Team Notes week 12 2016
NEWS, NOTES, RUMORS AND OTHER GOOD STUFFDirectly from the desk of FlashUpdate Editor Bob Harris. The good; the bad; and yes. ... Even the Bears. There is no better way to jump start your weekend than browsing these always educational -- often irreverent -- team-by-team, Fantasy-specific offerings. ...
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Arizona CardinalsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 23 November 2016
As ESPN.com's Josh Weinfuss reminded readers in an article published Monday, three times this season, including Sunday, the Cardinals found a team desperate for a win up next on their schedule.
And all three times they lost.
Two touchdowns of 100 yards from their foes, a handful of poor calls and a few more self-inflicted mistakes cost the Cardinals in Sunday's 30-24 loss to the Minnesota Vikings, who entered the game losers of four in a row.
In Week 3, the Cardinals traveled cross-country to face an 0-2 Buffalo Bills team. Arizona lost.
In Week 8, the Cardinals traveled cross-country to face the 1-5 Carolina Panthers. Arizona lost.
Then came Sunday and another defeat.
Before the Cardinals fly to Atlanta this week, the game film should provide Arizona some lessons from which to learn.
As Weinfuss pointed out, there was John Brown's decision to not field a fourth-quarter punt that bounced to the Cardinals' 13-yard line (the punt totaled 72 yards), putting 87 yards between the Cardinals and a potential game-winning touchdown. There was Michael Floyd, whom head coach Bruce Arians said was suffering from the flu, slowing down on a deep pass, which was intercepted. There was the consistent poor blocking in the second half, which led to just 2 net passing yards in the final two quarters.
"We beat ourselves in this game, and we have to quit doing that," Arians said. "That was basically the [postgame] message: ‘We don't beat ourselves, we can beat anybody.'"
That has been easier said than done this season.
Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, a Minneapolis native who still hasn't won in Minnesota as a professional, said the self-inflicted issues even extended to him. The receivers lined up wrong a handful of times and missed signals, including Fitzgerald once, he said.
"Stuff like that can't happen, especially from your veteran leaders," Fitzgerald said.
But why, after 11 weeks, are things as routine as lining up still an issue for the Cardinals?
"I don't know," Fitzgerald said. "I don't know. It's a great question, but we got to get it fixed."
There's plenty to work on.
In addition to letting quarterback Carson Palmer get hit a staggering 19 times, the Cardinals also became the first team since 1962 to allow two returns of 100 yards as Minnesota's Xavier Rhodes returned a Palmer interception 100 yards for a score and Cordarrelle Patterson returned the second-half kickoff 104 yards for another touchdown.
Arizona also had problems with penalties, tackling and holding on to passes. Though the Cardinals owned the edge in total yards, first downs gained and time of possession, they came up short once again.
"It's a broken record," general manager Steve Keim said. "You know, another game where statistically you look at the sheet and it says one thing and the loss column tells you another and you know, it's getting old.
"We've got to fix that and that comes down to making plays, minimizing mistakes, particularly mental mistakes, and stepping up when it's time to make that play from your playmakers, the guys that you're counting on, and we haven't done that and that's no secret."
Asked if there was a particular recurring theme which is leading to the losses following a successful 13-3 campaign a year ago, Keim said, "It's hard to put my finger on it."
Linebacker Kevin Minter may have summed things up best for the slumping Cardinals.
"We're either going to make this push or we're not," he said. "What are we going to do, step up or shut up?
At this point, the Cardinals are on the outside of the playoff picture looking in. But the Cardinals aren't waving the white flag just yet.
"The season is not over," Arians said.
"We have to find ways to win these close ballgames," cornerback Patrick Peterson said. "We haven't done that yet this season, and this would be a good time to start."
The Cardinals owned the No. 1 offense last season, returned every player who caught a pass from Palmer and every player who scored an offensive touchdown last season.
But the offense, in its fourth season in Arians' scheme, looks like it's playing in Year 1 of his complex offense. Arizona is ranked ninth in yards per game, 22nd in yards per play and 23rd in passing yards per play -- all categories Arizona was ranked first in last season.
Meanwhile, as NFL.com suggested, the Cardinals need to take a long look in the mirror and realize their strength, which lies in the backfield.
Palmer still brings it from time to time, but he's showing signs of his age (especially when under pressure) and it's hampering Arizona's offense. David Johnson broke 100 yards and scored a rushing touchdown, while also catching seven passes for 57 yards and another score, and Andre Ellington made a cameo on five carries for 21 yards, showing the bursts of speed that had Cardinals coaches and fans salivating just two seasons ago. That pairing can be lethal when turned to with volume.
It's hard to come back from a multiple-score deficit on the ground, but a slight shift to the run could have prevented Rhodes' pick-six, caught on the goal line with Arizona deep in the red zone. ...
In a related item. ... Johnson ran noticeably more straight ahead and rarely tried to bounce things outside during Sunday's 26-20 loss to the Vikings. It was by design, said Johnson, was has constantly been reminded by Arians to pound the ball forward and get whatever type of yardage he can get. That seemed to be exactly Johnson's mission, especially in the first half when he ran for 89 yards on 17 carries.
"The biggest thing is being patient and then hitting them more downhill," said Johnson, who finished with 103 yards. "Just from watching last week's game (against the 49ers), I was going lateral too much."
Other notes of interest. ... J.J. Nelson was handed an opportunity on a silver platter to secure himself as one of the Cardinals' top two or three receivers over the past few weeks, but after back-to-back games with 84 and 79 yards in Weeks 7 and 8, Nelson has just 29 total yards in two games -- including none on Sunday in Minnesota.
He fumbled one catch two weeks ago. And he has dropped a pass in each of his past two games. With Floyd returning to his old form, Weinfuss believes Nelson's issues will lead to a drop in confidence from coaches, which in turn will reduce his opportunities. ...
On Wednesday, the Cardinals designated S Tyvon Branch as their player to return off IR. That means the season is over for Chris Johnson. ...
And finally. ... Arians was in the hospital Monday after feeling ill overnight, the team said. The Cardinals issued a statement that said the 64-year-old coach was not feeling well Sunday night after returning home from Arizona's game in Minnesota and his wife took him to the hospital.
All tests conducted came back favorably, however, and Arians was released from the hospital Monday night. He will coach as usual this weekend.
QBs: Drew Stanton, Mike Glennon, Sam Bradford
RBs: Elijhaa Penny
WRs: Larry Fitzgerald, J.J. Nelson, Brice Butler, Chad Williams
TEs: Jermaine Gresham, Ricky Seals-Jones
Atlanta FalconsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 23 November 2016
As the Falcons jump back into action this week following a bye, they find themselves still atop the NFC South but a notch lower in the NFC playoff picture.
At 6-4, the Falcons are currently the No. 4 seed behind the No. 1 seed Dallas Cowboys (9-1), No. 2 seed Seattle Seahawks (7-2-1) and No.3 seed Detroit Lions (6-4). Prior to this past Sunday's games, the Falcons were the No. 3 seed.
If the playoff started today, the Falcons would face the No. 5 seed New York Giants at home in the first round. But there is much still to be decided over the final six games.
According to ESPN.com's Vaughn McClure, the Falcons have to worry about keeping their division lead and protecting their home turf with back-to-back home games against Arizona (4-5-1) and Kansas City (7-3).
Of the top six NFC teams, the Falcons are the only one without a winning record at home (2-2). In order to change those fortunes, head coach Dan Quinn team has to be prepared to keep quarterback Matt Ryan clean against a pair of teams capable of applying plenty of pressure.
And to take things a step further, facing a Los Angeles Rams defensive front led by Aaron Donald and Robert Quinn would mean three consecutive tough challenges up front.
Of course, the Falcons, who still lead the league at 32 points per game, can outscore anyone, but the loss at Philadelphia showed the Falcons' high-powered offense can be held in check when they don't win at the line of scrimmage.
The Falcons conclude the season with road game at Carolina (4-6) and home season finale against New Orleans (4-6). The hope is that those game don't end up determining their playoff fate.
But the real story in Atlanta is the play of Ryan.
As the Sports Xchange notes, he has completed 236 of 346 passes (68.2 percent) with 24 touchdown passes and just five interceptions. Ryan is averaging a league-leading 13.8 yards gained per completion.
He is on pace to surpass 5,000 passing yards in a season this year. Only a handful of NFL signal-callers have passed for 5,000 or more yards.
Hall of Famer Dan Marino was the first to pass the mark when he finished his second NFL season (1984) with 5,084 yards, averaging 317.8 yards per game.
It was another two decades before anyone would pass for 5,000 yards again. The New Orleans Saints' Drew Brees threw for 5,069 yards in 2008. He remains the only quarterback to repeat the feat, finishing with a record-setting 5,476 in 2011 and with 5,177 yards in 2012.
Brees' yardage record remained for just two seasons until the Denver Broncos' Peyton Manning set the mark with 5,477 passing yards in 2013.
Ryan came close to the mark in 2012 when he threw for 4,719 yards.
Ryan has 3,247 yards, averaging 324.7 per game after 10 games this season. ...
Other notes of interest. ... The last time the Falcons faced the Cardinals, cornerback Patrick Peterson, out of LSU, claimed to have won his share of battles in college against Julio Jones.
Jones responded with 10 catches, 189 receiving yards and a touchdown after vowing to let his play do the talking. As McClure suggested, the Jones-Peterson matchup is sure to be a topic of discussion once again going into this week's matchup, so expect Jones to have another big game. ...
After seeing the field for a season-high 77 percent of the team's pass plays in Week 10, Taylor Gabriel has earned a bigger role, and that just might happen as teams focus on stopping Jones.
Gabriel, who claimed to run a 4.28-second 40-yard dash coming out of Abilene Christian, has scored a touchdown in three straight games (two receiving, one rushing) and gives the Falcons a big-play threat who has to be accounted for when he's on the field. Ryan's 152.1 QB rating when throwing Gabriel's way also doesn't hurt the receiver's chances for a bigger role.
But it's up to offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan to stay creative with his new speedy weapon.
Meanwhile, Quinn sounded rather optimistic about the progress of cornerback Desmond Trufant and running back Tevin Coleman as they returned to practice Monday off injuries.
Trufant missed the last game with a shoulder/pectoral injury, while Coleman has missed the last three contests with a hamstring strain. Last week's bye gave both players extra time to rest up as the Falcons prepare for Sunday's home matchup with the Arizona Cardinals.
What did Quinn see from Trufant and Coleman Monday?
"We saw, No. 1, both of them looked extremely fast," Quinn told the media following practice. ``That's what we were checking to see with Tevin. Would he have the speed to get in and out of his breaks that make him such a unique player? So we saw the speed with him. And then we wanted to see Trufant with the ball skills and moving around like he did. Both those guys were off to a good start today."
Going into the bye, Quinn hinted Coleman would return to full participation following the extended layoff. As for Trufant, there was some concern about his injury being serious, but Quinn insisted it would not be
Coleman's return would give the Falcons their potent 1-2 running back combo back along with starter Devonta Freeman. The two were on a torrid pace with 1,000 combined yards through the first five games.
Coleman practiced fully on Wednesday; expect him to return but I'll follow up as needed via Late-Breaking Update. ...
In other injury news, the Falcons officially placed tight end Jacob Tamme on injured reserve following last week's right shoulder surgery. Tamme faces six months of recovery. The team did not immediately announce a corresponding roster move to replace Tamme on the 53-man roster. Rookie Austin Hooper and veteran Levine Toilolo will continue to fill in going forward. ...
Also, punter Matt Bosher, dealing with a hamstring injury, is expected to kick later in the week. Bosher's status for Sunday's game remains unclear.
And finally. ... The Falcons released running back Stevan Ridley on Wednesday.
QBs: Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub, Matt Simms
RBs: Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman, Terron Ward
WRs: Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Justin Hardy, Nick Williams
TEs: Austin Hooper, Eric Saubert, Logan Paulsen
Baltimore RavensCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 23 November 2016
The 3-0 start, a winless October and that disappointing defeat Sunday in Dallas — none of that matters to the Baltimore Ravens anymore.
All that has transpired during this up-and-down season merely served to get the Ravens to right now: A place where all the goals they've set for themselves remain attainable.
"It's a six-game season," head coach John Harbaugh said Monday. "We know that everything is right in front of us."
A 27-17 loss in Dallas dropped the Ravens (5-5) into a tie with Pittsburgh atop the AFC North. The remainder of their schedule features home and away games against Cincinnati; at home against Miami and Philadelphia; and on the road against New England and the Steelers.
The stretch begins Sunday when the injury-riddled Bengals (3-6-1) come to town.
"It's a division game, a very important game for us," Harbaugh said. "In some ways, this is like our opener. All eyes are really looking forward to becoming the best team we can be over the next six games. That's our attention and that's our focus."
Fortunately, a .500 record is good enough to earn a share of first place in the weakened AFC North.
"We've got everything ahead of us. It's in our hands," tight end Dennis Pitta said.
Quarterback Joe Flacco was effective against the Cowboys, going 23 of 35 for 269 yards with one touchdown. However, careless penalties by the offensive line, including three against center Jeremy Zuttah, put Baltimore into long-yardage situations. This hampered the ability to run the ball.
In addition, Flacco was 0-of-5 on passes thrown 20 or more yards past the line of scrimmage Sunday, his most attempts without a completion since Week 8 of 2014 against the Texans (0-of-8). As ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley notes, Flacco entered the week completing 23.8 percent of his passes thrown 20 or more yards downfield, 30th out of 33 qualified quarterbacks
Despite those struggles, the offense has played better over the past couple of weeks. The goal is to finish the season strong.
"I feel like our offense is improving," Harbaugh said. "I feel like we're getting better at the things we're trying to do right now. It's all about the next game. ... This is our opportunity to go win the division."
Smith finished with eight receptions and a touchdown against the Cowboys. He is now tied with former Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward for 13th-most receptions in NFL history.
Despite the historic day, Smith was in no mood to celebrate because of the final score.
"It's sweet, I guess," Smith said. "But you want to win. I'd give all that back to win, to be honest."
Smith joined the Ravens prior to the 2014 season and has been one of the team's most dominant players. He has 161 receptions for 2,152 yards and 11 touchdowns through 30 games with Baltimore.
After the milestone game, teammate Mike Wallace delivered more than congratulations. He offered a suggestion to Smith.
"You can play a couple of more years if you want to. Let's just keep it going," Wallace told Smith after Sunday's loss.
Smith planned to retire at the end of last year. However, his 2015 season was cut short because of a torn Achilles. As a result, Smith decided to play for another year and the team welcomed him back.
Harbaugh and Smith's teammates alike are confident he could be productive if he decided to put off retirement for at least one more year.
"If he wants to come back, he is welcome," Harbaugh said Monday. "He's had an awesome career."
Whatever the case, Smith totaled 99 receiving yards on Sunday -- his second most this season -- and he scored for a second straight game. Hensley expects some strong numbers the rest of the way from Smith, who -- Wallace's suggestion notwithstanding -- appears to be playing the final six regular-season games of his stellar career.
He will do everything in his power to finish off legacy on a strong note, starting with Sunday's game against the Bengals and a defense that has allowed 19 touchdown passes (tied for seventh most in the league). ...
As the Sports Xchange notes, Breshad Perriman did not have a reception for the first time this season after not being targeted. Perriman's 2015 rookie season ended in training camp when he suffered a partially torn posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
Another knee injury in this year's OTAs put him on the PUP until Aug. 18. He has managed 20 receptions for 280 yards with a touchdown this season.
Running back Terrance West had 42 yards on eight carries. His first three carries went for 16 and 18 yards and included a touchdown. But the Ravens got away from the run in the third and fourth quarters when West had just one carry for no yards. In fact, West and Kenneth Dixon combined for just two total touches in the second half against Dallas.
Getting away from the run has been a recipe for failure all season. Baltimore, however, was forced to pass because penalties put the team in long-yardage situations.
One of the oddities of Sunday's game was five-time Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda playing at left guard. The 10-year veteran usually lines up at right guard, but because he's been bothered by a left shoulder injury, Yanda figured there would less strain on his arm if he lined up on the other side.
"He played well," Harbaugh said. "He kind of looked like he's played it all along. He didn't have any problems in there. Yeah, it was a good move for us."
And finally. ... Crockett Gillmore, who has missed the last two games with a thigh injury, was on the practice field Wednesday.
QBs: Joe Flacco, Ryan Mallett, Dustin Vaughan, Robert Griffin III
RBs: Terrance West, Javorius Allen
WRs: Michael Crabtree, John Brown, Breshad Perriman, Chris Moore, Kenny Bell
TEs: Maxx Williams, Nick Boyle, Gavin Escobar
Buffalo BillsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 23 November 2016
A dislocated left thumb isn't expected to prevent LeSean McCoy from missing a game.
A person with direct knowledge of the situation told Associated Press sports writer John Wawrow on Monday that the running back is expected to play against Jacksonville this weekend after having surgery for the injury.
McCoy was hurt in the first half of a 16-12 win at Cincinnati.
Head coach Rex Ryan confirmed McCoy had surgery after the team returned home on Sunday night, but wouldn't commit to whether he might play against the Jaguars.
"I guess we'll see how he progresses through the week," Ryan said.
The best answer Ryan gave came when he compared McCoy's chances of playing to that of receiver Robert Woods, who sprained his left knee against the Bengals.
In already listing Woods as "doubtful," Ryan acknowledged he was more encouraged about McCoy's status. Woods did not practice Wednesday; McCoy was limited.
That's potentially good news for an offense that's had trouble staying healthy for much of this season. The Bills are already missing their top receiving threat, Sammy Watkins (left foot) and starting center Eric Wood (broken right leg) -- although in Watkins case that could change soon.
McCoy was hurt when he fell on his left hand while being pushed out of bounds following an 8-yard run late in the second quarter. He immediately grabbed his hand and ran off to the locker room before being ruled out.
He leads Buffalo with 716 yards rushing and seven touchdowns, including one scored against the Bengals, and also has 144 yards receiving and a touchdown.
McCoy played a key role for a Tyrod Taylor-led offense that leads the NFL with 1,578 yards rushing. McCoy's absence on Sunday opened the door for Mike Gillislee to get 14 carries, which he converted into 72 yards.
Buffalo has topped 160 yards rushing in each of its past three games and six times this season, including a 312-yard outing in a 45-16 win over San Francisco on Oct. 16.
In beating the Bengals, the Bills (5-5) snapped a three-game skid to remain in the playoff picture.
Because of tiebreaking scenarios and a 2-4 conference record, Buffalo has little margin for error in a bid to end the NFL's longest active postseason drought, which is at 16 years.
What frustrates Ryan in his year and a half as the Bills coach is that his team has always been shorthanded due to injury. While every team in the NFL can say that, the Bills have been particularly hard hit. At 5-5, they are still clinging to hope in the AFC playoff race, and their chances of qualifying would be far greater with a full roster because their front-line players are very good, but their depth is seriously lacking.
"I know what this team can do," said Ryan. "If we are healthy, we are going to be pretty tough.
Woods, who leads the team with 42 catches and 493 yards, was hurt in the first quarter when his cleat got stuck in the turf and his left leg bended awkwardly while being tackled after making a 13-yard catch.
The good news?
General manager Doug Whaley anticipates Watkins will return to practice on Wednesday.
Whaley made the announcement during his weekly show on Buffalo's WGR-Radio.
It's too early to determine whether Watkins will be activated off injured reserve, or if he can play Sunday.
The Bills' top receiving threat has been limited to six catches for 63 yards in playing the first two games this season.
Watkins missed most of the offseason after having surgery in April, when he had two screws inserted into his left foot to repair a stress fracture. He aggravated the injury when a teammate stepped on his foot in practice.
Under NFL rules, the Bills have the option of activating Watkins within the next two weeks.
As ESPN.com's Mike Rodak suggested, even if Watkins returns to practice this week, he might not be immediately ready to play in Sunday's game.
"I really don't know how realistic it is [for Watkins to play Sunday]," Ryan said Monday. "I think I speak on behalf of every Buffalo Bill fan: We are hoping he can play some. But we will see, we will see how it goes. We obviously won't put him out there if he is in no condition to play."
That said, Watkins told reporters on Wednesday that the time off was a "blessing" and believes he's now fully healthy. He wouldn't commit to playing Sunday, however.
NFL.com's Matt Harmon notes that Harvin did take 71 percent of the snaps, trailing only Goodwin's 84 percent among wide receivers. However, it's just hard to imagine he has much left after spending so much time off before returning to the team.
Charles Clay had five catches but they went for just 23 yards, while Tate had a 34-yard catch-and-run play, the Bills longest pass of the day; Clay did not practice Wednesday but he should play this weekend. ...
In addition, Gillislee suffered a hamstring injury in Wednesday's practice and was limited.
I will, of course, be following up on the status of all involved -- especially McCoy, Gillislee, Wood and Watkins -- as the week progresses. Watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for more. ...
One last note here. ... On a day when NFL place-kicking may have hit a 21st-century low with all the missed extra points, Dan Carpenter of the Bills had an excellent performance in cold and slightly breezy conditions in Cincinnati. Carpenter made all four of his kicks one extra point and three field goals. One of the field goals was a clutch, 54-yarder in the third quarter that gave the Bills a 13-12 lead they never relinquished.
That was Carpenter's 14th field goal of 50-plus yards with the Bills, breaking the franchise record of 13 held by Steve Christie.
On Wednesday, Carpenter was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week.
QBs: AJ McCarron, Nathan Peterman
RBs: LeSean McCoy, Chris Ivory, Mike Tolbert, Joe Banyard, Taiwan Jones
WRs: Kelvin Benjamin, Zay Jones, Andre Holmes, Corey Brown, Brandon Tate
TEs: Charles Clay, Nick O'Leary, Logan Thomas
Carolina PanthersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 23 November 2016
As the Sports Xchange framed it, "The Panthers' sideline turned into a football version of a MASH unit in the second half of Thursday's narrow win against the Saints."
Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil, who was trying to play through a shoulder injury that cost him the past two games, exited after Carolina's first drive of the half. Later in the quarter, head trainer Ryan Vermillion held the left arm of nickel back Leonard Johnson as he walked off the field.
Midway through the fourth, defensive end Mario Addison limped off after covering a punt. And eight plays later, linebacker Luke Kuechly was carted off in one of the most heartbreaking scenes in Bank of America Stadium history.
Despite all that, and the fact the Panthers nearly blew a comfortable lead for the second time in 10 days, quarterback Cam Newton refused to add to the melancholy mood.
"I'm not about to let you guys downplay this win. We won. So I'm excited that we won," Newton said. "We get to go into a mini-bye week and get healthy. So that's my feeling."
The Panthers picked up just one first down in their four fourth-quarter drives Thursday, but that was somehow enough.
With their lead whittled down to three points and facing a third-and-15 from their own 15-yard line, Newton fired a dart to receiver Kelvin Benjamin in the seam for an 18-yard gain.
"I'm happy I did make it and didn't fumble," said Benjamin, whose miscue four days earlier set up the Kansas City Chiefs' game-winning field goal.
After the first down, the Saints immediately used their final timeout with 2:26 left. And instead of getting the ball back before the two-minute warning, quarterback Drew Brees and company had to wait two more minutes.
"Kelvin saved the day," tight end Greg Olsen said. "That catch on third down is the only reason we punted with 15 seconds left. That extra set of downs was just enough to bleed the clock."
Now they're focused on preparing for a critical two-week road trip against Oakland and Seattle that likely will decide whether they have a shot at the playoffs.
They'll stay in California after Sunday's game against the Raiders and prepare for Seattle at San Jose State, where they practiced for Super Bowl 50.
Whether Kuechly will make the trip nobody could say. Kuechly was not at practice on Monday, and head coach Ron Rivera said there is no timetable for the return of the three-time Pro Bowl selection.
Kuechly missed three games with a concussion last season, and second concussions sometimes take longer to get over. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Against the Saints, Newton totaled 197 yards (192 passing, 5 rushing) to pass Dan Marino (23,845 total yards from 1983-99) for the third-most combined yards by a player in his first six seasons.
But Newton hasn't passed for two touchdowns in a game since an Oct. 16 loss at New Orleans. He has had only one game with a rushing touchdown and passing touchdown over the past month. He's not catching fire as he did a year ago at this time, and now he's going on the road for tough games at Oakland and Seattle.
Running back Jonathan Stewart struggled against the Saints, and he still doesn't have a 100-yard rushing game this season. He averaged just 1.7 yards per carry on his 18 rushes against New Orleans, and he's averaging only 3.6 yards per carry on the season.
The Panthers need much more from Stewart if they want to get to the playoffs, starting in Week 12 in Oakland.
Benjamin exploded out of the gate this season, but he has been nothing more than a high-floor WR3 over the past two months. As ESPN's Mike Clay noted, Benjamin posted a pair of top-13 fantasy weeks to begin the year then went without a catch in Week 3. He has finished a week no better than 28th and no worse than 39th in his six games since.
Benjamin is handling a generous 23 percent of the Panthers' targets, so he needs to be locked into lineups, but he has clearly fallen from the WR1 discussion.
Meanwhile, in what NFL.coms' Matt Harmon characterized as "a rare occurrence," Devin Funchess out-snapped Ted Ginn last Thursday night 60 to 56 percent. That could have something to do with Benjamin missing snaps with an injury, as he only went out on 53 percent of the plays as a result.
Of course, Funchess didn't do much with his chances, collecting just two catches on seven targets, which were tied for the team lead.
And finally. ... Olsen had four receptions to up his career total to 596. That puts him past Heath Miller (592 from 2005-15) for sixth all-time among TEs.
QBs: Cam Newton, Derek Anderson
RBs: Christian McCaffrey, Fozzy Whittaker, Cameron Artis-Payne
WRs: Devin Funchess, Russell Shepard, Torrey Smith, Brenton Bersin
TEs: Greg Olsen
Chicago BearsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 23 November 2016
Jay Cutler described the Bears' injury epidemic as "crazy".
It got worse Sunday.
Chicago lost 22-16 to the New York Giants, falling to 2-8 in what has become a war of attrition as player after player heads to the sideline.
The quarterback is believed to have a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport and Mike Garafolo reported Tuesday. Cutler is undergoing a second opinion in hopes the results come out differently. Head coach John Fox on Wednesday denied that the injury was season ending.
If the initial diagnosis is confirmed it would knock the starter out for the rest of the season and possibly end his career in Chicago. Garafolo adds that the timeframe for a recovery has yet to come fully into view.
Cutler was completing just 59.1 percent of his passes this season, his worst since 2012 when Mike Tice helmed the offense. After negating the turnovers last year under Adam Gase's tutelage, Cutler will end the season with a 4-to-5 TD-INT ratio in five starts.
With all of the guaranteed money in his contract eaten up, the Bears might decide it's time to move on from the strong-armed but enigmatic quarterback.
Unfortunately, the Bears' brass doesn't have a young signal-caller in the grooming stable who could get needed reps down the stretch of a lost season. Weak-armed Matt Barkley is set to take over the starting duties. The Bears also signed David Fales off the Ravens' practice squad, Garafolo reported.
Matt Barkley, Chicago's No. 2 quarterback, is preparing to start if Cutler misses time.
Cutler, 33, suffered a thumb injury that forced him to leave Week 2's prime-time game against the Eagles. Cutler sat out five weeks before returning to the starting lineup after Brian Hoyer broke his forearm at Green Bay on Oct. 20.
In five games in 2016, Cutler has thrown five interceptions and lost two fumbles.
Cutler's contract runs out of guaranteed money after the season. The Bears would take a $2 million cap hit if they trade or release Cutler in the offseason, but the move would open up $13 million worth of space.
Additional concern centered on rookie linebacker Leonard Floyd, removed on a stretcher in the fourth quarter with a neck injury. Floyd, the Bears first round draft pick from Georgia, gave a thumbs-up to teammates surrounding him as he left the field.
He was taken to a hospital for evaluation and then released. The Bears said he returned to Chicago on Sunday night and he is in the concussion protocol this week.
Tight end Zach Miller suffered a possibly broken right foot, his second major injury of the season. Defensive back Cre'Von LeBlanc is in the concussion protocol and left guard Josh Sitton injured his right ankle.
Miller was placed on IR on Wednesday.
"It was a big blow," wide receiver Marquess Wilson said. "He's one of our key guys. Now (Braunecker) and (Paulsen) and everyone have to step up.
"It's never good to have a guy of that caliber go down, but now all of us have to step up."
It crippled the Bears' running game in the second half Sunday.
"There's a three-tight-end package we used in the first half that wasn't available in the second half," Fox said. "It's not an excuse, just a reality when certain things happen."
Coming into the game, the Bears were missing right tackle Bobbie Massie (concussion), nose tackle Eddie Goldman (ankle) and defensive end Mitch Unrein (back). Chicago receiver Alshon Jeffery served the first game of a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances.
The Bears also were missing guard Kyle Long, who was placed on injured reserve last week with ankle and shoulder injuries.
"Very disappointing," Fox said of the defeat. "We did have some injuries. We had some guys step in and did OK. Just not quite well enough"
The Giants brought an extra man into the box in the second half after Jordan Howard pounded for 77 first-half yards, and the running game ended then. He gained nothing in the second half.
Before that, as NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich noted, Howard made some big plays including a 27-yard rush and a 22-yard reception which helped boost his yardage totals for the day. Good thing too, since Jeremy Langford came in to vulture a goal-line touchdown after Howard got the Bears in scoring position with one of those long plays.
Still, it's encouraging that Howard played on 71 percent of the snaps compared to Langford's 29 percent, proving that Howard has retained his role as the primary back.
Meanwhile, injuries are a part of the game and every team adopts the next-man-up philosophy. Sometimes the sheer volume of sidelined players becomes overwhelming.
"It's up there," Fox said when asked to rank this level of attrition in his coaching experience. "I've doing this for a bit, so it's hard to remember 27 years ago but it's up in the top five, for sure."
Stay tuned. ... I'll be following up on all the injuries (inlcuding Eddie Royal, who sat out Wednesday with his lingering toe injury) -- and the Bears' plans for dealing with them -- in coming days. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Wilson made his first catch since Nov. 26, 2015, when he hauled in a 35-yard pass down the sidelines to get the Bears out of a hole and in striking position at the Giants' 43.
Wilson, who re-injured a surgically repaired foot during OTAs, had been on PUP until last week and was activated after Alshon Jeffery's suspension.
"I probably could have stayed in (bounds)," he said. "It got us where we needed to be, but we didn't capitalize on it."
Wilson also was targeted with the final Bears pass an interception underthrown by Cutler in desperation. ...
The Bears announced on Monday that Kevin White will not return this season. As Chicago Tribune staffer Brad Biggs put it, "So White will go into his third NFL season in 2017 with 191 snaps under his belt. That's a solid three games' worth of action. ..."
And finally. ... Linebacker Jerrell Freeman on Monday became the second Bears player suspended for violating the league's performance enhancing drug policy in less than two weeks. Freeman was suspended four weeks and is eligible to return to practice Dec. 19 to prepare for the Dec. 24 home game against the Washington Redskins. Last week wide receiver Alshon Jeffery was lost to the team for four weeks for the same reason.
QBs: Mitchell Trubisky, Chase Daniel, Mark Sanchez
RBs: Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen, Benny Cunningham
WRs: Josh Bellamy, Markus Wheaton, Bennie Fowler, Taylor Gabriel, Dontrelle Inman, Kevin White
TEs: Dion Sims, Trey Burton, Adam Shaheen, Daniel Brown, Ben Braunecker
Cincinnati BengalsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 23 November 2016
Wide receiver A.J. Green will miss multiple weeks with a hamstring injury. Head coach Marvin Lewis declined to give an official update on Green's status when asked after Cincinnati's 16-12 loss to the Buffalo Bills.
"I don't know when he can be back, but he has a hamstring injury, I can tell you that," Lewis said.
Green hit the ground when trying to make a catch on the second play of the game, and he got up in obvious pain. He briefly stood on the sideline, held up by two assistant trainers, who signaled for a cart. Green was taken to the locker room and did not return.
The good news? Green will not require surgery. He will probably be out a few weeks, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported.
Green was carted off early in Sunday's 16-12 loss to the Buffalo Bills.
Lewis said Monday that Green is moving better than expected after the injury and hopes to have his star receiver back by the end of the year.
Will the Bengals be playing for anything by the time Green is ready to play?
At 3-6-1, Cincinnati sits 13th in the AFC but just 1.5 games behind the Ravens and Steelers in the division. The Bengals head to Baltimore in Week 12 followed by tilts versus Philadelphia, Cleveland and Pittsburgh.
Counting Sunday's loss in which Green left on the second play of the game, Cincinnati is 1-3-1 without the superstar receiver since he entered the NFL in 2011.
As if Green's injury wasn't enough, tailback Giovani Bernard suffered a torn ACL during the game, Lewis confirmed Monday.
Bernard will undergo surgery and miss the remainder of the 2016 season. He was placed on injured reserve on Tuesday.
After rushing for a career-best 4.7 yards per carry as one of the AFC's most productive backs in 2015, Bernard's average plummeted to 3.7 behind an anemic offensive line through 10 games this year.
As NFL.com's Chris Wesseling notes, although the output on the ground has been disappointing, Bernard has remained a key cog in Andy Dalton's intermittent aerial attack. Among all running backs, Bernard ranks in the top 10 for receptions (39) and receiving yards (336) this season. He's been one of the NFL's premier pass-catching backs since entering the league as a second-round draft pick in 2013.
If they're going to get back into the AFC North race for the sixth consecutive December, they will need Burkhead, rookie Tyler Boyd and veteran Brandon LaFell to play the best ball of their respective careers down the stretch. They'll need to step up in order to keep opponents from focusing on Tyler Eifert.
By the way, LaFell (knee) did not practice Wednesday.
As ESPN.com's Katherine Terrell noted, after Green went out, Eifert noticed the Bills began to send more double teams his way. The Bills were effective in stopping Eifert on Sunday, limiting him to only three receptions for 37 yards and no touchdowns.
Eifert's effectiveness isn't in the amount of yards he generates. Green has always led with big numbers in that category, while Eifert has only had two career 100-yard games. His usefulness has come in the red zone, as he led the team with 13 touchdowns last season.
But even though Eifert is the team's best red-zone threat, the offense has truly belonged to Green since he was drafted in 2011. Through nine games, Green has 66 catches for 964 yards and four touchdowns. He needs just 36 receiving yards to join Randy Moss as the only players in NFL history with 1,000 or more receiving yards in each of his first six seasons.
On the Bengals' best days, Green and Eifert have given defensive coordinators headaches trying to stop them both.
However, Eifert said he hasn't been the centerpiece of an offense since his college days at Notre Dame and others mainstays must produce with Green and Bernard out.
Kicker Mike Nugent missed two extra points on Sunday. Dalton threw two interceptions and finished the game with a 57.0 quarterback rating.
But Dalton scored a rushing touchdown on Sunday, leaving Jeremy Hill owners frustrated.
As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich put it, "Hill did Hill things, with just 3.9 yards per carry on his 16 attempts."
Even with increased volume with Bernard out, Hill will be tough to trust against the Ravens this week.
Bottom line? For a team that's used to going to the postseason, the Bengals just don't look like a playoff team this year. ...
In a semi-related note. ... The Bengals on Wednesday designated running back Cedric Peerman to return to return from IR.
One last note here. ... The missed kicks continued a trend of shaky work from Nugent this season.
As Profootballtalk.com notes, Nugent missed a field goal and an extra point in the Bengals' Week 9 tie with the Redskins in London and he missed two field goals in Week 8 against the Browns, leading the team to look at kickers during their post-London bye week. They opted to stand pat and head coach Marvin Lewis says the same is true after Nugent's latest misses.
"It's always a comparison, no question," Lewis told the Cincinnati Enquirer. "It's easy for everybody to say make that change, but when that change doesn't work out what do you do? I'm way more comfortable with helping Mike get corrected and through this and him having the confidence we expect in him and have in him."
QBs: Andy Dalton, Jeff Driskel
RBs: Joe Mixon, Giovani Bernard, Brian Hill, Thomas Jones
WRs: A.J. Green, Brandon LaFell, Tyler Boyd, John Ross, Josh Malone, Alex Erickson, Cody Core
TEs: Tyler Kroft, Ryan Hewitt, C.J. Uzomah
Cleveland BrownsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 23 November 2016
According to Associated Press sports writer Tom Withers, Hue Jackson has run out of pep talks. At this point, there's only so much he can do to stop this dismal season from an even deeper descent.
The Browns' record is one thing.
Jackson can't lose his locker room, too.
As his team recovered from a 24-9 pasting from Pittsburgh, a loss that dropped Cleveland to 0-11 in 2016 and below .500 overall for the first time in 66 years, the Browns coach said it's vital over the next five games for his frustrated players to keep fighting — together.
"I understand how people feel about us right now," Jackson said Monday.
"This team is going to continue to work hard. We are going to continue to stick together because we know that is the only way success will come. We have to continue to have each other's backs."
The Browns are hoping to avoid dubious history. Three NFL teams previously went 0-11 before winning a game — the 1975 Chargers, 1984 Bills, 2000 Chargers — while seven had even worse starts.
It can't get much worse for the Browns than Sunday, when the Steelers overpowered them, recording eight sacks, taking rookie quarterback Cody Kessler out with a concussion — his second head injury in 28 days — and dominating both lines from the outset.
Kessler will miss Sunday's game against the surging New York Giants and it's possible the third-round pick is done for the season.
Josh McCown, who was sacked four times and absorbed a few more crushing hits when he came in for Kessler in the fourth quarter, will make his third start this season.
The 37-year-old McCown has endured difficult seasons before, but those haven't softened the impact this one is having.
The Browns have allowed 38 sacks in 11 games and they were held without a touchdown in the third quarter for the 10th time in 11 games. The only touchdown they scored in the third quarter this season was on a 28-yard run by quarterback Kevin Hogan against the Bengals on Oct. 23.
Tight end Gary Barnidge scored his first touchdown of the season in the fourth quarter against the Steelers. He scored nine touchdowns last season.
"We just had to go out there and score again," Barnidge said. "Unfortunately, they were very good at stopping us from doing that."
Some of the frustration is beginning to boil over.
Following Cleveland's 21st loss in 22 games, receiver Terrelle Pryor, one of the lone bright spots in an otherwise depressing season, vented his feeling by calling out some offensive teammates for not doing a better job of protecting the Browns quarterbacks.
Pryor didn't name names, but there was no hiding his anger. And unlike Pro Bowl tackle Joe Thomas, he didn't lay blame on Cleveland's front office for gutting the club's roster during the offseason to build for the future.
Pryor spoke from his heart, which seems fractured.
"They can't keep getting hit like that, and if I want to voice my opinion, I'm going to voice my opinion now, because it's going on too much," he said. "I don't care if you've got to hold these dudes. Hold them and take the damn penalty and stop getting our quarterbacks hit. I hate that."
While Jackson appreciated Pryor's passion, he didn't like his message.
"That is not Terrelle's job," Jackson said. "I know he is frustrated and we all are. No doubt, we need to protect our quarterback, but that is not for him to say.
"Let's focus on ourselves and support each other. That is what good teams do, and that is what we are going to work to become."
Jackson spoke with Pryor, who caught five passes for 97 yards, another performance that will only help his bargaining power in getting a contract extension from the Browns.
As for Jackson, it appears he hasn't lost the confidence of his players, who remain supportive despite a season testing everyone's patience and stomachs.
"We stand 100 percent behind him," linebacker Christian Kirksey said.
Jackson is weathering the storm the only way he knows — head on. He wasn't prepared to lose on this scale, but he's determined to not let the losing slow him down.
"I know what I signed up for," he said. "I truly believe I am just the man for the job. That has not shown, and I respect that and I understand how our fans and all feel, but I am not running from this. I am going to run through it. We are going to fix this. That is what I came here to do."
Other notes of interest. ... The Browns went into the game determined to revive the run game that worked well in September, but the Steelers shut it down early and then the Browns gave up on it. They had no choice but to pass on nearly every down when they got two touchdowns behind.
Isaiah Crowell carried the ball eight times for 10 yards Sunday. It was the fourth time in the last seven games he averaged less than 2 yards a carry.
Corey Coleman was targeted 12 times and made four catches for 39 yards. ...
And finally. ... Robert Griffin III will practice this week for the first time since before the season started.
He needs a final medical test, expected to come next week, before he's cleared for contact and to play in games, but he has been designated as the Browns' player to return from injured reserve.
Griffin started the opener but suffered a broken coracoid bone in his left shoulder when he collided on the sideline with Eagles rookie cornerback Jalen Mills on a scramble late in the fourth quarter of the 29-10 loss. Griffin was placed on injured reserve and forced to miss eight games.
He's eligible to play at any time (although it won't be this week). He threw the ball Nov. 10 before the Ravens game, but his last true practice was Sept. 8.
The Browns have a bye after the Nov. 27 game against the Giants, so the Dec. 11 meeting with the Bengals looks like the first game in which Griffin has a realistic chance to play.
QBs: Tyrod Taylor
RBs: Carlos Hyde, Duke Johnson, Matt Dayes
WRs: Josh Gordon, Jarvis Landry, Corey Coleman, Ricardo Louis, Rashard Higgins, Jeff Janis, Bryce Treggs
TEs: Darren Fells, David Njoku, Seth DeValve, Randall Telfer
Dallas CowboysCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 23 November 2016
According to Associated Press sports writer Schuyler Dixon, Tony Romo dressed quickly at his locker, pausing only briefly to tell reporters he wasn't talking after his first game as Dallas' backup quarterback in 10 years.
A few feet away, a mass of reporters surrounded NFL rushing leader Ezekiel Elliott, one of two rookies in the Dallas backfield. The other, of course, is quarterback Dak Prescott, who has the Cowboys atop the NFL after stepping in for the injured Romo.
A franchise regular-season record ninth straight victory for the Cowboys (9-1) was also a milestone of sorts for the lingering question of Romo's status.
The 36-year-old is healthy now after being active for the first time since last Thanksgiving. And Dallas won without him again, beating Baltimore 27-17 on Sunday with Prescott overcoming a shaky start that surely had some wondering if he was more wary than he would care to admit about the presence of his new backup, healed from his preseason back injury.
Now Prescott gets his first quick turn to Thanksgiving and a rematch with Washington, where he got his first career win in Week 2 after an opening loss to the New York Giants.
"He's got that way to really work through where he is and what he's doing," owner and general manager Jerry Jones said. "There's no doubt he is having fun. Then he recognizes opportunity. I've never heard him one time when I've talked to him, not start off by saying what a great opportunity it is just to get to be here and play."
It was a little strange for many to see No. 9 going through pregame drills with the backups, and wearing a baseball cap along with an earpiece to follow the calls during the game. Don't count Prescott among the many.
"It's really no different," Prescott said after throwing for three touchdowns in his second career — and second straight — 300-yard game. "He is as helpful as he has always been. The only thing different is he is in uniform."
Prescott is the 46th rookie quarterback since the 1970 merger to start against the NFL's No. 1 total defense, but first with 300 passing yards and three touchdown passes.
He now has the second-most consecutive wins for a rookie quarterback in the Super Bowl era behind Ben Roethlisberger, who won 13 straight in 2004 and led the Steelers to the AFC championship game.
And he joined Hall of Famer Dan Marino (Miami, 1983) and Russell Wilson (Seattle, 2012) as the only first-year QBs since 1970 with multiple touchdown passes in five consecutive games.
As the accomplishments accumulate, it gets easier for tight end Jason Witten to answer the question of watching Romo, his friend and teammate for all of his 14 seasons in the NFL, get relegated to secondary status a year after the Cowboys went 1-11 without him.
Romo has spoken on the subject only once since breaking a bone in his back in a preseason game at Seattle — a five-minute statement that conceded the job to Prescott last week. He hasn't answered questions, and isn't showing any signs that he will as long as he's not playing.
"At this point, it's just part of the process of getting back," Witten said. "I thought he did a phenomenal job in his talk Tuesday and allowed our team to move forward without any distraction."
It's an interesting situation for Jones as well because he gave Romo the first $100 million contract in franchise history — a six-year, $108 million deal signed in 2013.
Romo has a $20 million salary cap figure this season that goes up to about $25 million next season. The Cowboys can save about $5 million under the cap by cutting him, but Jones said last week there was "no consideration" of Romo playing elsewhere.
"Even though he wasn't ready to play, he's been saying he would not in any way disrupt the success that we've got going in any way possible," Jones said. "On the other hand, Tony wants — and we want him, I want him — to be ready to go in a nanosecond when it's called for. That's what he is prepared to do."
As for whether the questions about Romo can fade now that he's been in uniform as the backup without playing, Prescott said he has his doubts.
"I'm sure y'all will figure out a way to ask me about it," he said. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Dez Bryant had two touchdowns against the Ravens, marking his 14th double digit touchdown game of his career. He is second in team history behind Bob Hayes with 15. Bryant now has four touchdown catches in his past four games.
In the first meeting against the Redskins this season, Bryant had seven catches for 102 yards. As ESPN.com's Todd Archer notes, the Cowboys did a good job of moving Bryant around and scheming him open. With a quick turnaround this week, the Cowboys will be able to fall back on that plan to make sure Bryant is a big factor.
Bryant (back) is listed as questionable again this week (as he was prior to the Ravens game), but is expected to play as usual.
The last time Dallas played the Redskins on Thanksgiving, Bryant had eight catches for 145 yards and two touchdowns. ...
Elliott's 97 yards against the Ravens gave him 1,102 for the season and allowed him to surpass Tony Dorsett (1,007) for the most yards by a rookie rusher in franchise history.
Witten had 37 receiving yards on five catches against the Ravens to give him 520 on the season to mark his 13th career and 13th consecutive 500-yard season while becoming only the eighth player -- second tight end -- to accomplish that feat.
Dan Bailey had two field goals against the Ravens to give him 163 for his career and surpass Rafael Septien (162) for the most field goals made in team history.
Jones said the Cowboys will activate Darren McFadden from then non-football injury list to start his 21-day practice window. The same goes for rookie linebacker Jaylon Smith (knee). Tight end James Hanna had knee surgery to fix a lingering issue, however, and he will not return this season. ...
Linebacker Rolando McClain faces a year suspension for missing a drug test, a source confirmed Sunday. Because McClain has appealed the suspension, the league has not officially informed the Cowboys. A missed test is counted as a positive test.
The Cowboys will not release McClain in an attempt to recoup the signing bonus. They re-signed McClain to a one-year, $4 million contract, including a $750,000 signing bonus, on March 9. The league first suspended McClain on June 30 for testing positive for opiates.
QBs: Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush
RBs: Alfred Morris, Rod Smith
WRs: Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Deonte Thompson, Allen Hurns, Ryan Switzer, Noah Brown
TEs: Jason Witten, Geoff Swaim, Rico Gathers
Denver BroncosCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 23 November 2016
As ESPN.com's Jeff Legwold suggested, sometimes an NFL coach starts to talk to his team about the bye week, about making good choices with the "don't be the guy on the bye" speech, and worries about what a team will be like when it returns from its weekend off.
But given what the Broncos have remaining on their schedule after their bye, given where things stand in the AFC West and given how much the Broncos say they still want to get done, reacquiring their attention shouldn't be a problem when they get back to work Monday.
"Everybody knows," is how cornerback Aqib Talib put it this past week. "Everybody knows what's there, or they should know. We need to come back and get to work."
That they will. The Broncos returned to work on Monday after their latest bye week since 1999, or one season removed from John Elway being the team's quarterback instead of its top football decision-maker. So, in short, it has been a while since their bye week and Thanksgiving were back-to-back on the calendar.
But at 7-3 and in the only division where three teams have at least seven wins, the Broncos have three division games waiting for them when they return to work, including two against the Kansas City Chiefs (7-2). They also have a Dec. 18 game against the New England Patriots, a team they have played in the AFC Championship twice in the previous three seasons, in a three-game finish to the regular season that goes Patriots, Chiefs (Dec. 25) and the Oakland Raiders (Jan. 1).
Toss in two more AFC games on the list, which will matter in any playoff tiebreakers, with road games against the Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars and the Broncos know if they do what they hope to do all six of those games will matter.
Overall, the Broncos will face three teams in four of their last six games that have seven wins – Chiefs (twice), Raiders and Patriots – and they will play five of those last six games against teams 5-5 or better.
One trouble spot to watch may be the Broncos' run defense as well. As many good things as the Broncos have done on defense this season – No. 5 in total defense, No. 8 in scoring defense, No. 2 in sacks and No. 1 against the pass – run defense has consistently been an issue.
The Broncos are 28th in run defense – 123.7 yards allowed per game – and have allowed at least 140 yards rushing in four games including a scheme-crushing 218 yards in their loss earlier this month in Oakland. Among their remaining opponents, the Titans (No. 3), Raiders (No. 4) and Patriots (No. 12) are among the league's top 12 in rushing yards per game.
Their chances down the stretch could rest on their health. Running back C.J. Anderson appears unlikely to return before the end of the regular season, but Talib and defensive end Derek Wolfe are expected to return, joining outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware, who has played the last three games after missing five games because of a forearm injury.
"We're at full strength at practice today for the first time in probably 10 weeks other than Matt (Paradis) not being out here," head coach Gary Kubiak said, referring to the starting center, who has rarely practiced the last few weeks because of a hip injury, but hasn't missed a game snap.
"We weren't trying to rest 10 guys and get through a Wednesday or Thursday practice. We were back at it in competitive situations. Hopefully we can stay healthy and stay that way the last six weeks."
Other notes of interest. ... As Legwold put it, actions will always speak more loudly than words. And while Virgil Green is Denver's starter at tight end, the Broncos surrendered a fifth-round pick for A.J. Derby to get him from the Patriots because they need somebody to give them impact plays between the numbers, and believe Derby is that guy.
Derby runs well, his routes are sound, and he's where he's supposed to be when Trevor Siemian lets the ball go. The Broncos gave Derby a crash course in the offense over the past three weeks; he had two catches on three targets against the New Orleans Saints, and his workload is only going up.
Derby ran 28 routes in Week 10 while Green ran 20. ...
As ESPN's Mike Clay noted last week, Kapri Bibbs was expected to play a larger role in Week 10, and although he did set career-highs in snaps (18) and carries (seven), he still played well behind Devontae Booker (59 snaps, 24 carries).
Clay added that Booker looked better than he did the previous two games but still managed only 88 yards on 26 touches in the game. Bibbs wasn't much better (3.1 yards per carry), but the rushing game's struggles very well could lead to even more work for Bibbs.
Receiver Marlon Brown signed with the Broncos on Monday afternoon, the team announced. Brown had been released during training camp after encountering back problems during what was otherwise a strong start to the summer. His arrival gives the Broncos seven wide receivers and could put 2014 second-round pick Cody Latimer on notice.
According to the Sports Xchange, fullback Andy Janovich practiced without the club cast he wore during the last three games before the Broncos' bye. Janovich's playing time and touches dropped while he wore the cast; his use is expected to expand this week. Prior to the injury, he averaged 23 snaps per game; he had barely half that (12 per game) in the last three weeks with the club cast.
Emmanuel Sanders was excused from Monday's practice to be present at the birth of his child.
QBs: Case Keenum, Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch, Chad Kelly
RBs: Devontae Booker, Jamaal Charles, De'Angelo Henderson
WRs: Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Cody Latimer, Isaiah McKenzie, Jordan Taylor
TEs: Virgil Green, Jeff Heuerman, Jake Butt
Detroit LionsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 23 November 2016
As the Sports Xchange notes, the Lions have won five of their last six games to move into a first-place tie with the Vikings, but they head into the stretch run with one glaring weakness on offense: They lack a running game threat.
The Lions ran for just 14 yards on 21 carries in Sunday's 26-19 win over the Jaguars, their lowest rushing total since a 2007 loss to the Cardinals.
Starting running back Theo Riddick carried just four times for 13 yards, in part because of a hand injury he suffered in the first half. And backup Dwayne Washington (13 carries, 6 yards) was ineffective running behind a leaky offensive line.
"You'd like it do better than it was tonight, for certain," head coach Jim Caldwell said. "But you've got to be patient with it, too. I think 21 times, as poorly as we were running it, is being pretty patient. We've just got to keep doing that."
The Lions rank 30th in the NFL in rushing offense at just 79.5 yards per game, and they haven't topped 100 yards in a game since a Week 2 loss to the Tennessee Titans.
Some of their issues have come from a lack of volume they ran the ball just 14 times in a Week 8 loss to the Houston Texans, and 18 times in a Week 4 loss to the Chicago Bears but Riddick, Washington and the rest of the Lions' running backs haven't given coaches much reason to believe in them, either.
Though the Lions salted Sunday's win away with a 15-play drive in the fourth quarter that ate up nearly eight minutes, they threw seven passes on the drive and had only one run longer than 3 yards.
"For us it's dirty work," Caldwell said. "Just got to grind it out and try to see if you can find some cracks. We didn't find very many. I think when I look at the film, I'm certain a lot's going to have to do with their linebackers playing downhill pretty well and that defensive front that they have playing well also."
As unreliable as their running game has been this year, the Lions still could get a boost from the return of running back Ameer Abdullah.
Abdullah has been out since suffering a foot injury in Week 2, but he was scheduled to visit Dr. Robert Anderson in Charlotte for a checkup on Tuesday.
According to ESPN.com's Michael Rothstein, a source said "everything went well" at that exam. The Lions have yet to use their IR designated-to-return spot and have not indicated what they might do with it. This could give them good news when it comes to Abdullah possibly returning this season, although it is not clear what Detroit will ultimately do.
Meanwhile, as Rothstein noted, the deeper into games the Lions get, the better they seem to play. The more dramatic the moment, the more comfortable they seem to be. Detroit has trailed at some point in the fourth quarter in every game this season.
The Lions' penchant for playing in close games makes it easy to dismiss them. It's also what makes Detroit one of the most dangerous teams in the NFL heading into the stretch run of the season and potentially the playoffs.
Stafford remains in the conversation as an MVP candidate because he is the player orchestrating the Lions' comebacks. Not doing Stafford many favors, however, is Detroit's defense, which has struggled to sack the quarterback, often allows opposing quarterbacks to have extremely high passing percentages against them and has been inconsistently leaky against the run.
For what it's worth. ... Stafford moved up two places in the all-time NFL passing ledger Sunday. With 278 yards, he threw past Trent Green (28,475) and Chris Chandler (28,484) into 52nd place all-time with 28,627 yards. Next up is Len Dawson, who has 28,711 yards. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Tight end Eric Ebron has 70 or more yards receiving in each of the past three games and has become one of Stafford's most-targeted players since returning from his knee and ankle injuries in Week 8. Ebron had a rushing touchdown Sunday. He played on 81 percent of the team snaps and is clearly a big part of the passing offense.
As Rothstein suggests, Ebron should be a TE1 for the rest of the season.
After Andre Roberts muffed a first-quarter punt to set up the Jaguars' first field goal, the veteran return man was determined to make up for his mistake.
"I was thinking in my mind not to press," Roberts said. "But it kind of just happened."
Roberts returned a punt 55 yards for a touchdown, following a good Don Carey block to the end zone.
Roberts now has two return touchdowns this season and ranks second in the NFL with a 15.5-yard punt-return average. Minnesota's Marcus Sherels is the only other player with two punt-return touchdowns this year.
Riddick had his right pinky finger heavily taped after the game, an injury that occurred when he caught his hand in a helmet in the first half. He has worked on a limited basis in practice this week and is listed as questionable, but he is expected to play against the Vikings. I'll have more on his status via Late-Breaking Update in advance of Thursday's game. ...
A few final items. ... The Lions waived receiver Corey Fuller on Tuesday while tight end Brandon Pettigrew came off the PUP list to practice Tuesday. According to Detroit Free Press staffer Dave Birkett, Pettigrew's knee wasn't holding him back recently, but he isn't expected to play this week.
The Lions promoted quarterback Jake Rudock to the active roster, according to his agent. The former Michigan and Iowa quarterback will be the number three QB on the roster.
QBs: Matthew Stafford, Jake Rudock, Matt Cassel
RBs: LeGarrette Blount, Ameer Abdullah, Theo Riddick, Dwayne Washington, Tion Green, Zach Zenner
WRs: Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, Kenny Golladay, Jared Abbrederis, TJ Jones
TEs: Luke Willson, Michael Roberts, Levine Toilolo
Green Bay PackersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 23 November 2016
According to Associated Press sports writer Todd McMahon, even as the yards and points allowed add up at a huge rate, head coach Mike McCarthy is staying the course.
McCarthy reiterated Monday what he said after the Packers' latest crushing loss the previous night: now is not the time to make any drastic changes, especially with a defense that is low on manpower and high on allowing big plays.
"There's no reinventing the wheel," McCarthy asserted. "We've talked about this since the day I arrived here. We have a system of football -- offense, defense and special teams -- that accommodates any football player on our roster. If we've got to reinvent the wheel in Week 11 or Week 12, we haven't set our plan the right way for the season."
There's not much time left for the Packers to get the season turned back in the right direction after host Washington pummeled them 42-24 on Sunday night.
Not only is Green Bay two games behind NFC North co-front-runners Detroit and Minnesota with six games to play, but the Packers' seven-year run of advancing to the playoffs is endangered.
In the throes of the team's longest losing streak since 2008, his first season as a starter, not even Aaron Rodgers can predict that Green Bay's backs being against the wall will be enough to spur a remarkable turnaround down the stretch.
"Yeah, if you win, if you bounce back and win," it could happen, Rodgers said after the team's second straight double-digit defeat on the road. "We've put ourselves in a tough spot. So, we've got to find a way to get a win next week, approach it one week at a time. That's all we've got right now. We're in a tough stretch."
Green Bay concludes what's shaping up to be a telltale three-game road swing by playing the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday night.
And, there's no telling just how many more points the Packers will give up after another frightening performance by their defense.
The Packers have an allowed an average of more than 420 yards per outing during their four-game skid. What's more, opponents have scored 153 points, the highest total against Green Bay in a four-game stretch since 1951.
"You can't win ballgames giving up that many points, no matter who's on offense," defensive back Micah Hyde said. "Our offense can score a lot of points and move the ball, do what they do, but if we give up that many points, we're not going to win any games. And we've seen that the last couple of weeks."
Defensive coordinator Dom Capers simply said, "No excuses," on Monday even as the injuries mounted for the defense.
Already playing without top cornerbacks Sam Shields and Damarious Randall, the Packers lost replacement starter Demetri Goodson to what McCarthy termed a significant knee injury in the first half Sunday.
Green Bay later had starting rookie linebacker Blake Martinez (knee) and contributing rookie safety Kentrell Brice (neck) leave the game as the Redskins pulled away in the second half with touchdown passes of 44 and 70 yards and a few other big plays.
"That's when kind of all hell broke loose," Capers said.
McCarthy said Randall is getting closer to returning to action, perhaps by next Monday night, when the Packers end their three-game road swing against the Philadelphia Eagles.
"I think what happened (Sunday) is very correctable, and we've got to go back to work and correct it because we know we've got to go to Philly and find a way to win a game," Capers said.
Meanwhile, another prolific performance by Rodgers again went for naught.
As the Sports Xchange notes, Rodgers recovered from an ominous start Sunday night, when he completed only one of his first five passes for zero yards as the Packers opened play with three straight three-and-outs for the first time with Rodgers as a starter.
Rodgers managed to weather tricky wind conditions by completing 26 of 41 passes for 351 yards and three touchdowns without an interception. His 115.0 passer rating is his best in three games.
The return of veteran tight end Jared Cook from a six-absence because of an ankle injury was mostly beneficial. Cook led Green Bay with six receptions for 105 yards and a touchdown in 11 targets. He atoned for not getting his head turned around in time on a short pass from Rodgers that would have been an easy touchdown. Cook, though, fumbled the football away in Washington territory late in the fourth quarter as the Packers were trying to rally from a 35-24 deficit.
Running back James Starks (five receptions, 46 yards) recovered from a bad drop on a screen pass to score on an uncontested 31-yard catch-and-run play.
Randall Cobb (three catches, 84 yards) had a huge 47-yard catch-and-run on third-and-12 to keep alive a fourth-quarter touchdown drive that kept the Packers within striking distance.
Standout cornerback Josh Norman alternated with coverage of Davante Adams and Jordy Nelson, each of whom had only three receptions for 42 and 28 yards, respectively. Nelson had a 13-yard touchdown grab.
Brett Hundley relieved Rodgers late in the game with the score out of hand, and the second-year pro completed only one of three passes for nine yards, having his last throw tipped for an interception.
Starks went into the game as the team's lone halfback. He was insignificant yet again running the football. Starks managed just 25 yards in nine carries, averaging a paltry 2.8 yards per rush with a long run of eight yards. A scrambling Rodgers again led the team in rushing with 33 yards in three attempts with a long of 17 yards. Wide receiver Ty Montgomery and fullback Aaron Ripkowski were slightly better than Starks with a combined 26 yards in six carries. The Packers finished the game with 84 yards on the ground.
Christine Michael was deactivated for his first game with the Packers Sunday night. That came as no surprise since Michael didn't join the team until Thursday after Green Bay claimed the fourth-year pro off waivers from the Seattle Seahawks.
McCarthy indicated Monday that Michael should be ready to contribute at Philadelphia.
But unless the defense figures out a way to slow opposing offenses down, the rushing attack is going to continue being an afterthought for the Packers.
And finally. ... Any hope that running back Eddie Lacy or cornerback Sam Shields would return from injured reserve to help the Packers turn their season around in the final six weeks was dashed on Wednesday.
McCarthy announced that the Packers will be going in a different direction when it comes to designating a player to return from injured reserve, leaving the two veterans on the shelf for the rest of the year. Cornerback Makinton Dorleant will be given the designation and resume practicing with the team on Wednesday.
Lacy is set to become a free agent this offseason and his ankle injury kept him from putting together a lot of film for teams to use as evaluation this year. He did average 5.1 yards per carry in his five games, which is a yard more than he was able to manage during a disappointing 2014 season.
Shields only played one game this year and suffered a concussion that gave him five over the course of his career. He had another one late last season that cost him extended time and those injuries will likely impact the outlook for his return to action next year as well.
QBs: DeShone Kizer, Brett Hundley, Joe Callahan
RBs: Jamaal Williams, Aaron Jones, Devante Mays, Ty Montgomery
WRs: Davante Adams, Randall Cobb, Geronimo Allison, Trevor Davis
TEs: Jimmy Graham, Lance Kendricks
Houston TexansCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 23 November 2016
In the Houston Texans' 27-20 loss to the Oakland Raiders on Monday night in Mexico City, they showed why they do not belong among the elite teams in the NFL.
The Texans hung in with the 8-2 Raiders for three quarters, but came undone in the fourth quarter.
One play after taking a 20-13 lead over the Raiders with less than 11 minutes to go in the game, the Texans gave up a 75-yard touchdown pass to fullback Jamize Olawale that tied the score.
Then, after failing to pick up more than a yard on third down and any on fourth down with 6:15 left in the game, the Texans turned the ball over on downs. Five plays later, the Raiders scored the go-ahead touchdown and final score of the night.
As ESPN.com's Sara Barshop noted, quarterback Brock Osweiler showed improvement in the loss, but it wasn't enough to lead the Texans' to their third-straight win. After throwing for just 99 yards last week against the Jacksonville Jaguars, he spread the ball around, finishing 26-of-39 for 246 yards, with a touchdown and an interception. The Texans struggled in the red zone, finishing 2-for-5, twice settling for field goals.
"I think we played good football, offensively," Osweiler said. "There was certainly a couple of mistakes, my turnover late in the second quarter. That's something I can't do. ... We certainly need to capitalize on touchdowns when we get in the red area. But I think overall, we played a much better offensive game this week, and I think we improved."
The ground game started slowly against the Raiders' run defense -- one of the worst in the league entering the game -- but running back Lamar Miller eventually got going, running for 104 yards on 24 carries and a touchdown. He had been limited the past three games with a shoulder injury, but showed he was closer to full strength on Monday night.
"It was a physical game," Miller said. "The offensive line did a great job of getting movement. I was just trying to be decisive and get north and south and try to make a play."
A win over Oakland would have made a statement, with the team at 7-3 and playoff head-to-head tiebreakers over the Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs. Instead, the Texans sit at 6-4, leading the mediocre AFC South by one game, yet to prove that they are a legitimate playoff threat.
"It's just too bad we couldn't pull it out," head coach Bill O'Brien said. "I think our players really played hard, and I'm just really proud of our players. [But] there's a lot of season left."
Meanwhile, DeAndre Hopkins appeared to have a touchdown taken away from him by the officials when he was ruled out of bounds as he tiptoed along the sideline en route to the end zone on Monday night. But NFL V.P. of Officiating Dean Blandino believes his officials got it right.
Blandino posted a video showing the Hopkins play and said that Hopkins' heel did appear to touch the white sideline. Blandino acknowledged that the replay doesn't conclusively show that the officials were correct, but he doesn't think it shows the officials were incorrect either.
"The right foot at the 36-yard line," Blandino said. "Look at the heel. The heel appears to be in the white. It's not right down the line so it's not definitive, but we certainly can't say he was obviously in bounds from this angle. The heel looks like it's down. It looks like it could be touching the white. It's not definitive either way. . . . It certainly appears that the foot is out of bounds. . . . There's no way we can say this foot is clearly in bounds and the ruling on the field is that he was out."
Blandino pointed out that a play like that can't be reviewed on instant replay because once an official signals that a play is over, it's over.
"This is not reviewable," Blandino said. "If we rule the player out of bounds, we're killing it, we're blowing whistles, you can't give an advance in replay. The theory is the players are stopping because of the dead ball ruling and it would be impossible to tell where the receiver would have ended up if we hadn't killed the play."
As Profootballtalk.com's Michael David Smith suggested, it's actually not impossible to tell where Hopkins would have ended up: Hopkins obviously would have ended up in the end zone, given that he's a fast runner who was five yards beyond the nearest defender. But under NFL rules, that call was impossible to change.
But there were other troublesome calls.
"I'm not going to stand here and get fined," O'Brien said after Monday night's loss. "I'm just a third-year coach. But with all these cameras and things we have and we can't get that right?"
O'Brien was specifically concerned about a questionable spot on a key fourth-down attempt by the Texans from inside the Oakland 20, with the game tied at 20. It looked like running back Akeem Hunt had gotten the needed yardage; replay review concluded that he didn't.
As for the Hopkins call, O'Brien said: "Did he look out of bounds to you? I had the flag out, but they told me I couldn't challenge."
Of course, the officiating issues were only one factor in the loss. It can be argued that O'Brien should have taken the field goal instead of going for it with six minutes to play and/or that he should have gone for it instead of punting when facing a fourth and five with 3:15 left and only one time out.
Regardless, the outcome allowed the Texans to stick to their season-long form: Win the games they're supposed to win, lose the games they're supposed to lose. ...
According to Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle, Osweiler said it was "very distracting" that he had a green laser pointer shined on him throughout Monday night's game.
"I'm still gathering information on what exactly took place, but all I know at this point is when we were out there on the field on offense, there were multiple times I saw a green laser coming from the stands," Osweiler said. "There was a couple of times it definitely hit me in the eye. And it was very noticeable.
"I never want to say one thing is a difference-maker, but certainly, having a laser zoomed in on your eyeball definitely affects how you play a game."
O'Brien didn't comment on the laser, referring the question to security. But it was clearly in Osweiler's eyes, and his head.
"I've never experienced a laser being shined in my eyeball during a football game, let alone a professional football game in the National Football League," Osweiler said. "So, I think that was certainly disappointing. At the end of the day, that's not why we lost the game. That was just one small factor, but it certainly affected how I was playing. ..."
A few final notes. ... Kick returner Tyler Ervin left the game with a chest injury.
Although he made a quiet return in his first game back from a knee injury, Texans rookie wide receiver Will Fuller suffered no setbacks with his health Monday night.
QBs: T.J. Yates, Brandon Weeden
RBs: Lamar Miller, Andre Ellington, Alfred Blue, Tyler Ervin
WRs: DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, Braxton Miller, DeAndrew White
TEs: Stephen Anderson, Evan Baylis, MyCole Pruitt
Indianapolis ColtsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 23 November 2016
According to Associated Press sports writer Michael Marot, the Colts' second straight cost them quarterback Andrew Luck.
Luck entered the concussion protocol after complaining about concussion-like symptoms following Sunday's 24-17 victory over Tennessee.
The Colts officially listed Luck as out for Thursday night's game against the Steelers on Wednesday.
Luck showed symptoms of a concussion on Monday and entered the league's concussion protocol. He wasn't able to participate in the team's abbreviated practices this week, and the release of Wednesday's injury report ended any remaining suspense about his status for this week.
Scott Tolzien, who hasn't thrown a regular-season pass since the 2013 season, will make his first start for the Colts.
Earlier Wednesday, the Colts promoted quarterback Stephen Morris from the practice squad to be Tolzien's backup.
Tolzien made his first NFL start against the New York Giants on Nov. 17, 2013, completing 24-of-39 passes for 339 yards and three interceptions. The 339 yards were the most by a Packers quarterback in his first start.
Tolzien also started a week later against Minnesota and connected on 7-of-17 passes for 98 yards.
"We've got a guy that comes to work every single day and prepares like a starter ever since he's been in this building," Pagano said of Tolkien. "He understands and knows this offense and if that's the case, he'll go out and play winning football."
As Profootballtalk.com's Mike Florio suggested, Tolzien may play winning football, but that may not ensure that the Colts will be winning on Thursday night against the Steelers.
Even with Luck healthy and playing pretty well this year, it's been a struggle. Indy needed fourth-quarter rallies to win its first two games and had to hold off opponents' comeback bids in each of the last three wins.
Last year, Luck missed nine games with multiple injuries, the last seven because of a lacerated kidney. To help keep him healthy this season, the Colts reduced his workload at practice. But he has been sacked a league-high 35 times.
Of course, the timing of all this couldn't be worse.
Indy just moved back into second place in the AFC South and got back into the playoff hunt by stringing together its first winning streak of the season. A third straight win would be a major step forward for a team that has been inconsistent all season.
The Steelers have won three straight in the series and 13 of the last 15 since 1984, and they just snapped a four-game losing streak with a win Sunday at Cleveland.
It's not the first time the Colts have faced this sort of predicament. Luck's 2015 injuries forced the Colts to rely on four additional quarterbacks to get through a season in which they finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2011. And Indy won the final game after signing Josh Freeman and Ryan Lindley as replacement quarterbacks the week of the game.
Meanwhile, ESPN.com's Mike Wells believes Luck's absence means T.Y. Hilton likely won't have the same impact in the offense. Hilton had three catches for 36 yards against the Steelers last season, when Matt Hasselbeck started at quarterback for the Colts.
Still, it's getting easier to figure out who the go-to guys are here. As NFL.com's Matt Harmon noted, Hilton and Donte Moncrief combined for 58.1 percent of the team's target share, and are the engines of this passing game going forward. Moncrief hauled in another red-zone touchdown on Sunday and has failed to score in just one game this year, which was the one he got hurt in back in Week 2.
Adding to the intrigue, Moncrief (hamstring) was added to the injury report Wednesday and is questionable for Thursday night's game.
Gore had only 50 yards rushing on 18 carries and the Colts wound up with 76 total yards on the ground. Still, Indianapolis was able to come up with some big runs in the first half that kept offensive possessions alive. While the Colts' running attack didn't put up great stats, they did enough to help get the win.
A few of Gore's runs came out of the Wildcat formation, which allowed the running back to take the direct snap from center. That formation came up big in the first half as Gore took the snap, pitched it to Luck, who threw it back to Gore for a 49-yard pickup.
A few final notes. ... With 262 passing yards against the Titans, Luck passed Bert Jones (17,663) for the third-most passing yards in franchise history. Luck also passed Jones (2,464) for the third-most passing attempts in team history.
Kicker Adam Vinatieri missed his first field-goal attempt of the Tennessee game from 42 yards and ended his streak of consecutive field goals made (44), which is an NFL record. Vinatieri later split the uprights from 49 yards in the fourth quarter to give the Colts a 24-17 lead. With the kick, he passed Morten Andersen (147) for the second-most field goals made from 40-49 yards in NFL history.
QBs: Jacoby Brissett, Scott Tolzien
RBs: Marlon Mack, Christine Michael, Matt Jones, Robert Turbin
WRs: T.Y. Hilton, Ryan Grant, Chester Rogers, Kamar Aiken
TEs: Jack Doyle, Eric Ebron, Ross Travis, Jason Vander Laan
Jacksonville JaguarsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 23 November 2016
As ESPN.com's Mike DiRocco reminded readers this week, one thing you can count on is the Jaguars finding ways to lose a game.
It happened again on Sunday at Ford Field when they blew a fourth-quarter lead and fell 26-19. It was the fifth consecutive loss for the Jaguars (2-8) and ensures that they won't have a winning record for the ninth consecutive season. The last time the Jaguars finished better than 8-8 was 2007, when they went 11-5.
Outside of the losses to San Diego and Tennessee, the Jaguars have had chances to win every game. But in each instance, they've found a way to lose, and a season that began with expectations of competing for the AFC South title has rotted away.
It was going to take the Jaguars pretty much winning out for head coach Gus Bradley to keep his job. There's virtually no chance of that happening now, and the only question is whether owner Shahid Khan will make the move soon or wait until the end of the season.
Sunday's loss played out differently than the others in that the Jaguars actually led in the fourth quarter. But they did what they've done all season – override the good things they do with stupid mistakes.
It's who they are, and after 10 games no one should reasonably expect that to change next weekend against Buffalo or for the rest of the season.
"The game's four quarters and there's plays throughout that game we're going to look at and wish that we had back," Bradley said. "I think we all just need to take a look at it because there's plays throughout we've got to get corrected."
The Jaguars did some good things on Sunday. They forced two turnovers, which snapped a five-game turnover-less streak that was tied for the longest since the 1970 merger.
They overcame injuries to key players; tight end Marcedes Lewis (calf), running back T.J. Yeldon (ankle), cornerback Aaron Colvin (concussion), and left guard Patrick Omameh (foot) all left the game for good in the second half.
They even took a lead into the fourth quarter, something they haven't had since their 17-16 victory over Chicago in Week 6.
But as the Sports Xchange put it, "Bortles continues to show the frigid side of a hot-cold quarterback the last two years."
Bortles threw two more interceptions, including the above-mentioned misfire that the Lions' Rafael Bush returned 39 yards to the end zone. It was the second pick-6 in as many games for Bortles, who now has thrown 10 such passes since the 2014 season the most by an NFL quarterback during that time.
And you don't think the Jaguars are snake bitten?
How many NFL quarterbacks have back-to-back games where they've had a fumble and an interception hit one of their own player's foot and bounce into the hands of a defender.
Bortles tried to throw a screen pass away a week ago against Houston, only to have the ball strike Yeldon's foot, shoot up in the air and have Houston's Whitney Mercilus grab the errant throw. Because it was a backward throw, it was later changed to a Bortles fumble.
In the game against Detroit, Bortles tried to hit Marqise Lee on a crossing route but threw behind him. Lee got a hand on the ball, but it deflected off his hand and then off his foot and into the waiting hands of Lions cornerback Tavon Wilson.
Two fluke turnovers that only the Jaguars could commit.
Meanwhile, a sprained right shoulder that Bortles suffered during Sunday's loss isn't expected to keep him from playing against the Bills on Sunday.
Bortles will get treatment throughout the week and will appear on the team's injury report, but Bradley said Monday, "Just what I heard today, it sounds like he should be in good shape."
However, Bradley isn't as optimistic about Yeldon, who suffered a sprained right ankle during the loss to the Lions and will be day-to-day. He did not practice Wednesday.
Bortles left the field early before halftime to get his shoulder evaluated -- Chad Henne took the Jaguars' final snap, a kneel-down -- but Bortles played the entire second half.
He completed 22-of-35 passes for 202 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions.
Yeldon was injured late in the first quarter, as well. He ran four times for 16 yards and caught two passes for 16 yards before leaving the game.
I'll be following up on Bortles and Yeldon as needed in coming days; watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for more. ...
Otherwise, the Jaguars placed Lewis on injured reserve Monday afternoon, possibly ending the time of one of the longest-tenured players in franchise history.
Lewis signed a three-year contract in March worth $12 million with $5 million guaranteed. His $4 million salary was guaranteed in 2016, but only $1 million of his $4 million salary in 2017 is guaranteed. Lewis has not figured prominently in the Jaguars' pass attack over the past four seasons, but he has been an effective blocker, and that's a prominent reason for the Jaguars to bring him back next season.
However, that also depends on which coaching staff is in place in 2017. ...
Also of interest. ... Allen Robinson has six touchdown catches this season and all have come when the Jaguars had the ball in the red zone, including a 3-yard touchdown grab in the second quarter on Sunday. Robinson now has 20 touchdowns since the start of the 2015 season, the most in the NFL during that time, one ahead of Seattle's Doug Baldwin.
Lee's third-quarter touchdown catch on Sunday was his first score of the season and matched his total of one touchdown in each of his first two seasons with the team.
According to DiRocco, Lee, who caught four passes for 52 yards (including the touchdown), has surpassed Allen Hurns as the Jaguars' No. 2 receiver (although Hurns is still playing more snaps). Lee has eight more catches and 79 more receiving yards on six fewer targets; but the biggest discrepancy is that Hurns is catching only half of his targets, while Lee is catching 68 percent of the passes thrown his way.
It wouldn't be a surprise to see Lee catch Robinson (51 catches) by the time the season ends. ...
Jason Myers' 52-yard field goal in the third quarter on Sunday was his third field goal of better than 50 yards (in six attempts) in his two-year career.
QBs: Blake Bortles, Cody Kessler, Brandon Allen
RBs: Leonard Fournette, T.J. Yeldon, Corey Grant
WRs: Donte Moncrief, Keelan Cole, Dede Westbrook, Max McCaffrey, Jaelen Strong, Marqise Lee
TEs: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Ben Koyack, Niles Paul
Kansas City ChiefsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 23 November 2016
The Chiefs felt on top of the world a week ago, when they were coming off a narrow win at Carolina — mostly because they were suddenly on top of the AFC West.
They sure didn't feel like that Sunday.
As Associated Press sports writer Dave Skretta noted, their offense continued to fizzle in the red zone, where Alex Smith threw a crucial interception in the fourth quarter. Their defense couldn't get Tampa Bay off the field on third downs, when Jameis Winston was able to repeatedly find Mike Evans and the rest of his wide receivers for first downs.
The result was a 19-17 setback that changes the complexion of the Chiefs' entire season.
No longer are they fighting for the No. 1 seed in the playoffs. Now, they're fighting to make the playoffs.
So far this season, the Chiefs (7-3) have been able to bail out their defense by converting crucial plays on offense, while their defense has stood tall when the offense has been scuffling.
When both sides went haywire Sunday, the result was obvious: A loss.
"We have to execute the plays. That's the cause. We stopped ourselves," said running back Spencer Ware, held to 69 yards rushing in another dismal effort. "We know what we need to fix and we're going to continue to work on it as a team."
That may be the biggest thing going for Kansas City as it tries to bounce back from its first loss since Oct. 2. There was no finger-pointing in an eerily quiet locker room, only resolve to fix the issues that have become the Chiefs' biggest concern in the waning weeks of the regular season.
On offense, it's the failure to score inside the opponents' 20-yard line.
The Chiefs ranked ninth in the league in points scored on their way to a playoff berth last season, but they haven't had the same success on the scoreboard this year.
They are 19th in the league after losing to the Buccaneers at home last Sunday and the quarterback comes into the crosshairs any time a team is finding it hard to consistently find the end zone. Many of Smith's numbers are also down from last season and the team's biggest offensive day in recent weeks came against the Colts in a game that saw Nick Foles replace Smith for most of the proceedings.
That may lead some to question whether Smith is the right man to lead the offense, but head coach Andy Reid is confident that better results are coming.
"I think Alex is OK," Reid told ESPN.com's Adam Teicher. "He's going to be fine. We've just got to keep going here. He does a great job with leadership and all of those things. He'll be fine. We've had a couple of weeks here when we've been in a little bit of a slump and we've got to pull out of it and get better. That's all of us."
As Profootballtalk.com's Josh Alper suggests, no one would expect Smith to morph into a different quarterback at this point in his career, but the Chiefs are going to need better offensive results than they've been getting if they're going to survive a tight AFC West race and make it to the playoffs for the second straight year.
Reid believes they're coming and this weekend's date with the Broncos would be an ideal place to start seeing results.
On the other side of the ball, the Chiefs need to figure out ways to force fourth downs. The Buccaneers were 11 of 16 on third down, none bigger than Winston's pass to Evans on third-and-3 just before the two-minute warning. It not only gave them a fresh set of downs, but allowed them to run off all but the final 8 seconds of the clock.
It didn't help that their secondary was missing top cornerback Marcus Peters, who has been dealing with a hip pointer. Peters hoped to play against Tampa Bay but the pain was too much.
Now, the Chiefs hope he'll be back for their Sunday night showdown against Denver.
Other notes of interest. ... The matchups in the passing game don't look good for the Chiefs against the Broncos, who can rush the quarterback and are strong at cornerback.
Teicher believes Kansas City's best strategy appears to be liberal use of Ware, who is averaging a healthy 4.9 yards per carry this season. Ware has averaged fewer than four yards per carry in just two of the seven games in which he has played, so he will eventually make the running game work if the Chiefs can remain patient with it.
Tight end Travis Kelce was the big offensive performer for the Chiefs in their loss to Tampa Bay. Kelce caught seven passes for 108 yards, including a 44-yard catch that was the longest of his career.
Jeremy Maclin (groin) missed another game on Sunday when he was added to the inactive list for the second consecutive week. Maclin has essentially missed the last three games because he worked just two plays in the Nov. 6 game against Jacksonville. The Chiefs have not provided an estimate on how much time Maclin may end up missing.
Meanwhile, as NFL.com's Matt Harmon pointed out, the Chiefs' wide receiver usage has been less than predictable since Maclin went down in Week 9 after playing just two snaps. It's hard to count on any of the remaining wideouts for consistent production. Chris Conley and Albert Wilson have failed to impress while getting the bulk of the playing time and it's hard to trust Tyreek Hill's volume when he is on the field less than his counterparts, even though, as Harmon noted, it does appear getting him the ball is a priority when he is in the game.
Yet, Hill's 13 targets in Week 10 are a clear outlier. ...
Charcandrick West (concussion) only played 10 snaps for the Chiefs' offense in Sunday's loss to Tampa Bay. But somewhere in that late fourth quarter activity West took a blow to the head. No word from the club on how serious a problem it might be, but West left the locker room after the game and showed no outward signs of problems.
I'll have more on West and Maclin -- neither of whom was practicing Wednesday -- via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.
One last note here. ... The Chiefs waived running back Bishop Sankey on Tuesday. Signed off the Patriots practice squad when injuries were an issue in Week 9, Sankey never hit the field for the team.
QBs: Patrick Mahomes, Chad Henne, Tyler Bray
RBs: Kareem Hunt, Charcandrick West, Kerwynn Williams, Damien Williams, Akeem Hunt
WRs: Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, De'Anthony Thomas, Jehu Chesson, Demarcus Robinson
TEs: Travis Kelce, Demetrius Harris
Los Angeles RamsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 23 November 2016
NFL coaching veteran and quarterback guru Jim Fassel provided the blueprint for rookie quarterback Jared Goff, who made his league debut Sunday for the Los Angeles Rams.
Hand the ball off to Pro Bowl running back Todd Gurley, who finished with 75 rushing yards.
"Gurley's got to get going," Fassel, whose son John Fassel serves as the Rams' special teams coordinator, told ESPN.com's Eric D. Williams. "That's the very first thing. And then after that, give him some throws near and dear to his heart, so he doesn't have to read a lot -- simple reads and quick throws."
Replacing starter Case Keenum for the first time, Goff was unspectacular in a steady drizzle, completing 17 of 34 passes for 134 yards, with no touchdowns and no interceptions.
Even so, his team held a 10-point lead heading into the fourth quarter. But the Rams failed to hold on, losing to the Miami Dolphins 14-10.
Goff became the 10th consecutive No. 1 overall pick to lose his debut under center, joining a list that includes Carson Palmer, Eli Manning, Alex Smith, JaMarcus Russell, Matthew Stafford, Sam Bradford, Cam Newton, Andrew Luck and Jameis Winston.
David Carr with the Houston Texans in 2002 is the last No. 1 overall quarterback to win his first NFL start.
With the loss, the Rams dropped to 4-6 on the year, falling even further behind in the team's quest to earn an NFL wild-card bid.
The Rams leaned on heavy run formations and max pass protection to make sure Goff was not under duress when he dropped back.
Goff threw just five passes beyond 10 yards, and all fell incomplete. One positive is the Cal product didn't turn the ball over, scrambled a few times to keep the play alive and made accurate passes on the run to move the chains.
Goff anticipated the blitz, got the ball out quick and basically managed the game, making sure not to put his team in a bad position because of poor decisions.
Sunday's contest was not a soft landing for Goff. He faced a Miami defensive front that sacked San Diego Chargers signal-caller Philip Rivers three times, forcing the veteran quarterback into four fourth-quarter interceptions in a 31-24 victory at Qualcomm Stadium last week.
After a forgettable opening series, Goff engineered a four-play, 68-yard scoring drive on which Los Angeles leaned on the running game.
The Rams gave the ball to Tavon Austin on a jet sweep for 7 yards. Then Goff found tight end Tyler Higbee off play-action for a 2-yard completion and hit Kenny Britt on a skinny post for a 19-yard gain.
But the backbreaker was a Gurley run up the middle for 24 yards and a score, giving the Rams a 7-0 lead.
That was pretty much the highlight of the day for the offense, however.
Could more changes be coming?
If so, Fisher said it won't be the guy calling plays for Goff.
Rob Boras was bumped up to the offensive coordinator job with four games left in the 2015 season when the Rams fired Frank Cignetti in a move that hasn't lit a fire under the Rams offense. They've scored three touchdowns in the last four games, rank at or near the bottom of the league in most major categories and haven't gotten Gurley going this year.
Despite that, Fisher says that no one's thinking about bumping Boras aside.
"Not given it any consideration," Fisher said, via the Los Angeles Times. "I did that last year. I have confidence in Rob and the offense has confidence in Rob. And the offense right now knows they're not doing what they should be doing."
As Profootballtalk.com's Josh Alper noted, given that last year's switch failed to ignite the offense, it's fair to wonder if the Rams have enough offensive talent across the board to make a better showing regardless of who is calling the plays. Fisher said the team is looking at changes on the offensive line and that he'd like to see Goff take more deep shots in the coming weeks.
"If those shifts don't work out," Alper added, "it will also be fair to wonder if Fisher will have a say in who the next offensive coordinator will be in Los Angeles. ..."
Any reason for hope?
The Rams face the Saints next, then the Patriots and Falcons -- three teams that are among the NFL's best offensively. Now that Goff has shaken off his debut, he will have to throw the ball downfield to keep up.
Other notes of interest. ... As noted above, Gurley reached the end zone on Sunday for the first time since Week 5. But as NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich noted, Gurley was inefficient as a runner beyond that averaging just 3.8 yards per carry, a line that was boosted by the 24-yard TD run the first quarter.
Gurley didn't have a single catch on the day in Goff's first start.
The volume has returned at least, as Gurley has logged 22 and 20 total touches in each of his last two outings. The Rams head to New Orleans which is a good matchup on paper for the second-year back. Good enough for Franciscovich to recommend him as an upside flex play.
And that's where we're at with Gurley. ...
Meanwhile, NFL.com's Matt Harmon notes that Brian Quick's snap share peaked at 74 percent back in Week 9, their first week off the bye, but is back down to 62 and 61 percent the last two weeks. Austin has once again overtaken him, going out for 82 percent of the team snaps, which was second behind Britt's 97 percent.
But until the Rams make good on the notion that Goff's greater arm strength would lead to an expansion of the playbook, nobody should get their hopes too high here.
QBs: Jared Goff, Sean Mannion
RBs: Todd Gurley, Malcolm Brown, Lance Dunbar
WRs: Robert Woods, Brandin Cooks, Cooper Kupp, Tavon Austin, Pharoh Cooper, Josh Reynolds
TEs: Tyler Higbee, Gerald Everett
Miami DolphinsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 23 November 2016
According to ESPN.com's James Walker, the Miami Dolphins have reached a graduation point in their 2016 season.
Not only are they a hot team. But the Dolphins have also proven to be a legitimately good team
The never-say-die Dolphins scored a pair of touchdowns in the final 4:02 and ran their winning streak to five games with Sunday's dramatic 14-10 victory over the Los Angeles Rams.
The Dolphins (6-4), who were without three starting offensive lineman in the second half against the Rams, find themselves in the thick of the AFC playoff race now, and considering they face New England in the season finale they still have an outside shot at winning the AFC East.
But that's getting way too far ahead of things.
The focus, for now, is on the five-game winning streak and what's transpired during these victories.
Miami, which started Sunday's game with Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey (hip) and Pro Bowl left tackle Branden Albert (wrist) inactive, and then lost left tackle Laremy Tunsil (shoulder) in the second quarter, is now a supremely confident team that believes it can win in any situation. The Rams game was a perfect example.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill led scoring drives of 77 and 75 yards, throwing a 10-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Jarvis Landry and another to wide receiver DeVante Parker to cap the come-from-behind victory.
"As long as there's time on the clock," Tannehill said, "I believe we're going to win."
Miami now has three fourth-quarter victories during the winning streak defeating the New York Jets and San Diego Chargers in addition to the Rams, winning on special teams (Jets), defense (Chargers) and offense (Rams).
And the Dolphins refuse to settle.
Miami trailed the Rams, 7-0, at halftime, and 10-0 entering the fourth quarter.
After they drove to get within 10-7 on Landry's hard-fought 10-yard touchdown reception they were faced with the prospect of a game-tying field goal on their final possession.
"We wanted to (be) aggressive," Landry said. "We didn't want the field goal, we wanted the touchdown."
They got it the touchdown. They've also, for now, got the look of a playoff team.
But as Walker noted, we shouldn't expect those feel-good vibes to permeate to the coaching staff. On Monday, head coach Adam Gase said he's turning the page and is laser focused on making sure his team doesn't overlook the San Francisco 49ers.
It would be easy to do so this week. San Francisco is 1-9 and one of the worst teams in the NFL. Miami will be heavily favored to pick up its seventh win and position itself well for tougher games down the stretch.
"Past San Francisco, I have no idea who's after that or after that," Gase said Monday. "I come in, start working on San Francisco and after that, we'll worry about when that comes up. But right now, we've got to figure out a way to win one game this week."
It only takes a second to find out Miami will have bigger games upcoming against the Baltimore Ravens (5-5) and Arizona Cardinals (4-5-1), who are also fighting hard to make the playoffs. The Dolphins have a manageable strength of schedule where only one of their final six opponents -- the New England Patriots (8-2) -- has a winning record.
That makes for plenty of fodder and projections from Dolphins fans but not from Gase and his staff.
"We're so far away still. It's not even worth it to me to look at it," Gase said. "We just have to focus on this week. If we just keep doing it right enough times, then good things will happen.
"We'll just keep playing until somebody tells us not to. ..."
On the injury front, Albert, who had wrist surgery last week, said he wouldn't rule himself out for this week's game against San Francisco. There's no word on when Pouncey will return. He missed the first four games of the season after an offseason hip procedure.
Tunsil, who was replacing Albert, sustained his injury in the second quarter against the Rams and didn't return.
That meant left tackle Sam Young joined left guard Kraig Urbik and center Anthony Steen as replacements on the offensive line along with regular right guard Jermon Bushrod and right tackle Ja'Wuan James.
The Dolphins were productive in the running game (19 carries, 98 yards, 5.2 yards per carry) but had a bit of trouble in pass protection (four sacks allowed). Still, they got the job done.
Jay Ajayi has rushed for 802 yards this season, including 685 during the current five-game winning streak. Ajayi has been slowed a bit the last two games, gaining 79 yards against the Chargers two games ago and 77 yards against the Rams last week.
Still, he's on pace to rush for way more than 1,000 yards.
Parker, who had his second 100-yard receiving game of the season last week, also had the game-winning, nine-yard touchdown reception against the Rams. Parker, the 2015 first-round pick, seems to be turning a corner. He has 38 receptions for 485 yards and two touchdowns on the season.
Last season as a rookie, Parker had 26 receptions for 494 yards and three touchdowns.
Landry was fighting leg cramps for much of the game-winning drive. Landry, a fiery sort who provides emotional inspiration for his teammates, was sidelined for a few plays while team trainers had him lying on his back as they massaged his legs. Landry got similar attention during a timeout deep in Rams territory when trainers came out to the field to massage his legs as Landry.
"I was just praying to God that he'd just let me have this moment with my teammates," he said. "Just crying out to him, literally, to just give me a little bit more juice, a little bit more energy to go out there and finish this one regardless of the outcome."
As NFL.com's Matt Harmon noted, the trend of Landry's role as an extension of the running game falling by the wayside continues. It's unlikely he ever gets back sort of volume he needs to put up numbers in his current role while Ajayi is averaging 22.6 carries per game.
QBs: Jay Cutler, Matt Moore, Brock Osweiler, Brandon Doughty
RBs: Frank Gore, Kenyan Drake
WRs: DeVante Parker, Danny Amendola, Kenny Stills, Albert Wilson, Leonte Carroo, Jakeem Grant
TEs: Anthony Fasano, MarQueis Gray
Minnesota VikingsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 23 November 2016
As ESPN.com's Ben Goessling framed it Tuesday, three years after his breakout rookie season, Cordarrelle Patterson again is a fixture in the Vikings' offense, getting almost as many opportunities in the offense on a week-to-week basis as he did during his first year. Patterson has 38 touches in 10 games this season, after totaling just 47 in 2014 and 2015 combined.
He had 39 touches, according to ESPN Stats and Information, in the final eight games of the 2013 season, when his role in the offense grew significantly.
But while Patterson's 2016 season so far hasn't included the headline-grabbing runs and catches that his rookie year did, he's getting the ball in a manner that looks much like how the Vikings used him in 2013.
Patterson is averaging only 3.24 yards per target as the Vikings look for him on the bubble screens and quick slants they used to great effect in 2013.
On Sunday, Patterson took a handoff from Jerick McKinnon out of the Vikings' Wildcat package, reversing the ball to quarterback Sam Bradford in a play Adam Thielen said the Vikings had just installed last week.
He's attempted only four runs this season, after carrying 12 times in 2013 and 10 in 2014, but Patterson is frequently paired with McKinnon in the Wildcat package, and Patterson is often Bradford's first read on the run-pass option plays the Vikings have favored under interim offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur.
"Any NFL player can do a lot of stuff. In each game, whatever you put a guy up to, I know he's up to the challenge," Patterson said. "This is our job. This is what we do. Each and every week, I see things I can do better. I see things I can improve on."
The change has been so striking that it merits discussing a possibility that once seemed hard to imagine -- that Patterson could get a new contract from the Vikings after this season. The team declined to pick up his fifth-year option last May, meaning Patterson is scheduled to become a free agent in March. He's still among the NFL's best kick returners -- his 104-yard return for a touchdown on Sunday helped the Vikings end a four-game losing streak -- but there once again could be a market for Patterson beyond that of a special-teams player.
The Vikings' offensive shift under Shurmur has contributed to a bigger role for Patterson. But so has the time the receiver invested -- working with a route-running coach and spending time with quarterback Teddy Bridgewater in the spring -- to capitalize on what he knew would be a last chance with the Vikings.
Meanwhile, Minnesota won a game on Sunday where Arizona was flagged for 96 yards' worth of penalties, and the Vikings got two touchdowns of more than 100 yards, on Xavier Rhodes' interception return of an off-target Carson Palmer pass and Patterson's electric 104-yard kickoff return.
The Vikings have now scored defensive or special-teams touchdowns in four of their six wins, and on Sunday they needed two of them to come out with a victory.
Help for the Vikings' offense could be on the way within a matter of weeks.
The word around running back Adrian Peterson is that his torn right meniscus is getting close to full strength, and while Peterson is still believed to be three to four weeks from returning, he'll be able to start doing more significant running this week. The running back's return would provide a much-needed playmaker for the Vikings' offense.
And while Peterson can't be expected to do it all himself behind a leaky offensive line, he'd help the Vikings open things up with another option that defenses would be forced to take into account.
The Vikings are currently last in the NFL in rushing.
McKinnon had only a team-high 44 yards on 16 carries (2.8) against the Cardinals, but he did have an eight-yard run on the opening touchdown drive, a 12-yarder on second-and-1 later in the game, and also a five-yarder out of the Wildcat formation.
The Vikings ran for only 72 yards, but there were more encouraging signs, such as Matt Asiata scoring on a 2-yard touchdown plunge and also gaining three yards on a dive play on third-and-1.
The Vikings released Ronnie Hillman on Monday after the former Bronco carried the ball twice for a total of 9 yards against Arizona.
Hillman, a member of Denver's Super Bowl-winning team last season, was used sparingly in the eight games he spent with Minnesota. He rushed 18 times for 50 yards and caught four passes for 43 yards.
Bradford threw for only 169 yards, but he only had eight incompletions (20 for 28) with a touchdown and no interceptions. The decimated offensive line held up fairly well with T.J. Clemmings back at left tackle and Jeremiah Sirles at right tackle. It gave up only two sacks, but one of them was a strip-sack turnover in Vikings territory late in the game.
Thielen continued his evolution as an NFL player. On the opening drive, he had a 22-yard catch and a beautiful 16-yard touchdown in which he had the athleticism and body control to get a second foot down inbounds. The official originally ruled him out, but the play was overturned upon review.
Patterson's 104-yard kickoff return for a touchdown was the fifth of his career, tying the team record set by Percy Harvin. It also was the fourth-longest in franchise history. Patterson has three of the four longest kick returns in franchise history, including the longest (109).
Patrick Peterson mostly took out Stefon Diggs in Sunday's game, limiting him to 35 yards when they squared off. According to NFL.com's Matt Harmon, Peterson covered Diggs on 19 plays. Nine of those were in the slot, where Diggs took 65 percent of his snaps, but the other 10 were when Diggs' lined up out wide. There were eight other pass plays when Diggs was lined up in the slot and Peterson didn't travel there to cover him.
Diggs (knee) was listed as a nonparticipant in Tuesday's practice, and head coach Mike Zimmer said on Wednesday that he's not sure if the wideout will play against the Lions on Thursday.
Diggs is officially listed as questionable, but ESPN's Adam Schefter is reporting the wideout is unlikely to play. I'll have more on his status via Late-Breaking Update in advance of the game.
QBs: Kirk Cousins
RBs: Latavius Murray, Mack Brown, C.J. Ham
WRs: Kendall Wright, Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, Tavarres King, Laquon Treadwell, Michael Floyd, Rodney Adams, Stacy Coley
TEs: Kyle Rudolph, David Morgan, Blake Bell
New England PatriotsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 23 November 2016
The New England Patriots improved to 8-2 on the season with Sunday's 30-17 win over a San Francisco 49ers team that has lost nine straight games.
While the result is obviously favorable, what did New England prove one week removed from a 31-24 loss to Seattle in Foxboro?
As the Sports Xchange notes, Tom Brady and Co. avoided the rare losing streak -- New England has lost consecutive games just six times since 2003 and Brady is 42-10 overall in his career following a loss -- but leading an inept 49ers team just 13-10 in the fourth quarter on Sunday was far from the rebounding bloodbath that many expected.
Rainy conditions and a semi-consistent 49ers' pass rush had Brady and the Patriots' offense sputtering in the middle of the game. Defensively, New England failed to notch a takeaway for the third straight week, as the unit continues to strive for personnel consistency and playmaking ability.
Head coach Bill Belichick seemed more than content with the final outcome and clean game played by his team in tough weather.
"I thought that was a solid effort by our team. It's always good to not turn the ball over. We made some big plays on offense in the fourth quarter and we needed those," Belichick declared. "Overall I thought we played hard. Tough week after the Seattle game coming out here. But I thought the players showed a commitment all week and came out and played with energy.
"Tough day but I thought our guys hung in there and battled well. It's good to have eight wins."
Brady recorded four touchdown passes for the second time in three contests, giving him 16 in just six games played this season. He continued to show the ability to evade pressure, make plays with his feet and throw on the run, including a 56-yard touchdown to rookie receiver Malcolm Mitchell that was easily the prettiest play of the day.
On Wednesday, Brady was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week for his performance.
Meanwhile the defense that now once again ranks as a top-five scoring unit kept things close to give Brady the chance to pull away in the end. Though San Francisco fumbled five times and Colin Kaepernick had plenty of throws that were off target, New England remains in a takeaway slump.
But a win is a win and with all the questions surrounding the team in recent weeks, New England continues to pace the race toward the playoffs in the AFC heading into Sunday's road battle with New York Jets.
"Pretty great day for me," said Brady, a Bay Area boy and 49ers fan while growing up.
It may not have been a great day overall for the Patriots but it was another step in the right direction as the team hits Thanksgiving, a time of year when Belichick and Brady often say the NFL season really begins. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Martellus Bennett had just one reception for 14 yards on two targets in the win over the San Francisco 49ers, despite the fact that New England Patriots played without All-Pro TE Rob Gronkowski (chest).
Even with the quiet performance, Bennett is having an impressive first season in New England in which he tied for second on the team with 39 receptions, third on the team with 518 yards and tied for the team lead with four touchdown catches.
According to NFL Network, Bennett's future in New England -- he's set to be a free agent after the year -- will be an "offseason priority" for the team in an effort to retain the former Pro Bowler.
Gronkowski did not make the trip to San Francisco after being ruled out on Friday due to the injury suffered the previous week on a big hit from Seattle's Earl Thomas and ESPN's Dianna Russini reports the team is preparing as if the star tight end wont play again this week, but Gronkowski was on the practice field Wednesday.
As Profootballtalk.com's Michael David Smith suggests, it's possible that Gronkowski is healthy enough that he could play but that the Patriots figure they can beat bad teams (like the Jets) without him and would rather have him healthy for when they need him against good teams down the stretch.
Chris Hogan (back) missed his first game of the season after he was ruled out on Friday. Hogan has been dealing with the injury for more than a week, though he was able to play through it a week ago against Seattle.
Worth noting. ... Brady wasn't seen on the field for the start of Wednesday's practice. No reason was given at the time.
I'll obviously be following up on the status Brady, Gronk and Hogan via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
Otherwise. ... Matt Slater left the 49ers game with a left foot injury and did not return. The Pro Bowler was seen using a crutch and walking boot after the game.
With Gronk and Hogan out, Brady may have been a bit too focused on Julian Edelman, targeting the slot receiver 17 times with just eight catches for 77 yards and a touchdown to show for it. Mitchell finished with four catches for 98 yards (including the touchdown) as he continues to earn Brady's trust and build a rapport with the veteran passer.
Dion Lewis made his season debut in San Francisco, his second week on the active roster after opening the season on PUP list. Lewis played 21 snaps against the 49ers. He carried the ball five times for 23 yards and caught three of the five passes thrown his way for 26 yards in his first action since tearing his ACL last November.
As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich suggested, with one game under his belt, Lewis could be a bigger factor as a pass-catcher this week against a Jets defense that has done well to stop the run this year.
The Patriots didn't exactly dominate a 49ers' rush defense that's by far the worst in the NFL, but it was still a productive day on the ground for LeGarrette Blount and Co.
New England's big back churned out 19 attempts for 124 yards (6.5 avg.) with a long of 44 yards. He also had a 35-yard touchdown run wiped out by a holding call. Removing kneel-downs, New England tallied 29 attempts for 172 yards as a team (5.7 avg.), though a couple big runs came late the fourth quarter with the game in hand the San Francisco defense seemingly waving the white flag.
The New England rushing game didn't get to the 49ers season average allowed of just over 180 yards, but the group did enough to balance out the offense and pull away for the win in rainy, tough conditions.
QBs: Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer
RBs: Rex Burkhead, Jeremy Hill, James White, Mike Gillislee, James Develin
WRs: Chris Hogan, Kenny Britt, Cordarrelle Patterson, Phillip Dorsett, Malcolm Mitchell, Matt Slater
TEs: Rob Gronkowski, Troy Niklas, Dwayne Allen
New Orleans SaintsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 23 November 2016
According to ESPN.com's Mike Triplett, the Saints are hoping to get two key players back in the lineup in Week 12 against the Los Angeles Rams, following an extra-long break after their Thursday night loss to Carolina.
Running back Mark Ingram left Thursday's game early to be evaluated for a concussion. And cornerback Delvin Breaux was inactive for the game as he continues to recover from a broken fibula.
But there was optimism that both are short-term issues.
Head coach Sean Payton said he wasn't positive whether Ingram was officially diagnosed with a concussion back in the locker room or if he is now in the NFL's concussion protocol.
"I don't know that the final diagnosis was that, and I don't want to comment on it. But I think he's gonna be OK, I think he's gonna be fine," said Payton, who admitted it was a tough moment when Ingram was first down on the field and players started waving to the sideline -- just like it happened when Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly went down for an even longer stretch later in the game.
"You feel for the player, and in your own mind you say a quick prayer, and you hope that they're well," Payton said. "And fortunately with Mark, within about 15 seconds, 10 seconds after I got out there, he gave me that smile and you know that things were gonna be OK."
But Payton subsequently announced that Ingram will practice Wednesday. He's appeared in every game so far for the Saints this season, and practicing Wednesday is a good move towards him continuing the trend.
I'll have more on Ingram when Late-Breaking Updates commence early Thursday. ...
The Saints didn't do a bad job running considering they were missing left tackle Terron Armstead, who was inactive because of knee and quadriceps injuries, and with Ingram leaving early. They finished with 107 yards and a 4.3 average on 25 attempts with Hightower leading the way with 69 yards and a long gain of 27 yards on 12 carries. Ingram had 28 yards on seven attempts with a long of 14.
Breaux insisted that he will be "ready to roll" over the final six games of the season after he and the team decided to rest him on a short week Thursday.
Breaux returned from the broken fibula in Week 9 and played two games. But he said he was dealing with soreness and some wear -- along with some rust.
Meanwhile, as Triplett pointed out, Michael Thomas hit his first patch of adversity in an otherwise stellar rookie year -- and it was a doozy.
The wideout lost two fumbles in the fourth quarter of the team's 25-23 loss to the Broncos in Week 10 and also had a pass broken up and turned into an interception earlier in the game.
But he came back with a solid performance four days later -- five catches for 68 yards in the loss at Carolina.
Before his rough game against Denver, Thomas had emerged as a go-to guy for the Saints, with five touchdowns in a six-game span. With 56 catches, he leads the team, ranks first among all rookie receivers and is tied for 11th overall in the league. He also ranks among the league's top 20 with 681 receiving yards and five touchdowns.
Drew Brees talked recently about how much trust he has developed in the sure-handed, 6-3, 212-pounder, whom the Saints drafted in the second round out of Ohio State. And Brees said that trust wouldn't go away after one bad day.
"I want to be great," Thomas said of his expectations for himself. "You know that competitive side in you. You just want to come out and erupt. You just want to go hard and prove people wrong. It was hard and a challenge, but I love challenges.
"I did a good job (Thursday) of protecting the ball and feel I'm off to a good start. I'm going to keep protecting the ball and getting better. ..."
The good news?
New Orleans will be at home the next two weeks against the Rams and Lions. The passing attack tends to thrive in the friendly confines of the Superdome.
Brandin Cooks has 471 receiving yards and five touchdowns in five home games this season, as compared to 265 yards and one touchdown in five road games. Oddly enough, Cooks has significantly more catches on the road (29 to 22). But he makes his biggest plays on the fast track in the Superdome, including scoring catches of 98 and 87 yards this season.
On a less positive note. ... Tight end Coby Fleener salvaged his night with a late TD catch in the fourth quarter -- but he was having perhaps his worst game of the season in the first 57 minutes of the loss to the Panthers.
He had a total of three catches for 17 yards -- one of which he fumbled and recovered for a loss to nullify a third-down conversion. Brees also didn't come close to Fleener on two downfield throws -- one of which resulted in a wobbly interception. According to Triplett, Fleener remains somewhat fantasy-relevant, since the Saints' No. 1-ranked passing offense can score in bunches whether it's early in games or when they need to play catch-up.
But it's getting impossible for fantasy owners to trust Fleener on a consistent basis at this point if they have more reliable options.
Other notes of interest. ... The Saints again had trouble with their special teams Thursday night, four days after a blocked extra point attempt and two-point defensive conversion by the Broncos was the difference in the Broncos' victory.
Against the Panthers, rookie kicker Wil Lutz had a 38-yard field-goal attempt blocked in the final minute of the first half.
Earlier in the quarter, kick returner Marcus Murphy tried to field a kickoff near the sideline that wound up going out of bounds at the 1-yard line, costing his team 39 yards of field position since the ball would have come out to the 40.
Payton had clearly heard some of the calls from the outside for special-teams coordinator Greg McMahon to be fired after Thursday's game. But Payton said it made more sense for New Orleans to simply bring in another veteran coach to add to the existing mix.
Payton told WWL Radio on Monday night in his weekly coaches' show that he has hired longtime special-teams coach Kevin O'Dea -- most recently the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' coordinator from 2014-15.
Payton said O'Dea has "expertise particularly when it comes to coaching the kicker, the snap and the hold," though he also believes he can help from a scheme standpoint with the return game and kick coverage.
QBs: Drew Brees, Tom Savage
RBs: Mark Ingram, Jonathan Williams, Alvin Kamara, Daniel Lasco
WRs: Michael Thomas, Ted Ginn, Willie Snead, Brandon Coleman, TommyLee Lewis
TEs: Ben Watson, Josh Hill, Michael Hoomanawanui
New York GiantsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 23 November 2016
As ESPN.com's Jordan Raanan pointed out, for most of the past two years, the Giants' offense has consisted of Eli Manning and Odell Beckham. If the quarterback-wide receiver tandem didn't play well or put up big numbers, the Giants didn't have a chance. New York's offense would sputter, and its defense wouldn't be strong enough to carry it.
That no longer appears to be the case. The Giants have another weapon -- rookie wide receiver Sterling Shepard -- who is developing into a serious threat. He may not be at the level of Beckham, but Shepard is a quality player out of the slot -- another playmaker to complement Beckham.
Shepard caught a touchdown pass for the third straight game in Sunday's 22-16win over the Bears at MetLife Stadium. He finished with five catches for 50 yards and 1 touchdown.
On a day when Beckham was held to 5 catches on 7 targets and just 46 yards, the Giants still managed to do enough offensively to win their fifth straight game. That was just fine with Beckham.
"No, I'm happy we won," he asked if he was frustrated by the lack of touches.
It helped that Shepard was a major factor. He was targeted 11 times, and came through with two of the Giants' biggest plays in the contest.
But Beckham's targets are down from 10.6 per game last season to 9.8. That's almost one fewer pass per game being thrown in his direction. The decreasing targets have proven to have a direct correlation to his production -- catches, yards and touchdowns -- being down across the board. The Pro Bowl receiver is averaging 15 yards and half a catch fewer per game.
Is this what's best for the Giants' offense?
As Raanan suggested, that's hard to fathom.
The offense failed to reach 30 points in a game this season, and they've been inconsistent, at best, for much of the first 10 games. Getting the ball to their best and most productive playmaker would seem to be a prudent approach, such as late in the game against the Eagles, when Manning had Beckham and tight end Will Tye each facing one-on-one coverage.
Manning threw to Tye, and the pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage and intercepted.
"With the game on the line," Raanan wrote, "that pass should go to Beckham 100 times out of 100 attempts. But not with these Giants and their current philosophy."
It's probably not an accident that Beckham was targeted at least 10 times in the three games in which the Giants had their best offensive output (against Washington, Baltimore and Philadelphia). He had 100-yard receiving games against the Redskins and Ravens and scored a pair of touchdowns against the Eagles.
It seems that simple: Get the ball in Beckham's hands and good things can happen. Do it early and the chances of success tick even higher.
Ten targets as the floor doesn't seem too much to ask, especially when the Giants are throwing the ball on average almost 40 times per game.
The Giants have gotten away from that every three games. It leaves Beckham with fewer opportunities to take a 5-yard pass and turn it into a 15-yard gain -- or a 50-yard gain.
The opposition undoubtedly is making it difficult. Opponents are putting two men on Beckham with regularity and designing their game plans to limit the damage. With Manning and New York coach Ben McAdoo unwilling to force-feed their top weapon, regardless of the coverage, the Giants' offense hasn't been able to hit its stride for any extended period this season. Beckham hasn't been able to glide into any sort of rhythm.
Beckham has failed to string together 100-yard games this season.
With Shepard becoming a more consistent threat and veteran wide receiver Victor Cruz chipping in with the occasional big play (he had a key 46-yard reception prior to Shepard's touchdown grab), the Giants are no longer so reliant on just one playmaker.
It's no longer Beckham or bust.
But it's hard to argue with Raanan's contention that heading down the stretch seems an ideal time to feed their most dynamic player, no matter the situation or the score.
In a related note. ... Head coach Ben McAdoo seemed surprised when he was asked just what Cruz's role is on this team.
"He's one of the starting receivers out there," McAdoo said, stating the obvious. "We had some guys nicked up, so what did he play (against the Bears), 60 plays? He played a lot of football for us yesterday."
The cumulative numbers would seem to indicate a much different story, one that might very well suggest that Cruz is slowly being phased out of the offense.
According to snap counts provided by the team, Cruz, who has the highest salary-cap figure out of the three receivers, has taken the fewest amount of game snaps out of the trio.
Beckham leads the way with 637 snaps (97.4 percent), Shepard is second with 623 snaps (95.2 percent) and Cruz, who missed the Week 9 game against the Bengals, has just 495 snaps (75.6 percent).
That ranking has also applied to the number of pass targets and receptions by each receiver. Beckham has caught 59 of 98 pass targets, Shepard is 44 of 72 and Cruz 26 of 44.
Even though Beckham tends to draw double and sometimes triple coverage, Cruz's pass targets have yet to surpass nine (that coming in Week 4), and he has yet to lead the team in targets.
Despite his reduced numbers, Cruz has a way of making the clutch plays when needed and with rookie Roger Lewis in the league's concussion protocol after suffering a head injury on Sunday, there's no reason to believe Cruz won't continue to play his usual role this week. ...
One last item here. ... The Giants recorded their second straight 100-yard rushing performance as a team in as many weeks.
The bad news is that most of the rushing yardage between the tackles went nowhere, as the offensive line couldn't create creases on a consistent basis to spring the duo of Rashad Jennings and Paul Perkins for yardage.
New York had far better success bouncing runs to the outside. Per Profootballfocus.com, Jennings, the team rushing leader with 85 yards on 21 carries, averaged 5.7 yards on rushes outside of the guards and just 0.7 yards on runs behind the interior offensive linemen.
Jennings' 129 total yards and a touchdown were probably more than fantasy owners expected. And as NFL.coms' Matt Franciscovich suggested, it looks like the Giants are committed to Jennings, who played played 47-of-67 snaps against the Bears, as their feature back. If that's the case, he should have no issues putting up another big game this week in Cleveland.
QBs: Eli Manning, Davis Webb
RBs: Orleans Darkwa, Jonathan Stewart, Wayne Gallman, Shane Vereen, Paul Perkins
WRs: Sterling Shepard, Roger Lewis, Travis Rudolph, Ed Eagan
TEs: Evan Engram, Jerell Adams, Rhett Ellison
New York JetsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 23 November 2016
Ryan Fitzpatrick will be the New York Jets' starting quarterback Sunday against the New England Patriots, with head coach Todd Bowles making the announcement after practice Monday.
"He's healthy, he's been our starter," Bowles said. "I don't see anything that could change that right now."
Fitzpatrick sat out the Jets' previous game against Los Angeles on Nov. 13 with a sprained left knee. Bryce Petty made his first regular-season NFL start and went 19 of 32 for 163 yards with a touchdown and an interception in the 9-6 loss.
Bowles said last week that he would consider which quarterback would give the Jets (3-7) the best chance of winning against the Patriots (8-2).
"He's been playing all year," Bowles said of Fitzpatrick. "He knows more of the system. He can do more things. He's been the starter. I don't give away jobs. You've got to take a job. Bryce has gotten better and he'll be ready to play if called upon."
Still, Bowles said he was leaning all along toward choosing Fitzpatrick, as long as the quarterback showed he was healthy enough to practice and play this week. He just needed Fitzpatrick to practice Monday to reaffirm his decision.
"I'm excited to get out there and play versus New England and just try to rally our guys," Fitzpatrick said. "This is something I really enjoy doing and really enjoy doing it with these guys in the locker room, so we're looking forward to it."
As Associated Press sports writer Dennis Waszak Jr. pointed out, Fitzpatrick is tied with Jacksonville's Blake Bortles for the NFL lead with 13 interceptions, and his 67.6 quarterback rating is the worst among quarterbacks with 150 or more passing attempts. He was benched earlier in the season in favor of Geno Smith. But Fitzpatrick regained his job when Smith was lost for the season with a torn knee ligament.
When Fitzpatrick hurt his knee at Miami on Nov. 6, many fans and media figured it was the perfect opportunity for the Jets to play Petty the rest of the way to see what they have in last year's fourth-round draft pick instead of a veteran who likely won't be re-signed as a free agent in the offseason.
And, if Petty faltered, the Jets could theoretically give second-rounder Christian Hackenberg a look for the final game or two. That, however, is a philosophy Bowles doesn't subscribe to.
"I actually know quite a bit about both of them, so it's not paramount for them to play right now," Bowles said.
"And, right now, Fitz gives us the best option. You don't have to play a person just to see what they have. Petty's time will come. So, we'll be patient with that."
With the players back at the facility for the first time since last Tuesday following a bye-week break, Fitzpatrick was able to test out his knee after having two full weeks to heal.
"Just getting treatments over the bye was nice," he said, "and then today at practice just going out there and making sure that it felt as good as I thought it would, which it did."
Fitzpatrick will play with a brace on the knee, something that gives him "extra peace of mind." He also insisted it will not affect his play or mobility.
For Petty, it's back to being a backup — and waiting for another opportunity.
"Nothing's changed for me," Petty said. "That's coach's decision, so I'm going to respect that. He knows what's best for the team."
When asked if he was disappointed in the Jets going back to Fitzpatrick, Petty sidestepped the question.
"My feelings are irrelevant," he said. "They really are. I'm not going to focus on me because that takes away from the team. Again, nothing's changed and I'll continue to prepare like I'm the starter and get better every day."
In a related note. ... The struggles at QB have rendered Brandon Marshall (43 catches for 601 yards, two touchdowns) a mere mortal. Third-year receiver Quincy Enunwa (38 catches for 534 yards, three touchdowns) has proven to be more of a secondary piece. Rookie receivers Robby Anderson (22 catches for 270 yards) and Charone Peake (13 catches for 109 yards) have offered some promise.
Anderson has seen six targets in three consecutive games and ESPN.com's Rich Cimini notes Anderson is well ahead of Devin Smith, who still hasn't been active for a game. The Jets still believe Smith, coming off a major knee injury, can be a vertical threat -- perhaps even this season.
But will he overtake Anderson as the No. 3 receiver? No, not anytime soon.
Worth noting. ... Enunwa (neck) was limited in Wednesday's practice.
The Jets have re-signed wide receiver/kick returner Jeremy Ross, who is back for his third stint with the team this season.
Finally. ... Matt Forte (732 yards rushing, seven touchdowns) has been everything the Jets could have hoped for in his age-31 season, while Bilal Powell (512 all-purpose yards, two touchdowns) continues to thrive as the jack-of-all-trades who can pitch in as the lead back if necessary.
The only problem is the Jets aren't using Forte and Powell enough.
As the Sports Xchange notes, the duo combined for 42 carries in the last two games, which the Jets lost by a total of nine points. There's no saving the season, but the end result will probably look a little better if the Jets center the offense around Forte and Powell.
QBs: Teddy Bridgewater, Bryce Petty, Christian Hackenberg
RBs: Matt Forte, Isaiah Crowell, Bilal Powell, Elijah McGuire, Thomas Rawls
WRs: Robby Anderson, Jermaine Kearse, Neal Sterling, Andre Roberts, Terrelle Pryor, Chad Hansen, ArDarius Stewart
TEs: Eric Tomlinson, Will Tye, Jordan Leggett
Oakland RaidersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 23 November 2016
As ESPN.com's Paul Gutierrez noted, for three quarters, the Oakland Raiders' potent offense slept.
It backfired and could not get out of its own way. The strength of the unit, its massive and athletic offensive line, got owned by the Houston Texans' defensive line.
With an Estadio Mexico crowd of 76,473 watching, Oakland's offense gasped and wheezed and, as left tackle Donald Penn warned last week, needed to get its second wind. The question, Penn wondered, was when it would come.
Of course, it was quarterback Derek Carr who supplied the figurative oxygen masks at an elevation of 7,382 feet in Oakland's come-from-behind 27-20 victory in the first Monday Night Football game played in Mexico.
"Everyone pats me on the back and gives me a high-five and all that," said Carr, who threw for 295 yards on 21-of-31 passing with three touchdowns and an interception, his first pick in 170 attempts.
"But it really only happens because our offensive line gave me so much time."
To wit, three big plays -- a 75-yard catch-and run-touchdown by Olawale on a wheel route tied the score at 20-all with 10 minutes, 44 seconds to play; a 39-yard catch-and-run by Murray got the Raiders in field goal range with less than five minutes to play; and a 35-yard catch-and-run score by Cooper proved to be the winner -- told the tale.
Otherwise, the Raiders' fiesta was more like a siesta.
"As the game went on, we just found a way to win," Murray, who had 33 yards rushing on 12 carries, said of the altitude.
"Didn't let it get to us. Subbed out if you needed to come out, catch your wind and get the oxygen. But we just found a way to win and I think that's what's most important and that's what's special about this team."
Before Olawale's game-tying TD, Carr & Co. had mustered only 120 yards of total offense. They put together 160 yards on their next two possessions and drove from their own 20-yard line to the Texans' 19-yard line before Carr took a knee to run out the clock.
"We just believed," said Cooper, who tied a season low with four catches for 57 yards. "In this game, strange things happen but you just have to keep pushing. You have to play four quarters and that's what we did."
Penn's answer, then? The fourth quarter.
"I think so," Murray said. "We had to come up with some big plays."
Three of them, to be precise.
And now, at 8-2, the Raiders have a one-game lead in the AFC West and are tied with the New England Patriots for the best record in the conference — a remarkable turnaround for a team that lost its first 10 games two years ago and hasn't had a winning season since last making the playoffs in 2002.
That was also the previous time Oakland had a four-game winning streak, which the Raiders matched by beating the Texans.
Meanwhile, after arriving in California early Tuesday morning following a red-eye flight from Mexico City then spending an hour passing through customs, Del Rio and his staff turned their attention to this week's game against Carolina.
The short week also includes the Thanksgiving holiday, another hurdle for Del Rio and his staff.
"There are definitely challenges to recovering on the short week and traveling and playing at (a high) altitude and all those things," Del Rio said.
"We spent a lot of time in the offseason going through how we're going to work the team and forecasting things that are coming, so it's not like we're just trying to decide today what we're going to do. We've got a plan in place ... and the guys have embraced it.
"It's hugely important for us to bounce back from what we just did and get prepared for what's next."
As Associated Press sports writer Michael Wagaman pointed out, not everything went well in Mexico City.
Two weeks after piling up 218 rushing yards against Denver, the Raiders were limited to just 30 by the Texans.
All of that was a lot easier for Del Rio to take after Carr's game-winning touchdown pass to Cooper. ...
A few final notes. ... Olawale has the two longest receptions for the Raiders this season, 68 yards and 75 yards, the latter for the above-mentioned touchdown.
Carr threw 170 passes between interceptions, with the streak broken against Houston in Mexico City on his first throw of the second half.
QBs: Derek Carr, E.J. Manuel, Connor Cook
RBs: DeAndre Washington, Jalen Richard, Marshawn Lynch, Doug Martin
WRs: Jordy Nelson, Amari Cooper, Seth Roberts, Johnny Holton
TEs: Jared Cook, Lee Smith
Philadelphia EaglesCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 23 November 2016
Nelson Agholor's blunders could send the former first-round pick to the sideline.
As Associated Press sports writer Rob Maaddi, the Eagles signed wide receiver Paul Turner off the practice squad on Monday, a day after Agholor had a costly penalty and no catches in a 25-16 loss at Seattle.
Agholor, the 20th overall pick in the 2015 draft, has underperformed in his first two seasons in Philadelphia. He has 50 receptions for 547 yards and two touchdowns in 23 games.
"Sometimes you have to take a step back in order to go forward," head coach Doug Pederson said. "Sometimes that can help clear your head."
Agholor lined up almost 2 yards behind the line of scrimmage and was called for illegal formation to nullify a 57-yard touchdown pass to Zach Ertz that would've given Philadelphia a lead in the second quarter.
Wide receivers coach Greg Lewis and the official nearest to Agholor were signaling for him to move forward, but he didn't see them.
Agholor then dropped a perfect pass 20 yards downfield that would've gone for a long gain. Afterward, he admitted he's thinking about his mistakes.
"I just have to get out of my own head," he said. "I'm pressing so much and worried about so many things.
"Because I'm thinking too much and so worried and it's a selfish thing that needs to stop. I need to give my energy to my teammates and this organization and not myself and feeling so pressured to make every single thing. Just have fun."
Pederson hinted that Agholor could be inactive Monday night when the Eagles (5-5) host the struggling Packers (4-6).
"I will definitely have a conversation with Nelson," Pederson said. "Those are definitely concerns that I have, now that he's obviously come out and said that publicly. My concern is for him as an individual, as a person, and I want to make sure that he's in a good spot."
As the Sports Xchange notes, aside from slot receiver Jordan Matthews, who leads the team in just about every pertinent pass-catching category, the Eagles have gotten little production from the rest of their wide receivers.
Bryce Treggs, who is the Eagles' fastest receiver, has only played in three games and has two catches. Dorial Green-Beckham, who was picked up in a pre-season trade with Tennessee for loose change, is still essentially a 6-5, 240-pound project.
Bottom line: the Eagles are going to give Turner a chance to show what he can do.
Turner, an undrafted free agent from Louisiana Tech, was Philadelphia's leading receiver in the preseason. He has spent the first 11 weeks on the practice squad and now gets his chance to prove he should play.
"We gave him some work last week in practice and just feel like this is a good opportunity now, not only for him, but for us to see where he's at, see what he can do and give him an opportunity," Pederson said. ...
According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, the fact that Philadelphia paid Turner full salary while he was on the practice squad is an indication of how much they like him.
On the injury front, the Eagles got mixed news.
Running backs Ryan Mathews is day to day with a mild sprain in his right knee and versatile back Darren Sproles has a nondisplaced rib fracture. Sproles shouldn't miss any games (teammate Brent Celek has been playing with the same injury the last two games) and Mathews likely will be ready to go.
But rookie right tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai will be sidelined after suffering a Grade 2 sprain of the medial collateral ligament in his knee. Cornerback Leodis McKelvin is in the concussion protocol.
Allen Barbre will move from left guard to take Vaitai's spot and Stefan Wisniewski would replace Barbre. Vaitai has been filling in for Lane Johnson, who returns from his 10-game suspension in four weeks.
I'll obviously be following Mathews' and Sproles' progress -- neither of them practiced Wednesday -- closely via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. I'll have more on Agholor as well. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Carson Wentz continues to have his ups and downs. He threw two interceptions and averaged just 4.8 yards per attempt in Sunday's loss to Seattle.
In Wentz's first four starts this season, he had a 67.4 completion percentage, averaged 7.4 yards per attempt, threw seven touchdowns and one interception and had a 103.5 passer rating. In his last six starts, he has a 72.3 passer rating that includes a 60.4 completion percentage, 6.0 yards per attempt, four touchdown passes and six interceptions.
"There are things we've just got to clean up, and it starts with me," Wentz said.
And finally. ... Ertz on having his 57-yard touchdown catch erased because Agholor didn't line up properly: "I was a little frustrated. Unfortunately, I've had multiple touchdowns called back the past two years. Just little mistakes, myself included, are killing us right now. That was a big play in the game, obviously. It would have brought us within two points at that point. Especially against that team in that stadium, if you blow little stuff like that, it's extremely hard to win."
And it's extremely hard for fantasy owners to watch an underperformer like Ertz lose a rare score for reasons outside his control.
QBs: Nick Foles
RBs: Jay Ajayi, Corey Clement, Kenjon Barner, Wendell Smallwood
WRs: Mike Wallace, Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, Mack Hollins, Shelton Gibson
TEs: Zach Ertz, Richard Rodgers
Pittsburgh SteelersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 23 November 2016
According to Associated Press sports writer Will Graves, the Steelers don't think head coach Mike Tomlin needs to explain himself whenever his gut tells him to bail on convention.
If Tomlin wants to go for it — whether it be a 2-point conversion, an iffy fourth down or a touchdown instead of a chip shot field goal, a choice he made three times at the end of the first half in Sunday's 24-9 victory over Cleveland — that's totally fine by the Steelers. Last they checked, getting into the end zone is what they're paid to do.
"It was awesome, man," center Maurkice Pouncey said. "I love it. Get some points, man."
Something the Steelers did — eventually — during an eyebrow-raising sequence that began with the ball at the Cleveland 3 and 5 seconds left in the second quarter. Leading 6-0, a Chris Boswell field goal would have made it a two-score game. Even though Pittsburgh was scheduled to receive the second-half kickoff, Tomlin kept Ben Roethlisberger and the offense on the field.
Two incompletions, two Cleveland penalties, a churning 1-yard touchdown run by Le'Veon Bell and a 2-point toss to David Johnson later, Pittsburgh led 14-0. It was halfway to ending a four-game losing streak.
Just like Tomlin drew it up, right?
"We need to score points," Pouncey said. "(Kicking field goals) never wins. You get a whole bunch of field goals, we been in that situation before."
Tomlin insisted there was no ulterior motive for repeatedly trying to get six, and eventually eight, though the timing was auspicious. The Steelers went 0 for 4 in 2-point conversions in a narrow 35-30 loss to Dallas the week before.
"The message is that we wanted to score, because scoring produces wins," Tomlin said on Monday. "And we're always generally aggressive in that area of the field."
The Steelers controlled the time of possession against the Browns and had three drives of 15 plays or more. But all three drives ended in short field goals as they bogged down in the red zone with a variety of mistakes, including an illegal procedure penalty that stalled one of those drives.
"Obviously, you want to get the ball into the end zone, but you have to credit Cleveland for keeping us out of the end zone," said Bell, who had 201 yards from scrimmage. "We have to clean some things up from a detail standpoint when we get into the red zone. We got away with it today but other games we may not. We'll watch the film and see what we have to clean up. The details have to get better."
Pittsburgh (5-5) could afford to gamble more than usual against the woeful Browns (0-11) while winning on the road for just the second time this season. A more difficult test awaits on Thanksgiving night in Indianapolis. Drumming the NFL's worst team a short two-hour bus ride from home is one thing.
"Honestly I don't like the Thursday games," Pouncey said. "Short preparation, the body gets short rest, and as a lineman, we go out there 71 plays (against Cleveland). Every play I touched somebody, trust and believe that."
While a concussed Andrew Luck won't play in this one, the Steelers haven't exactly thrived on short rest recently. They've dropped four straight on Thursdays, including a Thanksgiving night loss in Baltimore in 2013 that included Tomlin nearly colliding with Ravens returner Jacoby Jones during a long runback.
Pittsburgh went through its usual Monday routine, which includes a series of sprints on the practice field. There will be minimal contact on Tuesday and Wednesday before hopping the plane to Indianapolis. The Steelers hope the sense of urgency and the adrenaline it brings will overcome any lingering aches.
A little bit of familiarity with the Colts should help. Pittsburgh has thumped Indianapolis each of the last two seasons by a combined score of 96-44, though Luck did not play in last year's 45-10 whipping due to injury and Scott Tolzien is likely to be under center in Luck's place this time out. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Bell set the franchise record for 200-yard games from scrimmage when he reached 201 yards against the Browns. Bell and Willie Parker had shared the record with three 200-yard games. Bell had 146 rushing yards against the Browns and 55 receiving yards.
The Steelers passed for a season-low 167 yards, but the cold and windy conditions at First Energy Stadium had something to do with Roethlisberger's day. He was 23 for 36 and registered a 74.7 passer rating.
He didn't throw a touchdown pass for only the second time this season, but he didn't throw an interception either and got the Steelers out to a lead they never relinquished.
Ladarius Green only played eight offensive snaps against the Browns, and he continues to be slowly worked into the offense. Green was targeted twice Sunday and did not have a catch.
Tomlin told reporters on Monday that Sammie Coates is healthy enough to play but he's limited catching the ball due to his two broken fingers. Assume Antonio Brown, Eli Rogers and Cobi Hamilton will be the primary downfield threats until further notice. ...
On the injury front. ... Xavier Grimble did not play against the Browns due to a quad injury and was ruled out again this week.
Like Grimble, they were officially ruled out Thursday.
And finally. ... According to NFL Network, Karlos Williams is being suspended for the team’s next 10 games for violating the NFL Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse.
QBs: Ben Roethlisberger, Landry Jones, Josh Dobbs
RBs: Le'Veon Bell, Terrell Watson, Stevan Ridley
WRs: Martavis Bryant, Eli Rogers, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Justin Hunter, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Antonio Brown
TEs: Jesse James, Xavier Grimble, Vance McDonald
San Diego ChargersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 23 November 2016
It was back to work for the San Diego Chargers, but as the Sports Xchange suggested, hopefully not a return to the same old, same old.
The Chargers, coming off their bye week, began preparing to play the Houston Texans on Sunday. They do so with just a sliver of hope regarding the playoffs.
If the Chargers won all six of their remaining games there might be some hope. But that would only get them to 10-6, and the way the AFC is bunched up this year, that might not be enough.
The Chargers certainly know they can't climb over the three teams in front of them to win the AFC West. All three of their divisional foes have at least seven wins, presenting a difficult challenge for the last-place Chargers.
But carry on they will, even if the result is likely missing the playoffs for the sixth time in seven years. Quarterback Philip Rivers delivered just that message when calling up the players after practice.
"Phil was saying that everybody here wishes they could go back in time and change one little thing that we did in some of the losses that we had," rookie defensive end Joey Bosa said. "But obviously we can't do that. So just looking forward we have a six-game season. So that is really all we can focus on. Our goal is to go 6-0."
That would surpass the number of victories the Chargers managed all of last year and through 10 games this year.
Head coach Mike McCoy said the team isn't looking behind them.
"The record is what it is," he said. "I think everyone would like to have a better record but you can't do anything about that. We have to move on. Our No. 1 focus is finding a way to win this week against Houston."
It won't be easy, with the Texans 5-0 at home and the Chargers countering with their 1-4 road record.
But Houston will be coming off a short week after playing the Oakland Raiders Monday night in Mexico City. McCoy said he is more concerned about the Texans than if his guys will be fully vested down the stretch.
"If someone doesn't want to do that, we got the wrong kind of guys here," McCoy said.
Little has gone right for the Chargers in another losing season. They have six games left to prove otherwise.
Meanwhile, Associated Press sports writer Jay Paris reports that wide receiver Travis Benjamin was reprimanded during Monday's practice — that's a positive.
"I kind of had a couple tempo violations where I was going faster than the other guys and they told me to slow down," Benjamin said. "I was just feeling happy, and knowing that I could pick it up and run faster."
Benjamin was eager to display his speed in the team's first workout after its bye. In a light session on a damp field, Benjamin was raring to show that his ailing knee is fine.
"It felt good to be back out there," said Benjamin, who has missed two games. "We'll see how it goes this week."
Benjamin was among the Chargers returning to practice after being injured leading up last week's bye. Also working and looking as if they'll play on Sunday at Houston were strong safety Jahleel Addae (clavicle) and inside linebacker Denzel Perryman (hamstring).
"It's great to get Denzel back on the field," McCoy said. "We all know what type of player he is, with his knowledge of the system and the play-making ability that he has. So anytime you can get any player back it is always a bonus for our team."
Two key players didn't return. Cornerback Brandon Flowers (concussion) and inside linebacker Jatavis Brown (knee) were unable to go. ...
Meanwhile, Melvin Gordon finally had his coming-out season, one year after a rookie season that was disappointing. But Gordon has been among the league leaders in touchdowns (11) and rushing yards (838) as he has completely flipped the notion that he might have been a first-year bust.
The run-blocking has been better as well. Injuries haven't hit this group like last year when it used 24 different combinations. Center Matt Slauson has been a big addition and given the line a good dose of nasty. Injuries to Branden Oliver and Danny Woodhead significantly increased Gordon's workload. ...
Antonio Gates has seen eight-plus targets in four consecutive games and ESPN.com's Eric D. Williams expects the heavy usage to continue.
Rookie Hunter Henry has been slowed by a knee issue and Gates remains healthy, so the Chargers will continue to use the veteran tight end. With 109 touchdown catches, Gates is just two away from reaching Tony Gonzalez's all-time touchdowns mark for tight ends (111), so expect Rivers to feed him inside the red zone.
But Clay conceded the 2015 undrafted free agent has been a bit boom/bust, as he has now produced four top-13 fantasy weeks and two finishes outside the top-80 during his past six outings.
Still, Williams has been on the field for 88 percent of the Chargers' pass plays and is averaging 6.9 targets per game and that's enough to keep him locked in as a fantasy WR2 with some upside.
QBs: Philip Rivers, Geno Smith, Cardale Jones
RBs: Melvin Gordon, Branden Oliver
WRs: Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams, Travis Benjamin, Mike Williams, Geremy Davis
TEs: Antonio Gates, Sean McGrath
San Francisco 49ersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 23 November 2016
As ESPN.com's Nick Wagoner put it, "The San Francisco 49ers are now the 1-and-9ers."
This after the Niners lost their ninth consecutive game Sunday, this time a 30-17 defeat against a New England Patriots team that appeared to be sleepwalking for large chunks of the contest. But San Francisco couldn't take advantage for a reason that has become all too familiar: Its inability to finish games with anything even resembling a flourish.
While the final score doesn't show it, the 49ers were actually within reach of the Patriots for long stretches of Sunday's game. After falling behind early, the Niners clawed within 13-10 at the half.
Then, as happens in every game every week, halftime ended and the game resumed. Whether it's an inability to match the opponent's halftime adjustments, simply running out of gas or any other number of reasons, the Niners can't find ways to play well enough in the second half to close out games with a victory.
Entering Sunday's game, the Niners had been outscored 58-16 in the third quarter and 136-82 in the second half. They'd been outgained 87-59 on average in the third quarter and 194-133 in the second half.
To their credit, the Niners managed to keep Sunday's loss close by keeping New England out of the end zone in the third quarter, but quarterback Colin Kaepernick continued to prove erratic in the second half of games. It has been the biggest and most obvious criticism of Kaepernick since he took over as the starter five games ago.
In Sunday's loss, Kaepernick was 8-of-9 for 116 yards with a touchdown for a nearly perfect passer rating of 155.8 in the first half. But his second-half regression again reared its head; he was 8-of-21 for 90 yards and a window-dressing touchdown over the final 30 minutes.
Last week, Niners coach Chip Kelly shouldered the blame for the second-half offensive struggles, saying he needed to do a better job of play calling to help Kaepernick. Heading into Sunday's game, Kaepernick couldn't really explain why his production drops so precipitously when the third quarter begins.
"I can't say one thing or another," Kaepernick said. "I know offensively, there's just times where we get a little bit out of rhythm, and those are things that we have to do a good job of staying on track, staying on rhythm and continuing to get first downs."
Entering Sunday's loss, Kaepernick was 28-of-73 for 308 yards and a passer rating of 51.6 in the second half of games, with numbers dipping to 9-of-30 for 136 yards in the third quarter. Meanwhile, New England quarterback Tom Brady was 12-of-23 for 172 yards and two touchdowns in the second half Sunday. One of those touchdowns came while Brady was falling to the ground.
As Wagoner summed up: "No matter the opponent, the Niners' failure to finish games is likely going to cost them victories. When they play against future Hall of Famers, that's a certainty. ..."
Other notes of interest. ... As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich noted, Carlos Hyde seems fully back following two missed games and a lackluster return last week as he fought through a shoulder injury. His 110 total yards was his highest mark since Week 5.
But despite Hyde's 22 total touches, it was Shaun Draughn who scored a receiving touchdown on one of just three touches in the game.
Meanwhile, Wagoner suggested that whether you've been hanging on to him through his shoulder injury or someone gave up on him and he's available in your league, now might not seem like a bad time to make a move with Hyde.
The Dolphins rank 30th in rushing yards allowed per game and 22nd in yards allowed per carry, which means Hyde is a good play this week. But look at what Hyde has after that. The Niners follow a trip to Miami with matchups against Chicago and the Jets, ranked eighth and second, respectively, in yards allowed per carry.
Vance McDonald caught his career-best fourth touchdown pass of the season Sunday against New England. He had three catches for 46 yards in the loss.
Torrey Smith (strained shoulder) was inactive for Sunday's game against New England. It was the first absence of Smith's 90-game career. Chris Harper filled in for Smith with two catches for 35 yards. The 49ers completed only four passes to wideouts in the game.
Smith was limited in Wednesday's practice; I'll be following up on his status via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.
QBs: Jimmy Garoppolo, C.J. Beathard
RBs: Jerick McKinnon, Matt Breida, Raheem Mostert, Kyle Juszczyk
WRs: Marquise Goodwin, Aldrick Robinson, Trent Taylor, Kendrick Bourne, Victor Bolden
TEs: George Kittle, Garrett Celek
Seattle SeahawksCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 23 November 2016
Just as the Seattle Seahawks' running game began to hit its stride, they have to deal with the setback of another significant injury.
C.J. Prosise will be out indefinitely after sustaining a fractured scapula in Sunday's 26-15 win over the Eagles. Prosise will not need surgery to repair the issue but it won't be known for several weeks just how long he's expected to be out.
"We don't know anything about that right now. We're not going to know that for a couple weeks and how it's turning," head coach Pete Carroll said.
Prosise ripped off a 72-yard touchdown run on his second carry of the game Sunday against the Eagles. It was his first career touchdown and the biggest play on the ground of the season for the Seahawks by far.
The run was the catalyst to Seattle's best rushing performance of the season. The Seahawks finished with 152 yards as Thomas Rawls returned to the field for the first time in eight weeks after being sidelined half the season due to a hairline fibula fracture.
For a half, Rawls and Prosise combined to show real promise as a tandem. Now Seattle will have to deal with Prosise being sidelined once again.
It's the fourth different injury Prosise has sustained since being drafted in May. He had a hip flexor in OTAs, a hamstring strain during training camp, and a broken bone in his wrist sustained in the season opener against Miami before Sunday's injury versus the Eagles.
Prosise was hit by Eagles linebacker Nigel Bradham while trying to catch a check down pass from Russell Wilson with 16 seconds left in the second quarter.
Additionally, Troymaine Pope -- who was just promoted from the practice squad last week -- suffered a right high-ankle sprain on his second carry of the game in the fourth quarter that will likely keep him out for the next two weeks at least. Rawls will be limited in practice this week after getting banged up on 17 total touches against the Eagles.
"He's banged up now. He threw his body around, he was like in a train wreck," Carroll said of Rawls. "He'll be taken care of this week, we'll get him back and really excited to see him play for us. He played great and he looked terrific."
The injuries will force Seattle to do more juggling and experimentation with their rushing attack in the meantime.
On the defensive side of the ball, safety Earl Thomas and cornerback DeShawn Shead are dealing with hamstring strains. Thomas suffered the injury during Sunday's game and did not return. Shead hurt his hamstring Saturday and tried to play against the Eagles but was pulled in the first quarter.
Thomas has never missed a game in his NFL career. Steven Terrell replaced him versus the Eagles. Jeremy Lane replaced Shead at right cornerback.
Meanwhile, as ESPN.com's Sheil Kapadia pointed out, Wilson moved as well as he has all season.
Entering the game, he had 60 rushing yards. Against the Eagles, he carried the ball five times for 23 yards (not counting three kneel-downs) and consistently bought time with his legs before finding receivers downfield. He completed 18 of 31 passes for 272 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions against a strong defense.
Things are starting to come together nicely for the Seahawks, who now have a three-game lead in the NFC West with six to play. Wilson continues to get healthier. His weapons, such as Doug Baldwin, Jimmy Graham and Tyler Lockett, present problems for opponents every week. And the defense, which is expected to get back Michael Bennett (knee) in the next couple of weeks, kept the Eagles in check for most of the game.
The unknown piece is the run game. At one point this season, Carroll said the Seahawks didn't necessarily need to run the ball to win. But just saying that seemed to pain him.
Carroll is a coach who believes in balance and wants to be able to put teams away with a strong rushing attack. There's no guarantee that the Seahawks will be able to do that down the stretch, especially now that Prosise is out. But the blocking and Rawls' performance in Sunday's win over the Eagles provided some hope.
QBs: Russell Wilson, Austin Davis
RBs: J.D. McKissic, Mike Davis, Eddie Lacy, Tre Madden
WRs: Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett, Jaron Brown, Tanner McEvoy, Amara Darboh
TEs: Ed Dickson, Nick Vannett
Tampa Bay BuccaneersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 23 November 2016
According to the Sports Xchange, Jameis Winston played arguably the best game of his NFL career in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 19-17 win over the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday.
Not only did Winston pass for 331 yards and a touchdown, what really stood out was Winston's laser accuracy and execution on third down. He went 12-of-14 passing for 133 yards, converting 11 of 15 third downs with completions to six different players.
"When I was told that number, I didn't believe it," Koetter said of the third-down conversions. "I thought it was a misprint. First of all, Jameis was out of sight today. That's as good of quarterback play in however many years I've been in the league now. He was awesome all day. He played a great, great game. I gave him the game ball already."
But some other receivers really stepped up for the Buccaneers on Sunday.
"It wasn't just the Mike Evans show," head coach Dirk Koetter said.
Oh, Evans did his part with six catches for 105 yards, including one that moved the chains late in the fourth quarter and essentially melted all the time off the clock.
But games like the one the Bucs played Sunday will tell you more about yourself than x-rays or an autobiography. Five other players caught passes to help the Buccaneers convert a stunning 11 of 16 third downs.
"We talk about role playing all the time," Koetter said. "Play your role. Understand your role could change at any time. But let's face it, in real life, everybody is willing to play their role, but everybody wants a slice of the pie, too. So it's easier to do the grunt work, some of the dirty work, when you're getting some of the glory."
Shorts is a six-year vet who played under Koetter at Jacksonville. He nearly had 1,000 yards receiving for the Jags in 2012. He has 277 career receptions, but he wasn't signed by the Buccaneers until five days before the season opener.
"Our connection is getting better every single week," Winston said of Shorts, who caught five passes for 62 yards on Sunday, including a 19-yarder on third down.
Humphries and Brate, both undrafted and cut at least once by the Buccaneers, have evolved into top targets. Cross, an undrafted free agent from Memphis, caught the game-sealing touchdown on Sunday, the first of his pro career.
"Our receivers came up big," Koetter said. "When they had chances to make plays, they made them. ..."
Meanwhile, as ESPN.com's Jenna Laine pointed out, the Bucs this week face the Seahawks, who are sixth in the league in fantasy points given up to opposing quarterbacks, ninth against opposing running backs, fifth against receivers and eighth against tight ends. So if you're looking for a short-term solution for fantasy, look elsewhere.
After that, you might give running back Doug Martin a nod. With fresh legs and a Chargers run defense that's given up 27th-most fantasy points against opposing quarterbacks, that's a nice option for Week 13.
Other notes of interest. ... The Bucs continue to get key players back from injury, and running back Jacquizz Rodgers, out three games with a foot injury, could be next. Koetter said Monday that he could return to practice Wednesday.
"We'll see what Wednesday brings. I glanced outside and Jacquizz was out working on the field with trainers. We'll see," said Koetter, who said the topic of Rodgers' return came out as general manager Jason Licht got a medical update Monday morning.
The Buccaneers have had Martin back for the last two games after he missed six games with a hamstring injury, but Rodgers had two 100-yard games filling in for Martin and would add depth to the running attack.
Charles Sims, on injured reserve for the past six weeks with a knee injury, began his 21-day practice window Wednesday and will be eligible to return to the active roster beginning Dec. 5.
On Wednesday, Aguayo was named NFC Special Teams Player of the Week.
QBs: Jameis Winston, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Griffin
RBs: Peyton Barber, Jacquizz Rodgers, Charles Sims
WRs: Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Adam Humphries, Chris Godwin, Bernard Reedy
TEs: Cameron Brate, O.J. Howard
Tennessee TitansCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 23 November 2016
As Associated Press sports writer Teresa M. Walker notes, the Titans already have proven they're better than they were each of the past two years. To take another step forward, they need to quit falling behind by double digits on the road.
In other words, Walker suggested, "They need to make the needed adjustments quickly with three of their final five games away from home."
The Titans fell to 1-3 in road games this season when trailing by double digits, this time after spotting AFC South rival Indianapolis a 21-0 lead before falling 24-17. Left tackle Taylor Lewan called the slow starts extremely frustrating and not sure what the Titans were doing in the first half against the Colts.
"We're never going to give up on anything. I think we showed that," Lewan said. "But we can't do that because we're going to come up short. Playing in the NFL, you can't spot a team 21 points and say, 'OK, we're going to get it in gear now.' So something to learn from. Got to come out faster and play more physical and grow from this."
The Titans missed yet another chance at a winning record with their latest slow start, and that's been a constant theme this season. Their lone win came in Week 2 after trailing Detroit 12-0 and 15-3. They trailed in Houston 14-0 before losing 27-20 in Week 4.
Since then, they've had three chances to move above .500 only to lose each time with two of those on the road. They fell behind 16-0 before losing 43-35 at San Diego and cost themselves a chance to stay in second in the AFC South after allowing the Colts to jump out to a 21-0 lead within the first 20 minutes.
Head coach Mike Mularkey said production on third down, both offensively and defensively, has been a common problem in the slow starts. Against the Colts, Tennessee failed to convert on its first three third downs, while the Colts went 3-of-5 in the first half. Mularkey said the frustrating part is the Titans struggle to convert on short yardage.
Tennessee also had some other issues. Veteran tight end Delanie Walker drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that backed them out of field goal range in the second quarter, and Mularkey said he told Walker that was a poor decision. Valentino Blake caught a punt at the Tennessee 2 early in the third quarter.
"There's no punt that should be fielded inside the 10 yard line by anybody," Mularkey said.
And Mularkey said coaches are discussing a possible lineup change after cornerback Perrish Cox struggled against the Colts, including having the third TD go through his hands to Indy receiver T.Y. Hilton on fourth down.
Now the Titans (5-6) find themselves needing to win Sunday when they visit Chicago (2-8) just to climb back to .500 before their bye. Mularkey said he addressed what the Titans face with five games left this season with the team Monday morning and compared NFL games to whitewater rafting with each providing a different ride.
"The team that plays the most consistent is going to come out of this thing and be at the top," Mularkey said. "Is that nine wins? Is that 10 wins? Right now nobody knows what that is. I know this team feels it has a very good opportunity ahead of us."
The Titans coach believes it's not unrealistic to expect Tennessee to win out.
"It's really about what we do it's all about what we do and nobody else," Mularkey said.
Other notes of interest. ...
As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich noted, even in a game where it seemed like DeMarco Murray was struggling, which he was in the first half, he ended up posting RB1 numbers by the time the curtain the game ended.
He scored a receiving touchdown on his final touch of the first half while racking up another 24 total touches. Murray was on the field for 99 percent of the Titans' offensive snaps in the game while Derrick Henry didn't see a single rush attempt.
Murray has 1,000 yards on the nose for the season after rushing for 70 yards Sunday. He did not practice Wednesday, to rest his sore foot -- as he's done weekly since hurting it last month.
Meanwhile, as NFL.com's Matt Harmon pointed out, now that Rishard Matthews has clearly taken over as the No. 1 receiver in Tennessee, it's really opened things up for Tajae Sharpe as a downstream beneficiary. Sharpe played on 88 percent of the team snaps and had 68 yards and a touchdown in back-to-back games.
Sharpe was targeted seven time in Indianapolis, more than anyone but Matthews. In the past two weeks, Sharpe has been targeted 11 times, caught seven passes and averaged 19.4 yards per reception, in addition to the two TDs.
Matthews had his best day as a Titan on Sunday. He caught nine passes for 122 yards.
Marcus Mariota threw two more touchdowns passes and has 23 for the season in just 11 games. With two more TD passes, Mariota would have the fourth-highest touchdown pass total in franchise history.
And finally. ... Lewan is day-to-day with a sprained left knee sustained on the Titans' final drive in Sunday's loss to the Colts. Lewan had an MRI performed and it doesn't sound as if he will miss a lot of time.
QBs: Marcus Mariota, Blaine Gabbert
RBs: Dion Lewis, Derrick Henry, David Fluellen
WRs: Rishard Matthews, Eric Decker, Taywan Taylor, Eric Weems, Michael Campanaro, Corey Davis
TEs: Delanie Walker, Luke Stocker, Jonnu Smith, Phillip Supernaw
Washington RedskinsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 23 November 2016
According to Washington Post staffer Liz Clarke, asked to describe what he saw on his 66-yard gain that crushed any prayer of a Green Bay comeback Sunday night at FedEx Field, rookie running back Rob Kelley said simply: "The end zone."
Kelley was stopped four yards shy with less than three minutes remaining, so he finished the job on the next play for his third touchdown of the night — and the Redskins' sixth — to supply the final margin on a 42-24 rout that lifted Washington to 6-3-1 entering Thursday's game at the division-leading Dallas Cowboys (9-1).
As Clarke noted, Kelley's no-nonsense approach to his position — focusing on ball security, effort and more effort — has made the undrafted rookie the breakout star of the Redskins' season. More importantly, since supplanting fumble-prone Matt Jones in the starting lineup, Kelley has become the linchpin of so much of what's going right for the Redskins.
With head coach Jay Gruden able to count on Kelley to not fumble and eke out a yard or two on even doomed rushing plays , it has made the Redskins' offensive play-calling less predictable. In turn, it's allowing quarterback Kirk Cousins to make the throws that fully exploit his talented receiving corps rather than revert to a steady diet of check-downs in a desperate attempt to convert third-and-longs, fourth-and-hopeless.
Making his second start, the 6-foot, 228-pound Kelley carried 24 times for 137 yards and three touchdowns Sunday while pass-blocking with zeal and doing every facet of his job well — except, Gruden cracked, catching the ball in the flat.
The Redskins' offense was a study in balance as a result, with 30 rushes and 30 passes, three rushing touchdowns and three passing scores. With Cousins broadly distributing the ball to receivers with pinpoint precision amid wind gusts that topped 20 mph, it was a nightmare scenario for even the best-equipped defensive backfield (which Green Bay is not).
Cousins' touchdown throws went to three different receivers.
Pierre Garcon caught a 70-yard beauty that reminded fans what Cousins has known all along. "He's the real deal," Cousins said of Garcon. "The great thing about him, too, is he's such a competitor. He blocks in the run game and he competes down-in and down-out. It matters to him; he's the total package."
DeSean Jackson, who started the scoring with a 17-yard touchdown reception, forgot about the ailing shoulder that had sidelined him from last week's game against Minnesota.
And Jamison Crowder, who shares Garcon's steadiness and work ethic, provided the Redskins' first double-digit lead with a 44-yard touchdown catch late in the third quarter.
All three wide receivers averaged more than 12 yards per catch, as did tight end Jordan Reed (five catches, 79 yards).
Remember; Cousins spent all summer hearing why the Redskins team would not commit to him long term.
He was asking for too much money. He was not a proven commodity. Management needed to see more. On Sunday night against the Packers, Washington's decision-makers saw plenty.
Cousins completed 21 of 30 passes for 365 yards with the three touchdowns. He relentlessly exploited an outmatched Packers secondary and took full advantage of his formidable and diverse set of weapons on offense.
After the 42-24 demolition of Green Bay was complete, Cousins walked over to general manager Scot McCloughan and twice yelled "How do you like me now!" before playfully rubbing McCloughan's head and running off the field.
"I'm just always trying to prove myself and I'm always being evaluated and I will always be trying to improve myself as long as I'm playing this game," Cousins said.
Cousins put a ragged start to the year behind him once again. He has thrown 16 touchdown passes and only four interceptions since Week 3 and Washington is now 6-1-1 over that stretch.
Over 21 games, including last January's playoff loss to Green Bay, Cousins has 41 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions. Those numbers are increasingly hard to ignore.
"It's 'eye in the sky don't lie,' so to speak. Kirk is going through progressions, he's hanging in there," Gruden said. "We like where he is, we like where he's going. He's going to continue to work, which is also why we like him.
It's hard to imagine him throwing for 375 yards and three touchdowns in consecutive games, but ESPN.com's John Keim advised readers he does expect Cousins to have a good game and post solid numbers against Dallas.
In the first game against Cowboys, Cousins threw for 364 yards, a touchdown and an interception. The Redskins have been more balanced of late, so it's doubtful they'll be as pass-happy. But Cousins also blew several excellent chances that he has been hitting lately.
If he hits those sort of plays on Thursday, he'll again have a strong day. Dallas ranks 27th in opposing passer rating. ...
On Wednesday, Cousins was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week. ...
Meanwhile, as NFL.com's Matt Harmon notes, after playing on 79 percent of the team snaps in each of the last two games, Reed went out of 87 percent on Sunday night. Vernon Davis still played on 54 percent of the snaps but was not much of a factor at all in the passing game as he was on the field for just 13 total passing plays.
In his return from injury, Jackson, who was limited on Tuesday, out-snapped (49 to 41) and out-targeted (six to three) Crowder. Both will be on the field a sizable amount going forward -- assuming Jackson plays.
He is officially listed as questionable again this week.
QBs: Alex Smith, Colt McCoy, Kevin Hogan
RBs: Samaje Perine, Kapri Bibbs
WRs: Jamison Crowder, Josh Doctson, Paul Richardson, Brian Quick
TEs: Vernon Davis, Jeremy Sprinkle