Team Notes Week 13 2018

By Bob Harris
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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 27 November 2018

According to ESPN.com's Josh Weinfuss, when Josh Rosen rolled to his right about midway through the third quarter, he felt something hit his right throwing hand.

At the time, the rookie quarterback thought it was a Los Angeles Chargers defender swiping at the ball. It made sense. He was being chased seemingly all game. He "freaked out" and quickly threw the ball away. It was another lost play in another lost game.

Afterward, Rosen was informed that he was hit by a penalty flag, which was thrown by down judge Tom Symonette.

"You can't do that, though, in the middle of a play," Rosen said after thinking about it as another question was being asked. "Whatever."

It was that kind of game for the Cardinals.

And it's been that kind of season.

The Cardinals' 45-10 loss to the Chargers on Sunday at the StubHub Center -- Arizona's second 45-10 drubbing in five games -- was more of the same for a team whose season is officially beyond repair.

To coach Steve Wilks, calling Sunday's loss embarrassing was "definitely an understatement."

"Definitely was embarrassing, definitely not what we want," Wilks said. "This organization, that team in that locker room, those players and coaches, we got to do better."

The offense showed a glimmer of hope, yet again. This time, it took a 10-0 lead on one of the best teams in football. David Johnson looked like the retro version of himself. Rosen was making the hard look easy. Then the offense was stopped dead in its tracks while the Chargers scored 45 unanswered points as their quarterback, Philip Rivers, completed his first 25 passes, setting one and tying another NFL record.

"From that point," coach Steve Wilks said of the early lead, "the wheels just sort of fell off a little bit."

As NFL.com put it, "The wheels didn't just fall off. They exploded. And Wilk's team folded."

Over the final three quarters on Sunday, the Cardinals gave up 45 points, surrendered 374 yards, 207 passing yards, and seven big plays.

The blowout loss tied a Cardinals franchise record with their third 30-plus point loss in a season.

The biggest issue for Wilks is the growing belief that his players quit on Sunday when the Chargers got rolling.

"I don't think those guys quit," Wilks said. "I'm not even going to stand up and say those guys quit. Do we have to play better? Of course we do."

The loss will put more heat on the first-year coach to prove he can be the man to turn it around. It could become ugly in Arizona, however. Long-time Cardinals beat reporter Kent Somers penned a column openly questioning whether Arizona can stick with Wilks if the debacles continue and it appears the coach can't motivate his players.

"Number one, I'm going to keep working hard each and every day," Wilks said. "Trying to do everything I can to help this team win football games, starting with the coaches, making sure we're doing the things upstairs and the message is being delivered downstairs and the approach in how we practice.

"I'm not changing. There's no quit. We're going to persevere. We're going to find a way to finish strong."

Coaches usually get more than 16 games to turn around a franchise, but the Cardinals continued struggles could lead to big changes in Arizona that threaten to wipe out the entire brass.

Other notes of interest. ... No surprise, but the Cardinals swung the axe Monday, getting rid of some under-performing veterans after yet another blowout loss.

Via Darren Urban of the team's official website, the Cardinals released right tackle Andre Smith and cornerback Bene Benwikere. The 31-year-old Smith, a former Bengals first-rounder, had started seven games this year, missing three with an elbow injury. He struggled mightily against the Chargers, allowing a pair of sacks.

"If you're not doing it our way, if you're not giving us the best opportunity to win football games, number one, you won't be on the field," Wilks said. "And if it gets to that point, we'll move on. And that's what we did."

Rookie Korey Cunningham will start at right tackle, with left tackle D.J. Humphries expected to return from a knee injury Sunday against Green Bay. Wilks also expects safety Budda Baker, wide receiver Chad Williams, who worked on a limited basis Wednesday, and linebacker Deone Bucannon to return this week from injuries.

They also put elder kicker Phil Dawson on injured reserve with a hip injury, along with linebacker Josh Bynes.

They promoted kicker Zane Gonzalez from the practice squad to handle the kicking the rest of the year, but have four open roster spots to fill after the flurry of moves.

Wilks was unsure of the severity of Dawson's hip injury, which caused him to miss Arizona's Week 11 loss to Oakland. He returned this week and missed a 46-yarder while making one from 30.

"I really don't know the end factor of why he was actually put on IR," Wilks said. "I don't know how bad it was. I just know that's what we ended up doing."

In addition, the team claimed tight end Darrell Daniels off waivers from the Seahawks.

Daniels has played in 21 career games, with five starts, for the Colts (2017) and Seahawks (2018). He has three receptions for 26 yards.

Meanwhile, with at least one NFL team sniffing around and possibly being interested in signing third-string rookie quarterback Charles Kanoff off the Cardinals' practice roster, the Cardinals last Saturday signed Kanoff to their 53-man active roster to prevent losing him.

To fit Kanoff on the 53, the Cardinals released wide receiver Jalen Tolliver, whom they had just promoted from their practice squad four days earlier.

Kanoff signed with the team in May as an undrafted free agent out of Princeton, where he set career school records for passing yards (7,510) and completions (655) and the single-season record for passing touchdowns last season (29).

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Josh Rosen, Mike Glennon
RBs: David Johnson, Chase Edmonds, T.J. Logan
WRs: Larry Fitzgerald, Christian Kirk, Chad Williams, J.J. Nelson, Kendall Wright
TEs: Jermaine Gresham, Ricky Seals-Jones, Gabe Holmes, Darrell Daniels

Atlanta Falcons

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 27 November 2018

The Falcons managed to move the ball better against the Saints than their 17-point total Thanksgiving night would suggest, but therein lies the problem.

As the team's official website put it, "Points are what matter in the NFL, not yards."

The Falcons gained 366 yards on offense against the Saints, close to their season average of 403 yards, but they scored nearly 10 fewer points than they were averaging entering Thursday night.

So what prevented the Falcons from scoring points? The answer in this game is simple: Turnovers.

"We had opportunities to come away with a lot more points than we did tonight but when you give them the football, especially in the low red [zone], where you have opportunities to come away with points it's tough to overcome," quarterback Matt Ryan said.

The Falcons had four turnovers on Thursday night and three of them almost certainly took points off the board.

Atlanta reached the Saints' 3-yard line on its opening possession, poised to come away with at least a field goal. On third down, however, Marcus Williams crashed through the line and stripped the football from Ryan. The Saints recovered the fumble and the Falcons came away with no points.

Trailing 17-3, the Falcons had an opportunity to cut into the Saints' lead with their final possession before halftime. Atlanta began the drive at its own 25-yard line but quickly moved the ball downfield thanks to some quick passes from Ryan.

The Falcons looked again set to come away with at least a field goal and in position to take a shot or two at the end zone when Ryan connected with Julio Jones on a shallow crosser on a first-down pass from the 32-yard line. Jones gained 15 yards on the reception, but he had the ball jarred loose as he was knocked around like a helicopter propeller on the tackle.

Instead of building some momentum and chipping away at the Saints' lead heading into halftime, the Falcons missed another opportunity to put points on the board.

Atlanta's third turnover of the game, a tipped Ryan pass that landed softly in the hands of Saints linebacker A.J. Klein, set the Saints up at the Falcons' 22-yard line. Five plays later, New Orleans scored a touchdown and built a 31-10 lead.

On the ensuing possession the Falcons missed yet another opportunity to score due to a turnover. Atlanta strung together a long drive that included a converted fourth down and looked to have a touchdown on its second fourth-down play of the drive.

Ryan hit Calvin Ridley in stride down the middle of the field, and Ridley appeared destined to get the ball across the goal line. Just as he was leaping for the end zone, however, Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore dove at Ridley and knocked the ball loose at the 2-yard line.

"I thought we did some good things offensively, but when you turn the football over four times against a really good football team that's playing with a lot of momentum, it's just too much to overcome," Ryan said. "We need to be better than that as we move forward."

Best-case scenario: The Falcons score a touchdown on all three of the plays where the ball hit the turf on Thursday night. That would have resulted in 21 extra points, bringing Atlanta's total up to 38 points. If Ryan's pass isn't picked off at the Falcons' 22-yard line, giving the Saints a short field and an easier touchdown, the Saints might have been held below 30 points.

Yes, that's a lot of what-ifs and re-writing history.

The bottom line is that the Saints won. But it's clear the Falcons didn't do themselves any favors and potentially took a lot of points off the board because of turnovers.

"When you have one [red-zone turnover] it feels like a lot," head coach Dan Quinn said. "And so to have three down there, I thought that was the real story of the game. ..."

Not surprisingly, it didn't take long for the vitriol towards Ryan to rear its ugly head Thursday night. The shots on Twitter from angry Falcons fans were flowing at a healthy pace midway through the third quarter.

And Ryan wasn't the only one. Quinn and Steve Sarkisian were also targets of the fans' disdain.

And while turnovers were a problem, Atlanta's inability to run the ball was as well. And that's not Ryan's fault.

The Falcons ran the ball 16 times for just 26 yards with Tevin Coleman and Ito Smith combining for a total of six rushing yards on 10 carries. When you take away the yards Ryan gained on his two scrambles for 16 yards, then Atlanta's runners amassed only 10 yards on 14 attempts.

The Falcons' run-game woes against the Saints were especially evident during critical short-yardage situations.

Twelve different times the Falcons needed just 1 or 2 yards for a first down and they converted only three, gaining a total of 9 yards. Three of those 12 plays were runs that gained 3 yards -- two were stopped for no gain, the other was a 3-yard run by Mohamed Sanu.

So, for all intents and purposes, there was no running game and the only way Ryan and Co. could move the ball against the Saints was through the air. And just like the Cowboys did four days earlier, the Saints pinned their ears back and came after Ryan.

Ryan has been sacked nine times over the last two games -- six courtesy of the Saints. For comparison's sake, Drew Brees has been sacked a total of 10 times all season long.

After such a disconcerting performance up front, Quinn said the team is considering other options along the offensive line.

"I'm certainly not pleased with the results of how we finished yesterday, but I haven't made a final decision on who or what or if there is going to be some changes or not. Definitely something we're looking at to make sure we're going to give our team the very best chance to play our best."

The two candidates Quinn mentioned by name as guys they could possibly give more reps were Zane Beadles and Ty Sambrailo.

Although Sambrailo has been mostly considered the Falcons' backup swing tackle, Quinn said he's capable of playing on the interior as well. As for Beadles, the Falcons have rotated him at guard and tackle, and even given him some reps at center, since he arrived in Atlanta the day before Halloween.

Whoever they work into the mix, the O-line will continue to be a focal point. The Falcons still have to face Baltimore and Carolina -- teams that rank in the NFL's top 10 in sacks per pass play, and the Panthers also boast a top-10 run defense.

One last note here. ... The Falcons placed defensive lineman Derrick Shelby (groin) on injured reserve Wednesday.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub
RBs: Tevin Coleman, Ito Smith
WRs: Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, Mohamed Sanu, Justin Hardy, Marvin Hall, Russell Gage
TEs: Austin Hooper, Logan Paulsen, Eric Saubert

Baltimore Ravens

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 27 November 2018

Don't expect head coach John Harbaugh to be forthcoming about the Baltimore Ravens' quarterback situation in the days ahead.

With Lamar Jackson leading the Ravens to a second straight victory on the Sunday, Harbaugh isn't committing to Joe Flacco remaining the Ravens' starter once he returns from injury -- at least publicly.

"I'm not going to get into that for a number of reasons," Harbaugh told The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec. "Whether that decision has been made or not is not important for anybody to know but us. If I decide to do it one way or the other, I don't want our opponent to know."

NFL Network's Mike Garafolo reported on Tuesday afternoon the Ravens plan to start Jackson against the Falcons this Sunday and there's ample reason to believe that is the case.

For starters, it's unclear whether Flacco would even be available to play on Sunday. The veteran quarterback has been dealing with a hip injury that has kept him out of games and off the practice field for two weeks.

Jackson has put in a pair of encouraging performances filling in for Flacco. Against the Cincinnati Bengals last week, he passed for 150 yards and rushed for 119, and during Sunday's 34-17 victory over the Oakland Raiders, he passed for 178 yards and rushed for 71 (he also had a touchdown and two interceptions).

While the Ravens' most recent wins have come against a pair of struggling teams, it has put a focus on whether Harbaugh is willing to keep Jackson as his starter as Baltimore tries to stay relevant in the AFC playoff race.

Flacco hasn't been cleared to practice, but saw a hip specialist this week and Garafolo reports the QB was not cleared. There's a chance that could change in the coming days but right now, the concern is Flacco could dislocate his hip if he returns too soon.

"[The hip] has to be strong and stable," Harbaugh said Monday. "There is no big tear in there. The hip has to be strong and not agitated for Joe to be able to protect himself. That's the concern. It's Joe's safety."

ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley reminded readers, the Ravens were told that Flacco would need three to four weeks to recover after he injured his hip against Pittsburgh on Nov. 4.

Flacco, 33, is in the midst of another underwhelming season since winning the Super Bowl six years ago. He has thrown 12 touchdown passes and six interceptions for an 84.2 passer rating.

In two starts, Jackson has produced 518 total yards but a total of three turnovers. Still, he has been winning teammates over.

"It's the Lamar show," receiver Michael Crabtree said. "You just have to sit back and watch because he's electrifying."

Harbaugh was asked if he believes in the notion that a player doesn't lose his starting job because of an injury.

"So, we're going to go back to junior high clichés," Harbaugh said. "We'll do what gives us the best chance to win. Period. End of conversation."

If Flacco -- and he did not practice Wednesday -- is cleared this week, Harbaugh didn't rule out using both Flacco and Jackson significantly during games.

"Everything is on the table," Harbaugh said.

We'll see about that. ... Remember: Baltimore was on a three-game losing streak before winning both of Jackson's starts to improve to 6-5 and cling to a playoff spot with five long weeks to go.

Altogether, Jackson has completed 27 of 44 passes for one touchdown and three interceptions in the two games and added 190 yards and a touchdown on 37 carries.

Maybe more than anything, he seems to have the team and town fired up in a way they absolutely weren't two weeks ago.

All that said, as ESPN's Dan Graziano pointed out, Baltimore still has road games against the Falcons, Chiefs and Chargers sprinkled around home games against the Buccaneers and Browns.

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

Meanwhile, Gus Edwards topped 100 yards for the second straight week and may have claimed the Ravens' lead running back role in the process as Baltimore has found its stride with a ground-and-pound rushing attack.

The undrafted rookie had 118 yards on 23 carries and once again showed his good feet, powerful downhill style and tackle-breaking ability. It's the first time a Ravens running back has topped 100 yards in back-to-back games since Justin Forsett did so in three straight contests in 2014. He's also the first Ravens rookie to do so since Jamal Lewis in 2000.

"I think Gus has realized that he has a great opportunity, and when you're a young guy, you want to make the most of it," center Matt Skura said. "You want to play as hard and physical as you can."

Running back Alex Collins has started every game this year and 21 straight in the Ravens backfield, but he was inactive Sunday because of a foot injury that has plagued him throughout the season. Collins has averaged 3.6 yards per carry this year and has a season-high of 68 rushing yards in a game.

Collins' injury has opened the door for more Edwards, and the 6-1, 238-pound Rutgers product has driven through it just like his nickname -- "The Bus" would suggest.

While Jackson has the ankle-breaking wiggle, Edwards has provided the punch.

Collins is also a hard runner, but he's 30 pounds lighter than Edwards. Harbaugh agreed that Edwards has brought another level of physicality to the Ravens' run game.

"Big, strong back. I love the way he runs," fellow Ravens running back Ty Montgomery said. "He gets vertical. He's so strong, he makes running through arm tackles look easy. Sometimes it's not even arm tackles -- he's just running through guys. It's pretty fun to watch."

According to Hensley, eclipsing 100 yards rushing in back-to-back games tightens Edwards' grip on the starting job over Collins, though it should be noted the decision at QB could be a factor at running back with coaches believing Edwards' style of running in between the tackles better fits into the run-pass option scheme that Baltimore uses with Jackson.

So could Edwards still find room if Flacco is the one handing the ball off to him? He said he's hardly practice with the veteran quarterback?

"I think you've got to give credit to everybody involved in the thing," Harbaugh said. "[The offense with Jackson] definitely takes a defender out of the equation. That's the beauty of the offense. But you should never take credit away from the players who are executing the plays."

For the record, Collins did not practice Wednesday and is considered day to day due to that same foot injury. Unfortunately, Edwards (undisclosed) was not on the field either; I'll have more on both players as the week progresses. ...

And finally. ... On Wednesday, Crabtree diplomatically declined to engage in any appearance of bitterness toward the Raiders for not retaining him in the offseason.

After catching an 8-yard touchdown pass from Jackson in the fourth quarter, Crabtree said he continues to have no ill will against his former employer.

"I feel like the same against everybody," said Crabtree, who finished with three receptions for 21 yards, but caught his first touchdown pass since Oct. 14 in a 21-0 shutout victory at the Tennessee Titans. "I don't think as a player, you can get too caught up in that. It's more of a mental thing. I have nothing against the Raiders. I've got love for them upstairs. [Raiders owner] Mark Davis, I've got nothing but love for him. Like I said, ain't [got] no bad blood for anybody. I just go out here and play ball and do my job."

Willie Snead wasn't targeted in this game while John Brown was only able to pull in one pass (for 25 yards) on seven targets.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III, Joe Flacco
RBs: Gus Edwards, Alex Collins, Javorius Allen, Ty Montgomery
WRs: Michael Crabtree, John Brown, Willie Snead, Chris Moore, Jordan Lasley, Janarion Grant
TEs: Hayden Hurst, Mark Andrews, Nick Boyle, Maxx Williams

Buffalo Bills

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 27 November 2018

Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey called Buffalo Bills rookie quarterback Josh Allen "trash" in an offseason interview with GQ, then doubled down on his assessment this week.

Allen responded by setting a team record for a quarterback with 99 rushing yards on 13 carries, including a 14-yard fourth-quarter scramble for a touchdown and another 45-yard run to help seal a 24-21 win. Allen had 101 rushing yards before two kneel-downs to end the game.

"Josh is a baller," Bills safety Jordan Poyer said. "They can say whatever they want to say about Josh. Jalen can say whatever he wants to say about Josh. Josh came in there and handled that defense today."

As ESPN.com's Mike Rodak noted, the performance topped the franchise's previous single-game mark of 79 yards, set by Tyrod Taylor in 2015.

"Josh played phenomenal," Bills linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said. "I would like to see what [Ramsey] thought now, after Josh played as well as he played today. Playing physical. He ran over some of the defensive players and made some big plays. When you talk, you have to show up and show out. Josh was able to do that by just showing the way he played today."

Allen's efforts might not be enough to put the Bills back in the conversation for the playoffs. But after being sidelined for four games with an elbow injury, Allen returned to the lineup and gave the Bills promise for 2019 as they close out this season with a six-game stretch in which Allen's development will be paramount.

Despite not having played since Oct. 14, Allen was spectacular in the first quarter Sunday. He completed 5-of-6 passes for 125 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown strike to undrafted rookie wide receiver Robert Foster in which Allen managed a strong and accurate throw despite being sandwiched by multiple Jaguars defenders. Foster, who caught passes of 47 and 43 yards from Matt Barkley in a Nov. 11 victory over the New York Jets, again led the Bills with 94 receiving yards.

The Bills, who scored 41 points in their Week 10 win over the Jets, have scored 65 points in their past two games after managing only 96 in their first nine games, when they went 2-7.

"I said before the Jets game that this offense is really close," Allen said. "It showed in the last two weeks of what we're capable of doing. Matt [Barkley] came in against the Jets and did a heck of a job. … Coach [Sean McDermott] says that this is a time for me and us to grow, and I'm doing that and trusting the guys around me."

Allen also managed a 32-yard completion to wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin in the first half despite being hit. Allen's meager stat line of 8-of-19 passing for 160 yards and an 89.8 passer rating belied his winning performance, which included passes that should have been caught by tight end Jason Croom and wide receiver Deonte Thompson, as well as other completions called back by penalties on the offensive line.

However, the most impressive part of Allen's return was his scrambling ability, similar to when he hurdled a Vikings defender and ran twice for touchdowns during a Week 3 upset win in Minnesota.

"He brings that extra spark," running back LeSean McCoy said. "He brings that extra electricity in the building. His ability to run the ball, be very elusive, be that big, but also to put the ball in the air going deep. ... He's no chump. He plays hard. They talked a lot about him, so he couldn't wait to get out there and prove them wrong."

The question for Buffalo will be the sustainability of Allen's fearless playing style, especially after he had his legs taken out at the end of his 45-yard run Sunday and later had his lower body twisted on a red-zone running play in the fourth quarter.

"Josh is a playmaker," Alexander said. "Obviously, he's young and some of the stuff [saying], 'Throw it away! No, no, no!' And he's making plays. I'm just glad he comes out healthy after doing some of that stuff.

"Sometimes, once he gets a big play, you want him to get down and not take unnecessary hits. But he's a physical guy, young guy. Obviously his body can take that. But he'll learn from that, because of those [hits] you don't want your premier guy taking."

Meanwhile, for the second straight week, Foster provided the biggest play of the game.

The rookie wideout pulled in the above-mentioned 75-yard scoring strike from Allen. Foster's ability to take the top off a defense forced Jacksonville to back defenders out of the box.

"He certainly made some plays down the field, but the way he blocked in the run game and some short to intermediate routes he ran that got other people open, he did some other things as well," said McDermott.

Foster came close to posting back-to-back 100-yard receiving games as he finished with 94 yards on two receptions Sunday. Between his 105-yard effort in Week 10 against the Jets, Foster's last five receptions have gone for 47, 43, 15, 75 and 19 yards.

"He can fly absolutely. He's an undrafted free agent so he's definitely that underdog story you love to see," Allen said. "His work ethic is awesome. We have a really good relationship. It's good to see him make plays like that. He deserves it because he's been working extremely hard."

Remember, Foster remained in Buffalo over the team's bye to work with Allen on the QB's then-ongoing rehab; it's possible that extra work with Allen could pay off for Foster.

Also worth noting. ... Foster played more snaps (33) Sunday than Benjamin (23), who also came up with a big catch early for Buffalo.

Tight end Jason Croom and wideout Isaiah McKenzie also recorded two receptions apiece. McKenzie also added a touchdown on the ground for the Bills.

LeSean McCoy and Chris Ivory couldn't get anything going on the ground on Sunday. The two combined to run for 60 yards on 20 carries. McCoy and Ivory were also non-factors in the pass game. The duo shouldn't take all of the blame for their performance on Sunday. The offensive line struggled in run blocking. ...

Tight end Charles Clay missed Sunday's game with a hamstring injury he suffered in Week 9. I'll be watching for more on his status in coming days (watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for more). ...

For what it's worth, the Bills (4-7) opened as a six-point underdog against their Week 13 opponent, the Miami Dolphins (5-6).

Buffalo hits the road for its second-to-last away game for its first divisional matchup against the Dolphins.

Beyond that, they face the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on Dec. 23 before closing out with three at home: The Jets (Dec. 9), the Detroit Lions (Dec. 16) and the Dolphins (Dec. 30).

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Josh Allen, Derek Anderson, Matt Barkley
RBs: LeSean McCoy, Chris Ivory, Marcus Murphy, Taiwan Jones
WRs: Zay Jones, Robert Foster, Deonte Thompson, Isaiah McKenzie, Brandon Reilly
TEs: Charles Clay, Jason Croom, Logan Thomas

Carolina Panthers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 27 November 2018

As the team's official website noted, three days removed from Thanksgiving, running back Christian McCaffrey made it clear he still had a big appetite against Seattle in Week 12.

Against the NFL's 10th-best defense, the lead back became the first Panther to rack up more than 100 rushing and receiving yards in the same game when he piled up 125 rushing yards and a touchdown on 17 carries while catching all 11 of his targets for 112 receiving yards and a score.

His 237 scrimmage yards (125 rushing, 112 receiving) set a franchise record for scrimmage yards in a game (Jonathan Stewart had 222 back in 2009).

It was captivating to witness, but come Monday, headlines will only focus on Carolina's 30-27 loss at the hands of Russell Wilson and the Seahawks. And so will McCaffrey.

"That's all great, but I'd rather win," said McCaffrey of his historic day. "We gotta find a way to win; that's what the great teams do so we can do it. It's not a matter of if we can or can't.

"We're in a position where we control our destiny and that makes it more frustrating, but also it's good to remind us that we can win."

After the team's third consecutive loss, head coach Ron Rivera and his staff must go back to the drawing board. Having big-time playmakers is a must in today's NFL, and having McCaffrey, the eighth overall pick of the 2017 NFL Draft, produce like he did bodes well for the future.

"We look at the guys we have. We try to give our quarterback weapons by what we have done the last couple of drafts. I'd say we have done that," Rivera said.

As one the league's most utilized offensive weapons, McCaffrey has more than proved his value.

One of his best highlights from Sunday came in the fourth quarter when he burned defenders for a 59-yard gain straight up the gut. His stamina was then tested and he passed with flying colors, following with a 15-yard run on the next snap and then catching a 2-yard TD pass from quarterback Cam Newton two plays later.

In regards to managing his energy, McCaffrey added, "I don't really think of it. When I'm in the game, there's so much adrenaline."

McCaffrey's never-quit attitude has endeared him to fans throughout the Carolinas, and after Sunday, that list added an eye-popping name: Seattle head coach Pete Carroll.

"Oh gosh, what a game. What a fantastic player," said Carroll. "I give (Norv Turner) credit for using him in great fashion. Shoot, he had us guessing the whole day. He really did. They did a great job."

McCaffrey is a player who would rather do all of his talking on the field than the locker room. But, after Week 12, he was more vocal about wanting to improve not only individually but as a team.

"I think there's a lot of things I could've done better. That's the beauty of football; you can always get better," McCaffrey said. "The other beauty of it is that we got a game next week so we're gonna let this one hit us a little bit, but not for long.

"We gotta get back at it next week."

Indeed, after Sunday's loss dropped them to 6-5, they are fighting for their playoff lives.

"Three weeks ago, if someone would have said this is what was going to happen, I would have slapped them," Newton said in a tone of disbelief when asked about a third-straight loss. "But things happen and nobody is going to feel sorry for us.

"We're just opening up a lot of hope for other teams that we can't bear to allow happen."

That the next two games are at Tampa Bay (4-7) and Cleveland (4-6-1) should give the Panthers a glimmer of hope since both teams appear beatable.

But both those teams won on Sunday, and the Browns were on the road. And the Panthers lost to a struggling Detroit team a week ago.

That two of Carolina's final three games are against New Orleans (10-1) has to be concerning. The Saints look unbeatable with 10 straight victories.

"We just need one win," Newton said. "Let's just start with one win. ..."

For what it's worth, Newton has 10 straight games in which he has completed at least 60 percent of his passes and thrown at least two touchdowns. In NFL history, according to Elias, this trails only Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers with 12 straight.

Newton set a franchise record with 16 consecutive completions dating back to the Detroit game, breaking Steve Beuerlein's previous record of 15 (1999). He went a perfect 14-of-14 in the first half, the most completions without an incompletion in the first half in franchise history.

As ESPN's Mike Clay notes, Newton is fantasy's No. 4 scoring quarterback and has finished top 10 in 73 percent of his outings. That's tied with Patrick Mahomes and Andrew Luck for best at the position. Newton joins Mahomes and Philip Rivers as the only quarterbacks who haven't finished a week outside the top 20. ...

D.J. Moore set a new career high with eight receptions for 91 receiving yards. Over the last two weeks, Moore has tallied 248 receiving yards, the most by a rookie wide receiver over two games in franchise history.

According to the Charlotte Observer, there weren't any sure drops by any receiver, and Moore, Curtis Samuel, Jarius Wright, Torrey Smith and Greg Olsen did a great job complementing each other and playing fast.

Graham Gano hit 41 straight field goals at home before his miss in the fourth quarter from 52 yards. Gano has missed crucial field goals in consecutive games.

For what it's worth, Rivera said the team will "stay the course" as far as personnel. But there may be changes in terms of what players are asked to do to perhaps avoid the "critical mistakes" that keep leading to losses.

"We can't allow those critical mistakes as coaches," Rivera said. "We can't have them as players. Maybe we need to relook and rethink some of the things we have them do. Maybe it's on us."

Rivera's words aren't necessarily at odds with the decision to work out kickers on Tuesday. According to Adam Caplan of SiriusXM NFL Radio, the Panthers worked out four kickers Tuesday, bringing Chandler Catanzaro, Sam Ficken, Matt McCrane and Caleb Sturgis.

As Profootballtalk.com's Darin Gantt suggests, they might have just wanted to motivate him, as they did last year when they brought Roberto Aguayo in to their practice squad. So far, they haven't signed anyone, so it may just be a matter of sending a message. ...

On the injury front. ... Devin Funchess (back) remained sidelined at Wednesday's practice. Samuel (hamstring) was also held out; I'll have more on both via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

And finally. ... Receiver and return man Damiere Byrd suffered a broken arm in Sunday's loss to the Seahawks and NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reports the expectation is that the team places him on injured reserve to end his season.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Cam Newton, Taylor Heinicke
RBs: Christian McCaffrey, Cameron Artis-Payne, Travaris Cadet
WRs: Devin Funchess, D.J. Moore, Curtis Samuel, Torrey Smith, Jarius Wright, Damiere Byrd
TEs: Ian Thomas, Chris Manhertz

Chicago Bears

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 27 November 2018

Chase Daniel -- who started in place of quarterback Mitchell Trubisky who suffered a right shoulder injury in the Bears win over the Vikings on Sunday -- signed with the team in the offseason. The nine-year veteran has made a career out of being a viable backup quarterback option, and last Thursday he proved his value leading the Bears to a 23-16 win in Detroit.

Daniel connected with Anthony Miller on his first play of the game, but missed receivers on second and third down as the Bears went three and out in their first series.

It wasn't the way Chicago's offense wanted to come out of the gate, but it was the beginning of Daniel finding his rhythm as the new man under center.

"At first we were a little off, whether it be timing or jitters for myself," Daniel said. "We just didn't play very well, and that all starts with me, that starts with the quarterback of this offense."

Making his first NFL regular-season start since 2014, Daniel completed 27 of 37 pass attempts for 230 yards and two touchdowns (106.8 quarterback rating).

"I think once we settled in, we were able to do some RPO [run-pass option] stuff on offense, do some quick pass games, take some shots, and I thought the scheme was great," Daniel said. "I really enjoy this game plan, and I told Nagy that last night. I think we have a really solid game plan and he agreed. Listen, it's hard to win on the road, especially a short week in the division, so we'll take them however they come."

The 32-year-old veteran backup said earlier in the week he "knew the [Matt Nagy] offense like the back of my hand."

On Thursday, Daniel backed up the talk, and without any help from the running game. The Bears failed to run the ball on either of their two drives that resulted in touchdowns.

Chicago rushed for only 38 yards as a team.

Daniel threw both of his touchdown passes to running backs -- Taquan Mizzell and Tarik Cohen -- on balls that traveled at least 10 yards down the field.

The last NFL quarterback to throw two touchdown passes that traveled 10 or more yards to running backs was the Chargers' Philip Rivers in 2013, according to ESPN Stats and Information.

The Bears felt confident turning to Daniel on short notice -- Chicago became the first team since the 1970 merger to play a Thursday afternoon game after a Sunday night game -- because he spent three years in Kansas City under Nagy.

"I want to say what a great job Chase Daniel did coming in here on such a short notice," Nagy said. "That's why we have Chase. I have a great relationship with him; that's why he's here. You have no idea, especially when you don't have any reps, what these guys -- in two days of walkthrough practices, how it's going to go. No matter how much experience he has in this offense, you really, truly don't know how it's going to go. So for him to be able to come out here and do what he did -- protect the football and be a leader when he needed to be a leader -- I thought he did a great job."

Meanwhile, after missing the Thanksgiving game, Trubisky is hopeful to play this Sunday against Giants, but ESPN's Adam Schefter reports it is not certain he will and missing one more game is possible. If he were to miss that one, he would be expected to return the following week.

Nagy, appearing on the RapSheet and Friends Podcast this week, told NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport that team will take the QB's status one day at a time.

"We don't," the coach replied when asked if he knows about Trubisky's availability. "It will be one of those day-to-days for us as we go. We need to know each day where he's at. We kind of went through the same type of thing with Khalil [Mack] and Allen Robinson several weeks ago. It's just hard because these guys want to be out there and they want to play but sometimes we need to protect the player from the player. And they ultimately understand that, so we'll just go day-by-day, we'll have them both ready and we'll see where it takes us."

Nagy mentioning Mack's and Robinson's situations is instructive. The Bears held out both starters for two weeks to ensure they were fully healthy. Chicago won against both creampuffs in that stretch. Facing the 3-8 New York Giants, the Bears could trust Daniel to earn another road win.

Of course, Nagy noted that Trubisky doesn't want to miss a second start.

"He's doing well," Nagy told Rapoport. "He's improving each day, which is important. He's a tough kid, you know and sometimes when you get in these type of situations, you need to make sure that he understands that we need to do what's best not only for him but for the team as well. He wants to be out there, but we need to just make sure we're doing the right thing and that he's communicating to us how he feels and we're getting feedback from our training staff and that we put it all together and do the right thing with him."

If he's fully healthy, Trubisky should start. The second-year passer has showed tremendous growth in his first season under Nagy before the injury. Every snap would aid that development before the playoffs begin.

If he's less than 100 percent, however, the Bears could decide to ride Daniel once more against a bottom-five team.

Adam Shaheen missed last week's game after suffering a concussion in his Week 11 return from a foot injury; his status for this week remains uncertain.

For the record, Trubisky didn't practice Wednesday.

I'll obviously be watching his progress closely in coming days; watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for more. ...

Other notes of interest. ... As ESPN's Mike Clay noted this week, Allen Robinson has stumbled against the defending of Darius Slay and Xavier Rhodes during the past two weeks, but the good news is that the Bears have one of the easiest remaining schedules for wide receivers. Robinson and the Bears will face off with the Giants, Rams, Packers and 49ers over the next four weeks.

Clay considers Robinson a fringe WR2, whereas Taylor Gabriel and Anthony Miller are on the flex radar. ...

One last note here. ... The Bears didn't get much help from their running game on their way to a fifth straight win in Detroit on Thursday.

Chicago's 38 rushing yards are their fewest of the season and the team called just 11 runs for Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen and Taquan Mizzell during the 23-16 victory.

"Stating the obvious, we've gotta figure out how to get better at the run game," Nagy said, via Kevin Fishbain of The Athletic. But I'll say this, going into yesterday against that defense and what they do, we knew it wasn't going to be easy."

With Daniel at quarterback, it was easy to think that the Bears would lean heavily on their run game but they came out throwing in what might have been an attempt to catch the Lions off guard. That approach didn't click right off the bat, but they found enough plays through the air to survive without a big day from their running game.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Chase Daniel, Tyler Bray, Mitchell Trubisky
RBs: Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen, Benny Cunningham
WRs: Allen Robinson, Anthony Miller, Taylor Gabriel, Kevin White, Josh Bellamy, Javon Wims
TEs: Trey Burton, Ben Braunecker, Daniel Brown, Adam Shaheen

Cincinnati Bengals

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 27 November 2018

As Cincinnati Enquirer staffer Fletcher Page noted on Monday, Bengals fans know what a right thumb injury to Andy Dalton can do to a season.

Unlike 2015, though, the Bengals have no expectations of winning anything of consequence as the calendar rolls into December. A 35-20 loss to the Cleveland Browns Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium was bad enough.

But a bad snap in the third quarter sent Dalton sprinting and lunging for a recovery that resulted in the quarterback injuring his thumb and out of the game.

And out for the season.

The Bengals announced Monday that Dalton was placed on injured reserve. While the team did not disclose specifics of the injury, NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported that Dalton suffered torn ligaments in the thumb and it is unclear at this time if surgery is required.

The Bengals are now likely to lean on Jeff Driskel, who replaced Dalton against the Browns, in a starting role with Tom Savage, who the Bengals claimed off waivers from the 49ers, as Driskel's backup. The team also has Connor Cook on the practice squad.

Dalton has two, non-guaranteed years remaining on the six-year extension he signed in 2014. He's due $16.2 million in 2019 and $17.7 million in 2020 (plus possible escalators), per NFL Network's Tom Pelissero. He finished the 2018 season completing 226 of 365 passes for 2,566 yards and 21 touchdowns with 11 interceptions.

Cincinnati currently sits in third place in the AFC North, and closes out the season against the Broncos, Chargers, Raiders, Browns and Steelers.

In other words, the Bengals' playoff odds have gone from slim to none.

That said, the Bengals would probably prefer not to consider their future when they're still mathematically in the playoff hunt.

But whether they like it or not, they have no choice but to shake things up. Fortunately, the Bengals clearly felt they had something in Driskel, and it was enough to keep him as the third quarterback on the active roster for all of the 2016 season. It was enough to give him the backup job over Matt Barkley this summer.

As ESPN.com's Katherine Terrell put it, "They felt comfortable enough with their options to not draft a quarterback high the past few years, and now they'll see if that was a mistake. ..."

Meanwhile, as Page reported, the Bengals were at their worst on Sunday, continuing a downward trend after a 4-1 record to open the season, helped by one of Dalton's best starts in his eight-year career.

On Sunday, the Bengals offense couldn't match scores with the Browns. They managed just 60 yards on the first three drives as the Browns built a 28-0 lead.

"I still feel like we have the better team overall," said wide receiver Tyler Boyd. "We just started slow."

The Bengals chance to prove Boyd's claim was killed on the third play of the third quarter when Price launched the snap over Dalton's right shoulder.

"I just pulled it," Price said. "That's it. I just pulled it. Something that doesn't happen. I've never done that. I just held on to it a little too much and just pulled it. It's a mistake on my part."

Dalton was injured in the scramble for the ball, which eventually ended up in the hands of Browns' defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah.

Dalton's day was finished after completing 10 of 17 passes for 100 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He passed Boomer Esiason for second in Bengals franchise history for most passing touchdowns (188, nine shy of Ken Anderson's record) with a 2-yard pass to John Ross in the second quarter.

Driskel took over and directed two scoring drives.

"You never want to see anybody go down," Driskel said. "That's unfortunate, but I was ready to go. I've been ready all year long. I just told those guys, 'hey we're going to come back and win this game.'"

The third-year backup out of Louisiana Tech finished 17 of 29 for 155 yards and had a passing touchdown and a rushing touchdown.

Driskel started with two incompletions and the Bengals went three-and-out on his first drive. But he led the offense to the end zone on the next try, connecting on passes to Mixon and passing to Boyd for a 28-yard score. It was the first passing touchdown of Driskel's career.

Previously, Driskel played in mop-up duty against the Chiefs and the Saints.

But offensive coordinator Bill Lazor did reveal a read-option package for Driskel when the game was still competitive against New Orleans. Despite the added mobility, Driskel said the offense doesn't change depending on who is at quarterback.

Of course, as noted above, this is a familiar circumstance.

Dalton fractured his right thumb in Week 13 of the 2015 season against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Bengals were 10-2 entering that game. Expectations were high. Without Dalton, goals weren't met in an unfortunate what-if injury scenario.

This time, the Bengals season is fading. A.J. Green could return from his toe injury this week, but that's not certain.

In fact, Page reported on Wednesday that Green said he will play Sunday against the Broncos.

The wideout added it won't take long to develop chemistry with Driskel. "Just put the ball somewhere; I'll get it," Green said.

Driskel is ready for that.

"In the NFL it's next guy up," Driskel said, "and that's for every position."

I'll have more on Green's status via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Jeff Driskel, Tom Savage
RBs: Joe Mixon, Mark Walton, Giovani Bernard
WRs: Tyler Boyd, John Ross, Cody Core, Josh Malone
TEs: C.J. Uzomah, Tyler Kroft, Tyler Eifert, Mason Schreck

Cleveland Browns

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 27 November 2018

As Cleveland Plain Dealer staffer Mary Kay Cabot framed it, "Baker Mayfield, Damarious Randall and the Browns handed it to Hue Jackson in a 35-20 rout of the Bengals on Sunday -- literally. ..."

Adding Jackson to the staff as a defensive assistant just two weeks after the Browns fired him on Oct. 29 backfired for the Bengals, at least in this game.

The Browns, fired up to beat their deposed coach who they knew was giving away their state secrets, scored touchdowns on their first five drives to bust the game wide open, 35-7 in the third quarter. They also led 28-0 before the Bengals scored a TD just before the half.

By the end, Mayfield had four TD passes, the Browns avoided tying the NFL record with 26 straight road losses with their first road win since Oct. 11, 2015, and they won back-to-back games for the first time since November of 2014.

"This locker room is very, very talented," said Randall, who stole the show with his remarks on Friday and by handing Jackson the ball after his interception. "This team is very scary right now."

The victory improved the Browns to 4-6-1 -- 2-1 under Gregg Williams -- and kept their slim playoff hopes alive. The four victories were the most by the Browns since they went 7-9 in 2014. They also improved to 2-1-1 in the division. The Bengals, who have lost five of their last six, slipped to 5-6.

But the scene that summed it up for the Browns came just after Randall picked off Dalton with 9:09 left in the half and the Browns up 21-0. Remember, it was Randall who proclaimed on Friday that if the Bengals didn't have A.J. Green "they're getting their ass beat."

Well, the Bengals were without Green (toe), and Randall and his teammates backed up his tough talk. After the pick, which happened right in front of Jackson on the Bengals' sideline, Randall walked over and handed the ball to Jackson, who nonchalantly took it and patted Randall on the head.

"That's just something I always said I was going to do," said Randall. "I never gave him one when he was with the Browns, so I felt he needed one.

Feeling his bold prediction, Randall then blew a kiss to the Bengals bench.

But Randall wasn't the only one motivated by the sight of Jackson on the opposite sideline.

Mayfield gave Jackson a chilly a reception when he sought him out on the field after the game, rebuffing his hug and only briefly shaking his hand.

"He said 'good job, good game,"' Mayfield said. "It was brief. I didn't feel like talking."

Why not?

"I don't know," he said. "Left Cleveland, goes down to Cincinnati, I don't know. It's just somebody that was in our locker room, asking for us to play for him and then goes to a different team we play twice a year. Everybody can have their spin on it but that's how I feel."

In just his eighth career start, Mayfield passed Tim Couch (15) for the most touchdown passes by a Browns rookie with 17. Mayfield has also thrown multiple touchdowns in each of his last five starts, the first Browns quarterback to do so since Vinny Testaverde in 1994-95. He also became the first Browns rookie in NFL history to post a QB rating of 140 or better in consecutive games.

"Lights out, man," Randall said. "Baker's starting to get in a rhythm, he's starting to bring that swagger to us."

"We have people that we believe in calling the plays now," said Mayfield. "Freddie's running the same system we had then, he's just putting a little bit of a twist on it. It's the fact that we didn't do our job then, but right now Freddie has us believing in it and that's what it comes down to."

He acknowledged that they turned the firings of Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley, who called the plays the first eight games, into a rallying cry.

"We used it as something to come together," he said. "It could've been something that tore us apart even more, or it brought us together. And that's what happened."

But it clearly goes beyond that.

As Profootballtalk.com's Michael David Smith noted, in the six games he played with Jackson as his head coach and Haley calling the plays, Mayfield completed 58.3 percent of his passes, averaged 6.6 yards per pass, totaled eight touchdowns and six interceptions, and had a 78.9 passer rating.

In the three games Mayfield has played since Jackson and Haley were fired, Mayfield completed 73.9 percent of his passes, averaged 8.8 yards per pass, totaled nine touchdowns and one interception, and has a 129.5 passer rating.

Mayfield has also become the first rookie in NFL history to have back-to-back games with a passer rating higher than 140.

How much of this change is just Mayfield developing, how much is the fault of Jackson, how much is the fault of Haley, and how much is to the credit of Williams and new offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens, can all be debated.

But there's little doubt that Mayfield is a better player right now than he was just a month ago.

Now he'll try to carry that over to the team's Week 13 game against the Texans in Houston. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Tight end David Njoku believes he can fly.

As Akron Beacon Journal staffer Nate Ulrich noted, Njoku was wrong about that, but his teammates bailed him out.

"I've seen a bunch of wacky stuff," Njoku said, "but I was never thrown into the end zone by my teammates."

Well, there's a first time for everything.

On second-and-goal at the Bengals 6-yard line, Njoku caught a screen pass from Mayfield and leaped when he reached the 5. Bengals safety Jessie Bates initially stopped Njoku, but center JC Tretter, right guard Kevin Zeitler and running back Duke Johnson pushed Njoku into the end zone to finish a 12-play, 96-yard drive with a 6-yard touchdown, allowing the Browns to build a 21-0 lead with 9:18 left in the second quarter.

"Njoku, for some reason, thinks he can fly, and every game somebody has to remind him that he cannot fly," Johnson said.

Browns defensive end Chris Smith added, "Yeah, [Njoku] thinks he can fly. He thinks he's fly, too.

"He tried to fly a little bit. He tried to take off, spread his wings or whatever. We're going to talk about that. I can't wait to watch that on film.

"I said, 'What got into him?' I was like, 'Good gracious, man.' At first, I thought, 'All right. Just protect the ball.' "

Njoku, a national champion in the high jump as a high school senior, admitted leaving his feet during the play wasn't the best idea.

"I don't know why my mind thinks the way it thinks sometimes," said Njoku, who had five catches on five targets for 63 yards and a TD. "It happened, and I owe it all to my teammates for that touchdown.

"It was all their instinct to push me in because I was not going to go in without them. ..."

Rookie running back Nick Chubb scored his second touchdown of the game when he reached over safety Brandon Wilson and made a circus catch in the front left corner of the end zone. The 14-yard touchdown reception from Mayfield wrapped up an 11-play, 59-yard drive and put the Browns ahead 28-0 with 2:25 left in the second quarter.

Williams said Chubb has showed off his hands in practice.

"I haven't done that in practice -- not in that way," Chubb said. "Yeah, it was a great catch. I just locked onto the ball, I saw it and just got my hands on it."

Mayfield revealed Chubb redeemed himself with the catch.

"He was snoring very, very loudly last night," Mayfield said. "We're roommates on the road and at home, so he made up for it. He made up for the snoring with that catch. That was an unbelievable catch."

"I didn't give him a very good chance to catch that. I put it in a bad spot. I've got to lead him. He beat the guy. They brought a blitz, and the guy had to peel and cover with him. So he did a good job of winning and then obviously a great job finishing."

Chubb also rushed for a 1-yard score as the Browns earned a touchdown on their opening possession for the first time this season and took a 7-0 lead with 9:11 left in the first quarter.

A second-round draft pick, Chubb finished with 84 yards and a TD on 28 carries (3.0 average) and three catches on three targets for 44 yards and a TD. He became the first player in franchise history to record a rushing and receiving touchdown in consecutive games. ...

Rookie wide receiver Antonio Callaway had four receptions on five targets for 62 yards and one touchdown. His 13-yard TD catch gave the Browns a 14-0 lead with 1:37 left in the first quarter.

And finally. ... Former Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians doubled down on his interest in coaching the Browns and told NFL.com he would keep Kitchens as his offensive coordinator if he were chosen for the job.

Arians first entertained the possibility of coming out of retirement to coach the Browns three weeks ago when he told the Canton Repository, "Cleveland is the only job I would consider."

In an interview with NFL.com for a story published Sunday on the league's website, Arians said, "I would listen to the Browns and only them." He also said his wife would support his return to coaching.

Kitchens coached quarterbacks and running backs under Arians in Arizona. After Arians announced his retirement Jan. 1, Kitchens joined the Browns as a running backs coach/associate head coach. He was promoted to offensive coordinator after the organization fired Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley on Oct. 29.

Arians also told NFL.com he would consider keeping Williams as defensive coordinator.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Baker Mayfield, Tyrod Taylor, Drew Stanton
RBs: Nick Chubb, Duke Johnson
WRs: Jarvis Landry, Antonio Callaway, Rashard Higgins, Damion Ratley, Breshad Perriman, Derrick Willies
TEs: David Njoku, Darren Fells, Randall Telfer, Seth DeValve

Dallas Cowboys

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 27 November 2018

Immediately after the team's Week 11 win over the Falcons, which entailed 30 touches to go with the 25 he had the prior Sunday, running back Ezekiel Elliott told Profootballtalk.com that he was ready for more on a short week.

Ready or not, he got it.

Against the Redskins, Elliott added another 31 touches, the third highest total of his career. That's 86 touches in 12 days, with 531 total yards gained. It translates to an average of 6.17 yards, every time he handled the football over the team's three-game winning streak.

Given the manner in which he has urged his teammates to treat every game as a "must" win (and based on his on-field contributions), Elliott is one of the biggest reasons why the Cowboys have won three straight games. He'll also be one of the biggest reasons why the run continues, if it does.

Elliott leads the league in rushing (1,074), carries (217) and total touches (264) and ranks second to Todd Gurley in yards from scrimmage (1,437).

Elliott's performance, and the team's wins, could push him to toward the fringes of the MVP debate.

This Thursday, he'll have a chance to make his case when his team takes on a current MVP frontrunner, Saints quarterback Drew Brees.

Worth noting. ... Elliott returned to practice and worked fully Monday after being not doing much Sunday. The Cowboys star running back came out of Thursday's game with hip soreness.

"His hips were bothering him," head coach Jason Garrett said Monday morning. "That's why we kept him out of practice yesterday. He looks better this morning."

Elliott said Sunday he was ready for whatever the Cowboys give him Thursday against the Saints after a rest day.

"Just making sure that we're taking care of my body, so I'm fresh going into this game Thursday night," Elliott said Sunday, via Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News.

The Cowboys did not have to submit an injury report Sunday, so it is not known whether they would have listed him as limited or as a non-participant.

I'll be following up as needed via Late-Breaking Update in advance of Thursday night's game. ...

Meanwhile, basking in the glory of a Thanksgiving victory over a division rival, Jerry Jones was already thinking about handing out his money.

"Amari Cooper looks like he's making a bid for his cash," the Cowboys owner said after the 31-23 win over Washington.

The Cowboys traded a first-round pick for Cooper before the trade deadline. With one more year at around $13 million on his contract, the Cowboys immediately let it be known they were looking to extend the former No. 4 overall pick beyond his current deal.

The price tag seems to be going up by the week.

Cooper's arrival has given Dak Prescott a go-to target and allowed the Cowboys to play more three-receiver sets, which has aided Elliott and the running game.

On Thursday, the former Pro Bowl receiver was the player of the game, taking two passes for long touchdowns, including a 90-yarder that blew the game open. Beyond the TDs, Cooper was a third-down chain mover, giving Prescott a reliable target who can generate separations in key spots.

On Wednesday, he was named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week.

In four games with the Cowboys, Cooper has earned 22 catches for 349 yards and three touchdowns.

The 24-year-old receiver said after the game he's out to prove Jones and the Cowboys right for having faith he could live up to the high price tag shelled out to acquire his services.

"I don't want to prove the Raiders wrong, I just want to prove the Cowboys right -- that they traded for me and I'm going to be a good player for them," he said, via the team's official website.

Despite the high cost, the Cooper trade looks like a win for the streaking Cowboys, who sit as the favorite to take the NFC East with five games to play.

If Cooper's play continues to thrive in Dallas, he'll be in for a whopping new contract. One that Jones is already preparing to pay.

For what it's worth, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported early Sunday that the two sides haven't had any talks regarding a contract extension for the wide receiver.

The sides are expected to commence contract talks after this season, a source told Schefter, and Dallas wants to pay Cooper. But there haven't been any inroads yet.

While Cooper, who had eight catches for 180 yards and touchdowns of 40 and 90 yards, was clearly the on-field star against the Redskins, he did not get the game ball.

The game ball went to rookie wide receiver Michael Gallup, who had two catches for 19 yards just five days after learning of the death of his brother, Andrew.

Gallup was informed of his brother's death by his sister moments after the win against the Falcons. He grew up in Monroe, Georgia, about 45 minutes from Atlanta, so the game was something of a homecoming. Gallup remained with his family until Tuesday before returning to Texas on Jerry Jones' private plane.

"He really wanted and took comfort being with his teammates, and his teammates wanted that," Jones said. "He's just such a young person, and this way he gets to be really with his team family here and his family [on Friday]."

And finally. ... In addition to Elliott -- who avoided an injury designation on Wednesday, the Cowboys listed three starting offensive linemen and four defensive linemen on their injury report.

Left tackle Tyron Smith, who missed last week’s game with stingers, did not practice all week, but is still viewed as a game-time decision.

Right guard Zack Martin (knee) and left guard Xavier Su'a-Filo (ankle) were limited in practice all week and like Smith, are questionable.

The Cowboys ruled out receiver Tavon Austin (groin), defensive lineman David Irving (ankle), linebacker Sean Lee (hamstring) and tight end Geoff Swaim (wrist).

Defensive tackle Maliek Collins (knee) is questionable.

Defensive end Taco Charlton (shoulder) and receiver Allen Hurns (thumb) are expected to play.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush, Mike White
RBs: Ezekiel Elliott, Rod Smith
WRs: Amari Cooper, Cole Beasley, Michael Gallup, Allen Hurns, Tavon Austin
TEs: Geoff Swaim, Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz, Rico Gathers

Denver Broncos

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 27 November 2018

As ESPN.com's Jeff Legwold noted, the Broncos have slogged through a gauntlet of playoff hopefuls, an arduous trek that has included the best the NFL has to offer this season, and they have now suddenly emerged from the other side with something still to play for.

The Broncos kept their tiny place among the AFC playoff hopefuls, with a 24-17 victory over the Steelers, and improve to 5-6 on the season. But it's not so much the record at this point, but what might be if the Broncos can keep their wits about them.

Denver just finished a run of opponents nobody in the league has seen in over four decades. The Steelers were the third consecutive Broncos opponent who had won at least five games in a row before facing Denver -- the Texans had won five in a row when they arrived in Denver, the Chargers had won six in a row and the Steelers arrived with a six-game win streak in tow.

Not since the 1976 expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers has anyone else had to go through that kind of schedule. And that doesn't even include the Broncos' two meetings against the 9-2 Kansas City Chiefs, who were 3-0 and 6-1 when the Broncos faced them, to go with the 10-1 Los Angeles Rams, who were 5-0 when the Broncos faced them earlier this season, or even the season opener against Seattle Seahawks, who also find themselves back in the playoff picture.

And here they are at 5-6, not always much to look at, but they are a tested bunch that is suddenly staring at relevance.

No, they're not even .500 yet, but none of the Broncos' next four opponents has a winning record at the moment and none of the next four opponents have faced what the Broncos have to get to this point.

Head coach Vance Joseph has made the customary appearances on the "hot seat" lists after the Broncos surrendered 323 yards rushing in a horrific loss to the New York Jets in October or when they dropped to 3-6 when Brandon McManus' potential game-winner against the Texans drifted wide right just two games ago, before the Broncos beat seven-win teams in consecutive weeks.

But through it all the Broncos have simply played hard and done some of the heavy lifting a team needs to do to dig itself out of a tough spot or two. And now the Broncos have five games left to do something with all of that.

They aren't always statistically handsome, but in their sometimes odd, weird season, when they've been their own worst enemy at times, they have put themselves in the one place many never expected them to be.

Back in the playoff conversation.

Meanwhile, the Steelers came into Sunday's game against the Broncos allowing opposing offenses to gain less than 100 rushing yards per game, but Broncos running back Phillip Lindsay surpassed that all by himself.

Lindsay needed 14 carries to get to 110 rushing yards on the day and his touchdown helped the Broncos to a 24-17 win on their home field. Lindsay now has 780 rushing yards on the season, which is a record for undrafted Broncos rookies and on pace for another milestone.

Lindsay is on pace to run for 1,134 yards this season and that would leave him 30 yards ahead of former Colt Dominic Rhodes for the most rushing yards ever by an undrafted rookie. Numbers like that defy a lot of the conventional wisdom about Lindsay coming out of Colorado and Lindsay believes the Broncos can confound some more of it over the final five weeks.

"I mean, you have confidence every time you win," Lindsay told the Denver Post. "You build a bond, you build what you need to get to the next step. We [need] to peak here, so that when we get to the playoffs, we can peak again... We're a playoff team. If you sit here and doubt yourself, there's no reason for you to play."

Adding to the fun, there were no game management issues for Joseph in terms of timeouts and challenges. And Post staffer Ryan O'Halloran gave a hat-tip to Joseph for embracing the idea of sprinkling in a no-huddle offense in the first half. Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave is leaning more and more on Lindsay (14 of the 23 Broncos' carries) and is dialing up shots down the sidelines to Emmanuel Sanders.

Playing his former team, Sanders caught seven passes for 86 yards, including a 38-yard gain and a five-yard touchdown.

Going forward, the Broncos face the Bengals and 49ers on the road the next two weeks before returning home for the Browns. The slate closes with a trip to Oakland before a home game against the Chargers that could be a big one for the team -- and for Lindsay as an individual. ...

One player who won't be involved in all that is tight end Jeff Heuerman.

Heuerman left Sunday's win over the Steelers with an injury and Mike Klis of 9News.com reports (via Profootballtalk.com) that he will miss the rest of the season.

Per Klis, Heuerman suffered broken ribs and a bruised lung.

As Legwold noted, Heuerman had seen his workload in the passing game increase after the trade of wide receiver Demaryius Thomas. He has had 11, five and three targets in the past three games and had a career-best 83 yards and 10 catches in the Broncos' Week 9 loss to the Texans. That game against the Texans was the Broncos' first since the trade of Thomas to Houston.

Overall, Heuerman played nearly 77 percent of the team's offensive snaps this season and has caught 31 passes for 281 yards and two touchdowns. He's the third tight end to hit injured reserve this season, joining Jake Butt and Troy Fumagalli on the list.

Matt LaCosse, who caught a touchdown Sunday, and Brian Parker were the other tight ends on the active roster until Tuesday, when the Broncos promoted Temarrick Hemingway from the practice squad.

LaCosse was targeted four times on 12 pass routes on Sunday. According to ESPN's Mike Clay, Case Keenum has distributed 22 percent of the team's targets to tight ends this season and Parker is primarily a blocker putting LaCosse in the TE2 range. ...


Klis also reports that linebacker Shaq Barrett will miss multiple weeks with a hip flexor injury. That could make him an injured reserve candidate with time running short in the regular season.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Case Keenum, Paxton Lynch, Kevin Hogan
RBs: Phillip Lindsay, Royce Freeman, Devontae Booker
WRs: Courtland Sutton, Daesean Hamilton, Andre Holmes, Jordan Taylor, Jordan Leslie, Carlos Henderson
TEs: Matt LaCosse

Detroit Lions

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 27 November 2018

Matthew Stafford threw two interceptions in a five-minute span in the fourth quarter last Thursday, with his second coming in the Bears end zone with 1:07 to play, as the Lions lost for the fourth time in five games, 23-16, at Ford Field.

At 4-7, the Lions have as many losses through 12 weeks as they did each of the last two seasons. With five games to play, they are all but eliminated from the playoffs.

The Lions now trail the first-place Bears (8-3) by four games in the NFC North and host the 10-1 Los Angeles Rams next Sunday with a bounty of new questions about their team and their quarterback.

Stafford, in the first year of a five-year, $135 million contract, has 13 turnovers on the season and is averaging his fewest yards per attempt (7.0) since 2012.

He completed 28 of 38 passes for 236 yards in an ultra-conservative game plan Thursday, and got outdueled by a journeyman backup, Chase Daniel, making his third career start.

"I think we need more out of everybody, to be honest with you," head coach Matt Patricia said when asked if he needed more out of his quarterback. "There were a lot of plays in there where all of us have to do more, whether it's preparation or coaching or playing, whatever it is. There are a lot of plays that we can all point to."

Still, as ESPN.com's Michael Rothstein noted, there are two quarterbacks who have thrown a pick-six this season in the fourth quarter of a tie game. Stafford is one of them. The other is the recently-released Nathan Peterman, who the Lions coincidentally had in for a workout earlier this month.

This goes beyond Stafford, who as usual has good and bad moments throughout the course of a game. He completed 28-of-38 passes for 236 yards -- but with no touchdowns and two fourth-quarter interceptions. Case in point: The drive after the pick-six, Stafford moved the Lions down the field to the red zone with a chance to tie before he threw an interception in the end zone to Kyle Fuller that essentially ended the game.

On that play, Stafford thought Roberts was going to be a different spot on the field -- not a defined spot as the play is based on "feel," but he just thought he'd be heading more toward the back pylon instead of shallower in the end zone. Roberts said it was "a different angle than we had practiced."

The bigger issue here goes to the offense as a whole and the coaching.

The offense struggled all day.

By halftime Stafford had thrown 20 passes, completing 16 of them. Those look like good numbers until you consider that the Lions were dinking and dunking their way so much that it resulted in just 98 total yards. Sure, some of that was by design to neutralize a Chicago pass rush that pummeled Stafford six times less than two weeks ago. And some of it was due to two of the Lions' better offensive options -- Kerryon Johnson and Marvin Jones -- being sidelined with knee injuries.

But still, Stafford is in his 10th year in the NFL. He's known for a strong arm that can make any throw -- good or bad. But the Lions kept him under wraps during the first half and throughout most of the day. Stafford said part of the strategy was due to what the Lions had seen from Chicago's aggressive defense before.

"Teams that hold the ball against those guys don't get the ball off quite a bit," Stafford said. "So just try to make sure we mix it up. For the most part, if I don't have those two turnovers, if I don't make those two poor plays, we're right where we want to be."

LeGarrette Blount, who had 103 scrimmage yards and two touchdowns, became the lead back but was ineffective for the most part until the middle of the third quarter. The Lions wasted a pretty decent day from their defense, holding Chicago to 38 yards rushing and registering four sacks (although Daniel completed 27-of-37 passes for 230 yards and two touchdowns). And a lot of that is due to the offensive issues.

All of it led to one thing. Another loss.

More frustration, as multiple players said they just want to win. There's also this: the reality that the Lions couldn't beat a backup quarterback making his first start since 2014, even with a defense that held Chicago to 17 points.

And that's on the offense.

"I thought we left a lot of points on the board, you know," tight end Luke Willson said. "I think we're all going to be pretty sad when we watch this one."

Meanwhile, after missing two consecutive games with a knee injury, Jones' season is officially over.

Patricia announced Monday that Jones will be placed on injured reserve.

Initially, prior to a second opinion, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that Jones had a bone bruise but the ACL and MCL were intact.

Patricia declined to give more information about Jones' injury.

The loss of Jones, who totaled 35 catches for 508 yards and five touchdowns on the season, provides a significant blow to an already thin wide receiver corps.

Second-year pro Kenny Golladay leads the team with 52 catches for 804 yards and five touchdowns, which tied with Jones, and remains a reliable target for Stafford.

The Lions, however, will now have to rely on T.J. Jones, who started the past two games, Bruce Ellington, Brandon Powell and Andy Jones as a reliable option opposite Golladay. No small task when considering the quartet has combined for 22 catches and 168 yards and no touchdowns through 11 games.

Without Jones in the lineup, one of the four wide receivers must step up and fill the void.

The Lions could also get running backs Johnson and Theo Riddick more involved in the passing game than they already are.

But Johnson did not practice Wednesday isn't expected back from his knee sprain yet. I'll be following up via Late-Breaking Update in coming days, but expect Blount, Riddick and Zach Zenner to man the backfield for another week. Ellington (back) was limited at Wednesday's practice. ...

Another player worth watching?

ESPN's Mike Clay notes that tight end Michael Roberts ranks sixth at tight end with six end zone targets this season and second in the category behind only Kyle Rudolph (six) with five since Week 7.

Roberts hit a career high with six total targets in Week 12, though Clay was quick to note he was only on the field for 34 percent of the offensive snaps.

"Roberts is essentially a poor man's Eric Ebron," Clay wrote, "with his usage near the goal line keeping him in the TE2 mix."

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Matthew Stafford, Matt Cassel
RBs: LeGarrette Blount, Theo Riddick, Zach Zenner, Kerryon Johnson
WRs: Kenny Golladay, Bruce Ellington, TJ Jones, Brandon Powell
TEs: Michael Roberts, Luke Willson, Levine Toilolo

Green Bay Packers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 27 November 2018

As Packers.com's Mike Spofford put it, "The Packers' 2018 season is truly on the brink now, if it wasn't already. ..."

A 24-17 loss to Minnesota at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday night has dropped the Packers to 4-6-1 with five games to play.

It was the Packers' fourth loss in five games since the bye week -- all on the road, where they are 0-6 on the season -- so to talk about winning out just to have a shot at the playoffs doesn't sound realistic, especially with how crowded the NFC wild-card race appears it's going to be.

But it is the reality the Packers face in order to make something of their season, and even with a magic turnaround and late-season run, there's no guarantee it'll be good enough.

"We clearly understand where we are in the season, we clearly understand the importance of this game," head coach Mike McCarthy said. "We're focused on the next five. It's exactly the facts -- we know we have to win all five."

This game would have given the Packers at least a tiny margin for error, but it turned on Green Bay in the second half.

Tied at 14 after the two NFC North rivals traded a pair of touchdown drives in the first half, the Packers failed on both third-and-1 and fourth-and-1 from their own 44-yard line when running back Aaron Jones (17 carries, 72 yards, TD) was stuffed on consecutive runs.

"Once we burned the timeout, I stuck with the call," McCarthy said of the decision to go for it on fourth-and-1. "You have two calls there, and hindsight is always 20/20. The second call would have been the better call there, but that's football.

"We were trying to get something going there in the second half. I thought it was a clean play and we just didn't execute."

As the Packers were shuffling some injured offensive linemen in and out of the game, Minnesota maintained the momentum with its pass rush.

Veteran defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson had two of the Vikings' three second-half sacks of Aaron Rodgers (they had four total in the game), and the Packers never crossed the Minnesota 45-yard line in the second half until less than three minutes remained in the game.

"I don't want to sit up here and make excuses. Their front played well," McCarthy said. "I thought it was the difference in the game.

Meanwhile, Rodgers pledged one thing.

It wasn't that the Green Bay Packers would "run the table" -- his mantra in 2016 when they were 4-6 and won out all the way to the NFC Championship Game.

"I know I've got to play better," he said. "But I will. And we'll put ourselves in position."

And that's how Rodgers ended his postgame news conference.

As ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky reported, before that, however, he acknowledged that even his best might not be enough to save this season. Yes, they have five winnable games considering their remaining schedule is tied with the Rams for the easiest in the NFL. But after losing the tiebreaker to the Vikings, they could still miss the playoffs at 9-6-1.

"You can crunch the numbers there," Rodgers said. "I can tell you 8-7-1 won't get in, though. I don't think.

"We are where we're at right now record-wise. We're going to need some help from some teams and then we've got to take care of our own business, you know? We're going to have to find a way to win a game on the road. We're 0-6 on the road. So we just got to go back home, get some rest, beat Arizona ... and then come back and beat Atlanta ... then go to Chicago, a place we've won a number of times, beat them ... go to New York around Christmas, beat them ...and then come home against Detroit, beat them. Get a little help."

Rodgers' play wasn't terrible. He just hasn't been as precise as in past seasons. After the game, he lamented overthrowing Davante Adams for what would have been a 20-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter and bouncing a pass at the feet of rookie Equanimeous St. Brown, a throw he blamed on his grip. A week earlier at Seattle, he bounced a key third-down pass at the feet of Marquez Valdes-Scantling on the final possession.

If the Packers miss the playoffs, it will be the first time they've done so in consecutive years since Rodgers became the starter in 2008. Last year, he missed half the season with a broken collarbone. This year, he has started every game despite a Week 1 knee injury that he says is no longer a factor.

"That's definitely frustrating," said Rodgers, whose lone Super Bowl came in the 2010 season. "Obviously, I've got a lot more gray in the beard than I did a few years ago. So I know that football mortality catches up to everybody, and you never want to lose a season -- especially when you felt great starting the season about our prospects. But we're going to battle the next five weeks and put ourselves in a position to be in the conversation. Then hopefully it'll be enough, and like I always say, you've just got to get in. So we've got to win these five and see what happens."

Rodgers referenced the 2016 season, when the playoffs seemed like a long shot for the 4-6 team.

The Packers are still looking for the "galvanizing moment" that Rodgers referenced 10 days earlier after the loss at Seattle.

"We'll see what we're made of the last five weeks," Rodgers said. "Are we going to stick together in these tough times, or are we going to start splintering? I'd like to think the leadership is in place that we can stick together through whatever happens, but these five weeks will show it."

On a more positive note. ... Adams put the finishing touches on his first 1,000-yard receiving season with his 36-yard catch down the Packers' sideline late in the fourth quarter against the Vikings.

Adams came within three yards of eclipsing that mark during his breakout season in 2016 and then again appeared to be on track to top it last year before sustaining a concussion that sidelined him for the final two games of the season.

Off to one of the best starts for a receiver in team history, Adams managed to accomplish the feat with five games still left in the regular season and currently is one of only eight NFL receivers to have surpassed 1,000 yards in 2018.

Before reaching that milestone, Adams caught a 15-yard touchdown pass from Rodgers in the first quarter to become the first Packers receiver since Sterling Sharpe (1992-94) to record three consecutive seasons with at least 70 receptions and 10 touchdowns.

Adams, who led Green Bay with five catches for 69 yards, also is the only NFL receiver to have at least 10 touchdowns in each of the past three seasons.

"Congrats on your first 1,000-yard season big bro," rookie receiver Marquez-Valdes Scantling tweeted after Sunday night's game. "More to come. Keep setting the bar family. Major respect."

With Jimmy Graham battling through a thumb injury and receiver Randall Cobb out with a hamstring, the Packers looked to Adams and St. Brown to help move the ball through the air.

St. Brown caught three passes for 53 yards against Vikings cornerback Trae Waynes in the first half before sustaining an elbow injury. He exited briefly, but eventually returned to the game.

"No one likes injuries. They happen to every team. Just have to work through it," St. Brown said. "(My game was) nothing special. Just doing my job, really. Doing what they pay me to do."

Graham didn't practice Wednesday while Cobb was limited. I'll be watching for more on them and St. Brown in coming days; watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for more. ...

In addition, David Bakhtiari is dealing with injuries to both knees plus an ankle and was undergoing tests Monday. McCarthy told reporters that Bakhtiari will not practice on Wednesday, and also announced the entire team will have a lighter practice day with so many players dealing with injuries.

Wide receiver Trevor Davis has already been ruled out for Sunday's home game against the Arizona Cardinals.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Aaron Rodgers, DeShone Kizer
RBs: Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams
WRs: Davante Adams, Randall Cobb, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Equanimeous St. Brown, J'mon Moore, Jake Kumerow, Trevor Davis
TEs: Jimmy Graham, Marcedes Lewis, Lance Kendricks

Houston Texans

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 27 November 2018

As NFL.com framed it: "Of Houston's record eight straight wins after starting 0-3, this was probably the Texans' most impressive ..."

Indeed, a 17-point victory over a division rival after falling behind 10 points within the first five minutes. Before Monday evening, Houston's streak appeared to be smoke, mirrors and circumstance. The Texans were bailed out by questionable coaching decisions against Indy and Dallas; Nathan Peterman handed them a win against Buffalo; they played Cody Kessler in Jacksonville and Brock Osweiler on a short week; and their wins in Denver and D.C. came by a combined four points against questionable contenders.

In retrospect, those arguments were made to avoid or discourage what is now an obvious conclusion.

With just one game remaining against a .500-or-better opponent, the eight-and-three Texans are legitimate contenders in the AFC and favorites to win the South. ...

Meanwhile, as ESPN.com's Sarah Barshop reminded readers, the last time Lamar Miller had a chance for a long touchdown run -- Week 8 against the Dolphins -- he made it 58 yards before being tackled just shy of the end zone. Though he claimed his tackler "had an angle" on him, his teammates were on him, saying he just got caught.

That wasn't the case Monday night, as the veteran running back ran down the right sideline for a 97-yard touchdown in the second quarter of the Texans' 34-17 victory.

The Texans already have a big-play threat through the air in receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who had five catches for 74 yards. Miller showed they have one on the ground, too. The running back ran for 162 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries and the Texans set a single-game franchise record with 281 rushing yards, according to ESPN Stats and Information research.

Miller's 97-yard touchdown jaunt was the longest run in franchise history. It was also the longest run in the NFL since Miller had a 97-yard run with the Dolphins in 2014. He is the only player in NFL history with two rushing touchdowns of 95-plus yards in his career, per NFL Research data.

"I didn't know that until they told me outside," Miller told reporters after the game. "I give all the credit to the offensive line. They did a great job at giving me, [Alfred] Blue and Deshaun [Watson] opportunities to run the ball. I just took advantage of the opportunity."

As Miller broke free and continued toward the end zone for the second 97-yard play in the NFL in two days (Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster had a 97-yard catch and run in Denver on Sunday), Miller wasn't thinking about his play for Miami but the last time he faced Miami.

"Not really, my whole mindset is just don't get caught" Miller said. "You know last time when we played the Dolphins I got caught, so all the guys were giving me a hard time, so that was just the only thing on my mind -- don't get caught. ..."

Miller was quiet after that game-changing tote, finishing with 162 yards on 12 carries for 13.5 yards per carry.

After a slow start to the season, Miller has averaged over four yards per carry and tallied over 100 scrimmage yards in four of his last five games.

Miller spearheaded a Texans rushing attack that racked up 281 yards on Tennessee's top-10 rushing defense and helped extend Houston's six scoring drives.

Missing from Houston's game plan for the past year-and-a-half has been a consistent ground game. With five games left in the season, the Texans are paving holes for their running game and a path toward an AFC South title. Remember, this is only the third time this season that Houston (8-3) has scored more than 23 points in a game.

If the Texans are going to win down the stretch and make a deep playoff run, this is the type of game they've got to play: a consistent running attack, a quarterback who does not turn the ball over and a stout front seven, led by defensive end J.J. Watt. The Texans' defense had a season-high six sacks, and the unit has recorded at least five sacks in back-to-back games of the same season for the first time in franchise history.

On Monday against the Titans, Watson completed 19 of 24 passes for 210 yards and two touchdowns, and perhaps most important, he did not turn the ball over. He also ran for 70 yards and a score on nine carries.

In addition, Watson's chemistry with Demaryius Thomas is growing.

The former Bronco caught four balls on five targets for two scores on Monday after seeing just three targets in his first two games combined with Houston.

Thomas had three catches for 61 yards in his first Houston outing before going without a catch in the second game and he said he was pleased with how things turned out on Monday.

"It feels great," Thomas told the Houston Chronicle. "Coming into the week, they were telling me they were going to get me the ball more. We took advantage of it and I got on the board twice."

Thomas will likely continue to grow more comfortable in the offense as he spends more time in it and waiting for everything to settle in is a far easier process while riding an eight-game winning streak than it would be in other circumstances.

According to Elias research, the Texans are the first team in NFL history to win eight in a row after losing their first three games of the season. With the victory, the Texans made it harder to get caught by another team in the AFC South.

The win gives them a three-game lead over the Titans and, as a practical matter, reduces the division race to two teams: 8-3 Houston and 6-5 Indianapolis. And, as Barshop summed up, "If they can replicate this performance -- one of the best they've had during this winning streak -- they could make a deep playoff run. ..."

Other notes of interest. ... Rookie wide receiver Keke Coutee continues to be plagued by recurring hamstring issues.

The fourth-round draft pick from Texas Tech hurt his leg again against the Titans, marking the third hamstring injury he's suffered this year.

According to Chronicle staffer Aaron Wilson, head coach Bill O'Brien does think that Coutee should be able to play Sunday against the Cleveland Browns, though.

"It's tough," O'Brien said. "He's a great kid. He's never had that problem at Texas Tech. It's day to day. I think he'll be trending toward being able to play at Cleveland."

"I'm feeling good," Coutee said. "We'll have to see where we go from here."

When asked if this latest hamstring injury was as serious as previous ones that have sidelined him, Coutee replied: "It's hard to tell."

When healthy, Coutee has been productive and provided a spark from the slot position.

The fourth-round draft pick from Texas Tech caught two passes for 14 yards Monday. ...

And finally. ... Running back D'Onta Foreman isn't ready to be activated yet as he remains on the reserve physically unable to perform list.

"Better, not all the way back yet," O'Brien said Tuesday. "I think he feels good. We've got a little more time on that decision."

The Texans have until Dec. 6 to make a decision on Foreman.

It's been a full year since he tore his Achilles tendon against the Arizona Cardinals.

As outlined above, the Texans' running game is going strong with Miller and Alfred Blue.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Deshaun Watson, Brandon Weeden
RBs: Lamar Miller, Alfred Blue, D'Onta Foreman
WRs: DeAndre Hopkins, Demaryius Thomas, Keke Coutee, Sammie Coates, DeAndre Carter
TEs: Ryan Griffin, Jordan Akins, Jordan Thomas

Indianapolis Colts

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 27 November 2018

As ESPN.com's Mike Wells framed it, "On one play and on one throw on the final drive Sunday, Andrew Luck was vintage Andrew Luck, showing his ability to make something out of nothing to keep the Indianapolis Colts' playoff hopes alive.

"There aren't many quarterbacks in the NFL who can make the play Luck made against Miami.

"Drop back in the pocket to pass. Step up and duck to elude two rushers. Stumble twice with the ball tucked on his left side. Gather himself. Put the ball back in his right hand, keeping his eyes down the field and spotting a wide-open Chester Rogers for a 34-yard completion to put the Colts in range for the winning field goal. ..."

Wells went on to note that Luck did it with the game and, more importantly, the season at stake for the Colts. This wasn't 2015 or 2016 Luck leading the Colts to the come-from-behind 27-24 victory against the Miami Dolphins. This was the 2012-14 Luck, using his strength, intelligence and will to win out there -- even if it took some improvising by going back to the playground to get the job done.

Indianapolis will need that kind of resilience to stay in the playoff race. If Sunday was any indication, Luck and the Colts are up for that challenge after surviving an ugly game to pull out the victory, something they failed to do earlier in the season.

"We went through some things [earlier in the season]," head coach Frank Reich said. "We didn't make some of those plays as a team. I just feel like we've come so far to all make the plays. Now, Andrew is directing the ship, and he's the one pulling the trigger, but it was everybody in that. That's what you expect from Andrew and from our offense."

The Colts are in a territory they haven't seen in more than four years. Their five-game winning streak ties their best stretch since winning five in row early in the 2014 season. They have a winning record (6-5) for the first time since November 2015. And they're right in the thick of things in the AFC playoff race. Baltimore has an identical 6-5 record as the Colts, but the Ravens are currently the sixth seed because they have a better conference record than Indianapolis.

"For us, we control our own destiny," receiver T.Y. Hilton said. "We put together a string of runs. We're playing pretty good."

Sunday was also the type of game the Colts didn't know how to win early in the season. A game that saw them commit three turnovers, miss a field goal and have a punt blocked. But these are no longer the Colts from September or early October.

"You've got to learn how to find a way when it's not easy and when it doesn't seem to be your night," Luck said. "We certainly have things to clean up. I certainly have things to clean up. That won't get lost in the fact that we won. We're happy. We're excited. We'll never apologize for a win, but we've got to improve. That's the beauty of this game. We'll keep the same mindset, and we'll get back to work. ..."

Meanwhile, tight end Eric Ebron needed all of 11 games to join elite company in the franchise's long lineage of talented pass catchers.

His fourth-quarter, 12-yard touchdown catch from Luck gave the first-year Colt 11 touchdown catches for the season, tying Dallas Clark's single-season touchdown reception mark by a tight end.

As Indianapolis star beat writer Akeem Glaspie noted, Ebron has carved out quite the role as a red zone target. Of his 16 targets inside the 20-yard line, eight have gone for scores. Inside the 10 he's even more dangerous, reeling in three touchdowns on four targets. He's also scored a on the ground, converting a two-yard rush last week against Jacksonville.

Jack Doyle caught the Colts' other touchdown pass -- a 1-yarder with 1:44 to play in the first half for a short-lived 14-7 lead -- giving the team 18 touchdowns from its tight ends. The NFL record is 24 by the 2011 New England Patriots.

It's clear that Reich and the Colts coaching staff have unlocked Ebron.

In 56 games with the Lions, Ebron had just 11 total touchdowns, drawing the anger of fans as he selected in front of multiple-Pro Bowl players such as Odell Beckham, Aaron Donald, Zach Martin and C.J. Mosley. Now as Ebron approaches the franchise record for touchdowns catches by a tight end, he's deflecting credit toward his coaches.

"Great schemes, great coaches," he said. "When we practice these red zone plays they work brilliantly. I've just got to give it all to them."

But there's a problem.

The Colts will finish their stretch run without the help of Doyle.

Reich announced that the veteran tight end is being shipped to season-ending injured reserve after suffering a kidney injury during Sunday's win over the Dolphins. Doyle's injury required hospitalization, but the team expects the sixth-year pass-catcher was released from the hospital on Wednesday. The 28-year-old was hurt after taking a big hit in the fourth quarter.

The loss of Doyle leaves Ebron as the team's unquestioned top tight end.

Doyle posted 26 grabs for 245 yards and two scores, but also served as a reliable blocker. His loss puts pressure on a banged-up position group, shifting Mo Alie-Cox -- who missed Sunday's game with a calf injury -- into a more prominent role ahead of Erik Swoope, who also sat out because of a knee injury.

Reich said he hopes Alie-Cox (calf), Ryan Hewitt (ankle) and/or Swoope (knee) can return soon.

"We're hopeful and optimistic that some of those guys -- one, or two or all three of those guys -- will be ready," Reich said, via the team website. "We'll have to take it day-to-day on them, but they had been making good progress. Obviously Mo's had been the most recent. So we're going to be optimistic and take it day-by-day and evaluate. If we have to make any move, it's just too early to determine that."

Also on the injury front. ... Marlon Mack suffered a concussion against the Dolphins and his status for Sunday's game is up in the air. He remained in the concussion protocol as of Wednesday.

If he can't play in Jacksonville this weekend, look for rookies Jordan Wilkins and Nyheim Hines to split backfield touches with Jonathan Williams perhaps mixing in for a touch or three.

As ESPN's Mike Clay notes, Wilkins was working as the passing-down complement to Mack early on in Week 12, but ended up with three targets and no carries in the game. Hines registered nine carries and added a pair of late targets. Clay believes Hines would be a fringe RB2 option and Wilkins, who is averaging 5.6 yards per carry and has caught all 13 of his targets, would be a flex play.

In addition, Ebron (back) and Hilton (groin) did not practice on Wednesday; more on all the Colts' walking wounded via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses. ...

And finally. ... Miami safety Reshad Jones crashing into a leaping Luck with a full head of steam and driving Luck's shoulder into the turf?

That wasn't how Reich designed the play. Not by any stretch of the imagination.

When Jacoby Brissett entered the game on fourth-and-1 at the Miami 39-yard line at the end of the first half, the plan was for Brissett to keep the ball on a zone read, tearing around the outside to keep the drive alive while Luck stood harmlessly at wide receiver.

Then Miami cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick, who was lined up across from Luck, blitzed. Fitzpatrick's blitz took Brissett's running lane away, but the two Colts quarterbacks had already talked about the possibility of a blitz.

Brissett snapped a high throw out to Luck, forcing him to get back into receiver mode just one week after he said he'd retired as a receiver following his diving attempt to catch Ebron's pass on a variation of the Philly Special last week against the Titans.

When Luck made the first catch of his career and Jones hit him, Brissett wasn't worried about Luck sustaining an injury.

"I was like, 'First down!'" Brissett said. "I knew in his past, he'd taken a lot harder hits than that one. I didn't think anything was going to happen bad."

Standing on the sidelines, Reich wasn't so confident.

"I thought, 'If he gets hurt on this play, you guys (the media) are going to kill me,'" Reich said.

The good news is Luck is no worse for wear after his catch.

"I'll be honest, I didn't think about my shoulder until I walked into the training room and they asked, 'Hey, is your shoulder good, Andrew?'" Luck said. "I was like, 'Yeah, it feels great.'"

As for whether or not Luck should buy a pair of receiver's gloves, just in case, the Colts quarterback is pretty sure he'll be throwing the passes from here on out.

"I thought I was (retired), now I am," Luck said, then stopped for a beat. "I think I am."

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Andrew Luck, Jacoby Brissett
RBs: Marlon Mack, Jordan Wilkins, Nyheim Hines
WRs: T.Y. Hilton, Dontrelle Inman, Ryan Grant, Chester Rogers, Zach Pascal
TEs: Eric Ebron, Mo Alie-Cox, Ryan Hewitt

Jacksonville Jaguars

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 27 November 2018

Changes have begun in a disappointing season for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The Jags fired offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett early Monday.

"We would like to thank Nathaniel for his hard work and dedication to the Jaguars organization, and we wish him and his family the best moving forward," head coach Doug Marrone said in a statement. "These are always tough decisions, but as the head coach, I have to do what I think is best for this football team."

Hackett becomes the first fall-man for a continually inept Jacksonville offense. The termination comes after the Jags' seventh straight loss to fall to 3-8 after starting the season 3-1.

"It wasn't anything negative, [Marrone] just decided to make a move," Hackett told NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. "I guess he didn't think I was good enough, that's the only thing I can think of. It's a shock."

Hackett added: "I knew Doug had thought about it. I guess the football Gods had it out for me. We started off hot, had so many injuries, we were a completely different team. Guys busted their butts, but you can only do so much. I wish I could've figured something out."

Hackett joined the Jaguars in 2015 as quarterbacks coach and was elevated to offensive coordinator in 2016 after the team fired previous OC Greg Olsen. He kept the job when Marrone took over full-time in 2017.

Saddled with enigmatic quarterback Blake Bortles, Hackett employed a run-heavy offense that attempted to hide the signal-caller at every turn. In Sunday's loss to the Buffalo Bills Bortles completed just 12 of 23 passes for a measly 127 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions. It marked Bortles sixth game of the season with under 200 yards passing.

Hackett told Rapoport he thought Monday's meeting with Marrone was called to discuss a QB change.

That came later in the day, when Marrone told reporters that Cody Kessler would start this week against the Colts, instead of Bortles.

Not only will Kessler be Jacksonville's new starting QB, but QBs coach Scott Milanovich will be the Jaguars' new play-caller.

Milanovich joined the Jaguars last year after spending five years as the head coach of the CFL's Montreal Alouettes. The Alouettes won a Grey Cup in Milanovich's first year on the job and the Jacksonville gig is his first in the NFL.

Milanovich was a starting quarterback at the University of Maryland in the 1990s and he played one game for the Buccaneers in 1996.

Bortles passed for just 127 yards during Sunday's 24-21 loss to the Bills, the Jaguars' seventh straight defeat. The week before, Bortles posted a season low with 104 yards passing during a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers; the Jaguars blew a 16-point lead in that game.

Bortles signed a three-year extension last offseason but has struggled in 2018, throwing 13 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions.

Bortles, who was benched in a game against the Houston Texans last month, is completing 60.4 percent of his passes, but his 6.97 yards per attempt ranks 29th in the NFL.

Kessler started eight games as a rookie for the Cleveland Browns in 2016.

Bortles' three-year, $54 million contract extension last offseason will create plenty of buyer's remorse for the Jaguars, and it's not as if anyone thinks Kessler is part of the long-term solution.

Of course, in today's NFL of high-flying offenses, the Jags run-heavy approach has just begun to show signs of life.

But it was too little, too late.

After the Jags' playoff run last year, Hackett was hailed by some as a coordinator who could coach around Bortles' flaws and milk the most out of the QB. With Leonard Fournette rarely healthy for long stretches, a rag-tag group of receivers, and a flawed, injured offensive line, however, Hackett becomes the scapegoat in Jacksonville after a team with Super Bowl aspirations sits staring at a top-10 pick.

Barring an incredible turnaround, however, it's unlikely the last big move from Jacksonville. If the losing continues, Marrone and the rest of the staff could all be looking for new jobs in 2019.

On a more positive note. ...As hinted at above, the Jaguars rushed for a season-high 226 yards Sunday. This followed a 179-yard rushing performance last week in a loss to the Steelers. Jaguars backs hadn't combined to rush for 100 yards in the first nine games of the season. They now have done it twice in two weeks.

And Fournette is becoming a weapon again.

The Jaguars' second-year running back had his best game of the season Sunday, rushing for 95 yards on 18 carries. Significant, too: Fournette in the last two games has had one of the best two-game stretches of his career. He appears to be running with confidence and improved vision compared to his rookie season. That bodes well for the future.

But wait. ... It gets worse again.

Fournette was suspended by the NFL for one game for violations of unsportsmanlike conduct and unnecessary roughness, the league announced Monday.

The second-year man is set to miss Sunday's game against the Indianapolis Colts as a result of his role in a skirmish during the Jags' loss to the Bills on Sunday.

Fournette, who immediately appealed the decision and lost that appeal, will have to miss practices and team meetings this week and the game on Sunday. He can return to the team next Monday.

Fournette and Bills linebacker Shaq Lawson were both ejected from after participating in a fracas late in the third quarter. The fight occurred after Jags wide receiver Donte Moncrief came down with a contested catch near Buffalo's goal line. Both teams traded shoves as Moncrief and Bills cornerback Levi Wallace fought for possession.

Fournette and Lawson went after each other during the fight and, after being ejected, had to be restrained from each other in the tunnel.

With Fournette likely out, Carlos Hyde and T.J. Yeldon should carry the load against the Colts' 13th-ranked run defense.

Fournette is eligible to return to the team on Dec. 3, following Jacksonville's game against Indianapolis.

As ESPN.com's Tristan H. Cockcroft noted, Fournette's ejection with 2:52 remaining in the third quarter ends his day with 25.8 PPR fantasy points, his third-best performance in 18 career games.

He has three straight games of 20-plus, the second time in his career he has had a streak that long (2017 Weeks 4-6). ...

On the injury front. ... The Jacksonville Jaguars kick off preparations for Week 13's game against the Indianapolis Colts a little banged up in the defensive secondary.

Cornerback Jalen Ramsey (knee) is not expected to practice Wednesday, the Jaguars announced.

It is unclear when Ramsey, who was limited in practice last week with a groin injury, hurt his knee when considering he played on all 58 defensive snaps during Week 12's 24-21 loss to the Buffalo Bills.

Ramsey's status for Sunday's game should clear up with two more days of practice leading to Friday's injury report.

The Jaguars also announced wide receiver D.J. Chark (quadriceps) and safety Tashaun Gipson (ankle) are not expected to practice Wednesday.

Finally. ... Guard Andrew Norwell's first season with the Jaguars is over.

Norwell injured his ankle in Sunday's loss to the Bills and had to be carted to the locker room in order to undergo a medical evaluation. A report on Monday morning indicated that he'd miss a few weeks as a result of the injury, but the time left of the schedule is working against him.

Marrone announced on Monday that Norwell will be placed on injured reserve.

As Profootballtalk.com's Josh Alper noted, even if he were ready to play in Week 15 or 16, there wouldn't be much point in bringing Norwell back for games that will only matter to the team's spot in the draft. Norwell signed a five-year deal as a free agent this offseason, so he'll be back with the Jags in 2019.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Cody Kessler, Blake Bortles
RBs: Carlos Hyde, T.J. Yeldon, Leonard Fournette
WRs: Dede Westbrook, Donte Moncrief, D.J. Chark, Rashad Greene, Keelan Cole
TEs: James O'Shaughnessy, Ben Koyack, Niles Paul

Kansas City Chiefs

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 27 November 2018

As Associated Press sports writer Dave Skretta noted, it has been a whirlwind first 11 weeks for the Kansas City Chiefs, filled with record-setting performances, high-scoring losses and the emergence of first-year starter Patrick Mahomes as one of the brightest young quarterbacks in the NFL.

It's also been an exhausting 11 weeks. And a pause came at a good time.

The Chiefs headed home from Los Angeles on Monday night still feeling the sting of a 54-51 loss to the Rams in what was arguably the most entertaining regular-season game in years. They headed right into their bye week with an opportunity to refocus and get healthy for the stretch run.

One that Pat Mahomes and Co. still think will involve a deep playoff run.

"It's kind of like a reset," Mahomes said, "get your body right and come back with that mentality that we're going to win and we can still get home-field advantage, hopefully."

Indeed, the Chiefs (9-2) aren't in much worse shape regarding the playoffs after the weekend than they were before it. The Chargers, their closest pursuers in the division, lost to the Broncos prior beating the Cardinals this past weekend, while the Patriots were unable to make up much ground on the No. 1 seed because they were on a bye in Week 11.

After the week off, the Chiefs have two of their final five games against the moribund Raiders, two others are at home against the Ravens and Chargers, and a trip to Seattle rounds out things.

In other words, the Chiefs believe they're well-positioned heading into December.

"We're going to heal up here and get ourselves ready to go," head coach Andy Reid said.

Wide receiver Sammy Watkins no doubt used the week off to rest his ailing foot, which kept him out of practice last week and limited him to a couple early snaps against the Rams. Mitch Morse could be back at center after dealing with a concussion for several weeks, and a series of more minor injuries have affected nearly everybody on the roster.

But as Skretta noted, the big question mark, at least in terms of health, revolved around Eric Berry.

The Chiefs' highly paid star safety, who missed most of last season with a torn Achilles tendon, returned to the practice field over the summer and appeared ready for the year. But his heel began to bother him early in training camp, and even though Reid has insisted that Berry is "day to day," the injury has turned out to be more "month to month."

The five-time Pro Bowl pick still hasn't been on the practice field, even though he was never put on injured reserve, and time is running out if Berry is going to play at all this season.

"If he feels comfortable and the docs are good with it and he's good with it, then we'll start easing him in," Reid said, when asked whether that could happen after the bye.

I was scheduled to happen Wednesday, after the Chiefs announced the veteran safety would practice. In addition, Watkins was held out Wednesday.

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

Both of their losses have come on the road against teams that figure to be in the playoffs; they also lost a shootout in New England, when Tom Brady rallied the Patriots to a go-ahead field goal in the final seconds. And in both cases, the Chiefs would have walked away victors had their defense been able to make one more stop when it counted.

So along with getting healthy during their bye week, the Chiefs were no doubt tweaking their defense, trying to figure out on the fly how they can improve down the stretch.

Health is a good place start. But the Chiefs think there are other issues to iron out.

"We all look at it that way," Reid insisted, "every guy on this team will do that. That's the way these guys are wired and that's what's going to make us a great football team down the stretch."

Yes, even the Chiefs' record-setting offense can smooth over some things.

The Chiefs remain one of the NFL's most-penalized teams, and many of those flags have come on offense. Mahomes also threw three picks and lost two fumbles against the Rams, though that may have been an aberration -- he's been good at protecting the ball all season.

There's work to be done. And the Chiefs finally had a week off to do it.

Now that they're back, ESPN.com's Adam Teicher believes Oakland could provide the Chiefs a place to begin a new winning streak.

The Raiders are in the bottom 10 in scoring and total offense and scoring and total defense.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Patrick Mahomes, Chad Henne, Matthew McGloin
RBs: Damien Williams, Charcandrick West, Anthony Sherman, Spencer Ware
WRs: Tyreek Hill, Chris Conley, Demarcus Robinson, Marcus Kemp, De'Anthony Thomas
TEs: Travis Kelce, Demetrius Harris

Los Angeles Chargers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 27 November 2018

Melvin Gordon will likely be out a couple of weeks, but it's not as disastrous news for the Los Angeles Chargers as it is for fantasy owners with Gordon on their rosters.

The team announced that results of an MRI on Gordon's right knee confirmed the initial diagnosis of an MCL sprain. The Chargers noted that the running back would be evaluated on a week-to-week basis.

NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported earlier Monday that Gordon was diagnosed with a grade 2 MCL sprain, according to a source. Gordon is expected to be out the next few weeks, but could be back before the end of the regular season if all goes well.

For the record, head coach Anthony Lynn isn't ready to rule out the running back for Sunday.

"It's highly doubtful that he'll play this week but never count that guy out," Lynn said Monday, via Ryan Kartje of the Orange County Register.

Gordon was injured on a trick play in the third quarter on a tackle by Cardinals defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche in the backfield. The Chargers feared the worst, so Lynn called the diagnosis "good news" and said he was "very relieved."

The Chargers "absolutely" expect Gordon to return before the end of the regular season.

"I've had MCL's, and I know you can recover quickly from those," Lynn said. "Melvin is a fast healer. I was relieved. When you saw it on the field, it looked pretty nasty because it was a leg whip. I thought he came out on the good end of this one."

All this after Gordon left Sunday's blowout victory over the Arizona Cardinals in the third quarter after getting blown up on a reverse play in which he was flanked out wide.

Gordon, who came into the game sixth in the league in rushing, had 61 yards on 10 carries before suffering a knee injury during the third quarter. Austin Ekeler accounted for 103 yards from scrimmage (35 rushing, 68 receiving).

In the short-term, losing Gordon for any time is a misfortune for L.A. The fourth-year running back was the motor behind the Chargers offense and on pace to set career highs in rushing, yards per attempt, and receiving yards. He already set a personal best with 13 total touchdowns. In 10 games Gordon compiled 802 rushing on 153 totes (5.2 YPC) with nine rushing scores, and 453 receiving yards on 44 catches with 4 pass-catching TDs.

While Gordon is out, the Chargers will lean on Ekeler, a dual-threat scat-back who averages 5.8 rushing yards per carry on 70 totes and 11.1 yards per reception on 32 catches this season.

Appearing with the FootballDiehards on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio on Tuesday, Ekeler told listeners he's "built to handle" a featured role and he's eager to prove it.

We'll all get a chance to see where he stands in that starting Sunday night.

Rookie Justin Jackson could also contribute behind Ekeler.

The Chargers sit in prime position for a playoff spot, just a game behind the Chiefs in the AFC West and two games up on a Wild Card bid. L.A., however, has a rough stretch facing Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Kansas City, Baltimore and Denver in the final five weeks. All five are scrapping for playoff position.

The road will be much more difficult sans Gordon. The hope is that Philip Rivers can carry L.A. until the running back is ready to return for a postseason run.

That seems entirely possible given the veteran's play this year.

In fact, Rivers tied the NFL record for consecutive completions and set marks for the most to start a game and the highest percentage in a game on Sunday.

The 15-year veteran completed his first 25 passes and was 28 of 29 for 259 yards and three touchdowns in three quarters. It was also his 11th straight game with multiple TD passes.

Rivers completed 25 straight passes in the first 2 1/2 quarters, tying Ryan Tannehill's mark from 2015. The Dolphins QB completed his last seven passes against the Tennessee Titans in on Oct. 18, 2015, and then his first 18 the following week against the Houston Texans.

Rivers tied the mark with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Keenan Allen midway through the third quarter. He had his only incompletion on the next possession when he was rushed and was unable to connect on a short pass to Ekeler.

Rivers did break Mark Brunell's record for most completions to start a game. Brunell had 22 straight for the Washington Redskins against the Houston Texans on Sept. 24, 2006. Rivers' 96.8 percent accuracy surpassed Kurt Warner's 92.3 percent, which was set in 2009 when he went 24 of 26 for Arizona against Jacksonville.

The Cardinals (2-9) jumped out to a 10-0 lead with scores on their first two possessions before the Chargers (8-3) scored touchdowns on six of seven possessions.

Mike Williams and Gordon each had two touchdowns while Ekeler and Allen also scored.

Rivers was 19 of 19 in the first half for 187 yards.

According to SportRadar, the last perfect first half with 15 or more attempts was by Warren Moon, who went 16 of 16 for Seattle against Oakland on Nov. 1, 1998.

On Wednesday, Rivers was named the AFC Offensive Player of the Week

So yeah. ... Believing Rivers can carry this offense isn't a huge stretch.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Philip Rivers, Geno Smith, Cardale Jones
RBs: Justin Jackson, Melvin Gordon, Austin Ekeler
WRs: Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Tyrell Williams, Travis Benjamin, Geremy Davis
TEs: Virgil Green, Antonio Gates

Los Angeles Rams

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 27 November 2018

Jared Goff appeared calm, though the Los Angeles Rams quarterback had every reason not to be.

The Rams trailed the Kansas City Chiefs by four points, with less than two minutes remaining in a Monday Night Football showdown in front of a raucous crowd at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

But there stood Goff in the shotgun formation at the Chiefs' 40-yard line, cool as could be.

Goff took the snap, made a quick drop and then delivered a 40-yard strike to tight end Gerald Everett, who slipped a tackle and tight roped his way into the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown in the Rams' 54-51 victory.

"He was awesome, I thought especially on the last drive," head coach Sean McVay said of his third-year quarterback. "They dropped the safety down in, he put it up and down and then Gerald ends up just right down the sideline, not stepping out of bounds."

As ESPN.com's Lindsay Thiry noted, it certainly wasn't the first time in what has been not only a true breakout year for Goff, but an MVP-caliber one. He has thrown for more than 320 yards in five games this season, including Monday night's win.

Everett, a second-year pro from South Alabama, expected the ball. "In the huddle, Jared kind of gave me the look and I knew I was going to run full speed," Everett said. "He knew it, too."

McVay handed out five game balls in a celebratory locker room, as the Rams improved to 10-1 going into a bye. One game ball went to Goff, who passed for 413 yards and four touchdowns, and another to Everett, who caught three passes for 49 yards and a career-best two touchdowns.

McVay also gave game balls to outside linebacker Samson Ebukam, who scored two touchdowns, and linebacker Ramik Wilson and cornerback Marcus Peters, who both previously played for the Chiefs.

"It was a crazy game, crazy game," Goff said. "It seemed like at the end, whoever had the ball last was going to win. That's what it felt like."

The Chiefs and Rams combined for 105 points, the third most in a game in NFL history and the most in the history of Monday Night Football, according to ESPN Stats and Information research. The Rams scored 21 points off turnovers, while the Chiefs scored seven.

Entering Monday night's game, Goff had never thrown a go-ahead touchdown pass in the final 11 minutes of regulation. Against the Chiefs, he threw two go-ahead touchdown passes in the final 10. And both were to Everett.

With go-to receiver Cooper Kupp sidelined for the remainder of the season after undergoing surgery to repair a torn ACL, and Todd Gurley largely ineffective or unused, Goff utilized every other playmaker available and completed passes to seven different targets.

Brandin Cooks caught eight passes for 107 yards, tight end Tyler Higbee caught six passes for 63 yards, and Reynolds, a second-year pro from Texas AandM, started in place of Kupp and caught six passes for 80 yards and a touchdown.

"Gerald and Josh stepped up big," Goff said. "It seems like every time we need it, someone does and those two were huge today. Just seeing their progression and the players they're starting to become is exciting."

But after the Rams fell behind in the fourth quarter, it was Goff's ability to perform under pressure that brought them back.

In the final 11 minutes, Goff was 5-of-6 for 135 yards and a touchdown when he threw at least 10 yards downfield, according to ESPN Stats and Information. Prior to that, Goff was 4-of-12 for 75 yards on passes of at least 10 yards.

The Rams will still need some help to take home-field advantage from the New Orleans Saints, who beat the Rams two weeks ago. Goff threw for 391 yards and three scores in that meeting in New Orleans. If another meeting with Drew Brees comes, the Rams are even more confident Goff can continue to go toe-to-toe with any QB.

"Jared's poise and confidence and ability to respond after it wasn't always pretty, especially in some instances, is why you love him," McVay said. "And why he's such a great quarterback because of that even-keel demeanor and disposition and that poise that we always talk about."

Also of interest. ... As noted above, the win over Kansas City came with Gurley being a less of a factor than usual as he rushed a season-low 12 times for 55 yards. McVay told reporters after the game that Gurley had his ankle rolled up on early in the game and that the injury limited Gurley a bit.

McVay also noted that the injury is not expected to be an issue moving forward.

I'll have an eye on Gurley in coming days; watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for more as the week progresses. ...

And finally. ... Cornerback Aqib Talib has been talking about a Week 13 return to the lineup for some time and it is now officially a possibility.

Talib has been on injured reserve since injuring his ankle in Week 3, but the expectation has always been that he'd be activated at some point in the regular season. The team designated him to return to the active roster on Monday and he'll be eligible to play as early as this weekend's game in Detroit.

The practice week will likely determine whether or not that will actually happen, but Talib should be back in the near future unless there's a setback in the final steps of his recovery. Talib had nine tackles, two passes defensed and a forced fumble before getting injured.

The Rams secondary has given up some big plays while Talib has been out of action and they'd likely welcome the help as they try to turn their 10-1 start into a deep playoff run.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Jared Goff, Sean Mannion, Brandon Allen
RBs: Todd Gurley, John Kelly, Justin Davis
WRs: Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods, Josh Reynolds, Pharoh Cooper, Cooper Kupp
TEs: Tyler Higbee, Gerald Everett, Johnny Mundt

Miami Dolphins

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 27 November 2018

As ESPN.com's Cameron Wolfe reported it, "The Dolphins had the game in their hands. Then they blew it, quite possibly ending their playoff chances.

"The offense shriveled when it came time to secure the victory."

Then they watched as Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts erased a 10-point fourth quarter deficit for a 27-24 win on Sunday.

"We were going to finish. We didn't finish. S---, we've got to finish. That's the key," said running back Frank Gore, who was visibly angry after the loss. "Especially when they got a f---ing guy over there (in Luck) that can get hot, who I respect, plays the game how it's supposed to be played, the quarterback. Finishing, man. As an offense, we got to finish. As a team, we got to finish."

Somehow, the Dolphins couldn't find that gear.

That failure spoiled an otherwise solid return to action by quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who saw the ball taken out of his hand on the Dolphins' final offensive play.

According to Davenport, there's plenty of blame to go around, but head coach Adam Gase's fourth-quarter play calling deserves the most scrutiny.

Up a touchdown with just over eight minutes left Gase called two passes and a third-and-10 draw play that lost five yards. The Dolphins took a whole 43 seconds off the clock.

Then Miami got the ball back tied. From his own six-yard-line, Gase called a Gore run for no gain, a pass for no gain, and another Kenyan Drake run on third-and-10 that netted four yards. Punt. Colts FG. Game over.

Gase blamed poor field position on the two drives for the conservative play calling.

"Just backed up," Gase said. "We were struggling in that distance to begin with. We've got to make something happen on those first two downs. It's third-and-10 on the minus three or whatever it is, it's not going to be good."

As NFL.com's Kevin Patra suggested, to most observers it appeared that Gase didn't trust Tannehill, who returned from injury, to spark the Dolphins' fourth-quarter lead.

The quarterback, however, didn't rebut with his coach's assessment.

"We were backed up and coach was trying to get us out of that backed up situation," Tannehill said. "Of course I understand. I'm a competitor. I want the ball in my hands. I want to make that play. But we're inside our own 10. Long yardage situation. They had been playing soft coverage, sinking everyone underneath. In those long-yardage situations, the percentages are low. We're thinking if we can get a block on one guy and make one guy miss there were a couple of situations where we were able to get close on those runs. But as a competitor, it's tough. You know, you want that ball in your hands."

Gase has been unwavering in his support of Tannehill, and on Sunday we saw glimpses of why, beginning with the opening-drive touchdown.

It was Miami's first opening-drive TD in 21 games, and it was clear that Tannehill made the offense better. But too often when it counted, Gase didn't seem to give his quarterback a chance to make a play unless the situation was ideal.

Why? Tannehill's shoulder, which isn't 100 percent yet, would have been the easiest excuse. But Gase and Tannehill said the QB's shoulder had no effect on the game or the play calling.

Dolphins players were diplomatic on shifting blame, and none said he had an issue with Gase's play calling.

"Whatever coach Gase calls, we are going to run," said left tackle Laremy Tunsil, who said it felt like the Week 5 loss at Cincinnati, in which the Dolphins blew a 14-point second-half lead. "I felt like we were rolling. We had a 10-point [lead], and it just went downhill as we lost."

Whatever the case, a victory in Indy would have been huge for the Dolphins playoff odds. Instead, the loss knocks them back into a cluttered crew a game back, and they lose a tie-breaker to the Colts.

Also worth noting. ... Gase said Monday that Drake will be in a no-contact jersey in practice this week after re-injuring his shoulder in Sunday's loss.

Drake scored twice before leaving the game with the shoulder injury in the fourth quarter. He has struggled with the shoulder issue for the past couple of weeks and also practice in a no-contact jersey last week before ultimately being removed from the injury reported and playing against the Colts.

Drake said he expects to play Sunday against the Bills.

He has never missed a regular-season game in three seasons.

"Everybody is hurt, so I'm going to be out there," he said.

Drake played 24 of 53 snaps against the Colts before leaving in the fourth quarter. He had eight carries for 32 yards and a touchdown and five catches for 64 yards and a touchdown.

Drake has been durable thus far in his NFL career and has yet to miss a regular season game in three seasons.

His usage in the Dolphins offense tends to be erratic, however, as this year he has taken a back seat to Gore despite scoring seven total touchdowns in 11 games.

In fact, as ESPN's Mike Clay notes, Drake has managed five top-12 fantasy weeks, but has been 28th or worse in his other six outings. ...

Beyond that, DeVante Parker (shoulder) and Danny Amendola (hamstring) played against the Colts despite questionable designations heading into the game. Amendola ended up barely playing after injuring his knee early.

As Rotoworld.com reported, Amendola spent a ton of time in the medical tent before ultimately being cleared to return -- but he was a non-factor, finishing with one catch on the day. Parker had three catches.

A.J. Derby (foot) missed this game. The tight end has played just one game (Week 10) since he was first hurt in Week 3. ...

For the record, Amendola was not practicing Wednesday; Parker and Drake were limited. I'll be watching all the walking wounded in coming days; check the Late-Breaking Updates section for all the latest as the week progresses.

One last note. ... Wide receiver Jakeem Grant suffered a season-ending leg injury in Week 10 and had surgery on that injury more than a week ago, but he remained on the team's active roster for last Sunday's loss to the Colts.

The Dolphins have now made a move to bring a healthy player on board in his place. The team has promoted wide receiver Isaiah Ford from the practice squad with Grant making the trip to injured reserve.

Ford was a seventh-round pick in 2017 and spent his rookie season on injured reserve. He caught seven passes for 70 yards and a touchdown in the preseason, but wound up as one of the cuts the team made on the way to 53 players in early September. He'll join Amendola, Kenny Stills, Parker, Leonte Carroo and Brice Butler at wideout in Miami.

Grant had 21 catches for 268 yards and two touchdowns while also serving as a returner in the kicking game.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Ryan Tannehill, Brock Osweiler, David Fales, Luke Falk
RBs: Kenyan Drake, Frank Gore, Kalen Ballage, Senorise Perry
WRs: Kenny Stills, Danny Amendola, Jakeem Grant, DeVante Parker, Leonte Carroo, Brice Butler, Isaiah Ford, Albert Wilson
TEs: Mike Gesicki, Durham Smythe, Nick O'Leary, A.J. Derby, MarQueis Gray

Minnesota Vikings

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 27 November 2018

In no way were the Minnesota Vikings mathematically facing an elimination game against the Green Bay Packers in Week 12, but there's no denying the matchup carried that type of feel into Sunday night.

As ESPN.com's Courtney Cronin noted, in the midst of a stretch that likely will decide their playoff fate, the Vikings needed this victory -- a 24-17 win over their division foe -- to remain the fifth seed in the NFC playoff picture while also owning the tiebreaker over Green Bay.

All week, the message stressed repeatedly out of the Vikings locker room was the sense of urgency they needed on the national stage. In prime-time games this season against the Rams, Saints and Bears, Minnesota came up empty-handed. That was largely due to the Vikings' defensive lapses in Los Angeles and red zone turnovers leading to missed opportunities against New Orleans and Chicago.

"Last week left a bad taste in our mouths and the chance to come back on Sunday Night Football against a division rival at home was a great opportunity and I'm glad we made the most of it," quarterback Kirk Cousins said. "It took a great team effort, a lot of people involved to make that happen and I'm thrilled with the outcome."

Cousins, too, bucked his own prime-time struggles after entering Sunday with a 4-12 career record in such games, finishing with a 129.6 passer rating after completing 29-of-38 passes for 342 yards and three touchdowns, which earned him the game ball from head coach Mike Zimmer.

"He did a great job of managing what we needed to get done," Zimmer said. "I thought (offensive coordinator John DeFilippo) did a great job of putting him in the right situations all night. And some of the things we talked about, me and him this week, I thought he did tonight. I was really proud of him and I thought he played exceptional."

The success the Vikings achieved against the Packers was predicted off what had worked so well for Cousins and the offense historically.

Coming into Week 12, the Vikings ranked 21st in the NFL in the percentage of plays utilizing play-action. Cousins, whom Zimmer lauded for being "terrific in the boots," got to shine in that area on Sunday. Two of Cousins' three touchdowns came off designs utilizing play-action: a 30-yard TD to Stefon Diggs and the use of boot action on a 14-yard pass to Adam Thielen.

According to ESPN Stats and Information, Cousins has been able to generate more big plays off play fakes against the Packers than against all other teams.

The Vikings also had success with screen passes to running backs, which has not been seen too often this season. A quick screen in the first quarter to Dalvin Cook was taken 26 yards for a touchdown. That one screen pass was longer than all of the running back screens combined by the Vikings before Sunday night (15 yards on eight screen passes).

Cook's involvement in the passing game amounted to three catches for 47 yards and a touchdown.

Only one of those catches was marked as a true screen, according to ESPN's data.

It was not only the first receiving TD of his career, but longer than all the screen passes thrown to Vikings backs combined at any other point this season.

Zimmer praised DeFilippo for how the Vikings' flow offensively kept the Packers off balance. And it wasn't limited to just the screen game. The Vikings' longest rush of the night -- a 12-yard run by Diggs -- came off a jet sweep, as did Cook's individual longest rush of 9 yards.

Throughout the season, DeFilippo has regularly lined up running backs in wide receiver spots, as he did with Cook in Week 2 at Green Bay when he caught a 24-yard slant. Against the Packers 10 weeks later, Cook produced 21 additional yards in the passing game off non-screen passes, two catches that amounted to first downs for the Vikings.

Finding ways to effectively utilize Cook and other backs in the passing game has been a mission for Minnesota's offense.

On Sunday night, the Vikings' patience in that area finally paid off.

For the record, the team's official website got it right when it suggested Monday that anyone who has watched Cook play the past two games has seen the Vikings have a game-changer at running back with the second-year pro.

His ability to dance around, run over and sprint past defenders is uncommon and adds an explosive dynamic to the Vikings offense.

Now seemingly recovered from a hamstring injury that slowed him earlier in the season and having knocked the rust off the past couple weeks, one can't help but think Cook is heating up as the season's final stretch approaches.

Meanwhile, it was nearly a sure thing when Cousins targeted Thielen, Diggs or Rudolph against the Packers.

Cousins was 23 of 27, completing 85.2 percent of passes, when targeting those three players.

The dynamic receiver tandem totaled 16 receptions for 202 yards, and, as noted above, Thielen and Diggs each scored a touchdown.

Rudolph, the tight end, caught a pass on all seven of his targets and totaled 63 yards. ...

Speaking of the wideouts. ... Diggs (knee) didn't practice on Wednesday while Thielen (calf) was limited; I'll be following up on both as needed via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

A few final notes here. ... Late in the fourth quarter, cornerback Xavier Rhodes was in coverage and pulled up with a leg injury just before Packers receiver Davante Adams made a 36-yard catch.

Rhodes was helped to the sideline by the Vikings training staff and did not return to the game.

Zimmer gave an update on Rhodes' injury Monday, saying it is "very, very mild."

"And as far as the TV doctors that were reporting, it's very erroneous," Zimmer added. ...

The Vikings announced on Tuesday that the team has placed veteran safety Andrew Sendejo on the Reserve/Injured list.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Kirk Cousins, Trevor Siemian, Kyle Sloter
RBs: Dalvin Cook, Latavius Murray, Ameer Abdullah
WRs: Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, Laquon Treadwell, Stacy Coley, Brandon Zylstra, Aldrick Robinson, Chad Beebe
TEs: Kyle Rudolph, David Morgan, Tyler Conklin

New England Patriots

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 27 November 2018

As ESPN.com's Mike Reiss noted, the New England Patriots are widely viewed as a contender because of the presence of head coach Bill Belichick, quarterback Tom Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski -- three of the best ever at what they do.

But the key for the 2018 Patriots to achieve their championship hopes just might be rookie running back Sony Michel.

The first-round draft choice from Georgia, No. 31 overall, was the best player on the field in the Patriots' 27-13 victory over the New York Jets. His 133 rushing yards were the most by a Patriots player since Jonas Gray totaled 201 in the 2014 season.

"Coach kind of gave us a challenge this week, on being able to run the football -- consistently," Michel said.

Belichick's challenge reflected how when Michel gets going on the ground, it takes the burden off Brady, Gronkowski, receiver Julian Edelman and others in the passing game.

Simply put, he settles things down.

Michel's breakthrough was among the best news for the Patriots from Sunday's win, which wasn't as decisive of an overall performance as they hoped to deliver coming off their bye -- red-zone struggles on offense, in particular, were notable.

But proving they can successfully turn to the running game -- especially as the weather in the Northeast is getting colder and adverse weather conditions are a more likely possibility -- is an important ingredient for most teams with championship hopes.

"Any time you can run the ball like we did, it helps a lot of things. You have to play the run, play-action [passes], and we had some chunks [of big plays]," Brady said.

"It always opens up everything else. It keeps you out of those long-yardage situations, which we have been in the last couple weeks," echoed Belichick.

The Patriots topped 200 yards rushing as a team to improve to 8-3, keeping pace with the AFC's top seed, the 9-2 Chiefs. The Steelers (7-3-1) and Texans (7-3) are also in the mix.

Even better for the Patriots: Michel should have some company in the offensive backfield next Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings with the return of Rex Burkhead from the injured-reserve list. That was the first game in which Burkhead (concussion) was eligible to return and he was officially activated on Monday.

Burkhead, who also sees time on special teams, ran 24 times for 86 yards and caught three passes for 31 yards before being injured.

According to Reiss, Michel should still assume the lead role, but the Patriots project to mix Burkhead in every third series or so. The team also has an effective two-running-back package with Burkhead and James White that opens up more possibilities.

The 5-11, 215-pound Michel combines power and speed that challenges opposing defenses in multiple ways, and his offensive linemen rave about his vision.

"He finds it and hits it hard. That's one thing I can say about him -- he's fun to block for," right guard Shaq Mason said. "He's a very talented guy. We're lucky to have him."

For a brief time in the third quarter Sunday, the Patriots had to play without Michel when he left the game with an apparent back injury after taking a shot on a short-yardage carry. It doesn't seem like a long-range concern, however.

"It's football, we all get tweaked up out there playing. But I'm back out there playing and everything went smooth," he said.

Indeed, Michel ultimately returned, and in no surprise, that coincided with the Patriots ultimately seizing control of the game.

"That's just us being able to play Patriot football," Michel said. "We want to be physical. When you're physical, you can run the ball, you can throw the ball. It's almost like you control the line of scrimmage and do what you want to do. ..."

Meanwhile, it didn't take long for Gronkowski to offer a reminder of what he brings to the team's offense.

The Jets accepted an offensive pass interference penalty on a third down incompletion to give the Patriots offense another chance from the Jets' 34-yard-line. Brady went deep over the middle for Gronkowski, who caught the ball and ran through cornerback Morris Claiborne into the end zone.

It was Gronkowski's first touchdown since Week One and he said it "felt good" to put points on the board. The score came in his first appearance since Week Eight as he'd been out with ankle and back injuries and Gronkowski had a similar response when asked about his physical condition.

"It felt good," Gronkowski said in his postgame media session. "I've just been putting the work in the last couple of weeks, whatever it was, to get back and now I just feel like I can keep on improving week in, week out now and do what I have to do to help the team. It felt good to be back out there and it was a good win overall."

Gronkowski finished the day with three catches for 56 yards in what was a successful return to action on all fronts.

In addition, as Profootballtalk.com's Michael David Smith notes, the TD was 78th of Gronkowski's his career on Sunday, and that puts him in some very elite company.

The 29-year-old Gronkowski is now tied for third all time for the most touchdown catches in NFL history for a player in his 20s. Randy Moss, who had 101 touchdown catches before turning 30, and Jerry Rice, who had 95 touchdown catches before turning 30, are the only players with more. Terrell Owens also had 78 touchdown catches before his 30th birthday.

Gronkowski should catch at least a few more touchdown passes this season, before turning 30 in the offseason.

He won't catch Rice or Moss, but 80 or 85 touchdown catches before turning 30 is not too shabby.

Injuries have limited Gronkowski for much of his career, and he's already talking about walking away from the game. So it's safe to say he won't finish with anything close to Rice's incredible total of 197 touchdown catches. But he's already done more in his 20s than almost any player in NFL history.

Worth noting. ... Brady (knee) was limited Wednesday while Edelman (foot) worked fully. Gronk is not listed on the initial Week 13 injury report. ...

And finally. ... The Patriots finished with 11 penalties for 105 yards, and while Shawn Hochuli's crew averages the most penalties thrown per game, Belichick didn't have much issue with the officiating.

"I saw what they saw and probably would've called some of the same things ... With very few exceptions in the game, I didn't really have an issue with any of the calls," he said. "I thought they were good calls. We have to do a better job of coaching and executing our techniques so that we're not creating an infraction."

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, Danny Etling
RBs: Sony Michel, James White, Rex Burkhead, James Develin
WRs: Julian Edelman, Josh Gordon, Phillip Dorsett, Chris Hogan, Cordarrelle Patterson
TEs: Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, Jacob Hollister

New Orleans Saints

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 27 November 2018

Why should the New Orleans Saints' offense have all the fun?

As ESPN.com's Mike Triplett noted, the Saints' defense, which has been surging over the past three weeks, reached its peak in Thursday night's 31-17 victory against the rival Atlanta Falcons.

They forced four huge turnovers -- including two of them when Atlanta had gotten inside New Orleans' 3-yard line. They had a season-high six sacks. And they stopped the Falcons twice on fourth downs.

My, how far this Saints defense has come since Week 3, when they barely survived a 43-37 overtime thriller at Atlanta.

"For us, we know this team will go as far as the defense takes us," Saints defensive end Alex Okafor said. "We know what the [Saints] offense is going to provide. They're dynamic, they can put up 30 every game. So the X factor is going to be how well the defense can play. And so far we've gotten better each week this year, and I'm just proud of this group."

The Saints (10-1) have now allowed a total of just 38 points in their past three games (including a 51-14 blowout at Cincinnati in Week 10 and a 48-7 rout of Philadelphia at home in Week 11).

And with each passing week, they appear to be playing faster, more decisive and more dominant. They have been a prime example of one of head coach Sean Payton's favorite mantras that he borrowed from mentor Bill Parcells -- that confidence comes from demonstrated ability.

"You can think it and you can want it and hope for it. But you have to at some point demonstrate it," Payton said -- a refrain that his players can all recite from memory by now.

But a refrain that they agree with.

"As long as we keep building off the positives and playing with great intensity and playing with confidence, I think the sky's the limit for this defense," said linebacker A.J. Klein, who said the best thing the Saints are doing is being "opportunistic" and playing complete team defense through every level.

For a little while there in September, it looked like the Saints' defense might be a liability -- as it was for so many other years past during the Payton-Drew Brees era. The Saints' only loss came in Week 1, when they couldn't stop "Fitzmagic" and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a 48-40 track meet at home in the Superdome.

Then came the Week 3 win against the Falcons, when the Saints allowed Matt Ryan to throw for a career-high five TD passes while Calvin Ridley torched their No. 2 and No. 3 cornerbacks.

But the Saints' defense stabilized soon after that. And over the past three weeks, they've switched from stable to dominant.

Defensive coordinator Dennis Allen pointed to three things the other day that helped turn things around and get the defense back to playing at the same level it was last season.

One was a "heightened sense of urgency." Another was having a taste of success, "which breeds confidence." And the other was that, "Obviously the explosiveness of our offense allows us to go out and play with a little bit more freedom and kind of throw caution into the wind a little bit, I guess."

According to Triplett, a fourth factor is that New Orleans has had the NFL's No. 1 run defense through most of the season, which helps to make opponents one-dimensional. The Saints are allowing just 73.2 rushing yards per game after holding Atlanta running backs Tevin Coleman and Ito Smith to a total of six rushing yards on 10 carries.

Yet another factor is the improved secondary play, including the addition of Eli Apple through an October trade with the New York Giants and the resurgence of nickel cornerback P.J. Williams after he got temporarily benched during that Week 3 game at Atlanta.

This week, the Saints head into a Thursday night game against the Cowboys. ...

The Saints issued their final injury report on Wednesday and the news was mostly good.

Wide receiver Tre'Quan Smith was listed as limited early in the week due to the foot injury that kept him from playing on Thanksgiving against the Falcons. Smith was limited in practice on Wednesday last week before drawing a questionable tag for the game.

This week, however, Smith avoided injury designation and is set to play in Dallas.

Defensive end Marcus Davenport was also listed as questionable for the Falcons game, but returned to the lineup after missing three games with a toe injury and he too avoided injury designation.

Left tackle Terron Armstead remains out with a pectoral injury. He has missed the last two games and has not practiced since getting hurt.

Dan Arnold (chest), kicker Wil Lutz (back), offensive lineman Andrus Peat (shoulder) and Williams (hip) were all limited participants early this week, but all four will play as usual Thursday night.

One last note here. ... Per Triplett, Lutz is quietly having an All-Pro caliber season. He's leading the NFL with 109 points this season after making 22-of-23 field goal attempts and 43-of-44 extra points.

Gone are the days where the Saints burned through 11 kickers in 11 years under Payton.

"It has been tremendous, and it's a credit to him," Payton said of the third-year pro. "He's been consistent. He's been competitive. I think he's someone that is constantly working on his craft, and I know the relationship he has with (punter/holder Thomas Morstead). ... I don't take it for granted, and I'm glad he's with us."

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Drew Brees, Teddy Bridgewater, Taysom Hill
RBs: Alvin Kamara, Mark Ingram, Dwayne Washington
WRs: Michael Thomas, Tre'quan Smith, Austin Carr, Keith Kirkwood
TEs: Ben Watson, Josh Hill, Erik Swoope, Dan Arnold

New York Giants

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 27 November 2018

The New York Giants blew a 16-point first-half lead and were unable to exploit a decimated Eagles secondary in the second half of a 25-22 loss at Lincoln Financial Field.

It left star wide receiver Odell Beckham without answers for why the Giants managed just 61 yards on 12 pass attempts in the second half.

"Honestly, that is a question for coach," Beckham said after finishing with five catches on nine targets for 85 yards. "That is not really my kind of question. I don't call the plays. I just do what I'm told to do and go out there and execute. Whenever I get an opportunity to do something, I try to make the most of it. If I don't have that many opportunities all I can do is do what I can when I do have an opportunity. That is more a question for coach.

"Coming in, knowing that they've struggled in the secondary, personally, I would've loved to attack them. But it wasn't in our game plan."

As ESPN.com's Jordan Raanan noted, the Eagles secondary was depleted by injuries. Four of the Eagles' top five corners did not dress. The only one who did, Rasul Douglas, did not practice all week and was used sparingly.

The three primary corners for Sunday's game -- Cre'von LeBlanc, De'Vante Bausby and undrafted rookie Chandon Sullivan --weren't on the Eagles' active roster as of a month ago. Only LeBlanc had started an NFL game before Sunday.

LeBlanc spent much of the second half trying to cover Beckham and Sterling Shepard. That seemed like a matchup the Giants could exploit.

The Giants (3-8) had success in the first half while building a 19-3 lead. Manning completed 19-of-25 passes for 236 yards with a touchdown. Beckham had three receptions on five targets for 63 yards.

What changed?

"Think that is a question for coach. Honestly, I don't know. I don't call the plays," Beckham said. "I just go out there and execute."

It didn't help that Beckham needed another IV after cramping up during warm-ups before the second half. He missed the opening drive, a three and out. The Giants then wanted to spell rookie running back Saquon Barkley on the second drive.

Shurmur pointed to other reasons why the offense suddenly stalled. He insisted he wasn't frustrated that they failed to exploit the Eagles secondary more.

"I'm not frustrated. We could have," Shurmur said. "I just mentioned it. It was the story of the second half, especially early. We weren't making the yards that we need on the plays that we called. And we had penalties that knocked us off. So then you get away from the stuff that you certainly would like to do. And that's the deal."

The Giants ran just 21 plays in the second half. They held the ball for barely over 10 minutes.

The Eagles held the Giants to 56 total yards in the second half.

"Forget the depleted secondary and all, these are NFL football players that you are playing," Shurmur said. "We took advantage of some things, but it doesn't make sense to throw every down when you have a running back like Saquon. And we didn't convert."

Barkley ran for 94 yards and had a rushing and receiving touchdown in the first half for the second consecutive game. He had 101 yards on the ground after the opening drive of the second half. But Barkley finished with 101 yards rushing. He managed five touches in the second half.

Beckham and Barkley managed just seven touches between them in the second half. Why?

"I couldn't tell you the answer to that," Beckham said. "At this point of my career, I've been through a lot so nothing really surprises me. Just don't really know the answer to that."

On Monday, head coach and offensive play caller Pat Shurmur called that "one man's opinion" while defending his approach.

"We ran the ball 18 times, we threw it 37," Shurmur told Raanan. "That is twice as many throws as there were runs. We had seven explosive gains in the passing game. The only team that we played that we had more was Carolina. We had eight. There were many times where we tried to throw to him. The long throw down the right sideline that we had to [tight end] Rhett [Ellison] was designed to go to Odell. They cushioned on him. We threw it to Rhett. You'll have to ask him to define it after he watches the tape but I felt like we were doing the things necessary to win the game.

"We still got production in the running game, had a couple third-down calls in the red zone that were close. If we get those in, it's a different story."

As Profootballtalk.com reminded readers, it's not the first time that Beckham has shared his displeasure about the offense this season and Shurmur also came up for criticism about giving Barkley just five touches in the second half of Sunday's loss.

Given the fact that Giants were leading 19-11 at the half thanks in large part to Barkley's efforts, that criticism is coming from more than one man and it may have had more to do with Sunday's final outcome that Shurmur might like to admit. ...

Meanwhile, PFT's Michael David Smith reminded readers that last year, the one-game benching of quarterback Eli Manning was the last straw in the firing of Giants coach Ben McAdoo.

This year, Shurmur is sticking with Manning. At least for now.

Shurmur confirmed Monday that Manning remains the starter for this week's game against the Bears, but when asked about giving a backup playing time if the Giants are eliminated from playoff contention, Shurmur acknowledged it's possible. In fact, when asked if he'll play rookie Kyle Lauletta this season, Shurmur's response wasn't to say he wouldn't bench Manning for Lauletta, but to say Alex Tanney might be the next man up.

"Why are you jumping over Tanney?" Shurmur told Matt Lombardo of NJ.com. "I think what you try to do is win each game. You make a decision based on winning the game. And you make your decisions based on putting the best team on the field that gives you a chance to win the game."

Asked under what circumstances Tanney would become the starting quarterback, Shurmur said, "If we felt like he was giving us the best chance to win."

Not surprisingly, Manning isn't looking to take a seat just yet.

"I expect to start until I'm told not to," Manning said at his locker. "I expect to start this week. I expect to play. I'm looking forward to playing. And we'll go from there."

Manning has played better in recent weeks than he did early in the season, and the talk that the Giants have to move on from him has died down a bit. But as Smith suggests, if the Giants think there's a chance that Tanney or Lauletta might be the quarterback of the future, it wouldn't hurt to see what they can do in a real game at some time before the season is over.

Even if Shurmur still thinks Manning gives the Giants the best chance to win. ...

Also of interest. ... Shurmur said Monday that he does not know how long tight end Evan Engram will be sidelined with his latest injury according to Dan Duggan of The Athletic.

Engram felt his hamstring grab during team warmups Sunday and never saw the field in the Giants' loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

He's "optimistic" that it shouldn't affect him much this week.

Engram was ready to play Sunday if the situation permitted but admitted it wouldn't have been the "smartest idea to be thrown in."

In his absence, backup tight end Rhett Ellison caught four passes for 77 yards.

Engram did not practice Wednesday. I'll follow up as needed via Late-Breaking Update. ...

A few final notes here. ... Receiver/return man Quadree Henderson suffered a fractured shoulder against the Eagles.

Shurmur announced on Wednesday that the team has designated a second and final player to return from injured reserve this season.

Shurmur said that wide receiver Cody Latimer will take part in practice on Wednesday. Latimer was placed on injured reserve after the team's Week Six loss to the Eagles due to a hamstring injury. He will not be eligible to play in a game for a couple of weeks.

Running back Jonathan Stewart was the other player designated for return by the Giants. Stewart can return to the active roster this week, but the team has not made any a move on that front.

Latimer signed with the Giants in the offseason and had six catches for 108 yards in four appearances before hitting injured reserve.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Eli Manning, Davis Webb, Kyle Lauletta
RBs: Saquon Barkley, Wayne Gallman
WRs: Odell Beckham, Sterling Shepard, Russell Shepard, Jawill Davis, Bennie Fowler, Corey Coleman
TEs: Evan Engram, Rhett Ellison, Jerell Adams

New York Jets

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 27 November 2018

As ESPN.com's Rich Cimini noted, Josh McCown went toe-to-toe with Tom Brady for two quarters. Actually, it was thumb to thumb, as both quarterbacks bloodied their throwing thumbs Sunday in what may have seemed like an Old-timer's Day matchup at MetLife Stadium.

Yes, McCown and the New York Jets actually showed a pulse against the New England Patriots before reminding everybody of who they truly are -- a deeply flawed team that lacks confidence and direction.

The result was a 27-13 loss, one that left them numb.

It's going to be a miserable December for the Jets (3-8), losers of five straight for the first time in the Todd Bowles era. They're playing out the string under the dark cloud of impending doom for Bowles and his coaching staff. It's the worst of times for a losing team in the NFL, but it's hardly a new reality for the Jets, who will miss the playoff for the eighth straight season. The loss practically ensures their third consecutive losing season.

"It's frustrating losing one game, (let alone) five," Bowles said of the losing streak.

The Jets have lost 17 of their past 22 games under Bowles, who squeezed a decent half out of his team before reality set in.

It's not hard to figure out what the main problem is.

Simply put, the Jets have no playmakers.

They don't have any on defense, where Jamal Adams played a terrific game, but one safety can't change an entire defense.

Their deficiencies on offense also were glaring. McCown, starting for the injured Sam Darnold, threw a touchdown to Jermaine Kearse and performed a John Elway-like helicopter on a third-down scramble.

"Where are the playmakers on offense?" Cimini wrote. "Where's the plan?"

Whatever it might be over the long-run, there won't be immediate changes.

Bowles told reporters on Monday that Jeremy Bates will continue to call the plays on offense. Bates called 50 pass plays and only 12 runs against the Patriots.

"I thought he called a good game," Bowles said of Bates. "It's everybody involved, it's not just Jeremy. [It's] the other coaches and it's the players as well. We are all involved in that, it's never pointed to one person."

The reality is that, five weeks from today, it quite possibly will be pointed at Bowles, whose 3-8 team has lost five games in a row.

"It's not how many times you fall down, it's how many times you can get up," Bowles said of the losing streak. "We're going to keep plugging."

The question is whether they can start winning.

With games against the Titans, Bills, Texans, Packers, and Patriots, there may not be many more chances left to get up. ...

Meanwhile, Darnold has been sidelined by a foot injury and hasn't done anything more than dress for practice since getting hurt. On Monday, Bowles said that Darnold is "getting better" and we saw some evidence of that Wednesday.

According to Brian Costello of the New York Post, Darnold was taking part in passing drills, the first action for the first-rounder since his foot injury.

Darnold showed up at practice last week in pads and a helmet but didn’t participate.

As Profootballtalk.com suggested, it’s still early in the week, so it’s unclear if he’ll be ready to go Sunday against the Titans, or whether this is just part of the effort to get him ready for the following week against the Bills.

For what it's worth, Bowles also touched on McCown's status earlier in the week.

As noted above, the veteran has a sore right thumb, but Bowles said that he expects McCown will be OK. Davis Webb is the other quarterback on the roster, but the Jets have thus far resisted giving the 2017 Giants third-round pick a chance to play.

The official word, by the way, is that both Darnold and McCown were listed as limited participants Wednesday and I'll be watching to see if Darnold can render all the questions this week; watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for more in coming days. ...

One last note here. ... Kearse hauled in six of 12 targets for 66 yards and one touchdown against the Patriots. As ESPN's Mike Clay suggested this week, Kearse is hard to trust in the Jets' struggling offense, but it's hard to ignore the fact that he ranks 16th at wide receiver in targets since Week 6.

"He's a flex option moving forward," Clay added.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Josh McCown, Sam Darnold
RBs: Isaiah Crowell, Elijah McGuire, Trenton Cannon
WRs: Quincy Enunwa, Jermaine Kearse, Robby Anderson, Andre Roberts
TEs: Chris Herndon, Jordan Leggett, Eric Tomlinson

Oakland Raiders

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 27 November 2018

As ESPN.com's Paul Gutierrez wrote, "Let's make one thing perfectly clear: Derek Carr is not the explosive quarterback he was in 2016, when he finished tied for third in NFL MVP voting and the Oakland Raiders went 12-4 for their lone winning season since 2002."

But Gutierrez was quick to add that isn't a knock on Carr.

Rather, his play during his first year under Jon Gruden is a side effect, to some degree, of playing for Gruden and his version of the West Coast offense. That isn't even taking into account Carr's broken right ankle, broken pinkie finger on his passing hand and three broken bones in his back in less than 11 months.

There are things that are simply out of Carr's control, such as having rookies at both tackle positions in Kolton Miller and Brandon Parker.

Carr was sacked three more times in the Raiders' 34-17 loss to the Ravens, upping that single-season career-high mark to 35 sacks. The Raiders fell to 2-9, guaranteeing their 13th losing season since 2003, and despite Carr's protestations, they remain in the running for the top pick in the draft.

The first sack, on which Carr's fumble was returned by Terrell Suggs for a 43-yard touchdown, resulted in Carr spraining his surgically repaired right ankle and visiting the medical tent for the second time on the day. He was also sent off by the refs at the end of the second quarter to be examined for a possible concussion after banging the back of his head on the ground when he was pushed down.

Carr, with the ankle heavily taped, did not miss a snap.

Nor did the Ravens miss an opportunity to dole out more punishment. Carr was sacked on the next two snaps.

While Oakland is not winning games, Gutierrez reports that Carr is gaining some admiration in his locker room.

"He's got heart," said tight end Jared Cook, who had an acrobatic, one-handed, 16-yard touchdown catch from Carr. "How many people would want to be back there with 350-pound dudes coming down at them or trying to bend them and tear their leg off? And you've got to deal with that all game.

"For him to be standing back there and delivering the pass that he does and still be successful. ... You're taking a 'W' to me. You're the man to me. I don't care what you say. He's been put in a very tough position this year, but he's handled it with grace and honor, and he's doing what we need him to do for this team."

No, Carr is not the same guy he was two years ago.

But until Sunday, he might have been a more efficient quarterback under Gruden.

Yes, Carr had an off game, with an uncharacteristic 18 incompletions in his 34 pass attempts (his 47.06 completion percentage was his lowest since Dec. 8, 2016, at Kansas City and tied for the third-lowest percentage of his career). The Ravens got to him with a standard four-man rush, per ESPN Stats and Information, finishing 10-of-21 for 83 yards (4.0 yards per attempt) and taking two sacks on those plays.

Carr was under duress on 39 percent of his dropbacks against four-man pressure, well above his season average of 21 percent, the third-lowest mark in the NFL entering the game. Interestingly, Carr was 6-of-13 with an average of 8.5 yards per attempt against a rush of five players or more.

He entered the day completing a career-best 70.4 percent of his passes while averaging 7.5 yards per attempt. Also, Carr's career-best interception-less streak reached six games on Sunday.

Minor victories, right?

No doubt Carr and the Raiders would prefer the wins that come on the scoreboard while avoiding the punishing hits that have become the norm.

"I hurt it pretty bad," Carr said of the ankle. "I tried to stand up, but I couldn't. Once I got to the sideline, I tried to hurry up and get back in there. I wanted to finish the game with my team. It's important to me, and I want my teammates to know that I am going to finish a game if I possibly can. I will not take the easy way out."

Gruden left him no choice in the Raiders' 34-3 blowout loss at the San Francisco 49ers in Week 9, saving Carr, who had been sacked seven times by the Niners, more punishment.

Gruden contemplated taking Carr out in Baltimore, where he was sacked on those three straight plays.

"He wants to finish with his teammates," Gruden said. "There's a certain responsibility, I think, you have as a coach to let your quarterback, your captain of the team, finish the deal with the rest of his teammates, no matter how it gets."

Admirable? Sure.

Smart with a $125 million quarterback who, many think, will click with Gruden next year after a full season of experience together?

That remains to be seen. But as Gutierrez summed up, "If Carr keeps getting hit the way he is, it won't be his problem any longer. ..."

Also of interest. ... When the Raiders signed running back Doug Martin this offseason, it wasn't clear what kind of role he'd play for the team this year and it was also unclear whether he'd be effective after averaging 2.9 yards per carry over the last two seasons.

As Profootballtalk.com reminded readers, Martin didn't play much in the first six weeks of the season, but Marshawn Lynch hit injured reserve and Martin got a chance to play.

Martin has run 60 times for 285 yards and a touchdown and caught 10 passes for 95 yards over the last five games.

That hasn't done much to help the Raiders win games, but it has left Gruden with a desire to bring Martin back for another year.

"Hopefully we can keep him around here," Gruden said, via NBC Sports Bay Area. "He's a heck of a football player."

Making any big predictions about the way the Raiders roster will look next season is foolish given how many draft picks they have and how much turnover can be expected as Gruden tries to build a more competent team than he has this season.

That said, Martin doesn't figure to cost much as a complementary piece in the backfield and that makes it easier for him to fit in 2019 plans. ...

Jordy Nelson returned from a knee injury to play against the Ravens, but he was held without a catch in the game. ...

According to ESPN's Mike Clay, receiver Marcell Ateman has been on the field for 90 percent of the Raiders' offensive snaps over the past two weeks and was targeted a team-high 10 times in Week 12. Clay added that Ateman's volume should have him on your radar, but his efficiency leaves a lot to be desired. Ateman caught three passes for 16 yards on Sunday. ...

One last note here. ... According to Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic, the Raiders are signing tight end Darren Waller off the Ravens practice squad.

A former sixth-round pick of the Ravens, he has served a pair of suspensions for violating the league's policy on substances of abuse, a four-gamer in 2016 and the entire 2017 season. He was reinstated and went to camp with the Ravens, and has been on their practice squad all season.

A converted wide receiver, he has 12 career receptions for 103 yards and two touchdowns.

To make room for Waller, the Raiders released receiver Johnny Holton, who had been running behind Marcell Ateman.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Derek Carr, AJ McCarron
RBs: Doug Martin, C.J. Anderson, Jalen Richard, DeAndre Washington
WRs: Jordy Nelson, Marcell Ateman, Seth Roberts, Keon Hatcher
TEs: Jared Cook, Derek Carrier, Lee Smith

Philadelphia Eagles

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 27 November 2018

As NJ.com's Zack Rosenblatt noted, the Eagles thought highly enough of Josh Adams out of the draft to give him one of the largest signing bonuses of any undrafted free agents.

He was banged up throughout the summer and into training camp and ultimately didn't make the initial 53-man active roster.

The Eagles should be thankful he passed through waivers and eventually returned to the active roster a few weeks later.

Now, all of a sudden Adams is the team's clear-cut lead running back, which is especially impressive considering the Eagles traditionally use a three-man running back rotation.

In Sunday's 25-22 win against the Giants at Lincoln Financial Field, Adams had 22 carries, the most of any Eagles running back this season. He turned that into 84 yards (and a touchdown) and is averaging 5.4 yards per carry on 45 carries over the last four weeks. He also played a season-high 40 snaps.

Corey Clement seems to be the clear No. 2 running back at this stage while Wendell Smallwood has essentially fallen out of the rotation, only playing one snap against the Giants on Sunday. Clement had seven touches for 76 total yards.

The split might even be less skewed toward a running back-by-committee approach going forward. Adams might get even more work, starting in Week 13 against the Redskins.

Could Adams get to 30 carries in a game?

"It's not to discount Corey or Wendell because they do a lot of great things as well," Pederson said at a press conference at NovaCare Complex. "It's just that Josh now is taking that lead and we continue to grow and try to increase his touches each week."

As Rosenblatt suggested, it seems the Eagles are changing their approaching to running the football.

Consider: Before Sunday, the Eagles hadn't had a running back carry the ball 22 times since Week 1 in 2016, when Ryan Mathews rushed it 22 times against the Browns.

It happened twice in 2015 (Mathews, DeMarco Murray) and six times in 2014 (LeSean McCoy).

The Eagles haven't had a running back carry it 30 times since McCoy did it once during the 2013 season.

Perhaps the Eagles have a bell cow for the first time since the Chip Kelly era.

So, why did it take until Week 12?

"He started on practice squad to start the season," Pederson said. "We had Sproles, we had Jay, Corey and Wendell. We kinda knew what we had coming out of training camp but you still don't know until players play. Then, it's to his credit with taking advantage of some of the injuries.

"He's just slowly worked himself into this position."

Of course, some of it was Pederson being open to running the ball more. That decision was made easier by the need to take pressure off his ailing defense. As was the case with the defensive veterans, members of the offense, including O-linemen, spoke up to make sure their opinion on the matter was known.

"They were coming to me [saying], 'Keep running, keep running, keep running.' They wanted it on their backs," Pederson said. "So they did a really nice job."

The Eagles ended with 29 rushes (for 127 yards) to 28 pass attempts. They had a 62 percent-38 percent pass-run ratio entering the game.

"It allows you to kind of tee off and wear people down when we get that going. It just really makes it easier for our offensive attack so we're not one-sided [and] are able to be balanced," right tackle Lane Johnson said.

According to ESPN.com's Tim McManus, the message from Pederson for Week 12, per quarterback Carson Wentz, was to "keep it simple, do what we do best, and play our game."

He followed through with that messaging by dialing up a team favorite on the game's most crucial play -- a fourth-and-1 from the Giants' 42-yard line late in the contest. It's a mesh concept the Eagles dressed up six different ways in the Super Bowl and used on a key fourth-down play late in that game against the Patriots, resulting in a conversion to Zach Ertz.

This time, Nelson Agholor sprung open for a 12-yard gain, setting up the winning field goal.

It can certainly be asked why it took the Eagles (5-6) this long to strip things down when, as Ertz put it, they spent the better part of 10 games getting in their own way; and it's fair to wonder why it took calls from the players for some of these changes to occur.

But on Sunday, the decision -- however late -- to get back to basics paid dividends, and kept the Eagles' season alive. ...

As ESPN's Mike Clay notes, Alshon Jeffery has fallen short of 50 receiving yards in four consecutive games and hasn't scored a single touchdown during the span. That's after he cleared 73 receiving yards during three of his first four games this season, scoring four touchdowns during the span.

Clay added Jeffery's targets are a concern (five or fewer during three of his past four games), but he's still Wentz's top perimeter receiver.

One last note here. ... Darren Sproles continues to miss time with the hamstring injury that's sidelined him almost all season. Previous reporting suggested a December return; I'll report back if/when that changes.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Nick Foles, Nate Sudfeld, Carson Wentz
RBs: Josh Adams, Corey Clement, Wendell Smallwood, Darren Sproles
WRs: Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, Jordan Matthews, Golden Tate, Shelton Gibson, Mack Hollins
TEs: Zach Ertz, Dallas Goedert, Richard Rodgers

Pittsburgh Steelers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 27 November 2018

As ESPN.com's Jeremy Fowler put it, "An erratic day ended with an awful play for the Pittsburgh Steelers, whose brilliance on offense couldn't overcome a litany of mistakes."

Ben Roethlisberger's curious goal-line toss over the middle into the arms of Broncos defensive tackle Shelby Harris with 1:03 left sealed Denver's 24-17 win Sunday.

The Steelers moved meticulously downfield only to trip over their own momentum. From the 3-yard line with two minutes left, the Steelers ran a fade play for an incompletion and a James Conner run the Broncos stuffed. On third down, Roethlisberger pulled back a handoff as Antonio Brown crossed the middle, throwing the ball into a sea of defenders in orange.

Through three quarters, the Steelers had twice as many yards as Denver (446 to 223), held on to the ball for about twice as long (29:30 to 15:30) yet found themselves tied at 17 thanks to two lost fumbles and an interception.

Roethlisberger's 12th career 400-yard game fell flat.

Whether it was Roethlisberger's firing a 97-yarder from his own end zone or kicker Chris Boswell's firing into the Broncos' end zone for a trick-play score, the Steelers found creative ways to put up points.

It wasn't enough to extend the win streak to seven. And it shouldn't have been difficult.

The offense moved the ball well on its first three drives but had three points to show for it. Eight different Steelers caught a pass in the first half, and when the Steelers fooled the Broncos with a well-timed misdirection play for 23 yards to tight end Xavier Grimble, a big Will Parks hit forced a fumble at the 1-yard line for a touchback.

That play loomed large. As Fowler pointed out, one cut to the inside probably would have sealed the touchdown.

Instead, the Broncos got a touchback. In a one-touchdown game.

Deep in his end zone and with Shelby Harris closing in for the hit, Roethlisberger took the five-step drop and delivered a dime to JuJu Smith-Schuster for a 97-yard score early in the third quarter. Smith-Schuster -- now the proud owner of two 97-yard receptions dating back to last year -- caught the ball around midfield, broke toward the sideline and stiff-armed Darian Stewart.

Brown threw a helpful block on Chris Harris along the way.

That score should have punctuated a winning performance but instead simply looks good on the stat sheet.

That said, while other Steelers wide receivers have reached the 1,000-yard plateau in their seconds seasons, none of them have done it at such a young age, or with quite the flourish that Smith-Schuster did.

Smith-Schuster hit the milestone in Sunday's loss to the Broncos, thanks in large part to the 97-yard touchdown that tied a franchise record for longest pass play in franchise history

"One of my top goals," he said, via Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "Obviously, every receiver has yards, catches, pretty much touchdowns, and I reached that goal. But I'm never satisfied."

He's actually the fourth Steelers wideout to hit 1,000 yards since 2000, joining Plaxico Burress, Mike Wallace, and Brown.

But having just turned 22 on Thanksgiving, he's the youngest to achieve the feat.

"He's reliable, dependable and trustworthy," Roethlisberger said. "I know he is going to be in the right spot."

Smith-Schuster had 68 catches for 917 yards and seven touchdowns as a rookie, and now has 77 catches for 1,055 yards and four scores this year.

As Profootballtalk.com noted, it's a rapid ascent, and he's given the Steelers a reliable option opposite Brown in a season without Le'Veon Bell.

And the best news for the Steelers, he's a year away from a pay raise, as keeping multiple expensive targets at a time has been a problem for them in the past. ...

Meanwhile, James Conner is an ascending player whose star just got chipped on the way up. In Week 11, he dropped two passes in crucial moments against Jacksonville. Against the Broncos, Conner lost a fumble for the second time this season when he was upended after reception.

He has 143 total rushing yards in the three weeks. After 95 total yards Sunday, Conner is still on pace for 1,000-plus rushing yards and is among the league leaders in touchdowns with 10.

Conner has five more games to rediscover the October surge that earned him AFC offensive player of the month honors.

As Fowler suggests, part of that is usage.

Conner has averaged 11.7 rushing attempts per game from Weeks 10-12, compared to 22 per game from Weeks 6-9.

To be sure, matchups and flow of the game affect those swings. And Roethlisberger said the game plan dictated a pass-happy attack, with 56 passes resulting in 464 yards in the air and eight different receivers catching a pass.

"A lot of guys made plays for us," Roethlisberger said. "Why get away from something you are successful in just to force something else?"

There's no question Roethlisberger can win games with his arm. He was tremendous for most of Sunday's action. The Steelers also have one of the league's best offensive lines, and they love to run the ball. Conner is among the league's best at breaking tackles, which is hard to do without gaining a rhythm.

The Los Angeles Chargers, who come to Heinz Field on Sunday, entered the weekend ranked tied for 20th in rushing yards allowed per attempt at 4.6. The Week 13 matchup could be a springboard for Conner.

A true 50-50 balance of run and pass is obsolete in today's NFL. But good things happen when the running game is a factor, and Conner has proven he thrives off volume.

"We will be ready to go," Conner said. "We will have more opportunities. ..."

Head coach Mike Tomlin said he hasn't lost faith in Conner, but he knows the Chargers are aware of Conner's fumbles.

"I will acknowledge as a feature ball carrier in this league, when you got some tape with some balls on the ground, people use that as motivation. I know we do," Tomlin said at his weekly press conference. "If we're playing a featured runner and in some recent weeks he's got some balls on the ground, Wednesday morning that is being discussed. That's the nature of my conversation with James -- just understand how the other 31 teams function.

"Somewhere in L.A. Tomorrow, they'll be talking about his balls on the ground. I'll be excited about watching his response to that."

Also. ... Rookie wide receiver James Washington didn't come up with a deep pass from Roethlisberger in the third quarter of Sunday's loss and Roethlisberger said on Tuesday that Washington "has to make" that catch.

Roethlisberger was making his weekly appearance on 93.7 The Fan and said he believes Washington "just didn't trust his hands" because he tried to make a diving catch when it didn't appear to be necessary.

Roethlisberger said Washington "can't be out there" if he isn't going to make a play like that.

The second-round pick has been in on just under half the offensive snaps this season and has eight catches for 77 yards and a touchdown on the year. ...

On the injury front. ... Tomlin told reporters on Tuesday that Vance McDonald (hip) will be limited early (as he was Wednesday) in week while Grimble is in concussion protocol. Linebacker Bud Dupree has pec injury that could limit him. Defensive end Stephon Tuitt (elbow) could return to practice Wednesday. OT Marcus Gilbert could be back, too.

And finally. ... Wide receiver Eli Rogers has been on the physically unable to perform list since the start of the regular season and the Steelers announced on Wednesday that he has been cleared to return to practice. That opens a 21-day window for Rogers, who tore an ACL in January, to practice with the team before they reach a deadline to activate him or shut him down for the rest of the season.

Rogers re-signed with Pittsburgh after the team opted not to tender him as a restricted free agent. He had 66 catches for 743 yards and four touchdowns over the last two seasons.

Brown, Smith-Schuster, Washington, Ryan Switzer, Justin Hunter and Darrius Heyward-Bey are the receivers on the active roster, so, as Profootballtalk.com's Josh Alper suggests, it may take an injury to someone else for Rogers to show that he’s completely recovered.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Ben Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph, Josh Dobbs
RBs: Jaylen Samuels, Stevan Ridley, James Conner
WRs: Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Ryan Switzer
TEs: Vance McDonald, Jesse James, Xavier Grimble

San Francisco 49ers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 27 November 2018

As NBCSports.com's Jennifer Lee Chan noted, Nick Mullens had a tough Sunday in the 49ers' 27-9 loss to the Buccaneers, and head coach Kyle Shanahan said, as usual, he'll re-evaluate the position.

"I evaluate it every week, honestly," Shanahan said. "There's no difference with that, and I'll continue to do that with every position on our team for the next five weeks."

The evaluation ended Monday evening, when Shanahan confirmed that Mullens will start against the Seahawks this weekend.

All this after Mullens completed 18 of his 32 passes for 221 yards and one touchdown with two interceptions for a 62.1 rating. That's in stark contrast to his first NFL start in Week 9 against the Raiders when he completed 16 of his 22 passes, threw for three TDs and registered a 151.9 rating.

Shanahan was frank about his thoughts on Mullen's play Sunday, but he didn't place all the blame on his young quarterback.

"I don't think he played well," Shanahan said. "Just looking at some of our situations, but that wasn't all him. No one played well, especially in the passing game. I thought we did do some good things in the run game, like I said earlier. But all around, we didn't do good enough."

Mullens was under pressure for much of the game, as he was sacked four times for negative-27 yards and hit nine times. Before Sunday, he hadn't been sacked once.

When asked why the 49ers' offense was unable to get into a rhythm, Mullens couldn't put a finger on a specific reason.

"I don't know exactly what it was," he said, "but there was a time there where we just couldn't stay on schedule. We had a couple second- and third-and-longs, and anytime you get in those situations, it's hard to fight back from."

The 49ers only converted one of their eight third downs. They only needed 1 yard for that conversion, which happened midway through the third quarter. The remaining seven third downs ranged from being 7 to 30 yards away. They were in a third-and-26 situation twice.

After the game, Mullens took ownership for the 49ers' passing game challenges.

"It's frustrating," he said. "We thought we had a chance. We definitely had our chances and we didn't take advantage of them, and a lot of that starts with me."

Whether or not Mullens remains the 49ers' starter remains to be seen.

Shanahan previously has said it's been good for previous starter C.J. Beathard to step away and get healthy after a wrist injury. And up until Sunday, Mullens had been getting rid of the ball quickly and avoiding sacks.

Beathard has struggled in those areas. He took a beating in his six starts this season, being sacked 18 times for negative-156 yards. The Cardinals dropped him four times in each of their matchups, and the Rams took him to the ground a whopping seven times.

Beathard connected on 102 of his 169 passes in those six games for a 60.4 percent completion rate. He also threw eight TD passes and seven interceptions, giving him just an 81.8 rating.

The 2017 season was a similar story for Beathard, who was sacked 19 times for negative-141 yards in seven games. He completed 123 of his 224 passes, and threw four TD passes and six interceptions for a 69.2 rating.

So how many more opportunities Mullens will get remains to be seen. As ESPN.com's Nick Wagoner noted, Mullen's limitations are to be expected of an undrafted quarterback in his second NFL season.

But Sunday's loss should also serve as a reminder that the 49ers still have a lot to figure out when it comes to choosing a primary backup for starter Jimmy Garoppolo.

Things don't get any easier for Mullens or the offense as they travel to Seattle on Sunday. ...

Meanwhile, in an otherwise forgettable showing by the 49ers' passing game, rookie wide receiver Dante Pettis made the best of his most extensive playing time of the season.

"It's always nice to play more and be able to feel the game out, instead of always going in and out," Pettis told NBCSports.com's Matt Maiocco. "You do get into a groove and get a feel for it."

Pettis caught four passes for 77 yards, including a 13-yard touchdown in the second quarter. Mullens targeted Pettis seven times in the game.

Pettis and second-year pro Kendrick Bourne played 58 and 56 snaps, respectively, as veteran receivers Pierre Garcon and Marquise Goodwin were not available. Garcon has missed three of the past four games with a knee injury. Goodwin was excused from the game so he could handle a personal matter.

The 49ers selected Pettis in the second round with the No. 44 overall pick this year. He missed three games earlier this season with a knee injury, and he now has 11 catches for 185 yards and two touchdowns on the season.

Now that he considers himself 100 percent healthy, Pettis said he is looking to finish strong in the final five games to carry momentum for next season.

"These last few games are important because I'm finally feeling good, and being able to build off that into next year is going to be big," Pettis said. ..

I'll be watching for more on Garcon and Goodwin in coming days; check the Late-Breaking Updates section for more. ...

One last note here. ... Running back Matt Breida had three catches for 34 yards, yet he had 36 yards after the catch. Beyond that, Alfred Morris was a healthy scratch in Tampa and Jeffery Wilson stepped up as Breida's change-of-pace complement. Wilson is an undrafted rookie out of North Texas who was promoted from the practice squad last Saturday.

Wilson rushed seven times for 33 yards and caught his lone target for eight yards.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Nick Mullens, C.J. Beathard
RBs: Jeff Wilson, Alfred Morris, Kyle Juszczyk, Raheem Mostert, Matt Breida
WRs: Marquise Goodwin, Pierre Garcon, Dante Pettis , Kendrick Bourne, Trent Taylor, Victor Bolden
TEs: George Kittle, Garrett Celek, Cole Hikutini

Seattle Seahawks

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 27 November 2018

The Seahawks scored on each of their final five possessions, including three touchdowns, in large part because of big plays made in the passing game.

As Seahawks.com's John Boyle noted, in their dramatic 30-27 win over the Panthers, the Seahawks rushed for just 75 yards, averaging 2.7 yards per carry, and passed for 339 yards, averaging 10.9 yards per attempt.

And those lopsided numbers perfectly illustrated the type of balance Seahawks coach Pete Carroll wants to have in an offense.

A common misperception of Carroll's teams is that he wants to have a run-first offense, but if you listen to Carroll talk offensive philosophy, the term he uses over and over is balance, not run-first. But when Carroll says balance, he doesn't mean he wants to have a certain run-to-pass ratio in every game, or rush for a certain number of yards every game; to Carroll, balance means being able to call upon the running game or the passing game when needed in order for the offense to do what it takes to win.

Coming into this week's game, the Seahawks had rushed for more than 150 yards in seven straight games, the longest such streak in franchise history, but the combination of Carolina's talent in its front-seven and its commitment to stopping Seattle's running game made for a tough day on the ground for the Seahawks. But what Carolina's commitment to stopping the run also did was give Russell Wilson and his receivers more chances to make big plays in the passing game, and Wilson responded by completing 22 of 31 attempts for a season-high 339 yards, two touchdowns and a 128.3 passer rating.

Wilson completed seven explosive passes (16-plus yards) to five different targets: David Moore, Tyler Lockett, Tre Madden, Malik Turner and Doug Baldwin.

Those big plays included a 35-yard touchdown to Moore that tied the game with under four minutes left to play, as well as a 43-yarder to Lockett that set up the winning field goal. Big catches by Lockett (27 yards) and Madden (28 yards) set up a 1-yard Chris Carson touchdown run in the second quarter, and a 54-yard pass to Moore set up a 12-yard touchdown pass to Lockett.

"On a day when we couldn't run the ball like we had been, we needed the throwing game, and Russ came through and had a great day throwing the football," Carroll said. "He just found so many key plays in crucial situations, and did a wonderful job of making plays down the stretch when we had to have them. Guys made the catches, and the pass protection was there for us. We love to run the football, but balance is what's really the essence of this thing, and I'm thrilled we were able to do that."

Indeed, Carson's spectacular hurdle-turned-somersault along with his 1-yard touchdown were highlights on an otherwise quiet day for Seattle's starting running back.

The Seahawks were balanced in the first half in the traditional sense, rushing 14 times and throwing 12 passes, but those 14 runs led to only 50 yards, and the Seahawks punted on three of their first four possessions.

"They did a good job against us," Carroll said. "That's a really good, stellar front. They've got three fantastic linebackers, they're monsters inside, it was just really hard."

Added Wilson, "It was definitely hard (to run the ball). Those linebackers and that D-line are pretty good, but to be able to throw the ball—we can do anything we want to do. We've got star receivers out there on the flank, we've got tight ends who can catch, we've got running backs who can catch, we've got guys who can protect really well, so there's nothing we can't do. We want to play tough, physical football, but we also want to be able to be explosive in the passing game, spread the ball around, and guys made plays when we needed them to."

In the second half, the Seahawks threw 19 passes and ran it 14 times, though two of those 14 were kneel downs late in the game prior to Sebastian Janikowski's game-winning field goal, so it was really a 19-12 ratio. With the threat of the run still credible even without a lot of big gains, Seattle's passing game opened up in the second half, with Wilson throwing for 218 of his 339 yards and both of his touchdowns.

Again, balance doesn't mean a certain number of runs for the Seahawks, it means having the running game and passing game both available when needed.

And now they very much alive, especially with a favorable remaining schedule. The Seahawks will play four of their final five games at CenturyLink Field.

The lone road game is against the 2-9 49ers and one of their home games is against a Chiefs team that might take its foot off the gas by the time it comes to Seattle in Week 16. Seattle also hosts San Francisco, Arizona and Minnesota and should be favored in all three.

Things are looking up for the Seahawks after their most impressive win of the season. ...

Worth noting. ... J.D. McKissic is being activated off injured reserve after spending the first 12 weeks of the season on the sidelines with a foot injury sustained in the preseason. McKissic returned to practice last week when he was designated to return from injured reserve.

McKissic could have practiced with the team for an additional two weeks before being added to the 53-man roster, but the Seahawks were thrilled with his week of practice a week ago.

McKissic will take the roster spot created by the Seahawks waiving of wide receiver Keenan Reynolds on Tuesday.

And finally. ... Janikowski was named the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week after kicking a 31-yard game winner in this one.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Russell Wilson, Brett Hundley
RBs: Chris Carson, Mike Davis, Rashaad Penny, C.J. Prosise, J.D. McKissic
WRs: Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett, David Moore, Jaron Brown
TEs: Nick Vannett, Ed Dickson

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 27 November 2018

In order for Jameis Winston to beat the San Francisco 49ers 27-9 Sunday -- Step 1 in his quest to re-assert himself as the starting quarterback -- he had to recognize that he couldn't do it trying to be somebody else.

As ESPN.com's Jenna Laine put it, "He had to stop chasing backup Ryan Fitzpatrick and his 'FitzMagic' reel of highlights that electrified the league while he was home serving a three-game suspension."

"It's definitely challenging when you have such a wave from a guy who's doing such an amazing job and you're trying to fit in. I think it was more trying to prove to everyone what I'm capable of," said Winston, who was pulled in the second half of Week 8 and benched until head coach Dirk Koetter re-named him the starter this week.

"Any player, you've always got to be yourself. I've been playing this game since I was four years' old. I think the most important thing is to be the best 'me' -- never try to chase someone else, chase the man in the mirror and compete against him every day."

It was the first time he didn't turn the ball over in a season full of forced throws and sometimes reckless decisions. It was also his first game without throwing an interception since Dec. 24, 2017.

Winston completed 29 of 38 passes for 312 yards and two touchdowns and a quarterback rating of 117.4. He looked far more like himself Sunday instead of the struggling quarterback who matched last season's 11 interceptions in his first five games this year.

Winston said it had to do with a simplified approach.

"It's easier to keep it simple when you're very decisive," he explained. "Making quick decisions, getting the ball out of your hand, trying to execute on every single play and trying to understand that sometimes you've gotta check the ball down, sometimes you've gotta talk to yourself and say, 'Hey, I'm just going to take this sack.'"

On Winston's second possession, he hit tight end Cameron Brate on the run for a 6-yard touchdown pass in the back of the end zone, giving the Bucs their first lead in a game since Week 7. On that same drive, facing a third-and-8, Winston hit Mike Evans for a 42-yard completion.

On the Bucs' first possession of the third quarter, Winston scrambled outside the pocket to connect with Evans on a 34-yard catch-and-run, setting up a 2-yard touchdown rush by running back Peyton Barber, making it 20-9.

Then in the fourth quarter, Winston was flushed from the pocket, rolled to his right and found a wide-open Adam Humphries, throwing across his body for a 26-yard touchdown to make put the Bucs ahead by three scores.

"That was not how we [drew] it up," Humphries said with a chuckle. "It was just a good feel by Jameis, seeing me wide-open. I honestly didn't think I was that wide-open. [He] just kind of stayed on the move, I kind of locked eyes with him, he found me and to be able to get into the end zone was awesome."

There were a few missed opportunities too.

But Winston made good decisions with the football, which was paramount, as Koetter has stated that those are the primary reasons he has switched quarterbacks three times this season.

"I'm not sure what it took, but he did it. That's really all that matters," Koetter said. "He played quarterback the way you really need to play it in the NFL.

"Jameis wasn't perfect but he played a damn-good game. [I'm] proud of him. It's been a difficult road. He sees what that looks like and he needs to consistently play like that to be one of the best."

Even when the big plays weren't there, or the Niners got penetration, Winston was able to check down to Humphries and running back Jacquizz Rodgers, and also tucked the ball to run for a 15-yard gain.

Turnovers have been the Achilles' heel of the Bucs' offense all season -- Winston and Ryan Fitzpatrick's combined 23 picks are most in the NFL.

"That's been what's really hurt us, put us behind the sticks," Humphries said. "Today [Winston] did a great job of protecting it, [he] scrambled when he needed to and found some guys downfield, made some great throws. It feels really good to come out of there with a clean game like that."

Winston and the offense will face a much bigger test this week against the Carolina Panthers. Heading into Sunday's game, the Niners had recorded just two interceptions on the season. The Panthers' 11 interceptions this season are tied for fourth in the NFL.

The next six games are crucial for Winston, the Bucs' first overall draft pick in 2015, whose career has, at times, been marred by turnovers. His $20.9 million fifth-year option is guaranteed for injury only until the first day of the new league year in March 2019. Winston is also vying for a contract extension. Make no mistake: He'll have to earn it.

Starting this weekend. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Evans eclipsed the 1,000-yard receiving mark against the 49ers. While that by itself is impressive, especially considering he's done it in just 11 games, there's much more to it for the Bucs' 'X' receiver.

He's reached the 1,000-yard mark every season he's been in the league, now totaling five, which makes him just the third player in NFL history to accomplish the feat. That's right, NFL history.

He's in the company of Randy Moss and the Bengals' A.J. Green with that accomplishment.

Winston said after the game how proud he was of Evans for reaching the milestone, and doing it with five games left on the season, at that. Last season came down to the wire, with Winston recalling the throws he was forcing to Evans so he could reach 1,000 yards. Evans ended 2017 with 1,001 yards receiving, thanks to his quarterback. ...

DeSean Jackson is slated to get a second medical opinion on his nagging thumb injury, putting his status for Sunday's game in question.

Koetter said Jackson was re-examined by a local hand specialist Monday and will be traveling to New York to receive a second opinion there on Tuesday. It's typical that players receive another medical opinion when their first diagnosis isn't a favorable one.

That said, Jackson was practicing in a limited capacity Wednesday, with The Athletic's Greg Auman reporting the wideout was wearing a small brace on his injured left thumb.

Jackson was listed on last week's injury report with the same injury, but he practiced fully last Thursday and played 36 snaps Sunday.

That said, he didn't play a major role in the Bucs' win. Despite being targeted eight times, Jackson made just three catches for 19 yards and added a 6-yard run on an end-around play. Jackson's biggest play of the day came on a 14-yard reception down the sideline in the third quarter.

Winston missed Jackson on three deep balls, including one ball in the second quarter when Winston had Jackson wide open downfield but overthrew him.

"The thing with DeSean (Sunday) is we just flat missed him five times," Koetter said. "One was a tough over-the-top shot that Jameis overthrew but there were four other times that DeSean was open and we just missed him. We didn't miss many throws yesterday, but the ones we did miss unfortunately were mostly to DeSean."

As Tampa Bay Times staff writer Eduardo A. Encina noted, much has been made of how Winston and Jackson have been unable to connect, and Winston has completed just 13 of 33 pass targets -- 39.4 percent -- to Jackson this season with one touchdown and three interceptions. By comparison, Fitzpatrick connected on 71.1 percent of his targets to Jackson this season.

Jackson has played in all 11 games this season, making 40 catches for 750 yards. His 18.8 yards per reception is tied for second-best in the league. Jackson missed the last two games of last season with an ankle injury after he was injured during a Week 14 loss to the Falcons.

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

A few final items. ... New kicker Cairo Santos quietly went about his job, hitting two field goals from 41 and 39 yards and nailing all three of his extra points. Right down the middle. ...

Winston has reached a settlement to end the sexual battery lawsuit filed against him by an Arizona Uber driver who accused him of groping her in March 2016. In a joint notice of settlement filed in federal court Monday, the driver's attorney, John Clune, wrote that his client "reached an agreement" with Winston to resolve her claim. Terms of the deal were not specified.

The filing in the U.S. District Court for Arizona said the settlement should be finalized in about 10 days. ...

And finally. ... Tight end O.J. Howard has had a week to digest the fact that his season is over, but realizes the injury that ended his year could have been worse.

Howard, speaking for the first time since going on injured reserve with right ankle and foot injuries, was enjoying a breakout season. His 16.6 yards per catch led all starting tight ends, but for the second straight year, his season ended prematurely with an injury to the same leg.

He finished doing what he'd been able to do all season long: stretch the field as part of the Bucs' passing game. He caught a pass over the middle for a 24-yard gain and into the red zone in the fourth quarter of the Bucs' loss to the Giants two weeks ago. He was tackled from behind by Giants linebacker Tae Davis, whose weight came down on the back of his right leg.

"It's difficult," Howard said of the injury. "Two years in a row, just kind of unfortunate plays, I hurt my leg and my foot. I wanted to finish the season of course. I worked so hard and it's just kind of disappointing.

"I won't need surgery at all. That's the positive sign to it. It's going to heal on its own and I'll be ready to go in no time."

Howard said he should be able to have a normal offseason in preparation for 2019, saying that the injury will likely take four to six weeks to heal.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jameis Winston, Ryan Griffin
RBs: Peyton Barber, Jacquizz Rodgers, Ronald Jones
WRs: Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, DeSean Jackson, Adam Humphries, Justin Watson, Freddie Martino
TEs: Cameron Brate, Antony Auclair, Alan Cross

Tennessee Titans

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 27 November 2018

The Tennessee Titans started fast against the Houston Texans on Monday night.

In desperate need of a win to stay alive in the race for the AFC South division title or a wild-card playoff spot, the Titans took an early 10-point lead before the tide was turned on two plays early in the second quarter.

Head coach Mike Vrabel has shown he's not afraid to go for it on fourth down. Monday's game was no different. Down 14-10, Vrabel showed faith in his offensive line by going for it on fourth-and-1 at Houston's 3-yard line.

However, the decision to hand it off to tight end Luke Stocker on the fullback dive did not pan out. It was Stocker's first career NFL carry, and it failed miserably as he was tackled for no gain by Texans defensive tackle Christian Covington.

Tennessee had the numbers in their favor if they decided to run power to the left side, where Dennis Kelly lined up as a tackle eligible next to left tackle Taylor Lewan. Instead, the Titans tried to fool the Texans by running away from the strong side of the formation.

The decision to go for it on fourth in the red zone reminded me of the end of Tennessee's loss to the Los Angeles Chargers in London when the rookie head coach attempted a failed two-point conversion to win when an extra point would have extended the game. As NFL.com suggested, sometimes fortune doesn't favor the bold, especially when your play calls are unfortunate.

Adding to the woes, after turning it over on downs, the usually reliable Titans defense gave up a 97-yard touchdown run by Houston running back Lamar Miller on the very next play. Tennessee was hoping to get the defensive stop and field position after a punt. Instead, Miller demolished the eight-man front and outraced everyone breaking off the longest touchdown run of the season.

The two plays accounted for a 10-point swing and led to an avalanche of 20 unanswered points by the Texans. It also might have ended the Titans' playoff chances. ...

On a more positive note, Marcus Mariota was special in his return from an elbow stinger. One day after Philip Rivers completed a record 25 straight passes to open a game, Mariota (303 yards) completed 19 straight, a streak that took the Titans signal-caller 14 minutes deep into the fourth quarter.

According to the team's official website, Mariota had no idea he was on a hot streak.

And in the wake of the loss, he didn't really seem to care about it.

Mariota was 19-of-19 for 271 yards and two touchdowns at one point before throwing his first incompletion late in the game.

His streak of completions broke a "Titans era" record, which he set against the Eagles earlier this season when he completed 15 straight. Mariota finished the game 22-of-23 for 303 yards with a 147.7 passer rating.

Mariota instead pointed to the miscues, which resulted in the Titans seeing an early 10-0 lead melt away in another disappointing loss.

"I can do a better job, though," Mariota said after the game. "I didn't help our guys up front -- I was holding the ball too long. I got us in negative situations, taking some of these sacks. I'll look back at the film and get better from it, and improve."

Mariota was sacked six times in the contest, and he's now been sacked 35 times in 10 games this season. The Titans weren't able to take advantage of Mariota's success because they didn't help themselves on third down by going 4-of-12 (33 percent).

"They did a good job on third down against us," Mariota said. "To be able to continue to sustain drives, continue to sustain momentum, we've got to be able to be efficient on third down. And I think there were times when we might have had a big play, but we got kind of stalled. If we want to be the offense that we want to be, we have to improve in that area, and be able to continue to sustain drive and score points."

Mariota connected with tight end Jonnu Smith for a 61-yard touchdown early.

On the play, Smith caught a short pass in the middle of the field, and then outraced everyone to the end zone to make it 10-0. But the Texans responded with 27 straight points.

Later in the game, Mariota connected with receiver Corey Davis for a 48-yard touchdown, which made it 27-17. The touchdown pass was Mariota's 16th completion in a row to start the game.

But none of the stats mattered in the end, as the Titans dropped to 5-6.

"We just have to focus on tomorrow," Mariota said. "We can't worry about anything else. Just take care of your business, take care of your household, and find ways to improve.

"When it comes down to it, we haven't played complementary football. We haven't done a good enough job across the board. At the same time, there is no loss of confidence. Go back to the film, and find things we can improve on, and bounce back."

By the way. ... Of those 19 straight completions, just three went beyond 10 yards through the air.

Davis led the team with 96 yards on four receptions, including the above-mentioned touchdown.

It was the third-highest single-game receiving yardage total of his career. Davis also took a reverse and raced 39 yards for a career-long rushing attempt in the second quarter. His 135 scrimmage yards in the game made up the second-highest total of his career (161 vs. Philadelphia on Sept. 30, 2018).

Davis also reached the 1,000-yard receiving mark for his career. In 21 career games, the former fifth-overall draft choice has 83 receptions for 1,077 yards and three touchdowns.

Smith's touchdown catch surpassed his previous long of 32 yards at Jacksonville on Sept. 17, 2017. He finished the game with a career-high 63 yards on two receptions, eclipsing his previous single-game career high of 45 receiving yards against New England two weeks earlier (Nov. 11).

Running back Dion Lewis registered a team-high seven receptions for 33 yards against the Texans. In getting to 43 receptions in 2018, he set a new personal high for catches in a season, topping his previous high of 36 receptions in 2015.

Additionally, Lewis hit the 1,000-yard receiving mark for his career. The seventh-year veteran's career totals include 131 receptions for 1,028 yards.

Derrick Henry rushed eight times for 30 yards and caught two passes for 19 yards.

On the injury front. ... Taywan Taylor missed his third-straight game with a foot injury but he appears to be getting closer to a return; I'll have more on his progress via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.

Cornerback Malcolm Butler missed the second half of Monday's loss while he was being evaluated for a concussion.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Marcus Mariota, Blaine Gabbert
RBs: Derrick Henry, Dion Lewis, David Fluellen
WRs: Corey Davis, Taywan Taylor, Tajae Sharpe
TEs: Luke Stocker

Washington Redskins

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 27 November 2018

As NBCSports.com's Peter Hailey noted, the hope was that Colt McCoy would pull it off.

After going from backup to starter in Week 11, McCoy came into the state where he's a legend and had the chance to pull off a major upset of the Cowboys on national TV.

Instead, he and the Redskins left Dallas with a second consecutive loss and their season heading the wrong direction.

For the game, McCoy finished 24-of-38 for 268 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions. What prevented him and the Skins from having a better offensive day?

According to Hailey, there were factors.

One was turnovers. ... Alex Smith threw five interceptions in 38 quarters as the Redskins starter this season. McCoy threw three in four quarters against the Cowboys.

It was expected that No. 12 would take a few more risks and try to push the ball more while running the offense in No. 11's place. But on Thursday, he forced too many throws and that really cost Washington, a team that's been very reliant on winning the takeaway battle.

"You can't turn the ball over in the division on the road and expect to come out on top," he said afterward. "I take full responsibility for that."

Jay Gruden and Co. can live with a slight uptick in INTs from McCoy if he's also producing more down the field. Yet in his debut start this year, he was too careless.

Another issue was lack of preparation. ... Per Hailey, expecting McCoy to come in and smoothly run things from the get-go was probably too much, even though he's been in Gruden's system for years now.

That task was especially difficult on Thursday because of the quick turnaround from Sunday's loss to the Texans and the matchup with the Cowboys. That meant no real practice for the QB and his teammates.

"Walkthroughs are like watching tape," he said. "Not a whole lot goes on out there."

Details like depths of routes are very difficult to nail down without real practice.

"There's little things throughout the game that came up because I just hadn't had a whole lot of reps with those guys," he admitted.

"Colt, in fairness to him, hasn't had any reps with the 1s, going through the process of a game plan of going through the plays, watching the plays of him doing it," head coach Jay Gruden said. "He's been watching [Smith] do everything the entire year. He's been watching Kirk Cousins do it the entire year before that, so this process of being a starting quarterback is something that repetition is necessary and critical in the quarterback's progress and the reps will help considerably, I'd hope."

As ESPN.com's John Keim pointed out, the real corrections during the week occur after practice, when coaches and players see what they did on film. Walk-throughs are for going over plays at a slow pace.

"That's why practice is so important," Gruden said. "When you're just doing walk-throughs, you don't really make the mistakes to correct. It's here's what we are trying to do here, here's our strength coach playing a third corner, so it's a little bit different. But I think when you're able to get the looks, and you're still not going to get the exact looks you are going to see every time, but still going through the repetition. I've always believe that repetition is key and if you don't get the reps, it will set you back a little bit."

He's very hopeful that the extended gap between now and their Monday night trip to Philly will allow him to clean things up. Look for that to absolutely make a difference in the offense's overall performance.

Of course, not every issue stemmed from a lack of practice time. McCoy was definitely more aggressive in the passing game than Smith had been as the starter in the first 10 games before his season-ending injury.

At times, McCoy might have been too aggressive. The eighth-year player tried to connect with receivers down the sidelines when the defensive back had the advantage. But some of that can be corrected through more work; McCoy was trying to make back-shoulder throws, but the timing was off.

That hadn't been much of a tactic with Smith. McCoy did complete some of those deeper outs, like a 17-yarder to Josh Doctson in the fourth quarter, hitting his plant foot and throwing.

And finally, there was no running game. ... A vintage day from Adrian Peterson would've made McCoy's job much, much more doable. But Peterson and the rest of the running game couldn't get anything going at ATandT Stadium.

This was the fourth straight game Peterson's yards-per-carry average finished below four. His longest run in the loss was just nine yards.

What you're starting to see is how much Brandon Scherff's absence is harming the rushing offense, which in turn is harming the full operation. Unfortunately, he's not returning anytime soon, so Bill Callahan is going to have to use this break to come up with a way to help get Peterson back on track.

McCoy needs that.

Expect them to work hard to try to establish that against the Eagles -- although the passing matchup is very inviting.

Other notes of interest. ... Left tackle Trent Williams was taken to a hospital in Dallas after Thursday's loss to the Cowboys for what the team said were precautionary reasons.

Williams remained in Dallas on Thursday night so he could have his ribs examined by medical personnel.

Gruden said that X-rays of those ribs were negative and that Williams' injury is not as severe as the one that has kept running back Chris Thompson out of the lineup for several weeks. He added that Williams is expected to be sore and that the team will see where things stand when they get back to work on Monday.

Williams missed three games with a dislocated thumb before returning to face the Cowboy on Thursday. Ty Nsekhe replaced him in those games and during the brief period he was out of Thursday's game.

For what it's worth, Thompson said he's encouraged by the progress of his broken rib and is hopeful about playing Monday at Philadelphia. Both Thompson and Williams were on the practice field Monday.

Jamison Crowder (ankle) seems to have a good shot at returning after coming close last week; he was a pre-game scratch after being listed as questionable.

Thompson and Crowder have missed a combined 13 games.

As Keim notes, that has left the team with an inconsistent run game featuring poor execution and a passing game without speed on the outside at receiver. The hope is, both return against Philadelphia.

Not only can Thompson make defenders miss, but he also excels in pass protection. The Redskins could use Thompson in certain packages that Peterson currently runs. That would enable Peterson, nursing a sore shoulder, to take on a lighter load.

I'll have more on all involved via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

Former 49ers linebacker Reuben Foster was claimed off waivers by the Redskins on Tuesday days after he was cut by San Francisco following a weekend arrest in Tampa, Florida, on suspicion of misdemeanor domestic violence battery, Washington announced.

Foster, however, will not be permitted to practice or play in games for the Redskins as the NFL placed him on the Reserve/Commissioner Exempt List while the league reviews his arrest.

And finally. ... Smith's return to football is not a certainty, but there is optimism that the quarterback will return from the spiral fracture in his leg in which the bone broke through his skin, sources tell ESPN Adam Schefter.

Smith, 34, faces a lengthy rehab, and doctors are maintaining a wait-and-see attitude even though the Redskins believe he can make it back. Smith broke the tibia and fibula in his right leg during last Sunday's loss to the Houston Texans.

Gruden said this past week that Smith, who underwent surgery, did not suffer any ligament damage and faces a timeline of "six to eight months" for recovery.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Josh Johnson, Mark Sanchez, Colt McCoy
RBs: Adrian Peterson, Kapri Bibbs, Samaje Perine, Chris Thompson
WRs: Josh Doctson, Jamison Crowder, Maurice Harris, Michael Floyd, Cam Sims, Trey Quinn
TEs: Vernon Davis, Jeremy Sprinkle, Jordan Reed