help my teammates, and that's what I did. And I still owe them. So it's gonna be a great week of preparation again this week and work on protecting the ball and getting off to a faster start."
Thomas, who gave himself the nickname "Can't Guard Mike" while at Ohio State, has never shied away from heaping high expectations on himself.
When he set the Saints' franchise record in Week 1, he used the hashtag #NoRecordIsSafeTour Vol. 3 on Twitter.
But Thomas also didn't dwell Sunday on the importance of setting a record just two weeks into the season.
"It's a long season, man. I'm trying to play in the championship. I'm trying to play in the Super Bowl," Thomas said. "I'm trying to do big things here, so individual stats at the end of the day, with a player of my caliber and the guy behind center and the offensive line and all the tools around me, I'm gonna catch a lot of footballs. I'm gonna get open. I've been doing that my whole life. So now what can I do to add value to this team and take the next step?"
Thomas is particularly dangerous in the red zone with his big 6-foot-3, 212-pound frame. But last year defenses made it a priority to swarm him in that area, which led to him catching only five touchdowns in the regular season (and two more in the playoffs).
So Thomas was grateful to get the call in that situation twice Sunday -- especially when quarterback Drew Brees threw up the last one and let Thomas "win" despite tight coverage by Browns rookie cornerback Denzel Ward.
Thomas and Ward did some hand-fighting as they jockeyed for position, but Thomas outmuscled him and went up to get the ball.
Brees said he saw the Browns defense "cheating over there" in Thomas' direction, but, "I still had a place where I felt like I could throw it where he could get it and they couldn't."
"I take a lot of accountability when [Brees] is back there behind center and he gives me an opportunity to make a play. I value that a lot. I try to be as aggressive as possible and make the play and do something with it," Thomas said. "I want to say during the week, I wasn't the guy getting the ball on that play. But I knew if it came my way, I had to make a play and enough was enough [after the early struggles in the game]."
Meanwhile, a week after posting 43 yards rushing on 13 carries as a team, the Saints running game struggled to gain consistency for a second consecutive game.
The Browns limited the Saints to 62 yards on 23 carries, an average of 2.7 yards per carry. The shortcoming in New Orleans' running game is magnified when considering Mark Ingram still has two games remaining on his four-game suspension, and the Saints finished the 2017 season ranked fifth in rushing with Ingram and Alvin Kamara in the backfield.
Through two games, opponents have mostly kept Kamara in check and backup Mike Gillislee hasn't done much to help take pressure off Kamara.
Ingram is eligible to return to the active roster in time for Week 5, but the Saints need to get something going when considering their next two games are on the road and no team wants to go away from home with a one-dimensional offense.
For what it's worth, head coach Sean Payton was still perturbed by the offense's performance after reviewing the tape of Sunday's win over Cleveland as he began preparation for this week's game against the Falcons.
"Too many troubling things on offense. We've gotta improve in a lot of areas," Payton said. "The communication. The backside cutoffs on some of the runs. Some of the looks to begin with - the short-yardage call is poor by me. ... And we have to be better at the tight end position, that's for sure."
Payton also remained hard on Thomas for losing a fumble in each of the first two games, despite the high end production.
One last note here. ... Brees has thrown 80 passes and zero interceptions, the most passes in the league for any quarterback who hasn't been picked off yet.
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 19 September 2018
ESPN.com's Jordan Raanan nailed it when he wrote following Sunday's loss to the Cowboys: "All these shiny offensive weapons don't mean a thing for the New York Giants when they can't protect the quarterback and when the QB can't make plays when he does have time.
"It's as if the Ferrari, Lamborghini and Aston Martin are locked in the garage. Odell Beckham, Sterling Shepard, Evan Engram and Saquon Barkley aren't able to make plays with the Giants' other offensive problems."
Raanan went on to explain that after two games, the new-look Pat Shurmur offense has been an abomination. It actually has been less effective than its previous version under coach Ben McAdoo, and it's a far cry from the almost unstoppable unit that Beckham thought was close. It's not.
The Giants' only touchdown came late Sunday night in a 20-13 loss in Dallas. Quarterback Eli Manning threw his first touchdown pass of the season with less than two minutes left.
"We didn't do anything well enough on offense to win this game," Shurmur said.
It's all incredibly troubling for a team that passed on a quarterback with the No. 2 pick in the NFL draft, with Manning, 37, on the backside of his career. The Giants (0-2) added Barkley and still can't do much of anything on offense. They dropped their first two games for the fifth time in six years.
Since the inception of the current playoff format, 88 percent of teams that start 0-2 have missed the postseason.
Before the Giants' season really slips away, they need to find a way to get the ball into the hands of their playmakers in space or downfield. They couldn't do it Sunday night against a Cowboys defense that is supposed to be weak on the back end of their secondary.
Beckham finished with four catches for 51 yards. Engram had seven receptions for 67 yards and a touchdown, with most of his damage coming when the game was over. Shepard managed three catches for 24 yards.
Barkley was the only one to make a significant mark, most of it in the short-passing game. He had 14 catches for 79 yards, but rushed for 28 yards on 11 carries. It allowed the Cowboys to sit back and keep everything in front of them. This wasn't supposed to happen with Barkley in the mix.
"I think it will get to a point where they can't do it," Barkley said. "I hate being like, 'It's only Week 2.' Because I don't like being down 0-2. [Sunday night] was tough. It was frustrating. I really, really hate losing. I think at some point in time it will be difficult for teams to play us like they did. I'm really a believer in it but I know for sure I'm not going to give up."
The Giants must get it together quickly. They play the winless Houston Texans next week in a game that suddenly has a must-win feel despite being early in the season.
"When you have new players, new scheme, a new coach, sometimes it takes a little bit of time, especially for your first game on the road," Manning said. "It can take a little bit to get your rhythm and get things going, so we just have to keep working and make sure everyone can figure it out with the coaches to do better, and do differently to put us in a better position."
Manning has to be more effective. So does the offensive line. Manning was sacked six times Sunday night. He completed 33 of 44 passes for 279 yards and a touchdown, but much of the damage came late when the game was decided, and he was often content to dump passes short of the first-down sticks for most of the first three quarters.
It all equates to a lack of points and a waste of the Giants' weaponry. ...
Asked about making "drastic" personnel changes, Shurmur said, "We look at everything all the time. I think what's important is we stay the course, get the players that we have playing better, and try to make more plays to do what's necessary to win the game."
Looking for positives heading into this week's game against another 0-2 team, the Houston Texans?
As Giants.com's Michael Eisen noted, Barkley is a nightmare to tackle.
He broke a lot of tackles in the open field, including several where he made super-athletic Jaylon Smith whiff. He is strong, shifty and slippery. He is going to break more than a few long runs this season.
But perhaps indicative of the blocking woes, Barkley had a 68-yard touchdown run, the longest run in the NFL this year. On his other 28 runs he has a total of 66 yards.
Can it get worse?
Center Jon Halapio suffered fractures to his lower leg and ankle in the third quarter in Dallas and is scheduled to undergo surgery to repair the injuries. Halapio was replaced by 11-year veteran John Greco. The Giants also have Spencer Pulley, signed two weeks ago, who started all 16 games last season for the Los Angeles Chargers.
"We'll start with John and then obviously get Spencer ready to go," Shurmur said.
Shurmur did not have an update on cornerback Eli Apple, who left the game with a groin injury. He was replaced by B.W. Webb.
Also of interest. ... As ESPN's Mike Clay noted on Wednesday, Texans CB Aaron Colvin has been terrific as the team's primary slot man and the team is allowing the fifth-fewest fantasy points to slot receivers this season. Shepard has aligned inside on 71 percent of his routes, which means these two will face off most of the time this weekend.
Clay added: "Colvin sports the third-highest coverage grade among cornerbacks, according to Pro Football Focus. Shepard should be downgraded in one of his toughest matchups of the season. ..."
On the injury front. ... Engram was limited in Wednesday's practice by a sore ankle while LB Olivier Vernon (ankle) continued to miss time; I'll follow up via Late-Breaking Update as needed in coming days. ...
And finally. ... The Giants signed fullback Elijhaa Penny off the Cardinals practice squad, Raanan reported Tuesday. This after fullback Shane Smith struggled badly on Sunday night. Penny is 234 pounds and played in 16 games last season.
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 19 September 2018
As Associated Press sports writer Dennis Waszak Jr. reminded readers this week, Sam Darnold appeared destined to go to Cleveland in the months leading up to the NFL draft.
Then, the Browns called an audible along the way and went instead with Baker Mayfield at No. 1 overall. After the Giants took Saquon Barkley next, the New York Jets ended up with the quarterback they wanted all along and Darnold was headed to the Big Apple.
"I thought I could've been there or several other teams," Darnold said Monday. "I honestly haven't even thought about it since I got drafted by the Jets. With (Cleveland) having the (No.) 1 pick, I guess there was a good chance I might have gone there, so I was thinking about it before. But ever since the draft, I haven't thought about it."
On Thursday night, Darnold will be in Cleveland. But as the enemy - and a reminder to Browns fans of who they might have had.
Not that Darnold, who'll be making his third NFL start, has revenge or redemption on his mind.
"No, I'm just going to go out there and play ball," he said.
Darnold has much more pressing matters at hand, such as trying to bounce back from a 20-12 loss to Miami on Sunday.
The No. 3 overall pick struggled at times with some missed opportunities and mistakes, as did the rest of the Jets. But Darnold also had some positive moments, and at 21 years and 103 days old became the youngest player to throw for 300 yards. He finished with 334 yards passing with one touchdown and two interceptions.
"Other than the two picks, I thought I played pretty well," Darnold said. "So, I'm just going to continue to try to play as consistent as possible and find completions when I can and take shots when I can."
Worth noting. ... Nearly an hour after the game, receiver Terrelle Pryor was in front of his locker, telling the world he messed up on Darnold's second interception. He said he ran a sloppy route in the back of the end zone and he apologized to Darnold after the game. This was significant on a couple of levels. It showed maturity from Pryor, who was known as a "me" guy last season in Washington.
More importantly, it was a vote of confidence for the young quarterback, who already has set a standard for himself and those around him.
"The way Sam throws, he doesn't look at you, he doesn't stare at you when he throws, he believes that you're going to be there," Pryor said. "I let him down. I said it to him after the game, 'I hope you forgive me, I'll make sure I'm there next time.' That one, it's not on Sam and I wish it could go on a stat for me. That was a tough one for me and I'm still thinking about that right now. All I keep thinking about is that play."
Thursday night will say a lot about the Jets. The circumstances are difficult -- third game in 11 days -- but the opponent has won only once in its past 34 games. This could be the Browns' Super Bowl. The Jets don't want to be that team.
The Browns might be winless since 2016, but they have a tie and a three-point loss through the first two games so they're no pushovers.
Gregg Williams' defense has already caused problems for the likes of Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger and New Orleans' Drew Brees, and could be licking its chops to face a rookie at home in front of the Dawg Pound.
"First of all, I think his guys are ready to play every single game," Darnold said. "They come out fiery and at the same time, they bring pressures that, sometimes, no one's ever seen before. We're going to be ready. I'm focused on what we're doing, but also on what the defense is doing and how we can attack them."
The Jets and Darnold will have to do a better job than they did for much of the game against the Dolphins. New York was just 3 of 10 on third downs, including 1 of 8 in the first half when it fell behind 20-0.
"It's a different challenge, something I haven't necessarily dealt with, but it's awesome," Darnold said. "It's just another challenge for this team and we're going to take it head on. Looking at Cleveland last night, it was moving on right after that game. We watched that game and then got right to Cleveland. Not the final score that we wanted.
"Obviously, we looked to come out of there with a win, but move on as fast as possible and get to Cleveland because it's a short turnaround. ..."
Other notes of interest. ... Tight end Neal Sterling (concussion) and linebacker Josh Martin (concussion) have been ruled out for Thursday; safety Marcus Maye is doubtful because of a foot injury.
Finally. ... Receiver ArDarius Stewart returned from his two-game suspension for violating the NFL's policy on performance enhancers. The Jets have until 4 p.m. Wednesday to make a decision on whether to activate or release him.
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 19 September 2018
According to ESPN.com's Paul Gutierrez, as ugly as 0-2 is compared to 1-1, and as downcast as the Oakland Raiders' locker room was following their heartbreaking 20-19 loss to the Denver Broncos on Sunday, there was no sense of impending doom.
Not yet, anyway. Not with a certain sense of optimism percolating about.
"We're this close," said quarterback Derek Carr, holding his thumb millimeters from his pointer finger.
And indeed, there were many positives to glean from the defeat, such as Carr completing 29 of 32 passes for 288 yards, including a 20-yard touchdown pass.
Or Amari Cooper, a week after catching one pass for 9 yards, going for 10 receptions, on 10 targets, for 116 yards.
And while a loss is a loss, things could be worse.
"A tough loss," said head coach Jon Gruden, who is riding a personal six-game losing streak dating to 2008. "I'm really proud of our team. We had opportunities. ... I look forward to the [better] days ahead. Hopefully, there's several."
And still ...
There were about 10 plays in the game where if a single one of them went the Raiders' way, they walk away from Broncos Stadium at Mile High with the victory.
"We have to find ways to get better," said right tackle Donald Penn, who gave up a sack to Von Miller and was also beaten when the Broncos blocked an extra-point attempt that proved to be the difference in the game.
"That's what makes good teams, or mediocre teams. Right now, we're a mediocre team."
That said, the Raiders' defense dominated the Broncos in the first half, forcing three-and-outs on four of Denver's first five possessions, while shutting them out and Oakland holding a 12-0 lead at halftime.
The Raiders led the Los Angeles Rams 13-10 at intermission last Monday.
"The team that's most prepared is the team that's going to win the game," Cooper said. "Luck plays a factor sometimes, but we need to go out there and find a way to win."
The talent is there -- it just seems like the Raiders have to relearn how to win again, two years after going 12-4, a year after last season's 6-10 fall from grace.
These things happen when the roster is overhauled to the tune of only 10 of 50 draft picks from 2012 through 2017 still being on the team, and 33 of the players on the current 53-man roster having not spent a single day on the 53-man last season.
It gets no easier for the Raiders, with a cross-country trip to Miami up next to face a 2-0 Dolphins team with a stifling defense.
"We're going to have days where I'm going to throw three picks or I'm going to throw five touchdowns; I've done both," Carr said. "We have to play level-headed and, as a team, stay together, push forward and grind this week in practice. There's no other recipe for getting better.
"We don't have a team that is lacking in effort or lacking in talent. We have great guys, veteran guys that work and grind through tough times, and the good times are coming. ... I know they are. We have a good group and we are working too hard for it not to happen. ..."
Other notes of interest. ... Carr completed 25 of his first 27 passes -- and should have been 26 for 28 were it not for fullback Keith Smith dropping a sure first-down gainer in the flat in the fourth quarter that might have allowed the Raiders to salt the game away.
With Martavis Bryant's yearlong suspension under appeal, the NFL is allowing the wide receiver to play until there is a verdict, sources told ESPN's Adam Schefter last weekend.
Bryant's camp is confident that it has a chance to win the appeal, which is expected to be heard in the next couple of weeks.
This is one of the main reasons that the Raiders took Bryant back on a contract that pays him from week to week. For now, Bryant's appeal looks like it could buy him a few weeks on the Raiders' roster, and possibly even more, depending on how the league rules. But appeals are notoriously tough to win.
Bryant has retained New York attorney Peter Ginsberg to assist in his appeal, a source told ESPN's Dan Graziano.
The Raiders re-signed Bryant this week after releasing the talented but troubled receiver on Sept. 1. His latest potential suspension stems from another violation of the NFL's substance abuse policy.
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 19 September 2018
The Eagles announced Monday that Carson Wentz has been medically cleared and will start Week 3 versus the Indianapolis Colts.
"He's ready, ready to take the reins again and move forward," head coach Doug Pederson said Monday.
As NFL.com's Kevin Patra noted, Sunday will mark the first time Wentz will see the field since tearing his ACL and LCL on Dec. 10, 2017.
The Eagles were patient in bringing back Wentz following knee surgery. He participated early in training camp with the team optimistic he would return for the opener. The quarterback, however, was not medically cleared for contact until Monday.
The Eagles owned the luxury of deploying Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles to open the season, allowing them to tread carefully with Wentz's return.
After two weeks watching an up-and-down Foles lead the Eagles to a 1-1 start while averaging 5.5 yards per attempt and a 78.9 passer rating, Wentz is back under center. The Eagles squeaked by the Falcons in the opener and fell to the Buccaneers on Sunday.
Pederson said he has no plans to hold Wentz back, expects no limitations with the QB returning from injury.
"He's going to be prepared mentally, now it's a matter of the physical part taking over," Pederson said. "In my mind, he's cleared, he's cleared. No need to hold back."
Pederson does not plan to alter his play calling much even while Wentz reacclimates to the game.
"The thing is, I'm not going to coach scared, I'm not going to coach paranoid, I'm not going to go in thinking, 'Oh no, we can't do this or we can't do that,' we just have to continue to go play and I've got to coach that way."
Wentz was a regular-season MVP candidate in 2017 before getting injured. He finished second in the NFL with 33 touchdown passes despite missing the last three-plus games. He'll look to reclaim his spot among the league's elite starting Sunday.
More immediately, however, his return will provide a much-needed boost to the Eagles offense that struggled with consistency under Foles. How long it takes Wentz to shake off the rust remains to be seen.
"I think there's going to be maybe an issue or two. It's going to take some time to get back into the rhythm of the flow of game," Pederson said. "The speed of the game is different than the speed of practice. So we do everything we can to try to simulate that during the week and try to prepare him that way.
"He's going to be prepared mentally. Now it's just a matter of the physical part taking over."
When last we saw Wentz on the field, the 25-year-old quarterback was performing at an MVP-level, making breathtaking throws, and using Houdini-like magic to escape rushes.
One issue Wentz must overcome in his return is a battered Eagles receiving corps. Alshon Jeffery (shoulder) remains week-to-week, Pederson said Monday. Mike Wallace fractured his fibula in Sunday's game and was placed on injured reserve Wednesday. And Mack Hollins is on IR with a groin issue.
Pederson said Monday that Jeffery is still considered week-to-week.
The injuries mean beyond Nelson Agholor, there wasn't much in the receiver corps for Wentz to rely on in his return. Kamar Aiken and Shelton Gibson were the top receivers in line for outside snaps.
So in steps Jordan Matthews, who had the 11th-most catches in NFL history by a player in his first three seasons, to join the team Wednesday, six weeks after he was released by the Patriots.
Matthews caught 225 passes for 2,673 yards and 19 touchdowns from 2014 through 2016 with the Eagles before being traded in the 2016 preseason to the Bills in the Ronald Darby deal.
Re-signing Matthews makes sense since he has a history with Wentz, who completed 73 passes for 804 yards and three TDs to Matthews in 2016. Only Zach Ertz (135) and Agholor (81) have caught more of Wentz's passes in his two NFL seasons. Matthews also has a history with Nick Foles. They played together here in 2014, Matthews' rookie year, and Matthews had 30 catches for 278 yards and two TDs from Foles before he got hurt halfway through.
We'll be watching to see how quickly Matthews can get up to speed this week while pointing out the Eagles are optimistic Wallace can return before the end of the season. ...
For now, Wentz will look to attack with favorite target Agholor, Ertz, rookie tight end Dallas Goedert and running back Corey Clement.
Agholor provided the offense with a spark in the second half last Sunday, hauling in a critical 2-yard TD on fourth-and-goal. Later in the game, Agholor registered a 50-yard reception. It was his longest catch since posting a 51-yard reception during a career-best 141-yard receiving performance last December at Seattle.
Ertz led all Eagles receivers in receptions (11) and yards (94), recording his franchise-record sixth-career game with 10-plus receptions. Ertz's six career games with 10-plus receptions lead all NFL tight ends since he entered the league in 2013. ...
Darren Sproles did not play against the Buccaneers with a hamstring injury he suffered earlier this past week in practice. Jay Ajayi left the game early with a back injury, but returned in the second half. The burden of both the running and punt return game rested on Clement's shoulders.
"It's basically what I asked for," Clement said after the game. "We're not a selfish team and I'm not a selfish person. It's great to be called on in certain situations, knowing the coaching staff trusts that I'm going to get the job done. Everybody wants to do better than the next person and I think that's why we're a great team."
For what it's worth, although the team characterized both Sproles and Ajayi as "day-to-day" on Wednesday, offensive coordinator Mike Groh told reporters on Tuesday it wasn't clear if Ajayi will be ready to play this week. Groh added running back Josh Adams was called up from the practice squad as a precautionary measure for Ajayi. In a corresponding move, the Eagles released wide receiver DeAndre Carter.
Ajayi scored his team-leading third rushing touchdown with a 2-yard plunge in the third quarter to cut the score to a 27-14 deficit. Ajayi's three touchdowns are his most in a season since 2016 (career-high eight touchdowns).
Neither Ajayi nor Sproles practiced Wednesday and I'll be watching for more on both in coming days; check the Late-Breaking Updates section for the latest.
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 19 September 2018
As Associated Press sports writer Will Graves pointed out, the Pittsburgh Steelers have been here before. Often in fact.
A jarring early-season misstep filled with mental breakdowns and missed opportunity is kind of their thing.
So too, it seems, is finding new ways to explain the erratic behavior of All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown.
Even a day removed from a 42-37 home loss to Kansas City that dropped the two-time defending AFC North champions to 0-1-1, the talk didn't center on a defense that gave up a franchise-record tying six touchdown passes, but on the latest outburst by the talented if mercurial Brown.
The four-time All-Pro - who caught nine passes for 67 yards against the Chiefs - responded to a tweet by a former team employee who suggested Brown wouldn't put up his eye-popping numbers without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger by suggesting "trade me let's find out."
The post caused an immediate stir on social media but not in the Pittsburgh locker room, even after cameras caught Brown venting on the sideline in the second half and slowly trudging off the field even as his teammates celebrated Roethlisberger's diving 3-yard touchdown run with 1:59 to go that pulled the Steelers within five.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that Brown did not report for work on Monday. The report says there's been no confirmation about whether he was given an excused absence but indicates that multiple sources did not know where Brown was. The Steelers didn't have a practice on Monday, but the rest of the players on the Steelers were at the facility in team meetings.
Brown's absence left teammates to try and explain away his behavior.
"I'm not worried about his frame of mind," veteran wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey said. "I know football is No. 1 to him. He works his butt off to be the great player that he is. As long as he brings that same energy in practice and brings that same energy to the game, I don't have any problem with him, because I've seen guys who don't care in this league and they don't last long."
Head coach Mike Tomlin said at his weekly press conference he will meet with Brown on Wednesday.
"We will talk about it and other things," Tomlin said about Brown's absence. "I'm not going to get into whether he was excused or not."
The other things may include the above-mentioned tweet.
Tomlin said Tuesday that Brown has not requested a trade and Brown's agent Drew Rosenhaus said the same while also addressing his client's absence on Monday.
"The tweet yesterday was not in reference to anything other than Antonio responding to a person he knows," Rosenhaus said, via Adam Schefter of ESPN. "It was not directed towards a trade, or wanting to be trading. Any idea he was asking for a trade is not accurate. Antonio had a personal matter. I talked to the team about it. His issue was unrelated to the tweet or his relationship with the team. Third, AB has an incredible drive to win. He just wants to win. That's all that that is. That's not anything more than him encouraging his coaches and teammates to win. And that's what his entire focus is on. Any notion, any speculation otherwise, can be put to bed. This is a non-story that has been blown out of proportion. We can end this right here and now."
So yeah. ... Some drama here. But as Graves pointed out, the issue with Brown, who showed up for work on Wednesday, has never been work ethic.
The former sixth-round pick is the only player in NFL history to post five consecutive seasons with at least 100 receptions. Yet the 30-year-old has become increasingly volatile. During minicamp he complained about having the spotlight on him, then arrived at training camp in a helicopter. He called a reporter who noticed him limping off the field during workouts at Saint Vincent College - in full view of fans - a clown. Last Friday he issued a bizarre soliloquy about his status, calling himself "an exceptionalism" before adding he's "not an ordinary guy."
Of that there is no doubt. And his teammates stress there is no issue with everything that comes with having Brown in the fold.
"AB is a hell of a player and I'm glad he plays for our team," defensive end Cam Heyward said. "It's as simple as that. I wouldn't trade him for anybody in the world."
Still, people can see what's going on.
Brown received 17 targets, but the CBS broadcast caught Brown in a confrontation with offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner on the sideline. Later in the game, Fichtner spent a few minutes speaking to Brown alone on the bench, then rubbing his head.
Brown has posted five straight 100-catch seasons, and many of Roethlisberger's best statistical seasons have come while playing with Brown in his prime.
On the Steelers' final drive of the Chiefs game, Roethlisberger appeared to wave in Brown's direction after a third-down play at the goal line. When Roethlisberger scored on a fourth-down scramble, Brown walked to the sideline alone while the rest of the offense celebrated in the opposite corner.
In addition, JuJu Smith-Schuster caught 13-of-19 targets for 121 yards and a touchdown.
This isn't the first time in the past week Brown has made waves on social media. On Wednesday, Brown apologized for a tweet threatening ESPN senior writer Jesse Washington over a story on The Undefeated titled, "Antonio Brown is an Instagram All-Pro. But is that the full picture?"
But the drama seems to be baked into the cake in Pittsburgh and Heyward made it a point to steer the topic away from Brown, who had nothing to do with Pittsburgh's defensive issues against the Chiefs.
"If we ain't talking about football, we're talking the wrong thing," Heyward said. "All this other stuff is beside the point."
The point being the Steelers find themselves preparing for a Monday night trip to surprising Tampa Bay (2-0) at crossroads, familiar territory during their run to four straight playoff berths.
Each time, the Steelers chose patience over panic. Each time, they recovered to reach the postseason.
"I think you panic when you know you've lost control," Heyward Bey said. "We haven't lost control."
Even if it might look that way.
The Steelers' sleepy start to the game spelled trouble against the explosive Chiefs. Pittsburgh went three-and-out to open their first two drives, earning -5 yards. After getting down by three touchdowns early, Ben Roethlisberger woke up.
Big Ben picked apart the K.C defense, spreading the ball around to nine targets. Passing 35 times in the first half, the Steelers stormed back to tie the game at halftime. With the running game stymied (30 total rushing yards), the Steelers relied on Ben's arm, despite missing practices this week with an elbow injury.
Roethlisberger passed for 452 yards on 39 completions on a whopping 60 attempts passing with three TDs and no turnovers.
Roethlisberger passed Hall of Famer John Elway (51,475) for the 7th-most pass yards in NFL history. With Brown, Smith-Schuster and tight end Jesse James, the Steelers can spread the ball around the field. They'll need to keep putting up points if the Pittsburgh defense continues to be a sieve.
James had five catches for 138 of the yards and a touchdown. It was James' first 100-yard receiving game in the NFL, and he averaged 27.6 yards per catch to lead all players in that category on a day when there were four 100-yard receivers and 924 combined total net yards of offense. He also did it with Vance McDonald back in the mix after missing the opener with a foot injury.
Worth noting, Roethlisberger has an NFL-high 42 passing first downs this season.
Also worth noting: The Buccaneers have allowed the seventh-most fantasy points to wide receivers, including the most to players lined up in the slot this season. As ESPN's Mike Clay pointed out on Wednesday, the situation got even worse with M.J. Stewart replacing Vernon Hargreaves (injured reserve) last week.
According to Clay, players aligned across from the rookie have been targeted on 32 percent of their routes and have scored 0.74 fantasy points per route. Both are very poor. Smith-Schuster (88 percent slot) will see a ton of Stewart in Week 3. Brown and rookie James Washington, meanwhile, will work against Ryan Smith and rookie Carlton Davis if Brent Grimes isn't back from a groin injury.
Clay summed up: This game has the makings of a shootout and the Steelers wide receivers figure to be a huge part of it.
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 19 September 2018
Don't look now, but two weeks into the 2018 season, Matt Breida leads the NFL in rushing.
Breida's 184 yards on the ground are the highest total in the league, as is his 8.4 yards per carry average. Those numbers include Breida's big game Sunday against the Detroit Lions, in which he carried 11 times for 138 yards, including a 66-yard touchdown run in the second half.
After losing Jerick McKinnon to a season-ending knee injury, Breida, who came to the 49ers as an undrafted rookie from Georgia Southern in 2017 and quickly won the role as the backup to Carlos Hyde, has used those who didn't believe he could play a major role in the offense as motivation.
"A lot of people thought this year that I wasn't going to get as much playing time as I did last year, and they planned on using both of us [Breida and McKinnon] a lot," Breida said. "It sucks that Jet went down, but I feel like me and him are going to be able to help this team out a lot and have a great year."
As ESPN.com's Nick Wagoner notes, although Breida's early-season success is almost certainly unsustainable, that doesn't mean it shouldn't garner him more opportunities than he has gotten so far.
Among the 21 running backs with 100 or more rushing yards through the first two weeks, Breida's 22 carries are tied for the second-fewest in the group. Such is life in the time share the 49ers have established between Breida and veteran Alfred Morris.
That work load has been almost dead even, though Morris has had more opportunities despite being less productive. Breida has played 52 snaps and has four catches for 26 yards. Morris has played 59 snaps with 26 carries for 86 yards, an average of 3.31 yards per attempt. He also has two catches for 32 yards and a lost fumble.
Breida, meanwhile, has looked increasingly comfortable in his second season in the Niners' outside-zone run game. That scheme asks its runners to make one decisive cut and get up the field quickly. If blocked properly and the runner is patient enough to see and hit the right hole, it can lead to big chunks of yards before defenders can get their hands on him.
Breida's 137 yards before contact and average of 6.23 yards before contact per carry both rank at the top of the NFL through the first two weeks. His five runs of 10 or more yards are tied for second among all players, one behind Carolina quarterback Cam Newton. Even if you take away Breida's 66-yard touchdown run, he is averaging a robust 5.6 yards per carry.
What Sunday's win against the Lions made clear is that Breida offers an explosive element to the offense more akin to what McKinnon can do.
Since McKinnon's injury, head coach Kyle Shanahan has indicated that the running back situation will be sorted out over time. Two weeks in, roles seem to be crystallizing, and while there's certainly still room for Morris, Breida should probably start getting more chances based on early production.
After Breida's long touchdown run against the Lions, he got only one more carry the rest of the game. Morris got seven and picked up 29 yards. Asked why Breida got less work after his big play, Shanahan pointed to Morris' fit in the four-minute offense.
The idea is that Morris is better suited to churn out tough yards that can move the chains and milk the clock.
"When you get into a four-minute drill, and you're trying to run the clock out -- we needed about two first downs to end it, I believe it was -- you want to get a bigger guy in there just a little bit better with the arm tackles," Shanahan said.
Indeed, Morris' track record in such situations is much greater, but just because Breida isn't as big as Morris doesn't mean he isn't capable of picking up those tough yards. According to ESPN Stats and Information, Morris is eighth in the league in yards per carry up the middle at 4.33. Breida is close behind at 4.17, which is tied for ninth.
Breida has also showed an ability to pick up yards after first contact. He has averaged 2.14 yards after contact per rush, which ranks 13th in the league. Morris is averaging 1.35, which is 40th among qualified backs.
As the Niners continue to consider their options in the run game, it isn't crazy to suggest that Breida's role should continue to expand. That doesn't mean he should suddenly get 25 carries per game, but an uptick in his opportunities would be warranted based on how started the season.
"I'd like to get everyone more opportunities," Shanahan said. "… Usually the better you're playing, the more runs you get. The better you do on third down, the more you control the ball. We'd love to get 50 carries in a game here, but we'll have to get after someone to do that."
Bottom line? Morris is steady but Breida has more of the home run ability the 49ers lost with the knee injury to McKinnon. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Kyle Juszczyk's usage rate skyrocketed in Week 2 to 62 percent, up from 39 percent in Week 1. He was used several times as the 49ers third-down back. The fullback had three catches for 13 yards.
Dante Pettis led all 49ers receivers with 56 snaps played. He came down with just one reception for 35 yards on two targets.
Pettis got the start against the Lions with Marquise Goodwin held out due to a bruised thigh. He was limited in Wednesday's practice and his status bears watching in coming days; watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for more. ...
Who is available for the 49ers will be of great interest going up against a Kansas City defense that, according to ESPN's Mike Clay, has allowed the most fantasy points to quarterbacks, the second most to running backs and the third most to both wide receivers and tight ends this season. ...
Robbie Gould made all three of his field-goal attempts from 45, 42 and 36 yards, respectively. That gives him 29 consecutive made field goals to set a new 49ers franchise record.
On Tuesday, Gould was named NFC Special Teams Player of the Week.
The 49ers came out of their Week 2 win against the Detroit Lions relatively clear injury wise. Jaquiski Tartt was the one exception. The 49ers strong safety left Sunday's game with a shoulder injury during the Lions final drive. His status for this week is unclear. Antone Exum would likely start in Week 3 if Tartt is unable to go.
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 19 September 2018
As Associated Press sports writer Jay Cohen recounted it, Russell Wilson looked to his left and his right. He looked for help in the middle of the field. He looked short and he looked for deep balls.
No one was open.
It was that kind of Monday night for the Seattle Seahawks.
Wilson was surrounded for most of Seattle's 24-17 loss to the Chicago Bears, and he got very little help from his teammates until the fourth quarter. He was sacked six times for the second straight week, including five in the first half, and made a game-sealing mistake in the final period.
"We're still a work in progress," head coach Pete Carroll said. "You can see how hard our guys played, see how they fought throughout all the way to the last seconds on the clock."
Seattle (0-2) played without guard D.J. Fluker and receiver Doug Baldwin due to injuries, and Baldwin's absence was particularly noticeable. Tyler Lockett was the Seahawks' top receiver with five catches for 60 yards, but he got most of his numbers in the fourth. Brandon Marshall struggled to get open against one of his former teams.
"I can always do better," Marshall said. "There's some things I definitely have to clean up. Just got to be sharper in everything that I do. We got to find a way to make plays."
The rushing attack also was shut down by Chicago's refurbished defense, finishing with 74 yards on 22 carries. Seattle went almost 24 minutes of game time between rushing plays at one point.
Wilson began the fourth quarter with just 69 yards on 9-for-20 passing, but he tried to rally the Seahawks down the stretch.
"The fourth quarter showed us who we are and who we can be," Wilson said. "We just got to get a better start and try to figure out how to catch that fire that we had in the fourth quarter, let's put it in the first, second, third if we can do that, which I don't think we're far off by any means."
The four-time Pro Bowler found Lockett for 20 yards and tight end Nathan Vannett for 11 to move Seattle deep into Chicago territory. He then threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to Lockett to trim the Bears' lead to 17-10 with 10:13 left.
Chicago went three and out on the ensuing drive and punted the ball right back to Seattle. But Wilson's pass intended for Rashaad Penny near midfield was picked off by Prince Amukamara, who returned his first interception since 2015 for his first career touchdown with 6:37 remaining.
"You can't even remember the last time Russ did that," Carroll said.
Wilson also lost a fumble on Seattle's next drive. He passed to Will Dissly for a 2-yard touchdown with 14 seconds to go, but the Seahawks' onside kick was unsuccessful and the Bears ran out the clock.
The lackluster showing for Seattle's offense wasted a solid performance for its defense, led by two second-quarter interceptions for Shaquill Griffin. The second-year cornerback made a nice play on an underthrown ball by Mitchell Trubisky, and then had a diving grab on a tipped ball.
Wilson was 22 for 36 for 226 yards. Penny was the top rusher with 10 carries for 30 yards as Seattle possessed the ball for just 25 1/2 minutes.
"The fighter mentality in me is always going to be there so you can't play scared," Wilson said. "You got to be able to go for it. I think we were still able to do that. We had a lot of fourth-quarter comebacks and I believe those are going to happen."
Worth noting. ... A week after Wilson was sacked six times by the Broncos, the Bears pass rush once again made it hard for the Seahawks offense to function throughout much of the game.
As was the case in Denver, it would be oversimplifying things to just put the blame on the offensive line, but regardless of where blame is placed, every player and coach would tell you that 12 sacks through two games is too many.
And it was in fact a sack, Chicago's sixth of the night that helped end any hopes of a comeback, with Wilson stepping up in the pocket, only to be hit and lose the ball for Seattle's second turnover in the fourth quarter.
Those sacks led to some long down-and-distance situations for the Seahawks, contributing to another subpar performance on third down, with the offense going 5 for 13 a week after going 2 for 12 in the loss at Denver. ...
According to Tacoma News Tribune staffer Gregg Bell suggested, Chris Carson appears to be in somebody's doghouse for something. And it doesn't seem to be for getting tired during games.
The Seahawks' lead running back vanished from the rushing attack, the offense and the game for the entire second half Monday night.
After the game, days after he said Carson had proven in his scant work the previous week in the opening loss at Denver that he was the starter, Carroll explained Carson got "gassed" against the Bears. Tired, Carroll explained, from having to play so much more on special teams because of injuries to safeties and linebackers that normally play on kicking downs.
The official NFL statistics from the game released Tuesday morning show Carson played two snaps on special teams at Chicago.
He played 19 snaps of the offense's 66. That's a load any NFL back, should be able to carry. ...
It was another strong outing for Dissly. A week after catching three passes for 105 yards and his first-career touchdown, the fourth-round pick out of the University of Washington had three more catches for 42 yards, including a touchdown late in the game.
Sebastian Janikowski's 56-yard field goal at the end of the first half was the third-longest in team history, two yards short of the team record shared by Steven Hauschka and Josh Brown.
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 19 September 2018
As Associated Press sports writer Fred Goodall notes, Ryan Fitzpatrick isn't the only reason the surprising Tampa Bay Buccaneers are off to their fastest start in eight years.
Speedy receiver DeSean Jackson is making a difference, too, finally beginning to deliver what the team has been expecting since signing him in free agency before last season.
Fitzpatrick has thrown for 819 yards and eight touchdowns in victories over New Orleans and defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia the past two weeks. Jackson has a pair of 100-yard games receiving and three TDs - two of them on plays of 50-plus yards.
"It's unbelievable. He's playing out of this world right now," said Jackson, who scored on a 75-yard reception of the first play of scrimmage in Sunday's 27-21 win over the Eagles.
"He's in his prime," the 31-year-old receiver added of the 35-year-old quarterback who's filling in for suspended starter Jameis Winston. "Us old guys, we are in our prime. He's playing like he's 28 and I'm playing like I'm 24. So as long as we keep doing that, it's going to be a good year."
Jackson, coming off a disappointing debut with the Bucs in 2017, has nine catches for 275 yards and three TDs the past two weeks after having one of his least productive seasons with 50 receptions for 668 yards and three TDs in 14 games a year ago.
He followed a five-catch, 146-yard, two-TD performance against the Saints with a four-catch, 129-yard performance against the Eagles.
And with TDs of 58 and 75 yards this season, he's eased ahead of Hall of Famers Lance Alworth and Terrell Owens for the third-most TD receptions of 50-plus yards behind Hall of Famers Jerry Rice (36) and Randy Moss (29).
Jackson, who spent six seasons with the Eagles and three with the Washington Redskins before signing a three-year, $33.5 million contract to join the Bucs, has 23 career TDs of 60 or more yards - tied with Rice for most in league history.
"I talked about this since I was younger, it's being legendary and leaving something for the league to understand that I made my mark, man," Jackson said. "I still have a lot of ball left in me. To tie Jerry Rice's records is very emotional for me."
When Tampa Bay signed Jackson in March 2017, the Bucs were coming off a 9-7 finish the season before and envisioned the speedy wideout adding a much-needed element to their offense: a deep threat not only capable of stretching defenses, but someone able to turn short completions into big gainers.
"For me, it's unbelievable to have a guy like DeSean out there running around," Fitzpatrick said. "Loft the ball up and he can go get it and turn it into a 75-yard touchdown. He's a special player, and he showed that again."
Through two games, Fitzpatrick has four completions of 50-plus yards, all for touchdowns. In addition to teaming with Jackson on the first play against Philadelphia, the 14-year veteran connected with tight end O.J. Howard on a 75-yard catch-and-run play against the Eagles.
Meanwhile, four-time 1,000-yard receiver Mike Evans and second-year pro Chris Godwin each have two TD receptions.
"We have good skill guys. ... Chris Godwin is an emerging star. O.J. Howard is an emerging star. DeSean Jackson, Mike Evans (are) proven, big-time players," coach Dirk Koetter said. "If you really think about it, we've still got Cam Brate and Adam Humphries, who just aren't getting very many chances right now."
Next up is a Monday night matchup against Pittsburgh at home, with a chance to begin a season with three consecutive wins for the first time since 2005.
"You can't peak too early. We have a lot of football left," Jackson said.
"We have a big one coming up with Big Ben (Roethlisberger) and AB (Antonio Brown) coming to town," the receiver added. "I grew-up a Steeler fan, so I'm going to be amped up for that game too."
But what about beyond that? The Buccaneers have a looming decision to make at the quarterback position.
Winston is eligible to return from a three-game suspension after this week's game, but things are obviously going well Fitzpatrick under center.
Head coach Dirk Koetter elected to punt for now when asked Monday what happens when Winston returns.
"I won't be the one getting into that," Koetter told reporters. "We'll worry about that when the time comes. Right now we're going to start working on Pittsburgh and that's all that matters right now. Everything else is in the future because it could all change just like that."
The Buccaneers can publicly choose to bypass the question on everyone's mind ahead of next week, but the decision will likely need to be made sooner than later.
Fitzpatrick has thrown for more than 400 yards in two consecutive games and currently leads the league in yards passing (819) and passer rating among starting quarterbacks (151.5), and ranks second in touchdown passes (eight) and third in completion percentage (78.7).
"I don't know what you want me to say," Koetter told reporters. "The guy has played a lot of football has played a lot of NFL football. He's putting the ball on the money, he's making good decisions. He's not turning the ball over."
By the way, Fitzpatrick was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week Tuesday -- for the second-consecutive week.
Fitzpatrick does have one interception, which Koetter said wasn't the signal-caller's fault, but he has also accomplished something Winston couldn't consistently do in 2017.
Worth noting. ... The Bucs' offensive explosion through two weeks has coincided with offensive coordinator Todd Monken's promotion to play-caller, taking the reins from Koetter. If Fitzpatrick's aerial attack keeps blowing other teams out of the building, it won't be long before Monken is touted as not just the next offensive mastermind but also a trendy head-coaching candidate.
With all the focus on the passing attack, it's easy to overlook the ground game.
Peyton Barber managed 22 yards on 16 carries against the Eagles giving him 91 yards on 35 carries this season. That's a 2.6-yard per carry average.
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 19 September 2018
As Associated Press sports writer Teresa M. Walker notes, a game ball for his first victory as an NFL coach is on Mike Vrabel's desk, and the Tennessee Titans got their first "Victory Monday" off of the season.
The celebration is a bit short-lived while some key starters are rehabbing injuries.
Yes, the Titans found a way to beat Houston 20-17 for a much-needed split in their first two games after losing the longest game since the NFL/AFL merger in 1970. Now they prepare for a trip to Jacksonville on Sunday and an early AFC South showdown with the defending division champ Tennessee swept last season before hosting the Philadelphia Eagles on Sept. 30.
But Tennessee might be without starting quarterback Marcus Mariota for a second straight week, and only time will tell if any of the Titans' top three offensive tackles might be available Sunday against the Jaguars (2-0) as well.
Mariota still is having numbness in his right, throwing hand from hurting his elbow in the season opener.
Mariota watched from the sideline, active and dressed. Vrabel said Mariota physically remains about where the quarterback was Friday or Saturday when the Titans decided to start backup Blaine Gabbert instead of Mariota.
"I think and I'm hopeful that it'll improve as quickly as possible," Vrabel said of Mariota on Monday.
"We will see where he is on Wednesday," Vrabel added. "I think there are a lot of possibilities. The treatment that he's doing could help, but it could be something that gets better overnight. That's where we are at."
And according to TitanInsider.com's Terry McCormick, where Mariota was on Wednesday was about the same and Vrabel told reporters he will continue to prepare both Mariota and Gabbert to play Sunday. Vrabel said the two would split reps in Wednesday's session as the Titans remain hopeful the injury will improve quickly -- even if there are still some throws Mariota is not comfortable making.
The injury, suffered while carrying out a run fake in Week 1 against Miami, forced Mariota out of the game. He wore a glove on his right hand during warm-ups on Sunday before the game against Houston to test how well he could grip the ball, but the Titans felt the injury needed more time to heal.
And if it needs still more time?
Gabbert will be in line for a second straight start, this against the team that drafted him at No. 10 overall in 2011 no less. It wouldn't be his first game against his old team. Gabbert led Arizona to a victory last November over the Jaguars, and he said this isn't his first rodeo.
"I've been in a lot of different situations. I'm always ready to go," Gabbert said. "Whether you're a starter or a backup, 13-guy, you've got to have the same routine, week-in and week-out. Otherwise, you have nothing to fall back on when your number is called. I just stuck to my routine, prepared the same way as I always have, and just stuck with that."
Vrabel praised Gabbert for how he executed the offense against Houston, saying the quarterback was the offensive player of the game and earned a game ball.
"I am not worried," Vrabel said of Tennessee's injury issues. "We go to the next guy. That's whether it's Marcus, Taylor [Lewan], Jack [Conklin], we are going to the next guy until that [injured] guy is ready. The team knows that. When he is ready, we will put him in the game. If that's Taylor this week, if that's Jack this week, if it's Marcus this week, whoever that may be."
Mariota might not be the only top player to return for the road trip to face the Jaguars.
Vrabel said Conklin, who tore his left ACL in Tennessee's playoff loss against New England, will do more in practice this week. He has been limited in practice over the past two weeks.
Lewan is progressing well according to Vrabel, but has not been cleared to return after suffering a concussion in the season opener. The Titans' medical staff sent Lewan home last week to get rest before ruling him out on Friday.
Vrabel said right tackle Dennis Kelly, who has been filling in while starter Conklin recovers, has been released from the hospital after dealing with an undisclosed illness.
The coach and his assistants showed in their win over Houston that they could find ways for the Titans to score points and move the ball even missing several key starters.
Offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur unleashed the Wildcat offense with running back Derrick Henry taking a direct snap. Henry accounted for 25 yards on five touches on Tennessee's second possession and wide receiver Taywan Taylor caught a pass from Henry behind the line of scrimmage and ran for 8 yards. Gabbert lined up under center later in the drive and hit wide receiver Corey Davis on a speed out for a 7-yard gain.
Davis finished the play with a vicious stiff-arm that sent Texans defensive back Kareem Jackson to the ground. Gabbert then found Taylor on a wide receiver screen that went 18 yards for a touchdown, giving the Titans a 14-0 lead.
The Titans used a fake punt for a 66-yard touchdown pass and defensively, the Titans came up with four sacks and an interception. They also limited Deshaun Watson to a final completion that proved meaningless as the clock expired.
Linebacker Brian Orakpo called it a great one, two, three punch.
"I'm definitely excited for this team overall," Orakpo said. "We finally came out on the right end, and we're trying to get back to the winning ways. We still have a long way to go and a long road ahead of us, but I'm excited because it was a big divisional win and coach Vrabel's first win. Very exciting."
And even though he didn't play on Sunday, Mariota had an impact on the Titans with a rare display of passion before the game.
"Marcus came out in the middle of the locker room before the game in and was [fired up]," Titans cornerback Adoree' Jackson said. "A lot of people don't hear Marcus talk, but to have him come out here fired [up], that's different. We love that! To see that from our quarterback, the chill mellow Hawaiian, to see him do that, it got everybody fired up and ready to go.
"You saw it out there offensively, defensively and special teams."
Other notes of interest. ... As ESPN's Mike Clay pointed out this week, the Jaguars did not shadow against Tennessee last season, but Clay suspects that will change this time around as Davis has clearly been the Titans' No. 1 wideout in 2018.
Davis has aligned on the perimeter on 75 percent of his routes this season, which means he'll see a ton of the two stud corners even if Jalen Ramsey doesn't chase him. Clay advised readers to "downgrade Davis massively and obviously stay away from Tajae Sharpe and Taylor on the other side of the field."
Clay went on to suggest that Rishard Matthews could be sneaky in the slot against D.J. Hayden, but that's a risky move considering his slow start.
The Titans have wide receiver Nick Williams and have waived receiver Cameron Batson and tight end Anthony Firkser.
Williams was with the Titans through the offseason and training camp. He has 22 games of NFL experience with 28 catches for 263 yards.
His most productive season came in 2015, when he caught 17 passes for 159 yards with two touchdowns for the Atlanta Falcons. He played two games in 2016 and one in 2017 for the Falcons.
Williams played five games with the Washington Redskins in 2013 as an undrafted free agent out of Connecticut.
He caught 43 passes for 588 yards and two touchdowns at UConn. He also averaged 25.9 yards per kickoff return and 9 yards per punt return during his college career.
One last note here, his success running the Wildcat notwithstanding, Henry has not been great so far. In fact, he's averaging just 2.8 yards per carry.
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 19 September 2018
As the team's official website noted, after coming out of the gates strong with a 24-6 win over the Cardinals in Week 1, the Redskins couldn't replicate that success on Sunday. In a 21-9 loss to the Indianapolis Colts, the offense started slowly, and never found its groove.
Though the Redskins hung around for most of the contest, the team didn't have much success moving the ball up and down the field.
Compared to the nearly 200 rushing yards the offense put up against the Cardinals, Sunday's rushing attack mustered 65 yards against Indianapolis. Quarterback Alex Smith threw for a season-high 292 yards, but struggled to stretch the field against the secondary.
Part of the credit goes to the Colts defense. Stunts on the defensive line and strong play by the linebackers caught the Redskins with little room to operate: they couldn't run the ball, but they couldn't get the big plays in the passing game either.
"I ain't going to say it's that we just couldn't handle it, we just didn't have that many opportunities," offensive lineman Trent Williams said about the Colts defense. "We weren't able to actually run the ball like want to get our offense going how we know it can get going. Running the ball is a huge, first down runs we didn't get enough, coach has to pass on second and third so, maybe we could of handled it if we had more opportunities and we could have established the run game, but we didn't."
However, there were other components that led to the team's struggles. A lack of energy played a part as well.
"They just played harder than we did, that's it," running back Chris Thompson said.
Execution also had a role in the loss. The Colts defense played well, but the Redskins didn't do themselves any favors. In particular, an inability to convert turnovers into touchdowns ultimately blocked a chance at picking up a victory.
Safety D.J. Swearinger Sr. had two interceptions on the day, yet the offense was unable to turn either one of them into seven points, lessening the momentum that the defense had just provided.
"Yeah of course, on each possession you always want to end with seven. Especially on turnovers," running back Adrian Peterson said. "Swear did a great job of presenting us with two opportunities and just as an offense we weren't able to execute."
Sunday's loss may not have offered too many positive takeaways for the Redskins, but the struggles that were caused by a lack of energy and execution provide the team with a blueprint on how to improve moving forward.
"Ultimately, I feel like there's a lot that we're going to learn from this film and this game as a team that's going to make us better," Peterson said. "At the end of the day I truly feel that way."
There won't be much time for the Redskins to dwell on Sunday's performance.
With Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers coming to town, a strong performance will be needed in order to compete and earn a win.
"It's super important. I mean, it's Aaron Rodgers coming in here," Thompson said. "So if we don't have it together then we get embarrassed again, so."
Losses come with no reward but great perspective, and the Redskins' performance on Sunday offers an awakening for what the team needs to work on in order to have success throughout the rest of the season. With a new week beginning, they're ready to move forward.
"I promise you this, it will change next week," Peterson said. ...
For the record, the Redskins gained 334 total yards on offense and have now recorded 300 or more yards on offense in consecutive weeks for the first time since Weeks 10-12 of the 2017 season.
Smith completed 33-of-46 pass attempts for the above-mentioned 292 yards and a passer rating of 88.3. Smith has now gone four consecutive weeks dating back to Week 16 of the 2017 regular season in which he has not committed a turnover.
Smith's 33 completions were his most in a single game since completing 34 passes against the San Diego Chargers in Week 1 of the 2016 season. His 46 pass attempts were his most since attempting 50 passes against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 4 of the 2016 season.
Wide receiver Jamison Crowder finished with two receptions for eight yards and a career-high 29 rushing yards on two attempts. On the Redskins first play from scrimmage, Crowder rushed for a career-long 25 yards.
Right tackle Morgan Moses made his 50th consecutive start.
Peterson (14,507) recorded 50 scrimmage yards to pass Matt Forte (14,468) for 28th on the NFL's all-time list.
Tight end Jordan Reed registered 55 receiving yards from six receptions and is now 14 receiving yards shy of passing No. 15 Bill Anderson on the Redskins all-time list.
Wide receiver Paul Richardson, playing through a shoulder injury that led to a questionable designation last Friday, finished with four receptions for 63 yards. With his first catch of the game, Richardson recorded his 100th career reception.
Thompson recorded a career-high 13 receptions for 92 yards. The 13 receptions is tied for second in Redskins lore and now ranks tied for ninth in a single game in NFL history among running backs. Thompson fell one reception shy of tying Roy Helu Jr. for first on the all-time list. Helu recorded 14 receptions against the San Francisco 49ers on Nov. 6, 2011. ...
The Redskins needed help at wide receiver and took a couple steps Monday to bolster the group. After losing out on the Josh Gordon trade sweepstakes, Washington signed Breshad Perriman and Michael Floyd, NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported Monday.
Perriman entered the league in 2015 as a first-round pick of the Baltimore Ravens, but could never put it together after spending his rookie campaign on injured reserve. In the past two seasons, he totaled 43 catches for 576 yards and three touchdowns in 27 games before being released on Sept. 1 as part of the team's personnel moves to establish the initial 53-player roster for the 2018 regular season.
Floyd joins the Redskins after an abbreviated preseason stint with the New Orleans Saints. He played with the Minnesota Vikings last season and was part of the New England Patriots Super Bowl-winning team the season before. Floyd signed with the Redskins after working out for the team, Rapoport reported.
Washington needs to inject life in the wide receiver corps when considering running back Thompson's 19 catches leads the team and Reed is second with nine catches.
Before signing Perriman, the Redskins worked out wideouts, tight ends and quarterbacks, Rapoport reported. Among those were wide receiver Kendall Wright and quarterback Paxton Lynch, Rapoport added.
Perriman joins a wide receiver group that is led by Richardson, Josh Doctson and Crowder.
One last note on the wideouts, Doctson doesn't catch a lot of passes, but the ones he does catch are meaningful; he has first downs on all five of his catches so far this season.
On the injury front. ... According to NBCSports.com's JP Finlay, Richardson had MRI on his knee Wednesday but the results came back clear; I'll be watching for more on his status heading into Sunday and report back via Late-Breaking Update as needed. ...
And finally. ... The Redskins placed running back Robert Kelley on injured reserve. He injured his toe in Sunday's loss to the Colts. Kelley must stay on injured reserve for at least eight games. This means Samaje Perine will be the third running back behind Peterson and Thompson.
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