Team Notes week 15 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 10 December 2019
As Associated press sports writer David Brandt noted, Kyler Murray's made his transition to the NFL look fairly easy through most of the season, mixing big plays with smart decisions that have kept the Arizona Cardinals competitive despite obvious holes in the roster.
He's still a rookie, though. On Sunday, he looked like it.
The 22-year-old quarterback threw a season-high three interceptions in Sunday's 23-17 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. All of them came in the second half, two were in Steelers territory, and one was particularly painful.
Coach Kliff Kingsbury showed a lot of faith in Murray during the fourth quarter, going for a touchdown instead of the field goal with the Cardinals trailing 20-10 and facing fourth-and-2 at the Steelers 6. Murray took the snap, scrambled to the right and fired a pass into the end zone that went directly into the hands of Pittsburgh linebacker T.J. Watt.
The Cardinals never totally recovered and Murray knows it.
"It's just a little frustrating that I put us in that position," Murray said. "I feel like if we would've just took the points or I didn't turn the ball over, we would have been fine, we would have won the game, and everyone would be happy right now."
The Cardinals (3-9-1) have lost six games in a row after Sunday's loss. Arizona has one more home game remaining on Sunday against the Cleveland Browns before finishing with road games against the Seattle Seahawks and Los Angeles Rams.
"You have to stay engaged and focused on the things that you can control individually," Arizona receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. "If everyone is doing that collectively, you'll be able to dig your way out of the rut that we're in."
Murray completed 20 of 30 passes against the Steelers for 194 yards, two touchdowns and the three interceptions. He was also sacked five times.
"The interceptions were fixable plays, two of them on fourth down," Kingsbury said. "Those happen you're trying to make a play and not take a sack on fourth down. ..."
Meanwhile, as Kyle Odegard of the team's official website noted, there is only one football, of course, and that means every time David Johnson has it in his hands for the Cardinals, Kenyan Drake does not.
That's an issue for fantasy owners more than it is for the Cardinals.
Johnson had a nice bounceback game in Sunday's loss to the Steelers, carrying the ball three times for 19 yards while adding a pair of receptions for 34 yards and a touchdown.
"It's all about making plays, no matter how [Kingsbury] draws them up, whether it's all three of us in the backfield, one of us in the backfield, two of us in whatever capacity," Drake said. "I mean, we all want to go out there and win games. We're all very unselfish players. When someone gets their chance to shine and they make a play, we're happy for them. And vice-versa. We just want to continue to put it all together."
Johnson has taken a back seat in the running back rotation since Drake was acquired from the Dolphins in a midseason trade. Drake was again used more often against Pittsburgh - gaining 67 yards on 14 touches -- but Johnson had a larger role than in previous weeks.
He had the five touches and was on the field often, either as the only back, with Drake in two-back sets, or even in three-back looks with Chase Edmonds also on the field.
Johnson's touchdown - in which Murray slipped the throw past the outstretched fingertips of Steelers safety Terrell Edmunds - was his first since the Week 6 win over the Falcons.
"It felt good to get involved and get in the end zone, but at the end of the day, we still lost, so it doesn't feel too good after," Johnson said.
Edmonds didn't play on offense last week but did have a small role against the Steelers. He was targeted twice in the passing game, drawing a holding penalty on one leak out but dropping a screen pass later in the game. Edmonds also carried the ball once for nine yards on a fake punt.
The screen pass was one of several plays in which the Cardinals used all three running backs at the same time.
"It makes it tough for defenses to really know what we're doing," Johnson said. "We can run out of it. We can pass out of it. We can do a lot of different things out of it. Hopefully we'll continue to do that."
With the scoring reception through the air, Johnson became the fifth player in NFL history to amass at least 30 rushing touchdowns and 15 receiving touchdowns in the first five seasons of his career.
It is a reminder of Johnson's former dominance, and, if Drake is right, a foreshadowing of more future success.
"Look, he's been there and done that," Drake said. "He knows what he's capable of. He's done a lot of great things in his career and has a ton more to accomplish in his career. I'm happy for him."
The way it played out Sunday prompted ESPN's Josh Weinfuss to make the following prediction: "Johnson will see his playing time increase. He played 19 snaps against the Steelers and will see that increase this week against the Browns."
Bottom line here?
Murray has been sacked 11 times over the past two games, six against the Rams and five against the Steelers. Murray has the quickness to avoid pressure in the pocket, but Kingsbury said the rookie has been a little indecisive over the past few weeks.
The QB needs to regain his confidence, the running game needs to be more productive and the defense has to build on its decent performance against the Steelers. According to Brandt, if those things don't happen, the Cardinals are in danger of ending the season on a nine-game skid.
One last note. ... Kingsbury said the Cardinals didn't have many major injuries on Sunday, but Christian Kirk (ankle) was a limited participant for Wednesday's practice.
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 10 December 2019
According to ESPN.com's Vaughn McClure, Matt Ryan became the 10th signal-caller in NFL history to reach 50,000 career passing yards during Sunday's 40-20 win over the Carolina Panthers.
Ryan, who entered the game needing 34 yards to hit the milestone, reached 50,000 with a 14-yard pass to Russell Gage in the first quarter. The accomplishment occurred in Ryan's 186th career game. He said coming into the game that achieving such a feat would be much better in a victory. Not to mention it came on the same day the Falcons placed former star receiver Roddy White in the team's Ring of Honor, as White was a prime recipient of many of Ryan's passing yards.
"Obviously, very proud of that, of going over 50,000 career passing yards," Ryan said. "I've been fortunate on a day where we honor Roddy White, it was cool to have him back because he was such a huge part of my career. I got out of the locker room just in time to kind of see the end of his [halftime] speech, which was great. And I'm so happy for him. But then to win the game, too, it makes the day all the better."
Ryan finished 20 of 34 for 313 yards, also throwing a 15-yard touchdown pass to Calvin Ridley late in the second quarter as the Falcons piled up a season high for points.
Ryan also threw the longest completion of his career with a 93-yard touchdown hookup to undrafted rookie wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus in the third quarter. White had Ryan's longest previous completion with a 90-yard touchdown against the 49ers in October 2009.
"I told O.Z. he stole Roddy's thunder today," Ryan joked. "That was a great play, and I'm happy for O.Z. He's a guy that's worked extremely hard and stepped up when his number was called."
Zaccheaus' 93-yard TD was the third-longest in team history behind Michael Haynes' 98-yarder (1993) and Jamal Anderson's 94-yarder (2001).
Gage, a second-year receiver, was happy to be a part of Ryan's historic moment with the reception that put Ryan over 50,000.
"Man, it's great," Gage said. "We were just running an [inside slant] play that we practiced all week. I'm grateful that I could catch a ball from a legend, and for him to achieve something that great."
Former Miami Dolphins star Dan Marino was the first quarterback to 50,000 career yards, in November 1996. The other players to accomplish the feat are Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Brett Favre, Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning and John Elway. Marino, Rivers and Ryan are the only players on the list without a Super Bowl title to their name, with Rivers and Ryan still active.
Ryan actually joined the NFL's top 10 career passers during a 29-3 victory over the same Carolina team in Week 11, surpassing Warren Moon's 49,325. Now he's looking for his ninth consecutive season throwing for at least 4,000 yards with 3,559 passing yards and three games remaining.
Julio Jones, who caught five passes for 66 yards Sunday and reached 1,000 receiving yards for the sixth consecutive season, praised Ryan for joining the 50,000-yard club.
"Just for him to be doing it for so long and just keep producing and putting up numbers, he's amazing," Jones said.
Ryan, now with 50,279 career yards, sits behind Elway (51,475). Brees currently stands as the NFL's all-time passing leader with 76,577 yards after passing for 349 yards in a loss to San Francisco on Sunday.
Atlanta snapped a two-game losing streak and swept the season series with their I-85 rival. The Falcons won the first meeting 29-3 at Charlotte on Nov. 17. Up next, the Falcons head west to meet the San Francisco 49ers, who are coached by former Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.
If you're looking for positives heading into that tough matchup against the Niners, Dave Archer of AtlantaFalcons.com believes whenever you run the football well, you are going to have a success from a pass-blocking standpoint because the opponent will have to slow down a bit to stop the run.
The Falcons rushed for a season-best 159 yards against the Panthers, but still rank 30th with a paltry 80.8 average. They had plenty of chances to run the ball with a big lead in the second half. That has hardly been the case most of the year with the team playing from behind.
Archer thought Dirk Koetter's game plan to get the ball out quick was effective to a certain extent - there were more screens and plays called to the perimeter. Devonta Freeman was also involved in the short passing game, which was also effective. Ryan got the ball out to Jones quickly with the short passes along with Ridley and Gage. The ball was getting out quick and you can credit Ryan for that, but certainly credit Koetter for his play-calling and coming up with ideas on how to get rid of the ball quicker for Ryan.
Overall, the offense was much better. They'll need to continue that trend and perhaps build on it in San Francisco. ...
On the injury front. ... Ridley announced on his social media Monday that he was out for the season after suffering an abdominal injury in the win over the Panthers.
Ridley joined cornerback Desmond Trufant on that list, after Trufant broke his arm. Both players were placed on season-ending injured reserve Tuesday.
Ridley had five catches for 76 yards and a touchdown before he was carted off the field with scant explanation. He caught 63 passes for 866 yards and seven touchdowns for the year, comparable numbers to the 2018 first-rounder's rookie season.
Trufant exited Sunday's game late in the first half after sustaining the injury, and he left the sidelines early to go to the locker room prior to halftime. Reserve cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson filled his spot on the unit. Despite missing four games with a toe injury, Trufant tied his career high with four interceptions this season.
The veteran cornerback will finish 2019 with 18 tackles, seven passes defended and four interceptions.
Of more immediate interest, Jones was limited in Wednesday's practice as he rested his still-sore shoulder; more worrisome, Freeman sat out with a knee issue.
I'll have more on both via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
And finally. ... It's not often that a kicker can be a perfect 4-for-4 on both field goals and extra points yet have another play be the main topic of discussion, but that's exactly what Younghoe Koo accomplished during Sunday's win. Midway through the third quarter, Koo kicked off to Panthers returner Greg Dortch and raced down the field to cover the kick. Next thing Koo realized, the ball was in his grasp and the Falcons had possession at the Panthers' 16-yard line.
"I don't know, I just kind of blacked out," Koo said. "I was just excited, I couldn't believe it. It was the right place at the right time. I went down there and covered the kick really well, and it just happened that way - it was crazy.
"I was running and it just came straight to my stomach. I didn't have to go for it or anything, it was just really lucky."
Although Atlanta couldn't capitalize on the fumble recovery with a touchdown, Koo jogged back out onto the field to make sure his efforts didn't go to waste by drilling a 29-yard field goal.
It was the third of Koo's four field goals in the game, and he would later bank in a 50-yarder to finish the day with a perfect mark. But Koo's perfection, while certainly noteworthy, is secondary to his effort on kickoff coverage.
Koo was named NFC Special Teams Player of the Week for the all-around showing.
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 10 December 2019
The Baltimore Ravens became the second team in the NFL to clinch a 2019 playoff berth, although you could barely tell in the locker room after Sunday's 24-17 victory over the Buffalo Bills.
As ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley notes, it was Baltimore's defense, and not Lamar Jackson and the NFL's highest-scoring offense, that secured a second consecutive postseason spot. With 1 minute, 3 seconds remaining in the game, cornerback Marcus Peters deflected a fourth-down pass at the Baltimore 1-yard line as the Ravens earned a playoff berth the earliest in franchise history.
Winners of a league-best nine straight games, the Ravens (11-2) can clinch their second AFC North title in a row by beating the New York Jets on Thursday night. But the players have higher aspirations than defeating the upstart Bills (9-4) and locking up an early postseason berth.
"We haven't done anything yet," said linebacker Matthew Judon, who finished with 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble. "Just to get in, it isn't enough. We got in last year and it wasn't enough. This game always leaves you wanting more. You got to make it to the next stage. That's what we're trying to do."
Meanwhile, Jackson has been limited in practice due to a quad injury.
Jackson, the frontrunner for the NFL's Most Valuable Player award, leads the league with 28 touchdown passes and tops all quarterbacks with 1,017 yards rushing. He has never been sidelined since taking over as Baltimore's starting quarterback, playing in 20 straight games.
Head coach John Harbaugh indicated Jackson was hurt during the game when a Bills defender hit him "around the knee."
Jackson's appearance on the injury report raised an eyebrow or two, but the fact that he took part in Tuesday's walkthrough looked like a good sign that his quad is well enough for him to play against the Jets on Thursday.
Jackson confirmed that was the case when he spoke to reporters on Tuesday afternoon. He said at a press conference that the injury occurred while he was throwing the ball and that it isn't serious enough to impact his availability this week.
"I feel great. I'll be out there Thursday night," Jackson said.
The Ravens held a practice Wednesday before listing Jackson as questionable -- although he's fully expected to play.
Jackson participated in all 60 offensive snaps in Sunday's win in Buffalo. He was 16-of-25 passing for 145 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. Jackson was held to 40 yards rushing, his lowest total since the season opener, and needs 23 yards to break Michael Vick's single-season rushing record for quarterbacks.
This marked only the second time Jackson has been listed on the injury report this season. Jackson missed a practice in Week 10 with an illness.
The Ravens are banged up beyond Jackson. Starting tight end Mark Andrews (knee) is questionable and left tackle Ronnie Stanley (concussion) is listed as doubtful.
"I'm not going to get into injuries," Harbaugh said. "The guys who are ready, will play. The guys who aren't, won't. Just look at the injury report and take it from there."
That said, Andrews' injury is considered "minor," according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com. This echoes a similar report filed by ESPN's Adam Schefter, who said Andrews' knee contusion was "nothing major."
Rapoport opined that Andrews "should be okay moving award," implying the tight end may not miss any time. The immediate problem is the short turnaround to Thursday night. But the Ravens have plenty of depth at the position if Andrews is unable to suit up with Hayden Hurst and Nick Boyle.
Andrews is tied with Houston's Darren Fells for the league lead in touchdowns among tight ends (both have seven) and also leads all Baltimore receivers in both catches (54) and receiving yards (707).
After Andrews left with a knee injury, 2018 first-round draft pick Hayden Hurst stepped in and caught three passes for 73 yards, including a 61-yard touchdown.
"I think the guys have faith in me to make plays like that," said Hurst, who's operated in the shadow of fellow tight ends Andrews and Nick Boyle over the past two seasons. ...
Mark Ingram was held to 50 yards rushing by a rugged Buffalo defense. He averaged 3.3 yards a carry, 1.7 yards less than his average coming in.
One last note. ... Jackson had to bounce back from a rough first half and change his wardrobe. Donning long sleeves to start the game, Jackson was 5-of-10 for 30 yards with one touchdown pass and one interception (50.0 rating). After taking them off, he went 11-of-15 for 115 yards and two touchdowns (134.7 rating).
"Our PR guy [Patrick Gleason] told me, 'Man, what's up with the sleeves?' I was like, 'It's cold out here,'" Jackson said of the 35-degree wind chill. "I got ticked off going into halftime, so I'm going to take them off and just play ball."
Stay tuned. More on Jackson and Andrews in advance of Thursday night's kickoff.
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 10 December 2019
As ESPN.com's Marcel Louis-Jacques framed it: "The Buffalo Bills' defense is elite, perhaps even Super Bowl-caliber.
"If their offense plays like it did Sunday, however, we'll never find out. ..."
Buffalo held the Baltimore Ravens to 257 yards in its 24-17 loss, snapping its three-game winning streak. While its defense effectively shut down MVP front-runner Lamar Jackson, Buffalo's offense mustered just 209 yards and 17 points -- including 87 yards in the fourth quarter alone.
The loss isn't backbreaking for the Bills, who held a two-game lead over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC's wild-card race entering Week 14; they can make the game up when they travel to Pittsburgh next week. However, Sunday's game did bring back offensive woes that plagued Buffalo early in the season -- inabilities to sustain drives and score touchdowns.
It was a disappointing showing considering the Bills averaged 401 yards per game over their past three, and a performance that won't get them very far in the playoffs if they make it. Louis-Jacques went on to notes that Sunday's game felt eerily similar to Buffalo's anemic performance against the New England Patriots in Week 4, in which its defense held New England to 224 yards -- but its offense couldn't put points on the board.
On a more positive note, running back Devin Singletary continued to assert himself as the team's best offensive weapon. Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll called the rookie's number repeatedly, and he responded with 116 total yards on 23 touches. His 87 rushing yards pushed his total to 468 in his past six games.
Louis-Jacques added: "There is no more timeshare -- this is Singletary's backfield now."
Meanwhile, neither team's quarterback had his best day, but Josh Allen was clearly outplayed by Jackson.
The frustrating part for Allen, however, is that he left a significant number of plays on the field. On the Bills' opening drive, he overthrew a wide-open John Brown on what appeared to be a route miscommunication. He overthrew Robert Foster on third down the next drive and Dawson Knox after that. Allen finished 17 of 39 for 146 yards, with a touchdown to Cole Beasley and a lost fumble. He added 9 yards on two carries.
Not all of the incompletions were Allen's fault, as Knox, Singletary, Beasley and Brown each had at least one dropped pass.
Allen did enough to put Buffalo in position to tie the game in the fourth quarter, but his play as a whole was abysmal -- an outlier compared to what he's done over the team's past three games.
He was sacked as season-high six times, while Buffalo finished with 209 yards - the team's fewest since it had 145 in a 22-0 loss at Green Bay in Allen's third career start last year.
"We feel like we're letting our brothers down," said Singletary. "We made some mistakes today that cost us."
Especially against a Ravens defense that ranks 22nd in the NFL in sacks, this line's performance creates worry as the Bills prepare to face a Steelers defense that ranks third in the same category.
The good news?
Despite the loss, the Bills are still in control of their playoff future as they continue to hold down the first of the AFC's two wild-card spots. "We've got to learn from some things that happened today to ultimately make us a better and stronger football team moving forward," head coach Sean McDermott said.
We'll see how they fare in a major test in Pittsburgh this weekend and the Bills make their first appearance on Sunday night since a 56-10 loss to New England in 2007. The Bills have lost six straight at Pittsburgh since a 24-3 win in the AFC divisional playoff in 1993, and have won just one regular-season game at Pittsburgh, 30-21 in 1975.
Other notes of interest. ... Kicker Stephen Hauschka responded by hitting all three of his field-goal attempts, including a 48-yarder, during a week his job security was placed into question. McDermott said the Bills put in a waiver claim for Chase McLaughlin on Wednesday only to have him land in Indianapolis, which was higher in the claim order.
Hauschka was coming off a 26-15 win at Dallas in which he missed a field goal and extra-point attempt.
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 10 December 2019
Cam Newton underwent surgery Monday on his Lisfranc injury, Joe Person of TheAthletic.com reports. Dr. Martin O'Malley, who performed Kevin Durant's Achilles' procedure, performed the surgery on Newton in New York.
As ESPN.com's David Newton noted, the surgery has nothing to do with Sunday's 40-20 loss to the Atlanta Falcons.
It has everything to do with the future of the organization, though.
Whomever owner David Tepper hires to replace Ron Rivera as the next head coach will need a top quarterback to have a chance for immediate success.
Evidence is mounting that Kyle Allen is not that quarterback. Another bad day against a bad Atlanta defense is a big reason for that. Allen was 28-of-41 for 293 yards, with one touchdown and three turnovers (two interceptions and one fumble).
The Falcons have 10 interceptions on the season. Six have come against Allen, who has lost five straight starts after winning five of his first six. His untimely turnovers are a part of why Carolina has gone from 5-3 and a playoff contender to 5-8.
Still, interim coach Perry Fewell indicated Allen will continue to start. The other alternative is rookie Will Grier, a third-round draft pick who has yet to debut.
As Associated Press sports writer Steve Reed noted, Grier is the great unknown.
When the former West Virginia quarterback and local Charlotte-area product came to Carolina, Rivera basically said Grier wasn't quite ready to be a starting QB in the NFL. But if Grier doesn't get any playing time it will be difficult for the Panthers to decide if he or Allen - or someone else - will become the quarterback of the future.
"You know we're on a prove-it basis," Fewell said. "We're day to day, as you well know. We're week to week. I'll never say never, but with our situation the way it is right now, I think he gives us the best opportunity."
There were positives.
Even with the losses keep piling up, there has been no quit in Christian McCaffrey's game. The third-year running back continues to put up solid numbers. McCaffrey had 11 receptions for 82 yards and 11 carries for 53 yards on Sunday. About the only drama, per say, left in Carolina's season is whether or not McCaffrey becomes only the third running back in NFL history to have 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving in a season. He already has a career-high 1,220 yards rushing and needs 274 yards receiving in the next three games to join Marshall Faulk and Roger Craig in that elite club.
McCaffrey has 1,946 scrimmage yards this season, leading the NFL and closing in on his own franchise record (1,965). McCaffrey now has eight career games with at least 10 receptions, the most by any running back in NFL history.
D.J. Moore tallied 81 receiving yards on four catches, including a 39-yard catch. He passed the 1,000-yard mark with his performance, the first 1,000-yard receiving season for a Panther since 2016 (Greg Olsen) and first by a wide receiver since 2014 (Kelvin Benjamin). There have now been 18 total 1,000-yard receiving seasons by Panthers all-time.
With Olsen (concussion) out, Ian Thomas posted five catches for 57 yards and a touchdown. All three of his career touchdowns the last two seasons have come in December with two against the Falcons.
But Thomas also had a costly mistake, bobbling a well-thrown pass from Allen that resulted in a Falcons interception. Had Thomas cleanly caught the ball, the Panthers would have had a big gain. That interception aside, Thomas has the skills to be a dynamic tight end in the NFL.
Thomas hasn't played much despite a solid rookie season a year ago in which he had 33 receptions with Olsen sidelined with a foot injury. His role going forward obvioulsy depends on Golsen's health.
Along those lines, Olsen participated in individual drills during the open portion of practice. I'll follow up on that via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
Curtis Samuel rushed for 17 yards, bringing him to 103 rushing yards this season. He's the second wide receiver in franchise history (Moore, 172, 2018) with over 100 rushing yards in a season. ...
Overall, this season hasn't gone awry only because of Allen -- but, as Rivera said last Wednesday, the Panthers' troubles began when Newton was injured last season (shoulder) and again this season (left foot).
Tepper recently said no decision has been made on Newton's future with the organization, saying the priority was to get the 2015 NFL MVP healthy. A completely healthy Newton with a relatively low 2020 salary-cap figure of $21.5 million could give the next coach the best chance to win. The emphasis here is on completely healthy.
That coach will have many other issues to solve that interim coach Perry Fewell did not in his debut. Among those is shoring up a defense that gave up 69 points in two losses to an Atlanta team that has two of its four wins against the Panthers.
But stabilizing the quarterback position has to be the first priority.
Allen continues to be plagued by turnovers, although two of the three he had this Sunday weren't entirely his fault. The interception came on arguably his best pass of the day when Thomas bobbled the catch into the hands of the defender. And Allen was blindsided on the strip sack, his seventh lost fumble this year.
In case you missed it over the weekend, NFL Network's Ian Rapoport noted Newton is due just $18.6 million for 2019, a cheap asset that Carolina hasn't ruled out holding onto if he can show he can be himself again. In today's game, nearly $19 million for a starting QB is not expensive.
However, the expectation is that the Panthers will attempt to trade Newton this offseason provided they can get a large deal to make it worth their while.
In what could be the most active QB market in years, Newton -- if healthy -- could be the centerpiece.
According to Rapoport, they won't give him away, but with Allen showing potential -- at times -- and Grier possessing traits that led the Panthers to grade him better than the third-rounder he was, they have options. And a top option is for the new coach and still-GM Marty Hurney to move on from the former MVP Newton, collect a bounty of picks, and start fresh.
Of course, the Panthers need to hire a coach first to replace fired Rivera, who will likely be one of the top candidates in the offseason.
For the Panthers, they appear to be looking for a manager more than anything.
A top-notch coordinator, sure, and someone with an eye toward athletic performance analysis during practice and analytics. But mostly, someone to manage people.
Patriots OC Josh McDaniels and special teams coordinator and WRs coach Joe Judge, ex-Packers coach Mike McCarthy, Vikings OC Kevin Stefanski, 49ers DC Robert Saleh, Chiefs OC Eric Bieniemy, Ravens OC Greg Roman, Colts OC Nick Sirianni and DC Matt Eberflus, Saints DC Dennis Allen, and Bills OC Brian Daboll are among the group that will likely be considered. There will be some wildcards, too.
But more so than good coordinators, the hope will be to find someone who is not afraid to figure out a better and more efficient way to do things. To admit a mistake and move on. To say, this isn't working, let's fix it.
Those types of qualities will be essential. Someone who can manage people and run an operation.
Tepper waited two years to put his stamp on the football side, and the next few months will determine what the franchise will look like. ...
One last note here. ... The Panthers promoted Greg Dortch from the practice squad last week and put him in the lineup as their kick returner against the Falcons, but the move did not work out well.
Dortch fumbled one of the three kickoffs he returned during the 40-20 loss. The fumble came in the third quarter after a Matt Ryan touchdown pass and resulted in the rare fumble recovery by a kicker when Younghoe Koo wound up with the ball.
The miscue likely cost Dortch his job. The Panthers announced that Dortch was placed on waivers Tuesday.
It was Dortch's second game with the Panthers this season. He has returned five kickoffs for 119 yards and four punts for 28 yards over those two appearances.
No corresponding move was announced, so Carolina has a roster spot available heading into Week 15.
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 10 December 2019
After falling to 3-5 and the cellar of the NFC North in Week 9, Chicago blitzed to a winning streak, taking four of its last five games, with three straight victories, including last Thursday night's 31-24 thumping of the Dallas Cowboys, which wasn't nearly as close as the final score might indicate.
The hot streak coincided with Mitchell Trubisky and the offense finally coming to life, with the QB generating back-to-back 3 touchdown pass performances.
Trubisky completed passes to seven different receivers against Dallas. They'd been struggling getting passes to receivers beyond Allen Robinson and Anthony Miller.
"It feels good when you put the hard work in and it comes to life out on the field," Trubisky said, via the Chicago Tribune. "But for me and this team, that makes us hungrier. And we continue to want that feeling week after week."
According to NFL.com's Kevin Patra, The Bears need to stay hungry and might have to win out against a very tough slate to leapfrog the Minnesota Vikings and Los Angeles Rams for the final playoff spot. Chicago is 1.5 games back of a postseason spot with games against Green Bay, Kansas City and Minnesota.
The difficulty of the stretch to close the season suggests it's a long-shot for Chicago to sneak into January play, but we've seen crazier things happen. The Packers haven't looked otherworldly. The Chiefs are beatable, with an offense that hasn't quite clicked in recent weeks. Pull out those two, get some help, and Chicago could set up a Week 17 matchup with Minnesota for a playoff spot.
Trubisky and the offense coming alive has given the Bears a chance.
"He's balling out there," left tackle Charles Leno said. "That's what I love to see. I don't like when Mitch feels like he's got to make this play or do this and do all that. No, just play ball. Be you. That dude is a baller. He's an improviser. He makes (stuff) happen with his legs. Go out there and do that."
Trubisky stunk earlier in the season, with most of Chicago ready to toss him into Lake Michigan. The past several weeks, however, the quarterback has gotten back to what gave him some promise last season: using his legs.
When the signal-caller tries to be a straight drop-back passer, it usually doesn't end well. When he's using his feet to scamper out of the pocket and make defenses contend with all 11 offensive players on the field, it works.
In Thursday night's win, Trubisky rushed for a season-high 63 yards on 10 attempts, including a pretty touchdown scurry that broke the Cowboys' backs.
"It was very evident that he used (his legs) as a weapon. We saw some things that we liked in regards to the run scheme," head coach Matt Nagy said. "And, heck, whenever he's able to use his legs like that, he becomes another running back. ... They've got to respect that. They have to understand where he's at. And when you make good decisions and you're able to use your own self as a ball carrier, there are advantages across the board."
Trubisky had run only 15 times in his first nine games. But in his last three has run 21 times. He only had 80 rushing yards the entire season going into the game, after gaining 421 in 2018.
Trubisky's ability to gash defenses with his legs makes the Bears' offense much more difficult to get off the field. According to Pro Football Focus, Thursday he gained three first downs and 32 rush yards on four scrambles (as opposed to designed runs) -- he had generated four first downs on 14 scrambles all season entering the game.
The QB used a combination of runs, throws into tight coverage and quick passes to perplex a Cowboys defense that couldn't tackle an artificial Christmas tree. According to Next Gen Stats, Trubisky was 17-20, 169 yards, 2 TD on quick passes (fewer than 2.5 seconds to throw) -- 139.6 passer rating, 4 pass TD on quick passes in last two games.
"We followed our leader Mitch..." running back David Montgomery said. "For me, it's like an 'ah-ha!' moment. Because you see somebody work so hard day-in and day-out. But you're finally able to see it. A lot of people kind of jumped ship on 10, but coach Nagy always preaches about staying together as one, and Mitch steps up. I'm just happy for him and happy he's our quarterback."
Will that 'ah-ha' moment lead to the light staying on for the Bears' season or is Trubisky's latest string of positive play opponent-based, and he'll turn back into the mistake-prone sitting duck we saw early in the season? The Bears hope the more mobile Trubisky is just as effective against the Packers this week.
The two teams play in Green Bay in a rematch of the NFL regular-season opener won 10-3 by the Packers. The Bears remain in the playoff chase, 1 1/2 games behind Minnesota for the final wild card. They play the Vikings on the road to close the regular season and have a tiebreaker edge currently from a 16-6 win.
However, the Rams are still ahead of the Bears in the wild-card chase, too, and own a head-to-head tiebreaker thanks to a 17-7 win over Chicago. ...
For the record, the running game overall has become more effective, even beyond Trubisky's runs. Montgomery averaged 3.3 yards a carry his first 11 games but had 4.69 and 4.3 yards a carry the last two. Against Dallas, he had his second-best game in the NFL with 86 yards on 20 carries.
Running back/receiver Tarik Cohen had six catches for only 24 yards against Dallas. In his last three games, he's averaged just 4.6 yards on 17 receptions. He has only 16 yards on six runs in his last two games.
Tight end J.P. Holtz was an afterthought when the Bears claimed him Sept. 11 after being waived by Washington. Since then they've lost tight ends Trey Burton and Adam Shaheen to season-ending injuries and tight end Ben Braunecker sat two straight games with a concussion. After Holtz had only two catches in his first 10 Bears games, he made three against Dallas for 56 yards and was a key blocker in igniting the running attack.
Former practice squad tight end Jesper Horsted had four catches for 36 yards.
"They're new to the offense, let alone their skillset," Nagy said. "I think now we're kind of getting an idea what their strengths and weaknesses are, and we're trying to feed off their strengths."
On the injury front. ... Nagy says ILB Roquan Smith will go on injured reserve with a torn pectoral muscle. Nagy isn't sure whether Smith will be ready for the beginning of April's offseason program, but that's the hope, obviously. The Bears had an open roster spot after placing Smith on injured reserve. They filled it by promoting linebacker Devante Bond from the practice squad.
Worth watching: Wide receiver Javon Wims injured his knee against Dallas. According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, Wims has a slight knee sprain. Nothing major, but ne didn't practice Wednesday.
Also sitting out Wednesday were Braunecker and Taylor Gabriel (concussion).
I'll follow up via Late-Breaking Update as needed.
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 10 December 2019
As ESPN.com's Ben Baby noted, in a year filled with rough performances, running back Joe Mixon didn't have any problems Sunday.
Mixon had the best game of his career in the Bengals' 27-19 loss to the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium. He totaled 23 carries for 146 yards and Cincinnati's lone touchdown.
Mixon bested his previous career high of 129 yards in a win over the Raiders last season.
While the Bengals (1-12) spoiled Mixon's career day and maintained their position as the worst team in the NFL with three games remaining, Mixon showed why he will be an asset for a rebuilding Cincinnati franchise moving forward.
The third-year running back surpassed the 100-yard mark for the second time in his past five games. It's a promising trend for the AFC's leading rusher in 2018 who struggled at the beginning of this season.
Mixon has four games with 20 or fewer rushing yards. But as the offensive line has steadily improved throughout the season, Mixon has found his form. In the past four games, Mixon has averaged 106.3 yards per game.
Mixon probably should have had more yards against the Browns. On first-and-goal at Cleveland's 2-yard line, the Bengals opted to pass instead of handing it off to Mixon. Quarterback Andy Dalton was sacked, which caused the drive's demise and resulted in a field goal. Mixon expressed his frustration when he returned to the sideline.
But with another strong performance, Mixon showed why he could be worth a long-term investment as Cincinnati looks for pieces to build around. Next season will be the final year of Mixon's four-year rookie deal, which both sides could re-evaluate after this season.
If Mixon can rush for 211 yards in his final three games, he will eclipse the 1,000-yard mark for the second straight season, especially impressive during a tough season with the NFL's worst team.
Meanwhile, Dalton struggled in his second game back as the starter.
He was 22-of-38 passing for 262 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. Dalton's turnover, a throw behind wide receiver Auden Tate, was picked off by Cleveland's Denzel Ward and returned for a 61-yard touchdown. Dalton also missed Alex Erickson down the right sideline at the end of the first half.
In the end, the Bengals didn't convert good field position and scoring chances into touchdown, settling for four field goals from Randy Bullock.
Sunday's performance didn't bolster Dalton's case to be a starting quarterback for a team in 2020.
On a more positive note, the Bengals entered Week 14 with a minus 12 turnover margin, the third-worst in the NFL. Cincinnati was plus 1 on the day after forcing two turnovers. Linebacker Nick Vigil and safety Jessie Bates each had an interception off Cleveland quarterback Baker Mayfield.
Now, with their 10th straight division loss, the Bengals are guaranteed finishing last in the AFC North for the second straight season. It's the first time they've done that since 2001-02. And it won't get any easier this week. They host New England a week after alerting the league about a crew connected with the Patriots shooting video in the press box at the start of the game in Cleveland. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Cincinnati had a season-high 451 yards on offense but managed only one touchdown and four field goals. Twice in the second half, they had a first-and-goal and came away with one field goal. The signature moment came midway through the fourth quarter, with the Bengals trailing 24-16.
On fourth-and-goal from the 4-yard line, they called for a quarterback run out of shotgun formation. Dalton was swarmed at the 2-yard line, and the defense allowed the Browns to put together a 14-play drive for a field goal that essentially closed it out.
The quarterback draw was called because the Bengals expected Cleveland to drop eight defenders into coverage. Even though that's what happened, the Bengals missed a block and the Browns reacted quickly and got to Dalton, who didn't have a chance.
Zac Taylor, a first-year head coach, also calls the offensive plays. He and coordinator Brian Callahan thought it was a good time to try the draw play, which had worked earlier in the game at midfield.
"They're kind of high-risk, high-reward," Callahan said Monday. "He walks in the end zone and we're all excited about it. If it doesn't (work), we look like idiots. That's kind of the way it goes down there sometimes."
The Bengals have lost by 1, 4, 3, 6, 7, 6 and 8 points this season. When the pressure's on, they've failed to make plays on either offense or defense, setting up one of the worst seasons in their history.
Asked how the play calling should be evaluated, Taylor said, "Wins. That's how we're all graded in this league."
On the injury front. ... The Bengals were likely to be without Tate after he suffered an MCL sprain last week, so they decided to protect one of their own.
The team announced that Tate was placed on injured reserve, and his roster spot was filled by promoting Damion Willis from the practice squad.
Tate has been one of the bright spots among the receiver group this season with 40 catches for 575 yards, both second best behind Tyler Boyd.
Willis, an undrafted rookie from Troy, has appeared in 10 games this year, so retaining his rights was something they clearly wanted.
The passing game is still a mess, even with speedy John Ross back from a shoulder injury. He was targeted three times and had two catches for 28 yards in a limited role. Ross got hurt in the fourth game of the season and is working his way back into the offense.
On Wednesday he was listed as a limited participant in practice with a new foot injury.
A.J. Green has missed all 13 games as he recovers from ankle surgery, but the Bengals hope he can play in one of the final three. He did not practice Wednesday.
I'll be watching for more on Green and Ross in coming days; watch the Late-Breaking Updates section as the week progresses.
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 10 December 2019
After Cleveland's 27-19 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, quarterback Baker Mayfield criticized the way the Browns have handled Odell Beckham Jr.'s injury.
"I'd say that it wasn't handled right," Mayfield said. "He's not able to run as well as he. ... Should be able to, as well as he knows. And that's frustrating for him. You can sense some of his frustration, where that comes from. It wasn't handled the right way, in our training room. It is what it is. His not 100 percent is still good enough for us."
Mayfield's comments came on the heels of reports that Beckham is weighing offseason surgery to correct an injury he has been dealing with since training camp.
After Sunday's game, Beckham replied, "I don't know. We'll figure it out after the season," when asked whether the injury will require surgery. Beckham also said he's unsure what his injury actually is, although NFL Network reported Sunday morning that Beckham had a sports hernia injury.
"I don't really know," he said. "You have to ask the doctors if you have a chance to interview them. I really don't know what to tell you."
Whatever the injury, Mayfield suggested that had Beckham undergone surgery during the preseason, he -- and the Browns -- would've been better off than they are now, as Beckham has had to play through pain all year for a team that is 6-7 with just a slim shot of still making the playoffs.
"I think it could've been addressed earlier on," Mayfield said. "Looking back on it, obviously, hindsight is 20/20, he probably would've missed the first two [games]. One or two. Just based on the fact that it was during training camp. It is what it is. We're here right now. It's too late to do that. He's fighting through pain; he's playing through pain. That shows you the type of guy he is."
After speaking to reporters, Mayfield posted tweets offering an apology for his comments, and clarified that his intentions "were not to throw our medical staff under the bus."
"No I don't know all the facts about Odell's injury," he added. "It was emotionally answered because I can sense his frustration and I care about my team and putting us in the best position to win.
"Those people within our building know my intentions and where I am coming from. I truly believe that and I apologize to those that don't deserve the backlash.... today was a good team win. On to the next one."
The 27-year-old Beckham has been on the injury report throughout this season for what has been termed hip and groin injuries and has regularly been a limited practice participant since early on during training camp, sitting out all four of Cleveland's preseason games. In his first year with the Browns, Beckham is also having the worst statistical season of his career, excluding his injury-riddled 2017 one with the New York Giants.
On Sunday against the Bengals, Beckham was quiet again, finishing with only two catches for 39 yards, his seventh consecutive game without topping 100 receiving yards, the longest such streak of his career.
"I really don't run until Friday," said Beckham, referring to his practice week. "I come out here and do what I can. At this point, it is what it is. There is nothing you can really do but finish out the season."
Beckham appeared to be limited during the portion of Wednesday's practice open to reporters while DE Olivier Vernon (knee), RT Chris Hubbard (knee), TE Demetrius Harris (shoulder), DB Eric Murray (knee) all appeared to be practicing after being inactive Sunday.
I'll be following up that aspect of the story as needed via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.
Beckham's health wasn't the only thing looming over the team Sunday.
On Thursday, Beckham was vague about his future in Cleveland past this season, telling reporters, "no one knows what the future holds, like tomorrow." He followed up with a tweet Friday indicating he was not saying that he was unhappy in Cleveland but was just hoping for better results.
But Sunday morning, FOXSports Jay Glazer reported during its NFL pregame show that Beckham has been telling opposing players and coaches before games, "come get me" out of Cleveland.
Glazer's report didn't specify time frames or teams. Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports reports that Beckham made those comments to opposing players during "at least" one game in October.
In October, the Browns played the 49ers, Seahawks, and Patriots. San Francisco tried to trade for Beckham last year, and Beckham has spoken publicly about his admiration for the Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady, going over the top in his press conference during the week before facing New England. Both traded for receivers before the 2019 deadline.
When asked about Glazer's report, Beckham tersely said, "I'm not gonna talk about any offseason stuff that's going on right now. The focus is to win -- 1-0. And that's what we did today. So, any other questions about it, I'm not gonna answer."
When then asked if it troubles him that stories about his future are already coming out in this way, Beckham replied that he's "used to it" and that "he's been dealing with it for three or four years" dating back to his time with the Giants.
"It's just the same thing that's going on," he said. "Not anything that I can't handle."
The topic came up again during head coach Freddie Kitchens' Monday press conference. Kitchens said he hasn't "sensed" that Beckham wants to move on and that he doesn't think his relationship with the wideout is "fractured" because Beckham hasn't said anything.
"Until I hear something from Odell, I'm not going to comment," Kitchens said, via Keith Britton of 92.3 The Fan. "Odell and I's relationship is fine. I'm sorry I don't think there's any 'gotcha moment' here. What I've seen from Odell is nothing like the reports indicate."
Mayfield added that he hasn't gotten the sense Beckham is looking for a way out, and that he continues to have a "good relationship" with the All-Pro.
"The drama is just drama," Mayfield said. "It continues to be that on the outside. Within our walls, we know exactly what we have. ... So I'm not worried about that."
The fact that the discussion is focused more on the drama than Beckham's production, however, speaks volumes about Beckham and the Browns. ...
Meanwhile, for some reason, Kitchens decided not to run the ball in the first half despite having the NFL's leading rusher (Nick Chubb) and facing the league's worst run defense. Cincinnati came in allowing 157.6 yards per game. Cleveland had just 30 yards rushing at halftime with Chubb getting only 7 on three carries.
That changed immediately in the third quarter. Cleveland came out with a 75-yard drive - all on the ground.
It might be wise to focus on that as the Browns travel to Arizona to take on the Cardinals on Sunday.
That's especially true after Mayfield had his second straight so-so performance (11 of 24 for 192 yards). He threw two interceptions and was lucky a third pick was erased by a pass interference review.
The visit to Arizona, where the warm weather will be a welcomed December departure. The Browns must win their final three games and hope Pittsburgh, Tennessee and Buffalo all collapse down the stretch to get a wild-card spot and end their 17-year postseason drought, the NFL's current longest.
"We are still fighting," said wide receiver Jarvis Landry, who had four catches for 76 yards, including a late 34-yarder that helped put away the Bengals. "We are in it until they tell us we are out."
One last note here. ... David Njoku caught 1-of-3 targets for four yards. It was Njoku's first game since breaking his wrist in Week 2. He's a player to watch going up against an Arizona defense and its well-documented shortcomings against opposing tight ends although he was limited by a sore knee Wednesday. Landry remained limited by an ongoing hip issue.
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 10 December 2019
For the second straight week, the Cowboys played on Thursday night and woke up Friday morning disappointed.
NFL.com's Nick Shook reports the disappointment is turning into frustration, as evidenced by owner Jerry Jones' demeanor on his day-after radio appearance on 105.3 The Fan in which he was less than forgiving with the show's hosts, telling them, "I don't have the patience to jack with you today."
Dallas fell to Chicago Thursday night, 31-24, in a game that got out of hand in the second half, much like the Cowboys' loss to the Buffalo Bills a week earlier. FOX commentators Joe Buck and Troy Aikman noted as much even before the game got away from Dallas, calling it a "carbon copy" of the Week 13 defeat as soon as kicker Brett Maher's first attempt sailed wide right of the goal post.
Maher, who also sent a kickoff out of bounds, was Jones' first target Friday.
"Well, the main thing is, to start with, let's hope that you make some field goals," Jones said when asked if he saw corrections from the previous week. "You get your kicker out there, you have him practice. He's missed 10 this year and I think that's the high for the NFL. Those are important in the momentum of the game, they have been the last two games in particular."
A week after going 0 for 2 (1 for 1 on PATs), Maher posted a line of 1 for 2 (3 for 3 on PATs) in the loss to Chicago. That was an improvement, but not enough of an improvement to keep them from moving on.
The team announced on Monday that they waived Maher in order to make room for Kai Forbath. The veteran was one of three kickers the team worked out. Tristan Vizcaino and Nick Rose, who also worked out for the team last week, were the other contenders.
Forbath hit 1-of-2 extra points and the only field goal he tried while playing for the Patriots in Week 13. That was his first game action since being released by the Jaguars in February.
Maher missed his 10th field goal of the season in last Thursday's loss to the Bears. He was 49-of-66 on field goals since taking the Cowboys job in 2018.
That's where every team is at, at this point of the season: You have who you have and have to make the best of that on a weekly basis. The Cowboys, losers of three straight, are clearly not doing that.
"We've got players out there that didn't have a good game last night, hadn't had a good game the last three weeks," Jones said. "We've got to play better, that's all there is to it."
Dallas is still, somehow, in control of its postseason aspirations, thanks to a division that can't quite figure out shot themselves in the foot. At 6-7, the Cowboys will just need to stay in line with or slightly ahead of the 5-7 Eagles.
"When you have as many things that were all (as bad) as we had last night, you've got a nice litany of places to start to correct," Jones said. "And just like we all do, you take the ones that are the most obvious that you can do the most about and you correct those to the extent that you can. That's what we tried to do last week and we'll try to do it these next 10 days before we play the Rams. ..."
The bad news for Dallas, is they'll face a Rams teams that seems to have figured things out pretty well in two wins following an embarrassing loss to the Ravens on national television in Week 11.
Worth noting. ... FOX cameras caught Dak Prescott shaking his right hand after hitting it on a helmet with his follow-through during Thursday night's game. The quarterback came out of the game not only having injured the index finger on his right hand, but he also sprained his left hand, Jason Garrett said during a conference call Friday afternoon.
Garrett, though, adds that the team expects Prescott to play this Sunday.
Prescott has never missed a game in his career, playing all 61 games in his four seasons.
Prescott leads the NFL in attempts, completions and yards, but in the Cowboys' three-game losing streak, he has completed only 59.5 percent of his passes for 901 yards with three touchdowns, two interceptions and a lost fumble.
Receiver Cedrick Wilson was active Thursday night. It was the first time he dressed on game day since Oct. 20.
Now, Wilson's season is over.
Wilson sprained his anterior cruciate ligament on an incompletion late in the loss to the Bears.
The injury is a four- to six-week injury, Garrett told reporters Friday. The team placed Wilson on injured reserve Tuesday.
Punter Chris Jones strained an abdominal muscle, but the Cowboys expect him to be able to play with the injury.
The Cowboys hope running back Tony Pollard can return to practice this week. Pollard injured his ankle in Tuesday's practice and was inactive Thursday.
Weakside linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, who has missed the past three games and four of the past six, will undergo further testing on his neck Monday.
"We're going to do right by Leighton Vander Esch," Garrett said, via Todd Archer of ESPN. "He's not going to rush back. We're not going to rush him back, but obviously he's champing at the bit to play. He's been an impactful player for us."
A few final notes. ... Two-time rushing champion Ezekiel Elliott had his longest run of the season, 31 yards, against the Bears. The running game has looked against the Bills and Bears, but stalled drives and a porous defense led to big second-half deficits in both games.
The Cowboys ran out of time to stick with the run. As a result, Elliott's career-long streak of consecutive games without at least 100 yards is up to five.
Michael Gallup made several nice catches, including one on fourth down to extend a touchdown drive, and had 109 yards receiving. He is tied with top receiver Amari Cooper for the team lead with four 100-yard games.
And last but not least. ... In news that should surprise nobody, NFL Network's Ian Rapoport advised viewers this week that "the Cowboys are headed to a divorce with Garrett, unless Garrett saves it by leading the team deep, deep into the playoffs."
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 10 December 2019
Don't look now, but Drew Lock's historic Sunday kept the Denver Broncos' slim hopes alive to finish the season at the .500 mark after an 0-4 start.
As ESPN.com's Jeff Legwold noted, with Lock behind center for just his second career start -- his first start on the road -- the Broncos' offense rumbled to life Sunday as Denver scored more than 24 points for the first time in more than 400 days with a 38-24 victory over the Houston Texans.
"We were ready to rock and roll from the get-go," Lock said. "We were fired up and ready to go, it was exciting to be a part of."
"It was incredible," said linebacker Von Miller. "F---ing guy's a rock star -- they got to censor that -- he's on his way, I love that guy, it's going to be incredible."
Lock, whose large wristband with the play calls typed on it has inspired his offensive linemen to call him Buzz Lightyear, finished 22-of-27 for 309 yards and three touchdowns. The second-round pick by the Broncos (42nd overall) in last April's draft has now thrown five touchdown passes combined in his first two starts as the Broncos have won both games and are now 5-8, 5-4 since their 0-4 start.
At one point the rookie even broke out a Buzz Lightyear touchdown celebration as if he had a laser in the wristband.
"It was definitely fun with the Buzz Lightyear this week," Lock said. " ... The offensive line was like you should shoot the laser after you score a touchdown. I was like all right, I'll do it, we'll do it … I think it was our walk-through Saturday, I think it was [center] Connor McGovern who said something about shooting the laser."
Asked if he liked the original Toy Story movie - it was released in 1995, or the year before Lock was born - the 23-year-old said: "I love that movie, all four of them, first one's the best, four was kind of said."
Lock didn't throw his third incompletion until almost halftime and the Broncos led 38-3 early in the third quarter. Denver's point total was the team's highest since a 45-10 victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Oct. 18, 2018. Sunday's win was the first time the Broncos had a defensive touchdown in any game since that win over the Cardinals.
Lock recorded a Total QBR of 98.7 in this one. According to ESPN's Seth Walder, that's the highest QBR game this season by a quarterback not named Lamar Jackson.
Lock is the fourth Broncos rookie quarterback to throw for at least 300 yards in a game. The guy who drafted him -- John Elway -- has the team's single-game rookie passing record with 345 yards against the Baltimore Colts in 1983.
Lock also became the first rookie in NFL history to have at least 300 yards passing and three touchdowns in his first road start.
As Legwold notes, the Broncos used a variety of personnel groupings, including plenty of two-tight end and two-back looks to keep the Texans' pass rush away from Lock, who did his part with plenty of quick decisions. The Broncos scored on their first five possessions of the game, including their opening possession as well as their first possession of the second half.
"Great jump from Week1 to Week 2," Fangio said. "... [He] threw the ball much, much, better."
Lock had 96 yards passing by the end of the first quarter, 235 yards passing by halftime. Rookie tight end Noah Fant, who later left the game with a foot injury, also had his second 100-yard receiving game of the season, including a 14-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter.
Lock completed passes to nine different receivers in the first half and did not throw his third incompletion in the game until there was 1:56 remaining in the first half. His only major mistake was a throw into double coverage late in the third quarter as Texans safety Tashaun Gipson Sr. intercepted Lock with 2 minutes, 37 seconds left in the third quarter.
In the end, 10 different receivers caught passes from Lock. According to Associated Press sports writer Arnie Stapleton, the last time the Broncos had that many pass catchers was Oct. 30, 2017, in a 29-19 loss at Kansas City in which Trevor Siemian completed 19 of 36 passes for 198 yards.
Overall, Lock stayed composed against a defensive coaching staff that has manhandled rookie quarterbacks in the past. Coming into the day, Texans defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel's teams were 11-1 against rookie quarterbacks. As Broncos safety Kareem Jackson, who played nine seasons in Houston before signing with the Broncos last March, put it: "He did a hell of a job."
Next up, the Broncos have to prepare Lock for his homecoming game and for Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, who will surely see how two very good defensive coordinators failed to rattle the rookie. The Chargers' Gus Bradley didn't blitz Lock and the Texans' Romeo Crennel stubbornly stuck with man defense that allowed Lock to get clean looks at his targets all day.
We'll see if the Chiefs don't crank up the pressure a bit.
On the injury front. ... As noted above, Fant left Sunday's game in the fourth quarter and was carted from the sideline to the locker room with a foot injury.
The tight end did not practice Wednesday, but the Broncos don't seem to believe that Fant's injury is serious.
"I think he's OK," Fangio said Monday. "He got stepped on and his foot got a little bruised there, which is OK, and a little hip irritation injury. They're still doing more tests on him, but hopefully optimistic."
The team's first-round draft pick caught four passes for 113 yards and a touchdown in the victory over the Texans. He played 29 of 59 snaps.
Fant initially hurt his foot in a preseason game against the 49ers, but he has played every game this season.
Fant has also already set the team's rookie record for catches by a tight end -- 35 receptions through 13 games -- and has two 100-yard receiving including Sunday.
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 10 December 2019
As ESPN.com's Michael Rothstein notes, the one thing head coach Matt Patricia had held onto all season long with the Detroit Lions was how his team fought.
He got emotional about it on Thanksgiving after a loss to Chicago. He mentioned it over and over again throughout a season gone wrong.
And yet on Sunday, while the Lions may have fought, the club just wasn't competitive throughout the first three quarters in a 20-7 loss to Minnesota. The score might appear reasonable, but once the Vikings scored in the first half, much of the game felt like a struggle for the Lions.
Detroit couldn't do much right, finally having a performance that befit its 3-9-1 record careening toward another top 10 pick and another last-place finish in the NFC North. For the first time all season, the Lions did lead at all in the game.
The Lions were atrocious on offense, not gaining more than 100 yards of net offense until early in the fourth quarter. On defense, the Lions were continually flustered by Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins and his play-action, time and time again giving him time to read the entire defense in the pocket. Special teams added to it as well, as Matt Prater missed a field goal and returner Chris Lacy mishandled a kickoff.
Perhaps none of this should be surprising with a third-string quarterback David Blough and free-agent running back Bo Scarbrough on offense. But both players have shown limited promise -- Blough on Thanksgiving, Scarbrough most of the last month -- which led to thinking the Lions could hang around.
Per Rothstein, "This was a return to reality game for Blough."
The QB was consistently pressured by Minnesota's defense and seemed to get a little flustered by it. He ran into one of the sacks from Minnesota defensive end Danielle Hunter and should have thrown the ball away instead of taking another sack. He missed throws short and long and threw a poor interception to Harrison Smith while pressured.
He completed 20 of 34 passes for 170 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. Through three quarters, Blough was 10 of 19 for just 74 yards.
"We tell him we've got his back no matter what," wide receiver Danny Amendola said. "We're going to do our job to try to get open, try to make plays and to just get back there and be a gunslinger, man. Get up and let it rip. It's a learning experience for him, definitely, throughout each week, throughout each game, throughout each series, throughout each situation."
Matthew Stafford hasn't been ruled out for a return this season, but he has not practiced since the injury.
Not surprisingly, the offense has struggled over the last five games without Stafford, who threw at least three touchdowns in five games this year and had 316 yards passing or more in four games. Without him, the Lions haven't cracked the 260-yard mark passing or thrown for more than two scores.
Blough likely should remain the starter the rest of this season but not a good showing from the rookie from Purdue.
With Driskel on injured reserve, Blough's backup was Kyle Sloter, who was signed off Arizona's practice squad on Nov. 30.
"David is an extremely competitive guy," Patricia said. "He's a tough guy. I love his energy and what he brings every single day to the practices, to the games. He's competitive. From that standpoint, he's trying. He's trying to get it all right."
Scarbrough wasn't helped much by the offensive line, the quarterback play or some of the play-calling, but Scarbrough continued to run hard and choose holes effectively.
He finished with 19 carries for 65 yards - clearly becoming Detroit's work back down the stretch of the season. At this point, he is showing to be a run-only back, but that can be functional for the Lions combined with Kerryon Johnson and perhaps J.D. McKissic or another pass-catching back in 2020. Of course, as it is for the Lions this season, even Scarbrough came with a caveat.
He exited in the fourth quarter with a rib injury and did not return. His status bears watching in coming days; check the Late-Breaking Updates section for more. ..
One player we won't have to follow up this season is wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr., who was placed on injured reserve Tuesday after he suffered an ankle injury on the final drive Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings.
It's the second straight season he ended his year on IR.
Jones hurt the ankle planting his foot on the last drive and then finished the game. He played every snap Sunday during the Lions' 20-7 loss. After the game he went to get examined and rode on a cart from there to the locker room. He was also the last Lions player out of the locker room Sunday and did not speak with the media.
"His foot kind of got stuck in the ground, pretty tough look for him," Patricia said. "He actually got up and got back in his stance because he knew how important it was for us to get lined up and not have an injury in that situation.
"To his credit, he's a tough guy. He did everything he could and it just kind of happened at the end of the game."
Patricia said he didn't know if Jones would need surgery on the ankle, but that when Patricia saw Jones hurt the ankle live, he said, "Oh no," and knew he would at least be hurting.
The 29-year-old Jones had 62 catches this season for 779 yards and nine touchdowns. With Jones out of the lineup, Detroit will focus even more on Kenny Golladay, Amendola and Lacy. The Lions also have three receivers on the practice squad: Tom Kennedy, Travis Fulgham and Victor Bolden.
"He's a great part of our team," Patricia said. "Just someone that has had a great year, worked really hard. He's been consistent all year. I think he's improved this year, drastically. Him just being every single day in the building the same, every single day in the building trying to get better.
"He just has great energy about him and certainly was just really going in a great direction."
In a related note, Golladay caught a touchdown pass late in the loss to the Vikings, becoming the NFL's first player to score 10 times receiving this season. The third-year pro has reached the 1,000-yard mark for a second straight season and is 56 yards from surpassing his career-high 1,063 yards receiving set in 2018. ...
And finally. ... Sunday was Detroit's sixth loss in a row, ninth defeat in its last 10 games and one piece of good things for the Lions' future: With their loss and a win by Atlanta, Detroit temporarily moved into the top five of the 2020 draft.
Patricia, asked on Monday if he's been told that he'll be back next year, said he's not going to get into discussions he's had with ownership. He had said just prior that he'll worry about next year, next year.
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 10 December 2019
According to ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky, head coach Matt LaFleur stopped at a TV on his way into the Lambeau Field media auditorium to watch the end of the San Francisco 49ers-New Orleans Saints shootout.
"I may have caught the end of it," the Green Bay Packers coach said.
The 49ers' 48-46 last-second win over the Saints helped move Green Bay into the No. 2 spot in the NFC, but after another middling performance from the Packers in Sunday's 20-15 win over the Washington Redskins, it's worth wondering what LaFleur's team needs to do to put up points like those two teams.
"I think if we had the answers right now, you wouldn't be seeing what you saw today," LaFleur said.
What everyone saw was a second straight game against a losing team from the NFL's worst division take the Packers all the way to the fourth quarter before they could exhale.
"It was frustrating at times just not being able to get over that hump and put them away," Rodgers said.
"But it feels good to be 10-3," Rodgers added.
Rodgers threw for just 195 yards and one touchdown on 18-of-28 passing despite having more time to throw than he's had in a game over the past four seasons. According to NFL NextGen Stats, Rodgers averaged 3.5 seconds to throw and only 3.6 percent of his passes were thrown into a tight window (also his lowest in a game he completed over the past four seasons). He also was pressured on only 24 percent of his dropbacks, below his season average of 28 percent.
"It might be ugly at times to maybe some folks, but we ran the ball today for 180 yards or so and got Aaron Jones going," Rodgers said. "Different teams have thrown different things at us. I just think we need to be a little more consistent at times. I don't think we had maybe the same type of flow after the first couple early drives with just the energy. We just missed on a couple things. We've got to clean some of that stuff up, but I wouldn't mind winning ugly all the way to the Super Bowl."
And yet Rodgers said he wasn't concerned about the way they've been winning.
"We're finding ways to win," Rodgers said. "That's the most important thing. I think we're learning a lot through the process. I know there's a lot of conversation about the identity of the offense and all that stuff. We're figuring it out week to week, I think. This week, we got Jimmy Graham going with a couple passes early, got Aaron Jones going in the run game. We were too inconsistent on first down, which put us in some holes, and we missed a couple throws and didn't convert a couple third downs we had a chance to do, I fumbled on a two-minute drive and took points off the board. That all led to us not being able to put them away."
Whatever LaFleur does to fix the offense, the plan should start with five words: "Get the ball to Jones."
The third-year running back had 192 yards from scrimmage (134 rushing and 58 receiving) on 22 touches on Sunday, joining wide receiver Don Hutson (1942) as the only players in franchise history to have two games in a season with 190-plus yards from scrimmage on 25 or fewer touches.
"I think the biggest thing with him is how we're trying to utilize him in the pass game," running backs coach Ben Sirmans said of Jones before the season started. "Now that he's also gotten used to how we run outside zone, he's doing a really good job of pressing it and his knowledge of the game, you can tell he's in his third year. You can see him being more as a vet as opposed to a second-year guy still learning a lot of things. He's still learning, but you get the sense he's more comfortable with just being at this level."
Despite the issues, the Packers are assured of breaking a run of two straight losing seasons but after getting blown out by the 49ers last month and struggling to put away the Giants and Redskins in the ensuing weeks, there were plenty of questions about how far they can go. They have three games remaining -- all against NFC North teams -- beginning with the Bears (7-6) on Sunday and at the Vikings (9-4) in Week 16 on Monday Night Football before the finale at the Lions (3-9-1).
And then there's whatever would come in the playoffs, including a potential rematch against the 49ers (11-2) or games against the Saints (10-3) or Seahawks (10-2).
As veteran right tackle Bryan Bulaga said when asked how they can beat teams of that caliber playing the way they did on Sunday, "It's definitely going to make it difficult to beat those [top] teams, let's just put it that way. You go into division play -- and we all know each other so well -- we're going to need to be better. And it starts this coming week with Chicago. We're going to have to be better and perform better and just go back to work and clean things up."
Like he's done all year, LaFleur, who on Sunday set the Packers' record for most wins by a first-year coach, put the blame squarely on himself.
"There's stuff I'm sure I'm going to look at and be upset at myself about," he said. "I've got to be better for this team."
Looking for positives beyond the win?
On the way to rushing for 174 yards, the Packers averaged 4.5 yards per rush before contact on Sunday, their second-best total of the season according to ESPN Stats and Information. Jones, who had 134 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries, averaged 6.1 yards per rush before contact on Sunday, the second-highest of his career.
That's good work by the offensive line and it sets a good tone heading into Sunday's game against the Bears.
Speaking of the offensive line, the Packers activated offensive lineman Jared Veldheer to the 53-player roster Monday, Field Yates of ESPN reports.
The team waived offensive lineman Adam Pankey to make room. The Packers claimed Veldheer off waivers from the Patriots on Nov. 27. He signed with New England in May but retired a week later.
The Patriots placed him on the reserve/retired list before cutting him last month.
Veldheer, 32, started 12 games for the Broncos last season.
And finally. ... Marquez Valdes-Scantling's numbers continue to plummet. He had zero targets and played a season-low 10 snaps against Washington. The 6-4 speedster has just two receptions for 11 yards since Week 7. Green Bay has been using more three tight end sets, which has put a squeeze on Valdes-Scantling's reps on game day.
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 10 December 2019
According to ESPN.com's Sarah Barshop, the Texans know they still control their own destiny in the AFC South with two games against the Titans to close the season, but their 38-24 loss to the Denver Broncos on Sunday was a "bad day all the way around," according to head coach Bill O'Brien.
"I don't think there was anything very good," O'Brien said. "I take full responsibility for that. Just did not have this team ready to play. Thought I did. But I thought wrong."
The Texans allowed rookie quarterback Drew Lock, who was making his second career start, to throw for 309 yards and three touchdowns. The Broncos finished with 391 net yards, including a season-high seven plays that went for 20 or more yards. Denver scored on its first five possessions, taking a 38-3 lead with 9 minutes, 15 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
Deshaun Watson completed 28 of 50 passes for 292 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. He also had two rushing touchdowns to give himself a career-high seven on the season. All three of Watson's touchdowns came after the Texans trailed 38-3, and O'Brien said while he thought his players "tried to keep completing," the Broncos just had too big of a lead at halftime.
Houston's loss to Denver was the first game in which Watson has attempted 50 passes, according to ESPN Stats and Information. It is also the first time a Texans quarterback has recorded 50 pass attempts in a game since Ryan Mallett in 2015.
O'Brien said the Texans need to not only improve their pass defense, but also cannot continue to have pre-snap penalties and poor ball security. Left tackle Laremy Tunsil, who the Texans acquired from the Miami Dolphins before the start of the season for two first-round picks, had another three false start penalties Sunday. Entering Week 14, Tunsil led the NFL with nine false starts.
"I've got a target on my back," Tunsil said. "Got to fix it."
Why does Tunsil think that?
"Been called too many times," he said. "Bulls--- calls."
Tunsil said he talked to an official about the calls because he was "trying to figure out what I was doing wrong."
"He said I was leaving early," Tunsil said. "Target on my back, like I said. Keep it simple like that. Next question."
Last week, the Texans had a big victory over the New England Patriots that gave them at least a chance of finishing with a No. 1 or 2 seed and a first-round bye. But after the Texans' loss to the Broncos, O'Brien said his team needs to be more consistent going forward.
"We're not consistent," O'Brien said. "I feel like we have a ton of consistent people on the coaching staff and on the team, but we don't play consistently. We have more wins than losses this year, but I think that's a fair criticism of this team. ... That's a reflection of the head coach. We've got to get the team to play more consistently."
At 8-5, the Texans will have at least a share of the division lead with two games to play against the Titans. As Associated Press sports writer Kristie Rieken suggested, Houston will look to execute better and eliminate turnovers as they travel to Nashville on Sunday looking to regain sole possession of first place in the AFC South.
The Titans have won four in a row and six of the last seven games.
Worth noting: O'Brien's teams have outscored their opponents in the first quarter in four of his first five seasons, including 87-74 in 2018 and 67-57 in 2017, when the Texans were a 4-12 team. For a deep run in the playoffs, the current trend needs to reverse and the Texans need to figure out a way to start faster after scoring just 23 points in the first quarter this season.
The problem continued on Sunday when they failed score in the opening quarter for the sixth time in 2019.
"We just have to commit to better habits, coaching and playing," O'Brien said. "We drive the ball, we're moving the ball on the first drive, get a penalty. Give up a long pass play on their first drive. These things, we talk about starting fast, but talk is cheap. We've got to go out there and actually do it."
The Texans ran for 134 yards, 73 by Carlos Hyde (5.2 average). With such a huge early deficit, the run wasn't as important. DeAndre Hopkins had a 43-yard touchdown catch. Keke Coutee lost a fumble returned for a touchdown. Darren Fells dropped a pass.
By the way, Coutee was active for this one with Will Fuller sidelined by a hamstring injury. It was the fourth game the speedy wideout has missed this season.
O'Brien said not playing due to hamstring was in Fuller's best interest. The coach was noncommittal on Monday when asked about Fuller's status for this week.
I'll be watching for more on Fuller in coming days; check the Late-Breaking Update section for the latest as the week progresses.
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 10 December 2019
As the team's official website noted, three weeks ago, it was a 17-10 lead against the Houston Texans.
Last week, it was a 17-7 lead over the Tennessee Titans.
Today, it was a 35-21 lead over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
All three games, all second-half leads - and yet, somehow, all three resulting in losses for the Indianapolis Colts, who dropped their third straight game, and fifth out of their last six contests overall, 38-35 to the host Buccaneers in today's Week 14 matchup at Raymond James Stadium.
"Tough loss," head coach Frank Reich said. "Come on the road, against what we knew was an explosive team on offense and a real stingy team on defense. Tough-fought battle.
"It hurts," Reich continued. "You know, we said in the locker room we've been in a little bit of a rut not making the plays to finish games," Reich continued. "This is a few games in a row now that we've had a lead in the second half and not able to sustain that, so we all gotta get that corrected."
The defense kept the Colts in the game Sunday against Tampa Bay by forcing four turnovers.
But when it mattered most, the defense was also the reason the Colts lost to the Buccaneers and blew a chance to move up in the AFC playoff race. The Colts' defense gave up a season-high 542 yards and more importantly, gave up the final 17 points of the game in their 38-35 loss to the Buccaneers.
The loss further hurt the Colts' already-slim chances to make the playoffs because while Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston was picking apart the defense through the air, Denver was nearly 1,000 miles away in Houston beating the Texans. Winston threw for 456 yards and four touchdowns to go with three interceptions.
The defeat keeps the Colts two games behind the Texans for first place in the division and on the outside looking in on the final AFC playoff spot.
The Colts (6-7) have been in a tailspin, losing five of their past six games, including three straight.
This is the second straight week in which the Colts were on the wrong end of scoring streaks in the second half. Tennessee closed the Week 13 game by scoring the final 17 points in its victory in Indianapolis.
The Colts have themselves to blame when it comes to blown scoring chances, as running back Nyheim Hines fumbled in Tampa territory and new kicker Chase McLaughlin missed a 47-yard field goal that would have extended their lead in the fourth quarter.
Meanwhile, veteran kicker Adam Vinatieri will undergo season-ending surgery on his left knee. The team announced that Vinatieri had been placed on injured reserve, along with wide receiver Parris Campbell.
The move signals the end of Vinatieri's 24th season in the NFL -- and potentially his career.
Vinatieri, 46, was inactive for Sunday's loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and has struggled throughout the season, making just 17 of 25 field goal attempts and 22 of 28 extra points.
The Colts added insurance at the kicking position Wednesday when they claimed McLaughlin. Though he made all three extra points and his first two field goals, including a 50-yarder, it was the 47-yarder he clanked off the upright that won't be easy to forget. It would have given the Colts a 38-31 lead in the fourth quarter.
Vinatieri routinely said his knee wasn't a problem, but it was something caused him to go from being one of the most reliable kickers in league history to being one of the weakest links on the Indianapolis roster this season.
The Colts, despite working out 11 kickers at two different times this season, stuck with Vinatieri even though he made a career-low 68 percent of his field goal attempts this season. Two of Vinatieri's misses -- at the Chargers and at Pittsburgh -- cost the Colts games.
If this season is Vinatieri's last, he'll finish his career as the NFL's leading career scorer with 2,671 points and 29 game-winning kicks. Three of Vinatieri's most memorable winning kicks occurred when he was with the New England Patriots from 1996 to 2005. He made a game winner in blizzard-like conditions against Oakland in the 2001 playoffs and winning kicks in Super Bowls XXXVI and XXXVIII.
Vinatieri and Campbell join an expanding club on the injured reserve list.
And while the Colts remain hopeful four-time Pro Bowl receiver T.Y. Hilton will return from a calf injury, he also could be headed to injured reserve soon.
The injuries at wideout have created opportunities and Marcus Johnson was up for his against the Bucs.
A month ago, the Colts signed Johnson off the street. On Sunday, he had the best game of his three-year career with three catches for 105 yards and one TD. With Campbell headed to injured reserve, Johnson should continue to be a valuable part of the offense.
That said, the Colts need help at the position. So even though they opted against re-signing wide receiver Dontrelle Inman after the 2018 season, he has found his way back to Indianapolis.
Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that the team signed Inman on Tuesday.
Inman signed with the Patriots in May, but asked for and received his release in August. He signed with the Chargers, who he played with from 2014 to 2017, and had eight catches for 132 yards in four games before landing back on the open market. He had 28 catches for 304 yards and three touchdowns for the Colts last season. ...
One last note here. ... Linebacker Darius Leonard had two interceptions, returning one for an 80-yard touchdown. The touchdown off the interception ended a streak of 38 straight games without a defensive touchdown for the Colts. That streak had tied the Cleveland Browns for the longest in the NFL. Leonard is the only player in the NFL with five forced fumbles and five interceptions since the start of last season.
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 10 December 2019
"This," ESPN.com's Michael DiRocco wrote, "in case you were wondering, is rock bottom."
DiRocco went on to explain it's hard to imagine things being much worse for the Jaguars than what happened at TIAA Bank Field on Sunday evening. They trailed by 28 points moments into the third quarter, allowed Philip Rivers to move his offense up and down the field at will, and lost their fifth consecutive game, 45-10, to the Los Angeles Chargers.
Sunday was worse than the 28-point loss in Seattle in 2013, the 34-point loss in New England in 2015 and the embarrassment on national TV in Tennessee in 2016. Those Jaguars teams didn't have much talent. There are three Pro Bowlers on this defense. Leonard Fournette entered the game third in the NFL in yards from scrimmage. D.J. Chark is one of the best young receivers in the league.
There has been a lot of money spent on free agents and extensions, including a big-money deal to land Nick Foles. He's on the bench because the offense was non-functional when he was on the field last week. Yet this team is 4-9 and hasn't been competitive since October ended.
Sunday's loss mathematically eliminated the Jaguars from playoff contention.
An estimated crowd of less than 50,000 watched the debacle, though not many fans stuck around for the second half. It's hard to blame them.
It's hard to imagine owner Shad Khan holding off until the season ends to fire head coach Doug Marrone after Sunday's horror show. There's still one more home game left (Dec. 29) and Khan surely doesn't want to watch his franchise drop even lower.
With the Jaguars losing a fifth consecutive game by 17 or more points, Marrone was asked during his post-game press conference if he met with ownership and executive after Sunday's loss about his job status. He said he did not.
"I think it's one of those things where I don't look for that," Marrone said. "I don't go search for that. I just figure I always look at it as a privilege to be able to be in in a position like this. Eventually, if you don't win enough games and you think it's better to go with someone else, then obviously that's out of my hands. I just keep doing the best job I can and just keep fighting. It is what it is."
For what it's worth, the switch to from Foles to Gardner Minshew seemed to work -- at first.
The Jaguars drove 67 yards in 14 plays on the game's opening possession and ate up 7 minutes, 37 seconds. They had to settle for a 26-yard field goal, however, because things bogged down once they reached the 12-yard line. Minshew completed 2-of-3 passes for 34 yards on the drive, including a 22-yarder to Chark. The Jaguars didn't score again until late in the third quarter.
Minshew is essentially auditioning for the starting job in 2020 and this wasn't a good start.
He didn't see a wide-open Chark for what would have been a huge gain (and possibly a touchdown) in the second quarter and he failed to see Keelan Cole for what would have been a big gain in the third quarter, too.
Fournette has been one of the team's few bright spots this season. He answered questions about his maturity, work ethic and commitment by staying healthy and not missing a single practice. He had only 50 yards rushing on Sunday, but that put him over 1,000 for the season and he's just one yard shy of his career high set in his rookie season of 2017 (1,040 yards).
He also leads the team in catches (68). It's been a wasted season in Jacksonville for pretty much everyone but Fournette.
"It means nothing; we're not winning," Fournette said of hitting the 1,000-yard mark. "It's tough. I'm not going to fake it with you. It means nothing to me right now."
His final statistics don't reflect how well he appeared to run at times against the Chargers - particularly early. He rushed for 39 yards on 12 first-half carries, but just 11 yards after that as the Chargers' expanding double-digit lead helped limit him to three second-half carries.
Fournette joined former running back Fred Taylor as the only players in Jaguars history to rush for more than 1,000 yards in two of his first three seasons.
"It's tough every week especially being on the losing streak we're on right now," Fournette said. "Just knowing you have to restart all over and come back with a positive energy and a positive mentality. It's hard especially when you're having the same results that we're having."
The Jaguars play at Oakland Sunday, the final football game at the Oakland Coliseum. ...
On the injury front. ... Chark left the locker room using a scooter and wearing a protective boot. Chark left the blowout loss to the Chargers with a left ankle injury, and the fact he needed help with mobility afterward is not a good sign.
He's been one of the bright spots for the Jaguars this year, with 67 catches for 956 yards and eight touchdowns this season.
According to Marrone, Chark will be "week-to-week or day-to-day."
"He wants to play, which is always a great sign," Marrone said. "But again: I think we're going to just see how it goes."
Yes. That's pretty vague.
Chark did not practice Wednesday and I'll be following up via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.
On a more positive note, tight end Seth DeValve is expected to practice full Wednesday after missing four games with an oblique injury.
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 10 December 2019
The Kansas City Chiefs clinched a fourth straight AFC West championship at a most unlikely place, New England's Gillette Stadium.
The Chiefs' 23-16 victory over the Patriots, combined with the Raiders' earlier loss to the Tennessee Titans in Oakland, moves Kansas City to 9-4.
That's three games ahead of the 6-7 Raiders, their closest pursuers in the division.
The Chiefs would have the tiebreaker after sweeping the season series from the Raiders.
New England seemed a most unlikely venue for a Chiefs' celebration. The Patriots had won 21 straight home games, including the playoffs.
The Chiefs had a 23-7 lead midway through the third quarter but had to hold off the Patriots on downs with the final snap coming from the 5-yard line in the final two minutes.
This division title is the 14th for the Chiefs in their 60-season history. But they had never won their division in back to back seasons until the current streak.
Even better than all that, Patrick Mahomes should be available to play on Sunday after X-rays on his injured passing hand were negative, head coach Andy Reid said Monday.
Reid said Mahomes' passing hand, which was injured when he fell awkwardly early in Sunday's win over the New England Patriots, was "bruised up pretty good, but there's no break in it."
Mahomes played the entire game, and he and Reid said afterward that there was no serious consideration given to removing him from the game. The Chiefs went with more of a shorter passing game after the injury, though Mahomes was able to throw a 48-yard touchdown pass to Mecole Hardman.
"He was having a little tougher time gripping the ball, so we went with a little bit more of a shallow cross game [and] shorter throws," Reid said. "We ran the ball a little more, probably."
"It doesn't feel great right now but it's something that you play with," Mahomes said in his postgame press conference. "In this sport, you're going to get hurt, you're going to bang something. So for me, it's about going out there and competing and relying on my teammates to help me out whenever I'm not feeling 100 percent."
Mahomes finished the day 26-of-40 for 283 yards, a touchdown and an interception. The coming days will let us know if his hand will remain a concern for this week's game against the Broncos.
The Chiefs still have plenty to gain by winning at Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs are one game behind the Patriots for the AFC's No. 2 playoff seed, which includes a first-round bye.
Reid said the Chiefs wouldn't rest Mahomes just because he might not be 100 percent against the Broncos.
"He could still be effective," Reid said. "[The injury] is not an excuse for the second half."
Also worth noting. ... The Chiefs desperately need Damien Williams to return from his rib injury. The running back group was down to LeSean McCoy and rookie Darwin Thompson along with veteran Spencer Ware, who just rejoined the team this week. The result against New England was 29 carries for a mere 75 yards from the ground game.
McCoy ran 11 times for 39 yards and caught just one pass for 4 yards. He needs to provide more help if the Chiefs hope to find some offensive balance for the stretch run.
I'll have more on Williams (who was slated to practice Wednesday) -- and Mahomes -- via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
One last note here: Wide receiver Mecole Hardman only had one catch against the Patriots, but the rookie turned it into a 48-yard touchdown reception. It was his sixth score this season.
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 10 December 2019
According to Associated Press sports writer Joe Reedy, the Chargers clearly believe they should be playing for a postseason berth in December instead of playing out the string.
They know their 5-8 record says otherwise, but they haven't given up on the chance to show what they can do this season. Although the Bolts were eliminated from playoff contention Sunday, it happened while they demolished the Jacksonville Jaguars 45-10 in a victory that demonstrated a measure of their talent.
A 35-point victory is also a great way to avoid losing another game by seven points or fewer, as the Chargers have done eight times this season. The win in Jacksonville snapped a three-game skid against AFC West rivals by a combined 12 points.
"It's been a tough stretch these past few weeks," Chargers tight end Hunter Henry said Monday. "Not like we wanted it to be. But we can't do anything about the past, and we just wanted to focus on Jacksonville. We needed to jump on them, and we were able to do that."
The Chargers' struggles started with key injuries, while poor execution in the red zone and late-game situations doomed them to an irrelevant final month of games.
But fallen players are returning to the lineup, and Philip Rivers made almost none of the mistakes in Jacksonville that have plagued him in recent weeks. The result was a win befitting a team that won 21 regular-season games and beat Baltimore in the playoffs during its first two seasons under coach Anthony Lynn.
The Chargers' offense looked impressive in Jacksonville, with coordinator Shane Steichen dialing up a game plan that made the most of the distinct talents of Rivers, his receivers and versatile running back Austin Ekeler, who had 112 yards receiving and 101 yards rushing.
For the longest stretch since Lynn unexpectedly fired offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt earlier this season, the Chargers showed the full scope of what Lynn imagined when he promoted Steichen to the play-calling role.
"I think Shane has been calling games very well," Lynn said. "I think when we don't turn the ball over, we consistently move the ball up and down the field."
As ESPN.com's Eric Williams noted, playing on his 38th birthday, Rivers was efficient, completing 16 of 22 passes for 314 passing yards and three touchdowns. In doing so, he eclipsed 3,500 passing yards for a 12th straight season, the third-longest streak in NFL history.
According to ESPN Stats and Information, Rivers was a perfect 5-of-5 for 186 yards and two touchdowns against the blitz, his most such passing yards in the last three seasons. Rivers' 37.2 yards per attempt against the blitz is the most by any quarterback since ESPN began tracking in 2006.
Rivers likes playing against the Jaguars. He's thrown for 2,668 passing yards (296.4 yards per game), completing 69.4 percent of his passes, with 24 touchdowns and just five interceptions. The Chargers are now 7-2 against the Jaguars with Rivers as the starter.
In addition, Ekeler put on a show.
Ekeler took a short pass from Rivers on a bubble screen and scampered through the middle of Jacksonville's defense untouched for an 84-yard touchdown reception. The pitch and catch was the longest touchdown pass of Rivers' 16-year NFL career. Ekeler has 11 total touchdowns on the year.
"I thought we could have done this all year, but we were just so inconsistent it put us in a hole too many times," Ekeler said.
As noted above, Ekeler finished with 213 total yards from scrimmage on just 12 total touches, becoming the first Charger to accomplish that feat since Lionel James in 1985. He is the first player in the NFL to accomplish the feat since Christian McCaffrey did it in Week 12 last season. Many of the best rushing-receiving backs in NFL history, such as Marshall Faulk and Roger Craig, never had a double-triple.
According to ESPN.com's Tristan H. Cockcroft, Ekeler's 31 PPR fantasy points were his second-most in his career, trailing only his 39 in Week 1.
Mike Williams also continued to amaze on Sunday.
The Clemson product made another circus catch on a deep ball from Rivers for 44 yards, Williams' first touchdown of the season after scoring 11 last year. Williams leads all players with at least 30 receptions this season with a 20.5 yards-per-catch average.
He is currently riding a streak of six straight games with a catch of at least 40 yards.
Williams also found the end zone for the first time this season. It was an odd drought considering Williams had 11 touchdowns (10 receiving, one rushing) last year.
"I knew when I got one, they were going to come in bunches," Williams said. "So I got my first one kind of late in the season, though. But I'll get some more."
The Chargers' eight losses have all come by seven points or fewer. Being on the wrong end of all those close games kept them out of the playoffs and surely had them breathing easy with this one out of hand early.
"Well, that felt good for a change," Lynn said. "Not a nail-biter."
The Minnesota Vikings (9-4) visit Carson on Sunday. The Chargers' first home game since Nov. 3 is very relevant to their opponent, and it's also big for the Chargers' future roommates in Inglewood: The Rams trail the Vikings by one game for the second NFC wild card playoff spot.
L.A. is 2-1 against the NFC North this season, allowing a combined 40 points against Detroit, Chicago and Green Bay.
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 10 December 2019
As ESPN.com's Lindsey Thiry asked readers, "Remember the fun Los Angeles Rams? The ones who lit up the scoreboard and ignited the NFL on their way to the Super Bowl last season?"
Those Rams made an appearance Sunday night at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
A 28-12 takedown of the NFC West-leading Seattle Seahawks.
The Rams improve to 8-5 as they continue to chase the Minnesota Vikings in the wild-card race. They'll likely need to win their remaining three games, which include road contests against the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers and a regular-season finale against the Arizona Cardinals, to earn a playoff bid.
Jared Goff looked the part of a franchise quarterback Sunday -- at least in the first half, when he passed for 184 yards and two touchdowns. Goff finished 22-of-31 for 293 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, including a pick-six.
The performance served as a reminder of why the Rams signed Goff to a four-year extension with $110 million in guarantees before the season.
On the Rams' opening possession, Goff orchestrated an eight-play, 75-yard drive that included 19- and 15-yard passes to receiver Robert Woods and a 33-yard pass to tight end Tyler Higbee. On the team's second possession, he found an open Woods for a 2-yard touchdown pass, and later in the first half, he delivered a strike to receiver Cooper Kupp for another score.
In the third quarter, safety Quandre Diggs intercepted passes from Goff on back-to-back series, but the QB later rebounded to lead a seven-play, 95-yard scoring drive to take a 28-9 lead.
Todd Gurley rushed for 79 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries. He also caught four passes for 34 yards. The rushing yards haven't amounted to vintage Gurley, but nevertheless, when he touches the ball early and often, the Rams win.
"It opens everything," Goff said. "It starts with him and when he's rolling and we're rolling."
Woods caught his first touchdown pass of the season while finishing with six catches for 98 yards, plus two carries for 29 yards after for 13 receptions and 172 yards against the Cardinals. The former USC standout got going early with a 19-yard catch on the opening possession, a drive that ended with a one-yard touchdown run by running back Malcolm Brown.
"I think just to be able to get some momentum, to really score on your first-two opening drives, really, we scored on three of our first four," McVay said. "We had the one three-and-out on the third series, but I thought that (catch by Woods) was big."
Those two carries, along with a 20-yard reception, helped spark a 95-yard scoring drive at the beginning of the fourth quarter that gave the Rams a 28-9 lead.
"I think every drive was big this game. It was a possession-type game - taking everything all four quarters," Woods said. "That drive, the 95-yarder driving down the whole field - finish (it) up with a touchdown, took the clock, put some points up, and looking like a real crisp offense."
Woods mentions momentum; he definitely has that heading into this week's trip to Dallas for a meeting with the slumping Cowboys (6-7). Both teams desperately need a win to preserve their tenuous standing in the NFC playoff race. The Rams are 19-5 away from the Coliseum under McVay, including 5-2 this season.
On the injury front. ... The Rams had no significant new injuries to report Monday. Right tackle Rob Havenstein "is making really good progress" back from his knee injury, McVay said. The coach didn't sound quite as optimistic about tight end Gerald Everett, who was not ready to practice when the team returned to work Wednesday.
Everett missed his second-straight game with a knee injury, and the absence of Goff's top tight end target has led to more chances for Higbee.
Last week, in a 34-7 win over the Cardinals, Higbee caught seven passes for a career-best 107 yards. That was a breakout performance. Against the Seahawks, he caught seven passes for a career-best 116 yards. He is suddenly becoming a key playmaker in McVay's offense.
Higbee's 33-yard reception in the first half was his longest of the season. He averaged 29 receiving yards per game in his first 11 games of the season, according to ESPN Stats and Information Research.
For the record, Woods and Higbee both surpassed 100 yards receiving for the second straight game.
Overall, 14 of Goff's 22 completions went to the duo, who finished with seven each to share the team lead. They also accounted for 214 of Goff's 293 passing yards after accounting for 279 of 424 against the Cardinals in Week 13. ...
Brandin Cooks didn't have a catch against the Seahawks. The $81 million receiver deserves ample credit for returning to uniform following a month off to recover from his second concussion of the season. But he has only four catches for 56 yards in the ensuing three games, and his snap count is down. He is on pace for easily the least productive season of his six-year career.
And finally. ... Linebacker Dante Fowler and defensive tackle Aaron Donald each finished with 1.5 sacks and achieved statistically significant feats along the way.
For Fowler, his performance moved his season total to nine for a new career-high. Donald's moved him to 11 on the year, guaranteeing a third consecutive season with a double-digit sack total.
All told, the duo accounted for three of Los Angeles' five sacks on the night, contributing to the fourth game this season in which the pass rush has notched at least five sacks.
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 10 December 2019
The Dolphins appeared headed to a hard-fought win and celebrating Jason Sanders' record-setting day. But the fact the kicker was so busy turned out to be a big reason for a 22-21 loss to the New York Jets on Sunday.
Sanders set the franchise mark with seven field goals, including a 37-yarder that gave Miami a 21-19 lead with 1:33 left. But a controversial penalty call helped New York on its winning drive, capped by Sam Ficken's 44-yard field goal as time expired.
"It was a tough way to lose," quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said.
And, really, it probably shouldn't have even been that close.
The Dolphins moved the ball all over the field against a banged-up Jets defense that was missing several players, including star safety Jamal Adams. But Miami finished 0 for 6 in the red zone - often settling for field goals by Sanders, who broke Olindo Mare's previous record of six set in 1999.
"Had a lot of field goals," Fitzpatrick said. "I think we moved the ball well today, but didn't execute when we got down in the red area."
Adding to the Dolphins' frustrations was the fact they came in having scored touchdowns on 80 percent of their red-zone trips over their previous eight games. Against the Jets, though, the offense simply stalled.
Over and over again.
"They played a bend-but-don't-break style once we got in the red zone," said wide receiver Isaiah Ford, who led the Dolphins with six catches for 92 yards. "They played a lot of cover-2. I think we had some opportunities, we just missed out on them."
Miami had a chance to swing the game in its favor in a big way when they got down to the Jets 10 in the closing moments of the first half after a 6-yard run by Fitzpatrick. Incompletions on second and third down forced the Dolphins to settle for a 28-yarder by Sanders that cut Miami's halftime deficit to seven at 16-9.
The Dolphins opened the second half with the ball and marched down to the Jets 9, but again couldn't punch it into the end zone. Myles Gaskin lost 4 yards on a run and two incompletions made it fourth-and-goal at the 13 - so Brian Flores had Sanders kick a 31-yarder that made it 16-12.
"We didn't make enough plays to win the game," Flores said.
Sanders actually missed one attempt, sending a 34-yarder wide right after a low snap wasn't handled cleanly by holder Matt Haack. Otherwise, Sanders could've had a shot at tying Rob Bironas' NFL record of eight field goals for Tennessee in 2007.
"Seven is a pretty remarkable number of field goals in a game," Fitzpatrick said of Sanders, who converted kicks of 22, 25, 28, 31, 53, 47 and 37 yards. "Every time we really needed it, he kept hitting them, especially that last one."
That 37-yarder had the Dolphins and their fans thinking of a two-game sweep of the AFC East-rival Jets.
But then their luck turned in a hurry.
Sam Darnold got New York's winning drive going with a short pass to Vyncint Smith, who turned it into a 37-yard gain. After a sack by Andrew Van Ginkel two plays later put the ball at the Dolphins 46, Darnold threw an incomplete pass to Smith. But, the Jets argued Nik Needham interfered with the receiver by wrapping his right arm around Smith's right shoulder.
The play went to a video review at the league office by NFL rule since less than two minutes remained, and the interference call was added - giving the Jets a first down and new life.
"It's just one of those things," Fitzpatrick said. "If I was on their sideline, I'd be happy. But, I was on our sidelines, so I'm not."
The veteran quarterback finished 21 of 37 for 245 yards and one interception as the Dolphins played most of the second half without top receivers DeVante Parker and Albert Wilson, who both left with concussions.
Fitzpatrick tried to focus on the positives in the defeat, including the games by Ford and rookie running back Patrick Laird, who had 48 yards rushing and 38 receiving.
"We obviously scratched and clawed our way back into that game," Fitzpatrick said, "and it would've been a nice one to win."
Flores was angry after the game, shouting his displeasure at the officials. He refused to address the call with reporters, saying he was simply upset the Dolphins lost.
"We lost the game. I was upset we lost the game," Flores said. "I'm not going to answer any questions about the officiating."
The Dolphins (3-10) need that fire and energy as they move toward what they hope will be a more competitive season in 2020. But, there are still some issues need to be solved over the final three games -- most notably their red zone regression. As Miami looks for ways to improve headed into their final three games, scoring touchdowns should be a key start.
Fitzpatrick, the runner, was on the full display Sunday. He led Miami with 65 rushing yards, the second time he has led the team in rushing this season. Largely because of Fitzpatrick (with some help from Laird), the Dolphins surpassed 100 rushing yards for the second time this season. It was their most rushing yards in a game this season.
Laird, an undrafted rookie, made his first NFL start as Miami's fourth starter at running back this year.
It helped the Dolphins move the ball effectively, at least until they got into the red zone.
Given the injuries at receiver, Flores said he was content to kick field goals and keep the game close.
"I'm a defense guy. I'm a field-goal guy. That's kind of how I'm wired," he said. "Do you want to punch in it in the red zone? Always. But not every game is that way."
As for those injuries at wideout, the Dolphins lost Parker and Wilson for the game because of concussions. The injury to Parker is particularly devastating because he is their top receiver in the midst of a breakout season, but the silver lining is how Ford stepped up in their absences.
Ford, who spent much of the season on the Dolphins' practice squad, had two catches for nine yards coming into the game. Ford's career-best game should provide him with more opportunities going forward, especially if Parker or Wilson have to miss Sunday's Week 15 game at the New York Giants.
It's been a breakout season for Parker in Year 5. Offensive coordinator Chad O'Shea and receivers coach Karl Dorrell attribute Parker's success to taking care of his body and staying healthy. The two said Parker hasn't missed a practice since the spring. He has played in every game so far this season, which he had never done in his career.
Parker was coming off a career-best performance in an upset win over the Philadelphia Eagles last week in which he had a career-high 159 yards and two touchdowns. Parker has 55 catches for 882 yards and six touchdowns for the year.
It's been a season-long battle with injuries for Wilson, who was slowed in the first half of the season by hip and hamstring injuries. Wilson has 26 catches for 154 yards and one touchdown in 10 games this season.
The Dolphins had three healthy receivers left after the injuries: Allen Hurns, Ford and Mack Hollins.
I'll have more on Parker and Wilson -- both of whom were on the practice field in red no-contact jerseys on Wednesday -- via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
The Dolphins waived running back Zach Zenner on Tuesday. Zenner joined the Dolphins off waivers Dec. 3. He played one game but did not record any stats. ...
One last note here. ... According to ESPN.com's Tristan H. Cockcroft, Sanders' 23 fantasy points Sunday are the most scored by any placekicker in a game all season.
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 10 December 2019
As ESPN.com's Courtney Cronin put it, "The reeling, injured and discombobulated Detroit Lions are not a good football team.
"The Minnesota Vikings treated their divisional opponent as such in a 20-7 win at home on Sunday. ..."
With its defense under an intense microscope entering the final quarter of the season, Minnesota left little in doubt against an overmatched opponent to stay firmly in the NFC playoff picture and wild-card race.
The Vikings face their other two NFC North foes -- Green Bay and Chicago -- in Weeks 16 and 17 and continue to hold a firm grip on their postseason destiny as they head to Los Angeles for a meeting with the Chargers next Sunday.
Meanwhile, Dalvin Cook delivered on his promise.
After leaving the Week 13 Monday night game at Seattle in the third quarter with an injury, Cook vowed he would be good to go on Sunday.
The running back played the entirety of the division matchup against Detroit, and if the chest injury still was bothering him, Cook certainly didn't let on.
Asked postgame if he felt any "residual effects," he responded that any soreness is part of the game.
"It's a physical game," Cook said. "I have to block, I take hits, blindside hits, so that is just a part of the game. You are going to feel aches and stuff like that, but I will be good. I'm a tough person."
Cook recorded 18 carries for 62 yards and a touchdown, a 3-yard rushing score at the end of the first half.
Rather than taking much credit for one of Minnesota's two touchdowns on the day, Cook pointed to Stefon Diggs, who hauled in a 44-yard catch to set up first-and-goal.
"I have to give that one to Diggs," Cook said. "We all were talking about double dipping. We all were talking about getting the ball back before the end of the half and getting some more points. Three or seven, whatever.
"If we get the ball back before the end of the half, then we have to go get some more points," Cook continued. "We came out kind of stale, but it was important for us to get those points. That was big."
The Vikings run game wasn't flashy, but it was effective.
Minnesota got enough done on the ground to keep the defense guessing and control the clock en route to a 20-7 defeat of Detroit.
Alexander Mattison got in on the action with 46 yards on 14 carries.
The rookie has been on the field for 27 snaps in each of the last two games, a season high. Mattison caught a pass out of the backfield for a first down on second-and-8 with a highlight-reel hurdle to evade a defender and help extend a second-quarter drive that ended in a field goal.
"Matty was doing well," head coach Mike Zimmer said of Mattison. "It was good."
Mike Boone later came in, as well, and added five attempts for 13 yards.
If you ask Zimmer or Cook's teammates, they aren't surprised by his robust return to action.
"Dalvin is tough," Zimmer said. "He's a tough runner, a tough, physical runner. Good kid, great leader."
Added quarterback Kirk Cousins: "He did a great job with his body this week, getting healthy, and then it was just a great encouragement to have him out there and try to keep our main unit as intact as possible."
The Vikings now will turn their focus to the Chargers, whom they will face Sunday afternoon in Los Angeles.
And yes, Cook again plans on playing.
"I am good to go. It was a physical game; they have some big guys over there in Detroit," Cook said. "I came out healthy, clean, and that is probably the sign to go get ready for the Los Angeles Chargers next week."
But what about Adam Thielen?
Thielen has been on the field for only 16 snaps in the last seven games due to a hamstring injury the Vikings have been extra cautious with because he has aggravated it at least twice. Getting the veteran wideout back to full strength will be one of the top priorities.
In case you missed it, NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported on Sunday that Thielen was held out against the Lions to help get the scar tissue out of his leg, but all parties are optimistic he will be on the field this week. Rapoport added: "No extended absence is expected."
Looks like that's how it will play out.
ESPN's Adam Schefter reported on Wednesday that garring a setback in practice this week, Thielen is expected to return to the lineup against the Chargers.
I'll obviously be watching for more on that in coming days; check the Late-Breaking Updates section for more as the week progress.
Meanwhile, it's worth noting that Olabisi Johnson got another start in Thielen's absence. The seventh-round draft pick contributed his third TD of the season, a leaping catch he secured as he fell on his back in the first quarter.
Also of interest. ... The Vikings offense didn't exactly blow the doors off U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday (354 total yards, 5.1 yards per play), but it's not like they had to dig deep into the playbook to keep the Lions off balance.
Offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski deferred to the play-action game often, allowing Cousins to go 12-for-12 for 114 yards and a touchdown on such throws in the first half, the highest number of play-action completions in any half since ESPN started tracking that data in 2006. Cousins picked apart an injury-depleted Lions defense and had all day to throw, as has been the trend in each of his meetings against Detroit this season.
In Week 14, Cousins averaged 3.58 seconds from snap to pass, according to NFL NextGen Stats.
His previous longest was 3.38 seconds in Week 7 at Detroit (he's averaged 2.97 seconds this season). Cousins finished 24-of-30 for 242 yards and a touchdown after not needing to throw the ball more than two times in the fourth quarter.
One last note here. ... Fifth-year defensive end Danielle Hunter etched his name in NFL history as the youngest player to reach 50.0 career sacks (25 years old and 40 days). Having flown under the radar for most of his career, Hunter has emerged as one of the league's best pass-rushers, leading the NFL in total pressures and moving his season total to 12.5 sacks after dropping Blough three times in the first half Sunday. All three of Hunter's sacks came on third down. Hunter now has 11 career sacks against the Lions, more than any other opponent in his career.
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 10 December 2019
The New England Patriots had their 21-game home winning streak (including playoffs) snapped Sunday with a 23-16 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs as their late comeback bid fell short.
The loss, which included two questionable officiating calls that went against New England, drops the Patriots to 10-3.
The Ravens, who beat the Bills on Sunday to improve to 11-2, strengthened their hold on the AFC's No. 1 seed with three games remaining in the regular season. The Ravens own the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Patriots after beating them Nov. 3.
Meanwhile, the Chiefs improve to 9-4 and have a three-game lead in the AFC West.
The Patriots were hurt by two officiating rulings and head coach Bill Belichick was furious on the sideline after the first - when Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce was ruled down by contact late in the third quarter as the football came loose when he was tackled by safety Devin McCourty.
Cornerback Stephon Gilmore recovered and had a chance for a significant return, possibly even a touchdown, had the play not been blown dead.
Belichick fired his red challenge flag on the field, and the Patriots, trailing 23-13 at the time, took over at their own 43-yard line.
The Patriots appeared to score a touchdown on their ensuing drive when, at the Chiefs' 15, rookie wide receiver N'Keal Harry took a short pass from quarterback Tom Brady and raced toward the pylon on the left side of the end zone.
Harry dove to the pylon but was ruled out at the 3-yard line. Replays appeared to show Harry didn't step out of bounds.
The Patriots, who were out of challenges after Belichick had unsuccessfully challenged a spot and pass interference on a play earlier in the third quarter, ended up settling for a field goal.
That the Patriots needed a comeback was a result of some poor play after they started fast, with a flea-flicker for a touchdown on their opening drive - Brady to receiver Julian Edelman for 37 yards.
But the Chiefs scored the next 20 points, taking a 20-7 lead into halftime, with the home crowd showering the Patriots with boos as they headed to the locker room.
Those boos later turned to chants of, "Brady! Brady! Brady!" as the Patriots mounted a spirited comeback.
But it fell short as the Chiefs' defense stiffened in the red zone and Brady's fourth-down pass to Edelman for a possible game-tying touchdown was knocked away.
Not surprisingly, Brady wasn't as focused on the officiating miscues as much as on his team's own.
"I don't ever make any excuses, and I certainly never blame the referees," Brady said Monday morning in his weekly interview on sports radio WEEI's "The Greg Hill Show."
Brady, 42, added that he didn't sleep much Sunday night because he was thinking about what the offense could have done differently to score a tying touchdown late in the fourth quarter but said he was anxious to get back to work.
"When you play sports long enough, I think sometimes you're the recipient of things that go your way. And you're on the other side of it, too. For me, I don't think too much about it," he said of the officiating calls.
"I wish it would go our way. Unfortunately they didn't. It doesn't take away from, when you watch the game, all the different things we had in our control that I wish we could have done a little bit better. We were just trying to keep grinding them out, and just put ourselves in a position there at the end with four plays in the red area, and just didn't produce well enough to get the job done."
Brady had his right (throwing) elbow wrapped after Sunday's game, but he said he will be on the field Sunday when the Patriots visit the Cincinnati Bengals.
"It's all right. I just took a helmet on the inside of it. Just a typical football game. Nothing I haven't dealt with before," Brady said in the radio interview. "I'm just going to try to get some extra treatment and hopefully be 100 percent for next week."
The Brady-led Patriots offense has struggled for extended stretches of the 2019 season, sparking questions as to whether there is enough talent around Brady.
The Patriots were 2-of-12 on third down against the Chiefs, and their season-long struggle in the red zone continued with just one touchdown in three trips inside the 20.
"[The defense] has been playing great all season. And they gave us every chance yesterday. We just have to keep fighting and keep battling. It hasn't been an easy season," Brady said.
"That's like every other year. Every season has its own unique challenges, and we've faced them. We have to learn from them. And our whole season is ahead of us. We have to rally together and trust in each other and go lay it on the line like we've been doing every week. This is about a one-week season for us and trying to go out and go to Cincinnati and win on the road."
The Patriots aren't ready to panic.
They also lost two games in December last year, then recovered to win their sixth Super Bowl. The schedule has Cincinnati (1-12) next week, followed by the rare meaningful AFC East matchup against Buffalo (9-4). They finish against Miami (3-10).
"I don't want to make any predictions," Brady said. "I may have certain experience doing things, but this particular team as a whole hasn't been through different situations. ... We have three big games to go, and we've got to get back to winning football."
Receiving less attention than the touchdown non-call is the fact that Harry played only two offensive snaps in the game, his fourth regular-season contest since returning to action off of injured reserve last month. Harry played 22 snaps last week in a loss to the Texans -- his lone target going for a game-changing interception -- but clearly was not a significant part of Sunday's game plan against the Chiefs.
Harry left the loss to Kansas City with what the Patriots announced as a hip injury. He said after the game, however, that he was "good" health-wise. Edelman, still dealing with a shoulder issue, was held out of practice Wedenesday with a knee injury. Brady worked fully.
Brady's elbow, Edelman's knee and shoulder and Harry's hip are among the things I'll have more on via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Second-year running back Sony Michel continued to struggle, rushing five times for 8 yards. It was his lowest output of the year and dropped his season average to 3.5 yards per attempt. He has six touchdowns, but hasn't reached the end zone in the past six games.
Brandon Bolden made the most of his one carry Sunday, scoring from 10 yards on a fly sweep in the third quarter. It was his third rushing touchdown of the season, matching a career high. He also had a receiving touchdown earlier in the season, giving him a career-best four TDs.
"I think Brandon is dependable for us everywhere, all four downs - first, second, third and fourth downs," Belichick said. "Wherever we need to use him, I think we all have a lot of confidence in him."
Despite the return of Nick Folk to the team following his one-week absence after an emergency appendectomy, the kicking game continued to exhibit issues. Folk, who has been the Patriots' most dependable kicker since Stephen Gostkowski went on injured reserve Oct. 2, had a 41-yard field goal attempt blocked in the first quarter. He is now 8 for 11 on the season.
Folk's predecessor, Mike Nugent, was 5 of 8 on field goals and 15 of 16 on extra points before being cut. Kai Forbath lasted one game after missing an extra point in New England's loss to Houston.
And finally. ... Bengals coach Zac Taylor said Monday that the NFL is investigating whether the Patriots were videotaping in the press box Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns.
Taylor was asked by longtime Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham about rumors that "the Patriots had a videographer up in the Bengals' press box area, working with an advance scout that was taping video of the Bengals' sideline" at his news conference.
"I'm aware that there was an incident," Taylor said. "But I know the league is investigating it, so I've got no comment on it."
An official for the Bengals, who were playing at Cleveland on Sunday, saw a member of the video crew wearing a Patriots shirt and alerted the league, which confiscated the video, according to the source.
The crew was credentialed by the Browns to shoot video for a Patriots web series called "Do Your Job," but the Patriots did not inform the Bengals or the NFL, which they called "an unintended oversight."
"The sole purpose of the filming was to provide an illustration of an advance scout at work on the road," the Patriots statement read. "There was no intention of using footage for any other purpose."
The Patriots also said the production crew, which included independent contractors who shot the video, is not part of New England's football operation.
Asked about the latest vexing videotape reports during his radio show on Monday, Belichick told WEEI the video crew was completely separate from the football staff: "We have absolutely nothing to do with anything that they produce or direct or shoot. I have never seen any of their tapes or anything else. This is something that we 100 percent have zero involvement with."
In 2007, the Patriots were punished by the NFL for videotaping the New York Jets' defensive play calls on the sideline during a 2007 game at Giants stadium, won by New England 38-14. The Patriots were forced to forfeit their first-round draft pick in 2008 and Belichick was fined the maximum amount of $500,000. The Patriots also were ordered to pay $250,000 for the scandal, which was dubbed "Spygate" by the media.
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 10 December 2019
As ESPN.com's Mike Triplett notes, the Saints finally got the offensive outburst they've been waiting for. But they squandered it with their worst defensive performance of the season in a wild 48-46 track meet that nobody could have seen coming against the San Francisco 49ers' No. 1-ranked defense.
The Saints host Indianapolis on Monday night before finishing with a pair of road games at Tennessee and Carolina. All three games could be critical to keeping the Saints in position for a first-round bye - and the top seed isn't out of the question quite yet.
Indeed, the Saints (10-3) can still potentially wind up as the NFC's No. 1 seed. But now they may need losses by the 49ers (11-2), Seattle Seahawks (10-2) and Green Bay Packers (10-3) to make it happen.
New Orleans definitively lost its grip on the NFC race right around the time that safety Marcus Williams was flagged for yanking on 49ers tight end George Kittle's facemask at the end of a 39-yard catch on fourth-and-2 with 30 seconds remaining to set up San Francisco's winning field goal.
But the Saints' defense struggled to contain the 49ers all day. The 49ers picked on cornerback Eli Apple early while torching New Orleans' pass defense. Then, they started gashing the Saints with the run. And San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan even threw in some trick plays, including a touchdown pass from receiver Emmanuel Sanders to running back Raheem Mostert. Costly penalties against Saints rookie safety CJ Gardner-Johnson added to their woes late in the game.
It was a disappointing performance for a Saints defense that had really been the strength of the team for much of the season, ranking eighth in the NFL in yards allowed coming into the game.
The Saints will now have to recover in time for a home date with the Indianapolis Colts on Monday Night Football next week.'
That said, as Triplett went on to suggests, if the Saints bring this offense with them into January, they'll have better days to come.
Drew Brees was just talking this week about how they still hadn't had that dynamic breakout performance from the offense yet this year, but he felt like they were "ascending" and ready to peak at the right time. Well, they came out and scored TDs on their first four possessions and even finished strong with a go-ahead TD drive in the final minute as Brees finished with 349 passing yards, five TD passes and one TD run.
But it wasn't enough on this day.
It feels like it happened three weeks ago, but the Saints' first two touchdowns came courtesy of tight end Jared Cook, who has really been emerging as a much-needed weapon for them with four TD catches over the past four games.
Unfortunately, Cook left the game with a concussion after his second catch - a terrific 26-yard grab that he held onto despite being hit in the head.
I'll be following up on Cook's progression through the concussion protocol via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. Ideally, Saints will get him back in plenty of time for their playoff run. ...
It also didn't help that running back Alvin Kamara, normally one of the Saints' most dynamic and productive players, fumbled in the third quarter at the New Orleans 20.
Kamara rushed 13 times for 25 yards, adding four receptions for 18 yards on Sunday.
As CBSSports.com notes, Kamara couldn't get much going in Sunday's close loss, accounting for his lowest output from scrimmage all season. The third-year back added to his eight-game streak of scoreless performances dating to Week 3, and his stats during that span have been concerning. Over his last eight contests, Kamara has averaged just 85.5 yards from scrimmage per game, though his 6.4 receptions per contest have buoyed some otherwise lackluster efforts in PPR formats.
He can't be benched given his immense upside, though he'll be a volatile fantasy playoff option when New Orleans takes on Indianapolis in Week 15.
After a season-low receiving total in Week 13, Michael Thomas bounced back in a huge way by hauling in 11 of 15 targets for 134 yards and a touchdown.
His 11 receptions bring his total to a league-leading 121 on the season, and he'll have three more games to eclipse Marvin Harrison's single-season record of 143. Thomas' 134 yards also brought him to 1,424 on the season, already surpassing his career-high 1,405 set in 2018.
Thomas is a locked-and-loaded WR1 no matter the opponent, and his career year should continue Week 15, as he takes on a Colts team that just gave up 474 yards through the air to the Buccaneers.
According to ESPN.com's Tristan H. Cockcroft, the most PPR fantasy points by a wide receiver through his team's first 13 games of a season: 322.4 Randy Moss, 2007; 317.8 Crazy Legs Hirsch, 1951; 312.7 Herman Moore, 1995; 312.6 Antonio Brown, 2014; 311.3 Charley Hennigan, 1961; 308.2 Marvin Harrison, 2002; 307.2 Jerry Rice, 1986; 305.9 Antonio Brown, 2017; 304.5 Michael Thomas, 2019; 303.6 Randy Moss, 2003. ...
Fresh off their worst defensive outing of the season, the Saints received unfortunate news.
Defensive end Marcus Davenport suffered a significant foot injury in Sunday's loss to the 49ers and is expected to undergo season-ending surgery, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport and NFL Network's Tom Pelissero reported Tuesday. New Orleans will have to forge onward without him, instead turning to rotational edge defender Trey Hendrickson. ...
And finally. ... Rookie kick returner Deonte Harris has been granted more freedom to return kickoffs out of the end zone because he consistently gets close to the 25-yard line and regularly seems to be on the brink of breaking a big gain. His elusiveness in space also has led Payton to periodically feature him on certain offensive plays, such as an end-around or screen. Harris' highlights against San Francisco included a 51-yard kick return and 25-yard punt return to go with a 13-yard reception and an 8-yard run.
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 10 December 2019
As NFL.com's Jeremy Bergman reported, Eli Manning's return under center started about as well as anyone could've imagined. In front of friends and family, the 38-year-old New York Giants signal-caller, benched for a rookie 16 years his junior in Week 3, appeared rejuvenated by his second chance at a final farewell.
Manning threw two touchdown passes in the first half of Monday night's game against the Philadelphia Eagles, both to rookie Darius Slayton and both for at least 35 yards. Eli played smart and relatively efficient, completing 11 of 19 passes for 179 yards for a 124.7 passer rating in the first half and leading New York to 17-3 lead over its hated division rival. All that was old was new again.
"I felt good. In a good rhythm," Manning told reporters after the game, per SNY. "Saquon was running well. Offensive line was protecting well. Guys we're getting open. I thought we could keep it going in the second half."
They could not.
Under Manning's stewardship, New York was not nearly as explosive in the final two frames, running 20 plays, tallying 24 passing yards and 30 yards total, picking up just two first downs and punting six times in six drives.
"Big Blue blew it," Bergman wrote, "and Eli (15-of-30, 203 yards) knew it."
"They played well in the second half and took away some of our things and we didn't execute quite well enough," Manning said of Philly's defense. "We've got to help out our defense. We've got to score points."
The Giants were held scoreless down the stretch, while Philadelphia scored twice in the final 17 minutes of regulation to tie it up and sent it to overtime. New York never got a chance to touch the ball in the fifth quarter, and the Eagles walked off with a 23-17 win.
New York's ninth straight loss not only dropped the Giants to 2-11 on the year but sent Manning's career record sub-.500. Entering Monday night with a 116-116 record, Eli is now one game below average.
Manning said after the game that fact didn't bother him and that, unlike the national media, he was unaware of the stat heading into the Eagles game, but surely he would prefer to correct the record.
Head coach Pat Shurmur said he's going to play the starting QB role week to week for the remaining three games, leaving open the possibility that Manning get back even.
In fact, the Giants may have no choice but to let Manning finish the season.
An NFL Network report suggested Daniel Jones could miss two to four weeks with his high ankle sprain. Shurmur denied that report and Jones was on the field for the open portion of practice Wednesday, with no boot on his foot and showing no ill effects from his injury.
"I'm just going to take it one week at a time," Manning said. "Just see what the coaches are telling me, find ways to improve and help out the team and try to get a win."
In addition to Jones, Evan Engram (foot) and Rhett Ellison (concussion) missed Monday night's game.
Engram, who was limited in Wednesday's practice, appeared to be trending towards playing against the Eagles, so his absence was a bit of a surprise. Golden Tate was also limited Wednesday due to a previously unreported foot injury.
I'll have more on Jones, Tate, Engram and Ellison via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Slayton provided most of his team's offense on Monday night, but he was frustrated that it wasn't enough to beat the Eagles.
"I think it's just pretty frustrating we weren't able to come away with the win, more than anything," Slayton said, via the New York Post. "You have highs and lows in games, but at the end of the day, coming away with the 'W' is what's important."
Slayton caught five passes for 154 yards and scored the Giants' only two touchdowns, in a game when the Giants gained just 276 total yards. But he did all that before halftime. Shurmur defended the Giants' inability to get Slayton the ball in the second half.
"We didn't get away from [Slayton]," Shurmur said. "We didn't stay on the field, so you don't get a chance to run as many plays as you like. We weren't trying to get away from him."
A rookie fifth-round draft pick from Auburn, Slayton has been a pleasant surprise this season, catching 42 passes for 659 yards and seven touchdowns, the most among rookie receivers through 13 weeks. Along with A.J. Brown and Terry McLaurin, Slayton can count among his peers one highly esteemed contemporary from the recent past.
With Monday's performance, Slayton became the first rookie to have multiple games of at least 100 receiving yards and two receiving TDs in a single season since 2014, when three players did it, among them one Odell Beckham Jr.
Not surprisingly, Saquon Barkley shared in Slayton's frustration.
"We're a team that finds a way to lose a lot of games," Barkley said, via NJ.com. "That's what we are as of right now, yes. That's our team. We're just an inconsistent football team. We find ways to lose games."
Barkley, whom the Giants drafted second overall last year with the idea that he'd be a major piece of a contending team, sounds beaten down by the fact that the Giants are 7-22 since he arrived. He wants to win, and the Giants aren't winning.
"When is that going to happen?" Barkley said. "I have no idea. ... It doesn't sit well with me."
Barkley's numbers are significantly down from last year, and the Giants' offense appears incapable of making much use of his talents. It's easy to see why he's frustrated.
And finally. ... As Profootballtalk.com's Mike Florio reminded readers, two years ago, the Giants fired coach Ben McAdoo with a 13-15 record after 28 regular-season games. Shurmur is now 7-22 after 29 regular-season games, and he has tied the all-time franchise record with nine straight losses.
Does he expect to finish the season as the team's coach?
"Yeah, I do," Shurmur told reporters after the overtime loss to the Eagles. "But I just have to wait and see."
The Giants host the Dolphins on Sunday at MetLife Stadium, where a loss would set the franchise record for 10 in a row.
"I have no thoughts on that," Shurmur said when asked about tying a team record for games-in-a-row futility. We lost a game tonight and I think that's what we're talking about. Unfortunately, that's our reality right now and I have no thoughts on that other than the fact that we lost the game tonight."
Asked later about the record-tying defeat, Shurmur said, "Yeah, it's not something that you want to be a part of. That's what I think."
The question is how much longer he'll be part of the Giants.
"Whether the hammer falls today or next Monday or on December 30," Florio summed up, "It's looking more and more likely that someone else will be coaching the team next year."
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 10 December 2019
As ESPN.com's Rich Cimini framed it, "No Le'Veon Bell. No Jamal Adams. No consistency on offense. A no-name defense.
"And the New York Jets still found a way to win on Sunday at MetLife Stadium, beating the Miami Dolphins 22-21. ..."
Good for them. But the celebration won't last long.
In four days, the Jets will face the Baltimore Ravens (11-2) on the road. On paper, it looks like one of the most lopsided games of the NFL season.
Heart can help you beat the lowly Dolphins (3-11), but it won't stop a dynamic quarterback in Lamar Jackson. If the Jets (5-8) let Ryan Fitzpatrick rush for 65 yards, what will happen against Jackson?
The Jets have some major issues, but at least they eluded the embarrassment of being swept by the Dolphins. Head coach Adam Gase avoided the indignity of becoming the first coach in NFL history to go 0-2 against the team he coached the previous season. He received two gifts -- a replay reversal on defensive pass interference with 43 seconds to play, which set up Sam Ficken's 44-yard field goal to win it as time ran out.
It was the first big kick all season by a Jets kicker, and there have been plenty. It was Ficken awesome for the Jets, who rallied in the final 1:33 and recorded their first AFC East win.
The come-from-behind win overshadowed another poor performance by Gase's offense, which went into a deep freeze in the second half -- the main reason why they blew a 16-6 lead.
It was an up-and-down day for Sam Darnold, who threw a third-quarter interception, overthrew a couple of open receivers and made a couple of poor decisions on third-and-short plays. To his credit, he made some clutch throws in the final minute to pull out the win. But make no mistake: He showed a few rough edges, especially with his decision-making outside the pocket.
Instead of running when flushed from the pocket, he threw the ball into coverage -- a habit his coaches are trying to break. They want Darnold to utilize his legs whenever possible. Sometimes it worked (his 26-yard touchdown pass to Robby Anderson) and sometimes it backfired. He's young and he's learning.
Darnold, who injured his right hand at the beginning of the fourth quarter, was off on a few of his late passes but finished 20 of 36 for 270 yards and touchdowns to Demaryius Thomas and Anderson. Darnold also was intercepted once.
Anderson had seven catches for 116 yards and the score. Bilal Powell, starting in place of the ill Bell, had 74 yards on 19 carries before leaving on the final drive with an ankle injury.
By the way, Powell's 74 yards represents the Jets' single-game high for the season. ...
On the injury front. ... Tight end Ryan Griffin, one of the few players who survived the first 12 games without getting hurt, left in the first quarter with an ankle injury. He had been a security blanket for Darnold, who had to rely on his wideouts more than usual.
Griffin and Powell have been ruled out. Thomas (hamstring) is listed as doubtful. Running back Ty Montgomery (foot, hip) and left tackle Kelvin Beachum (ankles) are questionable.
On defense, Jamal Adams is set to miss his second straight game with an ankle injury. He’s listed as doubtful along with defensive lineman Quinnen Williams (neck). Cornerback Arthur Maulet (calf) is also listed as doubtful and cornerback Brian Poole (concussion) has been ruled out, so the Jets will be pretty shorthanded against Lamar Jackson.
Meanwhile, Bell is "pretty close to 100 percent" after a bout with the flu, Gase said Monday.
While the Jets are optimistic Bell will return Thursday after missing Sunday's game, they are uncertain about Powell's status.
Powell is battling an illness in addition to his ankle injury.
I'll have more on Bell, Powell and Griffin via Late-Breaking Update in advance of Thursday night's game against the Ravens in Baltimore.
But there's a twist to the story.
On Saturday afternoon, the Jets downgraded Bell to out with an illness. On Saturday night, Bell reportedly went bowling.
According to the New York Post, Bell was spotted at New Jersey's Boonton Lanes the night before the Week 14 game against the Dolphins, where he remained from roughly 10:30 p.m. ET until 1:00 a.m. ET, when the facility closed.
The Jets won't be taking action against Bell.
"What am I gonna discipline him for?" Gase said when asked about it on Tuesday. "I can't tell him you have to stay in your house."
Gase explained that Bell violated no team rules, because the team didn't want Bell around other players when he was contagious. Still, it's clear that Gase prefers a player in that situation not go bowling.
"I'd rather him not be [out]," Gase said. "I'd rather him be at home just getting better."
Bell bragged to reporters later Tuesday about how well he bowled.
"The bigger surprise is I bowled a 251 off the flu," Bell said, via Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News. "Career-high."
Bell says doctors told him he should get out of the house and get moving, so he and his family went bowling on Saturday night. He said he would have played in Sunday's game if the team had allowed him and it was the team that decided to make him inactive because of the flu, and that his only regret is that his bowling excursion became public.
"I don't feel bad about what I did. I didn't break any rules, or I wasn't a distraction, until now that you all seen me bowling," Bell said.
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 10 December 2019
Derek Carr rolled to his right and waited several seconds for a receiver to break open in the end zone. When nobody did, Carr ended up throwing the ball away out of bounds on fourth down.
According to Associated Press sports writer Josh Dubow, while the latest loss for the Oakland Raiders may have been long decided by the time of that head-scratching play, it was emblematic of another rough day that has put a serious damper on what had been a promising season just a few weeks ago.
Carr and the Raiders failed to score a single point in the second half on the way to their third straight lopsided loss, 42-21 to the Tennessee Titans on Sunday.
"It's happened before," Carr said of the booing. "You play here long enough it will happen. We have a rowdy group and that's why we love them. They're passionate. They just want to win. Even when they're mad at you it's just like family. Even though they're mad at you they still want to hug you. They still want to do well. I understand their frustration. I showed some emotion, too. I don't think anything of it."
Just a few weeks ago it appeared as if the Raiders could deliver a final playoff run in Oakland before leaving town. They had a 6-4 record headed into a trip to New York to face the Jets but have now been outscored by 83 points in successive losses to New York, Kansas City and Tennessee.
A win against the Titans could have kept the Raiders in the thick of the playoff race and the team started off well with Maurice Hurst getting an interception on the opening drive and Carr throwing two TD passes in the first half, including a late one to Foster Moreau that tied the game at the break.
That all changed after halftime. Carr took a sack on third-and-2 from the Houston 39 on the opening possession of the half. Oakland then went three-and-out the next two possessions, leading to a pair of touchdowns for the Titans.
"On offense we just bogged down," guard Richie Incognito said. "Three-and-outs, our Achilles' heel. When we're going three-and-out and not picking up first downs and going down and scoring points, it's tough. The offense put the defense and the rest of the team in a tough position to start that second half, and they just exploded on us."
Darren Waller then lost a fumble that Jayon Brown returned for a score, making it 42-21 early in the fourth quarter and the rout was on. Oakland then had one more punt before Carr's fourth-down throwaway.
"I think he kept the play alive for 12 seconds," head coach Jon Gruden said. "It wasn't like he just aborted the ball. He exhausted that play for what it was. I'm not going to be one to stand up here and say that was a turning point in the game."
That had happened earlier on a day when the Raiders allowed Ryan Tannehill and the Titans to gain 552 yards, including a 91-yard TD pass to rookie A.J. Brown.
The Raiders were hurt by the fact that star running back Josh Jacobs (shoulder), right tackle Trent Brown (pectoral) and slot receiver Hunter Renfrow (ribs) all missed the game and Moreau left in the second half with a knee injury. Oakland has also lost safeties Johnathan Abram and Karl Joseph to season-ending injuries but the team didn't want to make excuses.
"I will just say that nobody cares," Carr said. "At the end of the day I've been doing this long enough to know nobody cares. I just want to win. For these fans, this place is special to me. I just want to win."
According to ESPN.com's Paul Gutierrez, Carr showed some spunk on a 15-yard scramble up the middle on the second play of the second half and, well, that was it. Again, quarterbacks get too much of the credit when things are going well, too much blame when things go south. Although there are holes all over the roster, Carr has not been able to elevate the rest of the team.
He finished with 263 passing yards in completing 25 of 34 attempts with the above-mentioned two TD passes.
With Jacobs out with a right shoulder injury (he said on social media this week he had been playing with a fracture since Week 7) DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard acquitted themselves fairly well. They combined for 81 yards rushing on 21 carries, with Washington scoring on an impressive 14-yard run to give the Raiders a 7-0 lead.
Remember, Jacobs was initially hurt on a hit he delivered on Green Bay Packers safety Adrian Amos on Oct. 20, and while he did not miss a game since then, he also did not practice either Wednesday or Thursday last week and was officially listed Friday as "questionable."
Still, on Wednesday, NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported that Jacobs underwent an MRI on his ailing shoulder after not playing on Sunday. The scans checked out very positively, sources tell Rapoport, and Jacobs is expected to return to the field this week.
Rapoport added: "Barring a setback, (it) should be just a one-week absence."
Still, his status this week -- especially with Oakland out of the playoff hunt -- is worth watching; I'll have more on this via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
Meanwhile, the Raiders won't have Moreau in the lineup again this season.
Gruden said on Monday that the fourth-round pick will not play again in 2019. He was placed on IR on Tuesday.
Moreau had three catches for 14 yards, including his fifth touchdown of the year, on Sunday. He had 21 catches for 174 yards overall.
The team signed running back Rod Smith to the active roster to fill Moreau's roster spot.
Smith joins the Raiders after appearing in three contests for the Titans this season.
He entered the league as an undrafted free agent out of Ohio State, signing with the Seahawks in 2015. Smith spent most of his first four seasons with the Cowboys, playing part of the time with his brother, Jaylon Smith. In his five seasons, Smith has appeared in 52 games and made two starts. He has 101 attempts for 364 yards and five touchdowns, while adding 30 receptions for 272 yards and an additional score.
The Raiders also announced they have signed tight end Eric Tomlinson.
Tomlinson will help fill in for Moreau. He caught one pass in two appearances with the Patriots this season and also saw action in three games for the Giants. Tomlinson had 16 catches for 193 yards and a touchdown in 36 games for the Jets over the last three seasons. ...
For the record, Oakland (6-7) is two games out of a playoff spot with three games remaining and needs to win all three and hope Pittsburgh and either Houston or Tennessee loses all three games to have a shot at the postseason. With that seeming like an extremely remote possibility, the focus instead will be on the goodbye to Oakland.
The Raiders will play their home finale against Jacksonville on Sunday before finishing the season with two straight on the road.
On Monday, Gruden called the team's recent play "sickening" and promised to shake things up in order to generate better results.
"Right now, we've got to play better, and we're going to play better, and there will be changes," Gruden said, via NBCSportsBayArea.com. "There will be changes. What happened yesterday will not happen again. I can't allow it to happen."
Given the point in the schedule, it's hard to see what changes will make a significant difference as the Raiders are essentially stuck with what they already have on hand. The offseason will be a different story and one imagines there will be some upheaval to come as they move on to Las Vegas.
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 10 December 2019
As Profootballtalk.com's Josh Alper reported it, when the Eagles left the field in Philadelphia at halftime on Monday night, they trailed 17-3 and there wasn't much reason to think they could rally back.
The team was on a three-game losing streak and it seemed like players were leaving with injuries every few minutes, so there would be little reason to fault anyone for losing their faith in the team. Belief was the subject of quarterback Carson Wentz's message to the offense before they tried to mount a comeback.
"Just keep believing. Keep believing and it's time to make a decision how this is going to define us tonight," Wentz said in his postgame press conference. "Obviously, we knew it was not our first half. That was a rough one and that was an ugly one. We just said, 'Keep believing and keep staying together.' Defense was going to take care of their piece, which they did. And we were able to do enough offensively to get this win."
As Wentz predicted, the defense did its piece and Wentz guided the Eagles to 20 points after halftime, including game-tying and game-winning touchdown passes to tight end Zach Ertz. He did that without right tackle Lane Johnson and with the offense down to one wide receiver, which led to Wentz seeing "routes I've never even read before in those situations."
Improbably, it all worked out and the Eagles got a much-needed victory to kick off their final quarter of the regular season.
The improbability, of course, is due to an offense that is broken.
Philly entered Monday without Nelson Agholor and Jordan Howard and then lost Alshon Jeffery and Lane Johnson in the first half against, forcing Wentz to attempt passes to the likes of Josh Perkins and Greg Ward down the stretch.
At one point on Monday night, the Eagles punted on five consecutive drives on all of which they ran just three plays.
But then Philly turned a switch by leaning on its most reliable pass-catcher and a breakout scat back. With Miles Sanders dealing with cramps, Boston Scott filled in to log a career-high 16 touches for 128 yards against the Giants; before Monday night, Scott had never logged more than 14 offensive snaps.
Scott was complemented in the open field and the red zone by the ever-reliable Zach Ertz (91 yards), who had to play receiver at times in the fourth quarter. The tight end was on the receiving end of Wentz's game-tying touchdown pass with 1:53 to go in the game and then the game-winning toss from two yards out in overtime.
In a war of attrition against themselves, the Eagles came out ahead in one of their sloppiest wins in recent memory, a victory that increased their chances of winning a division title and finally, maybe, hopefully turning everything around.
We just stopped being ourselves, man. We were just killing ourselves. The first 12 weeks of the season we've been killing ourselves" Ertz told NFL Network's Mike Garafolo after the game. "We just said at halftime, let's just see how tough we are, not only physically, but mentally especially.
"We never doubted each other. We never pointed fingers. I'm proud of this team."
The NFC East wasn't going to be won or lost either way on Monday night, but Philly's comeback against New York ensured that it wouldn't be surrendered without a fight.
The Cowboys and Eagles are now tied atop the division at 6-7 with three games remaining. Before the NFC East pace-makers meet in Week 16, Dallas will host the surging Rams (7-5) and Philly will travel to D.C. to take on the Redskins (3-10).
When the Eagles host the 'Boys in a do-or-die showdown in Week 16, the division will be on the line, and Philly, for the first time all season, could be in the driver's seat.
In the meantime, the injury issues will be something we all need to watch closely.
Coach Doug Pederson said Tuesday that Johnson is "week-to-week" with the ankle injury.
It sounds like Johnson will at least miss this week's matchup versus the Washington Redskins. Halapoulivaati Vaitai would likely start in Johnson's absence, but the Eagles could elect to run out rookie OT Andre Dillard on the right side.
Jeffery's foot injury is worse.
The receiver left after just 20 snaps with a non-contact injury. Pederson noted the injury is significant. NFL Network's Mike Garafolo reported that Jeffery felt something pop, per a source, but it doesn't appear to be an Achilles injury.
The Eagles are waiting on further tests, but sources tell Garafolo Jeffery will miss the rest of the season.
Assuming that's the case, it would be another blow to a decimated Philly receiver corps.
Jeffery was one of just three healthy receivers active for the game against the Giants. Jeffery left in the second quarter and JJ Arcega-Whiteside was sidelined in overtime.
According to John Clark of NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com, veteran quarterback Josh McCown said that he was prepared to run some routes if need be, and was making the necessary equipment adjustments.
"I was ready to go," McCown said. "We had the helmet ready to go. The equipment guys were all over it. Had the radio-less helmet because you can't have two green dots on the field at the same time.
"We were ready to roll. Shoot, I'd get in there and go. Obviously, as a quarterback, you know the offense. I guess it was like 12 years ago in Foxboro I had to go in and do it."
In that game on Dec. 10, 2006, the then-Lions backup caught two passes for 15 yards from Jon Kitna in a loss to the Patriots.
He had a 31-yard reception negated by an offensive pass interference penalty, which he said was "a little suspect."
"I'm not quite the option that JJ is or [Ward], obviously, but again, we were kind of up against it a little bit," McCown said. "Just being able to have a contingency plan was the main thing. I was ready to roll."
There are still three games to play, so he might still get his chance. ...
Arcega-Whiteside and Sanders, who both missed snaps Monday night, are “fine,” according to Pederson. Both were on the practice field Wednesday while Agholor and Jeffery did not practice. Howard was limited. I'll be following up on both via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses.
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 10 December 2019
As ESPN.com's Brooke Pryor notes, there's plenty about quarterback Devlin Hodges that isn't like most other NFL starting quarterbacks.
With Sunday afternoon's 23-17 victory over the Arizona Cardinals, Hodges distinguished himself from the pack yet again when he became the first undrafted rookie NFL quarterback to win his first three starts since Ed Rubbert in 1987 for the Washington Redskins.
"I heard a lot of people talking about it this week, and in my mind, I was like, 'Well, I guess I need to be the first undrafted QB to do that just so we can win this week,'" Hodges said. "My job is to win the game each and every week and that's what I want to do, and that's all I'm worried about."
Only Hodges and Craig Krenzel in 2004 have won two road games in their first three starts as rookies. Hodges completed 16 of 19 attempts for 152 yards and a touchdown Sunday. He also ran five times for 34 yards -- including a 22-yard scramble.
In the fourth quarter, Hodges helped seal the game with a field goal drive during which he threw across his body to connect with receiver Diontae Johnson for a 17-yard gain on third-and-13.
"I trust his judgement," head coach Mike Tomlin said. "That's been a part of his game. He did a really good job of managing his emotions in the midst of tough circumstances and being prudent, yet aggressive. We're getting more and more comfortable."
In three starts and two appearances in relief of Mason Rudolph, Hodges has completed 41 of 61 attempts for 530 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions. Tomlin famously said the quarterback "doesn't kill us" prior to his start against the Cleveland Browns, but in Sunday's game, Hodges did more than that. He began to show the offense could operate beyond just survival mode with plays like his 22-yard scramble -- something that didn't come from a designed run.
"I've been telling y'all since I came in here from OTAs, that's just how he is," running back Benny Snell said. "That's him. He is calm and collected, a playmaker."
Since taking over for Rudolph after halftime of Pittsburgh's Week 12 win over the Cincinnati Bengals, Hodges has settled into his role as the team's third starting quarterback of the season, even as he has played without the team's top two offensive playmakers in wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and running back James Conner.
"The confidence and the comfort level just comes with playing a lot and practicing," he said. "Obviously, the more you practice, the more you play, the more comfortable you get."
Meanwhile, with Smith-Schuster and Conner out for the third week in a row, rookie wide receiver Diontae Johnson became the latest under-the-radar player to fill the playmaking void in the Steelers' 23-17 win over the Arizona Cardinals.
A week after catching just one pass on five targets and giving up on a play in which Hodges was intercepted targeting him, Johnson put together perhaps the most noteworthy game of his career with six catches for 60 yard and two scores.
Johnson got started early with a first-quarter 85-yard punt return touchdown -- the Steelers' first since Antonio Brown's in 2015.
He followed it up with a touchdown in the third quarter on a 2-yard pass from Hodges. On the same drive, Johnson turned what looked like a loss into a significant gain. He initially ran to his right and into receiver James Washington near the line of scrimmage before reversing course and running in the opposite direction. He turned upfield at the sideline for a 14-yard gain just a few yards away from the end zone.
Then, just before the two-minute warning, Johnson reeled in a throw from Hodges on third-and-13 for a 17-yard gain, putting the Steelers at the 9-yard line as they held on to a three-point lead.
On Wednesday, Johnson was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week.
Beyond that, fourth-round pick Benny Snell has run for 202 yards and a touchdown over the past three weeks while filling in for Conner. Kerrith Whyte - who was on Chicago's practice squad a month ago - accounted for 74 total yards against the Cardinals.
While the offense has avoided mistakes, it also continues to get bogged down in the red zone. The Steelers only turned one of their four red zone possessions into touchdowns. That's got to change if they want to put together one of the more unlikely playoff berths in recent memory.
Next up, we'll find out if the Steelers can beat the Bills at their own game. Both teams rely on aggressive defenses to take some of the pressure off conservative offenses led by young quarterbacks. A win and Pittsburgh holds the top AFC wild-card spot. A loss and the hill to the postseason could become considerably steeper.
On the injury front. ... Tight end Vance McDonald is dealing with a concussion and running back Jaylen Samuels has a groin issue.
Conner and Smith-Schuster are trending toward a return this week as both practiced fully on Wednesday while McDonald and Samuels were held out.
A report on Monday indicated that Smith-Schuster is eyeing this Sunday's game against the Bills as the time to return to game action after missing the last three contests with a knee injury. Conner has missed the last three games with a shoulder injury and was a limited participant in practice last week despite being ruled out last Thursday.
I'll be following up on both via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.
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 10 December 2019
For the first time this season, the San Francisco 49ers found themselves in a shootout, fittingly against Drew Brees and the high-powered New Orleans Saints.
As ESPN.com's Nick Wagoner notes, in a game with major NFC playoff implications, the Niners had just enough firepower to hold off New Orleans and leave the Superdome with a scintillating 48-46 victory. The win was San Francisco's first in New Orleans since 2014, and it gave the Niners their first 11-win season since 2013, and their best start through 13 games since 1997.
San Francisco kicker Robbie Gould booted a 30-yard field goal as the clock expired to send the Niners to victory. The kick came after a 39-yard completion to tight end George Kittle plus a facemask penalty on Marcus Williams.
On fourth-and-2 from San Francisco's 33, Kittle ran an option route, beat a would-be tackler and dragged Williams, who held on to Kittle's facemask for much of the run, to the Saints' 28-yard line. Kittle's 36 yards after contact were the most on a catch in his career.
"Our tight end coach (Jon Embree) always says, don't let one guy tackle you," Kittle said. "That's my mindset, just try to run through him, try to carry him as far as I can."
The run after catch was pivotal. If Kittle had been tripped up in bounds, the final 30 seconds could have played out much differently for San Francisco.
"I knew the (defender) was in a bad situation out there. (George) is a beast with the ball in his hands," quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo said.
"That was as cool of a game as I've been a part of," head coach Kyle Shanahan said. "A lot of emotions back and forth. It'll probably hit me a little bit harder when I get on the plane. The guys just kept battling. ... I thought I was going to have to call a number of more plays to get into field goal range, but Kittle took care of it fast, which probably saved a few years of my life."
The combined 94 points were the most in a regular-season game between 10-win teams in NFL history, according to research by the Elias Sports Bureau. It also made for the highest-scoring 49ers-Saints game in the history of the two teams' meetings, per ESPN Stats and Information research.
With the win, the 49ers became the 12th team since 1978 to win 11 or more games after winning fewer than five in the previous season. The Niners would clinch a playoff spot Sunday night with a Los Angeles Rams loss or tie against the Seattle Seahawks. The loss was the Saints' sixth straight in a regular-season game against a team with at least 10 wins.
At 11-2, the Niners now hold an important tiebreaker in the race for the top seed, though they still need the Seahawks to lose another game before they can jump back into that spot. Regardless, San Francisco now holds a head-to-head edge against the Saints and the Green Bay Packers, another top contender in the NFC.
Sunday's game was San Francisco's third straight against a team with an .800 or better winning percentage, making the Niners the first team to play that many in a row this late in the season in the Super Bowl era. They came through it 2-1, with the lone loss coming on a last-second field goal last week against Baltimore.
"This game meant a lot," Garoppolo said. "It was a big one for us. It was a big game. These two in a row, they were playoff atmosphere games, so I think that will serve us well going forward."
In addition to the 94 combined points, the two sides combined for 981 yards of total offense and 53 first downs while averaging a whopping 7.5 yards per play.
After a wild first half that saw the teams combine for 55 points and 581 yards -- the first time two teams had that many combined points and yards in the first half since Week 8 of 2014 -- the Niners defense settled in just enough in the second half, limiting the Saints to field goals instead of touchdowns and forcing the first lost fumble for New Orleans this season, while the offense continued to roll.
Garoppolo and the passing game did most of the heavy lifting to make it happen; he finished 26-of-35 for 349 yards with four touchdowns and one interception for a passer rating of 131.7. The four-touchdown effort puts Garoppolo with Steve Young and Jeff Garcia as the only Niners quarterbacks to have at least three games with four or more touchdowns in a season.
Garoppolo was named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week for his efforts.
Receiver Emmanuel Sanders was Garoppolo's favorite target, finishing with 157 yards on seven catches with a touchdown. Sanders also threw a 35-yard touchdown, giving the 49ers five touchdown passes in a game for the first time since 1990. Sanders became the first Niner since San Francisco joined the NFL in 1950 to throw for and catch a touchdown in the same game, the second time he has done it in his career.
Kittle added 67 yards on six catches with a career-high 50 of those yards coming after contact. That performance pushed Kittle past Hall of Famer Kellen Winslow for the fourth-most receiving yards by a tight end in his first three seasons. He needs just 129 in the next three games to pass Mike Ditka for first on that list.
Wagoner went on to note that following last week's loss to the Ravens, the Niners' offense took the blame and the players lamented a narrow loss in a game that was there for the taking. The defeat didn't alter the Niners' postseason trajectory much, but it did narrow the margin for error.
That's still the case after a wildly entertaining Sunday in New Orleans.
"It means we are 11-2," Shanahan said. "So, we will see what else happens. Everyone likes to talk about that each week. It would be more fun to talk about if everyone else had bad records, but there are a lot of teams that have good records.
"It's one week at a time. If you start to feel good about yourself, it's going to be over for you fast. You get real down and count yourself out, you're not giving yourself a chance. Because it's going to come down to the last week with a number of teams in the NFC, and we are looking forward to next week."
The 49ers got a win in New Orleans on Sunday, but the shootout took a toll on them physically.
Shanahan announced that center Weston Richburg tore his patellar tendon and will miss the rest of the season. Ben Garland will step into the center spot for this week and beyond.
Cornerback Richard Sherman is set to miss a couple of weeks after going for an MRI of his injured hamstring. Defensive end Dee Ford also re-injured his hamstring and Shanahan said he'll also miss multiple weeks as a result of the injury.
That will leave the 49ers with some shuffling to do on defense for Sunday's visit from the Falcons.
And finally. ... Receiver Marquise Goodwin on injured reserve, Field Yates of ESPN reports.
Goodwin has chronic knee and foot injuries.
He played nine games with six starts this season but had only one special teams snap in Week 13 and was inactive Sunday. Goodwin has not seen action on offense since Week 11.
Goodwin finishes his seventh season with 12 catches for 186 yards and a touchdown.
He has said he hopes to compete in the 2020 Olympics in Japan this summer. He finished 10th in the long jump at the 2012 Games but hasn't competed in track since 2016 when he failed to qualify for the Olympics a second time.
Goodwin would have to start training relatively quickly to have a chance to make Team USA.
The 49ers signed CB Dontae Johnson and WR Jordan Matthews to one-year deals on Wednesday and placed Richburg on the injured reserve list.
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 10 December 2019
As NFL.com's Kevin Patra pointed out, it had been more than 800 days since the Seahawks were held without an offensive touchdown -- 819, to be exact. The streak is now over.
The Seahawks scored only 12 points in Sunday night's 28-12 loss to the Los Angeles Rams, and the only TD came on a pick-six. The last time Seattle was held without an offensive TD was Week 1, 2017 versus the Green Bay Packers.
It was a team-wide offensive struggle for the Seahawks. Russell Wilson's normal magic was erased by Aaron Donald and Co., who badgered the quarterback into five sacks, just 245 yards on 22-of-36 passing with an INT. For the first time all season, Wilson didn't throw a touchdown pass.
"Obviously, it felt like we weren't ourselves out there. We all felt that," Seahawks tight end Jacob Hollister said, via the Seattle Times. "We've just got to flush it tomorrow and move on from it."
The Seahawks seemed off-kilter from the jump, with pass-catchers dropping balls, backs not breaking tackles and blockers picking up penalties.
Usually, the self-inflicted wounds from Seattle are offset by Wilson's wizardry. Not against this Rams squad. Sunday's five sacks mean Wilson has now been sacked 61 times by the Rams in his career -- second-most a QB has been sacked by a single opponent in his first eight seasons since the 1970 NFL merger, per NFL Research.
"They had a great game plan," Seahawks receiver Tyler Lockett said. "I just think they had a lot of pressure on us today and it kind of threw us in a hole early on."
It's been a tough few weeks for Lockett. He suffered a significant leg contusion against San Francisco in Week 10 that required two nights in a hospital. He returned from the injury only to get struck by a nasty flu going through the team.
In his past three games, Lockett has just five catches for 81 yards, including a Week 13 goose egg.
The inability to push the ball downfield to Lockett has impacted the rest of Seattle's passing game. The Seahawks had just two pass plays of more than 20 yards against the Rams. Head coach Pete Carroll said while Seattle wanted to take its shot with Wilson, either pressure by the Rams' defensive front or coverage in the back forced Wilson to throw underneath on several occasions.
The Seahawks' pass-attack has failed to get Lockett involved since he suffered an injury in Week 10. The past three games, Wilson's favorite target has put up just 81 total yards on five receptions
"I just think we've been running the ball more (lately), so we haven't been as focused as much on just trying to like 'Air Raid' the ball like we kind of did earlier on (in the season)," Lockett said.
He added: "We haven't been running plays to be explosive. We've been running plays to run the ball and control the clock. We haven't really been trying to go over the top like we normally have, because teams have been game-planning that."
Perhaps after they get done flushing Sunday's outcome, Seattle will revisit its strategy and try to get Lockett going earlier in its three remaining games.
With the loss, the Seahawks slipped a game behind the 49ers in the NFC West. The difference between the No. 1 overall seed and a No. 5 wild card could sit in the balance the final three weeks of the season, with the Week 17 rematch with San Francisco likely being the deal-breaker.
For what it's worth, Wilson's MVP candidacy may be finished.
Through the first half of the season, Wilson was a front-runner along with Baltimore's Lamar Jackson. But Wilson's last four games have been more pedestrian and less MVP caliber. He's completing 63 percent of his passes, thrown four touchdowns and four interceptions and had an 82.7 passer rating during those four games.
Wilson was 22 of 36 for 245 yards and one interception against the Rams. Seattle won three of the four games, but needs Wilson to find that form from earlier in the season going into the playoffs.
On a more positive note, DK Metcalf took over the NFL lead in yards and catches among rookies after having six receptions for 78 yards against the Rams. With Lockett struggling to get back into the mix, Metcalf has 25 receptions over the past five games. ...
On the injury front. ... An MRI confirmed running back Rashaad Penny tore an anterior cruciate ligament in Sunday's loss to the Rams, Ian Rapoport of the NFL reports. Penny also has additional damage to his knee, Rapoport adds. The Seahawks will place Penny on injured reserve.
In 10 games, Penny had 73 carries for 453 yards and four touchdowns.
The Seahawks will use C.J. Prosise and Travis Homer to spell Chris Carson.
"C.J. will step into that role, and Homer will help out and we'll see how those guys will do," Carroll said. "We expect them to do well. C.J. has always done well when we've given him a chance. Now he'll know he's in the game plan and all of that and I'm hoping he'll contribute in a big way."
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 10 December 2019
As ESPN.com's Jenna Laine reported it, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers overcame four turnovers, the loss of Pro Bowl wide receiver Mike Evans to a hamstring injury, and a small thumb fracture to the throwing hand of quarterback Jameis Winston to defeat the Indianapolis Colts 38-35 on Sunday. The Bucs won their third straight under head coach Bruce Arians and improved to 6-7.
It was just the fourth time this season that a team turned the ball over four times and won, according to ESPN Statistics and Information research.
Teams that have turned the ball over four or more times in games this season have gone 4-26.
"It's a damn good thing I'm a young cub," Arians said. "Coaching the nicest team in the league is tough. We just love spotting 17 points to the other team, then come back and winning. ... I don't think I have blood pressure anymore."
He likely won't have his top receiver, either.
Evans pulled up as he was outrunning Pierre Desir on a 61-yard touchdown in the first quarter and fell to the turf in pain before limping off and not returning.
"It's not good," Arians said of Evans. "I'll be shocked if Mike makes it back before next week."
In fact, ESPN's Jeremy Fowler reported on Tuesday that sources tell him Evans is expected to miss the rest of the season. NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported the same on Wednesday. Barring unexpected improvement on hamstring, Tampa Bay will be without its top receiver.
Not surprisingly, Evans was not at practice Wednesday.
Winston, who struggled to grip the football coming out after halftime, was replaced by Ryan Griffin for a series before returning in the third quarter.
"They X-rayed his thumb. He's got a little-bitty fracture. Nothing serious. He was able to get his strength back to come back in," Arians said, believing the injury did not affect Winston's throws.
As far as the thumb injury impacting Winston's ability to practice this week, Arians said, "It does not look like it right now."
Winston was going through drills during the portion of Wednesday’s practice open to the media, but there was one big difference between him and the other quarterbacks. Per multiple reporters at Buccaneers practice, Winston was neither throwing nor holding a ball while going through those drills.
For what it's worth, Winston went to see a specialist about his right thumb injury on Monday and Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times reports that the Bucs expect Winston to be in the lineup this week after that exam. He may be limited in practice over the course of the week and Wednesday will be the first chance to see if that's the case.
The thumb injury was just one facet of an eventful day for Winston. He was 33-of-45 for 456 yards, four touchdowns while leading the Bucs to a win after trailing Indianapolis by 14 points.
"By the grace of God, man. He willed me through," said Winston, who ran in a fifth touchdown.
"Our starting left tackle [Donovan Smith] got banged up. One of the best receivers in the world [was] out. I hurt my thumb a little bit," Winston said. "And we still pulled this game off."
But Winston also threw three interceptions, including his fourth pick of the season on the opening drive. He was then pick-sixed 80 yards by linebacker Darius Leonard in the second quarter as Tampa Bay fell behind 24-14.
Those plays, plus running back Dare Ogunbowale's fumble on the second possession, gave the Colts 17 points off of turnovers. The Colts had a chance for more after Winston's fourth-quarter pick by Malik Hooker with 9:57 to go, but kicker Chase McLaughlin, who was signed this week to replace an injured Adam Vinatieri, saw his 47-yard field goal hit the right upright.
"I can 'snap and clear.' I don't focus on the last play. The key is, I have to not be in those situations," said Winston, who now has 23 picks this season. "That's what I've gotta continue to work at. Being able to bounce back -- that's in my blood. I was blessed to be like that. But I've gotta not put us in that situation, so that's what I'm gonna be working on. ... Heavily. ..."
Of course, Evans' absence leaves a substantial statistical void, worth 67 receptions, 1,157 yards and eight receiving touchdowns in 13 games this season. That's a massive hole for those relying on Evans for consistent fantasy points. Per NFL.com's fantasy scoring leaderboard, Evans ranks fifth among all receivers this season with 232.7 total points, an average of 17.9 points per week.
The good news for the Buccaneers: Evans' teammate, Chris Godwin, ranks second among all receivers with 259 points (19.92 points per week). They'll be all right.
But fantasy owners will closely monitor this story in the thick of the playoffs.
Given all that, it's worth noting that stepping in for Evans was third-year wideout Justin Watson, who went in motion and caught a 17-yard touchdown along the seam from Winston -- the first of his career -- with 3:24 to go in the third quarter to make it 35-28. Watson finished 5-for-8 for 59 yards.
Winston also connected with Breshad Perriman on a 12-yard fade route for a touchdown and the lead. Perriman caught 3 of 5 targets for 70 yards.
"It's crazy," Perriman said. "Just to be a part of this team, this organization that overcomes every single bit of adversity that comes our way -- it's just crazy, man. It just shows us how great we can be if we just minimize mental errors, missed assignments and mistakes."
"[Jameis'] ability to bounce back is remarkable," said tight end Cameron Brate, who caught a 3-yard touchdown pass from Winston just before halftime. "Battling through an injury as well -- a pretty significant injury for someone who throws the ball -- I knew he wasn't gonna stay out long. If he can play, he's gonna play. Just made enough plays there in the second half. It was awesome."
"I know for me personally, it helps me a lot," said Perriman, who struggled to develop a connection with Winston earlier this season but had a career-high 86 receiving yards last week. "No matter who made the mistake, he'll come to you and let you know, 'That's over with. Next play. We're still rollin.' That's a great thing to have."
Still, Winston knows the turnovers -- he's now up to 23 interceptions this year -- have to stop if he's to take this team further. The Minnesota Vikings' win officially eliminated the Bucs from postseason contention. But they still have an opportunity to post a winning record for just the second time in the past 10 seasons. Just one of their three remaining opponents -- the Houston Texans - is currently above .500.
"We're gonna fix it on Monday. I guarantee you," Winston said of the turnovers. "We're gonna have some tough talks. I know I'm gonna have a lot of tough talks. But at the end of the day, we willed ourselves to win this game. And it's from [the coaches'] confidence, from their body language on that sideline and giving everyone around us confidence that, 'Hey, I messed up. But what am I gonna do now?'"
One last note here. ... The Buccaneers needed some help at receiver, so they promoted one of their own.
The team announced that rookie Ishmael Hyman had been promoted from the practice squad.
To make room on the active roster, they placed running back T.J. Logan on injured reserve.
But it was the sudden lack of numbers at receiver that necessitated the move. In addition to Evans, rookie Scott Miller, who has missed the last two games with a hamstring strain of his own, is ailing.
Miller was on the practice field Wednesday, however.
Hyman was in camp with the Browns this offseason after his stint in the AAF.
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 10 December 2019
The Tennessee Titans throttled the Oakland Raiders 42-21 on Sunday for their fourth consecutive victory, improving to 8-5 and setting them up for a showdown at home against the Houston Texans (8-5) for first place in the AFC South.
The Texans will look to rebound from a loss to the Denver Broncos when they visit the Titans next Sunday.
That won't be easy given the way Ryan Tannehill has been play. The veteran QB was on point against the Raiders on Sunday, finishing with 391 passing yards and three touchdowns. His work within the pocket was impressive. The best throw was a 91-yard touchdown strike to A.J. Brown off of play-action.
The pass rush was closing in on Tannehill, but he hung in there and made a perfect throw, giving Brown room to run under it and haul it in.
Also, as ESPN.com's Turron Davenport suggested, if there was any doubt that Brown was the Titans' most dangerous pass-catcher, there isn't anymore. Tannehill and Brown had their best game together, with Brown finishing with a career-high 153 yards on five receptions.
The chemistry they are developing provides a big-play element that had been missing from the Titans' passing game.
"We are doing a really good job of handling our business," Brown said after the game. "Everybody is doing what they're supposed to do and we are rolling. This was a team win, not an individual win ... we've been working and trying to get it all together."
Those 391 passing yards were the second-highest total of Tannehill's career (396 yards vs. Vikings on Dec. 12, 2014). Two of Tannehill's three touchdown passes went to Brown, who became the first rookie with 150 or more receiving yards and two touchdowns in a game since Tampa Bay Buccaneers receiver Mike Evans did it in November 2014, according to ESPN Stats and Information.
On Wednesday, Tannehill was named the AFC Offensive Player of the Week for his efforts.
Brown has emerged as a serious threat to create explosive plays by gaining yards after the catch. According to NextGen Stats, Brown averaged 17.2 yards gained after the catch against the Raiders. Out of 102 players with at least 50 targets this season, Brown's 12.8 yards per target is the highest in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats and Info.
Head coach Mike Vrabel pointed to Brown's great play strength and how the rookie wideout plays through the catch as a reason for his ability to pick up extra yards. Vrabel didn't hesitate to mention how Tannehill is throwing into tight windows and with anticipation.
"Ryan gave him a great ball, and [Brown] went up to and got it on the long one," Vrabel said.
Added Brown, "I just feel like, 'Throw the ball around me.' My job is to catch the ball. Just give me a chance. He's done a great job by hitting me in stride and giving me a great opportunity to run after the catch. When you get the ball in your hands, you have a lot of confidence. It's like a thrill. At least for me. I am trying to get my next catch after the first one."
The confidence is growing with each connection from Tannehill to Brown. Tannehill has a strong conviction that Brown and the other receivers will make aggressive plays on the ball leading to completions even when the coverage is close. That belief makes it more likely for Tannehill to fit the ball into tight windows.
The Tannehill-to-Brown connection has resulted in 506 yards and four touchdowns in the past seven games.
Although the success of the offense starts with running back Derrick Henry, Brown's success provides balance for the Titans' offense. The explosive plays Brown generates gives Tennessee the perfect complement to Henry.
Henry has gained 599 yards and seven touchdowns in the past four games, reaching at least 100 rushing yards in each of them. Teams that focus on stopping Henry are starting to pay for it with big plays opening in the passing game.
Tannehill's 91-yard touchdown pass on play-action is a great example.
Through 13 games, Brown leads the Titans in receptions (39), receiving yards (779) and receiving touchdowns (6). Even though Brown was the fourth wide receiver selected in his draft class, he's always felt like he would be a premier playmaker in the NFL.
"I believed in myself since Day 1," Brown said. "I just had to get the mental part down. I had a lot of confidence in myself coming into Day 1. I'll continue working and put my head down. I'd say the game started to slow down for me in Week 4 against the Falcons. Things slowed down for me a little bit and I told myself I could be something to really deal with in this league."
Tennessee's resurgence started in Week 7 when Tannehill took over at quarterback and led the Titans to a 23-20 victory over the Los Angeles Rams. The Titans are 6-1 with Tannehill as their quarterback. Their red zone offense has become the best in the NFL after it was 19th (converting at a 58.3 percent clip) when he took over.
The Titans averaged 9.36 yards per play against Oakland, the highest single-game average in franchise history and the best for any team this season. That comes two games after they averaged 9.06 yards per play against the Jaguars.
The Titans have also now scored 30 or more points in four consecutive games.
For the record. ... Henry is second in the NFL in rushing, just 38 yards back of Cleveland's Nick Chubb, despite being cautious with a sore left hamstring. Henry is tied with Dalvin Cook of Minnesota with 13 TDs rushing. Henry was clearly favoring the hamstring while posting those numbers and he said things will have to get much worse before he considers coming out of the lineup.
"Ain't no quittin' in me," Henry said, via the team's website. "My leg is going to have to be halfway off for me to stop. I am going to go out there and help my team win games and play through it."
Given the way things looked against the Raiders, Henry probably won't be doing much on the field this week in order to make sure all is well for an implication-filled game against the Texans this weekend.
Vrabel said as much Monday.
"I would say the (maintenance plan) would be the exact same as it was last week," the coach said of this week's plan.
"It is late in the season, and guys play a lot of reps. There's a lot of things that guys manage to get to the game on Sunday and that is our job, and it is their job as a professional to be ready mentally with limited reps. If he can take more reps we'll give him more reps."
Henry was not practicing Wednesday.
I'll have more on that via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses; the same goes for wideout Adam Humphries, who didn't play against Oakland due to a hamstring injury of his own and who was also not practicing Wednesday. ...
Meanwhile, as Associated Press sports writer Teresa M. Walker notes, the offensive line has struggled mightily this season with sacks and too many penalties. But the Titans did not allow a sack against the Raiders for only the second game this season.
Left tackle Taylor Lewan, who publicly apologized after his own flag-filled game Nov. 10, has not been penalized in the three games since that post-game tirade at himself.
On a less positive note, kicker Ryan Succop clanked a 42-yard field goal off the left upright just before halftime. Succop now is 1 of 5 on field goals since being activated from injured reserve, and the Titans still rank last in the NFL, making 47.1 percent of their field goals. The Titans signed Carlos Santo on Nov. 27 to handle kickoffs and have some insurance, and Vrabel said they will keep working with Succop on his process and his accuracy.
"He just needs to put a good swing on it, trust that he's made a lot of kicks in this league and will continue to make kicks for us," Vrabel said.
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 10 December 2019
The bad news for the Washington Redskins is their loss at Green Bay eliminated them from playoff contention in a bad NFC East.
The worse news is they won't have running back Derrius Guice for the rest of the season.
Guice's injury is only a sprain, but with only three games remaining, the running back won't return this season.
Washington placed Guice on injured reserve, one of several moves the team announced Tuesday.
Guice sprained the medial collateral ligament in his left knee during Sunday's game against the Packers, taking a direct hit to his knee from safety Darnell Savage.
"Most guys would be in the tank, (but) he comes through in a positive way with a positive outlook looking to the next challenge of what he needs to do to get back healthy again," interim coach Bill Callahan said. "It's still frustrating for him, but if there's anybody who can take on a challenge it's certainly Derrius."
Guice has played in six NFL games and has hurt his knee in three of them -- one cost him an entire season and the second caused him to miss eight games this year. Guice continues to show flashes of why the Redskins like him. But the knee injuries have made it tough for the Redskins to view him as a durable runner.
Guice finishes his second season with 49 touches for 324 yards and three touchdowns.
The Redskins definitely missed him after he exited Sunday, having to use Wendell Smallwood when Adrian Peterson needed a breather.
Guice's injury is a blow for the Redskins (3-10) mostly because they're in evaluation mode looking toward next season. He's an important part of the offense moving forward, along with rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins and rookie receiver Terry McLaurin.
"I think it's going to be awesome," Callahan said.
Washington also announced it activated cornerback Danny Johnson from the physically unable to perform list and signed running back Josh Ferguson from the practice squad.
As for the short term. ... As ESPN.com's John Keim notes, Peterson - who was benched in Week 1 by since-fired coach Jay Gruden - handled the rotation with Guice well but certainly won't shy away from a bigger workload. Callahan loves Peterson and wants to run the ball a lot, and it's not crazy to think Peterson is back next year at age 35 given Guice's injury problems.
By the way, Peterson became the sixth player in NFL history to surpass 14,000 yards rushing. He entered the game needing 40 yards to hit that mark and topped it with 48 in the opening half. He also scored a touchdown for the eighth straight game at Lambeau Field and his eight touchdowns at Green Bay are now the most by a Packers opponent.
Finally, Peterson's touchdown run was his 109th, leaving him one shy of tying Walter Payton for fourth on the all-time list.
Meanwhile, Haskins gutted through an ankle injury against the Packers, saying he was not going to come out of the game. As Keim suggested, there have been plenty of (warranted) criticisms of the 15th overall pick and how long it has taken him to learn the offense, but no one can take shots at his toughness.
"This is a tough guy," Callahan said. "He's a competitor. Quarterbacks are competitors, tough, tough people, and I've got a lot of respect for Dwayne and what he went through."
Haskins was sacked four times in the loss to the Packers. It's hard to judge Haskins properly if he doesn't have time to go through his reads and find receivers.
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