Team Notes week 15 2020
NEWS, NOTES, RUMORS AND OTHER GOOD STUFF
Directly from the desk of FlashUpdate Editor Bob Harris. The good; the bad; and yes. ... Even the Bears. There is no better way to jump start your weekend than browsing these always educational -- often irreverent -- team-by-team, Fantasy-specific offerings. ...
Access specific teams by clicking on a team name in the schedule appearing directly to your left or by clicking on a helmet below; return to the helmets by hitting the link labeled "Menu" following each teams notes. ...
Arizona CardinalsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 December 2020
As ESPN.com's Josh Weinfuss reported it, "The Cardinals are back in the playoffs, for the time being, and they appear to have found the recipe Sunday to keep them in the postseason hunt.
"Two parts defense, one part offense.
"Sack a lot and let quarterback Kyler Murray run a little. Let sit for 60 minutes."
The result was a 26-7 win by the Cardinals (7-6) over the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium that propelled them back into the seventh seed in the NFC thanks to a win and a loss by the Minnesota Vikings (6-7).
The Cardinals broke a three-game losing streak in part because of a swarming defense that produced eight sacks, allowed just 58 yards in the first half and 159 for the entire game. While the defense was doing its job, forcing the Giants to punt eight times, the Cardinals' offense found a rhythm for the first time in weeks.
Murray rejoiced in a defense that wasn't mush-rushing like the previous three weeks, allowing him some lanes to run and scramble. He had 13 carries for 47 yards (and three of those attempts, for minus-5, came on kneel downs at the end) in addition to 24-of-35 passing for 244 yards and no turnovers.
According to Darren Urban of the team's official website, Murray was under center more Sunday than he's been all season.
Urban added that Murray doesn't love the stat, and it may just be coincidence, but the Cardinals are 0-11-1 when Murray runs five or less times and 12-5 when he runs six or more. It was evident the Cards are more comfortable all the way around when Murray can move and scramble if needed.
Murray also found DeAndre Hopkins nine times for 136 yards, Nuk's first 100-yard game since the Hail Murray, as the offense rolled up 390 total yards.
Hopkins now is 4-for-4 with 100-yard games at MetLife Stadium.
It wasn't perfect. "There's still a lot out there, I feel like," Murray said -- but head coach Kliff Kingsbury said the Cardinals didn't adjust much on offense, instead just game planning like they normally do and getting a higher level of execution.
Sunday, though, wasn't perfect for the Cardinals. They struggled in the first quarter and were 2-for-7 in the red zone. Kingsbury also made a questionable decision on fourth-and-1 from the 1 in the first quarter. The play didn't pan out and Arizona left points on the board. It didn't matter Sunday, but against a better team those three points could have been the difference.
The Cardinals have three games left, Sunday against the Eagles, and then home against the San Francisco 49ers and at the Los Angeles Rams to finish the season.
If they can continue to play like they did Sunday, the postseason is a near lock.
Other notes of interest. ... Even though he finished 80 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries, Kenyan Drake will get fewer carries in favor of Chase Edmonds because of his two fumbles in a span of three carries. The Cardinals recovered both fumbles, but were lucky to do so. The miscues could have swung the game back toward New York.
As ESPN's Mike Clay notes, Drake did not live up to his early second-round ADP throughout the first half of the season, but the transition-tagged tailback certainly has over the past month.
He now has at least 10 carries in every game this season (16.8 average). During his past four games, he has 12 targets (he had 11 during his first eight games) and five touchdowns (he had four during his first eight games).
Better still, Clay points out that Drake easily leads the NFL in carries inside the opponent's 5-yard line during the span and scored 14-plus fantasy points in all four games. Drake has worked his way right back into the RB1 discussion, and he'll be a borderline top-10 play against the Eagles on Sunday. ...
Tight end Dan Arnold had his third touchdown in two games on Sunday, continuing to show that he can be a vital part of the Cardinals' offense despite not being an every-down player. His 6-foot-6 frame has been a savior of sorts for Murray, especially when plays start breaking down.
While Arnold still has work to do, namely in penalty discipline, he's making the kind of strides that will keep him on the field in critical situations. ...
Larry Fitzgerald looked like he played a decent amount of snaps in his game back, although Murray didn't look his way much (or Christian Kirk's way either). Fitz did have a couple catches to get his streak to 254 games straight. ...
Andy Isabella was inactive for Sunday's game with Fitzgerald back. It's another indication that the 2019 second-round pick hasn't progressed like the team hoped. ...
And finally. ... Kingsbury said the Cardinals will have to see what Zane Gonzalez's status is with his back before knowing what happens next week at kicker. Mike Nugent was solid Sunday, making all four field goals and two extra points, but none of the field goals were longer than 37 yards, and Gonzalez hasn't missed inside 40 yards either. (Nugent also was straight but short on a 55-yard attempt that ultimately got wiped out on a false start).
It was kind of funny to hear Kingsbury talk about how excited he was for Nugent -- who kicked for the Cardinals in 2009 as a brief injury replacement for Neil Rackers -- because "I was a teammate of Mike's with the Jets, so I've known him a long time." Yes, Kingsbury the NFL player was teammates with Nugent, his current kicker, back in 2005.
QBs: Kyler Murray, Colt McCoy, Chris Streveler
RBs: Chase Edmonds, James Conner, Jonathan Ward, Eno Benjamin
WRs: DeAndre Hopkins, A.J. Green, Christian Kirk, Rondale Moore, Andy Isabella, Antoine Wesley
TEs: Maxx Williams, Darrell Daniels
Atlanta FalconsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 December 2020
The Falcons had two opportunities in the final four minutes to beat the Los Angeles Chargers.
Both chances ended with Matt Ryan throwing an interception, leading to a 20-17 defeat Sunday that guaranteed a third straight losing season and raised more questions about the future of their veteran quarterback.
"I feel like I'm fresh and in a good spot. I just haven't played as well as I would like, and that sometimes happens," Ryan said.
Ryan was 21 of 32 passing for 224 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions, his 11th career game throwing at least three picks for the Falcons (4-9). Though he passed Peyton Manning for most career passing yards through 13 NFL seasons, Ryan was more concerned with where and when he turned the ball over.
With less than four minutes remaining and back outside the red zone after a holding penalty, Ryan stared down tight end Hayden Hurst and allowed safety Jahleel Addae to jump the route.
"Yeah, I was a little late, and he did a nice job of slow playing it," Ryan said. "But that was, that was poor on me. I've got to get the ball out right away, give Hayden the chance to keep the chains moving, and that was late and a bad decision on my part."
Ryan looked as if he had gotten a reprieve when Blidi Wreh-Wilson intercepted rookie quarterback Justin Herbert with 47 seconds remaining. A throw over the middle to Russell Gage got the Falcons to the edge of field-goal range, but Ryan put his throw for Calvin Ridley too far inside and it was snatched away by cornerback Michael Davis.
"You know, you can't turn the ball over, particularly in those critical situations," interim coach Raheem Morris said. "Too many turnovers to overcome today. Too many mistakes by us from an offensive standpoint, from a defensive standpoint, all around, special teams, all across the board. We got to make better decisions, better plays on the road in order to win the football games."
"That's on me, you know," Ryan said. "I've got to make a better throw, and, you know, put it high in a way on the sideline and give Cal a chance. It's just a poor throw."
Ryan believes he can still play at the level necessary for the Falcons to compete in spite of those costly errors.
"I got plenty in the tank," Ryan said. "I just got to play better, and unfortunately stuff like this happens sometimes in professional sports, and you just kind of grind through it and you gotta find a way to be better. And I'm committed to that and I certainly think I'll play better next week."
Morris offered a strong defense of Ryan, saying this game where a non-productive rushing offense that managed 70 yards to leave the Falcons reliant on their quarterback to make things happen didn't shake his faith.
"There's not a lot of things that's gonna make me lose my confidence in Matt Ryan, a guy who was MVP of this league," Morris said. "A guy that is very capable of getting it done. A guy that I trust his process and I trust everything he's about and who he is and what he stands for. I got all the backing in Matt Ryan that you possibly have in a coach."
But there are lingering concerns. Ryan had just two completions longer than 20 yards, and Gage had the team's longest pass on a 39-yard touchdown throw to Ridley out of the wildcat. Ridley, Gage and Todd Gurley were the only Falcons to catch multiple passes, compared to Herbert finding five different players for at least three receptions.
Ryan believes he has more to contribute and, with a massive contract that ties him to the Falcons through at least next season, hopes to prove that with his play in the final three games.
"I'm a big believer in process and so you learn from these games where you don't play your best, and you try and not make the same mistakes again and move forward and believe that when you're in those positions again you're gonna create a different outcome, and I firmly believe that," Ryan said. ...
Next up, the Falcons host Tampa Bay Sunday. ...
Without Julio Jones on the field, Ridley again proved he's capable of being a top receiver in the NFL. When given the chance to be the go-to option, Ridley has come through this season, and Sunday was no exception. He led the Falcons with eight catches for 129 yards and the above-mentioned 39-yard touchdown catch on a throw from Gage.
Ridley also crossed the 1,000-yard mark for the first time in his career, a milestone he set for himself coming into the season.
"I like that I did that because I know I can do that," Ridley said. "I know I can do way better than that. I feel good about it. I don't feel good that we lost, and I don't feel too good about the season."
Gage contributed four receptions and 65 yards. Even Laquon Treadwell scored his first touchdown for the Falcons -- his first TD since Week 13 last season and just his third overall in 58 career games.
If you're wondering, the snaps at wideout were distributed as follows: Ridley 46 (84 percent), Gage 40, Brandon Powell 27, Christian Blake 13 and Treadwell eight. ...
For the third straight season, the Falcons are struggling to consistently run the ball efficiently. Falcons runners combined to rush for 70 yards against the Chargers. Atlanta is now 0-6 this season when they don't rush for at least 90 yards.
Gurley collected 19 yards on six carries, adding two catches for 12 yards during Sunday's loss.
According to CBSSports.com, Gurley's involvement all but dissolved in the second half, as he received one offensive touch between the third and fourth quarters combined. Ito Smith, meanwhile, fielded nine touches over the second half Sunday. Gurley, the 2017 NFL Offensive Player of the Year has scored four touchdowns since Week 6, but he's been incredibly inefficient as a rusher during that span, managing just 2.7 yards per carry over 102 attempts.
Atlanta's upcoming matchup against Tampa Bay's top-ranked rush defense provides a formidable opponent for both Gurley and Smith in Week 15.
Beyond that, the Falcons aren't finishing drives.
As Matt Tabeek of the team's official website put it, "When you have players likes Jones, Ridley, Gurley, Gage, and Hurst, you're supposed to be able to score touchdowns, especially in the red zone." On Sunday, the Falcons were 1-of-3 in the red zone but entered the weekend 29th in the league in scoring touchdowns in the red zone.
As good as Younghoe Koo has kicked this season, the Falcons would prefer to see less of him. As Morris put it, "Koo has been money, but I'd like to see less of him. We'd like to score touchdowns."
On the injury front. ... Morris told reporters on Wednesday that Jones is week to week with his hamstring issue. Jones didn't practice Wednesday while Ridley (foot) was limited.
More on all that via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.
QBs: Matt Ryan, Josh Rosen, Feleipe Franks
RBs: Mike Davis, Cordarrelle Patterson, Wayne Gallman
WRs: Calvin Ridley, Russell Gage, Christian Blake, Olamide Zaccheaus, Frank Darby, Chris Rowland
TEs: Kyle Pitts, Hayden Hurst, Jaeden Graham
Baltimore RavensCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 December 2020
As ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley reported, Lamar Jackson showed up just in time to save the Ravens' season.
In a 47-42 victory filled with dramatic twists and game changes, Jackson emerged from the locker room late in the fourth quarter and led a heroic comeback in Cleveland. Jackson completed four passes for 38 yards to get in field goal range for Justin Tucker, who nailed a 55-yarder with two seconds remaining to help Baltimore improve to 8-5.
"Making my job a lot easier and the offense's job a lot easier," Jackson said of Tucker. "We don't have to score a touchdown. Some coaches don't trust their kickers; we put all our faith in ours. We just had to get him in position to kick the field goal, and then automatic Tuck -- he did the rest."
Jackson had missed most of the fourth quarter after running off the field with cramps. During his absence, the Ravens went from leading 34-20 to trailing 35-34.
With two minutes remaining, backup Trace McSorley had his left knee buckle and Jackson rushed back onto the field. On his first play, Jackson scrambled to his right and hit a receiver aptly nicknamed "Hollywood" (Marquise Brown) for a 44-yard touchdown.
It was Jackson's first career go-ahead touchdown pass in the final two minutes of regulation.
"We were proceeding with Trace and there was really no indication that Lamar was coming back at that point," head coach John Harbaugh said. "I didn't know he was on the sideline at that point. I'll give our trainers credit, they did a great job of getting him out there. ... Just the circumstances, with all the things that went on in this game ... if you wrote a movie about this, people wouldn't believe it. They'd say it couldn't happen. Reality is stranger than fiction, or whatever that saying is. That's what it is here, it's just crazy."
Asked if he would have gone back in had McSorley not been injured, Jackson replied, "I was still coming out no matter what. It was crunch time. It's win or go home for us right now."
Jackson, who missed a recent game with COVID-19, said he received fluids in the locker room and was getting stretched when he saw McSorley get hurt.
"I'm still stretching and I'm like, 'We gotta go out there,'" he said. "It was fourth down, my guys were making great catches and we came out with the victory. As soon as I saw him go down, I came out of the locker room."
Then, the Browns (9-4) answered with a 22-yard touchdown pass from Baker Mayfield to Kareem Hunt with 1:04 left.
Jackson, who had earlier set a Monday Night Football record for rushing yards in a game (124), led the comeback with his arm. He completed four consecutive passes to get Tucker in field goal range.
"Of course, there's a lot of emotion -- there's a lot of feeling that goes into any field goal, but especially one that is going to be the difference in the game," Tucker said of his winning kick, before acknowledging that if there's one thing he has learned in his nine years in the league, it's that "feelings are unimportant."
"You have to focus on the action of kicking the ball, not the consequence," Tucker continued. "We've been able to do that really well for a long time and tonight we were able to do just that."
"That was a really tough kick, because the field was really soft," Harbaugh said following the win. "Obviously, they were rushing everything they had, so the guys that protected Sam [Koch] and Morgan [Cox] did a great job. But to make that kick, with the crosswind on that field in December in the open end, in the 'Dawg Pound' end, [for] most kickers, that's unmakeable. The only kicker that I know of that you'd feel confident in making that would be Tucker."
Tucker calmly drilled the kick with the same confidence he displayed earlier in the fourth, just moments before Jackson made his latest highlight play of his fantastic career, when Tucker appealed to Harbaugh to try a field goal from 64 yards out.
"He thought that gave us the best chance to win," Harbaugh said as he laughed. "So, you appreciate the confidence; that's just how he is."
The Ravens added a safety on the final play.
"It's a game that's gonna go down in history, so just proud to be a part of it and really proud of our players," Harbaugh said.
This wild rally came just eight days after Jackson had returned from the reserve/COVID-19 list. He tested positive for the coronavirus on Thanksgiving and experienced flu-like symptoms, which caused him to sleep for much of his 10-day quarantine.
The Ravens are No. 8 in the seven-team AFC playoff field, but they are positioned for a strong finish. Baltimore's three remaining games are against the Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Giants and Cincinnati Bengals, all of whom are a combined 8-30-1 (.218). ...
Worth noting. ... On Wednesday, Jackson was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week. ...
Other notes of interest. ... As ESPN's Mike Clay notes, Mark Ingram was limited to just one snap and did not touch the ball during Monday night's win.
The veteran back totaled 45 carries and five targets during Weeks 1-5, but has now posted touch totals of five, seven, two, seven and zero in his past five games. He has played on a grand total of 17 snaps during his past three games and hasn't managed a top-40 fantasy week since Week 4.
Clay went on to advise readers it's clear that rookie J.K. Dobbins (35 snaps on Monday) is now the main man in the Baltimore backfield and Gus Edwards (15) is second in line.
Clay added, "Ingram should not be on rosters in any formats. ..."
Mark Andrews came back from a two-game absence because of COVID-19 to play a huge part in setting up Tucker's game-winning field goal.
Andrews caught back-to-back passes, both for 14 yards, to start the Ravens' final offensive drive with just more than a minute left in the game. He also added a 4-yard catch at the end of the drive to give Tucker a little more room for his blast.
In his first game since Nov. 22, Andrews finished with a team-high five catches for 78 yards. Asked to sum up the game afterwards, Andrews said it was "hectic."
"My emotions are all over the place right now," he said. "I just feel, first of all, blessed to be able to play this game after two weeks of sitting out and watching this team play. So, it was tough for me to do that. It was just so much fun. All the guys competed. Everyone made plays. Everyone stepped up. It was a team win all around."
As the team's official website notes, Andrews is a Type 1 diabetic, which can create even more complications for someone who contracts COVID-19. Before the season started, Andrews said he had no hesitations about playing despite being at higher risk because he is so meticulous about his self-care. Still, Andrews said he was "laid up" for about eight days.
"Just aches all over my body, tiredness, headache, all that stuff with COVID," Andrews said. "It was definitely humbling going through that. It was good that I was able to get a week of practice, get my lungs right, get my body right before this game -- and I felt good."
Andrews didn't have a catch until the final minute of the first half when Jackson danced around to elude a sack, rolled to his right and found Andrews streaking down the field for a 39-yard gain. That set up a touchdown to put the Ravens on top at halftime.
"He's playing at an elite level. You look at his completions and the way he's running the ball, [he's] the complete package," Andrews said of Jackson. "Like I said before, it's a pleasure to be able to play with him. He's so special in everything that he does. He makes everyone else's jobs easier."
Dating back to 2019, Andrews has recorded 23 receptions of 20 or more yards. Only Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce has more during that span (34).
Coming back from a respiratory virus, it would have been understandable if Andrews dipped in energy by the end of the game, especially in such a shootout. But when it mattered most, Andrews made the plays to move the chains. ...
Meanwhile, the COVID issues aren't over here.
The Ravens were down to one player on their reserve/COVID-19 list after activating wide receiver Dez Bryant on Tuesday, but the number is moving in the wrong direction again on Wednesday.
Baltimore placed three wideouts on the list. Brown, Miles Boykin, and James Proche will be unavailable as long as they remain on it.
There’s no word on whether they went on the list for positive COVID-19 tests or close contact with someone who has tested positive. A positive test would require a longer quarantine and lead to at least one missed game while availability for a close contact on Sunday would depend on when the contact occurred.
And finally. ... McSorley suffered a minor knee sprain against the Browns and the team announced it had placed him on injured reserve.
In two games this season, McSorley has completed 3-of-10 passes for 90 yards and one touchdown. On Monday night, he was attempting to convert a third-and-2 when he tried to cut to his left and his knee buckled.
McSorley and quarterback Robert Griffin III are now each on IR, so Jackson's backup is now likely to be undrafted rookie Tyler Huntley.
QBs: Lamar Jackson, Trace McSorley, Tyler Huntley
RBs: Ty'Son Williams, Latavius Murray, Devonta Freeman, Gus Edwards
WRs: Marquise Brown, Sammy Watkins, Devin Duvernay, Tylan Wallace, Miles Boykin, James Proche, Rashod Bateman
TEs: Mark Andrews, Josh Oliver, Eric Tomlinson, Nick Boyle
Buffalo BillsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 December 2020
Playing on national television for the second straight week Sunday, the Bills handed the Pittsburgh Steelers their second loss of the season in a 26-15 victory that wasn't as close as the final score suggests.
Buffalo can clinch a second straight playoff berth with a Cleveland win against Baltimore on ESPN's Monday Night Football.
Buffalo faltered in its previous two games against elite AFC opponents but earned its spot in the conference's top tier after putting on a clinic on both sides of the ball. Granted, the Bills' 10th-ranked offense wasn't as effective as it was against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 13, but it gave their defense more than enough of a cushion, particularly in the second half.
And speaking of Buffalo's defense, make that back-to-back impressive performances, as it forced two turnovers and held Pittsburgh to 1-for-10 on third down. At one point in the season, the Bills' defense was their weakest side of the ball; now, it's a key reason Buffalo has captured consecutive 10-win seasons for the first time since doing so in 1998 and 1999.
Sean McDermott also joined Marv Levy, Lou Saban, Chuck Knox and Wade Phillips as the only coaches in franchise history with multiple 10-win seasons.
As ESPN.com's Marcel Louis-Jacques suggested, the Kansas City Chiefs (12-1) are still the team to beat in the AFC, and after their win Sunday night, the Bills showed they're not far behind.
Meanwhile, Sunday night's game provided a pretty good illustration of why the Bills sent a first-round pick and other draft considerations to Minnesota for wide receiver Stefon Diggs this offseason.
The Bills offense didn't do much in the first half of the game, but they went into the half up 9-7 after Taron Johnson's interception return for a touchdown. When they got back on the field, things went a lot better and Diggs was in the center of the action.
As Profootballtalk.com's Josh Alper notes, Diggs caught six passes for 83 yards and a touchdown in the third quarter and the Bills extended their lead to 23-7 over the first 15 minutes of the second half. Diggs finished the 26-15 win with 10 catches for 130 yards and gratitude from quarterback Josh Allen.
"We liked our matchup out there and I can say with a lot of confidence, I think I like any matchup with 1-4. He's one of the best, if not the best guy in the league, but I have supreme confidence in him. . . . All he wants to do is help his team win football games. He's a competitor and we have very similar mindsets. I love the guy," Allen said, via the team's website. "He goes out there and competes his tail off and I'm just super blessed that we traded for him."
With his totals Sunday night, Diggs set a single-season career high with 1,167 yards. His previous high was his 1,130-yard season last year.
He now holds the mark for the ninth-most prolific single-season receiving yardage season in Bills history.
His 10 receptions Sunday night also put him in a tie with former Bills WR Eric Moulds for the single-season record for receptions (100) and gave him back the league lead in catches so far this season as he moved past the Chargers' Keenan Allen (99).
This weekend, the travel to Denver to play the Broncos, and their injury-depleted secondary, on Saturday. ...
Also worth noting. ... "He finds the paint."
That was Allen's latest description of the team leader in touchdown catches. No, not Diggs.
Rookie Gabriel Davis.
Sunday night proved to be no different as Davis added another scoring play to his rookie resume.
Davis, who has taken on a more consistent role in Buffalo's receiving corps since John Brown went on injured reserve with an ankle injury, pulled in his sixth touchdown reception when Allen found him in the back left corner of the end zone for a 13-yard scoring play in the third quarter.
It was Davis' third straight game with a touchdown reception making him the first rookie to have a three-game TD streak since WR David Nelson in 2010. Nelson, Lee Evans (five games, 2004) and now Davis are the only rookies since the AFL-NFL merger with three consecutive games with a receiving touchdown.
Davis currently leads the team with six receiving touchdowns on the season, doing so on just 28 receptions, giving him a touchdown percentage of better than 21 percent. ...
Zack Moss rushed 13 times for 43 yards while failing to haul in his lone target in Sunday's win.
As CBSSports.com notes, Moss saw his workload jump back up to double-digit carries for the first time since his Week 8 explosion against the Patriots (14 carries for 81 yards and two touchdowns). The 2020 third-round pick was less effective with the larger workload this time around, averaging just 3.3 yards per touch, but the Bills did end up getting the victory. McDermott enlightened the media that Moss' benching last week was indeed the result of his fumble early in the contest.
Not only did the rookie get out of his coach's doghouse, but he also surpassed co-starter Devin Singletary in carries by significant margin (13 to seven). While the carry share could flip back in the latter's favor against Denver, it appears that both will be involved in the game plan now that Moss is back in his coach's good graces.
Dawson Knox (neck) missed some time but returned late in the third quarter after suffering a stinger just after halftime and caught a pass.
Knox caught four passes for 34 yards and bobbled a pass that led to Allen's interception. But looking deeper, he played 79 percent of the offensive snaps and was targeted seven times against the Steelers. As ESPN's Mike Clay notes, both are new career-high marks. Clay went on to note the boost in usage came pretty much out of nowhere, as he had been targeted no more than four times in a single game since Week 10 of the 2019 season.
Knox's rise in playing time isn't enough to vault him anywhere close to the TE1 mix, especially with Brown eligible to return from injury, but those of you hunting for help in two-TE leagues might find the second-year man useful.
As for Brown, McDermott told reporters on Monday the speedy wideout will return to practice this week. He's eligible to come off injured reserve before the Broncos game and was officially designated to return on Tuesday.
I'll have more on the Brown's progress via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses.
QBs: Josh Allen, Mitchell Trubisky
RBs: Devin Singletary, Zack Moss, Matt Breida, Taiwan Jones
WRs: Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasley, Gabriel Davis, Isaiah McKenzie, Emmanuel Sanders, Jake Kumerow
TEs: Dawson Knox, Tommy Sweeney
Carolina PanthersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 December 2020
As ESPN.com's David Newton reminded readers, a big reason quarterback Teddy Bridgewater chose the Panthers in free agency was the chance to play with running back Christian McCaffrey.
With McCaffrey, a solid left tackle in Russell Okung and potentially a big-time playmaker at tight end in Ian Thomas, the former New Orleans Saints backup felt he could do big things.
It hasn't worked out that way.
Sunday's 32-27 loss to the Denver Broncos was yet another example of how tough it is to give a fair evaluation of Bridgewater this season.
McCaffrey was out for the 10th time in 11 games, this time with a quad injury he suffered during the bye week and aggravated in Wednesday's practice. Okung made only his sixth start because of injuries and showed some rust.
Thomas hasn't lived up to expectations all season.
That left Bridgewater and the offense a mere shell of what offensive coordinator Joe Brady envisioned when he took over after coaching LSU to a national title after spending two seasons with the Saints, including one with Bridgewater.
It didn't help in this one that Bridgewater didn't have wide receiver D.J. Moore, who is on the NFL's reserve/COVID-19 list, and had to practice most of the week without Moore or Curtis Samuel.
Bridgewater didn't help his cause with three first-half sacks in which he held the ball way too long. He also took a delay-of-game penalty inside the 10 with less than six minutes remaining.
Bottom line: Bridgewater has proved he can't carry the team without all the pieces in place. The Panthers owe it to him in the offseason to get McCaffrey healthy, sign or draft a big-time tight end and solidify the left tackle spot in free agency or the draft.
Okung at 32 probably isn't worth a new deal despite his leadership. He left Sunday's game in the second half with a calf injury.
That doesn't necessarily mean using a top-10 draft pick -- one that the Panthers (4-9) almost assuredly will have -- on a tackle. Carolina is closing in on having a chance at one of the top three quarterbacks, something it can't afford to pass on with uncertainty around Bridgewater's long-term future.
Bridgewater would be ideal to groom a player behind, and if he proves to be the "franchise quarterback" that Brady recently called him, then that's a bonus.
But to judge whether Bridgewater can be the franchise quarterback without all the pieces around him in the final three games would be unfair to him and the organization.
As for McCaffrey's availability for Saturday's game against the Packers?
Head coach Matt Rhule told reporters on Tuesday that he does not expect McCaffrey to play in Saturday's game against the Packers. Rhule did leave the door open to things playing out differently if McCaffrey can do more than expected at Wednesday's practice.
McCaffrey did not practice Wednesday.
McCaffrey is dealing with a quad injury to go with ankle and shoulder injuries on the list of reasons why the Panthers' top offensive player has had what amounts to a lost season.
On a more positive note, Moore was activated off COVID reserve Wednesday.
So expect Moore back and McCaffrey to miss another game, but I'll have more on both players via Late-Breaking Update heading into the weekend. ...
But make no mistake: Rhule and McCaffrey are both planning for him to play again this season. ...
Meanwhile, Bridgewater had 283 yards on 30-of-40 passing. He also rushed for 31 yards and a touchdown. Bridgewater now has 239 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns in 2020, both career highs.
Running back Mike Davis scored two rushing touchdowns, marking just the second time in his career (2018, Week 4) that he's scored multiple touchdowns in a game. Davis finished with 93 scrimmage yards (51 rushing, 42 receiving) on 16 touches. ...
With Moore out, Robby Anderson 55 snaps (85 percent), Samuel 51, Pharoh Cooper 38, Brandon Zylstra 25 and Marken Michel 3 all saw playing time.
Anderson had a game-high 84 yards on eight catches (with 12 targets). He surpassed his previous season-high of 941 receiving yards (set in 2017) and now has 996 yards on the season, ranking ninth in the NFL. Cooper had a career-high 52 yards on three receptions, including a 32-yard catch and run that was Carolina's longest play of the game.
Samuel caught seven passes for 68 yards on nine targets and added 22 yards on two carries. Should Moore miss another week, ESPN's Mike Clay contends Anderson and Samuel should be locked into most lineups, but the team's other wideouts, as well as TE Ian Thomas, can be left on waivers.
One last note here. ... Carolina is waiving Kosovo-born practice-squad kicker Lirim Hajrullahu because of an issue with his work visa, NFL Network's Tom Pelissero reported.
QBs: Sam Darnold, Phillip Walker
RBs: Christian McCaffrey, Chuba Hubbard, Royce Freeman
WRs: D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson, Terrace Marshall Jr., Brandon Zylstra, Shi Smith
TEs: Dan Arnold, Ian Thomas, Colin Thompson, Tommy Tremble
Chicago BearsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 December 2020
As Profootballtalk.com's Michael David Smith put it, "For one day, at least, Mitchell Trubisky was better than Deshaun Watson."
Trubisky, whom the Bears selected in the 2017 NFL draft, 10 picks before the Texans selected Watson, played very well in a 36-7 win over the Texans. Trubisky completed 24 of 33 passes for 267 yards, with three touchdowns and no interceptions. It was one of his best games as a Bear.
Watson had an ugly game in a disastrous performance for Houston. His numbers don't look terrible -- 21-of-30 for 220 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions -- but a lot of those yards came in garbage time, and he was also sacked six times.
The win improves the Bears' record on the season to 6-7 and allows them to cling to their slim playoff hopes.
Remember, the Bears' offense had quietly built momentum the past two weeks -- developments overshadowed by catastrophic losses to Green Bay and Detroit -- but it all clicked versus the Texans.
More specifically, since retaking the starting spot from Nick Foles, Trubisky has benefitted from a more balanced offense. According to Nathan Smith of ChicagoBears.com, this does not seem to be a coincidence. The Bears have rushed for over 100 yards in each of Trubisky's six starts while failing to reach that number in all seven starts by Foles.
Nagy believes the fourth-year quarterback's progress has been apparent since he took over after the Bears' bye week.
"I go back to that Green Bay game," said Nagy. "We got behind really early. He was doing it then. I thought last week he played a really good game, with decision-making, making plays. He's in a good place right now. He's executing what we're asking him to do. I appreciate that about him."
After David Montgomery scored an 80-yard touchdown on the Bears' first offensive play, Trubisky completed his first eight passes, culminating in a five-yard touchdown to tight end Jimmy Graham. Trubisky said he was not conscious of his completion streak while it was happening.
"I think 'dialed in' would be a good word for it because I don't even necessarily remember that," said Trubisky. "Today, my goal was to go out there and be present and just play each play as its own entity and whatever happens, happens, and then the next play it's a next-play mentality."
Trubisky continued his reliable connection to receiver Allen Robinson, who caught nine passes for 123 yards and a touchdown.
After the game, Robinson credited his success with Trubisky to "over communication."
"That's where we're taking it to the next level," said Robinson, "and for us to do that all across the board, offense, defense, or whatever, it has to be that level of detail, that level of attention to be able to finish how we want to finish."
The Texans rank near the bottom of the league in defense, but Trubisky's performance still carries meaning. The Bears have played plenty of leaky defenses over the past two seasons, but Sunday marked their first double-digit win since Week 4 of 2019 against the Minnesota Vikings, a game in which Trubisky barely played due to injury.
One week after the team seemed to fall apart against the Lions, all three phases of the game improved. While Trubisky felt the team could have finished stronger, he was pleased with the team's direction.
"I thought we could've locked in a little more in the second half," said Trubisky, "and finished some more drives off with touchdowns instead of field goals, but that's something to build off this week. The way we're working in practice right now, our mindset of these guys, just the way they're coming to work, they deserve this win today."
Big picture, not much changes.
The Bears remain without an NFC wild-card spot with three games left to play, although Minnesota's loss to Tampa helps.
More importantly, the front office's decision to pass over Watson and Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes in favor of Trubisky in the 2017 NFL draft is the kind of epic blunder that carries long-lasting consequences -- and none of them good for the Bears.
As ESPN.com's Jeff Dickerson suggests, "A win over the soon-to-be-rebuilding Texans hardly softens the blow.
"The blowout also is unlikely to prevent the inevitable shakeup that looms in January. ..."
Next up, the Bears visit Minnesota Sunday. ...
One last Trubisky-related item here. ... According to Rotoworld.com, he's the ninth highest scoring quarterback in fantasy football over the past three weeks.
He's ninth in passing yardage (776) and -- most importantly -- second in passing touchdowns (7) over that span. Only Aaron Rodgers has thrown more touchdowns over the past three weeks. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Montgomery's career-long 80-yard touchdown run on the Bears' first play from scrimmage was the team's longest rush since Neal Anderson's 80-yard TD Nov. 27, 1988 in a 16-0 win over the Packers at Soldier Field.
"Really, it had nothing to do with me, to be honest with you," Montgomery said. "You probably could run through that hole and run the 80 yards. Just being able to have that line move and push the way they did and create that amazing hole, it's crazy. I just saw it and hit it. I had Robinson blocking on the outside. If it hadn't been for him, I probably would have gotten caught."
Montgomery rushed for 106 of his season-high 113 yards in the first half, becoming the first Bears running back to top 100 yards in the first half since Matt Forte had 105 of his 141 yards in the first half Sept. 13, 2015 in a loss to the Packers.
In three games since missing one contest with a concussion, Montgomery has rushed for 288 yards and three touchdowns on 39 carries, a stellar 7.38-yard average. He has now topped 100 yards in two of his last three games and in four contests overall in two seasons. ...
Robinson continues to push ahead with an expiring contract. With a 35-yard catch in the third quarter, he eclipsed 1,000 yards for the second straight season. He becomes the fifth receiver in franchise history to accomplish that feat in back-to-back years, joining Curtis Conway (1994-95), Marty Booker (2001-02), Brandon Marshall (2012-13) and Alshon Jeffery (2013-14).
Robinson has had a reception of at least 20 yards in 11 straight games, the longest stretch by a Bears player since Jeff Graham in 1995.
Robinson could test free agency, unless the Bears apply the franchise tag, after the two sides failed earlier in the season to reach an agreement on a multiyear deal. ...
Darnell Mooney played 75 percent of the offensive snaps and caught a touchdown against the Texans on Sunday. That's the good news. According to ESPN's Mike Clay, the bad news is Mooney was targeted only twice and was limited to 22 yards in a game in which the Bears won by 29 points and Trubisky attempted 33 passes.
Mooney has been a starter opposite Robinson for most of the season, but it simply hasn't led to much fantasy production. He hit for a touchdown back in Week 8 but followed with 123 yards on 28 targets during his next four games leading into Week 14.
Clay summed up, "Mooney is an intriguing dynasty stash, but Sunday's score isn't enough to vault him into flex consideration. ..."
And finally. ... Make that 18 consecutive field goals made by veteran kicker Cairo Santos, who undoubtedly has secured a semi-permanent home in Chicago. The last Bears kicker to convert 18 consecutive field goal attempts was Robbie Gould back in 2006 -- the year the Bears reached Super Bowl XLI.
QBs: Justin Fields, Nick Foles, Andy Dalton
RBs: David Montgomery, Damien Williams, Khalil Herbert, Tarik Cohen
WRs: Allen Robinson, Darnell Mooney, Damiere Byrd, Marquise Goodwin, Breshad Perriman
TEs: Cole Kmet, Jimmy Graham, Jesse James, J.P. Holtz, Jesper Horsted
Cincinnati BengalsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 December 2020
According to ESPN.com's Ben Baby, the Bengals were in a game on Sunday that felt a little too familiar.
In many key categories, the Bengals outperformed the Dallas Cowboys at Paul Brown Stadium. It should have been enough to allow Cincinnati to snap its losing streak. Instead, the Cowboys won 30-7, handing the Bengals their fifth straight defeat.
Under second-year head coach Zac Taylor, the Bengals have been in a few games that they arguably should have won, including Taylor's debut in 2019 in a road loss at Seattle. At the time, the performance indicated there could be good things to come for the Bengals under the young but unproven coach.
Instead, the Bengals have four wins over their past two seasons and likely squandered their last chance at a victory in the 2020 season.
It should be noted it's difficult to fault Taylor for how the Bengals (2-10-1) lost Sunday.
Cincinnati was playing with backup quarterback Brandon Allen, who has been the starter since Joe Burrow was hurt in Week 11 against Washington.
Even with Allen, the offense moved the ball well early against a bad Dallas defense. But Cincinnati fumbled on its first three possessions, with two of them coming inside Dallas' 20-yard line.
The loss puts the Bengals in the driver's seat for the No. 3 pick in the 2021 NFL draft. And while it's unclear if Taylor is in serious jeopardy of losing his job after this season, Sunday's loss is a reminder of Cincinnati's inability to win games it probably should have over the past couple of years.
The word Taylor used most in an interview after the game was "frustrating."
Asked if he was worried about his job security, he said: "No, I just want to win a football game. ..."
As if their luck couldn't get any worse this season, the Bengals might be down another quarterback.
Allen limped off the field with a problem with his right knee late in Sunday's game.
Burrow, the Heisman Trophy winner who led LSU to the national title and then was the top overall pick in the draft, showed the potential to right the ship in Cincinnati before he tore up his left knee. Allen, who hadn't played in an NFL game in a year, has looked progressively better in the three games he's started, but the Bengals (2-10-1) have lost them all.
Ryan Finley, the other backup, relieved Allen against the Cowboys. He was sacked on two of the first three plays and couldn't move the chains. If Allen is unable to go on Monday night against the Steelers -- in prime time, no less -- it will likely be Finley called on to face one of the league's best defenses.
After the game, Allen said he thinks the injury is a bruise but couldn't predict if he'd be ready for the Pittsburgh game.
"I tried to stay out there and walk it off," he said.
The Bengals have journeyman Kevin Hogan on the practice squad, and it stands to reason that he could get a chance, too, if Allen is sidelined.
Cincinnati has had bad injury luck all season, especially with its offensive line. The issues on the offensive line might explain why the Bengals did not ask Allen to throw the ball downfield often. Of Allen's 36 pass attempts, 31 of them were for 10 air yards or less, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. On passes longer than that, Allen was 2-of-5 passing for 32 yards.
Whatever the case, a season that started with hope for a better finish than last year's 2-14 finish has gotten increasingly worse as it wore on.
To make matters worse, the starting quarterback for the Cowboys was Andy Dalton, Cincinnati's longtime QB who was released after Burrow was drafted.
"That's the type of year we're having -- like nothing is going our way," veteran receiver A.J. Green said.
And what about Green?
The Bengals used their franchise tag to Green around for 2020, paying him just under $18 million. While he's played all 13 games this season, his production has taken a big dip.
After missing the entire 2019 season with an ankle injury, Green has caught just 41 passes for 419 yards with two touchdowns. In three of Cincinnati's last five games, Green has played the majority of offensive snaps and not received a target.
But Green did look a little more like the wide receiver he was in his prime on Sunday. He caught six passes for 62 yards with a touchdown in the Cincinnati's 30-7 loss to Dallas.
A pending free agent in March, Green was non-committal when addressing his future following Sunday's game.
"I love my time here," Green said, via Baby. "Who knows what is going to happen? I will be ready for anything and be excited to get back to playing football whether it is here or somewhere else.
"My wife, my family, my boys, we are going to sit down and make the best decision that is going to be best for my career," Green added. "Right now, we don't know what that looks like right now but we prepare for anything."
Green's year has been especially frustrating. During a Week 5 loss to Baltimore, TV cameras appeared to catch Green talking about a potential trade.
Green is on pace to finish the season with his fewest targets by a wide margin. And when the Bengals do throw him the ball, his 46.6 percent catch rate is also a career low.
Green will be 33 next season, and it seems like it might be better for both sides if he finds a better fit in free agency for 2021. ...
As Bengals.com's Geoff Hobson noted, Giovani Bernard, making his seventh straight start in place of the injured Joe Mixon, is the gold standard of ball security. When he lined up for the second play of the game, he had the NFL's longest active streak without a fumble on 829 carries, the longest ever by a Bengal since they've kept the stat for the past 30 seasons.
But when he found the going tough up the middle, Bernard bounced it to the right and he never saw defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence coming from right straight behind him clawing at the ball and producing Bernard's first fumble since his rookie year eight seasons ago.
Taylor promptly replaced him with Trayveon Williams and his six career NFL carries and Bernard wasn't seen against until the first series of the second half. He finished with just three carries for eight yards while Williams went for a career-high 12 carries and 49 yards, but he also fumbled, opening the door for Samaje Perine to add 32 yards on 10 carries although Williams didn't get the kind of extended time on the bench Bernard did.
The Bengals finished with just 3.4 yards per carry on a day they hoped to make hay against the NFL's worst run defense allowing 5.2 per.
Taylor said he was looking to do it with back by committee and didn't single out Bernard after his fewest carries since Mixon's been out.
"We were planning on rotating the running backs before the game," Taylor said. "That wasn't necessarily a problem. Gio is great with his ball security over the course of his career. Our plan was to rotate through all three of those backs."
Remember, Mixon is eligible to come off injured reserve at any point. But he'll likely have to practice to hit the field next Monday. If Mixon remains out, it'll be difficult to rely on any of the remaining three backs.
Defensive tackle Geno Atkins‘ season is over. Atkins has been placed on injured reserve with a shoulder injury. With only three games left this season, that means he’s done for 2020.
QBs: Joe Burrow, Brandon Allen
RBs: Joe Mixon, Samaje Perine, Chris Evans
WRs: Ja'Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd, Auden Tate, Stanley Morgan Jr., Mike Thomas
TEs: C.J. Uzomah, Drew Sample
Cleveland BrownsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 December 2020
The Browns fell 47-42 to the Baltimore Ravens on Monday night despite a three-touchdown performance in the fourth quarter and a comeback from a 14-point deficit in the second half. Cleveland came back twice in the fourth quarter and was on the verge of a win that would've made the Browns near locks for the playoffs.
It snapped the Browns' four-game winning streak and signaled the end of one of the most chaotic games in the history of the Browns-Ravens rivalry.
Cleveland had plenty of positives to take with them, but the result was the only thing Browns players and coaches were thinking after the game.
"We came here to get a victory, and we did not," head coach Kevin Stefanski said. "Very hard-fought game on both sides. I appreciate how the guys battled, but we just did not do enough to get a win. I do not want to go down the moral victories [path]. We lost. We got beat."
The excitement started after two-and-a-half quarters of frustration. Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson used his legs to run through the Browns defense for two touchdowns in the first half. By the halfway point of the third quarter, he had already rushed for more than 100 yards and rarely needed to throw the ball to advance the Ravens offense.
Meanwhile, the Browns' offense was struggling to keep up. Two touchdowns from running back Nick Chubb in the first half kept them within striking distance, but plenty of improvements needed to be made if they were going to match the Ravens on the scoreboard.
Stefanski, though, knew what to do. Or, what not to do: Panic.
He stuck to his plan even though quarterback Baker Mayfield broke a streak of 187 consecutive passes without an interception -- the fourth-longest streak ever by a Browns quarterback -- and continued to let Mayfield find open targets and for Chubb and Kareem Hunt to find rushing lanes.
It worked. The Browns got within a touchdown of the lead when Mayfield found receiver Rashard Higgins alone in the end zone at the beginning of the fourth quarter. On the next drive, Mayfield boosted the Browns by himself with a 5-yard scramble that ended with a smooth end-zone slide, a throw of the football into the back wall and a celebratory yell into the dark Cleveland sky.
"We never lost our belief in the fact that we had a chance to win that game," he said. "Even down two scores, just continuing to fight and fighting for each other."
The next six minutes of football included 20 points, the fifth lead change of the game and the return of Jackson, who exited late in the third quarter due to cramps. He arrived just when backup quarterback Trace McSorley, who made his NFL debut two weeks ago, limped off the field. On his first play back, he threw a 44-yard, fourth-down touchdown to put the Ravens ahead.
"The man is dynamic," defensive end Myles Garrett said. "That is what he has been doing all year and his whole career."
Then, the Browns struck back. Mayfield orchestrated a four-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a pass to Hunt in the end zone. From that point on, however, the fate of the game was out of the offense's hands. The score was still tied, and lots of work was left to seal a win.
With 64 seconds left, Jackson took the Ravens 38-yards downfield again with a series of short passes. That set Tucker up for his field goal. Then, all the positives of the last 59 minutes and 58 seconds were washed away.
"We were trying to keep him out of that range, and they made a couple of nice plays there," Stefanski said. "We just have to do better."
The Browns know they must move on. That'll be easier to do with their next game, a Sunday night showdown in New York against the Giants, only six days away.
Short weeks normally aren't warmly welcomed in the NFL.
But the Browns?
After Monday night, they'll take it.
"We have a short week to where we have to be focused," Mayfield said. "We have to come out there on Sunday to get that taste out of our mouths and move forward. That is the most important part."
The Browns don't want to think about the 343 passing yards from Mayfield against the top-ranked defense in the NFL. They don't want to want to think yet about their four rushing touchdowns, which contributed to nine total rushing touchdowns in the game -- the only other two times that happened was in 1922. They don't want to think about how they came back from two late deficits.
That's fine. They don't have to. This loss packed an especially painful sting.
So they're looking ahead, just like they did in their three previous losses this season. They've never had back-to-back losses all season, and they're triggering that same approach again with the playoffs still in sight.
The disbelief they felt in the final seconds won't linger. It's time to move on.
"We will own this," Stefanski said, "and we will move on and put all of our efforts into next week."
As Profootballtalk.com noted, the bad news for the Browns is they lost a heartbreaker to the division rival Ravens on Monday night. The good news for the Browns is they're still right on track to make the playoffs for the first time since 2002. The 9-4 Browns still lead the wild card pack in the AFC playoff picture, and their schedule the rest of the way is favorable.
On Sunday night, the Browns face the Giants. Cleveland is a 3.5-point favorite. The next week, the Browns play the Jets, the worst team in the NFL, and will be heavily favored. And in the final week of the season, the Browns face a Steelers team that might be resting its starters: Pittsburgh may have clinched the AFC North but may also have already lost home-field advantage to Kansas City, in which case the Steelers would have nothing to play for.
The Browns likely only need to win two of those three games to make the playoffs. Cleveland should still be in the postseason, despite last night's loss. ...
Other notes of interest. ... As ESPN.com's Jake Trotter points out, since Week 7, Mayfield has quietly been one of the league's better QBs, and Monday was more of the same. Mayfield's interception gave Baltimore the two-score lead, but then he was essentially unstoppable in the fourth quarter.
The backbone of this Browns offense is its running game, but Mayfield showed for the second consecutive week that he can square off against quality opponents through the air.
According to NFL.com, there was some puzzlement in Chubb getting just 17 carries. Nonetheless, 17 carries for 82 yards and two touchdowns is still a nice night's worth of work. In addition, Hunt had 33 yards and a touchdown on the ground along with team-highs of six catches for 77 yards to go with a TD reception.
The Browns didn't bowl over the Ravens in this matchup of the league's top-two rushing attacks, but they still provided ample evidence of just how talented this backfield duo of Chubb and Hunt is. Maybe Cleveland should've leaned more on the running game, but it's hard to argue the Browns offense wasn't successful on this night as it changed its approach a bit.
Chubb played 44 snaps while Hunt had 39.
By the way, Hunt's five receiving touchdowns this season leads all NFL running backs.
Jarvis Landry played, by far, his most plays of the season, logging 76 snaps. Rookie Donovan Peoples-Jones was on the field for 58.
With Austin Hooper out due to a neck injury, David Njoku played 51 snaps.
Meanwhile, Higgins pulled in six passes for 68 yards and the above-mentioned touchdown on 10 targets.
As ESPN's Mike Clay notes, the big game comes one week after Higgins came through with a 6-95-1 line on nine targets against Tennessee. The 26-year-old and de facto Odell Beckham Jr. replacement played on 84 percent of the snaps on Monday, which is the second-highest rate of his career (behind only his 86 percent in Week 7). Higgins' Week 12 dud against Jacksonville (1-15-0) was discouraging, but Clay notes he has 65-plus yards in three of his past four games -- and, excluding the heavy-wind games against Las Vegas and Houston, in four of his past five.
Believe it or not, the Browns sit third in the NFL in offensive touchdowns per game (3.55) if we don't include the aforementioned "heavy wind" games. Clay summed up: "Higgins' usage and Cleveland's offensive success is enough to put the receiver in the flex discussion, even in a tough matchup against the Giants in Week 15."
To that point, this was the seventh game this season the Browns have topped 30 points, their most since 1968.
Finally. ... There’s good news and bad news on the injury front for the Browns.
Stefanski said cornerback Denzel Ward (calf) and Hooper would return to practice on Wednesday. But right guard Wyatt Teller (ankle) will not be on the field.
Hooper appeared on Cleveland’s injury report last week when he didn’t practice Friday and Saturday. He was questionable for Monday’s game, but didn’t play. In his first season with the Browns, Hooper has 30 receptions for 286 yards with two touchdowns in 10 games.
QBs: Baker Mayfield, Case Keenum
RBs: Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, Demetric Felton, D'Ernest Johnson
WRs: Odell Beckham, Donovan Peoples-Jones, Anthony Schwartz, Rashard Higgins, Jarvis Landry
TEs: Austin Hooper, David Njoku, Harrison Bryant
Dallas CowboysCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 December 2020
As ESPN.com's Todd Archer suggests, we should forgive the Dallas Cowboys for feeling good Sunday. Forgive their dousing of quarterback Andy Dalton with water after he threw two touchdown passes in the 30-7 win against his former team, the Cincinnati Bengals. Forgive them for thinking they might still have a chance at making the playoffs.
As much as some fans and critics might want the Cowboys to lose to preserve the best possible 2021 NFL draft position, they want to win every time they play.
They want the feelings they had in the locker room Sunday.
"At the end of the day we won the football game," running back Ezekiel Elliott said, "and those have been hard to come by this year."
It was a good Sunday for the Cowboys, considering it was their fourth win in 13 games, but it was not as good as perhaps they needed.
In a normal season, Dallas would be out of the playoffs by now, but with this being 2020, it isn't a normal season. The New York Giants' Week 14 loss to the Arizona Cardinals helped the Cowboys, but the Philadelphia Eagles (4-8-1) surprised the New Orleans Saints and the Washington Football Team (6-7) held on against the San Francisco 49ers.
Whether the Cowboys pull off an improbable finish to win the NFC East and host a playoff game, head coach Mike McCarthy still understands the value of a team winning its games at the end of a season.
The Cowboys have not been able to overcome injuries -- roughly $60 million of their 2020 salary cap is on the shelf -- play clean offensively or make stops defensively, which is why they are 4-9 with three games to play.
While a lot of the talk around the Cowboys after their disheartening loss to the Baltimore Ravens was about a lack of effort, especially after allowing 294 yards rushing, McCarthy kept coming back to former Cowboys coach Jason Garrett's maxim: Finish.
It was a tacit acknowledgement, at least, that he wasn't pleased with his players, but it was also a way to discuss the finish to the season.
The Cowboys' final four games do not feature a team with a winning record, but McCarthy believes winning begets winning, even if the calendar changes over to a new year. ...
Meanwhile, the win brings some positives heading into Sunday's game against the 49ers in Dallas. ...
Dalton kept his composure during a solid performance in which he completed 16 of 23 passes for 185 yards with the pair of scores. He efficiently distributed the ball to seven different pass catchers while avoiding a major mistake against an overmatched Bengals' defense. With the Cowboys' defense playing well, the "play it safe" approach helped his squad earn their fourth win of the season.
Tony Pollard continues to shine as a playmaker The second-year pro has started to produce a big play a week as a dynamic runner-returner for the Cowboys. Pollard popped a 60-yard kick return in the third quarter to set up a field goal. It is his third 60-plus yard kick return of the season and his second one in the past two games. With the Cowboys in desperate need of explosive plays to spark an inconsistent offense, Pollard's spectacular return helped put some points on the board to start the second half.
It should be noted, most of the touches Pollard got came late with Dallas up by multiple touchdowns over the Bengals. As ESPN's Mike Clay notes, Elliott still out-snapped Pollard 31 to 19 in the win. Elliott will be in the RB2 mix in a tough matchup against the 49ers in Week 15, whereas Pollard should remain on benches.
Dalton Schultz is quietly becoming a key part of the passing game. The third-year pro is the team's third-leading receiver (48 catches) as a designated chain mover. Schultz is a natural post-up player with the size, length, and athleticism to win against man coverage while also flashing instincts and awareness to identify and exploit voids against zone. As the Stanford product becomes more effective as a blocker, the Cowboys could have a dangerous 1-2 punch at the position in 2021 when Blake Jarwin returns.
Amari Cooper appears to be gaining momentum. The star wideout has a touchdown catch in three straight games. His 11-yard score against the Bengals came on a perfectly thrown slant low to the ground by Dalton in the second quarter to cap an 88-yard drive. It was the most efficient drive the Cowboys have had without Dak Prescott, including three third-down conversion. Cooper's three-game touchdown streak matches the longest of his career. He had a touchdown in the first three games of the 2019 season as well.
Greg Zuerlein is back on track. The veteran kicker bounced back from a disappointing effort against the Ravens to post a perfect score against the Bengals. Zuerlein nailed each of his field-goal attempts (3 of 3) and extra points (3 of 3) while displaying the poise and composure needed to make pressure kicks. The solid performance should boost the veteran's confidence and give the Cowboys a chance to make a run at the division title.
Then there are the obvious and still-outstanding issues.
McCarthy and Kellen Moore must fix the Cowboys' red zone woes. The field goal parade didn't hurt the team against the Bengals but it could impact their ability to make a playoff push with points coveted at a premium in their upcoming "win or go home" games.
And Elliott is still looking to get on track.
He carried the ball 12 times for 48 yards in Week 14 against the Bengals. He added two receptions for 11 yards.
In addition to the limited volume, Elliot was largely held under wraps and logged just two rushes of five or more yards. Elliot was a limited participant in practice throughout the week due to a calf injury, which may have encouraged the Cowboys to limit his workload in a game they controlled.
Elliott was slated to be a limited participant Wednesday. McCarthy believes the ailment did not worsen in Sunday's win against the Bengals. "We'll just watch him. ... And see how he responds in the morning," McCarthy added.
Monitoring Elliot's practice participation leading into the team's Week 15 matchup against the 49ers could offer some insight into his expected workload for that contest. Watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for more. ...
And finally. ... McCarthy will be the Dallas Cowboys' coach in 2021.
Speaking on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas, executive vice president Stephen Jones on Monday put to rest any speculation that the Cowboys could be looking to move on from McCarthy after just one year on the job
"There will be absolutely no change with coach Mike McCarthy," Jones said, also noting he was surprised it would even be thought of as a possibility, given the circumstances around 2020 involving the coronavirus pandemic and the number of injuries the Cowboys have suffered.
Jones added, "If you look at his track record and pedigree, he's consistently won year in and year out and we have the utmost confidence that this ship is going to be righted quickly. And Mike's going to be the leader of this group and he's certainly a great head coach. I think we're going to see that going forward, that he's a great head coach in this league. He's accomplished a lot and he's going to accomplish a lot more before it's all said and done."
McCarthy signed a five-year deal as the Cowboys' ninth head coach in January. In his last 41 games, however, he has a 15-25-1 record, including his final 28 games with the Green Bay Packers. In nine of his 13 seasons, the Packers made the playoffs with one Super Bowl victory and four NFC Championship Game appearances.
In specifying Cowboys won't make change "with Mike McCarthy," Jones didn't rule out other staff changes.
QBs: Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush, Will Grier
RBs: Ezekiel Elliott, Tony Pollard, Corey Clement
WRs: Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, Cedrick Wilson, Noah Brown, Simi Fehoko, Michael Gallup
TEs: Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz
Denver BroncosCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 December 2020
According to ESPN.com's Jeff Legwold, in Denver, it's about progress, the step-by-step and handling the simple things for Drew Lock and the Broncos' offense before the other things come. To that end Lock handled business nicely Sunday, the Broncos got some quality work from running back Melvin Gordon and they carved out a tidy 32-27 win over the Carolina Panthers as playing the percentages early led to big plays for Lock later in the day.
And when Lock handles his business, the Broncos' offense will follow suit.
With a defense that's capable of overcoming hurdles, it can be a recipe for something beyond frustration for the Broncos (5-8) the rest of the way.
Lock showed some patience and that he can make better decisions and take better care of the football. Lock finished 21-of-27 passing for 280 yards with four touchdowns, two of those to rookie K.J. Hamler, and no interceptions.
It was his first no-interception day in a full game since the season opener. He did lose a fumble on a sack in the first quarter, a play that led the Panthers' first touchdown, but composure was his word of the day.
And with the Broncos' current depth chart filled with backups, reserves and late arrivals all over the field composure will work just fine and is something the Broncos have needed since Lock returned from his shoulder injury in Week 5.
If he can continue to show that composure, that could improve his outlook for 2021.
Meanwhile, when the Broncos selected Hamler with the 46th pick in the NFL draft in April -- 31 picks after selecting wide receiver Jerry Jeudy -- it raised more than a few eyebrows.
On Sunday, Hamler flashed the kind of impact the Broncos hoped for, dreamed of and bet on eight months ago. Both of Hamler's catches went for touchdowns, and both were on plays of at least 37 yards. The Broncos appear to have a pair of 21-year-old building blocks at wide receiver in Jeudy and Hamler.
"We hit some big plays, threw some touchdown passes, really good to see, spread the ball around. Nice to see K.J. come up with some big plays. We can add that to our offense," head coach Vic Fangio said. "Big time, that's why we drafted him. He's fast, he can stretch [the field], he's tough to cover 1-on-1, and we're hoping it's the start. ... He's been coming around, but we're hoping to see more and more of that."
Hamler's two touchdowns, both in the second half, went for a combined 86 yards, and he jumped to second on the team in touchdown receptions this season, with three. His 49-yard touchdown with 3 minutes, 54 seconds left in the game was the Broncos' longest scoring pass of the season.
That score came on a play designed to Lock the option of throwing to Jeudy on a crossing route or, if one of the Panthers' safeties moved up to chase Jeudy, going to Hamler headed to the post past Carolina cornerback Rasul Douglas. Throughout the week in practice, the ball always went to Jeudy.
"I didn't really believe it was in the air because we hadn't thrown it in practice all week, and I was like 'Oh my gosh, I've got to make a play,'" Hamler said.
With Denver holding a five-point lead, that touchdown came on a first-and-10 with Carolina lined up defensively as if it believed the Broncos were simply going to run some clock.
"An awesome call. They're expecting run," Lock said.
Lock finished with 13 completions to his tight ends and running backs -- 72 percent of his completions in the game -- a sign that he's learning to not force the ball down the field. Lock's two biggest plays went to Hamler, who now has two of the Broncos' four scoring passes of more than 30 yards this season.
Sunday was a nice bounce-back game for Hamler, who last week missed a leaping grab that would have kept a Broncos drive alive with the team trailing the Kansas City Chiefs by three points with just more than six minutes to play.
"To me, K.C., like, ate me up for a little bit," Hamler said. "I dropped that ball in the middle. I took it very hard. A lot of my teammates knew I felt like that game was on me. ... I didn't want to drop that ball again."
Hamstring injuries slowed Hamler's start to the season, and when November rolled around, he had been targeted just 15 times and had eight catches.
The team will likely need some big-play ability when the Buffalo Bills hit Denver for a Saturday game this weekend. ...
They'll also likely need kicker Brandon McManus, who entered the day 22-of-24 on field goal attempts this season and 19-of-20 on extra points, to get back on point. McManus he missed two extra points. And on another kind of day that could have been a far bigger deal than it turned out to be.
McManus showed some third-person contrition after the game, tweeting, "Brandon McManus sucked today."
McManus did convert his two other extra points and put all six of his kickoffs in the end zone, five of which went for touchbacks -- so it wasn't all bad. But McManus had missed only one extra point all year and has never missed more than one in a season dating back to 2014, making it an uncharacteristic day.
Usually all is well that ends well, so it's probably a little easier for McManus to say he sucked on social media since his team won. ...
Of some concern?
McManus announced on Monday he was going on the reserve/COVID-19 list because of a close contact outside the building. He still plans on playing Saturday.
Left tackle Garett Bolles was declared inactive before the game after he came down with an illness Sunday morning, and tight end Noah Fant left in the first quarter when he became sick and did not return.
"We think it's just a stomach thing," Fangio said.
Fangio said Bolles and Fant were tested for COVID-19 and the rapid tests came back negative.
Both players remained behind in Charlotte overnight, tested negative and returned to Denver on a private flight Monday.
Neither of them would have practiced Tuesday, according to the team's estimated practice report.
The Broncos did not practice Tuesday ahead of Saturday's game against the Bills, but they released an estimated practice report.
Fangio said Monday he was "optimistic" that both players could play Saturday against the Bills.
Gordon (shoulder) was estimated as a non-participant, as well.
Jeudy (ankle) and running back Phillip Lindsay (hip) were estimated to be limited participants.
Both were limited again Thursday with Gordon joining them in that designation.
I'll be following up on McManus, Jeudy, Lindsay and Fant via Late-Breaking Update as we head into the weekend. ...
With Fant out, Troy Fumagalli caught 4-of-5 targets for 53 yards. ...
AFC Special Teams Player of the Week went to Broncos punt returner Diontae Spencer. Spencer's dramatics played a huge role in Denver's win as he turned in an 83-yard punt return for a touchdown. ...
And finally. ... Gordon's driving under the influence case has been continued to Jan. 14, so Gordon will be available to play in the Broncos' final three games.
Gordon, who could still face league discipline in the 2021 season, was arrested Oct. 13 in downtown Denver for DUI and was also cited for speeding. Gordon appeared virtually Tuesday in Denver County Court and the case was continued until next month.
Gordon signed a two-year, $16 million deal with the Broncos during the offseason. He currently leads the team in carries (162), rushing yards (753) and rushing touchdowns (six).
QBs: Teddy Bridgewater, Drew Lock
RBs: Javonte Williams, Melvin Gordon, Mike Boone
WRs: Courtland Sutton, Tim Patrick, K.J. Hamler, Diontae Spencer, Jerry Jeudy
TEs: Noah Fant, Albert Okwuegbunam, Andrew Beck, Eric Saubert
Detroit LionsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 December 2020
As ESPN.com's Michael Rothstein reported it, Matthew Stafford grabbed his midsection. He went to the locker room. He came out. He tried to throw. It wasn't going to be good enough. That much was clear late Sunday, as Stafford kept warming up attempting to get loose.
The Detroit Lions know what the Stafford-less world is like offensively. The club lived it a season ago, when he missed the final eight games of the season with a back injury.
The Lions hoped an injury to knock him out of a game wouldn't happen again. Then, on Sunday, it did.
Stafford had already been playing with an injured right hand -- although he's had some of his best games of the season playing hurt -- but the rib injury he suffered late in Detroit's 31-24 loss to Green Bay was too much for him to play on.
Stafford has played through a lot in his career, but if he's out for any length of time, it completely alters an offense that seemed to finally find something in the last two weeks under interim head coach and still-offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. Against Chicago a week ago, Stafford took multiple deep shots in an improbable come-from-behind win over the Bears.
He wasn't as aggressive Sunday -- the Packers' defense didn't allow for that -- but he still moved the ball well, completing 24 of 34 passes for 244 yards and a touchdown. Bevell showed some creativity with him in, too, including calling another flea flicker that failed.
The Lions have been down a path without their quarterback before and they know what it looks like.
The Lions signed backup Chase Daniel in case of this scenario, but they obviously hoped Daniel would never have to play. And for the second time this season, Daniel entered in relief of an injured Stafford. Unlike against Minnesota, the rib injury he suffered on a fourth-quarter scramble was enough to keep him out even as he returned to the sideline and tried to test it out enough to go back in.
Detroit trailed by 10 points by the time the Lions had an option to go back on offense again. Daniel did an OK job managing the offense, but with a group already down receiver Kenny Golladay and right tackle Tyrell Crosby -- and playing with a banged-up Marvin Jones Jr. in the final two minutes -- it had no real chance for explosiveness.
Bevell didn't have any updates after the game. He said Stafford was still getting x-rays and the team would update his status on Monday.
On Monday, Bevell said, via Chris Burke of TheAthletic.com, that those X-rays were negative, but Stafford's status remains up in the air. ESPN's Jeremy Fowler chimed in Tuesday, reporting that Stafford suffered a rib cartilage injury. Team not overly optimistic he can play vs. the #Titans but are leaving open possibility since Stafford often toughs out injuries.
Fowler added the team is not overly optimistic Stafford can play against the Titans, but Bevell said that the team will "take it to the end of the week" before making any decision. They hold their first practice of the week on Wednesday.
"Stafford is as tough as they come," Bevell said after the game. "He's a huge competitor. I know he's going to want to be out there with his team, so it's going to have to be pretty drastic for him not to be in there."
Again, based on history, it does not bode well for the Lions to win any of their remaining games if Stafford misses any games. Since he came to the Lions as the first pick overall in the 2009 draft, backup quarterbacks are 5-23 as starters in place of Stafford. That includes going 0-6 in 2009 and 0-8 in 2019.
I'll have more on Stafford -- and perhaps on Golladay, who has missed the last six games with a hip injury and who did not practice Wednesday -- via Late-Breaking Update in coming days as the Lions prepare for Sunday's game against the Titans. ...
Other notes of interest. ... It isn't the prettiest stat-line for him -- four catches for 48 yards, although he lost out on a bunch of yards on an unbelievable non-catch that looked like an actual grab, but since Golladay has been out with a hip injury, Jones has been a valuable piece for Detroit heading into free agency.
In addition, T.J. Hockenson caught six of 11 targets for 43 yards and one touchdown.
With Detroit playing from behind most of the day, Hockenson was busy and saw a new season high in targets. The Packers didn't let him do much with those opportunities though, and Hockenson's touchdown came on a designed shovel pass from one yard out. As CBSSports.com suggests, while the potential absence of Stafford is not good news for the young tight end, a downgrade in quarterback play isn't the end of the world for a top-shelf talent like Hockenson against a Titans defense that has given up the fourth-most yards per target to tight ends (8.1) in 2020. ...
D'Andre Swift returned Sunday after missing nearly a month due to concussion symptoms and an illness. He gained 50 yards from scrimmage on 11 touches and showed off the versatility the Lions have missed from him the last three games. He showed patience allowing blockers to set up a 17-yard gain on a screen pass, and then toughness on a short touchdown run in the second quarter.
He's clearly Detroit's most explosive and versatile running back.
One area where the Lions' running game has improved is in scoring. With two more touchdowns Sunday -- one each by Swift and Kerryon Johnson -- the Lions have 13 for the season compared to seven for all of last year. However, the Lions have averaged only 90.3 rushing yards per game compared to 103.1 in 2019.
Also, the Lions have scored two rushing TDs in three straight games. ...
Frank Ragnow is one of just two Lions players who hasn’t missed a play this season. He’s played 872 offensive snaps overall, more than any other center in the league.
And he’s done it while playing through a fractured throat, Kyle Meinke of Mlive reports.
Ragnow suffered the injury early in Sunday’s loss against the Green Bay Packers, according to NFL Network. But he never left the game. He played all 68 offensive snaps -- and did so without allowing a sack, or a hit, or even so much as a quarterback hurry. ...
A few final notes here. ... With the loss, the Lions will now go three straight seasons without a winning record as the best the club can do is 8-8. The last time Detroit had a winning season was in 2017, when the Lions went 9-7 and fired Jim Caldwell, leading to the hiring of Matt Patricia.
And last. ... The Lions announced that they have signed quarterback Jordan Ta’amu. They also signed running back Jordan Scarlett and released running back Dalyn Dawkins and punter Arryn Siposs in other practice sqaud transactions.
Ta’amu signed with the Texans after going undrafted out of Ole Miss in 2019 and spent time in the XFL before signing with the Chiefs this offseason. He spent time on their practice squad and went on the COVID-19 reserve list after a positive test in October. He was released later that month.
QBs: Jared Goff, David Blough
RBs: D'Andre Swift, Jamaal Williams, Jermar Jefferson
WRs: Quintez Cephus, Kalif Raymond, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Trinity Benson, KhaDarel Hodge, Tyrell Williams
TEs: T.J. Hockenson, Darren Fells
Green Bay PackersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 December 2020
As ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky notes, when the Green Bay Packers clinched the division last season, they donned NFC North champions hats and T-shirts that said, "The North is not enough."
But as it turned out, that had to be enough as they headed into the playoffs, unable to secure the No. 1 seed.
They're now in position for more.
Sunday's 31-24 win over the Detroit Lions at Ford Field wrapped up the division title, and with three games to go, the Packers now are in position to secure the all-important top seed in the NFC thanks to the Philadelphia Eagles' win over the New Orleans Saints.
The Packers matched the Saints for the best record in the NFC at 10-3 but own the head-to-head tiebreaker thanks to their Week 3 win in New Orleans. What's more, the Saints have a date with the 12-1 Kansas City Chiefs while the Packers play another losing team, the Carolina Panthers (4-9), at Lambeau Field.
Without the No. 1 seed last year, the Packers won their divisional-round playoff against the Seattle Seahawks following the bye week they earned as the No. 2 seed, but then got rolled in the NFC title game at the San Francisco 49ers.
There's no bye for the No. 2 seed this year, and Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers badly wants an NFC Championship Game at Lambeau Field.
"I think it's important for sure to get that extra week of rest," Rodgers said, via the team's official website. "The big thing, though, and you guys know this: We've played in I believe four NFC Championship games. All four on the road.
"So being able to have the whole thing come through Green Bay is something that we've talked about for a long time and we've wanted and we've never had."
Remember, Rodgers has won only one: his first at Chicago following the 2010 season and on the way to winning Super Bowl XLV. Since then, he and the Packers have lost three times while on the Super Bowl doorstep -- at Seattle in the 2014 conference title game, at Atlanta in the 2016 game and last season at the 49ers.
Regardless of where they play, the Packers showed their worth in several ways on Sunday:
Rodgers, with three touchdown passes (to three different players), moved into fourth place in NFL history for the most games with three or more TD passes with 73, passing Brett Favre. It also was his 26th career game with both a passing and rushing touchdown -- the third most by a player in NFL history after Cam Newton (42) and Steve Young (31).
Davante Adams, with seven catches for 115 yards, continued his run of consecutive games with a touchdown to eight -- the most in Packers history, breaking Don Hutson's record of seven that dated back to the 1940s. The eight-game streak tied for the third-longest single-season streak in the NFL during the Super Bowl era behind only Jerry Rice (12 in 1987) and A.J. Green (nine in 2012). It was his career-best 14th touchdown catch of the season. And Adams missed two full games and half of another.
Tight end Robert Tonyan caught his ninth touchdown of the season, the most by a Packers tight end since Bubba Franks' nine in 2001.
And the defense, despite some badly timed penalties, continued its run of sacks. After registering seven the previous week against the Eagles, the Packers recorded four sacks and put a hit on Matthew Stafford that forced him to watch the final minutes on the sideline with a rib injury.
About the only thing that went terribly wrong for the Packers was another special teams gaffe, allowing a 71-yard kickoff return after Mason Crosby's 57-yard fourth-quarter field goal that Crosby saved from being a touchdown with a sideline tackle.
All of that added up to the Packers' second straight division title in Matt LaFleur's two seasons as head coach.
"I mean, we've got it now," Adams said. "So it's basically about finishing the season strong, not taking any of these last games light and taking care of business.
"We're definitely not done. We've got a lot more work to put in and get where we ultimately want to be. We're putting ourselves in a pretty good position right now. We've just got to keep our head down and keep working."
That'll start with a home game against the Panthers Saturday night. ...
Also worth noting. ... When the Packers took the field Sunday, it had been 21 days since Marquez Valdes-Scantling's last catch had resulted in a fumble during an overtime loss to Indianapolis.
Against the Lions, the 6-4, 208-pound receiver caught all six passes Rodgers threw his way for 85 yards, including a 14-yard touchdown in the second quarter off a back-shoulder throw in which Valdes-Scantling clasped the ball and extended over the goal line for the score.
"I'm really proud of the way that he played today, the focus that he's shown the last few weeks not getting the football has been really admirable," Rodgers said. "That's how you earn the respect of your teammates, the way you conduct yourself when it may not be going as well as you'd like."
Valdes-Scantling continues to be one of the offense's biggest playmakers, particularly on deep balls. His 19.5 yards per catch is the highest average among qualifying receivers, besting Carolina's D.J. Moore by a full yard for the top spot.
With three games still remaining, the 26-year-old speedster already has established new career highs with 603 receiving yards and five touchdowns. ...
As ESPN's Mike Clay reminded readers, Allen Lazard had a huge game back in Week 3 with 146 yards and one touchdown before missing the Packers' next six games due to injury. Since his return, Lazard has a total of 110 yards and one touchdown on 17 targets in four games.
That includes a 19-yard effort against the Lions on Sunday.
As Clay noted, the slot man played a respectable 67 percent of the snaps, which barely trailed Valdes-Scantling (70 percent) behind Adams (94 percent), but it obviously wasn't enough for a return to fantasy relevance.
Clay summed up: "Lazard will hit for the occasional big play with Rodgers under center, but he simply can't be trusted as a flex option right now. ..."
Aaron Jones finished Sunday's win with 69 rushing yards on 15 carries, adding two receptions for six yards.
As CBSSports.com notes, Jones endured one of his quieter fantasy outings during Week 14, collecting his second-lowest total in scrimmage yards since Week 6. That was in spite of the 26-year-old garnering 14-plus touches for a sixth consecutive game. Touchdowns were a hallmark to Jones' prolific 2019 season, but they have been less so in 2020 as the fourth-year back has totaled nine scores after collecting 19 a season ago.
Even so, he remains well-positioned to top the 1,000-yard rushing mark for a second consecutive year, standing 177 yards shy of the milestone entering a Week 15 Saturday night matchup against the Panthers' 15th-ranked rush defense.
On the injury front. ... The Packers play the Panthers on Saturday, so they issued an estimated injury report for a practice that didn't happen on Tuesday.
Lazard (core) and linebacker Za'Darius Smith (ankle, thumb) were among the players that would have been limited if practice had taken place. Lazard was limited all of last week before playing 46 snaps in Green Bay's win over the Lions. Smith was listed as a full participant with an ankle issue last week and a thumb injury made it onto Tuesday's report as well.
Tight end Marcedes Lewis (knee) and wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown (knee) were also listed as limited.
Tight end Jace Sternberger (concussion) and wide receiver Malik Taylor (hamstring) were the only players listed as non-participants.
QBs: Aaron Rodgers, Jordan Love
RBs: Aaron Jones, A.J. Dillon, Kylin Hill
WRs: Davante Adams, Randall Cobb, Allen Lazard, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Amari Rodgers, Malik Taylor
TEs: Robert Tonyan, Marcedes Lewis, Josiah Deguara
Houston TexansCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 December 2020
J.J. Watt summed up the way the Houston Texans' defense played in Sunday's loss to the Chicago Bears quickly: "I think our performance was embarrassing."
"We gave up 36 points today," Watt said. "... We're not competitive. We gave up 36 points."
As ESPN.com's Sarah Barshop noted, it was the latest example of a poor performance from the Houston defense. The Texans fell to 4-9 and were officially eliminated from the AFC playoff race.
"We had a pretty good idea of that before this game," Watt said when asked about the team's officially not making the playoffs for the first time since 2017, when quarterback Deshaun Watson was out because of a
While the Texans have felt out of playoff contention since they fell to 0-4 and fired head coach and general manager Bill O'Brien in October, the bigger question is where does their porous defense go from here?
The Texans won't opt for a full roster overhaul because they have Watson and don't have the necessary draft picks in 2021 to do so, but there are going to have to be a lot of changes to this defense before it can carry the team in games.
This defense is a far cry from the unit that was led by Watt before Houston had a franchise quarterback.
The biggest change could be with Watt himself. He has one season left on his current contract and is owed $17.5 million next season, a salary that is not guaranteed. The Texans could save that money and perhaps acquire an important draft pick that could help them with their rebuild on defense.
Watt, 31, could go somewhere he has a better shot at winning.
After the loss, Watt was asked whether he has thought about his future with the team, given how this season has gone. He said he is "always thinking about everything," and "now I'm thinking about what just happened, and I'm not happy about it by any close stretch of the imagination."
Meanwhile, the Texans' game against the Bears was billed as a matchup of Watson and Mitchell Trubisky, who were both taken in the first round of the 2017 draft.
Watson is considered the greater talent, but Trubisky -- benched earlier this season for journeyman Nick Foles -- came out on top Sunday in a game that showed why Houston's front seven is in trouble going forward. The Texans sacked Trubisky three times Sunday, two of them by safety Eric Murray, but Watt said it was clear that the defense "never made him uncomfortable."
Houston has nine months until it plays its next meaningful game, but the challenge before then will be to figure out how to improve this defense without a lot of resources.
Meanwhile, for a few minutes, it looked like the Texans were going to have to see what life would be like without Watson.
The signal caller was sacked six times and hit hard several more times, including once so hard in the third quarter that he stayed down on the field and was replaced by AJ McCarron for one play.
After that hard hit by Bears linebacker Roquan Smith, Watson's frustration appeared to boil over. He slammed the helmet down hard as he sat on the bench with his towel over his head. Watson did come back into the game on the Texans' next series.
"He got hit on the funny bone," interim coach Romeo Crennel said. "You know how those funny bones in the elbow, they, boom, bang the nerve for a minute. But he came off and worked it around and got the feeling back, and so we put him back in the game."
"I'm good," Watson said. "Yeah, I just had to come out for a play because I stayed on the ground, and yeah, that was pretty much it. I just wanted to finish out the game. There was nothing else to that, towards that, so that was really my decision."
Watson has been hit hard his whole career, despite the Texans investing significant money and high draft picks into the offensive line in recent years. Watson was sacked 11 times combined in Weeks 13 and 14, including two safeties.
The offensive line has been an area of concern for the Texans since before Watson was drafted and was bad enough after Houston traded left tackle Duane Brown in 2017 that O'Brien gave up two first-round picks to acquire left tackle Laremy Tunsil before the 2019 season.
There is a lot of work for whoever the next general manager -- starting with the defense, but fixing the interior of the offensive line has to be high on the list. While Houston is committed to tackles Tunsil and 2019 first-round draft pick Tytus Howard, they will have decisions to make about Zach Fulton and whoever is rotating in at left guard.
Beyond all that, with Brandin Cooks out with a neck injury, Watson was left with Keke Coutee, Chad Hansen and Steven Mitchell as his top three receivers. Watson completed 21 of 30 passes for 219 yards and a touchdown, his second-lowest yardage total of the season.
Coutee caught a touchdown, but he and Hansen could not replicate their breakout games in Week 13, when they each finished with more than 100 receiving yards.
Watson did become the sixth quarterback to record 25 passing touchdowns in three of his first four NFL seasons, joining Peyton Manning, Patrick Mahomes, Dan Marino, Carson Palmer and Russell Wilson. Watson threw 19 in his rookie season that was cut short by a torn ACL after seven games.
Buddy Howell had only five career carries before Sunday. He had 11 carries for 42 yards against the Bears.
The Texans leaned on Howell after unexpectedly placing David Johnson on the COVID-19 reserve list Friday.
Crennel said Johnson did not test positive.
"It was close contact; that's why he was on the list," Crennel said, via Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle. "And hopefully he'll be back because it's a five-day deal, so he should be back getting ready for the next game."
COVID-19 protocols will force Johnson to miss five days, but if his coronavirus tests continue to come back negative, the Texans can activate the starting running back this week and he could play against the Colts in Indianapolis on Sunday.
That said, the Texans claimed running back Dontrell Hilliard off waivers from the Browns.
Hilliard played five games for the Browns, seeing action on 22 offensive snaps and 74 on special teams. He had five carries for 19 yards and one reception for 2 yards.
In three seasons with the Browns after signing as an undrafted free agent out of Tulane, Hilliard played 30 games. He had 22 rushes for 97 yards and two touchdowns and 22 catches for 199 yards.
Meanwhile, like Johnson, Cooks is also expected to return this week.
I'll be watching for more both players and report back via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.
Also of interest. ... While Hansen wasn't as productive against the Bears as he was in his Week 13 debut, the two-week totals are intriguing:
As Establish the Run's Adam Levitan notes, Hansen has played 112-of-129 snaps (87 percent) with 24 of them in slot. He's had 14 targets for a 21 percent share, catching 12 for 157 yards with zero TDs.
Hansen was among three receivers protected on the practice squad Tuesday, according to the NFL's transactions report. Hansen, Mitchell and Damion Ratley can't sign with another team this week due to that designation. Hansen seems likely to move up the active roster for a third-straight week. ...
In a related note. ... Receiver Randall Cobb is expected to remain on injured reserve and not play again this year. Cobb said on Friday he is contemplating whether to have surgery on his toe.
"I don't think Cobb is going to be a factor for us," Crennel said. ...
And finally. ... The Texans need a new general manager. They need a new head coach. They have a franchise quarterback, one to whom they committed $111 million in guarantees and one they hope to keep longer than the next five years.
Watson makes the Texans' job attractive, and considering the draft picks and the cap space they don't have for 2021, he might be the only attraction.
So it makes sense owner Cal McNair is consulting with Watson about the candidates to replace O'Brien.
"I mean, they just put a lot of trust in me and what things he wants and what I want, and just as a whole, as an organization where we want to go forward from here," Watson said, via Wilson. "We've got to make decisions and go from there. But yeah, that was pretty much it. A lot of respect between me and Mr. McNair."
Watson isn't on the search committee, which includes McNair and team president Jamey Rootes, or the group of advisors, which includes Tony Dungy and Jimmy Johnson. But Watson is a valuable part of the organization and McNair has made clear to his quarterback that Watson's opinion matters.
QBs: Davis Mills, Jeff Driskel, Deshaun Watson, Tyrod Taylor
RBs: Mark Ingram, Phillip Lindsay, David Johnson, Rex Burkhead, Scottie Phillips
WRs: Brandin Cooks, Chris Conley, Anthony Miller, Danny Amendola, Nico Collins, Andre Roberts
TEs: Jordan Akins, Pharaoh Brown, Brevin Jordan
Indianapolis ColtsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 December 2020
According to ESPN.com's Mike Wells, "For as valuable as Philip Rivers' right arm is for the Indianapolis Colts, one of their keys to making the playoffs is the quarterback's ability to hand the ball off."
Rookie running back Jonathan Taylor, after enduring a midseason slump, is doing his best to ensure the Colts have a ground game during this stretch run of the season.
Taylor rushed for a career-high 150 yards and two touchdowns in the Colts' 44-27 victory over the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday.
For as good as Taylor and the running game was -- and it was dominant -- the biggest development following Sunday's victory was that the Colts maintained their grasp on the seventh and final playoff spot in the AFC and stayed even with Tennessee atop the AFC South with an 9-4 record. The Titans are technically in first place because they have a better division record than Indianapolis.
The Colts couldn't be stopped on the ground. It started on the opening drive, when they rushed for 42 yards, and it carried over throughout the game. They averaged 6.8 yards per carry and finished with a total of 212 rushing yards.
The veteran Rivers will continue to lead the way for the Colts, but the burden to carry the team won't be as heavy if they're able to run the ball as effectively as they did Sunday. Their final three games of the season are at home against Houston, on the road against Pittsburgh and at home against Jacksonville.
Wells believes that's why it's imperative for Taylor to continue to his late-season surge. The second-round pick out of Wisconsin started losing snaps to Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins, but he has bounced back by rushing for at least 90 yards in each of the past three games. In fact, Taylor has 55 carries for 331 yards (6.0 per carry) with two touchdowns, as well as nine receptions for 83 yards and another score in those three contest.
That production came after Taylor, who replaced the injured Marlon Mack as the starter in Week 2, rushed for 12, 27 and 22 yards in the three games before that.
Taylor had the Colts' longest play from scrimmage this season when he took a handoff to the right, and with the help of blocks from center Ryan Kelly, guard Mark Glowinski and tackle Braden Smith, took off for 62-yard touchdown to extend the Colts' lead to 27-17 in the second half.
Indianapolis went into Sunday as one of only four teams not to have a play of at least 60 yards from scrimmage this season. Taylor reached 21.4 mph on his touchdown run, per NFL Next Gen Stats. That was the fastest speed by a Colts player on any run over the past three seasons.
Remember, the Colts utilized more of a "by-committee" approach at the running back and wide receiver positions the first nine or 10 weeks of the season; at both spots, there were multiple players that were going to step up and be "the guy" on any given particular week.
But over the last three to four weeks, the Indy offense has really benefitted from Taylor and T.Y. Hilton, who continued to make huge plays in the passing game on Sunday, as he finished with five receptions for 86 yards and two touchdowns, emerging in lead roles.
Over his last three games, Hilton has 17 receptions for 277 yards (16.3 avg.) with four touchdowns.
As for the running backs, Taylor is locking up the bulk of the playing time.
Against the Raiders, Taylor was on the field for 34-of-61 snaps; Hines got 22 plays while Wilkins got six.
As Rotoworld.com's John Daigle notes, Taylor has now out-touched Hines 64-29 in last three games together.
Look for both Taylor and Hilton to get ample opportunity to carry that strong play over when the Colts host the Texans on Sunday. ...
Meanwhile, the Colts' defense, one of the stingiest in the NFL, forced three more turnovers to bring their season total to 22. CB Kenny Moore forced Raiders receiver Hunter Renfrow to fumble, which was recovered by Taylor Stallworth in the fourth quarter, and Willis ensured the Raiders wouldn't be getting back in the game when he returned a Derek Carr interception 50 yards for a touchdown.
The Willis touchdown was the sixth non-offensive touchdown of the season for the Colts. That's two more than any other team in the league.
Head coach Frank Reich found himself regularly amazed while he watched everything his Indianapolis Colts accomplished in their first trip to Sin City.
The coach couldn't believe Moore's one-handed, diving end-zone interception -- which might have been the NFL play of the year.
To be fair, Moore blew both teams' minds with his interception in the second quarter.
The fifth-year defensive back said he was "just doing what I was supposed to do," but everybody else marveled at his hands and body control.
"I didn't know if Odell Beckham Jr. was playing defense for us there," Reich said. "I had to stop for a second there and kind of think, 'Did he actually catch that ball?' It was really just one of those once-in-a-lifetime chances, a really great play. ..."
Kicker Rodrigo Blankenship converted three field goals and five extra points for 14 total points. He passed Raul Allegre (112) for the most points by a rookie in franchise history. ...
Left tackle Anthony Castonzo returned from a one-game absence due to a sprained MCL in his knee.
But then he left the game -- momentarily -- after the first series.
It took only one offensive series for the Colts to realize Chaz Green was not the answer at left tackle, especially after he was called for a false start in the red zone. Reich went to another option: Quenton Nelson.
Nelson played left tackle for the first time in at least his NFL career, with Joey Hunt coming in to play left guard. Nelson took only a few snaps at left tackle before Castonzo returned to the game.
The good news is Nelson didn't give up a sack protecting Rivers' blind side. The better news is Castonzo was able to return and finish the game. ...
And finally. ... After Rivers signed a one-year deal with the Colts this offseason, Reich said that he was "very optimistic" that Rivers would spend more than one year running the team's offense.
Rivers has not made any commitments beyond this year, but his play hasn't done anything to stop Reich from thinking about 2021 and beyond. Rivers has cut down on turnovers and played better across the board than he did last season, which has Reich making sure he knows the door for an extended run is wide open.
"At the way he's playing right now. ... If he wants, he has multiple years of good football ahead of him," Reich said, via Mike Wells of ESPN.com.
As Profootballtalk.com notes, given Reich's past with Carson Wentz, the Colts have been mentioned as a possible landing spot for the quarterback if the Eagles should decide to move on after the season. Rivers' return would end that chatter and that return appears to be the preferred state of affairs as this season draws closer to the end.
QBs: Carson Wentz, Jacob Eason, Sam Ehlinger
RBs: Jonathan Taylor, Nyheim Hines, Marlon Mack, Jordan Wilkins
WRs: Michael Pittman Jr., Zach Pascal, Parris Campbell, Ashton Dulin, Mike Strachan, T.Y. Hilton
TEs: Jack Doyle, Mo Alie-Cox, Kylen Granson
Jacksonville JaguarsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 December 2020
Minshew Mania is back on.
Gardner Minshew, the starting quarterback through the first seven games of the season, will start for the first time since then against the Ravens Sunday. Head coach Doug Marrone announced the decision on a Monday media conference call.
"Gardner's going to go ahead and get the start this week," Marrone said.
Marrone's decision came a day after Minshew replaced an ineffective Mike Glennon in the third quarter of a 31-10 loss to the Tennessee Titans in Jacksonville -- and marked the fourth quarterback change for the Jaguars (1-12) this season.
"We're going to keep trying to do things and keep working to see. ... Whatever the combination is and whatever we have to do coaching-wise," Marrone said. "We're not going to just stalemate ourselves. We're constantly trying to figure out how we can get ourselves in position to make plays -- both players and coaches. We just haven't been able to be consistent and do a good enough job with it."
Glennon started the last three games, completing 61 percent of his passes for 600 yards and three touchdowns. He completed 13 of 23 passes for 85 yards and no touchdowns Sunday, with Minshew entering the game following the eight-year veteran's lone interception of the game.
Minshew, a second-year veteran who has started 21 games for the Jaguars over the last two seasons, completed 18 of 31 passes for 178 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions Sunday. He has completed 65.1 percent of his passes for 2,033 yards and 14 touchdowns with five interceptions this season. He missed four games with a thumb issue and was a healthy backup to Glennon the last two weeks.
Rookie Jake Luton started Weeks 9-11, completing 54.5 percent of his passes for 624 yards and two touchdowns with six interceptions. Glennon replaced him in the lineup after Luton threw four interceptions in a Week 11 loss to Pittsburgh.
Marrone said he spoke to all three quarterbacks Monday.
"I told Mike to be ready and Jake to keep coming along," Marrone said. "There's pressure on all of us to go out there and win football games -- and to win a game we're going to need a lot of people around us. That's how we're going to go into this game."
Marrone added, "I told these guys, 'Look, you guys have to be ready. If someone gets in there and is playing well, that's great. That means things are going well and we've got a chance to win a football game. If you go in there and you're struggling to a certain extent where you're not able to come back from it, we have to do something there.'
"But that's not the only position we talked about. What do we have to do to help ourselves? We don't have a lot of moves to make with the roster and where we are in the season. But at the same point, everyone has to feel that type of pressure.
"Am I looking to make a quick hook? Obviously not. I want someone to go in there and give us a chance to win -- and get the guys around them to play better. We're just struggling as a team to find a way out of it."
Marrone mentioned Minshew's ability to extend plays as a factor in the decision.
"That comes into play, being able to make plays on his feet," Marrone said. "That's what we're looking for, someone that can do it. We haven't been doing a great job in anything. That's why we're sitting with our record the way it is."
As NFL.com's Kevin Patra reminded readers, the Jags' lone win in Week 1 came with Minshew in the lineup, and he gives the team the best chance to play semi-competitive football the final three weeks. Given that Marrone's job is in jeopardy, it gave the coaches and players no incentive to tank, so that reasoning for leaving Minshew behind Glennon is faulty at best.
Minshew might just be holding the fort for a rookie QB in 2021, but he's the best quarterback on the Jags roster. He deserved to have the starting job back.
Meanwhile, Marrone on Monday also discussed wide receiver D.J. Chark Jr., who caught two passes for 16 yards Sunday despite being targeted nine times.
That continued a recent trend for Chark, a Pro Bowl selection last season who has 45 receptions for 591 yards and four touchdowns this season -- but who has 27 receptions for 401 yards and one touchdown on 62 targets in his last seven games.
"We've got to get him going," Marrone said. "He's a good football player. He's getting covered and we've got to look at ways to try to get him uncovered -- and when he does win, to try to be able to get him the football. There's a lot going on. Obviously, we all want to play better and I'm sure D.J. does."
Perhaps a shift back to Minshew will help. ...
Of course, the 2020 Jaguars season has been short on positive milestones, but running back James Robinson provided a couple of them on Sunday.
Robinson ran 12 times for 67 yards in the 31-10 loss to the Titans and became the fourth undrafted rookie to run for 1,000 yards in a season in the process. He is also up to 1,361 yards from scrimmage, which moved him past Dominic Rhodes for the most yards from scrimmage of any undrafted rookie.
"In a season like we're having, where everybody is struggling, to have something like that happen is good," Marrone said, via Gene Frenette of the Florida Times-Union. "Normally, I don't ever really talk about individual accomplishments after the game, but I did. Here's a guy that represents so much of what's good about competition, about playing, about humility, about keeping things in perspective. Even though he's a rookie free agent, he's been a great example for everybody. I said that to the team after the game and they clapped for him when there's not a lot to clap about, really."
Rhodes had 1,328 yards from scrimmage for the Colts in 2001 and holds the undrafted rookie record with 1,104 rushing yards. Robinson has 1,035 rushing yards, so he'll likely wind up in first place on that list as well. He's also got a shot at the Jaguars rookie records, currently held by Fred Taylor, in both categories.
None of that will make the Jaguars' season look any better, but it should provide some hope that Robinson can be part of better days in 2021.
QBs: Trevor Lawrence, C.J. Beathard
RBs: James Robinson, Carlos Hyde, Dare Ogunbowale
WRs: D.J. Chark, Marvin Jones, Laviska Shenault, Tyron Johnson, Jamal Agnew
TEs: Chris Manhertz, Jacob Hollister, Luke Farrell, James O'Shaughnessy
Kansas City ChiefsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 December 2020
As ESPN.com's Adam Teicher notes, the 12-1 Kansas City Chiefs clinched their fifth straight AFC West championship with a 33-27 win over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.
As defending Super Bowl champions, they have bigger goals than a mere division title.
Since the Chiefs began play as the Dallas Texans in the old American Football League in 1960, they've had years when they would have settled for a winning season, much less a playoff appearance or a division title. Things are no longer that way, but that doesn't mean they won't take a minute or two to appreciate their accomplishment.
"One hundred percent," said quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who tied a career high with three interceptions but still threw for almost 400 yards. "I've been lucky enough to be around an organization that's been able to win the AFC West every year I've been here, but I still appreciate every single time.
"These things don't come easy. You have to battle every single offseason. You have to battle every training camp. During the season, you have to go through adversity."
The Chiefs had never won back-to back division championships until the current streak, which began in 2016.
"They don't give these championships away," head coach Andy Reid said. "I'm proud of the guys for that. We all know we need to keep going. It's a nice accomplishment for the whole organization."
The Chiefs last week clinched a playoff berth by beating the Denver Broncos. Their next regular-season goal is to secure the AFC's No. 1 playoff seed and the first-round postseason bye.
The 12-1 Chiefs are batting the Pittsburgh Steelers for the AFC's top seed.
The Chiefs had Super Bowl championships and division titles in mind in 2013 when they hired Reid, who had coached the Eagles for the previous 14 seasons. In Philadelphia, Reid won six NFC East titles, the longest streak being four straight.
"If you looked at Andy's success in Philadelphia, certainly the back of my mind I hoped we could replicate that," Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt said. "I think he's achieved that and maybe taken it to another level.
"We're blessed to have him. We're blessed to have the pairing of he and Mahomes. I think the two are a great combination. They work so well together and really maximize each other's strengths."
What about weaknesses?
As Associated Press sports writer Dave Skretta notes, the Chiefs have gotten into a dangerous habit of letting big leads slip away -- or, put another way, failing to bury opponents when they have a chance.
They had a 33-24 lead in the fourth quarter against the Panthers before surviving for a 33-31 victory. They gave up the go-ahead touchdown to the Raiders with 1:43 left before rallying to retake the lead with 28 seconds to go in a 35-31 escape job. They led the Buccaneers 27-10 at the end of the third quarter before hanging on for a 27-24 win. And on Sunday, they built a 30-10 halftime lead before they needed to pounce on an onside kick to secure a 33-27 victory.
None of the Chiefs' past five wins have been by more than one possession. Four of them should have been.
"Probably the primary thing is that we end up winning the game, which I don't want to lose focus on," Reid said after the latest close call. "They're a good football team, playoff-caliber team. We could have helped out offensively too, so it was a team thing that we just -- we need to finish."
Indeed, it's not as if the defense is entirely to blame, though they have allowed fourth-quarter yards by the hundred. But special teams have been poor and the offense has too often gone into an overly conservative shell.
"I'll take responsibility for that. I could have been more aggressive as the play-caller and so on," Reid said, "so it starts with me and that's where we roll."
The Chiefs visit New Orleans on Sunday before finishing the regular season at home against the Falcons and Chargers. ...
Other notes of interest. ... For the first time this season, the Chiefs had to overcome some significant turnover trouble. Mahomes had just two interceptions all season but had three in Miami, though all of them were tipped by someone. Wide receiver Mecole Hardman also fumbled after a long catch.
Anthony Sherman's value has dwindled the past couple of years as the Chiefs offense has gone away from using a fullback. That makes his wide-open dropped pass -- one of his rare chances to contribute -- even more egregious.
In addition, Mahomes took the longest sack in the NFL in five years in Miami.
Still, he threw for 393 yards and two scores to help the Chiefs (12-1) earn their eighth consecutive victory.
Tyreek Hill ran through the Dolphins' secondary and behind it, scoring on a 32-yard run and a 44-yard reception when Mahomes hit him in stride at the goal line.
Travis Kelce had eight catches for 136 yards and a touchdown, e Hardman scored untouched on a 67-yard punt return, and Kansas City's defense was stout against Tua Tagovailoa and the Dolphins' injury-riddled offense.
Kelce has gone over 100 yards receiving in five of his past six games, and his 1,250 yards lead the league this season. He also nine touchdown receptions, solidifying his place at Mahomes' go-to playmaker when things break down.
"Trying to take advantage of the opportunity that I have here in Kansas City every single day, on and off the field," Kelce said. "That's my goal."
So far, so good on that. ...
Clyde Edwards-Helaire returned Sunday and played a career-high 75 percent (46 of 61) of the Chiefs' offensive snaps. That put him well ahead of both Le'Veon Bell (10 snaps) and Darrel Williams (five).
According to ESPN's Mike Clay, Edwards-Helaire's snap share was his highest since Week 4, and he hadn't been above 60 percent since the arrival of Bell. The heavy usage didn't lead to much rushing production (16-32-0), but he made up for that a bit with a 5-59-0 receiving line on six targets.
Bell, meanwhile, produced 35 yards on four touches.
As Clay suggested, Bell obviously remains well off the flex radar, but Edwards-Helaire's usage in the Chiefs' high-scoring offense keeps him in the RB2 mix, even in a tough matchup against the Saints in Week 15.
One last note here. ... According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, when Hill pulled up and grabbed his leg while helping seal the win over the Dolphins, it wasn't a hamstring injury. Just a cramp. Hill should be fine.
QBs: Patrick Mahomes, Chad Henne
RBs: Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Darrel Williams, Jerick McKinnon
WRs: Tyreek Hill, Mecole Hardman, Demarcus Robinson, Byron Pringle, Daurice Fountain, Marcus Kemp
TEs: Travis Kelce, Noah Gray, Blake Bell
Las Vegas RaidersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 December 2020
The Raiders fired defensive coordinator Paul Guenther after he failed to make any significant improvement for the unit in nearly three full seasons on the job.
The Raiders (7-6) announced the decision Sunday following a 44-27 loss to the Indianapolis Colts that dealt a severe blow to their playoff chances.
Defensive line coach Rod Marinelli will take over on an interim basis for the rest of the season.
The Raiders allowed 212 yards rushing, 7.7 yards per play, had no sacks, no takeaways and forced only one punt in a game that was all too reminiscent of so many since Guenther arrived with coach Jon Gruden in 2018.
Gruden addressed the move on Monday, saying it was a difficult decision in part because Guenther is a good friend.
"It was very hard to do," Gruden said. "But I really feel for the best interest of this team right now, we need a new voice. We need somebody who has a different perspective, a different approach."
Guenther was Gruden's most important hire when he returned to the Raiders in 2018, but he was never able to rebuild a defense that was gutted when star pass rusher Khalil Mack was traded to Chicago before the season opener that year.
In nearly three full seasons with Guenther running the defense, the Raiders ranked last in points allowed per game (28.4), last in sacks (60), 31st in yards per play allowed (6.04), 30th in takeaways (47) and 29th in passer rating against (29th).
But the biggest issue was that the team showed few signs of improvement this season despite having made heavy investments in free agency and with four defensive starters drafted in the top two rounds the past two seasons.
The Raiders showed some flashes earlier in the season, slowing Patrick Mahomes down in the second half of an upset in Kansas City in October and then generating five takeaways in a win over Denver last month.
But the defense has regressed in recent weeks, allowing Mahomes to drive for the winning score in the closing minutes of Week 10 and then struggling to stop Atlanta, the Jets and Indianapolis the past three weeks.
The Raiders have allowed more than 200 yards rushing in each of the past two games, just the seventh time they've ever done that, and offered little resistance against the Colts.
Marinelli has previously served as a head coach in Detroit and defensive coordinator in Chicago and Dallas. He has long ties to Gruden, having served as his assistant head coach/defensive line coach for the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2002 and then rejoining Gruden this season on the Raiders.
"I think he's one of the great teachers and great motivators and great people that I've met in this business," Gruden said. "He looks forward to adversity. He thrives in it. I think he looks forward to these challenges, the building of this defense, putting it all together. That's why we brought him here in the first place, so it'd certainly help if his soldiers got healthy up front. But he's got great experience and has a great amount of experience in situations like this."
Marinelli takes over with the Raiders facing a short week before hosting the Chargers on Thursday night.
Las Vegas has little margin for error if the team wants to make the playoffs for just the second time in the past 18 seasons. That said, ESPN.com's Paul Gutierrez doesn't think the Raiders are a playoff-ready team.
"No, with the Raiders' defense getting torched -- it surrendered 298 yards of offense to the Colts (9-4) in the first half -- despite the return of safety Johnathan Abram, who was often a liability in coverage and had a costly penalty," Gutierrez wrote, "and running back Josh Jacobs not showing a good look by trolling fans and fantasy managers mere hours before kickoff by saying he was not going to play, these Raiders are not ready. Not yet. Not with three Colts TDs of 40-plus yards."
Gutierrez went on to suggest this game might not have been as embarrassing as the 43-6 blowout in Atlanta two weeks ago, but with so much on the line and this being the start of a three-game homestand, it was pretty bad. ...
The good news?
One of the teams the Raiders are chasing for a playoff spot, the Dolphins, also lost on Sunday, so Las Vegas remains one game behind the Dolphins. And the Raiders play host to Miami on Dec. 26. Of course, the Raiders have to handle their business on a short week against the Los Angeles Chargers at home Thursday night first.
Meanwhile, there's only so much Derek Carr can do when he has no defense and, well, no running game.
A pick-six in the fourth quarter bounced off Jalen Richard's hands and, trailing from the jump, the Raiders were a one-dimensional team. Again. Still, Carr did have two touchdown passes that traveled at least 15 yards downfield. He has had only one other game this season with two such TDs: the win at the Chiefs in Week 5, per ESPN Stats and Information research.
He finished with 316 yards passing in completing 31 of 45 attempts, with the two TDs and two interceptions for an 85.0 passer rating.
On one of the interceptions, Carr could have put a little more air under a second-quarter end zone pass to Darren Waller -- or thrown it a little farther -- at the back left pylon. But Kenny Moore's leaping one-handed interception was the stuff of highlight reels.
In fact, prior to Moore's pick, Carr had been 5-of-6 for 90 yards and a TD on throws in which Moore was the nearest defender at the time of the pass arrival.
Carr also had a 5-yard TD run late, after Marcus Mariota began warming up on the sidelines and put on his helmet. ...
On the injury front. ... The Raiders didn't practice Monday, but with their appearance in Thursday Night Football looming, they had to release a practice report.
Josh Jacobs (ankle) was limited. Receivers Nelson Agholor (ankle) and Zay Jones (ankle) were full participants.
I'll follow up on their status in the Late-Breaking Updates section of the site in advance of Thursday's game. ...
Beyond that, the Raiders may be missing a handful of defensive players against the Chargers on Thursday and they'll definitely be without wide receiver Henry Ruggs III.
Ruggs was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list on Tuesday.
It's not known if Ruggs is on the list for a positive test or because he was a close contact to someone who tested positive, but the time remaining before Thursday will leave him out for the week.
Ruggs has 23 catches for 414 yards and two touchdowns during his rookie season.
The Raiders filled his spot on the open roster by signing defensive end Vic Beasley to the active roster from the practice squad. Beasley has played in two games for the Raiders since signing to the practice squad in November. He has been credited with one tackle. ...
One last item here. ... As noted above, Jacobs apparently decided to have some fun at fantasy football players' expense on Sunday. The second-year back was officially listed as questionable for Sunday's game due to an ankle injury -- one that caused him to miss last week's matchup against the New York Jets.
Shortly before game time, Jacobs posted on his Instagram story saying that he would not be playing against the Colts.
Shortly after, Jacobs posted again saying "A lot of hot fantasy owners." Below the caption, he put a middle finger emoji followed by "yo fantasy," which clearly indicated that he did not care if people were upset concerning his status.
The story then took a turn when the Raiders released their official inactives list and Jacobs was not included. He even was seen participating in pregame warmups.
He then started as usual and carried 13 times for 49 yards while catching three of five targets for 25 yards.
Jacobs managed just 3.8 yards per carry against a tough Indianapolis front. His rushing attempts were limited by a lopsided score, and he failed to make a notable impact in the passing game despite receiving his most targets since Week 1.
Assuming Jacobs didn't aggravate the injury, he'll look to get back on track Thursday against an inconsistent Chargers defensive unit.
Jacobs has rushed for 782 yards and nine touchdowns on 206 carries this year, and has consistently been a main weapon in the Raiders' offensive attack. He can now add "Raiders top internet troll" to his resume.
QBs: Derek Carr, Marcus Mariota, Nathan Peterman
RBs: Josh Jacobs, Kenyan Drake, Peyton Barber
WRs: Henry Ruggs III, Bryan Edwards, Hunter Renfrow, Zay Jones, Willie Snead
TEs: Darren Waller, Foster Moreau, Derek Carrier, Nick Bowers
Los Angeles ChargersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 December 2020
After going 4-16 in one-score games over the last two seasons, the Los Angeles Chargers finally won one.
Michael Badgley, who has missed seven field goals this season, kicked a 43-yarder as time expired to beat the Atlanta Falcons, 20-17.
It almost didn't happen, as a series of interceptions by both teams in the waning minutes left things in doubt. But in the end, it was Chargers cornerback Michael Davis who picked off a Matt Ryan pass intended for Calvin Ridley at the Chargers' 33 with 36 seconds left. Shortly after, Tyron Johnson caught a key 25-yard pass from rookie quarterback Justin Herbert at the Atlanta 26 to set up the game-winning kick.
Herbert was aided all game by the play of running back Austin Ekeler, who put the team on his back and ran 15 carries for 79 yards and caught nine passes for 67 yards. But it was Herbert who shined the most, completing 36 of 44 passes for 243 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. For as bad as he was last week in the 45-0 loss to the New England Patriots, he was better than good this week.
But an embarrassing Chargers gaffe at the end of the first half nearly wiped out a spectacular bounce-back performance by Herbert and could have sent the Chargers to another frustrating defeat.
With 20 seconds left in the second quarter and with no timeouts, Herbert had driven his team to the Falcons 8-yard-line. But they curiously ran the ball on third-and-1, where they were stopped short.
Some of the offense stayed on the field as the field-goal unit ran onto the field, creating mass chaos and allowing the clock to run out the clock before they could get into kick formation. Head coach Anthony Lynn announced earlier this week he would be taking over all special teams duties after a dismal performance a week ago against New England, but this was yet another error.
On the television broadcast, Lynn could be seen making a throwing motion to his offensive coordinator Shane Steichen, Lynn presumably saying some version of, "Why didn't you call a pass?"
After the game, Lynn knew that play cost his team three points.
"You cannot run the ball in that situation," Lynn said, via Gilbert Manzano of the Southern California News Group. "You just can't. We try to be aggressive, but you can't run the ball in that situation and that right there, that's an area where we've got to improve as a coaching staff, communication wise, and we will. But you cannot run the ball there."
It would be one thing if this were an isolated incident, but Lynn and his team have bungled these situations all year.
Worth noting. ... Lynn said he's not making changes to his staff in the wake of this latest blunder.
"I have all the confidence in Shane," Lynn said. "It will be an easy fix."
Per Jeff Miller of the L.A. Times, Lynn went on to say that he wouldn't be replacing Steichen as play caller. Chargers quarterbacks coach Pep Hamilton is one member of the coaching staff who has done that in the past.
While Lynn will reportedly keep his job through the end of the season, he probably doesn't have many more opportunities to display that improvement he claims is coming.
Other notes of interest. ... Keenan Allen played the 99th game of his career Sunday. He's had more catches this far into his career than any other NFL player, ever.
With nine catches against the Falcons (for 52 yards), Allen now has 623 catches in 99 games. The previous record for the most catches in a player's first 100 games belonged to Antonio Brown, who had 622 catches in his first 100 games.
Allen may not get as much credit as he deserves for the sensational start to his season, in part because it took him longer than most to reach 100 career games. He's had his share of injuries, particularly in 2015 (when he played only eight games) and 2016 (when he played only one game).
But Allen, who has a league-leading 99 catches so far this season, is one of the best receivers of his generation, and off to one of the best starts of any receiver in NFL history.
With his score in the first quarter, Allen also tied his single-season career high in touchdown catches with eight.
Allen was not on the final drive due to a hamstring injury. In addition, Mike Williams Sunday's game with a back injury he suffered on the opening drive. His absence opened up the door for Johnson’s big day.
On Wednesday, the team listed Allen, Ekeler (quad) and Williams (back) as questionable. All three were listed as limited participants the last two days after being out on Monday, but all three sessions were estimations based on walkthroughs.
Defensive end Joey Bosa, tight end Hunter Henry, and right guard Trai Turner all avoided injury designations, but right tackle Bryan Bulaga (concussion) has been ruled out.
I'll follow up on all involved as needed via Late-Breaking Update in advance of Thursday night's game against the Raiders. ...
A few final notes here. ... Herbert's two passing scores gave him 25 on the season. The touchdowns made him the fourth rookie in NFL history to throw 25-plus TDs.
Other QBs in Herbert's company?
Peyton Manning (26), Russell Wilson (26), and Baker Mayfield, who holds the rookie passing touchdown record with 27.
Herbert has averaged 2.1 touchdowns per game over his 12 NFL starts, and if he continues at his current pace over the final three weeks of the season, he'll finish with 31 touchdown passes.
As Profootballtalk.com suggests, it's been a rough year for the Chargers. Changes are likely this offseason and the roster needs a lot of work. But the most important piece is in place: The Chargers have found their franchise quarterback. ...
And last. ... The Chargers relied heavily on a variety of different screens fairly early in the contest, allowing Ekeler to rack up the targets. A mundane offensive approach didn't really corral the speedy back, but it definitely hampered the team's ability to score as the Chargers were in the red zone just twice all afternoon.
Since returning from a six-game absence, Ekeler has immediately returned to his featured role with Kalen Ballage essentially operating as the obvious run-only spell back. That didn't change much with Justin Jackson back, either.
Expect more of the same Thursday night against the porous Raiders defense.
QBs: Justin Herbert, Chase Daniel, Easton Stick
RBs: Austin Ekeler, Justin Jackson, Larry Rountree III, Joshua Kelley
WRs: Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Jalen Guyton, Josh Palmer, K.J. Hill, Josh Reed
TEs: Jared Cook, Donald Parham, Tre' McKitty, Stephen Anderson
Los Angeles RamsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 December 2020
As Associated Press sports writer Greg Beacham suggests, Cam Akers appears ready to provide the rushing brilliance that the Los Angeles Rams have been mostly missing since midway through their Super Bowl season two years ago.
For the moment, head coach Sean McVay insists his speedy rookie is still just one part of a ground attack that has shown signs of rejuvenation all season long for the Rams (9-4).
Akers' 171-yard performance in the Rams' 24-3 thrashing of New England on Thursday night evoked memories of just how effective McVay's offense was when Todd Gurley was regularly churning out yards by the hundreds in 2017 and 2018.
Gurley's production decline amid murky knee problems slowed the Rams on their way to the Super Bowl, and his ineffectiveness last season ultimately forced the Rams to reboot their running game without their franchise running back.
That reboot looks like a success with the increasing emergence of Akers down the stretch: The Rams moved up to eighth in the NFL with 128.9 yards rushing per game after beating New England with 186 total yards on the ground. The Rams finished last season 26th in the league with 93.7 yards rushing per game after being third in 2018 with 139.4.
Put another way: Akers rushed for more yards against the Patriots than Gurley managed in any game last season.
Akers' speed and elusiveness are undeniable, but McVay said Friday that Akers is still a part of a trio. Darrell Henderson also looked sharp before he was slowed by injuries, and Malcolm Brown is a reliable veteran leader.
"I think what's important for us is capitalizing on all the different playmakers that we do have," McVay said. "Certainly Cam did a great job (Thursday) night, but that doesn't mean that you won't see opportunities for Darrell and Malcolm (Brown) moving forward, because both of those players have done a lot of really good things. ... We're really pleased with Cam, and not surprised."
On Monday, wide receiver Cooper Kupp said he's noticed how well Akers has been reading blocks and setting guys up.
"There's been some level of the game slowing down to him. And whether it's the game slowing down or him just being able to trust in his ability, I think he's done an incredible job over these last couple of weeks," Kupp said, via Stu Jackson of the team's official site. "His energy throughout practice, how he's preparing as well, there's definitely an added sense of urgency for him."
Henderson has been Los Angeles' top rusher this season, but Akers, who was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week on Wednesday, is now just 36 yards behind with three games to go. If Akers continues his upward trajectory, he should see plenty of opportunities for success this week against the 0-13 Jets.
McVay thought the Rams' rushing total could have been even bigger, but he got conservative on purpose after LA's 90-yard scoring drive in the third quarter because of his defense's dominance. The Rams still won a game with more yards rushing than yards passing for the first time since the 2018 season.
A blowout win over the Patriots before a national television audience is a pretty good way to start a long weekend, and the Rams earned the right to a little satisfaction from their fourth win in five games out of their bye week, even while they realize they've got much more to do to stay atop the NFC West.
Dominating the Pats -- even this Brady-free, drastically weakened 2020 version of Bill Belichick's club -- felt like a landmark in the Rams' surprisingly strong season.
Still, the offense was undeniably inconsistent.
The Rams had three lengthy scoring drives, but managed just 65 total yards on their other eight drives. McVay's purposely conservative second-half approach played a part, but the Rams probably need more than 17 offensive points to beat most good teams, even with their dominant defense.
Jared Goff shares the NFL lead in completions with Ben Roethlisberger (324), but his quarterback rating is down to 23rd in the league (60.6), and his 11th interception was his 15th turnover of the season. Goff is mostly getting the job done in 2020, but brilliant games have been rare.
Fortunately, coordinator Brandon Staley's defense thrashed another opponent, holding the Pats to 220 total yards, stopping three drives on downs and keeping New England out of the end zone entirely. Los Angeles' D nudged into the NFL lead for fewest total yards allowed (285.8) and yards passing allowed (191.7). Staley's group also bounced back superbly from allowing four touchdowns at Arizona last week.
For what it's worth. ... McVay reported no new injuries Friday after the Rams' second game in five days. He always credits the team's remarkable durability throughout his tenure to Reggie Scott, the team's senior director of sports medicine and performance.
After a long weekend off, the Rams prepare to host the New York Jets next Sunday, Dec. 20. McVay has already been talking up the winless club and its quarterback, former USC star Sam Darnold.
QBs: Matthew Stafford, John Wolford, Bryce Perkins
RBs: Darrell Henderson, Sony Michel, Jake Funk
WRs: Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, Van Jefferson, DeSean Jackson, Tutu Atwell
TEs: Tyler Higbee, Johnny Mundt, Jacob Harris, Brycen Hopkins
Miami DolphinsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 December 2020
The Dolphins' playoff odds and injury report are both longer this week in the wake of a bruising loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
Miami (8-5) fell two games behind AFC East leader Buffalo, making it unlikely the Dolphins will end their streak of 12 years without a division title. Six AFC teams have more wins, and the Dolphins are given a 33 percent chance by FiveThirtyEight to earn a wild-card berth.
They'll likely need to win two of their final three games to end their four-year playoff drought. The closing stretch starts Sunday at home against the New England Patriots, who beat Miami in the season opener.
The Dolphins could be severely short-handed in the rematch. By the end of Sunday's 33-27 loss to Kansas City, the Dolphins were without their top four pass catchers and two starting linebackers.
"We need the next guy to step up and step in," head coach Brian Flores said Monday. "It has been that way for every team the entire year. The teams that are able to adjust the best give themselves an opportunity to continue to play well. And it's a great opportunity for the guys that get to step in."
They have things going in their favor.
First and foremost, the Dolphins' ball-hawking defense is tied for the NFL lead with 25 takeaways, including four against the Chiefs. NFL interception leader Xavien Howard's had one of three picks against Patrick Mahomes, who had thrown only two previously all season.
Cornerback Byron Jones forced a fumble that Miami recovered, and also grabbed his first interception since 2017. The Dolphins' streak of at least one takeaway in 19 consecutive games is the league's longest.
Howard, a contender for Defensive Player of the Year, has an interception in five consecutive games. His nine interceptions are the most in a single season in the NFL since Chicago's Tim Jennings in 2012.
"I feel great about it, man," Howard said. "I'll just keep getting the ball for the offense and putting the ball in their hands and making plays."
But as Associated Press sports writer Steven Wine suggested, the Dolphins will be in the market during the offseason to upgrade at receiver and running back, and depth in both areas has been severely tested.
It's possible just one receiver will reach the 500-yard mark. Only one player -- Myles Gaskin -- has rushed for more than 166 yards, and he's on the COVID-19 list.
Working with reserves at several skill positions, rookie Tua Tagovailoa still threw for a season-high 316 yards and again looked good running the no-huddle offense in the fourth quarter as Miami tried to rally from a 30-10 deficit.
"We ran out of time," Tagovailoa said.
Lynn Bowden Jr. led Miami with seven catches for 82 yards, both season highs for the rookie. He was drafted in the third round by the Las Vegas Raiders and traded to Miami in September. He played some quarterback at Kentucky.
Tight end Mike Gesicki (right shoulder) caught two touchdown passes before leaving in the fourth quarter, and it's uncertain whether he'll play again this season, Flores said.
"It's too early to tell," Flores said. "We're still going through the evaluation process with our medical staff."
According to Miami Herald staffer Armando Salguero, the Dolphins fear Gesicki will miss at least one game and possibly more.
In Gesicki’s absence the Dolphins will have to fill the tight end void with reserves Adam Shaheen and Durham Smythe. The team also could call on first-year player Chris Myarick, who is on the practice squad but was elevated for Sunday’s game, to serve in a reserve role.
Wideouts DeVante Parker (leg) and Jakeem Grant (leg) were also unable to finish the game.
NFL Network's Tom Pelissero reports the Parker suffered a slight hamstring strain. He was working on a limited basis Wednesday and Pelissero went on to note that Parker hasn't missed a game this season.
NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported Monday that Grant will be week-to-week with a hamstring injury.
As ESPN.com's Cameron Wolfe pointed out, Tagovailoa thrives when he has players he can trust with speed, playmaking ability and separation skills. The Dolphins' two best weapons, Parker and Gesicki, are strong jump-ball specialists, but nobody on the roster consistently threatens defenses deep or in the open field.
Beyond that, the rookie showed some chemistry with Bowden.
This week the Dolphins hope to avenge a 21-11 loss at New England in Week 1. They then finish with road games at the Raiders and Bills.
One last item here. ... DeAndre Washington rushed 13 times for 35 yards and caught two of four targets for 17 yards working as the starter against his former team.
Washington was the workhorse on the ground with Gaskin and Matt Breida both on the reserve/COVID-19 list and Salvon Ahmed (shoulder) inactive. He didn't do much with the opportunity, however, averaging just 2.7 yards per carry against his former team.
As CBSSports.com suggested, Washington will likely retain the lead role in Week 15 against the Patriots if none of the three aforementioned running backs are ready to return. Gaskin will reportedly miss this one due to the timing of his positive test, but Breida cam off the COVID reserve list Wednesday and Achmed practiced on a limited basis.
Tagovailoa landed on the team’s injury report on Wednesday, but it doesn’t appear to be an issue that will jeopardize his availability for Sunday’s game against the Patriots.
Tagovailoa landed on the report with an ankle injury, but he was a full participant in practice. Unless that changes, he should be making his first start against New England.
I'll obviously be following up on all the ill and injured skill players via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.
QBs: Jacoby Brissett, Reid Sinnett, Tua Tagovailoa
RBs: Myles Gaskin, Salvon Ahmed, Malcolm Brown
WRs: DeVante Parker, Jaylen Waddle, Will Fuller, Jakeem Grant, Albert Wilson, Preston Williams, Mack Hollins
TEs: Mike Gesicki, Durham Smythe, Hunter Long, Adam Shaheen
Minnesota VikingsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 December 2020
As Associated Press sports writer Brian Hall noted, five wins in six weeks had put the Vikings into the playoff hunt after their 1-5 start.
Yet, narrow victories against Carolina and Jacksonville the previous two weeks -- and only one win coming against a team with a winning record -- left some questioning whether Minnesota was worthy of a postseason spot.
The Vikings had a chance to legitimize their playoff status Sunday in Tampa.
But Minnesota suffered too many breakdowns, highlighted by four missed kicks from Dan Bailey in a 26-14 loss.
Bailey missed one extra point and three field-goal attempts in the loss, accounting for 10 points Minnesota didn't get. Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said he's weighing his options at the position, but has maintained there were other breakdowns that led to the loss.
"It's not just Dan Bailey," Zimmer said after the game. "We gave up a 50-yard throw because a couple guys weren't in the right place. You can't do that, either. If you guys want me to fire guys for making a mistake here, a mistake there, then we wouldn't have any players. Let's not put this all on Dan Bailey."
Minnesota (6-7) had chances to prove itself previously. The Vikings lost 31-30 to Tennessee (9-4) in Week 3. They lost 27-26 at Seattle (9-4) in Week 5.
On Sunday, Minnesota led 6-0 early even though Bailey had two early misses. The young defense was holding against Tom Brady and the Buccaneers until receiver Scott Miller got behind the defense for a 48-yard touchdown reception that snapped Tampa Bay out of its early funk.
Against Tampa Bay's league-leading run defense, Minnesota had 33 rushes for 162 yards, the most allowed by the Buccaneers since Baltimore ran for 242 yards in Week 15 of the 2018 season. Dalvin Cook posted his seventh game of the season with at least 100 yards rushing, finishing with 102 yards on 22 carries, becoming the first 100-yard rusher against Tampa Bay since Seattle's Chris Carson in Week 9 of last season.
"It definitely gives you hope and is something positive to look forward to, I guess," linebacker Todd Davis said Monday of the team's mistakes. "Because you know that if you correct those, you can really beat any team that you go up against. That's a good team that we played on Sunday, but if we don't have those self-inflicted wounds, we definitely win that game."
Instead, Minnesota sits a game behind Arizona (7-6) for the final wild-card spot in the NFC. The Vikings are tied with Chicago, whom they host on Sunday, and hold the tiebreaker against both teams. There are three teams a game back at 5-8.
Whether Bailey will be a part of any potential playoff push is still to be determined. Zimmer said he hasn't made a decision on who will be the kicker Sunday.
"Honestly, I love the kid," Zimmer said Monday. "If we end up making a change, then it's about just what we feel at this particular point in time. We are in the performance business and these last two weeks hasn't been good."
As ESPN.com's Courtney Cronin notes, with three weeks to go in a stretch where the Vikings need to be nearly perfect to make the playoffs, kicking concerns are a major obstacle that might be too much to overcome. If they're not fixed immediately -- and there's no guarantee that cutting Bailey and signing whoever is available on the free-agent market will be an easy fix -- Minnesota's day of reckoning will come sooner than expected by the one phase of the game that's haunted them for years.
Even after repeated blunders with the kicking unit in Minnesota's past two games, Bailey entered Week 14 as the sixth-most-accurate kicker in NFL history. Last week in an overtime win against Jacksonville, Bailey missed two extra points and a field goal attempt at the end of regulation that would have won Minnesota the game.
In overtime, after reaching the Jaguars' 32-yard line, the Vikings opted to run the ball eight straight times with Cook to get as close as they could to the end zone, with Bailey eventually kicking a winning 23-yard field goal.
Last week, special-teams coordinator Marwan Maalouf suggested that the kicker was kicking the ball higher than usual in a rough outing against the Jaguars. On Friday, Bailey was asked whether he could pinpoint what's gone wrong with the kicking operation and said he was "embarrassed" by the recent misses but couldn't put his finger on any one specific issue.
Safe to say he's still searching for the answer. ...
Meanwhile, the Vikings brought in kicker Chandler Catanzaro for a tryout on Tuesday with no indication a roster move will follow -- at least not immediately.
For the record, Minnesota can still work its way back into the playoffs depending on how Arizona finishes the season. If the Vikings want to give themselves any chance, they will likely need to beat Chicago on Sunday. Road games at New Orleans (10-3) and Detroit (5-8) finish the season.
Other notes of interest. ... The Buccaneers were able to reduce the effect of Cook and the overall offense by only committing eight or more defenders to the box on 22.73 percent of his plays, which ranked 15th among qualifying rushers (minimum 10 carries). That was one spot ahead of Minnesota's commitment to loading the box against Ronald Jones II (22.22 percent).
The relative containment of Cook, who seemed ready to spring one at multiple times but complained about field conditions, allowed the Buccaneers to commit more resources on preventing big passing plays by the Vikings.
It was a stark contrast to the approach by Jacksonville in Week 13 when the Jaguars placed eight or more defenders in the box on 53.13 percent of Cook's plays (third-most in Week 13). ...
With Kyle Rudolph out with a foot injury, tight ends Irv Smith Jr. and Tyler Conklin stepped forward. Smith had a career-high 63 yards and tied a career best with four catches, including a touchdown. Conklin led the team with five receptions, accounting for 40 yards.
For the record, there wasn't much meat on the receiving bone. Beyond Smith, Justin Jefferson caught 4-of-8 targets for 39 yards while Adam Thielen caught 3-of-4 targets for 39 yards.
I'll have more on Rudolph and Alexander Mattison, who has missed the last two games following an appendectomy, via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.
Finally. ... Tight end Hale Hentges was activated from roster-exempt list after being signed last week and receiver Tajae Sharpe has been waived.
QBs: Kirk Cousins, Kellen Mond
RBs: Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison
WRs: Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, K.J. Osborn, Dede Westbrook, Ihmir Smith-Marsette
TEs: Tyler Conklin, Chris Herndon, Brandon Dillon, Ben Ellefson, Irv Smith Jr.
New England PatriotsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 December 2020
Head coach Bill Belichick decisively said he isn't changing quarterbacks after pulling Cam Newton early in the fourth quarter of Thursday night's 24-3 road loss to the Los Angeles Rams.
"Cam's our quarterback," Belichick said in his postgame news conference, cutting off the question to give his answer.
Newton finished 9-of-16 for 119 yards against the Rams, with one costly interception that was returned 79 yards for a touchdown, as the Patriots' passing offense sputtered once again.
He was replaced by Jarrett Stidham with 10 minutes, 14 seconds remaining and the Patriots trailing 24-3.
Stidham, the 2019 fourth-round draft choice from Auburn, had been a top candidate to be Tom Brady's replacement at the start of the season before Newton signed a one-year contract on July 8.
Asked why he wouldn't now switch to Stidham and what Newton has shown for Belichick to stick by him, Belichick said simply: "He's our quarterback. I think I just answered that one."
Belichick, asked if with the benefit of time to review the tape that he is still sticking with Newton, said Friday morning: "Yeah, I've answered that question for the last time."
Meanwhile, for just the fourth time since Belichick became Patriots coach in 2000, New England won't end the season as AFC East champions.
The Buffalo Bills improved to 10-3 overall and 7-2 in the conference with their 26-15 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night. It eliminated the hopes of New England (6-7, 5-4) to extend its NFL-record run of 11 straight division titles. The Los Angeles Rams own the NFL's second-longest division streak, earning seven straight titles from 1973-79.
The Bills also beat New England 24-21 in Buffalo last month, though with their records now, the Patriots can't catch Buffalo in the standings. The last time the Patriots failed to win the division was 2008, when Brady suffered a season-ending injury in the opener.
This will also be the first time since Belichick's first season in New England in 2000 that an AFC East foe has finished with more victories than the Patriots. In 2008, both New England and Miami were 11-5, but the Dolphins won the division on a tiebreaker, and the Patriots missed a wild-card spot by losing other tiebreakers.
The Jets and Patriots both finished 9-7 in 2002, with New York taking the division title.
New England is still mathematically alive to extend its league-record 11 consecutive playoff berths, but will need lots of help over the remainder of the season to do so.
They visit the Dolphins (8-4) this weekend before finishing with back-to-back home games against the Buffalo Bills (9-3) and New York Jets (0-12). ...
As for Newton, he has been most effective as a rusher this season, totaling 451 yards in 113 carries with 11 touchdowns. But when opponents limit Newton's rushing yards, and by extension the Patriots' overall running game, the offense hasn't consistently been able to move the ball through the air.
Newton, when asked if he is worried he will be replaced, said, "That's not my call. I'm just doing what I'm asked, with the mentality of getting better, and that's what I keep planning on doing."
He is 199-of-301 for 2,172 yards passing on the season with five touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
That, coupled with Belichick twice pulling Newton, 31, late in blowout losses, has sparked questions about a possible change.
"That's not where we are right now. We're not there now," Belichick responded on WEEI Radio when asked if he was ready to see more of Stidham.
Belichick was asked if he played Stidham because he saw him as the team's best chance to come back. He said, "Wanted to give him the opportunity to play, so we did."
Asked if he is happy with Stidham's development and what he has seen from him this season, Belichick said: "Jarrett has worked hard. He's tried to take advantage of his opportunities. But that's not really the point."
Newton has been playing through an abdomen injury the past two games but said it wasn't affecting him on the field.
"We just got to be better, and it starts with me personally," he said. "Just have to make more plays, and that's what it comes down to."
Meanwhile, ESPN.com's Mike Reiss notes that while the merits of that decision to stick with Newton are debatable, Belichick also provides himself and director of player personnel Nick Caserio some cover by going that route.
Because of Newton's unique skill set as a big, physical runner, he helps mask personnel deficiencies at tight end and receiver in the traditional passing game.
The idea Stidham could have more success throwing to this group of personnel is probably a stretch, and a case could be made it would be detrimental to his growth to put him out there with them.
Bottom line: If Belichick turned to Stidham, and the passing game stayed on its present course, it would only further spotlight the questionable roster-building of Belichick and Caserio at the skill positions.
In a related note. ... In an interview on WEEI Radio on Monday, Newton was asked about offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels' play calling, particularly a series of plays inside the five-yard line where no passes were called.
Newton didn't take the cheese in an answer that spanned four minutes in totality.
"One thing that's not going to happen, and let me be perfectly clear, you're not about to create any type of division between me and Josh McDaniels," Newton said, via Mike Reiss of ESPN. "There's been times where, as a player, you kind of bail your coach out because of the plays that you may make. But more times than not, Josh has bailed the whole team out because of his theory and his in-game adjustments. So it's give and take.
"[For] me to sit up here and throw a person that I admire in Josh under the bus and say, 'He should have called more passes,' no I'm not going to do that, man. I'm not going to do that. Because I know just as much as the energy that I know goes into me wanting to win, I know Josh shares that same thing. And I know he wants to put this team in the best situation to win. And that's the only thing you can ask for."
The Patriots currently rank 24th in total offense, 29th in passing yards, and last in passing touchdowns, so there's clearly more than one thing at play in its offensive failures.
But at least for now, the Patriots, Newton and McDaniels have three games to make it work and see if they can finish above .500. ...
It remains to be seen which receiving assets step up to assist in that.
As ESPN's Mike Clay notes, Jakobi Meyers appeared to be on the verge of a breakout when he replaced an injured Julian Edelman as Newton's top target earlier this season. Meyers was targeted a combined 24 times during Weeks 8-9 and put up a career-high 169 yards on 12 catches against the Jets in Week 9.
Despite continuing to see a massive target share (30 percent during Weeks 8 to 14), Meyers' production has since plummeted, with 59 or fewer receiving yards in each of his past five games.
In fact, Meyers has cleared 60 yards only once this season and has zero touchdowns in New England's run-heavy offense. Clay added: "Meyers won't be a recommended start against a good Dolphins defense."
Meanwhile, Belichick called Edelman day to day on Wednesday morning. The afternoon brought news that the Patriots designated Edelman to return from injured reserve, along with linebacker Shilique Calhoun.
Edelman and Calhoun practiced, opening a 21-day window from them to return to the 53-player roster.
Edelman went on injured reserve Oct. 31. He underwent knee surgery after dealing with an injury throughout the first seven weeks of the regular season.
Edelman has 21 receptions for 315 yards in 2020. He caught eight passes for 179 yards in Week 2 against the Seahawks, but did not catch more than three passes in a game after that. Edelman also spent time on the reserve/COVID-19 list in November.
According to Profootballtalk.com, the Patriots also had running back Damien Harris at practice Wednesday, which is good news for him after he left last week’s game with a back injury.
I'll follow up as needed.
QBs: Mac Jones, Brian Hoyer
RBs: Damien Harris, James White, J.J. Taylor, Rhamondre Stevenson
WRs: Jakobi Meyers, Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, Gunner Olszewski, N'Keal Harry
TEs: Jonnu Smith, Hunter Henry, Devin Asiasi
New Orleans SaintsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 December 2020
When the Saints needed 2 yards on fourth down to extend a fourth-quarter drive and potentially take the lead, head coach Sean Payton went for broke.
Quarterback Taysom Hill rolled right looking downfield, far beyond the short yardage New Orleans needed. He was caught from behind by Eagles defensive end Josh Sweat, ending what until then had looked like a promising possession across midfield.
"It was more of an aggressive call by me. A shot play," Payton said. "And it's one of those where I'll want that back relative to the timing in the game. We had the momentum."
After that, the Saints' momentum was gone. Soon after, so was their winning streak, which ended at nine games. Also gone was their hold on the top spot in the NFC.
It was a stunning result considering how well New Orleans had played since October, and how much the Eagles had struggled in losing their four previous games.
But that failed fourth down was merely one of many regrets the Saints had on Sunday.
Payton said the Saints "were flat" in a first half in which they fell into a 17-0 hole that they couldn't quite overcome in a 24-21 loss.
His players agreed.
"We should have played better in the first half. And I've got to take some blame for that as a quarterback," said Hill, who fell to 3-1 as a fill-in starter for the injured Drew Brees. "This one does sting a little bit because we knew what was at stake and we worked really hard to put ourselves in a situation to be in the driver's seat where we could control our own destiny."
The anemic first half for the Saints' offense included an interception on a pass that bounced off of running back Alvin Kamara's hands and a missed 45-yard field goal by Wil Lutz
The loss dropped the Saints (10-3) behind Green Bay (10-3) by virtue of the fact that the Packers won their head-to-head meeting in Week 3, which also happened to be the last time the Saints lost before their trip to Philadelphia in Week 14.
Now New Orleans must finish one game better than Green Bay during both clubs' final three games to earn a first-round playoff bye -- now given only to the top seed in each conference under the NFL's new 14-team playoff format. Their path to post-season success won't be easy. They host defending Super Bowl champion and current AFC contender Kansas City Sunday.
Containing Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes and Co. will be a struggle for the Saints if they look as uncharacteristically porous and undisciplined on defense as they did against Eagles rookie Jalen Hurts and Philadelphia's running game.
The Saints had not allowed a 100-yard rusher in 55 games when they arrived in Philadelphia. Then the Eagles had two. Hurts rushed for 102 yards. Running back Miles Sanders rushed for 126 yards, highlighted by his 82-yard touchdown run when the Saints were trying to keep their deficit at 10 with less than two minutes to go in the half.
Meanwhile, Payton doesn't want his team to forget Sunday's defeat, but to learn from the many mistakes made by New Orleans in order to prevent them from happening again, when the games become much more important.
"It showed up in all three areas. By no stretch of the imagination there was anything really positive about it," Payton explained. "When you look back at the film, there were too many mistakes. We have trouble throwing just a simple screen pass right now.
"This next week will be a good, tough week of the fundamentals. It can happen. You can play and play and win and win, and you're hoping you're making the corrections as you go, but too many things yesterday that were troublesome when you watch the film."
The film might look better in the weeks ahead, as the Saints could get Brees back after missing the last month with rib and lung injuries. The veteran signal caller was officially designated to return from IR on Wednesday.
Brees' return isn't guaranteed for Week 15, but it should still be right around the corner.
"I don't know. I haven't talked to the docs yet," Payton said of Brees' status. "This would be a goal week for him, realistically. And yet I know last week he was still having significant pain."
For what it's worth, Brees didn't shy away from the question.
Cox Sports TV's Mike Nabors asked if there was "extra motivation" for him to play this week with the reigning Super Bowl champion coming into town, Amie Just of the New Orleans Times-PIcayune/Advocate reports.
"Yes," Brees said. "Every game is important, but obviously, I just think where we are in our journey as a team, there's a lot to play for each and every week. And you get to play against arguably one of the best teams in the NFL right now in the Chiefs with one of the best quarterbacks, so it's a great challenge. If you love football,
Brees came short of declaring his return, saying that he'll know at some point this week if he'll be ready to play, but didn't delve into specifics.
"Listen, it's a step-by-step process," Brees said. "I'm trusting that process."
We'll learn later in the week whether Brees' pain has subsided enough for him to rejoin his teammates on the field, although NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported Wednesday "there's not a great chance" of that. The Saints will need him and a cleaner game in general to start a new winning streak with the postseason less than a month away.
I'll have more on Brees via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
Also of interest. ... According to ESPN's Mike Triplett, The jury is still out on whether Hill can be an effective starting quarterback after four starts. But his fumbles have become an obvious concern. Hill has now fumbled the ball 10 times this season, losing five of them, after dropping the ball while being sacked on that ill-fated fourth down attempt.
That wasn't Hill's most egregious fumble, since it wouldn't have done him much good to tuck the ball away in that situation.
But it was disturbing nonetheless since his fumbles had already become a key talking point last week.
Hill also threw an interception on a tipped pass in the second quarter as he continued to do some good things and some bad things as a thrower. He finished 28-of-38 passing for a career-high 291 yards, two TD passes and the two turnovers. He ran the ball five times for 33 yards.
Frankly, four games into Hill's starting career, we don't know all that much more about his potential than we knew a month ago. He has shown flashes of unique ability as both a runner and thrower, and he made some big plays during Sunday's second-half rally. But he still needs more polish before he can secure a full-time gig.
In a related note. ... Payton, appearing on the Huddle and Flow podcast with NFL Network's Steve Wyche and Jim Trotter, offered the following tidbit on Jameis Winston and the plan at QB going forward: "He's going to have that opportunity (to start in New Orleans) the minute Drew leaves."
Payton added that Hill would have the same. ... Bigger picture, there seems to be an expectation that this likely will be Brees' final season. ...
Emmanuel Sanders caught three passes for 48 yards and a touchdown on five targets against the Eagles. As ESPN's Mike Clay notes, it marks the veteran receiver's best fantasy day during the Hill era, as he'd fallen short of 11 fantasy points in each of his past four games and had totaled 43 yards on seven targets in his past two games.
Even after Sunday, Sanders is averaging 3.8 targets per game during his past six outings. Clay believes Sanders will be slightly more appealing if Brees returns, but the veteran wideout hasn't managed a top-20 fantasy week since Week 5 and isn't a recommended flex play against a good Chiefs pass defense. ...
Meanwhile, Lutz has now missed three straight field goal attempts for the first time in his career, dating to last week -- including a 45-yarder in the first half and a 57-yarder just after the two-minute warning. Lutz was a Pro Bowler last season, so there's no reason to expect this trend to continue. But his slump has obviously come at a bad time after a three-point loss.
QBs: Jameis Winston, Taysom Hill, Trevor Siemian, Ian Book
RBs: Alvin Kamara, Tony Jones Jr., Dwayne Washington
WRs: Marquez Callaway, Deonte Harris, Chris Hogan, Lil'Jordan Humphrey, Ty Montgomery, Michael Thomas, Tre'quan Smith
TEs: Adam Trautman, Juwan Johnson, Garrett Griffin
New York GiantsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 December 2020
Aiming for an NFC East title and of the belief that their second-season signal-caller Daniel Jones would give them the best shot at a win over the Arizona Cardinals, the New York Giants started Jones on Sunday, bum hamstring at all.
It was a decision that worked out dreadfully, the Giants losing to the Cardinals, 26-7, with an immobile Jones getting pummeled and pulverized to the tune of six sacks and three fumbles (one lost).
Nonetheless, Judge offered no regrets on the decision to start Jones -- who missed the previous week.
"No, I have no regrets about playing him," Judge said, via Giants Today. "We made a calculation based on what we thought he could do as a player."
Jones said much the same.
His post-game session with the media was pushed back so he could meet with members of the team's medical staff, but Jones didn't think he did anything to his hamstring that will cause him to miss another game.
Jones said the meeting was about "general bumps and bruises and staying on top of the hammy" he hurt in Week 12 against the Bengals.
Jones admitted he "wasn't able to run like I normally am."
That led to six sacks and a dismal overall performance by the offense, but like his coach, none of that had Jones feeling like it was a mistake to play this week.
"I don't regret it. I felt good enough to play. I felt like I could do everything I needed to do and I did that throughout the game," Jones said, via Ralph Vacchiano of SNY.
But those six sacks came with a cost.
Judge told reporters on Wednesday that Jones has “another lower leg issue,” in addition to the hamstring injury that caused him to miss a Week 13 win over Seattle. Per multiple reports, the “lower leg issue” is a sprained ankle.
Judge also explained the decision-making process regarding the question of whether Jones will suit up and play against the Browns this weekend.
“If he can defend himself properly in the pocket, if he’s not at risk beyond any normal game, then we’ll give him the opportunity to play,” Judge said, adding that he hasn’t decided whether Jones or Colt McCoy will play.
Throughout a mercurial season for the Giants (5-8), Jones' legs have often carried him and the offense to more success than his arm.
On Sunday, Jones threw for just 127 yards, completing 11 of his 21 attempts with no touchdowns or interceptions before the coaching staff threw in the towel and replaced Jones late in the game with McCoy, who was sacked twice as well.
It was a banner day for the Cardinals defense, sparked by Haason Reddick, who had a franchise-record five sacks.
It was a huge stumble for the Giants, who had a four-game winning streak halted and will now take on another week of scrutiny as to whether Jones should play against the Browns in Week 15, of course, if he should've played in Week 14.
The Giants' schedule is not easy, with contests at home against Cleveland, away at Baltimore and home the final weekend against Dallas.
Judge said Monday the goal for the team has not changed. It's the same as it has been since Day 1. Come to work, get better and play well on Sunday.
"So in terms of all the division standings, look, it's the same as last week when everyone talked about being in first place," the rookie coach said. "That wasn't the focus of the week and, being in second place, that's not the focus of the week, either. The only thing that's going to help us right now is playing our best game against the Browns."
The Giants have not been to the playoffs since 2016, the only year they made the postseason since winning the Super Bowl in February 2012.
"The playoffs are everything because, you know, as a team that's what you want, to go to the playoffs and go to the Super Bowl and win a Super Bowl," defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson said Monday. That's the biggest thing across the board for teams in the NFL. We have to take it one week at a time, and just take it step by step. We look too far ahead and you miss out on that moment now."
Today, it looks less likely the moment will come this year. ...
I'll have more on Jones' status via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses. ...
One thing adding a degree of difficulty. ... The 1.39 yards of separation for Darius Slayton in the first half -- the distance between him and the nearest defender when the ball arrived in the first half -- was the most of any of the Giants' non-running backs before halftime.
Golden Tate was at 0.39 yards on his one target. Tight end Evan Engram was at 0.84 yards and Kaden Smith 1.24. Sterling Shepard surprisingly wasn't targeted (although he did catch 3-of-5 targets for 35 yards in the second half).
The Giants' pass-catchers just weren't winning off the line of scrimmage in the first half. It made it difficult for Jones and the Giants' passing game.
Wayne Gallman rushed 12 times for 57 yards and caught three of four targets for 16 yards against the Cardinals.
Gallman got 12 of the 17 carries by Giants running backs, but it was Dion Lewis who got the call from one yard out for New York's lone points of the afternoon. Though Gallman has gone two games without a touchdown after scoring six in his previous five games, he remains locked into the lead role in the Giants' backfield heading into a Week 15 matchup with the Browns.
QBs: Daniel Jones, Mike Glennon
RBs: Saquon Barkley, Devontae Booker, Gary Brightwell
WRs: Kenny Golladay, Sterling Shepard, Darius Slayton, C.J. Board, Kadarius Toney, John Ross
TEs: Evan Engram, Kyle Rudolph, Kaden Smith
New York JetsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 December 2020
As Associated Press sports writer Dennis Waszak Jr. wrote, "It's beginning to feel a lot like a somber farewell tour for Sam Darnold. ..."
The quarterback's future with the team is uncertain, particularly because the 0-13 squad appears on a collision course with a franchise-changing decision. They currently hold the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft in April, and it would seem like a no-brainer that Clemson star Trevor Lawrence would be the choice -- if he decides to leave school.
That would render Darnold as old news, a once-promising symbol of hope whose time is suddenly up.
"I'm not worried about speculation or what others are saying outside of our locker room," Darnold insisted Monday. "For me, I'm worried about playing good football down the stretch and really taking it one day at a time and one game at a time."
But again, that time and those games are running out.
Darnold has struggled mightily this season, dealing with two stints on the sideline because of shoulder injuries, then not performing anywhere close to what many -- himself included -- expected in his third season. He went just 14 of 26 for 132 yards in New York's 40-3 loss at Seattle on Sunday.
The fact he hasn't been able to raise his level of play and, in turn, improve those around him is concerning. The QB-coach marriage between him and Adam Gase also has been a failure, evident in Darnold's regression. The Jets also haven't done enough to provide Darnold with consistent playmaking help.
Despite all that, Darnold still believes he is the future of the franchise.
"Yeah, I do," Darnold said. "I mean, I believe in myself as a quarterback and as a player in this league. Obviously, that decision isn't up to me, but I'm always going to believe in myself. I have the utmost confidence in myself to be able to go out there and play good football on Sundays."
The problem is he hasn't shown that since a late promising stretch last season. Gase believes that's hardly all Darnold's fault.
"It's frustrating to see, especially early on in the game, a lot of the things that he's doing, he's doing the right things," Gase said, "and we're having breakdowns around him. ... It's not just him. It's got to be the guys around him. Everybody's got to do their jobs."
That all has many wondering if a change of scenery -- a trade, perhaps -- in the offseason might do Darnold some good.
"I love it here, I love the people around here, I love living here," Darnold said. "I've always said I want to be a Jet for life. But again, that decision is not necessarily up to me. But that's how I feel."
Still, as ESPN.com's Rich Cimini suggested after Sunday's loss, "Darnold looked like a beaten man; his body language in the second half told the story of a player whose fire has been doused by the constant losing. What a shame. Darnold didn't help the cause, as he played a terrible game."
Facing the NFL's 31st-ranked defense, he generated no spark after the opening drive, which produced a field goal. If the Seattle defenders had better hands, Darnold would've had three interceptions. No, this performance didn't enhance Darnold's trade value. It was the kind of game that will get him replaced by a high draft pick.
So if you're making an argument for working here, Waszak points the first offensive series.
The Jets are having success early in games, scoring on their first possession in a franchise-record seven straight games. They have two touchdowns and five field goals in that span, which is the longest active streak in the NFL. It's everything after that first series that has been a problem.
The Jets will head west again, this time to take on the Los Angeles Rams.
As if New York's offense didn't have enough problems, it will have to try to get something going Sunday against the NFL's No. 1-ranked overall defense.
By the way. ... The Jets were a mess under interim defensive coordinator Frank Bush, who replaced Williams. They allowed four touchdown passes by Russell Wilson, and none of them were contested balls. Bad coverage, bad run defense, bad pass rush, bad everything. The Jets surrendered 410 total yards. It was a total embarrassment. ...
Also per Cimini, even though Frank Gore, 37, has no future with the Jets, he will continue to get carries, according to Gase.
Gore and Ty Johnson split the workload in Seattle even though Johnson delivered the first 100-yard rushing day under Gase the previous week. Gase said he "might change the way we're doing things" when LaMical Perine comes off IR, Perine practiced Wednesday, opening the window for his return.
Until then, it'll be status quo. ...
Field goal kicking was among the things that went wrong in Seattle.
Sergio Castillo had a bad game against the Seahawks on Sunday, missing three of his four field-goal attempts in the first half. Now the move the Jets signaled on Monday by claiming kicker Chase McLaughlin has come to fruition, as New York released Castillo on Tuesday afternoon.
Castillo made just eight of his 15 field goals with the Jets and missed an extra point. He was 2-of-6 in field goals over the last three games.
McLaughlin has made 4-of-5 field goals this year and 3-of-4 extra points.
The Jets also have kicker Sam Ficken, who is now eligible to come off injured reserve. He's been out since Week 11 with a groin injury. ...
I'll have more on the plan at kicker and on Jamison Crowder, who opened the week working on a limited basis due to his lingering calf injury; watch the Late-Breaking Update for more.
One last note here. ... Gase said wide receiver Denzel Mims is back with the team after leaving last week to deal with a personal issue.
QBs: Zach Wilson, Mike White
RBs: Ty Johnson, Michael Carter, Tevin Coleman, Lamical Perine, Josh Adams
WRs: Corey Davis, Jamison Crowder, Elijah Moore, Keelan Cole, Braxton Berrios, Denzel Mims, Jeff Smith
TEs: Tyler Kroft, Ryan Griffin, Daniel Brown, Trevon Wesco
Philadelphia EaglesCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 December 2020
The Eagles turned to Jalen Hurts at quarterback for Sunday's game against the Saints with the hope that his presence would spur the team to a much needed victory.
They got the outcome they were looking for. Hurts threw a touchdown and ran for 106 yards to help the team to a 24-21 win that snapped a four-game losing streak.
Head coach Doug Pederson noted that plenty of people had a hand in the win -- Miles Sanders scored twice, the defense had five sacks and two takeaways -- but referenced comments from earlier the week about why he was going with Hurts over Carson Wentz.
"We went into this week -- a lot of stuff's been piled on this football team this season. ... Sometimes you look for an opportunity to jumpstart things, kind of reset. ... It gave us a spark as a team that I was looking for," Pederson said, via Zach Berman of TheAthletic.com.
Following the game, Pederson would not say if Hurts would start against the Cardinals this week.
But on Monday, Pederson confirmed the obvious: Hurts will be the starting QB in Arizona on Sunday.
"After going through the film and really looking back even to last week and the preparation and everything, I'm gonna continue with Jalen this week as the starter," Pederson said.
Hurts completed 17 of 30 passes for 167 yards and the above-mentioned TD in Sunday's win over the NFC's top team. The QB's dual-threat ability was a difference-maker in his first start.
Remember, the Saints had gone 56 games without allowing a 100-yard rusher, the longest streak in the Super Bowl era. The Eagles (4-8-1) not only busted that up, but had two players go over the century mark as Sanders ran 14 times for 115 yards and the above-mentioned scores, including an 82-yard TD sprint to put the Eagles up 17-0 at the half -- their first 17-point lead since Week 1.
Hurts and Sanders became the first Eagles quarterback/running back duo to rush for 100-plus yards in the same game since Donovan McNabb (107) and Duce Staley (126) in 2002 against the New York Giants.
Hurts' 106 rushing yards is the second most by a player in his first career start at QB since 1950, trailing only Lamar Jackson's 119 yards in 2018, per Elias.
Hurts became the first quarterback since at least 1950 to throw a touchdown pass and rush for at least 100 yards in his first NFL start, per NFL Research.
More importantly, Hurts didn't kill his team with untimely sacks or horrific interceptions, which had become Wentz's bugaboo this season. The rookie QB didn't take a sack against the Saints. A late fumble was the lone blemish in his first start.
Pederson pointed to the overall team play as the main reason for sticking with Hurts.
"You know, I was thinking of a lot of things. Quite honestly, I was thinking of Carson, but I was thinking about the rest of the team and how the rest of the team played in the game," he said. "Jalen did, after looking at the film again today, Jalen played well. He was a big part of the success we had on offense and obviously helping us win that football game, but there were a lot of other great individual performances on both sides of the ball. I think of Miles Sanders, I think of Josh Sweat, Javon Hargrave. Fletcher Cox had a big game, big sack. We had two defensive takeaways in the game.
"So there were a lot of positives coming out of the football game and I didn't want to say it was all about one guy. You guys know me and my answers. I've always been about the team and really that was a team win yesterday."
Hurts said in a post-game interview on FOX that he doesn't believe he deserves the bulk of the praise for the way the Eagles played.
"It's not all about me," Hurts said. "This is a great team and we have a lot of great players, and I'm just so excited we got this win today. We worked really hard this week."
Hurts criticized himself, unprompted, for that fumble, saying he still has things he needs to work on.
Both on the field and afterward, Hurts handled himself exactly the way a leader should.
Given all that, and after the game the rookie played against one of the best teams in the NFL, there was no way Pederson was sending Hurts back to the bench in Week 15.
Monday's announcement confirmed the obvious decision.
But player and team sources told ESPN's Chris Mortensen that it's Hurts' job for rest of season, barring injury or disastrous play. The Eagles still have every intention to keep Wentz and have him be a major part of their team moving forward, sources told ESPN's Adam Schefter.
So while there is some sorting out to do at the QB position over the long term, it's Hurts' show for now.
With the win, the Eagles snapped a four-game losing streak while staying within striking distance of the division-leading Washington Football Team.
Other notes of interest. ... Sanders' 100-yard effort was his second of the season (118 yards and two touchdowns, Week 6 against Baltimore) and the third of his young career.
Sanders played a critical role as the Eagles won their final four games of the 2019 regular season to capture the division title and earn a spot in the playoffs. Sanders hopes to duplicate that magic in what has been a topsy-turvy 2020. A win over the NFC's top seed is not a bad start.
As impressive as the rushing attack was, the passing attack has a long way to go. Wide receivers caught only six balls.
Kicker Jake Elliott missed a 22-yard field goal a week after missing his second extra point. ...
And finally. ... Right tackle Jack Driscoll will miss the rest of the season with a significant MCL sprain, NFL Network's Mike Garafolo reported. The rookie toughed it out to finish the game against the Saints but further testing showed the full extent of the injury, Garafolo added.
QBs: Jalen Hurts, Joe Flacco, Gardner Minshew
RBs: Miles Sanders, Kenneth Gainwell, Boston Scott
WRs: DeVonta Smith, Jalen Reagor, Quez Watkins, Greg Ward, JJ Arcega-Whiteside
TEs: Dallas Goedert, Zach Ertz, Jack Stoll
Pittsburgh SteelersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 December 2020
As Associated Press sports writer Will Graves reminded readers, it's not the first time Ben Roethlisberger has openly -- if knowingly -- questioned his own skillset.
At the end of the 2016 season, the longtime Steelers quarterback hinted at retirement and let the question linger for months. Following an ugly loss to Jacksonville in October 2017, he semi-sarcastically suggested he didn't have it anymore.
Each time, Roethlisberger regrouped. It's what he's done relentlessly during his 17-year career, perhaps never more so than last fall following surgery on his right elbow. He finds himself at another pivotal moment after the Steelers were pushed around by Buffalo 26-15 on Sunday night, sapping whatever momentum remained from Pittsburgh's 11-0 start in the process following their second loss in a week.
"If I don't play good enough football, then I need to hang it up," Roethlisberger said. "I still feel like I can do enough things to help this team win football games. I'm going to do everything I can to get us back on track."
As tends to happen when Roethlisberger is involved, it was the first line of his comments that grabbed the most attention in the immediate aftermath. Yet rather than said in anger or resentment -- both of which applied during earlier times -- it was more matter of fact.
Roethlisberger did not spend months rehabbing if he felt he couldn't be an impact player. And throughout Pittsburgh's 11-game run at perfection, he looked like an MVP candidate as he expertly picked apart opponents by executing the short-passing game designed to minimize the number of hits his 38-year-old body absorbed.
Though he was far from sharp against the Bills while completing 21 of 37 passes for 187 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions -- one of them a tide-turning pick-6 late in the first half in which he threw slightly behind JuJu Smith-Schuster -- Roethlisberger's biggest problem wasn't his play so much as the play of the guys around him in the huddle.
The offensive line again struggled to open any holes despite the return of perennial Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey and running back James Conner off the reserve/COVID-19 list. Pittsburgh ran for 47 yards -- the fifth time in seven games the Steelers have finished with under 50 yards on the ground -- and appears to be grasping for answers.
Jaylen Samuels, who had nine touches through 12 games, had seven touches against Buffalo. And while losing starting left guard Matt Feiler and replacement Kevin Dotson to injuries didn't help, the reality is the unit -- regardless of the personnel -- has been routinely getting dominated when asked to provide any kind of push for weeks.
The inability to run the ball has allowed opposing defenses to become more aggressive in disrupting the passing game. The Steelers are averaging 3.7 yards per carry. Only Miami is less effective running the football, in part because opponents are stacking the line of scrimmage and daring rookie Tua Tagovailoa to pass.
Teams aren't stacking the line against Pittsburgh as much as they're just overwhelming a weakened offensive line.
Having a receiving group that can't seem to hold on to the ball isn't helping matters. Diontae Johnson found himself on the bench after two early drops and Roethlisberger's longest pass completion was a 20-yard strike to Smith-Schuster that was mostly Smith-Schuster creating a little magic after the catch.
Having success when the run game is in neutral -- actually, Graves made a point of noting "that's being charitable, it's in reverse" -- is doable if the passing game is efficient and the defense plays lights-out. Neither of those things happened in Buffalo.
While the Steelers were able to force Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen into a pair of early turnovers, once he settled in, Pittsburgh couldn't keep pace on a night it played without injured starting cornerback Joe Haden and lined up recently acquired Avery Williamson and converted safety Marcus Allen at inside linebacker.
So Roethlisberger can take all the blame if he wants. It's been his go-to for years regardless of how well or how poorly he performed during a given game. The issue is the "complementary football" that served the Steelers so well has vanished.
"We've got to make sure when one group surrenders or gives up points, we've got to work together," defensive end Cam Heyward said. "These past two games we haven't done that. There's a disconnect there."
The good news?
The Steelers will attempt to beat the Bengals for the 12th straight time next Monday night in hopes of moving closer to an AFC North title.
Meanwhile, getting back to the running game. ... Head coach Mike Tomlin said that Conner injured his quad Sunday night. Conner had 10 carries for 18 yards.
Conner suffered the injury in his return from missing two games while on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Benny Snell, Anthony McFarland and, as noted above, Samuels saw work in his absence.
Tomlin said that Conner could be limited in practice this week and he didn't offer a prediction about the running back's status for Monday's game in Cincinnati.
I will, of course, be following up on Conner's status via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
Also of interest. ... In the passing game, the Steelers continued to have trouble with drops.
Diontae Johnson was targeted four times over the first two drives of Sunday's contest, but he dropped three of those passes. As a result, the 2019 third-rounder appeared to be benched for most of the first half, and he now has a league-worst 13 drops this season.
Johnson still was effective with the ball in his hands Sunday, but it's safe to wonder whether he'll have a decreased role going forward if he fails to haul in targets.
Meanwhile, fellow receiver James Washington scored a touchdown for a second straight game and played a season-high 81 percent of the snaps.
The Steelers, who a week ago were 11-0, are now 11-2 and needing everyone to be like Washington and play better football. The Bengals should help.
QBs: Ben Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph, Dwayne Haskins
RBs: Najee Harris, Benny Snell, Kalen Ballage, Anthony McFarland Jr.
WRs: Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington, Ray-Ray McCloud
TEs: Eric Ebron, Pat Freiermuth, Zach Gentry
San Francisco 49ersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 December 2020
As ESPN.com's Nick Wagoner reported, on the heels of an upset win against the Los Angeles Rams, the San Francisco 49ers departed for their new home in Arizona with legitimate playoff aspirations.
In the two weeks since, those hopes have taken a pair of massive hits, including Sunday's disappointing 23-15 loss to the Washington Football Team. For the Niners, it was a must-have game at the start of a four-game stretch in which every game would fall into the must have category.
Instead, the Niners offense failed to provide the necessary support to a defense that did all it could to keep them in the game.
In fact, the 49ers offense not only didn't put up the points needed to win the game but also teed Washington up for a pair of touchdowns that paved the path to victory.
With games remaining against Dallas, Arizona and Seattle, the Niners are still mathematically in the playoff race, but they are eliminated from the NFC West race. Given how they've played the past two weeks -- and, really, all season -- it's hard to see them stringing together the wins to pull off such an improbable feat.
More likely, Wagoner contends, Sunday's loss will be the death knell in a season that's seemed cursed from the beginning, and it's almost time to look ahead to what will be a busy and interesting offseason by the Bay.
Other notes of interest. ... Barring a surprise turn of events, wide receiver Deebo Samuel has likely played his final snaps for the 2020 season after suffering a hamstring strain in Sunday's loss to the Washington Football Team.
"He's going to be out awhile, not ready to put a timeline on it yet," head coach Kyle Shanahan said Monday. "I think we'd have to make the playoffs for him to come back."
That's a long-shot scenario that would almost certainly require the 5-8 Niners, who are two games out of the final NFC playoff spot with three games to go, to win their next three and get plenty of help elsewhere.
Samuel departed Sunday's loss after just one snap, a 9-yard carry on the team's first play from scrimmage, and did not return. He had an MRI on Monday that showed he had his second hamstring strain of the season. Earlier this year, Samuel missed three games because of a similar injury.
If he has played his final game in 2020, Samuel will have appeared in just seven games because of a variety of injuries.
After suffering a Jones fracture in his left foot in the offseason, Samuel missed the first three games, returned, played two games and suffered that first hamstring injury that cost him three more games. He returned again and then played two games plus the one snap Sunday before the latest hamstring injury.
While Samuel is unlikely to play again this season, there is hope that tight end George Kittle could return before it's over. Shanahan said Monday that he's hoping Kittle will be able to practice in some capacity this week as he works his way back from a foot injury.
That hope became a reality on Wednesday, when Kittle was designated to return from injured reserve.
The tight end could be activated in time for this Sunday’s game against the Cowboys and has a three-week window before a decision must be made to bring him back or shut him down for the rest of the season.
But quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who went on injured reserve at the same time as Kittle with a high ankle sprain, will not open his practice window this week.
It remains possible that Garoppolo also won't play again this season.
"I wouldn't say I'm confident [in Garoppolo returning this season]," Shanahan said. "I think it's up in the air. I'm waiting to hear from the doctors. It's something that when you have the high ankle sprain that he had that was worse than everyone else and was so close to surgery, the only way we're gonna put him out there is if it's completely healed. We're not going to risk him having to get surgery on it. I don't want to put him out there for a last game or last two games to have a chance of reinjuring it and have to have surgery in the offseason."
Shanahan said the Niners would reevaluate Garoppolo before next week's game against the Arizona Cardinals. For this week's contest against Dallas, Shanahan was noncommittal about who will play in Garoppolo's stead.
Nick Mullens has been the starter but struggled with turnovers, including two that turned into Washington touchdowns in Sunday's loss. C.J. Beathard is the other healthy option on the active roster.
"We'll think about everything," Shanahan said. "I'm up for anything right now, so we'll see how that goes over the next couple days."
In addition to updates on Samuel, Kittle and Garoppolo, Shanahan said running back Raheem Mostert (ankle) was getting more imaging done on his injury he'd have a better idea of Mostert's status on Wednesday.
I'll have more on all involved via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses. ...
Meanwhile, Tevin Coleman started 13 games last season, including the Super Bowl. Jerick McKinnon opened the season as the 49ers' third-down back and is the team's only running back to play in every game this season.
But as NBCSports.com's Matt Maiocco notes, Coleman and McKinnon have now disappeared from the 49ers' offense, as Mostert and Jeff Wilson have taken over as the two running backs the team had decided to ride.
"We've gotten all our backs back and we've been trying to go with Jeff Wilson and Raheem as our one-two," Shanahan said after Sunday's loss.
"Just Raheem and Jeff have kind of earned that, and they've been our top guys here, especially with Tevin not fully back. Jet carried the load for us while those guys were all out, which took a toll on him, but he dresses every week because we'll use him if need be."
The 49ers kept McKinnon around this season after he missed two full years with knee conditions. The team felt he could make a significant contribution with his ability to run routes and catch passes out of the backfield.
Yet, on Sunday when the 49ers were trying to get back into the game, it was Wilson out of the backfield who could not haul in a high pass from Mullens late in the fourth quarter.
Mostert and Wilson split time in the backfield. Mostert played 40 snaps, while Wilson was on the field for 39 plays. ...
With Samuel leaving early, the WR pecking order was as follows in his absence: Brandon Aiyuk (70 snaps), Kendrick Bourne (68), Richie James (22) and River Cracraft (14).
Aiyuk was the only 49ers player to clear 42 receiving yards, but he did so easily with a 10-119-0 receiving line on 16 targets.
As ESPN's Mike Clay notes, the big game continues a ridiculous hot streak in which the rookie has managed either 75 yards or a touchdown in six consecutive games. Aiyuk has been targeted at least nine times in each of his past four games and has finished as a top-20 fantasy WR in five straight games.
Continue to play him like that in a favorable matchup against the Cowboys.
QBs: Jimmy Garoppolo, Trey Lance
RBs: Elijah Mitchell, Trenton Cannon, Trey Sermon, JaMycal Hasty, Jeff Wilson, Raheem Mostert
WRs: Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, Trent Sherfield, Mohamed Sanu, Jauan Jennings, Jalen Hurd
TEs: George Kittle, Ross Dwelley, Charlie Woerner, Daniel Helm
Seattle SeahawksCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 December 2020
As Associated Press sports writer Tim Booth suggested, eventually, Russell Wilson was going to check off his latest accolade.
Of all the bullet points on his career resume to date, this one might be the most meaningful.
As a result of Sunday's 40-3 win over the lowly New York Jets, the Seahawks improved to 9-4 on the season, ensuring Seattle of a winning record for the ninth straight season.
That's every year that Wilson has been under center directing the Seahawks offense, making him the only QB in league history to have a winning record in each of his first nine seasons.
He's been surrounded by an avalanche of talent along the way. There's been great performances by Wilson -- such as Sunday when he threw four more TD passes -- and some forgettable days.
But the longevity of consistently being successful is a staggering achievement.
"I think it means everything," Wilson said. "I think the whole purpose of why we play, why I wake up and play this game is to win, get up and help our team win."
Seattle rebounded from a shocking loss to the Giants exactly the way it hoped to stay in the middle of the NFC West title race with the Los Angeles Rams.
Wilson and the Seahawks offense learned from the issues that arose against the Giants, using a quicker passing game and relying on the combo of Chris Carson and Carlos Hyde to rush for 142 combined yards.
Defensively, the Seahawks continued to show progress, holding the Jets to 185 total yards and just 20 yards in the second half. New York didn't run an offensive play in Seattle's half of the field for the final 30 minutes.
"I think we're hitting our stride at the right time," Seattle safety Jamal Adams said.
Indeed, Seattle's defense continues to take significant steps ahead from being the worst in the league, statistically, in the early part of the season. The 185 total yards allowed to the Jets were the fewest given up by the Seahawks since midway through the 2018 season when the Raiders managed just 185 yards in a game played in London.
Seattle also added three more sacks on Sunday, giving the Seahawks 27 over the past seven games.
Adams set the record for most sacks in a season for a defensive back with a sack of former teammate Sam Darnold on Sunday. The Seahawks safety now has 8.5 for the season, topping the previous mark of eight set by Adrian Wilson in 2005.
"I'm excited, man," Adams said. "It really hasn't hit me yet that I broke it. I'm trying to shatter it to be real with you, man. So this is just a start. It's not the finish line, man. The marathon continues."
Adams, at 213 pounds, is the lightest player ever to have eight or more sacks in a season, according to Pro Football Reference. The previous lightest was Rod Martin, who at 218 pounds, had 11 sacks in 1984.
The Seahawks had two other sacks in the 40-3 victory.
"The Jets have been struggling. That's exactly the truth and so our guys went out and played like we were capable of playing and didn't give them much," Seattle coach Pete Carroll said.
For the third time in four games, the Seahawks face a team from the NFC East either leading or tied for the lead in that division when they travel to Washington. It's the last of five trips to the East Coast this season for the Seahawks. ...
Other notes of interest. ... There hasn't been much to criticize of Wilson's season, but he has made some risky decisions with throws at times. He made another Sunday that was intercepted on a terrific play by Marcus Maye. Wilson may have set a new career high in TD passes with 36, but he's also set a career high in interceptions with 12.
Also worth noting, until Sunday, the last time a quarterback other than Wilson took a regular-season snap for the Seahawks was Week 15 of 2017, when they were blown out by the Rams. Wilson gave way to Geno Smith (4 of 5, 33 yards) late in the third quarter with a 37-3 lead over the Jets.
"Geno deserves it," Wilson said. "He's worked extremely hard. He's been a great friend, a great quarterback, and just great to have in the room. So much knowledge of the game and he's just -- I love him to death."
Carson played 33 offensive snaps Sunday, one more than Hyde as the Seahawks split up the work between their top two running backs fairly evenly -- although it should be noted that like Wilson, Carson sat out the final 17 minutes with the game no longer in question.
Carson got 12 carries and five targets (98 yards, touchdown) while Hyde carried 15 times (66 yards).
DeeJay Dallas and fullback Nick Bellore played eight snaps apiece. Every offensive player who was active for the Seahawks played on offense in their blowout win over the Jets.
The Seahawks came out of the victory mostly healthy. And they should be getting a boost this week with the expected return of cornerback Quinton Dunbar and the possible activation of running back Rashaad Penny for the first time this year.
Carroll stopped well short of declaring that Penny will play Sunday at Washington, but it sounds like a possibility.
The Seahawks' 2018 first-round pick drew strong reviews for how he looked in his return to practice last week. Carroll said he'll practice this week as if he's playing.
"So we'll see how that works out and we'll figure it out at the end of the week, but he's going with the mentality that he's up and eligible. ... So we'll see how that goes," Carroll said.
As Profootballtalk.com's Curtis Crabtree suggested, Carroll can tend to be a bit optimistic when it comes to the recovery timeline of his players. But with that in mind, it was still notable when Carroll said Monday that tight end Greg Olsen could return to practice as soon as this week.
"He's challenging right now to practice this week," Carroll said. "And so we'll see what that means. He's very, very positive and upbeat about the fact that he has a chance to get back here very soon, maybe this week or next week. I don't know what to tell you until we see him."
On Wednesday, the team officially opened the practice window for Olsen. He is designated to return.
Olsen ruptured the plantar fascia in his left foot in Seattle's Thursday night victory over the Arizona Cardinals three weeks ago. The initial timeline given after the injury was a four-to-six week time frame for Olsen to be able to return to action. Olsen was placed on injured reserve and is eligible to return having spent at least three weeks on the injured list.
Olsen dealt with the same injury in his right foot two years ago with the Carolina Panthers.
Olsen vowed to make it back for the Seahawks in what could ultimately serve as his final season in the NFL. Olsen will turn 36 years old in March and is in his 14th season in the league after stops in Chicago and Carolina. Olsen has 23 catches for 224 yards and a touchdown in 10 games for the Seahawks this season.
The Seahawks don't have to rush his return as they have three healthy options on the roster in Will Dissly, Jacob Hollister and rookie Colby Parkinson.
The one lingering injury is defensive end Carlos Dunlap, who continues to be bothered by a foot injury. Carroll said Monday that Dunlap hopes to play against Washington.
I'll have more on Penny and Olsen as developments warrant via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
One last note on the tight ends here. ... Dissly caught his second touchdown of the season against the Jets. He was targeted only twice, however, and was held to 23 yards.
According to ESPN's Mike Clay, that's notable as Dissly has yet to clear 40 receiving yards in a single game this season.
The third-year tight end played 48 percent of the snaps in the win, compared to 52 percent for Hollister and 26 percent for Parkinson. There was some hope Dissly might return to the TE1 discussion with Olsen sidelined, but it simply hasn't happened.
QBs: Russell Wilson, Geno Smith, Jake Luton
RBs: Chris Carson, Alex Collins, DeeJay Dallas, Travis Homer, Rashaad Penny
WRs: DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, D'Wayne Eskridge, Freddie Swain, Penny Hart
TEs: Gerald Everett, Will Dissly, Colby Parkinson
Tampa Bay BuccaneersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 December 2020
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers notched a much-needed win, ending a two-game skid, with Sunday's 26-14 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.
After weeks and weeks of struggles to find an offensive identity, the Bucs turned to Ronald Jones and the run game, asking Tom Brady to do a little less.
According to ESPN.com's Jenna Laine, the slow starts and chemistry issues that were exploited by better teams during the most grueling portion of their season weren't magically resolved during the break. Their use of play-action and motion with Brady still left something to be desired.
But the Bucs stayed committed to the run. Jones rushed 18 times for 80 yards and a score, while LeSean McCoy added four carries for 32 yards with Leonard Fournette a healthy scratch. They kept the Vikings off-balance, and they made enough plays on defense to win.
"It was a good win," Brady said. "We're obviously gonna need to just keep making progress. Defense was on the field a lot. On offense, we didn't convert as many third downs as we needed to. But it was a good win for our team. Keep it going."
Head coach Bruce Arians was asked after the game if the game plan against Minnesota was engineered to run the ball more.
"I think yes and no," Arians said, via the team's official transcript. "I think games dictate how much you run it. What's the score at the end of the third quarter? We were leading, so it leads to more runs and RoJo ran really, really well, especially on that last drive. We wanted to set up some play-action [but we] didn't hit as many as we had hoped. When asked early this week about our identity, I think we just showed our identity. We can do any damn thing we want to do."
Brady missed a couple of deep throws but hit Scott Miller downfield for a 48-yard TD midway through the second quarter that jumpstarted the Bucs offense. The score helped lead to a 17-6 halftime lead Tampa would never relinquish.
Arians credited the long score with turning the tide of the contest.
"Oh yeah -- no doubt," Arians said. "Again, we just missed a couple third downs early, but that was a huge touchdown. I think getting a stop [and] then that play changed all of the momentum on our sideline."
The victory was the Bucs' first home win since Week 6 (38-10 over Green Bay) after three straight losses in Tampa.
Sunday's win gives the Bucs a 98 percent chance to make the playoffs (independent of other results), according to ESPN Stats and Information. But they remain in the sixth seed because the Seahawks have a better conference record (8-4 through Sunday's early games).
Even more important: The Bucs got the tie-breaker head-to-head against the Vikings, who are also vying for a wild-card spot, which will matter down the road.
With two games against Atlanta sandwiched around a visit to Detroit, Arians' offense gets three weeks against bad defenses to continue to fine tune the operation before postseason football commences. ...
For the record. ... Brady completed 15 of 23 passes for 196 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. His first touchdown was the above-mentioned 48-yarder Miller, who shifted pre-snap from the left to right side of the formation before going downfield. After a defensive pass interference call on Vikings cornerback Jeff Gladney in the red zone, Jones rushed for a 1-yard touchdown. Then on the heels of a 29-yard sideline grab by Mike Evans, Brady rolled out and found Rob Gronkowski for a 2-yard touchdown to make it 23-6.
The offense still has a ways to go to realize its full potential. Brady was inconsistent, overthrowing Gronkowski on third-and-3 on the opening drive and a wide-open Jones in the second quarter. And twice after the Vikings had clock-eating scoring drives of more than eight minutes, the Bucs went three-and-out.
They did, however, use more pre-snap motion on 25-of-49 plays (51 percent), their third-highest use of motion all season.
And when they turned to play-action -- which they'd gotten away from in the later part of the season despite success running it -- Brady went 4-of-6 for 57 yards and a touchdown. But they also showed gamesmanship, with Gronkowski drawing a defensive pass interference penalty with one second left before halftime leading to a field goal. ...
With three games to go, Brady has 30 touchdown passes in his first season with the team. With three more, he'll tie Jameis Winston for the most touchdown passes in one season in team history.
Winston set the record in 2019, when he also became the first quarterback in league history to throw 30 touchdown passes and 33 interceptions.
Brady has only 11 interceptions in 13 games. Unless he has 22 in the final three, he won't have to worry about matching Winston's less impressive feat.
Despite playing only 13 games for the Buccaneers, Brady already is tied for 10th on the franchise's all-time passing touchdown list, with Mike Glennon. With two more, Brady will tie Brian Griese for ninth place. With two more beyond that, he'll tie Craig Erickson for No. 8.
It would take a second season to catch Steve DeBerg at No. 7. DeBerg had 61.
With 71 or more, Brady would crack the top five, leapfrogging Trent Dilfer. ...
Meanwhile, Arians said on Monday that Jones may have fractured his pinky finger in last Sunday's win over the Vikings and that he could need a pin surgically inserted in the bone to help with healing.
There's now confirmation on both those fronts.
Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times reports that Jones had surgery to insert the aforementioned pin on Tuesday.
Jones will, however, have ample time to heal up after he was placed on the team's Reserve/COVID-19 list on Wednesday. Again, this can be just for close contact with someone else who has tested positive, but his week isn’t improving.
Even if just a close contact, the required five days of isolation will be an issue with a Sunday game.
Assuming Jones is out, the Bucs will have McCoy, Fournette and Ke'Shawn Vaughn available against the Falcons.
As noted above, Arians made Fournette a healthy scratch on Sunday, giving his spot to McCoy.
McCoy made the most of it and, in turn, he made Arians look like a genius.
"I love Leonard," Arians told reporters after the game. "I think he's a heck of a kid and a great player. We just wanted to get Shady back involved. He's fresh and he showed it today. He made it all pay off for me. I took the risk and he made it pay off. He made the best of his opportunity, but it's nothing against Leonard."
McCoy hadn't touched the ball in eight weeks, with four carries for one yard and one catch for six yards in a 38-10 win over the Packers.
But expect that pecking order to shift in Fournette's if Jones can't play this week.
Adding to the team's issues, the Buccaneers were already entering Week 15 without their special teams starters at their disposal.
Tampa Bay placed kicker Ryan Succop, punter Bradley Pinion and long snapper Zach Triner on the reserve/COVID-19 list, five days out from kickoff against the Falcons.
It's not clear yet whether any of the three starters tested positive for COVID-19 or were simply close contacts with someone who tested positive.
That designation will affect their statuses for Sunday's game.
Tampa Bay doesn't employ backups at kicker, punter or long snapper on the active roster but do boast kicker Greg Joseph on the practice squad. In conjunction with Tuesday's COVID list placements, the Buccaneers announced they used a practice squad protection on Joseph, preventing any team from signing him off the practice squad this week.
If he is called upon in place of Succop, Joseph can lean on a season's worth of NFL placekicking experience. In 16 games played for the Cleveland Browns and Tennessee Titans in 2018 and 2019, Joseph connected on 17 of 20 field-goal attempts and 34 of 38 extra-point tries.
In 13 games played this season, Succop has hit on 24 of 26 FG attempts and 38 of 41 XP attempts. His 92.3 field goal percentage is a career-best. Pinion is also enjoying a banner year, as the punter (and kickoff specialist) is averaging a career-best 45.6 yards per punt.
It's safe to say I'll have more on Jones and Succop in coming days; watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for the latest. ...
One last note here. ... Receiver Antonio Brown led the team in receiving on Sunday, with five catches. But he was on the field a lot less than he previously had been.
Emerging from the bye week, a time during which the coaching staff presumably made conscious, strategic adjustments to the offensive approach, Brown's playing time plummeted from nearly 75 percent to below 50.
Against the Chiefs in Week 12, Brown participated in 43 offensive snaps, which equated to 73 percent of the total plays. Against the Vikings, Brown played only 49 percent of the time on offense, taking part in 25 snaps.
He made the most of his chances, catch a pass in one of every five plays.
Still, reduced playing time will make it harder to generate the kind of statistics that will result in Brown earning his incentives.
Brown has $750,000 in incentives tied to performance: $250,000 for 45 catches, $250,000 for 650 yards, and $250,000 for six touchdowns.
As Profootballtalk.com notes, Brown has 25 catches in five games. He needs 20 over the final three games to make an extra $250,000. He has 217 receiving yards. He needs 433 over the final three games to make another $250,000. He has no touchdowns. He needs six over the final three weeks to make another $250,000.
Brown remains on pace to satisfy a 35-percent playing-time incentive, but the Bucs have to make it to the Super Bowl before that incentive is earned.
QBs: Tom Brady, Blaine Gabbert, Kyle Trask
RBs: Leonard Fournette, Ronald Jones, Giovani Bernard, Ke'Shawn Vaughn
WRs: Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, Antonio Brown, Scott Miller, Jaelon Darden, Tyler Johnson
TEs: Rob Gronkowski, O.J. Howard, Cameron Brate
Tennessee TitansCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 December 2020
Derrick Henry is really good.
He tends to be even better when he plays the Jaguars.
Indeed, as ESPN.com's Turron Davenport notes, Henry continued his dominance against his hometown Jaguars and carried the Titans to a 31-10 win on Sunday.
The Jaguars simply couldn't stop Henry, who rushed for 215 yards and two touchdowns.
The Titans needed a convincing win to get back on track after losing to the Cleveland Browns last week. The win pushes the Titans to 9-4 and gives them their fourth win over an AFC South opponent. Tennessee holds the No. 4 seed in the AFC playoff standings.
This game was the fourth time in his career Henry has posted at least 200 rushing yards and two touchdowns, which is the most in NFL history. Two of Henry's four 200-yard rushing games have now come against the Jaguars. Henry turned in his ninth consecutive 100-yard rushing game on the road, the second-longest streak in NFL history behind Hall of Famer Barry Sanders' 10-game run between 1996 and 1997.
Henry broke the game open in the second quarter when he got to the outside and outran the Jaguars defense for a 36-yard touchdown run. His 47-yard scamper in the third quarter set up a 5-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Tannehill to Geoff Swaim to make the score 24-3. Four minutes later, Henry punched it in from the 1-yard line for the Titans final score.
The big day is a bounce-back performance for Henry after only averaging 3.4 yards per carry in his Week 2 matchup against the Jaguars when he finished with 84 rushing yards. Over the past two seasons, Henry has experienced pretty significant rebound games in the second game against Jacksonville after being corralled in the first matchup.
In 2019, Henry had 17 rushes for 44 yards and a touchdown in his first game against the Jaguars but picked up 159 yards and two touchdowns on 19 rushes in the second meeting. Henry scored four touchdowns on the ground and picked up a career-high 238 rushing yards including an NFL-record 99-yard touchdown run in the second meeting against his hometown team in 2018 after he only rushed for 57 yards in their first game.
Henry hit 21.4 miles per hour on his 47-yard run in the third quarter.
That is Henry's second-fastest run this season. His top speed was 21.6 mph which came on a 94-yard touchdown run against the Houston Texans in Week 6.
Henry is trying to be the first repeat rushing leader in the NFL since LaDainian Tomlinson in 2007. Henry is now up to 1,532 yards on the season and has 14 rushing touchdowns.
He'll try to keep pushing those numbers higher against the Lions Sunday.
The Titans also got a strong game from wide receiver A.J. Brown. He dealt with an ankle injury during the week and appeared to tweak it during Sunday's game, but he didn't miss much time and caught seven passes for 112 yards.
One of those catches went for a 37-yard touchdown.
The offense is chugging along nicely.
The Titans posted their fourth straight game with at least 400 yards and at least 30 points, something this franchise had never done. They've scored at least 30 points in eight games this season.
Tennessee also had its fourth game with at least 200 yards rushing, tied with Cleveland for the most games this season. The Titans also have had nine guys with 100-yard receiving performances, with Brown (837 yards) and Corey Davis (835) poised to give this franchise not one but two 1,000-yard receivers.
Sunday was Brown's third 100-yard receiving game of 2020 and the eighth 100-yard game of his two-year career.
The Titans have locked up their fifth straight winning season, the second-longest streak in franchise history. Only the Oilers' stretch of seven consecutive winning seasons between 1987 and 1993 were longer. Only New England (19) Seattle (8) and Kansas City (8) have longer streaks of consecutive winning seasons. ...
For what it's worth. ... The Titans were comfortably ahead of the Jaguars when they got the ball with just over 12 minutes to play in the fourth quarter and Jeremy McNichols went in the game at running back.
McNichols' presence seemed to indicate that Henry was done for the day after rushing for 195 yards and two touchdowns, but he came in a couple of plays later. Head coach Mike Vrabel had been persuaded to give Henry a chance to get to 200 rushing yards for the fourth time since the start of the 2018 season.
It didn't take long for Henry to get there. Henry ran for 20 yards and then went to the sideline for the rest of the game.
On Monday, Vrabel said he thinks "it's a fine line" when it comes to making choices involving the workload of players having days like Henry was having.
"I just think you have to look at the situation and see what is going on, understand how excited the players are for Derrick, and the offensive line," Vrabel said, via the team's website. "I think they feel as much a part of what he does, like it's them doing it. And I think that's great for our psyche, and our confidence, and everything that we're doing. But also being smart with where he is at physical, and where everybody is at physically."
Another big day in Week 15 will lead to serious thoughts about Henry making a run at becoming the seventh back with a 2,000-yard season.
Henry said on Sunday that he's only interested in wins, but such a development against the Lions would probably bring Vrabel back to that fine line before the year is out.
By the way, with four career 200-yard rushing games, Henry is tied with Jim Brown, Earl Campbell, Barry Sanders and LaDainian Tomlinson for fourth place in NFL history. Only Adrian Peterson (six), O.J. Simpson (six) and Tiki Barber (five) have had more 200-yard rushing performances than Henry. Henry also registered his ninth consecutive road game with at least 100 rushing yards, passing Chris Johnson (eight games from 2009-10) for the second-longest such streak in NFL history.
Only Pro Football Hall of Famer Barry Sanders (10 games from 1996-97) has a longer streak. I could list a ton more Henry accolades, but the simple description is he's special. ...
One last note. ... Jonnu Smith was limited to 20 yards on two targets in his return from injury on Sunday.
According to ESPN's Mike Clay, Smith played 63 percent of the snaps, compared to 50 percent for MyCole Pruitt, 48 percent for Swaim and 25 percent for Anthony Firkser.
Smith now has 40 or fewer receiving yards in eight consecutive games and has two or fewer targets in four of his past seven games. Smith scored five touchdowns during his first four games of 2020 but has only two during his past seven outings.
"Smith has fallen to TE2 territory," Clay added, "and you're banking heavily on a touchdown if you put him in your lineup against Detroit in Week 15."
QBs: Ryan Tannehill, Logan Woodside
RBs: Derrick Henry, Jeremy McNichols, Khari Blasingame, Mekhi Sargent, Darrynton Evans
WRs: A.J. Brown, Julio Jones, Josh Reynolds, Nick Westbrook_Ikhine, Racey McMath, Cameron Batson
TEs: Anthony Firkser, Geoff Swaim, Tanner Hudson
Washington Football TeamCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 December 2020
As ESPN.com's John Keim recounted it, "The Washington Football Team dropped its former name, had a coach who faced cancer and benched its quarterback after four weeks this season. Washington wasn't anyone's pick to contend in the NFC East; it was more likely to compete for a top-five draft pick.
"That's why it's surprising to see where the team is now: in control of the NFC East."
Washington (6-7) used defensive touchdowns to take over sole possession of the division with a 23-15 win over the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday. The defense ended the 49ers' last drive with a stop on fourth-and-12 just inside midfield. Washington needed to excel, as the offense struggled all game and lost quarterback Alex Smith for the second half because of a strained calf.
Washington coach Ron Rivera said Smith's leg remained tight after halftime, which is why he didn't return, though he would have reentered in an emergency.
Rivera said he wasn't sure yet on Smith's status for this week.
Tom Pelissero of NFL Media reports that the team is optimistic that he will be able to play.
Pelissero added that Smith will be given rest during the week in order to make sure that remains the case, so he's likely to be a limited participant in practice if he takes part in sessions at all.
For what it's worth, the word before Wednesday's practice indicated Smith was expected to be on the field, which is he was. The hope was he could do individual drills, which he didn't.
The truth is Smith needs rest and rehab, not reps, so no one is pushing him to practice. With Smith sitting out, Dwayne Haskins Jr. took all the first team reps Wednesday.
With three games remaining, Washington has a one-game lead over the New York Giants (5-8). It needs to finish ahead of the Giants because New York swept the season series.
Washington has won four consecutive games, and two of its three remaining opponents (Carolina and Philadelphia) have losing records.
It's now set up to do what few would have expected a few weeks ago: give the NFC East a division champion with a winning record.
"We're trying to talk about where we're headed, not where we've been," Rivera said. "We're relevant in the conversation, and we have to maintain and be humble."
Washington has reached this point despite Rivera's undergoing seven weeks of cancer treatment. Haskins was benched after four games, and his replacement, Kyle Allen, suffered a season-ending ankle injury four games later. That left the team with Smith, who had not played since Nov. 18, 2018, because of his broken fibula and tibia that required 17 surgeries.
Despite it all, Washington remained strong thanks to a defense that on Sunday showed why it has a promising future. Its young ends, Montez Sweat and Chase Young, have played well all season.
But Young dominated against the 49ers. In the first half, he forced a fumble that led to a field goal, and on the ensuing possession, he returned a fumble 47 yards for a touchdown. He deflected one pass and batted down a key third-down pass in the fourth quarter.
Washington did not score an offensive touchdown Sunday. Rookie safety Kamren Curl, a seventh-round draft pick, returned a third-quarter interception 47 yards for a touchdown.
Washington needed the defensive scores because its offense couldn't generate much of an attack. It was missing running back Antonio Gibson, and then Smith played only in the first half because of the calf injury. Smith completed 8 of 19 passes for 57 yards.
Haskins replaced him and helped lead a field goal drive on his first possession, but that was all the offense could muster. Haskins nearly threw an interception late in the game, but the call was overturned on replay. Haskins completed 7 of 12 passes for 51 yards.
But this was a game about the defense. The front, with five first-round picks, pressured 49ers QB Nick Mullens most of the day. That group is the reason Washington was optimistic about its future -- beyond 2020. But it's also why Washington is in position to capture a division title one year after going 3-13.
"To control our destiny, we're leading the way right now and that feels great," running back J.D. McKissic said. "This team is fighting hard. We believed when no one else believed."
But with three games left, and only a one-game lead, Washington can't afford to believe this race is over.
"It feels good because we're seeing flashes of what we talked about early in the season," Young said. "The only thing [we have to do is] keep going. We can't let up."
Offensive coordinator Scott Turner insisted the attack would not change much without Gibson, who missed Sunday's game with a toe injury.
He was right.
With McKissic leading the way (career-high 68 yards on 11 attempts), Washington's running backs combined for 105 yards and 4.6 yards per carry against the 49ers' ninth-ranked rushing defense. Washington entered the game averaging 101.5 yards on the ground.
And while neither McKissic nor Peyton Barber (12 rushes for 37 yards) found the end zone, they did enough to help Washington squeak out a road victory.
"We ran the wide zone pretty good," McKissic said. "The [run-pass option] game, I think it played a factor in our success in the run game."
For the record, McKissic played 40 (65 percent) of a possible 62 offensive snaps ahead of Barber (30 snaps) and Javon Leake (zero). As ESPN's Mike Clay notes, it's possible (if not likely) that Gibson will miss another game, which would open the door for McKissic to remain in the RB2 discussion.
However, if Smith doesn't play it would negatively impact the offensive efficiency and likely lead to fewer targets for Washington running backs.
I will have more on Smith and Gibson via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses.
QBs: Taylor Heinicke, Kyle Allen, Ryan Fitzpatrick
RBs: Antonio Gibson, J.D. McKissic, Jaret Patterson
WRs: Terry McLaurin, Dyami Brown, Adam Humphries, Cam Sims, Curtis Samuel
TEs: Logan Thomas, Ricky Seals-Jones, John Bates, Sammis Reyes