Team Notes week 12 2020
NEWS, NOTES, RUMORS AND OTHER GOOD STUFF
Directly from the desk of FlashUpdate Editor Bob Harris. The good; the bad; and yes. ... Even the Bears. There is no better way to jump start your weekend than browsing these always educational -- often irreverent -- team-by-team, Fantasy-specific offerings. ...
Access specific teams by clicking on a team name in the schedule appearing directly to your left or by clicking on a helmet below; return to the helmets by hitting the link labeled "Menu" following each teams notes. ...
Arizona CardinalsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 23 November 2020
As Associated Press sports writer David Brandt noted, Arizona's playoff hopes took a hit during Thursday night's 28-21 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. Maybe more important for the Cardinals, so did quarterback Kyler Murray's throwing shoulder.
Arizona's stay at the top of the NFC West lasted just five days after Thursday's loss. The Cardinals (6-4) are now a game behind the Seahawks for the division lead and trail the Los Angeles Rams by a half-game.
They're still right in the middle of the playoff race in the NFC if they can play well during the final six weeks. Murray's health is obviously of paramount importance if the Cardinals want to be a factor. He fell on the shoulder early in the game against Seattle and TV shots showed the second-year quarterback grimacing on the sideline.
"I'm not sure about the extent of it," head coach Kliff Kingsbury said Friday. "But like we talked about last night he landed on it on that play, but that's about all I know."
Murray said after the game "I'm good" and he did not miss any plays.
Kingsbury did not confirm or deny an NFL Network report that Murray hurt his AC joint. The same report said Murray is not expected to miss time.
Kingsbury told reporters on Monday they'll see how practice goes on Tuesday before deciding if they need to alter anything about his workload this week.
"We'll see how he feels tomorrow when we get out on the grass and see where we're at practice-wise if we need to make any adjustments or if he can cut it loose," Kingsbury said, via Tyler Drake of 98.7 Arizona Sports.
That being the case, it's worth noting Murray was seen rehabbing on the side and not working during the open media portion of practice Tuesday. Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins was not present.
Murray called the decision to limit his passes a "precautionary."
"I feel good," Murray said after Tuesday's session. "Obviously got nicked up a little bit the past couple weeks, but I feel good. I feel fine."
The Cardinals are practicing on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday this week because of Thanksgiving. They'll take on the Patriots in New England on Sunday.
I'll obvioulsy be following Murray's progress closely; watch the Late-Breaking Update section for more in coming days.
Worth noting. ... The Cardinals have gone with Chris Streveler as the only backup behind Murray recently, but the team may take a different approach for Sunday’s game against the Patriots.
But due to Murray's should issue, Kingsbury said, via multiple reporters, that the team could have Brett Hundley active along with Streveler to provide further insurance against any problems with Murray’s shoulder. That decision will likely be influenced by how practices play out over the rest of the week.
Kingsbury was asked how much he thought the shoulder issue impacted Murray's play in Seattle.
"I thought he competed well throughout the game," Kingsbury said. "I'll have to sit down, when we watch the film together, and talk through that. But I thought he played tough, played physical. You could tell he was hurting a bit, but he pushed through it and gave us a chance to win at the end which says a lot about his character and mental toughness."
Still, Murray still finished with a solid game, completing 29 of 42 passes for 269 yards and two touchdowns. He ran for a season-low 15 yards. He'll have a few extra days to rest before the Cardinals travel to face the New England Patriots on Nov. 29.
"I thought he competed well throughout the game," Kingsbury said. "I'll have to sit down, when we watch the film together, and talk through that. But I thought he played tough, played physical. You could tell he was hurting a bit, but he pushed through it and gave us a chance to win at the end, which says a lot about his character and mental toughness."
Other than Murray, the biggest problem for the Cardinals against the Seahawks was an avalanche of penalties. The Cardinals earned 10 yellow flags for 115 yards.
Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick's taunting penalty in the third quarter was particularly costly. It gave the Seahawks an automatic first down instead of fourth-and-2 and Seattle ended up scoring a touchdown on the drive.
"It's something we have to be better at, there's no question," Kingsbury said. "Some are effort, there's a hold or a face mask when someone's trying to make a tackle, things like that come up during a game. But pre-snap penalties, personal foul penalties, you can't have those and expect to win week in and week out, and we have way too many of that variety."
Even with a sore shoulder, Murray and the Cardinals had a nice game through the air on a chilly night.
Brandt went on to note one reason Arizona is so effective passing is it has more options than Hopkins. Veteran Larry Fitzgerald caught a team-high eight passes for 62 yards. Tight end Dan Arnold had a nice grab on a 4-yard TD pass. Running back Chase Edmonds continues to be effective out of the backfield with four catches for 36 yards and a TD.
For the first time in a while, the running game looked very ordinary. The Cardinals came into the game with the NFL's No. 1 rushing offense but managed just 57 yards on the ground. The Seahawks had a good plan to keep Murray from making big plays and you can bet that other teams will be studying the film to copy their approach.
This week, the Cardinals need to make sure Murray's healthy and clean up the penalty issues before they travel to Foxboro this weekend. ...
The Cardinals placed safety Deionte Thompson on the reserve/COVID-19 list Tuesday, the team announced.
He becomes the team's fourth player to land on the list this season.
It is unknown whether Thompson tested positive or was in close contact with someone who did. If Thompson hasn't tested positive and doesn't test positive this week, he could return for Sunday's game against the Patriots. ...
One last note here. ... Murray is becoming an NFL sensation. And if anyone is going to profit from that, it should be him.
A day after the Hail Murray happened, Murray's representatives were making "Hail Murray" happen, registering for federal trademark protection for that phrase, along with "Murray Magic."
Via Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic, K1 Promotions, LLC submitted the appropriate paperwork on Monday.
The filings, per McManaman, explains that the phrases will be used for apparel purposes, and that the phrases will be used on a website that relates to the "accomplishments, exploits and biography of a professional football player."
QBs: Kyler Murray, Colt McCoy, Chris Streveler
RBs: Chase Edmonds, James Conner, Jonathan Ward, Eno Benjamin
WRs: DeAndre Hopkins, A.J. Green, Christian Kirk, Rondale Moore, Andy Isabella, Antoine Wesley
TEs: Maxx Williams, Darrell Daniels
Atlanta FalconsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 23 November 2020
As ESPN.com's Nick Wagoner notes, coming off the bye, the Falcons' hope of a late-season surge back into the postseason mix was always going to be a long shot with the NFL's toughest remaining schedule ahead of them.
On Sunday against the New Orleans Saints, that hope was buried under an avalanche of sacks as the Falcons surrendered 21 unanswered points on the way to a 24-9 loss. The defeat drops the Falcons to 3-7 on the season and for all intents and purposes puts any pie-in-the-sky dreams of a postseason run under interim coach Raheem Morris to rest.
The odds of the Falcons getting back into the picture were always slim after an 0-5 start but their recent signs of life since making the switch to Morris had, at minimum, offered confidence in a more competitive product. Of course, the 3-1 stretch under Morris also had come against the likes of Minnesota, Carolina and Denver.
Stepping back into the NFC South against the Saints quickly erased whatever goodwill those victories created. After the Falcons jumped to a 9-3 lead, the Saints harassed quarterback Matt Ryan for the rest of the day.
The biggest issue?
An inability to protect Ryan or create lanes in the running game. In Atlanta's first nine games, it had allowed two sacks or fewer in eight of them. On Sunday, the Saints dropped Ryan eight times. On the ground, the Falcons mustered 3.7 yards per carry with a long of 7 yards.
Wide receiver Julio Jones left the game early due to a hamstring injury and missed much of the action. Without Jones on the field against a Saints secondary missing Marshon Lattimore, Ryan focused on Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage.
Ridley led the Falcons with 90 yards on five catches while Gage chipped in with seven catches for 58 yards. Outside of those two, however, the Falcons didn't have much else working, offensively.
Hayden Hurst failed to catch either of his two targets.
Atlanta finished the game with nine points and 248 total yards of offense, both of which mark season-lows for this offense. Ryan finished 19-of-37 for 232 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions for a passer rating of 48.5. It's the first game Ryan has finished with no touchdown passes and two interceptions since Week 5 of the 2015 season.
Todd Gurley led the Falcons on the ground with eight carries for 26 yards.
At one point in the middle of the fourth quarter, Atlanta had negative-4 yards of offense in the second half.
Now, the Falcons head into a home stretch in which they play the Raiders, Saints again, Chargers, Buccaneers, Chiefs and Bucs again.
Finding more wins and a strong case for Morris to remove the interim tag figures to be a difficult proposition, especially if Sunday's protection problems persist. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Jones hurt his hamstring in the first half of the game and was out for most of the remainder of the game, although he did return to catch his second pass of the game in the fourth quarter. After the game, head coach Raheem Morris said, via Maria Morris of WXIA, that the wideout would learn more about the injury on Monday.
Morris said the Falcons could make it a "game-time decision" with Julio if need be.
Jones missed time earlier this season with a hamstring injury.
He had two catches for 39 yards on Sunday and has 45 catches for 677 yards and three touchdowns on the season.
"It's always tough anytime he goes down, because it's hard to replace that production," Ryan said. "It also changes how teams defend us, but it's not an excuse. We've got to find a way with the guys we have out there to be better off. That's going to take all of the guys on our offense - 22, 23 guys deep - we've got to find a way to be productive."
In addition to Jones, the Falcons have a number of players on their Wednesday injury report. Jones and Ridley (foot) were both limited, while Gurley (knee) and Hurst (ankle) were out. Qadree Ollison (illness) was also absent while Luke Stocker (foot) worked fully.
I'll have more on Jones' status via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
Younghoe Koo continued his strong season by hitting all three of his field goal attempts Sunday, including makes of 51 and 52 yards in the first half. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, both of those 50-plus-yard kicks had a make probability below 60 percent. Koo has now made all seven of his field goal tries with a sub-60 percent make probability, the most makes without a miss in those situations this season.
QBs: Matt Ryan, Josh Rosen, Feleipe Franks
RBs: Mike Davis, Cordarrelle Patterson, Wayne Gallman
WRs: Calvin Ridley, Russell Gage, Christian Blake, Olamide Zaccheaus, Frank Darby, Chris Rowland
TEs: Kyle Pitts, Hayden Hurst, Jaeden Graham
Baltimore RavensCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 23 November 2020
The Ravens-Steelers game originally scheduled for Thanksgiving night has been moved to Sunday in the early-afternoon kickoff window.
The change comes after four Ravens players were placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list following Sunday's game against the Tennessee Titans. Running backs Mark Ingram and J.K. Dobbins, and defensive tackle Brandon Williams were placed on the list Monday. Outside linebacker Pernell McPhee was added Tuesday. Defensive end Calais Campbell and offensive linemen Patrick Mekari and Matt Skura were added to the list on Wednesday.
"We appreciate the NFL for its diligence in working closely with us to ensure the well-being of players, coaches and staff from both the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers organizations," the Ravens said in a statement.
"Protecting the health and safety of each team, in addition to our communities at large, is of utmost importance. We will continue to follow guidance from the NFL and its medical experts, as we focus on safely resuming preparations for Sunday's game.
Players who test positive are required to sit out 10 days and produce negative tests. Players who are deemed close contacts are required to miss five days and also test negative.
The Ravens are still scheduled to host the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday, Dec. 3 in Week 13, which will mean a short week following the Steelers game.
Meanwhile, according to ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley, reigning NFL MVP Lamar Jackson questioned the effort of the Ravens after they blew an 11-point lead in a 30-24 overtime loss to the Titans.
"It looked like that team wanted it more than us," Jackson said. "They were playing physical. When we went up, I felt like we just took our foot off the gas. But we just have to keep it going for the team."
Jackson and the Ravens were once the NFL's best closers, winning his first 21 starts when ahead by 10 or more points.
Now, Baltimore has lost two of its past three games in which it had a double-digit lead.
Baltimore has lost three out of four games for the first time under Jackson and dropped consecutive games for the first time since September 2019. The Ravens (6-4), the defending two-time AFC North champions, dropped to third place in the division.
The biggest difference between last season and this one has been games against the better teams in the NFL. In 2019, Jackson was 6-1 against teams with winning records. This year, he's 1-3 against them.
What can Jackson tell his teammates?
"Just focus and keep your head up," said Jackson, who completed 17 of 29 passes for 186 yards with one touchdown and one interception. "We were in worse situations my rookie year [when the Ravens started 4-5 in 2018]. We turned the season around and people were down on us then. I feel like people want us to lose."
Now, with extra time to prepare, fantasy manager have more time to figure out how to deal with the absences of Dobbins and Ingram.
If nothing else, we can safely say it will be the Gus Edwards and Justice Hill show for the Ravens' backfield.
But as Profootballtalk.com's Michael David Smith pointed out this week, Ingram will turn 31 next month, and it appears the team is already phasing him out of their offense. That became even more obvious in Sunday's loss to the Titans, when he had just two carries for two yards.
Sunday was the first game Ingram has played for the Ravens in which he wasn't a starter, and there's little doubt that he will continue to play only a backup role in the offense going forward.
Ingram missed two games with an ankle injury he suffered in Week 6, and since coming back he's had just seven carries for seven yards in two games. In Ingram's place the Ravens are turning to Dobbins, who had 15 carries for 70 yards and a touchdown. Dobbins will get the bulk of the carries going forward.
The snap counts tell the story: Against the Titans, Dobbins was on the field for 41 snaps (63 percent share), Edwards 13 snaps (20 percent), Hill 7 snaps (11 percent) and Ingram 6 snaps (9 percent).
Hensley believes Ingram could be getting close to being inactive on game days.
The Ravens signed Ingram to a three-year, $15 million contract last year, but it's hard to imagine he'll be back in 2021, when he's owed a $5 million salary. He appears to have reached the end of the line. ...
Meanwhile, Jackson wasn't much of a factor running the ball (51 yards on 13 carries).
Other notes of interest. ... One of the Ravens' biggest offensive strengths last season led to their downfall against the Titans.
After finishing with the fourth-best red zone touchdown scoring percentage last season, Baltimore ranks 15th in that department this year. The Ravens finished 1-of-4 in the red zone Sunday, and those missed opportunities proved to be the difference.
"Against a Titans defense that ranked 28th in the league in red zone defense, the Ravens reached the red zone four times but scored just one touchdown, a 2-yard run by Dobbins," Press Box's Bo Smolka wrote.
Instead, the Ravens settled for three Justin Tucker field goals against a defense that was allowing teams to score touchdowns on 74 percent of their drives inside the 20-yard line. All three drives ended on the 12-yard line or closer. ...
Jackson didn't get much help outside of tight end Mark Andrews. He connected with Andrews on five completions for 96 yards and a touchdown. With everyone else, Jackson completed 12 passes for 90 yards.
"Contrast that with the Ravens' top two wide receivers: Marquise Brown went without a catch on three targets, and Willie Snead had three catches for 23 yards," Smolka wrote. "The leading wide receiver for the Ravens in this game was Dez Bryant, who had an expanded role in his second game as a Raven and finished with four catches for 28 yards.
"The Ravens' passing game has many issues right now, but among them is the fact that the wide receivers are not making enough impact."
"The outside vertical passing game does not exist," CBSSports.com's Jason La Canfora wrote. "Over the middle, where they do their best work, it's all Andrews or Snead."
Brown was supposed to flourish this season after recovering from a foot injury that slowed him as a rookie. He got off to a decent start -- as did the Ravens -- but Brown has only six catches for 55 yards in his last four games and was held without a reception by Tennessee.
"We want him to be a huge part of the offense," Harbaugh said. "We've got to find ways to get that done."
Jackson said, "We just have to give him opportunities to catch the ball, give him little quick gains here and there. The defense is already playing back off of him. ...'"
For the record, Jackson has had a passer rating below 100 in each of the last 6 games, the longest streak of his career as a starting quarterback. Through 10 games in 2020, Jackson has matched his interception total (6) and doubled his losses total (4 in 2020, 2 in 2019) from his 2019 MVP season. ...
Luke Willson was promoted to Baltimore's active roster from the practice squad Saturday, Hensley reported.
Willson is the only tight end on the roster behind Andrews. ...
For what it's worth. ... Harbaugh did shake Tennessee Titans Head Coach Mike Vrabel's hand after the Ravens' 30-24 overtime loss Sunday afternoon.
It has been reported that Harbaugh waved Vrabel off, based off this video, but that video was of a second interaction between the two after they had already shaken hands.
After the game, Vrabel was asked directly if Harbaugh declined to shake hands.
"No. Absolutely not. No," Vrabel said. "I have a lot of respect for John and we shook hands. But again, I wanted to sprint down there to be excited with the team, and then I sprinted back to midfield.
"I went to celebrate with Derrick [Henry] and congratulate him, and then I ran back and shook [Harbaugh's] hand. I asked what the issue was before the game and he said there wasn't an issue."
Before the game, as the Ravens were coming out of the tunnel, Harbaugh approached Titans players who were stomping around on the Ravens' midfield logo and shouting at the Baltimore sideline. Harbaugh came onto the field and had some words with Titans cornerback Malcolm Butler.
"After the game, there wasn't an issue," Harbaugh said. "Coach Vrabel, I think, was down there celebrating in the end zone, and then he came back around and shook hands. [What happened] before the game is irrelevant."
QBs: Lamar Jackson, Trace McSorley, Tyler Huntley
RBs: Ty'Son Williams, Latavius Murray, Devonta Freeman, Gus Edwards
WRs: Marquise Brown, Sammy Watkins, Devin Duvernay, Tylan Wallace, Miles Boykin, James Proche, Rashod Bateman
TEs: Mark Andrews, Josh Oliver, Eric Tomlinson, Nick Boyle
Buffalo BillsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 23 November 2020
As the Bills sat out Week 11 resting on their bye, the still burning sting of their incredible loss to Arizona on the now infamous Hail Murray was mercifully eased just a bit by what happened over the weekend.
Buffalo will go into the Thanksgiving holiday sitting alone at the top of the AFC East standings.
Right now the Bills hold a 7-3 record which is best in the AFC East and tied for third in the AFC, only behind the Pittsburgh Steelers at 10-0 and the Kansas City Chiefs at 9-1.
While the Bills did not play on Sunday, they still won Week 11.
The other three teams in the AFC East: Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, and New York Jets, all lost on Sunday.
The Dolphins, who sit as Buffalo's biggest threat to win the AFC East lost on the road to the Denver Broncos by a 20-13 score, falling to 6-4 on the season. The Bills are now one game up on the Dolphins and beat the Dolphins in Miami in Week 2.
The Patriots fell to 4-6 on the season after losing to the Houston Texans 27-20. The Bills beat the Patriots at home in Week 8.
The New York Jets fell to 0-10 on the season and were officially eliminated from playoff contention, after losing to the Los Angeles Chargers 34-28. The Bills beat the Jets both times this season.
The Bills take on the Los Angeles Chargers at home on Sunday. ...
For the second straight year, the Bills started the season 7-3 but how the Bills got here, and what it means, is very different.
As Fansided.com's Brandon Croce noted, there are certainly plenty of similarities as they played five games at home and five games on the road over their first 10 games. This year the Bills are a little better at home with one more win at 4-1 but slightly worse on the road with one more loss (3-2).
A majority of the starting lineup and the coaching staff is the same with Josh Allen still under center, for example, Sean McDermott at head coach, and both offensive (Brian Daboll) and defensive coordinator (Leslie Frazier) remain the same.
But there are differences. And the biggest difference is of great interest to fantasy managers.
Last year, the Bills were winning games due to their defense as they were one of the best groups in the NFL. This usually meant close, low scoring games that Allen would make plays late that would help secure the victory.
This year has been almost the complete opposite as the offense is putting up big numbers in terms of scoring by averaging 27.2 points per game, which ranks 11th in the NFL. The increase in scoring is due in large part to the development of Allen and the passing attack. The Bills currently ranked fifth in the NFL in passing yards per game (278.9 yards).
This doesn't mean that the Bills have gotten past close games as the defense has really struggled to slow opposing offenses. Through the first 10 games, the Bills are allowing 26.5 points per game which is an increase of nearly eight points from last year's average of 18.7.
The hope was that the addition of Stefon Diggs would help this offense reach that next level and it has.
The sixth-year player led the NFL with 73 catches and 906 yards through 10 game.
Diggs is in position to shatter several single-season franchise marks. Eric Moulds holds the Bills' records for yards receiving (1,368 in 1998) and catches (100, in 2002).
But the rushing attack has been an issue.
Asked last week what has gone wrong with Devin Singletary, and is there any hope for a revival, ESPN.com's Marcel Louis Jacques replied that it's not so much Singletary's deficiencies as it is the Bills' ability to block for him.
Buffalo ranks 31st in run block win rate, as it has had to shuffle its offensive line throughout the season due to multiple injuries. The team figures to get Cody Ford and Mitch Morse back after the bye and could roll out its full starting offensive line for the first time all season in Week 12.
If Singletary and the Bills can't figure out how to get this run game going by then, it may be time to find another option for your fantasy team.
Meanwhile, Bleacher Report writer Chris Roling came out with his list of players who he thinks could break out before the season ends.
For the Bills, he chose rookie running back Zack Moss. Moss has played in seven out of 10 games for the Bills and has 244 rushing yards, three rushing touchdowns, and one receiving touchdown.
"Moss fell to the third round this year but always had the feel of a guy who could quickly take over the backfield in Buffalo," Roling wrote, "especially since Singletary fumbled four times last season and is struggling as a runner this year. Through seven games, Moss has had no such issues while scoring three times on 59 carries, plus catching nine of his 12 targets, including one for a score. Singletary topped out at 151 carries last year and is at 99 this season, so Moss is bound to get more of a workhorse look when the weather turns cold and he can punish defenses.
"Talent and opportunity should have him as a staple of every breakout list. ..."
Tight end Tommy Sweeney will miss the remainder of the season after being diagnosed with an inflamed heart, which is considered a COVID-19 aftereffect.
McDermott provided the update on Monday as the Bills returned from their bye week to prepare to host the Los Angeles Chargers this weekend. McDermott said a team doctor discovered Sweeney had myocarditis during an examination to determine whether he could resume practicing.
The second-year player has been sidelined by a foot injury since the team opened training camp in July, and began the season on the physically unable to perform list. Sweeney was then placed on the team's reserve-COVID-19 list on Oct. 24.
McDermott was unable to provide any timetable on Sweeney's recovery.
Beyond Sweeney, John Brown (ankle) and Dawson Knox (calf) were not on the field when the team returned to practice Tuesday; McDermott said that Brown wouldn't practice again Wednesday and that the team will take it one day at a time and see what the rest of the week holds.
I'll have more on their status via Late-Breaking Update as needed. ...
And finally. ... Cornerback Josh Norman is back after 10 days on the NFL's COVID-19 reserve list.
Norman tested positive on November 14 and has been out since. To be activated, a player has to test negative on two consecutive tests at least 24 hours apart.
Three players and one assistant coach missed a game because they were designated as close contacts of Norman's, but none of them ended up testing positive.
Norman has been dealing with hamstring injuries and has played in only three games this season, but he is expected to be good to go for Sunday against the Chargers.
QBs: Josh Allen, Mitchell Trubisky
RBs: Devin Singletary, Zack Moss, Matt Breida, Taiwan Jones
WRs: Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasley, Gabriel Davis, Isaiah McKenzie, Emmanuel Sanders, Jake Kumerow
TEs: Dawson Knox, Tommy Sweeney
Carolina PanthersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 23 November 2020
According to ESPN.com's David Newton, it's too early to say the Panthers won't need to select a quarterback in the first round of the 2021 draft.
But former XFL star Phillip Walker at least showed on Sunday that he's capable of winning an NFL game -- even if was against the undermanned Detroit Lions.
Walker did a lot of good things in the 20-0 victory in relief of Teddy Bridgewater, a last-minute inactive as he recovers from a sprained right knee suffered a week ago against Tampa Bay.
Walker completed 23-of-43 pass attempts for 258 yards and a touchdown. He showed with his scrambling on a couple of plays, particularly on a 20-yard pass to DJ Moore, why coach Matt Rhule went with him over less mobile Will Grier to help the Panthers (4-7) end a five-game losing streak.
Walker also threw two bad interceptions in the red zone on which the Detroit defender looked like the intended receiver.
He also was the benefactor of a Detroit offense playing without three key pieces in addition to quarterback Matthew Stafford nursing a sore right thumb. The Lions were so bad offensively that they punted four times in the first half against a Carolina team that forced only two punts in the last four games combined.
The result was Carolina's first shutout since Dec. 13, 2015, against the Atlanta Falcons, against a Detroit team that hadn't been shut out since 2009.
Walker joined Philip Rivers (won 27-0 over Raiders in Week 1, 2006) and Jacoby Brissett (won 27-0 over Texans in Week 3, 2016) as the only quarterbacks in the last 30 seasons to win their first career start in shutout fashion.
Walker showed in leading the XFL's Houston Roughnecks to a 5-0 record before the COVID-19 pandemic ended the season, and at Temple where he helped Rhule rebuild that program, he's a winner.
Remember: Carolina's two biggest issues this season have been scoring points in the third quarter on offense and getting off the field on third down on defense.
They cured both Sunday.
Walker completed his first nine passes of the second half for 90 yards, including his first career TD pass to Curtis Samuel in the right corner of the end zone as the Panthers scored a season-high 10 points in the third quarter.
Walker did a solid job of spreading the ball to his top three receivers. D.J. Moore had seven catches for 127 yards, while Samuel had eight grabs for 70 yards. Robby Anderson added seven receptions for 46 yards.
Moore has struggled to develop a consistent chemistry with Bridgewater, but Walker certainly liked going to him. Moore had seven catches for a season-high 127 yards.
Or maybe it's just the Lions. Moore had a career-high 157 yards receiving against Detroit in 2018.
He might not be ready to face the best teams in the NFL, but at least for a day Walker was ready to beat the Lions.
That could ease the pressure to use a high pick to draft a quarterback to develop behind Bridgewater, who is expected to return Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings.
In fact, the Panthers could get Bridgewater and running back Christian McCaffrey (shoulder) back against Minnesota. That would be a huge boost for the offense in Bridgewater's first return to Minnesota as the starter since he suffered a horrific left knee injury in 2016 in training camp for the Vikings.
Rhule told reporters on Monday expects Bridgewater to practice Wednesday, though he sounded less optimistic about McCaffrey, saying the Panthers will see where he is Wednesday.
"I would expect Teddy to practice on Wednesday and we'll take it from there," Rhule said. "He was cleared to play [Sunday], so I would assume he will be ready to go on Wednesday. Christian, we'll take it week to week."
That changed on Tuesday, however, when Tom Pelissero of NFL Media reported McCaffrey was expected to practice this week, too. And on Wednesday, McCaffrey was on the field in a red no-contact jersey.
But it doesn't sound like he'll return this week.
Rhule told reporters after the session that he does not expect McCaffrey to play against the Vikings. The running back will have the Week 13 bye to continue healing before the Panthers host the Broncos in Week 14.
Bridgewater got in a full practice and remains on track to return from his knee injury this weekend.
I'll have more on both players as needed via Late-Breaking Update in coming days, but count McCaffrey out until/unless you hear otherwise. ...
Meanwhile, Mike Davis struggled to produce in the running game for the fifth straight start. It's troubling because Sunday he had only 64 yards on 19 carries against a Detroit defense giving up 141 yards rushing per game.
One last note here. ... According to numberFire.com's JJ Zachariason, Anderson currently has a 27 percent target share with just one touchdown. Only one WR has finished a season since 2011 with at least 25 percent of his team's targets and 1 (or fewer) touchdown: Brian Hartline in 2012. Vincent Jackson (2014) and Kendall Wright (2013) each had 2 TDs.
QBs: Sam Darnold, Phillip Walker
RBs: Christian McCaffrey, Chuba Hubbard, Royce Freeman
WRs: D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson, Terrace Marshall Jr., Brandon Zylstra, Shi Smith
TEs: Dan Arnold, Ian Thomas, Colin Thompson, Tommy Tremble
Chicago BearsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 23 November 2020
The Chicago Bears switched quarterbacks early in the season and changed who calls plays last week, all in an effort to spark the one of the NFL's worst offenses.
So far, nothing's worked.
They can't pass, can't run, can't block. Above all else, they're not getting the touchdowns they need from their anemic offense.
It's all added up to four straight losses heading into their bye, and no relief in sight.
"At some point, something has to click," head coach Matt Nagy said. "At some point. You would think. There's two choices, you either quit or you fight. I know what we're going to do. I don't think I have to say it."
Chicago (5-5) boasts a top 10 defense led by three-time All-Pro pass rusher Khalil Mack and a locker room culture Nagy thinks will keep the team together. But safety Eddie Jackson is seeing too many hanging heads on both sides of the ball. And he let his feelings be known when he addressed the team following the Bears' ugly 19-13 loss to Minnesota on Monday night.
"We got a lot of guys on both sides of the ball that can speak up, that (have a) powerful voice, but I feel like kind of afraid to use it," Jackson said. "You can't be afraid to use your voice. ... You see guys coming off the field, their head down, no one says nothing to them. That has to change."
But the biggest issue facing the Bears is their broken offense. They've been searching for solutions since the season kicked off and they're not finding answers.
Actually, their offense has been a problem the past two years. The changes they made in the offseason -- overhauling the assistants and bringing in quarterback Nick Foles to push Mitchell Trubisky, among other moves -- have not panned out.
Nagy handed the play-calling duties to offensive coordinator Bill Lazor last week, only to watch that unit hit a new low against Minnesota. The Bears amassed 149 yards for their lowest total since 2017, and failed to score a touchdown on offense for the second time in four games. They also matched their worst skid since Nagy was hired in 2018.
As if that wasn't bad enough, Foles was taken from the field on a cart near the end of the game. He was driven to the ground as he threw the ball away and suffered a hip and glute injury that wasn't as serious as the Bears feared.
The Bears' next game is against Aaron Rodgers and the NFC North-leading Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field this Sunday. And if Foles isn't available, Trubisky might be.
The No. 2 pick in the 2017 draft, he was benched for Foles during the Bears' comeback win at Atlanta in Week 3. On his only snap since then, Trubisky suffered a right shoulder injury when he was tackled running the ball against New Orleans in Week 8.
On Monday, Nagy declined to name a starter for Sunday's game, saying a QB change is still "on the table."
According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Trubisky's right shoulder injury progressed to the point where he attended practice Monday. He wore a helmet for the first time since hurting his shoulder. That could portend Trubisky starting Sunday night against the Packers. Foles was not spotted during the portion of Bears practice open to the media on Monday.
Nagy said the Bears "will get to Wednesday and see exactly where both these guys are at."
He refused to give medical updates, and won't have to until the injury report is due Wednesday.
The Bears held a light, 90-minute practice Monday -- but Trubisky's presence was notable nonetheless.
The Bears' two other healthy quarterbacks are Tyler Bray -- who replaced Foles for the unsuccessful final drive against the Vikings -- and Kyle Sloter, whom the Bears signed Nov. 10.
Whether it's Trubisky or Foles at quarterback, or Nagy or Lazor calling plays, the Bears simply aren't getting the production from their offense. They lack playmakers other than receiver Allen Robinson, and their line wasn't really holding its ground even before injuries and COVID-19 issues took hold.
It's added up to an offense that ranks 31st overall and last in the league in rushing.
Against Minnesota, the Bears' lone touchdown came on Cordarrelle Patterson's club-record 104-yard kickoff return to start the second half. The offense failed to score a touchdown for the second time in four games. And the Bears also had minus-2 yards in the third quarter.
"We're not good enough right now," Patterson said. "Everybody sees that. It's no secret the offense isn't good enough. Just have to keep stepping up, just playing better. Because the defense, they're playing lights out each and every week. They're setting us up each and every time to score points and get the win, but we're just not coming out at the top."
At this point, it's hard to see a path to significant improvement. ...
By the way, Patterson was the team's leading rusher last week with David Montgomery sidelined due to concussion. But Montgomery told reporters on Wednesday he's no longer in the concussion protocol.
"I'm ready to go," he said on Wednesday.
So with the running back situation cleared up, I'll have more on the plan at QB via Late-Breaking Update in coming days while advising you Foles was not on the practice field to open the week on Wednesday while Trubisky worked fully. ...
Although Cole Kmet out snapped Jimmy Graham for the first time this season against the Vikings, ESPN.com's Jeff Dickerson advised his readers that Kmet's snap counts have zero correlation to fantasy-related matters. Kmet has seven catches for 86 yards and one touchdown. Every week, the Bears declare their intent to get Kmet more involved in the passing game. And every week, it fails to happen. Kmet's situation is borderline absurd. The Bears drafted Kmet in the second round because they envisioned him as a dominant two-way tight end, yet they barely throw him the ball.
"He's a big fantasy no-no at the moment," Dickerson added.
And finally. ... The Bears have placed star safety Eddie Jackson on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
Jackson did not test positive himself but was in close contact with someone who did, Adam Hoge of NBCSportsChicago.com reports. That would allow Jackson to return for Sunday's game against the Packers if he tests negative this week.
Earlier this season, the Bears placed offensive lineman Germain Ifedi on the reserve/COVID-19 list after a close contact, but he did not miss a game.
In 10 games this season, Jackson has 58 tackles, three forced fumbles, two pass breakups and a touchdown.
QBs: Justin Fields, Nick Foles, Andy Dalton
RBs: David Montgomery, Damien Williams, Khalil Herbert, Tarik Cohen
WRs: Allen Robinson, Darnell Mooney, Damiere Byrd, Marquise Goodwin, Breshad Perriman
TEs: Cole Kmet, Jimmy Graham, Jesse James, J.P. Holtz, Jesper Horsted
Cincinnati BengalsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 23 November 2020
As ESPN.com's Ben Baby framed it, "One of the most promising NFL seasons by a rookie quarterback came to an end Sunday. Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow effectively ruled himself out for the remainder of the 2020 season after he was carted off the field in Sunday's 20-9 loss to the Washington Football Team at FedEx Field. ..."
Burrow suffered a left leg injury in the third quarter after he was sandwiched by two Washington defenders who converged on him on a third-and-2 pass attempt.
On Sunday afternoon, Burrow sent out a tweet thanking people for support and suggesting he was done in 2020. "Thanks for all the love," Burrow said. "Can't get rid of me that easy. See ya next year."
Bengals coach Zac Taylor did not have any immediate updates after a loss that stifled a group that looked promising with Burrow behind center. "He was making improvements every week and we were getting the offense headed in a direction that we thought was exciting," Taylor said.
The situation became clearer on Monday, when we learned that Burrow suffered more than just an ACL tear in his knee Sunday.
NFL Network's Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero reported Monday that Burrow tore the MCL in addition to the ACL in his left knee, an MRI revealed, per a source informed of the injury.
The news confirms the No. 1 overall pick is done for the year. Burrow will undergo reconstructive surgery and rehab for 2021.
With both the MCL and ACL torn, Burrow is in for a lengthy rehab. For comparison, Carson Wentz suffered a similar multi-ligament knee tear on Dec. 10, 2017, and missed the first two games of the 2018 campaign.
Still, according to Pelissero, the Bengals are anticipating Burrow should be ready right around the start of the 2021 season. That would peg his recovery at 8-9 months.
With his season over, Burrow will set several Bengals per-game rookie records for completion percentage (65.3), passing yards per game (268.8) and passer rating (89.8).
The Bengals were 2-7-1 with the Heisman Trophy winner under center this season. Burrow completed 264 of 404 attempts for 2,688 yards, 13 TDs, five INTs and took 32 sacks. Only Wentz (40) and Russell Wilson (33) took more sacks through Week 11. Burrow was not sacked on Sunday.
Cincinnati's ability to protect Burrow was one of the biggest questions entering the 2020 season. Entering Sunday, Cincinnati ranked 28th in the NFL in pass block win rate, an ESPN metric powered by NFL Next Gen Stats.
Taylor defended the unit when asked if he believed the team could have done more to protect Burrow. The second-year coach said the offensive line had done a great job in recent weeks in keeping defenders away from the quarterback and noted that the hit came after Burrow threw the ball.
"We felt like we were making a lot of progress over the last five weeks and we're not going to apologize for any of that," Taylor said.
Still, Cincinnati is likely to prioritize offensive line upgrades in the offseason to help keep Burrow upright in his return from the knee injury.
Ryan Finley appeared to be in line to take over starting duties. But the backup will remain the backup.
A former practice squad QB will leapfrog to the starting gig.
NFL Network's Mike Garafolo reported Wednesday morning that the Bengals are planning to start Brandon Allen on Sunday against the New York Giants, per a source informed of the situation.
Finley, who entered the game when Burrow went down last week against Washington, will remain in the backup spot. Finley completed 3 of 10 passes for 30 yards and an INT for a 0.0 passer rating in five drives after Burrow left the game. A 2019 fourth-round pick, Finley went 0-3 in his career as a starter last year.
The 28-year-old Allen actually has more experience in Taylor's system. The duo spent two years together with the Los Angeles Rams in 2017 and 2018. Allen signed with Cincinnati this offseason and has been on the practice squad the entire year before being elevated in the wake of Burrow's injury.
Allen started three games for the Denver Broncos last year. He showed flashes of promise, guiding the Broncos to a 1-2 record over the stretch. After an impressive win over Cleveland in his first outing, the Allen magic began to wane. He completed 46 percent of his passes for 515 yards with three TDs and two INTs in his three starts. Still, Allen showed the ability to keep the offense functional behind a struggling offensive line -- something he'll again have to deal with in Cincinnati.
Playing behind a sieve offensive line will do no favors for the new starter, but the Bengals do have weapons on the outside in Tyler Boyd, surging rookie Tee Higgins and veteran A.J. Green.
Meanwhile, Boyd is trying to keep his focus on the team's longer-term future.
"It just sucks, man," Boyd said. "But he's a true leader that I know is going to get us to a Super Bowl."
More immediately, Cincinnati needs to regroup before hosting the New York Giants (3-7) on Sunday.
That will be even more difficult with Joe Mixon on injured reserve with a foot injury. Cincinnati's ground game can't get any traction.
Giovani Bernard rushed nine times for 18 yards and caught four of five targets for 37 yards in Sunday's loss.
Bernard had been performing admirably as the fill-in starter for Mixon, but the entire Bengals offense stalled out in the second half after Burrow was carted off with a season-ending knee injury. Between Cincinnati's porous offensive line and the lack of a passing threat with Finley under center as opposed to Burrow, finding running room won't be easy for Bernard moving forward.
Adding to the woes, Bernard did not practice Wednesday because of a concussion, according to the team's injury report.
Even Bernard remains the lead back in Week 12 against the Giants, his value is likely diminishing. But that's something we'll find out as the weeke progresses.
Watch the Late-Breaking Update section for more on that. ...
Kicker Randy Bullock came into the game 19 of 21, but a 34-yard attempt hit the right upright. So did a 58-yarder at the end of the half that would have been a franchise record, a terrific effort. He also missed his first extra point of the year. But a 53-yarder he did hit was huge and gave them a 9-7 lead. ...
And finally. ... The Bengals are going through contact tracing after defensive line coach Nick Eason tested positive for COVID-19. Any close contacts would've occurred on Sunday, so no impact expected on player availability for this week's game vs the New York Giants, NFL Network's Tom Pelissero reports.
That said, the Bengals placed WR Auden Tate and G/C B.J. Finney on the Reserve/COVID-19 list Wednesday.
QBs: Joe Burrow, Brandon Allen
RBs: Joe Mixon, Samaje Perine, Chris Evans
WRs: Ja'Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd, Auden Tate, Stanley Morgan Jr., Mike Thomas
TEs: C.J. Uzomah, Drew Sample
Cleveland BrownsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 23 November 2020
As ESPN.com's Jake Trotter framed it, "Without Myles Garrett, the Cleveland defense bent a little.
"Never broke. ..."
The Browns not only managed without Garrett for one game, they won.
They'll have to try to do it again.
The dynamic end will miss this week's game against Jacksonville as he continues to recover from the COVID-19 virus. Garrett tested positive last Friday and sat out Sunday's 22-17 win over the Philadelphia Eagles.
He'll remain on the COVID list this week and won't play against the Jaguars (1-9).
Head coach Kevin Stefanski did not provide any details on Garrett's condition Monday other than saying the team is adhering to the intensive protocols put in place by the league and players' union on the virus and the 24-year old will not be cleared in time to face the Jaguars.
"We're ruling him out because that's what the protocols call for," Stefanski said. "We're just following the rules and will continue to do so."
Garrett has 9 1/2 sacks and has been among the NFL's best defensive players all season. He has four strip sacks and made numerous game-swinging plays while helping the Browns (7-3) toward their best 10-game record since 1994.
Cleveland is going for its first playoff spot since 2002.
Compounding Garrett's absence, cornerback Denzel Ward is expected to miss a few weeks with a calf strain, NFL Network's Mike Garafolo reported, per sources informed of the situation.
Ward is coming off a game in which he recorded four passes defended, three tackles and an interception in a rain-soaked win over the Eagles. The third-year corner has quietly put together one of the better seasons in the NFL in 2020, leading the league in passes defended with 15.
Cleveland has played the entirety of 2020 without its No. 2 corner, Greedy Williams, who hasn't been able to suit up due to a nerve injury in his shoulder. Terrance Mitchell has played in place of Williams, doing an admirable job, while Ward has stepped up his performance to keep things under control in the Browns' secondary.
It's likely Kevin Johnson will take Ward's place in the lineup as the Browns aim to stay in the hunt for the playoffs in the AFC.
Safety Ronnie Harrison appears to have dodged a serious injury after being hurt early in Sunday's game. An MRI revealed only a bruise, and Stefanski indicated Harrison has a chance of playing at Jacksonville.
Garrett was isolated at home for two days last week and missed practice with COVID-like symptoms before he tested positive on Friday and was knocked out of the game with the Eagles. League protocols call for him to be away from the team for at least 10 days before he can return.
His status for the Jacksonville game was always in jeopardy, but the Browns removed any suspense with Monday's announcement.
The Browns' defense made big plays without Garrett as end Olivier Vernon had three of the unit's five sacks and had a safety on Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz. Linebacker Sione Takitaki returned an interception 50 yards for a touchdown as Cleveland ended a five-game losing streak to Philadelphia.
"Yesterday, those guys were relentless in their pass rush," Stefanski said. "They played the run really well and it was really a collective effort from the defensive line, and it's something that we need from those guys every game."'
So the Browns had a pick-six off Wentz and sacked Wentz for a safety. It marked the third time in team history that the Browns had a pick-six and a safety in the same game, also doing so in Week 8, 1954 against the Bears and Week 3, 1970 against the Steelers. Wentz is the third QB in Eagles history to throw a pick-six and be sacked for a safety in the same game, joining Bobby Thomason in Week 3, 1954 against the Steelers and Joe Pisarcik in Week 14, 1984 against the Cowboys.
The Browns placed defensive end Joe Jackson on the reserve/COVID-19 list, the team announced Tuesday.
He joins offensive lineman Chris Hubbard, fullback Andy Janovich and Garrett on the team's COVID-19 list.
It is unknown whether Jackson tested positive or was in close contact with someone who did. He played 21 defensive snaps Sunday in helping fill in for the absence of Garrett.
And yes, I'm focusing on the defense an awful lot here.
There's a reason for that.
The Browns have scored only two offensive touchdowns in their past three games. Weather has been a big factor, and Cleveland won two of those games. But in the wake of the season-ending injury to wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. last month, the Browns have got to uncover more explosive plays in the passing game.
Baker Mayfield had an underwhelming outing, although he was playing in rainy weather for a third straight game. He completed only 12 of 22 passes for 204 yards. Mayfield also turned the ball over the first time this month, as Fletcher Cox batted the ball out of his hands after penetrating the pocket. The fumble led to Philly's first touchdown.
Mayfield, however, bounced back on his very next snap, connecting with KhaDarel Hodge for a 42-yard completion off play-action. The pass set up a 46-yard field goal, which put Cleveland up for good, 10-7.
Playing next weekend in Jacksonville could help.
And the rushing attack will continue to carry the offense.
The yards didn't come easy for Nick Chubb on Sunday, but he still found a way to hit the century mark.
Chubb's 54-yard run in the fourth quarter put him over the top, and the Pro Bowl RB finished with 114 yards on 20 carries.
Chubb's 54-yard run put him over 3,000 yards for his career, an accomplishment he achieved in just 38 career games. Chubb leads all NFL running backs with an average of 6 yards per carry and ranks 14th in the league with 575 rushing yards despite missing four games because of a knee injury.
Chubb played 30 snaps. Kareem Hunt had a few more with 36.
KhaDarel Hodge led all Browns wideout with 48 snaps. Rashard Higgins played 40 and Jarvis Landry was on the field for 39.
And finally. ... No real surprise here, the Browns announced the closure of their facility on Wednesday morning in the wake of a positive COVID-19 test for another player, but they will be able to get back in the building for practice later in the day.
It won't be a regular practice session, however. Stefanski told reporters on Wednesday morning that the team will hold separate workouts for the offense and defense to kick off their on-field preparation for Sunday's game against the Jaguars.
Stefanski also said that there will be some players and coaches absent from the sessions as they continue contact tracing after the positive test.
QBs: Baker Mayfield, Case Keenum
RBs: Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, Demetric Felton, D'Ernest Johnson
WRs: Odell Beckham, Donovan Peoples-Jones, Anthony Schwartz, Rashard Higgins, Jarvis Landry
TEs: Austin Hooper, David Njoku, Harrison Bryant
Dallas CowboysCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 23 November 2020
As Profootballtalk.com put it, "Throw out the records come Thanksgiving afternoon when the Washington Football Team faces rival Dallas Cowboys.
"No, seriously. Throw them out and never look at them again. ..."
With both Washington and Dallas earning wins on Sunday and the Philadelphia Eagles losing, the entirety of the four-team NFC East has three wins apiece. That means the winner of the Thanksgiving showdown will take the division lead with four wins.
The Cowboys snapped a four-game losing streak to get to 3-7, beating the Minnesota Vikings on the road with an Andy Dalton-led 31-28 comeback.
Indeed Dalton's first win as Dallas quarterback puts the Cowboys in a suddenly high-stakes Thanksgiving game in a season that looked lost without Dak Prescott.
"We never thought we were out of it," Ezekiel Elliott said, via ESPN. "Our division's been struggling this year. We're right where we need to be with what's been going on with the division. We've got to build on this success, so we can't come out on a short week and take a step back against a division opponent. We've got to make sure we build on the success and keep getting better."
Context is everything.
In any other NFC division, the Cowboys would be in the basement. Instead, they have a chance to swoop into the lead with a Thanksgiving feast.
"This will be our first opportunity really to stack the steps," said head coach Mike McCarthy, whose first season with the Cowboys has been marked by one challenge after another, the biggest losing Prescott to a season-ending ankle injury in Week 5.
"It took us a little longer to get here today. I clearly think the journey will make us stronger. We need to do something with this win. It needs to mean something."
Remember, the stakes are a little higher for the Cowboys this Thursday because they lost at Washington, when Dalton was knocked out of the game with a concussion. A season sweep would give Washington a significant advantage in what figures to be a wild scramble for the playoffs in the NFL's worst division.
The four straight losses were all four games since Prescott's gruesome injury. Dalton missed the last two of them, first with the above-mentioned concussion, then because of a positive test for COVID-19.
A nine-year starter who won 70 games in Cincinnati before deciding to join the Cowboys as Prescott's backup, Dalton led a fourth-quarter comeback to beat the Giants immediately after the injury.
Against the Vikings, he took Dallas 61 yards to the go-ahead touchdown with less than two minutes remaining. And a much-maligned defense made the stop that turned Dalton Schultz's 2-yard catch into the winning score.
"We've been putting in the work and showing signs that we've become a better football team," linebacker Sean Lee said. "To rally the way we did coming down the stretch was incredible."
Elliott had his first 100-yard game of the season (103) and scored on a 6-yard screen pass, and the Cowboys had a season-high 180 yards rushing. Backup Tony Pollard's 42-yard run was the first of two go-ahead TDs in the fourth quarter.
CeeDee Lamb's body-bending touchdown catch in the first half was the highlight of what had the feel of a breakout game for the rookie receiver. The numbers weren't huge (four catches for 34 yards), but Lamb absorbed a couple of huge hits, drawing a penalty on one. The first-round draft pick averaged 16 yards on three punt returns.
As Associated Press sports writer Schulyer Dixon notes, the coaching staff has been slow on some personnel changes, the latest being four-time All-Pro right guard Zack Martin's move to right tackle to replace Terence Steele. The struggling undrafted rookie started the first nine games with both tackles (Tyron Smith and La'el Collins) out for the season with injuries.
Dallas responded with its best game on the ground this season, and Dalton was sacked just once, with the quarterback taking the blame because he said he held the ball too long.
Indeed, according to NFL.com's Bucky Brooks, it has taken the Cowboys a few games to find their offensive identity without Dak but it appears the team has finally figured it out.
The Cowboys utilized a balanced game plan (31 rushes; 33 passes) to control the game while alleviating pressure on Dalton and the offensive line. The run-centric approach enabled the Cowboys to avoid the negative plays and miscues that have plagued the offense throughout the season.
If coordinator Kellen Moore and McCarthy will continue to embrace a conservative game plan built around the running game and high percentage passes, the Cowboys could sneak into the playoff as the NFC East champs. ...
Also of interest. ... The Cowboys' renewed commitment to the run was fueled by the emergence of Elliott and Pollard as a formidable tandem. The two-time NFL rushing champ and the second-year pro perfectly complement each other as rotational players in the backfield. Elliott is the workhorse runner tasked with doing the dirty work between the tackles. He excelled in that role against the Vikings with 103 rushing yards on 21 carries.
Pollard ripped off 60 rushing yards on just five attempts as the Cowboys' change-of-pace back. He scored on a 42-yard run that displayed his explosive stop-start quickness and burst as an outside runner. Moreover, Pollard's big-play potential exploited a beleaguered defense that was worn down from Elliott's punishing inside runs.
With the Cowboys starting to lean on the running game with consistency, the Elliott-Pollard combination could prove problematic for foes down the stretch.
Worth noting. ... Elliott has 45 touchdowns rushing and 10 receiving in his first five seasons. The two-time rushing champion is the fifth back to do that, joining Pro Hall of Famer Marcus Allen, Shaun Alexander, Chuck Foreman and Todd Gurley.
Kicker Greg Zuerlein has a back injury that limited him in practice all week. The Cowboys list him as questionable for Thursday’s game against Washington.
The Cowboys also list cornerback Anthony Brown as questionable with an injury to his ribs. He returned to a limited practice Wednesday after missing Monday and Tuesday’s work.
Elliott was a full participant all week despite a hamstring injury, and he does not have a designation. ...
A few final items. ... In search of a way to motivate his team ahead of last weekend's game against the Minnesota Vikings, McCarthy elected to murder some produce to provide a spark.
According to Clarence Hill Jr. of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, McCarthy packed a sledgehammer and an assortment of watermelons for the team's trip to Minneapolis and then destroyed the melons in a team meeting on Saturday night
"I think like anything in this game, it's important to have fun," McCarthy said. "You're always trying to create emphasis in your messaging. That's really where it came from. We were just using the approach to honor the great comedian Gallagher and it's an idea that came up and we went for it. The players were into it."
"It was just all part of the messaging so we had a number of points of emphasis that we were trying to hit so a number of guys got to participate and once again I'd say it was a lot of fun. It was well received."
The melons represented various objectives the team was looking to accomplish against the Vikings. After taking out some of the melons himself, he gave some players the chance to hammer away as well.
And last. ... Strength and conditioning coordinator Markus Paul experienced a medical emergency Tuesday morning and was immediately treated by team medical personnel and transported to a local hospital by ambulance, the team announced. Paul was undergoing further medical tests and "additional information will be made available at the appropriate time," per the Cowboys.
Paul has been with the organization since Feb. 2018 and previously spent 11 years with the New York Giants. He also worked for the New Orleans Saints (1998-1999) and New England Patriots (2000-2004).
Cowboys players and staff attended a pre-scheduled meeting Tuesday morning during which McCarthy informed them that Tuesday's practice would be cancelled.
QBs: Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush, Will Grier
RBs: Ezekiel Elliott, Tony Pollard, Corey Clement
WRs: Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, Cedrick Wilson, Noah Brown, Simi Fehoko, Michael Gallup
TEs: Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz
Denver BroncosCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 23 November 2020
As ESPN.com's Jeff Legwold notes, the Denver Broncos' defense got a little help -- finally -- from its friends Sunday in powering a 20-13 win over the Miami Dolphins at Empower Field at Mile High.
With a long list of injured players, including Von Miller who injured his ankle days before the season started, as well as its best defensive lineman at the moment -- Shelby Harris -- having missed the last three games due to COVID-19, the Broncos' defense has hung in. But the group has found its biggest opponent has not been across the line of scrimmage, but on its own bench in the Broncos' offense.
The Broncos entered Sunday's game with a league-high 21 turnovers.
When quarterback Drew Lock's interception two minutes into the game pushed the total to 22, it looked like another day of short fields and increasingly bad situations for the Broncos' defense.
But when the Broncos' run game kicked in -- 180 yards rushing Sunday -- things went their way.
Against a Dolphins team that had won five straight games, Denver's offensive line reversed their fortunes by building the kind of lengthy drives that crushed the Broncos' hopes in the third quarter in Las Vegas.
On Sunday, the Broncos led drives of 5:40 and 4:46 as they dominated the time of possession in the third quarter, 10:26 to 4:34.
The bulk of that came on the back of the running game, led by a balance attack from Melvin Gordon and Phillip Lindsay. Gordon rushed for 84 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries, while Lindsay ran the ball 16 times for 82 yards.
Gordon and Lindsay are the first Broncos teammates to both have at least 15 carries and 80 rushing yards since Devontae Booker and C.J. Anderson accomplished the feat in 2016.
Why the run game "exploded," as Lock put it, depended on who you asked.
"I think we just had a great scheme," Gordon said. "I thought the coaches did a great job with scheming up the fronts and the looks and being able to check some great looks for the runs. ... Then, honestly, everyone executed. I think the line did a phenomenal job. [T] Garett [Bolles] was out there being a bouncer, bulldozing guys over. He was making some really great lanes for us and then all we had to do was a make a couple guys miss, so that's what we did. It was a great team effort."
The scheme was definitely one reason. Fangio noted that the team installed new run plays during the week, which resulted in a couple of 20-plus yard plays from Lindsay and Gordon.
Another factor, though, was that the Broncos finally were able to play with a lead for a significant portion of the game. In this one, Denver held a lead for the entirety of the second half, and there's no doubt that helped them stay balanced. It was the Broncos' first halftime lead since Week 6, when the team held a 12-3 advantage over New England at the break.
"I'd always like the early lead, that's for damn sure," Fangio said. "When you're running it decently and you're playing good defense, the whole complexion of the game is different. You're not feeling like, offensively, if we don't score, we're in trouble or you have to throw it every play."
The Broncos would not have been as successful without the scheme and the circumstances that allowed them to run so consistently. That's for sure.
The willingness by offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur to dial it back after Lock's early mistake helped. But he slowly worked Lock back into the mix and the QB played a little bigger on offense with two- and three-tight-end looks.
As Legwold notes, the Broncos have shown they would like to be in a three-wide-receiver set as much as they can. Opposing defensive coaches, however, believe it gives them a chance to throw some things at Lock he hasn't always handled well. And Lock's interception in the first quarter meant all 17 of the team's interceptions have come in a three-wide set.
Shurmur leaned on the two- and three-tight-end looks more the rest of the way and when the Broncos had forced the Dolphins to worry about the run game, Shurmur cranked up some three-wide again.
Nonetheless, Lock has been introduced to the quarterback hot seat that is the Rocky Mountain region and his confidence has taken a hit along the way.
After tossing an interception on his second pass attempt of the game seven days after his first career four-interception game in Las Vegas, it would have been easy to go into meltdown mode. But he settled in Sunday, for the most part, save for a smattering of errant tosses when a little more altitude on the throw would have resulted in big plays, and the Broncos' offense settled down with him.
We'll see how they fare, however, in another tough matchup against the Saints. ...
Worth noting. ... Gordon, who scored two touchdowns, now has a team-high seven. He also fumbled going in for his third TD, giving him a team-high four fumbles.
On the injury front. ... Fangio said Monday that Lock had "no residual effects" from Sunday's win over Miami after missing some practice time last week with rib injury.
One last note here. ... The passing targets were pretty evenly distributed.
K.J. Hamler caught 4-of-6 targets for 35 yards, Jerry Jeudy 3-of-8 targets for 37 yards, Noah Fant caught 4-of-5 targets for 55 yards and Tim Patrick 5-of-8 targets for 119 yards.
QBs: Teddy Bridgewater, Drew Lock
RBs: Javonte Williams, Melvin Gordon, Mike Boone
WRs: Courtland Sutton, Tim Patrick, K.J. Hamler, Diontae Spencer, Jerry Jeudy
TEs: Noah Fant, Albert Okwuegbunam, Andrew Beck, Eric Saubert
Detroit LionsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 23 November 2020
Matthew Stafford tried to sound upbeat after the Lions latest debacle, a 20-0 road loss to the Carolina Panthers.
"It's one game," Stafford said. "It doesn't define us as an offense, or us as a team."
Or maybe it does.
Coming off a promising 30-27 win over the Washington Redskins, the Lions lost a game they had to have to stay in playoff contention -- and one that could ultimately lead to costing head coach Matt Patricia his job if they don't find a way to quickly turn things around.
The Lions (4-6) managed just 185 yards and were 3 of 14 on third downs, failing to score against a Carolina defense that had allowed its last four opponents to put up a combined 131 points while scoring on 27 of 36 possessions. The Panthers, who had forced only two punts during that four-game span, got the Lions to punt six times.
"We have to go out, and we have to coach a lot better and get things right, and we have to go play better," Patricia said.
Patricia, who is 13-28-1 in 2 1/2 seasons as Lions head coach, was peppered with questions about his future after the loss, but refused to take a big picture look at the situation.
"We're going to go to work every day and try to do the best that we can to improve, and that's the bottom line. It's what we do," Patricia said.
He said his confidence as a coach isn't shaken.
Asked if the Lions are still responding to their coach, Stafford said, "Absolutely."
"We have really good guys here," Patricia said when asked if he feels like he's losing the locker room. "We have guys who are fighting every day and working really hard. That's the one thing -- I just love this locker room. These guys are strong; they want to win. They're trying to compete. They're trying to do everything right."
Granted, the offense was without running back D'Andre Swift and wide receivers Kenny Golladay and Danny Amendola due to injury. But the Lions were also facing a Carolina team that was without starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, running back Christian McCaffrey, offensive linemen Russell Okung and John Miller, and cornerback Donte Jackson.
And the Panthers outgained the Lions 374 to 185.
Given the Lions have a Thanksgiving Day game against the Houston Texans on Thursday it's expected things will remain status quo this week. But the loss certainly doesn't help Patricia's long-term prospects.
Asked about that, Patricia said, "I've had a philosophy for a long time. I go to work every day to try to earn my job, that's just what I do. That doesn't matter if it's coaching, doing engineering -- I don't care if I'm in school. Look, I'm just going to go to work and work hard."
Still, things aren't good in Detroit. Suddenly, going 34-28 and making the playoffs twice in four seasons under former coach Jim Caldwell doesn't sound so bad.
The last time the Lions failed to score in a game was Oct. 18, 2009 when Stafford was an injured rookie.
"I got here in 2009 and from where we were then to where we are now, we're a better organization, more talent," Stafford said. "At the moment, we don't have as many wins as we wished we had this year."
Stafford refused to blame coaching, an easy target considering. Instead, Stafford pointed the finger at himself.
"Obviously, I can play better," Stafford said, via Justin Rogers of The Detroit News. "I'm the guy that touches the ball on offense every play, so the better I play, the better we'll play as a team. Just got to be better myself."
Stafford was asked directly if the game plan was good enough.
"It wasn't so much the game plan as it was our execution, you know?" Stafford said. "It was both run and pass. We weren't efficient enough to get them out of it, and it's every defensive coordinator's dream to be up 17 late in the game and being able to dial up every fun blitz you can never think of. That part of it is not the part where we won or lost the game. We've got to be better early on in that game."
Stafford's right thumb injury had him questionable heading into the game, and the absence of productive players had to be a factor.
Golladay, Amendola and Swift have accounted for 79 receptions for 1,024 yards and four touchdowns this season.
Swift remains in the NFL's concussion protocol ahead of Thursday's Thanksgiving game against the Houston Texans. Swift and Amendola were listed as a non-participant on the Lions' estimated practice report Monday, but Swift moved up to limited on Tuesday. Golladay was listed as limited on Monday before being a nonparticipant on Tuesday. T.J. Hockenson (toe) was limited Tuesday.
Swift was listed as questionable on the Lions' injury report Wednesday, but is expected to start if he clears concussion protocol before kickoff. I'll have more on that via Late-Breaking Update in advance of tomorrow's kickoff. ...
While Swift is questionable to play, the Lions ruled out six players for Thursday, including Golladay for the fourth straight week.
Amendola is also out.
Not surprisingly, the Lions signed receiver Mohamed Sanu from the practice squad to the active roster on Wednesday.
Sanu signed with the Lions’ practice squad Nov. 6.
The team promoted him for Sunday’s game, and Sanu played 15 offensive snaps in the loss to the Panthers.
QBs: Jared Goff, David Blough
RBs: D'Andre Swift, Jamaal Williams, Jermar Jefferson
WRs: Quintez Cephus, Kalif Raymond, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Trinity Benson, KhaDarel Hodge, Tyrell Williams
TEs: T.J. Hockenson, Darren Fells
Green Bay PackersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 23 November 2020
As ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky framed it, "Marquez Valdes-Scantling giveth and Marquez Valdes-Scantling taketh. ..."
The Green Bay Packers mercurial receiver's career can be summed up in two plays within a matter of minutes against the Indianapolis Colts.
He hauled in a 47-yard bomb to set-up the game-tying field goal with 3 seconds left in regulation.
And then 13 minutes of real time -- not football time -- later, he fumbled on the second play of overtime, setting the Colts up for a chip-shot field goal to win 34-31.
Twice this year, the Packers have played a team that came in with a winning record.
Yes, they beat the Saints -- who currently own the NFC's best record at 8-2 -- but that was way back in Week 3 when New Orleans was just 1-1.
Now, the Packers are looking up at the Saints after Sunday's deflating loss at the Colts (7-3). It wasn't the rout that Green Bay (7-3) suffered at the hands of Tampa Bay -- the other winning team at the time the Packers played them -- but it showed once again that a fast, aggressive defense is their stopper.
Heading into Sunday, the Packers had played the fewest games (one) against a team with a winning record at the time of the game.
Sunday also was the Packers' chance to show they could handle a top-defense -- or in the Colts' case, the top defense. After Indy stopped gifting Aaron Rodgers field-position scores -- the Packers scored three of their four first-half touchdowns with the help of short fields (thanks to Raven Greene's forced fumble, Christian Kirksey's interception and a missed 50-yard Colts field goal).
Twenty-eight points -- and a two-touchdown lead -- at halftime.
Zilch in the second for 29 minutes and 57 seconds.
The Packers had lost only three games with Rodgers in which they led by at least 14 points. One of those came at Indy in 2012, when they blew an 18-point lead. The others were 16-point blown leads (to the Seahawks in the 2014 NFC title game and to the Bengals in 2013). Sunday was their fourth after they blew up a 28-14 halftime lead. Rodgers finished 27-of-38 for 311 yards with three touchdowns and one interception.
They ran only six plays -- two three-and-outs -- in the third quarter. They had only one sustained drive in the second half. They had only a last gasp-drive in the second half, reached the Colts' 34-yard line and turned it over one downs.
Rodgers is now 2-8-1 in overtime games. He's attempted only 17 passes in overtime in those games.
Meanwhile, asked by a reporter how the team can live with Valdes-Scantling -- an electrifying catch deep down the field one play and a maddening mistake the next, head coach Matt LaFleur defended the wideout.
I know he's really hurting right now," LaFleur said. "He made so many plays for us and not only in the pass game but in the run game, stuff that you guys probably don't even notice that we're not getting the yardage that we get if he's not blocking his ass off.
"So I can live with MVS. I've got more confidence in him now than probably ever. I think he continues to get better each and every day. Every time we go out there, he's providing big plays."
Although Valdes-Scantling had only three catches for 55 yards, LaFleur pointed to the pass interference penalty that he drew late in the second quarter that set up a touchdown to give the Packers a 28-14 halftime lead. It was a 51-yard penalty on Colts cornerback Rock Ya-Sin.
"I can live with MVS, and we're going to continue to live with him and just hope that he can continue to get better and better and better," LaFleur said. "And I've got all the confidence in the world in him."
Rodgers professed something similar.
"I have a lot of love for Marquez," said Rodgers, who threw a swing pass to Valdes-Scantling in the left flat on the second play of overtime, only to see the ball knocked away by Julian Blackmon and recovered by DeForest Buckner. "I see the guy every single day, see how much he cares about it. It happens, unfortunately. A lot of it is fundamentals, carrying the ball, but I've had my fair share of fumbles. It was just bad timing, obviously. ... But that stuff happens. He made a big play at the end of regulation to kind of get us going on third-and-10. Disappointed for him, disappointed for us."
Valdes-Scantling, who was not made available for postgame interviews, said in a tweet that he received death threats after the game but noted that his team had his back.
It was Valdes-Scantling's first career fumble in 42 games, but he has been plagued by drops and missed opportunities. He came into the game ranked 152nd among 153 qualified receivers in catch percentage (50 percent), according to ESPN Stats and information. He was below 50 percent until he caught four of his six targets against the Jaguars last week, and he ranks second among qualified receivers in drops (five).
The Packers were hoping that he'd be more consistent after his previous two games -- four catches for 133 yards against the Jaguars and two touchdowns the previous game against the 49ers.
Instead, it was another overtime game in which Rodgers barely got a chance to work some of the magic he did at the end of regulation, though there were questions about the last field goal drive and why he spiked the ball twice instead of taking another shot or two at the end zone.
"It's something we'll go back and look at and see how we can do things better," LaFleur said of the two spikes.
There were also questions about the fourth-and-1 decision -- and play call -- from the Colts' 34-yard line in a 31-28 game with 3:11 left in regulation. Rodgers threw an incomplete pass intended for running back Jamaal Williams.
"The play was for Davante Adams, and they doubled him," Rodgers said. "We really got beat on the back side. That's what didn't allow me to kind of extend the play. I just threw it a little too far for him, but again, the play was for Davante. I liked the aggression from Matt."
Rodgers dropped to 2-8-1 in overtime games, including playoffs. He has attempted 17 passes in overtime of those games and lost four times without touching the ball and three times on turnovers. Two of the three turnovers were by Rodgers.
Whatever the case, the Packers must try to shake off this loss before the Bears visit Lambeau Field this week.
QBs: Aaron Rodgers, Jordan Love
RBs: Aaron Jones, A.J. Dillon, Kylin Hill
WRs: Davante Adams, Randall Cobb, Allen Lazard, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Amari Rodgers, Malik Taylor
TEs: Robert Tonyan, Marcedes Lewis, Josiah Deguara
Houston TexansCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 23 November 2020
As Associated Press sports writer Kristie Rieken noted, the Houston Texans played their most complete game of the season on Sunday to beat the New England Patriots 27-20.
Deshaun Watson made plays with his arms and his legs and J.J. Watt was a force on defense to help the Texans to their first win against a team other than struggling division rival Jacksonville.
Now the Texans (3-7) will have to move on quickly with a game at Detroit on Thanksgiving.
"This is of course a big win, but we've just got to continue to keep pushing forward and enjoy this one for the next however many hours," Watson said. "But (Monday) when we wake up, we've got to get ready for Detroit because it's a short week on the road and we've got to go up there and try to get another one."
Watson gives them a chance to do that.
As ESPN.com's Sarah Barshop put it, the Texans' record "is not reflective of Watson's play this season."
The quarterback, who signed a huge four-year contract extension before the start of the season, has been one of the few bright spots for the team in 2020.
On Sunday against New England, Watson completed 28 of 37 passes for 344 yards and two touchdowns, tying a career high with his fifth game with 300 or more passing yards in a season. Watson's 241 first-half passing yards were a career high for a first half, and his 18 completions are also his most in a first half, according to ESPN Stats and Information.
According to NFL Research, he joins Cam Newton (Week 2) and Russell Wilson (Week 7) as the only quarterbacks with 240 or more passing yards and 30 or more rushing yards in a single half this season
It was also his second career game with three total touchdowns in a first half.
On Wednesday, Watson was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week.
As the Texans face a pivotal offseason, there are many reasons why the open general manager and head coach jobs may be less attractive than other openings this offseason: no first- or second-round draft picks in 2021, a lack of young playmakers on both sides of the ball and several bloated contracts.
But Watson's play, without DeAndre Hopkins and an ineffective running game, shows why Houston could be a destination for any elite coaching candidate.
Consider this: Watson has accounted for 88 percent of the Texans offense (by yardage). That would be the highest mark for any player in a season over the last 10 years.
In addition, Watson has had at least 1 passing touchdown and 0 interceptions in each of the last 5 games, the longest active streak in the NFL and tied for the longest such streak of Watson's career (he also had a 5-game streak in Weeks 12-16, 2018). Watson has 6 career games with at least 2 passing touchdowns and at least 1 rushing touchdown. Dak Prescott (7) is the only player with more such games since 2017.
More immediately, Watson's big day helped negate Houston's struggles in the run game against New England.
"He's a really good player and he helps make our offense go," interim coach Romeo Crennel said. "Sometimes when you've got a guy like that who can make the plays that he can make, sometimes you don't have to have a ground game."
Still, Houston's running game remains one of the team's biggest weaknesses. The Texans had just 55 yards rushing against New England and only 19 of those yards came from Houston's running backs with Watson's scrambling accounting for the rest of the yards.
In particular, Duke Johnson continued to struggle in his second start with David Johnson out indefinitely after sustaining a concussion on Nov. 8. Duke Johnson had just 15 yards rushing on 10 carries.
Next up, the Texans will try to build on the momentum from Sunday's victory as they attempt to win consecutive games for the first time this season when they meet a Detroit team that has lost three of four and was shut out by the Panthers on Sunday. It could be a chance for another big game from Watson as the Lions rank 25th in the NFL by allowing 258.4 yards passing a game. ...
Meanwhile, receiver Randall Cobb scored a touchdown on a 3-yard pass from Watson with 3:36 remaining in the first quarter Sunday. Unfortunately for Cobb, that might be his final snap for a while.
Cobb was seen after the play yelling on the sideline as the team's medical staff examined him. The Texans ruled him out with a foot injury.
Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reports that Cobb injured a toe and the injury is "considered significant." Cobb will undergo further medical testing, but he will miss games -- starting with this one.
Keke Coutee saw more playing time in Cobb's absence and scored on a 6-yard reception. The Texans also saw receiver Kenny Stills depart early with a leg injury.
"Keke got an opportunity, he took advantage of it and now he'll try to hold onto it," Crennel said. ...
Stills will join on the sidelines this week; neither will make the trip for Thursday's game, so Coutee could be a factor again.
A few final notes here. .. The Texans announced a pair of roster moves on Monday afternoon.
Tight end Kahale Warring has been activated from injured reserve ahead of Thursday's game against the Lions. They also announced that they have claimed offensive lineman Hjalte Froholdt off of waivers.
Warring went on injured reserve after playing nine special teams snaps in the opener. It was his regular season debut as the 2019 third-round pick spent his entire rookie season on injured reserve.
Froholdt was a fourth-round pick of the Patriots last year. He also spent his rookie year on injured reserve, but made eight appearances before getting cut to make room for running back Sony Michel's return to the active roster.
And last. ... Left tackle Laremy Tunsil was back at the team's facility Tuesday after being inactive Sunday with a non-COVID illness (the team had multiple cases of the flu last week).
QBs: Davis Mills, Jeff Driskel, Deshaun Watson, Tyrod Taylor
RBs: Mark Ingram, Phillip Lindsay, David Johnson, Rex Burkhead, Scottie Phillips
WRs: Brandin Cooks, Chris Conley, Anthony Miller, Danny Amendola, Nico Collins, Andre Roberts
TEs: Jordan Akins, Pharaoh Brown, Brevin Jordan
Indianapolis ColtsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 23 November 2020
As ESPN.com's Mike Wells suggested, at some point -- maybe a week or month from now -- not many people will remember how the Colts beat the Packers when they look at the Week 11 results.
That's probably a good thing, because the Colts did everything to give the Packers the game on Sunday.
Holding penalty after holding penalty. Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers being Aaron Rodgers in leading the Packers down the field in less than 90 seconds to tie the game to send it to overtime.
But the Colts defense, which was impressive for most of the second half, redeemed itself by forcing a fumble in overtime, and they didn't squander their opportunity this time.
Rookie kicker Rodrigo Blankenship made a 39-yard field goal four plays later to give the Colts a 34-31 overtime victory over the Packers. The Colts scored 20 of the final 23 points of the game.
The Colts will gladly take it, but it shouldn't have been this difficult. They had a chance to seal the game when they had the ball in Green Bay territory with 1 minute and 58 seconds left and a 31-28 lead.
Milking the clock ended up being a challenge for the Colts. They were called for five penalties, only burned 25 seconds off the clock and ended up punting while leaving Rodgers one timeout remaining.
But that doesn't matter. The Colts won the game and are 7-3.
The victory was the Colts' most noteworthy since they beat Kansas City in Week 7 last season. That's a span of 19 games, if you're counting.
Sunday was a victory the Colts badly needed in more ways than one. It helped them remain in first place in the AFC South after Tennessee went on the road to beat Baltimore. It also showed that the Colts are capable of beating a Super Bowl-contending team.
Yeah, the Titans are a good team, but they're not mentioned in the same class as the Packers. The Colts and Titans will meet for the second time in three games on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
And yes, the defense was good.
The Colts had 420 yards of total offense on the day. Philip Rivers continues to stack quality performances on top of each other, as he finished Sunday's game with 24-of-36 completions for 288 yards with three touchdowns to one interception for a 107.2 rating. Rookie receiver Michael Pittman Jr. led the way with three receptions for 66 yards and his first-career touchdown, a 45-yard catch-and-run play in the first quarter.
Indy had 140 rushing yards on the day, led by 90 yards on 22 carries from Jonathan Taylor.
According to Wells, head coach Frank Reich altered his offensive approach in the second half. He didn't try to get his team back in the game by trying to get into an air show against Rodgers because the Colts couldn't go toe-to-toe against them in the air. The Colts kept their patience and pounded the ball on the ground over and over again.
The Colts rushed for 97 of their 140 yards in the second half and overtime.
Rivers didn't miss a snap of Sunday's game, but he didn't come out of the game unscathed.
Rivers said after the game that he hurt himself while throwing a block during a run by wide receiver DeMichael Harris. The injury was to his big toe and the veteran said he has never dealt with a similar injury.
On Monday, Reich said, via the team's website, that Rivers is "obviously pretty sore." He added that the team "will just have to see" how Rivers feels as the week goes on.
It's a good bet that he'll feel well enough to play against the Titans on Sunday.
Rivers has started 234 straight regular season games and 245 straight games overall, so the toe issue will likely have to be a severe one for those streaks to come to an end.
That said, Rivers and the Colts decided to play it safe and sit him out of practice Wednesday.
"I feel pretty good, but this is probably the right thing to do. ... I'm getting better at my stubbornness," Rivers said, via Zak Keefer of The Athletic.
The Colts are off for Thanksgiving, so Rivers will get another day of rest before getting on the field for some work on Friday.
I'll continue to follow up via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
Also. ... The Colts announced that they put defensive tackle DeForest Buckner on the reserve/COVID-19 list list on Wednesday. The list is for players who have tested positive for COVID-19 or have had close contact with someone who has tested positive. It's still possible he could be cleared in time for this week's game, assuming he was a close contact and not a positive test himself.
And finally. ... In addition to lifting Indy to the win with the above-mentioned 39-yarder in overtime, Blankenship hit three other field goals and added a pair of extra points in an overall 14-point showing. On Wednesday, he was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week.
QBs: Carson Wentz, Jacob Eason, Sam Ehlinger
RBs: Jonathan Taylor, Nyheim Hines, Marlon Mack, Jordan Wilkins
WRs: Michael Pittman Jr., Zach Pascal, Parris Campbell, Ashton Dulin, Mike Strachan, T.Y. Hilton
TEs: Jack Doyle, Mo Alie-Cox, Kylen Granson
Jacksonville JaguarsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 23 November 2020
Jake Luton has shown flashes, but not enough. Head coach Doug Marrone considered benching the rookie during Sunday's game, and the four interceptions the quarterback threw against the Steelers has the head coach uncertain who starts Week 12.
He finished 16 for 37 for 151 yards -- and a 15.5 passer rating. The Jaguars managed just 206 yards of total offense.
Marrone called it a "tough day" for Luton, and that was being kind. He admits he thought about playing backup Mike Glennon.
"I kind of went back and forth a little bit and in truth, just thinking to myself, 'Do we keep him in there?'" Marrone said. "You talk about getting him experience. Is that going to give him experience? Is that good enough for where we are?"
It was Sunday. It won't be this week.
Glennon is back in the starting lineup Sunday against the Cleveland Browns, Marrone announced Wednesday.
The team benched Luton, and Gardner Minshew continues to get closer to full health after a thumb injury.
Sunday's game against Cleveland will mark Glennon's first start since Week 4, 2017 with the Chicago Bears.
The former 2013 third-round pick by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers started 13 games as a rookie but quickly fell by the wayside, making just nine starts since 2014. After one year in Chicago, during which he was benched in favor of Mitchell Trubisky, Glennon has spent a season as a backup in Arizona, Oakland, and now Jacksonville, respectively.
The 6-7 Glennon owns a career 60.9 completion percentage, with 5,163 total yards, 36 TDs and 20 INTs in 29 appearances.
Marrone is turning to Glennon in hopes of not burying Luton's confidence.
"We're just going to take a step back, and just digest things for a while, and just get you back on track," Marrone said he told Luton. "He's fine. I think he's got a chance to become a good football player in this league."
Marrone added that he's turning to Glennon in part because Minshew won't get enough throws in practice this week -- as the team deals with a COVID-19 issue -- for the Jaguars to be comfortable bringing him back. Minshew could, however, be the backup.
"I want him to have a full week, a full load of work, before I put someone in there," Marrone said. "I don't have a problem with him backing up this week, and if he has to go in there for a quarter or half a game or whatever it may be if something happens to Mike, then at least he's available."
With Marrone's time in Jacksonville appearing headed toward a possible end, the one-win Jags will let Glennon knock off some rust in a lost season.
Meanwhile,, the Steelers' 27-3 victory at TIAA Bank Field on Sunday gave Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan his 100th loss, tying him with former New Orleans owner John Mecom as the second-fastest owner in NFL history to reach that number (141 games).
Only former Tampa Bay owner Hugh Culverhouse hit that mark faster (140 games).
That it came against the Steelers (10-0) is fitting since that organization has been the NFL's benchmark for stability since the early 1970s. And, in a funny twist, the team against which the Jaguars reached the apex of their success under Khan -- a 45-42 victory in Pittsburgh in an AFC divisional playoff game.
That was the lone winning season in Khan's tenure and Sunday was the latest example that the Jaguars still have a long way to go to reach that level again.
And their failure to identify and secure a franchise quarterback.
The offense's best player is rookie running back James Robinson but there's not much else other than receiver D.J. Chark, who has had a disappointing season partly due to the inconsistency at quarterback. Offensive tackles Jawaan Taylor and Cam Robinson couldn't handle Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt, either.
They're two of the league's better young pass-rushers but there were too many times Taylor and Robinson weren't even in the fight.
It would be nice if the Jaguars could find a tight end who could factor into the pass game, too.
Defensive end Josh Allen, the team's best pass-rusher, had just 2.5 sacks this season before leaving Sunday's game with a knee injury. Defensive end K'Lavon Chaisson, the team's second first-round pick, entered Sunday's game with two QB hits and one sack. Significant upgrades along the defensive line are a priority, especially along the interior.
On Tuesday, the team placed Allen (knee), CB D.J. Hayden (hamstring), and S Daniel Thomas (arm) on injured reserve.
Hayden is ineligible to return this season as this is his 2nd appearance on injured reserve list in 2020.
Worth noting heading into the weekend, the Jaguars have now given up 24 points in nine consecutive games, which is the longest streak in franchise history. All of those games have been losses, which ties the longest single-season losing streak in franchise history. The Jaguars also lost nine consecutive games in 2016, and Khan and GM Dave Caldwell fired coach Gus Bradley after the ninth loss.
So this isn't great news: The Jaguars' entire defensive coaching staff is working remotely this week because of COVID-19 exposure. Most of those coaches will be back on Sunday, but the most important one will not.
Defensive coordinator Todd Wash is out for Sunday's game against the Browns, Marrone said Wednesday. The Jaguars have not said Wash tested positive, but the fact that he's going to be out longer than most of his fellow coaches would suggest that Wash likely tested positive, while other coaches are quarantining because of contact with Wash.
Two other Jaguars defensive coaches are also out for Sunday.
Marrone is personally overseeing the defensive coaching this week at practice, while Jaguars safeties coach Joe Dana will call the defense.
QBs: Trevor Lawrence, C.J. Beathard
RBs: James Robinson, Carlos Hyde, Dare Ogunbowale
WRs: D.J. Chark, Marvin Jones, Laviska Shenault, Tyron Johnson, Jamal Agnew
TEs: Chris Manhertz, Jacob Hollister, Luke Farrell, James O'Shaughnessy
Kansas City ChiefsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 23 November 2020
According to ESPN.com's Adam Teicher, Patrick Mahomes had never thrown a go-ahead touchdown pass in the final two minutes of a game, but Andy Reid's thought on Sunday night was that there is a first time for everything.
Sure enough, Mahomes came through for Reid and the Kansas City Chiefs. He threw a 22-yard touchdown pass to Travis Kelce with 28 seconds left to give the Chiefs a 35-31 lead over the Raiders in Las Vegas.
The Chiefs would hold on to run their record to 9-1 and give themselves a three-game lead over the 6-4 Raiders in the AFC West.
"I've got Pat Mahomes," Reid said. "You give me a minute and a half and I'm pretty good right there. We can roll.
"I'd take him over everybody and I'm lucky to have him."
The Raiders scored a go-ahead touchdown of their own with 1:43 remaining, but that proved too much time for Mahomes. The Chiefs drove 75 yards in seven plays with Mahomes going 6-of-7. The Chiefs went to third down once and needed a second down only twice.
A field goal would have tied the game but the Chiefs moved into reasonable range with more than 30 seconds left.
Mahomes said he wasn't going to be satisfied playing for overtime.
"There are steps," Mahomes said of constructing the winning drive. "The first step is to try to get into field goal range. Once we got into field goal range we still had some time left. I was hoping we had a couple of shots into the end zone."
He needed just one. Kelce prides himself on getting open frequently by reading the defensive coverage. But he said he misread the coverage on his winning touchdown.
"When I got to the second level, which is the linebackers, I felt an opening on the opposite hash," Kelce said. "Might as well go where the void is."
He did. Mahomes was looking for his primary receiver, Tyreek Hill, but fired to an open Kelce instead.
The game's finish drew praise from many places, including LeBron James, who tweeted, "I mean was there any doubt on that drive!?!?! No there wasn't."
Kelce, like Reid and James, wasn't surprised Mahomes delivered in the clutch.
"[Mahomes] is always ready for the moment," Kelce said. "We've got 15 back there making plays. He kind of turns it up when it matters the most."
Mahomes engineered his seventh career game-winning drive (including playoffs) on Sunday. He leads all quarterbacks with 6 wins since 2018 (including playoffs) when his team has allowed at least 30 points in that game.
The truth is, as long as the Chiefs have Mahomes, they always have a shot. ...
Worth noting. ... After relying almost exclusively on Mahomes' strong right arm the last couple weeks before their bye, the Chiefs got back to some offensive balance against the Raiders. He still threw 45 times for 348 yards and two scores, but Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Le'Veon Bell led a ground gave that ran 27 times for 108 yards and three touchdowns.
Wide receiver Demarcus Robinson stepped in nicely as the third target behind Kelce and Hill, catching six passes for 44 yards. Sammy Watkins was out again with a hamstring injury and Mecole Hardman spent most of the week on the COVID-19 list, though he was finally cleared to play and had one catch for 16 yards.
Kelce finished with 127 yards receiving for his 23rd career 100-yard game. That is one back of Kellen Winslow for the third most among tight ends. Tony Gonzalez has the record with 31 and Rob Gronkowski is second with 28.
The Chiefs visit the Buccaneers on Sunday, then return home to face Denver.
The regular season concludes with trips to Miami and New Orleans and home games against the Falcons and Chargers. The combined record of the next four opponents: 25-15. ...
On the injury front. ... The Chiefs remain without Watkins and right tackle Mitchell Schwartz, who has been dealing with a bad back. Wide receiver Byron Pringle left the game with an ankle injury but eventually returned to the field.
On Tuesday, the Chiefs put Pringle on injured reserve due to the injury.
Pringle had nine catches for 108 yards while appearing in all 10 games. He also returned seven kickoffs for 247 yards, including a 102-yard return for a touchdown in Week 7.
I'll have more on Watkins as developments warrant via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.
QBs: Patrick Mahomes, Chad Henne
RBs: Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Darrel Williams, Jerick McKinnon
WRs: Tyreek Hill, Mecole Hardman, Demarcus Robinson, Byron Pringle, Daurice Fountain, Marcus Kemp
TEs: Travis Kelce, Noah Gray, Blake Bell
Las Vegas RaidersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 23 November 2020
After Derek Carr led the Raiders to the brink of another victory over the defending Super Bowl champions, head coach Jon Gruden described his quarterback as "almost flawless."
As Associated Press sports writer W.G. Ramirez suggested, that's almost good enough to beat Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs, but not quite.
Carr went 23 of 31 for 275 yards and three touchdowns with a 119.7 passer rating Sunday night, but Mahomes matched Carr's two scoring drives in the fourth quarter with two of his own. Carr and Gruden were left frustrated after Carr played like the three-time Pro Bowl quarterback he is, only to be outdone by a Super Bowl MVP.
"It's as good as you can play," Gruden said. "He had four or five balls that were magnificent throws that we could've caught that we didn't make the play on. He played tremendous tonight."
Ramirez went on to remind readers that before Sunday, Carr was 21-2 in his career when the Raiders scored 30 or more points, a .913 winning percentage that was fifth-best since 2014 among the 17 quarterbacks with 20 or more starts and 30 or more points scored. The Raiders also have won eight games under Carr when trailing by four or more points in the final two minutes of regulation.
Carr nearly hit all those benchmarks again. Las Vegas was in charge when Carr found Jason Witten at the pylon with 1:43 left for his second TD pass of the fourth quarter, putting the Raiders ahead 31-28.
"I thought Carr was in control and command the entire game," Witten said.
But Las Vegas' defense couldn't stop the Chiefs on their 75-yard winning drive.
Carr's 31st pass was intercepted by Daniel Sorensen with 19 seconds remaining, sealing the victory for the Chiefs and avenging their home loss to the upstart Raiders last month. The final interception wasn't the reason the Raiders fell to 6-4 and dropped to the seventh spot in the AFC playoff picture.
There were eight penalties by Las Vegas. There was a defense that had key personnel that hadn't practiced all week because nine players were on the reserve/COVID-19 list, and six weren't activated until Sunday morning.
And there were several dropped balls that Gruden mentioned, but Carr refused to blame anyone.
"I've missed a lot of passes in my life, and I try to react the same way I'd want them to react to me," said Carr, who surpassed 25,000 career yards passing on the Raiders' first touchdown drive in the first quarter. "If it's (to) challenge them, challenge them. If it's (to) pick them up, pick them up. You try to read their demeanor. That's why you have relationships with the guys, and you understand what makes them click."
Fact is, they've been clicking most of the season. Carr is starting to find the form from his best season in 2016, and he's doing it for the first time under Gruden.
Carr, who passed for a career-high 4,054 yards in 2019, has thrown for 2,431 yards this year and is on pace to have a shot at his third 4,000-yard season in four years with a slight uptick in production over the final six games. But he is also leading a much more diverse offense and taking charge of a young group of players feeding off his emotion.
"His confidence is on another level, and I love that he's taking chances and taking risks and standing in there and making tough throws," tight end Darren Waller said.
Now more mature -- the "old guy in the group," as he put it after the loss -- Carr knows his place when the team is either pushing the tempo in a shootout, like Sunday against the Chiefs, or in a ground-and-pound struggle like the Raiders endured during a 16-6 win in Cleveland on Nov. 1.
"This is the best offense I've ever been a part of," Carr said. "I say it every week, but we can win in different ways. We can smash them with the run game, or we can do a shootout. We're proving that over time. ... Today it wasn't enough."
Of course, not all is lost for the Raiders. They are still in the thick of the AFC playoff race, with games on the schedule against two teams they are competing against for a playoff bid: the Indianapolis Colts and the Miami Dolphins. Both teams have to travel to Las Vegas.
But this week, the Raiders travel to Atlanta to take on the Falcons. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Josh Jacobs rushed 17 times for 55 yards and a touchdown while catching his lone target for nine yards in Sunday's loss.
Jacobs was held under 4.0 yards per carry by Kansas City's defense for the second time in as many meetings this year. As CBSSports.com notes, unlike their previous meeting back in Week 5, the bruising back saw fewer touches and one less score despite the Raiders playing ahead for the majority of the contest.
Perhaps a more run-centric game plan could have altered the disappointing outcome of the contest for the rising star and the rest of Raider Nation. Despite the inefficient output, Jacobs reached double-digit fantasy points in standard scoring formats for the fourth consecutive week.
The Falcons have been playing better of late, and have been particularly stingy against the run this season (99.0 rushing yards allowed per game). ...
On Waller's 3-yard touchdown catch to start the fourth quarter that gave the Raiders a 24-21 lead, with the PAT, Waller was wide-open. He was so open that he had a mind-numbing 8.5 yards of separation from the nearest defender. It was the most yards of separation on a Raiders TD this season.
Play design or skill? You decide.
Meanwhile, left guard Richie Incognito recently underwent "season-ending foot surgery," Gruden said Monday on his weekly video conference with media.
Offensive tackle Trent Brown, who injured his calf in training camp, suffered a mishap while being administered a pregame IV and has been on the COVID list twice, the most recent since Nov. 5. Gruden said Brown's return was "still up in the air" for the Raiders, who fell to 6-4 after Sunday night's heartbreaking 35-31 loss to the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs in the final minute.
"He's still, hopefully, about to get started here and resume his playing," Gruden said of Brown.
"It's a day-to-day operation and I'll know more from the trainer here on Tuesday morning."
The Raiders currently have five players on the COVID list -- Brown, DE Clelin Ferrell, DB Lamarcus Joyner, LB Cory Littleton and RB Theo Riddick.
"I don't even know who's in the lineup every week," Gruden said.
QBs: Derek Carr, Marcus Mariota, Nathan Peterman
RBs: Josh Jacobs, Kenyan Drake, Peyton Barber
WRs: Henry Ruggs III, Bryan Edwards, Hunter Renfrow, Zay Jones, Willie Snead
TEs: Darren Waller, Foster Moreau, Derek Carrier, Nick Bowers
Los Angeles ChargersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 23 November 2020
As ESPN.com's Shelley Smith suggested, it's not a Los Angeles Chargers game without late-game dramatics. This time, they won, beating the New York Jets 34-28 after holding off a late New York drive to break their string of hard-luck, fourth-quarter losses.
With the win, the Chargers moved to 3-7 on the season, while the Jets fell to 0-10.
Win or lose, however, the Chargers have been fantasy friendly.
Indeed, it hasn't taken long for Justin Herbert and Keenan Allen to become one of the more lethal quarterback-receiver duos in the NFL.
After Sunday, they can also add record setting.
Allen set a Chargers franchise mark with 16 receptions and Herbert became the first rookie quarterback with five games with three or more touchdown passes.
"I didn't think it was gonna be today. We just got it going. Coach kept calling the number and Herbie kept throwing me the ball," said Allen, who became the first receiver in NFL history to have six games of 13 catches or more as the Chargers improved to 3-7. He also became the fifth player all-time to record multiple games with 15-plus catches.
When asked when he thought it would be a prolific day, Allen said late in the first half, when he was already up to 10 receptions for 108 yards (he finished with 146 yards).
Allen also reached a career milestone Sunday, going over 600 career receptions and tying Antonio Brown as the fastest to reach that mark at 96 games.
"He's very rare to be that big and quick inside and we kind of took advantage of the slot defender with some good open concepts to him," head coach Anthony Lynn said.
As Associated Press sports writer Joe Reedy reminded readers, Herbert bounced back from a rough game last week at Miami. He completed 37 of 49 passes for 366 yards, and continued to add to his list of rookie superlatives. He extended his mark of multiple touchdown passes with seven and he has had at least 3 passing touchdowns in 5 games this season, the most by any rookie in NFL history. With his fifth 300-yard passing game, he became the fifth rookie in league history to reach that mark, trailing only Andrew Luck (6 such games in 2012) for most by a rookie in NFL history.
Prior to Herbert (5 games with at least 3 passing touchdowns and 5 games with at least 300 passing yards) the only rookie that had 4 games with at least 3 passing touchdowns and 4 games with at least 300 passing yards was Peyton Manning in 1998.
Herbert's 39-yard connection with Mike Williams early in the second quarter made him only the fifth QB in league history to reach 20 TD passes in nine or fewer games. It was also part of a first half that saw him have the most first-half completions (23), attempts (31) and yards (277) by a rookie since at least 1991. Herbert also had a TD pass to Hunter Henry in the quarter as the Chargers had a 24-6 halftime advantage.
"I think we had a great plan going into the week and we went out there and executed. Mike and Keenan stepped up big time so it made my job a lot easier out there," Herbert said.
So it sounds like the offense is hitting on all cylinders heading into Sunday's game against the Bills, right?
Well. ... The Chargers inability to establish any sort of ground attack against the Jets could be a concern.
"They kicked our tails between the tackles in the running game," head coach Anthony Lynn said. "It showed in the stat book. We have to get better between the tackles. Normally, we are, but today we were not."
Kalen Ballage finished with 16 carries for 44 yards. Herbert had two rushing attempts for 11 yards.
The other two running backs on the active roster Sunday did little. Troymaine Pope had three rushes for four yards and rookie Josh Kelley four for minus-two.
"You gotta run the football to win most of the time," Lynn said. "I'll tell you, we were fortunate today. We've had a good rushing attack. But, today, they just outplayed us between the tackles."
As Los Angeles Times staffer Jeff Miller noted, the situation was so discouraging that the Chargers, on their next-to-last possession in the final four minutes, attempted to burn as much clock as possible with three straight short pass plays.
They gained zero yards and consumed only 54 seconds.
The Chargers rushed 25 times for 57 yards, an average of 2.3 yards per attempt.
They entered averaging 131.6 yards per game, ninth best in the NFL. The Jets were giving up 120.9 yards on average.
The Chargers continue to play without their top two running backs, Austin Ekeler (hamstring) and Justin Jackson (knee). Both are on injured reserve.
Ekeler appears to be nearing a return, while Jackson's situation is less certain.
Ekeler was set to return to practice Wednesday, according to Lynn.
That doesn't necessarily mean he will be active for Sunday's game against the Bills, but it's a very good sign that he's getting close.
Ekeler has been out since suffering a hamstring injury in Week 4; the Chargers have 21 days to place him on active roster.
I'll obviously be following this one closely; watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for more.
And finally. ... Lynn is shaking up his staff, reassigning special teams coordinator George Stewart as an offensive analyst and promoting assistant special teams coach Keith Burns to fill Stewart's former role. Lynn and others will also help out.
QBs: Justin Herbert, Chase Daniel, Easton Stick
RBs: Austin Ekeler, Justin Jackson, Larry Rountree III, Joshua Kelley
WRs: Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Jalen Guyton, Josh Palmer, K.J. Hill, Josh Reed
TEs: Jared Cook, Donald Parham, Tre' McKitty, Stephen Anderson
Los Angeles RamsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 23 November 2020
As NFL.com's Nick Shook framed it, "The Los Angeles Rams have quietly risen to the cream of the NFC crop in the last month, and Monday night's win over the Buccaneers might have been their most emphatic victory of 2020. ..."
Shook went on to explain the margin of three points wasn't a statement, but the fashion in which they took down Tom Brady's Bucs should resonate with those who have followed the Rams for most of the season. Jared Goff started the night a perfect 6-for-6 through the air and finished with a passing line of 39-of-51 for 376 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions, weathering the back-and-forth storm to help the Rams triumph.
Cooper Kupp posted his best game of the season, catching 11 of 13 targets for 145 yards and earning high praise from star Packers receiver Davante Adams, who tweeted "Cooper Kupp is the most underrated receiver in the league" during the game.
"Just being me," Kupp said after the game. "Just doing what I do, trying to be nothing outside of the scope of what I'm asked to do. Credit to the guys around me, it takes all 11 to be able to execute. Coach put me in some great positions, and I was just able to execute to the best of my ability.
"That's pretty cool coming from Davante Adams, an incredible receiver, watched so much of his stuff, so much respect for him."
Kupp didn't do it on his own, though, not by a long shot. Robert Woods caught 12 of his 15 targets for 130 yards and a touchdown, and even rookies Van Jefferson and Cam Akers got involved, each catching a touchdown pass from Goff.
Los Angeles couldn't do much on the ground in its first full game played without veteran tackle Andrew Whitworth , but the Rams deserve credit for doing a solid job of protecting Goff, who was pressured on just seven of his 51 attempts. A pressure rate of under 14 percent is very good for an offensive line, and even better when considering it was playing without its best blocker.
Suddenly, the Rams are 7-3 and tied atop the NFC West. While we've spent all this time gushing over the Cardinals and Seahawks, Sean McVay's bunch has quietly worked. Winners of three of their last four, the Rams are building momentum at the right time.
"We can be as good as we want to be, honestly," Goff said afterward, per the Associated Press' Greg Beacham. "We've got it all in front of us. Everything is there for us to take."
That said, their path to a title won't be easy.
The Rams' remaining strength of schedule ranks as the third most difficult in the NFL according to ESPN analytics, and they must still play the bulk of their division schedule -- including two games against the Arizona Cardinals, a rematch against the Seahawks in Seattle and at home Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers, who they lost to 24-16 in Week 6. ...
Other notes of interest. ... As ESPN.com's Lindsey Thiry notes, against a defense that entered Monday ranked third in efficiency, Goff completed 39 of 51 passes for 376 yards and three touchdowns with two interceptions. He reestablished his connection with go-to targets Kupp and Woods.
Goff's performance wasn't without fault, as he struggled at times to manage the play clock and was picked off twice to bring his season total to nine interceptions. But the passing-game production on a day they couldn't run was a difference-making element.
Also. ... In the wake of his performance in Tampa, Woods was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week on Wednesday.
The first game Matt Gay appeared in this season after being released by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in September just so happened to be against his former team.
The newest kicker for the Rams ended up delivering a 40-yard field goal with less than three minutes to play that served as the game-winning points in a 27-24 victory over the Buccaneers on Monday.
"You can't write it," Gay said of the experience, via Joey Knight of the Tampa Bay Times. "It's one of those stories. You're sitting on a practice squad, and then the first game, you're going back to where you were last year and the place that you know you feel you should have been. Feels great."
As Profootballtalk.com notes, the Rams signed Gay off the practice squad of the Indianapolis Colts last week after Kai Forbath injured his ankle against the Seattle Seahawks and was placed on injured reserve. He appeared in all 16 games last season for Tampa Bay, converting 27 of 35 field goal attempts and 43 of 48 extra point attempts. The Buccaneers waived Gay in September and he landed in Indianapolis on their practice squad last month.
Gay converted two of his three attempts against the Buccaneers with makes from 38 and 40 yards and a miss wide right from 44 yards. He converted all three extra point attempts on the night.
QBs: Matthew Stafford, John Wolford, Bryce Perkins
RBs: Darrell Henderson, Sony Michel, Jake Funk
WRs: Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, Van Jefferson, DeSean Jackson, Tutu Atwell
TEs: Tyler Higbee, Johnny Mundt, Jacob Harris, Brycen Hopkins
Miami DolphinsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 23 November 2020
Ryan Fitzpatrick replaced Tua Tagovailoa in the fourth quarter of Sunday's 20-13 loss to the Denver Broncos in a move that head coach Brian Flores said was not injury-related.
"Tua wasn't injured. We just felt like it was the best move at that point of the game -- we had to get in two-minute mode and we felt like [Fitzpatrick] gave us the best chance to win the game and we had an opportunity at the end to tie it," Flores said.
The Dolphins trailed 20-10 when Tagovailoa was benched, with Flores saying the team needed a spark.
Tagovailoa had some rookie struggles handling pressure Sunday, going 11-of-20 passing for 83 yards and a touchdown with little effectiveness moving the ball. He also wasn't helped by his offensive line. He was sacked six times -- more than he was sacked (four) in four previous games.
The defeat ended the Dolphins' five-game winning streak, and came after victories in Tagovailoa's first three career starts.
"We all have to play better. He is not in this alone," Flores said Monday. "He's the starting quarterback; he knows that. He's a resilient kid. I expect him to bounce back. I expect our entire team to bounce back."
Tagovailoa will rejoin the lineup Sunday against the New York Jets, his hold on the job no longer quite so firm.
As Associated Press sports writer Steven Wine noted, Flores again showed a willingness to make bold moves. His timing in awarding Tagovailoa the starting job was widely questioned but then lauded, and his decision to yank the rookie with 11 minutes left Sunday also invited second guessing.
"I'm always going to try to do what I feel is best for the team in a particular game," Flores said. "That's kind of how we felt Sunday. And that's really it. We couldn't get into a rhythm. It became a two-score game. We felt like we needed a spark. We stuck Fitz in there."
With Tagovailoa, the Dolphins netted exactly 100 yards. He was less accurate than in earlier games, looked uneasy in the pocket and conceded he sometimes held the ball too long, which is partly why he was sacked six times.
"I couldn't get the ball in the hands of our playmakers and our guys consistently to get a rhythm going," said Tagovailoa, who voiced no complaint about being benched.
Fitzpatrick tried to rally the Dolphins from a 20-10 deficit but threw an interception in the end zone on their final play. The veteran has been a willing mentor to Tagovailoa ever since draft in April, and said the Dolphins remain Tua's team.
"It's very clear that this is Tua's team. Tua is going to continue to get better and grow," said Fitzpatrick, who finished 12-of-18 passing for 117 yards and that interception. "For me, my defined role is whatever the team needs out of me. ... There's no controversy. This is his team. He's going to lead this team and continue to lead the team. We just got to pull in the right direction and get everybody to continue to get better."
Tagovailoa stood on the sideline watching with a headset on while Fitzpatrick attempted the comeback. Though he was seen limping after Broncos outside linebacker Bradley Chubb sacked him and twisted his ankle, Tagovailoa didn't cite injury as a factor and neither did the team.
Tagovailoa, who has a left thumb injury and was limited in practice Wednesday, was on the injury report last week because of a foot injury. But he was a full participant every day in practice and didn't have an injury designation entering Sunday's game. Flores said that had no impact on his decision to bench Tagovailoa.
The two quarterbacks could been seen going over plays together on the sidelines even after the benching. Tagovailoa said he learned from watching Fitzpatrick handle the Broncos' pressure even during the game.
Fitzpatrick said he talked with Tagovailoa about the benching on the sideline and in the locker room, but he believes that is over now. Flores said he's not worrying about this benching impacting Tagovailoa's confidence as he returns to the starting lineup.
"He's a confident kid," Flores said. "He's dealt with a lot of adversity. I think he's fine."
The Dolphins' formula during the winning streak was to take an early lead and then dial up the pressure with blitzes to force turnovers. At Denver, they fell behind and couldn't stop the run, allowing 189 yards on the ground. For the season the Dolphins' run defense is giving up 134 yards per game and 4.8 per carry, both among the worst in the NFL.
"We're definitely not doing a good enough job," linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel said, "and we got to work on it to fix it."
The good news?
Miami's next two opponents, the Jets and Cincinnati, are a combined 2-17-1.
The Dolphins are a touchdown favorite at the winless Jets, but since 2017 Miami has lost 10 consecutive road games against teams with losing records. ...
Worth noting. ... Salvon Ahmed carried the ball 12 times for 43 yards and caught five of six targets for 31 yards in Sunday's loss.
The Dolphins' offense struggled to move the ball in general, but Ahmed was at least the clear No. 1 back despite briefly leaving the game with a shoulder injury, as Matt Breida received only two touches and Patrick Laird one.
Ahmed should see similar volume in Week 12 against a Jets defense that's been far more vulnerable through the air than on the ground this season -- if he's available.
Ahmed missed practice on Wednesday while Myles Gaskin returned to practice in a red non-contact jersey. That doesn't mean Ahmed won't play or that Gaskin will. It does mean I'll be following up on the backfield via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
DeVante Parker only had 0.64 yards of separation on his touchdown catch from Tagovailoa in the first half, per NFL Next Gen Stats. It's Parker's ninth TD catch since the start of last season on a tight-window throw (less than 1 yard of separation), the most in the NFL. ...
According to Rotowold.com, receiver Malcolm Perry has played 40 percent of the team's offensive snaps the past two weeks, drawing seven targets and a rushing attempt.
Running 25.5 pass routes per game, Rotoworld went on to point out Perry is third in wide receiver targets over the past couple games, behind Parker and Jakeem Grant. ...
And finally. ... The Dolphins have placed offensive lineman Jesse Davis on the COVID-19 reserve list.
Davis, who has started 51 consecutive games for the Dolphins over four seasons, is not expected to play Sunday against the Jets, Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald reports.
The Dolphins allowed only 14 sacks in the first nine games. They gave up six to the Broncos on Sunday.
Davis' absence will force Miami to start rookies Austin Jackson at left tackle, Solomon Kindley at right guard and Rob Hunt at right tackle. Kindley has a foot injury that kept him out of the second half Sunday.
QBs: Jacoby Brissett, Reid Sinnett, Tua Tagovailoa
RBs: Myles Gaskin, Salvon Ahmed, Malcolm Brown
WRs: DeVante Parker, Jaylen Waddle, Will Fuller, Jakeem Grant, Albert Wilson, Preston Williams, Mack Hollins
TEs: Mike Gesicki, Durham Smythe, Hunter Long, Adam Shaheen
Minnesota VikingsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 23 November 2020
The Minnesota Vikings' three-game win streak is over after a 31-28 loss to the Dallas Cowboys at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday.
The Vikings had a chance to achieve a .500 record for the first time all season and continue to gain ground in the NFC playoff picture. Instead, Minnesota is now 4-6 and two games behind the Arizona Cardinals in the wild-card race.
As ESPN.com's Courtney Cronin notes, quarterback Kirk Cousins put together a masterpiece to get the Vikings' offense going after a rough start. Since Week 8, Minnesota had no problem running the ball in three straight victories over the Packers, Lions and Bears.
When that didn't work early on Sunday, Cousins fed Adam Thielen, and the Pro Bowl receiver gave Minnesota what it needed to get back in the game in the second half.
But special teams play and a horrendous defensive outing cost the Vikings a much-needed win in a stretch where there is no room for error.
The news got worse when Thielen was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list on Monday afternoon.
Coming off his best game of the season, in which he totaled eight catches for 123 yards and two touchdowns, Thielen is now one of two Vikings players (with guard Dru Samia) on the list.
Tom Pelissero of NFL Media reports Thielen tested positive but then tested negative for COVID-19. It is possible Thielen had a false positive.
More testing will determine whether Thielen is positive.
Vikings wide receivers coach Andrew Janocko did not coach in Sunday's loss against Dallas. The team included a line in its final injury report Friday that Janocko would not be in attendance.
The receiver's status for a Week 12 matchup with the Carolina Panthers remains unclear.
Last week the Vikings placed fullback C.J. Ham on the reserve/COVID-19 list on Thursday but he was able to play three days later, indicating he was on the list as a close contact, not for testing positive.
Mike Zimmer didn't have an update about Thielen's status when he was asked about the wideout's chances of playing against the Panthers on Sunday.
"I don't know, honestly. Obviously, he's in the COVID protocol," Zimmer said at his Wednesday press conference. "We'll just see how. ... When you get in these protocols, it's always about what's the next test, the next test? So we just have to see as the week goes on."
I'll obviously have more on this via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
Meanwhile, Dalvin Cook was getting bruised and bullied. Minnesota's offensive line, which was missing right guard Ezra Cleveland (ankle), allowed Cousins to be pressured on seven of his 15 dropbacks in the first two quarters. The Vikings was poised for a big day against a Dallas defense which entered Sunday allowing an opposing passer rating of 103.1 and allowed the second-most rushing yards per game. But nothing worked until the second half.
The Vikings came out swinging in the third quarter with Thielen leading the way. On Minnesota's opening drive, Thielen caught a 51-yard reception off a play-action pass. Six plays later, Thielen showed why he's Cousins' favorite target in the red zone, catching a one-handed TD that rivaled the same type of play he made just six days prior in a win over the Bears.
To illustrate the difficulty of that catch, NFL Next Gen Stats gave Cousins' first touchdown to Thielen a completion probability of just 24.6 probability. That is the Vikings' third-lowest completion probability on a completed pass this season.
The Vikings used the momentum gained on that drive to rip back control of the game, running 20 plays in the third quarter, using the run game to step up big plays over the top to Thielen and Justin Jefferson. The receiver duo caught TD passes in the fourth quarter.
But not even a surge that spectacular could overcome the play of this defense. ...
The Vikings, who started 1-5, have home games against Carolina (4-7) and Jacksonville (1-9) that give them a viable chance at a .500 record for the final quarter of the schedule. But they're in ninth place in the crowded NFC, two games behind Arizona (6-4), with games at New Orleans and Tampa Bay looming in December. ...
Other notes of interest. ... According to NFL Research, Thielen is the only player in franchise history with 11-plus receiving touchdowns in the first 10 games of a season, surpassing Randy Moss' 10 in 2003.
He now has 26 career touchdown catches from Cousins, more than any other teammate in the quarterback's career. (Tight end Jordan Reed is next with 19).
The Cowboys, who have struggled mightily against the run all season, limited Cook to just 37 rushing yards over the first two quarters. He did make up for lost ground in the second half, racking up 15 carries and 78 yards for a total of 115 on the day. He added another 45 through the air, including on a 26-yard screen pass late in the second quarter.
"I think we did a pretty good job on the ground today, sticking with it, staying with it," Cook said. "We gave ourselves a chance to win. We just didn't pull it off. But we knew the type of team we were facing -- fast team, coming off a bye week, fresh team, do a lot of movements, run sets, just [doesn't have the record] to show. They're a good team."
"We never got on schedule in the first half. The first half was just like, it was all a blur," he later said. "Once we came out in the second half, guys were seeing, 'If we stay, if we do the things we need to do to win this game, we can win it.' And I think they probably stopped us once in the second half. … We could have done the same thing in the first half, but we never got on schedule to make those plays."
Cook's outing gave him a total of 750 scrimmage yards over a four-game span, the most by any Viking in team history. Adrian Peterson held the previous record with 740.
Cousins finished the game 22-of-30 passing for 314 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions for a passer rating of 140.1, his fourth-best as a Viking.
His third touchdown pass of the day was a perfectly placed throw to Jefferson for a 39-yard score. The play occurred less than three minutes after the Cowboys scored on a touchdown to Tony Pollard, and it gave the Vikings a 28-24 lead heading into the final nine minutes.
QBs: Kirk Cousins, Kellen Mond
RBs: Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison
WRs: Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, K.J. Osborn, Dede Westbrook, Ihmir Smith-Marsette
TEs: Tyler Conklin, Chris Herndon, Brandon Dillon, Ben Ellefson, Irv Smith Jr.
New England PatriotsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 23 November 2020
As Associated Press sports writer Jimmy Golen put it, "Well, at least the New England Patriots have plenty of experience playing in meaningless December games. ..."
The 11-time defending AFC East champions may still have a mathematical chance of making the playoffs this season. But for all practical purposes, they are playing out the string after losing on Sunday to the then-two-win Houston Texans (both against Jacksonville).
The Patriots (4-6) are three games out of first place in the division, and two games behind in the race for the extra, seventh playoff berth in the AFC. After coasting into the postseason during much of their two-decade dynasty, New England is about to see things from the other side.
"It's been must-win for us for the past three to four weeks," safety Adrian Phillips said. "You can't lose another one."
The Patriots won six Super Bowls, nine AFC titles and 17 division championships after Tom Brady took over at quarterback in 2001. In many of those years, they coasted into the playoffs: Since they last missed the playoffs in 2008, their average margin in the division has been more than three games, and in none of those seasons has the division title been up for grabs in the final week.
Some of those years, head coach Bill Belichick seemed ambivalent about winning down the stretch, treating those Christmastime games like the fourth week of the preseason.
With Brady gone for Tampa Bay, we could be seeing that again this year.
If we're looking for positives, Cam Newton may have found a secondary receiver option in Damiere Byrd.
Two weeks after Jakobi Meyers caught 12 passes for 169 yards -- his first career 100-yard game -- Byrd caught six passes for 132 yards and a 41-yard touchdown. It was the first career 100-yard game for Byrd, and every single one of his catches resulted in a first down or a touchdown.
Byrd, who has already matched his career high for catches in a season (32) with six games remaining, is in his first season with the Patriots, though he did play with Newton for three years in Carolina from 2016-18.
Byrd's scoring grab was just the second receiving touchdown by a Patriots receiver this season, and the first thrown by Newton. The touchdown was thrown 41 yards down the field, which was the second-deepest completion for Newton this season (46, to Julian Edelman, in Week 2).
"You never know what game you'll get called upon to get to do that, to be factor on the offense," Byrd said. "Today was my lucky day and Cam trusted in me and we were able to make a few plays."
Beyond that, Newton continued to play the way the Patriots need him to -- turnover free.
It seemed like they were conservative with him early, focusing more on the shorter passing game, before opening things up in the second half. Newton, who finished 26-of-40 for 365 yards and one touchdown, wasn't as much of a factor in the running game (3 carries, 6 yards).
Newton also had four of his passes batted down by J.J. Watt on Sunday.
According to SportRadar, Newton entered the week with the second-most passes batted down in the league -- 10. That was tied with Kyler Murray, who is 5-10; Newton is 6-5.
He gave all the credit to Watt, a three-time Defensive Player of the Year.
"He's J.J. Watt. What do you expect?" Newton said. "He's an All-Pro, perennial All-Pro. He's a Defensive Player of the Year, one of the best players in this generation."
Newton was signed in June to plug in at quarterback after Brady ended his 19-year tenure with the team. The Patriots now have the rest of the season to decide whether to continue with the 2015 NFL MVP long term, turn the team over to Jarett Stidham, or find another option.
Appearing Monday on WEEI's The Greg Hill Show, Newton was asked a simple question: Does he have interest in staying with the team beyond this season?
Newton avoided it.
"Man, I have interest in winning the Arizona Cardinals game," Newton said, via NBC Sports Boston. "How about that? There are so many things that -- I don't want to even harp, dwell, or even think -- as the Bible says, my cup runneth over. Just trying to focus on the near future rather than the far future."
Sticking around would give Newton an even greater mastery of the offense, an offense he's still learning.
"I would say so," Newton said regarding whether he's comfortable in the offense. "I would say every day for me is another opportunity for me to get better. Do I know everything in this offense? No, I do not."
He could eventually know everything in the offense, if he returns. But if he stays, he surely won't take another bargain-basement one-year deal. Newton will want something that better reflects the quarterback market. He'll also likely have suitors elsewhere, depending on the offseason coaching and quarterback carousel. ...
Other notes of interest. ... The Patriots got off to a great start on offense, aided by the Damien Harris-led running game, to take an early 7-0 lead. But then they seemed to get away from the run, as Harris (11 carries, 43 yards, TD) went an extended stretch of time without touching the ball in the second quarter.
That's about the time when the Patriots started to lose control of the game.
As Rotoworld.com notes, Harris' role remained the same with Sony Michel being a healthy scratch. Harris handled most of the early-down work while James White took over on passing downs, especially after Rex Burkhead left with what could be a season-ending knee injury.
If that's the case, Michel will fill in as Harris' 1B on obvious rushing downs. Harris will need to find the end zone to pay off as an RB2/3 against the fast-paced Cardinals in Week 12.
The Patriots' kicking game continues to be strong.
Placekicker Nick Folk was a perfect 4-for-4 -- two field goals (45, 36 yards) and two extra points. He has not missed a field goal since a 51-yard attempt against Seattle in Week 2, a streak of 17 in a row. He missed a PAT last week in heavy rain and wind but has made 18 of 20 for the season.
But receiver and kick returner Gunner Olszewski fumbled one kickoff, which forced the Patriots to start one drive at their 17, and on another kickoff he stepped out of the back of the end zone before fielding the ball. That resulted in a touchback, which was actually a better outcome than the return because he didn't make it to the 25.
On the injury front. ... As noted above, Burkhead's season is over. Jeff Howe of The Athletic reports that the injury is believed to be a torn ACL. Burkhead, who confirmed in a tweet Tuesday that he is out for the remainder of the season, will be headed for surgery and rehab designed to get him ready for next season.
Newton called it an "extremely devastating" loss and White said he's "hurting" for his longtime teammate.
Burkhead was injured in the third quarter. He had four carries for seven yards and two catches for five yards.
Tackle Isaiah Wynn, who was listed as questionable on the practice report with an ankle injury, left late in the game after another player rolled up on his ankle.
QBs: Mac Jones, Brian Hoyer
RBs: Damien Harris, James White, J.J. Taylor, Rhamondre Stevenson
WRs: Jakobi Meyers, Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, Gunner Olszewski, N'Keal Harry
TEs: Jonnu Smith, Hunter Henry, Devin Asiasi
New Orleans SaintsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 23 November 2020
According to ESPN.com's Mike Triplett, Taysom Hill laughed when asked if he paid any attention to the scrutiny and criticism surrounding the New Orleans Saints' decision to start him at quarterback on Sunday.
No, the 30-year old multi-purpose weapon-turned QB, who is now 1-0 as a starter in the NFL after leading the Saints to a 24-9 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, insisted after the game.
"Not to be rude or disrespectful in any way, I don't pay attention to any of that stuff," Hill said after completing 18 of 23 passes for 233 yards and running the ball 10 times for 51 yards and two touchdowns. "I care about the opinions of those closest to me, my friends, my family, my teammates, my coaches. You get to this level, and you kind of have to have tunnel vision and do your thing."
Hill joined Daunte Culpepper as the only quarterbacks in the Super Bowl era with at least 50 rushing yards and 2 rushing touchdowns in their first start at QB. Culpepper had 73 rushing yards and 3 rushing touchdowns in his first start, a 30-27 Vikings win over the Bears in Week 1, 2000.
Hill didn't throw a touchdown pass or an interception, but he did lose a fumble after his longest run of the day in the fourth quarter.
However, Hill was quite open about how emotional this week was for him as he prepared to fill in after Drew Brees suffered broken ribs and a punctured lung last week. Brees will miss at least three weeks after being placed on injured reserve by the 8-2 Saints, who won their seventh consecutive game.
"Man, I spent a lot of time reflecting this week," said Hill, who was a star dual-threat quarterback at BYU but battled injuries and went undrafted in 2017. "My wife and I had so many conversations about where we've been, the process of getting here. And if I'm being honest, it was an emotional week.
"Felt a lot of love from a lot of people, and it was overwhelming in a good way. And then to be able to come out and get a win in my first start was gratifying. More than anything, I have so much love and respect for Drew and my other teammates that I wanted to make sure that I did my part to help us continue to win."
Triplett went on to remind readers that head coach Sean Payton's decision to start Hill over fellow backup Jameis Winston was heavily scrutinized, since Hill had attempted only 20 passes in his four-year NFL career, including the playoffs.
But Payton has long expressed his belief that the dual-threat athlete could be a successful starting quarterback.
And he told ESPN's Dianna Russini before Sunday's game that Hill "deserves this opportunity."
Payton downplayed the significance of Hill's performance after Sunday's game and even directed the media to start asking about New Orleans' defense instead. However, Payton couldn't resist a little gloating minutes later when he retweeted former Falcons receiver Roddy White, exposing White's "cold take" that read: "Saints about to get whip trying us with taysom hill at qb we about to snack them."
"I thought he played well. He had the one turnover late in the game," Payton said of Hill. "We had a big touchdown pass called back [an apparent 57-yarder from Hill to Emmanuel Sanders that was nullified by a holding penalty]. But look, it was a good team win. I thought we were fantastic defensively."
Brees gushed about his protégée.
"Listen, I thought he played great," Brees told Mike Nabors, the TV host for the team, on Sunday night. "I thought he managed everything about this week, about the preparation and then obviously just the way he played. I thought it was magnificent."
Brees went on to say that Hill has matured from a gadget quarterback to a legitimate NFL starter.
"The more experience you get," Brees said, "the more reps you get, the more time on task, the better you're going to get. Taysom in college was an electric football player. He got this reputation obviously for being very much a runner, but you watch at the plays that he made in the passing game, it was so impressive.
"Obviously, he's been in so many different roles on our team here over the last three or four years, but all the while continuing to prep and prepare for the opportunity to at some point start at quarterback."
Hill and the Saints' offense got off to a bit of a slow start before he led them on their first touchdown drive late in the second quarter -- thanks to his longest and ugliest completion of the day. Hill heaved up a wobbly deep ball that was badly underthrown, but Sanders made a great effort to come back for it and make a 44-yard catch.
Hill found his groove from that point on, and he connected a total of nine times with Saints receiver Michael Thomas for 104 yards.
"I feel like me and Taysom, we have the same chip on our shoulder," said Thomas, who also blamed himself for a "terrible drop" early in the game that might have made Hill's performance even more impressive.
Thomas laughed and acknowledged that Hill throws a "fastball."
Hill said the Saints cut down "significantly" on the number of designed runs they usually draw up for him. But his legs were still a big asset.
Hill's first TD run came on a designed QB keeper on fourth-and-goal from the 2-yard line in the third quarter. His second TD run was a 10-yard scramble that showed off his speed and athleticism when he couldn't find an open receiver in the fourth quarter.
Hill went undrafted out of BYU in 2017 after throwing for 6,929 yards and 43 TD passes and running for 2,815 yards and 32 TDs. As noted above, he began his NFL career with the Green Bay Packers before being claimed by the Saints off waivers.
Since then, his role has steadily increased from special teams to just about every position on the offense. The Saints signed Hill to a two-year, $21 million contract extension as a restricted free agent this offseason.
And now he remains very much in the mix to possibly succeed Brees as New Orleans' permanent starter if Brees retires after this season.
"Man, Drew was with me every step of the way this week," Hill said of his mentor. "As we watched film, he was constantly asking me what I needed and how he could be helpful. So, man, he was so critical and such a comfort for me to have around. I look up to him so much, he's become one of my best friends. He was awesome."
Hill said he physically feels great after playing a full game for the first time in a long time. "I didn't take a ton of big hits," Hill said. "Feel like we were able to get the ball out and avoid anything crazy. I feel good."
Assuming he'll get the start this weekend at Denver, where and how does he need to improve (beyond ball security)?
"I think a couple of throws I was a little disappointed in," Hill said. "Ones that just kind of slipped out of my hands. ... I think those things are easy to clean up. ... I think that drives that went really well we were in and out of the huddle, and I think that's one of the things that makes us so difficult to defend. ... Our tempo when we're at our best is really good. I would just say making sure that I run and manage everything inside our offense at a really efficient level so we can play with speed and great tempo."
Of course, Hill didn't do it alone on Sunday. The Saints' defense was exceptional for the third week in a row, despite missing No. 1 cornerback Marshon Lattimore with an abdomen injury.
The Saints sacked Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan eight times -- including three by defensive end Cameron Jordan, who has now sacked Ryan 21 times in his career. And cornerback Janoris Jenkins intercepted a pass to help clinch the game in the fourth quarter.
Hill was solid on Sunday, and it helped that the defense was suffocating. It bodes well for the Saints for as long as Brees is out -- and into 2021, if Brees retires. ...
Running back Alvin Kamara scored his 12th touchdown of the season on a 3-yard run in the second quarter.
Kamara now has 50 career touchdowns in 55 regular-season games. He became the first player in NFL history with at least 500 rushing yards and 500 receiving yards in each of his first four seasons, according to ESPN Stats and Information.
Thomas recorded his 482nd career catch during the first half, giving him ownership of the record for most catches in an NFL player's first five seasons. He finished the game with 489.
QBs: Jameis Winston, Taysom Hill, Trevor Siemian, Ian Book
RBs: Alvin Kamara, Tony Jones Jr., Dwayne Washington
WRs: Marquez Callaway, Deonte Harris, Chris Hogan, Lil'Jordan Humphrey, Ty Montgomery, Michael Thomas, Tre'quan Smith
TEs: Adam Trautman, Juwan Johnson, Garrett Griffin
New York GiantsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 23 November 2020
The New York Giants are Joe Judge's team, entirely.
That's all anyone needs to know as the rebuilding Giants head into their bye week after 10 games.
Forget a 3-7 record. Don't bother mentioning they are riding a two-game winning streak and somehow have a chance to win the pitiful NFC East. This is a tough, hard-working team that is invested in their 38-year-old rookie coach's demand to focus on the little things, improve every week, and put the team first.
It's seems everyone is all in. If you're not, there's a price to pay.
Take a look at the recent days and weeks.
Offensive line coach Marc Colombo was upset after Judge told him earlier this week he was hiring veteran coach Dave DeGuglielmo as a consultant to help the line and other parts of the team.
To an outsider, it seemed an odd decision. The young line probably has progressed more than any unit on the team. After a slow start, the offense has produced six 100-yard rushing performances in the past seven games.
A former Pro Bowler and assistant coach with Dallas, Colombo voiced his displeasure. He was fired last Wednesday after less than a year on the job and replaced by DeGuglielmo.
Earlier this month, veteran receiver Golden Tate complained to a national TV audience after catching a touchdown pass in a Monday night game against Tampa Bay.
He wanted more passes thrown his way. He was benched the next game.
First-round draft pick Andrew Thomas, the fourth selection overall this year, showed up five minutes late for a meeting the night before a home game with Washington last month. The left tackle didn't start the next day and ended up splitting snaps with fellow rookie Matt Peart.
Judge doesn't hesitate to give his players second chances. Colombo wasn't as lucky. The message is clear: Don't mess with Joe Judge.
His actions bring back memories of former Giants coaches Bill Parcells and Tom Coughlin. Their word was law. Players understood it and played hard because their jobs were on the line.
It worked, too. Parcells and Coughlin each produced two Super Bowl champions for the Giants.
It's too early to compare Judge to either man. He needs to prove himself. However, he seems to be accomplishing half the job. Judge is the man in charge and the players recognize it.
The main question is, can Judge take the next step?
The Giants will have to beat teams outside their division to get to the playoffs this year. Dallas is their only NFC East opponent left, and that's the season finale. New York is at Cincinnati (2-6-1), at Seattle (7-3), home against the Cardinals (6-4) and Browns (6-3), and away at Baltimore (6-3) before the Cowboys (2-7).
"We want our guys to be successful on the field, but it matters to us how we're successful," Judge said earlier this week. "We want to play with the right attitude. We want to play a tough brand of football. We want to run the ball, stop the run, cover kicks. We want to go out there and be able to play in tough elements and be successful.
"We're not going to be a team that makes excuses or comes back and says we had them, but this happened instead. That's not the way we're made up, that's not what we're going to do."
Judge believes the Giants are getting closer to being what he envisions, so he is reinforcing the need for the basics. Unlike most NFL coaches, he is not hesitant to have tackling drills. He stresses proper techniques, preparation, and being upfront with his players.
Some weeks players will have bigger roles. Some weeks they will be asked to do less. Everyone will contribute in some way every week.
Veteran inside linebacker Blake Martinez also knows there is another side to Judge, who was mentored by Nick Saban of Alabama and Bill Belichick of the Patriots. Judge has three Super Bowl rings from his eight years in New England as an assistant coach and special teams coordinator.
"As you get to see him outside the meeting rooms and things like that, he's able to connect to anybody," Martinez said. "He wants to know everything about you, and I think that's been an awesome aspect of him as a head coach. You're not scared to talk to him, as he's always got a joke or two to mess with you about. It's been fun."
Coming out of the bye and heading into a meeting with a Bengals team that is suddenly without rookie quarterback Joe Burrow, who suffered a season-ending knee injury this past Sunday, the Giants need to keep running the ball, which they have done despite losing Saquon Barkley to a torn ACL in Week 2.
They also need quarterback Daniel Jones to limit his turnovers. He has had none in the last two games after 13 in the first eight.
The good news?
After recording just three rushing touchdowns in his first three seasons combined, Wayne Gallman has five so far in his fourth year. That included two against the Eagles as the Giants' running game continues to impress despite losing Saquon Barkley for the season due to injury.
"I'm really just going out there being myself and showing who Wayne Gallman is, you know?" Gallman said. "I'm just trying to do what's best for this team and capitalize on all my opportunities and just not do too much on a play, but just make the play first."
And yes, it's safe to assume Gallman will remain the No. 1 running back, even when or if Devonta Freeman comes back from injury.
Meanwhile, Jones is now 22 starts into his NFL career and looking to build on his two-game streak without a turnover.
In addition, Jones has put up historic numbers on the ground. Against the Eagles, he led the Giants with 64 rushing yards on nine carries. It was the sixth time this season Jones was the Giants' leading rusher, extending his record for a Giants quarterback in the Super Bowl era. He joins reigning NFL most valuable player Lamar Jackson of Baltimore as the only quarterbacks to lead their teams in rushing six times this season.
"I think [toughness is] an important part of playing the position, mental and physical toughness. For any football player, especially a quarterback," Jones said. "That's something I try to do every time I go out there on the field. I think our team is taking on that identity from coach and I think we're playing a tough brand of football right now. I certainly try to be a part of that."
Finally. ... Kaden Smith (illness) won't be available to play Sunday against the Bengals, ESPN.com's Jordan Raanan reports.
Smith was revealed to have tested positive for COVID-19 on Nov. 20, and he looks like he won't be ready to play until Week 13 in Seattle at the earliest. His absence this weekend leaves Evan Engram and Levine Toilolo as New York's only available tight ends.
QBs: Daniel Jones, Mike Glennon
RBs: Saquon Barkley, Devontae Booker, Gary Brightwell
WRs: Kenny Golladay, Sterling Shepard, Darius Slayton, C.J. Board, Kadarius Toney, John Ross
TEs: Evan Engram, Kyle Rudolph, Kaden Smith
New York JetsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 23 November 2020
According to ESPN.com's Rich Cimini, for the Jets, the worst thing about Sunday wasn't the outcome -- a 34-28 loss to the Chargers. After all, what's another loss?
It wasn't being mathematically eliminated from playoff contention and it wasn't the horrible play calling, which sparked speculation that head coach Adam Gase had reclaimed the play calling duties from offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains at halftime.
He didn't, but maybe he should.
No, the worst thing was having to watch Chargers rookie Justin Herbert and wonder what might have been with Sam Darnold. That had to pain the Jets, seeing the gifted Herbert thrive with so many playmakers around him. That should be the Jets, especially three years into the Darnold era.
But, no. Instead of growing with a young franchise quarterback, the Jets found themselves in the worst possible place for a Week 11 game: In a meaningless situation with a 35-year-old Joe Flacco leading a stripped-down roster filled with rookies and NFL wannabes -- a past quarterback on a future team. Is there anything more depressing than that?
Darnold (shoulder) missed his fourth game in a six-game span, another lost opportunity to reverse his struggles.
Darnold might be back under center for the winless New York Jets.
Well, possibly. Maybe.
While there was some optimism that he could return to face Miami on Sunday, Associated Press sports writer Dennis Waszak Jr reports that Darnold is still going through an interval throwing program and his status remains uncertain.
"The shoulder feels good throwing," Darnold said during a conference call Monday. "I'm doing all the things I need to do. Really, at this point, it's just about getting hit and how it's going to respond that way."
Darnold was slated to return to practice on a limited basis. Gase said Darnold would do "quite a bit" in practice.
They seem optimistic, but it's a day-by-day situation at this point.
There are some fans and media who think New York should just have the 23-year-old quarterback sit the rest of the season and heal. Darnold wants to play again -- and soon -- and isn't concerned about jeopardizing his future. "I think that was the point of sitting out last week, which was to prevent any type of setback," he said. "If I were to get hit, I didn't feel comfortable enough or confident enough in my shoulder if it were to be hit that I'd be fine. I think I'm nearing that point to where I finally have a little bit more confidence in my shoulder and be able to withstand a hit. That's a good thing."
His injury situation has created an interesting dilemma for the Jets, who have shown some marked improvement the last two games with Flacco starting at quarterback. While New York still hasn't won, Flacco has certainly been better than what Darnold had been before either of his shoulder-related absences.
"I'd like to see him play with our starting wide receivers," Gase said when asked what the coach's perspective would be on Darnold playing. "That would probably be my No. 1 thing I'd love to see."
That actually hasn't happened this season, with Jamison Crowder, Breshad Perriman and Denzel Mims taking the field together in the same game for the first time two weeks ago -- with Flacco at quarterback.
"Those guys are doing a really good job and are making plays for us," Darnold said. "Regardless of their situation and how well they are playing, I just want to be out there. I'm always going to be eager to want to go out there and play football."
Further argument for Darnold's return was the fact that Flacco was terrible in the first half, which included a pick-6 on his first pass, in Los Angeles.
But he rallied and actually gave the Jets a chance in the fourth quarter. It was Bad Joe to Good Joe. He threw a couple of touchdown passes (49 yards to Perriman and six yards to Chris Herndon), as he finally started to test the Los Angeles cornerbacks with long passes.
In the end, he couldn't deliver in crunch time, throwing three straight incompletions with a chance to tie the game.
Flacco (15-for-30, 205 yards) fell to 0-4 as the starter. The Jets have lost 15 straight, dating to 2016, when they start a backup quarterback.
I'll have more on Darnold's progress via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Mims, the team's second-round pick in the 2020 draft, is emerging as a legitimate playmaker at wide receiver. His numbers weren't eye-popping -- three catches for 71 yards -- but it was another glimpse of the potential Mims has as a fast, physical target who makes contested grabs.
"He has the ability to use his length and use his speed, and I think he's getting better and better at that each week," Flacco said.
Less impressive was Sam Ficken.
The kicker was sidelined three games with a strained right groin and then missed two extra-point attempts in his return.
In fact, Ficken and LaMical Perine, who suffered a high ankle sprain against the Chargers, were placed on IR on Tuesday.
Sergio Castillo, who remains on the roster, went 6 for 7 on field goals and 4 for 4 on PATs in Ficken's place. He'll return to action.
The Jets signed running back Josh Adams to their active roster with Perine out, but expect a continuing, heavy dose of a determined Frank Gore.
Gore, the NFL's third-all-time leading rusher, doesn't know if he will be playing football next season. At 37, he wants to make the most of the time he has left in the game. For now, that means one goal.
A win. A single win.
"You don't want to go 0-16, especially if this is my last year," he said Sunday. "I can't go out like that.
"Hopefully, we can get one. And I can't wait until we get it. I'll be so happy. If it is my last year, I can't say I'm going out 0-16."
Gore, in his 16th season, rushed for a season-high 61 yards in Sunday's loss, scoring his first touchdown for 2020. He now has 15,794 yards, trailing only Walter Payton (16,726) and Emmitt Smith (18,355) on the all-time list.
"You play this game to win," he said. "What I can say is what keeps me up is how these young kids come in. ... I don't want to say 'kids,' I'll say, 'young men.' They come in every week to work their behind off. That keeps me going. I know that they care."
QBs: Zach Wilson, Mike White
RBs: Ty Johnson, Michael Carter, Tevin Coleman, Lamical Perine, Josh Adams
WRs: Corey Davis, Jamison Crowder, Elijah Moore, Keelan Cole, Braxton Berrios, Denzel Mims, Jeff Smith
TEs: Tyler Kroft, Ryan Griffin, Daniel Brown, Trevon Wesco
Philadelphia EaglesCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 23 November 2020
Head coach Doug Pederson said he is sticking with quarterback Carson Wentz as his starter for next Monday night's game against the Seattle Seahawks despite Wentz's continuing struggles.
"If you get to that spot where you don't start him or you bench him, I think you're sending the wrong message to your football team that this season is over, and that's a bad message," Pederson said following the Eagles' 22-17 loss to the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, which dropped the Eagles to 3-6-1. "We have to work through this. When times get tough, sometimes that might be the easy thing to do.
"This sport is bigger than one guy. We all have a hand in it and we all have to fix it," he said.
Wentz finished 21-of-35 for 235 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, including a pick six. He was sacked five times -- once in the end zone for a safety -- and absorbed 10 QB hits.
Pederson said he did not consider benching Wentz on Sunday for Jalen Hurts, the team's second-round pick this past April, noting how close the Eagles were from making it a competitive game. Hurts has been sprinkled into the offense this season, primarily as a runner and decoy, with varying success.
Cries have grown louder in Philadelphia for Hurts to have a chance at running the offense, given Wentz's ineffectiveness.
As ESPN.com's Tim McManus noted, Wentz entered Week 11 ranked 32nd in completion percentage (58.2), 31st in yards per attempt (6.1) and first in interceptions (12) and sacks (35). The Eagles matched a season low in points with 17 in back-to-back weeks.
Now, heading into Week 12, Wentz leads the NFL in interceptions, fumbles and sacks.
Wentz has thrown 14 interceptions, while no one else in the NFL has thrown more than 11 (Kirk Cousins and Drew Lock are tied for second). His 14 interceptions equal a career high, which he set in 16 games as a rookie, and since his rookie year Wentz had never thrown more than seven interceptions in any season until this year.
Wentz has taken 40 sacks, while no one else has taken more than 33 (Russell Wilson is second). Wentz's 40 sacks are already a career high, even with six more games to play this season, and his lack of awareness in the pocket and inability to get rid of the ball when he's being pressured has been stunning to see this year.
Wentz has fumbled 10 times this year, one more than the second-worst, Joe Burrow. Fumbles have always been a problem for Wentz, who now has 58 career fumbles, by far the most of any player in the NFL since he entered the league in 2016.
As Profootballtalk.com's Michael David Smith suggested, "Rarely in NFL history has a player had such job security while playing so poorly."
Like Pederson, Wentz is taking it all in stride.
"The media, you guys can ask whatever questions you want. I know that's part of the deal. I know it's always a scrutinized position, playing quarterback, and that's what I signed up for when I came out and played quarterback going back to high school. I can take it," Wentz said on questions about him being benched. "I can wear it. Are we playing as good as we can as a team? No. Am I playing my best football? No. There were some circumstances out there today that we left some plays out there on the field. We'll be critical, we'll go back and watch the tape.
"You guys can ask whatever questions you want, bring up whatever you want and for me, I'm just going to put my head down and go to work."
The truth here is, the Eagles have too many problems to pin the blame on one person.
While Pederson and Wentz get most of the criticism, there's plenty of blame to be spread around.
Associated Press sports writer Rob Maaddi reminded readers that personnel boss Howie Roseman passed up wide receiver DK Metcalf to draft JJ Arcega-Whiteside in the second round last year and took wideout Jalen Reagor ahead of Justin Jefferson in the first round this year.
It's too early to judge Reagor, but Arcega-Whiteside was a healthy inactive last week and has only 12 catches in two seasons.
He also drafted Hurts in the second round this season when the Eagles had more pressing needs.
Injuries have been a major factor in the team's struggles. The Eagles have used 12 players on the offensive line, including 10 different starters. Tight ends Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert, running back Miles Sanders and wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery have missed significant time.
Philly's wide receivers aren't getting open enough and hardly make any contested catches. Wentz targeted his wideouts 17 times against Cleveland, getting only eight completions for 69 yards. Jeffery mistimed a jump on a pass inside the 10 in the fourth quarter and it went for an easy interception.
Wide receiver Travis Fulgham has two catches on 12 targets in the past two games after an excellent stretch of five games. He had 28 catches for 427 yards and four TDs after debuting with the Eagles on Oct. 4. His decline in production coincides with Jeffery's return. Jeffery has zero catches in two games.
"I'm not worried about Alshon's presence right now. I'm concerned about Travis' production and getting him better and helping him get better," Pederson said. "He needs to get better. As I've mentioned, we all have enough to do, enough work to do, and obviously he is part of that group."
In addition, Wentz is constantly under pressure because his protection has been poor and his young receivers aren't always where they should be on routes.
So there are lots of issues and reasons Pederson won't bench Wentz for Hurts. But the rookie might start to get more snaps as a gadget player on offense.
Pederson allowed Monday that Hurts may see more playing time going forward.
"I think I can get him in the game a little bit more," Pederson said.
Of course, Hurts only played one snap on Sunday against the Browns, so playing Hurts "a little bit more" wouldn't necessarily mean giving him a significant role in the offense. So far this season Hurts has 12 carries for 56 yards and one catch for three yards. He has yet to throw a pass.
Many Eagles fans want to see Hurts play a lot more, as in every snap at quarterback while Wentz watches from the sideline. Again, that is not going to happen. But anything to jumpstart this offense would be welcome.
Eagles-Browns was the first matchup this season to feature no offensive points in the first half. The last such game was 49ers-Washington in Week 7 last season.
By the way, the Eagles host the Seattle Seahawks (7-3) on Monday.
They're 3-0 in prime-time games but are 0-5 against Russell Wilson, including a 17-9 loss in an NFC wild-card game last January.
Other notes of interest. ... The Eagles are running the ball effectively until Pederson stops calling runs. They had 96 yards in the first half on 19 attempts, but only ran six times in the second half in a one-possession game for the most part. Sanders had 63 yards on 11 carries in the first half, but only 3 yards on five runs in the second. ...
On the injury front. ... Ertz is "trending in the right direction" to play this week. I'll be following his progress closely as the week moves along; watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for more. ...
In a related note. ... Pederson said Richard Rodgers has been a positive part of the offense and the Eagles could mix in more 13 personnel going forward.
And finally. ... Jordan Howard is getting another chance in Philadelphia.
Howard, the veteran running back who failed miserably as a free agent signing with the Dolphins this year, signed with the Eagles' practice squad and was promoted to the active roster on Tuesday.
Howard played for the Eagles last year and had 119 carries for 525 yards and six touchdowns in the first nine games of the season, but he suffered a shoulder injury in his ninth game and didn't carry the ball again last year.
QBs: Jalen Hurts, Joe Flacco, Gardner Minshew
RBs: Miles Sanders, Kenneth Gainwell, Boston Scott
WRs: DeVonta Smith, Jalen Reagor, Quez Watkins, Greg Ward, JJ Arcega-Whiteside
TEs: Dallas Goedert, Zach Ertz, Jack Stoll
Pittsburgh SteelersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 23 November 2020
The Steelers Thanksgiving night game against the Ravens, which was scheduled to be played on Thursday, Nov. 26, at 8:20 p.m. has been moved to Sunday, Nov. 29., the NFL announced.
The game will be played in the early-afternoon window.
The decision to change the game was made out of an abundance of caution to ensure the health and safety of players, coaches and game day personnel and in consultation with medical experts.
Meanwhile, Ben Roethlisberger said last week that the team would not take the Jaguars lightly despite the very different circumstances for the two teams and the result of Sunday's game suggests the Steelers took Roethlisberger's words to heart.
After allowing the Jaguars to drive for a field goal to open the game, the Steelers shut out their opponents while intercepting four passes and allowing 154 yards over the rest of the 27-3 win. They also posted more than 100 rushing yards for the first time since Week 6 to create a level of offensive balance that's been missing of late.
The victory moved them up to 10-0 on the season, but Roethlisberger said there were "too many times we punted" and shared his feeling that the offense has to do better than it did on Sunday. Roethlisberger noted that those improvements are necessary for the team to reach its goal, which isn't the perfect regular season record they're closing in on.
"We're not chasing perfection in terms of a perfect 16-0," Roethlisberger said, via Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "We're chasing Lombardis. That's the most important thing for us."
So save the talk about the 1972 Dolphins or even, say, the 2008 Steelers for elsewhere.
Roethlisberger is too worried about facing rival Baltimore on Thanksgiving to contemplate where his current group fits in historically.
"As long as we win football games, we don't need to compare ourselves to anybody else, offensively, defensively, any other team or anything like that," Roethlisberger said. "We feel like we're our own unique team and that we're special in who we are, so we just want to win and do everything we can to win a Super Bowl."
And according to Associated Press sports writer Will Graves, that -- as it has largely been since Roethlisberger's rookie season in 2004 -- remains the ultimate litmus test on how 2020 will be judged. The Steelers keep reminding anyone who will listen that they haven't done anything yet. They haven't clinched a playoff berth. Or a division title. Or home-field advantage throughout the postseason.
All these Ws they've racked up will serve as a mere footnote in history if their final game doesn't end with them standing amid a sea of confetti in Tampa Bay after capturing the franchise's seventh Super Bowl title.
The rest of it? A chance at going 16-0, Roethlisberger's long-time-coming entry into the Most Valuable Player conversation and a defense that is showing hallmarks of rivaling the 2008 group that led the team to a championship, all of that is just outside noise.
More immediately, the Steelers will attempt to sweep the Ravens for just the second time since 2008 on Sunday. A victory would eliminate Baltimore from the AFC North title race.
Other notes of interest. ... The Steelers are doing most everything well at this point.
But not every single thing.
While Pittsburgh did top 100 yards rushing for the first time in more than a month against the Jaguars, they are still averaging just 3.9 yards per carry, which is 26th in the league. It's true that the Steelers have thrown the ball so effectively an inconsistent running game hasn't been a serious problem. Still, a modest uptick in production would only help matters down the stretch.
In addition, kicker Chris Boswell's franchise-record 25 straight field goal attempts without a miss ended when he pulled a 44-yarder left in the first quarter. Boswell, however, bounced back by making a 47-yarder in the fourth quarter.
On a more positive note. ... Rookie second-round pick Chase Claypool is now the first rookie receiver in the Super Bowl era to have 10 touchdowns in his first 10 games, and second-year wideout Diontae Johnson -- taken in the third round in 2019 -- had a career-high 12 receptions for 111 yards, including a juggling grab at the goal line that set up Benny Snell's 1-yard touchdown run just before the half that staked Pittsburgh to a 14-point lead.
On the injury front. ... The Steelers should enter Sunday's pivotal game mostly healthy, though the biggest concern is the availability of Joe Haden and JuJu Smith-Schuster, who both sustained injuries Sunday. Haden got injured on a tackle of Jaguars rookie running back James Robinson in the third quarter. He came back out for a series but was replaced by Cam Sutton in the fourth.
Smith-Schuster also had to come to the sideline in the fourth quarter but returned after being looked at by team athletic trainers. As he jogged off at the end of a play a few minutes later, Smith-Schuster appeared to step on an official's flag and sustain a toe injury. He limped off the field and got more medical attention on the sideline.
He didn't come back into the game after the injury, but as Smith-Schuster limped around the bench area, the broadcast reported he would have been able to come back in if necessary.
Smith-Schuster was listed as a non-participant on Monday's estimated injury report. He was up to limited participation on Tuesday, however, and the additional time with the change to a Sunday kickoff will further work in his favor. Also, Roethlisberger went from out to limited and a quad injury was added to the non-injury reasons for his estimated absence on Monday, so I'll be watching for more on that.
Running backs Trey Edmunds (hamstring) and Jaylen Samuels (quad) were also out of practice.
I'll be following up on all involved as needed via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
Head coach Mike Tomlin said on Monday that tight end Vance McDonald would be activated from the reserve/COVID-19 list on Tuesday and the move is now official.
The team announced McDonald's return to the active roster along with two other moves involving tight ends. They placed Zach Gentry on injured reserve and signed Kevin Rader off the practice squad.
Gentry hurt his knee in last Sunday's win over the Jaguars. That was only his second appearance of the regular season and Gentry caught one ball for four yards in Week 10.
Rader has spent most of the last two years on the Pittsburgh practice squad. He has never appeared in a regular season game.
QBs: Ben Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph, Dwayne Haskins
RBs: Najee Harris, Benny Snell, Kalen Ballage, Anthony McFarland Jr.
WRs: Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington, Ray-Ray McCloud
TEs: Eric Ebron, Pat Freiermuth, Zach Gentry
San Francisco 49ersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 23 November 2020
Jimmy Garoppolo was one quarter away from possibly winning the Super Bowl MVP before San Francisco's fourth-quarter collapse handed the title to the Kansas City Chiefs.
That loss back in February set the tone for what has turned out to be a frustrating 2020 for Garoppolo and the 49ers. Garoppolo has been hampered by a pair of ankle injuries that have sidelined him for significant time and struggled to match last season's production when he was able to play, raising questions about his future in San Francisco.
The 49ers (4-6) head into their bye week on the fringe of the NFC playoff race, which could make the biggest drama down the stretch be how Garoppolo looks heading into the offseason.
"I'm really holding out hope that Jimmy can get back and play some games with us," coach Kyle Shanahan said this week. "I'm hoping that we can change a little bit of our outcomes. So, when he does come back, and hopefully a few other people are coming back for a reason. But Jimmy did have a real bad ankle injury. It's very good that he didn't have to have surgery because that's what gives him a chance. I think he just got out of his boot and we're still a little bit of ways from getting there, but that's what I'm holding out hope for."
Little has gone right for Garoppolo this season, starting with a shaky performance in a season-opening loss to Arizona. He played well the next week in a blowout win over the Jets, but left at halftime with a high ankle sprain that sidelined him for two games.
He wasn't healthy when he returned and threw two interceptions before getting pulled at halftime of a lopsided home loss to Miami. Shanahan didn't ask Garoppolo to do much the next few weeks before he reinjured the ankle in a loss at Seattle that has sidelined him the past two games.
In all, Garoppolo's numbers are down across the board He is averaging a career-low 7.8 yards per attempt with seven TD passes, five interceptions and a 92.4 passer rating that is down nearly 10 points from last season.
Garoppolo has more completions behind the line of scrimmage than he does at least 10 yards downfield, and he is only 1 for 11 on deep passes at least 20 yards downfield.
This comes one season after Garoppolo was the only quarterback in the NFL to finish in the top five in yards per attempt, completion percentage and touchdown passes, while leading big road wins at New Orleans and Seattle. And there was a strong performance in three first three quarters of the Super Bowl, when he went 17 for 20 for 183 yards and a TD to stake San Francisco to a 20-10 lead.
But a 3-for-11 performance in the fourth quarter, when he threw an interception and missed an open Emmanuel Sanders for a potential go-ahead score, led to a 31-20 loss -- and questions about whether he was the franchise quarterback.
The Niners considered making a run at Tom Brady before deciding to stick with Garoppolo. But they could take a look at another quarterback this offseason when former Shanahan pupils Kirk Cousins and Matt Ryan could be available in trades, or San Francisco could be in position to draft a QB high, depending on how the stretch run goes.
General manager John Lynch told flagship radio station KNBR last week that he still believes in Garoppolo, while acknowledging the questions will persist. He pointed to San Francisco's 22-8 record with Garoppolo as the starter compared to the 5-23 mark with other QBs during Shanahan's tenure.
Shanahan said he expects Garoppolo will be the starter in 2021 and believes there's still a chance for a late-season playoff run that could end those questions.
"I think we have guys on this team capable of finishing this the right way," Shanahan said. "We've got to do one game at a time, and I hope Jimmy can come back and be a part of that, but to think that we've made any decisions on somebody going into the future, this isn't the case. Jimmy has won a lot of games for us this year. It's a lot harder to win games when he's not here and I'm just hoping we can get him back."
Meanwhile, with little room for error, the 49ers simply cannot afford to lose Sunday at the Los Angeles Rams. This is, truly, the first of what figures to be a string of must-win games. If the 49ers lose to the Rams and fall further behind in the NFC playoff picture, all the meaning shifts from this postseason to the 2021 NFL Draft.
The 49ers are currently 11th in the NFC.
Seven teams are currently scheduled to make the playoffs, though an eighth could be added if meaningful games are lost due to COVID-19. Shanahan said he is not giving up hope.
"We have six games left," he said. "We are not out of the playoffs, yet.
"I've been on a team that was three and six going into a bye week and ended up winning their division. I think we have guys on this team capable of finishing this the right way."
The good news?
Shanahan is hopeful that leading rusher Raheem Mostert, No. 1 receiver Deebo Samuel, and star cornerback Richard Sherman will all be back this week after they all missed time with injuries.
Backup running back Tevin Coleman also could be back for the Rams game, while running back Jeff Wilson Jr. may need to miss one more game before returning.
That said, the 49ers officially designated Mostert and Wilson for return from injured reserve on Tuesday.
"That's going to help big and that's some juice we need, but we also don't have much room for error with where our record is right now," Shanahan said. "So I can't count on those guys just to come in and change everything. I just want those guys to get healthy and be a part of it. But we need to really make sure that this week makes us better, not just rested, but makes us better."
With Garoppolo out at least a few more weeks and George Kittle sidelined possibly for the season with a broken foot, the return of some key reinforcements will obviously help.
"We're not going to win just because these guys are coming back," Shanahan said. "These guys haven't played football in a while. Usually when they do come back, it takes them a week or two to get into it and to really affect the game. We're going to win based off whether the guys that we have get better or worse."
Along those lines, the 49ers placed three more players on the reserve/COVID-19 list last Monday and that moves the total number of players placed on the list during their bye week to seven.
Wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk, left tackle Trent Williams, and tight end Daniel Helm were the additions to the list. They join defensive lineman Arik Armstead, offensive lineman Hroniss Grasu, defensive lineman Javon Kinlaw, and linebacker Joe Walker.
It is the second time that Aiyuk and Williams have landed on the list this season. They were placed on the list as close contacts of wide receiver Kendrick Bourne ahead of the team's Week 9 loss to the Packers.
Players are placed on the list after a positive test or close contact with someone who has tested positive. Teams do not announce the reason for the placement.
QBs: Jimmy Garoppolo, Trey Lance
RBs: Elijah Mitchell, Trenton Cannon, Trey Sermon, JaMycal Hasty, Jeff Wilson, Raheem Mostert
WRs: Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, Trent Sherfield, Mohamed Sanu, Jauan Jennings, Jalen Hurd
TEs: George Kittle, Ross Dwelley, Charlie Woerner, Daniel Helm
Seattle SeahawksCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 23 November 2020
If Pete Carroll's reaction to seeing Chris Carson run at practice is any indication of the running back's status for this week, we should certainly expect to see him back at full strength.
"Man, I wish you guys could see Chris right now," Carroll said as he stared off toward the field at Carson before even taking any questions in his Friday press conference. "He's killing it!"
Carroll said that he expects Carson, center Ethan Pocic and cornerback Shaquill Griffin to play in Week 12's game against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Carson has missed the past four games with a foot injury, and Griffin has sat out the past four games with a hamstring injury.
"They did get out there today," Carroll said of Carson and Griffin after Tuesday's practice. "They were doing all the regular practice stuff today, so that was a good sign."
Carlos Hyde performed well in Carson's place on Thursday, contributing 79 of the Seahawks' 165 yards on the ground. It was the smashmouth brand of football that the Seahawks have been known for during the Carroll era.
"As far as [Carson], I think the most obvious illustration is look at what we looked like with [Hyde]. Look at him running and attacking the line of scrimmage, and hunting guys on the sidelines, catching the check downs and going to knock somebody out, chasing a guy out of bounds to try and run over somebody.
"[The] toughness that that shows and that impact is what Chris brings, Chris is that. During the night I was imagining if we had Carlos and Chris running, what that would be like in terms of the style of play."
On the other hand, tight end Greg Olsen could be out for at least the next month. Olsen suffered a torn plantar fascia on a non-contact play while running a route on Thursday night, and had to be helped off the field.
"I've heard it's a four-to-six week deal," Carroll said. "I don't know that, but that's what they threw around last night, that if he does have a ruptured thing on his foot, then it's a four-to-six week recovery. So we'll see what that means."
The Seahawks placed veteran tight end on injured reserve Monday.
Seattle elevated defensive tackle Damon "Snacks" Harrison to the active roster to take Olsen's spot. Harrison had been added off the practice squad for the previous two games and was expected to be added to the active roster this week.
Olsen had 23 receptions for 224 yards and one touchdown 10 games into his first season with the Seahawks.
With Olsen out, could Will Dissly to return to his higher early-career production and usage?
According to ESPN.com's Brady Henderson, Dissly figures to see an increased role in the passing game with Olsen out, but his fantasy ceiling will be capped for a few reasons. Part of the reason the Seahawks signed Olsen was that they didn't want to overburden Dissly since he was coming off his second major injury in as many NFL seasons, so they will likely lean on Jacob Hollister and rookie Colby Parkinson to help him pick up the slack.
Plus, if the resurgence of the Seahawks' run game Thursday night is any indication, their offense will be more balanced down the stretch. That will further limit targets for their tight ends. ...
In addition to Olsen, Seattle also placed Bo Scarbrough on injured reserve. Scarbrough had 31 yards rushing on six carries against the Cardinals, but was injured in the fourth quarter after being tackled awkwardly. ...
Meanwhile, since being selected 64th overall in 2019, DK Metcalf has consistently proven his naysayers wrong.
He slipped to the Seahawks on draft night and was the ninth receiver selected. As a rookie, Metcalf won over Seattle with his charm off the field and desire on it. His rookie season culminated in a record-setting 160-yard outburst against the Eagles in the Wild Card Round.
In Year 2, the Ole Miss product has only gotten better. Through Sunday, Metcalf was fourth in receiving touchdowns (9) and sixth in receiving yards (862). With numbers like that as the season hits the home stretch, the conversation inevitably goes to end-of-season award predictions.
Late last week, NFL.com writer Nick Shook tabbed 10 players he believes will get their first Pro Bowl nod this year. First on his list? Metcalf. Here's what Shook said about his case:
"This one is a lock. Metcalf has grown from a draft prospect who intrigued with his sheer size and athleticism to a physical freak who is becoming a multi-level threat. Because of Metcalf's production, the Seahawks landed atop my receiving corps rankings last week, and he's a nightmare for opponents; he destroys them down the sideline and then wins inside with his frame, scoring six touchdowns on in-breaking routes. He's also the No. 5 receiver in the NFL (min. 50 targets) in yards gained after the catch over expectation per reception, averaging 2.2 more yards gained after catch than expected, based on surrounding factors impacting his chances. His lack of impact in Week 10 against Jalen Ramsey shouldn't be overlooked, but his success throughout the rest of the season outweighs that individual game.
"Metcalf ranks third in receiving yards, right behind perennial Pro Bowler DeAndre Hopkins and route-running maestro Stefon Diggs, who is in line to make his first Pro Bowl this year, too. Metcalf is a Pro Bowler, plain and simple."
Hard to argue that point.
Finally. ... Carroll said Tuesday that he's hopeful Rashaad Penny (knee) will be ready to practice with the team next week, Bob Condotta of The Seattle Times reports.
Penny has been sidelined all season while rehabbing from the torn ACL he suffered Week 14 of 2019, but he looks to finally be nearing the finish line of his recovery.
As CBSSports.com suggested, because of his lengthy layoff, Penny will likely require several practices to get up to full speed, so he may still be multiple weeks away from making his way back to the 53-man roster. If Penny does get activated at some point, the Seahawks probably wouldn't ask him to take on more than a handful of touches per game behind Carson.
QBs: Russell Wilson, Geno Smith, Jake Luton
RBs: Chris Carson, Alex Collins, DeeJay Dallas, Travis Homer, Rashaad Penny
WRs: DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, D'Wayne Eskridge, Freddie Swain, Penny Hart
TEs: Gerald Everett, Will Dissly, Colby Parkinson
Tampa Bay BuccaneersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 23 November 2020
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers didn't wilt under the prime-time lights in their fourth try, but they didn't win, either. As a result, their path to the postseason got a little bit harder.
As ESPN.com's Jenna Laine reminded readers, Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht said heading into the 2020 season that unlike previous years, the Bucs "welcomed the spotlight" rather than shying away from it.
They finally felt ready because they had Tom Brady as their quarterback.
And while Brady led the Bucs back with a game-tying touchdown pass to a wide-open Chris Godwin with 3:59 to go on Monday night, he could not overcome the big plays given up by the defense, the loss of two offensive linemen, the four drops by his running backs or his own deficiencies on the deep ball and his two interceptions.
With 2 minutes to go and center A.Q. Shipley leaving the game, Brady attempted to hit tight end Cameron Brate on a deep pass but instead was picked off by the Los Angeles Rams' Jordan Fuller for the second time. The Bucs lost to the Rams 27-24, dropping to 7-4 and the sixth seed in the NFC. The Bucs are now 1-3 in prime-time games this season.
Brady completed 26 of 48 passes for 216 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
On his first touchdown, Brady connected with Mike Evans on an out route; Evans spun away from Troy Hill and Darious Williams for a 9-yard touchdown. Then, after a pass interference call on Fuller, Brady found Evans on a shake route for an 18-yard completion. The Bucs capped off that drive with a 2-yard touchdown run from Leonard Fournette.
Brady's first interception came in the third quarter on a play-action pass over the middle in which Godwin did not get turned around quickly enough. Brady struggled with the deep ball, an issue as of late. He missed Antonio Brown working one-on-one deep against Williams twice.
Brady had 47 game-winning drives heading into Monday night and was asked how disappointed he was in himself for not making it 48.
"I think that's a good word: disappointed," Brady said. "I have to do a better job, absolutely. Tonight was very inefficient, didn't [do] a very good job during the second half. The defense played great, kept coming up with huge stops, getting us the ball back.
"Offensively, we just couldn't make the plays that were necessary to be efficient, and we had plenty of chances. We've got to get them fixed."
Of course, head coach Bruce Arians is famous for his "no risk it, no biscuit" approach.
So far, he's not getting many biscuits in return for the risk.
So what's wrong?
"We've had the guys open, we've just missed them," Arians told reporters on Tuesday. "There are times when coverage dictates you go to that guy. I think we can do a better job of utilizing the deep ball in our game plan. ... When they're there, we need to hit them. We can't have them going off our fingertips, and we can't overthrow them."
The issue, per Arians, is a game-day problem.
"We don't miss the deep ball in practice, that's for sure," Arians said.
Arians also was asked whether Brady needs to be more involved in calling the plays.
"We have Tom calling a lot of his own, or picking his own on the sidelines from the game plan," Arians said. "So I don't think it's a confidence problem whatsoever. It's not lack of trust, it's lack of continuity within the offense."
It's unclear whether Arians or Brady are pushing for the deep balls. On Monday night, Brady completed only one of nine passes with two interceptions on passes longer than 15 yards.
Regardless, Arians has made it clear, in not-so-subtle fashion, that it's not a coaching issue and that the offense fits Brady's skills.
"He can do anything, so it's not like he can't do it," Arians said. "I see him do it all the time."
Asked whether he'd consider taking over play calling duties, Arians said that offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich will continue to handle those responsibilities.
"I thought [Leftwich] called a good ballgame," Arians told reporters. "We just have to execute better. When guys are open, we have to hit them and we can't misread coverage. We have to protect a little bit better when we do have guys deep and let [Brady] hit that guy instead of having that pressure that cost us an interception. As a collective, everybody has got to play better."
But it starts with Brady. According to Next Gen Stats, the veteran signal caller is 0-19 on passes of 20 yards or longer over the last four games. ...
All that being said, once the offense does get down the field and inside the red zone, there is virtually no stopping them. That's the key. The Bucs had a league-leading 97.5 percent red zone scoring percentage coming into the game and then went three-for-three from inside the 20-yard line Monday night to live up to their top ranking in that area.
Evans has been especially good inside the red zone. His romp through the Rams' secondary on the above-mentioned score is a reason why.
It was Evans' ninth touchdown of the year, which surpasses his total from last season and ties for the fourth-most by any player this season. He also became the first wide receiver in NFL history to record a touchdown in each of his first five appearances on Monday Night Football, according to ESPN.
On the season, Evans is 12 of 18 inside the red zone. What's more is that all but one of Evans' scores have come from inside the red zone -- meaning he's responsible for eight of the Bucs' now 31 red zone touchdowns (which is the most in the league). ...
Whatever the case, with the Chiefs looming before a Week 13 bye, is that the road to the playoffs is getting rockier.
"Very slim," Arians said regarding the team's margin for error. "This was a big one and the next one's even bigger, so I think each and every one is going to be huge the whole rest of the way."
The good news is that, barring a flex, the Bucs (now 1-3 at night) won't play again in prime time. The bad news is that they may have to run to table after their bye, if they lose on Sunday to the Chiefs.
QBs: Tom Brady, Blaine Gabbert, Kyle Trask
RBs: Leonard Fournette, Ronald Jones, Giovani Bernard, Ke'Shawn Vaughn
WRs: Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, Antonio Brown, Scott Miller, Jaelon Darden, Tyler Johnson
TEs: Rob Gronkowski, O.J. Howard, Cameron Brate
Tennessee TitansCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 23 November 2020
According to Associated Press sports writer Teresa M. Walker, the Tennessee Titans think they got back to what they do best, and that's just finding a way to win.
Just in the nick of time.
Losers of three of four and trailing 21-10 early in the third quarter, the Titans responded and at last looked like the team that won its first five games by taking four in the final two minutes of regulation or overtime. They scored 20 of the final 23 points in beating Baltimore 30-24 in overtime.
"We know our identity," wide receiver A.J. Brown said. "We just had to believe our identity and go out there and make plays and go out there and do what we do. This was a big game. (The Ravens) a great team over there. ... This was a big-boy fight."
Their resilience and grit combined with some big plays provided a confidence boost that couldn't have come at a better time.
The Titans (7-3) now have won two of three.
Next is a chance at payback and control of the AFC South on Sunday with a trip to Indianapolis against the Colts (7-3), who beat them in Nashville on Nov. 12 for the head-to-head tiebreaker. The Colts are one of the three teams currently with winning records remaining on the Titans' schedule.
One reason for the resurgence, the offense rebounded against Baltimore.
The Titans scored at least 30 points for the first time since Oct. 18, and trailed by 11 before outscoring the Ravens 20-3 to finish the game. Wide receivers Corey Davis and Brown were shut out in the first half. Then Davis caught all five passes after halftime for 113 yards. Brown caught four of five passes for 62 yards, including and a 14-yard TD reception for the lead late in regulation when he broke four tackles to score.
Consider Derrick Henry among those impressed by Brown's Herculean-type effort on that touchdown. "My exact words were like, 'Huh?'" Henry said of Brown. "I couldn't believe it. I was like, 'What in the world?' But that's the type of player he is, being physical." Peter King of NBC Sports called it his 'Play of the Day' on Sunday.
"My mindset was to get the first down," said Brown, "and I looked up and [realized], 'Oh, I'm about to score.' My teammates did a good job of pushing me in the back to keep me going and keep my momentum going forward."
According to Pro Football Focus, Brown forced seven missed tackles against the Ravens on Sunday, the most since Odell Beckham Jr. in Week 16 of the 2016 season.
They also outgained Baltimore 423-306. Ryan Tannehill overcame his fourth interception of the season and finished with 259 yards passing and two TD passes -- most of that after halftime. He says the Titans never lost faith and finally were able to fight through adversity during a game.
"There's a lot of confidence throughout our team that we've been on a touch stretch there, but when we get in a tough situation we're going to keep fighting and find a way to win," Tannehill said.
Henry also got on track.
Not only is the NFL rushing leader the first running back to 1,000 yards this season, he also became the first in league history to run for the winning TD in overtime multiple times in one season. Henry also had the walk-off TD run Oct. 18 in an OT win over Houston.
He now has 1,079 yards rushing and six 100-yard games this season, and that game-winning TD was the 50th of Henry's career. It earned him a Twitter shout-out from LeBron James calling Henry the "FINISHER."
In addition, Henry did it again today against the Ravens.
"It" is run for a touchdown in overtime, something Henry also did to win the Titans' Week 6 win over the Texans. Henry is the first player in NFL history to run for an overtime touchdown twice in one season.
There have actually only been two overtime touchdowns scored in the NFL this season, and Henry scored them both. Other than the Titans' two wins, every other overtime game in the NFL this year has either been won on a field goal or ended in a tie.
Henry's size makes him unique for a running back, and his production is unique as well. He's doing things no one else in the NFL has done. ...
And finally. ... Tannehill has put up better numbers during his career, so his 259-yard, two-touchdown performance won't generate many headlines.
Tannehill was picked off in the contest, and he was off target on a number of throws.
But once again, Tannehill stepped up when the Titans needed him most, engineering two late touchdown drives on a day when he took a number of big hits. In his 20th regular season start with the Titans, Tannehill posted a 104.1 passer rating, which gave him six games in 2020 and 14 games in his 20 starts with the team with a passer rating of at least 100.0. He was credited with his fifth game-winning drive of 2020, and his eighth game-winning drive in his two seasons with the Titans.
"Can't say enough about (his toughness)," head coach Mike Vrabel said of Tannehill. "It wasn't perfect, know there were some throws he would like to have back, some blocks that the linemen would like to have back. We want to keep him clean, but he stands in there and delivers the football, doesn't flinch, and I love that he is our quarterback and I get to go to work with him every day."
One last note here. ... As Rotoworld.com pointed out, Anthony Firkser has more receptions than Jonnu Smith over the past five games.
Firkser has posted 12 catches to Smith's 11 over that stretch, with Smith totaling 104 yards to Firkser's 100 yards. The Titans' consistent tight end usage has led to 16 pass routes per game for Firkser since Week 7 and 20.2 routes per game for Smith.
The difference, of course, has been touchdowns: Smith has two scores since Week 7 while Firkser has none.
Titans beat writers have said in recent weeks that the team views Firkser as a pass-catching tight end who will stay involved in the offense.
QBs: Ryan Tannehill, Logan Woodside
RBs: Derrick Henry, Jeremy McNichols, Khari Blasingame, Mekhi Sargent, Darrynton Evans
WRs: A.J. Brown, Julio Jones, Josh Reynolds, Nick Westbrook_Ikhine, Racey McMath, Cameron Batson
TEs: Anthony Firkser, Geoff Swaim, Tanner Hudson
Washington Football TeamCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 23 November 2020
Alex Smith is showing why Ron Rivera wanted an experienced quarterback to start for Washington, and has the team in position to compete for a division title because the NFC East is so weak.
Smith calmly guided Washington to a 20-9 comeback victory against Cincinnati on Sunday after No. 1 overall draft pick Joe Burrow went down and sapped the Bengals' energy and efficiency. Smith's first victory since breaking his right leg almost exactly two years earlier was the perfect example of how the 36-year-old quarterback can still win games in the NFL if he has enough talent around him.
"We're an incredibly young team that is still kind of finding out who we are: our strengths, finding out how to win, trusting in each other," Smith said. "It's important for us to kind of continue to keep getting better."
With the win, Washington moved within a half-game of the lead in the NFC East. The team is tied with New York at 3-7, but the Giants swept the season series and therefore hold the tiebreaking edge. Washington has a shot in part because of Smith.
"When a guy like Alex who has gone through what he has gets this opportunity to get back on the field and play well, that's pretty cool," said Rivera.
The next step in that comes Thursday with a short turnaround before visiting the Dallas Cowboys for an annual Thanksgiving Day game. After Smith had a career-high 38 completions and 390 passing yards at Detroit the previous week and managed the game against Cincinnati, Washington is hoping momentum carries more weight than fatigue.
"You try to have as much carryover from the last couple weeks as possible," Rivera said Monday.
Washington's offense is getting the job done with Smith throwing to second-year star Terry McLaurin, receivers Steven Sims and Cam Sims, and third-down back J.D. McKissic. Rookie running back Antonio Gibson has eight rushing touchdowns after playing receiver for most of college at Memphis.
"Having a vet at the quarterback position changes (things) dramatically," Gibson said. "He's been there and done that, so there's not too much pressure on him. He relaxes in the huddle. I feel like for me, anyway, having a vet there just helps in that situation."
Against Cincinnati, Washington's offense was not as dominant as it has been in the past three games, but it was still solid with 325 yards on an average of 5.6 yards per play. The majority of its production came from Gibson and McLaurin, who combined for 188 yards and a touchdown.
Gibson, who averaged 5.9 yards per carry, led the team in rushing once again with 94 yards on 16 carries. He now has eight touchdown this season, which not only leads the team but is also the most among rookie running backs. Most of his production came in the second half, as he had 75 yards on 11 carries, including two gains of 16 yards and one of 13 yards.
McLaurin had another productive day with five receptions on seven targets for 84 yards. Half of that came on a 42-yard contested bomb in the first quarter, which helped Washington take a first-quarter lead for just the third time all season.
McLaurin now has 871 yards and has surpassed his rookie reception total with 62 catches. He is 49 yards away from doing the same with his receiving yards, and based on the pace at which McLaurin is playing, that milestone should be easily achieved. He has recorded at least 74 receiving yards in five consecutive games and had less than 61 yards in just one game.
"When I got drafted here last year, I was just happy to be drafted, to be honest with you," McLaurin said. "There was a lot of people who saw me as a special teams guy. I felt like I was more than that, but at the same time, if that was my role coming in to earn my spot on this team, I was going to be the best gunner in the league. When I got that opportunity…to play receiver, I knew that was my opportunity to show that I'm not only a great special teamer, but I could be a great receiver as well."
For what it's worth, Rotoworld.com notes that Cam Sims played 84 percent of the team's offensive snaps against the Bengals while Steve Sims, played 32 percent of the team's snaps. It was Steve who ended up with the Football Team's only passing touchdown of the day, but if you're playing the opportunities, Cam appears to be the better option.
Tight end Logan Thomas was targeted five times by Smith and finished with just two catches for 3 yards. Thomas was a popular weapon for previous starter Kyle Allen but has a smaller role in the offense now.
But that's a minor complaint given the circumstances.
After the conclusion of the Week 10 game against the Lions, Rivera said he felt as if Washington left nine points on the field in the first half. Smith, who helped the offense gain 464 yards, said he was shocked when he saw the team trailing, 17-3.
This time, the yardage matched the production. And unlike against the Lions, the offense executed in the red zone with three trips ending in points. ...
Smith has overcome a number of hurdles in the past few months. He had to win a roster spot and then a starting job. He accomplished the former, but only got the latter through a benching (Dwayne Haskins) and an injury (Allen). In his previous two outings, Smith piled up yards and led comebacks -- from 17 and 21 down. But there were no wins.
Earlier in the week, Smith didn't quite celebrate another milestone but he did reflect on it -- on Wednesday it was two years to the day he was hurt.
"You just take a moment when you do to certainly appreciate everything about where we are, certainly as a family how lucky we are," Smith said. "I'm grateful for so many things. Certainly, to be in this position again I didn't think was ever possible for a long time. It is a good reminder to look around at how lucky you are, how lucky I am. ..."
On the injury front. ... McLaurin improved his level of participation for the third straight day on Wednesday. He was estimated to be out of practice on Monday due to an ankle injury and moved up to limited participation on Tuesday and a full practice on Wednesday.
He’s been listed as questionable on the Football Team’s final injury report.
Kicker Dustin Hopkins (right groin) was listed as out of practice for the third straight day. He joins McLaurin in the questionable category.
Gibson (ankle) avoided injury designation.
I'll follow up on McLaurin and Hopkins as needed in advance of Thursday afternoon's kickoff; check the Late-Breaking Updates section for more.
QBs: Taylor Heinicke, Kyle Allen, Ryan Fitzpatrick
RBs: Antonio Gibson, J.D. McKissic, Jaret Patterson
WRs: Terry McLaurin, Dyami Brown, Adam Humphries, Cam Sims, Curtis Samuel
TEs: Logan Thomas, Ricky Seals-Jones, John Bates, Sammis Reyes