Team Notes week 13 2016

By Bob Harris
Bob Harris<

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. ...

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Arizona Cardinals

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 30 November 2016

Head coach Bruce Arians said he doesn't know why his team keeps making the same mistakes week after week or why they practice and study so well but fail to bring their best effort on game days.

"I could probably make a million if I could answer that because I could sell it to a bunch of coaches," Arians said Monday, a day after his team's 38-19 loss to the Falcons in Atlanta. "I don't know, because preparation is usually the key to the success. We've had a great month of practice and preparation. ... But it's not translating on those four or five plays."

Arians did something he hasn't done often during the team's 4-6-1 mess of a season: He suggested in his own way that some of his players have either quit listening to the message or have just quit altogether.

What other interpretation can there be if a head coach says his team is playing selfish and isn't bringing the physicality he knows is there?

"Defensively, we had some guys get out of their lane again, try to do too much," Arians said. "They tried to get on the stat sheet instead of just doing their job."

Asked how something like that could be allowed to infect a team that went a combined 34-14 over his previous three years in charge, Arians smirked and said, "That's selfishness instead of selflessness that's crept in. ... That's an individual thing."

So the message has been sent. Meanwhile, the Cardinals still believe the playoffs are a possibility.

"(We're) still in it," quarterback Carson Palmer told ESPN.com's Josh Weinfuss. "I'm optimistic as ever. I don't look at this and say, 'Oh, man.' You look at this and you find a way to right the wrong, what you've done wrong.

"We got an NFC team coming into us that's fighting for a wild-card spot. We're fighting for a wild-card spot. That's all that matters is next week's game."

Arizona's opponent Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium, Washington, is fighting to stay in the wild-card race. The Redskins occupy the sixth seed -- which is the last spot in the wild-card race. The Cardinals are the 11th seed in the NFC with one more game -- Philadelphia-Green Bay, remaining this week.

A common refrain after Sunday's 38-19 loss to the Atlanta Falcons, who own the fourth seed in the NFC, was that nine wins could get them into the playoffs. To get to nine wins from their 4-6-1 mark would mean Arizona would have to win out.

"If we want to be where we want to be at the end of the season, in the playoffs, we hope nine can get us in," cornerback Patrick Peterson said. "Now we just have to win out. Now we just have to let the rest take care of itself."

The math, however, might say otherwise.

The Cardinals are still second in the NFC West behind the 7-3-1 Seattle Seahawks. The Los Angeles Rams are third at 4-7. The Cardinals play both teams in Week 16 and 17, respectively. ...

While it's safe to say the Cardinals aren't as good as we expected this year, Profootballtalk.com noted this week that running back David Johnson, in contrast, is really good.

The gap widened on Sunday, when Johnson generated more than 100 yards from scrimmage in each of his first 11 games of the season.

According to the NFL, Johnson matched former Colts running back Edgerrin James as the only players in league history to accomplish that feat. James did it twice, in 2000 and 2005. (And, yes, in honor of James - maybe - we've mentioned Johnson's accomplishment twice.)

For the year, Johnson has 921 yards rushing and 613 yards receiving. He also has 13 total touchdowns.

Against Atlanta, Johnson's 103 receiving yards led the team and as NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich noted, 65 percent of that yardage total came with Johnson in non-backfield alignments. He had four catches for 54 yards while split out wide and another catch for 13 yards lined up as a slot receiver. ...

Arians said Johnson dislocated a finger yesterday but will be OK. Receiver John Brown suffered hamstring issues during the fourth quarter of Sunday's game and was unable to finish. Brown has been dealing with hamstring problems most of the season. In addition, cornerback Patrick Peterson's left knee is "sore," Arians said. He added there was nothing structurally damaged. "We'll see how it goes."

Other notes of interest. ... Arians, on explaining the Cardinals' collection of wide receivers, who, beyond Larry Fitzgerald, haven't got it done and didn't help matters too much in Sunday's loss to the Falcons: "If I had that answer, I would have fixed it by now. Because they have struggled all year. ... What would have been a strength for the offense this year has been a weakness."

As the Sports Xchange notes, Floyd and J.J. Nelson, dropped passes in clutch situations.

Fitzgerald was targeted 11 times against the Falcons. Tight end Germaine Gresham had 10. According to NFL.com's Matt Harmon, that's a function of "a complete lack of consistency at the availability of the players in the No. 2 receiver spot." Brown supposedly came into the game healthy, but was limited by the hamstring issue. Michael Floyd also came into the game banged up and it showed.

Arians said Monday that Brown suffered from the same issues caused from a sickle-cell trait that kept him out of a game earlier this year was the problem in Atlanta.

"John Brown had just a great week of practice, a great first half," Arians said. "We got him going to a bunch of specialists today. ...

"It's not really a pull. Whatever the blood issue he has the legs tighten up."

Brown did not practice Wednesday.

I'll have more on Brown and Johnson (if need be) via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

Fitzgerald, with four catches for 53 yards in the loss to the Falcons, moved past Hall of Famer Tim Brown for fifth on the league's all-time receptions list. Fitzgerald has 1,096 career receptions, two more than Brown.

Fitzgerald, 33, needs 18 more yards to surpass Andre Johnson (14,185) for 10th on the NFL's all-time receiving yards list

Palmer, with two touchdowns in Sunday's loss at Atlanta, tied Hall of Famer Joe Montana (273) for 15th on the NFL's all-time passing touchdown list.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Drew Stanton, Blaine Gabbert
RBs: Kerwynn Williams, Elijhaa Penny
WRs: Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown, Jaron Brown, J.J. Nelson, Chad Williams
TEs: Jermaine Gresham, Troy Niklas, Ricky Seals-Jones

Atlanta Falcons

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 30 November 2016

According to ESPN.com's Vaughn McClure, Matt Ryan had quite the smile on his face as he walked off the field with his arm around Taylor Gabriel, who just moments before had vaulted himself into the end zone.

Ryan had plenty of reasons to enjoy the moment with his diminutive wide receiver. That's because the 5-8, 165-pound Gabriel continues to provide big plays.

As the Sports Xchange put it, "With everyone worried about wide receiver Julio Jones and running back Devonta Freeman, the Falcons unleashed Gabriel" and the speedy wideout carved out a niche in future game plans.

Gabriel totaled four receptions and one rushing attempt but gained 102 total yards and two touchdowns to help Atlanta rout Arizona 38-19.

In the Falcons' last game, Gabriel's 76-yard touchdown catch gave Atlanta a lead it would quickly relinquish in a 24-15 loss in Philadelphia. Sunday, his first score a 35-yard catch and scamper off a screen pass gave the Falcons a lead they would not let slip away.

"They called a screen and I jumped back and I (saw) Julio in front of me, and I made a few moves. I really just followed behind Julio the whole time," Gabriel said. "Just great blocks in front of me. I really just had to run."

Gabriel has not been asked to do much this season, but when the ball does end up in his hands, he consistently finds a way to make big plays happen.

As the Falcons continue to push toward the postseason, Gabriel is finding a way to provide a punch for the NFL's highest-scoring offense.

He said his recent success has not given him a boost in self-confidence, but instead more assurance in his teammates.

"Just confidence within my brothers and them blocking, just knowing they'll have my block," Gabriel said.

Sunday was the fourth straight game in which he reached the end zone and the first game of his career with multiple scores. In an offense that gets so many players involved in the passing game, Gabriel wedged his name into the conversation to get more touches and demand more attention from opposing defenses.

"That's what Gabe do," Freeman said. "It's been phenomenal for him. I'm excited for him. And he's a hungry kid. He takes advantage of every opportunity he gets."

Gabriel's approach is rather simple.

"The little things, they turn into big things and they turn into big plays," Gabriel said. "I feel like you guys saw that today."

Gabriel was the answer to the Cardinals' exotic blitzes as he scored on two screen passes and had a long-gainer on a reverse.

"Everything that we've asked him to do, he's done it very well," Ryan said. "He's been a boost for us offensively."

Jones is fine with sharing some of the play-making ability.

"Gabriel is a very fast guy, especially to people who do not really know how fast he is," Jones said. "He is real shifty as well. He made some great plays for us and defenses have to watch out for him.

Not everything was perfect, though. Ryan was sacked four times within seven plays to start the second half. Jones dropped a pass that led to an interception and caught four passes for just 35 yards. But when Sanu is catching eight passes and Ryan is scrambling for 11 yards on third down to set up a touchdown, the positives certainly outweigh the negatives.

The Falcons knew from the start of the season they needed to score points to win games. That has become even more imperative with Pro Bowl cornerback Desmond Trufant expected to undergo season-ending pectoral surgery.

Sunday, the Falcons outscored the Cardinals 21-6 in the second half after leading just 17-13 at halftime.

"This game was the finish, and that's where it was going to come down to for us," Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. "For us to score outscore [them] 21-6 in the second half, that's the script our team needed. I knew we'd respond to the finish."

Meanwhile, the Falcons remain atop the NFC South at 7-4 and Kansas City (7-3) comes to the Georgia Dome next Sunday. Three of the Falcons' final five games are at home as they prepare for what should be a home playoff game, barring a dramatic collapse.

We'll see if the Falcons, at 32.5 points per game, keep their offensive flow going. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Running back Tevin Coleman played 32 of 70 offensive snaps in his return from a hamstring strain Sunday. Freeman played 39 snaps. The duo ran hard against a stout run defense.

Freeman rushed 16 times for 60 yards (3.8 per carry) and Coleman rushed eight times for nine yards (1.1 per carry). Freeman had two rushing touchdown and Coleman added one. Overall, the Falcons rushed for 116 yards on 30 carries (3.9 per carry).

Coleman scored his sixth rushing touchdown of the season in the third quarter on a two-yard run. He and Freeman are currently tied for the team lead with seven total touchdowns. The two also combined for 108 total yards on the day, which is the seventh time this season the two combined for 100-plus yards.

Ryan completed 26 of 34 passes for 269 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He finished with a passer rating of 106.1. His 269 yards are the highest passing total the Cardinals defense allowed all season.

Ryan is the first player in NFL history to pass for 200-plus yards in 50 consecutive games and he's thrown at least one passing touchdown in 13 straight games. It was his eighth game this season with a passer rating of 100 or more.

He threw passes to nine different receivers and completed passes to eight different receivers. His interception was on a pass that hit Jones in the hands and should have been caught late in the second quarter.

The Falcons offense put up 360 total yards against the Cardinals, who were ranked first in opponent's total yardage coming into week 12 (287.4). The offense averaged 6.6 yards per pass.

Cornerback Desmond Trufant, who suffered a torn pectoral and shoulder injury against Tampa Bay on Nov. 3, is set to have season-ending shoulder surgery on Thursday. And the young defense suffered another blow on Sunday with the loss of defensive end Adrian Clayborn, who is facing surgery and is expected to miss at least month of action.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub, Matt Simms
RBs: Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman, Terron Ward
WRs: Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Taylor Gabriel, Justin Hardy, Nick Williams, Andre Roberts
TEs: Austin Hooper, Eric Saubert, Levine Toilolo

Baltimore Ravens

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 30 November 2016

The Dallas Cowboys have Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott. The New England Patriots have Tom Brady. And the Seattle Seahawks have Russell Wilson.

And as ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley notes, for the Ravens, the player who continually comes through time and time again is kicker Justin Tucker. Sure, you wouldn't normally hear Tucker's name in the same conversation as those players. But on a team devoid of consistent playmakers, Tucker is the clear-cut Most Valuable Player on the first-place Ravens.

The strong-legged star is the reason the Ravens (6-5) ended a five-game losing streak to the Cincinnati Bengals and sit atop the AFC North (they're technically ahead of the Steelers due to the head-to-head tiebreaker). The NFL's only perfect kicker allowed Baltimore to keep control of its playoff fate with five weeks remaining.

"That is the Raven way," Tucker said. "If you want to win, you want the ball in your hands, or in my case, at your feet."

In Sunday's 19-14 victory, Tucker nearly matched the Bengals' scoring, and would have if Baltimore hadn't given up a game-ending safety. He became the first kicker in three years to hit three field goals from 50 or more yards in a single game. He hit from 52, 57 and 54 yards in the first half and added a 36-yarder in the fourth quarter.

On Wednesday, Tucker was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week.

Tucker's game is magnified by how he bailed out his teammates. An unnecessary roughness penalty on Steve Smith in the first quarter pushed back his first attempt 15 yards, and Tucker still delivered with a 52-yarder. A quarter later, Joe Flacco ran out of bounds on third down for a 5-yard loss, but Tucker fought to kick a season-long 57-yarder.

Head coach John Harbaugh said he initially thought about punting until Tucker lobbied to take a shot at it.

"I just kind of ran out there [on to the field] and figured they would have to drag me off if they didn't want me to kick it," Tucker said.

For what it's worth. ... Tucker said he could've hit a field goal from 70 or 75 yards when asked about his range Sunday.

"It is in the realm of possibility for me, with Morgan Cox, [long snapper] and Sam Koch [holder], to hit the ball from well across midfield," Tucker said. "We are talking 70-75 yards."

In the preseason, Tucker said he could hit a field goal from 84 yards in prime conditions, which was later bashed by Broncos kicker Brandon McManus and then-Broncos punter Britton Colquitt.

"Throwing out a bunch of hypothetical numbers in the preseason, I got some flak for it," Tucker said. "But I'll double-down on it, for sure."

When Harbaugh was asked about Tucker's range, he wanted to know the distance of his longest kick on Sunday. A reporter responded that it would've been good from 60 yards.

"That's your range, I guess," Harbaugh said.

Meanwhile, The Ravens got an emotional boost by beating the Bengals for the first time since 2003.

As the Sports Xchange suggested, quarterback Joe Flacco had the type of performance that has been emblematic of his season. He started strong, but faded later in the game.

Flacco completed 25 of 36 passes for 234 yards with a touchdown and another costly interception. He has thrown for 11 touchdowns with 10 interceptions on the year.

After scoring on the game's opening drive, the Ravens could not find the end zone again. Mike Wallace led the team with three catches for 75 yards.

Breshad Perriman make a great catch in the end zone for a score, but NFL.com's Matt Harmon notes the second-year man played fewer snaps than Kamar Aiken behind Smith and Mike Wallace. Smith's four targets were the lowest he's seen since Week 5 when he got hurt early against Washington. Dennis Pitta (5) and fullback Kyle Juszczyk (5) led the team in targets. ...

"I'm confident in my ability to play games like this and win down the stretch and do the right thing with the football," Flacco said. "But in order for us to take that next step and be the kind of team that we want to be and be a championship football team, we're not going to survive week-in and week-out doing things like this. We've got to keep the foot on the gas and learn how to put teams away."

Baltimore got some encouraging signs from its running attack over the past four weeks. Rookie Kenneth Dixon and Terrance West were effective splitting carries over that stretch. Dixon finished with 49 yards on 13 carries against the Bengals. West had 48 yards on 13 carries.

While the numbers are not staggering, it helped Baltimore control the clock.

"If those guys can be a one-two punch for us, we'll take it," Harbaugh said.

Dixon did out-snap West by a count of 31 to 22, but both backs saw four targets in the passing game and each had 13 rush attempts. According to NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich, Going forward, Dixon's upside trumps Wests due to his involvement as a receiver.

While the offense struggled, the Ravens leaned on their defense to win games. Baltimore held the Bengals to just 115 total yards in the first half. Linebacker Elvis Dumervil stripped-sacked Andy Dalton with a minute remaining to preserve the win.

The Ravens allowed just 64 yards on the ground and lead the league in that category. That run defense will be tested by Miami's Jay Ajayi this weekend. ...

A few final notes. ... Cornerback Jimmy Smith missed his second straight game with a back injury. Rookie Tavon Young got the start in Smith's place against the Bengals and was effective with two passes defensed. Smith's status for Week 13 is uncertain, although he was on the practice field Wednesday.

Aiken (thigh) did not practice but should be fine for Sunday, Harbaugh told reporters.

Tight end Nick Boyle was activated against the Bengals just days after he completed a 10-week suspension for violating the league's drug policy. Boyle wasn't targeted but made several key blocks and was a difference-maker.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Joe Flacco, Ryan Mallett, Dustin Vaughan
RBs: Terrance West, Javorius Allen, Danny Woodhead
WRs: Mike Wallace, Jeremy Maclin, Breshad Perriman, Chris Moore, Michael Campanaro, Kenny Bell
TEs: Ben Watson, Maxx Williams, Nick Boyle, Gavin Escobar

Buffalo Bills

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 30 November 2016

As ESPN.com's Mike Rodak noted, despite back-to-back victories, the Bills are still staring down a narrow path to the playoffs with five games remaining on their regular-season schedule.

Defeating the Bengals and Jaguars has helped the Bills keep pace in a competitive AFC wild-card race, but if Buffalo is going to truly make noise over the final month of the season, it will require offensive stars LeSean McCoy and Sammy Watkins providing the sort of big-play spark they did in Sunday's 28-21 win over Jacksonville.

McCoy scored on a 75-yard touchdown run on the first play of the second half, and Watkins beat one-on-one coverage from Jalen Ramsey down the right sideline for a 62-yard catch that set up a Tyrod Taylor touchdown run later in the third quarter.

Had the Bills been without McCoy and Watkins, the outcome of Sunday's game might have been different.

Likewise, the Bills must keep McCoy and Watkins healthy and hope for similar performances down the stretch if Buffalo is to snap its 16-year postseason drought.

Why? The rest of this Bills team is flawed, and Sunday's game continued to prove it.

The Bills' red zone defense, which ranked first in the NFL over the first seven weeks of the season, has plummeted to 32nd in the NFL over the past five weeks. Buffalo has allowed opponents to score on 11 of their past 12 trips inside the 20-yard line, including both of the Jaguars' trips on Sunday.

"Right now, we can't stop anybody," head coach Rex Ryan said of his red zone defense after the game, noting that not every player was playing the correct defensive play call on one of Jacksonville's touchdowns.

Ryan's hope is that Watkins and McCoy are able to mask what are problems elsewhere on his roster. If so, his 6-5 team stands a chance of sneaking into the playoffs, but each of the final five games remain must-wins for Buffalo.

"We put ourselves in [this] situation, but we understand it," Ryan said. "Whether we're comfortable or not, this is the situation we're in. We're going to be fighting all the way through."

Meanwhile, Ryan was stumped when asked if he knew how long it's been since the Bills last won at Oakland.

"Fifty years ago? Phew," the Bills coach said Monday when informed of the answer before correctly guessing Jack Kemp was the quarterback in that 31-10 win in 1966. "That's amazing. Woof. You talk about a drought."

Not including a 1-2 record against the Los Angeles-based Raiders, the Bills have lost their past eight games at Oakland. That includes Buffalo's most recent visit, a 26-24 loss in 2014 that eliminated the Bills from playoff contention.

It won't get much easier this weekend given how depleted the Bills might be as a result of injuries. Ryan was unable to provide any definitive updates on the status of players hurt against Jacksonville.

It's a group that includes starting cornerback Ronald Darby (concussion protocol), starting defensive tackle Marcell Dareus (strained abdomen) and backup receiver Walter Powell, who suffered a serious ankle injury in the second quarter. And then there are receivers Robert Woods (left knee) and Percy Harvin (migraines), who were sidelined the previous week.

Powell was placed on season-ending IR Tuesday and the team promoted receiver Dezmin Lewis from the practice squad.

On the bright side, Ryan said backup running back Mike Gillislee is expected to return after missing one game with a hamstring injury.

But again, McCoy and Watkins are the players to watch here.

Watkins was given a limited role and played only 25 snaps Sunday, but he was responsible for two of the biggest plays on offense. He had three catches for 80 yards, including the above-mentioned 62-yarder, in his first game in nine weeks since aggravating an injury to his surgically repaired left foot.

Buffalo's receiving corps was barely functional with Watkins sidelined. Woods did his best, but he's really not a No. 1 type. When he suffered a knee injury last week in the fourth quarter at Cincinnati last week, the Bills had no passing game whatsoever. Woods will be out at least two more weeks, so getting Watkins back was vitally important.

"The foot is no issue," Watkins said after the game. "It's just the course of how many plays. I'm going to be out there (seeing) how fast I can go. Right now, I'm feeling great. My first game back in eight weeks, I played pretty well. Some things I need to fix up and clean up, but other than that I think as a team and coming back with the chemistry, I think I played okay."

McCoy had 103 yards rushing and scored twice a week after having surgery to repair a dislocated left thumb.

With 153 yards rushing, Buffalo continues to lean heavily on its running attack, which has topped 150 yards in each of its past four games. The Bills haven't had a five-game streak of more than 150 yards since the first five weeks of the 1975 season.

The Bills' 20 touchdowns rushing this season are already tied for fourth on the team list, and are six short of the franchise record set in 1975. ...

As the Sports Xchange suggested, Taylor can drive Bills fans crazy with his inconsistency in the passing game, but he's becoming a record-breaker as a rusher. With 38 yards against the Jaguars, he now has an NFL-high 439 for the season, and for his Bills career he has 1,007 yards rushing.

Taylor is just 168 yards away from becoming Buffalo's all-time leading rushing quarterback (Joe Ferguson had 1,174 yards in 12 years). Taylor has achieved his total in 25 games. There are now 26 players in franchise history who have surpassed 1,000 yards rushing, and Taylor's 5.8-yard average per attempt is No. 1.

Taylor attempted only 18 passes, completing 12, and they went for 166 yards.

Brandon Tate made one of the biggest plays of the games for the Bills, a 43-yard punt return that set up the first touchdown late in the first half.

For the record, Woods, Harvin and Charles Clay (knee) did not practice Wednesday. Gillislee were limited.

Of some concern, Watkins felt soreness in his foot Wednesday and did not practice. It's unclear at this point what Watkins' participation will be later this week.

I'll follow up via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.

And finally. ... The Buffalo Bills have signed Logan Thomas, a former quarterback who's making the switch to tight end, off of the Detroit Lions' practice squad. The Bills become Thomas' second team in three days. He was signed Monday by the Lions, who listed him as a tight end.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Tyrod Taylor, Nathan Peterman
RBs: LeSean McCoy, Mike Tolbert, Joe Banyard, Taiwan Jones
WRs: Kelvin Benjamin, Zay Jones, Deonte Thompson, Andre Holmes, Corey Brown, Brandon Tate
TEs: Charles Clay, Nick O'Leary, Logan Thomas

Carolina Panthers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 30 November 2016

According to ESPN.com's David Newton, tight end Greg Olsen couldn't stop beating himself up in the visitor's locker room at Alameda County Coliseum.

The two-time Pro Bowl selection repeatedly referred back to his dropped two-point conversion with 1:51 left in the third quarter of Sunday's 35-32 loss to Oakland that all but ended Carolina's playoff hopes.

Had he made the catch that he normally makes in his sleep, the Panthers would have had a three-point lead that would have been stretched to 10 after Kelvin Benjamin's fourth-quarter touchdown. That might have changed Oakland's strategy down the stretch.

There might have been overtime.

The Panthers may have found a way to win.

Instead, they lost by three points or fewer for the fifth time this season.

"You have to catch the ball," Olsen said. "I have caught a lot of balls in this league, and the team relies on me to make plays and come to me when s--- is on the line.

"You have got to make the play."

That the topic is Olsen dropping a pass says a lot about the way Carolina's season has gone. There is no more sure-handed receiver on the team. There is nobody more dependable, more reliable.

But in general, the Panthers aren't making the plays they did a year ago when they were 15-1. It's why they lost on Sunday, and why they continue to lose close games.

"I think everyone is tired of comparing everything to last year," Olsen said. "Last year is over. We have been saying that since the beginning of the year. We are done comparing everything to last year."

There is no comparing this season to last year. The Panthers are a shell of the team that went an NFL-best 15-1 during the regular season and represented the NFC in the Super Bowl.

Cam Newton isn't coming up with the plays he did during a 2015 MVP season. His 1.7 passer rating in the first half on Sunday was by far the worst first half of his career.

The offensive line that was struggling coming into the game, with left tackle Michael Oher (concussion) on injured reserve and center Ryan Kalil out with a shoulder injury, became a bigger mess when right tackle Daryl Williams left with an ankle injury and backup center Gino Gradkowski left with a knee injury.

The Panthers put Kalil and Gradkowski on injured reserve Tuesday, further depleting a line that has been depleted by injuries much of the season.

Kalil will have surgery to repair his right shoulder, a league source told the Charlotte Observer on Tuesday.

In a corresponding move Tuesday, the Panthers signed two offensive tackles -- former New England Patriots guard/center Ryan Wendell and offensive tackle Dan France, who was on the Cleveland Browns' practice squad.

But of course, injuries are an expected part of football. Bad halves by the quarterback are expected, although not quite that bad by the reigning NFL MVP.

Olsen dropping passes isn't expected. That's why he was so hard on himself, even if nobody else was.

"Greg is a pro," Newton said. "He comes to work every single day, and when the game is on the line, I think we all know who I'm going to.

"I know this is just one of those games, and he'll be prepared next game."

But this one hurt because it ended Carolina's goal of going 2-0 on this West Coast trip.

Carolina (4-7) is now three games behind Atlanta in the NFC South, with a game at Seattle next on the schedule. The so-called business trip to the West Coast in which nothing short of a 2-0 record was acceptable has become the start of a postseason vacation. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Newton completed 3 of 12 pass attempts for 18 yards Sunday, the fewest he's had in any first half since entering the league in 2011. His previous low was 40 against Seattle in Week 5 of 2012. His previous low passer rating for a first half was 11.1 against the Seahawks in Week 6 of last season.

The low came late in the half when Newton attempted a screen pass to Fozzy Whitaker that was intercepted by defensive end Khalil Mack and returned six yards for a touchdown that made it 24-7.

The other low came when backup quarterback Derek Anderson was called for unsportsmanlike conduct for complaining about a no pass interference call on a deep pass from Newton to Benjamin.

Receivers coach Ricky Proehl was on the receiving end of Benjamin's brief tantrum late in the third quarter. It was one of a few notable moments involving Benjamin, who in the second quarter jammed his left shoulder after he got tangled up with Raiders cornerback Sean Smith.

"I just wanted to be on the field," Benjamin said. "Once I hurt my shoulder, I think they thought my shoulder was messing with me, but I wanted to play.

"It's an emotional game. It wasn't a big deal, just emotion."

Benjamin's shoulder felt good enough to toss his helmet when Proehl called him back to the sideline immediately after an interception by linebacker Thomas Davis set the Panthers up at the Raiders' 28-yard line. Benjamin spent the first couple plays of the ensuing drive pacing down the sideline but was back on the field for Jonathan Stewart's 3-yard touchdown run.

"They wanted to get him out right there and make sure he's all right, and he wanted to keep trying to push himself through it," head coach Ron Rivera said.

"Kelvin and I just talked about that before I came out here and I told him, 'Hey, I appreciate you being passionate. You just got to learn to control it.'"

On a more positive note. ... Benjamin scored his first touchdown since Week 4. Ted Ginn had a career-long 88-yard touchdown reception.

Benjamin was not practicing Wednesday because of the shoulder; I'll follow up as need via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

Newton on Sunday scored his fifth rushing touchdown of the season to become the only player in the NFL with five or more rushing scores in each of the past six years.

Jonathan Stewart scored two touchdowns to up his season total to seven. His season high is 10, in 2008 and 2009.

Stewart had a season-high 47-yard gain. In Stewart's previous three games, he rushed for just 42 (Rams), 39 (Chiefs) and 31 (Saints) yards. But take away that one big play, and the Panthers totaled just 82 yards on their 24 other attempts.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Cam Newton, Derek Anderson
RBs: Christian McCaffrey, Jonathan Stewart, Fozzy Whittaker, Cameron Artis-Payne
WRs: Devin Funchess, Russell Shepard, Brenton Bersin
TEs: Ed Dickson, Greg Olsen

Chicago Bears

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 30 November 2016

As ESPN.com's Jeff Dickerson noted, when Alshon Jeffery's surprising (and disappointing) four-game suspension for violating the NFL's PED policy was announced two weeks ago, it caused an angry backlash.

Some suggested the Bears should simply wash their hands of Jeffery and let him walk in the offseason. Others said Jeffery can no longer be trusted after he took what he described as a "recommended supplement."

But as Dickerson chimed in: "Did you watch Sunday's game against the Titans?"

The Bears dropped eight passes -- seven by their receivers, according to ESPN Stats and Information. The eight tied for the most by any team in the last 10 years.

Forget about Jeffery -- how can any of the Bears' current receivers be trusted?

Using inexperienced players was the reason head coach John Fox cited for problems on offense in Sunday's loss.

It's a situation they'll have continuing forward into this week's game at home with the San Francisco 49ers.

They are without their top three targets coming into the season. Jeffery will miss two more weeks. Wide receiver Kevin White is on IR after suffering a broken leg, and tight end Zach Miller is done for the year with a foot injury.

In addition, fourth receiver Eddie Royal has been slow to regain health or playing time after a toe injury.

Fox used this as an explanation for the receivers and backs dropping so many passes in Sunday's 27-21 loss to the Titans.

The official drop count doesn't include a sliding attempt for a game-winning catch on fourth down by Deonte Thompson. Thompson was closely covered and the ball slipped off his fingertips, effectively ending the game.

"This group doesn't drop balls," Thompson said. "That was the first time we ever came out and performed like that."

Thompson, wide receiver Marquess Wilson and running back Jordan Howard all dropped passes, but the most painful for the Bears was one by wide receiver Josh Bellamy. He dropped it in the end zone with less than a minute remaining when it could have meant victory.

"We just have to focus better," Wilson said. "I had a couple of drops and I just have to focus more."

Fox blames it on the number of receivers he's using who don't regularly play.

"I think it's just a matter of being out there more," Fox said.

"I think Marquess Wilson, it was his second game of the season," he added. "He hasn't been playing football for months and months (due to injury).

"Like everything, if it doesn't go real well, the more you do it, the better you get. I think those game conditions are a little bit different from practice. A lot of those guys probably played more in this game than they had all season."

It should be noted that Wilson set a career high in catches (8) and yardage (125) while making a touchdown catch.

At 6-3, Wilson brought an element to the Bears receiver corps Sunday that they lacked with Jeffery suspended and White injured an ability to go vertical for a pass. He hauled in one back-shoulder throw and had another leaping catch.

"We saw him last year," Fox said. "I liked what I saw early on. He's a young player that has a good skill set.

"At times (Sunday) you saw that. With any young player it's all about consistency and that's something we can build on really with all those guys."

Overall, Fox suggested dropped passes can become more a mental problem than physical.

"I think everything we do is mental," Fox said. "The reality is we're in a performance-based business. We've got to get better at performing and executing in game situations."

Meanwhile, quarterback Matt Barkley made his first NFL start after joining the team at the start of the regular season and led a fourth-quarter comeback from a 27-7 deficit.

Fox had a more positive analysis for his quarterback. Barkley threw 54 times, the third highest total ever by a Bears quarterback. He completed 28 of 54 for 316 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions. That effort included his first career TD pass.

"Couple throws he'd like to have back, couple things in protection we might have changed, but all in all I thought he operated pretty good," Fox said.

Another aspect of the Bears' play that was positive on offense was pass blocking. They went without a sack despite 54 pass attempts by Barkley.

It was only the second time this season and first time since Brian Hoyer started at quarterback Oct. 9 against the Indianapolis Colts.

Which is good news.

According to Dickerson, the Bears (2-9) have to play five more weeks of quarterback roulette with Barkley (who assuredly will start versus San Francisco), David Fales or maybe even Jay Cutler -- whose right shoulder injury is not season-ending, according to Fox.

Cutler was not practicing Wednesday. Royal (toe) was also held out -- as has become the norm.

But in more bad news, Danny Trevathan will miss the rest of the season with a ruptured right patellar tendon.

Trevathan was injured in the fourth quarter Sunday and will go on injured reserve. He becomes the team's 15th player on injured reserve, although cornerback Kyle Fuller, who has been on IR, was slated to practice Wednesday, opening the 21-day window to activate him before the end of the season.

One last note here. ... There's nothing wrong with averaging 4.3 yards per carry and the running game made a difference even with the Bears trailing by 20. Howard with 18 attempts for 84 yards wasn't ignored. The run blocking was effective to the outside most of the day and if they hadn't fallen behind by 20 it could have been even more effective.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Mitchell Trubisky, Mike Glennon, Mark Sanchez
RBs: Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen, Benny Cunningham
WRs: Kendall Wright, Josh Bellamy, Markus Wheaton, Dontrelle Inman, Kevin White
TEs: Dion Sims, Adam Shaheen, Daniel Brown, Ben Braunecker

Cincinnati Bengals

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 30 November 2016

As ESPN.com's Katherine Terrell wrote, "It was reasonable to assume the Bengals would struggle on offense after losing star wide receiver A.J. Green and running back Giovani Bernard.

"But this much?"

Terrell went on to suggest the Bengals' offense appeared to have peaked and was trending downward when they still had Green and Bernard in the lineup. Their absence rapidly accelerated the decline.

Even though their season was hanging by a thread entering Sunday, the Bengals (3-7-1) didn't play like a desperate team in a 19-14 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

Instead, they had no answer for a Ravens' defense that was missing cornerback Jimmy Smith. The Bengals couldn't do much right -- quarterback Andy Dalton fumbled four times (losing two) and was sacked three times. They had only 64 rushing yards (14 of those yards off Dalton scrambles).

And when the Bengals actually put themselves in position to go for the game-tying touchdown with less than two minutes left, that drive was thwarted when Dalton was sacked and fumbled to give the ball back to the Ravens. The Ravens took a safety to run out the clock and send the Bengals to their third straight loss.

Baltimore (6-5) likely ended the Bengals' last hope of getting back in contention for the AFC North title and a playoff berth. The Bengals finished with 325 net yards and were 5-of-16 on third down. For the fourth straight game, Dalton did not hit 300 passing yards.

To this point, the Bengals' best game has been a victory over the still-winless Cleveland Browns on Oct. 23, when they put up more than 500 yards of offense, capped off by a Hail Mary touchdown reception to Green.

That was the high point of their season. Since then, the offense has slowly flatlined, reaching a low point with only 264 net yards against the Giants in Week 10 and no points in the second half against the Bills last week. Dalton has not had a passer rating higher than 82 since the Browns game.

With each week, it seems more unlikely that someone on offense will step up to fill Green's spot.

Tight end Tyler Eifert did his best, hauling in the Bengals' only touchdown pass in their past six quarters of play. But the team lacked the spark that Green used to give them.

There were some bright spots, such as the performance of running back Rex Burkhead,(five carries for 29 yards, two catches for 19 yards), who flashed some potential while filling in for Bernard, but wasn't targeted until the fourth quarter.

Jeremy Hill played through an ankle injury but gained only 21 yards on 12 carries. Hill did manage 61 receiving yards. As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich suggested, that kind of production as a receiver could keep his fantasy floor afloat as a higher-end RB2 for the rest of the season, but concerns regarding the Bengals' overall offensive production while Green is out may hinder Hill's ceiling.

Rookie Tyler Boyd played well in the loss, with five catches for 62 yards, including three third-down conversions. But perhaps what would have been his best catch for an 18-yard gain on third-and-7 in the first quarter, was wiped out by a holding penalty on Eifert. The Bengals punted instead.

The Bengals couldn't find anyone to consistently rely on like they could with Green. Even their issues in the kicking game persisted.

While the Ravens were able turn to kicker Justin Tucker, the Bengals couldn't put that same trust in Mike Nugent.

Nugent made field goals of 23 and 36 yards, but missed his third consecutive PAT attempt.

Ironically, Nugent, shaky as he has been, supplied half of the Bengals' offense on Sunday with two field goals. His tenure with the Bengals is also hanging by a thread after his string of misses.

Earlier this month during their bye week the Bengals brought in a couple of kickers for workouts, but neither Randy Bullock nor Kai Forbath made the cut. Nugent, a 12-year veteran, is 18-for-23 on field goal attempts this season, and just 19-of-23 on PATs.

He missed a PAT and a 51-yard field-goal attempt in the 27-27 tie with the Washington Redskins in London.

When asked specifically if they would bring in kickers again to try out, head coach Marvin Lewis said they were not.

As for rest of the Bengals' offense, their best hope for a resurgence is another game against the Browns in two weeks.

For the record, Green's chance of playing this week against the Eagles is "partly cloudy," according to Lewis. The wideout was not practicing Wednesday.

I'll be following up via Late-Breaking Update in coming days, but nobody should be banking on the wideout's presence this weekend.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Andy Dalton, AJ McCarron, Jeff Driskel
RBs: Joe Mixon, Jeremy Hill, Giovani Bernard, Brian Hill, Thomas Jones
WRs: A.J. Green, Brandon LaFell, Tyler Boyd, John Ross, Josh Malone, Alex Erickson, Cody Core
TEs: Tyler Kroft, Ryan Hewitt, C.J. Uzomah

Cleveland Browns

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 30 November 2016

According to Associated Press sports writer Tom Withers, even amid this season of depression and despair, the Browns haven't lost hope.

And as he and his teammates prepare for a much-needed bye week following 12 straight losses, rookie wide receiver Corey Coleman looked to the future and offered a shred of optimism.

"I've been winning my whole life," he said. "But the tables are going to turn. It can't get any worse."

Sadly, there's still another level of misery for the Browns (0-12), now four losses from joining the 2008 Detroit Lions as the only teams in NFL history to complete a 16-game schedule without a win. They can avoid that notoriety with a victory that has remained so elusive so far.

This is new territory for Coleman and Cleveland's 17 other rookies, who in addition to adjusting to life as paid professionals, are getting their first real taste of failure as athletes.

"It's tough around here," Coleman said Monday, a day after the Browns fell 27-13 to the New York Giants, Cleveland's 15th straight loss dating to last season. "But we're going to continue to keep on working. I'm going to continue to keep on working. Nobody's given up, and that's what's really good about this locker room and the older guys leading us and stuff, nobody's showing any signs of quitting."

Head coach Hue Jackson won't let them.

Jackson, who became emotional while discussing the agony of his first season in Cleveland following Sunday's game, said he's determined to get win No. 1 before the 2016 season ends. The Browns will take some time off, but Jackson has no plans to decompress.

"I honestly do not know how to," he said. "I need to teach myself how to do it. I know my kids would like for me to do it. I just think what is important is to just keep searching. I owe our fan base and our organization and these players an opportunity to win a game. The next one up is Cincinnati. We are going to do whatever it takes to get ourselves in that 'W' column."

Jackson has spent the season shuffling quarterbacks and another switch could be on the horizon.

With Robert Griffin III likely to be cleared for the first time since the season opener and Cody Kessler now out of the concussion protocol after his second concussion of the season, Jackson told reporters Monday he isn't ready to name a starting quarterback for his team's next game.

"Let me sort through and see who is totally healthy," Jackson said, per the team's official transcript. "Then we will make a decision and go from there."

Jackson said the Browns were "in the process of getting" Griffin cleared for contact. He needed to pass one more medical test to receive the green light and that happened Tuesday.

Jackson said he'll take into account the health of all involved before making a decision next week.

Jackson acknowledged that Griffin, who has made just one start since the end of the 2014 season, might be able to jump-start the Browns' offense, which has scored just 39 points in the past four games.

"We have to find a way to get the ball in the end zone better than what we have, and if somebody can do that better, then we are going to play him," Jackson said.

The Browns want to get another look at Griffin before heading into an offseason when they'll need to make major personnel decisions, none more important than at quarterback. They have two first-round draft picks, and it's possible they'll use one on their next QB.

That's down the road. Of more immediate concern for Jackson is getting his team to finish this dreadful season on a positive note.

Jackson extracted some positives from Sunday, but he won't be satisfied until the Browns win and that's why he briefly choked up Sunday. He received numerous sympathetic texts, but joked that he deleted them all.

The losing has hurt, but hasn't changed him.

"I am what I am," Jackson said. "What you guys see in me is what you are going to get. I am not a phony and I am human like everybody else, so that is just part of it. You might see more of it than that over the course of time here."

The Browns host the Bengals on Dec. 11. They practiced Monday and Tuesday before taking off until next Monday.

"They need to get a little break," Jackson said. "We need to do some self-scouting of ourselves and get a break. There are four games that we have an opportunity to go out and play, so there are four opportunities to win and there are another four opportunities to lose.

"One thing I do know is the guys in the locker room are going to determine which way it is going to go. ..."

A few final notes here. ... Wide receiver Terrelle Pryor caught six passes for 131 yards against the Giants. He is the first Browns receiver since Kevin Johnson in 1999 with at least five catches in five consecutive games.

Running back Isaiah Crowell rushed 16 times for 44 yards a 2.8 average on Sunday against the Giants. It is the seventh time in eight games he was held to an average of less than three yards per carry. Crowell still increased his season total to 605 yards to become the first Browns running back to rush for 600 yards or more in three consecutive seasons since Kevin Mack did it from 1985 to 1987

Right guard John Greco (foot) was injured in the third quarter of Sunday's game against the Giants and did not return. He was placed on injured reserve Monday. Tight end Randall Telfer underwent thumb surgery.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: DeShone Kizer, Cody Kessler, Kevin Hogan
RBs: Isaiah Crowell, Duke Johnson, Matt Dayes
WRs: Josh Gordon, Corey Coleman, Ricardo Louis, Rashard Higgins, Bryce Treggs, Sammie Coates
TEs: David Njoku, Seth DeValve, Randall Telfer

Dallas Cowboys

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 30 November 2016

According to ESPN.com's Todd Archer, with their first trip to US Bank Field looming Thursday to take on the Vikings, the Cowboys are attempting to trick their minds this week.

"We're just going to treat it like a normal week," right guard Ronald Leary said. "It's a regular seven-day week."

That's one way to look at it. After the Cowboys beat the Washington Redskins on Thanksgiving, Jason Garrett was actually spinning the calendar forward.

"[Friday] is Monday for us," Garrett said. "We'll get the 10 days after that one. We just have to get back to work and get our eyes on Minnesota quickly."

Garrett started this talk last week, when his team had only four days between games. The real trick was last Wednesday, when the Cowboys held their "Friday" practice but saw things turn into a "Saturday" on their drive to the team hotel, the Gaylord Texan.

It might seem confusing to those outside the Cowboys circle, but it makes perfect sense to everybody within the club.

"It's better than going Sunday to Thursday, so we'll take it, man," cornerback Brandon Carr said.

The Cowboys are getting ready to play their third game in a 12-day span. The last time they did this, in 2014, they lost on Thanksgiving to the Philadelphia Eagles but had a dominating performance the following Thursday against the Chicago Bears.

In 2007, the Cowboys had a similar three-game run and beat the Redskins and the New York Jets before essentially clinching the best record with a Thursday night win against the Green Bay Packers at Texas Stadium.

The Cowboys, winners of 10 in a row, can all but clinch a playoff spot with a win Thursday against the Vikings and inch closer to the best record in the conference.

Meanwhile, in studying the Cowboys' offense the past week, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer can't help but think he has seen this before.

Zimmer joined the Cowboys as an assistant coach in 1994 and won a Super Bowl the following season. He saw the Triplets -- Hall of Famers Michael Irvin, Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith -- in practice every day and in games. He saw Jay Novacek, Daryl Johnston and an offensive line that had four Pro Bowlers: Mark Tuinei, Nate Newton, Ray Donaldson and Larry Allen.

As Zimmer has watched current Cowboys Ezekiel Elliott, Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, Dak Prescott and the offensive line, he sees the Cowboys' offense of the 1990s.

"The offensive line is unbelievable. They're by far the best in the league that I've seen," Zimmer said. "The back is special. He's a physical, impact player that can make all the cuts. He's great. He reminds me of Emmitt in a lot of ways. He's got speed to the perimeter. He catches the ball well. He's good in protection. Obviously, the quarterback is younger, but he's making a lot of really, really good plays, not only with his arm, but I think he's making great decisions and throwing the football well and then with his legs as well. I think Cole Beasley has played excellent, and now they've got Dez Bryant back. So, yeah -- it does. It reminds me a lot of what we had in Dallas at that time."

In an era when offenses have become more pass-happy and rely on elements of the spread game seen in college, the Cowboys are a throwback to their success in the 1990s that led to three Super Bowl wins.

They have run more than they have thrown, with Elliott leading the league in rushing with 1,199 yards on 243 carries. He has 11 touchdowns on the ground. He needs one more touchdown to tie Tony Dorsett and Herschel Walker for the team rookie record of 12.

Owner Jerry Jones said on Tuesday there's no concern about Elliott's workload and there are no plans to reduce it going forward.

Prescott has had Aikman-like efficiency, completing 67.9 percent of his passes.

Last Thursday marked his ninth game -- fourth consecutive -- with at least a 100.0 rating to tie Russell Wilson (9 -- 2012) for the most by a rookie quarterback in a single season in NFL history.

Irvin was the staple of the receiving corps in the 1990s, but the 2016 passing game is more balanced: Beasley, Witten and Bryant have 30-plus catches apiece. Beasley already has a career-high 58 catches for 647 yards and five touchdowns. Witten has 52 catches. Bryant, who missed three games with a knee injury, has 33, but 22 have come in his last five games.

Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan has implemented some "college-ish" plays into the offense for Prescott on the zone-read and for wide receiver Lucky Whitehead on jet sweeps, but Linehan also has plays dating back to his time at Idaho.

"We got a repertoire of innovation," Linehan said. "We're not that old-school, but if we are anything like the teams of the '90s, I'll take any of those things too, because that was a great, great offense then too."

But as the Sports Xchange suggests, all is not perfect in the Cowboys' world.

The defense has room to improve if they hope to reach their ultimate goal. This is a unit that gave up its most yards to the Washington Redskins (505) since the New Orleans Saints torched them for 625 in November 2013. This is a unit that had no sacks for the first time this season, and failed to produce a takeaway for a fourth straight week.

One last note here. ... Witten played in his 218th career game to break a tie with Bill Bates (217) for the second-most games played by a Cowboy in team history. Witten made three receptions to give him 1,072 for his career to pass Reggie Wayne (1,070) for eighth on the league's all-time receptions list.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush
RBs: Alfred Morris, Rod Smith
WRs: Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Ryan Switzer, Brice Butler, Noah Brown
TEs: Jason Witten, Geoff Swaim, Rico Gathers

Denver Broncos

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 30 November 2016

According to Associated Press sports writer Arnie Stapleton, nobody at Broncos headquarters is second-guessing Gary Kubiak's ill-fated decision to try a 62-yard field goal even though Brandon McManus's miss gave the Chiefs a short field to win it as overtime expired.

Not the coach himself.

Not his players.

Not even his boss.

"We're in this game to WIN," general manager John Elway tweeted Monday. "Although everyone's disappointed, we played hard and went down swinging!!!!"

Kubiak said he would have been conceding a tie at best had he opted to pin the Chiefs deep with a punt instead.

While that would have been difficult to take, at least it would have benefited the Broncos (7-4) in the standings, however. With the 30-27 loss, the Broncos (7-4) fell from the top-six in the AFC playoff chase, imperiling their chances of defending their Super Bowl title.

That didn't come into Kubiak's equation with Denver facing fourth-and-10 from the K.C. 44 with 1:08 left in overtime Sunday night.

During a timeout, he decided to go for the gusto.

"It's a tough kick but it's something he's done and it's me showing confidence in him and confidence in our defense if it doesn't happen," Kubiak said. "I believe in our football team."

When McManus missed, the Chiefs (8-3) got the ball at the Broncos 48 and Cairo Santos banked a 37-yarder off the left upright as time expired.

The Broncos players aren't joining the chorus of second-guessers.

"I wouldn't play for a tie, either," Von Miller said.

If you're looking for a scapegoat, Aqib Talib offered up Denver's defense, which couldn't close it out after Fowler's 76-yard touchdown catch put the Broncos seemingly safe ahead 24-16 with three minutes left in regulation.

"You give us an eight-point lead, man, I'll bet my game check ain't nobody's going to score on us," Talib said.

When Talib arrived at work Monday, he met with receiver Jordan Norwood, whom he'd shoved in the back following a second muffed punt that gave Kansas City the ball at midfield in the fourth quarter following a terrific defensive stand.

Talib, Norwood and Kubiak all said Monday that it happened in the heat of the moment and was no longer an issue.

"I tell our players all the time we battle together, we don't battle each other," Kubiak said.

Kubiak also defended Fowler for running all the way to the end zone on the above-mentioned 76-yard touchdown reception with three minutes remaining on Sunday night rather than taking a knee to allow the offense to keep possession and delay a potential Chiefs comeback drive.

The decision proved costly, of course, as Kansas City marched 75 yards to the game-tying touchdown and two-point conversion with 12 seconds left in regulation. But both Kubiak and Fowler thought the decision was the right one, given that three minutes remained even with the Chiefs out of timeouts.

On paper, it seems Fowler should have taken a knee.

"I disagree with that," Kubiak said when asked about it Monday. "There is a lot of football left to play. We're going to go score right there and keep playing. We have a great defense, so, no."

That defense had limited Kansas City to 145 yards on its first 10 possessions before the late touchdown drive.

"In that situation, you're 75 yards out. We're not in a situation where we're thinking about that; there's three minutes left," Fowler said. "If I had to do it all over again, I would. ..."

Meanwhile, as NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich noted, the Broncos' offensive line was worked over by the Chiefs defensive front in this game, leaving little room for Devontae Booker to produce on the ground.

On the bright side, Booker's 25 total touches tied for Sunday's high mark with Doug Martin.

Booker, Kapri Bibbs and Trevor Siemian combined for 124 yards on 38 carries, good for a 3.3-yard average. The Broncos' commitment to the run allowed the play-action game to work, setting up several downfield completions. In addition, Booker posted his first career game with 100-plus scrimmage yards (although it took five quarters) thanks to a 22-yard reception in the overtime period.

Booker has now logged 24 carries in each of his last two games, but since taking over as the primary back in C.J. Anderson's stead, the rookie has averaged just 3.0 yards per carry in four starts.

Siemian finished with career highs in yardage (368) and yardage per attempt (10.8) in Sunday night's loss. Siemian threw three touchdown passes. He has now thrown multiple touchdown passes in three consecutive games, taking his season-long touchdown-to-interception ratio to 15-7.

Siemian trusted Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas to win battles for passes thrown into tight coverage. That trust was rewarded as they combined for 12 of Siemian's 20 completions and 222 of his 368 yards through the air.

Siemian flourished by finding them downfield and in coverage. But the pass protection also broke down frequently. He was sacked five times, including one that led to a fumble and a safety.

Worth watching. ... Siemian wasn't practicing Wednesday as he deals with a foot injury. Siemian is in a walking boot and is considered day to day. The fact that he finished the game against the Chiefs and wasn't mentioned as having an injury strongly suggests that he'll be good to go this week.

I will obviously follow up when Late-Breaking Updates commence early Thursday. ...

According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, fullback Andy Janovich has undergone ankle surgery and will go on IR.

Finally. ... Tight end A.J. Derby caught four passes all of which came on third downs in Sunday night's game, which was his third since the Broncos acquired him in a trade from the Patriots one week before the trade deadline.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch, Brock Osweiler, Chad Kelly
RBs: C.J. Anderson, Devontae Booker, Jamaal Charles, De'Angelo Henderson
WRs: Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Bennie Fowler, Cody Latimer, Isaiah McKenzie, Jordan Taylor
TEs: Virgil Green, Jeff Heuerman, Jake Butt

Detroit Lions

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 30 November 2016

The Detroit Lions are alone in first place, and their top competitors in the NFC North have been floundering.

It's an opportunity for the Lions to win their first division title since 1993 - but their outlook could change awfully quickly if the next few weeks go badly.

The Lions play three of their next four games on the road, starting this weekend at New Orleans. With road games against the New York Giants and Dallas also coming up, there are plenty of potential pitfalls awaiting a Detroit team that is in this position only because of its success in close games.

The Lions (7-4) haven't had a game decided by more than seven points all season. They've won enough of them to take a one-game lead over Minnesota in the division, and Detroit has the tiebreaker over the Vikings after sweeping them. But the Lions have room for improvement in all phases.

"Like anything else in our system, we can get better," head coach Jim Caldwell said. "We can get better defensively. We can get better offensively. We can get better in our kicking game."

Still, Detroit has won six of its last seven after beating Minnesota on Thanksgiving, and the Vikings have dropped five of six. Green Bay is below .500. If the Lions win two of their remaining five games, that might be enough to keep them in first place. They have home games against Chicago and Green Bay still to come.

The road games will be tough, though, starting with Sunday at New Orleans.

"Obviously Drew (Brees) has been one of the best quarterbacks in the league for a long time, pretty prolific. Those guys have been together," Caldwell said. "He's been in the same system."

New Orleans has scored at least 32 points in six of its 11 games. Detroit has reached that total only once. ...

Meanwhile, Matt Prater has made four game-winning field goals this season as the Lions have come from behind in the fourth quarter for all seven of their victories. He also made a game-tying 58-yarder at the end of regulation in the Detroit's first win over the Vikings earlier this month.

Prater was named NFC Special Teams Player of the Week on Wednesday.

Prater, who rescued the Lions amid major kicking woes when he signed with the team as a free agent after serving a four-game suspension to start the 2014 season, has been a picture of stability over the last two seasons.

He made 22 of 24 field goals last season, including a franchise record-tying 59-yarder. And while he's missed two extra points this season (one was blocked), he's now 21 of 24 on field goals, including a perfect 4-for-4 from 50-plus yards.

"I don't know if I'd say (I have) ice-cold veins," Prater said. "I have a lot of confidence in what we're doing as far as a unit with the guys up front, (Don Muhlbach) snapping, Sam (Martin) holding. I just have a lot of confidence where I don't doubt myself."

Prater's leg strength gives the Lions a unique weapon late in games in an era when many teams are struggling in the kicking department.

He blasted a record 64-yarder in 2013 with the Denver Broncos, and his 58-yarder against the Vikings earlier this month was good with plenty of room to spare. ...

Anquan Boldin had a team-high seven catches for 69 yards last Thursday, and is tied for second on the Lions with 48 receptions through 11 games. Boldin, who signed in July, has been one of the best value free-agent signings of the off-season. He plays regularly as the slot receiver and has turned into a trusted target for Matthew Stafford.

"He's been really good," Stafford said. "He's a really smart player. Played for a lot of years, has a lot of experience, a tough guy, physical guy, puts a ton of work in during the week and then goes out there and plays on Sundays and it shows."

Against the Vikings, Boldin converted two third-and-shorts on the Lions' only touchdown drive he also caught the 2-yard touchdown pass and he had a 29-yard gain on a third-and-8 on Detroit's game-tying field-goal drive.

Stafford completed his first eight passes last Thursday, but struggled thereafter until the game-tying field-goal drive late in the fourth quarter. He finished 23 of 40 for 232 yards and seemed out of sync with several of his receivers.

Tight end Eric Ebron did not catch a pass and was targeted just once as he struggled against Minnesota's good linebacking corps.

The Lions finished with 94 yard rushing on 19 carries against Minnesota, but 32 of it came on three scrambles by Stafford. Stafford continues to be the Lions' best running game weapon at times.

Zach Zenner was stopped on fourth-and-short when sixth lineman Corey Robinson whiffed on a block, and Dwayne Washington had five carries for just 19 yards. Theo Riddick ran for 45 yards on nine carries, but the offensive line was just so-so in its blocking.

According to local reports, Ameer Abdullah was wearing a full walking boot on his left foot during a Thanksgiving event Monday at Ford Field.

Abdullah visited Dr. Robert Anderson to have his foot checked and all indications are the exam went well. But the Lions still have not officially designated Abdullah as their return player, although that is expected. We'll see if he can get back in time to be of help to the Lions or fantasy owners. ...

For the record, Riddick (ankle) and receiver Marvin Jones (thigh) were limited on Wednesday -- as has become the norm in recent weeks. ...

A few final notes. ... Brandon Pettigrew, who tore his left anterior cruciate ligament late last year and hasn't played at all this season, spoke for a bit in the locker room Monday. He did not rule out the possibility of returning this weekend. "We'll see where it goes. I'm not going to say for certain," he said. ... The Lions signed Logan Thomas to the practice squad -- as a tight end. He was previously a quarterback.

The Bills then signed Thomas off Detroit's practice squad on Wednesday.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Matthew Stafford, Jake Rudock
RBs: Ameer Abdullah, Theo Riddick, Dwayne Washington, Tion Green, Zach Zenner
WRs: Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, Kenny Golladay, Jared Abbrederis, TJ Jones
TEs: Darren Fells, Eric Ebron, Michael Roberts

Green Bay Packers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 30 November 2016

Aaron Rodgers spoke the truth about one thing this week: The Green Bay Packers had better get going early.

Three straight three-and-out series to start another game wouldn't cut it.

How does a pair of touchdown passes to Davante Adams on the first two drives on Monday night against the Philadelphia Eagles sound to make everyone forget that futile start to last week's loss at Washington?

As ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky suggested, a most unusual start -- at least for this team, given that it had not scored in the first quarter in its previous two games -- was a much-needed turn of events and played as big a role as anything in the 27-13 win that put an end to the Packers' four-game losing streak.

The Packers didn't make up any ground in the NFC North; at 5-6, they're still two games behind the first-place Detroit Lions but have the middling Houston Texans (6-5) up next at Lambeau Field.

"The fact of the matter is this is one win," McCarthy said. "We're 5-6. We need to stay the course. We look at this as a launching pad. Definitely a game we can build off of."

The idea that they could win out might not sound as crazy as it did when Rodgers stood at his locker last Wednesday and said: "I feel like we can run the table, I really do."

Rodgers reasoned that "the offense is starting to click a little bit more; we've just got to put together a game where we're more consistent from the first snap to the last. We've been, I think, getting closer to that. We've really been clicking, at times, in the last few games."

Back to the quick-passing offense that has worked in spots this season, Rodgers got rolling early -- most of it to Adams, who caught touchdowns of 12 and 20 yards (the latter on a thread-the-needle throw). Adams became the third player this season with 100 receiving yards and two touchdown catches on Monday Night Football.

There was even the rare deep ball -- a 50-yarder to Adams to set up a field goal on the Packers' opening drive of the second half. Rodgers finished with 313 yards and two touchdowns, while the Packers turned in the best third-down performance (converting 71 percent) by any team in the NFL this season.

And the Packers finally got a touchdown from an actual running back, their first of the season. It came not from James Starks or Christine Michael, but from fullback Aaron Ripkowski. The Packers were the first team since the 2009 Browns to go without a rushing touchdown from a running back in the first 10 games of a season.

"That was the key, we were great on third down the entire game," Rodgers said.

That defense stopped the bleeding after giving up 40-plus points in consecutive weeks.

About the only thing unsightly about the Packers offense was hidden by whatever Rodgers did behind the bench in the third quarter, when he disappeared into a tent that's used for either a bathroom break or a medical exam. ESPN's on-field coverage of Monday night's game was diverted for a short time in the third quarter when cameras followed Rodgers' entering and exiting the tent.

The sequence happened when the Eagles were on offense after Rodgers hobbled off the field. He pulled his left hamstring when he was taken awkwardly to the ground on a third-down pressure by linebacker Jordan Hicks outside the pocket.

Rodgers claimed after the game that he went into the tent, hidden from view, to have the injured leg taped by the team's training staff before he returned to the game at the start of Green Bay's next series.

"I just didn't want to be getting taped up on the television, but obviously when I walked out and saw the camera right in my face, I knew that there was probably some sort of mini-story growing," Rodgers said. "I had to drop my drawers there a little bit to get taped up and just wanted to do it in the privacy of that tent."

He alluded to having hamstring tightness in the first half of the game, speculating the extra rest of sitting around for night games the last two weeks may have been a culprit.

Rodgers limped his way through the rest of the game, favoring his left leg, but said after the game that he'll be "good to go" moving forward.

"It's been a rough four weeks," Rodgers said. "We haven't played a complete game yet maybe this season, so this was a great effort in all three phases for us."

For what it's worth, McCarthy said on Tuesday he didn't have any reason to think his quarterback wouldn't be "good to go," as he said after the game.

"I can only go by what he tells me, and that was last night," McCarthy said. "I think on any type of muscle strain, particularly a hamstring, the next day is a pretty good indicator. So like I said, I really don't have anything for you. ..."

I'll be following up on Rodgers, who practiced on a limited basis Wednesday, via Late-Breaking Update as needed in coming days. ...

Other notes of interest. ... According to the Sports Xchange, a concerted effort to run the football from the outset enabled Green Bay to post some unusual numbers. Lead back James Starks had 17 carries, matching the team's single-game high by Eddie Lacy this season.

However, Starks managed only 41 yards, averaging a measly 2.4 yards per carry with a long of 8. For a change, Rodgers wasn't the Packers' leading rusher, though he had a few pivotal third-down scrambles for first downs as he gained 26 yards in six rushing attempts, which included three kneel-downs for a total loss of 3 yards.

And, for a welcome change, fullback Aaron Ripkowski had the first rushing touchdown by a Packers running back this season with his 1-yard plunge across the goal line early in the final quarter to bump the lead to 24-13.

Michael made his Packers debut Monday. He didn't come into the game on offense until Green Bay's first series in the second half and played only a couple of snaps, getting one carry for four yards. Green Bay claimed the fourth-year pro off waivers from the Seattle Seahawks two weeks ago, and he was held out of the loss at the Washington Redskins on Nov. 20.

Adams had five receptions for 113 yards and the two impressive touchdowns in the first half while being targeted only six times. Rodgers played no favorites with his pass catchers, throwing the football at least one time to nine different players. Eight of them had a catch, led by Jordy Nelson (eight receptions, 91 yards in 12 targets) and Randall Cobb (six receptions, 41 yards in seven targets).

The big three of Nelson, Cobb and Adams were superb in the clutch, helping Rodgers convert seven of 10 third-down passes into first downs. Nelson also deftly snagged a 21-yard dart from Rodgers along the sideline on fourth-and-5 to keep alive Green Bay's 17-play, 78-yard drive that ended with a field goal late in the game to cap the scoring.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Brett Hundley, Joe Callahan
RBs: Jamaal Williams, Aaron Jones, Devante Mays, Ty Montgomery
WRs: Davante Adams, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Geronimo Allison, Jeff Janis, Trevor Davis
TEs: Richard Rodgers, Lance Kendricks

Houston Texans

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 30 November 2016

As Associated Press sports writer Kristie Rieken reminded readers, Brock Osweiler was supposed to be the man to end Houston's years of quarterback woes. Instead, he's thrown more interceptions (13) than touchdowns (12) and has often failed to move the offense.

So now the question for the Texans (6-5) is if Osweiler can improve and help Houston secure a playoff berth? Osweiler threw three interceptions on Sunday against the Chargers as Houston lost for the second straight week. Despite their recent tough stretch the Texans remain one-half game ahead of Tennessee in the AFC South.

Head coach Bill O'Brien scoffed at the notion of benching Osweiler on Sunday and refused to criticize his quarterback on Monday. He also lamented that quarterbacks and head coaches take the brunt of the criticism when teams are struggling.

"Could Brock have done some things better? Absolutely," O'Brien said about Sunday. "Could the offensive line have played better? Could I have coached better? Absolutely. It's a team sport. Brock is our starting quarterback and that's the way it is."

He wasn't interested in breaking down the play of his quarterback, snapping when asked areas in which Osweiler's made progress and places he needs to improve.

"I'm not going to dissect. ... Each player (and) what areas they need to do a better job in," he said. "I mean, we could be here all day. Every player on our team - we have a great locker room. They're all looking to improve in any way that they can."

Though O'Brien blamed Houston's offensive struggles on a variety of things, including his coaching, the numbers paint a clear picture of Osweiler's trouble. Expectations were high for Osweiler when Houston signed him to a $72 million contract this offseason to lure him away from Denver. He's had moments when he's looked good, but his inconsistent play has made it difficult to understand why the Texans invested so much in him.

Houston ranks 31st by averaging 195.9 yards passing a game and Osweiler's 13 interceptions are tied for most in the NFL. He hasn't had much success throwing downfield and has completed just two passes of 40 yards or longer. His 22 completions of 20 yards or longer are tied for 28th in the NFL. He's averaging just 5.8 yards a completion, which is not much more than running back Lamar Miller is averaging a carry (4.2).

Osweiler has one of the worst passer ratings in the NFL among starters at 72.2. His rating isn't even close to the likes of Tom Brady (116.7), Matt Ryan (114.3) or even Dallas rookie Dak Prescott (108.6).

While O'Brien downplayed Osweiler's role in Houston's loss to the Chargers, the quarterback was quick to accept blame for letting the game get away.

"Obviously, (Sunday) did not go the way we wanted it to," Osweiler said. "I'm going to put that on my shoulders. I believe our team played great football, but I did not. I know we can accomplish what we want to, and we'll keep plugging away."

Despite his acknowledgment that his play was a big reason for Sunday's loss, his teammates remain confident in his ability to help Houston wrap up a second straight division title.

"No matter what's being said about him outside of here, he comes in with the same attitude and the same positivity every day," left tackle Duane Brown said. "So, he's a great leader. We definitely have a lot of confidence in him."

Osweiler and the Texans get their next chance when they begin a two-game stretch on the road with a trip to Green Bay. They'll look to win just their second road game this season when they meet the Packers after losing four of five away from Houston so far. ...

Other notes of interest. ... The usual heavy usage was there for DeAndre Hopkins against the Chargers, but as NFL.com's Matt Harmon noted, "it matters not with Osweiler at the helm."

Eventually, however, Harmon still believes that volume will turn into more production. Perhaps even this week against the Packers.

The Texans are expected to keep rookie Will Fuller in place as their primary punt returner with Tyler Ervin likely to miss another game Sunday against the Green Bay Packers due to a rib injury.

Fuller is the fastest player on the roster with a 4.28 time in the 40-yard dash. He returned a punt for a touchdown earlier this season against the Tennessee Titans.

Fuller also caught four passes for 60 yards Sunday, including a 33-yard catch. It marked Fuller's most productive game since a seven-catch, 81-yard performance on Oct. 2 against the Titans in which he caught one touchdown pass and returned a punt for a score.

Since that game and until Sunday, Fuller had caught a combined seven passes for 66 yards with no scores.

That said, Harmon notes that Fuller went out on fewer plays (75 percent) than Braxton Miller (88 percent).

Meanwhile, Lamar Miller had an awful day running the ball averaging a measly 3.0 yards per carry and ended up limping off the field late in the game with an apparent ankle injury. Miller also lost a key fumble in the second half, his first of the season.

As for the ankle, O'Brien told reporters on Monday, "I think he's going to be fine."

Meanwhile, Miller and tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz (shoulder) were limited at practice Wednesday.

I'll have more on both as needed via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: T.J. Yates, Tom Savage
RBs: Lamar Miller, Andre Ellington, Alfred Blue, Tyler Ervin
WRs: DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, Braxton Miller, DeAndrew White
TEs: Stephen Anderson, Evan Baylis, MyCole Pruitt

Indianapolis Colts

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 30 November 2016

According to Associated Press sports writer Michael Marot, Andrew Luck looked good and sounded even better Monday.

More importantly, he said all the right things.

A little more than a week after entering the concussion protocol and four days after missing his first game of the season, Luck practiced fully on Tuesday and said he felt great. He should return to action Monday night against the New York Jets.

"You have to be prudent with your brain, cautious is maybe the wrong word," Luck said. "There's a protocol for a reason and we have to do this by the book. I believe I have and the doctors and trainers have done a good job of sort of holding my hand to get through this process."

Luck complained of concussion-like symptoms following a Nov. 20 win over Tennessee.

It wasn't immediately clear when Luck was injured and he shed no additional light on what happened during his first interview since getting hurt. He also said it was the first time he's been diagnosed with a concussion.

Head coach Chuck Pagano acknowledged Monday that Luck had already cleared several steps of the protocol; Luck said on Wednesday he's awaiting final clearance from an independent neurologist and the protocol will be complete and he will play as usual.

Luck's backup, the rarely used Scott Tolzien, struggled in last Thursday's loss to the Steelers.

When word spread around the Colts' locker room that Luck could return Monday night, the news was welcomed.

"Scott did a great job, but any time you can be healthy as an offense you have a chance to be successful," center Ryan Kelly said.

Kelly missed most of Thursday's game with a left shoulder injury and is hopeful of returning at the Jets. Receiver T.Y. Hilton (lower back) and outside linebacker Robert Mathis (biceps) also did not finish the game.

Hilton was hurt after making a diving catch against the Steelers late in the second quarter and was forced to leave the game. He returned at the beginning of the third quarter but left soon afterward for the remainder of the game.

Pagano said on Monday that he's "optimistic" that Hilton, who was practicing Wednesday, will be ready to go.

As Marot suggested, if Luck, Kelly, Hilton and safety Clayton Geathers (concussion) all return this week, the timing couldn't be better.

Indy (5-6) needs to string together wins over the final five weeks to chase down AFC South leader Houston (6-5) and second-place Tennessee (6-6). The Colts already swept both meetings with the Titans this season.

The reeling Jets have lost three straight. The Colts still have home games against the Texans and Jacksonville and road trips to Minnesota and Oakland.

Luck gives Indy the best chance to make up ground.

But staying healthy the past two seasons has been difficult for Luck.

He's already been sacked a league-high 35 times and been hit several more times this season, before sitting out Thursday night.

In 2015, Luck spent more than half the season on the sideline with a variety of injuries including a lacerated kidney that cost him the final seven games. The Colts went 6-3 in Luck's absence.

The difference this season is that Indy doesn't have a longtime veteran with Super Bowl experience to bail them out, so they need Luck to continue lining up, getting up and making plays over this final stretch.

And nobody knows it better than Luck.

"It's no fun (sitting out), but once you're out, you have to do what you can to help your team," Luck said. "I feel great. I'm 100 percent. I'm ready to go. ..."

I'll be following up on Luck and Hilton via Late-Breaking Update in coming days; stay tuned. ...

Also of interest. ... Frank Gore was limited to 28 yards on 15 carries against the Steelers. Top backup Robert Turbin had two carries for 20 yards, including an 18-yard run. Third-string back Jordan Todman came off the bench in the fourth quarter and ran for 37 yards in three carries.

As a team, the Colts had 91 yards in 23 carries.

Indianapolis had two fourth and one opportunities from the 1-yard line in the game and could not find a way to punch the ball into the end zone.

Tolzien ended up competing 22-of-36 passes for 205 yards and one TD. He was also sacked three times. Donte Moncrief had six catches for 45 yards and a TD. Dwayne Allen added five receptions for 49 yards. Backup tight end Erik Swoope picked up 35 yards off a fake punt pass from punter Pat McAfee.

The Colts had issues with dropped passes in the game. Hilton had three catches for 54 yards but dropped a potential touchdown pass. Phillip Dorsett added three catches for 31 yards but dropped another potential TD. Swoope also had a dropped pass that kept the Colts from extending a possession.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Jacoby Brissett, Scott Tolzien
RBs: Frank Gore, Marlon Mack, Matt Jones, Robert Turbin
WRs: T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief, Chester Rogers, Kamar Aiken
TEs: Jack Doyle, Ross Travis, Jason Vander Laan

Jacksonville Jaguars

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 30 November 2016

According to ESPN.com's Mike DiRocco, on of Blake Bortles' more vocal critics, this loss isn't on the quarterback.

In fact, the Jaguars were in the game and had a chance to win it late in the fourth quarter because of their quarterback. Bortles played his best game of the season in Sunday's 28-21 loss to the Bills, though the quarterback's stats may not show it.

It may be a sign that the third-year player has finally shaken a season-long slump -- or at the very least it should be a confidence booster.

"I thought his decision-making and his poise were good," head coach Gus Bradley said. "The whole offense did a good job. The offense executed, and overall it was a really good game."

Bortles completed 13 of 26 passes for 126 yards and two touchdowns without an interception. He was victimized by two drops, including one on a deep pass to wide receiver Allen Hurns that potentially could have been a touchdown. He also was hurt by a pair of non-calls on pass interference on their final drive, including what appeared to be a really obvious penalty by Bills cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman on tight end Neal Sterling late in the fourth quarter.

Bortles threw the ball well nearly all day, even though he completed only 50 percent of his passes. He had a bad overthrow to Hurns and also misfired on a crossing pattern to Marqise Lee, but those were rare.

Bortles also made plays in the run game, leading the Jaguars (2-9) with 81 yards on eight carries. He had runs of 27, 15 and 9 yards on two of Jacksonville's touchdown drives.

Though it was a season low in passing yards, it was one of Bortles' best performances, especially because he didn't turn the ball over.

As DiRocco pointed out, Bortles had 16 entering the game and had two in the past two weeks that were the result of a ball bouncing off a teammate's foot. He's been erratic all season, especially when it comes to throwing the deep ball. According to ESPN Stats and Information, Bortles was just 1-for-13 entering Sunday's game on throws that traveled at least 30 yards in the air.

He could have had two completions against the Bills, but Hurns dropped one and Allen Robinson was unable to get both feet in bounds on another.

Bortles isn't happy with the loss, the Jaguars' 21st in their past 23 road games, but the way he played against the Bills is an encouraging sign that he may be snapping out of the funk that is a big reason the Jaguars lost eight of their first 10 games. Bortles had 16 turnovers in the Jaguars' first 10 games, including two pick-sixes (giving him 10 in his career) and twice over the past two weeks committed turnovers in which the ball bounced off a receiver's foot.

DiRocco went on to remind readers the Jaguars have to find out whether Bortles is the long-term answer at quarterback, and what he does the rest of the season will go a long way toward that decision. With it seemingly a foregone conclusion that Bradley will be fired after the season, Bortles has to prove to the incoming staff that he can still be the player around which Jacksonville should build the franchise.

After his record-breaking season in 2015, there didn't seem to be any question that was the case. Things changed after the way he played in the first 10 games, but maybe what happened on Sunday is a sign that Bortles -- who struggled with his mechanics so much he brought in his personal throwing coach last month for two days -- is headed in the right direction again. ...

Meanwhile, Bradley is not ready to give up on this year's team. He is still convinced that there is enough talent doing enough good things for the Jaguars to finish strong.

"This team -- when they go out and work, it's about getting a win," he said. "Next week, getting another one and then getting another one and then going from that. Then, go back to Wednesday and let's learn."

According to the Sports Xchange, Bradley has effectively tuned out the critics. Public support by Jaguars fans has taken a nose dive with many season ticket-holders calling for his ouster. He said "you can't control critics."

Bradley said in the past that he meets with team owner Shad Khan on a regular basis. Asked Monday what questions Khan was asking him, Bradley replied, "Are you guys ready to play? What are you thinking about this week?"

Bradley didn't offer much more, nor are there many more answers for him to provide.

The road doesn't get any easier in the final five weeks. The last five opponents Denver, Minnesota and AFC South rivals Houston, Indianapolis and Tennessee are all either leading a division or are within 1 1/2 games of first place in their respective divisions.

That means there won't be any team that's likely to be in a similar mode as the Jaguars, called "playing out the string."

Every one of the five teams will be after a win to help improve their chances to either win their division or at least finish high enough to secure a playoff spot.

Not the Jaguars. They are strictly in a spoiler role. ... Again. For the ninth consecutive year, the Jaguars are guaranteed a non-winning record and no playoff appearance.

And before they start the 2017 season, they will likely have their fourth coach in the last decade. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Chris Ivory gained 44 yards on nine carries in the first quarter on Sunday against the Bills but then went out with a hamstring injury and did not play the rest of the game. Ivory was not practicing Wednesday.

I'll be following up on his status and that of T.J. Yeldon, who played on a sprained ankle, Hurns, who is dealing with a tender hamstring, and Julius Thomas, who sat out last week with an injured back, via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.

In addition, receiver Rashad Greene reported Achilles soreness after Sunday's game against the Bills and will be on the injury list later this week.

While it's hard to argue with 183 yards on the ground, nearly half of those yards came from Bortles. Only two of those attempts were on designed plays, however, leaving six scrambles for the Jaguars quarterback. Still, they netted plenty of yardage and resulted in drive-continuing first downs.

Bortles is smart with his running in that he knows to slide when opposing defenders get close to him, thus alleviating the chance of an injury due to a hard hit. The Jaguars might have to revert to more of Bortles' running skills in the final five games.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Blake Bortles, Chad Henne, Brandon Allen
RBs: Leonard Fournette, Chris Ivory, T.J. Yeldon, Corey Grant
WRs: Keelan Cole, Dede Westbrook, Allen Hurns, Max McCaffrey, Jaelen Strong, Marqise Lee
TEs: Marcedes Lewis, Ben Koyack

Kansas City Chiefs

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 30 November 2016

In Sunday night's overtime thriller in Denver, the nation finally got to see what's been building in Kansas City with the Chiefs and rookie wide receiver Tyreek Hill.

Kansas City's 30-27 victory came with Hill scoring all of the team's touchdowns. Hill reached the end zone on an 86-yard return off a post-safety kick, a 3-yard run where he took the handoff from running back Spencer Ware in the wildcat formation and a 3-yard catch that allowed the Chiefs to push the game into overtime.

"It's definitely a come out party on Sunday Night Football," said Hill. "It's definitely fun because the whole country is watching. So, yes, it is a come out party."

And, a bit of a historical evening as well for Hill, who became the first rookie to score in a single game with a run, catch and return since Gale Sayers in October 1965 for the Chicago Bears against the Minnesota Vikings.

"They told me after the game and I was like, 'Man, that's great,'" said Hill. "Everybody is going to congratulate me, but it's more than me out there on that field. I've got teammates, those guys did a great job helping me weave my way through traffic and creating lanes for me to use my speed."

Hill was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week for his effort.

Hill's speed and football abilities allowed him to collect 169 all-purpose yards on just 13 touches with the three scores. That's a 13-yard average every time he had his hands on the ball. Over the first 11 games of his NFL career, Hill has had the ball in his hands 92 times, picking up 1,213 yards, an average of 13.2 yards per opportunity.

The rest of the country got to see on Sunday night game what Hill's teammates have marveled at since working in the offseason program.

"He's beyond fast, his speed is unbelievable," said outside linebacker Justin Houston. "You see it out there when he's playing on the field. He's one of a kind."

Meanwhile, Houston got back on the field a week ago when the Chiefs lost at home to Tampa Bay. But the real Houston was not seen until Sunday night in Denver in a big AFC West showdown that Kansas City won 30-27 in overtime.

Houston finished the evening with three sacks, 10 total tackles, a forced fumble and a total of four tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Houston was on the field for 75 of 84 snaps.

As the Sports Xchange notes, Alex Smith and his offensive mates struggled throwing the ball until late in the game. That's when the Chiefs went to a no-huddle scheme and Smith and the offense got into rhythm for the first time.

In Kansas City's last possession in regulation and in two chances with the ball in overtime, Smith hit 12 of 19 throws, including a touchdown pass, a two-point conversion pass and a 21-yard completion to tight end Travis Kelce that was the offense's longest play of the game.

Smith survived six sacks three by outside linebacker Von Miller as the pass protection found no consistent way to handle the reigning Super Bowl MVP.

As ESPN.com's Adam Teicher noted, head coach Andy Reid heard the public criticism of Smith, which had increased in recent weeks. That's why Reid felt compelled after Sunday night's game to publicly back Smith.

"I have all the respect in the world for the guy," Reid said. "The way he handles himself is just top of the line. We're so lucky to have him. He's very underappreciated, I think, outside of our walls. Since he's been back from whatever it was, the hit to the head, things haven't gone as smooth as they were going prior to. He just kept battling and battling and battling, which he does.

"Everybody is down on him and all of a sudden -- boom -- he comes through. It just shows you his mental toughness (and that) he's a quality person and everything else that goes with it."

Reid hasn't wavered publicly in his support of Smith since he brought the veteran quarterback to Kansas City as the starter in 2013. The opportunity to make a change in his starting quarterback has never been so ripe for Reid with the Chiefs as it's been this season.

The Chiefs also acquired their best option to Smith during the summer when they signed Nick Foles, who once started for Reid when he coached the Philadelphia Eagles. Foles even played well in relief of the injured Smith in last month's game against the Indianapolis Colts.

Even at the time, Reid bristled at suggestions the passing game worked better with Foles at QB as opposed to Smith.

So it's not a surprise Reid would come to Smith's defense after Sunday night's game. He had the perfect opportunity to do so, something he hasn't had during much of this season. ...

The Chiefs wanted to run the ball against Denver. They needed to produce a ground game against the Broncos defense. They couldn't get it done, running for just 83 yards on 26 carries. Their longest run on the plus side was just seven yards. Ware had 17 carries for 64 yards. Knile Davis was the second back in, but he ran just three times for six yards. Charcandrick West went eight yards in three carries.

Hill had the most important rushing play of the day for the Chiefs, scoring on a 3-yard run after he took the handoff from Ware in the wildcat formation.

One last note here. ... Jeremy Maclin (groin) was inactive for the Chiefs in a third straight game as he continues to deal with a groin injury. Maclin has not played since the first half of the game against Jacksonville on Nov. 6 and that afternoon he went on just two snaps. Last week, Reid indicated there was some progress in Maclin's rehab and the wideout was seen on the practice field Wednesday.

I'll have more on his status via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Patrick Mahomes, Alex Smith, Tyler Bray
RBs: Kareem Hunt, Charcandrick West, Akeem Hunt
WRs: Tyreek Hill, Albert Wilson, De'Anthony Thomas, Jehu Chesson, Demarcus Robinson
TEs: Travis Kelce, Demetrius Harris

Los Angeles Rams

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 30 November 2016

As ESPN.com's Alden Gonzalez framed it, "The Los Angeles Rams arrived in New Orleans knowing they needed Jared Goff to throw the ball downfield to have a chance against a top-ranked Saints offense.

"But seven touchdowns was way too much to ask. ..."

That's what it took to keep up with Drew Brees and the Saints, who torched the Rams' defense for a whopping 555 yards from scrimmage and beat them handily, 49-21. The Rams' defense allowed an NFL-low 253 yards per game from Weeks 7-11, but gave up two very late touchdowns in a heartbreaking loss to the Miami Dolphins last Sunday and allowed the Saints to reach the end zone on seven of their first 11 possessions in Week 12.

It was the most points the Rams had given up since Week 14 of the 2002 season to the Kansas City Chiefs, who also put up 49 points then.

The Rams are now 4-7, their playoff chances pretty much extinguished after dropping six of seven games for the first time since Jeff Fisher became coach in 2012.

"We just have to keep fighting, man," running back Todd Gurley said. "No matter what the record is, you don't want to go out like little punks."

The positive -- and perhaps it's a little bit of a reach, given the final score -- was that the Rams' No. 1 overall pick made several nice throws and led a couple of impressive drives while making his first road start in a loud, hostile arena.

Goff began the game by leading the Rams 75 yards in less than three minutes, completing a beautiful 24-yard lob pass to Tavon Austin. He then threw a 6-yard pass to Kenny Britt on a slant route, immediately after Aaron Donald's strip-sack gifted the Rams optimal field possession. And then, just before the half, Goff capped an eight-play, 79-yard drive with a 15-yard pass to Lance Kendricks, making him the first Rams quarterback since Sam Bradford in 2010 with three touchdown passes in one half.

"I felt better out there," said Goff, who went 20-of-32 for 214 yards but also threw an interception and lost a fumble on a sack. "I was able to see it a lot better and was able to slow it down a little bit."

It was Goff's second career NFL start and a step in the right direction. Even in a loss.

Head coach Jeff Fisher said of Goff's performance, "Outstanding. I thought that Jared did a really nice job in the first half, especially in the two-minute drive. I thought that he got better, which is encouraging."

In a season that's slipping away from the Rams, the development of Goff will a focal point in the final five games. ...

As NFL.com's Matt Harmon noted, Goff's ascent to the starting role has not dampened the shine on Kenny Britt's rebound season, either. He leads the team with 28 percent of the team's targets in Goff's two games. Kendricks appears to be his second favorite target, trailing only Britt with 14 targets.

On the other hand, Gurley managed just 50 yards on 13 carries and the Rams finished with just 69 yards on 17 total carries on Sunday in their loss to the Saints. In the process, they continued their season-long running game problems. With just one touchdown in his last six games, Gurley will be hard to force into lineups against the Patriots. ...

Greg Robinson was benched and deactivated before Sunday's game against the Saints. The move was described to give the struggling Robinson a break. He is expected to be back on the active roster this week.

Rodger Saffold moved from left guard to left tackle to replace Robinson during Sunday's game. Saffold played well until being lost in the second quarter to a hand injury. The Rams are hopeful that Saffold is back this week against the New England Patriots.

Andrew Donnal was forced into action at left tackle Saffold went down. It was the first time that Donnal has played left tackle since high school.

And finally. ... Hall of Fame running back Eric Dickerson, a star when the team last played on the West Coast, said Monday in a phone conversation with ESPN that Fisher basically told Dickerson he didn't want him on the sideline during games because some of his public comments have made players "uncomfortable."

According to Dickerson, Fisher later backtracked in that conversation after Dickerson defended his right to speak out, but Dickerson said he vowed to Fisher that he would never go to a Rams game as long as Fisher is the team's coach.

"I won't be at the Coliseum as long as Fisher is coaching," Dickerson reiterated Monday. "I'm a man of my word, and if I tell you something, I'm going to do it."

Given the current state of the team, Dickerson might not have to miss many more games.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Jared Goff, Sean Mannion
RBs: Todd Gurley, Malcolm Brown, Lance Dunbar
WRs: Robert Woods, Sammy Watkins, Cooper Kupp, Tavon Austin, Pharoh Cooper, Josh Reynolds
TEs: Tyler Higbee, Gerald Everett

Miami Dolphins

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 30 November 2016

As Associated Press sports writer Steven Wine notes, even though Adam Gase is the youngest coach in the NFL, he has more experience with meaningful December games than many of his Dolphins players.

And when Gase says the season's about to change, he's not talking about winter.

"The later you get in the season, with every game the importance increases," he said Monday. "The stakes go up. Everything starts to feel different in December."

For the Dolphins (7-4), that's especially true this year. A six-game winning streak has them in control of their playoff future heading into Sunday's road game against the Baltimore Ravens (6-5).

"They're in the hunt, too," said ninth-year pro Branden Albert, one of the Dolphins' elder statesmen. "It's going to be a tough game. It's a game you want to play."

The opportunity's a novel one for the Dolphins, who have their best record through 11 games since 2003. They haven't been to the playoffs since 2008, and only one current player - long snapper John Denney - was then on the team.

"I don't know how many guys we have who have actually been through this, players who have had experience where December gets a little interesting," Gase said. "It's minimal."

Gase, 38, is in his first year as an NFL head coach. But he was the offensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos when they reached the 2014 Super Bowl.

Many Dolphins players, including fifth-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill, have never even been on a team that finished over .500. They're looking to remedy that in the next month.

"We just have to stick to what we're doing," Tannehill said. "Nothing changes around here."

One more victory would give the Dolphins their longest winning streak since 1985, but they're not exactly dominating the league.

The past five victories have all come by a touchdown or less. On Sunday against woeful San Francisco, the Dolphins gave up a season-high 475 yards and needed a stop at their 2-yard line on the final play to win 31-24.

Against Baltimore, Miami may be without starters in the offensive line for the third week in a row.

Gase said it's unlikely center Mike Pouncey (hip) will return Sunday, and left tackle Albert (left wrist) said he's uncertain about his availability. Left guard Laremy Tunsil (shoulder) is the most likely to return.

That said, both Albert and Tunsil were on the practice field Wednesday.

Without the trio, the ground game lacked its usual punch against the 49ers, and Jay Ajayi was held to 45 yards in 18 carries. But Tannehill threw for 285 yards and three scores without a turnover. He added big throws of 46 yards to receiver DeVante Parker and a 43-yard touchdown to Kenny Stills.

More opponents might opt to test Miami's passing game down the stretch.

Ajayi, who had back-to-back 200-yard rushing games to start the six-game winning streak, was held to 201 rushing yards in the last three weeks, all Dolphins victories. Ajayi is up to 847 yards rushing for the season, seventh in the NFL, and averages 5.3 yards per carry third in the league

"We know there are going to be games we may not be able to run the ball, and we're going to have to pass the ball like 30, 40 times," receiver Jarvis Landry said. "I love it."

Denver's loss Sunday night to Kansas City gave the Dolphins the edge in the race for the final AFC wild-card spot. But players say they're paying no attention to the standings.

"People bring it up, but I really don't care," Albert said. "You can't pay attention to that. You concentrate on individual games, because you never know how things are going to end up."

Spoken like a veteran. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Parker (back) landed hard on the ground late in the third quarter and didn't return to the game in the fourth quarter. Parker, who battled hamstring problems the entire season, was outstanding in the last few games, totaling 16 receptions for 246 yards and 1 TD. Gase said the team is still in the preliminary stages of evaluating Parker.

He was not practicing Wednesday.

Stills, who is in the final year of his contract, with the 43-yard TD reception brought his season total to six receptions of 20 or more yards. His overall numbers have almost eclipsed last year's totals. Stills is up to 26 receptions for 480 yard and 5 TDs in 2016.

Last season, his first with Miami, Stills ended with 27 receptions for 440 yards and 3 TDs.

Meanwhile, as ESPN.com's James Walker notes, Miami's third-round pick Kenyan Drake is making more plays in November than he did in September. That shows growth in the rookie tailback, who is thriving on special teams and adding a little punch on offense. Drake had 99 kickoff return yards, including an important 78-yard return in the second half that gave Miami momentum against the 49ers.

Drake is averaging 38.9 yards per kickoff return and also has a 96-yard touchdown return this season.

Dion Sims, Miami's most versatile tight end had his best game of the season against San Francisco. He tied for the team lead with four receptions, for 53 yards and a touchdown. He's also a strong blocker in the running game. Sims has been in and out of the lineup this season with a concussion. But he appears to be getting healthy for the stretch run.

Jakeem Grant mishandled another punt against San Francisco, meaning he's mishandled four kicks in the last three games. He mishandled two punts and a kickoff at San Diego. Regardless, Gase said Grant, who is also the kickoff returner, will maintain his role as punt returner.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Jay Cutler, Matt Moore, Brandon Doughty
RBs: Kenyan Drake, Damien Williams
WRs: Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills, Leonte Carroo, Jakeem Grant
TEs: Anthony Fasano, MarQueis Gray

Minnesota Vikings

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 30 November 2016

When asked if he agreed with Sam Bradford's postgame comments in the wake of last Thursday's 16-13 loss to the Detroit Lions -- that the Vikings need more explosive plays -- head coach Mike Zimmer took things in a slightly different direction.

"I would agree that we need to score more," Zimmer said.

As ESPN.com's Ben Goessling notes, short passes have been the lifeblood of the Vikings' offense for much of the season -- to be sure, they've been the lifeblood of much of Bradford's career -- but the quarterback's metrics on Thursday afternoon were noteworthy even against that backdrop. Bradford averaged 3.43 yards per attempt on Thursday, according to ESPN Stats and Information, which was the second-shortest average target in the league this season and the shortest in two years by a quarterback who attempted at least 30 passes.

The quick throws helped serve the purpose of keeping Bradford clean -- he was pressured on only 5.4 percent of his dropbacks, and wasn't sacked -- but Zimmer reiterated they have another purpose.

"There's so many different ways to do it and I know everybody talks about it," Zimmer said. "But, sometimes some of these 3-yard throws are runs and end up being 5-yard plays. We're trying to get a mixture of runs and throws in there. And we've got to do a better job on third down because, obviously, we didn't do a good enough job there yesterday. You know, when we've been more successful offensively this year, because I just went and checked all of the things, our third-down conversion rate has been pretty good. So, we've got to make a point of emphasis on that."

Bradford completed 31 of 37 passes on Thursday, and Zimmer's point is a good one in that the Vikings were able to find some balance. Their much-maligned running game averaged 5.1 yards per carry on Thursday, buoyed by a 22-yard gain from Cordarrelle Patterson off a reverse and a 15-yard run from Matt Asiata.

But as the coach said, third downs are where the Vikings fell flat against the Lions.

They converted only 2 of 10, and of his nine attempts on third down, Bradford threw to or past the first-down marker just once, on a 10-yard pass to Patterson to convert a third-and-7. He completed 7 of 8 on his other throws on third down, but at an average depth of 3.88 yards, none of them produced a first down. And on seven attempts at third-and-5 or longer, Bradford completed six for a total of 29 yards, with an average target depth of 4.14 yards. Short throws, in general, aren't going to help the Vikings as much in those situations, just as running plays wouldn't.

Asked what goes into the shorter throws on third downs, Zimmer said, "Well, a lot of the factors are the first read or second read is covered."

If Stefon Diggs is able to return from a knee injury this week, he figures to be the first read in a fair number of key situations, and the Vikings' passing game should immediately benefit.

For the record, Diggs is listed as questionable for Thursday's game, after being held out of the previous game because of a knee injury. He was a full participant in practice on Wednesday after being limited on Monday and Tuesday, which is a step in the right direction after he failed to practice the final two days of last week.

With a daunting matchup against Dallas on Thursday, the Vikings ought to be better off with a full week of practice for healing and rest unlike the three days between games they had before playing the Lions.

Wide receiver Adam Thielen is practicing fully despite a sore shoulder.

Bradford (ankle), who hasn't missed a snap since taking over the job for the second game of the season, also appeared on the teams' initial injury report as a limited participant in practice.

Bradford and Thielen were removed from the final injury report.

There's no place on the roster more affected by health problems this season than the offensive line, where center Joe Berger (concussion) and right tackle Jeremiah Sirles (hip) had to leave early after getting hurt against the Lions. Berger was ruled out on Wednesday, so Nick Easton will be making his first start. Sirles was listed as a limited participant and said to be "all right" according to Zimmer. Sirles was also removed from Wednesday's final injury report.

Eleven players have taken snaps on the offensive line so far this year, with three tackles currently on injured reserve.

I'll have a close eye on Diggs in advance of Thursday's kickoff. Watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for more. ...

Laquon Treadwell, the team's rookie first-round draft pick, saw extensive playing time because of Diggs' absence last Thursday. But Treadwell was targeted only one time. It was an incompletion that was negated because of pass interference. "He might have been pressing a little bit too much for a while But he's a diligent hard worker," Zimmer said of Treadwell. "He'll be a good player."

One last note here. ... As the Vikings continue to search for a running game, they've added Bishop Sankey, a former second-round pick, to their practice squad.

Drafted by the Titans in 2014 after playing college football at Washington, Sankey was dumped by Tennessee after two seasons. He spent time with the Patriots and Chiefs in 2016.

Sankey has 762 rushing yards, with an average gain per carry of 3.8 yards. He also has 272 rushing yards and four total touchdowns.

With Adrian Peterson injured, the Vikings have been trying to make their offense work with Jerick McKinnon and Asiata. Ronnie Hillman spent some time on the roster before being released.

Peterson, meanwhile, got the go-ahead to do light running as part of his rehab from surgery to repair a torn meniscus earlier this month and it appears that went well because his workload has expanded this week.

Peterson was seen running short sprints on a side field by multiple Vikings reporters while the rest of the team went through their preparations for Thursday's game against the Cowboys. Matt Vensel of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that Vikings head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman watched Peterson closely before the two men went back into the team's facility.

December has been the target for Peterson's return to action if he's physically able to do it and there's been no word from the team about how likely that may be.

The Vikings could certainly use any jolt to the offense that Peterson would provide, but as Profootballtalk.com suggested, if he's not ready to go until Week 16 or so there may not be much left to play for in Minnesota and he'll be of no real use to fantasy owners.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Case Keenum, Teddy Bridgewater, Sam Bradford
RBs: Latavius Murray, Jerick McKinnon, Mack Brown, C.J. Ham
WRs: Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, Laquon Treadwell, Michael Floyd, Jarius Wright, Rodney Adams, Stacy Coley
TEs: Kyle Rudolph, David Morgan, Blake Bell

New England Patriots

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 30 November 2016

As ESPN.com's Mike Reiss noted, Tom Brady didn't have his usual pinpoint accuracy for extended stretches, tight end Rob Gronkowski was knocked out of the game late in the first quarter with a back injury, and the normally potent offense wasn't itself for large stretches of Sunday's game against the New York Jets.

Those who have been wondering how the Patriots might look when the offense has an off day -- and if the defense and special teams could pull more of the rope to produce a victory -- got a first-hand look at MetLife Stadium.

Patriots 22, Jets 17.

Brady tied Peyton Manning's NFL record by notching his 200th career win in what was in many ways a classic Brady game, willing the Patriots (9-2) to victory to keep pace atop the AFC playoff race.

Brady was dealing with a right knee injury that forced him to miss two days of practice last week and seemed to affect his accuracy early on against the Jets.

By the time Brady took three kneel-downs to close out the hard-fought victory in the seventh straight game between the two teams decided by seven points or fewer, the quarterback had completed 30 of 50 passes for 286 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions for a season-low 89.2 rating.

There were few beauty points one of his two touchdown passes to rookie receiver Malcolm Mitchell came after a botched fake/fumbled jet sweep but the 17-year veteran knew when he limped off the field that it was another step in the right direction for yet team with its hopes set on yet another Super Bowl run.

"It was a great win for our team," Brady said. "We didn't play as well as we wanted to, but we made the plays when we needed to. It was a division game on the road. It's always a tough team to play."

Though Brady said there was never any consideration of missing the game, he did admit it was a "long week."

"I'm glad it's over. I'm glad we won," Brady said, referring to the missed practices, knee treatments and even the Thanksgiving holiday creating challenging circumstances.

While the future first-ballot Hall of Famer deflected as he generally does, his 200th career victory against the hated Jets came in somewhat appropriate fashion with an 83-yard comeback drive to a game-winning touchdown on the first play after the two-minute warning.

"It's a team sport. Individual award and things like that mean that I've been a part of great teams with great coaches and great teammates, and I've had a lot of really great support over the years so hopefully we can keep winning," Brady said. "It never gets old."

On Sunday, Brady also became the fifth player in NFL history to throw for 60,000 yards in a career, joining Manning (71,940), Brett Favre (71,838), Drew Brees (64,180) and Dan Marino (61,361).

A day later, on his weekly Monday morning radio interview with WEEI in Boston, Brady seemed optimistic his health would improve this week as he and the Patriots prepare to host the Rams on Sunday at Gillette Stadium.

"It's better than last Monday, so I'm very happy about that," Brady said.

Meanwhile, Gronkowski had been uncertain to play after missing last week's game with a chest injury. It was not immediately certain if the latest injury was connected to the previous one.

Gronkowski had no catches when he left, with Brady unable to connect with him on two third-down throws.

Though Gronkowski missed the final three-plus quarters against the Jets, various media reports have already indicated the back injury is not believed to be serious and the tight end is not expected to miss additional time. Gronkowski has already missed or been limited in six of New England's 11 games this season due to hamstring, chest and now the back injury.

For the record, neither Brady, Gronkowski nor Julian Edelman practiced Wednesday.

I'll obviously be following up via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Mitchell, New England's fourth-round rookie, came up big with his two TD catches on Sunday, but it was a potential touchdown grab at the end of the second quarter that stuck in the young receivers mind shortly after his game-winning, eight-yard score in the closing minutes.

"We have a team full of great guys who kept me encouraged. I felt miserable after missing the earlier pass. All the guys kept me encouraged and told me we have more time," Mitchell said of a would-be score earlier in the final quarter.

Mitchell has now scored three touchdowns in the last two games, including a pretty 56 yarder last week at the San Francisco 49ers. For the season, the rookie has hauled in 16 catches for 235 yards and the three scores, while clearly gaining the confidence of his Hall of Fame quarterback.

"I think Malcolm has done a lot to gain everyone's trust because he shows up every day, works his butt off and is so committed to the team," Brady observed.

Brady spread the ball around to eight different targets, with six players catching at least three passes. Edelman had a game-high eight catches for a team-best 83 yards while Chris Hogan found himself wide open a couple to times on the way to four catches for 70 yards.

According to NFL.com's Matt Harmon, Mitchell has more individual upside as a talent than Hogan, and we're already starting to see a glimpse of that future here. For this year, however, it's important to remember the rookie has benefited from circumstances the last two weeks.

Hogan's Week 11 absence pushed him to a 98-yard effort and he hauled in both of his scores this week in the red zone. That likely does not happen if Gronkowski does not leave the game early.

The Jets No. 4 rush defense did a solid job against the Patriots No. 6 rushing attack, even if the final numbers look pretty good for New England. Taking out Brady's three kneel-downs, the Patriots ran it 18 times for 95 yards (5.3 avg.). But 31 of those yards, including a 23 yarder, came from LeGarrette Blount as the Patriots ran out the clock with the Jets seemingly caving in to the disappointment of another loss.

Blount finished with 67 yards on his 11 attempts. Dion Lewis added 24 yards on six sub runs, including a 15-yard long as he works his way back into the mix.

As for the snap counts?

Blount was in for 27 plays, James White for 25 and Lewis got 23 snaps. White caught 4-of-9 targets for 22 yards but didn't get a carry.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer
RBs: Dion Lewis, Rex Burkhead, James White, Mike Gillislee, James Develin
WRs: Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola, Kenny Britt, Phillip Dorsett, Malcolm Mitchell, Matt Slater
TEs: Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen

New Orleans Saints

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 30 November 2016

As ESPN.com's Mike Triplett noted, the Saints' offense exploded Sunday on former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and the Los Angeles Rams - and head coach Sean Payton appeared to relish every minute of it.

Payton also appeared to be calling his own plays for the first time this season in between post-touchdown fist pumps and smirks, as the Saints opened up a can of everything in their playbook in a 49-21 victory over the Rams.

The icing on the cake was a trick-play touchdown with 10 minutes, 15 seconds remaining -- when Saints receiver Willie Snead (a former high school quarterback) threw a 50-yard touchdown pass to running back Tim Hightower to expand the lead to 28 points.

Payton was not asked directly if he was motivated to beat Williams. When asked about being so animated on the sideline, Payton said, "I was a little excited. Listen, it was an important win for us."

But Saints offensive tackle Zach Strief acknowledged the obvious, saying, "It does, it means something. There's more there. So, good for coach."

"I didn't see anything out of him, necessarily. I just know better," Strief said. "The message all week was, 'Our back's against the wall. ... There's no room for error.' At no point did he ever say or act differently that I could see. But I'll be honest for him and say there's no way [it didn't matter].

"And I understand why people can't say that. Nothing was different in his actions that I could see, but I know better."

Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro added, "[Payton] was fired up. We all know why."

Earlier this week, Payton and Williams downplayed the relevance of Williams' first game back in the Superdome since his exit in 2012 and the Bountygate scandal that soon followed.

But it seemed apparent that from Payton's standpoint, there might still be animosity over the alleged pay-for-injury program that Williams coordinated in New Orleans from 2009 to 2011 -- and feelings that Williams cooperated with the league's investigation.

Payton and Williams were suspended for a full season in 2012.

The Saints coach shook hands with Rams coach Jeff Fisher, quarterback Jared Goff and several others after the game, but he and Williams never appeared to cross paths on the field.

Payton was asked if it helped him to be so familiar with the defensive coordinator from a play calling strategy, but he said that's overrated since teams have so much film on one another.

The closest Payton came to taking a jab at Williams in his postgame news conference was stressing more than once that he "clearly" thought the Saints' offensive line won the physical battle up front against the Rams' defense.

Meanwhile, as the Saints (5-6) were settling an old score, they were also breathing new life into their season following two painful losses by a total of five points in the past two weeks.

Their 49 points and 28-point margin of victory were season highs. Their 555 yards of total offense ranked second on the season.

They were also surprisingly dynamic even with their most explosive playmaker, receiver Brandin Cooks, being held without a catch.

When asked how Cooks ended up with zero targets on Sunday, Payton said, "I think part of it's the result of some of the coverages. There were certainly calls with his name and number on it, and periodically once in a while that can happen."

Drew Brees threw for 310 yards and four touchdowns, adding another on a 1-yard run. He now has 30 career games with four touchdown passes, behind only Peyton Manning (35).

It also was the 20th game in which Brees threw at least four touchdown passes and had no interceptions. Tom Brady holds the NFL record with 21 games of at least four TDs and no picks.

Snead became the first non-quarterback for the Saints to throw a TD pass since running back Deuce McAllister did it in a 28-10 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Dec. 9, 2001, in the Georgia Dome.

Running back Mark Ingram had 14 carries for 146 yards, including a 61-yarder. He had a 10-yard touchdown run and a 21-yard touchdown catch. Hightower chipped in with 51 yards on 15 attempts.

Ingram was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week on Wednesday.

The Saints finished with 209 yards as a team, averaging 6.5 yards per attempt on 32 carries.

And rookie receiver Michael Thomas made two spectacular touchdown receptions and finished with nine catches for 108 yards, as his stellar rookie year continues. It was his second 100-yard game and second two-touchdown game.

Thomas, a second-round draft pick from Ohio State, is only the third Saints player to catch at least 65 passes as a rookie. He joins running back Reggie Bush, who caught 88 passes in 2006, and wide receiver Marques Colston, who had 70 receptions that same season.

Tight ends Josh Hill and Coby Fleener combined for 10 receptions for 133 yards.

The Saints' defense had trouble with Goff early, allowing three touchdown passes. But it continued its recent surge by shutting out the Rams and holding them to a total of 60 yards in the second half. Rookie defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins forced a sack-fumble, and safety Kenny Vaccaro snagged an interception.

By game's end, the Saints had limited a second straight foe to fewer than 300 yards - a far cry from their first five games, when four teams gained more than 400 yards.

Up next is another home date with the Detroit Lions (7-4), as the Saints look to make a late-season playoff run. Unfortunately for New Orleans, the 7-4 Atlanta Falcons didn't let up on their NFC South lead Sunday.

The Saints might have to win out -- or maybe surrender one loss, tops -- to have a chance to climb within one game of the Falcons before they meet in Atlanta in Week 17.

One last note here. ... Running back Daniel Lasco did not play against the Rams because of a hamstring injury and it's not known when he will return.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Drew Brees, Chase Daniel
RBs: Mark Ingram, Alvin Kamara, Daniel Lasco
WRs: Michael Thomas, Ted Ginn, Willie Snead, Brandon Coleman, TommyLee Lewis
TEs: Josh Hill, Michael Hoomanawanui

New York Giants

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 30 November 2016

As Associated Press sports writer Tom Canavan noted, in his rookie season as head coach, Ben McAdoo has taken the New York Giants into somewhat neglected territory.

The Giants (8-3) are in the playoff hunt for the first time since 2012, a year they faltered down the stretch, winning two of their last five games to finish 9-7.

Despite riding a six-game winning streak and the second best record in the NFC, New York is going to have to work to make the playoffs for the first time since winning the Super Bowl in February 2012.

It has the AFC North co-leading Steelers (6-5) in Pittsburgh on Sunday. NFC East leader Dallas (10-1), whose only loss is to the Giants, is at MetLife Stadium on Dec. 11, followed by NFC North-leading Detroit (7-4) on the 18th.

Four days later, the Giants face the rival Eagles on the road, and close out the schedule at Washington on Jan. 1. The Redskins (6-4-1) have the second-best record in the wild-card race, right behind the Giants.

For a team that has not put it all together this season, especially on offense, the playoffs are not guaranteed.

"As a team, where do we go from here?" McAdoo asked. "It's December football. This is where the real football begins. All our hard work to this point has set the table for December. It's an exciting time against a lot of playoff teams and playoff environments. The margin for error is small. This is where our identity needs to take over."

The Giants' identity has been that of a team that gets things done. For the most part, it has been star players stepping up and making plays.

In the 27-13 decision over the Browns (0-12) on Sunday, defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul led the way with seven tackles, three sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble return for a touchdown. Eli Manning added three touchdown passes, including two to Odell Beckham.

The constant in the winning streak has been the play of the defense, which has been led by safety Landon Collins.

McAdoo insists the Giants won't be focused on making the playoffs.

"I think it's important to address the elephant in the room, so to speak," McAdoo said. "Everything gets cranked up a notch in December with everyone jockeying for position. We just need to make sure we play our best football moving forward."

If any group has to step up, it's the offense. It has been inconsistent most of the season, especially the running game.

As the Sports Xchange notes, New York managed just 296 yards of offense to the Browns' 343. Cleveland also ran 72 plays to the Giants' 55, and had just five penalties for 35 yards compared to the Giants' nine for 100 yards.

"It was tough to move the ball consistently," said Manning, whose 194 passing yards were a season low. "They showed a lot of the same looks, (but) it was tough to make plays."

Manning particularly struggled to hit his receivers on the deep ball. Per Profootballfocus.com, Manning attempted eight deep passes of 20 or more yards, which tied him for most in Week 12 games, but only completed one such pass.

"It was just one of those days where they're giving us some shots down field and we have got to hit. We have to hit more of those," Manning said.

Then there was the running game, which is an on-going issue for New York even dating back to last year. The Giants as a group combined for 104 yards on 27 carries (3.9 yards per carry).

Subtract receiver Sterling Shepard's 22-yard end-around rush and Manning's minus-two yards rushing during the victory formation, and the numbers generated by Rashad Jennings and Paul Perkins amounted to 80 yards on 24 carries (3.3 yards per carry).

While the Giants scored 27 points against the Browns, the defense set up the first touchdown with a turnover at the Cleveland 31 in the second quarter. Pierre-Paul's return got another touchdown.

Special teams also need to improve. Cleveland got three points after Bobby Rainey muffed a punt, and a Mark Herzlich holding penalty nullified a punt return for a touchdown by Beckham in the fourth quarter.

"I think it's great that we have players that can change the game in one play," McAdoo said. "We need to be mentally dialed-in to play a complete game at all three phases for four-plus quarters. We really need to cash in on that in December."

McAdoo refused to say whether Beckham would continue to return punts down the stretch. ...

Other notes of interest. ... As ESPN.com's Jordan Raanan notes, Beckham was the best offensive weapon on the field, by a large margin, even with a bum thumb. Beckham finished with seven receptions on 11 targets and the two touchdowns. It could have been much more. He easily could have scored four times if not for a penalty that negated a 59-yard punt return and Manning overthrowing him on what could have been a 58-yard touchdown on the opening drive.

Beckham was running at a different speed than everyone else on the field. It helped that the Giants got him involved early and often. He was targeted five times in the first quarter.

Beckham has gone the last five games without hitting 100 yards receiving, the longest drought of his career. However, he's also caught five touchdowns over that same period.

Shepard not only failed to catch a pass for the first time this season, he also was not targeted. McAdoo called it unfortunate. "We're not completing enough balls or moving the chains as much as we need to move the chains for everyone to get involved. ..."

The Giants running back split Sunday: Jennings 50 percent, Perkins 39 percent and Rainey 11 percent. Jennings led the group with 59 total yards. ...

In a related note. ... Shane Vereen, who has been on injured reserve with a triceps injury since Week 3, returned to practice Wednesday.

The team is said to be placing Orleans Darkwa on IR with a leg injury, so getting Vereen back on the practice field is fortuitous -- even if he's not expected to play this week.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Eli Manning, Geno Smith, Davis Webb
RBs: Orleans Darkwa, Wayne Gallman, Shane Vereen, Paul Perkins
WRs: Sterling Shepard, Roger Lewis, Tavarres King, Travis Rudolph, Ed Eagan
TEs: Evan Engram, Jerell Adams, Rhett Ellison

New York Jets

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 30 November 2016

Ryan Fitzpatrick will remain the team's starting quarterback for its game next Monday night against the Indianapolis Colts. Head coach Todd Bowles made the announcement a day after the Jets lost 22-17 to the New England Patriots and fell to 3-8.

"He's our starter," Bowles said during a conference call. "It's no different than anybody else on both sides of the ball right now."

Fitzpatrick was mostly solid against New England, going 22 of 32 for 269 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions, but fumbled on New York's final drive when he was hit by Chris Long while attempting to throw. The Patriots recovered and ran out the clock.

Bowles was noncommittal to Fitzpatrick after the game, but he said Monday that he wanted to speak only about the loss. He added that he "knew all along" that Fitzpatrick would be back under center this week.

"There was no debate," Bowles said.

With the Jets all but eliminated from playoff contention, some fans and media are calling for the Jets to play Bryce Petty and, perhaps, eventually Christian Hackenberg to evaluate the young quarterbacks.

"We get looks at them every day," Bowles said. "As a coach, you weigh trying to win ballgames first, and there's a time and place that those guys will get a chance to play. It just won't be next week."

Petty filled in for Fitzpatrick two weeks ago against Los Angeles when the veteran was sidelined with a sprained knee. The fourth-round pick out of Baylor last year went 19 of 32 for 163 yards with a touchdown and an interception in the 9-6 loss.

Hackenberg was a second-rounder this year out of Penn State, but from the beginning, this season has always been generally considered a "redshirt" type of situation as he develops and learns the system. While Hackenberg is likely to remain on the sideline, there remains intrigue over what Petty could do over a series of games - and not just in practices.

"There's a curiosity to all the young guys that are backing up right now," Bowles acknowledged. "But that doesn't mean I'm going to start them all right now. ... There are a lot of guys backing up right now that probably want to be in games that are not ready to play yet. I'll go from there.

"I have a timetable in my head for certain guys that I want to see at different positions. When that time comes, I'll make those decisions."

For Bowles, the goal remains to win games now - despite the growing public sentiment that that's the least important thing as the season continues to spiral.

"We're all fighters," Bowles said. "We're all trying to win every game, whether we're trying to get to 8-8 or whether we're trying to be 16-0. We're trying to win. It's not about Bryce. It's not about Fitz. It's about our team trying to win ballgames."

Meanwhile, as NFL.com's Matt Harmon noted, with Fitzpatrick staying on as the starter, the pass-catchers will remain in focus.

Brandon Marshall found the end zone for the first time since Week 5, which was also his last 100-yard game. With the volume he gets, Harmon considers Marshall a threat for that every week. "Yet," Harmon reminded readers, "we know it's been a slog to chase those more often than not."

In addition, after registering just one catch in each of his last two weeks, Quincy Enunwa erupted for 100-plus yards and a touchdown. Enunwa had the best game of his career. He had four catches of more than 20 yards (the four longest plays of the day by the Jets), including the catch of the year, a 22-yard touchdown in which he managed to land with his rear end inbounds in the corner of the end zone.

But it's hard to count on him. "There has not been a more difficult receiver to predict in the NFL this year," Harmon added. ...

As the Sports Xchange notes, Matt Forte is now the eighth-most proficient pass catching running back in history. Forte had three catches for 23 yards in Sunday's loss to the Patriots and now has 513 career receptions, one more than Earnest Byner and Herschel Walker.

The next potential target for Forte is Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith, who ranks seventh with 515 receptions.

Worth noting, Forte (13 carries for 27 yards) got the Bill Belichick treatment as the Patriots' wizard rendered the Jets' best offensive player an afterthought. It should have been a recipe for a big day for Bilal Powell (eight carries for 36 yards), especially after he gained 17 yards on three carries to end the first quarter, including a six-yard gain out of the Wildcat that immediately preceded Fitzpatrick's touchdown pass to Marshall.

Yet Powell didn't carry the ball again until the third quarter.

Forte will look to get back on track against the Colts next Monday night.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Bryce Petty, Christian Hackenberg
RBs: Matt Forte, Bilal Powell, Elijah McGuire
WRs: Robby Anderson, Jermaine Kearse, Neal Sterling, Chad Hansen, ArDarius Stewart
TEs: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Eric Tomlinson, Will Tye, Jordan Leggett

Oakland Raiders

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 30 November 2016

As ESPN.com's Paul Gutierrez put it: "The Oakland Raiders will go as far as Derek Carr takes them."

This became even more obvious than it already was after the star quarterback apparently dislocated his right pinkie finger on a snap from center Rodney Hudson early in the fourth quarter of Sunday's eventual 35-32 defeat of the Carolina Panthers.

After a quick trip to the locker room, Carr got was even quicker to get comfortable with the back glove adorning his injured right hand and working exclusively out of the shotgun in the fourth quarter.

Trailing by eight points, Carr led two fourth-quarter scoring drives to pull out the victory.

And the MVP candidate did it all in front of the reigning NFL MVP in Cam Newton, who was strip-sacked by All-Pro defensive end Khalil Mack on fourth down near midfield to clinch the game.

Mack earlier stated his case for NFL defensive player of the year with his first-ever pick-six, which put Oakland up 24-7 just before halftime.

Mack became the first player to record a touchdown, a sack, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and an interception in the same game since Charles Woodson, who did it with the Packers in 2009.

But when it came to the Raiders offense, it was all Carr, who passed for 116 of his 315 yards after he was injured.

The Raiders were cruising with that 24-7 lead when Hudson's snap jammed Carr's finger on the second play of the third quarter, the Panthers recovered the fumble and, six plays later, scored.

And with Carr missing a series, Matt McGloin could get nothing going and the Raiders went three and out, looking bad as they did so.

Yet even when Carr returned, wearing the black glove on his right hand, everything just seemed, well, off.

Sure, he hooked up with tight end Clive Walford for a 17-yard pickup over the middle on his first pass after returning. But five plays later, Carr did not see Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis as he threw across his body, and Davis picked him off. Yes, it was Davis who also recovered Carr's fumble.

Both turnovers were especially costly in that Carolina converted them into touchdowns.

Now, Carr's pinkie had nothing to do with Oakland's defense giving up 25 straight points to the Panthers, but Carr's turnovers did, obviously.

Much as his waking up allowed for the victory.

After the Panthers went up 32-24 less than two minutes into the fourth quarter, Carr led the Raiders on a 75-yard drive in 10 plays, hitting Walford for a 12-yard TD.

He then found Seth Roberts for the tying two-point conversion.

And after the Raiders defense bent again but did not break, forcing a punt, Carr led Oakland on an 82-yard drive in 12 plays over 3 minutes and 20 seconds, Sebastian Janikowski's 23-yard field goal giving Oakland the 35-32 lead with 1:45 to play.

It's just the latest clutch performance from Carr, who has thrived under pressure this season. He has completed 80 of 118 passes (67.8 percent) for 1,109 yards (9.4 yards per attempt), 10 TDs, one interception and a 122.5 passer rating when tied or trailing in the fourth quarter or overtime.

The latest comeback might have been most impressive because of the pain he dealt with after jamming his finger on a fumbled snap. There seemed to be no long-term effects from the injury.

"I'm doing good. I'm doing good," Carr said Monday on his weekly appearance on 95.7 The Game radio station . "Obviously it's a little sore, but that's expected. But should be good. Just get some swelling down and we'll be all right."

Carr reiterated that on Wednesday, telling reporters Carr told reporters he has no limitations for Sunday's game against the Bills.

The Raiders are counting on that if they want to end a 13-year playoff drought and make a run come January.

They already are having their best season since winning the AFC in 2002 and have realistic hopes of doing much more.

First they will have to negotiate a tough closing stretch to the season starting with a home game against Buffalo on Sunday. Oakland then has three road division games in the final four weeks, including a Thursday night game against the second-place Chiefs on Dec. 8, as well as the home finale against Indianapolis on Christmas Eve.

But those are on the back burner for now.

"Right now everything we're doing is all about Buffalo," head coach Jack Del Rio said. "It's all about Buffalo leading up to this weekend."

Other notes of interest. ... According to NFL.com's Matt Harmon, the Raiders threw nine passes in the red zone on Sunday. Amari Cooper came down with one of them for three yards, but it was once again Roberts who brought down the score on a two-yard catch.

Michael Crabtree was the most-targeted player, and moved all around the formation with 24 plays at right wide, 10 at right slot, eight at left slot and 15 at left wide. He caught at least one pass at all positions.

Walford caught three passes for 43 yards Sunday, and he scored his first touchdown since Week 2 against Atlanta.

With 55 yards on 30 carries, the Raiders made some important gains in the fourth quarter in the final two drives when the game was on the line. Latavius Murray had 45 yards on 19 carries and a 4-yard touchdown run.

Worth noting: Rookie DeAndre Washington, who has the second-most rushing attempts on the team behind Murray, was a healthy scratch Sunday.

Because of that, Murray played on a season-high 65 percent of Oakland's offensive snaps. Jalen Richard only played 13 snaps and, not surprisingly, struggled to run the ball on his seven attempts.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Derek Carr, E.J. Manuel, Connor Cook
RBs: DeAndre Washington, Jalen Richard, Marshawn Lynch
WRs: Michael Crabtree, Amari Cooper, Seth Roberts, Cordarrelle Patterson, Johnny Holton
TEs: Jared Cook, Lee Smith, Clive Walford

Philadelphia Eagles

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 30 November 2016

Head coach Doug Pederson delivered a message to his team following a 27-13 loss to the Green Bay Packers that pushed the Philadelphia Eagles further from playoff contention and closer towards the reality that this group isn't yet ready for prime time.

"We'll see over the next five weeks who really wants to be here," said safety Malcolm Jenkins, relaying Pederson's words. "Who has really invested everything they have into this team -- and that's coaches and players."

According to ESPN.com's Tim McManus, the tone of the locker room was different from previous weeks as Monday night gave way to early Tuesday morning in South Philly. Other defeats did not seem to sit quite so heavy, thanks to the optimism that comes when there is still plenty of time and wiggle room at a team's disposal.

The Eagles are running out of both. Sitting at 5-6, perfection is likely needed the rest of the way if they want to hang onto their playoff hopes. And anyone watching Monday night's game knows that this team and perfection are worlds apart at the moment.

The offense is breaking down despite Carson Wentz's best efforts. Whatever flicker of light he offers in a given game seems to be promptly smothered by the unit's deficiencies. Down running back Ryan Mathews, receivers Jordan Matthews and Nelson Agholor and two-fifths of his original starting offensive line Monday night, the rookie quarterback was not properly equipped to play opposite on the of the best quarterbacks in the game in Aaron Rodgers.

The real hope lay on the defensive side of the ball, but a unit that surrendered just 9.5 points per game at home coming in allowed the Packers to convert 71 percent of their third-down opportunities -- the highest rate by any team this season per ESPN Stats & Information -- en route to a 27-point night.

The players seemed to realize afterwards that the coming weeks will be a test of the group's strength.

"We just have to keep plugging along. We can't throw in the towel," Wentz said. "I know the guys in that locker room and that's not going to happen. I think our effort is always there. We just have to keep fighting, keep believing, and we can't change our preparation."

"It's far from over, but we understand that for the next five weeks, we're going to need every ounce of what everybody has," added Jenkins. "And we'll see what guys are made of."

The Eagles have lost six of eight and took steps backwards on both sides of the ball Monday.

Even so, Pederson told reporters that he thinks this team is headed in the right direction. He was asked how he could say that given the circumstances.

"Look at the effort," he responded. "I think you might look at wins and losses. I've got to look at the potential of the football team and the guys that we have. Are we there yet? No. Are we heading in the right direction? Yes. Again, it may not show up right now in wins and losses, but I see that potential. I see that there is no quit in this team. Everybody's fighting to the end. That's a sign that things are heading in the right direction."

For the record, Wentz hung with one of the all-time greats for a while. But a costly misfire and a lack of weapons at his disposal proved to be too much to overcome.

Wentz (24-of-36, 254 yards, one interception) started out hot and got the Eagles on the board early with the first rushing touchdown of his career. Whether creating with his legs or showing precision and touch on a throw downfield, there were several reminders throughout the night of why this city got so excited about Wentz early on.

There were also plenty of reminders of how far he and this offense still have to go. Already down Agholor because of confidence issues, the receiving corps became paper thin when Matthews was lost to an ankle injury, leaving Dorial Green-Beckham and rookies Bryce Treggs and Paul Turner at Wentz's disposal.

The offense also was down two offensive linemen with Brandon Brooks (illness) and Halapoulivaati Vaitai (MCL sprain) both out. ...

Pederson said after the game he doesn't know yet whether he will activate Agholor, the team's 2015 first-round pick, for the Bengals game.

"We just have to see where Nelson is at, where his mind and head is at," Pederson said. "He had a good week last week. So we'll monitor that again later in the week."

Green-Beckham had a season-high six catches for 82 yards against the Packers. But the 6-5, 240-pound wideout also wiped out a 41-yard catch and run by Darren Sproles when he was called for offensive pass interference. It's the second time in as many weeks that Green-Beckham has been flagged for offensive pass interference on a screen pass.

The Eagles didn't run as much as they had planned. They had just 18 rushing attempts. Rookie Wendell Smallwood gained 37 yards on nine carries. Wentz, who has been reluctant to run, had four carries for 33 yards against the Packers, including three first downs and his first rushing touchdown.

Lacking firepower, the Eagles were unable to take advantage of a Packers team that yielded 47 points to the Tennessee Titans and 42 points to the Washington Redskins over the previous two weeks. Wentz fired an untimely interception early in the second half on a pass that floated on him that was nabbed by Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. That turned into three points for the Packers and extended the Green Bay lead to seven.

Reality is beginning to set in that Wentz and the Eagles offense face a serious uphill climb over the final five weeks of the season. Now sitting at 5-6, it will take some mighty forces to get this team into the postseason. Next up is a trip to Cincinnati to face the Bengals on short rest.

Pederson said Tuesday that he thinks Matthews will be able to play Sunday against the Bengals in Cincinnati.

For the record, Mathews, Matthews and Vaitai did not practice Wednesday. I'll be following up on the injured players -- and Nelson -- via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Nick Foles
RBs: LeGarrette Blount, Jay Ajayi, Corey Clement, Wendell Smallwood, Kenjon Barner
WRs: Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, Nelson Agholor, Mack Hollins, Shelton Gibson
TEs: Zach Ertz, Trey Burton, Brent Celek

Pittsburgh Steelers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 30 November 2016

According to Associated Press sports writer Will Graves, head coach Mike Tomlin likens the season to a moving train that stops for no one. Not even his talented if enigmatic team.

After a month teetering on the brink of getting left behind, the Steelers appear to be primed for another late playoff push. Their clinical 28-7 victory over Indianapolis last Thursday vaulted Pittsburgh (6-5) back over .500 and at least briefly atop the AFC North.

"It lets us set the stage of what we know we can do," said running back Le'Veon Bell.

As Graves further noted, that's particularly true when Bell, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and wide receiver Antonio Brown are working in rhythm and the defense is freed to be aggressive. Bell ran for 120 yards and a touchdown, while Roethlisberger and Brown hooked up for three scores against the undermanned Colts.

The defense picked up three sacks to give the Steelers 11 in a span of five days after getting just 13 over the first nine weeks. It added a pair of goal-line stands to avoid the kind of road meltdown that's plagued them far too often in recent years.

Those were things Pittsburgh failed to do during a four-game losing streak that sapped the Steelers of the swagger that carried them to a 4-1 start. They weren't quite as flashy while stopping Cleveland and methodically dismantling Andrew Luck-less Indianapolis, but that might not necessarily be a bad thing.

Three early scores Thursday night gave them plenty of breathing room and the Colts never really threatened the rest of the way.

Yet the typically brash Brown isn't quite ready to say his team's midseason swoon is firmly in the rearview mirror. Asked after the first three-touchdown game of his career if the Steelers have finally found their identity, he shrugged his shoulders and said simply it's "to be determined."

Maybe, but the blueprint might have been laid over eight quarters spanning barely over 100 hours. With defensive end Cam Heyward out for the season with a torn pectoral muscle, Pittsburgh has ditched the no-huddle offense and relied heavily on Bell to carry the load and run the clock to keep the defense off the field.

Bell touched the ball 63 times (51 carries, 12 receptions) for 345 total yards against the Browns and Colts. The Steelers are 9-2 in Bell's career when he goes over 100 yards rushing, including 3-0 this season.

Center Maurkice Pouncey said earlier in the week any offensive linemen needs to do some serious self-examination every game its running back fails to reach the century mark on the ground. Pouncey, guards Ramon Foster and David DeCastro and tackles Marcus Gilbert and Alejandro Villaneuva then went out and backed it up, giving Bell plenty of room to do his thing while keep Roethlisberger from being sacked for the second straight game.

"I don't think Ben was really under duress too much, and I wasn't hit in the backfield too many times," Bell said. "So those guys did a great job. They were hungry. They love running the ball. They love hitting people."

The line has allowed one sack in the last three games and 14 this season, tied for the second fewest in the league among quarterbacks with 10 starts.

"Ben is the key to the franchise moving forward," Foster said. "Keeping him on the field is goal No. 1. That has to be our job."

The Steelers will need to continue to do all that as they gird for a three-game stretch that includes a visit from the streaking New York Giants on Dec. 4. Then come trips to Buffalo and Cincinnati, places where the weather can be a factor as the calendar creeps toward Christmas.

Pittsburgh heads in that direction with something akin to momentum.

"We know it's time," Brown said. "It's time for us to roll our sleeves up, show our identity, put our will on display and find a way to do what we desire to do."

Other notes of interest. ... Whether it was a lingering ankle injury or ongoing concussion concerns, tight end Ladarius Green hadn't done much for most of the season, after getting a $20 million contract in free agency. He's now doing a lot more.

The Steelers need another big-play threat besides Brown, and Green provided two big plays for the offense Thursday night.

While he participated in only 14 snaps at Indianapolis, his 67 receiving yards came on a pair of catches that each set up touchdowns.

"I think the more and more he gets going, he's going to help us out as a total offense," Brown said after the game. "I think he did some positive things, and we have to continue to see that. I was excited for him. He's a guy that's been through a lot. I think a lot of people put a lot of pressure on him. He puts a lot of pressure on himself. So to see him have some success was exciting."

Green was humble about his accomplishments, and determined to do more.

"I feel like I have a ways to go," Green said. "I did some things, but I could have done some other things better."

As Profootballtalk.com's Mike Florio suggested, if that happens, the Steelers offense will get better and better - and the season will get better and better. And the Steelers could be a force to be reckoned with in the postseason.

Beyond Brown, the wide receiver playing time split saw Cobi Hamilton go out on 54 percent of the plays, Eli Rogers 48 percent and Sammie Coates 20 percent. It's going to be hard for fantasy owners to rely on anybody outside Brown for consistent production at this point.

One last note here. ... Tomlin said DeAngelo Williams knee is "perking up." It sounds like he thinks the Steelers will get the veteran back against the Giants.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Ben Roethlisberger, Landry Jones, Josh Dobbs
RBs: Le'Veon Bell, Terrell Watson, Stevan Ridley
WRs: Martavis Bryant, Eli Rogers, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Justin Hunter, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Antonio Brown
TEs: Jesse James, Xavier Grimble, Vance McDonald

San Diego Chargers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 30 November 2016

As ESPN.com's Eric D. Williams reported, the Chargers struggled to run the football against the Texans' defensive front. For a second straight game, Melvin Gordon has had trouble coughing up the big numbers. The Chargers had just 67 rushing yards, and Gordon had 70.

Backup Kenneth Farrow was dropped for a 3-yard loss on the only other carry not done by Gordon. Run-blocking had issues; Gordon was a shoestring tackle away from breaking an attempt or two.

But it didn't matter because veteran quarterback Philip Rivers handled the heavy lifting, leading San Diego to a 21-13 victory over the Texans at NRG Stadium on Sunday. The setback was Houston's first loss at home this season as the Texans fell to 6-5, while the Chargers improved to 5-6, keeping their faint postseason aspirations alive.

"We have chance now," said Rivers. "We're back where we were, but we're just two weeks removed, dadgummit, which makes us mad.

"But we're right where we were, with a chance to get to 6-6. … And then it kinds sets the stage for a four-week deal."

Rivers had the hot hand, completing 22 of 30 passes for 242 yards, three touchdowns and an interception, which resulted in a 116.3 passer rating. He got good protection overall from the guys up front and was not sacked.

Rivers has 3,128 passing yards on the season, his 11th consecutive year with at least 3,000 passing yards. That streak is tied for the fourth-longest in NFL history.

Only Brett Favre (18), Peyton Manning (13) and Drew Brees (13) have longer streaks.

"From a personal standpoint, I'm thankful I've been able to be out there," Rivers said about the mark. "Over 3,000 for 11 seasons, that means I've been out there for all of them. And that's something I don't take for granted."

A favorite target of Rivers was Dontrelle Inman, who had the big catch of the day, a 52-yard touchdown strike from Rivers that was one of the bigger plays of the season. Inman finished with 119 receiving yards, just one shy of his career high.

Tyrell Williams totaled eight receptions for 70 yards, including a 21-yard touchdown.

Williams caught Rivers' second TD pass off of play-action. Per ESPN Stats and Info, Rivers is 10-for-15 with 165 yards and two TDs passing to Williams off play-action this season.

Tight end Antonio Gates was held without a catch for the first time in 77 straight games. The Chargers said Gates was being taken away by the Texans' scheme that didn't allow him to find open spaces. "If that's what teams want to do, and we keep winning, and other guys have success, then let's keep winning," Gates said.

Rookie Hunter Henry continued to impress with a touchdown catch. In fact, Rivers and Henry have connected for five TDs this season on passes into the end zone, the most by a QB-TE combination in the NFL.

Although they're in the AFC West cellar, the Chargers have won seven of their past eight games against AFC South teams, with San Diego's only loss during that stretch a 26-22 setback in Week 3 against the Indianapolis Colts.

San Diego's defense gave up yards between the 20-yard lines but held firm when Houston's offense reached the red zone, allowing just one touchdown, a 1-yard run by quarterback Brock Osweiler early in the second quarter.

The Chargers have had trouble taking care of the ball, coughing it up 19 times entering Sunday's game. What was equally gaudy, in the other direction, was that they had forced 19 takeaways. That was before snagging four turnovers in Sunday's win.

Casey Hayward corralled his league-leading sixth interception of the season, and Dwight Lowery forced a fumble that was recovered by cornerback Trevor Williams. Dexter McCoil and Lowery also hauled in interceptions.

San Diego scored seven points off the takeaways.

"I believe we had 19 heading into this game, so they've done a great job of creating turnovers," head coach Mike McCoy said. "That's something we talked about all offseason long and during training camp, but during the season we've done a great job of doing that. ..."

A few final notes here. ... According to numberFire.com's JJ Zachariason, since Week 5, when San Diego hasn't faced the Broncos, Williams has averaged 21.34 PPR points per game. As NFL.com's Matt Harmon suggested, as long as the shoulder injury that forced him out of this game early is not serious, Williams will absolutely dominate down the stretch.

According to San Diego Union-Tribune staffer Michael Gehlken, the issue is with Williams' labrum. The full scope of his damage is not known, but McCoy expressed optimism Monday about his status moving forward.

"He's good," McCoy said in a Monday press conference. "He's a little sore, a little sore when he came down on it."

Williams was not practicing Wednesday.

Should Williams miss time, Harmon believes it will boost Travis Benjamin, who has not had the same impact since returning early from a PCL injury.

Outside linebacker Jerry Attaochu, a 2014 second-round pick, broke his right foot Sunday when it became caught in NRG Stadium's artificial turf during the fourth quarter, sources told the San Diego Union-Tribune Monday. He is scheduled for surgery this week in Charlotte. His absence is a blow to the Chargers' depth at the position and a setback in the development of a young player with raw talent.

And finally. ... Ronnie Hillman, who was signed off waivers earlier in the week, was a healthy inactive on Sunday. According to the Sports Xchange, Hillman could see action this Sunday.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Philip Rivers, Cardale Jones
RBs: Melvin Gordon, Branden Oliver
WRs: Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams, Travis Benjamin, Mike Williams, Geremy Davis
TEs: Antonio Gates, Sean McGrath

San Francisco 49ers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 30 November 2016

Ever since the season opener, the results for the San Francisco 49ers haven't changed each week: 10 straight losses for the worst skid in franchise history.

With the playoffs, a winning record and just about any positive now officially out of reach this season, the 49ers (1-10) are left searching for any signs of progress that could provide optimism for the struggling franchise.

Colin Kaepernick provided just that in Sunday's 31-24 loss to the Miami Dolphins -- and in the process, he solidified his standing as a solid fantasy play heading into the stretch.

Kaepernick threw for 296 yards and three touchdowns, ran for 113 yards more and nearly led a late game-tying drive before being tackled at the 2 on the final play in a performance that looked like a flashback at times to when he emerged as one of the NFL's top young quarterbacks in 2012 and '13.

"He's made a progression from game to game where you see improvement from him, which is what you're looking for," head coach Chip Kelly said on a conference call Monday. "I think that part of it is positive. I think in all facets, it's not just one facet where it's just this and this is all he's done. It's in everything; his pocket presence, his accuracy, understanding and knowledge of protections."

Kaepernick's struggles last season led to his benching midway through the year and then he struggled with injuries all offseason. With his practice time limited, Kaepernick was beaten out for the starting job by Blaine Gabbert before regaining it last month against Buffalo.

After struggling his first two starts when he completed just 46 percent of his passes and had a 66.2 rating, Kaepernick has stepped it up since the bye week. He has completed 59.3 percent of his passes the past four games for 1,110 yards, eight TDs, two interceptions and a 96 rating. He has also rushed for 223 yards in that span, averaging 7.7 yards per carry.

Kelly insisted Monday that he was not surprised to see it. In fact, he thinks the quarterback's ceiling is a lot higher.

"It's natural for anybody the first time playing in our system, our first time getting to coach him, he's made a progression from game to game where you see improvement from him, which is what you're looking for," Kelly said. "I think it's all facets. It's not just one facet where it's just this and this is all he's done. It's in everything: his pocket presence, his accuracy, understanding and knowledge of protections."

So, just like the Kaepernick of old?

"No," Kelly said. "He's still not where he was. I think back then he was between 225 and 230 pounds. I don't think he's near that now. So, no to that."

Kelly went on to say that it is no coincidence that Kaepernick's best game of the season came with a healthy Carlos Hyde at his side.

The running back, who sat out almost a month with a shoulder injury, complemented Kaepernick with 65 yards on the ground while also teaming for five catches for 30 yards, including his first career receiving touchdown.

"Our guys are doing a better job and doing the things that we need to do to execute offensively in this league," Kelly said. "It was good to get a healthy Carlos."

Despite gaining at least 475 yards for the second time in four games, the Niners were unable to translate that into a big scoring output. Garrett Celek lost a fumble in the red zone, San Francisco settled for a field goal on another drive inside the Miami 20 and then the final drive was stopped 2 yards short of a tying touchdown.

In addition, receiver Torrey Smith couldn't handle a third-quarter throw from Kaepernick that became a Kiko Alonso interception and, eventually, a field goal.

After the game, Kelly pointed to the costly giveaways as turning points in a game in which the Niners actually outgained Miami 475 yards to 358.

Celek said he simply didn't follow his fundamentals.

"I caught the ball, like, 10 yards from the quarterback, turned, saw three defenders, so I went down," Celek said. "I should have put two hands on it but I didn't. But whoever came in from the side put his helmet right on the ball and knocked it out."

"We can't shoot ourselves in the foot," Smith said. "I dropped the ball and it led to a pick. I feel like I lost us the game. If you ask me, I feel like with the momentum coming out of the half, I don't feel like they stopped us. I feel like we stopped ourselves and I feel like I lost us the game.

"I just dropped the ball. Kap [threw] a good ball but I just dropped it. There's no excuses. It popped up in the air. It's embarrassing, to be honest."

"I'm just disappointed in how we really hurt ourselves in that game," Kelly said. "On the drives that we were stopped, all but one of them I think were our fault. We had the fumble in the red zone and then a couple times the penalties put us back, put us in long yardage situations, so it was tough to get out of those. But, I thought the offense did a nice job. You just wish with 475 yards of offense you'd have more than 24 points."

The other good sign for San Francisco has been an improving run defense. After allowing a 100-yard rusher in an NFL-record seven straight games, the Niners have been stouter on defense in recent weeks.

They held David Johnson and Arizona to 80 yards rushing on Nov. 13 and then bottled up Jay Ajayi on Sunday. Ajayi had just 45 yards on 18 carries, far below the 137 yards rushing he had averaged over the previous five games. But it wasn't enough as Ryan Tannehill threw for 285 yards and three scores, including a 43-yarder to Kenny Stills.

Meanwhile, the 49ers arrived in Orlando on Sunday night and will stay there before traveling to Chicago before Sunday's game against the Bears. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Hyde recorded the first receiving touchdown of his three-year career Sunday against Miami. Hyde caught five passes in the game after having hauled in just 39 in his first 29 career games. Hyde also rushed for 65 yards, helping the 49ers accumulate a season-best 193 rushing yards.

Vance McDonald led the 49ers with 60 receiving yards on four catches in Miami. The 60 yards increased McDonald's season total to 382, a career high. Celek caught his first touchdown pass of the season. The 4-yard catch capped a 91-yard drive, giving the 49ers scoring drives of 90 or more yards in two games in a row.

Smith scored on a 1-yard touchdown pass. It was the 36th touchdown of Smith's career.

Running back Raheem Mostert was signed to the 49ers' practice squad Monday. Mostert, who also returns kicks, played in 11 games for Miami, Baltimore and Cleveland last season after going undrafted. He was employed as a practice-squad player for the New York Jets and Chicago this season. Kelvin Taylor was released from the practice squad in a corresponding move. The sixth-round pick this year had not seen any regular-season action.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Jimmy Garoppolo, C.J. Beathard
RBs: Carlos Hyde, Matt Breida, Raheem Mostert, Kyle Juszczyk
WRs: Marquise Goodwin, Aldrick Robinson, Trent Taylor, Kendrick Bourne, Victor Bolden
TEs: George Kittle, Garrett Celek, Logan Paulsen

Seattle Seahawks

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 30 November 2016

While Justin Britt's absence with an ankle sprain certainly didn't help, it wasn't the sole reason for Seattle's massive struggles along the offensive line against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.

Seattle surrendered six sacks and quarterback Russell Wilson was hit 11 times as the Seahawks were unable to mount any consistent attack. Wilson passed for just 151 yards and was intercepted twice. They had just one net passing yard in the first half.

"They rushed the heck out of us," head coach Pete Carroll said. "It wasn't anyone in particular at all, but they did a really nice job. We didn't protect like we needed to and they had six sacks.

"That's just crazy because we haven't been doing that at all. We have usually been on the other end of that and that's a real oddity for us. We got to get back to work and fix it."

Sixth-round rookie Joey Hunt started at center in place of Britt and had his hands full with Buccaneers tackle Gerald McCoy. However, left tackle George Fant struggled mightily with Noah Spence and right guard Germain Ifedi struggled against McCoy, Ryan Russell and Akeem Spence.

Seattle also made a switch at right tackle with Bradley Sowell replacing Garry Gilliam after the first series.

"Russell was running all over the place back there," Carroll said. "We need to be quicker with the ball and get it out and not let that be a factor. We didn't get on track with that really at any time in the game. We were just out of sync and it wasn't like we want to be."

Thomas Rawls wasn't much of a factor in the running game either. He managed just 38 yards on 12 carries.

The Seahawks had three turnovers. Jimmy Graham had a critical fumble with Seattle in field goal range along with Wilson's two interceptions, both of which came inside the Buccaneers' 20-yard line.

"Just one of those weird nights, just couldn't get it going out there. Just when I thought we were, all day something crazy would happen," Sowell said.

In totality, it was perhaps Seattle's worst offensive performance of the season.

"I'm just disappointed we came out this way and played like that. We didn't play anywhere near like we thought we would," Carroll said.

The question moving forward is this: Was the performance an aberration or is it one that should elaborate greater concern?

Seattle had just come off two of their best offensive performances of the season against New England and Philadelphia. While the Seahawks are still in comfortable position in the playoff picture, they cannot play that poorly up front and expect to accomplish much in January.

"We got to get back right," Carroll said. "We'll go right back to work. We got a big finish coming up on this season. The main thing was to admit that this was not the way we want to play. We'll turn our focus on the way home when we talk about getting ready for next week.:

Meanwhile, ESPN.com's Sheil Kapadia notes there was at least one takeaway that has Carroll encouraged: Wilson made more plays with his legs than he has at any other point this season.

In the Seahawks' first 10 games, with Wilson battling through three different injuries, he totaled just 79 yards rushing. But against the Bucs, Wilson ran eight times for 80 yards.

Fifty of those yards came on six scrambles that were called pass plays. But on two occasions, Wilson took off on zone-read runs, picking up 17 and 13 yards, respectively.

"It was great," Carroll said. "That's just what we're counting on. If they give it to us, we're going to take it. A lot of those carries early in the year, we would hand the ball off and couldn't do much with it. He put together a real nice showing and that helps us with our run game moving forward."

It's an aspect of the Seahawks' offense that has not been available to them for much of the season.

The run game has struggled, but Seattle is counting on Wilson to help provide a lift down the stretch.

"Any time he's back there with me, especially when he's healthy enough to go out there and run, it brings another weapon to the offense, which was very helpful," Rawls said. "So hopefully we can do some more of that next week."

Wilson's legs have always created additional space for running backs. Against Tampa, Rawls carried seven times for 27 yards when Wilson was in shotgun and a threat to run. He had 16 yards before contact on those runs.

When Wilson was under center, Rawls totaled 11 yards on five carries. It's a small sample size, but Rawls had minus-4 yards before contact on those runs.

"They have to account [for] him," Rawls said. "They have to account [for] me. So I just think whenever we do those in the game plan, it's going to be successful either way. I truly believe that."

When reviewing the film, Carroll said he felt like the Seahawks could have run the ball even more, especially given their problems in pass protection.

"Russell was really finding a lot of space in the running game," Carroll said. "That was part of the read thing that we haven't really been able to do much of. I'm sure they didn't anticipate that we would have done a lot of that, and it worked out well. We could have done more of that. We felt like we could have gone back to it and taken the pressure off pass pro, the way we were having our problems."

Given the inconsistency on offense, the Seahawks need every tool possible at their disposal down the stretch. And that very well could mean more zone read and more of Wilson's legs being a factor in the weeks ahead. ...

A few final notes. ... According to NFL.com's Matt Harmon, Tyler Lockett played on a season-high 84 percent of the team's offensive plays, and finally passed Jermaine Kearse. Those newfound chances led to quite a bit of nothing, though much of that had to do with Wilson being off on the day. According to Next Gen Stats, Lockett ranked fourth on the week in average yards of separation at target with 3.9 yards and Doug Baldwin ranked second with 4.3.

As Harmon summed up: "Wilson simply wasn't himself."

While Rawls and the ground game will find the going tough, Wilson and the receivers could rebound against the Panthers.

B Troymaine Pope was expected to run Monday after missing Sunday's game with a high ankle sprain. "He's making a really good recovery. He's shocked the trainers, being able to bounce back the way that he has. He'll have a chance (to play)," said.

TE Luke Willson suffered a first-degree knee sprain during Sunday's game on his lone catch of the afternoon. Carroll did not have an update on Willson's status on Monday.

Britt, defensive end Michael Bennett and linebacker Mike Morgan are all expected to return to the lineup this week for Seattle. In addition, free safety Earl Thomas and cornerback DeShawn Shead each have a chance to make it back from hamstring strains that kept them out against the Buccaneers.
DEPTH CHART
QBs: Russell Wilson, Austin Davis
RBs: J.D. McKissic, Mike Davis, Eddie Lacy, Thomas Rawls, Tre Madden
WRs: Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett, Paul Richardson, Tanner McEvoy, Amara Darboh
TEs: Jimmy Graham, Luke Willson, Nick Vannett

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 30 November 2016

Jameis Winston threw a pair of touchdown passes to Mike Evans and Tampa Bay's rejuvenated defense shut down Russell Wilson and Seattle's sputtering offense to beat the first-place Seahawks 14-5 on Sunday.

Evans scored on receptions of 3 and 23 yards in the opening quarter, a grieving Alterraun Verner had one of two interceptions off Wilson, and the Bucs sacked the Seattle quarterback six times.

The Bucs (6-5) have won three straight to climb back into contention for a playoff berth. In addition to stopping Seattle's three-game winning streak, they remained one game behind first-place Atlanta in the NFC South.

Playing two days after the death of his father, Verner picked off Wilson to stop a promising drive in the final minute of the opening half. The reserve cornerback was embraced on the sideline by teammates, who continued to play inspired defense in the second half.

But Evans is the big story here.

As ESPN.com's Jenna Laine noted, Winston said last week that while he'd be mindful of where Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman was -- and that was on Evans throughout the game -- "I like my guy in that matchup."

His guy, came through big against Seattle's vaunted secondary Sunday, helping the Bucs jump out to an early lead with two touchdown catches on the first two drives of the game. The offense wouldn't score any more points that day, making that fast start and Winston's trust factor with Evans so important.

"Y'all always ask me, 'Why do you throw Mike the ball so much?' I never understand those questions," Winston said. "I always throw Mike the ball and I always [say], 'He's my superstar.'"

Evans finished the game with eight catches on 11 targets for 104 receiving yards, reaching the 1,000-yard mark for the third straight season. Only three other wideouts in NFL history have achieved that milestone in their first three years in the league -- John Jefferson, A.J. Green and Evans' idol, Randy Moss. Odell Beckham will likely join that exclusive group this season, too.

Evans also joined Joey Galloway and Vincent Jackson as the only receivers in Bucs history with three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons.

"Mike Evans is elite," Winston said. "I say that every week. He is a superstar. It's just a testament that hard work pays off. We worked real hard this offseason. He in particular worked very hard this offseason. It's really paying off. You just see how great he really is."

As Laine noted, Evans' numbers this year suggest he's moving into the elite realm.

He and Jones are the only two receivers to reach 1,000 yards already this season. Antonio Brown needs just two more to reach that milestone. Evans is also tied with Brown for a league-leading 10 touchdown catches among wide receivers.

Laine went on to suggest many factors go into the elite discussion, including consistency -- what players do year in and year out. There are 15 other current NFL wideouts who have reached the 1,000-yard milestone in three consecutive years. Evans is one of just two to do it in their first three seasons. Also in the last three years, Evans has 25 touchdown catches -- fourth-most in the league during that span, behind Brown, OBJ and Brandon Marshall.

And then there are the "wow" plays -- dazzling acrobatic catches and one-handed grabs that earn air-time and that means eyeballs and more popularity among fans and peers. Evans has had multiple plays like that this year: the Atlanta game where he spun around and caught the ball with one hand as he was diving toward the sideline and took a brutal hit from Keanu Neal.

Then there was the play against Chicago, where Winston was running for his life, was nearly sacked in his own end zone and aired it out to Evans, who leaped high into the air and dove backwards for a 39-yard gain. Had that play happened in New York, it might have gotten the same attention OBJ's one-handed catch did.

Against the Seahawks, Winston threw a deep pass that he managed to slip behind Bobby Wagner and Jeremy Lane to Evans for a 26-yard gain, and he threw a touchdown pass right over Sherman into Evans' hands. He also threw into triple-coverage toward the middle of the field and Evans came down with it. Winston attempted to hit Evans a third time in the end zone but was picked off by Kam Chancellor.

Head coach Dirk Koetter said his only disappointment in the game was the offense not having a better second half, but he admitted on the pick that he "probably should have been more conservative" and not called a play designed for third-and-long in the red zone. Still, he's been thrilled with what Evans has done this season.

"Mike has been so steady for us all year," Koetter said. "We've seen a totally different Mike Evans this year from a preparation standpoint and from a keeping his composure standpoint. Mike is just playing so much more under control and he's just letting his talent do it."

Winston completed 21 of 28 passes for 220 yards and one interception and Doug Martin rushed for 87 yards on 23 attempts for the Bucs.

Martin was better in his third game since returning from an injury, but he's still not all the way back. The Bucs did not have an explosive running play on Sunday. But Martin recorded a lot of yards after contact and kept the offense balanced.

Jacquizz Rodgers, who missed four games with an ankle sprain, could return this week against San Diego.

The team's decision to waive Mike James on Tuesday lends further credence to that notion. ...

Also. ... The team waived receiver Louis Murphy off the PUP-reserve list. According to Tampa Bay Times staffer Greg Auman,. Murphy was due to make $2 million in 2017 but none of it guaranteed. His release opens some cap room for Bucs for next season.

Meanwhile, as NFL.com's Matt Harmon noted, in his second game back from injury Russell Shepard out-snapped Cecil Shorts and garnered three targets. Cameron Brate continues to hover over 60 percent, but under 70 percent of the team's offensive plays run. However, he did have a touchdown called back in this game. Brate is still a major part of this offense, but as Harmon suggested, the tight end doesn't have much of a safe floor if he does not find the end zone.

And finally. ... Roberto Aguayo is 13 of 19 in field goal attempts, a league worst 68.4 percent with a long of 43 yards.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Jameis Winston, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Griffin
RBs: Peyton Barber, Jacquizz Rodgers, Charles Sims, Doug Martin
WRs: Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Adam Humphries, Chris Godwin, Bernard Reedy
TEs: Cameron Brate, O.J. Howard

Tennessee Titans

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 30 November 2016

As ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky, the Titans went to Soldier Field and did just what they needed, handling the inferior Bears to get to 6-6 and extend their chance in the AFC South race.

At .500 after the win, the Titans head into their Dec. 4 bye ahead of the 5-6 Colts and on the heels of the 6-5 Texans.

The Titans held on but didn't do great work once they were ahead 27-7.

"That was quite a ride," head coach Mike Mularkey said. "Every one of these games is like a whitewater [raft ride]. We found a way to win and we need some of those games. I've been on the other end of a lot of those games here and we need some of those games to go our way."

The good news from a fantasy perspective? Marcus Mariota threw two touchdown passes.

In fact, it was the eighth consecutive game in which he threw at least two, boosting his franchise record. Only Tom Brady, with a nine-game streak to start the 2015 season, has had a better string since Mariota entered the league.

Beyond that, Mariota was nearly perfect on third down, completing 7-of-9 passes for 74 yards and two touchdowns on third down. He also took a zone-read rush 29 yards on 3rd-and-1 to set up a field goal late in the third quarter. Mariota's biggest third-down play was a 29-yard touchdown pass to Rishard Matthews late in the first half that gave the Titans a 21-7 lead.

Overall, ESPN.com noted that Mariota added 8.5 more points to his team's scoring margin than an average QB would have with the same number of plays, the best mark of any QB in Week 12. In the past five weeks, only Kirk Cousins and Dak Prescott have added more QB points than Mariota.

Mariota now has 25 touchdown passes and is just two yards shy of becoming the Titans' first 3,000-yard passer since Matt Hasselbeck in 2011. The 25 TD passes passed Steve McNair's best season of 24 touchdown passes.

Meanwhile, as NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich noted, Derrick Henry scored his second career touchdown. He also surprisingly out-gained DeMarco Murray on 11 fewer rush attempts against the Bears.

Murray was held to a season-low 43 yards on 17 carries Sunday against Chicago, but he added five receptions so his total yardage ended up being decent. Still, UT was the first game all season that Murray failed to post double-digit fantasy points in standard scoring.

According to Kuharsky, Mularkey revealed a bit about the Titans' strategy with Henry following their win in Chicago.

When Henry got more carries than usual, Mularkey was asked why.

"That's kind of been our plan all year, we get into a four-minute [situation], and we run Derrick," Mularkey said. "A little fresher. Some of the things we were running, he runs well."

But of Henry's eight carries for 60 yards in Sunday's win over the Bears, just two for eight yards came in 4:00 situations.

In those scenarios at the end of the first half and the game, offenses look to convert first downs and maintain possession, and above all else, making sure the other team doesn't get the ball back.

But the situation hasn't presented itself too many times.

"There's been some that we haven't been able to get to that segment like we would like to," Mularkey said. "Obviously, you'd like to be in that every game, but we haven't had that ability. Again, I'm thinking back recently, we've had to come back from games instead of keep a lead."

It's difficult to break out situations where the Titans had a lead.

But overall, in the final 4:00 of a half with the Titans ahead, Henry has nine carries for 28 yards. That's only 12.8 percent of his carries and 8.9 percent of his yards.

And the Titans bell cow back, Murray has had more work in the 4:00 situations Mularkey is saying can be earmarked for Henry.

He has 10 carries for 38 in the same situations. In addition, however, Mularkey suggested the Titans have discussed using Henry more in short yardage situations.

Remember: Murray has been troubled by a foot injury and probably can use the week off to rest the injury.

Meanwhile, Matthews now has seven touchdowns over the last eight weeks. He also has a career high in receptions with 48, yards with 669. The seven TDs are also a career-high. As NFL.com's Matt Harmon suggests, Matthews is clearly established as the No. 1 receiver in Tennessee, playing on 87 percent of the offensive plays.

There wasn't much to go around for the rest of the wide receivers. Tajae Sharpe played on just 67 percent of the plays, which is down from recent weeks. "Even more alarming," Harmon added, "Kendall Wright was out on just 29 percent of plays. He's a part-time player only, and his playing time varies greatly from week-to-week."

And finally. ... The Titans made a surprise move that actually shouldn't be all that surprising on Monday, placing veteran cornerback Perrish Cox on waivers with four games to go in the season.

Cox had his second consecutive rough game at cornerback, falling down on what could have been a game-winning touchdown pass from Matt Barkley to Josh Bellamy, except that Bellamy dropped the ball inexplicably.

Cox had already been demoted into a rotation with rookie LeShaun Sims and veteran backup Valentino Blake before his demise on Monday.

CB LeShaun Sims played 36 snaps and figures to get even more time now the Perrish Cox has been released.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Marcus Mariota, Matt Cassel, Brandon Weeden
RBs: Derrick Henry, DeMarco Murray, David Fluellen
WRs: Rishard Matthews, Eric Decker, Taywan Taylor, Eric Weems, Corey Davis
TEs: Delanie Walker, Luke Stocker, Jonnu Smith, Phillip Supernaw

Washington Redskins

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 30 November 2016

Tight end Jordan Reed estimated he has only 30 percent range of motion in his sprained left shoulder but hasn't ruled out playing Sunday at the Cardinals.

Reed didn't practice Monday with what he said was a Grade 3 sprain of the AC joint in his left shoulder. That means he tore two ligaments in that shoulder during a 31-26 loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving, though he returned and played through pain.

After struggling to put a basketball jersey on over his head, the Redskins' top offensive target said he was having discomfort that was making daily tasks and sleeping difficult. The 26-year-old decided against putting his shoulder in a sling because he's trying to keep it strong and moving in the hopes of getting back on the field when the Redskins (6-4-1) visit Arizona.

"If I go out there I've just got to make sure it's ready to go," Reed said. "They're not going to try to put me out there unless I've got strength in my arm and I can move it and things like that. If I'm able to do that I'm going to play, if not then I can't play."

As Washington Post staffer Liz Clarke noted, the 6-2, 246-pound Reed is a crucial element of the Redskins' passing game, which is the strength of the team as it battles for a spot in the playoffs. Reed has caught a team-high 59 passes for 630 yards and five touchdowns.

He is also among the more determined competitors and returned to the field last Thursday afternoon, to the surprise of Jay Gruden and quarterback Kirk Cousins, and caught two of the Redskins' three fourth-quarter touchdowns.

Despite missing a portion of the second quarter, Reed finished with a game-high 10 receptions (on 12 targets) for 95 yards and two touchdowns.

In that game, Reed was reduced to being only a receiver because his shoulder wasn't strong enough to block. That could be the case against the Cardinals (6-4-1), too, even if Reed can withstand the pain of lifting his arm to make catches.

Reed said rest, not surgery, was the only option and doesn't think playing through the injury will make it worse.

"I don't think it could be hurt any more worse than it is right now," Reed said. "It's just one of those things where I might have to go through the pain for a little bit."

Receiver DeSean Jackson understands. Having previously dealt with a sprained AC joint in his shoulder, Jackson called it "a pain in the butt" and a tough injury that can have significant effects.

"It's just different movements, raising or reaching for the ball or trying to block," Jackson said. "It's just all types of different areas or angles that you move your shoulder that is going to affect you with that type of injury."

Jackson is dealing with a rotator cuff injury in his left shoulder, which he tweaked while running a route at practice Monday. He missed the Redskins' Nov. 13 game versus Minnesota with the injury but has resigned himself to gutting it out until the season is over.

He'll continue to rest it and get treatment as needed.

"It's something that I've got to deal with throughout the rest of the season," Jackson said. "It's an injury that's really not going to get better while I'm playing. It'll be all right."

For what it's worth, Reed now has 2,546 receiving yards. He ranks fourth all-time in receiving yards among Redskins tight ends in just his fourth season. Jackson caught a 67-yard touchdown against Dallas. It was the 21st of his career of 60 yards or more. That ranks second in NFL history. Only four players in league history have caught more 50-yard touchdown passes than Jackson (25). ...

Otherwise, two starters on the offensive line also suffered injuries. Right guard Brandon Scherff sprained an ankle but returned to finish the game, as did left guard Shawn Lauvao, who sprained a wrist. Right tackle Morgan Moses has been playing on a sprained ankle for the last three weeks.

I'll continue to follow up on Reed, who was not practicing Wednesday, and Jackson in coming days; watch the Late-Breaking Update section for more. ...

Meanwhile, the Redskins are all but finished in the NFC title chase. The Cowboys (10-1) have run away with that one. But things continued to break well for Washington in the race to secure one of the two NFC wild-card spots. The Redskins watched Detroit (7-4) -- a team it lost to in October -- take control of the NFC North on Thursday with a win over Minnesota (6-5) -- a team it beat earlier in November.

Entering Sunday's game at Arizona, Washington will be in full control of its own destiny with five games left.

The Redskins still play the current No. 5 seed New York Giants (7-3), No. 9 Philadelphia (5-5), No. 10 Arizona (4-5-1) and No. 12 Carolina (4-6) and at worst will have a half-game lead for the No. 6 and final playoff spot.

But they have some issues.

As the Sports Xchange notes, the Redskins' prolific offense continues to leave points on the board thanks to a red-zone percentage that ranks 28th in the NFL. Washington converted just two of five chances in the loss to Dallas and kicker Dustin Hopkins missed two more field-goal attempts (55, 43).

It will continue to haunt them against the better teams on the schedule.

Washington even turned to a wildcat play with running back Robert Kelley in the second quarter that failed. That direct snap wasn't something it had tried at all this season. The Redskins had drives stall at the 25 (missed field goal), the six (field goal), the 38 (missed field goal) and the two (field goal). Grand total: Six points.

"It's something that is a glaring weakness of this football team right now offensively. ... But maybe the only weakness that we have," Gruden said. "Pass protection has been outstanding. The completion percentage is outstanding. The lack of interceptions and turnovers has been outstanding. We just have struggled in the red zone for whatever reason and defenses have a lot to do with that, execution and play-calling. That's what it is. ..."

Other notes of interest. ... After a total of 321 rushing yards in his first three NFL starts, Kelley managed just 37 against a Cowboys front that did a lot of stunting and shifting. Chris Thompson added just 17 yards on four carries and there were more tackles in the backfield than usual. It didn't help that Washington was chasing the game almost from the start after falling behind 7-0 on the opening drive.

And finally. ... Cousins was just the fifth quarterback this season to have over 400 passing yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions in a game.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Kirk Cousins, Colt McCoy
RBs: Samaje Perine, Kapri Bibbs
WRs: Jamison Crowder, Josh Doctson, Ryan Grant, Brian Quick, Terrelle Pryor
TEs: Vernon Davis, Jeremy Sprinkle, Niles Paul