Team Notes Week 16 2018

By Bob Harris
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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. ...

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Arizona Cardinals

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 December 2018

As ESPN.com's Josh Weinfuss framed it, "Another loss for the Arizona Cardinals, another step closer to the No. 1 overall pick."

Weinfuss went on to explain the Cardinals came into Sunday with a 55.4 percent chance of securing the top choice in April's NFL draft -- odds that likely will improve after this week's slate of games are over. But more than improving the Cardinals' chance of locking in the No. 1 pick, Sunday's 40-14 blowout loss to the Atlanta Falcons magnified Arizona's needs and showed how tough of a position the team could be in when they go on the clock that Thursday night in Nashville, Tennessee.

Sunday's dismal showing amplified the Cardinals' need to fix both sides of the ball. An entire overhaul isn't necessary but significant upgrades are. That's not new. Arizona still needs help on its offensive line, it still needs a second cornerback and it still needs another talented, game-changing wide receiver.

So, where do the Cardinals start?

That'll be the toughest question for team president Michael Bidwill and whoever his general manager and head coach are.

The Cardinals scored 14 points Sunday -- seven of which came in garbage time late in the fourth quarter. Josh Rosen threw two interceptions, including one that was returned for a touchdown, and he was sacked six times. They gained just 79 yards between their first drive, which ended in a touchdown, and Mike Glennon's 69-yard touchdown drive with 3:19 left in the game.

The defense gave up 40 points for the third time this season -- and 40 unanswered at that, the second time in four games that the Cardinals gave up 40 or more unanswered points. Arizona also gave up 215 rushing yards, a season-high in a year full of big running performances by opposing offenses.

That type of bad football muddies the Cardinals' approach to the first pick.

One of the Cardinals' priorities, as seen Sunday with seven sacks allowed -- six on Rosen and one on Glennon -- will need be to keep Rosen upright and healthy. There isn't a tackle worthy of going in the top 5.

Another one of the Cardinals' priorities is the need to pair Patrick Peterson with another top-tier young corner. David Amerson, the Cardinals' third starter of the season at CB2, left the game with a concussion and was replaced with Brandon Williams.

Arizona also needs to bolster its receiving corps, which it may not want to do at No. 1 or elsewhere in the top 5.

The Cardinals have to figure out what to do with the No. 1 pick and that won't be an easy decision with all the issues facing them with two games left. ...

While the Cardinals pulled Rosen in the fourth quarter of Sunday's loss, they won't be taking him out of the starting lineup.

That was the message from head coach Steve Wilks on Monday when he was asked about the possibility of playing out the string with Glennon rather than the team's first-round draft pick.

Rosen threw for just 132 yards before being pulled for Glennon, who threw for 111 yards in less than a quarter.

Wilks said he believes Rosen will continue to benefit from playing despite the shoddy state of the team's offensive line and, via Darren Urban of the team's website, that making a change would play into a "mindset of giving up and quitting."

As Profootballtalk.com's Josh Alper suggested, given the importance of Rosen to future plans in Arizona, it's not surprising that the Cardinals would opt to go this direction. Should the Rams and/or Seahawks subject Rosen to the same kind of pressure that the Falcons provided on Sunday, the team can opt to shut him down but if there's anything left to gain this season it is from getting Rosen experience he can use to improve. ...

Meanwhile, Larry Fitzgerald, late in the game, took aim at the Atlanta defender. Fitz was in the middle of one of his better statistical games of the season, but the Cardinals were getting blown out, time was just about up, and here Fitz was in the middle of a 26-yard catch-and-run and he decided he needed something extra. For him.

So he put his shoulder down and went "truck stick", bowling over safety Damontae Kazee.

"I was just frustrated," Fitzgerald said. "If it had been a different scenario I would've tried to avoid him, tried to score a touchdown. I needed to release a little bit of frustration and anger.

"I told him I was sorry. I knew he was banged up earlier in the game. I just needed a little contact."

The frustration went through all of the Cardinals Sunday.

As Urban wrote, "It was an ugly loss in a season with too many," a fourth time they had a defeat of 26 points or more (and only a late TD pass from Glennon to Trent Sherfield against the Falcons made that number lower than 33.) It started so well. Rosen led a TD drive, the defense played well on a couple of possessions, and it felt like maybe -- just maybe -- it would be Green Bay, Part II.

Instead, when it was over, Wilks was asked about his concerns about his job status -- "My focus right now is on the Rams," he said -- and Fitz was asked about his coach.

"The heat's on all of us," Fitzgerald said, adding, "I love coach Wilks and I believe in what he stands for. We will continue to fight for him. ..."

In case you missed it, CBSSports.com's Jason La Canfora reported the Cardinals are considering a complete housecleaning with general manager Steve Keim and Wilks both apparently in danger of losing their jobs.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic wrote of the looming termination of Wilks, it "seems a foregone conclusion."

As Profootballtalk.com's Mike Florio suggests, that's a phrase Somers likely crafted carefully, choosing the right words to communicate the current sentiment, without putting a clear stake in the ground that Wilks is definitely out -- since it's entirely possible that the final decision hasn't been made, and that if there's a current lean by the organization something could, in theory, change it.

The broader question will be whether the Cardinals also will fire Keim. He seemed to be on thin ice after an arrest for extreme DUI, the misguided decision to pay more than $15 million for one year to Sam Bradford, and whatever role Keim had in the hiring of Wilks.

But Somers believes Keim's history will get him at least one more year.

And so, as the season comes to an end, it appears that Wilks will be fired and that Keim will be safe. Ultimately, however, nothing is done until it's done. Or as the case may be not done. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Sunday was David Johnson's birthday, and he looked like he was going to have a heck of a game. On the first drive he ran for a TD, caught a 40-yard pass, had a 15-yard catch-and-run to set up the TD. After that though, the Falcons clamped down.

Johnson ran 11 times for 33 yards as he played with a sore quadriceps while Chase Edmonds and even T.J. Logan got much of the late work.

Chad Williams missed a sixth straight game because of his bad hamstring (he missed the first four games of the streak with an ankle injury). ...

According to Field Yates of ESPN, former Rams return Pharoh Cooper was claimed off waivers by the Cardinals.

The Rams released Cooper Tuesday after he failed to live up to last year’s standards in his limited work since returning from injured reserve (21.3 yards per kickoff return, 6.0 yards per punt return).

As Profootballtalk.com suggests, the fact he was an All-Pro returner last year (when he averaged 27.4 and 12.5, respectively) practically guaranteed he’d get another chance, and since the Cardinals have such a good spot in the claiming order, it makes sense to take a free look.

As noted above, the Cardinals host the Los Angeles Rams Sunday.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Kyler Murray, Brett Hundley
RBs: Kenyan Drake, David Johnson, Chase Edmonds
WRs: Christian Kirk, Larry Fitzgerald, KeeSean Johnson, Pharoh Cooper, Andy Isabella, Trent Sherfield, Damiere Byrd
TEs: Charles Clay, Maxx Williams

Atlanta Falcons

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 December 2018

As ESPN.com's Vaughn McClure explained, "Sure, it was the lowly Arizona Cardinals, but the quality of the opponents wasn't Tevin Coleman's fault. ..."

True enough. All Coleman could control was how he performed with nothing except pride on the line. His 5-9 Atlanta Falcons were officially eliminated from the playoffs Sunday when the Minnesota Vikings defeated the Miami Dolphins. Yet despite the Falcons' losing record, Coleman played with sense of purpose, as if something was on the line during a 40-14 win over the Cardinals. Perhaps he was playing for his future.

Coleman's career-high 145 rushing yards and on 11 carries, including a career-long 65-yard sprint and a 43-yard touchdown run, came in the midst of an important evaluation period. Coleman had another 44-yard touchdown run called back due to a penalty in the fourth quarter.

It was just the second time Coleman has rushed for 100 yards this season and the Falcons averaged a league-low 81.2 rushing yards per game entering the day. Maybe Coleman, now in his fourth year, didn't do enough to catapult into consideration as the team's primary back of the future, but his explosive burst through the gaping holes gave the Falcons something to ponder.

"I mean, he's an amazing running back," wide receiver Julio Jones said of Coleman. "He doesn't get the credit he deserves, but he's one of the best backs in the league, by far. His speed, his vision, everything about him."

The Falcons have a well-documented decision to make regarding how they want to proceed at running back. Two-time Pro Bowler Devonta Freeman, who has missed most of the season following groin surgery, is likely to remain the No. 1 guy -- when healthy -- with four years and $24.75 million left on his contract.

But that won't be this season.

Head coach Dan Quinn said on 92.9 The Game on Wednesday that Freeman “won’t make it back” to the active roster before the year is out.

Coleman, now in the final year of a deal that pays him $791,268 this season, could generate interest in free agency if he doesn't take a bargain offer from the Falcons first. The Falcons also have rookie Ito Smith, who has shown flashes and will make $570,000 in 2019.

Jones hopes Coleman, who has rushed for 704 yards this season, gets re-signed.

"Yeah, I'd like to see Tevin [back]," Jones said. "But, you know, I don't make those decisions."

The Falcons have a variety of decisions to weigh leading into 2019, and Coleman isn't the only player trying to make a strong impression before this season concludes. And we'll see if he can carry if over to this week, when the Falcons take on the Panthers in Carolina.

In a related note. ... The team announced on Monday that Smith was headed to injured reserve with a knee injury.

Smith will undergo surgery this week for meniscus damage in his knee. Timetable for recovery unclear but at least it is not more serious like an ACL. Quinn likes Smith's future with the team.

He's worked as the backup to Coleman most of the year, and has 90 carries for 315 yards and four touchdowns.

Smith, who will undergo knee surgery this week, is the ninth Falcon to be placed on injured reserve this season.

The Falcons can get a closer look at Brian Hill and possibly former Chicago Bear and Jeremy Langford, who was promoted from the practice squad on Tuesday, at running back over the last two games.

Also of interest. ... Since joining forces in 2008, Matt Ryan and Thomas Dimitroff have put together the best decade in Falcons history.

That success now continues to define their legacies, and on Sunday, they reached pretty rarified air. Atlanta's win against Arizona marked the 100th win for Ryan and Dimitroff since the pair joined the Falcons.

In NFL history, there have only been five other quarterback-general manager combos to reach 100 wins together. Dimitroff and Ryan join a list that includes Drew Brees and Mickey Loomis, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, Peyton Manning and Bill Polian, Ben Roethlisberger and Kevin Colbert, and Terry Bradshaw and Dick Haley.

It's certainly no secret that Jones is a great wide receiver, but he provided a reminder on Sunday, anyway. Jones caught six passes for 82 yards and had an excellent diving touchdown catch against Patrick Peterson just before halftime. He likely would have gone over 100 yards for the 10th time this season, but…

Jones suffered a rib injury heading into halftime and played very sparingly in the second half. Given the Falcons' big lead over the Cardinals, Jones wasn't needed and therefore able to rest. Had the game been close, Jones may have been able to play through the pain as he did enter the contest in the third quarter.

Nonetheless, Quinn told reporters that Jones would not practice Wednesday and he won't know until Friday if the star wideout will be ready to go on Sunday.

Tight end Austin Hooper did not catch a pass and was only targeted once as he played through a sore knee he hurt last week at Green Bay. He was limited Wednesday.

I'll be watching for more on Jones and Hooper in coming days; keep an eye on the Late-Breaking Updates section as the week progresses.

And finally. ... In news that should surprise nobody, Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network reported Tuesday there's a "strong possibility" of sweeping staff changes there, most likely offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian but perhaps including defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel.

As Profootballtalk.com's Darin Gantt noted, following up the record-setting Kyle Shanahan-directed offense was going to be tough for any coach, but Sarkisian has not experienced a second-season bounce. The Falcons rank 10th in scoring offense and ninth in yards, but that's almost exclusively a function of their passing game (and being behind a lot boosts those numbers).

Pelissero also mentions former Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell as a potential replacement for the guy who hasn't been fired yet. The familiarity with Quinn from their days together on Pete Carroll's staff is clear, but Bevell apparently was in Atlanta back in the spring, working with Quinn's staff in a consultant role.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub
RBs: Devonta Freeman, Brian Hill, Qadree Ollison, Kenjon Barner
WRs: Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, Russell Gage, Justin Hardy, Christian Blake
TEs: Austin Hooper, Jaeden Graham, Luke Stocker

Baltimore Ravens

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 December 2018

According to ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley, there were some loud groans at MandT Bank Stadium on Sunday when Lamar Jackson tossed a pass right to a Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker and fumbled once again.

There were also collective gasps when the Baltimore Ravens' rookie quarterback somehow eluded the pass rush in the pocket and broke for a 20-yard run.

Electric and erratic, Jackson has proved consistency in one area -- victories. Jackson's winning touch lifted Baltimore to a 20-12 win over the Buccaneers.

Now 4-1 as a starter, Jackson helped the Ravens (8-6) keep hold of the No. 6 seed in the AFC, putting them in position to take over first place in the AFC North if the Pittsburgh Steelers lose to the New England Patriots later on Sunday.

Despite coughing up the ball and making some off-target throws, Jackson at times takes over the game with his legs and continues to make progress with his arm. Four days after being named the starter over a now-healthy Joe Flacco, Jackson ran for 95 yards (he went over 100 through three quarters before being dropped for a loss) and completed 14 of 23 passes for 131 yards.

Jackson's 226 total yards were nearly as much as Tampa Bay's entire offense (241).

Per Hensley, "It's never pretty. It's never smooth. But Jackson repeatedly responds at the most critical moments and puts together time-eating drives."

The numbers bear it out: Three of his scoring series had double-digit plays: 16, 10 and 15.

After his ninth fumble of the season led to a Tampa Bay touchdown, Jackson led Baltimore on a 16-play, 73-yard drive that took eight minutes off the clock and put the Ravens ahead 7-6 on a 5-yard shovel pass to Chris Moore.

Jackson's most decisive drive came after halftime. On the opening drive of the second half, Jackson threw a 17-yard pass to Mark Andrews on third-and-7 and ran for 22 yards to convert on second-and-16. That extended the Ravens' lead to 17-9, and Baltimore closed out the game after that.

Meanwhile, as Profootballtalk.com's Darin Gantt noted, the Ravens make no apologies for their style.

Primarily because it keeps working.

They continued to grind away at opponents by running the ball and playing defense.

In addition to Jackson's 95 rushing yards on 18 carries, Gus Edwards ran 19 times for 104 yards and a touchdown against the Bucs. Edwards surpassed 100 yards rushing for the third time in the past five games.

One criticism is that Jackson and the Ravens have taken advantage of some of the worst defenses in the NFL.

That changes Sunday, when the Ravens play at the Los Angeles Chargers in a game that is full of playoff ramifications.

As Hensley laid it out Tuesday, there are scenarios in which the Ravens could end up leading the AFC North after next week's games or get eliminated from the postseason for a fourth straight season.

Baltimore can take over first place in the AFC North if the Ravens beat the Chargers in Week 16 and the Steelers (8-5-1) lose at the New Orleans Saints.

The Ravens would get knocked out of the playoff hunt if they lose at the Chargers and three teams (Steelers, Colts and Titans) all win. Pittsburgh has a half-game lead on Baltimore in the AFC North, and either the Colts (8-6) or Titans (8-6) would get to 10 wins with a victory in Week 16 because they meet in the regular-season finale. ...

Worth noting. ... The first five starts of Jackson's NFL career have led 86 rushing attempts, an unprecedented number for a quarterback and has led to questions about how long Jackson can survive the hits that come with keeping the ball so often.

Head coach John Harbaugh got a question along those lines during his Monday press conference.

"I think that's all going to work out over time," Harbaugh said. "It's a very good question, and I really do think it'll work out over time. There were some scrambles yesterday, there were some RPOs, some options where he kept [the ball]. You know, we had three kneel downs -- 17 [carries] is really 14, now 14. OK, it's not 15. When you look at all that stuff, take it into account.

"But to me, over time that will sort itself out."

As Profootballtalk.com's Josh Alper suggested, Jackson will need to do more in the passing game in order for a more rounded offensive approach to make sense for the Ravens and it's hard to see that developing on the fly this season. It's also hard to see a bigger priority for the offseason in Baltimore whether or not this year's run ends with a trip to the playoffs. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Starting tight end Nick Boyle went down with a concussion in the second half of Sunday's win. Boyle was ruled out for the rest of the game and now must be cleared from the NFL's concussion protocol before returning to practice or game action.

Harbaugh did not provide an update on Boyle's status after the game, but he will have a short week to be cleared before the Ravens play the Los Angeles Chargers on Saturday.

When Boyle left Sunday's game, the Ravens turned to Maxx Williams, Andrews and Hayden Hurst to take a larger share of the workload.

Williams, Andrews and Hurst all caught a pass in Sunday's victory, and Hurst had one of his best games of the season. The first-round pick caught three passes for 20 yards, including a tough catch on third down to move the chains. Andrews also pulled down an impressive 17-yard grab.

Running back Ty Montgomery was inactive, meaning the Ravens dressed just three running backs -- Edwards, Kenneth Dixon and Javorius Allen. Montgomery has yet to find a consistent role in the offense after being acquired in a midseason trade with the Green Bay Packers.

And finally. ... The Ravens began the Jackson era officially sticking with the rookie as their starter this week. The next phase is ending Flacco's run in the Charm City.

NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Sunday on NFL GameDay Morning that the Ravens are expected to move on from Flacco this offseason.

"Look at Flacco's future, he's 33 years old, he's set to make $18.5 million next year. The Ravens are expected to move on from him this offseason," Rapoport said. "They'll incur $16 million of dead money, but, of course, they're not going to bring him back as a backup making $16 million. All of which is to say if Flacco decides he wants to continue playing, he's actually going to be a fairly coveted free agent this offseason. Rarely do starting quarterbacks become available, and Joe Flacco absolutely is."

In a league constantly in need of stable passers, Flacco could find himself coveted in the free-agent market. A team like the Jacksonville Jaguars will need an upgrade this offseason, the Washington Redskins' situation with Alex Smith and Colt McCoy is shaky, the Miami Dolphins could move on from Ryan Tannehill, Jon Gruden's Oakland Raiders could decide to get out of Derek Carr's contract, and so on.

Flacco has been a median signal-caller the past several seasons, but did show some spark very early this season before his play leveled off and he was struck with injury. Even at the tail end of his career, the former Super Bowl MVP would represent an upgrade for several teams this offseason.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III, Trace McSorley
RBs: Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards, Justice Hill
WRs: Marquise Brown, Willie Snead, Seth Roberts, Miles Boykin, Chris Moore, Jaleel Scott
TEs: Mark Andrews, Nick Boyle, Hayden Hurst

Buffalo Bills

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 December 2018

As ESPN.com's Mike Rodak suggested, "Josh Allen, the No. 7 overall pick in April's draft, needs little introduction to most NFL fans.

"The rest of his offensive cast in Sunday's 14-13 win over the Detroit Lions required a Google search. ..."

There was no Kelvin Benjamin, who was released earlier this month. Top running back LeSean McCoy was inactive with a hamstring injury, as was veteran backup Chris Ivory. Eighth-year tight end Charles Clay continued to see his usage decrease.

Instead, undrafted rookie wide receiver Robert Foster led the Bills with 108 receiving yards on four catches, including a 42-yard touchdown. Undrafted rookie running back Keith Ford, making his NFL debut after being promoted from the practice squad, led the team with 46 rushing yards. Another 88 yards were provided by second-year receiver Isaiah McKenzie, who had a career-high 53 receiving yards, and running back Marcus Murphy.

The Bills' offense floundered this season with McCoy and Benjamin as its key pieces but seem to have built momentum for 2019 around a younger core headlined by Allen, their first-round pick.

It was another game for Allen in which his stat line belied some of the success he had as a passer. Allen completed only 13 of 26 passes after completing a league-low 52 percent of his throws entering Sunday. Yet there at least two passes -- one to second-year receiver Zay Jones and one to veteran receiver Deonte Thompson -- that Allen's receivers should have caught and would have raised his percentage. Most importantly for Allen, he avoided any turnovers and connected on the 42-yard strike to Foster that decided the game.

The Bills are expected to use a large chunk of their $80 million in salary-cap space to address needs along the offensive line and at skill positions in the offseason. They could also add talent around Allen in the draft, when they have their full allotment of picks plus extra fourth-, fifth- and seventh-rounders.

Yet Sunday showed the Bills do not have to wipe clean an offense that has trended upward in recent weeks. Ford is likely to receive snaps over the two weeks as an audition for 2019, while Foster could be given an opportunity in training camp to win a starting job next season. Jones, who had one catch for 11 yards against the Lions, also factors into that mix.

Changes are not only on the horizon in Buffalo; they have already arrived.

And that's going to make it tough for fantasy owners to sift through the remaining pieces for reliable contributors.

That being the case, let's get started -- because you never know, right?

McKenzie set new career highs for receptions and receiving yards in a single game on Sunday, reeling in six passes for the above-mentioned 53 yards.

But for a brief moment Sunday, McKenzie's breakout sophomore campaign appeared to be over.

The wideout fell to the turf while returning a punt in the third quarter. McKenzie, who went untouched on the play, could not get back to his feet under his own power. He appeared to be in pain as the medical cart took him to the locker room.

Fans were shocked when McKenzie trotted back to the sideline just a few moments later.

The injury, which initially appeared to be quite serious, was just the culmination of three quarters' worth of wear and tear.

"I twisted my ankle on a sweep [before the return]," McKenzie said. "Then on the punt, I cramped up both of my calves pretty badly. I just had to get an IV and get going."

Rarely will you see a carted off player return just minutes after sustaining an injury. If it were up to McKenzie, he wouldn't have been carted off in the first place. ...

Foster set a new career high for receiving yards in a single game with his 108. He became the first undrafted free agent in Bills history to record two consecutive 100-receiving yard outings.

After spending the first 14 weeks of his rookie campaign on Buffalo's practice squad, Ford suited up for his first NFL game on Sunday. The injuries to McCoy and Ivory necessitated his call-up, but it was an injury to substitute starter Murphy that prompted Ford to see considerable playing time in his debut.

Ford rushed for 46 yards on 14 carries in the victory, leading the team in rushing. The 5-foot-10, 220-pound ball carrier put his power on display, often putting his head down and fighting for extra yards.

Ford seems likely to get at least some additional work going forward with Murphy suffering a dislocated elbow that ended his season when he was placed on IR on Tuesday.

Murphy, a 2015 second-round pick by the New Orleans Saints out of the University of Missouri, has shown some promise this season both in the backfield and as a kick returner. He has one year left on his current contract. The Bills signed receiver Victor Bolden to fill Murphy’s roster spot.

Meanwhile the bodies of Ivory and McCoy obviously benefited by not playing on Sunday against the Lions. Both players participated in practice at the end of last week, so the anticipation is they will be able to practice on Wednesday. But if McCoy and Ivory cannot get healthy enough to suit up this weekend, Ford will likely be in line for 20-plus carries.

McCoy and Ivory worked on a limited basis Wednesday.

I'll be watching for more on the likely roles of all involved in coming days as the Bills will close out their road schedule Sunday when they take on the Patriots at Gillette Stadium. Check the Late-Breaking Updates section for more.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Josh Allen, Matt Barkley
RBs: Devin Singletary, Frank Gore, T.J. Yeldon
WRs: John Brown, Cole Beasley, Isaiah McKenzie, Andre Roberts, Robert Foster, Duke Williams
TEs: Dawson Knox, Tyler Kroft, Tommy Sweeney, Lee Smith, Jason Croom

Carolina Panthers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 December 2018

Cam Newton for much of the past two months might have cost the Panthers their last chance to remain in playoff contention.

Newton's interception late in the first half of Monday night's 12-9 loss to the New Orleans Saints said it all.

Newton was picked off on second-and-3 from the New Orleans 13 because his pass to Devin Funchess was so badly underthrown that the 6-4 receiver did not have a chance to make a play on the ball. The 2015 NFL MVP blew an opportunity to pad a 7-6 lead and reward a defense that played lights out most of the night.

Whether the pass was underthrown due to a lack of arm strength or the bad timing that offensive coordinator Norv Turner says happens when a quarterback consistently doesn't throw two days a week in practice -- as has been Newton's schedule -- can be debated.

Bottom line: It was costly.

Costly enough to make a change it appears.

According to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, the Panthers plan is to sit their ailing quarterback, who is not practicing today.

Newton's shoulder has been an issue most of the season, and his ability to throw deep effectively never really came all the way back after his March 2017 shoulder surgery.

That means Taylor Heinicke will start this week against the Falcons, since he's the only other quarterback on their 53-man roster.

It makes sense.

The Panthers (6-8) now have lost six straight games. They trail the Minnesota Vikings (7-6-1) for the sixth and final playoff spot in the NFC with two games remaining, including a date with the Saints in New Orleans to close out the regular season.

They also are a game behind the Washington Redskins (7-7) and Philadelphia Eagles (7-7), both of whom are competing for a wild-card spot, as well.

The biggest question left in this season was whether to sit Newton over the final two games to rest the shoulder.

Now it appears we have our answer.

One could easily argue it's the right answer in both the short and long term.

As Bill Voth of the team's official website wrote before the news broke, "Newton is a singular talent. He's the face of a franchise. He gives the Panthers their best chance to win in 2019 and beyond.

"That's why it's time to shut him down."

Indeed, Newton's passer rating and completion percentage (55.2) against the Saints were both season lows, what was most alarming was his continued inability to throw downfield. Newton completed just one pass that traveled more than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage -- a 17-yarder to Curtis Samuel midway through the first quarter.

According to NFL NextGenStats, Newton has completed just four of 16 attempts that have traveled 20-plus yards beyond the line of scrimmage during the Panthers' six-game losing streak. He didn't even attempt one Monday.

In fact, stretching the field has been a struggle all year. Those same NextGenStats say Newton has completed a total of nine passes of 20-plus yards. That's a tough way to win in the NFL.

Stay tuned. I'll have more details on the decision and the implications for this week's game in coming days; keep an eye on the Late-Breaking Updates section for more. ...

Also of interest. ... With a 9-yard run in the first quarter against the Saints, Christian McCaffrey broke the Panthers' franchise record for scrimmage yards in a season.

McCaffrey passed DeAngelo Williams' franchise record of 1,636 scrimmage yards set in 2008. Williams tallied 1,515 rushing yards and 121 receiving yards that season.

This season, McCaffrey has already set franchise records for receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns by a running back and yards after the catch by any position.

Entering Week 14, McCaffrey ranked fourth in the NFL in scrimmage yards and set an NFL record with five straight games of at least 50 rushing and 50 receiving yards. Entering the game, McCaffrey led all NFL running backs in receiving yards.

McCaffrey already ranks 10th in franchise history in career scrimmage yards in just his second season. He ranks second all-time in career receiving yards by a running back.

Carolina opened the scoring in the first quarter with a brilliant trick play on 4th-and-2 at midfield. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner dialed up a pass for McCaffrey, who took the handoff and faked like he was running off right tackle before tossing the ball to wide open Chris Manhertz for a 50-yard touchdown.

With that throw, McCaffrey became the first non-QB in franchise history to toss a touchdown pass, and that touchdown was the first of Manhertz's career.

In addition, McCaffrey ran the ball 15 times for 53 yards, he caught eight passes for 67 yards, and he threw that scoring strike, becoming the first player since Walter Payton with the 1985 Bears to have 50 or more yards rushing, receiving and passing all in the same game.

Payton, who did it in the final regular-season game of that great Bears season, also threw a 50-yard pass, while running for 81 yards and catching four passes for 55 yards.

According to Pro Football Reference, the feat has only been accomplished four times since 1950. In addition to McCaffrey and Payton, the others to do it were Tom Tracy for the 1960 Steelers and Billy Ray Barnes for the 1958 Eagles. ...

The Panthers signed Chandler Catanzaro a couple of weeks ago to give themselves another kicking option while Graham Gano dealt with a left knee injury and Catanzaro has been called into action for the team's last two games.

Catanzaro will hold onto the job for the team's next two games as well.

The Panthers announced on Wednesday that Gano has been placed on injured reserve. Gano went 14-of-16 on field goals and 30-of-33 on extra points for Carolina this season.

This was his seventh year in Carolina and he's set for several more years after signing a four-year deal with the team in March.

Catanzaro has made both field goals and all three extra points he's tried in his two games with the Panthers. He opened the year with the Buccaneers and missed eight kicks in nine games before being released. ...

And finally. ... Tight end Greg Olsen underwent foot surgery Monday, his second procedure the past 16 months.

Via Joe Person of The Athletic, Olsen posted on Instagram that "surgery went well, and I am on my way towards a full recovery."

Olsen played seven games last season and nine this season. He made 27 catches for 291 yards and four touchdowns.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Kyle Allen, Will Grier, Cam Newton
RBs: Christian McCaffrey, Reggie Bonnafon, Mike Davis, Jordan Scarlett, Elijah Holyfield
WRs: D.J. Moore, Curtis Samuel, Jarius Wright, Donte Moncrief, Brandon Zylstra, Chris Hogan
TEs: Ian Thomas, Chris Manhertz, Greg Olsen

Chicago Bears

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 December 2018

The Bears snapped an eight-year playoff drought by clinching the NFC North with a 24-17 victory over the Green Bay Packers.

Sunday's win capped off a remarkable transformation for the Bears (10-4), who before head coach Matt Nagy's arrival in January had finished dead last in the division for four consecutive seasons.

It's the second time since 2003 the Bears have gone from worst-to-first in their division. Chicago previously accomplished the feat in 2005 in the second year of coach Lovie Smith's tenure. Smith, who won the NFC North on three separate occasions, was the most recent Bears coach to reach the playoffs before Nagy.

The victory over Green Bay also gives the Bears a 7-1 record at home for the first time since 2005. Chicago had seven home wins total under former coach John Fox from 2015-17.

As ESPN.com's Jeff Dickerson noted, quarterback Mitchell Trubisky atoned for a poor performance last Sunday night against the Los Angeles Rams by completing 20 of 28 pass attempts for 235 yards and two touchdowns (120.4 rating), including what proved to be the game-winning touchdown toss to tight end Trey Burton at the 10:16 mark of the fourth quarter.

The Bears defeated Aaron Rodgers for just the fifth time in the quarterback's storied career as Chicago's front seven took full advantage of Green Bay's banged-up offensive line. The Bears defense sacked Rodgers five times on the afternoon and ended the quarterback's NFL record streak of 402 pass attempts without an interception when safety Eddie Jackson picked off a tipped pass intended for Jimmy Graham in the end zone with 3:14 left in the game.

On the play, Jackson suffered a sprained right ankle when he twisted awkwardly as he fell to the ground after a 13-yard return. Jackson had to be helped off the field and was immediately taken back to the locker room.

Though both players were still being evaluated, Nagy said he doesn't think the injuries to Jackson and LB Aaron Lynch (elbow) are season-ending.

Chicago's star pass-rusher Khalil Mack paced the Bears defense with a game-high 2.5 sacks.

The Bears felt they had unfinished business with the Packers. Chicago held a 20-0 third-quarter lead over Green Bay in their Week 1 meeting at Lambeau Field only to have Rodgers rally the Packers to a 24-23 comeback win by throwing three touchdown passes in the fourth quarter.

Green Bay, which had won five of the past seven division titles entering the 2018 season, also ended the Bears' most recent postseason run in the 2010 NFC Championship Game played at Soldier Field. Three years later, Green Bay eliminated the Bears from playoff contention with a win in Chicago in the final week of the 2013 regular season.

The Bears wrap up the regular season with road games against the Niners and Vikings before hosting just their seventh home playoff game since the Mike Ditka era ended after the 1992 season.

Other notes of interest. ... The Bears appear to be set for success over time.

A quick glance at the current Bears core reveals a roster loaded with starters -- on both sides of the ball -- 28 or younger: quarterback Trubisky (24), all-purpose threat Tarik Cohen (23), wide receiver Allen Robinson (25), tight end Trey Burton (27), left tackle Charles Leno Jr. (27), left guard James Daniels (21), center Cody Whitehair (26), Jackson (26), outside linebacker Roquan Smith (21), cornerback Kyle Fuller (26), inside linebacker Danny Trevathan (28), outside linebacker Khalil Mack (27), nose tackle Eddie Goldman (24), wide receiver Anthony Miller (24), wide receiver Taylor Gabriel (27) and outside linebacker Leonard Floyd (26).

Many of the other important parts are still playing on their original (and affordable) rookie deals.

"We're a young team," the 40-year-old Nagy said. "[Bears general manager] Ryan Pace and [director of football administration] Joey Laine have done a really good job with -- contractually with these guys. And that's such an important part that you see, I think with our team we are set up for the right way and the right direction.

"There are just so many things that go into it with things down the road, but we're in a good spot right now and we know that. And to be where we're at right now as we stand we know down the road we want to just keep this thing going."

The Bears feel they are positioned to do just that -- health permitting.

As Green Bay heads toward an offseason full of more inevitable changes and Minnesota -- once viewed as a Super Bowl favorite -- fights to earn a wild-card berth, Dickerson contends the Bears resemble the NFC North's most stable operation. ...

A few final notes. ... Trubisky has recorded a passer rating of at least 120 (min 15 att.) in four games this season, surpassing Sid Luckman (3, 1943), Rudy Bukich (3, 1965) and Erik Kramer (3, 1995) for the most such games by a Bears QB in a single season.

It also was the fourth-highest single-game quarterback rating by a Bear against the Packers dating to 1960. It was the highest single-game QBR by a Bear against the Packers since Cade McNown's 123.5 outing on Oct. 1, 2000.

Trubisky has four 300-plus yard passing performances this season, which his tied for the most by a Bears QB in a single season (Brian Hoyer, 2016; Jay Cutler, 2014; Billy Wade, 1962). Trubisky’s next 300-plus yard passing game will set a new Bears record.

Cohen caught a touchdown pass and Jordan Howard ran for a TD against the Packers.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Mitchell Trubisky, Chase Daniel
RBs: David Montgomery, Tarik Cohen
WRs: Allen Robinson, Anthony Miller, Cordarrelle Patterson, Javon Wims, Riley Ridley, Taylor Gabriel
TEs: Jesper Horsted, J.P. Holtz, Bradley Sowell, Eric Saubert, Ben Braunecker, Trey Burton

Cincinnati Bengals

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 December 2018

As the Bengals (6-8) limp to the finish of a once-promising season, their 30-16 win against the 3-11 Raiders will be little more than a blip on the radar. The Bengals snapped a five-game losing streak that dates back to Nov. 10, but as ESPN.com's Katherine Terrell suggested, the future of the coaching staff is in doubt and they're simply playing out the string.

That's why Sunday was mostly about the stars of tomorrow.

Wide receiver Tyler Boyd caught a touchdown, honored Chad Johnson's infamous Riverdance celebration and hit the 1,000-yard mark for the season before exiting with a knee injury. Running back Joe Mixon had a career-high 129 rushing yards and two touchdowns and is now just 5 yards away from his first 1,000-yard season.

"All of our newest core pieces stepped up today," said defensive end Carlos Dunlap. "Not looking into the future, because we're still trying to finish this thing strong now, but this is what we've got."

Rookie defensive end Sam Hubbard had two sacks, three quarterback hits and a forced fumble. Hubbard sacked Raiders quarterback Derek Carr for a 9-yard loss on third-and-9 midway through the first quarter, forcing the ball out of Carr's hands. Dunlap was able to come out of the pile with it.

Hubbard also played fullback on offense and lined up for a potential touchdown pass, which was batted away in the end zone.

"I got one touchdown on the season [on a fumble return] and wanted another one. I think if [the defender] didn't get his hand on it, that would've been a touchdown for sure," Hubbard said.

The Bengals have deployed Hubbard as a fullback many times and have worked red zone plays with him in practice frequently, but he was never targeted in a game until Sunday.

"I just thought with his athleticism, he gave us something," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. "He's another big guy that can run. He's a big athlete, he can run, he's smart enough to handle the insertion of the offense they give him each week, and he embraces it. He's done a great job of it."

Hubbard outshined his mentor Michael Johnson, a captain who is in the final season of his contract and could be on his way out after this season.

Hubbard currently has six sacks this season and has an outside shot at tying or beating Dunlap's rookie sack record of 9.5, which Carl Lawson just missed last year. It's a record that has remained important to Dunlap.

"It would be a bittersweet thing," Dunlap said. "But at the end of the day, it will help me, too. They will have to pay more attention to him, so that is one less series, one less snap that might be going his way instead of mine, and I like my chances in that situation. That would be great for him, I would be happy for him, and I couldn't think of a more deserving guy."

If Hubbard, Boyd and Mixon have more days like Sunday, 2019 looks brighter than 2018 has looked most of the time.

It's not clear that will happen this season for Boyd.

As noted above, Boyd reached 1,000 yards receiving for the first time in his career (becoming the first Bengals' wideout other than A.J. Green to break the 1,000-yard mark since Johnson in 2009) before hurting his right knee late in the first half. He didn't return. Afterward, he said the injury wasn’t serious.

But Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that Boyd has been diagnosed with a sprained MCL. Such injuries typically cost players time and that may mean we've seen the last of Boyd this season.

The Bengals' fate has already been set, but Boyd's absence could still impact the playoff race in the AFC. The Browns and Steelers are both still alive -- Pittsburgh has more life than Cleveland -- and a depleted Cincinnati receiving corps shouldn't hurt their chances of getting the wins they need.

If Boyd misses time or goes on injured reserve, he'll be the latest in a long list of Bengals players to go down for the season. Quarterback Andy Dalton, Green, tight end Tyler Eifert and tight end Tyler Kroft are just a few of the numerous players on IR for Cincinnati this year.

So who steps up?

As ESPN's Mike Clay noted this week, John Ross (32 routes Sunday), Cody Core (27), Alex Erickson (14) and Auden Tate (zero) are next up on the depth chart, but none are exciting fantasy options.

Clay added, "Ross would be your best flex bet and Tate is worth a stash in dynasty leagues."

No surprise, but Boyd was not on the practice field Wednesday. Mixon was limited by a sore wrist and Ross by a knee issue. I'll be following up on all three via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Andy Dalton, Ryan Finley, Jake Dolegala
RBs: Joe Mixon, Giovani Bernard, Trayveon Williams, Samaje Perine
WRs: Tyler Boyd, Auden Tate, John Ross, Alex Erickson, Stanley Morgan Jr., Josh Malone, A.J. Green
TEs: Tyler Eifert, C.J. Uzomah, Cethan Carter, Drew Sample

Cleveland Browns

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 December 2018

As ESPN.com's Pat McManamon reminded readers, the Cleveland Browns opened their season with an improbable tie against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Now they might have to hope for an even more improbable tie in the season finale between the Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans to keep their minute playoff hopes alive.

Sunday's results around the league brought several factors together, most significantly when the Steelers hung on to beat the New England Patriots. The Steelers' win ended the Browns' chance to win the AFC North. The best the Browns can do is match the Steelers at 8-7-1, but Pittsburgh has the tiebreaker because it went 1-0-1 against the Browns this season.

The remote chance of the Browns securing the second wild-card spot involved calculations bordering on quantum physics and go like this:

The Browns have to beat Cincinnati and the Ravens in the final two games.

Tennessee has to lose to Washington and Indianapolis has to lose to the Giants next weekend.

Miami has to lose one of its final two games, and Baltimore has to lose both; both would finish 8-8.

Tennessee and Indianapolis would then have to play to a season-ending tie in Week 17.

In this scenario, the Colts, Browns and Titans would finish 8-7-1. Indianapolis' 1-0-1 record against Tennessee would knock out the Titans. The Browns' better record against common opponents would give the Browns the edge over the Colts.

Even given that low likelihood, the home finale next Sunday against Cincinnati is meaningful. The Browns open as a seven-point favorite. The last time the Browns were that big a favorite was in Week 13 of the 2013 season against Jacksonville, a game the Browns lost 32-28 with Brandon Weeden at quarterback.

The initial point spread is an indicator of how far the Browns have come from their 2-6-1 start.

They have won 4 of 5 and for the first time since 2007 could say they were in the playoff discussion in December.

The likelihood is infinitesimal that it happens, but that will not diminish the turnaround for a team that did not win a game in 2017. Nor does it diminish what can be ahead in 2019.

Even if the playoff hopes are hanging on an invisible thread.

Meanwhile, his throws were sailing a bit. The defense kept making things tougher with a variety of different looks. Nothing came easy for Baker Mayfield on a night when the thinnest of margins would decide which team would keep its playoff hopes alive.

Mayfield's first three quarters in Denver last Saturday were a grind, but he came alive when his teammates needed him most after a T.J. Carrie interception set up the Browns with a golden opportunity. Mayfield delivered by completing all four of his pass attempts on an early fourth quarter drive that ended with the touchdown, a 2-yard pass to Antonio Callaway, that ultimately provided the difference in the victory.

"It's huge," Mayfield said. "Being able to go down and see what they're doing and get the ball into Callaway's hands, it was huge for us. Anytime you're on a drive like that, late in the game, the fourth quarter, being able to come out with a win is crucial. You have to make plays when it counts."

That was Mayfield's M.O. coming out of Oklahoma: a big-game player who thrived in the biggest moments. It's one thing to do it in college; it's another to rise to the occasion on an otherwise shaky night against one of the league's perennially stout defenses.

Mayfield shrugged off a late second quarter interception and a fumble that put an unfortunate end to a nine-minute drive in the third quarter by sticking to what he does best. Mayfield threw his four passes to three different receivers -- Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins and Callaway -- and dialed in his focus even more when the Browns crossed the 20-yard line.

The Browns' touchdown, which featured plenty of pre-snap adjustments by Mayfield, gave the team its 12th straight score upon entering the red zone. It's where Mayfield has been his best since a mid-season coaching change.

"I really believe that Baker did a really good job of leading our team," coach Gregg Williams said. "Our guys believe in him and he does a great job when you take this type of game and add it to his resume, add it to his leadership. I think it goes a long way in the locker room and on game day."

Mayfield came out firing Saturday, connecting with Landry for 19 yards and Breshad Perriman for 31 on a touchdown pass that staked the Browns to a quick 7-0 lead. Sandwiched between the two touchdowns was a whole lot of ineffective offense, and Mayfield was at the center of it.

At one point in the first half, Mayfield was 4-of-12. His interception at the end of the second quarter sailed well over the head of Landry and, considering the Browns' field position, took a potential field goal off the board.

Mayfield wasn't worried, and he ultimately gave his teammates, coaches and fans one more performance to validate their belief in him.

"You have to hit the reset button. Stuff happens," Mayfield said. "The game is never going to be perfect but the most important play is always the next one. Just realizing that and hitting the reset button and pushing forward. We've got to make plays when it counts and you have to have a fresh mindset."

Perriman hadn't caught a touchdown pass in more than two years.

Perriman hauled in his first touchdown since Dec. 4, 2016, when he corralled a well-placed third-down pass early in the first quarter from Mayfield, who has gained more and more trust for Perriman since he joined the team Week 6. The former first-round pick has been a welcomed addition to Cleveland's offense, and the degree of difficulty or magnitude of the moment hasn't seemed to matter for him.

"He's got a lot of confidence right now and I have a lot of confidence in him," Mayfield said. "He's making plays, as you guys have seen the last few weeks and that's one of those things, not a lot of people can make that catch. A guy all over him, a high ball, go up and make a catch. A competitive catch at that. A huge play on third down and long, that was big time."

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Baker Mayfield, Garrett Gilbert, Drew Stanton
RBs: Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, Dontrell Hilliard, D'Ernest Johnson
WRs: Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins, Taywan Taylor, Damion Ratley, Derrick Willies
TEs: David Njoku, Demetrius Harris, Ricky Seals-Jones, Stephen Carlson, Pharaoh Brown

Dallas Cowboys

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 December 2018

The Dallas Cowboys' new triplets looked untouchable for five weeks.

Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper worked in perfect unison through the air and Ezekiel Elliott decimated defenses on the ground.

On Sunday, the Cowboys got a humbling reminder of how fleeting success can be in the NFL. As Associated Pres sports writer Michael Marot reported, Cooper was a nonfactor, the Cowboys were forced to abandon the ground game in the second half, and their five-game winning streak and chance to clinch the NFC East came crashing down in a 23-0 loss at Indianapolis.

"We can't win like that," Prescott said. "We're hurting ourselves, simple as that. Playing behind the chains, penalties, sacks, incompletions, whatever it may be. We just hurt ourselves from the beginning all the way to the end, and we never really gave ourselves a chance."

Dallas produced 292 yards in offense, its lowest total since Cooper was acquired in a Week 9 trade. Elliott carried the ball 18 times for 87 yards and had seven catches for 41 yards, but also was thrown for a 2-yard loss and lost a fumble on fourth-and-1 from the Colts 3 early in the second quarter.

The goal-line stop typified the Cowboys' bad day.

Cooper had four receptions for 32 yards, Prescott wound up 24 of 39 with 206 yards and one interception, and Dallas was shut out for the first time since a 12-0 loss to the Patriots on Nov. 16, 2003.

In fact, the Cowboys had gone 243 straight games without being shut out, the fourth-longest active streak in the NFL entering Sunday.

Even the Cowboys' usually reliable defense wore down.

So how did the loss go over?

According to ESPN.com's Todd Archer, the disappointment felt in the locker room wasn't so much that the Cowboys lost but how they lost, as they were manhandled.

"We never gave ourselves a chance," Prescott said. "If anything, we were angry at ourselves. It wasn't any finger-pointing where, hey, I'm looking at this guy, that guy's looking at me, offense looking at the defense -- none of that. If anything, we're all coming together saying, 'Hey, in a way we needed this.' Maybe we thought we were too hot to trot or whatever in our five-game winning streak or whatever it was."

Owner and general manager Jerry Jones made a quick appearance in the interview room before head coach Jason Garrett spoke and then answered questions quickly inside a Lucas Oil Stadium hallway.

"I thought if your name was 'Jones' or 'the Cowboys,' they handed it to you," Jones said. "We played like that today and lost an edge early and then just never got it back. It's very disappointing. It's pretty obvious to me that this team is the caliber of team that you could see in any point in the playoffs -- I'm talking Indianapolis.

"They took it to us. There's no question about it. About as good as I've seen it in the last 10 or 15 years as far as doing the things that it takes to win the game."

"We played good football here the last five weeks," Garrett said. "Every game we've played the last five weeks has been a challenging game that required 60 minutes. And that's what it takes in this league."

During the winning streak, breaks went their way. In last week's overtime win against the Eagles, Cooper's game-winning touchdown catch came on a deflected ball. On Sunday, they created no breaks with a blocked field goal, a dropped touchdown pass and other near-misses that left them inches away from big plays or first downs.

"I think a loss like this was very much needed," Elliott said. "I think it's better for us in the grand scheme of the season. I think we needed to get put in check. I think we needed a reality check. I think we needed someone to just remind us that we still have a lot of ball left and nothing will be given. We got to go out there and take everything."

This loss might impact the Cowboys in potential tiebreakers for seeding based on either common opponents, strength of victory or strength of schedule. But they enter the final two games of the regular season in the same spot they entered Sunday: in first place in the NFC East.

With the Eagles and Washington Redskins winning Sunday, the Cowboys will have another opportunity to clinch their second division title in three years (and third in five years) by beating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this Sunday at ATandT Stadium.

On the injury front. ... Garrett told reporters that starting left guard Xavier Su'a-Filo had a "positive checkup" Monday on the eye injury he suffered in the Cowboys' loss to the Colts.

Su'a-Filo was injured on the offense's fourth-down try near the Colts' goal-line in the second quarter. He did not return to the game and was replaced in the lineup by Adam Redmond.

The Cowboys return to practice Wednesday. Garrett said the team would monitor Su'a-Filo's progress on a day-to-day basis.

"He still doesn't have great vision coming out of that eye, but our doctors are optimistic," Garrett said.

The Cowboys were already without starting right guard Zack Martin (sprained knee) against the Colts. Rookie Connor Williams started in his place.

Martin, an offensive captain, had never missed a game in his five-year career.

"He's as tough as they come," Garrett said. "He's going to give himself every chance to practice and play in this (next) ball game."

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush
RBs: Ezekiel Elliott, Tony Pollard
WRs: Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, Randall Cobb, Tavon Austin, Devin Smith, Ventell Bryant
TEs: Jason Witten, Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz

Denver Broncos

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 December 2018

The Denver Broncos just wanted the math to matter for one more week, they just wanted one more chance to make it right.

Over and over in this on-again, off-again season they had hoped the "grit" (their word) that they had shown would turn into more than lost opportunities and unrewarded effort.

But as ESPN.com's Jeff Legwold suggested, when cornerback Jamar Taylor, who was signed Dec. 4, was ejected late in the third quarter Saturday night for throwing a punch at Cleveland Browns wide receiver Breshad Perriman, it seemed like fitting end to any real postseason chance in a season when the Broncos often just couldn't overcome themselves. The 17-16 loss, a loss that dropped the Broncos to 6-8 with two games to play, will almost certainly close the postseason book.

"Let's go back to work," said head coach Vance Joseph. "It's as simple as that. What are you going to do? We're 6-8 and mathematically we're still in it. We have to go back to work."

So, pick your hot-button issue from a loss that all involved had called a must-win.

Pick coach Joseph's decision to not go for it on a fourth-and-1 with 4:35 to play in the game with the Broncos trailing 17-13. They kicked a field goal instead as the boos came. There were plenty in the locker room who had hoped they would go for it right there.

Pick a horrible 12-men on the field penalty on the defense, after a timeout, after that decision, another big-moment flag in a year with plenty.

Or pick injuries and the long list of starters on injured reserve including Emmanuel Sanders and three starting offensive linemen, or a roster that wasn't quite up to the significant challenge of those injuries.

Or, maybe most importantly, pick either of the two interceptions thrown by quarterback Case Keenum after a week when the team's coaches had said they wanted him to take more chances. Keenum threw 48 passes, but only averaged 5.4 yards per completion and had a 45.9 QBR.

"I hate not winning, I really do," Keenum said. "We're going to come back to work, and that's what we're going to do, we're going to go to work. ... (There is) a lot of anger at myself. There were some plays I could make that [I] didn't and then some plays that I want back today, but yeah, a lot of anger."

That's just it, and maybe that's the signature of the year, which will likely be the third consecutive playoff miss for the Broncos. The Broncos work, and they have given teams that figure to play deep into the postseason everything they have wanted.

But when Taylor got tossed, cornerback Chris Harris Jr. was inactive with a fractured lower leg, cornerback Brendan Langley had already left the game with a concussion and cornerback Bradley Roby was being treated for a cut on the inside of his mouth. It meant, Tramaine Brock was the only cornerback in uniform who was actually on the field.

And that's also exactly when receiver Antonio Callaway beat safety Justin Simmons, who was playing cornerback, for the go-ahead score.

Now everything is up for discussion until Broncos president of football operations/general manager John Elway says it isn't -- Joseph's future, the coaching staff's future, Keenum's future, the future of almost any player whose name isn't Harris or Von Miller -- because the Broncos haven't had a postseason game on their docket since the Super Bowl 50 win.

Can Elway trade a player like wide receiver Demaryius Thomas on Oct. 30 and say the coaching staff didn't win enough after that? Would 8-8 be better than 6-10? How much is coaching, how much is personnel?

And there is Keenum, who signed to a two-year, $36 million contract last March as the Broncos' quarterback of choice in the open market. Keenum has had moments of late-game heroics, and he's had interceptions in nine games. He has $7 million of his $18 million base salary guaranteed next season with a $10 million dead-money figure if the Broncos decide to move on.

The Broncos' decision-makers have been on the road already eyeing some of the 2019 draft's best quarterback prospects if Keenum isn't considered a long-term solution. Certainly some of the blame for the Broncos' offensive struggles falls at Keenum's feet. He's had 12 interceptions this season and had multiple games where he averaged under 6 yards per completion.

For what it's worth, with Joseph on the hot seat, a very surprising name has been floated as a potential replacement: Mike Shanahan.

Shanahan, of course, won two Super Bowls with the Broncos, when Elway was his quarterback. And Elway reportedly considered firing Joseph after last season, and hiring Shanahan to replace him.

Longtime Denver sports columnist Woody Paige reported that Elway and Shanahan met a year ago to discuss the possibility of Shanahan returning to the sideline. Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported that he heard the same.

Standing in the way was Broncos CEO Joe Ellis, who said if Elway was going to move on from Joseph, he needed to conduct a full coaching search, and not just hand the job to Shanahan. (Elway would have to interview a minority before hiring Shanahan to comply with the Rooney Rule.) Elway eventually came around to giving Joseph a second year in Denver.

At his Monday press conference, Joseph said the report "didn't move me at all" and that his focus is on Monday night's game against the Raiders.

"That's the least of my concerns," Joseph said, via Nicki Jhabvala of The Athletic. "People have written much worse things about me. ... I'm not concerned about an article."

Joseph also said he "absolutely" believes he has the support of Broncos management.

But, as Profootballtalk.com's Michael David Smith notes, now that Joseph's second year has ended out of the playoffs, the Broncos may be ready for a new head coach. Could Shanahan be the guy? It's entirely possible. The 66-year-old Shanahan has said he would like to coach again, if he finds the right situation.

Elway is likely to begin conducting another coaching search in two weeks. Shanahan may be on his list of candidates.

In the end, all these decisions come down to whether or not Elway believes these Broncos, the team he constructed, are the team that pushed the Rams, were a missed field goal from beating the Texans and beat the Chargers, or if it's the team on display Saturday night, the one that watched somebody else rise to the moment. ...

One last note here. ... The Broncos placed Harris on injured reserve, ending his season.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Drew Lock, Brandon Allen, Joe Flacco
RBs: Phillip Lindsay, Royce Freeman, Devontae Booker, Theo Riddick
WRs: Courtland Sutton, Tim Patrick, Daesean Hamilton, Fred Brown, Juwann Winfree, Diontae Spencer
TEs: Noah Fant, Jeff Heuerman, Troy Fumagalli, Jake Butt

Detroit Lions

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 December 2018

As Associated Press sports writer John Wawrow reported, Matt Patricia had no time to reflect on missing the playoffs for just the second time during 15 NFL seasons.

For one, this isn't New England, where the rookie Lions coach spent his first 14 seasons as an assistant. And, Patricia said, there are still two games left for the Lions to play.

"I'm not going to put anything into summation," Patricia said after a 14-13 loss to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday mathematically eliminated the Lions from contention.

"I think we're going to be focused on this game and trying to make sure to analyze this game and where we can get better," he added. "There's a lot of areas that we can work on."

The Lions fell to 5-9 and will miss the playoffs for a second consecutive season, while also guaranteed a losing record for the first time since a 7-9 finish in 2015.

The result was indicative of an injury-depleted roster and a team in transition. Leading rusher Kerryon Johnson missed his fourth straight game with a knee injury. Detroit was also dealing with a patchwork group of receivers with Marvin Jones on injured reserve, Bruce Ellington out with a hamstring injury and Golden Tate traded to Philadelphia in October.

Though Kenny Golladay had a career-best 146 yards receiving, Detroit punted on six of its final possessions in squandering a 13-7 lead in the fourth quarter.

The Lions' usually reliable special teams also cost them.

Detroit opened the scoring on Stafford's 4-yard touchdown pass to Andy Jones, but botched the extra-point attempt on Don Muhlbach's bad snap.

"Awful. I didn't do my job right," Muhlbach said, noting he had difficulty raising the ball off the ground. "I let everybody down."

Then, Stafford responded to a Buffalo touchdown by marching the Lions 45 yards on the next possession only to have kicker Matt Prater miss a 48-yard field goal wide right.

"I don't have an excuse," said Prater, who entered having hit his previous 14 field-goal attempts. "You want to come through and make plays for your team when you get the opportunity. And it's frustrating not to."

Patricia said there was plenty of blame to go around.

"There's plenty of situations out there on the field where we could do more to do better to help us win," Patricia said. "It starts with me. Have to go out and execute better."

Though Stafford finished 22 of 29 for 208 yards passing and a touchdown, the Lions' offense all but dried up in the second half. Detroit managed just 117 yards offense and five first downs over the final two quarters.

That was particularly apparent on what proved to be Detroit's final possession. The Lions gained just 2 yards in going three-and-out in punting from their own 33 with 2:56 left.

"We had our chances and opportunities and just didn't make enough plays as a team," Stafford said.

"Yeah, it's frustrating. You play this game for the opportunity for the playoffs and a chance to win the whole thing," he added. "So any time that gets taken away from you, it's disappointing."

So what about those areas Patricia mentioned, that still need work?

According ESPN.com's Michael Rothstein, the Lions have multiple players injured that it would not be wise to bring back for two weeks left in the year, including Johnson, defensive end Da'Shawn Hand and possibly right tackle Rick Wagner. Those decisions, though, and whether they happen, remain to be seen -- although Johnson was placed on IR Wendesday after Hand drew that designation Tuesday.

Johnson injured his knee in November against the Panthers, and there was some thought he might return this year. But with the playoffs no longer a possibility, shutting down the rookie was the prudent play.

As Profootballtalk.com suggested, the second-round pick was part of a job-share much longer than he should have been earlier this year, but he still leads the team with 641 rushing yards despite missing the last four games. He averaged 5.4 yards per attempt.

When they upset the Patriots in September, he became the first Lion to post a 100-yard game since Reggie Bush in 2013.

Meanwhile, Rothstein believe the Lions should give even more of a look to younger players whose futures are clearly within the organization, from Wagner's potential replacement, Tyrell Crosby, to safety Tracy Walker and running back Zach Zenner over LeGarrette Blount.

A hard look at Stafford's health should also be examined because a long-term injury to the quarterback whose back is clearly an issue would be a big setback to what the Lions are trying to build.

Whatever players Detroit decides to roll with the home finale against Minnesota and the season-ender at Green Bay are going to try to win.

Still, with the last two games of the season and nothing tangible in 2018 to play for, all the motivations change. The Lions will spend the last two weeks of their season starting to build for next year with at least keeping some eye on the present -- mostly because that's the only thing they can do.

And there are positives to build on.

As noted above, Golladay had a good outing in defeat, catching seven of his eight targets for the above-mentioned 146 yards. Jones recorded the first touchdown of his career, and Zenner picked up right where he left off last week in Arizona by recording a touchdown (one yard) run for a second straight week.

So we'll be all be watching for clues as to what direction Patricia and the Lions might take in a tough matchup against Minnesota this week. ...

On the injury front. ... Golladay (chest) and Ellington (hamstring) were limited at Wednesday's practice; I'll follow up via Late-Breaking Update as needed. ...

One last note here. ... Patricia was working blue in his postgame radio interview. Via Nate Atkins of MLive.com, asked how he planned to keep the team motivated now that they're eliminated from playoff contention, Patricia let one slip.

"Look, for us, it's not different. We go out, we compete, we try to win and we try to f—ing get better every week," Patricia replied.

While it was just a slip, Profootballtalk.com notes that for Patricia, it's another small thing that could be a sign of a greater strain that's showing. Earlier this year, he snapped at a reporter about his posture at a press conference.

The Lions have lost six of their last eight, they fired the last guy because he kept going 9-7, and he never went worse than 7-9.

Jim Caldwell also didn't require a seven-second delay.

Meanwhile, Rothstein notes that if the Lions lose to either Minnesota or Green Bay, it'll mean the team's worst record since 2012 (4-12) and give the team their 11th season of double-digit losses since 2000 From 1930-1999, the Lions only had 12 double-digit loss seasons (although to be fair not every year had a 16-game schedule).

DEPTH CHART
QBs: David Blough, Matthew Stafford, Kyle Sloter
RBs: Bo Scarbrough, Ty Johnson, J.D. McKissic, Paul Perkins, Kerryon Johnson
WRs: Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, Danny Amendola, Jermaine Kearse, Brandon Powell, Chris Lacy, Travis Fulgham
TEs: T.J. Hockenson, Jesse James, Logan Thomas

Green Bay Packers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 December 2018

As ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky noted, Aaron Rodgers wants to play in the Green Bay Packers' final two (meaningless) games this season.

Demovsky added, "That sounds like a punishment, not a privilege. ..."

And unless general manager Brian Gutekunst or team president Mark Murphy tells interim coach Joe Philbin they want to see DeShone Kizer or they simply want to make sure their $134 million quarterback doesn't do anything to jeopardize his health and availability for the start of next season, it looks like Rodgers will get his wish to play Sunday at the New York Jets.

That's when the Packers will try to win their first road game of the season in their last chance to do so before closing out the season at home against the Detroit Lions.

"That might be a good time for Rodgers to play like a $134 million quarterback," Demovsky added.

Actually, the first 14 games of the season would have been the time.

For all that went wrong for the Packers in Sunday's 24-17 loss to the NFC North-clinching Chicago Bears at Soldier Field and for all that the Packers were missing in terms of key players, they could have avoided playoff elimination at least for another week had Rodgers played like the Rodgers of old -- and that's not all that long ago.

Of course, had Rodgers played that way more often this season, then perhaps they would have been in position to clinch something other than a second straight losing season.

At least Rodgers admitted it.

Sort of.

Rodgers' accuracy, once the hallmark of his Hall of Fame career, suffered this season -- a premise he didn't dispute.

"Oh no, there's missed throws for sure," Rodgers said. "But some of the ones you probably think are missed throws maybe we're just not on the same page."

The reason, however, was far from clear.

"Just not being on the same page with the guys we're throwing to," Rodgers said.

Sunday's loss was just another example considering Rodgers was:

4-of-12 passing 10-plus yards downfield.

1-of-9 passing 20-plus yards downfield.

8-of-12 for 119 yards to Davante Adams, who hit the 100-catch mark and now needs 14 catches in the final two weeks to break the single-season franchise record.

But just 6-of-14 for 54 yards to all other wide receivers.

Most noticeably, Rodgers overshot rookie receiver Equanimeous St. Brown on a post for what should have been a 23-yard touchdown in the first quarter.

"I missed that one a little inside, I think," Rodgers said. "He was keeping an angle pretty high; I don't think it was a bad route. It was a bad throw."

But that wasn't the only one.

On back-to-back fourth-quarter plays shortly after the Bears lost a fumble on a botched wildcat play, Rodgers overthrew Randall Cobb and Marquez Valdes-Scantling on open deep routes. Perhaps Rodgers was worried about pressure after getting sacked on the previous play, and who could blame him after the havoc Khalil Mack has wreaked this season (2.5 sacks on Sunday, 12.5 for the season)?

"I think it's a little bit of everything," Philbin said. "There were just some opportunities where things weren't quite in rhythm. Some of the throws are extended plays and moving around, and I know he's made some great plays in that in the past. He has even this year.

"But it's a little bit of everything. Sometimes it's been the protection, sometimes it's been the routes, sometimes it's been the throws. I don't know that it's just Aaron missing throws. Certainly there's some throws I'm sure he wished he had back. I think that's kind of common for a quarterback. But a little bit more function of the entire offense, I think, executing better. And some of our youth, you know we've got some young guys out there. Some of that contributes."

When the Packers signed Rodgers to the four-year, $134 million contract extension in August, they did so believing Rodgers, who turned 35 on Dec. 2, would pick up where he left off before his broken collarbone ruined the 2017 season.

His left knee injury in the season-opening win over the Bears didn't help him this season. Neither did a pulled groin on his Hail Mary attempt on the final play of the first half on Sunday.

If there's something encouraging about the situation, it's that Rodgers has been down this path before.

Prior to his collarbone in Week 6 of last season, he was on a 14-game tear dating back to the 2016 season in which he threw 37 touchdowns and just five interceptions, completed 67.3 percent of his passes and had a rating 110.4. The Packers went 12-2, including the 2016 playoffs. In the 14-game stretch before that, when everyone wondered what was wrong with Rodgers, the numbers were 31 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, a 61.7 percent completion rate and a 91.7 passer rating for a 5-9 record.

In 14 games this season, Rodgers has 23 touchdowns, two interceptions, a 61.8 percent completion rate and a rating of 97.2 while the Packers sit at 5-8-1.

It will take some creative roster building by Gutekunst this offseason to bring the Packers back. The talent gap with the Bears, especially on defense, could not have been more obvious on Sunday.

A little more help from the quarterback wouldn't hurt, either.

"It's not just [Rodgers]," Philbin said. "I think it's unfair to say, 'Oh geez, he has to do much better.' Well, he has to perform better. And so we have to protect better. The pass, the route concepts, the route running, it's all tied together. I don't think it's real accurate to say, 'Hey, boy Aaron's to blame.'"

For the record, Philbin declined to name a starting quarterback for Sunday’s game against the Jets.

This means that it’s possible the Packers choose to rest Rodgers for the meaningless final games of 2018, essentially preserving him for 2019.

Rodgers has previously said that he’d have a problem with such an outcome -- something he reiterated Wednesday, so it'll be interesting to see how it plays out. ...

Meanwhile, Aaron Jones established himself as the lead back in Green Bay this season, but his next appearance for the Packers will not take place until the new year.

Jones left Sunday's loss to the Bears after four carries because he took a shot to the knee while cutting upfield in the first quarter. Jones' leg was straight at the moment of impact and he said after the game that he felt that contributed to the issue. "I feel like if it was bent, it wouldn't have been as bad," Jones said, via the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Jones said the injury felt similar to one he suffered to his MCL during the 2017 season. He missed two games at that time and the Packers confirmed he will indeed miss the next two weeks by placing him on injured reserve Tuesday.

Jamaal Williams will be the lead back as the Packers play out the string backed up by Kapri Bibbs, who was claimed off waivers from the Redskins.

Williams racked up 97 yards and one touchdown on 16 touches against a tough Bears defense Sunday. He'll continue to handle the lead back roled. Bibbs played in 10 games this season and averaged 5.1 yards per carry on just 20 attempts.

As for Rodgers' groin?

He said the injury "bothered [him] a little bit" in the second half.

In addition, Cobb, who was being evaluated for a concussion after yesterday's game, is indeed in the concussion protocol, Demovsky was told.

I'll be following up on Rodgers and Cobb via Late-Breaking Update as developments warrant (and they will warrant) in coming days.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Aaron Rodgers, Tim Boyle
RBs: Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams, Dexter Williams
WRs: Davante Adams, Geronimo Allison, Allen Lazard, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Jake Kumerow
TEs: Jimmy Graham, Marcedes Lewis, Robert Tonyan, Jace Sternberger

Houston Texans

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 December 2018

According to ESPN.com's Jordan Schultz suggested, the Texans won't gain any style points for their 29-22 win against the New York Jets on Saturday at MetLife Stadium, but at 10-4, they are a step further in their quest for both an AFC South title and a first-round bye in the AFC.

After a strong first half in which he completed 9 of 14 passes for 145 yards -- including a 45-yard touchdown strike to DeAndre Hopkins -- quarterback Deshaun Watson sputtered for much of the second half. With consistent pressure from the Jets' defensive line, Watson had a hard time maneuvering the pocket and avoiding the relentless rush. Watson was sacked six times -- the fourth time this season he has been sacked at least five times, tying Dallas' Dak Prescott for the league high.

Watson, who called 24-21 home loss to the Indianapolis Colts in Week 14 "a good learning lesson," came up clutch against the Jets to help Houston regain control late in the fourth quarter, after the Texans had relinquished a 16-3 lead. Trailing 22-19 late, the second-year signal-caller engineered an efficient seven-play, 75-yard drive that lasted just 2:45 and resulted in a sensational sideline touchdown grab by Hopkins.

"You have an opportunity on a big stage to lead your team to victory, I don't know, I guess it's kind of my DNA," Watson said.

Added head coach Bill O'Brien: "Thank god he's our quarterback. He wants the ball in those situations. That's always been the case with him from the time he was probably 12 years old."

In fact, Watson's only consistent success came when targeting Hopkins, who finished with 170 yards on 10 catches (11 targets), including the two scores. Well on his way to a third All-Pro selection, Hopkins also notched his 500th reception in his 93rd game, making him just the 10th player since the 1970 merger to reach the 500 mark that quickly.

"We've been in those situations before, so we know how to handle it," Hopkins said. "I wouldn't want any other quarterback in this entire universe."

According to NFL Next Gen Stats, there were 0.52 yards of separation on Hopkins' go-ahead TD catch. That's the second-lowest amount of separation Watson has ever had on a TD pass, and it was Hopkins' third tight-window TD of the season, which ties him with several other players for most in the NFL this season.

"I knew I just had to get position on him, not let him get close to the ball," Hopkins said. "It was a jump ball and I was able to get it."

Hopkins, who hobbled off the field after his winning touchdown grab, said he felt "great" after the game.

With starting running back Lamar Miller unable to go after a first quarter ankle injury (he briefly returned in the second quarter), the Texans failed to register the type of run-pass balance they like. They finished with just 47 rushing yards on 17 carries, and 24 of those yards came on designed run by Watson.

Miller's replacement Alfred Blue was held to 6 yards on nine carries by an aggressive Jets front. After the game, O'Brien sounded optimistic about the prognosis for his starting running back's injured ankle.

"I think he'll be alright. I don't think it's major," O'Brien said.

Indeed, Miller is considered day-to-day, ESPN's Adam Schefter reports.

Despite beating the Jets, Houston once again struggled on third down (1-of-9). It was a point of emphasis after going just 5-for-15 in converting third downs in the loss to the Colts.

Watson and Co., however, can worry about that problem over the next two weeks against lesser -- albeit still-dangerous -- opponents.

Winners of 10 of their past 11 contest, the Texans close out the regular season at the Philadelphia Eagles and home against the Jacksonville Jaguars, who came out of their games on Sunday a combined 11-17 this season. ...

In addition to Miller's status, I'll have an eye on that of Keke Coutee, with O'Brien telling reporters on Monday that any player dealing with injury at this point in the season is day-to-day and likely a game-time decision.

If Miller can't play, O'Brien said D'Onta Foreman "could" be active against the Eagles.

Foreman tore his Achilles over a year ago and has not played in a game since then. O'Brien shared what he'll be looking for from Foreman if he returns to action this week.

"Obviously, good vision," O'Brien told the Houston Chronicle. "Good knowledge of how the play's being blocked, decisive running. Continuing to improve in his knowledge of pass protection. Just good, solid play. Take care of the ball, No. 1."

As Profootballtalk.com suggested, "Whoever does the running, the Texans will be looking for more production on the ground than the 47 yards they managed against the Jets. ..."

For what it's worth, ESPN.com's Tristan Cockroft pointed out that Hopkins' 39.0 PPR fantasy points were his second most in 93 career NFL games (44.8, 2014 Week 13). He now has 287.4 points through 14 games in 2018, and needs 43.7 points in his final two games to match his season best of 331.1, set in 2015.

Also, according to ESPN's Mike Clay, tight end Ryan Griffin heads his list of players with most end-zone targets without catching at least one of them this season: Griffin (8); Rob Gronkowski (7); Taylor Gabriel, Jermaine Kearse, Michael Gallup (tied at 5); Quincy Enunwa, Ricky Seals-Jones and Robert Foster (tied at 4). ...

Ka'imi Fairbairn secured AFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors after kicking five field goals and two extra points in the victory over the New York Jets. Fairbairn, who has successfully converted on his last 12 field-goal attempts, leads the NFL with 136 points and 34 field goals. ...

And finally. ... The Texans waived receiver Sammie Coates on Tuesday, Aaron Wilson of the Chronicle reported.

Coates, 25, played 37 offensive snaps and 137 on special teams in 12 games with the Texans this season. He caught one pass for 12 yards.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Deshaun Watson, AJ McCarron
RBs: Carlos Hyde, Duke Johnson, Buddy Howell, Taiwan Jones
WRs: DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, Kenny Stills, DeAndre Carter, Keke Coutee
TEs: Darren Fells, Jordan Akins, Jordan Thomas, Kahale Warring, Jerell Adams

Indianapolis Colts

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 December 2018

Need further proof the Indianapolis Colts are a team nobody would want to face if they make the playoffs?

As ESPN.com's Mike Wells laid it out, "Beat a Houston team on a nine-game winning streak? Check. Beat a Dallas team on a five-game winning streak the following week? Did that, too."

And what made ending the winning streaks of the Texans and Cowboys even more impressive?

The Colts used different blueprints for success.

Wells went on to explain the Colts used Andrew Luck's arm in one game and then switched it up with an impressive running game and their best defensive performance of the season against the Cowboys.

That's a recipe for a team that's capable of winning in any facet -- and why the Colts have won seven of their past eight games after getting their first shutout in more than four years by blanking the surging Cowboys 23-0 on Sunday.

The Colts (8-6) have continually talked about not worrying about what other teams in the playoff hunt are doing because it does them no good if they take care of their own business.

Winning the AFC South is major obstacle for them because they trail the Texans by two games with two games left in the season. But making the playoffs as a wild-card team is right there in Indianapolis' sight, depending on what teams like Pittsburgh and Baltimore do the rest of the season. The Colts haven't been to the playoffs since 2014.

The Cowboys strolled into Indianapolis winners of five in a row with an offense led by running back Ezekiel Elliott and a defense ranked fourth in the NFL.

None of that mattered to the Colts. They rolled up their sleeves, went toe-to-toe with Dallas and beat them by punching them first on defense and then beating them at the line of scrimmage on offense.

That's how it was all game.

Over and over again.

Marlon Mack set the tone with a physical 19-yard run on his first carry, ran 22 times and matched his career best for scoring runs -- all against the league's No. 3 run defense.

When the dust settled, Mack had rushed for a career-high 139 yards on 27 carries and two touchdowns. He's the first Colts running back to rush for at least 100 yards and have two rushing touchdowns twice in a season since Edgerrin James did it in 2005, according to ESPN Stats and Information. Mack accomplished that feat against a Dallas defense that was ranked third in the league.

Indy, in all, ran the ball 39 times for 178 yards for a 4.6 yards-per-carry average, showing once again that while the offense will always rely heavily on Luck -- who still had a solid, efficient throwing performance on Sunday -- the equation of a solid rushing performance plus stout defensive play is oftentimes what wins ballgames in December.

"We talked about this week that we have to fight to have no mental lapses," head coach Frank Reich said about the blueprint for his team in December. "It's always a physical grind, but a lot of times what happens is it is the mental grind that wears guys down. So we really wanted to concentrate on the fundamentals and technique -- don't wear down on that stuff, don't get bored with it, stay focused, stay disciplined on the little things and executing playing with leverage.

"On both sides of the ball, we did that today."

The result: Dallas gave up its first 100-yard game since Week 9 and endured its first shutout since losing 12-0 to the Patriots on Nov. 16, 2003.

Luck was 16 of 27 for 192 yards while T.Y. Hilton caught five passes for 85 yards despite not practicing all week because of an ankle injury.

Run. Pass. Defend.

It doesn't matter with the Colts. They're capable of winning in any of those ways, and that's just how general manager Chris Ballard envisioned it as he put his team together.

The Colts close out their home schedule next weekend when Eli Manning and the New York Giants return to Lucas Oil Stadium for the first time since winning the Super Bowl after the 2011 season.

Meanwhile, on the injury front. ... Hilton (ankle), Dontrelle Inman (shoulder) and Eric Ebron (quad) were all held out of Wednesday's practice; don't assume any of them are in danger of missing this week's game at this point.

I'll be following up via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Jacoby Brissett, Brian Hoyer, Chad Kelly
RBs: Jonathan Williams, Jordan Wilkins, Nyheim Hines, Marlon Mack
WRs: Zach Pascal, Parris Campbell, T.Y. Hilton, Chester Rogers, Devin Funchess, Ashton Dulin, Chad Williams
TEs: Jack Doyle, Mo Alie-Cox

Jacksonville Jaguars

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 December 2018

The Jaguars needed something special Sunday.

They almost got it on a big day from their special teams, instead squandering a second-half lead to lose their 2018 regular-season home finale.

Wide receiver Dede Westbrook returned a punt 74 yards for a touchdown with :04 remaining in the first half to give the Jaguars their lone touchdown of the game and a 10-3 lead. It came four plays after a 63-yard punt by rookie punter Logan Cooke.

The team also got a pair of field goals from Kai Forbath, signed late last week when Josh Lambo suffered a groin injury.

Still, the Jaguars (4-10) lost for the ninth time in 10 games.

Westbrook, the Jaguars' best offensive player in recent weeks, caught three passes for 21 yards and also rushed once for 20 yards. His punt-return touchdown was the Jaguars' first special teams touchdown this season

Cody Kessler, making his third start since taking over for longtime starter Blake Bortles, completed nine of 17 passes for 57 yards and no touchdowns with no interceptions. Kessler led the team in rushing with 68 yards on six carries.

The Redskins sacked Kessler six times, including four in the first half.

As Profootballtalk.com's Charean Williams noted, perhaps no one other than Kessler, Bortles and Tom Coughlin care anymore, but head coach Doug Marrone said he doesn't know who will start at quarterback this week.

Kessler made his third consecutive start Sunday. It obviously did not go well.

While Marrone said he did not consider going back to Bortles on Sunday, he didn't rule it out for the Jaguars' game at Miami.

"I don't know. I'm going to evaluate everything like I do after every game," Marrone told Michael DiRocco of ESPN.

In Kessler's three starts, the Jaguars have scored one touchdown and have not had more than 255 yards in any of those games. ...

Meanwhile, Leonard Fournette didn't know his number of carries Sunday.

As the running back saw it, the number mattered little.

"It's all about winning at the end of the day," Fournette said Sunday after the loss to the Washington Redskins in the 2018 regular-season home finale at TIAA Bank Field.

Fournette, the No. 4 overall selection in the 2017 NFL Draft and the Jaguars' starter at running back when healthy this season, rushed 11 times for 46 yards Sunday. He rushed just once for 25 yards in the second half. Fournette said he was not injured.

Reserve running back Dave Williams rushed four times for 21 yards in the second half, with reserve running back T.J. Yeldon running two times for six yards in the second half.

Marrone said Williams had a good week of practice.

"We wanted to see Williams in there," Marrone said.

Added Fournette: "That was the game plan coming in."

The Jaguars rushed for 172 yards on 26 carries, with Kessler leading the team with 68 yards on six carries. Westbrook rushed once for 20 yards.

"We've just got to get our chemistry better with our offensive line," Fournette said. "A lot of us aren't used to playing with each other. It's about communication with us, too, the running backs and the offensive line."

Running back Carlos Hyde, acquired in a midseason trade with the Cleveland Browns in exchange for a fifth-round selection in the 2019 NFL Draft, was a healthy inactive for the Jaguars Sunday. ...

Fournette on Sunday also was the Jaguars' kickoff returner, marking the first time in his two NFL seasons he has played that role. The Redskins kicked away from Fournette on their first kickoff and had touchbacks on their ensuing three kickoffs.

Fournette said he last returned kickoffs as a college freshman.

"Just trying to do as much as I can and help the team out," he said, adding that his returning kickoffs was his idea and that of the coaches.

On Monday, Marrone told reporters that Fournette would be limited this week with a foot injury, but the star halfback opened the week working fully. I'll be following his progress closely in coming days; watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for more as the Jags prepare to play the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium Sunday.

D.J. Chark (quad) remained sidelined Wednesday and seems unlikely to play again this week. ...

For what it's worth. ... After the Jaguars lost to Washington, a reporter asked cornerback Jalen Ramsey about Marrone's job security.

"I ain't worried about nobody but myself," Ramsey said, via Phillip Heilman of The Florida Times-Union.

Also on the injury front. ... The Jaguars just created a starting job for rookie safety Ronnie Harrison, and cut the veteran he replaced to clear the way.

So naturally, he's done for the year now.

According to Daniel Popper of The Athletic, the Jaguars are putting Harrison on injured reserve after he suffered a knee injury in yesterday's loss to Washington

Harrison had just replaced veteran Barry Church two weeks ago, and the Jaguars got a head start on their offseason pruning by releasing Church last week.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Gardner Minshew, Nick Foles, Josh Dobbs, Phillip Walker
RBs: Leonard Fournette, Ryquell Armstead, Devine Ozigbo, Tyler Ervin
WRs: D.J. Chark, Dede Westbrook, Chris Conley, Keelan Cole, CJ Board, Marqise Lee
TEs: Ben Koyack, Nick O'Leary, Seth DeValve, Geoff Swaim, Josh Oliver, James O'Shaughnessy

Kansas City Chiefs

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 December 2018

Once this week's game against the Seahawks kicks off Sunday, the Kansas City Chiefs will have had 10 days to stew over Mike Williams' touchdown catch, Philip Rivers' wave as he trotted off the field and the golden opportunity they let slip away last Thursday night.

They had led the Los Angeles Chargers nearly wire-to-wire, taking an early 14-0 lead and looking every bit the dominant team in the AFC West. And they still led into the fourth quarter, victory seemingly certain along with all the trappings that would come with it -- clinching the division with two games to go, a first-round playoff bye and perhaps homefield advantage throughout with a little bit of help.

Then their defense failed to make a couple of crucial stops. Their offense failed to pick up a first down when it mattered most. The Chargers made every play to escape with a 29-28 victory.

There were plenty of things for Kansas City to correct.

The Chiefs were penalized 10 times for 66 yards, five of them giving Los Angeles a first down. They failed to capitalize on two turnovers by Rivers, allowed the Chargers to convert 60 percent of their third downs and blew crucial assignments when they had a chance to put the game away.

The two biggest came on the final drive of the game.

After cornerback Kendall Fuller was called for pass interference -- a debatable call given the pass appeared to be well out of reach -- the Chargers had the ball at the Kansas City 1. Rivers floated a pass toward Williams along the sideline, and he outleaped Orlando Scandrick to haul it in.

Then, after head coach Anthony Lynn sent his offense back onto the field, the Chiefs blew the coverage on Williams so emphatically that nobody was within 10 yards of him on the 2-point conversion.

Game over.

Let the stewing begin.

"Just miscommunication," Fuller said of the conversion play. "We just got to cover our pieces at the end of the day. That's something we have to work on, prepare for and get better."

All is not lost for Kansas City. The Chargers may have forged a tie atop the division at 11-3, and have not split the season series, but the Chiefs hold the tiebreaker by virtue of their superior record in the division. They also maintain an inside track on homefield advantage, though their trip to Seattle and their home game against Oakland have taken on much more meaning.

The Chiefs could have used those weeks to heal up for the playoffs.

Now, they'll visit a hot team in the Seahawks with much on the line before returning home to face another division rival.

"Everybody feels that feeling, they want to get back out there tomorrow," quarterback Patrick Mahomes said. "So we're going to have a long 10 days. Then we're going to Seattle, which is a tough place to play, and they're playing really good football right now. So we're just going to recuperate, see what we did well and see what we didn't do so well and find ways to use this as fuel."

The opportunity to recuperate may be what Kansas City needs most.

Strong safety Eric Berry made his season debut after dealing with a heel injury since training camp, and he'll have time to receive treatment before trying to play more against the Seahawks.

The Chiefs are hopeful they'll get some of their offensive stars back.

Running back Spencer Ware was out Thursday night due to shoulder and hamstring injuries, wide receiver Sammy Watkins missed his third game with a foot injury and offensive lineman Cam Erving was sidelined with a knee injury. All three are considered day-to-day despite previous reports that Watkins, who wasn't on the practice field Wednesday, might be shut down into January.

Reid made it clear on Monday that it's the hamstring that kept Ware out.

"Spencer is. ... Making progress with his hamstring," Reid told reporters on Monday. "That was the primary thing. He tweaked it. It's not a severe hamstring, but just enough to where he couldn't open up for the game. He's making progress there, we'll just have to see on that, day-to-day."

The Chiefs had extra time to recover from Thursday night's game before next Sunday night at Seattle. And while running back Damien Williams had 100 yards from scrimmage against the Chargers, Ware moved to the top of the depth chart after the release of Kareem Hunt, and the Chiefs surely would prefer to have him.

We'll find out more about whether Ware will be available for Sunday night's showdown as the week unfolds.

If the Chiefs hope to beat a Seahawks team that still hasn't clinched a playoff berth, the Chiefs will need all the help they can get.

Also on the injury front. ... Fuller played through a broken wrist in last Thursday night's loss to the Chargers and the team thinks he's likely to be in the lineup in Week 16 against the Seahawks as well.

Fuller had surgery on Friday morning and Reid said there's an optimistic outlook for Fuller to be in the lineup in Seattle.

"This is a short-term thing," Reid said, via ESPN.com. "There's a good chance he has an opportunity to play in the game coming up here."

If Fuller does play, Reid suggested he'll share the field with Berry more than he did in his regular season debut last week. Berry played 30 snaps against the Chargers and Reid said the veteran's heel came through it feeling well, which puts him on track to take on a bigger workload this weekend.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Patrick Mahomes, Matt Moore, Chad Henne
RBs: LeSean McCoy, Darwin Thompson, Damien Williams, Darrel Williams, Spencer Ware
WRs: Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, Demarcus Robinson, Mecole Hardman, Byron Pringle
TEs: Travis Kelce, Blake Bell, Deon Yelder

Los Angeles Chargers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 December 2018

With top receiver Keenan Allen out with a hip injury, Philip Rivers and the rest of his teammates needed somebody to step up and serve as a playmaker with the Bolts down 14 points to the Chiefs in the fourth quarter last Thursday.

And as ESPN.com's Eric Williams noted, Mike Williams came to his team's rescue.

"There's never been any doubt in this locker room about Mike," Rivers said. "But I think that the whole world knows now why he was picked No. 7 [overall in the 2017 draft], you know? ... All the receivers contributed, but he took over the football game."

Williams put on an impressive display, finishing with six receptions for 76 receiving yards and three total touchdowns. His effort included the final score on a 1-yard fade route, along with the two-point conversion to close out the 29-28 victory.

Williams also scored on a 3-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter and ran in a 19-yard reverse for a touchdown.

On Wednesday, Williams was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week.

With two games left, Williams has totaled 37 receptions for 592 receiving yards and nine touchdown catches.

Along with Williams, Travis Benjamin played much bigger than his diminutive, 5-foot-10, 175-pound frame.

Benjamin made two huge catches on the winning drive for the Chargers, a 31-yarder over the middle on which he was drilled by Kansas City safety Ron Parker and held on to the ball, and another 26-yard catch on fourth-and-7 that kept the final drive alive.

Benjamin was an honorary captain for the game and took over the role as slot receiver with Allen out.

"The way he has been practicing, it did not surprise us," Rivers said about Benjamin. "We have been seeing him practice. He started out the season pretty slow because of injuries, but once he's gotten healthy, he has looked very good. It was good to see him have some success on the football field tonight."

Williams was the latest hero for the Chargers as they have won or held on to win four games this season in the last seconds of the game.

Head coach Anthony Lynn said he decided early on that his offense would go for two and the win if the Chargers got into the end zone on the final drive.

"We didn't come here to tie, we came here to win," Lynn said. "To me it was a no-brainer."

For Lynn and his players like Williams, they have embraced making plays in the tense, final moments of the game.

"We have been in these situations so many times, we believe we are going to win now," Lynn said. "The guys are really comfortable when we are in these situations. They do not panic. There is no anxiety."

Meanwhile, on the injury front. ... Running backs Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler both missed the game and Allen played just 17 snaps as a result of a hip injury. With hopes of winning the division and the top seed in the AFC very much alive, the Chargers would obviously like to have as many of them back in the lineup as possible.

Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that the team believes there's a "legitimate chance" all three are ready to go against the Ravens on Saturday night.

Gordon worked out his knee before being ruled out for the game against the Chiefs while Ekeler didn't practice last week due to a neck injury and a concussion.

"Very close," Lynn said when asked about Gordon's progress on Monday. "He looked good in pregame. It's just without having a full week of practice. ... If we had played that game on Sunday, he probably would have played. But because we had an early game on Thursday, and no full-speed practices, I didn't think it was wise to put him out there."

On Tuesday, Lynn told reporters that Gordon had that full-speed practice.

At 11-3, the Chargers clinched a postseason berth with a win over the Chiefs last week but still could get the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs if they win out and the Chiefs lose one of their last two remaining games.

The Ravens hold the final AFC wild-card spot at 8-6 and need to continue to win in order to hold that position.

Now in his fourth NFL season, Gordon said it's the first time he will play in the playoffs as player since high school.

"I feel like I'm built for these type of games," Gordon said. "That's why I play football; it's your squad against my squad and the loser goes home. I like that because you get everybody's best, and obviously they get your best."

While Gordon appears to be on track to return Saturday against the Ravens, Ekeler still has a few hurdles to clear. Ekeler missed last week's game because of a concussion and a bruised nerve in his neck and Lynn said Ekeler still has not cleared the NFL concussion protocol.

While Ekeler wasn't on the practice field Wednesday, Allen was working. Lynn previously told reporters Allen's final status could come down to a dreaded game-time decision, but he appears to be trending in the right direction.

I'll obviously be following up on Gordon, Allen and Ekeler -- possibly right up through kickoff. ...

Tight end Hunter Henry has made significant strides since tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee on the first day of organized team activities in May.

"Don't be surprised to see him work his way back in," Lynn said Monday, via Gilbert Manzano of the Orange County Register. "He may do some things on the side this week. He may start that as early as today, I'm not sure yet."

In fact, the Chargers officially activated the 21-day practice window for Henry on Monday. He is still on the PUP list and must be placed on the active roster within 21 days or be done for the season.

The Chargers still have no official timetable for Henry's return to the field. He has spent the season on the physically unable to perform list.

That said, the team's success motivated Henry even more to try to return this season.

"I think that's what pushed me the whole time," Henry said, via Manzano. "I tried to stay around as much as I could to kind of feed off that for my rehab."

Henry can look to Melvin Ingram for motivation. The Chargers defensive end product also suffered a torn ACL in May 2013 during offseason work.

Ingram worked diligently in his rehab and returned to the field that December, playing in six games -- including two postseason contests -- finishing with seven tackles, a sack and an interception.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Philip Rivers, Tyrod Taylor, Easton Stick
RBs: Melvin Gordon, Austin Ekeler, Justin Jackson, Detrez Newsome, Troymaine Pope
WRs: Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Andre Patton, Jason Moore
TEs: Hunter Henry, Virgil Green, Lance Kendricks, Stephen Anderson

Los Angeles Rams

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 December 2018

According to ESPN.com's Lindsey Thiry, the home-team locker room inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum was silent. Los Angeles Rams players sat at their lockers and appeared stunned.

Never before in Sean McVay's two seasons as coach had the Rams suffered back-to-back regular-season losses. And they didn't seem to figure it could happen Sunday night against a 13.5-point underdog Philadelphia Eagles team that was forced to start backup quarterback Nick Foles, with Carson Wentz sidelined because of a back injury.

But Foles pushed the defense to its breaking point in a 30-23 defeat as Jared Goff and the offense, for a third consecutive week, struggled to find its footing.

"Back-to back-losses is definitely going to faze a team a little bit," receiver Robert Woods said.

The Rams (11-3) have clinched the NFC West and a playoff berth is secured.

But for now, that's the only certainty.

They lost control of NFC home-field advantage with a loss last week to the Chicago Bears, and can only regain it if the New Orleans Saints stumble, likely twice, since the Saints hold the head-to-head tiebreaker for the top seed against the Rams. And the Rams are close to losing control of a first-round bye. That can still be earned with two wins, but another loss could allow the Bears to move past the Rams.

"We're not tripping," cornerback Marcus Peters said. "We just have to get back to our P's and Q's."

For as dominant as the Rams were through their 11-1 start, with the exception of a loss against Drew Brees and the Saints, their vulnerabilities have been exposed over the last three weeks.

It started in Detroit in an offensive struggle against the Lions that was settled only when Todd Gurley rushed for two fourth-quarter touchdowns to give the Rams the win. It continued the following week in a disastrous offensive performance against the Bears in which Goff threw a career-high four interceptions.

And it continued Sunday night in an inexplicable loss to the Eagles, who came in with a 6-7 record.

"Definitely got to tighten up," Gurley said. "(We're) doing stuff that's not us, so we need to get back to ourselves. … It's not the end of the world."

Two games remain before the playoffs.

The Rams must travel to Phoenix Sunday to face the three-win Arizona Cardinals. Then they'll play a regular-season finale at home against the San Francisco 49ers, who have won two straight.

McVay expressed confidence that their issues could be solved. But he knows it must be done before the postseason, and it needs to start with his quarterback.

Through their first 12 games, the Rams had just 10 turnovers. But in their last two, they've turned it over seven times -- including six Goff interceptions.

Goff remained true to character after the loss Sunday. He did not show signs of panic but said in a matter-of-fact tone that there were some issues that needed to be solved.

"I don't think it's much," said Goff, who completed 35 of 54 passes for 339 yards and two interceptions. "I think it's little things here and there. I need to do a better job. We need to do a better job all across the board. ... It's stuff that's so fixable."

Easy to say. Now the Rams have to do it.

That's especially true of Goff.

As Profootballtalk.com noted, over the last three weeks, Goff is at the very bottom of the NFL. Literally.

He's dead last among all starting quarterbacks in passer rating over the last three weeks of the season. Goff's passer rating over the last three weeks is 51.3. The only quarterback in the NFL who has started even one game and had a worse passer rating in that time is Mark Sanchez, who has been benched.

From Week 1 through the Rams' spectacular Monday night win over the Chiefs, Goff threw 26 touchdown passes and six interceptions. In the three games since that win over the Chiefs, Goff has thrown one touchdown pass and seven interceptions.

Those three games were a win over the Lions that was closer than it should have been, a loss to the Bears last week and the loss to the Eagles Sunday night.

Nonetheless, Goff surpassed the 4,000-yard mark for the first time in his career.

Goff is the first Rams quarterback to throw for at least 4,000 yards in a season since Marc Bulger did it in 2006. The former Cal Bear is just the fourth Rams quarterback to reach the 4,000-yard mark.

Gurley capped off the Rams' second offensive drive of the game with his 20th touchdown of 2018 -- a new single-season career high despite missing some time due to a knee issue.

More specifically, the star halfback has inflammation in his knee, McVay said Monday.

"We think he's going to be OK," McVay said, via Myles Simmons of the team website.

McVay termed Gurley "day to day," but the Pro Bowler is expected to play Sunday against the Cardinals.

Gurley briefly left Sunday's loss to the Eagles. He ended up playing 63 of 76 plays, getting 22 touches for 124 yards and two touchdowns.

Gurley has 315 touches for 1,831 scrimmage yards and 21 total touchdowns.

Justin Davis and John Kelly are Gurley's backups. Davis, who replaced Malcolm Brown after he was placed on injured reserve, also is day-to-day because of a shoulder injury.

Even if Gurley is fine for this week's game against Arizona, the Rams could give him a little more rest. And if they do, they wanted more than just one healthy body behind him. That being the case, the Rams signed veteran free agent C.J. Anderson, who was available after a brief stint in Oakland. ...

Whatever the case, I'll be watching for more on Gurley in coming days and I'll report back via Late-Breaking Update as developments warrant. ...

Also worth noting. ... Woods reached the 1,000-yard mark for the first season in his career last week in Chicago. Woods reached the milestone delivering week-to-week in consistent fashion this season and that trend continued on Sunday night.

Woods is now just the sixth player in NFL history to record 13-straight games with at least 60 yards receiving.

He finished his night with seven receptions for 74 yards.

And finally. ... Last year, Pharoh Cooper was an All-Pro return man. This year, Cooper is out of work.

The Rams announced Tuesday that they have cut Cooper, whose kickoff return and punt return averages have both declined this season as he’s missed most of the year with an ankle injury.

When Cooper hasn’t been playing, the Rams have used JoJo Natson to return punts and Blake Countess to return kickoffs, and they will presumably continue in those roles.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Jared Goff, Blake Bortles
RBs: Todd Gurley, Malcolm Brown, Darrell Henderson
WRs: Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, Brandin Cooks, Josh Reynolds, Mike Thomas, Nsimba Webster, JoJo Natson
TEs: Tyler Higbee, Gerald Everett, Johnny Mundt

Miami Dolphins

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 December 2018

As Profootballtalk.com's Mike Florio reminded readers, two weeks ago, the Dolphins were flying high after a miraculous finish against the Patriots, a hook-and-lateral-plus-another lateral that delivered an unlikely win over the Patriots.

This week, the Dolphins are down and out after a 41-17 flattening in Minnesota. And head coach Adam Gase reflects the mood of the team during his post-game press conference.

Asked about the players who were injured during Sunday's game, Gase said, "Does it matter? Nobody cares."

Earlier in the press conference, Gase explained what went wrong against the Vikings in very simple and direct terms.

"We just couldn't stop them, couldn't stop the run and they were able to do all of their play actions out of that," Gase said. "That was the last thing we needed to happen was to get behind like that. That puts us in a different mode on offense and we fell apart on special teams. It's not like we've been dominating the run game anyway. We just needed to hold out better than we did, and we didn't."

The Dolphins fought back after falling behind 21-0, scoring 17 points in a row before the Vikings scored the final 20, fueled by a defense that picked up nine total sacks. Why so many hits on quarterback Ryan Tannehill?

"Not blocking," Gase said. "[Tannehill] had a couple chances where guys were open but couldn't get off. We just didn't block well enough. We knew what we were in for as far as the pass rush. They just beat us."

But Gase wasn't entirely pessimistic. Two games are left, and the Dolphins haven't been eliminated yet.

"We have to worry about improving on the positive things we have done in the last month and try to get as many guys healthy as possible and go out and try to win one game," Gase said.

The Dolphins have won seven of 14, remaining at .500 despite a season that has featured plenty of misfortune and adversity. That 7-7 record can still be 9-7, which would be the best way to finish, regardless of whether they make it to the playoffs.

Especially since owner Stephen Ross remains undecided on whether and to what extent changes will be made after the season ends. ...

Meanwhile, about those injuries -- or at least one in particular: Frank Gore will miss the rest of the 2018 season after being placed on IR on Wedneseday.

The veteran running back was carted from Sunday's loss to the Vikings with a sprained foot. Initial X-rays were negative, but after further testing, Gore will be shut down, NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reports.

Signing a one-year contract with his home-town Dolphins this offseason, the 35-year-old running back amassed 722 rushing yards on 156 attempts in his 14th NFL season. Gore will miss his first game since 2010. Sunday marked his 126th consecutive game, with 122 straight starts, a testament to his durability and work ethic.

A likely future Hall of Famer, Gore ends the season ranked fourth all-time in rushing yards with 14,748, behind only Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton and Barry Sanders. Turning 36 in May, the question is whether Gore wants to continue his grinding career to try to move further up the list.

Gore has started all 14 games this year, and he has generated 722 rushing yards. Last week against the Patriots, Gore generated 92 rushing yards.

Beyond that, during his Monday morning press conference, Gase said running back Kenyan Drake's limited touches against the Vikings had nothing to do with an injury.

As Miami Herald staffer Barry Jackson noted, even with Gore being carted off the second quarter, Drake touched the ball four times against the Vikings as the Dolphins used Kalen Ballage as their primary back.

There was some thought Drake's lingering shoulder injury was to blame for the usage, but that is apparently not a factor.

So far this season, the 24-year-old Drake has rushed 103 times for 469 yards and four touchdowns plus has added another 394 yards and five touchdowns through the air but somehow has 50-plus fewer carries than the 35-year-old Gore. 2019 will mark the last year of Drake's rookie deal.

In addition, Jackson noted that DeVante Parker played only 19 of 53 offensive snaps on Sunday. "He's likely in his final weeks as a Dolphin," Jackson added. ...

Worth watching. ... Danny Amendola (knee) did not practice Wednesday; this is not unusual for the veteran wideout. I'll have more via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

Worth noting. ... According to NFL NextGenStats, Ballage reached 21.87 mph on his 75-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, the fastest top speed by a Dolphins ball carrier in the past three seasons.

It was the 12th touchdown of 50 yards or more for the Dolphins this season, the most in franchise history. It's the most by any team since the New York Giants had 12 in the 2015 season.

Ballage, a rookie from Arizona State, had just eight carries for 11 yards coming into the game, but he got his opportunity after Gore left the game with a left ankle/foot injury and didn't return.

Ballage finished with 12 carries for 123 yards and the touchdown.

I'll be watching for more on the plans for Drake and Ballage over the final three games in coming days. Watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for any developments.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Josh Rosen
RBs: Patrick Laird, Myles Gaskin, Zach Zenner
WRs: DeVante Parker, Albert Wilson, Allen Hurns, Isaiah Ford
TEs: Mike Gesicki, Durham Smythe, Chris Myarick

Minnesota Vikings

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 December 2018

Dalvin Cook had a career-high 136 yards and two touchdowns on a season-high 19 carries for Minnesota as the Vikings recommitted themselves to running the ball. They stayed in control of a spot in the playoffs with a 41-17 victory over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.

Latavius Murray added 68 rushing yards and a score on 15 of the team's season-high 40 attempts. The Vikings (7-6-1) converted each of their first three drives under interim offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski into touchdowns before turning the game over to the defense.

"We felt it in practice all week, the way we flied around, the way guys got lined up," Cook said. "We felt the sense of urgency to get things done."

Though Chicago won the NFC North by beating Green Bay, the Vikings moved a critical step closer to returning to the postseason. With enough help, they could clinch the second wild-card spot next week.

But improved offensive output will be helpful as well.

The Vikings were held under 285 total yards at Seattle last week for the fourth time in their last five games and limped home with their record back to even. So Zimmer made a last-ditch move to try to salvage the season by firing first-year offensive coordinator John DeFilippo and promoting Stefanski to replace him. One of Zimmer's public criticisms of DeFilippo in recent weeks had been a lack of consistent commitment to establishing a running attack.

"I think Kevin knew what I wanted," Zimmer said, complimenting Stefanski for acting "calm and collected" throughout the week and during the game.

Indeed, the Vikings finally displayed the type of offense most expected to enter the season: A dynamic Cook supplemented by a play-action passing attack that spins defenses brains.

"That's the guy that we see every day in practice and the guy that we've been waiting to get those opportunities and to let him carry this offense," Adam Thielen said of Cook, via The Athletic. "We know that's what kind of player he is. We know what he means to this offense. We're going to need that moving forward, and we're going to ride him the rest of the year."

The change in coordinators helped unleash the run game this week.

Vikings offense Weeks 1-14: 33.0 rush percent; 85.4 rushing YPG (ranked 30th in NFL); 4.1 yards per carry, 6 rushing TDs.

Vikings offense Week 15: 63.5 rush percent; 220 rushing yards; 5.5 yards per carry, 6 rushing TDs.

"I love that," Cook said of his workload. "We got the win, so we love that. When the ball gets in my hands, I am going to try to make a play every time. No matter if I get 10, five. No matter how many carries I get. My job is to make plays. Today, I went out there and made a few plays."

The NFL loved it too, naming Cook their NFC Offensive Player of the Week on Wednesday.

So what was the key here?

According to ESPN.com's Courtney Cronin, players categorized Stefanski's game plan as "simpler."

That doesn't mean they changed much offensively and ran a lot of plays they'd executed previously. What "simpler" often entailed was running different plays out of the same personnel.

As Zimmer explained, "We pared some things down, but we ran one play 10 times with 10 different variations. So sometimes that's what it is too, you know. You can format it differently and get then in different looks so they can't key on one thing, which we're basically running the same play."

The question the Vikings must answer moving forward: Was Sunday an aberration against a Dolphins run defense that entered the ranked 29th in the NFL or will the changes under Stefanski stick?

While Cook might not have the same success against a recently stingy Lions run defense and a great Bears D, as NFL.com suggested, the philosophical change is about the process, not the result.

For instance, the Vikings lined quarterback Kirk Cousins under center more this week than they had under the old OC. According to NextGenStats, Minnesota aligned in a shotgun formation on 65.6 percent of their offensive plays under DeFilippo.

Sunday, they aligned in shotgun on 31.7 percent of their plays in Week 15 (season-low).

As Zimmer pointed out after the victory, play action is much tougher to defend when the signal-caller is under center.

On Sunday, Cousins went 6-for-6 for 103 yards and a TD on play-action when under center, per ESPN's Courtney Cronin.

Cousins also threw touchdown passes to Stefon Diggs and Aldrick Robinson while going 14 for 21 for 215 yards for the Vikings, who posted their second-highest score in five years under Zimmer.

The change at offensive coordinator coupled with Cook's breakout has the Vikings believing they can galvanize into the Super Bowl-caliber squad most envisioned.

"I think it gives the offensive players some confidence. Most of them were excited this week," Zimmer said, "about the possibility of playing football the way we did today."

For what it's worth, the special teams were sharp as ever for Minnesota, too, with Dan Bailey making all five of his extra points and both field-goal tries. Marcus Sherels set up one of those kicks with a 70-yard punt return and totaled 116 yards on five returns.

On the injury front, backup tight end David Morgan (knee) returned from a four-game absence. Cornerback Trae Waynes (concussion) was back after missing the last game.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Kirk Cousins, Sean Mannion
RBs: Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison, Mike Boone, Ameer Abdullah
WRs: Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, Olabisi Johnson, Laquon Treadwell, Davion Davis
TEs: Kyle Rudolph, Irv Smith Jr., Brandon Dillon, Tyler Conklin

New England Patriots

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 December 2018

As ESPN.com's Mike Reiss asked on Monday: "What is the identity of the New England Patriots' offense? And what can the Tom Brady-led attack hang its hat on in crucial situations?"

These are two questions lingering after the team's disappointing 17-10 loss Sunday to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Reiss went on to note the questions, naturally, lead to others.

Is it a case of a lack of talent? Would better utilization of personnel help?

That the Patriots' offense was the unit that didn't hold up its end of the bargain Sunday was most surprising, particularly considering that the game started with the defense on its heels. But the D rebounded, while the offense was stuck in neutral for long stretches of the day.

"I think it's just finding our rhythm out there and doing a better job overall. We just haven't done a great job of that," Brady said. "All of us feel it. It's not any one thing, and it's a lot of things collectively."

Brady has often said that the unit's success begins along the offensive line, and Sunday's loss wasn't that group's best body of work, starting with six penalties. Left tackle Trent Brown (false start, holding) and right tackle Marcus Cannon (false start, holding) had two apiece, while left guard Joe Thuney (false start) and right guard Shaq Mason (holding) had one.

Also consider this: Brady's fourth-quarter, red zone interception came as he was facing pressure and trying to throw the ball away. It was his fifth interception this season when under duress, according to ESPN Stats and Information data, which is a major increase from the norm. He had five such interceptions from 2015 through 2017 combined.

While that doesn't all fall on the offensive line -- pass-catchers have to get open with consistency, Brady needs to find them -- Sunday's performance was too shaky for a group that is relied upon to be the foundation of what the offense is trying to do. If the line plays better, which it is capable of, that would be a good first step.

And then there's the issue of the Patriots' most reliable players not making enough reliable plays.

Receivers Julian Edelman (two) and Josh Gordon (one) had drops Sunday, and Edelman also had two penalties -- one for a false start and one for an illegal formation. Overall, the Patriots (9-5) were called for 14 accepted penalties for 106 yards.

"It was pretty frustrating," Edelman said. "You come into a hostile environment and can't expect to win when you have penalties. We'll leave it at that."

Meanwhile, once-dominant tight end Rob Gronkowski was quiet (two catches, 21 yards), saying that the Steelers double-teamed him at times and played effective zone coverage.

It was telling that Brady looked in Gronkowski's direction on two of his final three throws -- on second-and-15 and third-and-15 -- and neither play really had a chance. A fourth-and-15 pass to Edelman was similar, with Brady later crediting the Steelers for playing it well and explaining that all three throws went into the end zone because he was worried about running out of time by throwing it into the field of play with no timeouts.

So on the three got-to-have-it plays at the end of the game, Brady looked in the direction of his two most trusted targets over the past eight years, but the old magic was nowhere to be found.

Perhaps the Patriots, with home games remaining against the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets, can reinvent themselves on the fly and catch lightning in a bottle in the playoffs; maybe that means featuring Sony Michel, James White and Cordarrelle Patterson a bit more.

"It's taken a while for things to come together for us and I think every week you learn, and you learn right up through the end of the year," Brady said Monday morning in his weekly interview on sports radio WEEI. "We've dealt with a lot of different situations, injuries, players coming in and out. The one positive is guys are healthy, and any time you come out of a game healthy, it gives you a pretty good chance the next week. We have a lot of football ahead of us. We just have to go play really well."

While the odds they suddenly become the high-flying attack Patriots fans are accustomed to seeing seem long, it's not out of the realm of possibility in a league that features dramatic turns by teams on a weekly basis.

But they usually have it figured out decisively by now.

Meanwhile, Sunday's loss means the Patriots finish the season 3-5 on the road. The only time they have finished with a losing record on the road in the Bill Belichick/Brady era was 2009, when they were 2-6.

Thus, the Patriots will most likely be looking to buck history, as the 2010 Green Bay Packers are the only team to win a Super Bowl with a losing road record. With the No. 1 seed no longer in their grasp, the Patriots will likely have to go on the road in the playoffs.

They are currently the No. 3 seed, which means this could be the first season they don't have a first-round bye since 2009.

Belichick always says that it doesn't matter where the Patriots play, it's how they play. On Sunday, they simply didn't play well enough in a game that was there for the taking.

In many ways, that hurt just as much as last week's loss on the final play.

Other notes of interest. ... Brady hit yet another milestone in his career on Sunday afternoon.

The quarterback passed the 70,000-passing yard mark with an 8-yard completion to Rex Burkhead in the third quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Patriots went on to lose the game, 17-10.

Brady needed 141 passing yards in Pittsburgh to reach the milestone. The 41-year-old QB finished with 279 yards, a touchdown and an interception in defeat and exited the game with 70,138 career passing yards.

TB12 joins elite company atop Mount Quarterback in passing for over 70,000 yards: Drew Brees (73,908 passing yards), Peyton Manning (71,940), Brett Favre (71,838). ...

During Sunday's loss, Gordon didn't do much, catching only one pass for 19 yards. More surprisingly, Gordon wasn't on the field for the final play from scrimmage for a Patriots team trailing by seven.
It was fourth and 15 from the Steelers 21, a snap that came after Pittsburgh called a timeout.

But there was no Gordon among the targets available to Brady.

"We had just kind of run quite a few plays in a row," offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said Tuesday when asked about the situation by reporters. "I know there was a timeout there before that. Both of those guys have worked at that spot and in that type of a situation, and based on what we were doing, we made the choice to go with [Patterson] at that point -- no ulterior motive on that at all. Just put a fresh guy in to go in there and do something on the last play to see if we could get into the end zone, and it is what it is."

And what it is, is the way the Patriots do things. ...

And finally this week. ... ESPN's Mike Clay notes that Gronkowski has the second most end-zone targets in the NFL without catching at least one of them this season with seven.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Tom Brady, Jarrett Stidham, Cody Kessler
RBs: Sony Michel, James White, Rex Burkhead, Damien Harris, Brandon Bolden
WRs: Julian Edelman, Mohamed Sanu, Phillip Dorsett, N'Keal Harry, Jakobi Meyers
TEs: Ben Watson, Matt LaCosse, Ryan Izzo

New Orleans Saints

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 December 2018

According to ESPN.com's Mike Triplett, Sean Payton and Drew Brees made some more NFL history on Monday night. And they have their defense to thank for it.

Payton and Brees won their 117th regular-season game together when the New Orleans Saints survived a 12-9 slugfest with the rival Carolina Panthers -- passing Don Shula and Dan Marino for second place among coach/QB combos during the Super Bowl era.

They trail only Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, who have a whopping 205 regular-season wins together.

The Saints (12-2) now need just one more victory to clinch the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs, which would be huge considering how much their offense has struggled away from home over the past three weeks.

Brees threw for just 203 yards with zero touchdowns and an interception Monday night. He also had a two-point conversion pass attempt intercepted and returned for a Panthers two-point play instead early in the fourth quarter.

And the Saints again failed to secure the game with less than two minutes remaining when receiver Tommylee Lewis lost a fumble through the back of the end zone while trying to lunge for the goal line. But the Panthers (6-8) failed to take advantage as they lost their sixth straight game.

"I'd say for us offensively, walking off the field just a little while ago, I just felt like, 'Man, there was tons of opportunities out there.' We killed ourselves on a few drives with just some stupid penalties," Brees said. "I felt like there were some missed opportunities. But bottom line is you make the plays at the end of the game to win the game. And that's what we did -- defensively, absolutely.

"There's a lot to be said for that -- you find ways to win. Win in a lot of different ways. Battle tested. Listen, these last two weeks we've had to come back and win in the fourth quarter. The great teams find a way. They believe. They feel like we're all gonna step up, we're gonna do this, somebody's gonna make a play."

Triplett went on to suggest Brees' MVP hopes might be dashed after averaging just 177 passing yards per game over the past three weeks in a loss at Dallas and wins at Tampa Bay and Carolina, with a total of two touchdown passes and three interceptions.

Fortunately, the Saints' defense has quietly emerged as one of the NFL's most dominant units over the past six weeks, holding six straight opponents to 17 points or fewer. The Saints lead the NFL in points allowed since Week 4 (17.2 points per game), with a total of 39 sacks and 21 takeaways in that span.

They had one of their best performances to date on Monday night, despite allowing a 50-yard touchdown pass by running back Christian McCaffrey to tight end Chris Manhertz on a trick play on fourth-and-2 in the first quarter.

After that, Carolina's offense never scored again.

The Saints also sacked Cam Newton four times while holding him to 131 passing yards and 15 rushing yards.

And the defense had to go back on the field one more time after Lewis' fumble to keep Carolina from scoring one last time. The Panthers never even reached their own 40-yard line.

The Saints finished Monday's game without two of their starting offensive linemen (center Max Unger was ruled out after being evaluated for a concussion and left tackle Jermon Bushrod left with an unspecified injury). And now they will host the Pittsburgh Steelers on a short week Sunday before hosting the Panthers again in Week 17.

A win in either game would secure the No. 1 seed in the NFC for the Saints, who beat the Los Angeles Rams (11-3) head-to-head.

Payton and Brees are 117-71 in the regular season together since they both arrived in New Orleans in 2006 -- not counting the 2012 season, when Payton was suspended because of Bountygate.

Other notes of interest. ... Alvin Kamara carried the ball 14 times for 67 yards and one touchdown. He also added 36 receiving yards on seven catches. Kamara moves into a tie with tight end Jimmy Graham (2013) and Deuce McAllister (2002) for second all-time with 16 total touchdowns this season. Kamara has 12 rushing touchdowns.

Mark Ingram recorded 63 rushing yards on 12 carries. Ingram played in his 104th career game. Ingram becomes only the fifth Saint with 7,500 total yards from scrimmage joining Marques Colston, Eric Martin, McAllister and Joe Horn.

Michael Thomas hauled in seven passes for 49 yards. Thomas surpassed his career-high of 104 grabs set last season, while setting a club record (109) and becoming the only player in league history to have 300 grabs in his first three seasons.

Keith Kirkwood hauled in two passes for 40 yards, including a crucial third-and-14 conversion with 7:21 remaining in the fourth quarter. Ben Watson recorded one catch for 28 yards and Tre'Quan Smith caught two passes for 15 yards; Smith's last catch was in Week 11.

Wil Lutz connected on two field goals from 46 and 24 yards respectively. Lutz has made 25 consecutive field goals, tying Morten Andersen (11/1/92-9/12/93) for the longest streak in franchise history.

And finally. ... According to Josh Katzenstein of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the Saints are working out a group of blockers today after finishing with the bare minimum against the Panthers.

When Unger left after suffering a concussion and replacement left tackle Jermon Bushrod was sidelined with a hamstring injury, the Saints used both their active backups (Cameron Tom and Will Clapp). They were already without left tackle Terron Armstead, as they have been the last five games.

As Profootballtalk.com suggested, the condition of Unger and Bushrod will determine whether they need to make a roster moves, and they're apparently doing their legwork in advance of that.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Drew Brees, Teddy Bridgewater, Taysom Hill
RBs: Alvin Kamara, Latavius Murray, Dwayne Washington
WRs: Michael Thomas, Ted Ginn, Tre'quan Smith, Deonte Harris, Emmanuel Butler
TEs: Jared Cook, Josh Hill

New York Giants

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 December 2018

As ESPN.com's Jordan Raanan noted, the bull's-eye was on Saquon Barkley's back.

The Tennessee Titans came into Sunday knowing if they stopped the New York Giants' rookie running back, they had a strong chance of leaving rainy MetLife Stadium with a victory.

This is Barkley's new reality.

It's happening because he has been performing at such an exceptionally high level and his team is running its offense through the ground game. The Titans -- or whichever team the Giants are facing that particular week -- are going to devise specific plans to pitch around the home-run hitter.

"It comes with the territory, especially when you have a lot of success in the run game," Barkley said after being held to 31 rushing yards on 14 carries in a 17-0 loss to the Titans despite coming into the contest with four straight 100-yard rushing games. "Obviously, a lot of teams are going to put focus on stopping not me as an individual, but our run game, because we have been so successful in the last five games. We still have to make plays, which we had been doing the last couple of weeks. We just didn't do that."

It will help when the Giants have Odell Beckham on the field to supplement their star running back. Beckham missed his second straight game Sunday with a quad injury.

It will help when there isn't a consistent downpour and the quarterback has a better day than he did against the Titans. Eli Manning completed 21 of 44 passes for 229 yards with no touchdowns and two turnovers. He had a potential big play on a screen pass to tight end Evan Engram that slipped out of his hands and sailed over the receiver's head.

Barkley has opened eyes around the league. Teams are gunning to stop him from breaking those 50-plus-yard touchdown runs that have come with regularity. Teams are begging the Giants to win by passing.

"Yeah, I think that is everyone's plan, honestly," left tackle Nate Solder said.

As Raanan pointed out, Tennessee used eight, even nine guys, in the box at times to make it happen. They moved their front around after the snap to create confusion along the Giants' offensive line. And then they made a concerted effort to tackle Barkley with more than one defender.

This was what the Titans preached throughout the week.

"He is a really, really good player, and it takes everybody," Titans coach Mike Vrabel said. "There were times when one guy made the tackle, but the mentality coming in was that we needed more than one guy there."

What Tennessee really did more than anything was make sure that Barkley never got started. When he gets to the second level, he becomes extremely difficult to tackle. Barkley had two yards before contact on his 14 rushes Sunday, according to ESPN Stats and Information tracking. That is an average of 0.14 yards per rush, his worst in an NFL game. He was hit at or behind the line of scrimmage on six of his 14 rushes.

Barkley had three rushes for zero or negative yards in the first half. He had minus-8 yards on his three carries in the first quarter.

"Not positive," Manning said. "They just seemed like they were getting some push and some penetration. There were a couple of times where there was just some negative yards right off the go. We were losing five or six yards on the run game. It is tough to play that way."

Raanan also pointed out the Giants' offensive line didn't have its best game.

They struggled to keep blitzing Titans out of the backfield. This is an approach Barkley could see a lot moving forward. Teams will use more run blitzes against the Giants after they worked with regularity on Sunday.

Five different Titans players had a tackle for a loss. Four of them were defensive backs. The other was a linebacker.

"They did a lot of different things," Barkley said. "They gave us some different looks, different movements to try to create movement up there to try to confuse us. We have to execute; that's the moral of the story. We didn't execute as a team, especially on the offensive side of the ball."

It was the least productive game of Barkley's rookie season; he had 56 yards from scrimmage.

"It's not a low point," Barkley said. "It's a reality check that we have to get back to the drawing board and we have to get better."

Now, it's all about the future for the Giants with two weeks remaining.

Specifically, the future of the quarterback position. Manning's string of five mostly positive outings (10 touchdowns, 2 turnovers) came to an end with this clunker. He'll be 38 in a few weeks, and the Giants need to start making arrangements for their quarterback of the future.

It's an inevitability even they've conceded.

How Manning and this offense performs in the final two games against the Indianapolis Colts and Dallas Cowboys will likely go a long way in deciding how they handle the future of the most important position on their team and perhaps the greatest quarterback in franchise history.

The Giants' brass had been encouraged in recent weeks by the direction of the team, but most of the positive results came against inferior competition and backup quarterbacks.

The Titans were the first of three games against teams in playoff contention. It should be a more accurate barometer for the offense. They barely registered a heartbeat in this one, and they hardly appeared fixed.

General manager Dave Gettleman has a lot of work left to do. The offensive line -- particularly the right side -- still needs tweaking. Tackle Chad Wheeler and guard Jamon Brown struggled again Sunday in pass protection. Brown allowed a sack and committed a penalty.

Of course, discussions about Manning's future with the team were a hot topic at this time last year, remained so throughout the offseason and they haven't gone away over the course of the current campaign.

Manning had one of his best outings of the year in Week 14, but came back with a total clunker against the Titans. That loss revived the weekly game of asking head coach Pat Shurmur whether Manning would remain the team's starting quarterback against the Colts.

Shurmur said yes on Monday because Manning gives the team their best chance to win games and, via Ralph Vacchiano of SNY, he answered "I do" when asked if he believes Manning has years left as a starting quarterback in the NFL. That wouldn't necessarily mean with the Giants, but Shurmur was affirmative when asked about Manning's return in 2019.

"Yeah. I want all our players to be back. I believe experience matters," Shurmur said.

The Giants gave rookie Kyle Lauletta a chance to play in garbage time against Washington in Week 14, but he went 0-5 with an interception and wound up back on the inactive list on Sunday. Alex Tanney served as Manning's backup instead and it doesn't look like either of the other quarterbacks is in line for significant playing time before the year is out.

Lauletta said he was surprised to find out that he wouldn't be active for the game.

"I'm disappointed," Lauletta said, via the New York Post. "Just not happy, but I'll do what I can to do my role the best I can, and that was to be on the sideline and try to see stuff out there."

Shurmur said that having Tanney as the backup gave the team the "best chance to win" on Sunday.

That seems like a recurring theme.

Even though Sunday's shutout loss ended any playoff pipe dreams for the Giants, it didn't change their hopes in regard to getting Beckham back on the field this season.

Beckham has missed the last two games with a quad injury that he described as a "hematoma" on Facebook last week. On Monday, Shurmur said that Beckham is feeling better than he did last week and that there hasn't been any thought to shutting him down with an eye on 2019.

Shurmur also said he's "hopeful" that Beckham will be able to help the Giants find their way back to the scoreboard against the Colts this week.

"He's like every other player," Shurmur said, via Newsday. "We're going to try to get him back for this Sunday."

The coach went on to say Beckham "feels better today than he did late last week, so hopefully he'll work his way back in."

Beckham has 77 catches for 1,052 yards and six touchdowns as a receiver and he's also thrown two passes for two touchdowns this season.

In addition, receiver Russell Shepard rolled his ankle and was in a walking boot to start the week.

I'll have more on Beckham, who was not slated to practice Wednesday, and Shepard via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses.

And finally. ... The team announced that wideout Cody Latimer was activated off injured reserve, and that defensive back Antonio Hamilton was placed on IR to make the roster spot.

Latimer went on IR in October with a hamstring issue. The former second-round pick of the Broncos was the Giants’ No. 3 receiver before that, catching six passes for 108 yards in the first four games.

With Beckham's status up in the air and Shepard in a boot, the Giants are a bit short there.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Eli Manning, Daniel Jones, Alex Tanney
RBs: Saquon Barkley, Wayne Gallman, Javorius Allen, Elijhaa Penny, Austin Walter
WRs: Sterling Shepard, Golden Tate, Darius Slayton, Cody Latimer, Cody Core, Da'Mari Scott
TEs: Evan Engram, Rhett Ellison, Kaden Smith, Scott Simonson

New York Jets

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 December 2018

The New York Jets lost another game, hardly headline news in their disappointing season, but ESPN.com's Rich Cimini contends they came away from their 10th defeat with a reason to be encouraged.

Rookie quarterback Sam Darnold, the present and future of the franchise, continued his late-season rally in Saturday night's 29-22 loss to the Houston Texans at MetLife Stadium.

He threw two touchdowns, connected with nine receivers and sparked an injury-plagued offense to a near upset.

"You're going to be a great pro," Texans star defensive end J.J. Watt told Darnold after the game, according to video tweeted out by the Jets.

Playing without leading rusher Isaiah Crowell and top receiver Quincy Enunwa -- both injured -- Darnold had no turnovers and improvised outside the pocket, flashing the potential that made him the third overall pick in the draft.

"Phenomenal, he played phenomenal," safety Jamal Adams said. "He's a competitor. I say that every week. He's a bad man, and the future is bright for him."

At times, it looked as if Darnold was out there by himself. The Jets (4-10) aren't stacked with playmakers, and they had no business hanging around with Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and Co., but they pushed the AFC South-leading Texans to the 60th minute.

Darnold led three long scoring drives, helping the Jets to a 22-19 lead on Elijah McGuire's 2-yard touchdown run with 7:33 remaining in the game. For the second time in three weeks, the New York defense allowed a late touchdown -- another blow for embattled coach Todd Bowles.

It is not expected that Bowles will keep his job once the season ends, but at least the organization has a foundation at quarterback.

"I feel comfortable getting experience, and I feel like I'm seeing the field a lot better," said Darnold, who completed 24 of 38 passes for 253 yards on Saturday.

Rebounding from a midseason slump, followed by a three-game foot injury, Cimini notes that Darnold has looked like a different quarterback over the past two weeks, posting a 65 percent completion rate with three touchdown passes and only one interception. The time on the sideline gave him a chance to reboot.

"When you sit out awhile, you get to sit back, and you learn a little bit," Bowles said. "He looks like he's learned quite a bit."

The revamped Darnold orchestrated 83-, 60- and 73-yard touchdown drives against one of the nastiest front sevens in the NFL in the Texans. He made unplanned plays, including a 17-yard scramble that set up McGuire's touchdown. He might have had a chance to pull off an improbable win, but Robby Anderson failed to haul in a fourth-and-15 pass.

"I told him he's a good player," Watt said of Darnold. "He ran around all night, made a lot of plays on the run. He can scramble. He can make throws. He's a good player. Obviously, he's young and has a great future in front of him."

For the second week in a row, Darnold and Anderson connected on an off-script touchdown. On a first down from the Houston 5-yard line, Darnold stepped up in the pocket and found Anderson in the back of the end zone.

It wasn't as spectacular as last week's play, when Darnold scrambled 47 yards before finding Anderson for a 7-yard touchdown to help beat the Buffalo Bills, but the two young players once again demonstrated on-field chemistry -- something that was nonexistent early in the season.

"I think it shows we have that connection," Anderson said. "We've got to keep building, but I think it shows a lot."

On the next series, Darnold connected with seldom-used receiver Andre Roberts, who baited his defender with a slant-and-go. Darnold delivered a pinpoint pass into the corner of the end zone, sending a surge of electricity through the team and the stadium.

"He played gritty and tough," Bowles said of his signal-caller. "We just didn't have enough plays to win the game."

Along those lines, following an inconsistent start to the 2018 season, Anderson is heating up in December.

The third-year wideout totaled 96 yards and one score on a season-high seven receptions after reeling in 76 yards and one touchdown on four receptions in Week 14.

"Yeah, me and Robby just continue to get good completions, but I think everyone's capable of doing it," said Darnold, who completed passes to nine different players. "So I think it's any given night I can complete the ball to a lot of different guys. These last couple of games it just happened to be Robby."

Even though the speedster hasn't recorded a 40-plus-yard reception since Week 5, the 6'3", 190-pounder is encouraged by the connection the past two weeks with his starting quarterback.

"I think the future is bright and I think me and him took a lot of steps these past couple weeks," Anderson said. "Let's hope we can finish the season on an even better note and come out victorious next week."

We'll see how that works out for them. ...

According to ESPN's Mike Clay, McGuire was on the field for 53 of the team's 72 offensive snaps and racked up 21 touches against the Texans. It was the team's first game since placing Crowell on injured reserve. McGuire was held to 71 scrimmage yards, but scored the above-mentioned touchdown.

McGuire was well ahead of rookie Trenton Cannon, who played 23 snaps and registered 10 touches. McGuire is clearly the team's feature back and Clay believes that puts him on the RB2 radar Sunday against the Packers. ...

On the injury front this week. ... Enunwa (ankle) remained sidelined at Wednesday's practice; I'll follow up via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

Wide receiver Rishard Matthews will not play in the final two weeks of the season.

The Jets announced on Tuesday that Matthews has been placed on injured reserve. He hurt his hamstring in last Saturday’s loss to the Texans.

Matthews opened the season with the Titans, but asked for and received his release in late September. He signed with the Jets in October and caught two passes for 13 yards in five appearances for his new team.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Sam Darnold, David Fales
RBs: Le'Veon Bell, Bilal Powell, Ty Montgomery, Trenton Cannon, Josh Adams
WRs: Robby Anderson, Jamison Crowder, Demaryius Thomas, Braxton Berrios, Tim White, Josh Bellamy
TEs: Ryan Griffin, Trevon Wesco, Daniel Brown

Oakland Raiders

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 December 2018

After the week the Oakland Raiders just endured, they needed something positive in Cincinnati.

Almost. But maybe not enough to upset their draft standing.

Because, as ESPN.com's Paul Gutierrez explained, while the Raiders did make things interesting against the Cincinnati Bengals, closing to within a touchdown with five minutes to play after falling behind 17-0, they ultimately lost 30-16.

The Raiders fell to 3-11 on the season and remain on track for a top-three pick in the NFL draft.

That is for the future, but the recent past serves as a reminder of where this team has been and is headed.

Last Sunday, Oakland upset the Pittsburgh Steelers 24-21 for the Raiders' biggest win of the Jon Gruden 2.0 era.

Monday, Reggie McKenzie, the 2016 NFL executive of the year, was fired as general manager, a move that was expected, but not until the end of the season.

Tuesday, the City of Oakland announced it was filing a federal lawsuit against the Raiders and the NFL over the team's move to Las Vegas in 2020.

Wednesday, the Raiders announced they were pulling their lease offer of $7.5 million to play the 2019 season in the Oakland Coliseum, effectively making the team homeless for next season.

That same day, the NFL announced it would hold the 2020 draft in Las Vegas.

Thursday, Amari Cooper told a Dallas reporter that neither Gruden nor McKenzie wanted to trade him to the Cowboys, that the move was made by Raiders owner Mark Davis.

And on Friday, receiver Martavis Bryant, who has been on injured reserve since Dec. 5, was suspended indefinitely by the NFL.

So, yeah, the Raiders needed some good vibes in Cincinnati. And there were a few.

Tight end Lee Smith, who entered the season with four touchdown catches in his seven-year career, caught his third TD pass in as many games.

Strong safety Karl Joseph got his first sack of the season, the 12th for the Raiders on the season. (Never mind that Khalil Mack has 12.5 for the Chicago Bears by himself.)

And Derek Carr continued his efficient if unspectacular play. Carr ran his streak of games without an interception to nine and a franchise-record 301 passes, the longest active such streak in the NFL. He last was picked off on Oct. 7, in the end zone from the 1-yard line against the Los Angeles Chargers.

The Raiders' quarterback passed for 263 yards in completing 21 of 38 passes with the TD to Smith. Carr was sacked five times, though, including three times by defensive tackle Geno Atkins, who was going against two new Raiders guards in Chaz Green and Denzelle Good.

Remember, however: The Bengals entered Sunday allowing the most points, yards, rushing yards and highest third-down success rate in the league.

The Raiders scored one touchdown, rushed for 68 yards and converted 3 of 14 third downs. Carr was sacked five times.

That means Carr has taken 47 sacks and a lot of other hits after getting rid of the ball for a 3-11 team. As Profootballtalk.com notes, the on-field pounding has been accompanied by occasional criticisms from Gruden that have led some to speculate about Carr's future with Oakland, but Gruden's most recent comments about the quarterback have been positive.

Gruden said Monday that Carr "is a hell of a player" and that the team has to get better around him in order to make something of those efforts.

"I think he's hanging in there," Gruden said, via NBC Sports Bay Area. "No question, I am sure he is sore. He knows he is carrying us right now on offense. That's what a franchise quarterback is paid to do, but we are doing everything we can to support him, to try and put him in position to audible at the line of scrimmage, fix problems, and move the football and ultimately win games. He really has had us in position to win a lot of these games. It's a credit to him."

Carr hasn't taken nearly as many hits as his brother David Carr took early in his career with Houston, but PFT's Josh Alper notes the elder Carr's career trajectory is a good illustration of why the Raiders need to hit on their efforts to build up the team around the quarterback before the pounding takes a major toll on his performance.

In a related note. ... According to multiple reports, the Raiders have signed quarterback Nathan Peterman to their practice after working him out on Wednesday.

Gruden offered up glowing praise of Peterman during the coach's time at ESPN, but the addition came because AJ McCarron is at the hospital after he and his wife gave birth to a baby boy last night, Cash Carter McCarron. Peterman will take scout team reps.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Derek Carr, Mike Glennon
RBs: Josh Jacobs, Jalen Richard, DeAndre Washington
WRs: Tyrell Williams, Zay Jones, Trevor Davis, Keelan Doss
TEs: Darren Waller, Foster Moreau, Derek Carrier

Philadelphia Eagles

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 December 2018

Head coach Doug Pederson said Monday that Nick Foles will remain the team's starting quarterback in Week 16 against the Houston Texans.

Pederson told reporters that the Eagles want to give the injured Carson Wentz another week to recover from his back injury, and that they will not put Wentz on injured reserve yet.

Foles, last season's Super Bowl MVP, led Philadelphia to an unlikely 30-23 win over the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday night.

He finished 24-of-31 for 270 yards and an interception, guiding the Eagles to the 30-point mark for just the second time this season. Though Foles didn't find the end zone, he hit wide receiver Alshon Jeffery on eight passes for 160 yards.

The defending champs still have life at 7-7. Their chances of making the playoffs jumped to 29 percent, according to ESPN's Football Power Index projections. A loss would have dropped those odds to 5 percent.

Wentz has a stress fracture in his back that could take three months to recover from, according to Pederson, but he hasn't been ruled out for the season.

As noted above, with Foles under center in Los Angeles, Jeffery had his way with the Rams defense, using his big body to create a catch radius, shrugging off defenders and presenting a big target for his signal caller.

The two connected four times for 87 yards in the second quarter of the 30-23 win over Los Angeles and they were just getting started. Jeffery's160 yards receiving were his his most as an Eagle and third-highest single-game total in his career. He was efficient as well, pulling in all eight of his targets.

Jeffery did it all -- catching short passes and gaining yards after the catch, beating the Rams down the field, and, well, just winning.

The Rams had no answer for Jeffery, who picked up right where he left off working with Foles from Super Bowl LII and, really, the entire 2017 postseason when Foles and Jeffery hooked up 12 times for 219 yards and three touchdowns, including a 34-yard touchdown to open the scoring in Minneapolis. Jeffery, of course, did not play in the first two games of this season that Foles started as Jeffery was still rehabbing from surgery to repair his rotator cuff injury.

The two were certainly in rhythm on Sunday night.

"It's just practice and working hard every day in practice," Jeffery said. "Coach (Doug Pederson) is always preaching next man up, it doesn't matter who's out there. Nick is our quarterback right now, so we're just rolling with it."

Jeffery wasn't the only weapon in the passing game as Foles completed passes to seven players, including Golden Tate, who had five receptions for 43 yards. Tight end Zach Ertz went over the 100-catch mark for the season with three receptions and the Eagles used a spread-the-wealth approach to gain 381 total net yards and win the time of possession battle, controlling the football for 31:36.

"We had a great week of practice and since I've been here the weeks when we had really good practices are the ones when we play well," Tate said. "We just want to keep doing that.

"It was fun. We moved the ball. We ran the ball, we caught the ball. Everyone got targets. Everyone had a chance to make plays and we did enough to win the game."

Getting the football to Jeffery was critical, as it opened up the field for everyone else.

He and Foles hadn't played in a game together since the Super Bowl. On Sunday night, the two of them made up for lost time and revived a passing game when the Eagles needed it most.

Meanwhile, as Profootballtalk.com's Darin Gantt noted Monday, few things have made sense or been easy to predict for the Eagles this year, but there has been little in the way of stability at their running back position.

So when Wendell Smallwood stood up Sunday night, it was as unexpected as it was predictable.

Smallwood had played 11 snaps in the previous four games, but scored two touchdowns in last night's win over the Rams, playing the role they needed someone to play.

"It's hard," Smallwood said, via Zack Rosenblatt of NJ.com. "It's a tough battle. We're competitors, we all want to be on the field. Every play if we could. That's just part of the game: It's not always going to be your turn.

"But, when it is, you gotta go out there and perform as good as the next guy or you won't last."

The Eagles haven't had a consistent answer there all year.

Jay Ajayi and Corey Clement are on injured reserves. Darren Sproles is old and has been hurt a lot. Josh Adams was in there last night before he had to be checked for a concussion.

Smallwood had 10 carries for 48 yards (a not-too-shabby 4.8 yards per carry), and the two touchdowns came at a time when the Eagles were pushing out to the lead they wouldn't give up. It's enough to make you think he'll get more chances in the next two weeks, but nothing has been consistent this season at that position, and he admitted he never knew week-to-week what his role might be.

"I know with how our running back rotation goes, if you get hot, if you're out there making plays, they're gonna keep you in," Smallwood said. "They're not gonna take you out. They're not going to just stop giving you the ball, and that's how it went for me tonight. I found myself on the field more than I thought I would be and it's just because I had the hot hand and that's how it went.

"It's just staying ready and preparing as if you're going to be that guy. It just so happened that the opportunity presented itself for me tonight."

"Staying ready" is practically a mantra around there, after winning a Super Bowl with a backup quarterback, so Smallwood fits right in.

Unfortunately, the Eagles' approach makes life difficult for fantasy owners hoping to use any of their ball carriers.

On the injury front. ... Ertz (ankle) was limited in Wednesday's practice; I'll follow up via Late-Breaking Update as needed in coming days.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Carson Wentz, Nate Sudfeld, Clayton Thorson
RBs: Miles Sanders, Jay Ajayi, Boston Scott, Jordan Howard
WRs: Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, JJ Arcega-Whiteside, Greg Ward
TEs: Zach Ertz, Dallas Goedert

Pittsburgh Steelers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 December 2018

Rookie running back Jaylen Samuels, making his second start in place of injured James Conner, ran for a career-high 142 yards and made a critical third-down reception in the fourth quarter as Pittsburgh snapped a three-game losing streak by holding off the New England 17-10 on Sunday.

Ben Roethlisberger threw for 235 yards with two first-half touchdowns and two interceptions as the Steelers (8-5-1) remained in front of Baltimore in the AFC North with two weeks to go in the season.

Chris Boswell, who has struggled so badly this season the team held open tryouts during the week, atoned for a 32-yard miss in the third quarter by drilling a 48-yarder with 2:30 remaining.

Pittsburgh's defense, which let fourth-quarter leads slip away each of the last two games, made it stand.

The uncharacteristically sloppy Patriots were flagged 14 times for 106 yards and their problematic run defense couldn't find an answer for Samuels, a fifth-round pick out of North Carolina State who was considered a project when the Steelers took a flyer on him.

Not so much anymore.

Sprinting through gaping holes and showing plenty of burst, Samuels regularly found himself running into the New England secondary. The leading receiver in N.C. State history also made a leaping grab on third-and-9 on Pittsburgh's penultimate drive that helped set up Boswell's field goal.

Both teams came in hurting, taking some of the shine off a rivalry that has been meaningful if one-sided. The Patriots lost on a last-second 69-yard double-lateral touchdown to Miami. Pittsburgh somehow fell to the woeful Raiders in Oakland, a third-straight setback that trimmed its once-comfortable lead in the AFC North to a half-game over Baltimore. That left coach Mike Tomlin promising the team would not "sit on its hands" in search of answers.

There were tweaks in the secondary, with cornerback Artie Burns reclaiming his starting spot, though they didn't last long. Not after Brady hit a laughably wide-open Hogan for a 63-yard touchdown in the first quarter.

Next up, the Steelers visit New Orleans Sunday. Pittsburgh's last road victory against the Saints came in 1990.

For the record, Samuels racked up his 142 rushing yards on 19 carries and he caught two passes for another 30 yards on a day when Pittsburgh's other big offensive guns were quiet. Samuels only had 23 carries in the first 13 games of the season and said after the game that he's never been a workhorse back at any level.

Samuels was used often as a receiver or tight end in college and told Peter King of Football Morning in America that he "never had 19 carries in a game" at any level. Samuels also never ran for 100 yards in a game before going off against New England.

If Conner returns in Week 16 and stays healthy, Samuels probably won't have 19 carries in a game again this season but the Steelers surely feel a lot more comfortable in the event he's thrust into the lead role again.

In case you missed it, I'll remind you that Conner got in some work during last Friday's practice. He was initially listed as questionable after that Friday session before being downgraded to doubtful on Saturday and ultimately being declared inactive prior to kickoff.

While that return to practice was a sign of progress, it's not enough for the team to make firm plans about Conner's return to action against the Saints this week. Tomlin said Tuesday that Conner was in the facility getting treatment and that the team was looking forward to another positive step on the field Wednesday.

"Hopefully that sets the stage for a productive Wednesday and we'll go on from there," Tomlin said, via PennLive.com. "And we'll let the amount of work that he's able to do and the effectiveness of that work be our guide. And we'll make those decisions at the appropriate time as we push toward game time."

Conner's progress is something I'll be watching closely in coming days (even though Conner himself didn't sound overly optimistic Wednesday); watch the Late Breaking Updates section for more as the week progresses. ...

Other notes of interest. ... The Steelers hit a few milestones with the win over the Patriots... Roethlisberger ensured the Steelers' 15th straight non-losing season with him as quarterback.

Antonio Brown became the league's 35th member of the 11,000-yard receiving club, joining Hines Ward as the only Steelers in the group. ...

In a semi-related note. ... Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore engaged in some pushing and shoving with Brown on Sunday, and afterward Gilmore said Brown had engaged in dirty play.

"He did a little dirty move, grabbed my helmet, threw me down," Gilmore said, via NESN. "That was super dirty. But other than that, just competing on the field."

Although the Steelers won the game, Gilmore played well in his individual matchup with Brown and came out of it proud of his play.

"It was fun," Gilmore said. "He's one of the best receivers today. One thing that he's good at -- it's not his routes -- but his [timing] . . . when he makes his move. He's very good at it."

It was a good battle between the two of them, one that Profootballtalk.com's Michael David Smith believes we may see again in the playoffs. ...

Roethlisberger's performance against the Steelers was even more impressive in light of Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reporting before the game that Roethlisberger was dealing with cracked ribs.

Unless he wasn't.

During a Tuesday appearance on 93.7 The Fan, Roethlisberger denied that was the case.

"I have no idea where that came from," Roethlisberger said, via the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "My wife texted me before the game and said, 'Did you hear about this?' I'm in the locker room. I don't know where that guy gets his information from, so we're not going to give him any credence on this show."

Roethlisberger did not divulge his exact condition, but said "we're all dealing with a lot of pain this time of the year" and gave credit to the medical staff for getting him ready to face New England last Sunday.

Roethlisberger will have to deal with the Saints' surging defense this weekend as he tries to keep the Steelers pointed toward the postseason. ...

And finally. ... Following a missed 32-yard field goal attempt in the third quarter, Boswell looked like a man who would lose his job. The botch marked Boswell's seventh missed field goal attempt on the season, and he's also missed five point-after tries. The latest flub came after the Steelers brought in outside kickers during the week to see if they wanted to make a change down the stretch.

In crunch time, however, Boswell might have saved his job with the 48-yarder later.

After the victory, Tomlin gave his kicker a vote of confidence.

"He's our kicker from start to finish and I liked the way he came back and banged that next opportunity, and that is what this thing [football] is about," Tomlin told ESPN.com. "You are going to be tested, we are going to be tested, sometimes you are going to fail but you better pass enough of them."

Boswell's 61 percent field-goal conversion rate this season is second-worst in the NFL, ahead only replacement Sam Ficken, who missed two of three attempts with the L.A. Rams earlier this year.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Devlin Hodges, Mason Rudolph, Ben Roethlisberger
RBs: James Conner, Benny Snell, Jaylen Samuels, Trey Edmunds, Kerrith Whyte
WRs: JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, James Washington, Johnny Holton, Deon Cain, Tevin Jones
TEs: Vance McDonald, Nick Vannett, Zach Gentry

San Francisco 49ers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 December 2018

As ESPN.com's Nick Wagoner suggested, "Call it the week of broken streaks. ..."

One day after the Browns ended the Broncos' 11-game winning streak against them and three days after the Chargers put a stop to the Chiefs' nine-game hex over them, the 49ers made it a trifecta Sunday with their 26-23 victory against the Seattle Seahawks.

Kicker Robbie Gould's 36-yard field goal with 3 minutes, 6 seconds left in overtime brought an end to Seattle's 10-game winning streak against the 49ers, a span that included a loss in the NFC Championship Game following the 2013 season and dated to Dec. 8, 2013, when the Niners previously beat their once-fierce NFC West division rivals.

The most recent loss in the streak came just two weeks ago, when the Seahawks walloped San Francisco 43-16 in Seattle.

"It means a ton," head coach Kyle Shanahan said. "Not all of us have been here since 2013, but a lot of us were here last year. We were all definitely here two weeks ago. It's a division rival. We're also very sick about the way we lost two weeks ago.

"I was really proud of the guys just not saying anything. I just knew it meant a lot to our guys. Especially after two weeks and to the fans and everything since 2013. I hated having to answer those questions all week. I definitely didn't want to go a whole 'nother year doing it. This was our last opportunity to end that and I'm glad we don't have to hear that again."

Lest Shanahan have any concern about whether his now-4-10 team would be able to bounce back from that recent loss and come ready to play against a Seattle team that would have clinched a playoff spot with a victory, he made it a point all week to drive home the importance of ending the streak.

Niners cornerback Richard Sherman, the longtime Seahawks star, said Shanahan made his team "painfully aware" of the losing streak.

If that wasn't enough, according to quarterback Nick Mullens, Shanahan stood up at the team meeting Saturday night and delivered another simple message. Shanahan told the Niners that he didn't even "have to tell you all anything. If you're not pumped up for this, there's something wrong with you."

That message apparently resonated.

"Sometimes you need to touch guys' pride," Sherman said. "You need to have some pride. You're a grown man. They went out there and embarrassed you. How are you going to respond? And I think guys showed how they responded."

The 49ers' win didn't come without a price in the big picture, though. Their fourth victory dropped them from No. 1 in the draft order to No. 4, with the Arizona Cardinals, Oakland Raiders and New York Jets now ahead of them in the pecking order with two games to play.

Still, there wasn't anyone in the Niners locker room who cared much about 2019 after they'd followed in the footsteps of the Chargers and Browns and knocked off a team that had their number for so long.

"It is huge for us," tackle Mike McGlinchey said. "We talk about it all of the time. Seattle is No. 1 for us in terms of the rivalry. We hadn't beaten them in a while. We have a lot of guys in this locker room that this game means a lot to, Sherm, Saleh, all of the guys that played there, have coached there. It is huge for us to get over this hump and build on this for the next two weeks and obviously next season, as well."

As ESPN.com noted, the 49ers had to take joy in making Seattle's path to the playoffs just a little bit more difficult.

Along the way, Mullens showed strong command, took care of the football and made timely, clutch throws in maybe their best victory over the season. Jimmy Garoppolo is the 49ers' franchise QB, but Mullens is showing that he's certainly a top-tier backup, and he could eventually have some trade value if someone thinks he could be more than that.

Of course, this week's games against the Bears and one of the league's most dangerous defenses will be a major test. ...

Speaking of Garoppolo, Shanahan said he has been told there's a "real good chance" for the team's QB of the future to do some stuff in OTAs during the offseason program in May-June. Shanahan noted it's a bit different for a quarterback who won't have to do as much running and could throw.

Meanwhile, Shanahan intends to continue with Mullens as his quarterback over final two weeks. "Nick's earned it and I'm not taking him out," Shanahan said.

Mullens' 689 yards are the most passing yards Seattle has allowed by any quarterback in a single season since their franchise inception in 1976. His 110.6 passer rating is his second-highest of the season (Week 9 vs. Oakland Raiders -- 151.9).

The two performances have left Seahawks coach Pete Carroll impressed by the man who began the year as the 49ers' third-string quarterback

"He's good. He's a good player," Carroll said on Monday. "Twice in the last three or four weeks with the guy… he's a really good football player. We hit him, we chased him, he's accurate, he's poised, his arm's plenty good enough, accuracy was there and I thought he's just good. They're fortunate to have a guy come out of the depth chart there to come out and play like that. He's a good ball player. ..."

Matt Breida returned from a one-game absence Sunday and quickly regained lead-back duties. Breida played 42 snaps, carried the ball 17 times for 50 yards and caught all five of his targets for 46 yards. Jeff Wilson Jr. played 11 snaps, produced 46 yards on seven carries and failed to catch his lone target. As ESPN's Mike Clay suggested, Breida is back in the RB2 discussion, but is safest as a flex against Chicago's stellar defense Sunday.

Clay added, "Wilson is no more than a handcuff. ..."

On the more-immediate injury front. ... Cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon suffered a sprained knee last night, and the MRI confirmed what the team hoped: That he avoided major injury, sources say. Likely done for the season, but nothing that'll affect 2019.

And finally. ... Sunday's game marked Gould's sixth-career game-winning field goal in overtime and his first since 2013. It also marked Gould's third game-winner with the 49ers since coming to San Francisco in 2017.

On Wednesday, Gould was named NFC Special Teams Player of the Week.

Gould has scored 111 points this season making him the first member of the 49ers to score 100-plus points in consecutive seasons since Phil Dawson in 2013-14.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Jimmy Garoppolo, Nick Mullens, C.J. Beathard
RBs: Tevin Coleman, Matt Breida, Raheem Mostert, Jeff Wilson
WRs: Emmanuel Sanders, Deebo Samuel, Kendrick Bourne, Dante Pettis, Marquise Goodwin, Richie James
TEs: George Kittle, Ross Dwelley, Levine Toilolo

Seattle Seahawks

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 December 2018

While talking this week about the damage a resurgent Seattle Seahawks team is capable of doing in the playoffs, veteran receiver Doug Baldwin noted that they've still got to get there first.

In all likelihood, they still will. But their 26-23 overtime loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday means that berth will have to wait.

And it means you can put on hold for now any talk of the Seahawks (8-6) making a deep run in the playoffs, because that's hard to imagine after a performance like Sunday's against a team that entered the game with three wins and a backup starting at quarterback.

The Seahawks would have clinched a wild-card berth with a win at Levi's Stadium. Instead, they turned in one of their sloppier performances of the season, which included 14 penalties for 148 yards and some baffling defensive breakdowns in the first half.

It snapped the Seahawks' 10-game winning streak over the 49ers, which dated back to their win in the NFC Championship Game five seasons ago.

They started poorly and didn't have the finishing touch that propelled them to recent wins against Carolina, Green Bay and Minnesota. They had a chance to win it in regulation on their final drive, but Russell Wilson didn't see Baldwin running open up the seam on third-and-15. And their opening drive of overtime stalled thanks to a holding penalty on right guard Ethan Pocic, which wiped out a big gain to J.D. McKissic.

Robbie Gould won it for the 49ers with a 36-yard field goal.

This was the type of letdown loss the Seahawks have rarely experienced under coach Pete Carroll. The good news for them: The NFC's fifth seed is still there for the taking, starting next Sunday night against the Kansas City Chiefs at CenturyLink Field.

Meanwhile, on the same week he acknowledged he was on the "downside" of his career, Baldwin soared as high as he has in a year. Or more.

What he did Sunday suggests he's returning to a vital role in Seattle's offense at the most important time of the season.

The 30-year-old Pro Bowl wide receiver who has missed his first three games in 6 1/2 years this Seahawks season because of knee and groin injuries had as many touchdowns in Sunday's overtime loss at San Francisco as he did in Seattle's first 13 games.

"I felt good. Think has been a long time coming," Baldwin said. "We've been working diligently trying to get my body right.

"I'm finally feeling like my normal self."

And suddenly, Wilson was his efficient, passing self again.

Wilson went from his fewest passing yards (72) and lowest passing rating (37.9) in a game in his career last week in the win over Minnesota to 12 for 16 passing for 142 yards and a rating of 141.1 in the half against the 49ers. That was when 49ers had both his touchdown catches.

"He makes a huge difference," Wilson said. "I mean. ... We've played so much ball together. He's one of my favorite guys I've ever played with just because, he's a competitor. He knows how to do everything right. He's as smart as it gets. He's as talented as it gets. He's been a joy to play with over my first six, seven years now. He's special."

Tyler Lockett had two catches for 45 yards, and David Moore one for 9 -- his only catch in the past three games -- while Jaron Brown didn't have any.

Seattle will need more varied receiver production to go far in the postseason. ...

In particular, as ESPN's Mike Clay notes, Lockett has failed to score in back-to-back games and has failed to clear two targets during two of his past three outings. Clay went on to remind readers that Lockett has been living on the edge by scoring nine touchdowns on only 63 targets this season and regression to the mean might have finally caught up to him.

"Consider Lockett a touchdown-dependent flex option in what could be a high-scoring affair against Kansas City," Clay summed up. ...

Also of interest. ... Running back Rashaad Penny was inactive for the first time this season. He did not make the team's trip to the Bay Area this weekend; he stayed home to rehabilitate a sore knee. Carroll said last Friday that the Seahawks wouldn't know until Tuesday or Wednesday of this week how Penny is progressing from a knee injury he got while rushing for 44 yards against the Vikings Monday night.

"He came out of the game last week with a sore knee, and it didn't respond quickly enough to get back this week," Carroll said. "So we are going to leave him (back at team headquarters this weekend) so he can get treated and rehab.

"So he's going to have some stuff over the weekend to see if the rehab is effective. He's feeling pretty good. He just couldn't get going this week, so the rest over the weekend and the stuff that they are doing will show us probably by Tuesday. Probably by practice Wednesday we will have a better feel."

Asked by Tacoma News Tribune staffer Greg Bell if the tests Penny's had on the knee so far cleared him from any structural damage.

"He had MRIs on it and all that," the coach said, "and there's nothing that needs to be done right now as far as surgery or anything like that."

The first-round draft did not practice at all last week. He has 413 yards rushing, third on the team behind Chris Carson and Mike Davis, and leads running backs with an average of 5.1 yards per carry this season.

With Penny out, Carson and Davis both delivered -- Carson rushing for a season-high 119 yards and scoring a touchdown on a hard-fought fourth-down run, and Davis catching eight passes on eight targets for 63 yards. J.D. McKissic also appeared to make a huge play in overtime before it was called back via penalty.

I'll have more on Penny in coming days; watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for all the latest, but it's worth noting at this point that Seattle signed running back Bo Scarbrough off Jacksonville's practice squad.

Scarbrough was a seventh-round pick by the Cowboys this year and wound up in Jacksonville after being dropped from the Dallas practice squad. He ran 24 times for 69 yards and a touchdown in the preseason and ran for 1,512 yards and 20 touchdowns over three seasons at the University of Alabama. ...

Also on the injury front. ... The Seahawks could get linebacker K.J. Wright back this week from the knee injury that has limited him to three games this season. He returned to practice last week as a limited participant. "The ramping up has worked out fine and he's ready to go," Carroll said. "We're thinking that if the week goes well, he's got a chance to play, which he's really excited about."

Carroll didn't have any update on right guard Jordan Simmons other than to say he's "got a pretty good knee injury" and that "it's going to be an issue."

Carroll said of D.J. Fluker, who was being replaced by Simmons, "we're hoping that he might have a chance" to play Sunday night against Kansas City. Carroll said strong safety Bradley McDougald, who left yesterday's game after re-aggravating his knee injury, is "pretty sore" and that it will take all week to know if he'll be able to play against the Chiefs.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Russell Wilson, Geno Smith
RBs: Chris Carson, Rashaad Penny, C.J. Prosise, Travis Homer
WRs: Tyler Lockett, DK Metcalf, Josh Gordon, David Moore, Malik Turner, John Ursua
TEs: Jacob Hollister, Luke Willson

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 December 2018

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers hung tough with a playoff team once again, but couldn't make enough plays in the second half to secure a victory for the second consecutive week.

The Baltimore Ravens beat the Bucs 20-12, ending Tampa Bay's hopes of finishing at .500 for 2018.

As ESPN.com's Jenna Laine noted, putting together complete games has become the Bucs' stumbling block this season, as have self-inflicted wounds and a lack of production in the red zone. These issues could very well cost coach Dirk Koetter and his staff their jobs, as the Bucs have fallen to 5-9 with two games remaining -- starting with the Cowboys this weekend.

When asked what he told his team after Sunday's loss, Koetter said: "Everybody in there is a pro, and we're all paid to do a job. We've got to finish it out."

The Glazer family, which owns the Bucs, has retained only one head coach after back-to-back losing seasons: Jon Gruden, the same coach who brought them a Super Bowl. The Glazers have shown little patience for losing in the past. Under Koetter last season, the Bucs went 5-11 following a 9-7 season in 2016.

Bucs players, including six-time Pro Bowler Gerald McCoy, have grown increasingly frustrated.

McCoy's frustration is not at Koetter specifically, but in playing for his fourth head coach and having never made the playoffs.

"Hangin' in there ain't good enough," McCoy said. "You've gotta win."

On offense, the Bucs managed just three points in the second half. They have scored 10 total points in the second half of games since Week 12.

The game was played in a steady rain and the wet conditions may have contributed to the Bucs' struggles. Buccaneer players had several instances of difficulty holding onto the football, including dropped passes by Mike Evans and Chris Godwin in the first half. However, Winston thought there were opportunities for the Buccaneers to score more points against one of the NFL's best defenses.

"We've just got to execute better," he said. "They have a great defense but we've got a great offense, too. We've got to be able to make plays when they're there."

"We can't seem to get out of our own way almost," tight end Cameron Brate said. "You can't really pinpoint one thing or one play, one player or anything like that. Until we find a way to either not make those critical errors or find a way to get over them, we're gonna continue to struggle to win games."

They also need to start making some plays.

"Talent-wise, we know we're up there. Top to bottom, we have great players. But if your great players don't make plays every game, you're not gonna win," Brate said.

Winston was intercepted at the Tampa Bay 43 in the fourth quarter. Then came a failed third-and-1 in the fourth quarter on a run from Peyton Barber where Barber was pancaked in the backfield for a loss of 3, before Humphrey broke up a Winston-to-Chris Godwin attempt on fourth-and-4 with 7 minutes, 12 seconds to go.

"We had two mental errors ... two different blocking errors on the same play. That was ridiculous that Peyton had a free runner at him, and we had two guys miss assignments," Koetter said.

Those types of mistakes playoff teams don't make, and those have ultimately stood in the Bucs' way of progressing as a team. That's why they're now dealing with the dreaded "P" word that losing teams and their fans have come to hate so much in the month of December: pride.

They're also facing endless, sometimes uncomfortable questions about Koetter's job. Winston, too, is facing questions about his future.

"I know personally that I didn't do a good job for our head coach today," Winston said. "I have to fix myself first. I can't really worry about anyone else. Obviously, I've got 10 other guys out there on the field with me. But I have to execute at a high level to be able to lead by example, for everyone else to execute at a high level."

McCoy wouldn't speak to Koetter's job status, saying that he isn't a decision-maker for the organization, but he promised that players still care and there would be no loafing.

Bucs offensive tackle Demar Dotson added there's concern from everyone.

"It's 'every man for himself' at this moment. I'm not worried about saving Dirk's job -- I'm worried about saving my own."

Looking for positives?

The connection between Winston and Evans remained very productive in Baltimore. Evans led all players with 121 yards on four receptions, turning in the 20th 100-yard game of his career and extending the Buccaneers' franchise record in that regard.

In the process, Evans set a new single-season career high by pushing his 2018 total to 1,328 receiving yards. His previous personal best was 1,321, in his 2016 Pro Bowl campaign.

With two games remaining, Evans is less than 100 yards away from breaking a franchise record that has stood for nearly 30 years. Given that he is averaging 94.9 yards per game, Evans has a very good shot at taking over the top spot on the Bucs' single-season receiving yardage chart.

In addition, Barber rushed 19 times for 85 yards and a touchdown against the Ravens, giving him six scores on the year. ...

On the injury front. ... Receiver DeSean Jackson is "hopeful" of returning this week after missing the past three games with a thumb injury, Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times reports.

Jackson, who was on the practice field Wednesday, revealed last week that he originally injured his left thumb in the season opener. He played through the injury until aggravating it in the Week 12 game against the Giants.

He had the thumb immobilized as recently as last week.

I'll be following on Jackson via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

And finally. ... The Buccaneers have placed safety Justin Evans and tight end Alan Cross on injured reserve, Stroud reports.
Cross left Sunday’s game with a shoulder injury.

The third-year veteran played all 14 games, with three starts, and made two catches for 9 yards.

The team announced it promoted tight end Donnie Ernsberger to the active roster from the practice squad. He originally entered the league as a college free agent out of Western Michigan this spring.

He spent the offseason and preseason with the Buccaneers.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Jameis Winston, Ryan Griffin, Blaine Gabbert
RBs: Ronald Jones, Peyton Barber, Dare Ogunbowale, T.J. Logan
WRs: Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, Breshad Perriman, Scott Miller, Justin Watson, Bobo Wilson
TEs: Cameron Brate, O.J. Howard, Tanner Hudson

Tennessee Titans

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 December 2018

On another big day by running back Derrick Henry, the Titans picked up another big win.

Henry ran for 170 yards and two touchdowns on 33 carries, one week after rushing for a franchise-record 238 yards against the Jaguars, as the Titans rolled to a 17-0 win over the New York Giants here at MetLife Stadium.

The Titans improved to 8-6 after their third straight win. It was the first shutout by the defense since December 25, 2000 vs. the Cowboys.

The Titans took a 7-0 lead on a one-yard touchdown run by Henry, which came on fourth-and-goal. Quarterback Mariota connected with receiver Corey Davis for third-down completions of 11 and 17 yards on drive, which ended up being 15 plays for 75 yards in 7:45.

Later, the Titans got another one-yard touchdown run by Henry. Kicker Ryan Succop kicked a 22-yard field goal in the fourth quarter to account for the final points.

Defensively, the Titans held the Giants in check just one week after the Giants scored 40 points in a win over the Redskins.

In fact, the Titans recorded the 16th shutout in franchise history and the fourth road shutout in franchise history. The team's last shutout victory was a 31-0 win against the Dallas Cowboys at Nissan Stadium on Dec. 25, 2000. The last time the team shut out an opponent on the road was Dec. 17, 2000, in a 24-0 win at the Cleveland Browns.

But Henry is the key here.

In a post-game interview, Profootballtalk.com's Mike Florio asked Henry what he's been eating the last two weeks, because Florio wants some of it.

Henry laughed at that before giving a more serious explanation of what he's done to improve his game as the 2018 season has unfolded.

Henry explained that, during a Week Eight bye, he studied film from Tennessee's first seven games of the season, which resulted in an average of 39 yards per game and 3.25 per carry for Henry.

"I was doing too much," Henry said. "I was trying to make a big play on every carry, but I was going down too easy."

So he kept it simple since then, and it has worked. In seven games since the bye, Henry is averaging 87 yards per game and 6.69 per carry. He has capped the effort with 50 carries for 408 yards and six touchdowns over the last two games.

Thirty-three of those carries came Sunday, but he said that he feels fine.

With his 170 yards, Henry set a new franchise record for rushing yards (408) in back-to-back games, breaking Houston Oilers running back Earl Campbell's record of 405 yards.

"Earl Campbell, that's a beast, man," Henry said. "I got a chance to talk to him (in the past), and that's a legend in my eyes. For me to be mentioned with his name, it's like a dream come true. Hat's off to everybody -- the offensive line, receivers, tight ends, blocking. For me to have this opportunity, it is all of us."

In addition, with four rushing touchdowns against Jacksonville and two rushing touchdowns against the Giants, Henry registered six total rushing touchdowns in a two-game span. He became the first player in franchise history to accomplish the feat. The last NFL player with six rushing touchdowns over a two-game span was Falcons running back Devonta Freeman from Sept. 27-Oct. 4, 2015.

Henry's six total touchdowns were the most by a Titans player since wide receiver Drew Bennett had six receiving touchdowns in a two-game span from Dec. 5-13, 2004.

Henry praised quarterback Marcus Mariota, who delivered a big block on Giants linebacker Alec Ogletree on one of his first half runs.

"He knocked the fire out of 52," Henry said of Mariota. "I gave him a handshake, and said "I owe you one." He's a tough guy -- that's the kind of guys he is."

Henry scored two touchdowns against the Giants, and he now has six touchdowns in the past two games.

Teammates said he's been a pro all season, even when he wasn't getting a lot of carries, or having a great deal of success. Henry now has 882 yards and 11 touchdowns this season for the Titans.

"He's been a stud these last two games," left tackle Taylor Lewan said of Henry. "I've very impressed with him as a football player.

"I have been impressed with Derrick since the minute he got here. I think he's been a pro, staying the course. When unfortunate things happen there's two ways to handle it -- you can pout and whine or you can work hard and become what Derrick has become. I am very proud of him."

The Titans are still in playoff contention and have games left this season against the Washington Redskins and Indianapolis Colts.

A few final notes. ... On an 11-yard scamper in the first quarter, Mariota set a new career high for rushing yards in a season, surpassing the 349 rushing yards he had in 2016. Mariota now has 350 rushing yards on 63 attempts with two rushing touchdowns in 2018.

Mariota was limited in Tuesday's practice with a foot issue; I'll have more on his status via Late-Breaking Update as developments warrant.

And last. ... Defensive back Logan Ryan announced Monday on Twitter that he will miss the remainder of the season because of a broken left fibula. He was placed on IR on Tuesday.

Ryan, 27, recorded 76 tackles this season, his second with the Titans. He had his career-high fourth sack of the season in Sunday's 17-0 win over the New York Giants.

Vrabel said Monday that he hadn't decided who will replace Ryan in the lineup. "Whoever plays in there is going to be expected to do a good job," he told reporters.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Ryan Tannehill, Marcus Mariota
RBs: Derrick Henry, Dion Lewis, Dalyn Dawkins, David Fluellen
WRs: Corey Davis, A.J. Brown, Adam Humphries, Tajae Sharpe, Kalif Raymond
TEs: Jonnu Smith, Anthony Firkser, MyCole Pruitt

Washington Redskins

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 19 December 2018

As ESPN.com's John Keim framed it, "In a stretch where little has gone right, where every break seemingly went the other way, the Washington Redskins finally caught one. ..."

Keim went on to set the scene: "Josh Johnson's pass floated down the field, headed toward disaster and a potential back-breaking interception that would have ended any faint playoff hopes for the Redskins. And then the unusual happened: The ball skipped off the hands of Jacksonville Jaguars safety Tashaun Gipson and, as the ball drifted to the ground, was snagged by Redskins receiver Jamison Crowder.

"A game they looked destined to lose instead ended in a 16-13 win thanks to a last-second 36-yard field goal by Dustin Hopkins. ..."

Keim went on to concede the Redskins are still banged up, wounded and maybe not all that good.

But they're also 7-7 with two games remaining -- starting with the Titans this weekend, which means their playoff pulse remains alive. They're only a game out of first place in the NFC East.

It began with a third-and-15 pass under pressure by Johnson. The ball went to the middle of the field, where Gipson tipped it with his left hand as he stretched; Crowder reached out and made a diving grab for a first down at the Jaguars' 27-yard line. Crowder might have tipped it at the same time as Gipson. An offense that had no life received some, and a sideline full of players who needed some hope got what they wanted.

That wasn't the only tip that mattered Sunday. The Redskins' winning drive was set up by an overthrown Cody Kessler pass that was tipped by receiver Dede Westbrook and intercepted by corner Fabian Moreau.

But it was the Crowder play that injected life into a wounded team on its last breath.

The Redskins had lost four straight games and five of six. They placed their 18th player on injured reserve Saturday. They were embarrassed at home by 24 points vs. the New York Giants. But by Friday, the Redskins were still a relaxed bunch. The offensive players repeated that they still had hope. The defensive side, meanwhile, was the healthier side physically but not mentally. More players have bickered on that side of the ball; more players have sounded off in a negative way.

There are questions about the job security of the coaching staff and members of the front office. It hasn't been a happy place.

So when Jacksonville took a 13-6 lead Sunday, it was easy to see where this game was headed. The Redskins had played the game most expected on offense, considering Johnson was their fourth starting quarterback this season. But the special teams allowed a blocked punt and a return for a touchdown.

They needed a boost. Crowder came through with one.

The Redskins remain alive.

Whether they're legitimate contenders or not can be debated. They have plenty of flaws. They have plenty of reasons to doubt themselves. But sometimes a tipped pass ends up in the right place.

Johnson was a big part of it.

As NFL.com's Austin Knoblauch noted, Johnson didn't have the greatest of games -- he completed 16 of 25 passes for a modest 151 yards and a touchdown -- but it was enough for him to reflect on the long road his career has taken.

"I've always had belief in myself that I can do things like this, but, I've never been one to talk about it because talking does nothing," Johnson said after the game. "... Just to have it go our way and be able to just have everything that has been building up in me for years and finally let it out, it was a relief. Honestly, it was. It was just a relief."

For a guy who's been part of 13 NFL teams and appeared in 32 games since 2009, Johnson didn't think he'd ever guide a team to victory.

When Hopkins kicked the winning field goal Sunday, Johnson dropped to his knees in celebration.

"I know every opportunity I get could be my last one," Johnson said. "That's just the reality of my situation. I just want to leave it all out on the field. I owe this game that much because I love it that much. I mean, I've put in this work; I've stayed around this game for this long. For me to go out there and not leave it all out on the field, I would be disrespecting it. So, at the end of the day, if I have an opportunity where I know I can make a play, I'm going to go do that. I mean, we ended up pulling out the victory, so it worked out for us."

The big question is whether Johnson can win again.

As surprising as it might be to see Johnson as an NFL game-winning quarterback in 2018, at least one of his teammates isn't surprised.

"He has an aura, a presence about him," running back Chris Thompson said. "Even in the meeting rooms, he just came in and took things over.

"It's a lot like Alex (Smith), it's not his words, it's the feeling you get when you walk by him and talk to him. ..."

On the injury front. ... Keim reports there's some hope tight end Jordan Reed (foot/toe) can return this week, but they're not sure yet although he was not able to practice on Tuesday; they're also hopeful about guard Ty Nsekhe (knee); corner Josh Holsey partially tore his ACL and was placed on injured reserve; corner Danny Johnson injured his knee and dislocated his finger, but his status remains uncertain.

Vernon Davis suffered a neck injury early in the third quarter but quickly returned.

Reed was not on the practice field Wednesday and I'll be following his progress closely; watch the Late-Breaking Update section for more in coming days.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Dwayne Haskins, Case Keenum, Colt McCoy
RBs: Derrius Guice, Adrian Peterson, Wendell Smallwood, Chris Thompson
WRs: Terry McLaurin, Kelvin Harmon, Trey Quinn, Paul Richardson, Steven Sims
TEs: Jeremy Sprinkle, Hale Hentges