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Team Notes week 14 2021
NEWS, NOTES, RUMORS AND OTHER GOOD STUFF
Directly from the desk of FlashUpdate Editor Bob Harris. The good; the bad; and yes. ... Even the Bears. There is no better way to jump start your weekend than browsing these always educational -- often irreverent -- team-by-team, Fantasy-specific offerings. ...
Access specific teams by clicking on a team name in the schedule appearing directly to your left or by clicking on a helmet below; return to the helmets by hitting the link labeled "Menu" following each teams notes. ...
Arizona CardinalsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 December 2021
Kyler Murray is back. ... The third-year quarterback returned from a high left ankle sprain to throw two touchdowns and run for two more in a 33-22 win over the Bears on Sunday at Soldier Field.
"It felt good," Murray said. "Yeah, it felt good. Just to be out there moving around, kind of being myself, just playing the game I love to play with these guys, it was fun. Glad we got the win. But, yeah, it was great to be back."
As ESPN.com's Josh Weinfuss noted, it had been five weeks since Murray last played, when he sprained his ankle in a loss to the Green Bay Packers in Week 8. He missed three games after that and rested the last two weeks during Arizona's bye in order to come back fully healthy as the Cardinals enter the stretch run with a 10-2 record, the best in the NFL.
Murray said his patience during the past month paid off on Sunday, despite it not always being easy to sit and watch, as Arizona went 2-1 in his absence with Colt McCoy at quarterback. But Murray understood the risk of playing before his ankle was ready.
"I think if I would have rushed it back and tried to play a couple weeks ago, I probably would've been hurting even more," Murray said.
Murray proved his ankle was fine on the Cardinals' second drive, which he began with an 8-yard run and capped with a 9-yard TD run. He finished with 59 rushing yards on 10 carries -- both season highs -- and two rushing touchdowns to complement his 123 passing yards and two passing touchdowns.
Murray felt confident his ankle was ready for game action after testing it during pregame warm-ups.
"I knew I was fine. I knew I was good," Murray said. "They gave me pull reads. So, I kind of had to. I don't know how many times I ran the ball today or how many yards but I felt good when I took off."
Murray said he didn't feel rusty but the cold and rainy weather was a factor in what he could do and how well he could do it. Murray fumbled on the Cardinals' first offensive play when the ball slipped out of his hand as he started his throwing motion. Arizona didn't practice with wet balls this week, coach Kliff Kingsbury said, but Murray adjusted in the second half and started using his hand warmer more.
About the only thing Murray wasn't able to do was throw long.
He had just one pass that went at least 15 yards downfield, and it was a first-quarter touchdown pass to DeAndre Hopkins, who was also playing his first game in five weeks because of a hamstring injury. Murray's other 14 attempts averaged just 2.8 air yards. Murray said he thinks he'll get more downfield reps this week in practice and then he'll "be fine."
Hopkins returned to play 37 of 51 offensive snaps with two catches for 32 yards and a touchdown.
"I think he looked good," Kingsbury said. "Made the huge catch early on the fourth down which kind of set the tone and he's always a factor. They got to account for him each and every snap that he's out there, and I think that was a good game to not play that many snaps and still be able to have an impact."
Sunday was Murray's seventh game since 2020 in which he accounted for at least four touchdowns, which leads the NFL, according to ESPN Stats and Information research. It was also his first career game with two rushing and two passing touchdowns.
Murray, who became the fourth-youngest player in NFL history to throw for 10,000 yards with a 2-yard completion to running back James Conner in the second quarter, is the first Cardinals quarterback with two passing and two rushing touchdowns in a game since Josh McCown did it in Week 15 of the 2004 season.
"I think just getting back into it, he made the dynamic plays when we needed him to," Kingsbury said. "So, I thought he did a good job leading and I think he'll just get better and better."
And so we learned that while Cardinals are a team that can push the ball through the air but make no mistake, this team can run.
Conner ran for 75 yards to go with Murray's 59.
Kingsbury said he hadn't been a part of a team that ran that much since "flag football when I was in sixth grade maybe" but added that he's glad the team was able to adjust.
"That's not what I'm accustomed to doing," Kingsbury said. "I don't think anybody was. We had a lot of angry wideouts and tight ends. I understood it - I didn't like playing that style either. But that's what it took to win."
s Weinfuss suggested, there were a few odds and ends the Cardinals need to clean up in their comfortable win in Chicago, but Sunday was the best they've looked after a bye in Kingsbury's three seasons in Arizona.
Meanwhile, one of the strange parts of Arizona's season is that it's been incredible on the road and just OK at home. The Cardinals are 7-0 away from Arizona and 3-2 at State Farm Stadium.
The Cardinals have three of their final five games at home, starting with the Los Angeles Rams next Monday night. All five of the final games will be played indoors.
"We haven't been the same team at home that we've been on the road," Kingsbury said. "We've talked about that. We're doing some things to try to adjust that."
On the injury front. ... The Cardinals are as healthy as they've been in several weeks.
Murray and Hopkins are back and the team hopes running Chase Edmonds, G Justin Pugh and long snapper Aaron Brewer return soon.
I'll be watching for more on Edmonds as the week progresses, but Kingsbury had previously targeted this week for his return.
QBs: Kyler Murray, Colt McCoy, Trace McSorley
RBs: James Conner, Keaontay Ingram, Jonathan Ward, Darrel Williams
WRs: DeAndre Hopkins, Marquise Brown, Rondale Moore, A.J. Green, Greg Dortch, Robbie Anderson, Antoine Wesley
TEs: Trey McBride, Maxx Williams, Stephen Anderson, Zach Ertz
Atlanta FalconsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 December 2021
As Associated Press sports writer Paul Newberry framed it: "Home is not-so sweet for the Atlanta Falcons."
If they can't figure out a way to win their final two games at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, they are headed for a fourth straight losing season.
The Falcons dropped to 0-5 in Atlanta this season with a 30-17 loss to the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.
"It's hard, man," running back Cordarrelle Patterson said. "We do it for the fans. Being home and not getting a win for those guys, it hurts me. I love this city, I love Atlanta. I just want to get the win for them at home."
Atlanta is 5-2 away from its retractable-roof stadium -- including a victory over the New York Jets in a designated home game at London -- but the lack of success at the Benz has been a huge issue for several seasons.
After going 5-3 at home in their debut season at the stadium in 2017, the Falcons are a miserable 9-20 in Atlanta, compared with 14-17 in other cities.
While it's true the Falcons' opponents in Atlanta this season have a better cumulative record (34-27) than the road opponents (37-48, if the Jets are included), there's still no excuse for losing three home games to teams that are no better than .500.
Going back to last season, the Falcons have lost seven straight in Atlanta.
"We constantly look at everything," rookie coach Arthur Smith said. "We didn't win the ones that I felt we should have. I mean, there's a reason why. Some of it is matchup based. (But) we've got to play better, certainly, at home."
The good news?
Atlanta is one of four teams in the NFC with a 5-7 record. The Rams lead the NFC's wild card race at 8-4, but Washington and San Francisco are the current No. 6 and No. 7 seeds at 6-6.
That means there's plenty of opportunity for a team like the Falcons to claim a playoff spot. And Smith knows it.
"Nobody is happy to be 5-7, but we are not out of it," Smith said Monday, via D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
What could keep Atlanta in the mix is its schedule. The Falcons play the Panthers, 49ers, Lions, Bills and Saints in the last five weeks. However, as Profootballtalk.com's Myles Simmons notes, the Falcons' five wins have come over the Giants, Jets, Dolphins, Saints and Jaguars -- hardly a list of teams to write home about.
"But if the Falcons get hot and make the postseason," Simmons added, "it won't matter much who they beat to get there. ..."
Meanwhile, for the second game in a row, the Falcons had success in the running game, though much of the production came on two early carries that produced Atlanta's only offensive touchdown.
Patterson had a 39-yard run that set up Mike Davis' 17-yard TD. Patterson finished with 78 yards on 13 carries, Davis ran four times for 32 yards, and the Falcons finished with 23 carries for 121 yards, a 5.3-yard average.
The previous week, they rushed for 149 yards against Jacksonville.
As Tori McElhaney pointed out, the Falcons have now put back-to-back games together in which they've ran the ball well against a top-ranked run defense (Jacksonville was No. 3, Tampa Bay was No. 1).
One major issue: On three trips into the red zone, the Falcons managed only one touchdown.
Another issues: Opposing defenses have figured out that the best way to shut down Atlanta's passing attack is to take first-round pick Kyle Pitts out of the game. The Falcons have little in the way of deep threats on the outside, so opponents are doubling up on Pitts to make sure he can't get loose. He had just four catches for 48 yards against Tampa Bay, giving him nine receptions for 103 yards over the past three games.
More troubling, the Falcons can't find a way to get him involved in the red zone.
While the Bucs got three receiving touchdowns from their tight end group, Pitts' only TD this season came way back in Week 5. ...
And while we're at it, one more issue: As ESPN.com's Michael Rothstein asked, "What can the Falcons do to try and keep Matt Ryan from being sacked so much?"
On the face, the season-long numbers aren't bad - but Ryan has been sacked 10 times in the last three weeks, including a season-worst five Sunday. The majority of those came from the interior of the offensive line, where Atlanta struggled to handle Vita Vea (two sacks) and Ndamukong Suh (two sacks).
Atlanta knows it has some issues on the offensive line, but this is a team that's given up at least one sack in every game but one this season - Week 5 against the Jets - and has struggled to protect Ryan as he took 41 sacks in 2020, 48 in 2019 and 42 in 2018. ...
On the injury front. ... After suffering an ankle injury late in the game against Dallas a few weeks ago, the Falcons are inching closer to getting Hayden Hurst back on the playing field. Hurst has missed the last three games while on injured reserve.
Smith confirmed on Monday that the tight end is back in the building, and he was designated to return from IR on Tuesday, opening a 21-day period in which he can be activated from IR to the active roster.
As for other health updates, Smith said there is still no timeline for Calvin Ridley's return. Ridley was placed on the non-football injury list a month ago.
"As soon as we get an update on Ridley, we will let you know," Smith said on Monday. "But there's no update there."
QBs: Marcus Mariota, Desmond Ridder
RBs: Cordarrelle Patterson, Tyler Allgeier, Caleb Huntley, Avery Williams, Damien Williams
WRs: Drake London, Olamide Zaccheaus, Damiere Byrd, KhaDarel Hodge, Jared Bernhardt
TEs: MyCole Pruitt, Parker Hesse, Anthony Firkser, Feleipe Franks, Kyle Pitts
Baltimore RavensCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 December 2021
The Ravens came within inches of creating some much-needed breathing room in the AFC North.
Instead, they fell short in an agonizing loss to a division rival -- and now coach John Harbaugh's team has yet another major injury concern.
Harbaugh announced Monday that cornerback Marlon Humphrey is out for the season with a torn pectoral muscle. That news came following the team's 20-19 loss at Pittsburgh on Sunday that left the Ravens just a game ahead of Cincinnati atop the division.
Baltimore (8-4) is only two games ahead of last-place Cleveland and faces a tough schedule down the stretch. The Ravens have won plenty of close games this year, so they shouldn't feel too aggrieved after this one went the other way, but with the standings so tight and injuries still looming large, Sunday's defeat sets Baltimore up for a potentially stressful finish to the regular season.
"As Al Pacino said it. ... An inch here or an inch there, or a second too early, a second too late, it is exactly right," Harbaugh said, referencing a scene from the movie "Any Given Sunday" while talking to reporters Monday. "That is like a classic truth, about football and as a metaphor for life."
Harbaugh boldly decided to go for a 2-point conversion with 12 seconds left against the Steelers, and Lamar Jackson's pass to Mark Andrews fell incomplete. Baltimore is now 6-2 in games decided by six points or fewer.
Meanwhile, as Associated Press sports writer Noah Trister suggested, Baltimore's passing game as a whole is slipping, even though the Ravens finally have receivers Marquise Brown and Sammy Watkins healthy at the same time.
Over his past four games, Jackson is averaging just 6.0 yards per attempt, with six touchdown passes and eight interceptions.
So what's going on?
The athletic signal caller said he played "like a rookie" after throwing a career-worst four interceptions in Week 12. He didn't look much better at Heinz Field before the final two minutes. Jackson opened the game by getting picked off in the end zone. That's the second red zone interception of his career (and the other one happened three weeks ago in Miami).
And while his ability to keep plays going makes him a threat as both a runner and a passer, Jackson took seven sacks Sunday -- a sign that the line isn't protecting well enough or he isn't releasing the ball quickly enough.
"T.J. Watt, he's a great defender, great rusher. He was doing his thing out there," Jackson said after the game. "We've just got to get in the lab and find ways to make things happen."
The Ravens have to figure out how to get Jackson into his groove.
The Ravens play at Cleveland next weekend. It's the second meeting between the teams in three weeks, and the Browns had their open date in between. Baltimore won the first matchup 16-10. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Devonta Freeman continued to run the ball effectively Sunday, a positive development the Ravens can take from their loss in Pittsburgh. Baltimore has had a carousel of running backs this season, but it appears the Ravens are rallying behind Freeman.
Freeman has become Baltimore's top running back, with at least 49 yards rushing in five of the last seven games. Against the Steelers, Freeman scored the game's first touchdown on a 3-yard run, and he was a weapon as both a runner (52 yards on 14 carries) and a receiver (five catches, 45 yards).
As Clifton Brown of the team's official website, Freeman's ability as a receiver out of the backfield could be one way for the Ravens to counter the frequent blitzing they're seeing, giving Jackson an outlet to get rid of the ball quickly.
On several carries in Pittsburgh, Freeman got positive yards by making a defender miss or by changing direction quickly to find a running lane. The Ravens believe in a running-back-by-committee approach, but Freeman saw 51 offensive snaps (69 percent) to 14 for Latavius Murray and two for rookie practice squad call-up Nate McCrary.
Harbaugh likes how the veteran running back is trending.
"He's doing great. He's running, making guys miss," Harbaugh said. "It seems like he's getting stronger every week. He was strong in the fourth quarter, which was good to see. He's done a great job. ..."
On a less positive note. ... After six straight games with at least three catches, rookie wide receiver Rashod Bateman was shutout for the first time and was targeted just once Sunday. It was part of a frustrating offensive showing for the Ravens, who were held to fewer than 20 points for the fourth straight game.
Bateman has shown he can be a playmaker, but Harbaugh wants to see the entire passing game function more efficiently. Targets for individual receivers will vary from week to week. Harbaugh is more interesting in chasing points and offensive execution, rather than focusing on targets for a particular receiver.
"I'd like to see everybody more involved," Harbaugh said. "We like it when a number of guys are targeted. It doesn't always work out that way. You can't create that. I think when you start chasing that, that's when problems happen.
"I see every coach and every quarterback in the league get asked that question. How do you get this guy, or that guy more involved? As soon as you start chasing number of catches for guys, what are you chasing? That's not how the game works. But we do what everybody involved and we want it to be because we're operating effectively and efficiently with our offense. The ball's getting spread around based on what the coverage dictates. That's what you hope for. ..."
And finally. ... In addition to Humphrey's injury, OL Patrick Mekari left in the second half with a hand injury and did not return.
QBs: Lamar Jackson, Tyler Huntley
RBs: Gus Edwards, Kenyan Drake, Justice Hill, Mike Davis, J.K. Dobbins
WRs: Devin Duvernay, Demarcus Robinson, James Proche, DeSean Jackson, Tylan Wallace, Rashod Bateman
TEs: Mark Andrews, Isaiah Likely, Josh Oliver, Nick Boyle, Charlie Kolar
Buffalo BillsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 December 2021
According to ESPN.com's Alaina Getzenberg, the Bills knew the Patriots were running the football. Every person sitting in Highmark Stadium knew they were running the ball.
But the Patriots (9-4) were still able to do it, milking the clock and controlling the game to maintain first place in the AFC East and the conference's top seed for the playoffs. The Bills fell to 7-5 with a 14-10 loss as the offense was unable to string together sustained drives and settled for field goals or no points despite several scoring opportunities.
Buffalo will next travel to play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-3) on Sunday with another matchup against the Patriots in two weeks. The Bills are now 3-4 since starting the season 4-1.
"I think frankly, we're pissed off because we want to be great," quarterback Josh Allen said. "When we don't play the way we know how we can play, it could be angering at times. But again, with the makeup of the guys that we got, I've got no doubt in our ability, in our team ability to turn this around and start winning games here towards the end of the season."
The Patriots were able to do what they wanted and dominated the line of scrimmage, rushing for 222 yards. That meant quarterback Mac Jones only had to attempt three passes, completing two.
Overall, it still wasn't all bad for the Bills defense. A significant amount of the Patriots' offensive success came on a few plays, and eight of New England's 10 drive were five plays or less.
New England attempted one first-half throw, the fewest by any team since at least 1978, as far back as the data was tracked, per Elias Sports Bureau. Despite that, the Patriots were able to run for 96 yards in the first quarter alone, including a 64-yard touchdown by Damien Harris. That score followed a fumble by Buffalo's Matt Breida.
"The biggest one was the big run, 64-yard run, toss," McDermott said. "That can't happen."
Meanwhile, Allen played well, all things considered, especially with the role that the wind played. He finished 15-of-30 for 145 yards and one touchdown pass. Outside of that, Allen threw some impressive passes in the wind but struggled to connect with his receivers. The Bills scored one TD in four trips to the red zone.
Getzenberg noted that most of the plays that were off with his receivers were drops, but Allen also had moments when he placed the ball too high or out of his receiver's reach.
Tight end Dawson Knox dropped two passes, and receiver Stefon Diggs dropped a deep pass to the end zone, his first drop of the year. Knox, who did not have his best game, was called for a pivotal false start on third down on the Bills' final drive. The tight end finished with two receptions on six targets for 14 yards.
Interceptions had been a major issue for the quarterback as of late, but Allen did not throw one against the Patriots. It was his first game without an interception since Week 8.
Despite some of the team's up and down play over the last seven weeks when they've alternated between wins and losses, it appeared some of their red zone issues had been cleared up.
Through their last three games, Buffalo's offense had reached the end zone on 10 of their last 13 red zone possessions coming into Monday night.
It returned as an issues against the Patriots.
Though they successfully reached the red zone, they lost their rhythm and effectiveness when they got there.
"We had opportunities," said McDermott. "However, you want to spin it, we had opportunities to win the game. When you're down in the red area four times and you're 1-for-4 and your average starting field position is basically your 40? That's an issue."
Buffalo was successful on their first trip as Siran Neal recovered a muffed punt by N'Keal Harry at the Patriots 14-yard line. The offense needed just one play as Allen hit Gabriel Davis off play action for the above-mentioned 14-yard touchdown.
That scoring play plus and the point after pulled the Bills to within a point of New England in the first half (8-7).
After that however, it was tough sledding. "Just sloppy football," said McDermott. "I mean you name it, pre-snap penalty, just no rhythm. No rhythm down there."
The Bills have proven to be an explosive offense with the combination of Allen and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll in the last two seasons, but on Monday night, they needed more from their running game to be diverse enough to move the ball effectively.
They got 60 yards on 19 carries between Devin Singletary, Zack Moss and Breida, which simply wasn't enough.
"I don't know if we executed as well as we wanted," said Allen. "Again, you don't get to take plays back. We understand that we've got to play better, and we've got to go out there and execute and it starts with me.
After the game, McDermott was asked a very simple and direct question about Daboll: "Is he doing a good enough job to set this offense up for success?"
"Well, I didn't think honestly we took advantage of opportunities tonight," McDermott said. "I really didn't. I mean, the ball's at the 40 yard line. You know? We're one for four in the red zone. So we've got to figure that part of it out."
The Bills were slated to get back to work on Tuesday and start preparing for the trip to Tampa Bay for a matchup with the reigning Super Bowl Champions. This team is familiar with Tom Brady from his time in New England and this will be his first time playing the Bills since 2019. Jordan Poyer is eager to get back to work with a big game to prepare for.
QBs: Josh Allen, Case Keenum
RBs: Devin Singletary, James Cook, Nyheim Hines, Reggie Gilliam, Duke Johnson
WRs: Stefon Diggs, Gabe Davis, Isaiah McKenzie, Khalil Shakir, Jake Kumerow, Jamison Crowder
TEs: Dawson Knox, Quintin Morris, Tommy Sweeney
Carolina PanthersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 December 2021
Two weeks after going to Arizona and pounding the one-loss, injury-riddled Cardinals behind the return of Cam Newton, the Panthers now find themselves on a two-game skid -- and have lost seven of their past nine games overall -- entering the bye week and without star running back Christian McCaffrey and No. 1 cornerback Donte Jackson for the remainder of the season because of injuries.
The Panthers (5-7) are still mathematically alive in the NFC playoff race, but are a team that is trending in entirely the wrong direction.
"I think this is a week of true quality control and reflection," second-year head coach Matt Rhule said of the bye week. "I asked the players to do the same thing while they're away."
While we'll have to wait until this week to see what that reflection by the players leads to, we didn't have to wait on Rhule.
On Sunday, the team announced that it has parted ways with offensive coordinator Joe Brady.
"I met with Joe this morning and informed him that I have decided to make a change," Rhule said. "I'm very grateful to him for his time and effort in helping us get established over this past year and a half."
"He's done a lot to get us moving in the right direction, but this was something that I felt like, from a football perspective, we needed to do now.
Rhule stressed that the offensive issues aren't about one person and "it would be easy to fix" if there was just one specific thing that was wrong with the unit.
Senior offensive assistant/running backs coach Jeff Nixon will take over as the offensive play caller and Rhule said the focus is on this week rather than on whether Nixon will be the coordinator in 2022.
As Profootballtalk.com's Myles Simmons reminded readers, Brady arrived with much fanfare, hired as part of Rhule's original staff. The Panthers have struggled offensively, however, with Brady's offense not staying ahead of opposing defenses and/or its own tendencies and tells.
Simmons went on to suggest it's also possible, if not likely, that Brady didn't click with Newton, whose return to the team has created excitement and ticket sales but two disappointing losses after an upset of the Cardinals. Last week, Newton performed poorly against the Dolphins.
Given that it took a full week for the change to happen suggests that there's a lot more to the story. It also suggests that there's a level of impatience in Charlotte -- likely emanating from owner David Tepper -- that could lead to other changes as he tries to turn his team into a consistent contender.
As one league source predicted when told the news by Simmons, "Head coach next."
Meanwhile, many celebrated Newton's return last month, hoping he could resurrect a team that had suffered through nine games of the Sam Darnold experience. But that simply hasn't happened.
The 2015 league MVP has lost 10 consecutive games as Carolina's starting QB going back to 2018.
When Newton signed with Carolina, he said his only focus was on winning games. He said he didn't misjudge where the Panthers were in terms of competitiveness.
"Absolutely not. This is the NFL. Nothing's promised," Newton said. "Just because Cam Newton is on your roster it doesn't mean you're just going to win. Just because it's a feel-good story, doesn't mean you're going to win. I'm well aware of that. I think in this situation we all have to come to grips with who we are, and I'm putting blame on myself first before I can even look at somebody else. I have to be better. I know that."
As Associated Press sports writer Steve Reed noted, the offensive line also has to get better, although there are no quick fixes out there.
Like Darnold and Teddy Bridgewater before him, Newton is finding that life as a Carolina quarterback can be a frustrating experience. He's spent the vast majority of the past eight quarters under heavy pressure. But Rhule said Newton needs to be better, too.
"What we need is the quarterback to make plays and play us through it," Rhule said. "The quarterback is only as good as the people around him, but he does have to make those people better."
The Panthers lost 33-10 at Miami last week in a game they simply had to win.
Newton finished 5 of 21 for 92 yards with two interceptions, recording a career-low 5.8 QB rating. The defense struggled for the second straight week and a blocked punt resulted in an early Dolphins touchdown.
Rhule said after the loss the Panthers aren't making any "global statements" and hasn't indicated any lineup or coaching changes are forthcoming.
"We went out to Miami, and we got beat up. We got beat," Rhule said. "So we regroup this week, we come back next week and play Atlanta at home, and we'll focus on that week and make sure the O-line plays better, and the quarterback has a good plan; make sure there's people open for them to throw to. That's a big piece of this as well, and try to have the best plan possible."
Things aren't going to get any easier for Carolina.
The Panthers have two games left against Tom Brady and the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and also play Buffalo, New Orleans and Atlanta.
"We just have to go back, lick our wounds, be prepared to mend and heal this week get on the same page moving forward," Newton said.
Of course, they'll have to move forward without McCaffrey, who was placed on season-ending injured reserve with an ankle injury.
Based on how they divided the reps when McCaffrey was out Weeks 4-8 due to a hamstring injury, ESPN.com's David Newton expects rookie Chuba Hubbard to be the lead back and Ameer Abdullah the third-down/pass-catching back.
Hubbard rushed for 329 yards during that five-week span, playing on 59 percent of the Panthers' offensive snaps. However, Abdullah has 13 catches on 20 targets over the past five games -- with McCaffrey playing in four of them. He was so effective that the Panthers moved on from fellow backup Royce Freeman.
There's definitely a chance that Abdullah will take some of the snaps that Hubbard had the first time McCaffrey was out, particularly if the Panthers continue to be faced with catch-up situations. ...
And finally. ... The Panthers got back to a full roster for the moment, and added some depth back to their defense and special teams.
The Panthers activated defensive end Darryl Johnson to the 53-man roster.
He had been designated to return from injured reserve, after a hamstring injury landed him on IR initially. He's played in two games this season.
Johnson, acquired in a preseason trade with the Bills, could provide some size on special teams (since outside linebacker Frankie Luvu is on the reserve/COVID-19 list at the moment).
The Panthers also made a change on the practice squad, adding running back Jacque Patrick, and releasing wide receiver Matt Cole.
Patrick played at Florida State and has spent time with the Bengals and 49ers.
QBs: Sam Darnold, P.J. Walker, Baker Mayfield, Matt Corral
RBs: D'Onta Foreman, Chuba Hubbard, Spencer Brown, Raheem Blackshear
WRs: D.J. Moore, Terrace Marshall Jr., Shi Smith, Laviska Shenault, Rashard Higgins, Andre Roberts
TEs: Ian Thomas, Tommy Tremble, Stephen Sullivan
Chicago BearsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 December 2021
As Associated Press sports writer Andrew Seligman noted, the Bears showed Sunday they struggle trying to beat good teams with veteran Andy Dalton at quarterback.
The attention turns now to getting rookie quarterback Justin Fields ready to face the Green Bay Packers for a second time.
Fields will return to his starting role at quarterback for the Chicago Bears this Sunday against the Green Bay Packers, head coach Matt Nagy announced Wednesday.
Fields has missed the Bears' past two games with an injury to his ribs but Nagy said Wednesday that the rookie has been medically cleared.
Nagy said that Fields' fractured ribs have fully healed.
This comes down to for him, like I've been saying the whole time, it's a pain deal that we can't really simulate. We go off what he says, we go off what our doctors say. When he's fully cleared like he is, then we're ready to rock and roll. He's the starter when he's healthy and that's where we're at," Nagy said.
Dalton started the past two weeks in place of Fields but injured his non-throwing hand in last Sunday's loss to the Cardinals, a game in which he threw four interceptions.
Nagy said the decision to start Fields wasn't based on Dalton's injury and isn't sure whether Dalton or Nick Foles would be the backup to Fields for Sunday's game.
Fields, the 11th-overall pick in this year's draft, has completed 58.1 percent of his pass attempts this season, throwing for 1,361 yards with four touchdowns and eight interceptions in 10 games. He also has rushed for two scores this season.
The development of their first-round draft pick remains a key goal in a 4-8 season.
There are goals in mind for Fields in terms of reading defenses and proving he can run specific types of plays, but coaches also need to learn more about Fields' strengths. Nagy feels eight starts haven't been enough to reveal what Fields can do best within their offense.
"I really felt like his confidence was starting to get good out there at practice, on the field, in himself," Nagy said. "So then the other part of this, too, is us creating, and knowing what his strengths are helped us out as well. So we were kind of trying to find that balance. "
One thing that could work in Fields' favor upon his return this week?
The offensive line.
The blockers allowed 30 sacks in the first eight games and only 10 in the past four, and helped the offense outgain each of its past four opponents after being outgained by each of the previous four. It's part of the reason Nagy said there is no rush to get second-round draft pick tackle Teven Jenkins in the starting lineup after he was promoted last week to the 53-man roster.
And something that worked in favor of fantasy managers?
David Montgomery provided a bright spot in Sunday's loss, generating a season-high 141 yards from scrimmage.
The 2019 third-round pick from Iowa State rushed for a game-high 90 yards and one touchdown on 21 carries and caught a team-leading eight passes for 51 yards.
"I thought it was great to get David going," said Nagy. "That was an emphasis for us; we [wanted] to come in and get him going a little bit more this game, be it the run and the pass. He had some good targets and they did a good job checking it down when we had him or throwing it to the flat.
"I thought he ran hard. David was motivated after the Detroit game. He wanted to be able to really get back. He's hard on himself. But to have 21 carries and average 4.3 yards per rush, that was good for the offensive line."
Despite his impressive performance, the only number that mattered to Montgomery was the final score.
"I'll be way more happy if I had 12 yards averaging 0.1 yards per carry if we got the win," Montgomery said. "I could care less about individual stats because the feeling that you get when you win is completely different than having good stats when you lose."
How about something that isn't helping anybody?
As Seligmen pointed out, it's the pass catchers.
Tipped passes for interceptions were only part of the problem Sunday. The Bears had other passes dropped, including one by practice squad player Rodney Adams in his first game after being flexed to the 53-man roster.
Rain, wind and cold at Soldier Field was part of the problem, but the biggest issue they have is health, as top receiver Allen Robinson hasn't been in the lineup since Nov. 8 with a hamstring injury. No. 3 receiver Marquise Goodwin missed Sunday's game with foot and ribs injuries.
Next up, the Bears are at Green Bay on Sunday night, trying to break a five-game losing streak against their NFC North rivals.
How many games could the Bears win to finish the season?
Chicago could win three more games down the stretch, with two games left against the Vikings, one each against the Packers, Giants and Seahawks still remaining on the schedule. If they could finish that stretch 3-2, the Bears would end the season at 7-10.
With a young quarterback in development, ESPN.com's Josh Weinfuss believes that might be good enough for Nagy to keep his job.
QBs: Justin Fields, Trevor Siemian
RBs: David Montgomery, Trestan Ebner, Darrynton Evans, Khalil Herbert
WRs: Chase Claypool, Equanimeous St. Brown, Dante Pettis, Velus Jones Jr., Byron Pringle, N'Keal Harry, Tajae Sharpe
TEs: Cole Kmet, Ryan Griffin, Trevon Wesco
Cincinnati BengalsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 December 2021
According to ESPN.com's Ben Baby, Joe Burrow said he doesn't anticipate a finger injury to force him to miss any playing time.
Burrow said he dislocated his right pinkie in Sunday's 41-22 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers at Paul Brown Stadium. Burrow said the injury occurred on a sack suffered on the team's first drive of the game.
He finished the contest and was 24-of-40 for 300 passing yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. Burrow said that since he completed the game and doesn't expect the injury to get any worse, he anticipates playing against the San Francisco 49ers next weekend.
"It's just something I'm going to have to deal with," said Burrow, who also had a rushing touchdown. "I'm not going to miss any games because of it. That's not something that's going to happen."
Burrow helped Cincinnati (7-5) nearly climb out of a 24-0 deficit the team faced early in the second quarter. Burrow, who was clearly in discomfort, remained in the game and helped the Bengals get as close as 24-22 in the fourth quarter. Chargers safety Tevaughn Campbell returned a fumble for a 61-yard touchdown with 13 minutes, 43 seconds remaining, giving Los Angeles (7-5) some breathing room after Cincinnati scored 22 straight.
Burrow said that at first, he didn't notice what happened to the pinkie because of his adrenaline at the start of the game. But as the half progressed, the issue became significantly worse.
Cincinnati's training staff tried to tape the pinkie and offered Burrow multiple gloves to place on his right hand. Eventually, he tore off the tape and discarded the gloves on the sideline.
"It was a decision to make it feel better or continue to somewhat throw the ball," Burrow said. "I decided to be able to throw the ball."
Head coach Zac Taylor and wide receiver Tee Higgins both said Burrow threw the ball well despite the injury. Taylor noted that Burrow didn't have any accuracy issues because of the injury, which shouldn't hold him out as the Bengals chase their first playoff berth since 2015.
"It's just something I have to play through," Burrow said. "That's what football is. You gotta play through some injuries sometimes."
For what it's worth, Burrow told reporters on Wednesday he remained confident thye right pinky injury will not keep him from playing against the 49ers this weekend.
Speaking at his Wednesday press conference, Burrow added he's been “getting better every day.” Burrow said he hasn’t thrown the ball since Sunday and would practice “a little bit” later in the day as he begins to work on how to best manage the injury this week.
However that process plays out, he doesn’t think there will be any issue that causes him to rethink his plans to remain in the lineup.
“I don’t foresee that happening,” Burrow said. ...
By the way. ... Higgins had nine catches for 138 yards and a touchdown. That was after making six grabs for 114 yards and a touchdown the previous week in a 41-10 rout of the Steelers. Tyler Boyd had five catches for 85 yards against the Chargers.
"I think we can take some positives out of this thing," Taylor said. "We're not looking to take many of them out. A lot of guys got in there and held the fort down."
Meanwhile, Cincinnati squandered the opportunity to build some serious momentum in its playoff push in a loss to the Chargers. Earlier in the week, Taylor acknowledged Sunday was a chance to win three straight games, an opportunity that has slipped out of their grasp twice this season.
The San Francisco 49ers (6-6) come to town Sunday. Two of the Bengals' five remaining games are against AFC North foes Baltimore and Cleveland. ...
Also of interest. ... As Bengals.com's Geoff Hobson pointed out, the Bengals' ground game that was supposed to knock the last-ranked Chargers run defense back into their time zone never materialized from the get-go. Clearly the Chargers designed ways to slow it down with five-man fronts. But still, they had allowed five games of at least 170 yards rushing and Mixon came in as the third-best rusher in the NFL and off two games he had gone for 288 yards on five yards per carry.
So Sunday's big surprise was Mixon had just 54 yards on 19 carries. And just 18 on 10 carries in the first half. A seven-yard touchdown run helped fantasy managers.
With center Trey Hopkins and right tackle Riley Reiff inactive with ankle injuries, they tried to make it work with rookie center Trey Hill and right tackle Isaiah Prince in their first starts at those positions for the Bengals.
The Chargers run one of the more multiple defenses in the league, anyway, and it appeared they tried to move around up front in an effort to confuse Hill. When it looked they were getting the running game going in the first half, two of Mixon's best runs of the half, each of eight yards, were negated by holding calls on Hill.
Also in the half, Burrow had a third-down conversion wiped out on Prince's hands-to-the-face penalty.
On the injury front. ... As SBNation.com's John Sheeran noted, Mixon's recent dominance has been possible in part by his ability to stay healthy, so seeing him on the ground in agony right after halftime was heartbreaking. In his own words, he was in "a lot of pain" upon hurting his neck after a three-yard run that made him miss a total of nine plays. He was able to walk off on his own power and obviously check back into the game, but he could've been playing through some pain to finish the game.
Higgins was tackled from the back of his collar after his eighth catch and hurt his ankle. He only missed two plays after going to the sidelines, but he was showing a clear limp between plays.
Late in the third quarter, Samaje Perine got blown up by a blitzing Derwin James right before the talented safety sacked Burrow. Perine's left knee buckled as Nasir Adderly fell into it and Perine limped off the field. He would return to the game, so he must've dodged a serious injury bullet.
Mixon did not practice Wednesday due to illness, according to Taylor; Higgins was also held out due to his ankle issue.
I'll follow up on Burrow, Mixon, Higgins and the rest via Late-Breaking Update as developments warrant.
QBs: Joe Burrow, Brandon Allen
RBs: Joe Mixon, Samaje Perine, Chris Evans, Trayveon Williams
WRs: Ja'Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd, Trent Taylor, Trenton Irwin, Stanley Morgan, Kwamie Lassiter II
TEs: Hayden Hurst, Mitchell Wilcox, Devin Asiasi, Drew Sample
Cleveland BrownsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 December 2021
Rested and hopefully refocused, the Browns capped their bye week by getting a small boost to their playoff chances in a cluttered, chaotic conference race.
Now, it's time to help themselves.
As Associated Press sports writer Tom Withers noted, although Cleveland slipped back into last place in the AFC North without playing on Sunday, losses by Baltimore, Cincinnati, Las Vegas and Denver -- all playoff contenders -- helped the enigmatic Browns (6-6), who can still salvage their season after not meeting expectations.
With five games left, the Browns have the slimmest of margins for error in order to have any shot at making the postseason for the second straight year.
They're also facing a rugged path to the playoffs with three division games, including a matchup Sunday against the first-place Ravens (8-4), who overcame four interceptions by Lamar Jackson to beat the Browns 16-10 a week ago.
Things could be better. They could also be bleaker.
"Right now, we have to just focus on ourselves," running back Kareem Hunt said. "We still have to win. It doesn't matter what other teams are doing if we don't come out and win."
Last week, head coach Kevin Stefanski and his staff undertook a deep dive into addressing numerous issues, with the Browns' ineffective passing game at the top of the need-to-fix list.
While quarterback Baker Mayfield has struggled, the Browns haven't moved the ball through the air nearly as well as expected, and their inability to stretch the field has made Cleveland easier to defend.
Stop the run. Stop the Browns.
Stefanski didn't divulge any specifics in terms of potentially jump-starting his offense, but indicated one option could be playing Hunt and Nick Chubb together.
It would seem like a natural move. However, the Browns have preferred rotating the backs to keep them as fresh as possible. Now that Hunt is back after missing five games with a calf injury, and with every game so meaningful, it's possible Stefanski could use the playmakers in some packages.
"I do think it's something you can do in this system and really any system in terms of plugging in those guys," Stefanski said. "We just want to be mindful and intentional about why and what we are doing.
"If you do something like that, you want to have a good reason to do it and put those guys in position to succeed."
At this point, the reason is winning.
Hunt would be all for it, and doesn't see any downside in he and Chubb in the same backfield.
"I would love it, but that's up to them," Hunt said. "Whatever the coaches decide. If they decide to put us both out there, I'm ready for that. And if not, that's fine. I feel like we still will be fine. The cons, there really are none. It's only pros, I think. It could be a good thing."
Meanwhile, as noted above, Mayfield has had his share of hardship in 2021.
As ESPN.com's Jake Trotter recounted, a self-inflicted torn labrum in his shoulder suffered while making a tackle in Week 2 worsened when he fractured his humerus bone in Week 6. Mayfield also has been playing with a banged-up knee and bruised heel, limiting his mobility and making plays with his feet.
The injuries, however, don't excuse the times he has missed open receivers or failed to mount a comeback drive. He's 1-5 against teams with winning records, going 0-4 with a chance to lead a winning drive. Beyond that, Trotter went on to contend Mayfield's statistics don't reflect progress in his fourth year. He's ranked 26th in QBR and has thrown just 11 TD passes, putting him 24th in the league.
Trotter acknowledged there are extenuating circumstances, but much of the blame has to land on Mayfield, who triggers every play.
Making plays and raising the level of your teammates is part of a franchise QB's job description.
General manager Andrew Berry was quick to point out that there's more going wrong than just Mayfield. It's about the play call, protection, receivers running correct routes, not dropping balls, all of it.
"We have just not been consistent enough in the passing game," Berry said. "I want to be clear here. That is not necessarily a one-player or a one-person problem."
But there are obvious questions that needed to be answered here. The 26-year-old once seemed assured of getting a long-term extension from Cleveland, but that seems as uncertain as the team's playoff chances. The Browns did exercise his $18.9 million fifth-year option for 2022.
Berry wouldn't draw a direct line between Mayfield's erratic play and a future pay day.
"There are a lot of players across the league that are in similar boats, whether they are free agents or extension eligible," he said. "It comes with the territory in terms of being a professional athlete, but I do know this: Baker is both physically and mentally resilient, and he's hyper-focused on winning and controlling the offense's play moving forward."
Whether the Browns move forward with Mayfield as their starter could hinge on how he finishes this season.
Worth noting. .. Hunt's dad recently took to Facebook to say that Mayfield is "scared to throw the ball" and the Browns "know he's hurt."
But Hunt doesn't seem to have lost any faith in his quarterback.
"Baker's our guy," Hunt said Monday, via Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal. "He always gives it 100 percent each time he's out there, so I believe he's going to come out and be ready and compete."
Since Week 3, the Browns have managed to score more than 17 points in a game just twice -- a 47-42 loss to the Chargers in Week 5 and a 41-16 victory over the Bengals in Week 9. In the last three games, Mayfield has completed just 50.6 percent of his passes for 496 yards with three touchdowns, three interceptions, and a lost fumble.
But with a week to heal and self-scout from the bye, Cleveland's expectation is that Mayfield will play his best football down the stretch. And leaning on Hunt and Chubb as much as possible will certainly aid the signal caller in that.
On the injury front. ... The Browns could be without one of their offensive weapons for Sunday's game against the Ravens.
According to Kimberley Martin of ESPN, tight end David Njoku was placed on Cleveland's reserve/COVID-19 list. Martin added Njoku's status for Week 14 is unclear, which means Njoku tested positive as a vaccinated player or is an unvaccinated close contact.
If Njoku is vaccinated and tested positive, he's eligible to return to the club with a pair of negative COVID-19 tests separated by 24 hours. Pittsburgh edge rusher T.J. Watt was able to play in Week 13 because he cleared the COVID-19 protocols in that way.
But if Njoku is unavailable, that would likely put the Browns down two tight ends. Harrison Bryant suffered an ankle sprain against the Ravens in Week 12. Stefanski said on Monday that it's still to be determined whether Bryant will be placed on injured reserve.
Njoku is third on the team behind Jarvis Landry and Austin Hooper with 27 catches. But he leads the Browns with 407 receiving yards and is tied for the team lead with three receiving touchdowns.
Stefanski said wide receiver Anthony Schwartz is still in concussion protocol and won't practice Wednesday. Landry (knee) and Bryant also won't practice.
I'll follow up via Late-Breaking Update as needed.
QBs: Deshaun Watson, Jacoby Brissett
RBs: Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, D'Ernest Johnson, Demetric Felton, Jerome Ford
WRs: Amari Cooper, Donovan Peoples-Jones, David Bell, Anthony Schwartz, Michael Woods II
TEs: David Njoku, Harrison Bryant, Pharaoh Brown
Dallas CowboysCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 December 2021
As Associated Press sports writer Schuyler Dixon noted, Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys have issues on offense, with the luxury of time to fix them coming off a victory at New Orleans that could result in a three-game lead in the NFC East with five to go.
The Cowboys had a season-high six three-and-outs in a 27-17 victory over the Saints -- not counting Prescott's interception on another three-play possession in the fourth quarter.
The Dallas offense has 16 three-and-outs the past three games after just 15 in the first nine. The Cowboys (8-4) might still have the NFL's No. 1 offense in total yards when they return from a mini-break at Washington on Dec. 12. But that unit hasn't looked anything like it for most of a 2-3 stretch.
"We're far from where we want to be," said receiver CeeDee Lamb, who helped a badly struggling run game look better statistically by setting up a touchdown with a 33-yard play on a screen pass that was officially a run.
"We didn't capitalize on a lot of drives," Lamb said. "I feel like we kept them in the game. We know what we have. We know what we expect out of each other. Back to the drawing board, looking to be better next week."
There is no question a right knee injury is significantly limiting running back Ezekiel Elliott, which is slowing the run game because the Cowboys keep playing him.
The two-time rushing champ limped during and after his longest run, a 10-yarder when he had a huge lane on the outside and went out of bounds after picking up the first down.
Owner/general manager Jerry Jones said again on his radio show last Friday the Cowboys believe playing Elliott is the right approach.
They're obviously hoping a 10-day break will help.
"His trainers, the people that are the closest to his health, his medical situation, they think he's really good to go," Jones said. "I really look forward to a powerful and dynamic Zeke as we move on into this last part of the season."
For what it's worth, Elliott refuses to blame recent struggles on his ailing knee -- even if it's clearly bothering him.
On Thursday, Zeke rushed 13 times for 45 yards. It marked his fourth straight game under 50 rush yards and seventh straight under the 70 rush yard mark, both career-long streaks, per NFL Research.
"The Saints have a good front," Elliott said. "They do a lot of movement. They have a lot of good guys up front. So it was a little tough."
According to NFL.com’s' Kevin Patra, we don't even need to make this a Zeke vs. Tony Pollard argument.
The speedy back has been better of late, but outside of one carry for 58 yards, he too was stymied for much of Thursday's game.
The more significant issue than which back should be seeing more touches is Elliott not looking healthy and the offense being poorer for it. Zeke played 45 of 65 snaps (66.2), with most of his touches being ineffectual. Elliott's role in the Cowboys' offense is more than simply running the ball. He's one of the best blocking backs in the NFL, so he can still impact a game even if he's not gashing yards.
But the question is whether a diminished Zeke is the best thing for this Cowboys offense at this moment in time.
Of great interest, Elliott has forced 15 missed tackles on 160 rushing attempts this season, according to Pro Football Focus.
As NBCSportsEdge.com notes, PFF rates him as the tenth least elusive running back in the NFL this season, comparable to backs like David Johnson, Carlos Hyde, and Latavius Murray.
For context, Dalvin Cook has forced 37 missed tackles on 172 carries this season and Nick Chubb has forced 41 missed tackles on 150 attempts.
Pollard has forced 23 missed tackles on 100 carries. He also has the 13th highest breakaway percentage, per PFF, while Zeke is 37th in breakaway rate.
But there are issues beyond Elliott.
Wideouts Amari Cooper, Lamb and Michael Gallup have played just three games together this season. As ESPN.com's Todd Archer pointed out, the Cowboys' first scoring drive against New Orleans showed just how important their collective presence is. Cooper picked up 41 yards on a third-and-7 pass from Prescott. A play later, Lamb gained 33 yards, which was followed by a 1-yard TD pass to Gallup.
"I've got to do a better job of getting them involved," Prescott said. "When those three get involved in the same drive like that, that's what happens."
Time on task isn't something all three have had. They have started and finished the same game just twice this season with Gallup suffering a calf strain in the opener. Cooper missed two games because of COVID-19, and Lamb missed a game and a half during the same spell because of a concussion.
Cooper was on a pitch count against the Saints as he gets back into the flow of work after his absence.
"I knew I had between 20-25 plays, they told me before the game," Cooper said. "They just wanted to ease me back into things, knowing I didn't really practice, and knowing how COVID could affect the lungs and heart. They didn't really know my conditioning. I didn't really know my conditioning. I think that was the plan."
Missed time and uncertainty have become a theme throughout the roster and coaching staff.
Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn served as head coach against New Orleans with McCarthy out. Tight ends coach Lunda Wells worked with the offensive line with Philbin and Blasko out. Offensive assistant Chase Haslett worked with the tight ends. Consultant Ben McAdoo and vice president of player personnel Will McClay took on-field roles against the Saints.
McCarthy expects to be back in his office this week. Cowboys COO Stephen Jones said Thursday is McCarthy's most likely return date.
"We just think it's normally just like it is with players, we're looking at the 10 days," Jones said. "Probably looking at getting him back on a Thursday. Don't think it'll usually be before, it rarely is."
The offensive line has been mixing and matching due to COVID-19 (Terrence Steele), suspension (La'el Collins), injury (Tyron Smith) and penalties (Connor Williams). That has played a part in the downturn in the run game over the past six weeks, as has Elliott's knee injury.
The defensive line has had to mix and match as well because of injuries (DeMarcus Lawrence, Randy Gregory) and suspension (Trysten Hill).
As for where we stand to open the week. ... Elliott, Pollard (foot) and Cedrick Wilson (ankle) all did some work on the side as practice began Wednesday. Noah Brown (groin) was the only player not doing any work.
Players potentially returning from injuries include defensive tackle Neville Gallimore (elbow) and Gregory (calf).
Steele and tight end Blake Jarwin were activated from the reserve/COVID-19 list Tuesday. Jarwin (hip) remains on IR.
We'll see where Elliott and Pollard are at as the week progresses; watch the Late-Breaking Upates section for more.
QBs: Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush, Will Grier
RBs: Ezekiel Elliott, Tony Pollard, Malik Davis, Qadree Ollison
WRs: CeeDee Lamb, Michael Gallup, Noah Brown, Simi Fehoko, KaVontae Turpin, Jalen Tolbert, James Washington
TEs: Dalton Schultz, Jake Ferguson, Peyton Hendershot
Denver BroncosCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 December 2021
As Associated Press sports writer Arnie Stapleton put it, "With the AFC West lead so tantalizingly in reach, the Denver Broncos fumbled, bumbled and stumbled their way to another loss against Kansas City, plunging to their familiar whereabouts in the division's cellar instead."
As usual, coach Vic Fangio's defense was exceptional against Patrick Mahomes and company.
And per usual, his offense was atrocious and his special teams abominable in their 22-9 loss.
"When you play a team like this, you have to get sevens (because) threes aren't enough," Teddy Bridgewater said in the lead-up to the showdown Sunday night.
That's why the Broncos (6-6) went on fourth-and-2 at the Kansas City 8 late in the first half when a field goal would have cut their deficit to 10-6.
Rookie running back Javonte Williams, who had a monster game, was confused, however, lining up wrong and looking frantically toward the sideline for help that never came before taking the handoff and losing a yard.
"By the time that we knew there was confusion," Fangio explained, "it was too late to call a timeout."
"I thought we were in the gun, but we were under center," Williams said of just about the only blemish on his career night in which he became the first rookie in franchise history to top 100 yards rushing and 75 yards receiving in a single game.
So, the Broncos were left with nothing to show for a 20-play drive that covered 83 yards and kept Kansas City's explosive offense on the sideline for more than 11 minutes.
That epitomized the Broncos' night of missed chances that featured three turnovers.
Bridgewater threw two interceptions, including a pick-6, and rookie Caden Sterns ran into punt returner Deionte Spencer at the Denver 15-yard line for another costly giveaway.
Still, the theme coming out of Denver's locker room is that the Broncos are going to treat the rest of their games as playoff contests. Dreams of the postseason are all this team has had to hold on to ever since the slide began in 2016 with Peyton Manning's retirement that set in motion a carousel of quarterbacks and supporting staffs unable to put the Broncos back in contention.
"We are still in the hunt," Fangio declared, "and we can take care of business."
The Broncos have home games the next two weeks -- against the no-longer-winless Lions (1-10-1), who have actually been to the playoffs more recently than Denver, earning an NFC wild-card berth in 2016, and Cincinnati Bengals -- before they close out the year with three consecutive AFC West games, including road games against the Raiders and Chargers before the season finale against the Chiefs.
And they do have something to hang their hat on: The ground game.
Williams carried the ball 23 times for 102 yards and caught six passes for 76 yards and a touchdown. He is the first Broncos rookie to post at least 100 rushing yards and 75 receiving yards in the same game, and he has the third-most all-purpose yards by any rookie in a game this season.
Williams' touchdown was Denver's only score and his backup, Mike Boone, had 54 yards on five touches.
According to Stapleton, now that Williams has shown what he can do in the lead role, he should keep it even when Melvin Gordon (hip, shoulder) gets healthy.
We should have our answer on that soon.
Gordon was back on the practice field Wednesday after he did not practice ahead of Week 13 with hip and shoulder injuries.
Fangio said the team would evaluate Gordon's health before deciding on Williams' role this week.
Gordon and Williams are one of two duos in the NFL in which each player has more than 600 rushing yards, and Fangio said he believes the pairing has benefited both players.
"I think they've been a good tandem the first 11 games of the season sharing the time in there," Fangio said. "I think it's helped both guys. I think it helped Javonte last night carry more of the load. They're two good players, and we'll use them both."
As for the passing game?
Courtland Sutton and Tim Patrick, who signed contracts for a combined $90 million last month, were targeted a combined 11 times but caught just three passes for 24 yards.
Midway through the fourth quarter, Sutton had two catches, while Patrick and Jerry Jeudy had one each.
As ESPN.com's Jeff Legwold pointed out, the Broncos don't protect Bridgewater well enough when they open up the formation to sling it around and don't use play-action nearly enough when they get behind. Their best work pushing the ball down the field in the passing game has come out of play-action, yet in all six of their losses, the Broncos haven't consistently committed to it and haven't offered a real explanation as to why.
Cecil Lammey of 104.3 The Fan in Denver has an idea on that.
"Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur is not good at his job," Lammey wrote on Monday. "His offense is stuck in the past, and he's rarely shown creativity or ingenuity as a playcaller. The time to move on from his is now."
Lammey went on to point out that we've already seen two offensive coordinators lose their jobs. The Giants decided to move on from Jason Garrett a couple of weeks ago. This week, the Panthers decided to move on from Joe Brady.
"We'll see if the spark can be there for either team the rest of the year," Lammey added, "but it's not about that -- it's about looking towards the future.
"That future for the Broncos does not include Shurmur."
It seems like a reasonable point. We'll see where it goes.
QBs: Russell Wilson, Brett Rypien
RBs: Latavius Murray, Marlon Mack, Mike Boone, Javonte Williams, Chase Edmonds
WRs: Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, K.J. Hamler, Kendall Hinton, Montrell Washington, Jalen Virgil, Tyrie Cleveland
TEs: Greg Dulcich, Eric Tomlinson, Eric Saubert, Andrew Beck, Albert Okwuegbunam
Detroit LionsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 December 2021
The Detroit Lions are winless no more.
As Tim Twentyman of the team's official website noted, players and coaches talked all week about needing to learn how to finish games to notch that first victory. Sunday, they finally figured it out, putting together an epic two-minute drive, culminating in an 11-yard Jared Goff to Amon-Ra-St. Brown touchdown as time expired, to give the Lions a 29-27 come-from-behind win for their first victory of the season.
As Associated Press sports writer David Hogg pointed out, Dan Campbell had been waiting for 2,160 days to celebrate another win as an NFL coach.
When it finally arrived, he was ready to celebrate.
He hadn't won as a head coach since his Dolphins beat the New England Patriots 20-10 on Jan. 3, 2016, in his final game as Miami's interim coach.
"This one was definitely special," Campbell said on Monday. "Winning is always great, no matter the circumstances, but we've gone through a lot this season. When you've been around this group 24/7 - the coaches and players - and seen the amount of work they have put in to build this program, it makes it feel so much better to finally get over that hump."
For 58 minutes, things hadn't looked much different. The Lions got out to a lead, but turnovers and a botched fourth-down attempt let the Vikings take a 27-23 lead with 1:54 to play.
The Lions stopped Minnesota's 2-point conversion attempt - the third time they had done that - meaning a touchdown would win the game.
"Getting three of those stops was a huge piece of this victory," Campbell said. "That gave us a chance to play for the win rather than overtime."
Goff led a beautiful 13-play, 75-yard drive culminating in St. Brown's 11-yard touchdown catch as time expired, the first touchdown of St. Brown's young career.
The Lions didn't have a play longer than 13 yards in their final drive, and even that required a cross-field sprint by Godwin Igwebuike to pick up a first down and get out of bounds. However, they got to the 11 with 4 seconds to play, and St. Brown's catch in front of oddly loose coverage got Campbell his long-awaited win.
He and his players were so emotionally fired up by the victory he didn't have much left for his family.
"We went home and laid pretty low for the evening," he said. "I was spent. It just felt good to build a fire, sit on the sofa, hang out with my family and have a smile and a laugh."
Can the Lions build off this dramatic win?
According to ESPN.com's Eric Woodyard, the answer is: "Yes, for sure."
Woodyard went on to contend it's easier to build off an actual win than a moral victory, and the Lions had plenty of the latter this season. Detroit played hard and kept teams close, even tying the Steelers, but against a Vikings team fighting to stay playoff-relevant, they took the next step and found a way to win.
It won't hurt that they'll be visiting the struggling Broncos in Denver this week. ...
It's also encouraging that to see Goff finally give the Lions the vertical passing game they've needed all season. He threw for 296 yards, his most since Week 4, and matched a season high with three touchdowns, hitting tight ends T.J. Hockenson (9 yards) and Brock Wright (23) in addition to St. Brown.
That was enough of a downfield threat to keep Minnesota from putting more pressure on Goff, who was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week on Tuesday, on the final drive.
St. Brown, like most of Detroit's wide receivers, had struggled to make an impact in Goff's low-risk passing attack. Sunday, though, he caught 10 passes for 86 yards, including his first NFL touchdown as time expired.
After being signed as a free agent, Josh Reynolds has played the last three games. He had no catches against the Browns, three for 70 yards and a TD vs. the Bears and four for 69 yards vs. the Vikings. He's added a deep threat to the passing game.
One issue: Detroit's running game never got going without D'Andre Swift. The Lions averaged 3.7 yards per rush, and their longest gain on the ground was 11 yards.
The one-two punch in the Lions' running game has been mostly one punch the last two games because of a shoulder injury that sidelined Swift halfway through the Week 12 loss to Chicago. He had three carries for no yards before going out. Jamaal Williams took over and rushed for 65 yards on 11 carries vs. the Bears and 71 on 17 carries in Sunday's win.
Campbell told reporter on Wednesday Swift is “improving.” But there was no update on the status of his return. Detroit had a walk-through to start the week and Swift was not on taking part. Hockenson (hand) was limited.
With Swift expected to miss at least one more game, Williams should get more chances this week; I'll have more on that via Late-Breaking Update as developments warrant.
QBs: Jared Goff, Nate Sudfeld
RBs: Jamaal Williams, D'Andre Swift, Justin Jackson, Craig Reynolds
WRs: Amon-Ra St. Brown, D.J. Chark, Josh Reynolds, Kalif Raymond, Tom Kennedy, Quintez Cephus, Brandon Zylstra, Jameson Williams
TEs: Brock Wright, James Mitchell, Shane Zylstra
Green Bay PackersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 December 2021
Matt LaFleur won the NFC North in each of his first two seasons as Green Bay Packers coach, and he's well on his way to making it 3-for-3.
However, in a city known for championships, division titles aren't celebrated with commemorative banners.
Super Bowls are what matter.
The next step for LaFleur is to lead the Packers to their first title since the 2010 season.
Improving health across the roster could help them get there.
LaFleur says there's a possibility three of his injured Pro Bowl players from last season could return to practice this week.
The Packers have been playing without 2020 All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari (knee) as well as cornerback Jaire Alexander (shoulder) and outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith (back). Alexander and Smith were second-team selections in the 2020 All-Pro balloting.
LaFleur said Monday they "potentially" could practice this week as the NFC North-leading Packers (9-3) return from their off week and prepare for a Sunday night home game with the Chicago Bears (4-8).
"Certainly we hope so," LaFleur said. "Those guys again are doing everything in their power, but we'll see where we're at on Wednesday, and obviously you guys will get updated then."
Alexander fulfilled that hope by returning to work on Wednesday.
The Packers' other notable injury involves quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who said he fractured his pinky toe last month while working out at home during his quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19. Although the injury hasn't kept him from playing, Rodgers didn't practice at all before a Nov. 28 victory over the Los Angeles Rams and practiced just once before a Nov. 21 loss at Minnesota.
"I know he was getting treatment and doing everything he can to be 100 percent," LaFleur said. "I still think it's a process, like anything, and we'll see where he's at this week. Hopefully we can get him out there at practice, but if not, we've got a lot of confidence in just his ability to go out there and play at a high level."
Bakhtiari hasn't played since tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee on Dec. 31. He had returned to practice in late October and was activated from the physically unable to perform list on Nov. 10, but he hasn't been practicing the last few weeks.
Smith hasn't played since the Packers' season-opening loss to the New Orleans Saints. Alexander hurt his right shoulder in an Oct. 3 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers and hasn't played since.
LaFleur noted that he wouldn't necessarily "lump them all into the same kind of category," a potential indication that some of the injured players could return earlier than others.
"These guys love the game," LaFleur said. "They love being with their teammates, they love competing, so I know that they're itching to get back as soon as possible, and we just want to make sure that there's no extra risk for a setback or whatnot, because obviously they're an important part of this team."
One other issue facing Green Bay's defense concerns linebacker De'Vondre Campbell, who was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list last week. LaFleur said Campbell could return to the team facilities as early as Friday and will be participating in meetings via Zoom until then.
The Packers added backup quarterback Jordan Love to the reserve/COVID-19 list on Monday.
As Profootballtalk.com notes, practice squad quarterback Kurt Benkert, who also had a stint on the reserve list last month, is the only in-house candidate to back up Rodgers while Love is out this week. They signed Blake Bortles when Rodgers and Benkert were unavailable.
The Packers elevated Benkert from the practice squad on Tuesday and he could be in for a lot of practice reps with the first team if Rodgers continues resting his toe.
LaFleur said Monday that the team will see how Rodgers is feeling off the bye week before making plans for practices. Rodgers did not practice Wednesday leaving Benkert to get all the first-team work.
Rodgers sought a second opinion on his injured toe during the team's bye week, and rest remains the top option for his recovery.
Rodgers told The Pat McAfee Show on Tuesday that he took a trip to Los Angeles last week to get another look at the toe, but "nothing revolutionary" came of the medical trip, but the injury is improving.
"There was no mindset change," Rodgers said, via Rob Demovsky of ESPN. "The biggest key is rest. I wish there was another one of these (bye) weeks so I could get 14-21 great days without doing anything, but the toe is improving. We'll see how it feels later in the week."
The reigning NFL MVP eschewed foot surgery during the bye week and seems determined to avoid undergoing the knife anytime soon.
LaFleur said rookie center Josh Myers won't be returning to practice this week. Myers has been out since injuring his knee in an Oct. 17 victory at Chicago.
"I think Josh needs a little bit more time," LaFleur said.
The Packers leaned on their star players to win in 2019 and 2020. And they've done that again, to some extent, with Rodgers ranking second in passer rating and Davante Adams ranking second in receiving yards.
This despite the fact Rodgers and Adams each missed a game because of COVID-19, and despite Rodgers' tender toe.
Aaron Jones also missed a game with a knee sprain while Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Allen Lazard and most recently, Randall Cobb, have all dealt with injuries.
Coming off the bye, the Packers will begin a five-game push for the postseason and home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs -- they trail Arizona by a half-game. Three of the five games will be at home, including on a Sunday night against Chicago this weekend.
They face only one team with a winning record, though that's at Baltimore a week later.
There's a lot at stake for the Packers, who are 5-0 at home and 4-3 on the road. There's no guarantee Rodgers will be back for the 2022 season. And even if he is, he'd likely be surrounded by a vastly different supporting cast with Adams set to be a free agent and the team about $46 million over next year's projected salary cap.
That reality isn't at the forefront of LaFleur's thoughts. Rather, it's figuring out how to push this team over the finish line.
"We have to continue to work because there's areas of improvement in all three phases where we know we can get better," he said. "But that's exciting. We know that there's a lot of work, a lot of ball out in front of us and we've got to attack each day."
Stay tuned. I'll be keeping a close eye on Rodgers and Cobb, who wasn't practicing Wednesday due to the groin injury he suffered in Week 12, and report back via Late-Breaking Update as developments warrant.
QBs: Aaron Rodgers, Jordan Love
RBs: Aaron Jones, A.J. Dillon, Tyler Goodson, Patrick Taylor
WRs: Christian Watson, Allen Lazard, Randall Cobb, Sammy Watkins, Samori Toure, Romeo Doubs
TEs: Robert Tonyan, Marcedes Lewis, Josiah Deguara, Tyler Davis
Houston TexansCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 December 2021
As ESPN.com's Sarah Barshop reminded readers, every time David Culley has been asked about balancing winning now with thinking about the future of the franchise, the Texans coach has been clear that he is just focused on the team's next game.
Now, after the Texans' 31-0 loss to the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, the biggest focus on the next game for Houston (2-10) will be about which quarterback will be under center in Week 14 against the Seattle Seahawks.
In the third quarter Sunday, quarterback Tyrod Taylor went to the blue medical tent with a left wrist injury, his non-throwing hand. On the Texans' next offensive drive he was replaced by rookie Davis Mills, who finished the game.
After the game, Culley said Taylor hyperextended his wrist, but a team spokesperson said Taylor was healthy enough to return to the game.
The Texans did not make an announcement with an injury update during the game.
On Monday, Culley said the medical staff is "still evaluating" Taylor's injury and that the quarterback "couldn't grip the ball when the ball was snapped to him" during the game.
On Tuesday, John McClain of the Houston Chronicle reported Taylor has ligament damage in his injured left wrist.
However, Culley said maintains no decision had been made as of Wednesday and that whether or not Taylor plays on Sunday "will be a football decision."
On Monday, Culley was asked whether he talked to general manager Nick Caserio on the headset during the game when making the decision to bench Taylor.
"No, I made the decision myself," Culley said.
All season, Culley has said that Taylor is the team's starting quarterback when healthy -- he missed six games with a left hamstring injury -- but he wavered from that after the loss to the Colts.
"When you don't score any points in the game, you evaluate everything," Culley said Sunday after Taylor completed 5 of 13 passes for 45 yards.
None of Taylor's five passes were completed to a wide receiver, and he never led the Texans into Indianapolis territory. One of the reasons Culley continued to point to Taylor giving the Texans a better chance to win is his track record of protecting the football.
While Taylor did not throw an interception in the six quarters he played before his injury, that has not been the case since his return from injured reserve. In those four games, Taylor has thrown five interceptions, including one on the first play of the game against the Colts.
Mills, who completed 6 of 14 passes for 49 yards in relief of Taylor, stated that he's "a better player than I was earlier in the season."
"I know more of the offense now, being in it for longer," Mills said. "I think the comfort builds as you get more playing experience out there."
In Mills' six starts while Taylor was injured, he went 0- 6, and while he showed flashes of playing well, he was inconsistent in his time as the starter.
Although Taylor and Mills have both struggled this season, the truth is that the Texans haven't set up either quarterback to succeed and injuries have made it even worse.
The Texans' reshuffled offensive line is without left tackle Laremy Tunsil and right tackle Marcus Cannon. Center Justin Britt just returned from injured reserve after missing five games with a knee injury. The protection has struggled for Taylor and Mills, and the Texans allowed a combined nine sacks in Weeks 12 and 13.
Barshop went on to remind readers that Houston will enter this offseason with a lot of questions surrounding its quarterback situation. Deshaun Watson is still on the roster, but he could be traded before the NFL draft. Taylor is playing on a one-year deal and Jeff Driskel switched his position to tight end.
The Texans could choose to go with Mills, a third-round pick, in 2022 or use what is trending toward a top-five draft pick on a quarterback.
There isn't a quarterback projected to be worthy of a pick like the Texans will have in the first round if they don't trade down, so there's a chance Mills will be competing to start in 2022.
If he is given the chance to start again this season, it seems unlikely things turn around given the personnel surrounding him.
"Obviously, the job of our quarterback is to score points and get us in the end zone, and we haven't done that very well, and we are going to see what we can do to get that corrected," Culley said. "That's why we are doing the evaluation right now."
Regardless of who starts at quarterback Sunday, the Texans must find a way to jumpstart their slumping offense. While the focus was on the struggles in the passing game against the Colts, the running game continues to be a problem and must improve to help whoever is under center against the Seahawks.
The Texans rank last in the NFL in averaging just 78.8 yards rushing a game.
Associated Press sports writer Kristie Rieken believes if the Texans hope to win again this season, they'll have to take better care of the ball and get back to forcing turnovers. Taylor's interception on the first play Sunday put them in an early hole and they never recovered.
In the Texans' two victories this season, they did not have a turnover and combined for eight takeaways. ...
Also of interest. ... Brandin Cooks caught 3-of-6 targets for 38 yards against the Colts. He also carried the ball once for an additional 16 yards. In a different word, one in which the Texans fielded a competitive offense, Cooks would almost certainly be in the WR1 conversation for fantasy managers.
We do not live in that world.
Play Cooks as a WR3 in a great matchup and hope his own abilities overcome a poor offense against the Seahawks. ...
Rex Burkhead carried the ball eight times for 30 yards in the Texans' Week 13 loss to the Colts. He caught 1-of-2 targets for an additional 15 yards as Houston finished the day with a score. At running back, volume matters and Burkhead has 43 touches over the last three games.
While he clearly hasn't done much with it, those chances keep Burkhead in the flex conversation against the Seahawks.
David Johnson missed the loss to the Colts due to illness and a thigh injury. Although he's taken a backseat to Burkhead, Johnson still had a combined 30 touches over his last two games. So much like it does with Burkhead, volume matters at this position.
That said, Rieken reports that Johnson is questionable this week. I'll have more on his status and the quarterback situation via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.
And finally. ... A healthy scratch in Week 13, Zach Cunningham is no longer with the Texans. The rebuilding team cut ties with the veteran linebacker Wednesday, Tom Pelissero of NFL.com tweets.
Cunningham was scratched for disciplinary reasons Sunday, Sports Talk 790’s Aaron Wilson tweets, and he may soon have a new home. The former second-round pick will head to waivers. He would pass through to free agency if unclaimed by Thursday afternoon.
Culley had disciplined Cunningham at multiple points this season, including recently due to showing up late for a COVID-19 test, Mike Garafolo of NFL Network reported.
QBs: Kyle Allen, Davis Mills
RBs: Dameon Pierce, Rex Burkhead, Eno Benjamin, Dare Ogunbowale, Royce Freeman
WRs: Brandin Cooks, Nico Collins, Chris Moore, Phillip Dorsett, Tyron Johnson
TEs: Jordan Akins, O.J. Howard, Teagan Quitoriano, Brevin Jordan
Indianapolis ColtsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 December 2021
With Titans running back Derrick Henry out with a foot injury, Indianapolis' Jonathan Taylor has taken the baton as the leagues' most productive running back.
After Sunday's 31-0 victory over the Texans, Taylor leads the league with 241 carries, 1,348 rushing yards, 16 rushing touchdowns, 277 touches, 1,684 yards from scrimmage, and 18 total TDs.
He's currently on pace for 362 touches, which is nearly 100 more than he had as a rookie in 2020. In his collegiate career at Wisconsin, he had at least 300 touches in each of his three seasons, totaling 346 with 2,255 yards in 2019.
So there already is some significant mileage on Taylor's proverbial tires. But as Profootballtalk.com's Myles Simmons noted, after Sunday's win, Taylor said he feels "surprisingly good" heading into Indianapolis' bye week.
"That's just a testament to our training staff in there," Taylor told reporters in his press conference. "I am in there all the time, and those guys are taking care of me whether it's prehab or rehab, and then the coaches putting together great schemes. A lot of the runs, they are opening up like the red sea, so I am able to not get touched for a few yards."
As much as the Colts are using Taylor, the young back could likely use a week off. He said he's planning on just relaxing during the bye as the 7-6 Colts gear up for their final four games.
"A lot of body work, a lot of body work. That's most important, your body is your temple," Taylor said. "So, just getting a lot of body work and just getting your mind off of football until the last two days when you kind of reset and start getting back into that mode. But kind of completely unplug so you can refresh and be ready to go for the home stretch."
Meanwhile, ESPN.com's Mike Wells reports there was plenty of eye rolling, questioning and displeasure by some in the Colts organization when the NFL schedule came out back in the spring and they saw their bye wouldn't be until Week 14.
"When I saw it, it was terrible," linebacker Darius Leonard said after Sunday's shutout win.
The tune has changed from many with the Colts after they survived the first 13 weeks of the season -- dealing with foot, ankle, groin and an assortment of other injuries.
The Colts will have Week 14 off to rest and come back ready, because their first two games after the bye will likely dictate their postseason fate, starting on Dec. 18, with Bill Belichick and the 8-4 New England Patriots, a team the Colts have not beaten since 2009. The Colts follow that up with a Christmas night game at the Arizona Cardinals (10-2).
"I feel like every game for us is a playoff game, but I know our next two are against playoff teams," running back Nyheim Hines said. "If we want to go to the playoffs and go where we want to go, we have to beat teams and play with teams like that."
The Colts met Monday for a video session and team photo before the players got the rest of the week off. The coaching staff worked on corrections and start preparing for the Patriots through Wednesday and then they will take the rest of the week off.
What the Colts have going for them is that they don't have any significant injuries they're dealing with It's more of maintenance issues for those dealing with lingering aches and bruises, like Leonard and his season-long ankle problems. Center Ryan Kelly should be back after he was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list on Dec. 4.
"I thought it would be a long stretch," head coach Frank Reich said about the wait to get to the bye week. "Now that we're here, we're healthy and we know the challenge we have in front of us. [The bye] is coming at a great spot."
The Colts (7-6) head into the bye winners of six of their past eight games to maintain their glimmer of hope to make the playoffs. They capped off the first 13 weeks by shutting out Houston, their first shutout since 2018 against Dallas and first road shutout since they blanked New England in 1992.
"T.Y. Hilton said it best Saturday, 'Good teams play down to the level of their competition, but great teams dominate the whole game,'" Leonard said. "So, wanted to come out and completely dominate."
This is the fourth time in as many seasons that the Colts are in the playoff hunt in the month of December under Reich. They made the playoffs in two of those three season. They still have some work to do to make it this season, as they're 10th in the AFC.
"Honestly, it's December, everything feels like a playoff game," quarterback Carson Wentz said. "We know where we're at, what's at stake. Once it's December, it's go time. We always have that feeling … You would love to be in the driver's seat, love to be a little more ahead of the game, so to speak, but makes it fun. Fun atmosphere. The way the AFC is so wide open, every game is so important."
The fun for the Colts includes three of those four games being against teams right in the thick of the playoff race. For so many years it was Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady, and Andrew Luck vs. Brady, in the many Colts vs. Patriots matchups.
Now it'll be Wentz vs. Patriots rookie Mac Jones. It really doesn't matter who is playing quarterback for either team. Indianapolis needs to find a way to beat the Patriots for the first time in 12 years.
The other team they'll face, outside of the Patriots and Cardinals, that's in the mix for the postseason is the Las Vegas Raiders (6-6). The Colts may need to go at least 2-1 against those teams to keep their playoff aspirations alive.
"I think we all know we have an uphill battle," Reich said. "No time for scoreboard watching for us. Have to take them one at a time. We have to be on point with all those games. ..."
One last note here. ... The Eagles are virtually guaranteed to get the Colts' first-round pick in the 2022 NFL draft.
As PFT's Michael David Smith pointed out, the trade that sent Wentz to Indianapolis gave Philadelphia the Colts' first-round pick if Wentz plays at least 75 percent of the Colts' offensive snaps this season. Through Sunday's win over the Texans, Wentz has played 853 of the Colts' 875 snaps this season, or 97.5 percent.
The Colts' offense is on pace to play 1,144 snaps this season, which would mean Wentz needs to play 858 snaps on the season to reach 75 percent. So Wentz only needs to play a grand total of five more snaps over the Colts' final four games to get there.
Barring Wentz suffering a season-ending injury at the start of the Colts' next game, he'll reach the 75 percent threshold.
QBs: Matt Ryan, Nick Foles, Sam Ehlinger
RBs: Jonathan Taylor, Deon Jackson, Zack Moss, Jordan Wilkins, D'Vonte Price
WRs: Michael Pittman Jr., Parris Campbell, Alec Pierce, Ashton Dulin, Mike Strachan
TEs: Mo Alie-Cox, Jelani Woods, Kylen Granson
Jacksonville JaguarsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 December 2021
As NFL.com's Kevin Patra suggested, there seems to be a disconnect in Jacksonville when it comes to the handling of Jaguars starting running back James Robinson.
Coach Urban Meyer said after the Jaguars 37-7 loss to the Los Angeles Rams, which included Robinson having the ball ripped out of his hands by Aaron Donald for a fumble, Robinson's usage was injury-related.
ESPN.com's Mike DiRocco notes that even if it wasn't a careless fumble, it's understandable if offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and running backs coach Bernie Parmalee wanted to punish Robinson for a drive.
But not three drives. Not 20 plays. Not when he's the best offensive player on the roster.
If the Jaguars are going to play Robinson because he's their best option -- and whether he should be playing is definitely debatable -- then put him on the field when the game is still in doubt and use him. You know when he shouldn't be on the field if you're worried about him being banged up?
According to Patra, "When the Jaguars have the ball with less than two minutes to play and are trailing by 30 points."
On Monday, Meyer walked back his comments slightly, noting that Parmalee handles the backfield rotation but added that he plans to be more involved in those decisions moving forward.
"I'm aware of it," Meyer said, via Big Cat Country. "I'm not in charge of it, but I'll watch, and I'll say, 'what's our thoughts here and what's our thoughts there?' Obviously, I didn't do it there with James."
"I am (going to get more involved) because I just gotta make sure to do it the way I want it done."
From Robinson's perspective, the gap in playtime was obvious: He was benched.
The RB was asked outright Monday night on Action Sports Jacksonville's Jags Report Live whether he believes he was benched.
"I would say so," Robinson responded. "Obviously, like I said last week, I mean, that (fumbles) can't happen. When it happens and you're out for that long, you gotta feel that way. I was just waiting my chance to get back in the game, didn't really come until the third quarter."
Asked about the disconnect with the coaching staff that saw him playing in garbage time, Robinson said he didn't even notice how much time was left.
"At the point, toward the end of the game, I wasn't even looking at the clock," he responded. "Probably should've been just resting. I'm not sure what the point of that was."
Whatever the case, the disconnect with how the Jags utilize their best offensive weapon is maddening.
According to DiRocco, the lack of Meyer's awareness of the situation until after the fact is even worse and underscores the pervasive issues that have characterized the coach's first year in Jacksonville and it's just the latest example of the curious way this new Jaguars regime has treated Robinson, who, as an undrafted rookie, ran for 1,070 yards and seven touchdowns in 2020.
Meyer and GM Trent Baalke (who was with the team in 2020) went out and signed Hyde in free agency and drafted Travis Etienne Jr. 25th overall.
Granted, Meyer said the plan before an injury ended Etienne's season was to use the quick and shifty athlete in multiple spots, but that also included taking snaps as a running back.
Meyer told Robinson to get faster in the offseason, and when Robinson showed up for training camp, DiRocco believes the running back looked a little more explosive. But when the first unofficial depth chart was released in the preseason, it listed Robinson or Hyde as the first-string running back.
Hyde played for Meyer at Ohio State, so there's a relationship there, and Meyer has said numerous times this season that Hyde is a pretty good player too. Hyde does have a 1,000-yard season and two others when he topped 900 yards rushing, but he turned 31 in September, and he's not Robinson's equal (Robinson entered Sunday's game averaging 5.1 yards per carry this season; Hyde was 3.2).
Bevell was reluctant to use Robinson early in the season, giving him just five carries in the opener and 11 the following week. The workload increased until Robinson's injury, which is understandable.
Then came the past two games.
Robinson fumbled against Atlanta on Nov. 28 and then sat for 16 consecutive plays. After the game, Meyer said he didn't know why Robinson wasn't on the field and he'd need to talk to Bevell and Parmalee to find out why. Meyer's answer the next day, after talking with both: "[It's because of the] rotation and then he's still not 100 percent."
He answered the same way after Sunday's loss, saying that Robinson would have been back on the field after his fumble had he been completely healthy.
Hyde, by the way, fumbled late in the third quarter and sat out several plays on the Jaguars' next drive, but he still got a carry later in the drive.
Beyond all this, though, DiRocco believes the important thing for the Jaguars to consider now is whether they should sit Robinson for a week or two or even the rest of the season. Robinson clearly isn't at the same level he was before he suffered the hyperextended knee and heel bruise in the Jaguars' loss to Seattle on Oct. 31.
He missed the following game after the injury -- the improbable 9-6 victory over the Buffalo Bills -- but he didn't have the same burst through the hole when he returned the next week.
Robinson looked better the two games after that, but the setback he had during practice last week was concerning enough to get the staff at least thinking about shutting him down. DiRocco believes that might be the best thing for him to avoid making the injuries worse.
"At least everyone would know why he's not on the field," DiRocco added. ...
Meanwhile, Associated Press sports writer Mark Long contends Jacksonville's offense is in such disarray that it's nearly impossible to measure any progress rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence might be making.
The No. 1 overall draft pick completed 16 of 28 passes for 145 yards against the Rams. He was plagued by more drops and pressured often by a defensive front widely considered the best in the NFL. Adding insult to misery, Lawrence got his helmet slammed against the turf by former Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey following a twisting tackle and took a shot to the face -- no penalty was called -- on a sack in the waning minutes.
"I want to move past this one and go get the next one," Lawrence said.
"He was talking about the game," Long wrote. "He might as well have been referring to the season."
Lawrence has one touchdown pass in his last five starts, a woeful stretch in which he's been held under 200 yards passing four times.
He's getting little help from his supporting cast -- the Jaguars are without Etienne, D.J. Chark Jr., Jamal Agnew and Dan Arnold -- and hasn't had much of a complementary ground game thanks to Robinson's ongoing issues.
Lawrence's debut season has been so pedestrian that he's now drawing comparisons to fellow top draft picks who struggled as rookies: Troy Aikman in Dallas, Peyton Manning in Indianapolis and Matthew Stafford in Detroit.
One difference: Lawrence is starting out in a league built for passing and scoring.
Jacksonville is doing neither and might now be dealing with confidence issues after averaging a paltry 12.3 points in six games since its bye week.
The offense failed to top the 200-yard mark for the second time in 12 games. It's never happened three times in any of the franchise's 26 previous years.
It happened twice in coach Doug Marrone's four seasons (2017-20), four times in Gus Bradley's four seasons (2013-16), twice in Mike Mularkey's one year (2012), six times in Jack Del Rio's nine seasons (2003-11), and three times in Tom Coughlin's eight years (1995-2002).
There are still five games remaining, but the Jaguars appear headed for the top draft pick again.
Detroit won (1-10-1) and has shown signs of improvement. Houston is also 2-11, but the Texans have already beaten the Jaguars once (they play again in Jacksonville on Dec. 19). There have been five instances when a team had the first overall pick in back-to-back drafts.
The latest was Cleveland in 2017-18, picks that netted the Browns Myles Garrett and Baker Mayfield.
More immediately, the Jaguars will try to end a seven-game skid in Nashville and a 14-game road losing streak, both franchise records.
I'll have more on Robinson and the running back situation via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
For the record, there's not a much fantasy meat on this bone beyond Robinson. That said, it's worth noting that Laquan Treadwell, the 23rd overall pick in the 2016 NFL draft, has led Jacksonville in receiving the last two games. He has eight catches for 115 yards, taking on a bigger role in the wake of Agnew's season-ending hip injury.
QBs: Trevor Lawrence, C.J. Beathard
RBs: Travis Etienne Jr., JaMycal Hasty, Darrell Henderson, Snoop Conner
WRs: Christian Kirk, Zay Jones, Marvin Jones, Jamal Agnew, Tim Jones, Kendric Pryor
TEs: Evan Engram, Dan Arnold, Chris Manhertz, Luke Farrell
Kansas City ChiefsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 December 2021
As Associated Press sports writer Dave Skretta framed it, "The Kansas City Chiefs have reached the end zone so regularly on their opening offensive possession this season that their opponents might as well stop wasting time and just give them the seven points.
"The rest of the game is another matter. ..."
Once the Chiefs are forced to deviate from their opening script -- the set of roughly 15 plays that are carefully curated and crafted throughout a week of preparation -- things begin to go sideways. According to Skretta, "Their once-dynamic offense looks more like a wet firecracker, forcing their once-maligned defense to bail them out in a series of nail-biting victories."
The Chiefs (8-4) have still won five in a row to lead the AFC West, but they hardly look like themselves.
"Obviously we feel like we're not playing our best football," Patrick Mahomes said after a 22-9 victory over the Broncos on Sunday night. "We have spurts where we're really good and spurts where we're not scoring and finishing drives."
Their latest win is a perfect example. The Chiefs drove 72 yards in 12 plays, an average of 6 yards per, and Mahomes capped the drive with a 10-yard touchdown run. The Chiefs ran 42 plays for 195 yards the rest of the game, an average of 4.64 per, and their only other touchdown came on Daniel Sorensen's 75-yard pick-6 in the fourth quarter.
That's not an outlier, either. It's more like a pattern.
In their previous game against Dallas, the Chiefs went 86 yards in nine plays for a touchdown on their opening drive, then ran 57 plays for 284 yards the rest of the way. Against the Packers, they opened with a 15-play, 64-yard drive for their only TD and gained 173 yards the rest of the day. Against the Giants, they went 70 yards in 13 plays before an interception cost them a chance to score, then gained 298 yards on 64 plays the rest of the game.
During their five-game win streak, the only game they didn't score a touchdown on their opening possession came against the Raiders, when they went three-and-out. But they promptly marched 89 yards in 11 plays for a TD on their next drive.
In their first 12 games, they've scored seven touchdowns and a field goal on their first drives. Two other drives went at least 10 plays before ending in an interception. Only two of their opening possessions resulted in a punt.
The Chiefs have averaged nearly 7 yards per play on their opening drives and 5 1/2 the rest of the game.
"We need to take care of some of these little things that are happening here that are killing drives," said head coach Andy Reid, who spent Sunday night lamenting penalties and dropped passes that cost his team against Denver.
"Again, it's my responsibility to make sure that happens," Reid added, "and we'll do that."
Dropped passes are difficult to track, but the Chiefs are probably among the league leaders in them.
Tyreek Hill had a pass bounce off himself for an interception against Denver, the third time that's happened this season, and Byron Pringle and Travis Kelce also had drops on what became a forgettable night for Kansas City's wide receivers.
Hill and Kelce rarely have poor games at the same time, but they did Sunday night.
Hill's drop was the lowlight of a game in which he caught two passes for 22 yards, and Kelce was little better with three catches for 27 yards.
After Sunday's game, Mahomes said his ball placement could've been better and if someone drops a pass, he's going to keep throwing to him.
Asked about Hill's drops in his Monday press conference, Reid said it's not just one simple thing plaguing the receiver.
"Yeah well, I mean, every route is different that things have happened on," Reid said (via Profootballtalk.com). "Going back to the basics I think is important. Some of these things come in cycles like that where sometimes the ball looks big and sometimes it looks small. Kind of like batters in baseball so you just got to refocus it back on the fundamentals and go right back to square one. See the tip of the ball, squeeze it and the tuck and then do that at mock speed and with whatever elements are out there. Just put all that together."
Despite the struggles, Hill still leads the Chiefs with 86 catches, 954 yards receiving, and eight receiving touchdowns. He should easily hit 1,000 yards for the fourth time in his six seasons. And with two more receptions, he'll set a new single-season career-high.
But the Chiefs need to be more efficient on offense down the stretch and Hill reducing the drops will aid in that process.
One thing working in the offense's favor has been the rushing attack.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Darrel Williams combined to carry 19 times for 74 yards against Denver while catching six passes for 88 yards.
That kind of diversity is precisely what Reid seeks of running backs in his offense. ...
For what it's worth, Williams now has 720 yards from scrimmage this season, which ranks fifth among running backs with less than 150 touches.
The Chiefs have a one-game lead on the Chargers and two on the Broncos and Raiders heading into their game against Las Vegas on Sunday. They also are tied with the Titans and Ravens in the AFC, though they lost in head-to-head matchups with Tennessee and Baltimore.
The good news?
The defense continues to pick up the slack as the offense struggles.
Kansas City yielded a grand total of nine points on Sunday, marking the fifth-consecutive game in which the defense held the opposition under 18 points. The Chiefs are allowing just 11.2 points-per-game since Week 8 -- the second-lowest mark in the NFL -- while surrendering the lowest third-down conversion rate (25.8 percent) in that time.
One last note here. ... Harrison Butker connected on all three of his field goal attempts on Sunday, including a 56-yard kick into the wind. The successful kick marked Butker's fifth field goal of at least 50 yards this season, setting a franchise single-season record.
The previous record was shared by Nick Lowery (1980), Cairo Santos (2015) and Butker (2017 and 2020). The five-year veteran now has the record all to himself.
QBs: Patrick Mahomes, Chad Henne, Shane Buechele
RBs: Isiah Pacheco, Jerick McKinnon, Ronald Jones, Clyde Edwards-Helaire
WRs: JuJu Smith-Schuster, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Justin Watson, Skyy Moore, Kadarius Toney, Mecole Hardman
TEs: Travis Kelce, Noah Gray, Jody Fortson, Blake Bell
Las Vegas RaidersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 December 2021
A few weeks ago, Derek Carr stood up at the podium after a lopsided loss and proclaimed that this year's version of the Raiders would be different and could avoid another collapse in the second half of the season.
As Associated Press sports writer Josh Dubow reported, after the Raiders fell to Washington 17-15 on Sunday for their fourth loss in five games to deal a big blow to their dwindling playoff hopes, Carr was far less optimistic.
Another game plagued by slow starts on offense and an inability to finish drives with touchdowns have taken a big toll on the Raiders (6-6).
"That's frustrating. You know because you try to emphasize, you try to fix it, and you go and it doesn't happen," Carr said. "It happens one time, and it doesn't happen every time. Each play tells its own story. It's frustrating, I wish I could stand up here and break down the whole thing. ... To answer your question, it is frustrating that you emphasize something, it looks good one week, then the other week, and then it's not. We just got to keep working."
After a promising start to the season with a 5-2 record, the Raiders have fallen apart since the bye week as the resignation of coach Jon Gruden following the publication of his offensive emails and the release of receiver Henry Ruggs III following a fatal DUI crash have taken a toll.
Las Vegas has scored 16 points of fewer six times in the past nine games, losing all of them as the offense has struggled. The Raiders settled for field goals twice after getting to the Washington 20 or closer, giving them a league-high 43 field goals from inside 40 yards the past two seasons.
"I think it's a mindset," running back Josh Jacobs said. "I think we kind of just coast a little too much. It's definitely frustrating."
In the three-game losing streak, the Raiders scored 16, 14, and 13 points. They broke out of it with a 36-point performance against Dallas on Thanksgiving.
But at 6-6 with Kansas City on tap next week, the Raiders are going to have to score more points more consistently to claim one of the AFC's seven playoff spots.
In a development that can't hurt. ... Tight end Darren Waller is making incremental improvement from a knee injury he suffered against the Cowboys.
After Waller missed Sunday's loss to Washington due to the injury, interim coach Rich Bisaccia said on Monday afternoon that Waller is now day-to-day with the injury -- and that he is also dealing with an oblique/ribs injury. Last week, Bisaccia said Waller was week-to-week.
This means that Waller has a chance to play on Sunday at Kansas City.
Bisaccia said the team hopes to see continued progress this week. If Waller can't play against Kansas City and doesn't suffer a significant setback, he very likely should be ready to play at the Cleveland Browns on Saturday, Dec. 18.
Bisaccia said running back Kenyan Drake will have ankle surgery in Alabama later this week, he is out for the season.
Drake, who was carted off the field after being tackled and twisted down awkwardly from behind by Washington's Daniel Wise midway through the second quarter, took to Twitter Sunday night to say that the tackle that injured him "should be an illegal form of tackling like a horse collar."
Bisaccia said Monday that Drake was frustrated since he suffered a similar injury last season, when he had a high right ankle sprain in Week 7 while playing for the Cardinals against the Seattle Seahawks. He mi
The Raiders also have lost fullback Alec Ingold for the season with a torn ACL in his right knee and backup running back Jalen Richard was placed on the COVID list the morning of the Washington game.
I'll have more on Waller, who was not on the practice field Wednesday, and Richard via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
Also of interest. ... The one bright spot offensively for the Raiders most of the season has been the play of Hunter Renfrow in the passing game. He had a career-high nine passes on 10 targets for 102 yards, giving him back-to-back games with at least 100 yards receiving for the second straight week.
Carr has a 111.1 rating when targeting Renfrow this season.
One issue: Carr's average completion traveled only 4.3 yards downfield as he settled for check downs several times, especially early in the game. The Raiders have had much more success this season when Carr has pushed the ball down the field, with the average completion going 7.7 yards downfield in wins and just 4.9 in losses.
As ESPN.com's Paul Gutierrez explained, Carr is, by nature, a patient quarterback. But when he's not taking deep shots -- and firing high to open receivers -- in a game for the taking, it stings.
QBs: Derek Carr, Jarrett Stidham
RBs: Josh Jacobs, Zamir White, Ameer Abdullah, Brandon Bolden, Brittain Brown
WRs: Davante Adams, Mack Hollins, Keelan Cole, DJ Turner, Hunter Renfrow
TEs: Foster Moreau, Jesper Horsted, Jacob Hollister, Darren Waller
Los Angeles ChargersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 December 2021
Head coach Brandon Staley said last week he was looking for that performance from which he could say the defense was the driving factor in a win.
He finally got that on Sunday against Cincinnati.
Los Angeles forced four turnovers, including a defensive touchdown, and sacked Joe Burrow six times in its 41-22 victory over the Bengals.
It is the first time since 2016 the Chargers have had at least six sacks. The four takeaways made for the second time that has happened this season.
"I felt like defensively, we really wanted to put on our performance down the home stretch when it's crunch time, every game matters, and a game where the defense has to pull us out of the mud," said linebacker Drue Tranquill, who tied for the team lead with 10 tackles. "It got highlighted at Denver when we weren't able to create those turnovers to swing the pendulum back to the offense's favor. I felt like we were able to do that yesterday."
The beleaguered run defense, which came in allowing 145.3 yards per game, held Mixon to 54 yards after he rushed for 165 the week before against Pittsburgh. Burrow was pressured 17 times according to Next-Gen stats, the most he has been under duress this season. It also tied for a season high by the Chargers.
"I've seen the improvement in our defense. There's been some uneven times, as you guys know, but I've seen the improvement," Staley said to reporters. "Any time you force a fumble, score on defense and then in the power-red area get an interception, you're going to have a great day. Our defense won the day for us. ... Because in that second half when it got tight, we had some really big stops. And then we finished the fourth quarter with a 'bagel.' I'm just really proud of our defensive staff and players."
Los Angeles will need similar efforts over the next couple weeks.
It faces the New York Giants on Sunday, then has a short week to prepare for AFC West leader Kansas City on Dec. 16. The Chargers are 7-5, equaling their win total from last year, and currently have the second AFC wild-card spot.
As for the offense, Associated Press sports writer Joe Reedy notes those who were clamoring for Justin Herbert to throw deep more finally got their wish. He completed a career-high five passes in the air for 20 yards or more, which is only the fifth time since 2000 a Chargers quarterback has done that in a game.
The last time was exactly 10 years ago by Philip Rivers on Dec. 5, 2011, against Jacksonville. Herbert has 19 completions on deep passes this season. He had 24 last year.
But there are problems heading into this week's game against the Giants.
Austin Ekeler is second among NFL running backs in scrimmage yards (1,181) and total touchdowns (15), but he is tied for the lead with Washington's Antonio Gibson in lost fumbles with three. Ekeler coughed it up twice in a game for the first time in his five-year career on Sunday and the Bengals took advantage with a pair of touchdowns with a short field.
The Chargers are without a consistent backup running back, and Ekeler is going to receive more carries the later it gets into the season.
Meanwhile, leading receiver Keenan Allen was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list on Monday, putting his availability for Sunday's game against the New York Giants in doubt.
Staley said that Allen's status "is day-to-day right now, and hopefully we'll have some good news on him in the next few days."
Allen leads the Chargers with 86 receptions and 929 receiving yards this season and has four touchdown receptions.
If Allen is vaccinated -- and NFL Network's Taylor Bisciotti reports that is the case, he will need two negative tests 24 hours apart and to be asymptomatic for 48 hours before he can return.
Against the Bengals, Allen had two touchdown receptions and threw a pass to Herbert for a 2-point conversion.
But wait. ... It gets worse. Bisciotti reported on Wednesday that Mike Williams was placed on reserve/COVID as well.
Williams just secured his third 100-yard game this season: five catches for 110 yards, including receptions of 41 and 47 yards. Williams leads the NFL with seven catches of 40 yards or more and is on pace for over 1,200 yards receiving, which would be a career high.
I'll obviously have more on Allen and Williams via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
Meanwhile, some positive notes. ... Herbert became the fastest quarterback in league history to 700 completions. He finished Sunday 26-of-35 for 317 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. On Tuesday, he was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week for that performance.
Herbert now has 15 300-yard games in 27 career starts.
Ekeler has now scored at least one touchdown in four straight and in five of his last six games. He's the first Chargers player with at least 15 scrimmage touchdowns since Hall of Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson had 18 total scores in 2007.
QBs: Justin Herbert, Chase Daniel, Easton Stick
RBs: Austin Ekeler, Isaiah Spiller, Joshua Kelley, Sony Michel
WRs: Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Josh Palmer, DeAndre Carter, Michael Bandy, Jason Moore, Jalen Guyton
TEs: Gerald Everett, Tre' McKitty, Donald Parham
Los Angeles RamsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 December 2021
As Stu Jackson of the Rams official website noted, wide receiver Cooper Kupp's decorated 2021 season has added more milestones.
Kupp finished with eight catches for 129 yards and one touchdown to help the Rams defeat the Jaguars 37-7 on Sunday at SoFi Stadium.
In the process, he hit 100 receptions on the season (a new career-high), 11 receiving touchdowns (also a new career-high) and became the third Rams wide receiver to collect 100 or more catches in a single season, joining Isaac Bruce (119 in 1995) and Torry Holt (117 in 2003; 102 in 2005).
Kupp also set a new franchise record with his eighth-straight game of seven more or receptions and tied Pro Football Hall-of-Famer Elroy Hirsch's single season record (1951) with his eighth-consecutive game of 90 or more receiving yards.
The bulk of that production on Sunday came in the second half, with 107 of those 129 yards coming in across the third and fourth quarters and in key moments.
He hauled in a 43-yard pass from quarterback Matthew Stafford that eventually led to a 29-yard touchdown pass from Stafford to him on the Rams' first offensive series of the second half. Receptions of 8 and 19 yards midway through the third quarter progressed a drive that ended with a 2-yard touchdown pass from Stafford to wide receiver Van Jefferson. For good measure, he hauled in an 8-yard pass from Stafford for a conversion on 3rd-and-2, that, along with a roughing the passer penalty against the Jaguars, kept alive the Rams drive that ended with a 1-yard touchdown pass from Stafford to Beckham.
All told, he directly affected each of Los Angeles' three second-half scoring drives that grew their lead to 30 and quickly put the game out of Jacksonville's reach.
"I mean, he does everything right, you know?" Stafford said postgame. "I don't know, people probably watch him on TV and think he's 5'10 and runs 4.6 and all that kind of stuff. He's 6'2, 210, and runs great. He's got a great feel for the game. He's a great competitor. He understands the game. He does everything right. He leads that receiver group in the right way, so I pinch myself every day. Just happy I get a chance to play with a guy like that. I have a lot of respect for how he goes about his business and how he goes about attacking each opportunity, whether it be practice or games. And then he's great on game day. Run after the catch, getting open versus man, feeling voids versus zone. He's got a great feel for the game of football."
Told he reached 100 receptions during his postgame press conference, Kupp said he wasn't aware he had reached that mark, but was just happy they got the victory.
That will always be the case, no matter how many catches he gets. If he had finished with the three catches for 22 yards he had in the first half -- which led to a field goal by kicker Matt Gay and gave the Rams a 16-7 halftime lead in an eventual victory -- he would've be been satisfied.
Ultimately, his production led to a win, and that's all that matters.
"Glad we got a W, that's the goal at the end of the day," Kupp said. "If it means 10 catches a game, two catches a game, it doesn't really matter -- I just want to be a part of producing, be a part of moving our team forward, being a positive for us."
Indeed, the Rams stopped a three-game losing streak with a win over the Jaguars even if it wasn't exactly the type of victory that immediately returns the star-laden roster to the Super Bowl conversation.
Consistency in all three phases remains a pressing matter, even as Stafford reestablished a connection with Kupp and continues to build a rapport with Odell Beckham Jr. The defense produced two turnovers, and special teams remained less than special.
With the win, the Rams proved, once again, they could beat up on a floundering team, but questions remain about whether they can take down the top talent.
But are they ready for the Cardinals?
As ESPN.com's Lindsey Thiry noted, outside of an impressive Week 3 win over the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Rams have struggled to perform against the NFC's top teams this season. After dominating the Cardinals the past four years, winning seven straight, the Rams fell 37-20 to quarterback Kyler Murray and the Cardinals in a Week 4 rout.
The Rams will get another chance against the division leaders on Monday Night Football, with an opportunity to prove they still deserve to be among teams capable of a Super Bowl run. ...
Also of interest. ... Sony Michel produced the Rams' first 100-yard rushing game of the season even against the Jaguars' loaded box. An ability to gain yards after contact has been sorely missed by the Rams since Todd Gurley's departure, and McVay could see how much better his offense ran with Michel breaking tackles.
"I thought he really established himself," McVay said.
That being the case, Associated Press sports writer Greg Beacham believes Darrell Henderson Jr. should lose playing time to Michel when he returns from his thigh injury. Henderson was technically available Sunday, but Michel's excellence kept Henderson on the sideline. Henderson has been an adequate back when healthy in his three NFL seasons, but he has run for 100 yards just once, back in September 2020.
In fact, asked on Tuesday if he sees Michel assuming lead back role, regardless of Henderson's health, McVay replied: "I think it's really good to get Sony going. I think he's a rhythm runner, but I think we definitely would want to find ways to still have Darrell as a big part of it."
I'll be watching for more on Henderson’s' tender quad in coming days; check the Late-Breaking Updates section for more.
One last note here. ... The Rams waived wide receiver J.J. Koski on Tuesday.
QBs: Bryce Perkins, John Wolford, Matthew Stafford
RBs: Cam Akers, Kyren Williams, Ronnie Rivers
WRs: Van Jefferson, Ben Skowronek, Brandon Powell, Tutu Atwell, Lance McCutcheon, Cooper Kupp, Allen Robinson
TEs: Tyler Higbee, Kendall Blanton, Brycen Hopkins
Miami DolphinsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 December 2021
As Associated Press sports writer Tim Reynolds framed it: "Mark it down: The Miami Dolphins will not win a game this week.
"Bye weeks are undefeated."
And, at least in some corners of the Dolphins locker room right now, they're also unwanted.
The Dolphins beat the New York Giants 20-9 on Sunday to run their winning streak to five games, continuing to eradicate some of the stench from the seven-game losing streak that immediately preceded this run of victories. They're rolling right now, which explains why some players sound like they would happily forgo the four-day break from official team activities that starts Thursday.
"Me personally, I'd rather just keep going," linebacker Jerome Baker said. "We're hot right now."
Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa had a slightly different perspective.
"I understand what Bake's saying," Tagovailoa said. "I think it goes both ways. You take some time off, but you're not really taking time off."
For starters, it's not really a "bye week." It's more like a bye half-week, and that's just from the physical side of football. Tagovailoa said the mental work would continue, and head coach Brian Flores and players were in the facility on Monday. They'll do a walk-through on Wednesday, Flores said.
From there, the mini-vacations can begin. Players and coaches, if they so choose, head out of town for some relaxation. Some may just stick close to home; after all, a recent cool snap is ending and temperatures in Miami by the end of the week will be in the low-to-mid 80s.
"Our guys have got to be smart," Flores said. "They'll have some time off, but my big message to them is be safe, spend some time with your family, go, enjoy yourself, relax -- but be safe. That's the big thing. Enjoy yourselves. They've earned it, but be safe."
Some found it puzzling that the Dolphins didn't want their bye week after playing in London earlier this season. In the 60 instances to that point of a team playing in London since the NFL began its International Series in 2007, 55 had a bye week to follow. The Dolphins went a different route, as they did once before.
They kept working and, eventually, got on a winning streak.
"A lot was made of that and, I think, maybe opinions are different now," Flores said of not having the post-London bye. "I don't know. But like I said then, this is the schedule we have and we're just going to play it out. It's good to have some time right now for us to reassess, re-evaluate, and for the players to get some rest."
One thing that doesn't need much reassessment or re-evaluation is the defense.
Miami has given up 55 points in the five-game winning streak. The Dolphins have yielded only four touchdowns in those games, and one of those was an easy one set up by Cam Newton connecting on a 64-yard pass. Otherwise, field goals, turnovers or punts have been the end result of almost all opposing drives.
Another component that's on point?
Wide receiver Jaylen Waddle is catching the ball more than any rookie ever has.
Waddle has 86 catches through 13 games, putting him on pace to break the NFL's rookie record.
As Profootballtalk.com's Michael Davis Smith reminded readers, the current rookie record is owned by Anquan Boldin, who had 101 catches in 2003 as a rookie with the Cardinals. Waddle is on pace to finish this season with 112 catches over 17 games.
At his current pace, Waddle would break Boldin's record in the Dolphins' 16th game of the season, so he isn't only poised to break the record because the season is longer.
Waddle is catching mostly short passes and averaging less than 10 yards a catch this season, so he hasn't had the highlight-reel big plays of Bengals rookie receiver Ja'Marr Chase, who 109 more yards than Waddle on 31 fewer catches. But with the workload the Dolphins are throwing at Waddle, he's making the most of it.
As for the shorter passes. ... ESPN.com's Marcel Louis-Jacques contends until the Dolphins develop a more consistent run game, expect this kind of stat line from Tagovailoa -- a lot of attempts and a lot of short, quick passes.
Against the Giants, the second-year quarterback completed 30-of-41 passes for 244 yards and two touchdowns -- that's 8.1 yards per completion.
He completed 5-of-12 passes beyond 10 yards but connected on 21-of-24 passes within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. Tagovailoa's numbers would have looked a little prettier were it not for a handful of drops by Dolphins receivers. And you can't argue with results. He put up big numbers in Week 5 and Week 6 -- both losses -- so as long as this system continues to work, don't expect it to change.
After this week off, the Dolphins play host to the Jets on Dec. 19.
Can the Dolphins win out?
When Miami stopped its losing streak in Week 9, the goal was to get to .500 by the time it traveled to New Orleans in Week 16. But with the Saints and Tennessee Titans looking increasingly vulnerable, and the Patriots gunning for a No. 1 seed (and possibly resting starters in Week 18) Louis-Jacques believes it is suddenly conceivable that the Dolphins' win streak lasts through the regular season.
They are getting healthier and peaking at the right time.
"If they didn't lose seven of their first eight games, we would be talking about them a lot more as the hottest team in the NFL," Louis-Jacques added.
A few final items. ... Kicker Jason Sanders is up to six missed field goals this season, though Sanders made a big one at the end Sunday to put the game away. At 74 percent for the season, he's on pace for his least-accurate year in the four he's spent with Miami.
And last. ... Receiver Will Fuller gets another week now to try and get back on the field. The Dolphins aren't sure of the status of RB Patrick Laird, who left Sunday's game with a knee injury. "We're going to have a little extra time to let guys heal. We're still running some tests and we'll see where that is," Flores said.
While Flores was vague, NFL Network's Tom Pelissero reported Laird is expected to miss multiple weeks with an MCL sprain and could land on injured reserve
But DeVante Parker was healthy on Sunday and he played an important role in the win over the Giants. Now he has a week off before the team begins to prep for the New York Jets when they return from the bye week. That will be plenty of time to get him to 100 percent if he isn't quite there.
QBs: Tua Tagovailoa, Teddy Bridgewater, Skylar Thompson
RBs: Jeff Wilson, Raheem Mostert, Myles Gaskin, Salvon Ahmed
WRs: Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle, Trent Sherfield, Cedrick Wilson, Erik Ezukanma, Tanner Conner
TEs: Mike Gesicki, Durham Smythe, Adam Shaheen, Hunter Long, Cethan Carter
Minnesota VikingsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 December 2021
As Associated Press sports writer Dave Campbell noted, the aggressive, clever and confident defense that became a hallmark of the Vikings under coach Mike Zimmer has been mostly missing for two years, and this vanishing act was never more pronounced than the last drive in Detroit on Sunday.
Pass by pass, Jared Goff led the Lions on a methodical 75-yard march to their first victory of the year with a touchdown that ended the game.
The Vikings (5-7) were supposed to use the afternoon to rejuvenate their push for the postseason. By losing on yet another as-time-expired play, they've not only put the playoffs but the jobs of Zimmer and his staff in further jeopardy.
The 29-27 loss to the Lions had that look of a team that's just not destined to be successful this year, no matter how many bad breaks they've endured.
"Obviously our backs are to the wall, but they've been back against the wall for a while," said Zimmer, who has overseen a 13-19 stretch by the Vikings since Dec. 15, 2019.
The Vikings have allowed an average of 406 yards over the past six weeks, the worst mark in the NFL during that span.
The offense was not without fault, with the first six possessions resulting in two punts, one lost fumble, one turnover on downs and two field goals after stalled drives reached the 19 and the 9.
"We just seemed methodical and lethargic in the first half," Zimmer said.
The Vikings failed on all three of their 2-point conversion attempts and are just 1 for 7 this season. They were 8 for 12 last year. The first two 2-point play calls on Sunday left plenty of room to question offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak.
Kene Nwangwu took the handoff on the first one after a fake jet sweep to K.J. Osborn and was stonewalled after making his cut, off right tackle. With six linemen, two tight ends and a fullback in the formation for the second one, Alexander Mattison ran a simple dive to the right that went nowhere.
Greg Joseph has missed three extra points this year, but had Zimmer settled for a kick each time, assuming a make, the Vikings would've likely gone to overtime instead of losing on the last play.
There were obvious positives.
Even after Adam Thielen was injured on the sixth play of the game, Kirk Cousins kept up his rhythm with superstar Justin Jefferson for 11 receptions, 182 yards and the go-ahead touchdown with 1:50 left. Tyler Conklin and Osborn stepped up, too.
Cousins has thrown for 1,213 yards and nine touchdowns with one interception in the past four games.
The downfield passing attack is this team's greatest strength. Lately, it's only been held back by conservative play-calling or decision-making.
For the record, Thielen suffered a high ankle sprain on Sunday, a source told ESPN's Adam Schefter.
He was officially ruled out on Thursday.
Running back Dalvin Cook (shoulder) practiced in a limited capacity Tuesday and Wednesday after being listed as a DNP on Monday; he is listed as questionable.
I'll have more on Cook involved via Late-Breaking Update in advance of Thursday night's kickoff. ...
Meanwhile, Mattison, filling in for Cook against the Lions, found room between the end zones, picking up 124 yards on 25 touches, including an 8-yard touchdown run in which he fought through multiple defenders.
He carried 22 times for 90 yards, giving him 315 yards in the three games he has started this season with Cook out.
Mattison has carried 73 times in those games, giving him an average of 4.3 yards per carry. But when Mattison has relieved Cook in games this season, it's been a different story. He has carried 37 times for 90 yards for a meager average of 2.4.
"I think for anyone playing this game, getting in a rhythm helps," Mattison said Monday. "So, I think that contributes. I'm the type of back that likes to play downhill, so the more it piles up, I guess, the better the game can go for me."
He will get another start against Pittsburgh if Cook isn't ready. ...
With Washington (6-6) and San Francisco (6-6) currently holding the last two NFC wild-card spots, the Vikings are in tiebreaker trouble. Washington (5-2) has a superior record in NFC games than Minnesota (4-4), and San Francisco has the head-to-head victory on Nov. 28. Four other seven-loss teams -- Philadelphia, Carolina, Atlanta and New Orleans -- are crowding the Vikings, too.
Winning four of the last five games would probably get them in the postseason, but even winning out wouldn't guarantee entry. At this point, a top-10 draft pick appears more likely than the playoffs.
Given all that, ESPN.com's Courtney Cronin wonders if the Vikings might not be close to making changes to the coaching staff/front office.
Have Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf seen enough to want to change the direction of this franchise?
Minnesota got embarrassed by a team with an 0-10-1 record, and one that had a 20-6 lead on the Vikings at halftime. The Wilfs saw passes sail well short of the sticks on second and third-and-long all day, and two questionable 2-point playcalls drawn up that failed. They saw the Lions win a game after finishing 2-for-11 on third down. They saw ill-fated gameplans on offense and defense. Now the question is whether Minnesota's owners will make changes to its coaching staff and/or front office, and if they do, will those come in the month of December or not until the offseason?
One last note here. ... The Vikings activated veteran Patrick Peterson from the reserve/COVID-19 list, likely signaling the former All-Pro will make his return on Thursday Night Football against the Steelers. He was listed as a full practice participant Tuesday afternoon.
Peterson was placed on the list on Nov. 29 and missed the Vikings' Week 13 matchup against the Lions, which Detroit won 29-27.
The 31-year-old has played in just two games since he suffered a hamstring injury in Week 7. The injury landed him on injured reserve and kept him off the field for the next four games, marking the first time in his career he's missed a game due to an injury.
QBs: Kirk Cousins, Nick Mullens
RBs: Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison, C.J. Ham, Kene Nwangwu, Ty Chandler
WRs: Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, K.J. Osborn, Jalen Reagor, Jalen Nailor, Olabisi Johnson
TEs: T.J. Hockenson, Johnny Mundt, Ben Ellefson, Nick Muse, Irv Smith Jr.
New England PatriotsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 December 2021
As NFL.com's Kevin Patra noted, Bill Belichick was as juiced as he's been in recent memory for a regular-season win when he pumped his fist on the sideline following a fourth-down stop that secured a New England Patriots 14-10 win over Buffalo.
The legendary coach got a victory in a game in which his quarterback attempted just three passes, and his defense allowed just 10 points and 230 yards to a team that entered the week tied for second in points scored and fifth in total yards for the season.
Belichick's giddiness over the victory, which put them 1.5 games up in the AFC East with their bye week ahead, spilled over into Tuesday morning.
Asked on The Greg Hill Show on WEEI if anything from Monday night's game can help the Pats to prepare for the rematch against the Bills in Week 16, Belichick quipped:
"We can use our whole passing game. All the pass plays that we have they haven't seen."
With Mac Jones going 2-of-3 passing for 19 yards, the Patriots became the first team to win a game with three or fewer pass attempts since the Bills in a 16-12 win versus the New York Jets in Week 3, 1974.
They are the first team to win a game with fewer than three completions since the Denver Broncos in a 17-10 win in Week 17, 2011 at Kansas City -- Tim Tebow was 2 of 8 for 69 yards in that game.
New England also became the first team to win a game with fewer than 20 passing yards since the Carolina Panthers in a 10-3 win at Atlanta in Week 16, 2006 (11 yards).
And the Pats are the first team to have 200-plus more rushing yards (222) than net passing yards (19) in a game this season. The last team to do so was the Ravens in Week 17, 2020, when they rushed for 404 yards and passed for 121.
Perhaps more importantly for Belichick's happy mood, the Pats moved to 6-0 on the road this season and have won seven straight road games dating back to last year, which is the longest active streak in the NFL.
Belichick also posted his 36th win against Buffalo.
The run-heavy victory even had Belichick in the mood to make subtle puns.
Asked how he was feeling after the quick turnaround following the prime-time affair, Belichick responded: "A little run down, but good."
With Belichick and Josh McDaniels asking Jones to throw the ball just once in the first half, Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson rose to the challenge, combining to rush 34 times for 189 yards and a touchdown via a 64-yard Harris scamper on a perfectly blocked toss sweep to the left.
Even in long down-and-distance situations, McDaniels did not relent, and one play perfectly captured the state of affairs for the Patriots when McDaniels called a QB sneak on third-and-5, picking up four yards to set up Jones for another sneak on fourth-and-1, which he barely converted.
New England committed to the run from the outset and wore down Buffalo's defense with a 14-play, 59-yard drive that ended in a 34-yard Nick Folk field goal and sucked the life out of Buffalo's defense. It takes a certain amount of unusual stubbornness to call a game like the Patriots did, and that stubbornness earned them a crucial victory.
Belichick acknowledged that the Patriots were playing in "conditions that were somewhat challenging," but he said the Patriots have seen worse in Buffalo, specifically in the final game of the 2008 season.
"That was a lot worse," Belichick said of the wind his team played in in Buffalo 13 years ago. "Way, way worse."
In the 2008 game, the Patriots ran the ball 47 times and passed eight times as they won 13-0. On Monday night, the Patriots ran the ball 46 times and passed three times as they won 14-10.
"There was a lot of situational football that I thought for the most part we handled well," Belichick said of Monday night's game.
For what it's worth, Jones said he'd never seen that kind of wind before.
"It was just a crazy game to be a part of, but we knew if we didn't turn the ball over, we'd be good," Jones said, via Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald. "It was just a weird day, but at the end of the day, you just get more points than the other team, and it's a great day. It doesn't matter how many times you run it or throw it as long as we win. Everyone's going to be happy."
The win moved the Patriots to the top seed in the AFC playoff race, which is all the more reason for Jones and company to be happy about how things played out in Buffalo. ...
Meanwhile, Harris (hamstring) and safety Adrian Phillips (knee) both left the game in the second half and didn't return.
Harris appeared to tweak his leg just before halftime and jogged to the locker room as the second quarter waned. Though he came out with the team after the break, Stevenson started the third quarter at running back.
Harris then ripped off a 22-yard gain on his first carry of the second half but came up limping at the end of the play. He did not return after that.
It's worth noting, though, that the third-year running back out of Alabama spoke to the media after the game, which usually means a player isn't too badly hurt. He'll also have 11 days to recover and get back on the field, assuming the injury isn't too serious. Hamstring injuries can be tricky to assess, especially for skill players like Harris.
If Harris is limited, the Patriots will be more than okay giving the ball to Stevenson, who has been excellent this season.
The Patriots return to play at Indianapolis Colts on Dec. 18 after their off week.
QBs: Mac Jones, Bailey Zappe, Brian Hoyer
RBs: Rhamondre Stevenson, Damien Harris, J.J. Taylor, Pierre Strong Jr., Ty Montgomery
WRs: Jakobi Meyers, DeVante Parker, Tyquan Thornton, Kendrick Bourne, Nelson Agholor, Matt Slater
TEs: Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith
New Orleans SaintsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 December 2021
As NFL.com's Grant Gordon wrote, "It was a painful and disastrous start for Taysom Hill.
Starting at quarterback for this first time this season, Hill injured his finger early on and hurt any chances of a Saints comeback against the Cowboys with four interceptions in a 27-17 loss.
At night's end, Hill's toughness and ability running the ball was reason for praise, but his four-INT outing was a dubious showing that proved paramount in the Saints losing their fifth consecutive game for the first time in the Sean Payton regime.
"It's very frustrating. It's very unfamiliar territory for us," Hill said. "It's my fifth year and I've never experienced something like this since I've been a Saint."
Hill's evening concluded with him completing 19 of 41 passes for 264 yards, two touchdowns, the aforementioned four picks, a horrendous 44.2 QB rating and 11 carries for a game-best 101 yards.
"I feel like we did some things really well tonight and then we did some things really poorly," Hill said. "Obviously it's tough to win a game when you turn the ball over four times and soon as you look at the stats, you look at what we did, that's obviously the thing that jumps out to you, that's disappointing. You know the drive at the end of the first half, disappointing having the turnover there, not getting any points out of that drive."
Early in the game, Hill's throwing hand banged against a Cowboys pass rusher's helmet. Hill headed into the medical tent in between drives, but didn't miss any time. He said after the game he was doing all right, but would need to have his hand looked at. It was an added ailment as he's been dealing with a foot injury.
"It's doing OK. ... We'll get it accessed, figure out a plan tomorrow," Hill said of his finger. "Went to throw a ball and I hit it on the hand. Foot's OK. I made it OK. Like I said earlier in the week, it's to the point where the pain is manageable. I'm not limiting what I felt like I needed to do and that was the case tonight."
While Hill said the finger didn't hinder him, his passes most certainly hindered the Saints. Hill floated attempts aplenty and held onto the ball too long too often. Nonetheless, Payton defended Hill's showing for the most part and cited wide receiver Kenny Stills' drop of Hill's initial interception in the first half as evidence that the Saints' offensive woes aren't all shouldered by Hill.
"He hurt his finger, we had to splint it, somewhere in the first half," Payton said. "He felt good enough to go, but our plan was to play him. Look, I don't know, you'd have to ask him, but I thought he played with a lot of heart, a lot of guts. We didn't help him any in the first half. I'll be honest with you, we gotta catch that first interception. We got a perfect coverage look, we drop the ball, they make a good play on it, that's unfortunate."
The Cowboys had no problems catching interceptions in the second half, as New Orleans was doomed by Hill's errant throws.
With the Saints trailing, 20-10, Hill threw the first of his three fourth-quarter interceptions when he was picked off by Trevon Diggs. It was the next one that proved the most disastrous, though, as the Saints defense had held the Cowboys, and New Orleans still had only a 10-point deficit to overcome. But it ballooned to 17 when Hill's short pass to Deonte Harris was picked by defensive tackle Carlos Watkins and returned 27 yards for a touchdown. Another INT followed on the Saints' ensuing drive.
In the span of 11 plays, Hill had thrown three interceptions. They came on consecutive drives and crippled any hopes of a Saints rally.
With the loss, the Saints have slipped from 5-2 to the NFC's 12th seed, having lost three in a row by double digits with Hill taking the reins as the third starting quarterback of the season for New Orleans.
There were no answers found for the Saints on Thursday with Hill taking over under center, just a bevy of interceptions and another loss stacked up. Still, the Saints believe Hill gives them the best chance at salvaging their season.
If there were any concerns about that status, Payton seemed to alleviate them Wednesday, when he told reporters asking about this week's game: “This will be the next opportunity for him and I think he’ll do well.”
For the record, Hill will try to play through his injury without having surgery, a source told ESPN's Adam Schefter.
Saints doctors determined that Hill suffered a mallet finger (the name for a ruptured extensor tendon at the tip of the finger), according Schefter's source. However, Hill's injury was not as extensive as the one that Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson suffered earlier this year, which did require surgery.
Wilson suffered both a mallet finger and a fracture-dislocation on a separate joint in the same finger.
There are other injury issues.
Against Dallas, tight end Juwan Johnson hurt his neck after making a difficult, leaping catch over the middle.
Beyond that, the Saints were missing starting offensive tackles Terron Armstead (knee) and Ryan Ramczyk (knee), which only compounded the lengthy absence of starting guard Andrus Peat, who is on injured reserve.
Versatile running back Alvin Kamara (knee), New Orleans' top offensive producer, missed his fourth straight game. The Saints also played their second straight without defensive end Marcus Davenport, a 2018 first-round draft choice who leads the club with 5 1/2 sacks despite playing in just six games this season. Defensive end Payton Turner, the club's first-round draft pick this year, is on injured reserve.
Record-setting receiver Michael Thomas, who started the season on the physically unable to perform list, had a rehab setback prevent him from playing at all this season.
And, of course, season-opening starting QB Jameis Winston had a season-ending knee injury during a game in which the Saints defeated defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay to improve to 5-2.
New Orleans hasn't won since.
"We have to keep fighting; we are still in it," said Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore, who intercepted Dallas' Dak Prescott. "We can go 10-7. We just have to believe that and go out and do it."
Going up against the mostly-hapless Jets will help.
Getting Kamara back would help too.
According to ESPN.com's Mike Triplett, the Saints are hoping to get Kamara, Armstead and Ramczyk back from knee injuries soon. New Orleans Times-Picayune staffer Jeff Duncan's reporting on Kamara is even more optimistic: "Good news for the Saints," Duncan tweeted. "Kamara is back and expected to play Sunday."
That will be especially good news with Mark Ingram being placed on reserve/COVID-19 list Wednesday due to a positive test.
I'll be watching for more and will report back via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses.
Also. ... Harris was officially suspended three games Monday for a summer DUI arrest after his appeal was unsuccessful.
The 24-year-old Harris, a third-year pro who has taken on a bigger role on offense this year, leads the Saints with 523 receiving yards and has three long touchdowns on 31 catches.
Harris' DUI case was resolved earlier in November when he was sentenced to one year of supervised probation. Maryland court records show that Harris pleaded not guilty but agreed to the statement of facts in the police report. According to that police report, which was obtained by NOLA.com, Harris registered a blood alcohol content of 0.246 percent after driving more than 20 miles per hour over the speed limit and swerving across three lanes of traffic on the interstate at 1:30 a.m.
In addition. ... New Orleans waived Stills.
Stills had appeared in 10 games with four starts this season, making five catches for 64 yards with a touchdown. He was targeted five times but didn't make any receptions in the Week 13 loss to Dallas.
It's entirely possible the interception outlined above was behind Stills' departure.
The Saints have also signed receiver Kevin White to the team's practice squad. The former Bears first-round pick has spent most of the season on New Orleans' practice squad, but was signed to the 53-man roster in late November. He has one catch for 38 yards in 2021.
QBs: Andy Dalton, Jameis Winston
RBs: Alvin Kamara, David Johnson, Mark Ingram, Dwayne Washington
WRs: Chris Olave, Jarvis Landry, Tre'Quan Smith, Marquez Callaway, Rashid Shaheed, Michael Thomas, Deonte Harty
TEs: Juwan Johnson, Taysom Hill, Adam Trautman, Nick Vannett
New York GiantsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 December 2021
After further visits with team doctors and specialists to have his neck injury evaluated, quarterback Daniel Jones is unlikely to play Sunday against the Los Angeles Chargers, sources told ESPN's Adam Schefter.
Jones missed Sunday's loss to the Miami Dolphins. He was injured the previous week in a win over the Philadelphia Eagles. The Giants (4-8) remain hopeful he won't miss much more time and will return this season.
Mike Glennon started in Jones' place on Sunday, but was diagnosed with a concussion after the contest.
He's currently in the concussion protocol.
While the team is optimistic Glennon wil clear the protocol, his concussion puts newly acquired quarterback Jake Fromm potentially in line to start against the Chargers. It only adds to questions about whether Jones has done enough in his first three professional seasons to convince the Giants -- and potentially a new general manager -- that he is a true franchise quarterback they should build around.
Fromm, was signed off the Buffalo Bills' practice squad last week. He has never played in an NFL game and could be making his first start 11 days after joining the team.
"It's the beauty of the NFL. It's next man up. Jake is getting his opportunity," said Giants left tackle Andrew Thomas, who was also his teammate at the University of Georgia. "I'm excited for him to get his chance. But like I said, next man up, and we're doing everything to help him."
The Giants also have quarterback Brian Lewerke on their practice squad. He seems to have been immediately jumped by Fromm on the depth chart.
Head coach Joe Judge said that Fromm would be next in line this week at practice with Jones and Glennon sidelined. The Giants might still add additional contingencies.
"We're talking internally about a lot of options personnel-wise to see what we can do and build in depth for a multitude of reasons," Judge said.
Judge said after the game in Miami that Glennon would remain the starter if healthy while Jones remained sidelined. But Glennon's status might not be decided until late this week.
"The optimistic view would be to have [Glennon] ready for the game on Sunday," Judge said during a Monday afternoon conference call from Arizona, where the Giants are practicing this week.
New York is also dealing with COVID-19 issues. Offensive lineman Wes Martin and quarterbacks coach Jerry Schuplinski tested positive on Monday, per Judge.
Martin was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list on Monday afternoon. Schuplinski was involved in meetings virtually throughout the day as the Giants try to get Fromm coached up quickly for a potential start.
As ESPN.com's Jordan Raanan suggested, having Fromm start would provide some limitations.
"For a guy who has only been in your system for a couple days, you have to go ahead and select more of a menu what he can operate with in a game," Judge said. "That is not always based on what he's capable of with his ability, it's just based on being new in a scheme and system and what he's comfortable going out there and playing aggressively and making the right decisions within."
Fromm has crammed hard since joining the Giants. He stayed after practice on Friday last week and did extra work with Jones there to provide input.
The fifth-round pick by the Buffalo Bills last year has made a positive first impression.
"He's an intelligent guy. He's demonstrated that already," Judge said. "He has very good poise out there and he has a very good presence. Once thing that is very impressive about this guy is you talk to former teammates of his, like we did before he got in here, most of those Georgia guys, and every single one lit up and said we'd absolutely love to have that guy on the team."
The bar won't be especially high. The Giants failed to score a touchdown on Sunday in Miami. They have one touchdown in the two games since offensive coordinator Jason Garrett was fired.
Glennon went 23-of-44 for 187 yards with an interception against the Dolphins.
Jones has completed 64.3 percent of his passes for 2,428 yards with 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions this season. ...
Meanwhile, Sunday was Saquon Barkley's best game since returning from an ankle injury three weeks ago, but as WFAN's Lou DiPietro noted, that "best" was 11 carries for 55 yards and six catches (on nine targets) for just 19 yards.
DiPietro went on to note the Dolphins clearly had stopping the run as a top priority, understandable given the Giants were without two of their top playmakers and their starting quarterback, and the Dolphins have had one of the best rush defenses of late (sixth in the league with an 86.7 yards allowed average over their last three games).
"They've been on a streak the last seven or eight games, and been one of the top defenses in the league," Barkley said. "They did a good job today."
The problem, though, is that Barkley only got those 11 carries in a game that was close most of the way, and had the Giants already short-handed in the passing game, even though he averaged five yards per carry and the team averaged 5.4 -- and that's been a trend, not an aberration, as Barkley's season highs are 16 carries and 57 yards.
"I mean, you know, we're not producing in the run game right now so I can't be upset that I've got 11 carries. We're not doing anything," Barkley said. "I'm not doing anything in the running game. I'm not affecting the game in that aspect. That kind of happens, especially when you get down and you play from behind."
He did get nine targets, but of the three he missed, two were drops that he simply said were plays where "I have to make that catch," and the third came late in the game where he had a chance for a game-breaking reception and just couldn't get to the ball.
"You know, we knew they were a big coverage zero team. We emptied it out and got me in a little position. They had a blown coverage, and we didn't make the play," he said. "It touched my hands, and could have been a big play, but I failed. I didn't make the play."
Not making plays is why the Giants have scored 10, 13, and nine points in their last three games since the bye, with Graham Gano accounting for 20 of those 32 and the others coming on touchdowns from an offensive lineman and a little-used tight end whose touchdown grab was his first career catch.
"That's not acceptable. We've got to be better as a whole and capitalize on opportunities, starting with myself," Barkley said. "We're very tired (of not producing). We know we have to be better, and we haven't been scoring touchdowns. The defense is playing lights out and we're not doing it on our side."
It's not like Barkley is alone is coming up short.
The Giants paid veteran wide receiver Kenny Golladay $72 million in free agency despite his playing in only five games in 2020. After signing he said he was healthy. He has missed three games-plus because of a knee injury and was only on the field for 38 of 65 plays against the Dolphins because of a rib injury.
For the season, he has 26 catches and no touchdowns. While his 409 yards receiving lead the team, that's not worth megabucks.
The Giants have to hope receivers Sterling Shepard (quad) and Kadarius Toney (oblique/quad) are ready to return. The Giants had two positive COVID-19 tests on Monday. Quarterbacks coach Jerry Schuplinski and guard Wes Martin were both positive. The team is waiting for a second test on each.
I'll have more on Barkley, who turned up on Wednesday's injury report with his ongoing ankle issue, Golladay, Shepard and Toney as well as on the QB situation via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
Beyond all that. ... With the playoffs not even a realistic dream, it's time to start thinking about the future.
As Raanan suggested, it's not really if, but when, they get a new general manager in the building. And what about the quarterback and coach? The Giants want to see more from Jones. But it's not clear when he will return from his neck injury, and even if he does, what can he do behind this offense line and with the skill positions depleted? Even Barkley has something to prove. He looks a shell of his former self.
It's going to be a tough stretch run no matter what.
QBs: Daniel Jones, Tyrod Taylor
RBs: Saquon Barkley, Matt Breida, Gary Brightwell, Antonio Williams
WRs: Darius Slayton, Richie James, Isaiah Hodgins, David Sills, Kenny Golladay, Marcus Johnson, Sterling Shepard, Wan'Dale Robinson
TEs: Lawrence Cager, Tanner Hudson, Chris Myarick, Daniel Bellinger
New York JetsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 December 2021
Wide receiver Corey Davis will have season-ending surgery Tuesday to repair a core-muscle injury, making him the latest high-priced addition whose year ended prematurely.
As ESPN.com's Rich Cimini notes, Davis went into Sunday's game against the Eagles as a question mark because of a previous groin injury, which sidelined him for Week 12. He tried to play through it but failed to finish the game, raising the question of whether he should've rested it another week.
"That's a fair question," head coach Robert Saleh said Monday. "He was cleared. [He] went through a lot of different procedures to try to get that ready to roll. It's unfortunate. It just finally gave out on him."
The Jets targeted Davis in free agency, signing him to a three-year, $37.5 million contract to be their No. 1 receiver. He got off to a terrific start, catching two touchdowns from rookie Zach Wilson in the season opener, but his production waned.
Davis produced only one 100-yard game and finished with 34 catches for 492 yards and four touchdowns. He had six drops, tied for fourth in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats and Information. He played only nine games, having missed two with an earlier hip injury.
The Jets (3-9) didn't have much luck with their big-ticket free agents. Defensive end Carl Lawson, who signed for $45 million over three years, ruptured an Achilles in the preseason, ending his season.
Rookie Elijah Moore, who has become the top target in recent weeks, probably will see increased targets. Keelan Cole, poised to come off the reserve/COVID-19 list this week, likely will replace Davis on the outside. Denzel Mims also can play there. The Jets have Jamison Crowder in the slot.
"We love our receiving group," Saleh said.
Another key player on offense, left tackle Mekhi Becton, remains out indefinitely. He underwent knee surgery after Week 1 and was supposed to return in eight weeks, but he's 11 weeks removed from surgery. The Jets have been optimistic about his chances of returning at some point, but Saleh struck an ominous note by declining to give an update on Monday.
Davis was placed on injured reserve as part of a series of moves announced by the team on Tuesday. They signed running back Austin Walter and waived defensive back Jarrod Wilson.
Walter was called up for the team's last two games. He has 10 carries for 40 yards and scored his first NFL touchdown in a Week 12 win over the Texans.
Meanwhile, the Jets changed kickers -- again. They signed Eddy Pineiro to replaced Alex Kessman, who was cut Monday after missing two extra points in his NFL debut. Kessman replaced Matt Ammendola, who was released last Saturday after recent struggles. Pineiro, who last kicked for the Chicago Bears in 2019, is the Jets' ninth kicker since 2017.
Meanwhile, there was a glimmer of hope was found in New York's 33-18 loss to Philadelphia.
As Associated Press sports writer Dennis Waszak Jr. noted, Wilson had arguably his best game in the NFL, especially the first half -- a period during which he has struggled mightily. He was 23 of 38 for 226 yards and two touchdowns with an interception, and a TD run. But it wasn't so much the numbers as it was the decision making and playmaking that were markedly better.
"Yeah, there were definitely improvements," Wilson said after the game. "I thought I had some good plays as far as just putting my team in the best decision that I can make every single time and just processing as far as getting through guys.
"Now, the next step comes from finding that balance from how I can now go out and use my playmaking ability and also stay within the offense 99 percent of the time."
That's what this final stretch of five games is all about for the Jets. They need to get their quarterback in a groove to where they know the No. 2 overall draft pick has taken significant steps -- physically and mentally -- heading into the offseason.
"His footwork was awesome," Saleh said. "His eyes, his tempo, playing within the scheme and not trying to overanalyze. Not trying to make defenses pay just because you might know what they're in. I thought this was, by far, his best game in terms of just working progression and playing within the scheme."
Wilson was 12 of 14 for 108 yards and his two TD passes and scoring run in the first half, when the Jets trailed 24-18 after two quarters. He went scoring drive for scoring drive with the Eagles and Gardner Minshew -- each getting TDs on their first three offensive possessions.
The run ended on the Jets' fourth possession when they went three-and-out.
The defense couldn't tackle, with defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich saying New York had 15 misses. And the Eagles held the ball for all but 70 seconds in the third quarter, keeping Wilson and the Jets' offense on the sideline for what seemed an eternity.
"I wish we could have kept him in rhythm in the second half," Saleh said, "because I thought he was getting ready to have an explosive game overall."
It was only one game, but that's what the Jets want to see. There were a lot of questions -- and rust -- after he missed four games with a sprained knee ligament. The rookie answered a few Sunday.
Wilson needs to improve a lot more, but there was enough there Sunday to provide an optimistic sliver even as the Jets fell to 3-9.
The Jets host the Saints on Sunday.
It will be a challenging matchup for Wilson and the offense.
That includes the rushing attack.
Tevin Coleman carried the ball 11 times for 58 yards against the Eagles. He caught 3-of-4 targets for an additional 19 yards. With 27 carries in the two games since Michael Carter went on injured reserve, Coleman has emerged as the primary ball carrier for the team. Ty Johnson and Walter are in the mix and seeing ample playing time, but the ball continues to find its way into Coleman's hand far more often.
That said, Coleman opened this week in the concussion protocol and his availability will depend on making it through the protocol. In addition, Saleh revealed that Moore is day-to-day with a quad injury. The coach said the team is "hopeful" the rookie wideout will play.
Neither Coleman nor Moore were practicing Wednesday; I'll have more on their status via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
Another positive for the team is Braxton Berrios. The speedy wide receiver is making a mark as a returner. He ranks first in the NFL among players with 15 or more kickoff returns with a 28.9 average, helped by his 79-yard return on the opening kickoff Sunday. Berrios is also among the league leaders with a 13.6 average on punt runbacks.
QBs: Mike White, Joe Flacco, Zach Wilson
RBs: Michael Carter, James Robinson, Ty Johnson, Zonovan Knights, Breece Hall
WRs: Garrett Wilson, Elijah Moore, Corey Davis, Denzel Mims, Braxton Berrios, Jeff Smith
TEs: Tyler Conklin, C.J. Uzomah, Jeremy Ruckert, Kenny Yeboah
Philadelphia EaglesCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 December 2021
As ESPN.com's Tim McManus framed it, "Gardner Minshew sure knows how to make an entrance. ..."
With Jalen Hurts sidelined with an ankle injury, Minshew impressed in his first start for the Eagles, going 20-of-25 for 242 yards with two touchdowns to power the Eagles over the New York Jets 33-18.
The offense scored on each of its first seven drives under Minshew, who posted a perfect 158.3 quarterback rating in the first half while matching Donovan McNabb for highest first-half completion rate (93.3 percent) by an Eagles quarterback since 1991.
"It felt so good, man. It's the best time I've had since Week 1 of last year. There's nothing like that feeling," Minshew said. "Glad to do it with this group of guys. They made it easy for me."
Minshew has a thing for debuts. He completed 88 percent of his throws in his first pro start in 2019 for the Jacksonville Jaguars. In his first start of 2020, he went 19-of-20 for a 95 percent completion rate.
His performance is sure to create a stir in Philadelphia. However, coach Nick Sirianni made it clear Hurts is the starter when healthy.
"I think he's played really good football," Sirianni said of Hurts. "There's been times when he's been one of the best in the league. The way he's moved around, made plays, we look at that quarterback rating and what he's had there. He's played really good football when he's in, so when he's healthy and he's back, he'll be our starter."
Hurts was a limited participant in practice this week after spraining his left ankle against the New York Giants. He has an extra week to get right, as the Eagles have a bye this week before hosting the Washington Football Team on Dec. 19.
Making his first start since last December, Minshew got off to a red-hot start, going 3-for-3 for 61 yards on the Eagles' opening drive, with all three of those completions going to tight end Dallas Goedert. Minshew and Goedert connected for 36 yards to cap the series.
He finished the first half 14-of-15 for 188 yards with two touchdowns (both to Goedert) and became the fourth Eagles QB since 1991 to post a perfect first-half quarterback rating.
"I thought he played a really good game," Sirianni said. "Our message to Gardner was, go out there and be yourself, protect that football. You've got a good supporting cast around you ... so go out there and be yourself, and that's going to be enough. And he did. He went out there and he played a really outstanding game."
The Jets appeared to be caught off guard by the Eagles' 11th-hour quarterback change. Cornerback Bryce Hall admitted they didn't prepare for Minshew to start.
"No, we didn't," Hall said. "We prepared for Jalen."
The Eagles acquired Minshew from the Jags for a conditional sixth-round pick in late August. He now has 39 touchdowns to 11 interceptions over 41 NFL starts.
With the win Sunday, which improved the Eagles to 6-7 this season.
They have already won two more games than last season and are in the middle of the playoff race under Sirianni.
They're not satisfied.
"I think, obviously, I would like to be in better shape," Sirianni said Monday. "There are some games out there that we feel like we could have got earlier in the year that we didn't.
"But our job is to try to win every single game, so my mind is in a mindset of whatever we got to do to win each and every game, that's what we're going to do. And so, I don't want to look at it as ahead of schedule. All I really care about is getting a little bit better each day."
With playmakers like Goedert and Miles Sanders coming alive, the Eagles have to be optimistic about making a late-season run
Goedert set a career high with 105 receiving yards and had his first multi-touchdown game as a pro, while Sanders finished with 144 total yards. That's certainly encouraging, though it's fair to wonder how much Goedert's career day was tied to the play of Minshew. And Sanders appeared to reinjure his ankle down the stretch.
Whatever the case, the Eagles are a half-game behind Washington (6-6) and San Francisco (6-6) for the last two wild-card spots in the NFC.
That's progress for a team that finished 4-11-1 in 2020, fired Super Bowl-winning coach Doug Pederson and traded franchise quarterback Carson Wentz.
"We have a formula of how we want to do this, and for the teams that do that, that puts you on schedule of being the best team that you can be that year with the guys and the coaches and the players that you have on that team," Sirianni said. "And so, I like the progression we're on, because I do believe that that's what we've done each day, is just getting a little bit better. That's been the message, and we got some great leaders on this team that enforce that message."
The victory over the Jets was Philadelphia's fourth in six games following a 2-5 start.
The Eagles have rushed for 175-plus yards in six straight games. They've had three different leading rushers in those games -- Hurts, Sanders and Jordan Howard -- and four players have had at least one 75-yard rushing performance during that span.
Beyond Hurts, Sirianni said center Jason Kelce (knee), linebacker Patrick Johnson (back) and cornerback Steven Nelson (shoulder) should be ready next game after exiting with injuries Sunday. Howard (knee) also could be back.
The Eagles host Washington (6-6) on Dec. 19 when they return from a bye.
QBs: Jalen Hurts, Gardner Minshew, Ian Book
RBs: Miles Sanders, Kenneth Gainwell, Boston Scott, Jason Huntley, Kennedy Brooks
WRs: A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith, Quez Watkins, Zach Pascal, Britain Covey
TEs: Jack Stoll, Grant Calcaterra, Dallas Goedert
Pittsburgh SteelersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 December 2021
Ben Roethlisberger isn't talking about his future.
At least, not right now.
Fresh off a 20-19 comeback victory against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday night, Roethlisberger was mum about any potential plans to conclude his 18-year career in Pittsburgh at the end of the 2021 season.
The quarterback is quietly telling former teammates and people within the organization that he expects this to be his final season with the Pittsburgh Steelers, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Saturday.
"I haven't told everybody that, no," Roethlisberger said Sunday night. "Honestly, we just got done with this game, I'm exhausted. We play in a couple hours, it feels like. That's my focus. My focus is on Minnesota and what we have to do to get ready.
"I'll address any of that stuff after the season. I've always been a one-game-at-a-time, one-season-at-a-time person. I'm going to stay that way."
Head coach Mike Tomlin said he wasn't concerned about a Roethlisberger farewell tour distracting the Steelers' locker room through the final five regular season games.
"There's nothing to manage," Tomlin told ESPN.com's Brooke Pryor. "Ben doesn't allow it to become an issue. Ben has been pretty solid in terms of his expressions that he's singularly focused on what it is that we're doing now.
"He'll deal with those things on the other side of this journey, and I'm with him on it."
If Sunday was indeed his final matchup against the Ravens at Heinz Field, Roethlisberger penned a memorable penultimate chapter in his storied history with the rival organization.
The Steelers' final drive, which resulted in their first lead of the night thanks to Diontae Johnson's five-yard touchdown catch and Pat Freiermuth's two-point conversion grab, was Roethlisberger's 51st game-winning drive, breaking his tie with Tom Brady for third-most in league history.
Roethlisberger completed 21 of 31 attempts for 236 yards and two touchdowns.
It was also his 57th win in games decided by six points or fewer, tied with Drew Brees for the most by a quarterback since 1950, according to ESPN Stats and Information research.
"I've been doing it a long time," Roethlisberger said. "I've enjoyed this game, and this game specifically, and winning at home in front of our fans, it's awesome."
Roethlisberger was especially effective with play-action passes, going 6-of-7 for 117 yards and a touchdown off play-action in the second half after going 1-of-2 for 12 yards in the first half, according to ESPN Stats and Information research.
"He plays well all the time, in my opinion," Johnson said. "He will throw picks here and there, but at the end of the day, he is a great quarterback. A Hall of Famer in my eyes, and I'm pretty sure in everyone else's eyes, as well. But at the end of the day, it's a team game, so we all played as one. We knew the end goal was to obviously come out on top, and we just have to keep it up."
Roethlisberger, who was given a game ball in the locker room by Tomlin afterward, led two fourth-quarter scoring drives, each capped with touchdown throws to Johnson, who finished with eight receptions for 105 yards and two scores.
With the win, the Steelers (6-5-1) kept their playoff hopes alive. ...
"I just think when we needed a play, Ben came through," defensive lineman Cam Heyward said. "The savviness to get the guy offsides and reset the downs, the naked play where we got to Diontae, Chase [Claypool] coming through with some big plays. Offensive line started playing well. Najee Harris started hitting downhill a little bit. Benny Snell hit downhill.
"There was a multitude of guys, but Ben helps orchestrate that."
Meanwhile, Roethlisberger knows playing the Vikings on a short week after a physical game against the Ravens is going to require little extra help.
"Just have as many people help as you can: chiropractors, masseuses, training staff," the quarterback said Tuesday. "Getting in the pools and just doing whatever you can to get yourself ready. Everyone has to do this throughout the year.
"I don't think anybody really likes it except for the NFL and all the money that they make. Players, it's tough. Obviously, the back end of it is the benefit, right? The weekend, some time off. That only really feels good if you get the win. But you've just got to find a way, really."
To balance the team's recovery and preparation, the Steelers are only lightly practicing this week. Tuesday's shortened practice was more like a walkthrough.
"Yeah, so I'll participate fully today," Roethlisberger said. "That's the craziest thing. Typically, I don't even practice until Friday, and now we've got to play on Thursday. So I'll be a full participant [Tuesday] and Thursday."
Claypool (toe) also practiced fully on Tuesday. ...
Other notes of interest. ... While Johnson is flourishing, the group behind him on the depth chart -- Claypool, James Washington and Ray Ray McCloud -- have been a mixed bag at best. At the moment, there's a case to be made that all three rank below Johnson, Harris and Freiermuth in Roethlisberger's pecking order of preferred targets.
Harris rushed 21 times for 71 yards while hauling in all five of his targets for 36 yards against the Ravens.
Harris had been limited to just 96 yards from scrimmage on 28 touches across the last two weeks, but he had plenty of volume in Sunday's narrow victory. The rookie has now topped 20 carries in four of his six appearances since Pittsburgh's Week 7 bye, but he's averaged just 3.4 yards per carry during that time.
He'll face a more favorable opponent during next week's matchup against Minnesota.
And finally. ... Sunday was a rare off day for kicker Chris Boswell and it nearly cost the Steelers. He missed an extra point early in the fourth quarter that would have tied the game and later booted a kickoff out of bounds to give the Ravens excellent field position trailing 20-13 with 1:48 to play.
QBs: Kenny Pickett, Mitchell Trubisky, Mason Rudolph
RBs: Najee Harris, Jaylen Warren, Benny Snell, Anthony McFarland Jr.
WRs: George Pickens, Diontae Johnson, Miles Boykin, Steven Sims, Gunner Olszewski
TEs: Pat Freiermuth, Zach Gentry, Connor Heyward
San Francisco 49ersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 December 2021
According to Associated Press sports writer Josh Dubow, the margin for error for the San Francisco 49ers is extremely thin -- especially when they play the Seattle Seahawks.
So after a mistake-filled 30-23 loss on Sunday ended with Jimmy Garoppolo throwing back-to-back incomplete passes to Trent Sherfield following a 95-yard drive, the Niners can't afford many more slipups down the stretch.
"We shouldn't have let it get to that point, but that's stuff you have to live with," coach Kyle Shanahan said Monday about the final two passes.
Sidney Jones broke up the first pass to Sherfield to prevent the TD and then Carlos Dunlap deflected the final pass.
San Francisco (6-6) had gotten back into playoff position by winning three straight games, but weren't able to extend that streak against Seattle thanks to a series of special teams blunders, two interceptions from Garoppolo and then the inability to finish off the last drive.
Despite all that, the Niners currently have the final wild-card spot as the seventh-place team in the NFC. But they could have created some space between themselves and the five teams within one game of them in the standings.
"We definitely blew it," defensive end Nick Bosa said. "We knew it was going to be this type of game whenever we play them. But, we have to do a much better job of not giving the game away. We're still in the ranks and we're going to keep working really hard. We still have a lot of confidence in our team."
But there are issues.
According to ESPN's Field Yates, the 49ers worked out several running backs on Tuesday. The list included Jeremy Cox, Brian Hill and Dexter Williams.
Hill was signed by the team on Wednesday.
The 49ers have one healthy running back entering this week's matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals. Starter Elijah Mitchell and Trenton Cannon are in the concussion protocol. Jeff Wilson Jr.'s knee flared up on Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks. Trey Sermon is on injured reserve due to an ankle injury.
That leaves JaMycal Hasty as San Francisco's only healthy running back.
On Monday, head coach Kyle Shanahan was asked if the team planned to work out any running backs because of the injury issues.
"Yes, I think those guys are working on that today (Monday), and hopefully, we'll get some more guys in here tomorrow (Tuesday) to work out," Shanahan responded.
The 49ers could announce the signing of one or more of these players soon, assuming the workouts went well.
Mitchell and Cannon's concussions occurred during Sunday's game.
Said Shanahan of Mitchell: "He was cleared after being evaluated during the game and post-game, but he had symptoms this morning, so he's in the concussion protocol."
Cannon's injury occurred during the opening kickoff. The running back and returner was transported by ambulance to a local hospital for evaluation.
"He's doing better," Shanahan said on Monday. "He's been discharged from the hospital, and he's flying home right now. Our doctors will continue to monitor him."
Beyond that, receiver/running back Deebo Samuel said last week that he'd only miss one game with his groin injury, but Shanahan is not so sure.
Samuel missed Sunday's loss to the Seahawks and Shanahan wouldn't commit to Samuel returning this week against the Bengals. Shanahan said linebacker Fred Warner, who also missed Sunday's game, should be back, but Samuel is a closer call.
"It's still early on Monday," Shanahan said, via 49ers.com. "I think Fred was closer than Deebo was last week. So, I expect to get Fred back in practice this Wednesday. Deebo, we'll go day-to-day hoping to get him back this week, but it's still too early to tell."
Samuel has been outstanding this season, leading the 49ers in a wide variety of statistical categories including catches, receiving yards, yards per catch, receiving touchdowns, yards per carry, rushing touchdowns and yards from scrimmage.
The 49ers missed him against the Seahawks, and they hope they don't have to miss him against the Bengals.
As for the practice status of the injured. ... Shanahan told reporters Mitchell would not practice Wednesday because of the concussion he recently suffered as well as knee irritation; Samuel was also being held out Wednesday, though Shanahan is hopeful Samuel will return Thursday as he nurses a groin injury; Wilson was limited.
I'll obviously be watching the Niners closely in coming days; watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for more on Mitchell, Samuel and the rest as the week progresses. ...
Other notes of interest. ... With Samuel injured, George Kittle was the focal point of the offense. He had nine catches for 181 yards and a career-high two touchdowns. Kittle had the third-biggest receiving day of his career and has five TD catches in five games since coming off IR, matching his career high for a season set in 2018 and 2019.
Brandon Aiyuk hauled in 3-of-6 targets for 55 yards.
As FantasyPros notes, it was a slow game for Aiyuk on Sunday as Kittle dominated the target share. The second-year wideout didn't even record a catch in the first half of the game but picked up a few chunk plays in the third and fourth quarters. He had a few drops as well, which hurt the 49ers' chances to keep pace with the Seahawks' offense.
He was still second on the team in targets and catches and should perform better this week when the Niners take on the Bengals in Cincinnati.
QBs: Jimmy Garoppolo, Brock Purdy, Trey Lance
RBs: Christian McCaffrey, Jordan Mason, Tyrion Davis-Price, Kyle Juszczyk, Elijah Mitchell
WRs: Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, Jauan Jennings, Danny Gray, Ray-Ray McCloud, Malik Turner
TEs: George Kittle, Ross Dwelley, Charlie Woerner, Tyler Kroft
Seattle SeahawksCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 December 2021
As ESPN.com's Brady Henderson reported, Russell Wilson and the Seahawks' offense snapped out of their funk, providing some hope that the final five games -- even if meaningless -- will at least be entertaining.
On a wild Sunday, the Seahawks fumbled four times, losing two, and gave the ball away when Gerald Everett bobbled a would-be touchdown and still snapped their three-game losing streak with a 30-23 win over the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday.
They mismanaged the clock and nearly allowed the 49ers to drive the 98 yards for the tying score before holding at the 3. But this was a much better version of Wilson and of the offense that scored only 26 points during the three-game losing streak that began with his return from finger surgery.
Even with at least one notable misfire, Wilson was much more accurate than he had been of late while completing 30 of 37 passes for 231 yards, two TDs and the unlucky INT.
And we shouldn't overlook the 126th touchdown of Adrian Peterson's Hall of Fame career, which helped the Seahawks get the win and also moved the veteran running back one spot up on the NFL's all-time TD list.
After beginning the day tied with Walter Payton for 11th place, Peterson is now tied with Jim Brown for 10th. He needs two more to tie Marvin Harrison for ninth place.
"It was exciting for guys to get [Peterson] his touchdown today so he could tie the great Jim Brown," said head coach Pete Carroll. "That was just for fun. Thrilled that he got a chance to do that and have him with us in this game."
Peterson, who signed with Seattle's practice squad on Wednesday, started the game and carried a team-high 11 times for 16 yards while rotating frequently with Rashaad Penny and Travis Homer. Peterson's 1-yard touchdown run in the second quarter cut San Francisco's lead to 17-14.
He followed a lead block from fullback Nick Bellore, who mainly plays on special teams and practices as a backup linebacker during the week.
"He is probably wondering who I was because I haven't actually got to meet him yet," said the 32-year-old Bellore. "I went over for one play of walk-through on offense and he kind of looked at me, and I didn't want to introduce myself. I was just glad to kind of help out anyway I could to get him in the end zone ... I'm really old, and he's even older.
"I remember watching him when I was in college, high school, all of that. Some guys were in elementary school watching him in the pros. A legend like that, you have a little extra juice for, to try to get him in the end zone."
According to ESPN Stats and Information research, Peterson is the third player in NFL history -- and the only running back -- to score a rushing touchdown for six different franchises. The others are quarterbacks Ryan Fitzpatrick (eight) and Chris Chandler (six).
Peterson practiced just twice last week and was elevated from Seattle's practice squad for Sunday's game. Penny was next in carries with 10 for 35 and gained 27 yards on a screen. Homer carried twice for 7 yards outside of a 73-yard touchdown on a fake punt.
Alex Collins was inactive after being limited in practice all week. Carroll said he needed a week off and that he should be back this week.
He was limited in Wednesday's practice.
Peterson was responsible for one of four Seattle fumbles, but his was recovered by teammate Will Dissly. He will revert back to Seattle's practice squad on Monday.
In addition to wanting to reinforce their banged-up backfield, the Seahawks were also intrigued by how Peterson's famous work ethic could rub off on other players. Carroll believes it did.
"Really, I just wanted to bring him in and give him a chance to see our guys and be with our team and all that," Carroll said. "I thought it was just such a rare opportunity and he totally exceeded my expectations with his influence, just being in our locker room and being on our practice field. He was so much the consummate pro about taking this opportunity to heart and going for it.
"He's played a lot of football. He was so serious about it and so strict about the way he did everything ... He had a great week of practice. He needed to play and we knew he had that touchdown thing that we were trying to get. The celebration was for the big guys that knocked it in so that he got a chance to score there. Today was worth it. It was very much worth it. ..."
We'll see if Collins' return has an impact on Peterson's roster spot. I'll be watching for more on that and report back via Late-Breaking Updates as developments warrant. ...
Also on the injury front. ... Safety Jamal Adams sprained his surgically repaired shoulder in the first half and did not return. Carroll did not have an update on his status on Monday, but multiple reports on Wednesday indicate Adams will miss the rest of the season. ...
Also of interest. ... DK Metcalf caught 5-of-8 targets for 60 yards against the 49ers. That this output resulted in the second-year receiver's best game since Wilson's Week 10 return from injury tells you how bad it's been.
While Wilson has played better the last two weeks, nobody should pretend this offense is working at the desired level.
As noted above, Everett had a forgettable game on a day Seattle seemed focused on trying to get him the ball.
Everett fumbled on Seattle's second offensive possession when he couldn't hold a quick screen. He bobbled a potential touchdown early in the third quarter and it became an interception when he inadvertently kicked the ball into the air and it was grabbed by K'Waun Williams. And the capper came in the closing minutes when a shovel pass to Everett and a possible touchdown was fumbled at the San Francisco 2.
Everett had two fumbles in 70 games prior to Sunday.
"I have no doubt what Gerald is going to do, how he's going to respond," Wilson said.
As Associated Press sports writer Tim Booth noted, the Seahawks will be heavily favored this Sunday going to Houston and with the rest of the NFC playoff picture a giant jumbled mess, there is a chance for Seattle to inch a little bit closer. Take care of business in Houston and there could be a little bit of meaning for the Seahawks trip to Los Angeles to face the Rams in two weeks.
And finally. ... Homer was named NFC Special Teams Player of the Week. He had a fumble recovery on a kickoff return in addition to the touchdown run on a fake punt.
QBs: Geno Smith, Drew Lock
RBs: Kenneth Walker III, DeeJay Dallas, Travis Homer, Tony Jones Jr.
WRs: Tyler Lockett, DK Metcalf, Marquise Goodwin, Penny Hart, Laquon Treadwell, Dareke Young, D'Wayne Eskridge
TEs: Noah Fant, Will Dissly, Colby Parkinson
Tampa Bay BuccaneersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 December 2021
Tom Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski hooked up for their 89th and 90th touchdowns in a 30-17 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, moving them into second all-time for most regular-season touchdowns by a pair of players.
Also, wide receiver Chris Godwin set a franchise record with 15 catches, the most by any player in a game this season, as the Bucs improved to 9-3.
As ESPN.com's Jenna Laine notes, Brady and Gronkowski sit behind only Pro Football Hall of Famers Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison, who have 112 regular-season touchdowns, while Godwin moved ahead of running backs James Wilder (Sept. 15, 1985) and Earnest Graham (Oct. 21, 2007), who each had 13 catches in a game.
"Having Gronk back for the last few weeks is huge in our offense, those two guys controlling the inside of the field," head coach Bruce Arians said of the pair, adding that this was especially problematic when the Falcons (or any team) have played man defense.
With their 90th regular-season TD connection, Brady and Gronkowski moved into sole possession of second place all-time, passing Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates.
Gronkowski now has 20 career games with multiple receiving touchdowns, one away from Gates for the most by a tight end.
"I think when you play that long together -- I mean, like Gronk said the other day, Tom knows what he's thinking before he does," Arians said. "And it's obvious out there a couple of times Tom's thrown a couple balls and even Gronk wasn't quite ready because he knew where he was going. It's great chemistry they have."
"He kind of makes it easy on any quarterback," said Brady, who improved to 10-0 all-time against the Falcons. "He's just so big, so quick, great hands. Just does an amazing job. A great catch-and-run that he had and then I threw the fade for a touchdown, which was really cool -- he makes those pretty easy, too. I obviously love being out there with him.
"It was good to see him make those plays. He was out for quite a while this year, you know? Just seeing him back, playing great, really enjoying it -- it's really fun for me. That's the best part."
Will the two continue playing long enough to break Manning and Harrison's record?
"I hope we do. I look for him down there -- he is a really big target most of the game," Brady said. "I think what makes him so amazing is to do what he does in the run game and block defensive ends. Some of the biggest and strongest guys in the world. To run routes and catch balls and be so athletic. Along with the endurance he has, it is just really amazing."
As far as Godwin goes, he was on the receiving end of five of Brady's 13 pass attempts on the opening drive -- the most attempts on a single drive in his career and the most by a quarterback since at least 2000, according to ESPN Stats and Information research, as the Bucs wanted to go up-tempo from the jump.
"That was a lot of passes, man," Godwin joked. "I think we should do that some more."
Part of this was because the Falcons loaded the box to try and stop running back Leonard Fournette, who was coming off a four-touchdown performance against the Colts in Week 12. They also felt very good about Brady's protection, forcing the Falcons into some blitzes that created some one-on-ones. Brady praised Godwin's work ethic and called him "an unbelievable player."
"That's dope, to be able to set a record, especially when you have a guy like Mike [Evans] who's been dominant here for so long," said Godwin, who had 143 receiving yards on the day. "I think the biggest thing is getting a [win].
"I really had no idea until we were like walking off the field. I thought I was probably at like 10 or so. I think some of those little like quick-hitters you kind of forget about -- getting bounced around and you're like a little pinball."
"He has the ability to play outside also, but he is lethal inside," Arians said of Godwin, who made the move into the slot from the outside when Arians came to Tampa in 2019. "Obviously, the way he blocks is huge and gives you so much in between the numbers."
Gronkowski has been most impressed by what Godwin does when the ball doesn't go in his direction. His downfield blocking helped seal off Fournette's game-winning, 28-yard touchdown last week.
"Chris is a beast. An unbelievable player," Gronkowski said. "What's so special about him is yeah, he makes some catches, but he always in the dirt in the run game too, to help out the running backs, to spring whoever has the ball for some extra yards. I'm not surprised. That's CG for you. I think he deserves a veteran's day off this week. Those 15 touches -- just how many times you get hit when you catch it 15 times."
When asked if Godwin could be even considered a 'veteran' given that he's still in just his fifth year and has not signed a second contract (he's currently playing under the franchise tag) Gronkowski said, "He's kind of like a vet rookie, I guess. Like a veteran but on his first contract, I guess. We'll consider him a vet because he's that good of a player."
"I think if Gronk says it, I think he might have a little bit of pull for me. So I'm gonna have to talk to him a little more about that."
Speaking setting records. ... Brady will probably break the all-time completions record, currently held by Drew Brees, at some point during this week's home game against Buffalo.
Brees retired with the record of 7,142 completions in his career. Brady is currently at 7,125 career completions, so he needs 17 to tie the record and 18 to break it. Brady hasn't been held to less than 20 completions in any game this season, so getting 18 against the Bills is a safe bet.
If Brady falls short, however, there would be some additional drama to the Buccaneers' next game, which is against the Saints on Sunday Night Football. If Brady doesn't break Brees' record against the Bills, he'd be in line to break the record against Brees' former team.
The official NFL records only count regular-season games. Brady also has 1,106 postseason completions, by far the most ever, and if those were included, Brady would already easily have the career record.
Also. ... Brady has thrown 74 touchdown passes since joining the Bucs in 2020, which puts him fourth on the Bucs all-time list. He moved ahead of Doug Williams (73 from 1978-82) on Sunday and is closing in on Vinny Testaverde (77, 1987-92) and Josh Freeman (80, 2009-13). Jameis Winston is the franchise's career TD pass leader with 121 from 2015-19.
Meanwhile, The Bucs have scored 30 or more points seven times, going 7-0 in those games. Including playoffs, they've scored 30-plus a league-leading 19 times since Brady's arrival in 2020. They've scored 377 through 12 games this year, their highest-ever total at this point in a season.
How does Sunday's win impact the Bucs' playoff positioning?
With the Bucs' win over the Falcons, they extended their lead to four games in the NFC South and moving into a tie for second place in the NFC seeding with the Green Bay Packers, who were on a bye week, although the Packers will have higher positioning because they have a better conference record.
Only the top two seeds are guaranteed home-field advantage until the conference finals, with only the top seed getting a first-round bye and home field if they are still alive. Laine notes the Bucs could benefit from playing at home considering their scoring differential between home (21.60) and road games (-2.33) this year.
One last note here. ... Buffalo is the lone team the Bucs will face over the next five weeks that currently has a winning record.
QBs: Tom Brady, Blaine Gabbert, Kyle Trask
RBs: Rachaad White, Leonard Fournette, Ke'Shawn Vaughn, Giovani Bernard
WRs: Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Julio Jones, Russell Gage, Breshad Perriman, Scott Miller, Jaelon Darden, Kaylon Geiger
TEs: Cade Otton, Cameron Brate, Ko Kieft, Kyle Rudolph
Tennessee TitansCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 December 2021
As Associated Press sports writer Teresa M. Walker suggests, proof the Titans are healthier now than before their bye came in a roster announcement Monday. Seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Julio Jones and two others can start practicing with the team, a big step toward rejoining the active roster.
The Titans also designated rookie wide receiver Racey McMath and safety Dane Cruikshank to return to practice.
According to Walker, getting this trio back could be a big boost for the Titans (8-4), who currently sit atop the AFC South and returned to work Monday up a spot to No. 2 in the AFC with five games remaining.
"Those guys have been working extremely hard to get back, which is what we ask everybody that isn't participating," head coach Mike Vrabel said. "And, I felt like the training staff, the weight staff, everybody involved, those particular players worked extremely hard. I think it's beneficial."
Vrabel said the Titans use technology to help track players and how fast they're able to run to gauge when someone is ready to start practicing again. Vrabel said it's helpful to both the team and the players involved to see exactly how fast they ran during games before being injured.
"We can track that and monitor that and show them as they get closer," Vrabel said. "So that, one, we're all on the same page and they, two, have a lot of confidence to come back."
Getting Jones back would be a big boost for an offense that went into the bye scoring just 13 points apiece in a two-game skid. A hamstring issue has limited Jones, 32, to six games this season. But Jones has 21 catches for 336 yards and would be a big boost with 2020 Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Brown also on injured reserve.
The Titans played only four receivers in their last game before the bye, a 36-13 loss to the Patriots. Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, Chester Rogers, rookie Dez Fitzpatrick and Cody Hollister combined for six catches on 14 passes.
Derrick Henry, the 2020 NFL Offensive Player of the Year, is the biggest name on the Titans' injured reserve list, currently at 18. Henry was put on injured reserve Nov. 1 and has missed the past four games with a broken right foot.
"He won't be out there this week," Vrabel said. "That's all I can tell you. But I think he's doing OK."
Jeremy McNichols, however, was back after missing time with a concussion. He'll likely move into the rotation alongside Dontrell Hilliard and D'Onta Foreman.
The Titans signed RB Jordan Wilkins to their practice squad on Tuesday.
Vrabel had to push some meetings and Monday's schedule back with a testing backlog as the Titans returned to work after the four-day break for the bye. With the Titans rested, Vrabel also is hoping to practice at a faster pace after many sessions held at walk-through or jog-through pace over recent weeks.
"It's going to be real, real critical that we focus on our fundamentals, our conditioning, practicing with some speed as we head in here to December," Vrabel said. "All those things that make a difference in football games."
One area that could show a dramatic improvement from practicing faster could be turnovers. The Titans lost nine combined in the two-game slide and now have 21 for the season, a big increase from having 12 giveaways all of the 2020 season.
For now, the Titans are focused on hosting Jacksonville (2-10) on Sunday and snapping that skid.
Tennessee gained a spot during its bye, going from the No. 3 position in the AFC to No. 2. Vrabel said he's more focused on his own team and not what other teams are doing right now.
"This is a focus on fundamentals," Vrabel said. "Let's focus on conditioning, not letting our conditioning be a factor down the stretch here now that it's December, focusing on trying to eliminate bad football. That would be a huge key in our success here down the stretch."
One last note here. ... The Titans activated S Kevin Byard from the reserve/COVID-19 list on Tuesday.
Byard was placed on Tennessee's COVID list prior to their Week 13 bye. Byard has 64 tackles, five interceptions and a sack, along with 12 passes defensed, two quarterback pressures, and a forced fumble in 12 appearances this year.
QBs: Ryan Tannehill, Malik Willis
RBs: Derrick Henry, Dontrell Hilliard, Hassan Haskins, Julius Chestnut, Trenton Cannon
WRs: Treylon Burks, Robert Woods, Nick Westbrook_Ikhine, Cody Hollister, Chris Conley, Kyle Philips
TEs: Austin Hooper, Chigoziem Okonkwo, Geoff Swaim, Kevin Rader
Washington Football TeamCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 December 2021
As Zach Selby of the team's official website noted, just over a month ago, the Washington Football Team was doubted, dismissed and looked downright dismal eight games into the season and more likely to compete for a top draft pick rather than a top spot in the division.
Four games later, people are writing a quite different story. Washington hasn't lost since Halloween, and its win streak has placed it firmly in the playoff conversation.
If that feels like deja vu, you're not alone.
Washington has come alive yet again in the second half of the season, and unlike last year, the wins have come against more complete teams and high profile signal-callers. Tom Brady, Cam Newton, Russell Wilson and Derek Carr have all fallen to Washington, and despite suffering a slew of injuries and making some mistakes along the way, the Burgundy and Gold has withstood it all with a resilience that reminds head coach Ron Rivera of last season's run.
"It really does," Rivera said. "And it is them relying on one another. It is them not trying to make the big splash play. It is them staying where they are supposed to and doing their job."
That resilience didn't come without some self-evaluation. Its offense lagged behind on scoring in the red zone and third-down production, while the defense was giving up nearly 400 yards per game and missed 9.6 percent of their tackles.
So, the team switched up its approach. It decided to lean more heavily on the run game with Antonio Gibson carrying the brunt of the workload and cleaned up its operation on defense. The decision to put more trust in Gibson has paid off in dividends. He's fifth in rushing with 800 yards; his yards after contact are sixth in NFL; and his 18 missed tackles are the second-most among running backs.
"Just physical running," Gibson said after the 17-15 win over the Las Vegas Raiders. "They trust me to do that, and I'm going to keep doing it."
With 109 touches over the last four games, one thing is clear: The shin injury that was an issue at one point is no longer limiting his role.
The end result is Washington has dominated the pace of games. Washington is fourth in time of possession, and over the last three weeks, only the Baltimore Ravens have held the ball for longer. In the last three games, Washington is fourth in average rushing yards per game, and that comes with injuries to three centers and rookie standout Sam Cosmi being placed on injured reserve.
And yet, if the Washington offensive line is perturbed by the gut punched to its depth, the group isn't showing it.
"Well, I think a lot of it has to do with the way they work," Rivera said. "They've got tremendous work ethic. As a group, they're a very close-knit group."
For what it's worth, when the NFL schedule came out in May, Rivera loved that Washington finished the season with five games against NFC East competition.
He told players it was an opportunity if they could still be in the playoff race by this stretch.
And here we are.
"We're at the part where we control it," Rivera said Monday. "What's going to happen to the Washington Football Team is now in our hands. We go out and play the way we're capable of, we give ourselves a chance, and that's where we wanted to be."
Can they catch Dallas?
According to ESPN.com's John Keim, it will be tough, but Washington plays the Cowboys twice in the next three weeks, starting Sunday at home. ...
Washington will be without top tight end Logan Thomas when the team hosts the Cowboys on Sunday, but Rivera said an MRI did not confirm the worst fears of a torn ACL.
"The MRI results came back. They were better than we anticipated," Rivera said in his Monday video conference. "Obviously, there is some damage there. It's not as extensive as first thought. So, we're sending for a few more tests just to make sure and we'll go from there. So we're still waiting on a little be more of an evaluation, but it is a little bit more positive than first anticipated."
While he avoided a torn ACL, but he didn’t avoid a season-ending knee injury.
Ben Standig of The Athletic reports that Thomas is expected to be placed on injured reserve.
Thomas had a previous injured reserve stint due to a hamstring injury and players can only be activated once a season. Thomas had 18 catches for 196 yards and three touchdowns in six appearances this season and his absence will leave Washington without one of their top offensive weapons for the rest of the campaign.
Fellow tight end Ricky Seals-Jones has missed the last three games with a hip injury, but appeared to be close to returning last week. Assuming he's back, Thomas' knee injury opens the door to Seals-Jones returning as the starter, a role he handled well with Thomas on IR earlier this season.
J.D. McKissic missed Sundays win over the Raiders due to a concussion. Assuming he's cleared to play this week, McKissic's change-of-pace role behind Gibson has been sufficient in recent week's -- even with Washington leaning more heavily on Gibson and the run -- to merit a spot in fantasy lineups.
I'll have more on McKissic, who didn't practice Wednesday, and Seals-Jones and Samuel (groin), both limited to open the week, via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
Curtis Samuel was targeted just once by Heinicke in the Raiders game, his second back after missing time with a lingering groin injury. The receiver who was supposed to be a big part of Washington's offense has not been, and he's unlikely to be more than a complementary player the rest of the way.
Kicker Brian Johnson connected from 48 yards for the go-ahead field goal with 37 seconds left against the Raiders. He's the team's fourth kicker this season, with the latest change necessitated by Joey Slye's pulled hamstring, but Johnson has been on Washington's radar since training camp and could be the one who sticks.
Running back Jonathan Williams is set to be signed off the practice squad to fill Thomas’ spot on the active roster.
Montez Sweat had been out with a fractured jaw, but was set to return this week. Until Wednesday, when he tested positive for COVID-19. Because Sweat is unvaccinated, he’s out 10 days. That gives him at least a chance to play Week 15 against the Eagles. ...
And finally. ... Ryan Fitzpatrick's 2021 season -- and perhaps his time with the Football Team -- will officially come to a close, as he's set for surgery.
Fitzpatrick will undergo arthroscopic surgery on his hip, a measure that will help him heal up and bring to an end his season after just one game, NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported Tuesday morning.
QBs: Taylor Heinicke, Sam Howell, Carson Wentz
RBs: Brian Robinson Jr., Antonio Gibson, Jonathan Williams, J.D. McKissic
WRs: Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel, Jahan Dotson, Dyami Brown, Cam Sims, Dax Milne
TEs: Logan Thomas, John Bates, Cole Turner, Armani Rogers