Team Notes week 11 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 16 November 2016
On the first play of Sunday's game against the 49ers, David Johnson rushed for 6 yards and fantasy owners suddenly had visions of the previous meeting between the two teams, when the second-year back ran for 157 yards, demonstrating power, speed and agility.
But as ESPN.com's Josh Weinfuss reported, after that initial run Sunday afternoon, the Niners set out to make sure Johnson didn't do it again.
They stuffed the box. They blitzed. Their goal, cornerback Jimmie Ward said, was to make the Cardinals' offense "one-dimensional and force them to pass."
Which turned out to be good news for other fantasy owners.
After that first play, the Cardinals, who had been averaging about 27 runs per game coming into Sunday, ran 22 more times. They threw 49 times and, in the process, rediscovered a vertical passing game that they've desperately missed this season in the 23-20 win at University of Phoenix Stadium.
"At the heart of us, we like to throw the football, but Johnson is so special," said wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who had his first 100-yard game of the season with 133 yards. "With what he's able to do, you have to continue to feed him. He's just able to make those types of plays, so you have to make a conscious effort to keep getting him involved.
"If it was up to us, we have the skill set and players, in terms of wide receivers, to spread teams out and work the ball around. We have that kind of personnel."
Carson Palmer threw eight passes that traveled at least 20 yards in the air, according to ESPN Stats and Information. That tied a season high set against the Seahawks in Week 7. Palmer completed four of those passes, including three that went for 22 yards or longer -- what the Cardinals consider explosive plays.
"We felt like we could get them," Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. "We felt like we had good matchups. I knew Mike [Floyd] was going to have a big ball game. He got his 100-yard game, which last year he strung them out, and I'm thinking he's going to string them out now."
In the process of the Cardinals' finding their passing game, Floyd seemed to find himself after a dismal first half of the season marred by four drops. He finished with a season-high 101 yards -- his previous high was 65 -- and had an important catch on Arizona's winning drive, which concluded with a field goal by Chandler Catanzaro.
Floyd said the wide receivers had a meeting after the Cardinals' loss to Carolina two weeks ago. During the meeting, Floyd was told the second half of the season would be his. Last week, Palmer predicted Floyd would "explode" in the second half.
He bought in.
As Weinfuss suggested, his final catch Sunday was the type Floyd has become known for. On second-and-10 with 1:47 left in the game, as the Cardinals were beginning a winning two-minute drill, Palmer escaped a potential sack, scrambled and launched a pass to Floyd on the run. Floyd had to leap for it, but he made the catch as he was diving backward. He landed on the right side of his body, and his right arm went numb, Fitzgerald said. The catch was reviewed but upheld.
Propelled by Fitzgerald and Floyd, the Cardinals' offense showed it could weather an assault on one facet of its scheme and still win. When defenses figured out the Cardinals' vertical passing game, they countered with run-heavy game plans. When the Niners tried to take away the run, the Cardinals went back to their passing game.
The ability to adapt and adjust on the fly was a necessary step for the Cardinals to make a playoff push this season.
For the record, Johnson barely extended his league-best streak of nine straight games with 100 yards from scrimmage with 101 total yards (only 55 on the ground). It's now been two consecutive weeks now that Johnson has been held under 60 yards on the ground.
How he rebounds will be something to watch.
Meanwhile, Fitzgerald, who has already dealt with knee and ankle issues this season, had an MRI on his right knee on Monday.
Fitzgerald, who passed Terrell Owens to move into sixth on the NFL's all-time receptions list on Sunday, left the field late in the second quarter after taking a hit from cornerback Jimmie Ward that upended him and caused him to land on his neck. Fitzgerald returned later in the game and told Ward he thought he tore something.
The future Hall of Fame wideout, who was targeted 18 times -- his most since Week 17 of 2011 and tied for the most by a receiver this season -- was "sore" walking out of University of Phoenix Stadium.
"I've been better," Fitzgerald said. "I'm good enough to go. This is [Week 10] in the National Football League. Everybody is dealing with something. You tape it up. We have the best trainer in the National Football League in Tom Reed. He'll have me ready for Sunday."
Arians told reporters on Tuesday that Fitzgerald was sore but hopefully will practice this week and should be ready Sunday. "I would be shocked if he misses a game at home," Arians said.
Fitzgerald, who was born in Minnesota and grew up there, has missed six games in his 13 NFL seasons. He did not practice Wednesday.
I'll have more via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
By the way, Fitzgerald also eclipsed 14,000 career receiving yards, moving into 11th on the NFL's all-time with 14,053.
Worth noting. ... J.J. Nelson was promoted to the starting spot opposite Fitzgerald, but he didn't maximize the opportunity. Nelson (49) and John Brown (30) played far fewer snaps than Fitzgerald (69) and Floyd (59).
And finally. ... Arians said he hasn't decided who the team will lift from the injured list. NFL rules allow a team to bring one player back from the disabled list. Running back Chris Johnson and safety Tyvon Branch are the leading candidates. Both would be eligible to practice this week but couldn't play until the Dec. 4 home game against Washington.
"I can only control what I can control and right now, that's just me getting healthy," Johnson said. "So I come in here, and neither me nor (safety) Tyvon (Branch) try to worry about who it's going to be. We just train and try to get better and, you know, we'll see when the time gets here."
Johnson said he doesn't have an idea one way or the other which player the team will decide to activate.
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 16 November 2016
According to ESPN.com's Vaughn McClure, Matt Ryan's message to his teammates is a simple one.
The quarterback sees no reason to dwell on a disheartening 24-15 road loss at Philadelphia. There's too much football left to be played. Ryan knows it.
"You have to get rest this week and have a mindset that we're not preparing for the last six games of the season, but the mindset to play nine or 10 more," Ryan said, giving a rare look ahead beyond the next game. "That's what you have to prepare for, and that's why you have to take advantage of these opportunities where you can get some rest and be fresh. That'll be my message to everybody. Keep moving, but let your body and mind get right."
The Falcons, even at 6-4 and atop the NFC South, have plenty to fix from now until they return to the field Nov. 27 against Arizona (4-4-1). They can't afford to let this season slip away, like they did after being 6-3 after nine games last season. (The Falcons finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs.)
But again, one bad loss to the Eagles shouldn't define them.
"First and foremost, it's not panic time," veteran defensive end Dwight Freeney said. "We're going to get back in the lab and try to correct some of these issues and problems."
According to McClure, that starts with showing more physicality than the Falcons did against the Eagles, as they got pushed around on both sides of the ball. Offensively, Ryan didn't have a chance to play like the MVP candidate he is while throwing under duress. And Ryan is sure to face plenty of pressure against the likes of Chandler Jones and Markus Golden of Arizona and Dee Ford and perhaps Justin Houston of Kansas City in the coming weeks.
Defensively, the Falcons can't be a sieve against the run, as they were in surrendering 200-plus yards to the Eagles' runners. A repeat performance the next time out might mean a 200-yard individual performance by Cardinals standout David Johnson.
And, of course, aspects such as dropped passes -- even one by superstar receiver Julio Jones -- and pre-snap penalties will be addressed. Plus, no one should escape special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong's wrath coming off a dismal performance by his unit in Philly.
Getting healthier should help the Falcons' cause over the final six regular-season games, but the prospect of tight end Jacob Tamme returning from a shoulder injury looks slim since he's considering surgery. The outlook is unclear for Pro Bowl cornerback Desmond Trufant, whom coach Dan Quinn referred to as "day-to-day" with a shoulder injury. And the Falcons definitely could use a boost from speedy running back Tevin Coleman, who has been sidelined by a hamstring strain. Punter Matt Bosher's hamstring injury is worth monitoring as well.
Quinn said Coleman will be back to full participation before the Arizona game. Tamme is scheduled to get a second opinion Wednesday on the right shoulder he injured Oct. 30 against Green Bay. It's highly likely Tamme will then have surgery Thursday.
Meanwhile, after watching film and getting treatment on Monday, the Falcons planned to take the rest of the week off. Quinn said each player will receive a binder, detailing things they need to improve on during the time away, and a schedule to maintain their conditioning.
Also, each player will be reminded not to do anything that will bring embarrassment to themselves or the team.
"Rule number one for us is protect the team," Quinn said. "Whether you're in town or back in your hometown or wherever you may go, have a real conscience for your brother. We're on to something pretty good here. ..."
A few final notes. ... According to the Sports Xchange, Ryan was 18 of 33 for 267 yards and one touchdown against the Eagles. He extended his streak of games with 200 or more passing yards to 49 and his streak of games with at least one passing touchdown to 12. Also, Ryan eclipsed 3,000 yards this season (3,247). This is the second time in his career that he has thrown for more than 3,000 yards in the first 10 games of the season.
Jones surpassed 1,000 yards for the third straight season. This is the third time in franchise history a receiver has passed 1,000 yards through the first 10 games of the season (Jones 1,189 -- 2015; Roddy White 1,017 -- 2010). Jones finished the game with 10 receptions for 135 yards, marking the sixth time this season he has clipped 100 yards and the 34th time in his career his accomplished the feat.
According to NFL.com's Matt Harmon, Taylor Gabriel's average depth of target (36.5) was the highest of any wide receiver on the day. Harmon went on to characterize Gabriel as a "streaky deep threat" and only played 33 snaps on Sunday. However, his deep speed has made a huge difference for the Falcons, as he has catches of 76, 26 and 47 yards the last three weeks.
Austin Hooper got just two targets despite playing on 73 percent of the team's snaps. He had a chance to seize the starting role by doubling down on his strong Week 9 performance, but Harmon believes this likely leaves the door open for Tamme to re-take the job when he's healthy.
Devonta Freeman was held to 49 yards rushing on 12 carries against the Eagles on Sunday. ..
Matt Bryant broke Morten Andersen's franchise record for most field goals made with a 46-yard field goal in the third quarter on Sunday. Bryant has 185 made field goals in his career as a Falcon and he is 23 of 25 this year. He also missed his fifth extra point attempt of his career on Sunday.
According to Arizona Republic staffer Kent Somers, the Cardinals have signed wide receiver Jaron Brown to 1-year extension, through 2017. Brown is on IR with a torn ACL.
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 16 November 2016
The Ravens (5-4) are in sole possession of first place in the AFC North in November for the first time since 2012, which was Baltimore's last Super Bowl season.
Baltimore is alone at the top of the division thanks to the Dallas Cowboys, who won in the last minute in Pittsburgh on Ezekiel Elliott's 32-yard touchdown run. The Ravens now have to maintain that lead by playing in Dallas (8-1) this Sunday.
This also marks the first time in seven weeks that the Ravens have held a lead in the AFC North this season. Baltimore is one game ahead of the Steelers (4-5), losers of four in a row.
The pressure in on to win the AFC North because it's looking like only one team from the division is going to reach the playoffs. If the season ended today, both wild cards would come out of a loaded AFC West, which includes Kansas City (7-2), Oakland (7-2) and Denver (7-3).
While the Ravens struggled to find yards in last Thursday's 28-7 win over the Browns, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg stayed committed to the ground game. This strategy worked as Baltimore was eventually able to wear down Cleveland. Ravens running back Terrance West had 65 of the Ravens' 119 yards on the ground, which helped to control the clock late in the game.
The offensive line managed to create holes even with All-Pro right guard Marshal Yanda out for the third time in the past four games with a shoulder injury.
While the offense is still a work in progress, the defense has dominated opponents. Baltimore entered Week 10 as the No. 2 overall defense in the NFL. The Ravens then completely shut down the Browns, who ran for just 33 yards on 13 carries. Both of Cleveland's quarterbacks, Cody Kessler and Josh McCown, also struggled to make plays.
Baltimore is fully prepared to ride that dominant defense into the postseason. ...
Meanwhile, wide receiver Breshad Perriman, the team's first-round draft pick in 2015, got in the end zone for the first time on a 27-yard pass from Joe Flacco with 6:21 left in the game. It was a relief for Perriman, who is back after suffering a season-ending knee injury on the first day of training camp last year.
Perriman had three catches for 64 yards.
"Oh, man it was big," Perriman said about the touchdown reception. "It was a complete blessing. I've been working for it for a long time and finally it came."
Tight end Darren Waller, who was suspended the first four games this season for violating the league's substance abuse policy, also got the first touchdown of his two-year career. Waller caught a 4-yard pass from Joe Flacco with 9:36 left in the third quarter that gave Baltimore a 13-7 lead. The Ravens had gone 17 consecutive drives without a touchdown before that score.
"It's something that we can build on," Waller said. "We came away with a lot of confidence after a pretty long week of preparation and trying to recover. This is big for us going forward.
Other notes of interest. ... Flacco threw three touchdown passes against the Browns but was also picked off twice. He has nine interceptions and nine TD passes and a lackluster 78.3 quarterback rating.
Part of the problem is that he's been working behind a makeshift offensive line. With Yanda ailing, Baltimore was forced to start its sixth different unit in the past nine games against Cleveland.
The situation did not get better when rookie left guard Alex Lewis was carted off the field with a right ankle injury in the third quarter. While head coach John Harbaugh confirmed the ankle was not broken, Lewis' status for Week 11 against Dallas is questionable.
This means the Ravens will likely have to shuffle the offensive line once again. The return of Yanda, who anchors the line, would be a huge boost. Left tackle Ronnie Stanley, the team's first-round pick in 2016, has started the past two games after missing four weeks with a foot injury. ...
Steve Smith had five catches for 60 yards against the Browns and passed Reggie Wayne for the eighth-most receiving yards in NFL history with 14,349. Smith needs three more catches to become the 14th player in league history to reach 1,000 receptions.
According to ESPN's Mike Clay, Dennis Pitta leads all players yet to score a touchdown this season in both targets (58) and receptions (40). Primarily a safety net for Flacco, Pitta's targets mostly come near the line of scrimmage and he's simply not targeted much near the goal line. He has been targeted while inside the opponent's 15-yard line only five times. That includes two end zone targets.
"Considering his hefty target volume," Clay wrote, "Pitta will score soon, but unless he gets more work near the goal line, the number won't spike by much."
Kenneth Dixon played on only 32 percent of the snaps, behind 48 percent for West, but had a clear, defined role in the passing game. According to NFL.com's Matt Harmon, we should expect Dixon to hold that position going forward.
And finally. ... Crockett Gillmore, who missed last week's game with a thigh injury, remained sidelined on Wednesday.
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
Buffalo BillsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 16 November 2016
The Bills are healthier and refreshed following a much-needed week off. And they may have some new faces in the lineup as they look to make a playoff push over the season's final seven weeks.
According to Associated Press sports writer John Wawrow, the Bills got back to work Monday following their Week 10 bye, with most of their players on the practice field after a first half of the season dominated by injuries.
"This should be the healthiest we've been in a long time coming back off the bye, and should have a lot of energy and passion," head coach Rex Ryan said.
According to Associated Press sports writer John Wawrow, key players such as running back LeSean McCoy, defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, and wide receiver Robert Woods were on the practice field after dealing with injuries in recent weeks. So were linebacker Lorenzo Alexander and receiver Marquise Goodwin, among others.
Woods (foot) was subsequently working on a limited basis Wednesday, but seems likely to play.
"The week off came at a good time," guard Richie Incognito said. "If you've got little nicks and dings, it gives you a chance to heal those up and it gives you a chance to get ready mentally. A week to get away from it and prioritize and get back up here."
Wide receiver Sammy Watkins, who has been on injured reserve since Week 3, is eligible to return to practice this week, but Rex Ryan said Monday that he's not ready.
The Bills' medical staff has not cleared to him practice, so Ryan is adhering to that recommendation.
"I just met with Sammy and he feels fantastic, but we're going to be smart with this and we'll do what's best for him," said Ryan.
"Until all our medical people are on board with him coming back out there on the field, then we're not going to practice him. When that times occurs, and hopefully that will occur soon, he'll be back out there. He feels great so hopefully that's a positive sign."
It was assumed Watkins would practice this week and be ready to play against Jacksonville on Nov. 27 when he was eligible to do so, but that timetable may now be pushed back.
Thus, the Bills may need to rely more on newly-signed Percy Harvin who made his season debut in Seattle and played 21 snaps without getting a touch or a target.
"He wasn't able to run a full route complement; we never felt that he was really ready to do that football shape wise, but we feel better about it moving forward," said Ryan. "Percy won't just be a decoy for us."
Ryan hinted at some personnel changes, specifically pointing to the secondary and the offensive line, with one potential change at cornerback for Buffalo's game at Cincinnati. Second-year cornerback Ronald Darby was benched in the loss to Seattle and he did not work with the first unit during the portion of practice open to the media Monday. In his place was fifth-year pro Corey White, who replaced Darby against Seattle.
After practice, White told reporters he and Darby split reps in practice and that it's considered an open competition.
"We'll see," White said. "Right now we're just competing in practice and we'll see who starts on Sunday."
The Bills will have a new center for the remainder of the season after veteran Eric Wood broke a leg against Seattle. Ryan Groy replaced Wood against the Seahawks and will compete with Patrick Lewis for the job.
That may not be the only change on Buffalo's offensive line. Ryan is encouraged by the progress of former starter Seantrel Henderson. Henderson started in each of the past two seasons for Buffalo at right tackle, but has yet to make it all the way back after being diagnosed with Crohn's disease late last season. Henderson was significantly underweight because of the disease and also missed the first four games of the year due to a suspension.
"I'm encouraged right now the way he practiced, especially last week," Ryan said. "That was the guy that I remember, a special athlete. So hopefully he can continue that way. I was really encouraged with how he looked last week."
The Bills (4-5) must quickly make up ground after slipping in the standings. After three straight losses, the Bills are 11th in the AFC, third in their division.
"We were all on empty ... but now I feel like we're healthy and feeling good and we ought to be rolling now," Ryan said. ...
As the Sports Xchange noted this week, Tyrod Taylor is coming off arguably the best game of his Bills career as he looked efficient and capable in the pocket in Buffalo's narrow loss at Seattle. However, he needs to continue on an ascending path over the final seven weeks because he's still very much a work in progress.
The Bills rank 31st in passing yards, and Taylor ranks 25th or lower among NFL QBs in attempts, completions, yards, completion percentage, and average gain per completion. He's 21st in passer rating at 87.1.
Part of the problem, though, has been the dearth of talent at wide receiver. Woods is coming off a career game in Seattle, but the Bills have gotten very little from anyone else, particularly tight end Charles Clay who has just 283 receiving yards.
Meanwhile, as they were last season when they led the NFL in rushing, the Bills have been very effective on the ground. They rank second in the NFL behind the Dallas Cowboys at 155 yards per game, and McCoy, despite missing a game and a half, has 683 yards and is averaging 5.1 per attempt.
Taylor's 362 rushing yards lead all NFL QBs.
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 16 November 2016
As ESPN.com's David Newton framed it: "The Panthers had a first down at the 20-yard line and a 17-3 lead against a Kansas City Chiefs defense that had been on the field for 17 plays and seven minutes.
"Punch it in, and the game is over. Kick a field goal, and it might well be over. ..."
Instead, quarterback Cam Newton lost 1 yard on a designed run, was sacked for a loss of 7 yards and was sacked again for a loss of 12 yards. Punt.
In the past 15 seasons, that hadn't happened to an NFL team on a drive that lasted that many plays.
It shouldn't happen.
But it did, and David Newton contends drives like it have happened too many times this season, enough that it feels like almost a weekly day-after-the-game ritual to ask offensive coordinator Mike Shula about a sack Cam Newton took that took the Panthers out of field goal position.
His answer is always the same: For every time the reigning NFL MVP holds onto the ball too long and takes a sack, he holds on and ends up making a big play.
Still, this question is sure to come up again, though head coach Ron Rivera already answered it.
"You can't take back-to-back sacks," Rivera said after Sunday's 20-17 loss. "You just can't. That's the bottom line, and that's disappointing."
Rivera didn't sugarcoat it. He basically put the blame for this loss on Newton's shoulders. He couldn't have been clearer had he said, Cam, just throw the damn ball away.
Entering this week, only Jacksonville's Blake Bortles had been sacked for a loss three times on third down between the 25- and 35-yard lines. On Sunday, Newton joined him with three such plays.
That isn't including the number of times Newton has been sacked on other downs to take Carolina out of field goal range.
When you've lost four games by a field goal or less and your record is 3-6, that's costly.
But none seemed to hurt more than the consecutive sacks at the end of the third quarter Sunday. As tight end Greg Olsen said, "That gets you beat in this league."
The Panthers have been beating themselves all season, and Newton has played a major role in that. On Sunday, he couldn't change things by bringing back the dab that he retired after the past season or by running a season-high 12 times for 54 yards.
He's proving correct the pundits who said before the season that he didn't deserve to be a tier-one quarterback. First-tier quarterbacks can win even when everything around them isn't clicking. Newton hasn't been able to do that consistently.
"I just have to find ways to get the ball out of my hands, and that's what has to happen," he said.
Newton will get another chance Thursday against New Orleans. The Saints don't play defense at nearly the level of Carolina's past three opponents. But even the Saints sacked Newton on third down at the New Orleans 35 to take Carolina out of field goal range last month in what wound up a 41-38 Panthers loss.
"What we have done is put our backs completely against the wall," Rivera said of Carolina's playoff hopes. "There is no room for error now."
Worth noting. ... Before the late implosion, Newton threw a 38-yard score to Devin Funchess and hit Kelvin Benjamin on a number of slants. But Benjamin fumbled his final reception that set up the Chiefs' game-winning field goal.
But, as NFL.com's Matt Harmon noted, Benjamin extended his streak of having either 70 yards and or a touchdown, a feat he's accomplished in all but one game this season. His consistency has been a welcome addition considering he was a volatile producer as a rookie. It was Ted Ginn that beat the aggressive Marcus Peters deep, but he played on less than 40 percent of the Panthers snaps in this game.
Harmon added, however: "It's impossible to expect a week-to-week consistent output with that minuscule amount of playing time. ..."
The Panthers rushed for 99 yards against the league's 27th-ranked rush defense. 28 of those yards came on 13 carries in the second half. After setting a franchise record with 30 straight games with 100-plus rushing yards, Carolina has failed to hit the century mark in three of their past six games.
Newton was the Panthers leading rusher with 12 carries for 54 yards and a touchdown. Jonathan Stewart couldn't get anything going, averaging just 3.0 yards per rush with his longest run of the day coming in at 10 yards. As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich pointed out, this was Stewart's second-straight game with fewer than 45 yards and no touchdowns which is not a good development for his fantasy value.
He'll look to get back on track when New Orleans comes to town in which Stewart should have RB2 upside. He scored twice against the Saints back in Week 6.
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 16 November 2016
Receiver Alshon Jeffery was suspended Monday for four games without pay for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances, the latest staggering blow for the reeling Bears.
It was another dose of bad news for a team that lost several players to injuries in an embarrassing 36-10 loss at Tampa Bay that left the Bears with a 2-7 record. Now, they will have to get by without arguably their best player, starting with Sunday's game at the New York Giants.
"Obviously we're very disappointed," head coach John Fox said. "I think he's fairly embarrassed about it, but we'll support him and welcome him when he gets back after serving his suspension."
In a statement released Monday afternoon, Jeffery blamed his PED violation on taking a supplement that contained an ingredient banned by the NFL's drug policy.
"As a professional athlete, I have been careful about what I put in my body. I took a recommended supplement to combat inflammation. Unfortunately this supplement contained an ingredient that was on the NFL's banned substance list. I take full responsibility and I'm deeply upset with myself for not doing the proper research on this supplement. I want to apologize to my family, the Bears organization, my teammates, and Bears fans. I will work hard to earn back the respect and trust of the Bears nation and look forward to being back on the field."
As if Jeffery's punishment wasn't enough, it looks like the Bears will be without star right guard Kyle Long. The NFL Network reported Monday that he will miss the remainder of the season with an ankle injury.
Jeffery will be eligible to be activated on Dec. 12 and play against Green Bay six days later. He leads the team with 630 yards receiving and is second with 40 catches.
"It (stinks) not having your top weapon on offense," tight end Zach Miller said. "We have to figure out ways to be better, to do better collectively. But I don't think you really replace Alshon Jeffery that easily. We'll have to do it as a group."
As Associated Press sports writer Andrew Seligman reminded readers, Jeffery is playing for the $14.6 million franchise tag after he and the Bears were unable to agree to a long-term contract in the offseason. He was limited to nine games because of injuries a year ago, and now has a PED suspension hanging over him with his contract set to expire again.
Fox said players found out during meetings on Monday.
"All teammates, I think, at the end of the day, they're supportive," Fox said. "But I know Alshon's embarrassed by it and I'm sure disappointed would be a good word for the rest of us."
Fox mentioned a "silver lining" with receiver Marquess Wilson potentially returning soon from a foot injury. He has been on the physically unable to perform list since training camp. He was activated on Tuesday but his comeback would be small consolation, particularly given the rash of injuries the Bears suffered against the Buccaneers.
Wilson had career highs with 28 receptions for 464 yards last season. He re-fractured his foot in June after a broken foot caused him to miss the final five games of last season. He's started 13 of 28 career games.
Long, a three-time Pro Bowl lineman, left the field on a cart with a right ankle injury. Fox indicated after the game that it might be a high ankle sprain, though he said Monday a "full determination" on the injury had not been made. Ted Larsen figures to take his place in the lineup, though Eric Kush is a possibility.
Fox had no update on running back Jordan Howard (ankle or Achilles tendon), nose tackle Eddie Goldman (ankle) or defensive lineman Will Sutton (ankle). Right tackle Bobby Massie also suffered a concussion.
The loss to Tampa Bay also raised more questions about the direction of the franchise and wiped out any good vibes the Bears had after they knocked off NFC North leader Minnesota two weeks earlier.
As ESPN.com's Jeff Dickerson noted, Jay Cutler unraveled in Tampa Bay, turning the ball over three times, including a brutal pick-six to former teammate Chris Conte that foreshadowed a miserable day. Cutler coughed up the football three times in the first half alone. You can legitimately debate whether Week 10's beatdown at Raymond James Stadium is worse than when Chicago lost to Jacksonville at home. That is scary stuff.
Since 2006, Cutler is now tied with Eli Manning for the third-most pick-sixes with 18, according to ESPN Stats and Information.
In 15 quarters in 2016, Cutler has seven turnovers.
The Bears and Cutler are expected to go their separate ways after the season, but there was real hope that Cutler -- on his way out the door -- could help win games in the second half. Sunday's performance casts doubt on that.
There isn't a better choice on the roster unless the Bears turn to unproven Matt Barkley, but Cutler has to protect the football.
Of course, offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains deserves criticism here, too. Why throw the ball so much? Howard, who did lose a fumble, averaged 6.8 yards per carry in the first half. ...
The Bears trail Detroit and Minnesota by three games and Green Bay by two in the division. The Vikings are struggling in a big way with four straight losses. So are the Packers, who have dropped three in a row.
The problem is that everyone considered the Tampa Bay game to be winnable. This week's road game versus the Giants, a contender in the NFC East, is much trickier. Tennessee (the Bears' next home opponent) is playing much better football as of late, and the division rematches against Green Bay, Minnesota and the surging Lions are always tough.
"We can be 10-6 or 2-14," Fox said last week.
Unfortunately for Fox, the Bears will probably finish much closer to 2-14. ...
One last note here. ... Following the game, Howard said he did not feel that his injury was serious and called it "tightness." He practiced fully on Wednesday.
I'll have more on that when Late-Breaking Updates commence early Thursday.
Despite the injury, Howard reached the 100-yard mark for the fourth time this season against the Buccaneers. He is averaging 5.1 yards per carry for the season and as NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich noted, he has emerged out of Chicago's backfield as the most reliable fantasy option. If he does have to miss time going forward, Jeremy Langford would be a must-add off the waiver wire.
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 16 November 2016
As ESPN.com's Katherine Terrell suggested, the Bengals' 2016 season can be summed up by a series of plays that occurred at the end of the first half against the New York Giants on Monday night.
The Giants had just scored to take a 14-10 lead. The Bengals had 1:11 remaining in the half, a timeout left and one of the league's best deep threats in wide receiver A.J. Green. But instead of going with an up-tempo drive to counter the Giants' attack, they called a running play for 2 yards (that took 31 seconds off the clock), threw three short passes to run the clock down to three seconds, then attempted a Hail Mary to end the half.
For a team that could have used the points in a game that had turned into a defensive battle, it showed a startling lack of aggression.
Then in the fourth quarter, the Giants scored the go-ahead touchdown in a 21-20 win -- by going for it on fourth-and-3.
It has been the mark of a season that has been mired in mediocrity. The Bengals (3-5-1) have lacked a killer instinct to put teams away.
It's no wonder ESPN analyst Jon Gruden said the Bengals looked like they were still on their bye week just minutes into the game.
The Bengals had several plays that should have been huge momentum shifts. Defensive tackle Geno Atkins handed the Bengals position at midfield after sacking Eli Manning for a loss of 11 yards on fourth down. The Bengals went three-and-out.
On the next series, Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick intercepted Manning at the Giants 21-yard line. The Bengals had to settle for a field goal.
The only time the Bengals took advantage of such a play occurred in the second quarter, when rookie Alex Erickson ran the kickoff back 62 yards and Jeremy Hill scored a 9-yard touchdown just two plays later to put Cincinnati up 17-14.
Even a promising new-look offense that featured some unique plays to start Monday's contest ended with a scene that has become familiar to Bengals fans: On Cincinnati's final offensive series, quarterback Andy Dalton was sacked twice in a row.
"It's frustrating because it's getting to that nitty-gritty time," receiver A.J. Green said. "We need these wins. The division is wide open and we are just letting it slip away. We are not finishing these games. Tying one, losing by one. It's tough."
The Bengals host the Buffalo Bills on Sunday afternoon at Paul Brown Stadium, their first home game in nearly a month. They still have two games remaining against AFC North rivals Baltimore and one against the Steelers. But, a trip to Houston and a home game against Philadelphia loom as well. Cincinnati is 0-9-1 against its last 10 opponents with winning records.
On paper, the Bengals appear to have the talent to make a late-season run. But, at the moment they simply aren't passing the eye test.
Despite being a year older, the defense largely is intact and playing within coordinator Paul Guenther's system which has been in place for a few years. And, yet there've been weeks when this unit has gotten torched.
Hue Jackson is gone, and first-year coordinator Ken Zampese has struggled to find consistency with the offense which had some turnover at receiver in the offseason and was without tight end Tyler Eifert for the first month. The running game has struggled to get going and the offensive line is suspect.
As the Sports Xchange suggested, in the parity-laden NFL, there's often a microscopic line between great and average. But, this Bengals season has been a head-scratcher.
And, the clock is clicking. ...
A few final notes.... Dalton had a few misfires while again being under consistent pressure. Dalton was sacked three times and finished 16 of 29 for 204 yards with a touchdown and interception. That adds up to a 74.5 rating, very un-Dalton like. Eifert had three catches for 96 yards, 71 of which came on one play.
It was another relatively quiet day for Bengals running backs. Hill managed 46 yards on 15 carries as Cincinnati averaged 3.4 yards per carry. Dalton had a 15-yard scramble to help boost that average.]
And finally. ... Dalton (shoulder) and Eifert (knee) were limited in Wednesday's practice.
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 16 November 2016
There's one loss Browns coach Hue Jackson doesn't have to fear this season: his job.
Despite a 0-10 start and the prospect of going winless in his first year with Cleveland, Jackson has the support of owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam, who believe they hired the right coach to turn around their floundering franchise.
"We are not focused on 0-16," said Sashi Brown, the team's vice president of football operations. "Hue is going to be here as our head coach. We talked about continuity being one of the core premises of what we wanted accomplished going out in January. We know that we have a head coach that can be successful here and lead us to a lot of victories and a lot of winning."
That appears to be a long way off for the young Browns, whose progress this season has been muted by the worst start in team history and some key injuries.
To his credit, Jackson has kept the Browns playing hard and he feigned some surprise when he was told that Brown had acknowledged he will be back for a second season.
"I never thought I was going anywhere," he said with a smile.
Both Brown and Jackson acknowledged the losing has many in the organization on edge. But they each rejected a report that said the coach's decision to bench rookie Cody Kessler in the second half of Thursday night's loss at Baltimore has created tension between the front office and coaching staff.
"I do have a tension headache," Jackson joked. "My head hurts.
Publicly, at least, Brown said he has no regrets about any decisions. The Browns passed up taking quarterback Carson Wentz in the draft, trading the No. 2 overall pick to Philadelphia for a first-rounder next season. Brown also doesn't bemoan the choice not to re-sign any free agents, preferring to stay focused on the future, not the past.
And while the poor record shows scant progress, Brown believes the team is on the right path.
"The winning ways are coming," he said. "We're confident in that. We just have to stick to the plan and support our fans through that process."
Meanwhile, as Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter Mary Kay Cabot suggested, Kessler (11-of-18 for 91 yards, one TD, 0 INTs, 92.6 rating) admitted he needs to improve on third down.
The Browns punted on five of his six drives, and netted 20 or fewer yards on those five.
"Obviously I wish we would've converted some more third downs and some different things like that and got a little momentum and get some more drives," Kessler said. "We had one nice drive there and obviously we want to put some more together but I just was going out there and competing and working as hard as I can."
He disagreed with Jackson's assessment that the national stage on four days' rest may have been too big for him.
"No, it's a quick turnaround," he said. "Obviously it's my first time playing a Thursday night game and everything happens so fast. I've got to do a better job of preparing better on these shorter weeks and something to learn from and move forward and continue to grow."
Kessler said he was mindful of Jackson's mandate to push the ball downfield more, but he also wants to be smart with the football. In his seven starts, Kessler has one interception.
He admitted that 0-10 is tough to take.
"This team, like I've said for so many weeks, they work so hard and put everything they have into it and we've been very close, but close isn't good enough. You've got to be able to finish. ... I've got to do a better job."
The question, however, is whether Kessler is capable of that. ...
Of course, quarterback is only part of the problem, and not the biggest part. The Browns allowed at least 25 points in each of the 10 losses. The last team to do that was the 1964 Denver Broncos. That Broncos team finished 2-11-1 in the AFL. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Robert Griffin III, out with a broken bone in his left shoulder since the opener, could be back before the end of this season. Griffin has been on injured reserve but is now eligible to return. Once he practices, the Browns have 21 days to decide whether to place him on the active roster.
On Wednesday, Griffin was cleared to do non-contact activity. He is not expected to practice this week, however.
"He's getting closer," Jackson said. Griffin signed a two-year, $15 million contract with Cleveland in March. He is due a $750,000 roster bonus after this season. ...
Even with Corey Coleman back in his second game, it was Terrelle Pryor that held the dominant percentage of the team's targets. As NFL.com's Matt Harmon notes, Coleman did play more snaps than Pryor, but overall the rookie has not gotten cooking since his return.
According to ESPN's Mike Clay, Gary Barnidge has the most receiving yards (426) among tight ends who have yet to score a touchdown this season. After leading all tight ends with 17 end zone targets last year, Barnidge has managed only two this season. In fact, those two targets mark the only two occasions he has been targeted inside the opponent's 12-yard line.
Meanwhile, tight end Seth DeValve, who had one catch going into the game, scored the Browns only touchdown against Baltimore on a 25-yard pass from Kessler. ...
As the Sports Xchange suggested, the Browns running game is practically non-existent when they fall behind. They carried 13 times for 33 yards against the Ravens a week after carrying 13 times for 45 yards against the Cowboys.
With pass protection as poor as it is, the Browns stand little chance of winning when Isaiah Crowell gains only 23 yards on nine carries as he did against the Ravens.
Jackson said on Wednesday that he's to blame for Crowell's total falling off. "My fault. We have not rushed the ball," the coach said. "I have to put him in better situations."
Crowell still has the longest run in the NFL this season, an 85-yarder. ...
Duke Johnson caught three passes, giving him 36 catches in 2016 and 100 for his career. He is the fourth fastest player to 100 catches in Browns history. Tight end Kellen Winslow did it in 20 games. Wide receivers Josh Gordon and Kevin Johnson each did it in 25 games. Duke Johnson did it in 26 games.
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 16 November 2016
As ESPN.com's Todd Archer asked, "Is there anything Dak Prescott can't do?"
A month after he won at Lambeau Field against Aaron Rodgers, the Cowboys rookie signal caller engineered a fourth-quarter comeback at Heinz Field against another Super Bowl-winning quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 35-30 in a game of "anything you can do, I can do better."
As a result, the issue is no longer whether Prescott will start ahead of a healthy Tony Romo for Dallas.
According to Associated Press sports writer Schuyler Dixon, the question now is how far the Cowboys can go with a rookie quarterback after they tied a franchise record with their eighth straight win and a few hours later ended up with the NFL's best record when New England lost to Seattle.
Prescott's performance in Pittsburgh stole any of the surprise there might have been with owner and general manager Jerry Jones declaring afterward that Romo would be the backup Sunday at home against Baltimore.
It will be a few days shy of a year since the last time the 36-year-old Romo was active for a game. And it has been 10 years since Romo, who broke a bone in his back in a preseason game, wasn't the Dallas starter.
The team's longest same-season winning streak since Roger Staubach took Dallas to the Super Bowl 39 years ago makes the decision easy.
"It's just going with the obvious," Jones said. "I get asked about it every time I open my mouth. It's not hard. It's not hard at all. Tony would make the same decision."
Prescott directed two 75-yard touchdown drives in the fourth quarter with the Cowboys (8-1) trailing the Steelers by a point each time. While fellow standout rookie Ezekiel Elliott finished both with touchdown runs, Prescott made several big throws.
On the winning drive that started with 42 seconds left after the Steelers went ahead, Prescott completed a 13-yarder to Jason Witten one play before another completion to the tight end ended with a facemask penalty that put the Cowboys in field-goal range before Elliott's winning run with 9 seconds remaining.
Dallas trailed most of the game in part because of a lost fumble by Prescott early.
"That's one of the most important parts of that position is to be able to handle the adversity of it," head coach Jason Garrett said. "From series to series, from quarter to quarter, half to half and throughout the ballgame, you've just got to keep banging away."
Elliott's numbers are getting more attention because he's the NFL rushing leader (1,005 yards) and has a shot at Eric Dickerson's rookie record (1,808 yards in 1983). But Prescott is completing 67 percent of his passes with 14 touchdowns and two interceptions.
The 23-year-old from Mississippi State -- a fourth-round pick after the Cowboys couldn't pull of a trade for Paxton Lynch, who went to Denver in the first round.
"You see what a veteran quarterback can do," Jones said. "But you also see what Dak can do. That was a pretty nice little template to look at right there."
A month ago, the Cowboys figured to have a touchy subject looming. Not now, says Jones.
"There is no fragileness about this, with the team or the coaches," Jones said. "Dak is earning his way. Tony has earned his way. Both of them can play quarterback well enough to win games."
And the Cowboys have upgraded the backup job, with Romo replacing Mark Sanchez. ...
Romo acknowledged on Tuesday that he is now the team's second-string quarterback, and that Prescott has earned the position ahead of Romo on the depth chart.
"Dak Prescott, and what he's done, he's earned the right to be our quarterback," Romo said in a prepared statement. "As hard as that is for me to say, he's earned that right. He's guided our team to an 8-1 record, and that's hard to do. If you think for a second I don't want to be out there, then you probably never felt the pure ecstasy of competing and winning. That hasn't left me. In fact, it may burn now more than ever."
Romo said it has been very difficult watching his team start the season 8-1 while he sat on the sideline with another back injury.
"To say the first half of this season has been emotional would be a huge understatement. Getting hurt when you feel like you have the best team you've had was a soul-crushing moment for me," he said. "It's a dark place. Probably the darkest it's ever been."
Romo said he still has a burning desire to play.
"Football is a meritocracy. You're not handed anything," Romo said. "I still want to play and compete."
As Profootballtalk.com's Michael David Smith summed up: "He'll probably have to do that somewhere other than Dallas next year. ..."
Meanwhile, Elliott continues to be the league's best running back, rushing 21 times for 114 yards, including two touchdowns in the final two minutes to cap the comeback victory. His 32 yarder with nine seconds left was the difference in the game. That touchdown came on a simple play when he was just trying get the ball a little closer for kicker Dan Bailey.
Instead, Elliott found nothing but a large swath of green in front of him.
"It parted like the Red Sea," Elliott said. "All I had to do was run."
Elliott was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week on Wednesday. ...
Dez Bryant caught six passes for 114 yards and a score, his most productive game of the season. Bryant's breakout came just a day after the death of his father, MacArthur Hatton. Bryant chose to play and paid tribute by pointing to the sky after his pretty 50-yard touchdown grab.
"I don't know how you being to understand how someone can perform at that level dealing with such an emotional thing in their life," Garrett said. "He was locked in."
Since returning from injury Bryant has target totals of 14, four and nine. As NFL.com's Matt Harmon notes, Prescott has shown a propensity to not force the ball to one player, and rather take the best matchup that the defense presents. Occasionally, that's going to take the ball away from Bryant, but it's good for Dallas' overall production.
Tight end Geoff Swaim tore a pectoral muscle during Sunday's game. Garrett said Monday Swaim will undergo surgery this week. The Cowboys will place Swaim, who had six catches for 69 yards in 203 offensive snaps this season, on injured reserve.
Bailey notched his 25th career game with three-plus field goals when he made all three (37, 53, 46) to extend his franchise record. With his make from 53 yards in the second quarter against the Steelers, Bailey moved into sole possession of second place for the highest percentage of kicks made from 50-plus yards in a career in NFL history (75 percent). He broke a tie with Robbie Gould and now trails only Matt Prater (78.6 percent).
And finally. ... The news from ESPN on Sunday that the NFL continues to investigate allegations of domestic violence against Elliott is noteworthy because of the assessment by someone in Elliott's camp, based on communications with the league, that the rookie is viewed as "Public Enemy No. 1" by the league.
According to Profootballtalk.com's Mike Florio, the act, the broader reality is, as Adam Schefter of ESPN explained, that the NFL realizes it needs to handle this one properly, given the mistakes made with Ray Rice and, more recently, Josh Brown. The initial one-game suspension imposed on Brown, finalized when the league knew that the police investigation was still open, adds a potential racial component to Elliott's case, given that Brown is white.
As previously reported by PFT, many players are watching Elliott's case with an eye toward the treatment of Brown before the final report from law enforcement forced the NFL to take more decisive action. This dynamic raises the stakes for the league office as it tries to determine what did and didn't happen with Elliott, how to properly sift through sharply conflicting evidence under a reduced legal standard, and ultimately what if any punishment should be imposed.
It's worth watching.
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 16 November 2016
Trevor Siemian looked like a revelation at times during his first four starts. But his last five starts since returning from a left shoulder injury have revealed some limitations in the second-year quarterback.
The most pressing of these is turnovers. Siemian had three interceptions in his first two starts, then had none in his next four. But he came close, with some dropped interceptions against the Bengals in Week 3 and early in Week 8 against the Chargers.
As that game progressed, the turnovers began, and since then, Siemian has struggled to protect the football, with six giveaways four interceptions and two lost fumbles in the last three games.
"One thing that he had done early in this season, he protected the ball better and he hasn't protected it the last three weeks so that's a concern," head coach Gary Kubiak said. "We're addressing those things as we speak, so he knows that."
But his toughness and resilience has earned him locker-room credibility.
"You realize how many shots he did take. His toughness, it's been incredible so far," said wide receiver Jordan Taylor. "He's taken a lot of blows."
As Profootballtalk.com noted, The Broncos, Chiefs and Raiders all have seven wins so far this season, which creates a dogfight at the top of the AFC West that Denver wouldn't be in if quarterback Siemian had flopped as a starter this season.
Not flopping while letting the defense and running game carry the team may have sounded like a good outcome for Siemian coming into the season, but it's not enough for Kubiak over the final six games of the season. Kubiak said Monday that he wants to see more consistency and better care for the football from the quarterback after a stretch that's seen a drop in completion percentage accompany a rise in turnovers.
"I want Trevor to play big. I don't want Trevor to play OK or good, I want Trevor to play big for this football team," Kubiak said. "And if he can do that and get the ball in the right spots and protect the ball with the formula we had going yesterday, I think some really good things can happen for this team. I've got big expectations for him and he knows that."
Complicating Siemian's efforts is a left shoulder injury that forced him to miss one game and required an injection after he was sacked six times in Sunday's win over the Saints. His play was better before the injury, so the hope is likely that this week's bye gives him time to heal and find the level of play that Kubiak believes he needs to hit.
Worth noting. ... Offensive line remains a problem for the Broncos. Although not all of the six sacks Siemian suffered were on the line, the unit once again failed to give the second-year quarterback sufficient time to throw or enough lanes for the running backs.
"We just need to find some consistency. I'm concerned in the consistency of what we're doing," Kubiak said.
The offense was able to hold the football for nearly 40 minutes in New Orleans, a near-complete reversal from the discrepancy against Oakland a week earlier. But the pressure under which Siemian found himself was troubling, and Kubiak opted to make a change during the game, benching Donald Stephenson for Ty Sambrailo.
"Ty came in and did some good things, but we have to get more consistent these last six weeks," Kubiak said.
And that could mean shuffling which linemen play and how much. Kubiak praised the development of Billy Turner and rookie Connor McGovern, but for one to be active, someone else would have to be deactivated.
"I can sit here and have all of these solutions for you, but it's not the preseason. You can't suit them all up and let them all try. You have to make a decision on how many guys you're going to suit on Sunday morning and that's usually seven guys up front," Kubiak said. "Versatility and those types of things come into play and they will continue to come into play."
And the bye will offer a time for further evaluation.
"We're in evaluation mode, big-time," Kubiak said. ...
The Broncos ran the ball frequently. But they didn't run the football well. Devontae Booker and Kapri Bibbs combined for 98 yards on 31 carries, a 3.2-yard average that at least allowed the Broncos to maintain balance and a viable play-action game, if not production.
There were some holes, but Booker and Bibbs weren't able to break tackles and turn moderate gains into big ones.
By the way, despite speculation that Bibbs would see a significant uptick in playing time after his 69-yard touchdown reception last week, Booker was still Denver's primary back. As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich pointed out, Booker played on 77 percent of the Broncos' snaps and touched the ball 26 times. "Bibbs logged seven total touches and didn't catch a pass," Franciscovich added. "He's merely a handcuff for Booker at this point."
Tight end A.J. Derby caught two passes for 22 yards as he played 45 snaps in his second game on the 46-man active roster. Derby appears to have supplanted Jeff Heuerman as the No. 2 tight end behind Virgil Green.
Taylor's 14-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter was the first of his career. Taylor continues to work as a rotational receiver when Demaryius Thomas needs a breather.
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 16 November 2016
As the Associated Press framed it this week: "Some quarterbacks are good in the two-minute drill.
"Matthew Stafford doesn't even need that long. ..."
Stafford is having one the best seasons of his career, statistically, and the numbers don't even tell the whole story. Every game the Lions have played has been decided by seven points or fewer, so their quarterback has constantly been under pressure with time running down.
"We would like to score earlier in the game and have a lead, but it did not work out that way," Stafford said. "Our guys did a good job of sticking together."
Stafford has completed 67.3 percent of his passes this season, throwing for 18 touchdowns and five interceptions. His passer rating of 101.6 would be the highest of his eight-year career if he maintains it.
He's doing this without receiver Calvin Johnson, who retired in the offseason.
The Lions are coming off the bye, and they are by no means a lock for the playoffs, but whatever their flaws, they've been able to count on their quarterback.
Stafford has had difficulty at times living up to his promise as the No. 1 pick in the 2009 draft. He threw for 5,038 yards and 41 touchdowns in his third season, but that year soon began to look like an outlier. Even when Detroit reached the playoffs in 2014, the Lions were led by their defense.
A 1-7 start last season cost Detroit's general manager and team president their jobs, and it was fair to wonder about Stafford's future as well.
Stafford and the Lions played better down the stretch, and Detroit's hope was that Jim Bob Cooter had figured out how to get more out of the team's quarterback. Cooter was promoted to offensive coordinator in the middle of last season.
In their opener this season, the Lions trailed Indianapolis by one with the ball on Indy's 25-yard line and 37 seconds left. Stafford completed three straight passes, and Detroit was in range for Matt Prater's winning field goal.
"(Stafford) appears to make it a little bit easier than what it actually is," head coach Jim Caldwell said. "Number one, he prepares extremely hard. Number two, he has great confidence that he doesn't back down and doesn't shrink away from those moments, and the guys that are around him can sense that, and I think it gives them a little bit more confidence."
Last month, the Lions trailed Philadelphia by two in the fourth quarter. On third down, Stafford and Golden Tate connected for 27 yards, setting up the field goal that put Detroit ahead to stay. The following weekend, it was a 44-yard drive that set up the winning field goal with 1:29 remaining against Los Angeles.
The Lions were down by four against Washington with 1:05 remaining Oct. 23, and they went 75 yards for the winning touchdown.
Their drive at the end of the fourth quarter came with no timeouts left. Stafford threw an 8-yard pass to Tate, who went out of bounds. Then Stafford completed a 27-yard throw to Andre Roberts in the middle of the field. Detroit was able to rush up and spike the ball, giving Prater a chance at the 58-yard field goal that tied it.
Time was certainly against the Lions in that game, but Stafford has proven he can beat the clock.
"What else can you ask for but an opportunity?" Tate said. "We went out there and executed fairly well and found a way."
Meanwhile, Tate has now out-targeted Marvin Jones in four straight games. Has he taken over as Detroit's No. 1 wide receiver?
As ESPN.com's Michael Rothstein put it: "Kind of."
Rothstein explained that Tate has been getting far more targets lately as Stafford continues to look for the open man. Tate has simply been open more often.
Detroit has taken some bigger shots with Jones lately, but they haven't always connected. Rothstein believes both are still worth having on your fantasy squad, and it's going to be a week-to-week thing, but Tate might be the more reliable option as Detroit makes a playoff push. And he's definitely the better PPR fantasy option.
For the record, Jones has just 10 catches in the last four games and hasn't topped 100 yards receiving since he broke out for a career-high 205 yards in a Week 3 loss to the Green Bay Packers. Jones, however, is still on pace for a career-high 66 catches. The Lions' lone deep threat, Jones is averaging 17.9 yards a catch this year.
Also worth noting, Anquan Boldin scored another touchdown in Week 9 and now has registered five on 35 receptions this season. As ESPN's Mike Clay notes, Boldin has caught all three of his end zone targets and scored on his only other two targets while within six yards of the goal line. Boldin entered 2016 having scored on 16 (or 27 percent) of 59 targets in that area of the field. ...
Ameer Abdullah had 120 yards from scrimmage (63 rushing) in the Lions' season opener, but his would-be breakout season came to an abrupt end a week later because of a foot injury. With Abdullah out, the Lions have been one of the worst rushing teams in the NFL. They rank 27th in the league at 86.8 yards per game and have split time with Theo Riddick, Dwayne Washington and Zach Zenner in the backfield.
As the Sports Xchange notes, Riddick is a matchup problem in open space, but not much of a threat between the tackles. Washington has flashed as a seventh-round pick, but neither he nor Zenner has gotten consistent work behind a lackluster offensive line. ...
Riddick (ankle) was limited in Wednesday's practice; I'll follow up via Late-Breaking Update in coming days but expect him to play. ...
And finally. ... Tight end Brandon Pettigrew is expected to return to practice this week from the torn ACL he suffered last December. Pettigrew opened training camp on the physically unable to perform list, and the Lions decided to take things slowly with him after he suffered a non-knee-related injury setback last month.
Once he begins practicing, the Lions have three weeks to add Pettigrew to their 53-man roster or keep him on PUP for the remainder of the year.
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 16 November 2016
As the Associated Press suggested, the Packers are going through arguably one of the most challenging periods of head coach Mike McCarthy's tenure.
They've lost three straight games to fall under .500. The defense has crumbled. Injuries are mounting on the line in the pass-heavy offense.
McCarthy vowed Monday that mistakes will be addressed, and plans tweaked. He is confident that his message is getting through to players, and that the Packers, in part, must respond better to adversity.
Overall, the Packers have been a success with a record of 116-67-1 in McCarthy's 11 seasons. They've made the playoffs seven straight seasons, with five division titles and a Super Bowl victory in the 2010 campaign.
But since winning the first six games of the 2015 season, Green Bay is 9-12, including the playoffs.
McCarthy, in part, referred to his track record when asked what kind of messaging he uses to make sure that the uncharacteristic losing doesn't affect the Packers' culture as they prepare for Sunday night's game at Washington.
"Well, I mean, let's just state the facts: I'm a highly successful NFL head coach. With that, I've never looked at the ride to this point as smooth ... To me, it's always bumpy and to me that's the joy of it," McCarthy said.
He isn't into dramatic midseason shake-ups.
"I'm not into shock and awe, or (a) torch the landscape-type person. I'm a builder, I'm a developer. I've said that since the first day I arrived here," McCarthy said. "You build a program, culture is what makes it go, you have to invest in that culture every single day, and that's my big picture focus."
A popular pick to return to the Super Bowl, the Packers remain in the playoff picture, just a game back of Detroit and Minnesota in the mediocre NFC North.
In the short term, the Packers are focusing on fixing flaws exposed in the 47-25 loss to Tennessee on Sunday that dropped them to 4-5 and was likely the low point of the season.
The passing game is producing after a sluggish start, but the offense is missing physical running back Eddie Lacy, who is on injured reserve with an ankle injury. But even without a proven running back on the field, the Packers managed to rush for more than 100 yards in each of their previous three games.
That all changed Sunday. Despite regaining the services of veteran halfback James Starks, the Packers rushed for a season-low 69 yards in a 47-25 loss at the Tennessee Titans.
Green Bay also had a season-worst 13 rushing attempts in the game.
McCarthy said his game plan, which included running the football, had to be scrapped early in the contest after the Titans raced out to a 21-0 lead before the end of the first quarter.
"We got into a game that we didn't want to get into playing offensively," McCarthy said. "I wasn't really dialed into a whole lot offensively, frankly, because my call sheet didn't look anything like I thought the game we were getting ready to play."
Starks returned from a four-game absence for a knee injury and made the start Sunday. However, he had only seven carries for 33 yards.
Versatile receiver Ty Montgomery, who started two of the previous three games at running back and had 16 carries for 113 yards in those two outings, had only three carries Sunday for nine yards.
"As far as how much James played, how much Ty (played), how much no-huddle (had to be used) and all of those things, our offensive performance was clearly reflected on getting behind," McCarthy said.
Adding to the intrigue, the Packers reportedly claimed former Seahawks running back Christine Michael off waivers on Wednesday (I'll obviously have more on that via Late-Breaking Update early Thursday).
Playing catch-up all day, Aaron Rodgers was 31 of 51 for a season-high 371 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
McCarthy had no prognosis on injuries to starting offensive linemen David Bakhtiari (knee) and T.J. Lang (ankle). In the locker room, Bakhtiari said he was taking things day to day with the injury.
The league-best Packers run defense allowed DeMarco Murray to rush for a 75-yard touchdown on the Titans' first play from scrimmage, setting the tone for the afternoon. Pass coverage has been spotty, especially without injured cornerbacks Sam Shields (concussion) and Damarious Randall (groin). The pass rush has slowed down with linebacker Clay Matthews out the last three weeks with a hamstring injury.
Green Bay trailed Tennessee 21-0 by the end of the first quarter, the kind of start that the Packers were once known for.
"Our adversity football production is not high enough right now. We need to improve there. We know it, our players know it. That's really where our focus is," McCarthy said. "That's the difference in this league."
Meanwhile, as the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel noted, there was no R-E-L-A-X from Rodgers after the carnage. It was more grim acknowledgment that this season is getting near the brink.
"There has to be that healthy fear as a player that if you don't do your job they'll get rid of you," said Rodgers. "I think we've all got to go back and the urgency's got to pick up, the focus has got to pick up … we've all got to play better, and that starts with me. ..."
A few final notes here. ... Targeted 18 times, Jordy Nelson had a career-best 12 receptions for 126 yards and a touchdown. Davante Adams continued his midseason surge with six catches for a career-high 156 yards. As NFL.com's Matt Harmon notes, Randall Cobb still isn't playing a full complement of snaps in his comeback attempt from an injury. He was out on a just 68 percent of the Packers' plays on Sunday.
Tight end Richard Rodgers had a big drop on a fourth-down play early in the fourth quarter with Green Bay in Titans territory and looking to cut into Tennessee's 41-25 lead.
Jared Cook missed a sixth straight game Sunday because of an ankle injury. After Cook participated in team drills on a limited basis at practice last week, McCarthy indicated Monday that the veteran is getting close to playing again. Cook started the week by practicing on a limited basis Wednesday.
Also not practicing Wednesday was Montgomery. The reason was not initially disclosed; I'll have more when Late-Breaking Updates commence early Thursday. ...
And finally. ... Brett Hundley made his season debut, relieving Rodgers for the final series of the game, and completed only one of four passes for eight yards.
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 16 November 2016
As ESPN.com's Sarah Barshop noted, head coach Bill O'Brien usually talks about how important it is for the Texans' offense to get off to a fast start. But in Sunday's 24-21 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, it was the defense that got them out to an early lead.
Six plays into the game, cornerback Kareem Jackson jumped in front of Jaguars receiver Allen Hurns to intercept a Blake Bortles pass and ran it back 42 yards for a touchdown. It was the Texans' first defensive touchdown of the season, and the start of a good defensive day for Houston.
The Texans entered the game tied for 29th in turnover differential, having forced just six turnovers in eight games. In Sunday's first half alone, Houston had the interception by Jackson and a fumble recovered by outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus.
Houston was without cornerback A.J. Bouye, who injured his ankle in practice on Friday, and nose tackle Vince Wilfork, who left the Texans' Week 8 game against the Lions with a groin injury. The Texans' pass defense entered the game ranked second in the league, allowing an average of 191 yards per game. And though they gave up 265 yards to Bortles and allowed him to drive down the field in the fourth quarter to make it a three-point game, the Texans were able to hold the Jaguars when they needed to.
"[The defense] hung in there," O'Brien said. "They battled. I thought they came up with some big stops when they had to."
The victory over the last-place Jaguars was Houston's first on the road this season in four tries. The 6-3 Texans are now three games over .500 for the first time in O'Brien's three seasons.
The performance was typical of how the Texans have won this year: by relying on their defense. Though they lost three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt for the season in Week 3, the defense has been playing well.
On Sunday, the unit did enough to overcome an inconsistent game by quarterback Brock Osweiler and the offense. Osweiler finished 14-of-27 for 99 yards and two touchdowns, and during one stretch in the second and third quarters, he threw nine straight incomplete passes. Lamar Miller, who has been dealing with a shoulder injury, ran for 83 yards on 15 carries.
Miller said he still feels the injury, especially when he gets hit, but that it was feeling better than it did against Detroit in Week 7. He has been limited in the past two games with the injury.
With a decisive style and a burst of acceleration, Hunt provided a boost Sunday to the Texans' running game.
Promoted from the practice squad Saturday when backup running back Jonathan Grimes didn't make the trip due to an illness, Hunt had a long run of 17 yards. The speedy undrafted free agent from Purdue had a 33-yard run called back due to a holding penalty on offensive tackle Chris Clark.
Hunt is one of the fastest players on the Texans' roster, running the 40-yard dash in 4.37 seconds.
"Akeem did a great job," Miller said. "He was being decisive, making plays. I think he took advantage of his opportunity."
Hunt rushed for 39 yards on five carries during the Texans' final scoring drive. That included a 17-yard run on third-and-16 in the fourth quarter to set up a field goal.
"I wasn't surprised with what Akeem did," Osweiler said. "He seems to have so much bottled-up energy. If you get him the ball, he might be able to spring the big one every single time.
"He's so athletic, he's so fast, he's quick and he's a smart football player as well. He had great vision and really hit the holes hard. ..."
While Osweiler had one of his worst statistical performances of the season against the Jaguars, he finally accomplished a goal he has had going into every game this season: not turning the ball over.
Though this was not an overly impressive win, it does give the Texans a firm hold on their lead in the AFC South; they are now 3-0 in division games.
"We have to play the game the way we see it playing out," O'Brien said. "We don't worry about stats. I think everyone needs to understand that in the National Football League it's all about winning. It's about winning. Whatever it takes to win that is what we try to do.
"We're trying to win these games the way we think they need to be won."
A few final notes. ... Kicker Nick Novak shrugged off a pair of missed, long-range field goals, making his final kick of the game Sunday for the deciding margin of victory.
It was a rough day overall, though, for the veteran kicker as he was wide left from 49 yards and wide right from 50 yards in the second quarter before connecting on a 51-yard field goal during the fourth quarter.
As the Sports Xchange recounted it, rookie tight end Stephen Anderson was standing all by himself in the Jaguars' end zone, waiting for the football to arrive. The waggle pass from Osweiler, off a crisp play-action fake, connected with Anderson for a seven-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter.
It marked the first touchdown of his career for the undrafted rookie from Cal.
It was a disappointing outing for fellow tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz, who came into this game with a ton of momentum prior to the Texans bye week. But NFL.com's Matt Harmon advised his readers not to panic just yet. Despite losing two touchdowns to his backup tight ends, Fiedorowicz played on 89 percent of the team snaps.
Meanwhile, DeAndre Hopkins drew 48.1 percent of the team targets. It all comes down to the issues behind center for Houston. This team has a real problem at quarterback and it's limiting Hopkins and the rest of the team's wideouts.
A few final items here. ... Will Fuller (knee) was inactive against the Jaguars; he could return this week.
"Yeah, I'm going to get back in that training room and try to get it back to feeling right," Fuller said. "It's getting a lot better."
Fuller was on the practice field Wednesday.
Blue returned to play after briefly going to the locker room with a calf injury.
Jaelen Strong (ankle) is expected to miss an extended period.
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 16 November 2016
According to Associated Press sports writer Michael Marot, the Colts enjoyed a perfect bye weekend.
Players spent time with their families. They got a chance to relax a bit and ponder this season's final sprint.
Now it's time to get back to work -- and back in the playoff hunt. And that will take some effort.
The Colts (4-5) still haven't won consecutive games, have dealt with myriad injuries and have heard a drumbeat of criticism over their repeated mistakes.
Indy's surprising victory at Green Bay to open November changed everything. Before heading home, players looked at ease, coach Chuck Pagano was smiling and everyone was eager to begin their final seven-game sprint to the finish.
When they returned to the team complex Monday, everyone was still upbeat.
"It was a great opportunity for guys to get away, to let their bodies heal, to mentally refresh," tight end Dwayne Allen said. "We've been at it since July 26 or something and that's a long time. So we needed the break."
Of course, the first order of business after returning was checking in with team doctors.
Pagano did not address reporters Monday, but what happened on the practice field spoke volumes about the health of the team. Left guard Jack Mewhort (triceps) and defensive tackle Henry Anderson (knee) returned to practice after both missed the past three games. Right tackle Joe Reitz was wearing a non-contact jersey as he continues to progress through the concussion protocol.
Now the Colts are onto their next opponent, Tennessee (5-5). The Titans have won two in a row and can put themselves in solid playoff position by snapping a 10-game losing streak to Indianapolis and winning for the first time at Lucas Oil Stadium.
The rejuvenated Colts have other ideas, especially now that they seem to have some momentum.
"It's real important," receiver Phillip Dorsett said of the new attitude. "That momentum can take guys far."
Nobody in the locker room expects a few days off to be a cure-all.
Indy understands it must reduce the penalties and sacks and find ways to keep the offense on the field and the defense off it. The Colts also realize that to get back in the postseason chase they must start playing more consistently in all phases.
If they do all that, perhaps they can take advantage of a schedule that looks softer now than it has all season. Their three remaining division games are all at home and they face only three teams with winning records -- Houston (6-3), Minnesota (5-4) and Oakland (7-2).
Put together a winning streak and the Colts could claw their way back into the mix for a third division title in four years -- and possibly avoid missing the playoffs in back-to-back years for the first time since 1997 and 1998.
But they can't afford to regress any more.
Instead, they must find a way to build off the momentum they had heading into the bye and fix their flaws.
Scoring 31 points as they did against the Packers while totaling 355 total yards while also converting 50 percent of their third-down attempts is how the Colts envisioned things going from Day 1 of the regular season. But their vision hasn't gone as planned, mainly because of injuries.
Donte Moncrief missed five games after suffering a shoulder injury in the first half of the Week 2 game at Denver. Allen missed two games with an ankle injury. Dorsett missed a game with a hamstring injury.
But despite the injuries, the Colts are still averaging 26.6 points a game this season. Now Luck has numerous options to turn to when he takes the snap from center.
Take T.Y. Hilton away and there's Dorsett and Moncrief. Focus on Allen, and Luck can look at Jack Doyle or Erik Swoope. A player such as Moncrief gives Luck a big receiver he can turn to in the red zone, as he did against the Packers. And there's Gore in the backfield.
"That's the beauty of it," Luck said. "We all know our roles on this team and we all have defined roles on this team. Not everybody is trying to be T.Y., not everyone is trying to be Frank. The beauty of it is guys are buying into their roles and understanding it. If you can just do your job well, you'll be successful and, in turn, the team will be successful."
Remember, Allen was limited slightly because it was his first game back from an ankle injury that sidelined him for two games. We'll be able to have a better indication of the pecking order of the tight ends when they take on the Titans this weekend. According to ESPN.com's Mike Wells, there's no denying that Luck has definitely found a comfort level with Doyle.
Doyle is second to only Hilton in receptions with 36 for 379 yards and four touchdowns this season.
One last note here. ... As ESPN's Mike Clay pointed out last week, Moncrief has now found the end zone on three (or 20 percent) of his 14 receptions this year. Of the 90 players who have three or more end zone targets this season, only three have caught 100 percent of their end zone targets. They are Michael Thomas (3 of 3), Anquan Boldin (3 of 3) and Moncrief (3 of 3).
Clay added that Moncrief will need to avoid injury and remain on the field in order to match his first-half scoring total down the stretch.
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 16 November 2016
As ESPN.com's Mike DiRocco put it, "The Jacksonville Jaguars can't get turnovers, but they sure can give them away. ..."
DiRocco went on to suggest any hope they have of salvaging the rest of the 2016 season -- or at least getting another victory or two -- depends on whether they can flip that narrative.
Especially when it comes to quarterback Blake Bortles, who threw an interception, which was returned 42 yards for a touchdown, and lost a fumble in the Jaguars' 24-21 loss to the Houston Texans at EverBank Field on Sunday.
The interception return for a touchdown, on Bortles' fourth pass of the game, came when he was trying to find Allen Hurns on an out pattern. Houston's Kareem Jackson stepped in front of the pass, bobbled it for a second, and then went untouched for the touchdown. It was Bortles' ninth career pick-six, which is the most by any NFL quarterback since Bortles entered the league in 2014.
"Not a smart play," Bortles said.
Bortles originally was tagged with another interception when he bounced the ball off T.J. Yeldon's foot while trying to throw the ball into the ground to avoid a big loss, but the play was later changed to a fumble. Video of the play quickly found its way on social media and the Jaguars again were, deservedly, ridiculed.
"From the time you start playing quarterback, they tell you if the screen is covered to throw it at [the receiver's] feet," said Bortles, who has 14 turnovers this season (11 interceptions). "I was trying to, I guess, make a smart play, live to play another down and then that happens. It was unfortunate, but stuff like that happens from time to time and you've got to deal with it and bounce back from it."
The Jaguars repeatedly have shown they can't do that, which is why they're 2-7 heading into back-to-back road games at Detroit and Buffalo. They entered the day last in the NFL in turnover margin and in forcing turnovers.
They're now minus-14 and are stuck on five forced turnovers. They've gone 23 quarters since their last takeaway. They had two dropped interceptions last week against Kansas City, but didn't come close to getting one against the Texans.
The Jaguars don't have that kind of margin for error and the poor play of Bortles is a big reason why.
As the Sports Xchange noted, much of the blame is deserved with the pick-six and the fact that three of his downfield throws to receivers who had beaten their man and might have waltzed into the end zone if Bortles lays it on the line being prime examples. On those deep balls, he overthrew his intended target twice and underthrew Marqise Lee which enabled the defender to catch up to Lee and knock the ball out of his hands.
Make any one of those connections and the Jaguars walk away a likely winner.
Bortles was asked afterward if missing the long throws downfield bothered him psychologically.
"No, I feel about it. I mean we had some big P.I.'s (pass interferences), gave a couple of guys a chance to make plays," the quarterback said. "I obviously missed Hurns on the touchdown down the middle. It's a work in progress."
A work in progress? Three years into his NFL career and Bortles is still making such references?
Bortles is 38 games into his NFL career and has just a 10-28 record as a starter. He has thrown multiple interceptions in 13 of those 38 games.
Bortles has one year left after this season on his rookie contract and could have been in consideration for a mega-deal extension at the end of this season. But he would have to turn things around almost immediately if general manager Dave Caldwell were interested in extending such an offer to him.
Otherwise, Caldwell is willing to see Bortles through one more season to determine if he's more the guy who passed for over 4,400 yards and 35 touchdowns a year ago or the erratic, unpredictable quarterback that he has proved to be this year.
Many are calling for benching Bortles. It won't happen.
Backup Chad Henne is not capable of playing as a starting quarterback for an extended time and No. 3 Brandon Allen, a rookie, is simply not ready to be thrown into action at this time. Head coach Gus Bradley made that clear at his day-after press conference on Monday.
"I have great confidence in him. I think when I speak for everybody, we all have great confidence with him," Bradley said.
Other notes of interest. ... The Jaguars couldn't build on their 205-yard effort seven days earlier against Kansas City. It was another 80-yard effort in 23 carries, the fifth time in seven games that the Jaguars have rushed for 80 yards or less. No explosive runs, no backs averaging four yards per carry. Only two runs of more than 10 yards. All of which results in teams able to better defend against the pass.
The Jaguars continue to talk about having a balanced attack with a strong commitment to the running game, but it's not showing up. Neither Yeldon nor Chris Ivory could get to 35 rushing yards.
It leaves Jacksonville challenging Minnesota for the most inefficient ground attack in the NFL this season.
Rashad Greene was active after missing three of the past four games with an Achilles injury. Greene had two punt returns for 11 yards and narrowly missed turning the second one into a long gain before he was tripped up by a Houston defender.
Bryan Walters continued to be in the league's concussion protocol on Monday. Walters suffered a concussion in the game against Tennessee and missed last Sunday's game against Houston.
Lee was helped off the field early in Sunday's game but had his ankle re-taped and returned to action to finish with four catches for 50 yards.
Jason Myers nailed a 54-yard field goal in the second quarter and added a 44-yarder in the fourth quarter. Myers has now converted on two of his five tries from 50-plus yards. ...
And finally. ... Linebacker Telvin Smith left the team Monday to return to his hometown of Valdosta, Ga., where the night before Smith's brother was shot and killed. Valdosta police have yet to provide many details on the shooting other than to say it happened at a residence, that they feel they have a motive and that they might have witnesses.
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 16 November 2016
Kansas City still managed to beat the reigning NFC champions on the road.
As Associated Press sports writer Dave Skretta noted, in what is quickly becoming a charmed season for the Chiefs, head coach Andy Reid and his team kept right on rolling with a 20-17 victory at Carolina on Sunday. Kansas City leaned on its defense to climb out of 17-point hole and win its fifth straight, second only to Dallas for longest streak in the NFL.
"The guys didn't panic. That's the most important thing," Reid said Monday. "You saw at halftime, the things being said in the locker room with our guys -- it wasn't, 'Oh, you have to do this.' It was, 'Hey, we're this close. We have to keep pushing.' And they pushed and pushed and pushed."
The victory, secured by Cairo Santos with a game-winning field goal, moved the Chiefs (7-2) into a tie with the Oakland Raiders for first place in the AFC West, a half-game ahead of the Denver Broncos. And the Chiefs hold the tiebreaker over Oakland by virtue of their lopsided road win in Week 6.
Everything points to their momentum continuing, too. They face Tampa Bay this Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium, where they have yet to lose this season, before a high-profile showdown in Denver.
That's not to say the Chiefs are not without their warts.
Smith played arguably his worst game since arriving in Kansas City, one week after being inactive with a head injury. Not only was he held to just 178 yards passing by a weak Carolina secondary, he twice missed open targets in the end zone that could have made things a bit more comfortable.
The Chiefs were also 2 of 12 on third down, continuing a two-week trend in the wrong direction, and came up empty on three trips to the red zone -- a recipe that usually results in defeat.
"A couple weeks ago we were right there, doing our thing, doing good on third down, doing good in the red zone," Reid said. "We have to take care of that first. I have to make sure I'm getting guys in the right position to do good things. And we have to cut it down -- we've had a lot of third and a gazillion.
"Then red zone, likewise, we have to stay aggressive in the red zone," Reid said, "but there's a time and place to check it down and run it."
It's easier to reflect on those shortcomings when they come in victory. The Chiefs can thank their defense for that. ...
Meanwhile, ESPN.com's Adam Teicher noted on Tuesday that it's interesting to chart the game-by-game snap counts for Tyreek Hill, because they show how the Chiefs have so quickly come to rely on the rookie wide receiver.
He was in for nine offensive plays in the season opener against the San Diego, followed by eight, 11 and 18 in the next three games, respectively, then 21, 33 and finally 38 in last week's game against Carolina.
Other than the one-snap drop from Week 1 to Week 2, Hill's playing time has stayed even or increased each week. He played more snaps the past two weeks because the Chiefs were without veteran receiver Jeremy Maclin.
Hill's role could be reduced when Maclin returns. Still, it's obvious from the way the Chiefs are leaning on him that Hill is going get significant playing time.
Hill made the most of his 38 snaps against the Panthers. Smith threw the ball to Hill 13 times, or almost twice as much as any of his teammates. He had 10 catches, or six more than any of the Chiefs' other receivers. He had a 27-yard catch after taking a short pass and breaking an attempted tackle. That was the Chiefs' only play of more than 16 yards.
According to Teicher, the Chiefs have to be careful with how much offensive playing time they give to Hill. They can easily wear him out because he's only 5-10 and 185 pounds. He's important to the Chiefs in other ways, particularly as a punt returner. He again showed his value there in the fourth quarter against the Panthers when his 21-yard return set up the game-tying field goal.
But he's too valuable on offense for the Chiefs to drastically cut his playing time when they have the ball.
Maclin (groin) was not active because of the groin strain he suffered two weeks ago during practice. There was no indication on Monday from the Chiefs on when Maclin might be able to return to the field. He was not practicing Wednesday.
I will, of course, have more on Maclin's progress via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
Also on the injury front. ... Reid said it's possible Justin Houston (knee) could return to practice this week. "We're heading in that direction," Reid said. ...
One last note here. ... According to the Sports Xchange, the return of Ware reinjected some punch in the running game that was missing a week earlier in beating Jacksonville. Ware ran hard and hit 61 yards on 13 runs, almost equal to what the offense did seven days before.
Still, K.C. did not crack 100 yards (91 yards on 20 carries) and had only two carries for five yards from another running back (Charcandrick West.)
The good news?
As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich pointed out, Ware should be able to find a groove over the next few weeks though, with some favorable matchups against Tampa Bay, Denver, Atlanta and Oakland in the next four games.
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 16 November 2016
The Los Angeles Rams finally got back on the right side of the winning ledger on Sunday, breaking a four-game losing streak in the process and for one week, anyway, finding steady ground.
But as the Sports Xchange suggested, aside from the defense -- which is stellar -- and punter Johnny Hekker who was spectacular, there is nothing much positive you can glean from their first victory in more than a month.
That is because the offense was borderline pitiful -- again -- while failing to cross the goal line for the third time this season.
The Rams have scored just two touchdowns over the least three games, and that's a major problem.
As ESPN.com's Alden Gonzalez noted, the offense reached the red zone three times, putting the ball at the Jets' 1-, 7- and 16-yard line, but failed to score a single touchdown in a 9-6 win over the New York Jets.
Their offense entered Week 10 ranked 31st in the NFL in yards per game, on pace for a fourth straight year of finishing within the bottom five.
The fact that head coach Jeff Fisher was still not ready to make it as of Monday, even though ESPN's Adam Schefter reported on Sunday that the Rams would consider starting Goff for this week's home game against the Miami Dolphins, was somewhat surprising.
But Keenum was so underwhelming against a Jets defense that had allowed the ninth-most points per game, that Fisher had a change of heart on Tuesday. Goff was named the starter.
This decision was overdue.
NFL Network's Steve Wyche previously reported that Goff has made significant progress in practice during the regular season, and Keenum was not showing the same improvement. Since the first promising drive of the Rams' game in London, Keenum piloted the Rams for 34 drives. On those drives, Keenum threw five interceptions and the team scored one offensive touchdown, which came in garbage time.
Goff struggled badly in the preseason, failing to beat out Sean Mannion for the team's backup job coming out of training camp. Goff was quickly elevated to the No. 2 job but he bided his time on the bench while other rookies like Dak Prescott, Carson Wentz and Cody Kessler gained valuable experience.
There is always the risk that Goff isn't "ready" but the Rams should be looking beyond just the 2016 season. They are 4-5 on the year and in the NFC playoff race, but Goff's development is more important than any playoff race with no hope for a title. Eli Manning has often talked about the experience of struggling when he played late in his rookie season as invaluable.
There's also a strong argument that the Rams' offense literally can't get any worse.
The Rams have gained 280 yards from scrimmage each of the last two weeks, nearly 80 yards below the league average. Asked if he still believes this offense, as constructed, possesses upside, running back Todd Gurley pointed to the amount of times his team got deep in enemy territory on Sunday.
"You see it right there -- we're in the red zone two or three times," Gurley said. "We just have to score. There's no ifs, ands or buts about it."
The Rams have been in the red zone 21 times this season, which isn't a whole lot.
They've scored touchdowns on only nine of those drives, which is even worse.
For what it's worth, Sunday was another struggle for Gurley, but there was a glimmer of hope in the second half when he rushed for 51 yards on 11 carries and helped set up two second-half field goals.
Still, this offense is clearly among the least fantasy-friendly units in the league.
As for the receiving corps, after playing over 70 percent of the snaps in the games off the bye, Brian Quick fell back to 63 percent and behind Tavon Austin again at 67 percent. As NFL.com's Matt Harmon understated, "Chasing Quick's ceiling will be inadvisable in this passing offense if he's inching closer to half the snaps instead of a quarter of them."
Tight end Lance Kendricks was a popular streamer this week at the tight end position, but that didn't work out. Kendricks still saw a tremendous amount of playing time, going out for 82 percent of the team snaps, but collected just two targets on the day -- again, Keenum's production wasn't sufficient to sustain fantasy value.
Now we'll see if Goff can provide a spark. ...
And finally. ... Defensive end Robert Quinn admitted himself into a Southern California hospital Monday morning with a non-football related illness. Fisher would provide few details when he spoke to the media late Monday afternoon.
Asked whether there were any prior health concerns, Fisher said, "No issues. Nothing. He's been feeling fine. He had to overcome a shoulder, kind of a neck thing, and he missed a couple of games because of it. But he's been great since. He played well. He played quite a bit of snaps and played well -- applied realistic pressure on the quarterback."
Quinn was diagnosed with a benign tumor while in college, so Fisher was asked if what happened was related to that. The coach said, "I'm not going to go into specifics. We're still doing tests, but it's highly unlikely."
I'll follow up as needed via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.
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 16 November 2016
As the Associated Press noted, the Dolphins were in unfamiliar territory Monday. And that's on two fronts.
Miami remained in southern California after defeating the San Diego Chargers on Sunday 31-24 for their initial road win of the season. The Dolphins will practice in north San Diego County in preparation for this week's game against the Los Angeles Rams.
The Dolphins (5-4) are also nestled above .500 for the first time in rookie head coach Adam Gase's short tenure. A four-game winning streak has compensated for a 1-4 start, and, just maybe, surging Miami can make the postseason.
"I've never, ever been one to really talk about (that) in my career," Gase said. "I've always been worried about the week we are involved in.
"I think if you do things right enough times, you get opportunities to keep playing. So that is how I look at it. More times than not, when you talk about it, that is when it doesn't happen."
Gase did speak on Branden Albert. The left tackle exited Sunday's game after dislocating his left wrist, but returned while wearing a brace.
"We're still going through a little bit of our medical process to figure out what exactly is going to happen as far as the exact diagnosis, and if we are going to be able to get him back this week," Gase said. "We got to go through some stuff still. It is swollen right now, so we just have to see how the week progresses."
Albert didn't seem compromised playing with the injury. But Gase said Albert is seeing a hand specialist and he was ruled out for this week's game.
"We have to go through all those little steps just to make sure that we handle everything the right way," Gase said. "So if he can go, it's for the rest of the season."
Gase sensed his team had turned a corner about a month ago. In the run-up to beating the Steelers 30-15 on Oct. 16, Gase saw his squad in a new light.
"That Pittsburgh week I felt something different," Gase said. "I felt like the defense was really playing well, but we were struggling obviously, but that week felt different. There was some confidence there, especially at the end of the week, that we were going to play well."
That was the push-off point for a four-game run that has the Dolphins two games shy of the AFC East-leading New England Patriots (7-2).
Added Gase: "I've seen a lot of veteran players take control of our team. I've seen some guys that maybe we did not think were going to be huge contributors taking leadership-type roles and all of a sudden they are vaulted into a position where they are making plays. It's been great to see guys step forward and make plays and lead."
Will it all lead to the playoffs?
Time will tell. ...
Miami went a full calendar year since their last road victory, which was on Nov. 12, 2015, against the Philadelphia Eagles. But a lot has changed since then. If the Dolphins can continue to win on the road, anything is possible. They play four of their next six games away from Hard Rock Stadium. ...
Meanwhile, Tannehill outdueled Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, who had more yards (326) but also more costly mistakes (four interceptions). As ESPN.com's James Walker suggested, at times it was difficult to tell who was the future Hall of Famer and who was the inconsistent, middle-of-the-pack quarterback. Rivers' third interception to Dolphins linebacker Kiko Alonso resulted in a 60-yard pick-six to end the game.
Tannehill has gone 109 consecutive pass attempts without an interception. His four-game stretch without a turnover matches the career-best he had as a rookie in October-November of 2012.
Tannehill was dealing on Sunday. He showed his athleticism on two key plays. First, a scrambling 39-yard touchdown throw to receiver Kenny Stills and another in the second half on an 18-yard scramble where he eluded two tackles to set up a third-quarter touchdown. His 56-yard throw to receiver DeVante Parker with four minutes left set up the tying field goal in the fourth quarter.
Remember: The Dolphins were hurting at receiver last week. Starters Jarvis Landry (shoulder) and Stills (calf) both missed significant practice time leading into Sunday's win.
Parker also made another long catch that was called back due to a penalty.
As Walker notes, the Dolphins had high expectations for Parker entering Year 2, but a nagging hamstring injury has slowed him since training camp. He missed the regular-season opener and had his first 100-yard game in Week 2 against the New England Patriots. Other than that, he has been mostly quiet.
"He has the talent," Tannehill said. "We've seen him flash it at times. He's just scratching the surface still. Being injured and being banged up, I think he's been held back by that."
Parker is getting healthy and playing better at the right time. Landry, Stills and Parker all have varying skill-sets. Parker's role could increase as Landry and Stills continue to battle injuries.
"When all three guys play together, it's hard to take just one of them away," Gase said. "You got to account on all three."
I'll have more on Landry and Stills via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
As noted above, Ajayi didn't rush for 100 yards against San Diego, but he finished with 79 on 19 carries, a strong 4.2 yards per carry. Ajayi had a 40-yard carry to set up running back Damien Williams' 2-yard touchdown run and a 21-yard carry to set up Williams' 18-yard TD reception.
Williams, whose role has actually increased during Ajayi's rise, has five TDs (three rushing, two receiving) in 25 touches from scrimmage.
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, Gavin Escobar
Minnesota VikingsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 16 November 2016
As ESPN.com's Ben Goessling noted, the Vikings trade for Sam Bradford on Sept. 3, when the team sent a first-round pick and a conditional 2018 fourth-rounder to the Eagles in the wake of Teddy Bridgewater's injury, initially looked like a bold masterstroke that could keep intact the Super Bowl hopes of a promising team.
Now, it's the only thing keeping the Vikings' offense afloat in a season that's quickly taking on water after Sunday's 26-20 loss to the Redskins, Minnesota's fourth setback in a row after five straight wins to open the season.
The Vikings' ability to move the ball Sunday was again, as it has been for much of the season, almost solely dependent on Bradford's sufficiency as a quarterback. He'd rallied them from a 14-0 deficit, with three scoring drives in the second quarter that gave the Vikings a 20-14 halftime lead, on a diet of short crossing routes that preyed on the Redskins' zone structure at times and their man-coverage skills at other times. He'd connected on 24 of his first 29 passes, moving the Vikings into Redskins territory even as Washington defenders came perilously close to timing their jumps on several of Bradford's throws.
Then, the turnover the Vikings couldn't afford happened. Preston Smith tipped a Bradford throw meant for Adam Thielen on a quick slant and came down with it for his first career interception to set up a drive that would put Washington up 26-20 with 2:31 to play and bleed the Vikings of their timeouts. Bradford's one mistake was one too many for a team that can't afford any from him right now.
The Vikings haven't run for more than 104 yards in a game this season and have crossed the 100-yard mark only once, back in Week 4 against the New York Giants. After Bradford carved up the Redskins for 160 yards in the second quarter alone, the Vikings gave Matt Asiata the ball on five of their first eight offensive plays in the third quarter, netting a total of 9 yards on those five runs.
The Redskins went into the game ranked 31st in the NFL in yards allowed per rush (4.9). The Vikings averaged 2.2, gaining just 47 yards on 21 carries.
Their leading rusher Sunday was Jerick McKinnon, with 16 yards, and Thielen's one run for 11 yards put him third on the team. Their attempt to come back for the game-winning score, on a drive predicated on short throws from Bradford to Stefon Diggs, imploded with two sacks and a holding penalty in three plays -- and left tackle Jake Long was carted off on the Vikings' penultimate offensive play.
Defensively, a team that had pressured quarterbacks on 31.7 percent of their dropbacks through the first five weeks -- the third-best figure in the league -- has created pressure only 19.6 percent of the time over the last three weeks and sacked Kirk Cousins just once Sunday.
Some of this isn't anyone's fault. The Vikings have been riddled with injuries on offense in a fashion that's required them to conduct almost a weekly inventory of what they can do to be productive on that side of the ball. Their offensive line, which has been permeable against a pass rush and ineffective while run blocking, could need another adjustment if Long is out.
But Bradford knows all too well how quickly seasons can dissolve when things go awry around a quarterback.
With the Vikings' losing streak now at four games, the pressure is growing.
On Tuesday, it claimed its first victim when the team announced they were releasing kicker Blair Walsh, who missed his fourth extra point of the season on Sunday.
Zimmer again was noncommittal on Walsh's future with the team on Monday, but the writing was on the wall.
The Vikings brought six kickers in last week to work out, but ultimately decided to stick with the incumbent. But he leads the league in missed extra points and the issues appear to have rattled him. Walsh was at team headquarters on Monday working out, but the move on Tuesday had to be expected.
Walsh had been the Vikings' kicker since 2012 and was named a first-team All-Pro by the Associated Press in his rookie season. That past success will likely earn him future looks from teams assessing their kicking options, but Minnesota decided that they'd waited long enough for Walsh to find consistent success this season.
The Vikings signed Kai Forbath, one of the six who worked out last week, to replace Walsh on Wednesday.
Forbath played for the Redskins from 2012-15 and also spent time last season with New Orleans. He has made 69 of 82 field-goal attempts in his career for 84.1 percent.
Looking for positives?
How about Diggs, a second-year draft steal who has accomplished something no one else ever has done?
For the first time, a player has caught 13 or more passes in back-to-back weeks.
Last week against the Lions, Diggs caught 13 passes for only 80 yards. On Sunday, he more than doubled the yardage output, catching 13 for 164.
Diggs is the perfect target for the short-passing game the Vikings have had to shift to almost exclusively because of a line decimated by injuries and once again, the Vikings used him frequently in the slot so that they could get him the ball with ease. He accumulated 93 percent of his yards from the slot on Sunday.
As NFL.com's Matt Harmon advised readers, we should expect No. 1 receiver type of usage and production from Diggs every week. Diggs has target shares of 27, 35, 35, 35 and 38 percent in games where he hasn't been on the injury report with a groin injury (which he played through early in the year).
"I want to win for my family and for this team," Diggs told reporters after the loss at Washington. "I want to do everything I can. Just back to the drawing board. Continue to scrap and continue to work hard. You can tell it hurt a little bit."
As Profootballtalk.com's Mike Florio suggested, if the Vikings want to stop the pain, they need to keep feeding the ball to Diggs. And more of the players on both sides of the ball need to start performing like he does.
Rookie receiver Laquon Treadwell, who had a hamstring issue and was inactive last Sunday, was back at practice Wednesday.
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 16 November 2016
Neither the Patriots nor Rob Gronkowski offered an update on the tight end's status Monday, after he absorbed a crunching hit that knocked him out of Sunday night's loss to the Seattle Seahawks for five plays.
But ESPN's Adam Schefter has been told the injury is "not overly serious" and that Gronkowski does not have a punctured lung, as NFL Network's Ian Rapoport first reported.
Rapoport's initial report also stated that Gronkowski is expected to miss Sunday's game against the San Francisco 49ers because of the injury. Schefter, however, reports that it's not yet known if the injury will affect Gronkowski's status for Sunday's game in San Francisco. But according to Boston Herald staffer Jeff Howe, Gronk cancelled an EA Sports appearance in New York on Tuesday because he was advised not to fly due to the lung injury.
Following Sunday's 31-24 loss to the Seahawks, Gronkowski relayed that he had the wind knocked out of him.
"Just down for about a minute or two. It's a little tough to breathe, but once it comes back, you're good," he said of the hit by safety Earl Thomas. "He hit me fair and square. It's football. You're going to get laid out eventually."
Gronkowski, who was seen in the locker room Monday and said hello to reporters but did not discuss his injury, said after the game that the hit was "probably one of the hardest I've got hit in my career, for sure, by a good, fast player who's like a missile."
Overall, Gronkowski played 57 of 67 offensive snaps, as he was given a breather for five additional plays not related to Thomas' hit. He finished with three catches for 56 yards while drawing a pass-interference penalty in the end zone and a defensive holding penalty in the end zone, both of which led to touchdowns. He was also targeted on the team's final offensive play, an incomplete pass on fourth-and-goal from the 1.
Tom Brady, during his weekly Monday night appearance on Westwood One radio, was asked Gronkowski's injury.
"I'm not sure. I left the facility earlier today and hadn't heard anything and still haven't heard anything," Brady told host Jim Gray. "That's the first I've heard of it."
Brady addressed his own injury after he absorbed a low hit by Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor early in Sunday night's loss and said he felt fortunate that it didn't result in a right knee injury.
"I'm sore," Brady acknowledged while noting the injury was actually to his thigh. "But I'll be ready to go next week. Just some good treatment like I always get from my buddy Alex [Guerrero], and I'll be good to go. ... It's part of football. Everyone is playing with bumps and bruises this time of year. I'm no different. So I'll get my treatment this week, get out there and practice, and be ready to go. ..."
Gronkowski was not practicing on Wednesday.
It's safe to say, I'll be following up on the status of Brady and Gronk often as the week progresses.
As for Sunday night, while the protection was actually better against a talented Seahawks front playing without Michael Bennett, Brady wasn't up to his previous standards.
The veteran threw his first interception of the year the first by any Patriots quarterback in eight-plus games on an ill-advised, underthrown deep ball intended for rookie Malcolm Mitchell in the second quarter. Overall Brady completed 23 of 32 passes for 316 yards, failed to throw a touchdown for the first time in five weeks, was sacked twice and tallied a 90.1 passer rating, his first below 124 this season.
The aerial attack struggled to find rhythm after an opening scoring drive and closed the day with Brady's fourth-and-goal fade in the left corner of the end zone intended for Gronkowski falling incomplete. Martellus Bennett was the most productive target, catching all seven passes thrown his way for 102 yards.
Julian Edelman also caught seven passes, totaling 99 yards, but the veteran fumbled the ball away after a reception midway through the fourth quarter that gave Seattle as short field on the way to what ended up being a game-sealing touchdown. The passing offense wasn't the reason New England lost, but the unit wasn't able to pick up the slack and carry the team against a solid Seattle defense the way it so often does.
The Patriots have enviable depth at tight end with Bennett enjoying a Pro Bowl-caliber season and the schedule works in New England's favor this.
Going up against the 1-9 49ers offers the Patriots a game they should be able to handle without Gronkowski if need be. Keep an eye on the Late-Breaking Update section for more. ...
Other notes of interest. ... As MassLive.com's Kevin Duffy noted, Dion Lewis, moved from the PUP list to the active roster on Saturday, was not in uniform for the team's loss to the Seahawks.
One encouraging sign, though: Lewis appears to be fully healthy.
"He wouldn't have been on the injury report," head coach Bill Belichick said on Monday's conference call. "I mean, we didn't activate him until Saturday, but he wouldn't have been on the injury report."
Because Lewis remained on the PUP list through the team's week of practice, the Pats were not required to list the running back's participation on their three practice reports, released Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. According to Belichick, Lewis, who has missed the past 19 games, would not have been a limited participant.
Lewis has undergone two knee surgeries since late November 2015.
So if he is healthy, why wasn't he active?
"When a player hasn't played for a year, they haven't played for a year," Belichick said.
One guess: The Patriots used James White on 43 percent of snaps. Clearly, the role of pass-catching back was a prominent one Sunday night. Perhaps the Pats want to ease Lewis into action against a team like the 49ers -- when they'll likely control the game script and the score.
Against Seattle, in what figured to be a tight matchup, Belichick did not want to use a running back who will have to shake off the rust of sitting in 18 straight games.
As it was, New England's ground game didn't churn out of a ton of yards, but did balance out the offense with plenty of carries and found the end zone to close out drives.
LeGarrette Blount ran it 21 times his fifth 20-plus carry game this season for 69 yards (3.3 avg.) and found the end zone three times. Two of the scores were from just 1 yard out in the first and second quarters, while his third was an impressive 13-yard run around left end in the third quarter.
But Blount was stuffed short of the end zone on a leaping attempt for his fourth score of the day on the second of four fourth-and-goal chances New England had to try to tie the game in the closing seconds.
As the Sports Xchange suggested, Blount's day was symbolic of the season he is having, giving his team attempts and touchdowns, though his yards per carry (3.7) remains less than impressive despite his nearly 700 yards and 12 rushing scores.
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 16 November 2016
As ESPN.com's Mike Triplett reminded readers on Tuesday, Brandin Cooks talked this summer about wanting to prove he is more than just a deep threat.
If the receiver hadn't accomplished that already, he did so with three fantastic catches in the second half of Sunday's 25-23 loss to the Denver Broncos.
Cooks made three tough catches for 37, 29 and 32 yards, absorbing some big hits from the Broncos' punishing secondary along the way. His 32-yard TD catch (that might have been a game-winner if the Saints had made the extra point) was a thing of beauty.
"I know that's what I can do," said the Saints' third-year pro, who ranks 10th in the NFL with 77.1 receiving yards per game and is on pace for 78 catches, 1,233 yards and 11 touchdowns. "It's just a matter of having the opportunities to do it, and when they present themselves, taking advantage of it, to be able to put that on film for the coaches.
"To get them to understand -- which I think they already do -- that I'm a tough player, and I'm gonna continue to work at that, to not just be one-dimensional. And as I continue to remind them, I feel like they trust me and they will continue to put me in those positions when the time comes."
It's clear that Cooks is a huge part of New Orleans' No. 1-ranked passing offense. The former first-round draft pick led the Saints with 84 catches, 1,138 yards and nine touchdown catches last year.
And the dynamic speedster, who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.33 seconds at the scouting combine, has two of the three longest receptions in the entire NFL this year (a 98-yard TD against Oakland in Week 1 and an 87-yard TD against Carolina in Week 6).
However, the 5-10, 189-pound Cooks hinted earlier this year that he didn't think he was being used in the best way early in the season. He didn't get specific, but seemingly he didn't want to get pigeonholed into a deep-threat/clear-out role. Also, rookie receiver Michael Thomas has recently been emerging as a go-to guy for quarterback Drew Brees, with five touchdown catches in a six-game span.
But Brees showed how much trust he has in Cooks this past Sunday while firing those three beautiful passes to him in very tight windows.
The first was the 37-yarder in the third quarter, tucked perfectly over the head of cornerback Bradley Roby. And Cooks held on to it despite being drilled by safety T.J. Ward at the 3-yard line.
The second was a 29-yarder on New Orleans' game-tying TD drive in the final minutes. Cooks again got separation behind Roby, and Brees hit him with a back-shoulder throw. Cooks turned and caught it before being driven out of bounds.
The last was the TD catch. Cooks faked inside and turned upfield to get separation behind both Roby and Ward. And Brees tucked it into Cooks before they both converged on him in the end zone.
"We got some good looks for what we're trying to do, and he got by all those guys. So at that point, you're wanting the completion -- I wasn't wanting to overthrow any of those," Brees said of the way all three passes required Cooks to make catches in traffic. "‘Let's get the completion and make sure we secure the big play.' And Brandin came up with three huge catches."
Cooks had a monster game the last time he faced Thursday night's opponent, the Panthers. Cooks caught seven passes for a career-high 173 yards and the 87-yard TD in a 41-38 victory in the Superdome in Week 6.
The Saints will be at Carolina this time, and Cooks hasn't been quite as potent outside of the Superdome. He has exactly 22 catches at home and on the road this year, but he has 471 yards and five TDs at home vs. 223 yards and one TD on the road.
However, this remains an enticing matchup for New Orleans' passing game against a Panthers secondary that is a little healthier than last month but still vulnerable. ...
As for last Sunday, New Orleans turned the ball over a season-high four times -- including two fumbles by Thomas and a pass to him that was broken up and resulted in an interception. Thomas, who has been one of the NFL's hottest players, had a welcome-to-the-NFL nightmare of a day.
He is the only player in the league to lose two fumbles in the fourth quarter this season. Brees was consoling him on the way off the field after the second one.
But the Saints rallied with 20 points in the second half. Brees finished with 303 yards, three touchdown passes and two interceptions. Willie Snead had five catches for 47 yards with touchdowns of 3 and 5 yards, while Thomas had four receptions for 40 yards.
And the Saints' defense had arguably its best performance of the season, with interceptions by cornerback Sterling Moore and safety Kenny Vaccaro and a total of six sacks to keep the game close despite all of the turnovers.
In the end, though, the Saints suffered their fourth loss of the season in which the final score came down to one possession. And they still haven't gotten past .500 since 2013 or won a game against the Broncos since 1994.
A few final notes here. ... After three consecutive 100-yard games, including a monster 248-yard outing against the San Francisco 49ers a week earlier, the Saints didn't have much room to run against one of the NFL's worst run defenses. They managed to finish with 80 yards and a 3.8 average on 21 carries, but they weren't consistent enough to provide enough help to the passing game.
Also, in what NFL.com's Matt Harmon's characterized as "somewhat of a surprise," New Orleans used a ton of two-tight end sets against Denver, deploying the grouping on 20 of their plays, which was more than any other package. As a result, Coby Fleener (63 percent) played more snaps than Snead (59 percent) and Josh Hill (51 percent).
That's off the usual trend for the Saints. It'll be interesting to see if it continues as we head into the stretch.
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 16 November 2016
According to ESPN.com's Jordan Raanan, Odell Beckham told reporters that UFC star Conor McGregor provided "late inspiration" for the receiver's history-making performance Monday night.
Beckham attended UFC 205 at Madison Square Garden over the weekend where McGregor beat Eddie Alvarez in the main event. Beckham insists it helped Monday night when the Giants beat the Cincinnati Bengals, 21-20, and he caught 10 passes for 97 yards and a touchdown.
When Beckham hit 69 yards in the second quarter, he became the fastest to 3,500 receiving yards in NFL history. He did it in 36 games. San Diego Chargers legend Lance Alworth previously held the record, as he reached 3,500 yards in 37 games.
"I set the bar high for myself. I kind of had some late inspiration," Beckham said. "I went to the UFC fight and I went there to watch McGregor and just a guy who is very strong in his beliefs and sure enough, he backs it up every time. Just sitting there watching him do his thing gave me more motivation.
"I had seen that I needed however many yards it was to break that record [for quickest to 3,500 yards], so really that stuff is kind of secondary right now. We are 6-3; I haven't been 6-3 since I have been here, so this is a good feeling."
The Giants receiver, who, per Pro Football Focus, saw a season-high 11 plays from the slot, caught 10 of 11 pass targets for 97 yards and one touchdown. That score came on a spin move after which Beckham celebrated by emulating the late Michael Jackson's famous "Thriller" dance. It was a season high in catches, and the 90.9 reception percentage tied a career best.
"I usually go to things like that for inspiration. I like seeing guys in their atmosphere," said Beckham, who was seen at several Cleveland Cavaliers playoff games watching LeBron James earlier this year. "Even when I was going to the US Open and I was watching them play tennis, it is just something about seeing someone else in their own zone and sure enough, after he won the fight, that was my first UFC fight ever and everybody is tweeting at me asking me why am I mad that he won. I am like, 'I came here to see him.' My mind is just wired differently."
"So when I am sitting there watching him and I had this blank stare on my face because there are just so many thoughts going through my head, so I definitely got a lot of inspiration going there and watching him win, double champ and sure enough we came out and we won [Monday], so it has been a pretty good week."
Beckham even got to meet McGregor on Saturday. He posted a picture on Instagram of the stars' meeting.
"It was cool. It was a fun experience," Beckham said. "It was the first time I had been there and everyone took care of me."
Two nights later, Beckham took care of his own business. He helped the Giants win their fourth straight game.
Beckham started this season slowly. He didn't score a touchdown until the final minutes of a Week 5 loss in Green Bay. He's scored five touchdowns in the four games since.
After setting all sorts of receiving records in his first two professional seasons, Beckham is on track for another monster season. He's 10th in catches (54), seventh in yards (773) and tied for fourth in touchdowns (6).
Meanwhile, win or lose, it has become clear what the Giants are getting with Ben McAdoo.
As Raanan put it, "They're getting a coach who isn't afraid to be aggressive late in close games despite having his every move dissected."
It's evident with McAdoo's offense and Steve Spagnuolo's defense. As the game comes down to the final moments, they refuse to tap on the brakes. Instead, they pound on the gas pedal, recklessly shooting for the end zone on offense and relentlessly bringing the pressure from all over the defense.
On a night when Tom Coughlin was inducted into the Giants Ring of Honor, McAdoo made his mark. He put his gambler's approach on full display in the fourth quarter on Monday night. He took conventional wisdom, tossed it out the window and put his money on an offense that had been inconsistent for the better part of three quarters.
The defining moment of this latest Giants win was a fourth-and-goal from the Bengals' 3-yard line with 14 minutes, 12 seconds remaining. Cincinnati led 20-14 at the time.
The safe play would've been for the Giants to kick the field goal. This would've pulled them to within 3 points with almost a full quarter left to play. Instead, Manning found Sterling Shepard on an underneath route for the score, and the Giants grabbed a 21-20 lead.
Like they have done repeatedly throughout this season, they held on. All six of the Giants' victories this season have been by a touchdown or less.
"We knew it was going to take touchdowns to beat this team. It's a good football team, and we felt like we needed to score touchdowns," McAdoo said.
There wasn't even any hesitation.
"We had kind of addressed it at the beginning of that drive," center Weston Richburg said. "We were going to have to use all four downs."
The Giants entered Monday night first in the league in red-zone defense. In this game, they made a key stop after an interception deep in their territory midway through the second quarter. It allowed the Giants to take the lead into halftime when Odell Beckham Jr. scored a touchdown on the following drive.
Near the end of the game, the aggressive Giants later protected their lead by bringing pressure on Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton. They sacked him on back-to-back plays on Cincinnati's final possession.
McAdoo's aggressive approach is rubbing off on this entire Giants team.
That the Giants' offense was able to have more plays (72) than the defense (55) was huge, and it was due, in part, to McAdoo's trust in his offense.
"I think it is just knowing the situation at hand," said Beckham. "(McAdoo) gives us another opportunity to get another play on offense; we have got to do it. It is just something that needs to be done. We came up big on a couple of them today, so I don't mind him going for it at all.
Also of interest. ... WR Dwayne Harris' status for the coming week is unclear, per McAdoo. Harris left Monday's game early because of a toe injury. It was unclear as to whether this was a new injury or an aggravation of an earlier issue that landed him on the injury report.
Receiver Victor Cruz (ankle) is expected to return to practice Thursday, McAdoo said.
Receiver Roger Lewis Jr., who was benched after having a rough outing that saw him commit several mental errors, will have an opportunity to learn and move pat his mistakes, per McAdoo. "Roger needs to play better," he said.
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 16 November 2016
As Associated Press sports writer Dennis Waszak Jr. noted, Todd Bowles isn't exactly in hurry-up mode when it comes to deciding on his starting quarterback.
Well, the Jets head coach will make the call on who'll be under center against New England on Nov. 27 when the team returns from its bye-week break next Monday.
"We haven't gotten there yet," Bowles said during a conference call Monday. "We've got a week to go for that. We're still evaluating everybody."
Petty made his first NFL start Sunday in place of Fitzpatrick, who is recovering from a sprained knee. The second-year quarterback was 19 of 32 for 163 yards with a touchdown, but also tossed an interception with just under two minutes left in the Jets' 9-6 loss to the Los Angeles Rams.
That dropped New York to 3-7, with its playoff hopes now barely a flicker. Still, Bowles is sticking with his philosophy of playing the quarterback that gives the Jets the best chance to win. That means Bowles isn't necessarily looking to give Petty extended playing time just to see if he could be the quarterback of the future.
"At this point, not right now," Bowles said. "I mean, he played OK (Sunday), but he's still got a lot of things to learn. You don't learn unless you play, but at the same time, we're still trying to win games, too. So, we'll make that decision as the week goes forward."
Bowles said the players will practice Tuesday and then have the rest of the week off. The coaching staff will have meetings Wednesday and then take off until next Monday. As for the quarterback decision, Bowles will talk to his staff and then give both general manager Mike Maccagnan and owner Woody Johnson a heads up on where the situation stands.
And, the player he chooses might not necessarily hold the job from here on out.
"Going forward, it all depends on the play and the health and everything else of everybody," Bowles said. "So, it could change, but it could stay the same, as well."
Waszak went on to suggest that Bowles is in a difficult situation, knowing the Jets are now simply playing out the season and Fitzpatrick is unlikely to be back next year. Geno Smith, out for the year with a knee injury, is scheduled to become a free agent. That leaves just Petty and rookie Christian Hackenberg as the quarterbacks who likely will remain on the roster next offseason. And the coach said Hackenberg, a second-rounder from Penn State, is "not in the top two right now" when it comes to the quarterback situation.
But Bowles also has to tread lightly, realizing that looking toward the future at this point sends a message to his players that this season is already a wash.
"With the evaluation process, there comes a point in the future of an organization, toward the end of the season, where you try to see things if they go right here and there," Bowles said. "But it's always a tough decision one way or the other."
Fitzpatrick sprained his left knee at Miami on Nov. 6 and was limited in practice all week while splitting first-team snaps with Petty. Bowles said it would be a game-time decision, but then decided Saturday night that Petty would start against the Rams.
"He was getting better, but he wasn't well enough on Saturday, in my mind, to even try to do it Sunday," Bowles said.
Petty provided an early spark, complete with a standing ovation from the MetLife Stadium crowd as he took the field. He drove the Jets 99 yards on their second possession, finishing with his first NFL TD pass with a little razzle-dazzle on a toss to Brandon Marshall, who flipped it backward to Bilal Powell for a 4-yard score.
Not surprisingly, the Jets dialed up a conservative game plan for Petty, who had nine completions to his running backs, Powell (seven catches for 52 yards and one touchdown) and Matt Forte (two catches for 11 yards).
While Petty's promotion was good news for the running backs and the rookie Anderson, it didn't help Marshall (four catches for 15 yards) or Quincy Enunwa (one catch for 7 yards).
Meanwhile, Forte added another line to his potentially Hall of Fame resume on Sunday. With 510 career receptions, Forte is now tied with Warrick Dunn for the 10th-most catches by a running back. He is only two catches shy of tying Earnest Byner and Herschel Walker for eighth place on and five shy of tying Emmitt Smith for seventh place.
As for the rushing attack, Forte (20 carries for 98 yards), Powell (four carries for 37 yards) and C.J. Spiller (one carry for 4 yards) combined for 139 yards rushing and gained four or more yards on 12 of their carries.
So why didn't they run more, especially with Forte looking as spry as ever and Powell offering his usual burst?
As the Sports Xchange suggested, it was another head-scratching day for offensive coordinator Chan Gailey.
And finally. ... Receiver Eric Decker, who underwent hip surgery last month, had rotator cuff surgery on Tuesday.
When the need for surgery was announced, the word was that Decker would have an eight-month recovery timeline so Decker will likely be sidelined through the team’s offseason workouts at the least.
The recovery from the hip injury came with a shorter timeline, but the dual issues will likely mean a measured return to the field for Decker once he is cleared for football activities again. Decker has a base salary of $7.25 million in 2017, which would be his fourth season with the Jets since joining the team as a free agent.
Decker said recently he doesn't expect to miss any regular-season action in 2017.
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 16 November 2016
As the Sports Xchange suggested, it was never going to be easy by any stretch, but the Raiders watched on their bye weekend as their road to their first AFC West title since 2002 got a little bit tougher.
It appeared that both Kansas City and Denver were going to lose, giving the Raiders some breathing room atop the division with a 7-2 record.
Instead, the Chiefs scored 17 points in the fourth quarter en route to a 20-17 win over the Carolina Panthers.
Perhaps even more amazing, the Broncos blocked an extra point and ran it back for a two-point conversion for an unlikely road win in New Orleans.
Kansas City (7-2) remains tied with the Raiders and the Broncos, who are 7-3 with a bye coming up, still are within striking distance of their sixth straight division title.
The Raiders have the division title as their stated goal, but it appears all three teams could end up making the playoffs. It's conceivable both AFC wild cards will come out of the West.
Head coach Jack Del Rio isn't overly concerned about anything other than the next game up on the schedule. His season-long mantra has been to have the Raiders worry about the Raiders, rather than what is going on around them.
The bye week provided an opportunity to review what has transpired through the first nine games of the season, but it wasn't a crash course.
According to Del Rio, self-scouting and evaluation is something that goes on throughout the season, rather than all at once.
"Self-scouting is so valuable that we don't wait for the bye week," Del Rio said. "We do a lot of it throughout the year. We don't really pause and then evaluating ourselves; we do it weekly.
"We see what we've done over the last several games and how our opponents are going to look at us and see us. We want to correct mistakes right away and move on."
What are opponents seeing?
Oakland is coming off its best effort of the season by a considerable margin. The Raiders' big offensive line dominated the defending Super Bowl champions. Also, their defense has played much better football over the past three games, giving up only 80 yards per contest on the ground.
"Really it's about developing," Del Rio said. "We've really worked hard to develop the roster that we have. We have a bunch of young guys that are contributing. We're continuing that theme. We're going to develop as we go through the year and expect to be better as a team.
Meanwhile, the MVP talk cooled a bit as Oakland didn't play, but through nine games, there's no doubt Derek Carr is the Raiders' MVP.
He's completing 66.1 percent of his passes for 2,505 yards, 17 touchdowns and only three interceptions. Amari Cooper (58 receptions, 843 yards, 2 TDs) and Michael Crabtree, (49-596-6) comprise one of the NFL's top tandems at wide receiver and drops are way down. Pass protection has been excellent. Carr has been sacked only 11 times.
Crabtree's six touchdowns are just three shy of his career high of nine he had last year with the Raiders. He also had nine in 2012 with the 49ers.
As ESPN.com's Paul Gutierrez suggested, perhaps Jim Harbaugh was onto something, rather than on something, when he said Crabtree had the best hands in the history of the NFL a few years back when both were with the 49ers. Gutierrez went on to note there's no doubting the strength of Crabtree's hands and his ability to pluck a ball out of the sky or even from a defender's grasp. Plus, Crabtree has six years of NFL experience on Cooper, so in those jump-ball, fade-pass situations, Carr probably trusts him just a tad more.
As for the rushing attack. ... If a 218-yard performance against Denver is a direction of where the Raiders are headed, watch out.
The triple-header backfield of Latavius Murray (393 yards, DeAndre Washington (302 yards) and Jalen Richard (279 yards) comprise the NFL's No. 4 running game on a pass-first team at 127.8 yards per game with only 64 yards of help from Carr on the ground. Left guard Kelechi Osemele has made this into a team that can get tough yards.
Washington has 302 yards rushing, the most for a Raiders rookie running back since Darren McFadden had 499 in 2008. Washington was a fifth-round pick of the 2016 draft.
As ESPN's Mike Clay notes, Murray has scored on 7.5 percent of his touches, which is more than double the NFL-wide 3.4 percent rate for running backs. Clay Expects Washington and Richard (combined one score on 136 touches) to steal some of the touchdowns in the second half, but Murray remains locked in as a fantasy RB2 for the foreseeable future.
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 16 November 2016
The Eagles overcame a controversial non-call in the fourth quarter Sunday to top the Atlanta Falcons 24-15 and keep their season's hopes alive.
And as ESPN.com's Tim McManus suggested, the offensive approach that served the team so well during their 3-0 start resurfaced Sunday against the Falcons and could be the key as they try to make a push in the competitive NFC over the season's final seven games.
With so much hype around the play of rookie quarterback Carson Wentz, less attention was paid to the fact the Eagles were winning early thanks in large part to a run-oriented, ball-control style of football.
Head coach Doug Pederson appeared to be the anti-Chip Kelly at first glance. The Eagles went from a fast-break offense that neglected time of possession to a methodical attack that led the NFL in that area. In wins over the Cleveland Browns, Chicago Bears and Pittsburgh Steelers, the offense averaged 32 rushes per game with an average time of possession of 36 minutes per game.
In the ensuing five-game stretch, in which the Eagles went 1-4, those numbers dropped to 23 rushes and about 30 minutes.
Sunday represented a big swing back in the opposite direction. The Eagles finished with season highs in attempts (38) and yards (208) while holding on to the ball for more than 38 minutes in a 24-15 win over the Falcons.
Ryan Mathews led that charge with 109 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries. Pederson acknowledged earlier in the week that 33-year-old Darren Sproles had emerged as the team's No. 1 back over the past couple of games while Mathews took on a more limited role. He explained Sunday that Mathews had a root canal a day after the loss to the Dallas Cowboys, and that played a part in why the running back rotation was altered against the Cowboys and New York Giants.
"It was good to get [Mathews] going again," Wentz said. "Obviously, he has had a couple down weeks but it was good to feed him the rock. And he was running angry."
For now, fantasy owners should probably assume that Mathews will hold onto that lead role for the time being. But McManus conceded that drawing meaning out of total rushing attempts can be tricky.
Teams that are ahead are typically going to rush the ball more and teams that are trailing are going to pass, so it's common to see higher rushing totals associated with wins. But Sunday's numbers came in a game that was neck-and-neck and spoke to a coach who crafted a ground-heavy game plan and stuck with it.
"Well, listen, that's an explosive offense on that side. Atlanta has a great offense, and I felt coming into this football game that we were going to have to possess the ball, and in order to do that, I thought that the running game was going to have to be a huge factor in this game," Pederson said.
Wentz had an easier go of it as a result, finishing with 36 pass attempts after averaging 45 over the past two games. With three of the Eagles' scoring drives lasting about six-plus minutes, the defense got plenty of rest and, just as importantly, the Atlanta offense had limited opportunities.
Certainly, the Eagles will not always find the same level of success on the ground as they did Sunday afternoon. That seems especially unlikely as the team heads to Seattle to face the Seahawks this weekend.
But as this season has proved so far, it's important that Pederson commits to the run anyway.
And their desire to rely on the run is certainly understandable. It's more than just protecting their rookie QB Wentz. The bigger issue has been a lack of wide receiver production
The Eagles' wide receiver woes grew even deeper Sunday, when everybody other than Jordan Matthews combined for just those seven yards that Agholor generated on five targets.
Green-Beckham doesn't have a catch the last two weeks. Agholor continues to make zero impact. Treggs showed promise with his long catch against the Giants but was a non-factor Sunday.
Nelson, a first-round draft pick last year, has been especially disappointing with has 547 yards in 22 career games.
Agholor's career average of 24.9 receiving yards per game is worst in the NFL over the last two years among wide receivers who have started at least 20 games.
Tavon Austin of the Rams is second-worst at 32.3 yards per game.
ProFootballFocus.com listed Agholor as one of the worst performers of Week 10.
Sproles had a team-high eight catches for 57 yards. Tight end Zach Ertz had six receptions for 55 yards.
On the injury front, Matthews was held out of practice Wednesday with back spasms, but Pederson told reporters the receiver should be fine for the game. Ertz (hamstring) was limited Wednesday; he is also expected to be fine for Sunday, but I'll follow up via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.
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 16 November 2016
As Associated Press sports writer Will Graves suggested, when a team that began September with realistic Super Bowl expectations finds itself listing as Thanksgiving nears like the Steelers (4-5) are following a late defensive meltdown cost them against Dallas on Sunday, drama -- either real or imagined -- is sure to follow.
It's why Steelers guard Ramon Foster found himself at his locker on Monday answering questions about everything from the team's confidence in head coach Mike Tomlin to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's grousing about accountability.
"When you have that type of hype and you don't live up to it in the middle of the season, you kind of lose a lot people," Foster said. "I'm OK with that. We'll be fine."
Eventually perhaps, but not at the moment. While Foster remains resolute that there's time for Pittsburgh to get it together -- starting with a trip on Sunday to winless Cleveland (0-10) -- he understands the angst. The Steelers were supposed to challenge Denver and New England for AFC supremacy. Instead they're under .500 and behind underwhelming Baltimore in the blah AFC North.
"The thing we can't do is bury ourselves," Foster said. "At this point it seems everybody is against us."
Adding to the concerns?
Four of Pittsburgh's next five games are on the road and even the luckless Browns hardly seem like a pushover for a team that hasn't won away from Heinz Field since Week 1.
"At this point we'd be very idiotic to think Cleveland is not going to play us as hard as they can," Foster said. "They're 0-8 or 0-9 and we're freaking 0-4 in our last four games. They're going to be chomping at the bit."
Meanwhile, the Steelers were 8 for 11 on two-point conversions last season and 2 for 2 this season before they played the Cowboys Sunday.
That success rate explains why Tomlin went for two twice after scoring their first two touchdowns of the game. When they failed on both it put them in the position where they had to go for two points on their final two touchdowns as well. They missed all four and each changed how the game was played on both sides.
Tomlin is the most aggressive coach in the NFL when it comes to two-point conversions, and he didn't sound like a coach who was going to change after one poor performance.
"We want to be aggressive," Tomlin said. "That's not out of line with our personality."
The Steelers continue to search for a No. 2 receiver opposite Antonio Brown. Sammie Coates was looking like he was going to be that guy early in the season. He had 19 catches for 422 yards after the first five games. Since then, he has had one catch for 4 yards and he barely saw the field against the Cowboys. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley used him for two plays.
"I thought those guys played great," Roethlisberger said. "I thought Eli Rogers played great and I thought Cobi made some plays for us. They were not the issue today. I thought they played well."
Roethlisberger is right in a sense. The Steelers scored 30 points and the offense shouldn't shoulder much of the blame for the loss.
Still, the Steelers lack big-play ability on offense. They were forced to methodically move the ball down the field against the Cowboys while the Cowboys won the game largely due to big plays.
In that sense, Roethlisberger is wrong. The Steelers need more from their receiving corps
For what it's worth, Coates, who had six catches for 139 yards and two touchdowns to boost his season totals to 19 receptions for 422 yards in the first five games, told reporters on Monday that his failure to crack the receiver rotation is definitely injury-related.
"I got a busted hand," Coates said Monday afternoon. "There isn't much I can do. It's what they allow me to do. That's all there is to it. My hand has to heal. It hasn't healed yet."
Tomlin confirmed that Coates has multiple broken fingers on the hand.
One week after suffering the injury in Miami, Coates played 17 snaps. He played seven snaps against the Patriots and then 45 snaps against the Baltimore Ravens after the open week.
Against the Cowboys Sunday afternoon, he played two snaps. Hamilton, who was on the practice squad until the middle of last month, played 64 snaps.
"I haven't taken days off," Coates said. "I just have to fight through it. But until it gets better, it's going to be up and down snaps."
Would he rather have let the fingers heal and come back later in the season?
"I'm not going to say that," Coates said. "My legs are fine. I can still help the team win. I'm going to go out there and do what I can.
"You're going to have injuries you can fight through. It's all about how you overcome it. I just have to be consistent at practice. If you're fighting an injury you have to be consistent for them to allow you on the field."
In a related note. ... Darrius Heyward-Bey remains on crutches with a sprained foot. He said he hopes to return in the second half of the season.
Meanwhile, tight end Ladarius Green played 12 snaps in his Steelers debut and caught three passes for 30 yards. He was targeted on a two-point conversion attempt and failed to come down with the catch.
"I would have felt better if I had caught it," Green said. "It was good to actually go out there and have a pass come my way and get hit and be part of the team finally."
Green (knee) was limited in Wednesday's practice. I'll follow up via Late-Breaking Update as needed. ...
A few final notes here. ... It continues to be tough sledding for Bell in the run game. He carried 17 times for just 57 yards against the Cowboys. His longest run was 16 yards. As a team the Steelers totaled 48 yards on 18 carries thanks for a 10-yard loss for Brown on a reverse.
The bottom line is the Steelers have to do a better job with their running game because it's asking an awful lot for Roethlisberger to carry the offense on his shoulders every single game.
And finally. ... Defensive end Cam Heyward's torn pectoral is going to end his season. The star pass-rusher shared the news on social media that his year is over. NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Heyward will have surgery.
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 16 November 2016
As ESPN.com's Eric D. Williams notes, Philip Rivers reached some career milestones Sunday against the Dolphins, but those accomplishments were buried beneath a flood of interceptions -- four, to be exact, all in the fourth quarter.
The backbreaker for the San Diego Chargers was the one returned 60 yards for a touchdown by Miami linebacker Kiko Alonso. That sealed a humbling, 31-24 loss.
"There were obviously too many missed opportunities in the game," Rivers said. "We scored late and then took the lead a few times, but we just didn't get it done."
The Chargers head into their bye week 4-6, with their aspirations of reaching the postseason all but gone with this loss.
Most games are won or lost at the line of scrimmage, and that certainly was the case here. San Diego's offensive line failed to protect Rivers, who was sacked three times and under duress most of the afternoon. Miami's defensive front, led by defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Earl Mitchell, also held running back Melvin Gordon to 70 yards on 24 carries.
Rivers finished 23 of 44 for 326 yards and three touchdowns, with those four interceptions. He now has 301 passing touchdowns for his career, which moved him into eighth place, and he became just the ninth player in NFL history to reach 300 career passing touchdowns.
New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning, a member of the 2004 draft class with Rivers, has 306 touchdown passes. The two join Dan Marino (420) and John Elway (300) as the second quarterback tandem from the same draft class to each reach 300 career passing touchdowns.
One of the few bright spots for the Chargers was the play of receiver Tyrell Williams. The second year pro out of Western Oregon finished with five catches for 125 yards and a touchdown.
Gordon fought hard, but the holes that were there the previous week weren't around this Sunday. The Dolphins' stout front often had its way with the Chargers offensive line. Gordon was often met in the backfield and when he did have a productive run, it was a challenge to follow it up with another one.
Gordon was the only Charger to carry the ball and had 70 yards to show for it and it took him 24 carries.
Meanwhile, even though the Chargers enter the bye week with a disappointing loss, head coach Mike McCoy gave his team the full week off after positional meetings on Monday.
With only six games left and several players on the mend, McCoy reasoned his team needed time away from the field to rest nagging injuries and get ready for the stretch run.
"A big focus is for the players to get away and take a deep breath," McCoy said. "They deserve the break. They've been playing 10 weeks into the season. And I'll say this: There's a lot of good from this season, too. Our record's what it is. No one is happy about our record. But there's a lot of positives from what some players have done."
McCoy mentioned the play of unheralded players on the roster thrown into the fire like linebacker Korey Toomer as bright spots in an otherwise disappointing 4-6 season.
McCoy's hopeful to get a handful of players back after the bye week who have been out due to injury, including receiver Travis Benjamin (knee), safety Jahleel Addae (clavicle) and middle linebackers Jatavis Brown (knee) and Denzel Perryman (hamstring).
McCoy and his coaching staff also will use the extra time to self-scout his team's weaknesses over the first half of the season.
McCoy said red zone offense and improving the defense will be priorities for his coaching staff to evaluate while the players are away.
The Chargers are No. 3 in the NFL in scoring, averaging 29.0 points per game. But they are No. 21 in red zone efficiency, scoring a touchdown half the time from inside the opponents' 20-yard line.
Even worse, over the past two games the Chargers are 1 for 15 getting into the end zone from inside the opponents' 5-yard line.
That stat includes a five-play sequence early in the fourth quarter against the Dolphins last week with the Chargers trailing 21-17 after a Darrell Stuckey fumble recovery on a punt return.
However, Rivers threw an interception in the end zone while trying to squeeze the ball into double coverage to Williams on a fade route.
"The way the offense has moved the ball week in and week out, we've struggled in the red area this year," McCoy said. "That's something we've got to do better, not just on that one series. Unfortunately, on that series we turned the ball over, which we have to eliminate. We've got to get points, especially in a close game."
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 16 November 2016
As the Associated Press noted, the defense held an opponent's top back under 100 yards rushing for the first time since the opener, Colin Kaepernick and the offense delivered a few big plays and the San Francisco 49ers were competitive until the end.
Despite clear signs of progress Sunday, that all added up to an eighth straight loss for the Niners when they lost 23-20 to the Arizona Cardinals on a last-second field goal.
"I don't think anybody is patting themselves on the back for being close with Arizona," coach Chip Kelly said Monday. "That's not what this deal is all about. It's about winning. At the end of the day we didn't make enough plays. We probably made one less play than they did and they ended up winning the game on the last play of the game. That's what it's all about."
But after losing by an average of more than 17 points the previous seven games with the closest defeat being a seven-point loss to Dallas last month, having a chance to win late was a major step forward for the 49ers (1-8).
The Niners had allowed a 100-yard rusher for seven straight games -- the longest streak in NFL history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau -- and was on pace to give up the most yards rushing in a season in 36 years.
Johnson had run for 157 yards and two touchdowns in a 33-21 win for the Cardinals last month in Santa Clara but struggled to get going at all against that defense in the rematch.
"First and foremost, I think we tackled better," Kelly said. "That was the least amount of missed tackles that we had on the season in that game."
The offense has also shown signs of improvement the more Kaepernick plays. After failing to complete even half his passes in his first two starts in place of Blaine Gabbert, Kaepernick has been much more effective since the bye.
He threw for 398 yards and two TDs on Nov. 6 against New Orleans and then went 17 for 30 for 210 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions against the Cardinals.
He also ran for 55 yards, including the game-tying touchdown with 1:55 to play.
Even head coach Chip Kelly, who to this point has mostly described Kaepernick's play as "up and down" after his previous three starts, offered a slightly different assessment.
"He continues to grow," Kelly said. "I think he did some good things. He started off throwing the ball pretty well. ... But I thought Kaep did a nice job.
Indeed, Kaepernick looked more comfortable throwing from the pocket Sunday than he did in his previous three starts, was again dynamic in the run game, land, most important, had no turnovers. It was the first time in his four 2016 starts he was able to put all three of those things together.
But as ESPN.com's Nick Wagoner noted, Arizona mostly won the battle at the line of scrimmage and Carlos Hyde looked tentative at times in his first game back from a shoulder injury, finishing with 14 yards on 13 attempts. While Kaepernick offered some good moments in the passing game, particularly during a two-possession stretch in the second quarter, the Cardinals were fine loading up to stop the run and asking Kaepernick to beat them.
It didn't happen, though and the Niners failed to take full advantage of the four turnovers the defense generated. Twice they started drives in Cardinals territory following turnovers only to punt.
The most costly came late in the third quarter when San Francisco got to the Arizona 28 following an interception by Eric Reid. But a dropped pass by Chris Harper and two holding penalties took the Niners out of field position and they punted.
The task doesn't get any easier for the Niners this week with Tom Brady and the New England Patriots set to visit fresh off a home loss to Seattle. San Francisco needs a win to avoid tying the longest losing streak in franchise history: a nine-gamer in 1978 that led to the hiring of Bill Walsh as coach the following season.
"You get a chance to play against Tom Brady and Bill Belichick," Kelly said. "If that doesn't get your blood boiling, then you're in the wrong sport."
Other notes of interest. ... As the Sports Xchange suggested this week, the lack of a big-play receiver hampers the offense. That said, Kelly seemed at least content with his collection of wideouts after Sunday's loss.
"I thought Jeremy Kerley, specifically, caught the ball really well in traffic, did a nice job all day long, had some big catches for us," Kelly said Monday after dissecting the game film.
Kerley had seven catches for 71 yards and a touchdown in the loss.
Equally impressive, Kelly noted, was the fact that three other wideouts Quinton Patton (three catches, 52 yards), Torrey Smith (two for 26) and Rod Streater (one for 11) added both quantity (six receptions) and quality (14.8 yards per catch) to the passing attack.
"We kind of got the ball distributed a little bit," Kelly reported. "I think our guys have an understanding and a feeling of how we're moving forward offensively and starting to kind of understand how things work off things. If they're going to take this away, then we need to be able to go to that."
Smith, who has been dealing with a sore back the last two weeks, was not practicing on Wednesday.
One last note here. ... Phil Dawson moved past Roger Craig (396) and into 10th place on the 49ers' all-time scoring list when his two field goals and two PATs in the Sunday loss at Arizona raised his total to 399. One of Dawson's two field goals came from 53 yards, his team-record 14th success from 50 or more yards.
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 16 November 2016
The Seahawks plan to have Thomas Rawls back in the lineup this week. Pete Carroll told 710 ESPN Radio on Monday that Rawls will practice to play against the Eagles.
"Thomas is ready to go," Carroll said. "He's going to practice to play this week."
According to ESPN.com's Sheil Kapadia, even though he hasn't been able to see them play together yet, Carroll sounds like he already has given plenty of thought to a Seahawks running back tandem that features C.J. Prosise and s Rawls.
"With C.J., the versatility of all the things he seems to be able to do at this point, and knowing that there's a really style to Thomas that we're really looking forward to seeing, it could be a real nice matchup," Carroll said. "We'll see how that works."
The Seahawks' power run game has slumped the past few weeks with Christine Michael seeing fewer and fewer totes. In Sunday's win over the New England Patriots, Prosise took the majority of snaps, leading the team with 17 carries for 66 yards rushing and adding seven receptions for 87 yards.
Carroll was asked specifically about Prosise and Rawls. He had a chance to mention how Michael might fit into the mix but opted not to do so.
Turns out there was a reason for that.
Michael was waived by the Seahawks on Tuesday.
The fourth-year back started seven of nine games and led Seattle with 117 carries, 469 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns; he was also a top-five receiving target out of the backfield (20 rec, 96 yards). His carries, however, had diminished over the past two weeks.
NFL Network's Ian Rapoport noted the move has nothing to do with any off-the-field drama and was strictly a football decision. This implies that not only is Rawls expected to be back in Week 11 taking starting carries, but also that Prosise replaced Michael as Seattle's preferred second back.
In fact, prior to Rawls missing the last seven games with a fibula injury, Carroll continually talked up increasing the bruising rusher's snaps. Rawls' imminent return should immediately boost the Seahawks power rushing attack.
Kapadia went on to remind readers the Seahawks' running game has gone in several different directions so far this season. Through 10 games, they have had three guys start games. But signs are pointing toward a Prosise/Rawls combination down the stretch.
Given that Rawls has been dealing with a lower-body injury, conditioning could be an issue. Carroll said Rawls looked great last week, but there's still a good chance that he'll be eased back in.
As for Prosise, he took the starting job from Michael last week and suddenly looks like someone who could be a difference-maker down the stretch.
The rookie was the Seahawks' leading rusher and receiver against the New England Patriots, totaling 153 yards on 24 touches.
"I think what stands out the most is the variety of things that he did, that he looked good at," Carroll said. "He ran the ball inside. He ran the ball outside. He caught the ball well in the short passing game to make some first downs, and he caught the big ball down the sidelines. He got smacked on the catch and held onto it, just like the receiver that he has in his background."
The team will see how Rawls looks later in the week, but given how much the Seahawks are relying on the passing game right now, the versatility of Prosise really fits well.
The Seahawks were not prolific with the running game (26 carries for 96 yards) against the Patriots, but they were more balanced than they had been previously. Carroll said it was a combination of better run blocking (he singled out center Justin Britt specifically) and Prosise hitting the hole.
The offense has a lot of moving parts at running back, but the emergence of Prosise and the potential of return of Rawls has Carroll optimistic that the Seahawks can get the ground game going down the stretch.
In a related note. ... the Seahawks promoted running back Troymaine Pope from their practice squad to the regular roster on Tuesday. ...
Meanwhile, Russell Wilson passed for a regular-season career-high 348 yards against the Patriots with three touchdown passes to Doug Baldwin. As noted above, Prosise led Seattle with 87 receiving yards and four different receivers had at least 50 receiving yards.
As NFL.com's Matt Harmon notes, Tyler Lockett finally looked like the sterling deep threat that he was last year. His 16.3 average depth of target led the Seahawks receivers by a full-three yards. Lockett looked uncoverable on a few of his deep shots, but still only played 58 percent of the team snaps, and trailed Jermaine Kearse in targets.
One last note here. ... Tight end Luke Willson (knee) was healthy enough to play Sunday in New England, but Carroll said they elected to give him another week to recover. Willson has missed the last four games with a right knee injury.
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 16 November 2016
Doug Martin plowed into the end zone, kissed the ground in celebration and jogged back to the sideline sporting a big smile.
As Associated Press sports writer Fred Goodall suggested, the running back's return from a hamstring injury that sidelined him nearly two months meant a lot more to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers than a 16-carry, 33-yard rushing performance against the Chicago Bears suggested.
"Just happy to be back," Martin said after the Bucs stopped a two-game losing streak Sunday with their first home victory in nearly a year. The fifth-year pro missed six games and most of a seventh.
"It was frustrating," the two-time Pro Bowler added. "But I was back and ready to go."
Martin, who was reportedly on a snap count, ended up with 17 total touches and the touchdown. As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich notes, Martin wasn't effective on the ground, though, averaging just 2.1 yards per carry in the game. In fact, with rookie Peyton Barber gaining 38 yards on 12 attempts, Martin wasn't Tampa Bay's leading rusher.
But just getting him back on the field gave the Bucs an emotional lift and bolstered optimism that the team can turn its season around after a slow start.
A healthy Martin rushed for 1,402 yards a year ago, second in the NFL behind Adrian Peterson. He was even more productive as a rookie in 2012, rushing for 1,454 yards and catching 49 passes for 472 to finish with 1,926 yards from scrimmage -- the third-highest total for a first-year player in league history.
"You just see his presence in him being out there. Guys want to fight for him," quarterback Jameis Winston said. "The first snap, I said, 'Guys, we have Doug back. ... Let's play football.' It was pretty big."
Four different running backs shared the workload while Martin was out, mostly with limited success. Charles Sims and Antone Smith were lost to season-ending injuries during the layoff, and early season pickup Jacquizz Rodgers has been inactive the past two games with a sore foot after topping 100 yards twice in three starts.
According to ESPN.com's Jenna Laine, Rodgers was out of his walking boot on Wednesday, but there is no timetable for his return.
Martin, on the other hand, who returned to practice last week, said he felt fine after the game.
The touchdown was his first since Dec. 27 last year, also against the Bears.
"There were some points in the game where I felt like I got my old legs back, and they'll come back with more practice," Martin said. "I just did a little scout team (last) week and, practicing more, I'll be just fine."
The good news? After getting his feet wet, Martin should be an every-week starter going forward, starting with this week's game against the Chiefs. ...
Winston did a great job of extending plays and had his fourth 300-yard passing day with two touchdowns and an interception.
It was Brate's fifth touchdown of the season and finished with team highs of seven catches for 84 yards. He's appreciative to the fans who have believed in him in fantasy football.
"My phone, I had a lot of messages from people telling me they picked me up in fantasy football earlier in the week," Brate said. "I'm happy I came through for them. I'm trying to get my ownership up a little bit there. I told my friends they've got to give me some kickbacks if they win now."
As for Evans?
As NFL.com's Matt Harmon put it: "Fantasy owners ask 'what's going on with (Player X)' and 'why isn't (Player X) doing (something that would help their lineup' as if there is always some sort of meaning behind it. Sometimes, in football, stuff just happens."
Harmon went on to suggest that's likely the best explanation for why Evans didn't see a target in the first half. Just one of those things. Let's also not forget that interception returns, especially those returned for touchdowns, limit the opportunities of the offense whose defense registers the takeaways. The Bucs had two such instances off Jay Cutler in the first half on Sunday.
As such, Evans was only on the field for 58 total plays. Don't expect that to be the norm going forward.
And finally. ... Evans has reversed course on his decision to protest the national anthem "as long as Donald Trump is president-elect" and will stand with his teammates, opting to find what he calls "more effective ways" to communicate his message.
In a statement released Tuesday, Evans apologized to the military and anyone else offended by his actions Sunday, when he sat during the national anthem before the Buccaneers' game against the Bears.
Head coach Dirk Koetter said Monday that he was "disappointed" with Evans' decision to sit because of what the anthem stands for.
"Yeah, I'm disappointed for that," said Koetter, who has had his team practice lining up for the national anthem before. "I also respect Mike's freedom of speech and freedom of expression."
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 16 November 2016
As the Sports Xchange noted, for several years now, the specter of Jeff Fisher and his conservative offenses have seemed to hang over the Tennessee Titans.
Fisher is long gone after having departed six years ago, but the Titans' offense still seemingly had scoring issues even in the aftermath.
Ken Whisenhunt promised offensive changes two years ago, but that ended in disaster as Tennessee scored only 254 points.
The Titans were only slightly better last season, finishing with 299 points as Whisenhunt was fired about halfway through the year.
But suddenly, the Titans, who have been offensively challenged for more than a decade it seems, are potent on offense. So potent, in fact, that after putting up 47 points against Green Bay Sunday, it marked the first time in franchise history that the Titans have scored at least 35 points in three straight games.
And now they turn their attention to Indianapolis after their win over the Packers earned players their first Victory Monday off this season. It's a well-deserved break for a franchise second in the AFC South and at .500 this late in a season for the first time since 2011.
Tennessee coaches started Monday trying to figure out how to beat the Colts in Indianapolis where the Titans haven't won since 2007, and head coach Mike Mularkey expects most players will either work or study on their own.
The Titans have never won in eight games at Lucas Oil Stadium and have lost 10 straight overall and 15 of the last 16.
Mularkey said the Titans have to learn how to win these games.
"We have to do that in Indy," Mularkey said. "We have to do that Week 11. We have to do that because we're in the chase for a playoff spot. Those are things we have to learn how to do, and I think we're learning. This is a process we're going through right now. We're learning a lot about ourselves. These are the games we've got to learn how to win."
The Titans (5-5) not only have turned around from a 1-3 start this season, they also have matched the win total for the past two years combined by winning four of their past six games.
Tennessee is winning with an offense putting up numbers that rank with the NFL's best: The Titans are averaging 33.7 points a game over the past six weeks, which has pushed them to eighth in the NFL in points per game. Tennessee didn't score more than 16 points in each of its first three games.
For the year, the Titans have scored the fourth-most points in the league (264), already surpassing that woeful 2014 total in just 10 games.
They lead the NFL with 26 touchdowns on 34 trips inside the 20, a 76.5 percent conversion rate.
Marcus Mariota currently is the AFC's second-highest rated passer at 99.6, behind only Tom Brady, and seventh in the NFL. The quarterback also leads the AFC with 21 TD passes, trailing only Drew Brees and Matt Ryan (24 each) and Aaron Rodgers (22).
DeMarco Murray is the NFL's second-leading rusher behind only Ezekiel Elliott of Dallas. Murray also is tied for third for most touchdowns scored with 10 and is third in the league for most yards from scrimmage (1,189).
There are a couple of key factors in the offensive explosion. Murray is one, but the bigger factor may be the emergence of Mariota, who had four more touchdown passes Sunday to become the first Titans quarterback since Steve McNair 13 years ago to have 20 in a single season.
Mariota has 17 touchdowns and four interceptions in his past six games. He had four TD passes and five picks in the first four contests.
It was a continuation of the way Mariota has played over the past several games and the numbers he has put up lately- sans the killer turnovers that doomed the Titans against the San Diego Chargers last week.
"(In) back-to-back games, important games that he knows we needed him to play at his best level, and he did. He started off with the 10 completions," Mularkey said.
Mariota is also spreading the wealth around with his receivers.
Early in the season, tight end Delanie Walker (who had 124 yards receiving Sunday) was one of the few reliable weapons. Now, the wideouts are getting involved, too. His rapport with Rishard Matthews, who has six touchdowns, has especially been impressive.
"He makes it easy on me," Mariota said. "Like today for instance, being able to beat his one-on-one defender, gives me a chance to throw that ball up to him. He's that type of player for us. He has the abilities to win those one-on-one matchups and create a lot of matchup problems for other teams."
Mularkey said the gradual process of the quarterback and receivers getting on the same page is beginning to pay off.
"Guys being in the right place, right depth, right timing. The first third down we had with Tajae Sharpe out there, this is basically a drop, let her go, Tajae be here in this spot. There's a hole there to hit. We're doing better outside. We're playing better out there, much more disciplined, and it's showing up on Sundays," Mularkey said.
It should come as no surprise that Mariota wsa named AFC Offensive Player of the Week on Wednesday. ...
Meanwhile, Tennessee is relatively healthy for this time of year -- 10 games into the season. What makes it even more remarkable is that the Titans have not yet had their bye week.
The team, according to Mularkey, should have all 53 players available to practice on Wednesday when it begins preparation for the Colts.
"There's really nothing to report injury-wise. We should have a full roster for practice on Wednesday. That's good news for us. For this time of the year, very good," Mularkey said.
Murray (toe) and fellow running back Derrick Henry (calf) both made it through the game Sunday and should be a full go this week -- although Murray was practicing on a limited basis Wednesday.
Murray had 123 yards rushing on 17 attempts, with 75 of that coming on the first play from scrimmage for the Titans' offense. Henry had 31 yards on nine carries after sitting out last week vs. San Diego when he sustained the injury in pre-game warmups.
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 16 November 2016
According to the Associated Press, after the Redskins allowed the Vikings to score 20 consecutive points at the end of the first half Sunday, head coach Jay Gruden had to shut the door in his office at halftime to cool down.
Once he regained his poise, so did his team. For the seventh time this season the Redskins had a game decided by one score, and after beating the Vikings they're 4-2-1 in those situations.
This time it was the defense shutting out Minnesota for the final 30 minutes while the offense got the job done, but Washington is comfortable playing football on the razor's edge between winning and losing -- mostly because there has been more winning than losing.
The Redskins' recipe in close games has included a defense that gets better as games go on, effective offense even in light of red zone struggles and a kicker who ranks among the NFL's most relied upon.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins said coaches, and specifically Gruden, are behind Washington's success in the close games that are part of a close league.
Cousins pointed to Gruden's time in the Arena Football League as one reason the head coach knows about clock management as well as adjustments.
"He does a very good job of managing the game in coaching situations," Cousins said. "Any time you have young players in certain positions, it's going to take time. You don't just snap your fingers and get exactly what you want. I think we are all growing together. I don't think we are an old, veteran, experienced team by any means, and there's still a ways to go."
The Redskins converted a touchdown on only one of four trips to the red zone against Minnesota and allowed two Vikings touchdowns on the other side of the ball. Gruden said the team will continue to patch up the red zone issues but didn't voice much worry about them because the points keep coming.
"I think there are sometimes where going down there and kicking field goals isn't a bad thing in close games," Gruden said Monday. "I would rather do that than force an interception down there."
"Ninety seven," Kelley said with a smile.
After going for 84 yards in an Oct. 30 tie against Cincinnati in London while starting for an injured Jones (knee), Kelley put a chokehold on the No. 1 job with his performance against the Vikings, who entered the game ranked eighth in rushing defense. Washington was also missing star left tackle Trent Williams (suspension) and had a hobbled Morgan Moses (ankle) at right tackle.
An undrafted rookie, Kelley has not yet fumbled and he's kept negative plays to a minimum. In turn, that's kept the offense on schedule and in rhythm.
"(Kelley is) a hard runner. I think he was more patient this week than he was last week," Gruden said. "Ninety-seven yards against an excellent defense is a great stat for him and a great tribute to his running style. The line did a great job for him -- tight ends also. It's good to see. I think he's just going to get better and better the way he plays, the way he studies, the way he works."
While the Redskins haven't given up on Jones, ESPN.com's John Keim reports they just don't know when he'll be active again.
Their one-time starter was inactive for the first time Sunday as Kelley was the starter and Mack Brown served as the backup because of his ability to play special teams. Chris Thompson is the third-down back so that left Jones sidelined. But Gruden said that won't necessarily happen each week.
"We just have to make that determination every week," Gruden said. "We're not giving up on Matt. But when you can only dress three running backs, the third one we would like to have some impact on special teams. That's not always going to be the case. Sometimes we may not need our third running back to be on special teams, we can get Matt up."
That said, Kelley isn't about to lose the starting job anytime soon.
Jones rushed for 460 yards in his seven starts. But he injured his knee in a Week 7 loss at Detroit, opening the way for Kelley. Coaches have preached to Jones about being more decisive consistently, but that wasn't always happening. Kelley has been consistent -- Sunday, 17 of his 22 runs were between two and five yards.
That consistency will leave Jones as a backup and inactive, at least for some games, moving forward. His competition now becomes Brown, another former undrafted player like Kelley. Jones was a third-round choice a year ago.
"They're both very talented," Gruden said. "We like what we see in both of them. ..."
Other notes of interest. ... The Redskins might be without receiver DeSean Jackson for a second consecutive game, but they're still holding out hope that won't be the case.
Gruden said Jackson, who missed Sunday's win with a rotator cuff injury, is "in play" for this week's game against the Packers. Gruden said Jackson received a cortisone shot last week to help his range of motion and will continue to receive treatment. Jackson was on the practice field Wednesay.
But Gruden also said "it's a reality" that Jackson's injury could linger, which is why they want to be careful about when he returns. Another factor is that Washington plays again four days later at Dallas on Thanksgiving Day. Playing him in a short week after a Sunday night game might be asking a lot if his shoulder is not fully recovered.
"We've got to get him healthy first," Gruden said. "He has to feel good about his shoulder and he has to have the strength back. An injured DeSean won't do us much good. We've got to make sure he's 100 percent ready to roll."
I'll have more on Jackson's status via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses. ...
The Redskins moved the ball well without him Sunday, gaining 388 yards and scoring more points against the Vikings than any other team this season. Receiver Maurice Harris was one of the fill-ins; the undrafted free-agent rookie caught three passes for 28 yards, including two third-down conversions.
But the Redskins don't want to be without Jackson for too long. Though he's averaging a career-low 13.9 yards per catch, Jackson remains a downfield threat and occupies the attention of multiple defenders at times. In other words, he remains a vital asset.
"I was happy the way the guys stepped up in his place," Gruden said, "but we obviously would love to have DeSean back with his game-breaking speed."
I'll have more on Jackson via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses. ...
One last note. ... Dustin Hopkins shook off a slump -- four of 10 misses, including a 34-yarder in overtime that would have won the Cincinnati game on Oct. 30 in London. But he made all four of his field-goal attempts on Sunday, including a 50-yarder. Five of his seven kickoffs went for touchbacks.
"He's been excellent all year," Gruden said. "He gave us no reason to believe that he wouldn't do otherwise then to bounce back. It was great to see it, though."
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