Team Notes week 14 2019
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 3 December 2019
The bye week came at the worst time for the Arizona Cardinals.
As ESPN.com's Josh Weinfuss noted, the progress they made in their last four games went right down the drain on Sunday in an ugly 34-7 loss to the Los Angeles Rams.
"I think that from the jump we were flat," quarterback Kyler Murray said, and no one was going to argue.
Murray had said last week he didn't like the bye week basically because it interrupted the season, and while Murray emphasized he wasn't saying Sunday's issues were only bye related, he did acknowledge it all "felt off" and it certainly didn't have the same feel of what the Cards had done recently before the bye.
Arizona was as healthy as they'd been all season and were welcoming a Rams team that was embarrassed on national TV last week, scoring just six points against the Baltimore Ravens. But nothing went right on either side of the ball in their fifth-straight loss.
The defense gave up a season-high 549 yard, including 424 passing yards by Rams quarterback Jared Goff. Los Angeles had two 100-yard receivers - in the first half. Tight end Tyler Higbee set a career high with 107 receiving yards.
The defense, it's been an issue. But offensively, the Cards looked poor and that was new.
The Cardinals' offense couldn't find its footing all game. After three quarters, it had just 81 yards before finishing with 197 -- most coming in garbage time. After close losses the past three weeks, the Cardinals looked as if they had made significant strides offensively. There was a sense they were on the verge of breaking out.
In a season where the Cardinals need to be building for 2020, Sunday's loss stunted any growth.
Murray had one of his worst games of the season Sunday. He was sacked six times while running for just 28 yards and throwing for 163 yards and a pick. As ESPN.com's Josh Weinfuss reported, Murray couldn't get anything going, throwing nearly three more interceptions while having a pass batted down.
It was definitely his lowest-rated game of the season (56.4).
According to the ArizonaCardinals.com's Darren Urban, the fact Christian Kirk not only didn't have a catch until the fourth quarter - and only targeted once -- was a symptom of the offensive issues. So was a late deep target to Kirk that was overthrown enough that Kirk, tracking it deep in the end zone, collided with the (thankfully padded) goalpost.
Meanwhile, head coach Kliff Kingsbury had three solid running back options at his disposal on Sunday, but no matter which choice he made, the Cardinals couldn't find room to run against the Rams.
After a week of speculation, Kenyan Drake was indeed the main ballcarrier, but he finished with only 31 rushing yards on 13 attempts, a 2.4 yards per carry average. David Johnson had four carries for 15 yards, while Chase Edmonds did not play on offense in his return from a hamstring injury.
The Cardinals finished the game with 21 carries for 74 yards in the 34-7 loss, and it was Murray who propped up the numbers with four carries for 28 yards and a touchdown.
"Offensively, we never got in a rhythm," Kingsbury said. "We couldn't get anything going. Never sustained drives. A bunch of negative plays. Sacks and some third-and-forever situations. We just never had a flow where we could get all of those personnel groups in the game (to run effectively)."
Drake was targeted five times in the passing game but only hauled in two of the passes for 20 yards and had a drop. Johnson had two catches for 20 yards.
Johnson, who didn't have a touch last time out against the 49ers, had an early two-yard rush but didn't get another touch and rarely played until the game was out of hand.
Kingsbury said the pecking order of Drake, then Johnson, then Edmonds is not etched in stone. The group will be evaluated on a weekly basis and is subject to change. However it shakes out, the Cardinals will need to get more production from the position to avoid lopsided losses moving forward.
"We know we have three talented guys and we have to do a bet
The Steelers are coming to Arizona this week and will bring with them a hoard of fans, turning State Farm Stadium into Heinz Field West. We'll see if the team can rebound in front of a mostly hostile crowd.
Other notes of interest. ... The Cardinals are healthier again in the backfield, so made room for something else by releasing running back Zach Zenner Monday.
Zenner was signed for cover when Johnson's ankle was bothering him, but he didn't have much of a role. In four games, he ran three times for minus-2 yards.
The Cardinals also released cornerback Tramaine Brock.
Brock had missed a couple of games before the bye with a hamstring issue, but was back on the field for yesterday's loss to the Rams.
QBs: Kyler Murray, Drew Anderson, Brett Hundley
RBs: Kenyan Drake, Chase Edmonds, D.J. Foster
WRs: DeAndre Hopkins, Larry Fitzgerald, Christian Kirk, Andy Isabella, Trent Sherfield, KeeSean Johnson
TEs: Maxx Williams, Darrell Daniels, Dan Arnold
Atlanta FalconsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 December 2019
As the Associated Press noted, a meaningless December awaits the Atlanta Falcons for the second straight year, and it's uncertain how much longer Dan Quinn will coach the team.
Last year's collapse was blamed mostly on injuries, but this year's 3-9 record and early elimination from the playoffs seem mainly the fault of Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff.
Quinn will finish with a non-winning record for the third time in his five seasons. He led Atlanta to the Super Bowl in 2016 and coached them to the divisional round of the playoffs the following year, but it has since been a bumpy ride. A 26-18 loss Thursday to New Orleans put the Falcons, considered one of the NFC's more talented teams at the start of the season, alongside Cincinnati and Detroit as the only NFC clubs out of playoff contention in November.
One positive from the loss?
Quinn got an inspired effort out of his team to close the game -- including recovering two onside kicks. The last time a team recovered two onside kicks in a game was the Titans at the Colts on Dec. 5, 2004.
Dimitroff has held his job since 2008, the year Atlanta drafted quarterback Matt Ryan No. 3 overall. There are some considerable strikes against him. He has largely struggled build a consistently dependable offensive line and has rarely had good luck with cornerbacks in the draft. A lucrative contract given three years ago to oft-injured Devonta Freeman, making him the NFL's highest paid running back at the time, is a drag on the salary cap.
Only owner Arthur Blank knows what's next, but it seems improbable that Quinn and Dimitroff will be entrusted with another season. Blank likely doesn't want Ryan, who turns 35 next year, and star receiver Julio Jones, who will be 31, to get much older without hope of a new direction for the franchise.
Ryan leads the NFL in completions through the first three games of Week 13, but he's also first in sacks. Given enough time in the pocket, Ryan is still an elite passer. He's excellent at reading pre-snap alignments and checking down to find the best receiving option. The problem is Ryan plays behind a weak offensive line and is often under siege even in a shotgun formation.
Ryan clearly didn't have his best game against the Saints while getting sacked a season-high nine times. He threw a couple of interceptions in the second half, one on a checkdown to running back Devonta Freeman that was picked off by Saints defensive tackle Shy Tuttle. Then Ryan was picked off by C.J. Gardner-Johnson on a play where receiver Justin Hardy might have broken off his route.
It was Ryan's first multi-interception game since Week 2 against Philadelphia, when he had three picks. Ryan obviously missed Jones, but he missed some throws, too. Ryan completed 35 of 50 passes for 312 yards with two touchdowns and the two picks.
Meanwhile, ESPN.com's Vaughn McClure believes the best move Atlanta Falcons made Thursday night was keeping Jones out of the lineup because of a shoulder injury.
With the postseason officially out of reach, they needed to be cognizant of the future of their best player, no matter how badly Jones wanted to play through the pain. It was a game-time decision for Jones, who went through a brief warm-up under the watchful eye of Quinn and assistant head coach Raheem Morris before being declared inactive.
It marked the first time Jones has missed a game since December 2016, when he missed two games because of a toe injury.
The Falcons obviously weren't the same on offense without Jones on the field. Ryan didn't have his safety net. And the Saints could focus their defensive attention on closing down wide receiver Calvin Ridley as the primary target.
Ridley still made plays with eight receptions for 91 yards. And the Falcons got a chance to see a couple of other youngsters emerge with Christian Blake catching six passes and Russell Gage catching five, including a touchdown.
But as offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said leading into the game, no one could replace Jones. It will be interesting to see how the Falcons play it with Jones moving forward, with no real reason to rush him back to the field. But the Falcons have to think about his future.
Given all that, it's too early to know if he'll be back for this week's home game against Carolina, but Quinn said on Monday that Jones is trending upward in terms of his availability for Sunday's game against Carolina. Quinn mentioned Jones would have had a much better chance to play this past week if the game was on a Sunday instead of a Thursday.
Jones did not practice Monday but he did work on a limited basis Wednesday.
The team's top two tight ends, Austin Hooper and Luke Stocker, both returned to practice for the first time since getting hurt. Hooper has missed three straight games with a knee injury. Stocker missed one game with a back injury. Jaeden Graham was also present for practice Monday. He took a lower body shot late against New Orleans and had to leave the game, but appeared to be okay Monday.
Quinn said it's too early to tell if left guard James Carpenter will be able to play after leaving the Saints game with a concussion.
I'll have more on Jones and Hooper via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
As for Quinn, he has no choice but to forge ahead as if all is normal.
"It's always about playing our best to go win," he said in a conference call with reporters on Friday. "That's the first priority. That's the first consideration. But I've certainly learned a hell of a lot this year, more than any year, and we're going to continue to push and go for it like crazy."
And finally. ... The Falcons announced Monday that punter Matt Bosher had been activated from injured reserve, hopefully putting a stop to their revolving door at the position.
They also designated guard Chris Lindstrom to return from IR, opening the practice window for their first-rounder, and signed tackle John Wetzel.
Lindstrom, the 14th overall pick, suffered a foot injury in the opener and went on IR. He has 21 days of practice time to be activated.
QBs: Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub, Kurt Benkert
RBs: Todd Gurley, Brian Hill, Qadree Ollison, Ito Smith
WRs: Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, Russell Gage, Laquon Treadwell, Christian Blake, Olamide Zaccheaus
TEs: Hayden Hurst, Jaeden Graham, Carson Meier
Baltimore RavensCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 December 2019
The Baltimore Ravens entered Sunday's game against the San Francisco 49ers as the NFL's hottest team.
Quarterback Lamar Jackson and the Ravens left with a 20-17 victory over the 49ers and a franchise-best eighth straight win.
On Justin Tucker's 49-yard winning field goal as time expired, Baltimore (10-2) beat the NFC's top team and extended its run over the league's elite.
What else do the Ravens have to prove during this regular season? Baltimore has dominated the Seattle Seahawks, who are tied for the second-best record in the NFC; the New England Patriots, the defending Super Bowl champions and current top seed in the AFC; the Houston Texans, who lead the AFC South; and the Rams, who are nine months removed from playing in the Super Bowl.
It was a much closer game this time for the Ravens, but they proved that they can win in the clutch. On the final drive, Jackson completed all three of his passes for 27 yards to record his third game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime.
For the most part, Jackson won this one with his legs. He ran for 101 yards, marking his fourth 100-yard rushing game of his career (second in NFL history to Michael Vick's 10).
The Ravens are 10-2 for the first time in franchise history and are within a half-game of the Patriots for the No. 1 seed in the AFC.
Jackson passed for 105 yards and ran for 101 yards in the win over the 49ers, putting him in a unique place in NFL history.
According to Profootballtalk.com's Michael David Smith, it was also the fourth time this season that Jackson notched a double-triple - and the first time ever that a player had four double-triples in one season. Jackson previously topped 100 yards both rushing and passing in Week 2 against the Cardinals, Week 6 against the Bengals and Week 7 against the Seahawks.
A double-triple, as previously noted by PFT, comes when a player has triple-digit yards in two different statistical categories. A player can record a double-triple by having 100 or more yards both passing and rushing, or rushing and receiving, or returning both punts and kickoffs, or any other way that yardage is counted.
The double-triple is surprisingly rare, and Jackson (who did it once as a rookie last season) already has five of them in his career. That's the second-most in NFL history, also behind Vick, who holds the record with eight. Four other players have four career double-triples: Russell Wilson, Walter Payton, Dante Hall and Gary Ballman.
Jackson seems like a sure bet to break Vick's all-time record. There's never been a combined rushing-passing threat like Jackson in NFL history.
Looking for negatives?
The 105 yards passing were a season low and Jackson lost his first fumble of the season. But in leading his third career winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime, Jackson completed all three of his passes for 27 yards to set up Justin Tucker's 49-yard field goal.
Of course, Jackson entered Sunday's game on one of the best hot streaks by a quarterback. The NFL Most Valuable Player front-runner had played three straight games with at least three touchdowns and no interceptions. Only four quarterbacks have had longer such streaks in NFL history: Tom Brady (four straight in 2007), Peyton Manning (four in 2013), Aaron Rodgers (four in 2014) and Wilson (five in 2015).
That wasn't going to happen in a constant downpour with winds that reached 15 mph. Jackson went 0-of-4 passing on third down. He entered the day completing 69 percent of his third-down passes, second-best in the NFL. Jackson was 3-of-6 for 18 yards when targeting wide receivers. That's the fewest passing yards to wide receivers by a starting quarterback in a win this season, according to ESPN Stats and Information.
Jackson completed just four of 11 passes for 20 yards without the aid of play-action. That made it his worst passing game (completion percentage and yards) as a starter without play-action.
This isn't the first time the weather has affected Jackson. In his other rain game this season, against the Seattle Seahawks, he connected on only nine of 20 throws.
"I was throwing passes behind my receivers," Jackson said. "I hit Hayden Hurst on the sideline on the corner behind him [and] Seth Robertson a drive route behind him. It was ticking me off. A lot of passes were getting away from me. It messed with me a lot."
Where Jackson really hurt the NFL's top-ranked defense was with his legs.
Jackson's biggest run was a 3-yard sneak on a fourth-and-1 from Baltimore's 44-yard line. Eight plays later, Tucker hit the winning kick.
"I was a little nervous, but I wasn't surprised," wide receiver Willie Snead said of the fourth-down decision. "Coach [John Harbaugh] gives us the green light. He has full confidence in Lamar and our offense."
As ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley notes, Jackson has now won eight straight starts. The only quarterback in the Super Bowl era with a longer streak before he turned 23 years old is Ben Roethlisberger, who won 13 straight in 2004.
Unlike many of Jackson's previous wins -- the double-digit margins against the Seahawks, Patriots, Texans and Rams -- Sunday's game was a grind. His first three drives in the second half ended with a fumble, a punt and a deflected pass on fourth down.
But when given the ball for the final time, Jackson found a way to win. He marched Baltimore into field goal range on a 12-play, 34-yard drive that took the remaining 6 minutes, 28 seconds off the clock.
"Him being a serious competitor, he puts a lot of pressure on himself," guard Marshal Yanda said. "Great players that want to be great, they have that."
This week, Baltimore travels to Buffalo for a matchup with the Bills, who beat Dallas on Thanksgiving and have the inside track on an AFC wild-card berth with a 9-3 record. ...
Also of interest. ... The stat line of Hurst (three catches, 21 yards) doesn't reflect the impact he had on Sunday's game. Instead of stats, Hurst got a win and a game ball from Harbaugh.
One of Hurst's catches came on fourth down, keeping a drive alive that led to Tucker's first field goal. It wasn't an easy catch on fourth-and-2, and Hurst had to fight through contact to get past the chains.
Hurst's final reception came during Baltimore's final drive, a 10-yard reception that was the final completion of the game, setting up Tucker's game-winning kick.
"I think he had a great day, he had a game ball," Harbaugh said of Hurst. "He continues to improve as a player. He made two huge catches for us, blocked pretty well. ... To see Hayden step up like that and make the plays, he deserves that. And [Jackson] trusts him. You can see that, so that was great to see."
Hurst, Mark Andrews and Nick Boyle continue to give Baltimore the league's deepest tight end group.
"I love our tight ends. I love the whole room," Harbaugh said. "They know they can get better. ..."
On the injury front. ... Boyle (illness), did not participate in practice Wednesday. Cornerback Marlon Humphrey (thigh), linebacker Patrick Onwuasor (ankle) and Roberts (knee) were all limited participants. ...
One last note here. ... The Ravens agreed to an extension with fullback/defensive tackle Patrick Ricard that keeps him with the team through the 2021 season. He's a key contributor on both sides of the ball.
QBs: Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III, Trace McSorley
RBs: Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards, Justice Hill
WRs: Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin, Willie Snead, Jaleel Scott, De'Anthony Thomas, Chris Moore
TEs: Mark Andrews, Nick Boyle
Buffalo BillsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 December 2019
According to Associated Press sports writer Jerry Sullivan, Josh Allen had a predicable reply when someone asked him if Buffalo's thorough dismantling of the Cowboys in a Thanksgiving showcase was a signature win for a rising Bills steam.
"Just No. 9," the quarterback said Friday, referencing the Bills' win total this season.
As usual, the second-year quarterback channeled head coach Sean McDermott's methodical, one-game-at-a-time approach.
Buffalo fans, however, can be forgiven for placing extra significance of Thursday's 26-15 victory at ATandT Stadium. The Bills have faltered consistently in the national spotlight over the last two decades. They've lost their last seven Monday night games and their last seven on Sunday nights. Two years ago, they broke a 17-year playoff drought and lost a 10-3 snoozer to Jacksonville in the wild-card game.
But in their first Thanksgiving game in 25 years, the Bills announced themselves to a national audience, dominating Dallas and asserting their worthiness as a playoff contender. They improved to 9-3 for the first time since 1996, the year Jim Kelly retired.
This felt like the biggest Bills win since Kelly was taking snaps. There have been a few other high points - Buffalo made the playoffs twice under Doug Flutie in 1998-99. But Thursday's triumph was more significant for one essential reason: Allen, their first true franchise quarterback hope since Kelly, had the best game of his career on the biggest stage.
As ESPN.com's Marcel Louis-Jacques notes, if the national narrative on Allen said he is a below-average quarterback, that might have changed overnight.
Allen was sensational in his first national TV appearance. The second-year pro outplayed Dak Prescott, completing 19 of 24 passes for 231 yards and a touchdown and adding another 43 yards and a score in eight carries. He extended plays, made smart decisions and took advantage of just about everything the Cowboys gave him. He's a completely different quarterback since throwing three interceptions against the Patriots in Week 4 -- a result, he says, of the game slowing down for him.
Allen completed a career-high 79.2 percent of his throws and was 12 for 12 in the second half. The Bills are 11-0 when his completion rate is at least 60 percent.
Allen's competitive toughness has endeared him to fans and teammates. That was evident in a play just before halftime. The Bills faced fourth-and-1 at the Dallas 30. Allen, ready to sneak for the first down, fumbled the snap. But he alertly reached down, snatched the ball from the pile and lunged forward for the first down.
The Bills scored on the very next play on a double-reverse pass from receiver John Brown to Devin Singletary, and they never looked back.
After struggling early in his career, Allen has made major strides over the past few weeks. Plenty of observers pointed out the poor quality of Buffalo's opponents. But he'll get a lot more respect after his breakout game on Thanksgiving.
"He will," said tackle Dion Dawkins. "He will. Josh is a winner and just a swaggy dude. A swaggy dude with a killer instinct. He just goes after everything that he puts his mind to. As an offensive lineman, I'm just happy to be a part of what the kid is doing."
Among the approaches the Bills are leveraging to their advantage is the no-huddle offense.
The Allen-led attack has turned a corner since coordinator Brian Daboll installed the no-huddle after Buffalo's most recent loss, at Cleveland on Nov. 10. Daboll has gone to more three-wideout, one-back sets and the offense has clicked in three straight wins.
Averaging 137.9 yards per game, the Bills have the fifth-highest rushing average in the NFL led by two running backs who have almost identical production this season - Singletary (553 yards) and Frank Gore (552 yards). Allen (430 rushing yards) is obviously also adept at making plays with his legs. ...
Ten days after beating the NFL's top-ranked offense, the Bills take on the league's No. 2 attack when Lamar Jackson and the high-flying Ravens come to Buffalo. Baltimore has won seven in a row and has averaged 43 points per game in its last four. ...
Also of interest. .., According to NextGen Stats, receiver Cole Beasley averaged 3.51 yards of separation at the time of the catch or incompletion, above the league average of 2.83 yards. The former Cowboy put up 110 yards on six catches in his first game back in Dallas, the third 100-yard game of his career. Beasley became the second former player to record 100 receiving yards in his first game against the Cowboys with his new team, per Elias Sports Bureau research. The other was Andre Holmes, who had 136 yards for the Raiders on Thanksgiving in 2013.
Stephen Hauschka's woes continued. Hauschka missed a 50-yard field-goal attempt and a point-after. He's 15 of 21 on field goals, a career-low 71.4 percent. He was among the most accurate kickers in league history when he came to Buffalo, but his accuracy has slipped all three years since.
And finally. ... According to ESPN Stats and Information research, McDermott is the first Bills coach with multiple winning seasons since Wade Phillips, who coached the team from 1998 to 2000.
QBs: Josh Allen, Matt Barkley, Davis Webb
RBs: Devin Singletary, T.J. Yeldon, Taiwan Jones
WRs: John Brown, Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasley, Isaiah McKenzie, Duke Williams, Andre Roberts, Robert Foster
TEs: Dawson Knox, Tyler Kroft, Lee Smith, Tommy Sweeney, Jason Croom
Carolina PanthersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 December 2019
As ESPN.com's David Newton reminded readers this week, Panthers owner David Tepper was so mad a few weeks ago that he woke up twice in the middle of the night after the Falcons embarrassed his team at home. He was so mad that he spontaneously summoned reporters the next day to make it clear he would not accept long-term mediocrity.
Tepper, who in 2018 paid an NFL-record $2.275 billion to purchase the Panthers, had another long night after Sunday's 29-21 loss to the Washington Redskins and Ron Rivera is paying a price for it.
For the first time since early 2011, the Panthers are no longer coached by Rivera.
Carolina parted ways with the coach Tuesday, the team announced. Secondary coach Perry Fewell has been named interim head coach.
"I believe this is the best decision for the long-term success of our team," Tepper said in a statement. "I have a great deal of respect for Ron and the contributions he has made to this franchise and to this community. I wish him the best. I will immediately begin the search for the next head coach of the Carolina Panthers."
Fewell will be supported by offensive coordinator Norv Turner, who has head coaching experience will transition to the role of special assistant to the head coach. Norv's son, Scott Turner will take over as interim offensive coordinator.
The move came slightly earlier than expected, but could be foreseen after the Panthers' performance in the last few weeks, and really, in the last two seasons.
Carolina first faltered down the stretch in 2018, starting 6-2 before losing seven straight to finish 7-9. Questions arose about the health of Cam Newton, and when Newton was lost for the season due to a foot injury in 2019, Rivera initially seemed to handle it well.
Kyle Allen replaced Newton and even created a faction of fans who believed he should be the one to permanently replace Newton, but the former Texas AandM Aggie proved over time his hot start was a fluke more than anything. With his struggles went the Panthers' hopes of returning to the playoffs, and last week's loss to Washington ultimately became the final straw for Tepper.
Rivera won three NFC South titles, made the playoffs four times, won Coach of the Year twice and leaves Carolina with a career regular-season mark of 76-63-1. He owns a 3-4 postseason record, including a sprint to Super Bowl 50 in 2015. His Panthers lost just two games that year: one regular season contest, and the Super Bowl to Peyton Manning's Denver Broncos.
Tepper inherited Rivera as his team's head coach when he purchased the Panthers in 2018, which oddly enough coincided with the beginning of Rivera's downward slide. Since Tepper bought the team in May of that year, Rivera's team has won just 12 of 28 games.
The owner will now get a chance to hand pick his team's coach for the first time in his tenure.
"We are going to take a comprehensive and thorough review of our football operation to make sure we are structured for long-term sustained success," Tepper said. "Our vision is to find the right mix of old-school discipline and toughness with modern and innovative processes. We will consider a wide range of football executives to complement our current football staff.
"One change that we will implement is hiring an assistant general manager and vice president of football operations. We all must recognize that this is the first step in a process, but we are committed to building and maintaining a championship culture for our team and our fans."
Rivera remained a popular figure in the Panthers' locker room.
Linebacker Luke Kuechly said earlier this week that Rivera is not to blame for the team's struggles, adding that he and his assistants do a great job of preparing the players.
"Coach Rivera does such a great job of keeping us level-headed," Kuechly said. "He's done a great job with it since he's got here and we're going to do the same thing moving forward. Nobody is going to get mad at anybody. Nobody is going to get frustrated. Everybody is going to lock in and do their job."
Now they'll do it for somebody other than Rivera. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Greg Olsen appeared to be out for a moment and Washington linebacker Ryan Anderson was just ejected for lowering his head to initiate contact on the tight end. Olsen appeared to stiffen as he went to the ground, and was eventually able to get up and go to the medical tent, and then the locker room for further evaluation. He did not return.
The play left Carolina without one of its top playmakers on a day when Allen and the offense struggled after scoring touchdowns on its first two drives.
Allen began 8-for-8 with two touchdowns, but then completed only one of his next eight attempts and three of his next 13.
Olsen entered the day third on the team in receptions with 45 for 530 yards and two touchdowns. He had two catches for 14 yards against Washington.
Olsen, 34, was wooed by several networks as an analyst this past offseason, but opted to return to prove he remains one of the top tight ends in the NFL after missing much of the past two seasons with a foot injury. He has one year left on his current deal.
Olsen did no practice Wednesday; I'll have more on his status via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
Meanwhile, Ian Thomas played 32 snaps, mostly in the second half after Olsen entered the concussion protocol. Thomas had a season-high four catches for 24 yards. Donte Moncrief played nine snaps but was not targeted.
Although last Sunday wasn't his biggest day of the year, Christian McCaffrey continues to produce at an historic rate from a fantasy perspective.
Per ESPN.com's Tristan Cockcroft, the list of most PPR fantasy points by any player through his team's first 12 games of a season (based on ESPN.com scoring): 393.2 LaDainian Tomlinson, 2006; 391.6 Priest Holmes, 2002; 354.1 McCaffrey, 2019; 339.0 Emmitt Smith, 1995; 335.5 Eric Dickerson, 1983. ... McCaffrey's 279.1 non-PPR fantasy points through 12 games are 10th-best among running backs since at least 1950.
And finally. ... Newton tried to rehab his way through the foot injury that ended his 2019 season. It didn't work out.
NFL Network's Tiffany Blackmon reported that Newton plans to undergo surgery, per a source informed of the decision.
The Panthers shut Newton down for the season in early November, placing the QB on injured reserve after weeks of lingering questions about his status. Newton appeared in just two games in 2019 after hurting his foot during the preseason. Despite the Panthers insisting the signal-caller was fine, Newton looked far from it, missing targets by a mile and was immobile in the pocket.
The foot issue is the latest injury that has derailed Newton's career. The 30-year-old quarterback underwent shoulder surgery in back-to-back offseasons. He had put off shoulder surgery in the past. The hope is that waiting a bit before foot surgery this time around doesn't similarly throw his offseason out of whack.
Getting the procedure done in December could have Newton back on the field in time for offseason workouts in March, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reports.
Where his future is at that moment remains to be seen.
With Rivera fired and the Panthers in overhaul mode, Carolina could decide to move on from the 2015 NFL MVP. Or, perhaps, the new coach will want to take one more crack to see if Newton can overcome his latest injury.
When healthy, Newton was a dual-threat force capable of dominating by land or air. Unfortunately, we haven't seen a healthy Cam in years.
QBs: Teddy Bridgewater, Will Grier, Phillip Walker
RBs: Christian McCaffrey, Reggie Bonnafon, Jordan Scarlett, Mike Davis
WRs: D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson, Curtis Samuel, Pharoh Cooper, Jarius Wright, Brandon Zylstra, Keith Kirkwood
TEs: Ian Thomas, Chris Manhertz, Temarrick Hemingway
Chicago BearsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 December 2019
As Associated Press sports writer Gene Chamberlain noted, it's been rare in this season when the play of quarterback Mitchell Trubisky has drawn universal praise.
After last Thursday's 24-20 comeback win over the Detroit Lions, Trubisky was in the unaccustomed position of ignoring his success while looking ahead.
"We put ourselves in a position to have another big game next week," Trubisky said.
Considering his role Chicago's 3-5 start, Trubisky's improvement has been dramatic as the Bears (6-6) have won three of their last four. He is 94 of 145 for 979 yards with eight TDs and four interceptions and a 91.1 passer rating in the last four.
Trubisky did benefit from some lesser competition - all three wins came against last-place teams, including two over Detroit. Trubisky has beaten the Lions three straight times.
"Regardless of who our opponent is, and sometimes players play better versus some opponents, I said it last night, it's been three games, really four games now that Mitch has really stacked some strong games together with decision making," head coach Matt Nagy said Friday.
The real test will come for Trubisky as the Bears close the schedule with four games against teams in playoff position, starting with Dallas Thursday night at Soldier Field.
"We know what's ahead of us but we can only control what goes on Thursday night," Nagy said. "And we understand, too, that Dallas is in a very similar situation. And so you know both of us being 6-6, having an opportunity to play at home is going to be fun."
Clearly, the passing attack has improved in the last three games, and particularly in the second half Thursday. Trubisky went 29 of 38 for a season-high 338 yards against Detroit. The Bears finished with 8.5 yards per pass attempt, a huge improvement over the 5 to 6.5 yards a game they'd been registering.
Wide receiver Anthony Miller has rebounded from a slow start to his second season after he missed offseason work because of shoulder surgery and most of the preseason with an ankle injury. Miller had career highs of nine receptions and 140 yards Thursday and has 21 catches for 271 yards in the last three games. In the first nine games this season, he had 17 receptions for 218 yards.
Miller was upset with himself against the Lions for a poor first half, then came back big with key catches of 32 and 35 yards on the game-winning drive.
"I think it's one of the worst halves I've had since I've been playing in the league," Miller said.
David Montgomery rushed for 75 yards on 16 attempts to provide a complement to the passing attack against Detroit. It was his second-best game as a pro and his best since gaining 135 yards in a loss to the Los Angeles Chargers on Oct. 27.
"You felt like you were getting to second-and-5, second-and-4 more than second-and-9 and second-and-8, and that's a credit to our offensive line," Nagy said.
The Bears (6-6) host Dallas (6-6) Thursday in a battle between teams with fading playoff hopes. ...
Also of interest. ... Nagy was careful not to overinflate Miller's ego following the second-year receiver's career day.
"Well, he's getting more opportunities, for sure. ... Now, with all that said, right, we want to make sure we're still homing in on the details," Nagy said.
Mastering the finer points of playing wide receiver in Nagy's offense has sometimes been a struggle for Miller -- the 51st overall pick of the 2018 NFL draft -- but the pure talent is undeniable.
As ESPN.com's Jeff Dickerson reminded readers, Miller flashed glimpses last season as a rookie, when he led the Bears with seven touchdown receptions, despite playing for part of the season with a balky shoulder that ultimately required offseason surgery. Miller finished last season with 33 catches and had just one game of 100-plus yards receiving.
Miller got off to a slower than expected start this season but began to pick up steam two weeks ago, with six catches for 77 yards against the New York Giants.
On Thanksgiving, Miller finally put it all together. His big day included a pair of clutch, 30-plus-yard catches from Trubisky on Chicago's game-winning drive.
Recently, teams have been double-teaming Allen Robinson, Chicago's top receiver with 71 catches for 850 yards and five touchdowns, freeing Miller, whom Trubisky targeted a team-high 13 times last week.
The key for Miller and Trubisky is to build on the momentum. Miller has yet to string together consecutive big games. Even after his effort against the Lions, Miller has just 38 receptions for 489 yards and zero touchdowns thus far in 2019.
But it's good to see signs of life heading into the stretch run. ...
Meanwhile, when the Bears handed in a Monday injury report ahead of their Thanksgiving Day game against the Lions, they only estimated participation levels because they didn't hold an actual practice after playing on Sunday. The Bears are hosting Dallas this Thursday and the time off since their trip to Detroit means this Monday's report had actual participation levels.
Four of the five players on the report missed the win over the Lions. Cornerback Prince Amukamara is the new addition and he did not participate in the session due to a hamstring injury.
Tight end Ben Braunecker and wide receiver Taylor Gabriel remain out with concussions.
Neither will play against the Cowboys.
Right tackle Bobby Massie has an ankle injury and linebacker Danny Trevathan has an elbow injury; they are ruled out as well.
Cornerback Prince Amukamara is listed as doubtful due to the hamstring injury that’s kept him out of practice this week.
Kyle Fuller and Buster Skrine would be the top two Bears corners in Amukamara’s absence. Duke Shelley and Kevin Tolliver are also on the active roster.
In addition, tight end Adam Shaheen and DB Sherrick McManis were placed on injured reserve. They're replaced by TE Eric Saubert and OL Corey Levin.
QBs: Mitchell Trubisky, Nick Foles
RBs: David Montgomery, Tarik Cohen, Ryan Nall
WRs: Allen Robinson, Anthony Miller, Cordarrelle Patterson, Javon Wims, Riley Ridley
TEs: Jimmy Graham, Trey Burton, Adam Shaheen, Ben Braunecker, J.P. Holtz, Eric Saubert, Jesper Horsted
Cincinnati BengalsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 December 2019
As ESPN.com's Ben Bay reported, Andy Dalton and first-year coach Zac Taylor hugged and traded a couple of pats to the chest before Dalton jogged onto the field for the final time on Sunday.
Later in the locker room, after the Bengals picked up their first win of the season with a 22-6 victory over the New York Jets, Dalton gave Taylor the game ball the equipment staff had shielded in the blissful moments after the final whistle.
Before Sunday, the Bengals were the only winless team in the NFL and at risk of becoming the third team in league history to go 0-16. They avoided that fate with the win in Week 13 and gave Taylor his first victory as a head coach.
After the game, Taylor said the feeling was indescribable.
"It's emotional," he said. "You go through it with all these guys. To finally get it, it does feel really good."
Before Sunday's game, the Bengals were mired in their worst start to a season in franchise history. Cincinnati lost its first 11 games, surpassing the 10-game losing streak at the start of the 1993 season. The Bengals also dropped 13 consecutive games dating to last season, which was also a team record.
Against the Jets, Cincinnati's offense was bolstered by the return of Dalton, who was reinserted into the starting lineup after spending three games on the bench. One day after the Bengals' 16-10 loss to the Steelers in Week 12, Taylor said he was going back to Dalton because he felt the ninth-year player out of TCU gave the Bengals the best chance to win.
Dalton delivered in a performance that yielded multiple personal records. He was 22-for-37 passing for 243 yards and one touchdown. His 17-yard scoring pass to Tyler Boyd in the first quarter was the 196th of his career and broke Ken Anderson's record for most career passing touchdowns by a Bengal. Dalton also surpassed Anderson's franchise mark for most career completions.
Joe Mixon had a 5-yard touchdown run against the league's stingiest run defense as the Bengals put up their second-most points this season, trailing a 26-23 loss to Arizona.
Dalton said he felt the team enjoyed its best week of practice all season. With the win over the Jets, the Bengals finally had something to show for all of their work dating back to the beginning of Taylor's first offseason.
"For it to finally pay off, get our first win of the season, get Zac his first win of his coaching career, all that kind of stuff, it's a big relief," Dalton said.
The loss was historically significant for the Jets (4-8), who had their three-game winning streak snapped. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Jets are the first team in NFL history with multiple losses in one season to teams who entered the matchup 0-7 or worse -- the Jets lost to the Dolphins in Week 9, giving Miami its first win of the season.
New York's offense struggled against a Cincinnati defense that ranked near the bottom of the league in several statistical categories, including total defense.
The Jets were held to 271 yards. Cincinnati sacked Sam Darnold four times, with defensive end Carlos Dunlap accounting for three of those. Darnold was 28-for-48 passing for 239 yards.
Even with the victory, the Bengals still have a one-game edge over the Giants (2-10) in the race for the worst record and the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 draft.
But that was the last thing the coaches and players were concerned about Sunday. Wide receiver A.J. Green, who has been out all year with an ankle injury, said the celebration in the locker room was one that hadn't been seen in a while.
"Our first couple of years, we were so used to winning," Green said. "When you go on a streak like this, you always take it for granted. But it felt good."
Green has remained on the team's 53-player roster despite not suiting up for a game this season. He sounded optimistic about his ankle but unsure about his status for the final four games.
"Everything's trending up," Green told Baby. "When my ankle feels good enough to play, then I'll play."
Green injured his ankle on the first day of training camp.
Green has practiced only a handful of times this season, with his last participation in team drills coming on Nov. 4. He has not played since a Dec. 28, 2018, loss to the Broncos, seeing action in only nine games last season.
Taylor told reporters on Wednesday that Green will not return this week.
Wide receiver John Ross, on the other hand, is finally ready to return.
Ross, who has missed most of this season with a shoulder injury, is expected to play Sunday in Cleveland, Taylor said Monday.
The Bengals' 2017 first-round draft pick, Ross was a huge disappointment as a rookie and didn't play a lot in his second year, either. But this season he was off to a very strong start , catching 16 passes for 328 yards and three touchdowns, before getting injured in Week 4.
Taylor told reporters that Ross won't be on a pitch count, but he's looking to keep all the receivers fresh.
In their absence, Auden Tate has impressed.
According to offensive coordinator Brian Callahan, the 6-5, 228-pound Tate is worth two circus catches per game and he did that against the Jets.
At this point, it's worth taking a look at his productivity. He's on pace for 52 catches for 745 yards. He's probably the classic No. 4 receiver, but a really good spot player. If you look at 52 for 745, look at Mohamed Sanu's 2014 of 56 catches for 790 yards when Marvin Jones missed the whole year and Green didn't have a catch in five games because of injury.
"Most people aren't really afraid of him beating them vertically down the field with pure speed, so they can kind of hang on top of him," Callahan said. "But what he does have is he has height. He has a great ability to go track and find the football. Once you know there's going to be a body on him somewhere, and he has good short-area quickness so he can separate a little bit at the top, but if you put the ball up in the air, there's not many people that are going to get it away from him. ..."
By the way, the Bengals waived receiver Damion Willis to clear a roster spot for Ross. ...
Meanwhile, asked by Profootblltalk.com whether he wants to return to the Bengals in 2020, Dalton said, "Absolutely."
Dalton, a second-round pick in 2011, said that not playing for three games gave him a "different perspective."
He realized that he lost no passion for the game, and that he instead developed a renewed sense that "I want to be the guy."
The real question is whether the Bengals still want him to be the guy.
"I have no idea what's going to happen," Dalton said regarding the team's decisions for next year. "I'm just going to do all I can to win the last four games."
Dalton is signed through 2020, at a reasonable salary (by starting quarterback standards) of $17.5 million next season. The Bengals could select a rookie next year and let him sit and learn for a season, like they did with Carson Palmer in 2003.
It was Palmer retiring (i.e., quitting on the Bengals) that opened the door for Dalton to be a first-year starter. It could make sense for Dalton to be the bridge to whoever they may select with whatever pick they get at the top of the draft.
Of more immediate interest? The Bengals must prepare to play at Cleveland. The Browns swept the season series last year.
QBs: Ryan Finley, Jake Dolegala, Andy Dalton
RBs: Joe Mixon, Giovani Bernard, Trayveon Williams, Rodney Anderson
WRs: A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd, John Ross, Auden Tate, Damion Willis, Mike Thomas, Alex Erickson, Stanley Morgan Jr.
TEs: C.J. Uzomah, Drew Sample, Cethan Carter, Mason Schreck
Cleveland BrownsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 December 2019
Not surprisingly, it was the Steelers who all but extinguished the Browns' already slim playoff hopes, rolling to the 20-13 victory on Sunday in a revenge game off the melee just 17 days ago in Cleveland.
Fittingly, it was former Browns cornerback Joe Haden who came up with the game-clinching play, intercepting Baker Mayfield in the final minute of a potentially game-tying drive.
After a brief and chaotic reprieve, the Steelers restored balance to a rivalry that's been anything but balanced while flexing their permanence as a franchise against a flailing one defined mostly by its dysfunction this millennium.
A single T-shirt seemed to say it all.
On his birthday Friday, head coach Freddie Kitchens was spotted at the movies wearing the "Pittsburgh started it" shirt, a reference to Mason Rudolph and the Browns-Steelers brawl that led to the indefinite suspension for Browns defensive end Myles Garrett and more than $730,000 in fines.
Sure enough, the Browns couldn't back up the bluster, even though the Steelers were playing several third-string offensive players, including quarterback Devlin Hodges making his second career start.
When the Browns released a statement regarding Kitchens' decision to wear the shirt, they said that the coach "understands it's not a good look" despite getting the shirt as a joke from his daughter.
Kitchens was asked about the shirt and said it didn't cause the team to lose the game or affect their preparation to play. He also didn't seem to share the statement's view that it wasn't the best fashion choice.
"I'd wear it again," Kitchens said at his postgame press conference.
Meanwhile against the Steelers, all of Cleveland's recurring warts this season resurfaced. They couldn't get the ball to Odell Beckham Jr. once again. Their secondary was shorthanded yet again, this time because safety Damarious Randall was left behind after deciding to skip a practice this week, which helped allow a quarterback nicknamed "Duck" to torch them after the first quarter.
And Mayfield, who injured his throwing hand while attempting a pass from inside his own 40-yard line with just seconds to go in the first half, failed to sustain drives with an offensive line unable to protect him.
Even after 12 games, Cleveland's offense remains an unsolved mystery. The line didn't give Mayfield enough time as he was sacked five times and rushed on several other throws. Mayfield's last attempt to Jarvis Landry was way off the mark and intercepted with 1:17 remaining.
Kitchens indicated his players weren't on the same page.
"We are going to continue to work on our communication," he said.
The Browns take on the Bengals this weekend. ...
Mayfield took the podium for his postgame press conference with his right hand wrapped.
Mayfield left the game briefly at the end of the first half to have his hand checked out, but he returned for the third quarter and played the rest of the way. He told reporters that he fully expects to be able to play against the Bengals next weekend.
"Hit the face mask obviously with a little bit of speed and force on that, trying to throw a long ball," Mayfield said at his postgame press conference. "The X-rays were negative, so that's good news. Just got a little numb, took some medicine and went back out there. So we'll see."
Mayfield said the hand didn't affect his play at all after he picked up the injury.
He was 18-of-32 for 196 yards, a touchdown and an interception while being sacked five times.
According to Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Kitchens said he thought Mayfield's hand was not a concern.
"Baker should be fine this week," Kitchens said. The coach followed up on Wednesday by saying Mayfield won't be limited in practice this week. Mayfield, however, was indeed limited along with Beckham, who continues to nurse a sore groin.
In addition, LT Greg Robinson cleared the concussion protocol on Wednesday. CB Greedy Williams (shoulder) was still being evaluated, but Kitchens was optimistic about his availability against the Bengals.
I'll be following up on Mayfield as needed via Late-Breaking Updates in coming days; but expect him to play as usual barring any setbacks. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Nick Chubb (58) and Kareem Hunt (46) produced 104 yards rushing Sunday. However, Associated Press sports writer Tom Withers notes that Kitchens still hasn't figured out how to maximize them together, and his decision to throw three straight passes following a fourth-quarter interception essentially killed Cleveland's last scoring chance.
"I do wish I had given and handed the ball off at the 30-yard line after the interception," Kitchens said.
Hunt averaged 6.6 yards on seven carries, often fighting for extra yards. He added five receptions, and wished he could have done more. Hunt, though, refused to question his usage.
"Whatever is called, I am going to rock with it," he said. "I am a team player. Whenever my number is called, I am going to go out there and try to make a play. ..."
As ESPN.com's Jake Trotter noted, once again, Beckham was a virtual non-factor, finishing with 29 receiving yards on three catches and six targets. OBJ has now gone six straight games without reaching 100 receiving yards for the first time him in his career. Last Sunday against the Miami Dolphins, it looked as if Beckham and Mayfield were finally starting to discover a chemistry, with Beckham finishing with 84 yards and a touchdown. That turned out to be a one-game aberration against an overmatched opponent.
Trotter added: "What a disappointment the splashiest trade of the NFL offseason has turned out to be."
And finally. ... The Browns didn't bring safety Damarious Randall with them to Pittsburgh last Saturday due to what the team termed a coach's decision and reports indicated that Randall was disciplined for missing practice time last week.
Kitchens wouldn't say on Monday whether Randall missed any practice time and said any conversations that he had with the safety would remain confidential.
Whatever the impetus for dropping Randall from the lineup, it sounds like it will be a one-game decision. Kitchens said Randall "will come back this week and I am assuming we will do everything we need to do to be on the field" against the Bengals.
QBs: Baker Mayfield, Case Keenum, Garrett Gilbert
RBs: Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, Dontrell Hilliard, D'Ernest Johnson
WRs: Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry, Taywan Taylor, KhaDarel Hodge, Damion Ratley
TEs: Austin Hooper, David Njoku, Pharaoh Brown, Stephen Carlson
Dallas CowboysCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 December 2019
While declaring he wouldn't fire embattled coach Jason Garrett during the season, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones basically begged his underachieving team to create turnovers.
A defense that looks good in the rankings but can't consistently generate difference-making plays is high on the list of problems for a team that still leads the NFC East at 6-6 but is falling far short of lofty expectations fueled by a 3-0 start.
The latest example was the 26-15 loss to Buffalo on Thanksgiving, when second-year quarterback Josh Allen had a career-best passer rating thanks in large part to former Dallas receiver Cole Beasley having the best game of his first season with the Bills.
The total yardage (356) was manageable and won't affect the Cowboys' top-10 ranking in that category much. But Dallas had a fourth straight game without creating a turnover, making the seven in just two games before that look flukier by the week.
"I think we can get some turnovers," Jones said. "We're going to have to do it now to win these next games. Do I think that's possible to happen? Absolutely I do.
"Do I think it's likely to happen the way we've been playing the last two games? I agree, I wouldn't expect anybody to go out and bet the house on it. But I sure think that there's enough there. I've made a lot riskier bets."
The Cowboys are minus-5 in turnover margin with three losses in the current four-game stretch without forcing a turnover. Dallas won both of the games when combining for seven takeaways.
Meanwhile, as Associated Press sports writer Schuyler Dixon suggested, don't let the 355 yards passing with two touchdowns fool you. Dak Prescott is in a mini-slump after he surged to the NFL lead in yards passing through 10 games.
While pressure played a part, Prescott was responsible for both Dallas turnovers with an interception and a fumble and had another fumble on fourth down, the equivalent of a third turnover.
The most glaring play was his worst throw of the game when the ball landed at the feet of running back Ezekiel Elliott on fourth down from the Buffalo 6. Elliott had plenty of room to run in the flat and probably would have scored.
It's now been four consecutive games in which Elliott has fallen short of 100 yards rushing. The two-time rushing champion never went that long without a 100-yard day in his first three pro seasons.
Elliott has only two runs of more than 20 yards all season, and the offensive line has not been as good as perceived.
Kicker Brett Maher missed field goals on two straight possessions, giving him an NFL-leading nine misses. The first came on the final play before halftime with Dallas trailing by six. The second came with the Cowboys trying to answer Buffalo's drive to a field to start the second half.
LG Connor Williams tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee and is out for the season. No. 1 receiver Amari Cooper stayed down for a bit after taking a hit on his left knee, flipping over and landing on his back. Garrett said Cooper checked out OK and his availability would be determined.
The next two games for Dallas are against teams that should look familiar. Chicago (Thursday on the road) and the Los Angeles Rams (Dec. 15 at home) are fellow playoff qualifiers from last season having disappointing seasons. As long as the Cowboys don't lose both of those games, they'll still control their destiny when they visit Philadelphia on Dec. 22 because they beat the Eagles at home in October. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Despite the professed confidence in Maher, the Cowboys worked out kickers Nick Rose, Austin MacGinnis and Tristan Vizcaino on Sunday. Rose has been with six teams in his career and has made 11 of 14 field goal attempts. MacGinnis played for Memphis in the AAF and was drafted by the Dallas Renegades of the XFL. Vizcaino has been with the Jets and Cincinnati. Maher has made 19 of 28 tries this season and is 5 of 12 from 40 yards or more.
At this time, it appears as if the Cowboys are not going to sign anybody, but Maher was not paying attention to the potential roster switch.
"Focus on what I can do to make my next kick," Maher said. He has missed nine attempts this season, including two on Thanksgiving, that he has put on technical issues at times. "It just goes to show how fine the line is and this league is tough," Maher said. "What I do is tough and being on the screws at all times."
On the injury front. ... Cooper has worked fully in practice this week despite the big hit he took against the Bills.
"It hurt. It hurt a lot," Cooper said. "I felt like I hit and flipped. I tried to get up, but the shocking pain was so much that I couldn't get it. So it hurt a lot. I thought it was pretty bad. I thought I would linger. It's healed better than I thought it would."
Beyond that, the Cowboys were missing three players due to injuries in last Thursday’s loss to the Bills and the same three players have been ruled out ahead of this Thursday’s trip to Chicago.
Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch announced he’d miss the game with a neck injury on Tuesday. Safety Jeff Heath (shoulders) and defensive tackle Antwaun Woods (knee) are the others who have been scratched on Wednesday.
Running back Tony Pollard is the only player in the questionable category for Dallas. He’s been bothered by an ankle injury this week.
Left tackle Tyron Smith (Achilles) and Michael Bennett (foot) were both limited participants in Wednesday’s practice, but are set to play after failing to receive injury designations.
Garrett told reporters on Tuesday that Cobb, who was dealing with an illness earlier this week, would play as usual and he avoided injury designation on Thursday.
Stay tuned. More on Pollard via Late-Breaking Update as developments warrant in advance of Thursday night's kickoff.
QBs: Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush, Clayton Thorson
RBs: Ezekiel Elliott, Tony Pollard, Jordan Chunn
WRs: Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, Cedrick Wilson, Devin Smith, Tevin Jones, Ventell Bryant, Lance Lenoir, Tavon Austin, Noah Brown
TEs: Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz, Blake Bell
Denver BroncosCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 December 2019
Rookie quarterback Drew Lock is now the seventh different quarterback to open a game behind center for the Denver Broncos since Week 9 of the 2017 season. As ESPN.com's Jeff Legwold wrote, "It now remains to be seen if he is indeed the Lucky Seven or not for a franchise that has wandered the quarterback wilderness since Peyton Manning retired after the Super Bowl 50 win to close out the 2015 season. ..."
Largely enveloped in a game plan to limit his exposure to the Los Angeles Chargers' pass rush, Lock and the Broncos' offense were the beneficiaries of two early Chargers turnovers for an early 17-3 lead and they held on for a 23-20 victory.
Lock finished 18-of-28 passing for 134 yards with two touchdowns and an interception -- both touchdowns came in the first quarter. And 10 of the Broncos' points came following Chargers' turnovers and the short fields that came with them -- two of the Broncos' scoring drives were for 18 and eight yards respectively.
A third Broncos scoring drive of 21 yards, in the fourth quarter, came after the Chargers missed a field goal. One of Lock's biggest play may have come on an incompletion to Courtland Sutton in the closing seconds when Chargers cornerback Casey Hayward as called for a pass interference penalty with three seconds to play.
Brandon McManus kicked a 53-yard game winner on the last play.
Lock, who was officially moved to the Broncos' roster from injured reserve Saturday, made his first career start and was the third quarterback to start a game for the Broncos this season after the injured Joe Flacco (now on injured reserve) and Brandon Allen.
Head coach Vic Fangio did not formally name Lock the starter at any point during the week, though Lock did take 75 percent of the snaps with the offense in practice.
The move came as the Broncos' offense has struggled for much of the season as well as some empty seats -- there were an abnormally-high 19,094 no shows Sunday. The win was just fifth time the team has scored more than 16 points this season and Denver was coming off a 134-yard performance the week before in a 20-3 loss to Buffalo, the team's lowest single-game output since 1992 and the eighth-lowest total in franchise history.
Legwold went on to note the Broncos used plenty of two-back as well as two- and three-tight end looks to try and keep Lock out of harm's way -- they used at least two back or at least two tight ends on 13 of their first 21 snaps of the game. And after a three-and-out to open the game, the Broncos had their best drive of the day on their next offensive possession with 12-play, 80-yard touchdown drive.
Lock was 5-of-7 passing for 49 yards on the drive, including a 26-yard touchdown pass to Sutton when Sutton made a diving one-handed catch. After rookie Dre'Mont Jones intercepted Philip Rivers three plays after Sutton's touchdown catch, the Broncos covered 18 yards in six plays for their second touchdown -- a 5-yard pass from Lock to Sutton.
Toss in a four-play field goal drive after the Broncos recovered a muffed punt and Denver had a 17-3 lead with 5 minutes, 32 seconds left in the second quarter.
However, things were more difficult the rest of the way for Lock and the Broncos' offense overall once they had worked through the opening script as the Chargers kept Denver in more difficult down-and-distance situations and forced Lock to survey a bigger variety in coverage. Lock had just 11 yards passing in the third and fourth quarters combined.
That is not entirely surprising given Lock had taken part in just 10 full team practices, not including walk-throughs, before Sunday's game. He had been injured reserve since the start of the regular season - he suffered a right thumb injury in the Aug. 19 preseason loss to the San Francisco 49ers -- and did not participate in a full practice again until Nov. 12.
Before he returned to the practice field, Lock had spent plenty of time using the team's virtual reality system to go through the practices snaps each day. He has participated in practice over the last three weeks.
"It gets to the point where you just can't take not doing anything anymore," Lock said earlier this past week. "That hit me about four weeks ago ... As far as me actually thinking I'm ready ... I felt good after (last) week, I felt like if needed I would be able to come in, I would be able to compete, I would be able to complete balls."
Lock became the eighth Broncos quarterback to start a game in his rookie season and the first rookie to see the team win his first start since John Elway and Gary Kubiak in 1983.
For what it's worth, Sutton caught the first TD pass thrown by both Allen and Lock. His average yards per catch have gone up with each QB: from 16.3 yards with Flacco to 17.7 yards with Allen and 18.5 yards with Lock. Overall, he has 54 catches for 906 yards and six TDs.
Conversely, No. 3 WR DaeSean Hamilton had a pair of catches for 12 yards but dropped a pass when he was uncovered on third-and-12 from the Chargers 34. Hamilton can't afford those kinds of mistakes because he's only been targeted 21 times in 487 snaps this season. ...
As Profootballtalk.com noted, the Broncos may have found something resembling a quarterback, but they may have lost one of their best guys at chasing them.
Via Mike Klis of KUSA.com, defensive end Derek Wolfe dislocated his elbow against the Chargers. He was placed on season-ending IR on Monday. Wolfe has 7 sacks, a career-high, in the final year of his contract. Perfectly timed for free agency.
And finally. ... Just before halftime on Sunday in Denver, McManus walked onto the field prepared to attempt a 65-yard field goal. And then he walked off the field, at the orders of Fangio.
Fangio said after the game that he declined to let McManus try the field goal because he has seen extra-long attempts mess up kickers' mechanics. McManus was angry about it, throwing his helmet and yelling at the sideline, and after the game he said he wanted a shot at the record.
"I know I can make the kick," McManus said, via ESPN. "And this is a storied game that I grew up watching, and it was a dream of mine to play in this league - and if I was able to have my name mentioned as the longest field goal in NFL history, [I] would love that. That's why I would have loved to kick that attempt."
After halftime, McManus walked onto the field, placed the ball at the 45-yard line and booted a 65-yard field goal through the uprights. McManus is hoping that by showing Fangio he can do it in warmups, he'll get Fangio to let him do it in a game.
QBs: Drew Lock, Jeff Driskel, Brett Rypien
RBs: Melvin Gordon, Phillip Lindsay, Royce Freeman, Khalfani Muhammad
WRs: Courtland Sutton, Tim Patrick, Daesean Hamilton, Juwann Winfree, Fred Brown, Diontae Spencer
TEs: Noah Fant, Jeff Heuerman, Jake Butt, Troy Fumagalli, Nick Vannett
Detroit LionsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 December 2019
The Lions placed quarterback Jeff Driskel on injured reserve and signed quarterback Kyle Sloter off Arizona's practice squad -- another signal-caller move for a team that has been rotating quarterbacks behind Matthew Stafford since the end of last season.
Sloter and just-signed practice squad quarterback Joe Callahan are the 10th and 11th quarterbacks the Lions have had on the roster this season. Stafford, Driskel, David Blough, Josh Johnson and now Sloter have been on the active roster. David Fales, Tom Savage and Luis Perez were with the team in training camp and Connor Cook was with Detroit for spring workouts. Callahan and Chad Kanoff have been on the team's practice squad.
The 25-year-old Sloter came into the NFL as an undrafted rookie with Denver in 2017 and then spent the past two seasons with Minnesota, not attempting a pass. He was cut from the Vikings, the team the Lions play next Sunday, in August and was signed to Arizona's practice squad until Detroit signed him to its active roster Saturday.
Driskel injured his hamstring against Washington last Sunday and was described as "day-to-day" by head coach Matt Patricia leading up to Thursday's 24-20 loss to Chicago. Driskel himself said he was making progress day-by-day, but it wasn't enough to play. Driskel was active against the Bears but backed up the third-string quarterback Blough, who became the starter with Stafford's back injury and Driskel's injury. Stafford remains active, but it's unclear when, or if, he might be cleared to return this season.
Driskel's season is over and because he's a free agent heading into 2020, perhaps so is his time in Detroit. Driskel lost all three of his starts for the Lions, completing 59 percent of his passes for 685 yards, four touchdowns and four interceptions.
The offense continues to look functional even without Stafford and injured running back Kerryon Johnson. Detroit still has some quality receiving targets, and Kenny Golladay caught four passes for a career-high 158 yards.
It's obviously not as dynamic a group without Stafford, but the offense has remained good enough to keep the Lions in games.
Blough joined a pretty impressive list of quarterbacks who have thrown for at least 130 yards and two touchdowns in a first quarter this season. The others are Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson and Aaron Rodgers.
"You see college tape and the things that he did. He had some pretty big games in college," Patricia said.
Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell deserves credit for having Blough and the offense prepared after a short week.
"I'm thankful for it all, the ups and downs," Blough said, via the Detroit News. "I knew there were gonna be some. I wasn't gonna be perfect. I wanted to give everything I had."
At 3-8-1, the Lions are going to be playing out the string for the rest of this season and we'll see next week if that means letting Blough continue to roll through ups and downs in order to see what else he can do at the helm of the offense.
Bo Scarbrough is another player who has gotten an unexpected opportunity for Detroit's short-handed offense. His 83 yards rushing against Chicago brought his three-game total to 236.
As usual after their Thanksgiving game, the Lions have some time off before taking the field again. They host Minnesota on Sunday.
On the injury front. ... The Lions are eliminated from the playoff race and guaranteed to finish with a record below .500, but that isn’t stopping them from bringing running back Kerryon Johnson back to the field.
Patricia announced that Johnson is practicing with the Lions on Wednesday, which makes him eligible to return from injured reserve. He’s able to return to game action in Week 16.
Johnson went on injured reserve after hurting his knee in the team’s sixth game of the season. He ran 92 times for 308 yards and two touchdowns and caught nine passes for 126 yards and a touchdown before getting hurt.
It’s not guaranteed that the Lions will activate Johnson and play him in their final two games, but they see value in having him at least practice for the next few weeks of a lost season in Detroit.
Patricia also said this week that the Lions are "going to keep that door open" for Stafford to return still "out of respect for Matthew and his competitiveness."
While the door is still open for Stafford, first-round pick T.J. Hockenson's rookie season is over.
Patricia said on Monday that Hockenson will be placed on injured reserve after hurting his ankle against the Bears. He had a protective boot on after the game and was using a one-leg scooter to help him move around.
The Lions made Hockenson the eighth overall pick in this year's draft and he had a big debut performance with six catches for 131 yards and a touchdown. He ends the year with 32 catches for 367 yards and two touchdowns, so the Week One outing remained his high water mark as a receiver.
Jesse James, Logan Thomas and Isaac Nauta are the other tight ends in Detroit.
QBs: Matthew Stafford, Chase Daniel, David Blough
RBs: Kerryon Johnson, Bo Scarbrough, Ty Johnson, Tra Carson, Wes Hills
WRs: Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, Danny Amendola, Chris Lacy, Travis Fulgham, Geronimo Allison, Marvin Hall
TEs: T.J. Hockenson, Jesse James, Isaac Nauta
Green Bay PackersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 December 2019
According to ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky, sometimes, it does matter how you win.
Some Green Bay Packers might try to tell you it doesn't after they escaped from New York with a 31-13, closer-than-it-looked win against the Giants on Sunday at a snow-covered MetLife Stadium.
But how can that kind of game infuse any confidence down the stretch?
A half-empty stadium shouldn't have impeded what the Packers wanted to do. Nor should a wintery mix that ought to feel like home and a playoff game.
And then there's a Giants team that had only slightly more reason to show up than their no-show crowd.
Remember, it after last Sunday's blowout loss at the San Francisco 49ers when quarterback Aaron Rodgers said the next two games - against a pair of two-win teams from the mediocre NFC East -- are "going to be games you guys are expecting us to win."
That first part of the expectation was met, thanks in large part to a couple of blown coverages that made for easy throws by Rodgers to Davante Adams (two touchdowns) and Allen Lazard (his first career 100-yard game with three catches for 103 and a touchdown).
But consider what else Rodgers said.
"We've got to go out and put good performances together and improve," Rodgers said at the time. "I think that's the thing, is we have to get that mojo going all the time and start to expect to win games -- and start to expect to win games against great opponents, and expect to win games against opponents with not as great a record."
This was still a game in the fourth quarter -- much longer than it should have been -- until Adams' second touchdown catch made it a two-score game and when Giants quarterback Daniel Jones threw his second right-to-the-defender interception of the game.
The Packers improved to 8-0 in games with at least one takeaway. They're 1-3 in games without one. They picked off Jones three times -- one each by Kevin King, Darnell Savage and Tramon Williams.
The Packers look like they're in a good spot at 9-3 and atop the NFC North, with only one game remaining against a team currently with a winning record, and that doesn't come until Week 16 against the Minnesota Vikings (8-3 heading into Monday Night Football at Seattle). At least they'll have another chance to convince everyone -- perhaps including themselves -- that they're better than what they showed against the Giants, starting with this week's game against Washington in Green Bay. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Rodgers has 23 four-touchdown games in his career, tied with Brett Favre for fourth most in NFL history behind Peyton Manning (35 games), Drew Brees (34) and Tom Brady (29). The performance stood in stark contrast to the loss at San Francisco, where he was 20 of 33 passing for just 104 yards with one touchdown and one fumble that put the Packers into an early hole. ...
Marcedes Lewis had caught 33 touchdowns in his 13-year NFL career entering Sunday's game. However, the Packers' veteran tight end checked an item off his football bucket list when he became the 38th different receiver to catch a touchdown pass from Rodgers in the fourth quarter.
Over the past two years, the former Pro Bowler has forged a strong bond with Rodgers. That was never more evident than when the two-time MVP quarterback ran into the end zone to celebrate with Lewis after his first score in a Packers uniform.
"Him and I, it's more than just football," said Lewis of Rodgers. "We share a lot of conversations about leading this team in the right way and being accountable when your number is called.
"At this part of my career, I'm not getting targeted all the time. That's not my job. But when I am targeted, make the big play and be accountable, and I was able to do that today."
Rodgers was in prime form Sunday, throwing for 243 yards and four touchdowns despite rainy and snowy conditions. ...
The Packers still can't seem to get their running game going on a consistent basis. Midway through the fourth quarter, Rodgers was their leading rusher with 24 yards on three scrambles. He had the only double-digit run -- a 15-yard scamper.
Jamaal Williams finally overtook Rodgers as the Packers' leading rusher in the game, but he managed only 40 yards on 10 carries. Aaron Jones rushed 11 times for just 18 yards. In the first half, Saquon Barkley outrushed the entire Packers' team with 57 yards on 13 carries, while Green Bay had 56 yards rushing on 10 carries (and that included two Rodgers' scrambles for 19 yards). ...
The Packers are going to have a different kick returner when they play Washington Sunday.
The team announced on Monday that they have waived Tremon Smith. Smith played the last seven games for the Packers and served as their kick and punt returner over that span.
Smith returned 13 kickoffs for 303 yards and four punts for a total of zero yards. He joined the Packers after opening the season with the Chiefs and he averaged 26.8 yards per kickoff return for Kansas City as a rookie in 2018.
The Packers have not had much success returning punts this season. They've used three different returners who have combined to return nine kicks for a total loss of eight yards.
The Packers could use new RB Tyler Ervin, claimed off waivers Monday as a returner. He has a career punt-return average of 8.3 yards - which is 9.2 yards better the Packers' season average. He also has a career average of 21.1 yards on kickoff returns.
He has only 5 career rushes for 15 yards and 14 catches for 91 yards in parts of four seasons with the Texans and Jaguars, who cut Ervin to make room for former Packers LB Jake Ryan to be activated off IR Saturday.
And finally. ... The Packers didn't need a field goal in the final seconds to beat the hapless Giants on Sunday, but they still appreciated having kicker Mason Crosby on hand for the game.
Crosby made all five kicks he tried as the Packers cruised to a 31-13 win after a trying week. Crosby's sister-in-law Brittany died at 30 on Friday after battling ovarian cancer and Crosby was in Texas with his brother before flying to join the Packers in New Jersey on Saturday night.
Packers coach Matt LaFleur gave Crosby the game ball after the win.
"Coach gave me a ball for just kind of everything that's been going on and coming and having a decent game," Crosby said, via ESPN.com. "I mean, I did my job, but there was a lot going on. I'm just so thankful for the guys in this locker room and the support that I feel and everyone reaching out and anything they can do to help me. It's been great."
It's been a rough year for Crosby off the field. His wife had a cancerous tumor removed from her lung in August. Crosby was headed back to Texas to be with his brother after the game and plans to be in Green Bay on Wednesday to practice with the team before returning to Austin for the funeral on Friday.
QBs: Aaron Rodgers, Tim Boyle, Manny Wilkins
RBs: Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams, Dexter Williams, Tyler Ervin, John Crockett
WRs: Davante Adams, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Allen Lazard, Devin Funchess, Jake Kumerow, Darrius Shepherd, Equanimeous St. Brown
TEs: Marcedes Lewis, Robert Tonyan, Jace Sternberger
Houston TexansCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 December 2019
According to ESPN.com's Sarah Barshop, Deshaun Watson claims he doesn't treat prime-time games any differently, but in the Houston Texans' 28-22 victory Sunday night against the New England Patriots, the quarterback again put on a show.
In nine career prime-time games, Watson has thrown 21 touchdowns and just three interceptions.
"He's come up big in important games throughout his life: high school, Clemson, Houston," Texans coach Bill O'Brien said.
And on Sunday night, Watson came up big against the Patriots, whom he had not beaten in two previous tries. In his first victory against New England, Watson completed 18 of 25 passes for 234 yards and three touchdowns.
It was the fifth time this season Watson had three or more passing touchdowns, which is the most in a single season in Texans history, according to ESPN Stats and Information research. Entering the day, the Patriots had allowed four passing touchdowns all season and had forced 15 interceptions. On Sunday, the Texans had four passing touchdowns and no interceptions thrown.
Watson's third touchdown took two tries. On second down midway through the third quarter, Watson found Will Fuller in the back of the end zone for what was ruled a 35-yard touchdown. The play was reviewed and eventually overturned when officials ruled Fuller did not have control of the ball. On the next play, Watson threw a similar pass to wide receiver Kenny Stills that gave the Texans (8-4) an 18-point lead after the extra point.
The Texans' fourth touchdown of the game came on a trick play. On first and goal, running back Duke Johnson took the snap and handed it off to wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who threw a touchdown pass to Watson. The play was one the Texans had been working on since the bye week, when Watson and backup quarterback AJ McCarron saw the Chicago Bears run a similar play on a 2-point conversion.
"I knew I had to kind of tuck the ball, wait for him to commit, to throw it to Deshaun," Hopkins said. "I knew once I threw it to him, he was going to be in."
It was the first catch of Watson's career and Hopkins' first career completion. Watson is the first player with three passing touchdowns and a receiving touchdown in a game since Jim McMahon did it in 1985, according to Elias Sports Bureau research. He is only the fourth player in NFL history to accomplish that in the regular season, joining McMahon, Frank Ryan (Los Angeles Rams), and Ray Buivid (Bears).
The Texans' victory was only the second in franchise history against the Patriots; the other was in Week 17 of the 2009 season. Entering the game, Houston had lost eight games in a row to New England. The win was also head coach Bill O'Brien's first against his former boss, Bill Belichick. Entering the game, Belichick was 5-0 against O'Brien, then his best record against a former assistant.
"Every win is big, but of course against a team like the Patriots, who's been doing it for so long and with the talent and the things they've been doing for this season, it was big for us," Watson said. "It builds our confidence, it builds the momentum for us to continue to try to push on. It shows us and shows the world that we can play with anyone on any given day if we come up and play.
Worth noting. ... Hopkins had previously attempted two passes in his career - an interception and an incompletion. He was feeling pretty good about himself after his TD toss to Watson and had this to say when asked to rate himself as a QB.
"I would give myself a 10, 11, maybe, because I took a hit just to get it to him," Hopkins said with a smile. ...
Also worth noting. ... Watson was named the AFC Offensive Player of the Week for his efforts against the Patriots. ...
Also of interest. ... Darren Fells has already caught more touchdown passes in a season than any other tight end in Houston Texans franchise history.
And there are still four games remaining in 2019.
"They've been doing a good job, all three, including Jordan Thomas now he's back in the role," Watson said. "Jordan Akins and Fells has been doing a heck of a job of really just being disciplined. Doing what we ask him to do, being real, real sharp and precise in their route running. When the opportunity to play comes to them, they make plays. It's been great. We're going to continue to build that as the season continues."
In his first season as a Texan, Fells has already set new single-season career highs in receiving touchdowns (seven) and receptions (28). He's also just two yards shy of setting a single-season career high in receiving yards. He had 311 in 2015. O'Brien expects even more production from all three tight ends the rest of the way.
"I think that we have three talented tight ends," O'Brien said. "Fells has had a good year. Akins has done some good things. We got Jordan back. He hadn't played in a while. The last two games, he has played a little bit. We've got to keep incorporating him into the lineup because he's got a lot of ability and he's worked hard to get back into the lineup. So I think we've got to keep looking at those things and keep trying to incorporate the tight ends into our offense."
In the second quarter of Sunday's win over the Patriots, Fells caught a 13-yard touchdown pass to give the Texans a 14-3 lead. Fells is now tied for the most touchdown receptions by a tight end in the NFL this season with seven (Mark Andrews). The six-year veteran is the only player in the NFL with at least seven touchdown receptions on less than 50 targets in 2019.
Through just 12 games, Akins has also set single-season career highs with 25 catches, 308 yards receiving and two touchdowns in his second year. ...
On the injury front. ... Taiwan Jones left in the third quarter with a hamstring injury and didn't return.
The Texans host the Broncos on Sunday.
QBs: Deshaun Watson, AJ McCarron
RBs: David Johnson, Duke Johnson, Buddy Howell
WRs: Will Fuller, Randall Cobb, Kenny Stills, DeAndre Carter, Keke Coutee
TEs: Darren Fells, Jordan Akins, Jordan Thomas, Kahale Warring
Indianapolis ColtsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 December 2019
As ESPN.com's Mike Wells suggested, the Colts are kicking their way out of the playoff race.
The Colts dropped their second straight game and fourth in the past five when they gave up 24 unanswered points in their 31-17 loss to the Tennessee Titans.
The Colts, once in first place in the AFC South with a 5-2 record, have to take care of business and get help from other teams in order to get back to the playoffs for the second straight season. The Colts (6-6) play three of their final four games of the season on the road, including a Monday Night Football contest at New Orleans.
Quarterback Jacoby Brissett had his faults, but the special teams unit, led by veteran Adam Vinatieri, continues to be a disaster for the Colts.
Vinatieri missed three kicks, two of them being blocked. Sunday marked just the third time in Vinatieri's 24-year career that he missed three field goals in a game. The NFL's all-time leading scorer is having the worst season of his career, as he's missed 14 kicks -- six extra points and eight field goals -- this season.
There was no bigger miss, which wasn't technically his fault, for Vinatieri than in the fourth quarter. The Colts were in position to take a three-point lead with a little more than five minutes left when Vinatieri lined up for a 46-yard attempt. Titans defensive back Dane Cruikshank basically came in untouched for the block, with the ball bouncing to cornerback Tye Smith, who scooped it up and returned it 63 yards for a touchdown. Sunday marked the first time that Vinatieri had multiple kicks blocked in a game.
Wells went on to explain the Colts aren't capable of blowing teams out.
Their margin of error is so slim because injuries to key players such as receiver T.Y. Hilton, tight end Eric Ebron and running back Marlon Mack. And Vinatieri -- traditionally one of the most reliable kickers in the NFL -- being more of a liability than an asset hurt the Colts in close losses to the Los Angeles Chargers and Pittsburgh Steelers earlier this season.
Only two of the Colts' 12 games have been decided by more than seven points.
On a more positive note heading into this week's game against the Buccaneers. ... In a game in which they were without Hilton, Devin Funchess, Parris Campbell and Ebron - and then lost Chester Rogers to a knee injury early in the contest - the team needed Zach Pascal to stand up and take the reins Sunday and he did just that.
Unfortunately, the Colts were unable to capitalize on Pascal's performance and lost control of the game, falling 31-17.
While already in the midst of his most productive NFL season to date, Pascal helped spearhead a Colts passing game that has lacked consistent production in recent weeks, totaling new career highs in receptions (seven) and receiving yards (109).
All seven of Pascal's receptions went for first downs, and he totaled four "chunk plays," which the Colts consider to be passing plays netting 16 yards or more. His day resulted in the second 100-yard game of this season (and his career).
Jack Doyle also had a solid afternoon Sunday against the Titans, finishing with six receptions for 73 yards and a touchdown. But also getting in the mix were younger receivers like Marcus Johnson, who had four receptions for 55 yards, as well as undrafted rookie Ashton Dulin, whose first-career reception on Sunday went for 13 yards.
In the five games prior to Sunday's matchup with the Titans, the Colts were averaging just 163.4 passing yards per game. The ground game was shouldering the load and doing it quite well, but they were missing something through the air.
The Colts were able to obtain the elusive X-factor they'd been looking for - big plays through the air - through the first two-plus quarters of Sunday's game. They often came as a result of play-action passes as the Titans stacked the box to try and stop the Colts' third-ranked rushing attack. The Colts would nearly double their net passing yardage that they'd averaged over those last five contests, finishing with 309, and had nine "chunk" passing plays of 16 yards or more, their second-best such outing of the year.
With Sunday's loss to the Titans, and the AFC South Division-leading Houston Texans' victory over the New England Patriots, the Colts need to immediately rebound and get significant help in other remaining matchups in order to make the playoffs, as they currently sit as the AFC's ninth seed with just four games left.
The Colts are down, but certainly aren't completely out just yet. ...
For what it's worth, Brissett went from looking he'd have a strong bounce-back from his worst performance of the season against Houston in Week 12 (129 yards passing) to being part of the problem.
He was 25-of-40 for 319 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.
One of those interceptions came deep in Colts' territory, when he tried to force a throw to Doyle instead of throwing the ball away. Brissett's throw sailed high and was picked by Titans safety Kevin Byard. Brissett's accuracy was questionable all game. He tied his career high with seven overthrown passes, three of which were intended for Doyle.
As for the injured pass catchers. ...
Asked on Monday if he thought Hilton was a possibility to miss the rest of the year, Reich told the team's official website: "We're hopeful that he'll return."
He better, because his importance to them can't be understated. The Colts are 1-8 in games without their leading receiver.
That said, Reich told reporters that Hilton would not practice Wednesday.
They're taking the same optimistic posture with Campbell, who is working his way back from a broken hand and practiced some last week. He was scheduled to practice Wednesday.
"But I was optimistic last week, to be honest," Reich said. "I was hoping that he was gonna get there last week, and we didn't quite get there. So that would make you believe that there's a pretty good chance this week, but we've said this many times: until you actually get out there and practice, and especially, like we said, for a younger guy, we need to see it all three days out there - Wednesday, Thursday, Friday - that he's ready mentally and physically to go. And hopefully he is, but it's too early to tell."
I'll have more on all involved via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.
Until then, with Rogers going on IR Tuesday, the team promoted wideout Chad Williams to the active roster.
Mack was said to be targeting this week for his return -- and he was slated to practice Wednesday; I'll be watching for more on that as well.
QBs: Philip Rivers, Jacoby Brissett, Chad Kelly
RBs: Marlon Mack, Nyheim Hines, Jordan Wilkins
WRs: T.Y. Hilton, Zach Pascal, Daurice Fountain, Ashton Dulin, Chad Williams
TEs: Jack Doyle, Matt Lengel, Xavier Grimble, Mo Alie-Cox
Jacksonville JaguarsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 December 2019
Minshew Mania is back on.
The Jaguars will start rookie Gardner Minshew in Week 14 versus the Los Angeles Chargers, head coach Doug Marrone announced Monday.
The decision comes after the Jags benched Nick Foles at halftime of their 28-11 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Jacksonville's fourth straight loss by 17 or more points.
As NFL.com's Kevin Patra noted, Foles led a vanilla offense for two-and-a-half games since returning from a collarbone injury suffered in Week 1. During that span, the veteran completed 72 of 109 pass attempts for 661 yards, with two TDs, two INTs and two lost fumbles, as the Jags scored just 33 points over 10 quarters.
The Jags gave Foles his job back despite Minshew's impressive play early in the season, in part because of the massive amount of money they sunk into the veteran this offseason, and also believing he could prove similarly productive if given more than a quarter to play.
Sunday's three-turnover, listless first half ended that experiment, at least for now.
The fact is, something had to be done.
In the first half versus the Bucs, the Jags put up just 105 yards of total offense, with 70 net passing yards, five first downs and three turnovers, and put a goose egg on the scoreboard. The second half under Minshew was slightly better, with 137 yards, 123 net passing, nine first downs, one INT and 11 points.
The Jags' offense has been more exciting to watch with Minshew under center. It's not just the off-field swag that accompanies the mustachioed rookie, but his pocket mobility, fearlessness under pressure and ability to escape that made Jacksonville eminently more watchable.
In making the switch to Minshew, Marrone cited the rookie's mobility behind a struggling offensive line as one reason for the move.
Where the offense and team go from here will be determined by Minshew's play down the stretch.
As ESPN.com's Mike DiRocco reminded readers, when the Jaguars signed Foles in March, owner Shad Khan said it was his dream to land the player who led Philadelphia to a Super Bowl LII victory over New England. In that game, Foles threw for 373 yards and three touchdowns and caught a touchdown pass to earn Super Bowl MVP honors.
Foles didn't make it to halftime of the 2019 season opener before Kansas City defensive lineman Chris Jones landed on him after Foles let the ball go on a 35-yard touchdown pass to D.J. Chark.
Minshew stepped in for Foles and had an impressive debut: 22-of-25 for 275 yards and two TDs with one interception. Minshew started the next eight games and led the Jaguars to a 4-4 record, throwing for 2,285 yards and 13 touchdowns with four interceptions.
His attitude, attire (jorts, headband, aviators) and mustache -- coupled with his freewheeling style of play -- led "Minshew Mania" to erupt across the country. That came to a crashing halt against Houston in Week 9, however, when Minshew turned the ball over four times (two interceptions, two fumbles) and led the Jaguars to just one field goal in a 26-3 loss at Wembley Stadium in London.
Minshew had his problems holding on to the ball, too.
At one point, he led the NFL with seven lost fumbles, and he had another on Sunday, but he is second in the stat now, behind the New York Giants' Daniel Jones (10).
So it'll be interesting to see where all this goes.
With Foles set to count for nearly $22 million in cap space next offseason, the Jags will have some big decisions to make in the spring, especially if Minshew Mania picks up where it left off.
"It's not easy," Foles said of the benching. "This is not an easy game. Tough situation, but I'm going to continue to put one foot in front of the other and keep moving. Like I said before, it's a trial, and the trials keep coming. Not easy, but I know where my heart is and where my faith is and what I'm going to lean on in this time like I always do in the good and the bad.
"Never want to go through it. Difficult, but you know what? I'm going to look at the bright things and continue to keep my head held high and continue to keep moving forward."
As for the news he was giving way to Gardner?
"It's brutal," Marrone said. "It's tough. He's a competitor. He worked his ass off to come back and he's a great pro. He's going to do everything he can to help us win and at the same time, he has to be ready in case there is an injury or whatever it may be."
Marrone added he considers Foles "a really good quarterback."
"He obviously can win in this league, but we've got to have some help around him," Marrone said of Foles.
That said, Dede Westbrook and Chark are receivers for the future. They made plays that mattered Sunday. They appear to be reliable. The Jaguars need more from the rest of the receivers and tight ends, but this duo is solid.
Tight end remains a deficiency. Whatever the future holds for the organization, this position must be addressed in the offseason. The inability to get any production in the passing offense in the middle of the field has crippled the offense all season. That didn't change Sunday.
On the injury front. ... Linebacker Myles Jack missed the first game of his four-year NFL career, forcing Donald Payne into the starting lineup. Cornerback D.J. Hayden left in the third quarter with a neck injury. Defensive end Josh Allen, who broke the franchise's rookie record with his eighth sack, was evaluated for a concussion and cleared to return.
QBs: Gardner Minshew, Josh Dobbs
RBs: Leonard Fournette, Ryquell Armstead, Devine Ozigbo, Jeremy McNichols
WRs: D.J. Chark, Dede Westbrook, Marqise Lee, Chris Conley, CJ Board, Keelan Cole, Michael Walker
TEs: Tyler Eifert, Josh Oliver, James O'Shaughnessy, Charles Jones
Kansas City ChiefsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 December 2019
As Associated Press sports writer Dave Skretta noted, the biggest culprit in the Kansas City Chiefs' loss to the New England Patriots in last season's AFC championship game was their defense.
It failed to stop Tom Brady and Co. down the stretch and in overtime in a crushing home defeat.
So the Chiefs spent the offseason revamping it. They hired a new coordinator in Steve Spagnuolo, brought in big-name free agents and drafted a couple guys they thought could fit right in.
Things were shaky for a while. They're rock solid now.
The defense picked off Raiders quarterback Derek Carr twice Sunday, returning one of them for a touchdown, and paced the Chiefs to a 40-9 rout of their division rival. They held sensational rookie running back Josh Jacobs in check, shut down Oakland's wide receivers, did not allow a point until well into the second half and a touchdown until the final minute of the game.
Everything was clicking, just in time for a trip to New England next Sunday.
"We have a big one next week. We've got to continue the process," said safety Tyrann Mathieu, one of the marquee additions, who had one of the two interceptions against Oakland.
"We're able to play faster. The system isn't new anymore," he said. "It's December, so everybody has a good feel for what we need to do. We still have a long way to go, but I like where we are."
So does head coach Andy Reid, who has been preaching patience with his defense all season. He made it clear from the first day of training camp that there was going to be a learning curve with the switch to a 4-3 system and so many new faces, but that curve is finally flattening out.
The pass rush is better. The secondary has become stingy. The run defense has solidified.
"I mean, I think Spags has done a nice job," Reid said. "The young guys are gaining experience as we go. We still have plenty of room to improve, but we're seeing improvement every week, so that's a plus. We have to keep our foot on the pedal here, keep pushing."
A fourth straight AFC West championship is not yet in the possession of the Kansas City Chiefs, but they took a huge step toward securing it with their 40-9 win over the Oakland Raiders on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium. The 8-4 Chiefs are two games ahead of the 6-6 and second-place Raiders in the AFC West. They swept the season series, having also won in September when the teams played in Oakland.
That means the Chiefs have the tiebreaker, so they need just two wins in their final four games to clinch their fourth straight AFC West championship.
Just one of the Chiefs' remaining four regular-season opponents has a winning record as of today.
That opponent is defending Super Bowl champion New England. The Chiefs are at the Patriots next Sunday, and beating the Raiders gives the Chiefs some room for error heading into that most challenging assignment.
Meanwhile, Patrick Mahomes is starting to look like the reigning league MVP again. He had been hobbled since the opener against Jacksonville, when he sprained his ankle, then dislocated his kneecap against Denver and missed a couple weeks. But having last week off was crucial in getting closer to 100 percent.
Mahomes threw for only 175 yards and a touchdown, but his healthier ankle and knee allowed him to scramble 13 yards for a touchdown when Tyreek Hill ran the wrong route.
"I definitely feel a lot better coming off that bye week, getting that rest," Mahomes said. "It definitely felt good being able to run, getting my knees up a little bit and getting to the end zone."
It wasn't a great day at Arrowhead for the passing game because of gusty winds.
As ESPN.com's Adam Teicher noted, Travis Kelce in particular seemed to struggle with the conditions. But the Chiefs figure to need more from Mahomes next week against the Patriots and beyond.
The Chiefs struggled to run the ball most of the game, though they were missing leading rusher Damien Williams because of a rib injury. But even on the ground, the Chiefs showed their chops when it mattered most by going on a 9 1/2-minute drive in the fourth quarter.
Rookie running back Darwin Thompson did most of the work before scoring his first NFL touchdown.
Running back Darrel Williams managed 13 yards on six carries before leaving with a hamstring injury. Thompson's emergence could spell fewer reps for Williams when he is able to return.
LeSean McCoy ran for just 10 yards on five carries, and added another 20 yards on three catches. But Reid says it's all part of the plan.
Reid said after the game that he thought the 31-year-old McCoy was fine, but he doesn't want to give him too much playing time because at his age, McCoy can't handle too big a workload.
"He did a nice job. He had productive runs today," Reid said. "We're not fooling anybody here, he's not getting any younger, so it's my responsibility to manage him as best I can, and I think I know him as well as anybody. So I'm going to do what I think is right on that. If it's wrong then it's my fault, so I'll take that on my shoulders. I know he wants to play every play, and he loves to play."
McCoy remains the Chiefs' leading rusher this season, but Reid isn't going to give any running back a big workload -- although Thompson clearly intrigues the coach.
"The more he carries it and gets a feel for things I think the better he'll be," Reid said of the rookie. "I thought it was important he was in with the No. 1 line and it was against their defense, their starting defense. I thought it was important that he got as many carries as possible. ..."
We'll see how much more work that leads to, but given the team's aversion to relying too heavily on McCoy, Thompson could see even more work if both Williamses are out this week.
On Monday, Reid wasn't optimistic about Darrel Williams's chances of returning to action against the Patriots this week.
"Darrel's injury, he had a hamstring and that didn't look very good," Reid said, via the Kansas City Star. "So, there's probably a pretty good chance he doesn't play."
Damien Williams' chances of returning this week remain unclear, although Teicher reported on Tuesday that Damien could return this week.
I'll be following up on both Williamses, neither of whom practiced Wednesday, via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
Of some interest, the Chiefs signed RB Spencer Ware on Tuesday.
The corresponding move as noted on Tuesday's NFL Transactions report is the waiving of WR Gehrig Dieter.
Also, defensive end Frank Clark left with a shoulder injury and cornerback Rashad Fenton left with a hamstring injury. Reid said he does not believe either is a long-term problem.
QBs: Patrick Mahomes, Chad Henne, Jordan Ta'amu, Kyle Shurmur
RBs: Damien Williams, Darwin Thompson, Elijah McGuire, Darrel Williams
WRs: Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, Mecole Hardman, Demarcus Robinson, Byron Pringle, Gehrig Dieter
TEs: Travis Kelce, Deon Yelder, Nick Keizer, Ricky Seals-Jones
Los Angeles ChargersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 December 2019
As Associated Press sports writer Pat Graham noted, the officials ran past a bewildered Philip Rivers, who appeared to be looking to get one of them to stop to receive some sort of explanation on a game-altering pass interference call.
No one paused to offer him any. This season has been just that for Rivers and the Los Angeles Chargers - unexplainable.
Brandon McManus connected on a 53-yard field goal as time expired following a questionable pass interference call on Casey Hayward Jr. as the Broncos beat the Chargers 23-20 on Sunday.
All eight of the Chargers' losses have been by seven points or less. This one, though, was particularly tough after Los Angeles rallied from an early 14-point deficit to tie the game. Then the pass interference call - almost par for the course in what's been a snake-bitten sort of season.
Here's how wild of year it's been: The Chargers have scored more points (244) than they've surrendered (241). Still, they're 4-8 and a long, long way from the playoff landscape.
"It seems extra crazy this year in that regard," Rivers said of all the late drives they've had. "It's a one-score league for the most part. You see it all around the league. But it's been extra crazy this year for us, considering all eight losses have been by one score. It usually leaves the ball in our hands down a score."
Such was the case Sunday.
Trailing 20-17, the Chargers were facing fourth-and-1 at the Denver 29 in the final minute. Instead of possibly rolling the dice, they opted for a game-tying 46-yard field goal from Michael Badgley.
Overtime looked imminent.
Then, it didn't.
On the first play after the kickoff, Broncos rookie quarterback Drew Lock - making his first NFL start - lofted a pass toward Courtland Sutton down the right side. He collided with Hayward and pass interference was signaled.
Understandably, head coach Anthony Lynn didn't agree with the call.
"I just don't think that's the way you end a football game," Lynn said. "To make that call, I think it has to be clear and obvious. And I didn't think that was clear and obvious."
And understandably, Hayward didn't agree, either.
"I was trying to find the ball myself," Hayward explained. "I think I have the same rights to the ball as he does. (The official) made the call. We live with it."
It's just the latest chapter in a season filled with baffling chapters. The close losses have been in every sort of way, too.
Like on Nov. 18 in Mexico City, when Rivers ended the Chargers' desperate final drive with a pass to Kansas City safety Dan Sorensen near the goal line with 18 seconds left in a 24-17 loss.
Or the week before that when the Chargers missed tackles in the secondary on Josh Jacobs' go-ahead 18-yard touchdown in a 26-24 loss in Oakland.
Or on Sept. 15, when they missed two field goals in a 13-10 loss at Detroit.
"Tough. Disappointing. Frustrating," said receiver Keenan Allen, who had six catches for 68 yards and a diving 36-yard score over the top of Broncos safety Will Parks. "It's tough to win when you give them a lead like that."
Rivers tried to paint a rosier picture.
"Some of the years you look back and when it's all said and done, and sometimes the 8-8 (seasons) and the rough ones are ones that were most formative in making you tougher," said Rivers, who threw two touchdown passes and an interception. "You don't necessarily want them or wish for them and I'm not trying to sell a ... 4-8 record, but we keep fighting. That's the only way we know."
Although that playoff hope has dwindled, Rivers believes his team will be plenty motivated to finish strong.
"Last I checked, they don't cancel the season for all the teams that are eliminated," Rivers said. "We have 16 on the schedule. We signed up for all 16. We play the Jacksonville Jaguars and think it's at 1 Eastern on Sunday. We'll all be there and fight like crazy."
As ESPN.com's Eric Williams summed up, the Chargers had lost seven games by one score this season, failing to take care of the football. Make it eight, as Sunday's setback offered more of the same.
They'll try to rectify that going up against the Jaguars this weekend. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Making his 220th consecutive start, Rivers was not at his best. He completed 20 of 29 passes for 265 yards, with two touchdown passes and his 15th interception of the season on a would-be screen pass to Austin Ekeler. According to ESPN Stats and Information, Rivers' interception in the opening quarter was his 12th this season against a standard four-man pass rush.
Only Jameis Winston has more (14). Rivers also lost by seven or fewer points for the 65th time in his career, the most of any quarterback in the Super Bowl era. ...
With six receptions for 68 yards and a touchdown, Allen moved into fifth on the Chargers' all-time receptions list, passing former Bolts receiver Lance Alworth (1962 - 1970). A third-round pick out of Cal in 2013, Allen has spent all seven seasons of his NFL career with the Chargers. Hall of Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson stands 34 receptions ahead of Allen's 496 on the franchise's receptions list in fourth place.
Wide receiver Mike Williams recorded a career-high 117 yards receiving on five catches. Williams caught his third 50-plus-yard pass of the season, a 52-yarder. In the game, the third-year receiver reached a season high in yards receiving, surpassing last season's previous high.
Running back Melvin Gordon moved into fourth place on the Chargers' all-time rushing list by posting 99 yards on 20 carries, passing Ryan Mathews (2010 - 2014). In the game, Gordon also surpassed running backs Natrone Means and Paul Lowe for No. 3 on the franchise's rushing attempts list and moved into sole possession of No. 5 all-time among Bolts backs in yards receiving.
Ekeler leads running backs this season with 718 yards receiving and seven receiving touchdowns after totaling 51 yards receiving Sunday, including a 30-yard touchdown catch. His seven receiving scores mark the second-most in a season by a Chargers running back, and Ekeler has now moved past former Bolts RB Darren Sproles (2005-2010) for eighth in team history in yards receiving among running backs.
On a more positive note. ... Playing for the first time since suffering a fractured right foot during training camp that required surgery, safety Derwin James made the start at strong safety, finishing with four combined tackles, including a tackle for loss.
QBs: Tyrod Taylor, Easton Stick
RBs: Austin Ekeler, Justin Jackson, Detrez Newsome, Troymaine Pope
WRs: Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Andre Patton, Jason Moore, Darius Jennings
TEs: Hunter Henry, Virgil Green, Stephen Anderson
Los Angeles RamsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 December 2019
Quarterback Jared Goff and the struggling Los Angeles Rams offense found their way against the Arizona Cardinals.
The challenge now is to build on what they did when the Rams host one of the best teams in the NFC in the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday night.
"The truest measure of performance is consistency," head coach Sean McVay said Monday night. "We haven't been consistent enough, but what we can control is what we do this week."
Everything worked in the 34-7 win over the Cardinals, led by Goff's 424 yards passing and two touchdowns. They were Goff's first scoring passes in North America since he had two at Atlanta on Oct. 20. Goff did not throw a touchdown in November, as his most recent tosses into the end zone had come in Week 8 when the Rams defeated Cincinnati in London.
He got back on track with a healthy dose of play-action and timing plays that allowed his receivers to gain yards after the catch.
"I think that is a very good reflection of the accuracy, the timing, the anticipation that you're throwing the ball with," McVay said. "I thought Jared did an especially good job of giving guys a chance to create afterwards, and then certainly, our guys, give them a lot of credit for being able to do some stuff on their own."
In the third quarter, Goff even showed his blocking ability, moving Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson aside to make room for Robert Woods, who cut across the field and ran for a 48-yard gain.
"He was great today," head coach Sean McVay said. "He distributed the ball and guys made some plays. It was a great game for Jared, but that was the game we expect from him. Those are the things we know he's capable of. It's always a collaboration of the unit, but I was really pleased with his ability to command and control the game."
Woods finished with a game-high 13 catches and 172 yards receiving, Tyler Higbee caught seven balls for a career-high 107 yards and a touchdown and Cooper Kupp had six catches for 65 yards and another score. Goff completed 32 of 43 passes, and Todd Gurley II ran for 95 yards and a touchdown.
Los Angeles finished with 549 total yards, while Arizona had just 198 - and a big chunk of those came in the fourth quarter when the game was long decided.
Goff was named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week for his efforts.
"We just had a game plan, everybody was flying around swarming to the ball," Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald said. "Everyone was making plays and consistent."
With Goff leading the way, the Rams (7-5) scored at least 30 points for the fourth time this season. They reached that mark 12 times last season, and McVay understands that putting together that kind of output on a regular basis over the final four games is how Los Angeles can get back into playoff contention.
But even if the Rams win out to finish 11-5, that still might not be enough to make the postseason for the third straight season, something they have not done since 1999-2001 in the heyday of the Greatest Show on Turf.
"All we can control is trying to play really good football this last quarter of the season, and if that's enough, then it'll work itself out," McVay said.
Other notes of interest. ... Up until Week 13, Higbee had primarily been used by the Rams in run blocking situations. According data collected by Pro Football Focus, he had 165 run blocking snaps to 130 receiving snaps, while TE Gerald Everett - who missed Sunday's game with a knee injury - had 141 to 262 in each of those situations respectively.
I'll have more on Everett's chances of returning this week via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses. ...
It wouldn't be accurate to call this a complete team win without mentioning the contributions of the Rams special teams.
Kicker Greg Zuerlein made 2 of 3 field goal attempts, including the game's first points, and converted all four of his extra point attempts. Each of his six kickoffs went for touchbacks.
Punter Johnny Hekker averaged 41.3 yards per punt. Outside of the Cardinals' final possession with 20 seconds left, each one obtained via a Rams punt began no further than their own 26.
One last note. ... McVay told reporters Monday that JoJo Natson injured his hamstring Sunday. The Rams placed Natson on injured reserve on Tuesday. Tight end Kendall Blanton was promoted from the practice squad to take his place on the active roster.
Natson didn't play any offensive snaps for the Rams this season, but served as their primary kickoff and punt returner. He averaged 22.2 yards per kickoff return and 7.8 yards per punt return.
McVay said rookie running back Darrell Henderson could fill in on kickoffs. Wide receiver Nsimba Webster returned punts in the preseason and may get a look in that role.
Blanton signed with the Rams after going undrafted out of Missouri this year.
QBs: Jared Goff, Blake Bortles
RBs: Malcolm Brown, Darrell Henderson, John Kelly
WRs: Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, Brandin Cooks, Josh Reynolds, Nsimba Webster, Greg Dortch
TEs: Tyler Higbee, Gerald Everett, Johnny Mundt
Miami DolphinsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 December 2019
As ESPN.com's Cameron Wolfe noted, while rocking their throw-back throwback uniforms, the Dolphins provided a good taste of what's to come under head coach Brian Flores with a 37-31 upset victory over the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Dolphins once again showed that despite being a little short on talent, they lack nothing in fight. They shockingly exposed the playoff-contending Eagles (5-7) thanks to some tricky creativity from their punter and kicker, a career day from receiver DeVante Parker and a magnificent outing from veteran journeyman quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.
The Dolphins aren't headed to the playoffs. But it's hard to believe that any other NFL team had a more joyous Sunday than Miami. The Dolphins don't quit, and in doing so, they show that a turnaround is happening.
They've beaten the Jets, Colts and Eagles and are now the NFL's most upbeat 3-9 team.
"It has been a fun year," rookie coach Brian Flores said Monday. "I enjoy coaching this team. We have a group of guys who really work hard, and I've been impressed with how they've dealt with the adversity. We've improved, and that's the goal in coaching."
Each victory hurts the Dolphins' position in the 2020 draft, complicating their search for a franchise quarterback.
But success also signals they may have finally found a coach who can lead them to their first postseason victory since 2000 - not this year, but someday.
According to Associated Press sports writer Steven Wine, there are now rumblings on social media that Flores, who lost his first seven games, deserves votes for coach of the year.
"We've stuck to our process, our routine, the things that coach Flo preaches each week," running back Patrick Laird said. "It might not seem like it on the outside, but this team is really close."
It's still a mixed bag for fantasy owners, however.
Sunday was another dismal day for the ground game. Three running backs combined for 25 yards on 15 carries, and Miami remains on pace for the fewest yards by any team in a 16-game season.
Running back Kalen Ballage departed with a left leg injury that was serious enough for him to be placed on season-ending injured reserve Tuesday.
He had started six games this year, rushing 74 times for 135 yards and three touchdowns. Ballage was averaging 1.8 yards per carry, which stands as the worst full-season average by a running back with at least 70 carries since 1936.
To fill his roster spot, the Dolphins claimed running back Zach Zenner off waivers from the Cardinals.
That makes this his fourth team this year, after starting with the Lions, and having stints in New Orleans and
I'll remind you that Laird and Myles Gaskins are next men up. ...
Conversely, in his fifth NFL season, Parker has transformed from a first-round bust into Miami's best offensive player.
The 6-3 Parker made several spectacular leaping catches Sunday and finished with a career-high 159 yards receiving on seven catches, including a career-best two scores.
"He really got it going and fueled us as an offense. He wanted that ball on every play," Fitzpatrick said. "I talk about him every week as just being a consistent, reliable guy."
Parker's performance helped the Dolphins reach their highest points total since 2015.
A chronic underachiever plagued by injuries throughout his career, Parker has stayed healthy this season. He leads the AFC in yards receiving since Week 6 and is on pace for his first 1,000-yard year.
"Those 50-50 balls, he has really made those plays the entire year," Flores said. "Fitz knows that. He's looking for them, and DeVante's coming through for him."
According to NextGen Stats, Parker now leads the NFL with four tight-window receiving touchdowns (less than 1 yard of separation). Parker is the fourth player this season with multiple tight-window receiving touchdowns in a single game.
What makes Parker such a hard cover is that even when he's covered, he can find ways to go up and make plays on the ball. The Dolphins should be excited about Parker and what he means for this team going forward.
Thanks in part to Parker's big game, Fitzpatrick threw for a season-high 365 passing yards and led the Dolphins to 23 consecutive points in the second half. His performance made it clear why Flores chose to go with Fitzpatrick over young Josh Rosen as the team's starting quarterback.
This Dolphins team plays hard for Fitzpatrick as well as for Flores. No matter who the future quarterback is in Miami, the Fitzpatrick-bridge era made some memories on Sunday. ...
The biggest play of the day came on fourth-and-goal with Miami down 13-7 in the second quarter. The Dolphins sent their field goal team out but audibled from their traditional formation into a unique formation with center Daniel Kilgore snapping to punt Matt Haack in a shotgun formation. The other nine players split wide on either side. When the ball was snapped, Haack scrambled to his left and kicker Jason Sanders slid behind the defense in the end zone. Haack pitched a shovel pass to Sanders, who slid to the ground and caught the touchdown.
It was a play-of-the-season candidate that pumped up the Dolphins and kept them in the game early. It was the type of creative trickery that gave the team the belief that it could pull off this win.
"It's just a fake we have worked on for a few weeks and we felt like that was a good time to run it, and it gave us a spark. Obviously, that one worked and it gave us a lot of momentum. They don't all work, obviously. So, it's something we practiced and we executed it well and I thought it was -- check Haack's passer rating. I think it's pretty good," Flores said of the play.
Fitzpatrick on when he first saw the play at practice: "I thought [special teams coordinator] Danny Crossman. ... Like what is he dreaming up? This is the NFL. That doesn't happen. They worked on it multiple times, so we had seen it, but for it actually to be called in a game, I didn't think it would ever be called in a game. Pretty cool that it worked."
Haack weighed in on the trick play, too: "I rolled out and it felt so fast -- four guys were on me real quick, I saw a little window and [Sanders] was wide open. In my head, it was just put it on and don't give them a chance, really."
The Dolphins might not be done winning; their next three opponents are 7-29. They'll try to build on their best game of season when they play Sunday at the New York Jets (4-8).
"Momentum is fleeting in this league," Flores said. "We have to recreate that momentum every week. ..."
Worth noting: The Dolphins-Bengals game Dec. 22 has lost some sheen as a showdown for the No. 1 draft pick. The race for the first choice has become more competitive, and Miami is one of seven teams with three wins or less.
Sanders was named the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week for his dynamic performance against the Eagles. Sanders made a 51-yard field goal and two of three extra points, but being on the receiving end of the above-mentioned 1-yard shovel pass for a touchdown was the key. This is the second time in four weeks and his career that Sanders has won Special Teams Player of the Week. ...
And finally. ... The Dolphins have claimed speedy WR Trevor Davis off of waivers from the Raiders.
As Profootballtalk.com noted, Davis' departure from Oakland came a day after he fumbled a kickoff return in a loss to the Chiefs. He joined the Raiders in a trade with the Packers for a 2020 sixth-round pick. He caught seven passes for 83 yards, averaged 21.6 yards per kickoff return and 8.5 yards per punt return in seven games with the Raiders.
Jakeem Grant had been the Dolphins' lead kickoff returner for most of the season, but he went on injured reserve last week.
QBs: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Josh Rosen, Jake Rudock
RBs: Jordan Howard, Kalen Ballage, Myles Gaskin, Patrick Laird, De'Lance Turner
WRs: DeVante Parker, Preston Williams, Albert Wilson, Allen Hurns, Isaiah Ford, Mack Hollins
TEs: Mike Gesicki, Durham Smythe, Michael Roberts
Minnesota VikingsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 December 2019
As ESPN.com's Courtney Cronin put it, "CenturyLink Field remains a House of Horrors for the Minnesota Vikings. ..."
With playoff seeding on the line, the Seattle Seahawks defeated the Vikings 37-30 on Monday Night Football. Minnesota had won six of seven entering the game and hoped to improve its wild-card bid with a victory.
The Seahawks remain a thorn in Mike Zimmer's side as the only NFC team he has failed to beat as Vikings coach. Zimmer is 0-3 vs. Seattle, including a loss in the 2015 wild-card game.
Still, Zimmer said that Monday night's loss to the Seahawks wasn't the end of the world because the team can still navigate their way to the playoffs by winning games over the final four weeks of the season.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins noted the same after the game while also finding other positives about the team's effort.
After falling down 34-17, the Vikings cut Seattle's lead to four points before failing to convert a first down with just over two minutes left in the game.
Cousins praised that effort while lamenting that the game ultimately got away from them.
"Well, I think we have a football team that can go on the road in a tough environment and get a win," Cousins said in quotes distributed by the Seahawks. "I think that this was an opportunity that we missed and that's disappointing. I think tonight we were able to at least show resilience and we're going to need that to win in December. If you do take care of business in December, I think we have four games left if you do take care of business, then you get a chance in January, and that is really what we want to do."
A home game against the Lions gives the Vikings a chance to get back on a winning track. They'll be at the Chargers, home for the Packers and at the Bears to close out the schedule.
Meanwhile, as Cronin suggested, forget the routine criticism of Cousins' prime-time record, including an 0-8 mark on Monday Night Football. The Vikings quarterback was not responsible for this loss.
Cousins was efficient and made smart decisions in the first half, allowing Minnesota to take a 17-10 lead into the break. The only notable issue, and it's hardly all on Cousins, was a strange decision by the Vikings' offense to take their time after Stefon Diggs was clearly stopped short of the chains in the second quarter (it was ruled a first down) and not run the hurry-up to get a play off before Seahawks coach Pete Carroll could challenge the spot.
The ruling was reversed, and the first down became third-and-1.
Cousins did what he could to stage a comeback in the second half after losing running back Dalvin Cook to injury midway through the third quarter, but the QB simply cannot rescue a porous run and pass defense. After catching four passes for 25 yards in the first half, Diggs disappeared, accounting for three drops, including a costly interception that led to a Seattle touchdown three plays later. Cousins threw TDs -- a 58-yarder to Laquon Treadwell and a 3-yard pass to Kyle Rudolph -- on back-to-back drives in the fourth quarter, but Dan Bailey's missed point after following the second touchdown kept it a four-point game.
Cousins is one of six quarterbacks to overcome multiple 17-point deficits in the past five seasons (Week 11 vs. Broncos, Week 7 of 2015 vs. Buccaneers). Nobody in that span has overcome three such deficits.
Minnesota was already without wide receiver Adam Thielen, who was ruled out Sunday because of a hamstring injury that has lingered since he sustained it in Week 7. The Vikings then lost Cook at the 8:56 mark of the third quarter to a shoulder injury, and despite his being listed as questionable after exiting the game, the running back did not return.
Despite that, Cook believes he will be all right.
Cook was injured when Seattle defensive end Rasheem Green punched the ball free from Cook's arm, forcing a fumble. Cook was tripped up and fell to the ground, where he remained for several minutes and looked to be in severe pain while being tended to by athletic trainers on the field.
"He just hit me right on what I had when we played the Broncos," Cook said. "He hit me right on it when he went to punch for the ball. It was kind of like a different feeling. It was different. But he got me in a good spot."
Cook took a hit to the same area ahead of halftime on a play where he notched his first of two fumbles.
"It's a weird injury that I've got," he said. "It's kind of like when I land in an awkward spot, it hurts. So I kind of try to land to where it doesn't hurt. So it was awkward the way I was landing. It's a physical sport. At the end of the year, there's some bumps and bruises, but I'll be all right.
"No matter if I get injured or not, I can't turn the ball over. I hold myself 1000 percent responsible for not turning the ball over. I pride myself on not turning the ball over. I can't put myself in that situation when I turn the ball over. And that's what they pride themselves on. You can't give them gimmes. And I gave them a gimme before the half. I've got to take care of the football and I think we'll be all right."
Despite remaining on the sideline after being evaluated in the locker room, the running back said he felt like he could have returned to the game if needed but the team chose to keep him out for "precautionary" reasons.
"It's a lot that we've got ahead of us," Cook said. "The guys that are behind me, Alex [Mattison] and [Mike] Boone and Ameer [Abdullah], they're top guys. They could be starting on somebody's team. We've got a lot of trust in those guys. Alex came in and played a good game. Boone stepped in some plays. We just have to know what we have ahead of us. We have four crucial games ahead of us. I've got to be ready to go for those games. I was all-in for them holding me out and I'm looking forward to what we've got ahead of us."
Cook noted that he'll "definitely" be ready to play against the Lions this week and he reiterated that on Wednesday.
His injury is a pain tolerance deal, and he said he’s been told there shouldn’t be a risk of injuring it worse. “I gotta work on” holding onto the ball when hit there, he added.
Diggs was also injured on the play but was able to return to the game on Minnesota's following drive.
"I got rolled up on my leg," Diggs said. "Little scared afterwards but I'm OK. I'm fine."
The Vikings also lost left tackle Riley Reiff in the second half because of a concussion.
I'll have more on Cook's progress -- and that of Thielen -- via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.
QBs: Kirk Cousins, Sean Mannion
RBs: Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison, Mike Boone, Ameer Abdullah
WRs: Adam Thielen, Tajae Sharpe, Olabisi Johnson, Chad Beebe, Davion Davis
TEs: Kyle Rudolph, Irv Smith Jr., Brandon Dillon, Tyler Conklin
New England PatriotsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 December 2019
The Patriots and their Tom Brady-led offense continued to slump in the 28-22 loss to the Texans that kept New England from becoming the first AFC team to clinch a playoff spot.
The Ravens, at 10-2, move into the top spot in the conference. The Patriots drop to 10-2, but because they lost to the Ravens on Nov. 3, they slide to No. 2 with four weeks left in the regular season.
While no longer possessing the top spot in the AFC, ESPN.com's Mike Reiss notes the Patriots have bigger concerns with their sputtering offense, which showed consistent signs of life only late in the fourth quarter when the Texans seemed to let down.
Brady finished 24-of-47 for 326 yards, with three touchdowns and one interception against the Texans, but that hardly reflects how much of a struggle it was. The pick came in the first quarter on a slant route to rookie receiver N'Keal Harry at New England's 28-yard line, with Texans cornerback Bradley Roby making an exceptional play that was a turning point. The Texans quickly turned it into a touchdown to go ahead 7-3, and never trailed again.
"Just execution, just have to do a better job. It's tough to get behind and come back. We put ourselves in a pretty deep hole and you can't do that on the road," said Brady, whose Patriots scored 17 and 13 points in their previous two games, both victories. "We didn't get the job done. A loss is a loss, and learn from it and try to move on to next week."
Head coach Bill Belichick added that the Patriots "weren't good enough in any area." He noted the Texans' success on second down against New England's usually stingy defense, and when asked if there was cause for concern with the offense, he said, "We all have to do a better job."
Brady was 7-of-19 for 82 yards at halftime.
According to ESPN Stats and Information research, the 36.8 completion percentage matched the lowest in a first half in Brady's 20-year career (minimum 15 attempts). He had been 7-of-19 in the first half of two other games prior to Sunday night, and the Patriots had rallied from halftime deficits to win both of those games.
While the Patriots had authored a historic comeback at NRG Stadium -- overcoming a 28-3 second-half deficit against the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI -- the Texans (8-4) ensured that wouldn't happen again despite some anxious moments in the final minutes.
This wasn't a game in which Brady was consistently pressured. Even as the Texans built their lead into the fourth quarter, Brady had been averaging 3.25 seconds to throw, according to NFL NextGen Stats data. Brady, who was emotional on the sideline during the first half as he implored his teammates to raise their level of play, had not had any games this season in which he averaged more than three seconds to throw.
He attempted to find a silver lining late Sunday night.
"We're battling, we're trying as hard as we can, hopefully we can make enough plays and be the best we can be," Brady said. "All remains to be seen. You can make a bunch of predictions and so forth, but that's not what it's about. It's about going out there and doing it."
Receiver Julian Edelman echoed a similar message.
"I think we'll be all right. What I did see is a team that fought to the end, so you can take that and you can build off that," he said. "It was ugly out there a little bit here and there. We didn't play the way we wanted to. But you got to tip your hat to Houston. They played a helluva game."
The Patriots return home to face the Kansas City Chiefs (8-4) on Sunday, before a road game at the Cincinnati Bengals (1-11). They finish the season with back-to-back home games against the Buffalo Bills (9-3) and Miami Dolphins (3-9). ...
Other notes of interest. ... Brady's performance gave him 3,000 yards passing (3,268) for the 17th time in his career, which is the second-most in NFL history behind 18 by Brett Favre. ...
The Patriots released kicker Kai Forbath after missing an extra point on Sunday night, via Field Yates of ESPN.com.
Nick Folk underwent an emergency appendectomy on Thursday, and he was waived the next day. Forbath was signed after getting tryouts last week with the Panthers and Titans.
Forbath has now kicked in regular-season games for five different teams: Washington, the Saints, the Vikings, the Jaguars, and the Patriots.
The next Patriots kicker will be their fifth, from Stephen Gostkowski to Mike Nugent to Folk to Forbath. I'll have more on that via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.
On the injury front. ... Starting center Ted Karras suffered a sprained MCL Sunday against the Texans, and it's considered relatively minor. Still, he'll miss a game or two.
Finally. ... New England dealt with a flu bug this week that swept through the locker room and left two players inactive Sunday. But Brady wouldn't use that as an excuse for their subpar work on Sunday night.
"Guys battled hard and I think you deal with a lot of adversity over the course of the season," he said. "I don't think that had any effect on the game. I think us trying to figure out how to do a better job for 60 minutes is what's most important ... we played against a good team on the road, and when you don't play good, you don't win. So we didn't deserve it."
QBs: Jarrett Stidham, Brian Hoyer
RBs: Sony Michel, James White, Rex Burkhead, Brandon Bolden, Damien Harris
WRs: Julian Edelman, N'Keal Harry, Mohamed Sanu, Damiere Byrd, Jakobi Meyers, Gunner Olszewski
TEs: Matt LaCosse, Ryan Izzo
New Orleans SaintsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 December 2019
As Associated Press sports writer Brett Martel noted, from Taysom Hill's deflection of Atlanta's first punt to Cameron Jordan's victory-sealing fourth-down sack in the final minutes, the New Orleans Saints clinched their third straight the NFC South title by demonstrating how complete of a team they've become.
New Orleans' defense combined for nine sacks and three takeaways. Hill's punt deflection, which set up the game's opening points, was just the beginning of a productive day for the Saints' reliable special teams unit. Wil Lutz made all four of his field goal attempts and both extra-point kicks, while the Falcons, by contrast, missed one of each.
"Three NFC South championships in a row and this one being the earliest we've been able to secure it - on Thanksgiving - just says a lot about our organization," Saints quarterback Drew Brees said.
With backups filling in at both left guard and left tackle, Brees was bound to have a challenging game. But the record-setting quarterback had the luxury of throwing the ball away, living to play another series or settling for field goals because of how effectively New Orleans' other units were playing.
Having completed 74 percent of his passes this season, Brees connected on a relatively pedestrian 60 percent of his passes (18 for 30) in Atlanta for 183 yards - 44 yards fewer than in any other full game he has played this season.
Still, that was enough in a 26-18 victory in which the Saints led throughout, and by as many as 17 points with less than seven minutes remaining.
New Orleans didn't turn the ball over and Hill, a dynamic third-string QB who also plays a variety of roles on offense and special teams, had a 3-yard touchdown catch and 30-yard scoring run to go with his successful bid to get a hand on a Falcons punt.
"While he's developing as a quarterback, there's a lot of places he's playing and we probably need to get him the ball even more," head coach Sean Payton said.
Second year defensive end Marcus Davenport, a first-round pick in 2018, had two sacks and forced a fumble when he chased down Falcons QB Matt Ryan on a scramble. It is perhaps no coincidence that Davenport's menacing play on one side of the line opened rushing lanes for Jordan, the Saints' top pass rusher, on the other. Jordan had a career-high four sacks.
A quarter of the regular season remains and the Saints are already guaranteed at least one home playoff game. But after nearly going to the Super Bowl last season, they clearly want more.
"We're on to bigger and better things," Jordan said. "Every week, we're building - and we've got to continue building."
The Saints are now tied for the best record in the NFC at 10-2 after the 49ers' loss at Baltimore. But the Saints will still have to beat San Francisco Sunday in the Superdome to take control of the No. 1 seed.
With four games remaining in the 2019 regular season, Payton is fretting over the little failures that could prove catastrophic if they do not find a solution in a hurry.
When the coach said that during Monday's teleconference, he was likely referencing a variety of blemishes he'd like to buff out in what has otherwise been a strong season, but the big one recently has been his team's inexplicable inability to recover an onside kick.
New Orleans had three shots at making that play last week against the Falcons, and all three times the Falcons recovered the ball (one of them was negated by penalty). The Saints had difficulties in the same situation in a Week 7 win at Chicago, allowing the Bears to recover one and nearly recover a second (which was overturned by replay review).
"It's not good," Payton said after the Falcons game. "It's embarrassing. We've got to get it cleaned up."
Officially, the Saints have allowed three of the five onside kicks attempted against them this season to be recovered, which is a 60 percent success rate for their opponents.
There have been 33 onside kicks attempted against the 31 other NFL teams this season (prior to Monday's Vikings/Seahawks game), and only two have been recovered -- a 6 percent success rate.
So what's the issue? According to New Orleans Times-Picayune staffer Luke Johnson, that depends on which game one is referencing.
The two onside kick miscues against the Bears both occurred on kicks that did not travel the necessary 10 yards to be recovered by the kicking team.
On the first onside kick in Chicago, the ball traveled about eight yards before Michael Thomas made a diving attempt to cover it up. He was unable to secure it, and Chicago pounced on it, setting up a touchdown drive.
On the ensuing kick, the ball glanced off running back Dwayne Washington's leg as Washington was lining up a block. That, too, would have given Chicago the ball had the player who recovered it not momentarily stepped out of bounds.
Against Atlanta, the problems were a matter of "alignment and assignment," Payton said.
The first two kicks were both sent Alvin Kamara's way. He got his hands on the first one, but it was jarred free by Atlanta's Russell Gage, who got around a Jason Vander Laan block. That kick did not count, because Gage was penalized for being offside.
When Atlanta lined up to kick again, nobody got a hand on linebacker Foyesade Oluokun, who took a clear path to the ball to snatch it out of the air before Kamara could get to it. It is not clear whether Kamara would have had a shot at catching the ball had he made a more aggressive move toward it, but Hall of Fame coach Tony Dungy said on the broadcast that the Saints running back "made a business decision" with Oluokun charging full speed ahead at him.
The Saints switched Thomas to the side Kamara had been on when Atlanta, now down just eight points, went for the onside kick again. Younghoe Koo's kick bounced right into Thomas' lap, but with Oluokun (unblocked again) making a diving sweep for the ball, Thomas could not hold on and the Falcons recovered.
Ultimately, the Saints won both of these games. What Payton is trying to avoid is allowing one of these breakdowns to result in a loss down the road.
"We're going to have to fix that, obviously," Payton said. "That'll cost you a game -- it almost cost us a game the other day. We'll do whatever it takes to get that corrected and look closely at what we're doing and who's doing it. ..."
And finally. ... The Saints are bringing back linebacker Manti Te'o. As Profootballtalk.com notes, the Saints have injury issues at the position, so Te'o's return makes sense.
Te'o has remained on the free agent market all season. He played for the Saints the past two seasons, starting 13 games and making 80 tackles and four pass breakups, so he knows Dennis Allen's scheme.
QBs: Drew Brees, Taysom Hill
RBs: Alvin Kamara, Latavius Murray
WRs: Emmanuel Sanders, Michael Thomas, Ted Ginn, Tre'quan Smith, Deonte Harris, Emmanuel Butler
TEs: Jared Cook, Josh Hill
New York GiantsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 December 2019
As ESPN.com's Jordan Raanan notes, the Giants will have a decision to make at the end of the 2019 NFL season.
Will they stay the course or undergo a second upheaval of the organization in two years?
Eight straight losses will do this to you. Giants co-owners John Mara and Steve Tisch will face this dilemma when this disastrous season finally comes to a close in less than a month. They will need to decide if head coach Pat Shurmur, general manager Dave Gettleman and the plan they put in place early in 2018 -- and have since altered and revised several times -- is still to be trusted.
To be honest, amidst all the losses, it's hard to envision right now.
The Giants fell 31-13 to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday at MetLife Stadium. They're 2-10, they took over sole possession of last place in the NFC East, and they are in the running for the No. 1 overall pick.
This all reflects poorly on Shurmur. He is being judged first and foremost by these wins and losses, and he's 7-21 since taking over as the Giants' coach. The heat is on.
"I'm well aware of it. I'm well aware of it," he said. "People will change what they think of us and me when we win games. I'm a realist when it comes to that, and I get it. ... I expect fans to be upset because we are, too. But we go about trying to fix it."
Shurmur reminded in his postgame news conference that the Giants have a "historically young team." This after the coach noted last week that they are making progress behind the scenes. Most notably, they have a rookie quarterback (Daniel Jones) and played essentially four rookie defensive backs Sunday against Packers QB Aaron Rodgers.
This is where the sales pitch for Shurmur to remain for Year 3 as the Giants' coach begins. The roster he's working with is insufficient and devoid of a single true defensive playmaker. It's hard to win games that way, no matter the opponent. But to his credit, through all the struggles, Shurmur has not seemed to lose his players. They still seem to be buying him as a coach, and that indicates something positive about his ability to lead.
"You can see he's passionate about the game and about this team. You can see he cares about us," running back Saquon Barkley told Raanan after Sunday's loss. "Obviously, things are not going our way, and it's easy to point the finger at one person. But all around, we all have to be better.
"Guys respond to him. ... Not one person wins or loses games. We have to go out there and make plays. There are times they put us in positions, and we're not doing our jobs as players."
There are also times when Shurmur isn't doing his job.
Shurmur's offense scored one touchdown Sunday and is averaging 19.2 points per game, which is 25th in the NFL. Could he call better plays? Find ways to get Barkley more open space? Do better with the minute details that make a difference in games?
Surely there is room for improvement.
If Shurmur is going to remain the Giants' coach beyond this season, it will likely have more to do with his relationship and tutoring of Jones than anything else. The Giants are creatures of stability and would like to avoid another overhaul, especially when it means Jones would be starting over in a new system. We all know that is not ideal for a young quarterback.
To his credit, Shurmur, who was hired in large part because of his ability to work with quarterbacks, was a significant part of the evaluation process that pegged Jones as the successor to Eli Manning. Shurmur has been in charge of grooming Jones since the Giants made him the No. 6 overall pick in the 2019 NFL draft.
From watching Jones on a weekly basis, there are reasons to be optimistic about his future. There are moments in every game when he makes special plays. Shurmur at least deserves some of the credit for that.
As for the turnover woes -- Jones has 21 after three more interceptions against the Packers -- Shurmur shrugs that off as part of the process in a rebuilding season.
"There is no better training ground than playing," he said.
Through all the losses, Jones still seems to think he's heading in the right direction.
"I feel like I'm making progress. Obviously, there's still a lot to work on, and I understand that," he said. "But I feel like I'm improving. The challenge is to continue to do that but do it faster and play more consistently."
This ultimately is what will decide Shurmur's fate. Dates with the struggling Philadelphia Eagles, Miami Dolphins and Washington Redskins are on deck. The faster Jones improves the better because that record keeps getting uglier.
As Raanan summed up, Shurmur needs more progress from Jones and some wins to survive.
Meanwhile, Jones injured his ankle in last Sunday’s loss to the Packers and he did not take part in Wednesday’s practice session. He is in a protective boot and, per multiple reporters, Shurmur said that he has a “moderate” high ankle sprain.
Shurmur also said that Jones would not be able to play if the Giants had a game on Wednesday or Thursday. He added it is not as severe as the injury that kept Barkley out for three games earlier this year.
They don’t play the Eagles until Monday night, but Shurmur called it likely that Manning gets the start in Jones’s place. If that’s the case, Manning would play for the first time since Week Two and meet the Eagles for the 31st time in his career. The Giants have gone 10-20 in the first 30 meetings.
As New York Newsday's Tom Rock put it, "The injury provides what likely will be a farewell tour for Manning, who is in the final year of his contract and almost certainly won’t return to the Giants next season. ..."
Worth noting; Green Bay had seven pressures on 12 first-half dropbacks with just four rushers in the first half.
The Packers didn't even need to blitz to make life difficult for Jones and a struggling Giants offensive line. He was under constant pressure, which forced him to consistently make throws while taking hits. The Packers finished with seven quarterback hits. Outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith accounted for five of them himself.
Overall, the Packers had 10 pressures in the first half alone. The Giants had just one. Green Bay finished with 13 pressures in the contest. The Giants had five.
So mobility is a big deal for whoever is under center here. ...
Also on the injury front. ... Evan Engram (foot), Golden Tate (concussion) and Rhett Ellison (concussion) all missed last week's game; I'll have more on their progress -- along with that of Jones (and Manning -- via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.
Along those lines, I will note that Engram told reporters on Wednesday that he expects to return this week.
QBs: Daniel Jones, Colt McCoy, Alex Tanney
RBs: Saquon Barkley, Wayne Gallman, Dion Lewis, Javorius Allen, Elijhaa Penny
WRs: Sterling Shepard, Golden Tate, Darius Slayton, Cody Core, Da'Mari Scott, Corey Coleman
TEs: Evan Engram, Kaden Smith, Levine Toilolo, Eric Tomlinson
New York JetsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 December 2019
As ESPN.com's Rich Cimini framed it, "They fooled you, didn't they? The New York Jets made you believe they had taken a big step in their development. Their three-game winning streak made you forget about the 1-7 start. They made you think coach Adam Gase, who seemed like the wrong hire in October, really was a quarterback whisperer.
"And then Sunday happened -- as disgraceful a performance as you will ever see.
"Not only did the Jets lose to the previously winless Cincinnati Bengals 22-6 at Paul Brown Stadium, but they were dominated by the worst team in the NFL. They showed no energy whatsoever, committed mistake after mistake and played (and coached) as if they were stuck in a tryptophan coma."
Le'Veon Bell's 23-yard run was wiped out by a holding penalty. Bilal Powell's 23-yard gain off a screen pass was called back because of an illegal block. Every time the Jets seemed to be getting momentum, a flag flew and they were back to square one.
New York's high-scoring offense repeatedly tripped itself up on Sunday, leaving the Jets with some dubious NFL history. Combined with their loss to the Dolphins, they're the first team to drop games to a pair of opponents that were 0-7 or worse in one season.
"I felt like our defense, this one's not on them," Gase said. "We did not do enough on offense."
New York came in on its best run of the season, having scored 34 points in each of the last three games, all victories. Second-year quarterback Sam Darnold was in the best stretch of his career. And the Jets were facing a team that hadn't won a game in nearly a year.
The Jets won the coin flip, chose to get the ball, and settled for a field goal after a series that included a throw into the end zone that didn't connect and a dropped third-down pass. It never got much better. The Jets had 10 penalties - eight on offense - for 106 yards, including a holding penalty in the end zone for a safety.
"Whenever you get big plays and you have penalties, those are killers," Darnold said.
Darnold was 28 of 48 for 239 yards with four sacks as New York had its least-productive game on offense since a 33-0 loss to New England on Oct. 21. It's the fourth time this season that New York has been held to six points or less.
Darnold had a foot stepped on late in the game, but said it wasn't an issue. Darnold's 48 passes were a season high. His 58 percent completion rate and 71.4 passer rating were his second-lowest, trailing the loss to New England.
After three encouraging wins behind their young quarterback, the Jets found themselves back in a discouraging place.
"It hurts," defensive lineman Henry Anderson said. "We felt like we were starting to get into a rhythm."
The Jets lost to the 0-7 Dolphins 26-18 on Nov. 3. The Bengals (1-11) were the last winless team in the NFL, stuck in the longest losing streak in franchise history. After being benched for three weeks as Cincinnati took a look at rookie quarterback Ryan Finley, Andy Dalton returned and led the Bengals to their breakthrough win.
New York never got into a flow against a winless team.
"I don't feel like we had a lack of energy," Bell said. "We didn't play well enough."
Cimini went on to suggest the obvious takeaway is that their recent winning streak was a mirage, the byproduct of a cupcake schedule. Still, it injected the team with confidence and that should've been enough to beat the Bengals, but the Jets showed an alarming lack of maturity by underestimating Cincinnati.
At some point, a developing team must learn how to handle prosperity. Clearly, they haven't reached that stage yet. That's troubling.
Cimini believes a lot of this falls on Gase, who called a horrible game on offense and didn't have the team ready to play, mentally or physically. They didn't adjust, made too many mental errors and showed no fight when they fell behind.
Quite frankly, they didn't do anything right. This was straight out of their 1-7 start.
Facing the league's lowest-ranked run defense, the Jets ran only nine times out of 37 plays in the first half. Gase got too pass-happy, and they never got out of that mode once they fell behind. Granted, Cincinnati had improved in recent weeks, but this was unforgivable: Bell had only 10 carries.
The Jets had no red zone possessions against the 32nd-ranked defense in yards.
The revamped offensive line, which showed signs of hope in recent weeks, regressed in a major way. The line, with its seventh different starting combination, committed seven (seven!) penalties and allowed four sacks. Left tackle Kelvin Beachum played one of the worst games of his career -- three penalties, including a holding call in the end zone for a safety. This was a clear reminder for general manager Joe Douglas: Find better linemen.
Bell, known for his patient running style, has become more of a downhill runner on "certain runs" in recent weeks, per Gase.
"For the most part, I feel like he has adjusted his running style to really benefit us," Gase said.
In Weeks 1-9, Bell averaged 2.88 seconds to the line of scrimmage, per NextGen Stats. In Weeks 10-13, it was 2.84. Bell was 3.09 in his last season in Pittsburgh (2017).
Overall, he has become quicker to the line, but his production remains shockingly low. ...
There weren't many, but wide receiver Robby Anderson (seven catches for 101 yards) made some tough catches, especially in the traffic. ...
On the injury front. ... Darnold almost left the game before the last play Sunday. He was walking gingerly after the loss to the previously winless Bengals.
Gase admits he had "a little concern" immediately after the game, but tests showed Darnold is "OK."
Darnold has bruised ribs and residual soreness from a previous knee issue.
"The knee is a non-issue," Darnold said. "I feel really good physically."
Darnold said he just needs to stay on top of it by icing it.
I'll follow up on Darnold via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
In addition, safety Jamal Adams could miss at least this week's game against the Dolphins with a sprained ankle.
Adams injured his left ankle early in Sunday's game, but he missed only one snap. He said after the loss to the Bengals that he was "in a lot of pain."
Gase wouldn't say whether it was a high-ankle sprain. He instead called it a "legit week-to-week" injury.
Adams has played all 44 possible games in his three seasons.
He will not practice Wednesday, Gase said.
The Jets also could play without nickel back Brian Poole, who is in the concussion protocol. Poole was cleared Sunday and returned to action but reported concussion-like symptoms Monday, Gase said.
And finally. ... Linebacker C.J. Mosley has not played since Week 7. The Jets finally placed him on injured reserve with four games remaining.
They made the move to open a roster spot after claiming safety Bennett Jackson off waivers from the Ravens.
QBs: Sam Darnold, David Fales
RBs: Le'Veon Bell, Bilal Powell, Kenneth Dixon, Josh Adams
WRs: Breshad Perriman, Jamison Crowder, Quincy Enunwa, Braxton Berrios, Josh Doctson, Josh Malone, Vyncint Smith, Josh Bellamy
TEs: Chris Herndon, Ryan Griffin, Daniel Brown, Trevon Wesco
Oakland RaidersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 December 2019
As ESPN.com's Paul Gutierrez framed it, "No, it's not Mike Glennon Time. Nor should DeShone Kizer start playing catch."
The Raiders are still Derek Carr's team despite two straight brutal games in the cold, wind and rain, Oakland unable to do much of anything offensively, and critics of the $125 million franchise quarterback readying their torches and pitchforks.
Switching signal-callers at this stage of the season, with so much still attainable, would be hard to justify. Critiquing Carr's uneven play at best, regression at worst, after 34-3 and 40-9 losses at the New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs, respectively, is entirely warranted, though.
As they say, quarterbacks get too much of the credit when things go well and too much of the blame when things go south. Head coach Jon Gruden said he would have to "look at" tape of Carr's game against the Chiefs before he could assess his performance.
"I think it is easy to look at the interceptions," Gruden mused, "but it is a tough place to play. Tough environment, cold, windy, good defense and we were behind most of the football game. All of those things with bad field position and a long way to go are tough on a quarterback."
This much is true: Carr has struggled, not only at Arrowhead Stadium in his six-year career (he is now 0-6 in the Chiefs' home), but also in the cold. The temperature was 36 degrees at kickoff Sunday, with a wind chill of 25 degrees, and Carr's record in games when the temperature is 40 degrees or below fell to 0-5, with three of those games coming at Arrowhead Stadium.
He's 1-9 when the temperature is 45 degrees or colder.
"I think everyone struggles to a degree in cold weather," Gruden said. "That is why a lot of people move south."
Considering that Carr, whose total QBR was 9.0 in 40 degrees or colder games at Arrowhead entering Sunday, can't avoid playing there at least once a year, they probably need to figure something else out.
Gruden has an idea.
"I have to do a better job of helping him," Gruden added. "I think it starts with me and ends there. He is a good quarterback. I think he has a chance to be great. It just wasn't his day, and it wasn't our day."
Carr, who had just 152 passing yards in completing 12 of 21 passes with two interceptions through three quarters against the Chiefs, finished 20-of-30 for 222 yards. Those stats were propped up by an 8-of-9 fourth quarter and a 4-yard TD pass with 39 seconds to play.
But his two first-half interceptions -- the first an ill-advised throw into triple-coverage to tight end Darren Waller on the Raiders' first possession that was picked by Tyrann Mathieu, the second a backbreaking 46-yard pick-six by rookie safety Juan Thornhill with 3:42 to play in the second quarter -- set the tone.
Mathieu said the Chiefs were able to diagnose when Carr would take a deeper shot based on the Raiders' formation.
"Derek is going to try to take care of the football," Mathieu said. "Tight ends, running backs, check-downs, that's kind of his game. I was glad I was able to capitalize on him when he did try to throw the ball down the field."
Asked when the game turned, rookie running back Josh Jacobs pointed to Thornhill's score, which gave the Chiefs a 21-0 lead.
"I would probably say the pick-six, when things really just like, took the morale [from us]," said Jacobs, who rushed for a game-high 104 yards. "You could feel the emotion, you could feel the swing and I try to go out there, my job as a running back is just to inspire the team, inspire the play caller, all of that. And I try to do my best at it. I've got to be better."
Carr essentially said the same of himself -- even as he distanced himself from the Carr-can't-play-in-the-cold crowd, and the fact that his receivers had a combined 8 receiving yards entering the fourth quarter.
"My job is to put the ball where coach wants it," Carr said. "I wish I had a better answer for you, but I always leave that up to him."
Was the cold weather a factor? True enough, Carr did not look shell shocked as he did in 2016, when the Chiefs harassed him into 17-of-41 passing for 117 yards and the Spidercam wire knocked down a sure touchdown pass to Amari Cooper.
"No, I threw the ball fine," Carr said. "It felt great. If we don't have those two turnovers, we are very efficient ... I think we handled it just fine. It was not a factor because I do not want to take anything away from the plays that (Kansas City) made, to be honest with you.
"If it was 80 degrees, or 30 degrees, it does not matter. Those two safeties made two great plays, and I tip my hat to them. ..."
Meanwhile, remember when the Raiders were a feel-good story riding a three-game winning streak and chasing not only a playoff berth but an AFC West division title. Yeah, that was like eight days ago.
Now, while all is not lost for the Raiders in their search for a postseason berth -- they are only one game out of the final AFC playoff spot and face the playoff-contending Tennessee Titans (7-5) in Oakland next week -- they are now out of the division title race and haven't shown much the past two games to make anyone a believer.
Jacobs and the offensive line got back on track after last week's stonewalling by the Jets. Jacobs ran for 104 yards, on 17 carries (though only had 9 yards as the Raiders fell desperately behind in the second half) against the NFL's No. 30-ranked rushing defense. He went over 1,000 rushing yards on the season and sits at 1,061 yards with four games to play.
Jacobs is the fourth Raiders player to reach the 1,000-yard mark in the first 12 games of the season, joining Marcus Allen, Mark van Eeghen and Napoleon Kaufman.
Those accomplishments are even more impressive considering the youngster has been playing hurt.
Jacobs posted on his Snapchat that he fractured his shoulder back in Week 7 and has been playing through a painful injury that would sideline many.
He was hurt against Green Bay. The rookie went back to the locker room, took a painkilling injection and finished that game strong.
The 21-year-old is limited almost every practice week, and then comes off the injury report and plays like there's nothing wrong.
Gruden certainly appreciates Jacobs' effort and willingness to play through pain in a season where he's on pace for 288 carries and 312 total touches. That's a massive sum for someone who wasn't a feature back at Alabama and currently is battling through injury.
"He's fighting through a shoulder," Gruden said Monday. "You know, a lot of the things that these guys are doing behind the scenes go unrecognized. He hurt his shoulder in the Green Bay game. So, we've tried to be smart with him. But what a great competitor he is. He's going to be one of the best complete backs in all of football, I believe. ..."
WR/KR Trevor Davis fumbled a kickoff in the first quarter and then was stopped on a fourth-and-1 end-around in the second quarter when the Raiders were driving down 7-0. Davis was replaced by Jalen Richard on kick returns following his fumble and didn't play another snap on offense after his one run. The Raiders released him on Monday.
And finally. ... The Raiders suffered back-to-back losses by at least 30 points for just the second time in franchise history, having also done it in the first two games in 1961. Oakland also joined the 2017 Bills, 2010 Seahawks and 2008 Giants as the only teams in the Super Bowl era to lose back-to-back games by at least 30 points despite having a winning record going into both games.
The Raiders return home for the final two scheduled games at the Coliseum, starting with Tennessee Sunday and Jacksonville next week.
QBs: Derek Carr, Marcus Mariota, Mike Glennon
RBs: Josh Jacobs, Jalen Richard, Rod Smith
WRs: Tyrell Williams, Hunter Renfrow, Zay Jones, Nelson Agholor, Keelan Doss, Marcell Ateman
TEs: Darren Waller, Jason Witten, Foster Moreau, Derek Carrier
Philadelphia EaglesCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 December 2019
A day after his Eagles lost to the Miami Dolphins, missing a chance to tie the Dallas Cowboys atop the NFC East standings, head coach Doug Pederson said he was "disgusted" and "angry," mostly at himself.
After Sunday's 37-31 loss, Pederson said his team "self-destructed" and was a "long shot" to make the playoffs after falling to 5-7. On Monday, in a radio interview with 94WIP in Philadelphia, he took the blame for the loss.
"I'm disgusted, I'm mad, I'm angry and I'm probably more so mad at myself," he said. "... Our discipline, our consistency, the lack of that that showed up in this football game, that's on me. That's on me. And that's why I'm disappointed. I felt like and I think most people felt like we were the better football team."
Pederson admitted that the Dolphins (3-9) played harder than his team.
"That's why I'm disappointed in that. They wanted this a little more than we did, and they made the plays and we didn't," he said, also crediting the Miami staff for how well-coached the Dolphins were.
The Eagles committed 10 penalties for 91 yards, which Pederson said Monday was "unacceptable."
"Having watched [the tape] again this morning, it's not who we are, it's not who I am as a coach, it's not how we teach things," he said. "It starts with me, and I have to fix things this week heading into the Giants game."
The Eagles, losers of three straight games, host the New York Giants on Monday Night Football in Week 14. The Cowboys still lead the division despite having a .500 record (6-6).
At his news conference later Monday, Pederson said he would not be making any changes to his staff this week and "as of right now" would not make any changes to the team's starting lineups.
He was asked by reporters at the news conference whether a shake-up was in order.
"A shake-up, I know what you're saying. You're talking about sending a message. No, I don't. I think everything that is -- it's all self-inflicted. Even the plays that they made, our players were in position to make those plays; we just didn't. They executed; we didn't," he said. "So that to me doesn't deserve any kind of shake-up."
The Eagles have lost three in a row, but with all four games remaining being in-division, including a Dec. 22 home game against the first-place Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia still has a path to the playoffs. They could end up division champs, but after a loss like this, it's hard to think they deserve to be.
Indeed, Pederson wasn't overly optimistic in his phrasing of his team's circumstance.
"I mean, that's the thing, as crazy as this is, I would say it's a long shot, but we're not out of it," he said. "We do have four of our division opponents coming up. The guys gotta understand that, and it's my job to make sure they do understand that -- that we're still fighting and coming to work this week and ready to go and try to figure this thing out. But I've gotta show them exactly where we are and what we need to do with these next four games. ..."
On a more positive note. ... Carson Wentz (28-of-46, 310 yards, 3 TDs) bounced back from arguably the worst performance of his career against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 12. His final TD pass came early in the third quarter, however, as the Eagles scored only three points the rest of the way.
The Eagles led 28-14 in the third quarter. The last time they lost when leading by 14 points in a game was in 2018's Week 7 against the Panthers (led 17-0 but lost 21-17).
Wentz and the Eagles are now 0-7 in games in which they trailed in the fourth quarter this season.
Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery returned after missing two games with an ankle injury and caught nine passes for 137 yards and one TD. It was Jeffery's sixth-highest single-game total of his career.
Despite averaging 4.8 yards per carry, the Eagles only ran the ball 19 times and had 48 passes called. After taking a 28-14 lead on the first possession of the second half, they ran the ball just three times the rest of the game.
Still, rookie running back Miles Sanders had 105 total yards and a touchdown and averaged 4.9 yards per carry on the ground. With Jordan Howard slow to recover from a stinger in his shoulder, Sanders has received the lion's share of the snaps over the past three weeks and is looking more comfortable in the lead role.
Howard has missed the last three games with a stinger and remains day to day.
I'll have more on his status for this week via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.
The Eagles announced on Tuesday that wide receiver Mack Hollins was waived. Guard Sua Opeta was promoted from the practice squad to fill the open roster spot.
Hollins appeared in all 12 games this season and made three starts as the Eagles have dealt with a variety of injuries over the course of the year. He caught 10 passes for 125 yards while playing 46 percent of the offensive snaps. Hollins missed 2018 with an injury and saw extensive time on special teams as a rookie in 2017. ...
One last note here. ... As Rotoworld.com notes, Zach Ertz was a game-time decision after missing most of the practice week with a hamstring injury. He ended up playing 74 percent of snaps but didn't look fully healthy. Ertz was out-targeted by Dallas Goedert, who finished with 66 yards on seven targets.
QBs: Carson Wentz, Nate Sudfeld
RBs: Miles Sanders, Boston Scott, Elijah Holyfield
WRs: Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson, JJ Arcega-Whiteside, Greg Ward, Robert Davis
TEs: Zach Ertz, Dallas Goedert, Josh Perkins
Pittsburgh SteelersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 December 2019
According to Associated Press sports writer Will Graves, James Washington knew what was coming. It's why the wide receiver didn't hesitate when he saw the Browns jump offside early in the second quarter on Sunday.
At the snap, Washington ditched his intended route and raced upfield. Call it the byproduct of spending plenty of practice time catching passes from rookie quarterback Devlin Hodges.
"You just go deep and hope he throws it your way," Washington said.
And Hodges did, lofting a rainbow down the left sideline that Washington caught for a 31-yard gain that provided the spark Pittsburgh's sputtering offense needed to come to life.
Washington and Hodges - newfound hunting buddies - were in the middle of it all. An acrobatic 30-yard touchdown grab by Washington late in the first half tied the game. A 44-yard strike early in the third quarter set up Benny Snell's 1-yard score that put the Steelers ahead to stay in a 20-13 victory that kept them in the thick of the AFC playoff chase.
Washington finished with four catches for a career-best 111 yards, displaying the kind of game-breaking ability that led the Pittsburgh to take him in the second round of the 2018 draft. After a season and a half of progressing in fits and starts, Washington appears to have developed a rapport with Hodges that he couldn't find with Ben Roethlisberger or former college teammate Mason Rudolph, who was benched last week in favor of the player known universally as "Duck."
Maybe spending time together in the woods helps.
Washington and Hodges went duck hunting last week with Hodges - a champion duck caller on the side - luring them in and Washington - who grew up around farms in Texas - taking them out. They plan to do it again on Tuesday to celebrate Pittsburgh's sixth win in its past seven games.
"I tell him I'm a better shooter than he is, so you call them in and I'll shoot 'em," Washington said. "That's kind of how it works."
Hodges admitted the outings with Washington makes things "a little more comfortable" on the field, though he stressed there's no need for the rest of his teammates to put on their camo if they want to create a vibe with him.
"We all have our different types," Hodges said. "So I'm just trying to fit in with those guys and doing whatever it takes to build that relationship. It makes it a lot more calm in the game."
All in all, head coach Mike Tomlin set a fairly low bar for Hodges in the week before the game, simply requiring Hodges to "not kill us."
Not only did Hodges fulfill Tomlin's ask, he turned in an invigorating performance in front of more than 62,000 fans. He completed 14 of 21 passes for 212 yards along with a touchdown and an interception.
Hodges wasn't perfect. He fumbled out of bounds while attempting to scramble early in the fourth quarter and threw a pick when he tried to go deep to Diontae Johnson with the Steelers protecting a seven-point lead with 7:30 to go. Still, he wasn't fazed by the stakes.
"Duck stayed calm the entire time," Washington said. "You never saw him get uptight or anything. He held his composure as well as everyone else. Everyone kept working and I feel like that's why we were able to come out on top. ..."
Tomlin confirmed on Tuesday that Hodges will get another start on Sunday when the Steelers visit Arizona (3-8-1) and is building a pretty compelling case to be given the nod the rest of the way. The Steelers are 3-1 when he makes an appearance, the only loss coming to Baltimore back on Oct. 6 when wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster fumbled in overtime.
"He's performed well in hostile environments but he doesn't have a big sample size," Tomlin said.
While former third-round pick Mason Rudolph might have entered camp as the pedigreed choice, Hodges has put better results on the field, so for now he's the guy. ...
Also of interest. ... The Steelers escaped the rematch with Cleveland relatively unscathed. Reinforcements could be on the way this week with Smith-Schuster (knee) and James Conner (shoulder) possibly nearing their respective returns after missing each of the past two games.
For the record, Tomlin told reporters on Tuesday there was no clarity yet on Conner or Smith-Schuster. The coach added that both are questionable to play this week against Cardinals, although Conner has chance to practice Wednesday.
According to ESPN.com's Brooke Pryor, Smith-Schuster said on Wednesday his knee injury is getting better, but didn’t say specifically what the injury sustained in Cleveland was.
He ran for the first time Wednesday, only working with straight-line runs. No cuts yet.
Smith-Schuster added he considers himself week-to-week.
It should be noted that neither Conner nor Smith-Schuster were hugely missed this past Sunday.
The Steelers drafted Benny Snell in the fourth round in April because of his no-frills running style. It's starting to translate to the NFL. Snell has run for 161 yards and a touchdown over the past two games, his ever-churning legs frequently making it difficult for the first defender to bring him down. ...
With Ryan Switzer on injured reserve, the Steelers were in the market for a new return man. They found one in running back Kerrith Whyte, signed off the Bears' practice squad a little more than two weeks ago. Whyte had the longest kick return of the Steelers' season with a 34-yard return to open Pittsburgh's first drive. He averaged 24 yards per return.
Finally. ... Center Maurkice Pouncey was activated off the NFL's suspended list, and the team received a 2-day roster exemption for him.
QBs: Ben Roethlisberger, Devlin Hodges, Mason Rudolph
RBs: James Conner, Benny Snell, Jaylen Samuels, Trey Edmunds, Kerrith Whyte
WRs: JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, James Washington, Ryan Switzer, Deon Cain
TEs: Eric Ebron, Vance McDonald, Zach Gentry
San Francisco 49ersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 December 2019
Less than an hour after a disappointing loss to the Baltimore Ravens, the San Francisco 49ers made it clear they were hoping to do it all over again -- sooner rather than later.
The Ravens and 49ers slugged it out in the rain at MandT Bank Stadium on Sunday, with the heavyweight fight going a full 12 rounds before Baltimore kicker Justin Tucker was able to land the final blow and give the Ravens a 20-17 decision.
In the Niners' locker room, there was plenty of frustration over the missed opportunities to knock off the red-hot Ravens, but there was just as much optimism that a rematch could be in the offing.
"I was really proud of the team," head coach Kyle Shanahan said. "I thought they played extremely hard, all three phases. (We) definitely played against a real good team, but I was really happy with our guys and how they played. We had every chance to win that game. We came up a little bit short there at the end. Give credit to them. Hopefully, we can earn an opportunity to maybe get a chance to play them some other time again."
Of course, there's only one way for these teams to see each other again in a meaningful game this season -- in the Super Bowl.
As ESPN.com's Nick Wagoner suggested, it's a notion that at the beginning of the season might have seem far-fetched, but it isn't at the start of December.
Baltimore's win was its eighth in a row and improved its record to 10-2 on the season.
It was also the first time the Ravens have been challenged in weeks after winning their past five games by 14 or more points.
For the Niners, the loss was their second of the year, dropping their record to 10-2. Both of San Francisco's losses this season have come on last-second field goals, the first to Seattle in overtime, and then Sunday's 49-yarder from Tucker.
Tucker's game winner put the finishing touches on a game most 49ers described as having a postseason atmosphere. Every time the Niners got some momentum, the Ravens wrested it away, and vice versa.
"Every week is big, but being out on the field, it was a dogfight, and it definitely felt like we were in a playoff game," Niners defensive tackle DeForest Buckner said. "And, God willing, we make it to the end, and hopefully we go against them again."
For most of the season, outside observers have questioned the Niners' ability to hang with some of the league's top teams. But even in a loss, the 49ers believe they showed they can slug it out with anyone in the league.
"You feel the urgency, you feel the intensity, the energy of the game, and it feels like a fight," fullback Kyle Juszczyk said. "You have that same mentality that every play, you are ready to just slug it out.
"Our record speaks for it. We're 10-2, and the way we play the top competition in the league speaks to it. The way we played Green Bay, Seattle, Baltimore... we stack up."
The Niners' loss to Baltimore on Sunday was their second in a three-game gauntlet against some of the NFL's best teams. They defeated the Green Bay Packers 37-8 last week, lost to the Ravens and now will spend a week in Florida preparing for next week's game against the New Orleans Saints.
When that game kicks off, the Niners will become the first team in the Super Bowl era to play three consecutive games against teams with an .800 or better winning percentage this late in the season, according to ESPN Stats and Information research.
That game also figures to play a key role in determining the NFC playoff picture, with the Niners set for a Week 17 rematch with the 9-2 Seahawks.
It would surprise no one if those games bore a striking resemblance to the one the Niners played on Sunday against the Ravens.
"That was a great game," 49ers tight end George Kittle said of Sunday. "In my opinion, two of the best teams in the NFL went at it, and they made a couple more plays than we did."
Asked if he, too, hoped to play the Ravens again later in the season, Kittle didn't hesitate.
"I can't wait for that opportunity," Kittle said. "Hopefully, we can get that done, and I'm already excited to play New Orleans. ..."
On the injury report. ... Shanahan said CB Richard Sherman (knee sprain), DT D.J. Jones (ankle sprain) and SS Jaquiski Tartt (rib fracture) will be day to day this week. Shanahan is optimistic that OT Joe Staley (finger), RB Matt Breida (ankle) and DE Dee Ford (hamstring) will return this week. He's less so for WR Dante Pettis (knee) and DL Jullian Taylor (elbow) could miss a couple of weeks.
Early reporting indicated that Breida would practice Wednesday; I'll follow up on all involved via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses.
QBs: Jimmy Garoppolo, Nick Mullens, C.J. Beathard
RBs: Raheem Mostert, Tevin Coleman, Matt Breida, Jeff Wilson, Jerick McKinnon
WRs: Deebo Samuel, Kendrick Bourne, Dante Pettis, Richie James, Jalen Hurd, Marquise Goodwin, Trent Taylor, Travis Benjamin
TEs: George Kittle, Ross Dwelley
Seattle SeahawksCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 December 2019
As ESPN.com's Brady Henderson reported, "The Seattle Seahawks have white-knuckled their way to enough close wins under Pete Carroll and have been part of too much wackiness in prime-time games to be all that surprised about anything that happened Monday night."
For instance, one of the strangest pick-sixes you'll ever see. Or the Seahawks' nearly blowing a 17-point, fourth-quarter lead.
All's well that ends well with Carroll's Seahawks. Because rarely does it start well. This one started poorly -- an opening-drive touchdown by the Vikings and a defensive TD midway through the second quarter -- but ended in a 37-30 victory that puts Seattle in first place in the NFC West.
Thanks to the combo of Rashaad Penny and Chris Carson, and one big strike from Russell Wilson, the Seahawks built a big second-half lead.
Penny scored one touchdown rushing and one receiving, and Wilson hit David Moore on a 60-yard touchdown pass as the Seahawks scored 24 straight points to take control before needing to hold on late as the Vikings tried to rally.
Minnesota's rally started with Seattle's own blown coverage as Kirk Cousins hit Laquon Treadwell for a 58-yard TD. Seattle seemed poised to add on, helped by a fake punt that Travis Homer took for 29 yards, but DK Metcalf fumbled and the Vikings recovered at their 28 with 9:34 left.
It took barely 2 minutes for Minnesota to pull within 34-30 as Cousins connected with Kyle Rudolph for a 3-yard touchdown and another brilliant one-handed catch by the Vikings' tight end.
But that was as close as Minnesota would get.
"We're in control and that's a great thing. We like having that," Wilson said.
The Seahawks are 9-1 this season in one-score games, good for the second-best winning percentage in such contests behind only that of the New Orleans Saints (7-0).
The Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers have identical 10-2 records, but Seattle owns the tiebreaker by virtue of its head-to-head win in Santa Clara, California, in Week 10. The rematch is Week 17 at CenturyLink Field.
Henderson added:" Buckle up, Seattle. The final four weeks of the regular season could get as wild as it got Monday. ..."
For the record, the Seahawks are an impressive whopping 29-5-1 in prime-time games since Carroll took over in 2010. That was already the NFL's best winning percentage in that span entering Monday. Their record includes being 19-2 at home.
The Seahawks have one more prime-time game on their schedule: at the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday. ...
Other notes of interest. ... It was hardly the MVP-caliber performance that Wilson has delivered so many times this season, but it was good enough. He finished 21-of-31 for 240 yards, two touchdowns and the interception.
That came on a fluke play on which he tried to knock down a pass that was tipped high into the air at the line of scrimmage. Anthony Harris came down with it and returned it 20 yards for a touchdown. It was hardly your garden-variety interception, but it was the fifth pick-six of Wilson's career.
Monday marked Wilson's eighth game this season with multiple TD passes, tied for most in the NFL with Dak Prescott. ...
The Seahawks extended their run of games with at least 100 rushing yards to 11 on Monday night by putting up 218 yards on the ground in a 37-30 win over the Vikings.
That's the most rushing yards in a game for Seattle this season and both of their top running backs had a big hand in the big day. Carson ran 23 times for 102 yards and a touchdown while Penny had 74 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries.
Penny has come alive the past two games. A week after his breakout performance in Philadelphia, Penny combined for 107 yards and two touchdowns on 19 touches. Carson had 109 yards and a touchdown on 24 touches. The Seahawks are finally getting some nice production out of Penny, their 2018 first-round pick who spent his first season and a half mostly buried behind Carson.
After the game, Carroll said at his press conference that it is "so much fun to see those two guys battling it out."
Carroll also said that the team isn't going into games with a clear sense of who will get more work because of how well both backs have been playing.
"You guys keep asking me, but there's no plan on this one," Carroll said. "They're just playing. And when we see how the game goes, we might give a guy a few more here or a few more there. We don't know, because they're both really good. We love them and we just play them. Chris is the starter, so he winds up getting some more carries, but they're playing as 1-2, and I don't know who is One and I don't know who is Two. They're doing great."
Carson's been productive all season for the Seahawks while Penny's picked things up more recently to establish the 1-2 punch that Carroll talked about after the win. That makes Seattle a deeper offensive threat at a crucial point in the schedule and both backs should be in line for heavy roles against the Rams next weekend.
And finally. ... Moore was both among a group of Seattle players that missed time this week as a flu bug circulated through the locker room. Tyler Lockett was another who was slowed by illness and was held without a catch for the first time since the 2017 season.
But Moore and Tre Flowers lost a combined 22 pounds last week because of the illness, with Flowers practicing last week with a mask on to try to keep from infecting others.
"That's the first time I've ever seen somebody do that -- practice with a mask," linebacker K.J. Wright said. "But he battled. He was sick, but he came back and got his IVs and made it happen."
QBs: Russell Wilson, Geno Smith
RBs: Chris Carson, Rashaad Penny, Travis Homer, Robert Turbin
WRs: Tyler Lockett, DK Metcalf, Phillip Dorsett, David Moore, John Ursua, Malik Turner
TEs: Greg Olsen, Will Dissly, Jacob Hollister
Tampa Bay BuccaneersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 December 2019
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are showing signs of improvement with double-digit wins in three of their last four games, even though the success has come against last-place teams.
"We all knew that we were capable of this," tight end O.J. Howard said a 28-11 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars lifted the Bucs (5-7) into second place in the NFC South, albeit with a losing record. "We're finally just all happy to be able to put it together."
With five victories, the team already has matched its win total from each of the past two seasons. The teams they've beaten the past month - Arizona (3-8-1), Atlanta (3-9) and Jacksonville (4-8) - may sit at the bottom of their divisions, but there's plenty for first-year coach Bruce Arians to be encouraged about moving forward.
In addition to an offense that ranks among the league leaders in passing, total yards and points scored, a young Bucs defense that starts up to four rookies and a trio of second-year pros is growing and maturing by the week.
The team, which has 11 sacks and forced six turnovers the past two weeks, has won consecutive games under Arians for the first time.
"I like where we are at," the coach said. "We are practicing and preparing extremely hard each week. We are coming into stadiums expecting to win."
Arians said Monday that running back Ronald Jones II was benched in the third quarter for missing an assignment on a blitz pickup that resulted in a sack-forced fumble of quarterback Jameis Winston.
Coming out of the backfield with 9:28 to go in the third, Jones moved to his left instead of protecting Winston's right side. The Jaguars rushed six defenders, including cornerback D.J. Hayden on a delayed blitz from the right side.
While left tackle Donovan Smith blocked safety Andrew Wingard, Hayden was unaccounted for, spinning Winston before Wingard brought him down to the ground and knocked the ball loose.
"That was a fumble. We had the game in hand," Arians said. "It was something that had been switched. We were gonna block something because of their blitzes. [Jones] went to block the guy he used to block. That wasn't the plan."
Jones did not see another snap for the remainder of the game, playing only 18 snaps total -- third most among the Bucs' running backs. He rushed for 8 yards on six touches; Peyton Barber, whom Jones beat out for the starting job one month ago, rushed for two touchdowns during a 28-11 victory.
"He works his ass off," Arians said of Jones. "He's gonna get better at it. We need him running the football. But you can't run the football if you can't protect the quarterback."
A second-round draft pick in 2018, Jones struggled in his adjustment to the NFL. He was a healthy scratch the first three games of the 2018 season and saw just 23 total rushes. But after a sit-down with the coaching staff this offseason and a better understanding of what it takes to be a pro, Jones has performed well this year, rushing for five touchdowns with 700 yards from scrimmage.
Although Barber wound up scoring on runs of 15 and 1 yards, the Bucs were nowhere near as effective running the ball as one might suspect.
They led 25-0 at halftime, Winston attempted just eight passes in the second half, and Jacksonville had yielded more than 200 yards on the ground in each of the Jaguars' previous three games. Tampa Bay finished with 74 yards rushing on 31 attempts, an average of 2.4 yards per carry.
Barber carried 17 times for 44 yards (2.6 yards per attempt) and Winston was the team's second-leading rusher with 20 yards on six attempts.
For record, told reporters on Wednesday that Jones is still the starter and they will get him going.
The good news here?
The Bucs will play three or their remaining four games at home, including Sunday against Indianapolis and Dec. 21 vs. Houston, playoff contenders who figure to provide a barometer of how the team has progressed.
On the injury front. ... Arians said Scott Miller, who missed last week's game with a hamstring injury, would not practice Wednesday.
QBs: Tom Brady, Ryan Griffin, Blaine Gabbert
RBs: Ronald Jones, Dare Ogunbowale, T.J. Logan
WRs: Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Scott Miller, Justin Watson, Cyril Grayson, Spencer Schnell
TEs: O.J. Howard, Cameron Brate, Antony Auclair, Tanner Hudson, Jordan Leggett
Tennessee TitansCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 December 2019
Head coach Mike Vrabel has no plans to talk about the standings with his Titans and where they fit in the NFL picture.
Sure, his Titans (7-5) have won three straight and five of their last six to pull within a game of Houston (8-4) in the AFC South, tied with Pittsburgh (7-5) for the final wild card. The Steelers have the tiebreaker with a better record against AFC teams.
Vrabel's approach is to act like the Titans have been here before, with most of his players having won at least seven games in a season before now.
"It's not that big of a deal," Vrabel said. "That's going to be the message, that seven games won't get you anything. I think that's just going to be the message is that we just need to continue to do what we've been doing. Coming in, prepare, get as healthy as we possibly can, and move on."
That might be true most seasons, but the Titans are coming off a big 31-17 win over the Colts in a series in which they had lost 19 of the previous 22.
"We just have to keep things going," said Ryan Tannehill, now 5-1 as Tennessee's starting quarterback. "We're on the right path right now. Just keep our heads down, keep working and get ready for the next one."
The right path includes a heavy dose of Derrick Henry.
Against the Colts, Henry didn't like the way he started. But it's safe to assume everyone liked the way he finished.
Henry fumbled on his first carry of the game on Sunday. But he shook it off and finished with 149 rushing yards and a touchdown.
Henry scored on a 13-yard touchdown on a fourth-and-one in the third quarter, which sparked a second half comeback.
"I loved (the way we finished)," Henry said. "We played with resiliency in all phases and we believed in each other. And we knew we would make a big play at some point in the game. We knew it was going to be a physical matchup, and glad we were able to get the win."
Henry has now produced three straight 100-yard rushing games for the Titans after racking up 188 yards and 159, respectively, in back-to-back wins over the Chiefs and Jaguars. He now has 1,140 yards and 11 rushing touchdowns on the season.
Henry's performance resulted in his seventh career game with more than 100 rushing yards and at least one touchdown. That's the fourth-most in Titans history, according to ESPN Stats and Info.
Henry is the fifth player in NFL history to record at least 145 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown in three consecutive games, joining Pro Football Hall of Famers Jim Brown (1958), Eric Dickerson (1984) and O.J. Simpson (1976), as well as Adrian Peterson (2012).
Henry kicked himself for that early game fumble, which set up an early field goal by the Titans.
"I have to take care of the ball - it can cost us," Henry said. "I just had to let that go. I have to get better at it, but the game goes on and you have to go out there and make another play."
The Titans now have four games left in the season.
Next up is a trip to Oakland to face the Raiders.
Chances are, the Titans will continue to ride Henry.
"We just have to take it one game at a time, and not get too high or too low," Henry said. "We definitely can't get too complacent. We just have to keep believing in each other and carry this momentum into next week."
For the record, NFL.com's Chris Wesseling pointed out this week, over his last 16 games, Henry has 1,725 rushing yards and 20 total TDs. The last player to rush for 1,700-plus yards and 18-plus TDs over a 16-game span was Chris Johnson, who also did it as a Titan from Week 8 in 2009 through Week 6 in 2010.
The Titans saw Henry blow up for over 500 yards rushing last December. His 149 yards in this game gives him a good start to this December.
For the record, Henry was held out of Wednesday's practice to rest a tender hamstring; he played through the issue last week. I'll have more on this via Late-Breaking Updates in coming days. ...
The Titans can't afford to peek ahead to Dec. 15 when they host Houston. Not with a trip to California to play Oakland (6-6) up first. A win Sunday will raise the stakes for that Texans visit. The Titans wrap up their home schedule against New Orleans before a trip to Houston on Dec. 29 with possibly the division title or a wild-card berth on the line. ...
Also of interest. ... Tannehill was efficient as a passer. His best series came on the second drive of the game for the Titans. Tannehill made three tight-window throws to Anthony Firkser, Corey Davis and A.J. Brown for a total of 40 yards.
He led Adam Humphries perfectly on an out-breaking route that was caught in time to turn upfield and into the end zone.
The Colts managed to get constant pressure on Tannehill. But Tannehill came up with a huge play in the fourth quarter, when he worked a play-action pass to Raymond for the 40-yard, game-sealing touchdown. Tannehill was sacked six times but completed 17 of his 22 passes for 182 yards and two touchdowns.
And finally. ... The Titans claimed CB Tramaine Brock off waivers from the Cardinals, adding a veteran presence to a banged-up secondary.
QBs: Ryan Tannehill, Logan Woodside
RBs: Derrick Henry, Dalyn Dawkins, David Fluellen
WRs: A.J. Brown, Corey Davis, Adam Humphries, Kalif Raymond
TEs: Jonnu Smith, Anthony Firkser, MyCole Pruitt
Washington RedskinsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 3 December 2019
According to ESPN.com's John Keim, the play highlighted Derrius Guice's skill set, a full display of what the running back offers. It's what they have been waiting nearly two years to see. He slipped through the line after displaying patience. Then he stiff-armed a linebacker, sped down the sideline and plowed forward for 8 more yards after getting hit at the 9-yard line.
There was patience, vision, speed and violence all on one run. It's why the Redskins were excited about finally seeing Guice after two knee injuries combined to ruin all of last season and eight games of this one. It's why they're hopeful that games like Sunday's 29-21 win in Carolina -- when he rushed 10 times for 129 yards and two touchdowns -- are a preview.
It also was a reward for Guice, who tore his left ACL in his first preseason game as a rookie in 2018. He had fallen to the 59th overall pick in the draft amid questions about his maturity. Then, in Week 1 this season, he tore the meniscus in his other knee and missed eight games while on injured reserve.
"I just never give up," he said. "Everyone knows about my fall in the draft and then as soon as I got here, injury after injury. It's been hell. I've had people in my corner who never left. Also had people that were negative. I'm just really strong mentally. I didn't let all the outside noise get to me. I just kept grinding and I knew I got here for a reason. I wasn't going to stop until I showed it."
The Redskins need to entice a new coach -- and excite the fan base -- with the promise of young talent.
Sunday, they had eight offensive players in key roles who were 25 years or younger. They used 12 defensive players -- starters and key backups -- who were 25 or younger. They have rookie receiver Terry McLaurin, who leads Washington with 646 receiving yards and five touchdowns. They have rookie quarterback in Dwayne Haskins, who has made steady progress albeit with a lot more needed.
If nothing else, this group is optimistic.
"We have a great trio," Haskins said. "A lot of young guys stepping up. As we continue to grow the rest of the season and the rest of our careers, we can be very lethal together."
There's a long way to go before that becomes a reality, but Keim believes days like Sunday give the Redskins something they have been lacking this season: hope. In three games since returning from IR, Guice has showed some signs: He scored on a 45-yard screen pass against the Jets two weeks ago; he'd drive through defenders at other times, even if only for gains of 6 or 7 yards.
"I've always had confidence," he said, "just had bad luck and couldn't really show it."
The success didn't all stem from Guice as the Redskins' offense scored a season-high 29 points. They gained 362 total yards, their highest output since the season opener. Adrian Peterson rushed for 99 yards. The run game produced 248 yards -- more than their entire offensive output in each of the past five games.
"Those are the days I've been waiting on since they told me I tore my ACL," Guice said.
Numerous people in the Redskins' organization could say the same. The phrase "two-headed monster" also was uttered by more than a few in the locker room. The other part of that twosome, Peterson, said he was thrilled to see what Guice did.
"It's a spark," Peterson said. "I want him to be successful. That's what he needs, coming off how the last two years played out for him. I'm always rooting him on. I want him to know, 'I'm in your corner, man. We can do this together' ... When I see him out there being successful, I can sit on the sideline and relax and rest up and have confidence he'll pick up those yards and rip off big ones and get into the end zone. It doesn't get better than that."
In fact, Peterson was supposed to enter the game before Guice's first 1-yard touchdown run, but told him to stay in so he could get the first rushing touchdown of his career. Peterson, who leads the Redskins with 642 yards, said having another back run like that eased the burden on him. He gained 29 of his yards on his final drive, capping it with a 12-yard scoring run.
"I felt fresh," he said.
Guice looked fresh, too.
According to NextGen Stats, he hit a maximum speed of 19.47 miles per hour on his 60-yard run, before getting knocked out at the 11-yard line by safety Eric Reid, who had the angle. But it was the 37-yard run that had the locker room still buzzing after the game.
Six yards into the run, linebacker Shaq Thompson tried to tackle him from Guice's right side, aiming up high. But Guice used his right hand to knock Thompson to the ground.
"That's just instinct," Guice said. "He's a very good player. I just broke the arm tackle and he was the first guy there. My instinct is to just punch him and see what's up."
For what it's worth. ... Keeping Peterson for the second season of his two-year contract looked unlikely as recently as two weeks ago. The Redskins didn't trade him at the deadline, though, and at 34, Peterson still looks like he has plenty left in the tank.
"It seems like we found the right recipe," Peterson said. "Me and Guice just talked throughout the game like, 'Hey, when you're in there you do your thing.' We have a signal if we need each other to come in, and if not we will just let that guy spin, especially if he has a roll going."
At some point, Guice is going to be the guy here. But clearly, Peterson isn't ready for that to happen just yet. ...
As for the Redskins, they have their first winning streak of the season, so they're going to just keep up this recipe and see what happens.
Other notes of interest. ... The numbers were modest and the red-zone remains a struggle for Washington. But Haskins continues to make strides and at times made strong throws Sunday.
Haskins was far more accurate than last week versus Detroit, stepping and driving into throws. He did have some passes dropped and he did make some questionable reads at times. But Haskins kept his throws largely out of danger, a key in his development. He has thrown just two touchdown passes, but he's also playing and throwing with more confidence.
He has a way to go, but he's showing flashes and that's what Washington needed to see. Haskins kept plays alive with his ability to slide and stay focused downfield. That resulted in gains of 26 and 23, respectively, by Kelvin Harmon and Jeremy Sprinkle.
Haskins went 13 of 25 for 147 yards against Carolina and was sacked five times.
"I think I was playing faster than what I needed to, so I was playing myself out of certain positions with certain reads and stuff like that," Haskins said. "I'm just slowing it down as far as the speed of my drop and every time I feel pressure, I don't have to feel scared every time I see someone flash across my face."
All in all, however, it was good; the Redskins gained 362 total yards -- their second highest total and best since the season opener when they managed 398. The Redskins had not surpassed 300 yards since Week 6 vs. Miami.
In fact, their 248 rushing yards Sunday topped their total yards for each of the previous five games.
On the injury front. ... Receiver Trey Quinn could be out with a concussion after taking a helmet-to-helmet hit while fielding a punt.
And finally. ... According to Keim, the notion that Callahan is just an interim coach and definitely won't be back next season has taken a hit with back-to-back wins. Callahan's no-nonsense style might've ruffled a few feathers among veterans, but it's working, and at the very least he could be back as an offensive assistant.
QBs: Dwayne Haskins, Kyle Allen, Alex Smith
RBs: Derrius Guice, Adrian Peterson, Peyton Barber, J.D. McKissic, Bryce Love
WRs: Terry McLaurin, Steven Sims, Kelvin Harmon, Trey Quinn, Cody Latimer
TEs: Jeremy Sprinkle, Richard Rodgers, Logan Thomas, Hale Hentges