Team Notes week 14 2016

By Bob Harris
Bob Harris<

NEWS, NOTES, RUMORS AND OTHER GOOD STUFF

Directly from the desk of FlashUpdate Editor Bob Harris. The good; the bad; and yes. ... Even the Bears. There is no better way to jump start your weekend than browsing these always educational -- often irreverent -- team-by-team, Fantasy-specific offerings. ...
Access specific teams by clicking on a team name in the schedule appearing directly to your left or by clicking on a helmet below; return to the helmets by hitting the link labeled "Menu" following each teams notes. ...

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Arizona Cardinals

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 December 2016

As ESPN.com's Josh Weinfuss suggested, Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald might be biased, but they've been around long enough to know a good player when they see one.

And they don't think there's anyone better than running back David Johnson this season.

Johnson had his 12th consecutive game with more than 100 yards from scrimmage -- that's one in every game this season -- in Sunday's 31-23 win over the Redskins. He also scored two touchdowns. Oh Wednesday, he was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week.

"I think he is the best player in the NFL, point-blank," Palmer said. "I think he has proven that. Our wins and losses have affected some of the hype that he has not gotten and other guys have gotten because they are on winning teams. He is the best player in the NFL."

Fitzgerald concurred.

He believes Johnson is "the National Football League's MVP."

There wasn't much Johnson couldn't do Sunday. He had 84 rushing and 91 receiving yards -- the closest he has come to hitting 100 yards in both categories in a game.

With those statistics, the second-year player and third-round pick out of Northern Iowa, became the second player in NFL history to top 100 yards per game in the first 12 games of a season. Hall of Famer Edgerrin James did it in a record 13 games to start the 2005 season.

Johnson joins another Hall of Famer, Marshall Faulk, as the only players to have 1,000 yards rushing and 700 yards receiving through 12 games.

Faulk did it in 1998, scoring six touchdowns in the process. Johnson has an NFL-leading 15 TDs.

Head coach Bruce Arians was an assistant coach at Indianapolis when first Faulk, then James were there.

Johnson, Arians said, "reminds me a lot of those guys."

Palmer sees another highly regarded running back in Johnson.

"I remember playing with LaDainian Tomlinson in the Pro Bowl one time, back when LaDainian was the MVP of the league, and just hand the ball off and just watching him play," Palmer said. "You get that same feeling playing this position and handing the ball off to Dave and watching him go."

Johnson heard the comparison and the praise on Sunday and was appreciative.

"It means a lot," he said. "It's a great achievement just to hear that, just to be talked about amongst those great players.

"It means a lot because of everything I've been through. All the hard work is finally paying off."

The lofty comparisons are nothing new to the quiet Johnson.

"It's a great achievement just to hear that," he said. "to be talked about amongst those great players."

Johnson mostly just smiles on the field when he's doing his damage. There's no chest-thumping over his success.

"I think it's the past, growing up, not getting looked at (by big colleges)," he said of his humility, "still not getting looked at going into the pros. I think those are the main things. Also, I'm a Christian and reading the Bible and God is letting me know to be humble amongst men."

Johnson caught a 25-yard touchdown pass and scored on a one-yard run against the Redskins, but it was a play late in the game that was most crucial.

Late in the fourth quarter and leading 24-23, the Cardinals had the ball fourth-and-one at their own 34-yard line and Arians called for one of his characteristic gambles, going for it.

Arizona went with its bread-and-butter play, giving the ball to Johnson behind left tackle D.J. Humphries.

Johnson ripped off a 14-yard gain and, moments later, Palmer threw a 42-yard touchdown pass to J.J. Nelson to make it an eight-point game

"He's going to make you right most of the time," Humphries said of his young running back. "He was really just supposed to cram that for a yard. We only needed a yard. He saw a little seam right there and said 'Let me hit that.'"

Johnson wasn't the only one mentioned among the game's greats after Sunday's contest.

With his 10 catches and 78 yards, Fitzgerald moved past Cris Carter and Marvin Harrison into third on the NFL's career receptions list (1,106). He has caught a pass in 191 consecutive games, third-longest streak in league history.

Fitzgerald also became the youngest player to reach 1,100 receptions — from 16 different quarterbacks.

Sunday was his 13th double-digit reception game.

Meanwhile, if the Cardinals lose one more game, they know whatever slim hopes they presently may have of sneaking into the postseason will be shot dead in the water.

That's not a very encouraging sign considering their next game is on the East Coast -- at the Miami Dolphins -- and the Cardinals have been historically bad when playing games anywhere near that time zone.

Not only are the Cardinals 0-4 this season when playing teams located east of the Mississippi River, but they are a staggering 37-99 against such clubs since the franchise relocated to Arizona from St. Louis in 1988.

"Some bad teams," Arians said on Monday. "It's hard. It ain't easy. It's a lot easier coming from east to west."

In the past 10 years alone, the Cardinals are 15-28 when traveling to the East and have been outscored by a 773-477 margin in those losses, which basically amounts to a 50-touchdown difference. ...

Other notes of interest. ... John Brown was involved in 20 snaps on offense but didn't register a catch during Arizona's 31-23 victory over Washington. Brown has been hampered with hamstring issues since being diagnosed with the sickle-cell trait and the Cardinals plan to limit his touches until they can find something that will help ease the third-year pro's problems.

"He had 20 snaps, just didn't get the opportunity," Arians said. "He was wide open deep twice and we didn't get it to him. But 20 is about what we will try to keep him at until we know how to handle this thing."

Nelson, Michael Floyd and tight end Jermaine Gresham each stepped up their game as targets, but none have performed consistently enough to be serious fantasy prospects. That status is reserved for Johnson and Fitzgerald.


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 7 December 2016

As the Associated Press notes, head coach Dan Quinn knows the Atlanta Falcons have some significant problems to figure out as they enter the final four weeks of the season.

The Falcons have blown a fourth-quarter lead in their last four losses. They have injuries to several starters. They missed opportunities on three of six red-zone possessions in Sunday's 29-28 loss to Kansas City.

And their defense has given up an opening-drive touchdown in six straight games.

Even with all of the issues, Atlanta still clings to a tie for the NFC South lead with Tampa Bay, and Quinn likes his team's position.

"We know exactly what we stand for and exactly what we control," he said Monday. "There's a lot of fun football in front of us, and we're looking forward to that, I can promise you."

Quinn will wait until Wednesday, the first day of practice this week, to project the status of All-Pro receiver Julio Jones and two other starters, receiver Mohamed Sanu and left tackle Jake Matthews for Sunday's game at the Rams.

Jones has turf toe, Sanu has a sore groin and Matthews left Sunday's game with a knee injury. The Falcons have lost their best defender, cornerback Desmond Trufant, to a season-ending pectoral injury, and it's still uncertain when defensive end Adrian Clayborn will return from a torn medial collateral knee ligament.

As ESPN.com's Vaughn McClure reminded readers, Quinn has stated all season how Jones is a warrior through injuries, but McClure believes Quinn might want to intervene to make sure his warrior is ready for the stretch run.

Turf toe affects the ability to plant and cut, which is a big part of Jones' explosive game.

McLure went on to note that medical experts will tell you the mildest case of turf toe involves one to four weeks of recovery. A moderate case can be two to six weeks of recovery. And a severe case can be four weeks to an indefinite period.

The last time Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan missed a game was in 2009 as a result of turf toe. In fact, Ryan missed two contests and three-plus quarters of another game as a result of the injury.

It can be a serious issue if not treated with extreme caution, meaning the Falcons might want to consider at least sitting Jones this Sunday against the Rams, if not longer. Quinn said he's not worried about this being a serious case of turf toe for Jones, but the big picture of having Jones at his best for a playoff run has to be at the forefront of the Falcons' thoughts.

Quinn was asked about handling Jones' injury delicately.

"You know, I have a good relationship with him, and that's something we discuss together," Quinn said. "When he can perform at a level that he's comfortable with -- he knows he's not going to feel 100 percent, much like a lot of the guys in the locker room. You ask them what hurts, and there's going to be a long list if you ask them.

"However, there's a level that he knows he can play with. ... He is an extremely fast healer, all the work that he puts in off the field to get right. ... Knowing what he's capable of, knowing what he's capable of playing with, that's a conversation that he and I will have together."

No doubt Jones will insist he's "good to go," just like he did after suffering the injury Sunday, and just like he's maintained the entire season. He hasn't missed a start despite appearing on the injury report with ankle, shoulder, calf, and knee injuries through the first 12 games.

In fact, the last game Jones missed was Dec. 14 of 2014 against Pittsburgh as a result of a hip injury. So, Jones has played in 30 consecutive games.

The Falcons are 4-0 this season in games when Jones has 35 or less receiving yards, meaning the offense is capable of functioning without him. At 7-5 and tied atop the NFC South with the Buccaneers, McClure contends the Falcons should be able to contend with the Rams (4-8) without Jones, and certainly should be able to beat the 49ers (1-11) at home in a couple weeks if Jones is resting.

It might be a tougher task for Ryan if he's without Jones, Matthews and Sanu, but the Falcons have a two-headed monster in the backfield with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman and a beast at center in Alex Mack.

We'll see how Quinn proceeds with the situation after taking a look at wideout's progress come Wednesday -- Jones did not practice Wednesday. But McClure added: "The Falcons certainly want their best player as healthy as can be for when it matters most."

So do fantasy owners. ...

In addition, Sanu wasn't practicing Wednesday. I'll have a close eye on Jones and Sanu in coming days; watch the Late-Breaking News section for more. ...

Worth noting. ... There's also concern that Jones, who leads the NFL in yards receiving for the second straight year, isn't getting enough focus in the red zone. Jones has only five touchdowns this year, so Quinn said offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan are still working on ways to get him open.

"When we move down closer, they certainly know where (No.) 11 is, and some of the doubles go to him," Quinn said. "That was certainly one of the coverages we expecting there at the end. When you do get a double on one person, (the tight end) becomes open. ..."

Meanwhile, as NFL.com's Matt Harmon pointed out, Taylor Gabriel looked like his playing time was on the upswing heading into this game, but he was only on the field for 38 percent of the Falcons offensive plays against Kansas City. He did not break any big plays against the Chiefs, but was clearly a focal point when on the field.

Outside of Jones and Mohamed Sanu, no wide receiver played more than 40 percent of the snaps or saw more than three targets.

Ryan went 22-of-34 for 297 yards and one touchdown. Ryan kept his streak of having at least 200-plus passing yards alive, moving it to 51 games. He has thrown a touchdown pass in 14 straight games.

Freeman became the first running back since Michael Turner (2010-11) to have at least 1,000 scrimmage yards in back-to-back seasons. Freeman also recorded rushing touchdowns No. 6 and 7, for his nine total touchdowns on the season. This is his sixth multi-touchdown game of his career, and the second time in his career he's had back-to-back multi-touchdown games (2015: Weeks 3 and 4).

Coleman was more involved in his second game back from a hamstring injury, but Freeman still led way with a 60 percent share of the team's offensive snaps.


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 7 December 2016

Coming off their best performance of the season, the Ravens appear to have hit their stride at just the right time.

The Ravens did just about everything right Sunday in a 38-6 rout of the Miami Dolphins, who came to Baltimore with a six-game winning streak and left with an understanding of what it takes to win in December.

Baltimore (7-5) scored touchdowns on its first two possessions and coasted to the finish. The Ravens have won four of five to remain tied with Pittsburgh atop the AFC North, and they hope that momentum through a difficult final stretch.

Next on the schedule: A matchup against the Patriots (10-2), whom Baltimore has defeated only once in eight regular-season meetings.

"Now we've got our toughest challenge," head coach John Harbaugh said Monday. "We're going to need to play our best football on Monday night up in New England to win that football game. We do believe we have a chance to do that, based on where we're at right now.

Baltimore couldn't have performed much better than it did Sunday.

Joe Flacco completed a franchise-record 36 passes, four for touchdowns, as the focal point of an offense that scored 24 first-half points and finished with a season-high 496 yards.

"The credit goes to Joe and to the players, just for the way they executed," Harbaugh said. "It was very sharp, it was very precise. We talked about that many times in here, that we were chasing that kind of precision. To see it consistently, from the beginning of the game to the end of the game, it was something's that's been in our vision here for a while."

Flacco connected with 11 different receivers and totaled 381 yards through the air. Afterward, someone asked if he considered it to be one of his memorable performances.

"Hey, it's a December game, and it means a lot right now, but we've played a lot of meaningful games around here, truly meaningful games in January and February, so I don't want to look at this game and say something like that," Flacco said.

Now in his ninth season, Flacco is a former Super Bowl MVP a veteran of 15 playoff games. But before Sunday he had only one more touchdown pass than interceptions (11-10).

"Joe played just extremely well and I thought all the guys around him played extremely well, too," Harbaugh said. "It came together. That's one game. We'll be looking to try and improve."

The point is, dominating the Dolphins probably won't mean much against the Patriots.

"It's not like golf, where all of a sudden you go out there and your swing starts grooving," Harbaugh said. "If it was like that, then it wouldn't be football. It's tough because every single play presents a new challenge against a tough opponent that's doing everything they can within their intellect and their physical ability to thwart your efforts."

The defense excelled against Miami, but that's come to be expected from a unit ranked No. 2 overall and first against the run. Miami's only touchdown came in the fourth quarter, on an 8-yard drive following a lost fumble by Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta.

Baltimore's special teams got a 55-yard field goal from Justin Tucker, and punter Sam Koch dropped two of his three kicks inside the 20.

"What a great game, team effort, all three phases," safety Eric Weddle said. "We played our best to date, and we've got to play better next week. We've been playing playoff football for the last four weeks, so it's nothing new to us. ..."

Other notes of interest. ... Flacco attempted 47 passes, while the Ravens ran just 20 times. Baltimore got away from the run because Flacco was able to exploit the Dolphins' secondary.

Harbaugh wasn't overly concerned about the disproportionate ratio between passing and running. The goal was to have more explosive plays and his team responded.

"I felt we ran the ball well at the end, but the idea was just to score points," Harbaugh said. "That was our thing. We wanted to go after them, attack them and mix the run and the pass. I think once the game gets going, you kind of do what's working and just try to keep the pressure on as much as you can. That was really our idea to keep the pressure on them and score as many points as we could."

According to NFL.com's Matt Harmon, the Ravens are second only to the Cardinals with 502 passes thrown on the season. Pitta and Steve Smith have been the top targets for most of the year, and they along with Mike Wallace led the way on Sunday. Breshad Perriman scoring on a long catch and run was nice to see, but he was on the field for just 29 percent of the team's plays. Chasing anything in this passing attack's output today is inadvisable given the way the rest of this season has gone.

As the Sports Xchange notes, Pitta has not shown any ill-effects from two devastating hip injuries. He is the team's most productive tight end and the only one to not miss time because of an injury or suspension. Pitta finished with nine catches for 90 yards with two touchdowns against Miami.

He reached the end zone for the first time since Dec. 8, 2013. "I had a couple of touchdowns today, but I thought I've been producing all year," Pitta said.

As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich noted, Kenneth Dixon led the Ravens in rushing yards with 56 but Terrance West led the Ravens running backs in fantasy points with two total touchdowns and 68 total yards. West also led the team with a mere 10 rush attempts, which was odd considering the huge lead the Ravens built for themselves in the first half.

Going forward, Franciscovich contends that West remains the back to own in fantasy but you'd have to be hard-pressed to start him against the Patriots next week given the lack of volume he's seen of late (fewer than 14 rush attempts in each of the last three games). ...

And finally. ... Tucker made a 55-yard field goal at the end of the half. He is now 8-of-8 on field goal attempts of at least 50 yards this season best in the NFL. Tucker has made 35 consecutive field goals, including 28 this season.


DEPTH CHART
QBs: Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III, Joe Flacco
RBs: Gus Edwards, Ty Montgomery, Javorius Allen
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 7 December 2016

At a time when Tyrod Taylor's long-term future in Buffalo is in question, head coach Rex Ryan put his quarterback on notice on Monday by saying he's not happy with the Bills' passing attack.

In assessing what went wrong with Buffalo's defense during a second-half meltdown in a 38-24 loss at Oakland on Sunday, Ryan wrapped up his answer by placing some of the blame on his offense.

"Obviously, we have to be able to throw the football if people are going to get it down there a little bit," Ryan said, in an apparent reference to Taylor missing throws to open receivers. "That's been inconsistent, and obviously that can help us, too."

As Associated Press sports writer John Wawrow noted, the Bills squandered a 24-9 lead over the final 20 minutes, during which the Raiders scored 29 consecutive points and Buffalo's offense combined for 68 net yards with Taylor turning the ball over twice.

Ryan followed up by questioning whether he and his staff are asking too much of Taylor as a passer.

"For some reason, (it's) not getting done to where we need it to," he said, noting the Bills rank 31st in the NFL in allowing a sack for every 11 pass attempts. "That's clearly not good enough. So we just have to take a hard look and we've got to improve in a hurry."

Ryan's criticisms of Taylor are a departure for a coach who had previously been a staunch defender the team's second-year starter. And they come at a time when Buffalo (6-6) is falling out of the playoff picture and in jeopardy of extending the NFL's longest active postseason drought to 17 years.

Buffalo has no margin for error in opening a three-game homestand against Pittsburgh (7-5) on Sunday.

Taylor's future in Buffalo isn't secure beyond this season. Though the Bills signed Taylor to a five-year contract extension in August, the team retained the right to opt out of the deal — and the $27.5 million he is owed in salary and bonuses— before it kicks in this offseason.

As the Sports Xchange notes, if they release him, they start from scratch at quarterback, and the only quarterback currently on the roster who will be back is rookie Cardale Jones, who seems to be light years away from playing in the NFL.

Ryan did defend Taylor by noting the Bills have spent much of the season playing with an injury-depleted group of receivers. Starter Sammy Watkins has played just three games because of an injury to his surgically repaired left foot, and Robert Woods has missed three games due to foot and knee injuries.

In addition, Ryan had to switch offensive coordinators after Week 2, and perhaps his thought is that Greg Roman slowed Taylor's development in the year-plus he was in Buffalo.

"Regardless of whether it's Tom Brady or anybody else, I think that's going to affect you," Ryan said.

Inconsistency, however, has been an ongoing concern, and became apparent against Oakland.

Taylor was 12 of 18 for 132 yards passing and had a touchdown rushing when Mike Gillislee scored on a 2-yard run to put Buffalo ahead 24-9 six minutes into the third quarter. Taylor closed by completing six of his final 17 attempts for 59 yards.

Buffalo leads the NFL with 1,943 yards rushing, but ranks last with 2,178 yards passing.

There was plenty of blame to be spread in an outing during which Ryan acknowledged all three phases of his team "imploded. ..."

Meanwhile, as NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich put it: "LeSean McCoy did everything for the Bills on Sunday, except score a touchdown."

He finished the game against Oakland with 191 total yards and a ridiculous 7.6 yards per carry average. In similar fashion to a week ago, McCoy kicked off the second half with a 54-yard run and was tackled at the 12-yard line (last week he started the second half with a 75-yard touchdown run). He also led the Bills in receiving, hauling in all seven of his targets for 61 yards, 40 of which came in late fourth-quarter garbage time.

Unfortunately, Buffalo didn't use him in goal-line situations, instead opting to utilize Gillislee who scored twice.

Gillislee rushed for 49 yards on eight carries. He has 375 yards on 64 carries, an impressive 5.8 yards per carry, with six touchdowns. Both of his touchdowns against the Raiders came at the goal line on power plays up the middle.

"The offensive line did a great job opening up lanes for me," Gillislee said. "I just got what I could get."

He also singled out the work of fullback Jerome Felton, saying he is "one of the best blocking fullbacks in the game that I've been around. He did a hell of a job out there."

Even with Gillislee chipping in, McCoy remains an elite RB1 going forward, including this week when Buffalo faces the Steelers.

According to NFL.com's Matt Harmon, Watkins played on 67 percent of the Bills offensive plays, which was a step up from last week despite suffering a setback in practice. He also led the team in targets with nine.

With Watkins back out there, the other Bills pass-catchers return to mostly irrelevant status, as no one besides McCoy caught more than four passes or registered more than 35 yard receiving. ...

Tight end Charles Clay was inactive Sunday. He did not make the trip to Oakland due to the birth of his first child.

Without getting into specifics, Ryan said "communication could've been better" when it came to him learning Clay planned to miss the game at Oakland.

For the record. ... The Bills gave Watkins Wednesday off. That seems like a reasonable approach as he works his way back into shape. Woods returned to work on a limited basis Wednesday.

I'll follow up via Late-Breaking Update as developments warrant. ...

And finally. ... Percy Harvin was inactive due to his ongoing struggle with migraines. He was placed on the reserve/non-football illness list ending his season -- and likely his career.

Harvin, who came out of retirement to re-sign with the Bills last month, had not practiced since Nov. 23 because of migraine headaches. He missed the Bills' past two games because of the condition.

In the two games he played after returning to the Bills on Nov. 1, Harvin caught two passes for 6 yards. He also took one carry for 11 yards.


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 7 December 2016

According to Associated Press sports writer Steve Reed, head coach Ron Rivera is not worried about losing the faith of his players in the locker room after his decision to bench Cam Newton for the start of Sunday night's game against the Seattle Seahawks.

Rivera said Monday in hindsight he's "very comfortable" with his decision to keep the reigning league MVP on the sideline after he failed to wear a tie on the team flight Saturday, as required by team rules.

Derek Anderson replaced Newton in the starting lineup and threw an interception on Carolina's first play from scrimmage. Newton entered the game on the second series, but things continued to spiral downhill and the injury-riddled and struggling Panthers (4-8) lost 40-7.

Rivera said there was no underlying message to Newton because he has enforced similar dress code violations in the past.

"It's not the first time and it probably won't be the last time," Rivera said. "At the end of the day everybody gets treated the same."

Rivera made the decision to bench Newton on Saturday night when he was unable to come up with a shirt and tie for the team flight to Seattle.

The sixth-year coach was well aware his decision would get a lot of media attention — and generate some criticism — because of his quarterback's high profile, but felt like he had to enforce the team's long-standing rule.

"I knew it was going to be a feeding frenzy — that's just the way it is," Rivera said. "I've addressed it and (Cam) has addressed it. So I'm done with it."

Newton took accountability for the mistake after the game, telling reporters, "Long story short, he has rules in place. In my opinion, it was a lack of communication on my part, especially as a team captain, a person that I feel has his ear. I should have just cleared it first."

Rivera said the team has five core values set by owner Jerry Richardson — hard work, harmony, teamwork, listen and respect.

"You can be who you are and keep your personality, but you have to try to keep them within the parameters," Rivera said.

Carolina, which hosts the Chargers on Sunday, can finish no better than 8-8 this season, meaning its streak of never having put back-to-back winning seasons together since entering the league in 1995 will continue.

The Panthers have been ravaged by injuries.

Against Seattle they played without middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, defensive end Mario Addison and safety Kurt Coleman on defense and center Ryan Kalil and left tackle Michael Oher on offense. Kalil and Oher are both on injured reserve and the Panthers are down to the fourth center.

"We all had grand expectations," Rivera said of the season. "Shoot, I really wanted to get back to the Super Bowl and win it. I'm not going to back off that. We still had opportunities but we just didn't capitalize."

Still, Rivera said the remaining games will be important in terms of evaluating for the future.

"This is a good opportunity to see who we are, see what our character is and see what we can build on," Rivera said.

Meanwhile, as the Sports Xchange suggested, you can question whether Rivera made the right call to bench Newton, but it's tough to argue with this: "We didn't lose this game because of a tie," Newton said.

Carolina's offense has been broken for weeks and the league's stingiest defense wasn't going to be threatened much by a sputtering unit with a badly banged-up offensive line.

A week after gaining just 89 yards before halftime in Oakland, the Panthers managed 115 yards in Sunday's first half. And think about the biggest plays in each half running back Jonathan Stewart's 47-yard run against the Raiders and Ted Ginn's 55-yard score in Seattle.

That comes out to 102 yards, which is exactly what the Panthers totaled in their 45 other plays in the first half the past two weeks.

"These are humbling experiences," said tight end Greg Olsen, who was held to seven receptions and 75 yards on the West Coast swing. "The reality is we just aren't very good right now, that's just the reality. That's all anyone should care about. Just win one time, one game. Prepare that way, play that way, play smart, execute, and win one game."

Kelvin Benjamin caught just two of his nine targets for 18 yards. Since beginning the season with 13 receptions for 199 yards and three touchdowns in his first two games, Benjamin caught just half of his 74 targets, averaging fewer than four catches and 56 yards per game with two touchdowns.

Asked about Benjamin's season, Rivera told Reed: "We got ahead of ourselves on Kelvin. ... Maybe we did get him out there too soon, too much" after torn ACL.

Philly Brown failed to catch either of his targets. He has three receptions since Week 6 and none since Week 10.

Ginn caught his 18th touchdown pass in 43 career games with the Panthers. He has six receiving scores in 106 games elsewhere.

The Panthers rushed for just 89 yards, the fourth time in the past five games they've failed to run for more than 100. The makeshift line couldn't make much room for Stewart, who gained 50 yards on 11 carries.

Stewart remains in play for fantasy owners based on volume, but he's a touchdown-dependent prospect at this point.

The word on Tuesday was that Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly was scheduled for an evaluation on Wednesday to see if his recovery from a concussion had progressed far enough for him to return to the practice field.

As Profootballtalk.com notes, it seems that the evaluation went well. Kuechly is in uniform with a helmet at Panthers practice for the first time since he sustained the head injury on November 17.

Kuechly likely still has other steps in the concussion protocol ahead of him before he'll be given the green light for a full practice or a return to game action, but it will be a big step in that direction as long as Kuechly doesn't have further symptoms after stepping up his activity level.


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 7 December 2016

Even if the Bears' future at quarterback is murky, their vision of the future at numerous other spots looks clearer.

A nonfactor in the NFC North race, the Bears continue giving effort normally associated with teams in a playoff chase. Sunday's 26-6 victory over the San Francisco 49ers provided them with hope about their long-range future.

It's easier for the Bears to be more confident about the future with production they're receiving from young players such as rookie linebackers Leonard Floyd and Nick Kwiatkoski, and several reserves on the offensive line.

Floyd continues to live up to his draft status as the ninth overall pick. He has seven sacks, a fumble recovery for a touchdown and a safety. He's put up those numbers despite missing three games with injuries.

"I've been impressed," head coach John Fox said. "He's a very athletic guy. He's got a lot of natural abilities.

"His mindset is good, too."

Even with using young players on defense such as Floyd, Kwiatkoski and safety Deon Bush, the Bears have moved to seventh in yards allowed at 326.8 per game, and sixth stopping the pass at 220.3 a game.

On offense, they've moved up to 16th despite losing quarterback Jay Cutler to injury and missing wide receiver Alshon Jeffery due to a performance enhancer suspension the past two games.

Journeyman guard Eric Kush has filled in for injured Josh Sitton and helped with pass blocking that allowed only one sack the past two weeks.

But on offense the big change has been quarterback Matt Barkley, who is making an obvious case to be around next year, whether or not Cutler returns.

The Chicago Bears have scored three touchdowns in the each of the last two games with Barkley at quarterback.

The new-found offense is welcome considering they hadn't scored more than two in any game this season before he played.

Fox thinks it's only going to get better for Barkley with more playing time and more confidence. Barkley went 11 of 18 for 192 yards against the struggling 49ers.

"Well, I think confidence at any position is huge," Fox said. "Typically you have confidence, something good's got to happen.

"So I think in his case, even though we lost a week ago against Tennessee, I think he felt confident. I don't think he's lacking for confidence. I think that's evident in the style of play, kind of how he handles things."

Barkley shot down any budding thoughts that offensive coaches are giving him a dumbed-down version of the offense. He's viewing this as a legitimate bid to prove he can be a starter in Chicago or elsewhere -- he is signed just through the end of the season.

"I'm not holding back, and they aren't holding back on what we are installing from week to week," Barkley said. "I know what we are capable of and what I am capable of. Hopefully we can keep pushing this, and keep the same mentality that we did last week when we were coming off a loss of wanting to get better and striving to perfection.

"That's what I am going to be focusing on and pushing these guys to keep this same mentality next week."

The Bears scored three touchdowns in the each of the last two games with Barkley at quarterback. They hadn't scored more than two in any game this season before he played.

Barkley connected on 11 of 18 for 192 yards in the snow against the 49ers. Fox saw improvement over the loss to Tennessee, when Barkley threw two early interceptions.

"Well, I think confidence at any position is huge," Fox said. "Typically you have confidence, something good's got to happen. So I think in his case, even though we lost a week ago against Tennessee, I think he felt confident. I don't think he's lacking for confidence. I think that's evident in the style of play, kind of how he handles things."

Worth noting. ... The Bears on Monday officially placed Cutler on the season-ending injured-reserve list.

Placing Cutler on IR opened a roster spot for cornerback Johnthan Banks, who was claimed via waivers from the Lions. The Bears also waived linebacker Lamin Barrow from IR and made a practice squad swap, adding wide receiver Bralon Addison and releasing quarterback Josh Woodrum from the practice squad.

Also of interest. ... Not a lot of big gainers breaking off, but running back Jordan Howard had his fifth 100-yard game and did it by plowing through the snow and the line with consistency. He avoided big losses and kept moving forward as the Bears asked him to handle 32 touches. He scored three touchdowns in the game, ran for 117 yards and finished Sunday as the highest-scoring fantasy running back in Week 13.

As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich notes, Howard played on 85 percent of Chicago's offensive snaps, so if there had been any concerns about a committee with Jeremy Langford back, they were officially put to rest.

The rookie is on a streak of five straight games now with at least 99 yards from scrimmage and has been a late-season fantasy savior for many in need of a solid running back down the stretch.

Howard's 5-yard TD run was pure effort. The run blocking between guards with guards Eric Kush and Ted Larson, and also center Cody Whitehair kept pushing back the middle of the 49ers line to ensure positive yardage.

As NFL.com's Matt Harmon put it, Marquess Wilson is no stranger to injury, and he suffered yet another one (groin) on Sunday. He played just four snaps before his untimely exit. This comes a week after Wilson was re-establishing some of the momentum that looked long since gone in his NFL career.

With Wilson out, Josh Bellamy stepped up to lead the team in targets. He did, however, go out on 63 percent of the team's plays, which was fewer than Cameron Meredith and Deonte Thompson.

Neither Wilson nor Eddie Royal (toe) practiced Wednesday.

If Wilson can't play this week, Bellamy could get the start.

Whatever the case, with Barkley playing competent football behind center, despite the wintery conditions in this game, the Bears passing attack remains relevant.

According to the Sports Xchange, after Bellamy dropped a potential touchdown pass, Barkley made an in-game adjustment in his throwing angle because of the snow. The adjustment led to softer passes that receivers found easier to clutch including Bellamy.


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 7 December 2016

Rookie receiver Cody Core took off toward the backfield when the ball was snapped for what he thought was a fake reverse.

Instead, Andy Dalton had changed the play to a run, and Core collided with Rex Burkhead for a 2-yard loss.

On the next play, Core beat a defender deep for a 50-yard catch — the first of his NFL career — that set up Cincinnati's first touchdown during a 32-14 win over Philadelphia on Sunday.

According to Associated Press sports writer Joe Kay, the Bengals' first win in 42 days provided a glimpse of what the rest of the AFC North can expect in the season's final month.

The Bengals (4-7-1) have finally figured out how to get their offense moving without receiver A.J. Green and running back Giovani Bernard, sidelined by injuries.

"It's a big difference," said Brandon LaFell, who caught an 8-yard touchdown pass. "You can't just go to one guy. When the ball is shared, people are happy and everybody is out there having fun."

The offense relied on Green and Bernard — its top pass catchers — through the first 10 games. Bernard is out for the season with a torn ACL.

Green has missed most of the past three games with a strained right hamstring and is sidelined indefinitely.

It's taken the Bengals a few weeks to figure out what to do without them. Opponents clamped down on the run, forcing Dalton's receivers to beat them. They did often enough on Sunday as the Bengals scored on each of their first six possessions.

Cincinnati's best offensive showing of the season sent a message that the Browns (0-12), Steelers (7-5) and Ravens (7-5) will have to prepare for an offense that's back on the move. The Bengals play in Cleveland on Sunday.

"We really pressed hard to get this monkey off our back and go play a big game," left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. "I think we're ready to build off that."

Dalton completed 23 of 31 for 332 yards, a pair of touchdowns and a season-high passer rating of 130. Dalton threw to nine receivers, the way it's going to be with Green out.

Rookie Tyler Boyd had four catches for 66 yards. Core caught two for 58 yards, his first contribution to the offense all season, and showed he's still got some growing pains ahead when he ran into Burkhead.

"We switched the play," Core said. "I ran the first play instead of the second play."

The Bengals didn't expect to throw the ball so much, but the Eagles set their defense to take away the run and force Dalton to go to his inexperienced receivers, who got a lot of man-to-man coverage. They came through.

"The guys were in the right spots and (Dalton) could count on them being there," head coach Marvin Lewis said on Monday.

The roll could continue against the Browns this weekend.

Cleveland held the struggling Giants' offense in check in Week 12, but as ESPN's Mike Clay noted last week, that marks one of just a few strong performances this season.

Cleveland went into its bye having allowed running back units to produce top-10 fantasy weeks in two-thirds of its 12 outings. Only the 49ers have been worse. Cleveland also has allowed six top-10 fantasy weeks to opposing quarterbacks, five top-five weeks to wide receiver units and three No. 1 overall fantasy weeks to tight ends. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Dalton has been sacked 32 times this season and still managed to pass for 3,375 yards and complete 64 percent of his passes with 14 touchdowns and just six interceptions. His quarterback rating is a solid 92.6.

With Cincinnati on the brink of playoff elimination, it's easy to point fingers at the quarterback. That's the way it works in the NFL. But, it's hard to do that in Dalton's case, even with him struggling the previous three weeks after the loss of Green and Bernard.

Poor offensive line play and a nearly non-existent running game have done Dalton no favors this season.

Cincinnati scored on six straight possessions on Sunday for the first time since 2009. Dalton completed 74 percent of his passes and had a season-high rating of 130.0 in leading the Bengals to their first win since October.

Rex Burkhead rushed for 38 yards on eight carries in place of Gio Bernard, who is out for the season with a torn ACL. Jeremy Hill managed just 33 yards but did score one touchdown. He now has a combined 51 rush yards on 35 attempts over his last two games further establishing himself as a touchdown-dependent fantasy play. ...

Mike Nugent went 4-for-4 on field goal attempts on Sunday, but his fourth PAT miss in five attempts drew boos from the home crowd. Nugent went 2 of 3 on PATs on Sunday, making him 21 of 26 on extra points this season.

Meanwhile, Lewis was noncommittal on what Green will be able to do this week as he continues recovering from the severe hamstring injury. Lewis is hopeful he'll be able to play at some point in December and Green is said to be determined to play again this season -- even if it's only Week 17.

Green was not suited up Wednesday as his teammates started practice, a sign that Green figures to miss at least another game with a hamstring injury.

Worth noting. ... Green is 36 receiving yards short of going over 1,000 for the sixth consecutive year to start his career.


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 7 December 2016

As Associated Press sports writer Tom Withers reported, Robert Griffin III healed much faster than doctors thought.

Now, if he can just mend the 0-12 Browns.

Told earlier this season that it was "highly unlikely" he would be able to play again in 2016 after breaking a bone in his left shoulder late in the Sept. 11 opener at Philadelphia, Griffin practiced Monday as the winless Browns returned from their bye and he could start Sunday when they host the Cincinnati Bengals.

"It's all falling the right way for me," RG3 said.

But while Griffin believes he's ready to return to the field, Browns coach Hue Jackson, who has been forced to shuffle quarterbacks in and out of his lineup all season because of injuries, isn't quite set to put him back behind center -- at least not officially.

"It is too soon," said Jackson, who has Griffin, Josh McCown and rookie Cody Kessler all at his disposal for the first time since Week 1. "I will let you know that. We were out there for an hour so we were just knocking off the rust from being gone. We have to get game preparations this week, and I will know more then."

Still, ESPN's Dan Graziano reported Wednesday that -- barring an unforeseen health setback in practice, the Browns plan to start Griffin on Sunday.

But we might not get the official word until then.

"Coach could wait until Sunday," Griffin said. "That's why he's got the HC on his hat and we all trust him in this locker room. I trust him, and it's just a matter of do they feel I'm ready to play or do they feel like I need to take some more time. So whatever their decision is, I'll be OK with it because I'm here to be a Cleveland Brown.

"I'm here to help this team, not just these last four weeks but into the future. At least that's my hope and my wish, so I just want to have an opportunity to go out there and put it on the line for my team."

Jackson said there are several factors to consider before playing Griffin, including the fact that the Browns have given up a league-high 45 sacks. Cleveland has lost two starting guards to foot injuries and struggled to protect the quarterback.

According to Withers, Griffin said he's not unnerved about playing behind an injury-ravaged line.

"Because I know those guys up front are fighting their tails off and it's not just on them, it's on all of us," he said. "We gotta just execute better, get guys in the right spots, make the right calls. It's a team effort. It's not about one guy or two guys or a unit, it's all of us together and we've got to make sure that we do a better job."

Griffin revealed that doctors weren't convinced he'd be back this season, but he made it.

"It's just the best-case scenario happened," he said.

Not only did Griffin's injury derail his comeback season and raise more questions about the QB's durability, it sent the Browns into a tailspin that hasn't stopped.

With dozens of inexperienced players, this figured to be a rough season for Cleveland, but it's been much worse and could finish with the Browns becoming the second team in NFL history to go 0-16.

While recovering, Griffin stayed engaged in team activities, attending meetings and helping with game plans. He and his teammates have allowed themselves to think about how things could have been different if he didn't get hurt.

"No doubt," he said. "I've gotten that from a lot of guys in the locker room and coaches, too, just the possibility of what could have been. But right now we've got four weeks ahead of us with an opportunity to do something about it. Cincinnati is the first team up to bat, and they could be the only team. I don't know. The world could end tomorrow.

"So we've just got to take it one day at a time and try to make sure you do all the things that you can to put your best foot forward. Other than that, it's been a tough time, been a tough year for this team, but these guys are tough. This is a really tough group and they've stuck together. So I'm proud to be a part of that. ..."

Stay tuned. This is a situation I'll be following closely in coming days; watch the Late-Breaking News section for more as the week progresses. ...

Other notes of interest. ... The run offense was a strength for the Browns in the first month, but then the Patriots figured out in Week 5 how to slow leading rusher Isaiah Crowell and now all the Browns opponents are copying the strategy, usually by putting a safety down low.

The Browns averaged 149 yards rushing a game through the first four games. That average has dipped to 90 yards, and there is no reason to believe it will improve dramatically over the last four games. ...

Rookie receiver Rashard Higgins saw a boost in usage during Weeks 11 and 12. Should we expect a more impactful role after the bye?

The answer is another question: Why not?

Jackson described Higgins' increased playing time this way: "We just wanted to give Rashard some opportunities to go out there because he had not played much, and he deserves to show what he has." As ESPN.com's Pat McManamon noted, Higgins' time came at the expense of Andrew Hawkins, who has 25 receptions in 12 games.

The Browns might as well see what they have in Higgins, though his time will not come at the expense of Terrelle Pryor or Corey Coleman. ...

According to the Sorts Xchange, rookie tight end Seth DeValve has only six receptions, but Jackson regards him as one of the most improved players on the team. DeValve caught three passes in the game with the Giants on Nov. 27.

And finally. ... As ESPN's Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen noted last week, success in the NFL oftentimes is knowing your own roster; it has been one of the biggest issues in Cleveland. Saints wide receiver Willie Snead, Falcons wide receiver Taylor Gabriel and Patriots running back Dion Lewis all would look good in Cleveland.

They actually were there. But at various times, the Browns cut each one of them.


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 7 December 2016

As ESPN.com's Todd Archer noted, with four regular-season games remaining, starting with Sunday's rematch against the New York Giants, the only team to have beaten the Cowboys this season, Dallas has clinched a playoff spot.

While there are things left to accomplish before the postseason begins, the Cowboys have comfort in the security of knowing they will be in the postseason.

Or not.

In 2014, the Cowboys clinched their playoff spot in Week 14 with a win against the Indianapolis Colts, but they still had a chance at gaining home-field advantage. They won their final three games but lost out on tiebreakers to the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers, which resulted in a divisional-round trip to Lambeau Field, where they lost.

With a win Sunday at MetLife Stadium against the Giants, the Cowboys will clinch the NFC East and guarantee at least one home game in the playoffs. Should the Seahawks and Detroit Lions lose this weekend, the Cowboys will clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with a win over the Giants. If the Seahawks or Lions lose, a win will give the Cowboys a first-round bye and a chance to clinch home field the following week.

In the midst of an 11-game winning streak, the Cowboys have a chance to establish the best regular-season winning streak in franchise history with three more wins.

In 1992, the Cowboys went 13-3 and won a Super Bowl. In 2007, they went 13-3 and lost in the divisional round of the playoffs. Those Cowboys lost their edge down the stretch after clinching home field.

These Cowboys say they will maintain their edge.

While those outside the club already are wondering whether head coach Jason Garrett will rest players down the stretch or if Tony Romo will start a game, the players are thinking about none of that.

Owner Jerry Jones put it on his weekly radio show Tuesday morning: "I see us more as business as usual."

The No. 1 goal at the start of every season is to win the Super Bowl. To get to the Super Bowl, a team has to qualify for the tournament, as Bill Parcells called it, but the Cowboys aren't looking beyond that.

"It's a byproduct of how we have gone about it each week," Jason Witten said. "It's hard to get in the playoffs. You want to acknowledge that whenever you have that opportunity, but you are playing for a lot more than just that. You've got to move forward in how we play. Everything we want is in front of us. You can't lose your edge. You can't lose your approach. That is the thing we have done best this season. We are going to do it down the stretch in December."

This is the 27th playoff appearance in franchise history. The Cowboys have a 34-26 record but have not made it to a Super Bowl since 1995. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Dak Prescott became the first Cowboys' rookie quarterback to start the first 12 games of the season, and second rookie quarterback in the NFL drafted in the fourth round or later to start the team's first 12 games of the season, joining Kyle Orton (Chicago, 2005).

By making his 12th start and 12th game played, Prescott surpassed Troy Aikman (1989) for the most starts and most games played by a Cowboys rookie quarterback in team history.

With llast Thursday's win, Prescott improved to 11-1 to extend his record for the second-most wins (11) by a rookie quarterback through his first 12 starts behind Ben Roethlisberger's 12 straight in 2004.

Prescott's 11th straight also upped his hold on the second-most consecutive wins by a rookie quarterback in a single season in NFL history, trailing only Roethlisberger (13, 2004). Prescott completed 12-of-18 passes for 139 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions for a 108.3 passer rating.

It marked his 10th game with a 100.0 rating to surpass Russell Wilson (9, 2012) for the most by a rookie quarterback in a single season in NFL history.

Bryant caught four passes for 84 yards and a touchdown against the Vikings.

Bryant's touchdown reception gave him 65 for his career to tie Michael Irvin (65) for the second-most in franchise history. Bob Hayes is first with 71.

Ezekiel Elliott rushed 20 times for 86 yards and a touchdown and caught four passes for 19 yards (105 total scrimmage yards). In total, it marked Elliott's ninth 100-yard scrimmage game of the season.

Elliott extended his NFL rookie record by serving as the game's leading rusher (yards) among both teams for the 11th straight game.

His 1,285 yards are also the second-most overall by an NFL player in his first 12 career games in NFL history. Elliott's rushing touchdown gave him 12 on the season to tie Tony Dorsett (1977) and Herschel Walker (1986) for the most rushing touchdowns by a Cowboys' rookie.

Witten failed to catch a pass against the Vikings, snapping a franchise-record streak of 130 games. It was the fourth-longest by a current NFL player and was tied for the 24th-longest in NFL history. The last time Witten did not record a catch was against the New York Giants on Nov. 2, 2008, and during that span he recorded 678 receptions for 7,236 yards (10.7 avg.) and 39 touchdowns.

And finally. ... NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported over the weekend that before his three-week evaluation coming off the non-football injury list is up, Dallas expects Darren McFadden to be active and contributing.


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 7 December 2016

Head coach Gary Kubiak said Monday quarterback Trevor Siemian has shown improvement with a left foot injury and hopes Siemian can return to practice and be ready to play Sunday against the Tennessee Titans.

Siemian, who suffered the injury on the Broncos' first possession of overtime in the loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Nov. 28, did not practice last week or play Sunday in the Broncos' 20-10 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

"But he is out of the boot," Kubiak said. "I know he's doing a lot better since he's been out of the boot."

Siemian made the trip to Jacksonville and was not wearing a walking boot Sunday on the field before the game or in the Broncos' coaches booth during the game.

Asked Monday if he hoped Siemian could play against the Titans, Kubiak said, "We were hoping he'd be out there this past week and he couldn't, so I think the fact he's out of the boot all weekend, walking around in Jacksonville, moving around, looks like he's moving around good today. So we'll see."

Siemian continued to get treatment Monday and will receive treatment Tuesday as well -- the players' off day -- before the Broncos returned to the practice field Wednesday, when Siemian worked on a limited basis.

Siemian threw for 368 yards and three touchdowns in his last start and the Broncos, at 8-4, are squarely in the AFC playoff race.

Rookie Paxton Lynch made his second career start Sunday. The Jaguars, who came into the game as the league's No. 3 pass defense and moved up to No. 2 after Sunday's game, made it difficult on Lynch. He finished 12-of-24 for 104 yards.

But Lynch did what the Broncos wanted most, which was play turnover free. Lynch had thrown an interception and fumbled twice in his first start of the season, a Week 5 loss to the Falcons.

Lynch struggled with his accuracy at times, particularly on routes to the middle of the field as well as on a couple of potential big plays.

"He's still a young, raw player," Kubiak said. "He'll learn a lot from this game. He missed two big plays in the game off of bootlegs that could have been touchdowns for us. But he'll learn from that and be better because of it."

As ESPN.com's Jeff Legwold noted, Lynch didn't play under center, call plays in a huddle or make many of the progressions in the passing game when he played at the University of Memphis, so his transition to the Broncos' offense continues to be a work in progress.

"I know on a couple of those deep balls, I probably should have given those guys a chance to make the catch," Lynch said after Sunday's game. "Obviously, I didn't."

Kubiak was a little taken aback by some questions Monday about Lynch's long-term future, but of course Kubiak's perspective is of a coach who has worked with quarterbacks for almost three decades.

"Oh God, I think this guy has a brilliant career ahead of him," Kubiak said. "We're asking a lot of him.

"He's a young kid and I'm excited about some of the things I see and I'm also excited about some of the things I know we can correct and help him out. He's a good kid, he went in there and protected the ball."

Meanwhile, Justin Forsett and Kubiak are back together and both are counting on their reunion in Denver leading to a revival.

As Associated Press sports writer Arnie Stapleton reported, the Broncos claimed the 31-year-old running back off waivers from Detroit to replace Kapri Bibbs, who went on IR with a high left ankle sprain he suffered in the Broncos' 20-10 win at Jacksonville.

"We're dropping like flies, so it'll be great to have him and I can't wait to meet him," said rookie running back Devontae Booker, who had his worst game of the season Sunday, gaining just 35 yards on 18 carries.

The Broncos were down to Booker and Juwan Thompson in their backfield after the first-half injury to Bibbs, who became the third Denver running back to go on IR. He joined starter C.J. Anderson (knee) and rookie fullback Andy Janovich, who had season-ending ankle surgery a week ago.

Anderson continues to recover from surgery to repair torn meniscus, but is not expected back before the end of the regular season.

"We hate to lose Kapri," Kubiak said on his Sirius XM show Monday afternoon. "(Forsett) was out there. He played really well in Baltimore with us and knows what he's doing."

Kubiak told reporters on Wednesday he anticipated Forsett splitting with Booker like Bibbs did. Expects Forsett to play Sunday and be an immediate contributor.

Over his career, Forsett has averaged 5.5 yards a carry in Kubiak's offenses and 4.4 yards elsewhere.

With Kubiak as his offensive coordinator, Forsett set career highs with 235 carries for 1,266 yards and eight touchdowns in 2014. He averaged a career-best 5.9 yards a carry for Kubiak in Houston in 2012.

Forsett averaged 3.1 yards per carry in five games this season, three with the Ravens and two with the Lions.

That's better than Booker's 2.8-yard average since Anderson got hurt on Oct. 24.

His longest run Sunday was a 6-yard TD in which left tackle Russell Okung pulled him across the goal line.

Bibbs had 49 yards on just five carries against the Jaguars but a defender rolled up on him in the second quarter, ending his day, and ultimately, his season.

With Bibbs, the Broncos' sweeps and misdirection runs worked well, but that ended when he went out. In the second half, Denver managed just 28 yards on 14 carries.

Stay tuned. ... I'll have more on Siemian and any information on the anticipated workloads for Booker and Forsett via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.

In the meantime, it's safe to say the Broncos have plenty to play for down the stretch -- and that it's not an easy path to the playoffs for them.

In order, the Broncos will face the Tennessee Titans (6-6), the New England Patriots (10-2), the Kansas City Chiefs (9-3) and the Oakland Raiders (10-2) to close out the regular season. That's four opponents with a combined win percentage of .729.


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 7 December 2016

As ESPN.com's Michael Rothstein advised readers this week, Golden Tate has always considered himself a No. 1 receiver. He prepared like it when the Lions had Calvin Johnson on the roster and has acted like it throughout this season, when the franchise didn't have a clear top guy.

But on Sunday, Tate had a rare opportunity. With Marvin Jones sidelined with a thigh injury, Tate was the guy. He was the obvious No. 1 target for quarterback Matthew Stafford and played like it in the Lions' 28-13 win over New Orleans.

This is what the Lions always hope to get from Tate, a bunch of quick completions he turns into bigger gains with a couple of bigger shots sprinkled in -- plays that might have gone to Jones in the past. But with Jones out, those were Tate's, and he made them count every time.

He thrived in the No. 1 receiver role, helping the Lions look as efficient as they have since the first week of the season, when they seemed to move the ball freely against Indianapolis. In Week 1, Detroit spread the ball around. And while the Lions did that somewhat Sunday, Tate was the clear top option.

It's a role he might keep the rest of the season. Tate seems to be growing into the role, especially as more attention has been paid to Jones and his numbers have dipped. This was the third time in his past four games he had at least 75 yards receiving and the seventh time in the past nine games he's done that.

Even more so, Tate has been at his best in Detroit when the Lions have needed him the most because of injuries to others.

In 2014, Tate's first season with the Lions, Johnson missed three games with an ankle injury. In two of them, Tate had back-to-back 150-yard games to lead the Lions to close wins over the Saints and Falcons.

Then came Sunday. Jones was out, and Detroit's receiving corps needed a boost from its shifty, tough-to-tackle receiver to pick up a critical road win.

On Sunday, Stafford threw to Tate 10 times, and he caught eight passes for 145 yards -- the fourth-best yardage output of his career, including a 66-yard touchdown reception from Stafford in the fourth quarter that gave Detroit a 25-13 lead. That catch put the Lions in an unfamiliar position this season: leading throughout an entire game.

Detroit, in many ways, needed to see this type of performance from one of its receivers this late in the season. While the Lions have done well spreading the ball to several pass-catchers throughout their successful first three quarters of the season, they could use a target to count on down the stretch.

And that option might just be Tate. No matter how anyone else viewed him in the past, he always wanted to be looked at as a No. 1 receiver. Against the Saints, he played like it, too.

Meanwhile, Detroit's stingy defense has held four straight teams to 19 or fewer points, including keeping New Orleans more than 17 points below its scoring average. The Lions also became the first team to hold Drew Brees without a touchdown pass on his home turf in 60 games with the Saints. Special teams have been solid, too.

Detroit hasn't had a run like this since 1995 when it closed the regular season 7-1 to make the playoffs for the third straight year and the fourth time in a five-year stretch. From 1996 to 2015, the Lions have earned a spot in the postseason just four times. …

Other notes of interest. ... As noted above, Jones missed his first game as a Lion because of a lingering thigh injury, but the Lions got more production out of his replacements on Sunday than Jones has provided in recent weeks.

TJ Jones, who signed off the practice squad on Saturday as injury insurance in case Marvin Jones couldn't play (the latter worked out on the field before the game before being scratched), caught three passes for 49 yards in his first game in almost a year.

TJ Jones had a key 36-yard catch to convert a third-and-16 early in the third quarter on a field-goal drive that extended the Lions' lead to 16-6.

Andre Roberts, who played a season-high 53 snaps as the Lions' No. 4 receiver, caught four passes for 35 yards.

In addition, Eric Ebron took a step forward after a being held without a catch on Thanksgiving. He played on 76 percent of the team's plays and saw six targets.

As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich put it: "Anyone who started Theo Riddick against the Saints was likely on full tilt Sunday afternoon."

Riddick finished with a mere 17 total yards on the day, while Dwayne Washington (who left the game with an injury) and Zach Zenner got looks out of the backfield. Franciscovich added: "It was an odd day for the Lions' running backs to say the least, but it was surprising to see Riddick so under-utilized against a team that's been soft on the position this season."

Fortunately, he did score a receiving touchdown which padded his final fantasy line. The expectation here is Riddick, who is nursing a sore wrist this week, will be able to do more this week against the Bears.

As noted above, Washington left Sunday's game with an ankle injury that could force him out of the lineup for the second time this season. While initial reports indicated the injury wasn't serious, Washington's status for this week's game against the Bears is uncertain, and the Lions could be left short-handed at running back.

They waived Justin Forsett in order to promote TJ Jones from the practice squad last Saturday. Forsett was claimed off waivers by the Denver Broncos.

With Forsett unavailable, Joique Bell, a running back who played for the Lions for the last five years, re-signed with the team Tuesday.

Bell knows the Lions' offense and had 311 rushing yards and 286 receiving yards for the Lions last season. Bell briefly played for the Bears this season but was released after having just three carries for six yards. Detroit also put Brandon Pettigrew on the reserve-NFI list. That's in addition to the Asa Jackson signing. The Lions also placed defensive end Armonty Bryant on injured reserve with a knee injury.

For the record, Riddick was not practicing Wednesday while Washington was. Ebron (knee) and Marvin Jones were limited. I'll have more on all involved via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

Matt Prater was named NFC special teams player of the week for his 5-for-5 effort on field goals in Sunday's win over the Saints. Prater has now been special teams player of the week after three of the Lions' last four games.

One last note here: Nickel cornerback Quandre Diggs will miss the rest of the season after suffering a pectoral injury during Sunday's win over New Orleans.


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 7 December 2016

As ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky put it: "At least Aaron Rodgers didn't have to visit the mystery tent behind the Green Bay Packers' bench this time."

However, his ailing left hamstring was a factor in the quarterback's limited mobility and head coach Mike McCarthy's play-calling during Sunday's 21-13 win over the Houston Texans. So was the snow that left a light dusting on Lambeau Field during the game.

But Rodgers said he came out of the game no worse off than he did coming in, six days after he pulled his hamstring in last Monday night's win over the Philadelphia Eagles.

He said after the game that his hamstring felt "not better than I did coming in, but I feel good about where I'm at. Had decent movement and didn't do anything to create a major setback."

The combination of the slick, snowy field and the fear that he would make the injury worse made for a conservation plan to keep Rodgers from moving around too much. Still, he rushed three times for 16 yards, including an 11-yard scramble, and threw both of his touchdown passes from outside the pocket.

Rodgers now has 10 touchdown passes from outside the pocket this season, two more than he had all of last season, according to ESPN Stats and Information.

About the only gaffe in his game came when he fumbled a snap on Texans' 2-yard line and turned it over in the first quarter. It was one of the few snaps he took from under center. Most were in the shotgun or pistol formation that helped limit how much he had to move around.

"We were going to stay away from under center stuff, but we've got a great [medical] treatment team here," Rodgers said. "Felt progressively better throughout the week, so I wanted to get under center on a few of those plays. But yeah, the hamstring, and the field was pretty slick."

Rodgers finished with his third straight 100-plus passer rating game (108.9) and his sixth overall of the season. He completed 20 of 30 passes for 209 yards with the two touchdowns.

Meanwhile, through the snow and the cold, Jordy Nelson put on a show Sunday.

According to NFL.com's Kevin Patra, if you needed proof that Nelson has returned to dominant form following last year's ACL tear, check out Sunday's game. Nelson repeatedly beat tight coverage on short throws before a deluge of deep shots came pouring down from the sky.

Nelson finished with 118 yards and a touchdown on eight receptions.

"I think everyone would agree that Jordy is back," McCarthy told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

As Patra put it, "Nelson's speed might not have returned -- maybe it never will -- but the 31-year-old is still able to win at the top of his route, has a mind-meld with Rodgers and owns sticky hands."

Against the Texans, Nelson earned 118 of Rodgers' 209 passing yards. No other Packers receiver had more than 19 yards receiving. Nelson's 10th touchdown catch moved him into a tie for second in the NFL with Mike Evans, just one score behind Antonio Brown for the league lead.

In the Packers' pivotal past two wins, Nelson has 16 catches for 209 yards and a score, averaging 13.06 yards per catch.

According to Profootballfocus.com, Rodgers recorded a perfect passer rating (158.3) when targeting Nelson in this one.

Nelson pulled in two deep receptions (catches on throws traveling 20 or more yards from the line of scrimmage), and is now tied with Raiders wideout Amari Cooper for PFF's 18th-highest grade among NFL receivers this season. ...

On the other hand, as NFL.com's Matt Harmon notes, Davante Adams' hot streak came to an end against a strong Texans pass defense. Harmon explained, "The featured player in the offense appears to be a moving target with Jared Cook, Adams and now Nelson all owning that title the last three weeks."

That's good news for the Packers, whose passing game is right up there with the best in the NFL, but it doesn't make life any easier for fantasy owners.

Speaking of Cook, Harmon added that one-week explosion against Washington is looking more and more like an outlier. He has just six targets since garnering 11 in that contest. His snap share has not approached the 61.8 percent he played against Washington.

As for the ground game, the Sports Xchange notes that James Starks' days as the fill-in featured back would seem to be over.

Starks mustered all of one yard in his four carries Sunday.

Yet, the Packers were fairly productive on the ground. They finished with 109 yards and averaged 4.2 yards per carry from the collective effort of six players. Wide receiver Ty Montgomery led the way with six carries for 40 yards, all but five yards in the second half. His 13-yard around right end came on a third-and-1 play deep in Green Bay territory, helping to propel the go-ahead 12-play, 98-yard touchdown drive.

Making his second appearance in the green and gold, Christine Michael showed a few flashes. He had a team-high nine carries for 19 yards (long of seven).

Increasingly involved fullback Aaron Ripkowski was stopped a yard short of a first down on a fourth-and-2 run near midfield in the third quarter, but he made amends later by plowing up the middle for a 3-yard touchdown to put the Packers ahead 21-7 with four minutes to play. Sparingly used wideout Jeff Janis had a 19-yard run on an end-around the play before Ripkowski's touchdown.

The Packers have always liked to run the ball more as the season winds down. They might not have the personnel to do that this season. ...

Whatever the case, the Packers' second straight win put them back at .500 (6-6) for the first time since they were 4-4 in early November and also kept them two games behind the Detroit Lions, who sit atop the NFC North.

With the NFC West-leading Seattle Seahawks' coming to Lambeau this Sunday, a focused McCarthy isn't ready to say the Packers are on the verge of salvaging their season.

"I told the team this the other day, until you win 10 games in this league, it's nonsense to talk about anything else," McCarthy said. "So, we're not worried about Detroit or any other team out there or what anybody's record is. We have six wins, and we know we've got to get to seven fast."


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 7 December 2016

The division lead that the Houston Texans spent the first 12 weeks of the season building is gone.

After a 6-3 start, the Texans dropped their third game in a row Sunday afternoon, losing 21-13 to the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.

With an offense that has been inconsistent and has struggled at times this season, head coach Bill O'Brien said the Houston Texans have a small margin for error.

As ESPN.com's Sarah Barshop notes, the offense, led by quarterback Brock Osweiler, has scored more than two touchdowns in only one game this season. Houston has not won a game by 10 or more points this year, and Osweiler has completed 59.8 percent of his passes for 2,509 yards, with 14 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.

Because the Texans are not built to win a shootout -- instead it is their defense that is keeping them in games -- O'Brien said Houston cannot afford to make too many mistakes and still expect to win games.

"We're a team that plays very hard, that plays tough," O'Brien said after Sunday's loss in Green Bay. "We can't afford to make many mistakes. There's not much of a margin for error with our team. And we've got to do a better job in the fourth quarter."

O'Brien added Monday that while no teams have room for miscues at this time of year, it is even more important for the Texans to play mistake-free football.

"It comes down to 8 to 10 plays a game and a lot of that has to do with coaching," O'Brien said. "We have to do a better job coaching and players have to do a better job executing, but we're all in it together and we all have to do a better job.

"Those little things, you know, those things add up."

The Texans, who are 1-5 on the road this season, were outscored 85-22 in their first three road games. Their last two -- against the Oakland Raiders in Week 11 and the Green Bay Packers in Week 13 -- have been much closer.

"We have not played well defensively in the fourth quarter," O'Brien said. "We have to coach and play better in the fourth quarter of these games. We've given up too many points the last three weeks in the fourth quarter. We have to finish games better.

"I thought there were times that we played well offensively, but it obviously wasn't good enough to only score 13 points."

Osweiler was 21-of-34 for 213 yards and two touchdowns against Green Bay, including a 44-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins with just under two minutes left in the game. Running back Lamar Miller struggled in the snow and with a rib injury, finishing with 22 yards on 14 carries.

Fellow backs Alfred Blue and Jonathan Grimes had some success, combining for 10 carries for 81 yards. But that was not enough to get the offense going, which has still scored more than two touchdowns only once this season.

Although Osweiler found Hopkins for the long touchdown pass, they were not able to connect for most of the game. Hopkins finished with two catches for 55 yards on seven targets. He also had two drops, including one in the third quarter with the Texans on the Packers' 36-yard line. On second-and-5, Osweiler's pass bounced off Hopkins' hands on what would have been a first-down catch.

C.J. Fiedorowicz led the team in targets while averaging under 10 yards per reception.

The Texans are now 6-6 and tied with the Tennessee Titans atop the division, only a half-game ahead of the Indianapolis Colts, who play the New York Jets on Monday night. This week Houston will travel to Indianapolis in a huge division game as they attempt to hold on to win the AFC South for the second consecutive year.

Worth noting, Texans owner Bob McNair apparently has a different definition of the word great than the rest of us do.

"I thought he played great," the Texans owner said of Osweiler, via the Houston Chronicle. "He played as well as his competitor did. If not for the passes that were dropped, his grade would have been higher than (Packers quarterback Aaron) Rodgers. Don't be critical of him. He played well."

Well, it's great to know that as the franchise's latest major investment, you still have the support of the owner.

But for much of the season, the constant theme of the struggling but contending Texans has been the stagnant, seemingly handcuffed offense that begins and often ends with Osweiler.

So this adds intrigue to McNair's praise and what reads as a plea, if not a command when the owner said "Don't be critical of him."

The reason behind the statement is simple: Houston sunk $72 million into Osweiler in the offseason with the hopes the former understudy to Peyton Manning could be the Texans' franchise quarterback. He's been less than that -- slow-footed in the pocket, errant on passes short and long, and much less than the big-armed passer Houston imagined it was getting in free agency.

But the stats are pedestrian and as NFL.com suggested, the film isn't as pleasant. We'll see if that changes in what should be a favorable matchup against Indy's defense.

And finally. ... According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, after a scare on Sunday, receiver Braxton Miller was diagnosed with a shoulder sprain. He's described as day-to-day and has a chance to play this week.

Will Fuller (hip) was limited on Wednesday; I'll have more on his status as the week progresses.


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 7 December 2016

As Profootballtalk.com's Darin Gantt framed it: "When a possibly bad team beats an indisputably wretched one, it's easy to roll your eyes when the winner starts to puff out his chest.

"But in the case of the Colts, it's legitimate, as improving to 6-6 has them in great position to win the AFC South. ..."

After Monday night's 41-10 road win over the struggling New York Jets, the Colts find themselves smack dab in the middle of a three-team tie for the AFC South lead.

Indianapolis, the Tennessee Titans and the Houston Texans are all 6-6 on the season. The Colts already have swept their divisional series with Tennessee and lost in overtime to Houston after allowing a double-digit lead slip away in the fourth quarter.

The Colts have four games remaining in the regular season, starting with Sunday afternoon's home matchup with the Texans.

"It was an overall great team win (on Monday). And we had one goal and one goal only and that was to be 1-0," head coach Chuck Pagano said.

"We talked about this time of year, December football, playoff football time. ... To stay in the hunt you've got to win football games. Again, I'm proud of our guys for pulling (the New York game) out."

After having a day off on Tuesday, the focus turns to this week's game with the Texans. Don't expect the Colts to lighten up. They didn't against the Jets and they won't going forward.

"It's December football — we wanted to start fast and take the crowd out of the game," wide receiver T.Y. Hilton told Gregg Doyel of the Indianapolis Star. "And we didn't want to take our foot off the gas."

The Texans have lost three straight, but after the Colts game they get to close with home games against the Jaguars and Bengals before going to Tennessee.

"I'm not going to lie," running back Frank Gore said. "I know I was looking at the Houston Texans game (Sunday). Just knowing that they lost meant that we had a big chance to get into the situation we're in now with a win."

That loss to Houston October was one of the lowest points in the Pagano era. They went from looking like they were going to send a message to the defending AFC South champions to looking like they weren't capable of winning the division by the end of the game.

But the Colts have won their last three games with Andrew Luck starting and Houston's financial investment (four years, $72 million) in Brock Osweiler isn't paying off.

Luck, who has thrown for 2,827 yards and 19 touchdowns while completing 62.9 percent of his pass attempts, has been in the position of having to carry a team before. He was 22-of-28 for 278 with four touchdowns and a career-best 147.6 quarterback rating against the Jets.

Osweiler can't say the same about carrying a team because this is foreign territory for him. The Texans have scored more than two offensive touchdowns in a game just once this season and are averaging only 17.3 points a game compared to the 25.9 points a game the Colts average.

"We know last we played them we let one slip away," Hilton said. "It's a game we're going to have to win to go into the playoffs. It's going to be a tough game, but we're at home, so we should be fine."

The Colts finish with potentially tricky road trips to Minnesota and Oakland before hosting Jacksonville to finish, so on paper it's a tougher way to end the season.

The Titans have games remaining with the Broncos, at the Chiefs and Jaguars and the home finale with the Texans.

"Everything is right there in front of us," Pagano said. ...

Worth noting, Luck threw three touchdown passes to tight end Dwayne Allen in the first half of the game and added another to Donte Moncrief in the third quarter Monday night.

On Wednesday, the NFL announced that Luck has been named the AFC offensive player of the week in recognition of those efforts. It's the fourth time Luck has been so honored, leaving him behind Peyton Manning and Edgerrin James for the most weekly offensive awards in franchise history.

The game continued a bounce-back season for Luck, who threw 12 interceptions in seven games during an injury-ravaged 2015 season. This year's results have been more in line with his previous efforts, all of which ended with a trip to the postseason. ...

Along with the three touchdowns, Allen added four receptions for 72 yards. He became only the third tight end in team history to record three touchdown catches in a single game (Dallas Clark on Dec. 13, 2009. and Ken Dilger on Dec. 14, 1997) Allen also became the first player with three receiving touchdowns in the first half of a Monday Night Football game since Jerry Rice in Week 16 of the 1995 season against the Vikings.

Gore had a productive night against the Jets. He led the team with 20 carries for 79 rushing yards. Following his 19-yard rush in the second quarter, Gore passed Tony Dorsett (12,739) for the eighth most rushing yards in NFL history.

Robert Turbin contributed with six carries for 16 yards and one touchdown. Turbin logged his fourth rushing touchdown of the season on a 5-yard run in the fourth quarter to give Indianapolis a 41-3 lead.

Linebacker D'Qwell Jackson (concussion) left Monday's game in the second half and did not return. He is now in the league's concussion protocols. Jackson, however, was informed Monday that he has been suspended without pay for the team's next four games for violating the NFL policy on performance-enhancing substances.

The suspension begins immediately. Jackson will be eligible to return to the Colts' active roster on Jan. 2, following the team's game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

And finally. ... When the Patriots won on Sunday, it was their 201st win with Tom Brady as their starting quarterback, the most for any quarterback in NFL history. But it's a former Brady teammate who has been a part of the most winning games for any player at any position in NFL history.

The Colts' win on Monday night was the 219th time in his career that kicker Adam Vinatieri has been on the winning team, counting both the regular season and the postseason. According to ProFootballReference.com, that breaks the previous record of 218 owned by George Blanda, the Hall of Fame kicker and quarterback who played an NFL record 26 seasons.

After Vinatieri and Blanda, the next-most wins belong to longtime kicker Gary Anderson, who was on the winning team 212 times. Jerry Rice has the most wins for a non-kicker, at 210, and Brady is fifth among all NFL players at 201.


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 7 December 2016

According to Associated Press sports writer Mark Long noted, Allen Robinson's season of discontent became evident in Jacksonville's latest loss.

Robinson yanked off his helmet and started yelling at an official early in the fourth quarter of a 20-10 loss to Denver on Sunday. It was a clear reaction to a disappointing year in which the 2015 Pro Bowl receiver has 56 receptions for 622 yards and six touchdowns.

Robinson was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct and later unleashed months of aggravation — at not getting calls, not winning games and not improving on a 1,400-yard, 14-touchdown sophomore campaign.

"I've never been this frustrated playing the game of football in my life," Robinson said after the game.

Robinson caught three passes for 31 yards against the Broncos. He was targeted a team-high 10 times, but two of those resulted in interceptions. Von Miller hit Blake Bortles as he tried to throw to Robinson across the middle, and the ball was intercepted and returned for a touchdown.

Earlier in the game, Bortles tried to find Robinson down the sideline, but he bobbled the ball and deflected it into a defender's hands.

The Jaguars (2-10) finished with three turnovers that proved to be the difference in the game. They lost their seventh consecutive game and fell to 0-5 at EverBank Field this season.

"It's tough, but at the end of the day for me, that's out of my control," Robinson said. "It is what it is. I try to go out there and not think too much about the negative outcome and just try to come out there and make the plays. I know it's been a little bit tougher, but the end of the day, just try to go out there and keep pushing."

Robinson is tied for sixth in the league with 116 targets in 2016, but his 48.2 percent catch rate is among the worst in the league. There are a number of contributing factors, most notably Bortles' continued inaccuracy.

Robinson also has six drops, including three that resulted in interceptions, and has seen significantly more cloud and double coverage in his third season. Defenders also have gotten away with being more aggressive with the second-round pick from Penn State.

"I'd rather not talk about this amazing officiating that we've had throughout the course of the season," Robinson said. "But, it is what it is."

There's little doubt that Robinson hasn't gotten all the calls he's deserved this year. Before his 15-yard penalty Sunday, it looked like Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib was draped on his back before the fourth-down pass even got to him.

"Whenever a player has success in the league, you try to take away what they do well," Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said. "That's what our conversations were in the offseason. When you do well, you might see rolled coverage, you might see a safety over the top. They're going to take it to another level if you have a good year because they feel like they need to take you out of your game.

"You need to be able to adjust to that. He has. At times, it's frustrating, but that's part of it. He's going to do some of that when you target like that. You just have to win in other ways."

Robinson hasn't, at least not with any consistency.

He has eight receptions for 73 yards and a touchdown in the last three games. And he might another tough go Sunday against Minnesota (6-6) and Xavier Rhodes, who is considered one of the best young cornerbacks in the league.

One thing Robinson might do, especially after another non-call prompted his eruption, is start playing more physical.

"Maybe it's me," he said. "Maybe I should start upping my physicality. I'll take a look at that as well. I'm not going to say it's not on me, because obviously I guess it is. I've got to go in the lab and try to figure something out."

Bortles told reporters on Wednesday he and Robinson sat down with OC Nathaniel Hackett earlier this week to talk about getting on the same page. Better communication and fuller understanding of what each guy is thinking were the goals. We'll see if that help. Nobody should get their hopes up, however.

Worth noting. ... Head coach Gus Bradley said Robinson played 83 plays and fellow wideout Marqise Lee played 81.

Bradley felt that was too many and he said that they shouldn't have been on the field that much. He should have given them a rest.

That was made more difficult with Allen Hurns (hamstring) and Rashad Greene, who was placed on injured reserve with an Achilles injury, both absent. ...

Meanwhile, how many NFL teams wouldn't settle for Jacksonville's defensive effort on Sunday in limiting Denver to 104 yards in both passing and rushing? Answer is probably 31 teams.

And how many NFL teams would settle for the Jaguars' offensive effort, the one in which Bortles completed less than 50 percent of his passes, finished with a passer rating of 37.9 and had a minus-3 turnover margin.

Answer is probably zero teams.

And fantasy owners should take note of both sides when making their lineups down the stretch.

A few final notes here. ... The Jaguars' 154 yards on the ground was their third best rushing effort of the season.

No one stood out, but with T.J. Yeldon and Denard Robinson rushing for 55 and 53 yards, respectively, and four other players combining for another 46 yards, it added up to 48 more yards than the Jaguars were averaging coming into the game.

All this came about without leading rusher Chris Ivory, who missed the game with an injury.

What makes the total more impressive is that both Yeldon and Robinson were battling injuries.

The Jaguars ran the ball a season-high 38 times and coupled with their 42 pass attempts, it was the most balanced attack of the season. It also enabled the Jaguars to complete 6 of 18 third-down plays, a figure that could have been better had the Jaguars converted any of their four third-down attempts in the fourth quarter.

Robinson got his first start since starting the final three games of the 2015 season. He had a team-high 17 carries for 53 yards before leaving the game midway in the third quarter with an ankle injury and not returning. The injury has been characterized as a high sprain.

Julius Thomas missed a second-straight start with a back injury.

Hurns was not practicing Wednesday while Ivory worked on a limited basis.

I'll have more on Hurns, Ivory, Robinson and Thomas via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.


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 7 December 2016

The odds have been firmly stacked against the Kansas City Chiefs countless times this season. As Associated Press sports writer Dave Skretta noted, they've defied them almost every time.

Start with the season opener against San Diego, when the Chiefs engineered the biggest comeback in the five decade-plus history of the franchise to win in overtime. Then consider improbable victories over Jacksonville and Carolina in back-to-back weeks, or more recently, a pair of crucial road wins.

Two weeks ago in Denver, the Chiefs rallied to force overtime with a touchdown and late 2-point conversion, lost the coin toss and held on defense — when the Broncos missed a field goal — before doing enough to kick their own field goal for a 30-27 victory.

And on Sunday in Atlanta, Eric Berry returned an interception for a first-half touchdown, then took another pick on a 2-point conversion try 99 yards for a defensive conversion when the Falcons were trying to go up by three points in the closing minutes of regulation. Kansas City went on to win, 29-28.

In some respects, the Chiefs are the epitome of resilience.

"It's funny how you put things like that," tight end Travis Kelce said. "I put it into the perspective that if we lose by a touchdown and I drop a pass that I could have taken to the house, I blame the entire game on me. It's football. That ball is shaped awkward so it can bounce in any which direction. That's why we love the game."

Still, it seems almost unfathomable that the ball keeps bouncing the Chiefs' way.

They lead the league in come-from-behind wins. They are 9-3 and firmly in contention not only for the playoffs but a first-round bye. And with Oakland (10-2) coming to town for a Thursday night showdown at Arrowhead Stadium, they have a chance to seize control of the AFC West.

They've already beaten the Raiders once. Two wins would give them an important tiebreaker.

"Normally we talk about the 24-hour rule, enjoying a win or getting over a loss and bouncing back," quarterback Alex Smith said, "and now it's basically the plane ride home. It's that short a week.

"It's a division game coming up and a big atmosphere, so everything is sped up," he said. "I think that recovery is important on a short week, guys taking care of their bodies and trying to get it back as soon as possible is the most taxing thing."

To that end, the Chiefs came out of their win over the Falcons reasonably healthy.

Outside linebacker Dee Ford made it back to the field after missing time with a hamstring injury. Defensive tackle Dontari Poe should be available after missing most of the week of practice with back spasms. Cornerback Steven Nelson was back from a neck injury. A host of other players who have been dealing with nagging injuries did nothing to exacerbate the problems.

The only question mark appears to be wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, who has been out with a groin injury. He practiced last week, but did not make the trip to Atlanta.

"I know he's making progress," head coach Andy Reid said. "We'll see."

We saw on Wednesday when Maclin was removed from the injury report.

The game against the Raiders begins a crucial finishing stretch that will not only determine whether the Chiefs make the postseason, but where, when and who they will be playing if they get there. It starts with the Raiders, but equally important games against playoff contenders Tennessee and Denver loom after that — all of them in the friendly confines of Arrowhead Stadium.

The regular season wraps up with a trip to San Diego on New Year's Day.

"You're getting ahead of yourself. That's just not how we think," Smith said. "For us, everything is on Thursday, not looking past that. How could you? Raider week, they're coming to our place with a lot on the line, so not thinking past that at all."

For what it's worth, Reid said the coaching staff pulled an all-nighter after getting back from Atlanta to prepare for the Raiders.

"We'll keep meeting and give them some well-thought-out information," he said.

Worth noting. ... The Chiefs had seven plays of more than 20 yards compared to two for the high-scoring Falcons.

"We knew we were playing one of the most explosive teams in the National Football League, if not the most explosive, and we had to be on our 'A' game offensively and do some things in the first half and trade blows with them," said Reid. "They have a good group.

"I just felt like points were going to be important and not necessarily field goals when you play a team like this. As great of a defense that we have, you have to make sure offensively you take care of business."

It makes sense, but as ESPN.com's Adam Teicher suggested, under similar circumstances in the past the Chiefs might have turned conservative and tried playing keep-away from the opponent. After the Falcons scored a touchdown on the opening drive of the game, the Chiefs took just more than two minutes to go down the field, including two long passes to Kelce, for a touchdown of their own.

That's why it will be interesting to see whether the Chiefs stay with their more aggressive philosophy against the Raiders and beyond. ...

Other notes of interest. ... As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich put it: "There was nothing pretty about Spencer Ware's performance on Sunday. ... Except for the fact that he scored two touchdowns, one rushing and one receiving."

Still, Ware was out-rushed by wideout Albert Wilson on 55-yard fake punt run, which he took to the house. Ware's 52 yards from scrimmage was his lowest total of the season in games that he has finished. But, as Franciscovich added, "Fantasy owners won't care because of the two scores though, and will hope for more as the Chiefs take on the Raiders."

Reid opened up all of his playbook for this game, so wide receivers Tyreek Hill and De'Anthony Thomas carried three times for 42 yards.

Meanwhile, Kelce had his third-straight 100-yard receiving game in the last three weeks, and his fourth in the last six. As NFL.com's Matt Harmon suggested, Kelce has taken his game to a new level, and the team is seeing what he can do as the No. 1 target with Maclin out.

This usage may not continue with Maclin returning, but Kelce is making it hard to imagine why he should be anything but the featured top target.

Also according to Harmon, Hill went out on just 49 percent of the Chiefs' plays run, compared to 85 percent for Chris Conley and 77 percent for Wilson.

"While Hill out-produced those two combined," Harmon added, "it's hard to project a reliable floor for him with that limited playing time doled out."

And finally. ... ESPN's Bob Holtzman is reporting that Maclin, who worked fully on Tuesday, will play this week. I will be following up on the wideout's status via Late-Breaking Update in advance of Thursday night's game.


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 Rams

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 December 2016

News leaked Sunday morning that Jeff Fisher has an extension in place to return as the Los Angeles Rams coach next season, and then his team showed how far away it is from becoming a legitimate contender.

For the second straight week, the Rams were blown out on the road. Seven days after giving up 49 points to the New Orleans Saints, they were thoroughly outplayed in a 26-10 loss to the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium. The Rams have dropped seven of their last eight games, putting them at 4-8 despite winning three of four to start the season.

As Orange County Register staffer Rich Hammond put it: "The inevitable hit the Rams on Sunday afternoon. They won't be a winning team. Just like last year, the year before, and every year since Jared Goff stopped losing his baby teeth. ..."

The best the Rams can do is finish 8-8, and that will require three upset victories in their final four games. No matter what, the Rams won't be above .500 for a 13th consecutive year. That dream, improbable at best, officially ended with Sunday's 26-10 loss to the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium.

Hours after news leaked that Fisher had signed a two-year contract extension – months ago – the Rams had perhaps their worst offensive performance of the season, and that's saying something.

The Rams totaled a season-low 162 yards – including 25 in the first half – and recorded only seven first downs, the lowest single-game total for any NFL team this season. The Rams crossed the 50-yard line only twice and trailed 26-3 until Goff's 1-yard touchdown pass to Kenny Britt with 1:15 remaining in the game.

"It feels like a broken record, year after year," said Lance Kendricks, a Rams tight end since 2011. "We've just got to play with pride, I guess. We've got to have some sense of pride and heart."

The playoffs aren't officially off the table, but they're all but impossible, even if the Rams upset win out.

The Rams certainly were hurt by the absence of three injured starters – offensive lineman Rodger Saffold, receiver Tavon Austin and defensive end Robert Quinn – but every team has injuries, and the Patriots had to deal with the loss of one of their top players, tight end Rob Gronkowski.

Little went well for the Rams. They allowed the Patriots to march 80 yards for a touchdown on the game's opening drive and they allowed six Patriots scoring drives. The Patriots led 17-0 in the second quarter.

The only positive for the Rams was that they held the Patriots to four field goals, but 26 points were far too many for the Rams offense to match. The Rams have scored 10 or fewer points in five of their past six games, and in seven of their 12 games this season.

"It's hard," running back Todd Gurley said. "It's repetitive, over and over every week. It's crazy."

Asked if the season felt like a treadmill, on which the Rams were running but not making any progress, Gurley said, "Never heard that one before, but that sounds about right."

The Rams had just 96 yards and five first downs until their final drive, with started with 3:29 remaining in the fourth quarter and with the Patriots holding a 26-3 lead. Goff found receiver Kenny Britt for a 66-yard pass on fourth down, and Goff later connected with Britt on a 1-yard touchdown.

Goff, in his third NFL start and on a cold afternoon, finished 14 of 32 for 161 yards. He threw two interceptions, but one bounced off Kendricks' hands and the other came after a New England defender smacked his forearm just before he released the ball.

Goff was far from perfect, but he also received almost no help. Receivers dropped passes, protection was spotty – Goff was sacked four times – and once again, the Rams' run game was nearly nonexistent. Gurley had a season-low 11 carries for 38 yards. The Rams went 1 for 12 on third-down attempts.

Britt dropped three catchable balls from Goff, two of them right after absorbing hits. Brian Quick dropped a couple of balls too, one on a throw a little high and another behind him. Rookie Pharoh Cooper dropped a ball to his chest after taking a hit from Malcolm Butler. And Kendricks made the biggest gaffe of all as the first quarter was winding down.

The Rams tight end was wide open while coming across the field, but Goff's throw went through his hands, shot up in the air and was intercepted, giving the Patriots the ball at the Rams' 30-yard line and eventually leading to their second score.

"They are drops, and it's hard on a quarterback," said Fisher. "We will be realistic when we evaluate the plays, but just offhand, my perspective on the sideline was he was making the reads. You are going to miss some. Tom threw some throws away today, but when you hit someone in the chest with the football, you've got to hang on to it, even though there is contact involved."

According to Profootballfocus.com, Goff was pressured at a higher rate than any other NFL quarterback last week.

When Goff was not under pressure, the rookie posted an 86.7 adjusted completion percentage—tied with Cardinals QB Carson Palmer for the fifth-best mark at the position this week. Under duress, however, Goff's adjusted completion percentage dropped to 40.0—the fourth-lowest rate among NFL QBs.

While Goff's start to his NFL career hasn't gone as hoped in L.A., better protection could greatly aid the rookie's performance.

"The elephant in the room is the offense," Fisher said, "but we are working hard on it and we're doing everything we possibly can to get better. When you're playing someone like Tom and you convert one third down offensively and you give them so many more opportunities, it's hard to win games."

Next up for the Rams is Atlanta, a division leader with a great offense. The following week, it's a game at Seattle, another division leader and one of the toughest road stadiums in the NFL. At this point, anything better than a 6-10 finish would seem like a significant accomplishment.

"At the end of the day," Gurley said, "you just have to look at yourself and say, `We're not doing a good enough job.'"

Gurley got a season-low 11 carries while rushing for just 38 yards in another inexplicably bad performance.

Gurley has now gone 15 straight games without reaching the 100-yard mark, and if anything it's getting worse rather than better.

And the same can obviously be said of the offense in general.


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 7 December 2016

As Associated Press sports writer Steven Wine notes, the Dolphins rebounded from a 1-4 start, and now they must regroup from their most lopsided loss of the season.

They need to do it quickly, too, because the Dolphins are running out of room for further stumbles if they want to end an eight-year playoff drought.

A 38-6 drubbing Sunday at Baltimore snapped Miami's six-game winning streak, but coach Adam Gase said he's confident his team can bounce back this week against Arizona.

"It ain't the first time we got smacked around a little bit," Gase said Monday. "It has been a while, though."

The Dolphins' first loss in two months cost them control of their playoff fate, leaving them at 7-5 and a game behind Denver in the race for the final AFC wild-card spot.

Gase shook his head when asked about a diminishing margin for error.

"I'm not even going to worry about it, because you hear that every year, and really everybody is usually wrong," Gase said. "You play until somebody tells you you can't play anymore. We were 1-4 and everybody said our season was over. I'm pretty sure if everybody went to Vegas and put money on that, they'd be broke."

If Gase isn't fretting about the playoff race, he should be worried about weaknesses exposed by the Ravens, who shredded Miami's pass defense and intercepted Ryan Tannehill three times after the lopsided score forced the Dolphins to abandon the ground game that's their strength.

There are troublesome trends beyond the single loss. An injury-depleted defense has allowed season-high yardage totals (475 and 496) each of the past two weeks for the highest total against a Miami team in back-to-back games since 1984.

Shaky depth may be further tested if linebacker Kiko Alonso is unavailable this week. He suffered a broken right thumb Sunday that required surgery.

Gase said he doesn't know whether cornerback Xavien Howard (knee) or center Mike Pouncey (hip) will return this week. Pouncey has played in only five games this year, but Gase said there's a "great chance" he'll be back before the end of the season.

Reinforcements would be welcome for a team that may have been overestimated during its winning streak.

The Dolphins have beaten only one team that's above .500 (Pittsburgh at 7-5). Their other victories came against teams that are a combined 19-52.

The schedule remains favorable. The Dolphins face only one team that has a winning record the rest of the regular season (AFC East leader New England on Jan. 1), and are at home Sunday against Arizona (5-6-1).

"There's still a lot of football left for us," Tannehill said.

On a more positive note. ... DeVante Parker told his coaching staff early last week that he would play against the Baltimore Ravens. Based on his back injury and track record, there obviously was some doubt.

But Parker managed to fight through the pain and convinced the Dolphins less than two hours before the game that he could. Parker, who didn't practice all week, finished with three receptions for 34 yards and scored Miami's only touchdown against the Ravens.

As ESPN.com's James Walker suggested, the game marked a growing point for Parker, who has dealt with various injuries in his first two seasons. In the past, Parker has missed games or didn't play well through pain, but neither was the case against the Ravens.

Parker looked to fellow receivers Jarvis Landry and Kenny Stills playing through their injuries as motivation.

"Really I just wanted to be out there for them, to help them out and be out there for the team," Parker said. "That's the only thing."

Gase challenged Parker early in the season to learn how to battle through injuries.

"It was impressive that he went out there," Gase said. "I know he couldn't have been completely pain free."

Parker, when healthy, could be an X-factor for Miami down the stretch. He is Miami's best deep threat and the Dolphins are 2-1 when Parker has 79 receiving yards or more this season.

Parker was practicing on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Landry collected a season-high 14 targets in this game due to the negative game script the Dolphins played in all afternoon.

Jay Ajayi was held to 61 yards on 12 carries against Baltimore, the NFL's No. 1 rushing defense, and that was a big problem. Ajayi has 262 yards rushing in his last four games with no 100-yard rushing performance after amassing 592 yards in the previous three games with a pair of 200-yard performances and a 100-yard performance.

The lack of an effective ground game wiped out much of the threat of the play action. It also meant the Dolphins' defense had to stay on the field for 70 plays.

Ajayi has maintained his yards-per-carry total, however. He is averaging 5.2 yards per carry, third in the NFL. And he has 908 yards rushing, seventh in the NFL.

The problem against the Ravens was Ajayi's lack of carries. As a team the Dolphins only had 16 carries.

The ground game, whether it's just chewing up carries and providing balance, or grinding out 100-yard performances, is Miami's ticket to offensive success. If the Dolphins can't run the ball effectively the offense could be solely reliant on big plays in the final four games.

Tannehill, who had nine touchdown passes and one interception during the six-game winning streak, had a season-high three interceptions and one touchdown pass at Baltimore.

"It was something different on every one," Tannehill said of his three interceptions.

Tannehill, who had left guard Laremy Tunsil (shoulder) and left tackle Branden Albert (wrist) back from injury, was also sacked twice and hit nine times.

Tannehill was 29 of 40 for 226 yards and had a 63.1 passer rating, his worst rating since a 62.3 against Tennessee, the last loss before the Ravens.

Tannehill bounced back from that with back-to-back solid performances.

Tight end Dion Sims had three receptions for 39 yards against Baltimore. He has 10 receptions for 112 yards and one TD in his last three games. For the season, Sims has 18 receptions for 204 yards and one TD, not far from his career best of 24 receptions for 284 yards and two TDs in 2014.

And finally. ... Andrew Franks missed a 46-yd field-goal attempt wide left, dropping him to 13 of 17 for the season. Franks has had two kicks blocked, both of which were too low, according to special teams coach Darren Rizzi, and has missed two wide left.


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 7 December 2016

One game was difficult enough for Mike Zimmer to miss. He sure didn't want to sit out longer than that, even after major eye surgery.

The hard-driving head coach has returned to work with the Vikings, who announced on Monday that Zimmer is expected to travel with the team this weekend to Jacksonville.

That's a three-hour flight, a little bit more than a week after Zimmer had an emergency operation to repair a detached retina, but the Vikings (6-6) wouldn't have proactively declared him fit for the job again if there were still uncertainty about his status for the game on Sunday against the Jaguars (2-10).

The matchup with a team with the third-worst record in the NFL has taken on an extra measure of significance, given the freefall Minnesota has experienced since a league-leading 5-0 start. The Vikings have dropped in the NFC North two games behind Detroit, which owns the division tiebreaker with a season sweep, and they're on the outside of the race for two wild card spots. The 17-15 loss to Dallas on Thursday, with special teams coordinator Mike Priefer running the team in Zimmer's absence, was their sixth in the last seven games.

Vikings players had four days off after their second consecutive Thursday game and will reconvene for practice on Tuesday. Zimmer's first news conference upon his return is scheduled for Wednesday. Zimmer had two surgeries on his right eye about a month ago, but his recovery was sidetracked last Wednesday when he developed vision trouble during practice and was sent for surgery that night. He had a fourth procedure on Friday, according to an ESPN report.

Befitting his classic old-school personality, whose late father was a longtime high school football coach in the Chicago area, Zimmer was spending longer days than usual on the job last month, often arriving at work around 4:15 a.m. if he didn't sleep in the office the night before in an attempt to help the Vikings stop their slide.

General manager Rick Spielman said Zimmer's setback was unrelated to his unrelenting dedication to the job after the problem first surfaced in late October. Spielman, though, said he spoke with Zimmer last week about keeping perspective when the prospect of him missing a game surfaced.

"We had some pretty significant talks, one-on-one, heart-to-heart, on what is important in life and what isn't," Spielman said. "I think after we met, I expressed to him specifically, that potentially going blind in one eye is not worth one game in the NFL. We have to look out for your long-term health. ..."

Meanwhile, Sam Bradford showed toughness and grit against Dallas, coming back from a hard shot to the ribs and elbow that knocked him out of the final two offensive snaps of the first half.

He threw for only 247 yards and had a big gainer on the first possession negated by offensive pass interference on Cordarrelle Patterson.

But Bradford didn't turn the ball over and he did go 7-for-7 for 45 yards including a three-yard touchdown pass to Jerick McKinnon to close within 17-15 with 25 seconds left.

A false start on Jeremiah Sirles moved the two-point conversion attempt back to the 7-yard line. Bradford then threw an incomplete pass while a defender hit and grabbed his facemask without a flag being thrown.

Kyle Rudolph was targeted 12 times, catching six passes for 45 yards. With 54 catches for 513 yards, he set career highs in both categories. Stefon Diggs returned from missing the Lions game with a knee injury to catch a game-high eight passes for 59 yards. He showed no effects of the injury.

As for the rushing attack, it still wasn't great, but as the Sports Xchange suggested, by Vikings standards, earning just an average grade here is considered a high bar.

The Vikings averaged 4.6 yards on 19 carries. McKinnon led the way with 41 yards. Matt Asiata averaged 5.0 yards and had a couple very determined almost fed-up looking runs, including a 14-yarder on a rare well-blocked play between the tackles.

Even Bradford joined in with a 10-yard run, looking fast for a QB with a history of knee injuries.

It was his longest run in 22 games. The Vikings weren't without their usual drive-killing penalties.

Left guard Alex Boone had a holding call to negate Zach Line's four-yard dive on third-and-1 at the Dallas 20 on the second drive of the game. The Vikings had to settle for a field goal.

The entire unit will have its work cut out for it going up against a Jacksonville defense that Denver to 104 yards in both passing and rushing last Sunday.

And finally, asked in the locker room on Wednesday if he'll return in 2016, Adrian Peterson said, "That's something I envision."

Peterson said that he expects his surgically repaired knee will feel well enough for him to return to action for the final games of the regular season. He appears to be targeting the December 24 game against the Packers as a possible return date, but added that it would be "pointless" to play in that game or their Week 17 matchup with the Lions if the Vikings are already out of playoff contention.

"Obviously, if we lose two games, we're out," Peterson said, via Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press. "So we'll just play it by ear. ... I'm thinking that we're going to make the playoffs so that's what I'm keeping my mind set on."

The Vikings are in Jacksonville this weekend, so they stand a pretty good chance of winning their second game since October 9. They'll play the Colts at home in Week 15 and as Profootballtalk.com notes, winning both won't give them a playoff spot, but it seems it would make it a lot likelier that they'll have Peterson's help for a final push.

I'll continue to watch for signs he can do something beyond envisioning that return in time to be of any use to fantasy owners.


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 7 December 2016

As ESPN.com's Mike Reiss framed it: "No Gronk, no problem. ..."

Playing their first game since tight end Rob Gronkowski underwent season-ending back surgery on Friday, the New England Patriots did what the New England Patriots often do – they morphed their attack into something different and produced enough in a 26-10 victory over the Los Angeles Rams at Gillette Stadium.

What was different?

Consider that on their first offensive possession, which culminated in a 43-yard touchdown run by LeGarrette Blount, the Patriots used five different personnel groupings on eight plays.

They opened in a three-receiver, two-running back look.

Then came a more conventional three-receiver, one-tight end package.

Enter the not-often-seen-before four-receiver grouping, which was a more prevalent part of the plan.

Then a two-receiver, two-tight end package.

By drive's end, when the Patriots went for it on fourth-and-1 and ran a one-receiver, two-tight end, one-fullback power look, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels had shown the diversity of the team's attack before the game was barely 4 minutes old.

This is part of what makes the Patriots' offensive attack special, and with a talented group of skill-position players still healthy and available, it's why one player said Friday that, unlike in past years, no one was freaking out like they might have in the past about the loss of such a special talent in Gronkowski.

"It's always tough because he's a huge piece to this team and without him, everyone is just going to have to do their job that much better and we're going to have to find ways to win games," said receiver Julian Edelman. "[But] as long as we continue to improve and gain confidence, that's the ultimate goal."

Martellus Bennett finished with two catches for 4 yards and picked up two holding penalties as well. He is playing through ankle and shoulder injuries and that might be factoring into his performance.

But with Edelman totaling eight catches for 101 yards and Malcolm Mitchell showing excellent control along the sideline at times in amassing eight receptions for 82 yards, Brady got plenty of help.

"Both of them played great," Tom Brady said. "Julian made some really big catches. We're going to need him to keep doing it."

So while the Brady-led attack would have liked to finish more drives with touchdowns against the Rams, they'll take it and now look ahead to what should be a tougher challenge against the Baltimore Ravens on Monday Night Football this week.

One question is whether Danny Amendola will be available after leaving Sunday's win over the Rams with an ankle injury, and departing the stadium with crutches and the aid of a walking boot. Also, No. 2 cornerback Eric Rowe left with a hamstring injury in the second half and didn't return.

Another question: Can New England's offense sustain without Gronkowski?

It seems they have the personnel to pull it off. Of particular interest to fantasy owners should be their depth at running back.

It was something that wasn't necessarily viewed as a strength as the season started.

Blount was re-signed in the offseason after just missing his second career 1,000-yard season because of a late hip injury. In addition Dion Lewis, the team's primary receiving option out of the backfield, was working his way back from surgery for a torn ACL in his left knee.

James White filled Lewis' absence admirably at the end of 2015, though he clearly was still learning in just his second year in the league.

But as the Patriots prepare to head into what should be their toughest four-game stretch of 2016, they suddenly find themselves with lots of options at a position once clouded with questions. All three running backs were showcased against the Rams.

Blount had the best day, adding to his growing highlight reel with to a juke-filled 43-yard touchdown for the game's first score. It helped put the Rams in a hole they never really threatened to recover from.

"We always preach that we have to start fast," Blount said. "If you can do that you know you can get everything else rolling, and you can open up the playbook and call the plays that we play."

Blount has rushed for 957 yards and 13 touchdowns this season, which is already his most productive year in a Patriots uniform. He's just 43 yards shy of reaching 1,000, and 51 yards from surpassing the career-best 1,007 he had as a rookie in 2010 with Tampa Bay. If he reaches 15 touchdowns, it also would set a new single-season mark for a Patriots running back.

Lewis made his second start Sunday since returning to the active list on Nov. 13. He continued to look comfortable on his surgically-repaired knee, moving well into cuts after receptions. White was also in the mix, posting his fourth straight game with at least four receptions.

With the newfound depth, the Patriots coaching staff also has shown its willingness to try out some two-back sets featuring the smaller Lewis and White. It appears to be proof that New England feels it has the personnel to keep defenses guessing.

"I think it's like anything else we do," Belichick said. "Whatever formations and groupings we run and plays we run, we try to gain an advantage and where we think we can gain advantage we try to take advantage of it."

That could certainly change game to game, he said, based on the looks that defenses show them. Just having that flexibility, though, should help keep all three backs fresh as the playoffs approach.

It will be even more important as the Patriots make adjustments in the passing game with Gronkowski now on injured reserve following season-ending back surgery. Receiver Danny Amendola became the latest injury victim Sunday when he left the game with an ankle issue. He was seen afterward walking with crutches.

Whatever challenges lie ahead, Blount said he and his teammates would adjust as needed.

"Football does start after Thanksgiving here," he said. "We have to kick it into gear and we have to do all the things that we need to do and take the necessary steps to make sure that we continue to play good football. ..."

A few final notes here. ... As NFL.com's Matt Harmon noted, Mitchell continued his strong play and saw far more playing time than he did in Week 12. He went out for 84 percent of the Patriots plays, second only to Chris Hogan among wide receivers. Mitchell only trailed Edelman with a 22.9 percent share of Brady's intended air yards.

"This is clearly a breakout happening right before our eyes," Harmon added, "and with Gronkowski out for the rest of the regular season, there is not much that can stand in his way to continue this march."

On the injury front, it's safe to assume Edelman (foot), Bennett (ankle, shoulder) and Hogan (back) will continue to go easy on their respective injuries in practice this week, but Brady (knee) was on the field to start the week, making it the first Wednesday's he's been on the field in two weeks.

I'll follow up via Late-Breaking Update as needed. ...

Stephen Gostkowski was 4-for-4 on field-goal attempts, hitting from 28, 48, 45 and 45 yards, and added two extra points.

Gostkowski was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week for his effort. ...

Oh. ... In case you missed it, Brady became the NFL's all-time leader for wins by a quarterback (including playoffs), surpassing Peyton Manning's mark in a 26-10 victory over the Rams.

"Tom breaking the record, that's what it is all about -- winning games," head coach Bill Belichick said after the game.

Since becoming the Patriots' starter in 2001, Brady has 201 wins in 264 career games -- it took Manning 293 games to reach 200 wins.


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 7 December 2016

As ESPN.com's Mike Triplett reminded readers, last week, Brandin Cooks was unhappy with the New Orleans Saints' offense.

He won't be alone this week.

Drew Brees and the Saints' offense gave their worst performance of the season in a 28-13 home loss to the Detroit Lions -- leaving their playoff hopes all but dead at 5-7.

Brees failed to throw a touchdown pass for the first time in 61 home games -- ending his NFL-record streak. He also threw three interceptions while completing 31 of 44 passes for 326 yards (most of which came in catch-up mode).

Just when it looked like the Saints might be on the verge of a late-season playoff push, they dropped this dud.

"We're up and down," said a frustrated coach Sean Payton, who called his own plays for the second time this season after it worked so well in last week's 49-21 rout over the Los Angeles Rams. "I've gotta do a better job. Obviously we looked sluggish. It looked like we came off a short week or something."

A week ago, the Saints gave their most complete performance of the season, which practically had Payton dancing on the sideline. But they followed up with their most complete loss of the season.

Everyone was to blame for this stinker -- including a defense that played bend-but-don't break for three quarters until it finally broke by allowing a 66-yard touchdown pass from Matthew Stafford to Golden Tate on third-and-10 in the fourth quarter.

Even punter Thomas Morstead, arguably the most reliable player on the team, shanked a punt late in the game.

But it was the offense that was most disappointing since it flopped from start to finish, one week after posting seven touchdowns and 555 yards.

"It's gonna look sluggish when you don't convert third downs early and you play six snaps in the first quarter," Saints offensive tackle Zach Strief said.

And he wasn't exaggerating. The Saints only played six snaps in the first quarter after failing to convert twice on third-and-1. The first time, Brees took the blame for allowing a shotgun snap to bounce off his hands (he recovered, but was flagged for intentional grounding). The second time, running back Tim Hightower got stuffed.

"It kind of defined our day, unfortunately," Brees said of the third-down failures.

Tight end Coby Fleener failed to catch a potential TD pass at the end of the second quarter on a ball thrown slightly behind him -- but it bounced off his hands.

"For every game I've played with [Brees], he's been spectacular," Fleener said. "I feel like I let him down, and I'm sure other guys do as well. It's a tough feeling."

Cooks -- who expressed his frustration last week after being targeted zero times in 45 snaps -- led the Saints with seven catches for 73 yards. But most of those came in hurry-up mode as well.

Cooks didn't have a catch in the first 29 minutes. Michael Thomas' 2-yard catch was the only catch by any receiver in the first 29 minutes as the Saints fell behind 13-3 early and never caught up.

"It's too far in the season to come out slow like that," Cooks said. "It was all on us, [Detroit] wasn't doing nothing special."

Brees' interceptions were the only three turnovers in the game (one of which came at the goal line on the game's final play, which was practically a Hail Mary).

Payton also harped on the third-down failures multiple times after the game -- as well as the overall "sloppy" play, including penalties (including two holding calls against guard Senio Kelemete).

Up next for the Saints is a trip to Tampa Bay, where they will play the first of two upcoming games against the Buccaneers, who are now tied for the NFC South lead at 7-5. The Saints might now need to sweep their final four games (including one at the division-leading Atlanta Falcons in Week 17).

For what it's worth, Payton dismissed reports of the Saints possibly exploring Cooks trades this offseason as "garbage" when asked about them after Sunday's loss.

"No, you don't have to ask," Payton said when a reporter followed up. "It's a false report. It's an agent picking up the phone and calling up. ... There's nothing to the report."

According to Triplett, Cooks also said that he never demanded a trade. "No, I did not do that," Cooks said. "I did not do that."

Reports emerged Sunday that Cooks' frustration over his role could lead to offseason trade talk. As Triplett suggested, it's possible that Cooks or his camp would like to seek a trade -- or at least threaten to demand a trade if his role doesn't change on a consistent basis.

But it's unclear how strong the Saints' interest would be in trading the dynamic receiver, whom they drafted in the first round in 2014. Cooks is under contract at the discounted rate of $1.56 million next year, then the Saints hold the right to exercise a one-year option on him for 2018, as well.

Other notes of interest. ... After having recent success, the Saints found the going tough against the Lions. They netted just 50 yards and one touchdown with a 4.2 average on 12 carries.

Mark Ingram had the most success with seven carries for 37 yards with a long of 22 yards before the Saints had to become one-dimensional early in the fourth quarter after falling behind 25-13. Hightower had just 5 yards on two carries and fullback John Kuhn, who had the only touchdown of the game on a 1-yard dive in the fourth quarter, had 4 yards on two attempts.

As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich noted, Travaris Cadet absorbed most of the passing-down work and since New Orleans was trailing the entire game, Cadet actually out-snapped both Ingram and Hightower. ...

After a rash of injuries early in the season and in the preseason, the Saints had been getting healthy lately.

But a string of several weeks without a major injury ended abruptly when No. 2 tight end Josh Hill fractured his right fibula in the second quarter of Sunday's game with the Lions.

Hill, a four-year veteran, has 15 catches for 149 yards and a touchdown and played a key role with the offense despite missing three games after suffering a high-ankle sprain in the season opener.

Hill, who will likely miss the remainder of the season, played in 66.4 percent of the Saints' offensive snaps after returning to the field following the team's bye week in mid-October.

With Hill missing the rest of the season, his workload is expected to be picked up by veteran John Phillips, who was claimed off waivers last month from the Denver Broncos.


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 7 December 2016

If the Giants are going to end their four-year playoff drought, Eli Manning and the offense have to improve and quickly.

The Giants (8-4) saw their six-game winning streak end Sunday with a 24-14 loss to the Steelers in Pittsburgh.

As Associated Press sports writer Tom Canavan notes, the blame can be put squarely on the offense. It was held to 234 yards, needed help from the defense and special teams to produce two touchdowns, and allowed the Steelers to get on the board first when left tackle Ereck Flowers was called for holding in the end zone.

It would be easy to say it was simply a bad game for the offense. It's been the norm lately.

"When we see the film, we see there are opportunities there," Ben McAdoo said Monday when asked about the offensive problems. "Again, the unforced errors and the setbacks when you're playing inconsistent football on the offensive side, they're hard to overcome. That's where we are right now."

Manning made the biggest mistake Sunday, trying to squeeze a pass to tight end Larry Donnell on second-and-4 from the Steelers 9-yard line with New York down 5-0. Linebacker Lawrence Timmons intercepted the pass and returned it 58 yards to set up another Pittsburgh touchdown.

It was a big mistake and New York never recovered. The Giants' defense gave the offense chances, but it failed to capitalize.

The Giants have a huge game this weekend with Dallas (11-1) coming to MetLife Stadium. If the Cowboys' win, they clinch the NFC East. New York still has the best record in the race for the wild-card spot, but Tampa Bay (7-5), Washington (6-5-1), Minnesota (6-6) and Green Bay (6-6) are close with four games left.

In addition to Dallas, the Giants also have games with Detroit (8-4), Philadelphia (5-7) and Washington.

It's not an easy schedule for a team struggling on offense.

In the last six games, the Giants are averaging 290.6 yards and 21.5 points. During that span the team has scored 18 touchdowns. Two have been by the defense and five other TDs have come on drives of 35 yards or less set up by takeaways by Steve Spagnuolo's unit.

The Giants entered Monday with the NFL's 26th-ranked offense, averaging 327.4 yards per game. That's almost 55 yards fewer than last year. They're not gaining yards, they're not scoring points (haven't topped 28 in a game this season) and they're not playing well, no matter the level of competition.

Since coming out of the bye week, the Giants seem to be focusing more on getting Odell Beckham the ball. In the last five weeks, Beckham was targeted 55 times, catching 35 for 385 yards.

Against the Steelers, he was targeted a team-high 16 times, catching 10 balls for 100 yards and no touchdowns.

Victor Cruz was not targeted once in Pittsburgh. The week before Shepard was ignored in the game against the Browns.

When asked if he was frustrated about not having a target and by his role in the offense, Cruz responded: "Take a guess."

According to ESPN.com's Jordan Raanan, this is an undercurrent that has been building, not just with Cruz but throughout the locker room.

As for Cruz, the Giants decided after the bye to limit his role. Cruz started to split snaps with undrafted rookie Roger Lewis and has evolved into a fourth option (at best) behind Beckham, Shepard and tight end Will Tye.

Cruz was outsnapped by Lewis on Sunday and has eight total targets in his past four games combined.

All of which would be easier to take if they were playing better.

Against the Steelers, the Giants rushed for 56 yards, and their 178 net passing yards were a season low. Manning finished 24 of 39 for 195 yards, his second consecutive sub-200 yard game.

As Profootballfocus.com noted, when given a clean pocket from which to throw in Pittsburgh, Manning managed a passer rating of just 58.4.

That's the second-worst rating from a clean pocket all week, better than only Jacksonville's Blake Bortles. Manning was one of the least-accurate quarterbacks this week, ranking fifth-worst in adjusted completion percentage, at just 65.8.

He finished with 195 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions, and was zero-for-three on his three attempts that went 20 or more yards downfield.

Manning now ranks just 26th for the season in PFF's quarterback grades, at 53.9—just ahead of the likes of Bortles, Case Keenum, and Trevor Siemian.

"I think there's a heightened sense of awareness that we need to get better and we need to improve and we need to keep working at it," McAdoo said. ...

Other notes of interest. ... The Giants' rushing offense was a bright spot in the game. Collectively, Rashad Jennings and Paul Perkins averaged 4.0 yards per carry; the problem though was that they also combined for just 13 carries.

That wasn't nearly enough to see if perhaps they could have picked up the slack for the struggling passing game.

Sure, the Giants fell behind, 14-0 at the half, but a better second half mixture of run/pass might have helped.

Jennings in particular had just six carries in the game for 19 rushing yards but collected 34 yards on six receptions, including the score. As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich notes, it marked the first time that Jennings did not lead the Giants in rushing attempts (Perkins had seven) in a game that he played in since Week 2. Jennings did out-snap Perkins by a count of 28 to 21, but Franciscovich contends he remains too inconsistent to confidently start in fantasy, especially now that it's playoff time. ...

DE Jason Pierre-Paul has gone under the knife. The Pro Bowl pass rusher, who is having a resurgent season, opted for surgery after a visit to core-muscle specialist Dr. William Meyers and will be out at least six weeks.

This is a tremendous blow for the Giants, especially against the run, but the team does have some talent stowed away at defensive end. Former undrafted free agent Kerry Wynn and 2015 third-round pick Owamagbe Odighizuwa will figure heavily into the team's game plan over the next few weeks. But almost no one has played the run better from his position since 2013. The timing could not be worse for Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, who has to find a way to hammer Cowboys rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott behind the line this Sunday. Pierre-Paul was a big part of the only defense to slow Dallas down this season. On opening day in Dallas, the Giants edged the Cowboys 20-19 and Elliott had a season-low 20 carries for 51 yards and a touchdown.. ...

And finally. ... Beckham had his third 100-yard game of the season and first since his 222-yard performance vs. Baltimore on Oct. 16. It was also the 18th 100-yard receiving game of his career, breaking a tie with Homer Jones for third on the Giants' career list and moving him into a tie with Cruz at No. 2. Amani Toomer holds the franchise record with 22 100-yard games.

Beckham wasn't very happy with the officiating crew assigned to the Giants-Steelers game, going so far as to suggest that the crew, led by referee Terry McAulay, not be assigned to call any more Giants games in the future.

Beckham's history with that crew began with last year's Giants-Panthers game in which McAulay's crew threw multiple flags on Beckham and then-Panthers cornerback Josh Norman, who were both engaging in extracurricular activities outside of the rules.

In Week 3 of this year, McAulay's crew, minus the referee, who was ill, also worked the Giants Week 3 game against Washington, with whom Norman is now a member.

That game saw Beckham have another one of his sideline blowups, this one coming at the expense of the Giants' kicking net.


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 7 December 2016

As the Sports Xchange reminded readers, Ryan Fitzpatrick responded to his first benching of the season with a defiance that was interpreted by some as petulance. But Fitzpatrick was equal parts resigned and eloquent on Monday night, when he lost his job for the second and almost assuredly final time during the New York Jets' 41-10 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

Head coach Todd Bowles benched Fitzpatrick in favor of Bryce Petty after Fitzpatrick was just 5 of 12 for 81 yards and an interception thrown on his final pass in the first half, when the Jets went into the locker room down 24-3.

Afterward, in a bit of weirdness unusual even by Jets standards, Bowles said the plan was always to have Petty start the final four games of the season and that, with the Colts blowing out the Jets, the Petty Era "just started a half early."

Barring injury to Petty, Fitzpatrick will not see the field again as a member of the Jets. After throwing a franchise-record 32 touchdowns in 2015 and keeping the Jets in the playoff race until the final weekend of that season, Fitzpatrick regressed to his journeyman form this year, during which he threw just 10 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.

"I didn't get it done, you know?" Fitzpatrick said.

His tone was much different Monday night than on Oct. 23, when Fitzpatrick opened the game as the second-string quarterback but finished it on the field after Geno Smith suffered a season-ending knee injury.

Following the 24-16 win over the Baltimore Ravens, Fitzpatrick said self-belief was the biggest thing an NFL player can possess and declared nobody else in the organization had faith in him.

"Because when the owner stops believing in you, and the GM stops believing in you, and the coaches stop believing in you, sometimes all you have is yourself," Fitzpatrick said then.

Now, though, his goal is to make sure Petty never feels alone. Fitzpatrick offered Petty a message of support not often relayed from a displaced starter to his replacement.

"I have to do my best to help him as much as I can," Fitzpatrick said. "There were so many people that helped me and playing quarterback, especially that quarterback group. You can't do it alone."

Fitzpatrick said he has grown close with Petty, perhaps because the former seventh-round draft pick who has played for six NFL teams and has a perpetual chip on his shoulder sees a little of himself in Petty, a fourth-round pick in 2015 who seemed likely to lose his roster spot when the Jets drafted Christian Hackenberg in the second round last spring.

Instead, Petty put together a pretty good preseason (481 yards, three touchdowns, one interception) and will now get the chance to prove he deserves to be considered a candidate to start for the Jets next season. Nobody will be rooting harder for Petty than his predecessor.

"It wasn't anything that was handed to him or given to him because he was a draft pick," Fitzpatrick said. "It's because he went out there and took it. This will be a great opportunity for him.

"It's going to be a difficult thing for me not to play, but it's not a difficult thing for me to be in there with a guy I really respect and works his butt off, trying to help him along the way to maybe try to kick-start his career.

For what it's worth, ESPN.com's Rich Cimini notes that Bowles choosing to make the announcement after his most lopsided loss in two years raised a few eyebrows. Cimini went on to explain, "This is a deliberate coach who usually takes his time with quarterback decisions, but there he was at the podium, blurting out the headline to a stunned group of reporters."

It happened so fast that the two quarterbacks found out only moments before their separate postgame news conferences. Fitzpatrick appeared caught off-guard by the questions, leaving some to wonder if he was blindsided with the news by reporters.

Back in the locker room, the players had no idea about the quarterback change.

This wasn't exactly the smoothest transition of power, but what would you expect from the Jets on a night in which they did everything wrong?

Whatever the case, Cimini believes a 3-9 coach with a four-game losing streak usually doesn't go to a newbie quarterback unless he feels confident about his job security. Does Petty give Bowles a built-in alibi? Maybe, maybe not. If they finish 3-13 -- an eight-game losing streak -- it'll look real bad, especially if they're non-competitive.

Their remaining opponents are the San Francisco 49ers (1-11), Miami Dolphins (7-5), New England Patriots (10-2) and the Buffalo Bills (6-6). The Jets should be able to steal a couple of games, even with Petty, who has one career start. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Fitzpatrick was victimized by a handful of drops but also struggled with his accuracy, and his final pass as the starter was a terribly telegraphed interception into double coverage. The same things could be said of Petty, who peppered Robby Anderson (four catches for 61 yards, one touchdown) with 11 targets but completed just four passes to his favorite target, including a 40-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter.

Both of Petty's interceptions came on ill-advised throws.

At least Brandon Marshall (four catches for 43 yards) had three of his catchers with Petty under center. Quincy Enunwa (one catch for 10 yards) flopped eight days after his career game.

Meanwhile, falling behind by two touchdowns less than halfway through the first quarter is no way to build a running game. But Matt Forte (nine carries for 25 yards) had just 12 yards on his first five carries anyway. No matter how badly the Jets lost, there was no excuse for aging street free agent pickup C.J. Spiller (two carries for 5 yards) to get more touches than Bilal Powell (one carry for 3 yards).

And that won't happen again. The Jets released Spiller on Tuesday.

Instead, it could be Khiry Robinson cutting into the touches.

The team announced on Wednesday they have signed Robinson to their 53-man roster while also promoting Brandon Wilds from their practice squad. Kick returner Jeremy Ross was also waived on Tuesday.

It's Robinson's second time signing with the Jets. He signed as a free agent in the offseason while he was still rehabbing from a broken leg suffered while with the Saints last season. He played in one preseason game, but was waived/injured after hurting his leg again in that game.

Robinson had 186 carries for 766 yards and eight touchdowns over three years in New Orleans. Wilds, who spent the summer with the Falcons before making his way to the Jets' practice squad, has not played in a regular season game.


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 7 December 2016

The Raiders will have little time to prepare for their biggest game in 14 years.

The Raiders (10-2) didn't get much of a chance to savor their sixth straight victory before turning their attention Monday to an AFC West showdown against the Chiefs (9-3) on Thursday night in Kansas City.

Instead of taking their usual Monday off for the players, the Raiders were back on the practice field preparing for a rematch with the Chiefs that will play a big part in determining which team wins the division.

"We're going to be excited to play," head coach Jack Del Rio said. "That's how we're looking at it. Tough set of circumstances. We don't mind tough things, so we're looking forward to the challenge."

The Raiders have handled a number of schedule challenges already this season as they are off to their best start since 2000 and poised to end a 13-year playoff drought.

They opened the season with three road games with early starts in the first four weeks and won all of them. They spent a week practicing in Florida between road games at Jacksonville and Tampa Bay and swept the trip. They bounced back from an overtime win over the Buccaneers to beat Denver the following week. They won a game in the high altitude at Mexico City and came back on a short week to beat a well-rested Carolina squad.

Now comes the trip to Kansas City, where the Raiders will try to snap a four-game losing streak against the Chiefs, including a 26-10 loss at home in October.

"The physical part, just recovering and getting guys to do everything they can to get back to neutral and feel good," safety Nate Allen said when asked about the challenges of a short week. "Even the mental part is big. Something you'd have four or five days to study a team, you have two days. Everybody has to go over the top with everything preparing mentally and physically."

With the Chiefs already winning once against Oakland, a second victory would give them a potential tiebreaker and mean the Raiders would need help to win the division. An Oakland win would give the Raiders a two-game lead in the AFC West with three remaining.

Both teams head into the game on a roll, with the Raiders having won six in a row and the Chiefs taking seven of eight. Both have a penchant for coming from behind this season, with Oakland posting six fourth-quarter comebacks and Kansas City four.

"The good teams find a way to win and they've done that as well," Del Rio said. "Both teams know what it looks like to win. Should be a great game."

Derek Carr was 22 of 35 for 260 yards with touchdown passes of 3 yards to Michael Crabtree and 37 yards to Amari Cooper. He was clutch when he needed to be down the stretch after opening 5 of 13, including a pair of dropped passes at the goal line by Seth Roberts and Crabtree.

The touchdown pass to Cooper that put the game away was preceded by a 22-yard strike to tight end Mychal Rivera.

Cooper broke 2,000 yards receiving in his career on his first catch of the game on Sunday. He became the seventh player in NFL history to have that many before the age of 23.

Pass protection was excellent, as usual.

According to Profootballfocus.com, the Raiders' offensive line earned a pass-blocking efficiency score of 91.4.

That's the second-best mark in the NFL this week, behind only the Bears' offensive line. The Raiders' O-line allowed just four pressures on Carr all game -- zero sacks, zero hits, and four hurries—making him the second-least-pressured quarterback in the league.

Carr was able to excel as a result, earning an adjusted completion percentage of 80.0 that was eighth-best in the league.

Carr is currently No. 5 in PFF's season grades among QBs, at 88.4, and the ability of the Raiders' offensive line to keep him clean has played a big role in his success.

Meanwhile, Latavius Murray gained 82 yards on 20 carries to lead a 139-yard running effort that came exclusively out of shotgun formations, as Carr didn't take a snap from under center the week after dislocating his right pinky finger in two places.

Murray was often lined up behind Carr in a "pistol" look.

The Raiders had only 85 yards on 50 carries in previous games against Houston and Carolina and hadn't had a gain of 10 yards or more since a Nov. 6 win over Denver.

Murray's 13-yard run in the first quarter snapped a streak of 61 carries without a gain of 10 yards or more. Murray has 11 touchdowns this season, including two short runs against the Bills.

"I think it's a testament to what the whole line has been doing up front and a combination of the backs as a whole," Murray said. "I'm fortunate to get touchdowns, but it's a group effort as a whole."

Murray is the first Raiders running back with double-digit rushing touchdowns since Marcus Allen in 1990.

Worth noting. ... Rookie Jalen Richard had 53 yards on nine carries and DeAndre Washington was a healthy scratch for a second-straight week. ...

And finally. ... Defensive end Khalil Mack continued to wreak havoc and put himself front and center in the conversation for NFL Defensive Player of the Year. He forced an interception with an end zone hit on Buffalo quarterback Tyrod Taylor and closed out the game with a strip sack and fumble recovery.

"Khalil Mack is really making his mark on these ballgames," Del Rio said. "That interception he caused. ... He just keeps showing up huge and that's what great players do. He's a great player."

Mack has now had a sack in seven straight games, to go with an interception, and two forced fumbles and fumble recoveries in the last two games.


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 7 December 2016

As Associated Press sports writer Rob Maaddi suggested, Carson Wentz and the Eagles are going backward.

The rookie quarterback had his worst game in Week 13. So did the defense. The coaches also deserve blame because players were undisciplined and uninspired.

A third straight double-digit loss — 32-14 at Cincinnati — has Philadelphia reeling down the home stretch. After a surprising 3-0 start, the Eagles (5-7) have lost seven of nine.

This was supposed to be a rebuilding year and it's turned out that way.

However, the Eagles aren't making progress. They've regressed since a promising first month.

The losses are looking worse each week. The Eagles were a play away from winning in their first four losses.

But the past three haven't been close. The margin of defeat has been 14.3 points per game.

"We're still on track," head coach Doug Pederson said Monday. "Now, do we expect to go out and play like we've played the last couple of weeks? No, we don't. Do we expect to be down 19-0 at halftime? No, we don't. I know where we are as a football team. We are playing with some young guys on offense. There are some younger guys on defense."

Wentz was flawless in September. He didn't commit a turnover, completed almost 65 percent of his passes and posted a 103.8 passer rating in three games. Wentz had his poorest start of the season in the loss to the Bengals. He went 13 of 27 in the first three quarters before throwing 33 passes in the fourth after the Eagles had fallen behind, 29-7. Wentz had three interceptions in the game, and easily could have had another three if the Bengals linebackers and defensive backs could catch.

Pederson said after the game that Wentz's throwing problems Sunday were strictly mechanics. On Monday, he said pass rush pressure also was a factor.

"There's times when there's pressure in his face, so the ball is going to tend to sail high," Pederson said. "There's also times where he's still back on his back foot and the ball sails high. It's a combination of both. It's just something we have to continue to work on.

The Eagles were missing top receiver Jordan Matthews and top rusher Ryan Mathews against the Bengals, so the offense already was at a disadvantage from the start.

Right tackle Lane Johnson is serving a 10-game suspension and his backup Halapoulivaati Vaitai is injured.

"Obviously we don't make plays, we have a lot of mistakes, we've got to clean up some of our discipline," Wentz said.

As ESPN.com's Tim McManus noted, Wentz is in completely unfamiliar territory. During his four years at North Dakota State, the Bison went 57-4. He compiled a 20-3 record (.870 win percentage) while leading the team to a pair of national championships. With the Eagles sitting at 5-7, he has more than doubled his loss total as a starter at the collegiate level.

"Obviously, we're on a skid. There's really nothing to change," Wentz said. "We've just got to lock in, and we've got to be more disciplined. At the same time, you don't get down."

Wentz now has three touchdowns and eight interceptions the past five games.

Wide receiver Nelson Agholor, back from a one-game break to deal with confidence issues, is heartened by what he has seen from his quarterback, despite the group's struggles. He pointed to a play down the stretch on which, after Wentz was intercepted by Vontaze Burfict, the quarterback ran the linebacker down and threw his shoulder into him to knock him out of bounds.

"That's my quarterback," Agholor said. "You have a lot of respect for someone [who does that]. In fact, I was disappointed in myself because I was gassed. And I don't want him doing that. But the fact that he is that passionate, he still found a way to do that, I have a lot of respect for him."

Meanwhile, the defense has no excuses.

It continued a run of disappointing performances despite playing against a team that didn't have receiver A.J. Green and running back Giovani Bernard. Cincinnati scored on its first six possessions and racked up 412 yards.

Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz's unit played so well the first month that many people expected the former Lions head coach would be a hot commodity after this season.

However, the defense has steadily declined and Schwartz is taking heat for it.

The Eagles haven't had a sack in the past two games, a remarkable stat considering they had 20 in the first six games and they're supposed to have one of the strongest defensive lines in the league.

"Obviously, we aren't getting to the quarterback the way we should," said defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, who has no sacks in the past eight games.

"When teams have success of dinking and dunking us, they see the previous teams. It's a copycat league. Teams are going to that and get rid of the ball quick. When they're ready to go deep, they seven-man protect. We're rushing four, so you do the math."

The good news for the Eagles is three of their last four games are at home, where they're 4-1. They'll host the Redskins (6-5-1) this week.

As for the injuries. ... Dorial Green-Beckham sustained an oblique contusion when he got drilled by Burfict. He was held out of practice Wednesday and is questionable for Sunday's game against the Washington Redskins, even though Pederson said he should play.

Matthews missed his first game ever -- pro, college, high school, Pop Warner -- with an ankle injury. Pederson said he will practice Wednesday and is expected to play this week. Mathews, who has missed the last two games with a knee injury, was also slated to practice Wednesday, Pederson said. That would seem to suggest he'll play this week against the Redskins.

Vaitai continues to rehab from his MCL knee sprain. He's missed the last two games and is expected to miss at least one, and possibly two more contests.

With Mathews out, rookie Wendell Smallwood was the "lead" back and finished with a team-high 19 rushing yards. As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich notes, Darren Sproles ended up out-snapping his rookie teammate, 44 to 24, as was the case last week. Sproles scored his first rushing touchdown of the year and collected 35 yards as a receiver.

Franciscovich believes this is a situation to avoid for fantasy purposes until Mathews returns. ...

Paul Turner's first catch went for 41 yards and he led the team in receiving yards. Yet, NFL.com's Matt Harmon noted that Turner played less than 60 percent of the snaps and it's hard to imagine that rising if Matthews and Green-Beckham are able to play this week. ...

And finally. ... Pederson was asked Monday whether he felt his job with the team still was secure.

"For sure. Yeah," he said.

Asked whether owner Jeff Lurie and de facto general manager Howie Roseman have assured him he'll be back for a second year, he said, "Yes. Yes."


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 7 December 2016

As ESPN.com's Jeremy Fowler reminded readers, it was nearly four weeks ago that Ben Roethlisberger stood near his locker and delivered two simple words about his leadership plans for the season's second half: Follow me.

Since then, Roethlisberger has 1,085 yards passing, eight touchdown passes, one interception and three wins, none bigger than Sunday's over the New York Giants, 24-14.

When the Pittsburgh Steelers faced trouble midway through the third quarter, Roethlisberger delivered the kind of drive that only a handful of humans could orchestrate.

He strong-armed a 33-yard completion through a pocket full of Giants.

He launched a well-timed ball to the sideline to a toe-tapping Antonio Brown.

He lofted a pass over the head of safety Landon Collins for a 20-yard score to Ladarius Green, who's clearly become the Steelers' second receiving option behind Brown.

On a day the Steelers had to have it, Big Ben was at his biggest, answering a Giants touchdown drive and keeping the lead at 14 before letting Le'Veon Bell handle most of the fourth quarter. Roethlisberger was 4-of-4 for 71 yards on that drive.

It was brilliant performance and the difference in the game.

And don't think he's not still motivated by playing Eli Manning, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2004 draft and 10 picks above Roethlisberger -- who looked like the better quarterback 12 years later.

The defense was just as bullish, baiting Manning into two interceptions and holding Odell Beckham to 105 yards, a handful of those in garbage time.

A team that underachieved for the better part of two months is peaking at the perfect time. That Week 10 loss to Dallas could have crushed the Steelers. Instead, it galvanized them.

With the Baltimore Ravens pounding the Miami Dolphins earlier Sunday, the Steelers couldn't afford to fall to 6-6 with four weeks left. The AFC North division is the only clear path to the playoffs, and that Steelers-Ravens matchup on Christmas Day sets up nicely for Pittsburgh.

The Steelers' quarterback likes his chances.

He also likes Green.

Roethlisberger likened the tight end to a Ferrari shortly after the Steelers signed Green to a lucrative four-year contract, a rare open-market splurge by the typically free-agent averse club.

As Associated Press sports writer Will Graves noted, for months, the Ferrari remained up on blocks as Green went through a slow, methodical rehab from offseason ankle surgery that forced him to spend the first two months of the season on the physically unable to perform list.

No matter. Healthy at last, Green is in the process of answering all the questions about his ability with one exclamation-point catch after another.

Against the Giants, Green hauled in a career-high six receptions for 110 yards and a touchdown as Pittsburgh (7-5) won its third straight.

"I'm not close to where I thought I would be, but I'm getting closer," Green said. "I'm building a little more confidence every game. The team is still believing in me. They keep pushing me. So, it's just, everything is better."

Looks like it. Since making his debut against Dallas last month, Green is averaging 18.8 yards per catch and looking very much like the potent downfield threat Pittsburgh envisioned when it tabbed him to replace the retired Heath Miller.

"Having your health is one thing, being football ready is another," Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said. "He's getting up to speed. He's finding a comfortable seat on a moving train. And we need him to."

If Green can continue to take positive steps forward, it will give Roethlisberger another target instead of relying so heavily on running back Bell and Antonio Brown, though the two stars hardly looked overworked while combining for 236 of Pittsburgh's 389 total yards.

Bell finished with 118 yards rushing, the first back to go over 100 against the Giants (8-4) since Adrian Peterson in Week 16 of last season, and added six catches for another 64 yards. Brown made a spectacular grab at the back of the end zone for his 11th touchdown reception of the season and the 49th in his career from Roethlisberger to move into a tie with Hall of Famers Terry Bradshaw and Lynn Swann for the most prolific wide receiver/quarterback combo in team history.

The Steelers ran it 36 times and passed it 36 times, a nod toward the style of play they want to utilize in what Tomlin calls "December Football."

"It's the time of year that we have to be our best self: offense, defense, special teams," Roethlisberger said. "Everybody needs to just do their job and I thought they did that tonight."

For the record, Roethlisberger and Brown have combined on 49 touchdown passes, tying the franchise record for most quarterback-to-receiver touchdowns strikes. Terry Bradshaw and Lynn Swann also combined for 49 touchdowns. Roethlisberger has thrown at least one touchdown pass in 43 consecutive home games, the third-longest streak in NFL history and the longest active streak.

Bell is the first Steelers running back with a three-game 100-yard rushing streak since Willie Parker had a four-game 100-yard streak spanning the 2006 and 2007 seasons. Bell has posted 100 yards from scrimmage in four consecutive games and in eight of his nine games played in 2016.

On the injury front. ... Tomlin told reporters on Tuesday that Chris Boswell, who missed Sunday's game with an abdominal injury, has a legitimate chance to play this week. Randy Bullock was signed last Saturday and filled in. He'll likely be kept on stand-by for that purpose again this week.

Bullock was perfect on three field goals and his extra point attempt, but Tomlin made it clear that if Boswell was well enough to kick, that he was the choice.

Also. ... Tomlin said DeAngelo Williams could return from knee surgery this week. Both he and receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey (foot) were being evaluated on Tuesday and could practice this week, although Tomlin suggested that Williams has better chance to be ready than Heyward-Bey.

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


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 Diego Chargers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 December 2016

While sifting through the aftermath of another loss, head coach Mike McCoy made something clear: He wants to return next season.

"Yes I do," McCoy said Monday, "without a doubt."

When asked if he had been approached about an extension, McCoy declined to elaborate.

"I'm worried about Carolina right now," said McCoy, whose Chargers face the Panthers on Sunday. "That is all I'm concerned about. We have to find a way to go win this one. We got to find a way to go out there and don't turn the ball over, be more consistent in all three phases, finish the game and win. That is all we are concerned about right now is to get a win on the road. We will deal with everything else down the road."

The last-place Chargers (5-7) were less than 24 hours away from their latest fourth-quarter meltdown, this one coming against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 28-21. For the fifth time this season, the Chargers squandered a lead in the final 15 minutes and on this occasion it all but eliminated them from the playoffs.

Indications are the Chargers, who are considering moving to Los Angeles, will miss the postseason for the sixth time in seven seasons.

The Chargers have lost 25 of their past 38 games (.342 winning percentage) and are 9-19 since last year, a span in which for the majority of the time they've been in the AFC West cellar.

McCoy, who is under contract for next season, has had a rocky ride in his first stint as a head coach at any level. The Broncos' former offensive coordinator directed the Chargers to a 9-7 mark and a road playoff win in 2013, his first year.

Since then, the Chargers have struggled.

Not only have they lost 11 of their last 12 AFC West games but the division-leading Oakland Raiders have more wins this year (10) than the Chargers (nine) have since 2015.

What makes this season so painful for the Chargers is their play in the most critical moments.

The Chargers lost their season-opener when Kansas City rallied for a win, outscoring the Chargers 30-3 in the fourth quarter and overtime. On Sunday, it was more of the same as the Buccaneers outscored the Chargers 21-7 in the second half.

"We've gone into the fourth quarter with the lead plenty of times," McCoy said. "We have been in position to win all of them and we haven't got it done. Like we have been saying, everyone is different. Why is it happening? It's different on a weekly basis."

With the loss, San Diego fell to 7-16 under Mike McCoy in games decided by eight points or fewer.

For the second time in three games, Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers struggled when his team needed him most, throwing two second-half interceptions -- including one returned for 15 yards for a score by Tampa Bay linebacker Lavonte David.

Second-year running back Melvin Gordon offered one of the few bright spots for the Chargers, finishing with a game-high 84 rushing yards on 17 carries, including a 2-yard touchdown.

Gordon is now eight yards away from reaching the 1,000-yard mark. Gordon also finished with five catches for 54 yards, totaling 138 yards from scrimmage.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Gordon is the first player in NFL history with 10 rushing touchdowns following a season without notching a rushing touchdown (with a minimum of 100 attempts each season).

Gordon also became the first San Diego player to rush for at least 10 touchdowns since Mike Tolbert in 2010.

In addition, Gordon has seven runs of 20-plus yards this season, tied for No. 4 in the NFL. According to ESPN Stats and Information, Gordon also averages two yards after contact, No. 6 in the league.

Still, Gordon believes he should be more elusive with the football.

"Those open runs that I had in space, when I make a guy miss, I need to make another guy miss," Gordon said. "The elite ones do, and if you take it for a touchdown, we don't have this problem right now.

"We're all in here happy, the music's going, and the stereo's popping right now. So we're all to blame right now. It is what it is. We keep falling short, and we've got to figure it out."

Kenneth Farrow tied two career highs on Sunday. He had four carries for 15 yards against the Buccaneers. He saw action when Gordon was being checked on during the early stages of the game.

The Chargers had balance on offense, with 25 runs and 26 passes against Tampa Bay. San Diego finished with 119 total rushing yards.

Rivers finished 15-of-26 for 225 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Rivers has now thrown seven interceptions in his past three games and six in the fourth quarter this season.

Two more interceptions in the fourth quarter flipped Sunday's game around.

As the Sports Xchange noted, the first one was a tough one as it was a deflection, which was returned for a touchdown. The second one, Rivers tried to force a ball to Dontrelle Inman in the end zone and it was a bad decision and a bad pass. Rivers was under seize for most the day, although the Bucs were credited with but two sacks.

A huge drop by Travis Benjamin in the second half could have resulted in a touchdown.

As NFL.com Matt Harmon pointed out, San Diego ran just over 50 plays, which makes it tough for any pass-catcher to bust out. Couple that with Gordon leading the team in targets and receiving yards, and it was an out-of-character game for the Chargers pass-catchers.

Harmon advised readers that Tyrell Williams looked like he was playing the role of decoy after coming into the game with a torn labrum. Williams did not receive his first target until there was 4:32 left in the third quarter, which was intercepted and taken back for touchdown, despite being on the field for 96 percent of the team's plays.

Luckily, on the next play the Chargers ran, Williams busted off a 40-yard touchdown.

Tight end Antonio Gates played in his 200th Chargers game on Sunday, tying him with Junior Seau and Russ Washington as the most by a position player in franchise history. "What I saw from him is what I've seen the past four years," McCoy said. "He's the best to play the game at his position. And he's an even better person."

And finally. ... The Chargers are the only team to have a takeaway in every game this season. The one on Sunday came when Casey Hayward notched his NFL-high seventh interception. The franchise record is 10 picks by Antonio Cromartie in 2007.


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

San Francisco 49ers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 December 2016

The San Francisco 49ers' losing streak is alive and well at a franchise-record 11 in a row. But as ESPN.com's Nick Wagoner suggested, Sunday's embarrassing loss to the Chicago Bears offered the Niners something closer to a win than they've seen in nearly three months.

In losing 26-6 to the Bears, the Niners bolstered their chances of hanging on to the No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 NFL draft. In December, that's not something most teams want to talk about, but the reality facing the 49ers is that they are 1-11, and the biggest reason for that is an overall lack of talent on the roster.

Drafting No. 2 behind Cleveland would guarantee nothing in terms of increasing the talent level, but it would at least offer better odds at landing a true franchise building block. The lack of such talent was evident yet again Sunday at Soldier Field.

As the snow and cold dominated most of the day, the Niners seemed to be in control early simply by running the ball, and they benefited from a blocked punt and a fumble recovery. But they couldn't turn those into touchdowns and settled instead for field goals.

Meanwhile, neither team completed a pass in the first quarter, the first time that's happened in an NFL game since 1988, and Colin Kaepernick was at the controls of one of the most dismal passing performances in league history.

Kaepernick finished 1-of-5 for 4 yards and took five sacks that drove the Niners back 25 yards. That meant the Niners finished with minus-21 net passing yards before coach Chip Kelly pulled Kaepernick for Blaine Gabbert early in the fourth quarter.

When Kelly pulled the plug on Kaepernick after 45 offensive snaps in three quarters, Gabbert had what turned out to be 13 snaps to perhaps wrestle back his starting spot on a team that has yet to win since he led a 28-0 season-opening victory over the Los Angeles Rams.

Other than the snowy conditions, Gabbert couldn't have asked for a better situation.

Kaepernick had already brought his future with the team into serious question earlier in the week when it was reported he was putting his San Francisco Bay Area mansion up for sale. He later explained it as an "investment decision."

Then on Sunday, the NFL Network was reporting that Kaepernick already has decided to exercise an opt-out in his recently restructured contract this offseason and test the free-agent market.

Rather than also label that an "investment decision," Kaepernick refused to discuss the subject in Chicago, claiming he was focused on the game.

Mix in a performance in which Kaepernick's 20 rushing yards were more than offset by five sacks that pushed the team back 25 yards, and Gabbert had a chance to play hero Sunday.

Or at least post some meaningless stats late in the blowout that might prompt Kelly to make the change permanent.

Instead, he only made things worse, taking a late sack that added to the final two points to the Bears' total.

Neither Gabbert nor Kelly addressed the big picture after the game. Kelly, meanwhile, wrote off the in-game move as something he would have done and has done at any other position when a backup might possibly help turn things around.

"It was just my decision to make a move to see if we could get a spark," Kelly explained. "There were no permanent decisions or anything like that."

While admittedly puzzled by the move, Kaepernick said he accepted the change as a short-term change on a snowy day when the 49ers couldn't get anything going.

Between the two of them, Kaepernick and Gabbert passed for 39 yards, but took sacks totaling 33. The six net passing yards were the second-fewest in 49ers history, better only than a minus-10 in a 1963 game against the Detroit Lions.

Even Gabbert walked away saying he didn't think Kaepernick should be singled out for the team's poor offensive showing.

"It's just one of those days," he observed. "It's not on any single guy's shoulders why we didn't win this football game and why we didn't execute as an offense.

Kelly wasn't ready to name a starter after Sunday's loss, but offensive coordinator Curtis Modkins spilled the beans on Tuesday.

Modkins met with the media and announced that Kaepernick will make another start.

No real surprise here. As Wagoner contends, Gabbert has already proved he isn't the answer long-term and never flashed the ability that Kaepernick has recently or earlier in his career. Christian Ponder has been inactive all season and almost certainly isn't either.

Kaepernick is the only one of the three to offer some semblance of hope that he can resurrect his career and he can be a productive starter again. While that's uncertain and the final four games of the season probably won't provide a definitive answer either, Wagoner believes the Niners would be wise to use all of those opportunities to decide just where Kaepernick fits in 2017 and beyond regardless of his contract status.

Meanwhile, the 49ers rushed for 141 yards Sunday, but it didn't get them anywhere. Few of the yards came in scoring position, and the day's best run a 29-yarder by Shaun Draughn was negated by a holding penalty. The Bears did an outstanding job of containing Kaepernick (six carries, 20 yards) without giving up too much to Carlos Hyde in the middle (20 carries, 92 yards).

Phil Dawson provided all the 49ers scoring in Sunday's loss at Chicago with two field goals. The second raised his career point total to 1,687, tying him with former Green Bay Packers K Ryan Longwell for 15th place on the NFL's all-time list.

And finally. ... Kelly coached the 49ers in Chicago about 36 hours after his father, Paul, had died Friday night. Kelly left the team Friday shortly after it had arrived in Chicago. He flew to New Hampshire, where his father died that evening. He was 87.

The first-year 49ers coach said he returned for Sunday's game because "my mom wanted me to coach."

Kelly returned to New Hampshire after the game. Services are scheduled to be held in Portland, Maine, on Tuesday. Kelly was expected to return for 49ers practice Wednesday.


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 7 December 2016

According to ESPN.com's Sheil Kapadia, when Pete Carroll addressed his team Saturday night before the Seattle Seahawks' matchup with the Panthers, there was one player he singled out.

"I kind of talked about him in the team meeting last night, that we could see Thomas Rawls

really go and explode," Carroll said. "Because he had such a great week of preparation. I think he finally felt like he was fully back."

In the Seahawks' 40-7 win Sunday night, for the first time all season Rawls looked like the player the coaches fell in love with last year, the guy they pegged to be Marshawn Lynch's replacement.

He carried 15 times for 106 yards (7.1 yards per carry) and two touchdowns as the offense exploded, scoring on eight of 11 possessions. In the first quarter, Rawls found a cutback lane and hurdled into the end zone for an 8-yard score. In the second, he showed his big-play ability by outrunning defenders for a 45-yard touchdown.

Following last week's 14-5 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Carroll insisted that his team's offensive performance was just a hiccup and not the start of a trend. It turned out he knew what he was talking about. And Rawls was a huge factor in the turnaround.

"I think you have to have amnesia in this game," quarterback Russell Wilson said.

"You have to move on from the great week you had before or the not-so-great week you had before. You have to move on to the next opportunity."

In addition to Rawls, second-year wide receiver Tyler Lockett also provided the team with a spark. He had five catches for 63 yards to go along with a 75-yard touchdown run. Lockett was also a factor on special teams with a 46-yard kickoff return.

"He's a great football player," Carroll said. "Give him the opportunity, and he's going to show you that. I don't know that I've seen a guy look faster than when he finished that run tonight."

Both Rawls and Lockett were great as rookies but have had battled through health issues this season. Rawls injured his fibula in Week 2 and missed seven games. Lockett suffered a knee injury in Week 2 and later hurt his thigh.

But going into the final four games, Rawls and Lockett appear poised to be key cogs in a Seahawks offense that looks loaded with weapons in Wilson, wide receiver Doug Baldwin and tight end Jimmy Graham.

Wilson completed 26 of 36 passes for 277 yards, a touchdown and an interception one week after posting the second-lowest passer rating of his career. The Seahawks averaged 29.3 points per game from Weeks 9 through 11 before laying an egg against the Bucs. Against the Panthers, they set a season high with 40 points.

Given that safety Earl Thomas suffered a season-ending lower leg fracture in the second quarter (he was placed on IR Tuesday), the defense faces some challenges going forward.

If the offense can perform like it did Sunday night, the Seahawks have the playmakers to give opponents problems down the stretch and make a run toward their third Super Bowl in four years.

One key will be the offensive line.

After a terrible performance in Week 12 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the unit got center Justin Britt back and played well Sunday.

Carroll has reason to believe in the interior of the line. Britt has been the team's best offensive lineman, and left guard Mark Glowinski has been second. Rookie right guard Germain Ifedi had probably his best game of the season vs. Carolina, Carroll said.

The question marks are at tackle with George Fant (left) and Bradley Sowell (right). The Seahawks are positioned to stick with the same five guys barring injury, so that should help continuity.

In the last five weeks, even with the five-point showing against the Bucs, the Seahawks' offense is averaging 26.20 points per game (seventh-best).

Still, on any given week, it's tough to know what to expect with this offensive line.

Also of interest. ... As NFL.com's Matt Harmon pointed out, last week provided some hints that Lockett could be more involved this week. Jermaine Kearse was on the field more than both Lockett and Baldwin, that was likely due to a run-heavy game script in a blowout.

Lockett should be more of a big-play factor going forward as Seattle marches on to another playoff berth.

And finally this week. ... The Seattle Seahawks added former Oakland Raiders fullback Marcel Reece.

Reece played his college football at the University of Washington in Seattle where he was a wide receiver for the Huskies. After going undrafted, Reece spent eight seasons with the Raiders and was selected to the Pro Bowl in each of the last four seasons.

Reece caught 205 passes for 2,015 yards and 12 touchdowns and has rushed for 844 yards and three touchdowns during his career with the Raiders.

Seattle fullback Will Tukuafu has a concussion after a collision on a kickoff with Panthers linebacker David Mayo, who also suffered a concussion on the play. The Seahawks could place Tukuafu on injured reserve to make room for Reece on their roster. However, Thomas is likely IR bound as well after fracturing his left tibia in Sunday's win over Carolina and could also free up a spot.


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 7 December 2016

According to Associated Press sports writer Fred Goodall, there are no more lingering questions about whether the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are relevant again.

The team's four-game winning streak not only has catapulted Jameis Winston and his supporting cast into playoff contention, but the Bucs (7-5) also are tied for first place in the NFC South with the Atlanta Falcons.

Winston has cut down on mistakes that hindered the offense earlier in the season, Doug Martin has returned from an injury that sidelined him seven weeks to give the team at least the threat of a productive running attack, and a defense that has been a liability at times has rebounded from a shoddy two-game stretch to do its part in the turnaround.

"I just think we're one of those teams that is starting to believe," head coach Dirk Koetter said. "It is crazy what confidence can do when you start making plays. It seems to build on itself."

The winning streak is Tampa Bay's longest since 2012, when the Bucs got off to a 6-4 start before losing five of their final six games to finish 7-9. The team is two games over .500 this late in a season for the first time in six years and sitting atop the division standings through Week 13 for the first time since 2008, when a 9-3 start was followed a four-game season-ending slide that cost former coach Jon Gruden his job.

The Bucs have missed the playoffs the past eight seasons and haven't won a postseason game since their 2002 Super Bowl run.

"It feels great, but we have not arrived. We have to keep playing one game at a time," Winston said after Sunday's 28-21 win over San Diego improved Tampa Bay's record to 5-1 on the road, compared to 2-4 at home, where the Bucs will host division rival New Orleans on Sunday.

"We have to take advantage of the opportunity. We cannot stop now," Winston added. "We have to keep going. We have to keep playing. I believe we will because we're playing so well as a family right now, and it's really inspiring."

The surge begins with the play of Winston, who threw seven interceptions and lost two fumbles during a three-game losing streak that dropped Tampa Bay's record to 1-3 a month into the season. He has thrown for 15 touchdowns with just four interceptions and two lost fumbles while the Bucks have won six of the last eight to fuel the push for their first playoff berth since 2007.

In addition, The Bucs are 4-0 since Martin returned from a hamstring injury that had sidelined him since Week 2. And even though, the league's second-leading rusher from last season hasn't run for the impressive numbers the team is accustomed to getting, he's clearly taken some of the burden off Winston and receiver Mike Evans to carry the offense.

Martin rushed for 45 yards on 17 attempts against San Diego, averaging just 2.6 yards per carry. He also scored his second touchdown of the season.

"Doug makes our offense go. All you've got to do is look at all the tape for last year," Koetter said. "We spin a lot of stuff off of how Doug plays."

The Bucs got some production at the end of the game from Jacquizz Rodgers to run off the clock, but it was a bad day overall.

Offensive coordinator Todd Monken said on Wednesday that it was good to get Rodgers back this past week. The coach expects even better from Rodgers this week "in a more expanded role."

Still, Tampa Bay Times staffer Greg Auman advised his Twitter followers on Wednesday that he believes Martin will remain the Bucs' "primary" running back.

The team could also get Charles Sims back off IR this week -- but they might have more pressing needs at other positions (see below). ...

The defense has made strides since yielding over 1,000 yards during losses to Oakland and Atlanta within a five-day span last month. The have at least two takeaways in four consecutive games, and a rejuvenated pass rush sacked Russell Wilson six times during a 14-5 win over Seattle and two more against Phillip Rivers on Sunday.

Meanwhile, a series of moves are expected at the wide receiver position this week because of a season-ending injury suffered by Cecil Shorts on Sunday, and with Adam Humphries now in the concussion protocol.

"Yeah, we're concerned," said Koetter in his day-after-game news conference on Monday. "We finished the game with three wide receivers. I feel like we still have two guys on our practice squad that are ready to come up and help us at any time, and that's Josh Huff and Donteea Dye, who played a lot of ball for us last year."

Huff was promoted to the active roster on Tuesday.

The Buccaneers also re-signed Bernard Reedy to their practice squad.

"I don't think we're in dire straits, but we've got to have roster spots, too, and that's all a delicate balance that [general manager] Jason [Licht] is working on all the time," Koetter said. "But I think we'll be okay and [I am] proud of the way Freddie Martino and Russell Shepard stepped up yesterday. Their roles both went way through the roof."

The team has to not only account for the potential loss of Humphries as a receiver, but also as the team's punt returner. Cornerback Vernon Hargreaves assumed that role Sunday. If the team doesn't want to risk putting a player out there at another suddenly thin position group, Reedy is capable of filling that role.

He averaged 13.2 yards per punt return on six punts this preseason, including a 43-yard return against Cleveland in the third preseason game.

Reedy, Huff and Dye are all capable of returning kicks. As a member of the Eagles, Huff scored on a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against the Vikings this year.

Shorts suffered a devastating knee injury when he was hit by Chargers safety Jahleel Addae after a 14-yard reception in the first quarter. Shorts suffered a torn ACL, MCL and PCL injury and had his knee dislocated.

Shorts remained in a California hospital Monday. He said the hit "definitely wasn't dirty" and he thanked fans for their support.

It's unknown if Humphries will be able to play in Sunday's game against the Saints.

In addition, tight end Luke Stocker re-injured his ankle on the first offensive play Sunday. He did not return to the game.

I'll be following up on their status and any moves at wideout via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

Given all, it's worth noting that Martino went out for 44 percent of the plays, while Shepard stepped into the No. 2 role with 76 percent. As NFL.com's Matt Harmon suggests, both of these players will have some potential down the stretch to put up some productive games down the stretch. Yet, beyond Evans and then tight end Cameron Brate there are mere scraps to pick at in Tamp Bay's target distribution.

And finally. ... Roberto Aguayo's 31-yard miss in the second quarter didn't prevent his team's fourth consecutive triumph, but the rookie kicker now has the poorest performance record this season in the NFL.

The pressure is on Aguayo because he was famously selected in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft. The Buccaneers even traded up in order to secure him. Now Aguayo is 15-for-22 this season, a conversion rate of 68.2 percent, good for dead last in the league. He has also missed two extra point tries on the season.

It's not just his accuracy, but also his distance, that is suffering. Aguayo hasn't been a difference-maker on long-range field goals. He has yet to hit anything beyond his 43-yard attempt against the Atlanta Falcons on Week 1.

For the year, Aguayo is 3-for-8 from farther than 40 yards out.


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 7 December 2016

The Titans ended their bye week as a first-place team for the first time this late in a season in eight years on Sunday.

Despite having the weekend off, the Titans ascended into a first-place tie in the mediocre AFC South, thanks to the Houston Texans' loss to Green Bay at snowy Lambeau Field.

That loss left the Titans and Texans in a first-place tie in the division at 6-6 and the Indianapolis Colts looking to join them with a win on Monday night against the New York Jets.

Sure, the Titans' record probably should have the label bona fide playoff contender attached to it, but in the AFC South and for a team that won just five games the previous two years, this is a major leap forward.

For some, like 2010 first-round pick Derrick Morgan, this is the first time in his career he has been a part of a first-place team beyond the first couple of weeks of the season.

"It's good, but we're not putting too much weight on it. Everything right now is tentative," Morgan said. "We have to win our games and control our own destiny. We can't get caught up in where we are now. We've got to take care of business on our end."

Likewise, Jurrell Casey said the feeling is good, but that is not yet the focus of the Titans, who have a major challenge this week against the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos.

"It definitely means a lot, but it's not something we're paying a whole lot of attention to. We're just focused on going out and taking care of business," Casey said.

Those players even though they could be tasting the postseason for the first time if things break right in the final four games appear to be following the lead put out by coach Mike Mularkey as he addressed the team Monday coming back from the bye week.

"We can't control anything other than next Sunday against Denver, just like we were all off this week when Houston lost," Mularkey said. "We had nothing to do with that, and we have nothing to do with what happens tonight. We've got to take care of our business, and that's Denver."

For the Titans to have a serious chance to win the division, they probably need to win at least three of their last four, including both their division games (Christmas Eve in Jacksonville and New Year's Day at home with Houston).

Their 1-3 division record has them somewhat behind the eight-ball, and two losses to Indianapolis inside the division certainly don't help when it comes to tiebreakers to determine a division winner.

That said, the Titans are in a position they have not been in since 2011 having playoff life left as the season's final weeks roll around.

As the Sports Xchange suggested, the Titans could learn from the team from five years ago that finished 9-7 overall but stumbled badly by losing to the winless Colts with three games left to play. ...

But this year's edition has some advantages.

Marcus Mariota has blossomed into one of the top young quarterbacks in the NFL three-quarters of the way through his second season. Mariota, who was named AFC Offensive Player of the Month for November, will go over 3,000 yards, and perhaps have a chance at 4,000 with four games to play.

He also could be knocking on the door of 30 touchdown passes, and has benefited from the emergence of receivers like Rishard Matthews and Tajae Sharpe.

The Titans could use a bit more explosiveness on the outside, but are scheming around that in a lot of ways.

The team's offensive line makeover has been a success and it shows most in their renewed commitment to the run. DeMarco Murray already has more than 1,000 yards, despite a nagging foot injury. There have been a couple of instances lately where the Titans haven't converted short yardage situations, but this aspect of the club has come light years in one season.

Murray's nagging toe injury on his right foot should be better after he had a chance to rest it during the bye week.

Linebacker Kevin Dodd, a 2016 second-round draft pick, was placed on injured reserve after he was unable to play effectively with the lingering effects of foot surgery in May.


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 7 December 2016

According to ESPN.com's John Keim, the Redskins' primary offseason issue shouldn't be how much they will spend on quarterback Kirk Cousins. It should be how much they will invest in their defense. If they don't make the playoffs -- and they have made that task more difficult for themselves -- it will be that side of the ball that kept them out.

This is a team sport, and the offense also needed to do a better job in the Redskins' 31-23 loss to Arizona on Sunday.

A sack/fumble was returned to the Redskins' 10-yard line, and Arizona converted that into a touchdown. The offense failed to score a touchdown after a first-and-goal from the 1. The offense struggled in protection.

But the defense continues to be the bigger issue.

When the Redskins needed a stop Sunday, they couldn't get one. They had cut their deficit to one point late, then gave up 14 yards on a fourth-and-1. Josh Norman was called for holding on third-and-5, then his team allowed a 42-yard touchdown reception.

Now the Redskins have lost their standing in the wild-card chase, thanks to Tampa Bay's win at San Diego. The Bucs now have control of the final playoff spot; the Redskins will need some help -- from others and their own defense.

And head coach Jay Gruden would like a little more help from the rushing attack.

As CSNMidAtlantic.com's JP Finlay notes, since the Redskins inserted Robert Kelley into the starting running back spot, Washington's ground game has stabilized and improved. It's well documented that Kelley limits negative plays in the run game -- something his predecessor Matt Jones struggled with.

Kelley got his first start in London against the Bengals, and he ran the ball 21 times for 87 yards and a touchdown, good for more than 4 yards-per-carry. From there, Kelley gained 97 yards against the Vikings and 137 against the Packers, both Redskins wins. And in those post-bye week victories over the NFC North foes, Kelley got the ball 22 and 24 times respectively.

Coming off the Green Bay win, it seemed obvious that getting Kelley the ball more than 20 times per game was a big boost for the Redskins offense. Against the Packers, Washington piled up more than 500 yards of offense and Kelley averaged 5.7 YPC.

The 'Skins headed to Dallas riding high for a Thanksgiving matchup, and quickly got into a big hole en route to a shootout loss.

Gruden explained after the game that being down multiple touchdowns early in the game forced Washington to get away from Kelley and rely on Cousins' arm. The QB's performance was impressive, he threw for more than 400 yards, but Kelley got just 14 carries.

In the Cowboys game, that made sense.

Against Arizona this past weekend, Kelley again got just 14 carries. And that did not make sense.

"There's no doubt about it, we would like to get more of [Kelley] involved," Gruden said on Monday.

The Redskins never trailed by more than a TD against the Cardinals like they did against the Cowboys. Washington even held two different second half leads in Arizona, and still, Kelley did not get the ball enough.

Further, Kelley was running the ball well in the desert. Where he struggled against Dallas -- 14 rushes for 37 yards, good for just 2.64 yards per carry -- Kelley gained more than 60 yards on 14 carries against the Cards, good for a 4.5 yard per carry average.

"We ideally would like to get that running game going a little bit more -- more touches for Robert because he's been very good as far as running the football," Gruden said. "We have got to make sure that we get him more involved, maintain the time of possession and stay more balanced."

Finlay went on to note that beyond a balanced offense, Cousins often throws his best passes off play action. Without a commitment to the run game, the play action passing looks struggle. Usually one of the most accurate quarterbacks in the NFL, Cousins did not play his best against the Cardinals.

Some of that was missing throws, and some of it was heavy pressure from the Arizona defensive line.

Regardless of the reason for Cousins' struggles -- he completed only 21 of 37 pass attempts -- more run plays might have helped the Redskins quarterback get into more of a rhythm, not to mention slow down the Arizona pass rush.

In six wins this season, the Redskins have run the ball nearly 28 times per game. In five losses, that number dips to 19 runs per game. The proof is in the numbers.

Other notes of interest. ... Cousins had his career-best streak of passes without an interception (187) snapped on the final offensive play in Arizona. That is the second-longest stretch in team history. Cousins too often appeared uncomfortable in the pocket, left several easy dump-off passes short and was sacked twice.

As NFL.com's Matt Harmon noted, Jamison Crowder looks like he's cemented himself as the top wide receiver on the team. Despite seeing seven of his eight targets from the slot, Crowder was on the field for 84 percent of the plays, compared to 79 percent of Pierre Garcon and 77 percent for DeSean Jackson.

Harmon reminded readers we did see a similar uptick in playing time for Crowder the last time Jordan Reed missed multiple games, so that could also be a factor here. Another trend that carried over was Vernon Davis being a full-time player, going out for a whopping 98 percent of the team's plays.

Davis recorded five catches in a tough spot against the Cardinals, who allow the lowest yards per game to tight ends.

Jackson caught a 59-yard pass in Arizona. He now has 35 career catches over 50 yards. No other player in the NFL has more since Jackson entered the league in 2008.

As noted above, Reed missed the Cardinals game with a sprained left shoulder. Gruden said Reed's status is day to day. According to Keim, Reed caught passes in individual drills and showed no discomfort when using both hands on Wednesday, but he did not take part in blocking or full team drills.

"We just have to wait and see," Gruden said. "Everybody is different with these types of injuries and hopefully he is a fast healer but we'll take him day-to-day, get him his treatment and go from there."

I'll be following up on Reed via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses. ...

Also on the injury front. ... Safety Will Blackmon and center Spencer Long are going through the NFL's concussion protocol after being injured in a loss Sunday to the Cardinals.

Gruden said if Long is unable to play this Sunday at the Eagles that the team would have to look to bring in a backup center. Gruden said the team would look into the status of starter Kory Lichtensteiger, who's on injured reserve with a calf injury, and Ronald Patrick, who's on the practice squad.

The Redskins will get Trent Williams back after a four-game suspension, and Gruden said the plan is for him to be back at left tackle where Ty Nsekhe played during his absence. There had been some speculation about Williams sliding over to left guard against the Eagles, but it doesn't sound like that will happen.

"The plan moving ahead with (Williams) is he's our starting tackle and he's the best in the business, so we're excited to get him back," Gruden said.


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