Team Notes Week 11 2017
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 14 November 2017
Let's start with the bad news. ... The quarterback news got worse for the Cardinals Saturday when multiple reports said Carson Palmer fill-in Drew Stanton hurt his knee against the Seahawks and he could miss the Cards' next game in Houston. If that happened, Blaine Gabbert would start.
At 4-5, the Cardinals are just barely in the NFC playoff picture. An extended absence by Stanton would obviously not help their cause.
That said, Stanton practiced Tuesday, though Gabbert also took some reps with the starters, head coach Bruce Arians said via Darren Urban of the team website.
Arians said Stanton, who has a sprain, will have "to show he can stay out of harm's way" to make his third start of the season.
The Cardinals aren't ruling out Stanton, though.
"Drew is extremely tough," general manager Steve Keim said on Arizona Sports 98.7. "He's the type of guy I would not bet against."
That said, the same radio station, via well-connected insider Mike Jurecki, is betting against Stanton.
According to Jurecki, sources have informed him that Gabbert is expected to be the starting quarterback when the Cardinals face Houston at NRG Stadium.
Indeed, the Cardinals were concerned enough about Stanton they added some insurance to the roster on Monday.
The team announced that they have signed quarterback Matt Barkley as one of a series of moves. Barkley spent the entire 2015 season with Arizona without playing in any regular season games and got released at the end of the 2016 preseason. He was with the Bears after leaving the Cardinals and joined the 49ers this offseason.
In addition, left tackle D.J. Humphries, safety Tyvon Branch and tight end Ifeanyi Momah were all placed on injured reserve after suffering season-ending injuries last Thursday against the Seahawks. The Cardinals still have one open spot on their active roster. ...
I'll obviously be following up on this one, so watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for more in coming days with a final decision expected by Friday. ...
Beyond that, as ESPN.com's Josh Weinfuss wrote, "It's not necessarily an Einstein-esque revelation, but the word is out: The Arizona Cardinals struggle mightily to run the ball against good defenses."
Thursday night was the case study.
The Seattle Seahawks stacked the box against Adrian Peterson, who was coming off a career-high 37 carries for 159 yards, and slowed him nearly to a halt with 21 carries for 29 yards -- the fewest yards he's ever had in a game with at least 20 carries. And as Profootballtalk.com's Michael David Smith noted, Peterson's game was even worse than those numbers suggest: He also lost a fumble on the Cardinals' first offensive play, and he was later tackled in the end zone for a safety.
According to Weinfuss, the poor performance could've been a sign that Peterson was fatigued after having so many carries just four days earlier. Or it could've been a sign that the Cardinals have a hard time against strong front sevens.
Or it was both.
Peterson ran for 9 yards on 11 rushes against eight or more defenders in the box on Thursday night, according to ESPN Stats and Information. He ran for 105 yards on 25 carries against eight-man fronts against the 49ers.
The book on how to defend Peterson this season is being written. His last two games included his most and second-most runs against eight or more defenders in the box this season, according to ESPN Stats and Information. The difference is the talent level on those teams. Peterson ran through San Francisco's defensive front with ease, but had only three runs of 5 yards or longer against the Seahawks.
"It was some missed opportunities on my part," Peterson said. "They did a great job defensively of containing us. We just really couldn't get into a rhythm."
Peterson was held to 21 yards on 11 carries in Week 7 in London against the Los Angeles Rams, who have one of the best defensive lines in the league. That game could have been looked at as the textbook way to slow Peterson, but there were too many other factors involved: Travel, time change, practice conditions, weather.
Aside from being played on a short week, Thursday's game was played in familiar surroundings on a familiar field in a familiar stadium.
And the Cardinals still couldn't get the ground game going.
"It was hit or miss," Arians said. "We knew it was going to be hard. Our good front, we didn't block as well as we did last week. There were one or two that looked like they were going to come out of there, but they didn't."
And it's just going to get harder from here for the Cardinals.
Left tackle D.J. Humphries might have a torn ACL, Arians said. Humphries injured his right knee in the first quarter. It was initially believed to be a sprained MCL, but Arians said after the game that "it looks like right now" to be an ACL injury. That would likely sideline Humphries for the rest of the season just as he and the rest of the offensive line were finding a rhythm.
"It's just a shame," Arians said. "Guy was playing fantastic. Second time in one year."
Humphries suffered an MCL sprain in Week 1 and missed the next four games.
Without Humphries anchoring the offensive line, Arizona's run game might lose the balance it sought with Peterson -- and had against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and San Francisco 49ers, who have combined for two wins this season.
When the Cardinals' run game struggles, so does the offense.
When the run game isn't effective, the Cardinals have trouble controlling the game, keeping possession, sustaining drives and scoring, tight end Jermaine Gresham said. When it's working, the run game can help open up passing plays such as Gresham's 14-yard touchdown early in the second quarter.
Even though Arizona didn't break any long runs -- the longest was 9 yards -- wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald believed the "body blows" against the Seahawks' front were working.
But for the Cardinals' run game to work against good defenses, they'll have to continue doing one thing they did Thursday.
"The one thing I did like about it is that we stayed committed to the run game," Fitzgerald said. "I felt like we stuck with it. We continued to pound it at them. We've got to continue to do that as the season goes on because when you get into those obvious passing situations against a team that has great pass-rushers like Seattle does, it makes it very difficult."
So here's where we stand on the Peterson Watch: His four games as a Cardinal include two games when he topped 130 yards, and two other games when he failed to reach even 30 yards.
According to Smith, Peterson is one of just three running backs in the league with two 130-yard games since Week 6, when he became a Cardinal. (The other two are Le'Veon Bell and Ezekiel Elliott.) But Peterson is also one of just three running backs in the league with two games of 10 or more attempts and 30 or fewer yards since Week 6. (The other two are Carlos Hyde and Elijah McGuire.)
If that's a thing, Peterson is due for a big game against Texans this weekend.
Other notes of interest. ... Fitzgerald caught 10 passes for 113 yards, including a 17-yarder with just over nine minutes to play that continued to cement his legacy as one of the most productive receivers to ever play the game. Fitzgerald's catch pushed him over 15,000 receiving yards for his career, making him the sixth player to ever reach that milestone.
He's also the second-youngest behind Jerry Rice and will likely be climbing several more rungs on the all-time receiving yards list before the year is out. Fitzgerald now has 15,066 receiving yards, leaving him 61 behind Tony Gonzalez, 142 behind Isaac Bruce and 226 behind Randy Moss.
Terrell Owens is a little less than 900 yards ahead of Fitzgerald, so another season will likely be necessary for Fitzgerald to reach No. 2 all-time and Thursday's outing did little to suggest that he won't be up to the task. ...
Despite Fitzgerald holding onto his own value, NFL.com's Matt Harmon pointed out this week that the rest of the ancillary receivers "are merely dart throws. ..."
Momah's ankle was so bad, meanwhile, that doctors discovered he has a broken leg and he, too, is set to undergo surgery. He may need reconstruction on his ankle, Arians said. ...
Phil Dawson had an extra-point attempt blocked toward the end of the game and it just further annoyed Arians about the state of his team's kicking game. Dawson, 42, has also missed six field goals this season, including four from inside 40 yards.
"It was slow operation time," Arians said.
According to the Sports Xchange, the snap from new long snapper Justin Drescher was low, which has been an ongoing problem. The hold and the kick weren't especially operational, either.
"A little bit of the whole thing - all three," Arians said.
Asked if the team will explore changes in that area, Arians said, "We always do. Yeah, we look at it. ..."
Running back David Johnson announced via Twitter that the cast on his left wrist was removed on Monday, nine weeks after he suffered a dislocation in the season opener. Johnson has said he would like to return this season, no matter the team's record. But that remains questionable.
He will begin rehabilitation now to restore strength and range of motion.
In addition, Palmer said he thinks "every second of every day" about trying to come back and play this season for the Cardinals.
"I could potentially be available the last two weeks of the season," Palmer said. "Who knows? I don't know where I'll be (with rehab) at that point. I don't know where we will be as a team at that point. I just try to be as ready as I can as quick as I can."
The quarterback, speaking publicly last Saturday for the first time since he broke his left arm against the Rams in London Oct. 22, said he has talked to Johnson and T.J. Logan about having a casted arm and dealing with the loss of muscle and hand strength. The idea is that he could return from injured reserve, although the earliest he could play would be the Dec. 24 home game against the Giants.
The uncertainty stretches to his future and the 2018 season as well. Palmer is under contract for next season, although retirement could be an option.
QBs: Drew Stanton, Blaine Gabbert
RBs: Kerwynn Williams, Elijhaa Penny
WRs: Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown, Jaron Brown, J.J. Nelson, Chad Williams
TEs: Jermaine Gresham, Troy Niklas, Ricky Seals-Jones
Atlanta FalconsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 November 2017
Devonta Freeman is unlikely to play next Monday night at Seattle against the Seahawks after suffering his second concussion this season, sources told ESPN's Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen.
Freeman will be re-evaluated this week, but his concussion history and running style contribute to making it unlikely he will play in Week 11. It would not be a surprise if Freeman's absence extended beyond this week and into multiple games, considering his history, according to sources.
Freeman exited in the first quarter of the Falcons' 27-7 victory over the Dallas Cowboys after taking a hit from linebacker Anthony Hitchens.
Sunday's concussion was his third with the Falcons.
Freeman missed two preseason games after suffering a concussion in a practice in August. He also suffered a concussion in November 2015, when he was hit by Colts safety Clayton Geathers.
Freeman leads the Falcons in rushing with 515 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns on 116 carries.
With Freeman out Sunday, the Falcons got a solid performance from Tevin Coleman (20 yards, 83 yards rushing, 1 touchdown).
But Freeman's potential absence could be an issue.
How the Falcons play against the Seahawks after taking care of business against the shorthanded Cowboys could show where this season is headed. As ESPN.com's Vaughn McClure noted, the Falcons want to take advantage of undermanned opponents when they have the opportunity.
They did so against Dallas and will look to do so again in Seattle, where All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman is lost for the season due to a ruptured Achilles. The anticipated Julio Jones-Sherman battle won't happen -- meaning there will be no follow-up to the pivotal no-call near the end of the teams' meeting last year, which Seattle won 26-24 -- so it will be interesting to see how Seahawks defensive coordinator Kris Richard elects to defend Jones, and how the Falcons plan to unleash their top weapon.
Furthermore, Seahawks left tackle Duane Brown is recovering from an ankle injury, and his status could impact whether Clayborn follows up on his six-sack outing or someone such as Vic Beasley Jr. or Takk McKinley joins the sack parade against Russell Wilson.
No matter how things unfold from now until next Monday night, the Falcons know there's an opportunity to regain some swagger and not just be a one-game wonder. It's up to them to take advantage.
"The same mindset every week: championship football," Jones said. "You always have to trust the process. When people say things are going bad, people tend to make up stuff. We just do what we do, and everything else will take care of itself."
Meanwhile, after an efficient, 22-of-29 day against Dallas, Matt Ryan went into the league record books with 40,073 passing yards making him the fastest player in NFL history to reach 40,000 yards.
Ryan did it in 151 career games. The previous league mark was held by Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who accomplished the feat in 152 games. The great Dan Marino - the legendary Miami Dolphin did it in 153 games.
"I've been fortunate to play with a number of great players throughout my nine and a half or 10 years here," said Ryan, who was the third player selected in the 2008 draft out of Boston College. "I have been fortunate to be on some really good teams and to be able to stay healthy. I'm proud of that. I hope that there's another 40,000 in there and I can keep playing for a long time."
Ryan passed for 215 yards and two touchdowns against the Cowboys. He finished with a 104.8 passer rating.
The game also marked the 78th time that Ryan has thrown for multiple touchdowns in a game. He had a three-yard touchdown pass to Justin Hardy in the third quarter to put the Falcons ahead 17-7. He tossed a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Austin Hooper in the fourth quarter to give the Falcons a 24-7 lead.
Ryan also continued his NFL record 64-game streak of passing for 200 yards or more in a game.
Also, he's now thrown a touchdown pass in 27 straight games, which is the longest current streak in the league.
The offense's performance against the Cowboys was perhaps its best of the season.
"I thought we did some nice things offensively," Ryan said. "Whether it's the best or not, it doesn't matter. It was good enough to get the job done.
Ryan moved the ball around to seven different receivers.
Jones caught six passes for 57 yards. Mohamed Sanu caught three of his five targets for 29 yards, but had one bounce off his hands and get intercepted.
Coleman scored the 11th rushing touchdown of his career.
I will, of course, be following up on Freeman via Late-Breaking Update throughout the week, but those invested should have a fallback plan in place.
QBs: Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub, Matt Simms
RBs: Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman, Terron Ward
WRs: Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Taylor Gabriel, Justin Hardy, Nick Williams, Andre Roberts
TEs: Austin Hooper, Eric Saubert, Levine Toilolo
Baltimore RavensCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 November 2017
As the Ravens return to work they hope to make playoff push over the final seven weeks of the regular season.
Baltimore trails the Pittsburgh Steelers by three games in the AFC North. However, the Ravens (4-5) are only one game behind the Buffalo Bills for the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC.
The bye week came at a crucial time for Baltimore, which has been hampered by injuries since the beginning of training camp. The Ravens hope to have several banged-up players back Sunday against the Green Bay Packers, including running back Danny Woodhead.
"I'm excited that we have our offensive weapons back," Harbaugh said. "We are at more full strength than we've been all year. We need guys on the field. We need guys out there making plays. Our guys want to be out there making plays. So, yeah, I'm more excited now than at any point all year."
One of the areas Baltimore needs to change is its ability to make big plays downfield. The Ravens enter the week with the league's 32nd-ranked passing attack.
Quarterback Joe Flacco has thrown for 1,551 yards with eight touchdowns and 10 interceptions. His 72.7 passer rating ranks 31st among all quarterbacks. Flacco, who is confident the Ravens can make a playoff run, said Baltimore needs to start attacking teams more aggressively for four quarters.
"There is a lot of opportunity out there," Flacco said. "We can't dwell on the fact that we are 4-5. We can't go back and change that. It is what it is, and we have to put that out of our mind the best we can. We have to have a short memory and just go out there and play football.
"We can't look ahead that far either, because when you start doing that and you start trying to look at the big picture of everything every single day, that just wears on you mentally. It is just too much for us to handle. We have to take it one week at a time. It is cliché as it can be, but we have to do that. We have to look at what is important now, and for us, that is getting a little bit of a break here and focusing on the Green Bay Packers."
The Ravens have struggled at Lambeau Field, but will not have to beat Aaron Rodgers. He is out with a broken collarbone and has been replaced by backup Brett Hundley, who led Green Bay to a 23-16 victory over the Chicago Bears on Sunday.
Harbaugh said the Ravens just need to start a successful run of games, regardless of who is playing quarterback for Green Bay.
"You have to string together some wins at some point in time," Harbaugh said. "That's kind of the difference between making the playoffs or not making the playoffs, winning the division or not."
Passing the ball better would be a good starting point.
As the team's official website pointed out last week, no one would dispute that the Ravens' passing game, ranked No. 31 in the league going into the bye, needed attention. Their struggles in that area are quantifiable. Their average of 5.3 yards per pass attempt is the league's lowest figure by half a yard. They're also last in the league in completions of at least 20 yards.
Asked what the offense needs going forward, receiver Mike Wallace said, "Big plays. We need to make big plays. As an offense, we move the ball down the field pretty well. We just need those big plays, the 50-yard, 60-yard touchdowns."
The absence of "chunk" yardage completions means the offense has to grind out long scoring drives just to put points on the board.
"It's tough to have a lot of those long drives and do that consistently," Flacco said Wednesday. "You have to have some quick strikes in this league so you don't have to convert four or five third downs every time you score a touchdown."
Can the Ravens get their deep passing going when their season resumes against the Packers?
That remains to be seen. But there might be reasons for optimism. For starters, there'll be less injury-related uncertainty. Flacco was impacted early in the season by the back ailment that kept him out of training camp and the preseason. Just when he was getting healthy, Wallace and his fellow receivers, Jeremy Maclin and Breshad Perriman, all missed games because of injuries.
Woodhead, who injured his hamstring in the season opener, and Terrance West could be back in the lineup (although that's not guaranteed just yet). Tight end Nick Boyle missed the last game against the Titans with a toe injury, but he is also expected to be healthy. Boyle has played a key role with his blocking and has made several key receptions.
"(We) have a chance to be pretty much full steam ahead with the guys who are up and active on the 53 now, the guys who aren't on IR," Harbaugh said. "I'm excited about that. The guys are excited about that."
Everyone will be healthy in Green Bay, with Flacco and Maclin coming off a game in which their developing chemistry paid dividends. Maclin caught eight passes for 98 yards Sunday in Tennessee.
"Jeremy is a good player, He makes it easy. The more time you're with him, the better things get," Flacco said. ...
For the record, Woodhead will practice this week, but it's still not clear whether he'll be ready to go by Sunday. He isn't a deep threat but certainly is a proven target that defenses will need to monitor, conceivably opening up other areas.
"He can definitely have a big impact," Flacco said.
Another element of a successful deep passing game is the willingness to attempt it, as opposed to playing more conservatively. The Ravens have been more cautious than most teams so far, as evidenced by Flacco's average attempted pass distance of 6.9 yards, the second-shortest in the league, according to NextGen Stats.
But that should change after the bye, Flacco said.
"We need to go after it. We can't sit back and just expect us to not lose football games. We've got to go attack," he said. "We're a 4-5 football team. You always look at teams in this position and say, 'Man, they've got nothing to lose.' Man, we should feel that way. We've got to go out there and leave it all out there."
That said, the Ravens have gone from one of the league's pass-heaviest teams last season to one of the run-heaviest this year.
According to ESPN.com's Jemison Hensley, the key in this turnaround has been the hiring of senior offensive assistant Greg Roman, who tailors blocking schemes to expose the weaknesses of that week's opposing defense. Coach John Harbaugh always wants his offense to be a physical, run-first team. Baltimore struggled to live up to that vision over the past two seasons because it couldn't find the right system. Harbaugh hired Roman to get the run game back on track, and the Ravens have become the No. 8 rushing attack despite a makeshift offensive line and a lead runner (Alex Collins) who wasn't on the 53-man roster until Week 2.
Even though the Ravens are getting healthier at running back, Collins will likely remain the starter.
Collins has been one of the most explosive players on offense since being signed off the practice squad in late September. He is ranked 10th in the league with 521 yards.
Overall, Baltimore had the league's fourth-best running attack prior to Sunday's games.
Expect the Ravens to keep up the run-heavy profile, especially if they can get early leads. Perhaps mixing in a few deep shots will help them get there.
I will be following up on Woodhead and West via Late-Braking Update in coming days.
QBs: Joe Flacco, Ryan Mallett, Dustin Vaughan
RBs: Terrance West, Javorius Allen, Danny Woodhead
WRs: Mike Wallace, Jeremy Maclin, Breshad Perriman, Chris Moore, Michael Campanaro, Kenny Bell
TEs: Ben Watson, Maxx Williams, Nick Boyle, Gavin Escobar
Buffalo BillsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 November 2017
Rookie Nathan Peterman has replaced Tyrod Taylor as the Buffalo Bills' starting quarterback in an abrupt move head coach Sean McDermott said he made in a bid to improve the team.
As Associated Press sports writer John Wawrow reported, McDermott made the stunning announcement on Wednesday, when the Bills (5-4) returned to practice to prepare to play at the Los Angeles Chargers (3-6) on Sunday. The move comes after Peterman made his NFL debut in replacing Taylor for the final two drives of a 47-10 loss to New Orleans last weekend.
McDermott said he reached the decision on his own on Tuesday in what became a change of heart after he backed Taylor as the starter immediately following the game and again on Monday.
"This is about becoming a better team," McDermott said. He would only say "we'll see," when asked if Peterman will remain the starter beyond this weekend.
It made no difference to McDermott in making a switch at the team's most important position at a time when Buffalo has a winning record while holding down the AFC's sixth and final playoff spot. The franchise is in the midst of a 17-year playoff drought -- the longest active streak in North America's four major professional sports.
"We are 5-4, I understand that," McDermott said. "It is always and will be for the time that I'm here about becoming the best team we can possibly become. We are made for more than 5-4, and I've come here to be more than 5-4."
Buffalo has lost two straight and Taylor has overseen an offense that ranks 28th in the NFL in yards offense and 30th in yards passing.
Taylor has a 20-18 record since taking over as the Bills' starter in 2015. Though a dynamic runner, he's been inconsistent as a passer and is coming off the worst performance of his career.
He went 9 of 18 for 56 yards and an interception against the Saints. After Stephen Hauschka capped a nine-play, 57-yard opening drive with a 37-yard field goal, the Bills never crossed midfield over their next eight possessions.
The offense particularly sputtered during eight drives under Taylor in managing 99 net yards and four first downs. Peterman mopped up, going 7 of 10 for 79 yards and a 7-yard touchdown pass to Nick O'Leary over the final two possessions.
Taylor is 163 of 254 for 1,684 yards with 10 touchdowns passing, two rushing and just three interceptions.
Peterman was selected in the fifth round of the draft after a college career in which he left Tennessee after two seasons and finished as two-year starter at Pittsburgh.
At 6-2 and 225 pounds, Peterman has a slight height advantage over Taylor.
Wawrow notes that Peterman is also more of a prototypical pocket passer than Taylor, which is considered a better fit in the offensive system installed by first-year coordinator Rick Dennison.
Taylor is more of a dual threat and has been at his best when given the go-ahead to scramble out of the pocket. He set Bills records in yards rushing in each of the last two seasons, with 568 in 2015 and 580 last year.
Taylor has been limited to 254 yards rushing this season.
In addition, Taylor targeted newly-acquired Kelvin Benjamin, making his Bills debut, only three times -- all on the opening drive. He completed a 9-yard slant to the 6-5 wideout before overthrowing him in the end zone and then throwing behind him near the goal line. Taylor also connected only twice with tight end Charles Clay, back from a month-long absence because of a knee injury, for 13 yards.
Peterman found Benjamin for gains of 21 and 12 yards on consecutive plays late in the fourth quarter, but as ESPN.com's Mike Rodak suggested, that alone should hardly have been considered enough to justify making the rookie the starter at a critical juncture of the season.
After back-to-back losses to the New York Jets and Saints, the Bills have consecutive upcoming road games against the Los Angeles Chargers (3-6) and Kansas City Chiefs (6-3). They then return home to host the AFC East-leading New England Patriots.
At 5-4, the Bills still have a clear path to the playoffs in a weak AFC. They are one of only six teams with records above .500, although the Miami Dolphins can join that group with a win Monday night over the Carolina Panthers.
So there's ample reason to question the change in that regard alone.
Still, as Rodak further noted, the bigger problem for Buffalo is its defense, which between Week 5 and the conclusion of Sunday's early games has ranked 28th in points allowed per game (28.4), 29th in yards allowed (403), 31st in yards per play (6.07), 26th in the red zone (65-percent opponent conversions) and 26th on third downs (43.5 percent).
If the defense continues its collapse, the Bills could easily find themselves below .500 after their Dec. 3 against New England. ...
Meanwhile, it was a disappointing debut for Benjamin, who did not provide the upgrade that was expected in the passing game, especially having to go against New Orleans shutdown cornerback Marshon Lattimore.
Fullback Patrick DiMarco tied Benjamin for the team lead with three catches, which indicates just how bad a day it was for the Bills on offense.
Benjamin said he was in tune with the game plan, so that wasn't an excuse for the performance. "I felt good. I felt very comfortable with the playbook," he said. "Just trying to play fast, man. Unfortunately, it didn't go our way. We'll get the film, find out the mistakes, fix them and move on.
Positives? Benjamin led the team in targets and went out for more plays (84 percent) than any other wideout on the team. That's something for fantasy owners to hang their hat on going forward.
In addition, as NFL.com's Matt Harmon notes, Clay went out for 58 percent of the plays in his return to the field. He went out for 80 percent or more of the snaps in each of the first four weeks before going down in Week 5. Harmon believes we should expect Clay to get back to a full workload next week with a game under his belt. ...
The Bills are in big trouble when they can't run the ball effectively, and that happened again against the Saints. They managed only 69 yards on 15 attempts and only three runs came after halftime when the Bills had the ball for only six minutes. The Bills had only five first downs in the first 3 1/2 quarters before the Saints backed off with a 47-3 lead.
LeSean McCoy broke a 36-yard run on his first carry, then gained 13 yards on seven carries the rest of the day.
And finally. ... Rookie receiver Zay Jones missed the game with a knee injury; Jones was not practicing Wednesday. Clay (knee) also sat out while Jordan Matthews (knee) was limited.
I'll be watching for more on all three in coming days; watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for more.
QBs: Tyrod Taylor, Nathan Peterman
RBs: LeSean McCoy, Mike Tolbert, Joe Banyard, Taiwan Jones
WRs: Kelvin Benjamin, Zay Jones, Deonte Thompson, Andre Holmes, Corey Brown, Brandon Tate
TEs: Charles Clay, Nick O'Leary, Logan Thomas
Carolina PanthersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 November 2017
Cam Newton said he had a feeling the Panthers were on the verge of a special season. He said they had a chance to prove on Monday night against the Miami Dolphins they were the "real deal."
It's still too early to declare this season special.
But ESPN.com's David Newton contends the Panthers proved in the 45-21 victory at Bank of America Stadium they are worthy of real deal consideration.
While the rest of the NFL is talking about the Philadelphia Eagles, New Orleans Saints and even the Los Angeles Rams as the favorites to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl, the Panthers (7-3) quietly are putting together an impressive résumé.
Sure, they have a couple of ugly losses, none more so than a 17-3 loss at Chicago in which the Bears scored two defensive touchdowns.
The Panthers also have impressive wins, including road victories at New England and Detroit.
But neither of those performances was as complete as Monday's rout of the Dolphins that left Carolina one-half game behind the Saints (7-2) in the NFC South.
This game showed, as Cam Newton predicted, what the Panthers can be, particularly on offense.
You knew Carolina's defense, ranked No. 1 in the NFL, was strong. But the offense has sputtered even in wins over the past two weeks against Tampa Bay and Atlanta.
Newton has sputtered.
Running back Jonathan Stewart has done more than sputter. He has looked every bit his age, 30.
But on Monday night in Charlotte, everything clicked. The play-action set up the pass, and the pass set up the run. Newton, outside of a first-quarter throw that he was lucky wasn't intercepted, looked like he did during his 2015 NFL MVP season that really didn't jump-start until the final eight games.
He threw four touchdown passes and rushed for 95 yards to up his record on Monday Night Football to 5-1. He engineered an offense that became the first in team history to yield four touchdown passes and 200 yards rushing.
On Wednesday, Newton was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week for his effort.
Worth noting: Newton has the most career games with four-plus touchdown passes and 95 rushing yards all time. Every other player in NFL history has one.
Meanwhile, Monday night's game also was the first time in franchise history the Panthers rushed for 200-plus yards in consecutive games, en route to a club-record 548 yards of total offense in a single game.
But Monday's 200-plus-yard effort was much more impressive than the one eight days earlier against Atlanta, because Newton didn't have to carry the load.
Stewart, who had averaged 24.3 yards in his previous four games and fumbled twice a week ago, had 110 yards on 17 carries after starting Monday's contest on the sideline.
Newton and the Panthers finally started to show the explosiveness head coach Ron Rivera had predicted during training camp.
It took a while.
But when you consider the Panthers have played eight games without Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil and Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen, and when you consider they traded No. 1 wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin to Buffalo two weeks ago and when you consider they're relying heavily on rookies Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel, that should be no surprise.
The surprise for the rest of the league might come when Carolina returns from the bye with Olsen, Newton's favorite target over the past three years, coming off injured reserve. Add the tight end to the mix and there's another element of explosiveness.
So Newton might be right about his special feeling.
But it's because of special players that he feels that way. Luke Kuechly did what few middle linebackers in the league can do when he picked off a sideline pass to the tight end late in the first half to set up the first of McCaffrey's two touchdowns.
McCaffrey showed why the Panthers thought he was special enough to be the eighth pick of the draft on more than his 4-yard touchdown run and 2-yard touchdown catch. His block on the first drive of the second half gave wide receiver Devin Funchess a clear path for a 28-yard touchdown catch.
McCaffrey added 27 receiving yards, becoming the single-season franchise leader in receiving yards for a running back. He has 433, which is 20 more than RB Jonathan Stewart compiled in 2011.
But the news was not all good.
The Panthers' worst fears were confirmed with additional medical tests on Samuel's injured left ankle Tuesday.
The rookie will miss the rest of the season, per ESPN's Adam Schefter, after being diagnosed with ligament damage.
The Panthers have only four other receivers on their active roster -- Funchess, Russell Shepard, Kaelin Clay and Brenton Bersin -- but Damiere Byrd is eligible to come off injured reserve for the team's game against the Saints on Dec. 3. Byrd broke his forearm in Week 4.
Samuel had a chance to catch a Newton pass in the end zone early in the third quarter Monday night, and Dolphins safety Reshad Jones rolled over Samuel's ankle as he was diving for the interception.
Samuel, a second-round pick, twisted his right ankle in the preseason. He missed Thursday's practice after tweaking it.
He ends his season with 15 catches for 115 yards and four carries for 64 yards.
Newton said Samuel had become a key contributor the past couple of weeks.
"For him to step up and make crucial catches for us and to get the momentum going, it's big," Newton said. "I'm staying optimistic about this whole thing, that everything will work out and we'll still see him sometime this year."
And fantasy owners will see if this improved Carolina offense can keep its roll going when they get off the bye in Week 12.
QBs: Cam Newton, Derek Anderson
RBs: Christian McCaffrey, Jonathan Stewart, Fozzy Whittaker, Cameron Artis-Payne
WRs: Devin Funchess, Russell Shepard, Brenton Bersin
TEs: Ed Dickson, Greg Olsen
Chicago BearsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 November 2017
As ESPN.com's Jeff Dickerson framed it this week, "Lost in Sunday's wreckage was Mitchell Trubisky's slightly better than average performance in just his fifth career start. ..."
Emphasis on the "slightly," but it is progress.
Aside from Trubisky having his best statistical game (21-of-35 for 297 yards and one touchdown) of 2017, the rookie had a noticeable command of the offense -- when he wasn't on his back after being sacked (five times) by the Green Bay Packers defense. One of the greatest concerns about Trubisky was his 47.5 completion percentage at the bye week.
But Trubisky was much more accurate on Sunday, converting on 60 percent of pass attempts.
Dickerson went on to note, "there's no disputing that Trubisky needs more experience. He's extremely green. But you can argue, successfully, that Trubisky keeps making small and steady progress week-to-week."
"I thought statistically and poise-wise in handling situations, I thought his play was probably the best to-date," head coach John Fox said. "Was it perfect? No. It seldom is. But I was impressed with the young guy."
As expected, Trubisky was more critical of his play.
"I still have to find ways to get better," Trubisky said. "I need to be better on third downs, and be more efficient with the ball. We're killing ourselves in critical situations, with third downs and red zones, so we need to be more efficient."
According to Dickerson, the biggest negative for Trubisky continues to be that he holds onto the ball for too long in the pocket. That flaw, which should improve after time, showed up repeatedly in Chicago's 23-16 loss to Green Bay.
The Packers knew how to confuse the rookie.
Trubisky was sacked four times on Sunday when the Packers sent four or fewer rushers, according to ESPN Stats and Information. That scenario has been a problem area for Trubisky all year. On the season, Trubisky has zero touchdown passes, two interceptions and seven sacks taken against four or fewer pass-rushers.
However, Trubisky fares much better against the blitz. Via ESPN Stats and Information, Trubisky was 10-of-15 for 157 yards and a touchdown (to Joshua Bellamy) when Green Bay brought extra pressure.
So, as Dickerson explained, "Trubisky can quickly identify blitzes and make the correct checks (that's good), but asking him to diagnose and decipher defenses that drop seven into coverage remains a work-in-progress (that's bad, but understandable)."
The best part of Trubisky's game is most weeks he makes at least one memorable play: 27-yard touchdown pass to Dion Sims in Baltimore, the overturned touchdown throw to Zach Miller in New Orleans, 46-yard scramble in New Orleans, and Sunday's 46-yard touchdown pass to Bellamy.
At this rate, Trubisky may eventually develop into a pretty good quarterback -- perhaps by this time next year.
Take comfort in that.
But the offense continues to struggle, averaging 11.8 points in the five games Trubisky has played. The rest of their points in that span came from their defense.
So fantasy owners need to take that into account.
Sunday's defeat to the Packers is devastating for Fox's future, but Trubisky is still going to be here long after the coach is gone.
It's true that the Bears took a huge step backwards as a team in Week 10, but Trubisky's trajectory is still on course.
"That's the only positive spin to come out of Soldier Field, and ultimately," Dickerson summed up, "it may turn out to be the most important development of another lost season. ..."
Other notes of interest. ... As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich noted on Monday, "On paper, Jordan Howard had a great matchup against what was a soft Packers rush defense at home."
But he couldn't produce, totaling just 54 rush yards on his 15 carries in the game. Howard played on just 49 percent of Chicago's snaps, while Benny Cunningham saw a 47 percent share of playing time.
Howard will look to rebound against the Lions this week.
In addition, running back Tarik Cohen, who was called possibly the team's biggest play-maker last week by offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains, was only on the field for 13 offensive plays, or 22 percent of the snaps. Cunningham actually was on the field for more snaps, 28 percent.
As the Sports Xchange suggested, it seemed a strange choice of personnel, especially considering Fox had said during the previous week a self-scout had revealed ways teams were shutting down Cohen and the Bears could now counter it.
"You know we went through a stretch where maybe we didn't throw it as much as some people," Fox said. "But he's involved, you know, quite big. I think defenses are doing more to take him away."
Fox said Cohen was double-teamed on some plays, including one when Trubisky threw across the middle instead for 12 yards to slot receiver Kendall Wright. ...
An unusual situation at receiver developed when Tre McBride had only seven plays one game after he had a team season-high 92 yards receiving against New Orleans. And wide receiver Markus Wheaton returned from a groin injury, but only got on the field three plays against the Packers.
Much of that had to do with Dontrelle Inman playing for the first time and making six catches for 88 yards.
"Well I think (Wheaton's) got to practice full speed for a period of time, you know, no different that Dontrelle Inman who's been here for a couple weeks and had some time to practice," Fox said.
Wheaton practiced on a limited basis in the week leading up to the game.
"And the more I think he's out there and can show coaches what he can do the better for him," Fox added. ...
Tight end Adam Shaheen came into Sunday's game with just one catch on the year, but without ill Sims and Miller out for the year with a knee injury, he had to step into more of a receiver's role. He had a 31-yard catch-and-run to start the second Bears series, leading to a field goal.
Still, Daniel Brown led the tight ends in playing time (63 percent) with Miller and Sims both out. ...
G Kyle Long was active for Sunday's loss, but got in only one play as a result of the finger/hand injury he suffered Oct. 29 against New Orleans. He was replaced in the lineup by Cody Whitehair, with Hroniss Grasu moving into Whitehair's regular spot at center. His status for this week against Detroit is day-to-day.
QBs: Mitchell Trubisky, Mike Glennon, Mark Sanchez
RBs: Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen, Benny Cunningham
WRs: Kendall Wright, Josh Bellamy, Markus Wheaton, Dontrelle Inman, Kevin White
TEs: Dion Sims, Adam Shaheen, Daniel Brown, Ben Braunecker
Cincinnati BengalsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 November 2017
As the Sports Xchange suggested, there are a myriad of reasons why the Bengals are 3-6 and have lost three of four games to logically drop out of the playoff chase. But, if you had to point to one aspect of their game that has been a contributing factor, it is a lack of execution on third down.
Sunday's 24-20 loss at the Tennessee Titans was a study in the Bengals' inability to make plays on third down on offense to extend drives and get off the field on third down on defense.
"Third down again, is the difference in the football game," said Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis. "We don't make enough on offense, convert there, and obviously on defense, we failed to get off the field and allowed them to drive the football."
The Bengals converted just one of 10 third-down conversions on Sunday. A 70-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Green that gave them the lead with five minutes left was a first-down pass play. So was the first touchdown of the day, a 37-yard pass to Brandon LaFell.
Needing one stop on third down to, at minimum send the game into overtime, the defense committed crucial penalties or missed tackles allowing the Titans to drive 73 yards in 12 plays for the winning score.
"The only way to get off the field is to take the ball away or win on third down," Lewis said. "Our execution is not of a winning standard."
Tennessee converted seven of its 15 third-down conversions on Sunday, a whopping 47 percent.
For the season, Cincinnati is tied with the Miami Dolphins for the second-worst third-down conversion rate in the NFL - 31 percent. The only team worse is the Cleveland Browns who convert 30 percent of their third downs. The Bengals' defense ranks in the lower half of the league, allowing a 41-percent third-down conversion rate.
Three times during Sunday's game, cornerback Josh Shaw was called for defensive holding resulting in a Titans first down. Each of those flags came on third down, after the Bengals had come up with a stop.
"A couple of double moves, we grabbed them," said Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. "We can't grab them. And it's third-and-10. If you just keep your leverage, there's help inside."
Of course, the third-down struggles on offense are part of larger issues.
A patchwork offensive line has been unable to protect quarterback Andy Dalton or open holes for a paltry running game. This results in third-and-long situations, not desirable when you can't protect the quarterback. The rushing attack hasn't helped matters, averaging fewer than three yards per attempt this season.
The Bengals conclude a three-game road trip at Denver on Sunday, hoping to find solutions to some of these season-long issues.
"The one thing about this team is that we're not going to give up no matter what our record is," said Green. "We're going to continue to fight. Things don't go your way all the time. That's why you have to stay level-headed and keep working. ..."
In general, Dalton had an up and down afternoon. He missed some throws and had a strip-fumble. But, the Bengals QB also passed for 265 yards and two touchdowns including a laser on the above-mentioned slant to Green that resulted in the 70-yard touchdown that put the Bengals ahead in the fourth quarter and the 37-yard scoring toss to LaFell. ...
Jeremy Hill was placed on IR Saturday, so rookie Joe Mixon got the start. But, this unit continues to regress.
The Bengals rushed for only 53 yards, averaging 3.8 yards per attempt. For the second straight game, Mixon found the end zone, but he was held to just 37 yards rushing.
Cincinnati was trailing for most of the game and had only 14 rush attempts all afternoon. ...
For what it's worth, head coach Marvin Lewis said on Monday that two doctors agreed that Hill could have played the rest of the season on his ankle and had surgery after the season, but Hill chose to do it now.
"Jeremy thinks he needs to have ankle surgery," Lewis told the Cincinnati Enquirer. "Yeah, I think I would be [surprised]. I think he's consulted a couple physicians, both said that this was something that could wait until after the season but he just felt like it was causing too much discomfort."
Hill hadn't been on the Bengals' official injury report and Lewis said he didn't need to be, because he wasn't experiencing any issues that would indicate he couldn't play.
"I don't think he had any instance of [a problem] since this August when he rolled his ankle in training camp, or whatever it was, training camp or warmups in a game -- I can't remember what it was," Lewis said. "One of those times in the preseason. But that's the only instance he's had this fall."
As Profootballtalk.com's Michael David Smith notes, those comments suggest Lewis and Hill aren't on the same page, and that's not surprising: Lewis is coaching a 3-6 team and wants all hands on deck in an attempt to turn things around.
But Hill has to think about his future, specifically the fact that he's in the last year of his contract, and the Bengals are unlikely to bring him back after drafting Mixon this year. For Hill, the right move is to put his injury behind him as quickly as possible and be able to show teams he's healthy when he hits free agency.
Even if Lewis wanted Hill to tough it out for seven more weeks. ...
The Bengals filled Hill's spot on the roster by signing running back Brian Hill off of the Falcons practice squad.
Hill was a fifth-round pick of the Falcons this year and opened the season on the active roster. He played in one game, but didn't carry the ball or catch a pass before being waived and re-signed to the practice squad a month ago. ...
Wide receiver John Ross has gotten few chances to showcase his skills in the NFL. He has squandered those few. In a loss to the Houston Texans in Week 2, Ross fumbled after gaining 12 yards on an end-around, his first career touch. On Sunday, Ross pulled up on his route only to see Dalton send a deep ball his way with nobody there.
"It was my fault," Ross said. "It's like you being a kid and you go the whole year being good and you mess up that one time and you don't get anything for Christmas. That's what it felt like. It definitely stings."
Ross has played sparingly since coming back from a knee injury two weeks ago, was a healthy inactive last week. He was targeted only that one time during the 24-20 loss to the Titans on Sunday
Tyler Boyd appeared to be a healthy scratch on Sunday as Ross got the start. Boyd had returned to practice after suffering a knee injury five weeks ago. Boyd was coming off a standout rookie season, but has only six catches for 43 yards and has been active for only three games. ...
On the injury front, LaFell (knee) was not practicing Wednesday, but that's been the norm in recent weeks. I'll watch for more and report back further via Late-Breaking Update as needed. ...
And finally. ... Linebacker Vontaze Burfict is being provoked by NFL officials, according to a report by ESPN's Adam Schefter who cited one of Burfict's teammates as the source. The unnamed Bengals player said he heard officials cursing at Burfict, who was ejected on Sunday for touching an official, on multiple occasions.
On Monday, Lewis said he was unaware of any official provoking Burfict during games. "The officials have a job to do," Lewis said. "We don't need to jaw with anyone after a play."
The NFL reportedly will not suspend Burfict for Sunday's ejection, but a fine is likely, adding to an already hefty total of fines during his career. Burfict was suspended for the first three games this season for an illegal hit during the preseason.
QBs: Andy Dalton, AJ McCarron, Jeff Driskel
RBs: Joe Mixon, Jeremy Hill, 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 14 November 2017
As Associated Press sports writer Tom Withers suggested, "Hue Jackson might want to borrow DeShone Kizer's flak jacket.
"Cleveland's coach is willingly taking some big hits for his rookie quarterback. ..."
One day after a brutal goal-line situation at the end of the first half cost the Browns points -- and maybe their first win -- in a 38-24 loss to the Detroit Lions, Jackson again refused to discuss details of the sequence or lay blame on anyone but himself.
"I take responsibility for it," Jackson said. "It is on me. It is not on DeShone. It is not on the offensive unit. I coach the offensive unit. I coach the quarterback. As I said yesterday, I am not going to back off that. Totally on me. Not on him. Whatever we think he should have done or could have done stems from my teaching of him. I take full responsibility for it."
Fair enough, coach. So what did you not teach Kizer?
"I do not want to get into that," he said. "Next question."
While Jackson's gesture to protect Kizer may be noble as he fights to save his job after going 1-24 in two seasons, it doesn't explain why the Browns (0-9) botched a chance to cut into Detroit's 17-10 late in the second quarter.
With the Browns at the Detroit 2-yard line with 15 seconds left and out of timeouts, Kizer tried a sneak but was stopped well short of the goal line. The Browns rushed to run another play, but failed to line up in time -- the Lions did all they could to prevent Kizer and lineman Shon Coleman from getting up -- before the clock expired.
The gaffe was costly and perhaps symbolized Cleveland's winless season better than any other play.
Following the game, guard Joel Bitonio and tight end Seth DeValve both said Kizer called an audible, changing the play from whatever Jackson had called to a daring attempt to score on his own with little margin for error.
Because they're the Browns, everything went wrong.
Jackson, though, insists he is the one who should take the heat.
"I can't put our guys in that spot," he said. "I know a lot of people feel like that is the reason why we lost the game. I do not feel that at all. It was an opportunity to score more points, but it is not the reason we lost the game. ... I get it. I know everybody is fuming about it, and I am, too. I am kicking myself many times about it. Our guys responded, and we had our chances. We just have to do more.
"I have to do a better job of coaching. It is just that simple. I do not want to get into what I am going to do. None of that matters. Yesterday we made a mistake. We owned it. I owned it. Does not matter. I will get better and do better. Whatever you guys want to write or say, that is what it will be. We will get it better."
Except for the second-quarter blunder, Kizer had his most efficient game this season, completing 21 of 37 passes for 232 yards with one touchdown and a late interception.
But until the Browns win, the audible is what will be remembered. Like his coach, Kizer refused to address what went wrong.
"It is not a blame thing. It is not an audible thing," said Kizer, who has had other issues near the end zone. "It is just about being better down there. As the quarterback of this team, it is my job when we get that low in the red zone to make sure that the play ends in points. Unfortunately, with the timing situation, that drive didn't."
Kizer also displayed toughness by returning after taking a shot to the ribs in the third quarter. X-rays were negative and other than some soreness, the 21-year-old said he's fine.
On the play he got hit, Browns rookie tight end David Njoku failed to pick up cornerback Quandre Diggs, who delivered a textbook shot on the QB.
Njoku took responsibility for not protecting Kizer.
"I don't feel good about it," he said. "I kind of wanted to fight (Diggs) on the field, but that's emotions. That's one of my close friends and teammate, and I got him hit. So I've got to make up for it next week."
It should be noted that until he hurt his ribs early in the fourth quarter, Kizer had his best game of the season.
Before the injury, Kizer completed 15 of 24 passes for 178 yards and a touchdown. The touchdown came on a good read, as Kizer saw a blitz and threw to the hot receiver (Kenny Britt), who was able to make someone miss and score. Kizer was careful with the ball and made a nice throw to DeValve before the Browns' third touchdown.
In the first game after the Browns almost traded for AJ McCarron, ESPN.com's Pat McManamon believes Kizer looked more comfortable than he has in a long time.
He did return to the game, but by that point the deficit was too large with too little time left. He finished 21-of-37 for 232 yards with one touchdown and one interception as the Browns tried a last-gasp comeback.
Repeating that performance will be difficult this week, however, as the Browns return home to face the much-improved Jaguars on Sunday. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Give Isaiah Crowell the ball and he will respond. On Sunday he scored a touchdown and averaged 5.6 yards per carry. He rushed for 90 yards with big gains of 10, 13, 14 and 21 yards. As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich noted, it marked Crowell's second-straight game with a touchdown and 15-plus fantasy points. He'll be a low-end flex against Jacksonville.
Duke Johnson totaled 88 scrimmage yards on 16 touches. He led the Browns in receptions with six and rushed 10 times for 54 yards.
"Johnson is obviously more of a PPR play than anything else," Franciscovich noted, "but his touchdown upside is limited. ..."
Receiver Corey Coleman will be back on Sunday against the Jaguars, Jackson said on Monday.
The 15th overall pick in last year's NFL draft, Coleman has missed more games than he's played so far in his NFL career because of injuries. He caught six passes for 62 yards and one touchdown this season before suffering a broken hand.
Perhaps the return of Coleman -- and at some point Josh Gordon -- can make a difference and help them win at least one game down the stretch. ...
Zane Gonzalez, after missing an extra point and a field goal against the Vikings on Oct. 29 in the last game the Browns played, was three-for-three on extra points and hit from 23 yards on his only field-goal attempt. ...
Tight end Randall Telfer (eye) left the game and did not return. ...
Beyond that, Kizer, Britt (knee) and Crowell (shoulder) were limited in Wednesday's practice; I'll follow up on all involved via Late-Breaking Update as developments warrant. ...
And finally. ... Linebacker Jamie Collins will miss the remainder of the season with a torn knee ligament suffered on an interception return Sunday. He was placed on injured reserve Tuesday.
QBs: DeShone Kizer, Cody Kessler, Kevin Hogan
RBs: Isaiah Crowell, Duke Johnson, Matt Dayes
WRs: Josh Gordon, Corey Coleman, Ricardo Louis, Rashard Higgins, Bryce Treggs, Sammie Coates
TEs: David Njoku, Seth DeValve, Randall Telfer
Dallas CowboysCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 November 2017
Ezekiel Elliott will miss at least the next three games depending on the next legal round in the Dallas Cowboys running back's fight over his six-game suspension for alleged domestic violence.
It's likely the same for kicker Dan Bailey because of a groin injury, and could be another game or two for Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith (groin, back) and 2016 All-Pro linebacker Sean Lee after he tweaked a hamstring in the 27-7 loss at Atlanta on Sunday.
The absence of four of the most important Cowboys showed up in various ways against the Falcons, and raises questions about the defending NFC East champions staying in contention with division-leading Philadelphia visiting Sunday night.
"When you have really good players, some of the best in the league and they're not out there, certainly that makes a difference," tight end Jason Witten said. "We believe in our system of football offensively and defensively. It's harder when your key players aren't out there."
The most glaring absence was Smith: Replacement Chaz Green gave up five of Adrian Clayborn's franchise-record six sacks for Atlanta. Green was benched for Byron Bell, who gave up the last one. The Cowboys, who allowed eight sacks of Dak Prescott, had never given up more than four to one player in a game.
In fact, Prescott had been sacked 10 times in the first eight games of the season. The most he had been sacked in one game was twice, in three different games.
As ESPN.com's Todd Archer notes, as a rookie last year, he was sacked more than three times once. He was sacked four times in the first half by the Falcons.
"I've played football a long time," Prescott said. "I've had games similar to that."
In his senior year at Mississippi State, he was sacked nine times, completing 22 of 43 passes for 300 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. He was running for his life for most of the 31-6 loss to Alabama.
The last time Jerry Jones saw something like Sunday came in 1991 in a 24-0 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
"I saw Troy Aikman get sacked 11 times against Philadelphia in one game many, many years ago," the Cowboys owner and general manager said. "To say the least, I'm concerned about that. Very much. This was disappointing. I had hope initially but the facts we weren't able to back them up tonight."
According to ESPN Stats and Information, Prescott was blitzed on 12 percent of his dropbacks, the lowest blitz rate he has seen in his career. Facing four or fewer rushers, he was pressured a career-high 14 times. For the game, he was pressured 18 times.
He had a career-high 42 rushing yards on six carries, but most of the runs came on pass plays.
According to Associated Press sports writer Schuyler Dixon, Dallas figures at least to have a competition between those two in practice this week before facing the Eagles (7-1), who can virtually wrap up the division title with a win.
"I'm not going to lose confidence in any of them from one game," Prescott said. "As I said, I'm not going to put everything on them. I'm going to look back at the film and see what we could've done better as a unit."
Clayborn and his fellow defensive linemen might have had more focus on Prescott because they didn't have to worry as much about the Dallas running game without Elliott. And besides that, Elliott is considered a strong pass-blocker.
Alfred Morris didn't show much beyond a 20-yard run, and Dallas' 1,000-yard rusher from 2015, Darren McFadden, didn't get a chance to show anything in the first game he was active this season. McFadden was dropped for a 2-yard loss on his only carry.
So Morris clearly played the role of lead back, while Rod Smith rotated in behind him. Morris totaled 53 rush yards and didn't see a single target as a receiver. Smith rushed for 14 yards on three attempts and caught four passes for 15 yards.
McFadden played one snap.
"We didn't get it done today, and I feel like it's my fault," said Morris, who had 53 yards on 11 carries. "That's OK. We will get back to the drawing board and learn from this game. Next week we will come out swinging a little sooner."
As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich suggested, it's tough to get an accurate gauge of how this will play out going forward since Dallas lost by a large margin and played without Smith. But it's clear that the team likes Morris as the starter and Smith as the change-of-pace while McFadden seems to be the odd man out.
Lee left with his injury late in the first quarter, and the Cowboys gave up touchdowns on three straight drives not counting a brief Atlanta possession that ended at halftime. The Falcons faced just four third downs on those drives, converting all of them. The Cowboys had similar problems when Lee missed two games with a hamstring injury earlier in the season, losing both at home despite scoring at least 30 points each time.
"Sean is our guy, our captain," defensive end Tyrone Crawford said. "It's definitely noticeable when he is not out there, and hopefully he can get right and be with us shortly."
Mike Nugent, Bailey's replacement, missed a 38-yarder that would have pulled the Cowboys within 17-10 in the third quarter. The Falcons essentially put away the game on the next drive.
Bailey, who hasn't missed from inside 40 yards since 2014, is three weeks into what executive vice president of personnel Stephen Jones has described as an eight-week recovery from a right groin injury. In other words, it's probably another month for the Cowboys without their best runner and one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history.
"We don't want it to get easier," Prescott said. "We're excited for what's coming ahead of us. We're going to take each game separately, take each day within that week in preparation, one day at a time, and we'll get better."
Prescott might want to be careful what he wishes for with the 8-1 Eagles visiting AT and T Stadium this week. They have a defensive front that is better than Atlanta's. The Cowboys won't have Elliott and likely won't have him again until Dec. 24 against the Seattle Seahawks.
Smith's status will be up in the air and he has been troubled by back tightness and a hip strain in addition to the groin strain.
"Boy, I hope so," Jones said when asked if Smith would be back for the Philadelphia game. "But candidly we've got a lot to work on. ..."
For what it's worth, Jones refused to divulge any information about where Elliott will be holed up while serving a six-game suspension for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy.
But he believes Elliott will return a learned man with a fresh approach. According to various reports, Elliott planned to get out of the country to clear his head and train. Elliott had not left as of yet and was spotted grocery shopping in Frisco before the Cowboys' loss to the Falcons on Sunday.
"The main thing is I'm not going to get into location, just exactly what kind of activities he's going to be having," Jones said. "But I do know he intends to come back with a fresh approach."
Jones said he has no additional concerns about Elliott being away from the team for six weeks without structure and no physical contact from the team. His next hearing is on Dec. 1, four games into the six-game suspension.
"I think he has a good plan and I know he's going to be doing some stuff, he's going to get away and he's doing some things that will help his career and his life and so, no I'm not as concerned about that," Jones said. "I think that he obviously has things that he's going to be doing and I'm satisfied that it will be an improvement and I won't get into his plan."
While Jones has remained adamant that Elliott deserved no suspension because he was never charged in the case, in addition to questions about the league's investigation, he hopes the 2016 NFL leading rusher will learn from his experiences and become a better person.
"I think all of us continue to learn and, at his age, he's learning things every day, so there's no question," Jones said. "What I want for Zeke is that he's a better person, not only for whatever he's doing over these next six weeks, but I hope he's a better person for the kind of year he's having, the kind of year he had last year and will continue to be a better person.
One last note here. ... Dez Bryant (ankle, knee) was not practicing Wednesday. He played through the same injuries last week but the overall ineffective passing game was probably a bigger issue for Bryant than the injuries. Also worth noting, Smith wasn't practicing Wednesday either.
I'll be following up via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.
QBs: Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush
RBs: Alfred Morris, Rod Smith
WRs: Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Ryan Switzer, Brice Butler, Noah Brown
TEs: Jason Witten, Geoff Swaim, Rico Gathers
Denver BroncosCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 November 2017
As Associated Press sports writer Arnie Stapleton noted on Monday, both Brocks are keeping their jobs in Denver, where the Broncos are mired in their worst funk in decades.
Head coach Vance Joseph said Monday that quarterback Brock Osweiler will start against Cincinnati next weekend, getting his third consecutive start despite being 0-2 since replacing Trevor Siemian.
Really, Osweiler has been the least of Denver's worries in 28- and 25-point blowouts.
Joseph gave his beleaguered special teams coach Brock Olivo a vote of confidence, too.
Olivo's units were directly responsible for 24 New England points in a 41-16 loss to the Patriots on Sunday night that dropped the Broncos to 3-6 with their fifth consecutive loss.
Osweiler threw for 221 yards and a touchdown to go with one interception and no sacks.
"Brock played a solid game yesterday," Joseph said. "I was very pleased with how he played."
So, Siemian won't be getting his job back this week, and former first-round pick Paxton Lynch remains a non-factor because, Joseph said, he's still working his way back from a sprained throwing shoulder.
"We want to make sure he's totally healthy before he plays again," Joseph said. "I'm not sure when that's going to come."
The only one who might lose his job is Isaiah McKenzie, but Joseph wouldn't commit to benching the rookie from Georgia whom the Broncos drafted in the fifth round and handed the punt return job before the preseason.
His muffed punt Sunday night set the tone for Denver's fifth straight double-digit loss. It came after the Broncos forced Tom Brady into a three-and-out on New England's first drive. After the turnover, the Patriots scored five TDs and two field goals before punting again.
"He has five fumbles in 28 attempts, but he's also top 10 in return yards," Joseph said. "With that being said. ... We have to figure out how to minimize those huge errors and play a cleaner brand of football. If that means having someone go in, just getting the ball caught and possessing the ball after a defensive stop -- if it happens, it happens."
The Broncos also gave up a 103-yard touchdown return on a kickoff and suffered a blocked punt. Plus, they had 12 men on the field during a punt on fourth-and-5 that resulted in a Patriots first down that led to a touchdown. (Another time, they had just 10 men on the field when Dion James scored on an 8-yard run).
Linebacker Brandon Marshall caught that punt -- his first in a game since high school -- and admittedly forgot he could run with it.
Joseph said he still has faith in Olivo, 41, who was Dave Toub's assistant special teams coach in Kansas City the last three seasons. He praised Olivo's energy, smarts, pedigree and hard work.
Despite the 24 points his units cost the Broncos, "I'm fine with Brock," Joseph said. "Brock works hard, he's a young coach and he's a bright coach. He's going to be a great coach in my opinion."
Joseph said the coaches need to simplify the game plans starting Sunday against the Bengals (3-6) "so we can play more efficient because we've spotted teams in the last three weeks 14 (points) in K.C., 14 in Philly and yesterday 24 points on special teams.
"You can't beat NFL teams spotting them 14 and 24 points."
Joseph said he didn't see any quit in his team even though the Broncos have been outscored 165-68 during their five-game rut.
You have to go all the way back to 1961, the franchise's second year of existence, to find a five-game stretch in which the Broncos were outscored by more than 97 points.
"We're not broken by any means," Joseph said, "because we believe we can win."
When he met with his team to go over the latest film Monday morning, Joseph said, "I didn't yell. I told the guys that I'm disappointed of where we are right now because we've played good enough football outside of the huge errors to compete. Until we find a way to not spot good teams 14 points, we can't win. ..."
Worth noting. ... Osweiler was not seen throwing in Wednesday's practice. Mike Klis of 9News.com, the Broncos said the QB has a minor chest issue that isn't expected to keep him from making his third consecutive start against the Bengals Sunday, but Lynch could be next in line.
Lynch, who suffered a sprained right shoulder in the Aug. 26 preseason game against the Green Bay Packers, has progressed to making "intermediate" throws in practice, Joseph said, but has not advanced to the point where he could play in a game if the need arose.
"He's still throwing intermediate passes and not really deep passes yet," Joseph said. "We want to make sure he's totally healthy before he plays again. That timeframe, I'm not sure when it's going to come or end."
Siemian, who started the Broncos' first seven games this season, has been active the last two weeks as Osweiler's backup while Lynch continues to recover. ...
Other notes of interest. ... As the Sports Xchange noted, unlike in previous games, the Broncos didn't stop running the football as their deficit mounted; they ran 12 times for 57 yards in the second half, a solid 4.8 yards-per-carry pace. Denver's best drive of the night a 13-play, 75-yard march to open the second half with a touchdown saw eight runs, with two of the five first downs on the series coming via the ground.
When all was said and done, Broncos running backs combined for 116 rush yards on 26 attempts. As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich noted, C.J. Anderson was technically the team's "primary" back but that's not saying much. He had just two touches in the second half as the Broncos were getting blown out and Devontae Booker ended up just out-snapping Anderson 23 to 22. B
Booker tallied six touches for 25 total yards while Jamaal Charles notched eight touches for 38 yards. Anderson has collected 10 or fewer rush attempts in five of his last seven games.
Franciscovich summed up, "This backfield is one to steer clear of for fantasy purposes going forward. ..."
Emmanuel Sanders had his best game of the season, catching six passes for 137 yards. He was over 100 yards before the first half ended. Sanders is two weeks removed from missing a pair of games because of a sprained ankle and came into the game with 26 catches for 296 yards in six games.
Cody Latimer moved up to the No. 3 wide receiver spot, playing 75 percent of the snaps Sunday night. Latimer caught three passes for 28 yards in the loss.
Bennie Fowler was demoted to the No. 4 wide receiver spot behind Latimer. He played 18 snaps and had no receptions and an offensive pass interference penalty that was declined.
TE A.J. Derby emerged from Sunday's game with a "sore shoulder," Joseph said. Derby leads Broncos tight ends with 224 yards and two touchdowns on 19 receptions this season. I'll follow up on his status -- and that of Osweiler -- via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.
QBs: Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch, Brock Osweiler, Chad Kelly
RBs: C.J. Anderson, Devontae Booker, Jamaal Charles, De'Angelo Henderson
WRs: Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Bennie Fowler, Cody Latimer, Isaiah McKenzie, Jordan Taylor
TEs: Virgil Green, Jeff Heuerman, Jake Butt
Detroit LionsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 November 2017
Eric Ebron ran under Matthew Stafford's pass and gathered the ball in -- a simple catch for the touchdown that put Detroit ahead to stay.
Then again, nothing has been all that simple for Ebron in his four-year NFL career.
As Associated Press sports writer Noah Trister suggested, the Lions can hope Ebron's 29-yard touchdown catch Sunday was a turning point of sorts for the 24-year-old tight end. The 2014 first-round draft pick has been a target for Detroit fans frustrated with his inconsistency as a pass catcher, but he made an important contribution in a 38-24 win over Cleveland that enabled the Lions to keep pace in the postseason race.
"He had one bad game then the last couple games he's been playing well," head coach Jim Caldwell said Monday. "The object is to keep that going."
Ebron was taken with the 10th pick in the 2014 draft, two spots ahead of Odell Beckham He's been a regular target for Stafford since then, but it would be an understatement to say Ebron has left Lions fans wanting more.
Caldwell pointed out that Ebron's numbers have improved each season, and that's true. His receptions increased from 25 to 47 to 61, and his yards receiving went from 248 to 537 to 711. That trend hasn't continued into this season, however. He has only 20 catches for 234 yards in nine games.
There was speculation the Lions might trade Ebron before the deadline this season, but he remained with Detroit. Following the deadline, he had three catches in a win at Green Bay, then caught the touchdown pass from Stafford in the fourth quarter to give the Lions a 31-24 lead against the Browns. Ebron was able to separate from a defender and caught the ball around the 10-yard line before breezing into the end zone.
"He ran a nice route and I threw like a punt," Stafford said. "That was not spinning real pretty, but it ended up in a good spot."
In the end, this is another win for the Lions, pushing them over .500 on the season (5-4) and keeping them in the playoff hunt. But more than anything, it staved off what would have been a devastating loss for Detroit, which would have erased any positive momentum the team gained in a rare win at Green Bay the previous Monday night.
The Lions (5-4) are two games out of first place in the NFC North, entering the grueling stretch in their schedule that includes a game at Chicago on Sunday, then a Thanksgiving matchup with Minnesota the following Thursday.
Detroit rebounded from a three-game losing streak and has won two in a row, and a more reliable Ebron would certainly help down the stretch. Caldwell dismissed the idea that the Lions can be more creative with Ebron's positioning now that tackle Taylor Decker is back from his shoulder injury, and Ebron's overall stat line from Sunday -- two catches for 39 yards -- wasn't exactly an eye opener.
But Detroit doesn't need Ebron to be spectacular to move the ball. The Lions need him to be dependable and make the simple catches. In that sense, last weekend was a start.
Stafford threw three touchdown passes in the game's final 16 minutes as the Lions overcame a sluggish start for the win. Stafford took a sack on the game's first play and threw a bad interception on the Lions' second offensive series. Decker was solid in pass protection in his return from a torn labrum, but the Lions still allowed four sacks. ...
The QB was credited with leading the 30th game-winning drive of his career against the Browns. Stafford completed 6 of 9 passes in the fourth quarter for 85 yards and two touchdowns. The game was tied at 24 entering the fourth quarter. ...
Golden Tate caught six passes for a game-high 97 yards and scored on a late 40-yard screen play that Stafford checked into at the line of scrimmage. Tate now 336 catches in three-plus seasons with the Lions. Tate is tied for sixth on the team's all-time receptions list with Hall-of-Famer Charlie Sanders. Barry Sanders (352 catches) ranks fifth on the list. ...
According to NFL.com's Matt Harmon, it was all too predictable that Marvin Jones would eventually fall back to the pack. We've seen the story before. Jones had target totals of 14, 11 and 11 in the three games heading into Week 10 but crashed down to just two against the Browns. Harmon added, "Jones has an appealing ceiling but the journey to get to his season-end numbers is always a rocky one. ..."
Kenny Golladay, in his first game back from a hamstring injury, had two third-quarter catches to set up the Lions' game-tying score. ...
Detroit's maligned running game finished with 104 yards on 19 carries Sunday against a Cleveland team that came in ranked fourth against the run.
"I think our guys did a better job of executing, getting them a man on a man, and giving our backs a crease to run in," Caldwell said. "So, I think the backs did a good job getting north and south or circling the defense. So, overall I think it was more execution than anything else."
Detroit averaged 5.5 yards per carry, including 11 rushes for 52 yards and a touchdown from Ameer Abdullah. The Lions still haven't had a 100-yard rusher in years, but Abdullah followed up a rough game against Green Bay with a strong effort against Cleveland.
Abdullah had runs of 19 and 20 yards in the first half, and Theo Riddick broke a 21-yard run. Riddick finished with 47 yards on seven touches and scored a receiving touchdown. It was just his second touchdown of the season, and his first game of double-digit fantasy points in standard scoring.
Dwayne Washington left Sunday's win over the Browns with a hip injury; he did not practice Wednesday. Washington has dealt with a slew of injuries this year, including a quad strain that kept him out four games and a concussion. His status for this week's game against the Bears is not yet known.
And finally. ... The team announced that they signed wide receiver Jace Billingsley on Tuesday. Wide receiver Jared Abbrederis was waived in a corresponding move.
QBs: Matthew Stafford, Jake Rudock
RBs: Ameer Abdullah, Theo Riddick, Dwayne Washington, Tion Green, Zach Zenner
WRs: Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, Kenny Golladay, Jared Abbrederis, TJ Jones
TEs: Darren Fells, Eric Ebron, Michael Roberts
Green Bay PackersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 November 2017
As ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky framed it, "The Green Bay Packers' best offense without Aaron Rodgers might be their running game.
"If they have any running backs left. ..."
They nearly ran out in Sunday's 23-16 win at Chicago, and it might make life without their two-time NFL MVP quarterback even tougher than it's already been if they can't get Aaron Jones or Ty Montgomery back soon.
On a day when the Packers lost their top two running backs -- Jones to a knee injury and Montgomery to another rib injury -- they answered questions about whether they could win a game with Brett Hundley as their quarterback, even if Hundley didn't make many game-changing plays.
Jones wasn't lost for the year, but the rookie running back could miss a good chunk of the closing stretch because of the knee injury he suffered in Sunday's win at Chicago.
Jones has an MCL injury and is expected to be out for three to six weeks, a source told ESPN's Adam Schefter on Monday. Jones was hurt on the opening drive against the Bears when his right knee appeared to get caught underneath him as he was tackled by linebacker Sam Acho.
The rookie fifth-round pick is the Packers' leading rusher on the season with 370 yards on 70 carries (a 5.3-yard average) and has had two 100-yard games since he was inserted into the lineup in Week 4 after Montgomery suffered broken ribs.
The Packers also could be without Montgomery. Montgomery is the team's second-leading rusher with 273 yards on 71 carries (a 3.8-yard average).
Both Jones and Montgomery have three rushing touchdowns to lead the team.
It leaves two other rookies, Jamaal Williams and Devante Mays, as the only healthy halfbacks on the roster. Williams, a fourth-round pick, finished Sunday's game after Jones and Montgomery dropped out and rushed for a season-high 67 yards on 20 carries. Mays, a seventh-round pick, was inactive against the Bears and has not had a carry yet this season.
Evidence of the importance of running the ball well was abundant in Chicago.
The Packers had a season-high 37 rushing attempts against the Bears in what was Hundley's first win since he took over as the starter. Among the rushes were three Wildcat plays with receiver Randall Cobb taking the direct snap and rushing for minus-1, 6 and 3 yards on those plays.
More importantly, for the first time since Rodgers broke his collarbone in Week 6, Hundley was the more effective quarterback -- but just barely.
Entering the fourth quarter on Sunday, Hundley had struggled mightily on attempts of 15-plus yards this season. But in the final frame in Chicago, Hundley hit three such attempts for 79 yards and a score.
In fact, according to Demovsky, Hundley made two of the best throws of his three starts to put the game away -- a 19-yard back-shoulder touchdown in the fourth quarter to Davante Adams, who has the only two touchdowns that Hundley has thrown since he took over, and a 42-yarder to Adams on third-and-10 with two minutes to play.
The Packers won for the first time since Rodgers' injury, and at 5-4 they avoided falling under .500 for the first time this season. A few more of these and there might be reason for Rodgers to return late in the season; he's eligible to come off injured reserve no sooner than the Week 15 game at Carolina.
With a scuffling Baltimore Ravens team coming to Lambeau Field this Sunday, perhaps there's a winning streak in the Packers' future.
Still, it's worth wondering whether Sunday's result was simply a function of their opponent. However, the fact that Adams, Montgomery and then Williams were able to run the ball against a Bears defense that ranked eighth overall and 13th against the run should give head coach Mike McCarthy a baseline for how his team can win sans Rodgers.
"The ability to run the football at the most critical times of the game I thought was a tribute to our running backs," McCarthy said. "I thought Jamaal had a heck of a day and I thought Brett Hundley played his best game of the year. Just handling the different situations, particularly the high pressure there in the fourth quarter. We got a big play from Davante when we needed it."
Williams is ready to do more if needed.
"I feel like that's my type of running style is downhill. I feel like I can be versatile, too -- agile and do all the other things I need to do to get outside the tackles and try to take it for a touchdown," Williams said. "These type of games, you've got to pound it, get those first downs and really just have that pride with your linemen that you can get the first downs, no matter what."
For the record, McCarthy told reporters on Wednesday that Hundley (hamstring) would be a full participant in practice and the he is hopeful about Montgomery for Sunday, although the running back did not practice Wednesday.
I'll be following up on Montgomery's status (and that of Hundley and Jones as needed) via Late-Breaking Update in coming days; but Williams is a player to grab off your waiver-wire if available. ...
Also of interest. ... Over the last two games, Hundley has targeted Adams 18 times. Adams had 12 catches for 143 yards (11.9 average) and a touchdown in that stretch.
Over that same time, Nelson has been targeted 11 times and has seven catches for 55 yards (7.8) and no touchdowns. Nelson hasn't hit 40 yards receiving in any of Hundley's starts.
Cobb has been targeted nine times and has eight catches for 110 yards (13.8) and no touchdowns. ...
And finally. ... Former Packers tight end Martellus Bennett, who was released last week, said Green Bay doctor Pat McKenzie tried to "cover his own ass" and have Bennett play through a shoulder injury.
Amazingly, Bennett was recovered enough to catch three passes for 38 yards Sunday night for New England. Rodgers and Nelson were among several current and former Green Bay players that came to McKenzie's defense.
QBs: Brett Hundley, Joe Callahan
RBs: Jamaal Williams, Aaron Jones, Devante Mays, Ty Montgomery
WRs: Davante Adams, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Geronimo Allison, Jeff Janis, Trevor Davis
TEs: Richard Rodgers, Lance Kendricks
Houston TexansCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 November 2017
The Texans were left searching for answers about how to turn things around after their third straight loss.
One thing they won't do is switch quarterbacks, with head coach Bill O'Brien saying Monday that Tom Savage will start on Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals.
Savage threw for 221 yards and a touchdown on Sunday in his second start since rookie Deshaun Watson sustained a season-ending knee injury in practice. But he was also intercepted twice and lost two fumbles in a 33-7 loss to the Los Angeles Rams, raising questions whether the Texans should replace him with T.J. Yates this week.
O'Brien brushed off that possibility, insisting the problems on offense aren't all Savage's fault.
"It starts with coaching," O'Brien said. "We've all got to coach better, starting with me, but it's never about one guy; it's never been about one guy. Football's about 11 guys trying to do the right thing on every play."
While O'Brien shifted the blame off of Savage, the quarterback disagreed with his coach.
"To be honest with you, it's on the quarterback when (we) put up seven points," he said. "It's on me."
As Associated Press sports writer Kristie Rieken noted, Sunday was Savage's third start this season. He started the opener before being benched at halftime for Watson after losing two fumbles. He's performed much the same in the last two weeks, with the offense managing one touchdown each in losses to the Colts and Rams. It's a stark change from when Watson was running the unit and the Texans set a franchise record by scoring more than 30 points in five straight games.
O'Brien isn't concerned about Savage's confidence and scoffed at the notion that he needs to encourage him this week.
"I'm not going to come into the quarterback room with two pom-poms and do handstands and try to pump him up and say: 'You're the best, you can do it,' like the little engine that could," O'Brien said. "That's not what I do. I just try to coach him, try to get him to play better."
To do that O'Brien said Savage needs to work on ball security and reads, and the rest of the players on offense must do more to help him.
The Texans got a big game from DeAndre Hopkins on Sunday: seven receptions for 111 yards. But Savage had trouble connecting with Houston's other receivers and none of the rest of them finished with more than 40 yards receiving.
His job could be tougher this week with Will Fuller's status in question after the receiver injured his ribs against the Rams.
"He's slightly built, so I don't know," O'Brien said of the 6-foot, 185-pound Fuller. "We'll have to see how that goes during the week."
Among the bigger problems?
According to ESPN.com's Sarah Barshop, Savage continues to struggle on throws downfield. Against the Rams, Savage was 3-of-13 (23.1 percent) for 85 yards and an interception on throws more than 10 yards downfield, the second-worst completion percentage by a Texans quarterback with a minimum 10 passes on such throws in the past 10 seasons. According to ESPN Stats and Information research, Savage entered the game completing 33.3 percent of passes more than 10 yards downfield this season, the second worst among 38 quarterbacks with at least 20 such attempts.
A quick and easy fix is unlikely.
While Yates or Josh Johnson may not be better options than Savage, there are external options, including free-agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who threw for 2,241 yards and 16 touchdowns last season for a passer rating of 90.7 for the San Francisco 49ers. Of course, signing Kaepernick is not just a matter of on-the-field performance because last month, the polarizing quarterback filed a grievance against the NFL for collusion. Last season, Kaepernick did not stand during the national anthem, which has led other NFL players to follow in protest of racial inequality and police brutality.
O'Brien said the Texans did discuss Kaepernick, but the team instead opted to sign Yates and Matt McGloin immediately after Watson was put on injured reserve. Johnson was signed last week.
With Savage having trouble getting Houston's offense going on Sunday, O'Brien inserted Braxton Miller at quarterback for a couple of wildcat-type plays. Miller, who starred at quarterback at Ohio State before moving to receiver, didn't attempt a pass.
"Just trying to mix it up a little bit," O'Brien said. "I just felt like it didn't really help the rhythm of the offense. It wasn't Braxton's fault. It just didn't really help what we were trying to do. It didn't have the effect that I thought it was going to have."
Sunday's loss left the Texans (3-6) in third place in the AFC South, three games behind the Jaguars and Titans. They'll have to find a cure for their offensive woes in short order if they hope to have any chance of reaching the postseason for the third straight year. ...
As noted above, Fuller won't miss significant time with his injury. NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported Monday that the receiver suffered cracked ribs in the loss, but the damage is not extensive and he may just miss one game.
Fuller downplayed the injury after the game.
"I'm feeling good," he told the Houston Chronicle. "They're a little sore. I should be OK."
Like the rest of the Texans' offense, Fuller soared with Watson under center and has struggled since the dynamic rookie went down with a knee injury. From Weeks 4 through 8, Fuller compiled 278 total yards on 13 receptions and a whopping seven touchdown catches. With Savage under center the past two weeks, the wideout has four catches for 47 yards and zero touchdowns.
Fuller missed the start of the season after suffering a collarbone injury in early August.
Bruce Ellington's role should increase if Fuller, who wasn't on the practice field Wednesday, is out of the lineup Sunday versus Arizona. I'll have more on the speedy wideout's status via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
O'Brien abandoned the running game despite its early effectiveness with Lamar Miller and the Texans runners have a tough matchup against the Cardinals this week.
While rolling with most any Houston skill player is a bit dodgy with Savage running the offense, Miller still offers some hope. And, with 30 combined targets the last two weeks, volume continues to keep Hopkins in "must-start" territory on a weekly basis. That's right, it appears the star wideout has regained his "Quarterback Proof" card for the time being.
QBs: T.J. Yates, Tom Savage
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 14 November 2017
As ESPN.com's Mike Well suggested, at some point during the bye, Jacoby Brissett will likely sit back and think about what the past nine weeks have been like for him.
From being acquired from New England the week before the start of the regular season, to becoming the starter two weeks later, to becoming the starter the rest of the season when Andrew Luck was put on season-ending injured reserve on Nov. 2.
As solid as Brissett has played while enduring something a lot of second-year players probably couldn't shoulder, Wells believes it will likely be four plays that sting more than the others for the 23-year-old.
Brissett threw his fourth interception in the fourth quarter or overtime this season to take away what could have been an impressive victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Instead, the Colts head into their bye week with a 20-17 loss and a 3-7 record.
These final weeks of the season are an audition for a number of Colts on the roster, including Brissett. It's not a matter of whether the Colts will re-sign him in the offseason because he's under contract for another two years. It's a matter of Brissett continuing to show that he's major commodity because of the uncertainty surrounding Luck's health.
Luck, as ESPN reported on Saturday, is in Europe looking at more treatment options for his surgically repaired right shoulder. Brissett, up to this point, has proven that he can start in the NFL.
It's just those interceptions at the wrong time continue to hurt him.
Brissett's late interception Sunday wasn't necessarily his fault. The quarterback tried to check down to Jack Doyle, but the ball went through the tight end's hands and into the hands of Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier inside Indianapolis' 15-yard line. The Steelers tied the score at 17-17 several plays later.
"Jacoby is doing the right thing," head coach Chuck Pagano said. "He's under duress -- going to hit his check-down and it didn't work out."
Brissett had to go to the concussion tent on the Colts sideline after he took a shot in the back of the head by Steelers defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt on a third-down scramble play on the series prior to throwing the interception. Backup quarterback Scott Tolzien went on the field on the Colts' next series, only to have Brissett run on at the last second. Brissett went into the concussion protocol after the game.
The late interception added to the one Brissett threw on the first play of overtime against Arizona in Week 2, the one he threw in the end zone during overtime against San Francisco in Week 3, and the one that was returned for a touchdown by Cincinnati's Carlos Dunlap in Week 8. The Colts are 1-3 in those games.
"No, it's all of the -- playing the position he plays, obviously, it comes with -- we all know what it comes with," Pagano said. "But it's everybody working together. It takes all 11 [players]. It doesn't fall on one guy. We've got to play better. We've got to coach better. It's on all of us."
Brissett's afternoon against Pittsburgh ended with him finishing 14-of-24 for 222 yards and a touchdown. His day also featured him becoming the first Colts quarterback to have four touchdown passes of at least 60 yards in a season since Johnny Unitas did it in 1966.
Things changed for Brissett and the offense late in the game. They gained a total of 24 yards on 20 plays on their final five possessions. The Steelers blitzed on seven of Brissett's eight dropbacks of the game.
When it was all said and done, all that Brissett will likely be thinking about is another late-game interception.
Worth noting. ... Both of Brissett's touchdown passes Sunday came off play action and were thrown at least 30 yards downfield. The last QB to have multiple such TD passes in the same game was Sam Bradford, for the Eagles in Week 4 of 2015.
Overall, Brissett was 5-of-8 for 155 yards and two TDs using play action, after recording just two such TDs in his first nine games combined.
For the record, the Colts have now lost three games by three points or less this season (Arizona, 16-13, OT; Cincinnati, 24-23; and Pittsburgh, 20-17).
Indianapolis has had the lead five times in the second half of games this season and have lost all five. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Frank Gore had a strong start, and ended the game with 54 yards rushing in 17 carries. He also caught one pass for seven yards. But most of Gore's yardage was picked up with minimal help from his offensive line.
Rookie Marlon Mack showed flashes of his game-altering skills once again. Mack wound up with just seven yards rushing on seven carries and added two receptions for 19 yards. The Colts had 71 yards rushing for the game.
Receiver Chester Rogers, who missed most of the preseason with a hamstring issue and wasn't able to return to the rotation until late last month, had a career day. Rogers hauled in six passes for 104 yards and a TD. Fe T.Y. Hilton was limited to just two regions for 23 yards. Donte Moncrief's lone catch on the day was a 60-yard touchdown catch and run. Doyle had two catches for 9 yards.
Tight end Erik Swoope (knee) has been practicing with the team since last week. Swoope was hurt early in training camp. He has a chance to be cleared to play against the Titans in two weeks.
QBs: Jacoby Brissett, Scott Tolzien
RBs: Frank Gore, Marlon Mack, Christine Michael, Matt Jones, Robert Turbin
WRs: T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief, Chester Rogers, Kamar Aiken
TEs: Jack Doyle, Ross Travis, Jason Vander Laan
Jacksonville JaguarsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 November 2017
According to Associated Press sports writer Mark Long, the Jaguars will be without receiver Allen Hurns at winless Cleveland on Sunday, a potentially significant setback for a team already playing without Allen Robinson.
Hurns injured his right ankle while making a 6-yard catch against the Los Angeles Chargers late in regulation. Hurns crawled out of bounds to avoid a 10-second runoff, a heads-up play that was somewhat overlooked amid Jacksonville's wild, 20-17 victory in overtime.
Head coach Doug Marrone said it's unclear when Hurns will be ready to play again. Hurns left the locker room on crutches Sunday and could miss more than one game.
"I don't anticipate him this week," Marrone said. "I wouldn't know after that."
The Jaguars (6-3) will rely on veteran Marqise Lee and rookies Keelan Cole and Dede Westbrook while trying to extend their winning streak to four games against the Browns (0-9). Robinson is out for the season after tearing a ligament in his left knee in the opener.
Westbrook, a fourth-round draft pick from Oklahoma and the 2016 Biletnikoff Award winner, has been sidelined since having core muscle surgery in early September. He is expected to be activated from injured reserve and make his NFL debut against Cleveland.
Westbrook led the NFL in receiving in the preseason, catching 13 passes for 288 yards and two touchdowns in three exhibitions.
Hurns has 36 receptions for 446 yards and two touchdowns this season.
His move following his injury Sunday was considered a game-saving one by coaches and teammates.
The Jaguars trailed 17-14, had no timeouts remaining and had barely crossed midfield when Hurns made the catch and fell to the ground.
He managed to get to the sideline, and Jacksonville got into field-goal range on the next play when Blake Bortles found Jaydon Mickens for an 11-yard gain. A roughing-the-passer penalty on Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa made Josh Lambo's field-goal attempt much shorter.
Lambo's 34-yarder sent the game into overtime, and his 30-yarder in the extra period ended it.
Hurns deserved as much credit, if not more.
"I think it speaks to not only his toughness but how smart of a football player he is," Bortles said. "He was able to recognize the situation that we were in. ... Hurns' toughness and football IQ never ceases to amaze me."
Hurns was unable to put any weight on his right foot after the game.
"It's just one of those plays," said Hurns, who caught a team-high seven passes for 70 yards. "Under two minutes, you can't stay on the field (when injured) because they have to take a timeout for you or have like a (10)-second runoff. That's one of those plays where you just have to hop off the field. It was close to our sideline. I was able to get off. But it just shows how we are as a team."
Marrone dislikes the runoff rule because it doesn't take player safety into consideration.
"That's a rule that I get concerned about. I really do," Marrone said. "I struggle with that rule. ... You tell a player if you can, get off the field, get off the field to save (time). Again, someone like Allen, you don't want to put a player in further jeopardy from an injury standpoint.
"This game is hard enough to play as it is, but I appreciate him having the ability to do that. It did help the football team. ..."
Meanwhile, the Jaguars looked like anything but the NFL's No. 1 rated rushing attack. The Jaguars finished with a respectable 135 yards in 27 attempts (5.0 average), but take away the 56-yard run by Corey Grant on a fake punt and the Jaguars are left with 79 yards in 26 carries, a non-acceptable 3.0 yards per attempt.
The Chargers were keyed on Leonard Fournette throughout the game and he only managed a season-low 33 yards on 17 tries, less than two yards a carry. Only Bortles' 34 yards on five scrambles kept this from being even worse than it was.
Fournette struggled throughout Sunday's game, his first action for the Jaguars after missing the team's last two games due to an injury and being inactive (violation of team rules). In the second half against the Chargers, Fournette gained just 12 yards on eight carries and during one stretch was not on the field for three consecutive Jaguars drives.
When asked about why Fournette didn't play during that time, Marrone said, "Nothing crazy. He was limping a little bit."
Chris Ivory was as ineffective as Fournette was against the Chargers. Ivory had just one run for 1 yard and caught one pass that lost 5 yards. T.J. Yeldon, who is listed behind Ivory, had three carries for 11 yards and caught six passes for 39 yards.
Grant scored a touchdown for the third time this year on a fake punt return. Grant first did it against New England in a preseason game, then went 58 yards on a direct snap in punt formation against Baltimore in a game played in London. His latest fourth-down keeper against the Chargers covered 56 yards and was only successful after Grant broke free from a tackle behind the line of scrimmage.
Grant has now posted two career runs of over 50 yards on fourth-down plays (both this season), which equals the total for all other active NFL players combined.
Bortles completed 11-of-12 passes (91.7 percent) in the first half against the Chargers. That is Bortles' highest passing completion for a half in his 55-game NFL career. He finished the first half with a passer rating of 92.7.
The quarterback's 11-play, 84-yard scoring march that consisted of all passes was a gem. If he played like that even 50 percent of the time, Jaguars coaches would be thrilled. The numbers would have been better if Cole and Lee not dropped passes that would have resulted in touchdowns.
Worth noting. ... Fournette (ankle) was limited in Wednesday's practice; Lee (knee) was held out. I'll be following up via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses.
QBs: Blake Bortles, Chad Henne, Brandon Allen
RBs: Leonard Fournette, Chris Ivory, T.J. Yeldon, Corey Grant
WRs: Keelan Cole, Dede Westbrook, Allen Hurns, Max McCaffrey, Jaelen Strong, Marqise Lee
TEs: Marcedes Lewis, Ben Koyack
Kansas City ChiefsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 November 2017
As ESPN.com's Adam Teicher pointed out this week, there are many examples this season of Kareem Hunt breaking tackles. The Kansas City Chiefs' rookie running back leads all players at his position with 42 broken tackles on runs and another 14 as a receiver, according to Profootballfocus.com.
Among the best is a 2-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter of the Week 2 win against the Philadelphia Eagles. Hunt was hit at the line of scrimmage by one defensive lineman, Chris Long, followed by another, Beau Allen, and then a bunch of other Eagles defenders.
Hunt was still somehow able to keep his legs moving and reach across the goal line with the ball before going to the ground.
"I pride myself on being a balanced running back," Hunt said that day. "Some speed, some power. Just being able to finish, you just need to fight for every yard."
That touchdown was the result of pure effort, but that doesn't always get the job done.
More generally, Hunt talked more recently about using instincts and angles when defenders approach.
"You've just got to have a plan of escape, to be able to stay [aware] of the contact because you know it's coming. You've got to get low, be ready to drive your feet and come out of it. It's just angles, knowing how guys are going to try to approach and tackle me."
Hunt is only 5-10, giving him a low center of gravity. That can make him difficult to knock off his feet with a body tackle. Defenders usually have to wrap up if they're going to bring Hunt down.
"Nothing can really knock him off his feet," former Chiefs running back Larry Johnson said. "You can never hit him low enough. You'd literally have to dive at his feet or his ankles to actually get him. With him, you know you're going to get a low center of gravity, a low pad level, and you almost have to hit his helmet or his shoulder pads before you even get a chance to hit his legs. He runs so hard you're going to get a ball of fire when you try to tackle him."
As a result, Hunt is third in the NFL in yards after first being hit by a defender. He has rushed for 800 yards, and 347 have come after first contact. He gets 2.2 yards per rushing attempt after first contact, which is eighth in the league but first among players in the top 10 in rushing.
"A lot of that is instinct," Hunt said. "I've been playing running back since I was 7 years old. Honestly, a lot of tackles have been thrown at me. People try to tackle me in different ways in high school, college and now. I've always got to have a plan of escape. ..."
Hunt leads the league in rushing and yards from scrimmage, piling up 800 yards on the ground and adding 331 more through the air along with six touchdowns in total. Few running backs have bolted out of the gates faster than Hunt. But with just 48 yards rushing per game the last four weeks, Hunt must find a way to make adjustments as the league seems to be solving the riddle he poses.
Meanwhile, analyzing how a red-hot 5-0 start for the Chiefs devolved into losing three out of four games heading to the bye week could have shaken the confidence of head coach Andy Reid, but instead it seems to have rejuvenated his belief that his team can make a run at an AFC title.
"We didn't finish up before the bye very well so we've all been sitting here, fans included, on a loss for a couple of weeks," Reid said. "But I like this team and I like their work ethic. I like the way they battled through the first nine games. But there's room for us as coaches and as players to improve and that to me, I get kind of fired up about that."
The Chiefs sit at 6-3 atop the AFC West, a full two games ahead of the Oakland Raiders and three games ahead of the Denver Broncos and Los Angeles Chargers. But the Chiefs have designs on chasing the New England Patriots and the Pittsburgh Steelers for a top seed in the AFC playoffs.
Both teams stand at 7-2. The Chiefs own a tiebreaker over the Patriots, however, thanks to their win over the defending champs in Week 1.
To attain that goal, however, Reid's team must address a leaky defense that ranks among the bottom five teams in the league in total yards, rushing yards and passing yards allowed per game while ranking 20th with 23.1 points allowed per game. And as noted above, Reid must also find a fix for the team's running game, which averaged just 67.3 yards in its last four games after racking up 156.2 yards during its five-game win streak.
Reid said his squad must simply focus on improving day-by-day as they return from the bye week.
"That's what we're going to focus on," Reid said. "I talked to the team a little bit about that. Just let's get right back into things we know and grind and get better on a day-to-day basis and let everything take care of itself from there."
The Chiefs' head coach certainly owns the winning formula for managing the bye week successfully. His teams hold a 16-2 record during the regular season following the bye week.
Up next is a trip to New York this week facing the 1-8 Giants.
That will help.
In fact, the remainder of the schedule is a plus. Most of their difficult games were loaded into the schedule's first nine games. The Chiefs have played five opponents that entered Week 10 with a record of .500 or better. Included were games against the New England Patriots, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers, Dallas Cowboys and Houston Texans, before they lost quarterback Deshaun Watson for the season with a knee injury.
Over the final seven games, the Chiefs will face just two teams that had a record of .500 or better through Week 9.
The defense should benefit the most from the easier upcoming schedule.
They've played against four of the teams that entered Week 10 in the top 10 in scoring and none of the teams in the bottom 10.
They have no games left against top-10 scoring teams, but four against opponents in the bottom 10.
Also of interest. ... Alex Smith posted among the strongest first halves of his career, completing 69.6 percent of his passes for 2,444 yards and 18 touchdowns in the team's first nine games. All those numbers put him well on pace for career highs. Tight end Travis Kelce and wide receiver Tyreek Hill remain on pace for 1,000-yard receiving seasons, and Hunt provides the team with a dual-threat option out of the backfield.
The Chiefs lead the league at 6.2 yards per play, and Smith and the passing game are the biggest reason why.
QBs: Patrick Mahomes, Tyler Bray
RBs: Kareem Hunt, Charcandrick West, Akeem Hunt
WRs: Tyreek Hill, Albert Wilson, De'Anthony Thomas, Jehu Chesson, Demarcus Robinson
TEs: Travis Kelce, Demetrius Harris
Los Angeles ChargersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 November 2017
Quarterback Philip Rivers is in the NFL's concussion protocol after experiencing possible symptoms of a head injury, endangering his streak of 194 consecutive starts since 2006.
According to Associated Press sports writer Greg Beacham, Rivers told the Chargers about his symptoms Monday after they returned from a 20-17 overtime loss in Jacksonville, coach Anthony Lynn said.
The Chargers (3-6) are still hopeful Rivers can play on Sunday when they host the Buffalo Bills, but they will be cautious with the health of one of the most durable quarterbacks in NFL history.
"He needs to pass the test first," Lynn said. "If he's not healthy, we do not want him on the field. But if he's healthy and ready to go, then (he'll play)."
For what it's worth, sources tell NFL Network's Ian Rapoport the Chargers are encouraged by Rivers' progress through the protocol. Of course, he must be cleared by an independent neurologist, like all players.
Rivers wasn't sacked by the Jaguars, but he was hit five times and pressured regularly. Lynn wasn't certain when Rivers was hurt, but the quarterback took a big shot when he threw a long interception in overtime.
Rivers is the foundation of the franchise that moved to the Los Angeles area this year. He spent his first two NFL seasons as the understudy for Drew Brees, but the North Carolina State product has started every game in the regular season and the playoffs for the Chargers since he became their starting quarterback in the 2006 opener.
"I don't even really have an experience with him not being out there," said tight end Antonio Gates, Rivers' teammate since 2004.
"I'm pretty sure they'll go through the right steps in the protocols to try to get him back on the field. His health is the main concern. ... That's speaking from a personal standpoint as a friend, just making sure he's healthy enough to go out and play and help us win."
With 185 straight regular-season starts and nine playoff starts, Rivers has the fourth-longest streak for a quarterback in NFL history.
Brett Favre set the NFL record with 321 starts from 1992-2010. Peyton Manning made 227 consecutive starts from 1998-2011, while the New York Giants' Eli Manning has a still-active streak of 220 straight starts since November 2004.
Rivers is 10th in NFL history with 48,096 yards passing in 14 seasons with the Chargers. While they have struggled in recent seasons, Rivers and Gates led the Chargers to four straight AFC West titles from 2006-09, along with the 2007 AFC championship game.
Rivers has passed for 2,263 yards this season with 15 touchdowns and seven interceptions, completing 60.1 percent of his 323 throws. Nobody else on Los Angeles' roster has thrown a pass.
If Rivers can't play Sunday, Lynn says he is confident in backup Kellen Clemens, who hasn't started an NFL game since 2013 with the St. Louis Rams. Although he is well-versed in coordinator Ken Whisenhunt's offense, Clemens has barely played over the past 3½ seasons with the Chargers, throwing just 10 passes and getting most of his field time as a kick holder.
"I feel fine about Kellen," Lynn said. "He's well-prepared. He's a veteran. Obviously, I'd rather have my starter in there. But if something happen with Phil, we'll go with Kellen."
The Chargers don't have to decide until Sunday morning whether Rivers will play, and Lynn didn't seem anxious to make a quick decision this week.
"Philip is obviously the cornerstone of what we do and how we implement our game plan," Gates said. "But I'm quite sure that we'll do things that maximize Kellen's ability if need be. ..."
Safe to say I'll be following Rivers' progress closely in coming days (he worked on a limited basis Wednesday); watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for more. ...
Meanwhile, the Chargers need to find a running back that can close out games, running the football effectively when teams know that you'll run it.
As ESPN.com's Eric Williams notes, the Chargers are atrocious at finishing games. Since the start of last season, the Chargers have lost an NFL-high eight games after holding a lead at any point in the fourth quarter.
Lynn was asked why he had undrafted rookie Austin Ekeler in the game at the end instead of his first-round pick in Melvin Gordon with a 17-14 lead. Ekeler fumbled with 1:51 left, but the Chargers were fortunate to keep the Jaguars off the scoreboard after Tre Boston picked off Bortles for a second straight time.
"Austin was running well," Lynn said. "He was hitting the hole a little quicker at that time, and we tried to finish the game on the field.
"The young man, he coughed it up. In that situation, he's got to learn from that. The defense is going for the football. It's a four-minute offense. It's a tough learning lesson."
Asked about figuring out a way to close out teams, Rivers said it depends on the philosophy of the coach. In the past under former coach Mike McCoy, the Chargers have thrown at times in those late-game situations, with mixed results.
However, Lynn is a run-first coach who wants his teams to show toughness and grind out wins by running the football. The Chargers drafted Gordon in the first round three years ago, but still have not figured out a way for him to contribute consistently.
Gordon finished with just 27 yards on 16 carries for an anemic 1.7 yards per carry.
"When you get it backed up like that, and they have three timeouts and you're only up three, that would be left up to the coach's philosophy and exactly how he wants to handle that," Rivers said. "Do you throw it and risk incompletions there and try to play regular ball, or do you run it and make them burn all their timeouts, with them knowing you're going to run it, and seeing if you can fight your way to a first down.
"If you get a first down, it's over."
Of course, the Chargers didn't get a first down. They turned it over twice and had a three-and-out in their last three possessions.
At some point, the Chargers offense has to start matching the production of a defense that's allowed just 15.8 points a contest in the past five games. And it starts with Lynn, Rivers and offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt working together to forge an identity of how they want to play football on offense.
Nine games into the season, the Chargers still haven't figured it out.
Worth noting. ... Despite the late fumble, Ekeler broke out with 119 total yards and two receiving touchdowns against Jacksonville. As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich noted, Ekeler will need to be scooped up off the waiver wire this week, and the ineffective play from Gordon is concerning.
There's a good chance that Gordon can rebound next week against a Bills defense that has been gashed on the ground the last few games, but his struggles are disconcerting.
As noted, Rivers got picked on the last play of the game and threw for less than 240 yards. Still, there were two touchdown passes Ekeler and it should have been three save Tyrell Williams' dropped scoring pass. And the line here needs to be saluted as it didn't allow a sack against the NFL's best pass-rushing team.
QBs: Philip Rivers, Cardale Jones
RBs: Melvin Gordon, Branden Oliver
WRs: Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams, Travis Benjamin, Mike Williams, Geremy Davis
TEs: Antonio Gates, Sean McGrath
Los Angeles RamsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 November 2017
As ESPN.com's Alden Gonzalez noted, Sammy Watkins was seemingly acquired to be the Los Angeles Rams' No. 1 receiver, but he'll tell you someone else has taken on that role.
"For me, it's Robert Woods who's leading this group," Watkins said after Sunday's 33-7 win over the Houston Texans. "The way he practices, the way he plays the game, the way he does everything moves this wide receiver group. He's a pro. I had to push my game up the way he was competing. That's what all of us are doing."
For fantasy owners, it's suddenly Woods as well.
While, the Rams are determined to spread the ball around, Woods has led the team in receiving yards in five of the first nine games. That included the Week 10 victory, which saw him haul in eight of his 10 targets for a career-high 171 yards and two touchdowns. It marked the most receiving yards by a Rams player since Torry Holt had 200 in a game against the San Francisco 49ers in 2003.
The first was a 94-yard score, when Woods sprinted past Texans cornerback Johnathan Joseph on a post route to record the longest offensive touchdown by the Rams since 1964.
For Woods, it was "probably my longest in NFL, college, high school -- 'Madden.'"
Later, Woods scored on a play even "Madden" couldn't dream up. Jared Goff faked a handoff to Todd Gurley while Woods sprinted toward the backfield as if he were going to take the football on a jet sweep. After the fake, Woods darted back to the outside, caught a pass in the flat, turned upfield and spiraled in for a 12-yard score.
Woods didn't find the end zone through the first seven games, but he has scored four touchdowns in the last two weeks, one of which was a 52-yard catch-and-run on 3rd-and-33.
Said head coach Sean McVay: "I don't think we can talk about Robert Woods as a possession receiver anymore after the last couple weeks."
"He's been huge," Goff added. "He's been as big as anybody on this team. Take everything he does on Sundays away, it's been truly impressive seeing him day in and day out -- the way he works, the way he brings guys along. His attitude daily and the way he communicates with me is impressive. I'm happy to have him, and I know he's happy to be here."
Goff is happy to have both of the former Buffalo Bills receivers. Watkins scored on a 17-yard screen pass on Sunday, seven days after hauling in a 67-yard bomb from Goff. Over the last two games, Goff has thrown six of his seven touchdown passes to Woods and Watkins. When targeting those two throughout the year, Goff is completing 66 percent of his passes and averaging 10.9 yards per attempt while accumulating eight touchdowns and zero interceptions.
But it's Woods who is seeing the biggest workload. He leads the Rams in targets (57) and receptions (39), and he easily leads in receiving yards (622).
Watkins, who has four touchdowns this season and has scored a touchdown in back-to-back games, is good with it.
"It's fun," said Watkins, who has 21 catches for 372 yards and four touchdowns. "My job is so easy. Everything is not on me like it was in Buffalo. I'm out there just playing, having fun, running routes, blocking."
Woods, 25, believed in the Rams' offense at a time when few others did. The L.A. product and former USC star chose to return home as a free agent, joining the Rams by signing a five-year, $34 million contract the first day he could. Woods began working with Goff immediately, catching passes from him at high schools and colleges near the Rams' facility leading up to the start of the offseason program in early April.
The results are playing out on the field.
Over his last five games, Woods has hauled in 27 of 37 targets for 436 yards. His last two games have been two of the very best of his career. He is one of six wide receivers in the NFL this season to post 125-plus receiving yards and multiple touchdown receptions in a single game.
"It feels good, being able to come to a new team and contribute, be part of a winning team," Woods said, whose new team is 7-2 and leading the NFL in point differential. "But really it's just working hard with these guys and coming out and seeing it pay off on Sundays is the biggest thing, because we've worked hard for it. We've been working since the summer, and it's finally clicking."
And fantasy owners need to pay attention to that. ...
Meanwhile, the Rams are 7-2 for the first time since 2001, leading a division crumbling under the weight of injuries to Carson Palmer, David Johnson and Richard Sherman. Their plus-134 point differential leads the NFL. And over their last three games, they've outscored three clearly inferior opponents -- the Arizona Cardinals, New York Giants and Texans -- by a combined 93 points.
Their latest win marked only the third at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum since the Rams returned to L.A. for the 2016 season.
The Rams led only by a 9-7 score at the nine-minute mark of the third quarter, while pinned at their own 6-yard line -- then rattled off 21 points in less than nine minutes. They'll need to get rolling a little earlier with games upcoming against the Vikings, Saints, Eagles and Seahawks. ...
Other notes of interest. ... For the record, Goff posted a career-high 355 yards while completing 25-of-37 passes and no interceptions for a 125.4 passer rating. Goff, Kansas City's Alex Smith and New England's Tom Brady are the only three quarterbacks in the NFL this season with multiple games passing for at least 300 yards, three passing touchdowns and zero interceptions.
Goff is the only quarterback in franchise history to pass for 300-plus yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in consecutive games. ...
With all the attention on Woods and Watkins, it's worth pointing out that Cooper Kupp finished tied for second on the team in both targets (7) and catches (6), but he was still easily overshadowed by the TD output of the other two. ...
Gurley rushed 11 times for 68 yards, a 6.2-yard average with a long of 34 yards. He added six receptions for 68 yards. In total, Gurley collected 17 touches for 102 yards from scrimmage. Gurley registered a 43-yard reception from Goff. That was the third 40-plus yard reception of Gurley's career.
He joins Marshall Faulk, Steven Jackson and Amp Lee as the only running backs in franchise history with three or more receptions of 40-plus yards.
Gurley will be challenged by the Vikings defense this week, but fantasy owners shouldn't be worried about matchups when rolling with him. ...
In a related note. ... Left tackle Andrew Whitworth continues to be a revelation for the Rams, and he just seems to get better and better in spite of his advanced age of 35.
Whitworth has been a steadying force and an anchor to a much improved offensive line, and his freakish athletic ability is a sight to see. As was the case when he got out in front of Watkins on a screen pass to block two defenders to pave the way for a Watkins touchdown.
"He's so athletic and so big. I think people underestimate how truly athletic and fast he is," said Goff. "He can get out in front of guys. I think he blocked two guys on that play. Again, what he's done this season's been one of the biggest things of our season for sure.
And finally. ... Pharoh Cooper averaged 25 yards on two kickoff returns, 10.7 on three punt returns, Greg Zuerlein was good on all four of his field-goal attempts, making him the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week. His 50-yarder just before halftime gave Los Angeles a lead it wouldn't surrender.
Zuerlein, who leads the NFL in scoring by a 23-point margin, is now 28 of 29 on field goals this season and a perfect 4-4 from 50 yards and beyond.
QBs: Jared Goff, Sean Mannion
RBs: Todd Gurley, Malcolm Brown, Lance Dunbar
WRs: Robert Woods, Sammy Watkins, Cooper Kupp, Tavon Austin, Pharoh Cooper, Josh Reynolds
TEs: Tyler Higbee, Gerald Everett
Miami DolphinsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 November 2017
As ESPN.com's James Walker framed it: "The Miami Dolphins made one thing very clear Monday night: They are not ready for prime time. ..."
The Dolphins continue to shrink this season when the NFL's spotlight is at its brightest. They fell to 0-3 in prime-time games with a 45-21 loss to the Carolina Panthers on Monday Night Football. It was the most points and rushing yards (294) the Dolphins have allowed in a game this season.
Miami (4-5) just completed the league's trifecta of national games in ugly fashion.
In the past three weeks, the Dolphins lost to the Baltimore Ravens (40-0) on "Thursday Night Football," the Oakland Raiders (27-24) on "Sunday Night Football" and to the Panthers on Monday by 24 points. Miami did not do anything to help its national perception with the trio of shoddy performances.
With each loss, the Dolphins' margin for error to make the playoffs for the second straight year gets thinner and thinner.
Jay Cutler has been traditionally good on Monday Night Football. He entered this game with eight touchdowns and one interception on the league's biggest stage. However, that momentum didn't carry over, as Cutler had a vintage "Cutler moment" with an overaggressive and unnecessary interception to Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly with 41 seconds left in the first half that took all the energy out of the Dolphins.
Cutler's ill-timed pick set up a Cam Newton touchdown pass that gave the Panthers a 17-7 lead at halftime. Miami was never able to make the game competitive after that point.
"We got the coverage we wanted," Cutler said about the interception. "They just pushed a little bit, and I have to lay it out there a little more. It was a bad ball by me, and it put us in a bad spot."
The Dolphins are now on a three-game losing streak and the offense is still a challenge. But the big surprise from Monday's 45-21 loss at Carolina was Miami's defense. It was almost historically bad.
Still, head coach Adam Gase isn't ready to question his team's effort or heart.
"Really, effort is really hard to question with this group," Gase said Tuesday. "They're going to play hard."
And Gase is convinced his team will stay focused.
"This group is pretty good at moving on," he said. "I think the coaching staff, too. That's our job and we've got a lot of time left, a lot of ball left. I don't know if you guys kind of pay attention to the rest of the league, but it's not like anyone's running away with anything. It's a total disaster everywhere. There's about two teams where everybody is all happy. Everywhere else it's misery."
The Dolphins, who entered the game with the league's 7th-best run defense at 94 yards per game, allowed Carolina 294 rushing yards and fell to 20th in the league at 116.2 per game. Running back Jonathan Stewart (110 yards rushing) and Newton (95 yards rushing) did the bulk of the damage, but running back Cameron Artis-Payne (68 yards rushing) also got in on the fun.
"It seemed like we had some gap integrity issues and missed tackles," defensive tackle Jordan Phillips said.
The Panthers totaled a whopping 548 yards, a franchise record, which was just 63 yards shy of Miami's franchise record.
"I am lost, honestly," defensive end Cam Wake said.
Carolina's 45 points were the most allowed by Miami this season. The Dolphins have now allowed 40 or more points in two of their last three games and are allowing an average of 35 points per game in the last four games.
Miami has been very streaky this season. The team has lost three in a row after winning the prior three games. Now the Dolphins' playoff hopes aren't looking strong in a weakened AFC.
Miami must play five of its last seven games against teams with winning records. That includes a road game against the Kansas City Chiefs (6-3) and four combined games against the Buffalo Bills (5-4) and the reigning Super Bowl champion New England Patriots (7-2).
Unfortunately for the Dolphins, their second game against New England is another prime-time contest on a Monday night, on Dec. 11. It's difficult to expect a good result based on Miami's previous three performances in night games.
"There is a lot of football left," Cutler said. "The pieces are in the locker room, I truly believe that. I have been around a lot of good teams, there is a lot of good guys and a lot of good talent in there. We just have to get back to work."
There were positives.
They scored three touchdowns, which would be considered promising under normal circumstances. But Miami's last two touchdowns basically came in desperation mode. They trailed 31-7 when running back Kenyan Drake scored on a 66-yard run in the third quarter and trailed 45-14 when Jarvis Landry scored on a 9-yard reception in the fourth quarter.
As noted above, Cutler (22 of 37, 213 yards, two touchdowns, one interception, 82.4 passer rating) didn't have a good night. This was after Gase said during the week Cutler had had back-to-back strong outings against the New York Jets and Oakland.
Drake had the 66-yard touchdown run, but aside from that he had a quiet night. Drake totaled 84 yards from scrimmage - 82 rushing and two receiving.
Damien Williams, who battled an illness all week, missing two days of practice, totaled 29 yards from scrimmage - 19 yards rushing and 10 yards receiving. Williams had two receptions for 10 yards and nine carries for 19 yards.
Julius Thomas had a touchdown, but the veteran was quiet for the vast majority of the night totaling eight yards on two receptions, including his 2-yard TD reception on a shovel pass.
DeVante Parker (six receptions, 66 yards) wasn't a factor for the majority of the night. Parker had three receptions for 39 yards after Miami fell behind, 31-7, in the third quarter.
Running back Senorise Perry had four kickoff returns for 87 yards as he served his second game replacing Drake there. Perry opened the game with a 29-yard return.
QBs: Jay Cutler, Matt Moore, Brandon Doughty
RBs: Kenyan Drake, Damien Williams
WRs: Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills, Leonte Carroo, Jakeem Grant
TEs: Anthony Fasano, MarQueis Gray
Minnesota VikingsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 November 2017
Look around the NFL long enough and you will realize the Minnesota Vikings have a good problem on their hands at quarterback.
On the one hand, they are 7-2 and riding a five-game winning streak with career journeyman Case Keenum playing all but six quarters in place of the injured Sam Bradford. On the other hand, Teddy Bridgewater is healthy and raring to go as the hardest part of the schedule continues with the Rams at home on Sunday followed by three straight road games at Detroit, Atlanta and Carolina.
On Monday, head coach Mike Zimmer said he has decided who will start on Sunday. Naturally, he was keeping that out of the public eye after addressing the full team on the subject the morning after a 38-30 win at Washington. "I have a plan," he said again on Monday.
The plan was revealed on Wednesday, when Zimmer announced that Keenum wwill be the starter again this week.
As the Sports Xchange notes, Bridgewater hasn't played since tearing multiple ligaments while dislocating his left knee in a non-contact injury in practice a week before the 2016 season. He also has had only three weeks of practice, but was deemed ready to serve as Keenum's backup on Sunday.
So it makes sense to stick with Keenum, right?
Keenum had a strange enough game Sunday to create some doubt. When the Vikings led 35-17 early in the third quarter, he had a perfect passer rating, four touchdowns and no turnovers. But then he threw careless interceptions on consecutive throws to put the Redskins back in the game.
"I talked to him a little bit this morning about understanding the situation of the game, where we're at and sometimes a throwaway is a good thing," Zimmer said. "You know, the two turnovers were bad. They were back-to-back. We've got the game pretty much in hand. The rest of the game, he played pretty darn good.
"But he's a very excitable guy. Sometimes he gets off the reservation a little bit."
Ultimately, the Vikings want to return to Bridgewater at some point. The 2014 first-round draft pick was primed for a breakout season as the team's quarterback of the future when he was injured. But Zimmer also has to be careful not to disrupt the momentum that has the Vikings sitting in the NFC's No. 2 seed.
Again, look around the league. When your third-best quarterback is 5-2 as the starter and your former and possibly future franchise QB is healthy enough to return, this is a good problem to have.
But it goes beyond that. As CBSSports.com insider Jason La Canfor put it to his Twitter followers on Monday: "Highly productive. Clicking with his receivers. Great fit in scheme."
With regard to the "clicking with his receivers" portion of that comment, Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs torched Washington's secondary with 12 catches for 244 yards and two touchdowns.
As NFL.com's Matt Harmon pointed out, Thielen has double-digit targets in each of his last four games and hasn't checked in with less than eight since Week 2. Diggs took a backseat to Thielen, who had a superior matchup in the slot, but Diggs still took off for a 51-yard deep shot and hauled in a red zone touchdown.
The offensive line was excellent again as Washington failed to record a sack for the first time in 32 games.
Other notes of interest. ... Getting back to the offensive line, the Sports Xchange advised readers this week that unit played better than the running backs. Latavius Murray finished with 68 yards, a 4.0-yard average and a touchdown. But he basically only took what the line gave him. With another gear, he could have turned some of his good runs into explosive plays. The Vikings ran for 102 yards on 31 carries (3.3).
Jerick McKinnon collected 47 yards on his 12 touches, and as NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich added, he was ineffective from an efficiency standpoint. The Vikings didn't need much production from McKinnon since Keenum threw four touchdown passes.
Both backs will face a tough challenge going up against the Rams this week.
QBs: Case Keenum, Teddy Bridgewater, Sam Bradford
RBs: Latavius Murray, Jerick McKinnon, Mack Brown, C.J. Ham
WRs: Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, Laquon Treadwell, Michael Floyd, Jarius Wright, Rodney Adams, Stacy Coley
TEs: Kyle Rudolph, David Morgan, Blake Bell
New England PatriotsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 November 2017
Embarking on a two-game road trip and a span of five games away from home in six weeks, the Patriots (7-2) exited the bye week in about as impressive a fashion as possible with Sunday night's 41-16 win over the Broncos (3-6) in Denver.
As the Sports Xchange notes, in a place that so often that has been a struggle over the years - New England had a 3-7 mark in trips to Mile High dating back to 2001 - this time around it was a dominant win with contributions in all three phases, with a few gifts along the way from the bumbling Broncos.
Tom Brady passed for three touchdowns and no interceptions, in large part because his offensive line gave him his best protection of the season against Von Miller and Co.
Brady earned AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors for the effort.
The kicking game chipped in in a big way, including recovering a muffed punt to set up a short-field opening score, a 103-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Dion Lewis and a blocked punt to set up a field goal. It left Broncos first-year head coach Vance Joseph saying he's never seen a worse special teams performance than the one his team fielded.
Lewis was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week for his performance.
Defensively, New England held its opponent to 17 points or fewer for the fifth straight game which not coincidentally is a five-game winning streak for the AFC East leaders.
"(Sunday night) was a really good night for us. Hopefully we can build on this and gain some confidence in all three phases," Brady said afterward. "I thought playing from ahead was really important all night. We played really good, complementary football. We just tried to hold up our end of the bargain."
In a league and a conference where so many teams struggle to win and find consistency on a weekly basis, head coach Bill Belichick's defending champions appear to be rounding into midseason form. But don't expect any victory laps in New England or acknowledgment that a good night in a usually tough environment in Denver was any sort of statement game.
"I think we're never satisfied, though," running back Rex Burkhead said a day after he recorded the blocked punt and opening score in the big win with a 14-yard touchdown catch. "Even though we may have played well last night, we're still not satisfied. We know we're not where we need to be yet. We have a lot of room for improvement and a long ways to go. It's still early in the season, so we've got to improve upon things if we really want to be where we want to be."
Even if the Patriots are at a pretty impressive place right now, building a foundation for yet another potential Super Bowl run. ...
Worth noting, the defending Super Bowl champions didn't return home after Sunday night's victory over the Broncos -- their 13th straight win away from Foxboro -- staying in Colorado for the week instead. The team will practice this week at the Air Force Academy near Colorado Springs, then head to Mexico City on Saturday for Sunday's game against the Raiders.
"That's the critical thing for this team is to get as much recovery in as possible before we head down to Mexico," running back Burkhead said on Monday. "It's different being out here all week preparing, but I think definitely beneficial for the team and something that will help us out for the week in preparation for Oakland."
Remaining in Colorado also helps them remain acclimated to the altitude -- a smooth transition from the 6,000 feet in Colorado Springs to the 7,300 feet in Mexico City, without coming back to virtual sea level in the Boston area.
The trip also gives the players a chance to bond that they don't usually get on the NFL's up-and-back, one-night road trips.
"It draws the team closer," Van Noy said. "You're spending all day with them, you're eating every meal with them and so you get to know teammates better and have a better time."
Other notes of interest. ... As ESPN.com's Mike Reiss notes, continuing to see expanded snaps as he rounds into form after missing four games due to a rib injury, Burkhead finished with three catches for 27 yards, and added 10 carries for 36 yards.
Lewis' 103-yard kickoff return was electric, and a credit to the entire kickoff-return unit: Jacob Hollister, Marquis Flowers, Jordan Richards, Brandon King, Brandon Bolden, Trevor Reilly, Nate Ebner, James Develin, Dwayne Allen, Matthew Slater and Lewis.
"We were loving it, we were running up the sideline," Burkhead said of Lewis' dazzling effort. "That's a big momentum play. D-Lew is an explosive player."
In a surprise development, Mike Gillislee was a surprise healthy scratch on Sunday night, missing his first game of the season after notching double-digit rushing attempts in seven of the first eight contests of his New England career.
For at least one night, Gillislee was the odd man out in a crowded and versatile Patriots backfield.
With Lewis once again taking the lead-back role, New England ran it enough (29 times for 99 yards) to balance out the offense in Denver. It was a solid effort against a top-five run defense, even if no Patriot averaged better than 4 yards a carry or had a run longer than 9 yards. Lewis led the way with a game-high 14 carries for 55 yards, including an 8-yard touchdown.
With Lewis and Burkhead leading the way, NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich pointed out that James White had just five touches for 18 total yards. The good news? He also caught a touchdown pass. It was clear that the Patriots' game plan was to attack Denver's defense with their crew of talented backs, and it was somewhat predictable.
Franciscovich added, "The big takeaway here is that Burkhead is trending up now that he's healthy."
Brady finished 25-of-34 for 266 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. His decision-making and accuracy was as good as it's been all season.
With arguably his best pass protection of the season, Tom Brady had one of his best career games in Denver completing 25 of 34 throws for 266 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions for a 125.4 passer rating. Sacked just once, Brady spread the ball to nine targets, with eight catching multiple balls, led by Brandin Cooks' six catches for 74 yards. Burkhead, White and Dwayne Allen all had short scores.
Chris Hogan (shoulder) was listed as out prior to the trip to Denver, missing his first game of the year coming out of the bye to the injury suffered against the Chargers that left him in a sling last week.
According to Reiss, Hogan is back in Foxboro receiving treatment on the injury. While the team hasn’t made any proclamation about his availability, it seems highly unlikely that Hogan is under consideration to play this week if he’s not working at altitude with the rest of the team.
Also according to Reiss, special teams captain Matthew Slater has returned home, which probably means he won’t play this week against the Raiders.
Slater suffered a hamstring injury Sunday night.
He missed four games earlier this year with a hamstring problem. And while special teams captains don’t often get much attention, the emphasis New England puts on them makes Slater’s absence a bigger deal. ...
Martellus Bennett made his season debut for the Patriots in Denver after joining the team off waivers from the Packers on Nov. 9. He caught three passes on just three targets. Rob Gronkowski pulled in four of seven targets with one of those not caught being a touchdown that was ruled incomplete. It appeared to be a catch, but officials didn't see enough evidence to overturn the ruling on the field when the Patriots requested a replay.
One last note here. ... Career win No. 270 pulled Belichick into a third-place tie with Tom Landry on the all-time head coaches list. Only Don Shula (347) and George Halas (324) have more victories.
QBs: Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer
RBs: Dion Lewis, Rex Burkhead, James White, Mike Gillislee, James Develin
WRs: Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola, Kenny Britt, Phillip Dorsett, Malcolm Mitchell, Matt Slater
TEs: Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen
New Orleans SaintsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 November 2017
As ESPN.com's Mike Triplett put it, "The New Orleans Saints are a runaway train, and they just steamrolled through one of the NFL's other surprise contenders with a 47-10 rout at Buffalo. ..."
The Saints' seventh straight win was by far their most impressive one yet, as they demoralized the Bills with a total of 298 rushing yards and a franchise-record six rushing touchdowns. The dynamic running back duo of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara each surpassed 100 rushing yards and 130 yards from scrimmage.
And according to ESPN Stats and Information, the Saints became the first NFL team since 1941 with six rushing TDs and zero punts in a game.
Only the Philadelphia Eagles (who have also won seven straight) are preventing the Saints from standing alone as the "hottest team in the NFL." But right now the two teams appear to be on a collision course for NFC supremacy.
And if the Saints (7-2) do wind up traveling to Philly in January, they have the kind of team that's built for it.
New Orleans' run game and defense have been the driving forces behind the team's longest win streak since 2011.
The Saints' defense held Buffalo to a total of 198 yards Sunday, not allowing a touchdown until the final two minutes of the game. And the D nearly scored a TD of its own, with defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins intercepting a pass and rumbling 27 yards on the return to Buffalo's 3-yard line in the third quarter.
Receiver Michael Thomas also had his best game of the season, with season-highs of nine catches and 117 yards. He has consistently been Drew Brees' primary target, catching at least three passes in every game and averaging more than six receptions per game.
But he had a season-high in catches Sunday in addition to surpassing his previous high in yards by 28.
But the story of this day was New Orleans' run game, from start to finish.
Ingram had three rushing touchdowns in a game for the first time in his career, finishing with 21 carries for 131 yards. Kamara, who came into the game leading the NFL with 6.0 yards per carry, improved that number with 106 yards and one touchdown on 12 carries. Kamara also caught five passes for 32 yards.
It was just the third time in Saints history where they had two running backs with more than 100 yards and a touchdown in the same game (Reggie Bush/Deuce McAllister in 2006 and Reuben Mayes/Craig Heyward in 1990).
The offensive line was healthier Sunday and it showed in the running game.
Right guard Larry Warford returned after a two-game absence due to an injured abdomen, and left tackle Terron Armstead returned after missing much of last week's game due to a chest injury.
The Saints' 298 rushing yards rank third in franchise history. It was the second time this year that the Saints ran for more yards than they passed for (194). Before this season, the Saints hadn't done that for eight years. The last time they did it with Brees playing quarterback was the last time they came to Buffalo in 2009.
Brees completed 18-of-25 passes for 184 yards. Even though Thomas had half of the catches, Brees still was able to connect with five other targets. The only blemish was a lost fumble by TE Josh Hill.
According to NFL.com's Matt Harmon, Willie Snead saw more playing time than Brandon Coleman and continues to trend up in that regard. It didn't matter. He did not see a target.
As a result of all this rushing dominance, Brees has still never thrown a TD pass in Buffalo in three career trips -- the only NFL team he's never thrown a road TD pass against.
But he still got in on the fun when he scrambled for a rare 7-yard rushing TD in the third quarter. ...
Head coach Sean Payton says running back and special teams player Daniel Lasco needs surgery for a bulging disc in his spine that will end his season but "won't be career-threatening."
Lasco, a second-year pro out of California-Berkeley, was taken from the field in an ambulance during the first half of a game in Buffalo on Sunday. Lasco collapsed after attempting to tackle Bills kick returner Brandon Tate. The Saints announced later that Lasco had feeling in his extremities when he was taken to a hospital.
Payton, who provided an update on Lasco on Monday, says Saints coaches and players were relieved that Lasco was able to fly home with the team Sunday evening and that "the prognosis is good."
The 25-year-old Lasco has played primarily on special teams in seven games last season and three games this season.
Meanwhile, running back Trey Edmunds made the roster as an undrafted rookie primarily because of his ability to play special teams. He did not touch the ball on offense before Sunday, but got an opportunity in the fourth quarter. Edmunds ran 41 yards for a touchdown and finished with nine carries for 48 yards.
And in what's likely a related note, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported Tuesday that New Orleans is signing running back Jonathan Williams off of the Broncos practice squad. As Profootballtalk.com notes, there’s no word on a corresponding move, but Lasco's spinal injury will end his season so that's a good bet for who Williams will be replacing on both the roster and the backfield depth chart.
Williams was a fifth-round pick of the Bills in 2016, but did not make the Buffalo roster out of training camp this summer. He ran 27 times for 94 yards as a rookie.
QBs: Drew Brees, Chase Daniel
RBs: Mark Ingram, Jonathan Williams, Alvin Kamara, Daniel Lasco
WRs: Michael Thomas, Ted Ginn, Willie Snead, Brandon Coleman, TommyLee Lewis
TEs: Josh Hill, Michael Hoomanawanui
New York GiantsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 November 2017
Ben McAdoo is staying as coach of the New York Giants, at least until the end of the season.
Giants co-owners John Mara and Steve Tisch issued a statement Monday saying while they are frustrated and disappointed with the Giants' 1-8 record, they won't evaluate the team and make any moves until the end of the season.
As Associated Press sports writer Tom Canavan noted, McAdoo's future has been a major topic the past two weeks in the wake of a 34-point home loss to the Los Angeles Rams a little more than a week ago, then an embarrassing loss to a San Francisco 49ers team that was winless until Sunday.
The owners said the 40-year-old McAdoo, who led their Giants to their first playoff berth since 2011 in his first season last year, has their support. The Giants have not fired a coach in the middle of the season since 1976.
"We are in the midst of an extremely disappointing season," the owners said in the statement. "Our performance this year, particularly the past two weeks, is inexcusable and frustrating. While we appreciate that our fans are unhappy with what has occurred, nobody is more upset than we are.
"Our plan is to do what we have always done, which is to not offer a running commentary on the season," the statement continued. "It is our responsibility to determine the reasons for our poor performance and at the end of the year, we will evaluate the 2017 season in its entirety and make a determination on how we move forward."
McAdoo was not sure how things would change with the owners' statement, a move seemingly made to calm things and stop weekly speculation.
"We'll have to see how everybody responds," McAdoo said late Monday afternoon. "Again, my focus is as it always is, on the week of preparation, to try to put a good plan together, help these coaches and players any way I can putting a good product on the field, and finding a way to get better."
As Canavan understated, the Giants have not done that much this season, and the product had been very ugly the past two weeks.
The stadium was more than half empty in the second half of the 51-17 loss to the Rams, and Sunday's loss had to be rock bottom.
"I am disappointed, but I am determined to find a way to get it fixed," McAdoo said "That's where my focus is. No one expected our record to be what it is at this point, or us to be playing the type of football we are playing at this point. But we are, and we are what our record says we are, and the film reflects it. We need to find a way to improve."
The situation got even tougher for McAdoo last week when two anonymous players were quoted by ESPN as saying he had lost the team, some players had quit, and that players were angry about an inordinate amount of fines.
The coach also caught some flak for suspending cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in the last month for violations of team rules. They are both popular with teammates.
McAdoo replaced Tom Coughlin as head coach last year and led the Giants to an 11-5 record in 2016. They were blown out by the Green Bay Packers in the wild-card game.
Much was expected this season with a good defense almost entirely returning and the offense bolstered by the signing of free agent receiver Brandon Marshall and the addition of tight end Evan Engram, the first-round draft pick.
General manager Jerry Reese made a calculated risk to keep a weak offensive line together in hopes that the blockers would blossom.
Almost everything went wrong.
Marshall was a bust, then he and offensive catalyst Odell Beckham suffered season-ending ankle injuries against the Chargers on Oct. 8 in the team's fifth straight loss.
The line has been horrible and banged-up for most of the season.
While the defense has played well at times, it has failed to hold fourth-quarter leads early in the season and given up way too many big plays lately.
Given all that's transpired to this point, it should come as no surprise to learn the Giants could be looking for a new coach and a new general manager, with McAdoo joined by Reese as former employees of the franchise.
According to New York Newsday's Bob Glauber, such move, coupled with the possibility of replacing quarterback Eli Manning, would be the most significant changes for the team since 1978, when they fired coach John McVay and G.M. Andy Robustelli and eventually got rid of quarterback Joe Pisarcik.
While McAdoo could still save himself and, in turn, Reese, the odds are stacked squarely against them.
Six of the final seven games come against viable playoff contenders, starting with the Chiefs and then a short-week, Thanksgiving night trip to Washington. ..
From a fantasy football perspective, the outlook isn't all that great either. But there was some production in San Francisco.
Manning started his 208th consecutive regular-season game against the 49ers, tying his brother, Peyton, for the second-longest consecutive starts streak by a quarterback in NFL history. Manning has started every Giants game since Nov. 21, 2004. He has also started 12 postseason games, including two Super Bowls.
Sterling Shepard led the Giants' receivers with career-high totals of 11 catches for 142 yards. His previous bests were eight receptions (for 117 yards) vs. New Orleans on Sept. 18, 2016, and 133 yards (on seven catches) at Philadelphia on Sept. 24.
Shepard was also the first Giants' receiver with at least 11 catches in a game since Beckham had 11 at Philadelphia on Dec. 22, 2016.
Evan Engram's nine-yard touchdown catch was his fifth touchdown reception of the season, tying Bob Tucker's franchise record for rookie tight ends, set in 1970. Engram has a touchdown reception in each of the last four games, the longest streak by a Giants player since receiver Rueben Randle caught a touchdown pass in each of the final four games of the 2015 season.
The Giants managed to record 114 yards on the ground, 70 of which were gained by Orleans Darkwa. As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich noted, New York was trailing for much of the game, so the huge fantasy production that might have been expected from Darkwa in such a favorable matchup didn't pan out.
It wasn't perfect there were a couple of rushing attempts for zero or negative yardage but the rushing offense was one of the most consistent of the Giants' units this week.
In fact, the Giants' offense was probably the best of the three units as far as consistency, but the defense, last year a top-10 overall unit, which although stricken by injuries this season, has failed miserably in taking the leap defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo was hoping to see after last year's success.
How bad was it?
The Giants' run defense, which last year finished third in the league, allowed 186 yards on the ground, their second highest total this season and the ninth time this year they've allowed over 100 yards to an opponent.
QBs: Eli Manning, Geno Smith, Davis Webb
RBs: Orleans Darkwa, Wayne Gallman, Shane Vereen, Paul Perkins
WRs: Sterling Shepard, Roger Lewis, Tavarres King, Travis Rudolph, Ed Eagan
TEs: Evan Engram, Jerell Adams, Rhett Ellison
New York JetsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 November 2017
Josh McCown is still the man under center for Todd Bowles and the New York Jets.
A day after his team dropped to 4-6 heading into its bye-week break, Bowles insisted he's not considering making a quarterback change from the 38-year-old veteran to either Christian Hackenberg or Bryce Petty.
"I'm not coming up with a scenario right now," Bowles said during a conference call Monday. "We're going to play the games, and we're going to try to win each one and take them one at a time. Josh will be our quarterback, and then we'll go from there."
As Associated Press sports writer Dennis Waszak Jr. reported, the Jets' playoff aspirations took a serious hit Sunday when New York fell 15-10 to short-handed Tampa Bay, which played without quarterback Jameis Winston and wide receiver Mike Evans. The loss prompted some fans and media to speculate as to when New York might give Hackenberg or Petty a look as the Jets play out the season.
"If something happens to Josh, and those two get ready to play, they'll play," Bowles said.
That "something" would be an injury, and that's not a far-fetched scenario -- particularly after all the pressure Tampa Bay put on McCown. He was sacked six times and the Buccaneers finished with 14 quarterback hits, sending McCown to the ground often.
McCown said it was "fair" to ask him about whether he felt sore a day later.
"It's part of the game," he said. "You just take the hits, so to speak, and move on. Thankfully, nothing major, and now we just take this time to heal up and utilize the bye and come back at it."
Bowles said the Jets' goal remains trying to win each game, and clearly believes McCown gives them the best chance to do so -- despite New York dropping four of its past five.
Some frustrated fans took to social media and New York-area sports radio to call for McCown to take a seat and for the Jets to see whether Hackenberg, a second-rounder last year, or Petty, a fourth-rounder in 2015, can establish themselves as the answer at quarterback for the future.
"My approach is that I give my all to the role that I'm in," McCown said of the buzz. "If that changes, then I'll adjust accordingly, but I don't really pay attention to what outside opinions are or any of that stuff."
McCown, in his first season in New York, had been mostly solid in his past few games entering Sunday, but has also had some interceptions that have helped lead to some losses.
Against the Buccaneers, McCown finished 23 of 39 for 262 yards with a touchdown and an interception while being harassed all day by the defense. That TD toss, though, was his career-high 14th of the season, making him the oldest quarterback to set a career best, according to the NFL. His previous high was 13 with Chicago in 2013, when he started five games for an injured Jay Cutler.
"Really, that number needs to be a lot higher, to be honest with you, in my opinion," McCown said. "I just look back at the few touchdowns that we've had taken away and other things that I feel like I could've done better to have more."
McCown, in his 15th NFL season, is also closing in on another personal milestone. His 2,242 yards passing are just 269 fewer than his career high of 2,511 set with Arizona in 2004.
"I'm pleased with how I'm playing," said McCown, whose 69.0 percent completion rate ranks third in the NFL. "Some of the things that I've set out to do for myself personally, just with different markers that I want to hit and things that I'm looking for as far as playing good football and stuff like that, I feel really good about.
"Obviously, we can always do better and want to do better. But considering coming together with a new group and everything, I'm just really proud to be a part of it and feel really good about the things that we've been able to do. I would say I like how I've played and like what we're doing and believe that these next six games, we can get even better."
McCown has never played a full 16-game season, with the most being 14 -- including 13 starts -- in 2004 with the Cardinals.
If he hits that career milestone, he knows that it likely means good news for the Jets during a season in which expectations outside the facility were extraordinarily low.
"It's something I haven't done throughout my career, for one reason or the other, whether it's injury or what not, and so to be able to do that, I would be proud of that," McCown said.
"More than anything, just hopefully to be there helping our team make a push to be there in the playoff hunt in the end, that's the key. So, absolutely, as long as that is what it's about, then I'd be all for that."
For the record, as ESPN.com's Rich Cimini noted, the Jets allowed 14 quarterback hits, including six sacks to a team that entered the day with a league-low eight. The Bucs didn't do anything exotic, just a standard four-man rush.
In fact, they used four or fewer rushers on 38 of 45 dropbacks by the Jets. All six sacks came via a standard rush, the most by the Bucs since 2009.
The Jets' running game was equally inept -- 56 yards on 19 carries.
Take away Bilal Powell's 21-yard run, and the Jets averaged only 1.9 yards per carry. As Bowles said, "They did a good job of playing in our backfield."
The line is the Jets' most inconsistent position group.
Meanwhile, Matt Forte missed Sunday's game due to swelling in his surgically-repaired knee and Bowles said Monday he had "not yet" received an update from the training staff on if the 31-year-old can play in two weeks against the Panthers.
Forte's absence put the spotlight on Powell and he flopped.
Aside from a 21-yard run in the first quarter, Powell had nine carries for nine yards and a crucial fumble late in the third quarter after his only pass reception. Coming into the game, Powell had fumbled only five times, losing one, in 805 offensive touches. Elijah McGuire also had a subpar game, with 22 yards on eight carries. ...
With Jeremy Kerley suspended until the Jets' Week 15 game in New Orleans, the offense is in need of another playmaker.
Robby Anderson has been the team's most consistent weapon, with touchdown catches in four straight games, and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins continued his strong play with six catches for 67 yards on Sunday. But Jermaine Kearse has had more than 38 receiving yards only once in the last seven games, and rookies ArDarius Stewart and Chad Hansen have yet to be fully ingratiated in the offense.
Stewart, a third-round pick out of Alabama, tweaked his groin last week at practice and was used sparingly on Sunday, while Hansen, a fourth-round selection out of Cal, played 48 snaps and made his first three career catches for 33 yards.
"They did OK," Bowles said about his rookie receivers on Monday. "They got their feet wet with a little more playing time. They can do a little more, but they did fine. They fared well."
QBs: Bryce Petty, Christian Hackenberg
RBs: Matt Forte, Bilal Powell, Elijah McGuire
WRs: Robby Anderson, Jermaine Kearse, Neal Sterling, Chad Hansen, ArDarius Stewart
TEs: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Eric Tomlinson, Will Tye, Jordan Leggett
Oakland RaidersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 November 2017
According to ESPN.com's Paul Gutierrez, one positive to come out of the Oakland Raiders' bye weekend: At 4-5, they did not lose any ground in the AFC West as both the Denver Broncos and Los Angeles Chargers lost to fall to 3-6, and the first-place Kansas City Chiefs (6-3) were idle.
Another encouraging development: No Raiders receivers dropped a pass.
Yes, the irony is dripping off your screen much like the stickum did off Fred Biletnikoff's hands. And arms. And shoulder pads. And helmet. And legs.
Because this much is true: Despite the Raiders' oft-high-powered offense of recent vintage, Oakland has issues holding on to the ball.
Amari Cooper, already a two-time Pro Bowler, entered the weekend leading the NFL with 10 dropped passes, per Profootballfocus.com, and those 10 were three more than any other player.
Gutierrez went on to concede the Raiders played in wet conditions the past two times they took the field, in Buffalo and Miami, which contributed to their case of the dropsies. But the Bills and Dolphins played in the same conditions, and their pass-catchers did not experience nearly the same issues.
"One thing about our culture here is we're not scared to tell the truth," offensive coordinator Todd Downing said. "If there is a hiccup like that, we do address it very directly. ... It's not like anyone is going out there and intentionally dropping passes or having a lack of focus and not finishing the route on purpose or something like that."
Downing told Gutierrez the Raiders pore over game film in an effort to figure out why catchable balls are ending up on the ground.
"If it's a certain route type or if it's a certain ball placement," Downing said. "Or if it's a certain way they're cutting, an in-cutter, an out-cutter, breaking to his right or breaking to his left. Those are the things that we have to drill down and that's the job of coaches to get their players better. Identify the problem areas and continue to work."
Should Cooper lead the league in PFF's drops rankings again, it would be the third straight year a Raiders receiver would accomplish that ignominious feat. Michael Crabtree's 13 drops were the most in the NFL last year, and Cooper had 18 as a rookie in 2015.
Cooper's game-breaking ability makes his drop rate all the more confounding.
After all, this is a guy who, in an on-again, off-again rain against the Kansas City Chiefs on Oct. 19, went off with 11 catches for 210 yards and two touchdowns, the second-highest yardage mark in franchise history.
"I just play, man," Cooper said. "Try to play good every week, but if it doesn't happen, I just move on. But if I do play good, I do the same thing."
Early in the season, Cooper said he simply was turning to run before securing the ball.
Consider: In the Chiefs game, Cooper was targeted 19 times, and that jibes with Downing's philosophy.
"You never want to show a lack of confidence in someone just because they had a hiccup of a drop," Downing said. "We understand that people work extremely hard at their craft out here. I trust that those players are going to step up to the plate and do a better job on their next opportunity. You'll never see me losing confidence in someone because of a hiccup like that."
In fact, Downing or a staffer might just break out a Gatorade bottle filled with water and squirt down a ball in practice.
Yes, to make it slick and resemble a potential wet-game scenario.
"We certainly have done a decent amount of that the last few weeks," Downing said.
"We sit out there and play catch. Not only taking snaps under center with a wet ball, but throwing to receivers. Yeah, we've definitely put some time into that. Any ways we identify as problem areas we can work on, we will and have. We'll continue to try to get better at."
What's the weather forecast for Mexico City, then, where the Raiders will play host to the New England Patriots on Sunday?
Sunny and 71 degrees with zero percent chance of rain. ...
Meanwhile, asked if he expects Marshawn Lynch's workload to increase in the second half of the season, Gutierrez quoted Lynch himself, "Really doe."
Lynch returned recharged to the Raiders after serving his one-game suspension, and the Raiders used him properly, so to speak, in Miami. Even with Oakland having a tough go of getting the run going early against Ndamukong Suh and a tough Dolphins run defense, the Raiders stuck with it and it paid off.
Lynch rushed for two touchdowns -- a vintage Beast Mode rumble from 22 yards out and another from the 3-yard line -- and the run game also set up Derek Carr's play-action passing game.
In general, an anemic 87.6-yard average that ranks 26th in the NFL has struggled to assimilate Lynch (323 yards, 3.8 average) to the system. Weeks 1 and 9 were basically it as far as Lynch contributing to a win. The yards per carry are also down for Jalen Richard (4.3) and DeAndre Washington (2.9), the second-year change-of-pace backs.
Offensive line hasn't been the same in terms of pushing other teams back.
Given the team's need to catch fire if they have plans to return to the playoffs, and getting Lynch and the running game going would be the best avenue.
A few final notes here. ... Jared Cook is on pace for 69 receptions, which would be the most for a Raiders tight end since Brandon Myers had 79 in 2012. ...
The Oakland Raiders have decide to shut down first-round draft pick Gareon Conley so he can concentrate on 2018. Conley was placed on injured reserve Monday effectively ending his season. He would be eligible to return to the active roster in eight weeks, but that would be Jan. 8.
A lingering shin injury sustained during organized team activities went on longer than anyone anticipated, with Conley healing up enough to play well in a Week 2 win over the New York Jets, but struggling in Week 3 against Washington.
QBs: Derek Carr, E.J. Manuel, Connor Cook
RBs: DeAndre Washington, Jalen Richard, Marshawn Lynch
WRs: Michael Crabtree, Amari Cooper, Seth Roberts, Cordarrelle Patterson, Johnny Holton
TEs: Jared Cook, Lee Smith, Clive Walford
Philadelphia EaglesCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 November 2017
Don't look now, but with 23 passing touchdowns and just five interceptions, Carson Wentz has emerged as one of the best players in football regardless of position.
Head coach Doug Pederson has proven to be an excellent play-caller. He and his staff have done an outstanding job of bringing along Wentz in his second season.
The Eagles quarterback has outstanding in-pocket mobility to extend plays and out-of-pocket mobility to hurt a defense with his legs. He has made enormous strides as a thrower and rectified some of the mechanics concerns from 2016, leading the Eagles to an NFL-best 8-1 record.
Especially noteworthy, Wentz is 15-for-45 for 665 yards, six touchdowns and three interceptions on throws of 20 yards or more.
Interestingly, his two outside wide receivers - Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith - have just four of those 16 completions. Jeffery has been targeted 14 times by Wentz on throws of 20-plus yards. He has just two catches (for 90 yards) and one touchdown. Smith has been targeted 11 times and has two catches for 81 yards and a TD.
Overall, Jeffery has been targeted 73 times by Wentz this season and has 34 catches. His 46.6 catch rate is the lowest of his career. But he leads the team in third-down receptions (13) and has five touchdown catches. His chemistry with Wentz is a work in progress.
"I think it's always evolving," wide receivers coach Mike Groh said. "It's not going to all of a sudden just arrive and then be there. It's going to be constantly evolving. The more that those two work one on one with each other and in group settings and practice and games, the better (the chemistry) will get.
Aiding the offense greatly, right tackle Lane Johnson is having the best season of his career. Two weeks ago, he dominated one of the league's best edge rushers, the Broncos' Von Miller.
"I just think he's made his mind up that he wants to be a dominating player," offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland said. "And whatever it takes from his standpoint (he's going to do). From the time he walks in here to the time he leaves, it's all business for Lane. Lane's a worker. He's always had that in him, but it's gone to another level now."
Johnson is a factor in both the passing attack and the ground game.
Through nine games, the Eagles are third in the league in rushing (136.8 yards per game) and fifth in rush average (4.3 yards per carry). They headed into the bye with an impressive 197-yard rushing effort against one of the league's top run defenses, the Broncos.
The Eagles averaged 9.4 yards per carry on first down against the Broncos. The addition of Jay Ajayi, who had a 46-yard touchdown run against the Broncos, is going to make the Eagles tough to stop down the stretch.
But how should fantasy owners handle the backfield going forward?
According to ESPN.com's Tim McManus, Ajayi is expected to take over as the lead back before long, and that timeline was probably accelerated by his eight-carry, 77-yard performance in his first game in an Eagles uniform, which included a 46-yard touchdown run. LeGarrette Blount and surprise rookie Corey Clement will remain in the mix, but Ajayi is likely to get the most opportunities moving forward.
On the injury front. ... Tight end Zach Ertz, who sat out the Eagles' 53-21 pre-bye week win over Denver with a tight hamstring, practiced Monday and was on the field again Wednesday, but wasn't ready to say he'll definitely play Sunday night against Dallas.
It's something I'll be following up on via Late-Breaking Updates section in coming days. ...
One last note. ... Caleb Sturgis is eligible to come off injured reserve, but it doesn't sound like the Eagles are going to make a change. Jake Elliott is having a historic season and it appears to have won him the job if he continues kicking as he has.
"I would say right now there's no reason to make a change," special teams coordinator Dave Fipp said. "But at the end of the day, Jake's still got to improve, too. We've got to improve as a group in our operation. But right now, I'm definitely not looking to make a change. But at the end of the day, it's a performance-based business. We all know that."
Elliott set the franchise record for field goals of 50-plus yards in a season. He has connected on 17 of 20 field goals, although he missed three extra points in the last two games.
The misses haven't necessarily been his fault. Coach Doug Pederson said Monday the Eagles haven't made any decisions about Sturgis.
Looking at the bigger picture, while the Eagles might have preferred to see their competition for the top seed in the NFC lose this weekend, they'll have to settle for the nod of best team in football.
But it's worth noting the schedule skews tough for the Eagles through mid-December. Four of their next five games are on the road, including Sunday's critical matchup against the Cowboys in Dallas. The Eagles also face the Seahawks, Rams and Giants on the road, mixing in a game against the Bears at home.
They finish with home matchups against the Raiders and Cowboys, although there's a reasonable chance Philly might lock up the No. 1 seed before facing Dallas again in Week 17.
QBs: Nick Foles
RBs: LeGarrette Blount, Jay Ajayi, Corey Clement, Wendell Smallwood, Kenjon Barner
WRs: Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, Nelson Agholor, Mack Hollins, Shelton Gibson
TEs: Zach Ertz, Trey Burton, Brent Celek
Pittsburgh SteelersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 November 2017
As ESPN.com's Jeremy Fowler suggested, for a player depicted as self-centered after public and private trade requests, Martavis Bryant turned in quite the team-first performance for the Steelers in Indianapolis.
The receiver got a two-point conversion when they had to have it. His 19-yard crossing route in a two-minute drill that head coach Mike Tomlin called "enormous" helped seal Sunday's 20-17 win over the Colts. And his words matched the effort.
"We didn't lose faith," Bryant said from his locker.
With Antonio Brown producing modestly for the third straight week, the Steelers survived back-to-back road games -- key word: survived -- with timely playmaking from the supporting cast, which has been a theme all year.
The Steelers' erratic passing game is hardly solved, but the roles are now clear cut.
JuJu Smith-Schuster is 1A. With 17 targets, 290 yards and two touchdowns the past two weeks, his role is undeniable. His chemistry with Ben Roethlisberger is growing. The team is 5-0 when he scores a touchdown. His 44-yard snag on the go route was exactly what the Steelers have needed, fighting through traffic to strong-arm a big gain.
"Man, I hope Ben throws me a go ball," Smith-Schuster said as he described his inner voice while bolting down the sideline. "I haven't gotten one yet before. He threw it, all I knew in my head is, 'I've got to make this play.'"
In many ways, Smith-Schuster is making the big plays imagined for Bryant as the team started the year. Bryant was suspended for commenting on social media that Smith-Schuster is "nowhere near" as good as him, but since then, Smith-Schuster's production has been worthy enough.
But Bryant as the specialty option can be highly effective, as the Steelers saw in spurts Sunday. The Steelers made just about every miscue possible on offense, and Bryant still had an impact as the deep ball/reverse/over-the-middle player.
If the passing game finally ignites full time -- and as Fowler conceded, that's a sizable "if" -- Bryant will get more big-play chances, particularly over the middle, where he's been underused.
As Roethlisberger walked out of an empty locker room after his news conference, I asked if he'd keep taking deep shots to Bryant. The two have missed on most of them this year, including an interception on the game's second play, in which Roethlisberger admits he threw too far inside.
Roethlisberger said he hopes so, and he'll keep trying.
"I thought he made some plays for us," Roethlisberger said about Bryant. "None bigger than the last one he made. Hopefully, we see more and more every week."
Bryant (three catches, 42 yards) made clear he wanted out of Pittsburgh because of his reduced role, but he has maintained he supports all his teammates and will work hard while he's here. And the Steelers clearly haven't lost faith, with Le'Veon Bell calling him a special player after the game.
Bryant and the Steelers seem to be in a slightly better place than a few weeks ago.
"It's great to win, man. It's been a long road," Bryant said. "Obviously, I've got a long way to go and got a lot of work ahead. It's good to get this win, but now it's on to the next one."
Like most weeks, Brown (three catches, 47 yards) saw a healthy dose of double-teams. When that happens, Brown isn't afraid to tell teammates they need to loosen things up by winning one-on-ones.
That happened Sunday, at least for one half. Sprinkle in a little tight end action with Vance McDonald (two catches, 16 yards and a score) and the Steelers might not be far off from the passing-game balance they seek.
"Everyone can make plays, no matter who's in the game. It shows everyone can get the touches," Smith-Schuster said.
Still, in general, it's looking more and more like the Steelers defense is going to have to carry the team into the postseason. The offense continues to struggle scoring while the defense continues to limit opponents from scoring.
After giving up 17 points in the first 32 minutes of the game Sunday, the defense pitched a shutout over the final 28 minutes to help the Steelers secure the win.
It was the seventh time in the first nine games the Steelers have given up 18 points or fewer.
The troubles on offense are plain to see and frustrations are beginning to boil over. CBS cameras caught offensive coordinator Todd Haley telling Roethlisberger to shut up, plus a few other words.
The confusion on the Steelers' 2-point conversion typifies what's going on with that unit. The Steelers were forced to call a timeout after a Roethlisberger touchdown pass to McDonald because they could not get aligned correctly. After the timeout, Roethlisberger had to take a delay of game penalty when Bryant lined up wrong.
In the end, it didn't cost the Steelers because Roethlisberger completed the 7-yard pass to Bryant for the conversion on a different play call. But the miscues are representative of the problems the unit faces.
The Steelers are averaging 20.8 points per game. Their stated goal before the season was to average 30 points per game.
"We have to be better on offense," Tomlin said. "We have to be better winning some third-down situations. We'll get back in the lab and go to work. ..."
The Steelers averaged just 2.9 yards per carry against a defense that entered the game 26th in the NFL in rush defense. Bell had 80 yards, but he needed 26 carries to do it. His longest run of the day was 15 yards. The inability to run led to the Steelers having to rely on the pass to win.
It worked against the Colts, but the Steelers are going to need a stronger running game to get past better teams.
A few final notes. ... McDonald injured an ankle in the game. The team will wait to see how he progresses during the short week heading into Thursday night's game against the Titans. I'll have more on his status when Late-Breaking Updates begin early Thursday.
Cornerback Joe Haden has a fractured fibula in his left leg and has been ruled out for the Thursday night game against the Titans. Tomlin said the Steelers will not immediately place on Haden on injured reserve because they want to give him an opportunity to play again during the regular season if he is able. Estimates for Haden's return are 4-6 weeks, but Tomlin reiterated Monday that it could be a shorter period or a longer period. They just have to wait to see how the bone heals. ...
Remember, the Steelers and Patriots own the conference's best record, but the Titans are only one game behind them with a 6-3 record. The winner will be in great position to challenge the Patriots for the top seed in the AFC while the loser will have an uphill climb to get the top spot.
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 Francisco 49ersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 November 2017
As ESPN.com's Nick Wagoner put it, "From the moment the 49ers acquired quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo on Halloween, the reality was he would eventually trade his backup quarterback costume in and assume the mantle of starting quarterback.
"Chances are, that will happen as early as the Niners' next game, which is Nov. 26 against the Seattle Seahawks. ..."
If and when that happens, rookie quarterback C.J. Beathard will return to the reserve role he held at the beginning of the season. If Sunday's game against the New York Giants was Beathard's last start before handing the job over to Garoppolo, there's no doubt that he left a strong, lasting impression.
In what was easily the best performance of his young career, Beathard took advantage of an opponent with as many injury issues and more problems as his own team in leading the 49ers to their first victory of the season. With Sunday's 31-21 win, the 49ers gave Kyle Shanahan his first victory as a head coach. The 49ers did it on the strength of Beathard's big day.
One week after Beathard looked the part of designated tackling dummy, taking 16 hits in a loss to Arizona, Beathard and the Niners welcomed back left tackle Joe Staley from a fractured orbital bone under his right eye. Staley immediately stabilized the offensive line and Beathard capitalized on the cleanest pocket he has had to work with since he became the starter on Oct. 22. The Giants hit Beathard just two times and he was not sacked after taking 16 sacks in his previous four games.
In addition to the usual grit and toughness, Beathard produced.
The rookie finished with 288 yards on 19-of-25 passing. He added two passing touchdowns and an interception for a passer rating of 123.4. His 83-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Marquise Goodwin was the best throw of his career. And he chipped in his third rushing score of the year, an 11-yard run on third-and-2 that essentially put the Giants away and gave the 49ers their first two-score lead of the season.
In a game that featured two teams with one win between them entering Sunday, one could argue that the Niners' victory is counterproductive as it will only hurt their chances at the top draft pick. Those arguments are understandable but nobody, especially the 49ers, wants to go winless.
And for a Niners team that has come close and fallen short so many times this year, a victory is a reward for a whole lot of hard work that has yet to yield anything but disappointments.
Now, as the 49ers head into their long-awaited bye week, they can use the time to rest up, get healthy and continue getting Garoppolo ready for the final six games of the season. And if, as expected, Garoppolo gets the call to start against the Seahawks, Beathard can head back to the sidelines with some much-needed confidence.
To be sure, the Giants offered little in the way of resistance, as best seen on 49ers tight end Garrett Celek's 47-yard catch-and-run touchdown in which no New York defender seemed interested in tackling him. All the same, Beathard was calm and poised, showing no signs of the wear and tear one might expect from a quarterback who has taken the beating that he has over the past few weeks.
As Wagoner added, the chances that Beathard was ever going to do enough to be the Niners' long-term starter were always slim. But as the Niners get set to turn the page to the guy they hope is their long-term starter, Beathard sent a message that he could at least be the team's backup quarterback of the future by delivering a win-starved franchise its first victory of the season.
Meanwhile, the day surely didn't start out the way Shanahan wanted Sunday.
That's what made the ending all the more sweeter.
Shanahan met first thing with Goodwin, whose infant son had died overnight as a result of complications in his wife's pregnancy.
"I've been with players who lost one of their parents the days before games. I think everyone reacts differently to that stuff," the coach said. "I've had some people who a death happens and they can't see anyone, and they have to go home right away. You totally understand that and respect it.
"I know Marquise was hurting bad, real bad. He was adamant he wanted to play. You don't want someone just to tell it to you because that's what you want to hear as a coach. You want someone to tell it to you because they mean it. And you could tell 'Quise meant it."
Then something amazing happened, almost as if planned. The 49ers scripted a touchdown celebration for a guy who hadn't scored all season, and then were able to put it in action following an 83-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter.
Goodwin dropped to his knees in the end zone following the score and, surrounded by teammates, pointed the football toward the heavens in about a 10-second, silent tribute.
"When he scored, I knew we were going to get a delay of game. I knew he was going to be in that end zone for a while, so I planned for it," Shanahan noted. "Fortunately, the refs gave us a little more time than usual."
It was Goodwin's first touchdown catch of the season, and the longest for a 49er since wideout Brandon Lloyd hauled in an 83-yarder against the St. Louis Rams in 2014. ...
Also. ... Celek's 47-yard receiving touchdown against the Giants was the eighth TD of Celek's career and his second of the season.
Other notes of interest. ... Make no mistake: This was a pass-driven offense Sunday. The season-best rushing numbers were good, too, but mostly in a complementary role. Still, it was nice to see that Carlos Hyde and Matt Breida could co-exist, with Goodwin and Beathard adding to the fun.
Breida recorded the longest touchdown run by a 49er this season with a 33-yarder against the Giants. The run was the longest of his career.
As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich noted, Hyde racked up 104 total yards against the Giants, including 98 rush yards in his team's first win of the season. He remains the lead back as he played 43 snaps compared to Breida's 16 in the game. ...
One last note here. ... Free safety Adrian Colbert (broken thumb) was able to play through the injury Sunday to participate in all 66 defensive snaps in the win over the New York Giants. The 49ers announced Monday the injury will require surgery at some point. No decision has been made as to when that will be or whether Colbert might be able to keep playing.
QBs: Jimmy Garoppolo, C.J. Beathard
RBs: Carlos Hyde, Matt Breida, Raheem Mostert, Kyle Juszczyk
WRs: Marquise Goodwin, Aldrick Robinson, Trent Taylor, Kendrick Bourne, Victor Bolden
TEs: George Kittle, Garrett Celek, Logan Paulsen
Seattle SeahawksCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 November 2017
The Seahawks violated the NFL's concussion protocol Thursday night when they allowed Russell Wilson to re-enter their game against the Arizona Cardinals without going to the locker room and being cleared by a team doctor and an independent physician, a source close to the situation told ESPN's Adam Schefter last week.
The NFL said on Friday a review is underway for a possible violation of the league's concussion policy Thursday night when Wilson was sent off the field for a test.
The Seahawks are expected to face consequences because once an official removed Wilson from the game to be examined, the star quarterback was required to go through the protocol, and he did not.
The NFL and NFL Players Association will jointly review the situation, interview members of the Seahawks organization early this week and come to a decision within the next couple of weeks, according to a source.
A league spokesman told Schefter that the NFL has not conducted any interviews yet, so it has not reached any conclusions regarding Wilson and the protocol.
The Seahawks can be fined up to $150,000, although it's unclear what their penalty will be. The NFL announced Friday that it was conducting a "thorough review" of the situation.
The play in question occurred midway through the third quarter of the Seahawks' 22-16 win over the Cardinals, when Wilson absorbed a hit to the chin from linebacker Karlos Dansby. Wilson did not show any obvious signs of a concussion, but referee Walt Anderson invoked his right to send Wilson off the field for a test.
The NFL concussion policy states that a player believed to have concussion symptoms cannot return to "practice or play" unless a team physician and an independent neurological consultant clear him. This season, the league added a blue sideline tent to allow the initial test to be administered in private.
With backup Austin Davis in the game, NBC's broadcast showed Wilson running to the sideline and then sitting down in the area where the tent would be pulled over him. But Wilson got back up before medical officials had a chance to join him and then replaced Davis after one play.
Wilson was on the field for two more plays before the Seahawks punted. During the change of possession, Wilson entered the tent and remained there for a longer period of time. He was on the field when the Seahawks regained possession.
Beyond Wilson head coach Pete Carroll provided a rundown of his team's injury situation on Monday. In addition to losing Richard Sherman for the season due to an Achilles injury the Seahawks had several other players exit the game early, and others who missed the 22-16 win over the Cardinals, but are hoping to get back this week.
The latter category includes safety Earl Thomas, who has missed the past two games with a hamstring injury, but looks to be on track to return this week. Fellow safety Kam Chancellor sustained a stinger in Thursday's game, leaving his status in question this week.
In talking about a running game that "just hasn't been the way we want it to be," Carroll noted that a couple of players could be coming back from injuries soon to help in that area: left guard Luke Joeckel and running back Chris Carson.
Carson, who opened the season as Seattle's starting running back, is currently on injured reserve, but teams can return two players from IR after eight weeks, and Carroll indicated the rookie back is a candidate to do just that.
"We haven't been as we would like," Carroll said of the running game. "We really felt a direction, Chris really took us off in a direction, we really thought we had something special going there, which I think we saw… He's coming back too. He has a chance to make it back. There's a chance, yeah. He is doing remarkably well in his rehab.
"So (running back) has been in flux, it hasn't been steady, and it's been like that for more than this season."
The status of Seattle's new left tackle was already going to be a big topic this week after he left Thursday night's injury-filled win over the Arizona Cardinals late in the second quarter and didn't return. But Brown's availability for next Monday night's game against the Falcons looks even more important in light of what happened Sunday.
Falcons defensive end Adrian Clayborn sacked quarterback Dak Prescott six times in Atlanta's win over the Dallas Cowboys. That's tied for the second most in NFL history, one shy of the league record owned by Kansas City Chiefs great Derrick Thomas. Five of Clayborn's six sacks came against backup left tackle Chaz Green, who was benched midway through the fourth quarter. Byron Bell replaced him and gave up Clayborn's sixth sack. Green was filling in for injured All-Pro Tyron Smith.
It's a position the Seahawks could find themselves in Monday night depending on how quickly Brown can recover. Matt Tobin replaced him against Arizona and, predictably, had a hard time blocking Chandler Jones. Rees Odhiambo, who started the first seven games before the Seahawks acquired Brown, was unavailable after being put on injured reserve a day earlier.
In general, Seattle's offense seems fundamentally flawed given how its offseason plans have failed.
As ESPN.com noted, Joeckel and Eddie Lacy did not pan out before getting hurt, with offensive line coach Tom Cable's vaunted eye for run-blocking offensive linemen continuing to look in desperate need of an exam. The Seahawks' running game is nonexistent outside of Wilson's heroics.
This past week, Thomas Rawls had a 23-yard carry. J.D. McKissic had a 17-yard carry. And yet, the Seahawks' running backs managed just 56 yards on 18 total carries against Arizona
Seattle's running backs are 29th in yards per carry (3.2), 30th in first-down percentage (14.6 percent), and tied for 30th in rushing touchdowns (one). Increasingly, this is a team that depends entirely on Wilson to carry the load and make one or two magical plays per game.
Seattle's margin of error in winning that way is extremely slim and requires the defense to play at a high level.
The schedule won't do them any favors, either. After hosting the Falcons and traveling to play the 49ers, the Seahawks face one of the toughest four-game stretches any team in the league will play this season. Seattle will travel to play the Jaguars and Cowboys while hosting the Eagles and Rams.
That Week 15 Rams tilt could very well decide the NFC West, and while it takes place in the Pacific Northwest, it's hard to argue that the Seahawks were the better team the first time those two squared off.
The Seahawks have turned things on during second halves of past years, but it feels like they're already running on fumes with two months left.
As NFL.com's Matt Harmon pointed out, Jimmy Graham isn't ripping big plays downfield at this stage, but he's been a scoring-area monster of late. He hauled in two touchdowns inside the 10-yard line against the Cardinals. Over his last three games, he has seven red zone targets and has hauled in four touchdowns.
In addition, Blair Walsh bounced back from three field-goal misses against Washington to convert all four kicks against Arizona.
One last note here. ... C.J. Prosise injured his left ankle after having it caught underneath a tackler in the third quarter. Prosise had missed all but two snaps of the previous five games due to a sprained right ankle and now he'll miss more.
On Tuesday, the Seahawks promoted running back Mike Davis from the practice squad and placed Prosise on injured reserve in a corresponding move.
I'll obviously be following up on all the injury- and performance-related issues for the Seahawks when Late-Breaking Updates commence early Thursday; watch for more in coming days.
QBs: Russell Wilson, Austin Davis
RBs: J.D. McKissic, Mike Davis, Eddie Lacy, Thomas Rawls, Tre Madden
WRs: Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett, Paul Richardson, Tanner McEvoy, Amara Darboh
TEs: Jimmy Graham, Luke Willson, Nick Vannett
Tampa Bay BuccaneersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 November 2017
Quarterback Jameis Winston will play again this season for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers regardless of their record, head coach Dirk Koetter said Monday.
Barring a setback to his shoulder, the plan is for Winston to eventually be back under center in 2017. Doctors have told him to sit out at least two weeks and he will be re-evaluated following Sunday's game at Miami.
But general manager Jason Licht has said Winston could miss an extended period of time. They want the sprained AC joint in his right throwing shoulder to heal as much as possible.
When asked Monday if he believed Winston would play again in 2017, Koetter didn't mince words.
"I do," Koetter said. "From what I know, I do. But again, it was rest him for two weeks, see where he's at. We talked to multiple doctors. That's what the plan is. There's really nothing to add to that right now. I know Jameis is planning on playing again and there's been no discussion between Jason, myself of him not playing again. That would all be something that would have to come up in the future."
The Bucs will start backup Ryan Fitzpatrick Sunday against the Dolphins. Fitzpatrick passed for 187 yards with a touchdown and an interception in a 15-10 win over the Jets Sunday.
But Koetter said he would also like to see Ryan Griffin get his first regular-season NFL action before 2017 is over, although he said the Bucs would not force it.
"Ryan Fitzpatrick will be our starter this week, we know that much because Jameis will be out again this week," Koetter said. "And Ryan Griffin will go into the week as a backup. If the opportunity ever presented itself, it would be good while we have this situation to get Ryan Griffin into a game and he's been doing well in practice. But it would never be just because we want to see him get into a game. It would have to be the right opportunity and we'll have to see if that ever comes up or not."
While Fitzpatrick was pleased with the victory, he said he expects to play better.
"I love 300-yard games," Fitzpatrick said. "But at this point in my career, with where I'm at, the wins are awesome. They're hard to come by. You have years like this where we lost five games in a row and you start to realize with the year I had last year in New York, it's a tough business. It's hard to win in this league. So I'll take them however they come.
"That wasn't my best effort. I can play better than I did today and I don't think it has anything to do with getting comfortable or feeling guys out. I just think it's about me going in there and doing a better job. The one thing, stepping into this role, it's not like I'm stepping into a role and we're going to try to manufacture some things because we don't have talent. There's so much talent on this offense that it's fun to get into this role and have Dirk call the offense and have him really know the guys and for me to be able to step in and do my best.
Fitzpatrick did his job stepping in for Winston, completing 17-of-34 passing attempts for 187 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He got rid of the ball quickly as pressure loomed. He took off immediately when no options were available.
The only major error he had was the pick. (It would have been two, had it not been for an illegal contact penalty on the Jets' defense.)
"Gritty, that's what Ryan is," said Koetter. "That's what Ryan is. He's a 'get it done' kind of guy. He's going to make some plays you maybe don't expect him to and he might miss a couple plays you'd like him to make. But he's a tough guy and a competitor. You can't have enough of those guys on the team."
Meanwhile, as ESPN.com's Jenna Laine noted, the Bucs' ground game -- the engine that makes their run-first offense go -- continued to struggle early on, with just 43 yards heading into the fourth quarter. It wasn't until Charles Sims' 21-yard run in the fourth quarter that the unit, or the offense, showed any viable threat to score.
Sims then caught a 6-yard touchdown on a slant route, giving the Bucs a 15-3 lead. They finished with 90 yards on the ground.
"We just dug deep. We competed," said Sims, who despite the big run, finished with 20 total rushing yards because of defensive plays made behind the line of scrimmage. Still, this moment was a long time coming for him and the Bucs running backs, who hadn't scored a touchdown in nearly a month. "It just felt good to win. It felt good to win. We're just doing it one game at a time, one win at a time. That's all we've got control of. One game at a time."
As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich noted, Doug Martin has been a bust for over a month now, averaging just 2.8 yards per carry over his last five games.
Overall on offense, the Bucs moved the ball well but had too many wasted opportunities. They got a 44-yard punt return from Bernard Reedy, starting their third offensive possession from the 50-yard line. Yet four plays later, they were punting from 4 yards behind that.
Then, after an interception, Fitzpatrick threw it back into the Jets' hands with a pick of his own.
Make no mistake about it -- at 3-6 and with three consecutive road games ahead, it would take a miracle for the Bucs to reach the playoffs.
And miracles are hard to come by with an offense that continues to underachieve, scoring just two offensive touchdowns in the last 12 quarters of play, despite having one of the most talented groups in the league. That said, the Bucs showed they still have it in them to play hard for their coaches and haven't given up, even if many around them have. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Receiver Freddie Martino was released Monday to make room for Mike Evans to come off the suspended list after the star wideout was held out of last week's game following his Week 9 fracas with Saints CB Marshon Lattimore.
With Evans out, rookie receiver Chris Godwin had five receptions for 68 yards on 10 targets in the first start of his NFL career Sunday. In addition, DeSean Jackson is playing his best football in the past three weeks since signing with the Bucs, Koetter said. Jackson had six catches for 82 yards Sunday.
Tight end Cameron Brate has cooled off after a hot start to the season. He has only two catches for 19 yards in the past two games with no touchdowns. With Evans serving his suspension, Koetter said the Jets double-teamed Brate in the red zone.
"With (Evans) out yesterday, they actually doubled him in the red zone," Koetter said. "Usually Mike is the one who gets doubled in the red zone. We had two or three things we were trying to go to Cam inside the 25 and they doubled him."
Brate has just 12 targets in his last three games combined. He has just one catch in back-to-back games.
And finally. ... Patrick Murray is 7 of 8 on field-goal tries since joining the team five games ago. His only miss was a 54-yarder. He has made all five of his PATs.
QBs: Jameis Winston, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Griffin
RBs: Peyton Barber, Jacquizz Rodgers, Charles Sims, Doug Martin
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 14 November 2017
As Associated Press sports writer Teresa M. Walker suggested, the Titans are about to find out if their act plays as well on the road as well as it has at home.
The Titans are off to their best start since 2008 at 6-3, yet four of those wins have come at home, where they are 8-1 dating back to last season. Away from Nashville, the Titans are just 2-2 with losses on the road at Houston and at Miami.
Now they have a short turnaround with a visit to Pittsburgh (7-2) on Thursday night. It's the first of four road games over the next five weeks as Tennessee chases its first playoff berth since 2008.
Head coach Mike Mularkey said Monday that recovery is the biggest challenge -- not playing on the road -- coming off a 24-20 win over Cincinnati.
"It's a short week for both teams, both teams will be well prepared in the short time, we've done this before," Mularkey said. "There's no mindset, guys have just got to take care of their body when they're not here to get ready for a short week."
But beating Pittsburgh would be a somewhat of a statement win.
Only two of their victories this season have come against teams currently with winning records: 37-16 at Jacksonville in Week 2 and a 33-27 win over Seattle in Week 3.
The Titans have some momentum with a four-game winning streak, the franchise's longest since winning five straight in 2009. The Titans, who led the NFL in scoring touchdowns in the red zone last season, have jumped from 31st in that category at their bye to 10th by converting on three chances inside the opponent's 20 in each of their past two games.
Mularkey said the improvement has been due to not making mistakes.
"Proof is in the tape that when we get all guys operating and doing their job efficiently, we're pretty effective, and not just in the red zone, I'm talking about putting drives together for scores," Mularkey said. "It's been very easy for us to teach off of game tape."
The three TDs inside the Cincinnati 20 were very impressive -- including the game-winner with 36 seconds left -- considering the Bengals lead the NFL in red zone defense.
"We've just got to continue to build off of that," Marcus Mariota
said after the game. "Guys made a bunch of plays in there and when you're able to do that, when you're able to score in the red zone, it's huge momentum and it builds confidence."
That's what the young Titans still need with a chance to make a statement before a national television audience Thursday night. The Steelers are atop the AFC North, and Tennessee can finish off a sweep of that division with a win that would be much more impressive than whatever they might do in a visit to Indianapolis or trips to Arizona on Dec. 10 or San Francisco on Dec. 17.
Mularkey is keeping the Titans focused on the task at hand with a flight to Pittsburgh on Wednesday.
"If we let that become a distraction, it can be, yes," Mularkey said. "This team's pretty mature and pretty good about handling different situations, and this won't be any different."
Of some interest -- especially given the short week, Mularkey said Mariota has a mild ankle sprain and a sore left shoulder. The team estimated Mariota as limited for a walk-through later Monday along with tight end Delanie Walker (wrist), who was already nursing an ankle injury. Like Mariota, Walker finished the game.
Mariota finished the day 25-of-44 for 264 yards, with one touchdown and one interception. He also added 51 rushing yards. He went 5-of-8 for 53 yards and a huge 5-yard rush for a first down on that final drive. Mariota hurt his left shoulder while being tackled on that run, but refused to exit the game.
"If I can walk, I can play," said Mariota, who enjoys those pressure situations. It was his seventh career game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime, and his third this season. Mariota said after the game his shoulder was OK.
"That's just who he is," Mularkey said.
Both worked fully on Tuesday and Wednesday before being removed from the final injury report on Wednesday; they will play as usual.
Other notes of interest. ... The Titans ran for 180 yards against the Bengals, but not nearly all of it came from running backs. Mariota had 50 yards and cornerback Adoree' Jackson had three rushes for 30 yards.
Still, DeMarco Murray had his best fantasy game of the year, primarily because of his three touchdowns. His yards-per-carry average wasn't good (3.0), but fantasy owners won't care about that. It was a decent day for Walker, too, with six catches for 63 yards.
Derrick Henry posted 52 yards on 11 carries.
In case you haven't been following along at home, as long as Murray is out there, Henry can't be trusted for consistent fantasy production. ...
According to NFL.com's Matt Harmon, Corey Davis' ascension to the No. 1 receiver spot in Tennessee is nearly complete. He saw double-digit targets for the second time this season and went out for 86 percent of the team's plays. Davis was on the field for just one fewer play than Rishard Matthews and was inches away from a touchdown but let it slip for a touchback.
Despite Davis' return, Matthews hasn't seen much shine come off his stock. The veteran receiver has seven targets in each of the last two games. As Harmon suggested, "You can still count on him as floor play in fantasy. ..."
In a related note. ... Davis will learn from his rookie mistake, reaching for the pylon too early on his would-be first career touchdown that was changed to a fumble and touchback after review. But that rule shouldn't exist.
As ESPN.com's Cameron Wolfe argued, the punishment doesn't fit the crime. If Davis fumbles and the ball goes out at the 1-yard line, it would be the Titans' ball there. Why is there a change of possession just because the ball bounced a yard forward? Davis will have to own the mistake, but hopefully the NFL looks into changing this rule in the future.
And finally. ... As previously mentioned, Jackson got even more of a look on offense this week, getting six snaps and being used on three runs for 30 yards, plus as a decoy to open things up for his teammates on offense.
"It was nice. I like my decoy plays a lot. It was awesome," Jackson said. "Just to get out there on the offensive side is pretty cool and to hear my name called and the defense saying '25 is in the game. Look for 25,' and everybody rallying to me, which was awesome. It reminds me of college and high school."
Mariota said he likes the added wrinkle that Jackson can bring when he is in the game.
"He just adds another dimension. To be able to do that on offense, to move pieces around to create matchup problems, you have to give a lot of credit to the coaches for formulating that and setting us up in good situations," Mariota said.
QBs: Marcus Mariota, Matt Cassel, Brandon Weeden
RBs: Derrick Henry, DeMarco Murray, David Fluellen
WRs: Rishard Matthews, Eric Decker, Taywan Taylor, Eric Weems, Corey Davis
TEs: Delanie Walker, Luke Stocker, Jonnu Smith, Phillip Supernaw
Washington RedskinsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 14 November 2017
As the Sports Xchange noted, the Redskins have put themselves in a precarious situation.
No team has played a tougher schedule so far in 2017 and injuries have crippled the Redskins on the offensive line, at tight end and at linebacker. But those excuses wear thin and few players offered them up after a 38-30 home loss to the Minnesota Vikings left Washington 4-5 and sitting behind six teams for the final NFC wild-card spot.
Yet another first-place team is waiting for the Redskins when they travel to play the NFC South-leading New Orleans Saints (7-2) on Sunday.
"We just play our schedule, and we view it as now we focus on the Saints," Kirk Cousins said. "I've never gone into a game not desperate ... There's desperation every snap, so there will be a sense of urgency this week, but shame on us if it isn't there every single week."
That was in question after the Redskins followed a stunning upset in Seattle against the Seahawks on Nov. 5 with an equally frustrating day against the Vikings. A 17-14 lead with 4:37 left in the first half quickly turned into a 35-17 deficit. The outburst took 7:15 of game time - three possessions and three touchdowns spanning 15 plays in the second and third quarters.
Washington had the ball for two plays during that stretch - a Cousins interception on first down and a kneel down to end the first half. Minnesota received the second-half kickoff. Afterward, some players lamented lackadaisical practices late last week.
"If they feel that way, then I've got to do a better job of making sure they don't get a big head," head coach Jay Gruden said. "It has been difficult to practice on Fridays, Thursdays, with the amount of injuries we've had and guys not being able to practice. We can't go very long, so we count on a lot of our walk-throughs and mental preparation to really take care of some of the plays that we miss."
Five of Washington's nine games have been against teams leading their division (Vikings, Kansas City Chiefs, Philadelphia Eagles twice, Los Angeles Rams). The Seahawks (6-3) are also in a playoff position and the Dallas Cowboys (5-4) have a winning record. The combined record of those seven teams plus the Saints is 46-17.
The Redskins do have the NFC's softest schedule down the stretch with two games against the hapless New York Giants (1-8), home games against the Arizona Cardinals (4-5) and Denver Broncos (3-6) and a road game at the Los Angeles Chargers (3-6).
But without a quick change of fortune they might be too far out of it to take advantage of that weak closing slate.
Getting back to the Minnesota game. ... ESPN.com's John Keim stressed that the offense didn't cost them the game Sunday. That's the first thing to know. Not when the defense allows what it did: 38 points and 406 yards.
However, the Redskins' offense certainly could have done more to help them win.
Washington moved the ball well against the NFL's fifth-ranked defense in both yards and points allowed. Minnesota hadn't allowed more than 17 points since Week 2 or more than 275 yards since Week 3.
But ... Keim contends the Redskins should have done more damage. This doesn't include the points given away by an interception late in the first half to the Redskins' 23-yard line. That led to a touchdown.
"We missed a lot of opportunities, especially offensively," Gruden said. "It's too bad. Against a good team. ... You have to make those plays. We're good enough to make them and we usually will."
That was the kicker; in each case, it's a play the person can make -- and has made. There was no extraordinary effort required.
So that will require some cleanup this week.
In addition, Gruden confirmed running back Robert Kelley has a high ankle sprain and an MCL sprain. The team placed Kelley on injured reserve on Tuesday, ending his season.
In a Week 4 game against the Chiefs, Kelley injured his right ankle. He also has dealt with a rib injury this season.
Kelley left in the first half Sunday, gaining only 10 yards on four carries against the Vikings. He has 62 carries for 194 yards and three touchdowns this season.
His injury leaves Washington with only two healthy running backs -- Samaje Perine and Chis Thompson -- forcing them to add another this week.
Remember, the Redskins are always careful with Thompson's snaps because of his frame and injury history. They can't afford to lose their leading rusher and receiver. That means more snaps for rookie Perine, the fourth-round draft pick from Oklahoma.
He had nine carries for 35 yards on Sunday, but has had ball-security issues with one fumble and another charged to Cousins that should have been his, too.
The Redskins' disastrous injury situation forced them to cut running back Mack Brown on Oct. 28 because they needed the roster spot for extra offensive linemen and he was immediately signed by the Vikings to their active roster. They have no choice but to go with Perine.
"I just want to see more production, that's all," Gruden said. "If we have a guy unblocked in the hole, it's run him over or make him miss - something. Make sure we continue to get positive yards and keep the chains in favorable down and distance and avoid the negative plays. Samaje is going to get better and better the more reps he gets and the more carries. We'll get a great look at him."
The Redskins at least have their offensive line back intact - even if it still isn't anywhere close to full strength.
Left tackle Trent Williams (torn patella tendon, right knee) played all 75 offensive snaps on Sunday against Minnesota. He had not played since Oct. 2. Left guard Shawn Lauvao (stinger) returned from injury to play all 75 snaps. And right guard Brandon Scherff (sprained MCL, left knee) played 73 snaps. The only lineman not able to go all game was center Spencer Long (knee), who sat after 12 snaps in his first game back since Oct. 23.
As for the passing attack. ... Cousins had average numbers (26-for-45, 327 yards, one touchdown). But his one interception came on a bad overthrow in his own territory and gave the Vikings great field position. They scored a touchdown off it. Plus, there were plenty of opportunities to hit open wide receivers that missed, too.
Once, Josh Doctson simply fell down in the end zone on what should have been an easy touchdown throw.
Still, as NFL.com's Matt Harmon pointed out, Doctson saw a season-high in targets with seven and was on the field for 93 percent of the team's plays and Harmon believes the wideout will turn that usage into a big game eventually -- even if it's hard to predict when that will arrive.
Also according to Harmon, Jamison Crowder might finally be turning his season around. The slot receiver has 24 targets over his last two games played. That's rather unprecedented volume for a receiver in Washington this year.
Worth noting. ... Crowder didn't practice Wednesday due to personal issues. ...
A few final notes. ... Receiver Ryan Grant is in the concussion protocol after his injury in the Minnesota game on Sunday and his status for the upcoming contest at New Orleans is unclear.
Jordan Reed, who has missed two games in a row with a hamstring injury, is listed as day-to-day for this week. Fellow tight end Niles Paul remains in the concussion protocol. He was hurt in an Oct. 29 loss to Dallas and missed the past two games.
If Reed, who didn't practice Wednesday, is out again, Vernon Davis has solidified his status as a plug-and-play replacement for fantasy owners. Davis has 60-plus yards in all but one of his last six games.
QBs: Kirk Cousins, Alex Smith, Colt McCoy
RBs: Samaje Perine, Kapri Bibbs
WRs: Jamison Crowder, Josh Doctson, Ryan Grant, Brian Quick, Terrelle Pryor
TEs: Vernon Davis, Jeremy Sprinkle, Niles Paul