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Team Notes week 14 2023
NEWS, NOTES, RUMORS AND OTHER GOOD STUFF
Directly from the desk of FlashUpdate Editor Bob Harris. The good; the bad; and yes. ... There is no better way to jump start your weekend than browsing these always educational -- often irreverent -- team-by-team, Fantasy-specific offerings. ...
Access specific teams by clicking on a team name in the schedule appearing directly to your left or by clicking on a helmet below; return to the helmets by hitting the link labeled "Menu" following each teams notes. ...
Arizona CardinalsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 December 2023
James Conner, sporting a blue Panthers shirt signifying his University of Pittsburgh pedigree, wasn't pounding his chest after the Cardinals' stunning 24-10 beatdown of the Pittsburgh Steelers -- his former team -- Sunday at Acrisure Stadium, he was definitely satisfied with the outcome.
"Truly special," the veteran running back said after piling up 105 yards rushing and two touchdowns in a four-hour-plus game that featured heavy rain and two delays for lightning that totaled about 90 minutes. "The emotions were going.
"I had this vision of coming home and trying to play my best football and let God do the rest. He let us have a day."
As Darren Urban of the team's official website suggested, the game was ugly, but it was the good kind of ugly for the Cardinals (3-10), who evened their record to 2-2 since the return of quarterback Kyler Murray. It wasn't anything like the previous week, when the Cards were hammered at home against the Rams.
The Steelers (7-5) are in playoff contention, and they featured arguably the best defense in the NFL.
Yet the Cardinals' own defense dominated, the offense found a rhythm, and special teams added some key plays in the odd upset.
"When we got on the plane Friday, I knew how it was going to go," head coach Jonathan Gannon said. "It showed up all week."
Murray continued show he's all the way back following last year's torn ACL.
"I felt good the whole game," said Murray, whose stats (13-for-23, 145 yards, 20 yards rushing, no turnovers) didn't fully explain how well he played. "We've got to settle in and settle down earlier, myself included."
In addition to Conner, Murray leaned on tight end Trey McBride, who had eight catches for 89 yards. He has turned into the target Murray looks to often in time of need.
"I don't know about that," McBride said. "I think he can trust me."
McBride, with eight catches, has tied the franchise record for tight end receptions in a season with 56. He also surpassed 600 yards receiving this season, becoming the first tight end to gain that many since the team moved to Arizona in 1988.
The Cardinals definitely trust Conner, whose longest run of 29 yards sapped what was left of the hometown hopes late in the fourth quarter. Conner had two yards after five carries. He had 88 yards on 15 carries after halftime.
"We were able to stay with it," Conner said. "We were able to have a day."
The Cardinals have only four games left, but first they head into their bye week feeling much better than they had the previous game. During the weather delays, the players went into the locker room trying to dance some and keep their legs loose -- Conner was quick to emphasize he didn't do any of the dancing -- but there was some happy dancing after the game too.
"This was special," Conner said. "It was special."
So how will a win propel the Cardinals through the bye and into the home stretch?
According to ESPN.com's Josh Weinfuss, this was the perfect way for Arizona to head into its bye: Not just a win, but a convincing win, behind a strong showing for Murray, over a team in the playoff hunt.
Now the Cardinals can rest for most of the week and come back for the final four games against the 49ers, Bears, Eagles and Seahawks.
This was Arizona's third win of the season, and its remaining schedule may yield just one more win (possibly two), but knowing it can win in a setting like Pittsburgh, under conditions on Sunday that included two weather delays, will give this team more confidence heading into the final stretch. ...
Other notes of interest. ... With a 10-for-17 third-down conversion day, the Cardinals set season-bests for third-down conversions and third-down percentage. ...
For all those who have talked through the years about how the tight end is never used by the Cardinals: 11 of Murray's 13 completions went to tight ends on Sunday. Eight went to McBride, who is becoming a star. The Cardinals went to him twice for the first touchdown -- once where it looked like he had it long enough but replay said he lost it when he went to the ground, and then the next play.
"It was frustrating," McBride said. "I thought it was a touchdown. I still think it was a touchdown. But they say that the ball never lies."
In large part due to having bigger lead and wanting to run the ball a lot, Murray was under center 24 times on Sunday -- two more than he had been in total the first three games of his return. And that doesn't count the three kneeldowns at the end of the game.
Michael Carter didn't have a huge role, but he had a huge play. His 19-yard run on third-and-six early in a 99-yard TD drive may have turned the game.
The Cardinals, not surprisingly, set a season-best with 38 rushing attempts. They gained 150 rushing yards against a defense that had allowed only 85.8 rush yards a game since Week 8. ...
Marquise Brown, the Cardinals' top wide receiver, left the game at the start of the second half due to an ankle injury and didn't return. The Cardinals came into the game already down at wide receiver. Their other outside starter, Michael Wilson, missed his fourth game in the last five weeks due to a shoulder injury.
His backup, Zach Pascal, missed the game after the birth of his child on Friday.
Greg Dortch had been playing a lot more recently with the Wilson injury, and he led the team in snaps and routes run. Andre Baccellia started playing more snaps once Brown left due to injury. ...
Matt Prater made a 51-yard field goal in the first half, tying his own franchise record (2021) for most 50-yard field goals in a season at seven. Prater has tried a 50-yard field goal in four straight games and eight games this season, making 7-of-9. ...
Finally. ... Running back Emari Demercado was hammered high during an overthrow early in the game by Steelers linebacker Elandon Roberts. He was down in a scary situation, but later walked off on his own power. He cleared his concussion check but did not return with a neck injury.
The off week will give Brown, Demercado and Wilson time to heal up.
QBs: Kyler Murray, Clayton Tune
RBs: James Conner, Michael Carter, Emari Demercado
WRs: Marquise Brown, Michael Wilson, Rondale Moore, Greg Dortch, Zach Pascal
TEs: Trey McBride, Geoff Swaim, Zach Ertz
Atlanta FalconsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 December 2023
As Associated Press sports writer Dennis Waszak Jr. framed it, "The rain was falling, penalty flags were flying and the Atlanta Falcons kept slogging away. ..."
Desmond Ridder threw a 20-yard pass to MyCole Pruitt in the second quarter for the game's only touchdown and the Falcons took over sole possession of first place in the NFC South with an ugly 13-8 victory over the punchless New York Jets on a dreary Sunday.
"You're in a playoff chase, you're trying to win a division," head coach Arthur Smith said. "Sometimes it can get ugly in the elements. Whatever happens, you adjust and at the end of the day, you've just got to find a way to win."
The Falcons (6-6) have back-to-back victories for the first time since opening the season with wins over Carolina and Green Bay.
They also have sole possession of first place in the NFC South.
Atlanta entered tied atop the division with New Orleans, which lost to Detroit.
"It's being able to take advantage of your situations," Smith said. "It might sound boring, but that's how you find a way to win in December."
And this game appealed only to fans of sloppy play, punting and penalty flags.
Ridder finished 12 of 27 for 121 yards and the touchdown to Pruitt. Bijan Robinson ran for 53 yards on 18 carries and had three catches for 26 yards.
"We haven't stacked three wins in a row this year," Ridder said of the Falcons. "We've stacked two twice now, so we've got to be able to keep our heads, come back home and be able to go out and get a third win."
What's the next step for the offense?
Atlanta had fewer than 200 yards of offense (195) and averaged 3.1 yards per play after a 396-yard outing last week. As ESPN.com's Michael Rothstein suggested, the Falcons' offense has vacillated throughout the season, but the next step needs to be consistency.
The rainy conditions played a role, but for the Falcons to seal a playoff berth, they'll need more offensively than they got Sunday.
Next up, the Falcons (6-6) return home for an NFC South rematch with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-7) on Sunday.
The Falcons defeated the Buccaneers 16-13 earlier this season, in Week 7. The Buccaneers are coming off a 21-18 home win over the Carolina Panthers from their own Week 13 contest. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Ridder's touchdown pass to Pruitt marked the QB's first touchdown pass ever in the U.S. on the road. Ridder had a 15-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Drake London in the Falcons' Week 4 road loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, but that game was in London. ...
Sunday marked just the third time this season (Week 1 win over Carolina Panthers; Week 10 loss to Cardinals) the Falcons offense did not have a turnover. They had three fumbles, but recovered all of them. Ridder also was intercepted, but a flag negated the play. ...
Speaking of those fumbles, the Falcons fumbled the very first offensive play of the game. Ridder and center Drew Dalman botched the snap. Fortunately for the Falcons, Ridder recovered the ball before the Jets could. Atlanta has fumbled 14 times this season overall. ...
According to PFF.com's Nathan Jahnke, Tyler Allgeier set a career-low in snap share; the second-year man was the Falcons' clear third back in terms of playing time in New York as Robinson played 75 percent of Atlanta's offensive snaps.
Typically, Robinson's playing time will be somewhat dependent on the game script. According to Jahnke, the rookie has played between 61-72 percent of snaps in their victories outside of the game where he had a headache and 74-81 percent of snaps in their losses outside of Week 9. This was the highest rate Robinson has played in a victory.
Cordarrelle Patterson has also been more involved in the offense in recent weeks. Sunday was the most that Patterson has played outside of the game where Robinson had a headache.
This has mostly left Allgeier out of the running back rotation. Allgeier averaged 4.9 yards per carry throughout his rookie season, but he's been held under 4.0 yards per carry in all but two games this season.
He was the Falcons' most effective rusher Sunday at 3.3 yards per carry.
Jahnke went on to note the Falcons' next four games are all against teams that are in the bottom 10 in PFF run defense grade, so all of the Falcons' running backs should be more effective in the next month. They seemed like games where both Robinson and Allgeier could dominate, but after Sunday, these might just be games where Robinson is a league winner. ...
Pruitt caught the only touchdown in this game despite only running three routes. He now has as many touchdowns as Kyle Pitts this season.
Parker Hesse was brought up from the practice squad for the third time this season as a run blocker. This meant less playing time for Jonnu Smith again. The Falcons will need to sign Hesse to the active roster if they want to use him again this season. ...
Mack Hollins missed his third straight game due to an ankle injury. This left Van Jefferson, KhaDarel Hodge and Scott Miller splitting time opposite London. None of them recorded a catch while Hodge had the only target
London was held to one reception for 8 yards -- hardly the sort of production the Falcons expected from the No. 8 pick in the 2022 draft.
London had his lone 100-yard receiving game in Week 6 (nine catches, 125 yards) against the Commanders. Since then, he's been held to 20 receptions for 244 yards in five games. ...
Younghoe Koo has missed only one field goal attempt all season. He connected from 22 and 42 yards against the Jets, stretching his streak of successful kicks to 18 in a row since his lone miss in Week 3 at Detroit. He's hit 24 of 25 field goal attempts on the year. ...
Finally. ... The Falcons lost a few players to injuries during Sunday's win and Smith confirmed that cornerback A.J. Terrell is in the concussion protocol after leaving early in Sunday's game. Terrell will have to clear the protocol in order to play in next Sunday's home game against the Buccaneers.
Right tackle Kaleb McGary and linebacker Nate Landman both left the win with knee injuries. Smith said on Monday that both players avoided long-term injuries, but their availability for this week remains up in the air at this point.
QBs: Desmond Ridder, Taylor Heinicke, Logan Woodside
RBs: Bijan Robinson, Tyler Allgeier, Cordarrelle Patterson
WRs: Drake London, Mack Hollins, KhaDarel Hodge, Van Jefferson, Scott Miller, Jared Bernhardt, Josh Ali
TEs: Kyle Pitts, Jonnu Smith, MyCole Pruitt, John FitzPatrick
Baltimore RavensCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 December 2023
The Ravens didn't play a game on Sunday, but they sure enjoyed a few wins.
The Browns and Steelers both lost, dropping their records to 7-5 and giving the Ravens (9-3) a two-game lead in the AFC North. That's important breathing room considering Baltimore's remaining schedule.
Then the top-seeded Chiefs fell to the Packers on "Sunday Night Football," dropping them out of pole position in the conference.
For now, the Ravens are the AFC's No. 2 seed, trailing the 9-3 Dolphins.
However, Baltimore controls its own destiny for the top seed because it still has games remaining against the Jaguars and Dolphins.
If the Ravens win out, they get the No. 1 seed and bye week.
The Ravens do have a tough road ahead. This week, they return from their week off to host the Los Angeles Rams on Dec. 10.
Then the gauntlet begins -- three straight games against first-place teams. Baltimore travels to play Jacksonville and San Francisco before hosting Miami.
The Ravens already are coming off two straight prime-time games. They play the Rams in the afternoon, and then the matchups with the Jaguars and 49ers are scheduled for Sunday night and Monday night, respectively. The game against Miami figures to be highly anticipated as well.
Baltimore wraps up the regular season at home against Pittsburgh (7-4), a team that's already beaten the Ravens and may have the best chance to catch them in the division.
It's an enviable spot for a Baltimore team that spent much of last offseason facing an uncertain future amid Lamar Jackson's contract negotiations. The Ravens were able to keep their franchise QB, who is posting a career high in completion percentage (68.3) under new offensive coordinator Todd Monken.
Jackson and Baltimore have shown they can produce against good opponents -- the Ravens scored at least 31 points in five straight games before last weekend. Then they managed only 20 against the Chargers, and that may not be good enough against some of the teams up ahead on the schedule. ...
Worth noting. ... Rookie first-round pick Zay Flowers provided all of the touchdowns in Baltimore's Week 12 win over the Chargers, and his teammates responded with a heavy dose of tough love.
Flowers gave the Ravens their first lead with a three-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter and then essentially sealed the victory with a 37-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. He became the NFL's ninth rookie wide receiver since 2000 to produce a rushing and receiving touchdown in the same game.
Jackson wasn't exactly satisfied with Flowers' second and third touchdowns of the season.
"We need a lot more, if anything," Jackson said. "I've been waiting on him to score multiple times in a game."
Flowers, the 22nd pick in this year's draft, scored his first touchdown when Baltimore played in London. It took him six weeks before he scored again.
In the second quarter, Flowers got open in the back of the end zone, where he caught a three-yard touchdown pass. In the fourth quarter, after the Baltimore defense delivered a fourth-down stand, Flowers took the handoff from Jackson on a jet sweep and scored a 37-yard touchdown.
It was the second-longest touchdown run by a wide receiver this season.
Flowers was running at 15.46 miles per hour when he received the handoff, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. He had just a 0.7 percent chance of scoring a touchdown when he took the ball from Jackson.
Some of the Ravens defenders weren't pleased with Flowers. If he would have stopped short of the end zone, Baltimore could have kneeled and ran off the final 96 seconds.
Instead, after Flowers' touchdown, the Ravens' defense needed to come up with its second fourth-down stand.
"His ass needs to get down," Ravens outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy said.
Baltimore nose tackle Michael Pierce chalked it up to Flowers being a rookie.
"He doesn't know any better," Pierce said. "We go over those things in team meetings. Maybe we need to listen a little bit more, but situational football is important. I think that's a good learning lesson."
Asked if he should have slid before the goal line, Flowers said, "We work on that, but nobody told me [to go down], so I just went to the end zone."
Whatever the case, Flowers is on track to have the best season ever by a Ravens rookie wide receiver.
His 58 catches are already the most by a Baltimore rookie. He needs 228 yards receiving to surpass Torrey Smith for the most by a Ravens first-year player.
"He's electrifying," offensive tackle Morgan Moses said. "Every time he has the ball, he makes somebody miss. And it's our job as offensive linemen to keep blocking for him. And he's a guy that you can give the ball to him in a whole bunch of different ways. ..."
Finally. ... Tight end Mark Andrews is out with an ankle injury and Zach Ertz is a free agent after being let go by the Cardinals, so it wasn't a big surprise that head coach John Harbaugh was asked about the veteran free agent on Monday.
Isaiah Likely and Charlie Kolar were the team's lead tight ends in the Week 12 win over the Chargers and Harbaugh pointed to the team's esteem for those players while stopping short of ruling out a move for Ertz or someone else who could help the team.
"Any time a great player is out there, you sure look at it," Harbaugh said, via the team's website. "But I would say this about that right now: we like our tight ends. We really like our guys. The guys we have right now, our young guys, they're real guys. They're real players. I think right now we'll just roll with those guys."
Harbaugh also reiterated that the Ravens aren't ruling out a return from Andrews at some point before the end of their season, but Likely and Kolar look to be the ones who will be trying to keep the Ravens chugging along long enough for that to happen.
QBs: Lamar Jackson, Tyler Huntley, Josh Johnson
RBs: Gus Edwards, Keaton Mitchell, Justice Hill, J.K. Dobbins
WRs: Zay Flowers, Odell Beckham, Rashod Bateman, Nelson Agholor, Tylan Wallace
TEs: Isaiah Likely, Charlie Kolar, Mark Andrews
Buffalo BillsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 December 2023
The in-season decision by Buffalo Bills coach Sean McDermott to fire offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey was made to spark the offense amid a season of inconsistencies and close losses.
The Bills have played two games under interim offensive coordinator Joe Brady: A win at home against the New York Jets and an overtime loss on the road to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Win or lose, Brady emphasized he could be the tone-setter for the offense.
"You can't be results-oriented in the sense of when you win, you handle it differently, and when you lose you handle it differently," Brady said. "... We can't change who we are, and our mindset and our approach because of the wins and losses. We have to understand that we just have to fine-tune some things and clean some things up.
"But I think it all starts with myself. It always will. And if I'm ready to go, and those guys look me in the eye and know that I'm prepared, and I'm ready, I believe we'll be able to have some success and feed off of me."
According to ESPN.com's Alaina Getzenberg, players have noted that energy.
"I give a shoutout to Coach Brady on bringing a lot of the juice," wide receiver Stefon Diggs said in Week 12. "I think he drinks a lot of coffee and a lot of Monsters or whatever the brand is, because he brings a lot of juice and he lets you know that if y'all don't got it, I'm gonna bring it for you."
Getzenberg went on to note in the small sample size under Brady, the offense hasn't dramatically changed. There wasn't time or necessarily a need for an overhaul. It's also tough to do midseason.
But since Brady took over for Dorsey in Week 11, the offense has turned the ball over on about 8 percent of drives, the lowest this season outside of zero turnovers in Weeks 2 and 4 and far below the team's average of 17.3 percent of drives entering Week 11. Buffalo has also been running the ball more on first down. The Bills had 21 and 24 rushing attempts on first down against the Jets and Eagles, respectively -- the two highest totals of the season.
But even more importantly, there has been a change in quarterback Josh Allen's style of play that has been missing at times this year.
"Looked like Josh to me," left tackle Dion Dawkins said after the Eagles game. "I mean, he's running around, he's making plays with his arm and his feet. That's the Josh that we all know, and I love to see it."
Allen has completed 59 percent of his passes in those two games and thrown five touchdowns to two interceptions -- continuing an active eight-game streak with a pick. As a rusher, Allen is coming off a season-high performance against the Eagles with 81 yards on nine carries with his carries limited this year (5.2 per game), down from his career average of 7.2 coming into 2023.
"[Allen's] level of play has risen over the last two weeks," McDermott said after the loss to the Eagles. "That is really the biggest thing. When your quarterback is playing well, you have a chance. The inconsistency leading up to the last three weeks was one of the reasons why I made the decision that I did to move forward here. The last two weeks, Josh Allen's level of play has been good enough for us to win."
To keep their slim playoff hopes alive -- Buffalo has a 21.3 percent chance of making the postseason, according to ESPN Analytics -- the Bills need to keep getting a high level of play from Allen. The offense has scored 30-plus points in back-to-back games for the first time since a three-game stretch from Weeks 2-4.
Up next for the Bills is a key game against the Kansas City Chiefs and McDermott has quite a record coming off byes: He has having never lost one as head coach (6-0). The Bills have also beaten the Chiefs in the last two regular-season meetings (both in Kansas City), but crucially lost to them in back-to-back postseason matchups there (2020 and 2021 postseasons).
One area McDermott will emphasize going into the game is moving the ball better when the Bills get around midfield and closer to the red zone.
In addition to missing two field goals against the Eagles, the Bills had another drive end in Philadelphia territory without points. The Bills have gained the most yards of any team on drives that have ended in punts this year (average of 15 yards gained per punting drive), including the third-highest average on those drives since Brady took over.
"I just think we're moving the ball better than we were before and a little bit more consistently than we were before," McDermott said. "...We've been able to move the ball beyond midfield and where we still stub our toe is around the fringe area, that high red zone where we have a chance for points."
What the offense will look like at the Chiefs could change slightly from previous weeks. The bye week presented the first opportunity for Brady to take a breath and potentially adjust the offense with an additional week to prepare.
"I have to do a good job and we have to do a good job of figuring out how have the two games been played from a self-scout standpoint," Brady said of the bye week opportunity. "Just evaluating that, evaluating, `Hey, what can we do moving forward that can help benefit us?'"
One last item. ... Running back Leonard Fournette signed to the Bills' practice squad over a month ago when they were looking for backfield help in the wake of Damien Harris' injury, but the offensive landscape has changed in Buffalo since Fournette joined the team.
The Bills fired Dorsey a few weeks ago and Ty Johnson has seen more playing time behind James Cook and Latavius Murray in the two games since Brady became the interim coordinator. Fournette said that he thinks he's helping the team with his practice work, which helps as he's otherwise "just trying to make the best of" not being in the lineup despite feeling good to go.
"I'm comfortable, up to speed," Fournette said, via Jay Skurski of the Buffalo News. "I'm ready, man. Just waiting on my opportunity. Of course, my first time really being in this position, so you know, I have my days. I think it's humbling me, testing me, my faith and everything, but I'm getting better."
Cook, Murray, and Johnson are all healthy coming out of Buffalo's bye week, so Fournette's situation seems unlikely to change in Week 14.
QBs: Josh Allen
RBs: James Cook, Latavius Murray, Ty Johnson
WRs: Stefon Diggs, Gabe Davis, Khalil Shakir, Trent Sherfield, Deonte Harty
TEs: Dalton Kincaid, Quintin Morris, Dawson Knox
Carolina PanthersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 December 2023
As ESPN.com's David Newton reported, interim coach Chris Tabor spent the week telling players to have fun over the final six games.
On the surface, his message seemed to be getting through.
The locker room was upbeat and full of smiles in the aftermath of head coach Frank Reich's firing on Monday. There was hope Sunday's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would be the start of something that could carry over into next season.
"But," Newton added, "underneath the smiles lurked the frustration of a one-win season in a year when the NFC South was there for the taking with the division-leading Atlanta Falcons at 6-6."
The truth is, not much changed.
According to Associated Press sports writer Mark Didtler, breakdowns at key times and missed opportunities doomed the Panthers in Tabor's debut.
Carolina (1-11) scored late to pull within a field goal, but the Panthers didn't get closer in Sunday's 21-18 loss.
"I was proud of our guys," Tabor said. "We had an opportunity to win the game. We have to continue to work to get better. I know that's a lot of big coach-speak. We're going to keep going."
It was the second time in two seasons that Carolina played Tampa Bay shortly after Panthers owner David Tepper made an in-season coaching change. Matt Rhule was fired in October 2022, two weeks before the Panthers knocked off Tom Brady and the Bucs 21-3.
The Panthers have the worst record in the league, but even if that continues, they won't get the No. 1 pick in next year's draft because they traded it to Chicago for the right to select Bryce Young No. 1 overall this past spring, a decision Tepper defended after firing Reich.
Young threw an interception on fourth-and-1 from the Carolina 40 with just over two minutes remaining. He also had an incomplete pass on third down as he fell to 1-10 as a starter.
Offensive coordinator Thomas Brown, with assistance from special advisor Jim Caldwell, called those plays.
"Those are the two plays that they liked," Tabor said. "So, that's what we went with."
Added Young: "It's on me to execute, especially in those moments."
The Panthers took their only lead, 10-7, midway the through the third quarter when Chuba Hubbard scored from the 1. However, on the Bucs' next play from scrimmage, Mike Evans scored on a 75-yard reception to put Tampa Bay ahead for good.
"We took the lead there and they came back," Tabor said. "They had the big play."
In the fourth quarter, a third-down illegal use of hands penalty on Yetur Gross-Matos gave Tampa Bay a fresh set of downs. Four plays later, the Bucs scored to go ahead 21-10.
The Panthers also had to settle for a field goal late in the first quarter after failing to score twice from the Tampa Bay 2.
Young completed 15 of 31 passes for 178 yards. He was pressured on a regular basis and sacked four times.
"Of course, no one's happy with how things have gone," Young said. "But ultimately, we play for each other."
So what's next now that they're officially eliminated from playoff contention?
According to Newton, the priority is to protect Young, who has been sacked at least four times in eight games this season. Carolina is on pace to give up 66 sacks, just shy of the team record (69). Putting Young under center as he was seven times in the first quarter helped and set up play-action with no sacks.
Short of doing more of that, sitting Young is the only way to protect him. His health for next season is most important.
One possible means of protecting Young?
More running. ... The Panthers didn't get the win they needed, but they definitely learned they have the kind of run game that could help down the stretch.
With the offense stripped down a bit from earlier in the season, the Panthers put the ball in the hands of Hubbard, and it worked.
Hubbard had a career-high 25 carries for 104 yards and two touchdowns, his first career multi-touchdown game.
"We've got a great running back," left tackle Ikem Ekwonu said. "Chuba was balling today, you know, so it really gives you some juice as an offense to run the ball like that."
The Bucs had only allowed one other 100-yard rusher this season, and that was in Week 3, so it was that much more impressive.
As Panthers.com staffer Darin Gantt reminded readers, last year, that run game became a touchstone. The Panthers lost the first one under Steve Wilks in Los Angeles but then won six of the final 11 down the stretch with that approach to offense. What they did on the ground clearly helped, even if the result was not what they were looking for.
"I mean, I hope so, we like running the ball," Ekwonu said. "But we've got to earn the right to run."
Hubbard has now recorded a rushing touchdown in back-to-back games for the first time in his career. It is the second time in his career he has recorded a touchdown in back-to-back games.
It's something the team might want to lean back into as they travel to New Orleans to take on the Saints Sunday afternoon. ...
In a related note. ... If it wasn't apparent before the coaching change, it certainly is now.
Hubbard is the lead back around here, and Miles Sanders is a change-of-pace backup. Hubbard got 65 percent of the snaps to Sanders' 32 percent. ...
Other notes of interest. ... D.J. Chark Jr. didn't appear on the injury report but played less than half of the Panthers' offensive snaps.
Chark had rotated in and out of games before, but that was usually due to injury.
Mike Strachan was recently signed to the 53-man roster and was the primary player rotating in and out with Chark. Even Ihmir Smith-Marsette took some of the snaps in the third receiver spot.
As PFF.com's Nathan Jahnke noted, despite the reduced role, Chark still finished second on the team in receiving yards with 56 from three receptions.
Meanwhile, rookie wide receiver Jonathan Mingo set single-game career-highs in receptions (six) and receiving yards (69). ...
The Panthers were without their top two tight ends in Tommy Tremble and Hayden Hurst. This left Ian Thomas and Stephen Sullivan as the two tight ends. Thomas played more in running situations, and Sullivan more in passing situations. They each caught one pass.
I'll have more on Tremble and Hurst as developments warrant in coming days; watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for more.
QBs: Bryce Young, Andy Dalton
RBs: Chuba Hubbard, Miles Sanders, Raheem Blackshear
WRs: Adam Thielen, Jonathan Mingo, D.J. Chark, Terrace Marshall Jr., Laviska Shenault, Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Mike Strachan
TEs: Hayden Hurst, Tommy Tremble, Ian Thomas, Giovanni Ricci
Chicago BearsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 December 2023
The Bears squeezed past the Vikings on a last-second field goal in Week 12 and then basked in a rare victory heading into their open week.
Head coach Matt Eberflus gave the game ball to the entire team as general manager Ryan Poles stood by his side and president Kevin Warren looked on.
"New beginning, right here," he told his players.
As Associated Press sports writer Andrew Seligman suggested, it's a little late for the Bears (4-8) to start over this season. But how they perform the rest of the way could go a long way toward determining the moves they make in the offseason, starting with their game against Detroit at Soldier Field on Dec. 10.
There are big questions about Justin Fields' future, with a decision on his fifth-year option for 2025 looming and the potential to draft one of the top quarterbacks.
Caleb Williams and Drake Maye could be in play for the Bears with two high first-round picks -- their own and the one they got from Carolina in an offseason trade. The Panthers (1-10) are last in the NFL.
As for Eberflus and Poles?
Until Warren or chairman George McCaskey offer some clarity, the speculation won't go away.
Along those lines. ... The Bears are expected to have interest in Commanders assistant head coach/offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, among others, with the general knowledge that Eberflus is under evaluation, a source tells CBSSports' Josina Anderson.
Chicago is last in the NFC North after going a league-worst 3-14 in its first season under Eberflus and Poles. At 7-22, Eberflus has the worst record of any Bears coach.
Chicago also has a quarterback who was in place when the general manager arrived and a GM who was on the job before the president was hired. Warren joined the organization in January after three years as commissioner of the Big Ten.
"As a team, we haven't let our record define who we are," Fields said. "We know who we are as a team. We know what we're capable of."
The Bears came in with their sights set higher after a busy offseason. But instead of taking a big step forward, they've endured their most chaotic season in recent memory.
Seligman reminded readers that Fields struggled in the early going with the Bears trying to turn him into more of a pocket passer. He indicated in late September that he was coached into being robotic with the staff feeding him too much information, remarks he later tried to soften.
That same day, defensive coordinator Alan Williams resigned after a week away from the team.
Running backs coach David Walker got fired leading up to the Week 9 loss at New Orleans, with Poles indicating it was for behavior.
There was an embarrassing blowout at defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City in Week 3 and epic collapses against Denver and Detroit in Weeks 4 and 11. The Broncos rallied from 21 down and the Lions wiped out a 12-point deficit in the closing minutes to win 31-26.
One area of growth? The defense.
The Bears have gone from being ranked 29th to ninth in total defense since a Week 5 win at Washington. It's not just because of the acquisition of defensive end Montez Sweat, though the deadline trade for the edge rusher has no doubt helped.
Cornerback Jaylon Johnson has three interceptions in the past six weeks after picking off one pass in his first 43 NFL games. He is in for a big contract with his rookie deal expiring.
As for Fields?
He still might have time to convince the Bears to stick with him if they're still unsure. But time is not on his side.
Fields has thrown for 1,587 yards with 12 touchdowns, six interceptions and a 92.3 passer rating that ranks 13th in the NFL. He has also run for 400 yards and a score.
Fields was showing some growth as a passer before dislocating his right thumb in a Week 6 loss to Minnesota. He returned against Detroit after missing four games and helped put Chicago in position to come out on top before the late collapse.
In the win at Minnesota, he shook off two fourth-quarter fumbles and led the winning drive as the Bears stopped a 12-game losing streak against division opponents. In his 34 games prior to that, he had one fourth-quarter comeback and two game-winning drives.
Fields' ongoing audition continues Sunday when Chicago hosts the Lions.
QBs: Justin Fields, Tyson Bagent, Nathan Peterman
RBs: Khalil Herbert, D'Onta Foreman, Roschon Johnson, Travis Homer, Khari Blasingame
WRs: D.J. Moore, Darnell Mooney, Tyler Scott, Velus Jones Jr., Trent Taylor, Equanimeous St. Brown
TEs: Cole Kmet, Robert Tonyan, Marcedes Lewis, Jake Tonges
Cincinnati BengalsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 December 2023
As NFL.com's Kevin Patra put it, "All 2023 needed was The Jake Browning Game. ..."
The Cincinnati Bengals' backup quarterback looked mediocre in his first two appearances replacing an injured Joe Burrow -- someone who might be able to run Zac Taylor's scheme but wasn't going to lift Cincy's offense.
Then, Monday night happened.
According to Patra, "Browning diced up the Jaguars defense like a five-star Michelin chef, leading the Bengals to a 34-31 overtime win."
"He just lit the world on fire," Taylor told reporters after the contest. "At halftime, I wasn't sure we had an incompletion, if the ball had hit the ground yet. I just thought he managed the game beautifully well. He was aggressive with some of his throws, did a great job making plays with his feet. ...
"Just really proud of Jake and the job he did. And the guys rallying around him, making plays for him, protecting him, run game getting going. It all helped Jake. Really proud of the team win, but really proud of Jake in his second career start to come out here on Monday Night Football and do what he did today is pretty cool."
Cool was Browning in the pocket, never seeming rattled as he zipped passes on the money. The 27-year-old signal-caller finished 32-of-37 for 354 yards with a TD and zero turnovers for a 115.5 passer rating and scored a rushing touchdown.
Browning's 354 pass yards were the most by a Bengals QB in 2023. He became the 10th player in the Super Bowl Era to have 350-plus passing yards in a game with a completion percentage of 85-plus.
Making just the second start of his career, Browning's 86.5 completion percentage in Week 13 was the highest by a QB in one of his first two starts since 1950. He is the fourth player since at least 1950 with 350-plus passing yards, 1-plus pass TD, and 1-plus rush TD in one or more of his first two career starts (Mason Rudolph, Rob Johnson, Chad Pennington).
"He showed he's QB1 material," receiver Ja'Marr Chase said of Browning, per the team's official website.
The Bengals made plays for the former Washington Husky quarterback, who is in his third season in Cincinnati but nary sniffed a regular-season game before this year. Chase provided an explosive 76-yard TD on a beautiful pass and finished with 11 catches on 12 targets for 149 yards. Joe Mixon provided a solid running game and scored two TDs. Chase Brown popped a few nice gallops. Throw away two ill-advised WR passes (one losing 7 yards and the other a Tyler Boyd interception), and the Bengals offense was sterling on the road.
Tee Higgins finished with three catches for 36 yards in his first game in a month. Higgins missed the last three games -- all losses -- with a hamstring injury. Higgins has 30 receptions for 364 yards and two touchdowns in a contract year. He called this injury his worst since his rookie season.
Still, Higgins had nothing but praise for how Browning fared against the Jaguars.
"Boy had a hell of a game," Higgins said. "Y'all asked about his confidence all week and y'all just saw him there. Shoot, you can't ask for anything better than that one."
Credit Taylor for a smart game plan that didn't expect Browning to play like Burrow, and the unproven QB made quick reads, didn't force the ball, and made accurate throws from the pocket and on the move.
"When he goes out there and leads the team like he did, it raises the entire confidence level of the team," Taylor said.
In the end, with the exception of two unsuccessful trick plays, Taylor called a game that produced the most offensive yards by the Bengals since Week 7 of the 2022 season, when they had 537 against the Atlanta Falcons.
The win pushed Cincinnati to 6-6, keeping their playoff hopes alive in an extremely bunched AFC Wild Card race. The Bengals need repeat performances from Browning to finish an improbable comeback, but Monday kept them in the race.
"It means we're in the hunt," center Ted Karras said. "We're on the graphic and moving up."
The Bengals host the Colts on Sunday. ...
As noted above, the Bengals tried to take a little weight off of Browning a couple of times by deploying some trickery in the quarterback's second NFL start on Monday, but neither play unfolded like they hoped.
A pass from Chase back to Browning lost seven yards in the first half and a third-quarter try with Boyd had even worse results. Boyd appeared to hold the ball longer than he was supposed to after getting the ball on a reverse and then threw the ball right to Jaguars edge rusher Josh Allen to give the Jags the ball inside the Cincinnati 10-yard-line.
Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence scored on a one-yard-run on fourth down to break a 21-21 tie and Taylor said after the game that "it's a play we've had explosive plays on several times over the years."
"It's tough when your receiver's not used to throwing the ball, took a little longer than we normally anticipate," Taylor said. "That's just part of making a call like that. You gotta live with that. He doesn't practice quarterback, he doesn't go through every situation. We usually -- when we call that play in practice, we give a pretty vanilla look, pretty easy look to get the rep. It was a little tougher than anticipated and Josh made a good play."
Taylor said that the play "could have broken our back" while praising the team for bouncing back after the sudden change deep in their own end. He would have faced a lot more scrutiny if that rebound had not ended with Evan McPherson's field goal making them 34-31 winners.
Finally. ... Taylor pulled even with little brother Press in the "Taylor Bro Bowl" standings.
Their father, former Kansas State assistant coach Sherwood Taylor, keeps a trophy at their family home in Norman, Oklahoma, with the results of every head-to-head coaching matchup between his sons. Press, Jacksonville's offensive coordinator, had won two of the last three meetings.
The all-time series is now 2-2-1.
QBs: Jake Browning, Joe Burrow
RBs: Joe Mixon, Trayveon Williams, Chris Evans, Chase Brown
WRs: Ja'Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd, Trenton Irwin, Andrei Iosivas, Charlie Jones
TEs: Irv Smith Jr., Tanner Hudson, Drew Sample, Mitchell Wilcox
Cleveland BrownsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 December 2023
Joe Flacco stepped behind center for his first NFL game since January and immediately led the Browns on a long scoring drive, capped by a 24-yard touchdown pass that set off a celebration on Cleveland's sideline.
Sure, Cleveland's 36-19 loss to the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday rarely went that smoothly again for the Browns (7-4).
Yet the 38-year-old Flacco seemed to leave the Browns confident that the quarterback position is no longer their biggest area of weakness while they attempt to rebound this week from their first losing streak of the season.
"I think Joe showed he can still play some football," left guard Joel Bitonio said. "I guess if you play 15 years, you don't really get rattled."
As Associated Press sports writer Greg Beacham noted, Flacco began his 16th season in the NFL on Sunday, and the former Super Bowl MVP performed remarkably well, considering he only joined Cleveland's practice squad two weeks ago and officially got this starting assignment Friday.
Flacco went 23 of 44 for 254 yards and two touchdowns, throwing his only interception midway through the fourth quarter while Cleveland attempted to rally from a one-point deficit.
After passing for over 42,000 yards in his career and leading several storied Baltimore Ravens teams, Flacco spent the past four seasons with decidedly less-talented clubs. The veteran was grateful for another chance to play meaningful games with gifted teammates.
"It's one of the more talented teams I've been on in a while, and you can tell that right away," Flacco said. "It's not easy when you take these long road trips and come up empty-handed ... but hopefully when we get back in there during the week, we can go back out and have more good practices and eventually put this thing behind us."
Beyond the mere numbers, Flacco made a series of tough throws throughout the day against Los Angeles' solid defense despite his unfamiliarity with the Browns' offense or his receivers.
That supporting cast got even smaller when No. 1 receiver Amari Cooper was sidelined by a concussion in the second half, but Cleveland still mounted four drives longer than 50 yards, including three straight surrounding halftime.
"(Flacco) did some really good things today, put us in position," head coach Kevin Stefanski said. "We've got to come away -- we as the offense -- with points in those situations."
Flacco's sole interception was his biggest regret, since it came with the Browns trailing 20-19 in the fourth quarter after they had driven for an apparent tying touchdown -- only for Dustin Hopkins to miss the extra point.
Flacco got plenty of protection in the pocket on Cleveland's first snap after its defense had forced a punt. But the Rams had his receivers covered downfield, and he forced a throw that was poached by Los Angeles safety John Johnson.
"It ultimately was just a bad decision," Flacco said. "I was late throwing that pass. Really wanted to get set, and they just matched everything up, and I had time in the pocket, but just lost track of the safety floating back there."
Flacco got the start over inconsistent backup P.J. Walker because rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson is out with a concussion, joining the high-priced Deshaun Watson on the shelf.
Cooper then joined Watson, Nick Chubb and Denzel Ward on the Browns' long list of prominent injured players -- but the Browns aren't expecting sympathy.
"Of course it's tough not having star players," said Myles Garrett, who has gone back-to-back games without a sack for the first time since early last season. "No one asked for the situation that we're in, but we're in it. Can't complain. Can't moan about it. Just got to go out there and put in the work, find a way to win."
Stefanski installed a game plan to minimize the impact of Flacco's unfamiliarity with the offense, and it resulted in 327 yards of offense.
"I thought they did a really good job," Rams coach Sean McVay said. "We tried to be able to analyze some of the different things that Kevin and those guys have done. You knew that they were going to be committed to running the ball. They've mixed up personnel groupings as well."
Stefanski wouldn't commit to Flacco being his starter for this week's home game against Jacksonville. He did confirm that Thompson-Robinson was still in the concussion protocol.
"I'm not going to get into those types of things on Monday," Stefanski said when asked if Flacco is his starter. "We'll work through that."
Even though Stefanski refused to say whether he thought Flacco would be his starter going forward, the veteran passer and his new teammates all seemed eager to have his experience behind center when the Browns host Jacksonville on Sunday to begin the five-game sprint to the postseason.
"Anytime you get a little taste of playing football, you want to keep that going for as long as possible," Flacco said.
Although the pan at QB is unclear at the moment, ESPN.com's Jake Trotter believes if it's Flacco -- and if he can play this well going forward, the Browns still will have an excellent chance to make the playoffs, even with Sunday's loss.
The Browns will host the Jaguars next Sunday. ...
Other notes of interest. ... After Cooper left the game in the second quarter, Elijah Moore stepped up to fill the hole left in Cooper's absence. Moore had one of his best games this season. He finished the game with 12 targets, which led the team. He also had four catches for 83 yards -- with his longest reception of the day for 42 yards.
Moore struggled early in the season to consistently establish himself in the passing game but started to find his lane as the season progressed. Heading into Week 13, Moore had 43 catches for 418 yards this season.
Stefanski said that with Cooper going out, Moore stepped into Cooper's role throughout the game. The speedy Moore flashed an instant rapport with his former New York Jets teammate in Flacco.
Moore averaged 20.8 yards per catch on Sunday, showcasing the connection he and Flacco had from their time at the Jets together in 2021 and 2022.
"Elijah has a lot of talent, and especially when he can kind of get involved early," Flacco said. "He shows a lot of juice throughout the game."
David Njoku was held to two receptions for 17 yards, while backup Harrison Bryant caught five passes for 49 yards and a touchdown. As PFF.com's Nathan Jahnke notes, Njoku's playing time wasn't all that different in this game, but Bryant played more than usual because of the injuries at wide receiver. ...
As for the rushing attack. ... The Browns rushed for 87 yards Sunday against the Rams. This is the fourth game they rushed under 100 yards this season.
The Browns rushed 23 times in Sunday's game -- the lowest number of attempts in a game this season.
Kareem Hunt carried the ball 12 times for 48 yards and caught his only target for zero yards. The 28-year-old actually led the Browns in carries and rushing yards, but Jerome Ford made the biggest impact with a receiving touchdown in the first quarter.
Ford rushed for 19 yards, which is his second lowest of the season.
Hunt has seen double-digit touches in seven of the last eight games while working in a timeshare with Ford, but he hasn't reached 50 scrimmage yards in five straight, leaving him a TD-dependent fantasy option heading into a Week 14 clash with the Jaguars.
The going on the ground won't get any easier this week going up against a tough Jacksonville run defense.
QBs: Joe Flacco, Dorian Thompson-Robinson, P.J. Walker, Deshaun Watson
RBs: Jerome Ford, Kareem Hunt, Pierre Strong Jr., Nick Chubb
WRs: Amari Cooper, Elijah Moore, Cedric Tillman, Marquise Goodwin, David Bell
TEs: David Njoku, Jordan Akins, Harrison Bryant
Dallas CowboysCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 December 2023
According to ESPN.com's Todd Archer, Dak Prescott is not going to get carried away with a fourth straight win or a late-game touchdown drive or three more scoring passes.
The Dallas Cowboys' 41-35 win against the Seattle Seahawks last Thursday night was just Prescott doing what he believes he should be doing.
"My expectations, honestly," Prescott said. "I put a lot in this game. I prepare my ass off. Got amazing coaches and players around me right now doing the exact same. So I just really think that's the expectations that I have for myself, the standard that we've created as an offense and how we're comfortable playing this game."
Prescott has never been as comfortable. In his past seven games, he has 21 touchdown passes, including three against Seattle, and just two interceptions. The Cowboys are 6-1 since losing Oct. 8 to the San Francisco 49ers, and Prescott was able to drive an offense that did not punt in Week 13, scoring on eight of 10 offensive possessions that included a kneel-down to end the victory.
Head coach Mike McCarthy said Prescott's play has been reminiscent of what he saw Aaron Rodgers do in his MVP seasons when they were together with the Green Bay Packers.
"Dak's playing great ball. It's fun when you're in this rhythm," McCarthy said. "He has such great command. And it's just a connection with his teammates. We're getting in and out of things seamlessly. We're playing with really good pace. And that's how we want to attack. You can only do it with a championship-caliber quarterback. And Dak is that guy."
Prescott has yet to get the Cowboys past the divisional round of the playoffs, but there is nothing he can do about that until January.
At 9-3, the Cowboys look like they are on their way to a third straight playoff season, something they have not done since the 1990s when they won three Super Bowls.
"He's getting better, which is saying something when you've got his experience and has had the reps that he's had in his career, had the successes if you will," owner and general manager Jerry Jones said. "But he's also had his share of downturns. Dak's playing the best. He's getting better. In my mind, he's the best he's ever been."
After completing 29-of-41 passes for 299 yards and three touchdowns, including the 12-yard winner to Jake Ferguson with 4:37 to play, Prescott's odds to win the NFL Most Valuable Player award moved from 8-1 to 5-1, tied with Lamar Jackson for the third-shortest odds, according to ESPN BET.
Prescott said he is not concerned about MVP talk or a Super Bowl at this point.
Meanwhile, with the Eagles losing to the 49ers this past Sunday and scheduled for a rematch with the Cowboys at AT&T Stadium -- where Dallas is on a white-hot 14-game win streak -- there's still a solid chance that if the Cowboys can hand the Eagles their second loss in a row (the first of the season for Philly) that the division crown, and possibly the No. 1 seed in the conference, could end up in the hands of McCarthy.
The Cowboys can move into first place in the division with a win over the Eagles in Week 14 by virtue of what would be a better record in the NFC East.
Are the Cowboys ready for their rematch with the Eagles?
McCarthy thinks beating Seattle after falling behind at home for the first time this season will be a benefit, saying: "We're where we need to be right now."
And they'll stick with the game plan that's led them to a four-game win streak and put them in position to do what could be done in Week 14.
"We wanna get to this 10th win," he said on Monday. "We understand where they are. ...."
Worth noting. ... The Cowboys are the fifth team in NFL history to score at least 40 points in four consecutive home games. The most recent was Cincinnati in 2014.
Finally. ... Tight end Peyton Hendershot (ankle) has been a full participant in practice but still hasn't been activated off injured reserve. That could come in time for the Philadelphia game.
But there's no rush to get him into the mix on offense. Ferguson has stepped into the role previously occupied by Jason Witten and Dalton Schultz as Prescott's top tight end target. He caught six passes for 77 yards and the game-winning touchdown with 4:37 to play last Thursday. When Prescott needs a big play, he is not afraid to go to Ferguson.
QBs: Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush, Trey Lance
RBs: Tony Pollard, Rico Dowdle, Deuce Vaughn, Hunter Luepke
WRs: CeeDee Lamb, Brandin Cooks, Michael Gallup, Jalen Tolbert, KaVontae Turpin, Jalen Brooks
TEs: Jake Ferguson, Luke Schoonmaker, Peyton Hendershot
Denver BroncosCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 December 2023
When quarterback Russell Wilson's streak of games without an interception ended Sunday, so did the Broncos' five-game win streak.
Wilson's last gasp pass was intercepted in the end zone by Texans' safety Jimmie Ward with nine seconds left in the game and Houston held on for a 22-17 victory in NRG Stadium that put a significant dent in the Broncos' playoff hopes.
As ESPN.com's Jeff Legwold reported, the Broncos (6-6) entered the day just behind the Texans in the AFC playoff rankings as the two teams were ranked Nos. 8 and 9, respectively. The win gives the Texans a head-to-head victory over the Broncos and drops Denver's record in AFC games to 3-5 this season -- two key tiebreakers.
"I thought we were sloppy most of the game," Broncos coach Sean Payton said. "All the things we've been good about, the takeaways, giveaways that script flipped [Sunday]."
Especially the lines of the script that included Wilson's turnovers. Wilson did not throw an interception during the Broncos' win streak before Sunday's game. He entered the day with the league's best touchdown-to-interception ratio (5.0) and was tied for a league-low four interceptions overall this season.
All three of Wilson's interceptions Sunday came in the second half, including the third and final one, when Wilson tried to fit a third-and-goal pass into tight end Lucas Krull that Ward snatched away. It was only Krull's second target of the season, given he has spent most of it on the practice squad.
"I've got to be cleaner, we've all got to play better, but I've got to play cleaner," Wilson said. "Lot more ball left, lot more to do, obviously we were on a five-game win streak, we were hoping to get six [Sunday], now we've got to do it again."
It was a disappointing end of the win streak for the Broncos, but their defense didn't get a takeaway for the first time since their Week 3 loss to the Miami Dolphins, and the Broncos' offense had limped along with 104 yards worth of offense with seven minutes left to go in the third quarter.
"We've been a really good opening drive team, but man we went through those first 15 [plays] and we were struggling finding just something to get us across the 50," Payton said. "We turned it over. ... It's just disappointing to lose a game like this."
The Broncos did let some time slip away before Wilson's last interception. After a 4-yard completion from Wilson to running back Javonte Williams that put the ball at the Texans' 13-yard line, a play that started with 1:19 left in the game, the Broncos didn't run another play until there were 39 seconds left in the game.
Payton also elected to use a timeout -- their second of the half -- after a Wilson incompletion with 35 seconds left in the game. So the Broncos eventually faced the third-and-goal situation when Wilson threw his last interception without a timeout in hand.
Payton said he wanted to make sure the Broncos were in "the right play" with 35 seconds left in a fourth-and-2 situation. Wilson converted the first down with a 5-yard scramble, but had to use the Broncos' third timeout to stop the clock after the play.
"Wasn't a timeout issue, wasn't a clock issue, I wanted to right play, it was fourth down," Payton said.
Next up, the Broncos will continue their stretch of road games with matchups against the Chargers and Lions.
The trip to Los Angeles this weekend, should serve as an opportunity for the offense to get on track.
Along those lines, veteran receiver Courtland Sutton views the Broncos' receiving corps as a catalyst for the offense. He demonstrated that with the Broncos trailing the Texans 16-3 late in the third quarter.
Sutton responded to the challenge by making his longest catch of the season, a 45-yard touchdown reception he corralled while falling to the ground in between two Houston defenders.
"[It was important] just being able to go out there and be momentum-changers," Sutton said after the game. "Like I talked about a couple weeks ago, being the spoon, man. Being the group that goes out there and turns regular milk into chocolate milk -- that's on us."
According to NFL Next Gen Stats, the play had a 26.4 percent probability of completion, marking the league-best fourth touchdown Sutton has recorded with less than a 30 percent completion probability. Sutton has now caught a touchdown pass in each of the Broncos' five road games and is tied for third place league-wide with nine receiving touchdowns.
Sutton now has the most TD receptions by a Broncos wide receiver since Eric Decker (12) in 2014.
While Sutton was disheartened with the Broncos' 22-17 loss and the end of their winning streak, he said Denver has a prime opportunity over the next month to get back in contention and improve its offensive performance. "It's not the end of the road," Sutton said. "We've got more opportunities ahead of us, and it's on us to correct what we didn't do well today, to minimize that, and to keep moving forward. We've got a lot of opportunities going forward. ..."
In a related note. ... Marvin Mims Jr. missed some time in the second quarter due to injury, but PFF.com's Nathan Jahnke notes his time has steadily fallen over the last month.
Mims was rotating with Brandon Johnson for most of the early parts of the season. He played more snaps in the middle parts after Johnson landed on injured reserve. Johnson was activated off injured reserve for this game and was eased back into action.
Lil'Jordan Humphrey has been part of the wide receiver rotation all season, and he's slowly taken time from Mims these past few weeks. Humphrey played his highest share of offensive snaps since Week 1.
Sutton and Jerry Jeudy were the only wide receivers with over 15 receiving yards, as they finished first and second on the team in receiving yards like usual.
Mims probably won't have fantasy value this year, and at this point, his stock for 2024 just keeps dropping. ...
As Denver Post staffer Parker Gabriel notes, Williams didn't have major numbers, but it felt like he helped settle the game offensively when things started so poorly for Denver.
Williams had 13 carries for only 46 yards and zero touchdowns for the day.
However, Williams picked up the necessary yardage with tough runs against a defense that was ready for those carries. On one key fourth down, he fought his way through tackles to keep Denver's hopes alive on the final drive.
As Gabriel put it, "You just know what you're going to get from him."
He hasn't consistently caught the ball cleanly but had catches on all three targets Sunday for 24 yards.
The Broncos could use some bigger chunks from him down the stretch as he gets further and further off that knee injury, but Williams is going to play a big role for Payton's team if it really is going to get hot again over the final month of the season. ...
Finally. ... Tight end continues to be an issue.
Chris Manhertz is a high-quality blocker, and Payton gives Adam Trautman credit for his reliability, but Denver just severely lacks any kind of real receiving threat from the position. Entering play Sunday, the Broncos tight ends accounted for just 8.5 percent of the team's receiving yards and 12.6 percent of its targets. On Sunday: one catch on three targets for five yards.
Krull was elevated from the practice squad for the second time this season. Similar to Week 10, he took over as the primary receiving tight end, taking significant playing time from Trautman. Also similar to Week 10, he was held to one target and still hasn't made his first career reception.
QBs: Russell Wilson, Jarrett Stidham
RBs: Javonte Williams, Jaleel McLaughlin, Samaje Perine
WRs: Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, Marvin Mims Jr., Lil'Jordan Humphrey, Brandon Johnson
TEs: Adam Trautman, Chris Manhertz, Greg Dulcich
Detroit LionsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 December 2023
For Jared Goff, one thing was clear as the Lions escaped Caesars Superdome with a 33-28 win over the New Orleans Saints on Sunday.
"87's pretty good," the Lions quarterback said. "Yes, Sammy can play."
As ESPN.com's Eric Woodyard noted, No. 87 is rookie tight end Sam LaPorta, who stepped up with a career day when it mattered, helping Detroit (9-3) reach its best 12-game start since 1962 when they began 10-2.
Goff went 9-of-9 for 140 yards and a touchdown while targeting LaPorta against the Saints.
"I thought that LaPorta was huge today for us," head coach Dan Campbell said. "I thought that he really did make some huge plays."
LaPorta's efforts were needed as he ended with the fifth-most receiving yards by a rookie tight end in a game in the Super Bowl era behind New York Giants' Mark Bavaro (176), Atlanta Falcons' Kyle Pitts (163), Jacksonville's Pete Mitchell (161) and New York's Bob Tucker (150). With that type of performance, it increases the confidence in the offense to throw the ball his way in late-game moments.
"As comfortable as anyone I've played with and for a rookie, it's pretty tremendous. I would compare him directly to what (Amon-Ra St. Brown) was doing as a rookie as far as on the field and off the field and the type of pro he is and knowing his assignments," Goff said of LaPorta. "Rarely has an MA (missed assignment) and rarely does that type of rookie mistake, very rarely, and it's just such a reliable guy and a guy that I count on in those crunch times and I know he's a clutch player."
Proof of that comes from his last three games; LaPorta has been targeted 22 times with 17 receptions during that span.
Despite coming off a Thanksgiving Day loss to Green Bay, LaPorta entered the week full of confidence after a strong week of practice.
Detroit's coaching staff placed an emphasis on ball security, and the Lions jumped out to a quick 21-0 lead in the first seven minutes of the game at New Orleans. The hot start included a 13-yard touchdown grab by LaPorta from Goff at 10:24 in the opening quarter.
He also made a wide open 48-yard catch to go over 100 yards in the third then made a key 14-yard catch on a third-and-5 before the end of the third quarter on a scoring drive that set up a Lions field goal once New Orleans was able to get within one score.
LaPorta says he's fueled by how much trust the Lions have in him during those moments.
"I think I'm surrounded by a lot of people. Great teammates, great coaches, great support -- with my family and friends so they just tell me to do what I love. I love playing football and when it's not a chore, it doesn't really feel like a job," LaPorta said. "You're just out there with your buddies running around and yeah, it's great that we're having success. It definitely helps and makes you want to work harder when you're having success and adding value to the team."
Detroit will face the Chicago Bears on the road this week. They'll continue to call LaPorta's number and trust him to deliver.
"If we're gonna lose games, it's gonna be us that's messing it up," he told Woodyard. "It always goes back to us and our fundamentals and what we're doing and what we're trying to accomplish. We feel like we can address those issues and move forward."
For what it's worth. ... Sunday's effort kept LaPorta on pace to break Keith Jackson's record for most receptions by a tight end in their rookie season. LaPorta would need a few more days like Sunday to threaten Mike Ditka's yardage record, but LaPorta said on Sunday that he's not keeping an eye on the record book as the regular season winds down.
"You don't want to get caught up in all that," LaPorta said, via the team's website. "Just kind of muddies your vision. Clouds your vision for the team and the success that we hope to have."
The Lions have had a run of shaky performances since their bye, but they've won three of four games to remain among the top teams in the NFC. LaPorta's immediate success as a pro has had a hand in that and they'll be relying on a strong finish from him to help make sure they can finish strong as a team. ....
In a related note. ... Running back Jahmyr Gibbs totaled eight rushes for 60 yards (7.5 avg.) to produce 50-or-more scrimmage yards for the 10th straight game to start his career.
Linebacker Jack Campbell had eight tackles and two tackles for loss.
LaPorta is the first tight end in NFL history to produce at least 60 receptions, 600 receiving yards and six receiving touchdowns through the first 12 career games.
Defensive back Brian Branch logged seven tackles and an interception that set up a touchdown.
This rookie class has been so productive and impactful. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Through the first 12 games of any season, the Lions have the third most total net yards (4,807), fifth most points (327) and are tied for the fifth most touchdowns (40) in franchise history.
In addition, for the first time since 1936 (Dutch Clark and Ace Gutowsky), the Lions have two players with 600-plus rushing yards and five-plus rushing touchdowns in the same season in David Montgomery and Gibbs. ...
Goff told the team's official website they've been working on the Jameson Williams double-reverse play that resulted in a critical 19-yard touchdown Sunday for a couple weeks now and have been making some tweaks here and there to it. Offensive coordinator Ben Johnson called it at the perfect moment this week and it was executed to perfection with Goff even getting in on the blocking.
Williams got the ball coming from left to right, saw a lane, and we got to see just how fast he can be when he gets it going. The Superman dive into the end zone was a good exclamation point.
"Obviously great call by [offensive coordinator Ben Johnson]," Campbell said. "Something that's been in the laboratory cooking for a while. Felt like it was the right time to call it up. Listen, he executed it great, man. Thing was well blocked. Great job keeping his eyes on it. The rest was up to him. He's pure gasoline around the edge. Heck of a play."
The Lions are continuing to find creative ways to get Williams the football and he continues to grow and build faith from the coaching staff.
Finally. ... Are the Lions' in-game lapses a cause for concern?
As Woodyard pointed out, Detroit jumped out to a 21-0 lead but allowed the Saints to get within a score in the second half. The Lions have won three of their past four games, but also blew an early lead against the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 10 and haven't been able to consistently sustain leads over this four-game stretch.
Their goal is to be playing their best football in December, per Campbell, but they still have work to do.
QBs: Jared Goff, Teddy Bridgewater
RBs: David Montgomery, Jahmyr Gibbs, Craig Reynolds, Zonovan Knight
WRs: Amon-Ra St. Brown, Josh Reynolds, Kalif Raymond, Jameson Williams, Donovan Peoples-Jones, Antoine Green
TEs: Sam LaPorta, Brock Wright, James Mitchell
Green Bay PackersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 December 2023
Two seasons ago, Jordan Love started his first career game against the Kansas City Chiefs, filling in for Aaron Rodgers on short notice. Saying it went poorly would be putting it nicely. The young QB wilted against the blitz that day in K.C.
Sunday night, Love flipped the script.
As NFL.com noted, the Green Bay Packers quarterback was sensational, particularly against Steve Spagnuolo's blitzes, carving up the Chiefs defense for 267 yards and three touchdowns in a 27-19 win.
"It's huge. For me personally, obviously, I've had this game circled for a long time," Love said via the official transcript. "It was my first start (against the Chiefs in 2021), obviously, I didn't play how I wanted to the first game, so being able to see these guys again and get the victory is huge. This is a great team win tonight. Everybody just balled out, so it was an awesome win."
ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky pointed out it was also huge for the Packers' playoff chances.
A team that in late October was 2-5 now sits at 6-6 and -- for now -- in the final playoff spot in the NFC. Their playoff chances jumped all the way to 66 percent, according to ESPN Analytics, from 45 percent entering the game. A loss would have reduced the possibility to 37 percent.
Love didn't just beat the Chiefs on Sunday, he beat their blitzes. He completed 10 of 13 passes with three touchdowns when Spagnuolo sent five or more pass-rushers. It gave Love eight touchdown passes and zero interceptions this season against the blitz, according to ESPN Stats and Information. Only Miami's Tua Tagovailoa has more touchdown passes (10), with an interception, against the blitz this season.
Two years ago, Love managed just six completions in 17 pass attempts for a mere 30 yards against Kansas City's pressure packages.
The difference for Love: Time and experience.
He had plenty of time to watch that first Kansas City game. He said he watched it on repeat that offseason in part because it was the only significant game film he had to that point.
"I've gotten more reps, [and] I'm more comfortable understanding where I need to go with the ball," Love said. "I think the O-line is doing a great job to be able to pick this stuff up. It's not easy when they're bringing some of these all-out blitzes, stuff like that, but they've been doing a great job giving me time. And then the receivers, obviously, they're having awareness of when they need to be open and how long I've got and then just going out there and making plays.
"But it's definitely something we as a team, in practice, we know it's something teams are going to bring. And we've got to be able to execute and go out there and be able to make sure they don't do it again."
That's also where Christian Watson came in. Before he left because of a right hamstring injury in the fourth quarter, Watson caught seven passes for 71 yards and two touchdowns. Five of those -- and both touchdowns -- came against the blitz. It was Watson's first game with two touchdown catches this season. He has four touchdowns in his past three games and has caught 70 percent of his targets in that span after earlier this season having the lowest catch rate of any receiver with more than 30 targets.
The problem, however, might be that right hamstring.
It's the same one that kept Watson out of the first three games of this season. He did not know the severity, but he limped out of the locker room after he spoke to reporters.
Watson said he could tell in the days leading up to this game that it meant something to Love, and he said in pregame warmups that Love was "locked in and ready to go."
"Honestly, the way that he's just been attacking the process and coming to work every day, it seems like every single game has been circled on his calendar, to be honest, these past couple weeks," Watson said. "So I mean, it's really tough to tell, but I mean, yeah, the way he approaches every single day in practice, especially this week, you could tell he was about his business."
But Love wasn't just locked in on Watson on Sunday night.
There was Romeo Doubs and his improbable 33-yard catch on fourth-and-1 in the third quarter to set up Watson's second touchdown. And there were rookies Jayden Reed, Dontayvion Wicks, Tucker Kraft, Malik Heath and Ben Sims who combined for nearly half (12) of Love's 25 completions on the night.
Love also continued a remarkable streak that Rodgers and coach Matt LaFleur started in 2019. It was the Packers' 16th straight win in the month of December, the second-longest streak in NFL history.
"When I got here last year, I was saying watch [Rodgers], learn from [No.] 12," said cornerback Keisean Nixon, who picked off Mahomes in the fourth quarter. "And 12 gave him the key. And s---, he's driving the Porsche now."
The Packers play on prime time again as they head to New York for a Monday night matchup with the Giants on Dec. 11. Expecting Love and the offense to keep their roll going against the Giants seems very reasonable. ...
Meanwhile, with Aaron Jones sidelined by a knee injury for the second straight week, A.J. Dillon was the main rushing back and Patrick Taylor was the main receiving back like last week, but James Robinson made his Packers debut as the third running back.
Dillon continuously lowered his shoulder pads and pushed forward on his way to 87 total yards on 19 touches.
For four quarters, Dillon continuously lowered his shoulder pads and pushed forward on his way to 87 total yards on 19 touches, production that paced Green Bay's offense during an emphatic 27-19 win over Kansas City at Lambeau Field.
The 6-foot, 247-pound running back carried the ball seven times for 30 yards on a Packers' opening drive that lasted almost eight minutes and ended in a 1-yard TD pass to Ben Sims.
After rushing nine times for 39 yards in the first half, Dillon caught a 14-yard pass to start the third quarter and spark the Packers' third TD-producing drive.
He also was at his best in the fourth quarter when Green Bay was looking to put Kansas City away. Dillon carried the ball seven times, gaining 33 yards and forcing the Chiefs to start burning their timeouts after back-to-back conversions.
Following Dillon's lead, the Packers finished with 129 rushing yards on 25 carries (5.2 yards per carry). ...
Anders Carlson went 2 of 2 on field-goal attempts, providing some insurance with a 40-yarder and 48-yarder in the fourth quarter. ...
A few final notes. ... A team that failed to score a first-half touchdown in five straight games earlier this season suddenly has gained a penchant for fast starts. The Packers have scored touchdowns on their first two possessions in each of their past two games. ... The Packers haven't committed a turnover during this three-game win streak. ...
The Packers signed veteran RB Kenyan Drake to the practice squad and released Robinson from the practice squad.
QBs: Jordan Love, Sean Clifford
RBs: Aaron Jones, A.J. Dillon, Patrick Taylor
WRs: Jayden Reed, Romeo Doubs, Christian Watson, Dontayvion Wicks, Samori Toure, Malik Heath
TEs: Tucker Kraft, Ben Sims, Josiah Deguara, Luke Musgrave
Houston TexansCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 December 2023
The Houston Texans escaped with a win over the Denver Broncos on Sunday.
But the victory came with a steep price as star rookie receiver Tank Dell sustained a broken fibula that ended his season.
Dell had season-ending surgery Monday, head coach DeMeco Ryans told reporters.
The surgery was termed successful, and the Texans expect Dell to be ready to participate in the offseason program.
Dell was placed on injured reserve on Tuesday.
The diminutive Dell was injured when he got rolled up on a touchdown run by Dameon Pierce in the first quarter of the 22-17 victory Sunday. With Dell out, Nico Collins led the offense, piling up a career-high 191 yards receiving with a fourth-quarter touchdown.
Now the Texans must find a way to make up for the loss of the Dell, who ranks second on the team with 709 yards receiving and who leads the Texans with a franchise rookie record seven touchdown receptions.
"Nobody replaces Tank, but everybody around him just has to step up and just do their part -- be their best in whatever role, whatever area we ask them to," Ryans said. "We just ask them to be their best. It takes everyone. When you lose a guy who brings that emotional lift to your team, it's going to take everyone to dig a little deeper and pick it up and do a little bit better."
Quarterback C.J. Stroud choked back tears when he spoke about Dell's injury Sunday. The pair have become close friends, bonding from the moment both were drafted this April.
"I try to be positive about it, but it's tough," Stroud said. "I'm hurt. I can't sugarcoat it."
Stroud had another strong game Sunday, throwing for 274 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions. His performance came after he was the AFC Offensive Player of the Month and NFL Rookie of the Month for November after throwing for 1,466 yards with 10 touchdowns and four interceptions last month.
Despite his success, he's still looking to do much more to help the Texans return to the playoffs for the first time since 2019.
"I'm blessed to be able to be playing at a high level, and I want to keep that going," he said. "I really don't think I've even touched my potential yet. I still have things I need to clean up every week."
The Texans travel to face the New York Jets Sunday, where they'll need a win to remain in a good spot to compete for a playoff berth in the last few weeks of the season.
Meanwhile, is it fair to believe the defense can continue to ascend as the Texans make a playoff run?
The Texans' defense saved the day with three interceptions, capped by a Jimmie Ward's in the end zone with nine seconds left to secure the win. Though the veteran sealed it, some of their younger players played big roles. The Texans' 2022 No. 3 overall pick, cornerback Derek Stingley Jr., finished with two interceptions, and their 2023 No. 3 pick, defensive end Will Anderson Jr., had two sacks and two tackles for loss.
According to ESPN.com's DJ Bien-Aime, the youngsters are clicking at the right time, and that could be the difference between making the playoffs or not. ...
Worth noting. ... Even with Dell going down, fellow wideout Noah Brown didn't have a catch in his return after missing two games with a knee injury. This came after the six-year pro had the two best games of his career before his injury with 173 yards receiving against Cincinnati and 153 yards against Tampa Bay.
Also of interest. ... The Texans backfield played out similarly to earlier in the season rather than where it was in recent weeks.
According to PFF.com's Nathan Jahnke, Devin Singletary played 80 percent of Houston's offensive snaps last week, playing nearly every passing down and the clear majority of early downs.
This week, Pierce was back to playing over half of the early-down snaps like he was doing before his injury.
Pierce ran 15 times compared to Singletary's eight even though Singletary averaged more yards per carry.
Jahnke added: "It will be difficult to put Singletary back in fantasy starting lineups with this role. He should be kept on fantasy rosters since there is a chance Singletary will earn more time again."
In addition, Jahnke notes that Brevin Jordan shined without Dalton Schultz, who missed this game due to a hamstring injury and could miss more time.
Jordan played 100 percent of 11 personnel snaps but only eight-of-25 in 21 personnel, which is roughly the same as what Schultz would play.
The team never used 12 personnel in this game due to the lack of depth at tight end.
Jordan was only targeted four times but made a few big plays, leading to 64 receiving yards on three targets.
The Texans have a fine matchup against the New York Jets next week, so Jordan could potentially be an option if Schultz misses more time. ...
Houston signed receiver Davion Davis to their practice squad and placed receiver Jared Wayne on the practice squad injured list. ...
Bleacher Report's Jordan Schultz reports the Texans are signing S Adrian Amos.
Amos appeared in 11 games with the Jets this season before getting waived prior to Week 13. The Texans now add Amos to a solid safety room that includes Jalen Pitre and Jimmie Ward.
He had two tackles in two games.
The Texans also announced they waived veteran defensive lineman Kerry Hyder from the 53-player roster. They promoted him from the practice squad Nov. 23.
Finally. ... Houston had eight penalties for 81 yards Sunday. The Texans are tied for the eighth-most penalties in the NFL this season with 80 penalties which have cost them 684 yards.
QBs: C.J. Stroud, Davis Mills, Case Keenum
RBs: Devin Singletary, Dameon Pierce, Mike Boone, Dare Ogunbowale
WRs: Nico Collins, Noah Brown, Robert Woods, John Metchie III, Xavier Hutchinson, Tank Dell
TEs: Dalton Schultz, Brevin Jordan
Indianapolis ColtsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 December 2023
As Associated Press sports writer Michael Marot reported, Michael Pittman Jr. embraces being the offensive workhorse for the Indianapolis Colts.
After catching two passes in a 39-38 loss to Cleveland six weeks ago, he pleaded publicly to take on a larger role.
Quarterback Gardner Minshew responded by looking Pittman's way more, and Pittman has delivered with the best football of his four-year career, finishing Sunday with a TD catch at Tennessee to give Indy its fourth straight win and keep the Colts (7-5) in playoff position.
"It's unbelievable," head coach Shane Steichen said, referring to Pittman after the 31-28 overtime victory. "He's consistent every time he goes out there. Just the consistency he plays with week in, week out, the preparation he puts into it, his toughness and his physicality, it's special."
Pittman was born to play this role.
At 6-4, 233 pounds, he combines the size teams crave with the physical and mental toughness of elite receivers. He grew up as the son of a Super Bowl champion but never relied on his lineage to forge his career path. Instead, he worked relentlessly to fine-tune his own skills.
After acknowledging his October complaints really came from the frustration of losing, Pittman has played like an All-Pro. He has 45 receptions, 400 yards and two TDs over the last five games, catching at least eight passes in each one.
But it's about more than numbers. On Sunday, the 26-year-old fought off two defenders to haul in a 9-yard catch on Indy's first play of overtime before faking out Sean Murphy-Bunting with an inside move to free himself for the 4-yard scoring play. Despite catching 11 of 16 balls thrown his direction and recording 105 yards, Pittman though he could have been better.
"I should have caught more because I feel like there were a couple I probably should have caught," he said. "It's always good to come out and do it consistently. There were some tough catches I should have made (Sunday) that I would like back, but that's just how it goes."
Pittman has 87 catches, 889 yards and four scores with five games remaining and is on pace to shatter his previous career highs as he heads into the offseason looking for a contract extension.
Since rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson went down with a season-ending shoulder injury in Week 5 and 2021 rushing champion Jonathan Taylor has missed five of 12 games with ankle and thumb injuries, the Colts have needed Pittman to make this playoff push.
Meanwhile, the Colts keep finding ways to win.
Against Carolina, it was two interception returns for TDs. Against New England, it was a stifling defense that kept the Patriots out of the end zone. On Sunday, it was converting errant punts into two scores.
With Indy likely facing backup quarterbacks in its next two games, at Cincinnati and against Pittsburgh, the league's No. 8 scoring offense could get a chance to shine. ...
Other notes of interest. ... After a slow start, second-year receiver Alec Pierce has been getting more looks -- and he's making plays. None was bigger than the 55-yard reception in overtime that set up Pittman's winning score. He had three catches for 100 yards and his first TD since December 2022.
Pierce scored on a 36-yarder, beating two defenders down the middle of the field on a deep shot. ...
Can the Colts find some running-game consistency in Taylor's absence?
The Colts had one of their worst rushing performances of the season (55 yards), not coincidentally in their first game since Taylor suffered a thumb injury. Despite Zack Moss' standout showing against the Titans in the first matchup (a season-high 165 yards), he and the Colts struggled to get on track running the ball Sunday.
Moss finished with 51 yards on 19 carries. Taylor could miss several games, and the Colts will need to establish a running game to offset the inconsistency of Minshew.
As noted above, the special teams units were the difference Sunday. Indy returned a blocked punt for a TD and jarred another loose before Titans punter Ryan Stonehouse could kick it. The second miscue by Tennessee led to one of Matt Gay's four field goals. Colts punter Rigoberto Sanchez averaged 51.2 yards on five kicks.
QBs: Gardner Minshew, Sam Ehlinger, Kellen Mond, Anthony Richardson
RBs: Zack Moss, Trey Sermon, Jonathan Taylor, Evan Hull
WRs: Michael Pittman Jr., Josh Downs, Alec Pierce, Isaiah McKenzie
TEs: Mo Alie-Cox, Kylen Granson, Will Mallory, Andrew Ogletree, Jelani Woods
Jacksonville JaguarsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 December 2023
Trevor Lawrence has a high sprain of his right ankle, coach Doug Pederson said Tuesday.
"We'll see where he is here in the next couple of days," Pederson said, adding he wouldn't put a timetable on his starting quarterback.
If Lawrence is unable to play this Sunday against the Cleveland Browns, backup C.J. Beathard would start. It would be his first start since Week 16 of the 2020 season with San Francisco.
Lawrence was hurt in Monday night's 31-28 overtime loss to the Cincinnati Bengals when left tackle Walker Little was pushed backward and stepped on Lawrence's ankle, which then appeared to get caught underneath him when he fell to the ground. Lawrence tried to get up, then went down to his knees and slammed his helmet on the ground in frustration. He was assisted from the field by medical personnel and needed support under each arm as he walked toward the Jaguars' locker room and X-ray area.
Beathard -- who coming into Monday had thrown just 17 passes in two-plus seasons with the Jaguars -- took over for Lawrence with 2:28 remaining in the fourth quarter. He completed 9 of 10 passes for 63 yards and led a Jaguars drive that culminated in a score-tying field goal to force overtime.
"We'll see where Trevor's at first, but we've got 100 percent confidence in C.J.," Pederson said. "He's a veteran player. He's played a lot of football, and if he happens to be the guy, then we'll get behind him and support him."
If Beathard starts Sunday at Cleveland, it would be his first start since Week 16 of the 2020 season with San Francisco.
"Trevor's my best friend on the team, and when you see him go down like that, [it's tough]," Beathard said. "I've been here three years and he's battled through all types of injuries, little things here and there, and to see him have to get carried off the field, it hurts."
Beathard said Lawrence was "in good spirits" in the locker room after the game and added "obviously he's sore right now."
It's the second time this season Lawrence has left a game because of an injury. He suffered a sprained left knee late in the Jaguars' Week 3 win over Indianapolis, but he didn't miss a start and led Jacksonville to victory against New Orleans four days later on "Thursday Night Football."
Lawrence has started all 46 possible games since being drafted No. 1 in 2021, tied for the third-longest active start streak among quarterbacks, according to ESPN Stats and Information research. Buffalo's Josh Allen (83) and the Chargers' Justin Herbert (61) own the two longest streaks, while Lawrence is tied with Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes.
Lawrence was one of five Jaguars to exit Monday night's game with an injury. Nickelback Tre Herndon was evaluated for a concussion after the second play of the game and later ruled out, and receiver Christian Kirk injured his groin on the Jaguars' first offensive snap after making a 26-yard catch.
Kirk -- who entered the game as the Jaguars' receiving yards leader (761) and second in receptions (56) -- hit the ground hard and, after being down for several moments, was assisted off the field and taken to the locker room.
Pederson told reporters on Tuesday that Kirk will miss some time with a core muscle injury that will likely require surgery.
Kirk had one catch for 26 yards on Monday. He has 57 catches for 787 yards and three touchdowns for the season.
Parker Washington had six catches for 61 yards and a touchdown against Cincinnati after not catching a pass in his first three games, so it seems likely that he'll continue to have a role in the offense with Kirk out of action.
"I thought Parker filled in nicely," Pederson said. "He made some really nice plays for us. It's something he can build on."
Also on the injury front. ... Safety Andre Cisco (shoulder), defensive tackle Folorunso Fatukasi (ankle) and Little (hamstring) were also injured. Only Cisco returned to the game.
Pederson said he would have updates on their conditions Tuesday.
"It's full steam ahead," Pederson said. "We've got to get the guys that are hurt treated and we've got to get the next guy ready to go. ..."
I'll obviously watch Lawrence's status closely in coming days and report back via Late-Breaking Update as developments warrant. ...
Meanwhile, Calvin Ridley caught four of eight targets for 26 yards while rushing three times for seven yards against the Bengals.
Ridley was tackled on the 1-yard line on a third-quarter catch, narrowly missing his fourth touchdown in the last three games. As CBSSports.com suggested, the talented receiver had been playing his best football of the season in recent weeks, but the wind was taken out of Ridley's sails by Lawrence's injury. Ridley officially had just one catch for minus-4 yards in Beathard's two drives, though he had a 43-yard catch wiped out by a holding penalty in overtime.
Travis Etienne Jr. rushed 11 times for 45 yards and a touchdown while catching all four of his targets for 34 yards.
Etienne capped Jacksonville's first drive with a four-yard rushing touchdown but finished with his second-fewest rushing attempts and third-fewest rushing yards of the season, perhaps due to the lingering effects of the rib injury that limited his practice participation heading into the game.
Lawrence accounted for the team's next three scores with two passing touchdowns and a quarterback sneak prior to exiting in the fourth quarter.
Etienne's 19-yard catch on a pass from Beathard helped set up a game-tying field goal in the final minute of regulation, but the Bengals kicked a game-winning field goal after Jacksonville failed to score on the first drive of overtime, dropping the Jaguars to 8-4 heading into Week 14.
After they take on the Browns this weekend, the Jaguars will face the Ravens, Buccaneers, Panthers and Titans down the stretch.
QBs: Trevor Lawrence, C.J. Beathard, Nathan Rourke
RBs: Travis Etienne Jr., Tank Bigsby, D'Ernest Johnson
WRs: Calvin Ridley, Zay Jones, Parker Washington, Tim Jones, Jamal Agnew, Christian Kirk
TEs: Evan Engram, Brenton Strange, Luke Farrell, Elijah Cooks
Kansas City ChiefsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 December 2023
As ESPN.com's Adam Teicher reported it, "The Kansas City Chiefs saw the end of Sunday night's game devolve into chaos, with the final 1:09 featuring an unnecessary roughness penalty, a fumble recovery that was overturned, an ejection and a controversial pass interference non-call. ..."
Teicher went on to explain that when all was said and done, Kansas City -- needing a touchdown and a 2-point conversion to force overtime -- instead saw Patrick Mahomes' pass into the end zone on the final play knocked away, as the Green Bay Packers held on for a 27-19 win.
The Chiefs, hoping to tie the Baltimore Ravens and Miami Dolphins for the best record in the AFC, instead fell to 8-4 following their third loss in five outings.
In what was a talking point in the Chiefs locker room afterward, officials elected not to throw a flag for interference as Packers defensive back Carrington Valentine appeared to be draped over Chiefs wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling on a deep pass from Mahomes on a first-and-10 from the 50-yard line. Had the penalty been called, it would have put the Chiefs inside the Green Bay 10-yard line with 44 seconds remaining.
Valdes-Scantling said after the game he asked the official why there was no penalty.
"He didn't even acknowledge me," Valdes-Scantling said.
Asked whether it was a penalty, Valdes-Scantling replied, "I was trying to get the ball and ended up on the ground. I don't know what they saw, but I tried to catch it and didn't have an opportunity."
Mahomes would eventually get his team into Packers territory, but the Chiefs stalled out at the Green Bay 33, with Mahomes' final four pass attempts all landing incomplete.
"Obviously, the guy was probably a little early, but at the end of the game, they're letting guys play," Mahomes said about no penalty being called on the pass to Valdes-Scantling. "I'm kind of about that. I rather you let the guys play and let the guys win on the field, but it's hard.
"I can't be wanting a flag. I have to try to go out there and win the game myself and with the rest of my teammates."
Referee Brad Allen, asked about the play after the game, said in a pool report that "on every play where there may or may not be pass interference, either offensive or defensive, the covering official has to rule whether contact materially restricts the receiver.
"And in this case, the covering officials were in good position and ruled that there was no material restriction that rose to the level of defensive pass interference."
Earlier on the drive, running back Isiah Pacheco was ejected from the game and penalized 15 valuable yards for taking a swing at a Packers player.
"You can't do that," head coach Andy Reid said afterward. "You have to stay composed."
Mahomes acknowledged the penalty hurt the Chiefs but said he appreciated Pacheco's energy.
"I love the fire from [Pacheco]," Mahomes said. "That gets us going as an offense. Obviously, you got a flag in this situation, but I mean we were already in a bad situation, so I mean I never want to take the passion away from a guy. He'll learn from it. I'm sure he won't make that mistake again, but that's the stuff that we need on this team in order to have the success that we want to have."
The Chiefs' chaotic final drive began with Green Bay defensive back Jonathan Owens being penalized for hitting Mahomes as he was going out of bounds on a 10-yard run, a personal foul that put the ball at Green Bay's 45-yard line.
Rashee Rice then appeared to fumble, with Green Bay's Corey Ballentine returning it 68 yards for what would have been a game-sealing touchdown. But replay showed that Rice was down before the ball came loose, so the Chiefs retained possession.
Still, Mahomes threw an interception late in the game, they still were flagged five times for 50 yards as penalties continued to be a problem, and they went just 2 for 4 when they reached the red zone.
As Associated press sports writer Dave Skretta suggested, fix those problems and those questionable decisions by the officiating crew might not have made a difference. ...
All that said, the Chiefs may be struggling but they are far from desperate.
That might better describe the Bills, who visit Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday coming off a bye. They are 6-6 and outside the playoffs with five games left in the regular season. ...
Other notes of interest. ... The Chiefs ran for 148 yards, and Pacheco had 18 carries for 110 and a score before he got thrown out of the game. If the Chiefs are ever going to loosen up opposing defenses downfield, they need to prove they can run the ball.
They have only topped 100 yards as a team twice in the past eight games.
Remember, Jerick McKinnon missed a second consecutive game because of a groin injury. Clyde Edwards-Helaire primarily took McKinnon's snaps in passing situations, but Pacheco took most of the snaps in goal-line situations. These are the same roles the two backs had last week.
McKinnon typically serves as the third-down back so the Chiefs can run passing plays near the goal line.
With Pacheco taking these snaps, he's scored three times from the 1-yard line in the past two games.
As PFF.com's Nathan Jahnke notes, McKinnon was a limited participant in practice late in the week, so there is a chance he will be back next week. Pacheco can still be a fantasy starter even if he's not scoring the touchdowns, but his ceiling won't be as high. ...
Also according to Jahnke, the Chiefs wide receiver rotation was relatively similar to last week. Skyy Moore took some snaps from Valdes-Scantling. Rice played 69 percent of offensive snaps which is a new career high, although it's only slightly higher than his other games from November.
Kadarius Toney returned after missing last week with an ankle and hip injury, but he only took a few snaps on offense.
The Chiefs Moore would take a step forward in Year 2 after coming on strong down the stretch of his rookie season. Instead, Moore had one catch for 5 yards Sunday night, ran the route on which Mahomes was picked, and has offered very little help on offense or special teams all season. ...
Finally. ... Harrison Butker has yet to miss a kick this year. The only kickers with perfect regular seasons on PATs and field goals are Gary Anderson in 1998 and Mike Vanderjagt in 2003. Butker has made 23 consecutive field goals, tying his own club record set in 2017, and his 13 games without a missed field goal is tied for the Chiefs record.
QBs: Patrick Mahomes, Blaine Gabbert
RBs: Isiah Pacheco, Jerick McKinnon, Clyde Edwards-Helaire
WRs: Rashee Rice, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Justin Watson, Skyy Moore, Kadarius Toney, Richie James, Justyn Ross, Mecole Hardman
TEs: Travis Kelce, Noah Gray, Blake Bell, Jody Fortson
Las Vegas RaidersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 December 2023
As ESPN.com's Paul Gutierrez noted, Hunter Renfrow has seen this script before.
A team, seemingly torn apart from within and taking on water, nevertheless gets hot and goes on a run as unlikely as it was rewarding.
Yes, the veteran slot receiver was a key part of a 2021 Raiders team which had just been blown out by the Kansas City Chiefs to fall to 6-7 and seemingly out of playoff contention. That team ran off four straight wins to force their way into the playoffs under an interim coach.
The current Raiders are riding a two-game losing streak after falling by two scores to the Chiefs, are 5-7 overall and licking their wounds, both physical and mental, as come off a bye week under an interim coach. Yeah, this should feel familiar to Renfrow.
"There's nothing against us winning five in a row and sneaking into the playoffs," Renfrow said. "That's kind of the goal, and I'm hoping everyone in this locker room kind of has that at the back of their mind this whole bye week.
"New team, same dream."
Indeed, because while Renfrow is a holdover from 2021 who caught 103 passes and went to the Pro Bowl after that season, many faces have changed in two years.
There are too many to list, but consider: since the start of 2021, the Raiders have had four full-time and interim head coaches (Jon Gruden, Rich Bisaccia, Josh McDaniels and Antonio Pierce) and five starting quarterbacks (Derek Carr, Jarrett Stidham, Jimmy Garoppolo, Brian Hoyer and Aidan O'Connell).
And just six of the 22 starting position players from the Raiders' playoff game at the Cincinnati Bengals on Jan. 15, 2022, are still on the team. That includes All-Pro running back Josh Jacobs, Pro Bowl edge rusher Maxx Crosby and safety Tre'von Moehrig.
So how can the Raiders replicate their late-season success of two years ago, and how might such a late bye week play a part?
"Get healthy, get healthy," Pierce said. "Twelve straight weeks [of games] in the National Football League, that's tough, that's tough. That's hard on the body."
Crosby, who spent Thanksgiving in the hospital due to an infection, played through extreme knee pain against the Chiefs, and while he had a sack, it was his lone tackle. Left tackle Kolton Miller, meanwhile, had to leave the game with the injured right shoulder that kept him out of the previous two games.
"For those guys to come back, and now to have an extra seven or so days to get ready before our next game before we play the Vikings, is huge for our team," Pierce added. "Also, I think it's an opportunity for us to reset mentally.
"It's been a lot of trying times this year. A lot of ups and downs, and you sit back, you reset, you think about it, spend some time with your family and coming towards end of the week you start missing football again, that Friday, Saturday, Sunday you're not playing. Get these guys back in the building on Monday and we're ready to roll."
The talent is there.
Through Week 12, the Raiders have the No. 21-ranked total defense after spending the first half of the season flirting with being a top-half-of-the-league unit. On the other side, the Raiders are only No. 29 in total offense.
Las Vegas has scored only 16.9 points per game, which ranks 26th in the league. They've scored more than 20 points in a game twice. ... And it took a late safety from the defense to accomplish one of those.
The offense seemed to break through early against Kansas City on Sunday, jumping out to a 14-0 lead, which could have been greater if they hadn't missed a chip-shot field goal.
But Gutierrez contends no player's fortunes -- or misfortunes -- represented the Raiders' offense stalling more than All-Pro receiver Davante Adams.
He had five catches for 73 yards in the game's first 16-plus minutes. He finished the game with ... five catches for 73 yards.
"It is frustrating," Adams said. "It's confusing, too, and yeah, I don't really know what to say or exactly why it went the way it did, but we just couldn't figure it out in the second half."
Getting Adams going and keeping him going will go a long way toward helping the Raiders keep Renfrow's dream alive.
"Just got to get everybody healthy and get ready to finish the season as good as what we can," said Adams, who has 69 catches for 814 yards, but his 11.8 yards per catch average is the lowest since his second season. And, with just four touchdown catches, he is in danger of not getting double-digit TDs for the first time since 2019, when he had five TDs in 12 games.
"We've still got everything in front of us, we're just making it harder each week by not winning," Adams said. "So, we've got to rally, get our minds right, get our bodies right and get ready to play whoever we got after the bye."
That would be the Minnesota Vikings (6-6) on Sunday at Allegiant Stadium.
Following that are the AFC West rival Los Angeles Chargers (4-7) on a short week for a Thursday night affair, before roadies at the Chiefs (8-3) on Christmas Day and the Indianapolis Colts (6-5) on New Year's Eve before returning home for the season finale against the Denver Broncos (6-5) on Jan. 7.
"We have a special group, and we believe in each other," Renfrow said. "And I'd go to war with any of these guys any day."
QBs: Aidan O'Connell, Jimmy Garoppolo, Brian Hoyer
RBs: Josh Jacobs, Zamir White, Ameer Abdullah, Brandon Bolden
WRs: Davante Adams, Jakobi Meyers, Tre Tucker, Hunter Renfrow, DeAndre Carter, Kristian Wilkerson
TEs: Michael Mayer, Austin Hooper, Jesper Horsted
Los Angeles ChargersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 December 2023
Even though the Los Angeles Chargers continue to be out of synch on offense and defense, their special teams unit continues to excel.
As Associated Press sports writer Joe Reedy noted, the Chargers' punting, kicking and return units rose to the forefront in Sunday's 6-0 victory over the New England Patriots. According to Sportradar, it was the 33rd time since 1960 a team has shut out an opponent while not scoring a touchdown.
"When we got here, it was among the worst in the NFL and now we're among the best in the NFL," head coach Brandon Staley said about his special teams group.
In Ryan Ficken's second year as special teams coach, the Chargers have become disciplined in preventing big returns. Ficken has also been instrumental in the development of rookie Darius Davis, who is handling both punt and kickoff returns.
Cameron Dicker provided the points with a pair of 38-yard field goals, but punter JK Scott was the most instrumental by placing a franchise-record seven punts inside the 20-yard line, including four inside the 10.
Scott leads the league with an average hang time of 4.85 seconds, which is a big reason why opponents' fair-catch rate of 40.4 percent is tied for fourth best.
The Chargers' punt coverage team has allowed 133 yards on returns, which is seventh-best in the league.
"I'm not saying this to be humble or whatever, but I don't try to think about the results or the stats anymore. I used to do that a lot but I'm just trying to have fun and enjoy each opportunity to the best of my ability," Scott said.
Davis leads the league in punt return yards (316) and average (16.6). Six of his 17 punt returns have gone for at least 19 yards, including a 34-yarder late in the second quarter that set up Dicker's second field goal.
"I think that it's unique for a rookie returner to come in and handle both duties," Ficken said recently about Davis. "We know that there are going to be some growing pains at times, but he has done a great job -- his film study, to the practice habits out here. Just understanding how to be patient with the returns and knowing that his blockers, they're going to do a great job of blocking and setting up whatever return it is for us. Just making sure that we're patient with it and stay to it."
Dicker is 19 of 20 on field goals this season and has missed only two of his 40 attempts since joining the Chargers last October. Ficken said the one thing he appreciates about Dicker is his composure.
"He's very consistent on his approach, not just in the games but out in practice he's a professional," Ficken said last week. "It doesn't matter if it's a 55-yarder, 58-yarder, a PAT, he has the same mindset and he's going to approach every kick the same way. That's what I've been really pleased with, how he's approached the game."
The shutout, the Chargers' first since 2017, helped snap a three-game skid and improved them to 5-7. Four of Los Angeles' final five games are in the division, including two in a three-week span against Denver.
From a fantasy perspective, any time a week in review begins with extensive coverage of special teams play, it's not ideal.
The offense failed to score a touchdown for only the second time since Justin Herbert became the Chargers' quarterback in 2020 (both have been against New England). Kellen Moore was brought in as coordinator to make the unit more balanced, but struggles in the run game keep making the Chargers one-dimensional.
In horrid weather conditions, Los Angeles ran for only 29 yards on 24 carries. Herbert passed for 212 yards in the rain and wind.
Remember, the Chargers scored 10 points in a loss to the Baltimore Ravens last week and 20 a week prior against the Packers before scoring six on Sunday against New England.
There has been blame to go around, from shaky offensive line protection to questionable play calls by Moore.
Austin Ekeler averaged 1.3 yards per carry. This was the third game this season he's run 14 or more times and was held under 30 rushing yards. As PFF.com's Nathan Jahnke notes, Ekeler has only averaged above 3.6 yards per carry once in the last eight games.
In addition, as ESPN.com's Kris Rhim notes, the Chargers had five drops by five different receivers Sunday, two weeks after having six drops in a loss to the Packers in Week 11.
Tight end Donald Parham dropped two passes after not having a reception last week. Parham also had a drop on a third-down pass two weeks ago.
Quentin Johnston had a season-high 52 yards and had his second five-catch game of the year. It was a bounce-back game for Johnston, who missed the second half of last week's game against Baltimore due to a rib injury and dropped a pass late in the fourth quarter two weeks ago at Green Bay that would have put the Chargers in field goal range.
Also, Keenan Allen now has 102 catches, which leads the league. He is also the sixth receiver in league history to have at least 100 catches in five or more seasons.
Gerald Everett gained over 40 yards in back-to-back games for the first time this season and is one of the better waiver options at tight end given the Chargers' schedule. ...
As far as playing time. ... Allen led wideouts in snaps once again (54), leading the team in receiving yards with 58 and five receptions. Johnston finished playing 47 offensive snaps. Jalen Guyton was next in line with 38 snaps while Alex Erickson (eight snaps) and Derius Davis (seven snaps) rounded out the unit.
Ekeler finished the game playing 35 snaps, the most by a Chargers running back in this game. The only other running back active on Sunday was Joshua Kelley, who played 26 snaps.
Everett led the tight end group in snaps (39) and receiving. Parham followed closely behind with 38 snaps on Sunday while Stone Smartt played eight snaps. Stephen Anderson, who was elevated from the practice squad, rounded out the group with two snaps. ...
The team could get some additional receiving firepower this week. The Chargers are opening receiver Josh Palmer’s 21-day practice window. I'll have more on his status via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
Looking ahead. ... The Chargers have five regular-season games left, four of which come against AFC West teams.
The Bolts host Denver on Sunday before playing at the Broncos in Week 17. A road date with the Raiders awaits next Thursday night and then the season finale is at home against the Chiefs.
"They're going to mean so much down the stretch here because you have the division meaning and then the conference meaning," Staley said. "All these games are very impactful with where you position yourself.
"And you always start with your division," Staley said. "It's going to be tight here down the stretch but we have to focus one at a time."
The Chargers currently sit at 1-1 in division play after a home win over Las Vegas and a road loss in Kansas City.
And at 5-7, the Chargers still remain in the playoff picture. So, too, do all of the other division teams. ...
One last note here. ... The Chargers activated safety JT Woods from the non-football illness list on Tuesday, the team announced.
He played three games before an undisclosed illness sidelined him.
The Chargers selected Woods in the third round in 2022, and he has played in 13 games, with eight tackles, since.
In a corresponding move, the Chargers waived wide receiver Simi Fehoko.
He has played six games with one catch for 9 yards, while seeing action on 24 offensive snaps and 36 on special teams.
The Chargers also signed running back Elijah Dotson to the practice squad.
QBs: Justin Herbert, Easton Stick
RBs: Austin Ekeler, Joshua Kelley, Isaiah Spiller, Elijah Dotson
WRs: Keenan Allen, Quentin Johnston, Jalen Guyton, Derius Davis, Josh Palmer, Mike Williams
TEs: Gerald Everett, Donald Parham, Stone Smartt
Los Angeles RamsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 December 2023
As Associated Press sports writer Greg Beacham noted, although most NFL teams are exponentially better when their starting quarterback is upright and healthy, it's been particularly true for the Los Angeles Rams over the past three seasons.
Matthew Stafford has been safe and comfortable in the pocket lately, and it's no coincidence the Rams are on their longest winning streak since their Super Bowl triumph.
Stafford has been sacked only once during the Rams' three straight victories since their bye week. He has barely been touched at all in the past two weeks, with Arizona and Cleveland registering just five combined quarterback hits and no sacks.
Meanwhile, the Rams (6-6) have jumped into an NFC playoff race that appeared to be out of their reach only a month ago, thanks to this stretch of exceptional protection and smart play-calling designed to keep their franchise quarterback doing what he does best.
Stafford and coach Sean McVay were quick to send praise to Los Angeles' much-improved offensive line Sunday after Stafford's second straight no-sack outing in a 36-19 victory over the Browns, who couldn't get Myles Garrett and his teammates anywhere near Stafford on most snaps.
That freed Stafford to hit the NFL's top-ranked pass defense for 279 yards and three TDs, highlighted by a spectacular 70-yard scoring pass to rookie Puka Nacua.
"My guys were balling today, so I was so fired up," Stafford said. "That's a hell of a rush (from Cleveland). They were bringing pressures, they were rushing four, they were doing all sorts of stuff to us, and our guys to step up there and protect the way they did today was amazing."
The offensive line was one of the Rams' decided weak points last season, and Stafford suffered the consequences. He was sacked 29 times in just nine games in 2022 before he was declared out for the season with a bruised spinal cord almost certainly caused by those hits.
Stafford has been sacked only 20 times in 11 games this season, and six of those were in one early season game at Cincinnati. He has been sacked only four times in five games since mid-October.
"So proud of those guys," Stafford said of his line. "It shows up (in) the way they work, the way they go about their business every single day. I thought we had a great plan, but shoot, we threw the rock. We weren't sitting there just (blocking) those guys up front (for Cleveland). We were just saying, 'Let's go play our game and have a lot of confidence in those guys.'"
Even the Browns, who had 34 sacks in their first 11 games this season, gave credit to the Rams -- and to LA's play calls, which have also minimized Stafford's danger.
"(Stafford) got the ball out quickly at times, and then when they held it, protection seemed to be holding up and (they) found some deep balls," Cleveland coach Kevin Stefanski said.
Meanwhile, rookie receiver Puka Nacua has outplayed all expectations of a fifth-round draft pick this season, but the Rams had a scary moment with their young star in the second quarter when he left the game with injuries to his ribs and shoulder.
After making a 20-yard catch on the Browns sideline, Nacua said he landed on the ball as he fell to the ground, causing the injuries.
Nacua stayed down on the sideline and was checked out by the Rams' medical staff before slowly walking off the field.
"What an unbelievable catch he makes on the sideline," McVay said after the win. "I thought he was dead. And then he comes back to life. ... But he is such a tough competitor. I mean the way that he battles through things, the physicality at which he plays this game, he brings an energy to our team that I think you guys can all feel when you watch. It's why he's so fun as a competitor, whether he's got the ball or whether he doesn't have the ball."
Nacua was asked if he felt dead after that play, and he said, "A little bit."
"I wasn't breathing and my shoulder didn't feel like it was in the right place," Nacua said. "But I was good though."
Nacua went into the locker room in the second quarter for scans and some mobility and strength testing to see if he would be able to return to the game. Nacua came back into the game to start the second half, throwing a block on his first play back in.
"He's a tough dude," wide receiver Cooper Kupp said. "What he did was pretty impressive. Super impressive ... For him to play through that is a big deal."
Nacua's 20-yard catch was his fourth and final one of the day, although he had a 31-yard run down the Rams' sideline to set up Los Angeles' game-winning touchdown in the third quarter. The rookie had four catches for 105 yards, including a 70-yard touchdown, before his injury.
On Monday, the Rams reported the injury as an AC sprain. The injury is not expected to affect his availability for Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens, McVay said.
"He was able to kind of gut through it and play really well once he even came back and made a handful of big-time plays," McVay said Monday. "So we might be smart with him early on in the week, but don't expect that to affect his ability to be ready to go with a great challenge this week."
Nacua now has 77 catches for 1,029 yards, setting the franchise record for a rookie in receiving yards. His yardage total is also the fourth-most through a player's first 12 games since the 1970 merger, trailing Odell Beckham Jr. (1,305), Justin Jefferson (1,039) and Anquan Boldin (1,032), according to ESPN Stats and Information.
Nacua is 445 receiving yards away from breaking the 63-year-old professional record for yards by a rookie receiver. Bill Groman set the mark at 1,473 yards in 1960 for the AFL's Houston Oilers.
"He's a grown man," McVay said. "For a rookie, the way he plays this game, even when you look at the way that we were operating where it's pretty obvious that the run concept that we're running, the type of play where the point of attack is, and he was right there and did a great job against as good a defense as there is in this league. And I thought our guys really answered the bell. We've got tremendous respect for this league, knowing that every single week there's so many different challenges that you have to navigate through, but I'm really loving working with this group.
"Puka definitely embodies a lot of the things that are right about this team. ..."
What does the win mean for the Rams' playoff chances?
The Rams entered the game with a 37 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to ESPN Analytics. That rose to 47 percent with their victory over the Browns, the Rams' third in a row. Now at 6-6, the Rams are tied with the Seattle Seahawks and Minnesota Vikings, who entered the day as the Nos. 6 and 7 seeds in the NFC playoff race.
The Rams have another tough test this week, as they travel to Baltimore to face the 9-3 Ravens, who will be coming off a bye week.
After that, however, the Rams face just one team that currently has a winning record in their final four games. ...
Again, Nacua missed nearly all of the second quarter of this game with a rib injury.
When Nacua left, Ben Skowronek took Nacua's role. He played 21 of the 22 snaps in the second quarter while Tutu Atwell and Demarcus Robinson continued rotating for one spot.
While Nacua didn't catch a pass in the second half, he did run the ball twice and he played 24 of the 26 snaps.
According to PFF.com's Nathan Jahnke, Robinson dominated the second-half snaps over Atwell at 20 to 5. Robinson ended up second on the team in receiving yards (55) and caught a touchdown. Atwell caught only one pass for 9 yards.
The chances are that Atwell and Robinson will continue their rotation, making it impossible to trust either for fantasy football. ...
Also of interest. ... Kyren Williams and his offensive line had another productive outing, with Williams going for 88 yards rushing and a touchdown. The second-year pro has 389 yards rushing and four total touchdowns during the three-game win streak, but the line's performance has been equally impressive.
Williams played all but four of the Rams' offensive snaps, playing a role similar to the one he had earlier in the season.
Williams played at least 45 snaps in each of the first six games of the season before landing on injured reserve. He returned from injured reserve last week and played a season-low 61 percent of the snaps. However, that was still 41 total snaps because of how much the Rams offense was on the field.
According to Jahnke, they didn't run as many plays as usual in this game. They had plenty of short drives that ended in punts, and three of their four touchdown drives needed just five or fewer plays. This meant Williams didn't need much time off. He took three consecutive plays off in the second quarter and took one play off in the third.
Williams played well enough last week to be a must-start fantasy option, regardless of the opponent. Now, he will have top-10 upside going forward as long as he doesn't suffer another injury.
Finally. ... Rookie kicker Lucas Havrisik's stock continues to go down after another missed kick, this one from 43 yards. Havrisik missed an extra point and 50-yard field goal in Week 12 against the Arizona Cardinals.
QBs: Matthew Stafford, Carson Wentz, Stetson Bennett
RBs: Kyren Williams, Royce Freeman, Zach Evans, Ronnie Rivers
WRs: Cooper Kupp, Puka Nacua, Tutu Atwell, Ben Skowronek, Demarcus Robinson
TEs: Tyler Higbee, Brycen Hopkins, Hunter Long, Davis Allen
Miami DolphinsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 December 2023
As ESPN.com's Marcel Louis-Jacques reported, Tyreek Hill wants to crack 2,000 receiving yards this season, but even as he remains on pace to make NFL history, the Miami Dolphins wide receiver believes his success this season goes beyond the numbers.
Hill recorded 157 yards and two touchdowns on five catches in Sunday's 45-15 win over the Washington Commanders, with his scores coming on 78-yard and 60-yard connections with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa in the first half.
When asked whether this was the best season of his eight-year career, Hill responded in the affirmative -- but added that it had little to do with the stats he has put up.
"I believe I am having my best season, even if I didn't have the numbers, you know what I'm saying? I feel like I'm doing a great job of being in the right spot for the quarterback and making sure I'm doing a great job blocking and just understanding this whole offense," Hill said. "This past offseason, I really had a chance to just look back and just understand my mistakes from last year, and I took it head on. I'm the type of player -- I put a lot of accountability on myself and I feel like as one of the leaders on this team, I just had to step up and be better.
"Obviously, the stats looked good last year, but there was a lot of room for improvement, and I was like, 'You know what? I'm not going to settle for that. I feel like I can be a whole lot better.'"
Hill set a career high with 1,710 yards on 119 receptions in 2022 but has already recorded 1,481 yards on 92 catches in 12 games this season. The league leader in receiving yards is on pace for 2,098, which would make him the first player in NFL history to crack 2,000 in a season.
His big day was evident from Miami's opening drive, when he beat Commanders cornerback Jartavius Martin for a 78-yard touchdown on Miami's third offensive play of the game. Hill said Tagovailoa noticed the man coverage with no safety over the top and changed his route to a slot fade. The play marked Hill's 11th career touchdown of at least 75 yards, fourth most in NFL history. Commanders coach Ron Rivera said his defense wasn't tight enough on Hill's release and should have given Martin help over the top.
"Those guys are great at what they do, and they also get paid, man," Hill said. "But at some point, it's like, I don't know man. I just appreciate it. Thanks for not respecting me, I guess."
Hill's second touchdown came midway through the second quarter, when he broke inside on a deep post route. Tagovailoa threw the ball inside the numbers but closer to the sideline than the direction Hill was headed. Hill adjusted while the ball was in flight and made an over-the-shoulder catch in stride for the score.
Initially, Hill said he called Tagovailoa out for not leading him properly -- but recanted when they reviewed the play on the sideline and realized Tagovailoa threw the ball "exactly where I was supposed to be."
"On that play specifically, the ball is designated to go at a certain spot with what we tell our receivers," Tagovailoa said. "And on that play, the ball -- they were to expect the ball on the inside edge of the numbers. Now I can lead him in more, but I try to throw them away from the middle of the field safety. So if you go back, it landed on the inside edge of the numbers, but phenomenal, phenomenal job by what Tyreek did. I mean, that's tough to do, especially going as fast as he's going. That's remarkable."
Head coach Mike McDaniel called Hill's catch "insane" and compared it to Willie Mays tracking down a ball in center field.
Hill's performance marked his eighth 100-yard game of the season and his third in as many weeks.
Worth noting. ... Miami surpassed 400 yards of offense for the sixth time this season and converted seven of 13 third-down attempts. Tagovailoa's 141.0 passer rating was the second-highest of his career and fourth-best by any quarterback in a road game this season.
Tagovailoa now has 21 consecutive games with a touchdown pass, the longest active streak in the NFL.
Linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel intercepted Sam Howell and returned it 33 yards for a touchdown, giving the Dolphins two straight games with a pick-6.
Rookie running back De'Von Achane returned after missing five of the past six games with a knee injury and finished with 17 carries, 103 scrimmage yards and two scores. His nine touchdowns this season (seven rushing, two receiving) are the third-most by a rookie in franchise history.
For the record, Raheem Mostert remained the starter and was ahead of Achane for the first half.
According to PFF.com's Nathan Jahnke, the two were used interchangeably with both running backs playing snaps on each drive of the half. Mostert played 19 of a possible 29 snaps while Achane only played 12.
Mostert had 35 yards on nine carries and a touchdown in that time while Achane ran three times for one yard and caught two passes for nine yards. The Dolphins were up 31-7 at halftime and turned the backfield over to Achane for the second half. Achane played 23 snaps compared to Mostert's four.
This allowed Achane to overtake Mostert in rushing attempts and yards. It also led to the two rushing touchdowns.
Jeff Wilson Jr., who was a major part of the Dolphins offense last week, was restricted for five fourth-quarter snaps, four of which were in the last six minutes of the blowout win. Jahnke notes he can be dropped from most leagues.
The Dolphins face the Tennessee Titans -- on Monday Night Football -- and New York Jets the next two weeks; both games the Dolphins should easily win.
This means both running backs should be viable for fantasy football purposes for at least these two games. ...
Also of interest. ... All seven wide receivers on the Dolphins' 53-man roster were healthy for the first time in a long time. Robbie Chosen was a healthy inactive while Chase Claypool was active but didn't play despite the blowout.
Undrafted rookie running back Chris Brooks had his 21-day practice window open up earlier last week, but he wasn't elevated for this game.
Finally. ... The Dolphins started their eighth line combination of the season and again dealt with injuries when starters Terron Armstead and Rob Hunt went down during the game. Miami allowed just two quarterback hits and no sacks, but depth is a concern.
McDaniel said after the game that Armstead was available to return if needed. ... Hunt left in the third quarter after aggravating a hamstring injury that he's been dealing with for several weeks. ... LB Jerome Baker sprained the medial collateral ligament in his knee Sunday and did not return.
He is week to week, won't need surgery and will avoid injured reserve, McDaniel said Tuesday. It is a signal Baker could return before the regular season ends.
With Baker out, Duke Riley played 57 percent of the team's defensive snaps and finished with a team-high six tackles. The veteran linebacker can cover sideline to sideline and should see an increased role If Baker misses time. Van Ginkel could also slide to middle linebacker as the Dolphins grow comfortable mixing recent signee Jason Pierre-Paul into the rotation.
It's potentially another major hit to a linebacker corps that just lost Jaelan Phillips for the season last week.
QBs: Tua Tagovailoa, Mike White, Skylar Thompson
RBs: Raheem Mostert, De'Von Achane, Jeff Wilson, Salvon Ahmed, Christopher Brooks
WRs: Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle, Braxton Berrios, Cedrick Wilson, Chase Claypool, River Cracraft
TEs: Durham Smythe, Julian Hill, Tyler Kroft
Minnesota VikingsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 December 2023
As they welcome All-Pro receiver Justin Jefferson back to their active roster, the Minnesota Vikings still have to decide which of their three quarterbacks is -- among other things -- best suited to maximize Jefferson's skills, coach Kevin O'Connell said Tuesday.
Kirk Cousins was the Vikings' starter when Jefferson originally injured his right hamstring in Week 4. Since then, however, Cousins has suffered a season-ending Achilles injury, backup Nick Mullens has injured his lower back and No. 3 quarterback Jaren Hall has suffered a concussion.
Newcomer Josh Dobbs has played the majority of the Vikings' past four games, but after leading them to victories in his first two, Dobbs has committed six turnovers in consecutive losses.
After Dobbs threw four interceptions in a 12-10 loss to the Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football in Week 12, O'Connell said he would use the team's upcoming bye to reevaluate his options at the position.
Last Tuesday, he said Jefferson's return is "definitely a part" of the discussion he'll have with his coaching staff and the team's front office before choosing a starter for the Vikings' Week 14 game at the Las Vegas Raiders. Both Mullens and Hall are now healthy and were in uniform Monday night.
"Justin's role in our offense, really from Day 1 since we arrived here, has always been very, very significant," O'Connell said (via ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert). "Anytime you can infuse the best receiver in football back into your offense, there's going to be ways to not only get Justin going and make sure he has a critical impact on the football game ... [and] the quarterback position absolutely plays into that.
"We're going to make sure that whoever is playing quarterback is aware and understands the intent behind plays where either Justin is the primary [target], or based upon coverage, based upon the defensive look, how to quickly and efficiently get to the right place to go with the football. In the end that's what the NFL passing game is about: rhythm, timing, understanding that the defense can and will take some things away, but progressing in rhythm."
O'Connell noted that Mullens has many of those attributes, given his 1½-year tenure in the Vikings' offense, while also pointing out that Hall "showed some real positives" in a short stint against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 9 before suffering his concussion.
He said that Dobbs' contributions during that stretch of injuries "can't be discounted."
Dobbs, however, has been "trying to make up for a lot of time on task" that he missed while spending training camp with the Cleveland Browns and the first half of the season with the Cardinals, O'Connell said.
"There are still a lot of things that are new for him," O'Connell said, "and just the margin of error, when you're talking about the NFL pass game, can be razor thin sometimes. The difference between conversions and chances for catch-and-runs versus potential turnover-worthy plays is such a small margin of error. That's what I'm trying to balance throughout the game, throughout our preparation, to make sure we do whatever we can to control what we can to put our players in the best possible situation.
"If that means molding and adapting more than we have, that's what we'll take a look at doing. If that means obviously trying to mix and match and figure out what's best personnel-wise, we'll take a look at that as well."
Vikings players had the bulk of last week off before reconvening on Monday after the bye.
O'Connell said there was no timetable yet for deciding on a starter, and he did not say whether he prefers to have someone in place for the full week of practice or will evaluate multiple options before deciding closer to the day of the game against the Raiders.
In case you missed it, Jefferson was formally added to the 53-man roster Tuesday. Wide receiver N'Keal Harry was waived in the corresponding move.
Watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for more on the team's plans at quarterback, Jefferson's return and other items of interest in coming days.
QBs: Josh Dobbs, Nick Mullens, Jaren Hall, Kirk Cousins
RBs: Alexander Mattison, Ty Chandler, C.J. Ham, Kene Nwangwu, Cam Akers
WRs: Justin Jefferson, Jordan Addison, K.J. Osborn, Brandon Powell, Jalen Nailor
TEs: T.J. Hockenson, Josh Oliver, Johnny Mundt, Nick Muse
New England PatriotsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 December 2023
As Associated Press sports writer Jimmy Golen suggested, the NFL made the right decision by flexing the New England Patriots' home game against Kansas City out of the high-profile "Monday Night Football" broadcast and into a regular old Sunday afternoon slot.
Golen went on to explain the once-proud Patriots (2-10) have lost five straight games and are the worst team in the AFC.
Things have gotten so bad for the six-time Super Bowl champions that the league pulled their Week 15 matchup against Kansas City out of prime time -- even though it meant giving up a national TV audience for the defending NFL champs, quarterback Patrick Mahomes and megastar Taylor Swift, whose trips to watch love interest Travis Kelce play have created a whole new cohort of football fans.
But Sunday's 6-0 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers showed how poor the NFL product can be when it's played by at least one -- and probably two -- teams lacking in talent and coaching. With just two field goals scored, it was the lowest-scoring game since 2018; neither team advanced past the 20 yard-line; combined, they punted 15 times in 20 full possessions.
"It's a very simple game: You've got to score points. You've got to score points to have a chance to win," Patriots center David Andrews said. "You can boil it down to whatever you want, but at the end of the day, it comes down to points. We've got to find ways to generate more points."
The Chargers (5-7) at least have quarterback Justin Herbert to give them hope for the future.
Incumbent Patriots QB Mac Jones was benched on Sunday in favor of Bailey Zappe, who'd won his only two NFL starts while Jones was injured last year.
But Zappe was no better, completing 13 of 25 passes for 141 yards. Although he managed to avoid an interception -- he'd thrown one in each of the previous two games after relieving Jones, with a chance to win it -- he was sacked five times. Twice he went down on back-to-back plays to take New England out of field goal range.
And that's against the team that had given up the most yards in the NFL this season.
How bad have things gotten for coach Bill Belichick, who fell to 27-36 since Tom Brady left for Tampa Bay?
It's the Patriots' first five-game losing streak since 1995. They have scored the fewest points in the NFL, and they are on pace to be the lowest-scoring team in the league since 2011. They were shut out at home twice in a season for the first time in franchise history. They are the first team since the leather helmet-wearing 1938 Chicago Cardinals to allow 10 or fewer points in three straight games and lose them all.
"It's frustrating. Very frustrating. I'm frustrated, I know we're all frustrated," tight end Hunter Henry said. "The defense is hanging us in there. We've got to be better offensively and score some points and find a way to get a win."
Do the Patriots tank and try for a top-two draft pick, or try to salvage something out of the season?
With Belichick pursuing -- in theory, at least -- Don Shula's record for all-time coaching victories, don't expect him to give away any wins.
This week, Thursday night's road game against the Steelers (7-5) and backup quarterback Mitch Trubisky could be an opportunity to snap the losing streak. ...
Meanwhile, Zappe was at the podium for a press conference on Tuesday and that's a pretty good sign about who the Patriots plan to start at quarterback against the Steelers, but Zappe wasn't willing to confirm that he'll be back in the saddle this week.
Zappe told reporters Tuesday that Belichick has made the team's choice clear to players before deferring to Belichick when it comes to the kind of official proclamation that he has avoided making about his quarterback in recent weeks.
"Coach has made it pretty clear, but I'll let him announce it to everybody. That's private right now, but whenever he announces it that's with him," Zappe said, via NBCSportsBoston.com.
The Patriots elevated Malik Cunningham against the Chargers and Jones was also active, but neither of them got into the game.
One major issue?
Tests showed that running back Rhamondre Stevenson suffered a high ankle sprain and is expected to miss "a few weeks," a source told ESPN's Adam Schefter.
Stevenson sustained the right ankle sprain in the first quarter of Sunday's loss. Veteran Ezekiel Elliott is expected to take over Stevenson's lead role.
"It's tough to see guys go down," Elliott said Monday. "I know it's part of the sport, but Rhamondre has been very, very good for us this year in the pass game and run game. You hate to see one of your brothers go down."
Stevenson leads the Patriots with 619 rushing yards on 156 carries (3.96 average), and also is the team's leading receiver (38 catches).
After Stevenson's injury Sunday, Elliott became the team's workhorse, finishing with a season-high 44 snaps. On the season, Elliott has played 38 percent of the offensive snaps and has totaled 429 rushing yards on 112 carries (3.83 average).
Elliott, in his first season with the Patriots after spending the first seven years of his career with the Dallas Cowboys, relayed that he's ready for an increased role if called upon.
"I think the more and more I'm in there, the better I'll be. The more touches I get, the better I get with the game going on," he said.
The Patriots also have eight-year veteran Ty Montgomery and fourth-year player JaMycal Hasty on the running back depth chart, with 2022 sixth-round pick Kevin Harris on the practice squad.
I'll use this time for what's likely an unnecessary reminder: New England ranks last in the NFL in points per game (12.3).
In addition, Sunday's game was the first time in franchise history the Patriots were shut out in multiple home games in a season (they lost 34-0 to the Saints in Week 5). They were shut out in one home game from 1994 to 2022 (the first 29 seasons of Robert Kraft's ownership). It's also the first time since 1993 they didn't score a first-half point in back-to-back games, and the first time they've been shut out multiple times in a season since 1992 (when they were blanked three times).
That said, the running game, with Stevenson leading the way, has been one of the bright spots. ...
A few final notes. ... Both sixth-round rookie wide receivers Demario Douglas and Kayshon Boutte were inactive.
According to PFF.com's Nathan Jahnke, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Tyquan Thornton played every snap in 11 personnel. DeVante Parker took the majority of snaps in that group. Jalen Reagor occasionally took his place. Smith-Schuster and Parker were the primary players in 12 personnel while Thornton also played significant snaps in that personnel grouping.
Parker was the only one who was close to mattering for fantasy football purposes with four receptions for 64 yards, which led the Patriots.
Both Smith-Schuster and Reagor were limited to a reception each while Thornton was left without a catch.
The Patriots might be stuck with some of these receivers in 2024. Both Parker and Smith-Schuster wouldn't give much cap savings if released, even as post-June 1st moves. ...
Mike Gesicki has almost completely been phased out of the Patriots offense. He played at least 30 offensive snaps in eight of the first 10 games, but he only played 18 snaps last week and five Sunday. He's averaged 0.78 yards per route run this season.
Finally. ... The Patriots didn't make many changes to their injury report Tuesday.
Boutte (shoulder) returned to practice and was a limited participant. He did not practice Monday.
Elliott (thigh), offensive guard Sidy Sow (ankle), defensive lineman Deatrich Wise (illness) and cornerback Shaun Wade (illness) are off the report.
The rest of the report remained the same.
Douglas (concussion) and Stevenson (ankle) again were non-participants.
Smith-Schuster (ankle), Parker (knee), defensive lineman Christian Barmore (shoulder), linebacker Chris Board (back), offensive tackle Trent Brown (ankle/hand) and offensive lineman Riley Reiff (knee) remained limited.
QBs: Bailey Zappe, Mac Jones
RBs: Rhamondre Stevenson, Ezekiel Elliott, JaMycal Hasty
WRs: DeVante Parker, Demario Douglas, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Tyquan Thornton, Kayshon Boutte, Matt Slater, Kendrick Bourne
TEs: Hunter Henry, Mike Gesicki, Pharaoh Brown
New Orleans SaintsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 December 2023
Quarterback Derek Carr is in the concussion protocol after sustaining his second concussion in three weeks, according to head coach Dennis Allen.
Carr left Sunday's game against the Detroit Lions and the Saints' Week 10 game against the Minnesota Vikings to go into the concussion protocol but sustained other injuries in both of those games as well. Carr, who sprained the AC joint in his throwing shoulder in Week 3 against the Green Bay Packers, has been listed with shoulder injuries in all three games.
"There's something there that he's still working through. It's not something that keeps him from being able to play or be effective when he's playing. Pretty typical that when a guy has an injury, if he's getting any sort of treatment at all, that he's listed that way on the injury report," Allen said.
Allen said that Carr's shoulder appears to be OK after the Lions game but that Carr is being evaluated for a rib injury. The rib injury was initially described as a back injury when Carr left the game Sunday.
"We don't have all the results back on that, but the shoulder seems like it came out fine," Allen said. "We'll evaluate him as he goes throughout the week and see what his availability is."
As ESPN.com's Katherine Terrell noted, backup quarterback Jameis Winston would be the likely starter if Carr is unable to play against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday. Winston has come in for Carr in the three games Carr left while injured this season.
"Jameis, he does some good things. He's been a starter in our league," Allen said. "There's a reason why he's here as our backup. If Derek's not able to go, the plan right now would be that Jameis would be in there. We'll put a plan together that gives him an opportunity to have success."
They need some success.
While the New Orleans Saints have time to salvage this season and a relatively weak upcoming schedule, Associated Press sports writer Brett Martel contends they may have hit a new low point.
The Saints (5-7) have lost three straight for the first time this season to fall a full game behind first-place Atlanta in the NFC South.
Not everybody is happy about. Michael Thomas is more vocal about it than others.
The two-time All-Pro receiver, who is currently on injured reserve for at least two more games, put out a series of seemingly critical posts about Carr on social media during Sunday's loss.
While the Superdome crowd was booing in response to an interception Carr threw on New Orleans' opening offensive play, Thomas posted on X (that receiver A.T. Perry was "wide open."
The insinuation was that Carr didn't see Perry alone on the left side of the field when he instead threw his ill-fated pass over the middle, which bounced off tight end Juwan Johnson's hands and was scooped out of the air by defensive back Brian Branch.
Later, Thomas posted that when "your eyes don't work you get people hurt it's no mystery."
As the Saints continued to struggle against the Lions, Thomas posted, "What you permit, you promote. What you allow, you encourage. What you condone, you own."
While the posts were vague enough to be open to interpretation, the Saints apparently weren't pleased.
Thomas de-activated his X account and Allen said on Monday that he'd been made aware of Thomas' social media activity on Sunday night.
Allen declined to go into detail about the team's reaction or whether any disciplinary action was taken against Thomas, who also was arrested earlier this season for allegedly threatening construction workers near his suburban home.
"We'll keep that in-house," Allen said.
Thomas, who has 39 catches for 448 yards and a touchdown, hurt his knee in Minnesota in Week 10. He is eligible to come off injured reserve for New Orleans' Dec. 21 game against the Rams in Los Angeles. ...
One thing that's working?
The Saints finally appeared to have figured out packages of offensive plays and personnel that work inside in the red zone. All four of their possessions inside the Detroit 20 ended with touchdowns. They came into the game fourth worst in the NFL in red zone offense, scoring touchdowns on just 42.5 percent of trips inside an opponent's 20. ...
Part of that is due to the work of Alvin Kamara, now holds the record for most rushing touchdowns (53) in New Orleans Saints history.
This season has been full of record breaking moments for Kamara. He has broken the team record for most total touchdowns, 2 point conversions and now rushing touchdowns. He took the title from his old running mate, Mark Ingram, for those last two records.
He also tied the lead for the most 2-point conversions in league history this year.
Kamara scored two touchdowns in the second half against the Detroit Lions, both of which were scores at the goal line. These scores helped New Orleans be more efficient in the red zone. Despite Kamara playing well, these were his first touchdowns since Oct. 29 versus the Indianapolis Colts. ...
Chris Olave returned just one week after leaving a game with a concussion and had an outstanding second half, hitting the 100-yard receiving mark (119 yards on five catches) for the second straight game.
This was his second-best game of his career in terms of receiving yards after making his third-best game last week.
The Saints needed Olave to come through. Rashid Shaheed was inactive with a thigh injury while Thomas is on injured reserve.
A.T. Perry has been a top-three receiver for New Orleans since Thomas' injury while Lynn Bowden, who's been a rotational receiver for the Saints all season, stepped up as well. Perry caught his only target for 30 yards while Bowden caught a five-yard pass while rushing once for four yards and again for -10 yards.
Marquez Callaway, who started the year with the Denver Broncos and then spent some time with the Las Vegas Raiders practice squad, was signed to the Saints practice squad recently after Thomas' injury and was brought up to the active roster for this game. Callaway had spent three years with the Saints, but was only the fourth receiver in passing situations in this game and didn't see a target.
Ideally, Shaheed will be able to return for this week. ...
Tight end Jimmy Graham caught his second pass of the season. Like the first, back in Week 3, it was a touchdown on a red zone play. Allen had foreshadowed getting the 37-year-old Graham -- who'd been a healthy scratch in recent weeks -- back into the lineup because of New Orleans' red zone struggles. He did, and it worked.
Johnson was unable to hold on to two seemingly accurate passes, the first being the lone interception Carr threw against Detroit. In 2022, Johnson led the Saints in touchdown catches with seven. This season, he has 18 catches for 142 yards and one TD in eight games. He missed four games with a calf injury.
Again, the Saints host Carolina in the first of two straight home games against sub-.500 teams.
New Orleans hosts the New York Giants in Week 15. Not one team left on New Orleans' schedule currently has a winning record.
QBs: Derek Carr, Jameis Winston, Jake Haener
RBs: Alvin Kamara, Jamaal Williams, Kendre Miller
WRs: Chris Olave, Rashid Shaheed, A.T. Perry, Keith Kirkwood, Lynn Bowden, Michael Thomas
TEs: Juwan Johnson, Taysom Hill, Foster Moreau, Jimmy Graham
New York GiantsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 December 2023
The New York Giants are back from their late bye week and are heading into a tough five-game stretch with no room for error if they are to have any chance of making the playoffs for a second straight year.
Brian Daboll's team has had a week to rest and recover from 12 weeks of nagging injuries, just so they could walk into work on Monday feeling somewhat normal.
As Associated Press sports writer Tom Canavan noted, the Giants (4-8) face an near-impossible task.
They are two games out of a wild-card spot and probably need to win out, just to finish with a 9-8 record. The final five starts next Monday night with a home game against the Green Bay Packers (6-6), who opened a lot of eyes by knocking off the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs on Sunday night.
The last four includes two games with the Eagles (10-2) and games at New Orleans (5-7) and home against the Los Angeles Rams (6-6).
Darius Slayton said his approach to the games will be the same one he had at the start of the season.
"Everything that we want to accomplish is still out there possible for us and we just have to do a good job of taking it one week at a time, one game at a time, one opponent at a time," he said.
"If we're able to keep stacking wins, you know, we had two wins before the bye. If we keep stacking wins, we'll end up where we want to be."
The Giants will have an interesting twist to this week. They are riding their first two-game winning streak of the season behind the play of their defense and the unexpected, mistake-free play of undrafted free agent rookie quarterback Tommy DeVito. The New Jersey product has gone 2-1 as the starter since Daniel Jones was lost for the season with an ACL injury.
The wrinkle heading into this week is that 34-year-old backup Tyrod Taylor is returning to practice this week after spending a month on injured reserve with a rib injury. He had replaced Jones (neck) at the start of October and started three games before injuring his ribs against the Jets. DeVito finished that game.
Jones returned the following week at Las Vegas and injured his knee in the first half. Re-enter DeVito.
Daboll last week refused to discuss whether he would start DeVito or Taylor, when the 13-year veteran was ready to return.
Daboll made the announcement about the team's plans for Week 14 on Tuesday: DeVito will get another start at quarterback for the Giants.
The move with Taylor, who was designated to return from IR, allows him to resume practicing with the team and he could be activated to serve as DeVito's backup ahead of the matchup with the Packers. Matt Barkley has been DeVito's backup the last three games, but he was waived off the active roster on Monday.
He could return to the practice squad and get elevated to serve as a backup if he clears waivers.
Meanwhile, inside linebacker Bobby Okereke said he watched a lot of football on Sunday and was impressed by Matt LaFleur's Packers and the performance of quarterback Jordan Love in their 27-19 win over Kansas City.
"Jordan does a good job of getting the ball down the field and just the efficiency they have from that offense," Okereke said. "I mean obviously, LaFleur and (Jets quarterback) Aaron Rodgers, like that whole rapport that they have and fundamentals of running that offense, I think Jordan has done a good job of picking that up."
Although he did not watch the Packers' game Sunday night, cornerback Adoree Jackson has watched Love over recent weeks and knows he can play.
However, his focus is on his Giants teammates.
"For us, the little picture is just playing for each other and not worrying about tomorrow, focusing on today, and understanding when you do that, good things can and will happen," Jackson said. "So, for us, I think the bye came at a great time."
He recalled when in college at Southern California, the end of the season was considered 'No Loss November.' If a team did that, if had a chance to play meaningful football games later on.
"Going into this stretch in December, it's the same way getting ready for playoff football," he said. "So, for us just to go out there and put everything on tape, showcase us and then play for one another. ..."
For what it's worth, Taylor learned Tuesday that when he's put back on the active roster, it will be as the No. 2 quarterback. Taylor wasn't happy about it.
Asked how he felt about Daboll's decision, Taylor admitted he's frustrated.
"Disappointed," Taylor said. "But it's part of the game."
Taylor knows well that it's part of the game. At times in his career he's lost starting jobs to Nathan Peterman, Baker Mayfield, Justin Herbert and Davis Mills.
Taylor declined to go into any details about how he's feeling or any communications he's had with Daboll about the decision. But it's easy to understand why he's disappointed, as he again finds himself losing a job to a younger quarterback.
QBs: Tommy DeVito, Tyrod Taylor, Daniel Jones
RBs: Saquon Barkley, Matt Breida, Gary Brightwell, Eric Gray
WRs: Darius Slayton, Wan'Dale Robinson, Jalin Hyatt, Parris Campbell, Isaiah Hodgins, Sterling Shepard
TEs: Daniel Bellinger, Lawrence Cager, Chris Myarick, Darren Waller
New York JetsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 December 2023
According to Associated Press sports writer Dennis Waszak Jr., this is where the New York Jets are at right now: "Someone will start at quarterback Sunday against the Houston Texans.
"Well, unless they run the wildcat all game.
"You never know in what has become a brutally bad year on offense for the Jets, who have lost five in a row and appear headed to a 13th straight season without a playoff appearance. ..."
Indeed, the Jets are immersed in a quarterback controversy, but not the usual kind. This one revolves around Zach Wilson and whether he wants his old job back.
But first, we know who won't be starting.
Continuing the ongoing quarterback carousel, the Jets waived Tim Boyle on Tuesday and will fill his spot on the roster by signing Brett Rypien from the Seattle Seahawks' practice squad, a source told ESPN.com's Rich Cimini.
As noted above, head coach Robert Saleh still hasn't named his starter for Sunday against the Houston Texans.
The other two quarterbacks on the roster are Wilson, the likely choice, and Trevor Siemian.
The Boyle era, so to speak, lasted two starts. After beginning the season on the practice squad, he climbed the depth chart in the aftermath of Aaron Rodgers' Week 1 Achilles injury. Desperate for a spark, Saleh started Boyle in Week 12, benching Wilson.
In two starts, Boyle completed 41 of 63 passes for 327 yards, 1 touchdown and 4 interceptions. One of the interceptions was the infamous "Fail Mary" against the Miami Dolphins -- a Hail Mary that was returned 99 yards for a touchdown.
Saleh didn't directly criticize Boyle after Sunday's 13-8 loss to the Atlanta Falcons, but he was clearly unhappy. Boyle, replaced in the fourth quarter by Siemian, was pulled after a third-quarter interception. Afterward, Saleh said there were "a lot of missed opportunities" in the passing game -- a veiled reference to Boyle's inability to find open receivers.
On Monday, Saleh said he did "some good things," but he reiterated the missed chances and added, "But at the end of the day, we've got to score points, we got to find something to get the ball in the end zone."
Will that something be a move back to Wilson?
The decision might have been muddied when Dianna Russini of The Athletic reported that the team is leaning toward Wilson, but that he's reluctant to play because of the perceived injury risk.
Saleh insisted that isn't the case, saying Wilson came to him around 3 p.m. ET on Monday and expressed a desire to start. It's not clear if Wilson sought out his coach because of the report.
"If he was reluctant to play, guys, he wouldn't be here," Saleh told reporters.
"The young man wants the ball. He wants to start," the coach added. "He believes he's the best quarterback in the room and the best quarterback for this team and the guy who gives us the best chance to win. And I'll tell you guys the same thing I told him: I appreciate it. I appreciate the fact that he wants to play. I'm just not there yet [with a decision]."
It's an unusual twist for a team that has been hampered for years by quarterback instability. The season was built around Rodgers, but his Week 1 injury forced the Jets to turn to Wilson, who was benched after nine starts in favor of Boyle. He in turn was replaced by Siemian in the fourth quarter of Sunday's 13-8 loss to the Atlanta Falcons.
The Jets (4-8), losers of five straight, have scored only 45 points during the skid.
Chances are, Saleh will return to Wilson, but Cimini views the delay in the decision as being curious.
When he went from Wilson to Boyle, the announcement was made on a Monday. Saleh might want to take the temperature of the locker room before promoting a player perceived to be apprehensive about the job.
Later, in his weekly spot on "The Michael Kay Show" on ESPN New York radio, Saleh said it's "conceivable" that Wilson made a comment to a teammate about being reluctant to return to the lineup, which got leaked. Saleh said he wouldn't hold that against a player; he said he makes judgments based on direct conversations with players.
Wilson, drafted No. 2 in 2021, has been benched three times over his career and probably will be released after the season. He has one year remaining on a four-year, $35 million contract, including $5.5 million fully guaranteed in 2024. He gets that money no matter what, but a significant injury would hurt his overall value on the open market.
Saleh admitted there could be some concern about Wilson's head space after being bounced around so much.
"Empathetically, I'm sure there would be," he said. "We had this story last year and I think it's different. I think last year he truly lost confidence in himself. I think this year, as demonstrated by [Monday's meeting], he knows damn well he should be on the football field."
Publicly, Wilson accepted his latest demotion without complaining, although he has been "very upset" about not playing, Saleh said on the Kay show. He was dropped to third string for two games, as the Jets continued to sputter on offense. Boyle led only one touchdown drive in 18 possessions; Siemian completed only 5 of 13 passes for 66 yards off the bench.
"I think the cool thing about Zach is he's been working really hard, because no matter what his future holds, I think he understands that he wants to become the best quarterback that he can become still, no matter what that is," tight end Tyler Conklin said.
The Jets have played four different quarterbacks for the second straight year under Saleh. If Siemian gets the starting nod, it would be the first time since 1989 that the Jets have started four quarterbacks in the same season. Wilson had only six touchdown passes in 10 games, but at least he moved the offense at times, passing for 1,944 yards.
Then there's Rodgers, who hasn't ruled out playing again. But it's a long shot, especially with the Jets on the verge of mathematical elimination from the playoffs. Rodgers, nearly three months removed from Achilles surgery, is expected to practice for a second week. But don't expect him to suit up Sunday against the Texans.
"I'm going to piggyback on what he told you guys and that anything's possible," Saleh said. "But don't hold your breath."
But the question at this point for the Jets is will anyone on the current active roster make a difference?
The Jets have scored fewer than two touchdowns on offense in eight straight games. They also have just two touchdowns total on offense in their past five games.
Their third down conversion efficiency (23.1 percent) and red zone conversion rate (27 percent) are still on track to be among the worst in recent NFL history.
Some of the blame rests on offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett's shoulders, but a lot also can be attributed to the quarterbacks -- whomever it is under center -- missed assignments, an ever-changing offensive line and too many penalties.
"We just have to find our rhythm," running back Dalvin Cook said. "We just have to find ourselves."
Once Saleh and the Jets decide on a starting quarterback, the focus will be on trying to beat the Texans to keep their minuscule playoff hopes alive -- along with the dwindling hopes Rodgers will come back to lead the postseason charge. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Second-year running back Breece Hall has slumped badly, running for just 72 yards on 43 carries in his past four games -- an average of just 1.7 yards per attempt. Hall ran 13 times for 16 yards against Atlanta.
There were reports before the game that Cook would receive more carries this week, which ended up being true. Cook ran the ball nine times, which was a season-high since Week 1. He ran two times or less in four of his last five games.
While Cook was back to taking a higher percentage of snaps on early downs, Hall still received the most work on early downs but also was the third-down back. Thanks to that role, he caught six of his eight targets. It was just the fifth time in his career that he caught six or more passes.
As PFF.com's Nathan Jahnke notes, this move will probably be a positive change for Hall's fantasy value. It might mean fewer carries but more targets, which are more valuable for fantasy points. ...
Rookie receiver Xavier Gipson was one of the few bright spots against Atlanta, finishing with 5 catches for 77 yards -- both career highs. He brought some energy to the offense, not that it resulted in much on the scoreboard. ...
On the injury front. ... Saleh said TE C.J. Uzomah (MCL in right knee) and DL Perrion Winfrey (right foot) will be placed on injured reserve with what appear to be season-ending injuries. ... WR Jason Brownlee (left ankle) will be evaluated during the week.
QBs: Zach Wilson, Trevor Siemian, Aaron Rodgers
RBs: Breece Hall, Dalvin Cook, Israel Abanikanda
WRs: Garrett Wilson, Xavier Gipson, Jason Brownlee, Allen Lazard, Randall Cobb, Charles Irvin
TEs: Tyler Conklin, Jeremy Ruckert, C.J. Uzomah, Kenny Yeboah
Philadelphia EaglesCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 December 2023
As ESPN.com's Tim McManus framed it, "After weeks of living on the edge, the Eagles' uneven play finally got the better of them in a lopsided 42-19 loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday. ..."
"We're not good enough right now," veteran center Jason Kelce said. "Obviously, disappointed in the way we performed, didn't get it done today. But we've still got some games left, a lot of football to learn from. I still have the utmost confidence in everybody in this locker room on both sides of the ball. This game doesn't do anything to sway that."
The Eagles had trailed at halftime in each of their previous four games but managed to rally and win all of them, tying an NFL record.
That string came to a halt Sunday, as San Francisco built a 14-6 halftime lead then kicked it into high gear after intermission, handing Philadelphia its second-largest loss under coach Nick Sirianni. (Its worst loss was by 25 points to the Dallas Cowboys in Week 18 of the 2021 season with the Eagles resting many of their starters for the playoffs.)
"We didn't coach good enough, didn't play good enough. Simple as that. And why do you not do that? Well, you have to give credit to them too. That's a really good football team. If you don't come out and play your best game against the guys that they have and the coaches that they have, it's going to look like that," Sirianni said. "So, we have to coach better. Have to play better. We have a lot to clean up."
Philadelphia struggled in the red zone early in the season but had turned things around of late, going 10-for-10 on scoring touchdowns in the red zone over its past three games. The issue resurfaced Sunday, however, with the Eagles failing to score TDs on their first two trips inside the 20-yard line and settling for field goals in each case.
"I feel like we started with good rhythm, good tempo, good execution for the most part. We just kind of weren't able to connect and execute like we wanted to in the red zone," said quarterback Jalen Hurts, who finished 26-of-45 passing for 298 yards with two touchdowns (one rushing). "When you're playing a good team like that, every little thing matters."
Worth noting. ... Hurts had a rushing touchdown and a TD pass, giving him 101 combined TDs in his four-year career. He joined Donovan McNabb (244, 1999-2009), Ron Jaworski (187, 1977-86), Randall Cunningham (182, 1985-95), Norm Snead (124, 1964-70) and Carson Wentz (121, 2016-20) as the only Eagles with 100 total touchdowns.
Wide receivers A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith picked up the bulk of their yards early, but little else went right in easily the worst game of Sirianni's tenure.
The Philly defense, which was on the field for 92 plays against the Buffalo Bills last week and was operating without starting linebackers Nakobe Dean and Zach Cunningham due to injury, faltered after a strong start, yielding 456 yards of offense.
Niners wide receiver Deebo Samuel scored three touchdowns on the day. According to Next Gen stats, 115 of his 116 receiving yards came after the catch.
"We didn't do a lot of things right," said defensive tackle Fletcher Cox. "We didn't tackle. We didn't cover. We missed a bunch of plays."
The Eagles (10-2) now turn their attention to another big matchup at the rival Dallas Cowboys (9-3) this week.
The Eagles beat the Cowboys last month and could open some distance in the standings with a series sweep. The Cowboys are 3-point favorites, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.
Beyond that, the race for the top seed in the NFC has gotten tighter, with the 49ers (9-3) and Detroit Lions (9-3) also in the mix.
There was some chatter among Philadelphia players as they exited the field about seeing this San Francisco team again. That's a very real possibility: Eagles-49ers was the most likely NFC Championship Game matchup heading into the week at 38 percent, according to ESPN Analytics.
"It's a possible rematch," left tackle Jordan Mailata said. "But today, you've got to look yourself in the mirror and say they were the better team. We didn't execute. We failed to execute and didn't capitalize on the opportunities that we had, especially in the red zone. Against a team like that who's well-coached and well-disciplined, you can't afford. ... Those missed opportunities."
Hurts took a shot to the head Sunday that cost him a few plays before he was cleared to return. He knows the Eagles haven't always played to their capabilities -- even if a win is a win -- and need to show they can play a full 60 minutes of strong football.
"It's not a matter of winning or losing. This is about playing to the standard and we didn't play to the standard," he said. "When you play to the standard, you win. I don't think we played to the standard and won yet. ..."
As Associated Press sports writer Dan Gelston noted, from his tush-push calls to leading the Eagles to a Super Bowl to his T-shirt collection promoting some of his favorite players, Sirianni has done little wrong in three seasons as coach. But what was he thinking leaving Hurts -- after he was checked for a concussion -- and the bulk of his starters in the game late in a blowout?
Hurts was cleared and returned to play and sounded coherent afterward. But Sirianni needlessly risked the health of a franchise star when the Eagles had no chance to win.
"We were still down two possessions," Sirianni said. "There was some time. We had our timeouts still. Just trying to continue the game."
Well, three possessions, actually.
"Yeah, we're going to fight to the end," Sirianni said.
To that point: Running back D'Andre Swift was brought to his knees when he was socked over the middle by cornerback Deommodore Lenoir with about three minutes left in the game. Swift made an exit for the locker room following the hit.
At the time, the Eagles trailed by the final score, 42-19. ...
Also of interest. ... Brown averaged only 37 receiving yards over his previous three games but got back on track against the Niners, eclipsing the 100-yard receiving mark for the seventh time this season.
Tight end Dallas Goedert returned to practice last Friday, but he was not back in the lineup for Sunday's loss to the 49ers.
Goedert expects that to change this week. Goedert fractured his forearm in the Eagles' Week 9 win over the Cowboys and he said on WIP Tuesday that he is planning to resume his regular role on the offense as they try for a season sweep in Dallas.
"It's been healing really well," Goedert said. "It's probably feeling like 85-90 percent of the way there. Feeling really good back to normal. ... I'm able to do everything I need to do in my position group, so I'm planning on going down to Dallas and playing every snap that they allow me to. Hopefully I don't have a limit on my snaps. I know when I came back last year I didn't, so hopefully it's kinda the same thing."
Goedert has 38 catches for 410 yards and two touchdowns this season and his return would be welcome for a team trying to hold onto the top seed in the NFC.
I'll have more on Goedert and his progress via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses.
QBs: Jalen Hurts, Marcus Mariota, Tanner McKee
RBs: D'Andre Swift, Kenneth Gainwell, Boston Scott, Rashaad Penny
WRs: A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith, Julio Jones, Olamide Zaccheaus, Quez Watkins
TEs: Dallas Goedert, Jack Stoll, Grant Calcaterra, Albert Okwuegbunam
Pittsburgh SteelersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 December 2023
Kenny Pickett underwent ankle surgery to "accelerate the healing process" on a high sprain to his right ankle, coach Mike Tomlin said Monday.
Pickett will be out for Thursday's game against the New England Patriots, and while declined to give a specific timetable for the quarterback's return, he said the injury is not season-ending.
"They'll always come out of the O.R. with some information in that regard, but I'm just not privy to it as I sit here today," Tomlin said when asked about Pickett's recovery timeline. "That's why I framed it the way that I framed it. Rest assured, he won't be available this week."
Pickett underwent a "TightRope" procedure, sources told ESPN.com's Brooke Pryor. The quarterback had a similar ankle stabilization procedure done on his left ankle in 2020 while at Pitt and returned after four weeks.
Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky took over for Pickett in Sunday's loss to the Arizona Cardinals and will start against the Patriots, while Mason Rudolph will back him up.
"He gets the most work," Tomlin said, explaining the decision to start Trubisky over Rudolph. "You can't give work to three guys, to be quite honest with you. Most of Mason Rudolph's work comes on a scout team offense and so Mitch has been positioned to get the work."
The Steelers also signed former Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley to the practice squad Monday.
Thursday will mark the seventh time in 26 games Trubisky has played because of an injury to Pickett. Tomlin, though, dismissed the idea that Pickett's repeated injuries are a concern.
"He was managing that ankle prior to yesterday," Tomlin said. "I think it was listed on the injury report every day last week and so it got aggravated, and we just did what was necessary in terms of addressing it.
"I don't know that we're viewing it as something that's chronic, particularly with something like an ankle injury, and so we're just dealing with this on a case-by-case basis as we sit here right now."
Earlier this season, Pickett left two games early with a knee bruise and a ribs injury.
After taking over the starting job early in the 2022 season, Pickett exited two games early with concussions and missed one start.
The Steelers are 0-3 in games where Trubisky had to take over this season, while they went 2-1 last season when Trubisky either took over or started after Pickett had become the full-time starter in Week 5.
This season, Trubisky has completed 29 of 49 attempts for 273 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
"He's been a franchise quarterback before," Tomin said of Trubisky. "He's comfortable in those shoes. He doesn't behave like a backup as being elevated, and I think those are things that make him attractive."
Trubisky will step in to face a defense that has held opponents to seven points or fewer in the past three outings. The Patriots' passing defense has also improved in its past three games, limiting opposing offenses to an average of 189.3 yards.
But tight end Pat Freiermuth expressed confidence in Trubisky while downplaying the notion that losing Pickett is deflating to the Steelers and their postseason hopes.
"It'll be the same offense." Freiermuth said Monday. "Mitch takes reps in practice, and we have full confidence in Mitch to execute the game plan. We're just full steam ahead."
Meanwhile, as Associated Press sports writer Will Graves wrote, "Tomlin laughed. Then he bit his tongue."
Asked if he could describe a bafflingly flat 24-10 loss to Arizona on Sunday in one word, the longtime Steelers coach smiled, let out a somewhat sarcastic chuckle, and cautioned that he needed to watch what he said before settling on "subpar."
That's one word for it.
Graves offered another. Well actually, two: "Poorly timed."
The NFL regular season is a grind both physically and mentally, particularly for a team such as the Steelers that engages in rock fights weekly. Upsets happen every Sunday (or Monday, or Thursday). No team -- no matter how good -- is immune.
Flat spots happen. They are unavoidable. It's one of the reasons the 1972 Miami Dolphins pop champagne every year when the last unbeaten team falls.
Yet the Steelers had thought they'd gotten their mystifying no-show out of the way in Houston in Week 4, a loss that looking back doesn't seem nearly as bad now as it did in the moment given the Texans' quick rise to contention.
It turned out to be merely a prelude for four quarters of largely inept play against a team that walked onto the Acrisure Stadium turf 8-28 since a 10-2 start to the 2021 season.
Penalties. Missed tackles. Missed opportunities. The Steelers -- who have thrived in tight games all season and hadn't lost to a team that entered the game with a losing record since Week 4 of the 2022 season -- put on a clinic on how to lose.
They also provided a reminder that they are not talented enough, by a long shot, to overlook anyone. A user-friendly part of the schedule seemingly designed to bolster their postseason chances instead now looks like a minefield, one they will have to navigate in the short term with Trubisky at the helm of the offense.
Pittsburgh is only in the playoff race thanks to the defense.
Yet on a day in which the Steelers could have created a little breathing room over the teams chasing them for a postseason berth while simultaneously putting at least a little heat on AFC North-leading Baltimore, the defense looked ordinary.
For a team almost pathologically averse to scoring, the defense can't afford a quarter off, let alone four of them.
The silver lining is that Cleveland -- now on its fourth quarterback -- also lost. So did Denver. An increasingly pivotal game against resilient Indianapolis looms in two weeks. Ten wins probably gets Pittsburgh into the playoffs, warts and all. Beating a rebuilding team that came in 31st in the league in yards allowed would have nudged the Steelers closer to that number.
Instead, for long stretches during a rare December thunderstorm, it was hard to tell which team was a legitimate postseason contender and which was already looking to 2024.
"I don't know, I felt like that the whole week -- once we got out there, I just felt like something was different," Diontae Johnson said on Tuesday, via 93.7 The Fan. "We [weren't] at our best and what not. But I feel like we just took them [more] lightly than we should have."
Can they get right against the Patriots, another two-win team?
"We can't come in this Thursday with the same mindset," Johnson said. "We're going to be fine. We've moved past it."
One positive in Sunday's loss?
George Pickens. The Steelers got him involved early, targeting him three times on the first drive of the game. Though they weren't consistent in going back to him, Pickens still finished with four catches for 86 yards on five targets.
Beyond Pickett on the injury front. ... Najee Harris (knee) did not participate in practice Tuesday.
Harris was not on the team's initial estimated practice report to start the week on Monday. The Steelers held a walk-through Tuesday, but did not have their starting running back on the field. They'll have just one more day of practice, where they'll test all of their injured players before making decisions on their status for game day.
The knee injury to Harris is new. However, SI.com's Noah Strackbein reports the running back did speak with reporters after practice and did not report any concerns about missing the game.
I'll have more on Harris via Late-Breaking Update in advance of Thursday night's game.
QBs: Mitchell Trubisky, Mason Rudolph, Kenny Pickett
RBs: Najee Harris, Jaylen Warren, Anthony McFarland Jr.
WRs: George Pickens, Diontae Johnson, Allen Robinson, Calvin Austin III, Miles Boykin
TEs: Pat Freiermuth, Darnell Washington
San Francisco 49ersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 December 2023
The San Francisco 49ers took out their frustration over last season's NFC championship game loss at Philadelphia in emphatic fashion.
As Associated Press sports writer Josh Dubow reported, San Francisco overcame a shaky start to overwhelm the Eagles with a 42-19 victory on Sunday that took a little sting out of last season's disappointment, but might only be a precursor to a possible playoff rematch.
"Obviously, we wanted some payback," defensive end Nick Bosa said. "We tried not to think too much about last year, but we knew we could match up with them and more than that, so I think we proved a good point. Obviously, we might have to do it again against them. They're a really good team."
The 49ers felt they never got a real opportunity last season to prove how good they were compared to the Eagles after Brock Purdy injured his elbow on the opening drive and San Francisco played most of the second half of a 31-7 loss without a functioning quarterback.
After going three-and-out and losing 6 yards on the first two drives, the Niners showed why they are currently listed as the Super Bowl favorites.
Led by another outstanding game from Purdy and big plays from Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, Christian McCaffrey and Brandon Aiyuk, San Francisco scored TDs on its next six drives before kneeling it out to end the game.
"I had full confidence that we would have this type of game from the jump," left tackle Trent Williams said. "We got a quarterback, so made it a lot easier this time."
Purdy was nearly perfect after the opening two drives, finishing 19 for 27 for 315 yards and four touchdowns to help the Niners become the first team since the 2019 Ravens to score TDs on six straight drives in a regular-season game.
Purdy got some help from his playmakers as he didn't throw a single pass more than 15 yards downfield, but still averaged 11.6 yards per attempt and 16.5 yards per completion thanks to 212 yards gained after the catch.
"When our whole offense, everybody settled down, which included Brock, too, myself, and I thought he played a (heck) of a game," coach Kyle Shanahan said.
Worth noting. ... In the days and weeks following the Niners' loss to the Eagles in the NFC Championship Game, Samuel offered plenty of fodder for the Eagles' bulletin board. On Sunday, FOX reported that Eagles coach Nick Sirianni showed videos of Samuel and some of his teammates' trash talking as a method of motivation.
But ESPN.com's Nick Wagoner reminded readers that Samuel never has been worried about how opponents might use his words against him. History would suggest that Samuel plays his best when he's engaged in some pregame verbal sparring.
It has happened repeatedly against NFC West division rivals the Los Angeles Rams and Seattle Seahawks.
It happened Sunday.
By the time it was over, Samuel had seven touches from scrimmage for 138 yards, an average of 19.7 yards, and the first three-touchdown game of his career. He's the first 49ers wide receiver with three touchdowns in a game since Terrell Owens in 2001.
He hit 20-plus mph on two of his three touchdowns against the Eagles, including 20.45 mph on his 12-yard touchdown run and 20.23 mph on his 46-yard touchdown catch. Those were the third- and fifth-fastest recorded times by a Niners ball carrier this season.
Samuel gained 116 yards after the catch in Philadelphia, the second-most in a game in his career, as the Niners racked up 216 yards after the catch, their most in a game this season and the most allowed by the Eagles since Week 1 of 2022.
Meanwhile, Purdy's MVP odds are improving by the week. He now is among the favorites for the award after what the 49ers did to the Eagles on Sunday.
The MVP award has become an award given most often to the quarterback of the best team, and the 49ers could be the top team in the NFC.
Samuel is the campaign manager for Purdy.
"Man, my boy number one right now," Samuel told Kay Adams on Tuesday, via 49erswebzone. "It ain't even up for debate."
Purdy now leads the NFL in completion rate (70.2 percent), yards per attempt (9.6) and passer rating (116.1), throwing for 23 touchdowns with six interceptions. Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, who has a league-leading 26 touchdowns, Jalen Hurts, Patrick Mahomes, Tua Tagovailoa, Lamar Jackson, Tyreek Hill and C.J. Stroud are other candidates.
"He's just got to keep stacking games, stacking days, stacking weeks. We got to go out here and continue to make plays for him, and I think he'll get the job done as far as the MVP conversation," Samuel said of Purdy.
"But I don't think that's his ideal goal as far as something that he really wants to accomplish right now. I think, at the end of the day, as a whole, as a group, as a team, we want to be standing there at the end of the year holding the Lombardi Trophy."
Are the 49ers the best team in the NFL?
According to Wagoner the answer is: "Yes. A resounding yes."
The Niners don't have the best record in the NFL, but no one is playing better. The Niners aren't just winning games against good teams such as Philadelphia, Jacksonville, Dallas and Seattle. They're dismantling those teams. Sunday's convincing win in Philadelphia undoubtedly felt good for the 49ers after what happened in last season's NFC Championship Game, but it means far more than some silly measure of revenge for a game played almost a year ago.
The 49ers are now only one game back of the Eagles in the race for the NFC's No. 1 seed and hold the head-to-head tiebreaker. The Niners will likely need to win out to secure that spot, but the way they're playing, there's plenty of reason to believe they can do it.
Next up, San Francisco hosts Seattle on Sunday looking for a series sweep for the second straight season. ...
McCaffrey has run the ball at least 17 times in each of the last three games.
As PFF.com's Nathan Jahnke notes, McCaffrey started the season as a dominant runner. He ran at least 18 times in each of the first five games. He wasn't as involved in the passing game in most of those games. He caught three or fewer passes for 30 or fewer yards in three of those five games.
He then went through a four-game stretch where he didn't run as much but instead saw more targets. He ran between 11 and 16 times in each of those four games but had two games with six receptions, and he caught a touchdown in three of those four games.
He's been a more complete running back the last three weeks. He's run at least 17 times and has at least 7.0 PPR points from receiving in all three games.
He accomplished this against the Eagles despite the team running less than 60 plays and the 49ers playing backups at the end of the game.
"He's been the top fantasy running back this season by a distance," Jahnke summed up, "and he may end the season with 100 more fantasy points than the next closest running back."
Finally. ... The 49ers are adding a veteran defensive back.
Logan Ryan is signing with the club, according to NFL Media's Ian Rapoport.
Ryan, 32, was most recently with the Buccaneers last season. He appeared in nine games with six starts, recording 37 total tackles, three passes defensed, an interception, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. He spent much of the season on injured reserve.
A third-round pick in 2013, Ryan spent his first four seasons with the Patriots before playing his next three with the Titans. He then played for the Giants in 2020 and 2021.
In 149 games with 121 starts, Ryan has recorded 19 interceptions, 13.0 sacks, 19 tackles for loss, and 26 QB hits.
The 49ers waived running back Tyrion Davis-Price on Tuesday, the team announced. They needed the roster spot for Ryan.
Davis-Price appeared in only one game this season, getting six carries for 21 yards on seven snaps against the Cowboys.
He played six games as a rookie, seeing action on 70 offensive snaps and 23 on special teams.
The 49ers made Davis-Price a third-round pick in 2022.
McCaffrey and Elijah Mitchell are atop the depth chart ahead of Jordan Mason.
QBs: Brock Purdy, Sam Darnold, Brandon Allen
RBs: Christian McCaffrey, Elijah Mitchell, Jordan Mason, Kyle Juszczyk
WRs: Brandon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel, Jauan Jennings, Ray-Ray McCloud, Ronnie Bell, Danny Gray
TEs: George Kittle, Charlie Woerner, Brayden Willis, Ross Dwelley, Cameron Latu
Seattle SeahawksCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 December 2023
According to Associated Press sports writer Tim Booth, the perception coming out of another prime-time showcase is the Seahawks put forth a gutty effort and had every chance to end the Dallas Cowboys' long winning streak after outplaying them for chunks of the night.
The reality is the Seahawks are struggling in many ways.
They've lost three straight. They've lost four of the last five. And a high-priced defense has let them down over the past month.
Nevertheless, head coach Pete Carroll remained steadfast in his confidence about where the Seahawks stand a day after the 41-35 loss to Dallas. In fact, Carroll believes his team may be as prepared for the playoffs as they've ever been by what they've experienced during this season.
There's only one small issue that needs to first be overcome for Carroll's belief to be tested: Seattle must find a way to make the playoffs. And right now, at 6-6, that's no sure thing.
"I just believe we're of that caliber," Carroll said Friday. "We have to find our way through it and get there. I don't know that there's enough games. Maybe there isn't. Maybe we run out of games. I don't know. But we're going to have to make some big noise here in the next couple of weeks. And then we've got to just keep on going."
There were takeaways that provided optimism about Seattle moving forward. Geno Smith was terrific and played in rhythm. DK Metcalf had a monster performance with three TDs. Rookie Jaxon Smith-Njigba had the most productive game of his rookie season.
But countering that are continued problems with penalties and a defense that never forced Dallas to punt in 11 possessions.
Only once in the past five games has Seattle held an opponent under 25 points.
Meanwhile, offensive coordinator Shane Waldron was subtly called out by Carroll prior to last week's game. It wasn't a direct condemnation, but the words Carroll used made it clear he expected changes.
Those changes happened and Seattle had its best offensive game of the season. Protections were adjusted to make sure Smith had time and when he did face pressure, there were options that allowed him to get the ball out quickly. Seattle played with an offensive tempo that had been seriously lacking.
Despite the improvement, Waldron's fourth-down calls all failed in the fourth quarter where just one conversion might have changed the outcome.
The end result was we saw the version of Smith that earned accolades last season. He was quick to get the ball out of his hands. He trusted his wide receivers. He made some terrific throws when facing pressure and counterpunched almost every big play made by Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott.
If Seattle can get performances like that from Smith the next two weeks, it'll have a chance against two top opponents, starting this week.
Seattle travels to San Francisco on Sunday, a team has won four straight in the series and thumped the Seahawks 31-13 on Thanksgiving. ...
Seattle came out of the loss with two injuries of note, although the significance of either is still to be determined. Starting linebacker Jordyn Brooks suffered a sprained ankle that didn't allow him to play in the second half. Brooks was in for just 26 plays but did manage to pick up a sack.
Running back Zach Charbonnet suffered a knee bruise in the fourth quarter on one of Seattle's failed fourth-down attempts.
Carroll also did not have an updated timeline on starting running back Kenneth Walker III, who has missed the past two games with an oblique injury.
I'll have more on Walker and Charbonnet via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.
QBs: Geno Smith, Drew Lock
RBs: Kenneth Walker III, Zach Charbonnet, DeeJay Dallas, Kenny McIntosh
WRs: DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Jake Bobo, Cody Thompson, Dareke Young
TEs: Noah Fant, Will Dissly, Colby Parkinson
Tampa Bay BuccaneersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 December 2023
According to ESPN.com's Jenna Laine, Mike Evans knew heading into Sunday's game against the Carolina Panthers that he needed 150 receiving yards to reach 1,000 yards for the 10th consecutive season. He figured he'd get a lot of free access and one-on-one matchups. But he hadn't envisioned that moving into second all time in the history books behind Jerry Rice for most consecutive 1,000-yard seasons would happen so dramatically.
There was a heavy downpour -- a December rarity even for Florida -- that halted the Bucs' downfield passing attack for two quarters and put them in a 10-7 hole with 5:10 to go in the third quarter. That's when quarterback Baker Mayfield hit Evans on a 75-yard catch and run in which Evans reached 20.6 mph, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.
Evans then told the official, "That's a touchdown, baby," before retreating to the sideline and vomiting.
"I was tired, I went to the sideline, I had to throw up a bit, so I'm happy I earned that one," said Evans, who also hit a career high for a different kind of "YAC" (yards after the catch) on both the play (56 yards) and for the game (80 yards).
"That's Mike's deal. ... I've seen Mike puke a bunch of times," fellow receiver Chris Godwin said with a laugh. "We were like sledging through there, couldn't get anything going, and that play sparked us -- it was huge."
Evans still needed 6 yards after that, which he got on an 11-yard out route with 5:02 to go in the fourth quarter, after both teams traded touchdowns and the Panthers succeeded on a two-point conversion attempt to make it 21-18, a score that would stand.
"We knew before that last drive when he was about 4 or 6 yards away," Mayfield said. "Everybody kept saying different numbers. So the first pass play, they probably would have had to double cover him for me to not throw to him."
Mayfield, who shared a hug in the tunnel with Evans after the game said, "I really don't have words to describe what he just did in his career to accomplish that for  seasons in a row. And I'm pretty damn happy that I wasn't the guy to break that streak to be honest with you. But more happy for Mike. That's amazing. He's a first ballot Hall of Famer, and nobody can take that away from him. ... It's truly special. It's one of those things you'll look back on and be able to cherish that moment, that you were a part of it."
Evans said he does think about Rice's record of 11 consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and hopes to match it next year.
He's already the NFL's all-time leader in most consecutive 1,000-yard seasons to start a career. And in addition to the consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, he is now tied for second all time with his idol, Randy Moss, for most 1,000-yard seasons with 10. Rice had 14.
"I don't know how much more you can say," head coach Todd Bowles said. "He's been like this for 10 years now. Over 60 catches 10 years in a row. Over 1,000 yards 10 years in a row. You know he's getting the ball and everybody's trying to stop him, and he makes plays over and over. It's a credit to him, his work ethic, the way he approaches the game. Unbelievable."
Evans, who turned 30 in August and has missed just nine regular-season games in 10 seasons, said he's unsure exactly how long he'll continue playing, although a source close to him said they believe he wants to continue playing for at least three more seasons.
Laine went on to note that whether that comes in a Buccaneers uniform is up in the air.
Evans and agent Deryk Gilmore gave the Bucs a Week 1 deadline for a new contract, and that was not met, with Evans saying he would not discuss a new deal until after the season and that he would be exploring his options. A source close to the situation said that there have been no contract talks with the Buccaneers since that Week 1 deadline, keeping good on that promise.
When asked Sunday if he has thought about what his performance this season might mean in the months ahead, he said, "I don't know. When that moment comes, it'll come. But right now, I'm focused on getting this team to the playoffs."
Meanwhile, the Buccaneers understand there's little margin for error in their bid to win a third straight NFC South title.
"From here on out, every game we play is a playoff game," Bowles reiterated Monday, looking ahead to next weekend's matchup against the division-leading Atlanta Falcons (6-6), who won an earlier meeting between the teams.
"Most of them are division games that we play, so it's really important to win those division games," added Bowles, who has described a stretch in which the Bucs (5-7) will play four of their final six games within the NFC South as a "round-robin" tournament.
"We all play each other, you know it's going to come down to the end," the coach noted after Sunday's 21-18 victory over the last-place Carolina Panthers lifted the Bucs into a tie for second place with the New Orleans Saints.
"It's another division game coming up. We had a tough one at our place (against Atlanta) and we have to go down there and try to return the favor." Bowles said.
Sunday's victory was just the second in eight games for Tampa Bay following a surprising 3-1 start to the season.
As Associated Press sports writer Fred Goodall pointed out, the surest path to a fourth consecutive postseason berth is the division championship, which would also ensure a home playoff game.
The Bucs, who are 2-1 within the division, will also host the Saints and visit the Panthers down the stretch.
"It's a one game at a time mentality," Mayfield said. "Our guys came ready to play (against Carolina) and we found a way to win. It doesn't have to be pretty ... but we found a way to win."
Other notes of interest. ... Godwin failed to have a reception Sunday for the first time since 2018. The seventh-year pro still contributed to the victory, though, with a 19-yard touchdown run that put the Bucs up 21-10 early in the fourth quarter.
"I think the best part about it is that it came at a time where we needed a touchdown, trying to put the game away," Godwin said. "I'm fortunate for that."
Fantasy managers would agree. ...
Finally. ... As PFF.com's Nathan Jahnke noted, second-year running back Rachaad White has established himself as one of the better options at the position.
He's consistently played a high majority of offensive snaps all season, but his workload has been particularly high over the last two weeks.
He ran 20 times for 84 yards and a touchdown and finished second on the team in receiving yards, catching three passes for 22 yards. This was the second straight game in which he has averaged over 4.0 yards per carry. He hadn't achieved that in back-to-back games in over a year.
QBs: Baker Mayfield, Kyle Trask
RBs: Rachaad White, Chase Edmonds, Sean Tucker, Ke'Shawn Vaughn
WRs: Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Trey Palmer, Kaylon Geiger, Deven Thompkins, Rakim Jarrett, Russell Gage
TEs: Cade Otton, Ko Kieft, Payne Durham
Tennessee TitansCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 December 2023
As Associated Press sports writer Teresa M. Walker reported, head coach Mike Vrabel dispelled any thought that the Titans will coast to the finish of their struggling season Monday.
He fired special teams coordinator Craig Aukerman after an overtime loss to Indianapolis that thinned the Titans' anemic playoff hopes, a game lost in part due to a punt blocked and returned for a touchdown with their record-setting punter knocked out for the season on his next attempt.
"I felt like the timing was what it needed to be," Vrabel said in announcing that special teams assistant Tom Quinn will take over for the rest of this season.
Vrabel made the move with the Titans (4-8) now having to find a punter to replace Ryan Stonehouse who will be having season-ending surgery on his left, non-kicking leg. As a rookie, Stonehouse set an NFL single-season record for gross yards per punt that had stood since 1940.
"Certainly don't want to lose a player, and that's unfortunate," Vrabel said.
Stonehouse also holds on field goals and extra points, and veteran Nick Folk missed his first extra point of the season with backup quarterback and holder Ryan Tannehill filling in. That cost the Titans a 26-25 lead late in regulation.
Asked about the mistakes, Vrabel said the Titans just have to be better moving forward.
They haven't been eliminated officially, but they stood ahead of only New England (2-10) in the AFC standings Monday.
The defense is doing its part.
Yes, they gave up 31 points through overtime, but they held the Colts to 1 of 5 when backed up inside their 20. They allowed three field goals and forced a fumble inside their 10. The one touchdown? That came in overtime.
Tennessee ranks second in the NFL inside the red zone, allowing touchdowns on only 37.2 percent of trips.
Meanwhile, the offense continues to come up short.
Yes, they opened with their first touchdown this season on the opening drive. They also jumped out to a 17-7 lead that could've been bigger if an official had called defensive pass interference or illegal contact with Nick Cross not looking for the ball while defending DeAndre Hopkins on third-and-6 late in the first quarter.
But this unit had four straight three-and-outs and couldn't stay on the field much of the second half.
They'll have to do better this week as they face the tall task of trying to end a road skid going back to November 2022 when they visit Miami (9-3) on Monday Night Football.
Going into Monday, the Dolphins currently hold the AFC's No. 1 playoff spot. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Rookie QB Will Levis has been sacked 19 times just like Tannehill was through his first six starts. But Levis has seven touchdown passes and only two interceptions despite being 2-4 as a starter. Even when the ball was knocked out of his hand, he ran downfield and recovered it when Colts safety Julian Blackmon fumbled.
The 33rd pick overall out of Kentucky drove the Titans to a fourth-quarter touchdown that should've put them ahead if not for the missed PAT. He also drove the offense to a field goal in overtime for the lead.
When all was said and done, the Titans matched a season high by scoring 28 points. They also had season highs with 25 first downs, 12 rushing first downs, 177 yards rushing and in time of possession of more than 38 minutes. But the offense could not stay on the field or run the clock enough to protect the lead.
Some good news for Tennessee is that two-time NFL rushing champ Derrick Henry is not in the concussion protocol after being removed from the game early in the fourth quarter. He went inside the medical tent, then the locker room and didn't return. He still finished with his third 100-yard rushing game this season.
"We checked on him last night, then checked on him in the morning," Vrabel told reporters.
Vrabel said Henry had zero symptoms after taking the symptom score test and worked out Monday morning.
Tyjae Spears replaced Henry in Sunday's game and rushed for a career-best 75 yards on 16 carries.
Henry, a three-time Pro Bowl selection and the 2020 Offensive Player of the Year, is second in the NFL with 841 rushing yards. He also has eight rushing touchdowns. ...
Hopkins became only the fifth NFL player with at least 900 catches (903), 12,000 yards receiving (12,072) and 75 TD catches (76) within his first 11 seasons.
He joined Marvin Harrison, Jerry Rice, Brandon Marshall and Larry Fitzgerald. He also extended his active streak to 157 straight games with a catch for every game he's played since entering the NFL, the longest active streak in the league and fourth longest in NFL history. He can tie Marshall Faulk (158) for third against Miami.
QBs: Will Levis, Ryan Tannehill, Malik Willis
RBs: Derrick Henry, Tyjae Spears, Julius Chestnut
WRs: DeAndre Hopkins, Treylon Burks, Nick Westbrook_Ikhine, Kyle Philips, Colton Dowell, Chris Moore
TEs: Chigoziem Okonkwo, Josh Whyle, Trevon Wesco
Washington CommandersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 December 2023
According to ESPN.com's John Keim, head coach Ron Rivera said when he meets with players who express their frustration, he reminds them their feelings aren't unique.
"I tell them off the bat: You're not the only ones who are frustrated," Rivera said. "Let's be honest. There are a lot of people working their asses off."
The Commanders (4-9) have lost nine of their past 11 games, including the past two by a combined 65 points to Dallas and Miami. They entered the season optimistic that, under new owner Josh Harris and in Rivera's fourth season, they would show progress after going 8-8-1 last season.
Instead, the opposite has occurred.
Washington already has fired defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio and secondary coach Brent Vieselmeyer, and Harris will decide on Rivera's fate after the season, according to multiple reports.
Rivera has talked often this season about growth and development, hoping to build toward a strong finish. But they've been trending in the wrong direction. Their defense ranks last in points and 30th in yards. The offense ranks 21st in points and 16th in yards.
"It is difficult, it is hard," Rivera said of Washington's situation, "and it's going to be hard. That's just the way it is. You can only say so much about development and growth; you can only say so much about the process. There's a certain point in time when you get to each year and say, now's the time, let's go. I mean, the process is now, and the time is now. So, let's see what we can do."
Washington's players expressed that frustration after Sunday's 45-10 loss to Miami, dropping the Commanders to 1-5 at home. Four of those losses have been by double digits.
"I've been dealing with this for seven years," Washington defensive tackle Jonathan Allen said. "I'm tired of trying to build character. My character has been built up enough, I'm trying to win."
One of the many immediate questions created by the Dolphins game is how Washington's pass-centric offense isn't featuring top wide receiver Terry McLaurin.
Sam Howell targeted McLaurin just three times on his 23 pass attempts. McLaurin did not have a catch for just the second time in his near- 80-game NFL career.
He's also frustrated.
"I ran a lot of cardio," McLaurin said. "It happens. It comes with it when it's tough. Yeah, it's frustrating, but I'm going to keep coming in and practicing and playing hard. ... I'll continue to run my routes hard, so that's what I'm going to do. I'm not going to quit just because I'm frustrated."
McLaurin has gone five games without a touchdown, and he doesn't have a 100-yard game all season. He would figure to be the safety valve Howell could use as an inexperienced, young quarterback, but it's not working out that way.
"Terry's the best part of our offense, and we got to find ways to get him the football," Howell said. "I've got to find ways to get him the football. Obviously, he had a few targets, but three targets are not enough for your best player. We just got to find more ways to get him involved."
That's also a job for offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, who took the job in Washington in part to show what he can do working under a defensive coach and away from Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes.
With players and staff wondering about their futures in Washington, Rivera said he believes the players have the right mindset to finish strong. He preached that message to the team Monday.
"We've got four [games] left," he said. "I expect everybody to be a professional show up and do their job."
The Commanders get a break before their next game Dec. 17 at the Los Angeles Rams, then visit the New York Jets on Christmas Eve, host the San Francisco 49ers on New Year's Eve and finish up against the Dallas Cowboys on Jan. 6 or 7.
Washington could land a top-five pick, which is a nice incentive for whomever is responsible for the rebuilding/retooling effort. ...
A few final notes. ... Has Howell taken a step back?
The Commanders have faced teams with explosive offenses and good defenses in the past two games -- Dallas and Miami -- and it has impacted Howell. He has thrown a pick-six in three consecutive games and tossed one touchdown to five interceptions in that time. It's not all his fault, but the passing game has not worked. The receivers and line have struggled. Howell has been sacked 58 times this season, by far the most in the league.
But if Howell doesn't finish strong, whoever coaches here next year has a decision to make. ...
Curtis Samuel caught four passes for 65 yards, including a 33-yarder on a wheel route in which he fooled the linebacker with a double move. ...
Rookie running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. averaged 4.1 yards a carry after Brian Robinson Jr. left with a hamstring injury. With Antonio Gibson a pending free agent, Rodriguez has a chance to show he can fill that role next season.
Rivera said Robinson's hamstring tightened up, so the team decided to take the second-year pro out. Rookie cornerback Emmanuel Forbes is still expected to play again this season after missing the past two games with an elbow injury, and the first-round pick who was benched in October could use the snaps and growing pains that come with them for his development.
QBs: Sam Howell, Jacoby Brissett
RBs: Brian Robinson Jr., Antonio Gibson, Chris Rodriguez
WRs: Terry McLaurin, Jahan Dotson, Curtis Samuel, Dyami Brown, Jamison Crowder, Byron Pringle, Mitchell Tinsley
TEs: Logan Thomas, Cole Turner, John Bates