Team Notes Week 14 2017

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

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

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Arizona Cardinals

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 December 2017

As ESPN.com's Josh Weinfuss reported, the Cardinals' quarterback situation is clear, for now.

Blaine Gabbert proved enough despite throwing two interceptions in Sunday's loss to the Los Angeles Rams to earn another start this week, head coach Bruce Arians said Monday. What has essentially turned into a tryout for him to be the Cardinals' quarterback of the future will continue for at least another game.

While Gabbert likely will finish the season as the Cards' starter, that is not a foregone conclusion. And as Arians added, how Gabbert finishes this season will play a role in determining his fate with the team in the future.

That, however, is where Arizona's quarterback situation next season could get murky.

Should Gabbert (who is playing on a one-year contract) sign a long-term deal and should Carson Palmer (who's currently on injured reserve after breaking his left arm in Week 7) decide to play another season, then Arizona could enter next season with the makings of a quarterback controversy.

But Arians put an end to any speculation about that.

"If that was the case, it would be some competition," Arians said. "But to me, if Carson's coming back, he's coming back to be the starter."

The possibility of Palmer and Gabbert entering next season as teammates has begun looking realistic. Palmer is under contract through the 2018 season. And Arians said he and general manager Steve Keim discuss the possibility of losing Gabbert in free agency "all the time," which could lead to Arizona signing Gabbert to a long-term deal before he hits free agency.

"It could possibly happen, yeah," Arians said.

The entire discussion could be for naught if Palmer decides to retire or asks for his release.

Until either happens, Palmer will be penciled in as the starter next season as Gabbert, who has yet to tighten his grip on the Cards' quarterback job, continues to learn the intricacies of Arians' offense.

His inexperience in it was on full display Sunday.

"He's a veteran quarterback that's learning it for the first time, and that's exactly what he is," Arians said. "He's spent one spring and three games in this offense. There were some things that were happening in the game that. ... There are always things that you don't practice, that you just have to know from knowing your offense, and he's not quite there yet."

He might be next season, though.

Arians said the jump that quarterbacks make in his scheme is "usually pretty big" between their first and second seasons in it. Gabbert did "pretty well" learning the offense from time he signed in May.

"There are always those nuances that you don't know," Arians said. "When you start working with different guys every week, that's a problem for any quarterback."

Yet during his three starts this season, Gabbert has continued to show Arians that he's capable of being a starting quarterback in the NFL. He reinforced it Sunday, despite making a bad decision on his first interception.

Gabbert has four more weeks to continue to prove himself to Arians -- unless Palmer comes back from injured reserve. Arians hopes Palmer can come back for the final two games of the season, especially because Arizona is 3-0 at Seattle when Palmer starts under Arians. (The Cardinals visit the Seahawks on New Year's Eve.) But while talking about the possibility of long-snapper Aaron Brewer returning from injured reserve, Arians said Brewer "is about the only guy that looks like he's going to be able to come off in two weeks," which is when Palmer would be eligible to return.

But Arians is still holding out hope for Palmer.

"He's working his tail off," Arians said. "He doesn't have a cast, so hopefully. ..."

Meanwhile, the Cardinals ran the ball much better than expected without Adrian Peterson, who was inactive Sunday with a neck injury.

Kerwynn Williams, who started in his place ran for 97 yards but, more importantly, Arizona's offensive line opened up gaping holes for Williams, especially on the left side. Early in the game, the Cards couldn't get their run game going but early in the second quarter, Williams went on a tear, running for 47 yards on five carries in a drive, while gaining three first downs on his own. Until that point, the Rams weren't concerned with the Cardinals running, and were able to play the pass effective.

Williams changed that on single-handedly.

Williams' 97 yards were an unexpected surprise for fantasy owners in the wake of Peterson's absence. Williams' performance was the third 100-yard game by a Cardinals' running back this season and first by someone not named Peterson.

And it could have been better.

As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich noted, Williams only had five second-half touches. He also got vultured on a touchdown run by Elijhaa Penny who had just two carries the entire game.

Still, Franciscovich advised readers Williams should be added as a Peterson handcuff, and the veteran's injury status needs to be closely monitored as Sunday's game with the Titans approaches.

Arians told reporters he can't be sure of the veteran's availability this Sunday against the visiting Titans. "We'll see," Arians said when asked about Peterson, who did not practice Wednesday. "It's strictly up to him and the doctors."

In addition, John Brown, who's missed the last two games with an injured toe, was not practicing Wednesday. Williams (ribs) was limited Wednesday.

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

Other notes of interest. ... Despite becoming the fastest receiver to 1,200 career receptions and moving ahead of Isaac Bruce and into fourth place on the NFL's all-time receiving yards list on Sunday, Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said the milestones don't matter much at the moment.

"Not when you lose to the Rams, a division opponent," Fitzgerald said. "The season hasn't gone the way we wanted it. When I'm done and retired and I see you at Starbucks one day, we can reminisce about it. But I don't feel good right now."

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Blaine Gabbert, Drew Stanton
RBs: Adrian Peterson, Kerwynn Williams, Elijhaa Penny
WRs: Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown, Jaron Brown, J.J. Nelson, Brittan Golden, Chad Williams
TEs: Jermaine Gresham, Troy Niklas

Atlanta Falcons

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 December 2017

If the Falcons are going to make another run at the Super Bowl, there's no room for any more slip-ups. The Falcons (7-5) began a short week of preparation for Thursday night's crucial game against NFC South-leading New Orleans, knowing a second straight loss would likely end any hope of taking another division crown.

"We've got to turn the page fast," head coach Dan Quinn said. "It's all there for us."

Indeed, the Falcons will be right back in the thick of things if they can knock off the Saints (9-3), who claimed sole possession of first place with a victory over Carolina Panthers (8-4) on Sunday.

That works the other way, too.

A setback to Atlanta's biggest rival would be devastating, especially since the Falcons trail both Carolina and Seattle (8-4) in the race for a pair of wild-card spots.

There's certainly no time to linger over a 14-9 loss to Minnesota on Sunday.

But there is time to get a handle on their shortcomings on third downs and in the red zone.

Matt Ryan shouldered some of the blame for the third-down woes.

The Falcons, who entered the game leading the league in third-down conversions (48.1 percent), went just 1-for-10 on third down against the league's top third-down defense (28.5 percent). Ryan, who completed just 16 of 29 passes for 173 yards, completed 4 of 8 passes on third down and converted just the one first down.

"I thought we had a really nice drive at the beginning of the second half and had a third-down opportunity where I missed low to [Mohamed Sanu]," Ryan said while addressing how penalties hurt the offense as well. "You know, I've got to play better than that. I've got to put it in position for him to make a play.

"But I thought those two drives, we really had opportunities to score touchdowns. And going against Minnesota's defense, when you get your chances, you've got to take advantage of it."

The Falcons had a couple dropped balls, but Ryan overshot his receivers several times as well. He couldn't get the same rhythm going with Julio Jones that the two had last week. Jones was held to just two catches for 24 yards on six targets while matching up a good majority of game with talented cornerback Xavier Rhodes.

"They did a good job of kind of shutting all of us down," Ryan said. "It's not [Julio]. We didn't play very well. We didn't play well enough on offense as a unit. But, credit to them. They made the play today."

In addition, the Falcons were 0-for-1 in the red zone and settled for three Matt Bryant field goals for the entire day -- and Bryant even missed a key 45-yarder late.

Besides, they needed as many points as possible with touchdowns hard to come by against a stingy Vikings defense.

The only other time the Falcons scored in single digits this season was a 23-7 loss to the New England Patriots in Week 7.

"We just have to get back in rhythm," Jones said. "Today, we were just missing offensively. ... From our standpoint, we're way better than nine points. We just have to get it fixed."

Defensively, the Falcons missed tackles and let the Vikings go over 100 yards rushing. The defense allowed NFC Offensive Player of the Month Case Keenum to complete 25 of 30 passes for 227 yards with two touchdowns and a 120.4 passer rating. They allowed the Vikings to convert 6 of 12 third downs, including a crucial third-and-4 in the late stages that resulted in Keenum's 22-yard connection with Adam Thielen, a conversion that all but sealed the victory. Allowing the Vikings to convert those third downs was a reason Minnesota had the ball almost 10 minutes longer.

Back on offense, the Vikings held Ryan out of the end zone for the first time in 30 games and Jones hauled down just two passes for 24 yards. Ryan completed 17 of 30 passes for 173 yards. It was his lowest output since he passed for 172 yards in a 33-10 loss to Seattle on Nov. 10, 2013.

Jones led the team in targets, which, as NFL.com's Matt Harmon wrote, was "merely a consolation note for a terrible crash-back to Earth stat line." After going for 253 yards and a pair of scores last week, Jones posted just 24 yards on two catches in Week 13.

Devonta Freeman rushed for 74 yards on 12 carries in his return from a concussion, which is a positive sign for the Falcons for the remainder of the season. But it didn't help the cause Sunday.

The Falcons' next challenge is the quick turnaround, with not much time to prepare. One aspect the Falcons do have in their favor is the game being at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium as the final part of a three-game homestand. After that, Atlanta is at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium followed by a game at Tampa Bay (4-8) on Dec. 18, at New Orleans (9-3) on Dec. 24 and Carolina (8-4) on Dec. 31.

Heading into this one, it's worth noting that Ryan is 7-10 all-time against the Saints but has won the last two. He's completed 425 of 652 passes for 5,094 yards with 30 touchdowns, eight interceptions and a passer rating of 99.2 in those 17 games. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Tevin Coleman after seeing just eight targets in the past six game, had five targets against the Vikings. He caught three passes for 27 yards.

CB Desmond Trufant should be able to play against the Saints after being released from the concussion protocol, giving a boost to the secondary as it prepares to face Drew Brees. Trufant wasn't able to go against the Vikings after taking a shot to the helmet from teammate Keanu Neal in the previous game. ...

Falcons starting left guard Andy Levitre, who suffered a left triceps injury against Minnesota on Sunday, is expected to miss the next two to three weeks, according to NFL Media. The report said Levitre has a partially torn triceps. The team would not confirm the report that Levitre is out for two to three weeks, but acknowledge he'll have trouble playing against the Saints on Thursday.

As the Sports Xchange suggested, Levitre being out would be a major blow to the Falcons' playoff push. Ben Garland replaced Levitre against Minnesota and played 43 of 53 offensive snaps (81 percent). Garland eared the lowest grade (40) on the offense from profootballfocus.com.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub, Matt Simms
RBs: Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman, Terron Ward, Brian Hill
WRs: Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Taylor Gabriel, Justin Hardy, Nick Williams, Andre Roberts
TEs: Austin Hooper, Eric Saubert, Levine Toilolo

Baltimore Ravens

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 December 2017

Was anyone surprised that Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens' offense delivered a critical victory Sunday?

Perhaps everyone was, except safety Eric Weddle. He said twice last week that there would be a time when the offense would bail out Baltimore's dominant defense.

Right on cue, Flacco threw for a season-high 269 yards, and running back Alex Collins scored two critical fourth-quarter touchdowns in a 44-20 win over the Detroit Lions at home.

The unit totaled a season-high 370 yards, scored four touchdowns and didn't turn the ball over.

"Everyone looked at me crazy when I said that," Weddle said. "I had belief in this team and in our quarterback."

As ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley suggested, it was a timely effort for the Ravens (7-5), who put together their first three-game winning streak since the start of the 2016 season and took a one-game lead for the final playoff spot in the AFC with four games remaining.

Entering December, the Ravens' offense ranked 31st, and Flacco questioned whether Baltimore could win playing a conservative style. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg gave Flacco the green light to throw the ball downfield against the Lions and the veteran quarterback responded with his best game of the season.

The offense put up a season-best 370 yards as Flacco connected on some deep throws to Mike Wallace and Baltimore converted on 4-of-5 trips in the red zone, which included two touchdown passes from Flacco.

Flacco set the tone with a 66-yard pass to Wallace that set up the game's first touchdown. Flacco continued to spread the ball around to his receivers and completed 23 of 36 of his pass attempts for a season-high 269 yards with two touchdowns. Wallace caught five passes for 116 yards.

Head coach John Harbaugh gave the game ball to the offense.

"The fact that the offense was able to answer when the defense got on the ropes a little bit is what makes it such a great team victory," Harbaugh said.

"It hasn't been ideal to this point, but we set ourselves up to the point where we are playing meaningful December football," said Flacco, who was 23-of-36 with a 105 passer rating. "A game like this, late in the year and versus a team that's also trying to make a push for the playoffs, can definitely do a lot for our confidence."

And that goes beyond one contest.

Baltimore has outscored teams 150-59 over the past five games. That 91-point differential is the third-best in the league.

The others? The New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles, two Super Bowl favorites, are the only other teams who've outscored their opponents by 90 over that same span.

"We're a confident bunch, and I think over the last three weeks, we're building towards the team that we envisioned, and we're playing well at the right time," safety Eric Weddle said. "That's the biggest thing. The team that's playing the best in December, and is most healthy and strong going down the stretch, usually gets in and makes noise."

The defense, which lost top cornerback Jimmy Smith (Achilles) for the season Sunday, is forcing turnovers like no other. Baltimore has 29 takeaways and a plus-14 turnover margin this season, both of which lead the NFL.

The special teams are among the league's best. Kicker Justin Tucker is routinely converting 50-yard field goals, and punter Sam Koch is placing the ball inside the 20-yard line more than anyone else.

The weak link had been a banged-up offense.

"Well, we have to do our part at some point, right?" Wallace said. "The offense, we have to come up. Our defense has been incredible. Our special teams has been incredible. The offense, not so much. [On Sunday], we made strides, and this game is about peaking at the right time, so hopefully we can do that."

No one declared that the offense had solved all of its problems and a tougher road lies ahead for the unit. Three of Baltimore's final four games are against defenses that rank in the top half of the league, starting with the Steelers (No. 3 on defense) this weekend.

"You can't just take today for granted and say 'OK, it's going to happen every week from now on,'" Flacco said. "We've still got to get back to work and go do the same things week in and week out and put points on the board. We got guys involved [Sunday], and guys got a little pep in our step. ..."

Other notes of interest. ... Collins ran hard the entire game and finished with 75 yards and two touchdowns. It was Collins' third-straight game with a score. Javorius Allen also picked up a couple of key first downs on his eight touches (good for 26 yards). Danny Woodhead provided a spark catching ball out of the backfield, finishing with five touches and 23 yards.

One concern here?

According to Hensley, Collins dealt with migraines after the game and Harbaugh deferred any questions about that issue to the team's leading rusher.

"I can tell you this, migraines are very real," Harbaugh said. "They're tough."

I'll be following up on this situation as needed via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

Wallace and Jeremy Maclin led the team in Week 13 with eight targets apiece while playing the exactly the kind of roles we expected coming into the season with Wallace getting more work on the deep passes (with NFL.com noting he averaged 15.2 air yards per target) and Maclin was used on the possession routes (averaging 10.4).

Maclin was limited by a lingering shoulder injury during Wednesday's practice.

Breshad Perriman, the team's first-round pick in 2015, was a healthy scratch for the second time in three weeks. He is ranked 11th on the team with just seven receptions for 54 yards and has yet to catch a touchdown pass.

WR/KR Michael Campanaro was back in the lineup against the Lions after being a healthy scratch the previous game. Campanaro entered the game as the AFC's leading punt returner (14.7 yards per return). He returned three punts for 28 yards against Detroit.

As noted above, Smith suffered a season-ending torn Achilles in the fourth quarter on Sunday. This means rookie first-round pick Marlon Humphrey will step into the starting role.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Joe Flacco, Ryan Mallett, Dustin Vaughan
RBs: Terrance West, Javorius Allen, Danny Woodhead
WRs: Mike Wallace, Jeremy Maclin, Breshad Perriman, Chris Moore, Michael Campanaro, Kenny Bell
TEs: Ben Watson, Maxx Williams, Nick Boyle, Gavin Escobar

Buffalo Bills

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 December 2017

Tyrod Taylor has a bruised patellar tendon in his left knee, leaving his status uncertain for Buffalo's game against Indianapolis on Sunday.

Head coach Sean McDermott listed Taylor as day to day on Monday and says he will remain the team's starter should he be healthy enough to play this week. McDermott told Associated Press sports writer John Wawrow that Taylor's knee is very sore and the injury became progressively worse as he continued playing on it during a 23-3 loss to the New England Patriots on Sunday.

Taylor didn't practice Wednesday is considered day-to-day. McDermott said they would take into consideration how well he can scramble and execute the game plan.

"Everything's a little fluid right now. It's Monday, and we're in early stages of the medical evaluations," he said. "So we'll just take it one day at a time."

Taylor was hurt on the first play from scrimmage, and played through the first minute of the fourth quarter before being sidelined in favor of rookie Nathan Peterman.

If Taylor can't play, the Bills would return to Peterman. The rookie fifth-round pick threw five interceptions in the first half of a 54-24 loss at the Los Angeles Chargers two weeks ago.

Cornerback Tre'Davious White and backup running back Travaris Cadet sustained concussions. McDermott said starting defensive end Shaq Lawson is out indefinitely with a sprained ankle.

According to ESPN.com's Mike Rodak, while Taylor's status for Sunday's game is uncertain, McDermott said Monday that it looks good for wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin to practice after missing the past two weeks with a torn meniscus in his knee.

When asked if Benjamin is expected to play Sunday, McDermott said, "Practice leads to playing."

Benjamin returned to practice on a limited basis Wednesday. Charles Clay (knee) did not practice Wednesday; as is the case most weeks, his status bears watching.

In addition, the team's official website reports that McDermott is expecting backup tight end Nick O'Leary (back) and running back Mike Tolbert (hamstring) back on practice field this week. Both sat out against the Patriots (it was the second week in a row on the sidelines for Tolbert). McDermott added it's important for Tolbert to be available with Cadet in the protocol.

Buffalo (6-6) is suddenly fading out of the AFC playoff picture in having lost four of five since getting off to a 5-2 start.

The Bills offense has sputtered under Taylor, which prompted McDermott's decision to start Peterman against the Chargers.

Taylor finished 9 of 18 for 65 yards and an interception in just a little over three quarters against New England.

In going 1-2 in his past three starts, dating to a 47-10 loss to New Orleans on Nov. 12, Taylor has gone a combined 37 of 61 for 304 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. That includes Taylor going 19 of 29 for 183 yards and a touchdown in a 16-10 win at Kansas City on Nov. 26.

Against New England, the Bills crossed midfield just three times and came away with no points on two drives that ended inside the Patriots 10.

Taylor threw an interception from the 6 on Buffalo's opening drive, and Peterman threw an incompletion from the 1 on fourth down in the fourth quarter.

McDermott made the questionable decision to start Peterman, a fifth-round pick, against the Los Angeles Chargers on Nov. 19. That backfired badly when Peterman threw five interceptions in the first half and was yanked at halftime, but with the season slipping away, it now makes more sense to start Peterman.

If Taylor's injury prevents him from playing, going to Peterman will be automatic.

It is clear Buffalo is not built to advance in the playoffs even if they were to somehow slip into the field. The Bills allowed 191 rushing yards to the Patriots, the fourth time in the Bills' past five games they have allowed at least 145. Buffalo was able to pressure Brady, sacking him three times, but it was not enough to overcome the obvious deficiencies in run defense.

As Rodak summed up, "The Bills are headed nowhere this season. It is time for Peterman. ..."

That's a scary thought for fantasy owners, but it's a distinct possibility; I'll be following up on Taylor and the rest of the walking wounded in Buffalo via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

Of course, it's been pretty scary in general. Buffalo has now thrown for less than 200 yards in a game eight times this season, and its passing offense ranks 30th in the league. Taylor individually ranks 39th in yards per game passing. Zay Jones now tops the Bills with 291 yards receiving, and that ranks him 79th among wide receivers, and 119th overall counting all pass catchers.

Jones has seven or more targets in five of the last six games. He's turned in just one game over 60 yards and four with less than 40.

And even if Benjamin returns this week (or soon), Jones should continue to see a solid target share after Jordan Matthews was placed on injured reserve Tuesday, a move that ends the former Eagle's 2017 season.

Matthews came to the team in an August trade with the Eagles and suffered a chest injury in his first practice with the team. He recovered in time for the start of the regular season, but missed time with a thumb injury and has had knee problems recently. He played in 10 games and caught 25 passes for 282 yards in what is the final year of his current contract.

The Bills also placed defensive end Shaq Lawson on injured reserve.

Defensive end Cap Capi and wide receiver Brandon Reilly were summoned from the practice squad to round out the 53-man roster.

QB/WR Joe Webb ran four wildcat plays, running three times for 27 yards and just missing on a pass down the seam that might have gone for a TD had he been on target.

And finally. ... LeSean McCoy posted 102 scrimmage yards against the Patriots Sunday, rushing for 93 yards on his 15 carries and added two receptions for nine yards. He was unable to find the end zone, as the Bills managed just a single field goal in the game. As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich noted, McCoy has a favorable matchup this week against the Colts in which he should be able to produce.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Tyrod Taylor, Nathan Peterman
RBs: LeSean McCoy, Mike Tolbert, Joe Banyard, Taiwan Jones
WRs: Kelvin Benjamin, Zay Jones, Deonte Thompson, Andre Holmes, Corey Brown, Brandon Tate
TEs: Charles Clay, Nick O'Leary, Logan Thomas

Carolina Panthers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 December 2017

As ESPN.com's David Newton noted, Cam Newton didn't have the protection or the weapons to keep pace with Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints on Sunday.

Now the question is whether Newton and Co. have what it takes to keep ahead of the competition for a wild-card spot.

The Saints (9-3) clearly are the dominant team in the NFC South. A 31-21 victory over the Panthers at the Superdome gave them a one-game lead over Carolina (8-4) and essentially a two-game lead because they would win the head-to-head tiebreaker because of their series sweep.

Atlanta (7-5) is two games back.

What has to be worrisome for the Panthers, beyond the league's No. 2-ranked defense missing a season's-worth of tackles and showing an inability to stop the run for the second time this season against New Orleans, was the ineptness of the offense for the second straight game.

Newton can't do it alone, although he tried with a 32-yard scramble in the fourth quarter that set up a garbage-time touchdown pass to Devin Funchess.

But he often looked alone, running from Cameron Jordan because left tackle Matt Kalil couldn't stop the defensive end, having to run because the line couldn't consistently open room for Jonathan Stewart and Christian McCaffrey.

Granted, Newton didn't have Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen, held out with a sore foot.

But the rest of Newton's arsenal wouldn't scare many teams. Outside of Funchess, who's shown flashes but has yet to prove he consistently can be the No. 1 wide receiver since Kelvin Benjamin was traded to Buffalo, there's the cast of Russell Shepard, Kaelin Clay, Brenton Bersin and Damiere Byrd.

McCaffrey still is a dynamic rookie. But he can't be effective when the opponent gangs up to stop him and he can't get into open space to use his dynamic moves.

It took confusion by New Orleans before the snap and a busted coverage for him to get a 21-yard touchdown catch in the first half.

The Panthers need more of what they showed on their first possession, a nice blend of runs by Stewart and short passes by Newton to grind out a 10-play, 75-yard drive.

They don't have the receivers to get wide open. They don't have the protection to give receivers a long time to get open.

Not without a running game. ...

Stewart totaled 45 rush yards and scored a touchdown in the first half against the Saints, but he left early in the third quarter with a leg injury and never returned. McCaffrey had just 16 rush yards on six carries but led the Panthers with five receptions that he took for 33 yards and a score.

Newton gained 51 yards on the ground against New Orleans, marking the fifth game this season that he has led the Panthers in rushing. He has 515 rushing yards this season.

As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich pointed out, this is basically how the Panthers backfield has looked all season, save for a random blow-up game from McCaffrey a few weeks ago.

Beyond that, Newton has to catch fire as a passer. He has failed to top 200 yards passing in four of the past five games. In those four games he has only three touchdown passes.

The Panthers are only a game ahead of the Falcons with a game at Atlanta in the regular-season finale that could be pivotal. They also face Green Bay (6-6) in two weeks, and the Packers are targeting their December 17 game at Carolina for the return of quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

The Los Angeles Rams and Seattle Seahawks also are right there in the wild card battle.

The only seemingly "gimme" left on Carolina's schedule is a home game against Tampa Bay (4-8), but the way the offense has played the past two weeks no game is a gimme. ...

The good news for Carolina is Olsen expects to return for Minnesota. His surgically repaired foot was too sore -- it also wasn't worth the risk of a setback on the New Orleans turf -- to play on Sunday. He can help bring consistency to the offense right away.

Olsen was on the practice field Wednesday and head coach Ron Rivera said that Olsen will not be on a “pitch count” this week, which suggests that the Panthers expect to have him available for Sunday as long as there aren’t any setbacks with the foot between now and then.

There's also a chance Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil will be back against the Vikings. He has been inactive for all but two games this season with a neck injury.

Newton is taking the optimistic angle. He likes that the Panthers have three straight games at home against Minnesota, Green Bay and Tampa Bay. He hasn't ruled out seeing the Saints again and having another chance to make a statement.

That, of course, would have to be in the playoffs.

"That's a good team," Newton said. "If everything pans out right, we may see that team again. We just have to move forward, be optimistic of our opportunities, knowing the world doesn't stop just because the Panthers lost [Sunday]. ..."

Other notes of interest. ... Newton is one of three NFL quarterbacks all-time with at least six seasons of 500 rushing yards or more. The other two are Randall Cunningham and Michael Vick. ...

Funchess has averaged 86.5 yards per game in four games since the trade of Benjamin. His touchdown reception at New Orleans gives him a team-high six touchdown receptions this season.

But what might have been more glaring to him was a drop on a slant pattern that could have pulled the Panthers within seven points earlier in the second half.

"That's on me," Funchess said. "I dropped the ball on that one."

Funchess has been dealing with a banged-up shoulder. He had all his catches in the second half, including the 24-yard catch-and-run play for a fourth-quarter touchdown. ...

I'll be watching for more on Funchess, Olsen and Stewart, who didn't practice Wednesday, in coming days; watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for more.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Cam Newton, Derek Anderson
RBs: Christian McCaffrey, Jonathan Stewart, Fozzy Whittaker, Cameron Artis-Payne
WRs: Devin Funchess, Russell Shepard, Damiere Byrd, Brenton Bersin
TEs: Ed Dickson, Greg Olsen

Chicago Bears

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 December 2017

As ESPN.com's Jeff Dickerson wrote, "Rookie Tarik Cohen is the Bears' most exciting player since Devin Hester.

"The difference between the two is that while Hester was a converted defensive back, Cohen already has a stronger foundation on offense.

"The Bears need to capitalize on that. ..."

They need to capitalize on something.

As the organization regroups in the offseason following another playoff-less campaign -- 10 of 11 years -- the decision-makers on offense, whoever they turn out to be, have to keep finding creative ways of getting Cohen the football in 2018.

Cohen is technically a gadget player, but he has the most big-play potential on the roster -- by a mile.

Six touches on offense simply aren't enough.

It has to be mentioned that Chicago possessed the ball for only 21:13 against San Francisco. But with so few established threats on offense, the Bears can't be shy about prioritizing Cohen.

Like Hester, Cohen has the speed to score every time he touches the ball.

Look no further than Cohen's 61-yard punt-return touchdown when the rookie literally stole a page out of Hester's old playbook.

Mid-second quarter, Cohen fielded a punt at Chicago's 39-yard line and ran backwards 15 yards toward the Bears' sideline before he reversed field and outraced the Niners' coverage team to the end zone.

Cohen is the first Bear to have a passing touchdown, rushing touchdown, receiving touchdown and punt-return touchdown in his rookie year since Hall of Famer Gale Sayers in 1965, according to ESPN Stats and Information.

Dickerson went on to stress that no one is labeling Cohen the next Gale Sayers, but it's rare for the Bears to have a player that can threaten an opponent in so many ways. Getting better play out of Trubisky is the main offseason priority, but coming up with more packages for Cohen has to be on the to-do list.

"It's great to be in company with Gale Sayers, one of the greatest running backs not only in Chicago Bears history but in the NFL," Cohen said. "So just to be among that namesake, it's wonderful and I'm looking forward to building. ..."

Meanwhile, Jimmy Garoppolo decidedly won the head-to-head quarterback battle on Sunday, but the Bears didn't lose to one of the NFL's worst teams because of rookie Mitchell Trubisky.

According to Dickerson, the loss to the lowly San Francisco 49ers can be pinned on the 2016 decision by general manager Ryan Pace and head coach John Fox to release veteran kicker Robbie Gould (5-of-5 on field goal attempts Sunday, including the game winner) and the defense's failure to get off the field.

Trubisky, who likely will be in a new offense next season, finished the game 12-of-15 for just 102 yards, but there were bright spots.

Trubisky looked comfortable inside the pocket on an 8-yard touchdown strike to Dontrelle Inman. For a young quarterback prone to having happy feet, Trubisky patiently waited for Inman to break open and delivered a perfect ball to the receiver's outside shoulder.

And, of course, Trubisky didn't turn the ball over.

Add it up -- plus Cohen's punt return -- and it should've been enough for a Bears victory.

But the Bears' inability to evaluate their own talent -- much less talent brought in from the outside -- has been too much to overcome.

Pace and Fox have earned their 12-32 record together, but Sunday's loss took it to another level.

Gould had years of good football left in his leg when the Bears inexplicably let him go.

And that poor choice just cost the franchise another game.

Of course, it's become routine now for Fox to face questions about his job security during the midst of a current five-game losing streak.

On Monday, it was a bit of a switch. Fox was also defending his offensive coordinator, Dowell Loggains.

Asked if he thought about changing offensive coordinators, Fox said, "That's not been kind of productive for me in the past."

The Bears offense has accounted for 140 and 147 yards in the last two games. They are last in the NFL in red-zone possessions with 22, and Sunday they had only seven points from the offense against one of the league's worst defenses.

"I'd like to have been more productive offensively, but the reality is we're kind of where we are," Fox said. "(We're) playing a lot of young players, in particular at the quarterback position."

Fantasy owners should keep that in mind down the stretch.

A second straight poor rushing effort with 62 yards was only as high as it was thanks to one 25-yard Jordan Howard run. Howard overall had only 38 yards and 2.9 yards an attempt, and the Bears managed only eight first downs - a sign they had trouble picking up rushing yards on first or second down in order to set up easier third-down conversions.

Losing guard Kyle Long to a shoulder injury made it difficult to establish consistency running outside zone plays (Long was placed on season-ending IR on Tuesday).

Still, as NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich put it, "The Bears offense simply isn't good and Howard's production over the last month or so has suffered because of it. He's no longer the volume monster he was in the middle of the season and has become touchdown dependent."

Meanwhile, NFL.com's Matt Harmon wrote, "The only player from the Chicago pass-catching corps we're interested in for fantasy is Inman, and only because he's on the field so often. He saw his lowest target total (two) in a game since being traded to the Bears but secured his first touchdown."

Again, fantasy owners should keep Fox's words in mind when making lineup decisions: "The reality is we're kind of where we are."

One last note here. ... Cairo Santos aggravated a groin injury he had prior to signing two weeks ago with the Bears, and did not kick off in Sunday's game. Mike Nugent had a tryout Monday and he was signed with Santos placed on injured reserve.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Mitchell Trubisky, Mike Glennon, Mark Sanchez
RBs: Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen, Benny Cunningham
WRs: Kendall Wright, Josh Bellamy, Markus Wheaton, Dontrelle Inman, Kevin White
TEs: Dion Sims, Adam Shaheen, Daniel Brown, Ben Braunecker

Cincinnati Bengals

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 December 2017

As ESPN.com's Katherine Terrell put it, "The Cincinnati Bengals stood and watched as their season imploded before their eyes on Monday night. ..."

With everything on the line, the Bengals inexplicably blew a 17-point lead against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Then the Bengals could only look on as Chris Boswell kicked a 38-yard field goal as time expired to win the game for the Steelers 23-20.

For the second time this season, the Bengals couldn't beat the Steelers to get to the .500 mark and fell to 5-7. The loss eliminates almost any hope of their getting to the playoffs this season. The Bengals are now two games behind the Ravens for the second AFC wild-card spot with four games to play.

The Bengals have nobody to blame but themselves.

They committed 13 penalties for a franchise-record 173 yards, once again melting down at the worst time. Even at the very last moment, the Bengals committed a penalty, jumping offside on Boswell's field goal attempt with four seconds left, as if to add insult to injury.

The loss raises questions about the future of head coach Marvin Lewis, who is in the final season of his contract. With the franchise trending in the wrong direction for two seasons now, the Bengals have a lot of decisions to make in the offseason as to how to right the ship.

On Monday night, it seemed as if the Bengals were stuck in a time warp, helplessly watching as their season slipped away.

It has been this way since the AFC wild-card game in the 2015 season, when the Bengals, looking like they were headed for a sure victory to erase years of postseason heartache, could only look on dumbfounded as they found themselves on the losing side after a late meltdown. They have not beaten the Steelers since that night.

It was the same old story again Monday. The Bengals did everything right in the first half, from Andy Dalton's two touchdowns to A.J. Green to Adam Jones' timely interception of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. But the trouble started late in the second half, when the Bengals allowed the Steelers to drive for a field goal in a matter of 30 seconds.

For whatever reason, the Bengals simply haven't been able to play a full 60-minute game against the Steelers. Until they're able to overcome that hurdle, their postseason hopes will continue to look bleak. ...

Also of interest. ... As the Sports Xchange noted, Dalton was effective, aside from a couple wind-blown deep balls that seemed ill-advised due to the conditions at that time. Dalton finished with 234 yards passing with two touchdowns and no interceptions. Dalton's night might have been better had it not been for a few glaring drops by his receivers at key moments.

Green had another solid day against Pittsburgh with seven catches for 77 yards, but he was targeted 16 times. ...

For the second straight week, the Bengals managed to chew up yardage on the ground against a top rushing defense. And, the 130 yards might have been a much larger number had Joe Mixon not been knocked out in the first half with a concussion.

Mixon had 34 yards on seven carries prior to the injury, and Giovani Bernard picked up his slack with 77 on 13 attempts. The Bengals averaged nearly six yards per carry.

Mixon, who did not practice Wednesday, will have to pass through the concussion protocol on a short week in order to hit the field this week. I'll be watching his status closely and will report back via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

John Ross was inactive for the ninth time in twelve games. The ninth-overall pick in this year's draft has struggled to get playing time this season after dealing with shoulder and knee injuries that have delayed his development.

And there won't be any improvement in the near future as the Bengals placed Ross on injured reserve due to a shoulder injury. Ross finishes the season without a single catch. ...

Randy Bullock kicked field goals of 35 and 41 yards and was perfect on extra points to put his earlier struggles behind him.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Andy Dalton, AJ McCarron, Jeff Driskel
RBs: Joe Mixon, Jeremy Hill, Giovani Bernard, Thomas Jones
WRs: A.J. Green, Brandon LaFell, Tyler Boyd, John Ross, Josh Malone, Alex Erickson, Cody Core
TEs: Tyler Kroft, Ryan Hewitt, C.J. Uzomah

Cleveland Browns

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 December 2017

As ESPN.com's Pat McManamon framed it, "There were no grandiose statements of perspective or insight from Josh Gordon after his first game for the Cleveland Browns since Dec. 21, 2014.

"When Sunday's matchup with the Los Angeles Chargers was over, Gordon was another receiver on a team that had just fallen to 0-12."

"Football is what I've been doing my whole life," Gordon said of his first game after missing 44 to team and NFL suspensions. "New stadium. ... That's about it."

Gordon was referring to the StubHub Center, where the Chargers will play until the new stadium in Los Angeles is ready. His overall feeling: Excited that he was back but unhappy that he could not do more to keep the Browns from experiencing their 12th loss in 12 games this season. He even said there was no magic moment for him before the game and that he had gone through those emotions in practice back in Cleveland.

He was simply a guy who had four catches for 85 yards for a losing team.

"We got a lot more work to do," Gordon said. "I'm just trying to go out there and make sure I do my job to the best of my ability, try to execute and make sure we have a lot of fun doing it."

Going 0-12 hasn't been fun for anyone, and Gordon and rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer would look back after this 19-10 loss and lament missed opportunities. In the first half, Gordon sped past safety Adrian Phillips and was wide open for a touchdown grab, but Kizer overthrew him. In the third quarter, Gordon was open down the sideline, but Kizer underthrew him and the pass was broken up.

"You definitely want to get those, all of those," Gordon said. "Like I said, live in a game, you can't get any of those back. Once they're out there and they're gone, they're gone. Of course, you want to execute everything. But that's just unrealistic, so ..."

He later added: "Sometimes it's not perfect."

The first-half throw was painful, because it was something the Browns had practiced all week and had set up during the game to get Gordon on a favorable matchup.

"We hit that thing in practice a few times, so we've repped that one enough," Browns coach Hue Jackson said. "To miss that one is disappointing."

Gordon had 13 passes thrown his way. Two were negated by penalty, which makes the official target total 11. The biggest play was a catch-and-run over the middle for 39 yards that came in desperation time. The most significant was a 28-yard throw down the sideline that set up the Browns only touchdown.

"Just a fade," Gordon said. "That's all it was. Just caught a fade. Press, quick release, fought through the press and executed the fade."

That was one of Kizer's better throws, but the signal-caller had a day in which there too many errant ones. He finished 15-for-32 (47 percent), which won't win many games.

"Completing balls in this league is very hard," Kizer said.

There were moments when adding Gordon seemed to change the feel of the Browns' offense. Gordon and Corey Coleman started, and when Duke Johnson was on the field with tight end David Njoku (four catches, 74 yards and a touchdown), the Browns had some talented young players together. By the fourth quarter, though, Gordon admitted that he felt it.

"Most definitely tired," Gordon said. "It's an NFL game, four quarters. You're going to get tired."

Jackson said more practice time will help Gordon and Kizer develop timing and that this first game was "just a start for Josh."

"Everybody else has to do their part too," Jackson said. "We can't just sit around and watch Josh."

All that said, the offense feels different with Gordon lined up outside. Suddenly Coleman is at the No. 2 spot and the field is more open for Njoku and Johnson. One talented receiver can make a difference, though he can't stop the opposing quarterback.

Bottom line? Gordon showed enough that no fantasy owner should avoid him. He caught the ball well, helped his quarterback and looked fast. Based on his first game in three years, there's no reason not to believe he can help any team. ..."

The downside to this?

After drawing solid volume in Cleveland's two previous games, Coleman drew just four targets and was held catchless. And the issue -- which isn't likely to go away this season -- is the up-and-down nature of Kizer's rookie season.

Good against Detroit, tough day against Jacksonville. Good against Cincinnati, but a very tough and inaccurate day against the Chargers. Kizer had two good throws on the Browns' touchdown drive, but he also missed Gordon twice on deep throws, completed only 47 percent of his passes and had a crucial fumble as the Browns tried frantically to get back in the game in the final quarter.

When all was said and done, Kizer completed 15 of 32 passes for 215 yards with one touchdown and the interception. He was sacked three times.

The rookie from Notre Dame has remained confident through the highs and lows of his first season.

"We are very close to getting where we want to go, but I can definitely sense in this locker room that very close isn't cutting it anymore," Kizer said. "We need to get over that hill."

Kizer has thrown a league-high 15 interceptions. ...

The Browns return home to face the Green Bay Packers. Could the Packers without Aaron Rodgers be the team that gives the Browns their best chance to get a W?

We'll see. ...

Also of interest. ... As the Sports Xchange suggested, it is not a good sign when the quarterback is the leading rusher. Kizer led the Browns with 46 yards on five carries. A major reason the Browns struggled on offense was the Chargers keyed on Johnson all day. He carried seven times for a net gain of two yards. The Chargers' linebackers swarmed him.

Running back Isaiah Crowell broke one 16-yard run, but he was corralled most of the day while gaining 41 yards on 10 carries.

Generally speaking, the offensive issues are enough for fantasy owners to carefully explore all options before rolling with any of their Browns -- including Gordon and Johnson, who appear to be the best of the bunch at the moment. It just doesn't appear the team is able to support more than one viable fantasy weapon at running back or receiver on any given Sunday. ...

And finally. ... Safety Jabrill Peppers (knee) was injured against the Chargers on Sunday and did not return. An MRI was performed Monday. The Browns are awaiting the results.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: DeShone Kizer, Cody Kessler, Kevin Hogan
RBs: Isaiah Crowell, Duke Johnson, Matthew Dayes
WRs: Josh Gordon, Corey Coleman, Ricardo Louis, Kenny Britt, Rashard Higgins, Bryce Treggs, Sammie Coates
TEs: David Njoku, Seth DeValve, Randall Telfer

Dallas Cowboys

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 December 2017

Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones had seen something like Thursday from Alfred Morris before.

Maybe it was the 113 yards on 24 carries and a touchdown on Thanksgiving in 2012. Or the 33-carry, 200-yard, three-touchdown game in that season's winner-take-all finale. Or the 81 and 88 yards he had against the Cowboys in 2013. Or the 100 yards he had in the 2015 finale.

As ESPN.com's Todd Archer reminded readers, Morris was a member of the Washington Redskins in those games. A big reason why the Cowboys signed him as a free agent in 2016, which came before they drafted Ezekiel Elliott with the fourth overall pick, was how he had performed against them.

Morris showed the Redskins his worth from 2012-15 when he ripped off three 1,000-yard seasons for them in his first three years. He finished with 127 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries in the Cowboys' 38-14 win over the Redskins.

"I didn't do anything special," Morris said. "You can give credit to the O-line. You can give credit to the play calling. You can just give credit to a good run scheme."

Morris has downplayed the significance of seeing his former team since joining the Cowboys. It may have meant something to show off to a coaching staff and front-office group that opted not to keep him, but he wasn't biting.

His Cowboys teammates had a little different take.

"I know it would me, so I'm sure," Dak Prescott said when asked if Morris had a little more motivation. "That was probably a little bit of his attack mentality where he was motivated for playing the Redskins."

Morris had his first 100-yard game since that 2015 finale against the Cowboys. He had his first 20-carry game since Nov. 29, 2015, and his 27 carries were the most he has had since the 33 carries against Dallas in 2012.

He became the first Cowboys running back not named Elliott to put up 100 yards on the ground since Darren McFadden had 100 on 19 carries against the New York Jets on Dec. 19, 2015.

Without Elliott, the Cowboys' run game had been efficient but not dominating. Once the scores got out of whack in the losses to the Atlanta Falcons, Philadelphia Eagles and Los Angeles Chargers, Morris' strength was mitigated.

With the defense able to play well throughout the game, the Cowboys were able to control the tempo with Morris. After just 38 yards on 12 first-half carries, he had 15 carries for 89 yards in the second half.

It still wasn't the type of electrifying performance Elliott is known for, but it proved just as lethal to the Redskins. He clipped away at Washington in the second half. Only two of his carries were for more than 9 yards. He had just one negative run. He was efficient if not spectacular as he relied on the offensive line to take over the game.

And it was exactly what the Cowboys needed.

For the record, Rod Smith had 10 touches for 27 yards and found the end zone in garbage time. ...

Meanwhile, Prescott had to leave the field briefly in the second quarter last Thursday after suffering an injury to his right, throwing hand.

"It's good," Prescott said after the game, looking down at his swollen hand. "I'm fine."

Prescott said he didn't have trouble gripping the ball. He received X-rays and the results were negative.

Prescott did not miss any snaps because of the injury. He returned to the field with his hand wrapped, but soon removed the white tape and started throwing with backup Cooper Rush on the sideline. He was ready to go by the time the Dallas offense took the field again.

Prescott was at practice on Wednesday and coach Jason Garrett told David Helman of the team's website, that he doesn't "anticipate that being a real issue" against the Giants this weekend.

I'll keep an eye on his status as the week progresses and report back as needed via Late-Breaking Update, but assume he's good to go until you hear otherwise. ...

In a semi-related note. ... Dez Bryant caught five passes for 61 yards and a touchdown against the Redskins. Bryant's touchdown gave him 72 for his career to overtake Bob Hayes (71) as the Cowboys' franchise leader in receiving touchdowns.

As NFL.com's Matt Harmon put it, "With all the air yards and raw targets heading his way this season, Bryant always checks the opportunity box. He went five games without finding the end zone before Week 13 and had crossed 70 yards receiving just once in that stretch. You know what you're getting into with Bryant at this point. ..."

Cornerback Orlando Scandrick will miss at least one game and possibly more after suffering two transverse process fractures in his back against the Redskins. Scandrick broke the bones in his back on the third play of the game, but played through the injury until the fourth quarter when he was replaced by Anthony Brown.

On a more positive note, Jones is expecting linebacker Sean Lee to return from his hamstring injury and play next week. Lee has missed the last three games because of the setback. Thursday night's game was the first time the Cowboys have won without Lee in the lineup since 2014.

"He's feeling good," Jones said. "He's done everything possible to be ready to go. I feel good about him. ..."

And finally. ... The Philadelphia Eagles have all but clinched the NFC East title, leaving the Cowboys chasing one of two wild-card spots. They have to jump several teams to get there, too, and early-season losses to other contenders put them in a precarious spot should it go to a tiebreaker.

If the playoffs started today, the Carolina Panthers (8-3) and Atlanta Falcons (7-4) would be the wild-card teams. The Seattle Seahawks (7-4) and Detroit Lions (6-5) are also ahead of the Cowboys going into this weekend's games.

The Cowboys will have to jump at least three teams and possibly four should the Green Bay Packers (5-6) win this weekend. The Packers won the head-to-head matchup against the Cowboys earlier this season.

The Cowboys should be favored in their next two games at the 2-9 New York Giants and perhaps at 5-6 Oakland on Dec. 17. If they can win those two games, that would set up a pivotal showdown against Seattle on Christmas Eve when Elliott returns from a six-game suspension.

The season finale is on New Year's Eve at Philadelphia, a game that might not mean much as far as playoff positioning for the 10-1 Eagles.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush
RBs: Alfred Morris, Rod Smith
WRs: Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Ryan Switzer, Brice Butler, Noah Brown
TEs: Jason Witten, Geoff Swaim, Rico Gathers

Denver Broncos

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 December 2017

As ESPN.com's Jeff Legwold noted, when it comes to the complete cave-in the Denver Broncos' season has become, no player in their locker room has as much perspective on the matter as wide receiver Demaryius Thomas.

Thomas was a rookie in 2010, which is the last time the Broncos had constructed the kind of mess that comes within even a mile of the one they currently have on their hands. Thomas saw that 4-12 campaign up close, and he saw the five division titles, two Super Bowls and five winning seasons that followed.

And he has seen every painful minute of this season, with no guarantee the Broncos have even reached rock bottom yet.

"Every week we say the same things, we answer the same questions the same way," Thomas said. "Every week we do the same things, week in, week out, and we don't make it no better. ... We just want to win, and s---, right now we can't beat anybody. We've got to figure it out as a group, keep fighting, keep grinding.

"If the season ends this way, it ends this way, but we can't give up."

The Broncos, now at 3-9, are faced with this reality: Not only are they not nearly as good as they genuinely believed they were in Week 4, but at the moment, down for down, play for play, they just might not be better than anyone in the league.

"We know what we're doing wrong as a group," Thomas said. "Especially on our side of the ball, we feel like we face it during the week in practice and then something happens. ... We lost eight now? I go to work every week, trying to be better. ... It all comes in play, everybody on offense, and like I've been saying if we're going to be successful we have to be one unit. And s---, the last eight weeks we haven't been good."

That is a fact.

Denver's offense has now accounted for a meager nine touchdowns in its last eight contests. Three of those scores came when the Broncos were down by 16 or more points in the fourth quarter, i.e. in "garbage time."

A change in coordinators didn't help. Changing the quarterbacks from Siemian to Brock Osweiler, from Osweiler to Paxton Lynch, and from an injured Lynch back to Siemian didn't help, either.

So what's the next change? It could be head coach Vance Joseph, although he said he was "not concerned" about potentially losing his job after just one season.

"I'm concerned about one thing and that's the Jets on Sunday," Joseph said. "I've been in the league a long time. I'm not concerned about that."

GM John Elway and the Broncos players have supported Joseph publicly, and the athletes have supported the staff. And the rookie coach said the Broncos haven't quit despite an eight-game losing streak.

"I don't believe that at all. I always watch the last five to 10 plays, and I show those guys those plays and I show them the guys flying around," Joseph said Monday. "That's proof that guys are still playing to win. It's a tough sport not to go out and play full speed because you can get hurt doing it. The guys we put on the field are trying to win football games. No one has given up by how they've worked all week in practice."

Sunday's 35-9 loss in Miami was the third time in five weeks the Broncos have lost by 25 or more points and it has them looking beyond this season. The last four games have turned into an audition for next year for many players or an opportunity to impress another coaching staff.

Siemian was 19 of 41 with three interceptions and was off target on many of his throws in his first start since being replaced following a loss at Kansas City on Oct. 30. Aside from a pair of late first-quarter strikes to Virgil Green and Bennie Fowler, the vertical passing game was non-existent. Thomas' performance included two drops, and he and Emmanuel Sanders combined for just four receptions on 17 targets as Siemian frequently overshot his receivers.

One of Siemian's three interceptions was returned for a touchdown. Center Matt Paradis hiked the ball over Siemian's head and through the end zone for a safety, and punt returner Isaiah McKenzie's fumble -- his sixth muffed punt of the season -- led to a second safety for Miami for the final points of the game.

Joseph announced Siemian will be the starter against the Jets but said McKenzie, who was inactive for two weeks after mishandling two punts against New England on Nov. 12, will not return punts the rest of the season. Jordan Taylor will handle return duties against New York.

Joseph defended his decision to put McKenzie back on punts against the Dolphins despite his troubles on special teams. Three of his six muffed punts have led to scores.

"He's our punt returner. With the ball in his hands he's a special returner. Obviously, he's had trouble catching the ball and taking care of the football," Joseph said. "I thought, personally, two weeks would help him overcome that. That wasn't so. He needs more time. I'm not giving up on Isaiah. He was drafted to be our punt returner, he's averaged over 10 yards a punt return when he has secured the football, so I'm not down on him. He's a young player."

McKenzie will be given a chance to regain the job next year. ...

For the record, Lynch has already been ruled out for Sunday against the Jets. Lynch is expected to miss another 1-3 weeks because of a high-ankle sprain.

Looking for positives?

The rushing attack was the one aspect of the Broncos' offense that worked, as C.J. Anderson averaged 4.5 yards on his 15 attempts. Anderson, Jamaal Charles and Devontae Booker combined to pick up 87 yards on 20 attempts. Denver seemed to get away from the run too quickly, especially given their struggles in pass protection and ball security when Siemian dropped back to throw.

That said, it's hard to argue with NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich's contention, "You'd have to be pretty desperate to roll out anyone from this backfield next week against the Jets."

And finally. ... Cornerback Aqib Talib will return from a one-game suspension this week. He returned to the facility Monday. The Broncos didn't make an immediate roster move because they were granted an exemption that expires Tuesday.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch, Brock Osweiler, Chad Kelly
RBs: C.J. Anderson, Devontae Booker, Jamaal Charles, De'Angelo Henderson
WRs: Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Bennie Fowler, Cody Latimer, Isaiah McKenzie, Jordan Taylor
TEs: Virgil Green, Jeff Heuerman, Jake Butt

Detroit Lions

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 December 2017

As the Associated Press noted, Matthew Stafford's banged-up hand is only one of many problems the Lions have in what was a potentially promising season.

Detroit (6-6) has dropped two straight games, falling from a favorable position to make the playoffs to having slim hopes.

At least that's how it looks to most people not named Jim Caldwell.

"The season's not over yet," the coach told reporters Monday. "You guys are talking as if it's all is lost and that kind of thing.

"That's the great thing about our game. It's going to challenge you. It's going to be tough. It's not going to be an easy road. And it's either going to polish you up or grind you down. And, it's our job to make certain that we get polished up. We got a lot of work to do, but that's all part of what we do."

Caldwell insists the Lions can do what it takes to keep their fading postseason hopes alive by winning the rest of their games: Sunday at Tampa Bay, home against Chicago, at Cincinnati and against Green Bay at home to finish with a 10-6 record that might not be good enough to quality for the playoffs in the NFC.

"I've been 6-6 before, and pulled it out," he said. "So, let's see where we are at the end."

If he can't help them start faster and get 11 players on the field for every snap, it will be tough for Detroit to win.

The Lions have been outscored 36-3 in the opening quarters of the past four games.

Detroit lost 44-20 at Baltimore and 30-23 to the NFC North-leading Minnesota Vikings, who padded their lead in the division on Thanksgiving in the Motor City instead of letting the Lions pull within a game.

The Lions are struggling to run the ball, as they have for years, and that is putting more pressure on a shaky offensive line to protect Stafford.

He was stepped on Sunday in the loss to the Ravens and left the game with what looked as if it might be a serious injury.

X-rays were negative, though, and he had bandages wrapped around his pinkie, ring and middle finger on his right hand on Monday.

"Nothing new has popped up," Caldwell said. "He's just pretty sore right about now."

On Wednesday, however, Caldwell told Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press that Stafford has made progress since Sunday but is "not out of the woods yet."

"He's got to be able to function. ... And obviously this one's going to take work," Caldwell added.

According to ESPN.com's Michael Rothstein, it's not clear how much Stafford's injury could affect him throwing the ball. Last December Stafford injured the middle finger on his throwing hand in Week 14 against the Chicago Bears. After beating the Bears, the Lions didn't win a game the rest of the season and Stafford was clearly a different quarterback with the injury.

Instead of the middle finger, this is Stafford's hand.

Stafford has not missed a start since the beginning of the 2011 season, giving him 105 straight starts -- the third-longest active streak among quarterbacks behind Philip Rivers and Matt Ryan. When Stafford injured his finger last season, he wore different iterations of a glove for protection.

It's still early in the week to see if the Lions will try anything like that with Stafford this week.

If Stafford is unable to play for some reason, Jake Rudock would be the likely starter. He completed 3 of 5 passes Sunday for 24 yards and an interception.

Stafford has completed 63.9 percent of his passes this season for 3,302 yards, 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

In a related note. ... Stafford set a Lions record with 20 straight completions against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday.

Stafford's completion streak began after an incomplete pass deep to Marvin Jones with 13:42 left in the second quarter. Then he went on fire, completing passes to receivers, tight ends, running backs and even a linebacker, Nick Bellore, for completion No. 20 and a touchdown to cut Baltimore's lead to 27-20.

"I had no idea," Stafford said. "That's a really, really good defense we just played. We knew it was going to be a tough game. There were going to be times where we were going to struggle on offense and we just had to keep plugging away and we made some big plays and guys stepped up and made some great catches and obviously just didn't do enough of it to get it done."

It obliterated the previous Lions record for consecutive completions, set last season by Stafford against New Orleans, when he completed 13 straight passes on Dec. 4, 2016 -- a game the Lions won. He completed 30 of 42 passes for 341 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in a 28-13 win that day, a year after completing a career-high 88 percent of his passes against the Saints on Dec. 21, 2015.

The streak was snapped on attempt No. 21, when he threw a pass on the run that was intended for Jones but was intercepted by Marlon Humphrey. It was a turnover that came at a critical time, too, because the Lions trailed 30-20 with 6:16 left in the game. Stafford finished the day 24-of-29 for 292 yards with one touchdown and one interception before leaving with an injured right hand.

He missed the NFL record of 25 straight completions, set by Ryan Tannehill in 2015.

Meanwhile, with Ameer Abdullah unable to play because of a neck injury, rookie Tion Green saw his first career action against the Ravens and made a case for playing time going forward.

Green ran for 51 yards on 11 carries and scored on a 6-yard run in the third quarter and Caldwell said he made a valid case for more playing time going forward.

"He ran pretty well," Caldwell said. "He had some pretty good runs out there. Made some tough runs. The touchdown run was a very good run, and obviously he had a pretty nice game there coming off the left side. He did some nice things, got his shoulders square. I thought he did well. We'll look at it further, but thought he did well."

Theo Riddick, as usual, was most effective as a pass catcher, though he, too, scored on a nice outside run.

Abdullah is expected back for this week's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but the Lions currently rank 30th in the league in rushing at just 78.2 yards per game. ...

I will, of course, be watching the progress of Stafford and Abdullah closely in coming days; keep an eye on the Late-Breaking Updates section for more. ...

A few final notes. ... Golden Tate had a costly third-down drop early in the game, while Marvin Jones and tight ends Eric Ebron, Darren Fells and Michael Roberts all made tough catches. Jones had grabs of 46 and 42 yards and has established himself as one of the best deep threats in the NFL. ...

Matt Prater had what Caldwell called, "just one of those days" on Sunday.

Prater pushed a 43-yard field goal wide left in the second quarter and missed his first extra point of the season in the third quarter. Prater had been a perfect 17-for-17 on kicks of less than 50 yards this year.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Matthew Stafford, Jake Rudock
RBs: Ameer Abdullah, Theo Riddick, Dwayne Washington, Tion Green, Zach Zenner
WRs: Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, Kenny Golladay, Jared Abbrederis, TJ Jones
TEs: Darren Fells, Eric Ebron, Michael Roberts

Green Bay Packers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 December 2017

An overtime victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers kept the Green Bay Packers in the NFC playoff race.

But coach Mike McCarthy knows that star quarterback Aaron Rodgers' first full week of practice since breaking his collarbone won't mean anything if his team loses at winless Cleveland on Sunday.

"We need to win the game. We're 6-6. We need to have seven wins when we get on that plane coming back from Cleveland," McCarthy said Monday. "Nothing else matters."

And that includes the fact that Rodgers will be out on the practice field starting Wednesday, after doing some throwing at practice on Saturday.

"We're excited Aaron's out there. It was big for him to be out there Saturday," McCarthy said. "Being on the practice field, that was a very good thing for what we accomplished. This week will be another step for him. But, at the end of the day, offensively, we need to do some things better than we did (against Tampa Bay). Clearly."

The 26-20 win in overtime was just the second for Green Bay since Rodgers broke his collarbone on Oct. 15 at Minnesota.

His replacement, Brett Hundley, threw for just 84 yards against the Buccaneers. As ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky noted, it was the Packers' fewest passing yards in a win since Week 9 of 1994, when Brett Favre was 6-of-15 for 82 yards in a 33-6 victory over the Bears.

"I'd be fine throwing for [84] yards if we win them all," Hundley said. "I promise you that. I'd be perfectly fine if we win them all. I'd throw for 50 yards."

It was enough, but just barely.

The Packers won because of a fumble return for a touchdown by defensive end Dean Lowry, a blocked punt by linebacker Kyler Fackrell and a running game that gained 199 yards.

While Hundley contributed to the ground game with 66 rushing yards, including 32 on read-option keepers, he completed only 13 of 22 passes and threw his eighth interception of the season.

Running backs Jamaal Williams rushed 21 times for 113 yards and a touchdown, while fellow rookie running back Aaron Jones' lone carry was a 20-yard touchdown run in overtime.

Hundley did lead a 70-yard game-tying field-goal drive in the fourth quarter and the 72-yard game-winning touchdown drive in overtime.

"We've got to get the passing game clicking. We've got some things we've definitely got to clean up, particularly in the drop-back (game). I didn't like what we got out of the (play-action) game, either," McCarthy said. "Brett did some really good things, especially at the critical times. At the most important time of the game, he played his best football. That says a lot about him."

The Packers are hoping Rodgers can have a productive week of practice, shake off the rust while working on the scout-team offense and be ready for the team's Dec. 17 game at Carolina.

First, though, he'll have to undergo a series of medical tests and scans to see if the collarbone, which had two plates affixed to it with 13 screws in an Oct. 19 surgery, has sufficiently healed.

If not, he won't be medically cleared to play against the Panthers. McCarthy said Rodgers would be in a "trial return" group that limits those players snaps in practice.

"Once you are medically cleared, then you are full for practice. So he will be 'trial return' this week," McCarthy said, later adding, "He's not cut loose to go full practice where he's able to do everything. ... The medical clearance will not be an option until next week."

Still, even with limited reps, Rodgers' presence at Saturday's practice had an effect on the team, according to some of his teammates who saw him throwing during drills.

"He was throwing just as high, if not higher than what you saw in Detroit a couple years ago. I don't know, I'm not the head coach, I don't know what his scans say, but he looks good," said linebacker Clay Matthews, referring to Rodgers' desperation touchdown pass to beat the Lions in 2015.

"Obviously, Aaron's the guy in Green Bay. I mean, there's no doubt about it. ..."

Even if Rodgers returns, Green Bay's final three games are daunting. In addition to facing the Panthers, Green Bay hosts Minnesota (10-2) on Dec. 23 and travels to Detroit (6-6) on Dec. 31. ...

Meanwhile, Green Bay may have a two-headed running back situation for future seasons that rivals many of the league's top backfields.

Williams has 303 yards on 80 carries (3.8 per attempt) over the last four games, has three touchdowns in his last two games and has been running like a young Eddie Lacy in recent weeks. Jones, who returned from a knee injury suffered in Week 10, still leads the Packers with 390 rushing yards this season and is averaging a whopping 5.5 yards per carry.

Jones, who stayed fresh throughout the game by riding a stationary bike once a quarter for two to three minutes at a time, also believes that he and Williams can develop into one of the NFL's top tandems.

"I think we can be something great," Jones said. "We're two different backs, and both of us have had success. We'll continue to have success and cheer each other on. ..."

I'll be watching for more on the plan for Williams and Jones going forward in coming days; watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for more. ..

Jordy Nelson's average yards per catch the last two games have been 3.67 and 3.40 yards, the two lowest marks of his career. Nelson had three catches for 11 yards against Pittsburgh in Week 12 and five catches for 17 yards against Tampa Bay Sunday. But Nelson did get eight targets, his highest total in the Hundley starting era.

Davante Adams finished the day with four catches for 42 yards (on four targets). Randall Cobb didn't have a reception Sunday.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Brett Hundley, Joe Callahan, Aaron Rodgers
RBs: Jamaal Williams, Aaron Jones, Devante Mays, Ty Montgomery
WRs: Davante Adams, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Geronimo Allison, Jeff Janis, Trevor Davis
TEs: Richard Rodgers, Lance Kendricks

Houston Texans

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 December 2017

The Texans have not been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, but for the first time under head coach Bill O'Brien, the team will not finish with a winning record.

The Texans went 9-7 in O'Brien's first three seasons in Houston, but after Sunday's 24-13 loss to the Tennessee Titans, the team fell to 4-8. The AFC South-leading Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars both reached eight wins on Sunday; the Texans would have to run the table just to match that.

"Not good," O'Brien said of the Texans' record. "I've never been in this situation, so I'm learning on the job too as far as being in a losing situation here.

"We've lost a bunch of games, a bunch of close games, and just got to figure out how to continue to try to coach better and see if we can get these guys to execute a little bit higher."

The season certainly has been a disappointment coming off of back-to-back division titles, but the Texans have been hampered by injuries, including to two of their best players. Houston has lost rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson (torn ACL), defensive end J.J. Watt (broken leg), outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus (torn pectoral muscle), tight end Ryan Griffin (concussion) and rookie running back D'Onta Foreman (torn Achilles) to season-ending injuries.

The injury issues got even worse on Sunday.

Already without Will Fuller (ribs), the Texans had six players leave the game and not return -- tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz (concussion), cornerback Johnathan Joseph (shoulder), wide receiver Bruce Ellington (hamstring), wide receiver Braxton Miller (concussion), running back Alfred Blue (concussion) and inside linebacker Jelani Jenkins (concussion) -- and O'Brien called the game "one of the tougher days" he has had trying to piece together a team because of all the injuries.

One of O'Brien's adjustments was moving running back Andre Ellington, whom the Texans signed less than two weeks ago and who spent all week in practice in the backfield, to slot receiver. On every play, quarterback Tom Savage had to guide Ellington through what to do, telling him where to line up and trying to teach him the blocking schemes.

"It was just a weird game," Savage said. "I've never been a part of something like that with that many guys out. Those guys really stepped up and did a great job for us."

On Sunday, the Texans once again came close to a victory, but Savage and the offense had a hard time overcoming those injuries. Not only did Ellington have to play in the slot, Chris Thompson ended the game as the Texans' No. 2 receiver. Prior to the game, Thompson had just one target all season. But despite the pile of injuries, Savage would not allow that challenge to be an excuse for another Texans loss.

"It's one of those things -- no one really cares," Savage said. "You can tell everybody in the world that we had injuries -- no one cares. We have an L on that game and that's all that matters. We have to find a way to win."

One certainty for Houston?

As NFL.com's Matt Harmon put it, "DeAndre Hopkins has the best floor of any wide receiver in fantasy football because he just gets pummeled with volume. He's averaged 12.6 targets per game since Savage returned to the starting lineup. Hopkins has 80 yards and/or a touchdown in each of the last five games."

Also worth noting, with all the injuries, tight end Stephen Anderson benefited with a 12-target game. He averaged three targets per game heading into Week 13. With Bruce Ellington and Fiedorowicz placed on season-ending IR on Tuesday -- and given the matchup with the 49ers this week -- Anderson might be of some interest. ...

Meanwhile, the Sports Xchange reports the Texans have no current plans to alter the configuration of their offensive line again for the remainder of the season, which isn't the greatest of news.

Lamar Miller repeatedly ran into a brick wall at the line of scrimmage Sunday. The Texans were held to a season-low 53 rushing yards on 22 carries during a loss to the Tennessee Titans as Miller was held to 56 yards on 15 carries.

Miller provided the sole threat in the running game as Blue gained two yards on four carries before suffering a concussion. Ellington lost four yards on his two carries.

"I think their defensive line did a great job of just getting off their blocks and making plays," Miller said Monday. "In the second half, we started being more effective in the running game."

The Texans had just five rushing yards on 10 carries in the first half.

"It wasn't very good," O'Brien said. "We just have to figure out what corrections we need to make, figure out how we can get it better. We got to do a better job running the ball."

The Texans miss the presence of Foreman.

"I think all of the running backs have been doing a great job," Miller said. "I have confidence in all of those guys. We've got to do a better job of being more balanced."

All that said, NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich suggests that Ellington makes for an intriguing PPR waiver wire add ahead of a Week 14 game against a 49ers team that bleeds receiving yards to backs. ...

I will be following up on the team's long list of injured players via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

Looking ahead, the Texans have plenty of questions going into the offseason. The team has plenty of holes to fill on the offensive line and in the secondary, but their biggest question mark going into this season -- quarterback -- has been settled after the exceptional play of Watson before he suffered a season-ending injury.

The Texans' offense was rolling with Watson under center for seven games, and when he tore his ACL during practice, he was leading the NFL in touchdown passes. He and Hopkins clicked immediately, and the wide receiver was on his way to the best season of his career. Along with a healthy Fuller and Foreman next season, the Texans could have one of the best offenses in the NFL.

Houston caught glimpses of what could be with their franchise quarterback, who completed 61.8 percent of his passes for 1,699 yards and 19 touchdowns in 6 1/2 games. Watson also threw eight interceptions, but he had a passer rating of 103.0.

While the remainder of this season and any chance at the playoffs look grim, with the Texans having lost four out of five games since Watson tore his ACL, the future looks bright -- maybe the brightest it has looked under O'Brien -- with Watson at the helm in 2018. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Although he's coming off a rocky game, Texans kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn hasn't lost his confidence.

Fairbairn missed a pair of field goals Sunday. That included a 48-yard try that ricocheted off the left upright along with a 28-yard kick sailing wide left. Both of Fairbairn's misses were to the left, so he intends to correct his technique to compensate for the lack of accuracy. He made field goals from 42 yards and 23 yards against the Titans.

"Technique-wise, I'm keeping my eyes down the whole way," Fairbairn said. "I'm going to exaggerate that this week and I'm going to do that the rest of the year now that I've had those misses and correct it and get it right."

O'Brien was supportive of Fairbairn, who made his first 11 kicks of the season and is 17-for-21 overall.

"He's a good kicker," O'Brien said. "I have a lot of faith in him. He had a bad day, but he'll be all right."

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Tom Savage, T.J. Yates
RBs: Lamar Miller, Alfred Blue, Andre Ellington, Tyler Ervin
WRs: DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, Braxton Miller, DeAndrew White
TEs: Stephen Anderson, Evan Baylis, MyCole Pruitt

Indianapolis Colts

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 December 2017

As ESPN.com's Mike Wells notes, after a promising start to his head-coaching career some five years ago, Chuck Pagano's time as coach of the Indianapolis Colts likely will end in a dud.

The upbeat, always optimistic Pagano is assured of his first losing season after the Colts fell to 3-9 with a 27-10 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday. This is just the third time since 2001 that the Colts will finish the season with a losing record.

If Pagano hopes to rebound with a winning record next season, it may not be as coach of the Colts, because there's been no indication that he'll be returning.

The Colts used to sit on top of the AFC South on a regular basis. They once had a 16-game winning streak over their division counterparts. But since their 51-16 loss to Jacksonville on Dec. 13, 2015, Indianapolis is just 5-9 in the division, including being swept by Jacksonville and Tennessee this season.

Jacksonville beat the Colts by a combined score of 57-10 in their two meetings this season. The Jaguars did it with quarterback Blake Bortles (639 yards) looking like a Pro Bowler and a defense that sacked Jacoby Brissett 13 times.

This season was expected to be a challenge for Pagano and the Colts. They entered it with uncertainty surrounding quarterback Andrew Luck (shoulder), who would end up missing the season. Plus, the team was in the midst of a roster overhaul under first-year general manager Chris Ballard.

But for Pagano, it goes beyond just wins and losses. A significant part of his evaluation has been on the development of players. An argument can be made that very few players have improved significantly from the start of the season. That's not a good thing when you're in the rebuilding process.

Pagano's decline has been a steady one. He arrived in 2012 with new general manager Ryan Grigson, Luck, receiver T.Y. Hilton and tight ends Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener as part of their rookie class.

The Colts had immediate success, with three straight 11-5 seasons, and made the playoffs in each of those years, including reaching the AFC Championship Game in 2014. It seemed Pagano and Luck would be linked for years to come. But the more Luck got injured, the more Pagano's coaching got exposed.

The Colts have seven losses by at least 20 points since the 2015 season, which was the year that Luck originally injured his right shoulder, and they're about to miss the playoffs for the third straight season.

Back-to-back 8-8 seasons were good enough for Pagano to hang on to his job, but the inability to close out games this season (3-6 when leading or tied at halftime) and the lack of roster development likely means Pagano's time as coach of the Colts is coming to an end.

Nonetheless, despite the rough couple of games that Brissett has gone through the last two weeks losses to Tennessee and the Jaguars, Pagano remains positive.

"He's battling, like everyone else. Giving everything he has," the coach said. "Nobody likes where we're at. Only thing that matters is winning and losing."

Brissett has been roughed up this season, both physically and mentally. But he appears to be holding up OK. The constant pressure from opposing defenses, however, has caused issues with consistency.

Brissett struggled against Jacksonville, completing 21 of 36 passes for 174 yards. He was intercepted twice and sacked four times. His passer rating was a dismal 56.9.

Hilton was limited to just three catches for 51 yards, with 40 of those yards coming on a touchdown. Jack Doyle had three catches for 16 yards. Donte Moncrief and Carlos Rogers topped the receiving corps with five and four receptions, respectively, for 37 and 35 yards. ...

Moncrief was wearing a boot on Monday and Pagano said he's dealing with an ankle injury and is "day-to-day."

More to come via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses. ...

With his 61 yards rushing Sunday at Jacksonville, running back Frank Gore has moved up to fifth all-time in career rushing yards. Gore now has 13,697 yards. He passed both Jerome Bettis and LaDainian Tomlinson and stands behind Curtis Martin's 14,101 yards, who is in fourth place.

Doyle was asked about having Gore as a teammate.

"He's the ultimate competitor, the ultimate pro, he's the man," Doyle said. "He's Frank Gore.

Marlon Mack totaled 54 yards on seven touches.

This week, the Colts face a soft Buffalo defense that's been dominated by opposing runners recently making Gore a low-end flex option again. Mack is too hit or miss to rely on in anything but the direst circumstances. ...

WR K.J. Brent was elevated to the active roster from the practice squad. RB Matt Jones was re-signed on Monday.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Jacoby Brissett, Scott Tolzien
RBs: Frank Gore, Marlon Mack, Matt Jones, Robert Turbin
WRs: T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief, Chester Rogers, Kamar Aiken
TEs: Jack Doyle, Ross Travis, Jason Vander Laan

Jacksonville Jaguars

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 December 2017

Blake Bortles had another big day against the Indianapolis Colts.

He completed a season-high 74 percent of his passes (the third-highest total in his career) and threw multiple touchdown passes for the second time this season in the Jaguars' 30-10 rout at EverBank Field on Sunday.

Looking deeper into his numbers show that Bortles had one of the best days of his entire four-year career.

As ESPN.com's Michael DiRocco notes, Bortles completed 11-of-14 passes for 116 yards and two touchdowns on third down. That's a passer rating of 140.8, which was topped only by his performance against New Orleans in Week 16 in 2015 (142.9 rating, when he went 5-for-5 on third down). Bortles had never thrown more than one touchdown pass on third down in any game until Sunday.

"I really felt like it was just a matter of time [that Bortles would really play well], whether I was right or wrong in that," head coach Doug Marrone said. "You see his success in practice and you know sooner or later it's going to carry over, or you hope it does. I was happy to see that, but I did see a lot of that throughout the last couple of weeks in practice, and I think he's worked really hard on that."

According to ESPN Stats and Information, Bortles had completed 55 percent of his third-down throws this season coming into the Colts game. He had just two TD passes on third down in the first 11 games.

In addition, Bortles' two touchdown passes against the Colts came against the blitz, per ESPN Stats and Information. He was 7-for-11 against five or more pass rushers but had come into the game completing only 49.1 percent of his passes against the blitz, the second-worst among qualified quarterbacks (ahead of only DeShone Kizer).

Bortles has traditionally played well against Indianapolis. He entered Sunday's game with 10 TD passes and 1,755 yards in eight career games against the Colts. The only opponent he's thrown more TD passes against is Tennessee (13).

In two games against the Colts this season, Bortles has completed 72.1 percent of his passes for 639 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions.

Meanwhile, Marqise Lee didn't want to say that the Jaguars' wide receivers needed to redeem themselves for some subpar performance over the past few weeks. ... But they needed to redeem themselves for some subpar performances.

That's what the group did on Sunday.

Lee and rookies Keelan Cole and Dede Westbrook combined to catch 16 passes for 213 yards and two touchdowns. More importantly, though, there was only one drop.

That's an encouraging sign for an offense that has all of a sudden had trouble running the ball, but it's going to take a few more good days to know if it's an aberration or a sign that the group has made significant progress heading into the playoff run.

Westbrook, playing in just his third game, caught six passes for 78 yards. Cole had three catches for 49 yards, including his first career touchdown on a fade pass in the end zone in which he went up and over the defensive back to make the catch.

Even though it came against a depleted Colts secondary, it's still a step forward from the past two weeks. After losing Allen Hurns to an ankle injury late in the Jaguars' victory over the Los Angeles Chargers on Nov. 12, Lee, Cole and Westbrook had combined to catch just 20 passes for 208 yards in the Jaguars' past two games heading into Sunday's matchup against Indianapolis.

Lee also had two drops, including one with less than a minute to play against Arizona, and Cole had one. Only Westbrook dropped a pass against the Colts.

Sunday was certainly a confidence booster for Cole and Westbrook, especially since the Jaguars play host to Seattle on Sunday. The Legion of Boom is down two players because of injuries -- safety Kam Chancellor and corner Richard Sherman -- but the Seahawks' pass defense is still one of the better units in the NFL.

"Of course it does [boost their confidence] but you know you still have to work," Cole said. "There's never, ever anything to be relaxed about."

Even so, Lee is encouraged by what happened and what that potentially means for the rest of the season.

"We knew we would have some opportunities," Lee said. "This week we actually came out and took advantage of them."

Meanwhile, as the Sports Xchange suggested, if the Jaguars have any hope of winning the AFC South this season, they will need continued strong play from Bortles.

Granted, the Jaguars still lead the league in rushing (149.4 yards per game), but their per-game average has been falling the past five weeks. The Jaguars have rushed for less than 150 yards a game five consecutive games now, after rushing for at least 155 yards in six of their first seven contests. While the rushing totals continue to fall, the passing numbers are accelerating. The Jaguars passed for more than 220 yards just once in their first six games. In the last six, they've thrown for more than 250 yards on four occasions.

Much of it has to do with teams stacking the line of scrimmage with the intent of shutting down Leonard Fournette and other running backs.

They've been fairly successful at it. Fournette started his NFL career with 596 yards in his first six games (99.3 average) but has just 226 in his last four contests (56.5 average) after missing a pair of games in between those two stretches.

Fournette scored his seventh touchdown of the season on a 5-yard run against the Colts. It marked the first score for Fournette since Week 6. The rookie from LSU scored six times in the first six weeks, but then missed two games (injury and then inactive due to a violation of team rules) and had not scored in the last three games in which he's played.

The rookie took to Twitter to respond to those disappointed in his recent efforts.

"To all these fantasy owners, stop writing me about points I run in a 11 man box, y'all think I'm Hercules... y'all trippen trippen."

Point taken and with the Seahawks looming this weekend, it'll be another tough slog for Fournette. ...

A few final notes here. ... Hurns has now missed three games with what's been reported as a high ankle sprain; I'll be following up on his progress via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

Josh Lambo kicked three more field goals on Sunday and has now made all but one of his 14 kicks since joining the Jaguars in Week 7. Lambo's only miss this year was from 41 yards against Cleveland.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Blake Bortles, Chad Henne, Brandon Allen
RBs: Leonard Fournette, Chris Ivory, T.J. Yeldon, Corey Grant
WRs: Marqise Lee, Keelan Cole, Dede Westbrook, Allen Hurns, Max McCaffrey, Jaelen Strong
TEs: Marcedes Lewis, Ben Koyack

Kansas City Chiefs

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 December 2017

Andy Reid said he had some changes in mind for a struggling Kansas City Chiefs offense following last week's game and he delivered a big one on Sunday against the New York Jets.

He relinquished offensive playcalling duties to coordinator Matt Nagy, with assistant head coach Brad Childress and other assistants having input.

Whether or not the playcalling was the reason, the Chiefs' offense looked more alive than in weeks. They lost 38-31 to the Jets, but scored more points than in any game since a Week 5 win over the Houston Texans. Quarterback Alex Smith threw for four touchdowns and completed five passes of more than 32 yards.

"It's no different than early in the season," Smith said. "I think for one it shows a lot about coach Reid that he would do that and look internally and make that decision. It's still a collective effort. Those guys do it together, the entire staff, and certainly [Reid] is a huge part as far as game-planning and playcalling."

The Chiefs did a lot of their best work early in the game. Smith threw two touchdown passes to Travis Kelce in the first five minutes. The Chiefs script their first 15 plays, meaning they're called well before kickoff and not in the moment.

But the Chiefs' success continued later in the game as Smith threw TD passes of 79 and 40 yards to Tyreek Hill.

In addition to the two touchdowns, Hill went over 100 yards for the first time in well over a month.

Kelce started off with three catches (and both of his touchdowns) in the first quarter but went silent for a stretch after that. He finished with four catches on the day.

"I always look in the mirror first," Reid said. "I've got good people around me. I gave them an opportunity, Matt Nagy in particular, and Brad to put us in a position where we could do a little better. There were some good things and there were some things as an offense we can get a little better at."

The Chiefs failed to score a touchdown on their final drive of the game, instead giving the ball up on downs. Reid said for that reason, he hadn't settled on a playcaller for this week's game against the Raiders.

"I'll take it game by game, evaluate everything," he said. "I saw some good things. The offense did some good things, but when you have the ball in your hands at the end of the game, you've got to score. That's the objective."

The Chiefs typically script their first 15 plays. Against the Jets Sunday, the Chiefs scored two touchdowns on their first six plays. Each of their four touchdown drives took no more than five plays, including a one-play touchdown on their first possession of the second half.

The team's offense took much of the flack for the last two losses while scoring just 19 points against the New York Giants and Buffalo Bills. On Sunday, the defense took all the heat, surrendering 488 yards to the Jets, including 190 yards on third down.

While Reid is still considering the plan going forward, he liked what Nagy and Smith delivered on Sunday.

"I'll go through it and continue to evaluate and whatever I come up with, I come up with there," Reid said. "But I'll tell you I thought Matt Nagy did some real good things, I will stay that. I thought he did a real nice job there, as did Alex."

In fact, as the Sports Xchange suggested, the pass game almost proved too effective, with the Chiefs mounting only two drives longer than six plays and averaging just three plays on their four touchdown drives. That efficiency played a factor in the Jets maintaining possession for more than 42 minutes and keeping the Chiefs defense on the field.

Meanwhile, Kareem Hunt and Akeem Hunt combined for just 10 rushes in 46 offensive plays. More commitment to the run game might have allowed the Chiefs to hold the ball longer and limit the defense's time on the field. Smith's 70-yard scramble made the numbers respectable.

According to NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich, the fact that Hunt had just nine carries against the Jets, with Charcandrick West out, is mind-boggling. Hunt's carry totals over the last month are nine, 11, 18 and nine. He hasn't totaled double-digit fantasy points in standard scoring since Week 7 and is basically sinking fantasy lineups at this point.

The Chiefs get the Raiders in Week 14, but Hunt will again be tough to trust.

Remember, Hunt has rushed for more than 50 yards in a game just twice in the last seven outings.

West did not play against the Jets after missing practice last week for personal reason. It appears West may return to the team for practice Wednesday.

Receiver Albert Wilson played 92 percent of the team's offensive snaps after entering the game questionable with a knee injury. ...

Harrison Butker saw his consecutive field-goal streak snapped at 23, missing a 38-yard try wide right.

And finally. ... The Chiefs suspended CB Marcus Peters this week after he was penalized for throwing a penalty flag into the stand and then leaving the field believing he was ejected. He was not.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Alex Smith, Patrick Mahomes, Tyler Bray
RBs: Kareem Hunt, Charcandrick West, Akeem Hunt
WRs: Tyreek Hill, Albert Wilson, De'Anthony Thomas, Jehu Chesson, Demarcus Robinson
TEs: Travis Kelce, Demetrius Harris

Los Angeles Chargers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 December 2017

After an 0-4 start, the Los Angeles Chargers clawed their way back to the top of the AFC West by holding onto a 19-10 victory over the winless Cleveland Browns on Sunday at the StubHub Center.

With the Kansas City Chiefs losing to the New York Giants earlier in the day, both teams sit at 6-6 overall with four games left in the season. It's the first time since Week 6 of the 2014 season that the Chargers have had a share of the top spot in the AFC West division standings.

With the win, the Chargers avenged a 20-17 loss to the Browns last season on Christmas Eve, the only win for Cleveland in the past two years. The Bolts are 16-9-1 all-time against the Browns.

"I didn't think we could get there," quarterback Philip Rivers admitted. "I'm not saying that like I was throwing the towel in on the division. I just didn't think the (Chiefs) would fall back to us that far.

"I remember sitting there at 0-4 and having thought, 'Heck, with Kansas City and the division. Let's just see if we can fight our way back into the mix.'"

The Chargers have done that and more. With another home date up next, this one against the Washington Redskins, L.A. could be riding a four-game winning streak when going to Kansas City on Dec. 16.

"We still got some stuff to do," defensive end Melvin Ingram said.

But the stuff is no longer hitting the fan when the Chargers perform. Their offense has found another gear, the defense is creating turnovers with a vengeance and the special teams kicked four field goals on Sunday.

That's a recipe for winning after the team cooked up some miserable football in the season's first month.

Of course, the Chargers entered Sunday's contest as heavy favorites, but only led 9-7 at halftime as the Browns did a good job of keeping the Bolts out of the end zone in the first half.

Head coach Anthony Lynn talked all week about not overlooking the Browns, letting his players know Cleveland had a young, talented team. Lynn was right, as the Chargers got all they could handle from the Browns.

But as ESPN.com's Eric D. Williams notes, for a third straight week, receiver Keenan Allen proved too hard to contain for the opposing defense. Allen finished with 10 receptions for 105 yards, including a 7-yard reception for a score.

In the past three games, Allen has totaled 33 receptions for 436 receiving yards and three touchdowns. He's moved past the 1,000-yard mark for the second time in his career thanks to what's now an historic three-game stretch. According to Elias Sports Bureau, Allen is the first player in NFL history with at least 10 receptions, 100 receiving yards and one receiving touchdown in three straight games.

"It's obviously a streak that has never been done, "Rivers said. "But, we always try to get him the football."

Thanks in part to Allen, Rivers also continued his impressive play, throwing for over 250 passing yards for a third straight week. Rivers finished 30-of-42 for 339 yards and a touchdown and no interceptions against the Browns.

The tight ends also got in the mix with Hunter Henry getting some key catches (seven receptions, 81 yards) and Antonio Gates supplied two first downs when given the chance. Pass protection was spot-on, once again, as Rivers became the active leader among quarterbacks by starting his 188th consecutive game.

According to ESPN Stats and Information, Rivers also threw his 335th career passing touchdown, eclipsing New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning for seventh place on the all-time list.

Beyond Rivers and Allen, ball security has been a positive. In their last eight games, they have forced 19 turnovers while giving it away just five times.

But there's room for improvement.

Melvin Gordon is still locked in as the lead back; it's just that there's not much room when he runs the ball. He did lead all rushers with 77 yards on 19 carries, but many of them were hard to come by. And in short-yardage situation where the run is called for, the Chargers have trouble converting.

Backup Austin Ekeler continues to supply a nice change-of-pace and he continues to be effective in short spurts 19 yards in four carries.

Based on his volume and 75 percent snap share, Gordon remains a front-line fantasy starter going up against a Washington defense that dominated by Alfred Morris last Thursday. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Wide receiver Mike Williams, who missed the first five games with a back injury, was unable to go on Sunday with a bad knee. Williams, the team's top pick and No. 7 overall, is having a disappointing rookie season and it's not clear if he'll be available this week.

In addition, Henry (knee) was sore On Monday after taking a big blow in Sunday's game. Henry worked on a limited basis Wednesday.

I'll be following up on Williams and Henry via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. Remember; Henry has another good matchup against Washington if he's able to go.

And finally. ... Running back Branden Oliver was a healthy inactive on Sunday.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Philip Rivers, Cardale Jones
RBs: Melvin Gordon, Branden Oliver
WRs: Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams, Travis Benjamin, Mike Williams, Geremy Davis
TEs: Hunter Henry, Antonio Gates, Sean McGrath

Los Angeles Rams

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 December 2017

After an 0-4 start, the Los Angeles Chargers clawed their way back to the top of the AFC West by holding onto a 19-10 victory over the winless Cleveland Browns on Sunday at the StubHub Center.

With the Kansas City Chiefs losing to the New York Giants earlier in the day, both teams sit at 6-6 overall with four games left in the season. It's the first time since Week 6 of the 2014 season that the Chargers have had a share of the top spot in the AFC West division standings.

With the win, the Chargers avenged a 20-17 loss to the Browns last season on Christmas Eve, the only win for Cleveland in the past two years. The Bolts are 16-9-1 all-time against the Browns.

"I didn't think we could get there," quarterback Philip Rivers admitted. "I'm not saying that like I was throwing the towel in on the division. I just didn't think the (Chiefs) would fall back to us that far.

"I remember sitting there at 0-4 and having thought, 'Heck, with Kansas City and the division. Let's just see if we can fight our way back into the mix.'"

The Chargers have done that and more. With another home date up next, this one against the Washington Redskins, L.A. could be riding a four-game winning streak when going to Kansas City on Dec. 16.

"We still got some stuff to do," defensive end Melvin Ingram said.

But the stuff is no longer hitting the fan when the Chargers perform. Their offense has found another gear, the defense is creating turnovers with a vengeance and the special teams kicked four field goals on Sunday.

That's a recipe for winning after the team cooked up some miserable football in the season's first month.

Of course, the Chargers entered Sunday's contest as heavy favorites, but only led 9-7 at halftime as the Browns did a good job of keeping the Bolts out of the end zone in the first half.

Head coach Anthony Lynn talked all week about not overlooking the Browns, letting his players know Cleveland had a young, talented team. Lynn was right, as the Chargers got all they could handle from the Browns.

But as ESPN.com's Eric D. Williams notes, for a third straight week, receiver Keenan Allen proved too hard to contain for the opposing defense. Allen finished with 10 receptions for 105 yards, including a 7-yard reception for a score.

In the past three games, Allen has totaled 33 receptions for 436 receiving yards and three touchdowns. He's moved past the 1,000-yard mark for the second time in his career thanks to what's now an historic three-game stretch. According to Elias Sports Bureau, Allen is the first player in NFL history with at least 10 receptions, 100 receiving yards and one receiving touchdown in three straight games.

"It's obviously a streak that has never been done, "Rivers said. "But, we always try to get him the football."

Thanks in part to Allen, Rivers also continued his impressive play, throwing for over 250 passing yards for a third straight week. Rivers finished 30-of-42 for 339 yards and a touchdown and no interceptions against the Browns.

The tight ends also got in the mix with Hunter Henry getting some key catches (seven receptions, 81 yards) and Antonio Gates supplied two first downs when given the chance. Pass protection was spot-on, once again, as Rivers became the active leader among quarterbacks by starting his 188th consecutive game.

According to ESPN Stats and Information, Rivers also threw his 335th career passing touchdown, eclipsing New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning for seventh place on the all-time list.

Beyond Rivers and Allen, ball security has been a positive. In their last eight games, they have forced 19 turnovers while giving it away just five times.

But there's room for improvement.

Melvin Gordon is still locked in as the lead back; it's just that there's not much room when he runs the ball. He did lead all rushers with 77 yards on 19 carries, but many of them were hard to come by. And in short-yardage situation where the run is called for, the Chargers have trouble converting.

Backup Austin Ekeler continues to supply a nice change-of-pace and he continues to be effective in short spurts 19 yards in four carries.

Based on his volume and 75 percent snap share, Gordon remains a front-line fantasy starter going up against a Washington defense that dominated by Alfred Morris last Thursday. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Wide receiver Mike Williams, who missed the first five games with a back injury, was unable to go on Sunday with a bad knee. Williams, the team's top pick and No. 7 overall, is having a disappointing rookie season and it's not clear if he'll be available this week.

In addition, Henry (knee) was sore On Monday after taking a big blow in Sunday's game. Henry worked on a limited basis Wednesday; Williams was also on the field running routes.

I'll be following up on Williams and Henry via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. Remember; Henry has another good matchup against Washington if he's able to go.

And finally. ... Running back Branden Oliver was a healthy inactive on Sunday.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Jared Goff, Sean Mannion
RBs: Todd Gurley, Malcolm Brown, Lance Dunbar
WRs: Sammy Watkins, Cooper Kupp, Tavon Austin, Pharoh Cooper, Josh Reynolds, Robert Woods
TEs: Tyler Higbee, Gerald Everett

Miami Dolphins

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 December 2017

As ESPN.com's James Walker suggested, the Dolphins have a lot of work to do to improve their offense next season.

There are at least four positions -- including key areas at right tackle, tight end and both guard spots -- that must be addressed via free agency and the draft. Running back also is a question mark -- unless 2016 third-rounder Kenyan Drake steps up in the final month of season and proves he can be a feature tailback.

Drake made significant strides on Sunday during Miami's 35-9 victory over the Denver Broncos. He rushed for a career-high 120 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries. The highlight was Drake's 42-yard run up the left sideline for a score in the second half.

Drake played 53 of 72 snaps (73.6 percent) and had 26 touches (a career high) for 141 yards from scrimmage. It was a bigger workload than Drake had had in years.

"I think like one time in high school I ran the ball 25 times," Drake said. "But other than that, I don't think I've ever run the ball that much in my life. I could've ran it 20 more times with how the O-line was blocking, so give all the credit to them."

Drake already has proved he's a home run hitter. He now has Miami's three longest runs of the season at 42, 44 and 66 yards. But the next step in Drake's maturation process is consistency.

At times this season, Drake has had ball-security issues and too many negative runs while looking for big plays. Dolphins coaches are teaching Drake to take what is given to him, even if it is 2- or 3-yard runs, and the big plays will come.

That happened Sunday, when Drake was able to pop the big run late in the third quarter. He averaged 5.2 yards per carry against a Denver defense that was ranked third in the NFL entering the contest.

"He was patient with what we were asking him to do," head coach Adam Gase said. "A lot of times schematically we were leaving him the free guy. We were putting it on him to make them miss, trying to get us some better angles, and he did that. The good thing about Kenyan is that when he gets to the open field and it's one-on-one, he's a tough guy to run down."

The Dolphins traded Pro Bowl tailback Jay Ajayi last month to the Philadelphia Eagles. Miami had confidence that Drake and/or Damien Williams would step up and fill that role for the remainder of the season.

If Drake continues to play this way and produce 100-yard games, he could be a difference-maker for the Dolphins in 2018, as well. That would scratch at least one need off Miami's wish list.

Meanwhile, the Miami Dolphins' defense has played decent in stretches this season. But at no point has the group dominated an opponent from start to finish -- until now. The Dolphins broke their season-high five-game losing streak while not allowing an offensive touchdown.

This week, Miami will try to avoid the season sweep when it hosts the reigning Super Bowl champion New England Patriots (10-2) on Monday Night Football. This is a rematch from last week, when the Patriots beat the Dolphins 35-17 at Gillette Stadium. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Despite the blowout win, Jay Cutler had a so-so game in his return from a concussion. Cutler threw for 235 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.

He didn't do anything special, but he made the throws he needed to make and got a little help from the run game, defense and special teams.

Wideouts Kenny Stills (five receptions, 98 yards, one TD) and Jarvis Landry (five receptions, 62 yards) and tight end Julius Thomas (three receptions, 20 yards, one TD) were effective.

DeVante Parker had a single catch for the second game in a row.

Cutler, by the way, most likely has four games remaining in his Dolphins and NFL career.

Thomas, who also most likely has four games remaining in his Dolphins career and possibly his NFL career, now has 37 receptions for 362 yards and three TDs.

Finally. ... The initial reports on Williams suggested the running back could miss more than a game with his injured shoulder; I'll have more on his status via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Jay Cutler, Matt Moore, Brandon Doughty
RBs: Kenyan Drake, Damien Williams
WRs: Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills, Leonte Carroo, Jakeem Grant
TEs: Julius Thomas, Anthony Fasano, MarQueis Gray

Minnesota Vikings

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 December 2017

The Vikings continued their dominance on the road and extended their win streak to eight after beating the Falcons 14-9.

As ESPN.com's Courtney Cronin noted, it wasn't Minnesota's prettiest win, but in terms of what this means for the Vikings' own playoff destiny, the victory was a major statement.

"It's always good to get hot late," wide receiver Stefon Diggs said. "We don't want to be hot too early ... [Atlanta is] jelling right now. They're playing some good football. To come out here and do what we can and get it done is huge, especially for this team in the direction we're trying to go."

As the only team that entered Week 13 ranked in the top five in total offense and defense, the Vikings did not resemble the NFL's most balanced team. The offense was more methodical and conservative than it has been in recent weeks, while the Vikings' dominant pass rush didn't generate a ton of pressure on Matt Ryan. For the first time since Week 7, Minnesota did not register a sack.

Still, for a team with aspirations of playing in Super Bowl LII inside its home stadium, the Vikings took care of business by beating last season's NFC champion and hold critical head-to-head wins over Atlanta, Los Angeles and New Orleans. That could play an important role in the conference playoff picture down the stretch if currently top-seeded Philadelphia runs into roadblocks.

But the road battles continue Sunday when the Vikings travel to Carolina for the third of three straight road games. The Vikings are 5-1 on the road and have won eight straight overall, but Carolina (8-4) will be the more desperate team.

"That's a very good team," head coach Mike Zimmer said.

Things should get easier after Carolina. The Vikings finish up with the Bengals at home, the Packers in Green Bay and the Bears at home. They've already beaten the Packers and Bears, and Zimmer is very familiar with the Bengals, whom he worked for as defensive coordinator until getting the Vikings job in 2014. ...

Meanwhile, the Vikings' offense may have appeared conservative on Sunday, but the game plan worked out exceptionally well, especially in the second half. Case Keenum was 18-of-18 for 198 yards and a TD between the painted field numbers on Sunday, according to ESPN and and Information.

A lot of where the ball was thrown was dictated by the game plan, knowing that the zone scheme Atlanta runs was bound to give up some space underneath on the outside.

This should have been a game in which Adam Thielen and Diggs dominated, as the Falcons were without cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Brian Poole. Keenum appeared to leave both of his top receivers open a little too often but was able to compensate by getting seven other players involved in the passing game.

In fact, Thielen, Kyle Rudolph, Diggs and Jerick McKinnon all tied for the team lead with five targets. None of the four finished with more than 51 receiving yards but Rudolph and McKinnon found the end zone.

Thielen had four catches for 51 yards. It was his first game without at least five catches. But his final catch - a 22-yarder on third-and-4 - allowed the Vikings to run out the clock to end the game.

Atlanta's run defense had given up 112.3 yards in its past three games entering Week 13, and while it hasn't allowed a 100-yard rusher all season, Latavius Murray came close.

Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur capitalized on Murray's hot hand on several drives when he got the ball on consecutive plays. Murray finished with 76 yards on the ground and was the best he's been in the passing game all season. His three receptions on Sunday are the most for him as a Viking and the most he's had since he and the Raiders beat Buffalo last December.

Murray set up McKinnon in a big way in the second quarter, getting the Vikings into the red zone to set up their first touchdown.

Which brings up another point: The Vikings are still red-hot in the red zone, having scored touchdowns on 14 of their last 15 trips inside the 20-yard line. Both McKinnon (on a two-yard reception) and Kyle Rudolph (with a six-yarder) both scored in the red zone on Sunday.

Rudolph remains one of Keenum's biggest red zone targets. He's scored from inside the 20 in Atlanta, Detroit, Cleveland (in London), Chicago and against New Orleans.

McKinnon, an Atlanta native, had 14 touches for 52 yards and the touchdown. He followed up his scoring catch by doing the "Dirty Bird." An ode to the 1998 Falcons might have stung a bit for Vikings fans who were at the Metrodome in January of 1999 when the Falcons did their "Dirty Bird" celebration after upsetting the Vikings in the NFC title game. The Vikings had gone 15-1 that year.

On the injury front. ... TE David Morgan, a versatile blocking tight end, left Sunday's game because of a concussion.

And finally. ... Not that it's even an issue anymore, but, yes, Keenum and not Teddy Bridgewater will start on Sunday at Carolina.

Keenum has the eight-game win streak going. He also threw only five incompletions in 30 attempts while not turning the ball over in Atlanta.

"He is making the plays he needs to make and not trying to overdo things," Zimmer said. "Sometimes, like in the Washington game, he tried to do things and make some plays he shouldn't have really tried to make and he is staying within himself."

Keenum completed his last 15 passes, including 13 in the second half. The Vikings moved past the Falcons and now rank No. 1 in third-down offense (45.96 percent).

"I think part of that is the different options that we have," Zimmer said Monday. "Being able to have man-beaters, zone-beaters, pressure-beaters, those concepts in there (helps)."

But make no mistake: Keenum continues to help himself as much as anything.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Case Keenum, Teddy Bridgewater, Sam Bradford
RBs: Latavius Murray, Jerick McKinnon, Mack Brown, C.J. Ham, Stevan Ridley
WRs: Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, Laquon Treadwell, Michael Floyd, Jarius Wright, Rodney Adams, Stacy Coley
TEs: Kyle Rudolph, David Morgan, Blake Bell

New England Patriots

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 December 2017

Sunday's success against the Buffalo Bills was the New England Patriots eighth consecutive win, but the team still came away with another loss.

Tight end Rob Gronkowski earned a one-game suspension thanks to a fourth-quarter, post-play hit on a Buffalo defender.

New England (10-2) overcame a sluggish start and suspect run defense to pull away in the second half for a 23-3 win over a Bills (6-6) team that quarterback Tom Brady has now beaten 27 times, an NFL record for the most by any quarterback over a single foe.

While it's no surprise that head coach Bill Belichick's team -- which rushed for 191 yards and a pair of ground scores by Rex Burkhead, topping 190 yards rushing for the second time in as many weeks - was able to turn a 9-3 halftime edge into a comfortable win, the day was far from all positive.

Gronkowski, who grew up not far from New Era Field rooting for the Bills, closed out another big day against Buffalo with nine catches for 147 yards and one ugly, post-interception hit on rookie cornerback Tre'Davious White. With White laying on the sideline out of bounds and the play long over, Gronkowski dived on the young defensive back with an elbow to the back of his head.

Postgame cameras at midfield appeared to catch Belichick apologizing to Bills head coach Sean McDermott for the hit that drew an unnecessary roughness call and left White in the concussion protocol. Belichick was heard calling it, "bullsh--."

Gronkowski began his postgame comments to the media by apologizing for the hit, but then seemed to make excuses for it based on ongoing frustration over the way he's treated in terms of offensive and defensive pass interference calls by officials. There was no doubt that prior to the cheap shot on White after his interception, the rookie cornerback was holding Gronkowski throughout his route downfield. The tight end also was nabbed for a questionable offensive pass interference call earlier in the game.

"I want to apologize to No. 27," Gronkowski said. "I'm not in the business of that. I mean, there was a lot of frustration and I was just really frustrated at that moment and it just happened naturally through emotions. ... I just want to apologize to Tre'Davious White."

A day later, while awaiting word on whether Gronkowski would indeed be suspended for the hit, Belichick didn't have much to add to the story.

"I think Rob addressed it. I don't have anything else to add," Belichick said in a morning conference call that came a few hours before the league announced the one-game ban via press release.

NFL vice president of football operations Jon Runyan issued the suspension for multiple violations of NFL rules, including unnecessary roughness and unnecessary contact with a defenseless player. According to the release, Runyan's letter to Gronkowski included the following: "Your actions were not incidental, could have been avoided and placed the opposing player at risk of serious injury. The Competition Committee has clearly expressed its goal of 'eliminating flagrant hits that have no place in our game.' Those hits include the play you were involved in yesterday."

Gronkowski appealed the suspension. His appeal was denied on Tuesday.

So coming off another impressive win, New England will be without Gronkowski, who leads the Patriots with 55 catches for 849 yards and seven touchdowns - for Monday night's trip to Miami to take on the Dolphins. He will, however, return for the Dec. 17 AFC showdown with the Steelers in Pittsburgh

Meanwhile, Gronk wasn't the only player showing some frustration in this one.

Tom Brady's emotion was at red-hot levels as evidenced by a sideline outburst in the first quarter, but with his on-field performance not quite at peak levels early, the Patriots needed to carry him.

The two-headed running back attack of Dion Lewis (15 carries, 92 yards) and Burkhead (12 carries, 78 yards, 2 TDs) helped, and so did a bend-but-don't-break defense that decisively slammed the door in the red zone.

Add in what seemed to be a halftime alteration to get Gronkowski (nine catches, 147 yards after having two catches for 28 yards at the half) more involved in the second half, and it was a formula that produced a 23-3 victory at New Era Field. The result extended the team's road winning streak to 14 games and puts the Patriots one step closer to winning the AFC East championship.

When the highlights of Sunday's win are replayed, Brady's sideline outburst will be hard to miss.

"Just football. We've been around each other a lot. I love [offensive coordinator] Josh [McDaniels] ... two competitive people and it's just the way it goes," Brady explained.

The exchange came after the first drive of the game stalled when Brady didn't spot a potential open target and instead fired an incomplete pass in the other direction. As Brady walked to the sideline, McDaniels appeared to say something in his direction and Brady reacted passionately, yelling back at McDaniels.

Jack Easterby, whose official title with the Patriots is character coach/team development, stepped between them to extinguish the fiery outburst. And soon enough, Brady and McDaniels were sitting side by side on the bench going over adjustments.

This is nothing new for Brady, whose 2011 shouting match with then-offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien in Washington is often remembered as an example of the passion and competitiveness.

As Brady and McDaniels worked through the issues, the defense gave them plenty of cushion to figure things out (it was 9-3 at the half).

With the defense doing its thing, and Lewis (44 yards) and Burkhead (31) ripping off explosive off-tackle runs to spearhead the ground game, it had an old-school AFC East-type of feel to it.

"It was great. Those guys have been really running great all season. It's been a huge thing for our offense. I don't think you can just count on us dropping back 50, 60 times and throwing the ball," Brady said. "I think you really have to defend the running game and our play-actions come off that. We had a bunch of good plays off play-action, so you have to be able to do both. We were able to do both."

It should be noted that the Bills have been allowing big days on the ground over the last month-plus, but New England approached 200 yards rushing for the second straight week.

The Patriots had 35 rushes for 191 yards as a team, led by Lewis and Burkhead.

As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich wrote, "This offense is productive enough for both backs to thrive on a weekly basis and they get another great matchup (this) week against Miami."

Worth noting. ... James White did see more work than in past weeks, logging nine touches for 50 yards while Mike Gillislee was a healthy scratch for the fourth straight week.

Meanwhile, as NFL.com's Matt Harmon noted, after a seven target, 83-yard and one score line in Week 12 despite Gronkowski going off, it looked like the star tight end and Brandin Cooks could co-exist.

That was not the case in Week 13.

Cooks popped up with one of his trademark disappearing acts, going for 17 yards on three targets. Harmon added, "His first season in New England has come with much more consistent production than his time in New Orleans, but we can't be too surprised by this sort of outing given his history."

And finally. ... Receiver Chris Hogan (shoulder) missed his fourth straight game with the injury suffered in the pre-bye, Week 8 win over the Chargers. Hogan had not practiced since, although after spending time in a sling has been back working out and lifting during recent practice weeks and he was on the field Wednesday to open this week. ...

Matthew Slater (hamstring) missed his third straight game and seventh overall due to the injury that dates back to the early days of training camp practice.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer
RBs: Dion Lewis, Rex Burkhead, James White, Mike Gillislee, James Develin
WRs: Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola, Phillip Dorsett, Malcolm Mitchell, Matt Slater
TEs: Dwayne Allen

New Orleans Saints

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 December 2017

As New Orleans Times-Picayune staffer Larry Holder framed it: "The Amazing Alvin Kamara exudes all the qualities of an NFL offensive superhero.

"The New Orleans Saints running back leaps over defensive backs and into the stands in a single bound. His body seemingly oozes a substance poisonous to the touch of an oncoming defender. He also scores touchdowns.

"Plenty of them. ..."

"Aw, man, that dude is slippery," center Max Unger said after the Saints' impressive 31-21 win over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. "It's cool to see young runners like that. It's amazing, really. He's a talented guy and you just have to get him free, have him break a couple of tackles. He does some impressive stuff."

The Saints rookie tailback produced 126 yards on 14 total touches and two touchdowns against the Panthers. Carolina was supposed to be one of the best teams in the league in slowing down running backs.

That didn't happen.

"We can prepare for whatever we want, but he's got some elite ability," Panthers coach Ron Rivera said.

As Holder suggested, that's a powerful admission from an NFL head coach when speaking on a running back only 12 games into his career.

Kamara does so with a fun-loving charm. He seems mystified by his own ability sometimes, almost like his skills on the football field should be the norm.

"It's rare," Unger said.

No doubt.

Kamara is only the third rookie running back in NFL history to compile 600 rushing yards and 600 receiving yards. Washington's Charley Taylor in 1964 and Detroit's Billy Sims in 1980 were the only other two to reach those marks. And there are still four regular-season games left for Kamara and the Saints.

The Saints tailback displayed to most of the country for the second straight week his dynamic ability. He put on a show last week in a town full of stars in Los Angeles despite a Saints loss. He recreated that performance again Sunday to help propel the Saints to NFC South supremacy.

Kamara owned the first drive of the game. An 8-yard run on the first play. A 10-yard reception on second-and-8. An 18-yard reception to push the Saints to the Panthers' 10.

The Saints then failed to punch the ball in the end zone on their first three attempts from the Panthers' 2-yard line. Sean Payton called on the closer for fourth down, and Kamara blasted through Panthers linebacker Shaq Thompson outside the numbers for the 2-yard touchdown plunge.

But Kamara's not supposed to run through a linebacker. He only makes them miss.

Not anymore.

Holder went on to concede he asked the most obvious question of Sean Payton's postgame press conference: Do you have confidence in getting the ball to Kamara in any situation?

Payton smirked and scoffed, "Well that's evident."

Equally evident, Mark Ingram isn't going away.

In fact, Ingram did his best Kamara impression with a 72-yard run in the second quarter, where he made Panthers safety Mike Adams miss him three times with two cutbacks and a stiff-arm.

Kamara finished with 60 rushing yards, 66 receiving yards and two touchdown runs. Ingram finished with 85 rushing yards, 37 receiving yards and one TD.

The numbers, like the runs, have become ridiculous this season. Kamara and Ingram have combined for 200-plus yards from scrimmage in five straight games. They have combined for a total of 1,872 scrimmage yards since Week 6 (234 per game). They have combined for 20 touchdowns scored since Week 3.

Kamara leads the NFL with 7.0 yards per carry this season.

But as ESPN.com's Mike Triplett noted, the number that means most of all is 9-3. That's where the Saints are now, sitting alone atop the NFC South standings. The Saints lead Carolina (8-4) by just one game -- but have swept the season series. And they lead the Atlanta Falcons (7-5) by two games as they prepare to face them twice in the next three weeks (Thursday night at Atlanta, then home in Week 16).

The defense, QB Drew Brees and receiver Michael Thomas have also been very good, among other areas. But they've all shown their warts at times, too.

They haven't been nearly as consistent as Kamara and Ingram.

But the Ingram– Kamara one-two punch could be limited this week, due to Ingram's toe.

Ingram popped up on the Monday injury report with said toe injury.

Ingram was listed as being a limited participant in Monday's estimation of practice participation, but he didn't make it onto the field at all for the team's first actual practice ahead of Thursday's game against the Falcons. He also sat out Wednesday and is officially listed as questionable.

I'll obviously be following up on this one when Late-Breaking Updates commence early Thursday and I'll continue to do so as needed right up through kickoff. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Thomas has been one of the most productive pass catchers in the league in terms of receptions and yards. He entered Sunday's game with 70 catches for 805 yards, but he had not caught a touchdown pass in seven consecutive games.

That drought ended with a 10-yard scoring pass from Brees to Thomas, who finished with five catches for 70 yards.

In addition, as NFL.com's Matt Harmon noted, Willie Snead made a pair of nice plays on his two targets against Carolina but still went out for just 36 percent of the plays. Harmon added that Snead is not all the way back yet but this was a nice sign. The broadcast hinted that Snead came back from his early-season suspension a bit shy of tip-top football shape.

And finally. ... According to the Sports Xchange, the absence of tight end Coby Fleener caused some personnel adjustments for the Saints, who use three tight ends with regularity. Fleener, who went on injured reserve Saturday because of a concussion, is the team's best receiving tight end so his absence led to Michael Hoomanawanui and Josh Hill being more involved in the passing game.

Hoomanawanui caught one pass for zero yards and Hill caught one pass for 8 yards, but lost a fumble that led to a Carolina touchdown.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Drew Brees, Chase Daniel
RBs: Mark Ingram, Alvin Kamara, Daniel Lasco
WRs: Michael Thomas, Ted Ginn, Willie Snead, Brandon Coleman, TommyLee Lewis
TEs: Josh Hill, Michael Hoomanawanui

New York Giants

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 December 2017

For the first time in 13 years, somebody other than Eli Manning started at quarterback for the New York Giants. Geno Smith started in Manning's place and wasn't all that impressive.

In fact, it prompted some major changes.

The Giants made a rare in-season house cleaning, firing coach Ben McAdoo and general manager Jerry Reese on Monday, less than a year after the team made the playoffs for the first time since 2011.

Giants co-owner John Mara confirmed the moves at a hastily called news conference on Monday, saying no one incident led to the changes but that something had to be done with the team mired with a 2-10 record in a season where they expected to compete for a Super Bowl.

"This has been the perfect storm this season," Mara said, who said he informed Reese and McAdoo of the decisions on Monday morning. "Everything that could have gone wrong this season has gone wrong."

The dismissals came a day after the Giants lost in Oakland, with Manning benched and the offensively inept team performing badly again. The firings cap an injury-marred season highlighted by the loss of catalyst wide receiver Odell Beckham on Oct. 8.

Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo will take over as interim coach for the final four games. He coached the St. Louis Rams from 2009-11.

Manning's former quarterbacks coach Mike Sullivan remains the offensive coordinator.

Mara did not know whether Manning will return as the starter this weekend against Dallas, but ESPN.com's Jordan Raanan first reported immediately after the firings that would be the case. Mike Garafolo of NFL Network subseuqntly reported the team held meetings on Tuesday to set the game plan for this week and finalized the decision to move Manning back into the starting lineup.

It will be the 211th start of Manning's career, but the one-week break means he'll be at the back of the list when it comes to consecutive starts.

Assistant general manager Kevin Abrams will take over on an interim basis for Reese, who became general manager in 2007 and had two Super Bowl wins on his resume. But the Giants missed the playoffs four times in the last five years, and this year his failure to address offensive line problems played a major role in a horrible season.

Mara said Abrams and Spagnuolo will be offered the chance to be candidates for the head coaching and GM jobs. Former general manager Ernie Accorsi will be a consultant in hiring a new general manager which Mara wants in place before a coach.

The moves came less than a week after the 40-year-old McAdoo made one of his biggest mistakes of his short tenure, mishandling the decision to bench Manning, a two-time Super Bowl MVP. Mara was forced to address the matter the following day and said he wished the decision had been dealt with better.

McAdoo had a 13-16 record, and his firing is the first mid-season head coaching move by the Giants since Bill Arnsparger was replaced seven games into the 1976 season by John McVay.

The 2-10 mark is the Giants' worst 12-game record since they were 2-10 in 1976, and their worst since the advent of the 16-game schedule in 1978.

A team that traces its NFL origins to 1925, the Giants have been an organization that for decades rarely shakes things up until after the season. Coaches get fired, but it's at the end of a bad run and usually they get an extra season to fix things.

The general's manager's job has proceeded with orderly succession. The late George Young turned the team around in the 1980s and was replaced by Accorsi, who eventually gave way to Reese, who joined the team as a scout and worked his way to director of player personnel before getting the GM position.

Going into this season, no one could have expected that the Giants would be replacing a coach before it finished, coming off an 11-6 record in McAdoo's first season.

Those expectations ended quickly. The Giants lost their first five games, the last three after the defense failed to hold fourth-quarter leads.

With the losses, word started to emerge that McAdoo was losing the team. His one-game suspensions of popular cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Janoris Jenkins heightened the problem. According to several reports, some players also griped anonymously about having workouts on Saturdays, something the team also did last season.

As Associated Press sports writer Tom Canavan reminded readers, Mara and co-owner Steve Tisch had come to McAdoo's defense after an embarrassing loss to the then-winless 49ers on Nov. 12, saying his job was safe until the end of the season. His handling of the Manning benching seemed to seal his fate.

The Giants hired McAdoo away from Green Bay in 2014 to serve as Tom Coughlin's offensive coordinator. He was elevated to head coach on Jan. 14, 2016, less than two weeks after Coughlin was forced out after missing the playoffs for the fourth straight season.

McAdoo had all the ingredients to succeed. He was young, ran an up-tempo West Coast offense, had worked well with Manning and he seemed to be a coach the players would like. His practices were filled with music and marked by short-interval segments.

McAdoo's first season was exceptional. Led by a revived defense, the team seemingly won every close game in a season in which most of the players stayed healthy. The only problem was the offense, which struggled to score playing with a poor offensive line, no running back and a lack of receivers other than Beckham.

Reese's failure to address the line in the offseason was a major gaffe that led to McAdoo's demise.

For what it's worth, the Giants offense did look different with Smith instead of Manning.

But, the results were similar. They came into the game averaging 15.6 points per game. They scored 17 against a porous Raiders defense.

The Giants (2-10) came into Sunday with the third-fewest pass plays of 20-plus yards. They had three against the Raiders, two in the second half.

Smith finished 21-of-34 for 212 yards with a touchdown and two turnovers. He began slowly, starting his second game in three seasons. It was the first game that Smith started and finished since the 2014 season.

The Giants went three-and-out on each of their first three possessions before Smith went 4-of-5 passing for 54 yards on the fourth possession, which ended with an Orleans Darkwa touchdown run.

It was the Giants' first touchdown drive of more than 20 yards in two and a half games.

The difference between Manning and Smith was evident in the first half. The more mobile Smith was able to salvage some plays with his legs, even if it involved avoiding pressure before throwing the ball out of bounds.

But then there were the turnovers -- two sack/fumbles in the first half. The first appeared to be on a play where Smith did not see the Raiders blitzing from his blind side. The Giants were outnumbered, and Bruce Irvin came off the edge to force a fumble.

Turnovers have always been the problem for Smith. He came into Sunday with 43 turnovers in 34 career games.

Smith's TD toss came on a 10-yard bullet over the middle to rookie tight end Evan Engram. It was Smith's fourth touchdown pass in the past three seasons, and his first with the Giants. It wasn't enough to silence the critics who wanted Manning to remain the starter.

And now the veteran will return. ...

For the record, Manning doesn't know what the future has in store for him. But one thing he does know is that he wants to play somewhere in 2018. Might that somewhere be with the Giants, the only team he's played for since being acquired via trade with the Chargers in 2004?

Manning wouldn't say, instead trying to keep the focus on finishing out the rest of this miserable 2017 season.

"There's no point," he said after Sunday's game. "Can't control what's gonna happen, so finish out we've got four games left, finish out this season in whatever capacity they need me to do and go from there."

Manning reiterated that he understood the team's desire to see what it has in quarterbacks Geno Smith, who started and played the whole game, and Davis Webb, who was inactive.

"I'm not mad at anybody," he said. "I think when you're in this situation, whatever happens there's a reason and you have to accept it."

He also stressed he wasn't upset with head coach Ben McAdoo, who has been perceived by many people as having mishandled the presentation of the situation.

"I think Coach McAdoo tried to do something right by me by saying he we'll let you play but just knowing I was coming out of the game, I couldn't play that way," he said. ...

Other notes of interest. ... As the Sports Xchange noted, the Giants are desperately missing D.J. Fluker's blocking in the running game, as ever since he went down with a season-ending toe injury, the rushing game has struggled.

Blocking tight end Rhett Ellison had his share of troubles in his one-on-one battles with his man, leaving Darkwa to pick up the majority of his 32 yards after contact.

And finally. ... ReceiverSterling Shepard was not practicing Wednesday, He was instead working in field house with trainers and the team says he has a hamstring injury.

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

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Eli Manning, Geno Smith, Davis Webb
RBs: Orleans Darkwa, Wayne Gallman, Shane Vereen, Paul Perkins
WRs: Sterling Shepard, Roger Lewis, Tavarres King, Travis Rudolph, Ed Eagan
TEs: Evan Engram, Jerell Adams, Rhett Ellison

New York Jets

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 December 2017

As ESPN.com's Andrew Marchand suggested, Sunday a game in which a team could have lied down on its coach. The Jets were down two touchdowns to the Kansas City Chiefs before five minutes had even run off the clock. It would have been easy to quit on head coach Todd Bowles.

Instead, the Jets roared back and fought for Bowles, beating the reeling and undisciplined Chiefs 38-31 in an unmemorable return for former Jet Darrelle Revis. While an ineffective Revis sat out the second half, the Jets finally got over their fourth-quarter woes to win just their second game in their last seven.

At 5-7 in the up-in-the-air AFC, the Jets play at Denver and New Orleans before hosting San Diego and finishing up in Foxboro. It may be a "Dumb and Dumber" chance, but the Jets still have a chance at the playoffs.

It is a credit to their coach, who is likely fighting for his job and watched his team score a season high in points in an effort to save it.

"I know how this thing goes," said quarterback Josh McCown, who threw for 331 yards, threw a touchdown and rushed for two more. "If we weren't doing that, you guys would be blaming him or somebody would be blaming him. It is hard not to give him the credit."

Bowles has committed to McCown all year, not liking his younger choices. McCown again showed why he is a pro. While not a great player, he is serviceable. Revis and the Chiefs had no answers for him, and they lost their composure as corner Marcus Peters tossed a penalty flag into the seats. Peters' form was not up to McCown's.

McCown went 26-for-36 for 331 yards, throwing one touchdown and running for two others. His 1-yard sneak for a score just prior to the two-minute warning gave the Jets the lead. It gave their coach a little more breathing room -- and even a chance at the playoffs.

"To come out of one of these finally, it is refreshing," Bowles said.

Despite the thrilling come-from-behind win on Sunday, the Jets' playoff fate isn't positive.

Nothing really changed in the standings on Sunday, except another game got checked off the schedule. They remain two games behind the Ravens (7-5) for the final wild-card spot in the AFC, and they are also behind the Bills, Chargers and Raiders, all 6-6, while tied with the 5-7 Bengals after their Monday night loss to Pittsburgh.

The Jets play three of their last four games on the road, where they are 1-4 this season, with the lone victory coming against the winless Browns by three points.

"We're just trying to beat Denver next week," Bowles said when asked about his team's playoff hopes. "We're going to try and win all of our games. Then we'll look up at the end of the year and see where we're at."

This week's game against the Broncos might be the Jets' best chance to win, as the Broncos (3-9) have lost eight in a row. The Jets actually opened as a one-point favorite.

After that, it gets difficult, with the Saints (9-3) in New Orleans, the Chargers (6-6) in the home finale on Christmas Eve and the Patriots (10-2) in New England on New Year's Eve.

So what will the final four weeks actually determine for the Jets?

Well, first, whether or not Bowles will be back next season, because he will be entering the last year of his contract next season. He is 20-24 in three seasons with the Jets, and the players seem to love him. Chances are he will be back, even if the Jets falter down the stretch.

"It's hard not to give him the credit," McCown said about Bowles. "I think he's done a heck of a job with our group."

And with McCown getting the job done sufficiently to be named AFC Offensive Player of the Week on Wednesday, some of the team's wideouts have emerged as fantasy factors.

Jermaine Kearse (with a career-high 157 yards) and Robby Anderson (with 107) both reached the 100-yard mark for the second straight game, becoming the first Jets wide-receiving duo in 50 years to accomplish that.

Fifty.

As ESPN.com's Rich Cimini noted, Don Maynard and George Sauer did it in 1967, with Joe Namath slinging spirals in the wide-open AFL. Undoubtedly, Kearse played his best game as a Jet, hauling in nine passes and recording a career-high 74 yards after catch. He already has set a career high with 51 receptions -- not bad for a so-called "throw in" in the Sheldon Richardson trade.

Also worth noting, Chad Hansen had only two catches for 25 yards on Sunday, but both converted third-and-longs on Jets scoring drives, including a 12-yard reception on the game-winning drive. Hansen is serving as the team's No. 3 receiver with Jeremy Kerley suspended. Kerley will be allowed to return for the Jets' game in New Orleans in two weeks.

McCown, meanwhile, joined Kirk Cousins as the only two players this season to throw for 300 yards and rush for multiple touchdowns in the same game. McCown passed for 331 yards and posted a 109.8 passer rating, the eighth time over 100 -- and the fifth time in the past six games.

The ageless wonder protected the ball (no turnovers) and took command of the game, especially after falling into a 14-0 hole.

McCown ripped apart the Chiefs' standard pass rush, completing 18 of 21 passes. The man is on a roll.

As for the rushing attack?

It wasn't efficient (only 3.2 yards per carry), but the Jets stuck to the ground game, with 49 rushing attempts. That served to keep the dynamic Chiefs' offense off the field and helped wear down Kansas City's depleted defense. The Jets had seven scoring drives and they averaged nearly 11 plays on those marches, including an 18-play drive to start the second half that took 9:31. The Jets had three rushing touchdowns, one for Bilal Powell and two for McCown, who leads the team with five, and Elijah McGuire had a two-point conversion.

Matt Forte (58 yards on 15 carries), Powell (48 yards on 18 attempts) and McGuire (five carries for 20 yards) were, as usual, not fantasy stars, but they got the job done.

Forte (knee) did not practice Wednesday; I'll follow up as needed via Late-Breaking Update.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Josh McCown, Bryce Petty, Christian Hackenberg
RBs: Matt Forte, Bilal Powell, Elijah McGuire
WRs: Jermaine Kearse, Robby Anderson, Neal Sterling, Chad Hansen, ArDarius Stewart
TEs: Eric Tomlinson, Will Tye, Jordan Leggett, Austin Seferian-Jenkins

Oakland Raiders

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 December 2017

As ESPN.com's Paul Gutierrez noted, Marshawn Lynch threw a juke move that rivaled the one that lost Landon Collins earlier in the day on the Oakland Raiders running back's 20-yard catch and run.

Surrounded by reporters at his locker, Lynch repeated, over and over again, "My young life did it," when asked about his 51-yard touchdown run, before zigging when the encroaching media zagged.

Lynch grabbed the notice taped to his locker and showed it to the horde. It was a notice for Lynch to report to a collection area immediately to give a specimen because he was selected for a random drug test.

"I'm sorry, though, look," Lynch said, holding up the paper. "It's either this, or that, and I can't afford that. I apologize. But if you do not understand what this is, it's when you put your ding-ding sauce out and give them a sample."

And with that, Lynch was off, avoiding questions just like he avoided New York Giants defenders all day long in the Raiders' 24-17 victory that pulled them into a three-way tie for first place in the AFC West with the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers at 6-6.

Lynch is also rounding into shape on the field as the Raiders enter the quarter-pole of the season.

Indeed, this was the Lynch the Raiders were hoping to acquire when they traded for the retired back last offseason. The mind-blowing 51-yard touchdown up the gut set the tone on Oakland's third offensive play from scrimmage. His 20-yard catch and run not only lost Collins but took a few other Giants for the ride to help close out the game late in the fourth quarter.

And his 101 yards rushing marked the first time he broke the century mark since Oct. 22, 2015, for the Seattle Seahawks at the San Francisco 49ers.

"He's a do-it-all guy," said Raiders linebacker Bruce Irvin, who played with an in-his-prime Lynch in Seattle. "Run the ball, catch it out the backfield, block. He's finally getting his legs back underneath him, and it's showing. You can tell."

NaVorro Bowman has a different perspective, given that he went up against Lynch at the height of the Seahawks-49ers rivalry earlier this decade.

"I looked at the stats," Bowman said. "I said, 'Oh, he's still got it.' To see him running the way that he's running for so many years, I know exactly what that defense is facing. That's a hard tackle."

Running back DeAndre Washington agreed.

"He's getting stronger as the season goes on," Washington said. "With more carries, he is just getting stronger. It's hard to tackle that man for four quarters, you know what I'm saying? He is going to wear you down, regardless if he is getting 2 yards or the 50-yarder like he busted today. He is going to wear guys down, and at this point in the season, we are really going to need him."

Lynch, coming off his one-year retirement, got a breather of his own in serving a one-game suspension in Week 8 for making contact with an official.

He has rushed for more yards in four games since (292, on 68 carries for a 4.3 yards-per-attempt average) than he did in his previous eight games combined (266 yards, on 72 carries for a 3.7 average). He now also has four touchdowns in his past four games.

"We talk about it all the time -- the run game is my best friend," said quarterback Derek Carr. "Whenever we can just get that going and have the run game rolling like that -- any quarterback loves that. If you can hand the ball, under four minutes, three times in a row and just get a first down, that's a lot less pressure on the quarterback and the receivers. I don't know a quarterback that wouldn't want that.

"Really, Marshawn is just taking over. Today he had 100 yards, which is awesome. Anytime you can do that, the ball is in your hands. Anytime you can run the ball efficiently, you're moving the chain -- so that just helps us in the pass-game element of it."

Now the Raiders' mission is clear beat the Chiefs Sunday to sweep that series, do no worse than split their NFC East games at Philadelphia and in Oakland against Dallas, and then finish on the road against Los Angeles against the Chargers with a win.

That would put the Raiders on top at either 9-7 or 10-6 because of an edge against either of their division opponents based on tiebreakers. ...

The Raiders will have wide receiver Michael Crabtree back after serving a one-game suspension, but the status of Amari Cooper, who had 11 receptions for 216 yards in the first game against the Chiefs, remains to be seen.

Cooper sustained a concussion and an ankle injury against Denver, and it's believed the ankle is the bigger issue at this point. Nonetheles, Cooper remained in the concussion protocol as of Tuesday, according to Michael Gehlken of the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

"We're just remaining hopeful," head coach Jack Del Rio said. "We'll see how the week goes. ..."

I'll be following up on that via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

Meanwhile, minus Crabtree and Cooper, the Raiders' WR corps was depleted. Then Jared Cook got nicked up on a tackle. Carr still went 22 of 36 for 287 yards with a 9-yard scoring pass to Johnny Holton. Cordarrelle Patterson had a 59-yard catch and (mostly) run to set up a touchdown.

As NFL.com's Matt Harmon suggested, if we need to discuss Raiders depth receivers again, Patterson is still the best option. The volume is shaky with four targets in each of the last two games, but he's the only one who has shown an ability to make plays.

Tight end Clive Walford came out of nowhere with four receptions for 57 yards. Carr was fortunate in that the Giants dropped two interceptions.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Derek Carr, E.J. Manuel, Connor Cook
RBs: DeAndre Washington, Jalen Richard, Marshawn Lynch
WRs: Michael Crabtree, Amari Cooper, Seth Roberts, Cordarrelle Patterson, Johnny Holton
TEs: Jared Cook, Lee Smith, Clive Walford

Philadelphia Eagles

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 December 2017

According to Associated Press sports writer Rob Maaddi, Doug Pederson thinks the Eagles could derive some long-term benefits from the short-term pain of their humbling loss in Seattle.

The head coach is also hoping that a week in sunny Southern California will allow the Eagles to regain their winning edge before they face another playoff contender.

The Eagles (10-2) flew down the West Coast after their nine-game winning streak ended with Sunday night's 24-10 loss to the Seahawks. They'll spend the next week away from home before their showdown with the Los Angeles Rams (9-3) in a meeting of NFC division leaders.

"It's hard when you've got back-to-back West Coast trips like this, to be able to fly back home and then practice and come back out this way at the end of the week," Pederson said Monday. "We've never really done this before, obviously. But it'll definitely pay off for us, hopefully in the near future."

Philadelphia is setting up camp in Orange County, with the team headquartered at a hotel in Costa Mesa that's only two miles from the Los Angeles Chargers' new training complex. The Eagles will practice on a full-size football field set up several miles away at Angel Stadium in Anaheim.

And no, die-hard Eagles fan Mike Trout didn't make these arrangements.

Instead, the Eagles chose to stay out West to avoid those cross-country round trip flights, but also to keep the players' focus on the final quarter of the regular season. They're off to an outstanding start, but the Eagles haven't finished anything yet.

Philadelphia will clinch the NFC East title with one more victory, but is still competing with Minnesota (10-2), the upstart Rams and New Orleans (9-3) for the top overall seed in the NFC postseason and a first-round bye.

"The challenge is we're trying to eliminate distractions," Pederson said at the team hotel. "Try to keep the week as normal as possible for the guys, for the coaches. We've got a great setup here in the hotel.

"Coaches have offices and workspace to get the work done. Players have got everything they need right here, from treatment, rehab, doctors, medical facilities, all of that."

The players and coaches have plenty to do after the loss to the Seahawks (8-4), who are also in the hunt for a high playoff seed.

The Eagles failed to score 20 points for the first time in 16 games, and Seattle repeatedly capitalized on Philadelphia mistakes on both sides of the ball.

While Carson Wentz's 348-yard passing game was obscured by his critical fumble at the Seattle goal line early in the second half, the Philadelphia defense was left to lament its struggles in slowing down both Russell Wilson and the Seahawks' running game at key moments.

Pederson sees plenty to correct in the next week, but nothing that can't be fixed.

"I think sometimes ... winning can kind of cover up or mask some things, some deficiencies," Pederson said. "A little chink in your armor, if there is any. And coaches and players fall into the same boat sometimes. We need games where we get hit in the mouth and we have to fight and battle and scratch. Yesterday's game was one of those games. You just have to understand that there's no substitute for the preparation and the hard work."

Of some concern for both the Eagles and fantasy owners, Zach Ertz exited Sunday night's loss with a head injury and did not return.

He remained on the ground and appeared dazed following a hit over the middle by safety Bradley McDougald in the third quarter. Ertz walked off under his own power but was taken to the trainers' tent to be tested for a concussion before heading to the locker room.

Ertz has been a favorite target of Wentz's this season. He has 57 catches for 663 yards and a career-high seven touchdowns on the season.

Pederson said on Wednesday that Ertz has progressed enough to attend team meetings, but that he’s not cleared for any practice work at this point.

"The sense is that he's doing well," Pederson said. "But again, I don't want to get into too many details about it. But he's still in the protocol and we just have to monitor him day-by-day."

If Ertz is unable to play, tight ends Brent Celek and Trey Burton will see increased roles.

Wentz, who ran the ball six times for 30 yards Sunday night, took a couple of good licks. But Pederson said Monday he was feeling fine on the plane down to Los Angeles.

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

Meanwhile, receiver Nelson Agholor had seven catches for 141 yards and a touchdown against the Seahawks. The 141 receiving yards were a career-high. The touchdown was the seventh of the season, tying him with Ertz and Alshon Jeffery for the team lead.

Not bad for a kid who had 59 catches and three touchdowns in his first two seasons in the league.

"He had a great game," Pederson said. "The way he's prepared himself in the offseason, to OTAs, and all the way through camp, he definitely would get my vote for most improved, yes."

Wentz has thrown 29 touchdown passes. That's just three shy of Sonny Jurgensen's 56-year-old franchise record.

The Eagles ran the ball pretty well in the first half, rushing for 91 yards on 19 carries and notching seven rushing first downs. But Wentz's fumble on a red-zone keeper on the first possession of the third quarter changed the game. After the fumble, the Eagles didn't run the ball again the rest of the game.

Jay Ajayi had nine carries for 35 yards and caught three passes for 11 yards, LeGarrette Blount had eight carries for 26 yards and Corey Clement carried three times for seven yards.

What's interesting about these numbers are the snap counts. Blount has dominated in terms of playing time in recent weeks, but that changed in Seattle with Ajayi getting 41 percent, Clement was on the field 37 percent of the time and Blount, with just 14 out of 75 snaps, 19 percent. It will be interesting to see how the playing time goes this week as we prepare to head into the final two games of the fantasy season in Weeks 15 and 16.

And finally. ... In case you missed it, the Eagles signed Jeffery to a four-year, $52 million contract extension last week. The new deal includes $27 million in guaranteed money. Jeffery signed a one-year deal with the Eagles in March after becoming an unrestricted free agent. He has been a key contributor for the Eagles in the red zone and on third down.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Carson Wentz, Nick Foles
RBs: LeGarrette Blount, Jay Ajayi, Corey Clement, Wendell Smallwood, Kenjon Barner
WRs: Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, Nelson Agholor, Mack Hollins, Shelton Gibson
TEs: Zach Ertz, Brent Celek, Trey Burton

Pittsburgh Steelers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 December 2017

As ESPN.com's Jeremy Fowler suggested, "Maybe the Steelers can beat the New England Patriots after all -- if Pittsburgh has anyone on its team left to play."

Pittsburgh's ugly but resilient 23-20 win on Monday in Cincinnati was a brutal brand of punishment, which is saying something for a Steelers-Bengals matchup. Several players took big hits, and some left the field because of them.

In the end, though, the Steelers had a moment of glee when they rushed the field after Chris Boswell's game winner from 38 yards out as time expired. Boswell's leg extended a win streak for a second straight week, this time to seven games.

Down 17-0 late in the first half, the Steelers kept their composure, made a few timely plays and let the Bengals implode with 173 yards in penalties. Ben Roethlisberger threw two second-half TD passes in the comeback.

"I think at halftime, we came in here, and it felt like there was no panic," said Roethlisberger, who finished with 290 yards, surpassing 50,000 for his career. "We got three points at the end of the half, which is nice, but we kind of came in and just said, 'Hey, we didn't play well in the first half. Let's go play better and see what happens.' That's what I'm most proud about this group is that we're resilient. We fight all to the end of the game, literally."

Antonio Brown's body-contorting, 6-yard touchdown catch with 3:51 left explained exactly where the Steelers are as a team. They have the talent to overcome bad starts, with Brown taking a helmet shot from George Iloka after the catch yet popping up unfazed.

But man, are the Steelers bad when they start poorly.

Sure, the image of Ryan Shazier lying on the Paul Brown Stadium turf while players were visibly shaken undoubtedly played a part in the Steelers' uninspired first half. The linebacker was carted off with a back injury and taken by ambulance to a hospital.

Still, the game was following familiar road-game script for the Steelers, who struggled to pass and struggled to cover early. This outing felt a bit like last season's 30-15 loss to Miami, in which several defensive backups were forced into action and couldn't stop the bleeding. It turned into the 2016 playoff game in Cincinnati, in which the hits were just as vicious and the Steelers just made fewer mistakes than Cincinnati in order to win.

"We have a no-blink group," head coach Mike Tomlin said. "We've been under duress in that stadium against that team before. Maybe that past experience helps us in some way, but largely, it's the men and the belief in each other -- belief in our approach -- and making the necessary plays to make that belief reality."

Le'Veon Bell pummeled Dre Kirkpatrick -- who took the Bell stiff-arm six weeks earlier -- on a fourth-and-1 run to set up a long drive and a field goal.

The no-huddle offense ran 26 plays in the fourth quarter, more than the Steelers ran in the first half (24).

JuJu Smith-Schuster took the physicality too far with a vicious block with 6:59 left that elicited a targeting penalty. Vontaze Burfict was the victim -- and another athlete who was carted off, one of at least six key players injured in this slugfest.

Bell, for one, wasn't fazed by the physicality.

"It's been worse," said Bell, who finished with 182 total yards and a touchdown.

The last time the Steelers overcame a deficit of at least 17 points was in 2015 against the Denver Broncos. The Bengals were a predictable culprit to give that up Monday, having blown eight such leads in their history.

After setting up Boswell's deciding field goal, Roethlisberger hugged Brown, and both looked exhausted.

The Steelers have a chance to finish the season on a great note. But will they have the energy to get there?

In addition to the obvious concerns over Shazier, Smith-Schuster was suspended one game by the NFL.

Tomlin discussed the hit Tuesday at his weekly news conference. He termed the taunting "disturbing." Smith-Schuster stood over Burfict for a moment before Burfict grabbed his ankles in an attempt to get out from underneath him.

"He's a better sportsman than what he displayed on that play," Tomlin said.

Smith-Schuster apologized for taunting Burfict on his Twitter account. An expedited appeal was heard Tuesday, and the suspension was upheld.

Iloka also was suspended for one game for his helmet-to-helmet hit on Brown that drew a penalty for unnecessary roughness. But his suspension was overturned on Wednesday.

With Smith-Schuster out, expect Brown, who played through a toe injury without any apparent difficulty, and Martavis Bryant to be more heavily targeted against the Ravens this weekend. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Roethlisberger became the eighth player in NFL history to throw for 50,000 yards when he reached that milestone Monday night. Roethlisberger also orchestrated his 42nd career fourth-quarter comeback.

Bell became the first Steelers running back in seven seasons to gain 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons. Rashard Mendenhall did it previously in 2009 and 2010. Bell recorded over 100 yards from scrimmage for the 39th time in his career. His 35-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter was the 32nd of his career. ...

As noted above, Boswell's 38-yard field goal as time expired decided the game. In addition, Boswell made all three of his field-goal attempts and both of his extra points in the comeback win to earn AFC Special Teams Player of the Week.

And finally. ... Shazier's injury will not require surgery at this time, and he continues to be evaluated with the hopes of returning to Pittsburgh soon, the team announced.

Steelers linebacker Vince Williams told ESPN that Shazier, as he was being carted off the field, told Williams he could feel his extremities and that he would be OK.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Ben Roethlisberger, Landry Jones, Josh Dobbs
RBs: Le'Veon Bell, James Conner, Terrell Watson
WRs: Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, Eli Rogers, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Justin Hunter, JuJu Smith-Schuster
TEs: Jesse James, Xavier Grimble, Vance McDonald

San Francisco 49ers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 December 2017

As ESPN.com's Nick Wagoner noted, Jimmy Garoppolo's first game as the San Francisco 49ers' starting quarterback wasn't perfect.

In fact, there's plenty of room for improvement for both Garoppolo and the Niners' offense moving forward.

That said, while the Niners didn't exactly light up the scoreboard despite a dominant statistical edge, Garoppolo was good enough to steer San Francisco to the points needed for its second win of the season, a 15-14 victory over the Chicago Bears on Sunday at Soldier Field.

And now, as the Sports Xchange suggested, the San Francisco 49ers have a new problem: Potential overconfidence.

Imagine that.

"Be realistic. Keep it real," head coach Kyle Shanahan said of his advice to his team Monday.

"I've been very excited since the first day we got him," Shanahan said of the Oct. 30 acquisition from New England at the cost of a second-round draft pick. "There are a lot of great things he did (Sunday), things that we're very excited about.

"I know there is still a lot of work that we have to do, too."

Garoppolo threw for 293 yards, the most ever for a first-time 49ers starter, including 54 yards on an 86-yard drive that led to Robbie Gould's game-winning field goal with four seconds left.

He threw only one interception that wasn't his fault, went 26-for-37, and kept the chains moving, allowing the 49ers to record their highest time of possession (38:47) in more than three years.

The win was the 49ers' second of the season, their first that was followed immediately by a flight home.

"It was fun to watch, first time on the plane," Shanahan said of the game film. "I think seeing it out there live, you could tell he made some impressive throws. There were definitely situations where he got a little confused in and still was able to make plays, which the more he plays and the more he's around us knowing the scheme and reps, he'll have less of those.

"But I think it was still very impressive to the situation he was in for him to just be able to keep his poise and still be able to make some plays when things weren't perfect."

The highlights were numerous and didn't all feature Garoppolo, Shanahan reported.

"He made the throws to the right spots, guys got open, and we protected," he gushed. "He made some impressive throws, especially one where we missed a blitz and there was a free guy coming up the A-gap and hit Trent Taylor over the middle. I thought (that) one was the most impressive.

"I thought the guys blocked very well, too. I thought the receivers did a good job. I don't think we had any drops in the game, that I remember. I know we didn't on third down. Marquise Goodwin being eight-for-eight (eight catches on eight targets), (Taylor) six-for-six on those targets, I think Jimmy played well."

As Wagoner noted, it helped that Garoppolo had good protection for most of the day, taking just five hits. Even when the Bears did get some pressure, Garoppolo excelled. According to ESPN Stats and Information, Garoppolo was 9-of-12 for 115 yards against the blitz, a vast improvement for a team that completed 49.6 percent of its passes against the blitz entering the game, 29th in the NFL.

And Garoppolo also took advantage of play-action, a great sign moving forward considering Shanahan's preference for it. He completed all nine of his passes off play-action, another big step up after the Niners completed 54.5 percent (30th in the league) on such passes previously.

And let's not forget: This team was 1-10 coming in and the bears were 3-8.

"I was proud of how we played," Shanahan said. "By no means was it perfect. I told our players there was a stat line I could read from that game where it would have looked like we got blown out if I read zero-for-five in the red zone when they're one-for-one.

"I know they returned a punt for a touchdown. I know we had one turnover, they had none. You look at stuff like that, and those are usually statistics that you're losing pretty good on.

"What I was really happy with our team is I felt like the score, some of the highs and lows in the game didn't affect our players. I felt we played the same way on the first play as we did the last play. I didn't feel that way versus Seattle the week before. I felt we struggled in the first half and I felt that affected how we played in the second half, even though it was a one-score game for a long time."

The most glaring shortcoming was that instead of opportunities for touchdowns near the goal line, the 49ers repeatedly found themselves looking at third-and-goal from outside the 10. The lack of touchdowns made life far more difficult for the 49ers than it had to be in a game in which they outgained Chicago 388 yards to 147 and had 23 first downs to the Bears' eight.

Of course, one could contend the win was a loss of sorts for the 49ers, who dropped into a tie with the New York Giants (2-10) for the second-worst record in the NFL.

In the race for the No. 2 draft position behind the winless Cleveland Browns, the 49ers finish at Houston, at home against Tennessee and Jacksonville, and at home against the Los Angeles Rams. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Gould matched his career best with five field goals in Sunday's win over his former team. He made all five of his attempts, including the game-winner with four seconds left. The last kicker to make five field goals at Soldier Field in Chicago was Justin Medlock of the Carolina Panthers in 2012.

Gould was named NFC Special Teams Player of the Week on Wednesday. ...

The 49ers knew the Bears were more vulnerable to the run than the pass, yet were able to rush for just 110 yards. That said, the 34 attempts balanced out 37 passes, and six first downs gained by rushing added to the club's dominance in time of possession.

Worth noting, Carlos Hyde gained just 66 total yards on his 20 touches against the Bears. As NFL.com's Matt Harmon pointed out, with Garoppolo under center, Hyde's unsustainable target volume dropped as actual receivers like Goodwin and Taylor were highly targeted.

Hyde has provided a safe floor almost every week given his volume but hasn't had many high ceiling weeks save for the two games in which he's scored multiple touchdowns. He'll still be an RB2 next week, based on volume alone, against the Texans.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Jimmy Garoppolo, C.J. Beathard
RBs: Carlos Hyde, Matt Breida, Raheem Mostert, Kyle Juszczyk
WRs: Marquise Goodwin, Aldrick Robinson, Trent Taylor, Kendrick Bourne, Victor Bolden
TEs: George Kittle, Garrett Celek, Logan Paulsen

Seattle Seahawks

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 December 2017

As Associated Press sports writer Tim Booth noted, "It's December which means it's time for the Seattle Seahawks to get on a roll. ..."

Indeed, that's been the formula for most of Pete Carroll's tenure with the Seahawks, always building toward the conclusion of the regular season.

And it's a feeling that was rekindled after Seattle's convincing 24-10 win over the Philadelphia Eagles. What was deemed to be a challenging beginning to the final month of the season could in turn become a catalyst for yet another final push by the Seahawks that's become so common.

"I contemplated in my head whether I wanted to say that out loud, whether I wanted to jinx it, but I do. I believe that this is the start of something that we've seen in the past," wide receiver Doug Baldwin said after the victory.

"Again, like I said I told Russell Wilson, whatever this is we need to capture it, we need to hold onto it and continue to push forward to get better because the truth of the matter is we still have so much left in the tank."

Seattle's impressive win over the Eagles was a boost the Seahawks needed. They had lost two straight at home. They were on the fringe of the NFC playoff race. The long list of key injuries suffered by the Seahawks had led some observers to no longer consider them legit contenders.

Yet those concerns were muted seeing Wilson put in another memorable performance and Seattle's defense holding the No. 1 offense in the NFL to just 10 points.

Seattle is 25-10 in December and January regular-season games under Pete Carroll going back to 2010. They are 20-5 in those games with Wilson at quarterback.

"It's the fourth quarter and we have the opportunity to control everything," Carroll said on Monday. "That's all we could hope for. Every game we have is a championship match and we've got to play them all the way out and figure that you've got to win every one of them the week you play them.

"This was a really good test this week, this was a great test for us at home just because of the level of the play of these guys. ... Our guys know now we can deal with whatever is coming down and just have to do it one week at a time."

Wilson's performance against the Eagles was not his best statistically, but may be one of the best in his career.

He stood in the pocket and took punishment from Philadelphia's defensive front, yet did not commit a turnover, threw three touchdowns and when the opportunity arose used his legs to extend plays or continue his role as Seattle's leading rusher.

Wilson has 432 yards rushing, to go along with 3,256 yards passing and 26 TD passes.

"This year? Yeah, I'll give him this year but I've seen better from him in the past. I don't want to pump him up too much," Baldwin said of Wilson.

"I know you guys can do that, will do that. I just want him to continue to keep going because we need him at his best to continue this."

There was the matter still of whether Wilson got away with an illegal forward pass in the fourth quarter with Seattle trying to protect a 17-10 lead.

Facing third-and-8 at the 42, Wilson scrambled from the pocket for 6 yards. As he was about to be hit, Wilson lateralled to Mike Davis, who ran another 17 yards for the first down. Four plays later, Wilson hit J.D. McKissic on a 15-yard touchdown for the decisive score.

In real time, Wilson's lateral appeared backward. But on replay it appeared to be clearly going forward due to momentum of the players and Philadelphia coach Doug Pederson didn't challenge the ruling.

Carroll joked he'd reached out to scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson to help explain the physics of Wilson's play.

"It looked like guys running really fast and he pitched the ball backward just like he is supposed to and as the speed of the ball that was traveling with the ball carrier at the time was passed along the football, so it all just happened. Everything moved," Carroll said. "I just want to see what Dr. Neil has to say about that."

Wilson was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week for his effort.

As ESPN.com's Brady Henderson suggested, if you weren't taking Wilson seriously as an MVP candidate, you should be now. He's thrown 26 touchdown passes, tied with Tom Brady for second-most behind Carson Wentz's 29.

But Wilson's case for MVP over Wentz and Brady -- the two other front-runners for the award -- is about much more than the basic numbers.

Consider the historic degree to which he's carried Seattle's offense. In addition to being on pace for a career-high in passing yards, Wilson is also the team's leading rusher by a wide margin, with 432 yards after adding 31 Sunday night. He's thrown or ran for all but one of Seattle' 30 offensive touchdowns, and he entered this game having accounted for almost 86 percent of the team's scrimmage yards. According to the NFL, that would be the highest percentage of any one player in the Super Bowl era.

And not for nothing, Wilson has been excellent late in games. He entered this one with an NFL-best 134.9 rating and 14 touchdown passes in the fourth quarter. His touchdown to McKissic gave him 15, which, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, ties the NFL's single-season record set by Eli Manning in 2011.

So yeah. ... Go ahead and play Wilson if you got him.

Other notes of interest. ... Chris Carson won't practice this week, but there is a chance the rookie could return in the next couple of weeks, Carroll said. Carson has been out since early in the season because of surgery for a high-ankle sprain. ...

That's because Seattle's performance against the Eagles wasn't all that fantastic, but as the Sports Xchange suggested, given the curve of Seahawks rushing performances this season it's the best the team could have hoped for.

The Seahawks became just the third team all season to rush for 100 yards against the Eagles' top-ranked rush defense with Davis rushing for 64 yards on 16 carries.

Worth noting. ... Davis was on the field for 73 percent (45) of the team's 62 offensive snaps. McKissic got nine snaps. Eddie Lacy and Thomas Rawls got three each (with one of Lacy's coming at the goal line).

In other words, Davis is the fantasy back of choice until further notice (which will likely be at some point after Carson's return.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Russell Wilson, Austin Davis
RBs: J.D. McKissic, Mike Davis, Eddie Lacy, Thomas Rawls, Tre Madden
WRs: Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett, Paul Richardson, Tanner McEvoy, Amara Darboh
TEs: Jimmy Graham, Luke Willson, Nick Vannett

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 December 2017

Hard to imagine a better take on the Buccaneers' quarterback situation than the one ESPN.com's Jenna Laine delivered.

"If Sunday's game against the Green Bay Packers shows anything," Laine wrote, "it's that for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it may always be a mixed bag with Jameis Winston. He'll give you some big-time plays, but also will make some amazingly poor decisions, such as the one Sunday that led to a lost fumble and a 26-20 overtime loss."

No doubt.

Winston spent three weeks on the sideline watching veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick lead the team to two wins by taking few risks. Yet Laine contends that Winston's fumble in the second quarter Sunday showed that he has failed to absorb one of the most important lessons a quarterback can learn, something he continues to fail at in his third year in the NFL: Knowing when a play is dead.

Under duress, Winston coughed up the ball as he was being taken down, resulting in a fumble recovery returned 62 yards by Dean Lowry for a touchdown. It was first-and-10. Winston should have taken the sack and lived to see another play. Instead, the Packers extended their lead to 17-7.

"I don't even know how the ball came out," Winston said. "I think when I ran back, I think I hit a guy's butt or something. I don't even know. I just know I was going out to the right, trying to actually throw it away, but I think when I ran back, I hit someone. ... I had Cameron Brate on a route in front of me so I was about to throw it in front of him."

Earlier in the game, on the opening drive, Winston hit Brate down the seam for a 28-yard touchdown, the first time the Bucs had scored a touchdown on an opening drive all year. For a unit that has struggled with slow starts, that was huge progress. He'd hit Brate again for a game-tying touchdown in the fourth quarter, another plus.

"It really did [feel like it was going to be a good day]. It really was," Brate said. "We just kind of killed ourselves, whether it was sacks -- those kind of killed our momentum, a couple calls didn't go our way, the turnover -- those killed us. ... Ultimately we shot ourselves in the foot."

Winston's fumble, plus two Tampa Bay fumbles at the goal line, were unacceptable. You can't pin that all on Winston when he was in the middle of changing a protection and the ball is snapped, but this team has to have more composure in high-pressure situations, Winston included.

To be fair, Winston didn't find out until Sunday that he would be taking snaps from Evan Smith, a backup guard. Backup center Joe Hawley was to step in for starting center Ali Marpet, who landed on injured reserve this week, but Hawley came down with an illness.

"I don't think I had my hands under Evan in about a year," Winston admitted. "We had like two miscommunications and we just found out today that this was gonna be our offensive line. We did not think we'd be in this situation today. This was a game-time decision."

The Bucs' offensive line had an atrocious performance without Marpet and without starting right tackle Demar Dotson. They surrendered seven sacks -- nearly a team record for the Packers -- and on multiple instances, defenders were coming at Winston completely unabated.

"We didn't protect Jameis nearly as well as we protected this year. That [was] probably our worst protection game that we played all year," said head coach Dirk Koetter, who praised Winston for competing hard throughout the game despite it.

"We've talked about this many times. Jameis, he is gonna make some plays -- he made a couple really nice scramble plays today, and he was under pressure all day -- that particular one there, in a perfect world, he would have gotten that ball out of his hands but they were on him quick. But we've got to remember -- he's 23 years old and experience is still the best teacher."

Something Winston did do well, and perhaps it's something he absorbed from watching Fitzpatrick, was taking what the defense gave him. That meant checking down when facing pressure instead of pushing the envelope, trying to get an explosive play.

At 4-8 now, with the Bucs' hopes of reaching the playoffs slim-to-none, these next four games are a chance for Winston to restore waning confidence in the offense and his ability to lead it -- although he has a ways to go before he can achieve that in a season marred by injury and failed expectations.

On a more positive note. ... The performance of second-year running back Peyton Barber, who rushed for a career-high 102 yards on 23 carries and had 143 yards from scrimmage, was clearly a bright spot. It appears to be something both the Bucs and fantasy owners will appreciate.

Stepping in for the concussed Doug Martin, Barber had two touchdowns last week against the Falcons and has totaled 31.0 fantasy points over the last two weeks -- eighth-most in the league among running backs.

Of his 102 yards rushing against Green Bay, Barber tallied 68 of them after contact. He had 23 of the Bucs' 30 running back carries. He also caught all four passes thrown to him and his 41 yards led the team in receiving. Even if Martin clears the concussion protocol this week (and he was back on the practice field Wednesday), the Bucs would be wise to keep feeding (and starting) Barber.

It'd also be wise to pick Barber up for fantasy purposes for Week 14. ...

Remember, this week's opponent, the Lions have given up 254 fantasy points to opposing running backs this year and 321 points in PPR -- fourth-most in the league. Since Week 10, the Lions have given up 109 fantasy points -- to Latavius Murray, Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen and Isaiah Crowell -- second-most in the league.

Laine went on to suggest you could theoretically keep Barber around for another week to see if he replicates some of the magic he had against the Falcons from Week 12, as they've given up an average of 123 rushing yards per game on the road this year -- eighth-most in the league.

Just be mindful that the Carolina Panthers, whom the Bucs play in Week 15, have only given up 73 points to opposing running backs at home this year -- fourth-best in the league.

And at some point, Martin will jump back into the mix. How that impacts Barber remains to be seen, but clearly the latter has earned more work going forward. ...

By the way, anyone who started Jacquizz Rodgers got burned, as he had just three carries for 25 yards. ...

Also according to Lane, Brate owners can rejoice, as the Lions have given up 104 fantasy points to opposing tight ends this year -- eighth-most in the league. Brate had gone six games without a touchdown but had two against the Packers.

Brate's six targets were the most he's had since October 22nd. As NFL.com's Matt Harmon noted, it appears he definitely gets a stock up with Winston back under center.

Mike Evans was blanked from the stat sheet for most of this game. His first catch did not come until there were just under 11 minutes left in the fourth quarter. It's a surprising development given the favorable matchup and it continues a disappointing season for the wideout.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Jameis Winston, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Griffin
RBs: Peyton Barber, Jacquizz Rodgers, Charles Sims, Doug Martin
WRs: Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Adam Humphries, Chris Godwin, Bernard Reedy
TEs: Cameron Brate, O.J. Howard

Tennessee Titans

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 December 2017

As ESPN.com's Cameron Wolfe suggested, Sunday looked like most Tennessee Titans wins this season. It was an inconsistent offensive performance littered with mistakes and way too many excruciating roller-coaster loops for a game against a sub-.500 opponent.

The defense played the familiar role of the hero, saving the day when the Titans needed it most. This time it was LeShaun Sims making a game-saving interception in the end zone.

But above all, it was a win -- something the Titans have done a lot of recently, winning six of their past seven games.

"It feels really good, but it's not satisfying. That's just a start," Marcus Mariota said. "Looking around the locker room, everyone kinda feels the same way. In order to get where we're trying to go, we need to continue to put these together. 8-4 is not going to cut it."

Derrick Henry played his favorite role: the finisher. His 75-yard touchdown run put a cap on the Titans' 24-13 victory over the Houston Texans.

It won't win any style points, but the Titans keep winning their way. And by the way, Mariota had a quietly efficient day, going 15-of-23 for 150 yards and a touchdown. His legs were also a factor, adding 23 yards and a touchdown rushing.

Meanwhile, as Delanie Walker continues to carry the potentially playoff-bound Titans past some offensive struggles, the veteran believes it's time for everyone to recognize him as one of the NFL's best tight ends and most dangerous weapons.

Walker demands it.

"I'm very disrespected in the league," Walker told Wolfe. "Commentators, announcers don't talk about me. I get double and triple coverage. I'm still making plays. Nobody talks about that. That drives me. Don't talk about me. That makes me hungry. They talk about Gronk, Kelce, but not me. I do it every week. They don't talk about Delanie Walker."

"Obviously, I don't get talked about enough around the league. Probably because I play for the Titans, but the Titans are going to get talked about this year."

Walker speaks like a man who still feels he has a lot to prove, even at 33. Opposing defenses respect him. As the Titans loaded up with more offensive talent, Walker has remained the No. 1 priority for any team that plays them. It's often comical to watch two players shadow him when he goes into his pre-snap motion.

"I'm always open. Can't no one cover me," Walker said.

Walker is third among NFL tight ends with 676 receiving yards following Sunday's games, trailing Kansas City's Travis Kelce and New England's Rob Gronkowski. What's even more impressive is Walker's consistency. He has at least 800 receiving yards in each of his past three full seasons (2014-16). He also has 3,454 receiving yards since 2014, third-most among tight ends, less than 300 behind Gronkowski and Kelce.

Walker also leads the Titans in receptions and receiving yards, something he has done in previous seasons. He remains a strong blocker and vocal leader, too.

"It's a privilege to play with that guy," Mariota said. "He's a special talent, an unbelievable competitor."

Head coach Mike Mularkey added: "I'm just glad he's ours, and I love everything about him."

So when the Titans needed a playmaker to lift their offense after another sluggish start against the Houston Texans on Sunday, they leaned on Walker. He responded with three catches for 55 yards and a touchdown. On a third-and-14, Mariota found Walker on a short pass intended to gain a few yards to get them into field goal range. Walker made two guys miss and willed himself near the first-down marker. Two plays later, he caught a 24-yard touchdown dragging a defender into the end zone and re-injuring a sprained ankle in the process.

"I'm an angry person on the field," Walker said. "I always tell Marcus, 'I got your back. Whenever you're in dire need, throw it to me.' I get mad when I'm not making plays. I feel like this is my team and I'm going to put them on my back. I take that responsibility -- win or lose."

Walker has been the biggest bright spot on a Titans offense trying to find its way. He has strong arguments to be the Titans' best free-agent pickup ever and best all-time tight end, with Frank Wycheck being his top competition.

If the Titans have postseason success, Walker will be a big reason why. He hopes that by then people will put him in his rightful place as one of the NFL's best.

As Walker continues to make hay, we're still waiting on Corey Davis' breakout game. He was the Titans' No. 1 receiver again with Rishard Matthews out, but he had just two catches for 12 yards on four targets. He's just not a player to start until he proves he can produce consistently.

The Titans did improve in one area: Running the ball.

They ran for a season-high 198 yards, the fifth time they've gained at least 168 yards on the ground. Mariota ran three times for 23 yards and a touchdown. DeMarco Murray, coming off his worst performance of the season with just nine yards on 12 carries a week ago, ran 11 times for 66 yards and averaged 6 yards per carry. Henry also had 11 carries for 109 yards with the above-mentioned game-clinching 75-yard TD run.

That moved the Titans up to seventh in the NFL in rushing and prompted Tony Dungy to say on NBC's Football Night in America that Tennessee is winning ugly.

"This is not a Corvette," Dungy said. "This is a dump truck. This is all they have got."

According to Associated Press sports writer Teresa M. Walker, that's exactly what Mularkey wants to hear. The Titans are a win away from matching the most wins Mularkey has managed in a single season with four games left. He went 9-7 in his first season in Buffalo in 2004 and guided the Titans to that same mark a year ago in his first full season as head coach in Tennessee. Now they are in position to end an eight-season playoff drought.

Next up, the Titans prepare for a lengthy week and a half West Coast trip with back-to-back games against the Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Walker (ankle) is day to day; he did not practice Wednesday. Matthews (hamstring) also remains day to day after missing his second straight game; he was limited Wednesday. I'll have more on their status via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

And finally. ... The Titans signed Luke Stocker to upgrade the blocking tight end spot. It'll be a two-year contract, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. Stocker was released by the Buccaneers in November after spending the better part of seven seasons with the team. Stocker, 6-6, 253 pounds will bring an element to the Titans offense that they've needed there since losing Anthony Fasano to free agency in March. Mularkey said Stocker has a lot of similarities to Fasano.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Marcus Mariota, Matt Cassel, Brandon Weeden
RBs: DeMarco Murray, Derrick Henry, David Fluellen
WRs: Rishard Matthews, Eric Decker, Taywan Taylor, Eric Weems, Corey Davis
TEs: Delanie Walker, Luke Stocker, Jonnu Smith, Phillip Supernaw

Washington Redskins

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 5 December 2017

As ESPN.com's John Keim reported, receiver Jamison Crowder enjoyed the best stretch of his career for more than a month. Last Thursday, he endured one of his worst over a period of two minutes. And it cost the Redskins dearly.

There wasn't much for him to explain about what happened. He missed a pass. He dropped a punt. He cost the Redskins points, momentum and field position.

"It was tough, but you've got to play," Crowder said. "Things don't always go the way you want them to go."

Crowder entered Thursday's game against the Cowboys having caught 27 passes for 412 yards in his past four games combined. He finished Thursday with five catches for 67 yards.

But with the Redskins facing second-and-11 from the Dallas 16-yard line, quarterback Kirk Cousins delivered a ball that would have led Crowder into a possible first down. The ball skimmed off Crowder's hands and was intercepted.

"It just went through my hands," Crowder said.

After the Redskins' defense forced a punt, Crowder fumbled at the end of a punt return. He's lost three fumbles on punt returns this season.

"The defensive player just knocked it out of my hand," Crowder said. "He made a good play."

Afterward, head coach Jay Gruden was exasperated by the turnovers. All season he's maintained faith in Crowder returning punts. The simple fact: Gruden doesn't have any alternatives. Maurice Harris would be Crowder's backup, but he's never done it in an NFL game -- and he's also now in the concussion protocol.

"We don't have anyone to put back there right now," Gruden said. "We just don't."

Crowder didn't duck from what happened after the game; he answered every question. That's being a professional, and Crowder answered them the same way he does when he gets asked easy questions. He sounded the same whether he was answering a question about his 33-yard gain or his fumble. That's how he's always been, even-keeled.

It's why he can endure stretches in which he's not targeted as much, nor as productive. He knows it will turn.

Crowder has been one of the Redskins' best receivers in the past three years. As Keim suggested, his recent hot stretch stems from a healthy hamstring, the loss of another proven target in tight end Jordan Reed and using more three-receiver sets, allowing him to run more routes out of the slot.

But his early miscues helped set a bad tone for the game. Neither one of them led directly to Dallas points. And make no mistake: The Redskins had plenty of other issues aside from Crowder.

Of course, the blowout loss on Thursday put an end to any realistic hopes the Redskins had of reaching the NFC playoffs.

At 5-7, with NFC wild-card teams likely needing 10 wins to qualify, Washington will look to next season after a 38-14 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. That begins with deciding what veterans will play down the stretch.

Pro-Bowl left tackle Trent Williams (right knee) has said he needs surgery eventually. Right tackle Morgan Moses has been playing on two bad ankles since October.

Reed has now missed five straight games because of a hamstring injury, suffering a setback before the New Orleans game in Week 11. He will miss a sixth game this week as the Redskins have already ruled him out.

The expectation was that he'd return at some point this season. It's been a bad year for Reed in terms of health –-- much more so than in previous seasons. The toe injury that bothered him last year and in the offseason, continues to impact him.

Earlier this year he said he needed acupuncture done on his hip -- a byproduct of his toe.

But Gruden said all they can do for now is monitor Reed on a weekly basis.

But even with 15 other players on injured reserve - at least eight of them Week 1 starters - the Redskins aren't waving any white flags yet.

"I think it's going to be a player-by-player basis," Gruden said. "If they're good enough to go, they need to go. But we'll see how they're doing from a longevity standpoint. We obviously don't want to hurt anybody's future - if it's a chance to injure themselves long term. But if it's just a nagging ankle sprain then they'll play through it."

The Redskins appear to have no intention of resting Cousins.

He has started every game since the beginning of the 2015 season (44 games). Backup Colt McCoy took his first snaps of the season against Dallas once the game was out of hand. Cousins is a potential free agent in March and his future with the Redskins remains in doubt. All the more reason for a good December. Washington hasn't had a losing record since 2014 (4-12) in Gruden's first year as coach.

"We want to finish strong. We want to finish with a winning record," Gruden said. "We want to get to 9-7. But we need to get to 6-7 first."

Other notes of interest. ... After a couple of encouraging weeks, rookie Samaje Perine looked average against the Cowboys. It didn't help that he had to leave the field for a few series in the first half to get checked for a concussion.

Perine finished with just 12 carries for 38 yards and there isn't a viable option behind him with Rob Kelley (knee sprain) and Chris Thompson (broken leg) both on injured reserve. Perine did have a career-high 31 receiving yards in Dallas and as NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich notes, "He's still in line for a bell-cow type workload every week for the rest of the season as long as he remains healthy. ..."

NFL.com's Matt Harmon notes that Ryan Grant led the team in targets in Dallas and the team continues to spread the ball around. While Josh Doctson has touchdowns in back-to-back games, Harmon points out the second-year man only has a combined 54 yards on nine targets. Vernon Davis has just three targets over his last two games and 15 total yards. In the three games previous he averaged 8.7 targets and over 70 yards.

As Harmon summed up, "It's tough to live like that for fantasy but this is the way Washington's offense has always operated and we should not expect them to change."

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Kirk Cousins, Colt McCoy
RBs: Samaje Perine, Byron Marshall
WRs: Jamison Crowder, Josh Doctson, Ryan Grant, Brian Quick, Terrelle Pryor
TEs: Vernon Davis, Jeremy Sprinkle, Niles Paul, Jordan Reed