Team Notes week 4 2021

By Bob Harris
Bob Harris<

NEWS, NOTES, RUMORS AND OTHER GOOD STUFF

Directly from the desk of FlashUpdate Editor Bob Harris. The good; the bad; and yes. ... Even the Bears. There is no better way to jump start your weekend than browsing these always educational -- often irreverent -- team-by-team, Fantasy-specific offerings. ...
Access specific teams by clicking on a team name in the schedule appearing directly to your left or by clicking on a helmet below; return to the helmets by hitting the link labeled "Menu" following each teams notes. ...

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Arizona Cardinals

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 September 2021

As NFL.com's Kevin Patra noted, after sleepwalking early in Sunday's game in Jacksonville, Arizona trailed 13-7 at halftime, following Kliff Kingsbury's decision to try a 68-yard field goal at the end of the half that led to a 109-yard return from the Jags' Jamal Agnew to bring Jacksonville to life.

After halftime, the Jaguars continued to surge as the Cards fluttered. Kyler Murray heaved a head-scratching interception on the opening drive of the third quarter. The defense couldn't slow the Jaguars, who pounded out an eight-play TD drive with all 75 yards coming on the ground.

With the Cardinals trailing 19-10 deep in the third quarter, it was setting up as a disastrous loss for Kingsbury. According to Next Gen Stats, following James Robinson's TD to put Jacksonville up by nine points, Arizona had just a 29 percent win probability.

The next three minutes flipped that.

Murray led a quick TD drive, dicing up the Jags with darts. Then Byron Murphy snatched a pick-six off Trevor Lawrence. Deficit gone. 24-19 lead. Win probability: 82 percent. Ballgame.

"I'm glad we fought through adversity today," Murray said of Arizona's 31-19 win, via ESPN. "I'm frustrated, but as a team, I've been here, two, three years now and the last two years, we would have lost that game for sure."

According to ESPN, the Cards moved to 5-12-1 with Murray when trailing by nine or more points. Two of those wins came each of the past two weeks.

"To see us fight through that and come on the road, obviously, any given Sunday, not looking at anybody's record, you can be beat on any given Sunday by anybody," Murray said. "So, it's good to get a win any way you can. That's what we came out here and did, and that was the goal coming on the road, getting a win and that's what we're leaving with."

Much was made of Arizona's offseason veteran additions, including J.J. Watt and A.J. Green, two aging players with extensive injury histories. Would they be able to contribute at a high level? On Sunday, those additions made massive plays.

Watt's rush on a flea-flicker directly led to Lawrence panicking and tossing the pick-6. With DeAndre Hopkins quieted by Jacksonville, Green stepped up, generating 112 receiving yards on five catches (his first 100-yard receiving day since Week 7, 2018).

The mix of savvy veterans and playmaking youth have the Cards confident they can overcome.

"I think the mental capacity of this team, the maturity of this team," Murray said. "We've been there. A lot of our young guys have stepped up. A lot of young guys played a lot of reps, and me, as well, not getting flustered, coach Kingsbury not getting flustered, us just stick sticking to it, and seeing it through to the end."

Sunday was a game that good teams find a way to win while middling teams botch. The Cardinals are a good team.

In fact, as ESPN.com's Josh Weinfuss suggested, the Cardinals' offense is as deep and diverse as it's been in years.

The unit had two 100-yard receivers in A.J. Green and Christian Kirk. Green had his first 100-yard game as a Cardinal with 112. Kirk added 104. Having weapons like that at Murray's disposal allowed Arizona to come back from a nine-point deficit to win.

This is what Arizona didn't have last season but has been the difference between winning and losing this season.

It's worth noting, however, the Cardinals have issues up front.

Justin Pugh and Justin Murray are uncertain to play this weekend after suffering back injuries in Jacksonville. Kelvin Beachum, who missed majority of practice last week along Sunday's game, also could remain out because of a ribs injury.

With Beachum out, the Cardinals decided to move Josh Jones -- who played the first two games at right guard -- to right tackle. Murray, who had been Beachum's replacement, slid to right guard. Then Murray got hurt, forcing Max Garcia into the game. And then Pugh was hurt on the Jaguars' 109-yard Kick-6, bringing into the game Sean Harlow -- who had just been promoted from the practice squad and who had only played in one NFL game previous.

Here's the good news: Despite relying on second-stringers, the Cardinals' offense was still effective in the second half, registering 252 total yards and without allowing any sacks in 20 pass attempts.

But there is also some potential bad news: That was against a lower-tier Jaguars team.

Sunday, the Cardinals play the division-rival and undefeated Los Angeles Rams. Kingsbury, who is winless against coach Sean McVay in four tries, acknowledged such.

"They're really good," Kingsbury said. "They've done a great job building off last year in a new scheme, and we know it's going to be a real challenge."

The Rams pass rush accumulated 53 sacks in 2020, second-most in the NFL. Three-time Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald, who led the team in sacks and quarterback hits in 2020, is the main culprit. Donald has given the Cardinals problems since he entered the league, facing the All-Pro twice a year.

Kingsbury wasn't ruling anyone out Sunday, but the Cardinals need to be prepared with the battle for the division lead at stake. And Kingsbury is confident in the backups' ability to step up to the challenge.

"Those guys stepped in, and we didn't skip a beat," Kingsbury said. "So, it's a credit to those guys for being mentally and physically prepared."

Also on the injury front. ... As Darren Urban of the team's official website wrote, "If you would've told me the Cardinals would have a game where two wide receivers cracked 100 yards, and never ever would've guessed neither one would've been DeAndre Hopkins."

Urban wouldn’t speculate how much Hopkins ribs injury was affecting him -- he was listed as questionable heading into Sunday’s game, but it's something we need to monitor heading into this one.

I'll have more on Hopkins and the O-line via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

Other notes of interest. ... As Associated Press sports writer David Brandt notes, the running game wasn't terrible against Jacksonville, but also wasn't great, gaining 91 yards on 30 carries. The Cardinals were able to make some big short runs in the red zone: James Conner had two short TDs and Murray added another.

Finally. ... Murray had an 82.4 percent completion rate against Jacksonville after connecting on 28 of 34 passes, which was a career high. Murray had a bad interception in the third quarter but continues to do a lot of things right. He completed 80.6 percent of his passes in Week 2 against Minnesota and has become the first QB in franchise history to complete at least 80 percent of his passes in two straight games.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Kyler Murray, Colt McCoy, Trace McSorley
RBs: James Conner, Eno Benjamin, Jonathan Ward, Chase Edmonds
WRs: DeAndre Hopkins, A.J. Green, Christian Kirk, Rondale Moore, Andy Isabella, Antoine Wesley
TEs: Zach Ertz, Darrell Daniels, Maxx Williams

Atlanta Falcons

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 September 2021

As Associated Press sports writer George Henry suggested, it wasn't pretty for much of the afternoon, but Matt Ryan proved he still has that magic touch.

The Falcons were clutch when it mattered most, especially on the game-winning drive.

Younghoe Koo sealed victory from 40 yards out after the Falcons moved 58 yards on six plays. That series was a showcase in late-game, execution, following a 15-play, game-tying drive where the Falcons finally found a rhythm.

The Falcons began their 17-14 win at the New York Giants with four consecutive punts, and vintage Matty Ice seemed like a thing of the past. By the end, however, Ryan had engineered his 39th winning drive and his 31st comeback in the fourth quarter. It was his first winning drive since 2019.

Better late than never, and just in the nick of time. With everything on the line, the Falcons found a way to win.

"That's who we want to be," head coach Arthur Smith said. "It's never going to be perfect. We know we have a ways to go but, when we needed the last two drives, guys stepped up. They went down the field and scored a touchdown. They kept swinging and found different ways [to win] in the clutch.

"That's what we want to do. We want to be in games at the end. It's a huge learning process, and this is a big step for our program."

After the game, Ryan enjoyed a big hug from Smith, who grew a beard last week to change the team's luck. Ryan thinks the team's collective belief in Smith and his staff helped the Falcons from sinking into despair. Remember, this is a franchise that started 0-5 last year and 1-7 in 2019.

"Yeah, it's keep fighting and try and clean up the things we need to clean up and just keep battling, keep fighting, and I thought Art did a great job of that the entire day," Ryan said. "I thought the assistant coaches on the sideline did a great job of that, and we just had a belief that regardless of how tough it was going we were going to make the plays when we needed to, and that's a good thing for us moving forward. We have to have that belief as we continue to build as a team."

As Scott Bair of the team's official website suggests, Smith's understanding that everything broken wasn't fixed with one good fourth quarter is an important part of that journey.

That will be the message going forward, and key to taking the next step forward as a team.

"We have to improve, and we know that. That doesn't change because we won," Smith said. "That's the name of the game, and that's what we're preaching -- growth and improvement. Hopefully we see that again this week. We have the right mindset. This will say more about us than anything else.

"Had we found a way to win bigger, that would've been nice. It might've helped everybody's blood pressure of those involved with the Falcons, but this says more about our character. It's something to build off, because we have more things to correct."

One thing would be making sure the offense comes out with more urgency. The Falcons trailed 14-0 and 28-10 at Tampa Bay in Week 2. The Falcons were down 15-6 in the second quarter in the opener against Philadelphia. There also has been no evidence of a deep passing attack through the first three games.

So part of the plan will be to shore up the offense's tendency to start slowly and find ways to get rookie tight end Kyle Pitts open before the Washington Football Team visits Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday.

The rookie tight end and No. 4 overall pick in the draft had started to seem as if he would be a consistent option in the Atlanta offense -- one of the few constants the Falcons would have.

Then came Sunday, when Pitts didn't even see his first target (a 10-yard catch) until the 11:20 mark in the fourth quarter. He was targeted again in the end zone on Atlanta's game-tying drive resulting in a pass-interference call, and he had a big 25-yard reception on the Falcons' game-winning drive. But too often, Pitts was ignored. If Atlanta wants offensive success, that can't happen. -- Rothstein

Smith was defensive about his use of Pitts, who simply wasn't open until the final drive, when he caught a critical 25-yarder that moved Atlanta to the New York 25 and set up Koo's winner three snaps later. He also caught a 10-yard third-down pass on the touchdown drive in the fourth quarter.

Any focus on that will be appreciated by fantasy managers. ...

In addition, as ESPN.com's Michael Rothstein pointed out, after three weeks, it's clear that Cordarrelle Patterson is going to be a multifaceted option on offense for Atlanta all season. Patterson had 20 yards rushing (on seven carries) and a team-high 82 yards receiving. He's a player Ryan clearly counts on and can be dangerous from multiple spots on the field.

In other words, if you're looking for a steady threat on a sometimes-shaky Falcons offense (that showed potential in the fourth quarter), Rothstein believes Patterson might be it.

In a related note. ... Mike Davis finished with 12 carries for 50 yards and four receptions for an additional 20 yards. Even with more snaps and touches, Davis couldn't match Patterson in scrimmage yards. Still, given the volume, Davis remains firmly in RB2 territory.

Also of interest. ... Calvin Ridley caught 8-of-11 targets for 61 yards. He led the Falcons in receptions and targets. The yardage totals haven't been as robust as fantasy managers might like (his 8.8 yards per reception is far below his career average), but Ridley has at least five catches in each of the Falcons games this season and his role keeps him in WR1 territory.

Russell Gage missed the win over the Giants with an ankle injury. Olamide Zaccheaus caught 3-of-6 targets for 32 yards and a touchdown In Gage's absence.

I'll have more on Gage, who didn't practice Wednesday, via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Matt Ryan, Josh Rosen, Feleipe Franks
RBs: Cordarrelle Patterson, Mike Davis, Wayne Gallman, Qadree Ollison
WRs: Russell Gage, Tajae Sharpe, Olamide Zaccheaus, Frank Darby, Christian Blake, Chris Rowland, Calvin Ridley
TEs: Kyle Pitts, Hayden Hurst, Jaeden Graham

Baltimore Ravens

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 September 2021

According to ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley, the Ravens can still win as long as they have Lamar Jackson and Justin Tucker.

In fact, head coach John Harbaugh called Tucker the best kicker in history after his 66-yard field goal gave Baltimore a win at Detroit.

"He does have kind of the perfect personality for the job. He likes the stage. He's not afraid of it. He relishes it," Harbaugh said. "I think that combination, with talent and good coaching, goes a long way."

Harbaugh had quite a grin on his face when he mentioned "good coaching" -- the Ravens are well aware of how much Tucker saved them Sunday when his record-setting kick gave them a 19-17 victory over the Lions. Baltimore nearly let that game slip away in the final quarter, but the Ravens had the right kicker to rescue them from a desperate situation.

"To see (and) just witness firsthand history being made, it's surreal," defensive end Calais Campbell said. "I'm completely humbled and honored to be on the field and block for that play. An NFL record to win the game in a hostile environment, it's special."

In his 10-year career, Tucker has made 91 percent of his field-goal attempts in the regular season, including 71 percent from 50 yards and beyond. He's made 17 game-winning kicks, including the playoffs, and has made all 16 of his attempts inside of a minute remaining in regulation. Tucker has also converted on 49 consecutive fourth-quarter attempts, the NFL's longest active streak.

His blend of accuracy, leg strength and reliability may very well be unparalleled in league history -- although Harbaugh said Monday he doesn't think he'd have had Tucker try the final kick if it had been a couple of yards farther.

"Honestly, probably not. I don't know how you make a 68-yarder," Harbaugh said. "Then again, how do you answer that? You can't really answer it."

Aside from the obvious -- the kicking game -- Jackson also deserves credit for playing well on a day he didn't have much help from his receivers. Jackson threw for 287 yards and kept his cool on a 36-yard pass to Sammy Watkins on fourth-and-19 that set up Tucker's winning kick.

"Those plays should go hand in hand," Harbaugh said. "You can't really talk about one without the other."

But there's an issue here.

Marquise Brown dropped three passes that could have been touchdowns.

It was an unexpectedly difficult day for Brown, who had been one of the NFL's most productive receivers during the first two weeks. Brown's streak of eight straight games with at least one touchdown reception was snapped, and he did not catch a pass in the second half.

"People like me and Marquise, we're going to be talking to each other the whole day like, 'I effed up,'" Jackson said. "But we're not worried about that. That happened, that's over with. We won the game. We're going to Denver now."

As Clifton Brown of the team's official website noted, all of Brown's drops cost the Ravens points and momentum. The first drop should have been a 25-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter, when Jackson threw a perfect pass to Brown who was streaking across the end zone. However, the ball slipped through Brown's hands and forced Baltimore to settle for a 39-yard field goal that opened the game's scoring.

Then with Baltimore leading 10-0 just before intermission, Brown had two more drops on Baltimore's final drive of the half that cost the Ravens an opportunity to take a 17-point lead. On first down from the Ravens' 25-yard line, Brown easily beat Lions cornerback Bobby Price and streaked down the right sideline. Jackson dropped another perfect dime to Brown, but he dropped the pass. Had Brown made the catch, it would have been a 76-yard touchdown play unless Price caught the speedy Brown from behind.

Four plays later, Brown got open again as Jackson rolled to his right on third-and-seven. The pass hit Brown squarely, but he didn't control it, forcing the Ravens to punt from Detroit's 44-yard line.

As he jogged to the sideline, Brown was met by Harbaugh, who appeared to offer Brown words of encouragement.

But Brown had a quiet second half with no receptions, and he was the target on Jackson's fourth-quarter pass that was intercepted by Amani Oruwariye.

"I told him, 'You're writing the rest of this story, nobody else is," Harbaugh said after the game. "When you're looking back on your career and you've had the great career that you're going to have, this is going to be part of the story. So, let's go to work on that starting Wednesday."

Tight end Mark Andrews, who played with Brown at Oklahoma, has no doubt the talented wide receiver will bounce back.

"I told Marquise, just be yourself. Things like that happen," Andrews said. "He's a dog at the end of the day. He's going to be great. He's going to continue to make plays. This is not going to define him."

As Harbaugh likes to say, it wasn't pretty, it wasn't easy, but it was the Ravens. And correcting their mistakes at 2-1 will feel much better than being 1-2 as they head into this week's game against the Broncos.

Meanwhile, Tucker, who tallied 13 total points and four field goals on Sunday, was named the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week on Wednesday. In an already outstanding career, Tucker added his eye-popping 12th Player of the Week accolade in his 10th season.

By the way, Tucker has made multiple kicks of 50-plus yards in a game seven times, which ties Matt Prater and Brandon McManus for the most in NFL history. He might have a chance to break the record in the thin air of Denver this weekend. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Andrews had five catches for 109 yards. He had a disappointing game against Las Vegas, but has rebounded in the two weeks since then.

The Ravens placed linebacker Daelin Hayes on injured reserve on Monday, which leaves them with a league-high 15 players on the list.

They hope that number starts going down in the coming weeks and they're getting the ball rolling on a pair of returns to active duty. Harbaugh said on Monday that wide receivers Rashod Bateman and Miles Boykin will practice with the team this week.

Both wideouts were officially activated from IR Wednesday. Both have a 21-day window to be added to the 53-man roster.

Bateman has been out since August 10 with a groin injury and Boykin hurt his hamstring on August 2, so both players will likely need to work their way back into game shape once they hit the practice field.

Hayes hurt his ankle in Sunday's win over the Lions. The 2021 fifth-round pick had been inactive the first two weeks of the regular season.

Jackson was held out of practice Wednesday. According to Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic, is sounds like the reason for his absence was general soreness. He took a few big shots Sunday against the Lions. I'll follow up as needed via Late-Breaking Update. ...

And finally. ... The Ravens activated defensive linemen Brandon Williams and Justin Madubuike and linebacker Justin Houston off the reserve/COVID-19 list on Wednesday. Harbaugh said he has no timetable for the return of defensive end Derek Wolfe (back/hip), who's yet to play this season after suffering injuries in a joint practice with the Panthers during training camp. Left tackle Ronnie Stanley (ankle) will continue to rehab instead of undergoing surgery with hopes of returning sooner rather than later, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Wednesday.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Lamar Jackson, Tyler Huntley
RBs: Devonta Freeman, Latavius Murray, Ty'Son Williams
WRs: Marquise Brown, Rashod Bateman, Sammy Watkins, Devin Duvernay, Tylan Wallace, James Proche, Miles Boykin
TEs: Mark Andrews, Josh Oliver, Eric Tomlinson, Nick Boyle

Buffalo Bills

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 September 2021

As Jourdon LaBarber of BuffaloBills.com reported it, Josh Allen received comfort of his offensive coordinator in the locker room after a November win over Seattle last season, less than 24 hours after the passing of his grandmother. On Sunday, the roles were reversed.

The Bills dedicated their 43-21 victory over the Washington Football Team to offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, who lost his own grandmother during the week.

"He's a guy that I love dearly," Allen said. "To go out there and play the way we did for him, the guys understood that, and we wanted to go and execute and play well for him."

Daboll and his players dialed up their best performance of the young season, amassing 481 total yards while establishing the rhythm that was a staple of their AFC-leading offense in 2020.

Allen was critical of his performance through two weeks during his session with the media on Wednesday, saying it was "no secret" he had not played his best. It was a particularly harsh self-assessment given the Bills were coming off a 35-0 victory in Miami.

The quarterback responded by completing 32 of 43 passes for 358 yards and four touchdowns, the latter of which matched a career high.

It marked Allen's fifth career game with four TDs passing and 300 yards passing, one more than the team record held by Hall of Famer Jim Kelly. And Allen's 2-yard TD run in the fourth quarter was his 26th, breaking the franchise record for quarterbacks held by Jack Kemp.

Allen's 101 touchdowns rank fourth among Bills quarterbacks, and one behind Kemp.

"I just care so much about my teammates and my biggest fear is letting them down," Allen said.

Allen set the tone for the afternoon on the opening drive. After throwing an incompletion on his first attempt, he sidestepped pressure and delivered a 23-yard strike to Gabriel Davis to convert on third-and-15. He was a perfect 5-for-5 from that point forward, capping the drive with a 28-yard touchdown pass delivered on the run to Emmanuel Sanders.

It was more of the same all day. Allen kept the offense rolling by spreading the ball with quick strikes. When the vaunted Washington pass rush did create pressure, Allen was able to escape and either find a receiver or throw the ball out of bounds.

"Felt pretty good in terms of just getting the ball out, seeing the defense, what they were doing early on," Allen said. "But again, it takes 11 guys out there. And we were pretty much all on the same page throughout the game today."

As ESPN.com's Alaina Getzenberg noted, throws downfield were an issue to start the season, but Allen took a step forward in that area Sunday. He completed 10 of 15 passes for 200 yards and two TDs on throws of more than 10 yards downfield, tied for his second-most completions on those throws in a game in his career.

With Allen's breakout game came a resurgent performance from the Bills passing attack.

Cole Beasley matched his career high with 11 receptions and accumulated a game-high 98 yards. Sanders had 94 yards on five receptions, including his first two touchdowns with the Bills.

Eight different Bills had at least one reception, another defining trait of the 2020 team.

Beasley said the entire offense shared Allen's disappointment regarding their performance over the first two weeks, even following the 35-0 win over the Dolphins.

"The standard's high, man," Beasley said. "Yeah, there's expectations from the outside but there's no expectations higher than the ones we hold for ourselves. So, that was really what it was. It wasn't just me feeling that way. It was a lot of guys on the offense. We're hungry and we know what we can do, and we feel like we didn't do our part as much as we could have last week."

This week, the Bills second consecutive opponent coming off extended break after playing on Thursday night. They host the Houston Texans on Oct. 3.

Other notes of interest. ... Not a huge surprise, but Allen was named the AFC Offensive Player of the Week on Wednesday for this performance. ...

Buffalo's 29 first downs against Washington rank tied for 13th in team history, and the most since generating 31 three times last season. The Bills have 20 or more first downs in 19 consecutive games going back to the start of last season. ...

The passing attack will garner a lot of the attention considering Allen's four touchdowns through the air, but CBSSports.com contends Zack Moss's performance was encouraging from both a real-life and fantasy perspective. Moss rushed 13 times for 60 yards and secured all three targets for 31 yards and a touchdown.

Of greater interest, the second-year back outpaced Devin Singletary in carries by two and also scored his first receiving touchdown after coming in with only two receptions over the first two games, with both having come Week 2.

Whether the ground attack's division of labor Sunday holds true against the Texans remains to be seen, but it's certainly something for both Moss and Singletary fantasy managers to monitor. ...

According to Associated Press sports writer John Wawrow, Isaiah McKenzie's tentativeness in the return game was costly. His failure to field Dustin Hopkins' short kickoff led to Hopkins recovering the ball at the Buffalo 24, which led to Washington scoring to cut Buffalo's lead to 21-14.

On the injury front. .. S Jordan Poyer was sidelined late in the game and spotted wearing a protective boot on his left foot. Coach Sean McDermott listed him day to day.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Josh Allen, Mitchell Trubisky
RBs: Matt Breida, Devin Singletary, Zack Moss, Taiwan Jones
WRs: Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasley, Emmanuel Sanders, Gabriel Davis, Isaiah McKenzie, Jake Kumerow
TEs: Dawson Knox, Tommy Sweeney

Carolina Panthers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 September 2021

The Panthers have decided not to place running back Christian McCaffrey on injured reserve while he recovers from a strained hamstring.

Had McCaffrey been placed on IR he would have missed at least three games under NFL rules.

"We feel like there is hope that he will be back before then -- or at least after three games and going into the fourth game," head coach Matt Rhule said Monday. On Friday, Rhule indicated McCaffrey would miss "a few weeks" of action.

The 2019 All-Pro was injured in Carolina's 24-9 win over the Houston Texans this past Thursday night when he pulled up while running a sweep play in the first quarter.

He had seven carries for 31 yards and two catches for nine yards before he left early in the second quarter. He spent about 20 minutes in the medical tent on the sideline before walking slowly to the locker room. He did not return.

McCaffrey, who missed 13 games last season with injuries, entered the game leading the league with 324 yards from scrimmage, but wasn't able to add much to that total.

Rhule wouldn't identify a starting running back for Sunday's game against the Dallas Cowboys, but expects rookie Chuba Hubbard and veteran Royce Freeman to see "a lot" of work with McCaffrey out. Hubbard, who has been working as McCaffrey's primary backup this season, had 52 yards on 17 carries, and Freeman had 17 yards on five rushes against the Texans.

Rhule said the Panthers (3-0) could also elevate running back Rodney Smith, who saw action in the Carolina backfield last season, from the practice squad. The team also worked out free-agent Duke Johnson last Friday.

The coach said he was pleased with Hubbard's performance against the Texans.

"In the second half he had a couple of nice runs and caught a ball and powered guys forward," Rhule said. "Once he got into a rhythm, some of the things we have been working on with him -- like not slipping and not falling -- all of a sudden, with a couple of carries and couple of touches he got his legs underneath him and you saw some of the explosiveness that he has."

Asked if the Panthers could sustain their success without McCaffrey, left tackle Cameron Erving said, "We're a football team. We're not the Carolina Christian McCaffreys."

Quarterback Sam Darnold said McCaffrey was "sad" when they spoke after the game. Darnold said he told McCaffrey it was important he didn't rush back and assured him "we'll be all right without him."

"Obviously, we want him back," Darnold said. "But I want him to take his time right now and make sure he's good for the end of the season. ..."

At this point, fantasy managers would probably agree. ...

Meanwhile, the question now becomes whether Darnold carry the offense without McCaffrey.

As ESPN.com's David Newton noted, Darnold in the second half against the Texans played maybe as well as he has at any point in his NFL career. He stayed within the offense and made plays with his arm and legs. His quarterback sneak for a touchdown gave him two for the game, something he'd never done since entering the league. He even had a 32-yard run called back because of a penalty.

Newton summed up: "I'm starting to believe the Panthers made the right gamble in trading for him. He's tough. Or as Matt Rhule said, he has 'moxie.'"

Darnold is getting plenty of help from D.J. Moore, who has clearly emerged as Carolina's undisputed No. 1 receiver and he played like it last Thursday night.

With McCaffrey exiting the game, the Panthers needed someone to step up and Moore did, catching eight of the 12 passes thrown his way for 126 yards. He appeared to cramp up at one point, but did return. The Panthers also got a big game from rookie Tommy Tremble, who ran for a 7-yard touchdown on a tight end sweep and also hauled in a 30-yard reception to help set up another score.

Rookie Terrace Marshall Jr. played in a career-high 62 percent of the snaps, making four receptions for 48 yards.

Conversely, wide receiver Robby Anderson has not been very productive since signing a three-year, $37.5 million contract extension before the season. After catching 95 passes for 1,096 yards last year with Teddy Bridgewater under center, Anderson has just five receptions for 103 yards, 57 of those coming on a touchdown reception in Week 1 against the Jets.

As Associated Press sports writer Steve Reed notes, the lack of chemistry between Darnold and Anderson is a little perplexing given they played together for two seasons with the Jets.

Still, Rhule told reporters the Panthers have to find a way to get the ball to Anderson more. He said Anderson has been open and he wants the Panthers to maximize the talents of all of its weapons.

That's even more important with McCaffrey out. ... Expect it to be a focus when Carolina returns to the state of Texas on Oct. 3 to face the Cowboys. Carolina is 5-9 against Dallas. ...

Also of interest. ... First-round draft pick Jaycee Horn will likely miss the season after breaking three bones in his right foot. The Jaguars will try to replace him with CJ Henderson, the latest first-round draft pick to get shipped out of Jacksonville.

The winless Jaguars traded the ninth overall selection in 2020 to the undefeated Carolina Panthers in exchange for journeyman tight end Dan Arnold on Monday. The deal also includes a swap of draft picks, with Jacksonville getting Carolina's third-rounder in 2022 and the Panthers receiving a fifth-rounder from the Jaguars.

Rhule isn't sure whether Henderson (groin) will be healthy enough to play Sunday against Dallas.

Jacksonville clearly had concerns about Henderson's long-term future with the franchise months ago. Not only had Henderson missed eight games as a rookie, he raised eyebrows by going on a late-night Twitter rant from a McDonald's early during 2020 training camp. He missed a few practices afterward because of an "illness" and didn't speak to the media until his performance in last season's opener.

He's hasn't been made available since, either, and the Jaguars said the NFL recently gave them permission to keep him off limits.

Now, he gets a fresh start in Carolina. ...

A few final injury notes here. ... Until Henderson gets up to speed, Rashaan Melvin and A.J. Bouye will see additional reps filling in for Horn. Look for Sam Franklin to step in at safety if Juston Burris (groin) is sidelined for any length of time. The Panthers could make a move at safety given they're a little thin after placing Myles Hartsfield on injured reserve last week.

And if John Miller's shoulder becomes a lingering issue, Trent Scott or Brady Christensen could fill in at guard. Miller banged up his shoulder against the Texans but stayed in the game.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Cam Newton, P.J. Walker, Sam Darnold
RBs: Chuba Hubbard, Ameer Abdullah, Christian McCaffrey
WRs: D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson, Shi Smith, Terrace Marshall Jr., Brandon Zylstra, Alex Erickson
TEs: Ian Thomas, Tommy Tremble, Colin Thompson

Chicago Bears

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 September 2021

As Associated Press sports writer Gene Chamberlain reported it, an historically bad effort by the Chicago offense has head coach Matt Nagy rethinking his approach after only the third week of the season.

It could all lead to a change in who calls the plays or even who the quarterback is as the Bears prepare to face the Detroit Lions on Sunday at Soldier Field.

"Again, just to keep it super simple, everything's on the table," Nagy said. "And I think that's probably the easiest way to put it -- the evaluation part, everything."

Nagy stopped calling plays last year after nine games in the middle of a six-game losing streak. Against the Browns, the Bears finished with just 47 yards of net offense.

That's the second-fewest yards of net offense in franchise history and ninth fewest in NFL history.

The offense produced only six first downs, converted 1-of-11 third-down plays and allowed nine sacks, one shy of the franchise record.

The coach revealed that he would seek input from others about the offense in an attempt to regain "that vibe and that juice that we had in OTAs and then training camp."

"The No. 1 thing is I'll go to more than just one person and I go to people that I know are going to be honest in all parts of it, not just what they think that I want to hear, because I respect the honesty," Nagy said. "Sometimes it's not always in the building. It could be other places, too. But for a lot of times, it is those in the building because they're in the trees, they're in the woods with you when you're going through all this.

"I always want to just make sure that if you keep it super simple, what is the best thing for the Bears to be successful? I'll always keep it at that and leave it there; whatever needs to be done."

Nagy made it clear at this time he does not know who his quarterback will be against Detroit. A possible switch at quarterback comes more as a result of the health situation than anything, although 1 net yard passing against the Cleveland Browns by rookie Justin Fields in his first NFL start did not help.

Fields has an injured right hand and had it X-rayed after the 26-6 loss to Cleveland. The hand is sore, although results on a fracture were negative. Starter Andy Dalton is suffering from a bone bruise to his left knee and it led to Fields' first start. Only third-string quarterback Nick Foles is entirely healthy and would be an option if neither Fields nor Dalton can play.

Nagy told reporters on Wednesday he epxected Dalton and Fields to practice on some capacity Wednesday. Nothing has been decided about Sunday's game, but Nagy reiterated that Dalton is the starter when healthy.

"When you don't have the success we had on offense yesterday, with a rookie quarterback in Justin, of course it keeps you up at night because you want to figure out why," Nagy said. "So we're looking at everything right now. Looking at everything -- I think that's being completely honest with you, and real.

As for Fields, the concerns are obvious.

"I care about this situation immensely. Our players care. Our coaches care. So we gotta figure it out and we've got to figure it out fast."

Fields went 6 of 20 for 68 yards Sunday and took nine sacks. This came after he finished up a win over Cincinnati after Dalton's injury and went 6 of 13 for 60 yards.

Nagy doesn't see Fields as the one to blame for a passing attack now ranked last in the league.

"I wouldn't say that at all," Nagy said. "Again, I loved his preparation. I think he learned a lot through the week of practice that we had. I think he got better every day.

"And again, one of the things that we talked about for him moving through this process that he's going to go through is that there are going to be highs and lows. Now that was a low, a really low deal there. So we want to make sure that we're doing everything we can to put him in situations to where he's having success."

Still, Fields has played over six quarters and has had trouble moving the team. He is 14 of 35 for 138 yards with an interception and a passer rating of 39.9.

"There are things that he learned in that game, whether it's progressions, whether it's footwork, whether it's timing, whether it's situational," Nagy said. "There are things that he learned yesterday that are really going to help him out."

Whatever the case, the Bears have scored just four touchdowns on the season as they head into Sunday's game against the Lions, and one of those came on defense. Four TDs ranks 31st in the league.

Other notes of interest. ... David Montgomery rushed 10 times for 34 yards and caught two passes for 21 yards on Sunday.

With the Bears unable to sustain any consistent offense, Montgomery was the only Chicago player to post more than 27 yards from scrimmage. As CBSSports.com suggests, this is likely one of the worst fantasy performances he'll have all season. He'll have a great chance to get back on track in a much more favorable home matchup against the Lions.

While the run blocking has been acceptable, pass protection is shaky -- as nine sacks allowed would indicate. The total was the most allowed by the Bears since Oct. 3, 2010 when the New York Giants sacked Jay Cutler nine times in one half.

Allen Robinson caught 2-of-6 targets for 27 yards in this one. Cleveland. Remember, we're talking about a team that finished the day with just 47 yards of total offense. They completed six passes on the day. Many of the Bears' problems could be cured by Detroit's defense, but the situation is obviously a concern for Robinson investors. ...

On the injury front. ... Khalil Mack had two sacks, and now has three for the season. However, he suffered a foot sprain and left the game before returning in the second half. Besides Fields and Mack, the Bears also had linebacker Joel Iyiegbuniwe suffer a hamstring injury. There will be a close watch this week on starting linebacker Danny Trevathan and nose tackle Eddie Goldman as they could return from knee injuries.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Andy Dalton, Justin Fields, Nick Foles
RBs: David Montgomery, Khalil Herbert, Damien Williams, Tarik Cohen
WRs: Darnell Mooney, Allen Robinson, Damiere Byrd, Marquise Goodwin, Jakeem Grant
TEs: Cole Kmet, Jimmy Graham, Jesse James, J.P. Holtz, Jesper Horsted

Cincinnati Bengals

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 September 2021

According to ESPN.com's Ben Baby, Sunday's road game against the Steelers -- a team dealing with significant injuries and a fading quarterback -- was going to be the first big benchmark to gauge where the Bengals stand at this point in their rebuilding process.

The resounding 24-10 win, perhaps the most complete performance in head coach Zac Taylor's three seasons, shows the Bengals they can be competitive in the AFC North.

Cincinnati produced the type of performance that could resonate for the rest of the season and prove pivotal come December.

"We expect to be on the road, win divisional games, to achieve all the things that we talk about internally as a team," Taylor said after the game. "This is something that's necessary."

This wasn't the first time the Bengals (2-1) have beaten the Steelers (1-2) in Taylor's tenure. Cincinnati stunned a playoff-bound Pittsburgh team on Monday Night Football last December.

But the team's second-straight win over its AFC North rival was far more significant. Last year's victory came with quarterback Joe Burrow already sidelined for the season with a knee injury, and with postseason hopes extinguished.

Taylor said if he could have drawn up the schedule, a Week 3 road game against a divisional opponent would have been his preference.

A victory over Pittsburgh in September showed why.

Before Sunday, the Bengals had zero divisional wins in any month but December in Taylor's first two seasons. Baby went on to suggest that Cincinnati showed some much-needed resolve on Sunday.

Taylor's play calling came under fire following a lackluster loss in Chicago last week. But the Bengals responded by averaging 6.4 yards per play and imposing their authority on the game despite having 35 fewer snaps than the Steelers. Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin summed it up best when asked about the Steelers, who were missing pass rushers T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith, snapping their NFL record by failing to register a sack for the first time in 76 games.

"They were in control of the game," Tomlin said. "I mean, what are we even talking about?"

Burrow overcame an early interception to throw three touchdowns passes, including two to rookie Ja'Marr Chase. In Burrow's only game against Pittsburgh last season, Cincinnati was thoroughly outplayed in a 36-10 defeat.

That game and two big losses to the Baltimore Ravens showed the ground the Bengals needed to make up against the other teams in their division. And especially coming off last week's defeat to the Bears, Burrow said the team was aware of what was required in Pittsburgh.

"We knew we had to come in here and play the way we did," Burrow said.

Taylor said the most meaningful part of the victory was being able to finish a win on the road. In early 2020, the Bengals squandered a fourth-quarter lead to tie the Philadelphia Eagles in Philly.

That didn't happen against Pittsburgh. Instead, Cincinnati produced the kind of performance that could lead to the team playing meaningful games in December.

"This is something we needed," Taylor said. "But it's just a small step in our journey for the rest of the season."

They should be able to keep the excitement levels high this week as they host Jacksonville on Thursday night. Cincinnati beat the Jaguars 33-25 at Paul Brown Stadium last October. ...

Other notes of interest. ... As Profootballtalk.com's Mike Florio suggested this week, defenses need to start devoting more resources to stopping Chase. Otherwise, the youngest player in league history to score four touchdowns in his first three games will continue to add to his exploits.

Chase explained to PFT after Sunday's win over Pittsburgh that, in those first three NFL games, he hasn't seen much double coverage.

"I would probably say I've seen it the past two games a little bit," Chase said. "I knew Steelers threw it at me maybe a couple times today. I'm not really sure how many times I've seen it. I've had a bunch of times in college but so far in the NFL I've only seen it twice [against the Bears and Steelers]."

Does he expect to see it more often?

"If I keep playing like this I will," Chase said.

He explained that the transformation between having issues with drops and having no issues whatsoever happened in the preseason. He said that's when he learned the importance of focusing on all opportunities that come his have.

"I didn't really have a lot of reps, so my reps were limited," Chase said of the preseason. "And it just made me realize that I need to focus when it's time to focus, lock in when I need to lock in. And the ball is only thrown so many times in an NFL game. Got to capitalize when it's time to. I just made that my mindset and been striving."

As Florio summed up: "It's working. It's working well. It's working incredibly well. Look for it to keep working. ..."

Joe Mixon rushed 18 times for 90 yards and caught his only target for four yards in Sunday win.

As CBSSports.com notes, Mixon has 73 touches through three weeks and is racking up plenty of yardage as one of the league's few three-down running backs. All three of Cincinnati's touchdowns in this one were caught by wide receivers, as Mixon's lone trip to the end zone through three weeks came back in Week 1.

He'll have a nice opportunity to end his touchdown drought at two games on Thursday Night Football. ...

On the injury front. ... Tee Higgins (shoulder) was listed as a non-participant on Monday's practice estimate and drew that same designation Tuesday.

Higgins was officially ruled out on Wednesday.

Higgins also missed last week's win over the Steelers and appeared to be fighting an uphill battle with a short turnaround. Turns out that was the case. S Jessie Bates III was also officially ruled out.

Also. ... CB Chidobe Awuzie left in the second half Sunday with a groin injury; he's doubtful for Thursday night's game.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Joe Burrow, Brandon Allen
RBs: Joe Mixon, Samaje Perine, Chris Evans
WRs: Ja'Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd, Mike Thomas, Auden Tate, Stanley Morgan Jr.
TEs: C.J. Uzomah, Drew Sample

Cleveland Browns

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 September 2021

According to Akron Beacon Journal staffer Nate Ulrich, Odell Beckham Jr. described himself as so exhausted after his first game back from a major knee injury that he lost his voice without even screaming.

Beckham also repeatedly said he felt as if could never get his legs underneath him Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium.

"You don't have the same bounce," he said.

Well, the star wide receiver had other members of the Browns fooled in their 26-6 win over the Chicago Bears -- Beckham's first game since he suffered a season-ending torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee Oct. 25 against the Cincinnati Bengals and underwent surgery Nov. 10.

"Oh, he's back like he never left," running back Kareem Hunt said. "I told him that. He looked great out there, man, and I'm looking forward to seeing many more."

Beckham played 52 of the offense's 81 snaps (64 percent). He caught five passes on nine targets for 77 yards and added one carry on an end around for 10 yards.

"The first time in a very long time, a lot of emotions, a lot of things running through you as you're back out in the stadium," Beckham said of his return. "It's still the dream to be in the NFL and play in this game, so it was a lot to take in today. It just felt like I could never get my legs going. It's just exhausting. But we came out with a W, and that's all that matters."

Beckham came out of the game healthy, too, relatively speaking. He said one of his shoulders popped out and back in -- "football stuff" -- after he absorbed a hit for the first time in 11 months. It happened on the game's second play from scrimmage when quarterback Baker Mayfield's short pass over the middle intended for Beckham fell incomplete after linebacker Roquan Smith had hit OBJ.

"Needed it. Just needed it," Beckham said of feeling contact. "Actually, first hit came on a pass that I didn't catch. Shoulder popped out, and I was like, 'All right, of course, something like that would happen.'

"It was good to feel that and get back into it, and then the game went on and it was a little bit smoother."

Mayfield and Beckham entered the game with the second-worst completion rate (54.6 percent) of any quarterback-receiver tandem with at least 150 attempts since 2019, when the Browns (2-1) acquired Beckham in a trade with the New York Giants, according to ESPN Stats and Information.

But Beckham said he "absolutely" felt a good connection with Mayfield against the Bears.

"We hit a couple throws -- things I could definitely work on," Beckham said. "For the first game back, I feel like I could never get my legs underneath me, so it was definitely a tough game, but I got my feet wet, glad to get that one out the way, 1-0 and move on to next week."

A three-time Pro Bowl selection, Beckham gained five first downs -- four on catches and one on his lone carry. He had two receptions result in third-down conversions.

"He did a nice job," Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said. "He made a couple of nice plays for us. I don't know the exact number of plays he played, but I know he was productive in the pass game. I think it was good for him to get out there and help his team win.

"He worked very hard to get back here. Any guy who is coming off an injury and coming off of an offseason surgery, it's not easy. He pushed very hard, and I was proud of him out there."

Stefanski said he, offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt and wide receivers coach Chad O'Shea were in constant communication on the sideline to ensure they didn't give Beckham more plays than he could handle.

"I'm one of those people that I will go as much as I can go," Beckham said. "It's hard for me to sit out. But anytime I needed a break I wasn't hesitant to take it. I pushed it, but I gave everything I could for today."

All-Pro defensive end Myles Garrett set a single-game franchise record with 4½ sacks and joked Beckham was more tired than him after the game.

"He looked good," Garrett said. "You saw him. Those hands are immaculate, and the guy's a hell of a route runner, so just love being able to watch him."

The Browns needed a lift with five-time Pro Bowl receiver Jarvis Landry sidelined. They played Landry on injured reserve Tuesday with the sprained medial collateral ligament he suffered in last week's 31-21 win over the Houston Texans. By rule, he must miss at least three games -- Sunday against the Bears, Oct. 3 at the Minnesota Vikings and Oct. 10 at the Los Angeles Chargers.

Next up is a homecoming for Stefanski, who takes the Browns to Minnesota next Sunday for the first of two straight road games. Stefanski spent 14 years with the Vikings, starting his NFL career as an administrative assistant in 2006. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Hunt accounted for 155 yards and had perhaps his best game as a Brown. He picked up 81 yards rushing, added 74 yards receiving and set the tone on a 29-yard touchdown run that helped seal one of Cleveland's most convincing wins in recent memory.

"He's a great back," said Mayfield. "Just the look in his eye, everybody could tell the way he was running. It seemed angry -- angrier than usual. When that happens, just find a way to get him the ball."

Stefanski has looked to find the right balance for Hunt and running back Nick Chubb, the team's unquestioned workhorse, with mixed results.

For some reason, Hunt wasn't in as rookie Demetric Felton seemed to have a larger role in the first quarter. Felton may have been getting snaps that normally go to Landry.

Hunt is the perfect complement to Chubb, but he can also be the Browns' primary threat, capable of ripping off a big play at any time.

For the record, Chubb rushed 22 times for 84 yards on Sunday. Chubb's solid, albeit unremarkable, Week 3 stat line aside, he'll look to make up for his first touchdown-less game of the season in Minnesota. ...

Tight end David Njoku, who appeared to be gaining momentum over the first two games, was not targeted in his 50 plays. ...

On the injury front. ... Stefanski didn't provide an injury update on rookie cornerback Greg Newsome II (calf), who underwent an MRI on Monday. Stefanski said he would know more once the test results come back.

And finally. ... Garrett has 5.5 sacks for the season, putting him 3.5 from passing Michael Dean Perry for second on the franchise's all-time sacks list and 14 from passing Clay Matthews (62) as the record-holder.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Baker Mayfield, Case Keenum
RBs: Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, D'Ernest Johnson, Demetric Felton, John Kelly
WRs: Jarvis Landry, Donovan Peoples-Jones, Ja'Marcus Bradley, Rashard Higgins, Anthony Schwartz
TEs: Austin Hooper, David Njoku, Harrison Bryant

Dallas Cowboys

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 September 2021

As NFL.com's Grant Gordon noted, it had been 351 days since Dak Prescott last played a game at AT&T Stadium.

He was carted off the field that day and his season was over.

Prescott returned for his first game on the Cowboys' homefield since he sustained a horrible ankle break and looked poised, comfortable and excellent in leading Dallas to a 41-21 win over the Eagles on Monday Night Football.

During the national anthem, Prescott got emotional about the return, a tear running from his eye, and said the same happened in warmups, but that dissipated upon kickoff.

"I think there was a couple of times, but definitely again during the national anthem," Prescott told ESPN's Lisa Salters after the game. "Just gratitude. Definitely just thankful for everything that I've been through. All the hard work that it took. ... Just to be back out here doing what I love. It's the greatest place to play football.

"I think the last moment was the national anthem and then it was go time."

It was against another NFC East foe, the Giants, in which Prescott was injured in Week 5 of the 2020 season. When Prescott left the game on that day, much of the Cowboys' hopes left with him.

On this night, Prescott and the Cowboys won their second game in a row and offered up an abundance of optimism that this could well be the season in which Dallas cashes in on its talent-laden roster and returns to the playoffs after missing out the past two seasons.

Prescott was borderline brilliant on the evening, throwing for three touchdowns and 238 yards on 21-of-26 passing with a 143.3 rating and his first no-interception game of the season.

Ezekiel Elliott ran for a season-high 95 yards and two touchdowns, and tight end Dalton Schultz had the first two-TD game of his career.

Tony Pollard added 60 yards rushing on 11 carries as the Cowboys finished with 160 yards on the ground against the NFL's No. 2 run defense.

"This offense is just playing together," Prescott said. "We've got a great pace of play that we're playing with. We've got a great brotherhood. Everybody's holding each other accountable. It's fun to be a part of. We've got so many playmakers that don't have egos and they make my job easy. Offensive line protects and guys go make plays."

Amid a crazy start Monday night that featured a Prescott fumble in the end zone turning into six Eagles points a drive after Jalen Hurts threw a pick, Prescott remained calm and cool despite the early storm.

Prescott's first scoring pass, a 19-yard shot to Schultz, put the Cowboys ahead for good at 13-7 with 1:31 to go in the first quarter.

Prescott's second touchdown pass was a beautiful 2-yard laser to Cedrick Wilson in the fourth quarter that expunged any thoughts of a miraculous Eagles comeback. Prescott rolled right, bided his time and found a wide-open Wilson at the back of the end zone for an easy six.

A third TD, once again to Schultz, was the capper of a sterling night for Prescott.

"I'm very happy for Dak," head coach Mike McCarthy said after the game. "He's just a great leader for our football team.

"He's off to an excellent start."

Monday was the first of three consecutive home games for the Cowboys, and Prescott clearly feels comfortable there once again.

"It's something we've got to build off of," Prescott said of Monday's win. "I mean, obviously, I feel great. I've got a great supporting cast and a great defense that's making plays and getting me the ball back, so we just gotta continue to build and tonight was a good one that we can build off of and get a couple in a row here at home."

Prescott's certainly had bigger nights statistically and played in more important games than a Week 3 Monday nighter, but this was an important one on his comeback trail.

He returned to the scene of so many triumphs, but also returned to the scene of the crime that robbed him of last season. And he emerged in impressive and victorious fashion.

Next up, Carolina visits Sunday with the Panthers seeking their first 4-0 start since the 2015 season, when they started 14-0 and lost to Denver in the Super Bowl. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Prescott has completed 25 of 26 quick passes (thrown in less than 2.5 seconds) for 210 yards and one touchdown in his last two games combined, but that's not all: Prescott was also excellent on slower releases, completing 10 of 14 passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns on throws of 2.5 seconds or later.

Also. ... With his 95 yards Monday night, Elliott has averaged the most rushing yards per primetime game of any player since 1970 (minimum 20 games) at 87.4 per game.

And finally. ... A week after McCarthy explained his clock-management blunder at the end of a thrilling Cowboys win over the Chargers by saying he couldn't find the clock at SoFi Stadium, McCarthy willingly declined an offer to stop the clock and get the ball back for another chance to score just before the half Monday night.

Twitter lit up McCarthy for his passive approach to the final minute of the half, as did the commentators on the television broadcast, bringing us fresh evidence to add to McCarthy's long history of flummoxing clock-management decisions. It didn't hurt the Cowboys Monday night, but then again, it's only Week 3.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush, Will Grier
RBs: Ezekiel Elliott, Tony Pollard, Corey Clement
WRs: CeeDee Lamb, Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, Cedrick Wilson, Noah Brown, Simi Fehoko
TEs: Dalton Schultz, Sean McKeon, Blake Jarwin

Denver Broncos

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 September 2021

According to ESPN.com's Jeff Legwold, from where the Broncos sit, and that's at 3-0 for the first time since 2016, their first three opponents largely took the same approach on defense.

Essentially, three different teams came up with the same plan: to make quarterback Teddy Bridgewater beat them. Score one, two and three for Teddy.

"Man, if that's what it means, we'll take it," Bridgewater said.

"Quit doubting Teddy, man," Broncos tackle Garett Bolles said. "Let me tell y'all something. ... He's a dog, man. The man can come in here and win the team over and continue to do the things that he's going to do. I love protecting his blind side. You know, being with him, and watching him do his thing, the dude is composed back there. He knows exactly where to throw the ball. I'm telling you right now man, he's a dangerous threat. If we do whatever we can to keep his jersey fresh, we're hard to beat."

Bridgewater, whom the Broncos acquired in a trade with the Carolina Panthers the day before the NFL draft in April, has been steady, opportunistic and -- as Legwold put it, "ruthless" at times. Yes, the Broncos' first three opponents are now a combined 0-9, but Bridgewater leads the league in completion percentage (76.8 percent), is seventh in average length of completion and fifth in passer rating.

And perhaps most importantly for a team that was the league's most charitable last season in handing out turnovers -- the Broncos led the NFL in interceptions and giveaways overall in 2020 -- Bridgewater had not thrown an interception. All while three opponents largely decided it was imperative to stop the run and make Bridgewater throw the ball.

"Teams are blitzing our run game, which is why we've had success in the passing game," said Broncos coach Vic Fangio. "... They're going to major extremes to play our run game, these first three opponents."

The Broncos' plan entering the season included a bigger role for the running game, and the numbers say the Broncos have run the ball the same number of times -- 95 -- as they've thrown it in their three games combined.

But some of that is tilted. Many of those carries have come when the Broncos were well ahead and trying to run the clock. When the games have still been in the balance, defenses have tried to make Bridgewater's beat them and so far he has been up to the task.

Eleven different players have caught at least one pass from Bridgewater, and five different players have a reception of at least 25 yards. In the Broncos' three games, Bridgewater has completed passes to nine, nine and eight different players.

"We just give those guys a chance and they make plays," Bridgewater said. "If teams want to sell out and stop the run, then we're going to ask our receivers, our tight ends, even running backs to do a great job of helping the pass game get going."

Fangio has said their rushing attempts have "a lot of ones and zeros in there," and the Broncos have 18 rushing attempts by their running backs this season for no gain or negative yardage -- that's 11.5 percent of their rushing attempts -- a total that includes seven against the Jets Sunday and six against the Jaguars in Week 2. Melvin Gordon and rookie Javonte Williams have split the majority of the carries (42 for Gordon, 39 for Williams) and as a team are at 4.0 yards per carry.

But much of that is boom or bust with a smattering of big-play runs, including a 70-yard touchdown run in the opener by Gordon, pushing the numbers higher.

Fangio said the Broncos will have to solve their rushing riddle "or we just have to keep throwing it." It may actually require a little of both given of their next four opponents, two are ranked 20th or lower in pass defense (Baltimore is 30th, Pittsburgh is 20th) while two are ranked 13th or better in pass defense (Cleveland is sixth while Las Vegas is 13th).

"We have to be able to [run the ball] if we want to win," Gordon said. "The great teams that make it far are able to run the ball and pass the ball. ... We're not down about where we are now but we aren't happy. We have a lot of work to do but we definitely know that we have to be a balanced team to go where we want to go."

"These first three teams definitely didn't want us to get started running the ball," Fangio said. "And all three of them had varying degrees of success doing that. ... They're blitzing DBs designed for the run, not to get pass rush on the quarterback and we're going to have to figure that out a little bit."

Worth noting. ... Fullback/tight end Andrew Beck was active for the first time this season against the Jets, and he played an instrumental role on each of the Broncos' touchdowns. Beck cleared the way for both Williams and Gordon, clearing out a defender to make a path for the running back.

Denver will face another difficult test in the run game on Sunday, as the Ravens have allowed just 79.0 rushing yards per game, which ranks ninth in the league. Fangio, though, knows the Broncos still must find a way to pick up yards.

"The Ravens historically are very tough to run on," Fangio said. "They have big defensive linemen, and they have good players. Their scheme is hard to run on at times, but we're going to have to find a way to grind some yards out of there."

It remains to be seen whether Beck will again be part of that plan.

Meanwhile, also Bridgewater knows that the competition gets tougher from here on out.

"Now that we've had a taste of success, you know, we just want to stay there," the QB said. "There is always room for improvement, and that's the thing about this game that can humble you in so many ways. So as long as we keep that mindset of being humble and understand that our best is still yet to come, we can do some things moving forward. But it's great to come away and get this start, 3-0, build confidence in the locker room, and we just want to keep it going."

The biggest area of concern for the Broncos offense Sunday was squandering chances in the red zone, where Denver went just 2 of 5, including 2 of 4 in goal-to-go situations, with a goal-line fumble.

Still, the Broncos took care of business through three weeks. The defense has been smothering, and Bridgewater has played well. But the tests that lie ahead will tell whether Denver is a legit contender or just the beneficiary of a cushy opening slate.

We'll see what they have for Baltimore on Sunday in Denver. ...

And there are issues. ... As DenverBroncos.com's Aric DiLalla noted, a week after the Broncos placed two defensive starters on injured reserve, Denver's offense took a hit.

KJ Hamler will miss the remainder of the season after suffering a knee injury against the Jets, Fangio announced Monday.

Fangio said Hamler tore his ACL and has "some other stuff too" in his left knee. He was placed on injured reserve on Tuesday.

The Broncos do not yet have a timeline for guards Graham Glasgow (knee) and Dalton Risner (foot), but Fangio said he does not believe their injuries are season ending.

"We're still waiting on some imaging," Fangio said.

Without Hamler, Fangio said the Broncos will evaluate their existing options at wide receiver on the roster and also look externally.

That started on Monday, when the Broncos signed receiver David Moore off the Raiders' practice squad, Brandon Krisztal of KOA reported.

Moore, 26, spent the past four seasons in Seattle. He caught 78 passes for 1,163 yards and 13 touchdowns in 47 games with the Seahawks.

Moore signed a two-year deal with Carolina but didn't make the Panthers' roster out of the preseason. He then joined the Raiders' practice squad.

In addition, Diontae Spencer and Kendall Hinton will get more work -- especially as slot receivers in the team's three-wide receiver look -- but the Broncos have four wide receivers on the practice squad.

Hamler finishes the 2021 season with five catches for 74 yards.

"KJ's a hard guy to cover," Fangio said. "You saw the key third down that we made the conversion with him. They were in man coverage. The guy was nowhere near him. He's hard to cover, so we'll miss him."

Fangio said the Broncos would also miss his ability to stretch the defense. As Tim Patrick explained Monday, Hamler has speed that is different from other players on the roster.

"It hurts because he was, out of all the receivers, the different one," Patrick said. "He had God-given speed. So it's definitely tough."

The Broncos, who are already without Jerry Jeudy for several more weeks, will have to replace Hamler's production in a different fashion.

"[There's] definitely no replacing KJ," Patrick said. "You just replace him by making plays. That's more balls for other people, and when the ball comes your way, just make a play. It might not be in the way that he would do it, but there's other ways to make big plays. ..."

The Broncos could potentially regain at least one offensive weapon this week, as running back Mike Boone is eligible to return to practice and to the active roster after missing the last three weeks.

He was on the practice field Wednesday.Now that he’s designated for assignment, Boone will have a three-week window to practice and be added to the active roster. ...

Cornerback Michael Ojemudia, who is also eligible to return, will not practice this week.

With Glasgow and Risner ailing, the Broncos had difficulty managing the line of scrimmage. Netane Muti, a 2020 draft pick, replaced Glasgow and rookie Quinn Meinerz replaced Risner. The Broncos were already struggling at times to protect Bridgewater from pressure on the interior before Glasgow and Risner left Sunday's game.

The offensive line will be tested plenty against a Ravens defense that will blitz early and often.

One last note here. ... A league source tells 9News.com's Mike Klis that the Broncos are calling up QB Brett Rypien to 53-man roster after another team expressed interest in signing him off Broncos' practice squad. Can't let go of a quarterback who won his only start last year and is well-thought of for what he brings to QB room.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Teddy Bridgewater, Drew Lock
RBs: Javonte Williams, Melvin Gordon, Mike Boone
WRs: Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton, Tim Patrick, Diontae Spencer, K.J. Hamler
TEs: Noah Fant, Albert Okwuegbunam, Eric Saubert, Andrew Beck

Detroit Lions

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 September 2021

The Lions know a thing or two about blown calls. Dan Campbell does, too.

As Profootballtalk.com reminded readers, Campbell was an assistant in New Orleans when Nickell Robey-Coleman, then with the Rams, tackled Saints receiver Tommylee Lewis before the ball arrived without receiving a penalty. The Rams beat the Saints to win the NFC Championship Game.

On Sunday, officials missed a delay of game penalty on the Ravens the play before Justin Tucker hit an NFL-record 66-yard field goal for the game-winner.

Campbell knows what comes next -- an apology from the NFL office.

"There's nothing I can say to that, because it's the same thing," Campbell said, via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. "Tomorrow, you'll get an apology, and it doesn't mean anything. That's life, and that's the hand we were dealt. We still had an opportunity to -- that was fourth-and-long (a few plays earlier), a long way to go, and we gave it up."

Officials normally give the offense the benefit of the doubt, with the back judge watching the clock hit zero before looking up to see if the ball is snapped. However, former NFL referee Gene Steratore said on the CBS broadcast that it felt "longer than the normal progression."

Referee Scott Novak added nothing of substance in a pool report, because he said he hadn't reviewed the play to determine whether back judge Terrence Miles should have thrown a flag.

Meanwhile, Campbell watched the film of Sunday's 19-17 loss and there was one thing he wasn't seeing.

On too many plays, including Lamar Jackson's 36-yard pass to Sammy Watkins on fourth-and-19 in the final 30 seconds, Campbell couldn't find the coordination his defense needed in the passing game.

"We had a lot of communication errors, and they were really a lack of communication more than anything else," Campbell said. "We have to get much more demonstrative and be very clear and concise and pass along the information. "The problems we had yesterday weren't because of our scheme. We weren't communicating between our linebackers and our back end and it hurt us."

Campbell said improving the communication will be a focus of this week's practices, but he realizes it won't be perfect on a young, banged-up defense.

The good news?

The Lions will be working hard to improve the pass defense, but after facing Jimmy Garoppolo, Aaron Rodgers and Jackson in the first three weeks, they shouldn't have as much trouble with a flawed Chicago offense.

Also, as Associated Press sports writer Dave Hogg notes, Detroit continues to get strong performances out of running backs D'Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams.

The run game has been an Achilles heel of the Lions for much of the post-Barry Sanders era, but this duo continued to be one of the strong points of the squad with another solid performance, not only on the ground, but in the air.

Swift (47 yards and one TD rushing; seven receptions for 60 yards) and Williams (42 yards and a TD rushing; two catches for 25 yards) helped keep Detroit in the game and in position for a major upset

After a scoreless first half, Detroit's offense came alive when it started getting Swift more touches.

Swift caught three passes for 44 yards on Detroit's first scoring drive, a drive capped off with his two-yard run.

"We saw he had the hot hand, so we wanted to get the ball into his hands and let him make plays," quarterback Jared Goff said.

Swift, who was limited Wednesday by the same groin issue he's played through all month, has 19 receptions through three games this season, the most in franchise history by a running back in that span. I'll have more on his status via Late-Breaking Update in coming days, but expect him to play barring a setback. ...

The Lions still haven't been able to establish a vertical passing game. Detroit's wide receivers caught nine passes against the Ravens, but for only 87 yards -- fewer than 10 yards per catch. Campbell said he didn't think the passing game ever got into a rhythm after the slow start.

The Lions got through the game without significant injuries. OT Taylor Decker (hand) is eligible to return in early October, and isn't likely to play Sunday in Chicago, but could be back after the bye week.

A few final notes here. ... Sunday was the third time in 51 years that the Lions had lost on a field goal of 61 yards or more -- the most in the NFL. In 1970, Tom Dempsey's then league-record 63-yard kick as time expired gave the New Orleans Saints a 19-17 win, the same score as the Ravens win after Justin Tucker's record 66-yard kick.

Tucker also beat the Lions with a 61-yarder in 2013, but the final score wasn't 19-17. It was 18-16. ...

And this. ... USC has an opening after firing Clay Helton earlier this month. Eric Bieniemy’s name has come up as a potential candidate for the job.

Add Anthony Lynn’s name to the list, too.

Jim Trotter of NFL Media reports that USC boosters have reached out to the Lions offensive coordinator to gauge his interest. Trotter adds that Lynn would have interest in the job.

USC athletic director Mike Bohn has not had contact with Lynn yet.

Lynn, 52, spent four seasons as head coach of the Chargers before they fired him in January. He went 33-31 with one playoff appearance.

He joined Campbell’s staff in Detroit during the offseason.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Jared Goff, Tim Boyle, David Blough
RBs: Jamaal Williams, Jermar Jefferson, Godwin Igwebuike, D'Andre Swift
WRs: Josh Reynolds, Kalif Raymond, KhaDarel Hodge, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Trinity Benson, Tom Kennedy, Quintez Cephus
TEs: T.J. Hockenson, Brock Wright

Green Bay Packers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 September 2021

As Packers.com's Wes Hodkiewicz noted, Aaron Rodgers had 37 seconds left, no timeouts and quite possibly the best wide receiver in the National Football League at his disposal in All-Pro Davante Adams.

With the Packers trailing by a point, only one thought crossed the mind of the NFL's reigning MVP in the waning moments of Sunday night's game with the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium.

"How can I get '17' the ball?" Rodgers said to himself.

A hamstring injury to Marquez Valdes-Scantling left the Packers short of complementary receivers. There was little doubt Rodgers would look Adams' way.

But the 49ers still couldn't contain him.

Guarding the sidelines to avoid a clock stoppage, the 49ers left the middle of the field open to Adams and the All-Pro receiver took advantage of it. He started with a 25-yard catch over Fred Warner, allowing Rodgers to clock the ball at midfield with 20 seconds remaining.

After missing Adams once, Rodgers went right back to him in the middle of the field for 17 yards to the San Francisco 33. Adams quickly got down, affording Rodgers just enough time to clock the ball and allow kicker Mason Crosby to drill home a 51-yard field goal to pick up a huge 30-28 win over the 49ers.

"I was thinking it's a lot of time on the clock to count us out," said Adams. "We've got the quarterback to do it, we've got all the personnel to go make plays like that. I knew it'd be tough with no timeouts, but as long as they gave us the right looks for the plays we were going to be getting into, I felt good about it."

What made Adams' heroics even more impressive was the fact he took a nasty hit from 49ers safety Jimmie Ward earlier in the fourth quarter. Adams lay on the field for a couple of minutes and went into the medical tent. But he missed only one play.

How did he make such a quick return?

"How I'm able to get through it is I'm different," Adams said. "That's probably the main thing."

Adams then explained that an evaluation showed he didn't have a concussion and his main issue was a chest problem that made it tough for him to breathe. This was corroborated by the team doctors when he was evaluated after the hit.

"What a competitor, man," head coach Matt LaFleur said. "And then to go out there (after the hit) and have two big catches in the final 2-minute drive, he is the ultimate competitor. I think he is the best receiver in the National Football League, and I think he shows it on a weekly basis."

Indeed, his contributions after his quick return showed just how much the Packers rely on Adams, who had 12 catches for 132 yards and a touchdown Sunday. If Adams ever has to miss extended time because of an injury, the Packers have plenty of cause for concern.

In fact, as Associated Press sports writer Steve Megargee notes, the Packers have depended on Adams about as much as any team relies on any single receiver. Adams has more than four times as many yards receiving and 2½ times as many catches as any other Packer. He was targeted on 18 of Rodgers' 33 pass attempts Sunday.

Adams has 25 catches for 309 yards. Running back Aaron Jones ranks second on the team in catches (10) and Valdes-Scantling is second in yards receiving (76). Adams is the only Packers wideout with more than six receptions.

The touchdown catches are much more evenly divided. Jones has a team-high three. Adams, Valdes-Scantling and tight end Robert Tonyan have one each.

Last season, Adams became the first player in NFL history to have at least 100 catches and 18 touchdown receptions in the same season. As he follows that up this year, the Packers are counting on him as much as ever.

And of course, Adams' efforts work in the favor of his QB.

After throwing for just 133 yards and getting picked off twice in a season-opening loss to New Orleans, Rodgers has completed 75 percent of his passes for six touchdowns with no interceptions in his last two games. His ability to drive the Packers for the winning field goal in the closing seconds shows how good he is in those tight situations.

The Packers hope their offensive line gets healthier as they prepare to host the Pittsburgh Steelers (1-2).

But even if the line isn't whole, the Packers have figured out a workaround.

As ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky put it, "How can you win a game with a third-string left tackle who had played exactly 14 NFL snaps coming in? By getting the ball out quickly."

That approach helped second-year pro Yosh Nijman in his first NFL start. While Nick Bosa beat him a few times early, the Packers' up-tempo, quick-hitting offense gave Nijman a chance to succeed. They could have gone with the more experienced Dennis Kelly at right tackle and moved Billy Turner to left tackle once they found out Elgton Jenkins (the fill-in for David Bakhtiari) was out this week.

But they went with a guy who had previously played only in mop-up duty. Rodgers threw for 140 yards and a touchdown on his first 16 passes with 2.5 seconds or less to throw. His first incompletion on such throws didn't come until late in the fourth quarter.

That's not great news for a Steelers pass rush that was missing key components in their loss to the Bengals. Playing without injured outside linebackers T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith, failed to get a sack for the first time since 2016, snapping the team's NFL record of 75 straight games with at least one. ...

A few final notes here. ... Also according to Demovsky, this game is why you want Rodgers as your quarterback, Adams as your No. 1 receiver and Crosby as your kicker for as long as humanly possible. What other quarterback could get his team into position for the game-winning field goal after taking over at his own 25-yard line with 37 seconds left and no timeouts? And what other kicker -- except maybe Justin Tucker -- would you want booting a 51-yarder to win it with no time left?

Crosby came through on all three of his field-goal attempts (running his streak of successful field-goal attempts to 22), including a long of 54 yards, to earn NFC Special Teams Player of the Week. It was a perfect night for Crosby, who also hit on all three of his point-after attempts. ...

Receiver Randall Cobb had no catches and was targeted just once. ... WR Amari Rodgers, a rookie third-round pick, doesn't have any catches in his last two games.

And finally, on the injury front. ... LB Krys Barnes left with a concussion and Valdes-Scantling had his hamstring injury. I'll follow up on Valdes-Scantling via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Aaron Rodgers, Jordan Love
RBs: Aaron Jones, A.J. Dillon, Kylin Hill
WRs: Davante Adams, Allen Lazard, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Randall Cobb, Equanimeous St. Brown, Amari Rodgers, Malik Taylor
TEs: Marcedes Lewis, Josiah Deguara, Robert Tonyan

Houston Texans

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 September 2021

When the Houston Texans handed over the reins to Davis Mills on Thursday night, coach David Culley wanted to make sure they didn't overload the rookie quarterback.

But after the Texans (1-2) fell 24-9 in a loss to the Carolina Panthers (3-0), Culley said he "felt like we kind of went too far with trying to protect" Mills in his first NFL start.

Mills was inconsistent on Thursday, and his best drive came just before halftime and resulted in Houston's lone touchdown on the night. Mills completed 19 of 28 passes for 168 yards and a touchdown.

Culley said he was focused on making sure Mills didn't feel like he had to win the game by himself and make a throw that would get him in trouble.

"We didn't want to put him in a situation where he felt like he needed to try and make a play on his own," Culley said.

Wide receiver Brandin Cooks told ESPN.com's Sarah Barshop that Mills' "leadership really stood out" as the Texans prepared for the short week.

"I have seen a lot of growth, just even throughout the practice week with a short week, the way that he took command and got us receivers after practice on a short week to still go over stuff," Cooks said.

Mills succeeded in an area that Culley and offensive coordinator Tim Kelly stressed going into the game: taking care of the football. During the preseason, Mills completed 48 percent of his passes and threw four interceptions in 65 attempts.

"What we did find out coming out of this game is that he can handle a lot more than what we felt like, because of the way he handled himself in this ballgame," Culley said. "Moving forward, we'll just get back to doing the things that we had started doing in that first game and a half when Tyrod (Taylor) was our starting quarterback."

Mills wasn't helped by the Texans running game, which struggled to find any consistency against a talented Panthers front seven. Culley said the Texans tried to re-establish the run to start the second half down just 7-6 with the ball, but it didn't work. Running backs Mark Ingram II, David Johnson and Phillip Lindsay finished the game with a combined 37 rushing yards on 15 carries.

Still, after watching the film, Culley said he thought the struggles on the ground were self-inflicted.

"We were the enemy and not them," Culley said. "In other words, we did not execute some things that we had been executing previously. We got to make some calls that we didn't get made during that ballgame that put us in some situations that put us behind the chains. We hadn't been doing that.

"We just got to go back and correct those mistakes, and I feel like we'll be back on track because we made a few more this game than we had in the previous two."

Mills now has 10 days between starts, as Taylor is on injured reserve with a left hamstring injury and cannot come back until Week 6 in Indianapolis. As the Texans get ready to hit the road to face the Buffalo Bills, Culley said the Texans know how they are built to win games, and it wasn't the way they played on Thursday.

"We got behind the chains," Culley said. "We had more second-and-longs than we've had before because we weren't able to get started off with the run game very well. And then when we were above the chains, then we end up having some mistakes that put us back behind the chains.

"We're not a football team that can play from behind the chains."

If that's the issue, the question is this: Can Houston return to its Week 1 success in the run game?

As Barshop noted, The Texans struggled to run the ball on Thursday night, combining for 42 yards on 17 carries. Culley said when Houston came out for the second half, it was focused on trying to "establish the run again."

The Texans couldn't do that, and Culley said he thought the biggest reason the offense struggled was because they couldn't establish any consistency on the ground. "We have to be able to (run the ball)," Culley said. "That's who we are."

It won't get any easier this week the Texans head to Buffalo to face the Bills, who hit stride on both side of the balls in a big Week 3 win over Washington.

Other notes of interest. ... Mills and Cooks displayed an instant chemistry Thursday night with 112 of the quarterback's 168 yards passing going to the veteran. The steady presence of Cooks, who leads the Texans with 322 yards receiving, helped Mills settle in and look comfortable in his first start. As Mills gets more time working with Cooks, the connection should get even stronger.

Mills said the presence of Cooks helped him against the Panthers.

"Really experienced guy, just instilling confidence in me between every drive," Mills said. "He's a trustworthy dude out there that you know he's going to be in the right spot at the right time and it's great."

In addition, Anthony Miller scored Houston's only touchdown Thursday night on a 1-yard reception in the second quarter. It was his debut with the team after he missed the first two games with a shoulder injury in his first year in Houston after a trade from the Bears.

"It was good to have him back," Culley told Associated Press sports writer Kristie Rieken. "He brings a little toughness to us. ..."

On the injury front. ... Culley said he wasn't sure if safety Justin Reid, out with a knee injury, or receiver Danny Amendola (thigh) would return for the next game and said he'd know more when they resume practice Wednesday. ...

K Ka'imi Fairbairn is eligible to come off the injured reserve next week. Culley said he was doing "much better" and could be ready for the Buffalo game.

Indeed, the Texans designated Fairbairn and defensive back A.J. Moore for return on Tuesday. Fairbairn pulled a muscle in his leg while warming up for the team's final preseason game and Moore had a hamstring injury.

Joey Slye has filled in at kicker for Fairbairn and gone 4-of-5 on field goals and 7-of-8 on extra points. That may be all he does for the Texans in this stint because head coach David Culley said that the expectation is that Fairbairn will be back against the Bills this weekend.

"I expect him to, but we will know more about him on Wednesday," Culley said, via the team's website. "This is what we targeted for him getting back."

Moore had 35 tackles, a sack, and a forced fumble in 11 games for the Texans last season.

I'll follow up as needed via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Tyrod Taylor, Davis Mills, Deshaun Watson
RBs: Rex Burkhead, David Johnson, Royce Freeman, Scottie Phillips
WRs: Brandin Cooks, Nico Collins, Chris Conley, Chris Moore, Davion Davis, Danny Amendola
TEs: Jordan Akins, Brevin Jordan, Pharaoh Brown, Jeff Driskel

Indianapolis Colts

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 September 2021

As ESPN.com's Mike Wells noted on Tuesday, it was a play that Carson Wentz was accustomed to making many times throughout the first five-plus years of his NFL career.

A running lane was there in the middle of the line of scrimmage for the Indianapolis Colts' quarterback to dart through and gain 10-12 yards before sliding to the ground late in the fourth quarter against the Tennessee Titans. Wentz started to run for it, but then attempted a pass to running back Nyheim Hines in the flat that fell incomplete.

It wasn't a matter of Wentz throwing an incompletion. That play showed how limited he was Sunday, and may continue to be, because of the two sprained ankles he sustained in Week 2.

"I knew I wasn't going to scramble around and make some plays," Wentz said. "[The ankles] didn't feel great when I did that, but at the same time, there's plays to make."

Wells went on to point out that rest -- outside of possibly sitting out some practices -- is not much of an option for Wentz because the Colts do not have their annual bye week until Dec. 12 (Week 14). Shutting Wentz down in attempt to get him healthy doesn't appear to be a possibility either.

The hope is that Wentz will continue to gradually get better each day, so that he can be more effective each week, as the Colts are one of five remaining winless teams in the league.

"I'm not the medical expert, so I rely on the doctors, and I rely on the player," head coach Frank Reich said. "The doctors are going to give us the information. Is this player subjecting themselves to injury that could be detrimental to the player and to his career? Could he be subjecting putting himself in a worse position for the season? The docs answer that question. That's above my pay grade. Then you need to talk to the player. What I've experienced over the years, the players know. They know their bodies, know what they can do.

"In this instance, Carson's docs gave him the clearance. Carson says he wants to play, so now it's our job as a staff to try to protect him as best as we can. So that's what we try to do. We had the game plan set up, called it in a way that we tried to protect him as best as we could."

The Colts had no idea Wentz would even try to play against the Titans after he severely sprained both ankles against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 2. And though he returned to practice Friday, it wasn't until he went through his warmups prior to the start of Sunday's game that it was officially determined he would play.

Wentz finished the game 19-of-37 for 194 yards. He was sacked only twice, but the second sack at the start of the Colts' final series caused him to aggravate his ankle, according to Reich. Wentz had a noticeable limp as he made his way to the podium for the postgame interview session.

"I am very confident, just how quickly it is already from not really even being able to walk [the] first two days [last] week to playing [against the Titans]," Wentz said. "I'm very confident that we can progress this thing along and be myself."

Hines said, "Goes to show how tough Carson is. We already respect him a lot, but he earned a lot of respect from us [Sunday] battling through that. Having both of your ankles hurt, I know it was hard for him."

According to Wells, the goal this week is for Wentz to do more in practice than he did last week. He didn't practice until Friday, so ideally the Colts would like it if he were able to practice Thursday and then advance it to even more days next week, barring any kind of setback, with the goal of him eventually getting back to 100 percent without missing any games.

Nobody answered what percentage Wentz is health wise, but no matter what that number is, he's still better than what the Colts have behind him in backups Jacob Eason and Brett Hundley. One of the biggest adjustments Reich has had to make is that he's had to shrink his playbook some to keep Wentz in the pocket more, which will cause him to throw the ball more quickly, since he lacks much mobility.

Which could be beneficial because Wentz has a tendency to hold the ball too long (fifth longest in the league).

"Don't get me wrong. ... He does get it out on time and quick plenty of times," Reich said. "Is there one or two times where he (doesn't)? Yeah, but so does every quarterback. That's not just Carson. I do think it could be a blessing in disguise, where he's forced to play from the pocket, and I just think there's some good things there.

"Believe me, while that's happening -- this isn't some kind of project where we're going to put winning on hold a while just until, no. We can play winning football like this. If that's what it takes, that's what we'll do. I'm also optimistic that in a week or two, this will all pass and he'll be 100 percent."

The ankle injuries to go along with the left foot surgery he had in training camp adds to the ongoing issues the Colts are dealing with Wentz in his first year with the franchise. Owner Jim Irsay, speaking at an event in Nashville, the night before their game against the Titans, threw another wrinkle into things when he mentioned how his quarterback's vaccination status makes things even more difficult.

"It also makes it difficult if you're not vaccinated, you know, because it makes it harder to depend on someone if they're not vaccinated," Irsay said via Fox59 television in Indianapolis. "So they have freedom of choice, and we understand that."

Meanwhile, schedule makers didn't give the winless Colts an immediate respite.

This weekend, Indy will likely face its former starting quarterback Jacoby Brissett in Miami. Then there's a trip to the Colts' old hometown, Baltimore, and a date against 2019 league MVP Lamar Jackson. After those two, the schedule may, finally, ease up.

Also on the injury front. ... All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson left the game in the second quarter with a high-ankle sprain. The ankle injury goes with the back injury he's already dealing with. Starting safety Khari Willis left the game in the fourth quarter with cramps and DE Kwity Paye left earlier with a hamstring ailment.

Injuries have been a common theme for the Colts all season. The Colts went into the game already without receiver T.Y. Hilton and right tackle Braden Smith. Who knows when Wentz will get back to being healthy, and it's clear that linebacker Darius Leonard is lacking his strongest attribute - speed - because an ankle injury.

Hilton had neck surgery before the start of the season and is now eligible to come off of injured reserve, but Reich said he doesn't think that the veteran is ready for that step.

"T.Y.'s making great progress," Reich said, via Joel A. Erickson of the Indianapolis Star. "I've talked to him, seen him out there doing his rehab, and I'm encouraged with what I've seen. I don't think we're quite there yet with him."

I will be following up Wentz and all the pertinent injury issues via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

Also of interest. ... Running back Marlon Mack was scratched by the Colts on Sunday and he may be off their roster entirely in the near future.

According to multiple reports, the Colts are working to trade Mack.

Tom Pelissero of NFL Media reports that nothing is imminent and that the desire for a trade also exists on Mack's side due to the presence of Jonathan Taylor and Hines on the roster.

Mack tore his Achilles in the season opener last season and signed a one-year deal to remain with the Colts this offseason. He ran for 1,999 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2018 and 2019, but has only played one game and carried the ball five times for 16 yards this season.

This development is interesting because the Colts aren't running the ball well.

As Associated Press sports writer Michael Marot notes, Reich continues to talk about a run-first approach even as the Colts have struggled mightily against three strong defenses. Indy picked up 4.8 yards per carry Sunday, but threw more than twice as often as it ran (37-18).

Taylor rushed 10 times for 64 yards and caught one of three targets for eight yards in Sunday's loss.

Taylor's season-low tally of 11 touches actually matched that of Hines, who totaled 79 yards from his workload. Although, as usual, much of Hines' production came in the passing game, he still vultured a nine-yard touchdown rush from Taylor in the second quarter.

Through three games, Taylor is yet to find the end zone, so despite his improved efficiency on the ground Sunday, the tailback will strive to put it all together in Miami. However, Nelson's health will be a factor here. ...

Taylor was limited in practice with a knee injury Wednesday, but local reports indicate it's nothing serious. I'll continue to watch for more and follow up via Late-Breaking Update as needed, but the early outlook is he'll be good to go Sunday against the Dolphins. Jack Doyle was held out Wednesday with a back issue. I'll be watching that as well...

One last note. ... Parris Campbell, the oft-injured receiver returned after missing Week 2 because of an abdomen injury, but only had two passes thrown his way. He caught one for 9 yards. The other was incomplete because he didn't catch it cleanly.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Carson Wentz, Sam Ehlinger
RBs: Jonathan Taylor, Nyheim Hines, Marlon Mack, Jordan Wilkins, Deon Jackson
WRs: Michael Pittman Jr., T.Y. Hilton, Zach Pascal, Ashton Dulin, Parris Campbell
TEs: Jack Doyle, Mo Alie-Cox, Kylen Granson

Jacksonville Jaguars

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 September 2021

As ESPN.com’s Mike DiRocco put it, "James Robinson is, apparently, back."

The Jaguars finally got the second-year running back going in Sunday's 31-19 loss to the Arizona Cardinals at TIAA Bank Field. He ran for 88 yards and a touchdown and caught six passes for 46 yards in his most significant work of the season.

Does that mean offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell is going to commit more to Robinson and the run game going forward? Sure sounds like it.

"I thought (Robinson) was fantastic," head coach Urban Meyer said. "He's been practicing like that. I thought Carlos (Hyde) ran hard. Just probably need to give him the ball even a little bit more. Yeah, that was impressive, especially who you're playing. That team is a good team, and just had them on their heels, and I think it was eight straight runs in that third quarter.

"Yeah, those guys are running hard, and we're going to continue to get them the ball."

In the Jaguars' first two games, Robinson had just 16 carries for 72 yards and caught six passes for 46 yards, including only five carries for 25 yards in the season-opening road loss to the Houston Texans. He got more work in Week 2 -- 11 carries for 47 yards -- but that still wasn't enough work considering he was averaging 4.5 yards per carry.

That means in Week 3, Robinson had only one fewer carry (15) and the same number of receptions (six) as he did the first two weeks combined.

Hyde also had his best game of the season with eight carries for 44 yards. He had 11 carries for 51 yards in the first two games.

Robinson and Hyde allowed the Jaguars' offense to finally be balanced Sunday after being skewed toward the pass the first two weeks. Including rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence's six carries, the Jaguars ran it 29 times (for 159 yards), and the No. 1 pick in this year's pass also threw 34 passes.

But Robinson should be the focal point of the offense the way he was last season, when he ran for 1,070 yards and seven touchdowns and caught 49 passes for 344 yards and three touchdowns. Meyer has repeatedly said running the ball is the best way to protect a young quarterback, especially one who has turned the ball over 10 times.

It's going to be tough. The Jaguars' next two opponents -- the Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday and Tennessee Titans on Oct. 10 -- are allowing 78.3 and 100 yards per game rushing, respectively. But the Jaguars' best plan on offense is to control the ball, limit the turnovers and eat up the clock.

That should mean Robinson's workload will increase and perhaps we'll see fewer trick plays like the one that failed miserably against the Cardinals and led to Jacksonville's 18th consecutive loss.

"It's going to be a hard one to get out of my mind," said Meyer, who had no choice but to turn the page Monday with a Thursday night game at Cincinnati up next.

The Jaguars had just gouged Arizona on nine consecutive running plays. They led 19-17 late in the third quarter, having done just about everything right for much of the game.

Jacksonville's defense was holding up against Kyler Murray and his uber-talented supporting crew. D.J. Chark had made a spectacular touchdown catch. Jamal Agnew had tied an NFL record by returning a missed field goal 109 yards.

The Jaguars, at the very least, had found "the spark" Meyer talked about all week.

"Sparks everywhere, man," Meyer said.

Then the game turned on a flicker -- a botched flea-flicker.

Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell dialed up the trick play on second-and-6 from the Jacksonville 25, a head-scratching call even before it unfolded in laughable fashion.

Lawrence and Hyde had a clunky exchange. Left guard Andrew Norwell intentionally spun in a move called the "whirly bird" and then whiffed trying to block three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt, who pressured Lawrence and forced him to check down and throw off his back foot.

Chark was streaking down the middle of the field. But Lawrence had no time and not enough space to deliver him the ball. Instead, he floated one to tight end Jacob Hollister in the flat. It ended up being an easy interception for cornerback Byron Murphy, who went untouched for a 29-yard score.

Game over.

"I heard it come over the headset and obviously I didn't stop it," Meyer said. "You want creativity in the offense. I'm pushing every game, 'Be aggressive. Be aggressive.' It's my job to say, 'If it's not there, don't do that."

That play is further evidence the Jaguars have no margin for error. It's been 379 days since Jacksonville's previous victory. The Jaguars opened the 2020 season with a home win against Indianapolis and have dropped every one since.

Associated Press sports writer Mark Long believes Jacksonville has little, if any, chance of ending its skid unless it reduces fumbles and interceptions. One of the youngest teams in the league, the Jags have an NFL-high nine turnovers in three games and rank last in turnover differential at minus-8.

DiRocco concurs. "They have to pretty much play perfect and they don't have the personnel to do that," he wrote.

The next attempt at a win comes with a short turnaround as the Jags play the Bengals in Cincinnati on Thursday night. ...


Other notes of interest. ... Chark, playing in the final year of his contract, made a spectacular catch in the back of the end zone against the Cardinals. It was his second touchdown of the season and his third in his past four games.

Marvin Jones Jr. still appears to be Lawrence's top option, but Chark is rounding back into form after being slowed in training camp by a broken finger on his right hand.

Jacksonville's tight ends have been a huge disappointment.

Chris Manhertz doesn't have a catch in two games after hauling in Lawrence's first career TD pass in the opener. Rookie Luke Farrell, thrust into a bigger role after James O'Shaughnessy badly sprained an ankle last week, had a pass bounce off his hands. And Hollister's bobble Sunday landed in a defender's hands for an interception.

The Jags traded oft-injured cornerback CJ Henderson to Carolina on Monday for journeyman tight end Dan Arnold in hopes of helping the position. ...

Meyer said the Jaguars planned to work out two kickers Monday. They subsequently announced that kicker Matthew Wright was signed to the practice squad. The team released wide receiver Phillip Dorsett from that roster.

Kicker Josh Lambo, who missed 12 games last season with a hip injury that required surgery, is 0 for 3 on field goals this season, missing from 55, 52 and 48 yards. He was well wide twice last week against Denver, squandering six points in a 10-point loss.

He missed two of three extra points Sunday.

On Wednesday Lambo was ruled out due to a personal matter. Wright will handle the placement work in his absence.

Agnew became the first player in NFL history to notch 100-plus-yard returns in consecutive weeks. He returned the above-mentioned missed field goal 109 yards for a touchdown on the final play of the first half Sunday, tying an NFL record, and took a kickoff 102 yards for a score last week against Denver.

He became the ninth player in NFL history with multiple 100-plus yard special teams returns in the same season and the 15th with two return touchdowns in the first three weeks of a season.

On the injury front. ... LT Cam Robinson (shoulder) and Norwell (ankle) left Sunday's game, but were able to return following sideline treatments. ... Tre Herndon (knee) was inactive, but is expected to practice during the short week.

Players who went on injured reserve after the cut to 53 players are eligible to come off the list once their teams have played three games and the Jaguars have started the process for one of their guys. The team announced that wide receiver Tavon Austin has been designated for return. The move opens a three-week window for Austin to practice with the team and he can be added to the active roster at any point in that period.

If they don't activate him before the window closes, Austin will not be eligible to play again this year.

Austin signed with the Jaguars in early August and went on injured reserve after injuring his quadriceps. He had eight catches for 89 yards and a touchdown in the preseason.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Trevor Lawrence, C.J. Beathard
RBs: James Robinson, Carlos Hyde, Devine Ozigbo, Dare Ogunbowale
WRs: Marvin Jones, Laviska Shenault, Laquon Treadwell, Tavon Austin, D.J. Chark, Jamal Agnew
TEs: James O'Shaughnessy, Chris Manhertz, Jacob Hollister, Luke Farrell, Dan Arnold

Kansas City Chiefs

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 September 2021

Head coach Andy Reid returned to the office Tuesday. This after a health scare that saw him go directly from the game to the hospital on Sunday, according to Tom Pelissero of NFL Network.

The 63-year-old Reid fell ill after Sunday's loss to the Chargers and was taken from the stadium by ambulance, which raised plenty of concerns. But all indications since then have been that the trip to the hospital was only a precaution, and Reid feels good.

Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy handled Reid's media duties after the game, but otherwise it appears that Reid did not need to miss anything significant and will be fine for Sunday's Chiefs-Eagles game in Philadelphia.

Meanwhile, it's worth noting the Chiefs fumbled away a chance to beat the Baltimore Ravens two weeks ago.

They threw away a chance to beat the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday.

Now, as Associated Press sports writer Dave Skretta, the two-time defending AFC champions find themselves in the strangest of circumstances: They're last in a division the Chiefs have won five straight years, and the road gets no easier with three games away from Arrowhead Stadium sandwiched around a visit from Josh Allen and the reigning AFC East champion Buffalo Bills.

"I think we'll be ready for the challenge. It's really early in the season," said Patrick Mahomes, who threw for 260 yards with three touchdown passes and a pair of interceptions against the Chargers.

"We haven't had many of these -- we haven't had any since I've been quarterback -- where we're behind all the teams in the division," Mahomes said. "This game, it's a tricky deal. You don't play your best game every week, you're going to lose."

The Chiefs (1-2) barely got by the Browns in their opener, then watched the Ravens run roughshod over their defense in a 36-35 loss in Baltimore. But it was the litany of mistakes they made against the Chargers, including so many blown plays by the defense that fans started booing at one point, that really left a sour taste.

There were the two interceptions by Mahomes, one of which bounced right off intended receiver Marcus Kemp. And two fumbles, including one by Clyde Edwards-Helaire, whose fumble in the closing minutes against the Ravens kept Harrison Butker from trying a potential winning field goal.

There was the pass interference call on L'Jarius Sneed with just over three minutes left that gave the Chargers first-and-goal and led to a tying field goal. And another on DeAndre Baker on fourth down with 48 seconds left that gave Los Angeles a new set of downs and ultimately allowed Justin Herbert to hit Mike Williams with the winning score.

"This is unusual for us, to be honest. It's a bit of a crossroads for us," assistant coach Dave Toub said. "We have great leadership. Our guys will battle back strong after a week of practice. We'll clean it up, clean up the turnovers. Execute on the offensive side. Stops on defense. We'll come back this week and we'll get back on track."

According to ESPN.com's Adam Teicher, the Chiefs' defensive problems look far from solved.

They were improved against the run against the Chargers, though that was a low bar to clear. They're still having trouble rushing the quarterback or stopping a passing attack. The Chiefs can't be much worse in the red zone, where opponents have scored 11 touchdowns in 12 trips.

If they're going to turn their season around, Teicher believes it's going to require some defensive improvement, which looks unlikely. The Chiefs are still formidable on offense and capable of big things, but opponents are determined to make them go without the big play and move their way down the field in smaller increments.

It's going to be difficult for them to consistently post big numbers without getting more big plays. They also have to quit with the turnovers.

We'll see if they can get things going in a better direction in Philadelphia on Sunday. ...

Also of interest. ... Edwards-Helaire atoned for his fumble in part by running for 100 yards and, more impressively, averaging nearly 6 yards per attempt. He also took a screen pass for a touchdown as the Chiefs mounted their comeback.

The Chiefs have been waiting for a wide receiver to step up in place of Sammy Watkins, who left in free agency, and take some of the pressure off Hill and tight end Travis Kelce. Mecole Hardman and Demarcus Robinson have been unable to take the step forward that Kansas City wanted out of its No. 2 wide receiver.

And Kemp didn't do himself any favors by letting a pass bounce off him for the above-mentioned interception. Byron Pringle was targeted six times, but had just two catches for 12 yards -- and he let a pass go through his hands in the closing seconds that could have given Kansas City a final shot at the end zone.

The Chiefs tried to find some help late in the draft, using a fifth-round pick on Clemson wide receiver Cornell Powell. But he struggled throughout training camp and failed to make the active roster before the start of the season.

All of which likely explains the decision to sign former All-Pro wide receiver Josh Gordon, who was recently reinstated by the NFL after violations of its policies on substance abuse and performance-enhancing substances.

Gordon's agents, Eric Dounn and Matt Leist, confirmed that Gordon was headed to Kansas City on Monday and planned to sign on to the practice squad. The expectation is he will join the active roster as soon as he's up to speed. "Time to get to work," Gordon tweeted later Monday with a link to the Chiefs' account.

The 30-year-old Gordon was one of the league's dynamic players early in his career in Cleveland, where he led the league with 1,646 yards receiving during the 2013 season. But he quickly became entangled in off-the-field issues, leading to six suspensions over a span of six years, five of them for some form of substance abuse.

Gordon did not play at all in 2015 and '16 while serving suspensions, and he struggled to regain his form while splitting the 2018 season between the Browns and New England. He wound up splitting the 2019 season between the Patriots and the Seahawks before another suspension put his future in professional football in jeopardy again.

He was added to the Seattle roster last December, when the NFL deemed him eligible to return. But one day later the league decided Gordon had broken terms of his reinstatement and he was suspended indefinitely in January.

Gordon was released by the Seahawks in March, becoming a free agent, and asked Commissioner Roger Goodell in July to be reinstated. His application was approved Monday, allowing Gordon to sign with Kansas City.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Patrick Mahomes, Chad Henne
RBs: Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Darrel Williams, Derrick Gore, Jerick McKinnon
WRs: Tyreek Hill, Mecole Hardman, Byron Pringle, Demarcus Robinson, Josh Gordon, Marcus Kemp
TEs: Travis Kelce, Noah Gray, Blake Bell

Las Vegas Raiders

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 September 2021

As Associated Press sports writer Josh Dubow suggested, no team has faced an early season gauntlet quite like the one Las Vegas has gone up against and come out unscathed like the Raiders did.

The Raiders pulled out another late-game thriller, edging the Miami Dolphins 31-28 in overtime on Sunday to improve to 3-0 for the first time since 2002.

The victory over the Dolphins followed an overtime win in the opener against Baltimore and a victory at Pittsburgh as the Raiders were the 38th team to open the season with three straight games against teams coming off seasons with at least 10 wins and the only one to win all of them.

Things don't look to get much easier this week with the Raiders (3-0) traveling to take on the Chargers (2-1) on Monday night after Los Angeles won at Kansas City this past week.

"It's fun to win," head coach Jon Gruden said Monday. "Also you have to be realistic when you look at the schedule. It doesn't get much easier. ... Every week is a grind."

That's why Gruden knows his team will need to be much better going forward than in the first three weeks when the Raiders have had to overcome 14-point deficits twice.

Las Vegas scored 25 straight points to climb out of that hole against the Dolphins only to allow Miami to score twice late to send the game to OT.

The Dolphins then extended the game in overtime by converting a fourth-and-20 to drive to a field goal that matched the Raiders three points on the opening possession before Derek Carr drove Las Vegas down the field again for the winning score.

"We need to put a complete performance together," Gruden said. "That's what we need to do. We've had spurts where it's been pretty doggone good and there's been spurts where it needs to be better."

One thing working in the Raiders' favor is the emergence of their young receivers.

As Raiders.com's Levi Edwards reminded readers Henry Ruggs III and Bryan Edwards had to live and learn throughout their rookie season. So far this season, they seem to have turned the corner and begun to teach defenses they are threats they were drafted to be.

Carr has now thrown for 1,203 yards this season -- more than a third of those going to Ruggs and Edwards. The duo came through when it mattered the most against the Miami Dolphins, as Edwards led the team in receiving yards (89) with Ruggs right behind him (78).

The vast improvement of the second-year wideouts has been notable. In last year's loss to the Dolphins, Edwards had one catch for 11 yards and Ruggs had no catches on two targets. Within a span of 10 months, those same receivers have become vicious weapons in this Raiders offense.

"I'm always going to be confident in those guys," Gruden said. "We were confident on draft day. All they have to do is keep playing and keep taking advantage of their at-bats. Both of those guys had big days today against one of the better secondaries in pro football. The fun thing for me is I see these young guys really coming alive. I see a different look in their eyes. I see a different confidence."

That different confidence was also visible to slot receiver Hunter Renfrow, who had himself another great showing with five receptions, 77 yards and a touchdown. Renfrow has established himself as a leader in the locker room and was very vocal on the development he's seen in his teammates.

"I love Bryan and Henry; it's so much fun watching them play," Renfrow said. "I get to run a route and usually we throw it deep, and I just sit there and watch, and I got the best seat in the house. It's fun being their teammates and watching them develop because they took a lot of criticism from a lot of people last year.

"Watching them work this whole offseason has been cool. And it's just so much fun playing along with those guys because they have so much energy."

"I see a different look in their eyes. I see a different confidence."

The man that gets the ball to the two receivers also agrees.

Carr dedicated time through the offseason in getting them up to speed for their sophomore seasons, including working out with them at a park in Las Vegas at 6 a.m. before the start of training camp.

"I definitely challenged them, and they stepped up," said Carr. "Playing against these corners, that defense. ... The fact they were able to create separation, go up and make huge plays just gives me so much confidence. And it doesn't just happen in games, this confidence started back in camp. ... I'm just so proud of their work ethic because it's showing up during the games."

Ruggs' and Edwards' play will only continue to cause problems for opposing defenses who are realizing that Darren Waller isn't the only player that can be a vertical threat -- and apparently they've brought that up to their head coach's attention.

"Now they're starting to demand the ball, so they're starting to get on my nerves a little bit," Gruden said with a big grin on his face.

"But they're going to be a great duo."

For what it's worth, the Raiders are the first team ever to have four players record at least 200 yards receiving in the first three games of a season. Ruggs leads the way with 237, followed by Waller with 224, Edwards with 210 and Renfrow with 204.

Coming next. ... With a win Monday against the Chargers, the Raiders will have their seventh 4-0 start ever. They made the playoffs the previous six times with five trips to the conference title game, one Super Bowl championship season in 1983 and a runner-up finish when they last did it in 2002.

Other notes of interest. ... Josh Jacobs, the Raiders' 2019 first-round pick, hasn't practiced since Week 1 and has missed the last two games with an ankle injury. Jacobs was apparently closer to playing in Week 3 than he was in Week 2, as he was listed as doubtful instead of out for the matchup with Miami.

With a Monday night kickoff coming, Jacobs may be available for it.

"I met with Josh this morning," Gruden said in his Monday press conference. "We're going to see how he feels on the practice field this week. I'm not making any predictions, but we're hopeful that we can get him back on the grass at some point this week."

Jacobs played 52 percent of Las Vegas' snaps in the Week 1 victory over Baltimore, taking 10 carries for 34 yards with a pair of touchdowns.

I'll be following up on Jacobs' progress via Late-Breaking Update throughout the week. ...

Meanwhile, the Raiders gave Kenyan Drake a lucrative contract this offseason to complement Jacobs. But with Jacobs out with an ankle injury it's been late-summer pickup Peyton Barber handling the bulk of the work. Barber had 23 carries for 111 yards and a TD to go along with three catches for 33. The 144 yards from scrimmage are the most for a Raiders running back since Jacobs had 144 against the Bears on Oct. 6, 2019.

"When you need him, he doesn't say anything, he doesn't even smile," Gruden said. "I don't know how he's feeling, I hardly know this guy, but I gave him a big hug and a game ball."

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Derek Carr, Marcus Mariota
RBs: Josh Jacobs, Kenyan Drake, Peyton Barber, Jalen Richard
WRs: Hunter Renfrow, DeSean Jackson, Bryan Edwards, Zay Jones, Dillon Stoner
TEs: Foster Moreau, Daniel Helm, Nick Bowers, Derek Carrier, Matt Bushman, Darren Waller

Los Angeles Chargers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 September 2021

As ESPN.com's Shelley Smith notes, head coach Brandon Staley has been preaching all offseason about wanting to build a team that excels in the fourth quarter.

Well he got one, with help from a stellar day from QB Justin Herbert, a 4-yard, game-winning TD pass to Mike Williams with 32 seconds left and a key pass interference call on Chiefs S Deandre Baker that set up the go-ahead touchdown.

Herbert has continued to earn the lion's share of attention for the Los Angeles Chargers during their 2-1 start. The defense also deserves its share of the credit as well.

Associated Press sports writer Joe Reedy points out the Chargers lead the league with 30 points off takeaways. Three of their four touchdowns in Sunday's 30-24 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs came off turnovers.

Los Angeles is tied for third with six takeaways. That is also its most in the first three games since 2016, which was also six.

The aggressive and multiple scheme employed by new coach Brandon Staley has helped improve an area where the Chargers have struggled in recent seasons. They set a team record in forcing only 14 turnovers in 2019 and their 19 last season was tied for ninth worst in the league.

"It wasn't an accident. Those guys (in the secondary) were really making a point to punch at the ball and go after it. We came up with it four times," edge rusher Joey Bosa said. "It was a testament to what we have been working on. We said we wanted four and we got four."

The Chargers are over .500 through three games for the first time since 2014, but Staley has been quick to point out that plenty of corrections are in order -- including fixing a leaky run defense -- if the team is to remain in contention.

"There's a lot in the film that we're not going to like. Last week, I know it was the tough side of things, but we can't have an illusion of what happened either, just because we won," Staley said. "There's going to be just as many things that didn't happen right that we have to tell the truth about. That's where we can't be confused."

Next up, the Chargers have another pivotal division game next Monday when they host the unbeaten Las Vegas Raiders. It is the first time they have hosted the Raiders on a Monday night since 1996. The teams split the two games last season with both coming down to the final play. ...

Other notes of interest. ... In his second matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs with Patrick Mahomes on the other side, quarterback Justin Herbert was 26-of-38 for 281 yards and four touchdowns -- a passer rating of 125.0. It's the eighth time in 18 career starts that Herbert has had a passer rating of over 100.

After going 3-of-10 in the red zone through the first two weeks, Los Angeles was 4-of-5 in the red zone Sunday in Kansas City.

Williams set a career high with 122 receiving yards on seven catches. He also scored his third and fourth touchdowns of the season, and added a two-point conversion. In 2018 on "Thursday Night Football" in Kansas City, Williams had 95 total yards, three total touchdowns and the game-winning two-point conversion in a 29-28 L.A. victory.

Through three weeks, Williams leads the Chargers in catches (22), receiving yards (295) and touchdowns (4). He became the first Chargers player since tight end Antonio Gates in 2010 to score a touchdown in each of the first three games of a season.

Williams also has 11 receptions on passes either behind or within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage after having 12 last season.

After two straight 100-yard receiving performances to open the 2021 season, Keenan Allen scored his first touchdown of the year at the start of the second quarter. Allen finished with a team-high eight catches for 50 yards.

Williams and Allen have combined for 43 receptions for 553 yards and five touchdowns.

Running back Austin Ekeler totaled 105 yards and caught a 16-yard touchdown. He's scored in two of the first three games of 2021 and has gone over 100 total yards for the second straight week.

Tristan Vizcaino was wide left on two extra-point attempts, including one with 32 seconds remaining that left the Chargers with only a six-point lead. ...

On the injury front. ... DE Justin Jones (calf) and Harris Jr. (shoulder) have missed the past two games, but could be available with the next game being on Monday night.

Herbert hit his hand on the helmet of a Chiefs defender during Sunday's win. He shook his hand after the hit, appearing in pain, but he didn't miss a play.

James Palmer of NFL Media reports the Chargers quarterback left the stadium with his throwing hand wrapped in ice. Palmer surmised it was "most likely precaution(ary)."

I'll follow up via Late-Breaking Update as developments warrant.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Justin Herbert, Chase Daniel, Easton Stick
RBs: Austin Ekeler, Larry Rountree III, Joshua Kelley, Justin Jackson
WRs: Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Jalen Guyton, Josh Palmer, K.J. Hill, Josh Reed, Maurice Ffrench
TEs: Jared Cook, Donald Parham, Stephen Anderson, Tre' McKitty

Los Angeles Rams

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 September 2021

A strong offensive performance led by quarterback Matthew Stafford and wide receivers Cooper Kupp and DeSean Jackson powered the Los Angeles Rams (3-0) to a 34-24 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-1) Sunday afternoon at SoFi Stadium.

Stafford finished 27 of 38 for 343 yards and four touchdowns, Kupp nine catches for 96 yards and two touchdowns and Jackson three receptions for 120 yards and one touchdown to help the Rams remain undefeated. Tight end Tyler Higbee (five receptions for 40 yards) accounted for Stafford's other passing touchdown.

With Darrell Henderson Jr. (ribs) inactive, Sony Michel carried the load at running back with 20 carries for 67 yards, both team-highs.

Linebacker Kenny Young and defensive lineman Aaron Donald both authored strong performances for Los Angeles' defense. Young posted a team-high 10 total tackles, plus one sack, one QB hit and one forced fumble, while Donald had three total tackles, one sack-fumble and one pass breakup. The sack moved Donald into a tie with defensive end Leonard Little for most career sacks in Rams franchise history (87.5).

But the focus here is on the offense.

And, as Associated Press sports writer Greg Beacham suggests, Stafford has been every bit the upgrade Sean McVay predicted. Indeed, the first three games of the new quarterback's partnership with the Rams' offensive mastermind couldn't have gone much better, and Los Angeles is rolling into October with no reason to doubt its status as a strong Super Bowl contender.

The Rams have beaten three consecutive 2020 playoff teams to open the new season. Not even Tom Brady could reveal any serious areas of concern for a team that rose to the challenge in front of a raucous home crowd at SoFi Stadium, where the fans realize they're seeing something special so far.

"The best way I can describe that atmosphere is electric," McVay said Monday. "I know that (SoFi) was set up in a manner that was designed to have that noise be a factor, and I think that definitely played a hand."

McVay is already turning to the oldest phantom woes in the coaching handbook to keep his Rams focused on the 14 games ahead before any postseason trips. Complacency and hype will be the enemies this week in Thousand Oaks while McVay and the Rams prepare for another unbeaten opponent, the Arizona Cardinals -- a team to which McVay has never lost.

"If you said, 'Hey, who were the teams who were 3-0 last year or previous years?' I bet you really couldn't remember," McVay said. "There's so many football games to go ahead. We have to have steady improvement. Very pleased with the way the guys handled it."

The Rams are getting standout performances across their roster. Stafford has turned Kupp into the NFL's leader in yards receiving (367) and touchdown catches (five) while getting plenty of time to throw behind an offensive line that has been better than most expected.

McVay praised Stafford's feel for the game and unflappability on Monday, citing multiple instances in which he showed the veteran poise necessary to make plays in tight spots, particularly on long third downs. The Rams are converting 54.3 percent of their third downs, and they've scored on an NFL-best 58.6 percent of their drives.

"I think we had a lot of guys touch the ball today and make plays," Stafford said Sunday. "So that's when we're at our best. I keep saying it, but when we make defenses defend the entire field and everybody on our roster, that's going to be good for us."

The offense is averaging more than 300 yards per game, and the Rams are third in the NFL in scoring despite facing three solid opponents while other teams near the top have piled up stats against rebuilding clubs. Stafford and his receivers have already built a bond, and it's only likely to get stronger.

Stafford's passer rating through three games is 129.8. Only Russell Wilson has a better number, and Stafford has thrown for more yards and more TDs than the Seahawks star on just eight more attempts.

For the record. ... Stafford won his second NFC Offensive Player of the Week accolade this season after having won it just once in all his years playing for the Lions.

Worth noting. ... No Rams player might be more eager to play the Cardinals than Higbee. He has 28 career catches against them -- four for touchdowns -- his most against any opponent.

"The last few meetings, the ball's found me a little bit more," Higbee said Monday. "I'm just trying to make the most of my [opportunities].

"Hopefully, it's another one. ..."

Conversely, there's been no room in the offense so far for rookie second-round pick Tutu Atwell, who didn't get an offensive snap against Tampa Bay. He's still looking for his first NFL reception, and he has returned just one punt.

Jackson's big play against the Buccaneers won't make it any easier to make room for Atwell. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Henderson wasn't able to go against the Buccaneers because of a rib injury, but the team isn't ruling him out for their Week 4 home date with the Cardinals.

McVay said on Monday that Henderson has been "making good progress" in recent days and that the team is "hopeful that we'll be able to have him for this week." McVay expects to have a better idea on Henderson's outlook later this week.

I'll have more on Henderson's status via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses. ...

McVay also updated the condition of linebacker Justin Hollins. Hollins suffered a partially torn pectoral against the Bucs and will have surgery to repair the injury. He'll go on injured reserve and the hope is that he will be able to return to action later in the season.

Hollins had two sacks and a forced fumble in the season opener and he was credited with four tackles in the last two games.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Matthew Stafford, John Wolford, Bryce Perkins
RBs: Darrell Henderson, Sony Michel, Buddy Howell, Jake Funk
WRs: Cooper Kupp, Van Jefferson, Odell Beckham, Ben Skowronek, Tutu Atwell, J.J. Koski, Robert Woods, Landen Akers
TEs: Tyler Higbee, Brycen Hopkins, Johnny Mundt, Jacob Harris

Miami Dolphins

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 September 2021

As ESPN.com's Marcel Louis-Jacques framed it, "For more than three quarters of Sunday's 31-28 overtime loss against the Las Vegas Raiders, the Miami Dolphins offense looked, well, uninspiring.

"Turns out, there was a reason behind that. ..."

Making his first start at quarterback in place of Tua Tagovailoa, who is on injured reserve and will miss at least the next two games, Jacoby Brissett struggled for most of the game. Miami entered the fourth quarter with more rushing yards (82) than net passing yards (75) as Brissett attempted just one pass that traveled 20 or more yards downfield, per NFL Next Gen Stats.

When asked about his hesitance to push the ball deep, Brissett said it was part of Raiders defensive coordinator Gus Bradley's scheme -- Las Vegas' 9.05 yards allowed per completion ranks No. 6 in the NFL, mainly because Bradley is intent on his defenders keeping the ball in front of them.

"Going against Gus. ... It's like a sin for the defense to get the ball pushed behind them," Brissett said. "Early on, we had to understand and take what they gave us. Over time, they would get tired of it and we would have our chances down the field.

"As you see, we did have chances down the field towards the end. We just didn't make the plays and I think we will down the line. It was good to see how we would react in those situations."

The Dolphins struggled to gain yards on early downs and then converted just six of 18 third-down attempts, facing an average of 6.8 yards to gain per attempt.

In the fourth quarter and overtime, however, Miami was more willing to stretch the field.

Brissett set the Dolphins up for the game-tying touchdown when he took a shot 27 yards downfield into the end zone to Mack Hollins, who drew a pass interference penalty that gave Miami the ball at the 1-yard line. Brissett also nearly won the game in overtime with a pass to William Fuller V that travelled 45.1 air yards, per NFL Next Gen Stats; the ball ultimately fell incomplete but would have ended the game if Fuller had come down with it.

According to Louis-Jacques, aggressive plays like those are reasons why Miami gained 173 of its 330 total yards in the fourth quarter and overtime. It was not enough to win the game but Dolphins coach Brian Flores said he didn't consider the process of taking what the defense gives to be inefficient -- rather, it's necessary.

"Oftentimes what happens is when you take what they give you, if you continue to get first downs doing that, move the ball and they will change what they are doing and that's when you get your opportunities offensively," Flores said. "I think we had some other opportunities where we could have pushed the ball a little bit."

The Dolphins will have a chance to be aggressive in their approach and take what the defense gives them in Week 4 when they play host to the Colts and their vulnerable secondary. Indianapolis' 12.71 yards allowed per completion is the second-highest mark in the league and its pass rush ranks 26th in quarterback pressure rate at 27.5 percent on dropbacks.

The Colts also give opposing quarterbacks an average of 2.78 seconds to throw the ball, which is the 12th-longest in the NFL.

Brissett, who started 30 games for the Colts from 2017 to 2020, said the way Miami ended the Raiders game gives him confidence as he continues to fill in for Tagovailoa.

"I think in all phases of the game we took a step forward, I think we got better," Brissett said. "I think a lot of guys came up and made a lot of plays. We prepared well and I think some of it showed. We obviously left a couple plays out there, I know I did personally. ...

"There are no moral victories in this league, but I think we have a lot of stuff to build off of."

Well. ... If you call five yards per attempt (31st in the NFL) and has one touchdown pass in 120 throws this season a foundation, sure.

The previous team to throw at least 120 passes in its first three games and manage only one touchdown was the 2007 New Orleans Saints, who turned the ball over 10 times in those games. The Dolphins have only four turnovers so far this season, so that's a positive.

But the Dolphins have 45 points in their first three games.

Only nine Miami teams have had fewer at this point in a season. None of those nine finished with a winning record -- the best of the bunch went 8-8 in 1980 -- or made the playoffs.

Other notes of interest. ... As Associated Press sports writer Tim Reynolds pointed out, hard as this is to believe, Sunday marked the first time that two Dolphins players had 10 or more catches in the same game. Jaylen Waddle had 12 catches, Mike Gesicki made 10.

But to illustrate how much the offense is struggling right now, consider that those 22 catches went for a combined 144 yards -- 27 of them on Gesicki's fantastic fingertip grab on fourth-and-20 to extend the overtime drive. ...

Myles Gaskin carried the ball 13 times for 65 yards and caught three of six targets for nine yards against the Raiders.

The carries and rushing yards both were season highs for Gaskin, who was more heavily involved in the offense with Brissett under center. The running back was less effective as a receiver, however, as he and Brissett had trouble getting on the same page. With the backup QB once again at the helm, Gaskin should see another big workload against the Colts.

On the injury front. ... Tagovailoa will miss at least two more games with the rib fractures. Fuller was shaken up during overtime, though that was believed to be a cramping issue, and S Brandon Jones -- who had two sacks -- appeared to turn an ankle in the extra session but continued playing.

Of more immediate interest. ... Per Miami Herald staffer Barry Jackson, Will Fuller was not practicing Wednesday due to an unspecified injury. I'll have more on his status via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Tua Tagovailoa, Jacoby Brissett, Reid Sinnett
RBs: Myles Gaskin, Phillip Lindsay, Salvon Ahmed, Malcolm Brown
WRs: Jaylen Waddle, Albert Wilson, Preston Williams, Mack Hollins, Isaiah Ford, DeVante Parker, Will Fuller
TEs: Mike Gesicki, Durham Smythe, Adam Shaheen, Hunter Long

Minnesota Vikings

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 September 2021

As NFL.com's Kevin Patra notes, Mike Zimmer is in the midst of his eighth season in Minnesota and has taken the Vikings to the playoffs three times.

Sunday's 30-17 victory over the Seattle Seahawks is the best the veteran coach has seen his offense play.

"I told the team that it's the best offensive performance that I've seen in the eight years that I've been here," Zimmer said, via ESPN. "Kirk Cousins played outstanding. I thought (Alexander) Mattison ran the ball well, the offensive line blocked great. Tight ends, receivers blocked great in the run game but also in the passing game. Very, very proud of the way that they performed today."

The statement by Zimmer is underscored by the fact that the Vikes put up that performance without star running back Dalvin Cook, the engine of the offense the first two weeks.

It also underscores just how well Cousins has played to open the 2021 campaign. On Sunday, the veteran QB diced up a Seahawks defense that had no answers. Cousins completed 30 of 38 passes for 323 yards and 3 TDs. Through three games, Cousins has tossed 8 TDs and 0 INTs and completed 73.9 percent of his passes.

Cousins became the sixth player over the last 25 seasons with a 70-plus completion percentage, 8-plus pass TDs and 0 INTs in the team's first three games of a season, joining Patrick Mahomes (2019), Drew Brees (2018), Tom Brady (2015), Aaron Rodgers (2015) and Peyton Manning (2013).

"It's been a different Kirk," wide receiver Adam Thielen said. "He's just locked in and on time, he's trusting it. I think a big part of that is our O-line and the way they're blocking and giving him enough time to sit back there and make his reads."

The Vikings (1-2) have gained 400-plus total yards and scored 24-plus points in all three games this season.

Despite the offense playing well the first two weeks, Minnesota came up short, including on last week's missed game-winning field goal. On Sunday, the Vikes overpowered Seattle, leaving no doubt.

"I think (Cousins is) playing outstanding," Zimmer said. "But not only that, he's playing with a lot of confidence. I really appreciate the leadership that he's been doing lately. It's been so much better, something he wanted to work on. He's done a great job with that. He's very confident where he's throwing the football. He's very confident with these receivers.

"I think the offensive line has helped him do some of those things as well."

Cousins, meanwhile, deflected any individual praise.

Instead, he said offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak, quarterbacks coach Andrew Janocko and quarterbacks Sean Mannion and Kellen Mond have all had a hand behind the scenes in his success.

"I think I play with really good football players. I think that helps," Cousins said. "I also think that Klint Kubiak's doing a phenomenal job. I think Andrew Janocko's doing a phenomenal job, and I can't say enough about the working team around me getting me ready for Sunday.

"Kellen and Sean are with me on a Wednesday and Thursday well after 7 o'clock at night helping me talking through plays in walkthrough and watching tape, and I can't say enough about the kind of working team that helps get me ready for Sunday," Cousins added. "It starts with Klint and Andrew, but Sean and Kellen, too, the help they've been. I think all that has made a big difference."

Of course, there's also the noticeable swag Cousins is playing with in 2021. Through three games, he's averaging 300-plus yards per game and hasn't turned the ball over once. Minnesota is fourth in the league in total offense, averaging 425 yards per game. It's seventh in scoring at 29 points per game.

Cook is still a big piece of the offense despite missing his first game of the season on Sunday due to an ankle injury, and Cousins still has Thielen and Justin Jefferson as his top targets. But the Vikings have found balance early this season with production from a few surprise contributors.

Receiver K.J. Osborn has taken advantage of his chances, particularly on third downs. His two catches Sunday each converted third downs. Osborn has become Cousins' third-most frequent target with tight end Irv Smith Jr. out for the season after knee surgery.

Tyler Conklin, the immediate fill-in for Smith, had career highs with seven catches for 70 yards and his second career touchdown on Sunday.

"I think it says a lot about our coaches," Cousins said. "I think it says a lot about balance as an offense. We're going to throw to the tight ends, we're going to throw to the running backs, we're going to throw to the receivers -- we're going to throw to several receivers. I think being a multiple offense really helps."

But mostly to his top receivers.

Jefferson has become the fastest Vikings player to reach 100 receptions in team history. The second-year man entered the game against the Seattle Seahawks with 99 through his first 18 games. He reached the milestone in the first quarter Sunday.

Jefferson edged the previous record of 20 games that was set by Jermaine Wiggins and matched by Stefon Diggs.

The latest record for the second-year pro out of LSU joins a list of accomplishments in his first season that included an NFL Super Bowl-era rookie record of 1,400 receiving yards and franchise marks for receptions (88) and 100-yard games (seven) by a Vikings rookie.

Meanwhile, a catch in the second quarter Sunday was the 414th of Thielen's career and moved him past Vikings legend Jake Reed for sixth place on the franchise's all-time receptions leaderboard.

Reed totaled 413 receptions with Minnesota from 1991-99 and 2001.

Thielen entered the 2021 season with 397 career receptions and passed Ring of Honor member Ahmad Rashad (400 receptions with Minnesota) in Week 1 at Cincinnati.

Really impressive for a Viking who began as a tryout player and special teamer who managed eight catches in 2014....

Another big part in the offensive production and Cousins' fast start has been the play of the offensive line. Cousins was sacked just once Sunday and he repeatedly had time to survey the field and find open receivers. The line had a tough Week 1 with penalties and Cousins was sacked three times by the Bengals. He's been sacked just twice the past two weeks. ..

Even without Cook, Minnesota's offense was able to keep pace, with Alexander Mattison setting the tone by tying a career-high with 112 rushing yards and Jefferson adding nine catches for 118 yards and a touchdown.

The offense carried the load in the first half before the defense turned it on in the third quarter.

Next up, former offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski returns to Minnesota as the head coach of the Cleveland Browns. Stefanski, who spent 14 years in various roles with the Vikings, has Cleveland 2-1 this season after a 26-6 win over Chicago. The Browns are 13-6 under Stefanski, last year's NFL Coach of the Year. ...

On the injury front. ... Cook's status will be watched closely, though Mattison has proven to be a capable fill-in. Cook missed practice all last week with his ankle injury but he was back on the field Wednesday. Linebacker Anthony Barr (knee), who hasn't played yet this season, returned to limited participation in practice last week.

I'll obviously have more on Cook via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.

Finally. ... The Vikings designated RB Kene Nwangwu for return from injured reserve.

According to St. Paul Pioneer Press staffer Chris Tomasson, indications from those he spoke with suggest Nwangwu most likely won't be activated to the 53-man roster this week but would have a good chance to be activated next week. But nothing will be finalized until after Vikings see how he looks in practice.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Kirk Cousins, Kellen Mond
RBs: Alexander Mattison, Kene Nwangwu, Dalvin Cook
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 Patriots

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 September 2021

The Patriots came into Week 3 after a 19-point win over the Jets in Week 2, but their momentum did not continue against the Saints.

New Orleans went up 14 points in the first half and extended their lead to 21-3 on a pick-six by safety Malcolm Jenkins early in the third quarter. The Saints ground things out from there and leave New England with a 28-13 win over the Patriots.

Rookie quarterback Mac Jones was picked off three times and threw 51 passes in the game. Head coach Bill Belichick said "it's never a good position to be in" when you have to throw every down and shared what the Patriots have to do in order to avoid being in that position in the future.

"We've just got to play more consistently," Belichick said. "We've got to play with more good plays out there and not as many that aren't good. That's what we have to do. We had some chances, but in the end, we just couldn't get it done. It's disappointing. There's no magic sauce here. Just have to go back to work and do better."

Tom Brady and the Buccaneers are next on the schedule, so there isn't much time for the Patriots to correct their errors before facing one of the league's best teams with an extra jolt of emotion in the air.

It's also worth noting the Patriots are experiencing variations of same problems that plagued them in 2020.

The offense has better overall flow to it with Jones at the helm, yet still is having trouble producing touchdowns. Opponents are scoring at a high percentage against the defense in the red zone. And the Patriots are losing the field position battle on special teams.

Key injuries are also playing a role just as they did a year ago.

Last season it was Julian's Edelman's ailing knee. This time it's two key cogs who are on the mend. Cornerback Stephon Gilmore is sidelined for at least three more games as he continues to recover from quadriceps surgery. Now, running back James White is out for a yet to be determined time period after being carted off in the second quarter of Sunday's loss to New Orleans with a hip injury.

"We can't go back and change anything, so we just have to come in tomorrow and get back to work," center David Andrews said. "We just want to come in and correct it, then move forward."

Following Sunday's loss to the Saints, the Patriots sit at 1-2. They haven't been at that mark since 2018, when they bounced back to six straight games on their way to beating the Rams in the Super Bowl.

Any hopes of duplicating that kind of turnaround begins with the weighty challenge of beating Brady when he returns to town for the first time since he left in free agency to join Tampa Bay.

Brady and the Bucs head into this Sunday's matchup tied for the league's highest-scoring offense at 34.3 points per game. Their 349.7 yards per game on offense also rank second in the NFL.

Safety Devin McCourty said the key this week will be blocking any hype about the seven-time champion's return and focusing on what they need clean up this week.

"We're not good enough to get lost ahead of us, so we better focus in on what we need to do and watch them from an X's and O's standpoint," McCourty said. "Watch them as an offense, defense, special teams and lock in on that. We can't worry about anything else."

So perhaps the question is this: How are the Patriots possibly going to keep pace with Brady and the Buccaneers?

As ESPN.com's Mike Reiss notes, everyone knew there would be growing pains with Jones, but as long as he protected the football and the offensive line could keep him upright, they'd at least have a chance. Neither of those things happened consistently enough Sunday. Reiss went on to suggest if the Patriots can't protect Mac Jones better, it's going to be a long season.

The Saints defense pressured Jones on 12 of his 21 first-half drop backs (57 percent), and Jones was 4-of-11 for 28 yards and an interception when pressured, according to ESPN's Stats and Information. When Jones had time, the results were better, but it just didn't happen enough.

The projected return of starting right tackle Trent Brown (right calf strain) should help, but the protection problems seem to go deeper than just one player.

Brown isn't going to score many touchdowns and that's been an issue. The Patriots' touchdown success rate in the red zone this season is 25 percent. They've converted on 2 of 8 opportunities inside the 20-yard line, which ranks last in the NFL. Not good for fantasy football production. ...

Other notes of interest. ... The Patriots were down 11 to the Saints when they came out of halftime on Sunday, but it didn't take long for that deficit to grow.

Jenkins returned the above-mentioned interception 34 yards for a touchdown on the first play of the second half. The pass from Jones bounced out of tight end Jonnu Smith's hands before Jenkins reeled it in and Smith said on Monday that the miscue was all on him.

Smith said Jones threw a catchable pass and that he has "to make that play that I know I can make and that I will make when the opportunity presents itself."

Smith had his worst game as a Patriot, catching just one pass for 6 yards on six targets.

"You know I got to have a certain level of honesty with myself in the mirror, man," Smith said, via Justin Leger of NBCSportsBoston.com. "But the great thing about it is I have another opportunity. I didn't put my best product and myself out there yesterday. I know that, the whole world knows that. But, you know, I know the player I am, I'm confident in the player I am, and I'm just looking forward to moving forward."

Smith signed a four-year, $50 million contract this offseason, but only has 10 catches for 74 yards through the first three games of the season. As Profootballtalk.com's Josh Alper suggests, getting more from him in the weeks to come would make life easier for Jones and the offense as a whole. ...

Receiver Kendrick Bourne made his biggest impact of the season, catching six passes for a team-high 96 yards and a touchdown.

"It felt good, but you know it is not enough," Bourne said. "I always want to win and am just focused on winning and just want to have another opportunity to make another play."

The day was punctuated in the third quarter when he bobbled a pass from Jones and tipped it in the air to safety Malcolm Jenkins, who promptly returned it 34 yard for a touchdown.

As noted above, White left Sunday's game with a hip injury and it sounds like it will be a while before he's able to return to action.

NFL Media reports that White suffered a hip subluxation before being carted off the field at Gillette Stadium. After further medical examinations this week, ESPN's Field Yates and Adam Schefter report that White’s injury is expected to end his 2021 season.

White had one carry for six yards before leaving the game. Damien Harris, J.J. Taylor, Brandon Bolden, and Rhamondre Stevenson are the other backs on the roster in New England. The team also had a number of running backs, including Ryquell Armstead, Dontrell Hilliard, Artavis Pierce and Ito Smith, in for workouts on Tuesday.

But Taylor seems like the most likely beneficiary of White's absence.

I'll have more on the plan to cover for White via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.

One last note here. ... Receiver N'Keal Harry was practicing Wednesday for the first time since being placed on injured reserve. That means the clock is officially started on his return. He has three weeks to be added to the active roster.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Mac Jones, Brian Hoyer
RBs: Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson, Brandon Bolden, J.J. Taylor, James White
WRs: Kendrick Bourne, Jakobi Meyers, Nelson Agholor, N'Keal Harry, Gunner Olszewski
TEs: Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, Devin Asiasi

New Orleans Saints

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 September 2021

As Associated Press sports writer Brett Martel reminded readers, it wasn't so long ago that Saints coach Sean Payton was designing and calling some of the most prolific passing offenses the NFL had ever seen.

That was the Saints' identity for most of the past 15 years, when Drew Brees was their quarterback.

Not now.

As Martel went on to suggest, the 2021 Saints look more like the New Orleans teams coached by Jim Mora three decades ago, when the defense was led by the franchise's first Hall of Fame player, linebacker Rickey Jackson.

In a 28-13 triumph over New England on Sunday, the Saints' defense produced three interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown by safety Malcolm Jenkins.

"We're finding out that we are the strength of our team -- and we're going to have to play big in order for our team to have success," Jenkins said. "That's just the identity and the formula that seems to be working for us; we're real stingy on defense, we take the ball away, we give our offense opportunities.

"We think the heart of our team is going to be our defense," he added.

The good news for New Orleans is that the formula Jenkins described has produced victories in two of the first three weeks of the regular season, starting with a 38-3 rout of Green Bay and quarterback Aaron Rodgers in a game moved from New Orleans to Jacksonville, Florida, because of Hurricane Ida.

Now the New Orleans defense can look forward this week to finally playing in the Superdome, where crowd noise has been known to hinder opposing offenses' pre-snap communication.

"Oh man, I can't wait for that. It's going to be electric in that place, for sure," Saints linebacker Demario Davis said. "I just know what this thing means to the city and the fan base. It's going to be crazy in that building."

Before the Saints flew home to New Orleans on Sunday night, they'd been displaced since they evacuated to the Dallas area the day before Ida made landfall as a destructive Category 4 storm on Aug. 29.

While the Superdome and team headquarters weathered the storm relatively well, the Saints elected to give the New Orleans area time to recover as a community and restore most normal services -- such as electricity -- before returning. They practiced at TCU and the Dallas Cowboys' AT&T Stadium from the final week of preseason through the first three weeks of the regular season.

"It's crazy it's been a month that we've been gone," Davis said Monday. "It was just good to be back home, seeing the wife, seeing the kids, sleeping in your own bed, even coming into the facility. The facility even feels weird because we haven't been here in a while. So, just looking to get back to some normalcy."

While the Saints my not need to rely on the passing game as much as they did during the Brees era, they'll have to be more productive through the air to keep the NFL's better defenses honest.

It would help new starting quarterback Jameis Winston to have veteran receivers Michael Thomas and Tre'Quan Smith back from injuries, but in their absence, Winston may have to develop a better rapport with receivers Marquez Callaway and Deonte Harris, as well as young tight end Adam Trautman.

Winston ranks 30th in total yards passing so far with 387. But he also ranks fifth in touchdowns passing with seven.

As ESPN.com's Mike Triplett noted, Winston completed just 13 of 21 passes for 128 yards with two touchdowns and no turnovers in Foxboro. But Winston still threw up a couple of risky passes that were reminiscent of past woes. And we still don't know how he'll perform in a nail-biter since the Saints haven't had one yet.

Of course, one of those passes against New England wound up being fortuitous.

As Triplett characterized it, "Winston threw a patented 'no, no ... yes' touchdown pass to Callaway late in the first half Sunday.

Winston was being sacked when he threw the ball up for grabs in the back of the end zone on third-and-goal from the Patriots' 7-yard line. But Callaway went up high over cornerback Jonathan Jones and reeled it in to give New Orleans a 14-0 lead -- and Callaway his first career touchdown.

"That was all God," said Winston - who admitted he was trying to throw the ball away on the play and that he didn't realize it was a "free play" because of a defensive holding call against Jones. "Marquez went up there and snatched it. So touchdown, good guys."

"We were a bit fortunate there," Payton said of Winston's accidental TD pass. "Marquez made a play. Kind of a hold-your-breath moment."

Winston said Payton's message to him was, "If you're throwing it away, make sure you throw it away."

"And I told him, 'Coach, that's all God,'" Winston said. "'Can't get in the way of God's plan. ...'"

The Saints will have some distractions from football this week as they move back home and incumbent players take stock of how their homes came through Ida. Those with damage to repair may need to compartmentalize a little more this week as they prepare to host the winless but increasingly desperate New York Giants. ...

Other notes of interest. ... The good news in this one was Alvin Kamara rushed 24 times for 89 yards and caught three of four targets for 29 yards and a touchdown.

As CBSSports.com notes, Kamara struggled to find running room against a much-improved Patriots defense, but the volume combined with his usual contributions as a receiver produced a solid line. It's been a bit of a slow start for the dual-threat back in 2021, as his 3.3 yards per carry and 6.2 yards per catch are both the lowest of his career. A drop-off was to be expected following Brees' retirement, but fantasy managers are hoping to see some improvement considering the draft capital it cost to acquire the star player.

Kamara will look to take advantage of a favorable matchup against the Giants this Sunday. ...

Kicker Aldrick Rosas had filled in competently for injured veteran Wil Lutz until Sunday, when he missed two field goals from distances of 52 yards and 36 yards. ...

On the injury front. ... As Profootballtalk.com first reported, the Saints had a surprise addition to their practice report Wednesday: Winston has a knee injury.

Winston, though, was a full practice participant.

Center Erik McCoy (calf) remains out. Offensive tackle Terron Armstead, who injured his elbow Sunday and is expected to miss significant time, also sat out Wednesday’s session.

Cornerback Marshon Lattimore (hand) was a full participant. He missed only one game after surgery, returning in Week 3.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Taysom Hill, Trevor Siemian, Ian Book, Jameis Winston
RBs: Alvin Kamara, Mark Ingram, Tony Jones Jr., Dwayne Washington
WRs: Marquez Callaway, Tre'quan Smith, Deonte Harris, Kenny Stills, Lil'Jordan Humphrey, Ty Montgomery, Michael Thomas
TEs: Nick Vannett, Juwan Johnson, Garrett Griffin, Adam Trautman

New York Giants

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 September 2021

Don't expect any major shakeup or significant changes with the New York Giants just because they have lost their first three games and ownership and their beleaguered tight end were showered with boos during Sunday's 17-14 loss to the Atlanta Falcons.

The Giants are sticking with Jason Garrett as their offensive coordinator despite failing to top 14 points in two of their three games so far this year after finishing 31st in the NFL in total offense last season.

"In terms of who is going to be calling the plays, no, directly to the question in terms of offense, defense and kicking game, the coordinators (Garrett, defensive coordinator Patrick Graham and special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey) will still be making the play-calling this week," head coach Joe Judge said Monday during a conference call with reporters.

So there are no major changes coming in that regard. The Giants will make schematic alterations like they do every week instead to try and fix everything in time for their matchup with the New Orleans Saints on Sunday.

It is the first game for the Saints back in New Orleans since being forced on the road by Hurricane Ida.

As ESPN.com's Jordan Raanan notes, Judge didn't exactly give Garrett, the former coach of the Dallas Cowboys, a vote of confidence on Monday, but more accurately doesn't seem interested in any major overhaul. Quarterback Daniel Jones already had two offensive systems in his first two years in the NFL and has played well early in Year 3, his second with Garrett.

"We're going to stay consistent with doing things improving as a team right there," Judge said. "There are a lot of things we could clean up coaching wise, execution wise. We're going to stay on the track with it and make sure that we get those things right before we make any radical changes."

It's only three weeks into the season, but already it's getting late for the Giants (0-3). This is the third time in five years they have started with three straight losses.

The heat is falling primarily on Garrett despite the Giants defense crumbling late in losses the past two weeks to Washington and Atlanta. But Graham's defense had strong season in 2020, when they were eighth in the NFL in points allowed.

Garrett's offense was 31st in yards, points and red-zone offense last year. They are 31st in red-zone offense again through three games this season, a flaw which surfaced again against the Falcons. The Giants scored one touchdown on their three trips to the red zone on Sunday.

Raanan went on to point out the match of Garrett with Judge was always a bit unconventional. Giants ownership had interest in interviewing Garrett for the head coaching job during its search early last year before landing on Judge. They recommended that Judge speak with Garrett about the opening.

Judge and Garrett did not have any past history working together prior to their marriage in New York. That is somewhat to unique to this Giants staff, many of which have worked with Judge during his past stops at Mississippi State, Alabama or New England.

Over the next five weeks the Giants will play the Saints (2-1) in New Orleans and then take a road trip to Dallas. That will be followed by home games against the Rams and Panthers, both 3-0. Finally, there is a Monday night game in Kansas City against Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs (1-2).

Finishing the first half of the season without a win is a possibility.

"I don't think we're a bad team, to be honest," Saquon Barkley told reporters. "I know you guys are going to say what you're going to say and write what you want to write, but that's the NFL. There are no bad teams in the NFL."

Barkley said everyone on the Giants is sick of losing.

"We just have to figure it out, and that's the difference," he said.

The good news?

Jones continues to prove he was worth the sixth pick overall in the '19 draft. He is 68 of 104 for 782 yards and two TDs. He also has 23 carries for a team-high 161 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for a 2-point conversion Sunday. He is making the offense go.

The less good news?

As Associated Press sports writer Tom Canavan, Evan Engram has tons of talent but can't get out of his own way. The tight end worked hard to come back from a calf injury and play for the first time. However, he lost a fumble late in the first half, and was fooled and missed a tipped pass in the third quarter.

Fans cheered when he left the field. Not what he needs in a contract year.

The worse news?

Winning this weekend in the Big Easy is going to be real hard. The Saints will be playing their first home game. Hurricane Ida forced them to relocate until this week. They and their fans are going to be pumped.

The Giants will need all hands on deck to have a chance. It seems unlikely they'll have that.

Inside linebacker and leading tackler Blake Martinez tore an ACL on the first possession and is out for the season, the team said Monday. Wide receivers Darius Slayton and Sterling Shepard also left in the first half with hamstring injuries. Their status for this weekend was not updated but it seems unlikely they would play.

Compounding things, prized offseason acquisition Kenny Golladay was in and out of the game dealing with a hip injury and Barkley even looked a bit banged up. Both Barkley and Golladay were limited in Wednesday's practice.

I'll have more on the injury issues via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.

Remember, if Shepard and/or Slayton are out -- and neither practiced Wednesday, there's a good chance Kadarius Toney will finally have to play a significant role.

Shepard primarily plays in the slot, so if he can't play this Sunday in New Orleans, Toney might wind up stepping in. The Giants drafted Toney 20th overall this year, and he's had a limited role so far.

All along, he was going to be a redundant piece if the Giants tried to make him just a slot receiver this season, because of Shepard's presence. But he also really hasn't done much as a versatile/gadget player, either. Now, though, the Giants might need him in the slot.

In addition, the team announced that John Ross will take part in practice for the first time since hurting his hamstring in August. The Giants placed Ross on injured reserve after the cut to 53 players. Designating Ross for return allows him to practice with the team for the next three weeks and he can be added to the active roster at any point in that window.

Ross signed with the team as a free agent this offseason. The Bengals made Ross the ninth overall pick of the 2017 draft, but injuries limited him to 27 games with the team over the last four seasons.

It has been nearly two months since Ross has practiced, so it seems unlikely that he’d be an option in place of Shepard and Slayton against the Saints this weekend.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Mike Glennon, Daniel Jones
RBs: Saquon Barkley, Devontae Booker, Gary Brightwell
WRs: Kenny Golladay, Sterling Shepard, Kadarius Toney, John Ross, Darius Slayton, C.J. Board, Dante Pettis
TEs: Evan Engram, Kyle Rudolph, Kaden Smith

New York Jets

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 September 2021

As ESPN.com's Rich Cimini reminded readers this week, when the Jets drafted quarterback Zach Wilson, perhaps even before, they determined he was good enough to be a Day 1 starter and tough enough to withstand the mental and physical rigors of a 17-game season. They also felt the infrastructure was sound and would soften the entire rookie experience for him.

"After three games," Cimini wrote, "how can you not wonder whether they miscalculated? How can you not think they're doing it again, ruining another promising young quarterback?"

It's a fair point.

The Jets did it to Sam Darnold, now 3-0 with the Carolina Panthers, and now, Cimini contends, "they're treating Wilson like a fraternity pledge during Hell Week -- except this Hell Week already is on three weeks, and counting."

The totals over his first three NFL starts: 25 quarterback hits, 15 sacks and seven interceptions. If he survives the onslaught, he could develop bad habits and lose his pristine mechanics.

"It's hard. I didn't experience this in college," Wilson said Sunday after an embarrassing 26-0 loss to the Denver Broncos at Empower Field at Mile High. "The crazy thing is, I knew it was going to be like this. You come to a program that has all new guys coming in. It's a process."

He wore a brave face after another beating, which included five sacks, nine QB hits and two interceptions in an utterly dreadful offensive performance (162 total yards). At his postgame news conference, Wilson had a black rubber band on his left wrist that said, "No excuses."

Asked whether his confidence is shaken, he said, "Absolutely not."

That said, Cimini contends that Wilson didn't play like a confident quarterback. He looked hesitant at times, not trusting his reads and holding the ball too long. On the first interception, wide receiver Corey Davis was open for a hot second, but Wilson threw late and it was picked off by safety Justin Simmons.

Wilson threw off his back foot at times and he showed a tendency to hitch -- bad habits.

Meanwhile, the offense has gone eight quarters without a touchdown. They've been outscored in the first half 46-3, not even giving themselves a chance to spring an upset.

They're scoring 6.7 points per game. They're allowing five sacks per game.

No, these are not fantasy-friendly numbers.

Head coach Robert Saleh insisted the 0-3 start isn't stunting Wilson's development, and he took issue with the notion that the team is getting worse by the week.

"I wouldn't call it regression," he said. "That's a fair question to the naked eye. We played three really good football teams. Carolina is undefeated, Denver is undefeated and all three of them have top-5 defenses, so this has been a rough indoctrination for the quarterback and our offense. At the same time, you expect plays to be made and progress to be made. But I don't think it's regression."

Still, Wilson isn't getting any help from teammates.

There were at least four dropped passes, including two by Davis, their big-money free agent on offense. There was no running game; they gained only 43 yards on 13 carries, including six carries for negative yardage. The offensive line, which was supposed to be much improved, stinks.

The Jets can't even execute against a standard rush. Six of Wilson's seven interceptions, and 11 of his QB hits, have come against a four-man rush, according to ESPN Stats and Information.

They had the misfortune of facing Vic Fangio- and Bill Belichick-coached defenses over the past two weeks, increasing the degree of difficulty for their 22-year-old quarterback. But this wasn't a surprise; the Jets knew the schedule back in May, yet they went all-in on Wilson.

"I'm in this position for a reason," said Wilson, adding, "I promise, it's making me stronger."

Could better play calling help the young QB?

According to Associated Press sports writer Dennis Waszak Jr., while much of the focus is on Wilson, the spotlight can also shine more on offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur. The 34-year-old younger brother of Packers coach Matt LaFleur is calling the offensive plays for the first time in the NFL and he's going through some growing pains along with his young QB.

The Jets haven't led at any point through three games. LaFleur needs to make better use of Wilson's athleticism -- and try to open things up a bit while being less predictable.

This week, the Jets return home to take on Tennessee, which is 2-1 and has the NFL's leading rusher in Derrick Henry. If the run defense can't bottle him up and Wilson and the offense can't get some consistent drives together, New York could be looking at a third straight 0-4 start. ...

On the injury front. ... Rookie WR Elijah Moore is in the league's concussion protocol after injuring his head Sunday; he was not on the practice field Wednesday ... TE Tyler Kroft is day to day while dealing with a chest injury; Kroft was on the field for warmups Wednesday. ... WR Jamison Crowder's status for Sunday is uncertain as he continues to recover from a groin injury; he was also on the field for warmups on Wednesday.

I'll have more on all three via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.

One last note here. ... Receiver Jeff Smith was not at practice Wednesday after he was involved in a car crash heading to the facility this morning, a source told NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. He will be on the injury report today with details of what he’s dealing with.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Zach Wilson, Joe Flacco, Mike White
RBs: Ty Johnson, Tevin Coleman, Austin Walter, Lamical Perine, Michael Carter
WRs: Corey Davis, Elijah Moore, Jamison Crowder, Braxton Berrios, Denzel Mims, Jeff Smith, Keelan Cole
TEs: Ryan Griffin, Daniel Brown, Trevon Wesco, Tyler Kroft

Philadelphia Eagles

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 September 2021

Nick Sirianni's impressive coaching debut in is the rearview mirror.

As Associated Press sports writer Rob Maaddi noted, Sirianni and his young staff were outcoached and the Philadelphia Eagles were thoroughly outplayed in a 41-21 loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Monday night.

After routing Atlanta in Week 1, the Eagles (1-2) have lost two in a row with a daunting schedule upcoming.

Sirianni criticized his own play-calling after last week's 17-11 loss to San Francisco. His game plan against Dallas was even more questionable.

Jalen Hurts didn't have a chance staying behind an offensive line that was missing two starters and lost a third yet the second-year pro making his seventh career start was asked to take deep drops and consistently throw from the pocket instead of using his speed to move around.

"We knew they were an explosive offense and we wanted to push the ball down the field," Sirianni said.

The Eagles abandoned their run game. In fact, the team's running backs totaled just three carries, with Miles Sanders finishing with two carries for 27 yards and Kenneth Gainwell having one carry for two yards.

Sirianni was questioned after the game about why he didn't run the ball more.

"We wanted to make sure we were able to keep up with them," Sirianni said, via the Philadelphia Inquirer. "We knew they were an explosive offense. We wanted to be able to push the ball down the field and hit some of the underneath zones that we saw while also obviously mixing the run game in there and the screen game. You fall behind a little bit, you have to get off that game plan a little bit. We knew we had to score with this team because we knew they were able to score and score quickly."

Sanders and Gainwell also had three catches, and Sirianni noted that the Eagles did get the ball to the running backs in the passing game.

"The first half, just with how that went, not getting a lot of plays, those [rushing] numbers get skewed sometimes," Sirianni said. "I know they are what they are, but when you don't have that many plays in the first half, whether you have penalties that stop drives, the defense was on the field quite a bit and then you're in a position in the second half where we're down two scores the whole time and that's where that kind of comes into play. I know we were trying to get him the ball on some screens and stuff like that, but obviously he's a good playmaker and we wanted him to touch the ball more. Just the way the game went, we weren't able to do that."

Despite all that, as far as Hurts is concerned, the loss was on him.

"I didn't do a good enough job of leading. I didn't do a good enough job of running our offense, of doing the things that I need to do. So it's on me. This one's on me," Hurts told reporters after the game.

Hurts wasn't great against the Cowboys. He completed 25 of 39 passes for 326 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. However, the two interceptions -- including a pick-six from Trevon Diggs -- were extremely costly. The offense also managed just 121 yards of offense in the first half when the game was still in the balance.

"I didn't do my job. I didn't do my job and we didn't win the game. When I do my job, we win the game. I didn't do my job," Hurts said.

Hurts wasn't the only one not to have done their job. The Eagles had 13 penalties assessed against them on Monday night for a total of 86 yards. They managed just 12 first downs in total. Dak Prescott threw just five incompletions on the way to three touchdowns passes on the night for the Cowboys.

But Hurts didn't get much help from his head coach either. The entire game plan fell on his shoulders and the Eagles weren't able to succeed given those circumstances.

Hurts again pointed the finger of blame at himself.

"Play-calling was not an issue in this game. I was the issue in this game," Hurts said. "I take it and I learn from it and I'll be better from it, we'll be a better team from it."

Whatever the case, it was an ugly game for the Eagles, and an unusual offensive approach for Sirianni, the former Colts offensive coordinator who was hired to build an offense.

Next up, the Eagles host former coach Andy Reid and the two-time defending AFC champion Kansas City Chiefs (1-2). Reid, who has more wins than any coach in Eagles history, is 2-0 against Philadelphia. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Hurts had his best success throwing to tight ends Dallas Goedert and Zach Ertz. Goedert caught two passes for gains of 38 and 28 yards. Ertz had four receptions for 53 yards and one touchdown.

Rookie wide receiver DeVonta Smith had less than 30 yards receiving for the second straight week. He fell down on a route that turned into a pick-6. He couldn't hang onto a tough catch over the middle on third down in the third quarter and caught three of his six targets.



Left guard Isaac Seumalo will miss the rest of the season after suffering a Lisfranc injury. The Eagles already were without three-time Pro Bowl right guard Brandon Brooks, who is out with a chest injury, and left tackle Jordan Mailata, who sustained a knee injury late last week. ... Safety K'Von Wallace was placed on injured reserve with a separated shoulder.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Jalen Hurts, Gardner Minshew
RBs: Miles Sanders, Boston Scott, Jordan Howard, Kenneth Gainwell
WRs: DeVonta Smith, Jalen Reagor, Quez Watkins, Greg Ward, JJ Arcega-Whiteside
TEs: Dallas Goedert, Jack Stoll, Tyree Jackson

Pittsburgh Steelers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 September 2021

As Profootballtalk.com's Mike Florio reminded readers, when the Steelers and Ben Roethlisberger worked out a revised contract that kept him in Pittsburgh for an 18th season, Florio said that both team and player would regret the move by November.

"If injected with truth serum," Florio wrote Sunday, "they'd quite possibly admit that they already regret it."

Through three games, Roethlisberger is struggling. His passer rating of 79.0 puts him at No. 28 among all current starting quarterbacks, ahead of only Tua Tagovailoa (and Jacoby Brissett), Trevor Lawrence, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Justin Fields.

Sunday's 24-10 loss to the Bengals was Roethlisberger's statistical low point for the season, a 70.9 passer rating. As NBC's Rodney Harrison said on Football Night in America, Roethlisberger looks "extremely old."

He has a pec injury. At one point on Sunday, his right arm bothered him. And there are still 14 regular-season games to go.

That said, there are still 14 regular-season games to go. Things can change, quickly. Linebacker T.J. Watt, who missed Sunday's game with a groin injury, is a difference-maker.

Still, things get challenging soon. They play the Packers, Broncos, and Seahawks over the next three weeks, before a bye. A 2-4 start looks possible. Based on how they played on Sunday, 1-5 isn't out of the question -- although the Steelers have won each of their last five regular-season games against Green Bay.

Looming after Week 7 are two games against the Browns, two against the Ravens, and visits to the Chargers, Chiefs, Bengals, and Vikings.

Never underestimate the abilities of head coach Mike Tomlin to get things right.

And he needs to get things on track, because the past two weeks have definitely looked bad.

The biggest reason for hope comes from the fact that the offense remains new, a work in progress. Although it's a bizarre sort of Frankenstein monster with old players and new players and 80 percent of new offensive linemen and a new coordinator and no obvious identity, more reps will help. If/when some of those reps can lead to success.

Currently, the Steelers rank 25th in total offense -- and dead last in rushing offense, with 53.0 yards per game. Without a running game, defenses won't be kept honest. And Ben will be kept very busy avoiding defensive linemen and blitzing linebackers and defensive backs.

On a more positive note, Najee Harris touched the ball 28 times and accounted for 142 total yards. As Associated Press sports writer Will Graves notes, the 23-year-old runs with admirable ferocity and his 14 receptions were a team record for most catches in a game by a running back.

Meanwhile, Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd's comments about the Steelers' effort level late in Sunday's game made their way to Tomlin's press conference on Tuesday.

Boyd said on Monday that the Steelers gave up as the clock ran out on Sunday and the first question after Tomlin's introductory comments cited Boyd while asking whether the coach felt like his team threw in the towel.

"I don't care about Tyler Boyd's opinion regarding what transpired at any point in that game," Tomlin said. "Like I said after the game, and it includes him, I tip my cap to that team and that organization for their performance and win. I proceed on to the next challenge. ... He's entitled to his opinion, but I don't have to respond to it."

Tomlin called Sunday "just a poor day for us" and avoiding those in the future will lead to fewer questions about the team's effort. ...

On the injury front. ... Wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster left in the second quarter with a rib injury. Right tackle Chuks Okorafor exited in the third quarter while being checked for a concussion, and center Kendrick Green went down with a knee injury in the fourth quarter.

Diontae Johnson missed the game with a knee injury.

Smith-Schuster (ribs) did now practice Wednesday while Johnson returned to work on a limited basis. Linebackers T.J. Watt (groin) and Alex Highsmith (groin) were scheduled to practice this week as well.

I'll have more on Smith-Schuster and Johnson via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Ben Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph, Dwayne Haskins
RBs: Najee Harris, Benny Snell, Kalen Ballage, Anthony McFarland Jr.
WRs: Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, James Washington, Cody White, Ray-Ray McCloud, JuJu Smith-Schuster
TEs: Pat Freiermuth, Zach Gentry, Eric Ebron

San Francisco 49ers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 September 2021

The mounting injuries at running back and cornerback finally caught up to the San Francisco 49ers in their last second-loss to the Green Bay Packers.

With four of their top five halfbacks sidelined with injuries and three key cornerbacks down, the Niners struggled to generate much on the ground or slow down Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams in a 30-28 loss Sunday night.

As Associated Press sports writer Josh Dubow notes, some of those injury issues will linger for much longer, meaning the 49ers (2-1) will need to find some answers to solve those problems.

"There's too many times where we hurt ourselves just in some situational stuff," head coach Kyle Shanahan said Monday. "I thought we gave them too many opportunities and that's why we didn't have enough to overcome it at the end."

San Francisco lost starting cornerback Jason Verrett to a season-ending knee injury and then lost Josh Norman (bruised lung) and K'Waun Williams (strained calf) in the first half against the Packers.

Those absences helped Rodgers throw for 261 yards, gain 81 more on three pass interference penalties and lead a frantic last-minute comeback with two long completions to Adams to set up Mason Crosby's winning kick.

The coverage issues negated the significant advantage the Niners had up front as Green Bay slowed down Nick Bosa with some chip blocks after he dominated two games in the 2019 season and Rodgers got rid of the ball in a lightning quick average of 2.04 seconds per drop back, according to Pro Football Focus.

"I think that they definitely didn't want it to go like it did in 2019," Bosa said. "They made adjustments and didn't give us as many opportunities. But when we did have opportunities, we just didn't capitalize."

The running game also didn't get going, finishing with 67 yards on 21 carries. With Raheem Mostert out for the season, Jeff Wilson Jr. on the physically unable to perform list, JaMycal Hasty on injured reserve and Elijah Mitchell out with a shoulder injury, Shanahan had confidence in only one halfback -- and Trey Sermon wasn't all that impressive.

Two quarters after Trey Lance recorded his first-career rushing score, the same went for his draft mate in the San Francisco 49ers Week 3 matchup against the Green Bay Packers. After a scary, and unfortunate start to his NFL career in Week 2, Sermon returned to the field after being placed in concussion protocol and led the 49ers backfield in his primetime debut.

Taking charge as San Francisco's lead, and lone back, on 1st-and-1 at the goal line, Sermon took the handoff and hit a hole created by Kyle Juszczyk and Daniel Brunskill for the score.

But the touchdown aside, Sermon finished the night with 34 yards from scrimmage and struggled to make tacklers miss.

The team promoted Kerryon Johnson to the active roster on Saturday, however the veteran running back did not see any carries on the day and Juszczyk, the fullback, was second on the team in carries. The Niners finished with 67 yards on 21 carries, and offense was hard to come by for most of the night because of the lack of a running game.

Mitchell should be back soon, but ESPN.com's Nick Wagoner contends the Niners are going to have to figure it out with what they have until Jeff Wilson Jr. returns midseason.

Meanwhile, Trenton Cannon provided a spark with a 68-yard kickoff return that set up San Francisco's first score late in the second quarter. Punter Mitch Wishnowsky had another big day, averaging 53.3 yards on his four punts with three downed inside the 20. Wishnowsky has had a league-best 72.7 percent of his punts end inside the 20.

Also worth noting, after getting no targets in the opener and just two in the second game, Brandon Aiyuk took on a much bigger role Sunday. While his numbers weren't big with four catches for 37 yards, an 8-yard carry and one TD, it's a good sign that the second-year player will return to the form he had as a rookie last year.

But for the second straight game the Niners were outgained by more than 100 yards in the first quarter. After mistakes by the Eagles kept the game close and San Francisco only trailed 3-0 before getting going two weeks ago, the Niners got into a 17-0 hole against the Packers. San Francisco has been outgained by a league-worst 262 yards in the first quarter and has scored just once.

"We've got to take a long, long look in the mirror as an offense and just what we could do better, how we could start faster," quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo said. "There was just one mistake here, one mistake there by guys, starting with myself, and if we eliminate just half of those, it'll lead to better football early and we won't have to play from behind the eight ball like we were tonight."

Wagoner believes if the 49ers want to contend in the NFC, Trey Lance has to be more involved.

That doesn't mean it's time to panic and have him replace Garoppolo.

Garoppolo deserves credit for putting together the late drive to give the Niners a temporary lead (and so do George Kittle, Deebo Samuel and Juszczyk). It just means they need to find creative ways to get Lance in the game plan and take advantage of his unique skill set. Lance's running ability and arm strength elevate the ceiling of an offense that simply has lacked dynamic plays the past couple of weeks, save for the final moments of Sunday's contest.

Lance gives the 49ers more ways to rip off yards in chunks, especially in their ailing running game.

We'll see if Shanahan agrees going forwards, starting this weekend when San Francisco hosts Seattle on Sunday in its first division matchup of the season. ...

Also of interest. ... Kittle saw the most action, stat-wise, in Sunday night's contest against the Packers, posting a season-high 92 yards on seven receptions, including a crucial third down conversion that set San Francisco up with their first lead of the game late in the fourth quarter.

Of Kittle's 92 receiving yards, 60 came after the catch. ...

On the injury front. ... Both K'Waun Williams and Josh Norman exited Sunday's matchup and did not return. According to Shanahan, Williams is expected to miss "a few weeks" with a calf strain. Norman took a helmet to the chest which sidelined him for the remainder of the contest. The veteran did go to the hospital following Sunday's contest, where it was deemed the corner suffered a lung contusion.

Other injuries from the game, Kittle is working through calf soreness and is considered "day-to-day." Kittle was not on the practice field Wednesday. Arik Armstead (adductor) and Javon Kinlaw (knee) will likely be limited in practice heading into Sunday's contest against the Seattle Seahawks, as the team continues to manage the two throughout the week.

I'll have more on Kittle and Mitchell, who was limited Wednesday, via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Jimmy Garoppolo, Trey Lance
RBs: Elijah Mitchell, Jeff Wilson, Trey Sermon, Trenton Cannon, JaMycal Hasty, Raheem Mostert
WRs: Brandon Aiyuk, Trent Sherfield, Jauan Jennings, Mohamed Sanu, Deebo Samuel
TEs: George Kittle, Ross Dwelley, Tanner Hudson, Charlie Woerner

Seattle Seahawks

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 September 2021

According to ESPN.com's Brady Henderson, there are several questions coming out of Sunday's loss that the Seattle Seahawks would prefer to not have to answer.

Can they rebound from consecutive defeats and keep their 1-2 start from spiraling into a 1-4 hole with critical NFC West matchups against the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams over the next 11 days?

Most important among those questions, Henderson contends, is "What in the names of Shane Waldron and Russell Wilson has been the issue with Seattle's offense after halftime?"

As bad as Seattle's defense was in a 30-17 loss to the Minnesota Vikings, the Seahawks didn't score a point over the final 41-plus minutes, continuing a bizarre trend of their offense slumping -- if not disappearing entirely -- following strong starts.

"We were really on it the way we needed to be," head coach Pete Carroll said. "Just missed our chances, and then all of a sudden, the game gets away."

That was the case in their season-opening win over the Indianapolis Colts (21 points in the first half, seven in the second), last week in their overtime loss to the Tennessee Titans (24 points in the first half, six in the second and OT) and again Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium, where they were shut out after jumping out to a 17-7 lead early in the second quarter.

"It starts with everybody winning their matchups," tight end Gerald Everett said. "We have to treat every drive. ... The same. We were moving the ball pretty effectively in the first half. But the Vikings made some halftime adjustments, and then we just stalled a bit. So, we will go back to the drawing board tomorrow."

Asked about their lack of offense in the second half, Wilson (23-of-32 passing, 298 yards, one touchdown) pointed to their limited time of possession as a factor. Minnesota opened up the third quarter with a 16-play drive that kept the Seahawks from getting the ball until the 6½-minute mark, and they only had three possessions after that.

That also was an issue in the first two games. The Seahawks have averaged only 10:21 of possession in the second half and overtime this season, according to ESPN Stats and Information research. According to Henderson, that's partly a product of their defense not getting off the field and partly a product of their offense not sustaining drives.

Among the missed chances in the fourth quarter on Sunday were a rushed Wilson overthrow to an open Freddie Swain on third-and-7 and a fourth-down heave into the end zone that fell incomplete to Penny Hart, when officials might have missed pass interference.

So while their offense isn't entirely to blame, the Seahawks have scored a league-low 13 points after halftime through three games and not a single point in the third quarter. Conversely, their 62 first-half points are the most of any team, per ESPN Stats and Info data.

Henderson points out it's a 180 from so many recent seasons, when the Seahawks' offense would routinely slog its way through the starts of games then eventually catch fire, even if didn't happen until Wilson worked his magic at the end.

No one expected their offense to be perfect early this season. How could it be when they're breaking in a mostly new scheme under a first-time coordinator in Waldron and after they sat most of their starters in a shortened preseason? There figured to be growing pains, just not exactly like this.

They obviously have the quarterback in Wilson. He looked flawless on Seattle's opening drive (4-of-5, 60 yards, touchdown), and he has begun the season with seven TDs and no interceptions.

They have more than enough weapons in the passing game. After Tyler Lockett got off to the best two-game start of any receiver in Seahawks history, DK Metcalf took his turn against Minnesota (six catches, 107 yards, TD). Lockett, meanwhile, appears to have escaped a serious injury, returning after twisting his knee. Everett and Will Dissly (who combined for 93 receiving yards on Sunday) are a formidable duo at tight end.

And while they could have used more from their run game against Tennessee to salt away their second-half lead, Chris Carson is good enough to again threaten 1,000 yards, if he can stay on the field. Carson had 74 yards rushing on 10 carries and a 30-yard touchdown run in the first half. The score put Seattle ahead 17-7.

Next up, the Seahawks will play the 49ers (2-1) at Levi's Stadium on Sunday, then they face another tough defense when they host the Rams (3-0) four days later on Thursday Night Football. With the Arizona Cardinals (3-0) also off to a fast start, this feels like an early-season crossroads.

"I just think that we got to stay the course," Wilson said. "We got a challenge ahead of us, and that's really where our head is at."

On the injury front. ... Beyond Lockett, signs point to rookie receiver D'Wayne Eskridge returning after missing the past two games with a concussion.

"He got a really good report coming out of the work he got done over the weekend," Carroll said. "We'll see, we haven't seen him out here running around, but he feels really good and is excited about getting back."

Carroll said it's too soon to know if right tackle Brandon Shell (ankle), running back Rashaad Penny (calf) or linebacker Benson Mayowa (neck) will be back this week.

"Really, we don't know yet on those guys," he said. "We'll wait until Wednesday and know more on all three of those guys."

The Seahawks also could be getting some players back from injured reserve soon, with cornerback Tre Brown, tight end Colby Parkinson, tackle Cedric Ogbuehi all eligible to return as soon as this week. Even if they're not ready for game action right away, they could return to practice without immediately being added to the 53-man roster.

But one late-breaking issue on Wednesday. ... The Seahawks placed tight end Gerald Everett on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. I'll have more on his status via Late-Breaking Update early Thursday.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Russell Wilson, Geno Smith, Jake Luton
RBs: Alex Collins, DeeJay Dallas, Rashaad Penny, Travis Homer, Chris Carson
WRs: DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, Freddie Swain, Penny Hart, D'Wayne Eskridge
TEs: Gerald Everett, Will Dissly, Colby Parkinson

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 September 2021

Tom Brady has been playing for two decades, which makes it difficult to do things he's never done before.

But that's what happened on Sunday in Tampa Bay's 34-24 loss to the Rams.

Brady didn't have a bad statistical day for his first time playing in Los Angeles. Despite playing without receiver Antonio Brown, who's on the COVID-19 list, he finished 41-of-55 passing for 432 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions. And he also had a QB sneak go for a 1-yard score. But that was not enough for the Bucs in the 10-point loss.

And that's part of what is so interesting. As Jenna Laine of ESPN pointed out, this is the first time in Brady's regular-season career -- one that spans 304 games -- that he's thrown for at least 400 yards, no interceptions, and lost.

Brady, who has 10 touchdown passes so far this season, had previously thrown for at least 400 yards in 10 regular-season games -- half of which had no interceptions. It was the first time he'd thrown for 400 in a regular-season game with the Buccaneers. He got close with 399 yards in last year's Week 17 victory over Atlanta. But the last time Brady there for 400 yards in a regular-season game was in a Week 2 Patriots victory win over the Saints in 2017.

"Anytime you come up short, it's disappointing," Brady said after the game, adding that The Bucs "have to be better on offense."

Meanwhile, when Brady scrambles three times and is your leading rusher, the running game clearly is not working the way it should.

According to Associated Press sports writer Fred Goodall, that's just one of the things the defending Super Bowl champions need to fix after losing for the first time this season.

Brady ran for a team-high 14 yards and one touchdown as the Bucs were limited to just 35 yards on the ground in Los Angeles.

The 44-year-old quarterback continues to close in on becoming the NFL's career passing yardage leader, however head coach Bruce Arians acknowledges he's concerned the absence of a productive rushing attack is forcing Tampa Bay to rely too much on throwing the ball.

Brady is averaging 47 pass attempts per game through the first three weeks of the season. He threw 55 times against the Rams, was sacked three times, and hit on five other occasions.

Running backs Ronald Jones II and Leonard Fournette, meanwhile, were held to a combined 19 yards on nine carries.

Jones rushed for 11 yards on five carries, while Fournette finished with 8 yards on four attempts.

Overall, the Bucs are averaging 3.5 yards per carry and just 56.3 yards per game rushing.

"Our runners have got to run better and our blockers have got to block better when we are running it," Arians said.

"One thing, we have protected pretty well. We didn't handle a couple blitzes in that game, and we got beat in a blitz pickup," the coach added, "but overall we have to get more balanced, there's no doubt."

Arians said he's not contemplating lineup changes, that Fournette and Jones will continue to get most of the workload at running back.

Brady said Sunday that improvement is needed in the passing game, as well.

"I think we're all going to just really look hard to evaluate every part of what we're doing. ... All around (the) offense needs to be better," the seven-time Super Bowl champion said.

With the running game not going anywhere, Brady used third-down back Giovani Bernard heavily in the passing game against the Rams. The offseason acquisition who spent the first eight years of his career with the Cincinnati Bengals was targeted 10 times and finished with nine receptions for 51 yards.

This week, Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski return to New England to face the Patriots and coach Bill Belichick for the first time. Steel yourself; we're going to hear a lot about this angle. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Brady will return to New England on Sunday night and achieve an impressive accomplishment: He'll break the all-time NFL record for career passing yards.

Brady currently has 80,291 passing yards in his career, meaning he needs just 68 yards to break the all-time record of 80,358 yards, held by Drew Brees.

How unlikely is it that the Patriots will keep Brady from passing for 68 yards?

As Profootballtalk.com suggested, consider that in Brady's 347 career starts (302 regular season and 45 postseason), he has only finished with less than 68 yards once, and that was in a meaningless Week 17 game when the Patriots had already clinched their playoff seed and Brady only played briefly. Even in the game when Brady tore his ACL in 2008, he had 76 yards before his injury.

The career passing yardage record changed hands from Brett Favre to Peyton Manning in 2015 and from Manning to Brees in 2018, so with Brady poised to break it in 2021, it's been broken every three years. But once Brady breaks the record, he's going to own it for many, many years. Brady is showing no signs of slowing down, so he'll likely add many thousands of passing yards to the record, and no one else is particularly close: Ben Roethlisberger, who's second behind Brady among active players, is almost 20,000 yards behind Brady. And Roethlisberger doesn't look like he has 20,000 more yards left in him.

It's a record Brady will own for many years, and it's appropriate that he's breaking it in New England.

One the injury front. ... X-rays on Gronkowski's ribs were negative, sources tell ESPN's Adam Schefter. Gronkowski, who went to the locker room briefly before returning to finish Sunday's game, looks likely to play in Sunday night's return game to New England.

Bernard injured his knee on his fourth quarter touchdown catch against the Rams on Sunday. Arians said at his news conference Monday that Bernard still was being evaluated but seemed confident postgame that Bernard had avoided a major injury.

Indeed, Tom Pelissero of NFL Media reports Bernard is day to day with an MCL sprain.

Bernard played 33 offensive snaps, the most of his Bucs' career. It was seven more than Fournette and 21 more than Jones as the Bucs trailed for much of the game.

Bernard, 29, has 13 touches -- all receptions -- for 79 yards and one touchdown in three games with the team.

The news isn't as good for Scott Miller, who is expected to miss significant time with a toe injury.

Miller was placed on injured reserve on Wednesday to clear a roster spot for the signing of CB Richard Sherman.

Miller has played in all three games this season but has barely been involved in the offense, catching just two passes for 11 yards. Last season Miller emerged as an important part of the Bucs' passing game, catching 33 passes for 501 yards. Now he'll miss at least three games.

For the record. ... Gronkowski and Bernard were not practicing Wednesday while Arians told reportesr Brown will come off the COVID list Thursday.

I'll be watching for more on Gronk, Bernard and Brown in coming days; check the Late-Breaking Updates section for more as the week progresses.

As for Sherman. ... He visited the CB-needy Bucs on Tuesday after garnering interest from several clubs the past few weeks. In announcing his choice, Sherman mentioned he'd had conversations with the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks about potential reunions and had also received interest from the Carolina Panthers.

As NFL.com suggests, joining the Bucs makes perfect sense for Sherman, who can chase another Super Bowl ring alongside Brady, who actively recruited Sherman, the best veteran CB still remaining on the market.

Sherman has dealt with an ongoing legal situation this offseason, stemming from a July incident that led to his arrest on five misdemeanor charges -- including driving under the influence and second-degree criminal trespass -- after he crashed his SUV in a construction zone and later tried to force his way into a family member's home.

Since the arrest, Sherman has been in therapy and is reportedly in great shape, losing 15 pounds this offseason.

Sean Murphy-Bunting (elbow) went down early in Week 1. Jamel Dean hurt his knee in Week 3, and though the CB avoided a significant injury, he is expected to miss a couple of weeks. And Carlton Davis has been on the injury report with abdomen and rib issues.

In Sunday's loss to the Rams, the Bucs needed special teamer Dee Delaney (who'd played four total snaps on defense in his career) for 51 plays. So, yeah, calling Sherman an upgrade is an understatement.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Tom Brady, Blaine Gabbert, Kyle Trask
RBs: Leonard Fournette, Ronald Jones, Giovani Bernard, Ke'Shawn Vaughn
WRs: Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, Antonio Brown, Tyler Johnson, Jaelon Darden, Scott Miller, Breshad Perriman
TEs: Rob Gronkowski, O.J. Howard, Cameron Brate

Tennessee Titans

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 September 2021

As Associated Press sports writer Teresa M. Walker notes, the Tennessee Titans are 2-1 despite not making anything easy on themselves.

At all.

A week after going to overtime for a big win at Seattle, the Titans turned the ball over three times and yet found a way to win for the first time in that situation since October 2007. They can thank their defense for allowing only one touchdown off those mistakes in a 25-16 win over the Colts.

Coach Mike Vrabel made it pretty clear he wasn't happy. Not with the turnovers. Not with a defense that has only one takeaway through three games, back in a season opener that the Titans lost.

"It's hard to play that way," Vrabel said.

The Titans do have some momentum with back-to-back wins and a chance to fix some things over a two-game road swing against a pair of winless teams. They visit the Jets (0-3) on Sunday followed by a trip to Jacksonville (0-3).

Ryan Tannehill said they are going to face adversity every week. He said the key is finding a way to battle through and stick together helps.

"We have to continue to work at it and clean things up," Tannehill said. "If we can have that belief in each other and that confidence that we can fight through adversity, and the more times we actually do it on Sundays, it builds that confidence."

Cleaning things up in the passing attack will be more of a challenge with A.J. Brown ailing.

Brown left Sunday's win over the Colts after playing eight snaps because of a hamstring injury. Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that he's considered week-to-week at this point.

Head coach Mike Vrabel gave no hints on a timetable for Brown.

"I am confident that he'll do his best to get back out there and be the player and the person that we have come to expect," Vrabel said of Brown. "We all go through things throughout the course of a season, it is a long season. We all deal with a lot, and I am confident that everybody, including A.J., will be able to whether some of those storms."

Brown did not catch a pass before getting hurt on Sunday. He had seven catches for 92 yards and a touchdown in the first two weeks of the season.

The Titans also played without Julio Jones for most of the second half against the Colts. Vrabel said the team was only going to use him in an emergency because he was dealing with tightness and Brown's injury didn't change those plans.

Now Tennessee may be without Jones entirely in Week 4.

According to a report from NFL Media, Jones is receiving treatment on a leg injury and his status for this week’s game for the Jets is in question.

Jones had three catches for 47 yards on Sunday and has 12 catches for 204 yards overall this season.

Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, Chester Rogers, Cameron Batson, and Racey McMath were the other wideouts active on Sunday.

Still, Tannehill recorded his 24th career game with at least three touchdown passes and ninth such performance since taking over as the Titans starter in 2019. Against Indianapolis he connected for touchdowns with running back Jeremy McNichols and Westbrook-Ikhine and Rogers.

Derrick Henry rushed for 113 yards, his second consecutive 100-yard rushing game. He also contributed 31 receiving yards. In the past two games, he has 381 total yards (295 rushing, 86 receiving) on 72 scrimmage touches (63 rushing, nine receiving).

The reigning two-time rushing champion leads the NFL again in 2021 (through Sept. 26) with 353 rushing yards and 458 scrimmage yards. It's his best September ever.

Better still, the All-Pro has worked relentlessly to improve his pass-catching skills, and he already has 12 catches for 105 yards receiving through three games. He set a career high with 19 receptions last season with his career high in yards (206) in 2018.

The Titans can play keep-away, holding the ball an average of 33 minutes, 27 seconds per game. They also outgained Indy 368-265, which would've been higher if not for those turnovers -- two inside the Colts 20.

A defense much-maligned in 2020 with so many new starters also had its best game yet with a season low in points allowed. A unit last on third down conversions last season held the Colts to 3 of 12 (25 percent), and the Titans held Indianapolis to field goals twice when having first-and-goal inside the 10.

Next up, the Titans have a couple of must-win games in their two-game road swing. After they visit the Jets and Jaguars, they return home to host the Buffalo Bills (2-1) in prime time followed by Kansas City coming to Nashville on a short week.

On the injury front. ... Beyond Brown and Jones -- neither of whom practiced Wednesday, Anthony Firkser missed a second-straight game with a knee injury. I'll have more on all three players via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.

Also, the Titans put outside linebackers Rashad Weaver and Derick Roberson on injured reserve.

The Titans signed outside linebacker Sharif Finch to the practice squad Tuesday. Weaver and Roberson going on injured reserve leaves Tennessee with only Harold Landry III, Bud Dupree and Ola Adeniyi on the roster at outside linebacker. Dupree didn't play last week against the Colts, dressed as an emergency option.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Ryan Tannehill, Logan Woodside, Kevin Hogan
RBs: Jeremy McNichols, D'Onta Foreman, Dontrell Hilliard, Khari Blasingame, Darrynton Evans, Derrick Henry
WRs: Nick Westbrook_Ikhine, Chester Rogers, Dez Fitzpatrick, Racey McMath, Julio Jones, A.J. Brown, Cameron Batson
TEs: Geoff Swaim, MyCole Pruitt, Anthony Firkser

Washington Football Team

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 28 September 2021

Head coach Ron Rivera has taken a blunt approach in the days after Sunday's blowout loss to the Buffalo Bills. The Washington Football Team isn't playing to its abilities, he said, and it's clear something has to change.

Washington's woes don't come from a lack of trying, though.

The players want to win. Even when Buffalo was rolling up and down the field, Rivera saw noteworthy individual moments that backed up those claims. And while he doesn't want to fault them for giving effort, that approach is not what wins games. He wants them to understand that if they play as a unit, the moments they're trying to create will come to them.

"I think some of us are trying too hard to make something happen, and that's costing us," Rivera told reporters Monday afternoon. "And again, it's really just do your job, put yourself in position."

Given that, it's worth remembering one of the knocks against Alex Smith in his final NFL season with Washington were his inability to stretch the field and a propensity to play it safe.

Enter Taylor Heinicke, the gunslinger who played with reckless abandon when he started in place of Smith in the playoffs last season, and has resumed that since Ryan Fitzpatrick went down. Heinicke showed off his best and worst in Washington's blowout loss at Buffalo that was far more on the defense than him.

That doesn't mean the 28-year-old quarterback doesn't have some room to improve now that the starting job is his for the foreseeable future.

Heinicke threw for two touchdowns, ran for another and tossed two costly interceptions against the Bills. He's far from Smith in almost every way, but borrowing some of the retired QB's better tendencies could be the key to Heinicke growing with more NFL experience.

"I'd like to see him do things in more of a game manager way," Rivera said Monday. "Sometimes that is really just taking what's given to you. ... We'll live with the good decisions, the right decisions."

As Associated Press sports writer Stephen Whyno notes, with Washington at 1-2 and a visit to the Atlanta Falcons looming, Rivera would like to see Heinicke make more sure-thing passes and let teammates pick up first downs, rather than wait for a deep ball down the middle or make an ill-advised throw across his body.

There's of course the delicate balance of Heinicke being Heinicke, like diving for the end zone pylon. Making those kinds of all-out plays earned Heinicke respect among teammates in a near-upset of Tom Brady and the eventual Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the playoffs.

But this is not win or go home, and Heinicke must adapt to the situation of being the long-term guy for the first time since college.

"There's big plays to be had, but at the same time there's bad plays to be had," Heinicke said. "And I've just got to eliminate those."

Meanwhile, it doesn't feel like a whole lot right now, but the passing game has potential. Heinicke has developed chemistry with top receiver Terry McLaurin and tight end Logan Thomas, and that can only grow with time.

In addition, running back Antonio Gibson flashed with a 73-yard touchdown catch against Buffalo.

It was the kind of play that typified Rivera's hope Heinicke can let other offensive weapons make some plays.

Next up, the Football Team takes on the Falcons in Atlanta.

It would be great if they could find a way to fix the defense because Matt Ryan is still more than capable of exploiting weaknesses.

The question before the season: Will 2020 Defensive Rookie of the Year Chase Young become one of the NFL's top-five pass-rushers? Right now, the defensive end is nowhere close. Through three games he has no sacks, forced no turnovers and hasn't applied enough pressure.

So much more was expected from a player who was a No. 2 overall draft pick. Young has shown flashes, but this defense needs playmakers, and in the second half of last season, that's what Young became.

Teams pay a lot of attention to him as they did last season, but he needs to develop more of a strategy to become a consistent force. He's not the only issue, he's just the one with the most talent who can provide a big boost. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Receiver Curtis Samuel is eligible to come off injured reserve this week. He was scheduled to practice Wednesday after missing the first three games on IR because of a groin injury.

Rivera is taking a wait-and-see approach.

"We'll see how it goes on Wednesday," Rivera said, via Nicki Jhabvala of the Washington Post. "That's the thing we're pretty excited [about] as a group. The offensive coaches are pretty fired up to see exactly where he is. If he has a good day Wednesday, we'll progress and go forward."

Assuming he practices as scheduled Wednesday, the team will have a three-week window to add him to the active roster. His addition would be a plus for the offense, but the defensive improvement Washington needs will have to come from other sources.

I'll have more on that via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Taylor Heinicke, Kyle Allen, Ryan Fitzpatrick
RBs: Antonio Gibson, J.D. McKissic, Jaret Patterson
WRs: Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel, DeAndre Carter, Dyami Brown, Adam Humphries, Cam Sims
TEs: Logan Thomas, Ricky Seals-Jones, John Bates, Sammis Reyes