Team Notes week 13 2021

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 2021

As Associated Press sports writer David Brandt noted, Kliff Kingsbury has proven his coaching chops on many occasions over the past decade, developing elite quarterbacks, piling up points on the scoreboard, producing an entertaining brand of offensive football that fans enjoy and opposing coaches respect.

There's only one real problem on his resume. Up until this season, he hasn't won much.

That's finally starting to change for the 42-year-old Kingsbury, who has helped push the Cardinals to the NFL's best record this season. The Cardinals (9-2) are in the middle of their long-awaited bye week before they return to prepare for a road game against the Chicago Bears on Dec. 5.

Kingsbury has become one of the leading candidates for NFL Coach of the Year this season, winning football games despite key injuries and COVID-19 absences that have kept some of the team's best players and coaches -- including himself -- off the field at various times. The Texan has kept his usual dry wit through the good times and bad, saying Arizona's hot start hasn't changed the way he feels about his coaching ability.

"The only thing I like is family members, people that have believed in me forever, them to actually not hear me called a 'dumbass' all the time," Kingsbury said with a wry smile. "That's the biggest positive I take away from all of it."

The biggest negative?

Sudden interest in his services. ...

On Monday, Kingsbury deflected a question about his interest in the University of Oklahoma job, a day after a report said the Sooners were targeting him for their vacant head coaching position.

"I don't get into those things," Kingsbury said. "My sole focus the last couple weeks has been the Chicago Bears and, after watching them on Thanksgiving, it needs to be, because they're a really good football team and had a big win, and so that's where my focus has been."

When asked why he didn't just deny interest in the Sooners job, Kingsbury responded: "We're in-season, we're 9-2. Just not a topic I want to touch on right now."

On Sunday afternoon, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that Oklahoma had targeted Kingsbury to replace Lincoln Riley as the Sooners' next head football coach after Riley left for the head coaching job at Southern California.

Kingsbury said he was "all day off the grid" on Sunday when the news broke about Oklahoma's interest "so it didn't affect me one bit."

However, Kingsbury said he enjoys coaching in the NFL because of the "professionalism that these guys approach the game with each and every day," as well as because pro players are "highly motivated, take care of their bodies, study the game. I mean, it inspires you to be a better coach. And step your game up because you better come in that meeting room knowing what you're talking about with a level of expertise and
Under Kingsbury, the Cardinals have become a top-10 offense three years after being the worst offense in the NFL under former coach Steve Wilks.

Kingsbury was hired in 2019 after going 35-40 in six seasons at Texas Tech.

The Cardinals drafted quarterback Kyler Murray first overall in Kingsbury's first draft, pairing a quarterback and a coach who have known each other since Murray was 15 years old. On Nov. 17, a few days before Arizona beat the Seahawks on the road to head into its bye week, Kingsbury said he and Murray are "tied to each other forever" and they "signed up together, and as much as any duo probably in the history of the NFL, the way this thing has played out."

Murray is eligible for a contract extension after this season, his third, and is expected to command more than Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen did with his extension worth up to $258 million over six years, which he signed in August.

Beyond parrying rumors, the next challenge for Kingsbury is trying to win after the bye week. The Cardinals are 0-2 in games after the break over the past two seasons.

As usual, Kingsbury has tried to evolve and isn't too proud to seek help, borrowing ideas from other teams.

"We did a lot of research this offseason on how we wanted to handle the bye, looked at different teams that performed well after the bye last year, and adjusted to a similar schedule," Kingsbury said. "They'll definitely have time to get to wherever they need to get for Thanksgiving, have some down time, rest and recoup, and we'll get them back.

"We'll try to keep them locked in the beginning of the week into football."

If the first 11 weeks of the season are any indication, this might be the year the Cardinals break through with a win on the week after a bye. They're hopeful Murray and Hopkins will be back and the team is ready to make a push for the No. 1 playoff seed -- and the only first-round bye -- in the NFC playoffs.

Kingsbury isn't getting ahead of himself and neither are the Cardinals. They know from experience a good start doesn't mean much: Arizona had a 6-3 record last season before stumbling to an 8-8 finish and missing the playoffs.

"We positioned ourselves well," Kingsbury said. "We've just got to find a way to finish now. ..."

Meanwhile, Kingsbury also said on Monday that he hopes both Murray (ankle) and DeAndre Hopkins (hamstring) can play against the Bearse.

"I am hopeful," Kingsbury said, via Darren Urban of the team's website. "I will leave it at that at this point because I want to see them move around, practice full speed, and see where they are at, and where their comfort level and their confidence is."

According to Urban, both Murray and Hopkins were practicing on Wednesday. Their level of participation will be announced later on Wednesday. But it’s a good sign that they are at least on the field.

The Cardinals went 2-1 with Murray and Hopkins out of action, but they'd prefer to be at full strength as they try to hold onto the top seed in the NFC over the final six weeks of the regular season.

Before his ankle injury, Murray was fantasy's sixth highest scoring QB. He'll return to mid-range QB1 status if he's a full go against the Bears.

I'll be watching their progress closely in coming days; check the Late-Breaking Updates for more ...

In other injury news, running back Chase Edmonds, who has been on IR since Nov. 13 with an ankle injury, isn't expected to return until Week 14 against the Rams, per Kingsbury. ...

Other notes of interest. ... James Conner comes of the 12 bye on a bit of a roll. In fact, those invested in the former Steeler might contend it's a season-long roll. Although the touches have gone up over the last three games with Chase Edmonds sidelined by a high-ankle sprain, Conner has 12 touchdowns on the season with the scores coming in eight different games.

He's scored a pair of touchdown four times. ...

At wideout, nobody has really stepped up in Hopkins' absence. ... Christian Kirk comes off the bye with 49 catches (on 61 targets) for 628 yards and four touchdowns. It's not necessarily the production you're looking for, but it might the production you need depending on your circumstances.

Ronald Moore caught all 11 of his targets in the Week 11 win over the Seahawks. But with just 47 catches (on 55 targets) for 413 yards and a touchdown over the first 11 games, Moore lacks the role and consistent workload necessary to be a viable fantasy option.

The same could be said of A.J. Green, who has 34 catches (on 55 targets) for 538 yards and three touchdowns. Even working as a starter in this offense, Green's role and workload haven't been consistent.

Zach Ertz comes off the bye with a 22 catches (on 29 targets) for 269 with three touchdowns in his five games since being traded to the Cardinals. The role is sufficient to make Ertz a viable streaming option any given week. In fact, he should be viewed as that (and as a solid second option in 2-TE leagues) against the Bears in Week 13.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Kyler Murray, Colt McCoy, Trace McSorley
RBs: James Conner, Darrel Williams, Jonathan Ward, Eno Benjamin
WRs: A.J. Green, Marquise Brown, Antoine Wesley, Rondale Moore, Andy Isabella, DeAndre Hopkins
TEs: Zach Ertz, Darrell Daniels, Maxx Williams

Atlanta Falcons

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 30 November 2021

As Tori McElhaney of the team's official website noted, the run game has not contributed as much this season as the Falcons needed - or wanted - it to. There have been lingering questions over the last month or so about the Falcons ability to run the ball and run block.

But against the Jaguars, the Falcons felt as though the run game finally got back on track. Atlanta finished the day with 149 rushing yards. The running backs averaged just over five yards a carry.

Throughout the week, there was an intentionality set by head coach Arthur Smith, with Cordarrelle Patterson saying he challenged the offense to be better.

"We all took it to heart," Patterson said of Smith's challenge. "This whole week we've been talking about the run game… We made it a big target for us to just be able to run the ball."

Coming into 2021, there were a great many questions swirling as to how the Falcons were going to use Patterson, who they picked up on a one-year deal this offseason. Little did everyone know at the time, but Patterson was going to come to mean a great deal to this offensive operation.

"Having (Patterson) back, it adds an element," Smith said. "He's a physical presence who can do a lot for us. I think that's clear."

Patterson finished the day setting career highs in rushing yards (108) and rushing touchdowns (two) on 16 carries. He averaged 6.7 yards a carry and was the spark the Falcons needed to jumpstart their run game, particularly early in the first half on Sunday.

"That first half shows you (what we can do). We had over 100 rushing yards in that first half," Patterson said. "It just shows you that when we put our minds to it we can't be stopped."

After the game, Smith was asked how he had the confidence in knowing this run game could turn itself around. He said it's because he's seen teams do it before. He's been a part of teams who did it. He has perspective.

He thought back to the 2018 season when he was with Tennessee.

"There's a lot of revisionist history but there were times in 2018 where it didn't look too pretty," he recounted. "But we got going at the end of the year in the run game."

But sometimes, Smith said, it takes some time.

The head coach commended this offense for sticking with what they know. He noted the Falcons could have seen how the run game was trending and gone out to find plays that wouldn't have necessarily fit their personnel, essentially just to try something new. But Smith said the Falcons just "kept chipping away" and they weren't going to slash and burn what they were trying to implement.

"We've been training to hit these combinations," Smith said, "and it paid off."

For Smith, perspective is everything. And this game was the game the Falcons needed to show that they do have a run game worth defenses accounting for. They now have the tape to show they do against a Jaguars team that came into said game with the No. 3 run defense in the league.

"We know we can do it," Patterson said. "We just have to do it together."

One thing they can't do, however, is throw the deep pass.

As Associated Press sports writer George Henry pointed out, Matt Ryan almost never takes a shot downfield. Smith said the reason is the cornerbacks are playing far off, whether it's in single-high coverage or in variations of two-quarters schemes, and forcing Ryan to complete the ball underneath.

"Certainly, I think it's a trend in the NFL," Smith said. "When you see what their game plan is, we've got to adapt, and I thought we did a decent job of that yesterday."

Not having their alpha receiver, Calvin Ridley, hasn't helped.

Smith had no update Monday on Ridley, who missed his fifth straight game with mental health issues. Smith cut off two questions from reporters asking whether Ridley might return this season.

"When we have an update, we'll give it to you," he said.

Ryan did end up throwing for 190 yards on 19 completions, averaging 6.6 yards a throw against the Jaguars.

Russell Gage was more heavily involved, with the ball finding him six times for 62 yards. There were four other receivers who all had 20-plus yards each, two being running backs Mike Davis and Patterson, as well as tight end Kyle Pitts.

Pitts was targeted six times but only had two catches for 26 yards.

As McElhaney suggested, it's a tough pill to swallow to see Pitts' production be what is was Sunday after a 163-yard receiving day against Miami in Week 7.

Since then, Pitts has accounted for 190 receiving yards in the last five games.

With the passing attack struggling, the goal this week has to be to keep beefing up the running game and get ready to face Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this Sunday.

Perhaps they'll beef up their defense as well. And what better way than to use their best player on that side of the ball?

Patterson has said this season that he would like to get some playing time on defense, and has a goal of getting an interception. In Sunday’s win over the Jaguars, Patterson did play one snap on defense, and after the game Smith said contributing on defense is something Patterson can legitimately do.

“He got his defensive snap,” Smith said of Patterson. “I may put him on the depth chart next week at free safety

Sure enough, the team’s official depth chart now lists him as a backup safety in addition to his roles on offense and special teams.

Defensive coordinator Dean Pees said the team does have a package that includes Patterson on the field at safety, although Pees added that he hopes not to have to use that package. As Profootballtalk.com's Michael David Smith suggets, no one should expect Patterson to be a regular part of the secondary rotation, but there’s not much on the football field that Patterson can’t do.

And finally. ... Qadree Ollison has returned to practice this week after sitting out last week due to a non-COVID illness.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Marcus Mariota, Josh Rosen, Feleipe Franks
RBs: Cordarrelle Patterson, Qadree Ollison, Damien Williams
WRs: Damiere Byrd, Olamide Zaccheaus, Bryan Edwards, Frank Darby, Auden Tate, Christian Blake, Chris Rowland, Calvin Ridley
TEs: Kyle Pitts, Anthony Firkser

Baltimore Ravens

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 30 November 2021

As ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley suggested, Lamar Jackson once again did something the football world has rarely seen. He's just not happy about this one.

In beating the Browns 16-10 on Sunday night, Jackson became the first quarterback in eight years to win a game after throwing four interceptions. QBs had lost 41 straight games when throwing four picks.

"I'm hot," Jackson said. "I feel like those drives, when the interceptions came, we could've done something on those drives. We could've put points on the board."

Jackson then tapped his chest: "I just told my team, 'That's me. I owe y'all.'"

The last starting quarterback to win after throwing four interceptions was Andy Dalton, who beat the Ravens in the 2013 season finale when he was with the Cincinnati Bengals.

On Sunday night, Jackson threw a career-high four interceptions, and all the picks came when he wasn't pressured. He was intercepted three times on his final five passes of the second quarter, and he was then picked off early in the fourth quarter on an underthrown deep pass to tight end Mark Andrews.

Fortunately for Baltimore, the Browns only converted three points off those turnovers.

Asked if there is a common denominator on his interceptions, Jackson said, "I mean, it's one game that it happened. They just made great plays on those interceptions. It wasn't like I was throwing it right to them."

The Ravens (8-3) now hold the AFC's top seed with six games remaining, and they've won the past two games without much help from Jackson. Last week, Baltimore prevailed at the Chicago Bears without Jackson, who was sidelined with an illness. On Sunday night, the Ravens won despite Jackson turning the ball over on nearly one-third of their drives.

The reason Baltimore maintained a one-game lead atop the AFC North is because of its defense, which held the NFL's top rushing attack to 40 yards on the ground, forced three turnovers and constantly harassed Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield.

"I think it's pretty obvious that [Jackson has] done some special things [and] won us a lot of games, sometimes almost by himself," Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey said. "If you look at the top five quarterbacks in the league, no one has a great game every time. So, for us to pick him up, it was just special -- and to end the game on defense. 'Wink' [defensive coordinator Don Martindale] talks about, 'Protect each other,' and I felt like that's kind of what we did today."

Considered among the favorites in the NFL MVP race entering Sunday, Jackson is tied with Ryan Tannehill for the most interceptions in the NFL at 12.

He has thrown three more interceptions this season than in any of his previous three campaigns.

But Jackson did show resiliency in overcoming his mistakes against the Browns. After throwing three interceptions in the second quarter, Jackson was visibly frustrated on the sideline. He then opened the second half with a fadeaway, 13-yard touchdown pass to Andrews in which he dropped back 20 yards to elude pressure. He also led Baltimore with 68 yards rushing.

"Nobody gets flustered, and it starts with Lamar," head coach John Harbaugh said. "Lamar wants those plays back, and he's a massive competitor. Yet he doesn't let it take control of him. He's able to push it aside, and he's able to go play the next series and give you great football. It's really a rare trait. To me, that's one of the things that makes him the quarterback that he is."

Baltimore has won six straight one-score games (within eight points), which matches the longest win streak in these close games in franchise history. The Ravens also did so in 2012, the year of their last Super Bowl title.

"We're determined. We know we want to win," Jackson said. "We fight adversity, and we do it all. There's been a lot going on throughout this whole season, and tonight was another part of it. We just have to keep on doing what we're doing, and we're going to click."

Baltimore's next two games are on the road. The Ravens play at Pittsburgh next weekend, then have a rematch at Cleveland on Dec. 12. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Devonta Freeman had 16 carries for 52 yards and caught his lone target for eight yards against the Browns.

As CBSSports.com notes, Freeman continues to start for the Ravens, finishing with a 16 to eight carry advantage over backup Latavius Murray. The veteran tailback didn't finish as Baltimore's leading rusher, however, which shouldn't come as a surprise since he plays on a team with Jackson as its starting quarterback.

Freeman remains the back to roster in Baltimore, but he is a bit touchdown dependent after averaging well under four yards per carry over his last three contests. This week's opponent provides a boost to Freeman's value, as the Steelers have allowed a whopping 133.1 rushing yards per game this season (ranked 28th). ...

Rookie wide receiver Rashod Bateman played a season-low 44 percent of the offensive snaps, down from 70 percent a week ago in Chicago when Marquise "Hollywood" Brown was out. Bateman played 55 percent of the snaps in Miami in the only other game with Bateman, Marquise Brown and Sammy Watkins all active.

"It wasn't really a planned thing. We were in more heavier groups; I think we had two tight ends, [or] three tight ends on the field with Pat Ricard," Harbaugh said. "Devin Duvernay played well, too. So, all of those guys, I like having those guys on the field."

Tight end Nick Boyle played just 10 snaps in his second game since returning from last year's major knee injury. Boyle played 32 (40 percent) of the offensive snaps in his debut in Chicago, but Eric Tomlinson (27 snaps) saw more action versus the Browns.

"He's still coming back," Harbaugh said. "He's still trying to get the knee stronger, and then [it was] probably part of the way the game played out, too. So, hopefully, it will keep getting stronger and he'll be able to take more and more snaps as we go. ..."

For the record, Duvernay (thigh) did not practice Wednesday.

And finally. ... The Ravens ended up swapping quarterbacks with the Arizona Cardinals as Baltimore signed Chris Streveler to the practice squad Monday.

The Cardinals released Streveler when they plucked Trace McSorley off the Ravens' practice squad.

Streveler, 26, is a dual-threat quarterback who spent two seasons with the Cardinals, completing 17-of-25 pass attempts for 141 yards, one touchdown, and one interception.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Lamar Jackson, Tyler Huntley
RBs: Devonta Freeman, Mike Davis, Latavius Murray, Ty'Son Williams
WRs: Rashod Bateman, Devin Duvernay, Tylan Wallace, James Proche, Miles Boykin
TEs: Mark Andrews, Josh Oliver, Eric Tomlinson, Nick Boyle

Buffalo Bills

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 30 November 2021

As ESPN.com's Alaina Getzenberg reported, it wasn't pretty. There wasn't as much glitz to this win as the 31-6 score might indicate. Quarterback Josh Allen threw two interceptions, including his first in the red zone of his career, and cornerback Tre'Davious White left the game with a knee injury.

But despite all of that, it was enough for a blowout win over the Saints to bring the Buffalo Bills' record to 7-4.

In a crowded AFC with two games still to play against the New England Patriots, the Bills need every win they can get, and this one was dominant in all three phases against a banged-up Saints team.

"We got to, like I said, continue to find ways to stack these weeks," Allen said. "Every week is a one-game season that we got to look at it that way and find ways to win football games here going forward. But again, it's the pursuit of perfection, that this team, we're not just happy with winning. Again, we want to be the best versions of ourselves every day we step into that building, every time we step on the field."

Offensively, the Bills had balanced success through the air and on the ground, something that has been missing this season. The team finished with nine rushing first downs and 11 passing first downs. Buffalo controlled the game by dominating the time of possession and avoiding penalties -- finishing with only four, one more than its fewest in a game this season.

One costly penalty did take a Dawson Knox receiving touchdown off the board and Allen threw a pick on the following play.

After throwing both of his interceptions in the second quarter, Allen led Buffalo on consecutive touchdown drives to start the second half to establish a four-score lead, including Knox's second touchdown of the night. Knox set the record (seven) for the most touchdown receptions by a Bills tight end in a season with the second score.

Allen completed 23 of 28 passes for 260 yards, and he had four touchdown passes and the two picks. He also ran for 43 yards on eight carries.

He hit new single-game high in completion percentage at 82.1 percent. That completion rate tied as the fourth-highest by Bill in a single game (min. 20 att.), and the highest percentage by a Bills quarterback since Trent Edwards (83.33 percent) in 2008.

With his performance of Thursday, Allen now has 3,071 passing yards this season. He reached the 3,000-yard milestone for the third straight season, joining Jim Kelly and Ryan Fitzpatrick as the only three Bills quarterbacks to do so in franchise history.

The four touchdown passes Allen threw on Thursday night puts him at 25 so far this season.

That ties Kelly (1991) for the most passing touchdowns by a Bills in the first 11 games of the season. It was also Allen's sixth career game with four or more touchdown passes which all have come in the past two seasons. Only Tom Brady (9) and Aaron Rodgers (9) have had more games with four or more passing touchdowns since the start of 2020.

All that said, Allen's recent interceptions are an issue that needs to be corrected.

As noted above, they didn't hurt against the Saints, but a concerning trend has emerged. Per ESPN Stats and Info, Allen has thrown an interception in four straight games for the first time in his career. The good news is that he can still play at a high level, even when making mistakes, but limiting the miscues should be prioritized.

Meanwhile, Buffalo's ground game has been searching for consistency all season.

Heading into last Thursday's game, McDermott gave clear indication they needed effective production when the run game was called upon.

On a short week, McDermott tweaked the lineup with Zack Moss a healthy inactive and Matt Breida made his first start in a Bills uniform.

Seven of the first 10 plays on Buffalo's opening touchdown drive were run plays. Breida gained 19 yards on four carries. Allen had a pair of carries for 14 yards and Devin Singletary had a two-yard carry. It wasn't eye-popping production, but six of the seven carries gained positive yardage and helped set a tone for the game.

The yards per carry average wasn't pretty by the end of regulation with Buffalo trying to shorten what became a lopsided game, but it was effective at the right time and forced the Saints defense to respect it.

"I thought both backs ran well," said McDermott. "I thought we had a couple opportunities in the first half overall as an offense where we didn't come away with points or we should have come away with more points, so we've got to look at that, but overall we were able to overcome the turnovers in the first half. I thought both backs in the second half in particular ran strong."

Breida again provided a spark to the offense and took a screen pass in late for a touchdown as he got upfield in a hurry with his trademark speed for a 23-yard scoring play.

Buffalo went into Thursday's game calling passes on more than 61 percent of their plays.

Against the Saints they ran the ball more than they threw it with 32 total carries to 28 pass attempts.

It was just the third time this season when the Bills had more run plays than pass plays (Houston, Kansas City).

A strong rushing attack might come in hand with the Patriots and their impressive defense next on the Bills' agenda. ...

One last note. ... The Bills announced that cornerback Tre'Davious White suffered a torn ACL in New Orleans. He underwent an MRI on Friday morning and will miss the remainder of the 2021 season.

White ranked second of the team with six passes defensed. He also has 41 tackles one interception, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery along with a half a sack in 2021.

The fifth-year pro has been selected to the past two Pro Bowls and was also named an All-Pro in 2019 (first team) and 2020 (second team).

He has started 72 of 72 games in his career since entering the league in 2017 from LSU.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Josh Allen, Case Keenum
RBs: Duke Johnson, Devin Singletary, Zack Moss, Taiwan Jones
WRs: Stefon Diggs, Jamison Crowder, Gabriel Davis, Isaiah McKenzie, Tavon Austin, Emmanuel Sanders, Jake Kumerow
TEs: Dawson Knox, O.J. Howard, Tommy Sweeney

Carolina Panthers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 30 November 2021

As Associated Press sports writer Steve Reed reported it, "The injury bug has gotten Christian McCaffrey yet again.

"The Carolina Panthers often-injured running back will miss the remainder of the season with an ankle injury, the team announced Monday. ..."

McCaffrey had an MRI that revealed the injury was severe enough to put him on injured reserve. Because of his anticipated recovery time and given that it would be his second time on IR, the news means McCaffrey will miss out on Carolina's final five regular-season games following the bye week.

McCaffrey missed five games earlier this season with a hamstring injury.

He missed 13 games last season with various injuries, including seven with a high ankle sprain.

The 2017 first-round draft pick was injured in the first half of Carolina's 33-10 loss to the Dolphins and played only sparingly after that.

Since becoming the NFL's highest-paid running back with a four-year, $64 million contract after an All-Pro season in 2019, McCaffrey will have missed 23 of 33 games in the last two seasons due to injuries.

McCaffrey had 421 yards on 68 carries and a touchdown the past four weeks after returning from a lingering hamstring issue. He finished the season with 442 yards and a touchdown and 37 catches for 343 yards and a score.

The Panthers started the season 3-0, but lost McCaffrey to a hamstring injury in Week 3 against the Houston Texans. McCaffrey was outspoken at the time about the dangers of playing Thursday night games, saying he wasn't a big fan.

The Panthers' season spiraled out of control after that, going 1-4 with their best offensive player on the bench.

McCaffrey returned on Nov. 7 against New England, but the team lost. However, the following week the Panthers went to Arizona and upset the Cardinals, the NFC's top team. Since then Carolina has lost to Washington and Miami to fall to 5-7, leaving them outside the playoff chase entering this week's bye.

Chuba Hubbard is expected to start for the Panthers the rest of the way, with Ameer Abdullah seeing additional action.

Hubbard's best game came Oct. 10 against Philadelphia when he ran 24 times for 101 yards and caught six passes for 33 yards.

Beyond that, as ESPN.com's David Newton reported it, "Cam Newton's storybook beginning to his second stint with the Panthers came to a crashing halt Sunday."

The quarterback was benched in the fourth quarter against the Dolphins. He was replaced by P.J. Walker with just over 10 minutes remaining and the Panthers trailing by 20.

As David Newton put it, Cam "was indecisive, inaccurate and lackadaisical."

Newton completed 5 of 21 pass attempts for 92 yards with two interceptions for a passer rating of 5.8. His 23.8 completion percentage was the worst by a player with 20-plus attempts since 2004, according to ESPN Stats and Information research.

Detroit's Joey Harrington completed 22.7 percent against Green Bay that year.

Newton's poor performance came less than three weeks after he was signed to a one-year deal that could pay him up to $10 million for the rest of the season if he meets incentives. He scored the first two times he touched the ball in relief of Walker in a win at Arizona four days after rejoining the team that made him the top pick of the 2011 draft.

He had two touchdown passes and a rushing touchdown in last week's loss to Washington.

Head coach Matt Rhule said after the loss that Newton will remain the starter when the team returns to action against the Falcons and Newton said that he's going to use the time to get a fuller grasp of an offense he's been in for three weeks.

"I would take this time to really dive into the whole offense," Newton said, via Darin Gantt of the team's website. "I think today it really got exposed because of the situation, and not having a full grasp. But it's not nobody to blame more so than just the situation that I came into. So having this week to kind of self-scout, so to speak, and really dive into the root of what this offense is about and that's what I plan on doing."

The Panthers are one of a number of NFC teams with five wins and eyes on nabbing one of the conference's final Wild Card spots. They'll need Newton to be much better than he was on Sunday in order to remain in that mix much longer. That they face the Falcons coming out of the bye might work in their favor. ...

All that said. ... When the Panthers put Sam Darnold on injured reserve earlier this month, he was given a four-to-six week recovery timeline from his right shoulder injury.

Darnold is closing in on the short end of that recovery window and Rhule said that he has resumed throwing on the side. Rhule said they'll evaluate Darnold once they're back from the time off.

"We'll get him back next week, see where he's at in his process and go from there," Rhule said, via Joseph Person of The Athletic.

If Newton falls short in his efforts to have a fuller grasp of the offense, Darnold could find his way back into consideration as the Panthers start to look toward the quarterback decisions they'll have to make before the 2022 season. ...

And finally. ... Sunday's loss to the Miami Dolphins might've been Donte Jackson's last game with the club.

Jackson has been placed on injured reserve with a groin injury and will miss the remainder of the season, according to the team. Jackson underwent an MRI on Monday. The 2018 second-round draft pick will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, potentially marking the end of his Panthers career after four years in Carolina.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Sam Darnold, P.J. Walker
RBs: Chuba Hubbard, D'Onta Foreman, Christian McCaffrey
WRs: D.J. Moore, Robbie Anderson, Shi Smith, Rashard Higgins, Brandon Zylstra, Alex Erickson, Terrace Marshall Jr.
TEs: Ian Thomas, Tommy Tremble, Colin Thompson

Chicago Bears

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 30 November 2021

The quarterback path taken by the Bears this season has not quite been one head coach Matt Nagy anticipated in preseason.

After the effective performance given by veteran Andy Dalton in the last two games, the Bears believe they at least have a viable standby as starter Justin Fields sits because of a painful rib injury -- and there is no QB budding controversy.

Nagy on Friday described Fields' injury for the first time.

"I can confirm him having cracked ribs," Nagy said. "But at the same point in time, he's moving around pretty good."

So Fields' availability to face Arizona when the Bears play this weekend is unknown.

"There hasn't been throwing," Nagy said. "But that's stuff that, you've got to be careful with that right away when it happens."

Although Nagy offered no timeline on the rookie's return, Dalton was able to lead the Bears to late go-ahead scoring drives in successive games, and to Thursday's 16-14 win over the Detroit Lions to snap a five-game losing streak.

Dalton has been good enough to at least give Nagy pause to wonder if the right decision was made to make Fields the starter four weeks into the season. However, he has no regrets and he also denied a report saying Fields only became the official starter because team owner George McCaskey ordered it.

"You know, there's been some false stuff out there, that couldn't be ... furthest from the truth, you know what I mean?" Nagy said.

Dalton originally was the Bears' starter until suffering a knee injury. Since relieving Fields, he has gone 35 of 62 for 518 yards with a passer rating of 93.3. He has thrown three touchdown passes to one interception in those two games.

"When you have a plan and you know what that plan is and you go with it, and here we are where Andy got hurt and Justin comes in," Nagy said. "Justin's the starter, Justin gets hurt. When Justin gets back to being healthy, he's back in. And when you have that plan, you stick to it and you don't look back."

It doesn't matter now to Nagy that Fields' passer rating of 69.0 had been far below what Dalton showed in the last two games or the Bears passing attack is showing signs of consistency it previously lacked.

"Justin is really growing and getting better and I think we all saw that, he's having great moments," Nagy said. "Are there places that he can get better and we can help him get better? For sure, that's a rookie year, that happens, that's a part of developing a rookie quarterback, you know what I mean?"

As for last Thursday, in a surprising development considering the Bears have been last in passing since Week 3, Dalton threw for a Bears season-high 317 yards on Thursday at 7.8 yards per pass attempt.

And the Bears did that without injured wide receiver Allen Robinson (hamstring) and with third wide receiver Marquise Goodwin leaving in the third quarter with a foot injury.

Fortunately, Darnell Mooney recorded his third game with 120-plus receiving yards this season (Only Cooper Kupp, four, has more such games).

But the success in the passing game was balanced out by a dismal rushing attack.

Facing Detroit's 31st-ranked run defense in the league, the run blocking wasn't there for the Bears. They were able to average only 2.3 yards a carry and gain 68 yards on 29 attempts.

Dalton had 11 of those yards scrambling.

Detroit held David Montgomery to 46 yards on 17 attempts. Since returning from a knee sprain three games ago, Montgomery has averaged 3.8 yards a carry for 44 attempts. Montgomery averaged 4.5 yards a carry before suffering a hyperextended knee Oct. 10 against Detroit.

They'll be looking run the ball more effectively against Arizona this weekend if for no other reason than to try to keep the Cardinals' ferocious pass rushers from totally teeing up against an offensive line that's given up the most sacks (30) to date this season. ...

As for the starter. ... Fields was slated to practice Wednesday, per Nagy. Dalton is still set to receive first-team reps, per NFL Network's Stacey Dales.

I'll have more on Fields and Dalton as well as Robinson, Goodwin and Cole Kmet, who is dealing with a groin injury, via Late-Breaking Update in coming days; watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for more. ...

If Robinson and Goodwin remain out (and neither practiced Wednesday), Associated Press writer Andrew Seligman notes, that after making 47 receptions for New England last year, veteran receiver Damiere Byrd had only five catches this season heading into Thursday's game. But he caught four passes for 42 yards, including a key first-down pass that let the Bears run the clock down to 1 second left before kicking the winner.

"He does everything you ask," Nagy said. "He stays in his lane. He's somebody that we trust immensely. ..."

Kmet caught 8-of-11 targets for 65 yards in Detroit. The 11 targets were a career high.

Kmet is clearly on an upward trajectory, but that doesn't make him a viable fantasy asset. He'll need to develop into a more consistent producer for that to happen. But there's definitely reason for optimism here -- although Kmet (groin) did not practice Wednesday.

And finally. ... Friday came, and Friday went, and three days later, Nagy still is employed by the Bears.

A report from a Pulitzer-prize winning Chicago reporter indicated the Bears told Nagy last week they intended to fire the coach after the Thanksgiving Day game no matter the result.

Never mind that the team has never fired a coach in-season.

Bears chairman George McCaskey reportedly told players and coaches the report was false, and General Manager Ryan Pace publicly denied it.

On Monday, Nagy was ready to move on to the Cardinals, allowing only that he got messages of support from many friends over the weekend.

"They'll let you know: 'Hey, we got ya,'" Nagy said, via Patrick Finley of the Sun Times.

As tenuous as Nagy's hold on his job appears, the Bears (4-7) are only one game behind the Vikings for the final playoff berth in the NFC. Chicago plays Minnesota twice in the final month.

Nagy and the Bears know exactly where they are and what they still have a chance to do despite a disappointing year thus far.

"This isn't coach talk, but literally, we need to, let's win this game -- and then let's get on a two-game winning streak," Nagy said. "Let's have a little streak here. If you go out and you play a great game, and you beat a great team like the Cardinals, what that can do for your confidence and your belief. And then all of that other stuff handles itself, because there are a lot of teams in that mix, and there are a lot of things we can't control. What we can control is winning on Sunday."

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Justin Fields, Trevor Siemian
RBs: David Montgomery, Khalil Herbert, Tarik Cohen, Darrynton Evans
WRs: Darnell Mooney, Byron Pringle, Equanimeous St. Brown, Dante Pettis, Tajae Sharpe
TEs: Cole Kmet, Ryan Griffin, Jimmy Graham, Jesper Horsted, Jesse James, J.P. Holtz

Cincinnati Bengals

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 30 November 2021

As Associated Press sports writer Mitch Stacey notes, the Bengals have built an offense around star quarterback Joe Burrow and big-play receivers.

However, it was a fierce ground game that powered the past two big wins.

Running back Joe Mixon has had back-to-back 100-yard games for the first time since 2019. He had a career-high 117 rushing yards in the first half and finished the game with 165 total on 28 carries in Cincinnati's 41-10 pounding of the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday.

He has rushed for four touchdowns in those two wins, with the offensive line making generous lanes for his runs. The fifth-year back is averaging close to 5 yards per carry.

Coach Zac Taylor said the run game is the focus right now because it's working.

"We certainly feel great about the passing game, as well," Taylor said. "But if it's not broke, we're certainly going to keep sticking with it."

Not that Burrow isn't still contributing in a big way. He was an efficient 20 for 24 for 190 yards in the Steelers win, tossing a beautiful 32-yard TD pass to Tee Higgins in the second quarter.

That means the Bengals finished the game with 198 rushing yards versus 190 yards passing.

Burrow is fine with how it played out.

"I think we had the bye week and we were able to get away and come back focused and ready to go," Burrow told Profootballtalk.com's Mike Florio after the victory. "We understood what we had in front of us. We understood the challenges that we were going to have coming down the stretch. After the bye week I think we had one of the top two or three hardest strengths of schedule going forward. We knew what we had to face so we went to practice and kept getting better."

What did Burrow do specifically do to make himself better?

"Just take care of the ball better," Burrow said. "Eliminate some turnovers. We kind of fell in love with the big play, speaking of myself. The last two games, I've really just taken what the defenses have given me and stat lines aren't dotty or impressive but it's getting the job done. That's all I care about is W's, and whatever it takes to get the job done."

One thing he's doing is realizing that defenses are now devoting extra resources to stopping rookie receiver Ja'Marr Chase.

It happened on Sunday, and Burrow spotted it and fired the above-mentioned scoring strike to Higgins.

"Minkah [Fitzpatrick] was shading when they were playing single high they were shading over to Ja'Marr all day," Burrow said. "That really opened up some opportunities for Tee down the field and short. That's what's great about our guys. Ja'Marr was just as happy to see Tee make those plays as he would be if he was making those plays and he even talked about it on the sidelines. That's exciting. We have great guys in the locker room."

Chase leads NFL rookie receivers with eight touchdowns, but has hit a bit of a drought. He had three catches for 39 yards Sunday, and also had an offensive pass interference penalty.

He has 12 catches and one touchdown in the past three games.

Burrow said that he first noticed against the Ravens in Week 7 an effort by defenses to take away Chase's big plays. That extra attention opens up the rest of the offense, including the running game. As a result, Burrow has had fewer than 200 passing yards in the last two games.

Like he said, that's fine with him. The wins are stacking up, and the Bengals could go from last place in the NFC North to the postseason.

Meanwhile, after struggling with a foot injury that forced him to miss the last 10 games of 2020, Mixon is regaining the form that led to 1,000-yard seasons in 2018 and '19. He's got 924 yards and a career-high 11 rushing touchdowns in 2021, along with another 192 receiving yards and two TDs.

He has a touchdown in eight consecutive games, including five straight with rushing TDs. He has two rushing touchdowns in each of the past three games. The 25-year-old thinks he's coming into his prime.

"He's a big burst of energy for us as a team and as an offense," Burrow said.

On Wednesday, Mixon was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week.

As ESPN.com's Ben Baby pointed out, the Bengals just gained the inside track to ending their six-year playoff drought. The Bengals are honing a more balanced attack, which will be necessary if they hope to emerge with their first playoff appearance since 2015.

Cincinnati hosts the Los Angeles Chargers (6-5) on Sunday and it's another great matchup for Mixon.

That said, the Bengals could be in a bit of trouble if leg injuries to offensive linemen Riley Reiff and Trey Hopkins cause them to miss significant time. Both have been anchors of a much-improved O-line. Taylor said the injuries didn't seem to be serious.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Joe Burrow, Brandon Allen
RBs: Joe Mixon, Samaje Perine, Chris Evans
WRs: Ja'Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd, Mike Thomas, Stanley Morgan Jr.
TEs: Hayden Hurst, Drew Sample

Cleveland Browns

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 30 November 2021

The Browns can only hope that a week off will enable them to secure solutions to a deep list of problems cramping their quest to return to the postseason.

Looking to close the gap on AFC North leaders Baltimore (8-3), Cleveland came up with a clunker of a performance Sunday night in a 16-10 defeat. Ill-timed and foolish penalties, an ineffective offense and a failure to capitalize on four interceptions added up to an agonizing defeat that dropped the Browns (6-6) into a last-place division tie.

"Very, very disappointed and frustrated," head coach Kevin Stefanski said. "We've got to get to this bye week, fix some things, get healthy, unplug for a minute and then we've got Baltimore again for a stretch run."

As Associated Press sports writer Tom Withers notes, in a scheduling quirk, the Browns get the upcoming weekend off before a rematch with the Ravens at home on Dec. 12. The Browns will have to do better than rush for 40 yards on 17 tries. They'll have to get more production out of quarterback Baker Mayfield and cut down on penalties such as roughing the passer and having 12 men on the field -- twice.

Baltimore went up 3-0 after the Browns had an extra player on the field with the Ravens in punt formation. Things like that just shouldn't happen this late in the season, but that's how Sunday night went for the Browns.

"That's coaching. That's on me," Stefanski said.

Last December, the Browns rang up 42 points in a loss to Baltimore. This time, they intercepted Ravens star quarterback Lamar Jackson four times and still finished with a measly 10 points.

"Very frustrating," Mayfield said. "To me, that's kind of the story of our season so far, not being able to play complementary football."

Mayfield has been battling injuries recently, though he felt better Sunday than the week before, and hopes a week off will bring more improvement.

"We just need to make more plays," said Mayfield, who went 18 for 37 for 247 yards, including a third-quarter touchdown pass to David Njoku. But he also lost a fumble and was sacked twice.

Stefanski admits his offense needs to change. But he's not offering many specifics about what is going to change.

Stefanski said today that he will continue to call the plays on offense, and that the communication among himself, offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt and line coach Bill Callahan remains strong.

"I'm comfortable with the communication that goes on throughout the week, on game day, the offensive staff is outstanding, especially Bill and Alex throughout the game," Stefanski said. "So I'm comfortable with how we're doing it right now. We just have to be better. I have to be better. That's the truth. But we just have to find ways to stay on the field, get sevens when we get down to the red zone."

Stefanski has also ruled out benching Mayfield, so whatever changes are coming to the Browns' offense, they likely won't be the kinds of major changes that will be evident on game days.

It's still going to be Stefanski calling the plays that Mayfield has to execute.

Even Cleveland's kicking game is under duress.

Chase McLaughlin missed a chance to give the Browns an early lead when he was wide left with a 46-yard try. His successful effort clanged off the upright and through the posts.

There are other issues, chief among them being Jack Conklin's 2021 season came to an end Sunday in Baltimore.

Conklin has a ruptured patellar tendon, Stefanski, and has been ruled out for the rest of the year. The All-Pro right tackle suffered the injury in the first quarter of the Browns' 16-10 loss to the Ravens and was ultimately carted off the field.

Conklin, who will undergo surgery to repair the injury, had just been activated from injured reserve after missing the previous three games with an elbow injury. He went back on injured reserve Tuesday.

He also missed multiple games earlier in the season because of a knee injury.

Tight end Harrison Bryant suffered a high ankle sprain after corralling one of the longest passes of Sunday's game.

Bryant had three catches for 50 yards, 41 coming on a catch in the second quarter, before exiting with the injury. Stefanski said the Browns will evaluate his status throughout the bye and into next week when the team begins its preparations for its Week 14 matchup with the Ravens.

Bryant plays a key role in Cleveland's offense and often shares the field with Cleveland's two other tight ends, Austin Hooper and Njoku. Without him available, Stefanski said the Browns would have to make some adjustments.

"We have to look at that," Stefanski said. "13 personnel is a big part of what we do because of those three guys. Without Harrison, definitely we need to pivot. It remains to be seen exactly which direction we go."

Finally. ... Browns players met Monday and were back in the building Tuesday before they were excused for the remainder of the week.

You have to wonder if one of the topics was of conversation was Kareem Hunt's father taking to Facebook Sunday night to criticize Mayfield, a move that drew comparisons to the father of ex-Browns receiver Odell Beckham Jr.

A Cleveland native, Kareem Hunt Sr. knows Mayfield is battling injurie. But Hunt's father was obviously frustrated after the game.

"Now I'm getting people on my Facebook saying I'm being like OBJ's daddy, and I'm not," said Kareem Hunt Sr. on Facebook, via Brad Stainbrook of 247Sports. "I'm stating facts on football and what we see: he's limping, he's scared to throw the ball and they know he's hurt. [They're] going to keep listening but, if people don't like what I'm saying, unfriend me. I'm not jeopardizing nothing.

"I got a right to speak. I ain't posting no videos. Have a good day. Go Browns, hopefully."

Hunt was activated off injured reserve Saturday after missing five games with a calf injury and saw action against the Ravens. He carried seven times for 20 yards with a long of 9 yards and did not catch a pass, targeted once. Stefanski said Hunt was not in on the final drive because his leg was tight. ...

The Browns will regroup next Monday to get a jumpstart on its rematch with the Ravens.

The Browns, of course, have played 12 straight weeks. Their bye comes on the second-to-last week in which they're distributed across the NFL.

"It is important that they get away and they get with their families and their loved ones and unplug for a couple of days," Stefanski said. "Coaches will work this week because we have a lot to do like we talked about."

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Jacoby Brissett, Baker Mayfield, Kyle Lauletta, Deshaun Watson
RBs: Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, D'Ernest Johnson, Demetric Felton, John Kelly
WRs: Amari Cooper, Donovan Peoples-Jones, Jakeem Grant, Anthony Schwartz
TEs: David Njoku, Harrison Bryant, Miller Forristall, Stephen Carlson

Dallas Cowboys

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 30 November 2021

As ESPN.com's Todd Archer suggested this week, Ezekiel Elliott wasn't exactly breaking news when he talked about what makes the Dallas Cowboys' offense successful.

"Running the football has to be important to us," the running back said. "I think it helps this offense. I think we're a better football team when we can run it well."

Elliott's assessment came before the Thanksgiving Day game against the Las Vegas Raiders where the Cowboys gained 64 yards on 20 carries in the 36-33 overtime loss.

That's fewer yards than Elliott had by himself five times in the Cowboys' six-game winning streak earlier this season.

The drop-off is stark from the winning streak to the Cowboys' last four games.

Maybe some of it has to do with Elliott's knee injury that could be more severe than he is letting on and, according to ESPN's Ed Werder, has the Cowboys at least considering resting him, although Archer reports that suggestion has not reached the running back yet.

Nor has it reached owner Jerry Jones, who told listeners during his weekly Tuesday morning appearance on 105.3 The Fan Radio the team expects Elliott to have a serious load against New Orleans.

Elliott has totaled 149 rushing yards in the last four games, the lowest four-game total of his career, and it is the first time he has gone four straight games without topping 51 yards.

But as Archer points out, it's not like Tony Pollard's running has been that much different. Take away a 31-yard run against the Kansas City Chiefs out of a Wildcat formation, and he is averaging the same 3.5 yards per carry. A 30-yard run against the Raiders by Pollard was wiped out by penalty.

"Obviously something that we certainly would hope that would be better right now," offensive coordinator Kellen Moore said. "Something we got to look at in many different ways, schematically first, personnel wise."

The Cowboys are entering Week 13 with Thursday's game at the New Orleans Saints -- without several coaches due to COVID-19, including head coach Mike McCarthy -- so there is no reinvention at this point.

"We're not going to run the triple option all of sudden or anything like that," Moore joked, "but I think it's something that you find what kind of little tweaks and adjustments we can make. They may be subtle but I think they can be very effective if we find the right pieces and make our adjustments necessary to progress this thing the right way."

When the Cowboys' run game was humming along in Weeks 2-8, they won six in a row (includes bye week). Since then, the rushing attack has struggled and Dallas in 1-3 in that span.

According to Archer, opposing defenses have adjusted to the Cowboys' scheme.

In the loss to the Raiders, McCarthy said it "was more about some individual breakdowns. I think it was almost across the board. We need to take a hard look at that."

"When you have the success -- we've obviously been very successful running the football in the first part of the season -- people are gearing up for it," McCarthy said. "We need to stay on top of our self-scout because I think just like anything at this point in the year people are locked in to your formations and your run tendencies and when we run and how we run. That's all part of the chess match."

McCarthy believes offensive line continuity plays a huge part in a team's success. Left tackle Tyron Smith missed three games with an ankle injury, which moved Terence Steele to left tackle. Connor McGovern replaced Connor Williams at left guard two games ago after the coaches had enough with Williams' penalties (13). Upon Smith's return, the Cowboys went with Steele over La'el Collins.

Against the Raiders, the Cowboys used Collins and Williams for one series for Steele and McGovern. The Cowboys went three and out.

This week, Collins will go back to right tackle with Steele on the COVID list. And the Cowboys won't have either offensive line coach with Joe Philbin and Jeff Blasko in COVID protocols.

"I think you've got to look first and foremost at our room," Pro Bowl right guard Zack Martin said. "We take a lot of pride in that run game and over the last few weeks it hasn't been what we want it to be, so we've just got to get back to basics."

Elliott said defensive line movement and run blitzing have caused issues, but Martin said the line has seen it all in the past.

"That's the first thing a defense will do if it's in there getting blown off the ball," Martin said. "They're going to start moving the line and you just have to be on top of it to react and kind of change some of your combination blocks on the fly."

The rub this week is the Saints' run defense uses a lot of line movement and is stellar whenever it doesn't face the Philadelphia Eagles. In their last 72 games, New Orleans has allowed two 100-yard rushers -- both Eagles (quarterback Jalen Hurts and running back Miles Sanders last year). Two games ago, the Eagles ran 50 times for 242 yards with three scores from Hurts in a 40-29 win against the Saints.

This might not be the week to try to pound it out.

"We've got to make sure we stay within the plan of what we need to do to be successful against these guys," McCarthy said. "But I think there are fundamental situations we can learn from and do a better job."

Meanwhile, McCarthy checked into the team hotel the day after the Thanksgiving game as a precaution with COVID-19 infections spreading on his staff.

McCarthy ended up testing positive anyway, and isn't the only one in his family dealing with the virus.

As noted above, the second-year Dallas coach is out for Thursday night's game in New Orleans, and will be among six coaches and staff members not making the trip because of positive tests.

Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, in his first year with the Cowboys after getting fired during his sixth season as coach in Atlanta last year, will handle head coaching responsibilities in New Orleans. Quinn will move from the press box to the sideline.

McCarthy, who is vaccinated along with the entire staff, said he had a "scratchy" throat but mostly felt fine. He told players about the positive test during a virtual meeting Monday morning.

"Just stressed again, no different than I normally do, just stressed it from a personal perspective that this is real," said McCarthy, who said family members had tested positive as well. "I'd like to think that I was super cautious. I just think it shows you the danger of the pandemic and the virus."

The team is conducting meetings virtually while holding in-person practices. McCarthy said Tuesday's activities also would be virtual, but he wasn't sure about Wednesday. The team normally conducts a walkthrough-type practice the day before a game, also a travel day for road games.

Wide receiver Amari Cooper, who missed the last two games after testing positive for COVID-19, was officially activated Wednesday.

While Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was optimistic Cooper would return this week, McCarthy threw cold water on the assumption the star wideout would be back, saying Tuesday that Cooper was "still not feeling the best." In the end, Jones ended up being right.

Cooper is officially listed as questionable for Thursday's game, but all indications are he'll be available.

With CeeDee Lamb on track to return to action after clearing the concussion protocol, the Dallas passing offense should be at near full-force against the Saints.

For the record, Elliott and Lamb have both been working fully in practice the last two days.

Wideout Cedrick Wilson (ankle) has been ruled out.

I'll be following up on Elliott and Cooper via Late-Breaking Updates in advance of Thursday night's game. ...

Beyond all that.... The Cowboys still lead the NFC East and keep pointing to the reinforcements on the way -- including Lamb and hopefully Cooper. Defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence (broken foot) appears on track to play in what would be his first game since the opener.

"The way we are playing right now I feel good that we're 7-4 because I know what we've got coming," Jones said. "I know we're not playing well. I feel like we can address where we're not playing well. We are a lot better team by serious margin than what we took out of training camp. ..."

One last note here. ... The Cowboys finished last Thursday’s loss with a franchise-record 166 penalty yards, fueled mostly by cornerback Anthony Brown's staggering four pass-interference fouls, the last costing the Cowboys the game in a 36-33 overtime loss to Las Vegas on Thanksgiving.

But they have been flagged at least seven times in eight games this season. It's something they clearly need to work on going forward.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush, Will Grier
RBs: Ezekiel Elliott, Tony Pollard, Corey Clement, Ito Smith
WRs: CeeDee Lamb, James Washington, Simi Fehoko, Noah Brown, Michael Gallup
TEs: Dalton Schultz, Sean McKeon

Denver Broncos

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 30 November 2021

According to ESPN.com's Jeff Legwold, when Teddy Bridgewater limped back into the huddle Sunday with a lower right leg injury, he helped the Broncos stay in the AFC's jumbled playoff race.

So much so that the Broncos, now 6-5 after a 28-13 win over the Los Angeles Chargers, will face the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday night at Arrowhead Stadium with a chance to move into first place in the AFC West.

"When you win it doesn't really matter what you're going through, you feel good," Bridgewater said. "We'll see how I feel in the morning."

"Teddy's toughness is unquestioned when you talk about him and I didn't question it in the big picture," said head coach Vic Fangio. "And like I said, some [of] you have asked me, he's our quarterback and it's as simple as that."

Bridgewater will be evaluated further in coming days.

Bridgewater, who came under criticism after the Broncos' Nov. 14 loss to Philadelphia when he didn't attempt to tackle Eagles cornerback Darius Slay on a fumble return for a touchdown, finished 11-of-18 passing for 129 yards and a TD on Sunday. But it wasn't the pedestrian-looking numbers that continue to endear Bridgewater to his teammates, it was his burning desire to help them win.

After the loss to the Eagles, Bridgewater's teammates vigorously supported him, as did Fangio. Many cited Bridgewater's severe leg injury in 2016 -- his surgeon later publicly said the damage was so severe that amputation was a concern -- as proof of his toughness to return to play.

Bridgewater suffered Sunday's injury when he was sacked by Chargers' safety Derwin James Jr. with 2 minutes and 13 seconds remaining in the first quarter. Bridgewater limped to the sideline, was examined by the team's medical staff and taken for an X-ray.

"[It] swells up real quick. ... He had to take some tests to make sure nothing was happening underneath it," Fangio said. "He toughed it out -- he was nowhere near 100 percent in that second half -- but he toughed it out and led the offense."

"I still don't really know what happened, I just know Derwin kind of got me from behind," Bridgewater said.

Drew Lock finished out the first half, as the Broncos completed the drive in which Bridgewater was injured with a touchdown eight plays later. But Lock was sacked once and threw an interception in his limited duty that led to the Chargers' first TD.

Asked if it would have been easier to play it safe with Bridgewater and leave Lock in the game had he not thrown the interception into double coverage, Fangio simply said, "No."

On Monday, Fangio said he knows it's difficult for Lock to be a backup after starting 13 games last season but made it clear that the team was looking for more from Lock in Sunday's game.

"In Drew's case, we're probably not giving him enough reps during the week," Fangio said. "Not to make an excuse for him. He's gotta learn to do better at that and maybe some of that is we need to have a better list of what he feels comfortable operating, running and calling. Hopefully, he's learned from these two times. Hopefully, there won't be another time due to injury and he'll do better next time."

As Profootballtalk.com notes, Lock failed to impress when Bridgewater suffered a concussion in a loss to the Ravens earlier this year and. Denver's willingness to play an ailing Bridgewater over Lock on Sunday would seem to say a lot about the team's confidence in the 2019 second-round pick, but Fangio said he will remain the No. 2 quarterback for the time being.

Bridgewater returned in the second half and eventually led the Broncos on a 10-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that gave Denver a 21-7 lead with 8:54 to play in the game. He converted two key third downs on the drive -- a third-and-7 and a third-and-10 -- with completions to wide receiver Courtland Sutton and running back Javonte Williams, respectively.

Bridgewater did it in a game in which the Broncos also lost two more starters on the offensive line to injury -- left tackle Calvin Anderson (left knee) and left guard Dalton Risner (back) exited. Anderson was already playing in place of Garett Bolles, who is on the COVID-19 reserve list.

By game's end, center Lloyd Cushenberry III was the only Week 1 starter on the offensive line who was playing.

Fangio is hopeful he'll have his O-line close to full strength against Kansas City with Bolles, Risner) and RT Bobby Massie (ankle) all expected back. Fangio said Bridgewater's shin wasn't an issue Monday and he also expects to get S Kareem Jackson (neck) back.

Also, running back Melvin Gordon's hip injury -- he left the game in the first quarter and returned but was clearly limping -- will bear watching in the coming days.

Stay tuned. ... I'll have more on Bridgewater and Gordon, who was held out of Wednesday's practice, via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

Meanwhile, Fangio didn't pay much attention when the Chiefs stumbled to a 3-4 start. All he knows is they've fixed whatever was broken, haven't lost since October and "they're back to being the Chiefs again."

The same juggernaut that's won the AFC West every year since 2016 while piling up a cumulative 73-28 record while the Broncos had stumbled to a 38-53 mark since winning Super Bowl 50.

The Chiefs (7-4), fresh off a bye, opened as 9½-point favorites, according to FanDuel SportsBook. So, what makes Fangio think the Broncos (6-5) can go into Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday night and beat Kansas City for the first time in a dozen tries?

"We're better than the recent Broncos teams," Fangio said. "We got a better team. ..."

If the Broncos can beat Patrick Mahomes for the first time in eight tries, they'll get the winless Lions and the Bengals at home the following two weeks with a chance to finally make some noise in the division. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Williams carried the ball 14 times for 54 yards and a touchdown and caught three of four targets for 57 yards in Sunday's 28-13 win over the Chargers.

While Gordon led the Broncos in rushing, Williams was by far the more productive back, scoring his first rushing TD since Week 3 while leading Denver in receiving yards to top 100 scrimmage yards for the second time in the last three games. Williams will attempt to build on that momentum against the Chiefs. ...

Tight end Noah Fant, the Broncos' first-round draft pick in 2019 who was supposed to be a big threat in the passing game, but whose yards per reception have gone down from 14.1 his rookie year to 10.9 last season and to 8.7 this year. On Sunday, he had three receptions for 12 yards with a long of 7.

And finally. ... The playing time for the team's top three wideouts is worth noting.

Tim Patrick was on the field for 50 snaps; Sutton 45 snaps; and Jerry Jeudy was in for 35 snaps. All three receivers were targeted three times with each catching two passes.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Russell Wilson, Josh Johnson
RBs: Javonte Williams, Melvin Gordon, Mike Boone
WRs: Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton, Tim Patrick, Diontae Spencer, K.J. Hamler
TEs: Albert Okwuegbunam, Eric Saubert, Andrew Beck

Detroit Lions

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 30 November 2021

As Associated Press sports writer Dave Hogg noted, the Lions, for all the mistakes they had made Thursday against the Chicago Bears, still had one chance to pick up their first win of the season.

Detroit led 14-13, but the Bears had driven to the Lions 16 with 1:54 to play. It was third-and-9, so head coach Dan Campbell called a timeout to give his team its best chance. Get a stop -- hopefully on an incomplete pass -- and after Chicago's chip-shot field goal, get the ball back with 1:45 to play and two timeouts.

Given Detroit's pop-gun offense, it wasn't an ideal strategy, but it had a chance. Defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn gave linebacker Alex Anzalone the play call, and the Lions lined up for one of their biggest plays of the season.

As Hogg put it, "These Lions don't make the big plays."

Indeed, in this case, half the defense was in one formation and the other half was in a different one. The call had two options depending on how Chicago lined up, and several players read it the wrong way.

"There were a couple of substitution errors and some miscommunication," cornerback Amani Oruwariye said. "We can't have that; especially given the season we're having. We have to eliminate errors and we have to communicate."

On the sideline, seeing the chaos unfolding and knowing the Bears were about to score a touchdown against their baffled defense, Campbell and Glenn desperately tried to call a second timeout. They both knew that was illegal and would result in a 5-yard penalty for defensive delay of game and a lost timeout.

But they didn't think they had a choice.

The players understood the timeout; Anzalone agreed the Bears would have likely scored against the "void" caused by the misunderstanding. But they didn't know about the penalty.

"I knew in basketball, you get a technical foul, but that's all I knew," Anzalone said. "I guess it's a rule here, too."

The Lions still could have gotten off the field on third-and-4, but Will Harris, a safety converted to nickel back in Detroit's injury-ravaged secondary, was playing nearly 10 yards off wide receiver Damiere Byrd.

Byrd was wide open for a 7-yard gain and the Bears ran the clock down to 1 second before Cairo Santos hit a 28-yard field goal to win the game.

The offense quickly absolved the defense of any blame. After all, Detroit hasn't allowed an opponent to reach 17 points in the last three games. It was the offense that wrecked two drives by committing three straight penalties and ending up facing third-and-32.

"We can't keep shooting ourselves in the foot like that," tackle Taylor Decker said. "The defense is flying all over the place. We have to do our part."

Before the Week 9 bye, Detroit's pass defense was giving 9.3 yards per passing attempt and had allowed 15 touchdown passes while only picking off four passes. Since the break, quarterbacks are down to 6.2 yards per attempt and have thrown four interceptions with three touchdowns.

On the other side of the ball, Campbell started the season with aggressive play calling, but now seems to be more focused on avoiding the "disasters" that plagued the offense early in the season.

In the second quarter, he called a swing pass on second-and-26 that lost 6 yards, then followed with a third-and-32 draw. In the fourth quarter, on their last possession of the game, he ran on second-and-22 and called a screen pass on third-and-32.

None of those plays worked.

Detroit ran just 45 total plays on the game for 239 yards and went three-and-out on four of nine drives. Jared Goff, showing no signs of the strained oblique that left him with a questionable designation heading into the game, completed 21-of-25 passing for 171 yards and two TDs.

While the completion percentage (84.0) might have been pretty, frequent throws for negative or short gains did nothing to puncture a Bears defense missing several key starters.

According to NFL.com, of his 25 attempts, Goff threw eight behind the line of scrimmage, 12 between 0-9 yards, and five beyond 10 air yards (3/5 for 72 yards, 2 TDs). The lack of chance-taking by the winless Lions offense was maddening, particularly after Detroit's first drive of the game ended with a pretty 39-yard TD bomb to Josh Reynolds.

As ESPN.com's Eric Woodyard suggested, Campbell, who took over as playcaller two games ago, may want to consider letting offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn take back playcalling responsibilities if the team wants to win a game.

The Lions rank 30th in points per game (15.8), only ahead of Jacksonville (15.7) and Houston (14.9). Detroit is one of just six teams in the NFL who average less than 200 passing yards per game (194.6), so Campbell said that's where he wants to see the biggest improvement over the final six games.

"The details of what we do in the passing game need to drastically improve," he said.

He talked about splits, route depth and route running overall as being key areas where he'd like to see improvement, especially against more of the zone defenses the Lions have faced recently.

And now, with the Lions still looking for their first win of the season, it appears likely they'll be without one of their key players against the Vikings on Sunday.

Running back D'Andre Swift suffered a shoulder sprain in the loss to Chicago and his potential availability for the upcoming game isn't looking great. Campbell told reporters on Monday that Swift was still "pretty sore."

"It's hard to say that you'd see him playing [against the Vikings], but there again, we'll know a lot more on how he feels tomorrow and then certainly Wednesday," Campbell said, via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. "But I know he's hurting a little bit."

According to ESPN's Jeremy Fowler, a source tells him that Swift could miss multiple weeks. He wants to return in short order but he hurt his AC joint and the Lions will be cautious with their top back.

Indeed, Swift has easily been Detroit's most productive offensive player this year. He has 984 yards from scrimmage -- 555 rushing, 429 receiving -- with six touchdowns.

Tight end T.J. Hockenson is second the club with 534 yards from scrimmage.

Reynolds, who played with Goff for the last four seasons in Los Angeles, caught three passes for 70 yards, including the above-mentioned 39-yard touchdown. He could give the Lions a second downfield threat to go along with tight end T.J. Hockenson.

Beyond that, Detroit's other wide receivers caught seven passes for 40 yards, 34 of which came after the catch. On one series, the Lions needed three passes to gain a first down.

Stay tuned. I'll have more on Swift via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.

Campbell told reporters on Wednesday that Jamaal Williams is prepared to carry the load. “Certainly, we’re gonna lean on Jamaal quite a bit, but we’re gonna use Godwin Igwebuike, we’re gonna use Jermar Jefferson. That’s part of the plan. They’re all gonna be able to play,” he said.

Again, I'll be watching for more on the entire situation in coming days.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Jared Goff, Tim Boyle, David Blough
RBs: D'Andre Swift, Jamaal Williams, Craig Reynolds, Jermar Jefferson, Godwin Igwebuike
WRs: Amon-Ra St. Brown, Josh Reynolds, Kalif Raymond, KhaDarel Hodge, Trinity Benson, Tom Kennedy, Quintez Cephus, D.J. Chark
TEs: Brock Wright, Garrett Griffin, Jared Pinkney, T.J. Hockenson

Green Bay Packers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 30 November 2021

Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers are expected to use rest -- not surgery -- to help the quarterback's fractured pinkie toe heal.

Packers coach Matt LaFleur said Monday that Rodgers is "gathering other opinions, so we'll see where that goes," but a source told ESPN's Rob Demovsky those opinions are not expected to lead to surgery during this week's bye. NFL Network's Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero reported the same.

The Packers (9-3) are off until Dec. 12, when they'll face the Chicago Bears in a Sunday night prime-time game.

"The most important thing is healing and taking care of my toe," Rodgers said Sunday when asked about his bye-week plans.

But Rodgers changed his tune a bit on Tuesday, saying he would reassess whether to undergo surgery on his injured toe after getting rest during the club's bye week.

Rodgers said Tuesday on The Pat McAfee Show that he won't miss time either way.

"As compared this Monday to last Monday, I definitely felt better and the same with this Tuesday to last Tuesday," Rodgers said. "I'll just keep getting treatment. We're hoping to avoid surgery, obviously, but the surgery would be such a minor one, that it wouldn't be something that I'd have to miss time with. It's a [prerequisite] for any surgery that I have at this point, I'm not going to miss any time. We'll kind of reassess early next week and make a decision. … I could have surgery on a Monday or Tuesday and play on Sunday."

Rodgers was asked why he wouldn't undergo surgery during the Packers' week off.

"The surgery would immobilize the toe," he responded. "That would be an issue the entire season. I would avoid any further displacement. But it would immobilize the toe. We're hoping that with a couple weeks here, we could get enough healing that we could avoid doing that. Now we'll reassess probably later this week and early next week. But the ultimate goal, to not have to do surgery, this thing heals up a little bit better and you kind of make it through a few more weeks, and maybe it doesn't bother you the last few weeks of the season."

Rodgers said he fractured the toe during his COVID-19 quarantine earlier this month, and he has played in the past three games since with almost no on-field practice preparations.

The only full-fledged practice he took part in during that stretch was on Nov. 19, two days before the Packers' loss at Minnesota. He said he received a pain-killing injection at halftime of the game against the Vikings but did not need one to play in Sunday's win over the Los Angeles Rams.

"The difference is I didn't have to get shot up again at halftime, so definitely the healing this week not practicing [helped]," Rodgers said after he threw for 307 yards and two touchdowns in Sunday's 36-28 win over the Rams.

"Last week, I tried to do some stuff on Friday, felt like we needed maybe a little jolt and that kind of impacted Sunday a little bit from a pain standpoint. This week, I just did a walk-through on Saturday and obviously all the walk-throughs during the week, but no practice time, I think really helped. It definitely helped looking at the scans. The healing, kind of get to a better spot, so I've definitely felt better, but third quarter, late third, early fourth and I got stepped on early in the game, there was definitely some pain I was dealing with."

Rodgers even had a rushing touchdown on Sunday, beating Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey around the edge for a 1-yard score. In the past two games combined, Rodgers has thrown for 692 yards and six touchdowns without an interception.

He said after Sunday's game that he would make a decision about surgery after additional tests on Monday.

"The toe felt good most of the game," Rodgers said. "Was just actually in talking with the docs. Not sure at this point; we're going to do some more testing in the morning and get a better view of what's going on in there, and then make a decision at that time."

LaFleur said previously that he would leave the decision up to Rodgers and the medical staff.

"I'm not involved in any of those decisions, so I just take any information and hear it," LaFleur said. "I don't have 'M.D.' after my name. So I'll let them handle that."

Remember, Green Bay has already experienced what life without Rodgers is like, losing to Kansas City in Jordan Love's first career start while the reigning MVP was out with COVID-19, and it's likely the Packers would prefer to avoid being forced to do so again in the final five weeks of the campaign.

That would, of course, depend on the health of Rodgers' toe, but with a bye now arriving at an ideal time, Green Bay is optimistic it won't have to turn to its backup again down the stretch.

Beyond Rodgers, it's fair to wonder if the bye week will be enough for the all Packers to get healthy.

Losing wide receiver Randall Cobb, who was in the midst of his best game of the season with four catches for 95 yards and a touchdown, won't help. A groin injury ended his day at halftime.

But All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari might finally be in position to return from last season's ACL tear. There's also the possibility that they could get back two of their top players on defense in cornerback Jaire Alexander (shoulder) and outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith (back).

Both have been on injured reserve since early in the season, but there's hope that one or both could return in December.

They can also tune up their rushing attack.

The Packers gained just 2.9 yards per carry. Their longest run from scrimmage was eight yards. Aaron Jones played after missing just one game because of a sprained medial collateral ligament, but he was limited to 23 yards on 10 carries while A.J. Dillon recorded 20 carries for 69 yards. He added five receptions for 21 yards and a touchdown.

Dillon saw 14 carries in the second half of the game as the Packers looked to run out the clock on a lead, and he out-carried Jones 20-10 as a result.

Despite that impressive volume, the most notable part of Dillon's production was his work as a receiver. He recorded the first receiving touchdown of his career midway through the third quarter and now has four or more receptions in three of his last four games.

After the contest, LaFleur called the backfield "a 1A and 1B" situation according to Matt Schneidman of The Athletic, so all indications suggest the Dillon will remain heavily involved in the offense even with the return of Jones. ...

A few final notes. ... Rodgers' 54-yard pass to Cobb in the second quarter gave him 84 completions of at least 50 yards. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that's the second-highest total over the past 45 seasons, behind only Drew Brees' 90.

Davante Adams has 15 catches for 219 yards over his past two games.

And finally. ... The Packers have three of their last five games at home, starting with a Dec. 12 matchup against the Chicago Bears.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Aaron Rodgers, Kurt Benkert, Jordan Love
RBs: Aaron Jones, A.J. Dillon, Kylin Hill
WRs: Allen Lazard, Sammy Watkins, Amari Rodgers, Malik Taylor, Randall Cobb
TEs: Marcedes Lewis, Josiah Deguara, Robert Tonyan

Houston Texans

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 30 November 2021

As Associated Press sports writer Kristie Rieken reported, the Houston Texans won't be making any offensive changes this week despite a terrible performance after halftime in a 21-14 loss to the New York Jets Sunday.

Head coach David Culley was adamant Monday that offensive coordinator Tim Kelly would continue to call plays and Tyrod Taylor would remain the team's starting quarterback. His support for the two comes a day after Houston (2-9) was shut out after halftime and gained just 45 yards in the last two quarters of the loss to another one of the league's worst teams.

"That's not even a question about Tim being the play caller," Culley said when asked if a change should be made. "We've got to play better. It has nothing to do with the play call. It has something to do with us playing better and doing things the right way."

He was later asked if there was a chance rookie Davis Mills would play again this year, and Culley said that would only happen if Taylor was injured again. Mills did not fare well when he filled in this season when Taylor injured his hamstring, going 0-6 with eight interceptions and seven touchdowns.

Taylor has started in both of Houston's wins, a victory in the opener against Jacksonville and an upset at Tennessee last week. The veteran had an up-and-down performance against the Jets. Taylor completed 17-of-26 passes for 158 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.

The interception gave Houston seven interceptions in the last three games, which is a franchise record for such a span.

It's hard to sugarcoat it.

Still, Taylor, with two TDs in each of the two games since his return from injured reserve, has cobbled together a pair of reasonable fantasy finishes.

But against the Jets, he and the Texans couldn't get anything going after halftime as the Jets rallied for the victory.

"In the first half we had back-to-back drives where we scored a touchdown because we executed," Culley said. "In the second half. ... There were times when guys were off a play here, a play there. They didn't do the right thing and it got us behind the sticks. When we get behind the sticks, it's tough for us to come back."

As Rieken summed up, "Not much is working on this dreadful team that took a step back Sunday, one week after its big win over the Titans. Houston ranks 32nd in total offense and the defense isn't much better ranking 29th."

While standing behind Kelly, Culley said that everyone needs to do more to get the offense on track.

"When we call a play, the guys got to do the right thing," he said. "Sometimes when the focus is not right in certain situations -- and it usually happens with us after a negative play -- the thing we have to be able to do is have that next-play mentality, and not allow the bad play that happened before to interfere with what's happening going forward."

That won't be easy going up against a Colts offense that is plenty capable of mounting a rushing attack that could limit the Texans' offense even further just by playing keep away.

Other notes of interest. ... Brandin Cooks caught 3-of-5 targets for 45 yards and a touchdown.

Nobody is going to pretend his situation is ideal, but Cooks once again demonstrated the big-play upside fantasy managers were hoping for when adding him to roster this season. Taylor's return to the starting lineup adds to the positive vibes even if we shouldn't get overly enthusiastic about it.

Beyond that, Rex Burkhead carried the ball 12 times for 27 yards. He also caught all three of his targets for an additional 27 yards from scrimmage.

At the risk of overstating the case, Burkhead, with 33 touches over the last two games, is suddenly a fantasy-relevant option.

Again, not ideal. Relevant.

At this point in the season -- with byes ongoing and attrition around the league growing, that can be enough.

Meanwhile, David Johnson carried the ball 10 times for 39 yards. He caught 2-of-3 targets for an additional 16 yards from scrimmage. Johnson appeared to be nicked up in this game, limping at times and making at least one visit to the medical tent.

While he missed Wednesday's practice, Johnson was out due to illness. The same goes for Cooks.

I'll be watching for more on their status heading into the weekend and report back via Late-Breaking Update as developments warrant. ...

Also of interest. ... Wide receiver Danny Amendola is going to be out of the lineup for a while.

Aaron Wilson of SportsTalk 790 reports that Amendola had arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his knee this week. Amendola was injured during the loss to the Jets.

Meniscus repairs typically keep players out for three or four weeks, so an injured reserve stint seems likely for Amendola. Given the timing, any delay in his recovery could mean the end of his season.

Amendola has 17 catches for 135 yards and a touchdown in seven appearances for the Texans this season. He signed a one-year deal with Houston in the offseason. ...

Culley has preached all season the importance of limiting penalties at critical moments. The Texans went out Sunday and drew flags on consecutive plays that helped the Jets take the lead.

Both of those penalties were committed by defensive tackle Ross Blacklock. The first came when he got a leverage call on a field goal attempt to give the Jets a first down at the 8. Zach Wilson was sacked for a loss of 6 on the next play, but Blacklock was offside to give the Jets a first down at the 4. Wilson scrambled for the score on the next play to put New York on top.

Culley said he was "very disappointed" with the penalties and that his team has to stop making such mistakes. ...

But the mistakes apparently started well in advance of that. ... Safety Justin Reid, the team's top defensive player, was suspended for Sunday's game for a violation of team rules.

Culley wouldn't say exactly what led to the suspension but discussed the situation in broad terms.

"We have rules, and we have standards here," he said. "I just felt like last week in that particular situation, he didn't meet those standards, and when that happens, I made a decision."

The two men met to discuss the situation and Culley said on Wednesday that Reid will return to his usual spot in the lineup.

“We’re moving forward,” Culley said, via Sarah Barshop of ESPN.com. “Back to business as usual.”

Reid has started all nine games he’s played this season and has 42 tackles, two interceptions, and a forced fumble.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Davis Mills, Kevin Hogan, Kyle Allen
RBs: Dare Ogunbowale, Rex Burkhead, David Johnson, Marlon Mack, Royce Freeman, Scottie Phillips
WRs: Brandin Cooks, Nico Collins, Phillip Dorsett, Chris Conley, Chris Moore, Danny Amendola, Davion Davis, Jordan Veasy
TEs: Brevin Jordan, Jordan Akins, Pharaoh Brown, Jeff Driskel

Indianapolis Colts

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 30 November 2021

As ESPN.com's Mike Wells suggested, a debate to determine who should be blamed for the Indianapolis Colts' latest second-half meltdown -- Sunday's 38-31 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- could go on for days.

Coach Frank Reich for taking the ball out of running back Jonathan Taylor's hands late in the second and the entire third quarter?

Five turnovers, including four in the second half, by the Colts?

Dropped passes by wide receivers Michael Pittman Jr. and Zach Pascal?

What about the defensive penalties that put the Buccaneers in scoring position?

The list could go on, but as Wells stressed, the reality is, playoff-caliber teams find ways to win games when they have double-digit leads against fellow playoff-caliber teams.

The Colts (6-6) didn't do it Sunday against the Buccaneers (8-3). They also didn't do it against the Baltimore Ravens (8-3) and Tennessee Titans (8-4).

"We all have to get a little bit better," Reich said. "There's a lot of good calls, but I have to make a great call. The perfect call in the perfect situation to put our guys in the best scenario to make that play. From a players' standpoint, it comes down to that one play. Somebody make that miraculous catch. That big stop on defense, a great play on special teams.

"When you watch the teams that are doing it, they're getting it from coaches and players at the level they need to win the game. I'm encouraged we're building those leads against great teams. I know we have the players and coaches to get it done. We just have to prove it in a more consistent fashion."

Of great interest to fantasy managers, Reich insists he's a run-first guy.

As Associated Press sports writer Michael Marot reported, it was hard to tell Sunday -- and the Colts paid a hefty price for breaking with that identity.

Carson Wentz was picked off twice and lost a fumble on a strip-sack but Reich insisted Monday he had no regrets.

"I didn't have very many regrets on how this game was called, I'm not going to lie," he said. "Do you want to call one or two more runs? Yeah, sure. But we were going against the No. 1 run defense and they came out with the mindset Jonathan Taylor is not going to beat us, they're going to have to throw the ball to beat us."

Wentz dropped back 50 times. He completed 61.4 percent of his 44 throws, was sacked three times, and scrambled three times for 21 yards.

The approach relegated Indy's best offensive threat, Taylor, to a smaller role. He had 16 carries for 83 yards and one score while catching four passes for 14 yards. With 20 touches and 97 yards from scrimmage, Taylor wound up three yards short of breaking the NFL record with a ninth straight 100-yard game and a rushing TD.

In the team's three-game win streak, Taylor rushed for 172, 116, and 185 yards. He took 19, 21, and 32 carries.

But the Colts had a stretch of 26 called passes between the end of the second quarter and the third quarter against the Bucs.

"We were rolling. We scored 21 points," Reich told reporters after the game. "We tried to run it in the first quarter, this is the No. 1 run defense, and we weren't getting anything. We tried throwing in the second quarter and started having a lot of success. Carson was hot. Called a bunch of RPOs that got to throws because they were throw reads.

"We come out in the third quarter, we move the ball well in the third quarter. We moved down there twice, we're moving it well. So, I'll go back and look at it."

Reich noted that normally with a long string of pass plays, someone will say something to him.

"Nothing was said to me during that stretch but sometimes something like that will be said," Reich said. "The reason probably no one was saying anything was because a lot of the things we were calling were working. A lot of them were working against a really good defense. So, I think that's probably why."

Even in the loss, there were positives: The Colts have scored at least 30 points in seven of their last eight games including 72 over the last two weeks against Buffalo and Tampa Bay, two of the league's top defenses. But Indy leads the NFL with a plus-12 turnover margin but had five of its 15 giveaways Sunday.

After blowing a chance to cut a two-game deficit in the AFC South to one, the Colts must take advantage of next weekend's trip to Houston. The Colts can get Taylor back into the MVP conversation with a strong performance this week against the Texans. Taylor rushed for 145 yards in a 31-3 victory over Houston in Week 6.

After this weekend, they'll get a much-needed bye the following week before hosting New England and visiting Arizona. The four-week span will play a key role in determining whether Indy stays in the playoff hunt. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Long-time veterans T.Y. Hilton and Jack Doyle showed they're still capable. Hilton had four receptions for 28 yards and scored his first TD of the season Sunday. Doyle caught six passes for 81 yards, both season highs, and had his third TD in five weeks.

Doyle's six catches, 81 yards and one touchdown represented his most catches in a game since 2019 and most yards in a game since 2017 (he made the Pro Bowl in both years). The 31-year-old is up to 26 catches, 278 yards and three touchdowns in 2021 and has proven himself to be an important target for Wentz, especially when the Colts' quarterback needs to pick up some tough yards on third down.

Wentz is 7-of-9 when targeting Doyle on third down, and six of those seven receptions have gone for first downs.

"We have so many guys on offense, it's a week by week thing and our coaches do such a good job of spreading the ball around," Doyle said. "You just try to be ready when the ball comes your way."

Doyle, who was held out of practice with a knee injury Wednesday, and Hilton can help the passing game improve if they remain consistent options.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Matt Ryan, Nick Foles, Sam Ehlinger
RBs: Jonathan Taylor, Nyheim Hines, Deon Jackson
WRs: Michael Pittman Jr., T.Y. Hilton, Ashton Dulin, Parris Campbell
TEs: Jack Doyle, Mo Alie-Cox, Kylen Granson

Jacksonville Jaguars

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 30 November 2021

According to ESPN.com's Michael DiRocco, head coach Urban Meyer spent several minutes after the Jaguars' 21-14 loss to the Falcons talking about changing their offense going forward to include more spread aspects -- such as QB runs, run-pass options and going up-tempo at times -- but he had no immediate answer as to why it has taken 11 games to reach this point.

"Good question," he said.

A moment later, the first-year NFL head coach did try to explain the long delay by saying they weren't sure about what the personnel could do, they lacked big plays and had poor execution, and they didn't have a grasp of their identity (though he said at the beginning of the season that they wanted to be a run-first team).

Even taking those things into consideration, the bottom line is it took three months to get to the point where Meyer and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell are starting to put things in the offense that rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence is comfortable running.

As DiRocco put it, "That's. ... Problematic."

"There's no stubbornness, it's just we're all figuring this thing out, and we should have it figured out by now," Meyer said. "And I would say this: That it's not like we don't have it figured out. We're not executing at a high level. We're putting ourselves in position to win a game, and if we eliminate some nonsense, then we would go win a game."

Meyer said he hired Bevell because he wanted to put Lawrence in an offense that would be best for his long-term success. Bevell had worked with Russell Wilson as a rookie and did some RPOs, but Wilson eventually developed into a pocket passer who has thrived -- and won a Super Bowl. Wilson had running back Marshawn Lynch and receivers Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin and Sidney Rice.

That's far better offensive talent than what Lawrence has with the Jaguars. James Robinson is a very good back, but he's not at Lynch's level. And Meyer was blunt about the Jaguars receivers' inability to win their routes and gain separation, saying they're not doing that enough.

To be fair, injuries have definitely hurt the offense. D.J. Chark Jr. was the team's lone deep threat, and he went down with a broken ankle in Week 4. That forced the Jaguars to use Jamal Agnew, signed as a returner, more on offense, and he quickly became their most explosive player before suffering a hip injury in Week 11.

But it's not like the offense was lighting it up when those two were healthy. The Jaguars haven't scored more than 23 points this season and after Sunday's 21-14 loss, dropped their average points per game to 15.7. They are dangerously close to the franchise's lowest per-game average (15.2) set in 2011.

The hope is using more tempo, incorporating more quarterback runs (on read-options or designed calls) and adding some run-pass options (things Lawrence was comfortable with and thrived in at Clemson) will spark a unit that has scored five touchdowns in six games since the bye week.

The Jaguars (2-9) tried some of that against the Falcons (5-6). Lawrence kept the ball on four read-option plays, and Bevell went up-tempo for the first three plays of the second half and again in the fourth quarter on their lone touchdown drive.

"I thought we had some good wrinkles today," said Lawrence, who completed 23 of 42 passes for 228 yards and a touchdown with one interception. "Obviously not the result we wanted. [We] wanted to come out with a win. But I think offensively we were a lot more efficient. No. 1 thing is finishing drives. We've got to score more touchdowns.

"So I'd say that's the main thing, but I did think we took a step as far as productivity today. I thought we did a better job."

Meyer said to expect more of those things in the final six weeks.

"I thought the coaches worked their tails off, and we went some tempo, we went some pace a little bit, which I think our quarterback is used to that, and I think you'll see more of that," he said.

It just took them a long time to get there.

It's also worth noting the Jaguars have yet to score 24 points in any game this season. It doesn't help that Meyer is feeling his way through his first NFL season with few playmakers and have been down two starting offensive linemen in several games. Robinson has been banged up as well.

Despite those issues, Lawrence's progress appears to be moving at a snail's pace. According to Associated Press sports writer Mark Long, Meyer didn't have an answer for why it's taken 11 weeks to make even minor changes.

"I think so much of it is when you're not quite sure of what your personnel is capable of," Meyer said. "Offensive football is about equating numbers and having some (big plays) in the offense, and we've struggled at times. ... There's no stubbornness. It's just we're all figuring this thing out, and we should have it figured out by now. ... We're not executing at a high level."

But Meyer has zero concern about Lawrence's long-term future.

"He came here to help lift an organization, and that's the way he looks at it," Meyer said. "He's very hard on himself, as most great players are, and the whole question I ask the team, ask myself, ask ourselves, 'What can we do better to go win that game?' And the answer is, 'A multitude of things. ...'"

Next up, Jacksonville travels cross-country to play the Los Angeles Rams and faces 2016 first-round draft pick Jalen Ramsey for the first time since he was traded early in the 2019 season.

On the injury front. ... Tight end Dan Arnold will miss at least the next three games because of a sprained MCL in his right knee.

Meyer said Monday afternoon the team will place Arnold on injured reserve. The Jaguars have six games remaining so there's still the possibility Arnold could return to the lineup.

Arnold has 28 catches for 324 yards in eight games with the Jaguars.

James O'Shaughnessy, who just returned from a stint on injured reserve himself, replaced Arnold against the Falcons and will now likely serve as the team's No.1 tight end. Desperate fantasy managers may want to consider him but there is very little fantasy value available in Jacksonville outside of Robinson.

Also of interest. ... Robinson turned 17 carries into 86 yards and gathered in three of four targets for 29 yards against the Falcons.

He also lost a fumble.

As CBSSports.com notes, since sitting out Week 9 due to a bruised heel, Robinson has managed to achieve active status in three straight contests, averaging 16.7 touches for 79 yards from scrimmage per game while scoring two rushing TDs. That's more or less in line with his output in seven appearances pre-injury -- 87.9 total yards per game, five scores -- but the second-year back hasn't had a run of 20-plus yards since Week

While Robinson may have some practice limitations this week, too, he'll look to keep it going next Sunday when the Jags travel to L.A. to face the Rams' 10th-ranked rush defense. ...

Wide receiver Laquon Treadwell led the Jaguars with 53 yards receiving Sunday. That's the highest yardage total for a Jaguars receiver since Marvin Jones Jr. had 100 yards receiving against Miami -- the team's lone 100-yard receiving game of the season.

The Jaguars have released WR John Brown from the practice squad, the team announced Monday. ...

And finally. ... Meyer has had an awfully rough go in his first year coaching in the NFL, but not even an opening at Notre Dame would lure him away from trying to fix all that ails the Jaguars. Meyer ended any such speculation Tuesday that he might be a candidate for the Notre Dame job, which opened this week when Brian Kelly accepted the head coaching job at LSU.

"I'm not a candidate," Meyer told L.A.-based media during a Tuesday conference call, per Greg Beacham of the Associated Press. "Obviously I spent six years of my life there, so great respect for Notre Dame, and as I do USC, UCLA, like we talked about. But I'm committed to the Jaguars and doing the best we can to turn this thing around."

Meyer, 57, was a wide receivers coach at Notre Dame from 1996-2000, and once described the possibility of being Notre Dame's head coach as a "dream job."

If he is ever to return to Notre Dame, now clearly isn't the time.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Trevor Lawrence, C.J. Beathard
RBs: Ryquell Armstead, Devine Ozigbo, B.J. Emmons, James Robinson
WRs: Marvin Jones, Christian Kirk, Laquon Treadwell, Zay Jones, Laviska Shenault, Jamal Agnew
TEs: James O'Shaughnessy, Evan Engram, Chris Manhertz, Luke Farrell, Dan Arnold

Kansas City Chiefs

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 30 November 2021

As Associated Press sports writer Dave Skretta reminded readers, the last time the Chiefs had a week off at this point in the year, they didn't lose against until the next season.

Skretta went on to suggest there's a lot of reasons to believe this year's team can follow in the footsteps of the 2019 championship bunch.

Whether it's the return of several players from injuries to the continued involvement of a couple of late newcomers, or the improvement that was evident before the break to head coach Andy Reid's downright incredible record after a bye, the Chiefs returned to work Monday brimming with optimism about the stretch run they're about to begin.

"Listen, there's always a little something you find out about yourself," Reid said Monday, "and yeah, because you have extended time you have an opportunity to look a little deeper. There weren't any huge surprises, but there's always a little nugget in there if you look hard enough."

On the injury front, Chiefs right tackle Lucas Niang could return from a rib injury and be available for Sunday night's game against the Broncos at Arrowhead Stadium. He began the season as the starter, lost the job to Mike Remmers, then started again when Remmers was knocked out for a couple of games with an injury of his own.

Niang's return would give the Chiefs valuable experience up front. And the way their offensive line was decimated by injury by the time last year's Super Bowl kicked off, they'll take all the help they can get at the position.

That could include the addition of Kyle Long, too. The veteran came out of a year-long retirement with the hopes of earning a starting job in Kansas City. But Long broke his leg in training camp and wasn't designated for return from injured reserve until earlier this month. But the Chiefs activated Long on Tuesday and placed running back Jerick McKinnon on injured reserve.

On the other side of the ball, three-time All-Pro safety Tyrann Mathieu played through a knee injury in the Chiefs' 19-9 win over the Cowboys that sent them barreling into the bye with four consecutive victories.

According to Skretta, Mathieu should be much closer to 100 percent when the Chiefs kick off a game against Denver that was flexed to prime time.

"He came out OK," Reid said. "He was able to push himself through, which was amazing. I mean, he's a tough kid, so tough-minded, and that carries over to the defense. Our players knew that he wasn't quite where he wanted to be, yet he didn't say anything. He just pushed himself through it."

The Chiefs also hope the bye allowed wide receiver Josh Gordon and defensive end Melvin Ingram to get more comfortable.

Gordon returned from his NFL suspension to sign with Kansas City after the season began, and he was active for the first time in Week 5. Despite playing every game since then, Gordon still has just two catches for 18 yards.

Ingram has had more of an impact since arriving from Pittsburgh earlier this month. He's played the last three games, and while his numbers aren't necessarily amazing, he's allowed defensive tackle Chris Jones to slide from the outside back to the interior of the line. That has helped the entire Kansas City pass rush.

The Chiefs, who have a one-game lead on the Chargers, Broncos and Raiders in the AFC West race, face each of those teams in the next three week: Denver and Las Vegas visiting Arrowhead Stadium, then the Chiefs heading to Los Angeles.

After playing the Steelers, the Chiefs finish with playoff contenders Cincinnati and Denver on the road.

The Chiefs already were rolling into their bye behind that resurgent defense, which has held three straight opponents to 17 points or fewer. Their underwhelming offense is almost certain to be better after a week to digest the season.

Why? Reid has a 19-3 record when his teams are coming off a bye.

"I get asked about that every year. I'm not sure why that is," Reid said. "We go back and try to review everything and make whatever corrections. But I don't know what the secret -- if there is any secret -- what that secret is."

Meanwhile, having cemented himself as one of the most accomplished players in NFL history at his position in recent seasons, tight end Travis Kelce is becoming an integral part of the team's locker room this year.

Commenting on the six-time Pro Bowler in his Monday afternoon press conference, Reid told reporters about Kelce's role as a mentor and leader to younger players amid the team's turnaround.

"Travis keeps growing," Reid said. "He's a player, leader, person. He always works on his game. He kind of pushed through the tough time and showed consistency during that time there earlier in the season but kept leading. Eric Bieniemy put together a tape actually for the offense that showed Kelce's leadership for the young guys. Also, when something wasn't going right, he'd go up to players and say something to them in a positive way and get them going. So, he's really taken that role seriously and that's fun to see."

As USA Today's John Dillon notes, though the makings of Kelce's lead-from-the-front mentality have been evident since Kansas City drafted him in 2013, even the team couldn't have imagined their investment in him would pay off so extremely during his coach's tenure.

Kelce was the second selection the Chiefs made after signing Reid, taken with the first pick in the third round after Eric Fisher was selected first overall and their second-rounder was traded in a package for quarterback Alex Smith.

Since missing his rookie season sidelined with an injury, Kelce has taken the league by storm.

He has become an all-time great offensive threat who, by Reid's estimation, makes every one of his teammates better just by the virtue of his presence.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Patrick Mahomes, Chad Henne
RBs: Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Jerick McKinnon, Derrick Gore, Ronald Jones
WRs: Mecole Hardman, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Marcus Kemp, JuJu Smith-Schuster
TEs: Travis Kelce, Noah Gray, Blake Bell

Las Vegas Raiders

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 30 November 2021

According to ESPN.com's Paul Gutierrez, Derek Carr had not been himself since the Las Vegas Raiders emerged from their bye.

A three-game losing streak, with calls from fans for him to be replaced with Marcus Mariota at quarterback growing louder by the loss, had him feeling off. As Las Vegas Review-Journal's Ed Graney noted, in consecutive losses to Kansas City and then Cincinnati, Carr threw for just an average 238 yards with three scores and two interceptions. He also had two interceptions in a loss to the Giants. He and offensive coordinator Greg Olson hardly seemed on the same page at all times as a 5-2 record became 5-5.

The rhythm was lacking, the execution nonexistent for stretches. The Raiders were abysmal on third down (they were a not-so-great 3-of-13 Thursday) and nearly as forgettable in the red zone.

So on a short week, and with a prime-time game at the Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day, Carr remembered a piece of advice his former coach Jon Gruden gave him.

Don't ever take your arm out of a game.

So Carr channeled Gruden, who resigned Oct. 11 after the publication of offensive emails, in the course of the Raiders' 36-33 overtime win and passed for 373 yards, his most since Week 3, when the Raiders were 3-0.

Carr also acknowledged starting faster on offense was key. So finding wide receiver DeSean Jackson on the Raiders' third play from scrimmage for a 56-yard touchdown was the chef's kiss.

Even if it was early.

"We get that touchdown, I look at the scoreboard, OK, 7-0," Carr said. "I'm excited. I'm an emotional, passionate person, but my mindset literally goes, 'OK, 7-0.' We've got to keep going.

"But I can't exhale during the game, especially with this one, how close it was. We hit that play, it's exciting ... but I can't exhale. Win or lose, whether it's going good or bad, I have to stay in the moment."

Carr also got his run game going, rushing for a 22-yard pickup. He celebrated by flashing a "shaka" hand sign at Mariota, a Hawaiian native.

"I always call myself 'Carriota' and he gets a kick out of that one," Carr said of Mariota. "Anytime I scramble in practice or in a game, I'll come up to him and be like, 'Carriota, bro,' and he'll laugh at me. Probably just to appease me. It felt good to be able to pick up that. They actually got tripped up, and I felt it. Honestly it was just experience at that point. I knew they were in the man coverage look on the back end, and when that gain happened and they didn't have contain, I just took off."

Said interim coach Rich Bisaccia: "Derek is his biggest critic. ... He's been off sync a little bit; we've all been off sync.

"Today he looked like Derek Carr. It's fun to watch him play."

And it was fun for fantasy managers to see the Raiders wide receivers combine for 307 yards receiving a week after combining for a season-low 50. That was the fifth best mark in a game in franchise history and most since the wideouts had 350 in an overtime win over Tampa Bay on Oct. 30, 2016.

The Raiders, who play host to Washington in 10 days, have endured the Gruden resignation as well as the trauma and tragedy of former receiver Henry Ruggs III's high-speed car crash that killed a 23-year-old woman and her dog.

After Ruggs was released, the Raiders' vertical threat was gone. So they signed Jackson, who turns 35 on Wednesday but is rounding into form for Las Vegas.

Jackson had three catches for 102 yards, including a 56-yard TD on the opening possession and also drew two pass interference calls for 47 yards.

"One thing I've tried to do this year, especially when [Ruggs] was here, I was going to be so aggressive," Carr said. "It leads sometimes to not completing as many balls on a percentage chart, but to me, Gruden used to tell me, 'Don't ever take your arm out of a game.' So when we call these things, let's rip 'em."

As Associated Press sports writer Josh Dubow suggests, the Raiders will need that kind of play down the stretch from Carr if they want to make a playoff run and get to the postseason for the second time in the past 19 seasons.

They have wilted late the past two seasons and fallen short of the postseason, and Carr is still waiting for his first playoff shot after missing out because of an injury in 2016.

"We are playing meaningful games," he said. "It is something we have gotten to do here a couple times. The one time we go to the playoffs, I broke my leg and I didn't get to play. That's disheartening, but it's that drive. It's that thing that keeps staying in my heart that I just want to do it for this organization. ..."

On the injury front. ... Tight end Darren Waller avoided a major injury when he hurt his knee during the Thanksgiving victory.

But he still could miss some time.

Interim coach Rich Bisaccia said in his Monday press conference that Waller is week-to-week with his knee injury. Bisaccia added that Waller has improved and the team will see how he does through the rest of the week.

Waller left the game with 12:15 left in the first half. Waller, who was not on hand for Wedneday's practice, has 53 receptions for 643 yards with a pair of touchdowns this year. He missed the Week Seven win over the Eagles with knee and ankle issues.

Bisaccia also noted defensive end Carl Nassib (knee) is week-to-week and linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski (ankle) could return this week. Cornerback Keisean Nixon (ankle) is less certain to return and cornerback Trayvon Mullen (foot) is likely to return to practice, getting designated to return from injured reserve.

Linebacker Nicholas Morrow (ankle) is also further away from returning, with Bisaccia saying he's more "two weeks to two weeks."

The Raiders will play Washington at home on Sunday. Not having to make a cross-country trip could work in favor of all the walking wounded as they'll all be able to get more treatment.

That said, I'll be watching for more on Waller and will report further via Late-Breaking Update in coming days, but Waller investors should be making other plans. ...

Kicker Daniel Carlson received his second AFC Special Teams Player of the Week nod of 2021 with a clutch showing against the Cowboys.

The fourth-year pro was responsible for a career-high 18 points (three PATs, five FGs), including a smooth 29-yarder under duress to send Las Vegas home victorious. He also became one of just 11 kickers to convert a FG attempt of 56 or more yards this season. ...

One last note here. ... Mariota was a significant part of the win over the Cowboys, scoring a rushing touchdown on a zone-read in the third quarter.

Mariota has been used as a sort of wild-card option for Las Vegas on offense this season, though he got hurt on his longest play -- a 31-yard run back in the Week 1 win over Baltimore.

Bisaccia said Las Vegas will continue to utilize Mariota in certain spots.

"I think you saw [Olson] do a great job of this week is, we had him in there multiple times and he ends up scoring a touchdown for us because of his athletic ability and what he can do in certain situations, but certainly what we are asking him to do," Bisaccia said in his Monday press conference. "Without giving too much away, I think he is hopefully going to be a part of the packages as we go forward. He practices like he's preparing to play all the time. And the other thing is, it's really hard to take [Carr] out from behind the center as well, especially if he's playing the way he played on Thanksgiving Day."

But Carr didn't seem to have any problem with Mariota taking a snap, especially since he was goading cornerback Trevon Diggs to press him at the line of scrimmage. Bisaccia also credited Carr for the way he supported Mariota, particularly on the scoring play.

"I think on the touchdown, you saw Derek might have been the first or second guy out there to congratulate him. So, I think Derek is about the team," Bisaccia said. "Derek is about doing whatever we can do to put ourselves in position to win a game. I think you see it by the way in which he prepares, by the way in which he plays, and they certainly have a professional relationship with respect to each other's job and what they are trying to do to help us win.

"So, I don't feel like that's an issue in any way. I just feel like they are certainly competitors, but I certainly think they want to do whatever they can do to help us win games."

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Derek Carr, Nick Mullens
RBs: Josh Jacobs, Brandon Bolden, Ameer Abdullah, Peyton Barber, Jalen Richard, Kenyan Drake
WRs: Hunter Renfrow, Davante Adams, DeSean Jackson, Demarcus Robinson, Keelan Cole, Dillon Stoner, Mack Hollins
TEs: Darren Waller, Foster Moreau, Jacob Hollister, Nick Bowers, Daniel Helm, Derek Carrier, Matt Bushman

Los Angeles Chargers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 30 November 2021

As Associated Press sports writer Joe Reedy reminded readers, going into the start of the season, many people would be happy to see the Los Angeles Chargers with a 6-5 record and in contention for a playoff spot going into December.

Now that record is considered to be disappointing.

Wins in four of the first five games, including three against teams that made the postseason in 2020, ramped up expectations for first-year coach Brandon Staley. But Sunday's 28-13 loss to the Denver Broncos was the Chargers' worst game since a 45-0 blowout defeat against New England last December that sealed then-coach Anthony Lynn's fate.

The loss to Denver was Los Angeles' fourth in the past six games and laid bare many of its weaknesses seen throughout the season -- a leaky run defense (147 yards allowed and 4.5 yards per carry); too many third-down conversions allowed (8 of 11); and an offensive line missing three starters unable to consistently protect quarterback Justin Herbert.

Herbert threw for 303 yards, but he threw two crucial interceptions, one in the end zone, another returned by Patrick Surtain II for a 70-yard pick-6.

The only good thing that happened for the Chargers is that they remained in the seventh and final AFC postseason spot after Cleveland lost to Baltimore. Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Denver are all 6-5, but the Chargers have the spot by virtue of a better division record.

Sunday's trip to Cincinnati begins a stretch in which four of the Chargers' final six games will be against teams that still harbor postseason hopes.

Besides the Bengals, who are in playoff position at 7-4, Los Angeles also faces division foes Kansas City, Denver and Las Vegas.

"This is where we are. Could it be better? Yeah, it could be, but it could be worse," Staley said. "We have to keep our head on straight, keep our composure and be better moving forward. We're in a fight. It's been that type of season for us. You've heard me talk about illusions and stuff like that, it was a fight when we were 4-1, and it's still a fight. So we're going to try and stay connected and move on to Cincinnati."

It's worth noting Sunday's game will be the first matchup between Herbert and Joe Burrow, first-round draft selections in 2020. Los Angeles needed a missed field goal in the final minute of last year's opener for a 20-17 victory.

Meanwhile, ESPN.com's Shelley Smith asked the question we all want answered: "How can a quarterback be nearly perfect one week and horrible the next?"

Against the Broncos and their defensive-minded coach, Vic Fangio, it clearly wasn't Herbert's day.

The second-year signal caller was sacked three times, threw two interceptions and showed little of the poise or patience Chargers fans have become accustomed to. Even though the second interception was running back Austin Ekeler's fault (it bounced off his hands), Smith contends Herbert was clearly outfoxed by the Denver defense and Fangio's expertise.

In a related note: Herbert has thrown three interceptions once the Chargers reach the opponent's 25-yard line, which is tied for second in the NFL.

But it's not like there aren't positives.

Keenan Allen has four straight games with at least seven receptions and tied Antonio Brown as the fastest player to reach 700 career catches (111 games). Allen's 36 receptions are tied for the most in the league over the last four games.

Ekeler scored his 14th total touchdown against the Broncos. He trails only Colts running back Jonathan Taylor (16) for most in the NFL.

Ekeler has seven rushing and seven receiving touchdowns this season, and has scored in eight of 11 games.

He also went over 1,000 scrimmage yards in Week 12 (1,077). With six games remaining, he needs 474 yards -- or 79 total yards per game -- to set a new career high.

Herbert now has the most single-season rushing yards among quarterbacks in franchise history (243). Herbert had 36 yards rushing in Denver and has a combined 126 yards on the ground over the last two weeks.

Herbert went over 300 yards passing for the 14th time in his career. He also became the second-fastest ever to 7,500 yards passing.

One last note here. ... Per Reedy, the offense was on a roll on fourth-down conversions the first five weeks of the schedule when it converted all seven of its opportunities. But it has regressed the last six games, going 5 of 12, including 1 of 2 against the Broncos. The 41.7 percent success rate since Week 6 is below the league average of 53.8 percent.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Justin Herbert, Chase Daniel, Easton Stick
RBs: Austin Ekeler, Justin Jackson, Joshua Kelley, Larry Rountree III
WRs: Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Jalen Guyton, Josh Palmer, DeAndre Carter, K.J. Hill, Josh Reed, Maurice Ffrench
TEs: Gerald Everett, Stephen Anderson, Tre' McKitty, Donald Parham

Los Angeles Rams

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 30 November 2021

Don't look now, but the Rams didn't win a game in November.

As Associated Press sports writer Dan Greenspan notes, that puts a team that was regarded as a Super Bowl favorite coming into the month in the same company with New Orleans, which has been dealing with injuries at quarterback, and Detroit, which is in a total rebuild.

"To be fair to the Lions," Greenspan added, "they at least managed a tie among their three games this month, while the Rams went 0-3 after losing 36-28 to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday."

"We have guys that are way too good for us to be losing games like this and losing games in a row," cornerback Jalen Ramsey said Sunday. "We just got to get it right. We got to play better. Everything has to be better, because we're too good to be losing games like this. But we're not playing like we're that good right now."

The shocking fall despite bringing in the likes of outside linebacker Von Miller and wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. is just the second three-game losing streak for Los Angeles since Sean McVay became head coach in 2017.

The Rams (7-4) dropped three straight in Weeks 4 to 6 of the 2019 season, McVay's lone campaign that did not reach the postseason, but tight end Tyler Higbee said there is no panic.

"It's about going back to work, find out what we need to do to fix it and attacking it that way," Higbee said Monday. "Putting your head back down and going back to work, and see how we fix some of these mistakes that we're making, and do what we need to do to get back in the win column."

There are plenty of problems to choose from, be it the glut of turnovers from Stafford, including throwing a pick-6 for the third straight game, breakdowns in pass protection, an ineffective ground game or struggles stopping the run.

The Rams' strong start gave them some margin for error to work through these issues, as they currently hold the first wild card in the NFC, and a home game against Jacksonville (2-9) this Sunday should be the perfect opportunity to get back on track.

McVay said it is important to find a balance between honestly assessing what is going wrong and keeping confidence up.

"You want to just continue to fight your way out of this rut, and we're gonna go right back to our process. We're going to look inwardly. ... And I think we've got the right kind of guys to be able to fight out of this thing the right way," McVay said.

Working in their favor this week?

The Jaguars making the trip out west might be exactly what the Rams need to get their confidence back. Jacksonville is 0-4 on the road this season, averaging 16.5 points in those games. ...

Meanwhile, among the various current mysteries surrounding the team is whether quarterback Matthew Stafford is or isn't currently injured.

According to the injury report, he isn't. According to ESPN, he is.

According to Stafford, he's "feeling fine" but neither he nor anyone else is currently 100 percent.

So what does his coach have to say about it?

On Monday, a reporter asked Sean McVay to describe what he's seeing as it relates to Stafford's ability to play through "whatever ailments, injuries, what have you, there are."

"I'm seeing a really tough competitor," McVay said. "I think that's been one of the great traits that he's possessed for a long period of time. You just watch the amount of hits and some of the things that he's bounced back from quickly, whether it be with us or even over the course of his career with the Lions, or even going back to Georgia. So I just see a resilient, tough competitor that continues to compete, continues to battle. His teammates believe in him, his coaches believe in him. That's what I'm seeing from him."

As Profootballtalk.com's Mike Florio suggests, the question implies that Stafford is indeed injured. The answer did nothing to correct that assumption.

We'll see if the attention doesn't earn Stafford a spot on the official injury report this week.

Coming out of a bye and after suffering two consecutive losses that included four passes that were intercepted and converted into touchdowns, Stafford said winning the turnover battle would prove key to winning games down the stretch. But Stafford found himself in more turnover trouble on Sunday after losing a fumble and throwing a pick-six.

He rebounded with a 79-yard touchdown pass to Van Jefferson and a 54-yard touchdown pass to Beckham, but still, ESPN.com's Lindsey Thiry contends the 13th-year quarterback must make better decisions as the offense works to establish an identity without sure-handed playmaker Robert Woods and following Beckham's addition.

Stafford has been sacked nine times in the past three games. He was dropped just seven times through his first eight games with the Rams. ...

Beyond Stafford, McVay said running back Darrell Henderson Jr. has a "little bit of a quad strain" and doesn't expect him to practice on Wednesday.

"We'll monitor him throughout the course of the week and see what that looks like," McVay said.

Henderson rushed for 55 yards on 16 carries and didn't have a run longer than 7 yards. He struggled in short yardage, continuing a troubling trend of the Rams not being able to run the ball when necessary.

Sony Michel will be standing by as needed.

McVay also said the back injury that sidelined wide receiver Ben Skowronek in Week 12 was back spasms which made it difficult for him to move around.

Beckham sustained a posterior hip pointer against the Packers, but it's not expected to affect his game status for Week 13 against the Jaguars, according to McVay.

I'll have more on Stafford, Henderson and Beckham via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

One last note here. ... Jefferson, who got loose for the above-mentioned 79-yard touchdown catch, finished with 93 yards on three grabs after totaling 95 yards on six receptions the previous two games. With Beckham still getting comfortable in McVay's offense, Los Angeles needs Jefferson to be that reliable second option to Cooper Kupp.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Matthew Stafford, John Wolford, Bryce Perkins
RBs: Cam Akers, Jake Funk, Darrell Henderson, Javian Hawkins
WRs: Cooper Kupp, Allen Robinson, Van Jefferson, Ben Skowronek, Tutu Atwell, Landen Akers
TEs: Tyler Higbee, Kendall Blanton, Brycen Hopkins, Jacob Harris

Miami Dolphins

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 30 November 2021

As ESPN.com's Marcel Louis-Jacques, Jaylen Waddle has cemented himself as the team's No. 1 wide receiver during its current four-game winning streak, compiling 346 yards and a touchdown on 29 catches. He has 77 catches for 759 yards and four touchdowns, and is one of seven players in the NFL with more than 100 targets.

He is on pace for 109 receptions, which would surpass the only other rookie in league history with 100 or more catches -- Anquan Boldin -- who had 101 in 2003 with the Arizona Cardinals.

"Preparation, practice," head coach Brian Flores said of Waddle's emergence. "I think we worked at it and worked at it and worked at it, and we've been able to string some good weeks together from a practice standpoint, and you're seeing that show up in the game."

Miami traded up to draft him at No. 6 overall in this year's draft, in an effort to rekindle some of the chemistry that made Waddle and Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa a potent tandem at Alabama. While the early results were promising -- Waddle was the team's leading receiver entering Week 12 -- Sunday's victory felt like an official arrival, of sorts.

And it surprisingly came against the NFL's best pass defense.

The Panthers had allowed 174.2 passing yards per game entering Week 12, playing more man coverage than all but three teams in the NFL. Tagovailoa picked them apart underneath, completing 23 of 24 passes of 10 or fewer air yards for 141 of his 230 total passing yards Sunday.

The second-year passer said it was Carolina's coverage tendencies that made his efficient day possible.

"They played a lot of man, and when they did play zone, we tried to take advantage of in-cuts, crossers, things like that, so it's really what we expected, and what they showed us out there," he said.

Louis-Jacques went on to note the chemistry between Tagovailoa and Waddle has been striking.

Since Tagovailoa's return from injured reserve in Week 6, Waddle is the NFL's third-most targeted receiver and leads the league in receptions with 50. His 528 receiving yards in that span trail only Los Angeles Rams receiver Cooper Kupp's 618.

"Jaylen has just been in the right place at the right time," Tagovailoa said. "There's times where he gets covered and he is still open, so you take a look at one of the third downs that we had. I think it was 26. Donte Jackson covering him. It was really good coverage. [Jaylen] still got open."

Tagovailoa is hesitant to attribute their effectiveness to their time together at Alabama -- that was two years ago, after all. But their experience in college laid a foundation to make them successful at this level.

Waddle said Tagovailoa has grown as a player, which has inspired him to try to do the same each week. Initially known as a field-stretching vertical threat coming out of college, Waddle has worked to sharpen his entire route tree during this recent stretch.

"I work extremely hard not to just be known as a speed guy or a vertical threat. I'm just going to continue to try to go out there every week and show I can actually run routes and do things that people don't expect me to do."

Meanwhile, Louis-Jacques contends this is the Dolphins team we expected to see entering the 2021 season.

We knew their offense would be a work in progress, but the idea was that a dominant defense would put it in position to succeed throughout the course of the season until it started clicking. That's exactly what happened Sunday; Miami sputtered early on offense, but its defense and special teams came away with three turnovers in the first half -- two of which directly led to touchdowns.

With a comfortable lead in place for most of the game, Tagovailoa settled in, completing 27 of his 31 passes for 230 yards and a touchdown. They weren't world-beating numbers, but again, that side of the ball was never supposed to be this team's strength.

In fact, Tagovailoa has completed 27 passes in each of his past two games, hitting on 82 percent on Nov. 22 against the Jets and 84 percent against Carolina. Those numbers -- at least 27 completions with at least 82 percent accuracy -- have been reached in back-to-back games only once before, by Peyton Manning in 2013.

Expand the completion percentage to 80 percent, and only Kyler Murray (earlier this season) and Drew Brees (2018) get added to the list.

The next question is how far can the Dolphins reasonably go?

Miami is rolling with a four-game winning streak and games against the Giants (4-7) and Jets (3-8) sandwiched around its Week 14 bye.

This team could realistically be 7-7 by the time it plays the New Orleans Saints in Week 16. But because of its horrid start to the season, there doesn't appear to be a scenario in which the Dolphins control their own destiny; they will need some help to make their first playoff appearance under Flores.

Also of interest. ... Myles Gaskin carried the ball 16 times for 49 yards and two touchdowns against the Panthers. He also hauled 2-of-2 targets for an additional three yards from scrimmage.

Once again, Gaskin's workload was solid and he now has double-digit carries in six-straight games.

That he delivered on that volume with the pair of touchdowns was obviously a plus, but it's also something he hasn't done as consistently as we'd like.

Still volume is the mother of all production and Gaskin's volume keeps him in the RB2 conversation against the Giants.

Flores told reporters on Wednesday that DeVante Parker will return to practice. Parker has spent the last four games on injured reserve with hamstring and shoulder issues. Will Fuller, on IR with a broken finger, is not ready to return. ... I'll have more on Parker via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

Worth noting. ... Phillip Lindsay carried the ball 12 times for 42 yards in this one. Claimed off waivers from the Texans last week, Lindsay immediately moved into the No. 2 role behind Gaskin. Lindsay's carries in his first game as a Dolphin came late with the game well in hand, but he's a player worth watching going forward.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Tua Tagovailoa, Teddy Bridgewater, Reid Sinnett
RBs: Sony Michel, Chase Edmonds, Phillip Lindsay, Myles Gaskin, Salvon Ahmed, Malcolm Brown, Raheem Mostert
WRs: Jaylen Waddle, Tyreek Hill, Cedrick Wilson, Trent Sherfield, Albert Wilson, Preston Williams, Isaiah Ford
TEs: Mike Gesicki, Durham Smythe, Adam Shaheen, Hunter Long

Minnesota Vikings

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 30 November 2021

Dalvin Cook dislocated his shoulder during Sunday's loss to the San Francisco 49ers, a source told ESPN's Adam Schefter. NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported Cook was also diagnosed with a torn labrum.

Both insiders report that Cook is expected to miss at least the next two games -- Sunday at the Detroit Lions and the following Thursday against the Pittsburgh Steelers -- with the hope being he can return the next week for the Monday, Dec. 20, game at the Chicago Bears.

Head coach Mike Zimmer would not disclose the nature of Cook's injury Monday and said his star running back was "day-to-day."

"That's what they're telling me," Zimmer said.

Cook suffered the injury in the second half of Sunday's game, writhing on the ground in pain for an extended period of time before a cart arrived to carry him off the field. Minnesota turned to Alexander Mattison following Cook's departure, ultimately falling to the 49ers, 34-26.

As NFL.com's Nick Shook reminded readers, Cook missed the final two weeks of the regular season in 2019 due to a chest injury before returning in time for the postseason. Cook carried the ball 28 times in his first game back, a surprising wild-card win over the New Orleans Saints in which he finished with 94 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns.

The next week, Minnesota fell to San Francisco in the Divisional Round in a game in which Cook carried the ball just nine times for 18 yards.

Cook has carried the ball 171 times for 773 yards and four touchdowns this season, adding 27 receptions for 202 yards. He remains an integral part of Minnesota's offense, which relies on its wide zone scheme to establish an effective ground game while also turning to Kirk Cousins to deliver passes to a receiving corps headlined by Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen?.

Without Cook, the Vikings will have to turn to Mattison and rookie Kene Nwangwu.

The latter has primarily been a special teams weapon, returning two kicks for touchdowns in 2021. He also received one handoff Sunday after Cook's departure.

Mattison is accustomed to filling in for an injured Cook.

Indeed, Mattison shined with 112 rushing yards against Seattle in Week 3, and then set a new career-high with 113 rushing yards against Detroit in Week 5.

The 2019 third-round pick has made four career starts, tallying 95-plus rushing yards in three of them.

"He's done a nice job when he's been in there," Zimmer said. "We anticipate him, if he has to play, going in there and playing well."

At 5-6, the Vikings are still very much in the running for the final wild-card spot in the NFC.

They'll need Mattison to step up to the challenge of replacing Cook in the interim with the hopes they can stay in the race while awaiting Cook's return.

Fortunately, The Vikings will likely be favored to win each of their next three games against Detroit (0-10-1), Pittsburgh (5-5-1) and Chicago (4-7). The Lions, Steelers and Bears rank 28th, 27th and 29th in the NFL in average yards per play.

The Vikings will have an opportunity to use those games to develop more depth on defense while simultaneously strengthening their standing in the wild-card race. They'll also be in position to maintain a productive rushing attack without Cook, with the Lions, Steelers and Bears ranked 28th, 29th and 22nd in the league in rushing yards allowed per game. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Cousins was sacked only once by the 49ers, who took him down behind the line of scrimmage six times in the division round playoff game that ended Minnesota's 2019 season. The Vikings have the second-best sack allowance rate in the league (3.67 percent per pass attempt).

Rookie Christian Darrisaw's seamless slide into the starting lineup has given the Vikings a solid young pair of tackles with Brian O'Neill. ...

Nwangwu, the fourth-round draft pick from Iowa State, didn't debut until the seventh game of the season because of a knee injury he suffered in the first exhibition game. As noted above, he has taken two of his eight career kickoff returns for touchdowns. The rookie is the first player in the NFL with multiple kickoff return scores in six years since Cordarrelle Patterson had a pair for the Vikings. ...

Thielen entered Week 12 tied for third in the NFL with eight receiving touchdowns. He added two more in the first 18 minutes against the 49ers. ... Jefferson caught four of nine passes for 83 yards against the 49ers.

While it wasn't the cleanest performance, Jefferson still led the Vikings in receiving yards, although he took a back seat to Thielen in the red zone.

Jefferson has topped 80 yards in seven of his last nine games, giving him a very solid floor to complement his sky-high ceiling heading into a Week 13 clash with the Lions. ...

In other news Monday, the Viking placed cornerback Patrick Peterson on the reserve/COVID-19 list, putting his availability for Sunday's game against the Lions in question.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Kirk Cousins, Sean Mannion, Kellen Mond
RBs: Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison, Kene Nwangwu, Wayne Gallman
WRs: Justin Jefferson, K.J. Osborn, Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Dede Westbrook, Adam Thielen
TEs: Chris Herndon, Brandon Dillon, Ben Ellefson, Irv Smith Jr., Johnny Mundt

New England Patriots

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 30 November 2021

As Associated Press sports writer Kyle Hightower suggested this week, it's beginning to feel like old times in New England.

The Patriots were solid in all three phases as they romped to a 36-13 win over Tennessee on Sunday. It was their sixth straight victory and kept them atop the AFC East standings with five games remaining.

It marked the 15th winning streak of six or more games since 2001 for New England (8-4). It hasn't had a nine-game win streak since starting the 2015 season 10-0.

It sets up a pivotal three-game stretch that includes two games against defending division champion Buffalo (Dec. 6 and Dec. 26). That sandwiches the Patriots' Week 14 bye and a trip to Indianapolis (Dec. 18) to face a Colts team that blew out the Bills earlier this month.

"It's a huge challenge. We know that," head coach Bill Belichick said. "When the schedule comes out, it's always going to be tough in New York, Miami, Buffalo. Division games on the road are always challenging. We look forward to every game: home, away, neutral site. Wherever they are, we'll be ready to go and be ready to compete."

The Patriots' blueprint for success has been to follow the lead of a defense that has forced 17 turnovers and allowed just 11 points per game during the win streak.

Against the Titans, the defense forced four turnovers for the third time this season, coming away with three fumble recoveries and an interception. CB J.C. Jackson had the pick, increasing his two-year interception total to 16 (nine in 2020 and seven in 2021) to tie Asante Samuel (10 in 2006 and six 2007) for the most INTs in consecutive seasons in team history.

Jackson also was credited with his first career forced fumble.

That has taken a lot of pressure off rookie quarterback Mac Jones, who continues to be efficient while developing chemistry with a receiving corps that has hauled in 10 of his 16 passing TDs this season over the last six games.

Receiver Kendrick Bourne said it's why he doesn't think there's a limit on what this team can achieve.

"I don't think there is a ceiling at all. We try to emphasize that," he said. "(Team captain Matt) Slater just talked to us about not getting overzealous about ourselves. Nothing like that. Just being in the moment and playing each game, each week, and thinking about that game. We're on to Buffalo now and that's the focus. That'll be good for us to just certify ourselves."

One issue?

The Patriots have had trouble scoring touchdowns in the red zone at times and those problems returned Sunday. They scored on each of their first four possessions of the game, which included three straight trips inside the 20. But only one of those drives resulted in a touchdown. That inefficiency could be a hindrance to making a deep run in the postseason.

"It just needs to continue to improve," Jones said. "We've put a lot of stress on it, so there's nothing that the coaches aren't doing or anything. It comes down to us and executing."

Still, the Patriots have three consecutive wins by 20 points with the same rookie starting quarterback. The only other team to do that was the Seahawks with Russell Wilson in 2012 (Weeks 14-16).

New England gets an extra day of rest heading into Monday night's matchup with the Bills. ...

Also of interest. ... Damien Harris rushed 11 times for 40 yards and a touchdown in Sunday's win over Tennessee. He also caught his only target for 12 yards.

Harris saw a near-even split in touches with Rhamondre Stevenson, who mustered 46 yards on nine carries and one target. The veteran running back salvaged his performance with a 14-yard touchdown to round out the scoring with 4:38 to go.

Harris continues to be the surging Patriots' primary goal-line option heading into a Week 13 MNF matchup with the Bills. ...

Bourne tight-roped it down the right sideline in taking a short pass for an improbable 41-yard touchdown in the third quarter against the Titans.

As ESPN.com's Mike Reiss reported it, Bourne caught a pass at the 37-yard line, on a shallow left-to-right crossing route, and then did the rest with his legs. He turned up field initially to ensure he'd get the first down, and then put a juke on defensive back Kristian Fulton as he darted toward the sideline.

At that point, it looked like Bourne's journey might be over, heading out of bounds. But instead, he turned up the sideline at the 27-yard line, picking up a semi-block from fellow receiver Jakobi Meyers in the process. A stiff-arm on linebacker Jayon Brown at the 15-yard line kept one final defender at bay as Bourne raced into the end zone for his second touchdown of the day.

With 37 yards after the catch, Bourne recorded his second touchdown catch this season with 35 or more yards after the catch. The only other players in the NFL this season with multiple receiving touchdowns with 35 or more yards after the catch are Deebo Samuel (49ers) and D'Andre Swift (Lions) - with two apiece.

For the record, it was Bourne's second scoring catch on the day. ...

Kicker Nick Folk connected on five field goals, marking his fifth game in 2021 with four or more. The NFL record for most games in a season with at least four field goals is six by David Akers in 2011 with San Francisco. ...

And finally. ... Five weeks ago, it appeared that Bengal receiver Ja'Marr Chase would definitely win the NFL's offensive rookie of the year award. Now, the odds have swung dramatically in someone else's favor.

With PointsBet, Jones has overtaken Chase. Jones has -215 odds, which means that it takes a bet of $215 to win $100. Chase sits at +175.

As Profootballtalk.com's Mike Florio notes, since generating 201 yards against the Ravens in Week 7, Chase has accounted for a total of 152 yards. He had six touchdowns in his first seven games; he's had only two in all since then. It's a byproduct of defenses focusing on taking Chase away, and of quarterback Joe Burrow taking what the defense is giving him.

Meanwhile, the Patriots have won six in a row, with an offense led by the first-year quarterback.

No one else is even close. Steelers running back Najee Harris has moved to +1800. Next comes Dolphins receiver Jaylen Waddle, at +4000.

For now, it looks to be Jones's award to lose. If the Pats keep winning, he won't.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Mac Jones, Brian Hoyer, Jarrett Stidham
RBs: Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson, J.J. Taylor, James White
WRs: Kendrick Bourne, DeVante Parker, Jakobi Meyers, Nelson Agholor, Kristian Wilkerson, N'Keal Harry, Lil'Jordan Humphrey, Ty Montgomery
TEs: Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, Devin Asiasi

New Orleans Saints

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 30 November 2021

When head coach Sean Payton was asked about his team's inability to convert any of the five 2-point tries attempted this season, his response spoke to a more overarching issue for New Orleans' offense.

"If you're a pretty good offensive team, it's probably not a problem," Payton said. "If you're not a good offensive team, which is what I would say that's where we are at right now, it probably is a problem."

Payton added that during a 31-6 loss to Buffalo last Thursday night, gaining "two yards on a handful of downs tonight were a struggle."

New Orleans, which has won four straight NFC South titles, has now lost four straight games for the first time since the 2015 season. The Saints missed the playoffs that year and are in danger of falling out of the NFC playoff race this season if they don't soon figure out how to move the ball with regularity.

Getting their top offensive player back would certainly help. Dynamic running back Alvin Kamara has missed three straight games. Without him, their losses have become more lopsided each week.

When Kamara was healthy, and now injured Jameis Winston was starting at quarterback, the Saints (5-6) appeared to more easily overcome injuries. They started 5-2 and looked poised for another playoff run.

Taysom Hill, who served as Drew Brees' primary backup last season, was coming off a concussion when Winston went out of the season with a knee injury against Tampa Bay on Oct. 31. Trevor Siemian took over in that game and helped the Saints rally for a victory, but is 0-4 as a starter.

Hill is active again, although he's been limited lately by a foot injury. But Hill, a powerful runner who is experienced at executing the read-option, just might get another chance to start soon.

The Saints need to do something different, as Payton conceded after the Bills loss.

"We'll see," Payton said. "We'll look at everything right now. Obviously, we have to."

They've certainly been looking at Hill, who has been taking first-team quarterback reps at Saints practice this week and is likely to start Thursday against the Dallas Cowboys, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Monday. Siemian, who has started the last four games in place of the injured Winston, is taking No. 2 reps.

Siemian has completed 57 percent of his passes for 1,083 yards with nine touchdowns and three interceptions. He's also lost a fumble.

Hill has appeared in seven games this season, but hasn't been on the field since the Week 10 loss to Tennessee. He is currently going through a foot injury that has relegated him to emergency backup QB in the last two weeks.

The jack-of-all-trades has 104 yards on 20 carries with three touchdowns, four receptions for 52 yards, and is 7-of-8 passing for 56 yards with an interception this season.

Last year, Hill filled in for Brees for four games, amassing a 3-1 record as a starter. Hill completed 72 percent of his passes for 834 yards with four touchdowns and two picks in those games while rushing for 209 yards with four touchdowns. He also fumbled six times, losing three of them.

According to Rapoport, Hill needed to get through the week healthy.

Indeed, Payton told reporters after Tuesday's practice the team wants to see how Hill's foot responds Wednesday before announcing their starter.

"We'll see. Yeah, we'll see. We want to see how Taysom is doing tomorrow," Payton said, via Katherine Terrell of TheAthletic.com. "Obviously we're trying to get him back off this foot. It'll be either he or Trevor."

On Wednesday, we learned that Hill practiced fully all week and has no injury status.

Beyond Hill, Kamara's journey to playing got off on the right foot on Monday. He was listed as a limited participant in practice Monday for the first time since the Wednesday session before Week 11. Kamara's knee forced him back out of practice that week.

He remained limited Tuesday and Wednesday and is listed as questionable.

Fellow running back Mark Ingram also missed Thanksgiving with a knee injury participated fully all week and appears to be good to go.

Linebacker Kaden Elliss (hamstring), defensive end Tanoh Kpassagnon (ankle), defensive end Marcus Davenport (shoulder), and left tackle Terron Armstead (knee) were out of practice on Monday. Right tackle Ryan Ramczyk (knee) joined Kamara in working on a limited basis. ...

I'll have more on the QB situation and Kamara via Late-Breaking Update in advance of Thursday night’s kickoff. ...

A few final notes. ... Running back Tony Jones Jr., who has recently been activated from injury reserve and made the team with a strong preseason, struggled in his first chance to serve as the Saints' primary running back -- albeit behind a banged-up offensive line. Jones gained 27 yards on 16 carries for an average of 1.7 yards per carry.

Tight end Nick Vannett scored the Saints' lone touchdown against Buffalo on an 11-yard reception in what was his first game as New Orleans' No. 1 tight end. Vannett returned from a preseason injury last week and was thrust into a larger role this week because of an injury to fellow tight end Adam Trautman.

The Saints released wide receiver Kevin White and fullback Alex Armah on Tuesday.

Despite both players being veterans, they will need to clear waivers to become free agents with it being beyond the trade deadline.

White has appeared in five games for New Orleans this season with one start. He caught one pass for 38 yards on five targets.

Armah has played in nine games for the Saints this season and had five rushes for 21 yards and one catch that was a 1-yard touchdown. The Saints chose to go with Adam Prentice for last Thursday's game against the Buffalo Bills.

The Saints now have two open roster spots they can fill ahead of this Thursday's game against the Dallas Cowboys.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Taysom Hill, Andy Dalton, Ian Book, Jameis Winston
RBs: Alvin Kamara, Mark Ingram, Tony Jones Jr., Dwayne Washington
WRs: Jarvis Landry, Marquez Callaway, Tre'quan Smith, Michael Thomas, Deonte Harris
TEs: Adam Trautman, Nick Vannett, Juwan Johnson

New York Giants

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 30 November 2021

As Associated Press sports writer Tom Canavan reminded readers, a year ago, the New York Giants got off to a 1-7 start and remained in the playoff race all season because they played in the weakest division in the NFL -- the NFC East.

Their postseason hopes ended in the finale when Washington (7-9) beat Philadelphia in a game in which the Eagles lifted starting quarterback Jalen Hurts in the fourth quarter trailing by three points.

New York (6-10) finished a game behind in the division.

Things haven't changed much this season. Joe Judge and the Giants got off to another bad start (1-5) and they are now 4-7 after Sunday's 13-7 win over the Eagles.

Winning the NFC East will be tough. Dallas (7-4) is in first place with a three-game lead.

Hold on though, the NFC as a whole is weak this season.

Six teams have winning records: Arizona, Green Bay, Tampa Bay, Dallas, the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco. The Niners at 6-5 are at the bottom rung of that group.

Then comes the NFC's seventh playoff berth, the last of the three wild cards.

The Giants are a game out of the seventh spot along with almost everyone else in the conference except Detroit (0-10-1).

The Giants have six games left to make a run at their first playoff berth since 2016. It's a long shot, especially because the offense isn't doing much and the O-line is banged up and not playing well. Wide receivers Sterling Shepard, Kenny Golladay and Kadarius Toney have been in and out of the lineup with injuries, and running back Saquon Barkley is still finding his way coming off last year's ACL surgery.

And on Tuesday, we learned the Giants are suddenly facing a noteworthy situation under center.

That's when reports suggesting Daniel Jones will not play this week after suffering a strained neck early in Sunday's win over the Eagles began circulating.

NFL Network's Tom Pelissero first reported Tuesday that New York expects to start veteran Mike Glennon while Jones is out and that the third-year signal-caller is being labeled as week-to-week.

To be clear: Judge told reporters on Wednesday that Jones has not been ruled out at this point.

Judge said that the team expected Jones to practice on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, but didn’t specify a participation level for the quarterback. He also said that there’s no indication at this point that Jones’ injury could be a season-ending one.
Jones did practice on a limite basis Wednesday.

Jones, who did not miss any time against Philly, went 19-for-30 for 202 yards and a touchdown while avoiding a turnover for the first time since Week 7. Pelissero noted that the injury occurred on the second play from scrimmage when Jones was hit while sliding on a zone-read keeper.

Assuming Jones is out, Sunday's road meeting with Miami would be Glennon's first start of the 2021 season, and his first game-day reps since the Giants' Week 5 loss to Dallas. Glennon filled in for Jones after he exited with a concussion late in the first half; he went 16-of-25 for 196 yards and a TD, and tossed two interceptions.

Glennon is the only other QB on the regular roster with practice squad QB Brian Lewerke and new addition Jake Fromm behind him. New York signed Fromm, a 2020 fifth-round pick, from the Bills practice squad earlier Tuesay.

Meanwhile, the team's offense didn't look markedly different against Philadelphia, with Freddie Kitchens taking over after the Giants fired Jason Garrett last Tuesday.

But there were subtle differences, most notable among them trying to get the ball to their playmakers in space even if the results weren't all that different for much of the game. Kitchens went to prized free-agent acquisition Golladay for a pair of key 18-yard gains that helped produce a field goal and some breathing room.

As ESPN.com's Jordan Raanan noted, we didn't see much of that under Garrett.

Expect it now every week. And expect more of it.

Judge called last week "a transition week" and that it wasn't realistic to "really radically change" things on a short week. He didn't promise radical change this week, but did say that he thinks there will be more alterations than there were last week.

"I think as we go through the remainder of the season, there's going to be a little bit of evolution just with the usage of our players and the personalities of some of the coaches within the play-calling and the development of the game plan will probably come on out," Judge said at his press conference. "I'm not going to sit here and tell you that it's going to be flipped on its head immediately, but over the course of time that will naturally take place. That being said, having a normal week does allow a lot more freedom to kind of get in there and kind of dig into some different things."

The Giants compiled just 264 total yards against the Eagles.

The ground game netted just 70 rushing yards. New York went three-and-out on four of nine non-kneel drives and picked up 17 first downs while going 3 of 12 on third down.

If not for Big Blue's defense forcing four turnovers, it might have been the same story for Judge's team.

With a full week to install Kitchens' plan, Judge expects more evolution heading into this week's game against Miami.

"We couldn't go in there and really radically change it too much," Judge said. "There's some little things we found schematically to make a difference. In a short week it's not realistic to go in there and just flip everything over."

For the fourth time in five games, Pat Graham's defense held an opponent to 20 or fewer points. New York has won three of the games, losing to Kansas City 20-17. In the other games, New York beat Carolina 25-3 and surprised Las Vegas 23-16. Tampa Bay beat the Giants 30-10 on Nov. 22.

So they don't need to score all that many points to be more competitive.

Again, the Giants fired Garrett after being held to a season-lows of 215 yards and 10 points against Tampa Bay. Kitchens took over the play calling Sunday and New York gained 264 yards and scored 13 points.

It wasn't much of an improvement.

According to Canavan, things won't change until the running game gets going.

While the line is down two starters and only allowed Jones to be sacked once Sunday, the running game is nonexistent. New York had 27 carries for 70 yards, a 2.6 yard average. Barkley had a 32-yard run. He finished with 40 yards on 13 carries, which means he had 8 yards total on the other 12 carries.

It has to improve. New York has been held under 83 yards in six of the last eight games.

And with Glennon at QB, we should probably lower our expectations for the passing attack as well. ...

The Giants kick off a road trip when they travel to Miami to face the hot Dolphins, who have won four straight after a 1-7 start. After the game the Giants are heading to Arizona for a week to prepare for a game in Los Angeles against the Chargers the following Sunday.

On the injury front. .. New York also is hoping Shepard (quad), Toney (quad), TE Kyle Rudolph (ankle) and TE Kaden Smith (knee) can return to the lineup soon.

Shepard has missed the last three games and he was held out of Wednesday's practice along with Toney and Rudolph.

I'll have more on all of them -- Jones included -- via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Jake Fromm, Brian Lewerke, Tyrod Taylor, Daniel Jones, Mike Glennon
RBs: Saquon Barkley, Gary Brightwell, Matt Breida
WRs: Kenny Golladay, Kadarius Toney, John Ross, Darius Slayton, C.J. Board, Sterling Shepard
TEs:

New York Jets

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 30 November 2021

As ESPN.com's Rich Cimini notes, after a sloppy return to the starting lineup, quarterback Zach Wilson said Sunday that his right knee -- sprained five weeks ago -- still isn't 100 percent.

"It's not fully healed and we understand that, but I feel good to play -- and that's why I'm playing," the rookie said after a 21-14 victory over the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium. "I understand that. Sometimes it's going to shift and stretch a little bit, but there's no damage that can come from that. You just have to walk it off and move on."

Wilson, the No. 2 overall pick, suffered a second-degree posterior cruciate ligament sprain on Oct. 24. It was termed a two-to-four-week injury, with head coach Robert Saleh saying the Jets wouldn't put him back on the field until he was "fully healthy" and mentally ready.

Wilson said Wednesday he was "100 percent confident" in his ability to perform, but he opened up after the game, admitting the knee is "not fully stable" and that it got into his head on a fourth-quarter sack.

He aggravated the knee while trying to escape the pass rush, eventually running out of bounds on a third-down play. He limped to the sideline, where the Jets' team doctor talked to him. Backup Josh Johnson started warming up, but Wilson returned for the next series and the remainder of the game, later saying there was never a doubt that he'd be back.

Saleh didn't seem concerned by Wilson's knee, saying it "checked out fine."

Wilson, who wore a brace, said there were a couple of times in the game when he tweaked it.

The Jets (3-9), who rallied from an 11-point deficit to snap a three-game losing streak, won because of their defense, which recorded five sacks. Wilson was frustrated with his performance -- 14-for-24, 145 yards and one interception.

The interception was a blooper play in which he scrambled and, just as he approached the line of scrimmage, flipped a forward pass to running back Ty Johnson, who wasn't expecting it. The ball hit him in the back and landed in the hands of linebacker Tavierre Thomas. It was Wilson's 10th interception in seven games.

That, too, might have been a play in which he was mindful of his knee. Wilson said "the seas parted and I stepped up. Rather than me running and getting blasted by somebody or trying to slide, I flipped it to my checkdown in front of me. ... It was one of those unfortunate things -- unlucky sometimes."

Later, in a goal-line situation, Wilson was aggressive on a zone read, keeping the ball and scoring from 4 yards to give the Jets an 18-14 lead with 7 minutes, 51 seconds left in the third quarter -- his first career rushing touchdown.

"He started off a little slow, but I'm not worried about him," rookie wide receiver Elijah Moore said of Wilson.

Wilson misfired on six of his first seven passes, sometimes using too much velocity on short passes. It continued a season-long trend of struggling in the first half of games -- zero touchdown passes and seven interceptions.

In four games without Wilson, the Jets averaged a league-high 436 total yards per game. That came to a quick halt, as they managed only 266 yards and two touchdown drives against the Texans (2-9).

Saleh said after the game that he saw some rust, but liked how Wilson managed an offense that picked up a season-high 157 rushing yards.

"He was fine. Obviously, there was a little rust there after a month. I thought he managed the game well. Offense was running the heck out of the football and he was doing a good job on third downs, so it was just a good day of managing the game," Saleh said in his postgame press conference.

Wilson was hard on himself. He was happy about the win, but seemed almost exasperated by his "ups and downs," as he called them. He refused to use the five-week layoff as an excuse.

"I'm going to keep getting better at it every week," he said, "but I'm just frustrated with myself as to why I'm just not letting it rip and playing efficiently like I have my whole entire life. ..."

To be fair, the Jets have already surpassed last season's victory total, and they'll try to make it two in a row when they host Philadelphia Sunday. And they have never beaten the Eagles; they're 0-11 against them. It'll be the second straight game at MetLife Stadium for the Eagles, who fell 13-7 to the Giants.

Other notes of interest. ... As noted above, the running game was point.

As Associated Press sports writer Dennis Waszak Jr. reported, even with rookie Michael Carter sidelined with a sprained ankle, the Jets were able to gash the Texans. Tevin Coleman had a season-high 67 yards on 16 carries, Johnson had 42 on six attempts and Austin Walter added 38 yards and a touchdown on nine carries.

Austin Who?

According to Cimini, Saleh played a hunch, bypassing 2020 draft pick LaMical Perine and elevating Walter from the practice squad on Saturday. No one outside the organization actually thought he'd play.

Walter, cut by the Jets in the preseason, knows that opportunities like this are precious. Guys like him don't get many of them. He was undrafted out of college and played only briefly with the San Francisco 49ers (one rushing attempt), but he caught the eye of Saleh and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur, both former 49ers assistants. So they brought him to New York.

On the 12th week of the season, he got the ball at the goal line.

"Coach kept calling my number," Walter said. "I said, 'You know what? If I want to stay up here, stay in the big dance, I have to make the most of my opportunity. I hope I did that. ..."

As for playing time for the team's wide receivers. ... Moore, who led the offense with four receptions, took 59 snaps (88 percent), followed by Jamison Crowder 33 (49 percent), and Braxton Berrios 13 (19 percent), who had a 46-yard catch-and-run. Jeff Smith 9 (13 percent) rounded out the wideouts. ...

Kicker Matt Ammendola has been struggling mightily lately and he missed a 42-yard field goal attempt at Houston, making him 2 for 8 on kicks from 40 yards or longer. The Jets signed Alex Kessman to the practice squad last week, so Ammendola has been on notice. ...

On the injury front. ... Backup QB Mike White remains on the COVID-19 list and is unlikely to be available Sunday. QB Joe Flacco was activated from the COVID-19 list and should serve as Wilson's backup.

Receiver Denzel Mims was also cleared Wednesday after missing the last three games while on the COVID-19 list while the team placed receiver Keelan Cole on the COVID-19 reserve list Tuesday. He tested positive for the virus, Howard Balzer of allcardinals.com reports.

Cole has 19 catches for 299 yards and no touchdowns in 10 games, with seven starts, this season.

Mims has seven catches for 129 yards in six games this season. He was a healthy scratch for two games, which isn't where he hoped to be in his second NFL season after entering the league as a second-round choice.

Receiver Corey Davis, who was held out against the Texans after injuring his groin in practice last week, remains day to day while TE Trevon Wesco will be sidelined two to four weeks with an ankle injury. ...

I'll have more on Davis, who did not practice Wednesday, and Wilson, who worked fully, via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses. ...

With Wesco injured, the team brought Daniel Brown back into the mix on Tuesday, signing the TE to the practice squad. They released QB James Morgan.

Brown, who has spent the last three seasons with the Jets, was traded to the Chiefs Nov. 2 in exchange for OL Laurent Duvernay-Tardif. Brown totaled 9 catches, 103 yards and 1 touchdown in 39 games for New York.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Zach Wilson, Joe Flacco, Mike White
RBs: Michael Carter, Ty Johnson, Austin Walter, Tevin Coleman, Lamical Perine
WRs: Braxton Berrios, Elijah Moore, Denzel Mims, Jeff Smith, Corey Davis
TEs: C.J. Uzomah, Tyler Conklin, Kenny Yeboah, Trevon Wesco

Philadelphia Eagles

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 30 November 2021

As Associated Press sports writer Rob Maaddi suggested, Jalen Hurts has proven he's a better runner than passer right now.

That won't cut it in the NFL but the second-year pro has five games remaining to show the Eagles' decision makers he can be their quarterback for the future.

After steadily improving throughout the season, Hurts took a huge step backward in Philadelphia's 13-7 loss to the New York Giants on Sunday. Hurts had the worst game of his career in his 16th start. He tossed three interceptions, including two inside the red zone, and had a 17.5 passer rating.

"I put us in a bad situation with those turnovers I had in the first half and especially going in with the opportunity to, get points before halftime, so none of those are good by any means, and that's something we'll have to overcome," Hurts said.

The abysmal performance came in his biggest game with the Eagles (5-7) as they're trying to make a playoff push. They were 4-point favorites over the Giants (4-7) and a victory would've put them in sole possession of the NFC's third wild-card spot.

One awful game shouldn't negate the progress Hurts has made this season, but it's fair to question whether he can be the long-term answer for Philadelphia. The Eagles have had their best success with Hurts when the run game is working. They had 208 yards rushing against the Giants but couldn't overcome four turnovers.

"We're not where we want to be in that part of our game," rookie coach Nick Sirianni said of the passing offense. "We're working like crazy to get better at it. I think what you've seen is our play-action game has been able to be successful, but when teams know we're dropping back and when we're dropping back to pass, that's where we've struggled in the third-and-longer scenarios.

"So, that's an emphasis that we know we got to get better at because we know if we want to win the games we need to win. ... When we need to pass the ball, we're going to have to succeed at doing so. That starts with the drop-back passing game is where we need to get better."

Meanwhile, Hurts said that blame for Sunday's loss should fall on him for throwing three interceptions and not on wide receiver Jalen Reagor for two drops late in the fourth quarter.

Those drops came in or near the end zone and joined Reagor's generally underwhelming production to create calls for the Eagles to bench Reagor. He's played 68 percent of the team's offensive snaps this season and Sirianni did not sound inclined to alter his role when asked about sitting him down during a Monday press conference.

"No. Again, we're trying to put the guys -- we go out there and we're seeing who gives us the best chance to win," Sirianni said. "We played all five wideouts yesterday. Greg Ward played seven plays, JJ Arcega-Whiteside played fifteen plays, then obviously the guys that started started. So, I'm comfortable with the roles they're in right now. I have not thought about that and not thought through that because I don't think that's in the best interest of the team because I think Jalen Reagor gives us the best chance to win."

Reagor has 25 catches for 201 yards and two touchdowns this season. The 2020 first-rounder had 31 catches for 396 yards and a touchdown as a rookie.

Again, some of the issues in the passing attack have been mitigated by the ground game.

The Eagles have rushed for 175-plus yards in five straight games for the first time since 1950, including more than 200 yards in three straight games for the first time since 1978. Hurts had 77 yards against the Giants and Boston Scott and Miles Sanders each had 64.

Sanders suffered an ankle injury in the second half of Sunday's loss to the Giants, Martin Frank of the Delaware News Journal reports.

Sirianni is optimistic about both Sanders (ankle/foot) and Jordan Howard (knee) playing this week. Howard was held out against the Giants.

Hurts is dealing with an ankle injury, but Sirianni sounded optimistic about his outlook for this Sunday’s game.

“We’re feeling good,” Sirianni said, via Reuben Frank of NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com. “We’re really hopeful. He’s feeling better every day. He’s tough. He’s as tough as they come. In his mind and my mind he’s playing.”

One concern for the Eagles would be if Hurts’ ankle compromises is ability to make plays as a runner. They may still believe that Hurts at less than 100 percent gives them a better chance to win than Gardner Minshew and final word on their plans isn’t likely to come until late this week.

Sirianni also said Sanders is "continuing to progress."

Wideout DeVonta Smith and Scott sat out practice Wednesday with non-COVID-related illnesses.

I'll have more on all involved via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses and the team prepares to return to MetLife Stadium to face the New York Jets (3-8) on Sunday.

As ESPN.com's Tim McManus pointed out this week, the Eagles have the easiest closing schedule in the NFL. They play the Jets this week, face Washington twice and have a rematch against the Giants at home.

A path to the postseason -- and to fantasy production -- remains.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Jalen Hurts, Gardner Minshew
RBs: Miles Sanders, Boston Scott, Jordan Howard, Kenneth Gainwell
WRs: DeVonta Smith, A.J. Brown, Jalen Reagor, Zach Pascal, Greg Ward, Quez Watkins, JJ Arcega-Whiteside
TEs: Dallas Goedert, Jack Stoll, Tyree Jackson

Pittsburgh Steelers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 30 November 2021

According to ESPN.com's Brooke Pryor, head coach Mike Tomlin said there will be changes coming to his 5-5-1 team after its lopsided loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

"We just stunk the place up," he said. "When you play the way that we played and the score is as lopsided as it is, that's just the reality of it.

"What you can't do is continue to do the things that you've been doing and expect a different result. We're open to some schematic changes. We're open to some personnel changes, obviously. They won't be drastic in nature, probably more subtle in nature, but hopefully significant. Significant in a positive way."

Tomlin said the changes will come in both what the Steelers do and who they do it with, using last year's Week 8 win against the Baltimore Ravens as an example. In that game, the Steelers frequently used a package of three outside linebackers, leaning on their depth at the position.

"It might be the repositioning of people or it might be the leaning on depth as a strength," Tomlin said. "We don't overcomplicate things, but we are open to change when change produces or has a chance to produce a desired outcome.

"When you have red paint, you paint your barn red. That's kind of a motto or a cliché that we live by at times. That's what I mean when I'm saying we're open to change. Is it people and insertion of people? Yes, if it potentially makes us better, but not for the sole purpose of change. It may just mean the alignment or configuration of people in an effort to highlight areas maybe where we have depth and maybe minimize some areas where we don't."

Some changes are likely to be seen up front -- on both sides of the ball. Offensive tackle Zach Banner, who spent the first half of the season on injured reserve, has slowly earned more playing time in jumbo packages, and he could be in line to regain the starting spot he lost after tearing his ACL last season. On the defensive line, the Steelers signed former Green Bay Packers third-round pick Montravius Adams off the New Orleans Saints practice squad, gaining much-needed depth at nose tackle.

One change that won't be happening anytime soon is the return of defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt, who hasn't participated in team drills dating back to training camp. Still recovering from knee surgery, Tuitt remains on IR, and Tomlin didn't have an update on a timetable for his return.

"He won't be available to us this week, and so the people that have my attention are those that will be," Tomlin said. "We'll continue to monitor his progress, and when he gets close I'll have an update for you guys."

After players such as Minkah Fitzpatrick said the team needed to change how it practices, suggesting more reps and up-tempo walk-throughs, Tomlin said the Steelers could also utilize pads this week in preparation for Sunday's game against the Ravens. But he declined to say whether certain players, such as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who often misses Wednesday and has been a limited participant in some Thursday sessions, need to get more practice work.

"Some people need physical work, some people need mental work, some people need to get well," Tomlin said. "We don't paint with a broad brush. We make individual decisions that are based on the individual men that put us in position to carry the strongest unit into a stadium on weekends, and that philosophical approach will not change."

Another change that isn't coming down the pipeline was suggested by second-year wide receiver Chase Claypool. Speaking Monday, Claypool said playing music at practice might have a positive effect.

"I think some music would help," Claypool said. "We had music in the warm-ups and that stuff is fun. People are dancing, having fun, so I think maybe music would make practice a little more fun and a little more up-tempo, that's my one suggestion but Coach T has been doing this a lot longer than I have."

Tomlin had a carefully worded response.

"Claypool plays wideout, and I'll let him do that," Tomlin said Tuesday. "I'll formulate the practice approach. And I think that division of labor is probably appropriate."

With or without music, the Steelers will try to salvage their season by shoring up the defense in time to keep Baltimore star QB Lamar Jackson in check. Jackson is just 1-1 against the Steelers as a starter.

It won't help that pass rusher T.J. Watt went onto the COVID-19 list on Monday, making his availability to face the Ravens Sunday uncertain at best. ...

The Steelers got some good news and bad news for their reserve/COVID-19 list on Wednesday.

Pittsburgh has activated receiver Ray-Ray McCloud off of the list after he missed Pittsburgh’s loss to Cincinnati last week.

But the club also placed offensive lineman Joe Haeg on COVID reserve, putting his status for Sunday’s game against the Ravens in question.

McCloud has been Pittsburgh’s primary returner in 2021, averaging 24 yards per kick return and 8.8 yards per punt return. He also has 19 receptions for 141 yards in 2021.

Haeg has appeared in eight games for the Steelers this season, starting one. He joins Watt on the COVID-19 list. ...

Elsewhere on the injury front. ... Tight end Pat Freiermuth is in concussion protocol, Tomlin said Tuesday.

The good news is Freiermuth was a full participant Wednesday. He still needs to get through concussion protocol, but a full practice is a good nearly final step.

He played 47 of 62 snaps in Sunday's loss to the Bengals and caught four passes for 40 yards and a touchdown. For the season, the second-round choice has caught 40 passes for 327 yards and six touchdowns.

Tomlin also said linebacker Robert Spillane has a knee sprain that will make him "less than available" this week.

The coach was more optimistic about the chances of cornerback Joe Haden (foot) returning this week.

I'll follow up on Freiermuth and the rest via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

Worth noting. ... Najee Harris rushed eight times for 23 yards and caught three of five targets for 14 yards against the Bengals.

As CBSSports.com notes, Harris was victimized by another poor game script when the Steelers found themselves in a 31-3 hole at halftime. The rookie back has been steadily utilized as a receiver out of the backfield this season -- averaging 4.9 receptions per game heading into this contest -- but he wasn't able to gain traction in either facet of the offensive gameplan against Cincinnati. Harris is still the clear workhorse in Pittsburgh's backfield, so he should resume seeing higher usage rates if the team can simply keep games closer.

It will attempt to do that in another important AFC North showdown against the Ravens Sunday.

Looking for positives here?

Kicker Chris Boswell remains perfect at Paul Brown Stadium, making all 24 of his field-goal attempts there in his career.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Ben Roethlisberger, Mitchell Trubisky, Mason Rudolph, Dwayne Haskins
RBs: Najee Harris, Benny Snell, Kalen Ballage, Anthony McFarland Jr.
WRs: Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, Cody White, Gunner Olszewski
TEs: Pat Freiermuth, Zach Gentry

San Francisco 49ers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 30 November 2021

Now that the San Francisco 49ers have won three straight games to get back into the playoff race, they will need to deal with the absence of two key players for at least one week.

As Associated Press sports writer Josh Dubow notes, do-everything receiver Deebo Samuel will likely miss one or two games after injuring his groin and linebacker Fred Warner also will miss a game with a hamstring injury after both got hurt in the 34-26 win over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.

But the Niners felt fortunate that the injuries weren't more serious.

"It was just a strain and strains are usually anywhere from one to two weeks, which I think was very good news considering what it could have been," head coach Kyle Shanahan said Monday.

But even if it's only short term, those absences will still be significant. Warner has started every game since being drafted in 2018 and makes all of the defensive calls.

Samuel has been the team's top receiver as well as a rushing threat, making it difficult for any one person to replace him.

Samuel ran for two TDs on Sunday to give him five TD runs to go along with his five TD catches.

Samuel also eclipsed the 1,000-yard receiving mark for the season, joining Marshall Faulk (1999) and Roger Craig (1985) as the only players to hit all three marks in the same season.

Fortunately, the Niners have been running the ball effectively with rookie Elijah Mitchell and have been getting much more consistent play from receiver Brandon Aiyuk in recent weeks.

As 49erswebzone.com's Chris Beno notes, since getting off to a slow start, Aiyuk turned things around. With his downfield blocking, crisp routes, and strong hands, Aiyuk has turned his season around. In the last four games, Aiyuk has amassed 291 receiving yards and two scores on 19 receptions. With Samuel out, Aiyuk will step into the number one receiver role and should command a lot of attention from opposing defenses.

Jauan Jennings has also emerged as an option of late and star tight end George Kittle is healthy once again.

While he has been limited in the receiving game this season with only 35 receptions for 425 yards and three scores, Kittle's impact has mainly been in the run game where he has become one of the premier downfield blockers in the NFL. Even with his dip in receiving production, his mere presence commands a lot of attention from defenders, often getting double covered in passing situations.

Look for defenses to try and take Kittle out of the passing game.

Meanwhile, the 6-3, Jennings has the size to make contested catches in traffic and in the red zone. In college, he was known for being difficult to tackle. As of late, Shanahan has been targeting Jennings more throughout the games, trying to carve out a bigger role for the receiver. In Week 12, Jennings recorded two receptions for 24 yards and a score.

He was also inches away from coming down with his second touchdown on an impressive catch in the end zone before being called out of bounds after review.

"He's been a big part of our offense, but I think we're in a spot right now that we can overcome that," Shanahan said about Samuel's absence.

The 49ers have been getting plenty of good news of late after rebounding from a stretch when they lost five of six games.

They have won the past three games and currently stand in sixth place in the NFC as they have benefitted from other contenders slipping in recent weeks.

"You always have it in the back of your head, the position where you're at and everything and the other teams around you," quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo said. "But I think we've been taking a week-by-week mentality and just trying to get one win at a time and it's done well for us the last three weeks."

At 6-5 with wins in four of their past five contests, the Niners have rediscovered the dynamic run game and opportunistic defense that made them such a tough out in 2019. To be clear, this team isn't as dominant as that group, but ESPN.com's Nick Wagoner contends these 49ers are playing as well as anyone in the NFC.

And with so many teams at the bottom of the NFC struggling, the Niners have a real shot at the No. 6 seed and could even climb as high as No. 5. They'll get another chance to gain ground in that regard when they take on the Seahawks in Seattle this Sunday. ...

The Niners had several other injuries besides Samuel and Warner. LB Dre Greenlaw irritated the core injury that had sidelined him since in the opener and is day to day and rookie running back Trey Sermon (ankle) could go on short-term IR. ...

Sermon sat out Wednesday while JaMycal Hasty (ankle) practiced on a limited basis.

Other notes of interest. ... About that running game.

The Niners have been committed to the run the past three weeks and the results have paid off. San Francisco is averaging 41.7 runs a game in that span for an average of 178.3 yards per game. The game Sunday was the most productive as San Francisco averaged 5.33 yards per carry and gained 208 yards behind Mitchell's 133-yard performance.

Mitchell carried the ball 27 times and caught five of six targets for 35 yards against the Vikings.

Fantasy managers couldn't ask for more than that workload. ...

For the record, Mitchell got Wednesday off, but it was listed as a rest day and not due to injury. ...

On a less-positive note. ... The Niners had a chance to seal the game in the final two minutes, but Robbie Gould missed a 42-yard field goal that kept the lead at eight points. The miss didn't end up too costly as the defense came up with the stop to preserve the win. Still, there will come a time when Gould will have to deliver in the clutch and it will matter.

His overall body of work suggests he's up for that. But he needs to get on point. ...

Finally. ... In the first few weeks of the season, the 49ers used some different packages to get No. 3 overall pick Trey Lance on the field, particularly when the offense was close to the goal-line.

But since returning from the knee injury suffered in his first start against the Cardinals back on Oct. 10, Lance has solely been on clipboard duty as a backup. He's only seen the field for the last five snaps of San Francisco's 30-10 blowout victory over Jacksonville in Week 11.

Why the change? Shanahan said it has to do with his play-calling.

"It's more about me, to tell you the truth," Shanahan said Monday, via Jennifer Lee Chan of NBCSportsBayArea.com. "In terms of calling plays, we get into a rhythm of attacking a defense and what fronts they are playing and what coverages. Every play kind of plays off the next play and you get a feel, our players do and I, of what we are going to."

Shanahan added that bringing in Lance also makes defenses less predictable because of how they adjust to a different QB.

"What's been hard on me, that I didn't realize, is when you do bring in a different quarterback who gets a different set of plays, it's almost the first play I've been seeing of a new defense," Shanahan said. "You see what fronts and coverages they are doing but they are doing it completely to a plan as a threat of the runner at that position.

"I don't know what to anticipate with it, and then I got to stay in it for a while to get a feel for that. And then you go back and that feels kind of off for the last guy, so it kind of hurts my rhythm a little bit of understanding what a defense is getting. That's why personally as the year has gone I've gotten a little more away from it because I like to get a feel for what the defense is doing."

With the offense rolling with Garoppolo, it seems like there's little reason to change things up by inserting Lance.

Still, as Profootballtalk.com's Myles Simmons notes, the 49ers traded up to draft Lance for a reason. Sooner or later -- and right now it seems like later -- lance will get more opportunities to show what he can do.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Jimmy Garoppolo, Trey Lance
RBs: Elijah Mitchell, Jeff Wilson, JaMycal Hasty, Trey Sermon
WRs: Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, Ray-Ray McCloud, Malik Turner, Jauan Jennings, Mohamed Sanu, KeeSean Johnson
TEs: George Kittle, Ross Dwelley, Tanner Hudson, Charlie Woerner, Tyler Kroft

Seattle Seahawks

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 30 November 2021

As NFL.com's Grant Gordon understated: "These are trying times for the Seattle Seahawks and their franchise quarterback. ..."

As their offense continued to sputter, the 'Hawks continued to lose on Monday night, falling to the host Washington Football Team, 17-15.

Roughly 90 minutes after Russell Wilson and the Seahawks' beleaguered offensive bunch had one last gasp at an improbable comeback fall short, the seven-time Pro Bowler finally addressed the media. Wilson's reddened eyes colored the emotion of the star signal-caller suffering through his worst season.

"It's challenging right now, but, at the same time, I know what we're capable of. What we're capable of has to show up. We have to make that happen," said Wilson, who threw his first two touchdowns in the last three games. "I don't know any other way. I'm not one of those guys to be down and out and not believe and give up; give up and give in. I'm gonna keep working my butt off every day. This team is, too. That's what we're gonna make sure of."

While the optimism and effort might not be lacking, the results are.

The Seahawks have scored just 28 points combined over the last three games since Wilson returned from finger surgery.

Problems are aplenty for the Seahawks offense, but for the first time in a decade, Wilson's play might be at the top of the list.

"Well, the results aren't showing that. The results and the way we're playing, it isn't showing up. He's got to do better, we all got to do better," head coach Pete Carroll said when asked if Wilson looked at all like the Wilson of old.

Having missed the first three games of his career when he had to undergo finger surgery earlier this season, Wilson has looked anything but himself in his return. He wasn't consistently playing at the elite level accustomed him before the injury, but since his return he's struggled to make things happen for the Seahawks.

"Film doesn't lie. We're missing some stuff. I don't see indications of that in practice," Carroll said of Wilson's play. "I don't know what to make of it other than the fact that we gotta keep battling, keep trying to figure it out. I thought we had some guys open tonight, with some chances, and unfortunately we didn't hook it up."

The Seahawks fell to 3-8 on the season and lost their third game in a row with nary 267 yards of offense (96 coming on their final drive) to show for their troubles.

After Monday's defeat, the Seahawks are the No. 15 seed in the NFC, ahead of only the winless Detroit Lions. Seattle hasn't missed the playoffs since 2017, but it seems all but mathematical that it will miss the postseason. Seattle hasn't had a losing season since 2011, a season prior to Wilson's rookie year, but that seems a likelihood, as well.

At game's end, Wilson's statistics told a somewhat inaccurate tale of success. He completed 20 of 31 passes for 241 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and a 110.6 rating and was also the team-high rusher with 16 yards on a pair of carries.

It was a rough night for the offense overall, but Wilson repeatedly missed open targets -- often times by a large margin. His ability to read the field didn't look near what it once was. His trademark beautiful deep ball looked rather unpleasant quite a few times. He was 4 of 9 for 139 yards and a touchdown on passes of 10-plus air yards, per Next Gen Stats. The bulk of those yards came on a 55-yard toss to a wide-open Tyler Lockett that Lockett had to wait for. The 6-yard laser into a tight window he threw to Gerald Everett for a touchdown three plays later might well have been the best pass he's thrown since he returned to the team in Week 10, but it was hardly emblematic of his evening.

"Today, I missed a couple," said Wilson, who's lost three consecutive starts for the first time in his career. "There's one that I threw really high, because I was getting knocked back, I threw high. I think earlier on, just adjust my eyes a little bit. It wasn't like I didn't feel confident with it.

"I know that sometimes you shoot it and it doesn't go in. I'm gonna keep shooting."

Late in the ballgame, Washington was just about to sew up the win as it led 17-8 and was driving for a score. Then suddenly life was breathed into a last hope for the Seahawks.

First, Washington running back Antonio Gibson couldn't stay in bounds and precious time on the clock was saved for the Seahawks.

Then Washington didn't attempt a chip shot field goal with kicker Joey Slye injured.

Then Logan Thomas' win-sealing touchdown was overturned and Seattle took over down by eight points with more than two minutes to go.

And for 10 plays and 96 yards (or more accurately nine plays as Wilson took a horrible sack outside of the pocket), Wilson looked like the Wilson of old with magic in his arm and something special always in reserve.

He found Freddie Swain deep over the middle for a 32-yard score to cut the Seahawks' deficit to the final score.

Alas, the struggles continued for the Seahawks with Wilson's two-point pass to Swain intercepted by Kendall Fuller.

There was a glimpse of glory before the reality of another defeat. ...

Meanwhile, receiver DK Metcalf failed to draw a target during the first half of Monday night's loss and the big-play receiver earned just one catch on four targets for 13 yards on a woeful night.

It was Metcalf's least-productive game in both catches and yardage since his rookie year.

Carroll credited the Washington defense for bracketing Metcalf and not allowing the wideout freedom to roam.

"It's not because we weren't trying and looking to him and trying to get that ball to him," Carroll said. "He's involved in all of the calls, but sometimes the coverage gets in the way of it, and you have to go other places and make the right decision there. At this point, I can't tell you that we overlooked him in this situation. They did a nice job at times, but he's certainly part of everything that we're calling."

Certainly, the defense played a role in Metcalf's poor output, as did the fact that the Seahawks offense ran just 18 plays in the first half and went three-and-out six times in the game.

"Yeah, I think obviously we need to get DK the football," Wilson said. We actually called several plays for him. He had actually a sweet deep cross that he was going to be wide open for, maybe even a touchdown. ... That was unfortunate because that was after the big play to Tyler Lockett and then here comes DK on a big play hopefully. ...

"He's one of the best football players in the world. You gotta get him the football, gotta find ways to do it, gotta move him around some more maybe. We're gonna study it and see what we can do."

While Monday was a low, the struggles aren't new. The Seahawks haven't been able to keep Metcalf involved for the past month. After Monday night, Metcalf has fewer than 45 receiving yards in four consecutive games. The last time he bested the mark, in Week 7, 84 of his 96 yards came on one catch against New Orleans.

If Wilson and Seattle truly believe Metcalf is "one of the best football players in the world," he needs to be involved.

Next up, the Seahawks host the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday. ...

Free agent running back Adrian Peterson is visiting the Seahawks today, Mike Garafolo of NFL Network reports.

The Seahawks lost starter Chris Carson for the season with a neck injury that will require surgery. Rashaad Penny (hamstring) and Travis Homer (calf) were inactive with their injuries Monday night leaving Alex Collins and DeeJay Dallas as the team's top options at the position.

The Titans waived Peterson on Nov. 23.

He played only three games with the Titans after they lost Derrick Henry to a foot injury. Peterson gained 82 yards on 27 carries with a touchdown. He also caught four passes for 8 yards.

Peterson ranks fifth on the all-time list in rushing yards with 14,902.

One last note here. ... Rasheem Green broke through Washington's front to block an extra-point attempt, recovered the ball and rumbled all the way to the end zone.

It was good for two Seattle Seahawks points and a little bit of NFL history.

Green became the first player to block, recover and score for a defensive conversion since the league allowed for the possibility on extra points beginning in 2015. It was the first blocked kick returned for a score since 2019, and the 11th over the past seven season, with seven of those coming on a PAT.

The play turned out to be the Seahawks' biggest bright spot in the loss to Washington, which extended their skid to three games.

"That's a rare play that happens, but it was a great effort," Carroll said. "He been close so many times, it's just fitting that he finally got one. But to pick it up and run and do it all, man, what a great moment."

According to the NFL's Next Gen Stats, Green reached a maximum speed of 18.41 mph on his 94-yard return, the fastest rate by a defensive lineman as a ball carrier since Jadeveon Clowney in 2019.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Drew Lock, Geno Smith, Jake Luton
RBs: Rashaad Penny, DeeJay Dallas, Travis Homer, Adrian Peterson, Chris Carson, Alex Collins
WRs: DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, Freddie Swain, Marquise Goodwin, Penny Hart, D'Wayne Eskridge
TEs: Noah Fant, Will Dissly, Colby Parkinson

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 30 November 2021

So much for the notion that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were beginning to show some signs of vulnerability.

As Associated Press sports writer Fred Goodall notes, the defending Super Bowl champions not only have won two games in a row to improve the NFC's third-best record to 8-3, they are confident they're progressing toward becoming the dominant team they're capable of being.

"It shows who we could be," said linebacker Shaquil Barrett, whose strip-sack and fumble recovery was the turning point Sunday in a 38-31 come-from-behind victory over the Indianapolis Colts, who were up 10 points and threatening to score again when Barrett swung momentum early in the third quarter.

"The game is 60 minutes long. It's not 30, it's not 25. We go and play 60 and see what happens," head coach Bruce Arians said. "We came out and we made what we needed to. We needed something good to happen to us, and we did, and it snowballed."

The team's two-game winning streak comes on the heels of a pair of road losses wrapped around a bye week that made the skid seem longer.

Turnovers and costly penalties largely were to blame for losses at New Orleans and Washington. The win at Indianapolis evened Tampa Bay's road record at 3-3.

"It wasn't pretty in the first half. It never is on the road," Arians said Monday. "You've just got to find ways to keep winning games."

That didn't happen at New Orleans or Washington, where Tampa Bay didn't play well enough or -- in Arians' words -- smart enough or with the sense of urgency needed to be successful.

The Bucs forced five turnovers, four after halftime against the Colts. They were flagged for just four penalties, a season low on the road.

Meanwhile, Leonard Fournette not only had four touchdowns that propelled the team to victory -- including a gashing 28-yard TD run with 29 seconds left -- he also gave an impassioned halftime speech that resonated with teammates after they were down 24-14 at the half.

"I was like, 'You have to have a will and a want,'" said Fournette. "'You have to be willing to risk everything. Play by play, you have to want to win, you have to want to fight, each and every play.' I think they understood that message and played their lights out."

As ESPN.com's Jenna Laine noted, the Bucs struggled to find their rhythm on offense in the first half, turning over the ball twice -- first on a Chris Godwin fumble that was forced by linebacker Darius Leonard, with safety Andrew Sendejo making the recovery, then on a Tom Brady pass intended for wide receiver Scott Miller that was picked off by Isaiah Rodgers.

Fournette ran for 100 yards and three touchdowns. He also caught Brady's only TD pass, finishing with seven receptions for 31 yards.

Fournette, who was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week on Wednesday, set a personal record and tied a Bucs franchise record with the four TDs from scrimmage.

Teammates were impressed, too, with a brief speech the fifth-year running back delivered in the locker room with the defending champs trailing 24-14 at halftime.

Without providing details, tight end Rob Gronkowski said Fournette's words "got everyone fired up. ... And he went out there and backed it up, too."

"Just to come together as a team and get a road victory like that definitely brings the team together," Gronkowski added. "It brings us closer. And from there, you just have to keep building and stacking them."

Fournette has always been known as a punishing runner. He's taken on a bigger role in the passing game in his second year playing with Brady. Through 11 games, he's rushed for 621 yards and seven TDs and is second on the team with 51 receptions for another 354 yards and one TD.

Fournette's eight TDs this season are his most since he scored 10 as a rookie with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2017.

At 8-3, the Bucs still have road games left at the Atlanta Falcons this week, at the Carolina Panthers in Week 16 and at the New York Jets in Week 18, but Arians said he believes Sunday marked a turning point in their season as they continue to vie for top seeding, which would guarantee home-field advantage during the playoffs.

"I don't think there's any doubt," Arians said. "We're gonna play some tough road games, but I don't think we're gonna play any tougher. ..."

Other notes of interest. ... Brady had only one touchdown pass on Sunday at Indianapolis, but it gave him 30 for the year. And that gives him nine years of 30 or more touchdown passes.

Per the NFL, that ties Brady with Brett Favre and Peyton Manning for second on the all-time list. Brady trails only Drew Brees, with 10.

Brady never had 30 or more touchdown passes until 2007, when he sailed beyond 30 and 40 and finished with 50. He also got to 30 or more in 2010 (36), 2011 (39), 2012 (34), 2014 (33), 2015 (36), 2017 (32), 2020 (4), and 2021 (30 and counting).

Brady, obviously, can tie Brees in 2022 and set the record in 2023. Brady has said he plans to play at least two more years. ...

In a related note. ... Gronkowski's vaunted connection with Brady produced another major output, with the future HOF QB hitting the future HOF TE seven times for a game-high 123 yards. The stat line also served as a season-high for Gronkowski, who's missed five games and left early in two others.

The monster performance moved the 32-year-old within one game (30) of Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez's record for most 100-yard games by a tight end (31), a mark Gronk could pass this season. The boisterous pass-catcher expressed his eagerness to topple Gonzalez's accolade during an appearance on NFL Total Access on Tuesday.

"Let me tell you, I'm trying to break that record," Gronk told NFL Network's Willie McGinest. "I mean, why wouldn't I try to break that record? I'm coming for it. Tony, I'm coming for it. Basically, you got every record so I'm coming for this one and it's a pretty cool one, too, for sure. It just shows that I guess you're a baller and Tony's a baller."

Believe it or not, Gronk's latest quest to break another record isn't even his first encounter with history this year. He and his pal Brady set the record for most passing touchdowns by a quarterback-pass catcher tandem in NFL history during Tampa's Super Bowl LV win in February.

With three other individual records already to his name, including most TDs in a season by a TE (17, 2011), Gronk has six chances left in the regular season to record two more 100-plus yard games and become the new standard.

For what it's worth, it's been five years since Gronk posted back-to-back 100-yard games. We'll see if he can pull off an encore effort and tie Gonzalez on Sunday against the Falcons, one of the HOFer's former teams. ...

On the injury front. ... Arians, during an appearance on SiriusXM NFL Radio last week, told listeners he expected Antonio Brown to return from his ankle injury against the Falcons. "He's moving around a lot better," Arians said. "He's able to put more weight on the heel and bounce around on it some. We've got our fingers crossed."

That said, Brown, who suffered the injury way back in Week 6, was not on the practice field to open the week Wednesday and Arians was less optimistic.

In fact, he was the opposite, telling reporters on Wednesday is doubtful to play this Sunday.

Per ESPN's Adam Schefter, doctors initially believed the injury would take about six weeks to recover. That timeline would have lined up with a Week 13 return. However, Greg Auman of The Athletic cautions that Brown didn't suffer a typical ankle injury. This sprain was closer to the heel, making it harder to anticipate a return date.

Indeed, Schefter followed up on Wednesday, citing a source as telling him Brown is expected to miss at least the next two weeks at Atlanta and against Buffalo.

Brown, 33, has 29 receptions for 418 yards and four touchdowns in five games. The Buccaneers offense has been fine without the talented (and controversial) receiver, but Brady and Co. will surely welcome back the veteran.

I'll be following his progress closely in coming days; watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for more.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Tom Brady, Blaine Gabbert, Kyle Trask
RBs: Leonard Fournette, Ke'Shawn Vaughn, Giovani Bernard
WRs: Russell Gage, Mike Evans, Cyril Grayson, Tyler Johnson, Breshad Perriman, Jaelon Darden, Scott Miller, Chris Godwin
TEs: Cameron Brate

Tennessee Titans

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 30 November 2021

As Associated Press sports writer Teresa M. Walker put it, "No NFL team needs its bye week as much as the Tennessee Titans."

The Titans (8-4) finally get to rest and heal up some of the many injured players for a stretch run to finish the season. Tennessee has used 86 different players this season, most by an NFL team since at least 1993 and topping the mark of 84 first set by Miami in 2019. They've also started 49 different players.

Currently, 17 Titans are on injured reserve, and head coach Mike Vrabel had 16 on his injury report with five ruled out before flying to New England for Sunday's 36-13 loss to the Patriots.

Combine those groups, 10 have started games this season.

The injuries finally have taken a toll on the field with the Titans losing two straight and falling from the top spot in the AFC to third. The Titans still have a two-game lead plus the head-to-head tiebreaker over Indianapolis (6-6) in the AFC South with five games remaining.

"I'm hopeful that there will be some guys that are eligible to return, can return, and then we'll go from there," Vrabel said Monday. "There are some of the guys that are on injured reserve. We'll see where they're at. But we're going to need everybody that we can have."

If Vrabel can start getting Titans back, the schedule couldn't be much easier giving them a chance to improve playoff seeding. They play only one team currently above .500 down the stretch, and that's San Francisco on Dec. 23.

So the plan is simple: Heal up and rest.

Then see who might be available as they prepare to host the Jaguars on Dec. 12. Jones will be among those eligible to be activated off injured reserve. Linebacker Bud Dupree could return Dec. 19 for a trip to Pittsburgh, while Brown is out at least until Dec. 23 when San Francisco visits. ...

Beyond all that, the defense is working fine -- even though the Titans needed a safety blitz by Kevin Byard for one of their two sacks, they held New England to five field goals.

But the offense is struggling.

Well. ... At least the passing component.

Not only are Julio Jones and A.J. Brown both on injured reserve, three other receivers also are on that list and unavailable. Ryan Tannehill has been sacked an NFL-worst 33 times and has been intercepted 13 times -- five of those over this two-game skid. That's tied for the second most in his career, four off his second season in the NFL when Tannehill had 17 in 2013 with Miami.

Vrabel said Tannehill is among those needing to improve, specifically with his decision-making and ball placement.

That said, it appears the Titans can run no matter who the ball carrier is.

With the offensive line opening holes, Dontrell Hilliard and D'Onta Foreman proved they can help replace Derrick Henry as they each topped 100 yards rushing and helped the Titans to their best rushing game this season.

Hilliard ran 12 times for 131 yards and a TD, while Foreman had 19 carries for 109 yards. It was the first time since Chris Johnson and LenDale White each topped the 100-yard mark on Thanksgiving Day in 2008 that Titans had a pair of backs run for at least 100 yards in the same game.

Ball security remains a top priority with Hilliard and Foreman each losing fumbles at crucial points against the Patriots, but as ESPN.com's Turron Davenport notes, they hey managed to gain 270 yards on 39 carries against New England's ninth-ranked run defense that was giving up 101.7 yards per game. The one positive is if they can continue to run the ball this way, it won't place all of the burden on Tannehill.

The question is can Tannehill do enough to guide this offense with a lack of playmakers?

One other issue. ... Kicker Randy Bullock had settled the position for the Titans as their third kicker this season, but missing an extra point and a field goal with each clanking off the right upright cost Tennessee four points and a halftime lead.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Ryan Tannehill, Logan Woodside
RBs: Derrick Henry, Dontrell Hilliard, Khari Blasingame, Trenton Cannon, Jordan Wilkins
WRs: Nick Westbrook_Ikhine, Chester Rogers, Racey McMath, Dez Fitzpatrick, Cameron Batson, Robert Woods
TEs: Geoff Swaim, Austin Hooper, MyCole Pruitt

Washington Football Team

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 30 November 2021

After four consecutive losses going into the bye week, Ron Rivera recalculated how Washington could win games.

As Associated Press sports writer Stephen Whyno explained, the recipe involved running the ball, controlling the clock and shortening games.

The result has been a three-game winning streak to move into the final playoff position in the NFC at 5-6.

In that same span, Washington has also averaged 145 rushing yards per game.

According to Zach Selby of the team's official website, that's not a coincidence.

Four games into the season, Washington was performing slightly below average on the ground with 104.3 yards per game. Fast forward to seven games later, and Washington has one of the best rushing attacks in the league, fueled by its strides taken since the bye week. In the past three weeks, only six teams have a better rushing average.

There is no secret formula to the sudden turnaround, but it is undeniable that with six games left and another postseason appearance a glimmering possibility, Washington is surging at the right time.

"They are doing a great job right now," said quarterback Taylor Heinicke, "so we have to keep rolling."

Any success Washington has had in the run game, Heinicke said after the team's 17-15 win over the Seattle Seahawks, starts with Washington's offensive line. The group has dealt with one key injury after the other; Washington placed right tackle Sam Cosmi on Injured Reserve on Monday, and it's currently working with its fourth center this season.

That has not stopped Washington from moving defenders to create running lanes.

Despite several depth players getting snaps, it ranked first in run-block win rate by ESPN heading into Monday night. Week after week, the offensive line has earned that honor, putting 94 yards against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and their NFL-best rushing defense. It followed that up with 190 yards against the Carolina Panthers and 152 against the Seahawks.

"The offensive line doesn't get a lot of credit," Heinicke said, "but these last three weeks they've been phenomenal, not just running the ball but protecting me as well."

It's always a benefit to have an offensive line that can clear the lanes. It's just as important for running backs to take advantage of it, and that's what the duo of Antonio Gibson and J.D. McKissic has done during the team's win streak. They have combined for 350 yards in November, making up 80 percent of Washington's rushing yards in the month.

Gibson was a consistent problem for the Buccaneers, Panthers and Seahawks defense, as his 270 yards in the past month are sixth in the NFL. He carried the ball 29 times for 111 yards against Seattle, which is impressive enough, but the way he amassed those yards is even more noteworthy. He pushed piles, slipped off tackles and attacked holes with ferocity.

Being more decisive has been Rivera's charge to the second-year pro for several weeks. Now, the team is seeing where his progress can take its offense.

"Lately, he's really been feeling good and he played a heck of a football game today," Rivera said after the Seahawks game. "He really did, very physical game. He played downhill."

McKissic has not been utilized as much on the ground, but the former Seahawk, who is starting to build a Pro Bow-caliber season, knows how to use his carries to his advantage. He scored both of Washington's touchdowns on Monday night, one of which was a 10-yard score with seconds remaining in the first half.

Adding even more evidence to his usefulness, McKissic has averaged five yards per carry during Washington's win streak.

"He means a lot to this team, not just on the field but in the locker room as well," Heinicke said. "He is one of those guys that you love to have around, and you see it in his play. He can run the ball out of the backfield, catch the ball, run routes and protect."

McKissic left the game in the fourth quarter with a neck injury, but his 56 total yards played an instrumental role in why Washington came away with the win. After the game, head coach Ron Rivera had some high praise for the six-year pro.

"I think he's one of the most versatile guys in the league," he said. "I mean, he's a threat first, second or third down. He's a guy that really you want to have there as much as possible. He's a resilient player."

Rivera would say the resiliency, growth and development of his team in recent weeks should be credited with the recent success. There's certainly enough evidence to support that claim; Washington is making fewer mistakes, and as a result, it's presented with more manageable situations.

Regardless of the cause, it's clear that Washington has figured something out in the run game. And with six games left, five of which are against division opponents, it couldn't come at a more opportune time.

Rivera pointed out that Washington has been able to minimize the impact of quarterbacks Tom Brady, Cam Newton and Russell Wilson by keeping them off the field. Brady made some self-inflicted mistakes that hurt Tampa Bay, but since then Washington had a time of possession edge of 39:08-20:52 against Carolina and 41:40-18:20 against Carolina.

At 41:40, Monday night was the franchise's highest time of possession since 1990.

Next up, the Football Team will try to prepare to visit Las Vegas on a short week, which is especially challenging given that the Raiders played on Thanksgiving and will have a big rest edge.

Other notes of interest. ... As ESPN.com's John Keim notes, Heinicke played an efficient game and was able to escape tough situations in the pocket to gain yards -- with his arm or his legs.

It's what he does best.

Keim went on to explain that Heinicke sometimes holds the ball too long, but he knows he can get out of bad spots to make plays. Heinicke wasn't always as accurate as he needed to be; he missed seeing a couple of open targets. But he makes plays at pivotal times; he threw for 223 yards one touchdown and an interception. He's also become a smarter manager of the game.

"The confidence in that room is at an all-time high," he said after the win.

Heinicke completed 23 of 25 passes of fewer than 10-plus air yards, gaining 166 yards and scoring one touchdown. ...

DeAndre Carter continues to be Washington's best free agent signing, and it goes beyond his return specialties. Carter made four catches for 42 yards against the Seahawks and has developed chemistry with Heinicke. ...

Logan Thomas caught 3-of-6 targets for 31 yards against the Seahawks.

As NBCSportsEdge.com notes, Thomas' six targets were a close third on the team behind both Terry McLaurin and Gibson, who each saw seven looks. This was Thomas' first game back from a seven-week hamstring injury that had him on injured reserve until Monday afternoon.

Thomas, who played 66 (79 percent) of the team's offensive snaps, had a four-yard touchdown called back late in the fourth quarter, though it looked like he actually had enough control of the ball to keep it a score.

Curtis Samuel caught his lone target for nine yards in his first action since Week 5 thanks to an ongoing groin issue.

Samuel was eased back into action, getting in just 20 snaps. ...

Washington is on to its fourth kicker after Joey Slye pulled his left hamstring chasing down Rasheem Green on the blocked extra point attempt Monday night. The team signed Brian Johnson, who was on Chicago's practice squad and spent time earlier this season with New Orleans.

Johnson made all eight of his field-goal attempts with the Saints, but missed three extra points and was released after four games. After releasing Dustin Hopkins and having blocked kick problems with Chris Blewitt, Rivera said Washington wanted a kicker who can get the ball in the air quickly and elevate it.

In addition to Slye's absence, Washington could be without McKissic and interior offensive lineman Wes Schweitzer. McKissic was carted off in the final minutes against Seattle with concussion, and Schweitzer's ankle injury pressed fourth-stringer Keith Ismael into snapping duty at center.

For what it's worth, McKissic tweeted later Monday night that he's "good" -- but he did not practice Wednesday.

Rookie right tackle Sam Cosmi will miss at least the next two games with a hip injury after going on injured reserve Monday. Rivera said the team did it out of necessity to open a spot for tight end Logan Thomas, who was activated off IR after missing six games with a hamstring injury.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Taylor Heinicke, Carson Wentz, Ryan Fitzpatrick
RBs: Antonio Gibson, Jaret Patterson, J.D. McKissic
WRs: Terry McLaurin, Cam Sims, Adam Humphries, Dyami Brown, Curtis Samuel
TEs: John Bates, Sammis Reyes, Ricky Seals-Jones, Logan Thomas