Team Notes week 10 2016
NEWS, NOTES, RUMORS AND OTHER GOOD STUFFDirectly 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. ...
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Arizona CardinalsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 November 2016
As ESPN.com's Josh Weinfuss framed it: "The feet. The hands. The toughness.
"All the traits that have turned Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson into one of the best pass-catching running backs since Marshall Faulk weren't developed on the Pop Warner fields of his hometown of Clinton, Iowa.
"They were made playing dodgeball in school gyms across Eastern Iowa. ..."
Johnson started playing the sport as a third grader, a few years before the Hollywood movie brought the childhood game back into the consciousness of adults. He was part of a school team until he was in eighth grade that had two rules: Don't cry or pout, and head shots were fair game.
"That's where I learned a little bit of toughness," Johnson said.
But there were other lessons.
It taught Johnson how to follow balls in flight, duck away from incoming throws and hold the ball strongly in his hands. Johnson became so good at dodgeball his teammates bestowed a nickname on him: Glue Hands.
"It really helped my hand-eye coordination being able to track the ball in dodgeball, which helped me being able to track the football," Johnson said. "I think it really did help me in catching."
Halfway through the season (heading into the bye week), Johnson led all running backs in receiving with 35 receptions for 407 yards. When quarterback Carson Palmer watches Johnson catch passes, Johnson's receiving background is evident.
"His hands. His body control. Everything he does in the receiving game. The way he runs his routes," Palmer said. "He runs his routes, whether it be a double move or a post, his rhythm and his footwork is in line with what we do with our receivers. Everything he does in the pass game looks receiver-like."
Having that knowledge and experience made Johnson's adjustment to being a pass catcher in the NFL "comfortable." He wasn't confused by the terminology, footwork or route combinations thrown at him earlier in his career.
"It wasn't tough for me," Johnson, a converted college wideout, said. "I think that's where I think it helped out that I played it in college."
As good as Johnson has been -- and he has been Pro Bowl good -- the overall numbers haven't been there this season for the Cardinals midway through the season.
There have been some concerns that Johnson's workload might be a bit too taxing and that his body will start to break down toward the end of the season.
If that happens, the Cardinals could be in a real world of hurt. Andre Ellington has been used very infrequently, is an injury risk himself, and the Cardinals had to play veteran Chris Johnson on injured reserve earlier in the year.
It has yet to be determined if he or safety Tyvon Branch will be activated off IR once both players are eligible.
Meanwhile, as the Sports Xchange suggests, Palmer hasn't been awful, but he hasn't been nearly as sharp or as dangerous as he was a year ago when he set multiple career highs and franchise records and was an MVP candidate. What's missing the most in the Cardinals' passing game is the lack of production on long pass plays.
Palmer spent much of the first half of the season underthrowing his targets.
Their timing was off. It didn't help that No. 2 man Michael Floyd had a disastrous first half, highlighted by dropped balls. Larry Fitzgerald is having another Pro-Bowl season and it has helped tremendously that Johnson has contributed as many positive yards in the passing game as he has.
The development of receiver J.J. Nelson has been encouraging, as he has climbed up the depth chart at lightning speed in recent weeks. Injuries to Jaron Brown (torn ACL) and John Brown (muscle fatigue because of sickle-cell trait), however, not to mention IR designations of tight ends Troy Niklas and Ifeanyi Momah to season-ending wrist injuries have cut into one of the biggest depth strengths among all positions.
Nelson's snaps were going to increase when Jaron Brown was lost for the season with an ACL injury, but Nelson has found a niche in the Cardinals' offense during the past few weeks. The Cardinals will continue to trust Nelson if he continues to show up for Palmer and play at a consistent level.
Palmer, with 363 passing yards in the loss to Carolina, now has 19 career, 300-yard passing games for the Cardinals. That ties him with Neil Lomax for the second-most such games in Cardinals history. What took Lomax 108 games to achieve, however, took Palmer just 45 games. Kurt Warner has the most career 300-yard passing games in team history (22), which he accomplished in 61 games with Arizona.
Fitzgerald, despite playing with a sprained ankle, caught a game-high 10 passes for 74 yards in Week 8 and with his seventh of the game, he surpassed Reggie Wayne (1,070) for seventh place on the NFL's career receptions list. Fitzgerald, 33, now has 1,074 career catches. With five more, he will also surpass Terrell Owens for sixth place all time.
Fitzgerald was a limted participant in Wednesday's practice. Arians said tight end Darren Fells (ankle) is ahead of schedule in his return from injury. There was no official injury report because Tuesday's workout was a bonus practice due to the bye week.
I'll have more via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses.
QBs: Drew Stanton, Mike Glennon, Sam Bradford
RBs: Elijhaa Penny
WRs: Larry Fitzgerald, J.J. Nelson, Brice Butler, Chad Williams
TEs: Jermaine Gresham, Ricky Seals-Jones
Atlanta FalconsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 November 2016
As ESPN.com's Vaughn McClure notes Matt Ryan just keeps bettering his credentials.
Ryan was 25-of-34 for 344 yards and four touchdowns Thursday night as the Falcons' offense continued its dominant ways in a 43-28 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week for his performance.
The Falcons have scored at least 43 points three times this season. The rest of the NFL has combined for three such games. This also marked the second time this season that the Falcons scored at least 40 points on the road. The only other team with a 40-point road game is the New England Patriots.
Ryan's four touchdown passes matched a career high. It's the sixth time in his career he's thrown that many in a game. This was Ryan's fifth game with at least three touchdown passes this year. He's yet to throw multiple interceptions in a game. At this point last year, he had no three-touchdown games and three games with multiple interceptions.
Ryan now has 3,133 career completions, passing Peyton Manning for the most by a player in his first nine seasons. Eight completions on Thursday night went to Julio Jones for 111 yards. Jones has 33 100-yard games, matching Calvin Johnson for the most in the NFL since 2011, the year of Jones' debut. In one stretch, Ryan completed 16 of 17 passes for 199 yards and two touchdowns. Jones caught seven passes in that time.
Jones recorded his fifth receiving touchdown of the season.
Ryan completed 12 passes thrown at least 10 yards past the line of scrimmage on Thursday, tied for the second most in a game in his career. He was 13-of-17 on passes (77 percent) thrown fewer than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage and 12-of-17 (71 percent) on passes at least 10 yards downfield. He was 4-of-11 on passes 10 yards or longer against the Buccaneers in Week 1, his worst completion percentage on those passes this season.
The most vulnerable area of the field for Ryan's vertical passing was over the middle, as nine of his 12 completions 10 or more yards downfield came between the painted field numbers. That's tied for the most such completions in a game this season (Andrew Luck against the Carolina Panthers).
Ryan has owned the middle of the field this season.
Ryan led the NFL in passing yards and passing touchdowns between the painted field numbers before adding 263 yards and two touchdowns on such passes Thursday.
Meanwhile, Ryan was genuinely upset that the offense stalled and didn't score touchdowns after the defense forced two turnovers against the Bucs.
"We had some opportunities early to come away with more points than we did and so from that standpoint it is a little disappointing," Ryan said. "You need to capitalize, especially when your defense gives you a short field opportunity.
"I think we had two of those. We came away with field goals I think both times. We've got to be better than that offensively."
That's the type of tenacity that the Falcons will take with them to Philadelphia to face the Eagles.
Other notes of interest. ... Atlanta's tight ends continue to turn in some solid play. With Jacob Tamme out with a shoulder injury, Ryan tossed touchdown passes to Levine Toilolo and rookie Austin Hooper.
"I think at different times we have had a lot of different people step up," Ryan said. "I thought our tight end play was really good, both in the run game and pass game (against Tampa)."
Toilolo's two receiving touchdowns of 30-plus yards this season are tied with the New England Patriots' Rob Gronkowski for the most 30-yard receiving touchdowns by a tight end this season. That touchdown was also his sixth career touchdown, and it ties a single-season career high (two). Hooper is now fourth on the team's receiving yardage list this season.
For the second consecutive week, speedy wide receiver Taylor Gabriel had a touchdown for the Falcons. In Week 8, it was on a deep reception downfield. Last Thursday against the Buccaneers, it was a 9-yard jet sweep.
According to McClure, Gabriel, who was discarded by the Browns but then claimed by the Falcons before the season, might be a fantasy steal. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan will continue to find ways to utilize his blazing speed, so expect Gabriel to get some scoring opportunities in the coming weeks -- especially if fellow speedster Tevin Coleman remain sidelined by a hamstring strain.
Full back Patrick DiMarco recorded his first touchdown of the season. That touchdown was the fifth receiving touchdown of his career.
Devonta Freeman churned out 77 yards on 17 carries for a strong 4.5 yards-per-carry average. The dependable Terron Ward had eight rushes for 30 yards and Stevan Ridley made his debut for the Falcons with three carries for seven yards. Overall, the Falcons rushed 34 times for 136 yards and averaged 4.0 yards per carry.
The Bucs held Atlanta's running backs to 42 yards on 19 carries in the season-opening loss. With the running game as a threat, Ryan was able to used play-action to find his wide open receivers in the second half. ...
On the injury front. ... The Falcons were back at practice Monday. CB Desmond Trufant (shoulder) is considered day-to-day. Tamme and Coleman were not practicing Wednesday (although they did some light work on the side Monday). ... I'll have more on Coleman and Tamme as the week progresses. ...
And finally. ... General manager Thomas Dimitroff has signed a three-year contract extension with the Falcons. The team announced the extension on Monday but financial terms were not disclosed.
Falcons' owner Arthur Blank has been pleased with Dimitroff's work with coach Dan Quinn. Blank gave Quinn the final say in personnel matters when he hired Quinn in February 2015.
Dimitroff, 50, has served as Atlanta's general manager since 2008 and has helped oversee the franchise's resurgence during the past nine years.
QBs: Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub, Matt Simms
RBs: Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman, Terron Ward
WRs: Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Justin Hardy, Nick Williams
TEs: Austin Hooper, Eric Saubert, Logan Paulsen
Baltimore RavensCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 November 2016
How dominant was the Ravens' defense in Sunday's win over Pittsburgh? The Steelers didn't cross midfield or score their first points until the fourth quarter. Baltimore continually frustrated a less-than-full-strength Ben Roethlisberger, holding Pittsburgh to 277 total yards and 4-for-16 on third downs.
How clutch were the Ravens' special teams? Baltimore received two long field goals (49 and 42 yards) from kicker Justin Tucker on a windy day as well as a blocked punt that was returned by rookie Chris Moore for a touchdown in the 21-14 win.
How awful was Baltimore's offense? The Ravens and an inaccurate Flacco managed one touchdown, a 95-yard catch by Mike Wallace in the first quarter that represented more than one-third of their total yards. This resembled the days of Trent Dilfer and Kyle Boller, when Baltimore won in spite of its offense.
As ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley suggested, this is how you have to win when the Ravens' offense gets 42 yards and two first downs in the second half.
"There's a reason though why we're top five in NFL in different categories," safety Eric Weddle said of the defense. "We limit the run, we limit big plays. We have to continue to do that the rest of the way."
But the Ravens had very little time to enjoy a victory over the Steelers, one that lifted them into first place in the AFC North.
Head coach John Harbaugh gathered the team for meetings and a practice session Monday, less than 24 hours after Baltimore ended a four-game losing streak by defeating its division rivals 21-14.
Next up: a home game against winless Cleveland on Thursday night. Even though the Ravens waited more than a month to secure their fourth win, they knew there would be nothing to gain by lingering in the moment.
Harbaugh and his coaching staff began preparing for Cleveland at the same time they were poring over film of the Steelers.
A misstep against the Browns (0-9) would nullify that win over Pittsburgh in much the same fashion that the 0-4 stretch offset the 3-0 start.
Playing with three days rest has become commonplace for NFL teams, but that doesn't make it any easier.
"The game planning is certainly a challenge, but you just do it. Both teams are on the same boat," Harbaugh said. "The physical part of it is different, too. The recovery curve is shorter, so you adjust what you do."
"It's the thing we do," he said. "One game down, next one's up. We've got to get our body right, come out Thursday and play our game."
Other notes of interest. ... No one on the Steelers could run down Wallace on his 95-yard touchdown, which was the longest play from scrimmage in the Ravens' regular-season history.
But not eating before the game quickly caught up to Wallace.
He didn't play for the rest of the first half because he didn't feel well. After becoming the first player in NFL history to produce a 95-yard touchdown for two different teams, Wallace was surrounded by trainers and doctors before heading to the locker room.
Wallace later explained he was not sidelined by an injury but by the effects of not having breakfast that morning. He didn't have much of an appetite leading up to the game against his former team.
"Honestly, I think every time I ever made a big play, I always use so much emotion that I get a little light-headed, but I always come right back for the next series and be fine," Wallace said. "But [Sunday], it just set in on me a little bit. Just had to calm down, got a banana, a little water, and I was ready to go."
Wallace returned after halftime and made two catches for 19 yards. His biggest impact came toward the end of the first quarter when Wallace had a feeling he would produce a big play right away.
Steelers cornerback Artie Burns, the team's first-round pick, lined up in press, man-to-man coverage. Wallace thought that was disrespectful for a player with his speed.
"I'm a guy, who, I feel like if you press me, you're going to lose 90 percent of the time, maybe 95," Wallace said.
Smith was not included on the team's initial injury report for Thursday night's game.
Dennis Pitta also played on 81 percent of the snaps but only saw three targets go his way.
As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich noted, everything lined up for Terrance West to produce big numbers heading into Week 9, but things just didn't pan out. The whispers of rookie Kenneth Dixon being more involved were more than just whispers too, as he had a season-high nine carries on the day although he was not very effective.
Dixon also left the game early with what was reported as a chest contusion, but he practiced fully on Monday. Still he's listed as questionable for for Thursday night.
I'll have more on Dixon's status via Late-Breaking Update before Thursday night's kickoff, but West, Dixon (assuming he's available) and the rest of the Ravens backfield should have an easier time scoring against the Browns in Baltimore. ...
Tight end Crockett Gillmore (thigh) has been ruled out for a second-straight week. ...
Flacco avoided a serious injury when he jammed his surgically repaired left knee on an awkward slide in the third quarter against Pittsburgh.
Flacco ran directly into the locker room and was able to return. A brace that he wears on his left knee had to be replaced.
"The brace got caught when I went down on it," Flacco said. "I was just trying to do my little slide, pop-up. The brace got caught and totally bent out. I knew the trainers had another one, so I was just trying to get that on as soon as possible."
Flacco completed 18 of 30 passes for 241 yards with a touchdown and interception.
QBs: Joe Flacco, Ryan Mallett, Dustin Vaughan, Robert Griffin III
RBs: Terrance West, Javorius Allen
WRs: Michael Crabtree, John Brown, Breshad Perriman, Chris Moore, Kenny Bell
TEs: Maxx Williams, Nick Boyle, Gavin Escobar
Buffalo BillsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 November 2016
Head coach Rex Ryan might have called it a must-win game for the Bills, but despite his team's 31-25 loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Monday night, ESPN.com's Mike Rodak reports the Bills' season is not over -- although it's close.
The Bills (4-5) have a steep climb over their final seven games to avoid their 17th consecutive season out of the postseason. They've fallen to 12th place in the AFC playoff standings, and with a 1-4 conference record, they will have a tough time winning tiebreakers for a wild-card playoff berth.
Realistically, Buffalo must win six of its remaining seven games (and finish with a 10-6 record) to have a strong shot at earning a playoff spot. More than likely, a 9-7 record would send the Bills to their couches after their regular-season finale on Jan. 1.
Despite the Bills' grim chances, Monday night's loss should help Ryan's chances of remaining the Bills' coach in 2017. Playing in front of a stadium-record crowd at CenturyLink Field, his team showed fortitude in one of the NFL's toughest environments, taking the game down to a final drive in the fourth quarter, only to be foiled on a fourth-down incompletion by Tyrod Taylor in the red zone.
Against the NFL's sixth-ranked defense in terms of yards and the best defense in terms of points allowed, the Bills' offense topped 400 total yards, converted 12 of 17 third downs and totaled 30 first downs. Wide receiver Robert Woods set a career high with 162 receiving yards, running back LeSean McCoy bounced back from a hamstring injury to gain 120 total yards, and Taylor added another rushing touchdown.
The offense wasn't the Bills' problem Monday night. Instead, it was Ryan's defense, particularly his secondary. Second-year cornerback Ronald Darby, who finished second in voting for the Associated Press' defensive rookie of the year award last season, was benched in the second quarter after allowing a 50-yard completion to Doug Baldwin and making other mistakes. The move did little to slow Seahawks QB Russell Wilson, whose connection with tight end Jimmy Graham proved too much for Buffalo's defense to handle.
The Bills rightfully should be livid about officials not calling Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman for unnecessary roughness in a bizarre sequence at the end of the first half that resulted in a missed 54-yard field goal attempt by Dan Carpenter, but that wouldn't have changed the defense's struggles.
Ryan, touted as one of the league's brightest defensive minds, must now use the bye week to figure out what's wrong with his defense.
After allowing 214 rushing yards to Miami's Jay Ajayi in a Week 7 loss, and four touchdowns to New England's Tom Brady in a Week 8 loss, Ryan will need to find answers quickly as to why Wilson shredded Buffalo's secondary with such ease. ...
Other issues. ... The Bills lost center Eric Wood for the rest of the season with a broken leg, a crushing blow to the middle of the offensive line.
Wood is one of the NFL's best centers, though he rarely gets much attention, mainly because he plays for a team that doesn't make the playoffs. He is the anchor in the middle, makes all the line calls, and will be very difficult to replace. The job now falls to either Ryan Groy or Patrick Lewis, a free agent pickup just before the season who hasn't played yet for the Bills.
On the positive side of this loss, Taylor played one of his best games as a member of the Bills. He completed 27 of 38 passes for 289 yards, threw a touchdown pass to Justin Hunter, and his lone interception -- his first in 190 pass attempts -- came about due to a miscommunication on a route and no one was near the vicinity of where Richard Sherman eventually made the pick.
"I was confident throughout the whole game, and I think we were as an offense," Taylor said. "We played it that way. We just didn't put enough points up on the board to win the game. That's a really good team. I think we did a lot of good things against that secondary and the front seven."
Wide receiver Percy Harvin played his first game in more than a year, just five days after he came out of retirement to rejoin the Bills. He was on the field for 21 plays, and was not targeted in the passing game.
"I felt pretty good, body feels good," he said. "Like I said, my body has been responding the past week and up to this game. Maybe not the top, top football shape, but I was able to go some plays back-to-back. I definitely wasn't in terrible shape, but like I said, conditioning can always be better."
The Bills will surely use their bye week to get Harvin more acclimated with the nuances of the offense, and the more he practices the more he will regain some of his football shape.
QBs: AJ McCarron, Nathan Peterman
RBs: LeSean McCoy, Chris Ivory, Mike Tolbert, Joe Banyard, Taiwan Jones
WRs: Kelvin Benjamin, Zay Jones, Andre Holmes, Corey Brown, Brandon Tate
TEs: Charles Clay, Nick O'Leary, Logan Thomas
Carolina PanthersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 November 2016
Cam Newton didn't draw a roughing the passer penalty a week after complaining he wasn't getting treated fairly in the pocket, but he got roughed up.
Newton took what appeared to be two shots to the helmet on sacks -- one by Rams safety Mark Barron and another by defensive tackle Aaron Donald. Neither was called for roughing the passer, so Newton's streak of not having that penalty enforced on the defense since 2014 remains intact.
Head coach Ron Rivera said the conversations he and Newton had separately with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell last week about the league MVP not getting treated fairly in the pocket wasn't a waste of time.
Rivera actually defended the officiating Sunday, taking a softer tone on his concerns than a week ago.
"It's tough," Rivera said Monday. "It's tough for them to judge things as they happen at full speed and from the angles [and] all that kind of stuff. But there was one of concern, and we'll send it and see what the league has to say and we'll go from there.
"Other than that, I thought they handled it very well. ... So just one of concern, and we'll talk about if they agree or disagree. But for the most part that's just the nature of the game."
Rivera would not comment on which hit he sent to the league.
"I'll leave it at that and discuss it with the league," he said.
According to ESPN.com's David Newton, if the NFL MVP had anything to complain about in Sunday's 13-10 victory over the Los Angeles Rams, it was the lack of protection from his offensive line that had given up only four sacks over his past three starts.
With Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil out with a shoulder injury, Cam Newton was sacked five times and pressured countless others. Much of the pressure came up the middle, where Gino Gradkowski started for Kalil.
Even when Newton had solid protection, he wasn't particularly sharp, perhaps more concerned about whether the protection would hold up. He finished 20-for-32 for 225 yards and one touchdown.
The lack of a running game for over three quarters didn't help, either.
David Newton went on to note the Panthers rely on balance to keep the pressure off Cam Newton. That only happened on a couple of drives, as the rushing attack that averages 123 yards a game accounted for only nine yards through three quarters on Sunday and 60 for the game.
But Carolina survived on the afternoon at Memorial Coliseum, and that was a positive for a team desperate for wins, no matter how they come.
That the Rams were as anemic on offensive as Carolina helped the Panthers' cause. The Rams missed a field goal and had a would-be touchdown pass dropped, just to name a few of their blunders.
Win those, get to 5-5 and the Panthers maybe can begin thinking about getting in the playoff race. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Newton has gone consecutive games without an interception for the first time since the end of the 2015 regular season.
It might also be worth pointing out that Newton went on a tear in the second half of last season. He threw 21 of his career-best 35 touchdowns in the final eight games and had only one interception. He also rushed for five touchdowns during that span. If he can repeat that success in the second half this season, the Panthers will be a team few will want to play down the stretch. ...
Week 9 was the fourth-straight game in which Kelvin Benjamin has hit at least 70 receiving yards. ... Devin Funchess reeled in one of his five targets for 28 yards on Sunday. He's caught just 11 of his 28 targets this season.
The Panthers were held to 59 rushing yards in a rare game where they found little room to run. It was just their fourth win in the Rivera/Newton era when rushing for fewer than 100 yards. Jonathan Stewart "led" the way with 42 yards on 15 carries.
QBs: Cam Newton, Derek Anderson
RBs: Christian McCaffrey, Fozzy Whittaker, Cameron Artis-Payne
WRs: Devin Funchess, Russell Shepard, Torrey Smith, Brenton Bersin
TEs: Greg Olsen
Chicago BearsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 November 2016
Not even Jordan Howard anticipated the heavy workload he received in Monday night's 20-10 win over Minnesota.
The debate heading into Week 8 centered on how the Chicago Bears would divvy up playing time in the backfield between Howard, Ka'Deem Carey and Jeremy Langford, who returned from a high-ankle sprain after missing a month.
All of the pregame chatter proved meaningless.
Howard played 50 snaps on offense (82 percent), while Carey (six) and Langford (five) combined for just 11 reps.
"I definitely didn't think they were going to lean on me that often," Howard said. "But I guess I started with the hot hand, and they just stuck with me."
Howard rewarded the Bears' faith with 202 all-purpose yards and a touchdown.
"I didn't really know how we were going to go this game, with just having Jeremy back and just having three running backs," Howard said. "Coach told me that I was going to be starting and that this is my type of game and he told me to attack it. I rolled with it."
Bears running backs coach Stan Drayton said Howard earned the extra reps because of his attention to detail, which Drayton observed from the sidelines.
"It was a matter of him showing patience to allow plays to develop," Drayton said. "The conversations we had in between series on the sidelines -- the things he was seeing and the things he was telling me -- told me all that I needed to know that this kid was wired in right and ready for the moment."
At the midway point of their season, Howard leads the Bears with 505 rushing yards on 99 carries (5.1 yards per carry). An added bonus, Howard can catch the ball out of the backfield, and is sixth on the club with 18 receptions for 177 yards.
Not only is Howard tough, but he's fast, running for a 69-yard gain in the Minnesota game.
The Bears will not ignore Carey and Langford in the second half. Both will contribute in the natural flow of a game, but Howard is positioned at the front of the pack. That is not expected to change unless he suffers from an unforeseen dip in production.
"Production overrules everything," Drayton said. "[We're looking for] guys who can create on their own. We want to know who is processing the pass game. Just overall production. That is what you are looking for from a back in a game."
Head coach John Fox rewarded the players with a full week off after Monday night's 20-10 win over Minnesota. The team hopes the extra rest over the bye week will help several key players return from injuries.
The bye came at an ideal point for the Bears from the injury standpoint.
After almost two weeks away, and with only one game in a 23-day period, the Bears could become healthier for the second half than they've been since last year.
Slot receiver Eddie Royal (toe), Kyle Long (triceps), Josh Sitton (ankle) and Goldman were all practicing to various degrees on Wednesday (Royal on a limited basis) and could return when the Bears play the Buccaneers on Sunday in Tampa, Fla.
Long range, it's possible Fuller or wide receiver Marquess Wilson (foot) return. Wilson (foot) on Monday began his 21-day period for roster consideration as he hopes to return from the physically unable to perform list. Wilson during OTAs freakishly aggravated a foot injury he'd had surgery on last year.
"I think it's going to benefit our whole football team," Fox said about some R and R.
The idea for a rebuilding team was to be competitive by leaning heavily on the running game and defense. Injuries made it almost impossible.
It could change in the second half.
"I think you always have positive visions, unfortunately we've had our setbacks along the way, whether it was injury-wise, execution wise, how that affects your roster and your performance usually is pretty tell-tale," Fox said. "Hopefully we can get more whole as we go.
With health returning, the biggest problem facing the Bears has been red zone scoring. They rank 22nd at scoring touchdowns from inside the 20-yard line. Quarterback Jay Cutler returned in their last game to produce two drives that went into the red zone and then the end zone.
"I think offensively we've had some struggles in the red area," Fox said. "I think, some of it on third down offensively."
Only four teams have been worse than the Bears' 35.1 percent conversion rate on third downs.
"I think we've kind of made some strides defensively in the third down and red area over the last few weeks," Fox said. "But probably the biggest thing is just point totals."
The good news?
The schedule going forward is not difficult. After back-to-back road games (Tampa and New York) out of the bye, the Bears have winnable home games against Tennessee and San Francisco. Later dates against Green Bay, Washington and Minnesota are more daunting, but the Bears should manage to string together some victories. It might be a long shot to finish 7-9, but Dickerson believes five or six victories is extremely realistic.
QBs: Mitchell Trubisky, Chase Daniel, Mark Sanchez
RBs: Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen, Benny Cunningham
WRs: Josh Bellamy, Markus Wheaton, Bennie Fowler, Taylor Gabriel, Dontrelle Inman, Kevin White
TEs: Dion Sims, Trey Burton, Adam Shaheen, Daniel Brown, Ben Braunecker
Cincinnati BengalsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 November 2016
According to ESPN.com's Katherine Terrell, former Bengals receiver Chad Johnson knows who he thinks deserves the title of the franchise's greatest wide receiver.
Surprisingly, it's not himself.
Johnson, the franchise's leader in receiving yards, told the team website that A.J. Green has already earned that title, despite being in just his sixth season.
"To me he's the greatest (Bengals receiver) of all time because he can do things I wasn't able to do," Johnson told Bengals.com. "High-point the ball. And he's a much more consistent pass-catcher than I was."
Johnson spent 10 seasons in Cincinnati, going to six Pro Bowls and being named first-team All-Pro four teams. He led the league in receiving yards in 2006. Green already has been named to five Pro Bowls, but he might surpass his own personal bests this season.
Green has been putting up eye-popping numbers this year, with four games of 120 yards or more. He already ranks third in franchise history in receiving yards (7,067), and can pass Isaac Curtis (7,101) in his next game. Johnson's 10,783 yards might take a little longer, but are certainly achievable.
With 896 receiving yards already this season, Green could also break Johnson's single-season record of 1,440 yards.
"What better player would you want to break your record?" Johnson asks. "Someone like that. The dude is pure class and plays the way the game should be played at receiver."
As of last Thursday, Green ranked second in the NFL with 896 receiving yards and 59 catches. He was leading the NFL in receiving yards until Thursday, when he was passed up by Julio Jones, who now has played one more game than Green this season. Green is averaging a league-leading 112 yards-per-game.
If Green keeps up that pace, he will finish with 1,792 yards, shattering Johnson's franchise record of 1,440 yards. That number would rank fifth all-time in NFL history.
In an article for the Players' Tribune, Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman said Green was one of the toughest receivers he's faced.
"The thing about A.J. is that he's not really a (yards after the catch) guy," Sherman wrote. "He does most of his damage before the ball gets to him. He's always a deep threat down the field and he's able to elevate and catch the ball at its highest point."
Meanwhile, Green needs only 35 yards to pass Isaac Curtis for second most yards in franchise history (7,101). That ranks 120th all time in the NFL. He needs only 34 receptions to pass T.J. Houshmandzadeh for third most receptions in franchise history (507). Green needs six touchdowns to pass Curtis for third all-time in franchise history.
With 59 catches, Green is on pace for 118 catches, which would set the franchise record.
Johnson told the Bengals website that he considered Green, 28, as the greatest receiver in franchise history, even at his young age. If Green keeps up this pace, he will be on the way to a historic season.
Meanwhile,after falling to last place in red-zone efficiency, the Bengals now rank 18th in the league.
Could that move be attributed to the return of Pro Bowl tight end Tyler Eifert?
As Terrell suggested, it certainly doesn't hurt.
The Bengals scored a touchdown on all four of their red-zone possessions. Green, who has had two consecutive games of at least 120 receiving yards, noticed teams have been devoting less safety help his way now that they also have to account for Eifert.
Perhaps that trend will continue against the Giants, who rank 25th in passing defense, allowing 277 passing yards-per-game.
One issue with Eifert back to full strength, Brandon LaFell definitely won't get the number of targets he was seeing prior to the tight end's return, but Terrell wouldn't completely count him out as a fantasy option. He's just the No. 3 option behind Green and Eifert.
Jeremy Hill needs only nine yards to pass Paul Robinson for sole possession of 12th-place all time in franchise rushing history. Hill has 2,441 rushing yards, but Giovani Bernard is right behind him with 2,404. Hill is already tied for eighth in franchise rushing touchdowns with 25. He can tie Ickey Woods for sixth place if he gets to 27 touchdowns. ...
Quarterback Andy Dalton has already surpassed Carson Palmer in career sacks as a Bengal. Palmer played seven seasons in Cincinnati and was sacked 160 times. Dalton, now in his sixth season, has been sacked 165 times. Dalton has been sacked 25 times this season, and is on track to surpass his career-high -- and Bengals record -- of 46 sacks this season. ...
The biggest problem coming out of the bye week?
Cincinnati ranks 25th in total defense and tied for 19th in scoring defense prior to Monday night. The Bengals are 0-3-1 when an opponent passes for 250 yards or more. Their opponents are averaging six yards per play. The Bengals missed 15 tackles in the 27-27 tie with the Redskins on Oct. 30 in London.
One last note here. ... The Cincinnati Enquirer reported that the Bengals brought in two kickers for workouts last week. Zach Hocker who was with the team in training camp and Kai Forbath were getting looks. Mike Nugent is 14 of 19 this season including 0 for 3 from 50 yards or greater. Nugent's missed field goal and PAT contributed to the tie in London.
The Bengals play the Giants Monday night. Cincinnati is 11-22 all-time on "Monday Night Football". They lost both of their "Monday Night Football" contests last season -- against Denver and Houston.
The Giants are 24-38 on "Monday Night Football". The teams have met only nine times, with the Bengals holding a 6-3 record.
QBs: Andy Dalton, Jeff Driskel
RBs: Joe Mixon, Giovani Bernard, Brian Hill, Thomas Jones
WRs: A.J. Green, Brandon LaFell, Tyler Boyd, John Ross, Josh Malone, Alex Erickson, Cody Core
TEs: Tyler Kroft, Ryan Hewitt, C.J. Uzomah
Cleveland BrownsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 November 2016
The losses mount, now nine in a row to start the season.
And according to ESPN.com's Pat McManamon, as the Browns' losses add up, so do the questions about zero wins, and so does the pressure, and so does the negativity as the Browns face the reality that a loss in Baltimore on Thursday night would give them the worst start in team history.
"Trying to stay positive," left tackle Joe Thomas said. "But it's difficult."
"It is tough," cornerback Joe Haden said. "It is super-tough. We don't play these games to lose. We don't prepare during the week to lose. Nobody does."
But now that Dallas has given the Browns loss No. 9, a 35-10 drubbing Sunday, the pressure to win the next game increases.
An 0-9 start matches the team's worst. The last time it happened was 1975. One more loss and the Browns have the worst start in the team's 66-year history.
Already the Browns have set a team record by losing 12 in a row going back to last season.
So what changes this week?
Not the quarterback.
Cody Kessler will start Thursday night in Baltimore despite the fact he didn't show enough positives in Sunday's loss, Jackson said.
"The biggest disappointment for me as the leader of our offense is that we haven't been able to win," head coach Hue Jackson said Monday on a conference call. "We haven't found a way to score more points than the other team to win a game. So there are some things that individually players have done really well, but as an offensive team, the quarterback's job is to get the team to win.
"I haven't done a good enough job of getting that done for our guys, regardless of what the stat lines are. Until we can get a win for this football team, this franchise, this organization, it's not going to matter."
Jackson lumped Kessler -- who fell to 0-6 -- in with his assertion that "there were no positives to take out of yesterday."
And although the rookie QB completed 70 percent of his passes (19-of-27) for 203 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions for a 104.4 rating, Jackson isn't happy with the production. In his six starts, Kessler has thrown five TD passes and struggles with the deep ball. More importantly, he hasn't been able to pull out a victory.
"There were some positives but not enough," said Jackson.
Was he suggesting he might switch Thursday night to Josh McCown, who jumped out to a 20-0 first quarter lead on the Ravens in week two before the Browns lost 25-20?
"No, I wasn't saying that, because I'm not going to play musical chairs with our quarterback," he said. "I made the decision to go with Cody and that's what I'm going to do. But Josh, Cody, Robert (Griffin III), we haven't had a win and I don't think any of us are excited about that. That's the quarterback's job, more so than anything is to win the game. So stat lines are stat lines but winning is what this is all about."
According to ProFootballFocus.com, Kessler is one of the best in the NFL at the intermediate pass (10-19 yards), completed 5 of 6 for 102 yards and 1 TD in that range against the Cowboys. But he continues to struggle beyond that distance, ranking 31st of 33 QBs in deep passing AC% at 25 percent completing just 4 of 16 for 138 yards.
On two occasions, Kessler overthrew Corey Coleman deep.
"Obviously it's not giving us a chance to score more points. Because sometimes I think those plays have been there to be made and sometimes whether it's the quarterback or whether it's the receiver, whether it's the protection, we all have a hand in that and we can all do better, so I'm not just going to lay it at Cody's feet.
"Obviously he's got to improve in some areas, but I think our receivers gotta improve, our think our protection's gotta improve and again at the end of the day, we've just got to improve overall as an offensive football team. "
For the record, Kessler's left rib and chest X-rays were negative, but he'll undergo an MRI or CT scan on the area on Monday.
"There's nothing broken," said Jackson. "It will be day to day. It is a chest/rib situation, and obviously, we'll find out more tomorrow."
Other notes of interest. ... Coleman caught three passes for 41 yards after missing six games with a broken hand. Terrelle Pryor caught five more passes and now has 46 receptions, 10 more than tight end Gary Barnidge, who is second.
Pryor took it easy on Monday and Tuesday due to the injured hamstring he's been playing through the injury for three weeks now, but he is not included on the team's final injury report for Thursay night's game. ...
The Browns trailed 21-3 in the first half and 28-10 after the Cowboys scored on first drive of the third quarter. The result was the Browns used only 13 running plays and gained 45 yards on the ground. Isaiah Crowell gained only 4 yards on six carries. The Cowboys clogged the running lanes when the Browns did try staying on the ground.
On a more positive note: Crowell has carried the ball 112 times this season without fumbling. Only three fumbles have been lost by the team one by running back Duke Johnson, one by Kessler and one by fullback Marcus Johnson. Marcus Johnson is no longer on the team
QBs: Tyrod Taylor
RBs: Carlos Hyde, Duke Johnson, Matt Dayes
WRs: Josh Gordon, Jarvis Landry, Corey Coleman, Ricardo Louis, Rashard Higgins, Jeff Janis, Bryce Treggs
TEs: Darren Fells, David Njoku, Seth DeValve, Randall Telfer
Dallas CowboysCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 November 2016
As ESPN.com's Jean Jacques Taylor suggested, each week, it seems, Dak Prescott answers a different question about his ability to succeed long-term as the Cowboys' quarterback.
It's understandable, considering the vast majority of the league's starting quarterbacks were drafted in the first three rounds, with most selected in the first round. Prescott, a fourth-round draft choice, was the 135th player selected.
On Sunday, Prescott answered the question of whether he could lead the Cowboys to a victory against a winless opponent the week before a game against a "big-name" opponent like the Pittsburgh Steelers as the Cowboys manhandled the Browns 35-10.
It was the Cowboys' largest margin of victory this season and pushed their winning streak to seven games, tied for the longest in franchise history, and the longest since Jason Garrett became head coach midway through the 2010 season.
Taylor went on to remind readers that in the opener, a loss to the Giants, Prescott answered the question of whether he could handle starting in the NFL. Against Washington, he answered whether he could lead the Cowboys to a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter.
Against Chicago, he answered whether he could win at home, where the Cowboys had lost eight consecutive games. Against San Francisco, he answered whether he could play through adversity, rallying the Cowboys from a 14-0 deficit.
Against Cincinnati, Prescott answered whether he could beat a good team; and the following week against Green Bay, he answered whether he could win at one of the NFL's hallowed stadiums: Green Bay's Lambeau Field.
When the Cowboys beat Philadelphia last week, Prescott answered whether he could play poorly for three quarters and still deliver a win.
Prescott has done everything you could ask of a starter.
He has won, the most important task on his to-do list. The Cowboys have the NFC's best record -- tied with the New England Patriots for the best in the league -- and their point differential of +83 trails only the Patriots, who are +85.
Dallas has won four games by at least 14 points and five by at least a touchdown. There's nothing fluky about Prescott, or the team's performance.
He has passed for more than 200 yards in each game, with 12 touchdowns and two interceptions.
Against the Browns, he finished 21-of-27 for 247 yards and three touchdowns with a passer rating of 141.8, his best of the season. He ran four times and picked up first downs on two different scoring drives.
He became the first rookie quarterback in league history with at least six 100-plus ratings in his team's first eight games.
The only question left is when will Garrett and owner Jerry Jones name him the starter for the rest of the season.
A week ago, Jones was quick to rule an improving Tony Romo out for Sunday's game against the Browns. Following Sunday's win, Jones refused to make such a declaration regarding the Nov. 13 match-up at Pittsburgh.
Romo has missed the first eight games of the season with a broken bone in his back. He returned to practice two weeks ago on a limited basis and will do more this week.
Jones, however, doesn't know if he will do enough to be made active as a backup quarterback behind Prescott. Garrett told reporters on Wednesday that Romo would be working with the scout team this week. He was listed as a full participant Wednesday.
However it ends up this week, Romo's availability is no longer a medical decision. That choice will reportedly be made by Garrett and others on his staff rather than anyone on the medical side of things. Ed Werder of ESPN reports that there is no longer a "medical decision" to make about Romo's readiness to play football as a result of the broken bone in his back that has kept him from being in uniform so far this season.
Having Romo in uniform would certainly make things more interesting should Prescott stumble against Pittsburgh or a future opponent, however. ...
That said: The Cowboys have been executing at high efficiency on offense on offense for much of the season. They have scored on 35 of 67 possessions, excluding end-of-half and end-of-game kneel-downs. It's going to be hard to replace the man running that offense while leading the team to a 7-1 record. ...
Meanwhile, Ezekiel Elliott, who has 891 yards in eight games, has become only the third rookie running back to rush for 875 yards in his first eight career games. The others are Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson and future Hall of Famer Adrian Peterson.
Other notes of interest. ... As the Sports Xchange notes, Jason Witten joined the record barrage against the Browns when he made his 155th consecutive start to break a tie with Lee Roy Jordan for the most in team history. The man who capped the Eagles victory with his first touchdown catch of the season in overtime, caught eight passes for 134 yards.
It was his first 100-yard game since 2013 and the 21st of his career, tied for third most by a tight end in NFL history. His 26-yard reception in the first quarter was the 62nd of his career. He tied Shannon Sharpe for fourth-most by a tight end in NFL history.
A week after seeing 14 targets go his way, NFL.com's Matt Harmon notes that Dez Bryant handled just 14.3 percent of the team targets (4) in Cleveland caught just one of them for 19 yards. By not recording a touchdown, Bryant snapped his streak of consecutive games with a touchdown reception against an AFC opponent at 14 -- the longest interconference streak in the NFL since the 1970 merger.
Cole Beasley made six receptions for 56 yards and a touchdown to pass Walt Garrison (182) and Lance Rentzel (183) for 23rd on the team's all-time receptions list.
Dan Bailey had five points against the Browns to surpass 700 career points. He became the third Cowboy -- second kicker (Rafael Septien) -- to reach that mark.
And finally. ... With another allegation involving a former girlfriend coming to light over the weekend, Elliott and Jones said they were not concerned these issues keep coming up. According to USA Today, which cited an incident report, police in Aventura, Florida, were called to Elliott's apartment to investigate an altercation with a woman in February.
"Everything, everything that I know regarding any of Zeke's behavior makes me satisfied that we don't have any issues," Jones said.
QBs: Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush
RBs: Alfred Morris, Rod Smith
WRs: Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Deonte Thompson, Allen Hurns, Ryan Switzer, Noah Brown
TEs: Jason Witten, Geoff Swaim, Rico Gathers
Denver BroncosCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 November 2016
With an anemic offense and a depleted defense, the reigning Super Bowl champs find themselves in a peculiar position: looking up at both Oakland and Kansas City in the AFC West.
The Broncos' 6-3 record would be good enough to lead five other NFL divisions.
Yet, their 30-20 loss at Oakland on Sunday night dropped them behind both the Raiders (7-2) and Chiefs (6-2) in the division they've owned since Tim Tebow was running the read-option in Denver and not the bases in the desert.
They're battered, too.
Defensive end Derek Wolfe suffered a fractured right elbow, middle linebacker Brandon Marshall wasn't quite himself after returning from a pulled hamstring and cornerback Aqib Talib stayed home after getting a cortisone injection in his lower back.
Talib said he was feeling better, but the Broncos might want to keep him out of next weekend's game at New Orleans, too, so they can take advantage of the bye week and get him ready to return Nov. 27 against Kansas City.
"We know we're in a decent position right now," defensive end Jared Crick said. "By no means is the sky falling on us."
The Broncos have lost three of five for the first time since the first month of the 2012 season when Peyton Manning was getting a feel for his new team and his post-surgical throwing arm.
They'll learn over the coming weeks whether their latest loss was a speedbump or something much bigger. But getting outgained on the ground 218 yards to 33 shows they were dominated in the trenches, the fulcrum of any football team's fortunes. The Raiders had the ball for 41:28.
"We've just got to find a way to stay on the damn field," head coach Gary Kubiak said Monday.
"No, I feel really good about what Trevor's doing," Kubiak said. "But Trevor's like any other player. Trevor's got to get better. So, we're looking at it as a group. I've got to do a better job for Trevor and (quarterbacks coach Greg Knapp) and (offensive coordinator Rick Dennison) do.
"Up front, we've got to do a better job and we can help Trevor running the ball. But he's making a lot of plays. He got us back in the game with a tremendous play to Jordan (Norwood), so he's doing some good things," Kubiak said. "But like all of us, like I said, we're looking to be more consistent."
Siemian was 18-of-37 passing in Sunday night's loss at the Raiders, his third straight game completing under 60 percent of his passes. He threw two touchdown passes and one interception and was sacked twice.
The only consistency the Broncos offense has displayed is a season-long trend of playing poorly in the first and third quarters.
Here's how their scoring has broken down:
First quarter: 16 points.
Second quarter; 77 points:
Third quarter: 20 points.
Fourth quarter: 101 points.
As Associated Press sports writer Arnie Stapleton notes, the first and third quarters are essentially scripted. Like all teams, the Broncos use their best plays, the ones they've refined all week at practice, to start the game. Then, at halftime they make their adjustments and dig into the playbook to come out with a counter-punch.
Exacerbating matters is that the Broncos have given up points on their first defensive series seven times in nine games, so they're playing catch-up from the get-go.
"Yeah, it's a concern," Kubiak said. "It's a big concern."
Of some concern for fantasy owners?
The Broncos ran just 12 times for 33 yards. As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich noted, Denver found itself in a hole early in this game, which didn't allow for many opportunities for the running backs. Devontae Booker, who came into Sunday night dealing with a sore shoulder, was completely ineffective as a runner with just 22 yards on 10 totes.
The Broncos will have to ride the rookie with C.J. Anderson on injured reserve, but game script dictated Booker's workload in this one. Second-year Colorado native Kapri Bibbs shocked the nation with a 69-yard touchdown catch-and-run late in the game, and seemingly has earned himself some more playing time especially considering Booker's lackluster outing.
Booker took 46 of 56 offensive snaps in Oakland while Bibbs had nine. According to 9News.com's MIke Klis, that ratio figures to change against the Saints this week.
It's safe to say I'll be watching for more on that in coming days; keep an eye on the Late-Breaking Updates section for more.
One last note here. ... The Broncos released TE John Phillips last week.
QBs: Case Keenum, Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch, Chad Kelly
RBs: Devontae Booker, Jamaal Charles, De'Angelo Henderson
WRs: Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Cody Latimer, Isaiah McKenzie, Jordan Taylor
TEs: Virgil Green, Jeff Heuerman, Jake Butt
Detroit LionsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 November 2016
In every game they've played this season, the Lions have been trailing or tied at some point in the final two minutes of regulation.
Perhaps that's why they approached last weekend's predicament at Minnesota with so much poise.
Down three with 17 seconds remaining and no timeouts, Matthew Stafford completed a 27-yard pass to Andre Roberts. Then the Lions calmly rushed to the line, and Stafford was able to spike the ball, setting up Matt Prater's 58-yard field goal that tied it. Detroit beat the Vikings 22-16 in overtime.
"I think you have to attribute it to the guys that we have on the field," head coach Jim Caldwell said. "They function pretty well in tight situations. It's that old saying about, you don't rise to the occasion but you sink to the level of your preparation, and our guys have prepared I think pretty well."
The Lions (5-4) have had plenty of drama already this season, with every game decided by seven points or fewer. They needed field goals in the final two minutes to beat Indianapolis, Philadelphia and Los Angeles -- and Prater's kick against Minnesota saved Sunday's game. Detroit also beat Washington last month on a touchdown with 16 seconds remaining.
Add it all up, and the Lions are a half-game out of first place in the NFC North as they head into their bye week.
After falling behind 16-13 on Sunday when Minnesota scored a touchdown with 23 seconds left, the Lions took over at their own 25. Golden Tate caught an 8-yard pass and went out of bounds, then Stafford found Roberts in the middle of the field.
Detroit hustled to the line, being careful to line up properly and avoid a penalty. Stafford spiked the ball with 2 seconds left, and Prater's kick was down the middle.
"That is perfect execution from everybody," said Tate, who ended up scoring the winning touchdown in overtime. "That situation with 23 seconds and no timeouts, I won't say we're done, and mentally you know it is not over until it says zero on the clock."
Caldwell said his players practice situations like that and have developed confidence.
"We go through every conceivable situation in the league," he said. "If we see some that are a little precarious and a little tough ... we'll say, 'Hey, I'm going to use that one for our mock this particular week.' We take those real-life examples and utilize those to try to test our team. More often than not, we take a few timeouts off of it so we make them operate with no timeouts rather than giving them a crutch."
If the season ended now, the Lions would be in the playoffs as a wild card. After their weekend off, they have a winnable home game against a last-place Jacksonville team, and their final three home games after that are against NFC North opponents.
Detroit has been in some difficult spots this season, but the Lions have turned enough of those late-game deficits into wins that they'll have a lot to play for down the stretch. The Lions have shown they can compete in the NFC, knocking off playoff contenders Washington, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Minnesota, which had led the NFC North entering Sunday.
Now the division is a three-way race between the Vikings, Lions and Green Bay Packers and won't be sorted out for at least a little while.
Other notes of interest. ... Stafford has led five game-winning drives this season and has been largely efficient in his play, completing 67.3 percent of his passes for 2,373 yards, 18 touchdowns and five interceptions. As ESPN.com's Michael Rothstein notes, though his yardage likely won't match his 5,000-yard season from 2011, he is having the best season of his career and putting himself in line for a massive contract extension as soon as this offseason.
As NFL.com's Matt Harmon pointed out, Marvin Jones was once again marginalized in the Lions' Week 9 win over the Vikings. After starting the year on fire, including a 205-yard game in Week 3, Jones has 253 receiving yards since.
Harmon went on to suggest Jones will still have productive games, but he's also showing that he can't necessarily defeat top-tier corners or added defensive attention like a true No. 1 receiver.
Harmon added the most valuable pass-catcher on this team might be Eric Ebron. Playing 81 percent of the team's snaps, Ebron posted another strong line. Ebron has 18 targets and 14 catches in his two games since returning from an injury absence.
Meanwhile, NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich noted that in a tough matchup, Theo Riddick averaged a solid 5.0 yards per carry, running for 70 yards (including a 42-yard scamper) on his 14 attempts. He was less of a factor as a receiver with just one reception on three targets, and failed to get into the end zone, but 7.6 standard points against the Vikings is respectable.
Rookie Dwayne Washington notched double-digit carries too but finished with just 26 yards.
"This is Riddick's backfield and his all-purpose skill set gives him an extremely safe floor on a weekly basis," Franciscovich summed up.
And there's some upside, too.
As Rothstein put it: "Riddick is one of the more exciting offensive players to watch in the NFL, and he's going to be a key if the Lions are able to accomplish anything in the second half of the season. He can take almost any short pass and turn it into a big gain because of his ability to anticipate holes in the defense. He has some of the best hands of any running back in the league, and has made many defenders look foolish trying to stop him."
The Lions have added some depth at wide receiver, According to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, the Lions have activated wide receiver Corey Fuller off the physically unable to perform list and waived tight end Khari Lee to create the roster spot.
Fuller was placed on PUP after breaking his foot in OTAs and needing surgery.
He had just 18 catches in his first two seasons.
And finally. ... Prater was named NFC Special Teams Player of the Week on Wednesday.
QBs: Matthew Stafford, Jake Rudock, Matt Cassel
RBs: LeGarrette Blount, Ameer Abdullah, Theo Riddick, Dwayne Washington, Tion Green, Zach Zenner
WRs: Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, Kenny Golladay, Jared Abbrederis, TJ Jones
TEs: Luke Willson, Michael Roberts, Levine Toilolo
Green Bay PackersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 November 2016
As the Sports Xchange noted, an elusive squirrel on the field at different points in the second half prompted plenty of laughs and jokes during Sunday's game against the Indianapolis Colts.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers and defensive lineman Mike Daniels, among others, were in anything but a jovial mood after the heavily favored Packers lost 31-26.
While Daniels resorted to some expletive-laced shouting outside the locker room, Rodgers didn't hold back in voicing his disgust as he talked with reporters.
"We started off with uncharacteristically low energy, for whatever reason," Rodgers said. "I don't understand it. I mean, this is what we get paid to do, is to bring it every week, and I hope the guys would say I bring it every week.
"I love this game, and I bring energy. I'm not a rah-rah guy, but I'm a focused, enthusiastic player, and I don't know what the lack of juice was. You kind of felt it over the entire sideline. We didn't have the same kind of enthusiasm and encouragement that we had the previous two weeks. So, we've got to look deep in the mirror there because that's just not acceptable."
Green Bay played catch-up the entire game after Jordan Todman returned the opening kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown. The Packers spotted the previously struggling Colts a 31-13 lead before mounting a furious rally the final 9 1/2 minutes.
The Packers' second straight defeat and third loss in their last four games, which dropped them into third place in the NFC North with a 4-4 record, didn't sit well with Daniels.
As things stand, the Packers have their worst midseason record since they also started 4-4 in 2009.
They now must try to find a way to muster a win, let alone string together a few victories, as they start a three-game road swing Sunday at the Tennessee Titans.
It won't be easy.
The Packers have had injuries hit primarily two positions this season: running back and cornerback. The injuries at running back, in particular, have forced the Packers to make major adjustments.
The Packers again went about trying to replenish their greatly depleted backfield, but the acquisition made Monday wasn't what had been widely speculated. The team announced late in the day that rookie fullback Joe Kerridge was promoted from the practice squad to the 53-man roster.
Reports surfaced Sunday that the Packers would be signing six-year running back Joique Bell, whom the rival Chicago Bears released two weeks ago.
Bell visited the team for a workout on Tuesday, but wasn't immediately signed. The Packers also worked out two other running backs, James Wilder Jr. and Brandon Wegher.
Undrafted rookie Don Jackson was the only healthy halfback for Sunday's game, and he played sparingly. Jackson had only four carries for 16 yards. Wide receiver Ty Montgomery made the start at halfback for the second time in three games and led the team with seven carries for 53 yards.
Even without the threat of a proven running back for the third straight game, the Packers tallied their third-highest rushing total of the season with 116 yards. Rodgers scrambled his way to 43 yards in six attempts, highlighted by a 21-yard gain.
Perhaps the addition of Bell isn't imminent if James Starks is able to resume playing Sunday.
Starks has missed the last four games because of a knee injury that resulted in surgery.
Starks was cleared for some on-field work in practice late last week and was said by head coach Mike McCarthy to be making progress.
"I'm trying to do more than I did last week," Starks said Monday. "I think every day I'm getting better and stronger and I'm starting to feel more comfortable."
Starks worked on a limited basis Wednesday.
The return of Starks in the short term potentially could be a lift for Green Bay's offense, which is without featured back Eddie Lacy until at least mid-December. Lacy is on injured reserve because of an ankle injury that has kept him out the last three weeks.
Randall Cobb was listed as questionable against the Colts after having limited work in practice last week. He missed the previous game, a loss at the Atlanta Falcons on Oct. 30, because of a hamstring injury.
McCarthy explained Monday that the determination on Cobb's availability for Sunday's game went right up until the 90-minute deadline before kickoff for the team's inactive list to be finalized.
"It was a late add, frankly," McCarthy said about having Cobb active. "It was clearly right before the time to hand in the inactives. Quite frankly, it was probably one of the latest times I've ever handed in the inactives. So, we made some adjustments on our call sheet and went into the game thinking Randall would be in a limited fashion."
McCarthy added: "I took a conservative approach with him. I was going to use him only when we needed him. Obviously, we needed him in the second half and he gave us everything he's got."
Cobb caught both passes thrown his way by Rodgers for a total of 14 yards. Cobb's last reception went for a 3-yard touchdown to pull the Packers within 31-26 with 3 1/2 minutes to play, but Indianapolis ran out the clock
Montgomery, returning from an illness related to sickle cell trait, was also on a snap count. We had Ty on a rep count and rightfully so," McCarthy said. "We like the way he played."
Rodgers said he had his left foot stepped on "pretty hard. I mean, that's a common frustration from time to time, just getting stepped on really badly. It's fine."
Rodgers wound up throwing 43 passes, completing 26 of them with three touchdowns. He finished with a respectable passer rating of 94.8 but also took three sacks. Jordy Nelson led the receiving group with seven catches for 94 yards in 13 targets and an impressive 26-yard touchdown. Tight end Richard Rodgers was targeted 10 times and came up with six receptions for 64 yards.
In addition, Davante Adams has finally shown the consistency that he lacked in his first two seasons. As ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky reminded readers, the third-year pro had a penchant for disappearing after big games. Not this year. He's given Rodgers another trusted weapon in the passing game.
Tight end Jared Cook (ankle) didn't play Sunday for the fifth consecutive game. The veteran appears to be close to returning to game action after getting back on the field in a limited role toward the end of last week. He practiced on a limited basis Wednesday.
It's safe to assume I'll have a close eye on Starks and any developments at running back in coming days -- as well as keeping tabs on the injured skill players. Watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for more.
QBs: DeShone Kizer, Brett Hundley, Joe Callahan
RBs: Jamaal Williams, Aaron Jones, Devante Mays, Ty Montgomery
WRs: Davante Adams, Randall Cobb, Geronimo Allison, Trevor Davis
TEs: Jimmy Graham, Lance Kendricks
Houston TexansCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 November 2016
According to ESPN.com's Sarah Barshop, Brock Osweiler said that going into the year he didn't have a specific goal of where he wanted to be at the midpoint of the season.
But now, Osweiler said, to be 5-3 going into the bye after Sunday's 20-13 victory over the Detroit Lions is a big deal for this Texans team.
"To be able to go into your bye week 5-3, 2-0 in your division, winning all your home games, it means so much at the halfway point," Osweiler said.
Despite their winning record and lead in the division, the Texans have not played well this season.
Osweiler, who Houston hoped could be a franchise quarterback after the Texans started four different quarterbacks and got blown out in a home playoff game last season, has completed just 59.3 percent of his passes for 1,719 yards, with nine touchdowns and nine interceptions.
The Texans also accomplished the 5-3 record and AFC South lead largely without three-time Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt, who is out for the season.
So while the season has been a relative success on paper, Osweiler said the Texans are "absolutely not" satisfied with what they've done so far, which comes as no surprise to those who have watched them this season.
"We want more," Osweiler said. "We want to be a great football team and we want to do special things."
If the Texans want to do "special things" this season, they will need to see more consistency from Osweiler and the offense. Osweiler needs to continue to get the ball to Pro Bowl receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who showed off his talent with a spectacular one-handed catch to set up Houston's second touchdown on Sunday.
Osweiler said he knows the importance of getting Hopkins the ball, and that he believes their chemistry is improving as the season goes on.
"I know how talented DeAndre is, and I know how hard he works every single day," Osweiler said. "Trust me, every time I break the huddle, I'm looking to see where he's at -- the matchup, the coverage -- trying to see if I can get him the football.
"One thing I do know is I think we both have great confidence in each other. We have great belief in each other. He and I are working every single day to develop chemistry and really get this thing rolling."
Defensively, the Texans are playing well, though veteran cornerback Johnathan Joseph said, "There's always room for improvement. You never want to settle."
The defense has been keeping Houston in games where the Texans have been inconsistent offensively, including the season opener against the Chicago Bears and the Week 6 victory over the Indianapolis Colts. On Sunday, the defense held the Lions to 3-for-11 on third-down conversions.
Aside from the New England Patriots -- who beat the Texans in Week 3 -- there are not many dominant teams in the AFC. The Texans' 5-3 record puts them among the best, even though they have not been playing well.
Still, head coach Bill O'Brien said he is happy with where the Texans are at the midpoint of the season.
"There's a lot of season left," O'Brien said. "I think we all just have to keep trying to improve. I think it's a progress league. I think the fact that we've been basically going like this today, with the win -- we have to keep going that way.
"We've got some tough divisional games left. Some tough overall games left. I think if we just kind of get healthy during this bye week and then come back ready to go for Jacksonville, we'll be ready to go."]
As for the health, rookie wide receiver Will Fuller and five-time Pro Bowl nose tackle Vince Wilfork remained sidelined at practice Monday due to injuries following a bye week.
O'Brien was noncommittal on their status for Sunday's game against the Jaguars.
"No question that they're day-to-day," O'Brien said. "I'm not sure that they would be available for Jacksonville. It looks like they might. I wouldn't know that until the end of the week."
Fuller has been dealing with knee and hamstring injuries and was forced out of a win over the Detroit Lions. He was practicing Wednesdya, however.
Wilfork injured his groin against the Lions and didn't return.
Wide receiver Jaelen Strong is expected to miss roughly a month with a sprained ankle he sustained against the Lions, according to the Sports Xchange. Strong was in a walking boot after the game and had a magnetic resonance imaging exam. ...
A few final notes. ... Running back Lamar Miller has been productive, gaining 637 yards and scoring two touchdowns. Miller said he played through a lot of pain in recent weeks after he injured a shoulder against the Broncos, so the bye came at a good time for him to rest and get treatment.
Still, Miller was limited in Wednesday's practice. Alfred Blue (ribs) was also limited.
C.J. Fiedorowicz has now seen seven-plus targets in four straight games. According to Barshop, if teams are going to continue giving the Texans' tight ends one-on-one coverage in order to cover Pro Bowl receiver DeAndre Hopkins and Fuller, there's no reason to think Fiedorowicz won't continue to get those targets.
Last season, he had 17 catches on 24 targets, and he said he spent the offseason working on becoming more of a pass-catching tight end. That has paid dividends so far; he has 26 catches for 279 yards and three touchdowns this season.
Somebody needs to step up; Hopkins has had a disappointing season with 40 catches for 434 yards and two touchdowns.
QBs: T.J. Yates, Brandon Weeden
RBs: Lamar Miller, Andre Ellington, Alfred Blue, Tyler Ervin
WRs: DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, Braxton Miller, DeAndrew White
TEs: Stephen Anderson, Evan Baylis, MyCole Pruitt
Indianapolis ColtsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 November 2016
Head coach Chuck Pagano had a big smile on his face as he addressed the media on Monday.
As the Sports Xchange suggested, he had good reason to be happy. Pagano's Colts surprised pretty much everybody with their top-to-bottom performance in Sunday's 31-26 road win over Green Bay.
"Not many thought that (we) would get the job done, except the people in the Colts (headquarters)," Pagano was quick to point out.
"You're made out to be something you're not after win and made out to be something you're not after a loss. The truth lies in the middle."
The win over Green Bay allows the Colts to go into its bye week with a 4-5 record. While being one game below .500 isn't where the team wanted to be at this point in the season, it's better than the alternative had Indianapolis lost to the Packers.
"Don't even want to think about (potentially being 3-6). It will make you sick to your stomach. Thank God we didn't have to go down that road," Pagano admitted.
Indianapolis had turned down the opportunity to have a bye week on Oct. 9 after its road trip to London to face AFC South rival Jacksonville. Pagano and the Colts were questioned at the time about their decision to skip the possibility of an off week.
Now, coming off a big road win at Green Bay, the timing of the bye week couldn't have been better.
"Love it when things come together," Pagano said. "The bye comes at the right time. It's a chance to get healthy."
The Colts also want to use the bye week as a jumping-off point for the final seven games of the regular season. If Indianapolis is going to make a playoff run, it has to start now.
"It's been one hell of a roller-coaster ride to this point," Pagano said. "(Winning at Green Bay) is no better way to go into the bye week.
"We said (the game against the Packers) was going to be a defining moment for this team. And how we handle this win will be a defining moment.
Remember, Pagano went through a similar scenario last season with the Colts cranking out victories in every must-win game except one, a stretch that included another improbable early November victory over eventual Super Bowl champion Denver.
The lone loss, at home to Houston, wound up costing the Colts their third straight division crown and their fourth consecutive playoff appearance.
So why does Indianapolis save its best for the high-stakes games? Even Pagano can't really explain it.
"When our backs are against the wall, I don't think there's anyone that's better," he said. "We don't need to be there, that's of our own doing. But we've learned from everything we've been through to this point, and I think you have to fight through some stuff to get to where you want to get to."
Now he needs to see improved play over the crucial final seven games.
A loss to Tennessee on Nov. 20 could throw a monkey wrench into their division hopes. Four days later, they'll host a Thanksgiving night game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Then Indy hits the road for three of the next four: at the New York Jets, at Minnesota and at Oakland, with only home games against Houston and Jacksonville left.
All seven could be considered must-win games.
Reasons for optimism? The Colts, who had allowed an NFL-worst 31 sacks coming into the game, gave their quarterback decent protection. Andrew Luck was sacked twice and maneuvered out of other tight spots, including a 7-yard scramble on a bootleg on third-and-1 with 37 seconds left in the second quarter.
Luck deftly engineered a 15-play, 96-yard drive that ended with an 8-yard touchdown pass to Donte Moncrief with 11 seconds left to give Indianapolis a 21-10 halftime lead.
Luck completed passes to nine players and finished 23-of-36 for 281 yards and the touchdown.
Moncrief led the team in wide receiver snaps with 97 percent. As NFL.com's Matt Harmon suggests, his production will only go up as he continues to establish himself as the top touchdown threat on the team. Dwayne Allen returned from a multi-week absence, but still trailed Jack Doyle in snaps, 65 to 73 percent. It appears that Doyle has earned the job of Luck's top tight end, which Harmon considers "a money role."
Allen's return did have a negative effect on the already unproductive Phillip Dorsett. The 2015 first-rounder dipped down to playing only 62 percent of the snaps.
Adam Vinatieri made his only field goal attempt against the Packers. But the kick was noteworthy because it was his first successful field goal attempt at Lambeau Field. Vinatieri had missed his only other attempt at the stadium on Oct. 19, 2008. He has now converted at least one field goal in 41 different stadiums.
Todman's 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown on the game's opening kickoff was the first for the Colts since Aaron Bailey did it against Jacksonville on Dec. 10, 1995. It was also the team's first kickoff return for a touchdown since Deji Karim had an 101-yard return on Dec. 30, 2012, against Houston. Todman also had a 61-yard return against the Packers.
Todman was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week on Wednesday.
And finally. ... The Colts waived wide receiver Tevaun Smith on Tuesday. Smith had been promoted from the practice squad on Oct. 18. He played in two games.
The Colts were short on wide receivers when he was called up, but since have seen Moncrief return from a shoulder injury. The Colts are off this week and will likely use Smith's roster spot at another position.
Smith is a candidate to return to the team's practice squad, where he spent the first six weeks of the season. He's an undrafted rookie out of Iowa.
QBs: Jacoby Brissett, Scott Tolzien
RBs: Marlon Mack, Christine Michael, Matt Jones, Robert Turbin
WRs: T.Y. Hilton, Ryan Grant, Chester Rogers, Kamar Aiken
TEs: Jack Doyle, Eric Ebron, Ross Travis, Jason Vander Laan
Jacksonville JaguarsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 November 2016
As ESPN.com's Mike DiRocco suggested, "At least new offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett was able to get one thing working with the Jacksonville Jaguars' offense."
He had pledged that the Jaguars would be more committed to running the ball against Kansas City on Sunday, and they were: They finished with season highs in rushing yards (205) and attempts (32).
But like his predecessor, Greg Olson, Hackett had to deal with an erratic quarterback and a slew of turnovers in the 19-14 loss to the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. Quarterback Blake Bortles still didn't play particularly well, missing several wide-open receivers and throwing one interception (he had two more dropped), and his mechanics didn't look significantly better. The Jaguars also turned the ball over three times on offense and had another turnover on a fumbled punt.
Still, it was the best the Jaguars' offense has looked in the past month and it is an encouraging sign that Jacksonville may be able to finally have a run-pass balance for the rest of the season, beginning with Sunday's home game against Houston.
"We got in the rhythm," said Bortles, who completed 22 of 41 passes for 252 yards and two touchdowns. "We were able to move the ball. Even in the first half, only putting up seven points, we felt like we were able to do what we wanted to [but] just couldn't really finish drives. It's a good sign, but we're not here to take moral victories. We want to win a ballgame.
"But I think we found balance and that's good for us."
As DiRocco noted, that's the one thing the offense had been lacking all season.
The Jaguars were averaging 72.6 rushing yards per game coming into Sunday's game, which put them on pace to have the worst total in franchise history. There was a feeling inside the locker room that Olson had given up on the run too soon in previous weeks and that the offensive line wasn't able to get into a rhythm in the run game because of that. That wasn't the case against the Chiefs -- the Jaguars ended up averaging 6.4 yards per carry -- and with Hackett calling plays, it won't be the case for the rest of the season.
"He didn't want to get away from it too early," Chris Ivory said of Hackett. "You have to try to establish the run, just make it a little easier on Blake and the guys on the outside. Can't be one-dimensional, so that was the plan to come in and try to be able to run the ball efficiently and I think we did that.
"We didn't get the win that we wanted, but I think that we're heading in the right direction as far as having a balanced offense."
Minus his fumble, Ivory finally looked like the back the Jaguars envisioned when they signed him as a free agent in March. He finished with 107 yards on 18 carries. It was the first time a Jaguars player has rushed for 100 yards since T.J. Yeldon gained 115 yards against Buffalo in Week 7 last season, and it's clear the Jaguars want to build their power run game around him going forward.
As encouraged as the Jaguars were about the run game and offensive balance, they lost the game because of turnovers. It has been a season-long issue, and after turning the ball over four times, they're last in the NFL with a minus-12 turnover ratio. Three were the fault of the offense: Bortles threw an interception and Yeldon and Ivory each fumbled. Ivory's was particularly damaging because he fumbled going into the end zone in the fourth quarter.
As Associated Press sports writer Mark Long noted, it was a questionable call as Ivory lost control as he stretched the ball across the goal line. It was ruled a fumble and a touchback, and replays didn't provide any clear evidence to indicate Ivory had broken the plane before the ball slipped out of his hands.
"I have to be careful here with this," head coach Gus Bradley said. "We get different views than they do. All I can tell you is that the view that we saw, we have an end-zone view (on the coaches' tape) that gives you a different look at it. In our mind, when we looked at it, it looked like he crossed it before the ball came out. They don't have that view at that time."
The Jaguars might not have even needed that touchdown had it not been for all their other mistakes, especially the turnovers.
The Chiefs scored 13 points off three of the four turnovers.
Worth noting. ... Bortles attempted two passes that traveled 30 or more yards in the air against Kansas City, hitting one to Marqise Lee for a 51-yard gain. He didn't attempt a pass of 30 or more yards against Tennessee or Oakland and was 0-for-7 with two interceptions on passes of at least 30 yards in the first seven games.
Bortles was 9-for-18 for 428 yards and three touchdowns with two interceptions on passes that traveled 30 or more yards in the air in 2015.
Bortles had chances to hit several other big plays down the field against Kansas City but twice overthrew Allen Robinson. At least one would have been for a sure touchdown because Robinson had beaten the defensive back decisively. Both passes traveled at least 25 yards in the air.
To ensure that the Jaguars can take more down field shots, Bradley said the ground game has to be productive like it was against Kansas City.
In a few related notes. ... NFL.com's Matt Harmon advised readers on Monday that Robinson continues to keep his floor afloat by seeing a tremendous share of the team targets. However, he can't access the ceiling he showed last season with Bortles continuing to play unspeakably bad, so we just need to adjust expectations going forward.
Lee started the season as the team's No. 3 receiver, at best. Robinson and Allen Hurns were clearly ahead of Lee, who has been plagued with injuries in his first two seasons with the team. At the midway point of the season, Lee has emerged as the Jaguars' most dependable receiver. He is second in team receptions (34) and tied for second in yards (442), one yard behind Hurns.
Most importantly, he's been able to stay healthy. Bradley is pleased with what he's received from his third-year veteran at this point. Lee is taking is new-found success in stride and not worrying about his numbers.
Hurns missed the last portion of the Kansas City game with concussion symptoms. He's now in the league's concussion protocol and is questionable for Sunday's home contest against Houston. Hurns was targeted four times in the Chiefs game but did not have a catch.
Hurns was not practicing Wednesday.
Bryan Walters was in on the Jaguars' last offensive play of the game, but afterward was diagnosed for concussion symptoms and is now in the league's protocol concussion program.
I'll have more on Hurns and Walters via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses. ...
Rashad Greene has been a healthy inactive the last two games, ever since fumbling away a punt return in the Oakland game. Now that two other Jaguars' players have done the same in the last two games, Greene may become active and regain his job back of returning punts.
QBs: Blake Bortles, Cody Kessler, Brandon Allen
RBs: Leonard Fournette, T.J. Yeldon, Corey Grant
WRs: Donte Moncrief, Keelan Cole, Dede Westbrook, Max McCaffrey, Jaelen Strong, Marqise Lee
TEs: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Ben Koyack, Niles Paul
Kansas City ChiefsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 November 2016
Head coach Andy Reid made the decision that Smith wouldn't play in Sunday's game against the Jaguars after the quarterback was removed twice from the previous game against the Colts with symptoms of a concussion.
Both the Chiefs and Smith said he didn't have a concussion, but he was put through the NFL's protocol anyway and deactivated for the Jaguars game as a precaution.
Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt said before Sunday's game Smith had been cleared to play by independent doctors. Smith practiced last week, though with the scout team.
"There were no signs of anything," Reid said. "It was just business as normal. Things like headaches or dizziness -- there was none of that. He went out and functioned well on the scout team part of it. There was no hesitation when bodies were flying around him. He wasn't flinching. They were all positive signs."
Backup Nick Foles quarterbacked the Chiefs to a 19-14 victory against the Jaguars on Sunday.
Houston was activated off the physically unable to perform list this week, making him eligible to play for the first time since having surgery in February to repair a balky ACL in his left knee.
Reid indicated a decision wouldn't be made on whether Houston would play against the Panthers until later in the week. Houston has practiced with the Chiefs for the past three weeks.
"He's looked very good out there, I'll tell you," Reid said. "He's moving around [well]."
Foles completed 20 of 33 passes for 187 yards with one touchdown, but he did not have an interception or commit a fumble. In the first half, he was definitely rusty, but looked good hitting a 23-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Albert Wilson.
"It was not always the prettiest thing," Foles said. "The game of football is different every week and every time you play the game. Sometimes you go out and light it up and sometimes you go out there just scraping around, trying to get your feet under you."
With Smith's return, Foles will once again watch from the sidelines.
"I'm excited he's healthy and ready to go," Foles said. "I've really enjoyed being around Alex, being here and learning. I'm excited he's ready to roll.
Spencer Ware (concussion) was not active for the game against Jacksonville because of the concussion he suffered in the Oct. 30 game against Indianapolis. Ware did not take part in any of last week's practice work and still must pass some of the NFL's concussion testing.
Ware is making progress in his recovery, however. He was set to practice on Wednesday, which should put him on track to return to the lineup in Carolina this weekend.
No Jamaal Charles plus no Ware plus no Smith running out of the pocket equaled no running game for the Chiefs against Jacksonville.
They had just 62 yards on 22 carries, a paltry 2.8-yard average. Of that rushing total, almost half (30) came on two runs by Charcandrick West and Tyreek Hill. Jacksonville entered the game among the bottom-six run defenses in the league, but they crushed the hobbling Chiefs ground scheme. Running back Knile Davis was a bit player in his return to Kansas City. He carried three times for 10 yards and caught one pass for 7 yards.
But Davis was still a story in that he played at all. Traded by the Chiefs to Green Bay on Oct. 17, when Kansas City had a full backfield, Davis was with his third team of the week when he rejoined the Chiefs on Saturday. Assuming Ware returns this week, Davis will remain in the background, but his knowledge of the offense makes him a decent insurance policy.
Jeremy Maclin (groin) was on the field for only two offensive plays against Jacksonville, before a groin injury that he suffered in practice last week sent him to the locker room for the rest of the game. His status for Carolina is in question. "It's day-to-day; we'll just have to see," Reid said of Maclin. "It could (keep him out of action). It easily could."
Maclin did not practice Wednesday.
Hill only touched the ball eight times in Sunday's game against Jacksonville. But the rookie speedster still produced 104 yards, with 72 coming as a returner on special teams and 32 yards on offense. Through the first half of the schedule, Hill has produced 814 all-purpose yards on 58 runs, receptions and returns. That's a 14-yard per-touch average, and a per-game production of 101.8 yards.
I'll have more on Ware and Maclin via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses. ...
The Chiefs worked out running back Isaiah Pead on Tuesday, according to Profootballtalk.com
Pead played in three games for the Dolphins earlier this season but was released last month. He's played in 30 career games since being selected by the Rams in the second round in 2012.
As noted above, the Chiefs brough Davis back last week and also signed Bishop Sankey.
And finally. ... As the Sports Xchange put it: "Call it temper, call it passion, call it childish. Whatever the label, tight end Travis Kelce's tantrum in the fourth quarter of Kansas City's victory over Jacksonville on Sunday is going to cost him money."
When game officials missed a call in the end zone, Kelce lost it. He said something to field judge Mike Weatherford and drew a penalty flag. When Kelce saw that, he fired his towel at Weatherford, who then threw his hat, signaling another unsportsmanlike penalty. Two in one game means automatic ejection, and Kelce left the field with 11 minutes, 13 seconds to play.
Given time to cool down, Kelce was not happy with his behavior, although he continued his contention that Jacksonville cornerback Prince Amukamara grabbed him by the back of the jersey while he was attempting a touchdown catch.
"I kind of lost my composure out there," said Kelce, who finished the game with five catches for 58 yards. "When he threw the flag on me for whatever reason, he should have thrown it at the guy for pass interference. Once he threw the flag on me, I threw my towel at him like it was a flag and I told him how much I appreciated him for throwing his flag.
"You can't do it. I felt like an idiot. I can't do that to my teammates. It was a terrible decision."
Reid agreed with Kelce's assessment of his actions.
"You don't do that, you can't do that stuff," said Reid, who grabbed Kelce for a quick scolding as the tight end left the field. "I didn't appreciate the way he handled that. It's been addressed."
QBs: Patrick Mahomes, Chad Henne, Tyler Bray
RBs: Kareem Hunt, Charcandrick West, Kerwynn Williams, Damien Williams, Akeem Hunt
WRs: Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, De'Anthony Thomas, Jehu Chesson, Demarcus Robinson
TEs: Travis Kelce, Demetrius Harris
Los Angeles RamsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 November 2016
According to NFL.com's Chris Wesseling, the Los Angeles faithful's "We want Goff!" chants are falling on deaf ears.
NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported on Monday the Rams have no plans to make a quarterback change as long as the postseason remains a possibility.
"My understanding of the Rams quarterback situation," Rapoport said, "is that they're not going to make a switch -- barring some sort of epic collapse by Case Keenum -- until they fall out of playoff contention."
NFL Network's Steve Wyche echoed that sentiment, reporting that the Rams simply don't believe Jared Goff is ready to play.
As Wesseling suggested, that comes as no surprise to anyone who witnessed an overwhelmed Goff in August. Although the draft's No. 1 overall draft pick has begun handling a portion of first-team practice reps, he still has a ways to go after failing to process quickly pre-snap and struggling to deal with the speed of NFL defenses post-snap in preseason action.
As the 3-5 Rams embark on a Week 10 showdown with the Jets, they are operating under the belief that Keenum is their best quarterback. They also believe, per Wyche, that the rest of the offense isn't functioning at a high-enough level to support the raw rookie.
Head coach Jeff Fisher also pointed out the Jets' complicated defense might be a bad fit for Goff to get his first start.
"Jared is improving. I keep saying that as you guys keep asking the questions, he's improving," Fisher said. "But, Case right now, especially against this defense, gives us our best chance. It's an extremely complicated defense, and they can pressure the quarterback, they can do anything they want to do. They're very, very talented. Our focus is this week against the Jets, and Case will be under center."
Keenum, who was coming off a four-interception game in London two weeks ago and entered Sunday with the NFL's lowest Total QBR (41.4), had three of his first five passes batted at the line of scrimmage by the Panthers this past Sunday. On two third-down attempts, he took sacks against a devastating Panthers front seven.
On another, he was sacked while rearing back to throw and would've lost a fumble if Benny Cunningham hadn't caught the loose ball. On another instance, Keenum had Brian Quick open up the sideline and overthrew him on what could've been a long touchdown.
But until the offensive line begins opening holes for Todd Gurley in the NFL's 30th-ranked rushing attack, the quarterback will continue to shoulder too much of the offensive load. The coaching staff knows they can't ask Goff to throw roughly 50 times per week -- as Keenum has the past two games.
As frustrating as it is, Rams fans will be asked to exercise an increasing level of patience.
The Rams went nine straight drives without a score, then settled for a 25-yard field goal in the fourth quarter after tight end Lance Kendricks had a potential touchdown pass bounce off his chest. Three of the Rams' drives went three-and-out.
And with the pass not much of a threat, Gurley rushed for only 48 yards on 12 carries and was held below 100 yards for the 15th time in his past 16 games.
Gurley hasn't scored a touchdown since Week 5 and has just three total scores on the season. Fortunately, as NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich noted, he's been more involved as a pass-catcher which keeps his floor at a reasonable level, but his playing time is down too.
After playing 77 percent of the Rams' offensive snaps through the first six weeks, he's played just 66 percent of snaps in the last two games. "I don't control the play-calling. Coach (offensive coordinator Rob) Boras does a great job," Gurley said. "It's a team game, you can't get the ball every time."
That said, you can imagine Gurley is itching to get more touches,
"Like I said, obviously everybody wants the ball in their hands," he said. "But it's a team game; I trust in my guys as much as they trust in me."
His Week 9 could have been worse, and Franciscovich believes it probably will be worse this week when the Rams travel east to play the Jets who are allowing the fourth-fewest rushing yards per game in the NFL.
The Jets game marks a two-game stretch against teams the Rams have every right to believe they can beat, with the Dolphins visiting the Coliseum in two weeks.
It's incumbent that the Rams take advantage, and that means the offense improving on the two touchdowns it scored over the last two games. ...
One last note here. ... NFL.com's Matt Harmon points out that Kenny Britt and Brian Quick continue to lead the wide receivers in opportunities. Keenum missed Quick on a wide open deep shot and in the end zone. He's still a big-play dart throw for desperate fantasy players. Tavon Austin's two targets were a season-low and he only played one more snap than Quick.
QBs: Jared Goff, Sean Mannion
RBs: Todd Gurley, Malcolm Brown, Lance Dunbar
WRs: Robert Woods, Brandin Cooks, Cooper Kupp, Tavon Austin, Pharoh Cooper, Josh Reynolds
TEs: Tyler Higbee, Gerald Everett
Miami DolphinsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 November 2016
According to ESPN.com's James Walker, there is no singular Most Valuable Player in the first half of the Miami Dolphins' season. That award goes to five players weighing a combined 1,556 pounds.
Miami's offensive line continues to carry the team on its broad shoulders. The group -- consisting of left tackle Branden Albert, left guard Laremy Tunsil, center Mike Pouncey, right guard Jermon Bushrod and right tackle Ja'Wuan James -- had another strong performance in the Dolphins' 27-23 victory over the rival New York Jets on Sunday.
Miami's offense produced scoring drives on its first three possessions to set the tone for the game. Rookie running back Kenyan Drake's 96-yard kickoff return TD in the fourth quarter put the Dolphins ahead for good, and the running game was able to run out the clock.
The win marked a season-high third in a row for Miami, which enters the midpoint of its season at 4-4 and full of optimism. None of this would be possible without the Dolphins' offensive line, which is undefeated (3-0) this season when all five starters are healthy.
New York entered Week 9 with the NFL's top-ranked run defense and made it a point to prevent running back Jay Ajayi from making history. Ajayi had a chance to be the first NFL player to rush for 200 yards or more in three consecutive games. The Jets constantly stacked the box against Ajayi, but he still produced 111 rushing yards and a touchdown on 24 carries.
Miami's offense produced four drives of 10 plays or more, and that helped keep Miami's defense rested and off the field for long stretches. This formula has worked during the Dolphins' three-game winning streak.
For the first time in years, the Dolphins have found their identity. They are a physical, run-first team that relies on the offensive line to win in the trenches and dictate the play of the game. Miami now knows what it does well, and that bodes well for the second half of the season.
But here is the downside to this strength: It's been demonstrated that if one player goes down, the entire line suffers. Pouncey, a Pro Bowl center, missed the first four games, and the Dolphins were 1-3 in that stretch. They are 0-2 this year when Albert is out and 0-1 when Tunsil slipped in the shower and injured his ankle hours before the loss to the Tennessee Titans.
Miami's offensive line simply doesn't look the same when one or more pieces are missing. The overall health of this group is one of the biggest developments to keep an eye on in Miami's final eight games.
But if this group can stay together for the final eight games -- knock on wood, Miami fans -- the Dolphins have a chance to be a dangerous team down the stretch.
And the O-line and Ajayi will be a big part of that.
Ajayi has rushed for 529 yards in the past three games and leads the NFL at 5.9 yards per carry.
"I reminded our guys again today -- don't let me go away from Jay," said Adam Gase, the first-year coach, play-caller and quarterback guru by reputation. "Don't allow me to start getting in that rhythm of just throwing the ball.
"The reason Jay is so effective is he's a guy who runs very angry. When you do that for four quarters, eventually the other team is going to break. He's a big back who runs hard and runs through contact. The key for us is the attempts, staying with it, finding that rhythm. Eventually it's going to work out for us."
Gase has stuck with the plan for three games, with the Dolphins running the ball 109 times and throwing it 78 times (58 percent runs). In the first five games, they ran 92 times and threw 164 times (36 percent runs), and went 1-4.
The transformation is such that leading receiver Jarvis Landry caught only three passes for 33 yards Sunday.
"I've got to do a better job of getting Jarvis the ball," Gase said. "Anytime we put the ball in his hands, he makes something happen. It's my job to make sure our best player on offense is getting the ball."
Whether Landry is Miami's best offensive player is debatable, because there's growing competition. Ajayi? Albert? One of the other blockers in an increasingly dominant line?
Ajayi, a Brit who knows his Beatles, refers to his blockers as "the Fab Five."
"I feel confident every time behind those guys," he said. "I know they're going to create creases, and then it's just about hitting it hard and breaking tackles."
The line isn't just doing the job for Ajayi; Ryan Tannehill has been sacked twice in three games.
Speaking of Tannehill, the Palm Beach Post notes the brawny running attack has mitigated the QB's limitations. Gase got this job in part because of the thought that he had the best shot at turning him into a top-line quarterback, but that's not so crucial anymore.
Tannehill's biggest accomplishment was playing his third straight turnover-free game. He completed one pass of 20 yards or longer and finished 17 of 28 for 149 yards with a goal-line touchdown pass to tight end Dominique Jones in the second quarter. That's passable, game-manager production if Ajayi keeps running like this and the defense is above average.
But as Landry owners would suggest, it's not the best for them. In addition, DeVante Parker was already barely a factor, and he saw only four targets despite playing 90 percent of the team snaps with Kenny Stills leaving early due to illness.
Gase suggested after the game that Parker's hamstring continues to be an issue. ...
As for how the rushing attack impacts the defense? They were only on the field for 54 plays. They held the Jets to 1 of 5 (20 percent) in the red zone and 3 of 11 (27 percent) on third downs.
And the defense produced two interceptions and two fumbles, both on strip-sacks by defensive end Cam Wake, who has a team-best 5.0 sacks.
A few final notes here. ... Tight end Dion Sims (concussion) might be ready to return this week. Sims, who has missed the last two games, increased his practice activity last week and was seen running fairly hard on the field before Sunday's game against the Jets.
Jordan Cameron (concussion) was placed on injured reserve, ending his season. Cameron, who is believed to have had at least three concussions in the last four years, still wants to play, Gase said. But there's some thought his latest concussion could be career-threatening.
QBs: Jay Cutler, Matt Moore, Brock Osweiler, Brandon Doughty
RBs: Frank Gore, Kenyan Drake
WRs: DeVante Parker, Danny Amendola, Kenny Stills, Albert Wilson, Leonte Carroo, Jakeem Grant
TEs: Anthony Fasano, MarQueis Gray
Minnesota VikingsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 November 2016
Mike Zimmer has had enough and it appeared as if kicker Blair Walsh has missed his last kick as a member of the Minnesota Vikings.
On Monday, shortly after revealing that the team will be bringing kickers in for workouts Tuesday, the Vikings coach all but came out and said Walsh will be let go after missing his third extra point of the season and having a low, off-line 46-yard field goal attempt blocked at the line of scrimmage in Sunday's stunning 22-16 fall-from-ahead overtime loss to the Lions at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Asked why he's bringing in kickers, Zimmer asked the reporter: "You haven't been watching all year?"
Asked if he still thought Walsh could be a successful kicker "here," Zimmer said, "I think Blair can be a successful kicker, yes." Leaving "here" out of his answer certainly appeared to be intentional.
But it apparently the team wasn't impressed after working out a handful of free agents on Tuesday and Walsh will continue to ply his trade as a Vikings.
If the Vikings liked what they saw from one or more of the six they had in Tuesday and want to make a change later, those players remain a phone call away.
All this after the team played well enough offensively and defensively to win against Detroit. The offense completed 31 of 40 passes and had an impressive go-ahead touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter of Pat Shurmur's first game as interim offensive coordinator.
Meanwhile, the defense was dominant for the first 23 minutes of the second half before being done in by missed tackles in overtime and a poorly planned and executed prevent defense that allowed the Lions to move 35 yards in 21 seconds with no timeouts before kicking the game-tying 58-yard field goal as the fourth quarter expired.
The biggest problem Sunday was Walsh. Again. An ultra-confident All-Pro as a rookie sixth-round pick in 2012, Walsh's field goal percentage dropped in each of his first three seasons, bottoming out at 74.3 in 2014.
The Vikings took a gamble on him before the 2015 season, signing him to a four-year, $14 million extension a year before he could become a free agent. He became one of the league's five highest-paid kickers, but struggled with the first year of the longer PATs, missing four of them during an up-and-down season that ended disastrously when Walsh missed a 27-yard game-winning field goal attempt with 22 seconds left in the playoff loss to Seattle.
This season, Walsh has missed a PAT or field goal in four of eight games. Sunday, his missed PAT was utterly deflating after the sputtering offense finally mustered a touchdown drive, only to have the team trail 10-9.
The blocked field goal deflated the defense because it handed Detroit a 53-yard field goal without having to get a first down. The six-point swing led to a 13-9 Lions lead.
Zimmer also admitted Walsh's woes factored into his decision to go for it on fourth-and-inches at the Detroit 5-yard line midway through the fourth quarter. The Vikings turned the ball over on downs.
Monday, Zimmer sounded upbeat despite the team's three-game losing streak. "It's the first time in about a month that I've felt confident in the way our guys know how to play football again," Zimmer said.
He talked about how football is as much a mental game as a physical one. That confidence is vital and that he sensed from Sunday's game that many parts of the team played with confidence for the first time since starting 5-0.
"At some point in time you have belief and confidence in guys because you know what they've done in the past," Zimmer said when asked about his ongoing dilemma with trying to support Walsh while judging what's best for the team. "We've missed three extra points this year. We've missed several field goals.
"The way our games are being played, they're going to come down to a lot of close games. We have to look at all avenues as far as what gives us the best opportunity to win football games."
Meanwhile, all things considered, the Vikings couldn't have asked for much more than what the passing offense gave them.
With both starting tackles on injured reserve, left guard Alex Boone inactive because of injuries and Norv Turner having resigned as offensive coordinator Wednesday, interim offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur called a game that best suited the hand he's been dealt.
Sam Bradford completed 31 of 40 passes for 273 yards, one touchdown and a 103.4 passer rating. He did so by throwing 25 of his 40 passes either behind the line of scrimmage or no more than five yards downfield. The first two times Shurmur tried plays that took longer to develop, the Vikings gave up their only two sacks.
There were no turnovers and Bradford completed 7 of 10 passes for 72 yards during a 13-play, 79-yard go-ahead touchdown drive that gave the Vikings a 16-13 lead with 23 seconds left.
Laquon Treadwell, the team's rookie first-round draft pick, saw extended action for the first time this season and even caught a 15-yard pass. He had played only 12 snaps prior to Sunday. Said Zimmer: "It's about time he started getting some plays."
Stefon Diggs caught a career-high 13 balls while being targeted 14 times. He gained only 80 yards though, averaging 6.2 yards per catch. Diggs also picked up the punt return duties when Marcus Sherels left because of an ankle injury. Diggs handled three punt without issues and averaged 9.7 yards per return.
As NFL.com's Matt Harmon notes, Cordarrelle Patterson continues to play as the No. 2 receiver, going out on 58 percent of the offensive snaps. He could have had a touchdown on the day, but saw bounce off his hands in the end zone.
As usual, the rushing attack struggled.
Once again, the Vikings needed inches for a first down inside an opponent's 10-yard line and turned the ball over on downs. Two weeks earlier in Philadelphia, it happened on third and fourth down with two inches to go at the Eagles' 6-yard line. Sunday, it happened with six inches to go on fourth down at the Lions' 8-yard line with eight minutes to go and the Vikings trailing 13-9.
There's no push up front and no power in the backfield.
The Vikings had 78 yards rushing on 25 carries. Twenty-three of those carries netted only 52 yards. Ronnie Hillman had a 14-yard run, while Diggs had a 12-yarder on a reverse.
According to NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich, nobody in this backfield is an attractive fantasy play, but McKinnon will be difficult to bench when the Vikings play the Redskins in Week 10.
One last note here. ... Quarterback Taylor Heinicke was placed on the non-football injury list at the start of training camp after he injured his foot while trying to kick in the door of a friend's house after they returned home to find themselves locked out. Heinicke kicked through a glass pane on the door and severed a tendon, leaving himself with an extended absence from the field.
Heinicke was activated on Tuesday, which leaves the Vikings with three quarterbacks on the active roster so it's not clear how much work he'll get after his long layoff. Should something happen to either Sam Bradford or Shaun Hill, though, the Vikings wouldn't have to look outside the organization for a backup.
The Vikings waived 2015 fifth-round pick MyCole Pruitt to make room for Heinicke. He has 11 catches in 18 games with the team, but just one in two appearances this year.
QBs: Kirk Cousins
RBs: Latavius Murray, Mack Brown, C.J. Ham
WRs: Kendall Wright, Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, Tavarres King, Laquon Treadwell, Michael Floyd, Rodney Adams, Stacy Coley
TEs: Kyle Rudolph, David Morgan, Blake Bell
New England PatriotsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 November 2016
Tom Brady and the New England Patriots' offense hit the bye weekend on an impressive high.
Thanks to the nearly perfect month of passing by Brady since his return from his four-game Deflategate suspension 12 touchdowns, no interceptions, a 73.1 completion percentage and a 133.9 passer rating since his return New England (7-1) has scored at least 27 points in four straight wins, averaging 34 points a contest.
Even with the team fielding first-time starters Jimmy Garoppolo and rookie Jacoby Brissett in the first month, the Patriots have the league's No. 6 scoring offense and No. 7 offense in terms of yards.
For all its success, the group comes out of the midseason break with one of its grandest challenges as the Seahawks head to Foxboro for Sunday night's meeting, a rematch of Super Bowl XLIX.
Much like the last time the teams met in that February classic a couple years back, Seattle brings an impressive defense to the battle. Pete Carroll's team is No. 1 in points allowed and No. 6 in total defense, having allowed 20 points or fewer in five of seven games this fall.
It's a familiar challenge from a reasonably familiar foe.
"They are a good team," Brady said in his weekly Monday morning interview on WEEI Radio in Boston. "They feel like the team we played in the Super Bowl. They rush. People always say: 'What are some of the best defenses you play?' Seattle doesn't do a lot defensively. It's probably very limited with their calls, but what they do, they do extremely well. They've been one of the best defenses in the league."
Though there are some changes in personnel since the Super Bowl meeting, the core of both teams and the schemes they run remain pretty consistent. So both teams will probably look back on that historic battle as they prepare for this week's primetime affair.
"There's a lot of carryover, especially on their defense, from many of the players that we played against ... I would say that their scheme, what they do, hasn't changed dramatically," head coach Bill Belichick said. "Ours probably hasn't changed dramatically either. Again, we have a couple of different players but fundamentally we do a lot of the same things. I think there's definitely some relevance to that game. I'm sure they'll look at it. We've certainly seen it. I think it's relevant.
"Now again, there has been a lot of football played since then, so I don't think it's again, just one piece in the puzzle. I don't think it's the whole puzzle."
Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels sees a lot to prepare for when he puts on tape of the Seahawks.
"They do everything well. There's nothing that this defense doesn't do well, so I think that's been a continuation from what we've seen in the past," McDaniels gushed. "They're in the top 10 in basically every category and the top five in most of the important ones, whether it's points, red zone, total yards; they don't give up any big plays, sacks, creating turnover opportunities. This is an incredible challenge.
Of course, that is probably what Seattle sees while getting ready to face Brady and Co. after their Monday night battle with the Bills concluded. ...
Other notes of interest. ... According to ESPN.com's Mike Reiss, one of the valid criticisms of Brady in recent years has been the inability to consistently connect in the deep passing game, which makes his work in that area stand out over the past four games.
Brady is completing 57.1 percent of his passes thrown at least 20 yards downfield this season, which is the second-highest percentage in the NFL.
If he continues at this pace, it will be his highest percentage on such throws in the past decade. This is one example of how the 39-year-old is still improving at a stage in his career when most are simply trying to sustain (if they're playing at all), with Belichick noting Brady's hard work in this area. Belichick also made another point of note: The deep throws have become higher-percentage options in 2016 because the Patriots -- most notably with receiver Chris Hogan and tight end Rob Gronkowski -- have done a better job getting behind the defense and taking advantage when opponents don't play their safeties deep.
Brady completed 33.3 percent of passes thrown at least 20 yards downfield in the 2015 season, with two touchdowns and three interceptions. Those numbers further highlight Brady's dramatic improvement in 2016 (a 57.1 completion percentage, with four touchdowns and no interceptions).
Hogan has been a near-every-down player but has only 11 targets in four games with Brady. While banking on consistent weekly production will be tough, Hogan has emerged as the Patriots' top vertical threat. Given that, Reiss believes the big-play potential is something fantasy owners should also keep in mind. -- Mike Reiss
Meanwhile, the Patriots, who already have an embarrassment of offensive riches, might be tapping into their savings account in the near future.
They're holding out hope running back Dion Lewis will be ready for this week's game against the Seahawks, a source told Boston Herald staffer Jeff Howe. Lewis has participated in all three practices since debuting during last Thursday's workout, and the hope for all involved is that he'll be available to play in his first game this week.
The Patriots have not determined Lewis will be ready to take on the Seahawks, but that possibility remains in play.
Not that the team is hurting for production. LeGarrette Blount has 161 carries for 609 yards and is on pace to shatter his career highs in both categories, and he already has a career-best nine touchdowns. James White has set personal bests with 26 carries for 107 yards, and he has 29 receptions for 258 yards and three touchdowns, all of which are on pace for career highs.
How many more weapons do they really need?
"We'll take all of them that you'll give us," Blount said.
Lewis had 49 carries for 234 yards, 36 catches for 388 yards and four offensive touchdowns in seven games last season before tearing his ACL on Nov. 8.
I'll be following up on his status via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses.
QBs: Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer
RBs: Rex Burkhead, Jeremy Hill, James White, Mike Gillislee, James Develin
WRs: Chris Hogan, Kenny Britt, Cordarrelle Patterson, Phillip Dorsett, Malcolm Mitchell, Matt Slater
TEs: Rob Gronkowski, Troy Niklas, Dwayne Allen
New Orleans SaintsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 November 2016
As ESPN.com's Mike Triplett pointed out, receiver Michael Thomas has been one of the hottest rookies in the NFL this season.
Sixth-year running back Mark Ingram reached a career low point last week.
But both New Orleans Saints playmakers enjoyed the signature breakout moments of their careers Sunday as the Saints won a 41-23 track meet over the San Francisco 49ers.
Ingram burst free for a 75-yard touchdown run in the second quarter -- the fourth-longest run in Saints history -- just one week after he got demoted because of fumbling issues.
Then Thomas made a ridiculous 32-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter, reaching his arms around cornerback Tramaine Brock and batting the ball to himself as he fell backward in the end zone.
Ingram and Thomas each scored two touchdowns in a game that had enough offense for just about everyone on the field to have a monster day.
The Saints (4-4) now have a chance to get over .500 next week for the first time since 2013, though it won't be easy since they're hosting the reigning Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos.
Triplett went on to note the Saints clearly still have some major defensive issues to iron out after they allowed 23 points and 486 yards on Sunday. But only three of those points came in the second half, and the Saints won the turnover battle 4-0.
Drew Brees threw for his typical 323 yards and three touchdowns. But it was Ingram and Thomas who stole the show.
Thomas also caught a 1-yard TD pass on third down in the first quarter and now has five on the season. He finished Sunday with five catches for 73 yards.
Ingram started on the bench behind Tim Hightower for the first two series after Hightower had replaced Ingram as the featured back last week against Seattle. But there was enough to go around against the 49ers' run defense, which is by far the worst in the NFL.
New Orleans ran for a total of 248 yards. Hightower ran for 87 yards and one touchdown on 23 carries and caught one pass for 15 yards.
Ingram, meanwhile, finished with 158 yards on 15 carries and one touchdown. He also caught two passes for 13 yards and a touchdown.
It's unclear what the pecking order will be next week when the Saints face two much more daunting defenses (Denver on Sunday, then at the Carolina Panthers on the following Thursday night). But it's obviously a good problem to have right now -- at least for the Saints.
I'll have more on the time-share going forward when the Late-Breaking Updates commence on Thurdsay. ...
In a related note. ... Brees was sacked only once and completed passes to 10 different players, five of whom had at least 35 receiving yards, in compiling a passer rating of 122.1. Thomas led the way, but Brandin Cooks had five receptions for 66 yards and tight end Josh Hill had four catches for 40 yards with a 32-yarder. Ingram had a 5-yard TD catch among his two receptions for 13 yards.
According to NFL.com's Matt Harmon, Coby Fleener was once again marginalized in favor of superior blocker Hill. Fleener played just 32 percent of the snaps whereas Hill played 76 percent. It's going to be tough for Fleener to ever see double-digit targets with that kind of snap share.
In addition, the Saints claimed TE John Phillips off waivers from the Broncos. ...
And finally. ... Going into Sunday's contest with the 49ers, Brees had taken the opening snap of a game in 34 different NFL stadiums.
He pushed the impressive total to 35 after Brees added the 49ers' three-year-old Levi's Stadium to the list, throwing for 323 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions in the Saints' 41-23 blowout.
Brees, a 16-year veteran, is 12-3 in his first start in a visit to an arena he had never before played in since joining the Saints in 2006. Prior to signing with the Saints, he was 9-11 in new venues with the San Diego Chargers.
QBs: Drew Brees, Tom Savage
RBs: Mark Ingram, Jonathan Williams, Alvin Kamara, Daniel Lasco
WRs: Michael Thomas, Ted Ginn, Willie Snead, Brandon Coleman, TommyLee Lewis
TEs: Ben Watson, Josh Hill, Michael Hoomanawanui
New York GiantsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 November 2016
As ESPN.com's Jordan Raanan understated, the bye week did the New York Giants good.
Through the first seven games, they managed to score more than 20 points just twice, never topping 27. They beat that mark early in the third quarter of Sunday's 28-23 victory over the Eagles.
With some rest, tweaks to their offense and help from a defense that created a pair of early turnovers, the Giants exploded, at least in comparison to what has been expected from them this season. They scored first for the first time since Week 3 and grabbed a quick 14-point advantage. Eli Manning threw four touchdown passes after throwing four in the previous four games combined.
The Giants can take away some positives from this key victory over a division rival. They grabbed sole possession of second place in the NFC East, and their offense, which entered Sunday's game averaging only 19 points per game, showed signs of life. It's something to build on, even if it wasn't perfect.
The Giants' offense stumbled late and still couldn't run the ball for much of the afternoon. But at times, the Giants looked like a different team from the one we saw before the bye.
Lewis caught a 30-yard touchdown early in the first quarter to give the Giants a 14-0 lead. He followed up an Odell Beckham 26-yard touchdown in the first quarter.
Lewis brings an added dimension to the offense. He now has two touchdown receptions of 20-plus yards in limited playing time this season.
"I think I just add a playmaker. That is it," Lewis said. "My playmaking ability from college is still adjusting in the NFL because it is kind of different. I want to be able to be a playmaker. I kind of feed off of guys like Odell. When he scored I was like, 'Hey, I have got to go get me one.' So with me being an undrafted guy, I am going to have to play with a chip on my shoulder and be able to make plays. That is it."
According to Raanan, Cruz likely would've fallen into head coach Ben McAdoo's category of "de-acclimation" had he not been injured. Tight end Larry Donnell also was not part of the Giants' game plan coming out of the bye. Donnell did not play an offensive snap against the Eagles, after serving as the starter at tight end most of the season.
"We just talked about using all the 46," McAdoo said. "Rotate as many players as we can in the ballgame and get them some quality reps."
Rookie running back Paul Perkins also split reps with starter Rashad Jennings as the Giants increased the roles of several young players on both sides of the ball. Perkins said he didn't know prior to the contest that he would receive more snaps and carries. He had a career-high with 14 touches in Sunday's victory.
"Coach likes to keep it fresh. Everybody has to prepare like a starter and prepare like we're going to get a lot of reps, so that is what we all do," Perkins said. "Not surprise[d], but just ready for the moment."
This appears to be the way the Giants are headed. Their young players are going to be further integrated.
McAdoo has said on multiple occasions the Giants are not going to be afraid to play young players. But those weren't the only changes.
The Giants used six offensive linemen on a handful of plays and also moved their wide receivers around more than they had early in the season. Beckham took more snaps in the slot Sunday than any other game this season.
"We did some good things. Hit a couple of big plays, hit a post, hit Sterling Shepard on the touchdown. We were much better in the red and green zone areas, scoring touchdowns. We converted some nice third downs," Manning said. "There were things that were positive and, hey, you're always in a process of improving, getting better. We have to be better on some third downs, too many negative plays where we're going backward and putting ourselves in a bind.
"Overall, I thought we did some good things against a good defense."
Well. ... Except for one thing: The Giants are averaging 68.3 rushing yards-per-game, which ranks last in the league.
As ESPN.com's Katherine Terrell put it, "There's no Ezekiel Elliott here," as the Giants leading rusher Jennings is averaging 2.6 yards per carry.
The Giants now appear to be going with a committee of Jennings and Perkins.
The Bengals have allowed two 100-yard rushers this season -- Browns backup quarterback Kevin Hogan rushed for 104 yards against them and Elliott rushed for 134 yards in a loss to the Cowboys.
So expect a continued emphasis on the passing attack come Monday night.
Still, Perkins' emergence is encouraging.
With the rookie having earned himself more touches his came at the expense of Bobby Rainey, who was active despite nursing an injury the team is now in a position to take its time making a decision on running back Shane Vereen, who had a 4.7 yards-per-carry average prior to going on injured reserve with a triceps injury.
"It's tough to give one guy, feature one guy in the running game these days," McAdoo said. "You need a couple of guys that can carry the ball for you."
In Perkins, who is averaging 3.4 yards per carry this season and who also has nine receptions for 120 yards for the year, the Giants appear to have found one guy capable of delivering the goods with the rock in his hand for the rest of this year and beyond
For the record, Vereen is now eligible to being practicing with the Giants this week in anticipation toward a return. However, he will have to wait a little longer to find out if his journey back can begin. "We haven't had those conversations yet," McAdoo said regarding whether Vereen would be able to practice this week.
Cruz had an MRI on his sprained ankle Monday afternoon and it revealed nothing serious. The Bergen County Record reported that Cruz's injury is a low ankle sprain, which would presumably not require as much missed time as a high ankle sprain would. In fact, Cruz said on Tuesday that he might miss one game. "A little sore today," he said.
I'll have more on Cruz in coming days; watch the Late-Breaking News section for more.
QBs: Eli Manning, Davis Webb
RBs: Orleans Darkwa, Jonathan Stewart, Wayne Gallman, Shane Vereen, Paul Perkins
WRs: Sterling Shepard, Roger Lewis, Travis Rudolph, Ed Eagan
TEs: Evan Engram, Jerell Adams, Rhett Ellison
New York JetsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 November 2016
According to Associated Press sports writer Dennis Waszak Jr, Ryan Fitzpatrick's grip on the Jets' starting quarterback job all depends on his injured knee.
Head coach Todd Bowles announced Monday that Fitzpatrick is "day to day" with a sprained left knee and that his status for New York's game Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams is uncertain.
"We'll know more as the week progresses," Bowles said during a conference call. "I've got to see him run around a little bit on Wednesday and Thursday first."
Fitzpatrick injured his knee during the third quarter of the Jets' 27-23 loss at Miami on Sunday. The quarterback left for a series and was replaced by Bryce Petty, but he returned and finished the game while wearing a brace on the knee. It was heavily wrapped when he spoke to the media afterward.
While the injury is not believed to be serious, Bowles says Petty would start Sunday if Fitzpatrick is not healthy enough.
"If he misses a significant amount of time, then Bryce will play," Bowles said. "I mean, he'd have to practice some on Friday, at least, and have a good understanding of the game plan and we'll make a decision going forward."
Petty was a fourth-round pick in last year's draft out of Baylor. He injured his right shoulder in the preseason finale and was unavailable during the first few weeks of the regular season.
Petty is now the backup to Fitzpatrick after Geno Smith suffered a season-ending knee injury against Baltimore two weeks ago.
"Yeah, he'll be ready," Bowles said of Petty, who was 2 of 2 for 19 yards in his first regular-season action.
Fitzpatrick had been benched in favor of Smith against the Ravens after throwing 11 interceptions in the first six games, but he regained his starting role when Smith got hurt.
Fitzpatrick's struggles have continued, however, including throwing two interceptions against the Dolphins. That has some fans and media clamoring for the Jets to give Petty a chance at starting.
"We're down, not out right now, and I'm not worried about turning the page," Bowles said. "I'm worried about who gives us the best chance to win, and right now Fitz gives us the best chance to win -- if he's healthy. If not, then Bryce will get his shot to play."
For what it's worth, Fitzpatrick worked on a limited basis Wednesday and believes he will be healthy enough to start Sunday against the Rams, a league source told ESPN's Ed Werder.
I'll obviously be following the QB situation closely in coming days; watch the Late-Breaking News section of the site for more as the week progresses. ...
Bowles also announced that cornerback Marcus Williams has a high ankle sprain that could sideline him for multiple games.
Williams is tied with Marcus Gilchrist for the team lead with two interceptions this season. He led the Jets last season with six interceptions and has played 75 percent of the defensive snaps as a key part of Bowles' defense.
Meanwhile, the Jets have other issues to deal with.
As Waszak put it: "At times, they look and behave like a dysfunctional mess. Other times, they show a winning heart."
Both versions of the team showed up Sunday. There were some encouraging signs, as Fitzpatrick rallied from the knee injury and two interceptions to put the Jets ahead 23-20 with an 18-yard touchdown pass with 5:42 play. But the major takeaway was the lack of discipline on and off the field, and the lack of accountability after the game.
Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson, both of whom were benched for the first quarter, bolted the locker room instead of answering questions from reporters. A tight-lipped Bowles refused to say why he benched his so-called defensive stars, repeatedly calling it a "coach's decision."
NJ.com reported Wilkerson and Richardson "are regularly late or miss team meetings." NFL.com reported Wilkerson, whom the Jets signed to a five-year extension in July, missed a walkthrough and a defensive meeting on Oct. 22, which was Wilkerson's birthday as well as the day before a game against the Baltimore Ravens. According to NFL.com, teammates at the defensive meeting were planning to surprise Wilkerson with a cake.
Wilkerson was a surprise inactive against the Ravens due to what the team called an ankle injury. He was also benched for the first quarter against the New York Giants last Dec. 6 after missing a team meeting.
This is the first known instance of Richardson being punished by the coaching staff, though he has been suspended twice by the NFL for off-field incidents.
Fitzpatrick and wide receiver Brandon Marshall are supposed to be the leaders of the team, but they were caught on camera screaming at each other on the sideline during the second quarter.
"Things got a little heated," said Marshall, claiming he still has "love" for his quarterback.
Fitzpatrick, too, downplayed it, saying, "That's just part of football and part of our relationship."
"We didn't play as a team," said Quincy Enunwa, including himself in that assessment.
"There was a lot of selfish ball. That's not really going to help you win." Asked what he meant by "selfish," Enunwa said, "I'd like to keep that in-house."
Despite the self-inflicted adversity, the Jets displayed resilience, rallying from a 20-13 deficit in the fourth quarter. This could have been a season-defining win. The Dolphins practically handed it to them, muffing a punt snap deep in their own territory -- a blunder that set up the Fitzpatrick-to-Marshall touchdown.
They took the gift and stamped it "Return to sender."
Other notes of interest. ... Marshall moved past a Jets legend Sunday, when he finished with six catches for 45 yards in the Jets' 27-23 loss to the Dolphins. With 11,858 yards, Marshall surged past Jets Hall of Famer Don Maynard into 26th place on the all-time receiving yardage list. Marshall is 47 yards away from passing another Hall of Famer, Michael Irvin, for 25th place.
As the Sports Xchange suggested, Matt Forte (12 carries for 92 yards, one touchdown) looked like a rookie again, especially on a 32-yard touchdown run in which he shot into the secondary and coasted untouched into the end zone. So how did he only get 12 carries during a close game in which Fitzpatrick could get little going through the air? And how did RB Bilal Powell (six carries for 22 yards) gain fewer yards than Fitzpatrick (three carries for 26 yards)?
The Jets need to get things sorted out in a hurry.
The Jets announced on Wednesday that they put left tackle Ryan Clady on injured reserve, after he didn't play last week against the Dolphins. He initially suffered a shoulder injury against the Chiefs in Week 3, and didn't practice at all last week. He was active but didn't play offense against the Dolphins.
The Jets also activated wide receiver Devin Smith from the physically unable to perform list.
Smith, their second-round pick last year, wasn't ready to open the season after last season's knee injury.
QBs: Teddy Bridgewater, Bryce Petty, Christian Hackenberg
RBs: Matt Forte, Isaiah Crowell, Bilal Powell, Elijah McGuire, Thomas Rawls
WRs: Robby Anderson, Jermaine Kearse, Neal Sterling, Andre Roberts, Terrelle Pryor, Chad Hansen, ArDarius Stewart
TEs: Eric Tomlinson, Will Tye, Jordan Leggett
Oakland RaidersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 November 2016
As ESPN.com's Paul Gutierrez suggested, it was not quite Marcus Allen running with the night on his reverse-field, 74-yard touchdown run in Super Bowl XVIII.
Latavius Murray instead broke off a 42-yarder and went out of bounds with a safety having the angle on him. Nor did Murray fully go over the pile ala Allen in his heyday, but Murray scored just the same.
After his third touchdown run of the night, all from 1 yard out, Murray was magnanimous. He turned to find his right tackle. He spied Austin Howard, handed him the football and watched as Howard jubilantly spiked it as only a 6-foot-7, 330-pound man can.
It put an exclamation point on not just the Oakland Raiders' thumping of the Denver Broncos 30-20 but also on how they did it: by lining up and physically dominating the defending Super Bowl champions to improve to 7-2 and take over first place in the AFC West.
So yeah, Murray wanted the guys who cleared the way to get in on the action.
"Those guys create a new line of scrimmage for me, and it makes it easy," Murray said. "The O-line gets to have a little fun."
Why not? It was, after all, the offensive line that opened all those holes for Murray, who rushed for 114 yards on 20 carries. Then there were change-of-pace rookie backs Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington, who ran for 62 and 35 yards, respectively. As a team, the Raiders rushed for 218 yards.
Left tackle Donald Penn said the collective success was a result of Murray's being a leader on the team.
"You should see how he is helping these two young running backs out," Penn said. "Sometimes he wants them to go in and get them a rep. Some guys want it all for themselves, but he takes a step back and likes to see the rotation. Some guys would be mad about that, but Latavius is grasping that role. It's doing a lot of good for us."
Murray was playing in his third straight game after missing two with turf toe, and his yards per carry average has gone from 3.3 against the Jacksonville Jaguars to 4.4 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to 5.7 against the Broncos since his return.
Sure, his touches are down with the emergence of the Mighty Mite rookies, but his production is up.
"[Murray] doesn't care about that at all," Derek Carr said. "He's the same way I am: He just wants to win. Sometimes, he will have seven, eight carries and we win? He's the happiest guy in the locker room. That's why I love this team so much. That's why I love this organization. It's because all of our guys are like that.
"It doesn't matter if you have 100 yards rushing or 300 yards passing. The things we're doing right now, we're heading the right way. I can't say enough about Latavius. He is invaluable to this team, this organization and to me personally."
That Oakland was able to run the ball on the Broncos' No. 3-ranked total team defense (granted, it was 24th against the run) a week after Carr riddled the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a franchise-record 513 passing yards speaks to the Raiders' multifaceted offense. And to keep Denver's elite pass-rushers, Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware, honest by lining up and running it at the Broncos?
"It feels great," Murray said. "Just to pound on those guys, again, we're capable of doing that. We have a physical front. We have physical backs, physical receivers, and so that's the way we need to play. That's the way we're capable of playing. I think it showed."
The Raiders (7-2) keep their half-game lead over the Kansas City Chiefs (6-2), but more important showed they are capable of much more than simply outscoring the lesser lights of the NFL.
The Raiders had built their record with six victories (five on the road) against teams that currently have losing records. Their two losses, at home to Atlanta and Kansas City, were against teams with winning records.
Not only did the Raiders beat the Broncos, they beat them up, outrushing Denver 218-33 while Carr played more of caretaker roll, racking throws for first downs (12) rather than touchdowns (none).
Now they get a bye week to plot their strategy going forward. ...
A few final notes here. ... Carr's yardage output of 184 yards was his lowest of the season as he completed 20 of 31 passes and no touchdowns. But as the Sports Xchange notes, there were no turnovers (T.J. Ward nearly had an interception in the fourth quarter that would have dropped Carr to a C or below), and he 12 throws that went for first downs as the Raiders dominated the clock. It was functional and effective against a quality defense.
As NFL.com's Matt Harmon pointed out, we expected the Raiders receivers to be slowed a bit in this game, and that did indeed come to pass. Bradley Roby gave up five catches for 54 yards to Amari Cooper on 17 pass plays, while Michael Crabtree was only able to manage two catches against Chris Harris on 15 pass plays.
Andre Holmes caught two passes for 27 yards and downed two punts inside the 2-yard line on Sunday against the Broncos.
Sebastian Janikowski kicked his 400th career field goal, the ninth player reach that level, but missed from 48 yards, his first miss from inside 50 this season.
QBs: Derek Carr, E.J. Manuel, Connor Cook
RBs: DeAndre Washington, Jalen Richard, Marshawn Lynch, Doug Martin
WRs: Jordy Nelson, Amari Cooper, Seth Roberts, Johnny Holton
TEs: Jared Cook, Lee Smith
Philadelphia EaglesCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 November 2016
As Associated Press sports writer Rob Maaddi put it, "Carson Wentz is playing like a rookie and Doug Pederson is making decisions like a first-year coach. ..."
The combination of inexperience and inconsistency cost the Eagles another game, and they're reeling at the midpoint of the season. They've lost four of the last five games, including a 28-23 loss to the Giants on Sunday.
That 3-0 start is a distant memory now.
"We're obviously building something here, but, when you look at these games, that we've been in at the end, the encouraging thing is that we really should have won those games," Pederson said Monday. "As we build this thing, we're going to win these games down the stretch as we go."
Wentz threw a pair of interceptions on Philadelphia's first two drives against New York, putting the Eagles in a 14-0 hole. They also trailed 14-0 in the first quarter in losses to Detroit and Washington.
But Wentz rebounded nicely against the Giants the same way he did in the other losses only to fall short at the end.
The offense had the ball with an opportunity to drive for the winning score in each of the four losses, but Wentz couldn't get it done.
He threw four straight incomplete passes from the Giants 17 in the final minute. Jordan Matthews was open in the end zone on fourth-and-10, but Wentz's pass sailed over his outside shoulder.
"It was a good ball," Matthews said afterward. "Carson put it outside, good placement. I've just got to locate it, find it and bring it in."
Wentz also took the blame.
"You've got to be precise down there," he said.
Their inability to finish games should be a learning experience. They also have to play better at the start.
"That same sense of urgency that you have to have at the end of the game, we have to come out with that," Matthews said.
"We have to come out with that same drive, that same attention to detail and that gotta-have-it mentality, we've got to go make a play right now. It comes, and lots of times it comes when we're down or late in games, and then it's too late."
Pederson's play calling has been questionable lately. He was conservative in an overtime loss at Dallas last week and too aggressive against New York. Pederson is calling plays for the first time in his career after serving as offensive coordinator under Andy Reid in Kansas City.
He passed up field goals twice to go for fourth-and-2 at the Giants 23 and fourth-and-1 at the Giants 6 in the first half. The offense failed to convert both times, and the six points were the difference in the outcome.
"I still feel strong about those," Pederson said. "I think the decision is to go for it. It shows confidence and belief in the guys. We were moving the ball.
"To me, it didn't come down to those two plays. There were enough things that cost us this football game, but I still stick by what I did -- how I chose to go for it in both of those situations."
Overall, the Eagles had a first down at the Giants 22 or better on six different possessions and ended up with three field goals on those drives.
The Eagles host the NFC South-leading Atlanta Falcons (6-3) this week. They're 3-0 at home, including lopsided wins over the Steelers and Vikings. ...
Other notes of interest. ... After running back Ryan Mathews lost a fumble against the Vikings in Week 7, Pederson said that the team was "by no means" down on the veteran back.
Mathews saw his playing time drop from 26 snaps to eight in the team's Week 8 loss to the Cowboys, but Pederson responded to questions about the back by saying he was still the lead guy in the team's backfield. Mathews played another eight snaps against the Giants on Sunday while Darren Sproles played 60 after playing on 61 snaps against the Cowboys.
As Profootballtalk.com's Josh Alper wrote, "That suggests Pederson had an odd way of defining lead guy," although a Monday update on the backfield pecking order clears things up.
"By stats and by what you're seeing, I would say that Darren is the No. 1 back right now," Pederson said in comments distributed by the team. "You know, Ryan is still a big part [of the offense]; you saw the touchdown run that he had yesterday. Kenjon [Barner] had a nice run. Wendell [Smallwood] had a nice run. So it's still a little bit of the running back by committee. Obviously, we haven't hung our hat on one guy, but we tend to lean more towards Darren Sproles. It's hard to take him off the field right now."
Mathews had five carries and a catch on his eight snaps, so he does still have a role in the offense.
It's considerably smaller than the one Sproles is playing, however, and continuing to argue otherwise wouldn't do Pederson much good. ...
Dorial Green-Beckham didn't catch a single one of the five passes thrown his way. As NFL.com's Matt Harmon suggested, that's "no way to earn more playing time."
One last note here. ... TE Brent Celek suffered a fractured rib Sunday against the Giants. But it is not displaced. Pederson said he'll likely miss practice Wednesday, but should be available for Sunday's game against Atlanta.
QBs: Nick Foles
RBs: Jay Ajayi, Corey Clement, Kenjon Barner, Wendell Smallwood
WRs: Mike Wallace, Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, Mack Hollins, Shelton Gibson
TEs: Zach Ertz, Richard Rodgers
Pittsburgh SteelersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 November 2016
According to ESPN.com's Jeremy Fowler, receiver Antonio Brown knows what the Steelers must do to combat the constant double-teams he is facing.
"Others have to step up," said Brown from his locker after Sunday's 21-14 loss to the Ravens.
Brown didn't say this as an indictment on his teammates, but matter-of-factly when discussing the attention he gets from defenders. Brown said the Ravens sometimes shaded a third defender, a linebacker, on him during routes. This setup begs other playmakers to win one-on-ones.
The Steelers' 21-14 loss to Baltimore caps a three-game stretch in which the offense was at times curiously bad and far away from Super Bowl contender.
Brown finished the game with 7 catches for 85 yards and 1 touchdown, but much of that production came in the fourth quarter as the Steelers (4-4) battled back from a 21-0 deficit.
The Steelers' offense has struggled in three straight road games, leaving an uphill climb to the playoffs. Pittsburgh had 69 yards of total offense through the first three quarters. With 55 catches for 677 yards and 6 touchdowns, Brown is having a fine season but not producing at the otherworldly level of the past two years.
After Brown said the Ravens "used a lot of guys to take me away," he was asked what's required of the Steelers' other receivers when that happens.
"They need to find a way to step in, step up and make plays," Brown said. "It's been about eight weeks so far, and that's what we've been seeing -- double coverage. Today it was triple coverage with a linebacker coming over, and we just have to find ways to win. Other guys have to step up. It just shows that people got respect for me, but we have to find a way to win no matter what they do. It's all about what we do."
Ben Roethlisberger took ownership of the loss Sunday, saying after the game, "I didn't make plays, I didn't convert third downs."
But the Steelers have struggled to find a reliable No. 2 receiver behind Brown, who benefited from Martavis Bryant's playmaking last year. Bryant is suspended, and though Sammie Coates produced 421 yards through the first five games, he has been quiet in his past three outings while coming back from a finger injury.
Eli Rogers led the team with 103 receiving yards Sunday, most of which came late in the game, but he didn't play the previous game against the New England Patriots because of what he called a "coach's decision."
As NFL.com's Matt Harmon notes, Rogers out-snapped Coates 69 to 63 percent. Coates committed a brutal drop in the end zone, which is always a possibility with him
Darrius Heyward-Bey moved into the starting lineup opposite Brown on Sunday, but he left the game with a foot injury. There is no timetable for his return.
Running back Le'Veon Bell is a talented pass-catcher, but he can only do so much from the backfield.
"We can't make any excuses," said Brown about being 4-4. "We've got to find a way to continue to get better, and we get a fresh start next week. We've got to get things on the right side."
Tight end Ladarius Green is close to returning. Head coach Mike Tomlin said Green be on the practice field Wednesday as he starts his third straight week with teammates.
Brown is the only Steelers receiver or tight end with more than 24 catches, prompting Tomlin to say the team needs a lift from someone "not named Antonio Brown." Teammates acknowledge this, too.
Green won't be a savior, but he represents hope.
"He's done some nice things," said Tomlin about Green. "He's proven his health. He's in the process of proving his overall level of conditioning ... We have to be smart in how we utilize him."
That could mean Green will get a few packaged plays on passing downs.
Whatever the case, the offense that wanted to average 30 points a game is averaging a full touchdown less than that. In each of their past three road losses the Steelers have managed all of 40 points and only one touchdown before pre-garbage time stat fillers that made the outcome more respectable.
At least the Steelers will be home this Sunday, a place where they're averaging a robust 28.5 points a game.
That's the good news. The bad news? It's against the surging Dallas Cowboys (7-1), who are tied for the best record in the NFL behind rookie quarterback Dak Prescott and rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott.
For the record, the Steelers wanted to run the ball against the Ravens, but managed just 36 yards on 18 carries. Bell had 32 yards on 14 carries, but 13 of those yards came on one run late in the fourth quarter. His longest run in the first three quarters was four yards.
By the way. ... I'll have more on Green and Heyward-Bey via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses.
QBs: Ben Roethlisberger, Landry Jones, Josh Dobbs
RBs: Le'Veon Bell, Terrell Watson, Stevan Ridley
WRs: Martavis Bryant, Eli Rogers, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Justin Hunter, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Antonio Brown
TEs: Jesse James, Xavier Grimble, Vance McDonald
San Diego ChargersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 November 2016
Melvin Gordon is quickly making people forget his disappointing rookie season.
The second-year back rushed for a career-high 196 yards and scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 1-yard run to lead the Chargers to a 43-35 victory Sunday against Marcus Mariota and the Tennessee Titans, who still haven't won in San Diego since 1990.
Gordon was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week for his effort.
Gordon leads the NFL with 11 touchdowns, nine rushing. He has three 100-yard games, including two straight.
During a frustrating rookie year, he failed to score and had no 100-yard games.
"Whenever you have a running back with that kind of potential, and see him realize it, it's cool," right tackle Joe Barksdale said. "You feel good for Melvin, you feel good for the team."
Gordon's performance was so big that it drew a few animal references.
"We all know he's our bell cow back there," head coach Mike McCoy said. "We're going to give him the ball and let him roll."
A week ago in Denver, the Chargers had a first-and-goal at the 2 and Gordon's number wasn't called once. Philip Rivers threw four straight incomplete passes and the Chargers lost 27-19.
Gordon also had four catches for 65 yards, totaling 261 yards from scrimmage -- tied for the 15th most in franchise history.
Gordon and the offense were buoyed by the Chargers' opportunistic defense, which scored touchdowns off two Marcus Mariota turnovers -- one a Dwight Lowery 36-yard fumble return and the other a 33-yard interception return by Brandon Flowers for a score in the fourth quarter.
While the Chargers leaned on Gordon on offense, Antonio Gates kept the chains moving. Slowed for the past month due to a lingering issue, he looked like his old self. That was appropriate, considering the Chargers wore their iconic powder blue uniforms.
With rookie tight end Hunter Henry out due to a knee injury, Rivers leaned on Gates like old times. The 36-year-old tight end finished with five receptions for 75 yards, including a 13-yard touchdown reception -- his 108th career touchdown, putting Gates three behind Tony Gonzalez's all-time mark of 111 for tight ends. Rivers and Gates have connected on 81 touchdowns, the most in NFL history for a quarterback-tight end tandem.
With the win, the Chargers improved to 4-5 on the year. They have taken 10 of their past 11 contests against the Titans.
"We're gonna come home, and win two, and get to 5-5," Rivers said. "Can't wait."
Rivers is halfway to being right. The Chargers are poised to reach .500 because Gordon continues to shine and the defense is rising as well.
Add it all up and the Chargers, while riding the caboose in the rugged AFC West, haven't fallen too far off track. That's especially true if Gordon keeps showing flashes of brilliance, like he did on Sunday.
"We're going to need him down the stretch that we all believe is going to be a heck of a stretch," Rivers said. "We're excited about continuing.
The Chargers host the Miami Dolphins this week before taking a bye. ... Overall, they finish out 2016 with five of their last eight games at Qualcomm Stadium. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Rivers threw two touchdown pass and went for 275 yards, spitting out a nifty 117.6 rating. The pass protection was good for the most part and Rivers wasn't shy about using Gordon out of the backfield.
Tyrell Williams added a score on a day the wide receiving corps was thin because of injuries. As NFL.com's Matt Harmon noted, Williams is an ideal fit for the type of slants and crossers that the Chargers love to run.
Travis Benjamin was nursing a sore knee when entering the game. He didn't last until the second half until having to rest.
Jeremy Butler got his chanced with the Chargers when signing a free-agent contract the Monday before the game. But his stint as a Chargers was short-lived as he turned his ankle in the first quarter and didn't return.
QBs: Philip Rivers, Geno Smith, Cardale Jones
RBs: Melvin Gordon, Branden Oliver
WRs: Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams, Travis Benjamin, Mike Williams, Geremy Davis
TEs: Antonio Gates, Sean McGrath
San Francisco 49ersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 November 2016
One day after the second-best game of Colin Kaepernick's career in terms of passing yards, 49ers coach Chip Kelly didn't mention his quarterback when noting the positives from Sunday's 41-23 loss to the New Orleans Saints.
"I thought our kickoff return did a really good job," Kelly began. "Getting JaCorey Shepard back there, I think we averaged, in the three that we returned, we average over 30 yards a return."
In fact, Shepard, who was signed as a free agent in October but hadn't returned a kickoff until Sunday, averaged 34.7 yards per return, with a best of 36.
"I think the big plays on the offensive side of the ball showed up," Kelly continued. "Things that we need to do to stay in football games.
"Quinton Patton I thought had a good game. DuJuan Harris. ... I thought really showed up positively. We've been really trying to look for that other running back with Carlos (Hyde injured). Not only the run, but the pass. (He) had a real good game catching the ball coming out of the backfield. ... We weren't just a one-dimensional football team."
Kelly continued his trend Monday of claiming one individual mistake, rather than a general lack of talent in the unit, has led to most of the big plays against the 49ers this season.
While San Francisco's offense had a couple of costly turnovers in its latest loss Sunday, that group shouldn't have to shoulder its usual share of the blame. As ESPN.com's Nick Wagoner points out this one was on a defense that fails to stop anybody consistently.
The 49ers had hoped this defense would form the backbone of the team while the offense searched for answers.
Instead, the 49ers' seventh straight loss was the strongest evidence yet that their defense isn't struggling because Kelly's up-tempo offense can't stay on the field. This defense gave up 344 yards in the first half alone, long before any sort of fatigue could set in.
After last week's bye, the 49ers talked about returning to the fundamentals. Defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil pointed to simple things such as tackling and getting off blocks as keys to improving. He also said defensive linemen Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner need to play with better pad level on a consistent basis.
So the 49ers have had no problems identifying the issues.
It's fixing them that has proved to be a great challenge. In Sunday's game, O'Neil even changed vantage points to call the defense, moving from the sidelines to the booth, where he can get a big-picture look at the field.
The results, however, were all too familiar. New Orleans finished with a whopping 571 yards of offense while averaging 7 yards per play.
Meanwhile, the 49ers' offense offered its most productive game of the season.
Kaepernick recorded his sixth career 300-yard passing game, finishing 24-of-39 for 398 yards with two touchdowns and one interception for a passer rating of 102.3. The 398 yards were the second-most of his career, topped only by the 412 against Green Bay on Sept. 8, 2013.
Harris was a revelation in place of injured starter Carlos Hyde, totaling 142 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown.
Patton recorded the first 100-yard receiving game of his NFL career with a six-catch, 106-yard performance Sunday. The six catches and 106 yards were career-bests.
Vance McDonald caught a 65-yard touchdown pass from Kaepernick. McDonald, who had a 75-yard TD catch earlier in the season, became only the fourth tight end since 1970 to record two TD catches of 65 yards or more in one season, joining Shannon Sharpe (1997), Rodney Holman (1989) and Richard Caster (1972).
Fellow tight end Garrett Celek was a fourth 49ers receiver with more than 75 yards Sunday, turning four catches into 76 yards. According to the Sports Xchange, it marked the first time in 49ers history that four different players accumulated 75 or more receiving yards in the same game.
Of course, that group wasn't perfect.
Kaepernick threw a bad interception to set up a Saints touchdown, and running back Mike Davis coughed up a fumble at the Saints' 1-yard line to prevent another 49ers score. San Francisco's offense also had two late turnovers after the game was out of reach.
On a day when the 49ers amassed 486 total yards and moved the ball up and down the field with regularity, it should have been enough to at least keep the game close. With a defense that has allowed 33 or more points in six of its eight games, no amount of offensive production seems to be enough.
Hyde (bruised shoulder) sat out his second consecutive game. Hyde returned to practice on a limited basis last week but remained in a non-contact jersey on Tuesday when the team began prepping for Sunday's game against the Cardinals. He was limited again Wednesday. Harris would be first in line for touches again this week if Hyde can't go.
Torrey Smith (back) was on the field for only 45 of the 60 snaps against New Orleans. Smith's sore back contributed to just a two-catch, 18-yard performance.
"I think you could tell he was hobbled and couldn't go," Kelly said. "He does have a back (injury) and it hasn't been for a couple weeks. Really this is the first time it's shown up for us in a game and it did affect him in his play yesterday. That kind of hurt us a little bit losing him as a weapon."
Smith was limited Wednesday.
I'll have more on Hyde and Smith via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses. ...
Phil Dawson connected on 46-, 48- and 49-yard field goals in Sunday's loss. The last time Dawson had three field goals of 46 or more yards in the same game was Sept. 27, 2012 against Baltimore.
According to ESPN's Adam Caplan, the 49ers waived wide receiver Keshawn Martin on Tuesday.
QBs: Jimmy Garoppolo, C.J. Beathard
RBs: Jerick McKinnon, Matt Breida, Raheem Mostert, Kyle Juszczyk
WRs: Marquise Goodwin, Aldrick Robinson, Trent Taylor, Kendrick Bourne, Victor Bolden
TEs: George Kittle, Garrett Celek
Seattle SeahawksCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 November 2016
The Seahawks were on a three-game streak without scoring a touchdown through the air heading into Monday night's game against the Bills, but they brought it to an end during their 31-25 win over the Bills.
Russell Wilson tossed a pair of touchdown passes to tight end Jimmy Graham, who made both catches using one hand because a Bills defender was grabbing the other arm in a futile effort to keep Graham from putting points on the board. Graham ended the night with eight catches for 103 yards and hurdled a Bills defender on his way to a longer gain to add to his highlight reel.
As Profootballtalk.com's Josh Alper suggested, it might not have been enough to overshadow officiating issues as the headline of the night, but head coach Pete Carroll still gushed about Graham after the game.
"Jimmy was phenomenal tonight. Gosh, what a game," Carroll said. "What an incredible player and competitor and all of that. He just continues. Every game is a highlight film of catches. The first one was a one-hander with a guy pulling his arm out. The second one looked like another one-hander… He did a lot of great things tonight. Nothing more fun than watching a guy hurdle somebody like that, an athlete of that kind of stature, it was an extraordinary play. He was phenomenal tonight."
Graham's first season in Seattle ended early thanks to a torn patellar tendon in his knee and didn't quite live up to expectations before getting hurt. But this season, Graham is on pace for 76 catches and 1,090 yards. Among tight ends, only Greg Olsen has more receiving yards, and Graham has caught 71.7 percent of his targets.
Wilson started the campaign last night to make Graham the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year, given that the tight end has battled back from a ruptured patellar tendon injury.
Graham said after the game that things are "going to get better and better" now that he's farther away from that injury and that would be a good way to avoid future scoring slumps in the passing game.
Meanwhile, as ESPN.com's Sheil Kapadia put it, "Carroll can paint a rosy picture about pretty much any topic.
"But when it comes to the Seattle Seahawks' run game, he made no attempt to mask his true feelings Monday night."
"In the upcoming weeks, we need to run the football better to make a run of this season and make something out of this season," Carroll said. "And we know that. It's no mystery to me. This is not the format that we want, but it's the format that we have right now available."
It was a telling admission by Carroll after a game in which Seahawks running backs Christine Michael and C.J. Prosise combined for just 10 yards on eight carries. Prosise's longest run of the game was 4 yards; Michael's was for 3.
Receiver Tyler Lockett (13 yards on one carry) and Wilson (10 yards on three carries) gained more yards than either running back to carry the ball Monday night.
The Seahawks know their best chance at moving the ball right now is through the air, and on Monday, in a game when they had an 11-point lead going into the third quarter, they opted to keep on passing.
Prosise played 26 snaps, carried three times for 9 yards and had one reception for 6 yards. He was used often as an extra blocker in pass protection.
"We just wanted to see him," Carroll said. "We weren't getting enough opportunities. We're still trying to learn who he is and what he's all about.
"We have expectations. We're not just thinking about surviving games. We're trying to get our guys ready to help us as we prepare for the finish of the season, and these guys need to play. So, that was an example of that."
Michael, meanwhile, carried five times for 1 yard.
The Seahawks are averaging 3.21 YPC, which ranks 30th in the NFL.
Carroll was asked about the impact that Thomas Rawls can have when he returns from a fibula injury.
"He's going to be a factor," Carroll said. "We like T. Rawls. He looks great running."
Carroll added that Rawls will practice this week with the intent that he will return in Week 11 against Philadelphia.
But the run blocking has not been good for any of the backs. The Seahawks are averaging 1.82 yards before contact, which ranks 29th. Though Wilson looked more mobile Monday night, it's still uncertain whether he will be a true factor in the run game at any point this season.
Carroll's overall philosophy favors a heavy rushing attack, and the team will keep trying to fix the ground game.
But given the way the Seahawks are currently constructed, pass/rush splits like Monday night (31 to 11) could become the norm in the second half of the season.
QBs: Russell Wilson, Austin Davis
RBs: J.D. McKissic, Mike Davis, Eddie Lacy, Tre Madden
WRs: Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett, Jaron Brown, Tanner McEvoy, Amara Darboh
TEs: Ed Dickson, Nick Vannett
Tampa Bay BuccaneersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 November 2016
As if the Buccaneers' running back situation couldn't possibly get any worse, another one likely has been lost for the season. Antone Smith suffered a knee injury in last Thursday night's 43-28 loss to the Atlanta Falcons.
"Unfortunately, Antone suffered a significant injury and I think that would probably be a season-ending injury, it looks like," head coach Dirk Koetter said Friday. "That would be the same for [defensive end] Howard Jones, a season-ending [knee] injury."
Smith rushed for 25 yards on five touches, averaging 5.0 yards per carry. He caught three passes for 27 receiving yards before leaving the field on a cart. He was used primarily as the team's third-down back.
The Bucs' running backs have been decimated by injuries. The team's starter, two-time Pro Bowler Doug Martin, has been out with a hamstring injury since Week 2. His replacement, Charles Sims, was placed on injured reserve after suffering a knee injury against the Denver Broncos in Week 4. Jacquizz Rodgers, the team's third running back to start a game this season, suffered a sprained foot against the Oakland Raiders in Week 7.
Koetter was asked if he'd ever seen so many injuries to one position before.
"I haven't seen it," Koetter said. "For whatever reason, we're being hit hard at two positions. Running back and defensive end have been the positions that we've been hit really hard on. Other teams in the league have their issues at different positions, but I've never seen where we're a one-back team and we have four running backs go in one year. I've never seen that."
For fans excitedly hoping that the Bucs could get Martin or Rodgers back at running back this week, Monday's bonus practice for Tampa Bay offered no such promising news.
Martin, out since Week 2 with a hamstring injury, and Rodgers, out with a foot injury since the Raiders loss eight days ago, were both absent from Monday's practice. The only running backs in attendance were Mike James, signed less than a week ago, and rookies Peyton Barber and Russell Hansbrough.
Hansbrough was promoted from the practice squad Monday to replace Smith.
The Bucs also held out receiver Russell Shepard, who was inactive Thursday after injuring his hip in the Raiders loss four days earlier. But receiver Mike Evans, who was evaluated for a concussion Thursday, remains in the concussion protocol as of Wednesday.
Evans was able to take part in Monday's light walkthrough.
Getting back to the running back situation, ESPN.com's Jenna Laine believes James offers something that is lacking in the current group of backs, which features two undrafted rookies who were initially on the practice squad. That something is experience.
"It's always good to be wanted. That's a good thing," said James, who was selected in the sixth round of the 2013 NFL Draft and spent his first three seasons with the Bucs, including 2015 in Koetter's offense. He's seen action in 20 games, including three starts his rookie season. "I'm just ready to help us win," he said.
James was in camp with the Bucs this year and was slated to be their third running back, behind Martin and Sims, but he was waived/injured in Week 1. He declined to provide specifics on the injury other than to say, "I just tweaked my leg a little bit."
NFL rules prevent players who have reached injury settlements with their teams from re-signing with those same clubs for the length of the settlement plus six weeks. So after recovering from injury, James signed with the Detroit Lions, spending three weeks on their practice squad before they released him on Oct. 25. He signed with the Bucs Nov. 1.
James played 20 snaps on offense and 17 on special teams in the loss to Atlanta and may see more action with Smith done for the season and Martin and Rodgers still recovering from injuries.
According to Koetter, "At some point, we're getting Doug Martin back. We're getting Charles Sims back. We're getting Jacquizz Rodgers back."
We just don't know when that will be -- although Martin was on the practice field Wednesday.
For what it's worth, Laine reports that Rodgers was still in a walking boot to start the week, but he shed it by Wednesday. Although Rodgers isn't practicing, he's putting full weight on his sprained foot now. The extra few days to relax did him good.
The running backs -- along with the progress of Evans -- will be something I keep a close eye on in coming days; watch the Late-Breaking News section for more. ...
Remember: Evans continues to be a fantasy stud, and his progress in developing chemistry with Jameis Winston in the red zone is encouraging.
Last season, the duo connected on just 2 of 15 passes in the red zone, but they are already 7-of-13 this season, including 2-of-2 on Thursday.
Evans became the first player in Bucs history to have at least 10 catches, 150 receiving yards and two TDs in a game, and he leads the NFL with eight TD catches. His progress working through the concussion protocol will also be something I follow closely this week.
QBs: Jameis Winston, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Griffin
RBs: Peyton Barber, Jacquizz Rodgers, Charles Sims
WRs: Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Adam Humphries, Chris Godwin, Bernard Reedy
TEs: Cameron Brate, O.J. Howard
Tennessee TitansCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 November 2016
On the one hand, Marcus Mariota has shown brilliance at times.
It was on display Sunday as Mariota threw for three touchdowns and ran for another in directing five scoring drives overall.
Then, there's that other hand. And that is the one that continues to be a problem for the Titans. Mariota also had two interceptions and lost a fumble once again, and that turned directly into 17 points for the San Diego Chargers, who held off the Titans, 43-35, on Sunday.
"They made a couple great plays. The one early, I really thought Delanie Walker was going to pop wide open but the corner fell off and made a play," Mariota said. "Obviously, I can't fumble. That's going to put us in bad situations. On the final interception, I probably should have just moved on in my read. Kendall Wright did a good job winning, if I would have laid the ball out there a little more to the outside, it's a completion."
Mariota's fumble was returned for a touchdown by Chargers safety Dwight Lowery, and his second interception of the day was brought back to the end zone by San Diego cornerback Brandon Flowers. The Chargers got a field goal when Mariota overthrew Walker on a looping pass down the sideline in the first half.
The fumble was Mariota's fourth of the season, and he has been intercepted eight times.
"I can't let those things happen," Mariota said.
It is those types of growing pains that are killing the Titans, who now stand 4-5 and tied with the Indianapolis Colts for second place in the AFC South, a game-and-a-half behind the Houston Texans.
Mariota has been the reason the Titans have been in a lot of games, but his turnovers have also been a reason they have come up short several times as well.
As the Sports Xchange noted, in an amazing, yet befuddling stat, five of Mariota's turnovers have been returned for touchdowns by the opposing defense. Sunday was the second time that both a fumble and interception have gone back for scores in the same game. It also happened in the season opener against the Minnesota Vikings.
There was also a decisive fumble return on a strip sack against the Colts that helped to seal another Titans loss.
"You can't turn the ball over. You certainly can't turn the ball over for scores. That's next to impossible to win in this league and it was enough to lose," head coach Mike Mularkey said
But Mularkey said Monday he's encouraged by how the Titans fought back to take the lead.
Tennessee (4-5) has some other issues to fix before hosting the Green Bay Packers (4-4) on Sunday. That's the Titans' lone home game this month before road trips to Indianapolis (4-5) and Chicago (2-6) before their bye.
Meanwhile, Mariota, who suffered an ankle injury in Sunday's game, is expected to practice this week and play against the Packers, a source told Kuharsky on Wednesday.
The source told Kuharsky that Mariota suffered the ankle injury during Sunday's loss to the Chargers, and he will likely appear on the injury report Wednesday after he practices. Mariota is expected to practice fully on Wednesday, the source said.
In addition, rookie running back Derrick Henry had an MRI that confirmed that his left calf injury is a strain.
"That's kind of an injury that a lot of it is pain tolerance," Mularkey said Monday. "It could be a day up to a couple weeks. We'll monitor that as we go."
Henry suffered the injury during warm-ups Sunday and did not play in a 43-35 loss to the Chargers.
Henry, the Heisman Trophy winner from Alabama, is second on the Titans with 53 carries, but his 221 yards and 4.2 yards per carry rank behind Murray and Mariota.
The Titans have used Murray heavily, and Mularkey consistently says Henry's role is determined by game flow. He has maxed out at 16 carries in a game but has averaged fewer than seven per game while Murray gets just over 19.
Murray went into Sunday as the league's second-leading rusher, but he was neutralized early and often by the Chargers. Led by Korey Toomer (nine tackles), Corey Liuget and Brandon Flowers, San Diego stuffed Murray in the first half and forced the Titans to abandon the run early in the second half. Murray came on late to finish with 51 rushing yards -- his worst showing since Week 1 -- but was reduced to a short-game passing option.
For the record, Henry and Murray (toe) were both held out Wednesday. I'll follow up via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
One last note here. ... According to NFL.com's Matt Harmon, over the last five weeks no player has more touchdowns than Rishard Matthews.
He's only hit 70 yards receiving in just one of those games, but has five scores to show for himself. All five of those have come in the red zone, where Matthews trails only Murray in targets seven to five.
Harmon added: "Matthews' 100 percent conversion rate inside the 20-yard line is just screaming for some regression, but his playing time is now up to leading the team in wide receiver snaps with 89 percent on Sunday. With Mariota playing so well, and Matthews' opportunities seemingly on the upswing, this could be a turning point in the season for him."
QBs: Marcus Mariota, Blaine Gabbert
RBs: Dion Lewis, Derrick Henry, David Fluellen
WRs: Rishard Matthews, Eric Decker, Taywan Taylor, Eric Weems, Michael Campanaro, Corey Davis
TEs: Delanie Walker, Luke Stocker, Jonnu Smith, Phillip Supernaw
Washington RedskinsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 9 November 2016
Running back Matt Jones returned to practice after a knee injury sidelined him against Cincinnati in London on Oct. 30. But that doesn't mean he's returning to the starting lineup.
Rookie Robert Kelley carried the ball 21 times for 87 yards and a touchdown in the tie with the Bengals. Jones was coming off a two-fumble game against Detroit -- one of those coming inside the 5-yard line with Washington poised to score a touchdown.
It is Kelley who will likely start again this Sunday against Minnesota -- even if head coach Jay Gruden hedged a bit. Either way Jones clearly needs to earn his way back into the coaching staff's good graces.
"I've said it all along, we've got three, four good backs -- four good backs now that Mack (Brown) is up -- so I'm not going to project who's going to get the bulk of the load," Gruden said. "But I think it's going through Robert Kelley as I stand up here right now.
"And that could change come Thursday or Friday, but Matt (Jones) will get his touches and earn his way back into the role that we think he should be in."
According to ESPN.com's John Keim, the pivot to Kelley is the right decision.
The Redskins liked what Kelley did in his one start against Cincinnati, gaining 87 yards on 21 carries. The best part about Kelley's game was the yards after contact and the consistency. His longest run was only 16 yards, but he didn't have any negative carries, either. In fact, of his 38 carries this season, only one has lost yards.
Aside from sitting out Week 8, Jones' first seven games were a mixed bag: He lost two fumbles and at times remained too indecisive, robbing him of any power after contact. Then again, he had games of 117 and 135 yards in which, as the game progressed, he ran the way Washington hoped.
Kelley's vision has been a strength, but there were times he was a bit impatient on his runs against the Bengals. When he first carried the ball this season he was even more overanxious to hit the hole. That's not a surprise considering his status. But he has improved here, and it makes you wonder what more he can do as he gets more comfortable. Kelley is not a dynamic back, but the Redskins just need consistency.
Can he provide some? It keeps them out of negative situations; it sets up play-action.
"I think he played good, I really do," Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. "I've said it all along, we've got three, four good backs -- four good backs now that Mack [Brown] is up -- so I'm not going to project who's going to get the bulk of the load, but right now I think it's going through Robert Kelley as I stand up here right now. That could change come Thursday or Friday, but Matt will get his touches and earn his way back into the role that we think he should be in."
The Redskins rank eighth in yards per carry on the ground -- they were 29th last season. It helps that Jones improved, but the blocking in general has been much better as well. Last season, the Redskins averaged 2.23 yards per carry before first contact (24th in the NFL). Now it's 2.63 -- their best figure since Gruden took over after the 2013 season and 13th in the NFL. The blocking has improved, not just along the line but at tight end. It's why I always thought the Redskins would be better running the ball regardless of who was starting.
Against the Bengals, Kelley ran hard; he ran decisively, with no shuffling and just a plant-and-cut. If he was impatient or hit the wrong hole, he still managed something because of his style.
Kelley is averaging 2.58 yards after contact this season; Jones is at 1.97 (an excellent number, which ranks 11th and is a half-yard better than last season). The latter has more carries, of course, but Kelley's running style lends itself to consistency in this area.
As Keim suggested, Kelley is not a perfect back, and as little as two games ago the Redskins viewed him as a clear backup. Jones' combination of size and speed is tantalizing to the franchise, and it's why they won't count him out now, nor should they. He has flaws, but he's also improved.
But if Kelley keeps running the way he did against Cincinnati, he can provide the Redskins with what they need. ...
Meanwhile, Kirk Cousins is well on his way to setting another franchise record for passing yards. He's at 2,454 through eight games. The touchdown-to-interception ratio is pedestrian, however (12-to-7) and those are a lot of empty calories with Washington struggling to actually score points despite the yardage gained.
Cousins is gunning for a big contract, but he needs a more consistent second half to convince Redskins management it should shell out franchise tag money again. Washington is seventh in passing yards per play (7.42).
The most consistent player has been second-year slot receiver Jamison Crowder. He has made some big plays, catching 40 passes with team-highs in yards (498) and touchdowns (four). Crowder has become a good target on third down too, with 13 receptions, eight for first downs; last season, he had 20 such receptions with 12 for first downs. Crowder's big plays were the difference in wins over the Giants (a 55-yard screen pass in which he weaved for a touchdown) and the Ravens (an 85-yard punt return for a score).
In the final two games before the bye, Crowder caught a combined 16 passes for 215 yards and a score. ...
Tight end Niles Paul was placed on injured reserve Monday after suffering a torn labrum in the tie with Cincinnati.
It's the second year in a row Paul has been lost to injury. In 2015 he didn't even make it out of training camp.
Washington's depth at a key position is now in doubt. Jordan Reed returned after missing two games with a concussion. And Vernon Davis has been solid so far. But Paul was the third option and played fullback, too, when needed. He's also the special teams captain.
There's an obvious replacement on hand. Derek Carrier was brought in via trade last season after a rash of tight end injuries during training camp. He made it to December before tearing ligaments in his right knee. Carrier's rehabilitation carried him through the summer. And while he's been working off to the side with team trainers, Monday was his first practice all season. The Redskins have 21 days to decide whether to add Carrier to the active roster.
"Hopefully Derek starts his clock, and we'll see if he's ready to go," Gruden said. "He played a lot for us when he was up. First action back for a long time with him, but hopefully we get him ready to go.
One last note here. ... DeSean Jackson was not on the practice field Wednesday due to an undisclosed ailment. ... I'll have more when Late-Breaking Updates.
QBs: Alex Smith, Colt McCoy, Kevin Hogan
RBs: Samaje Perine, Kapri Bibbs
WRs: Jamison Crowder, Josh Doctson, Paul Richardson, Brian Quick
TEs: Vernon Davis, Jeremy Sprinkle