Team Notes Week 14 2018

By Bob Harris
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NEWS, NOTES, RUMORS AND OTHER GOOD STUFF

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

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Arizona Cardinals

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 December 2018

The temperature was freezing, the snow fell in the first half and the Cardinals historically didn't play well at Lambeau Field.

And while Sunday's game won't fit in the all-time highlight film alongside the Cards' two recent playoff wins over the Packers, it was beautiful on a dreary day during what had been a dreary season.

The Cardinals pulled off a 20-17 win over the Packers (4-7-1), all but ending Green Bay's slim hopes to make the playoffs and snapping a three game losing streak.

Larry Fitzgerald came up with a big catch on third-and-23 to set up Zane Gonzalez's winning field goal a few plays later from 44 yards. Packers kicker Mason Crosby missed a 49-yard field goal as time expired to seal the win for the Cardinals.

Rookie quarterback Josh Rosen completed 11 for 26 passes for 149 yards, and had a crucial 33-yard scramble to set up the Cardinals go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter.

The Cardinals' defense held Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers in check, with 233 yards and 31-for-50 passing.

But it was Chase Edmonds, who came off the bench to score his first two NFL touchdowns for the Cardinals, who made the biggest difference.

"Obviously, this is going to be something I'll never forget for my life," Chase said.

Technically, Edmonds had three touchdowns against Green Bay. The first was initially called a touchdown but then overturned after a review.

"I said, 'Oh, don't do this to me. Please don't do this to me,'" he said. "I was fortunate enough to have great blocking by the O-line and get the extra one in two plays after."

He scored a play later.

"Chase is a baller,” Rosen said. "He's got unbelievable quickness and strong legs.

"I love Chase. He's a great dude. He's smart. He works had. You couldn't ask for anything more."

In more ways than just his touchdowns, Sunday was Edmonds' coming-out party.

Until Sunday, Edmonds was playing to not make a mistake while he gave David Johnson a break. But during a meeting Saturday night to go over the game plan one last time, offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich said something that stuck with Edmonds: "Don't be afraid to make a great play. Don't be afraid to be special and great."

Something clicked for Edmonds.

"I felt like at (in college), I was always going for that big play," Edmonds said. "I didn't care what those results were. I felt like that's really where I had to put my mindset. Instead of rather just, 'OK, don't play not to make a mistake,' go out here and be that guy that makes the play.

"That's really what I tried to focus on today."

It worked. He had five carries -- two of which were touchdowns -- for 53 yards and two catches for 13 yards.

He put his balance on display throughout the game, something head coach Steve Wilks saw while scouting him.

"He does run with great balance, low center of gravity," Wilks said. "And for a guy that size, he's pretty powerful."

Edmonds has had to be "extremely patient" sitting behind Johnson, but Sunday's performance isn't going to change that.

"David's the 'Mailman,'" said Edmonds, sharing a nickname that running backs coach Kirby Wilson gave Johnson. "I'm just eager to grow and learn from David and continue to just improve on small things and little things that I can improve on myself to better myself as a football player."

As ESPN.com's Tristan H. Cockcroft noted, Edmonds scored 20.6 PPR fantasy points today, despite the fact that Johnson started and had 21 touches. It's only the second time in Johnson's 34 career starts that he had been outscored by a fellow Cardinals running back, but the first time it has happened by this margin (12.4, as Johnson had 8.2 points today).

In 2018 Week 2, Edmonds scored 7.0 points to Johnson's 6.1.

Impressive though his performance was, it's going to be difficult to view Edmonds as more than a fly in the ointment for Johnson owners down the stretch -- unless he can demonstrate a reliable and consistent workload in the next week or two. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Gonzalez drew the ire of Browns fans earlier this season, but he's ingratiated himself quite nicely with his new team.

The Arizona State product had a memorable debut with the Cardinals by connecting on a pair of field goals in inclement weather, including the game-winning 44-yard field goal with 1:45 remaining, in Sunday's 20-17 win over the Packers.

The weather made it tough on both Gonzalez and Crosby. The temperature was near freezing and there was intermittent snow and rain throughout. While those didn't help, the real issue was the wind, which was strong and unpredictable.

"It was swirling at different points, so it was a tough one, but at the end of the day we got the win," Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez converted on a 44-yard field goal in the third quarter and hit both of his extra point attempts. Cosby missed a 49-yard field goal as time expired, leaving Gonzalez as the hero in this one. ...

On a less positive note. ... Wilks announced Monday that rookie wide receiver Christian Kirk suffered a broken foot and will be placed on injured reserve.

Kirk, who caught three passes for 54 yards Sunday, finishes the season with 43 catches for 590 yards, which led the team, and three touchdowns on 70 targets, which ranked second behind Fitzgerald's 75 targets.

The Cardinals' options to replace Kirk alongside Fitzgerald include J.J. Nelson, rookie Trent Sherfield and Chad Williams, who has missed four games with an ankle injury. The loss of Kirk, the team's second-round pick, also affects special teams, where he led Arizona with 21 punt returns for 164 yards.

Wilks also announced that starting left guard Mike Iupati will be placed on injured reserve with a knee injury.

Iupati left the game in the third quarter with a knee injury and didn't return. He was replaced by Colby Gossett in the lineup.

Iupati's departure left the Cardinals without every member of their projected offensive line from training camp. Center A.Q. Shipley (knee) and right guard Justin Pugh (knee) are on injured reserve, left tackle D.J. Humphries (knee) remains out and right tackle Andre Smith was cut last week.

The line had many unfamiliar faces for the final portion of the game. Korey Cunningham was at left tackle, Gossett at left guard, Mason Cole at center, Oday Aboushi at right guard and Will Holden at right tackle.

Rosen was sacked twice in the game and the group was called for multiple holding and false start penalties, but the Green Bay pass rush wasn't dominant.

"I can't speak enough of Gossett as well as Will Holden, the way they stepped up and performed today," Wilks said.

Another new face -- and large body -- was added Wednesday, when the Cardinals signed OT Joe Barksdale, who was released by the Chargers on Monday; Humprhies was placed on IR to make a roster spot. ...

Safety Budda Baker left the game in the second quarter with a knee injury but later returned.

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

Atlanta Falcons

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 December 2018

As ESPN.com's Vaughn McClure reminded readers on Monday, the Falcons were supposed to be carried by an explosive offense this season.

Of course, it would have been a tall task to ask the Falcons to duplicate what they accomplished during the Super Bowl run in 2016, when they led the league at 33.8 points per game. But when you have a one-time MVP in Matt Ryan, a five-time Pro Bowler in Julio Jones, an electric rookie in Calvin Ridley and a host of other capable weapons, points are supposed to come a little easier.

Such hasn't been the case for the Falcons over the past 22 days during a four-game losing streak that put any playoff talk to rest. They have averaged just 17 points per game over that span while dropping to 4-8.

McClure went on to explain that Sunday's 26-16 loss to the Baltimore Ravens magnified all that has gone wrong for the Falcons on the offensive side of the ball. They knew they had a challenge against the league's top defense in the Ravens, but no one would have expected the Falcons to gain 131 net yards, their lowest total in a game since managing just 106 in a 26-7 loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Dec. 12, 1999.

Ryan, sacked three times and hit seven times by the Ravens, threw for 131 yards on 16 of 26 passes -- a career low when he has attempted 20 or more passes, according to ESPN Stats and Information. And once again, the Falcons failed to put together any semblance of a running game with 34 yards on 15 carries, averaging 2.3 yards per carry. The Falcons finished the game with 131 total yards of offense, 75 of which came on their final drive of the game, and they averaged 2.9 yards per play.

The offense accounted for 9 of the team's 16 points.

It didn't help that Baltimore was on offense for nearly 40 minutes

The Falcons ran just four plays on offense in the fourth quarter -- a three-and-out and one play before the end of the quarter. That three-and-out for the Falcons was sandwiched around a 10-play drive and a 14-play drive by the Ravens which each ended in field goals. Baltimore dominated possession throughout the afternoon, running 77 plays and holding the ball for just over 39 minutes. The Falcons ran just 45 plays and had the ball for about 20 minutes.

Most worrisome, during their ongoing four-game skid, the running back combo of Tevin Coleman and Ito Smith has combined for 159 yards on 54 carries (2.94 yards per carry). It emphasizes how much Devonta Freeman (groin surgery) is missed.

"It was a point of emphasis for us to get the run game going. We didn't do a good enough job," Ryan said. "We didn't execute as well as we needed to.

"We had some [opportunities] that were closer than they might have looked. But consistently, when you're not making first downs, you're not moving the chains, it's hard to get that [run game] going."

Passes didn't work well, either, whether it was due to drops or poor throws. Give Ryan credit for pointing blame at himself for overthrowing Coleman on a wheel route early in the game that might have led to a touchdown rather than having to settle for a field goal.

"I'd love to have that one back," Ryan said. "Just throw it a yard or two shorter and let him kind of take it to the house. You never know if momentum changes from that point."

The Falcons have lost a lot of steam, and head coach Dan Quinn has noticed. Quinn talked about the effort being apparent but there have been moments in which he saw the energy of his team dip. It would seem to be even harder to maintain a high level of energy over the final four games, starting with next week's trip to Green Bay. The Falcons don't have much to play for.

"Early on, you have that moment where it's 'OK, we will get it turned,'" Quinn said. "So I think when you hit the reality where you're fighting to get to .500, yeah, that stinks. And that hurts. ... It's never a group of guys that has been like, 'Let's back off and step away.' We're way more of, 'How do we go about improving and fixing what we need to get done?'"

Seeing Pro Bowl linebacker Deion Jones return to the lineup for the first time since right foot surgery and post 15 total tackles and a sack was a positive for the Falcons to build upon, as was seeing quiet first-round pick Vic Beasley Jr. returning a Grady Jarrett forced fumble 74 yards for a touchdown. It was the team's first fumble recovery of the season despite forcing six fumbles.

But from an offensive perspective, the Falcons have plenty of work to do to feel positive moving forward.

Critics will continue to point to offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian when they see failed run plays up the middle or a pass by Mohamed Sanu out of the Wildcat formation sail incomplete on third-and-1. But as Ryan said, there are plays the Falcons had to execute, and they didn't.

And Quinn continues to support Sarkisian, just like owner Arthur Blank continues to support Quinn.

Whatever the case, owner Arthur Blank told The Athletic he has not "lost any faith" in Quinn. He said the same of GM Thomas Dimitroff.

"They'll do the evaluations that's needed," Blank added.

The Falcons already made one change on the offensive line by inserting Zane Beadles at right guard ahead of Ben Garland. The adjustment didn't necessarily keep Ryan off his back or open up holes in the run game, though the blame does not fall directly on Beadles. The line, as a whole, has to do better. And the backs have to pick up blitzers.

Ryan has sounded like a broken record in talking about the mindset that the Falcons have to possess moving forward. But there's not much else to say.

"We've got to get back to work," Ryan said. "We've got to find a good way to win. As far as stay together, I think we have a good group of men in our locker room, coaching staff and front office that are willing to work."

For what it's worth, Ryan has been sacked 36 times in 12 games so far this season, on pace for a career-high 48 sacks (topping the 44 he took in 2013).

That creates a reasonable concern about his condition over the last four weeks of the season.

"Well, No. 1, I'm concerned about it because if we're not protecting him in the way that we can, then that gets hard," Quinn told McClure. "And there's some games that the score's out of whack and it turns into a dropback game where there's going to be more chances for a defense to go after him.

"At the end of it, yeah, I'm concerned. But I'm as concerned about us playing as well as we can. And if we do do that, and if we play better on some of the third downs and allow some of our run game to get going again, I would anticipate those numbers going back the other way in terms of hits on Matt."

As Profootballtalk.com notes, Ryan's being hit an average of 7.7 times per game, and has taken more than 10 hits in three games-- against the Eagles, Steelers and Saints. While there are multiple reasons for this (including injury and attrition), the biggest problem is the fact Atlanta is falling behind and staying behind, forcing Ryan into position to become a sitting duck.

On the immediate injury front. ... Quinn was asked about the health of the team Wednesday and didn't indicate any concern about Jones, who sat out Wednesday's practice with a foot injury. We'll see if Jones return to action Thursday.

According to McClure, Jones was out on the practice field at the start but apparently didn't do anything. He's coming off a season-low two catches for 18 yards against the Ravens. Jones came out of the game briefly last week but ended up playing 41 of 53 offensive snaps.

Ridly (ankle, elbow) was limited Wednesday -- as he has been to start each of the last two weeks.

I'll continue to follow up on both in coming days.

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

Baltimore Ravens

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 December 2018

There is talk that the Baltimore Ravens will have to make a decision at starting quarterback this week because Joe Flacco will be recovered from a hip injury.

But as ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley suggested, Lamar Jackson might have ended any quarterback controversy in helping the Ravens beat the Atlanta Falcons 26-16 on Sunday.

Once again, Jackson led the offense with his legs and did enough with his arm to keep Baltimore as a favorite for a wild-card spot. He continues to give this team a physical, run-first mentality. He repeatedly delivers a much-needed dose of excitement at the most critical part of the season.

Can the Ravens take the job away from Jackson after he has gone 3-0? If the season ended today, the Ravens (7-5) would have the No. 6 and final playoff spot in the AFC, and Jackson has certainly provided the spark for it.

The drawback with Jackson is the frustrating growing pains. The offense doesn't run as smoothly as Jackson glides for first downs.

He is prone to turnovers, throwing three interceptions and fumbling once (which got returned 70 yards for a touchdown by the Falcons) in three starts. He struggles with accuracy and overthrows open receivers for big plays, as he did Sunday when John Brown broke free at the Falcons' 15-yard line.

Flacco is certainly the more polished quarterback right now. Jackson, though, is better-suited for the team at this time.

With Jackson, the Ravens are the most dominant rushing team in the NFL. They take chunks off the clock, which keeps the NFL's top-ranked defense fresh. Jackson finished 12-of-21 for 125 yards passing and ran 17 times for 75 yards. They're not scintillating numbers, but they're winning ones.

Jackson truly staked his claim to the starting job for the rest of the season in the fourth quarter, when he returned after being cleared from the concussion protocol. With Ravens up 16-10, Jackson converted a third down with a 16-yard run and then hit Ty Montgomery on another third-down pickup, which put Baltimore in range for a 47-yard field goal by Justin Tucker.

When Jackson took over as the starter during the bye week, the Ravens had lost three games in a row and were spiraling downward. They couldn't run the ball and struggled to throw the ball deep.

Jackson came in to beat two of the worst defenses in the NFL -- Cincinnati and Oakland -- at home. In his first road start, Jackson marched Baltimore down the field on the first drive, capping it with a 13-yard touchdown run. Another box was checked for Jackson.

The popular narrative is the Ravens will have a choice at quarterback heading into next week's game in Kansas City. But Flacco was not moving around well this past week. He had a noticeable limp.

In fact, head coach John Harbaugh told reporters on Monday that it would be a few days before he knows if there will be a decision to make this week. Harbaugh said Flacco will do more at practice this week before doctors decide if his hip is well enough for a return to game action.

"Probably by the end of the week," Harbaugh said. "I don't think they look at that every day. He's cleared to practice, so he'll practice. They'll probably look at what he does in practice. They look at tape. And they'll just let me know, they'll let us know. We expect to ramp him up in practice a lot more this week since last week was his first week and we'll just see how it goes."

Per Hensley, Flacco was doing more as the team opened the week on Wednesday, but not as a full participant.

With Jackson undefeated, Flacco's recovery might not be an issue.

Jackson might have ended the quarterback debate in the city where another running quarterback, Michael Vick, once starred.

Remember, winning games is kind of a big deal in the NFL.

And the Ravens are now half-game back of the Steelers for first place in AFC North and a home playoff game. Baltimore's last four games: at Kansas City, vs. Tampa Bay, at L.A. Chargers and vs. Cleveland. Pittsburgh's last four: at Oakland, vs. New England, at New Orleans and vs. Cincinnati.

Also remember, Jackson and the Ravens have formed the most dominant rushing attack in the NFL. The Ravens top the league in both fewest yards and points allowed.

And Hensley added Baltimore is also second-to-none when it comes to being aggressive. Case in point: the attack-mode mentality on offense, defense and special teams in Atlanta on Sunday. From a fake punt to an all-out blitz to a fourth-down gamble, the Ravens are playing like they have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

And that's likely to carry over to their personnel decisions going forward. ...

Other notes of interest. ... There have been a lot of changes at running back in the past few weeks, but BaltimoreRavens.com's John Eisenberg thinks it's clear now what's going to happen going forward. Gus Edwards will be the starter and get the most carries, but Kenneth Dixon and Ty Montgomery will also see the ball.

Eisenberg added: "There are enough carries for everyone with the Ravens running the ball so much. ..."

That said, Edwards is continuing with treatment of an ankle injury that also limited him in practice last week, but believes he'll be available for Sunday's game at Kansas City, Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic reports.

More on his status via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

Robert Griffin III has been waiting a long time to get a chance like he had Sunday in Atlanta. Griffin entered the game in the third quarter as Jackson was evaluated for a concussion, and he orchestrated a 14-play drive that ended in a field goal to extend the Ravens' lead to 16-10.

"Personally, it's emotional because a year ago no one thought I'd be playing in the NFL ever again," Griffin said. "That was a special moment for me, but I tried not to make that the focal point of what was going on. We were in the heat of the game and we needed to get the win."

The Ravens stuck with their run-heavy game plan when Griffin entered the game, but he still looked sharp throwing the football. He completed two-of-four passes for 21 yards, and the Ravens took 8 minutes, 8 seconds off the clock on the field-goal drive.

Griffin hadn't thrown a pass in a regular season game since Week 17 of the 2016 season with the Cleveland Browns, but he didn't look rusty or flustered when he entered the game. The calm demeanor from the 28-year-old quarterback rubbed off on his teammates and helped keep the Ravens from getting into a bad situation while Jackson was sidelined.

"He didn't blink," veteran right guard Marshal Yanda added. "It's next man up and he's our backup quarterback right now, and I think he did well."

Griffin saw only one series of work because Jackson was cleared from the concussion protocol before the Ravens offense went back on the field. But his performance Sunday showed that he's more capable of stepping into the lineup if the Ravens need him, which is exactly why the Ravens opted to keep him on the roster throughout the season.

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

Buffalo Bills

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 December 2018

Josh Allen's attempt to hit tight end Charles Clay with a game-winning pass fell incomplete on Sunday afternoon, which left the quarterback lamenting a missed opportunity to beat the Dolphins.

Allen had a lot to do with putting the Bills in position to have that chance and he made a lot of plays outside of the passing game. Allen ran for 135 yards in Sunday's loss, which is the most that a quarterback has run for in a game since Colin Kaepernick in 2014 and the most by a rookie quarterback since Robert Griffin III in 2012.

Allen, who ran for 99 yards in Week 12, also became the fourth player to run for at least 125 yards while also throwing two touchdown passes. Walter Payton, Tobin Rote and Michael Vick are the others and Rote was also the last quarterback to run for at least 234 total yards in two straight games. All of that leads LeSean McCoy to believe the book on Allen will be changing in the coming weeks.

"You got to put [Allen] in that category as a runner," McCoy said, via Mike Rodak of ESPN.com. "Normally, a big white boy, stiff -- you don't think he can move like that. But now, I'm sure he'll get that attention. 'OK, he can run.'"

According to Profootballtalk.com's Josh Alper, the Bills will surely be hoping to see Allen making more plays with his arm in the future, but they don't have enough offensive threats to get too choosy right now.

And as the team's official website suggested, the Dolphins felt they had a good plan for Allen, as they deployed LB Kiko Alonso as the spy to corral him if he took off to gain yards with his legs.

The only problem was Alonso couldn't catch him.

Neither could any other linebacker or safety for that matter.

Allen only ran nine times in Sunday's loss at Miami, but continuously escaped trouble in the pocket to pick up big chunks of yardage and keep Buffalo drives alive.

"You don't want to tell him to not go through his reads, but that's part of his progression really," said head coach Sean McDermott of Allen's runs in Sunday's game. "When he did it, when there wasn't separation (by receivers on routes) or when he had time to get out, he got out and used his legs."

On the team's first scoring drive, he turned a 2nd-and-12 into a 3rd-and-3 on a nine-yard scramble. Three plays later on a 1st-and-10 at the Miami 29, he ran for another 11 yards to the 18. On a second-and-goal from the four-yard line, he took off again and scored, but it was called back on a holding penalty. Eventually he threw a touchdown pass to Zay Jones to cap that drive.

Allen scrambled for 27 more yards on the opening drive of the second half en route to a Stephen Hauschka field goal. He led off their second-touchdown drive to take the lead with a 28-yard scamper, leaving Alonso in his rearview mirror.

"It was if the first two reads aren't there and you're feeling pressure, find an opening and get out of there," said Allen of his approach against the Dolphins.

Once it became obvious that no Miami linebacker or safety could get an angle on him, Allen made sure to help get conversions with his legs.

Down four late in the game, he overcame a 2nd-and-20 following a holding penalty with a 25-yard run up the middle. Then he followed on the next play with a 26-yard run as he outflanked and out ran the Dolphins defense before going out of bounds at the Miami 24.

CBS' statistical department reported that Allen is the first rookie quarterback to run for 90 yards or more in back-to-back games since Billy Kilmer did it with Washington in 1961.

"Very impressive," said Robert Foster of his quarterback. "It plays a big factor when we need somebody to make a play. He's an outright playmaker. That's what he did. He used his feet and his arm, and he made plays."

Allen leads NFL quarterbacks in averaging 48.6 rushing yards this season. Only three quarterbacks since 2001 -- Vick, Wilson and Griffin -- have averaged more rushing yards per game in a season.

Drilling down a bit further, Rodak notes that Allen is averaging 7.13 rushes per game, the second-highest rate by any quarterback this season behind Cam Newton (7.58). The only quarterbacks who have averaged more carries per game than Allen in a single season since 2001 have been Newton, Tim Tebow, Vick, Griffin, Josh Freeman, Tyrod Taylor and Russell Wilson.

Rodak went on to suggest that defenses might adjust as Allen proves himself as one of the league's most capable running quarterbacks, but his noted arm strength could make that difficult.

That said, Allen was intercepted twice Sunday, including once on a last-second heave at the end of the first half. The two turnovers and a 54 percent completion rate (18-of-33 passing) reduced Allen's passer rating to 71.7, tied for his third-best rating in eight games this season.

Despite the loss, Allen's performance was enough to encourage his teammates and impress defenders on an AFC East foe.

"He's got a little Ben Roethlisberger to him," Dolphins safety Reshad Jones said. "He's got a similar game, a big guy. He can run. Probably one of the strongest arms in the NFL. I think that guy is going to be good."

It's something fantasy owners can take note of for future reference. ...

Also of interest. ... Just when it looked like Foster was gaining some momentum, it was Jones who came up big in Miami. Jones caught four passes 67 yards and two touchdowns. He was targeted nine times in a game when Allen three 33 passes, so the 25 percent target share was noteworthy.

It's also hard to imagine it being sustainable.

For the record, Foster, Kelvin Benjamin and McCoy were all targeted four times each. Clay had two passes come his way.

Benjamin, however, won't be getting any more targets. At least not as a Buffalo Bill.

Benjamin and Andre Holmes were both waived on Tuesday.

As Profootballtalk.com noted, the entire Bills passing game has been a disappointment all season, so in one sense it's no surprise that they would cut a couple of wide receivers. But it's rare to see two players at the same position cut out of the blue.

Benjamin was second on the Bills this season with 354 receiving yards. He has showed flashes of the talent that made him a first-round draft pick of the Panthers in 2014, but for the most part he's been a disappointment for the Bills, who traded a third-round pick and a seventh-round pick to acquire him from Carolina. Holmes is sixth on the team with 157 receiving yards.

By the way, NFL Network's Ian Rapoport advised his Twitter followers that nothing happened here or went wrong off the field. Just the team going younger and playing players who figure more prominently in their long-term plans. In other words, the 2019 auditions for Foster and Isaiah McKenzie continue. ...

One last note here. ... McDermott said Monday that starting center Russell Bodine broke his fibula in Sunday's loss to the Dolphins. McDermott said Bodine underwent surgery Monday and is out for the season. He was replaced by Ryan Groy.

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

Carolina Panthers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 December 2018

Last Wednesday, Cam Newton stood behind a podium and-- justifiably-- told reporters he believed he was playing the best football of his career.

As Charlotte observer staffer Marcel Louis-Jacques, Newton's performance Sunday was anything but.

Against a defense missing its top three cornerbacks, Newton totaled just 54 yards in the first half. He only attempted 10 passes in the first two quarters, but still. And his second pick of the half was particularly rough because a.) It ended a promising drive at the Tampa Bay 25-yard line and b.) It gave the Bucs a chance to extend their lead to 10 at the half.

That difference? The 10 points they scored off turnovers.

Newton and the passing offense were more productive in the second half, but a pair of picks were killers. As was the pass he sailed high to a wide-open Devin Funchess on fourth-and-9 with 2:25 to go.

Once the dust cleared, Newton threw for 300 yards and two scores, but the career-high four interceptions matched a total he hadn't reached since his rookie season in 2011.

To his credit, he owned it -- the disappointment and even the almost-comedic embarrassment.

A reporter asked him to describe his second interception of the game, when Javien Elliott stepped in front of his pass to D.J. Moore in the second quarter. Newton paused for a few seconds before shaking his head. He couldn't remember.

"It's sad because I don't even know which one you're talking about," he admitted.

"It was a personal blow for me, being that I just have to take care of the ball. It's a low-percentage chance you're going to win a football game if you turn the ball over four times. That's just care-free football, we can't have that, I can't allow that and accept that for myself.

"I just have to do a better job with my accuracy and decision making."

Panthers were critically inefficient on third down Sunday, converting three of eight attempts-- with two conversions coming in the fourth quarter. Newton went 3-for-6 on third down for 42 yards and an interception, which came on his first pass attempt of the game. He was also sacked once on third down and picked up 1 yard on the ground on third-and-13.

The lack of execution on third down forced Carolina to play from behind the entire game, which meant more pass attempts-- and that ultimately took its toll.

Head coach Ron Rivera said Newton's surgically repaired shoulder was "a little bit sore" during and after the game, although the quarterback said he'll be all right and his teammates didn't sense anything was wrong until he was replaced by backup Taylor Heinicke for a last-second Hail Mary attempt.

"We ain't see no difference. I guess he was hurting," Moore said. "When Heinicke came in, I guess that was the breaking point of his arm. But he was fine the whole game. He didn't say nothing that I know of about his shoulder."

For the record, Rivera said "we'll see" when asked if Newton's shoulder require more rest during the week. Rivera will wait to see what the doctors say.

Newton (right shoulder) opened the week on the injury report as a limited participant in practice, as has become the norm in recent weeks. Wide receiver Torrey Smith (knee) was also limited.

I'll be watching for more in coming days (and reporting back via Late-Breaking Update as needed), but Newton brushed off questions about his shoulder after the game, believing his soreness was less prevalent than Carolina's four-game losing streak.

He said Sunday's performance "wasn't Carolina Panthers football"-- but it certainly represented the way the team's past four weeks have gone.

The former MVP said he never would've imagined his team would find itself at 6-6 after its 6-2 start, but that they "put ourselves in this situation and we have to get ourselves out."

He said believes the Panthers are on the brink of doing just that. But given their three losses before Sunday despite his strong stat lines, the Panthers can't afford another like the one he turned in in Tampa Bay.

As Louis-Jacques summed up, "That's the burden of 'Superman' -- sore shoulder or not. ..."

And going forward, Newton will be without one of his most trusted weapons after Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen reinjured his right foot in the second quarter of Sunday's loss.

The injury appeared to happen on a noncontact move in which Olsen misstepped.

After the game, Olsen said he ruptured the "plantar" on his right foot and that his season was over. The Panthers sealed that part of the deal by placing Olsen on IR on Tuesday.

"It's kind of one of those things where it was a matter of time," Olsen said. "We kind of pushed this foot I think as far as possible the last two seasons and today it just kind of had enough."

Olsen said his foot has been bothering him the last few weeks, but he's been able to manage the pain.

"I've been sore," he said. "It was feeling all right today. On that play I just went to push off and it ruptured my plantar [fascia]. Like the bottom tissue in my foot.

"It all stems from what I've got going on and the amount of trauma it's had the last two seasons. We got as much out of it as we could have. Finally, my foot just had enough."

Olsen said he knew "right away" what happened on the first play of the second quarter when he came out of his stance.

"It kind of popped on me," he said.

It is the same foot that forced Olsen to miss three games earlier this season and the same one that required surgery last year and kept the 33-year-old out nine games.

Olsen didn't want to consider this might be a career-threatening injury.

"I've got to get this foot put back together a little bit," he said. "It's been a long time since my foot has been normal."

Olsen did not have surgery after reinjuring the foot in the opener against Dallas because the pins from last year's surgery kept the bones from completely breaking.

From 2014 to '16, Olsen became the first tight end in NFL history to have three consecutive seasons of at least 1,000 yards. His production this season has dropped significantly with Carolina going more to young, dynamic receivers such as Moore, Curtis Samuel and running back Christian McCaffrey.

Olsen has 27 catches for 291 yards and four touchdowns this season.

"It's just tough, to go 10 years and not really have anything and then have one little injury stall me for the good part of two seasons is frustrating," Olsen said. ...

For what it's worth, rookie Ian Thomas was the clear next man up when Olsen was out earlier this season. According to ESPN's Mike Clay, Thomas ran 84 of 108 possible routes and was targeted 14 times (third most on the team) during the three games. Clay added: "Thomas could flirt with TE1 numbers, but is best viewed as a TE2. ..."

Meanwhile, the difficulties on the defensive side of the ball were acknowledged on Monday. Rivera announced that he will take over defensive play calling in a staff shakeup that included firing defensive line coach Brady Hoke and assistant secondary coach Jeff Imamura.

Rivera took over the play calling for the defense on Sunday, but he did not fire first-year defensive coordinator Eric Washington, who now will oversee the defensive front seven.

Carolina (6-6) has gone from one of the NFC's best teams to a team in disarray with four straight losses and Rivera's job security being probed.

Washington was Carolina's third defensive coordinator in three years after Steve Wilks (Arizona) and Sean McDermott (Buffalo) got head-coaching positions. The defense ranked 14th in the NFL heading into Sunday's game.

Sam Mills III will coach the defensive line and Rivera will work with Richard Rodgers in the secondary.

Before Sunday's game, CBS Sports cited sources saying new team owner David Tepper was mulling major changes if the team didn't turn its performance around.

Rivera refused to speculate.

"At the end of the day, unless Mr. Tepper says it, I'm not going to address it. OK?" Rivera said. "We can forget about asking me those questions, please."

When asked a few minutes later if he was concerned about his job security, Rivera's voice grew louder.

"I am not going to address that question," he said. "Do not ask that question again, please. ..."

A few more notes here. ... Moore played 94 percent of the snaps after he had a season high 92 percent last week against Seattle. Funchess returned from injury the week before and played 46 percent of the snaps. He had a 10-yard touchdown reception on his lone catch. Funchess was targeted three times to Moore's eight.

McCaffrey had 10 carries for 106 yards and caught nine (on 10 targets) for 55 yards and a touchdown to keep his roll going. McCaffrey's role and high-end production will be on display again this week when the Panthers take on the Broncos.

And finally. ... The Panthers added another receiver to the roster, after placing Olsen on injured reserve.

The team announced that wideout Mose Frazier was promoted from the practice squad to fill Olsen'ss spot.

Frazier has been with the Panthers the last two seasons, and was a late call-up from the practice squad last year as well. The former undrafted rookie from Memphis has also spent time with the Broncos, Bills, and 49ers.

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

Chicago Bears

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 December 2018

According to ESPN.com's Jeff Dickerson, a bitter 30-27 overtime loss to the last-place Giants should serve as a wake-up call to the Bears, who lacked urgency on offense most of the afternoon without injured quarterback Mitchell Trubisky under center.

To their credit, the Bears made a valiant comeback to send the game to overtime. In desperate need of someone to step up on offense, Tarik Cohen delivered, torching the Giants defense in every way imaginable. Not only did Cohen catch 12 passes for 156 yards and rush for 30 yards, but he also threw a game-tying touchdown pass to Anthony Miller at the end of the fourth quarter.

That's special stuff.

But Dickerson went on to note that in the bigger picture, the Bears committed way too many costly and uncharacteristic mistakes to escape with a victory.

When's the last time you remember the Bears defense busting not one, but two coverages on touchdown passes?

And Matt Nagy -- one of the favorites to win Coach of the Year -- did the Bears no favors by calling a timeout late in the second half that gave New York enough time to kick a field goal.

But arguably the most egregious errors occurred on offense, where second-string quarterback Chase Daniel failed to ride the wave of momentum he created by his better-than-expected effort last week in Detroit.

Unfortunately for the Bears, Daniel did not produce similar results in New York.

Daniel put the Bears in an early hole by throwing a pick-six to Giants linebacker Alec Ogletree, who finished the game with two interceptions.

Bears wide receiver Taylor Gabriel also contributed to the team's demise with a late fumble after a catch.

As Dickerson suggested, Daniel is a career backup for a reason. He's not in Trubisky's class in terms of athleticism, mobility and playmaking ability. Daniel is smart and well-respected, but Trubisky is the key to any long playoff run; probably why the organization proceeded with such caution in regards to Trubisky's injured right shoulder.

Trubisky received medical clearance to resume throwing, which he did Friday at practice and Sunday before kickoff during a pregame workout.

"He's getting better and he's feeling better," Nagy told the Chicago Tribune. "And so I think it's only fair for today, tomorrow and the next couple of days to go by that. We just keep seeing him throw and we see how he feels and then he tells us. And if we feel like it's an opportunity for him to go out there and he's going to be good and safe and our team is good and safe with him in there, then that's what we'll do."

Daniel's uneven performance at MetLife Stadium should only hasten Trubisky's return. There is simply no way the Bears can knock off the Los Angeles Rams unless Trubisky is back in the starting lineup. The same argument probably holds true for Chicago's remaining games against Green Bay and Minnesota -- the Bears would still likely be favored to win at San Francisco in Week 16 if they had to play Daniel.

The Bears are still a good bet to make the playoffs, but the road is about to get much harder.

Chicago's postseason run will be a short one unless they learn some lessons from Sunday's defeat.

The Bears have played smart and mistake-free much of the year. They have to get back to that style of football, and in a hurry, in order to redeem themselves with a huge victory over the Rams next week in prime time.

I will, of course, be following up on Trubisky’s progress via Late-Breaking Update in coming days; but the expectation is he will be the man under center against the Rams. ...

Other notes of interest. ... As noted above, it was a big day for Cohen, who joined Hall of Famer Jerry Rice as the only two players in NFL history to catch at least 12 passes for 150 yards and throw for a touchdown in a game.

Cohen's second career TD pass—he connected with Zach Miller last year in Baltimore—came on a play that started with :03 left in the fourth quarter and the Bears trailing 27-20.

Daniel handed the ball to Trey Burton, who pitched it to Cohen. Rolling to his right, Cohen looked to Daniel, his first option, but the quarterback was covered. So, Cohen threw to his second option, Miller, who made a diving TD catch.

The play was similar to one the Bears ran in the 2016 season finale against the Vikings that the Eagles copied and dubbed "The Philly Special" in last year's Super Bowl.

That pass was thrown by Burton to quarterback Nick Foles for a 2-yard touchdown.

"We've had that in now for a while," said Nagy. "That wasn't a hard choice for us in that situation. They did a good job of covering Chase up, and Tarik and Anthony, that's a play that's all about the players, and they made a great play."

Cohen set up key scores on the Bears' final two possessions in regulation with receptions of 32 yards and 23 yards on fourth-and-three—both on wheel routes. ...

Jordan Howard rushed for a team-high 76 yards on 16 carries with a long run of 25 yards. …

According to the team's official website, on a play dubbed "Freezer Left" in honor of William "Refrigerator" Perry, 332-pound defensive tackle Akiem Hicks scored on a 1-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-goal, giving the Bears a 14-7 lead late in the first half.

"We've had that play in for weeks and we've been practicing it," Nagy said. "The rain was coming down. There were some times down there on the field when the ball was slick. In that situation, that was the time that we felt like, No. 1, let's get the snap under center, let's give him a chance. He's hard to stop down there getting that ball full steam ahead."

Hicks became the first Bears defensive lineman to rush for a touchdown since Perry scored from the 1-yard line in Super Bowl XX.

On defense, Hicks recorded six tackles, one sack, one tackle-for-loss, two quarterback hits and one pass breakup. ...

Daniel Brown's recovery of Cody Parkey's onside kick late in Sunday's game was the first by the Bears since Nov. 27, 2016 when Adrian Amos Jr. recovered a Connor Barth onside kick against the Titans.

"It does kind of feel like slow motion there," Brown said. "Watch the ball off the tee the whole time. Cody put it in a soft spot. Once it crosses 10 yards, it's anybody's ball. You've just got to hop on it."

The Bears had a negative turnover differential for the first time this season.

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

Cincinnati Bengals

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 December 2018

According to ESPN.com's Katherine Terrell, A.J. Green's exit from Sunday's loss to the Broncos summed up everything about how the Bengals' season was going.

Green's year had been turned upside down in the span of a few minutes. What could've been a triumphant comeback ended quickly after Green pulled up untouched and grabbed the front of his right foot.

Green had already missed three games due to a toe issue but had pushed to come back. It appears now that he might have returned too soon. Green couldn't put weight on the foot and hobbled off to a cart, screaming in frustration.

Green had tears in his eyes as he sat on the back of the cart, looking forlorn before he covered his face with his hands. The stoic and quiet team captain, whose emotions were almost always contained, had finally had enough.

"I don't think I've seen him that emotional in the four years I've been here," said tight end C.J. Uzomah.

Said wide receiver Tyler Boyd: "He was in the training room at halftime. ... I know he's kind of down, but he's a strong guy, and he will overcome it."

He won't overcome it this year, however.

With their playoff hopes dimming, the Bengals are shutting down their star wide receiver. Green was placed on injured reserve Wednesday after aggravating his toe injury on Sunday.

Green had surgery on Tuesday to repair torn ligaments in the toe. He'll have roughly four-month recovery and is expected to be ready for training camp at the very latest, with appearances in OTAs and minicamp likely, according to multiple reports.

Green had his least productive year as a pro in 2018 due to this injury. The receiver finished with 46 receptions on 77 targets, 694 yards and six touchdowns.

The 30-year-old receiver enters a long and interesting offseason. Green is owed around $15 million in the final season of a four-year extension signed in 2015. But the Bengals can choose to move on from the great albeit injury-prone receiver and save $12 million in cap space.

Green's injury is another blow to an offense already missing Dalton (thumb) and tight ends Tyler Eifert (ankle) and Tyler Kroft (foot) among others.

Indeed, the offense is missing its best players and the defense is still getting flattened with head coach Marvin Lewis and special assistant Hue Jackson calling the shots in place of fired coordinator Teryl Austin.

The Broncos ran for 218 yards, the fourth time this season that Cincinnati has given up at least 200 yards rushing-- a shocking statistic. The Bengals also gave up 198 yards rushing by Kansas City.

It's only the fourth time in franchise history that they've allowed four 200-yard games in the regular season. The club record is six allowed in 1969, their second season as an expansion team.

Next up is a game on the West Coast against the Chargers (9-3), who rallied for a 33-30 win in Pittsburgh on Sunday night. The Bengals then host the Raiders (2-10). The finish with road games at Cleveland (4-7-1), which got four TD passes from Baker Mayfield in a 35-20 victory on Nov. 25 , and at Pittsburgh, which won 28-21 at Paul Brown Stadium on Oct. 14.

According to Associated Press sports writer Joe Kay, the only intrigue left is how owner Mike Brown reacts to the latest debacle.

The Bengals haven't won a playoff game since the 1990 season, the sixth-longest streak of futility in NFL history.

Lewis has gotten the Bengals into the playoffs seven times during his 16 seasons, and has lost in the first round every time for the worst postseason coaching mark in league history.

There were indications that Lewis' stay in Cincinnati was ending last season when the Bengals got drubbed by the Bears and Vikings in successive weeks, dropping them to 5-9. Even Lewis was noncommittal at that point about whether he'd be back. The Bengals won their final two games, and Brown-- who has a deep aversion to change-- decided that was good enough reason to give Lewis a contract extension.

This time, Brown could use the team's injuries as cover for keeping Lewis in place if he wants to do so, although they still must find a defensive coordinator and figure out where special assistant Hue Jackson fits into next year's plans.

Lewis said Monday that he hasn't received any assurance that he'll remain the coach through the final four games of the season.

"No, and I wouldn't expect any or ask for any," Lewis said. "The least of my worries."

Players understand that all the talk about turning the season around has become irrelevant.

"At some point, it's not even about that," receiver Alex Erickson said. "It's up to you to perform. If you don't, obviously there are going to be consequences. ..."

One last note here. ... For those looking to take advantage of Green's absence, ESPN's Mike Clay noted this week that during the three games Green missed leading into Sunday, the Bengals' target distribution was as follows: Boyd (22), Uzomah (21), John Ross (20), Joe Mixon (12), Auden Tate (9), Giovani Bernard (8), Cody Core (6), others (4).

Clay noted that Boyd is rostered in most leagues and Uzomah's volume hasn't allowed much fantasy production (three straight top-20 weeks, but zero top-12 weeks during the span). Clay added, "Ross' low catch rate is a problem, but his target share (20 percent) and touchdown production (one each game) while Green was out is enough to put him back in the flex mix. Consider adding the rookie Tate in deeper leagues, as he ranked third on the team in routes in Week 12."

One last note here. ... Mixon (foot) was limited in Wednesday's practice; I'll have more on his status via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.

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

Cleveland Browns

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 December 2018

According to ESPN.com's Pat McManamon, Baker Mayfield had his rookie moment Sunday, as his three interceptions in the first half contributed to a 23-point halftime deficit and led to a 29-13 Cleveland Browns loss to the Houston Texans.

Mayfield played much better in the second half, but the deficit was too large to overcome.

Thirteen of Houston's 23 first-half points followed Mayfield's turnovers. An interception was returned for a touchdown by Zach Cunningham, and two others led to Ka'imi Fairbairn field goals.

"It's on me to take care of the ball, because if we do that the first half then we're definitely in that game," Mayfield said. "There's zero question about that. We had the things we wanted. I got to be able to execute them."

The easy assessment is Mayfield got a dose of humility after a week in which he chirped about former coach Hue Jackson, calling him "fake" on an Instagram response, then didn't back down an inch from it in midweek interviews. That could have been the reason Houston's J.J. Watt threw some shade toward Mayfield after the game, something Watt rarely does.

"He probably wasn't feeling too dangerous in the first half, but he was feeling a little more dangerous in the second half," Watt said.

His "dangerous" remark referred to Mayfield saying after the win over Atlanta that he woke up feeling dangerous.

That comment was noticed by his peers, and Mayfield's midweek comments on Jackson obviously were noticed in Houston.

Mayfield dismissed it, saying the loss was a matter of execution. But another thing that happened the week before playing the NFL's hottest team saw the Browns talking about reaching the playoffs while they were 4-6-1. Without meaning to, Mayfield put the team's playoff hopes in proper perspective with a malapropism, saying: "All we can take care of is what we're doing and let the rest fall into pieces."

McManamon went on to suggest the most accurate assessment from this game is that Mayfield wasn't facing Cincinnati, Atlanta or Kansas City. The Texans are a top-10 defense, and their secondary played aggressively and seemed able to read Mayfield's intentions, at least in the first half.

Browns interim coach Gregg Williams credited former Browns coach turned Texans defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel with undercutting some of the quick routes the Browns like.

The game isn't defining. Mayfield had played the season without a clunker of a half or a game. This one simply did not start well. Mayfield will line up next Sunday and play Carolina at home. And he did throw for more than 350 yards in the second half as he feverishly tried to get the Browns back in the game.

"That's how the first half should have gone if we had taken care of our stuff," Mayfield said.

Mayfield went over each interception, and in doing so pointed out details he said everyone on the offense needs to be precise about for the offense to succeed.

Mayfield guided a 75-yard touchdown drive on the Browns' first possession in the second half. He also had a 76-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Callaway called back by a holding call on tackle Greg Robinson, then had a 76-yard pass and run to Callaway end when Callaway fumbled at the 6. The penalty and turnover kept the Browns from clawing back into the game.

The two halves told the story of the game. In the first, Mayfield was 5-for-13 for 46 yards with three interceptions. Rating: 9.3.

In the second half, Mayfield was 24-for-30 for 353 yards with a touchdown. Rating: 126.8.

"I just go to do my job better in the first half," Mayfield said. ...

Whatever the case, barring a miracle, the Browns will make it 16 seasons in a row without reaching the NFL playoffs.

Sunday's loss to the Texans doesn't officially eliminate the Browns, but it makes it almost impossible.

The Browns are 4-7-1 and in last place in the AFC North. Thirteen AFC teams have better records; six make the playoffs.

"We have four games left," receiver Jarvis Landry said. "Now it's time to make the push for those last four and let the cards fall where they may."

It does not make this a lost season for the Browns. Not by any definition.

They found their quarterback in Mayfield and a running back in Nick Chubb. They have defensive talent in Myles Garrett (who registered a sack-and-a-half on Sunday to give him 11.5 in 11 games) and Denzel Ward. They will have a vital coach hire as soon the season ends, and they have a ton of salary cap room for general manager John Dorsey to add more pieces.

Those are all positives, the most positive being the firm belief gained in Mayfield as the season has progressed. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Landry and David Njoku were the most active offensive players -- outside of the line and QB -- with 46 snaps apiece.

Chubb played 27 of a possible 57 offensive snaps. Duke Johnson was on the field for 20 and Dontrell Hilliard got 12.

Chubb rushed nine times for 31 yards and a touchdown while catching three passes for 41 yards as game script (with Cleveland falling behind early) limited his rushing work. ...

Landry caught six of nine targets for 103 yards while Callaway pulled in three of six for 84 yards. Njoku also caught three of his six targets, but for just eight yards. ...

Worth noting. ... The Browns didn't use a second tight end as much as they did in the previous two games. Darren Fells was on the field for 15 snaps and Seth DeValve played 6.

On the injury front, Williams provided no update on the biceps injury to defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi in Williams' day-after-game assessment. Williams did say Denzel Ward remains in the concussion protocol, but cornerback Terrance Mitchell will return from injured reserve for the final four games.

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

Dallas Cowboys

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 December 2018

The Cowboys looked like the better team last Thursday night. They looked nothing like the team that started 3-5, with Jason Garrett's head on the chopping block.

Owner Jerry Jones said the Cowboys aren't the same team: They aren't the same team they were at 3-5, and they aren't even the same team they were before the 13-10 victory over the Saints.

"This bunch, this team won't be the same again," Jones said. "I'm serious. You win something like this against a team that well-coached, those kind of players, a caliber of team like that, and you know you've done it; the mirror knows you've done it. You change. This is a changer in here. These guys, they're different cats now as they go forward."

No one likely looks at the Cowboys the same now.

As Profootballtalk.com's Charean Williams suggested, the outcome reminded many veteran Cowboys' observers of 2009.

The Saints had won 10 games in row before losing to the Cowboys on Thursday. In 2009, the Cowboys beat the then-13-0 Saints 24-17, which started a three-game winning streak to end the regular season. Dallas won the NFC East and beat the Eagles in a wild-card playoff game.

"Well, I was of course thinking about the '09 game before we played this game and knew that it's possible to have a team that becomes better if they win a big game," Jones said. "Certainly, that made us a better team to win that game in New Orleans for the ensuing games and for the year. Make no mistake, this game made us better. . . . We're a better team having come out of here [with a win]."

Now 7-5, they are in first place in the NFC East as December begins and the favorites to win the division with four games to play.

"Really just had to dig back in, focus on the first day of our preparation for the next opponent and really try to get everybody dialed back in to moment-by-moment, day-by-day, hour-by-hour preparation," Garrett said, remembering the message to the players after the Tennessee loss. "I think the guys understand that's when you play your best, perform your best. If you're disciplined enough to get locked in on the task, that's something we try to instill on the team and just keep banging away."

But ESPN.com's Todd Archer advised readers the team's recent success does not mean Garrett is off the hook.

If anything, there is more pressure on Garrett.

The four-game winning streak has brought expectations. The win against the Saints has some thinking bigger things than just making the playoffs. The Cowboys don't have any opponent with a winning record the rest of the way.

And while the Cowboys are riding high after the win over the Saints, there's one area where they have to improve.

That area is pass protection, where quarterback Dak Prescott was sacked seven times last night and has been sacked a whopping 45 times this season, by far the most in the NFL.

So far this season, Prescott has thrown 364 passes. If you calculate "dropbacks per sack" as (attempts + sacks)/sacks, Prescott gets sacked about once for every nine times he drops back. That's bad: The average NFL quarterback gets sacked about once for every 15 times he drops back.

Prescott has already been sacked far more this season than he was sacked in either his rookie year (25 sacks) or his second year (32 sacks) even though he threw far more passes in those two seasons than he's thrown so far this season.

A part of the problem for the Cowboys is that All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith has missed the last two games. But the problems go beyond just Smith; Prescott had already been sacked a career-high 34 times in the 10 games Smith started.

Prescott himself has to bear some of the blame for failing to see the pass rush coming and get rid of the ball in a hurry. For the Cowboys to keep winning, they're going to need to take better care of Prescott, and for Prescott to take better care of himself. ...

According to Brandon George of the Dallas Morning News, Smith said he expected to be back on the field this week against the Eagles.

"I feel great," Smith said. "For me, it was more frustrating more than anything. I trust our team doctors. I'm going through the whole program. I guess it wasn't ready yet. We thought it would be ready by then. I guess it wasn't."

Smith has missed the last two games with a stinger, and said he hadn't gone to get a second opinion. Getting him back will help stabilize things up front as the Cowboys have clearly suffered without him in the short term and without center Travis Frederick all season after he was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome earlier this year.

Cameron Fleming started in Smith's spot.

The last update on Frederick was that he's regained sensation in his hands three months after his diagnosis.

Frederick also said that he has "no doubt" that he's going to make a full recovery, but it doesn't appear that will happen in time for Frederick to play football this season. Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said on 105.3 The Fan Monday that it's doubtful that Frederick will return to action this year.

Given the fact that it's December and there's been no word that Frederick was close to returning, that's probably the way most people saw things playing out.

Joe Looney has started at center all season for the Cowboys.

Also on the injury front. ... Moore reported that Cole Beasley sprained his right foot in the win over New Orleans, an injury that could jeopardize his ability to play this week

The slot receiver sprained his foot while making a key reception on third-and-5 in the final six minutes of the game. Beasley was able to return, but the foot clearly bothered him.

A source told Moore that Beasley may be able to play against Philadelphia on Sunday but should be regarded as week-to-week at this stage.

"Hopefully it's not a long-term thing," Garrett said.

Beasley leads the team with 468 receiving yards and is second in receptions with 48. He's caught 12 passes for 102 yards during the team's four-game winning streak.

I'll have more on his progress via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

And finally. ... With rookie linebacker Leighton Vander Esch performing very well in the absence of Sean Lee, who has missed four games and counting with a hamstring injury, owner Jerry Jones isn’t ready to relegate Lee to the second string.

Jones said during his weekly Tuesday appearance on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas that Lee will return to the starting lineup when ready.

Of course, as Profootballtalk.com suggested, "ready is a malleable term. Ready could mean Lee will be back when he’s 100 percent, which could entail a high bar to get to 100 percent."

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

Denver Broncos

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 December 2018

Don't look now, but a guy named Phillip Lindsay is powering the offense on a Denver Broncos team that suddenly finds itself in the league's postseason race.

Just like we all expected. ...

Of course, nobody expected Lindsay to be on the doorstep of a 1,000-yard rushing season, sitting at 937 yards with four games to play while he leads the league in yards per carry at the moment with 6.1.

But Lindsay, who is fourth in the league in rushing, has done plenty of the heavy lifting of late, as the Broncos now have a three-game win streak with Sunday's 24-10 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals in Paul Brown Stadium. Lindsay finished out the game with a career-best 157 yards rushing to go with two touchdowns, including a 65-yard sprint around the left sideline for a third-quarter score.

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

It was Lindsay's third 100-yard rushing game of the season, but his second in the past two games. He has scored five touchdowns in the current winning streak, and the undrafted rookie continues to win friends and influence people up and down the Broncos' roster.

"He's just out of this world," Broncos linebacker Von Miller said. " ... I see it every day -- Phil is Phil, and everybody can see that now."

"I think you judge lead backs by their durability, and he's been available every week," head coach Vance Joseph said. "Everyone sees his size, and everyone's amazed of what he's doing right now ... he's a tough guy, he's fast through the hole. ... He gets to the second level with speed, and it's hard to tackle a back like that. He's been impressive; his maturity, his mentality, it's been impressive how tough he is."

As ESPN.com's Jeff Legwold notes, the 5-8, 190-pounder has averaged more than 7 yards per carry in each of the team's past three wins and has had at least one run of at least 32 yards in each victory. In fact, on Sunday, Lindsay became the 1st NFL player in 11 seasons (the first since Fred Taylor, '07) to post three consecutive games averaging at least seven yards per carry.

Lindsay is the first rookie to accomplish that feat in 25 years (Jerome Bettis last did it in '93).

In addition, Lindsay has 937 rushing yards through 12 games this season. That puts him on pace for 1,249 yards this season. The all-time record for an undrafted rookie is 1,104 rushing yards, set by Dominic Rhodes in 2001 with the Colts.

Better still, at least for fantasy owners with the undrafted rookie on their rosters, week after week, game after game, Lindsay keeps expanding his role in the offense as he helps a team that was 3-6 get into the thick of the playoff race.

He had 67 yards on his first 12 carries on Sunday before Case Keenum spun to hand him the ball on a first-and-10 from the Broncos' 35-yard line as Denver was trying to build on a 14-3 lead. With left tackle Garett Bolles out front, Lindsay flanked the Bengals' defense, launching himself through a gap and sprinting untouched up the sideline for a 65-yard score.

"I think I keep answering the same questions about Phillip after every game," Keenum said. "He's a guy -- I don't know what else to say about him except the league knows about him, I think opponents know about him ... he ought to be in the Rookie of the Year category, Pro Bowl, all that stuff, he deserves it ... He's a special dude."

The Broncos have four games remaining in the regular season and a puncher's chance at a playoff spot if they hold up their end of the bargain. Lindsay figures to be right in that mix, and nobody is happier than he is about everything, even as folks have moved on from questions about his size to ones about the "rookie wall."

"When you're trying to win games and go to the playoffs," Lindsay said, "you don't have time for a rookie wall. ..."

Meanwhile, it took them eight games, nine weeks and several bumps in the road, but the Broncos finally clawed their way back to even keel Sunday.

And the Broncos now find themselves at 6-6 with four games to play in a suddenly crowded AFC playoff race where a wild-card spot can still be had for any team that can put things together long enough to get it.

Even as Denver clings to playoff life, the win came with a crushing injury to Pro Bowl cornerback Chris Harris Jr., which is believed to be a fractured fibula.

Other than Miller, the Broncos have no other player it will be more difficult to live without than Harris. He has been the game's best slot corner for quite some time and is an elite player on the outside as well.

A lot of what the Broncos design in coverage revolves on where Harris will line up and what they need him to do each week. Without him in the lineup, Bradley Roby will have to play better than ever before and rookie Isaac Yiadom will be asked to grow up with vigor in the weeks to come.

All that said, Joseph called the injury a "small break" that does not require Harris to go on season-ending injured reserve. Joseph added that they'll re-evaluate things down the line.

"He needs rest and rehab and we'll see how it falls in a couple weeks. ... It's great news for Chris, he has time to hopefully recover and build up and hopefully we're still playing," Joseph said, via ESPN.com.

In the meantime, the team signed former Cardinals cornerback Jamar Taylor to help fill the void.

The Broncos are only guaranteed four more games, but their three-game winning streak has given them reason to think about extending their season.

The Broncos are at the .500 mark for the first time since dropping to 2-2 with a Week 4 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Oct. 1. It is also their first three-game winning streak of this season, or any season since 2015, and this one has included wins in their past two road games.

Given they had won just one road game in Joseph's tenure until the current win streak, that is certainly worth noting. ...

On the injury front. ... Legwold reports that Emmanuel Sanders was helped to locker room by trainers just before the end of the open period in Wednesday's practice. It appeared to be a lower leg injury.

ESPN's Adam Schefter is reporting the team believes Sanders tore his Achilles. Schefter went on to note that teams usually can tell right away, so they will conduct tests on Sanders to confirm. But the early belief is a season-ending torn Achilles. If so, rookie DaeSean Hamilton could get a chance to establish a role for himself going forward.

I'll have more details on this when Late-Breaking Updates commence early Thursday. ...

And finally this week. ... With Lindsay (19 carries) and Royce Freeman (12 carries for 48 yards) doing most of the work in a great matchup against the Bengals, the passing attack took a back seat.

Keenum completed 12-of-21 passes for 151 yards with a touchdown toss to Courtland Sutton, who caught four of seven targets. The rookie racked up a season-high 85 yards to go with his TD. Sanders was limited to just 19 yards on four catches (six targets).

Matt LaCosse failed to catch his only target of the day in the Broncos' Week 13 win over the Bengals.

The passing attack should be a bigger factor against the 49ers this week.

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

Detroit Lions

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 December 2018

As MLive.com's Kyle Meinke noted, head coach Matt Patricia was asked about how well his defense played, and it did play well. He could have answered any number of ways.

Instead, his answer wound up being about quarterback Matthew Stafford.

"I give my team credit for being tough," he said. "I'll just tell you, we have tough players on this team, starting with our quarterback. This guy's one of the toughest guys we have."

Patricia was clearly impressed by Stafford's ability to stand tall despite taking four sacks in a 30-16 loss against the Rams. He was hit 11 times overall, and seemed to be laboring by the end of the game.

Stafford also was later than usual for his postgame press conference, which sparked speculation he was undergoing postgame X-rays or other medical testing. He declined to comment.

"I'm OK," he said at the podium. "I'm good."

His health might be good, but his game isn't.

As Meinke noted, once again, the short-handed Lions tried to blunt an opposing pass rush by dialing up a game plan that featured a steady diet of short passes. It helped to keep the game close, much like it did last week against Chicago, but once again ultimately proved to be not enough.

Stafford's ball security didn't help either. After throwing two picks in the fourth quarter against Chicago, he fumbled and threw another pick in the fourth quarter against Los Angeles.

The fumble was especially costly. The defense had just forced another punt in a 16-13 game, and LeGarrette Blount moved the chains on a 7-yard run near midfield.

But on the next play, Aaron Donald beat Graham Glasgow up front. Stafford saw him, started to roll to the right before trying to roll back to the left. Donald punched out the ball, Los Angeles recovered and needed only three plays before Todd Gurley was standing in the end zone.

The Rams took a 23-13 lead, and Detroit never threatened again.

Stafford finished the game 20 of 33 passing for 245 yards, one touchdown, one pick and one fumble. His QB rating was 81.0.

Since the Golden Trade five weeks ago, Stafford has yet to hit 90 in passer rating. He did it in six of his seven games with Tate on the field.

Without Tate, Stafford has scrambled to find players who are open. His leading receiver Sunday was Levine Toilolo, a blocking tight end who got loose for four catches and 90 yards. His lone touchdown pass went to Taylor Decker, an offensive tackle. He threw another to TJ Jones, a career backup who has been pressed into starting duty, but it was nullified because of offensive pass interference.

Detroit converted just one of its five red-zone drives into touchdowns.

"We had some chances there on offense," Stafford said. "Obviously I turned the ball over on that fumble, that was a crucial play in the game. I got to find a way to make sure I come away with that one. I got to hold it tighter and get down. But I was proud of our guys' fight, man. It's a good football team we just played, and really we were in great position there toward the end."

Indeed, as Detroit News staffer Justin Rogers noted, Detroit's season-long struggles in the red zone were center stage in this defeat. The team came away with just 16 points on those five trips inside the 20..

For the year, the Lions are translating 47.6 percent of their red-zone opportunities into touchdowns, a nearly 9 percent decline from a year ago. This comes during a year where the rest of the league has been far more efficient finishing drives. The Lions have plummeted from 10th in conversion percentage in 2017 to 29th this year.

A big part of the problem is Detroit's lack of a go-to player, or even a bread-and-butter play call.

"We have some new guys in some new places, obviously, trying to develop some of those at the moment, to tell you the truth," Stafford said.

Rogers reminded readers that in previous years, you could always count on Calvin Johnson either being the top option or drawing enough attention that it freed up someone else to make a play. The Lions were a top-seven team in the red zone five times in six years from 2010-15.

Now, maybe the best thing the team has is Kenny Golladay's size, but even that has its limits with the receiver's skill set not conducive to getting separation in tight spacing. Stafford looked for Golladay twice in the end zone on Sunday; on one the receiver caught the pass with a foot out of bounds and the second throw was picked.

Marvin Jones' absence also hurts, but his separation issues can similarly be an issue close to the end zone.

The Lions obviously need more playmakers in the passing game, especially after moving on from both Eric Ebron and Golden Tate. Whether it's in the draft or free agency, they need to find one or two who complement Golladay and Jones in the red zone, options with the short-area quickness to get open consistently within five yards of the line of scrimmage. ...

Meanwhile, Patricia made a bold call in the third quarter of Sunday's loss. He hoped it would be one of those momentum-changing calls to help spur his team to victory.

Trailing 13-6 with 8:01 left in the quarter, Patricia called for an onside kick. While bold, it looked to be a great call, taking the Rams' special teams by surprise. The only problem was punter Sam Martin clipped the tee on the way through and failed to kick the ball the required 10 yards before a Lions player could touch it.

"Basically, I've got to have that, I've got to hit that kick," Martin said. "No matter how hard or easy it is. I got to deliver there, and I just didn't, so it's unfortunate."

It certainly had the potential to be a momentum-turning play had the Lions recovered. They'd just kicked a 29-yard field goal, and tacking on a touchdown could have tied the game. Instead, given a short field, the Rams added on a field goal and increased their lead to 16-6.

Patricia explained the reason behind that decision after the game.

"They're one of the best four-minute teams in the league," he said of the Rams. "So, with the timeouts that we had, I think it was 2:54 left on the clock, go for the onside, either way we have to stop them, right? If they get two first downs, game's over, doesn't matter.

"So, we have to stop them in that situation and try to hold them, and (we) really thought it was the best opportunity for us to get a chance to get the ball back. We had some good things, we thought, set up for it, and we just have to go out and execute."

The Rams recovered the onside kick and went on to score a touchdown with less than two minutes remaining to ice the game. ...

On the injury front. ... The Lions remained without Kerryon Johnson, who continues to miss time with a sprained knee. His status this week remains uncertain. In addition, tight end Michael Roberts (shoulder) and receiver Brandon Powell (calf) missed Sunday's game while Bruce Ellington played through a sore back.

With Johnson out, Blount ran hard and had some chunk gains, but according to Rogers, Blount too often on Sunday he showed a disappointing lack of vision, running directly into the back of one of his blockers. Theo Riddick was better but had fewer meaningful touches. He was also limited to just three catches, although two resulted in first downs.

As noted above, with Roberts out, Toilolo came out of nowhere as a field-stretcher in the middle of the field. Golladay chipped in three grabs for 50 yards and also drew a long pass interference call. TJ Jones had one catch for 25 yards, but that was overshadowed by his blatant push-off that cost the Lions the above-mentioned touchdown. ...

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

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

Green Bay Packers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 December 2018

The Packers didn't wait until the season was over -- or even until they were officially eliminated from the playoffs -- to make a coaching change.

Three hours after an embarrassing home loss to the Arizona Cardinals, the Packers fired coach Mike McCarthy.

As ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky suggested, the Packers job has plenty to offer, but coaching an elite QB with high-level intelligence like Aaron Rodgers isn't easy.

Just ask Mike McCarthy, who lost out to the expectations that come with having a true franchise quarterback helming the team on the field.

"The 2018 season has not lived up to the expectations and standards of the Green Bay Packers. As a result, I made the difficult decision to relieve Mike McCarthy of his role as head coach, effective immediately," Packers president Mark Murphy said in a statement.

"Mike has been a terrific head coach and leader of the Packers for 13 seasons, during which time we experienced a great deal of success on and off the field. We want to thank Mike, his wife, Jessica, and the rest of the McCarthy family for all that they have done for the Packers and the Green Bay and Wisconsin communities. We will immediately begin the process of selecting the next head coach of the Green Bay Packers."

Offensive coordinator Joe Philbin will serve as the interim head coach. Philbin was 24-28 in three-plus seasons as the Miami Dolphins' head coach from 2012 to '15. He was with the Packers for nine years before he was hired by the Dolphins and returned as offensive coordinator for this season.

McCarthy's team fell to 4-7-1 after Sunday's 20-17 loss and appears likely to miss the playoffs for the second straight season. It's the first time since Rodgers' first season as a starter that they will miss the playoffs without a major injury to their franchise quarterback.

After the game, McCarthy was asked about being in the unusual position of being all but eliminated from the playoffs with four games to play.

"I mean, I've never been in this spot," McCarthy said in his postgame news conference. "I'm not going to act like I know what the hell I'm going to do tomorrow when they get in here. So we're going to do what we always do: We're going to represent the Packers the right way, I know that. Other than that, we'll focus on what's in front of us."

McCarthy was 125-77-2 in 13 seasons, plus 10-8 in the playoffs. His team won Super Bowl XLV in the 2010 season but lost in three NFC Championship games, most recently in 2016.

He coached Rodgers during all but the quarterback's first season with the Packers, but this season their relationship seemed to unravel. Rodgers criticized the Packers' offense and their game planning after a Week 4 win over Buffalo.

That struggling offense never got on track, and Sunday's loss to the Cardinals (3-9) as a 13.5-point favorite was no different.

"We haven't played very well," Rodgers said after the game. "We've put up some yards at times and taken care of the football pretty well. Usually, over the years, the success that we've had, we've taken really good care of the football, but we've paired that with efficiency in the passing game and big plays and explosive gains. This year we've had the taking care of the football, but we haven't had the consistent explosive gains.

"We all take part in the disappointments and the failures that we've had this season. We've had a number of opportunities. It's not like we're getting blown out in a bunch of games. We're in games. Even when it's not looking great, it was ugly at times today, but we're in the game, we're tied in the fourth quarter. And we've been that way in New England and in Seattle, and you can list off a couple other ones, opportunities, and we just haven't gotten it done in any of those. You get just a couple of them, [and] this is a completely different conversation we're having right now."

Rodgers said he had not thought about the possibility of a coaching change.

"I'm just thinking about these next four games and realizing how important leadership is in the tough times, trying to get guys to dig deep and play with that pride," he said. "The conversations will take care of themselves down the line. I know my role is to play quarterback to the best of my abilities. That will be my focus the next four weeks, and then we'll go from there."

When asked whether McCarthy had lost the locker room, veteran receiver Randall Cobb said after the game: "I'm here to play football. ... My feeling doesn't matter."

Speaking on Monday, Murphy told reporters he decided after Sunday's loss that something needed to change. And Murphy decided to make that change immediately.

"I felt that change was needed," Murphy told reporters on Monday. "Mike's tenure had run its course. I think we needed a new voice. And it happens in our league."

Murphy compared the decision to the firing of Andy Reid in Philadelphia after the 2012 season, his 14th with the Eagles. Reid has thrived in Kansas City, and the Eagles are the defending Super Bowl champions.

The loss to the Cardinals clearly was the catalyst for change in Green Bay, both for Murphy and for G.M. Brian Gutekunst, who participated in the decision that ultimately was made by Murphy.

Murphy defended the decision to make the change now, a decision that some have criticized.

"It's a competitive process," Murphy said, adding that the decision "gets us into the market earlier." Murphy added that McCarthy benefits, too.

"I think he's going to be a strong candidate," Murphy said of McCarthy. "It allows him to focus on the next opportunity for him."

Still, this move was about making the Packers better than they've been.

"We have a great history and tradition here," Murphy said. "We're very disappointed in what we've seen this year. Particularly the performance last night was unacceptable."

For what it's worth, one league source told Demovsky he expected Gutekunst to want a "no-nonsense guy." The source said Gutekunst has long been a fan of Jim Harbaugh, the current Michigan coach and former 49ers coach.

Whether it's Murphy, Gutekunst or some combination of both making the hire, the Packers would almost certainly have to hire an offensive-minded head coach to work closely with Rodgers.

Harbaugh fits that description, but so do myriad candidates who will be discussed. Among them: Philbin, Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, Vikings offensive coordinator John DeFilippo and Saints offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael.

Both Murphy and Gutekunst also have strong ties to college football. Murphy served as athletic director at Northwestern before he was hired by the Packers in 2007, which would make Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald a natural candidate although he has a defensive background.

Gutekunst was a scout on the college side for most of his career and his extensive relationships there could come into play, as well.

As Profootballtalk.com's Mike Florio noted, whoever the next coach is, that person ideally will serve in that job for the balance of the career of Rodgers and beyond. Given, however, the team's failure to get back to the Super Bowl despite the presence of one of the greatest players in league history and the loudly ticking clock on his career, the next coach necessarily needs to be a coach who will get the most out of Rodgers.

That said, the folks who will be participating in the hiring decision have tried to gloss over the critical importance of the connection between the new coach and Rodgers.

"Aaron is free to provide input but he won't be part of the process," Murphy told reporters.

This seems to mean, based on the full content and tone of the press conference involving Murphy and Gutekunst that Rodgers won't be meeting with the candidates as part of the interview process.

By the way. ... Philbin is a candidate for the permanent coaching job. "It's an opportunity to see Joe for four games," Murphy told reporters. "See how the team responds. See how coaches and others respond."

Philbin, who himself was fired midseason by Miami in 2015 and who became visibly emotional on multiple occasions during his Monday press conference, avoided discussing whether he wants the job beyond this year, explaining that he's doing what he has urged the players to do-- focus on this week's game, against the Falcons.

"You want to be part of the solution," Philbin said regarding his return to Green Bay to work with McCarthy. "You feel like you let him down. ..."

Of greater interest to fantasy owners will be Philbin's ability to reverse some of the offensive stagnation we've seen under McCarthy this season.

As NFL.com's Graham Barfield noted this week, with McCarthy calling the plays the Packers:

Lead NFL in pass rate on first down despite Aaron Jones' 6.5 YPC on first-down carries.

Lead NFL in passes outside the numbers.

Lead NFL in throwaways.

Have the 7th-lowest play action rate.

Have the 9th-lowest pre-snap motion rate. ...

For what it's worth, Rodgers said he's "not excited about a rebuild but I don't think that's the direction we're headed."

The QB thinks Murphy and Gutekunst are committed to winning now.

Asked about not being directly involved in the coaching search: "There's an interest in who the next guy would be. ... I'm not needing to be involved in the process:"

In a related note. ... The Packers also fired associate head coach/LBs Winston Moss on Wednesday.

And finally. ... Rodgers said he's frustrated about the things that have come out about his relationship with Mike McCarthy. "Like any relationship we've had amazing times and times when we butt heads," Rodgers said. "We accomplished a lot together."

Stay tuned. ... I'll have more on the coaching change and ramifications via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.

For now, however, its' worth noting the Packers had their full complement of skill players available against the Cardinals, with Cobb returning from his hamstring injury. We'll see if that good health holds up as the team returns to practice.

It is worth noting, in case you missed it, that the Packers placed WR Trevor Davis on injured reserve -- less than a month after he returned from IR. The Packers activated Jake Kumerow to take his spot.

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

Houston Texans

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 December 2018

Another week, another victory for the Houston Texans.

After beating the Cleveland Browns 29-13 on Sunday, Houston has won nine in a row after starting the season 0-3. And while the Texans had looked inconsistent for large portions of the winning streak, they have been dominant in their past two games and have a legitimate shot at a first-round bye in the playoffs.

After the Colts lost to the Jaguars on Sunday, the Texans increased their lead in the AFC South to three games. Houston plays host to Indianapolis next week.

As ESPN.com's Sarah Barshop reminded readers, Houston has found many ways to win over the course of their nine-game streak, but Sunday's victory over the Browns was one of the team's most complete performances. The defense was dominant, especially in the first half, holding the Browns to 74 yards and zero points at halftime.

While head coach Bill O'Brien will no doubt say the team has plenty to do after settling for five field goals, the offense moved the ball well, finishing with 385 net yards, and quarterback Deshaun Watson protected the football for the second week in a row. Watson completed 22 of 31 passes for 224 yards and a touchdown in the win.

"We still leave a lot of points out there as an offense," running back Lamar Miller said. "The defense, they do a great job of getting turnovers. On the offensive side of the ball, we've just got to do a better job of capitalizing on that and just keep running up the score."

A week after setting a franchise record for rushing yards in a game, Houston continued to have success on the ground. Watson and running backs Miller and Alfred Blue combined for 187 yards on 39 carries. Miller ran for 103 yards on 19 carries, his second-straight game with more than 100 rushing yards and his fourth of the season.

The Texans were plus-four in the giveaway-takeaway category, something O'Brien said he emphasized all week. Entering the game, the Browns were tied for No. 1 in giveaway-takeaway and O'Brien said he told his team that if they "didn't perform well in that category, we were going to have a long day."

At 9-3, the Texans are in the hunt for a playoff bye with four games to go. After hosting the Colts in Week 14, Houston is on the road against the New York Jets and Philadelphia Eagles. The Texans finish the regular season at home against the Jaguars. Of those four teams, none is currently above .500.

Entering the second slate of games, the Chiefs, who are playing in Oakland, have the best record in the AFC at 9-2 and the Patriots currently hold the No. 2 seed, ranked better than the Texans because they beat them to open the season.

The Texans do have the chance to move up in the AFC standings with a favorable schedule the rest of the way. The 8-3 Chargers and 7-3-1 Steelers play Sunday night, and the Steelers also have to play the Patriots in Week 15 and the 10-2 Saints the week after. The Chiefs and Chargers also play in Week 15.

Houston entered the season with the easiest schedule in the NFL, but since losing their first three games, the Texans have done their job and taken advantage of that schedule. .

"There is no team in the NFL you look at like it's a pushover, so each game you build confidence," wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins said. "You can't look at a team and think it's just an easy win. Jacksonville beat the Colts. Who would have thought that?"

And while the AFC South is all but wrapped up after Houston's win and the Colts' loss on Sunday, more importantly, the Texans also have a shot at hosting the AFC divisional round and making a deep run in the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. ...

Meanwhile, the Texans activated D'Onta Foreman from the PUP list on Tuesday.

Foreman has been practicing since November 14, meaning Houston only had until Wednesday to activate him or leave him on the PUP for the rest of the season.

Given how Foreman's timetable has consistently been moved back since the offseason, there was some question as to whether he'd be activated. Now that he's back, Foreman will be a change-of-pace option behind Miller. A 2017 third-round draft pick out of the University of Texas, the 22-year-old Foreman showed promise in his rookie season with a 4.2 yards-per-carry average and two touchdowns before tearing his Achilles. ...

As for the receiving corps vs. Cleveland. ... Hopkins caught seven passes for 91 yards. Tight end Jordan Thomas had an 11-yard touchdown reception. All three tight ends had catches. With Keke Coutee declared inactive due to his lingering hamstring issue, DeAndre Carter had six playing in the slot but for only 32 yard. ...

For the record, Watson (shoulder) and Coutee were limited on Wednesday; more on both via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

And finally. ... As ESPN.com's Tristan H. Cockcroft noted, Ka'imi Fairbairn, thanks to his five field goals and 21 fantasy points, now leads all placekickers for the season in both categories: 29 field goals, 126 fantasy points.

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

Indianapolis Colts

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 December 2018

As ESPN.com's Mike Wells noted, there was a side of Andrew Luck that we hadn't been seen for nearly two months on display standing behind the podium on Sunday.

The quarterback mentioned at least three times during his postgame interview that he didn't hold up his "end of the bargain" in the team's 6-0 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Luck needed 52 pass attempts to throw for 248 yards in the defeat. But it was more than that for Luck.

It marked the first time Luck has been shut out in 82 games during his seven-year NFL career. His streak of at least three touchdown passes came to a screening halt at eight games, and his streak of competing at least 71 percent of his passes ended at five straight games after going 33-of-52 (63 percent) against the Jaguars.

Luck's streak of 34 straight games with at least one touchdown pass also came to an end. It marked the second-longest streak in team history trailing only John Unitas' streak of 47 straight games.

"I didn't feel very sharp," Luck said. "I didn't feel like I was putting the ball in the places to really give guys a chance to catch them. And credit to their coverage, you know, it's a great team game. I think, too, in the locker room, everyone feels that way. You know, that we all didn't hold up [our] end of the bargain as players. ... I'm discouraged today, but I'm also in a sense encouraged to get back to work and work on these things and improve."

Luck was expected to have some hiccups during his redemption season after missing 2017 with his shoulder injury. It looked like he got those out of the way early in the season before he went on a tear that had him mentioned with Houston's J.J. Watt as the two front-runners for the NFL Comeback Player of the Year.

That same kind of domination was nowhere to be found by Luck -- or the offense -- Sunday.

Luck's longest completion was for only 20 yards, and he spent most of the afternoon trying to avoid Jacksonville defenders. There were more underneath passes than shots down the field. Last week, Luck's streak of five games without being sacked ended when the Dolphins got to him once. On Sunday, he was hit nine times and sacked three.

The Colts (6-6) had an opportunity to put the pressure on Jacksonville early on when they forced a turnover in Jaguars' territory, but Luck threw his third interception in two games on an attempt to tight end Eric Ebron. That was a sign of things to come for the quarterback.

"I didn't quite hold up my end of the bargain as this sort of orchestrator of the offense out there on the field," Luck said. "I didn't get the ball to the open guy enough. I didn't do the simple things enough, but as far as the shots go, you can't force it. You can't force shots in this league. It doesn't work like that. But when [opportunities] presented themselves, we were just a little off. Just a little off. We would have loved for that one pass to have counted, but that's the way this game works."

A touchdown would have been good enough for the Colts to win the game, and it would have had had them still right in the thick of things in the AFC playoff race.

But now Luck will have to get the offense back on track and likely run the table the rest of the season while also getting some help from other teams to make the playoffs.

"We are all in a sense discouraged, in a micro-sense about this game, but I think that guys will get back," Luck said. "We'll recover, we'll regroup, and that we'll be positive back in the building. That has been our calling card. The simple things improving. We have to do that. I think all of us understand the reality of the picture, but we're not going to worry about it. We'll worry about the next step, and for us, that is recovering and trying to go on the road against a division opponent [at Houston] and try to get a win."

The Jaguars held the Colts to 265 yards of total offense, and Indianapolis came away empty-handed on five attempts inside Jacksonville's territory.

"We knew coming in they were going to throw the book at us, but at the end of the day we wanted to jump out on them early and they were going to lay down," T.Y. Hilton said. "That's what happens when you let teams hang around. It goes the other way every time."

For the record, Sunday's game marked the Colts offense has failed to score since October 22, 2017 -- also against Jacksonville. ...

Marlon Mack finished the day with 27 yards rushing on eight attempts while Nyheim Hines had five yards on four carries and added 50 yards on nine receptions. Hines' nine receptions tied a single-game career-high.

Ebron had 81 yards on 10 receptions. His 10 receptions tied a single-game career-high set with the Lions in December of last year. Hilton had eight catches for 77 yards.

Ebron's 15 targets and Hilton's 13 were also indications of what fantasy owners can expect down the stretch: Heavy usage. ...

Zach Pascal made one catch for 16 yards, it marked the third-longest reception on his career. Dontrelle Inman also added 14 yards on two receptions. ...

On the injury front, Mo Alie-Cox missed a second-straight game with an injured calf. Beyond that, the team might be beat up (Ebron, Hilton, Mack and Erik Swoope all spent time on the injury report last week), but it appears they're getting healthier at a good time.

That said, Cox, Ebron (back, illness), Hilton (shoulder) and Inman (shoulder) were all held out of Wednesday's practice; Chester Rogers (groin) and Swoope (knee) were limited.

I'll be following up on all listed via Late-Breaking Update as developments warrant in coming days.

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

Jacksonville Jaguars

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 December 2018

Jalen Ramsey reached out and briefly offered to help Andrew Luck off the ground , only to quickly withdraw his hand and walk away.

Psych!

Ramsey and the Jacksonville Jaguars refused to give the Indianapolis Colts anything Sunday, turning in one of the most dominant defensive performances in franchise history and carrying the team to a 6-0 victory.

"Truthfully, I do that almost every week," Ramsey said of his fake-out moment with Luck. "People just caught it this week."

The Jaguars (4-8) needed that kind of defensive effort to make up for a lackluster offense.

They stopped a seven-game slide and snapped Indy's five-game winning streak, leaving the Colts (6-6) in need of some help to get back into the AFC wild-card picture.

Ramsey was at his best while playing through a knee injury. He helped hold T.Y. Hilton to eight catches for 77 yards and also made a game-ending tackle on Erik Swoope with 8 seconds remaining.

The Colts entered with the fourth-most points in the league, having averaged more than 34.6 a game during their win streak. Luck had thrown three or more touchdown passes in eight consecutive games, one shy of the club record.

Jacksonville shut them down and out.

"It feels great to get in the win column," defensive tackle Calais Campbell said. "It's been way too long."

Indy finished with 265 yards and was 5 of 18 on third down. For Jacksonville, it was the seventh shutout in franchise history and first at home since beating the New York Jets 41-0 in 2006.

Meanwhile, as Jaguars.com's John Oehser suggested, the offense was. … Well. … Just enough.

The Jaguars made big changes offensively last week.

The results were much the same even with the team moving from Blake Bortles to Cody Kessler at quarterback and quarterbacks coach Scott Milanovich calling plays after former offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett's dismissal.

Kessler was 18-of-24 for 150 yards, which wasn't much to look at. While none of those passes went to the end zone, none of them ended up in the hands of the Colts either.

"Obviously it wasn't pretty and there's a lot I left out there, but at the end of the day it feels good," Kessler said. "Especially for me to get the first one. Obviously here it's special for me, but as a starter to get that first one, our defense played great today and just overall as a team."

The Jaguars' running game -- after surging to two of its best games of the season the past two weeks -- struggled without starting running back Leonard Fournette, rushing for 79 yards on 27 carries behind a beat-up offensive line. T.J. Yeldon started in place of Fournette, but backup Carlos Hyde came off the bench and rushed for a team-high 36 yards on 13 carries.

Fournette will return Thursday against Tennessee.

Despite beating the Colts without him, free safety Tashaun Gipson said having Fournette back provides a huge boost.

"You can't replace a guy like that, that type of production, and the respect that he demands himself as a football player definitely goes unnoticed and I think that you see it with and without him in the lineup," Gipson said. "We're a physical team and we want to run the ball, get your playmakers the ball and obviously he's the best player we have on the offensive side of the ball. He's definitely had himself a nice, long break throughout the season so I don't mind if they give him 45 carries. He needs them."

Beyond that, it's worth noting that even with Fournette out, Kessler only targeted wide receivers 11 times, completing eight passes to the group for 81 yards. He was sacked three times but played turnover-free football -- barely. He had one interception dropped and managed to wrestle away a fumble of his own. He also was evaluated for a concussion early in the game but returned.

Head Coach Doug Marrone, who said early in the week the moves at coordinator and quarterback were made to boost a struggling passing offense, said after the game Kessler will remain the starter.

He also said the passing game still needs to progress.

As ESPN.com's Mike DiRocco reminded readers, one of the reasons Marrone fired Hackett and benched Bortles is because he wanted better production out of the passing game, so Kessler will need to be better on Thursday against Tennessee, which ranks in the top 10 in total defense, pass defense and scoring defense.

"I'm still getting there," Kessler said. "Obviously, I went in there confident and ... you have to win the game at the end of the day. I'd like to have all the passing yards and touchdowns, but sometimes you just have to win the game.

"No doubt this upcoming week we have to be better, for me especially, and keep getting on the same page with Keelan Cole and Dede Westbrook and Donte Moncrief and some of those guys. To get the first win for me it feels great, and especially to do it in Jacksonville, I'm happy. ..."

Also worth noting. ... Ramsey (knee) was limited during Monday's activities, but Marrone said he feels good about Ramsey this week, per NFL Network's Tiffany Blackmon.

And finally. ... The Jaguars have ruled out receiver D.J. Chark and nose tackle Abry Jones for Thursday’s game against the Titans.

Chark (quadriceps) has missed the past two games.

The Jaguars list offensive lineman Josh Walker (foot/ankle) and safety Cody Davis (hamstring) as questionable.

Walker was inactive for Sunday’s game and Davis played 18 special teams snaps.

The team’s status report means Ramsey, who was limited with a knee injury this week, is expected to play.

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

Kansas City Chiefs

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 December 2018

Patrick Mahomes became friends with Kareem Hunt last year, when they were part of the same Kansas City Chiefs draft class. They talked often about leading the Chiefs together to a run of success like the franchise has never seen.

But after the Chiefs' first game without Hunt, Mahomes voiced more clearly than any of his teammates or head coach Andy Reid the reason Hunt needed to go.

"I saw the stuff that happened," Mahomes said after Sunday's 40-33 win over the Raiders. "We don't do those things."

The "stuff" Mahomes referred to surfaced in a video last week of an incident involving Hunt and a woman outside of his Cleveland residence in February. The video showed Hunt pushing the woman and kicking her when she was on the ground.

The Chiefs moved swiftly once the video was made public Friday. Later that day, they released Hunt, the NFL's leading rusher last season as a rookie.

The Chiefs had had about 48 hours to process the news when Sunday's game ended.

"Kareem being a friend of mine, I think the impact is just that -- Kareem as a person," wide receiver Chris Conley said. "I didn't think about football or how it would have an impact on this locker room or on our season at all. Because obviously, this is secondary. And life, life is first. You know, he has some things that he needs to learn. Some time that he needs to take. Reflection. I think he's going to do that. Hopefully he has those people around him in that circle who are going to help him through that.

"It was a little bit of shock, with the things going on. It came at us pretty fast here. But life moves fast, and it doesn't wait for anybody. I've reached out to him, hoping that he gets the help that he needs and that he can grow as a man, and really, the focus is on Kareem as a person, not the football player right now."

Reid referred to a statement the Chiefs issued upon releasing Hunt and said little other than to indicate that the decision to cut Hunt was a difficult one.

"Those kinds of things are never easy," Reid said.

"I don't want to get anything to distract from how tough a place this is to play [and] my locker room leadership overcoming the situation we had there, which can be a distraction, and [they] stepped up today in a place that we haven't always come out with this kind of result."

Meanwhile, as ESPN.com's Adam Teicher suggested, the Kansas City Chiefs may need a bigger contribution from running back Spencer Ware in subsequent games than they got Sunday in his debut in replacing Hunt.

Fantasy owners are nodding in agreement, but it should be noted the Chiefs didn't ask a lot from Ware in this one and he did score a touchdown on a one-yard run after taking the direct snap from center on a fourth-down play.

Kansas City's offensive star was instead tight end Travis Kelce, who caught 12 passes for 168 yards and two touchdowns. Despite Ware's touchdown, he was more of a role player. He rushed for 47 yards on 14 carries.

The Chiefs rushed for 177 yards but several other players were significant contributors.

Mahomes was their leading rusher with 55 yards. Backup running back Damien Williams rushed for 38 yards and wide receiver Tyreek Hill 37.

And this week, we could see another body in the backfield. The Chiefs signed free- agent running back Charcandrick West according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com.

The move makes sense as West spent four years in KC before being released in training camp earlier this year. He is already familiar with the playbook and should provide immediate help, especially on third down, in the wake of Hunt's dismissal.

In 49 NFL games, all with Kansas City, West has rushed for seven touchdowns and 999 yards. He has averaged 3.8 yards per carry.

The Chiefs opted for Hunt over former Broncos and Panthers running C.J. Anderson, who is more of a ground-and-pound back and could have been a major threat to incumbent Ware's workload.

Bottom line here?

As Kansas City star beat writer Lynn Worthy suggested, given the off-field upheaval leading up to the game, the team did not appear to suffer from an egregious lack of focus or come out flat. Offensively, they didn't seem quiet on the same level as at other points this season, yet still managed 40 points and adjusted to the Raiders game plan.

It could have been much worse. ...

On the injury front. ... Safety Eric Berry (heel) and wide receiver Sammy Watkins (foot) were limited in practice Wednesday.

Watkins was held out of last week's game against the Raiders and was only able to make it a couple snaps in the team's Week 11 loss to the Rams. I'll have more on his status via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

One last note here, Hunt went unclaimed on waivers and is now an unrestricted free agent but remains on the commissioner's exempt list. Assuming he winds up on another team at some point, it's worth noting that the NFL is considering three separate off-field incidents as it works toward a final decision on discipline for Hunt and sources close to the situation told ESPN's Dan Graziano a multigame suspension that stretches into next season is looming.

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

Los Angeles Chargers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 December 2018

According to the team's official website, Justin Jackson sat in his hotel room early Sunday when his phone buzzed.

The Chargers were hours away from kickoff, but Melvin Gordon had something he had to say to his fellow running backs.

Gordon remained behind in Los Angeles as he continues to rehab his knee, and he remains week-to-week going forward. Thus, he sent a text to the running backs with a simple message.

"Melvin's our leader," Jackson said. "He's a leader on the team and in the running back room, so he stayed in it with us, made sure we were up on all our stuff. He wasn't able to make (the trip), but he gave us a text this morning that gave us all confidence. He has full confidence in us, and that gave us confidence to go out there and play. It was just, 'I believe in you guys. (Derek) Watt's going to go out there and lead you guys, and just do what you do.' That's basically what he said."

Gordon's text came to fruition as the Bolts ended up outgaining the Steelers on the ground with 85 yards to only 65 by Pittsburgh.

However, it certainly didn't start out the way the Chargers envisioned as they mustered only two yards on nine carries over the first 30 minutes of play.

Balance has been a huge part of the offense's success, and they knew in order to muster any type of comeback they needed to get their ground game going.

Enter Jackson.

After not having a touch in the first half, the seventh-round pick sparked the team's ground attack over the final two quarters. He toted the rock eight times for 63 yards, averaging 7.9 yards per carry along with his first career touchdown. Jackson also hauled in a pivotal 19-yard reception to set up his memorable 18-yard TD.

"Justin gave us a little boost there, and the guys were blocking the heck out of it as well," said Philip Rivers. "And gosh the cutbacks, a couple of those cuts he made (were impressive), and a few other ones were big. It's not surprising to us but seeing it like we saw it tonight on Sunday Night Football was awesome to see."

Pittsburgh clearly didn't know what hit them.

Overall, Jackson accounted for 82 of the Chargers' 231 second half yards on just nine touches. While he produced several highlight reel plays, as you might imagine, his 18-yard touchdown scamper was one for the memory banks. After all, it was the first touchdown of his career, and was indicative of everything the 6-0, 199-pound running back is known for.

Jackson showcased tremendous vision on the play, exploding through a gaping hole off left guard before using his shiftiness and power to find the end zone.

"I just wanted to hit it fast," he said. "I got to the second level. I can't tell you what happened after that.… When my number was called, it was just go out there and make a play. It's football, man. It's what we live for. Being in that type of environment, the game on the line, it's what you dream about, right? But you don't make it that big. You just go out there and you play. You don't hear anything, you just play."

Sunday's showing was even more meaningful considering what Jackson had to overcome over the past few months. The running back missed virtually all of training camp and preseason due to injury, and thus began the year on the practice squad before being promoted to the active roster in late September.

Still, touches in real game action were few and far between, meaning he had to prove his worth each week in practice. He did just that, which is why the Bolts weren't surprised to see his success vs. the Steelers.

And yes. ... Austin Ekeler got the start, as expected.

He had just eight carries for one yard in the first half but found some success in the pass game.

But Ekeler was clearly outplayed by Jackson and it's not a reach to believe he would continue to play second-fiddle to Jackson if Gordon can't return this week.

And that's something I'll be watching for in coming days. Gordon has a sprained MCL, which is expected to sideline him for a few weeks.

But head coach Anthony Lynn said once again Monday that Gordon remains day to day.

"His chances are better this week than they were last week, but we don't want to put him out there too soon," Lynn told Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times.

Gordon, who has 802 yards and nine touchdowns on 153 attempts this season, was injured on a trick play in last week's victory over Arizona.

Check the Late-Breaking Updates section for more as the week progresses. ...

Also of interest. ... The Chargers mounted their historic victory over Pittsburgh in front of the entire country on Sunday Night Football, becoming the only team to ever come back from being down 16-plus points and defeat the Steelers on the road.

None of it would have been possible without Keenan Allen's monster performance in which he lived up to his "Slayer" moniker.

Allen hauled in 14 passes on the night for 148 yards and one touchdown. It marked the second-most productive game of his career as he fell one reception shy of tying his team-record of 15 catches.

In addition, he authored his 21st career 100-yard performance, tying Antonio Gates for the fifth-most in team history. The game marked Allen's fourth game since the start of 2017 with at least 10 receptions, 100 yards and a touchdown, tying for the most in the NFL over that span.

Allen's 14 catches also brought him to 406 for his career, moving into sixth place in team history. His touchdown catch was the 27th of his career, tying with WR Don Norton for the 12th-most touchdown receptions in Chargers history.

"He's one of the premier receivers in the game right now," Gates said bluntly in the locker room following the big win.

His touchdown was also a memorable one as a pair of Steelers defensive backs collided into each other as the ball arrived, popping it into the air where Allen ran under it for the score. A successful two-point conversion to Gates followed to make it a one-score game, cutting the Steelers lead to 23-15.

By the way, a week after completing 25 straight passes to open the win over Arizona, Rivers completed 26-of-36 passes for 299 yards and two touchdowns in this one.

With the two touchdown passes, Rivers has now thrown at least a pair of TD strikes in 13 straight games. That's the second-longest streak in NFL history. ...

A few final notes this week. ... The Los Angeles Chargers announced on Monday that they've signed WR Dylan Cantrell to the active roster and waived veteran tackle Joe Barksdale.

The 6-3, 226-pound Cantrell was the Chargers' sixth-round pick (191st overall) in this year's draft out of Texas Tech. He appeared in 46 career games with the Red Raiders with 29 starts, totaling 158 receptions for 1,873 yards and 18 touchdowns. Cantrell suffered a minor injury at the start of training camp that sidelined him the entire preseason. He spent the first 13 weeks of the year on the team's practice squad.

Barksdale joined the Bolts in 2015 as an unrestricted free agent. He appeared in 48 games at right tackle over the past four for the Chargers, including 42 starts.

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

Los Angeles Rams

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 December 2018

According to ESPN.com’s Lindsey Thiry, owner Stan Kroenke donned an NFC West champions hat as he put an arm around an excitable Todd Gurley.

Across a cramped visitors’ locker room Sunday at Ford Field, Aaron Donald hollered, "One more, now flex!" as the Los Angeles Rams defensive line posed for photos.

And Jared Goff stood atop a wooden platform, an escape from the madness below with a bird's-eye view of a celebration the Rams knew was a long time coming.

"It's pure insanity!" center John Sullivan hollered above the music, to no one in particular.

Minutes earlier, after a sluggish three quarters, the Rams' offense found its footing and Donald forced another late-game turnover as Los Angeles outlasted the Detroit Lions 30-16 to clinch a second consecutive division title.

"We've had so much success up to this point and did expect it towards the end here," Goff said about securing the West. "And we're happy to get it done when we could."

As Thiry noted, it’s the first time since 1979 that the Rams (11-1) have won the division in back-to-back seasons. The Rams are the first team since the San Francisco 49ers in 2011 to wrap up the NFC West by Week 13, according to ESPN Stats and Information research.

"That's the first step," Donald said. "We're happy, but we have to keep rolling."

At the outset of the 2017 season, Sean McVay's first as coach, few anticipated that the Rams, coming off an abysmal 4-12 season, would contend for a division title. Then they clinched in Week 16 against the Tennessee Titans.

This season, with the return of Goff, Gurley and Donald, plus several key additions, a division title was cause for celebration Sunday, but it's the least of the Rams' expectations.

"This is something that we put as check mark early on in the year," Goff said. "We're able to mark that off now."

With the victory, the Rams remain in control of NFC home-field advantage for the playoffs after the Dallas Cowboys defeated the New Orleans Saints at ATandT Stadium on Thursday, which dropped the Saints to 10-2.

Maintaining home-field advantage is something the Rams are cognizant of, but Robert Woods said it has not been at the forefront of discussion. "We know it's obtainable, we know it's one of our goals in the near future," Woods said.

Coming off a bye and playing their first game in the Eastern Time zone this season, the Rams' offense appeared out of sync and lacked urgency throughout most of Sunday's game.

The Rams averaged 35.4 points and 448.6 total yards entering Sunday's game, but through three quarters, the Lions limited them to 277 total yards and 16 points.

"They did a nice job stopping us," McVay said. "They did some different things on the back end and they forced a couple turnovers."

Gurley sparked production in the fourth quarter, when he rushed for 59 of his 132 yards and two touchdowns.

"Just didn't play up to our standards," said Gurley, who also caught three passes for 33 yards. "To be like that, that's why we got our defense holding us down."

"They did a lot of good stuff to stop us," Goff said. "They were doing some different things on defense and had a good plan. ... Sometimes the other team does their job a little bit better than us. Today that was the case."

Donald strip-sacked Matthew Stafford in the fourth quarter as he continued his campaign to repeat as the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year, if not earn MVP honors. Donald sacked Stafford twice and has 16.5 sacks this season, the most by a defensive tackle through 12 games since 1982, according to ESPN Stats and Info data.

"Big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games," Donald said. "That is what we need to keep doing."

The Rams return to the Midwest next weekend to face the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on Sunday Night Football. ...

Other notes of interest. ... With his first fourth-quarter touchdown, Gurley set a new single-season high in rushing touchdowns.

Gurley's two touchdowns against the Lions move him into the fourth spot in L.A.'s all-time running back ranks, with 44 career rushing touchdowns.

His new season-high for rushing touchdowns is 15. ...

On Wednesday, Gurley earned his second NFC Offensive Player of the Week honor this season.

Veteran wideout Brandin Cooks' 62 yards receiving in the game puts him at 1,026 yards this season. Cooks has totaled 1,000 yards in four of his five seasons as a pro.

Woods, who scored L.A.'s only passing touchdown of the day, needed 96 yards receiver to join Cooks in the 1,000-yard club on Sunday.

Woods led all Rams receivers with five receptions for 67 yards-- putting him just 29 yards away from his first 1,000-yard season. ...

Goff entered Sunday's game with the chance to set a new single-season high in passing yards.

The second-year quarterback failed to reach the needed 247 yards this week, but did pass former Rams quarterback Sam Bradford, on the club's all-time passing touchdown list. Goff's 60 career touchdown passes move him into the No. 8 spot on the list.

Goff finished his day in Detroit 17-of-33 with 207 yards, one touchdown, and one interception.

Goff's previous single-season high came last season, when the former Cal Bear threw for 3,804 yards in 15 games, earning his first Pro Bowl selection.

The Rams only scored one touchdown in the game's first three quarters and relied heavily on kicker Greg Zuerlein to put points on the board. Zuerlein hit all three attempted field goals in addition to three extra points, scoring 12 much-needed points for the Rams.

While Zuerlein hit from 48 yards and 47 yards on Sunday, his next 50-yard field goal made will set a Rams' record for most 50-plus yard field goals. ...

But there is some bad news here. ... Running back Malcolm Brown has not been in the forefront for the Rams as they've built an 11-1 record this season and taken over the inside track on the first seed in the NFC playoffs, but that didn't lessen the hurt McVay is feeling about losing Brown to injury.

Brown had a medical procedure on Monday to deal with a clavicle injury he suffered in Detroit. It's not clear how long Brown will be out, but it's clear that McVay will miss having him on hand as Gurley's backup and a key member of the special teams units.

"You always want to try and be positive, but I think losing Malcolm is a huge loss for us and depending upon how long that is," McVay said, via the Los Angeles Times. "But it's a big deal for those guys to have to step up, and they've got large shoes to fill, that's for sure."

According to Mike Garafolo of the NFL Network, Brown is out at least for the rest of the season, with no indication how far beyond the next month of regular season and the playoffs. The idea that his clavicle injury could put any part of next season in doubt might be why McVay called the injury to his backup running back "a huge loss" earlier today, because his stats don't suggest it.

Brown has 43 carries for 212 yards and five catches for 52 yards and a touchdown this season. Justin Davis and sixth-round pick John Kelly are on the other running backs on the depth chart.

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

Miami Dolphins

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 December 2018

As Associated Press sports writer Steven Wine pointed out, only one NFL team has been outgained by nearly 1,200 yards and is still in the playoff picture-- the underwhelming, overachieving Miami Dolphins.

They're 6-6 and part of the crowded AFC wild-card race despite statistics that would sink most teams. The Dolphins rank 29th in the NFL in offense and 29th in defense, 29th in third-down conversions and 28th in red zone scoring.

So how have they managed a lofty .500 record?

"Turnover margin," head coach Adam Gase said Monday. "The amount of turnovers our defense is getting is what we need, and then we don't turn it over a whole bunch."

He's right. The Dolphins are tied for seventh in turnover differential at plus-eight, and third in takeaways with 25. The impact on the scoreboard has been "insane," Gase said.

Turnover differential was the difference Sunday, when Miami was outgained by Buffalo 415 yards to 175 but won the turnovers battle, 3-1, and the game, 21-17.

It also helped that the Bills' Charles Clay dropped a fourth-down pass at the goal line in the final minute.

"It's better to be lucky than good," Miami linebacker Kiko Alonso said.

Luck might play a small role in explaining the Dolphins' knack for outperforming the stats. It dates back to Gase's first season in 2016, when they were outgained by 798 yards but went 10-6. That's their only playoff team in the past decade.

Someone reminded Gase his team has been outgained this year by 1,168 yards.

"Great," Gase responded, meaning the opposite of great. His team is on pace to surpass the franchise record disparity of 1,321 in 1967, the Dolphins' second season.

This year only Cincinnati (5-7) and Arizona (3-9) have larger yardage deficits. To which the Dolphins say: So what.

"It's all about us putting the ball in the end zone and having the most points at the end of the game," running back Kenyan Drake said.

Oddsmakers aren't impressed by that approach: Miami is a touchdown underdog at home Sunday against AFC East leader New England (9-3).

Gase believes the Dolphins actually should be 8-4. They blew double-digit fourth-quarter leads in losses at Cincinnati and Indianapolis.

As it is, Miami is tied with three other teams in the AFC, one game behind the Baltimore Ravens for the sixth seed and final wild-card spot in the AFC.

"Obviously, in order to stay in the hunt, we've got to win," receiver Kenny Stills said. "And we know that."

For a change, the Dolphins begin the week with no significant new injuries. Ryan Tannehill, playing in his second game since returning from a shoulder injury, shook off several jarring hits to throw three touchdown passes against Buffalo.

"He's as tough as they come," Gase said.

The Dolphins have endured so many injuries that Gase said it's a different team from the one that lost to New England 38-7 in Week 4.

As Wine suggested, the obvious goal this week will be to keep the score closer, and if the Dolphins do that, don't discount their chances. In one-score games Gase is 6-1 this year, and 19-6 in his three seasons with the Dolphins.

In other games he's 3-17. Sometimes relying on turnovers isn't enough. ...

From a fantasy perspective, Tannehill delivered a second-straight steady performance, completing 16-of-24 passes for 137 yards with three touchdowns, delivering a 103.6 passer rating.

DeVante Parker caught his first touchdown of the season and Stills got more involved (four receptions), and scored a 13-yard touchdown. The passing game could have produced more if the interior of Miami's offensive line wasn't consistently caved in by Buffalo.

The Dolphins only gained 60 rushing yards on 23 carries against the Bills. Miami's struggles in the trenches made life difficult on the tailbacks, especially when it came to running inside zone plays. Drake did have success (31 rushing yards on seven carries) on the outside zone runs.

As Rotoworld.com noted, Drake is still behind Frank Gore in the pecking order and Miami is using Kalen Ballage in Wildcat formations, but touchdowns have kept him in the fantasy conversation this season. That continued against the Bills. That touchdown dependency will continue to make him a risky play against the Patriots this week -- but a risky play with clear TD upside.

On the injury front. ... Danny Amendola sat out Sunday's game with a knee injury; his status will bear watching in coming days. The same goes for A.J. Derby, who hasn't been much of a contributor due to a series of injuries, the latest of which also kept him out against the Bills.

Drake and Parker continue to play through minor shoulder issues.

I'll have more on all involved here via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.

Beyond the skill players. ... Gase told reporters Xavien Howard, the team's Pro Bowl caliber CB, is week to week with a knee injury.

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

Minnesota Vikings

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 December 2018

As ESPN.com's Courtney Cronin noted, the Vikings (6-5-1) are still alive in the NFC playoff picture after a 24-10 loss to the New England Patriots, but there's one thing that continues to allude this team: It hasn't beaten an opponent with a winning record this season.

Losses by the Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers and Carolina Panthers before kickoff at Gillette Stadium presented the Vikings with an opportunity to gain important ground in the NFC North and wild-card playoff race. Instead, Minnesota added to a day of defeat for each team in the division. The NFC North has gone 0-4 two just other times since conference realignment 16 years ago: Week 16 in 2013 and Week 15 in 2009.

Once the Patriots went up 10-0 with 8:16 to play in the first half, history was already running fast from the Vikings' favor.

According to ESPN Stats and Information, New England has a 100-2 record when leading by double digits at home since 2001.

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said one of the strongest elements of a Bill Belichick-coached team is its ability to beat its opponent by making them play left-handed. The Patriots were able to do that by taking away Minnesota's best weapons. Wide receiver Adam Thielen didn't record his first catch until the end of the second quarter (a 5-yard touchdown, the team's only TD of the game) but the Vikings' own adversity forced them to not only play left-handed, but with their own hand tied behind their back.

Cornerback Xavier Rhodes, who is dealing with a hamstring injury, was rotated in-and-out of the game, often times replaced by undrafted rookie Holton Hill. When the Vikings lost cornerback Trae Waynes to a concussion in the second quarter, veteran special-teams ace Marcus Sherels, who has not played consistent snaps at cornerback since 2013, was tasked with filling his place.

On top of those injuries, wide receiver Stefon Diggs had to play through a knee injury. He finished as the team's leading receiver (five catches, 49 yards), but far from his explosive self.

The biggest play in the first half that allowed the Vikings to grab back momentum came when Zimmer challenged a first-down ruling on a completion from Tom Brady to Rob Gronkowski. After winning the challenge, the Vikings' defense forced a critical stop on third down and gave their offense a chance to score some points before halftime.

Kirk Cousins orchestrated an effective two-minute drive, capped by his first completion to Thielen, the aforementioned score.

Had kicker Dan Bailey not missed a 48-yard field goal earlier in the game, Minnesota would have gone into halftime tied 10-10.

But it didn't work out that way and the Vikings' road to the playoffs doesn't get any easier.

Next week, the Vikings travel to Seattle for Monday Night Football against a surging Seahawks team, which has won three consecutive games.

Meanwhile, Zimmer, a defensive specialist who chooses to delegate the entirety of the offense to his offensive coordinator, has periodically complained about the fact that the Vikings too quickly abandon the running game. After Sunday's 24-10 loss to the Patriots, Zimmer was at is again.

"What do you think you need to do to get the offense back to rolling a little bit better?" Zimmer was asked by reporters.

"Same thing I have been saying all year," Zimmer said.

"Do you think you ran the ball enough?"

"No."

In fact, as Profootballtalk.com's Michael David Smith noted on Monday, the Vikings abandoned the run like no other team all season: Minnesota finished Sunday's game with 95 yards on just 13 carries. That's the most rushing yards any team has had all season in a game in which they ran the ball 15 or fewer times.

As Smith went on to suggest, that's a remarkable statistic: 13 carries for 95 yards is an average of 7.3 yards per carry.

Running back Dalvin Cook was having an excellent game, with nine carries for 84 yards. And the Vikings just stopped going to him.

It wasn't that they had to pass because they had fallen far behind, as the game was close even into the fourth quarter. It wasn't that Cook was hurt or needed a breather, as he got 47 snaps. It was just that on more than 80 percent of Cook's snaps, the Vikings didn't give him the ball.

Zimmer was asked to give his assessment of the job that offensive coordinator John DeFilippo has done in his first year in Minnesota.

"I think he's doing a good job," Zimmer said. "We talk all the time. We talk about things I think are important and he tries to do them."

That assessment won't stop Zimmer from getting more involved with the offensive side of the ball.

Zimmer said that he could delegate more in-game defensive adjustment responsibilities to defensive coordinator George Edwards in order to do more on offense, but hasn't made a decision to do that at the moment.

It's something to watch. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Thielen and Patriots coach Bill Belichick were caught on camera midway through the fourth quarter of Sunday's game in a heated exchange of words in the midst of New England's electing to challenge a play.

Officials initially ruled a first down in favor of Minnesota at the Vikings' 39-yard line after Latavius Murray gained 1 yard on fourth-and-inches with 9:02 to play in the game. At the end of the play, Patriots defensive back Patrick Chung fell to the ground with an apparent injury.

Thielen later said he thought it was "interesting timing" for Chung to go down and was upset that the Patriots had extra time to decide whether to throw the challenge flag.

"It was a close play that could have been reviewed," Thielen said after the game. "So for me, I just lost my emotions."

Field mics picked up the Vikings receiver yelling "that's bullcrap" in the direction of the Patriots' bench after Belichick pulled the challenge flag out of his sock and threw it onto the field. During the exchange, Belichick appeared to tell Thielen to "shut the f--- up." An official then escorted Thielen back to the Vikings' huddle.

Thielen spoke about the incident postgame and said he wasn't upset with Belichick so much as with how the situation played out.

"I just thought the play was cheap," Thielen said. "I wasn't directing it toward him. I just thought the play was cheap, but like I said, I let the emotions get the best of me because it's a smart football play if you are in that situation. Why not? It's not cheating because there's no rule against it from a guy going down. I don't know if he was hurt or not. He might have been hurt. That's fine. It is what it is. But like I said, just interesting timing for a guy to go down when it's a close play."

The Patriots ended up losing the challenge. Belichick was 0-for-2 on challenges against the Vikings.

Thielen said he and Belichick did not speak postgame, but he was not upset when he learned what Belichick appeared to say in his direction during their exchange.

"No offense taken," Thielen said. "It's football. There's emotions. He can think what he wants to think about me. It doesn't really change how I'm going to go play the game. He can hate me all he wants. I'm still going to be the same person I am. I'm going to try to go out and do my best, and I'm going to try and compete every play."

Belichick was asked about the exchange after the Patriots' win and whether what took place could be considered two competitors "exchanging holiday greetings."

"Yeah, pretty much," Belichick said with a slight smile.

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

New England Patriots

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 December 2018

As ESPN.com's Mike Reiss framed it, "Everything changed in a "Flash.'"

The New England Patriots were struggling to find their groove on offense Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings when receiver Josh Gordon exploded on to the scene late in the third quarter. His big-play ability helped change the complexion of the team's 24-10 victory at Gillette Stadium.

Consider the dramatic turn of events.

Gordon, nicknamed "Flash," had not been targeted in his first 29 snaps as the Patriots weren't consistently attacking down the field. But after the Vikings tied the game at 10 with just over 2 minutes remaining in the third quarter, and the home stadium had grown quiet, Gordon got involved in a big way.

His 24-yard catch-and-run kicked off the Patriots' ensuing drive, and three plays later, Gordon was in the end zone with another 24-yard catch-and-run touchdown. New England never trailed again.

He drew a 20-yard offensive pass-interference penalty to begin the Patriots' next drive before adding a 10-yard catch-and-run play to advance the ball to the Vikings' 2 yard-line. That set up another touchdown.

The Patriots hadn't routinely been threatening downfield prior to that point, but there seemed to be a notable shift in approach after Minnesota tied the game at 10. And that's precisely why the Patriots traded for Gordon in September, because they didn't have anyone at the position with his big-play ability.

In helping the Patriots improve to 9-3, where they remain in the chase for the AFC's top playoff seed, Gordon is experiencing high-stakes December football for the first time in his career.

Entering the Vikings game, he had said, "This part of the season is Patriots football. It's what they're known for. We have to put our foot to the gas and get it going."

On a day in which the Patriots were stuck in neutral, Gordon was the one who pressed his foot on the accelerator to lift them up.

In general, there were drives when New England’s offense appeared to be on point against the Vikings, most notably on the opening possession and again late in the third quarter.

Those possessions ended in touchdowns and both broke ties at the time.

The opening series was a thing of beauty as Brady was able to find wide open targets on four straight plays to four different receivers. Julian Edelman (13 yards), Chris Hogan (18 yards), Cordarrelle Patterson (24 yards) and Rex Burkhead (18 yards) were the recipients during a brilliant sequence orchestrated by offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and the coaching staff that saw the Patriots stretch out the Vikings effectively from sideline to sideline.

Fullback Develin capped that drive, and then when it was tied at 10 late in the third quarter, Brady got Gordon involved.

Aside from some struggles targeting Edelman (just three grabs for 25 yards on eight targets including an interception), Brady generally got the ball out quick and found open receivers as the Patriots offense once again racked up a ton of yards (471) if not points.

As the team's official website noted, the rushing attack was nothing fancy.

There were very few gaping holes like they saw in Week 12 against the Jets. Instead the Patriots were forced to earn every rushing yard the hard way against a tough and physical Minnesota front.

Sony Michel carried the ball 17 times and picked up just 63 yards (3.7-yard average) while Burkhead managed only 20 yards on his seven attempts (2.9-yard average) in his return to the lineup.

But McDaniels used some imagination to spring James White (six carries, 26 yards), Edelman (two for 35 yards) and Patterson (one for 6 yards) for some valuable real estate and the Patriots racked up 160 yards on 39 carries for a respectable 4.1-yard average.

That includes some real hard work from Develin, who bruised a few linebackers on a pair of touchdown plunges as well as a third-down conversion in the fourth quarter. He 5 yards on his four bone-crushing carries but managed to accomplish the goal on each one.

And yes, it was Develin's first career multi-TD game in a league where the fullback is nearly extinct. The Patriots made improving their red-zone offense a priority and feeding Develin helped them take positive steps. As ESPN.com suggested, "The great fullbacks of the early 2000s, such as Lorenzo Neal and Mike Alstott, would be proud."

On the injury front. ... Rob Gronkowski is back on today's injury report, listed as a limited participant Wednesday due to his ongoing back and ankle issues; Brady is still limited with a knee injury. I'll be following up via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

And finally. ... There has been much written about Tom Brady's skills as a football player and there will be much written on that topic in the future, but little of it will deal with his running ability.

Brady has made his living throwing the ball, but the short gains as a runner have piled up over the years and Brady reached 1,000 rushing yards for his career by picking up five yards in Sunday's win over the Vikings. Brady appeared to be careful about moving forward on his final kneel downs and said after the game that "I'm not trying to go backwards."

Brady said he was most excited about getting the win when asked about the milestone.

"I don't know. I'm not going to save the ball," Brady said in his postgame press conference. "I don't know where it went. But, yeah, just played a lot of football and obviously I'm not a scrambler, but hopefully I can make a couple plays running for it. Made a good third down on that one. I just give a lot of credit to the offensive line. They blocked their tails off today against a good front, and I don't want to make too much of a 4 or 5-yard gain. That wasn't really the difference in the game."

Brady also threw for 311 yards, which leaves him at 69,501 career passing yards, and threw one touchdown. That's the 508th of his career, which ties Brett Favre for third on the all-time list.

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

New Orleans Saints

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 December 2018

As Profootballtalk.com's Curtis Crabtree noted this week, the New Orleans Saints have been seemingly unstoppable offensively throughout most of the 2018 season.

That is, until the Cowboys defense essentially brought the juggernaut to a halt on Thursday night in Dallas.

The Saints were:

Held to 10 points or less for the first time since Nov. 2015 (at Houston)

Held scoreless in the first half of a game for the first time since Sept. 2014 (at Dallas)

Held to under 200 yards of total offense for the first time since Dec. 2013 (at Seattle)

Held to under 180 yards of total offense for the first time since Jan. 2002 (vs. San Francisco)

"I felt like we didn't really find our rhythm pretty much the whole game," quarterback Drew Brees said. "We may have had one decent drive for the most part. I felt like we didn't find a great rhythm on what we were doing. So credit to them."

The Saints went three-and-out on each of their first two possessions and punted on each of their first three drives. Their longest first half drive lasted seven plays and gained 38 yards. It ended on a turnover on downs at the goal line as the Saints were stopped for no gain on a handoff to Alvin Kamara from the 1-yard line.

"A little bit of it was execution on my part," Brees said. "We got some opportunities to capitalize on some plays early and we didn't. First drive I knew we got a couple of things going. So, starting off the game with two -- three and outs, that's not how you want to start out the game. On the other side they were able to put together some decent drives as an offense. We are thinking complimentary football. Let's put together another drive, let's keep our defense off the field. Let's control the game, the clock, the ball. It just felt like we never did that as an offense like we've done this year."

Even the successful drives the Saints had weren't all self-made. A 10-play, 60-yard drive leading to a Will Lutz field goal consisted of 15 yards in penalties by Dallas. A 10-play, 88-yard touchdown drive had 41 yards come via penalty with the most important being a roughing the kicker call on Randy Gregory on a punt that allowed the Saints to retain possession.

Head coach Sean Payton credited the Cowboys defense for causing problems and forcing them to play in longer yardage situations.

"They played with great energy. They were on the edge," Payton said. "Their front, it was a tough front to handle. You saw that all season. If you really watched a lot of tape, you'd see it. Nonetheless, though, they did a fantastic job."

The failure to get some successful runs forced them to convert longer third down chances, where the Saints were just 3 for 11 against Dallas.

"We weren't really good on the early downs," Payton said. "We didn't have the balance that we've had in prior games. We struggled running the ball with any consistency. And then we didn't want to get into a one-dimensional game. I think the common thread without seeing any of the game tape would be that we were behind the chains a lot," Payton said. "We were in seven-or-more, eight-or-more. We didn't make enough happen on the first and second downs in the game. Some games you play where you don't have a lot of third downs because you're operating efficiently but that wasn't the case, certainly in this game."

Beyond that, Brees' 39 passing yards marked his fewest in a first half since Week 3 of the 2004 when he was a member of then-San Diego Chargers.

Dropped passes also contributed to the Saints' offensive woes, as did the failure in the second quarter to convert a fourth-and-1 at the Cowboys' 2-yard line.

"A little bit of it was execution on our part," Brees said. "I felt like we had some opportunities to connect on some pass early and we didn't. First drive, I know there was a least a few that would've gotten things going. So, you start off a game with two three-and-outs and that's not the way you want to start, and then on the other side they were able to put together some decent drives.

"For us, as an offense, we think complementary football. Let's put together a drive, let's keep our defense off the field, let's control the game, control the clock, control the ball. It just felt like we really did that as an offense like we've done this year."

Brees entered the game completing a league-best 76.4 percent of his passes, but finished the game completing 18 of 28 passes (64.3 percent) for 127 yards and a touchdown against an interception for a 71.6 passer rating. The 127 yards was the second-fewest in a game this season and a significant drop from his 285 yards passing per game average on the season.

As noted above, dependable running game, which entered the game ranked sixth in the league (133.1 yards per game), also failed to get going. Mark Ingram and Kamara combined for 18 carries and 63 yards on the game, setting up numerous third-and-long situations and the Saints converted just 3 of 11 third-down attempts (27 percent).

While the Saints had a bad game on offense, the credit certainly belongs to the Cowboys for figuring out how to stymie one of the NFL's top offensive units.

"Tip your hat to Dallas," head coach Sean Payton said. "I thought those guys did a good job tonight. They played a heck of a game, deserved to win the game."

The loss dropped the Saints to 10-2 on the season, a half-game behind the Los Angeles Rams (10-1) in the race for the NFC's No. 1 playoff seed with four games remaining.

Also of interest. ... Kamara took a vicious hit from Jaylon Smith in the fourth quarter. Slow-mo replays showed the Cowboys linebacker leading with the crown of his helmet. Officials did not penalize Smith.

It sent Kamara into the medical tent for a concussion check and left the Saints wondering why a flag wasn't thrown.

"Did one come out?" Kamara answered rhetorically when asked if he was expecting a flag.

"It is what it is," he added. "It don't matter what I was expecting."

The hit came on third-and-17 at midfield. Kamara picked up 8 yards. A penalty would have given the Saints a first down at the Dallas 27. They never got any closer to tying the game or taking the lead.

"What do you think?" Brees said when asked his thoughts about the hit. "Let the league deal with that."

One last note here. ... Receiver Michael Thomas didn't practice on Wednesday due to an ankle injury; I'll have more via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.

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

New York Giants

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 December 2018

As New York Post sports writer Paul Schwartz suggested, the first step had to be taken and it was on Sunday, as rookie quarterback Kyle Lauletta was active for the first time this season, serving as backup to Eli Manning as the Giants beat the Bears 30-27 in overtime at MetLife Stadium.

In what's become a weekly ritual for the 4-8 Giants, head coach Pat Shurmur said on Monday that Manning will remain the starting quarterback in Week 14. The Giants will be in Washington next Sunday.

Manning had a terrible first half of Sunday's game against the Bears, but was sharper in the second half and threw a touchdown pass to Odell Beckham in the win.

The veteran signal caller completed 19 of 35 passes for 170 yards with a touchdown and an interception in the upset of the Bears.

The win kept the Giants mathematically if not realistically alive in the playoff race and any change at quarterback seems likely to wait until a change on that front.

But when and if it does?

For the first 11 games, journeyman Alex Tanney was in uniform and active but never played. Lauletta, a fourth-round draft pick from Richmond, wore Giants-issued clothing and stood on the sideline during games. This move is clear indication if the Giants move away from Manning in the final month of this season, it will be Lauletta getting the snaps at quarterback.

"Behind the scenes he's done a good job," head coach Pat Shurmur said. "He's making progress here during the season and it's just the next step for him."

Last Monday, this pecking order was brought up to Shurmur when he was asked when Lauletta might get his chance. Shurmur said, "Why are you jumping over Tanney?" Asked if Tanney might be viewed a potential long-term solution at quarterback, Shurmur said, "Who knows? That's where you're getting bogged down here. Who knows?"

This was a case of Shurmur publicly sticking up for one of his players, even though the truth of the situation is a different scenario.

Tanney was the backup because the 31-year-old has kicked around the NFL for several years, even though he only appeared in one career regular-season game. If anything happened to Manning during the course of a game, Tanney was more ready to step in and run the offense than Lauletta. The Giants do not know where Lauletta fits and they would like to not repeat the same mistake the previous regime made by not getting Davis Webb into any games down the stretch of a lost 3-13 season.

"Excited to put on the uniform, I've been wanting to all season," Lauletta said. "It's a good feeling. I don't know what will happen from here. I'm just gonna keep preparing and get as ready as I can each week in case I have to go into the game. ..."

For what it's worth, Ralph Vacchiano of SNY.tv reiterated that it's still the Giants' intent to play Lauletta at some point this season. They want to see what they have in their fourth-round draft pick before entering the offseason in search of Manning's replacement.

Just not yet. ...

Meanwhile, as ESPN.com's Jordan Raanan reported Beckham believes criticism about his effort on an onside kick late in Sunday's win is off-base.

Chicago's Daniel Brown recovered the ball in front of Beckham with just over a minute left in regulation. Beckham appeared to hesitate before diving to the ground for the ball. Safety Curtis Riley also missed a block, allowing Brown a free run at the ball.

Chicago was able to tie the game and send it to overtime before losing 30-27. Despite the final result, the play left Beckham open to criticism.

"That's fine," he said afterward. "It was a great kick. Sometimes, somebody makes a better play than you do. I can dive in there and still not get the ball. It was a very tough call. Nobody should ever question my effort or my heart. That's the last thing you can do. You can question me as a person, as a man, whatever you want to do. But my heart and my effort can never be questioned -- ever."

Beckham seemed surprised at the blowback from the play. He was asked earlier in his news conference why he didn't dive for the ball in such a crucial spot. Was the ball too far away?

"That sounds like a question that was you just asking to ask, kinda. You know?" he said.

It didn't seem to be a problem in the locker room, where the Giants enjoyed their third win in four games. Beckham remains a popular presence and even addressed the team pregame and at halftime.

"I never question O's effort," wide receiver Russell Shepard said. "Never question his heart. He wants to win. He's a big reason why we won. He gave us emotion. He gave us leadership. He said some things to us pregame and halftime that pushed us over the edge."

On his halftime speech, Beckham said: "Honestly, I addressed the team at halftime, and I told them there's just something I had to get off my chest. I love these boys. Every time I put on a helmet, whether it's practice or it's a game, I'm going to give it my all, and I feel like I owed them more, to give them all of me and whatever that entails."

Shurmur said he didn't see the onside kick play closely. It was on the other side of the field. He reserved comment until he watched the tape of the Giants' victory.

It was in part because of Beckham's contributions. He threw a touchdown pass and caught another.

His 49-yard touchdown pass to Shepard was his second passing TD of the season. His 1-yard catch on fourth down late in the third quarter was his sixth touchdown grab of the season.

"So we drew a play up. I told Bennie [Fowler], I don't care what happens, I'm going to throw it to you, and they double-covered him, and this grown man from LSU who I've played with for a long time, I saw him down the middle of the field, and I was like, this can't be real, and I just launched it to him," Beckham said of his touchdown pass. "It's all good. He wasn't supposed to do that, but he's just playing football, and he came up with a huge play for us. Very, very, very big play."

Beckham finished with three catches on nine targets for 35 yards in the contest. ...

Sterling Shepard took a heavy hit in the second quarter going low trying to scoop up a pass and came away with a ribs injury. Shepard made his way off the field, and an X-ray at halftime confirmed he did not suffer a cracked rib. He did come away with a soft-tissue rib injury, though, and was feeling it Monday.

Especially when breathing.

"From time to time, deep breaths," Shepard said, "and just like really sudden movements."

Shepard willed his way back into the game in the second half and caught three passes for 18 yards.

Saquon Barkley said Monday he doesn't feel any pain in his shoulder, Raanan reported.

As CBSSports.com noted, Barkley was removed for a few plays after taking a hard fall on his shoulder in the fourth quarter. He came back into the contest and finished with 125 yards on 24 carries and 21 yards on three receptions, making it three consecutive weeks with triple-digit yardage on the ground and more than 140 scrimmage yards.

Barkley does get a potentially tricky road matchup this week, facing a Washington defense that held him to 38 yards on 13 carries and 73 yards on nine catches Oct. 28. Of course, the Redskins and Giants have gone in opposite directions since that contest.

Along those lines, Shurmur was not happy with the way his offensive line's matchup with the Bears' defensive front was portrayed leading into the game. "I was fielding questions and based on what everybody was asking, we were going to cancel the game," Shurmur said.

Also on the injury front. ... Shurmur wasn't sure if Evan Engram, who missed a second-straight game with a hamstring injury, will be ready to return this week.

Shepard and Engram were limited in Wednesday's practice. Watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for more on the Giants' injury issues as the week progresses.

Beyond that, safety Landon Collins suffered a shoulder injury in Sunday's overtime win and is out this week. ESPN's Josina Anderson is reporting Collins will go on IR and have surgery sometime next week. ...

And finally. ... A perfect day was had by Aldrick Rosas, culminating with a 44-yard game-winning kick in overtime. Rosas was three for three on field goals, with a 57-yarder to begin New York's scoring in the second quarter and a 37-yard boot in the fourth. He was likewise three for three with point-after attempts -- a performance that earned him NFC Special Teams Player of the Week.

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

New York Jets

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 December 2018

As ESPN.com's Rich Cimini suggested, "Each week, the New York Jets sink a little lower. Each week, their glaring warts are on full display. They can't score touchdowns, their defense crumbles in big spots and they commit dumb penalties. Worst of all? They've been infected by a losing mentality, the type of virus that can ruin teams and ruin seasons. ..."

Cimini went on to note that was on full display Sunday at Nissan Stadium, where the Jets came unglued in the second half and fell to the Tennessee Titans, 26-22 -- their sixth straight loss. This was brutal. The Jets led 16-0, but they played as if they expected something bad to happen.

And it did. Over and over.

"Did anyone actually believe the Jets (3-9) would hold on for a win?" Cimini asked before answering: "Of course not. They're a bad team with no confidence and no discipline, as they did everything possible to blow a game that should've been wrapped up in the first half."

The last time they blew a 16-point lead was Week 2 of the 2014 season. But that was against Aaron Rodgers; this was against Marcus Mariota and a mediocre Tennessee team.

They were an utter disgrace. Head coach Todd Bowles has suffered a lot of painful defeats in his career, and this had to be one of the worst. As Cimini put it, "He's Dead Man Coaching, as the Jets have lost 18 of their past 23 games. This was the kind of game that gets coaches fired, but ownership apparently will wait until the bitter end to relieve Bowles of his duties."

As Profootballtalk.com noted, Bowles isn't given to high emotion-- or any emotion, really.

But he said after Sunday's loss to the Titans that he was "fuming," and not just from the steam that's building under his chair.

The game featured 11 Jets penalties, which left Bowles visibly angry.

"I don't know how many [penalties] we had, but it felt like we had one every play," Bowles said. "It cost us, and it's disgusting. . .

"We played the same way the whole day, and just dumb mistakes at dumb times cost us ballgames. That's why we're in the position we're in."

The Jets committed three costly penalties during the Titans' game-winning drive, a holding on Morris Claiborne, illegal use of hands on Jordan Jenkins and a facemask on Trumaine Johnson, during the six-play, 85-yard drive.

When asked about his message to players afterward, Bowles was blunt: "Pissed off. Frustrated. Look in the mirror, just look in the mirror. We won't be a good football team until we're a smart football team."

And that's still likely to be under someone else's leadership, which likely contributes to his frustration. ...

Meanwhile, the need to continue developing Sam Darnold for the future will keep the rookie quarterback in the mix over the final month of the season. Darnold returned to practice last week and Bowles said on Monday that Darnold, who has missed the last three games with a foot injury, wasn't ready to play off that limited time on the field.

This week could be a different story, though.

"He had a great number of reps, he was prepared, but you're not going to come three days as a rookie and be fresh off your reads and not have any rust to go in a ball game and play on Sunday after you've been out for two weeks," Bowles said at his press conference. "You need some time to get your timing back and everything else. So, we'll continue to give him reps and when I think he's ready, he'll play."

Bowles made another reference to Darnold's lack of practice time later in the press conference, which suggests the rookie will have a better chance of getting the nod as long as there aren't any medical setbacks.

And why throw him back into the fray at this point? It seems futile, right?

After all, the Jets failed to score an offensive touchdown in Tennessee, which makes it five straight games in which the offense has scored one or no touchdowns -- a franchise record.

According to Cimini, the players have lost confidence in offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates. "You can read it in their body language and how they dodge questions from reporters," Cimini added. Asked what's wrong with the offense, wide receiver Quincy Enunwa paused a moment as he measured his response.

"I still have a job right now," he said. "I'd love to say what my opinion of that is, but I'll just keep that to myself."

Bates is the third coordinator under Bowles, who lost Chan Gailey to retirement after two seasons and fired John Morton after one season. Morton doesn't look so bad now, does he? On Sunday, the defense scored one more touchdown than the offense (a pick-six by Trumaine Johnson), which is rather amazing when you consider the defense had gone five games without a takeaway.

It isn't all Bates' fault because he's saddled with mediocre personnel, but he makes some head-scratching decisions at times. For a change, he committed to the running game, as the Jets cracked the 100-yard mark for the first time in six games (156 yards, to be exact). But, then, why did he abandon the run in the red zone?

The Jets ran nine plays inside the Titans' 22-yard line -- all passes. Josh McCown completed 1-of-6 attempts and was sacked twice; there also was a holding penalty on a pass play. There wasn't a single carry for Isaiah Crowell (98 yards), who had his best game in nearly two months after openly questioning the play calling last week.

The offense has fallen down, and it can't get up. Bowles was asked if he'd consider lineup changes.

"I'm playing everybody I can," he said, perhaps sending a message to general manager Mike Maccagnan, the man who assembled the "talent."

Now it's Darnold's turn.

He was healthy enough to play Sunday, according to Bowles, but the coach was concerned about his lack of practice reps. After a four-week layoff, counting the bye week, there would've been rust and timing issues. Darnold was limited last week, so Bowles made the right call by not rushing him back to face the Titans.

On Sunday, Darnold will face fellow first-round pick Josh Allen, a close friend who has a 3-3 record and has showed signs of improvement since returning from an elbow injury. Darnold was regressing at the time of his injury, but now he gets a chance to finish on a positive note.

After a sensational performance in Week 1, his season -- and that of the Jets -- has gone the wrong way.

"We'll reload this week and see where he is," Bowles said of Darnold.

Stay tuned. Darnold worked fully on Wednesday while Crowell (toe) was held out. ... I'll be following up via Late-Breaking Update as needed.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Josh McCown, Sam Darnold
RBs: Isaiah Crowell, Elijah McGuire, Trenton Cannon
WRs: Quincy Enunwa, Jermaine Kearse, Robby Anderson, Andre Roberts
TEs: Chris Herndon, Jordan Leggett, Eric Tomlinson

Oakland Raiders

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 December 2018

Derek Carr has said he wants to be better in head coach Jon Gruden's offense. The Raiders quarterback also said he wanted to wreck the draft for the Raiders by winning some games and not getting that top NFL draft pick.

Check on the first goal.

And maybe checkmate on the second. Because while Carr continued his efficient-if-far-from-explosive season with another interceptionless outing, the Raiders lost another game, this one 40-33 to the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday at the Oakland Coliseum.

"I was proud of our quarterback," Gruden said. "It was a shootout of two great young quarterbacks."

Sure, the Raiders, who opened as 15-point home underdogs, were entertaining, and they were gutty. But as ESPN.com's Paul Gutierrez reminded readers, they fell to 2-10 on the season, tied with the San Francisco 49ers for the worst record in the NFL after the Arizona Cardinals won their third game of the season earlier in the day at the Green Bay Packers.

It's all bittersweet for Carr, though, as he would much rather be competing for a playoff spot than be a major player in another Raiders rebuild, his second in his fifth NFL season.

After throwing eight picks in the first five games, Carr ran his INT-less streak to seven games. His last interception, in the end zone from the 1-yard line at the Los Angeles Chargers, was on Oct. 7.

He entered the game having completed a career-best 68.5 percent of his passes. (He completed 63.8 percent of his passes in 2016.) Against the Chiefs, Carr completed 29-of-38 (76.3 percent) for 285 yards and three touchdowns. He was sacked three times.

"Obviously, it's no moral victory but we should play like (we are having fun) no matter what the score is, what our record is," Carr said. "You want it to always look the same. Hopefully, we can continue to grow that and instill that in our young guys."

In a bigger picture, Carr overtook Rich Gannon for second place on the Raiders' all-time passing list. Pro Football Hall of Famer Ken Stabler leads with 19,078 yards, while Carr is now at 17,856 yards with four games to go this season and three years remaining on the five-year, $125 million contract extension that he signed in 2018.

"It's very humbling," Carr said of passing Stabler. "Again, my dad was a Raider fan growing up. Kenny Stabler was his favorite and I got to grow up watching Rich, Jerry Rice and Tim Brown. To be able to be up there, it means a lot to me.

"Don't get it twisted. You guys know me, I just want to win, I hate losing. For those things to be there, in my heart -- it means a lot."

Tight end Jared Cook also continued his quietly brilliant season as Carr's security blanket and as a Pro Bowl candidate with a 24-yard TD catch, an acrobatic hurdle and epic stiff-arm of a Chiefs defender and seven catches for 100 yards.

Three lost fumbles, one by each of the Raiders running backs -- Doug Martin, DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard -- proved costly, especially with Oakland winning the time of possession 30:46 to 29:14.

Indeed, when the running backs lose three fumbles, a key penalty wipes out a fourth-down conversion and a player jumps offside on a third-down stop that denied Oakland a chance to try to put together a game-winning drive, it's no surprise the Raiders came up short in this one.

The loss made the Raiders the first team to be officially eliminated from the playoffs, although Gruden is not quite ready to turn his focus to the draft and the future.

"We don't look ahead right now. We are looking at the Pittsburgh Steelers, that's all we are doing," Gruden said. "I'm really proud of our team. We fought back yesterday and made it 33-30 in the fourth quarter. We got them third-and-5, we get a stop and we jump offside. We gave Kansas City too many mulligans. We fumbled the ball to them three times. We had a fourth-and-1 called back, and we gave them first downs by jumping offside. We are not looking ahead to nothing except the Pittsburgh Steelers. I can assure you that, at least on our side of the building."

Despite another loss that sent the Raiders to their 12th season of at least 10 losses in the past 16 years, Gruden was able to glean some positives, especially with the play from the offense.

Oakland ran for 171 yards for its biggest day on the ground since Week 2 in 2017. The Raiders averaged 6.1 yards per carry.

Carr even managed to stretch the field a bit, completing five passes that traveled at least 15 yards downfield, tied for his most in a single game in the past two seasons. ...

And those are the kind of positives you look for on a team mired at the bottom of the standings. ...

The Raiders had hoped Martavis Bryant would return this season, but NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported on Wednesday that they placed him on Injured Reserve with that PCL injury.

The Raiders traded for Bryant during the 2018 NFL Draft and surrendered their third-round selection to the Steelers (Pick No. 79.) To say the trade didn’t work out is quite an understatement.

Bryant was released once, re-signed and finished the season with just 19 receptions for 266 yards and zero touchdowns. Bryant is scheduled to hit free agency in 2019, but there is a looming suspension hanging over him, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. In all likelihood, Bryant has played his last snap as a Raider. ...

A few final notes. ... Gruden said he wasn't sure if either OL Donald Penn (groin) or RB Marshawn Lynch (groin) will be able to return from IR and play down the stretch. ...

It seems even less likely that Lynch will return with Tuesday's addition of C.J. Anderson.

Anderson had worked out for the Kansas City Chiefs earlier in the week, but now lands in the East Bay after K.C. signed Charcandrick West.

Anderson was released by the Carolina Panthers in November after he tallied just 24 carries for 104 yards in nine games.

So why add Anderson to an already-crowded running back room with Martin, Richard and Washington all on board as well?

Martin has an injured knee and Gruden told reporters on Wednesday that the former Buccaneers' status is uncertain for Sunday.

The Raiders needed another runner, which is why they signed Anderson.

More on this via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

And this. ... Gruden explained why he used a challenge after Kansas City scored a TD late in the first half on a pass to Travis Kelce, even though coaches aren't allowed to challenge scoring plays.

"I knew exactly what I was doing, by the way. It wasn't a very sensible thing to do but I wanted to challenge Al Riveron in New York City to look at it because I have people in the press box telling me that's not a catch. Seeing plays overturned by somebody you can't even see, I thought with three timeouts and seven seconds left I'd use one of my timeouts by giving Al a little extra time to look at that play.

"I knew exactly what I was doing."

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Derek Carr, AJ McCarron
RBs: Doug Martin, C.J. Anderson, Jalen Richard, DeAndre Washington
WRs: Jordy Nelson, Marcell Ateman, Seth Roberts, Keon Hatcher
TEs: Jared Cook, Derek Carrier, Lee Smith

Philadelphia Eagles

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 December 2018

As Associated Press sports writer Rob Maaddi noted, Carson Wentz was at his best back on the move again.

Wentz tossed two touchdown passes, Darren Sproles ran for a score and the Philadelphia Eagles stayed in the hunt for the NFC East title with a 28-13 victory over the depleted Washington Redskins on Monday night.

The Eagles won consecutive games for the first time since Nick Foles led them to a Super Bowl victory over the Patriots.

Wentz, who hasn't scrambled much since returning in Week 3 from surgery to repair two knee ligaments, didn't run for any yards. But he ran around and made big plays when he improvised and on designed rollouts.

"Anytime he can extend plays with his legs, he's such a great athlete, that's an advantage to the offense," head coach Doug Pederson said. "Being able to do that allows us to stay on the field. He's gifted in doing that. It comes natural to him."

Sproles put Philadelphia up 14-10 on a 14-yard TD run in the second quarter. Wentz tossed a 4-yard TD pass to Jordan Matthews and connected with Golden Tate on a 2-point conversion to extend the lead to 22-13 early in the fourth quarter.

The Eagles twice failed to score inside the red zone and still managed their second-highest point total this season.

They had a first down at the Redskins 2 in the second quarter, but Josh Adams was stopped for a loss on fourth down from the 1.

They had a first down at the Redskins 5 in the third quarter, but Wentz threw an interception right to Josh Norman.

Wentz finished 27 of 39 for 306 yards. He came out firing and led the Eagles to a score on their opening drive for only the third time season.

First, he scrambled out of the pocket, motioned Tate to go deep and lofted a 19-yard pass down the left sideline on a first-and-15. Wentz finished the drive by firing a 6-yard TD pass on the run to Tate.

"Play-action, bootlegs, nakeds, getting me on the edge, gives me a chance to make plays and we used that effectively," Wentz said.

Sproles scored his first TD since Dec. 22, 2016. Sproles only played three games last season before he tore a knee ligament and broke his forearm on the same play. He was sidelined since Week 1 this year because of a hamstring injury.

"I'm really happy for him," center Jason Kelce said. "I don't usually know who is back there but when I saw it was him and he got in the end zone, I had a big sense of joy. He's a phenomenal guy."

Zach Ertz broke Brian Westbrook's franchise record for receptions in a season. Ertz has 93 catches and is closing in on Jason Witten's single-season record (110) for tight ends. Westbrook had 90 catches in 2007.

"That's awesome, but I'm sure he's just happy we won," Wentz said.

Meanwhile, fantasy owners are happy that the Wentz-Tate connection started to heat up.

The duo hooked up for seven completions, 85 yards, a touchdown and a two-point conversion against the Redskins.

"The flow of the game, honestly," Wentz told ESPN.com's Tim McManus, when asked about getting Tate involved in the offense. "We never really try and emphasize one guy. We feel we have a lot of weapons we can pass the ball around to. Tonight, he made some great plays for us."

The Eagles improved to 6-6. Not a record to write home about, but one that has them in contention in a down NFC East and the wild-card hunt. Philly is right on the heels of the Minnesota Vikings (6-5-1) for the wild card as well.

A difficult closing schedule awaits, starting with back-to-back games at Dallas and the Los Angeles Rams (11-1). It also includes a home game against the Houston Texans (9-3). There is still a good bit standing between the defending Super Bowl champs and a postseason bid, but their outlook is brighter now than it was heading into the week, especially now that Tate is beginning to make some noise.

"I don't think about the individual too much. I just wanted to be available when my time came and wanted to help this team win and win a lot," he said. "Hopefully, individually I just keep gaining trust of the quarterback and the guys around me, and just keep balling."

On the injury front. ... The Eagles held a walkthrough practice on Wednesday and Adams was listed as a limited participant due to a shoulder issue; more on that via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Carson Wentz, Nick Foles, Nate Sudfeld
RBs: Josh Adams, Corey Clement, Wendell Smallwood, Darren Sproles
WRs: Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, Jordan Matthews, Golden Tate, Shelton Gibson, Mack Hollins
TEs: Zach Ertz, Dallas Goedert, Richard Rodgers

Pittsburgh Steelers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 December 2018

As ESPN.com's Jeremy Fowler noted, the Steelers were left to process a loss that checks virtually every bad-loss category.

In December.

At home.

Blowing a 16-point lead at home for the first time in franchise history.

Extending a losing streak.

In-conference, thus negatively impacting playoff positioning.

Sunday's 33-30 loss to the Chargers cuts deep, but the Steelers know how to spin this forward with optimism. Asked about panic levels, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said "none."

Even if that is true, the Steelers (7-4-1) are about to find out whether these recent gaffes are out of character or a byproduct of a pretty good -- but not great -- team.

And now they'll face these concerns without James Conner and perhaps wide receiver Ryan Switzer (concussion protocol), who were injured Sunday night.

They definitely face these concerns with the Baltimore Ravens (7-5), winners of three straight, climbing to within a half-game of first place in the AFC North.

The miscues are glaring enough where questions must be answered starting Sunday in Oakland. The four turnovers in Denver might have been an aberration. But on this night, the offense looked rattled early in the second half when the Chargers turned up the pass rush. And Los Angeles' offense went for 231 yards and 19 points on its final three drives. Receivers going for too many yards after the catch was an issue, and once that happened, the Chargers ran the ball effectively. The defense is predicated on sacks and turnovers, and with two sacks and no turnovers, it's hard to beat top-shelf quarterbacks such as Philip Rivers.

"You can't say anything about our offense -- our offense scored 30 points," defensive end Cameron Heyward said. "As a defense, we're not getting the job done."

Now, Tom Brady and Drew Brees await over the final three weeks. Brady's Patriots comes to Pittsburgh in Week 15, and the Steelers follow that with a road game at New Orleans. That's one brutal back-to-back.

The Ravens face a similar challenge with road games at Los Angeles and Kansas City in December.

At least Antonio Brown's 154-yard performance could be a springboard to a late-season spark. Brown and Roethlisberger have a way of turning turmoil into touchdowns. Whether Brown beats up a Gatorade cooler or Big Ben rips him on the radio, they say nice things about each other afterward and put up yards on the field.

So when Roethlisberger criticized Brown's route-running on his radio show, you knew they'd perform well in Heinz Field. Brown hadn't surpassed 117 yards before Sunday night, when he was winning against a high-level corner, Casey Hayward. Roethlisberger was finding him deep and completed six of his first seven targets to Brown.

When these two get hot, not many are better.

And Brown plans to set a tone as the team relies on him more than ever.

"We don't make excuses," Brown told Fowler. "We still have a quarter left of football, and we still have our goals right in front of us. ..."

Meanwhile, Conner ran 15 times for 60 yards and two touchdowns and caught three passes for 14 yards before getting hurt.

Despite prior claims and reports downplaying the injury as a contusion, Conner has an ankle injury. Head coach Mike Tomlin told reporters on Tuesday that Conner won't play on Sunday at Oakland.

The announcement came shortly after the team promoted running back Trey Edmunds from the practice squad to the active roster.

Wide receiver Justin Hunter was placed on injured reserve in another move by the Steelers. Hunter hurt his shoulder against the Chargers and his year ends with three catches for 21 yards.

So the hope in Pittsburgh is the team can defeat the Raiders with Jaylen Samuels, Stevan Ridley, and/or Edmunds carrying the load.

But the Steelers will need Conner for Week 15, when the Patriots come to town.

It's not clear he will. Asked about the nature of the sprain, Tomlin said "I don't know if you'd describe it as a high ankle sprain, it's an ankle sprain"

Conner, who became the starter once Le'Veon Bell held out into the season, has 909 rushing yards (4.5 per carry), 467 receiving yards, and 13 total touchdowns.

Samuels has 12 carries for 31 yards rushing in the NFL, all as a rookie this season. Ridley has 18 carries for 56 yards. Conner has 909 on 201 carries. Samuels has 7 receptions, 2 for TDs.

Edmunds rushed for 48 yards on 9 carries with the Saints last season

Tomlin told reporters running back by committee "is our intention" as things stood on Tuesday.

That said, Samuels will continue preparing like he usually does, as a starter.

"I'm getting more comfortable as I'm getting more plays," he said.

Looks like we'll all get a chance to see how comfortable Samuels is in Oakland.

As ESPN's Mike Clay noted, Samuels entered the league as more of an H-back than a tailback (he carried the ball 181 times, but caught 202 passes during his four seasons at NC State), but he's certainly a candidate to push for 20 touches with Conner.

By the way. ... The Steelers have four losses on the year, three of which have come against teams from the AFC West: Kansas City, Denver, and the L.A. Chargers. The Steelers will finish their tour of the division when Tomlin faces his former Tampa boss, Jon Gruden, on Sunday.

Also worth noting. ... Tomlin, in confirming Switzer is in concussion protocol, expressed optimism about the wideout's chances of playing this week.

Tomlin also said it's a "possibility" for receiver Eli Rogers to join the team from IR, but also said he's excited about James Washington to get back in the mix and "take advantage of someone else's misfortune" -- in this case, Hunter's.

Washington was a healthy scratch against the Chargers.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Ben Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph, Josh Dobbs
RBs: Jaylen Samuels, Stevan Ridley, James Conner
WRs: Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Ryan Switzer
TEs: Vance McDonald, Jesse James, Xavier Grimble

San Francisco 49ers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 December 2018

According to ESPN.com's Nick Wagoner, the 49ers' latest loss should have come as no surprise given the opponent and the location.

Sunday's 43-16 defeat was San Francisco's ninth consecutive regular-season loss against the Seahawks and 10th straight to them overall.

And, really, since quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo suffered a season-ending ACL injury in Week 3, the most optimistic Niners fans knew it would be difficult for a team in the second year of a major rebuilding project to contend in 2018.

For those looking for a silver lining, the 49ers' chances of landing the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NFL draft continued to increase with their latest loss. The 2-10 Niners' pursuit of the top pick also got some help from other bottom-dwelling teams who offered surprising results Sunday afternoon. The Arizona Cardinals won their third game by knocking off the Green Bay Packers on the road. The New York Giants and Jacksonville Jaguars claimed their fourth victories, knocking off the Chicago Bears and Indianapolis Colts, respectively.

When the dust settled, only the Niners and Raiders were left with just two victories and in prime position for the top pick, a contest that figures to give new meaning to the "Battle of the Bay."

While the Niners could certainly benefit from having the top pick -- the need for a true difference-maker is undeniable -- Wagoner reports their two most recent performances have also left a more bitter taste in their mouths.

In losing by a combined 45 points to the Buccaneers and Seahawks after the bye, the 49ers have looked increasingly like a team deserving of the No. 1 overall pick rather than one in contention largely because of the loss of Garoppolo.

"We're just beat up," cornerback Richard Sherman said. "You think about the guys we have out there, we lose our No. 1 receiver, No. 2 receiver, No. 1 quarterback, No. 2 quarterback, No. 1 running back, the thing, it just ends up adding up. You lose your starting safety, you lose your backup safety, you lose person after person, you lose two of your Will linebackers and then [Malcolm Smith is] kind of beat up. It's just guys beat up, but guys are fighting hard and giving us the best chance."

As Sherman points out, the 49ers have been playing shorthanded for much of the season beyond just the loss of Garoppolo. They've been without starting receivers Pierre Garcon and Marquise Goodwin the past couple of weeks, running back Jerick McKinnon was lost to an ACL injury before the season began and fellow back Matt Breida had been limited by a recurring ankle issue.

On defense, injuries to the secondary and linebacker corps have been a factor all season.

But where injuries have created opportunities, the Niners would undoubtedly like to see more from their young players stepping into expanded roles. Receiver Dante Pettis, a 2018 second-round pick, has set an ideal example, racking up nine catches for 206 yards and three touchdowns over the past two weeks. Running back Jeff Wilson Jr. also showed up Sunday, with 134 yards from scrimmage on 23 touches, offering hope he could be a future running mate for Breida.

And quarterback Nick Mullens continues to at least provide hope that he has a future as a backup, putting up 414 passing yards and a pair of touchdowns Sunday for a passer rating of 95.3.

Still, given the number of young players in prominent roles, the 49ers would like to see more in the coming weeks. This Niners team has some youngsters playing by choice and others who have been thrust into important jobs by injury. Over the season's final four games, it's imperative that the Niners find out not only who belongs but whether those who do can play a significant role.

With four games left to play, there's still time for the young Niners to develop.

Given the injuries that dot the roster, there will undoubtedly be plenty of chances for that to happen. Perhaps the 49ers could even play spoiler against teams in the playoff mix like the Seahawks, Denver Broncos and Bears, or a team jockeying for home-field advantage like the Los Angeles Rams.

Head coach Kyle Shanahan and veteran leaders like Sherman constantly drive home the importance of those opportunities for the present and the future.

"These are grown men, so they have to be accountable for what they do," Sherman said.

Meanwhile, expect to see more of Wilson this week.

Breida aggravated his ankle injury in Sunday's loss to Seattle. It is bad enough that Shanahan already has ruled out Breida for this week's game against the Broncos, Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

Breida played only 10 snaps, getting eight touches for 57 yards.

According to ESPN's Mike Clay, though this has a similar feel to Gus Edwards taking over in Baltimore two weeks ago, Wilson actually has a role in the passing game, which makes him even more intriguing. Also, 49ers running backs have accrued 1,433 rushing yards this season, which is third most in the NFL. ...

And finally. ... Goodwin returned to the team Monday after missing two games while dealing with a family issue. Shanahan expects Goodwin to play this week.

Goodwin has 17 catches for 339 yards and four touchdowns in eight games.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Nick Mullens, C.J. Beathard
RBs: Jeff Wilson, Alfred Morris, Kyle Juszczyk, Raheem Mostert, Matt Breida
WRs: Marquise Goodwin, Pierre Garcon, Dante Pettis , Kendrick Bourne, Trent Taylor, Victor Bolden
TEs: George Kittle, Garrett Celek, Cole Hikutini

Seattle Seahawks

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 December 2018

In Sunday's 43-16 Seahawks win over the San Francisco 49ers, Seattle's offense found production not only from marquee playmakers like Russell Wilson, Doug Baldwin, Chris Carson, and Tyler Lockett, but also from a handful of 'unsung' contributors who helped push the club's record to 7-5 on the season.

Carson provided his usual physical and solid production, recording 108 yards from scrimmage, but as indicated by offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer prior to this week's game, Rashaad Penny played a larger role. The rookie running back was given opportunities to showcase the abilities that made him a first-round pick this year.

Penny was an explosive and fitting complement to Carson, rushing for 65 yards on seven carries, including a 20-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, his second score on the ground this season.

"It's all about opportunities and making the most when you get that," Penny said. "Just going out there and proving it."

Penny said when Carson missed the team's Week 10 game against the Rams, he knew he had to take on more responsibility and felt he "matured" that day. Penny ran for 108 yards and a touchdown against Los Angeles, and now he has the mentality of being ready to make an impact whenever he is called upon, even if it's for one play before he gives way to another running back.

Penny also gave his own take on how he and Carson set each other up for success this week and can continue to do so going forward.

"I feed off of him. He'll get the defense tired and then all I have to do is run by them," Penny said, adding that defenses "get tired of being bruised all day" and then he will get tosses on the perimeter, which was exactly the design on his touchdown run against San Francisco. "It's just about getting me on the perimeter and in space to make plays," he said.

Carson continues to be impressed with Penny's progress as well, saying, "He has that explosive ability to score any time he touches the ball. He's a freak, I always said that. It's great to see him doing so good."

Penny arrived in Seattle with much fanfare as a first rounder, but is not looking to steal anyone's headlines. He said he "looks up" to the veteran running backs on the roster and feels like they are mentors to him, noting he is just trying to make the most of every single touch.

"At the beginning of the season, I was (thinking) that I need a lot of carries, but then I started realizing you can make a lot off just one carry," Penny said. "We have a lot of great backs, so I know there are times I may not get the ball a lot. When I do get the ball, I have to make the most out of it."

Seattle ran for 168 yards against San Francisco, signifying the eighth time in the past nine games Seattle has gone over 150 yards rushing. Given the recent production from Carson, Penny, and fourth-year pro Mike Davis, who also has a 100-yard rushing game under his belt this season, the NFL's top rushing offense has put on film multiple ways to attack opposing defenses heading into a crucial final four weeks of the regular season.

"You can't prepare for just one back," Carson said of opposing defenses facing Seattle. "When one guy gets tired, the next guy goes in and you don't lose a beat."

At the receiver spot for Seattle, Lockett's 52-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter was yet another highlight style play that Seahawks fans have become favorably accustomed to this year, and Baldwin also took in a one-yard scoring catch to give the Seahawks a 20-0 lead. Yet it was Jaron Brown, in his best game as a Seahawk, who seized his share of the spotlight with two touchdown catches, including the first score of the game, a 4-yard grab at 1:25 of the first quarter.

Brown set up his score on the Seahawks' second drive of the game, with a 45-yard reception on the second play of the series.

"I was surprised I was that wide open," Brown said. "It seemed like it was in the air forever. It came off of play action. I kind of snuck behind the defense and it was off to the races, but I should have scored on that one." Brown landed in the end zone six plays later.

In the fourth quarter, Brown caught an 18-yard touchdown pass from Wilson, marking the first two-touchdown game in his career.

"Oh it's important," Brown said of delivering a pair of touchdown catches in a key victory that further strengthened the team's postseason chances. "It's definitely a blessing, but I was also going for the hat trick."

On both of his scoring catches, though, Brown credited Wilson because of his signature ability to throw on the run and make plays.

"That wasn't me, it was Russ, he definitely extended those plays," Brown said of the Seattle signal caller. "You have a QB like him, he'll find you."

Brown added that having playmakers like Baldwin and Lockett can always open up opportunities for him to make his mark like he did against the 49ers.

"When you have guys like that, it's hard to defend all of us," Brown said. "You just try to go out there and make your plays when your number is called. I just kind of go with the flow of the game."

Said Baldwin: "J.B. works so hard for us on offense in terms of what he does in his role in the offense, and for him to get some shine in terms of touchdowns and catches, that's big for him. It means a lot for us as a receiver corps because we know how hard he works."

Second-year receiver David Moore, who has also shined at key times this year, shed light on the mentality of the Seahawks' top unsung contributors.

"They are always ready for their time," Moore said of Penny and Brown. "It's something that we all talk about, whenever we get an opportunity to capitalize on it. They sure showed up today and we all believed that could happen."

Carson said he was very happy to see Penny and Brown create their own highlights this week.

"It was great to see them have good games," Carson said. "Those guys are a big part of our offense. Sometimes they go unnoticed but they are great athletes, they make plays in practice all the time and when their number is called in the game they make big plays too."

Worth noting. ... Carson sustained a dislocated finger against the 49ers and briefly continued to play with the injury before leaving with the game well in hand.

"Yeah. I'm fine. I dislocated my finger. I got to get stitches on it, but I'm fine," he said after the game.

Head coach Pete Carroll confirmed on Monday that the injury shouldn't have any effect on his ability to play Monday night against the Minnesota Vikings.

"He came out fine in the game other than his finger and it should be okay. He should be able to play," Carroll said.

Also on the injury front. ... Guard D.J. Fluker had to leave the field on a cart Sunday when he injured him hamstring while engaged with 49ers defensive tackle Earl Mitchell. Fluker fell to the turf and needed assistance to get to his feet and to the sidelines. After an evaluation, he got a cart ride from the field back to the locker room. The injury will force Fluker to miss some time.

"He's got a hamstring injury and it's going to be a little bit. We'll have to wait and see how he does. He's pretty sore today," Carroll said on Monday afternoon.

"It's basically a first-degree strain, so we'll see how that works. That's a couple of weeks usually, we'll see what happens. I don't know if he can do better than that or not. We'll see."

Fluker has been one of Seattle's most pivotal acquisitions this season. He's helped turn around an offensive line that was panned repeatedly the last few seasons and restored an edge to the group. Rookie Jordan Simmons will take over in Fluker's place moving forward as he did earlier this year when Fluker missed a game in Los Angeles against the Rams.

Other notes of interest. ... The Seahawks activated Mychal Kendricks from the suspended list Monday. He will return to action Sunday.

They waived linebacker Emmanuel Ellerbee in a corresponding move.

In three games with the Seahawks, Kendricks made 15 tackles, two sacks and a pass breakup.

The NFL suspended Kendricks eight games under its Personal Conduct Policy for his guilty plea to federal insider trading changes. When the league announced the specific suspension Oct. 30, he received credit for three games he served under an indefinite suspension.

One last item here. ... In case you missed it Saturday, the Seahawks placed C.J. Prosise (core) on injured reserve. Prosise missed the last two weeks and was already out for Sunday. He's been among the most injury-prone backs in the league, appearing in just 16 games the past three years. Seattle can save $745K from releasing Prosise this offseason.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Russell Wilson, Brett Hundley
RBs: Chris Carson, Mike Davis, Rashaad Penny, C.J. Prosise, J.D. McKissic
WRs: Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett, David Moore, Jaron Brown
TEs: Nick Vannett, Ed Dickson

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 December 2018

According to ESPN.com's Jenna Lane, Jameis Winston not only looked like a quarterback in total command during Sunday's 24-17 win over the Carolina Panthers, he also played like the franchise player the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-7) have pinned their hopes on the past four years.

Backed by a defense posting arguably its best performance of the season, Winston made what he called "decisive decisions" -- a point of emphasis over the past two weeks. He took care of the football, failing to turn it over in consecutive weeks for the first time since Weeks 4 and 5 of last season. That's after he threw 11 interceptions in six games this season.

"Jameis' production -- when we don't turn the ball over, when he doesn't turn the ball over -- his production is always going to be there," said coach Dirk Koetter, who had benched Winston because of turnovers before renaming Winston the starter in Week 11.

"[He's] a fantastic player, and sometimes that gets negated by turnovers. But you could see the last two weeks, when we don't turn the ball over, we're a lot harder to beat."

Against the Panthers, he completed 20 of 30 passes for 249 passing yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions for a passer rating of 114.4.

"I'm just playing to win. Bottom line. I think winning is way better than losing. As long as we keep winning, I'm loving it," Winston said. "I'm just trying to do whatever I need to do to help us win, to put our team in position to win."

Winston might not have had to hit a ton of deep passes, but he was dangerous outside the pocket and on the move -- leading the team with 48 rushing yards. That included an 18-yard scramble on second-and-11 of the opening drive, setting up a 3-yard touchdown to Adam Humphries on a shallow crossing route.

Then with 20 seconds left before halftime, on third-and-11, Winston hit a leaping Chris Godwin on the run in the back of the end zone for a 13-yard touchdown to make it 17-7.

"Just recognizing the situation, I was just trying to find an open spot," said Godwin, who stepped in for inactive DeSean Jackson. "Jameis always has his eyes upfield. He gave me an opportunity and it was up to me to make the play."

Koetter added: "That was actually [Winston's] fourth option on the play. ... I thought that was his best play [of the day]. I thought Jameis really was in control all day and for the most part, took what they gave him."

In the third quarter, following a pass interference call on cornerback James Bradberry and an 18-yard completion to Godwin, running back Peyton Barber dove over the goal line to push the Bucs ahead 24-10. On the day, Tampa finished 3-for-5 in the red zone.

Winston couldn't win this game alone.

The defense sacked Panthers quarterback Cam Newton four times. It picked him off four times, too. Safety Andrew Adams, who had just one career interception entering Sunday's game, had three picks, tying the Bucs' single-game record set by Ronde Barber (2001 Week 15 vs. New Orleans and 2005 Week 13 at New Orleans) and Aqib Talib (2009 Week 4 at Washington).

"The offense, just we couldn't get that last score to put that game away in the second half, so our defense had to keep going out there to keep getting it," Koetter said. "Today was a day for the D, and they did a great job."

The Bucs' tackling was much-improved over their Week 9 performance at Carolina even though they gave up a few explosive plays to Christian McCaffrey. Tampa still showed its mettle even without a single healthy starting defensive back after safety Justin Evans left the game with a toe injury. Credit for the renewed defensive output should also go to defensive coordinator Mark Duffner, who replaced Mike Smith in mid-October, and has helped the Bucs give up nearly 100 yards less per game than they did in the first six weeks under Smith.

The Bucs are clinging to hope of salvaging a winning season and possibly clinching a wild-card spot. With the win, the Bucs moved up to the 10th seed in the NFC and Carolina stayed put with the eighth seed. In Week 14, the Bucs host the Saints, who have already clinched the NFC South. Tampa then travels to take on the Baltimore Ravens in Week 15.

Koetter is fighting furiously to best last season's 5-11 mark and keep his job. In recent weeks, that had become an almost impossible sell to fans.

Back-to-back wins, including one over a good but downtrodden Panthers team, can cool his simmering seat, and it can also do wonders to help Winston as he continues to fight for his next contract.

Worth noting. ... Tampa Bay has won its last two meetings against New Orleans but has never won three straight. It'll be interesting to see whether the Bucs defense can generate pressure against Drew Brees and the Saints top-five offensive line as often as it did against Newton. ...

Other notes of interest. ... As ESPN's Mike Clay noted this week, Mike Evans was shadowed by Bradberry in both games against the Panthers this season. He totaled 16 targets, 5 catches, 64 yards and zero touchdowns in those games. Bradberry had his number this season.

Humphries caught seven passes (on nine targets) for 61 yards and a touchdown against the Panthers to keep himself in the fantasy conversation going forward. ...

We now have two games with Cameron Brate as the top tight end in Tampa with O.J. Howard on injured reserve. Also according to Clay, Brate has run a route on 55 of the team's 73 pass plays and sits tied for third on the team with 10 targets. Those five targets per game aren't overly appealing. Brate has three end zone targets during the span. Clay considers Brate a back-end TE1 for fantasy purposes. ...

As noted above, Jackson was inactive against the Panthers due to an injured thumb; he was on the practice field last week wearing a cast and running routes, but he never tried to catch any passes.

Laine, appearing on WDAE Radio in Tampa Bay, told listeners on Tuesday it's "quite possible" the Bucs hold Jackson out the remainder of the season. Jackson was not catching passes on Wednesday as the Bucs began preparations for this week's game.

I'll have more on his status for Sunday's game against the Saints via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jameis Winston, Ryan Griffin
RBs: Peyton Barber, Jacquizz Rodgers, Ronald Jones
WRs: Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, DeSean Jackson, Adam Humphries, Justin Watson, Freddie Martino
TEs: Cameron Brate, Antony Auclair, Alan Cross

Tennessee Titans

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 December 2018

Marcus Mariota did it again.

And so, too, did receiver Corey Davis.

Mariota connected with Davis on an 11-yard touchdown pass with just 36 seconds left to lift the Titans to a 26-22 comeback win over the Jets on Sunday at Nissan Stadium.

It was the 12th game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime in Mariota's career, and the eighth in the past two seasons. The Titans took over with just 1:46 left, trailing 22-19. Mariota guided a six-play, 86-yard drive that included the third down completion to Davis for a touchdown.

Davis relayed the way things felt for the offense as they prepared for that drive when he spoke to reporters after the game.

"In the huddle, there was honestly no panic," Davis said. "Marcus came in the huddle and set the tone. He told us that's kind of what we do. We did it."

"I believe in every single one of those guys, and I knew the guys up front were going to give us a chance, and the guys outside were going to find a way to get open," Mariota said. "Guys just made plays, and we were able to get it done. It wasn't pretty, but sometimes you have to win like that in this league."

The ending was beautiful for the Titans.

Davis caught the ball around the five-yard line, and he fought his way into the end zone.

It was his second game-winning touchdown of the season. Davis threw the football into the stands after scoring, and before being swarmed by his teammates. Davis also caught the game-winner in overtime in a win over the Eagles in September.

"It feels good, but I promise you I had the easy part," Davis said. "Marcus, the rest of these guys were out there selling out. … My job was easy."

The third down conversion was the team's only one of the game. The Titans were just 1-of-11 on third down in the contest on a day when Mariota was 20-of-35 for 282 yards, with two touchdowns and an interception. Mariota also ran for 43 yards on four carries, including a 27-yard run.

The Titans rallied from a 16-0 deficit to win.

"It comes down to we have a group of guys that trust and believe in one another, and it doesn't matter what the score is, and it doesn't matter what has happened in the first half," Mariota said. "It's a fun group to be a part of. We have a lot of work in front of us, but it's nice to pull one out."

The Titans' victory against the Jets gave them 14 wins in their last 17 home games.

They are 91-70 all-time at Nissan Stadium, including playoffs. The Titans will play three of their last four games in 2018 at home.

The Titans recorded a season-high 403 total net yards, which included 130 rushing yards and 273 passing yards. It was their first game to hit 400 total net yards since Nov. 12, 2017 against Cincinnati (416).

Mariota completed 20 of 35 passes for 282 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. His passer rating was 90.4, giving him 25 career performances with a passer rating of at least 90. Late in the first half, he completed a 12-yard touchdown pass to tight end Anthony Firkser, and he added the above-mentioned game-winning, 11-yard touchdown pass to Davis in the fourth quarter.

Mariota added 43 rushing yards against the Jets, marking his third game of 2018 with at least 40 rushing yards. His 27-yard run in the fourth quarter was his longest carry of the season and helped set up his game-winning touchdown pass moments later.

It was Mariota's 24th career game with at least two passing touchdowns. He has 11 touchdown passes in 2018 and the 69 touchdown passes in his four-year career.

In addition, on consecutive drives in the fourth quarter, Mariota connected with Taywan Taylor on passes of 44 yards and 53 yards, the latter tying for his sixth-longest career pass.

It was a big day for Taylor as the second-year wide receiver notched his first career 100-yard game. He led the Titans with 104 receiving yards and tied for the team lead with three catches. In the fourth quarter, he caught the 44-yard pass, recording his first reception since suffering a foot injury on Nov. 5 at Dallas. On the next drive, he recorded his career-long 55-yard reception, topping his previous long of a 53-yard touchdown against Indianapolis on Oct. 6, 2017.

His previous high for receiving yards in a game was 77 yards against Philadelphia on Sept. 30, 2018.

Davis caught three passes for 42 yards, including the game-winner. It was Davis' second consecutive game with a touchdown reception, and it also marked his second game in 2018 with a last-minute, game-winning score. He previously accomplished the feat against the Eagles on Sept. 30. He added a 12-yard rushing attempt against the Jets.

Firkser contributed three receptions for 42 yards and a touchdown. Late in the second quarter, he scored his first career touchdown. Firkser had a five-yard reception earlier in the same drive, and his 25-yard catch late in the fourth quarter helped set up the game-winning touchdown three plays later.

During a third-quarter drive, wide receiver Tajae Sharpe made two big plays to set up a Titans touchdown. He caught a 28-yard pass, and two plays later he added a 20-yard reception. His game totals against the Jets included three catches for 51 yards.

In the third quarter, Derrick Henry scored on a one-yard carry to give him five rushing touchdowns in 2018, which equals his career high set in each of his first two NFL seasons. All five of Henry's touchdowns in 2018 have come over a six-game span, beginning on Oct. 21. His game totals against the Jets included a team-high 10 carries for 40 yards. ...

In a related note. ... The Titans have made a change to their backfield a day after beating the Jets and a few days before they'll face the Jaguars to kick off Week 14 of the 2018 season.

The team signed Jeremy McNichols off of the Broncos practice squad. Running back Dalyn Dawkins was waived in a corresponding move.

McNichols was a 2017 fifth-round pick by the Buccaneers, but didn't make the cut to 53 players. He played two games for the 49ers last year without carrying the ball and picked up four yards on two carries in a game with the Colts this season.

Henry, Dion Lewis and David Fluellen are the other backs on the 53-man roster in Tennessee. Fluellen has been sidelined by a knee injury in recent weeks.

Otherwise, the Titans head into Thursday night's game against the Jaguars in reasonably good health and with all the key skill players in position to help Tennessee get past a stingy Jacksonville defense.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Marcus Mariota, Blaine Gabbert
RBs: Derrick Henry, Dion Lewis, David Fluellen
WRs: Corey Davis, Taywan Taylor, Tajae Sharpe
TEs: Jonnu Smith, Luke Stocker, Delanie Walker

Washington Redskins

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 4 December 2018

Washington's injury woes at the quarterback position continued on Monday night.

Colt McCoy suffered a fractured right fibula during the second quarter of the Redskins' 28-13 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, coach Jay Gruden said. McCoy is scheduled to undergo further testing Tuesday, but he's expected to be out for the rest of the season, Gruden said.

McCoy managed to limp to the locker room and was ruled out by the team before the second half began.

"This is a tough blow," Gruden said. "Losing Alex is one thing -- he's a great leader, a great quarterback, put a lot of time into him. And then Colt finally gets his golden opportunity, and he gets kicked in the leg and breaks it. So, heartbroken for both those guys, really."

Mark Sanchez replaced McCoy under center. Sanchez, who last played in a regular-season game in January 2017, completed 13 of 21 passes for 100 yards and threw an interception.

McCoy was a perfect 4 for 4 with 50 passing yards on two drives at the time of his departure.

Sanchez was signed off the couch two weeks ago after Redskins starter Alex Smith broke his leg and was placed on season-ending injured reserve.

In McCoy's first start with Washington this season, the 'Skins lost to the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving.

There are no other quarterbacks on the Redskins' active roster. For now, Sanchez is the Redskins' No. 1 quarterback, and Gruden says the team needs to meet the challenge ahead.

"Mark's played a lot of football, he's won playoff games," Gruden said. "He can function at quarterback. We can get some things done.

While Sanchez did take things full circle in his storied career by recovering a fumble by tucking it against his butt, it was a rough outing overall.

Adrian Peterson ran for a 90-yard touchdown on his first snap, but the offense would gain just 89 yards the rest of the way in a 28-13 Eagles win.

In fact, as Profootballtalk.com's Mike Florio noted, after the touchdown, Peterson touched the ball only five times.

Five times, with Sanchez at quarterback.

Florio went on to suggest whatever the game plan was for the night, the plan should have changed dramatically when Sanchez entered. With one of the best running backs in NFL history available, and with that running back busting a career-long touchdown run on the first snap taken by Sanchez, why not keep pounding and pounding and pounding Peterson?

Florio continued, "It made no sense, and it reinforces this 'woe is us' notion that Washington seems to be adopting in the face of so many injuries. The best organizations (a group that clearly doesn't include Washington) never allows excuses to be made when injuries happen, by anyone. They expect a high level of performance from everyone on the roster, and from everyone on the coaching staff.

"The coaching staff blew it last night, not pivoting to what the obvious strategy should have been."

"I don't know how many times we really had chances to run the ball," head coach Jay Gruden told reporters after the game. "We had the ball backed up one time on our own one-foot line. We tried to run, almost got a safety, and second down I think we ran it, then third down we were going to keep [it], and I think they had great ball control for the most part. So, we didn't get a lot of opportunities really. Hey, let's run two tight ends, or three tight ends, and pound the ball right up the middle. And then our guards go down and we didn't really have a plan for all that. We should've run the ball more, I guess."

Beyond that, Gruden admitted the veteran signal-caller didn't have many plays at his disposal Monday night.

"Well, we had more plays in our first preseason game with our third or fourth quarterback to be honest with you," Gruden said. "We didn't have many plays. I mean, we tried to get as many ready. We had a wristband numbered for [Sanchez]. We tried to get him comfortable, you know. He actually did a pretty good job there for a while. He had a nice two-minute drive at the end of the half, made some good plays, and we just obviously sputtered. But you know it was tough, it was tough."

That explanation -- and the failure to stick with the run -- doesn't really inspire much confidence in the real-time decisions being made by the coaching staff.

If anything, Gruden seems resigned to the disintegration of his team.

He should instead be committed to doing everything he can to get the most out of what he has, with no excuses or long faces or sob stories about a season derailed by injury.

Sanchez seemed to take a more positive approach.

"It was a tall task, no doubt," Sanchez said. "But there's no excuses to make, you just do your very best and I'm grateful for the opportunity. I was praying for an opportunity and I thank God for the opportunity, you just never want it under these circumstances. So with respect to Alex and Colt, I have to do my very best to play well, help rally this team and figure out a way to win. That's the ultimate form of respect, I think, for those guys because your heart definitely breaks for them. They're great competitors and great people. So you never want it under those circumstances, like I said, but you go out and you do your very best."

Sanchez went on to say that he thinks "we'll be just fine."

That's sure to be a minority opinion, but Sanchez will get his chance to show he's correct.

For the record, ESPN.com's John Keim notes the Redskins signed Sanchez because they have three coaches on their staff who either played or coached him (or were on the staff). They felt he'd have a familiarity with them and could translate their system for him by relating it to what he had with the New York Jets.

Now the Redskins will see if that familiarity helps.

Of course, Washington will need to find another backup QB. They worked out T.J. Yates, E.J. Manuel and Kellen Clemens in November when Smith went down for the count and should tap that well again. They had Landry Jones and Ryan Mallett in for workouts on Tuesday.

But Josh Johnson was the man signed to backup Sanchez.
Johnson is familiar with Jay Gruden’s offense, having played in Tampa in 2008 and Cincinnati in 2013.

Johnson has played 29 NFL games with the Bucs, Browns and Bengals, starting five. He completed 96 of 177 passes for 1,042 yards and 10 touchdowns from 2009-201.

But this is Sanchez's team now, for better and most likely worse.

Gruden revealed Tuesday the team has discussed bringing in free agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick. But while the team is giving Reuben Foster a second chance, it does not appear they will do the same for Kaepernick.

"He's been talked about and discussed, but we will probably go a different direction," Gruden said of Kaepernick, via Grant Paulsen of 106.7 The Fan.

Kaepernick clearly has a better resume than the other available options, though no one has given him an opportunity since 2016 when he and San Francisco parted ways. He went 28-30, started in a Super Bowl and threw 72 touchdowns and only 30 interceptions in six seasons in San Francisco. Kaepernick also ran for 2,300 yards and 13 touchdowns in his career. ...

Whatever the case, Gruden said that McCoy had surgery on his leg Tuesday. Word on Monday night was that McCoy's season is over, but Gruden gave a different answer on Tuesday. He said, via J.P. Finley of NBC Sports Washington, that it is "wishful thinking" that McCoy could return in the next two or three weeks but that four weeks is a more likely timeframe.

Meanwhile, the Cowboys have taken over sole possession of first place in the NFC East and Washington is down to Sanchez at quarterback.

The Redskins will attempt to steal a wild-card spot behind a 32-year-old journeyman under center, a 33-year-old runner potentially on his last legs and a crumbling offensive line.

Which brings up a few final notes here. ... Washington also lost offensive guard Jonathan Cooper to a season-ending torn biceps during the game, a development that comes with their starting guards, Brandon Scherff and Shawn Lauvao, already on injured reserve.

Beyond that, the Redskins placed rookie receiver Trey Quinn (ankle) on injured reserve Wednesday, ending his season. Cornerback Quinton Dunbar (shin) also went on IR.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Mark Sanchez, Josh Johnson, Colt McCoy
RBs: Adrian Peterson, Kapri Bibbs, Samaje Perine, Chris Thompson
WRs: Josh Doctson, Jamison Crowder, Maurice Harris, Michael Floyd, Cam Sims, Trey Quinn
TEs: Jordan Reed, Vernon Davis, Jeremy Sprinkle